Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Overlooked again...

... for a MacArthur genius award. Dammit! The annual condolence email from a friend got me wondering... should I have stuck with the sax instead of economics? By my count some 7 of 41 geniuses in music are jazz saxophonists. This year, the deserving Steve Coleman was added to the list, which also includes Anthony Braxton, Ornette Coleman, Steve Lacy, Ken Vandermark, Miguel Zenón, and John Zorn. Changing my name to Zundstrom might improve my odds as well...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hottest August on record

Globally, that is. But if you look at the map of temperature anomalies, you can see that the United States was largely spared. It's almost as if God were giving the Republicans another excuse to ignore the problem... as if pure ignorance and greed were not enough.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What could possibly go wrong?

Those ISIS guys do seem to be very bad guys. But... but... 
President Obama’s determination to train Syrian rebels to serve as ground troops against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria leaves the United States dependent on a diverse group riven by infighting, with no shared leadership and with hard-line Islamists as its most effective fighters.... 
“You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that respects human rights and that is waiting and ready because they don’t exist,” said Aron Lund, a Syria analyst who edits the Syria in Crisis blog for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It is a very dirty war and you have to deal with what is on offer.”

We're in the top 25 for salary growth!

Santa Clara University, that is, in terms of the difference between median starting salary and median mid-career salary. Well, we're exactly #25, according to this graph from the Washington Post. Outstanding career preparation, or something to do with location...?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jesse Rothstein on teacher tenure

Here's a short interview with Rothstein, an economist doing interesting work on teacher quality and education. I like this closing passage:
Everyone agrees that the goal should be to make teaching a respected profession, a profession that talented and able people want to enter. So far, I've heard you say that there's not a lot of evidence suggesting ways that that could be accomplished effectively. Is there one policy that we haven't discussed? 
We could double teachers' salaries. I'm not joking about that. The standard way that you make a profession a prestigious, desirable profession, is you pay people enough to make it attractive. The fact that that doesn't even enter the conversation tells you something about what's wrong with the conversation around these topics. I could see an argument that says it's just not worth it, that it would cost too much. The fact that nobody even asks the question tells me that people are only willing to consider cheap solutions. They're looking for easy answers, not hard answers.
My son has just started his first teaching job in a very challenging middle school environment, working with a disadvantaged population. In other words, he is doing "God's work," if you ask me. He is putting in about 80 hours a week, and is stressed out just about every waking moment. I'm not sure I would trade places with him for twice my salary, never mind twice his. So sure, take away teacher tenure... but double their salaries. That sounds like a good start.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Amazing R Markdown

I teach a new basic econometrics course using R, and I am quite proud of my Guide to R for SCU Economics Students (available here), which features a series of instructive tutorials with accompanying R scripts and data. I revise it and revise it and revise it, using one of humankind's most infuriating creations, Word. If I change the code, or a graphic, I have to run the R and print and paste the results into the script. Then, make sure Word has not gone and F-ed up the formatting, then print to pdf and upload.

But lo and behold: R Markdown. Simple text entry, intuitive formatting, embedded R code that will run and show the code and/or results in your document, formatted for optimal clarity. Saved automatically to HTML. Post and fuhgeddaboudit. Open source and free. Seems almost to have been designed with my needs specifically in mind. Outstanding. The sooner I can move my Guide to Markdown the better.

Bill Gates, you really are a good man. But I will gradually wean myself from your bloated annoying products, I swear I will.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

More fungus news

Taking a stroll at Foothills Park today, what looked like a volleyball at the base of a pile of wood chips caught my eye... apparently the western giant puffball, Calvatia booniana. It's been such a dry year it's hard to believe anything could be growing in early September, especially something as large and fleshy as this, but maybe some moisture hitchhiked in with the wood chips. (Speaking of large and fleshy, my hand is not actually that color... usually....)

Photo: LMK.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Fungus news

The butter bolete Boletus regius is now Butyriboletus autumniregius! Helluva good-looking mushroom, regardless of the name. And tasty, they say.

Photo credit: Michael Wood.