Sunday, January 13, 2013

How Jeff Lacker really understands unemployment

“It’s very unfair to think of me as not caring about the unemployed,” he said. “It just seems to me that there are real impediments, that just throwing money at the economy is unlikely to solve the problems that are keeping a 55-year-old furniture worker from finding a good competitive job.”

His favorite escape is driving a Porsche Boxster racecar; a model sits on a shelf at his office.

File this under ideological economists who are in the top 5% who work with their guts rather than history, models or data. For the record I fall under the same category as well since I too believe this:

As he sees it, the Fed’s current effort to reduce unemployment by purchasing mortgage-backed securities crossed both lines. He sees little evidence that it will help to create jobs. And he says that buying mortgage bonds is a form of fiscal policy, because it lowers interest rates for a particular kind of borrower.        

But as noted:

That sense of caution is deeply frustrating to proponents of the Fed’s recent efforts. The economists Christina D. Romer and David H. Romer wrote in a paper published last month that such pessimism about the power of monetary policy is “the most dangerous idea in Federal Reserve history.”

“The view that hubris can cause central bankers to do great harm clearly has an important element of truth,” wrote the Romers, both professors at the University of California, Berkeley. “But the hundred years of Federal Reserve history show that humility can also cause large harms.”         

From the NYT.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Coursera dreams and details

I listened raptly to Daphne Koller’s TED talk and was simultaneously inspired and appalled by the difference between its idealistic dreams and reality. One compelling aspect of MOOC was instant feedback -- to facilitate learning -- and how it relates to the way homeworks/quizzes are implemented.

However, the implementation has so far been extremely inconsistently across different courses and in some cases have deviated from the ideals envisioned. Feedback runs the gamut from too little to literally giving you the answers. This fine if the quizzes don’t count towards a grade or certificate but is totally bogus if doing so enables me to earn a perfect grade easily.

For instance, in Scott Page’s Model Thinking class the quizzes count towards the grade and gives the student multiple attempts (five) to try to get it right. This is somewhat good, I guess, but the feedback is literally the answer! I expect feedback to be something in the order of clues e.g. “the relevant concept here is …. check lecture …. etc.” Or if the answer is given then the following attempt would present a different question - but it doesn’t. In theory I could get a perfect score if I just filled everything in with the feedback. In Lada Adamic’s Social Network course, we get 100 attempts which is quite interesting given that it is somewhat balanced by very cryptic feedbacks with no indication of whether you’ve answered the question correctly. In what the Economist is reporting as the most popular Coursera course with over 180,000 students, we get 1000 attempts on exercises which do not count towards a grade and exams that do count. This course meets with the ideals - we get two attempts (I think that it might be just the right number - something like 2 or 3) with instant feedback on what we did wrong and then on the second attempt we get a different set of questions.

The problem with Coursera and its franchise approach is that very little is being done to streamline the experience - I guess in many ways this is like going to a real college. We may all get to go to Harvard online but the the course could also suck just like at the real world version of Harvard. I am hoping that this myriad approaches are some kind of randomized experiment to see which one works better but I am doubtful that this is so.

Again, Khan Academy has the right idea and adaptive testing is the way to go but one thing professors seem to hate doing is to create test banks. This is one reason why text books from companies like Pearson are so expensive but at the same time appealing to professors. The questions have already been prepared.

Creating a slideshow in Ubuntu Unity desktop

Am I the only one who thinks that this is a step backward?
Or that I need to install an app that runs in the background to create a slideshow?

It makes me wish for Windows.

Friday, January 4, 2013

More competition for traditional college education

Not just the MOOCs but the steady drumbeat of why college education makes less sense given its cost and debt load.

I was surprised to read how long winter break was for college students. Let’s see - colleges are out by end of May if not earlier and starts in late August - so that’s about 3 months off. Another month off in January which means that the $30,000 per year college education works out to roughly $3,700 per month for college for the next 4 or 5 years. It's not surprising that the math doesn't add up for some.

For instance, In Montana oil jobs are attracting HS graduates as well as dropouts.
“I just figured, the oil field is here and I’d make the money while I could,” said Tegan Sivertson, 19, who monitors pipelines for a gas company, sometimes working 15-hour days. “I didn’t want to waste the money and go to school when I could make just as much.”        

College success is higher for the rich than the poor even for those with the same academic abilities. This was a heartbreaking story:Angelica Gonzales marched through high school in Goth armor — black boots, chains and cargo pants — but undermined her pose of alienation with a place on the honor roll. She nicknamed herself after a metal band and vowed to become the first in her family to earn a college degree.         

“I don’t want to work at Walmart” like her mother, she wrote to a school counselor.

Weekends and summers were devoted to a college-readiness program, where her best friends, Melissa O’Neal and Bianca Gonzalez, shared her drive to “get off the island” — escape the prospect of dead-end lives in luckless Galveston. Melissa, an eighth-grade valedictorian, seethed over her mother’s boyfriends and drinking, and Bianca’s bubbly innocence hid the trauma of her father’s death. They stuck together so much that a tutor called them the “triplets.”       
Four years later, their story seems less like a tribute to upward mobility than a study of obstacles in an age of soaring economic inequality. Not one of them has a four-year degree. Only one is still studying full time, and two have crushing debts. Angelica, who left Emory owing more than $60,000, is a clerk in a Galveston furniture store.

Each showed the ability to do college work, even excel at it. But the need to earn money brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, and ties to boyfriends not in school added complications. With little guidance from family or school officials, college became a leap that they braved without a safety net.        

Does this validate the Posse Foundation’s approach?
Posse started because of one student who said, “I never would have dropped out of college if I had my posse with me.” That simple idea of sending a group of students to college together to act as a support system for one another was the impetus for a program that today has become one of the most comprehensive college access programs in the United States.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

File these under barriers to modernisation

From the NYT:
India has laws against rape; seats reserved for women in buses, female officers; special police help lines. But these measures have been ineffective in the face of a patriarchal and misogynistic culture. It is a culture that believes that the worst aspect of rape is the defilement of the victim, who will no longer be able to find a man to marry her — and that the solution is to marry the rapist.

These beliefs aren’t restricted to living rooms, but are expressed openly. In the months before the gang rape, some prominent politicians had attributed rising rape statistics to women’s increasing use of cellphones and going out at night. “Just because India achieved freedom at midnight does not mean that women can venture out after dark,” said Botsa Satyanarayana, the Congress Party leader in the state of Andhra Pradesh.     

From the BBC:

A city in the Indonesian province of Aceh which follows Sharia has ordered female passengers not to straddle motorbikes behind male drivers.

Suaidi Yahya, mayor of Lhokseumawe, says it aims to save people's "morals and behaviours".