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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Generation gaps

I picked up a copy of the most recent Wolf Parade record, From Mount Zoomer. (It's good, though I've only listened to it all the way through a couple times so far.) There's a line in one song about a telephone ringing without anyone at home to answer it. This brought to mind the likelihood that there are a number of young people today for whom the concept of a phone ringing in an empty house is a totally foreign concept.

I wonder if that would impact their understanding of the song? I'm sure almost everyone would know what the lyric is referring to, whether or not they've spent much time with landlines. But those who grew up without using a traditional telephone might have a harder time connecting with the feeling that the song is trying to convey.

Given that lots of things that form the basis of our daily experience have been changing rapidly in recent years, it seems like there's greater potential for generational disconnects. The generation gaps of yore were created by broad changes in attitudes on big topics like gender roles, sex, politics, etc. While there's still a good bit of macro-level change in attitudes, today's generational divisions also stem from micro-level changes in how people go about their daily lives and interactions with others -- I'm thinking in particular about the influence of cell phones, smart phones, and social networking.

This idea is supported by a study I saw written up in the Post a while back (their archives are pay-only, so I can't get to it now). The researchers found that there were major differences in how young people born just a few years apart were using technologies such as cell phones and social networking. Someone like me who got a Facebook account after graduating from college uses it very differently from someone who used it daily throughout their college years. Current college freshmen, many of whom started using Facebook early in high school, use it differently from either group. Likewise, most people in my age group use texting frequently for logistics and one-off notes, but kids who are a few years younger have entire conversations through text messages.

While individual disconnects like the telephone lyric in the Wolf Parade song might not be a big deal on their own, it seems likely that the cumulative effect of the differences in how the generations think about things will impede cross-generational understanding in unpredictable ways. I suspect that I will end up feeling like a cranky old man before my time, for instance.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Animal Collective - Winter Wonder Land
> Torches - Mr. Vampire
> Casiotone for the Painfully Alone - White Corolla
> Constantines - Nighttime/Anytime (It's All Right)
> MIA - Galang
> Modest Mouse - Gravity Rides Everything
> Bon Iver - Flume

Monday, March 15, 2010


My MacBook is now a bit more than 4 years old, and I'm looking to get a new computer. I want to get a fairly fast one, so that I can use it for video editing.

I tend to mull over large purchases for months before actually going through with them. I had been thinking that I would get a mid-range MacBook Pro. I also looked into PCs, since I think the gulf between PC and Mac usability has narrowed. But although they're much cheaper, I'd have to spend more on software to get something equivalent to the Mac's Final Cut Pro, which I already know how to use. And I'd prefer a Mac anyhow. Then, looking at iMac desktops, I was reminded how much more computer you can get for less money, compared to a laptop. Since I tend not to carry my computer with me all that often, I started to come around to the idea of getting one of those.

Then, I realized: With an iMac, I could afford to get an iPad along with it -- as long as I got the cheap one, it'd be the same total price as a MacBook. I had initially dismissed the iPad as something I don't need. The several people to whom I've mentioned my plan have greeted it with a groan...there's significant skepticism about the iPad, and for good reason, since no one has used one yet. But I think it would actually make a good bit of sense for me. I often sit at the kitchen table or on the couch interacting with a somewhat claustrophobic version of the internet on my iPhone, and I'd read e-books if I had a comfortable device to use. The iPad is so thin that I think I'd be willing to put it in my bag and take it with me. And there's the potential for some pretty cool and/or useful apps that take advantage of a touch screen that big.

So, I think I'm going to try one out after they become available next month, and if it works for me, take the plunge. Feel free to try to talk me out of it...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

For-profit education

You may have seen the recent article in the NY Times about for-profit trade schools. The companies take advantage of the huge streams of available federal student aid for education (both grants and loans) -- according to the article, they often derive upwards of 80% of their revenue from federal student aid. At the University of Phoenix chain, 86% of revenue came from the federal government last year. The schools aggressively recruit students, saying that they will position themselves for high-paying jobs upon graduation, but many graduate poorly equipped to land a position with the sort of pay needed to pay back their big student loan debts. Default rates are high.

