Worthwhile Reading

A teacher’s experiences in an American high school…a highly-rated American high school…with thoughts on the power of incentives.

Related: the effects of easing up on school troublemakers.

Research suggests that CEOs born in “frontier counties with a higher level of individualistic culture” are more effective at promoting innovation.

The market value of Tesla…$1.2 trillion…now exceeds the market value of the entire S&P 500 energy sector.  (The components of that sector can be found here.)

“Believe the science”, bureaucracy, speed, and creativity:  America needs a new scientific revolution.

Planning is a bigger job than planners can do.

Offshoring is not just for manufacturing jobs: Teleshock.  See also my 2019 post Telemigration.

Interesting memoir by a woman who started as a clerk for Burlington Northern Railroad, worked her way up to Yardmaster, and then worked closely for many years with the legendary RR executive Hunter Harrison, focusing mostly on improved data and methods for performance measurement and operational support.  (The author has since made a major industry & career change and is now focused on bioinformatics research related to cellular development!)


24 thoughts on “Worthwhile Reading”

  1. I think you mean the market cap of Tesla is 1.2 trillion, a measly billion is pocket change any more and a million might not be a suitable tip. Ain’t inflation wonderful.

    On the bright side, at least Tesla produces something besides an AP.

    Tyler Cowen’s observation is rather trite. The absolute best any bureaucracy can do is incremental improvement, much more likely, stasis or regression. This goes for VC’s just as much as governments.

    DARPA did fine as long as they were an obscure nonentity, I doubt they can survive notoriety. The only real way they can succeed is if they fail at least ten times for every success, and that won’t fly in front of Congress. There’s a very fine line between brilliant and crack brained.

  2. “The current grant funding apparatus does not allow some of the best scientists in the world to pursue the research agendas that they themselves think are best,” Collison, Cowen, and the UC Berkeley scientist Patrick Hsu wrote in the online publication Future in June.

    Exactly what President Eisenhower warned against in his 1961 Farewell Address — except it has probably become worse than he (a former President of Columbia University) imagined. We now have politicization of research, and a tax code which discourages private investment in Research & Development. And no real prospect of improving things through the ballot box. There will be consequences!

  3. A trillion here, a trillion there, eventually it can add up to real money of the unreal sort.

    Back when I used to hand set type, there were only so many of each character in the case. If you ran out, you’d have to either get creative or break up a standing form. We’re lucky that it’s all digital now so they’ll never run out of zeros for printing the currency.

  4. On Planning, I was a member of the Planning Commission of my small city, Mission Viejo, CA.

    The “Planned community” lasted until the early 90s when things began to go awry. First the state passed a number of laws that over rode city plans. One was the role of “Assisted Living” homes, which were owned by investors with clout in the state Legislature. They would buy up a number of homes in a neighborhood and convert them to multiple dwellings in which “Board and Care” cases were housed. Many were remodeled to include six bedrooms, some with individual baths. The garage was used as an office. Local zoning as single family homes was overridden.

    The next part of the planned community destruction was the conversion of an industrial park, included on the theory that light office and industrial uses would minimize commuting to work by residents. That was overturned by a vote of the Planning Commission before I was a member. In fact, that decision stimulated a whole reform movement aimed at the City Council. The planned industrial park was replaced by an apartment complex of over 750 units. No traffic analysis was done before approval.

    Soon the state began to intervene on behalf of “affordable housing.” Here we saw an iron triangle of state legislators, “public interest” legal firms and developers. The law firm, subsidized by developers, would sue the state, the legislature would rule that the city, nearly 100% built out, had inadequate affordable housing. The city would be required to find and approve a project, which often replaced other uses, that would then be built by the developers and the law firms would be awarded costs by the legislature. Once that project was complete, the cycle would repeat.

  5. So the answer to bad planning is more planning. That the planners that can’t see ten years into the future, (Who’d of guessed that?) are going to make a forever plan with just a “few” “simple” rules.

    The exemplar of this new era of comity and justice is a Middle Eastern city yet he never gets around to examining how the mill of justice is lubricated by bribery and intimidation which has a much longer and better documented history in the region.

  6. Gavin…” a tax code which discourages private investment in Research & Development.”

    At the moment, most R&D costs can be expensed when incurred. Unless legislative action is taken, this changes at the end of 2021 and those costs will be required to be capitalized and depreciated over five years.

