Monday, June 29, 2009

Flash from the past

From ancient history, we have the confirmation that the remains in the crypt under the altar the Basilica of St. Paul are old enough to be contemporary with Paul (nee' Saul). The assertion in the news story that this "proves" they are his remains is a bit of an exaggeration. It only proves they could be his.

The Vatican still hasn't figured out how science works ....

From the more recent past, we have a great story about giving a kid a Sony Walkman to use for the day at school. Makes a great read.

I still have mine somewhere. The headphones were the first part to die.

The Walkman was the second step toward personal music. Now I have to decide which was the first, the transistor radio we had when I was a kid (I sure wish my parents hadn't tossed the one they got way back when they were new) or a hand-crank portable Victrola (purely analog operation) that my mom had and that I now have. The latter would have been the first way you could take music on a picnic, and it was louder than a boombox.

Read Entire Article......

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Third time is the charm

We got a chance to see Star Trek in IMAX this weekend, and took it.

This third viewing (others were normal format and digital) allowed my wife to confirm her belief that Scotty had a pet Tribble on Delta Vega.

Primary observation:
Sound quality was superior to the otherwise outstanding theaters we saw it in originally. This might be due to the fact that there are few seats in an IMAX theater that are not centrally located, but the multi-channel separation was outstanding - particularly for the phaser battle on the Romulan ship. It was also easy to hear other details, such as Pike giving a battle order to Engineer Olson or (most important to fans) Bones giving an order to Nurse Chapel.

Related observation:
Film quality was similar to the digital version we saw, possibly a bit inferior at times - although it is possible our location relative to the screen and the size of the image allowed us to see flaws in the film making itself (inconsistent focus).

Other details include confirming that the Star Fleet Academy building was the library at CSUN, doing all we could to avoid saying too much about "beer factory" so we wouldn't annoy the people around us (shooting in an AB Brewery was confirmed at the second viewing), and that they definitely were using short wave antennas on the bridge of the Kelvin.

Read Entire Article......

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More - and Less - Humorous News

In the wake of the passing of two pop icons of my youth, here is something a bit different from what is dominating every news outlet.[*] Well, everyone except one. MTV broke in with the news of Michael Jackson's death, but then went right back to its regular programming. I can't believe they couldn't cue up an obit show, or just pull a set of videos out of the archive. He made them a fortune. I wonder how long it will be before TCM shows "The Wiz" or The History Channel shows his biography.

Now for the story that is truly a bit different:
Stoned wallabies make crop circles
The posted comments are as priceless as that story. Could have been from The Onion.

Anyway, back to the real news ...

I feel a bit disconnected from the intensity of the coverage. Even though she is older than I am, I was in college when Farrah Fawcett became a pin-up queen of kids much younger than I. And Michael Jackson came along with the 'bubble gum' hit "Rockin' Robin" when I had moved on from "Mony Mony" to "Sergeant Pepper". I view his work more intellectually than I do The Beatles, because it was really his performance and production sense in his rock videos - starting with "Thriller" - that . That won't be the case for some younger colleagues who grew up with his records on a portable stereo at a pool party like I did with The Beatles.

Farrah Fawcett, age 62.

I can't believe she was that old. Or that my mom gave me a copy of her poster as a birthday gift sometime in the mid-late 70s. Her fame is kind of odd because it seems based entirely on that poster! Her acting roles were pretty forgettable.

Michael Jackson, age 50.

I can't separate Michael Jackson from MTV. That's why I was so disappointed that they were showing some movie rather than showing the videos where he displayed his true brilliance. He created some memorable music, unique choreography, and the ability to be a movie director if he chose to move into longer format film.

The only thing I take exception to in the coverage I have seen is the characterization of his work as music that brought black and white together. To me, that happened with any number of artists in the 60s, but particularly The Supremes and The Temptations. What was once 'race music', banned from 'white' radio, would be played right along with every other band. There were any number of songs that I didn't realize were by black artists until I saw them on a TV show.

By the way, the photo sequence in the BBC "Life in Pictures" tribute is as surreal as the rest of Jackson's life. He was getting to the point where he looked older than Keith Richards, who somehow managed to outlive Jackson.

It is sad to say, but maybe now Michael can rest in peace, even if someone turns Neverland into Graceland.

Condolences to all of their family and friends. Parents, even one as controlling as his father reportedly was, should not have to bury their kids.

