Writing to Better my English Part 2

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Chen Yi checked his honors analysis grade online. As expected, it was an A. Chen Yi couldn’t hold himself back from laughing.

I won…I won.

“Enjoying yourself, I see,” chimed in the man with the goatee.

“Yes, I indeed am enjoying myself. Much thanks to you, Mr. Devil.”

“Please, please Chen Yi. Just call me Lucifer.”

“I would like another deal with you Lucifer,” Chen Yi abruptly requested.

“I am always ready to do business for the right price. What will it be this time?” asked Lucifer with a wide smile that spread from ear to ear.

“I want you to teach me exactly how you perform the magic that allows you to grant other people wishes.”

Lucifer started smiling a big, wide smile. His glistening white teeth shone from the bright lights of Chen Yi’s room. He was very excited.

“This…is definitely a deal I would want to do with you, but this will cost you quite a bit. I request 95% of your soul for it,” Lucifer calmly offered.

“Very well,” agreed Chen Yi, “let’s do the deal.”

Lucifer suddenly lost his big smile.

“I have never met a young man quite like you…Do tell me, though, before you make this deal. Why do you so unhesitatingly agree to this deal? You see, most people would think twice before offering a price along the lines of half of their souls.”

Chen Yi was now the one beginning to laugh, “Because I understand how powerful knowing your magic would be.”

“…Do tell me more,” prodded Lucifer.

“I asked for an A in Honors Analysis. I knew I stood at around a B before the final. There was no possible way for me to score something high enough on the final to pull me to an A. That was the first point of magic. Then, to clarify how your magic works, I wrote a blatantly wrong answer to every single question on the final…”

“…I’m listening to your brilliance,” assured Lucifer.

“When I received my exam back, he marked the questions wrong and pointed out explicitly why they were wrong, just like he usually does. He even commented on what a horrible job I did on the final. Yet when I asked him how I did in the class, he confirmed my A from the school database. He knows I scored a zero on the final yet says I got an A. In addition to that, my grade breakdown now says I received an A on all previous assignments when I know I didn’t. Your magic is so powerful because it gets exactly the desired result, even if it means bending events that have happened in the past. It doesn’t work through the process of making the wish viable; it simply makes it a reality. And that, to me, is a very powerful magic.”

Lucifer suddenly smiled a big, evil smile that resembled that of a predator knowing he already has caught his prey.

“Are you not one bit afraid? You would basically have only 4% of your soul left. Aren’t you worried about the consequences? What if that was enough to kill you?”

“A salesperson is warning the buyer about a purchase? And you call yourself the devil?” challenged Chen Yi smugly.

“As I mentioned before: I am a very honest guy. Even though I collect souls, I try to do so in a rather fair way. And your soul is indeed worth a lot, so I am willing to make you this deal for my personal benefit,” explained Lucifer, “And I quite like you. So let me tell you this. Unless you give up 100% of your soul, you will not be affected at all.”

“So what are we waiting for? Shall we do the deal?” hurried Chen Yi.

“Yes, yes. Let’s close the deal. But just one last question: what if I’m lying to you?”

This time it was Chen Yi’s turn to laugh.

“Well?”

“I’ve seen your power, and I have never craved something so much in my life. Whilst you may be lying to me, that is a risk I am willing to take,” answered Chen Yi.

Lucifer felt a spark of happiness; he felt something spreading throughout his body that he had not experienced for many millennia.

“Very well. I shall grant you the same power as me in exchange for 90% of your soul.”

Lucifer reached his hand and tapped the chest of Chen Yi.

Chen Yi felt a deathly chill run from his spine to his brain before he fainted on the floor of his room.

Writing to Better my English Part 1

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My friends all say my English is terrible, so I’m writing to practice my English. It isn’t really my first language, so feel free to point out all the grammatical mistakes and awkward wordings if you may.

—————————————————————————

Chen Yi knew he was going to fail the Honors Analysis final. He knew he couldn’t do it.

The exam was in a week, and he knew he would fail. The kids in his class were too smart. The professor was too hard. Everything was stacked against him.

