Monthly Archives: June 2012

The other day I watched a documentary about Redstone and its mining history (among other things). I’m not going to name the movie, though if you’re genuinely interested in seeing it, shoot me and email and I’ll tell you privately. I’m breaking down my observations into three or four posts. This is the second, the first is here. You (obviously) don’t need to have seen the film to understand what I’m talking about.

One other interesting thing about it was the evolution of Redstone’s patriotism. Redstone is one of the most flag-waiving, patriotic places I have ever seen out of the south. And when the rubber hits the road, Redstonians, and Arapahoans more generally, enter the military in pretty large numbers. I figured it had to do with the Irish heritage and career opportunities, but there was another aspect to it that I hadn’t considered.

Namely, Redstone had its patriotism beaten into it. The miners opposed World War I vociferously. This opposition did not serve them there. They went on strike and the Washington sent some folks over and forced them to continue working at gunpoint. Their popular image was sunk by their inability to get on board with the war. So, when World War II rolled around, they got ahead of that. They accepted the wage freezes with magnanimity, held parades, and pressured those who weren’t working or essential to join up. The patriotic and military culture has been with the town ever since.

Category: Statehouse, Theater

I am ordinarily not a fan of “technology is ruining us!” rants, though I found this one to be particularly well done. Though I don’t fully agree with its conclusions, it got me thinking about how I am using technology and what it might be costing me.

How software is screening job applications. In other words, automating acronym job requirements.

Daniel Yergin writes of America’s New Energy Reality. I have found the shift in the president’s approach to energy to be quite positive. Even when he stopped Keystone, he made a point of saying that he supports it in theory. I don’t know if it constitutes a new reality, but it definitely seems to constitute a new political reality: we can’t pretend that clean and renewable is going to get us there. In my hope of hopes, I’m hoping it becomes like the gun issue. I can’t think of any other issue where the center shifted so radically and quickly as it did there.

We’re working towards making Person of Interest a reality as we teach software to automatically detect suspicious behavior. Canada is planning to surveil more politely.

Bakadesuyo: Sometimes being smart is a disadvantage to decision-making.

Yay! Using a computer is not rotting my brain!

One of the downsides to television is that it makes awesome things like this look cumbersome and ineffective. Television heroes and villains can accomplish this and look good doing it!

Jordan Weissmann wonders if college students aren’t borrowing enough. This makes sense, for reasons discussed in the article and one that isn’t discussed: Had my college money run out, I wouldn’t have known where to look to even get alone and might have thought “Huh, no more money, no more college I guess.” Whereas if you know you’re going to have to borrow at the outset, you’re not going to run out of money.

Japanese designers created a livable house on 52 square meters of triangular space. If you want to find that kind of efficiency here, you have to look at trailer parks. More tiny houses.

Category: Newsroom

The other day I watched a documentary about Redstone and its mining history (among other things). A good bulk of the movie focused on the labor struggles. I’m not going to name the movie, though if you’re genuinely interested in seeing it, shoot me and email and I’ll tell you privately. I’m breaking down my observations into three or four posts. This is the first. You (obviously) don’t need to have seen the film to understand what I’m talking about.

One of the things that stuck out at me was the symbiotic relationship between The Corporation and labor. I, of course, had the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. I know what happened to Redstone when the mines shut down. Labor, of course, doesn’t know that. They only know that they’re working in dangerous conditions and breathing dangerous air, for meager wages in the shadow of The Company’s mansions. The Company’s view is not particularly well-represented in the film, but it’s not hard to tell where they were coming from (profits) and had the compulsion to keep wages minimal even though the freight ran smoother when they were able to avoid strikes every three years (if the film’s narrative is to be believed).

The Company went under due to the socialist uprisings in South America, among other things. When they suddenly lost all of their investments, they were bought out by another company. The other company looked at the labor conflicts, the increasing environmental liabilities, and decided to take a pass on most mining in Redstone. When they turned off the pumps of at the last mine, the result was water with so much mineral sludge, the mining of the lake it created is the only mining left in Redstone.

