About Me

When not at work with students, I spend my time in my room either reading, calculating something using pen and paper, or using a computer. I read almost anything: from the pornographic to the profound, although my main interests are mathematics and physics. "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." -Erasmus

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New shoes for the new year

One of the signs that you're adult is thinking about things like proper attire for every occasion. One of the advantages of being younger is you can get away with gaucherie and people will excuse you because of your age.  I suppose it's due to many occasions when I've attended formal events and had the uneasy feeling that I'm under-dressed.

On one hand, since I know that I exist in genteel penury, I have to make sure that I keep everything within budget. On the other hand, I'd also like to be decently or even well-dressed for every occasion. Jeans and a t-shirt won't work anymore; it's pitiable when a grown man can't make himself accept the reality of getting older.

I recently looked at the sorry state of my leather shoes: deep scuff marks due to clumsiness and not regularly waxing and polishing. The shoes have been a good purchase, although I did quail at the price when I first bought them more than six years ago. The brand is Bristol shoes; their facebook page can be found here. (The pictures I'll be uploading all come from that page, by the way.)

What my old shoes would look like if brand new. 

I remember buying my old shoes for PhP 2.5 K or about USD 60, and given my salary then, it was a substantial amount. But I decided to buy them anyway because I've read somewhere that good leather shoes, if cared for can last a long time. And they did last. I've never had the sole replaced, and the main damage on the shoes are deep scuff marks because I'm clumsy and often hit my toe.

After six years though, I decided that I ought to get another pair, and then have the old one repaired so that I would have an extra pair. I had a few requirements: the shoes should be able to fit even in the most formal settings, and yet be useful for daily wear for a high school teacher. So I visited a nearby mall to check out the prices and styles available.

Meanwhile, I decided to search online for the dress-codes for formal events such as black tie. And I realized that my old shoes would not work well with formal occasions, especially if I go abroad. Dress codes are more relaxed in my country, but if I ever have to attend a formal event abroad, the shoes I had would not do.

Among the things I learned was the styles. I wanted something with shoelaces, and I learned to distinguish between blucher and oxford styles, as well as learning what brogues (the little holes made on shoe leather as decoration) are.My reading told me that, as paradoxical as it may seem, the plainer the shoe, the more formal it was. Oxfords were more formal than bluchers, for example, and the broguery actually adds to the informality of the shoe design. I finally settled on a cap toe oxford shoe without brogues.

Strangely, it was hard to find in the mall. There were lots of loafers, bluchers,  and brogued shoes, but few plain oxfords. My tentative budget was at PhP 2.5 K, since that was what I paid for then. Alas, I did not take inflation into account. I looked at the various brands available, and thought that what I wanted would be a Gibi shoe. The price was right, but when I looked at the oxfords they had, all of them had brogues.

There was a cheap plain oxford, at PhP 900, but I found out that it was made of synthetic leather. I eventually ended up with the same brand as my old shoes because they had what I wanted, even though it was at a premium. The shoes did have leather soles that were, I found out later, a rarity for a Philippine-made shoe. There two models of plain cap-toed oxfords, and I wound up with the less pricey (but still pricey!) one.
Catalog photo of my new shoes
The new shoes after waxing.
After buying the shoes, I did a google search on Bristol shoes, found the facebook page, and a few reviews. It's not a well-known brand, I think, because people would rather buy internationally known brands. There was a forum I visited where they talked about getting quality leather shoes, and most of the members spoke of name brands.

I did learn that the shoes are hand-made, and that they offered a re-sole service for PhP 600. So if I care for the shoes, I can make them last for a very long time. Value indeed.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Cooking as a form of self-defense

Although my Mum cooks, I don't trust her cooking due to her fondness for fad diets. One way I avoided her cooking was eating out; but it's expensive and not a good long term solution. What to do?  I've hit upon two methods: stir-fry and steam.

I decided to buy a wok, and learned a few stir-fry recipes. On occasions when I felt really lazy, I just opened a can of luncheon meat or corned beef and fried it; other times I deep-fried some chicken nuggets. An essential component of frying is a stopwatch; I use my phone for that.

