Tuesday, July 30, 2013

FoxNews Host Lauren Green's Interview of Reza Aslan is Truly Hateful & Bigoted

Pardon my language, but FoxNews host Lauren Green is a bitch. She is either a truly hateful bigot, or she is incredibly ignorant and merely pimping out her interviewing to appease a bigoted audience. Now, for all who disagree with my politics, I am not saying MSNBC hosts aren't also biased and even nasty to interview subjects. In fact, I think Lawrence O'Donnel's behavior is truly embarrassing at times. But Lauren Green's behavior is atrocious, not to mention colossally ignorant.

Seriously, what is wrong with this woman. Clearly, she has a hateful agenda that has since come under fire. She is clearly a person who doesn't do her research. And, in terms of interviewing people there is plenty of hypocrisy in her attack on Reza Aslan's "authority" or even right to write or speak about Jesus and Christianity. Truly, I am baffled by the attempted intellectual grilling of a scholar by a woman who has a bachelor degree in music and whose first big accomplishment was a beauty contest. This is clearly an example of the type of programming that leads to racism, bigotry, stereotyping, and hatred. The question is why an uneducated woman like Lauren Green would choose to inflict such bigoted animosity. What is wrong with her? What happened that led to such contemptuous behavior. Does she simply think it is her job? If it's all for a paycheck, she may be a worse person than I originally thought.

Oh, and Lauren Green? The phrase you were looking for is "posing the question," not "begging the question." If you're going to interview people on an international news network, you should probably be educated on the basic rules of logical fallacies that you feebly attempt to interject into your interviews for credibility. To educated people you look even more foolish. Of course, you really couldn't do much worse than interviewing a scholar on his area of expertise and coming off looking like an idiot. Or like a bigot.

Mark Twain once said, "Never argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience." In this case, an airhead like Lauren Green has even proved Mark Twain wrong.

Lauren, save some self respect and apologize before shamefully walking away.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Next Food Network Star DISASTER - Nikki Goes Home???

Oh ... my ... God.

Tonight was the most disappointing episode of the Next Food Network Star I have ever seen. Nikki Dinki - food blogger and YouTube online chef - was eliminated for the most baffling of reasons. Alton said she lacks "food authority." And Rodney is a food expert??? Nikki didn't know what a pilaf was, and Rodney's food was undercooked and tasteless. Rodney calls himself "the Pie Guy," and he undercooked his pie crust. That's enough to be eliminated on Chopped. Yet, Nikki goes home. That was ridiculous.

Alton Brown, you were foolish on this one. Giada De Laurentiis, where was your voice? And, Robert Irvine, I am incredibly disappointed in you. Robert, your show Restaurant Impossible has always been about improving food and style and presentation. I've written about how your show impresses with its intent to emphasize quality. And your choice to keep Rodney "More-Flour-on-Me-Than-the-Pie" is a disturbing departure from everything your show claims to emphasize. If Rodney Henry cooked and acted on your show the way he performs on Next Food Network Star, you would chastise and even mock him, and then you would teach him techniques and proper kitchen behavior.

Nikki can become more of a food authority - but Rodney will never have class or maturity.  And he doesn't know food. Rodney is no food authority. He will never be anything more than a buffoon. Keeping Rodney "Pie Style" Henry around simply means the Food Network is looking for a clown. They are appealing to the lowest common demoninator. And that's just sad, especially for a network that has brought the world's attention to some of the finest culinary artists in the world. Rodney Henry on the same network as Bobby Flay or Tyler Florence or Giada or Alton or Mario or Geoffery Zakarian or Morimoto is a culinary abomination. Clearly, Nikki Dinki has star power and great potential, and she will go on to have her own successful show and brand - Meat on the Side

Going in to this week, I was convinced the finalists would be Nikki and Stacy or Nikki and Demaris. Never did I believe Nikki would go out for something as minor as her supposed shortcomings this week.  In fact, her concept - Meat on the Side - is the only fresh and unique idea that the Food Network could immediately produce and broadcast.  Alton Brown even said specifically that - her show is ready to produce.  I am seriously considering not watching next week's episode of the Next Food Network Star. For the next two weeks, I may watch the last few minutes to see who goes on. And I will never watch a show with Rodney Henry on it.

Poor, misguided, foolish, and inexplicable choice on the Next Food Network Star tonight. I seriously question the integrity of the judges on this one. Are Alton Brown and Robert Irvine secretly food slobs? Are their kitchens actually as messy and inconsistent as Rodney? Was there some personal issue with Nikki that we don't understand?

The decision to eliminate Nikki Dinki and keep Rodney Henry is truly tasteless and indefensible.

Free Nikki Dinki.

And click here for my thoughts on the final three and their pilots.

Later Start Times Improves High School Students' Performance

I don't know if the "Rent is too damn high," but I know that high school starts too darn early. As I've noted before, if we really want to implement effective school reform, we should first Start Later to Ensure Educational Progress. The research continues to support and validate concerns that staring school before 8:00 has a negative impact on student attendance, achievement, and even graduation. Alas, it is really all about money and bus/activity schedules. Those are the worse reasons for making policy decisions. So, here in Colorado, I can imagine we will continue to start school at ... gasp! ... 7:10 in the morning.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

No Regrets

"I can't have any regrets."

