Saturday, July 07, 2012

Round up of the internets 07/07/2012

Agony Aunt Dear Prudence of Slate magazine gets an anguished letter:

Q. Wedding Protocol: My son will soon be married to a lovely woman, and I'm very happy and excited for them. I realize that the mother of the groom is a minor figure in the wedding party, but I admit that I was looking forward to the mother-son dance at the reception. […] I was surprised, then, when he mentioned to me that his bride doesn't like being the center of attention, and she wants the father-daughter dance and the mother-son dance held at the same time. It's the bride's day, not mine, so I'm prepared to be a grown-up and suck up my disappointment. […] Can you say something that will help me get over this?
R. What the fuck even is a mother-son dance? Is that a thing now? And can it be worth this much angst? What planet am I on? (That wasn't Prudie's answer, that was my reaction.)

The Wall Street Journal discusses an English push to determine the best anthem for Cheddar cheese. Several songs are discussed, and rejected, by the judges. In order to document his attempt at hearing the voice of reason, the writer asks a senior partner of a public relations firm about it.
James Gordon-Macintosh, managing partner of Hope&Glory, a London public-relations firm, dismissed the competition as a publicity stunt. "It's wantonly daft," he said. "If pure intellectual rigor were applied, cheese doesn't need a song, let alone an anthem."
On reading that, it occurred to me that I had never tried to use pure intellectual rigor on the question of whether cheese needs an anthem. Now I'm trying, I don't really know where to start. My dad used to have a copy of a math book called The Elements of Euclid. It was the sort of fusty book – I imagine it could even be called a tome – that grammar school boys would be expected to memorize in the 1930s, and he passed it on to me when I went to grammar school (that's from age 11 to 18, for you Americans or younger readers).   Unfortunately for both of us, Fusty Tome Era had ended by then, and Geometry had been partially replaced with Gym teachers exhorting us to "Be a tree!" and even the beloved Latin courses had been replaced by Philippe et Alain et leur chat Kiki (or was he a dog?) vont en vacances en Normandie.

Nevertheless, I took Euclid partially to heart and learned to define a point, a line, a plane, and angle then – I think, because I got lost around this part – that from this you could prove that two parallel lines would never meet. Also there were a few things about isosceles triangles and how the angles add up, all stuff you can imagine an ancient Greek doing with a long piece of string and a couple of pegs.

Although I never did get to the end of the book, I'm pretty confident that for all his pure intellectual rigor, Euclid never did manage to prove whether cheese needed an anthem or not, one way or the other.

Oh look! Project Gutenberg has a copy of a very similar edition of Euclid to my dad's. (PDF) Perhaps I'll finish it this time.

Perhaps concentrating on Euclid more would have helped with this article in The Atlantic, The 11 Ways That Consumers Are Hopeless At Math

You walk into a Starbucks and see two deals for a cup of coffee. The first deal offers 33% extra coffee. The second takes 33% off the regular price. What's the better deal?
"They're about equal!" you'd say, if you're like the students who participated in a new study published in the Journal of Marketing. And you'd be wrong. The deals appear to be equivalent, but in fact, a 33% discount is the same as a 50 percent increase in quantity. Math time: Let's say the standard coffee is $1 for 3 quarts ($0.33 per quart). The first deal gets you 4 quarts for $1 ($0.25 per quart) and the second gets you 3 quarts for 66 cents ($.22 per quart).
I've read it three times now and I can't see where the 50% increase in quantity is coming from. On the better deal, you get 75% of the coffee cup for 66% of the price…where's the rest? If you buy three of the first (bad) deal, you get 12 quarts for $3. If you buy four of the second (supposedly good) deal, you get 12 quarts for $3.52. 

Still, I can agree I'm bad at math in stores. Mostly because the items you take home don't have a price on them, so unless you write it on the item with a Sharpie® , or have some app that does so for you, the next time you go to the store you're clueless as to whether the current price (50% off! Three for the price of two!) is actually higher or lower than it was the last time. I've worked out that I usually don't want four avocadoes for a dollar, as they'll only go off anyway, so I might as well have two for a dollar and actually eat them. (Similarly, who would want four quarts of coffee? I drink coffee all day long, but I suspect the article writer excellent grasp of stats may have come at the expense of a broad understanding of fluid quantities.)

Atlantic also had this mandala…no, apparently it's a piece of equipment in the Large Hadron Collider.


This article, Death by Degrees from N+1 is about the changing value of a degree.
Today, we take it for granted that practicing medicine or law requires years of costly credentialing in unrelated fields. In the law, the impact of all this “training” is clear: it supports a legal system that is overly complicated and outrageously expensive, both for high-flying corporate clients who routinely overpay and for small-time criminal defendants who, in the overwhelming majority of cases, can’t afford to secure representation at all (and must surrender their fate to local prosecutors, who often send them to prison). But just as a million-dollar medical training isn’t necessary to perform an abortion, routine legal matters could easily, and cheaply, be handled by noninitiates.
The standardization of these professional guilds benefited undergraduate institutions immensely, a fact that was not lost on university administrators. College presidents endorsed the Hopkins model and the AMA’s consolidation of medical authority for good reason: in the mid-19th century, bachelor’s degrees in the United States were viewed with skepticism by the private sector, and colleges had a hard time finding enough students. The corporate-sponsored consolidation of the medical establishment changed undergraduate education from a choice to a necessity. Where once there was indifference, now there was demand: “I want to be a doctor when I grow up,” the child in the PSA says. “I want to go to college.”
I'm completely with the writer on the uselessness of most degrees, but we appear to part ways on the cause of the degree bubble. Right now you HAVE to have a degree to get work, and the cost of a degree has ballooned over the past few years. Is it because the necessity of having training to enter the workforce has expanded? No. Is it because the underlying cost of tuition has exploded? No, it's because the powers that be have found a new population to fleece. Undergraduates don't have any cash money, but if you can trick them into paying debts for years afterwards when they gain access to money, then they become a money farm like any other consumers. It's a classic bubble, and as unsustainable as the tulip bubble. We can all make money off the undergrads if we get in on the ground floor, but later, when it becomes obvious it's a bubble, the late-comers get fleeced. But in the short term, only the undergraduates have to pay. 

The bullshit rationale is that all people trying to obtain a degree are trying to maximize their earnings, and so they should pay for the privilege.  Only they will benefit, so they should pay.

Where we were coming from, in socialist communist nazi Britain, lo all those years ago, was to suggest that if society wants to maximize its overall efficiency, it should promote young people by giving them the best education in the world. At cost. Or less. Society will benefit from having bright people, poor or rich, in the workforce. Which means the government should get involved. Rising tide, lifts all boats, et cetera.

Current 1% thinking doesn't even recognize the idea of having an educated workforce. It has plenty of options overseas, at least until the overseas guys' money runs out. The current option may be unsustainable, but it's certainly profitable, and that's to get as much money from the under-25s as is physically possible, bank it, and then look the other way.


Mike said...

Deal 1 is 3/4 of regular price. ($1 buys 4/3 cup.)
Deal 2 is 2/3 of regular price. ($2/3 buys 1 cup.)
For deal 1 to be 2/3 of regular price, $1 buys 3/2 cup, 50% extra.

Peromyscus said...

I give in. Sheesh.


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