Monthly Archives: March 2012

Patrick Hruby argues that NCAA basketball players should go on strike. The argument for paying college football players is weak. The argument for basketball is even weaker. If they want to get paid, and they’re really good, they have a multitude of options. Also, Title IX. You can’t may men’s basketball without also paying women’s.

According to a new study, cursing at work can help you make friends and reduce stress.

Matt Yglesias points out that if we had more dense cities, we’d have less dense elsewheres. This would allow for more things like grass-fed cattle ranching. Though true, it still doesn’t explain how you get the rest of the country to agree to more dense living.

Derek Thompson investigates how spending has changed over the years.

Why are city centers growing more quickly when wealth becomes more suburbanized?

A World Without People: pictures of abandoned places.

Due to a labor dispute an entire Arena Football team was fired during a pregame meal. Stranger still? The on-the-spot replacement team went on to win.

I really hope that makeshift publishing becomes a thing. If we’re going to keep paper books around, the inventory problem has to be dealt with.

China has begun construction of a megacity, planned to be four times the population of New York and twice the size of Jersey. A part of me thinks this is just awesome. Except that I fear it will be disasterous.

I was looking at a university’s price structure for their distance learning program. They explain:

Tuition $173/credit
Distance Education Fee $75/credit
TOTAL $248/credit

Developmental Math (site-based MTH 065 & 095): $173 per credit, no distance ed fee

Okay, $248 a credit. Got it. They go on to explain…


3 credit undergraduate course: 3 x $248 = $744
3 credit graduate course: 3 x $478 = $1,434

Okay. If you need this spelled out for you, perhaps you should be reconsidering going to college.

-{Note: This is a land-grant university with an endowment of approaching half-a-billion dollars. Half Sigma might say otherwise, but not what I would consider a glorified community college.}-

Category: School

According to Thomas Freedman, we shouldn’t be worried about broadband capabilities in rural America:

Right now, though, notes Levin, America is focused too much on getting “average” bandwidth to the last 5 percent of the country in rural areas, rather than getting “ultra-high-speed” bandwidth to the top 5 percent, in university towns, who will invent the future. By the end of 2012, he adds, South Korea intends to connect every home in the country to the Internet at one gigabit per second. “That would be a tenfold increase from the already blazing national standard, and more than 200 times as fast as the average household setup in the United States,” The Times reported last February.

Therefore, the critical questions for America today have to be how we deploy more ultra-high-speed networks and applications in university towns to invent more high-value-added services and manufactured goods and how we educate more workers to do these jobs — the only way we can maintain a middle class.

Erik Loomis disagrees, arguing:

I know the fact that people live in rural areas and small towns is inconvenient for people obsessed with national planning and technological fetishism, but that’s the reality of the United States. You can’t just marginalize these people and their futures by dooming them to second-rate access to resources. I mean, you can, but then you have to deal with endemic poverty, high rates of drug use, domestic violence, and any number of other social problems.

He is particularly concerned about rural Hispanics.

I am, of course, in the middle of this. I am a broadband using geek living in rural America. So naturally, I am sympathetic to the idea that the “last 5%” should get broadband. I am not presently in the last 5%, but I’m close enough to it that we would have to be careful about where we buy a home. I’ve already let it be known that broadband is not optional. But I am a computer geek. A lot of people out here can live with cut-rate connectivity. There’s nowhere in the country (or the lower 48, anyway) that you can’t get something, even if it’s satellite. Satellite might not be good enough for me, but I am not a typical case. The degree to which the rest of the country should bend over backwards for its most rural brethren is limited.

It leads to projects like this, where millions was spent on areas with 35k homes, of which 30k already had fixed broadband service. Over 90% of the remaining 5k had 3G availability, which isn’t ideal but is still something. I would be surprised if satellite were not an option for the remaining 500 houses. At some point, I think you have to say “good enough” and move on.

On the other hand, Friedman’s suggestion about the top 5% leaves me cold. Namely because we want a degree of universality to our service. Even if some get left behind, web site developers and content deliverers (like Netflix, Hulu, etc.) need to have some idea of the sorts of speeds that people are going to get. If you plug in Silicon Valley, and their speeds are significantly faster than everyone else (who isn’t in the top 5%, that is), they will be developing things for those speeds. This is already a problem, with inadequate buffering on the unjustified beliefs that everyman’s delivery speeds are faster than they are.

