The Real Issue with Artificial Intelligence is that we aren’t particularly smart.

Conversations among colleagues and students have started spiking around AI again. But most of these conversations fuss over the idea that machines will take our jobs.  RED HERRING!!

The conversation should be focused on ERRORS,
not jobs.

The focus on ordinary jobs is destructive and any news outlet that panders that idea is treating you like an idiot. The idea of computer besting man is one that has persisted for millennia and distracts us from the real issue with Artificial Intelligence, magnitude errors. Let’s talk bunnies for a moment. Cute, cuddly bunnies. Who doesn’t love bunnies?

rabbit
Let’s start with a pair that were born in January and given as an Easter gift. Rabbits can breed monthly by the time they are 6mo. They’re cute, cuddly, and ready to reproduce in June. You’re now the proud rabbit parent to 10 kits, 5 boys, 5 girls, 12 total rabbits. By December when the June babies can reproduce for the first time you have as many as 112 bunnies. Or within the first year you may find yourself with 1412 babies hoping about. Instead of 10 rabbits noshing your perennials, you have over 1000. That’s order of magnitude error in judgment.

I see my students make order of magnitude errors ALL THE DAMN TIME. (on average ppl suck at fractions and exponents)

This article hints at it using a new model for creating replicating DNA as an example for modern computers. In my opinion, this is a model for AI development. Here’s the paragraph that inspired my ire this morning:

“…Imagine a computer trying to solve a problem is actually trying to navigate a maze. Instead of tracing one path of the maze at a time, DNA could replicate itself at every junction—and at each point in the maze incorporate new information gleaned from solving the previous step. This would let the DNA explore exponentially faster than modern computer processors. Each strand of DNA is a processor, because it’s executing the command of replicating itself with a slight variation, building another processor which can take up its mantle. Unlike our modern computers which utilize processors that are more or less permanent and can run unlimited kinds of code, these are single-use and disposable, the exact opposite.”

Even though the DNA is programmed to essentially disappear once used, there is a gap between creation of First Generation and destruction of First Generation, GI. In that time, Second Generation, GII, is created. There’s overlap. No system is perfectly frictionless, there’s always overlap. That’s the rub.

When you have an order of magnitude error, you can literally suck all of the – take your pick: oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, other essential building block – out of the system causing immediate catastrophe.

WHAT?!

Okay, let’s talk air. For the sake of simplicity let’s call it some mix of Nitrogen and Oxygen.

Air is a mixture of about 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.9% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide, and very small amounts of other gases.[1][2] There is an average of about 1% water vapour. – Wikipedia

Imagine we have a fluid computer that is designed to think it’s way through a problem much like these DNA computers (remember computers are no longer stationary nor solid). So they replicate at each “turn” to navigate the proverbial maze of the problem. If they are programmed to bring hydrogen to the party, each time a Generation is created a set of hydrogen molecules are added to the mix. For as long as the hydrogen can match its intended purpose, we’re fine. But as soon as the original purpose for the H is exhausted, that next Generation of H is looking for a party as the computers continue to replicate. Hydrogen and Oxygen look great together and Oxygen is often found in its stable form O2 so . . . H2O forms.

It’s like 7-minutes in heaven gone terribly wrong.

mega face palm
One poorly designed AI machine set and we suffocate/drown simultaneously. The Generation that created that next level of H that sought out O2 for pairing was one generation too many. The H molecule pulled the O2 out of the air thus depriving us Oxygen and simultaneously created water so we get water, possibly as rain. As humans we can’t convert the water to air immediately and boom, we’re gone. To put it in non computer terms imagine you have those two bunnies again, but in this case H is banging O2 and rather than a 30-day gestation period, magnitude events happen in microseconds, from 2 bunnies to 1412 bunnies in less than 1 second. Crushed by cuteness, literally.

The conversation around AI should focus on engineering ethics and basic math, the real challenges. This is something everyone has the capacity to understand despite the way many speak of it. Since much of the AI development comes out of organizations that consider themselves full of software engineers (little e, not E), we need to look at the clout behind that designation.

As it currently stands, a software engineer is anyone who wants to call him or herself such. There is no regulating body, no code of ethics, no oversight. No standards for conduct or design.

Real Engineers have to consider end of use scenarios. That highway bridge you drove your kids to school over is designed with it’s failure in mind so that it gets fixed/replaced/destroyed BEFORE catastrophic failure.

We don’t let just anyone build bridges, yet we allow anyone to set up shop as a software engineer any time, any where. Would you let anyone design your home? Maybe, it’s a free country – your risk. Would you let anyone design the Waste Water system that takes #1 and #2 away from your house? Probably not, your community will get more involved if you do this poorly – community risk. How about the 1/2mile bridge you cross on the way to drop off your kids at school? No, right? This is closer to system risk – failure impacts a lot of people. Different levels of risk demand different levels of engineering.

Software engineers running amuck is a legitimate public hazard.

Most of the time our decisions have little consequence to the overall system. But those who build the systems can accidentally kill us if they haven’t thought through the consequences thoroughly. Thoughtful design is needed when you’re messing with system-wide consequences.

The real issue with Artificial Intelligence is that the designers aren’t that great – and I’m only addressing basically algo-level AI, the stuff we’re sitting on right now, not the “beyond human intelligence”-level that’s 10-25 years (depending on source) down the road, and there’s no way to stop them.

thug life

Can You Afford That?

For people who are just entering the work force or who are relatively new to it, determining how much income it takes to live comfortably can be a challenge. Let’s assume you want to live at or above the level at which your parents live. How much money do you need to make? You might be surprised.

On the whole, you probably need to make more money than you expect in order to duplicate the life that your parents have. Quite frankly, ordinary living is expensive. Who hasn’t gotten a paycheck, only to be shocked at how little you take home and how quickly it disappears?

The main reason is simple: most things cost more than they seem to cost – for you, for your employer, and for the businesses producing the items you consume. We’re going to take a look at how much things really cost and some of the ways in which those costs are determined. To start thinking about how these factors add up, think about not just how much you pay for an item, but all that is built into earning, producing and selling it. And don’t forget to think about the taxes, for both the business selling the item, and for you, the employee. Taxes can add up, changing the bottom line on both what you pay for something and how much you have to spend.

Consider a Cup of Coffee

Coffee shops seem like a relatively inexpensive business to start, and most consumers can afford a visit to one. But think about it – how many cups of coffee would you have to sell to pay the rent? Pay employees? Pay yourself – if you even can afford to do so? You start getting the idea of what business owners must consider.
Writing for AZ Central, Steve Lander of Demand Media explores the cost of a single cup of coffee to a business owner. In “What Is the Profit Margin on a Cup of Coffee,” he details some of the ways in which the numbers add up.

For starters, he notes that business owners need to think about all the expenses that will affect their profits – directly and indirectly. A single cup of coffee involves water and beans, sure, but it also requires a container, with a lid and a thermal wrap if it’s a to-go. Many customers like to add milk or cream (don’t forget the alternatives such as soy), and sweetener, and they’ll need a stir stick and a napkin. Someone has to make that coffee, and a cashier needs to ring it up: those are labor costs.

Lander notes that, in 2011, the Specialty Coffee Association of American surveyed the cost of the components of a 16-ounce cup of coffee [1] – Grande for you Starbucks’ Fans. The coffee beans accounted for the majority of the cost: 64 cents (take a moment to ponder how those beans get to the coffee shop—they have to farmed, prepared and shipped, all of which cost money). Other items include the cup at 13 cents, the lid at 3 cents, sugar at 4 cents and labor worth 33 cents. Total cost: $1.17. Each of these costs can vary, depending on the quantity and quality of items used. But wait: where’s the profit?

That equates to 82 cents of gross profit on a cup of coffee; gross profit is the difference between revenue from sales and the cost of goods sold. When totaling net profits, however, one must consider a few more expenses. Lander’s article examines the fixed costs that coffee shops pay. Fixed costs are the expenses that do not change no matter how many goods or services are sold—these include rent and Internet service, which stay the same whether the coffee shop is packed or empty.

“Rent and utilities add about 15 cents to the price of the coffee, while marketing and advertising add five cents. Research to find the next great coffee drink costs 3 cents, while general administration of the store is 22 cents. Finally, taxes, interest and other miscellaneous costs add up 13 cents, making the fixed cost of a cup of coffee an additional 58 cents,” the article notes. [2]

All the figures add up to a total cost of $1.75 per cup of coffee, which creates a profit margin of 24 cents on a $1.99 cup of coffee. That 24 cents equates to the net profit, which is what the business owner really earns on a sale. In the case of an average cup of coffee, the net profit is about 1/8 of the cost.

Remember the Tax Factor

Let’s return to considering taxes for a moment. How taxes impact the bottom line remains one of the most important points to understand. Taxes affect every aspect of a business: choosing location, setting prices, hiring staff, and predicting break-even. Tax rates for unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation and payroll influence a business’ decision to hire another employee. [3] A report from MIT notes that tax rates mean that an employee who earns a $50,000 salary can actually cost from to $62,500 to $70,000 to the business. [4] The difference in those figures could be the difference between a business owner hiring an employee or doing the job herself.

As an employee, you’re affected by taxes in significant ways, too. Gross income is your total income before any deductions or federal, state or local taxes are withheld. It’s the salary level you usually talk about in a job interview, which in turn leads you to believe your paychecks will be higher than they are. Let’s say you’re offered a salary of $60,000 annually. That breaks down to $5,000 monthly. In reality, your take-home pay, or net income, will be considerably less, closer to $3,500 – it varies as you will see.

Expect your net income to be 60 to 70 percent of your gross income. [5] That means for every $1000 you negotiate in the interview, your paycheck will reflect $600 – $700.

The difference is due to exemptions you choose, taxes, and deductions such as health benefits and retirement savings. You must know and understand what your net income will be before you commit to new car payments, or even before you splurge every day on a cup of coffee. You also need to think about realistic salary levels. In an article based on his book, “The Graduate’s Guide to Life and Money,” Bill Pratt notes “the average college graduate overestimates their starting salary by 44 percent. It takes a lot of work just to remain in the middle class.”[6]

Understand Your Own Paycheck

Let’s return to the example of the coffee shop and the $1.99 cup of coffee, which you buy five days a week. Multiply $1.99 by 5, for a total of $9.95 per week or $39.80 per month. Multiply $9.95 per week by 52 working weeks per year, totaling $517.40 – not including tips or cost of gas to drive to the coffee shop.

Since we know that the $517.40 is your net income, let’s add back 30 percent to approximate your gross income on that amount, which brings the annual total cost of your cups of coffee to $739.14. In other words, you have to earn almost $740 in order to spend $520 on your daily coffee if 30% is withheld off the top of your paycheck. If you’re in a city such as New York, it’s closer to 40% rate and our coffee is usually more expensive! Take home pay to keep that coffee habit ($2.29 for same $1.99 cup everywhere else, 40% rate…) $992.

If your gross salary is $60,000, which is realistic for competitive early-career earners, daily coffee runs are precisely the kind of expense that you may need to monitor. Here’s an examination of what a $60,000 salary, or $5,000 a month, looks like.

These estimates are for a single person with no children and no special circumstances living in New York City. Exemptions and standard deductions each month average $858.33.

What are exemptions? They’re amounts of money that you can subtract from your adjusted gross income to reduce the amount of your taxable income. You complete a W-4 form from your employer to indicate how many exemptions you’ll take. For each exemption, the government “exempts” a portion of your paycheck from being taxed. The more exemptions you take, the less comes out of your paycheck. [7]

Keep in mind, notes Pratt, that at the end of the year, your tax liability is calculated based on your income for the year. “So, if you took too many exemptions and did not have enough taxes taken out of each paycheck, you will owe the difference,” he writes. [8] Pay now or pay in April….

Exemptions are essentially the same as a deduction, which is also a tax-free amount that comes out of your paycheck and reduces your tax liability. [9] The $858.33 we’ve used is based on a single individual exemption plus a standard deduction.

After exemptions, your taxable monthly income is now $4141.67.

Subtract the following: Federal income tax, $683.02; New York state income tax, $253.98; Social Security, $310.00; Medicare, $72.50; [10] and New York City tax, $141.16. [11][12] Your take home pay each month now equals $2681.01 plus the $858.33 that was exempt for a total of $3,539.34. Since 69% of 20-somethings have college debt averaging $28,950, we’ll use $183.39 as the approximate monthly student loan debt.[13] Now you have $3,355.95 to live it up. Right?

That’s the amount you have left to pay all your expenses, which might play out each month as follows:
Rent, for a single person living alone in a 480-square foot studio apartment: $1904.00; utilities for that studio, $100.00; Internet, $57.00; cell phone, $75.00; Metro fare, $120.00; food, $450.00. [14] These expenses, which are reliable estimates, total $2706.00 per month; not included are expenses for laundry, clothing, student loans, entertainment and so on. Remember your, take-home pay is $3,355.95. So your net take-home pay after making sure you keep your lights on at home is $649.95. That’s approximately 1/8th of the base salary of $5,000/mo. Particularly when in NYC, living in shoeboxes makes sense. But that’s not even the worst of it.

