Friday, September 12, 2014

Five Things on a Friday: at Stanford

Happy Friday!  Let's get to it.

Schools have increasingly siphoned money from need-based financial aid that has traditionally helped middle and lower income students and reallocated cash to merit scholarships for wealthier students. One reason why schools are throwing merit awards at rich teens is because they are more likely to help institutions fare better in the rankings game.
These affluent students tend to have better academic backgrounds and higher standardized test scores, which are highly correlated with income. You can learn more about how this policy is devastating for disadvantaged students by reading Undermining Pell: How Colleges Compete for Wealthy Students and Leave the Low-Income Behind by Stephen Burd at the New American Foundation.
Yes, it’s that time of year again.  U.S. News and World Report just put out its annual college rankings.  

For what it’s worth, I’m all-for merit-based scholarships because, frankly, that is how the world works.  What is it with this country wanting to reward mediocrity just because it’s sprung from the working class?  Or punishing the excellent because they were born into nice families?  That makes no sense.  Sure, some kids are born with advantages, but they still have to do the work and succeed.  No one’s handing them anything; they have to take the tests just like everyone else and prove their worth.  Some of them are simply driven to match or exceed the success of their parents.  This is in no way bad.  Regardless of where they come from, elite kids are the leaders of the future.  That’s reality, and we ought to double-down on it and encourage them going forward.
West Point ranked 24th as a liberal arts school.  It was the #3 undergraduate engineering program where a doctorate is not offered and the #2 public school among national liberal arts colleges.  Making both lists, liberal artsand engineering, that is a unique trick.  Furthermore, West Point ranked #1 amongst high school guidance counselor recommendations.  That last ranking most likely comes about because the guidance counselors figure tuition costs into their student recommendations while U.S. News’ report is based on spending and colleges’ endowments without regard to tuition.
The full report also showed acceptance rates.  A quick comparison:
Coast Guard is about fifty miles from my house, and if I’m being honest, I’d be ecstatic if one of my girls decided to go there.  MeanwhileUConn ranked 58th overall and was ranked 19th amongst public schools, with an acceptance rate of approximately 50%.  In state, the University of Connecticut will run you $12,700/year for tuition.
My kids are nine and not-quite-eleven, so this information is not yet pressing.  But it is important.
Wow!  That is some line.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Stanford wins the game, but I can’t see them covering a 28.5 point spread.  I think they put in the second or even the third team in the second half and show some class.  Last year’s game ended 33-20, and this year’s Army Team is notably better than last year’s.  I see no reason at all why the line should be more than 14 or 20 at the most.
Anyway, the game starts at 5:00 pm eastern time on the PAC-12 network or AM 770 if you’re anywhere near New York City.
The new watch only really works in conjunction with your phone, but if you’ve already got a phone on you, you don’t need a smart watch.  In fact, you barely need a watch at all.  Sure, it’s nice to have a heart rate monitor and GPS on your wrist, but those have been around for awhile already, and they’ve only been adopted by runners and cyclists.  Speaking personally, I’d rather just stick my phone in my pocket or on an arm-band and turn on MapMyRun.  That way I can make a call if I need to, and I have tunes in my ears if I’m not on my bike.
That said, the new Apple Watch looks really nice, and it’s coming to market for less than $400.  That’s not a lot of money in the luxury watch market.  I therefore suspect that the key to selling these things is going to be celebrity product placement.  If they become must-have accessories in Manhattan, they’ll spread like wildfire over the rest of the world.
America’s reliance on expensive oil, relatively dirty coal and troubled nuclear power will inalterably change now that solar has become so competitive. But solar can’t be the only answer to America’s energy needs – just part of it. Indeed, despite the advancements made in PV technology it still remains unreliable given its dependence on the sun for fuel. Since power can’t be stored efficiently, at least not yet, solar is best used to cover peak demand during the day. The backbone of the grid will shift from coal to cheap natural gas to provide the baseload generation.  This will allow for a consistent stream of energy to be available to people at night and at other times when solar power simply doesn’t work.

