"very good, but language poor" - comment on my math exercise

i find people who are resistant to change highly interesting, and i have a soft spot for them... since i was young i seem to have had this idea that people are determined, that they eventually become the type of people they were meant to be by god, genes, or some traumatic event in childhood. only later in life do i realize that you do have some control over the person you want to be... by working hard, making plans etc... but what happens when you don't WANT to change?

this is the dilemma that's thrown back at me whenever i encounter my real analysis teacher. i cannot decide if she has contempt or a slight fondness of me, because she's especially pedantic and always comes up to me to point out my mistakes. (ordinary people would probably think i suck, but no, to me this means that i am special. i helped her arrange chairs in class once, that must be it.). someone said somewhere that when people tell you you're screwing up, you're doing fine. it's when people don't notice anymore that you're in trouble. i don't quote his name because i remember seeing someone aged 25 quote someone in all seriousness (it wasn't a joke or something), and thinking, shit, at 25 you shouldn't be quoting anyone anymore. (unless they're funny) it just shows your lack of authority and ability to improvise intelligent comments. her class is an exercise in pedantry, of using the precise terminology at the right time "that's a norm, not a distance". i've come to appreciate the pedantry, because after all this is a course in rigorous proof, and what i write does sound ridiculous at times... and so, i slowly come to appreciate the grammarians approach to mathematics. it belabours me sometime, the obvious, but i guess this was what 19th century mathematics was all about, proving the obvious so that you won't screw up in unusual cases.

anyway, the irritability that surrounds her when people use the wrong term (many who have not learnt mathematics in english as a first language) does prevent people from speaking up in class. she is practically ancient. how many teaching evaluations must have come and gone and not touched her, moved her to change... or perhaps it is too old for that... and although i wish i had a better teacher teaching me topology, the protective instinct in me thinks that she has survived so many bad teaching evaluations, and she looks so frail, and innocently schoolmarmy that i cannot think what she would do if not teach mathematics. she doesn't look like she enjoys it, but she doesn't look like she'd enjoy anything else. she arouses my extreme sympathy.

attending my ma200 class is also another case where i am exposed to the full sarcasm and ego of mathematics tutors. i shan't elaborate... i also attended ma200 lectures for the first time in ages today, and i realized we were already at laplace transforms. i've watched the mit lectures, but interestingly he was going through another seemingly pedantic problem in point-mass probability. but interestingly, that's actually the prelude to the dirac delta function. we won't actually cover it in our courses and nobody will know that we covered the dirac delta function because we aren't physicists, but there you go. when you give something a name, it's would probably be more noticed. guys, we actually learnt the dirac delta function today. as it was, it seemed like it bounced off the empty seats of the lecture seats today, and i blame the vastness and dark lighting for swallowing up whatever academic enthusiasm is left in this school.

i realized that in some respects, i am a realist. i have a pretty low ex-post cost of regret, and this means that unlike my personal tutor, and his advice for me, there is no way i am going to make a random spray of applications to the top schools. it's targeting for me.


more photos

thames on windsor and eton riverside... lunch with bonnie


some photos of vienna and bratislava

i have absolutely nothing against gospel. gospel is truth. see nina simone.
"i have a friend in jesus!" + "set me up with the spirit in the sky!" + "i ain't never sinned" + guitar
this video seems to have a touch of irony about it, whatever, play it at my funeral too!
it sounds so psychedelic! i hope heaven is like that.

set me up with the spirit in the sky
i wanna go there when i die
when i die and they lay me to rest
i wanna go to the place that the best



window or aisle?

i've taken aisle on most of my long-haul flights thus far, because after flying long-haul quite a bit, you start to learn that everyone wants the aisle seats because they can easily walk in and out, go to the toilet, be the first out of the plane, etc. when you're a child you don't give a shit about these things. you just want to see the wing tips, or the clouds when you fly over them. of course, on recent flights, i've had the opportunity to get an entire ROW, so I could still sidle up to the window to look below me. I'm starting to recognize the route now. The best times to look out, I feel, are when you're over the Hindu Kush and the deserts of Afghanistan. From the sky, there are no terrorists... and you wonder how there could be... just ripples and ripples of brown ridges.

When you're flying over Poland, too, there seems to be an abundance of land and a patchwork of fields. Also memorable on flights to the western seaboard where I once had the fortune to glance down at what must be Siberia or Alaska. I remember Richard Feynman, who always wanted to go to Tuva. And I wondered about piles and piles of snow. Places I'd never go to, but I've seen from the air.

