Updated: Aug 16, 2020


My favourite Youtuber Ali Abdaal introduced Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning as a book to improve his learning speed. The major lessons I learnt including:


1. When learning is harder, it is stronger and last longer. The more effort you have to extend to retrieve knowledge or skill, the more the practice of retrieval will entrench it. The added effort increases comprehension and learning. Effortful learning changes your brain, making new connections, building mental models, increasing your capacity.


2. Rising familiarly with a text and fluency in reading can create an illusion of mastery. Don't over-emphasize highlight, underlining, and re-reading 


3. Active Retrieval: Testing is a tool for learning. One, it helps you to know what you know and what you don't know. Second, recalling helps brain to reconsolidate the memory, which strengthens its connection to what you already know and make it easier for you to recall in the future. Like Aristotle once said: "exercise in repeatedly recalling a thing strengthens the memory". Low stakes testing helps dial down test anxiety among students by diversying the consequences over larger example. It helps instructors to identify gaps in students. Tests require learners to supply the answer like essay or short answer test, or simply practice with flashcards, appear to be more effective than simple recognition test like MCQs or T/F


4. Spaced repetition: When retrieval practice is spaced, allowing some forgetting to occur between tests, it leads to stronger long term retention than when it is massed. 


5. When you are asked to struggle with solving a problem before being shown how to solve it, the subsequent solution is better learned and more durably remembered. 


6. If the outline of lecture proceeds in a different order from the textbook passage, the effort to discern the main ideas and reconcile the discrepancy procedures better recall of the content. 


7. Process of learning: 

- Generation: The act of trying to answer a question or attempting to solve a problem rather than being presented with the information or solution 

- Reflection: retrieval, elaboration, and generation. One form of reflection can be "write to learn": express the main ideas in their own words and relate to other concepts covered in class or outside. 


8. Learning habits are beneficial includes: rule learning (extracting underlying principles or rules from new experiences) and structure building (singling out salient concepts from the less important information and link them into mental structure - memory palace). 


9. Students aim at performance goals while others strive towards learnings goals. While the first case works to validate your ability, others work to acquire new knowledge and skills. The prior limit their potential. The latter pick ever increasing challenges, interpret setbacks, to sharpen the focus, get more creative, and work harder. 



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Updated: Jan 16

Recently, I earned new habit of listening to podcasts. From the last recommendation, I listened few new episodes, watch few new movies, and learn few new things.


Two podcasts

The duo Vi Anh & Quyen Nguyen create a platform sharing stories of young Vietnamese professionals about works, life philosophy, and habits. Most guests spent extended periods of their youth abroad and found early success in their careers. As a lecturer, I found this could be extremely helpful for my students who struggle to find career guidance. Every episode is helpful for youngsters to build good habits: Pomodoro Timer, listening to podcast, and writing journal. I also listened to Unlock FM to stay updated with the startup scene and customer trends in Vietnam.

This is another podcast by Vietnamese youngsters on general social issues. My favorite episode is Way to Mars (Đường đến sao Hoả). Universe 25, which mentioned in the episode, inspired me to write my recent post dubbed as Universe 25 & The first death. Oddly Normal concern on diverse social issues on racism, urban planning, educations, v.v in the interdisciplinary lens. Very great stuff for evening listen!

One movie


I came across The Founder (2016) in the quest of enriching my teaching resources. I found beyond the scope of economics.

1. People first!

Before starting any project, choosing the right partner-in-crime is essential. It holds relevant to my personal experience. My startup businesses ended early because of lackluster or incompatible cofounders. Ray Kroc also made mistakes when choosing rich franchisees who considered McDonald's as passive investment. Latter, he got rid of those the rich and replaced them with hard-working middle-class. Then his business prospered.


2. The producer theory

In neoclassical economics, Producer theory relies on following assumptions:

1. Firms are price takers.

2. Technology is exogenously given.

3. The firm maximizes profits.

4. The Marshallian approach of separating the household, where consumption takes place, from the firm, in which all production takes place. (Levin & Milgrom, 2004)


Given Profit = Total revenue - Total cost, profit-maximizing firms try to sell as many products as possible and minimize production cost. McDonald brothers's Speedee systems can be considered as Henry Ford's assemble line of food industry.

Our whole concept was based on speed, lower prices and volume. We were going after big, big volumes by lowering prices and having the customer serve himself. My god, the carhops were slow. We’d say to ourselves that there had to be a faster way. The cars were jamming up the lot. Customers weren’t demanding it, but our intuition told us that they would like speed. Everything was moving faster. The supermarkets and dime stores had already converted to self-service, and it was obvious the future of drive-ins was self-service. (McDonald’s: Behind The Arches, John F. Love)

McDonald's reduced cost by introducing self-service. The brothers can save costs associated with parking lots, waiter/waitress salaries, serving dishes and cutlery. The restaurant then can offer lower price with higher profit margin. You can find many occasions Ray Kroc and the Donald brothers argued over cost reduction and quality assurance. (Do morality and efficiency come together? Is wealth accumulation the destination of life? We might further discuss in latter post.)