Fuck, I shouldn’t have watched that one episode of Friends last week.

Chen Yi knew he was a great student. He took multivariable calculus as a freshman in high school. He never got a grade that wasn’t an A before. He got in every school that exists on the US News Word Report ranking, but he decided to come here.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. What was I thinking? I should’ve taken that Harvard offer.

He knew that studying was hopeless against the monsters in his class, the geniuses who won international math Olympiad, the other freshmen who already had a math publication, the kids who were in MENSA. He couldn’t do it against them.

“I would give anything right now to get an A in this class!”

His voice lightly echoed off the thin walls of his dorm room.

“That can be arranged…”

“Huh?”

Chen Yi turned around and…

“GAH! How’d you get in here?!”

The man simply stroked his goatee and smirked.

“I-I’m calling the cops!”

The man stroked his goatee once more, and smiled slyly.

“Well, that’s up to you. I thought you were willing to trade me anything to get an A in Honors Analysis.”

“Huh?…”

“That’s right, I’m the devil. And for a part of your soul, I am willing to grant you an A in Honors Analysis.”

“W-what?”

“And you see, contrary to my negative public opinion, I am neither a price gouger nor an unfair entity. I simply provide you a service for something I desire.”

Chen Yi suddenly calmed down. He was willing to give this a try. He needed this. He was certain he’d get a C or worse if he took the exam in his current state. He needed a boost, or else his math career would be over. Then he would no longer be part of the elite. He couldn’t complete his dream and work in high frequency trading. He would have wasted his life studying for nothing.

“Ok…so, my soul, you say?”

“Not even! See, your soul is a rather strong one, as you will accomplish much for this Earth in your lifetime. All I ask is a little part of it. For something as simple as an A in Honors Analysis, I only ask for 1/1000th of your soul.”

“What? That’s it?” Chen Yi questioned immediately.

“I see you’ve entered negotiation mode rather quickly. Yes, that’s it.”

“…”

Chen Yi contemplated for a moment.

“Well?”

“I feel like there’s something you aren’t disclosing to me. What are the consequences of losing 1/1000th of my soul?” doubted Chen Yi.

“Not much for you. In fact, depending on the type of person you are nothing at all for you! You see your soul simply represents what you will bring in the future. It is an entity of positive energy that has yet to be released. I am simply siphoning some of this energy away! Since its only 1/1000th, you would probably be operating normally. The alterations in your future for this transaction are minimal. I promise!”

“…well. What’s in it for you?”

“What do you mean?” the man with the goatee asked, stroking his goatee questioningly.

“You see,” Chen Yi stated, “human beings don’t do things for no reason. Why are you willing to do me this service for such a small price?”

The devil cracked up laughing, with Chen Yi staring at him with his stone cold face. He fell on the floor and began rolling on the floor laughing. He seemed to be unable to stop, but Chen Yi patiently waited with a calm face. He suddenly rose from the floor and got inches away from Chen Yi’s face.

“Because, you see….I’m not a human. I’m a devil.”

Chen Yi uncomfortably drew himself away from the man with the goatee, and lay down on his bed.

“Well?” the man with the goatee pressed, “what will it be?”

“Will you give me a moment to think?” exclaimed Chen Yi. He stared at the ceiling and pondered. What could go wrong if I lose 1/1000th of my soul? I need a cost benefit analysis. I couldn’t understand his positive energy trash. He could very well not deliver. How can I trust him? I best test him out first.

“Ok, I’ve come to my conclusion. My answer is no,” concluded Chen Yi.

The man with the goatee stared at him in astonishment, “Wow that is a first. Congratulations. But I must ask, why?”

“Because you see,” noted Chen Yi, “I have no guarantee of you delivering. That is all. I am willing to take the risk in the side of my price, but I simply don’t want to pay and not receive anything in return.”

The man with the goatee once again started rolling on the floor laughing. He rolled back and forth between Chen Yi and the door multiple times before he stopped.