I'm still experimenting with the steamer; one failed experiment was to steam some unripe langka. I'll probably save the leavings by using them for ginataan. Aside from that one botched attempt, I've experimented with other vegetables, and discovered along the way that the secret to having good steamed food is the sauce. One combination that I like is Kikkoman soy sauce and wasabe flavor.

It's a good thing that the internet has a lot of good sources for recipes. Getting some of the ingredients can be a problem, especially when the names used elsewhere don't match local names. Pechay becomes chinese cabbage, and so on. It's especially difficult when one is buying the ingredients from the nearest wet market; one can't make oneself understood.

Aside from that one difficulty, there have been some benefits. It's fun learning how to cook, costs a lot less than eating out, and best of all, helps me avoid my mother's cooking. Who would have thought that cooking can be a form of self-defense?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

On State Universities and Fees (1)

The trending news right now in the University of the Philippines is Kristel Tejada's decision to take her life because she could not enroll due to the high fees. I am saddened by it, but can't take the view that it's the responsibility of the UP administration. The fees are ultimately dictated by the finances of the University, and even a not-for-profit (which UP is!) must remain solvent; that is, cash inflow should at least be equal to the outflow.

The place to begin is tuition fees. UP professors claim that the tuition fees are subsidized by the national government, even for those who pay full tuition. One way to put a lower bound on the amount of subsidy is to look at tuition fees in De La Salle University or Ateneo. Tuition fees at these schools would be around PhP 60 K per term, versus fees at UP that  go at around PhP 20 K to at most PhP 30 K per term. So the subsidy per student goes from PhP 30 K to PhP 60 K per year at the minimum. 

Again, this is a lower bound on the subsidy. What people do not take into account is the cost of keeping faculty, and faculty development. Faculty take a financial hit when they decide to teach at the University of the Philippines; they can, after all, decide to work elsewhere, where they're better paid, sometimes three or four times what they could make at University. Reasons they choose to stay include: the opportunity to interact with better students (it's frustrating having to teach underprepared students), and the opportunity to engage in research (which is a form of faculty development). 

These would be considered psychic rewards, and when students find out how much the faculty make, some of them even look down on the faculty because they choose psychic rather than monetary rewards. Which in turn encourages some faculty to leave to preserve their self-respect.  If faculty were paid at the going rates internationally, you can expect a larger shortfall in funds. So if you happen to be a UP student complaining about your professor, keep in mind that you're mooching off him or her! 

The administration also take a financial hit, including the UP System President and the Chancellors of the various campuses, because if they performed the same job elsewhere, they would be paid a lot more. The point is, aside from the subsidy from the national government, there is also a hidden subsidy from the faculty and the admin.

Where does a university get its funds? A university depends on tuition fees, gifts, and funding from the national government. On gifts: elsewhere, this is actually a large funding source, sometimes large enough that the income from the funds leads to a discount in the fees paid by the students. UP does not have that kind of money; in terms of giving by alumni, I think UP does a lot worse that Ateneo and DLSU. Alumni giving leads to lower fees. So if you're a UP alumnus, setting up a trust fund for UP's use does help. 

Another source of funding is income from rents from business establishments that operate within the University. UP is in a bind here; whenever the administration considers taking advantage of the income from rents, many students and faculty (who should know better!) raise an outcry about commercialization and its evils.What they don't realize is that such income is used by universities elsewhere to lower the fees paid by students. Knowing that this is a legitimate source of funding means I actually support allowing commercial establishments to rent unused UP land, provided that the process is transparent, and we don't encounter tenants who behave like the people from Gotesco

Now let's consider the national government as a source of funds. No matter how much the administration, from the UP President downwards wish for zero fees (and I think that they do wish for it!) , the people who dictate the amount of money from the national government is not the UP President. What the UP admin can do is plead for more funding funding from the House of Representatives, because it is congress that controls the UP budget. It's not a matter of the UP admin's political will; no matter what reasons they give, or rallies they join, if congress really doesn't want to raise UP funding, it won't happen. After all, the national government is already running a deficit, and more funds for UP means less funding for other things (such as pork, for example).