Well, MTV finally woke up and smelled the stale roaches. They now have a tribute program on the "original" channel (where they used to show videos, just like CNN used to have news on CNN) and continuous Jackson videos on one or another of its other channels. I happened to catch the "Thriller" video, from the start, on a digital channel just by channel-surfing luck this morning. That made this event more real than any of the news coverage. I remember well when we put the debut of that video on our daily TV schedule. It was truly ground breaking, and in many ways it still is. It, and a few others, will be remembered in the same way some as the films that sprang from the genius of Gene Kelly.

And I take back a bit of what I said about his role in integrating music. The commentary that pointed out he integrated MTV was on the mark. In addition, my views of music integration might reflect the region I grew up in. I was remembering last night, when re-reading my post, that I heard a "Top 100 Rock Hits" program around 1980 in a southern state that did not include a single #1 Motown hit.

[*] Footnote:
The BBC is streaming their live BBC World News coverage onto a regular web news story. I've never seen that done, but it is interesting how much better their coverage is to the cable networks in the US - and it is after midnight there! I really can't believe that I was watching live video from Los Angeles of the helicopter carrying his body to morque by way of England over the Internet....

Read Entire Article......

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

RBOC - Light summer reading

This will be about as random as it gets.

I won't spoil this for you. Go read it right now while keeping in mind the question of whether the Federal Reserve's pronouncements would generate more surprise and get more attention if Bernanke spoke in a garden under a tree.

Thought provoking (although I am old enough to have seen this topic debated and discussed many times in two different centuries) and also making clever use of some great academic cartoons.

A great article pointing out the Nobel-worthy contribution Fred Hoyle made to our understanding of the production of the elements in stars. This contribution to nuclear physics helped destroy the Steady State theory that Hoyle promoted until his death. How? It showed how nuclei beyond He could be produced in thermonuclear reactions, making Big Bang predictions of the production of only a few isotopes of the lightest elements consistent with what we see in nature.

Would it have helped or hurt the Civil Rights movement if something like this had happened in August 1963?
In 1963, as King delivers his famous speech to the March on Washington, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev delivers a public message of his own to the protesters. “We would like to tell these brave voices of freedom,” Khrushchev says, “that they have the full support and solidarity of the USSR. The Soviet Union and the United States Communist Party are ready and willing to perform any measures within our power to help our American brothers and sisters obtain their rights from this oppressive regime. And although Dr. King pretends that he holds no hostility toward the American capitalist system of government itself, and wishes only to secure the ideals of the American founding for all of its citizens, we all know that he and his supporters really yearn for complete regime change in Washington. We in Moscow will do whatever it takes to help you achieve this goal.”

Did Osama bin Laden help or hurt Kerry by endorsing him just before the election, and did bin Laden do it to keep Bush (and his dis-engagement from al'Qaeda) in office? Imagine what would have happened if he had endorsed Bush ...

Like it says. Go look at the video and pay attention to the last few seconds.

My analysis of the analysis is that the author's video interpretation results in a major underestimate of the velocity of the hammer after the explosives detonate. It is only in frame for a short time, and is slowing via both gravity and an interaction with the person holding it during that time. The energy in the hammer was surely much greater than estimated, so the question might really be "How high would he have gone if he had not let go of the hammer?"!

Now go watch it again. Clearly this person is using much more explosive than the others. See how theirs just go off? Notice how several people are doing this before he walks out, but then the area clear completely as he prepares to try his experiment? Right now I am speculating whether you could pull yourself off the ground by swinging a sledge hammer if you had it tied to your hands.

BTW, I wasn't too impressed with an earlier article. As Uncle Al noted, the Magnus Effect (what makes a baseball curve) was first seen with musket balls and studied with curved barrels (much like the paintball guns mentioned in the Wiki article he quotes) centuries ago. It is quite an oversight to leave that out, but even Wiki understates how big it can be: ever watch a golf ball rise when driven by a real pro? Lift from the Magnus Effect is why the optimum launch angle for a golf ball is only about 12 degrees.

This last one makes for some great summer fun!

Read Entire Article......

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jobs - Update to Parts 4 and 5

Lots of blog-world action related to both tt Uni and CC jobs that deserves collecting in one place.

I'll put mention of Unbalanced Reaction's posting of part 1 of a series about experience with a 1-year Visiting Assistant Professor (VAP), not to mention using it to leverage a successful job hunt for a permanent t-t job, up here above the fold. I'm looking forward to the rest, and will add the links here when they appear. One thing I am curious about is which college category this new job falls into, to help see the relevance of the VAP as a teaching post-doc. I'm guessing it is a regional comprehensive or smaller 4-year school, possibly one that doesn't offer an MS degree in UR's science field.

I'll also be looking to UR's discussion of POGIL.

A few articles from IHE, with comments, will be linked below the fold.

I'll start with this one, about taking a one-year position because you don't have a job when May rolls around.

