Wednesday, 28 February 2007

A brief contemplation on GMAT

There is a wealth of information on this exam around and about the web, make no mistake. There’s a lot of people making a lot of money out of it all through courses and all. I am thinking over time I may catalogue a few bits and pieces on the GMAT that aren’t covered elsewhere, but for this post alone I am going on my own a little. Some distance away from the GMAT advice consensus.

GMAT is not as big a deal as many people make out.

OK, I need to reason that a little. English is my first language. I was always pretty good at maths (my undergraduate degree involved regular exploits into Calculus). Taking this as the case, GMAT is more a pain in the ass than a huge campaign.

My main problem was finding the time to study. I have stuff to do, a relationship, and a job that pretty much eats Monday to Friday. Right around the time I needed to study for GMAT I had a big load of work on, non-negotiable stuff. I could read a little on my commute, but that was no great shakes on making ground, and frankly I was knackered. In the end, I took three days off work, with a weekend in the block, and did the GMAT.

By that point, I had a book on GMAT for about four months. I had opened it to read outlines of both topic and structure, but before those five days I had not attempted a single problem. I crammed it, did some questions in the Official Guide 11 (nowhere near half though), one GMATPrep (which was hugely valuable) - despite the importance, I never really got hugely into it (how are you meant to get into exponentials and dullard elements of reading comprehension?). But I did enough to be within range for any school I wanted to apply to. Not above average, but easily within range. Not special, but not out of the running.

I “studied” for AWA on the train to the exam.

Now, I can see this sparking off a little bit of a riot if people finally find this blog. I am by no means trying to say that anyone should follow the model I show here, but am trying to show that the GMAT isn’t necessarily a game of three months preparation. Really, you just need to be attuned to what you want, and what you reasonably think you can achieve. If GMAT Verbal was in German, I dare say my preparation would have been somewhat more extensive. Given that it is a general exam in my mother tongue, of things I have learned before (and is in no way particularly advanced), I could not see how GMAT could be a big problem for me. I sat the exam once, and that was within two days of the first application deadline I had to meet.

To prove that this method is by no means perfect, I will be sitting GMAT again. Irrespective of admits or whatever, I know that with a reasonable amount of effort (I still see this as about a month, with a few days a week and weekends) that I can reach 99% levels. I can see no reason why I cannot get 800, mainly through improving my technical approach on the verbal section (I am by no means a fast reader, but can never read a book twice as I will memorise the content). I now have some of the time I need to commit to the GMAT “properly”, but am glad to be evidence that this commitment is only really required for elements that are new to the candidate, or relatively advanced in their asking from the exam itself (read - mid to high 700 score, in my opinion).

The draw to re-sit is the interesting characteristic shared by nearly all takers – because the exam structure is not particularly advanced, it is a game of pressure, precision, time management and composure. Like learning a rubik’s cube, there is a method that ensures it can be beaten given a practiced approach. GMAT really is a test of applying method, little else.

While I wrote this inbetween days has reposted an example of the traditional GMAT-needs-months-of-study post. What I am saying is not so much diametrically opposed, but definitely approaches the GMAT with a different perspective. I see it that if you can’t score 700+ with two months study, as a native English speaker, you should really worry about how you will find a class on investment theory, economics or writing a big presentation. GMAT needs preparation, sure, and you must work out how much prep you need, but I really hate the idea of people spending months preparing for something when they needn’t have. The 80-20 rule applies to GMAT as much as anything else. If you are applying for an MBA, your time is a lot more important that some crappy algebra and reading test.

I really do feel that sometimes people try and build an imaginary barrier to entry for competing with them for MBA’s – spend 70 hours per application, three months on the GMAT… I don’t want to risk shooting myself in the foot on this all yet, so won’t recommend courses of action I cannot verify as successful. But I seriously hope these people are experiencing the fish size problem (“it was this big” stretches arms). While this whole process is emotionally demanding and time-consuming, it should not be that bad. I am almost drawn to worry for the people who tell these stories, so incomprehensible do I find their tales.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Industrial Organisation

Ms Soliloquous (aka the gf) is having a little of a hard time with the upcoming schedule of bands I am looking to go and see. It’s an intricate negotiation at best, and we have already established an unwritten agreement that if she has no interest in the band, then I have no interest in forcing her to accompany me. This has coincided with one of the strangest periods of bands playing in town, and I am now up to three gigs that were she to attend, we would have a fight. Unfortunately for me, she only knows about one of these so far, so will only know about all three when she reads this. Most of these would be classified by her as “death music” or some-such. Happily, I still introduce her to the likes of Jim Moir, alongside a whole load of Post Punk madness, and that keeps her happy in the most part.

