Sunday, March 28, 2010

Almost a Year

I've been thinking a lot lately about the time that's gone by since I got home from my mission. People often ask me how long I've been home and it was an odd feeling to say last week that is has been almost a year. I've been counting the months since I got back, so that I'd be able to tell people how long it's been, and as I went from saying the number of weeks to the number of months, that was an odd milestone as well. Just a few weeks ago I was telling people that I'd been back ten months, and now all of a sudden I'm using the word "year" to describe how long ago I left Finland.

I miss a lot of things from my mission, some of which are spiritual and meaningful, others a bit more trite, but I miss them all the same:

I miss having the ocean nearby– I loved seeing the sea in both of the cities where I served.

I miss eating delicious rye bread every day, especially with lingonberry jam.

I miss saying "lähetyssaarnaja" and "Myöhempien Aikojen Pyhien Jeesuksen Kristuksen Kirkko" and having people understand me.

I miss having 3 hours set aside in the morning to study the scriptures, practice Finnish, and prepare my lessons and tasks for the day.

I miss Finnish dairy products. Yogurt most of all.

I miss wearing holes through all my winter tights and repairing them with a needle and thread five minutes before I leave the house in an attempt to be thrifty.

I miss tracting and street contacting. Those are the things I never thought I'd miss, but I miss the opportunity to just come out and tell people what I believed and testify to them right there.

I miss the Finns and their reserve. North Americans are so noisy and rude sometimes.

I miss salmiakki.

I miss Finland.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lumberjacks, Carousels and the GST

Today I learned how to participate in a tax fraud scheme that could easily earn me millions of dollars. Yep, that's just how we roll in the Economics department.

Today's Economics of Taxation class was one of the best ever. It started out with Dr. W announcing excitedly,

"Today we're going to learn about Carousel Fraud. This is actually a really profitable fraud scheme that is hard to detect, so you can scam millions of dollars from the government with it."

Wouldn't you be excited if that's what your prof told you at the beginning of a 75-minute class on taxes? It got even better when he began explaining the necessary theories we had to have under our belts before we could tackle Carousel fraud.

We were learning about Value-Added Taxes and how they work compared to Retail Sales Taxes and our professor gave a great analogy using furniture manufacturing. We started with a lumberjack cutting down a tree and selling it to a lumber mill, who then sells the boards to a furniture factory, who sells the furniture to Wal-Mart, who then sells it to you. If you're the kind of person who buys furniture at Wal-Mart, that is. I've heard that there are people who scorn it. We then proceeded to dissect the impact of the GST on all the different transactions within this tree's life cycle. It started out with this gem of a quote from Dr. W:

"To simplify this model, we're going to assume that the lumberjack has no inputs. He never bought a saw or anything. I guess he just went into the woods and tore it to the ground with his bare hands. Or maybe he used his teeth, I don't know."

It was with this image in my head that I heard his question a moment later, "So how much GST does the burly lumberjack pay?"

And if this wasn't the best class ever, Dr. Wen then proceed to tell us how all we need to do is move to Europe, buy a large shipment of cell phones (computer chips work as well), and set up three dummy companies in two different countries, then we can be scamming the government out of millions of dollars each year! All said with a straight face!

I feel like I got my full tuition's worth out of the Economics of Taxation in today's lecture alone.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Apparently some people were under the impression that I made up the term "IFF". I definitely did not. It is a completely valid scholarly term, as you can see below:

Friday, March 19, 2010


I have discovered a new term this semester, and that term is "iff".

It means "if and only if" and I'm contemplating using it in everyday language. I'm just working on how to pronounce it so that everyone will know that I'm saying "iff" and not plain old "if". Because let's face it, my newfound "iff" will lose all of its panache and I'll look less determined if it comes out "if".

So do I say "if-f"? Or "if-if"? What about some sort of "if-uh"?

To see why I'm so excited about this term, play out the following circumstances in your mind:

Scene: A dinner table. Young five-year-old is refusing to eat his asparagus. Miraculously, this child has taken either advanced math classes or else introduction to logic at the local university and so is familiar with the implications of an extra F.

Mother: Theophilus, IF you eat your asparagus, Mummy and Daddy will let you have some ice cream!

Theophilus: (thinks to himself) Mummy is trying to bribe me... so maybe if I eat a bite or two, I'll still get my ice cream...

Father: Theophilus, IFF you eat your asparagus, you may have some ice cream for dessert.

Theophilus: (thinks to himself) Uh-oh. Daddy means business. The only scenario in my future which includes consuming ice cream necessarily includes eating asparagus as well. Better start chowing down!