So I jumped onboard the ryanair flight, and it was a short-haul from bratislava. maybe because it's short haul, i instinctively sidled to the window seat. looking at runway lights always brings me some nostalgia, i'm reminded of pilots and their dashboard controls, and that leads me to a chain to antoine de st-exupery. there's something comforting in respecting occupations which are complicated enough to inspire awe, but tangible enough to preclude alienation. (an awe of someone in financial services, would be a highly second-degree awe for me. a child wouldn't be interested. that's my definition. perhaps if you brought him to the pit, he might be attracted to all the hubbub and noise. The children were also the ones who turned to look at Joshua Bell disguised as a busker). There's also this video by Randy Pausch which talks about childhood dreams, yadda yadda yadda... I resolve to take the window seat more often then.

But I know I'm not really a kid anymore. I know that everytime I dress up hoping to be bumped up to business. Business window seat. Now we're talking.

This application thing is driving me nuts. I've no idea why I put myself through this meat grinder. I think it'll sort itself out... I need to go home soon. Maybe we grew up in La Mancha. Bad days come and go, but you could make them especially cool by listening to the violin and walking over Waterloo bridge after a 6pm Real Analysis class.

just a note on irony... i freeze framed my computer screen and there it was, conversation about acne cream... i am an expert of turning the quotidien into something more, but that's beyond my powers... i think if you've not thought these things through, the temptation for nostalgia and romance can always get the better of you... it's only natural to want to talk about the stars again, with someone else.



Pourquoi me reveiller, o souffle du printemps?
Sur mon front je sens tes caresses.
Et pourtant bien proche est le temps
Des orages et des tristesses.
Demain, dans le vallon, viendra le voyageur,
Se souvenant de ma gloire premiere,
Et ses yeax vainement chercheront ma splendeur:
Ils ne trouveront plus que deuil et que misere!
Helas! Pourquoi me reveiller, o souffle du printemps?

Do we listen?

Joshua Bell plays for free

And then this song by Joni Mitchell

I slept last night in a good hotel
I went shopping today for jewels
The wind rushed around in the dirty town
And the children let out from the schools
I was standing on a noisy corner
Waiting for the walking green
Across the street he stood
And he played real good
On his clarinet, for free

Now me I play for fortunes
And those velvet curtain calls
Ive got a black limousine
And two gentlemen
Escorting me to the halls
And I play if you have the money
Or if youre a friend to me
But the one man band
By the quick lunch stand
He was playing real good, for free

Nobody stopped to hear him
Though he played so sweet and high
They knew he had never
Been on their t.v.
So they passed his music by
I meant to go over and ask for a song
Maybe put on a harmony...
I heard his refrain
As the signal changed
He was playing real good, for free


what i'm reading during my break

i finally have a chance to take a short break... and this is what i am reading over the next few days:

"The Midnight Disease"


Alex got this for me, it's about a neuroscientist drawing on literature to try to understand writer's block, and a condition called "hypergraphia", something bordering on an obsessive need to write.

"Einstein, His Life and Universe"


Could have done with a better title. It's terrific and new, and based on now completely opened archives.



would depend on the size of your ruler. the smaller your ruler the greater the length. if you were to think about it, most things have infinite length, if you measured it with the smallest possible ruler. with the smallest possible ruler, nothing is a straight line.


If the rocket man was travelling at the speed of light,


How I arrived at this site:

Doing Real Analysis: Thought about Triangle Inequality: Read that article: In Minkowski space Triangle Inequality is reversed: Twin Paradox


i rarely watch the sun rise nowadays. of course the hours are getting shorter, and my house is fully wired up, that, and the tendency to work late mean that i rarely get up in time to see the sun rise.

uncannily, there are these hours i have between 6pm and 2am that are rather strange. usually you work through those hours, get tired enough and hope to sleep and begin a new day... somehow, something sustains me nowadays from 6 - 2... it's as if my day only starts at 2, when singapore wakes up to a new day... true, i don't last long after that... but it's almost as if there is another sunrise waiting in the depths of the night. the hours remind me of the distance but i still feel as if i'm worrying, close by.

and perhaps parents all feel this way when their kids are abroad... they don't talk much about it, for it's become so routine, but somewhere down there, they have a clock stored away for their children. something that just wants to see them again in the morning, to be sure they're there. maybe that is the source of my worry, and the source of my anticipation.



after the indian summer, it seems like winter is here... technically it's not winter... it's the first winds sweeping in from the arctic... it's this period of chill which is going to force the leaves off the trees.

of course, when the sun sets at 4 every day, what's the difference... you know it could get worst, and frankly, this year, i'm spared the worst of it. surprisingly though, it is affecting me rather more this year, perhaps because of this pile of things to do next to me which keeps me at home.

i hope it will snow in vienna... at least it will be cold but pretty.

and more things to give thanks for, i will be avoiding a good part of the winter this year and sunbathing in southeast asia.


