Archive for the ‘Science & Technology’ Category.

Unicorn Roadkill – When Renewable Energy Activists Meet Physics

Jalte Jansen is a researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology in Kassel, Germany (that city should ring a bell for you WW2 history buffs). Jansen appears in the One Minute Interview section of my favorite socialist science magazine New Scientist, July 25, 2015 issue. In it Jansen advocates the UK implement a plan like Germany’s Energeweinde, a plan to phase out nuclear power and replace it with renewables resulting in Germany’s CO2 emissions rising at the same time energy costs are soaring. As The Economist notes, “That outcome is the exact opposite of the intentions of the original policy.” Meanwhile the US CO2 emissions have fallen due to the conversion from coal to gas fired plants, something the Germans have refused to do.

Interviewer Chris Baraniuk asks Jansen whether the UK’s power supply could become 100% renewable. Jansen answers, “Definitely,” and says the UK could base its energy needs on solar panels and wind turbines.

Is this possible? Could cloudy, northerly (for US readers the UK sits further north than Maine) Britannia supply all its energy needs from solar and wind power?

David Mackay is a physics professor at the University of Cambridge, and is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Climate Change. His 2009 book “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” looks at this very question. His answer? No.

The first 17 chapters of his book lays out the energy needs of a typical Brit before turning to his physics background and calculating the energy densities and potentials for wind, solar, biomass, tidal and other renewable energy forms.

His conclusion? “For any renewable facility to make a contribution comparable to our current consumption, it has to be country-sized. To get a big contribution from wind, we [calculated] wind farms the area of Wales. To get a big contribution from solar photovoltaics, we required half the area of Wales… To sustain Britain’s lifestyle on its renewables alone would be very difficult. A renewable-based energy solution will necessarily be large and intrusive.”

He bases his conclusion on the fact that renewable energy sources tend not to be dense. Take a gallon of gasoline for example. The energy within a gallon of gasoline is roughly 40 kilowatt hours/day (kWh/d) and occupies less than a cubic foot of space. Assuming wind turbines were built on 10% of the UK’s land, “we would be able to generate 20 kWh/d per person, which is half of the power used by driving an average fossil-fuel car 50km per day.” Covering 10% of the landmass of the UK, planting wind turbines in moors, farms, gardens as well as on rooftops would provide the average Brit with the power equivalent of 1/2 a gallon of gas.

MacKay builds his argument around the consumption of energy by the average UK citizen, and then analyzes the available sources to provide that energy. Evaluating solar energy he estimates 100 square meters of roof space per person (roughly 1000 sq feet for those of us who were force fed metric during the Carter dark ages and rebelled against it during the Reagan Renaissance.) He writes, “Let’s give everyone 10m2 of expensive (20%-efficient) solar panels and put them on a south-facing roof. These will deliver4 kWh per day per person.”

The UK is a windy place but sunny it usually is not.  While on a cloud free day at midday 1000w of solar energy bathes every square meter of the equator, the UK receives about 5% of that amount thanks to it’s northerly latitude, the fact that it’s not midday all the time, and its propensity for cloudy weather. So adding a roof covered by solar panels only gets the average Brit another tenth of a gallon of gas.

MacKay is no fossil-fuel funded zealot. Quite the opposite. He accepts the threat posed by anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and the reluctance of politicians and the public to curb economic growth in order to live more sustainably (otherwise known as die in large numbers to reach pre-industrial population levels.) But as a physicist understands the science behind our energy needs, which is why that he advocates the use of zero carbon emission nuclear power to replace baseload power currently provided by fossil fuels. He also recommends improving conservation, and adding renewable sources like wind and solar where and when they make sense.

To paraphrase the great Democratic Party leader Daniel Patrick Moynihan everyone is entitled to their opinion, but they aren’t entitled to their own physics. Either Jansen is wrong or MacKay is wrong. MacKay lays out step-by-step how he comes to his conclusions, showing his work as it were, yet questions his own work at many steps along the way. It turns out his figures tend to be more optimistic than those posted by official “Green” or governmental sources. Jansen just throws a statement out there without any proof backing it up other than his credentials at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology. Typically the interviewer whiffed on asking him any tough questions.*

The New Scientist is up to its old tricks, selling unicorn fantasies while ignoring the very science that runs them down.

*On a side-note, am I the only one who watches or reads an interview with some public or otherwise respected figure, and can think of a dozen questions that are more challenging and interesting than the softball pitches thrown in what you are watching or reading? Have journalists as a whole become dim-witted or just ego-strokers? Or am I just becoming a cranky old man?

Red Barchetta Coming to a Road – and Sky – Near You

Starbucks Race Together – Forgive me for not wanting to be lectured to by a company with an all-white board of directors and a billionaire white CEO, one without locations in poor neighborhoods including my own. I don’t ask the Dali Lama for Italian Roast whole bean, and so I don’t see why I should be forced to talk to a harried twenty-something coffee-slinger about anything beyond wanting my coffee black.

The ISIS Attack in Tunisia – How many people have to die before we start seeing these attacks for what they are? Religiously motivated hate crimes by adherents of the “religion of Peace.” Sure the machete wielding guy shot dead in New Orleans was a Jehovah Witness, but he wasn’t passing around copies of the WatchTower as he killed people, was he? Terrorist apologists just don’t get that there’s a difference between killing someone because you are nuts and killing someone because you are nuts IN THE NAME OF ALLAH. It’s the difference between a white guy gunning down a black guy and a white guy shouting “N****r” gunning down a black guy. I had plans to visit that museum in the near future, and although I haven’t torn those plans up, I am realizing that the “safe places to visit list” is getting smaller by the day.

Ted Cruz – Ted Cruz is courting the Christian wing of the GOP. That worked well for President Huckabee 4 years ago didn’t it?

Israel – The Obama administration demands Israel commit suicide while allying with its mortal enemy. No surprise given Ayatollah Khameini and President Obama’s shared hatred of both the US and Israel.

The UK’s Green Party – Leader of the Green’s Natalie Bennett is promising to demilitarize the UK and evidently lives on a different planet, one without a Vladimir Putin partitioning Ukraine. If she does win in May, it will make it easier for Downton Abbey fans in the US to mount an invasion, take over the island and force creator Julian Fellowes to write a seventh season – one where Mary awakens from a dream to find her sister Sybil and husband Matthew at her bedside. The fans should be able to take the place over with a few pointed jabs and threatening remarks, that is if Putin doesn’t get there first, which given the recent Russian overflights of the UK may be soon.

Germanwings crash – Humans make mistakes. They make far more mistakes than the control systems that fly the planes, and there’s only so much we can do to protect lives from a pilot who wants to become one with a mountain. Has the time come for pilotless planes? It’s going to take courage for the first cabinfull of passengers to fly without a pilot but in the end it’s going to be the norm. Ditto driverless trucks, trains and eventually cars. Would I trust a fully automated car over my 18 year old kid? Damn right I would. I love driving but I have had too many close calls myself, and recognize that an automated driving system would be a safer driver system, and when that happens driving will become illegal (hence the Rush reference in the title.) The Germanwings crash is going to accelerate the discussion on the technology that could revolutionize our worlds this century. It’s coming and the sooner the better. I think…

BBC firing Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear – Please forgive my descent into British English, but F*** the Beeb, the bunch of spineless lefty nanny-state loving tossers. They’ll protect a pedophile like Jimmy Savile but not Clarkson whose political views tended towards the right in the UK (which makes him a moderate Democrat here). It’s one thing to discipline him for his misbehavior; it’s another to dog him for his populist beliefs. Well, the sooner Bennett wins the election, the sooner my comrades and I can take over the country and rest assured, the BBC license will be the second item on our chopping block (after that driving on the wrong side of the road business.) Let them grovel like NPR does here.