3. The 80/20 principle

When it comes to focus on the core, Italian economist Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto introduce 80/20 principle or Pareto Principle.

Legend has it that one day he noticed that 20% of the pea plants in his garden generated 80% of the healthy pea pods. This observation caused him to think about uneven distribution. He thought about wealth and discovered that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by just 20% of the population. He investigated different industries and found that 80% of production typically came from just 20% of the companies. The generalization became: 80% of results will come from just 20% of the action (Kevin Kruse, 2016)

The application of 80/20 rule can be seen in McDonald's menu. Donald brothers only sell three things in their restaurant: hamburgers, fries, and soft drinks. Why only three? Because 87% orders the three and it is easier to build a Speedie system.

I was amazed. They were serving hamburgers for 15 cents, french fries for 10 cents and milkshakes for 20 cents. And basically that was the menu, and I said, "that's for me" - Ray Kroc

The revolution of menu McDonald's menu

Before:

After:

3. Franchise

More than 93% McDonald's restaurants are franchises. To better control franchises and widen profit margin, Ray Kroc introduced the conventional franchise and turned McDonald's into real-estate firm.There are three franchise structures:

Source: McDonald Annual Report (2019)

  • Conventional franchise (56,4% total restaurants)

Under a conventional franchise arrangement, the Company generally owns or secures a long-term lease on the land and building for the restaurant location and the franchisee pays for equipment, signs, seating and décor. The Company believes that ownership of real estate, combined with the co-investment by franchisees, enables us to achieve restaurant performance levels that are among the highest in the industry. (McDonald's, 2019)
  • Developmental license (19.76% total restaurants)

Under a developmental license or affiliate arrangement, licensees are responsible for operating and managing the business, providing capital (including the real estate interest) and developing and opening new restaurants. The Company generally does not invest any capital under a developmental license or affiliate arrangement, and it receives a royalty based on a percent of sales, and generally receives initial fees upon the opening of a new restaurant or grant of a new license. (McDonald's, 2019)
  • Affiliate (16,9% of total restaurants)

Affiliate arrangements are used in a limited number of foreign markets (primarily China and Japan) where the Company also has an equity investment and records its share of net results in Equity in earnings of unconsolidated affiliates. (McDonald's, 2019)

In which, revenue comes from are as follows:

Source: McDonald Annual Report (2019)

Since McDonald's owns properties, the fast food chain has more weight on its quality assurance over conventional franchisees. The franchise model intrigue me to further research on other franchise models. Hope I can find time to sit down and write soon.


P.S: Another movie can be analyzed in economic lens is Charlie and the chocolate factory.


Zero time wasted



Reference & further readings

  1. McDonald's (2019), Annual report, link: https://corporate.mcdonalds.com/content/dam/gwscorp/nfl/investor-relations-content/annual-reports/2019%20Annual%20Report.pdf

  2. Kruse, K. (2016), The 80/20 Rule And How It Can Change Your Life, link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2016/03/07/80-20-rule/#1b13f4073814

  3. Laura Morgan (2017), See What the First McDonald’s Burger Joint Looked Like in 1954, link: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/the-founder-set-design-see-what-the-first-mcdonalds-burger-joint-looked-like

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Updated: Jan 16

I don't know about you. Death haunts me. The impermanence of almost everything perplexed me. When will we eventually die? What can possibly cause Omnicide?

Threatening life and evolution are the two deaths, death of the spirit and death of the body (Calhoun, 1973)

1. The second death - death of the body


Economics students might be familiar with the concept of Malthusian catastrophe. Thomas Malthus (1766 - 1834) addressed population problem in An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798):

“The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man" (Malthus, 1798)

According to Population theory, starvation would occur due to exponential population growth and arithmetic food supply growth. The poor majority will suffer and rebel causing human catastrophe.

Figure 1: Predicted Malthusian Catastrophe which was avoided by First Industrial Revolution (given courtesy of Bedir Tekinerdogan)

Irish Potato Famine (1845 - 1840) was the favorite example of Malthusian economists. Overpopulation, however, was only fraction of a bigger problem in Ireland. What lies under was the principal - agent problem between landlords and tenants. Farmers had little incentive to improve the land quality. In deteriorated land, only potato can survive. The dependence toward potatoes paved the way for Phytophthora infestans (a fungus-like eukaryot) to destroy Irish potato fields and more than 20% of Irish population.

