Sunday Reading


This was the coach of my paintball team. He and the head photographer from P8NT Magazine ended up in fairly high-up positions in the Obama campaign. Just before the election, maybe two weeks or so, I had a few beers with both of them and some of their co-workers; all of who just happened to be the heads of their departments. My coach is an epic story teller. Not so much because his oratory skills are great but more because he can piece together the truly significant parts of a story that typically escapes others. He's also not prone to embellishment like most, so you know that everything he's saying is, if anything, understated.

Anyways, I show up late and basically get the best introduction ever as he has recently told them the story of our paintball team (apparently one guy has dibs on the movie rights). They were impressed, which is unique for me because it's usually hard to get past even mentioning paintball before the giggles and misunderstanding begins. It spans about seven years and involves the same core group of kids, being broke, going from decent novices to pro, long road trips, eccentric personalities, and plenty or moral dilemma. Sometimes I forget how all that felt, but this passage from Lao Tzu reminds me of what it was like to be that age and have those experiences.
In the pursuit of knowledge:
everyday something is added.
In the pursuit of enlightenment:
everyday something is dropped.

Photo by Dan Mouradian on a Mamiya 6x7. This was a Polaroid test shot. It was taken for a P8NT Magazine gear guide in my parent's basement... moonshine and sharpies ensued.

The Strike Is Not About Teacher's Pay

The Chicago Sun Times published this:
Chicago Public Schools starting salaries are among the highest in the region... But the annual increases for teachers in CPS are much smaller than the annual increases in many suburban districts. For example, a teacher with a master’s degree, 30 additional credit hours, and ten years of experience, can expect to earn $87,513 in Evanston this year; last year, in Oak Park, a teacher would have made $88,978. In Chicago this year, the same teacher will earn $75,711 — about $12,000 a year less than in districts to which he or she could walk or take public transportation from a home in Chicago. Over the course of a career, that difference amounts to over a quarter of a million dollars.
Except that average household income in those cities is far higher than Chicago's:

Chicago - $45,700
Evanston - $67,700 (48% more)
Oak Park - $70,600 (65% more)

If the citizens of those areas were to pay the same percentage as Chicagoan's then the respective salaries would be roughly (using the numbers quoted which I find slightly inaccurate):

Evanston - $112,000
Oak Park - $125,000

By that measure Chicago is actually doing quite well. If you figured in benefits it'd be even more lopsided. The strike is not about salaries. 70% of CPS's (2012) budget is spent on employees:

Textbooks - $74 million
Construction - $391 million
Teacher's Medical - $348 million
Teacher's Salaries - $2,085 million
Total Employee Salary and Benefits - $3,584 million
Total Budget - $5,110

... and 1.4% on textbooks. I know this may come off as anti-teachers or whatever but the real target here is the author of the offending article and the newspaper that printed it. It's bad journalism.

Updating Education

I've long thought that the material taught in schools bears little resemblance to what is required of most in the workforce, so I posed the question to some teacher friends of mine whether or not certain subjects could be highly abbreviated or all together eliminated from high school curricula and what might be added. The short answer was no, it should stay the same. With the general retort being that a well rounded liberal arts education is best.

Since then I've asked several people to tell me one thing they learned in high school chemistry; I usually get silence as an answer. I actually didn't expect it to be that bad. Of course the point of chemistry is not to make you a chemist and it's purpose is to teach you another way of thinking, the scientific method, to expose those who love chemistry to their future career, etc., but why not spend more of that time on things that you will need to know?

Here's my list, please feel free to add you own in the comments section, I'm curious what others think should be on there.

Computer programming
Microsoft Excel
How to be a better consumer - related to finance and research
How to find a job, write a resume, dress for an interview, how to act at an interview
Writing in general, and I don't mean papers. Blogs, tweets, cover letters, emails, etc.
A class teaching you how to research anything. Also, how to read a research paper and where to find them
Basic circuitry, computers, IT infrastructure
Neuroscience/Psychology/Neurobiology - sounds complex but this area is literally redefining everything

Of all the jobs on earth a teachers job really hasn't changed much from the 19th century. An auditorium and a chalkboard - not much different. The new variable in the equation is of course the internet. Not long ago books were prohibitively expensive. If you go back far enough in time a single book could cost more than the common person could afford. Knowledge was hard to attain and spread. The barriers to entry have been reduced to the point of a laptop or tablet and a small source of power, and indeed to people in rural parts of the developing world this is the cost of their tuition. I've always found that I learn best when I'm teaching myself (really just reading lot of articles online), and increasingly that may be the mode by which many people learn. The kid in the video below takes this to a whole new level. And yes, it's worth your time:

Links for May 13th

First, some background music, Irene by Beach House (hat tip: Chris).