That's what I always tell my students when they are curious about the most common of questions - "What do you regret?" We all look at our lives in hindsight, and of course we think about "what ifs" and "I wish I had" and, more importantly, "I wish I hadn't ..." That is, I guess, natural. However, regrets are not only a waste of time, but also a dismissal of the possible long term benefit or value that comes from a short term mistake or loss.

I truly love my life and where I've ended up.  And I have to conclude that everything that has happened in my life led me to this point. For example, I had planned to join the Marines out of high school. I thought I'd do four years and then go to college. Alas, poor eyesight and bad knee ligaments and asthma disqualified me from service. A huge disappointment at the time. Yet, I went to college where I met my beautiful wife - the love of my life - and had two wonderful children - the joys of my life. And none of that would have happened had I gone in the Marines.  Now, certainly, I would have been on a different path and may have been just as happy in that one had I joined the Marines. But, the reality is, I am thrilled with the results of my choices and the events that have happened. So, I can't really regret anything that has led me to where I want to be.

These thoughts remind me of a great line from the song Beautiful World by Colin Hay.

And still this emptiness persists 
Perhaps this is as good as it gets 
When you’ve given up the drink and those nasty cigarettes

Now I leave the party early at least with no regrets 
I watch the sun as it comes up I watch it as it sets 
Yeah this is as good as it gets. 

The idea of living my life with no regrets is very appealing and satisfying. And the idea of "leaving the party early" with no regrets resonates with a lot of people. Going back to middle school, I can recall worrying about "missing something" if I wasn't at the right party or there at the right time or with the right people ... etc.  All those "right" designations are such a bunch of myths. Leaving the party or deciding what to do that is "right for me" is one of the most important states of mind to have. We must always be willing to learn from setbacks and disappointments. And I do belief in the value of self reflection and the examined life.

But life? .... no regrets.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Summer Vacation is Not Evil

The battle over the necessity - and potential downsides - of summer vacation will never end, just as the myth of the "agrarian model" as the reason for summer vacation never seems to go away. I'm still surprised by the large number of educated people who believe that America's history of summer vacation was based on schools letting kids out to work on the farm.  That's simply not true. However, a different argument opposing summer vacation has reared its head in recent years as pundits and education reformers target low student achievement and achievement gaps. The argument against summer vacation is based on theories of the summer slide. Basically, students exhibit "learning loss" during their time off in the summer, as their skills weaken and their knowledge lessens due to the stagnation of not being in the classroom. The subsequent problem is that teachers spend a considerable amount of class time at the beginning of the year reviewing the previous years lessons and re-sharpening academic skills. This "slide" is greatest at our lowest socioeconomic levels and among our student populations with the most significant achievement gaps. And that disparity fuels criticism that summer vacation perpetuates and even worsens in equality. At least that's the claim of Slate's economics writer Matthew Yglesias who says Summer Vacation is Evil.

Well ... that's a bit much.

Certainly, the issue of the summer slide is real and prevalent among some student populations. And, there is no doubt that it can be "a disaster for poor children" because they do not have access to the summer enrichment opportunities such as camps and organized sports/activities enjoyed by their more affluent peers. And many of the summer activities enjoyed by kids are a huge financial drain on families that could save this money - for college? - if kids were just in school year-round. However, it is a bit narrow to gauge the value of summer vacation simply based on the "amount of schooling" lost - for those measurements are only one factor in a person's overall well-being. It's simply problematic to only look at data that can be measured on standardized assessments the way too many studies do. We should not only value and measure a child's development based on what happens in a classroom and measured according to classroom/academic scales. And, summer vacation is not evil and not a time of loss for many children. In fact, there is great value in experiences such as camps and organized sports and summer employment and independent studies and extracurricular activities and family vacation time and, simply, un-organized and free-spirited play.  Rather than simply bashing summer vacation and criticizing it "something nice for teachers," it's probably a better idea to look for ways to engage all populations in "summer learning." It doesn't have to be school. Or it doesn't have to be year-round classroom time for all students. Let's consider the ways to address the summer slide inequality by simply expanding summer enrichment opportunities for all kids.

Summer vacation is not based on agrarian schedules. Summer vacation is not a bad idea. And, sorry Matt Yglesias, summer vacation is not evil.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Live to 150 Years Old? Healthy? Really?

"I want to live forever. Live fast and die young. Youth is wasted on the young. I hope I die before I get old."

Humanity has a complicated relationship with aging - and with overall health later in life. Vacationing in Summit County, Colorado, I am always impressed with the retirees - or just people in their sixties and beyond - hiking and biking the trails I'm on. Knowing too many older people who simply accept poorer health, less activity, and decreased quality of life as "part of growing old," I am curious about the ways people manage to age gracefully, even energetically.  Though I am not Ponce de Leon in search of the Fountain of Youth, I do believe there is a key to living younger longer.  That question is the basis of an engaging discussion - and article on the DailyBeast/Newsweek site - "Just how long can humans live, and live well?"

It's no surprise that Americans are on an anti-aging kick, especially as active Baby Boomers face their own mortality. Recently, there has been a buzz about a billboard message that reads The First Person to Live to 150 is Alive Today.  We've all heard about the miracle properties of resveratrol and red wine. There are similar "magic pill" ideas about ginseng and goji berries.  I've long believed that we seriously shorten our life spans and that the average American life span of roughly 80 years is on the short end. And, I also believe in a few myths surrounding longevity. Much of this goes back to my time living Taiwan when I studied tai chi with an 87-year-old shao lin kung fu master who was as spry as I was in my twenties. In fact, when a man in his eighties can nearly put you in the hospital with a punch, you have to think there is something many of us are doing wrong. And about this time, I also ran across a couple of books about taoism and the idea of more natural living.