    There is also an R&D tax *credit* which applies in some cases; I don’t know if any changes are proposed in that.

  7. re: schools:
    “Faced with soaring Ds and Fs, schools are ditching the old way of grading”

    LAUSD is a complete disaster, and appears determined to go full speed over the cliff. My suggestion is to move to a small town. Urban schools are dystopian nightmares, and suburban schools that are supposed to be “good” seem to be completely infested with CRT lunacy. Get out of cities, get to small towns, find your community, prepare.

  8. Interesting news yesterday–GE is splitting itself up into three separate companies, which will be:

    –Aviation…primarily jet engines and services
    –Healthcare…imaging, ultrasound, patient monitoring, healthcare IT
    –Renewable energy & power…gas turbines, wind turbines, nuclear & hydro, grid technologies

  9. So this is going around today:
    U.S. Marine Corps
    Quantico, VA 22134
    $144,128 – $183,300 a year – Full-time

    Gonna have to be a massive purging of the entire federal bureaucracy on day 1 of the next GOP administration. Better yet, Congress needs to immediately start massively defunding anything at all like this next time the GOP takes over, which looks like January 2023.

  10. ““Believe the science”, bureaucracy, speed, and creativity: America needs a new scientific revolution”

    Couple things there. My daughter got her STEM PhD a couple years ago (CU Boulder). She had thought some of a career in academia, until getting involved in the research side. At schools like that, you have essentially two choices: tenure track and non tenure track. The former requires a lot of research, and ultimately pays well, while the latter doesn’t require research, or pay much above minimum wage. The problem with tenure track is that research requires funding. A lot of funding, and in today’s era, that means a huge amount of work. Between teaching a couple classes, acquiring funding, and then managing a research team (primarily grad students), 60 hours a week is probably typical. Her advisor was able to do it, because his wife, with an identical PhD (same school, same discipline) chose a non tenure track career so that they could have kids (just had their second, so he, but not she could attend my daughter’s recent wedding).

    But it isn’t just that it is a lot of time to get and maintain funding for a research group at a university, it is also that so much of it is so heavily bureaucratic, since the federal government is invariably the, by far, largest finder of research. Much of their funding came from Dept of Energy, which, even back under Trump, meant slavish attention to Climate Change (whatever that means) norms. Ditto with NOAA, NREL, and NCAR (maybe also even NIST, if we are doing N agencies in the area). It’s interesting technology, with obvious industrial uses, but much of the research is based on the assumption that CO2 buildup is going to destroy the world, so we have to deindustrialize (etc). The problem is that the sensibilities of the bureaucrats running the agencies programs that provide so much of the funding for research are driving what gets funded, and what doesn’t. So, in order to survive in this sort of academic research environment, research proposals are inevitably tailored towards satisfying these sensibilities.

    The other thing that has come up recently is the abject incompetence of our top bureaucratic scientists. Just yesterday, the head of the CDC opined that masking may be even better than vaccinations in fighting COVID-19. This was apparently based on a CDC study that looked at droplet dispersal. Except that by now, it is well known that COVID-19, like other respiratory viruses, spreads primarily by aerosols, and not droplets, and the holes in standard surgical masks are better than an order of magnitude larger than the aerosolized virons. She mentioned N95 masks, which mostly disappeared from commerce a year and a half ago. And theorized that even bandanas (with holes several orders of magnitude larger than the aerosolized virons), etc were useful. She was predicting 80% or so reduction in spread using masks. Except that with any significant benefit, there should be some correlation between prevalence of masking, and spread of the virus. And her own agency’s well publicized state level data shows that not to be the case. The same CDC databases that show that the risk of the virus to those under 18 is negligible, at best.

    Then, we can’t forget the infamous Dr Fauci, who very much appears to have helped fund the genetic engineering that very likely gave us the virus causing COVID-19, shipping the money to China and the WIV, for Gain Of Function research there, after it was banned in the US. And then has lied about it, repeatedly, when questioned before Congress by Sen Rand Paul, by playing word games and redefining terms.