My observation is that there is a big difference between temp teaching as an adjunct and working full time in a one-year not-necessarily-renewable faculty position. The latter should come with a living wage and benefits and an opportunity to develop the teaching portfolio you need for some kinds of jobs. That is how it worked out for Unbalanced Reaction. Given the current state of the economy, there may even be some of these that might be potentially tenurable if the money is still there in a year or three.

There are also lots of links to resources that would be useful if you want to bail out of academia.

An article offering warnings about working as an adjunct should be must reading for anyone entering grad school ... along with the first few parts of my jobs series, if I should say so myself.

It is not quite the same as working as a Visiting Asst Professor, but it can also help with that teaching portfolio if you are realistic about your goals and the chances of reaching them.

I highly recommend one about Seven things to do this summer before starting a new job in the fall. A few of these suggestions even apply to us old timers.

My version of "paperwork" is all of the things that got deferred as the year wound down. My version of "set up your office" is to CLEAN mine. It currently makes a photo from 2 years ago look tame by comparison.

Finally, this article about summer teaching had some good advice.

I teach one small class in the summer, more for the fun than the money. (The college probably thinks the same thing, since their "profit" isn't very high for this class in the summer.) I get to do something completely different, interact with some great students from every walk of life at the college, yet have a reason to do to campus every day and do some of those catch-up tasks that just don't make it past triage during the school year. The comments in his "summertime, and the teaching is easy" section definitely apply to me. I'll be getting ready for fall soon enough.

But I worry about the burn out of some of our new faculty, who are teaching a very heavy load in the summer to help make ends meet or pay off student loans, whatever. It won't help their teaching evaluations in the regular year if they use up so much energy in the summer.

Read Entire Article......

Value of a 2-year degree?

An article about improving graduation rates in IHE contains the following statement:

“Today, a two-year or four-year college degree or certificate is a prerequisite for economic success,” Hilary Pennington, director of education, postsecondary success and special initiatives for the Gates Foundation, said to an audience of higher education professionals gathered at the Library of Congress here. Yet while tangible economic incentives to finish college are evident, she said, completion rates have been stagnant since the 1970s.

Emphasis added.

First, if you take even a cursory glance at the graph I constructed showing 4-year grads, you can see that the completion rates have soared since the 1970s - for women. It is only the rate for men that has stagnated.

Further, the relation between a two-year degree and economic success is not supported by the census data I used in that previous study. It shows (table A-3 towards the bottom of the page) only a modest premium for anything less than a 4-year degree.

They don't break out an associates degree from "some college", but the raw numbers from 2007 don't support that claim:

HS degree31,286
Some college35,138
College degree57,181

A bit more than 10% might not make up for the opportunity cost or the loan debt some students get as the price of a failed attempt to go to college. A college dropout like Bill Gates is the exception.

By the way, those college-grad numbers really show why so many of my students see things like the recent announcement of federal support for "job training" at CCs as rather pointless. What they need is an extension of existing federal financial aid programs so they will pay for the extra year of classes they need to take before transferring into an engineering program. Students who aren't ready to start out in calculus as a freshman (ours often need a year or more of math before calculus) and also need a ton of science classes beyond the gen-ed requirements are ignored by the rules we currently operate under.

But high school completion, also mentioned in the article, is a BIG deal:

HS dropout21,484
HS degree31,286

Getting out of HS opens up lots of opportunities in the "skilled trades". I have no idea how a HS dropout can manage in our society, yet the census data say that about 14% never graduate.

BTW, I realize I forgot to work up the derivative data for college grad rates. I made a go of it, but the data are really noisy and I need to come up with a good smoothing algorithm that does not hide all of the fluctuations.

Read Entire Article......

The Sub-Prime Rich

One of the details in a story about the death of Ed McMahon at age 86 concerned his financial difficulties:

In 2007, he fell and broke his neck and as a result of not being able to work, he defaulted on mortgage payments on his Hollywood mansion.

Say what?

Having a 4.8 million dollar mortgage (according to Wiki) in your 80s, a mortgage so big that it requires earning a quarter million a year at age 84 just to pay the "rent" [*], is not my idea of planning for retirement. Our plan is to pay off our house well before retirement age so our "rent" is less than $200 a month.

Apparently Ed McMahon did not have (or likely could not afford) disability insurance to cover his mortgage should he be unable to work and pay his bills. Was he counting on winning the lottery, or the American Family Publishers subscription prize drawing he used to pitch to elderly folks along with everyone else?

