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January 2010

Two on programming

"Poor, poor child. You have no idea."

The letter I wish I could write to my former self, and have beamed at light-speed through some kind of vacuum tube and delivered at the precise moment when I finally decided to learn to program.

"Twelve Tips to Master Programming Faster".

2. Don’t worry. Do not be intimated by how much you don’t understand. Computers are still largely magic even to me. We all know that computers are fundamentally about 1’s and 0’s, but what the hell does that really mean? It took me a long time to figure it out--it has something to do with voltages and transistors. There are endless topics in computer science and endless terms that you won't understand. But if you stick with it, eventually almost everything will be demystified. So don't waste time or get stressed worrying about what you don't know. It will come, trust me. Remember, every great programmer at one time had NO IDEA what assembly was, or a compiler, or a pointer, or a class, or a closure, or a transistor. Many of them still don’t! That's part of the fun of this subject--you'll always be learning.

Too late to help me . . .

. . . nerds are finally in. Way in.

But let's face it, the era of the former high school quarterback as alpha male is rapidly coming to a close. It may be advantageous to be a football star while you're actually in high school, but these days, the game changes significantly after graduation. The brainiacs take over. And they date news correspondents who look like Penelope Cruz.

State of the Union address

A little birdie has brought me an advance copy of tomorrow night's SOTU address. I'll summarize the key points and also what the reaction will be.

The theme will be that the President and his top advisors have heard the country. He'll say we seem to want less spending and smaller deficits. O.K., he'll say. But he'll say that we have to do this together. Everybody sacrifices. And he'll insist on, as he did last year, changes in medical care, environmental policy, and education. He'll say: medicine first then a little sugar:

--A phased-in increase in the age for full Medicare and Social Security benefits to 75. (Phased-in meaning that nobody collecting benefits now loses a penny and people close to retiring don't lose much. Most of the cut in benefits will be borne by people under age 45.)

--With the exceptions of national defense and internal security, a hiring and wage freeze for federal employees through the end of 2012. Immediate cancellation of all White House state dinners. Absolutely no money for trips out of the country by members of Congress. (If they can't learn about it via the phone or the Net, the heck with it.)

Continue reading "State of the Union address" »

Barry Ritholtz drops one . . .

. . . badly. In "Why Michael Boskin Deserves Our Contempt", Mr. Ritholtz uses words like "absurd", "nonsense", and "fraud" to describe the work of the Boskin Commission. It's the kind of superficial, quasi-populist junk that should be far beneath a widely read writer for "investment professionals".

If most critics of the CPI had even a slight inkling of how damn difficult it is to construct a single, national measure of inflation, they'd be ashamed of themselves. For some details, and sharp replies to some of the most common criticisms and complaints, I highly recommend John S. Greenlees and Robert B. McClelland, "Addressing Misconceptions About the Consumer Price Index". (I have no connection, financial or otherwise, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, other than I once spoke with Mr. Greenlees, for about an hour, nearly thirty years ago.)

For extra fun, critics of the CPI should look at two of William Nordhaus's papers: "Do Real-Output and Real-Wage Measures Capture Reality? The History of Lighting Suggests Not" and "Two Centuries of Productivity Growth in Computing". From the latter:

. . . this study develops estimates of the growth in computer power relying on performance rather than components; the price declines using performance-based measures are markedly larger than those reported in the official statistics.

"Education Reform and KIPP"

Fine piece by one William H. Gates III.

I find it stunning that the educational schools are not training teachers to use the KIPP way of teaching classes.

What the heck is going on with schools of education and what is the field going to do to get some of them to get involved in this kind of work?

From The Gates Notes, billg's new site with lots of interesting stuff. For example, "Why We Need Innovation, Not Just Insulation" is also excellent. (Link via Michael Greenspan.)