In terms of Internet, what I would very much prefer over raising speed caps is raising speed reliability. The other day I was at a coffee shop wherein all of the comments I wanted to leave at blogs had to be emailed to my cell phone, where I could then post it using my phone. The main reason is that they (I believe) have to dedicate so much of their bandwidth to downloading and so little to uploading, that the latter just became impossible. This is at a hot spot. This is where we really need improvement before we’re worried about the top 5% (or, for that matter, the left behind 5%).

Category: Server Room

-{Childish Things}-

For some reason, I got it in my head to watch an episode or two of Voltron. I have fond memories of Voltron. I remember the playground at West Oak Elementary where we used to argue over who would get to be which lion. I never got any of the figures myself, but I got access to them when I played with friends.

One of the things I remember was the inconvenient of the Blue Lion being female. No females at West Oak Elementary wanted to play Voltron, and no boy wanted to be the female Blue Lion. The way out of this was to say “Well the original Blue Lion was a boy!” Truthfully, I thought we were making that up. It turns out that we weren’t. There was another Blue Lion before the Princess became the Blue Lion.

One of the thoughts I had while watching it was a fan dub idea wherein the bad guy was actually a freedom fighter of sorts, who was pointing out how ridiculous it was that the townspeople lived in squalor while the royal family had all of these super-neat toys and a comparatively opulent castle. It’s funny how I notice these things as I get older.

Category: Ghostland, Theater

US vs Sweden

Category: Theater

I got pulled over yesterday for the second time in six months. Which is kind of funny for three reasons. First, because I intentionally speed less than I ever have in the past, and I don’t usually toy around with the 10mph grace period anymore. Second, because I live in a state that is known in the region for being lenient on speeders. Third, I drive less than I usually do. Despite 1 and 2, I’ve gotten pulled over on comparatively open highways for 10 and 11 over.

The last time, it was a relatively brief affair. Arapaho has a law that says if you get pulled over for 10mph or less during the daytime in good weather, you just pay the cop on the spot and it goes away (insurance never finds out about it). At first I was wondering if it was just a matter of the cop making a little money on the side, but he gave me official documentation and everything on it. It was one of those cases where I was going 85 in a 75, downhill, without intending to go 85.

Yesterday, I was taking Clancy to the doctor out in Alexandria. We were running a little behind, but even then I was sticking to 75 in a 70. I even commented, just a couple minutes before getting pulled over, that no matter how close the car behind was going to follow me and no matter how impatient they were, I was going to stick to 75. Apparently, I didn’t. The cop did a Uey and I looked down and saw that I was going about 80. So I got pulled over and the speed demon who’d been following right behind finally got rid of me blocking his way.

I told the officer about the appointment. If I’d been thinking, I would have said, “Officer, my wife, has a doctor’s appointment in Alexandria at 4:30. I apologize for going so fast. She was busy working the emergency room last night – she’s a doctor*, you see – and we ran behind so that we could make her appointment establishing care with the obstetrician that’s going to deliver our baby!” (How would he know otherwise?) Instead I just explained that we were falling behind and she had the appointment and we’re really sorry. It worked. He checked my license and he let us go. He said, “81 is a little too fast. Could you pare it down to 75?” “Yes, sir!”

It was rather fortunate that I put the updated registration sticker on my car a week ago. I lost the paper documentation for the latter part of license and registration, but I could point to the sticker. It was also a reminder that I need to put my wife’s registration sticker on her car.

* – Police officers tend to be lenient with doctors. Especially when they do emergency room work. Clancy said that he might have resented it if I’d laid it on too thick, so maybe it’s for the best that I didn’t.

Category: Road

That’s the case that Daniel Indiviglio made in The Atlantic last year:

If you look to industries where compensation is common knowledge, then you find employees that have far better success achieving more pay. One clear example is Wall Street. At investment banks, salary transparency isn’t encouraged, but bankers and traders just can’t help themselves. After all, many are obsessed with money. So come bonus season, they compare packages and relay information from firm to firm. Industry publications even include league tables to show which banks pay better than others.

