top Computer Science Enrollments Rocketed Last Year, Up 22%
I remember CS enrollment shot way up in the late 90s as the dotcom bubble was inflating. Now that we're in the late stages of the social media/apps bubble, and people are getting interested in computer science again, I'm guessing that's the reason for the spike.
Bubble or no bubble, there's always going to be demand for
good, talented people in software development and IT. The H-1B and offshoring trends have cut salaries significantly, and have made employment less stable, but there are still jobs out there. If students are going into CS that have a genuine interest in computers, that's good. Chasing the money like they were doing in the 90s without the desire will lead to the same problem we had when 2001 rolled around -- tons of "IT professionals" who had no aptitude for the work and were just employed because of the frothy market.
I've managed to stay employed for almost 20 years now and I still really enjoy what I do. It's not as wildly lucrative as it was in the 90s when you could get 20+% salary increases by changing jobs every six months. The only things I've done consistently over this time are:
- Keeping my skills current (and yes, it is a tough commitment especially when you employer doesn't care.) - Not begging for higher and higher raises every single time salary review time comes around (which requires saving and living within one's means...) - Choosing employers who don't treat their employees like they're disposable.
I've heard lots of older IT people that they're actively discouraging their kids from following in their footsteps. I don't think that's necessarily good advice. Sure, there are crappy employers out there, and it's not a guaranteed ticket to wealth anymore. But if you're flexible and want interesting work that lets you use your brain and get paid for it, it's still a good move IMO. Look at the legal profession right now - the ABA sold out their members by allowing basic legal work to be offshored. Law degrees were previously an absolute guarantee of a respected, high-salary job, and now that profession is starting to see what we're seeing. My opinion is that as computers get more and more involved in our daily lives, a professional framework will eventually develop when things really start getting safety-sensitive and people stop treating computers like magic boxes and IT/developers like magicians.
top Teaching Calculus To 5-Year-Olds
I think that one of the problems with the way math is taught in schools is the fact that very little is done to explain how calculations students are doing can be applied to actual problems. Now that I'm older, went through a science education in college and work in a technical field, I understand this. However, one of my problems early on was that I never really felt comfortable doing math problems. It sounds really stupid, but I must have some sort of disability -- I can't do basic arithmetic in my head. The numbers just don't stick in my head the way they need to when you're doing multi-column addition or multiplication. My wife, a finance wizard, laughs at and pities me at the same time when I'm manually figuring out a tip. When I was learning math back in the Jurassic period, the students who were "good at math" were the ones who could easily do calculations in their head and just had a feel for numbers. Calculators in the early grades were unheard of back then. And this skill is still what a trader needs -- they need to be able to make a decision in 5 seconds based on a calculation they do in their head. It's also a skill you need to do well on the SATs, since they basically contain two 30-minute timed algebra and arithmetic tests.
What I'm saying is that math is more than basic arithmetic and algebraic manipulation. If you can get a student to understand what you mean when you say exponential growth, and how it relates to something they care about, then students will understand it more. I remember hating grade school math with the endless arithmetic drills, and later, the rote memorization of procedures for fractions, long division, etc. I also remember going through high school algebra just memorizing the exact steps to complete the crazy factoring/simplification problems and not understanding _anything_. It literally took me until about halfway through high school, when science classes actually got somewhat challenging and delivered meatier material, to make any sort of connection.
Calculus and other applied math should be at least touched on earlier on in the school career. I think it would help students who don't necessarily have the skills that would make them "good at math" to at least understand some of it. People I know who understand math well say it's like a foreign language, so maybe we should be teaching useful phrases for travellers more than we teach verb conjugation and sentence structure...
top All Else Being Equal: Disputing Claims of a Gender Pay Gap In Tech
Not all companies are crazy software development shops run by 20somethings who don't mind working 100 hour weeks. If you go to a company like that and ask about wage parity, you'll get all the excuses that were posted in this thread -- time off for kiddies, inability to travel, inability to work 100 hour weeks when needed, etc.