Head Transplants – My favorite hard Left science magazine wasted 2,000 words on this “what if.” I say wasted because the success of such a surgery hinges on the ability to meld one spinal cord to another. If we can do that, we can cure paralysis – and to me that’s far more newsworthy than worrying about the ethics of something that may not even be possible.



What I Learned in 2014

1. I’m not immortal, nor am I an accurate assessor of risk. In November I came the closest I’ve knowingly ever come to death or serious injury. There was no foreshadowing of the accident, no supernatural “spider-sense tingling” warning me of the possibility of danger, nothing. Instead the accident happened, my luck held, and I didn’t die nor was I paralyzed. Decades of experience had lead me to believe that I could accurately assess danger, and an instant on my own property proved me wrong.

This incident also taught me that bad medical insurance is worse than no medical insurance at all. If you are currently uninsured and can only take one thing away from your time reading this article, GET INSURED NOW. I estimate that my time in hospital cost $30 a minute. The American health care system is a clusterf**k, but until we fix it everyone should be insuring themselves with catastrophic plans to avoid financial ruin. These are cheap, don’t cover pre-existing conditions or provide Obamacare mandated coverage. But they are there for catastrophes that can wipe out your life savings in a blink of an eye (worth $.05 in a hospital – I’m still gobsmacked at the cost of my care).

2. There is hope for America. This election every candidate I supported won, in contrast to past 4 elections when the opposite occurred. I had been in the wilderness for so long that I had lost all hope for a viable opposition against the juggernaut of the Left’s assault on our rights and freedom.  November 4th and its aftermath renewed my faith that especially in politics Life is like a wheel; wait long enough and it will all come around.

3. I don’t need cable/satellite television. Last year I experimented with online streaming of TV using the PS3. This year I purchased a Roku and subscribed to Netflix and AcornTV. For a fraction of the cost of cable/satellite I now enjoy a broader selection of programming than ever. Cable/Satellite claim to have 200+ channels, as if that number means anything. I’m down to a handful now (AMC, BBC America, History, Discovery, NatGeo) but enjoy content that I choose. If you Doc Martin is your favorite GP, or relish a good Time Team dig, then AcornTV is for you. Need something heavier? There’s Breaking Bad or Sons of Anarchy on Netflix, playing exactly when you need them. It’s like having my own TV channel. Next stop: Cutting the cord.

4. Speaking of own TV channel, Pandora is soooo 2012, but thanks to my Smartphone and data package, I can stream it in the car and in 2014 it was like having my own radio channel. Instead of being stuck with whatever ClearChannel wants me to hear, I listen to what I want with enough variance thrown in to keep me interested. In a bad mood? There’s always the Skinny Puppy channel to put things right. Need something moving to get the hear moving, there’s DJ Tiesto. 2014 changed the way I consume media, and for someone who used to have to buy records without hearing them, it’s truly sublime.

5. The Ancients Still Have Much to Teach Us. In 2014 I developed an obsession with Ancient Rome (after devouring the HBO series Rome on Netflix). I’ve read all of Julius Caesar and Tacitus. I am now working on The History of Rome by Livy. For most of my life I was told how good the Classics were but I thought “meh, that’s ancient history.” This year I saw them in a completely new way. What truly amazes me is how little the Romans had to start with, but yet how they accomplished so much. Sure they ripped off the Greeks, but the Greeks weren’t the best teachers. Instead the Romans had to make things up as they went along. There was little “history” that they could search for clues on how to handle a new situation. 2000 years ago there was no Free Market economics, no Democracy (at least in the modern sense of the term), no separation of powers. Nevertheless the Romans built first a Republic then an Empire that resonates through Time. In today’s technology obsessed era it’s worth remembering what the Ancients did with just wax tablets, quills, and animal muscle.

6. Rolling Stone magazine should have OD’d on heroin in 1978. Rolling Stone was founded at the height of hippiedom and only stayed relevant during the 1970s thanks to gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. It was a counter-culture magazine but when the counter-culture became the culture, it lost its allure. Today’s millennials do not group identify through music the way Hippies, Stoners and Punks did through the 1960s, 70s and 80s. A magazine that started life geared towards the musical taste of their grandparents really has limited interest to them. Lenny Bruce once said “there is nothing sadder than an aging hipster,” and the liberal geriatrics don’t seem to understand that. Rolling Stone’s founder Jann Wenner (who turns 69 on Jan. 7) doesn’t get it either. If he did and had folded the magazine before it became a parody of itself, it wouldn’t have earned Columbia Journalism Reviews’ worst journalism prize for 2014.

7. The Democratic Party is the new Geezer Party. Speaking of aging hipsters, it’s difficult to respect a party whose standard bearer and young upstart – Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren – are both eligible for full social security benefits at the respective ages of 67 and 65. It’s not that I have issues with the elderly. I see the elderly as a valuable but underutilized resource in the US. What I have trouble with is a geriatric who thinks he understands youth culture. Now old people understand children, at least the smart ones do. Having been kids then raised a generation or two of them (in some cases) many old people can relate better than most to the struggles of the younger generations, but that has nothing to do with culture. I’m approaching senescence at full speed myself and I couldn’t tell you who is hip these days, nor would I care to. But when my teenage son has that look in his eye, I know what psycho mind games his girlfriend is playing on him because I remember having that look myself at his age (which is why I ended up marrying an older woman – the girls my age seemed to be all bi-polar schizos).  But that level of maturity, to be old and sympathetic but aware of one’s limitations, is not in evidence in the Democratic Party. Instead we are watching the political equivalent of a 50 year old woman dressing in public like her 20 year old daughter. It’s embarrassing.

8. Crazy Ivan is back. Russia’s bad behavior in Europe and the Middle East proved that 1989 wasn’t the end of Russian authoritarianism after all. The Russian propaganda machine is working overtime extolling the virtues of Vladimir Putin and denigrating everyone else as conspirators all working zealously to undermine Russia. As someone who studied foreign policy during the Cold War, let me just state how happy this makes me. All those papers and books I read about Russian nationalism, culture and paranoia are finally proving their worth. As I have written before, Russia should be America’s natural ally but not when it’s got its pants around its ankles and is pissing on a lamppost while screaming how much it wants to kick America’s ass. We understand Russia the way we understand our crazy ex’s. We know their weaknesses better than they do. The only reason Putin has gotten away with what he has so far is who sits in the Oval Office. Barack Obama makes Jimmy Carter look like Genghis Khan by comparison. Hopefully in two years we will have a balanced leader who will replace him, who sets meaningful red lines and punishes our enemies while rewarding our allies – the opposite of our current commander in chief.


Gravity – Proved Yet Again

Experiment is the beating heart of Science. The story of Galileo dropping cannonballs off the Leaning Tower of Pisa to disprove Aristotle’s Theory of Gravity remains one of the great examples of the scientific method of all time. More importantly it proved how counter-intuitive Science can be and why Science without experimentation is a joyless and immobile creation.

Imagine a cannonball and a feather. Which will fall faster in a vacuum?

If you are like me your gut screams that the feather must fall slower than the cannonball in a vacuum. After all we’ve seen feathers and other light objects fall before, and they inevitably fall slower than more massive objects. But our perceptions are warped by our experience of not living in a vacuum.