Nurse With Wound are playing one of their rare live performances since they formed, which was around the point in time I was born. NWW has been a big music thing for me over the past four or five years, from the point when Mr. 515 kindly provided me with a burn of the Funeral Music for Perez Prez Prado. Yes, that is the same guy who did that music that was on the Guinness advert. No, that doesn’t mean that NWW is jaunty and pleasant in a similar way. Anything but. NWW are part of the England’s Hidden Reverse progression of Industrial bands that continued onward from the early 1980s point of the movement (see also Coil
and Current 93, who’s David Tibet is performing as part of NWW at this show), with each band progressing to a thoroughly unique sound and style. From buying Salt Marie Celeste (think one track of haunted ship music) on release, I have ended up with a shelf full on NWW and a whole load more of material from the infamous list. This, in turn, led to drone’s being one of my great loves in music, with La Monte Young becoming a (very expensive) interest for a while. In events that resulted in Ms Soliloquous insisting on putting a stop to “this type of thing”, my Buddha Machine was met by incongruous interrogation by the American Airlines bomb inspection squad during the summer. Apparently, a green Japanese loop-drone box does not make any sense to them and apparently looks a little along the lines of an exploding thing. Dear reader, my relationship nearly ended on the eve of a holiday staying with her parents, and all due to the drone. On a similar tip, Nurse With Wound have been the root cause of the largest number of my DJing confrontations with clubbers. For a good while I played Salt Marie Celeste at near full whack for the first hour in the back room of an indie club I played at with a like minded cohort. It was sonic experimentation with the set up (other weeks it was Can, Neu!, Funkadelic and others), but the indie kids most definitely hated on the Wound. Beyond all expectations, teenage libertine fan-boys and girls can pull a rude face when confronted with some sounds they cannot comprehend.

In other news (the other two gigs), Throbbing Gristle are playing the Tate Modern Turbine Hall! This is going to be crazy. I missed the aborted ATP / transferred to Astoria reformation show, so this – plus the fact they are going back into the studio – is compensation. I can’t reason to go to the recording sessions (tickets are available), but a Turbine hall gig fits so well with the whole TG history that it will be special. Assuming many of you have little experience of the Tate Modern, it is the old Bankside Power Station, and is a typical post war architectural design of a purely industrial building, a kind that has developed a strange beauty in modern times that it certainly was never seen in years ago. Not as splendid in beauty as its river neighbour, Battersea (also designed by Gilbert Scott), Bankside was purchased by one of Britain’s largest art collections to house its modern art collection, with the more traditional Tate Britain (read – looks like an art gallery) down river finally being freed to host its more traditional displays. Sat on the South Bank of the Thames, the power station was bought for a song when the Southbank was an area of incredible dilapidation, London’s infamous cardboard city. Over the past ten years the southbank has improved incredibly, with the regeneration of the Oxo tower, reconstruction of the Globe Theatre and the millennium bridge providing access to the City on the North side of the river.

With derelict and dilapidated industrial buildings quite common in major cities, turning a power station into a modern art gallery was a move of great vision and beautiful imagery. One can only hope that the future development of Battersea can treat the building to such a magnificent, respectful afterlife. The industrial setting for the band is perfect, though you do have to wonder how a 100ft ceiling and concrete walls is going to affect the sound. Bruce Nauman’s sound exhibition there (another part of the Unilever series) was really underwhelming, and I couldn’t help but think it was partly the acoustics. The Turbine Hall has been used for some great successes in the Unilever series –Carsten H├Âller's current display of slides
using the height, Rachel Whiteread filling the cavernous space with numerous towers of white boxes
(still undecided as whether this was a play on Tate). By far the most successful was the Weather Project (below) by Olafur Eliasson - truly magnificent, something to be seen to be believed. I, as did many, spent lengths of time sat in there, just reading papers in the strange captivating light and warmth created. What is certain is that, given the artistic history of the foundations of Throbbing Gristle, the location has proven an opportunity impossible for them to refuse to play.

The third gig - Einst├╝rzende Neubauten is playing in April, which is exciting news in this themed resurrection of all things Industrial. I celebrated by listening to Drawing of Patients and some of kollaps on the way to the office. I can’t help but wonder if anyone else on my train was doing similar, though I find it extremely doubtful. More London commuters should engage in this – I hear far too much dire music sneaking out of crappy ipod headphones on trains. I used to enjoy the journey as a live field recording experiment, but the leaking sound has now resulted in me joining the pack of i-pod heads. For a person of my disposition of record buying this is hardly a revelatory move, I suppose. And before you ask reader, of course I use sound deadening and isolating headphones. I am a music snob, after all.