The reality is a little different. My wife and I both work, and we have 2 little kids. They take an insane amount of BOTH our time. Both of us have to share the responsibility of sick days, chores around the house and running errands, and especially this winter, snow days. We both have technical jobs, mine in IT, hers in finance. The difference is that we work for companies that don't expect 100 hour weeks. So far, it's worked out as long as one of us isn't taking all the time off work. It's not the 50s anymore -- most companies are mainly concerned with whether you get your work done and less obsessed with the butts-in-seats factor. The trade off for this is that sometimes we end up having to do a little extra work to catch up after the kids go to bed, which sucks when we're dead tired for working AND taking care of the kids. But, we're (at least not publicly) referred to as the one team member who can't get their stuff done.
So it's less of a female wage parity problem, and more of an "old guy/girl with kids" problem. That really bites as the two of us get older. We have to be smarter about the type of companies we choose to work for, and yes, both of us are leaving money on the table compared to the wages in our area. Single people who just graduated and have zero obligations will always have more choices. They can choose to work at an investment bank, or for a consulting firm that will fly them to clients' offices 300 days out of the year. They could go work for EA and fulfill their "lifelong dream to break into the exciting video game industry." These are choices only, not necessarily good or bad ones. It's just that as we get older, if we don't want to ignore our kids, we have to give up some of our options. ECO 101 - opportunity costs.
For fathers that aren't totally disconnected with the responsibility of raising kids, it can be very close to the same amount of extra time off the woman needs. You need to be there for them. It's harder to understand as you get to your late 30s and are still single or married and childless, but in my experience good managers have been able to at least relate. If one of your team members is still doing great work and needs to work a weird schedule, you would be silly to dump them and replace them with a fresh grad who doesn't have the experience but is willing to work themselves to death for you.
top IEEE Predicts 85% of Daily Tasks Will Be Games By 2020
I think this might work for _some_ millenials who are so used to this kind of reward system that this becomes the only way they can function in a work environment. If someone is raised on video games and collecting badges/trophies/points/whatever for doing a task, then it becomes a good workplace motivator. This would be especially true for younger software developers -- grind out this module/finish this sprint/debug this feature and receive the "Chief Debugger" badge. It could also work for mundane tasks that younger workers might turn their noses up at if there wasn't some sort of bragging rights attached to it. I'm not that old, and I was raised on video games, but not the whole "status collection" thing.
For someone who is already motivated to do a good job and doesn't need this, I can see it becoming a huge wedge issue. Not everyone works for companies that are arranged around being an extension of the college dorm lifestyle. Different people are motivated by different things. Money is nice for me, for example. Same goes for finishing something, seeing it go out to a customer or one of our internal guys, and having it work without coming back. I don't care if I have 16 badges and 20,000 points for doing that -- I care about the end result.
top Doctors Say New Pain Pill Is "Genuinely Frightening"
I know "drugs are evil" and all, but I genuinely don't understand why people are so panicked about people abusing prescription pain killers. The reality is that there's a huge demand for pain medication, both for legitimate and abuse purposes. Just like the other wars on drugs, it's impossible to stop. Therefore, I'm of the mind that we shouldn't do anything...and that's coming from a very left-wing, big-government type. We should focus on providing abusers safe drugs, and spend the money we save on enforcement on treatment for the people who really want to get off drugs. I've never touched drugs, but I can't blame someone who has a crappy life and no prospects of it getting better from doing so.
Providing pain medication addicts with a preparation that won't destroy their liver (due to the included acetaminophen in other meds) would be a start. There's no fix for the demand problem, and reducing supply just drives up the price.
The reality is that the future is looking pretty bleak -- unemployment is going to be incredibly high as even safe middle class jobs are automated. Unless we want a revolution, it might be time to start loosening the restrictions on controlled substances. When unemployment goes up past 30, 40% and higher, governments are going to have angry mobs on their hands unless they have something to keep them occupied...
top 'Google Buses' Are Bad For Cities, Says New York MTA Official
The core problem that I think is being addressed is this -- if your urban area doesn't have a good mix of uses (work, leisure, living space, etc.) then it eventually starts decaying. San Francisco is the exception to this rule...the Google and Apple employees want to live the hipster city lifestyle and make enough money to do it. These companies save on insane SF rents by locating out in the suburbs where land is a little cheaper. The same is happening with the big investment banks in NYC -- there's no longer a physical reason to be right next to the stock exchange (though your data center still needs to be.) A lot of banks relocated further uptown, or to NJ or CT especially after 9/11. The difference is that there aren't "Goldman Sachs buses" or "UBS buses", but most people employed at these places have enough money to live wherever they want and commute on their own.