Here is the experiment performed in the world’s largest vacuum chamber. It is simply brilliant.


It’s Jews All The Way Down

The name of this journal is in honor to Occam’s Razor, the tool of logic used to decide when faced with two theories having the same evidence the simpler theory is most likely true. I selected this name because of the explosion of conspiracy theories that followed the 9-11 attacks. Occam’s Razor is to a conspiracy theory what a can of RAID is to a cockroach. In the immediate aftermath of the attack there were a multitude of explanations and justifications, from Bin Laden striking the blow to protest America’s refusal to curb global warming to the controlled demolition of the towers by the US government itself. Like cockroaches these theories managed to survive and evolve into what we now call 9-11 Truthers, a movement that has become a cottage industry where the only people not responsible for the 9-11 attacks are the ones who actually claimed responsibility for committing them.

Every generation has its tin-foil hat crowd, as do both sides of the political spectrum. FDR knew about Pearl Harbor well before the Japanese launched the attack. JFK was killed by the CIA, mob, Cubans or a conspiracy involving all three. The moon landings were faked as was Elvis’s death. Reagan was killed by Hinkley and replaced with an imposter. The CIA was behind the AIDS and Crack epidemics of the 1980s. Vince Foster was “suicided” by the Clintons.

There’s an anecdote where a great scientist delivers a lecture on cosmology in which he remarks the earth orbits around the sun. At the end of the lecture an old woman stands up and shouts, “That’s poppycock. Everyone knows the earth sits on the back of a giant turtle.” The scientist then asks the woman, if that were true what is that turtle resting on? “It’s turtles all the way down,” she answers.

I’m reminded of this anecdote whenever I visit sites like Zero Hedge where it seems the vast majority of posters are advocates of one conspiracy or another, and often many. Whether its the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17, the rise of ISIS, the civil war in Ukraine, rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza or the Ebola outbreak, some insidious group is behind it – and it’s never the obvious the person or group claiming ownership. Instead that person or group is claimed to be a shill or patsy.

Take for example the Ukrainian civil war. Although Russia is the obvious aggressor because it has the most to lose by having an independent and prosperous Ukraine on its border, the Russian government is not to blame. Instead a belligerent undercover NATO forces are massacring Russian speakers in the East and goading Russia into the war. NATO also bombed Flight MH17 and fabricated the telemetry and satellite data showing the plane was downed by a missile fired from Russian controlled territory. The whole purpose of this exercise is for the West to ignite a war with Russia, one that will cause the price of fuel to skyrocket for the benefit of American energy companies.

Then there’s al-Qaeda and its off-shoot ISIS. It’s a common belief that these groups are under the control of the CIA and the Mossad. All the terrorist attacks committed by these groups, all the beheadings and massacres are manufactured by bureaucrats in Langley and Tel Aviv, operating “false flag” divisions devoted to creating mayhem that then provides justification for their governments to meddle in the Middle East on behalf of the TPTB, the Powers that Be.

Mind you there is not a scintilla of proof behind any of this, and when proof countering this narrative is raised the conspiracy theorists simply move the goal-posts onto another area where the proof is not as definitive. Or they claim the proof offered was itself manufactured, making it impossible to disprove their position. Conspiracy theorists believe such maneuvers make their positions stronger, but the impossibility of disproving a theory actually weakens it from a rational point of view. For example a single piece of evidence could disprove Evolution; simply find the fossil of a modern animal such as a human or horse in sediments dating from the Jurassic Period, and the theory would be gravely weakened. Yet there is no such evidence that can possibly refute the theory that the World Trade Centers were destroyed through explosives set in the structures by the CIA or Mossad as many Truthers believe. The fact that we have video and thousands of eyewitness accounts of the airliners slamming into the buildings does not weaken their convictions. The dearth of such acceptable contrarian evidence forces these ideas out of the realm of factuality and into faith.

And who are the TPTB? It depends on whom you ask. For many it’s the extremely wealthy oligarchs that run the world’s economies, men of unimaginable wealth whose faces are not known, but who control the fates of Man in the same way the gods controlled the fates of the Greeks and Romans. But then one could ask, well, who controls The Powers That Be? Inevitably we run into the Jews. The Jews are the world’s favorite Wizard of Oz, the man behind the curtain that controls everything Evil. If something bad happens there is inevitably a Jew behind it.

But why stop there? Who’s behind the Jews? And then the lady at the back of the room stands up and says “It’s Jews all the way down…”

Over the past 5000 years of their existence other tribes and their religions have come and gone but the Jews remain. They have survived countless persecutions, pogroms, and the greatest mass-murder in History and still they remain true to their faith and identity. Over that time Jews have risen to the heights of power in every civilization they have lived in, wielding power in service to Ottoman sultans, defining Communism in Russia, and serving the cause of freedom and democracy in the American senate. Their success in the Arts is unparalleled. Countless writers, actors, directors and musicians hail from the ethnic group. Their importance to finance, established during the middle ages due to the prohibition of usury by the Catholic Church, gave them the control of wealth that lays at the heart of most anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. This survival and even thriving at times is historically unusual, and when you put success together with survival over 5 millennia, you have a recipe for those of weaker minds to fall for conspiracies involving favoritism or treachery.

And I must emphasize that anti-Semitism is the purvey of weaker minds. It takes much effort to understand History and its complexities, and that is simply too much for many to employ. It is much easier to fall back on conspiratorial beliefs that are simplistic but with a strong history of their own. And that I think is the problem with facts: they take more effort to put together to create the Truth than to weave falsehoods into a great Lie. It is much easier to dream up a conspiracy theory that explains the loss of Malaysian Flight MH17 than it is to objectively examine the evidence. It is also a much more compelling story. But just because it’s compelling doesn’t mean it’s correct, and that apocryphal lady’s belief in turtles will not pluck the Earth from orbit around the Sun and set it upon an infinite column of reptiles just as the Jews are as guilty or innocent as any other ethnic group for the sins of this world.

Immigration For Idiots

Because Evidently Smart People Have Gotten Really Stupid About the Subject

Imagine you arrive at work one morning to find a group of people standing around your desk or workstation. You notice similar groups standing around the desks of your colleagues. Everyone is perplexed. Finally your boss arrives and explains, “These are your potential replacements.” She points to one, “See Miguel here? He’s actually a harder worker than you are and is willing to work for half of what I pay you. Sure his English isn’t the best, but Rosetta Stone Spanish is half-price on Amazon right now, Eso es mucho, ¿eh Miguel?” Miguel nods vigorously.

“The only thing holding me back from hiring him is immigration reform,” she says, “But since both parties are committed, I guess it’s only a matter of time…” She walks away, then says over her shoulder, “Oh, and until it’s passed you might want to remember Miguel and his amigos when you come to my office for your next evaluation.”

We like to believe we are indispensable in our jobs, that the company cannot run without us. The truth is that unless you work for yourself your company CAN run without you, and in many cases may do so better. The only reason you have a job is that the company you work for gains more from your labor than the cost of employing you. So if it pays you $20 an hour, it expects to make at least that back through your labor. If it doesn’t you won’t have a job for long because the company will go out of business. Say it makes a 25% return on your employment, netting the firm $5 an hour after paying you your wage. Would it pass up an opportunity to pay less for your position, say turning that 25% return into a 100% return by paying $12.50 an hour?