“I see, I see. There is more to make from dealing with you kids destined for greatness, but you are harder to crack indeed! Very well, what if I gave you one for free? I am an honest businessman after all. And if this can just lead to one more potential business opportunity with someone like you, I would be very happy indeed. So, how about it? I can give you something simple for free. Something you would think to be impossible. Go ahead, try me! Though of course, try and keep the costs down for me. Nothing as difficult as an A in Honors Analysis would you!”

Chen Yi stared at the man with the goatee. He was intrigued ever so slightly. And besides, it wouldn’t hurt to try it out. He can always turn away if it doesn’t work out.

“Ok. Bring me Scarlett Johansson,” requested Chen Yi.

Once again, the man with the goatee started rolling furiously on the floor laughing. He abruptly stood up, snapped his fingers, and Scarlett Johansson walked through the door.

Chen Yi reached out his hands to touch her, but the man with the goatee slapped his hand away.

“Well, this is only a trial after all. That would cost you extra,” the man with the goatee explained with a wide grin on his face.

Chen Yi crossed his arms as Scarlett Johansson walked out the door.

“Very well, I at least believe you have the power to deliver to some degree. While this may be interesting for later, for now, I want my A in Honors Analysis,” demanded Chen Yi.

“Ah, to easy, sir,” said the man with the goatee as he snapped his fingers.

“Great. So I’ll get an A now?” asked Chen Yi.

“Yes, you will. And now, for my payment…” the man with the goatee cackled as he reached towards Chen Yi’s chest.

Chen Yi felt a light tingling in his chest that spread to the ends of all his limbs. He felt a light feeling of something draining out of him, but he did not give it much thought.

“And, we are done sir,” smiled the man with the goatee, “it was a pleasure doing business with you. Enjoy your A!”

The man with the goatee disappeared in a blink of an eye, and soon Chen Yi was back to being alone in his room. And for the first time since he came to the University of Chicago, he slept before 3 a.m.

to be continued…

What if Occupy Wall Street is creating more bankers…

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Occupy Wall Street has done a decent job over the past year exposing corruption and greed on Wall Street. While they mean well, I believe they may be accidentally growing what they want to curb.

So, here’s a fun fact: don’t smoking signs actually make smokers want to smoke even more. Having a picture of a cigarette remind them of cigarettes, and thus makes them crave one.

I thought of this as I was watching some OWS news clips today. They point out the ridiculous bonuses bankers are receiving even after the financial crisis, the nice cars they still drive thanks to tax payer money, the millions they pocketed without going to jail…wait, I kind of want that job….

Despite depicting the bankers in a negative light, these news clips are reminding naive college students of the nation that you can still make a lot of money in finance if you have a looser set of morals. While its ideal that everyone does a job they love, showing million dollar bonuses and luxurious lifestyles of bankers to kids still uncertain about career could be rather dangerous.

Pointing out the obscene amount bankers are being paid and how bankers involved in illegal transactions that make them millions are never thrown in jail is probably going to in fact draw more people towards a career than away from it. Michael Lewis, a prominent voice in recording the sketchy workings of the financial industry wrote many books like Liar’s Poker and The Big Short to discourage careers in finance. However, he notes that he frequently encounters college students who approach him at book signings to ask him how to get in on the action.

So, do OWS messages actually guide college kids towards a career in finance? I’ll be running some little experiments, and get back to you all.
DISCLAIMER: I am neutral towards OWS. I agree with some things they say, and disagree with others.

When in finance, it’s all about the drama

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I’ve been asking myself a question for a long time: if finance really is just about the absolute value of the money they make, why do is it a top career choice? With pay slowly being cut down, reality is, there are much more profitable jobs such as chemical engineering or luxury goods craftsmanship. The money culture of Wall Street being “where the big money is made” certainly does play a big role, but many people still choose to head towards the industry even though they understand they might not necessarily make $100k+ as a junior investment banking analyst anymore.