One of the best was Deng Ming Dao's Chronicles of Tao, which tells the story of taoist master Kwan Saihung who studied the tao and martial arts under the Grandmaster of Hua Shan. The Grandmaster was allegedly 172-years old when the book was written. And that wouldn't even make him the world's oldest person - at least in Chinese lore.  Another great book was Daniel Reid's The Tao of Health, Sex, and Longevity. Reid recounts many exceptional stories of long, healthy lives, the most famous of which is the story of Li Ching Yuen who was reported to have lived to the ripe old age of 256. His story and long life was even reported by British newspapers in the early part of the twentieth century. However, a prejudice against the record keeping of early Chinese societies prevents the Western world from accepting such an amazing claim.

At the very least, I think we can all live healthier, longer, and much could be gleaned from better living. Certainly, there are many people who believe that our current lifespan could be extended in productive and healthy ways. For example, Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen - who gained fame on Oprah with their real age concept - have offered several books about living well and living longer, most notably in their book You: The Owner's Manual. And, Mikhail Tombak challenged notions of longevity and life span many years ago in his book Can We Live 150 Years? If nothing else, we could take the simple advice of Dr. Oz who recommends if you do nothing else for your health, you should walk thirty minutes a day and stop drinking soda.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Who is Nate Silver & Why is He Leaving the NY Times for ESPN

Prepare for a new line of sleek, stylish calculators coming out. Data crunching and statistical analysis just got cool.

For a certain group of political and data junkies, Twitter and the blogosphere was buzzing this week with news that statistician, blogger, and presidential polls savant Nate Silver was leaving the New York Times for a new, lucrative contract with ESPN. Wait a minute ... what? A presidential polls statistician inked a deal with ESPN? What gives? Who is Nate Silver?

Nate Silver - a statistician, sabermetrician, sephelogist, social critic, and blogger - gained national prominence for election predictions in 2008 after he accurately called the election results in 49 of 50 states. He also correctly predicted all thirty five Senate races. By collating and extrapolating on hundreds of polls - and using a system he developed to predict baseball performance - Silver out performed nearly every poll, pundit, and news source working the election. At that time he was writing on a blog called FiveThirtyEight.com that he founded after becoming frustrated listening to poll watchers randomly predict results with very little data behind their decisions. Following that successful run, Nate Silver signed a deal to move his blog to the New York Times - a move which proved extremely lucrative for the paper in the 2012 race with as many as one in five NYTimes.com visitors coming to the sight exclusively for Silver's predictions. At the same time, Silver had published an inspired and insightful tome on predictions and data analysis called The Signal and the Noise. Sales for the book went up 400% the day after the election.

Like any successful person who challenges the conventional wisdom, Silver has been the source of a couple well publicized feuds with people like MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and, more notably, Politico.com  Many saw Politico's criticism of Nate Silver as sour grapes for a website that was basically schooled by Silver on predicting presidential politics. Of course, none of the criticism of Silver by any who disagree with him has done anything to diminish the rise of the young mathematician. In this day and age, with a population obsessed with data and information, and companies forever seeking an edge with their knowledge and manipulation of Big Data, Nate Silver is a verifiable data rock star. Silver has made data and statistics cool, and that will only continue with his new deal to move FiveThirtyEight to ESPN.

So, how does a mathematician end up with a contract at ESPN? Important to remember is that his earliest data work - and success - was in developing his sports performance system. Anyone who has read, seen, or heard of Michael Lewis' insightful explanation of Moneyball and the use of sabermetrics in sports knows that sports and numbers are intimately engaged. The marriage of sports and stats grew exponentially with the rise of fantasy sports - and we all know someone who is obsessed with how his fantasy football/basketball/baseball team is doing. And from Silver's perspective, there is so much more he can do than just predict elections or sports performance. The plans for his new site at ESPN is for the system to expand into weather and entertainment - even predicting Oscar winners based on polling data. Certainly, he may be biting off more than he can chew with something as arbitrary as Academy Awards, but Silver has definitely got the clout at this point to try.

For all the young data geeks out there, Nate Silver has a great lesson on the politics of math and developing a brand.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Can You Retire at 30?

When I was about twenty-six and living abroad, making good money and saving a lot, my father introduced me to the idea of investing and saving for retirement. He had retired with a lump sum that he invested, and was learning a lot more about financial advising. So, he got me started with an IRA and investment account - some stocks and mutual funds. With his information about saving ten percent and the magic of compound interest, I started of with those dreams of a millionaire's retirement. In fact, a part of me started to believe I could retire with millions by the age of fifty ... Or younger.

As I approach my mid-forties, I accept I won't be sitting around with millions in my fifties. However, I still wonder about those stories of people retiring in their thirties. Because it is possible, and you don't have to live you're twenties in poverty to do so. That's the story of The Mustache Money Man, who retired in Longmont, Colorado at the age of 32, with a cool $800K in the bank. By saving money on the little stuff, investing wisely, and planning for retirement, MMM did actually retire that early. Most people who research investing and retirement plans know the advice from The Automatic Millionaire author David Bach who warns about the latte factor. And MMM certainly follows that advice. He carefully selected where he could afford to live well for less, and he made prudent decisions about car payments and mortgages and daily luxuries.