Other "less desirable" cities have the problem of people not wanting to live in the urban core, the reverse of what's going on in San Francisco. I've never actually been to San Jose/Cupertino/Mountain View/wherever in SV, but I imagine it's something like where I live (Long Island, suburban NYC.) We have some very nice places on LI and other communities surrounding NYC, but it's mostly very expensive sprawly development you find around most big cities. Tons of people use public transportation to get into the city every day, mainly because much of the area was at least somewhat designed around it. There are big employers on Long Island too, but not as many reverse commuters. The problem is, if businesses are downtown but _everyone_ goes home to their suburban towns after work, nothing is left to prop up the city center after the offices are done for the night. Google and Apple want to attract the hipsters, so they choose to ferry them from their hipster neighborhoods to the relatively boring suburbs. Most other employers in most other locations cater to the suburbanites, As a result, those cities' urban cores decay and become shells after 6 PM on weekdays. Fewer residents --> fewer businesses to cater to their needs --> crime and urban decay. Look at Buffalo and Detroit as extreme examples of this -- the suburbs surrounding the city have basically become the only sustainable parts of the city. Atlanta is basically a city of suburbs with no comprehensive public transportation and nightmare traffic as a result. Urban planning is really tricky to get right.
It's not an easy problem to solve. Everyone wants it both ways -- the 2 acre mansion PLUS the urban hipster bar/club scene. But the MTA is right in saying that Google buses are bad for (most) cities. The most sustainable development is a mix of uses in both city and suburban settings.
top WhatsApp: 2nd Biggest Tech Acquisition of All Time
I think it's time to call the near top of the social media bubble. Maybe this one will be called the Web 2.0 Bubble.
It's funny, because I remember the last tech bubble in the 90s ending a few months after similar insane acquisitions. Remember when AOL was bought by Time Warner because they were panicked that they would be left behind in the Web 1.0 future? How about all the IPOs of completely unprofitable companies based only on the fact that they sold stuff online or were funded by advertising?
I think whether this turns out to be a bubble or the "new normal" depends on how well these social media companies and device manufacturers can present themselves to the average joe as "the internet." Remember that AOL used to be "the internet" for anyone non-technical. People keep predicting the death of PCs simply because anyone under 25 uses tablets and phones as their primary computers, considers email old fashioned, and lives on Facebook. The question is whether this is universally true or just some hipster marketing buzz. I know people who live on Facebook, people like me who use it to post family pictures, and people who actively hate it. I think it could go either way, but the market for this stuff is way too frothy now. Even my boring corner of IT is being bombarded by cloud this and cloud that, and it's touted as the solution for everything.
The strange thing is this -- during the 90s, I was a new grad riding out the dotcom boom in one of those "boring" corners of traditional IT (sysadmin for an insurance company). This time around, I'm in a different "boring" corner of IT (systems architect in air transport). The plus side of this is that I never got laid off during the bust cycle. Marketing flash may sell IPOs, but people who actually know their stuff get to keep working when most of the fluff gets thrown out. Oh well... At least the 90s tech boom sparked a huge Internet build-out, oh, and left a lot of Aeron chairs on eBay.
top Computer Geeks As Loners? Data Says Otherwise
I think the study might have some merit, but only because the definition of geek has changed a lot.
I got into computers in the early 80s as a very young kid. By the time I really got involved with a "geek" social scene, there was a mix of people. Before that, computers were most definitely nerd toys -- there were very few "typical" folks who gravitated toward them. Even so, I've worked with people who want nothing to do with computers once they are off the clock, people who have a healthy level of hobby involvement with computers, hardcore gamers, and extremely hardcore "computer nerds" -- mom's basement types. The first group are the most likely to be in a stable relationship from my experience. I'm happily married with 2 kiddos, and I put myself in the "healthy level of hobby involvement" camp. It's surprisingly hard to find time to do anything these days with 2 young kids. You certainly won't see me playing video games for 10 hours at a clip anymore...I used to do that back in the day though.