Solar can't take over the world until they solve the energy storage problem, and between you and me, that problem is technically very complicated.  The solution has to be not only workable, it also has to be affordable, and it has to avoid making a worse environmental mess than the one it's trying to replace, and all of that is a lot easier said than done.  The problem with fossil fuel technology is that it's comparatively simple, and it works really, really well.  Oil in particular is only moderately flammable, still readily abundant, easy to store, and it packs a Hell of a lot of energy in an incredibly small volume.  We still live in a world where costs matter, and on that basis, oil and natural gas are well ahead.  That may change, but the article suggests it'll change by 2020, and I think it's probably gonna be more like 2050.

Don't get me wrong: I am all for solar.  It peaks when load peaks, which is why it's so useful, and the article above points this out.  I simply think that people are becoming emotionally ready to move to a world where energy is no longer a serious concern, but those emotions are irrelevant.   We can want what we want, but we still live in a world where reality reigns.  When the Laws of Physics and Economics collide, Physics wins.

5.  Slowly coming back
My buddy Ben is doing his Ironman in just over a week.  He is in phenomenal shape.  Meanwhile, I’ve been out of the hospital for just over three weeks, and I’ve been back working out for exactly eight days.  When we swam together Tuesday night, it hurt.  A lot.
I wound up pacing Ben for just under 2000 yards at an average pace of just under 1:25/100.  This is not fast for either of us, but by the time I was done—Ben kept going—I was smoked to the very bone.  I’d reached an altered state of consciousness that lasted from the end of the swim Tuesday until my lunchtime run with another friend Wednesday afternoon.
I want to tell you that I’ve snapped right back, that I’ve picked up right where I left off before I went to the hospital, but it's just not true.  This recovery thing is a bitch, and it feels like it’s leaving a mark.  I’m going slow and taking it easy, and I feel okay when I’m actually working, but I’m dead tired in the quiet moments between workouts, and it's wearing on me.  I’ll be happier when my metabolism finally kicks back in, and I can eat more, recover faster, and just deal with this shit a little easier.  Draggin’ ass all the time is not for the faint of heart.

I've made a deliberate decision to stay away from foreign policy this week.  There's a lot going on, but others have already written volumes on it, and what they have to say is informed by a lot more study and personal experience than I have.  In particular, Dr. Conrad Crane published a piece this week in War on the Rocks about the state of America's Army and its ability to project power in the decades hence.  I recommend it but don't have anything to add besides noting that Dr. Crane was one of my history professors back at the Academy, and I not only liked him tremendously, I thought he was brilliant.  His thinking has informed the thinking of an entire generation of officers who've done amazing things in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.  That is not a bad legacy.

I've personally spent the past week reading An Army at Dawn, Rick Atkinson's Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the invasion of North Africa in 1942 and '43.  It's heartening because, wow, what a cluster-fuck.  And yet, those same guys who screwed up everything eventually grew to become the Greatest Generation.  

I bought this book from a used bookstore
in Maine for $6.50. 
Above all, the American public has been looking for a way to win wars without "boots on the ground" since at least 1940.  I'm sorry to say that it's never gonna happen.


  1. I love my smartwatch (Samsung Gear Fit - I'm about 25% done a review for my blog). You don't NEED it from a functionality perspective, but it's a much more convenient interface for brief interaction with your phone - checking the email/FB notifications, starting/stopping Tracking Apps or music...

    1. Fair enough. As a triathlete, though, I think you are predisposed to liking fitness gadgets. I mean, isn't it a requirement of the sport?

      That said, the HR monitor on the wrist appeals to me. I personally would rather have the Google Glass HUD with time, distance, speed, and HR all in my upper-right view--plus the ability to take pictures of my run routes without stopping--but I see your point.

    2. Also: let me know when your review is done. Not only do I want to read it, I'll cover it on Five Things that week.