Certainly, MMM has learned to live simply in exchange for his early retirement. And not everyone could make such choices or live in such a way. However, it is interesting to learn MMM's story and keep an eye on his advice. Living the dream the way MMM does is absolutely doable - it's simply a matter of some research and choices.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lovely Loses Again on Next Food Network Star

OK, can we just declare Nikki Dinki the winner of season 8 of the Food Network's Next Food Network Star. Clearly, she is the only finalist in a very weak field of contestants who even has a chance of hosting a watchable show on the Food Network. Nikki won again this week, taking the first challenge and then putting together a team - with good choices of Demaris and Stacy - to win the food promo competition.

Lovely returned from the Food Star Redemption competition - in a baffling decision by Robert Irvine. What the Restaurant Impossible host saw in Lovely defies all sense that he is a true culinary artist. Lovely never made anything that my wife can't whip up in the kitchen on any given Tuesday. And the dishes she created to beat Viet, Chris, and Chad were utterly forgettable. Seriously, she made a crumble with potato chips. That was weak. But she was allowed back in ... and promptly shown the door when she validated her early exit by being almost a non-entity in the team promo with Russell and Rodney. In the promo she had next to nothing to say - and that was only slightly worse than the other two. In fact, it would have been preferable for Rodney to say nothing at all.

Rodney and Russell are almost certain to be the next two to go home. Hopefully, Rodney goes first. The "Pie Guy" is simply crass and unsophisticated. There is simply nothing he can bring to the Food Network that it needs, and I am weary of his low-class, wacky guy exterior. Rodney would never entertain me as a Food Network Star. Russell can cook, no doubt. But he's not close to polished enough for the Food Network. And that comment about culinary sins in the promo? Ridiculous. The problem with people like Russell and Rodney is that they think they can be like a Guy Fieri or Alton Brown - edgy and cool. But they can't ... because Guy and Alton know food and they know it well. Guy would never have ignored a story about 500-year-old yeast or the use of potato flour in doughnuts. Guy and Alton would have spun some great commentary out of that because they know food. Rodney and Russell don't.

This is clearly the weakest and least entertaining field of Food Network Star contestants I've seen. Even among the finalists now, only Nikki is slightly interesting.

Let's just get it over with.

Sugar, Sugar, Meat, & Fat - America's Breakfast

"You've got sugar, sugar, meat, and fat."

Those words from vegan chef Alex Jamison to her boyfriend Morgan Spurlock in the game-changing documentary film Super-size Me still resonate with me all these years later. In the scene Alex is somewhat mocking Morgan while clarifying the "food groups" represented in his McDonalds breakfast of hot cakes and sausage - there may have been some scrambled eggs on the plate as well. That simple explanation of standard American breakfast fare recently came back to me while on vacation.

Enjoying a fabulous summer in Summit County, Colorado at the very nice Keystone Resort and Spa, I walked past a group of people eating breakfast at an outdoor cafe - nothing but "white foods."  Pancakes and waffles and biscuits & gravy and white toast and hash browns and ... nothing of any significant nutritional value. Granted, a few people were eating eggs - which is a good protein, though I doubt this is an organic free range egg with good omega fats. And, there was one bowl of oatmeal - certainly a "white"-looking food, which could have been easily amped up in nutrition and flavor with some fresh berries and nuts and cinnamon.

We've all been guilty of the doughnuts-for-breakfast moment, and there is certainly something positive to be said about pancakes and waffles and hash browns. That is without doubt. And maybe what I was seeing is simply splurging for vacation. But American has a problem with its mindless fixation on "white" starchy foods that are seriously lacking in nutrition and sustenance. It's been years since I've started a day without some fruit and nuts, and I switched to whole grains years ago. Eggs are a staple, as are hummus and nut butters - the sort of foods that provide fuel the body needs. And they also lack the empty, starchy, sugars that are the key to America's busting waistlines.

Enough with the white foods for breakfast.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

40th Anniversary of Bruce Lee & Enter the Dragon

You could say America's love affair with the martial arts began in July of 1973.

That was the year Bruce Lee's standard-setting martial arts film Enter the Dragon premiered to rave reviews and fascinated American audiences. Bryan Enk of Yahoo Movies offers an engaging look back at the film with history, insight, and commentary from Bruce Lee's wife Linda Lee Cadwell. I was only three years old when Bruce Lee entered the American movie lexicon as a true movie star, so like many Bruce Lee fans, I came to the story later through a variety of Bruce Lee bio-pics and reading Lee's groundbreaking martial arts book - about a style of kung fu he created and refined - The Tao of Jeet Kune Do. It takes a pretty significant and deep mind-body connection to create a martial art - a skill set that generally developed over centuries.

For martial arts fans, it's certainly worth looking back at the legacy of arguably martial arts' greatest icon. Certainly, reading Lee's book is a great place to start. And, of course, Hollywood did produce what it considers to be the definitive biography - Dragon: the Bruce Lee Story. However, there are may other great sources of information, and for the true fan, it's worth checking out a wide variety of films about the star. The story of Bruce Lee  is full of myth and legend. I can even remember believing as a kid that Bruce Lee would return on the tenth or twentieth anniversary of his death because he had not died, but retreated from society to deal with supernatural issues we could only marvel at.