An employee being paid $60,000 annually costs a company about 1.25 times that salary, or $75,000. The additional costs come from employee benefits, such as health insurance and the cost of Medicare and Social Security to the business, along with fixed costs such as renting space. The business must bring in 1.25 times the salary of every employee in the company just to cover the cost of the salary. Entrepreneur Ryan Born explains that, because most companies have a gross profit (profit before taxes, overhead, administration, etc.) of about 50% to stay in business, the company must generate $150,000 for every employee who makes $60,000 a year—including you. [15]

That puts pressure on you to generate $150,000 of revenue to pay for yourself at breakeven.

Let’s take one last look at that $1.99 cup of coffee. It costs you $39.80 per month and your take home pay is $3,539,34 per month. The coffee equates to about 1.1 percent of your monthly take home pay. It could hold its own as a budget ledger line. Surprised?

Extrapolate these costs to every item you buy. You’ll start to get a clear picture of why your paychecks seem to disappear extraordinarily quickly and why it might feel as though you may never live as well as your parents – certainly you won’t reach their standard of living as easily as they seemed to reach it. That sense—a valid one—is not due to tax rates alone. It enfolds a number of other factors, such as slower job growth and increased student loan debts for younger earners. None of these circumstances is likely to change soon. Your best tool for reaching specific financial goals is to understand how much money you need to earn, and how much you need to save. Knowledge, in this case, does have the power to give you a solid financial hand in the future.

[1] Lander, Steve. “What is the Profit Margin on a Cup of Coffee,”http://yourbusiness.azcentral.com/profit-margin-cup-coffee-25065.html 20 June 2016.
[2] Lander.
[3] Lister, Jonathan. “How Taxes Affect Businesses,” http://www.ehow.com/info_7996486_taxes-affect-businesses.html 20 June 2016.
[4] “How Much Does an Employee Cost,”http://web.mit.edu/e-club/hadzima/how-much-does-an-employee-cost.html 20 June 2016.
[5] Pratt, Bill. “Understanding Your Paycheck,”http://finance.youngmoney.com/credit_debt/money_management/budgeting/understand-your-paycheck/, 20 June 2016.
[6] Pratt.
[7] Pratt, Bill. “Taxes, Exemptions and Stretching Your Paycheck,” http://finance.youngmoney.com/credit_debt/credit_basics/paycheck_basics_part2, 25 June 2016.
[8] Pratt (ibid.).
[9] https://turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tools/tax-tips/Family/Tax-Exemptions-and-Deductions-for-Families/INF12053.html 25 June 2016.
[10] http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/rp-14-61.pdf
[11] http://www.taxformcalculator.com/state_tax/new_york/60000.html 23 June 2016.
[12] https://www.tax.ny.gov/pdf/current_forms/it/nyc_tax_table.pdf 23 June 2016.
[13] http://ticas.org/posd/map-state-data-2015
[14] https://www.expatistan.com/cost-of-living/new-york-city 23 June 2016.
[15] Born, Ryan. “Back of the Envelope: How to Estimate the Annual Revenues of Any Private Company,” http://ryanborn.net/revenue-estimates/, 22 June 2016.

Why You Don’t Belong at Harvard

Only a fool competes on another’s terms.

I help people reach their professional dreams. A few start early, age 12. Most come in around age 24 when they are preparing to go to graduate school – for some this is a reset button, for others it is a continuation down their well defined path. The first step is to determine what the candidate can master both through skills and interests as the next 50+ years dedicated to work are much easier to bear when you have a willingness to master your area. Then we figure out the most efficient paths. Often that will lead to schools such as Harvard and Harvard Business School. Not a romantic notion of learning and camaraderie, it is a strategic decision.

When it comes to elite school admissions, there’s a game. If the outcome of an elite education is important for your long term development, you need to acknowledge that there is a game and learn what it is so you can choose how you want to play it. For those less inclined toward the elite education path, beware cutting your interest prematurely**.

 

Part 1: Don’t confuse how you want the game played for how it is played.

An admission colleague asked me my thoughts on this article, which is summed up with this excerpt:

Sometimes this toughness comes through in the application proper. Were you an award-winning debater? Did you write snippy op-eds in the paper? Did you muscle out people with Ph.D.s to get a second author on a scientific paper? Have you had to endure a lifetime of pressure from your legacy parents, warning you that if you don’t get in, you’ll be disinherited? Congratulations. You’re in.

As someone involved with admissions overseas she felt strongly that “international admissions are even more skewed towards the children of the elite.”

Is that ok?

Is it okay that some schools seem to favor the children of the elite? As a family you can reject the elite status that Harvard and Princeton proclaim. After all, you don’t need the Ivy League to be successful. Choose any industry and you will see a broad spectrum of non-Ivy grads at the top. Why all the fuss about elite schools?

Elite schooling is a personal brand issue. It can have substantial impact in your career and your ability to enter certain fields. For practical reasons, as someone squarely middle class, I think it far better to be able to decipher which schools will impact my progress than to have blanket statements about elite schools. Not all schools can generate the access you may need within your field. I’d like to know in advance what battles are ahead for me – so I can choose which ones to fight and which ones to avoid.

For example, The University of Chicago is a great school – strong quantitative programs and excellent faculty, known for Finance and Economics. But Chicago undergrads find far too much competition for getting to NYC. The deeply entrenched Ivies and NYC local schools have far more pull for analyst positions in NYC. If you study at Chicago and you wish to work in Finance in NYC, expect to make a detour through Chicago, Houston, or Dallas working with commodities or energy.

For the Chicago student who really wants to work in Finance in NYC, it is important to understand just how much bigger the uphill climb for his target analyst role will be. Understanding the game allows him to choose different recruiting opportunities or to make a different school choice.

Let them drink Lemonade!hbs lemons

Causation: The more lemons we import the fewer traffic deaths we’ll have. Let’s drink Lemonade.

Correlation: The Quantity of Lemons imported has increased as Traffic Fatality Rate has decreased.

This boils down to a broad problem in society of confusing causation for correlation. At our worst, we draw lousy conclusions from complicated information. We depend heavily on patterns we think have worked before.

In any one case, with appropriate information, a reasonable adult can suss out the difference in causation and correlation – the lemon/traffic data example. Does it seem reasonable to conclude that importing more lemons has reduced the traffic fatality rate? At the very least we would be suspicious of the conclusion and would (hopefully) seek more information to corroborate the conclusion. A conclusion is always an opinion. When faced with too much information, we make really simple stories out of the data. In that overload we look for markers – cues that match patterns we recognize so we can draw a conclusion and move on.

Brands live and die by that. Elite schools have particular brands and the brand has very little to do with the content of the education. By default, others who understand the brand lean on it to do their evaluations of you.

Where there’s smoke there’s fire.

Texas A&M has been an excellent Engineering school for generations. Civil, Mechanical, Aerospace, etc. We can build great things. But Texas A&M is not known for its History department. The BA from TAMU in History isn’t likely to carry much weight with academic departments should you seek a PhD and isn’t likely to prepare you for anything other than cocktail party conversation. So if you want to be in that field, you would be far better off at a different undergraduate institution. When I see a resume with BA History from Texas A&M – my alma mater – I try to keep an open mind, but do immediately think, “Wow, this kid had no idea what he was doing and frankly, screwed up. 1. He missed the best opportunity – our ENGR resources, and 2. He didn’t notice how bad an idea it was to major in History at an Institution that does not prioritize the History department. Double whammy.”

Everything you do sends a signal. For better or worse.

It’s worth knowing what signals your choices send. You can’t control all the signals people read on you, but for the ones you can . . . wouldn’t it be nice to know which choices can help you the most?

Part 2:

Premium education is freely available.
And it has been. For centuries.

The Public Library system including the US and the World Libraries has housed massive amounts of information, which has been largely freely available for hundreds of years. Perhaps not always easy to access, it’s been there, waiting for the diligent scholar. As academic journals have proliferated, some have been removed from public circulation (often due to expense), but the WWW has now made even those most abstruse journals available, International Journal of Fuzzy Systems (not about cuddling) for example.

Lack of access to educational content is not what holds anyone back professionally.

RightAdmission inequality ends up self-perpetuating in part because most candidates don’t realize the game they’re playing*** and those who do have no incentive to share the game strategy. Imagine you were on a 400m oval track. You and an opponent are told the race is complete at the 300m mark. If this were a high stakes race like the push to get into top schools, would you share your running strategy? Let your opponent run 300m. You’re clever enough to run 100m in the opposite direction. No one said which direction you had to cross the 300m line.

I spend a good deal of time with my uninitiated candidates on understanding the perspective of what school choice is all about in terms of network effects, access, and patina. I also help them understand that they may not be accepted on the professional path they want in a way they want, but that they can prepare for success on that path anyway, i.e. you’ll get accepted at School X, but you’ll be perceived as the class dummy. In that case, don’t expect to make friends. You just have to survive this stage so you can thrive at the next stage when you get to break into your chosen field. If you understand what’s waiting for you on the other side it becomes far easier to endure seemingly dark days.

Part 3: The Game

I can’t really blame the Elite schools for admitting the predetermined elite kids. The not-yet-elite kids will still be less-elite when they come out – not necessarily in terms of economic advantage but in terms of access and perspective on what to do next. We are conditioned at a very early age. It is very hard for us to throw off our family values and habits.

The elite kids know what they’re supposed to do next. And who to call. And which jobs and companies will give them the biggest boost. Kids who didn’t grow up with that access have a harder adjustment to school and the next phase after school. A student might have to change aspects of his personality to capitalize on his new reality. He’ll face push-back from friends and family. He may stay stuck in limbo.

Is it important for Harvard to invest its reputation in people who only have a cursory understanding of what the power of Harvard can do? It’s a social engineering question. 

What good is a moat if there’s no one to keep out?

Imagine you are the Harvard Admission office.

You have spots to hatch 2000 eggs out of the 10,000 eggs who apply. Which eggs will hatch into the best ducklings for your institution?

The eggs’ happiness isn’t Harvard’s concern. I’d even say it’s not the potential future donations that are of concern. It’s the persistent brand impact.

Brand ambassadorBrand Impact Rating Scale:

0 – no ability to sway your target population and no reach
1 – slightly more persuasive or more socially connected 0
2 – holds some sway over her colleagues but has no reach with your target market – OR – is not a compelling person but does have limited social reach
3 – revered by her colleagues but has no reach with your target market – OR – is not a compelling person but does have social reach
4 – revered by her colleagues and has limited reach with your target market – OR – is a decent candidate and has tremendous reach
5 – revered by colleagues and is well positioned

*A quick note about legacies because it kept coming up in editorial comments…. I don’t think legacies are very advantageous. Not at all for HBS and not much for undergrad. Indeed a Harvard admissions person stated that the worst position you can be in is that of a double legacy. But that isn’t the full story. A double legacy who is also a future mover-shaker is a shoo-in. But a double+ legacy who is lame is barely a 2 on my scale above and not likely to be admitted. Legacy may make you a 2+, but you had better be able to carry yourself up to the 5 – i.e. you’d better be a compelling person.

If you accept a group of zeros – people who have no real ability to influence other candidates directly and indirectly within your market – and build them into 2s and 3s, the new 2s and 3s may be much better off professionally, but are you as Harvard? If you take 5s and help them stay 5s, you maintain your brand presence. Throw in the rare zero who can climb to 5, a small number of 3s who can climb to 4s and 5s, and you have a strong presence that creates brand craving, a moat around your Ivory Tower. The brand benefits from the children you reject just as those you accept. What good is a moat if there’s no one to keep out?

Eliza Doolittle.

So what does it all mean? Elite schools are elite and they serve the children of the socio-economic elite – based on a certain social norm. Attending an elite school does not make you elite. If you want to be that form of elite you have to mold yourself accordingly. Attending an elite school can open doors if you use the opportunity strategically.

Which is why . . .

Harvard isn’t for everybody. No one needs Harvard to have a great career and a fulfilling life. You have access to the same content – perhaps not as neatly packaged – freely available. But if you want to be on a particular path and 75% of the people on that path went to Harvard, you need to learn what they learned and begin to operate the way they operate so you can join their ranks. It all depends on the path you choose.

Once you choose a path, learn the game at play.

 

**For those who would shout that Harvard isn’t important, etc. Fine. Sure. Of course. I don’t think Boxing is a particularly interesting sport. But if I wanted to become a World Champion Boxer, I’d better learn how to land punches, take hits, and manage aggressive promo staff. My objective is to get you to consider what the game you are getting into really is, so you can play it well.

***And the more your family emphasizes fair play and middle class American values, the less likely you are to consider alternative routes – at least the first time on the track.

Career Development 2015

I’m excited to bring the Career Development course to my Millennial students starting Feb 2015. The course is a blend of practical advising, passion building, and tactical implementation.