I do have anecdotal evidence from my dealings with "tech workers" that divorces are very common. Lots of people I work with are on Wife #2 or more. I think a lot of that might be the crazy amount of time that work and computer hobbies can suck out of your life -- you really have to be matched up with someone who will either tolerate it or is a "geek" themselves and understands. And like I said, once kids come along, I can see huge problems if you decide to disappear for hours on end and expect your partner to just handle the kids. If you work an IT job for one of the crappier employers out there that demands on-call duty and tons of hours a week, only the shallowest of spouses will stick around and only if you make good money to make up for you not being there.
My other piece of strictly anecdotal evidence is the prevalence of...non-traditional...relationships among the geekier set. One US-born guy I worked with was divorced and constantly trying to bring his girlfriend from China to the US -- no clue how they met. Lots have girlfriends they met online. Others have had obvious mail-order brides. That could sound a little stereotypical, but I've seen LOTS of guy's wives who barely speak English and look like they're pretty much there to cook and clean for them. Maybe I'm just working with the wrong sorts, but that's a very common theme in my experience.
Non-traditionals aside, I think a lot of the evidence the study cites is just because computers are now a normal part of our lives. Anyone can be a Facebook user. Smartphones are designed to be used by non-techies. There are plenty of "IT" jobs that don't involve hardcore coding or systems/analysis work. My job borders on the nerdy side, but only because I make it that way.
I think that if you actually do find the right person, and that person is less of a geek than you are, it balances you out. My wife is incredibly smart, but not obsessed with computers and tinkering the way I am. (She's a finance geek.) If you find someone who's just there for the money or has absolutely no interest in what you do, that's where the divorces and bitterness creep in. I'm almost at 15 years married -- and she hasn't tossed me out yet!
top IBM Looking To Sell Its Semiconductor Business
How is semiconductors not a core business for a company that still makes huge profits off mainframes and midranges?? Sure, keep design in house, but you'll lose the flexibility you have. Imagine your research division came up with an amazing new chip design they wanted to work on right away, but were told "Nope, it'll take 6 months to ramp up GlobalFoundries, TSMC, or whatever. Sorry."
The thing I really don't get (in general) is the way businesses feel like they can have no assets on their books and just run everything with a massive tower of multi-layer outsourcing. It doesn't make sense -- outsourcing something is never cheaper than doing it yourself. As soon as you do that
,you add in a layer of middlemen who need to get paid for doing a task which was previously cheap or "free with purchase of inhouse labor." It never works out. I guess I'll never be an MBA, because I don't get the accounting tricks that make a company appear profitable when they're wasting money on things they could do cheaper and better themselves.
For IBM's case, I do see what they're trying to do. Software is more profitable than hardware. But the problem is that IBM is/was a huge innovator in hardware and chips. They're one of the last US companies massive enough to support basic research that can improve those hardware innovations. IBM's software may be profitable, but I haven't seen anyone singing the praises of WebSphere or their Rational products lately. IBM also has a massive "services" division. I've had extremely good luck with the services people who service IBM hardware, but that's going away. So, we're left with the legendary crap outsourcing and offshoring stuff they do for large companies, and of course, "consulting." My experience with outsourced IT run by IBM is an ITIL nightmare of endless support tickets, revolving door engineers, meetings to plan meetings to plan the strategy for changes, etc.
It's kind of a shame if you ask me. I am just old enough to remember when IBM was as powerful as Microsoft was and as Apple is right now. They were able to command huge margins on everything they sold because it was backed up by a really good services team. People I know who worked for IBM "back in the day" tell me the corporate culture was weird, but employees never wanted for anything because they made so much money. (I also know people who worked for Sun and Digital who say the same thing.) In some ways, it would have been much nicer to work in the computer field during this "golden age of computing." I guess my main question is where the new hardware innovations will come from when you don't have a massive company and research group driving them.
top Satya Nadella Named Microsoft CEO
Now, can I please have Windows 9 with the Windows 7 and Windows Classic UI as options?? It's literally the only reason why I'm not switching -- some of the Windows 8 UI is nice, but I can't stand the 2D desktop interface from Windows 2.0.