While I'm certain now that Bruce is no longer with us - and not coming back - it's always worth looking back on one of the greatest cultural icons of the twentieth century.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Stand Your Ground Laws & Disproportional Response

The verdict that freed George Zimmerman after he killed Travon Martin has generated some intense debate about gun rights and the freedom to react with deadly force to a perceived threat. My gut reaction to the verdict was unease, particularly because I don't agree with someone taking out a gun during a fist fight. The crux of this issue is the existence of Stand Your Ground Laws.  These laws originated out of "castle laws," which allow a person to use lethal force in response to a home intruder perceived to be a threat. However, it's my understanding that gun rights advocates actively pursued extending the right to use a gun in situations outside the home. And that seems risky at best, and quite dangerous at least. Certainly, there is research to indicate these laws increase violence, rather than mitigate it. People are, simply, more inclined to quickly resort to gun violence. In fact, areas that have these laws will have 30-40 more gun deaths for adult males than areas that don't. Clearly, the death of Travon Martin did not have to happen. And from my point of view, the altercation and death resulted from the stupid and irresponsible decisions of George Zimmerman. He simply shouldn't have followed Travon, he shouldn't have left his car, he shouldn't have carried a gun, and he shouldn't have taken it out and fired when a situation he created turned against him.

In a correlated issue in southeast Denver, a drunken - and unarmed - man was shot and killed by a resident who feared the would-be intruder was a threat to his home. The question, of course, is whether this man had to die.

SAT vs. ACT: What’s the Difference?

Standardized testing is a way for colleges to compare students across the country on the same scale. High schools vary by curriculum, grading scales, and methodology, so GPA is not as level a playing field as a third party assessment. By issuing the same test to all students, no matter the district, state, or region, colleges can better select students for admission

The SAT – created and run by the non-profit College Board – is a standardized test that scores high school students on mathematic and critical reading skills. Within the last several years, a writing portion has been added. Students have 25 minutes to formulate an essay on a prompt provided in the section. The essay is scored on a scale of 1 to 6 and is graded by two readers. Before this addition, the test was all multiple choice, aside from a math problems calculated within the test packet. However, because essay writing is a significant component of college, this written portion gives colleges a bit more insight into a student’s ability and possible performance if admitted.

The ACT is run by ACT, Inc. and is a competitor to the SAT. Historically, the ACT is not taken by as many students or as broadly nationwide as the SAT, but in recent years this has changed. It seems more and more students are taking the ACT and the SAT or just the ACT alone. The ACT has four distinct areas – English, mathematics, reading and science – and an optional writing section, recently added like the SAT’s. The ACT questions are considered by many to be slightly easier than the SAT but need to be completed in a shorter amount of time. Thus, it all evens out.

Colleges accept scores from both tests. In many cases, which test to take is determined by where a student live and/or wants to attend college. The SAT is popular on the East and West coasts while the ACT dominates the central portion of the country. Both require several hours of your Saturday morning. Depending on the colleges you’re looking to apply to, it might be best to consult the admissions department to see if there is a preference or to at least obtain the school’s score ranges. 

For more information and guidance, please visit  barronstestprep.com.

** This is a sponsored guest post.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Nate Silver & the Rise of Data Scientists

Statistician and New York Times blogger Nate Silver made a name for himself between the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections through his unique algorithms and numbers crunching that enabled him to accurately predict election results in all fifty states. Such success also enriched Silver even more as his fascinating data-crunching book The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail, But Some Don't shot to the top of Amazon's sales list shortly after President Obama won re-election. The rise of people like Nate Silver and Big Data in general has led to the creation - or at least prominence - of a "new" and lucrative career - Data Scientist. To meet the demand for all these new numbers crunchers, Wired magazine reports on a degree program in data science. Thus, for all those Nate Silver wannabes out there, a degree as a data scientist from the University of California - Berkeley is waiting for the "bargain" price of $60 grand. Just crunch those numbers.

Content Curation, The Long Tail, & the Economics of Abundance

The rise of technology culture and the internet economy changed everything we know about classic rules of supply and demand. And that is nowhere more true than with digital products and digital marketing that changed the way products could be accessed and consumed. Ultimately, the future of commerce is very much connected to the idea of "selling less of more." The concept is the heart of an essay and now an engaging book called The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, who is the editor of Wired, and the visionary behind the ever-popular TEDTalks.

In studying the way companies like Apple - with applications such as iTunes - Amazon changed the accessibility of products and what could and would come to market, Anderson explains that a lack of scarcity and the economics of abundance have allowed new niche markets to flourish in ways they never could outside of a digital world. When physical stores stock their shelves, they must consider the probability of sales in choosing which products are valuable enough to be given shelf space. That reality doesn't exist for songs on iTunes or books in an Amazon warehouse - or as digital files for the Kindle - meaning the companies could stock an infinite - and increasingly smaller - supply of niche products. These small numbers of product actually represent "the long [thin] tail" on a sales curve. And it means nothing is ever so insignificant that it's unmarketable.

