Monday, April 11, 2011

My Tips Jar

I think it's time to put the "tips jar" out on my office desk again. I used to have one, but I gave up after a certain colleague (?) emptied the coins out and bought himself a new car  - or was it a cup of coffee? I figured, if they have a tips jar on the counter at the coffee shop, why can't I have one too? Seemed like a great idea at the time (standard excuse), but in fact it just didn't work out too well. At least I didn't have to worry about reporting the extra cash to the CRA! 

The thing was, I could claim that the whole idea had incredibly sound academic roots. I'm not kidding. Here's why. In mediæval times the academics were monks or other clerics. Their lodging costs were covered, and sometimes they even got a small stipend, but they relied on the largesse of their reluctant students for most of the bare necessities of life, such as their supply of prozac and their cell phone plan. If it was good enough for them, why not for me?

Now, if I'm being totally honest, the tips jar on my desk actually had somewhat humbler beginnings - nothing to do with cold hard cash at all. You see, I really did have a jar, labelled "Tips", placed prominently on the customer side of my desk. Students who came it to ask questions just couldn't miss it. In the jar were lots of paper strips, their tips sticking invitingly out of the top, just asking to be taken. And tips they were - on each of them was some snappy little piece of econometric advice - like "don't forget to turn your computer on" (not really).

Once students (sorry, customers) got the hang of it, things went quite well - for a while. Of course, there were always a few choosy individuals who didn't like what was printed on the strip they chose, and insisted on returning it and selecting again. Double-dipping abounds even where you least expect it. Of course, my place of employment being the PC place it is, problems had to arise eventually.

The first hiccup came when some bright spark (aka "a troublemaker") pointed out to me that there are two official languages in the Great White North, and he wanted to know why all of the tips were written in English. I could have just given him a good clip behind the ear, but that definitely would not have been PC! So, gritting my teeth, and muttering (unconvincingly) something about the customer always being right, I whipped the various sage one-liners through some web-based translator. Bingo! I now had a jar full of tip-strips - some in English and the rest in French.

I was feeling so magnanimous that I even chose different coloured paper for the two languages - just to make it easy for those who weren't feeling too confident about their linguistic skills. The blue and pink pieces of paper looked really jolly and inviting. It was almost as if my drab office had been re-decorated by Debbie Travis! I was so happy - until some other PC-indoctrinated misfit opined that the colours I'd chosen could be interpreted as being sexist. Blue for boys and pink for girls, or something like that. My protestations were to no avail. I told him he was welcome to pick a pink tip, but he declined on the grounds that he didn't speak French, so that would be discriminatory. Some days you just can't win!

I tried eliminating the colours, but white and black tips just didn't cut it, and in case I could just see where that could lead to eventually. Just when I was getting ready to go for a nice late-60's paisley pattern - half of them in purple tones, and half in an alluring orange hue - matters were abruptly taken out of my hands. A certain member of our staff (who shall remain nameless, but whose initials are GLB) emptied the jar of tips, tossed in a few pennies in their place, and told me to think on a grander scale. When I did think about it (for a scant 20 seconds), I realized that he was absolutely right. Here, I'd been peddling free advice that people simply whined about, and what did I have to show for it? Certainly no words of thanks to make me feel better on a dreary day. At least I now had some money in the jar. Things were looking up already!

I guess you've figured out that I didn't get rich very quickly by subtly re-positioning (and occasionally jingling) the tips jar while talking with customers. In fact, I didn't get rich at all. Finally, one sad day, GLB put me out of misery (figuratively speaking - to go further would have been very non-PC). He emptied the contents of the jar - again - into his hand and disappeared to find himself a caffeine fix.

Despite the trials and tribulations of my past life as a wannabee-tipster, the passage of time has softened the pain and I think I'm ready to jump back into the water. I really believe I've learned from my previous mistakes, and this time it'll be different! Right now, I'm assembling what I think is a really promising collection of tips to impose on my poor unsuspecting customers. I'm not rushing things, but even I have to confess that things are looking darn good at this stage.

Just as a sweetener, I thought I'd share a few of the tips that you can look forward to randomly selecting from my new "Tips Jar" when you drop by to annoy me:

1. Graph, graph, graph!
    (Graphique il, graphique il, graphique il!)

2. Don't speed - only use stationary data.
    (Kör inte så fort - endast använda stationära data.)

3. Multicollinearity is highly over-rated.
    (Multikolineæritet er svært over-vurdert.)

4. Please adjust your R2.
   (Lūdzu mainīt koeficientu o determintion.)

5. There's no theorem like Bayes' Theorem.
    (A universal truism - requires no stranslation.)

6. Plot it or lose it.
   (Plot neu ei golli.)

7. Use baking soda to clean your residuals.
    (Nota lyftiduft til að hreinsa leifa þínu.)

8. Identification is a state of mind.
   (Kitambulisho ni hali ya akili.)

9. Don't forecast anything you don't understand.

10. Instruments are like coffee - they should be strong, not weak.
     (Τα όργανα όπως ο καφές - θα πρέπει να είναι ισχυρή, δεν αδύναμη.)

11. Support The Bayesian Songbook.
      (El apoyo del Cancionero Bayesiano.)

12. The family that cointegrates together stays together.
      (Den familie, der cointegrates sammen bliver sammen.)

Now I just have to work on the colour scheme!

© 2011, David E. Giles


  1. As a (very!) lapsed student of economics, I would like to say how much I enjoyed your blog!! This was my first visit but I will be back!thanks

  2. Suggested tip: "If you don't like this tip, you'd be better off double-dipping WITHOUT replacement." ;)

  3. Anonymous is definitely right - I certainly don't have an infinite supply of tips!

  4. Suggested tip: "Bootstrapping should continue until morale improves."

  5. Sounds like the voice of experience, Ryan!

  6. You may have to post an example of tipping: I would Google first to see how much I should tip. A jar with some coins may not be a clear signal of the ongoing market price.

    By the way, the translator seems to fail the test of translating into Chinese. I have tried the Google one, in order to get what you want, "不預測你不明白的事", you have to type "do not forecast you do not understand things".


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