Seriously, the best thing that could be done for Windows right now is not to dump Metro, but to put it on tablets where it belongs and not force desktop users to buy into the whole touch-first thing.
top California Regulator Seeks To Shut Down 'Learn To Code' Bootcamps
Back in the late 90s / early 2000s, training companies were making tons and tons of money funneling people with zero computer experience through MCSE certification bootcamps. Basically, they would do the entire set of certification exams in 2 weeks, and not all of them were 100% honest to students about their chances of passing or even getting a job once they were done. These bootcamps still exist, but from what I've experienced, they're only for people who actually know the material and just need to update their skills quickly. The earlier iterations of these were definitely certification mills though. I went to one around 2001 because I wanted to update my certs. The class was split -- some of us were there to just do a quick skills upgrade, and others had obviously been suckered in by a dishonest recruiter. To get these folks to pass, instructors would give them copied exam questions to study and pay for these students' extra chances to pass the exams. The school would then be able to tout their super-high pass rate for the exams. And these weren't cheap either -- some were $7K or $8K in 1990s dollars. Even when you factor the cost of a hotel stay, meals and an instructor, the profit margin is huge.
Now it seems that the focus is less on system admin skills and more on "web coding" like these schools are offering classes in. Seems like a perfect hook -- young students who use their iPhone or Android mobile constantly get sold the dream that they too can be the next great app writer and make millions. And it really does seem doable -- with all the web frameworks out there, there's very little a "coder" has to know about what's actually going on under the hood to make something that works. Problem is that paper MCSEs didn't work out so well when they got on the job, so I doubt these classes will help mint genius developers either. My boot camp class back in the day had a former bus driver and someone who was fresh out of the army in an unrelated field.
Libertarians will say it's OK for businesses to take advantage of people, but I think education is a little bit different. Selling someone thousands of dollars in classes and telling them they're equivalent to CS graduates just isn't honest, and these schools profit off peoples' naivete and sell them dreams. The state gets to regulate educational institutions, so it makes sense that they're taking a look at them. And what if it was something simple like needing to publish student outcomes or pass rates? The libertarian free market would be all excited then, because the bad ones might be weeded out if students could be bothered to do research on statistics available from regulation.
It took ages to weed the paper MCSEs out of the workforce, and it's still not 100% complete. Every time I meet an "IT professional" who has no troubleshooting ability, I think back to these bootcamps.
about a month and a half ago
top Microsoft Joins Open Compute Project, Will Share Server Designs
Microsoft isn't giving their server designs away out of the goodness of their hearts. They have a huge interest in getting people to move their workloads to Azure. The first step for most places has to be getting them off of VMWare or KVM onto Hyper-V/Windows Server. Next step is convincing enterprises to buy these whitebox server designs to save money on their on-premises stuff. Finally they'll make Azure too good a deal to pass up for the CIO crowd with the usual argument that you can fire most of your IT department. It's already super-easy to publish your applications right from Visual Studio to Azure...again, not an accident.
I actually think the whitebox design method is a good thing...IF...you have a dedicated staff working 24/7 to repair/replace sickly boxes, and the workload is such that a box is a box is a box. This works perfectly for large scale web apps backed by a SAN, or hypervisor hosts. It doesn't work as well for standalone application stacks that have semi-permanent physical server dependencies. Renting 3 servers in the cloud doesn't make as much sense as renting 3,000.
My company does a lot of standalone deployments of applications around the world, in places where network connectivity doesn't permit easy cloud access. It's getting harder to find vendors who aren't trying to steer us to the cloud. Microsoft is making it very difficult to purchase perpetual licenses of software, with the price of a negotiated Software Assurance deal being set less than the equivalent one time license fee . Now that IBM just bailed out of the x86 server market, HP is pretty much the only vendor left making decent hardware for non-cloud applications.
I totally get why AWS, Azure and public clouds make sense. When you're running the back-end for an iPhone app, and need 40,000 web servers all cranking out the same content, it makes sense to rent that. But a lot of companies don't seem to get that it's more expensive to do the cloud thing if the servers are going to be permanent and you're hosting one of those boring line-of-business apps. Hopefully people will realize this before the last decent x86 server vendor quits selling non-cloud-optimized servers.
 Licensing SQL Server on multi-socket physical boxes is insanely expensive now compared to VMs. I had to add ESXi to our solution for a recent deployment just to save thousands of dollars on the database license for a low-powered app.
about a month and a half ago
top Ask Slashdot: Educating Kids About Older Technologies?