It will be 2 hours (8-10p EST) on Wednesday nights for 3 weeks.  Breaks down like this:

Session 1: Things you need to understand about magical you – and answers the “Why don’t I know this stuff already.”

Session 2: Dig Deep, let’s find out what really sparks your fire so you can go for it. “Stop chasing jobs; build a career”

Session 3: Put it in motion – tactical tips (such as clever use of LinkedIn) for how to take your next steps and put this in motion.

It’s three live webinars with phone support and homework. By the end of the three weeks you should have a good idea of what career to pursue and what you need to do next to make that dream a reality. And you don’t have to leave your couch to participate!

This course includes the essential elements of what my business school application candidates walk through on the way to writing killer applications. I think it makes for stronger candidates and the bschools seem to agree**!

Friends and Family get an extra cool offer BEFORE Feb 3 – a private consulting session with me, gratis! This is only good through Feb 3 so if you click the link and there’s no page, too late.

Excited about building a career you’re passionate about?

http://www.prepwise.com/career-development-course/ffcareer/

Let’s make 2015 your best year yet! -Kate

(**97.8% admitted to their #1 MBA program)


Be Exponentially Better, Not Incrementally

It’s Easier To Make Something 10 Times Better Than To Make Something 10% Better

– Astro Teller, head of Google X
The size of the goal helps to determine the outcome.My students who struggle the most start 30-60 points away from their target score. It seems so close. But the brutal truth is that most won’t make it. In the hordes of students I watched go through the GMAT prep process while at MGMAT, it the students in the mid 600s who were least likely to be successful on their own.

It wasn’t that they had tapped out of intellectual power. It wasn’t even that admissions tests are too tricky to navigate. If that were the case my 470/480 students wouldn’t regularly land at 720.

So how is it a student in the bottom 30th percentile can rise to the 95th percentile, but the 85th percentile student rarely does?

Expected effort.

If you think you’re close to your target, you back off. You almost can’t imagine you won’t make it so you do the toil the way you’ve done in the past. After all, you’re only 30, 40 points away. “It was probably just 1-2 more questions right.”

Hmm, no, probably not.

Failing that close the the finish line is often tied to poor processing and high intellect. In other words smart pants, you are very capable intellectually, but you actually stink at problem solving. You didn’t really focus on critical thinking growing up. You focused on getting good grades. That A+ you landed in Calculus was from rote machine learning. You didn’t really understand, you endured, and now you can’t be creative with problem paths because you don’t have the flexibility. Worse . . . you think you are great at problem solving because you earned decent grades all along or you’re teachers told you were smart if you’d bother to do the homework – so now you’re stubborn (and possibly arrogant).

Students ridiculously, hopelessly far from their goals are more likely to rise to the challenge when presented with the right tools. This is my experience. And it’s backed by science.

According to Shane Snow, best selling author of Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success, research shows when you set bolder, more audacious goals you work harder than when you’re reasonable.

Subconsciously, we actually push ourselves harder when we’re going after bigger, loftier, harder goals. Research shows people who set higher goals end up outperforming their peers or themselves because they push themselves harder or because they force themselves to find more creative, alternative, unconventional solutions to problems.

When you have a bold goal, you behave differently. You prioritize different activities. You accept the wisdom of outsiders and most importantly, you experiment. You open yourself up for the opportunity to learn in new/different/unexpected ways.

Who wants a few points better, aim for ridiculously great. Get all the best out of you! Someone else can whine about that 30 points today.

Thanks to Eric Barker for the inspiration for this post. He’s got a great newsletter, check him out.

Image courtesy of Robin Benad

 

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! 2010 may be winding down, but hopefully your business is ramping up. Many wishes for a profitable and productive 2011,

Kate

Rockefeller Tree 2010

Pushing our Bottoms

Falling and Failing by pushing our bottom third into teaching.

According to McKinsey and Co., Finland, Singapore and South Korea have 100% of their incoming teachers coming from the top 1/3 of their college classes. The US . . . has a dismal 23%. Over 47% of our teachers graduate in the bottom third of their class. Worse still, of science and math teachers, few of US public school teachers have a degree in the area they teach.

What’s the difference between our international counterparts and the US? Pay, yes, but actual dollar to dollar comparison and standard of living adjustments reveal that the gap isn’t really that big.

The difference may be in the professional perception. Turns out those who graduate in the top third would like to work in professional environments where they can be rewarded for their efforts, primarily professionally. The gold star effect. You earn a gold star, others around you are also striving to earn gold stars and viola, bright, capable people flock to other bright, capable people.

If you work in a public school system in the US you have additional degrees required by the local and national unions to satisfy pay grade levels. That sounds admirable until you see the quality of degrees that qualify as “enough” to reach the next pay grade. You have seniority based on time, not results, you have contrast in the level of those who would teach and those who do teach. Despite “effort” by the state of Texas to attract more math and science teachers, several school districts have cut back on elementary school science classes. These classes are paramount to encouraging enthusiasm for science.

Why the cut? They “can’t find the talent.” Do you believe that? I attempted to volunteer to teach a math class in one such school and was turned down because I do not have the necessary qualifications . . . and I am not a member of the teacher’s union – nor am I interested in joining. For better or worse, that pushed me to teaching math for a private company who pays me 8 times what a school system could. But then again, I was offering my services as a volunteer.

If we are so desperate for quality math and science instruction, why in the world are we turning down highly qualified talent?

Imagine running a business this way. Would you hire consultants for your business who on average graduate in the bottom quarter of their college classes as our public school teachers do?

Why do we bother to offer public education? Are we really better off as a society offering a pretend education that leaves the student soft from sitting in chairs for 13 years? What is the objective? If we wouldn’t run a business without a stated objective, why are we running our schools that way? For all the ridicule No Child Left Behind has received, at least it states some objectives.

As tax payers, we are shareholders in our school systems. Why aren’t we demanding annual reports? Many of us will “invest” more in our local schools this year (through taxes, gift wrap and bake sales) than in our 401k. Yet which investment will garner more of our attention?

The potential for excellent public education still exists and there are many fantastic teachers in the system. But the system itself is sick. We need to allow businesses to take over and turn around our school systems. Without a financial incentive to do so, we will keep plowing resources into a losing asset at the cost of our children.

Unfortunately, while the education system presents a much bigger challenge than a failing General Motors, the consequences are less immediate, and most of us will just hope it gets better. If you could buy out the amalgamated American school system, what would you do to turn it around?

Image courtesy of Steve Snodgrass

This Day in History – When the French Were Strong

Standard French Flag during American RevolutionOctober 19, 1781 the British surrender to George Washington at Yorktown.

Apparently General Cornwallis of the Brits did not feel well that day . . . no kidding, losing to a scrappy colony that couldn’t even dress its troops . . . so instead General O’Hara officially surrendered for the British. But even O’Hara couldn’t stomach the notion of surrendering to Washington and instead attempted to surrender to Count Rochambeau, Washington’s French counterpart. Rochambeau was kind enough to direct O’Hara to Washington’s subordinate, General Lincoln. Snub for a snub.

The French were pivotal in forcing Cornwallis’ hand. Their navy flushed out the British navy in the region leaving Cornwallis no support and no way out.

So Viva La France! John Trumball’s depiction of the surrender hangs in the Rotunda as it has since 1820.

Students and Self Esteem

This is the abbreviated version of a Saturday Night Live skit (Basement Karate – Bryan Cranston). What was so striking was the little boy’s reaction to getting shellacked by his old man. I have heard some of the exact same phrases out of my GMAT students….

I know, I know, I shouldn’t laugh . . . but the lines the kid gives at the very end . . . about his performance . . . priceless.

We have all sorts of words for talking about processing events and justifying self esteem. When are we done Competitionprocessing and ready to move forward? How do you balance reflection with action? But more importantly, can we admit when we absolutely stink at something?

It seems difficult to improve if you look at what you just did and can declare that you did everything well. If you did, why did you get your butt kicked? Is there ever a chance that the world will be “fair?”
Is it “fair” that your competition signed your former client at 75% of your price? No. But yes too…. Without that tension, you wouldn’t bother innovating. You wouldn’t bother getting up early, cranking out new products and services, you just wouldn’t bother. And that’s what great about America. If you do bother, you have a chance (in most industries) to out-maneuver your competition. You have a chance to create something of value for yourself, your family, and your community.

So, the world isn’t fair, and you don’t always have an answer for the punch-in-the-face. Surprisingly enough, that’s what’s so great about this big ride.

IBM and Canada – Bad Food or Bad Numbers?

IBM recently launched an ad campaign highlighting their work on education, crime prevention and food poisoning reduction . . . okay, really, the interlocking theme is Outcomes for a smarter planet. But they demonstrate those outcomes in the fields of education, food safety and crime prevention among other areas.

The graphics are cute, it’s the statistics that scare the living daylights out of me.

This ad shares that “IBM is helping Manitoba tackle Canada’s 13 million cases of food poisoning every year by tracking the freshness of meat.” Seriously, 13 million cases of food poisoning . . . I don’t think Manitoba has 13 million people.

Nope, nowhere near 13 million. Surely they don’t mean to state that each resident of Moanitoba experiences 13 bouts of food poisoning a year, or roughly 1 a month with an extra in July at a poorly planned BBQ, so I re-read the figure…. Oh, 13 million cases in CANADA. Apologies to my friends up north, but are there 13 million people in Canada?

Okay, so Canada does have more than 13 million people, but how are you feeling about a steak in Canada? On average, you are expected to get food poisoning at least every two and a half years. That’s not counting boozing up with your buddies and feeling the ill effects the next day. This concerns a preventable condition when some nasty bacteria/virus or assorted other critter ends up in your tummy.

This brings up all sorts of other questions. Given the fairly frozen nature of Canada, how are they having such trouble with meat spoiling? We’re roasting at 110 degrees and we manage to get meat to market in Texas. We’re not talking about Thailand with a devalued Baht and limited refrigeration. It’s Canada – supposedly the example of exceptional health care and pensions. One has to wonder . . . is this how they manage their population?

At the very least Team Canada might want to request that IBM remove that stat from these posters rolling out across the internet. It’s a shocking figure that upon further research is even more shocking. I moved to China for the Summer of SARS and ate off of street carts, but I’m not sure I would have a steak in Montreal.

How do you feel about Canadian meat?

What is Talent

The most obvious expression of talent is that which is shown externally. A fast athlete,the top of the class, MacArthur grants . . . some talent is innate, the rest is cultivated. Can we do better cultivating the good stuff? That might depend – what is our definition of the good stuff?

We fixate on the stories of someone with extraordinary talent who never quite gets it done, perhaps because substance abuse interferes, or of someone who didn’t look like much in high school only to run a very successful company years later. Sure, those are the tail end of the bell curve, easy to get the imagination going.

But more important to actual talent is knowing when to say when, knowing when to quit. A huge part of encouraging talent is actually stopping less talent-worthy activities. It may be obvious that you stop skiing after the 5th major fall. For some that is the decision point of yes, I can be a world class skier, but for most of us, that will be the time to put away the skis. If you are one of the ones who would put the skis away eventually, why not do it earlier?

In other words, if you are ultimately going to quit, why not quit sooner? Quitting sooner allows you to spend the energy that would have been slushing the slopes on other activities, perhaps activities at which you can excel. Activities you won’t quit.

This idea of quitting what you can’t do well in order to focus on what you can came to mind as I watch Blockbuster Inc. shuffle itself into Bankruptcy. Blockbuster has had a rough few years, but it wasn’t because the economy sunk. If anything, more people are renting movies and staying home. And, no, it wasn’t because Netflix is bigger, or has been around longer….

It never had to be about beating Netflix. It could have been about changing the game. Blockbuster had a tremendous opportunity to utilize something Netflix doesn’t have. Space. Physical space. Space where people can rub noses and bump iPhones. As it turns out those under 27 are so plugged in, and have been their entire lives, that they go out to plug in. My grandmother cannot understand why at a table full of college students, all of the students are on the phone talking to someone not at the table. These folks are so plugged in that they actually seek public places to plug in in order to feel connected, because being on the phone is no longer enough to feel connected.

To those over 35, it’s just rude and ridiculous. But ask someone under 27 why he is on the phone when he is at a table with 3 other people, and he won’t even understand the question. Wild, yes? Game changer, certainly.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda, Blockbuster still has a chance to to turn this around, but after reading their 10-k I am even more discouraged by the prospects. The 10-k focuses on “video rental distribution” as though that is the business model. They should quit referring to their business as video distribution. They have to spend a page discussing the effect of Piracy on the bottom line – in other words, they’re busy counting pennies instead of creating dollars.

They provide entertainment. Access to imagination.

Too bad they seem so stuck in neutral. It’s as though they are just waiting for someone to tell them what to do…. The Blockbuster I watched growing up was more of a data driven company. They were effectively pioneers are geo-targeting. They had databases that connected local potential customers and their tastes to the local store. So some stores carried 5 copies of Die Hard and other stores carried 50 copies. This may seem obvious now, but it wasn’t as obvious or as easy to execute successfully in the late 1980s.