The first several Boeing 787's are going into service. Why is this interesting? There are two main airline manufacturers in the world: Boeing and Airbus. They've both moved to composite materials to reduce weight and increase the range their planes can travel. This changes the routes airlines can fly - it's game changing; new hubs, longer distances, smaller cities being connected, more diffuse growth in general. Where they differ is in size. Airbus went huge with the A380 and Boeing downsized with the 787. In my opinion, one of the lessons of recent history has been to downsize: smaller baseball parks, smaller cars, smaller laptops, smaller homes, smaller cameras. I'm betting on Boeing but to be honest I think the contest will mostly just be awash.

It's no longer illegal to tape record police officers in Illinois. How anyone thought that police officers being immune to public scrutiny in this manner benefited citizens I will never know. In my opinion every police officer should be wearing a camera at all times. Tiny cameras that can fit in sunglasses already exist. Why shouldn't we be allowed to see the activities of those who have been entrusted with such immense power and responsibility?

Apparently being unemployed is bad for people. No shit? Among other negative side effects, people commit suicide more often when unemployed. So yes, in the long run the economy will fix itself, but by sitting idly by we are in fact collectively allowing an entire generation of young (and old) Americans to suffer. Krugman on the matter (sort of).

Oh, and college is expensive. Colleges response: “I didn’t think a lot about costs. I do not think we have given significant thought to the impact of college costs on families.” - the president of Ohio State University

Changes in Hours at Chicago Public Schools

My wife works for CPS and just had her first day back yesterday. Long story short, at some point in the day the head of the CPS teachers union gathered all the psychologists, speech language therapists, etc. into a room, shut the doors, and told everyone that they should be outraged that their workday and number of days worked will be going up while wages will only go up 2%. Never mind the failing schools - people needs to get paid. So let's break that down:

Average salary is $68,200 (2009)(starting salaries are nice too)
Days worked per year 170 (176 is required in IL but CPS gets special permission)
The work day is from 8:30-2:45 so 6.25 hours
1062.5 hours/year (53% of a 40 hour a week job with 2 weeks vacation)
$68,200/1062.5 hours = $64.19/hour

Rahm Emanuel's Changes:
The union turned down a 2% increase after they were told they would get a 4% increase, so average salary would be (by 2009 numbers) about $69,600
Days worked is going to 180
Work day will now be 7.75 hours
1395 hours/year (70% of a 40 hour a week job with 2 weeks vacation)
$69,600/1395 hours = $52.77/hour

I understand that working more and not really getting paid much more is frustrating, but my wife always has to clock out, lest she be reprimanded by union workers, at the end of the day then stay and do her work. I don't know... $53 an hour plus benefits and summers off with job security sounds fairly okay to me. It reminds me of a quote by Michelle Rhee at the end of Waiting for Superman where she says something similar to 'the amount of harm we visit on our children so that adults can be civil to one another is astonishing.'


Denmark, Germany, and Europe in general is betting on a more pedestrian centric city by making it harder more expensive to own cars. It's a little hard to imagine if you haven't been there but the US is going the opposite direction which I think over time will prove to be the wrong decision.

I'm not a big fan of articles about how college is or is not worth the cost and time. It clearly is with some caveats. This article from the NYT does a great job of breaking it down. To put things into perspective:
[C]ollege tuition in recent decades has delivered an inflation-adjusted annual return of more than 15 percent. For stocks, the historical return is 7 percent. For real estate, it’s less than 1 percent.
Someone finally puts solar panels into window assemblies. (Hat tip: Hass)

Food label 1 & 2 design seems to be getting a lot of press lately. Problem - if I walked around the street right now and asked people very basic but entirely relevant questions about food labels/general nutritional knowledge most people, as in 80-90%, would utterly fail. Until people can somehow understand that there are three major sources of nutrition (carbohydrates/sugars/saccharides, fat/lipids, protein/amino acids) what does it matter if you show how many grams of fiber are in something? Conversely, when I visited Google in Palo Alto they have a simple and effective system. Everything gets a color: red is unhealthy, yellow is in between, and green in healthy. In a society where people think that lower taxes decreases debt levels I think that's more the level we need to be shooting for.