  • Don't clutter up your life with other activities;
    just write.
  • Don't carry out a thorough and comprehensive search of the literature;
    just write.
  • Don't attempt to make sure that every page you write shows the full extent of your professional skills;
    just write.
  • Don't write a well-organized, well-integrated, unified dissertation;
    just write.
  • Don't think profound thoughts that shake the intellectual foundations of the discipline;
    just write.
  • If you don't have a paper started by the spring of your third year,
    be alarmed.
  • If you don't have a paper largely drafted by the fall of your fourth year,
  • Have three new ideas a week while you are getting started.
  • Don't try to game the profession,
    work on what interests you.
  • Good papers in economics have three characteristics:
    • A viewpoint.
    • A lever.
    • A result.
Her grandfather was a hellfire preacher, but Ms Parton has an empathy for sinners. As a girl, she thought the town hooker in her make-up and stilletos was the prettiest thing she had ever seen. "She was trash," Ms Parton tells interviewers, "And I thought: That's what I want to be when I grow up"


characters from desolation row
and their relationship to my real analysis teacher... up next


today's darwin award goes to...

True story, princeton grad sends email to his friends at merril lynch, causing it to be circulated
around Wall Street and subsequently getting fired by his bosses after they read it.


Message-ID: <812f5c217425d311a83100508b07093003830e@carlyle01>
From: Peter Chung
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 20:26:21 -0400
MIME-Version: 1.0
X-Mailer: Internet Mail Service (5.5.2653.19)
Content-Type: text/plain

So I've been in Korea for about a week and a half now and what can I say, LIFE IS GOOD....

I've got a spanking brand new 2000 sq. foot 3 bedroom apt. with a 200 sq. foot terrace running the entire length of my apartment with a view overlooking Korea's main river and nightline. Why do I need 3 bedrooms? Good question, the main bedroom is for my queen size bed, where CHUNG is going to fuck every hot chick in Korea over the next 2 years (5 down, 1,000,000,000 left to go)
the second bedroom is for my harem of chickies, and the third bedroom is for all of you fuckers when you come out to visit my ass in Korea.

I go out to Korea's finest clubs, bars and lounges pretty much every other night on the weekdays and everyday on the weekends to (I think in about 2 months, after I learn a little bit of the buyside business I'll probably go out every night on the weekdays). I know I was a stud in NYC but I pretty much get about, on average, 5-8 phone numbers a night and at least 3 hot chicks that say that they want to go home with me every night I go out.

I love the buyside, I have bankers calling me everyday with opportunties and they pretty much cater to my every whim - you know (golfing events, lavish dinners, a night out clubbing). The guys I work with are also all chilll - I live in the same apt building as my VP and he drives me around in his Porsche (1 of 3 in all of Korea) to work and when we go out. What can I say,.... live is good,...
CHUNG is KING of his domain here in Seoul

So, all of you fuckers better keep in touch and start making plans to come out and visit my ass ASAP, I'll show you guys an unbelievable time.
My contact info is below.... Oh, by the way, someone's gotta start fedexing me boxes of domes, I
brought out about 40 but I think I'll run out of them by Saturday.....


Peter Chung
The Carlyle Group
Suite 1009, CCMM Bldg.
12, Yoido-dong, Youngdeungpo-ku
Seoul 150-010, Korea
Tel: (822) 2004-8412
Fax: (822) 2004-8440
email: pchung@thecarlylegroup.co.kr


review (version 1) for november issue

It is tough to make predictions, particularly about the future*

*Yogi Berra

The Black Swan by Nicholas Nassim Taleb

What happens out there in the real world? Many times I’ve peered through the iron bars of the small windows at the LSE while sitting through my class in real analysis. In the real world, some of my contemporaries could have discovered “the next Facebook” , or become the best thing to happen to an investment bank since sliced bread. Personally, I would love to sell a million copies of my as-yet unwritten future book, but I may well be serving banana caramel latt├ęs in Starbucks ruminating about how it all went pear-shaped for me since my heady undergraduate days. It all seems a little bit unfair, and you start wondering what you could have done better or differently.