I spent a few blog posts creating potential action items for Blockbuster on our corporate site under Blockbuster Bankruptcy. Please add your thoughts.

Instead of focusing on what Blockbuster can do with excellence, they are playing catch up in game they don’t even want to admit they are playing. I had occasion to chat with Jim Keyes 2 years ago. He is a nice guy and a smart man. We talked more about real estate and less about providing obscure video selections (the perceived Netflix model – not quite right, but …). So why are they pretending to chase Netflix when they could be crushing it with a different concept?

What do you think Blockbuster should do to turn itself around?

As a side note: Carl Ichan left the Board of Blockbuster this spring before they were delisted at NYSE (ouch!). How many of the companies on which he sits as a Board member are successful? I’m asking. If you happen to know, I’d be mighty obliged.

Education Career

I get the darnedest things by email. Today I received an email offering MBA-oriented positions within the Education sector. This is a real group with real reach so if you are interested in impacting public education, you may want to chat with Chaka Booker. The focus of the Broad Residency is to place those with business knowledge and experience in influential roles within the education industry. If you think about it, some of our largest school districts have budgets comparable to Fortune 500 companies. And who is running them? What follows are excerpts from her email.

The Broad Residency in Urban Education is focused on improving public education in the U.S. by placing business professionals into high-impact management positions in the education industry.  Many of the Topparticipants come from top graduate schools (UCLA, UNC, Darden, etc).  Although still focused on placing business professionals into districts and charter organizations, we recently started also placing into federal and state departments of education.

The Broad Residency in Urban Education is a leadership development program that immediately puts participants in full-time paid managerial positions at the top levels of school districts, charter management organizations (CMOs), and federal/state departments of education across the nation.  Broad Residents assume highly visible roles reporting to superintendents, COOs or top cabinet members and earn starting salaries of $85,000 to $95,000 with full benefits.

They lead major projects that require superb analytical skills and the ability to manage projects and teams.  Working within the system, participants are well-positioned to lead the transformation required to ensure that every American child receives a world-class education.  A sampling of Broad Residents’ accomplishments include:

  • Designed principal vacancy forecasting model in Chicago which predicted vacancies with 97% accuracy
  • Reduced district deficit by $3.2 million by increasing operational efficiencies
  • Developed online system that doubled applications to Pittsburgh’s magnet schools

Send Chaka Booker a note if you are interested: cb (at) broadcenter (dot) org

For those of you too young to consider these roles, consider checking out the organization of fellow HPHS alum, Wendy Kopp: Teach For America.

Image courtesy of Les Roches International

More Math Education, Less Self Esteem Training

 

Finances.

If you’ve ever struggled with your tax return, wondered how interest rates could stay so low, or tried to explain why raising taxes on employers is actually not conducive to job creation….

We need solid math education now more than ever. We are no longer an agrarian nation yet we teach math like we are.

Thirty years ago an ARM was attached to your body. Now it is attached to your credit report. An adjustable rate mortgage is not evil, but it is now maligned as so many folks feel like they have lost their homes to the ARM. In reality they lost their homes to poor judgment of risk. It’s kind of like building a house on sand, in a hurricane zone….

Smart or Foolish?

Which really brings us to a question of risk.

How risky is that (your idea goes here)?

Imagine for a moment that a stock you like has a 90% chance it will rise by 20%, and a 10% chance that it will fall to zero over the next year. Our current models for risk imply that there is a certain probability that an event will occur. So, we price the total cost of an investment based on those factors. So if you can buy at $10/share today, you can sell at $12/share or you lose the investment completely in one year.

The most straightforward approach is to price the total investment based on the proposed outcome proportion. To simplify, either the market rises 20% or it falls to zero.

$12*(90%) + $0*(10%) = $10.80

Since the $10.80 is above your purchase price, you are in the money and the investment looks good. But what did we really just do? We assumed that each dollar invested had equal probability and opportunity to earn that 20%. In effect, we implied that one share could gain 20% and one share could lose 100%. But that’s not really true. If one share gains 20%, all shares gain 20%. If one share loses 100%, all of the shares drop to zero. So, in reality, you either get $12/share or you get nothing. There is no $10.80. Average doesn’t actually exist. It is a construct.

MathWe averaged all of the shares to simplify our decision, but we didn’t account for the actual risk. So we missed the point.

This isn’t a question about modeling stock prices and returns – there are certainly more elaborate methods to model prices – it’s simply to illustrate our tendency to dumb down the basic math and therefore the real risk of various proposals, because, most of us don’t really have the tools to understand the math.

Indeed the more I teach, the more I see, most of us don’t have the tools to balance our checkbooks. A few months ago I had a student tell me that he went to a school (NYC) that operated much like a Montessori – he was able to discover math at his own rate….

Well, he’s 25 now, a graduate of a very prestigious college, well employed, and he genuinely does not understand the purpose and function of fractions. Sure, he recognizes them when written out, but ask him to perform operations with fractions or to interpret a word problem, and he is two steps away from toast. Here’s the killer, he believes he is good at math because his teachers told him he was smart.

Sadly, this is nowhere near an isolated incident.

So, he has great self esteem, but he can’t calculate his mortgage payment on his own. As a consequence, we have ever more elaborate financial products rolling off the line and fewer and fewer people equipped to understand them. This is what leads to catastrophic failure – of banking systems and of entire economies.

We need more math education and less self esteem training. You bomb your multiplication tables, guess what, no gold star for you. Get back to the drawing board. You need those multiplication tables. As a society we cannot afford to both PAY for public education AND ignore the lack of results of that education.

No Child Left Behind gets a lot of grief in teaching circles, but the fact remains, we have a HUGE gap between those who understand math and those who can’t function in an increasing complex society. Which costs us more, under-educating the average population who then make catastrophic miscalculations or creating a super class of teachers and testing students on performance?

If we were just farmers growing crops and bringing them to market, we might be okay. But we offer the average high school grad an adjustable rate mortgage and a 401k. Perhaps it would be good idea to equip them with the tools to understand the consequences of their choices, never mind the innovation curve….

August 2010 – Meeting Mom

This month’s Date with Kate was in New Orleans with Chris Ochs, a reader and friend from Denver, CO. Knowing my weakness for football and really, sporting events in general, Chris offered a trip to the Big Easy to watch the Saints take on the Chargers (San Diego for those not in the know).

Turns out Chris is a football stat machine and Drew Brees was the best gift the Chargers could give a beleaguered New Orleans in 2006. For those fans of my dear Texas, Drew was born in Dallas and threw for Westlake in Austin.

The Charger and Saints Drew Brees twins hit Bourbon Street post game
36-21 Saints victory

The fans of New Orleans were gracious hosts. By far, my best trip to New Orleans. The ladies were decked out in black and gold. And in true NO tradition, masks, feathers and shenanigans everywhere.

New Orleans downtown area looks as it did the last time I visited, August 2004 for Natalie’s wedding. It’s hard to believe the town was ravaged by Katrina 5 years ago. The Superdome looks just like it did when I last attended a Sugar Bowl . . . in 1999. (Come on Ags, let’s get on that!) Like, literally, same paint. Same pizza. But, I digress.

Mother’s is still packed. Yes, folks still line up – even in rain storms. I braved the humidity to enjoy the oyster poboy. Delicious. Worth getting soaked for the fried oysters and slaw. Mmmmmm. Did I mention delicious? Delicious.

Now, you may notice that I am wearing a Chargers jersey . . .

Chris is uber Charger fan so he brought 3. Or 4. I forget. One was almost my size so I grabbed it for the evening. Smallest jersey available, of course it is the kicker’s! So, I had the honor of wearing Mike Scifres jersey for the evening.

But that is not all, no that is not all . . .

Who do you expect to meet when wearing a player’s jersey?

How about his MOM.

Yeah, no kidding!

Mom and her two girlfriends had noticed the jersey from their seats and just had to come meet us so they grabbed me while unattended.

So I’m standing in front of the (offending) pizza joint in the stadium contemplating beer or no beer (beer) and two women walk up to me and ask me how I know Mike. I stare at them blankly having no idea why they are asking me about a Mike. In my defense, I do have a brother Mike, Uncle Mike and lots of Mike friends. However, given the context, um, duh.

“Mike Scifres,” they reply, followed with, “This is his Mom.” At this point I attempt to explain that I am wearing my friend Chris’ jersey and point at Chris buying a pretzel – frantically waving at him to get over here so he can sweet talk the lovely ladies.

Chris saves the day by rattling off all sorts of Scifres stats. Turns out Scifres grew up in New Orleans, played at Western Illinois, and just got married this summer. I stand there and hope my boots distract them from my lack of information about the man behind the jersey.

Gentlemen, this is a lesson for you. If your female friend is walking the stadium in a jersey, give her a fact sheet before she wanders off unattended. Please.

New Orleans, Date with Kate August 2010, good times had by all.

It’s all in the NUMBers – Insurance 101

Have you ever tried to figure out your health insurance benefits?

InsuranceWhat a confounding experience. I spent a little time today reviewing my coverage. As much as I’d like to claim it’s because I’m that organized, but really it’s just because my part time employer recently made benefits available to us. So, why not take a look at my coverage and options.

Health Insurance is not my bailiwick, but a person with reasonable education should be able to figure out her own insurance costs and benefits. Yes?

If you treat the total payout for this policy as full use of resources and the total cost as monthly premium + copays, you get a decent reflection for apples-to-apple comparison with other policies. It ain’t perfect, but it works. Since this policy caps the payout annually, it’s easy to calculate as the Maximum Benefit – assume full use of maximum benefit. The Cost is set in stone through bi-weekly withdrawals – so that too is blissfully easy to calculate.

Here’s how the numbers break down:

My Maximum Benefit My Minimum
Cost
NET
Medical Option 1 $1,050 $868 $182
Medical Option 2 $1,250 $1,388 ($138)

So . . . how’s that option 2 looking? Just because a plan is offered, does not mean it makes sense. This is an actual apples-to-apples for these two plans, same provider, same stuff. Remarkable. Keep in mind, once I hit the Total Benefit mark, the plan is 100% out of pocket for me, so this is only an in-between type plan to cover those of us who elect to have a high deductible plan.

Aetna, thanks but no thanks.

Even though the NPV of plan 1 is positive on a cash basis, adjusted for hassle factor, it rolls negative pretty quickly. I look at it this way, I’ll need to spend 2-3 hours a year (at least) dealing with the paperwork, submitting receipts, and assorted shenanigans. Is my time worth more than the $182/3 hours, or roughly $60 an hour? Without a doubt.

Insurance CheckupAs a healthy person, I can get away with less . . . that’s part of the reason I make certain choices . . . to keep my health care costs down. When business was down for a bit I did just fine, not optimally, but just fine, on a cash-to-provider plan. The plan consisted of me paying my provider directly for services rendered. Annual cost for medical and dental was under $500. But the threat of idiots running red lights and slamming into me and my family is enough to keep me renewing the high deductible plan for “just in case” situations. So, I’m still on that cash-to-provider plan and have a safety net if needed.

Turns out doctors really appreciate the no nonsense approach too. Two out of three of my annual providers now no longer file insurance forms for clients. You pay cash at the door. Why should a doctor spend his or her time shuffling through insurance mandates? Which would you rather have a doctor who has time and attention for you or a doctor who file insurance forms?

Image courtesy of 401(K) 2012

The Real Robin Hood

Would the real Robin Hood please stand up?

“If you don’t stop levying these evil taxes, I will lead the people of England in a revolt against you!” -Robin, Men in Tights, 1993

Mel Brooks made a mildly popular movie to skewer the story of Robin in 1993 – if you love puns, you will enjoy Men in Tights. Remarkably, the sentiment of the Men in Tights Robin is that of many business owners.

RobinThe popular current version of the Robin Hood story states that Robin steals from the rich and gives to the poor, making Robin the scourge of barons everywhere. We were so indoctrinated in Texas that we even named an unfortunate school program the Robin Hood program. The Texas Robin Hood program took tax receipts from the “rich” school districts and redistributed those proceeds to “poor” districts. Never mind that the state took a 40% processing fee to handle the money . . . and never mind that the overall quality of education demonstrated a decline (attributable to the policy) in both the supposedly rich and poor schools….

But never mind all that, we were abusing the story! Did you know, Robin Hood probably did not steal, but definitely resisted his local law?

In the August-September issue of Reason, Cathy Young clarifies the story the story of Robin Hood and explains that indeed, Robin Hood was about reducing the burdens of government, not income redistribution. Robin’s original story was one of civil disobedience. He fought the forces of corrupt government. In some versions of the early Robin Hood, he suggests that the local Lord – I’m not making this up – reduce the Tax Burden so the farmers and local townspeople can revive weak industries.

Robin Hood“The one person Robin assists financially is a knight who is about to lose his lands . . . ”

Robin is an outlaw for freedom, not redistribution. So sing the praises of Robin Hood to your kids, but emphasize the message of freedom from oppression, particularly the governmental kind.