Malthusianism, however, still hold its credibility until the first Industrial Revolution. Thomas Malthus failed to take into account technological factors in food production. Thanks to know - how in "seed breeding, soil nutrient replenishment, irrigation, mechanization and more", agricultural production can "stay well ahead of the population curve" (Sachs, 2008). Technological advancement in food production postponed the foresee Catastrophe.

Figure 2: World economic history and the escape from Malthusian Trap because of Industrial Revolutions (given courtesy of Bedir Tekinerdogan)

So will mankind ever vanish? Till now, economists are pretty happy with the answer "Not Yet". So that is? According to economics, technology can save our sinking boat. I am not entirely convinced.

2. The first death - death of the spirit


Industrial revolutions may postpone the physical death or "second death" of mankind. However, there is still the "first death" due to psychologically disruption. To proof "the first death", John B. Calhoun (1917 - 1995) set utopian environment for mice by eliminating five mortality factors: Emigration, Resource shortage, Inclement weather, Disease, and Predation. The only restriction is space:

A closed physical universe was formed by four 54 inch (1.37 m) high walls forming a square of side 101 inches (2.57 m). Although the walls were structured for use by mice to increase the effective use-area of the universe, the mice could not climb over the upper 17 inch (43 cm) unstructured portion of the galvanized metal walls. (Calhoun, 1973)

Photo: Yoichi R. Okamoto/Public Domain

In this ideal environment, Calhoun recorded 4-phrase catastrophe:

  • Phase A (Day 0 - 104) or Adjustment Phase: The first 8 mice adjusted to their new surroundings, marked their territory and began nesting.

  • Phase B (Day 105 - 315) or Exploitation Phase: Population doubled every 55 days.

  • Phase C (Day 315 - 560) or Stagnation Phase: "Behavior sink" took place. Most mice started to form preference and "favored the same few compartments". Those earned their spots in centre of the universe dubbed as "the alpha males". They became more aggressive and started to"roam around and indiscriminately rape other mice, regardless of gender". Meanwhile, the beta males "grew timid and inert". When territorial males "reject maturing associates", the females exposed to territorial defense and adopted more aggressive forms of behavior. The females later refrained from "motherly duties altogether, banishing their unraised litters and withdrawing from further mating" (Victor Pest)

  • Phase D (Day 560 - ) or Death Phase: The young in Phase C "were prematurely rejected by their mothers. They started independent life without having developed adequate affective bonds." The males soon become the 'beautiful ones".

They never engaged in sexual approaches toward females, and they never engaged in fighting, and so they had no wound or scar tissue. Thus their pelage remained in excellent condition. Their behavioural repertoire became largely confined to eating, drinking, sleeping and grooming, none of which carried any social implications beyond that represented by contiguity of bodies. (Calhoun, 1973)

Universe 25 was finally left with non-reproducing females and 'beautiful ones' (males) with terminated reproduction capacity. They eventually die out in Phase D.

Figure 3: History of population of mice in a closed Utopian universe

Source: Calhoun (1973)

In the end of this research, Calhoun conclude:

For an animal so complex as man, there is no logical reason why a comparable sequence of events should not also lead to species extinction. If opportunities for role fulfilment fall far short of the demand by those capable of filling roles, and having expectancies to do so, only violence and disruption of social organization can follow. Individuals born under these circumstances wilt be so out of touch with reality as to be incapable even of alienation. Their most-complex behaviours will become fragmented. Acquisition, creation and utilization of ideas appropriate for life in a post-industrial cultural-conceptual-technological society will have been blocked. Just as biological generativity in the mouse involves this species' most complex behaviours, so does ideational generativity for man. Loss of these respective complex behaviours means death of the species. (Calhoun, 1973)

I would pause here to comeback to human selves. Are you "the beautiful ones"? Am I? Are we?


The moment we "stop carrying any social implications beyond that represented by contiguity of bodies", we are heading to Universe 25. We have successfully escaped the external trap. Is there any protection for what from within? The answer lies upon us.



Reference:

1. Sachs, J (2008), Are Malthus's Predicted 1798 Food Shortages Coming True? (Extended version), link: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-malthus-predicted-1798-food-shortages/

2. Calhoun, J. (1973), Death Squared: The Explosive Growth and Demise of a Mouse Population, link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1644264/pdf/procrsmed00338-0007.pdf

3. Victor Pest, What Humans Can Learn From Calhoun's Rodent Utopia, link: https://www.victorpest.com/articles/what-humans-can-learn-from-calhouns-rodent-utopia

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