Salary transparency is also quite strong among chief executives across the economy. Public companies are required to report this information. Is it any coincidence that executive pay has been rising over the past few decades? Each CEO wants to be paid above average, so pay ticks up.

This brings to mind some causality problems. People that get a lot of scrutiny, such as chief executives and athletes and such, where people are most likely to know the salaries to begin with. This creates not just higher wages, but distortions (at least in the case of CEO’s). Where people are a brand name, and they’re not just paying for actual performance, but for the brand. In the case of Wall Street, people are most likely to talk about how much they make precisely because they’re doing well. At least, I think that’s more likely than the notion that they’re doing well because they talk about how much they make.

I don’t know how I feel about the proposal overall. A few jobs back, at Falstaff where I was working when I started Hit Coffee, we talked regularly about how much we were making. It did not, actually, result in higher wages. It did result in a fair amount of resentment. My resentment, to be precise. There was a guy named Edgar (some of you may remember him) who was… not bright. He was perpetually one of the worst two employees in our department. We started the same week. But Edgar made more than I did. Five cents an hour more. And it drove me crazy. Five cents an hour became an actual point of resentment. Pay within the department was relatively uniform, but for the five cent raise he asked for at just the right time to get it (he didn’t ask for such a paltry raise, but that was all they were willing to give him. But after that, they refused to give anything to anybody). Due to circumstance, I’ve historically been overqualified and underpaid, and that never bothered me like the Edgar thing. We were at the same place, doing the same job (indeed, when I got a promotion without a raise, I was above him and making less).

Even though we weren’t supposed to talk about it, we always did and management actually used this to their advantage. No one could say that Jack didn’t deserve a raise, but they couldn’t give one to him without also giving one to Joe. Yes, Jack deserved it and Joe did not deserve it, but such things are bad for morale. With some exception, I would actually expect pay transparency used in this way more than any other. Not preventing disparities between different jobs, but completely flattening them within departments and job descriptions. This could be good for things like wage equality across genders and such, but from a productivity perspective is problematic. Because it will, the vast majority of the time, breed resentment the more than people know that other people are making more at them at the same job. That some people are more valued than others.

And yet… I am a critic of the status quo of treating unequal employees equally. I have noticed, in my professional life, that over and over again that not nearly enough care is taken to avoid losing the best employees (we can’t give Jack a raise) and too much effort is made to accommodate the worthless employees (We can’t fire Joe, he has a family to support). This isn’t hard policy, exactly, but the way that things often work. At Falstaff, for example, there was the assumption that nobody was going to be able to find a better job, so they should be kissing the feet of Falstaff for giving them one that paid them a solid $10/hr. And yet, at the same time, until the budget absolutely forced them to, nobody wanted to fire Edgar, who had a wife and four kids to support and was an all-around decent guy. So the end result is that, contrary to their belief that nobody can find other work, they lost the ones that were talented and skilled enough to actually find other work, while the Edgars stuck around. My criticism of this is at odds with my apprehension about wage transparency.

Category: Market

When I heard that they were making a TV show based on The Firm (a sequel, really, taking place ten years later), I decided to finally consume the book and watch the movie (I saw it when I was a yungun, but only paid half-attention). Hollywood has a tendency to make movies about two grades worse than the book. The Chamber was a mediocre book that became an obnoxious movie that reversed the few good traits of the book. The Firm was actually a good book, but the movie was rather mediocre. Not in the way that books are hard to translate to movie because of what you have to cut out, though that’s always an issue, but rather because they completely changed the ending. Warning, spoilers ahead for the book, the movie, and the TV show.

The basic story of both the book and the movie is that Mitchell McDeere, fresh out of law school, is hired on by a corrupt law firm in Memphis that is in bed with the Chicago mafia. In the book, McDeere, his wife, and his brother all sneak off to the Carribean. McDeere gives the Feds enough on both the firm and the mafia that the feds won’t go after him, but skedaddles for fear of what the mafia does. In the movie, he works it so that he gives the feds some dirt on the firm, but not the mafia, so that he can stay in Memphis.

Which makes no sense. The FBI isn’t interested in the law firm except as a way to get to the mafia. So the dangling question, after watching the movie, was why the mafia was okay with this when the inevitable result of the firm’s arrest is that they would flip on them (I don’t believe that lawyer-client confidentiality applies when both are acting in concert in the commission of a crime).

