All posts by alexandrianewman

Braving the Black Carpet at the World Premiere for Divergent

In front of the Black Carpet!
In front of the Black Carpet!

A few weeks ago, my aunt invited me to attend the Divergent world premiere in Los Angeles with her. I immediately jumped on board, not realizing at the moment that it was the week after spring break. So, I took off a few days of school to jet off to LA for my chance to watch one of my personally most anticipated movies of the year and meet the celebrities that starred in it.

For those of you unfamiliar with Divergent, it’s a trilogy that takes place in a post-apocalyptic Chicago. It sounds a lot like hunger games, and it’s equally exciting, and even slightly better in my opinion. It was written by Veronica Roth when she was only 21, and was inspired by a lesson in one of her psychology classes about exposure therapy.

Being on the black carpet was absolutely incredible. The majority of the cast was made up of fellow 20-somethings, but there was also experienced big-names such as Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn (you may know his as President Fitzgerald Grant from Scandal). A lot of the cast from Scandal came out as well, to support Goldwyn.


Not only was it full of actors, the black carpet also had singers and Olympic athletes. I got to meet Ellie Goulding as well as my figure skating idols Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner, and Jason Brown.

Some of you may be confused by the fact accountants and Hollywood can be combined. However, the connection is a long-standing one. PwC is the official counter of Oscar votes and secures the validity of the winners, and EY does the same for the Golden Globes. It seems unlikely, but everyone needs an accountant!

Also, in the future the Texas MPA program will be offering it’s students an opportunity to intern for an entertainment company and take classes in production accounting through UTLA. If that’s a dream of yours (as it is for me, but unfortunately my time is limited on the 40 acres), you should definitely stay tuned for what lies ahead for Texas MPAs!

The right to question the Constitution?

constitutionIn the most recent publication of the Texas Exes’ Alcade, I found there to be a particularly interesting article written by Sanford Levinson called “Reframing the Constitution”. The article is extremely well written and I encourage everyone to read it for themselves, but the main point of the article is that the people of the United States should consider re-vamping the Constitution in a new constitutional convention. His argument is that “there are some truly serious deficiencies with the Constitution that are highly detrimental to our ability to meet the challenges that we face as a nation”.

Levinson also raises some very interesting points in relation to what the framers of the constitution believed. When the Constitution was drafted in 1787-88, the world was a very different place and the issues facing our country were less complex.  The founders couldn’t have predicted the exponential increases in complexity and non-linearity of events that would emerge as a result of globalization and technological innovations.

A good way to look at how complex the world has gotten from the 18th century is by looking at an excerpt describing the brief history of the global economy from Eric Beinhocker’s book The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics:

To summarize 2.5 million years of economic history in brief: for a very, very, very long time not much happened; then all of a sudden, all hell broke loose. It took 99.4 percent of economic history to reach the wealth levels of the Yanomamo, 0.59 percent to double that level by 1750, and then 0.01 percent for global wealth to leap to the levels of the modern world. Another way to think of it is that over 97 percent of humanity’s wealth was created in just the last 0.01 percent of our history. As the economic historian David Landes describes it, “the Englishman of 1750 were closer in material things to Caesar’s legionnaires than to his own great-grand-children.”

Why are we requiring ourselves to be governed by a document written and based in principles and mental models of how the world works from a period in time that has more in common with Caesar than with the complex world we are living in?

Levinson’s smoking gun (in my very humble opinion) in the article is a quote from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1816 to his friend Samuel Kercheval:

“Some men look at Constitutions with reverence and deem them too scared to be touched. I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes… but I know also that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.”

Figure Skating Scoring: A Crash Course

gracie sochiThe judging system of figure skating is always criticized when the world focuses its eyes on our sport at the Winter Olympics. This year, an article on NPR has already popped up about a judging scandal in the team event. The article essentially is saying that judges colluded backstage on the team event. Articles like this continue to arise, despite the fact the judging system for skating has been completely redefined and any and all opportunities for one judge to change the outcome of an event have been removed.

The fact articles like this keep popping up is most likely due to how confusing and complicated the system currently is. The best way to diffuse people thinking judges are these evil, malevolent beings that have all the control is to teach people how the system works. Due to my experience judging skating competitions, I understand the rules and how the changes impact the sport. So, let me shed a little light on things.

Skating always historically used the 6.0 judging system, where judges would award a score from 0.0 – 6.0 for each skaters technical and artistic mark. If you watched the greats like Michelle Kwan (my personal favorite), this is the scoring system you are used to. This judging system was very easy to understand (and therefore spectator friendly), but made the sport 100% subjective to the judges on the stand. Having skated and judged under this system, the 6.0 system is rich with history, but posed a lot of challenges to judges and skaters alike.

In 2002, with the judging scandal at the Salt Lake City Olympics (read the article for more details), the judging system came under fire. What resulted was the new International Judging System (IJS). IJS is incredibly complicated, but is a lot more fair to the skaters and actually works in their benefit. The IJS system moves judging from being 100% subjective, to 60% subjective, 40% objective.

Here are the basics of the judging system to get you through the Olympics:

There are two panels on the ice: the judging panel and the technical panel.

The technical panel is responsible for assessing what the skaters do on the ice so the appropriate amount of base points can be assigned to the skater. Each jump has a base point value, and spins and footwork sequence have different levels with base points that skaters attain based on the level of difficulty performed. In the pursuit of assigning the correct amount of base points and properly assessing what the skater performed that day on the ice, the technical panel has the ability to watch videos of each and every element performed in slow motion to make sure they are fair. Three officials determine what the skaters do on the tech panel, and in the event technical specialists disagree with a call, they take a vote. This is what makes up the objective portion of the figure skaters score.

