last night, the group held an end of summer patio thing. celia chose the wines. i brought a wente cabernet sauvignon which didn't get drunk but it was nice to see the extended functional organization in which i am but a lowly cog. after, i got on my bike and nearly died at the corner of rengstorff and east charleston as i made my way down to homma's brown rice sushi on birch street in palo alto to meet ricardo for dinner. by bike, the journey was precisely 25 minutes. there was a sign on the street that said "<-- SUSHI." i had the chirashi, which didn't come in a bowl. true to the name, the waitress brought out a pile of sweet brown rice with immaculately fresh and precisely-cut fish (yellowtail, tuna, salmon, razor clam), tobiko, tamago, and sunflower sprouts scattered abundantly on top. there were tiny splashes of the sweet basting sauce used for grilling eel. princely and, for all that, only $10.80. a hidden gem indeed, hiding its lights under bushels. homma's is the perfect restaurant: absolutely unpretentious about anything not concerned with food (you sit on and eat off plastic garden furniture, and drink out of plastic tumblers), inexpensive, and with irreproachable food. at dinner we met a teacher at los altos high and her mother from guatemala and had a nice, sustained conversation -- this kind of thing probably happens on the east coast too, but it's harder to imagine. when ricardo said he was a professor at princeton, the aura of awe that surrounded him rapidly became nearly palpable: "oh! how marvellous! in what discipline?" "economics. my research now focuses on the causes of inflation." "i was never very good at economics. monetary policy was about where i started to zone out at school. you must be very brilliant." to which, really, there can be no reply if you have been recognized officially as the most brilliant young economist in all of portugal.
on research: the best advice ricardo's adviser (mankiw, for those for whom this kind of thing is important) gave him during the phd was "never read all the literature first." which i agree with. there is value in bringing a perspective different from that represented by the body of research in a field. though, as ricardo said, the fine balance needs to be struck between knowing enough and knowing too little -- the researcher should know just enough to understand what s/he is reading in the literature, but should not already know all the literature. ricardo also pointed out that doctoral study should be designed to give as complete a set of tools as possible to enable researchers to rapidly evaluate research avenues and decide if they are viable. in my opinion, doctoral programs should provision the toolkit and train researchers in the use of tools using some domain knowledge -- content in service of skills, not the other way around. the same should be true absolutely for undergraduate education as well, and even more particularly so in the liberal arts. skills of evaluation and independent inquiry are precisely the things that set individuals free, so i find it especially galling that most liberal arts programs no longer emphasise training in methodology and broad application of methodology, preferring instead to do the easy thing and delve deeply into content.