The answer I’ve come to is that the financial services industry is depicted as full of drama, and people, especially college students, love nothing more than drama. The absolute sum of money helps, but its not so much what the money can buy, but the drama that comes along with living in the world of $100k+ salaries. Blogs like When in Finance, movies like Wall Street and Twitter feeds like Goldman Sachs elevator further reinforce this misconception. While they do exhibit the immorality and problems with the industry from time to time, they mainly depict the dramatic day to day lives of bankers. And I think this false depiction is what is drawing a disproportionate amount of college students towards the financial services sector.

First, let’s establish an assumption I’m making: college students love drama. This is represented in the most common college group activity: sitting around and gossiping. In fact, this is why Facebook has spread virally among the younger generation. They want to know what sorts of dramatic stories are happening to their friends. They want to know whether any exciting developments have come in the various crazy relationships their friends are in. And without too much experience in life, college students are more likely than adults to make poor decisions (especially given the opportunity to consume large amounts of alcohol unsupervised), making college a hotbed for drama. Through this culture of gossipping and drama brewing, it isn’t hard to see why college students love drama so much. In fact, I would even go as far to say that drama is an integral part of every college experience.

And when they begin their career search, they begin to find that there is more drama in the financial services industry than anywhere else. In fact, the financial services industry spends a large amount of money to wave this exciting drama in front of student’s faces. Fine dining with clients then chatting in the bar until 5 am, cutthroat competition, bottles and models…these are the characteristics of popular dramas in our popular media like Gossip Girl and Orange County.

But wait, many honest working kids simply want to pay off their student loans, right? Well, if you look at the breakdown of kids who tend to work in finance, you notice that most of these kids are from upper-middle class or upper class families that make paying off loans not exactly of the highest priority. Rather, it isn’t about the money itself, but the lifestyle that comes along with the high salaries and prestigious jobs. The desire for drama and the image of the financial services industry is why college students want to enter the industry. There is a whole different lifestyle that they can’t unlock unless they are making the hundreds of thousands themselves.

Then, another question arises. Wouldn’t the job of regurgitating excel templates and refining powerpoint slides deter students from signing up? Especially if they have interned there? Well, if you think about it, interns mostly deal with bitch work such as condensing company research reports, making calculations of market metrics in excel or preparing editing market overviews for clients. They are immersed in a job where they are dealing with the market on a daily basis. And let me tell you, there is no larger drama queen in the world than the market. So before the reality that they are simple a cog in the machine spitting numbers onto a premade template, they most likely would find their job “exciting.”

 

We have the Eurozone crisis that is still threatening to tear apart a continent last summer.

And we have the crazy earnings season this year blended with algorithm errors, more European panic and crashing tech stocks like Facebook and Zynga.

 

And shall I say, isn’t it a coincidence that there is never a lack of drama during these summer months?

Nothing is more exciting than the market. And its hard for interns to realize that when they haven’t been numbed by their 50th Powerpoint presentation yet. They don’t see how they could be unhappy with their jobs 5 years down the line after they have been changing text in the exact same Powerpoint template for the hundredth time. All they see in their managing directors is the ability to slosh around large sums of cash and drink with clients at exclusive clubs. After seeing their MD’s drama filled lifestyle, they are even more tempted to sign up for a bulge bracket.

Why? Because it seems like an extension of college, especially for kids going to prestigious institutions. Its a continuation of their college drama: partying hard on weekends, office encounters and enjoying the position as the best of the best. In conjunction with the enticing offers from banks and application process rather similar to the college application process, and you have a perfect replication of comfortable school life. And who wouldn’t want to continue living the drama-filled college life?

Mawaru Penguindrum: “Let’s Share the Fruit of Fate”

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When my friend first told me to watch the “penguin hat anime” I was skeptical. I haven’t watched anime since I got to college. And really, penguin hats? He mentioned there were philosophical questions embedded within, but hmm…

Penguin hats and philosophy: an amazing combination

Then, I got bored during summer. And I thought, why not give that penguin hat anime a try? Might be worth some laughs, at the very least. What resulted was an insurmountable obstacle to my efficiency that I couldn’t overcome for a few days.

