Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Democratization and Infant Mortality in sub-Saharan Africa

Five months on after its conception last March, I finally finished writing up a paper on the empirical investigation of democratization and infant mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. A quick summary is:

Infant mortality has declined since democratization in countries where a new chief executive assumes office by winning the first multiparty election. This is especially true for babies born to uneducated mothers.
Note that I do not claim that democratization has caused the decline in infant mortality, because I cannot rule out the possibility that something else drives both democratization and the survival of babies. (It could be, for example, just NGOs, as a reader of this blog commented on this post. But I wonder if NGOs can make a country-wide difference. Maybe. Maybe not.) But, for babies born to uneducated mothers, a trend in infant mortality definitely changes right after the year of democratization. Plus, the usage of piped water and flush toilet and the take-up rate of immunization and delivery assistance by health professionals seems to have expanded for uneducated mothers since democratization. So it can be democratization that drives infant mortality down.

Now I'm in the process of letting people read this paper and expecting to receive reactions and comments. If you want to join this process :-), here you can download the paper.

If you are not an economist but a political scientist or an Africanist, please have a look at sections 2, 3.2, 6, 8, and perhaps A.1 and A.2. If you are a public health researcher, a demographer, or a medical expert, please have a look at the second half of section 2, and section 7. This is because I rely on not only the previous works done by economists but also on those by political scientists, Africanists, and public health researchers. I want to know if I correctly interpret their research outputs.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Make secure your wireless LAN network

As a new housemate moves in today, I re-think about the security of our wireless home network for broadband acccess. provides a nice summary of tips.

Its fourth tip talks about something called "MAC address". How to get your MAC address is illustrated succinctly here. The link for Windows XP takes you to the same page as for Windows 2000. But what's written there actually works for Windows XP as well. I also found a couple of similar websites, but they are more complicated than this.

Finally, my additional tip: Don't confuse the MAC address for the wireless network equipment with the MAC address for the ethernet adapter. What you need is the former, not the latter.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

BBC Prom: The Rite of Spring in 2006

This will become an annual event in London for me: listen live to The Rite of Spring at the Prom (see 7 September 2005).

This year Stravinsky's masterpiece (in my opinion) is performed by Budapest Festival Orchestra with Ivan Fischer as conductor. Honestly I wondered if they could live up to my expectation from this piece of music. But I worried too much. I only need to repeat what I wrote last year:

Stravinsky is a genious composer. The contrast of quietness and loudness, one instrument after another claiming its presence in waves, and very progressive patterns of rhythms continuously coming in an unexpected way.

I've come to think that I probably shouldn't listen to The Rite of Spring (see notes at the Prom website) unless I'm in front of the orchestra, which allows me to enjoy the music in a three-dimensional way. That is probably the best way of appreciating "Stravinsky's immortal hymn to spring". (Still, you can listen to the performance online. Skip the first 5 minutes. The BBC Radio online production teams are so lazy that different programmes are often attached in the first few minutes.)

The composition is often introduced as a piece of classical music that teenagers who like pop music can appreciate. I doubt it. It's totally different from pop music. There's no clear-cut melody, and it's the rhythm that is at the centre stage throughout the tune - very different from pop songs. And the rhythm is extremely irregular - very different from house music. And a lot of contrast in the sound volume - very different from maintream rock music. Unless you like progressive rock or perhaps drum & bass, or unless you simply like "sound", you probably won't find it interesting.

Incidentally, I liked the second movement of Bartok's piano concerto no.3, performed by pianist Garrick Ohlsson with the orchestra before The Rite of Spring on the night. It's probably unusual to like the second movement - which is often the most boring part of the whole composition. But this one, a very subtle "alternation of the piano's hymn and the strings' answering phrases", sneaked deep into my mind. Again, it wouldn't have been like that if I had listened to it on the radio etc.

Tips for enjoying BBC Proms right in front of the orchestra by paying 5 pounds on the day:
1. Make sure you have 5 quid in cash - they don't accept cards for day Arena tickets.
2. The entrance is Door 11. There may be a queue from the Door. Do not confuse it with Door 10, which is the entrance for the Gallery (high up in the Royal Albert Hall), or the Box Office which only sells seat tickets.
3. Once you enter, find Arena A or Arena F entrance. That takes you to right in front of the stage. Even if you come rather late, there is some space to stand within 10 meters from the stage. If you enter through Arena B to E entrances, you will find it difficult to get to the front as people are sitting down on the floor all over the Arena.

POSTSCRIPT on 20th August 2006: I found a review article by Tom Service appearing in The Guardian, 18th August 2006. It seems I was very lucky: Tom Service found that Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra "revealed new dimensions" of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

This year's BBC Prom

How stupid am I? I missed Steve Reich at the BBC Prom... As my phone line is dead (again) and will be fixed next Tuesday, I can't even listen to it online...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Vacuum Cleaners Buying Guide

This kind of thing takes time to learn, but it is very easy to forget. So I'll take note of it here.

There are eight types of vacuum cleaners in the market: upright, canister (or cylinder), stick (or broom), handheld, robotic, wet/dry, carpet steam, hard surface steam (for the last three types, see Lowe's how-to-buy guide for details). In addition, you can have a central vacuum system (see Cana-Vac Central Vacuum System Buyers Guide).

Among these, the most basic types are upright and canister. The upright type is for carpets while the canister type is for hard surface such as kitchen floors, though some canister cleaners these days can also be used for carpets. Here is the check list for deciding which to buy.

1. Beater
The upright type usually has a beater to loosen and bringing dirt out of the carpet. Some canister types also have it.

2. Bagless (or cyclonic) versus bagged
With bagged cleaners, you need to purchase a new bag from time to time. Check if the cleaner has a "Bag Full" indicator. Bagless cleaners allow you to empty the dust bin without the hassle of changing a bag.

3. Filter
Bagged cleaners do not have filters. Bagless ones come with filters. HEPA filters are ideal for people with allergies. Of course, a better filter raises the price up.

4. Cord length and its retractability (or automatic cable rewind)
Make sure that the cord length is long enough. The canister type usually has automatic cable rewind while the upright type often requires you to wind the cord on your own.

5. Suction power
The number of amps has nothing to do with the suction power. Some companies use the unit called "airwatt" to measure the cleaning efficiency. (Do not confuse it with "watt" for amps.) The higher the airwatt is, the more powerful the cleaner is. A reviewer at says, "suction alone does not make a vacuum clean efficiently, it also requires airflow [(the volume of air a motor is capable of moving)] to pick up dirt."

However, most cleaner-makers only report the number of watts...

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