Image courtesy of Robin Hood

Obama’s Fiscal Priorities are Skewed

Blinder’s Blinders lead to National Blunders, or Obama versus King Solomon . . .

So here’s a question for you:

Is it better to give 50,000 people $1 or give one employee a $50,000 job that allows him to contribute to a growing company?

Increasing the tax burden on small employers to increase the unemployment benefit keeps us from creating an actual job for a flesh and blood human.  This is a bit of a hot topic as the Obama administration is promoting their Tax dollars“we know better than you do” economic policies with a heavy PR blitz. As part of the blitz, Alan Blinder published on the Wall Street Journal Opinion page, “Obama’s Fiscal Priorities Are Right,” July 19. There is one item on which I can agree with Mr. Blinder, “Finding the right level  of unemployment insurance . . . (is) a tricky calculation.” We diverge based on his faulty assumptions, namely the idea that ending the Bush tax cuts will simply reduce top-level consumer spending, but that lower level spending will more than make up for the loss at the top.

Unemployment benefits are a gift, not stimulus. We fund the insurance to help folks get back on their feet. We offer gifts out of compassion. Never mind the slippery slope to legislating compassion, the administration is now telling you to give more to people you don’t know than to those you do (by way of government agency – angry yet?).

Blinder’s main problem rests in his version of spending a dollar. One dollar to a hungry person is $1 spent on food. The net expansion for our economy is zero. One dollar out, one dollar back in.

One dollar to a comfortable person is perhaps $0.80 spent on food and $0.20 saved in a bank who can reinvest at a 5% return, net economic expansion $0.21 with a compounding effect over 5 years of $1.16. One dollar to a business owner who feels safe investing is $1 invested in production, which is expected to generate some minimum return, say 10%. So the business owner gets $1.10 back from the $1. And then she reinvests the $1.10 . . . net economy expansion, $6.71 in 5 cycles.

It isn’t the consumer spending we should be worried about, but rather the amount of money these upper-middleStimulusclass earners pump back into their small businesses. Of those earning more than $200,000/year, roughly 2% of the population who pay almost 44% of the taxes, the IRS states (2007) that 1.4 million participate in S-corp and Partnerships, reporting an average of $317,000 per return. Sole proprietorship and small C-corp are included in the larger group of 3.8 million who report an average of $309,000. As a business owner you can generate more by reinvesting, and so we do, until we feel that we can’t get anything else out of reinvesting.

Real jobs to real people or just more dollars into the tax bin?

Of all the points he mixes together, Mr. Blinder comments that extending unemployment benefits will be a net job creator. Fascinatingly, he is a professor of Economics. He even admits, “Economics research suggests they are right,” referring to those who suggest extending benefits will increase unemployment. Yet, he stands by the administration’s idea that this will be a job creator. How?

My mom told me many years ago, “Sometimes the best thing a boss can do, is not say no.” The heaping regulation and painful taxing regime is tantamount to a big NO from the US Government when we want to grow.

Extending the unemployment benefits is cash out of our pockets to divide among those who get neither enough to create their own opportunities, nor enough to actually live. The Judgment of King Solomon comes to mind, Obama’s policy is effectively cutting the child to divide between the mothers….

Other items you may enjoy:
FORBES and the Forgotten Employer

City of Oakland is bad at Math – this gem explains how many police officers are being laid off to support the Oakland City budget. Here’s a great idea for advertising your city . . . Grand Theft is no longer illegal in Oakland, Criminals Play for Free.

If you want to look at the data the IRS collects – loads of tables, crank up excel and have a good time.

Image courtesy of Gene Tew

Laffer’s Laughing

Arthur Laffer recently offered his thoughts on the Unemployment Benefits in the Wall Street Journal opinion pages…. What kept coming to mind is, how are we even having this conversation? And by conversation I mean, how can we look at the empirical evidence concerning unemployment benefits and still somehow draw the conclusion that extending them will be a good idea?

How is giving more cash to an unemployed person going to stimulate the economy? Is the unemployed person creating wealth? How about jobs? No?

No Kidding.

Indeed, if you are unemployed you are either searching for an opportunity or you have given up. In each case, the extra funds would go toward putting food on the table, not stimulating the economy – to compound the negative effect, the buyer would be spending less on food than if employed. In essence,

band-aid = unemployment benefits

This is not an argument against band-aids, but you wouldn’t put one over a broken leg. Why not stimulate the economy instead?

Laffer puts forth a tax holiday – all taxes – on hold – 18 months….

How does this compare? Turns out the tax receipts for 18 months, corporate, private, individual sum to the $3.6Billion that has so far been spent on “stimulating” the economy with unemployment benefits.

Mathematically let’s compare:

Band-Aids1. Tax holiday – The IRS requires quarterly payments and they’re rather fussy about getting it in cash. A small business paying 30% on corporate taxes now has an extra $450,000 in cash for every $1Million in annual profits over 18 months. That’s enough to replace the roof over the server room, thereby hiring roofers, have plenty left over to add 2 full time mid-level staff so they can bid on larger projects and expand the firm, and possibly give the employees a nice bonus. Statistically, small and local business owners give back when they can. They just need the cash to do so….

Versus

2. Extend unemployment benefits – Each family receives a nominal amount more. As studies from Washington’s last stimulus package demonstrate, American families aren’t as lazy/dumb as some might portray – the families spend what they must and save what they can. Yes, save. In interviews they express gratitude for the help, but in many cases would simply rather get back to work. They feel a little bit better for a little bit longer.

Is a little bit better for a little bit longer good enough?

Pushing the idea of extending benefits demonstrates a failure to understand the logic as well as the simple mathematics. In scenario 2, unemployed families get a little bit more. But, at the expense of the roofer, 2 mid-level staff and staff bonuses in scenario 1. The business owner continues to pay taxes and will not have the cash to do the extra activities. No stimulus.

No matter how much you hurt today, hurting tomorrow is ten times more painful. If you want to get back to work, you want to find a boss who has the authority and incentive to hire you . . . and the cash.
Photo Attribution: LarimdaME

Happy 4th of July!

The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. There is no better birthday than to celebrate the continued life of what was conceived as a great experiment 234 years ago. We’ve come a long way in 234 years….

A quick refresher of the opening preamble of the Constitution of the United States:

We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

4th of JulySome Amendments we hear about daily – at least in Texas – right the bear arms, freedom of speech, but what about some lesser known amendments to spice up your conversation today . . .

10th Amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United Statesby the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

16th Amendment:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on income, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

Nothing beats our Declaration of Independence for stirring sentiments.

WHEN in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to Separation.

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of the Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect thier Safety and Happiness.

That is one long, meaty sentence. For my GMAT students, imagine seeing that one underlined…. Notice the parallel structure.

Enjoy!

Remember, we created this country and it is up to us to keep it alive and well. It is a choice we make each day.

Image courtesy of Matthew Straubmuller

Frenchonomics

I can’t even make this up . . .

Students in France are protesting again. A few years ago they protested AGAINST lowering the bar for employers to be able to hire students. Employers wanted to be able to pay less experienced people a lower rate. The minimum benefits an employer has to set aside for each employee makes taking on a student worker a very expensive option.

SeriouslySo instead of entering the workforce, students stay in school. Or they travel. Or maybe they munch on baguettes in cafes. The average age of a university trained student entering the workforce has shifted. Many are now 27 when they enter the workforce for the first time. Now they’re upset that the age to receive a full pension is moving from 60 . . . to 62.

Let’s do the math. Enter the workforce at 27. Retire at 60. The average lifespan is 81.52. So that’s 81.52 years of living, 33 years of working. Or in other terms, 27 years of “education,” 33 years of work, 21 years of loafing, making work 40% of the lifespan. Now let’s factor in the hours. Keep in mind, the French work 35 hours a week, 45 weeks/year for a total of 1575 hours/year.  So total portion of a French life spent toiling: 7.28%. With the additional 2 years of work, that bumps to 7.7%.

In all fairness, they are supposed to contribute to the pension for 42 years before receiving payments in full. That bumps the toil factor to 9.2%. One way to look at this is that they  have agreed to take care of each other for 91% of their lives. The other way to look at it is that they expect to generate an internal rate of return of 980% on each person. So the hurdle rate for making babies in France is 980%.

How likely is that as an investment scenario?

For more on students protesting the retirement age: Frenchonomics.

Image courtesy of Frog and Onion

Cost of Education

Friday night my little sisters graduated from high school. Come Fall they are off to college. What better time to reflect on the changing values of a college education. Does it make sense to go to the best school you get into? Is it worth $100k, $200k in debt?

100000It seems to depend on what we expect to get out of the education.

1. If you just want to get a good liberal arts education so you can be witty conversation at cocktail parties, there are several low cost and no cost alternatives to a proper college. Do you really need to be signed up for Lit 201 to read Beowulf?

You’ll need a copy of the book, the online forum full of medievalists and a few discussion partners to really understand the significance that Beowulf plays in the great context of literature.That would take getting organized, but identifying what you want and going after it are two very useful skills.

Or you could watch any of the Foundations of Western Culture Classes at MIT . . . for free. So there’s really no excuse, if you want access to the best minds, this is a mighty fine start.

2. Perhaps you consider college preparation for the working world. That is perfectly reasonable, but let’s review….

Is there a causal relationship between wage rate and level of education? Is there a relationship between COST of that education and the wage rate? Seth Godin put together a chart comparing the relative, relevant cost increases. I added the aggregate wage data.

If the cost of education was a relatively small percent of the budget, then a 10-fold increase might not be that important. But the cost of education has been and continues to be a stumbling block for many families. Are we really getting the value out of it or is it a luxury item?

If you are preparing for a specific field: engineering, medicine, or any other field where you need access to equipment not likely to be found at Home Depot, then you must get thee to a University. But how is this different from a Vocational school?

3. Or do we really go to college simply because it is socially expected? Can we be honest enough to admit that? It isn’t bad to do things that are socially expected – we stop at stop signs (for those of us outside of Boston), but we shield college under the guise of higher education when in reality most schools require students to sit through junky, giant classes taught by disinterested Teaching Assistants. Star faculty are absent or inaccessible. Students will take multiple choice tests where only one answer is correct.

Where is the HIGHER in this form of education. On the whole schools are teaching average students average material and then handing them an average piece of paper that will not change the job prospects, nor the level of enlightenment.

We would benefit more as a society to teach our kids tolerance for ambiguity.

At no point is there just one option. It is challenging to authentically look at the purpose of our actions.

-All that being said, Kelly and Victoria are off to college in the Fall and I’m mighty proud of them. 🙂 Kate

Yet, all of these require a child to be independent and self motivated . . . isn’t that what we really want for our kids?

Image courtesy of Tax Credits

Can you win in Teal?

So it is official. The Philly Flyers will play the Chicago Blackhawks for the Stanley Cup. Montreal, the third “Original ChampionsSix” in the conference finals was axed by the Flyers tonight.

Wow.

Montreal has a losing streak a mile long (last won the cup in 1986, quarter century itch?). . . but guess who’s streak is deeper….

San Jose Sharks

The Blackhawks ended the Stanley Cup dreams for the Sharks and I hate (not really – I mean, it IS the Sharks) to say it, but I told you so. If you saw the Sports Stat of the Week articles in August and September, you may remember that the Sharks have a penchant for penalty minutes, but no guts in the playoffs. So despite post season runs, the Sharks haven’t grabbed the Cup. Something has to give in San Jose if they want to see some Cup love.

Notice this photo . . . with 4 goons in the penalty box . . . that’s my blackberry camera capturing what San Jose does best: hooking, tripping, and other hockey shenanigans. That’s also however, Tony, with a rolled up program about to smack the side of the box. Good times, good times. We missed Tony this year.

Could it be that San Jose out-muscles the competition all year long but then runs out of steam? They regularly dominate the league, but they’re missing the finesse (?) to win the ultimate prize.How do you go from a 50+ win season, multiple seasons, and NOT get it done in the playoffs?

Perhaps they don’t want to win the prize. It is after all a California-based team. They do things differently out there. Fruits and nuts and all….

I’ll leave that for the sports writers to discuss amongst themselves, because who really cares? This team just can’t get it done. Maybe it really is the Teal jerseys.

Unless you can maximize profits by “almost” winning the Cup, why not just dig in and get it done.

Start at the Beginning

As students struggle to determine how to invest their time wisely, one question dominates the conversation.

Do I make incremental improvement or do I start from the beginning?

In proper CYA fashion, it depends . . .

Starting OverBut what it depends upon may surprise you.Continue Reading

Consenting Adults Part 2

 

So how is the Federal Government going to save me from myself today?

Back to the topic of interns . . . which can mean SO many different things depending on the administration…. For the Obama administration it means legislation. In particular, enforcement of legislation against unpaid internships. Never mind that the Obama political campaign is requesting UNPAID Interns right this moment.

InternshipsSpeaking of coincidence, you may want to see Atlas Shrugs on this one…. Included is the reading list for the Winter Interns. Seriously, check it out.

Back to the topic at hand, Interns.