The concept of the economics of abundance mean that normal supply/demand rules don't apply, and that enables more niche markets to emerge and thrive. Thus, even an obscure blog for some fringe product can exist and thrive if people can access it. These niche markets are relevant to the concepts of Mavens described by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point. When I first read Gladwell's book, I thought of the obscure bloggers who collected information and dispensed to a public that - because of digital accessibility - would always find their source. The issue of abundance is also significant in the work of Daniel Pink whose book A Whole New Mind argued that the rise of abundance and the lack of scarcity in markets has increased the need for right-brain thinking because vendors need to appeal more to consumers for even the most basic and useful items.

What does this mean for content curators? Well, in terms of collecting content and information, web creators and curators need simply makes themselves available for accessing their materials. Thus, the more a curator collects and distributes, the better off he is.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Nike Goes Barefoot Running

Nike is undoubtedly the running shoe behemoth, and it has been since the 1970s when Phil Knight hooked up with the running coaches at the University of Oregon and Stanford and began peddling more structurally padded shoes. The effect was the launch of a new industry and fitness craze, as jogging entered the lexicon, and Nike shoes became the apparel of choice. In recent years, elite running has steered away from the mainstream companies, and pure runners have gravitated toward shoes with less obvious structure and a style that mimics the foot in its natural form. With it came the rise of the barefoot running craze, greatly influenced by Chris McDougal's excellent sociological work Born to Run, which gave rise to barefoot-running "shoes" like the Vibram Five Fingers.

Now, Nike is playing catch up.

The release of the new Nike Free Hyperfeel Flyknit is certainly a hype-worthy story, as it is an incredibly paired down running shoe crafted from a single piece of fabric.  The story has been profiled by both Wired Magazine and the Daily Beast, and each comments on the attempt by Nike to remain relevant in a world that may be moving away from Nike's MO of padding and supporting the foot as much as possible. Kyle Vanhemert takes particular notice of Nike's efforts commenting on how Nike Jumps into Barefoot Running. Vanhemert  sees this shoe as the new direction of Nike, and it's likely that may be true if the shoe company hopes to stay relevant. In a slightly more entertaining expose of the Nike Empire, Winston Ross reports for The Daily Beast on a revered trip Inside Nike Headquarters. The story of Uncle Phil and his company's attempt to deal with the pendulum swings between shoes offering more and less support subtly mocks the hallowed ground in Eugene, even as he offers a compelling account of the roll-out of Nike's new shoes.

As far as the actual feel and performance of the shoe, it is said to be somewhat like "wearing a sock," clearly an indication of the single fabric construction and connection to barefoot running. At $160 a pair, this is not a shoe for the casual runner, and it may not be for everyone. Certainly, there is no reason to believe this shoe is a necessary purchase for someone who wants to revert to less structure and more natural and barefoot-style running. In fact, it's not a stretch to say that anyone in nearly any shoe can "run barefoot while wearing shoes."  In reality, barefoot running is all about the gait and not really at all about the shoes.  The key is to run, as if sprinting - or as McDougal says, "like you would if you had to chase a toddler into the street while in bare feet." Basically, natural runners land on the balls of their feet, not the heels.  The heel strike - and the potential damage and wear/tear - results from the more padded shoes of the past thirty years that allowed runners to land on their heels. That's not what a runner should do.

And, if a runner wants a bit of protection - especially for street or trail running - the thin barefoot-like shoe doesn't have to be Nike. For as Vanhemert implies, Nike is sort of late to this game. Companies like Merrel have provided barefoot shoes for years. Newton is another great low-structure shoe company and Adidas has some great styles as well.

Schools Raise Money Selling Useful Products, Not Candy

The start of school is just around the corner, and with that comes school and club fundraising which has kids knocking on your door and meeting you by the supermarket to know if you want to buy some candy to support poms or basketball or theater or lacrosse or speech and debate or ... whatever.  However, some schools are breaking free from the standard candy sales - a good move in this fitness-lacking country - and instead offering products everyone can use. For example, Beth Harpaz of AP reports on a school selling trash bags as a fundraiser instead of candy. She also spotlights many alternatives to the standard candy sales that have plagued communities for decades.

Chevrolet "He's Strong" Commercial is "Strong" by Will Hoge

If you caught the end of the All-Star Home Run Derby on Monday night, you may have been captivated by the extended Chevy commercial video that blended images of men being "strong" with lyrics of the same idea. Well, if you're wondering, the song is "Strong" and it's by country singer Will Hoge.  The commercial was a good 2-3 minutes long, and the moving images and poignant lyrics pulled at heart strings of American families, singing the praises of hard-working family men who are twenty year straight get to work on time ... a love one woman for all his life ... a shirt off his back give you his last dime ... [and] strong. 

A shorter version of the commercial is in play now, with the one-minute version playing during the All-Star Game last night. This is some great marketing, to be sure, and it reminds me of the old "Like a Rock" video/commercials featuring the Chevy Silverado to the background of Bob Seger's song.  As a matter of fact, that commercial/song came out during the summer of my first job, working maintenance and "feeling strong" and somewhat like "a man." I was fifteen at the time. Perhaps, that's why they resonate with me so much. Sure, these commercials can seem a bit sappy - or even shallow when you realize they're just marketing a product.  But, I for one enjoyed the images and the song. Makes me proud to be a son, husband, and father. And, as I only ever buy American cars, it makes me proud to be an American, too.