Well, the makers of the TV show saw the same thing that I did and decided to use it for the show. In the show, the feds leaned on the firm, who then rolled on the mafia and put their don in prison. At which point, of course, McDeere is in the mafia’s crosshairs and has to go into Witness Protection. The show takes place ten years later as they are getting out of Witness Protection because, well, they’re tired of it. Surprise surprise, the mafia is still after him. He’s with a new (also corrupt) firm. And that’s the premise of the TV show. So far, I am not hugely impressed. I’ve only seen the first two-in-one episode, and I’ll give it a couple more, but it’s pretty low on my list of priorities.

Anyhow, I thought it was funny that they devoted a new TV show to the egregious plot hole in the movie. I still don’t understand why the movie changed the ending, except as a possible sequel (like another one starring Tom Cruise, not a TV show fifteen years later).

Category: Theater

Back when I was minding the hellspawn, one of the diamonds in the rough was a girl named Magdy. Unlike Dariette (a Daria-like girl, but with Aspergers), I didn’t take an immediate liking to Magdy. But as the days progressed, she became increasingly helpful. She was tough enough not to be intimidated by the other kids, but unlike most of the other tough kids chose – for whatever reason – to be rather helpful to me. Dariette was nice and friendly, but Magdy helped me get control of the classroom to the extent that I did. And when she wasn’t helping me, she was quiet doing her work or her own thing.

Despite my taking a liking to her, I also got the sense that… things are not likely to turn out well for her. Not the least of which because she was in resource/remedial classes. But also because… well, it was just a sense I got from her. She’s not going to college. She probably won’t graduate from high school. She may be a mother before then. I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up on drugs or in skirmishes with the law. I can’t even explain why I thought these things about a girl who was nothing but helpful to me and by appearances was almost standard (not dressed provocatively, typical hair-care, and wore little or no make-up).

So last week, I was back at the middle school teaching another resource/remedial set of classes. The 8th graders I had this year were the same as the 7th graders I had last year (and a couple 8th graders I had this year were 8th graders from last year, as well). Magdy was among them. And once again, she was just a marvelous student (with bonus points for actually remembering me). Which was odd, because her name was on the list of students to be wary of and for whom there was a specific protocol for misbehavior (never a good sign). I also got a look at her file, which was… not ideal. Some problems in the 7th grade, more in the 8th. But her previously standard appearance had started changing and she has already started the physical (at least) progression to where I think she will end up. Nose ring. Another piercing below her lip. The first day she looked kind of… messy (though less so the second day).

Also, this time around, I got a better idea of where these classes are, scholastically (it’s easier with English and Math than Science and Social Studies), and it was disheartening (a subject for a separate post). None of these kids are going to college – not even community college. The Direct Instruction I ran through was more reminiscent of elementary school than regular middle school. Groans of frustration doing relatively simple mathematical tasks such as counting change (True or False, seven dimes and seven pennies equals seventy cents?), percentages (a pie chart split in six with one of them colored in), and comparatively simple multiplication (24×6). Magdy could do the first but didn’t like it, did well on the second, but struggled on the third.

The kids end up in these classes generally for one of two reasons: they have legitimate developmental problems or they have attitude problems, or both. Magdy seems to fall into the second category, which makes her perhaps the only student who does that I actually took a liking to and wish the best for in more than an abstract wish-the-best-for-everybody sort of way. I’m just hoping it’s not both.

On a sidenote, one of the things that gave me a little hope last year was that she talked about her father during some downtime and said something that suggested that he was a fixture in the household. My expectations for the Magdy-like kids are such that I thought “Well hey, at least she has a father who stuck around!” Well, I came to find out that it was her step-father and she doesn’t know her real dad. There’s still a bright side, I suppose, if there is a stepfather she gets along with well enough to think of him as a father.

Category: School

I happened to be subbing in heavily Irish-American (among other euro-ethnicities) Redstone the day before St. Paddy’s Day. Since it falls on a weekend this year, Wearing Green was done on Friday. Not realizing this, I wore read (but I came so close, my second choice was a green shirt). Anyhow, here are my favorite Flogging Molly songs!

Category: Theater