This is an oversimplification of course. Many employees don’t make their firms any money at all. If you are in infrastructure, whether a middle manager or an IT developer, you are only employed until your company figures out how to get rid of your position. Somewhere within your company someone is trying to figure out how to do away with your job in the name of “streamlining” or “efficiency.” It’s no different to what you do at home when you look at your bills and try to figure out how to make your money go farther. Your position is an expense, and right now it’s necessary, but it won’t be forever of course. And in the meantime your firm will do whatever it can to maximize profits while minimizing costs, and your salary or wage is a cost that it will work very hard to minimize.

The Labor Market is no different than any market. The price of anything on the market is determined by its supply and demand. If the supply is plentiful, it’s price will be relatively cheap. As it becomes rarer, the price rises. For those of us who have grown up in free(ish) market economies we take this fact for granted for everything from gasoline to gold. But for some reason when it comes to jobs we get stupid about it.

In a free market whenever there’s a shortage of something, whether it’s pork bellies or Playstations, the price skyrockets. For the past 15 years high tech firms have been complaining about labor shortages in the STEM fields, and call for increased numbers of H-1B and J visas to fill the supposed shortage. If this were true we would expect that the salaries for such jobs would be sky-high.

The Chronicle for Higher Education investigated the STEM field labor shortage claims and concluded the STEM labor shortage is a myth. Salaries in these fields have been stagnant and in many cases, in decline. So why do so many people believe the myth? “The claims about STEM shortages come from employers, along with their lobbyists and trade associations, claims Michael Teitelbaum, who a fellow in science policy at Harvard University and a senior advisor at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.”

There is no labor shortage, just a shortage of labor willing to work for the wages set by companies. Companies want to pay their employees less, and the only way to do that in a free(ish) market economy is to boost the potential supply of its workforce. Why wouldn’t it support immigration reform if it meant more aspirants for your job? This potential pool of applicants allows it to find a cheaper replacement for you or at the very least keeps you from asking for a raise.

Why Unions Support Immigration Reform

Today’s unions aren’t your father’s grandfather’s unions. Back in the day unions raised wages and working conditions for their members because they controlled the supply of labor either directly, by determining whether their members worked, or indirectly by making crossing a picket line dangerous to one’s health. They also fiercely resisted immigration, viewing immigrants as increasing the labor supply and driving down wages for their members.

Today’s unions are pale shadows of their former selves, representing only a sliver of the non-government workforce. Because they can no longer control the supply of labor in most industries, it only makes sense for them to focus on the low paying service industries where they can still exercise some control. These industries happen to employ the most illegal immigrants, so starting a decade or so ago, the unions gave up their resistance to immigration and embraced it.  Now unions like the SEIU see each illegal immigrant from Honduras or Mexico as a dues paying member. Since the minimum wage provides a floor to wages, the unions no longer have to worry about decreasing labor supply to boost wages; they’ll just push for a higher minimum wage, and that’s exactly what the unions have done. The primary weapon of unions is no longer a picket line, but the cash desperately needed by politicians to win elections.

By expanding their rank and file with immigrants, the unions then have the cash to provide to politicians who can then raise the minimum wage to boost the salaries of its members. From the perspective of the rank and file, the union leadership and the politicians who receive their cash, everybody wins. The only losers are the middle class consumers who pay more for goods and services provided by unionized companies as well as pay the higher taxes required to support the large cheap labor pool, and the constituents of the politicians who are in the pockets of the unions.

 Why Liberals Support Immigration Reform

Let’s face it, these immigrants aren’t coming from places where Ayn Rand and Adam Smith are cultural icons. They are coming from collectivist societies where Che Guevara is more than an image on a t-shirt, used to living under strong states, albeit ones with failed policies bad enough to drive them to risk everything to cross our border. The teeming masses awaken the natural impulse within liberals to help, and that help in the liberal’s mind can only come through a strong, all-encompassing State. Liberals also don’t like borders, viewing nationalism as a scourge that will eventually disappear along with such barbarities as the Plague and GMO food. Modern liberals are by nature trans-nationalists, and nothing is more trans-national than a bunch of brown people who have suffered under the neo-colonial policies of the Western Powers flooding into the USA. Each Mexican or Honduran represents a chicken of past colonial aggression coming home to the United States to roost.

Additionally, hard core Leftists believe the Marxist interpretation of Capitalism that inequality deepens as wealth follows its natural tendency to accumulate with the upper class, and that it’s the job of the State to confiscate that wealth and redistribute it to the lower classes. Marx himself viewed this as an untenable state of affairs that would eventually lead to communism and the concept of wealth would disappear and vegan unicorns would frolic in a low-carbon world.  Until that time the State would tax the bejeezus out of the wealthy and hand it over to the poor in welfare payments. More poor immigrants require more taxes from the wealthy, helping make that Communist Paradise one-step closer to reality.

Of course all liberals aren’t steeped in liberation ideology and the politics of identity. To Democrats each immigrant is a potential Democratic voter. Immigrants traditionally vote Democrat at least for a generation or two until they assimilate. Pew Research finds 31% of illegal immigrants self-identify with the Democratic Party vs. 4% for the Republican Party. Converting those illegal immigrants into voters has the potential to make the Democratic Party the majority party in the US and consign the Republican Party to History’s wastebasket. Given the potential payoff Democrats would be stupid not to support immigration reform, and for all its faults the Democratic Party has never been known for its stupidity.

The Stupid Party of American Politics

And why is the GOP establishment keen on immigration reform? Because the Republican Party is the Stupid Party in American politics. The GOP’s Big Business/Big Government wing is determined to push through reform in order to provide its corporate base with the cheap labor it demands even if it means the party’s suicide. While the libertarian/populist/small government wing of the party fights back in primaries, showing its power in Eric Cantor’s primary loss, the GOP establishment believes that it must pass immigration reform to continue receiving support from its corporate patrons and to counter the Democrats charge of racism. It pins its hopes on the social conservatism of the Hispanic community, that the community will see what swell, non-racist guys the party is and will switch party affiliation. This has about as much chance of happening as Joe Biden winning the presidency in 2016.

So there you have it. Hopefully this article adds some clarity to the issue. Where your opinion falls should reflect whether you compete with immigrants for your job or not. If you don’t, then you should favor their arrival. But if you do, you should think twice about supporting immigration reform you racist.

In 2003 after being forced to train his own replacement on an H-1B visa, Scott Kirwin made the cover of Wired Magazine and founded the IT Professionals Association of America and worked for 3 years to counter the myth of the high-tech labor shortage. In 2006 he threw up his hands and quit, having received little support from IT professionals and lots of badly written though amusing threats from Indian workers.







A Warp Drive Might Be Possible, and More Importantly, Practical

More of this please.

Dr Harold White is famous for suggesting that faster than light (FTL) travel is possible.
Using something known as an Alcubierre drive, named after a Mexican theoretical physicist of the same name, Dr White said it is possible to ‘bend’ space-time, and cover large distances almost instantly. This, in essence, would allow a spaceship to travel almost anywhere in a tiny fraction of the time it would take a conventional spacecraft.

Hope to see this in action sometime before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Technological Progress: The Hardback Replaces the E-Book

I did something the other day that I hadn’t done in 2 years: I bought a book. Like many I’d taken to reading books on e-readers, in my case the Amazon Kindle Fire, and after purchasing the Kindle I had thought my book buying days were over. But over time I noticed something: what I read on the Kindle didn’t seem to stick with me as long. I’d even sampled books I had already downloaded and read. Something wasn’t right.