Needless to say, it wasn’t “happily ever after” for the town after that. As bad as the work was, it was still work. As bad as The Company was, they passed on things to the town that they didn’t realize were there until it was gone. The city’s economy, and population, never recovered. The employment prospects there are rather bleak outside of government work.

It’s a more peaceful place, I suppose, with not much to fight over.

Category: Statehouse, Theater

Credit where credit is due: For-profit colleges do two-year programs right. Maybe. Their students graduate more regularly. Which we can’t say doesn’t matter, since we often criticize for-profits for failing to have their bachelor’s students graduate.

Farhad Manjoo writes that Windows 8 is going to require a painful transition. Not for me, because I’m going to bypass the interface.

The Economist has great maps on violence, partitions, and traffic routes of drug cartels in Mexico. That Chihuahua is such a violent haven and El Paso remains one of the safest cities in the country is nothing short of miraculous.

A lot of my friends have been passing around the video of the “You’re not special” graduation speech. JohnJ has a good retort for the enthusiasm: People are praising this speech because they don’t think it applies to them. They’re special.

It turns out that robbing banks is a bad career choice.

I know that there would be a certain efficiency to it, but I’m not sure how much I like the idea of a single company becoming an EMR monopoly.

John Dvorak is apparently finally noticing that WiFi mooching has become nigh-impossible. I agree with him that it’s a shame, but it was inevitable when (a) people started bragging about how they were foregoing buying the Internet altogether and (b) people started being held criminally liable for what was happening on their network. Somewhere in here there is a post about community and trust and what happens when it disappears.

According to Futurity, hiding your identity at work decreases your job satisfaction and increases turnover. The methodology, however, does not breed confidence, to the extent that they reveal it. People in an environment where you do not feel free to express your identity is problematic whether you are expressing that identity or not.

Has the Second City become a Second-Rate City?

Category: Newsroom

There are between three and four coffee places in town, depending on how you count them and if you exclude all convenience store and restaurant coffee. One is a to-go stand, one is a Starbucks inside a Safeway, and two are conventional coffeehouses. There’s one (“Perky’s”) in the downtown area that I like to go to, though I’m less than enthusiastic about the quality of their product and their hours. The other one (“University Cup”) is in a less interesting part of town, but I like the product an hours more. I frequent the latter.

Here’s the thing, though: the owner-operator of the University Cup has never been very nice to me. I could never figure out why, but I always got the impression that I was intruding every time I walked in. It was enough that, in other circumstances, I would have stopped going there altogether.

I think I’ve figured something out, though. I don’t think it’s that she doesn’t like me. I think it’s just that she is a rather unpleasant person. The story of how I came to this conclusion is too long for even HC standards, so I’ll spare it to you.

Anyhow, knowing that she’s simply unpleasant makes me less reluctant about going back.

Category: Market

In a recent linky-post, I mentioned a study that suggests that skeptics of global warming are actually more scientifically knowledgeable than believers:

Some righties are getting a real kick out of a new study suggesting that global warming skeptics have more scientific and numeric literacy than its believers. Since that was clearly not the results that the study’s founders had hoped to find, that’s icing on the cake. Seriously, I don’t consider it particularly relevant. I don’t consider it surprising. I consider it funny as hell.

At some point I will write my magnum opus on this, but some things can’t wait.

What the study actually found was not that there was a strong correlation on skepticism and scientific knowledge, but actually that the more knowledgeable someone was, the more polarized they were:

We conducted a study to test this account and found no support for it. Members of the public with the highest degrees of science literacy and technical reasoning capacity were not the most concerned about climate change. Rather, they were the ones among whom cultural polarization was greatest.

This makes nothing less than complete sense to me. Studies have shown that both Republicans and Democrats tend to be smarter and more knowledgeable than independents. The more intelligent and knowledgeable, the more extreme. This is a little foreign to me, personally, because the more I read and consume, the less certain I become about anything.