Last week I spurred a private discussion by asking what an Unskilled, Unemployed person is to ask of others if he/she wants to break into a new field.

If you are a musician, you expect to play for hundreds of hours at dives before you gain enough reputation to charge a living wage. Actors and actresses, the same. So why do we have this tumult over interns for Investment Banks? Architecture Firms? Veterinarian Clinics?

I could make a statement about the various values of the end product of each activity, but I’ll refrain.

If you are an unskilled person who wants to break into a new (to you) field, you have to make an offer that someone in the field will find acceptable. It costs me money, both in hard dollars and in my time to train a staff member. That is time that could be spent producing more for my business, picking up additional clients, etc. It is a trade-off to the business owner. So if you are unskilled, but energetic, well, that’s something, but you’d better be ready with more.

One of my students informed me that if he was producing a work product for me, I should pay him. True. If that’s Down Bar Graph Yield Sign White Backgroundwhat we agree to beforehand. If on the other hand you want to work with me either to build your portfolio or because it will give you access to others with potentially bigger and better opportunities, I may not be willing to pay you in dollars. What you can take from your experience is worth phenomenally more than cash.

When you have 2 consenting adults, the situation can be resolved between the 2 parties. There is no need to have the Federal government intervene as though to enforce a collective bargaining agreement.

Let’s circle back to the example of a high schooler who is interested in Architecture and would like to get to know what it is like to be an Architect at the ground level.

The challenge for her right now is that the economy is down. Construction and therefore Architecture are down as well. Few Architectural firms are hiring and those who are certainly aren’t looking for unskilled labor in a field full of skilled labor. How does she convince the firm to spend time and energy training her?

She really has 2 options:

1. She offers to do the work no one else wants to do such as re-arranging the sample store room or cost estimating (both jobs I have done).

2. She lowers her price to work. In this market, that might mean zero.

If she is really interested in Architecture, she will be lucky to get the opportunity to test out her career choice BEFORE she invests 5 years getting her basic credentials for Architecture. One summer was enough for me….

Images courtesy of One Way Stock and Bernard Pollack

Information with a View

Graph itIt is not enough to get information, now need we to have that information presented contextually and graphically. If done well, this kind of information aggregation can cause greater understanding, but naturally it can also cause greater confusion.

http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/04/13/graphing-internet-digg-google-trends/

Digg has the lead on creating fascinating ways to connect who is spreading what information. The net is all about the curious flow of connectivity between people and topics. If you are in marketing this is tremendously useful for tracking fads. If you’re bored at work, this is a cool distraction that make you sound so knowledgeable at the water cooler. Check out Digg Swarm for example.

http://labs.digg.com/swarm/

As topics pop up digg connects and moves the topic heads around like gas molecules in a chamber. Some items are connected (as shown with the bridge connectors) and others are tiny bubbles that will fall off the screen quickly. The bubbles move quickly so the screen shot was tricky. Just go take a look.

In other information source news, the kids at microsoft have been fantasizing about swimsuit models. Microsoft Pivot lets you search for pictures. Say you want to look at Sports Illustrated Covers . . . but only covers featuring bikini models. Viola! All the Swimsuit Issues pop up. Pun fully intended.

For Microsoft Pivot fun: http://www.getpivot.com/

Like everything else from Microsoft, it is a pain-in-the -arse to get it. Instead of being available on the net like all of the other great infotainment products . . . you must download the microsift pivot program. And you must update your silverlight drivers. Oh wait, you don’t have silverlight? Then you must download that too….

Open Note to Microsoft: We tolerate you. Barely.

Get it together folks. They have some clever folks at Microsoft, but damn, it is such a bother to use any of their more clever outputs, why bother?

If I could love Excel less, I wouldn’t even consider using Microsoft products.

Anyway, if you can put up with the bafoonery of how microsoft let’s you use their products, then the labs have cranked out some fun things. Go get pivot.

Consenting Adults

The Labor Department is out to protect you from yourself. Legislation prohibiting unpaid internships is officially in force.

“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with  for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” says Nancy J. Leppink of the Labor Department.

What’s all the fuss?

Why is the government beefing up enforcement NOW, when the teenage unemployment rate is 26%?

For teens without marketable skills, where do they start?

Let’s take a hypothetical situation….

Say you are 15 and you are interested in becoming an architect. But you don’t know much about what architects really do, or how they do what they do. What is the fastest way to figure out if architecture is for you?

ArchitectRead a book?

Work for an Architect?

While reading a book about how Architects do what they do is helpful, no amount of reading can prepare you for the actual day-to-day activities of an Architect.Best case, you get a more realistic picture of the profession. Worst case, you still think all architects get to design cool buildings (most do not), and your IM Pei fantasy persists.

Now how about working for an Architect…. If you are in the office you get to see the day-to-day in action.You end up learning that architecture is less about building cool buildings and more about client management. If you’re lucky you’ll get to participate in the mind-numbing meetings. In other words, you’ll get to know if you like architecture enough to deal with the drudgery that it, as with every profession, has.

But here’s the current challenge. Now is a particularly tough time for Architects. Few are hiring and fewer still need unskilled labor when there’s a pile of skilled labor available. It costs an employer a significant investment of time to bring any staff member in – paid or unpaid. How do you as the unskilled teenager convince the firm to hire you?

What do you think?

Image courtesy of Wonderlane

Hot Nerds – Barbie Dedicates Herself to Science

How great! Barbie is officially geeking out.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Computer Scientist won the popular vote for What career would you like Barbie to have next. The vote ultimately split between the under tweens and the adults. Adults pushed for Computer Scientist and the little girls pushed for Anchorwoman. Lots of little Katie Courics on the way.

Computer Scientist Barbie is black legging clad with dashes of bright pink. She is however wearing what appear to be jellies – flat shoes – this writer disapproves. Given Barbie’s natural propensity for heels this is not a match. Barbie is built for heels.

Actually, why is she wearing a handbag across her body, AND carrying a silver briefcase? Computer Scientist Barbie will have no trouble getting the rest of the lab to schlep her servers.

Apologies, that was terribly sexist of me.

I guess Mattel wants to convey an image that Computer Scientist Barbie is practical. You’re just as likely to see her at the Moscone Center for Apple World as you are to see her in Vegas for CES. I just can’t imagine her at an academic conference. Can you? The other speakers will be upstaged just because she walks in the room.

She glides between uber-geeks who live in labs and the rest of us who consume the products the lab rats conceive. GeekyShe is the poster child for science. And it’s about time someone put a pretty face on computer science.

In 2008, women received only 18% of computer science degrees, down from 37% in 1985, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

At all ages we gravitate toward shiny, pretty things. If little girls play with a Comp Sci Barbie, perhaps they’ll be inspired to follow that path.

So the Big Question: MAC vs PC?

Who are we kidding?

Look at the way she is dressed. Bright green, Turquoise, splashes of hot pink . . . over black tights . . . pink shoes (though freakishly flat shoes) . . . this Barbie is a Mac.

If they had put her in a black turtleneck Jobs would’ve sued for trademark infringement.

Or she might’ve been confused for a ballerina.

Maybe the Ken doll will be PC.

What do you think about Computer Scientist Barbie?

April Date with Kate

Thank you for the reminder that I was a little behind in naming the March Date with Kate winner. Indeed – a month behind. 🙂 So Sid’s name did not grace the front of katemckeon.com, but he has forgiven me. Now it is Michele’s turn.

The April winner for Date with Kate is Michele.

A native of Brazil who speaks more languages than my small neighborhood, Michele now resides in Dallas. We’re finally getting sunshine and warm weather in Dallas so the DwK is most likely to be held poolside with her fabulous husband serving drinks. Fabuloso! Excelente!

Nominate yourself for May’s DwK: date (at) katemckeon (dot) com

Education Issues – State v Federal Standards

Former Intel CEO Craig Barrett is behind the Common Core State Standards Initiative and hopes you will be too….
Mr. Barrett sees common education standards as essential to creating the work force of tomorrow and he wants to Standardsnarrow the gap in education quality among the states. All of which sounds ideal . . . if we can agree on what those standards are. And if we can avoid the common trap of dumbing the standards down so most students in most states can pass – for the sake of passing.

I am all for setting a minimum bar. After all, how can we expect workers to understand the difference between a 401k, Roth IRA, and Keogh Defined Benefit Plan if they can’t do basic math? Labor needs have changed. It is not sufficient to be able to lay brick. Now even a brick layer needs to understand the various mortgage options he has when purchasing a home, the investment choices he has within his retirement account and the economic consequences of his union membership.

The more technology within a field the more precision and understanding for math concepts is needed. Do you want Homer Simpson running the nuclear power plant?

But the setting of standards requires that we come to a consensus on where we want the country to go and we have reason to believe that we know how to get there. With the sensitivities now displayed in textbooks, it’s hard to imagine that any knowledge can be imparted. Can we get everyone together on what is important? Whose values trump?

Without a single responsible party, or a genuine leader, the push for standards falls apart. In all fairness, states can work together the create mutually agreeable standards without involving the federal government, but the slope to federal intervention is slippery, particularly with a federal government that is increasingly centralized. In societies of the past this has typically been the work of a wise elder. We need to find a wise elder.

NOMINATE A WISE ELDER

If you have a suggestion for a “wise elder” please include it in the comments box. If you are filling in a comment box for the first time, don’t fret, the name/email are just to verify that you are human – not spam. That information is not retained or used.

The winner will be interviewed here for his/her suggestions on education standards. If I can figure out how to host you and the person you nominate for lunch, I’ll do that too. Let’s amp up the conversation on education. Please nominate a Wise Elder today!

Image courtesy of U.S. Army CERDEC

Crush Your Competition – the Superstar Effect

The best way to win? Be better. How much better?

Soul crushingly better.

Sound cruel?

InfluenceThe Weekend Journal shared a great piece about the Superstar effect – how some stars are so much better than everyone else in the field that they literally crush their competition before the game/match/negotiation begins.

Boris Spassky, Bobby Fishcher’s rival sums it up:

When you play Bobby, it is not a question of whether you win or lose. It is a question of whether you survive.

These superstar competitors are so significantly better that opponents essentially give up. Whereas in a “normal” competitive setting you can expect several players to push for the win, if a superstar is present the competitors on average slink back. It is not simply a reality of the superstar outperforming – the superstar’s actual game day performance is less material. It is that the would-be competitors actually play/perform worse than if the superstar were not present.
By analyzing PGA Tour data, Jennifer Brown of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School has determined that players take on average .8 MORE strokes when Tiger Woods is entered in the tournament. Many Tournaments are won and lost over 1 stroke.

From personal experience watching PGA Tour events on the ground last Spring/Summer I noticed the leaderboard effect. As a golfer landed on the top of the leaderboard, he became more likely to spectacularly unwind. At first I suspected it had to do with the increase scrutiny. You need not see the leaderboard to understand who is in the lead, just watch the camera crews. The crews will scramble to get every inch of play by the current leader. I’m sure it changes the way you play to have a camera crew up your shorts all of a sudden.

But it wasn’t simply the camera crews that caused the anxiety. Consider, as a player gained leader status he was more likely to play with Tiger – an unpleasant experience from what I understand. If you think Tiger can beat you, he already has.

The Superstar Effect

Comparing SAT results based on testing venues across all 50 states, researchers have determined that students who test in larger groups did worse. It is speculated that the increased competition and knowledge of the competition led to less motivation.

Some of this is insurmountable. Do we really want to provide private testing pods for taking the SAT?

But it speaks volumes of the nonverbal influence your peers have. Simply the sight of your peers doing the work you hope to do best may be enough to cause you to give up. So how do we set up our students for success?

Automation of skills.

Students/golfers/performers do their best work when they have gone through the process of mastering the content and then allowing their unconscious minds to direct and control the action. The more “thinking” an expert does, the worse the result. When expert math students are offered cash rewards for winning, they do significantly worse than when told to try their best.

It is as though the thought of winning blocks the actual ability to perform.

ThinkingI’ve watched this in students and in consulting clients. If client sees someone else’s website launch faster than his he loses focus on the long-term win, which is not about speed, but depth, and instead begins sabotaging his own project. Similar outcome with students. A student who perceives his classmates as superior will often give up by the 4th class and either disappear or come up with a huge number of excuses why he cannot perform. In both cases when the performance actually begins to decline, the student/client look for someone to blame.

If only we could live in isolation….

By isolating a student – making him stop reading the GMAT blogs (most of it is false – no one should read that stuff!), having him give up the constant GMAT chatter available on twitter or with his friends – then he has the mental energy to concentrate on learning the material he needs to succeed. It isn’t simply the distraction, but the increased anxiety about inadequacy that drives his performance down.

But then, that seems to be what ails most of us, most of the time. Would we have viagra without it?

So if you want to win, be the superstar, don’t compete with one.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison and tango 48

Superstar Effect

Everyone’s favorite Intimidators

WinningThe Weekend Journal recently published an article on one of my favorite topics – the Superstar Effect. They also kindly included a list of the most famous intimidators. Here is that list:

Muhammad Ali – noting himself as the “greatest” and following it up with a nasty punch . . . very effective.