Some students raise the possibility of defaulting on government debt. What they don't realize is that government is already funding the deficit using debt. Any default means government will no longer have debt as a source of funds. Defaults increase borrowing costs; any further debt that the government takes on after the default must have very high interest rates, because lenders want to be compensated for their willingness to lend money to governments that have defaulted before. It doesn't matter if the debt was due to previous administrations. Government's willingness to pay for debts from yesterday give lenders the belief that debt that is incurred today will also be paid in the future. So diverting money from debt servicing is out. If we want to lower the cost of borrowing (interest rates), we'd better pay our debts to insure a good credit rating and hopefully get a credit rating upgrade so that we'll have lower interest rates in the future.

What does this all mean? Congress must work with what's left of the budget, and this is where the chicanery begins. So if you want to blame anyone, I say blame your congressman. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Language and its Uses 101

While tweeting, I noticed this (from the UP Diliman twitter account):

Makes me think of a monster movie.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A texas instruments TI-83+ emulator

One of my sources of money is tutoring students in maths and physics. The reason is my undergraduate training in physics: the math and physics we learn is good for teaching high school (grades 11 and 12) maths and physics.

I've noticed is how clumsy students are when it comes to using their scientific calculators. I've seen this in both high school and university classes. The worst case I've seen was a student with a very powerful scientific calculator, and the method of use is to write intermediate steps on paper, when it could all be done using the calculator itself with the suitable use of the ANS key and the memory.

Since I couldn't let that go, I would nag about reading the manual. Sometimes, I would use trail and error to figure out how their calculator works, and then teach them how to use it so that they wouldn't waste time during exams.

I've recently been tutoring a grade 11 student who's in the International Baccalaureate programme. Since the programme places such a large emphasis on the end exams (it reminds me of the Cambridge Tripos system), and because graphing calculators are allowed (even encouraged), I've asked myself if I should buy a TI-84+ calculator so that I could assist students who use such calculators.

Fortunately, the google play store came to the rescue. I was able to find an emulator (Andie Graph) for the TI-83+ (which has almost exactly the same functions as the 84+)  which also doubles as an emulator for the models TI-82,83,85, and 86 models. The emulator serves as the virtual machine within Android, and within that virtual machine, it runs the roms of the various TI models. Roms, by the way, are the operating systems of the calculators. A screenshot of the emulator is on the side.

Good thing I searched. I've looked at the price of the TI-84+ and I was staggered  at the PhP 8.5 K price. I will buy one if I ever have to teach in an IB school, but for now, a Chinese Android tablet worth PhP 2.9 K running the emulator is good enough. Paradoxically, the cheaper tablet is actually more powerful than the calculator. However, if you do need to take the AP, SAT, or IB exams (or even university level exams in introductory physics), only the real calculators are allowed.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Changing desserts

I updated my Galaxy Tab's operating system from Ice Cream Sandwich to Jelly Bean yesterday. It was a largish download, around 300 MB. I've been using it and I'm amazed at how smooth it feels. I've read good things about Jelly Bean, and so I ran Antutu's benchmark test just to make sure that there are numbers to actually back up my rough impressions.

On the left, I have the Antutu scores after the Jelly Bean update, while on the right, I have the Antutu scores for the same tablet running Ice Cream Sandwich. The numbers pretty much tell the story: Jelly Bean does a better job at handling both 2D and 3D graphics.

One of the nice things from having ROM Manager is that the update didn't wipe out my root access. ROM manager prompted me if I wanted to retain root access, and I chose to keep root.

I did have to adjust to a few things: the Samsung team decided to eliminate the screenshot icon at the bottom, which is a good move, (I sometimes take unintended screenshots when I mean to press the home icon) but it also means that getting a screenshot isn't as easy as it was. I had to go back to pressing power and the down volume simultaneously to get the screenshots above.

The location of the notifications and settings are now on top, and the app drawer was moved to the bottom of the screen. You have to play around with it at first to get used to the new locations. But these small changes should be easy to adjust to.

All in all, it looks like Samsung's development team did a good job preparing and delivering the update.