    My theory is that the best and the brightest don’t go into research with the federal govt, except in rare circumstances (e.g. all those Physics (etc) PhDs who left LANL over their vaccination requirement). The best and the brightest can make more money elsewhere. The advantage of government work for the mediocre is the job protection of the bureaucracy. Dr. Fauci was factually, and scientifically, wrong about the tie to homosexuality with HIV, with tragic consequences. He has done the same here with COVID-19-19. You would think that anyone with as much blood on his hands would have been fired years ago. But he is safe as a federal bureaucrat, because he is adept at warping science to the demands of his political masters.

  11. Old joke in the US National Laboratories: the DC Swamp is the Revenge of the C Students.

    The A students go to the National Laboratories to do cutting edge research. The C students go to the DC bureaucracy and decide what research topics the A students will get funding to investigate.

    President Eisenhower predicted this in his famous Farewell Address, immediately after his warning on the Military-Industrial Complex. A smart government would find ways to encourage lots of different funding sources for research (like, true “diversity”), with the kind of benefits we see with Spacex leaving NASA standing in the dust. Unfortunately, Elon Musks are rare in this world — ignorant politicians & bureaucrats are ten-a-penny.

  12. anon…yes, I thought the link was interesting in part because it focused on IT from the standpoint of *how it could benefit the business* rather than the more usual focus on Kool Technology.

  13. “Old joke in the US National Laboratories: the DC Swamp is the Revenge of the C Students.”

    Know some people, from my work in an engineering society, who work or worked at National labs. As you said, very bright. A bit over 30 years ago, for most of the 1980s, I had a DOE Q clearance. My job was to support the Sperry/UNISYS computer equipment at their national labs, west of the Mississippi. This mostly meant Sandia, but did visit the big ones out west (no NREL yet – that would have fun, since they built it where we used to ride horses growing up).

    Daughter got her PhD in working with lasers. So got noticed by the National Labs. One, in particular, was interested enough to fly her there a couple times. In the end though, she decided to stay unclassified. Her problem was her understanding was that it was hard to move back into the unclassified world, with so much of your work being classified. If I had been given her choice at that age, I probably would have gone the other way. Except maybe that my memory, to this day, was a lot of linoleum and WW II metal furniture at all the National labs I visited.

  14. Thanks so much for the link to the Sue Rathe memoir. It was great reading about a man I got to know a little bit about through my investments in the railroad business. I was particularly impressed with Sue’s first hand experience with the turning data into information and her ability to transition from the data to managing the actual yard and back to the data at the highest level possible. It was a great read this morning.

  15. }}} The teleshock is likely to continue for a considerable period of time, perhaps longer than the China shock. It is conventional wisdom that “software is eating the world.” As software and tech become larger and more important, more of their jobs can be outsourced.

    Except… NO.

    As someone who has worked in the software industry for an Indian services corporation. There are strong limits to this.

    First and foremost, is the time differential. Unless your entire crew is willing to work from midnight India time to 9am India time, they are not in sequence with clients. Yes, this is, and can be, done… but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

    Second, and particularly critically — your “outsourced” group has to have a very very good command of English. Not for nothing do you hear complaints about something as simple as online ordering and bill paying being outsourced to a place where their English is incomprehensible. Having interacted with a lot of Indians, I believe there are at least a couple things at work —
    a — Indians apparently speak mostly with the front of their mouths, while English is set up to use the whole of the mouth. Try it — think of how a “typical” Indian sounds to you… now think of how they are making the sounds. It tends to be the front of their mouths.
    b — Indians tend to use passive voice vastly more than Americans or Euros do, which makes their speaking sound stilted — Instead of “You’re going to do this tomorrow…” it is “Tomorrow, you will be doing this…”
    Add those two together, plus some odd word choices (I’ve noted, as an example, they tend to use the word “revert” when an American or Brit would use “respond” or “reply” — “You will kindly revert to me about this as soon as you can”) and you find that it can be an oddly difficult time figuring out what they are saying. Sure, there are a decent chunk of them who have a very good command of English, no question — but now you’re looking at the intersection of two sets with nothing, really, in common — Speak English Well with knows how to write code.

    Third, while there are certainly exceptions, an awful lot of Indians lack independent thinking ability — they can work well at well-defined problems with previously defined solutions, but actually reading between the lines and interpolating to get at an answer to an unknown issue, that takes a kind of independent thought which I believe American and Euro culture is far far better at encouraging from childhood, and it works best when it starts there. In other words, they are decent at grunt work, but the real designing and layout of software has to be done by someone from the West. Yes, that is very much a generalization, but one borne of much experience dealing with Indian programmers.