Jack Welch – up or out, either do great work or find a new job – grew GE’s market cap from $14B to $400B . . .

Babe Ruth – considered the first celebrity athlete

Michael Jordan – UNC champ whose jersey still sells in the Top 10, wait, make that #1 for the NBA…. His White Sox jersey doesn’t do quite as well. He is still “the Man” in the NBA.

Roger Federer – opponents admit he is just that much better. Understated domination.

Tiger Woods – causes others on the golf course to take extra swings just knowing that he is on the course. Literally induces anxiety in tournament participants, that anxiety vaporizes if he plays poorly.

Date with Kate Update

Okay, so the Date with Kate gig started as a silly response to a former student and favorite reader (see January winner), but has proven a small hit among you. In March, there were 4 DwK dates with readers. I am honored and flattered that you are willing to schlep to Dallas or schlep me to Alanta, DC, Miami, Houston….

You are awesome!

So, belatedly I am announcing the March Date with Kate winner. I’ll be announcing April’s winner tomorrow. If you are up for a May win, put your name in the basket (better known as the excel spreadsheet) and we’ll give it a whirl. Send entries to date (at) katemckeon (dot) com.

On a budget but still want to participate in the fun?

I will be in Atlanta almost every Sunday for the next 10 weeks and New York from the end of May through mid-to-late June pending my sisters’ graduation – woo-hoo! – and finding a proper dog-friendly apartment in the city. If you’re in either city or expect to swing through Dallas for business perhaps the excel random number generator can tilt things in your favor.I can typically be bought off with cupcakes and promises of sunshine.

March 2010: Sid Desai

Sid, Nebraska fan living in Texas....

Basic Economics – Competitive States

My buddy Scott recently sent a gem of a report along. The report was written by Dr. Aurthur Laffer. You may recognize his name from the world of finance and politics. He’s a bit of a supply-sider.

Since this marks the 10th pdf uploaded to the site for the sake of sharing, I’ve created a repository for all of them. For future reference and the table of contents for good reads past and present:

http://katemckeon.com/good-reads

Enjoy!

The others will be listed on the good-reads page as time permits. This site along with all of the partner and holding sites are being recast. Look for our new look mid-April. Spring, it’s all about renewal.

-Kate

Image courtesy of Lisa Nottingham

Nonverbal Influence – Color

New article on the overview of color as a nonverbal influence.

Everyday you are bombarded with millions of images. Some perceived others not consciously perceived. Advertisers want our attention. As we get more and more images, our conscious brains – the part we think we control – ignore even more.

So now we ignore more than we see.

But if a tree falls in a forest and hits a mime, does anyone cry?*Continue Reading

Education Issues: Quantity, Quality?

So let’s go for a drive.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to cross the US by car . . . say from Chapel Hill, NC to Berkeley, CA, or Boston, MA to Berkeley, CA or Atlanta, GA to San Diego, CA, you have seen that there are many choices to make along the way. Do you go Interstate Highway all the way, do you detour to Route 66 (recommend in limited portions, it ain’t what it used to be)?

Do you take the most direct route . . . well, actually, what is the most direct route? If it is winter, heading across on I-50 is a BAD idea with a U-Haul. Actually, even in late April that’s a bad idea.

Some choices are better than others. So as a rational person, you do two things:

1. You establish your objective – where are you going, speed or leisure, caravan or solo….
2. Then you decide how to get there.

Sounds a lot better than someone else mandating how you will drive, what you will drive and when you will arrive. This system works well. It is the brains behind the free market. You do it instinctively.

DETOUR

The Wall Street Journal featured the concept of Saturday school in this weekend’s edition. While I am a strong supporter of more education, not less, I slam on the brakes for this one. Quantity does not equal quality – sheer volume can occasionally overtake quality instruction, but brute force versus dedicated finesse has no chance.

The bigger issue we face is that we do not have an objective for American education. We talk about being strong in science, math, well, anything, but it’s all talk. Take a look at the standards in the average classroom.

In classes taught in the science and social science subfields of Earth sciences, economics, geography, and government/civics, fewer than 50 percent of classes were taught by a teacher who held a major in the respective subfield. Fast Facts on Education

DetourWithout a clear objective, Saturday school is at best a thorn in the side of kids who yearn to play in creeks and at worst is yet more time for your children to be exposed to revisionist history and ridiculous propaganda. More college students arrive on campus fully aware of the recycling program (good), but totally UNAWARE that we participated in the Korean War of the 20th century (bad). No joke.

For any educational program to be successful, we have to establish standards. The purpose of No Child Left Behind was to do just that. The Teacher’s Unions were the most vocal opponents. No program is without flaws, but you can’t drive efficiently from the East Coast to the West Coast without a clear plan. Otherwise, you’re likely to end up running out of gas in Kansas and that means your history class never learns about the Asian theater of war in WWII or the Korean War.

2006, Twelfth-grade students who explained a reason for the involvement in the Korean War: 14%

So, before we have kids sit in class on Saturday, let’s make sure that we have teachers who understand the subject matter they teach and we have a curriculum designed for the most important elements for the students to learn. It’s nice to know how your future college’s recycling program operates, but if you stink at fractions . . . every day you will be further and further behind your international peers. And our ability to innovate as an economy dies.

Image courtesy of Tom Woodward

Contextual Cues Influence Learning

Did you know . . .

The fusiform facial area is a special area within the brain that processes facial images. This is apart from the Clutter (1)processing of other spatial objects. The neurons literally light up in a different pattern depending on whether we are looking at a human face or a non-human object. It is even indicated that the brain can distinguish from a face that is actually in your presence and a face that is presented graphically (as in a picture or on a computer screen).

Pop, pop, pop!

This leads to different rates of cognition in general and contextual processing specifically.

Boldly taking the initiative with this recent research, Australia is conducting a national experiment by redesigning their classrooms. Reading some of the tactics they are employing in the redesigned classrooms, it is interesting to note that nonverbal influence in the classroom is first addressed through clutter reduction. Turns out we really do have trouble with understanding others if our environment is cluttered.

Which leads me to wonder about workplace productivity.

Studies bat back and forth concerning cluttered versus non-cluttered workspaces. Too clean versus too cluttered, and just what constitutes cluttered (your sandwich from yesterday = definitely too cluttered). I prefer a clean work space, but several colleagues seem to prefer and even claim better performance by having clutter around them. The “I know where everything is” syndrome. I even have students who bring seemingly every worldly possession they own to class so they can clutter the limited desk space. Do you really need to charge your phone, iPod and laptop while you are in class? At 9p on a Tuesday night?

Does it matter? What do you think?

Image courtesy of Richard Stebbing

Freedom of Speech

As I dig through journals for interesting tidbits I often find myself far afield from the original topic at hand, which is Cheeringexactly what happened the other day. I was reading a piece on the influence the color of the box that holds your local traffic signal has on traffic flow – not the color of the light: red, yellow, green, but the color of the box around the light* – and ended up diverted to a Law journal, specifically, the University of Pittsburgh Law review.

Topic?

Freedom of Speech at Sporting Events.

Excellent.

The article puts forth that your heckling of the opposing team, the ref and even cheering for the opposing team deserve vigorous protection as free speech. The first and most obvious point is that your seats are a public forum.

Second, it argues that professional sports teams and public universities are state actors, the latter for obvious reasons and the former as a result of the pervasive public financing of sports arenas.

Last, but not least, the article uses examples to create legal precedence for protecting “cheering” speech at games.

Chapel Hill, one of MANY celebrations for UNC beating dookA diversion well worth the time. So the next time the NHL/NFL/MLB/NBA tells you to pipe down, you tell them that you have a right to free speech in a public forum owned by the state since you’re financing it. If they haven’t already thrown you out by the time you finish that statement, you’ve done good.

*P.S. Don’t paint traffic signals yellow if you want folks to stop.

Photo – one of many celebrations for UNC beating dook.

Other image courtesy of Alberto Restfo at Unsplash

Education Issues – Teacher Signaling

Confession: as a teacher I have challenges with the different levels of students who cycle through my classroom. I am not unbiased, and yes, I take my students’ performance personally.

But this is as it has been and should be….

Some students are bright, but it’s not just the ability level of the student it is the teacher’s interaction with that perceived ability level of the student that influences a student’s outcome.

In a study that measured a teacher’s ability to influence student academic performance, researchers found that a teacher who perceives her class to be bright can help an average group out-perform the control group (over the period of one academic year) and a teacher who perceives the students to be less bright will have students who under-perform the control group.

Average students elicit average teaching, you simply aren’t as invested as you are in the progress of the super star talent. The super star talent progress you take personally, you take as a reflection of your ability to teach. The average student you don’t take quite as personally. You build and adapt your plan for the average student’s success, but the progress of the average student won’t keep you up at night.

A co-conspirator in the world teaching sums up his view of his students this way when asked, “What goes through the teacher mind when a student demonstrates a lack of progress?”

Avg student: he’s an idiot for wasting this opportunity
Super Star: he’s insulting me – a slap in the face

That is a harsher version of what many of us are uncomfortable describing. It isn’t polite to confront a lazy student, nor is it our job. But what surprises more than reactions to average students is the backlash against perceived bright students who shirk their duties. If you are a bright student, step-up your game and your teacher will help you exceed your abilities, shirk your duty and prepare for wrath.

Image courtesy of

Stat of the Week – Monkeys and Medals

Lionel Tiger shares the history of monkeys and medal in his latest Op-Ed piece for the Wall Street Journal. He posits that there is a biological need for humans to have games such as the Olympics

Like our primate cousins, competition is in our blood.

Is this just more justification for what my less athletically-inclined friends call ‘testosterone-fueled’ children’s games?

Or is there a verifiable, quantifiable biological need?

Continue Reading

Basic Economics – When your voters are challenged

Who would’ve thought Chicago would become a tax refuge? Since the voters approved a tax hike in Oregon, politicians around the US are sending delegations to the beleaguered state. Leading the charge with offers of enticement to business owners….

Richard Daley, Chicago Mayor.

Wait, seriously?

Here’s what’s spurred the increase in flights to Portland:

Oregon Chicago
Top income tax rate: 11% (from 9%) 3% (moving to 5%)
Corporate Income tax: 7.9% (from 6.6%) 4.8% (moving to 6.2%)
Fees on small business: Doubled Regular ridiculous

But let’s look at what really matters . . .
i heart texas
Top Income Tax rate –  ZERO
Corporate income tax – ZERO
Fees on small business: comparatively minimal

Which inspired me . . .

Dear Business Owners in Oregon,

As you plan for the pending move, no doubt you are concerned about the assimilation for your people in the new location. While you will be able to leave many of your current employees behind, some will make the trek with you. To that end, you need a location that serves both your business considerations and your employees’ needs. Despite the fact that our women wear make-up and our men cut their hair, you’ll find that Oregon and Texas aren’t so different.

You guys believe in independence; we believe in independence.

AlamoToday

You guys like wide open spaces, we have plenty of those.

You guys like riding bikes. We like riding bikes.

(C) Roberto Bettini
(C) Roberto Bettini

You guys like college football (hey, those Beavers make a good stab for a Pac 10 team). We LOVE college ball . . .

longhornSMUtamutcu_logotech

You guys like Fish. We like land fish.

Land Fish
Land Fish

You have vegetarians, we have vegetables!

It’s a match made in heaven, or at least by your voters. So get your groove back. Dump the bums and move to Texas.

-Kate

Winter Classics and February Winner

In a departure from the somber tone of education issues, The February Winner of the Date with Kate is Laurel Lichty of Washington DC. Photo of the two gals below.

It just so happened that the DwK was sandwiched between hikes around DC in the record breaking “Snowpocalypse,” Brunch with Drag Queens, and snow ball fights. If anything became clear, it was that more sequins for daytime attire is in order. with Laurel

The white-out gave me ample opportunity to discover that the patent we were writing was indeed already written. But, good news, it expires in 18 months….

More on that in March.

autosmile That snow creature thinks you’re cute.

So it took an extra 36 hours to get out of DC and 36 hours after arrival in Dallas, the snow storm hit here. I’m totally cool with the light fluffy snow . . . in moderate doses. Perfect for trail running even though somewhere below the crunchy layer is plain sidewalk. Great times.

In great contrast to DC, business did not stop in Dallas. Nor did school. The cheese shop was open. Even my postal officer delivered….

DC shut down operations on Thursday evening. Literally. Law firms, government, even the colleges sent notices that they would not open on Friday. Turns out I don’t know anyone in Business in DC. Perhaps there’s the rub….

At 11a on Friday, no snow. It wasn’t until 1p that I started to see flurries. And it didn’t stick until well past midnight. But Metro lines were closed and folks were encouraged to stay home. Naturally, I went to a hockey game instead. Someone has to support the economy!

No, no, really, you’re welcome.

Saturday, however, was a whole ‘nother story completely. Solid snow pack with more dropping by the minute. DC was eerily quiet. No cabs, no metro, no buses, and NO SNOW PLOWS. Very few places were open and very few people were out.