It actually doesn't surprise me that much to discover that someone like McMahon was living in a sub-prime mansion. That circumstance might not fit the story some want to create about defaulted loans, but it fits what I am seeing in my town. Locally, there have been several large foreclosure auctions advertised in the paper for properties worth millions. In one case, it wasn't a poor black family that spent several million of someone else's dollars on a large development consisting of rental housing and then never even pay the property taxes on it. One wonders what those real estate developers did with the rent they collected.

[*] Footnote:
That would be just the interest on a 5.2% loan, which is probably an underestimate, so you still have to add in property taxes and insurance.

Read Entire Article......

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Failing Grade on Significant Figures

This analysis is second hand (I have not read the journal article); it is based entirely on the article in today's Inside Higher Ed titled "Failing Grade on Alcohol".

According to the press release, the study came up with an allegedly shocking result

Using figures from government databases and national surveys on alcohol use, researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that drinking-related accidental deaths among 18- to 24-year-old students have been creeping upward -- from 1,440 in 1998 to 1,825 in 2005.

that was published in the "Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs".

What is wrong with this? Everything, if IHE described the study accurately.

The IHE reporter says the authors did the following:
Researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism multiplied the number of 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States, as reported by the Census Bureau, by the estimated percentage of deaths among 18- to 24-year-olds that were alcohol-related, as provided by 331 medical examiner studies. That number was multiplied by 30 percent, since three-tenths of 18- to 24-year-olds are in college.

Do you see the mistakes?

The biggest error is that "three tenths" has only one significant figure, although it might have had two before they wrote that sentence. That means their values should be stated as 1400 and 1800 (appropriate in either case because many people think that a leading 1 does not convey a full significant figure). Their choice conveys a hugely false sense of precision, as if they KNOW it was 1825 students, rather than 1824 or 1826, that died - particularly when it is quite likely that they don't know whether it was 1700 or 1900 that died as a result of alcohol use in that year.

The important point is that they don't know whether the people who died were actually students.

But there are several other errors inherent in this approach.

Are there equal percentages of men and women in college within this age group? The data I showed the other day suggest they aren't. Are men and women equally likely to show up in those morality statistics? Unlikely, given what I see in our newspaper.

There is also an unstated uncertainty in using a small sample of coroner data. (How many counties have a college in their coroner district?) What was the standard deviation in the mean value they used? Could it be that they are comparing 1400 +/- 200 with 1800 +/- 200 to get an increase of 400 +/- 400? Or worse?

Finally, all of this might be dwarfed by the use of a highly subjective term like "alcohol related". That box can get checked on a traffic incident report if one of the drivers reports having had a drink recently, regardless of whether there is a legal finding of intoxication or even fault for the crash. That means a totally sober student could have been counted if s/he was killed in a car accident with someone who had had a few drinks with dinner.

That doesn't even count concerns such as those of one person quoted in the article, who pointed out that many college students live within walking distance (or a short drive) of the parties they go to, in contrast to others in the same age group.

At least the abstract of the article said the "aim of this study was to estimate" [emphasis added] the mortality from alcohol use in the 18-24 age group, but that didn't stop them from giving a 4 sig fig value for a 1 sig fig result. This is particularly pathetic when the lead author believes "that it would have been better to have data on every injury death, but maintains that from the information he used, the results were a conservative estimate of the number of deaths" according to the author of the IHE article.

That means he knows that both the 1400 and the 1800 values were very uncertain, and that the true value of the first value might even be bigger than the second. This doesn't stop him from quoting "exact" numbers and omitting any estimate of the uncertainty in the calculated values. Surely, having risen to the position of Division Director at a national institute, he knows how to use a stat package to estimate the uncertainty? Oh, right. I almost forgot about this true story. Maybe there is a chance that he used the raw numbers from his calculation without a hint of a clue of how to estimate the uncertainty in the number of deaths from the uncertainties in the coroner data and in the fraction attending college.

Read Entire Article......

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Attendance and Test Performance

In a post I made a few weeks ago I stated

And some of my students this summer must be from Wannabe Flagship, seeing the way several missed class (and a key review topic) the day before an exam.
A commenter asked whether there was any correlation between missing those two classes and doing poorly on the exam. I never got around to blogging it, but I looked at it at the time and the answer was "yes".

Quite a strong one, actually.

100% of the students who were absent on the particular day that I discussed Hairdressing (and were also absent when it was reviewed after homework was returned to them) got zero credit on a Hairdressing problem on the exam.

In contrast, fewer than 20% of the students who were present when I showed them how to Dress Hair got it completely wrong on the exam - and one of those was probably texting under his desk if past observations also applied that day.