The judging panel is responsible with two tasks: 1) assessing the level of quality of the technical elements performed and 2) assigning the components marks, which are the marks based on the skaters skating skills, choreography, and overall program performance.

When a skater performs an element, the tech panel gives the base value, but the skater isn’t guaranteed the base value of points. The judges assign grades of execution (GOEs) to each element performed that range from a -3 to +3, and the grade of execution by the majority of judges is used as a factor that’s ultimately multiplied by the base value of the jump.

The best way to describe this is to use an example. Let’s say two different skaters perform a triple lutz jump. One skater falls on the jump, and the other lands the most beautiful jump you have ever seen. Ot doesn’t seem very fair that the two skaters receive the same base point value. The GOEs make it so skaters are rewarded (or penalized) for the quality of elements they perform.

The components score is made up of five different categories, with each category receiving a score from 0.00-10.00 from each judge. The categories include skating skills, transitions (how difficult and intricate the elements are weaved to each other and to the program music), performance and execution (how well the skater projects to the audience), choreography (how well he movements match the music and phrasing of the music), and interpretation (how well the skater feels and interprets the nuances of the music)

This is a very basic overview of how a skating program is judged. There are a lot of internal controls and other rules that are too complicated to get into for the purposes of this blog. Overall, this relatively new system does a much more comprehensive job at evaluating all aspects of a skater’s performance on the ice. The IJS system also gives a lot more feedback on the performance because you can see exactly where every point has come from, and where you lost points in a program.

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask away!


The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics are FINALLY here!!!

SochiIceshowAs a figure skating judge and former competitive figure skater, I am absolutely giddy with the arrival of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Already this year, the Olympics has been particularly riveting and the games have yet to begun.

However, figure skating events begin today, Thursday February 6. Starting today is the brand new figure skating team event where each country sends its strongest competitor across the four skating disciplines (Ladies, mens, pairs, and dance) and the team with the most points wins the gold. Due to my past, I know a lot about figure skating, but I know relatively little about this event. I will be learning about it with the rest of everyone else. I do know that the introduction of this team event has led into a very controversial US Olympic Figure Skating Team decision made by US Figure Skating.

Let’s go into more detail about that controversial decision, because it has definitely helped shape expectations about the upcoming competitions. Historically, the US Figure Skating National Championships serve as the Olympic qualifiers with the top two/three finishers at the event selected for the Olympic team, unless a top contender is injured and petitions to get on the team. But this is all historical. US Figure Skating has always maintained the right to not simply send the top two/three finishers and instead reflects on the skaters’ competitive histories during the decision making process. This happens to be the first year they have done so without a top contender being injured.

Here’s what happened: US Figure Skating decided to send the 4th place skater, Ashley Wagner (defending national champion), to the Olympics over the skater that placed third at nationals, Marai Nagasu (2010 Olympic pewter medalist). US Figure Skating defended their decision of adding Ashley Wagner to the Olympic team over Marai Nagasu based on her competitive record, which is more consistent than Marai’s has been over the past few years.

Sadly, the media hasn’t done the best job in illustrating how complicated the decision really was. All the articles I have read make Marai Nagasu the victim and Ashley Wagner the villain.

Don’t get me wrong, my heart breaks for Marai. She has worked so hard to improve her performance at this national championship in order to return to the Olympics. She is also the only US skater with Olympic experience. Bottom line, she got third.

On the other hand though, at the last Olympic qualifying national championships, Ashley Wagner placed third and didn’t get to go due to the fact the US could only send 2 skaters to the Olympics. Ashley won back the US’s ability to send three female skaters to Sochi based on her performance at the last World Championships. Ashley has also won multiple US national titles since the 2010 Olympics while Marai has been battling with growth spurts (and the inconsistent skating associated with growth spurts).

The individuals at US figure skating had a very difficult decision in front of them. Each of the individuals involved have a very thorough knowledge of the sport, a deep love of the sport, and did what they thought was the best for US Figure Skating. There was no malice in their decision, and I think their hearts broke just as much as Marai’s did. Unfortunately, only so many people can be sent to the Olympics, and the decision will always involve tears. At this point in time, it doesn’t matter if we agree with it or not. We have a US Olympic Team, and we need to be behind each and every one of them as they represent our country.

I’m sure I will have plenty more to say about the Olympics as they unfold. Until then… let the games begin!

Musings of a to-be-CPA

cpaAll I can say so far about being a 5th-year MPA in her final spring semester is that studying for the CPA is hard. All I think about is accounting, which can start to take a toll on your sanity. In an effort to make light of a somewhat overwhelming situation, I am attempting a number of techniques to make studying more fun. The first one of which is to try a technique one of my previously graduated friends has pioneered: CPA-related poetry. This isn’t so much a blog post as me sharing the various modifications of famous poems to reflect the joy of CPA studying. I plan on posting other posts that will document the other techniques to make CPA studying more fun and enjoyable.

CPA and Graduation (a modified version of Fire and Ice by Robert Frost)
Some say the world will end with CPA,
Some say with graduation.
From what I’ve tasted of MPA,
I hold with those who favor CPA.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I love UT enough
To say the pain commencement brings
Is also great,
And would suffice.

A CPA’s Siren Call to Accounting Students (an adaptation of a Shel Silverstein quote)
If you are an accountant, come study
If you have studied some financial, some cost, some tax
Are able to hold off PCAOB and IRS attacks
If you’re a bean-counter, come sit and relax
For we have some accrual tales to spin, my buddy
Come study!
Come study!