I began investigating whether there was a link between poor reading comprehension and e-readers. This article, originally published in Scientific American, suggests there is.

At least a few studies suggest that by limiting the way people navigate texts, screens impair comprehension. In a study published in January 2013 Anne Mangen of the University of Stavanger in Norway and her colleagues asked 72 10th-grade students of similar reading ability to study one narrative and one expository text, each about 1,500 words in length. Half the students read the texts on paper and half read them in pdf files on computers with 15-inch liquid-crystal display (LCD) monitors. Afterward, students completed reading-comprehension tests consisting of multiple-choice and short-answer questions, during which they had access to the texts. Students who read the texts on computers performed a little worse than students who read on paper. (source)

Around the same time I bought the Kindle, I was having a carpenter install bookshelves in what was going to be our library, and I remember feeling almost nostalgic about the books that were boxed and ready to be placed on the shelves. I’d always taken the measure of a man by the books he read, and the library struck me as a place that told more about him than he perhaps wanted known. It wasn’t just their subjects that gave away their owner’s secrets. Were they paperbacks that were tattered from being carried around backpacks and the backseat floors of cars, dog-eared and marked up with various inks? Or were they pristine collectors edition hardbacks whose spines had never been broken, likely owned and cherished for their spines and little else? If one looked carefully one could even glimpse the reader’s evolution, from paperback science fiction novels of her early teens, to the paperback Tolkien sagas of her college years, followed by the physical science pre-med and medical school textbooks bursting with margin notes and photocopied hand-outs, to the growing number of travel books reflecting a restless soul who needs to wander to exotically named places like Marrakesh and Zanzibar.

I had to delay my gratification for two days until the hardback arrived in the mailbox, and its cost was approximately double that of the electronic version. But the feel of the book in my hands was like the handclasp, and the smell of the pages was like the old familiar perfume of an old friend. Three days after its reception, it’s due to join the rest of my old friends in the library in the center of our home. The copy of PJ O’Rourke’s Holidays in Hell that has holidayed with me in Africa and Asia. The Stephen Jay Gould collection. The Feynman books. Like all devoured and at my finger tips to be referenced at a moment’s notice.

Recommended Life Skills From A Nobody

The following are what I consider to be life skills for everyone that you won’t see in the usual lists floating around the internet. Mastering just a few of these will improve your well-being as they have mine.

If you already know them, teach a friend or if you have kids, teach them. For specifics on how to do any of the following, Google and YouTube are your friends.

Now you might ask, “Why should I listen to an old fool like you? You aren’t famous. You aren’t rich. You’re really a nobody.”  I admit I’m old and often foolish and while I may not be rich I am comfortable. As for being a nobody, I’m somebody to the animals I’ve rescued and care for, to the Kid and to the Wife. Their opinions about me matter more to me than the number of  readers I have of this blog, Twitter followers or Facebook friends. Besides my advice won’t kill you, unlike Jenny McCarthy’s.

As MM catches in the comments there is no particular rank to these skills. They’re pretty much in the order they came to me, and this being an easily editable blog post, I’ll continue adding to the list. Enjoy!

1. Safely change a flat tire. Nothing screams “Moron!” like driving on the shoulder with a flat-tire, turning a $10 problem into a $200 one. And while I recommend AAA, there’s no reason to call them for a flat unless you are a woman. I’ve driven half a million road miles and have never seen a woman change a flat. Evidently it’s something that men can do that women can’t, like pee standing up (although I have seen women do that.) You’ll know we’ve achieved true equality of the sexes when you see women changing flat tires. Sexist? Yes, but you don’t need much upper body strength to fix a flat.

2. Learn how to do laundry. Hint: Like likes like. Oh, and read the label (if you haven’t cut it out already).

3. Be able to prepare and cook at least one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner. The key? The only time you use high heat is to boil water. Everything else cooks best with moderate heat. Always keep a jar of pasta sauce, box of spaghetti and a bag of frozen meatballs on hand. Within 20 minutes you will have dinner for two.

4. Learn how to use a multimeter, specifically how to measure resistance. I’ll admit I’ve used multimeters for a long time but only figured out how to measure resistance last week. It’s like using a hammer for years to pry nails up and then realizing that gee, you can beat them into the wood too. Seriously it was a revelation. Once I learned this I was measuring conductivity of everything in the house. (Tip: Cats are NOT conductive, at least at the amperage contained in your average multimeter.) Bad fuse? You’ll know instantly. Short somewhere? Your multimeter will help you find it.

5. Balance a checkbook. Learn how to handle cash flow, especially when using checks and maintaining a small balance.

6. Floss. Your dental hygienist is right. Flossing makes a big difference. Not only does it keep your teeth clean, it helps maintain your health. And it makes kissing bearable.

7. Learn how to correctly iron a shirt. In today’s casual business environment of “wrinkle-free” shirts and slacks, you might think this is anachronistic. Think again. Even the so-called wrinkle-free shirts look positively frumpy compared to a well-ironed shirt. It’s a small detail that says a lot about you to your colleagues and will be noticed, even if you are a jeans/t-shirt type at heart. Every decent motel contains an ironing board and an iron. If you are traveling on business, use them.

8. Do your own taxes. Using software is okay, but before you go to H&R Block or let your brother who is studying accounting do them for you, do them yourself. Doing so will teach you your relationship to society. You will see learn that the rebate check you receive after you file isn’t a gift: it’s the money taken from you throughout the year that’s leftover after the government takes its cut.

9. Sew a basic stitch. Buttons pop off at inopportune times, and small tears can often be handled with a few stitches. Sewing kits tend to breed in drawers. Learn how to use them.

10. Never run out of gas. If you live in a hurricane prone area it’s a good idea to never fall below half a tank during hurricane season. If you can’t think far enough ahead to avoid running out of gas you probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel in the first place.

11. Learn how to say “No, thanks.” This is one of those general life rules that should be common sense but isn’t. Learning how to say “no” without causing offense or leading to intimidation is one of those skills that once learned can save you from a lot of grief. Is a guy hitting on you wanting to buy you a drink? Say it politely. Are your buddies offering you one for the road? Don’t take it. The boss offering you another project to take on to your overwhelming work load? Say, “Not until I get some bandwidth. As soon as I finish (X project) I’ll be happy to take it on.” No is one of the shortest yet most important words in the English language. Use it to avoid trouble.

12. Make being skeptical instinctive. Everyday we receive more marketing offers than ever before promising us endless opportunities and joy. None of them actually deliver. You are a target, a walking wallet to an assortment of sundry, often shady enterprises. Maintaining your skepticism will help you avoid being scammed.

13. Pay your bills on time. Preferably a couple of days before they are due. Get in the habit and you’ll avoid late fees, collection calls, dings to your credit rating.

14. Safely handle a firearm. Guns are not everyone’s cup of tea, but you’d be surprised at how tasty the tea is once you try a sip. There’s a  mystique about guns thanks to the anti-gun media, and it’s one that isn’t based on reality. The reality is that like any tool they have their uses. Knowing your way around a handgun or rifle de-mystifies them. They are tools with a purpose, and just as you wouldn’t think about playing with a running chain-saw (at least while you’re sober) if you treat guns with the same respect you will have nothing to fear from them. As an ex anti-gun person who is now a card-carrying member of the NRA, take my word for it. Even if you decide you do not want a firearm in your house, learning about them will help you make an informed decision.