The most compelling part of Mawaru Penguindrum was the story telling. Apart from one or two moments of carelessness, every single scene existed for a reason. Unlike cinematography, where the director cannot fully control all the variables that are captured by the camera, the anime medium allows the director to control every scene down to the pixel.

While this characteristic of anime makes for really obvious flaws when the director is lazy, a well constructed work is able to genuinely represent the director’s vision. Kunihiko Ikuhara, who last revolutionized the anime genre with Magical Girl Utena in 1997, most certainly demonstrated his capability to manipulate the medium in his comeback. A large budget, one of the most consistent animation studios for large scale projects and Ikuhara resulted in one of the most amazing anime series to date: Mawaru Penguindrum.

Wait…really? A series about a Penguin Hat?

The story begins with the Takakura brothers Kanba and Shouma visiting the aquarium with their sister Himari. She collapses at the aquarium and is sent to the hospital. The doctor declares her to be finished, but the penguin hat they buy at the aquarium magically brings Himari back with an epic transformation scene…

And the story thus begins with a magical, life-saving penguin hat…

note: spoilers incoming. I try to minimize them, but they are unavoidable if you read on!

Finding simplicity through the cloud of philosophical themes, complicated narrative and cute little sisters

One of the largest challenges any director has to overcome in anime is the balance of elegant complexity and beautiful simplicity. Anything too needlessly complicated fun diminishes because it is too heavy or it is too easy for the director’s world to fall apart; anything overly simplified results in a meaningless, hollow show.

Ikuhara surpasses this constraint by creating a complex narrative full of metaphorical implications while still preserving a clean, simple message that brings out the beauty in the characters.

The simplicity and complexity comes from the themes of love and fate: both subjects that can be expressed in a very simple way or a very complex way. Ikuhara utilizes a wide variety of tools to express and tie his themes together in both simple and complex ways. The most dominant tool being that of the train.

The train acts as the intersection of all the characters, being the place where their fates were tied together in an incident 16 years ago, and where most of the important interactions occur. Ikuhara, overlays these interactions with flashbacks triggered by digital display boards seen in stations, as well as cuts to commercials of the train of fate moving forward.

Station signs: indicators that a flashback is beginning…

Symbols and themes are also consistently hidden throughout the train, such as the commercials that show the quote of the day, as presented by fictional pop idol group “Double H.”

From random to thematically significant, these billboards play a significant role in Ikakura’s storytelling.

Like in the anime, trains have a definitive importance in Japanese society. With more than 5 million people commuting to work daily, the trains in Tokyo tie together the entire city, like the trains tie together the story line in the anime.

SEIZON SENRYAKU!!!

This anime has one of the best transformation scene of all time, triggered by Himari screaming SEIZON SENRYAKU!!! (生存戦略, or survival strategy). Not only is it well crafted, it comes at the most random times ever. From the middle of dinner to the middle of the subway to being activated through a written note shown to a stalker hiding in a tree outside Himari’s hospital window, the timings of these transformations are obscure, and still a pleasure no matter how many times I watch the sequence.

SEIZON SENRYAKU!!!!!!!!

The twists in this story are equally abrupt as the transformation scenes. And unlike the random twists and turns that have destroyed countless series (like a certain slice of life story involving bunnies), each twist seems well planned out and the story moves forward stably like the marunouchi line train.

Did I mention Himari is way too cute?

The animation quality of Mawaru Penguindrum did not disappoint. Not only were there no terrible errors that will end up in various compilations, Brain’s Base was able to help Ikuhara deliver on his vision.

On an absolute performance standpoint, apart from the great job on the transformation scenes, Penguindrum shone because of the excellently portrayed metaphorical scenes.

Hmmm…this could mean so many things

I’m usually very selective about character animation. Some animation companies simply don’t portray their characters in a way that represents their role and personality in the story. I thought the animators did a great job with the characters. Specifically Himari.

Her character allows Brain’s Base to depict her in a wide variety of emotions, from simple blank gazes, to deep soul searching ones.