The song and the music video/commercial certainly reflect all the sentiments that make so many country songs so memorable.  Of course, that may surprise many of Will Hoge's fans who don't necessarily consider him "country."  That's the sentiment of many who consider him a "country outsider."  But you can get a lot of country mileage out of singing about the common man, especially when you mention him as a loyal husband and father ... and one who has a truck. There is more to Will Hoge than just one song, but people often look to artists after a situation like this to keep producing the same type of song with the same type of feelings and melodies. And that would be wrong. Regardless, Will Hoge - who has seen some struggles and has never been a household name in fifteen years in the business - will continue to produce great music and "never give in."

Lyrics, compliments of OnlyLyrics

He's a twenty year straight get to work on time
He's a love one woman for all his life
He's a shirt off his back give you his last dime
He's strong

He's a need to move something you can use my truck
He's an overtime worker when the bills pile up
Everybody knows he aint just tough
He's strong ... Strong

He'll pick you up and won't let you down
Rock solid inside out
Somebody you can trust
Steady as the sun
Ain't nothing gonna knock him off the road he's rollin on
He's strong

It aint what he can carry what he can lift
It's a dirt road lesson talkin to his kids
Bout how to hold your ground and how to live
Strong ...He's strong

He'll pick you up and won't let you down
Rock solid inside out
Somebody you can trust
Steady as the sun
Ain't nothing gonna knock him off the road he's rollin on
He's strong

Strong, Like the river rollin
Strong, Gonna keep on going
Strong, When the road runs out
They gonna keep on talkin about
How he was strong ... Strong

He'll pick you up and won't let you down
Rock solid inside out
Somebody you can trust
Steady as the sun
Ain't nothing gonna knock him off the road he's rollin on
He's strong

Everybody knows he ain't just tough ... He's strong

Read more at http://www.onlylyrics.com/will-hoge-lyrics-1119313.php#XbA8CdtgZFPG4tef.99 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

SupplySide is Irrelevant - It's Demand that Fuels the Economy

Featured on Salon.com in coordination with the Los Angeles Review of Books, Tom Streihorst presents an insightful and compelling description of the unique paradox of a more comfortable and advanced, yet precarious and stagnant, economy that exists today. We live in an era of such abundance, as well as the subsequent anxiety that pervades an economy so awash in supply that a lack of demand threatens to derail all but the wealthiest elite. A lot of great research and commentary in this piece.

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The Gates Foundation Education Reform Machine

Several years ago in an op-ed for the Washington Post, Bill Gates set a goal of 80% of high school graduates earning bachelor degrees by the year 2025. At the time, I was shocked at the absurdity of the goal from a business standpoint and I wondered, "Is Microsoft going to hire all these highly educated people?" Because the American economy which is supported by 30% of its adults with bachelor degrees certainly can't sustain that level of education with the commensurate salaries to justify it. It just seemed, from a businessman's point of view, to be a terribly poor decision, both inefficient and unnecessary. It just seemed so ... un-Bill Gates-like.

Of course, the nation had to listen - and even many applauded mindlessly - because the idea came from Bill Gates and his Gates Foundation, arguably the biggest behemoth in education reform by sheer vastness of resources and the ability to impose its will. When billions of dollars are on the table, people listen. Even when the direction proves to be misguided. Certainly, the Gates Foundation has had its share of mis-steps, precisely because it is dealing with a very un-business-like issue. The huge investment in smaller schools to improve results is one example. The aligning with controversial people like Michelle Rhee is another. Yet, I don't mean to dismiss or disparage Bill Gates or the Gates Foundation because I firmly believe in the goal they are after. And they are doing many things right. Supporting people like Sal Khan and the Khan Academy is one notable achievement that can't really be bad for education. However, the jury on Gates' positive versus negative impact is still out. This week, The Chronicle of Higher Education weighs in with a slew of commentary on the Gates Effect:

Marc Perry and others question the Gates Effect after the Foundation has spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars on education initiatives.  Notably, not all - or even many - in the education sector are singing the praises of the cash infusion "Some experts have complained that the Gates foundation approaches higher education as an engineering problem to be solved. Most important, some leaders and analysts are uneasy about the future that Gates is buying: a system of education designed for maximum measurability, delivered increasingly through technology, and—these critics say—narrowly focused on equipping students for short-term employability."  There is reason for concern, as education is simply not a business, and there are too many intangibles to turn it into a system of widgets and bean counting.  In another piece Katherine Mangan examines "How Gates Shapes State Education Policy," and this raises concerns about the democratic process to be sure. Certainly, there is no reason to completely dismiss Gates contributions, as the state doesn't have exemplary records on reform. And addressing the unacceptable rates of remediation for college students is a primary goal to say the least. The Chronicle also features an interesting info-graphic on the role Gates and his Foundation have played.  But where is this all really going, asks John Thelin. The Gates' certainly hope to see results for their investment and efforts, if not now then within fifty years of their deaths. So the pressure to produce is driven in a market way that again may compromise the education field. And its those potential costs - and collateral damage - that is the concern of Robin Rogers who worries about The Price of Philanthropy.

The reality is that Gates and the Gates Foundation are the premier force in education reform. So, they must be acknowledged. The Chronicle has done a nice job of continuing the conversation. And, for more critical analysis and links to studies on Gates' goals and success, check out Anthony Cody's insightful piece for EdWeek Mr. Gates Goes to College.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Colleges Offer More Career Prep - Less Liberal Arts

Is the time spent in college about broadening your horizons and developing a liberal arts education - or is it about getting a job? As the costs of college rise - and the job prospects for young Americans remain thin - prospective students and their parents are weighing more critically the luxury of liberal arts studies versus the acquisition of skills necessary to enter a career and earn a living. And this has raised concerns in some circles that the studying of the humanities is a luxury for wealthy kids, while the middle and working class need to forego the study of literature, philosophy, and music to pursue careers in technology, finance, and health care.