15. Learn a poem by heart. I’m not sure why it’s important, but trust me, it is. In college I memorized Theodore Roethke’s I Knew a Woman, and every time I recite that poem something stirs deep within me.  It’s not meant to be explicable, just experienced. “She moved in circles, and those circles moved.” Delightful!

16. Avoid socializing with emotional vampires. I first saw that term used years ago in a Harlan Ellison book where he recommended this, and experience has taught me the wisdom in this statement. You have to recognize that there are people you can’t save. Often these people don’t want to be saved or merely exist by feeding on the kindness shown to them by their friends and family members. In the end they will suck you dry of your money, your love, or your mental well-being, leaving you a drained corpse while they move on to their next victim. Whether it’s a family member or friend, run don’t walk away from these people and cut them out of your life.

17. Memorize the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. Not only does it sound charlie-oscar-oscar-lima when you say it, it also helps people understand you when you’re talking on the phone. I find it ironic that while telephones have improved and become more mobile thanks to the invention of the cell phone and its evolution into the smartphone, call quality hasn’t improved. If anything it’s gotten worse, so knowing the phonetic alphabet will help you order the right item on a website, or help guarantee your name is spelled correctly on a form.

18. Learn how to ride a motorcycle. Yes they are dangerous. According to a UK study motorcycles have 16 times the rate of serious injuries compared to cars. According to most motorcyclists though, they are at least 16 times more fun to ride. There is nothing quite like the joy of riding a motorcycle on the open road.  A motorcycle makes you feel a part of a landscape instead of feeling apart from it, puts you in it instead of seeing it through panes of safety glass in a steel cocoon. While I wouldn’t dream about using a motorcycle to commute to work with on the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia, I’m glad I own one for the occasional times when I just want to escape. Oh, and another thing: You can’t multi-task on a motorcycle. Being on a bike forces you to enjoy the moment in a way a car cannot.

19. Keep a pet. Keeping a pet forces you to think about something else besides yourself. If you’ve never had a pet before start with something small and easy like a goldfish and work your way up. Seriously. Don’t immediately adopt that cute Jack Russell you saw outside the Petsmart; you have to work your way up to high maintenance animals like that. Oh, and never pay for a dog or cat unless its to cover spay/neutering or other vet costs. There is no shortage of these animals, and while I recognize that most breeders are decent people who care about animals, the reality is that the shelters are full of animals needing homes.

20. Live in a foreign country. Nothing teaches you about your own country like living outside of it. Sure you’ll learn about your host country, but you will become a window through which others see yours. You’ll be surprised at what they say and think about your country and your people, and you’ll gain a new perspective on what being a citizen of your country means.

21. Learn how to wait. Most of life isn’t exciting and the fact is you will spend a lot of time waiting. There are several kinds of waiting – waiting for the right man/woman to come into your life, waiting for better times… But the waiting I refer to here is of the more mundane variety such as what to do while waiting in line. The next time you are in line at the grocery store watch what others do while they wait. The majority fidget, checking their phones or the headlines on the tabloids. Hardly anyone relaxes or simply observes the world around them. I’ve been told that veteran soldiers become the masters of handling down times like waiting. They’ve been trained to use the free time to rest their minds, even sleep when possible, so that the next time things get exciting they will be mentally alert. When I’m feeling particularly Zen I like to practice mindful meditation, focus on my breathing and allow the world to happen around me as if I were a leaf on a pond. But since I suck at Zen I struggle just like everyone else. Like all of these items on this list I am learning to perfect this skill which isn’t easy to do since my monkey mind is rather gorilla sized.

22. Study a foreign language. As my friend PJ suggests in the comments, this is a life skill worth trying. I stress “trying” because I’ve never come close to speaking a foreign language fluently the way my friends like PJ or the Wife (who’s fluent in several) have done. Learning a foreign language has many benefits, some more obvious than others depending on circumstances. But regardless of what you study you will see the world from a different perspective, even if you never attain fluency. Take Japanese. I never came close to mastering it, but learning the basics of the language taught me some key assumptions. For example, in most cases “I” is never used and is implied. This ambiguity touches upon the cultural trait of the Japanese stressing the group over the individual. The language also relies upon honorofics,  for example the “-san”, “-chan” and “-sama” suffixes that portray the rank of the speaker and whom he or she is speaking to. Japanese conveys the social contexts of the speaker and the listener in ways that are impossible or at best archaic in other languages. Think Downton Abbey for a taste in English.

23. Listen to an old person. I know people who met people who had been born into slavery. Others I’ve talked to remember life without indoor plumbing. While waiting for a car repair to finish I once talked to a Vietnam vet who flew psyops over North Vietnam. What’s better than talking to someone about history who’s lived it? For most of our history as a species the only history books we had were our elderly. The only problem with these “books” is that often by the time we need them, they’re gone. It’s a cliche to attack our youth-centric culture, and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the frivolity of youth as long as we keep the more important of life’s decisions in the hands of those who appreciate history and the sense of proportion such knowledge brings. Everyone has elders. Get them talking about a particular subject they are interested in, then listen to them. You might learn something.

 24. Patronize an unknown artist. Perhaps there’s a street musician you pass by on the way home who is playing music you like. Don’t just toss him a buck; buy his CD if he has one laying out. Visit art fairs and art shows that spring up locally and put some of your hard-earned cash into the hands of a skilled but unknown artist or craftsman. Instead of buying a poster of a dead artist, buy an actual print of a living one. We live in an age of mass production where few things are handcrafted. Even things that were once hand made like prints of the Masters are now mass produced. We are human beings, each crafted through evolution by genetics to be one of a kind. We should celebrate this not hide it  behind some cheap prints picked up at Ikea. There are artists in every community who are doing amazing, unique things in their preferred medium. Each piece purchased is guaranteed to be one of a kind and makes more of a personal statement than the same French Cat poster that everyone displays (I admit I used to display it too).

25. Challenge yourself. It might be to do something easy like take a different route home from work, or it can be more difficult like quitting smoking or starting the novel you’ve always wanted to write. The key point here is to force yourself out of your comfort zone and do something that will surprise your friends, your family and ultimately yourself.  It really doesn’t matter if you succeed or not, only that you tried. And once you’ve quit smoking, taken that out of the way route home or written that novel, try something else. I’m teaching myself the mathematics behind quantum physics because I’ve reached a point where I feel I need to understand the math in order to understand the physics better. My goal is to someday touch the math describing the collapse of the wave function. That will be enough for me.

26. (For IT professionals). Learn New Programs/Tools Quickly. Every program or software tool has a unique logic to it. The only way to discover that logic is to use the program as much as possible. You can start by reading the manual, a Dummies book or similar guide, or even reviewing YouTube videos but nothing beats actually using the tool or program as much as you can. What I like to do when I pick up a new program is where the dragons be. These are the places where you’re guaranteed to break something. Learn whee it is then avoid that area. The more intrepid make a beeline for those places and claim they can learn a program or tool much faster by working on the edge. In my view this is selfish when dealing with a distributed tool on a network, so keep to the safe areas unless you are working on your own copy on your own machine. Not only will this skill enhance your earnings potential, but each tool you learn makes others that much easier to learn and the more tools and experience you have, the more important you become in your realm.


The Ethics of Altered Time Perception

The Daily Mail has a thought provoking article on the use of drugs and other methods to prolong the sense of time for criminals, making their incarcerations seem longer than their actual sentences. While the article does a fair job of covering the morality of using such drugs on prisoners, it completely ignores uses of the technology for more benign purposes.