Simple style, but still ridiculously cute

Especially with Himari switching between penguin hat form and regular form, it probably was a substantial animation challenge. I was very happy with the end results though.

hmm~

d’awww~

Music: When you have money and passion, it all falls together

In the span of 24 episodes, this anime goes through 8 different ending credit sequences, and two opening credit sequences, all of which have songs custom tailor made by director’s orders.

While this certainly is an advantage exclusive to the legendary director of Utena, the care and thought in the opening and ending songs really touched me. I have, honestly, to this date, never seen an anime series with fully relevant lyrics that act as the director’s tool for foreshadowing future events as well.

All too often, hastily composed songs (like a certain school music club anime) or irrelevant songs are inserted in the opening and ending. The opening pieces themselves are both over six and a half minutes, and are amazing stand-alone pieces by themselves. The plethora of symbolic references in the opening animation sequence also helped. Etsuko Yakushimaru’s voice also complemented the atmosphere of the anime really well. Her clear yet slightly suppressed voice makes her style a perfect emotional fit into the anime.

Even the album cover is done with Ikuhara’s themes in mind!

The ending sequences were a different story. Though I unfortunately have to say that the voice actresses of Triple H are no where near as amazing a singer as Yakushimaru, the dynamic capabilities of 8 different endings really allowed for the themes to be carried from one episode to the next. Considering Double H’s role in the anime, I really couldn’t think of better representatives for the ending songs than Triple H. There were really only 2 distinct ending animations, but they were modified to fit the atmospheres of the different ending songs. The end result is a great transition to the next episode.

The costumes are key!

It’s really obvious Ikuhara was a graphic design major

In this long series, I’ve only really had two complaints. Both, two moments of minor corner cutting. The series was so amazing, I guess, I have nothing left but to pick at these small errors.

The slide show complaint is very simple. It is the most abusive tool an anime director could ever use. While Ikuhara only allowed it to slide for 10 seconds in one of his 24 episodes, I can’t help but be slightly bothered that this mechanism was included in such an amazing anime series.

The moment of terrible physics comes when Kanba is forced to save Himari who is currently on a cart tied to a pulley with plastic explosives tied to each of the ropes. All I can say is, as bad as I am in physics, I know those ropes don’t add up. The dilemma could not have existed with the pulley system, and even if it did, Kanba grabbed onto the wrong side!

Ah well, I’ll just ignore that for the touching scene where the protagonist and antagonist come to terms with…wait, what? Did Kanba just swing some 20 feet from the rope and did the antagonist just fly down 10 floors to save Himari and fly back up? Ah well, he’s a graphic design major, I’ll let it slide for how good this series is. I mean, what’s wrong if I just pretend it was all magic?

Wait, those pulleys don’t add up…and what, did you just fly like superman?!

That magical feeling…

When I was a kid, the first amazing anime I watched was Kiki’s Delivery Service. It was amazing then, and it is still amazing now. The reason is simple: it felt magical, and it was a simple, well told story.

Mawaru Penguindrum is exactly that: a simple, magical well told story (with many complicated implications and intricacies of course). At the end of the anime, you just feel this magical feeling of love; the feeling that this world is a good place after all. I guess that simple feeling I haven’t felt since watching Kiki is what made me enjoy Penguindrum so much.

At its core, it is merely a simple exposition about love, fate and magic, with smokes and mirrors to make the story interesting; a lot of directors have the ability to construct these types of expositions. Ikuhara, however, had that much more passion and talent to make a college student feel good about watching an anime about penguin hats.

Go watch mawaru penguindrum!

 

Stories from My Teachers: Stuff you Remember When You Look Out a Train Window

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Just some stories I remembered from high school and wrote down on the train.

When I was in high school, I had an economics teacher that I thought was amazing because he was so good at telling stories…

“There used to be a guy working at JPL. Now JPL is THE place to work if you are an engineer. It is the Goldman Sachs for engineers. If you graduated from college and got into JPL, you were set for life.