Missing the review day was less critical if they were there the first day and also did the homework, but only 20% of the ones who got the Hairdressing problem completely correct were gone that day, while 60% of the ones who got partial credit had missed that day.

Perhaps more important is the subjective fact that several students who had been doing B/C work in the course missed those classes, missed the Hairdressing problem, and saw their grade drop significantly as a result.

I borrowed the "Hairdressing" term from profgrrrrl to stand in for one of the topics in my class.

Read Entire Article......

Inflection Point ?

Unemployment is a lagging indicator.

This well-known and most basic of economic investment facts seems unknown to those on the anti-American right who are hoping for an economic disaster - hoping that the Bush-Obama effort fails to cut short the economic depression we are in - and are looking for a dark cloud (two examples) rather than green shoots [*] without offering anything other than the discredited Herbert Hoover alternative.

Unemployment does not peak and begin to fall until long after a recession, which is measured by GDP, is over. Similarly, unemployment did not start to rise in any significant way until well after this Great Recession got started about a year ago.

Last week's announcement of the latest weekly jobless claims data show continued evidence of a possible inflection point (details below the fold) in unemployment as well as the data that tell us exactly why the latest graph talked about by the bloggers above, and even on "Meet The Press" today, is utter nonsense.

Let's look at that graph to see what an inflection point is, and put our focus on the "initial value" point that represents the state of the economy before the new administration could pass, let alone implement, the stimulus plan in question. Click on the graph to see it with full resolution:

The blue curves are a report prepared by two members of the Obama transition team a few weeks before taking office. The large red dots show the quarterly average value of the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate based on phone surveys. The quarterly averages were used to construct the solid blue curve prior to Q1 2009. I also show, as smaller red dots, the monthly values. (When a monthly value falls on top of an average, I put a tiny pink dot over the red one, visible only in the full size image.) The green and pink lines are explained below in the "predictions" section.

I have corrected a minor error in the green line (it should have been a bit steeper) when adding the June unemployment data to the graph. The new version, which was posted on July 2, should be used rather than this one if someone wants to use this graph or modify it further. The new graph also has an appropriate attribution on it.

It is EXTREMELY important that the Q1 2009 value of 8.07% is well above the guess of about 7.54% used in the transition team analysis, a point I highlight with a blue dot. I trust you can see that the guess they based their analysis on was really wrong, and that there is no quantitative value to the resulting predictions shown in blue. In fact, there never was any real value to those predictions.

At best, one might argue that they were only predicting that the recovery act would reduce the unemployment peak by about 1%, and do so about a year earlier than without it. At worst, one might argue that they were assuming the recovery had already started and were unaware that we are trying to fight off a depression. In between would be the position that they were hiding the true situation in an attempt to "jawbone" the economy, to avoid the sort of panic that played a major role in the development of the Great Depression.


It is important to realize that the unemployment data are the result of a phone survey. I was actually part of that process sometime back in the 1990s. Individuals are selected at random to join the survey population, contacted on a regular basis by phone to discern their employment status over a period of many months, and then replaced by someone new. Like any survey, those data are uncertain and fluctuate. Quarterly averages help smooth out those fluctuations.

Some data, such as weekly jobless claims, are collected from state unemployment offices and reflect a reasonably true count of what happened that week. However, in order to rush them out ASAP, the first number released is only an estimate. This past week's value will be revised next week when the new value appears.

The use of highly uncertain data in models that extrapolate into the future is extremely dangerous. A 10% error in the first point will expand into a 20% error in the next point when using equations as unstable as those in economics. This mathematics, sensitive dependence on initial conditions, is well known in the math and science community but rarely makes its way into the sort of Calculus Circus math taken by business majors - and is totally unknown to reporters and politicians.


An inflection point is a point were there is a change in curvature of a function like unemployment. It is a second derivative of the quantity we are looking at, which is quite different than what gets emphasized in the media.

The first derivative is the change in unemployment. If unemployment goes up, the derivative (the slope of the curve) is positive and the curve goes up. If unemployment goes down, the derivative is negative and the curve goes down.

ASIDE: The weekly jobless claims provide a window into the first derivative of unemployment *if* you know the rate of job creation and the rate at which people leave the unemployment rolls. As in late 2007, you can have 325,000 people apply for unemployment and still have almost no change in the unemployment rate.

The second derivative is the change in the change. If it is ZERO, unemployment will continue to increase every month if it was already increasing (say from 6.10% to 6.85% to 7.60% to 8.35%) - and it will stay the same if it wasn't changing (say from 4.50% to 4.50% to 4.50%) or continue to fall if it was falling. If it is POSITIVE, like it was in all of 2008, unemployment rate will curve upward - increasing in every bigger steps. If it is NEGATIVE, as shown by the light blue curve through all of 2010, the rate will curve downward - rising and then falling like a fly ball.