In another way, however, it makes perfect sense. We do not consume information objectively. When we sort out data and turn it into information, we often do so with an endgame in mind. Rather than increased intellectual firepower and knowledge resulting in a greater objective understanding of anything, it merely results in the ability sort information to confirm our existing biases. It allows us to rationalize or contradict inconvenient information, and to make more sense of and expound upon affirming information.

In the case of global warming, people assign scientific concepts they know or have heard about (a glass of icewater not overflowing when the ice melts) in misapplied ways towards global warming (doesn’t apply because ice will be falling off actual land and into the water).

The cause-effect here can be circular. The mind tries to find order in all of the chaotic information in processes. Intelligent minds are more capable of this than not. And so as more information comes in, it’s sorted to fit a particular pattern. On the other side, people with a particular passion tend to seek out more information on something. There are anti-evolution people who know far, far more about the theory of evolution than I ever will – and they sought it out with a particular conclusion in mind. The same applies to anti-vaccination people, who know a lot more about vaccinations than anybody but researchers, doctors, and activists on the other side. More information sought, more information processed, more righteousness accumulated.

Over the past few years, I have known people who have gone from unreasonably right to unreasonably left. They were intelligent before, and they are intelligent now. All that was required was a massive re-sorting of data.

Category: Coffeehouse

How evaluation metrics in teaching might have saved a teacher’s job. I fully understand a lot of the concern surrounding using metrics for teacher accountability. But if you’re not looking at the results, you’re looking at the methodology, or you’re just letting teachers do whatever they want. Looking at the methodology means firing teachers not for how well they are teaching, but how well they are teaching to the script. There are worse things, actually, but we need to recognize that’s what it is.

How Detroit turned a freeway into a river.

I got a real kick out of Adam Ozimek’s piece on nudges for paternalist economists. Bloomberg’s soda ban got a lot of coverage, but not nearly enough of it talked about the class implications, which I think are actually more important than the nanny-state ones.

The world’s worse password requirements. I recently had to change my bank online password due to an error on a teller’s part (my password didn’t meet newer requirements). When a teller tells you “Could you pull around and come inside?” it’s not a good thing.

Some righties are getting a real kick out of a new study suggesting that global warming skeptics have more scientific and numeric literacy than its believers. Since that was clearly not the results that the study’s founders had hoped to find, that’s icing on the cake. Seriously, I don’t consider it particularly relevant. I don’t consider it surprising. I consider it funny as hell.

My arch-nemesis Marion Nestle signs on to a letter to Congress that, for once, I am actually quite sympathetic to. I think the “and the proceeds should go to foodies programs to teach the value of nutrition” bit should be dropped, but there seems to be room for reform. A graphical explanation about how farm subsidies work.

Speaking of studies with unexpected results and of nutrition people, it turns out that healthy foods are not expensive.

In Texas, the one branch of the state government helped train an ex-con to become a barber, then another branch refused to grant him a license because he is an ex-con. The New York Times also had an article on barbering licensure.

While the nation whines, Washington dines.

Category: Newsroom

I feel vindicated about this.

Category: Theater

Roger Cheng argues that Verizon’s new family data sharing plan is a raw deal for singles:

As Verizon customer, I fall under the $80 plan, and rarely ever go over my calling or text message caps. I don’t particularly relish the notion of a forced “upgrade” to a $100 plan — $60 for 2GB of access and unlimited voice and text messages and a $40 access fee for a smartphone — if I move to Share Everything.

For a couple, the new share plan would cost $150 for access for two smartphones, 4GB of data, and unlimited text and voice. That’s not much different than a current share plan that comes with 700 minutes, 1,000 text messages per phone, and 2GB of data each. Current couples, however, would have to give up their unlimited data plans in exchange for unlimited voice and text messages.

