Bring Back Venus Boy

Crowdsourcing is becoming a great way for consumers to directly fund innovators.  I’m trying this myself to republish one of my favorite childhood novels.  I tried to buy one for my own kids and found that collectors wanted over $300 for a copy.  This is such a good book that I want it to be available for others at a reasonable price and I’m trying kickstarter to see if others feel likewise.


Paying for Our Transportation Infrastructure

Mac Zimmerman had an interesting editorial in May 26’s Wall Street Journal.  He correctly points out that our Highway Trust Fund will soon be empty unless Congress acts.  Our current fuel tax is insufficient to keep up with current spending, so the easy answer is to increase the gas tax.

However, Zimmerman pointed out this was not necessary.

If Congress directed the fund to spend its money only on highways and other road-related infrastructure—what it was initially created to do—it would be 98% solvent for the next decade.

That is an excellent suggestion.  Zimmerman references other sources that show that a minimum of 20% of the Highway Trust Fund’s spending went toward items such as light rail, bike paths, and transportation museums.  All of these may be laudable projects, but it is unfair to use fuel taxes for these other purposes, especially when our highways and bridges need more funding.

Zimmerman also had some other good suggestions based on facts and economic analysis.  I recommend you read the entire article if you have access.

The Future of Education?

Last month the Atlantic ran a piece by Michael Godsey, an experienced high school English teacher.  It shows his thoughts on the future of education.  As with any forecast, you know it is wrong, but how wrong is it?  Is he wildly off base or just a bit off?  As an educator, one of my biggest challenges is keeping the most advanced students challenged without losing the least advanced class members.  Automated individualized instruction could help with this issue, but will most likely generate new challenges to overcome.

I recommend you read the entire article – very thought provoking.

Dead Cat, Vanity Followers, and Problems with Social Media

The number of followers a person or organization has on social media is a type of currency.  It theoretically shows how many people are influenced by your thoughts.  In practice, how reliable is this measure?

Rob Manuel, the editor of Us vs Th3m, paid just under $40 (25 pounds) to buy followers for a Twitter account for his dead cat.  Sure enough, he quickly had about 90,000 followers.  Based on Twitter analytics, exactly zero (0) of these 90,000 followers saw his first tweet.  He tried again and 340 people saw his tweet and he receive one comment from an obviously false account.  So these “followers” are most likely accounts who exist to inflate the number of followers for other people.

Once his article came out, Twitter closed the dead cat’s account.  (That’s a sentence I did not anticipate writing when I awoke this morning.)  However, this story shows both the growing importance of social media and the current trust and validity problems when it comes to the number of followers.

A Pyschographic Analysis of ISIS

In marketing, psychographic (behavioral) analysis is a useful method of learning more about a target segment.  While this is usually done to determine if a target segment should be pursued by an organization, it can be done for other reasons as well.  While I expect he would use non-marketing terminology to describe his work, Graeme Wood has written an informal psychographic analysis describing the behaviors and beliefs of Islamic State (ISIS) supporters.

…the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.” He regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance.

The Koran specifies crucifixion as one of the only punishments permitted for enemies of Islam. The tax on Christians finds clear endorsement in the Surah Al-Tawba, the Koran’s ninth chapter, which instructs Muslims to fight Christians and Jews “until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” The Prophet, whom all Muslims consider exemplary, imposed these rules and owned slaves.

Leaders of the Islamic State have taken emulation of Muhammad as strict duty, and have revived traditions that have been dormant for hundreds of years. “What’s striking about them is not just the literalism, but also the seriousness with which they read these texts,” Haykel said. “There is an assiduous, obsessive seriousness that Muslims don’t normally have.”

The essay provides many more details.  This picture of the supporters of ISIS should be studied by both those in power and by others seeking to understand the goals and motivations of ISIS.

Wood also had the opportunity to meet with some of the intellectuals behind the Islamic State.

The Islamic State’s ideology exerts powerful sway over a certain subset of the population. Life’s hypocrisies and inconsistencies vanish in its face. Musa Cerantonio and the Salafis I met in London are unstumpable: no question I posed left them stuttering. They lectured me garrulously and, if one accepts their premises, convincingly. To call them un-Islamic appears, to me, to invite them into an argument that they would win. If they had been froth-spewing maniacs, I might be able to predict that their movement would burn out as the psychopaths detonated themselves or became drone-splats, one by one. But these men spoke with an academic precision that put me in mind of a good graduate seminar. I even enjoyed their company, and that frightened me as much as anything else.

If you have a few minutes, I recommend the entire article.

Gender Demographic Trends and Thoughts

I found an interesting article written by David Bauer with a very detailed discussion of gender demographics.  I highly recommend it.  For a free article, it is quite informative.  Bauer shows that there are more men than women on the earth mostly due to the practices of China and India – where a preference for sons has resulted in many female abortions (and female infanticide).  This practice was exacerbated by China’s one child policy because many Chinese would kill their child if the child was a girl so they could then be allowed to try for a boy. Bauer’s collection of statistics also shows that most developed countries have slightly more women than men because women tend to live longer.

