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April 01, 2015

"Middle School Is the Worst. Here’s What It’s Like to Teach It"

Four-minute WYNC report which indicates most middle school teachers probably should get combat pay. It claims that in New York City half of the middle school teachers quit in three years or less.

"Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One"

Yowza. Some tough love here.

"In Silicon Valley, Auto Racing Becomes a Favorite Hobby for Tech Elites"


When you get past the noise and the smell, the unbearable heat, the G-force, the surprising physical exertion and, always, the constant threat of injury or death — auto racing, like much else, comes down to math. There is an optimal path around a racetrack, a geometric arc of least resistance. It is the driver’s job to find this sweet spot of physics and stick to it, lap after lap, as consistently as a microprocessor crunching through an algorithm.

For tech people — who are accustomed to finding and manipulating hidden math — hitting the arc can be a moment of particular pleasure. 

There's also all the networking going on.

"How can I become a world-class coder in under three years?"

I'm not a coder, but this sounds like reasonable advice.

March 31, 2015

"Why the Drake Equation Is Useless"

I've always thought so, but I figured I was just confused. Probably not.

"Manipulating the climate: The case for a Plan B"

Almost nothing reveals the true agenda of extreme environmentalists like their extreme hostility to possible technological solutions to climate change.

Yet when climate altering technologies are proposed as Plan B alternatives, there are outcries.

"President Obama has been working assiduously to persuade the world that the United States is at last serious about Plan A — winding back its greenhouse gas emissions," Clive Hamilton, a professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Australia and author of Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering wrote in a New York Times opinion piece.

"The suspicions of much of the world would be reignited if the United States were the first major power to invest heavily in Plan B," he wrote.

Al Gore, meanwhile, has dubbed geoengineering techniques "simply nuts." And a litany of other environmental advocates and outlets have called artificially interfering with Mother Nature "insane."

"Disney's $1 Billion Bet on a Magical Wristband"

This certainly does sound cool, especially as compared to the old system.

Link courtesy of Michael Greenspan.

"Student fury over 'impossible' economics exam"

If 10 or even 20% of the students complain, I would probably be inclined to ignore them.

But more than 90%? I would think something was wrong.

"Baltimore Ravens Offensive Lineman John Urschel Publishes Paper In Math Journal"

But can he block a 350-pound nose tackle? 

Some NFL players spend their offseason working out. Others travel around the world. Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel has done both while also getting an article published in a math journal.

Urschel, the Ravens’ 2014 fifth-round pick who graduated from Penn State with 4.0 GPA, also happens to be a brilliant mathematician. This week he and several co-authors published a piece titled “A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians” in the Journal of Computational Mathematics. You can read the full piece here:

Link via Economics Job Market Rumors.

March 30, 2015

"Let Us Now Praise Famous Women"

Matthew Continetti does a superb job hammering James Wolcott and by extension all those who so fear and complain about the "very rich". Just terrific.

The character that emerges from McLean’s description of Hobson, I hasten to add, is sympathetic and winning. She was not born to riches and she has overcome the prejudices of others to lead a, by all accounts, successful and committed life. Clearly she is driven, a striver, a networker, a prodigious achiever who not only has lived up to every expectation the meritocracy imposes on young people, but has also flourished beyond them. What fascinates me is how liberal journalists like James Wolcott seem not to make room for Hobson and her milieu in their bilious descriptions of the “very rich.” How enormously wealthy liberal Democrats might as well not exist, how for left-liberal writers the chain of association whose first link is “rich” inevitably includes “conservative” and “Republican” and ends with “bad.”

"What advice do economists with PhDs give to young/poor people? Become customers of colleges where PhD economists teach . . ."

I certainly agree with Mr. Greenspun's last paragraph: the opportunity cost of college is often underemphasized, even neglected

But this is too strong:

Economists, who get paid to teach at colleges, experiment with ways to get more young people from poorer-than-average families to become customers of colleges. Nobody seems to question whether this might be biased and/or misleading advice. . . . When experimenters provide students with advice regarding college they don’t share comparisons regarding other careers. 

The information economists "don't share" is all in the public domain. It's even, for students with a Net connection--and those aren't hard to find these days--at their fingertips. I think a bigger part of the problem is kids aren't seeking enough information. Why that it is seems complicated. 

Link courtesy of Chug Roberts.

"We can thank the Supreme Court for credential inflation"

George Leef nicely makes the case for the 1971 Griggs v. Duke Power decision as the root of the problem.

But it would be nice if there were a test of this. I haven't seen one. 

"Why most American Jews vote for Democrats, explained"

With this information I hadn't known:

But these explanations don’t help us explain political differences among Jews across countries or over time. American Jews share a religious tradition, historical inheritance, and minority status with most Jewish communities around the globe — and yet only Jews in the United States are concentrated on the left. Jews outside the U.S. are sometimes centrist, sometimes rightist, and occasionally indistinct from the general population, but never as tightly clustered on the left as American Jews.

(The paper referred to the article is here.)

"The End of Low Hanging Fruit?"

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson write, in effect, "Not necessarily."

(And guess what? Innovation seems to respond to incentives. Who knew?)

"Stanford Discourages Students From Viewing Their Admissions Files"

Oh, I just bet they do.