I'm getting older and now have 2 little kids of my own. The oldest is 3 now, so just about ready to really get going with learning. My history with computers starts with the Commodore VIC-20 around 1982 or so, then the Apple ][. then DOS, then Windows/Linux. So I've had the privilege of seeing the evolution of personal computing through a very interesting time period. In my opinion, anyone starting out with Windows or MacOS as their primary OS has lots of the early complexity of PCs abstracted away. Linux is a little more connected with the actual machine, but modern distros do a really good job with this same abstraction.
I was thinking about this very thing last week. It was in the context of dealing with lots of legacy tech at work (I work in the air transport business...the core of everything is positively ancient with all the cool stuff layered on top.) I think the answer has to be yes -- so much of our technology builds on basics. Plus, a lot of early decisions regarding computer hardware, etc. only truly make sense in a context of a previous era (examples from the PC side include serial communications, the 640K real mode memory limit, the architecture of BIOS, and all the backwards-compatibility stuff that modern people just learning this would scratch their head at.) It's almost like you have to start out at the DOS level to just explain that the actual machine doesn't do all that much without a complex OS. The current crop of students doesn't have to deal with stuff like serial port settings, memory management when writing software, etc. On one hand that's actually a good thing but on the other hand, it's hard to explain stuff like that when you actually need to know why something doesn't work.
I'm a systems person rather than a software developer, and jumping back into dev at this point would be a big shift for me because of this fact. Every time I look at a language, Web framework, etc. there is so much abstraction from what actually happens that it's confusing. And I know that's funny since all the object oriented stuff was meant to make things easy and hide that complexity. But lately, unless you're writing raw C++, so much is done for you in libraries and the language itself that you find yourself asking what you actually have to write. Facebook is insanely complex under the hood, sure, but the end users don't see any of that. Even on the back end, it's written against frameworks that do so much for the programmer.
This same thing transcends computers. It's amazing what ingenuity earlier technology employed to get around the fact that cheap, ubiquitous computing resources weren't available. Things like signaling systems, electromechanical telephone switches, etc. come to mind. I read a particularly interesting article about how Readers' Digest used to run their direct mail advertising campaigns without the aid of computers, and it involved a mechanically controlled system that picked up stamped name-and-address plates to print peoples' information on envelopes. From my area of expertise (airlines,) the carriers had a mechanically controlled filing system to reserve and release seats on aircraft. A lot of the logic behind stuff like this directly translates to solving problems with computers, and having a good grasp of stuff like it can only help people be better problem solvers.
about a month and a half ago
top Obama Announces Surveillance Reforms
I know I'll be modded down for this, but whatever.
I just don't see the big deal over any of the surveillance going on. I guess that now the data is structured and easily searchable rather than having to stitch together random analog phone conversations. But in a country of 300 million people, no one is interested in your text messages, emails, etc. unless you're using them to actively plan something. The Internet is a collection of semi-public networks, always has been. And spying has always existed; that shouldn't be a surprise to anybody.
Everyone loves to bash the president, but I'll bet it's not an easy job. Imagine what it was like for Cold War presidents...when the Soviet Union was actively planning our destruction and we were planning theirs. Coming back from the inauguration party, you meet with your top generals and are told of every threat that hasn't been made public. On top of that, you're ultimately responsible for nuclear weapons AND you somehow have to make everyone like you. I imagine something like this happened with Obama...once he got the job he was briefed on what's actually happening outside of the public eye, and chose to continue the spying programs. Post 9/11, there were many people who didn't want to see that relatively minor event repeated at any cost, which is why these programs were put in place to begin with. An entity that was determined enough and had enough resources would be able to cause way worse devastation if they wanted to.
So call me an ignorant sheep or whatever -- I just don't see why so many people are up in arms. I'd expect the rabid anti-government crowd to be shouting their protests from within their mountaintop compounds, but not the average citizen.
top Americans To FCC Chair: No Cell Calls On Planes, Please
"That's fine, right up until 1 airline allows it, and you start seeing their flight prices just a nudge below everyone elses. "
Very good point. I'm in the airline IT business. Airlines may be deregulated in the US, but every time one does something, the others follow. If Delta raises or lowers their fares by $10, United will do the same thing, often the same day. Same thing goes for inflight service changes -- if something that was free suddenly becomes an "ancillary revenue stream," you can bet that the other carriers will do this as soon as they can make the systems changes necessary to collect said fee. There are a couple of low cost carriers (Southwest, JetBlue) that don't exactly follow this model, but service is so homogenized that all the carriers might as well merge. So if one carrier starts allowing calls, everyone will, but i don't know if people will take that one lying down. The airlines have all been cutting capacity and stuffing more people into coach for years -- this would be a pretty big slap in the face IMO.