Part of the problem are the high access fees for devices, which make it tough for individuals who want to sign up multiple devices under one plan. The access fee for a smartphones is $40 a month, while a basic phone is $30, and laptops, Netbooks, and mobile hotspots are $20. Even the lowest rate — $10 a month for a tablet — seems excessively high.

To me, the tablet is the only one that isn’t obscenely high. Maybe it’s because I had already read about the tablet rate and so I was expecting a ballpark of $10 instead of $40. But $40 for a smartphone? Seriously? That’s what people to pay to connect a smartphone now ($10 for the line, $30 for the data plan), and it comes with data. In this case, you’re merely asking to permission to access the local data pool. Okay, you’re asking for another line, too. But $40 is excessive all the same.

I’m sitting on a tablet that is Verizon-network ready but not connected to the network. The goal should be, I think, trying to convince me to put it on the network. Because if I do, I might have to consider a higher data plan. Back when I first heard about the data plans going up, I’d figured that I would just shell out and do it. As it stands, I am thinking that I’ll want to avoid the data plan altogether.

Whether the new plan would save us money or cost us money depends on our data usage. If I assume more usage, it’s actually cheaper for me to add $40 to the bill by adding the tablet than it would be to switch to a family plan and add it for $10. I don’t think that’s a calculation that serves Verizon well.

Farhad Manjoo offers the following suggestion:

Now that Verizon has made its dumb pricing move, it’s time for AT&T or another competitor to offer something groundbreaking—what I imagine to be the perfect wireless plan. Here’s how it would work: First, you select a data tier. That’s it.

You wouldn’t pay extra for texts, voice calls, and for additional devices. You’d pay just for the amount of data you use—the more you use, the more you pay. This plan is simple, fair, and—depending on the price of data—it could save a lot of people a lot of money. Over the long run, this plan would be a boon to any wireless carrier that rolled it out. It would bring in more customers with more devices, and—as all those people spend more time using their various mobile devices over the next few years—the network would cash in. The only problem with this plan is that it’s so transparent and customer-friendly that it’s hard to imagine there’s any wireless company forward-thinking enough to consider it. Especially not AT&T.

Like Manjoo, I really think that the goal should be to bring as many devices into the network as possible. It would encourage people to use more data, which in turn would make them more money. In that sense, I actually like Verizon’s decision and hope that it becomes a norm. The longer I keep the tablet off their network, the more money I save.

Category: Market

The PPACA stands to severely limit Utah’s attempts at health care reform. They’d actually initially tried to do the unthinkable: decouple insurance from employment. I don’t know what exactly it’s going to take to fix our system, though I do wish we’d try for more state experimentation. I’d like to see some states try single-payer, but also subsidized high-deductible plans.

I have a hierarchy of preference for health care reform, and there are many ahead of PPACA in that hierarchy. One of the things I’d really like to have seen tried somewhere are subsidized HSA’s and high-deductible insurance plans. Notably, whatever happens in the PPACA in court, some of the changes are going to stick.

Indiana has become the first state to allow citizens to shoot cops who unlawfully enter their homes.

Doug Mataconis asks whether the Evolution fight matters. I’m increasingly coming around to the point of view that it doesn’t and that it mostly serves as a social signal for self-justified disapproval of others. Relatedly, I think Robert Wright’s comments on the history of the struggle are on-target.

The downside to term limits: Mike Bloomberg doesn’t care what you think. Term limits in Colosse initially had the ill-effect of preventing challengers from running against incumbents (why bother? It’ll be an open field soon enough!), though we fortunately had a mayor so incompetent that it set a precedent for not waiting.

Just become some people are taking anti-depressant medications unnecessarily doesn’t mean that they don’t work.

Per Bakadesuyo, rate of violence in women’s prisons equal that of men’s… or is worse. That’s in number of episodes. Male inmates are more effective with violence, once deployed.

Pictures from around the world of people with college degrees that are not where they hoped they would be. I particularly feel for the guy with the industrial chemistry degree.

Category: Newsroom