Oh, in music with Ms Soliloquous, LCD Soundsystem is only a fortnight or so away. As far as I know, it hasn’t sold out yet, which can only go to prove that the album leak hasn’t gone as far as some feared at first. LCD’s forthcoming album will be one of the albums of the year, without a doubt. It certainly seems to getting frequent plays around our way. I am interested to see them live again now they have, like, enough material to play a fun live set where they can mix it up a bit. A few years ago there were only x songs, and they were going to have to play them all, give or take. Now, hopefully they can enjoy it all a whole lot more.

For readers wanting to read about A, 2, and Z schools – this will be one brief foray (for this week at least) into Industrial music, I promise. Maybe see these as the easiest way you can identify me in future. Unless business schools are rammed full of music freaks, this should not prove difficult at all.

As I am clearly flying off theme, it was brought to my attention that Big Fat Jan Ullrich has retired from professional cycling. Whether this is because he is fearful that next time there is a drug bust they will catch him proper, whether he believes his worth is somewhat greater than what teams are prepared to pay for him. All the same, I will miss him. With Landis already looking out of le Tour, it opens up the scene for Basso to come back in some spectacular fashion and try and disprove his own drug cheat tale. I will have to try and get better focus on this, considering the Tour comes to London
this year. If I am anywhere near fit enough, I might have a go at getting a place on the stage 1 preview ride. Considering I got a stitch in Richmond Park this weekend, it is unlikely.

Oh, and Nigel Slater had a calamari recipe in this Observer Food Monthly this month. Not exactly something I can do at home when I get my hands on a colossal squid, but at least keeping the squid theme rolling. I feel a name change for this blog in the water.

Friday, 23 February 2007

True overheard conversations #1

Colleague 1: Have you seen Troy?
Colleague 2: Ages ago. That 80's computer virtual reality film with bikes and...
Colleague 1: Troy. That was Tron.

Now Tron, but with a fuck-off huge wooden horse. That would be good.

Colossal Squid madness

Since someone on dissensus raised the theme of colossal squid moons ago with the picture above (which is, sadly, a replica), I have found myself suffering from a masochistic interest in these scary creatures. So the fact that some fisherman managed to catch a live one was big news in my world, as there are seemingly a fair few of these beasts in the sea. These things give me the fear. Whereas if I was confronted by a shark in the sea, I would be a bit scared; If I were confronted by one of these things, I would probably die on the spot. Things this size are not meant to be translucent, or have beaks.

“This animal, armed as it is with the hooks and the beak that it has, not only is colossal in size but is going to be a phenomenal predator and something you are not going to want to meet in the water” Kat Bolstad – Research Associate, Aukland University of Technology

Congratulations Kat, Research Associate of stating the bleeding obvious. Apparently, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni only hang out in the Antartic, so my chance of encountering one in the sea is minimal, and if I am in their part of the world I will be seriously cold, and seriously kitted out in breathing apparatus. However, you would probably casually place odds on this encounter to be similar to those of a whale swimming past the houses of Parliament.

We could have a black swan incident of me going for a paddle and encountering one of these things. That is all I am saying.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Non-attractive MBA Students

So, Notre Dame (Mendoza) sent me a view book in the post. Sounds a nice school all in all, but never was and never will be an option for me.

If I was contemplating going though, I think the dude in the middle of the class profile would have ended all that. Come to Mendoza and study with future leaders like me! I thought they put a huge amount of consideration into these pictures to make them diverse as can be, and then that bloke. And the quote is super-management bullshit and a half, too.

I will have to scan him for posterity, as the web editor clearly exercised judgement and he cannot be found. Safe to say though, he is now famous in these parts.

Update - here is our guy. I am sure he is really nice and all, but sneering really isn't him. Name removed to slightly protect the innocent.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Fat Tails

If moods followed a distribution around a mean point of satisfaction, then applying for schools would arguably require a distribution with fat tails, or alternatively two polar points of “happy” and “gutted” miles apart, with a mean point that never statistically occurs. You see, this guy, ~N (0,1), the centre of all option theory and anything a stats guru throws your way, doesn’t happen in an inefficient market, and that is what your applications to school are.

Since sending off the applications to A, 2, and Z it is almost as though the mean point of being balanced never occurs, and is a statistical anomaly between elation and outright misery. Dornbusch’s overshooting model^ has become an ideal representation of my psyche. The MBA application is a market where there is very little information, and any signal affects my market somewhat akin to Bernanke speaking affects T-bill yields.