Imagine a drug one could take that could make a two day vacation feel like a month. Or prolonging those instants of joy that spontaneously arise in our lives into minutes, hours or perhaps even days. Would any of us not take a drug that would allow us mastery of time, to fight the inexorable rush forward, reducing it to a creep at certain times of our lives? There are moments we want to last forever. Soon there will be an app for that.

The article raises profound concerns about what justice means, and as the technology comes into existence we as a society should consider each of them carefully. But are we prepared at all for the opposite? Could there be a downside to stretching out those joyful moments artificially?

The Vanishing of Malaysian Air Flight 370

While the world wonders what happened to Malaysian Air Flight 370, a quote keeps recurring from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s unflappable Sherlock Holmes. “(W)hen you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth(.)” The longer this mystery continues it’s hard not to speculate and perhaps even engage in a conspiracy theory or two while remaining mindful of the fictional Holmes’s dedication to the evidence.

Unfortunately when it comes to that, we’re pretty screwed at this point. Six days after the plane disappeared we seem no closer to resolving the mystery. It is very difficult for us in the 21st century to imagine a plane full of 239 people simply vanishing. The longer the mystery remains the worse it will be. If in three months we have no further evidence of what happened to this plane, I have no doubt that it will become the most talked about disaster of all time, becoming the 21st century’s Titanic.

One of the most intriguing possibilities comes from the Wall Street Journal, that quotes US investigators theorizing that the plane’s transponders were turned off intentionally and the plane flown to an unknown airstrip. The map at the bottom of the article shows the range of the aircraft, covering some of the most rugged and isolated areas in the world. That’s a lot of area to land a plane in. And if this theory turns out true, there won’t be a kid on the planet who won’t know the name of the mastermind behind it.

The Painful Implications of Invertebrates Feeling Pain

Do invertebrates feel pain? Evidently some, like crustaceans do. “Brown crabs rubbed and picked at their wound when a claw was removed, as it is in fisheries. At times the prawns and crabs would contort their limbs into awkward positions to reach the injury…”

But the same article says we don’t have to feel guilty when we smash a stink bug. “Even in extreme cases, insects show no evidence of pain. Imagine a praying mantis eating a locust, [Wageningen University professor Hans] Smid says. With its abdomen opened up, the locust will still feed even while being eaten.” Good to know because I’ve become a regular American Psycho when it comes to stink bugs.

So Science has decided that animals as simple as hermit crabs feel pain. Yet we are led to believe that human embryos and fetuses prior to birth do not, and the research that states otherwise remains controversial. This isn’t a philosophical problem for me since I eat animals and oppose laws outlawing abortion in the first trimester. I accept both are murder. But it strikes me as a bit of a conflict when my liberal friends support abortion without restriction yet won’t touch an egg because of the suffering the hen went through making it.

I’ll start taking vegans seriously when I meet one who opposes abortion for the same reason they oppose consuming animal products.

The Dollars and Sense of a College Education

If you peruse this website you’ll see I think deeply about many subjects. Two subjects that are dear to my heart are medicine and higher education. Why? The first is obvious: I’m married to a doctor and have a nice perch from which I can view the industry’s operation and development. The second is not so obvious. Although I am a college graduate I have no particular love for my alma mater. In fact when I visited it a few years ago I was surprised by how little a connection I felt on campus. It had changed as I had, but there was something else. I felt that I had been processed, just one of thousands that graduated from the university that by-gone year. It was a very mechanical operation. I paid my money, got my card punched for the required classes I needed, and received a certificate and a handshake at a forgettable ceremony at the end.

Yet I still think about and worry about higher education. I recognize its importance in a free society, which is why I rail against its takeover by leftists and fret over its cost. I also I have a child who will soon be college age, and so I’m mindful about the choices and opportunities higher education offers him.

Medicine and higher education also share one thing in common. Their prices are completely opaque. I recently lost my health insurance as a direct result of  Obamacare, and as I get older I worry more about how long my body can last without seriously breaking down. Take for example a hernia repair. I had one done in 1999 and was similarly under-insured at the time. The price back then was $3,000 and was split 50-50 between my insurer and me. As I begin to prepare the farm for Spring (funny to think about considering I’m waiting to be walloped by a deadly winter storm as I write) I’m moving heavy things around. Every once in a while I get a twang in my lower gut on the opposite side of the repaired hernia and it scares me.

How much would a hernia operation cost me today?

I have absolutely no clue. I can go online and find the price of nearly any car. I can search real estate sites and learn the prices of houses in any neighborhood in North America. I can even find out how much companies charge to clean out my septic tank, but I cannot tell you how much the local hospitals are charging for hernia repair. All I know is that it’s probably going to cost me more than $1,500. Probably a lot more.

Why is this?

Similarly I can look up the cost of tuition at any college or university in North America. In many cases such numbers aren’t easily found, and when they are they really don’t mean much. For one thing the costs don’t include many mandatory fees that one has to pay. They also often don’t provide the cost of living one has to pay to attend. And finally, the tuition figure is a lot like “manufacturer’s suggested retail price.” Hardly anyone pays that number except for wealthy foreign students who tend not to be price sensitive thanks to their parents being members of some kleptocracy in the Third World. In most cases the cost of tuition will be lowered by need-based grants or scholarships.

Other costs are never mentioned. For example opportunity costs. For arguments sake let’s imagine that my son will attend college and graduate in four years. Not only will I have to account for the direct cost of his education such as tuition, fees and books, but I’ll have to include indirect costs like room and board, transportation, food, entertainment, clothing etc. On top of that there’s the cost of lost wages. During those four years he could have worked full time and earned say, $20,000 a year. That’s $80,000 in earnings he’s forfeited and that he will have to make up through better earning power of his degree. If he graduates and earns just $20k a year, then he’s wasted his time and I’ve wasted my money.

But by far the largest unmentioned cost is compound interest. As Einstein once said compound interest is the most powerful force in the Universe, and anyone who’s ever paid back a student loan knows he was right. Every month I cut a check to pay back the Wife’s medical school loans and the balance barely budges, and the reason it doesn’t is compound interest. Students may not understand that when they borrow $10,000 at 5% interest to attend school, they aren’t paying back $10,500 after they graduate. While they are in school that loan is capitalizing, and the interest is compounding so that by the time they pay back that $10,000 loan ten years after graduation they will have paid back $20,000 on top of the $10,000 they borrowed.

So how much does a year of college really cost?

Again, it’s difficult to say. The best I can do is estimate it.

I’ll start with my alma mater, University of California – San Diego which is to education what factory farming is to the poultry business. UCSD off-campus cost including tuition, estimated room, board, transportation is roughly $30,000 for the 2014-15 school year. I’ll assume my kid gets some grants, knocking the cost down to $25,000.

Say I throw in $15,00o leaving him to come up with $10,000. Since he’s a typical teenager, he won’t understand compound interest, so he’ll borrow his $10k and pay it off after he graduates. Because it will take time for him to pay it off, that original $10,000 will become $30,000 by the time he authorizes the last debit to his account for his student loan creditor. Adding in my original $15k means his year at my alma mater will really cost us both $45,000.

To reiterate, that’s the cost for one year at a public school in California based on the following assumptions:

  1. He graduates in 4 years. This is a big if these days. Many kids are taking 6 years or longer. The longer they take, the worse the compound interest on their student loans as the interest on the deferred loans compounds while they are in school.