ASIDE: A regular rise in weekly jobs claims indicates a positive second derivative, predicting that the unemployment increase will be bigger next month than last month. A regular fall in the weekly jobs claims indicated a negative second derivative, suggesting that the unemployment increase next month will be less than the increase this month.

The green line I drew on the graph shows the unemployment curve extrapolated for ZERO curvature - a constant increase in the unemployment rate based on the two previous points. Notice that the blue point for Q1 2009 is below the green line, indicating they believed the curvature was becoming negative (recovery starting) even before the stimulus package was proposed.

The true value for Q1, pointed out with an arrow, is well above the green line. This indicates that the curvature was positive and the rate of job loss was increasing rather than increasing - indicating the acceleration of the recession into depression. [**] The higher of the two pink lines is a projection that assumes that acceleration continues unabated, while the lower of the two assumes a transition to zero curvature, where I think we are today.


I think the mistake made in constructing the blue graphs shown above was in assuming that the sharp drop in new jobless claims in late December, obvious in the graph shown at the bottom of this report on new jobless claims, indicated an inflection point for unemployment. That input would lead their model to predict a Q1 2009 value that is below the straight line projection of the previous two quarters, what was shown as a green line on my diagram and discussed above.

Feeding these data into their model doesn't just change the initial point by a significant amount (it is off by more than 0.5%, a 7% error in the value), it changes the initial slope by a huge amount (from about 2.7% per year to 4.8% per year, an 80% error in the initial slope) and makes the curvature slightly negative rather than significantly positive.

I'd really like to see a re-run of their model with the true Q1 value instead of their estimate. Rather than bending at the start of 2009, the light blue "without" curve might have soared up into the low teens. For those who think this is unlikely, look at your local government and college budgets without the stimulus money. Ours are cutting jobs even with that money. It would not surprise me to learn that we would have to cut our faculty and staff by 5 to 10% starting July 1 without the stimulus money from the recovery plan.

Another Modeling Error

They also made totally unrealistic assumptions about how long it would take to pass the stimulus bill, and thus when the tax cut would show up in my paycheck, as well as when the money would show up as actual jobs. Apart from helping with staffing shortages in the unemployment offices, little of the money in our state will go to work before July 1 - which means the effects won't kick in until Q3 rather than in Q1 as they had assumed. (I think they assumed the bill would pass by the end of January.) In addition, a big chunk of the money is going to avoid layoffs rather than put unemployed people to work. The "no layoffs" happens right away, in public funded operations like our college, but the "new jobs" construction requires bids and contracts.


As pointed out up at the top, the number of new claims for unemployment insurance fell again, by more than expected. Is it real? Who knows. However, the drop from the peak a few months ago suggests the rate of job loss is no longer growing, and might be falling. We really won't know for several months whether the curvature has become negative. But even if we are at an inflection point, unemployment will continue to grow until new jobless claims are balanced by those taking jobs.

If sustained, this would be a leading indicator of improvement in the economy.

But I'm not holding my breath because there are too many affordable houses sitting vacant at prices the owners think would be reasonable if it weren't for the properties heading for foreclosure. I'll let you know when I see a "sold" sign within a half mile of our house.

[*] Footnote

Anyone who watches CNBC has heard this phrase quite often, but might not know where it comes from. It is an allusion to a famous bit of dialog from the movie Being There, where the Peter Sellers character Chance (aka Chauncey Gardiner, a gardener who likes to watch TV that gets mistaken for an erudite philosopher) says "There will be growth in the spring!" - which gets (mis)interpreted as a prediction that the economy will turn around in the spring.

[**] Footnote

I use the term depression in the sense of the normal depressions that were common in the late 19th century as a result of bubbles not unlike the real-estate bubble that started this one, not in the sense of the Great Depression. I explained this in an earlier blog about the state of the economy in early January 2009.

Read Entire Article......

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Colbert declares Victory in Iraq

If you missed it last night and didn't see one of the re-run today, go to Colbert Nation and watch the June 8 "Colbert Report". Getting his hair cut has made the news shows, but the real highlights were that he declared victory during 'the Word' and had the soldiers howling at jokes about the heat and multiple tours of duty.

Watching the streaming video is a good way to check out details like the Colbert shield (C R with a hair dryer and two balls) or his military ID, not to mention the sandbag American flag that supports his desk.

Read Entire Article......

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gender of College Students vs Time

What an interesting coincidence.