top Americans To FCC Chair: No Cell Calls On Planes, Please
Thankfully I have a shorter commute these days, but my last job involved an hour-and-a-half trip each direction on the train. The thing that bothered me most wasn't the time, the crowded trains, the hours i had to get up in the morning. No, it was the people yapping on their phones. Imagine a 5:50 AM commuter train with totally dead people half-asleep, then some idiot starts screaming into their phone and doesn't shut up for the entire trip. Now imagine that same scenario, but now you're inches away from that idiot crammed into a coach seat for a 14 hour flight to Japan. I fly a fair amount of these incredibly long trips for work, and I think I'd rather poke a hole in my eardrums with a sharp instrument than listen to 14 hours of inane banter or some exec screaming at his subordinate or assistant.
People just don't get that (a) you don't need to shout anymore, and (b) no one wants to hear about the divorce case you're working on, the colon polyp you had removed, your escapades out at the bar last night, your cat, your dog, your kids or any of the large number of conversations I've heard.
The other thing that's nice for the truly crazy business people I know (I'm not one of them) is that airplane time is dead time -- no one is sending you messages, no one can reach you, etc.
top How Good Are Charter Schools For the Public School System?
I'm saying the choice shouldn't exist, and the appropriate level of resources plus those otherwise spent on the choice should be put into the broken system to fix it.
Having charter schools is like giving parents access to "private school lite" in that their kids will get some, but not all, advantages that the kids who go to elite private schools get. The problem is that not everyone benefits. Only the most vocal and caring parents who push for their kids to be taken out of the bad public schools will get the advantage. The parents who don't care, aren't around or have their own problems keep their kids in the public school, and things get worse as a result.
In my mind, the real answer is to correct the problems in the existing system rather than trying to build a parallel one around it. Fixes would be extremely controversial and wouldn't work until things got intolerable:
- Pay all teachers in all districts well. Make it a lucrative profession -- there are too many places that pay teachers less than flight attendants (and starting FA salaries are insanely low.) - Introduce more rigid tracks into schools -- academic track, vocational track, sports training track, warehouse track. Basically, do the most good for the most people and realize that not everyone will achieve at the same level. (Of course, society would need to provide jobs for everyone at all levels, which is a way bigger problem.) - Put enough money into poor districts to bring them up to the same standards as better ones. Yes, that's a lot of money and represents a huge transfer of wealth. No, it's not palatable in the current climate. Just spending double on the students isn't enough, you need to take inflation into account.
So yes, I think that if the situation were bad enough and there were no alternatives, adding more money would fix the problem. With the alternatives, you give enough people the option to say "Oh, that's not my problem anymore."
People in my school district complain bitterly about taxes, but their kids get a good education out of the deal. I think a lot of them don't realize that many other parts of the country charge a pittance in taxes per year and return a predictable result in school achievement. I also think a lot of people are bitter about the "evil teachers' unions" just because their private sector employment has been taking away wages and benefits for decades almost unchallenged. One real world example of the disconnect -- my old job wanted me to relocate to Florida a while back. Even the real estate agents showing us around said we would need to factor in the cost of a private school to get a comparable level of school quality.
I also think things will have to get really bad before anything changes. Look at the political will and control China has -- they realize their economy is out of balance and too reliant on exports. Their solution? Manufacture a domestic consumer economy by picking up people and physically moving them to cities. They're moving hundreds of millions of people to cities over the next decade, because subsistence farming peasants don't buy stuff, but city dwellers do. I think you can safely assume that nothing like that would happen here. But, it has the potential to instantly fix that problem.
top How Good Are Charter Schools For the Public School System?
I live in a relatively nice area with good public schools. We pay a lot of money in property taxes for the privilege, of course. I also have 2 little kids who aren't quite ready for school yet, so this debate will become pretty real for us soon.