Of all the morally-suspect lines of business one could be in, this racket seems particularly evil. You're sucking up valuable federal student aid funding for something that doesn't provide real education. Even worse, you're convincing young people who are trying to better themselves to do something that won't really help meet their goals, and at the same time saddling them with huge amounts of debt that will destroy their ability to get back on their feet afterward. (It's very difficult to have student loan debt forgiven, even in bankruptcy.) I'm sure there are some decent for-profit schools, but the basic business model of many of these operators is just repulsive.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Coming Attractions

I'm excited for the new albums by Caribou (April) and The National (May) -- even more so after seeing these two clips.

Video for "Odessa" off Caribou's new album:

The National performing "Terrible Love" on Jimmy Kimmel:

Wolf Like Me

I've posted videos of TV on the Radio performing Wolf Like Me previously; here's another version that's also great.

I'd say the vocals are a little high in the mix, but I'd also say that the part where they kick in after the bridge (around the 3 minute mark) is totally awesome.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

In San Francisco

Here's the view from my brother's deck as I write this post:

SF is indeed very nice. The weather's great, and there's definitely something to the West Coast reputation for having a more laid-back vibe. Yesterday we went for a lovely hike through the redwoods around Mt. Tam, and before this afternoon is out, we'll be driving south of the city to see the seals on the beach.

Doughnut report from the farmer's market: Bomboloni with strawberry jam from an Italian bakery. Very good. The jam was tasty, and the amount just right. The doughnut was dense and doughy, which I like. The sugar on the outside seemed like crushed up regular sugar crystals, giving a finer texture. Made a happy medium between granulated sugar, which might have been too coarse for the delicate doughnut, and powdered sugar, which I almost never like.

Here until Monday, then back to DC...I hear the weather has gotten a bit more spring-like there, which would be welcome.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


I'm here at Dulles airport, heading to San Francisco to visit Davin.

EDIT: Apparently the email posting thingy cut off the rest of my post. What I was going to say was that this picture is of the Concourse B terminal for the new airport shuttle train at Dulles. As you can see, it's a huge piece of infrastructure, all for getting you a couple thousand feet from the ticket counters.

Riding the new train reminded me of the airport commission meetings I used to attend at my old job in Minneapolis. You could tell that the facilities planning people were just giddy about building shiny new things, sometimes (it seemed) just for the sake of building shiny new things. This made me think that working at a major airport would be the pinnacle of a facilities planning career -- there's always stuff that needs building, and there's a steady stream of funds from the Passenger Facility Charges.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Canadian calculation

I watched the USA-Canada Olympic hockey final yesterday...it reminded me of the times we went to Hartford Whalers games in my youth. We were playing Boggle while watching, but it was a good enough game that we paused our own play a few times to watch theirs.

It was exciting when the team USA tied it up with moments to go, and I was a bit disappointed when Canada scored in sudden-death overtime to win the game. But only a little disappointed -- clearly, it matters way more to the Canadians than it does to us. I found myself simultaneously rooting for both teams to score. The question is, from a utilitarian perspective (i.e. the most good for the most people), was it really better to root for Canada?

I think we can hazard a scientific guess at this. Let's say that Canada's victory causes the average Canadian 10 units of joy. In relative terms, I estimate that a US win would have caused the average American 2 units of joy. (Much more for some, but I'm talking about the national average; there are plenty of people who don't care at all, while the vast majority of Canadians have at least some emotional involvement with their national team.) There are about 33 million Canadians and about 304 million Americans.

A simple calculation shows:

Canada wins
10 x 33,000,000 = 330 million units of joy

USA wins
2 x 304,000,000 = 608 million units of joy

So, you should still have been rooting for team USA. But note that if one were to assume that the average American experiences only one unit of hockey joy for every ten that Canadians experience -- a not-unreasonable assumption -- then you should have been rooting for Canada.

This calculation only takes into account the positive side of the ledger, however. Most Americans are well on their way to forgetting that USA even played Canada in the final; the Canadian psyche, on the other hand, would have been damaged for years. Let's assume that the disparity in defeat-induced sadness experienced by citizens is even greater than the joy disparity, -1 for Americans and -10 for Canadians:

Canada wins
[10 x 33,000,000 = 330 million units of Canadian joy] + [-1 x 304,000,000 = -304 million units of American joy] = 26 million net units of joy

USA wins
[2 x 304,000,000 = 608 million units of American joy] + [-10 x 33,000,000 = -330 million units of Canadian joy] = 278 million net units of joy.

That calculation still argues that a team USA win would have been the better outcome. Canadians might have a quibble with my numbers, though -- or possibly with my methodology.