Isn’t it comforting then, that someone comes along and tells you that you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself, and that chance has a big part to play in dealing the winners and losers. It’s certainly tempting.

To Nicholas Taleb, much of the world we live in today resembles “Extremistan”. It’s a world in which events of large import and magnitude occur with small, but non-negligible probabilties. It’s a world in which payoffs are highly non-linear and “lumpy”, where a chance alignment of factors makes an author extremely rich but 999 (or more) others very poor. It is a world in which wars happen and we are confronted by our own mortality. These large events are the “Black Swans” which lend their name to the title of the book.

The author’s fixation is with uncertainty, more specifically, those black swans not unlike what former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld once controversially dubbed “unknown unknowns”. This curiosity about rare events and how we react to uncertain events is informed by experiences in Taleb’s own life. Having observed his native Lebanon degenerate into civil war, and having contracted, and recovered, from throat cancer, he is constantly amazed how often people underestimate risk. This was especially marked in his career as a quantitative options trader, where he saw many other traders take comfort in their Gaussian models. People feed of success and the continual feeling of victory as they make profits daily in the stock market, but this is akin to picking up dimes in front of steamrollers. Taleb’s hedge fund, Empirica, adopts a different strategy of being ultraconservative (80% in T-bills) and hyperaggressive (the rest in out-of the-money options). It’s difficult to walk around most of the days of the year slowly bleeding money and making losses, yet on the days where something unexpected occurs, be it the Russian debt default, 9/11 or the recent sub-prime crisis, he makes a killing. It takes some intellectual discipline to go against our instincts and mental biases. Paradoxically, it is courageous to be prudent.

In exploring “Black Swans”, he takes us through a wide range of knowledge, drawing from his polymathic knowledge of fields such as philosophy, economics and biology. While the concepts presented are abstract and theoretical, his informal style and street sense make this read an engaging one peppered with interesting anecdotes and stories. Taleb’s book, to be fair, is not a vast collection of his original ideas. The main mantra of the book, is “don’t be too confident in what you know.” This is certainly nothing new, after all, Socrates said it all those years ago : “One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.” The title of the reference, is in itself an allusion to the belief that all swans were white, until the discovery of black swans in Australia demonstrated the weakness of induction as a basis of knowledge. It’s strength lies in creating an engaging synthesis of the literature to back up his theory. It introduces you to advances in mathematical finance suggested by the father of fractal geometry, Benoit Mandelbrot, and the theory of science advanced by Karl Popper. It is also a good introduction to those Nobel Prize winning psychologists, Kahnemann and Tversky, who have conducted numerous experiments investigating our heuristics and biases involved in judgement under uncertainty.

“The Black Swan” builds on his previous effort, “Fooled by Randomness”. That book contained several anecdotes of his life as a trader observing how people dealt and made decisions regarding uncertainty. Significantly, it also contained a section on how to deal with the uncertainties in life, with stoicism and good grace. This book builds on the last effort by presenting a more coherent theory with good doses of erudition.

Nassim’s style will polarize readers. He tries to write accessibly, out of memory, and has a conversational prose which is engaging yet at times loose. Less patient readers will not suffer his many digressions. He must have enjoyed writing it, however, for a book preaching epistemic humility, it does make some strong and sweeping statements. While I do agree with much of what he says about too much respect being given to those who have won a “Nobel”, some of the asides smack of having a huge axe to grind.

Yet behind the brash exterior of the book one finds heartwarming tales and consolations. That the world is random gives texture to life, and one value Taleb has as a skeptic is introspection. Things are not always going to go our way no matter how much we try, and it is the way we reflect upon, and subsequently deal with the environment around us which will preserve our dignity and give our successes and failures their proper perspective.

You shouldn’t take my word for it. After all, book reviewers are fallible. However, if you do happen to pop by the local bookstore, do take a look at it, for there are serious lessons to be learnt for everyone. For academics and practioners in finance, perhaps we should be less secure in the technical sophistication of our models and develop methods which may be less elegant, but provide a better fit for reality. For the lay person, it will provide a good dose of perspective on how to prepare ourselves for the black swans which will change our life, for better or worse.


The god forsakes Antony

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

C.P. Cavafy