In response to the legitimate anxieties of the millenials and their parents, "colleges [are] offering more career prep." That's the analysis from AP writer Beth Harpaz who has discovered "instead of 'Follow Your Passion,' the mantra has become more like, 'we'll help you get a job.'" This is not a surprise to me, and I agree with the emphasis on job skills, even as I hope students can balance that pursuit with their desire to study interesting classes in the liberal arts. These days, numerous writers and consultants are urging students to avoid the follow your passion myth, and there is good reason behind such advice. "Passion," in all its innocuous excitement, leads very few people to careers in life. As a friend of mine has long noted, "We have lives, and we have jobs. Passion is for life, not work." Granted, some people - like me - are passionate about their work. Yet, more people would be better served developing skills and following their talents, rather than letting their passion lead the way. This is the message - Follow your passion and go broke - of Mike Rowe in one of my favorite TEDTalks:

Other great sources of information and advice on the passion versus skills debate are people like Daniel Pink, Cal Newport, and Daniel Coyle.  Newport's book So Good They Can't Ignore You encourages students to work hard at developing skills and talents in areas that interest them. By doing so, Newport believes, students will become highly skilled in jobs which will then become a passion for them.  Daniel Coyle makes the same argument in The Talent Code. And, these days technical skills are highly valued by nearly all companies, and it's important for all people to remain as current and trained in workplace technologies as they can. Chad Bailey offers this information for BusinessDaily on Tech Skills that Employers Want.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Chad May Be Out as the Next Food Network Star

This week on the Food Network's Next Food Network Star, the competent but continually uninspiring work of Chad Rosenthal finally caught up with him, and Chad was eliminated - he will not be** the Next Food Network Star. Chad's inability to really talk engagingly about any food - Bobby Flay's salmon masterpiece or Chad's very own barbecue poutine - led Alton, Bobby, and Giada to conclude Chad was never going to progress - he was never going to be the Next Food Network Star. For a man who has lived barbecue professionally for years - and who is seen saying in the trailers that he can "talk about food like nobody else" - Chad has surprisingly little to say.

Russel barely held on this week - and he will not be the Next Food Network Star either. However, it does appear that he is a slightly better - or at least more interesting and innovative - chef, and there is more potential for him to grow into a marketable personality. Barbecue is pretty generic and well served on the Food Network - cooking with the "Seven Culinary Sins" is something new. Candied bacon and horseradish ice cream are certainly worth taking a look at - though they may belong on Anthony Bourdain's show, as opposed to the Food Network.

Demaris continues to disappoint - though the judges have some sort of misplaced affection for her southern "charm." Though I would certainly not be tuning in to a Food Network Show to learn about green bean casserole - or really anything "southern" that Demaris offers. And I would hope that Demaris' piss-poor whiny attitude would count as a strike against her. That woman complains about every single challenge - it's never exciting for her, only a burden. That is just rather classless, and certainly not "Star" quality.

Rodney continues to be - in the words of Bobby Flay - "a disaster." While his food seems to always be tasty, how hard is it to screw up a mixed berry pie. The thing that bothers me is his absolutely sloppy presentation. His culinary skills and his finished products are always a mess, and I would be turned off as a judge just watching him work. On top of that, his presentations are always annoying and rather low class, and his personal appearance reminds me of the unkempt schlubbiness that was the trademark of the Pop-A-Waffle guys on the Great Food Truck Race. In my world, style counts ... and Rodney has very little.

Finally, both Stacy and Nikki were winners tonight, though it's obvious that Nikki was the top presenter. Bobby overpraised Stacy because of her story, overlooking the fact that she said very little about the actual food. And, the Meat-on-the-Side concept is a heck of a lot more interesting than a Vintage-Modern Kitchen. Though either of these ladies will be competent. The key word being competent - for there are no true stars among this incredibly weak field of food finalists.

** Chad's chance at redemption came in a competition with Lovely. And while Chad wasn't stellar, he - like all other redemption candidates - made a much more interesting dish than Lovely who simply "made a salad." That is not star quality, nor were any of her other dishes. However, Robert Irvine is going to make us wait until next week to see he comes back.  It better be Chad.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Best Content Curation & Aggregation Sites

Content curation and aggregation is the foundation of much of the internet economy, with revenues generated by readership, links, and advertising. Clearly, Google's AdSense is the top of the game for this, but there are many other companies cashing in on pay-per-click revenue. But where is all this information coming from. As I noted in my earlier post Stephen Rosenbaum has aggregated an insightful analysis in  Curation Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers are Creators., and his textbook example of premier curation and aggregation is the Huffington Post, brainchild of media darling Arianna Huffington. Arianna is a great role model for aspiring internet-preneurs, and the story of HuffPo's success by Rosenbaum is worth reading.

So, who else does a great job of curation and aggregation? Here are a few examples of the sites I scan for engaging and informative collections of web buzz.  Consider checking out:

And, of course, one of the originals that simply links ... and profits:

The Drudge Report

These are the sites that I check most regularly for news of "what's going on."