The implications of "iff" are endless. Say "aye" iff you agree.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Triathlon Update

Here's the update on my triathlon status: I've registered in the Foothills Charity Triathlon, taking place in Okotoks on July 10. I figure that by then, the lake where I have to swim 500m will be slightly more warm than it is now.

So mark your calendars and come to cheer for Daddy and I as we swim, bike, and run our way to victory!

Or more accurately, as we swim, bike, and run our way to the finish line, hopefully ahead of the 75-year-old competitors.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Book Review

As an economics major, whenever a book about economics makes it onto the New York Times bestselling list, I am morally obligated to read it. Such was the case with Levitt and Dubner's first work, Freakonomics.

I loved that book because I could identify with Steven Levitt. I, too, am mostly only interested in microeconomics and couldn't care less about global interest rates or the monetary system. Whenever I tell people that I'm an econ major, they respond with, "So what do you think about the recession?" or "How's about that hike in interest rates?" I typically respond with some comment that I remember from the bare minimum of macroeconomics classes that I was forced to take, like "Well, that'll have ramifications on the savings/spending ratio." while actually thinking inside, "Don't know and don't care!"

My interest in economics lies mostly with Game Theory, Industrial Organization, and Economics of Regulation. My focus is on individual firms and why they make the decisions that they do. I'm intrigued by the idea of natural monopolies in the electrical transmission industry and how we can change their incentives so that they want to give fair prices to consumers. I get a rush out of finding Nash equilibria and calculating ideal price discrimination schemes. So few people understand that there is more to economics than Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, and Milton Friedman. There's an entire world out there about how people act and why.

So I found a kindred spirit in Steven Levitt when he wrote a book about sumo wrestlers who have disincentives to win one match relative to another, about strategic naming of children, and why people are more scared of guns than pools. The original Freakonomics was full of little economic gems that made me wish I actually understood econometrics so that I could analyze similar exciting data.

It was with great anticipation that I purchased my copy of Superfreakonomics. I was hopeful for another engrossing read full of nuggets of humour, well-applied econometric skills, and insightful conclusions, all organized into a cohesive book that would fill my need for fun economic applications.

My hopes, while not dashed to pieces, were let down.

Superfreakonomics is a clever book, and it has it's moments of sheer brilliance. The introduction about walking drunk showed skillful use of statistics, dashes of humour, and well-phrased conclusions, while the conclusion about the applications of consumer theory to a monkey experiment made me laugh out loud and identify concepts from all my micro classes. A chapter near the beginning analyzes the effects of the sexual revolution on the real wages of prostitutes (which, had they been any other industry group, would have had great success in lobbying the government for a compensating bailout) was extremely well done.

However, many of the chapters were glued together pieces of hodgepodge, unsupported by conclusive data or sound econometrics. The chapter on global warming seemed to me to have little relevance to economics and jumped from issue to issue like a kangaroo on a pogo stick.

In conclusion, it's worth a read, but definitely a selective one. And probably using a copy from the library. My copy is also available for loan. If you want a really entertaining book that will teach you something about economics, borrow my copy of Games, Strategies, and Decision-making by Joseph Harrington instead.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A New Take on Tradition

My best friend Aurora and I have a great tradition– we love to make homemade doughnuts. I think it started when we were in about grade eight and we've made them many times. The first time, we pulled out the cookie cutters to find the doughnut shaped ones (that have a pre-made hole in them) and realized that there were a lot of doughnut possibilities in that tupperware of cookie cutters. We tried making a gingerbread man doughnut with the two different-sized men that we had, but it mostly just burned. Our best outcome was without a doubt the star doughnut. We had two perfectly sized star cookie cutters that made fun shaped doughnuts and little poky doughnut holes. It's a fun tradition that I've loved doing throughout the years.

Fast-forward to last weekend. Aurora got married last summer and she and her husband have a nice little basement suite. We decided that her home hasn't really been broken in until it's been blessed with the smell of deep-fried food as we whip up a batch of doughnuts. When her husband, John, heard that we were planning to turn his house into a fast food joint for the evening, he made a special request: one of his favourite things is Boston Creme doughnuts.

I'd never made filled doughnuts before. It always seemed like a really daunting task that was for kitchen experts, not lowly aspiring cooks like myself. Aurora downloaded a recipe off the internet and we got started. It surprised me how easy they were and how delicious they tasted!

Our next doughnut making plan: mini filled doughnuts in varying flavours. All the puddings at the grocery store looked so tempting!