Despite all day sunshine Sunday, no effort was made to clear the streets. Monday, ghost town. Tuesday, more cars, less sense. Very few roads had enough of a path to drive. It was certainly safer to walk. But few sidewalks were cleared. So, it was back to pre-sidewalk days. People and cars shared the streets – I halfway expected horse-drawn carriages to join the show.

When I asked a cabbie (one of the 7 in the city) why they didn’t bother plowing the streets, he said, “Well, they say it will snow some more so we are saving money.”Hrmmm.

What about the waitress who depends on tips whose restaurant isn’t opening. She just earned a week of unpaid time off. Or the business owner who still makes payroll even though she won’t be earning revenue this week. Kind of a bummer. I snuck out on one of the few flights to depart Regan National.

Such a different world.

Hope you are warm wherever you may be! -Kate

Do Girls Suck at Math?

 

It’s a common refrain both from the mouths of males and females. Yet, what evidence do we have to support this?

Stereotypes (1)A former boyfriend even presented a LONG diatribe about the actual genetic reasons women are bad at math . . . but there’s just one problem. Namely, me.

Or Jill.

Or Heidi.

Or Shanti.

Or Leah.

Or . . .

The fact is, the hype surrounding the idea that women are bad at math is itself, bad math. If you look at the statistics from the experiments that indicate girls as less capable mathematically, they share one thing in common: they rule out the possibility that there is a social element in the testing. Even more telling, the fellas I’ve met who most loudly proclaim that women are bad at math, are themselves, not so good at math, or rather, not as good at math….

The one who presented the diatribe . . . explains how he won a math competition in high school. Dude, I won one in 3rd grade. Seriously.

Let’s bear in mind the realities of a 2 parent home…. Who is making the economic decisions?

Sure guys, of course you are…. Riiiiiight. Over 70% of all purchases for the home from toilet paper to chainsaws (you’ve seen the pink power tools) are DECIDED by the women. INCLUDING the flat screen TVs and Computers. That’s why computers now come in fancy colors. And none too soon.

how_it_worksSmall businesses?

Yeah, it’s the ladies making the financial decisions there too.

So how do you take this “girls suck at math” argument seriously?

Where is there enough common ground to make a valid point?

Alex DiBranco presents a new study from the University of Chicago that indicates girls identify with their weak female teacher role models. Okay, plausible. I don’t like it, but it is plausible.

Still smacks of total lameness.

So ask yourself this, if someone told you that your daughter is ugly. How would you respond?

Angry, defensive, indignant?

Now what if that same person told you that your daughter is bad at math. How would you respond?

Angry or accepting?

As families, why do we accept the notion that girls would be worse at math? There is no legitimate reason for this to be the case. But, 6th grade roles around and all of a sudden girls are expected to roll over. Is that what you want for your daughter?

Women outlive men, make the family financial decisions that have the greatest impact (daily decisions FAR outweigh investing decisions), and really, aren’t all that bad with numbers . . . when no one is watching. If you care about the economic decisions made by the 52% of this country who happen to be female, you may want to contribute some knowledge to the dames.

Less denigration, more derivatives.

Pi, pi, pi, pi, pi
3.14159
I like mine with lots of Wine
Pecan, Apple, all divine
Expanding that bottom line. (TM)

This is one (of many) iterations of my pi song, sung each time I bake pies. As LBJ would say, share early, share often.

Careful what you tell your children. They will believe you . . . until they realize you’re full of SH*T. And then they’ll choose your nursing home.

Photo Credit

Seth Godin, Linchpin

LinchpinI was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of Seth Godin’s latest, Linchpin. I had a very hard time writing an appropriate review on Amazon.

What others reviewers are raving about is how this book is about doers . . . kind of, but not really. This book is about people who fancy themselves single-handedly able to change the world. Change being the operative word.

Which means they are discontent now, want things to be different and heretofore really haven’t done squat about it. You and I know them as whiners. If they’re just out of college they really want to travel Europe staying in youth hostels. They think the answer, the Change, is out there. Somewhere else. Away from here.

Is it?

The first 48 pages . . . Set. Me. Off.

Like reign of terror “set me off.”

Here’s what really gets my panties in a wad, he attacks the underpinnings of Mastery.

Even worse, he specifically attacks memorizing fractions….

GRRRrrrrr…..

You KNOW how I feel about fractions . . . and multiplication tables.

The reason you learn multiplication tables and fractions is for deeper domain understanding. You start to see the number 6 not as the visual 6 but as little chunks of 2s and 3s – you get understanding of the properties of numbers which is what leads you to discovery.

He later circles back to the concept of Mastery as a good thing, but …

He implies that the “always on Wikipedia” can get the answers we need when we need them. Really? What an incredibly shallow existence you must lead if Wikipedia can answer all of your questions. Can we thrive without domain knowledge?

FractionsWhy does a Violinist practice her chords? So she can know them to the point that the notes play through her. She cannot create art without first making simple things automatic.

Picasso didn’t start in his Cubist period. He started by learning the techniques of the masters before him. He started with rote painting.

Great art – the visual, the intellectual, the emotional – starts with expression of mastery. You must understand your materials before you can really give of yourself.

The other major issue I take with Linchpin is Godin’s perpetual reference to employers as huge faceless organizations. It is true that 64% of the population works for companies with >100 people. But that means 36% of us work for companies with less than 100 people. Half of those work for companies with less than 20 people (see Statistics of US Businesses). He refers to employees as wanting to contribute more, but being told to just fit in.

That hasn’t been my experience. How about yours?

He are some facts for your noodle:
1. 18% Americans are employed at companies with less than 20 people
2. 64% employed at companies with >100
3. Critical thinking skills + creative problem solving skills for those who do rote drills versus those who do not.

As for me, I’ve done different jobs at different times in life because that is my path. Despite my fussing with Godin’s Linchpin, I suspect he would agree, the change you need to seek is within you. The world “out there” changes when you change yourself.

So, reasonable people should skip the first 48 pages of the book.

Have you read it? What do you think?

**In all fairness, his attack on fractions, page 45, is more of a slight. But no one messes with my numbers.

Image courtesy of Steve Hodgson

Margaret Thatcher – We Must Win

The newsletter this week includes a favorite item from Mrs. Thatcher:

War“Democratic nations must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend.”

A few weeks ago the Wall Street journal published an opinion piece worth a revisit. The original piece by Warren Kozak concerns the Real Rules of War. For those of us safely ensconced in our warm homes, it is easy to forget the brutality and the . . . well, the point of war.

War is not war for the sake of fighting. That’s why god created hockey. And football. And rugby. Mostly rugby. If you want to beat the tar out of other people and there’s not a local Fight Club, go join a rugby team. Expect many broken things. And beer.

The point of War is that you won’t have to keep fighting.

Beat your opponent so soundly that all fighting stops. WIN. This doesn’t happen when one side runs out of money . . . 8488016185_35bf43e81e_obecause that is a temporary condition. If there’s still a chance, no matter how slim, they can beat you they may go underground for a few years or even decades, but they will be back. It is not sufficient to call game over.

You must win. Totally and completely. Because the other side won’t stop until you do. If we want peace, we must go for the WIN. Not the draw.

Kozak points to a line in Paul Fussell’s memoir, which quotes British captain John Tonkin, “the Geneva Convention is a dangerous piece of stupidity, because it leads people to believe that war can be civilized. It can’t.”

You know what our “peculiar institution” is now, the public tendency to browbeat ourselves for having the audacity to stand up and fight back. Our modern media has enslaved us.

Image courtesy of Robert Huffstutter

Sports Stat of the Week: Old Guns, Young Guns

Sports Stat of the Week

It’s all in the numbers….

Never mind what happened Sunday afternoon . . . I turned off the second display in my office and focused on teaching our Advanced Quant class. The students didn’t have to know the Boys were being destroyed by Future Rapper Favre.



(Pants on the Ground? Really? What the ?)

Putting the old back in oldest quarterback, Favre is still looking pretty good for an old man – especially one who gets 2 ton  of man hurled at him at 20mph regularly.

Should the Vikings make it to the Superbowl
AND
earn a win, Favre will be the oldest quarterback to win it. But that’s not a done deal. In great contrast, we have had some very young guns earn wins in the Superbowl.

Riddle for you:
Who was the YOUNGEST quarterback to win the Superbowl?

And how old was he at the time of his win?

.

.

.

No peeking. No Wiki….

.

.

.

Ben Roethlisberger was 23 years, 11 months old when he won Superbowl XL over the Cardinals.

Preview of Next week: About those Cardinals – they are one of two original teams still in the NFL. Next week, who is the other team still standing??? There will also be a little smack talk about the winning record of the Cardinals….


Numbers for Nerds

If you get excited about numbers, today is a spetacular day.

Numbers010110

It is a rare opportunity to present the date in binary form (that’s not the actual binary date however).

So just how rare is it?

Have you figured out how many times in a century you can represent the date with 1s and 0s without getting your arse kicked in public?

cropped kateAnswer below.

Very Happy New Year to you and yours! if you’re in Dallas, I have extra Cotton Bowl tickets, give a shout.

-Kate

Answers:

01/01/00, 01/10/00, 10/01/00, 10/10/00

01/01/01, 01/10/01, 10/01/01, 10/10/01

01/01/10, 01/10/10, 10/01/10, 10/10/10

Percentage of days you can be slightly cool with numbers, or feel slightly, smuggly numerically superior – also known as “clever” . . .

12 days

———–

36525 days

Or, .03% of the century.

We only have 3 more left this century, so grab your binary buddies and part hats. We’re gonna party like it’s 10-10-10!


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

It’s true, I can’t be bothered to keep up with all of the holidays that get named and celebrated at this time of the year so I wish you a very Merry Christmas, because that is the tradition I embrace. May my wishing you a Merry Christmas cause you no harm of image or ego and may the holiday or lack thereof that you celebrate or don’t celebrate be filled with whatever it is that you like.

I can’t believe I actually got accosted for wishing someone else a Merry Christmas . . .

That’s nonsensical.

I’d even go so far as to call it rank stupidity. But then again, I celebrate with a Penguin for a tree.

Penguin Christmas

Merry Christmas Y’all!

On my wish list this Christmas:

  • Monthly house keeper – I am so “over” scrubbing my stove.
  • The Manolo OTK skinny boots in camel – on sale now at Barneys (online only) – size 37
  • Part time bookkeeper
  • Full time staff writer – see posting at Odesk
  • Running Tights
  • 3 weeks on a warm beach with a chess set and someone who knows how to play – no, New England is NOT warm
  • Part to Full time tech staffer – see posting at Odesk
  • Lancair IV-P or the Avanti II
  • Hunky Abercrombie body model

Share your Christmas list with the world.

Mastery – how to know when to get back to basics

What do you call it when a defender “bounces” a puck into his own goal?

ScrewupsReady?

. . .

Heart Breaking.

Actually I can’t believe I have yet to find the term . . . surely there is a term for this phenomenon given what my beloved Robi had to say about it,

“I hope he doesn’t worry too much about that. It happens to everybody.”

Which I find startling. If it’s true that it happens to everybody, then why is it that I have never seen it happen before? Statistically speaking we have a problem here. I was not quite so gentle in my response, and here’s why,

It was like watching on slow mo, except it was real life mo. The puck was gently wafting down the ice, not driving out-of-control, out-of-reach, but gently wafting as though it wanted to be stopped if anyone cared to stop it.

Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images
Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

But no one cared to stop it. In all fairness there was only one person who could stop it and he unfortunately was the one who put it in motion. It’s good they put him back on the ice just after incident – the kid doesn’t need to be in counseling for the rest of his life, but why the blazes didn’t he throw his body down on the ice and stop the bugger?

Seriously, why not?

No, this wasn’t what officially cost us the game, we were already down 3-2, but we had 1 minute and the chance to even up. This killed our chance to even up.

What I saw last night was a lethargic Dallas team that was out-skated. I also saw what many fans are now calling the Ice Capades. We have a pair of forwards who spend more time executing cool blind trick passes – too many of which end up on the opposing team’s stick – than they do scoring. Looks like it is time to get back to the basics for the Stars. Last year we (the team) griped about how over-injured we were and theat was excuse enough to not be a winning team.

Well, boys, what’s the excuse this year?

So if you happen to know the term for bouncing pucks into your own net, PLEASE SHARE. I’ve been digging around and google isn’t helping.

Getting the Scoop on Entrepreneurship Early

A new program at Milford High School in upstate NY has opened the doors of entrepreneurship to students in grades 9-12. The students are building their own businesses and interacting with local business owners.

This is a brilliant way to encourage growth!

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Education Issues: Peer Effects?

The gadflies at Fordham are stirring the pot again. Mike Petrilli takes issue with a recent statement from Kevin Welner, “(Tracking student progress) is a destructive practice that has the undeniable effect of lowering expectations and opportunities for students who have already fallen behind.” As far as Mr. Welner is concerned the debate is ideasclosed….Continue Reading