Bauer gave some reasons why women live longer than men, but another reason is simply because men engage in more risky behavior than women.  This is not just human behavior, it is true in the animal kingdom as well.  For example, male monkeys in Japan will play a game where they try to cross a busy highway despite (or because of) the risk of death.  Female monkeys do not play such games…

Bauer points out gender differences in migration, especially illegal migration.  I had not considered this before, but it makes sense and has implications for entire nations.  For example, Bauer showed that Mexico now has a larger percentage of females because so many of their males are illegally in the United States.  It makes one wonder how much of the crime in Mexico is due to the fact that so many men – who traditionally serve as defenders of the home – are away.

While it was a bit outside his topic, I would add the role of social norms to his discussion.  Social norms influence population growth by putting an effective cap on family size in cultures where reliable birth control is available.  For example, a few generations ago most Americans thought four kids was the ideal family size.  Once reliable birth control was commonplace, four became the cap for most families – people who reached their ideal family size stopped at that point.  Since all families did not reach that point, many people saw families with less children and that became the norm for the next generation.  China is experiencing the power of social norms right now – the Chinese government has seen the error of their ways concerning the one child policy and this policy is no longer rigidly enforced and may be going away.  However, since a generation of Chinese has grown up seeing families with only one child, this is now the social norm.  Even if the Chinese government paid parents to have more kids, they will find most families will only want one child.

Disenfranchised by the Bureaucracies of Virginia

When I moved to Virginia last year, I registered to vote at the DMV when I got my license. They gave me a form, I completed it front of them, and they told me that was all I needed to register. The form asked if was currently registered in another location so I provided my Colorado information. A few weeks later, I received a letter from Colorado stating they had been informed I was no longer a state resident and asked me to confirm that I should be removed from their voting roll. So kudos to Colorado for being efficient.

On November 3rd, I looked up where I should vote – this was easy to find online. So early on November 4, I drove to the appropriate high school and parked where the signs told me to park. I was only the third car in the lot, so I figured I’d be in and out very quickly. As I’m walking toward the high school, a gentleman asked if I wanted a slip that showed the straight Democratic ticket. There were only three items on the ballot in my county (US Congress, US Senate, and a non-controversial state amendment). Assuming I wanted to vote a straight ticket and had no idea who was running, surely I could have figured it out from the party affiliation listed on the ballot – guess this gentleman didn’t have a high opinion of voters.

At any rate, I get inside, took only a minute for someone to ask for my ID and look me up. Then I was told I was not listed in the pollbook. I explained how I had registered and was told that the DMV often loses registration forms. It took 45 minutes of paperwork and calls before I could complete a provisional ballot. I do not blame the volunteer workers for this – they were doing their best to follow the rules.

On Wednesday afternoon I called the Registrar to see if my vote counted. I was told that a decision would be made shortly. I called back on Friday was told a decision would be made that afternoon, but I didn’t need to call back – they would send me a letter next week.

Today (November 25), I called them because I never received a letter. I was told my ballot did not count because they had no record of my registering (never mind that they informed Colorado that I had moved). They said if I had registered within 12 months, they could trace it, but since I had done so earlier, they had no way to check it.  So despite my sworn written testimony that I had registered (part of the process I went through to file a provisional ballot) and their own actions in informing Colorado, my vote did not count.

This was a close election. One vote didn’t matter, but I wonder how many other people registered at the DMV and were disenfranchised by the bureaucracies of Virginia. So if you register to vote at the DMV, don’t trust Virginia to get it right. Call your registrar well before the election and make sure you are registered.

I Knew This Day Would Come

Robert Morris University created sixty (yes, 60) scholarships for a team video game, League of Legends.  This was brilliant and I am certain RMU will not be the last university to create scholarships for video games.  Within 48 hours of the news getting out, RMU had over 2,000 inquiries, including one from Gambia, West Africa.

Generations Y and Z care more about video games than many traditional collegiate varsity sports and this is a natural response to changing consumer behavior.  I expect I will see video game contests reach an audience larger than the Super Bowl in my lifetime.

My favorite quote from the story was from one player.

So it’s official, playing videogames can benefit my education now…HAHA MOM.

For more details, see the entire story at the Wall Street Journal.

Beautiful Day at UMW

Beautiful Day at UMW
On my way back to the office after my last class yesterday, my eye was drawn to one of our young students who really understands how to enjoy college.  She was gracious enough to allow me to take a picture of her simultaneously studying and appreciating the nice day.

Quality Differences between Online Video Providers

The Wall Street Journal recently published an excellent article by Joshua Fruhlinger comparing the quality of online video options.  If you are interested in A/V (audio/video) quality, Fruhlinger does a good job evaluating current offerings.  The bottom line is that many of these options are now quite good, but none yet meet the quality standard set by Blu-ray discs.  If the convenience of an online service is more important to you than A/V quality, the article clearly explains which online services are better under various conditions.

Amazon is one of the lowest quality services, an oddity in an organization that is otherwise known for great service.  One thing (not spelled out in the article) that is especially frustrating about Amazon’s service is that their HD offering – the lowest quality HD offering of any service – is not even available to their PC subscribers.  That’s right, Amazon only provides standard definition video to the one consumer segment where 100% of the users have high definition screens.  While Amazon is obviously filled with very bright and motivated people, I don’t think they’ve thought about this limitation from a consumer point of view…