    In no way do I mean to indict the entire culture, nor to reject any given individual, but India is particularly well-suited to the job you’re talking about (software coding), as they are often very very hard workers, very diligent and mindful, and they almost across the board speak some level of English as a second language (much more so than many other non-native English speakers, such as, say, China or Japan)… and yet they are very poor as anything but a source for grunt-work coding. Again, yes, some of them are brilliant, but a smaller percentage than in the US labor force… counterbalanced by them having 4 people for every one here.

    I assert that part of this is cultural — being really good at coding requires a considerable mental flexibility, which Western Culture, with its focus on individualism (even with the Left’s endless folderol, we’re still much more about the individual than any other current socio-cultural pattern on the planet) develops from childhood.

    And, TBH, it’s quite possible we’re destroying that, as we have taken The Right to Roam away from our kids. I remember doing things on my bike that a good friend’s wife never let her own kids (the oldest now 20) do. And neither of his kids strike me as particularly independent… the 20yo didn’t even learn to drive until he was 18. Fuck, I couldn’t wait to learn to drive, for God’s sake. Learning to drive used to be a rite of passage, it was a major part of being a self-responsible adult.

    But even there, I still believe that they may play with trying to use an international labor force for software development, but, as with manufacturing, you’re going to see a LOT of “reshoring” within 5-10 years after they try it.

  16. }}} re: schools:
    “Faced with soaring Ds and Fs, schools are ditching the old way of grading”

    Florida grades its schools, resulting in, ideally, a means to encourage a school to work harder.

    One of the outcomes of this is that, if a school gets an “F” grade three cycles in a row, any parent who has a student there can take the child out of that school and enroll them at any other school in the county.

    Well, about 15-odd years ago Apopka Elementary School got those three “F”s. The Orlando Sentinel had an article on it (Apopka is just outside of Orlando). The response of the teachers there? They all wore t-shirts that said, “F for Fantastic”.

    These people have no shame. WTF message does that send to KIDS who get failing grades? “Fantastic!”.

    And then people wonder why we have such shitty scores in comparison to other nations. We have teachers who do shit like that.

  17. @OBloodyHell,

    “And then people wonder why we have such shitty scores in comparison to other nations. We have teachers who do shit like that.”

    Like many of us, you’ve been conned quite thoroughly by the “education industrial complex”. I used to think that the purpose was to educate children to take their place in a free society, as well–Now, I recognize that the primary purpose is to keep the incompetent employed as teachers, and to propagandize the progressive party line to the masses. Hell, I just got into it today with a young lady I know, who genuinely believes that Black Friday is called that because of some convoluted linkage to slavery… Which she was taught, in school, by one of her teachers. Imagine my incredulity, when I can actually remember when that term first came into popular usage, and why–Which, as I remember it, was because of the burden placed on retail workers due to all the post-Thanksgiving sales events.

    This is in a school district that is relatively conservative, as well. Interesting, no?

    It’s not about teaching; it’s about propagandizing and ensuring that the kids fall into line with the Progressive Uniparty agenda.

  18. *putting on pedant hat* As I understood it, the shopping day after Thanksgiving was called Black Friday because that was the day that retail merchants’ balance books went from red ink (deficits) to black ink – profits. The last quarter of the year was when retail businesses came out ahead.

    I worked retail in a mall, one Black Friday. The mall was mobbed, of course. We could only take twenty minutes to grab lunch, and all the sales associates wore running shoes. (This was an upscale place, we normally wore dress flats.) After that day, I swore never to set foot in a mall on Black Friday, ever again.

  19. OBH….India is the main destination for software offshoring, I think, but it’s not the only one–there is also offshoring going on to Eastern Europe and to Russia. Wage rates not as low as India, but lower than the US.

  20. @Sgt. Mom,

    That actually makes more sense, in terms of etymology, but the first time I heard that term used, it was by a retail sales worker and there was a distinct note of “OMG, what a day…” for her. I’d always associated it with that, and then there was the association with Black Tuesday, when the stock market fell. I’d always assumed that it was a reference to that, as well…

    Who knows, really? It might be all three were the source, for different people at different times. I just remember first hearing the term back during the 1970s, in association with the post-Thanksgiving sales.

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