If every time Bernanke spoke he said either “boom” or “recession” about twenty times.

One thing that is definitely true about that the mood of waiting is that any MBA boom is undoubtedly followed by recession, or “correction” as seems to be the favoured expression right now. All that confidence fuelled a heightened, unsustainable level of optimism, especially with the silence carried out by the schools throughout the process. The problem is that the signals are very infrequent, and all evidence seems to indicate that there is no true way to judge their correlation with any indicators. The BW folks love to try and find out the stats of anyone who receives a signal event from a school. “Your GMAT?” seems to be the only thing anyone cares about, neglecting that someone may have bombed the GMAT because, y’know, signing a 6m licensing deal for their start-up was a bit more important at the time. It’s all noise, but there is a big herd trying to read it and it takes some real will power not to get involved. BW is a no-go zone for me, but some seem to love to get themselves into a frenzy about this all. Someone should really run the prisoners dilemma by those forums – but he admissions staff think that I know that they think that…

To try and balance my thought, I continually have to go back to rational thought analysis. The only true signals are the dates that each school publishes. By April, you will know whether you are to be admitted. For some schools, if you do not get asked to interview by a date, then all bets are off. If you do, you interview, you don’t know for longer and then you find out just the same. No amount of anything is going to make a damn difference.

For Chicago R2 applicants, that day is apparently today. For those with interviews, they can labour just the same for another month at least, with the added element of how their interview felt, and their abilities to pretend they could ever understand what a member of admissions staff, a student or alumni member was really thinking.

So for two months I will refine my art of patience through distracting my mind from idle thought of what might be. I will cycle more, and am looking forward to the weather easing to allow me to return to this – City public transport is one of the worst things to have to tolerate through a winter. I will even try to study Corporate Finance. But all this time I know I will be thinking about what is happening to a small file with my name on, in an office I may never see. If only they had Polaroid’s, it would be like Pop Idol, with the Dean as Simon Cowell. A big, big lottery that pays out very big. And that is an image which will not help my plan to balance my mood any.


^ I can’t find a suitable link – wikipedia includes the ISLM model, something I will never allow myself to link to. I am sure I will write about how much I loathe this model at some point in the future

Given the coverage that the fat tails gets in financial literature, I thought I would be able to get a good chart to show up here with minimal effort. However, a cursory search for “fat tail distribution” on google pictures gives us this chap.

Not quite what I had in mind, but it did briefly move me from my down frame of mind.

Monday, 19 February 2007

One flu over the cuckoo's nest

There is a reason for the quiteness on here for the last week - a bout of flu knocked me off-stride and out of the office for a good few days. The rest of the time was just catching up, so the blogging time window became entirely abscent. In other news, I have an alumni interview with school A tomorrow. Confirmed today - the short notice doesn't worry too much as this is a personality and goals thing, not a build me a yield curve from forwards, swaps and bonds. That sucks under pressure, whereas telling someone why I want to do something is somewhat easier. If I didn't really want to go to school A, it might be remotely tricky. Fortunately, on unfortunately, I really like A, 2, & Z for each their own reasons. It would be a pretty interesting race if all three choose to enter in future.
Z has now received all my documents, so in all other cases we just wait. But I won't be waiting listening to the new Arcade Fire album. 5 stars (OMM) my arse. Average, with a capital A.

To add some colour, here is a view I missed out on while ill. Grey, industrial cityscape. And nondescript, unlike the other views that may go up in the future.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Days pass slowly

I have always been one for introspection, but the current situation is extreme. Gmail must be reaching a point of mystification with the number of times I have refreshed the site in the past two weeks, with only the following items to show in that time.
  • A receipt from Amazon for some books, bought to try and occupy my time from the aforementioned introspection
  • NANA getting in touch. Definitely not my grandparent, as email from the deceased is something that even Bill Gates hasn’t been able to sell yet. I am glad to hear her sleep apnoea is being taken seriously by her doctor all the same.
  • Woebot to say that episode three of Woebot TV is online
  • Rapidshare registration code
  • Adcom from A.N.Other School trying to tempt me into applying (verified as real and not a GMAT mailshot)

Needless to say, this is not exactly what I am looking to see. Though the question could easily be, “what am I expecting to see?” Time-zone wise, I am checking my email several times before it is even 7am in New York. Unless there are some serious vagaries in email, it will either be there when I check in the morning, or it won’t happen that day. I will report back in due course if such vagaries occur, obviously.