  2. He gets $5,000 or roughly 17% in need based grants or scholarships. UCSD provides need-based aid to 70% of undergraduates, and some of that includes loans according to an admissions officer at the university I spoke to.

  3. I provide $15,000. That’s more than my entire stay at UCSD cost back in the 1980’s by the way…

  4. He borrows $10,000 and takes 10-15 years to repay it.

One of the dirtiest yet most effective ways to manage one’s time I’ve learned as a per-hour professional contractor is to determine the cost of whatever I’m doing or not doing in terms of a dollars per hour figure. What would it really cost my son to attend an hour long class at UCSD?

UCSD requires 180 units to graduate. So based on our assumptions that’s 45 units per school year of 30 weeks. Dividing the cost of the school year $45,000 by 30 weeks gets us $1,500 per week. In order to maintain our assumptions and finish in 4 years, our student will need to take 15 units per quarter, which translates into 15 classroom hours a week. Dividing the cost per week ($1,500) by classroom hours per week (15) provides us the cost of a classroom hour: $100.

We’ve all heard about dumb classes kids take.  Rutgers University is offering “Polticizing Beyonce” ostensibly to explore race, gender and sexual politics. Assuming Rutgers charges the same as UCSD, I wonder how popular the class would be if students had to peel off a Benjamin each time they entered the classroom. Would they be as willing to explore race, gender, and sexual politics in a classroom for the same price they could explore race, gender, and sexual politics with a moderately priced hooker in private? Granted one doesn’t have to worry about catching an STD by attending class; then again with some of the types I’ve seen on university campuses these days, I’m not so sure about that.

People alter their spending habits when they know what the price of something is and can estimate its value, and the fact that both are hidden from us whenever we consider medicine or higher education should make us stop and ponder “Why?” The free market is a ruthlessly efficient thing. If students had to pay for each class they took when they took it, one could bet that higher education spending would be revolutionized.

Universities would focus on providing better teachers that students would be willing to pay for. They would be forced to cut costs, cutting back on the administrative bloat that inflates the cost of tuition. After all, a typical undergraduate core subject class at UCSD might have as many as 150 students in it. Multiply that number by a $100, and it’s quite likely the adjunct professor teaching the class and the dozen graduate students TA’ing the course see a pittance of that $15,000, the TA’s working for free and the adjunct prof earning about $25/hour. Where did that $14,975 go?

It went several places. To pay down the loan on the new student rec center. To pay off the new training equipment for the track and field team. And on administrators, hordes of administrators, a veritable plague of administrators. As this article shows, a new study finds the number non-academic administrative employees at US colleges and universities has doubled at the same time the number of part-time faculty has grown from a third in 1987 to half of all teachers today. University presidents contend they are doing everything to cut costs, but Richard Vedder, an economist and director at The Center for College Affordability, calls them liars.

“I wouldn’t buy a used car from a university president,” said Vedder. “They’ll say, ‘We’re making moves to cut costs,’ and mention something about energy-efficient lightbulbs, and ignore the new assistant to the assistant to the associate vice provost they just hired.”

Some of my friends have commented that my arguments attack the liberal arts and that I focus too much on STEM courses that provide good job opportunities after graduation. I don’t have a grudge against the liberal arts per se. In fact one of the most useful courses in terms of my career as a systems analyst I ever took was a philosophy course on logic. Some of the English courses were excellent too in terms of value.  Being able to communicate to a broad audience is critical in business these days, yet so many students lack the basic ability of crafting a memo let alone being able to articulate complex subjects to non-technical audiences. If I could go back in time, I would happily peel off a Benjamin to pay for an hour of that logic course. It was worth it to me, and would likely be worth it to others. I’m advocating a system of price transparency and reform that will likely save such classes because the administrators who are waking up to the threat posed by parents like me are scrambling to cut costs by cutting teachers and courses instead of cutting their own jobs. Maybe Politicizing Beyonce is a great course well worth the cost, but the market, those paying for the class, should be given the opportunity to decide its true value.

Facebook’s Culture of Like Breeds Conformity

I don’t post on Facebook anymore, and haven’t since August 2012.. Like many conservatives/libertarians most of my friends are liberals. In fact just for kicks I went through and categorized my “Facebook Friends” into Liberal, Moderate and Other political categories based on their posts. 60% of these “friends” were avowed liberals while the remainder was split evenly between moderates and “other”. This exercise didn’t take much time; I don’t have all that many “friends” on Facebook. In fact I’d quit it completely if it wasn’t for the posts of a small subset of friends and George Takei.

I quit posting on Facebook after finding myself drawn into an argument with a liberal friend from my college days. I’ve been on the Internet since before it was called “The Internet.” When I was in college I hung out at a local BBS and frequented Usenet groups. I quickly learned the perils of flamers and trolls, and so by the time the 2000’s rolled by I had a full education on what topics to avoid and which to pursue and more importantly, how to pursue them, on the Internet. I learned that writing or posting in a faceless medium tended to make one abstract a friend into an opponent, an opponent into an enemy, and an enemy into a representation of pure Evil. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and I’ve fallen into it many times, usually here on TheRazor, and sometimes in discussions with like-minded friends. But usually I’m smart enough to recognize when I’m stuffing straw into a scarecrow in my arguments and realize that it’s a conscious fight to remain civil. Most of my liberal friends know I am no longer one of them, and they avoid reading this journal.

Unfortunately Facebook makes it easy to demonize the other side, whichever side that is on an issue, and the forum does not accommodate disagreement. There’s a “like” button but not a “dislike” button, so one can agree with a post but cannot disagree. This encourages conformity within a post by making it easier to like something that dislike. If one disagrees with a post, one has to express it in the comments.

When did we begin to expect people to agree with us? Was there ever a time in the past when people disagreed with each other without, to quote Gerald Ford, being disagreeable? Facebook’s culture of “like” makes any opposing view appear harsher in a post regardless of how gently it’s worded. Instead of offering a chance for intellectual stimulation that leads to growth, the culture of “like” demonizes alternate perspectives, encouraging group-think and conformity. Those who express contrary points of view in a post risk jeopardizing the “friendship”. The boosterism and jingoism of the “like” also encourages the poster to “play to the crowd” by providing posts and opinions that are known to be popular, thereby reinforcing the overall conformity of the group. I have learned that at heart I am a contrarian with a natural distaste for majority opinion – which can pose a problem at parties which is why I avoid them at all costs.

If I designed Facebook I’d have not only a “dislike” button but a “you’re f—-ing off your nut” button. I need to say this to my “friends” sometimes and hear it myself. I believe that all of us need to be challenged in our beliefs, and perhaps even change as a result.

And that’s another issue that depresses me with Facebook. The liberal friends I knew back in my college days without exception are liberal today, while I have gone from being a liberal to a conservative/libertarian. I don’t understand how one can hold the same perspectives and worldviews at 50 that they did at 20, or even want to. The world is so much richer and more complex than anything I imagined 30 years ago, and how could one’s beliefs resist the travails of time and experience?

So I’ve given up on Facebook, and it appears that others are doing the same. I’m increasingly seeing fewer and fewer people responding to the posts of others as they are drawn to a few popular figures like George Takei, just as the traffic for blogs has gravitated to a few sites, leaving others to speak or write to the void. This too shall pass, a wise man once said, and for Facebook (and the Obama administration) it can’t pass fast enough for me.



Levitating Objects Using Sound

Cool stuff. Watch the short video below to see small objects levitated and moved using sound waves.