The idea of a charter school on its face seems like a good one -- take the smart students who would be poorly served by a bad public school and put them in an environment where they can succeed. There are a few problems with this idea IMO:
- Taking out the only students who care (and/or have parents that care) from the public schools will only hollow them out further and make them worse. - Charter schools don't have to worry about things like special ed, kids with behavior problems and other stuff that public schools do. Public schools have the mandate to graduate mentally handicapped children from high school. Public schools are forced to deal with disruptive kids up to the point they commit criminal acts, and beyond. Charter schools have hand-picked student bodies whose parents give a crap about their kids. Those students are going to be the ones who take the extra effort and do well on their SATs or spend the time to get their homework done, and that's why charter schools are held up as models. - Charter schools are run by education companies. Any /. nerd of a certain age remembers the Simpsons episode with Troy McClure doing the voiceover for the Pepsi Education Channel. (If you don't, look it up...it's funny.) That's a little over the top, but look at what for-profit "colleges" like University of Phoenix or ITT Tech have done in the higher education world.
The only thing that will fix bad public schools is:
- Money -- Even if the local community can't support a big tax base, money needs to come from other sources to fix the existing public system. Teachers need to be paid well and have good working conditions. Students need at least a tolerable learnning environment. - Parental involvement -- Even living in a decent area, I see so many parents who need their parent license revoked. Crap parents --> Crap kids --> Crap school. This goes across economic lines too...poor parents might be using drugs or abusing their kids, but some rich parents totally ignore their kids or let them do whatever they want.
Throw money at the public schools and the problems will be fixed. It just takes more money than people are willing to contribute right now, and it would take a huge mind shift to change that. Add on the libertarian agenda that gets pushed on us, the push for smaller government, etc. and it's going to be very tough indeed until the problem becomes so bad it can't be ignored.
top David Pogue and Yahoo's "Normals" Problem
I don't know, I think he might be on to something, but the red state/blue state map doesn't make any real world sense. Part of it seems like the typical NYC/California hipster bubble ignoring the rest of the country but the idea might be right.
Don't forget that in the 70s/80s, only real gearheads/nerds were doing anything with computers. This changed in the 90s with the Internet, and changed even more with smartphones in the 2000s. Now, the camps skew a little differently:
- True gearheads who want to know every little scrap of technical information about a technology product -- increasingly small percentage - "Prosumer" users who like nice tech toys but aren't obsessed with the "how they work" part -- Small pecentage, but more than gearheads - "Normals" who use technology on a daily basis and care even less about how it works -- Basically, the same surface area on that map redistributed across the continent
Part of the reason Apple is so successful is because the iPhone interface is accessible to normals. Everything complex about it is hidden. Android does this to an extent, and different phone/tablet manufacturers abstract the complexity even more. Any normal can pick up an iPhone, use the Facebook app, SMS, tweet, send old fashioned emails, etc. with a very low learning curve.
It sounds like Yahoo wants to be the 2010s version of AOL -- universally accessible content at the risk of alienating the gearheads, who don't read Yahoo for tech news anyway.
top The Internet's Network Efficiencies Are Destroying the Middle Class
"What are you worried about? The changes in technology mean that we can make the same stuff with much less work. In principle, that means either that people can do other, more interesting and productive work, or that they are going to have more leisure time."
Just because you can do more interesting work, or have more leisure time, doesn't mean everyone in the economy can. I grew up in the Rust Belt in the early 80s, when the big domestic manufacturers were moving to unregulated Southern states or overseas. Large steel mills and factories in Cleveland, Buffalo, central PA, etc. provided stable jobs at good wages for tons and tons of people. One plant would employ 10,000 people on a shift doing basic work that didn't require a degree, or even much training. Those same people pumped millions of dollars into the local economy. They bought and fixed up houses. They bought cars when they could. They went down to the local bar at the end of their shift. They had kids and bought stuff for them. Now, most of that is gone and these former members of the middle class are unable to find replacement work at suitable levels.
I understand what you're saying, and it's what everyone says, but that thinking is only applicable to the high end of the middle class. Now with automation in office work and IT, a lot of the former knowledge work is going the same way as the factory work did. Not everyone is going to benefit the same way they did when agriculture was mechanized or during the industrial revolution. The reality is that there is going to be massive structural unemployment that our current society and economic system isn't equipped to handle.
What new, exciting innovative high-skill job would you give a factory worker who was putting the same rivet in the same hole on the same product for the last 10 years? There's a lot more of these types than you think....