On Thursday, Dean Dad blogged about a claim concerning the "rapid increase" in college grads producing a drop in wages, leading to a discussion where Dictyranger posted a link to census data on educational attainment including tables on education levels and income broken down by many relevant categories. I'll be looking specifically at Table A-2.

On Sunday, the BBC News reported on a study in the UK documenting that women are ahead of men in almost every measure of academic achievement. (Aspects of this are also relevant to a separate discussion of The Gender Knot at Zuska's place because the one area where women remain far behind is in math, physics, and engineering.) One intriguing comment from that article is quoted at the bottom of my post, but my emphasis here is on numbers relevant to the discussion at Dean Dad's.

The following graph, showing data that can be interpreted as indicating a running average of the college graduation rate of a 5-year cohort of young adults, has been constructed from Table A-2 of the census data:

Totally sexist colors have been used to code the gender data.

The fact that the data go from 1940 to 2008, including the GI Bill students as well as the children and grandchildren of the 'Greatest Generation', makes these data really interesting for a variety of reasons. Note that data for a given year (such as the jump in 1995) reflect the graduation rate of "normal age" students about five years earlier (circa 1990).

Here I will start by pointing out that there is no evidence of a "rapid increase" in college graduation rates other than a 5% step jump circa 1995. If they were smoothed a bit more, as one sees in the graph below, one could argue that the college graduation rate for MEN has not changed at all in over thirty years. I spent too much time figuring out a weird feature of the file to construct a graph of the derivative, but you can see that the most rapid increase was from about 1965 to 1976 (for both men and women, but men started from a higher point) and that the recent increase (for the Echo generation) is due to a continuing steady increase of female graduates. Men are, indeed, lagging significantly behind.

If there is a correlation such as the author claims, it should show up in salary data for the GI Bill group (where the growth of graduates was spectacular, doubling in just a few years) and for the Baby Boom cohort to a greater extent than at present. After all, the rate at which men are graduating college today is not high enough to replace the men who are retiring. I wouldn't be surprised to see such a correlation, by the way. There was a major recession in 1975, one that heavily impacted the glut of Baby Boomers entering the work force out of college. That drop for men after 1975 no doubt reflects the oversupply of college grads along with the end of the Vietnam draft (and the need for a college deferment).

The grad rates for women caught up with men around 1985 (that is, for students graduating around 1980) and the rates for men and women tracked together from 1985 to just after the 1995 jump (that is, for students graduating circa 1980 to 1990). At that point, the rate for men settled in at around 26% while that for women continued to rise above 33% with a huge jump in the last few years.

So ... are the data talked about by David Frum due to a glut of college grads, or are they a result of women being paid less than men for entry-level positions? Since Frum did not comment on the fact that the rapid increase is mostly among women, perhaps it is relevant that he is a "conservative" commentator. (That also shows up in his failure to include CCs in his discussion of cost, and his comments about HS exit exams. He seems unaware that the reason many jobs require Some College is precisely because CCs provide that benchmark with our "prep" classes.)

There are wage data in those census tables, but they need to be corrected for inflation to have any relevance here. But, combined with the tables available at Oregon State for the CPI going back into pre-history (literally, in some cases), the data do exist to look at some of those questions as well.

A broader view is shown in this graph, which shows the fraction of the entire working-age (and retired-age) population, again from Table A-2:

I should have put some straight lines on there to show the average slope, but I trust you can see that the fraction of the entire population with a college degree has grown pretty steadily over the years. That for women has increased at pretty much the same rate since 1970, while that for men (and hence the total) is growing more slowly in the last 20 years than it did in the 60s.

What is striking about this graph is that it shows that we are, RIGHT NOW, at the point where the fraction of men and women with a college degree is about the same. Jobs that require at least four years of college should (other things, like child care and area of specialization, being equal) have similar numbers of men and women in them. To someone who started work when that was definitely not the case, this helps explain why I have the distinct impression that a 'phase transition' has taken place. One has taken place. And when you include the disproportionate number of men in some (but not all) technical fields, that also explains why other areas are now majority female.

Technical Note

It took me several tries before I figured out why Excel was refusing to make sense out of the "year" column in the tables. The rocket scientist who created them entered the year information as ..1980 with the dots made white so they were invisible in the table. Trimming them seemed to make the years disappear completely because then the year inherited that color and became white - but the years were still there and could be made visible by changing the font color to black. At that point I could tell it to treat the year as a "date" and get the kind of graph I wanted.


This is raw Uncle Al bait if there ever was any. From the BBC article:

A science test taken by 11 and 12-year-olds in the mid-1970s had been successfully passed by 54% of boys and 27% of girls.