This guy that worked at JPL had everything in life: a beautiful wife, two beautiful kids, a beautiful house and an amazing job. However, what he didn’t realize was that his job defined him. He only had everything because he worked at JPL

Then, right before Christmas, he lost his job because JPL had to cut jobs due to the financial crisis. After he lost his job, he lost everything. His beautiful wife, who was just with him for the money, left him. She brought the kids with her, and brought them to her parent’s place for Christmas

Now, he was alone in his big house on Christmas eve.

The next day, the police found his wife, children and her parents killed in their house. They found his dead body not far away. He had broken into their house on Christmas morning and killed everyone in the house, then committed suicide.

So, guys, never let your job define who you are. And for you right now, don’t let your grades determine who you are.”

I guess this was especially motivational right after a hard test. It was only later in college that I learned that good economists are always good at telling stories.

History was another class full of stories.

“I once had a student. He was really smart. He got an A in every single one of his classes. I remember that he even graduated with a record GPA. One day, he sent me an email saying he would like to invite me to speak at Stanford. Apparently, all the top performing students at [a top 10 university] could invite the teacher they thought was the most inspirational from high school. He graduated top of the class in engineering, and asked me to go.

I’m guessing its because I’m the only teacher who didn’t give him an A. I gave him an A-. He came to class and aced all the tests, and knew all the answers, but I didn’t really feel that he was a good history student. He was just a machine.

I went to [a top 10 university] to speak. It was a fun experience. There were other history teachers, science teachers and even a french teacher. The talks were nothing special.

He did end up treating me to dinner afterwards though. We talked about his life. I asked him if he got a girlfriend, and he said he did for a while, but it didn’t work out. I asked him about his job and he told me that a firm hired him to be a quant. Basically, they were paying this kid hundreds of thousands of dollars to screw everyone over with his superior math skills.

I didn’t like his life style. He had a lot of things going out of college, but I still saw him as the kid that still deserves an A- in my class.”

I don’t know why, I always enjoyed story time with my history teacher. I guess both him and my econ teacher were some of the few in my school looking beyond just grades, colleges and jobs. It was comforting to not have to look far ahead in these classes, and just enjoy history and economics.

Math, Stat and Compsci: “I want to be an economics major”

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Economics in college: it is nothing like AP economics. I have seen too many people not have fun in economics because they thought it were an extension of AP economics, or “something like in The Economist.”

Well, here’s just a quick note. If you don’t like math and stat (with some use of computational methods using computers), you’re gonna have a bad time. Understanding economics is more about understanding lagrangians than understanding how interest rates will affect the Chinese economy.

Just something to think about for those of you going to college/deciding whether you want to be an economics major.

Finals: the Meaning of it All

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You forget most of what you learn in college, so why do you pain yourselves last minute cramming for something you will immediately forget come summer?

For me, final exams aren’t about the material. Its a glimpse into the real world. You are placed in a setting where everyone around you is smarter than you and studies harder than you. How are you going to adapt?

That’s life. There will always be the kid who aces the finals on the honors class without studying just like how there will always be someone in your office who gets a promotion without ever doing anything. Yet, finals test whether you can ignore what you see today, and keep on searching for the eventual satisfaction at the end of the tunnel; the satisfaction of outperforming someone who is smarter than you and works harder than you, or at least putting up a good fight. Whether you outperform your personal expectations will set the tone for your entire summer.

And besides, never overestimate the competition. You may just have the chance at beating the smart kids in class because they were playing League of Legends instead of studying.

Ah, I’m a smart guy. One more game won’t hurt.

That Beautiful Future You Are Seeing in Your Mind

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Everyone has one of those dreams. A dream of a perfect life. You know, not having to worry about money, having a stable income, having some time on the side to do what you like to do, a good marriage and being able to send your kids to college.

And then the person outlining some form of the dream above to me tells me they want to work in investment banking to accomplish this dream. Investment banking helps you accomplish a life style completely opposite of the life style outlined above.

If you want a stable life style, work at a fortune 500 that isn’t in the financial services sector. Working a technical job or office job for 50 hours a week provides a stable income, gives you time on the side to build your family and marriage, and provided prudent financial planning, comfortably sends your kids to college.