I have been quite good in that I have not looked at my essays since I sent them to A, 2 & Z. That is the one thing I have left alone. My GMAT bothers me slightly, but is by no means out of the realms of reason (well in the 80% for the schools). What I have thought long and hard about the differences between my University Education and that in the US. For those who don’t know, US schools have a glorious scheme called Grade Point Average (GPA) where all the courses are scored out of four, then, well, averaged by their weighting. For those of you who did know that, you may well be unaware that this doesn’t happen at all in the UK. Instead, in third year and (if applicable) fourth year, you get marked on honours courses and given an overall grade: First, 2:1, 2:2 (still known as a Desmond after the Archbishop) and, if you really did nothing in the time you were there, a third. This set of exams is commonly knows as finals, due to their dependency on single exams (this has leaned to involve some essay work for each course, but is still predominantly weighted to the one 2/3 hour exam).

What this means, of course, is you can arse about in years one and two, doing crazy courses like linguistics and Japanese, whilst filling your course requirements for your Physics masters degree. And no-one would care, so long as you passed, and then actually worked at the physics bit later on – it is all about those magic numbers. At least, noone until you engaged with a school across the Atlantic. Suddenly the pre-dereliction to study Applied Maths, which you were crap at, is brought under question. The answer that it was purely to get out of doing a math for economics course at 9am for a year, well, doesn’t shine quite as bright as it did in the mind of the eighteen-year old you.

Schools A & Z now proudly boast a letter on this very topic attached to my file, due to levels of paranoia beyond all reason on my part. In providing grades to School Z, in the weirdest turn of events, I was given me an option. Either I converted my grades to a proxy of GPA, or I posted them my transcripts. Best, was being told to do “whatever you find more convenient”. Well, let me see - £6.28 on Airsure and £1.09 on a “Do Not Bend” envelope, or the best part of a day proxying a mark-scheme. I was in the post office like a shot. Having pieces of paper emblazoned with a degree mark much superior to the comparable GPA is surely the way forward. To make it pure genius, it was accompanied with a letter conveying how, had I had known of GPA, I wouldn’t have spent my first years at University exploring the finer points of drinking cheap lager whilst singing Charles & Edie or Freddie Fender songs. This was the early days of what became known as Wyattingwhere a group of friends would spend the evening in the union, avoiding study, and putting intolerable music on repeat coupled with a lot of singing. Just rather that filling the bar with some avant garde, Msrs Charles & Edie were our weapon of choice.

Would I lie to you, school Z? To be perfectly honest, no I wouldn’t. I would have worked harder in those years had I known the impact it would have on such things. But hell, just please accept that this is the way we do things back on the little Island.

Onto other events. Today it took me twice as long to get the office compared to normal – a smattering of snow seemed to be all that was required to bring chaos to the underground. Yes, snow = delays on the underground, mostly as a result of the fact that the underground is, in part, overground. Fortunately with a fully stocked ipod, the journey horrendous delays and cramped conditions were near tolerable, and I actually arrived to work late without realising. That, reader, is the wonder of James Murphy’s forthcoming album. London, I love you, but you are bringing me down. Soon all the crap weather and busy period will be over, and I can get back on my bike.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

May the navel-gazing begin

There is only so much time one can spend running away with one’s own thoughts. As of earlier this month, with planning tracking back a few months earlier, I am currently sat awaiting responses from three US schools regarding MBA Applications.

Let’s give them the names School A, School 2, and School Z.

Now, it is the waiting game.

I have decided to leave the names anonymous for a variety of reasons. Firstly, irrespective of what schools they are, there are dozens of us in a similar situation. As far as 2007 Business School applications, I am all in before the flop has even played. It is a big waiting game to see as the game unfolds – whether it be Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, LBS, Insead, Manchester, Notre Dame, Arizona’s agricultural MBA or whatever. Fact is, we all want to get an admit to the schools we apply to.

Second, I kind of like the idea of being a bit anonymous. It’s my football and I am taking it home with me.

Third, I have no idea who might be reading this. Maybe I will be sat next to you in class, or maybe I am a colleague who is looking to resign. You get the idea.

Over the forthcoming months of applications, maybe another year after that, the sitting of exams and the general banal happenings through gainful employment, I will meander on here and reflect on what has already been done as I type.

Maybe I will become the rare example of a blogger that actually manages to find the time to keep posting through the two years of study. The form would suggest this is unlikely, on the basis that I know myself a lot better than you, but who really knows.

If you are really seeking to read an MBA blog in its purest form, maybe have a hunt elsewhere. Because I have a propensity to offer a distribution that has a serious skew, fat tails and will fail all the tests required to fulfil the null hypothesis.