March 29, 2015

"Take the Wonderlic Test to see how you stack up against NFL prospects"


Also "Are You Smarter Than a Football Player".

Cycling is the new golf

"So you have this current generation of young executives, and they're not particularly interested in walking around slowly."

March 28, 2015

An example of why some sports teams fail

"The Brooklyn Nets went all-in on a blockbuster trade with the Celtics — and it's a total disaster 2 years later".

"World's tallest, fastest 'giga coaster' debuts at Carowinds"

When hell freezes over I'll consider riding on it.

. . . riders will plummet 81 degrees at 95 mph toward the ground . . .

March 27, 2015

"Here’s How Scott Walker Should’ve Handled The Evolution Gotcha Question"

I would pay cash money to see Scott Walker do Colonel Jessup.

"The dude map: How Americans refer to their bros"

Usage of "bro" in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana surprises me. But I haven't been to those places in a very long time.

A problem I didn't know we had

"Guardian Column: Straight Women in Baggy Clothes Are Appropriating Lesbian Culture".

“What was once a queer-owned style has shifted to the mainstream, being appropriated by straight women to the point that it’s now impossible to infer a sexual orientation from the way a woman dresses,” Wilkinson writes in a piece titled “Butch chic: how the gender-neutral trend has ruined my wardrobe.”

March 26, 2015

"Beans Do Not Belong in Chili"

So there!

(Read the comment by Stephen Winick if you want to learn how noted car designer Carroll Shelby played a part in the story.)

The inimitable Lewis Black . . .

. . . slams the NCAA. With a shot at UNC-Chapel Hill, too. 

"What would have been the greatest event in history, but barely failed?"

Interesting answer: the voyages of Zheng He.

"Drones and satellites spot lost civilizations in unlikely places"

"What do the Sahara desert and the Amazon rainforest have in common?"

"Making Sense of Serving Sizes"

Some help for people without ready access to a scale who are trying to estimate how much they're eating.

March 25, 2015

More on Billy Joel's songs

Regarding a recent post on the "Ranking All 121 Billy Joel Songs," longtime reader Michael Greenspan offers the following comments:

Eight Tracks by Billy Joel That Vulture Underrated

Many thanks to Craig for this chance to praise a few tracks by one of my favorite artists.

What prompted this post is an article that Craig linked, in which Christopher Bonanos at Vulture ranked 121 tracks by Billy Joel—virtually Joel's entire catalog of original solo material.

I'm limiting myself to discussing eight tracks, each meeting three criteria:

Not a hit
Bonanos ranked below the top 50
Belongs in the top 50

Bonanos generally uses the term "song" rather than "track," but "track" is more accurate. A song is chords, melody, lyrics and feel ("Mambo, 135 bpm"). A track is the recording of the song.

"Where's the Orchestra?" from The Nylon Curtain

(Bonanos ranks it #53: "a little low-energy, but" with "interesting lyrics.")

Very pretty song, closer to musical theater than to pop. Inventive chord progression, complex melody. Among rock songwriters, only Joel and Paul McCartney have composed music this lovely in this way.

There's no percussion and no guitars. More than usual, Joel's voice is the focus, and he gives a terrific understated performance.

The lyrics are more cryptic than in almost any other song of Joel’s. I think he’s using theater as a metaphor for life: the narrator, initially bewildered by the show he’s watching, grows gradually wiser. The final verse is especially good:

And after the closing lines
And after the curtain calls
The curtain falls
On empty chairs
Where’s the orchestra?

If you listen to it, notice how gracefully he rhymes "calls"/"falls" and "chairs"/"Where’s." Another skill rare in rock.

As Bonanos notes, the melody of “Allentown” appears toward the end, a touch I find haunting; not sure why. 

"Souvenir" from Streetlife Serenade

(Bonanos ranks it #63: "Nice little prelude to ... something.")

Another lovely song, this one just piano and vocal. Pace Bonanos, it sounds like an epilogue rather than a prelude; Joel used to close concerts with it. (He’d then advise the crowd, "Don’t take any sh-t from anybody.")

The chord progression shows Joel’s classical influences, with the melody flowing easily above it. He makes that kind of writing seem effortless, and it really, really isn’t.

The lyrics are less strong; I wish he’d saved "away" for the final line—it's in "File away"—and “But that’s the price you pay” sounds fine but doesn’t make sense. (Pay for what?)

Still, a good song, effectively wistful.

A subtle pleasure in "Souvenir" is that the lyrics and melody line up exactly. By which I mean that the first and sixth lines ("A picture postcard," "And your mementos"), sung over the same melody, have the same stresses and number of syllables; similarly for the second and seventh lines, the third and eighth, and the fourth and ninth. (The fifth and tenth lines follow different bits of melody.) That level of craft has almost vanished from rock, and Joel achieved it often.  

Continue reading "More on Billy Joel's songs" »

Good news for rats: they're probably off the hook

Rats probably weren't the transmission vector of bubonic plague. Gerbils probably were.

It’s always the cute ones you have to watch out for, isn’t it?

"I’ve said it a hundred times: To be a fan of big-time college sports is to be in love with a hooker."

That's the Boston Globe's inimitable Bob Ryan.

I’ve been following it for 50 years. I know what goes on. I can’t change it.

Problem is, I love the games and the competition, and it’s pretty clear I’m not alone. We’re Americans; it’s what we do.

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