On the other hand, investment banking does yield a lot of money, but in a rather unstable fashion. Since your income is so much correlated with the market, you may find yourself spending your 200k bonus on a Ferrari in good years, and wanting to quit in bad years because you make as much per hour as a McDonalds employee. You won’t have time on the side to do what you want to do because of the 80-100 hour weeks (not included are the times you have to go drinking with clients even if you don’t feel like it), and likely consequences to your marital life. Did I mention your kids won’t see you, ever?

You say you’ll be very prudent with your money? That’s kind of hard with your life style. And if what you wanted to do in your free time wasn’t drinking with your clients, too bad.

I’m not saying investment banking will necessarily be a bad job for everyone. It is a perfect fit for some people. It just isn’t for the type of person who wants to spend time with family and not have to worry too much about money.

Then, to bring it to a larger extreme, you start saying that you want things like this:

Van Cleef and Arpels: Midnight Poetic Wish

Or maybe a bigger toy…

Ferrari 458 Italia

Oh, hell, why not just go for the full package and get the nice house to hold it all:

Katharine Hepburn Former Estate

Unfortunately, for aspiring investment bankers, unless you reach the President or Chairman of a bulge bracket, the large house worth 30 million dollars is definitely out of your price range. The Ferrari can come for associates and managing directors, but only at financial sacrifices elsewhere (maybe you don’t have to worry about college tuition because you don’t have kids…). And even an associate will feel the pain of buying a luxury watch.

So, at the end of the day, although throwing around “100k right out of college” sounds amazing, there are a lot of considerations that make this 100k not necessarily match your lifestyle. Think about what type of life you want to live. Think long and hard…

Don’t just think about the money. Money helps you achieve a life style you would enjoy. But if your job prevents you from living the life style you enjoy, isn’t the money useless?

And if you want a mansion, expensive toys and switch your wife every once in a while, go start a successful company like this guy.

That Sacrifice of Beauty: What you Lose in “Finance”

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There is a world of difference between finance in academia and finance in the financial services industry, even if you are working with the exact same model. When you work in the financial industry, you are inevitably seeking profit. Whereas in academia, you are seeking truth. The different goals of the two realms inevitably means that you will be doing something different, even with the same tools.

To seek profit, you have to sacrifice rigor. The markets move fast and slow responses erode profits. Thus, people in the financial industry tend to prioritize speed and hastiness. This speed and hastiness is often driven by a lot of grunt work under heavy time pressure.

To seek truth, you have to heavily weight academic rigor. There are tools for validating the truth of certain claims. These tools have to be used a precise way, so results cranked out with grunt labor and speed are often not presentable in academia.

“Refined academic prose or rushed pursuits of profit?”

This seems at first glance the unavoidable trade-off. If you admire academic rigor and can’t stand the corner-cutting of investment banking, you head towards graduate school. If you enjoy the exhilarating search for profit making, you head towards finance. Whatever your preferences are, what’s at stake is rather clear.

Yet, this type of sorting promotes an inevitable “dumbing down” of the financial industry. Because of the efficiency required in the industry, you inevitably have to abandon the search for truth to maximize your search for profit. This makes it relatively difficult for the seekers of truth to join the industry. We now have a large pool of profit-seekers, though nothing wrong with them individually, as a whole corrupts the infrastructure of the company. In the current financial services industry, the beauty of finance is desecrated: you enter a case through one end, and retrieve a deliverable out the other.

What I personally believe we need in a financial services firm is an equal balance of the truth seekers and the profit seekers. This composition, though less aimed at the “deadly efficiency of excel”, creates more financial value through academic rigor. Quoting a friend who’s a junior analyst at Credit Suisse, “the amount of financially wrong things we publish is astonishing.” Some force needs to be there to balance out the imprecision of the current financial services industry culture. The perfect report shouldn’t just have a well-thought out discounted cash flow model. It should make the reader feel the  beauty of finance. And doing this is only possible with those seekers of truth.

This creates a firm that not only creates greater value for their customer, but adds value to the study of finance. I think that is the type of financial services firm we need.

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