When the same test was taken in 2003, the scores for both boys and girls had fallen to 17% - a much more rapid decline for boys.

What an absurd way to achieve equity, by making the entire system worse rather than parts of it better! (Yes, I know that the UK is not the only place that might have taken this approach.)

Read Entire Article......

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Advice on a Teaching Intensive Job

Once again, Dr. Crazy knocks one out of the park.

Her article on starting a teaching job with a 4-4 load is first rate. Although written from the point of view of a "regional comprehensive" university, almost all of it applies perfectly at a CC.

This is a must read for any new professor.

I was particularly struck by the comment about the exhaustion that comes with a lot of students. My actual contact-hour load has not changed in the decade I've been at this CC, but the number of individual students in those classes has increased significantly. It has always helped that my second semester class is 90+ % returning students, so they are familiar to me and I am familiar to them, but a net doubling in numbers as this program has grown has led to more of the psychic exhaustion she describes.

And e-mail? You definitely need to have a well-organized scheme for sorting and filing e-mail, and only write ones that turn into a lengthy memo when that is absolutely the only or best way to do so.

Our college used to be pretty good about leaving new faculty alone for the first year or two, but that has changed recently. You really don't belong on committees during your first year. You belong at home figuring out how to teach that next class. We ease new faculty into challenging tasks like advising, and assign mentors. But it never hurts to find your own second or third mentor.

But the best advice from Dr. Crazy?

Keep teaching records. I keep a notebook of old exams complete with the grading rubric details. Actually, I keep just about everything - what amounts to a daily diary of what I did the last few times I taught the class. Eventually I toss those daily lesson outlines, but it really helps to have an old grading key that tells you what weight you gave to each part of a particular type of problem. Am I keeping the same standards? Are they doing as well as that group of students?

Regardless, it really helps to be able to pick up a notebook for a certain course and know what handout was used and how you thought it worked a year or two ago. That frees up time for the new preps that have to be done, and creative thinking about what needs to be changed in that "old" course.

Read Entire Article......

Monday, June 1, 2009

CNN was listening to me at breakfast?

Shortly after I said to my wife (concerning the missing A330) "it was probably hit by lightning", CNN said they had 'heard' via their global reporting network that it could have been caused by lightning. Were they listening at my kitchen table?

Oh, and happy 29th, CNN. They went on the air on 1 June 1980.

Seriously: The initial scatter-brained real-time journalism of the news networks included an NBC short list of possible causes that included "dare I say, terrorism" but did not include electrical failure. Then I saw a weather radar map on CNN (where they were pointing to the lack of storms in the Cape Verde Islands area, a hurricane breeding ground later in the hurricane season that started today, because the intertropical convergence zone was still well south of that area), and I thought "lightning". I know these newest aircraft are highly electronic, and I know what lightning did to the lightning protection system of a HAM that lives across the street from us, so 1 + 1 make 4 to me - particularly when the search area is in the area of the current convergence zone, where there are many storms developing.

By the way, as interviews go, I'd really rather hear my brother's thoughts about the possible effects of a massive electrical failure than those of some US Air captain interviewed on CNN.

I'm sure that a modern "glass" aircraft like this will do things the captain doesn't know about, particularly a new aircraft. He was going on about what would happen if the crew made a distress call, but the only reports are of some automatic BSOD 'panic' transmissions from the electronic control system itself. I', sure my brother knows lots more than any pilot does about what those systems do.

Yo, Bro, can you really fly one of these things if you lose all of the electrical systems? I've heard that the backup system for a modern fighter plane is the ejection seat, but do these latest commercial aircraft have direct mechanical connections to the flight controls and engines as well as a purely "classic" turn and bank indicator and compass? Can the engines operate if an electronic fuel management system (a successor to the one you worked on in your very first job) got toasted? Or do you have some equipment on the A330 that precludes your discussing the matter?

I believe them when they say they test these aircraft for lightning strikes, but so did the company that designed the highly sophisticated (and fully insured) arrestor system my neighbor had - yet everything from his computers to his electronic doorbell was destroyed. I have little doubt that there is 'lightning' and then there is LIGHTNING.

Finally, what really puzzles me is the vague nature of the search area. They must know exactly when they got the 'panic' messages from the control system, and they must have a very good idea where the plane was at the time and how far it could have traveled if were in a totally "dead stick" situation. But I would imagine the pessimism is due to the lack of any satellite emergency signals (they do have those on the life rafts of trans-oceanic airlines, don't they). And I would imagine that the very slow rate of information flow is a result of a State Owned airline not wanting to say anything bad about an aircraft built by a State Owned manufacturer.

Read Entire Article......