Friday, May 25, 2012

Publicly Funded For-Profit Colleges

This pisses me off.  University of Phoenix, Strayer University, ITT Tech, DeVry University, Walden University, Kaplan University:  all of them (among many others) are private for-profit institutions of higher education profiting at the taxpayer's expense.  I'm not against the private or the for-profit aspects of these colleges, per se -- these types of institutions can, and often do, fill gaps in the market that the public sector can't -- but the fact that so much of their revenue and profit comes from federal and state governments while delivering little by way of results.  In a nutshell, it works like this:  these colleges recruit the neediest, most vulnerable students possible, overload them with student loans guaranteed by the government, watch them wash-out of the program they enrolled in or (more likely) earn worthless credits/degrees and, as a consequence, default on their loans because a public non-profit university/college won't accept their credits or a prospective employer views the degree as worthless.  The for-profit university gets their take, the student struggles to pay off their tens of thousands in debt (or defaults altogether), and the taxpayer financed most of it.  I have a hard time assigning 100% of the blame to the student in circumstances like these:  the recruitment materials are slick, the admissions officers unscrupulous, and the prospective student just wants an education so they pursue what they think (hope) will deliver what they want.  What galls me is how these institutions have managed to privatize the profits but socialize the debts the students shoulder.  Fortunately, the federal government is well aware of these abuses and they are taking steps to curb the deceitful recruitment strategies and to increase transparency (notify students that credits won't transfer and provide data regarding expected salary and debt following graduation).  

The natural corollary to this diatribe is, of course, how best to address and solve the problem.  I'm obviously a proponent of government oversight and regulation -- I can't remember what article I was reading but the author made some comment about how the government's main tasks should be to "educate, medicate, and incarcerate".  I agree, more or less, since it seems that the alternative -- full privatization -- would result in near-worthless higher-education credits/degrees, an overly-expensive health care system, and corporations with a profit-motivated incentive to jail people.  Capitalism is, of course, a good thing -- the vast riches and wealth our country and citizens have accumulated can be attributed to this economic ideology -- but it should be tempered somewhat.  Especially when it comes to educating our citizens. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wienerwald

On Saturday I ran 21 miles through the Vienna Woods (Wienerwald) as part of my training for a 60k race in late-June.  I started in $Nu\beta dorf$ (the terminus of the D tram), climbed up to Leopoldsberg, traversed over to Kahlenberg, then dropped off the ridge onto the backside and eventually snaked my way over to $H\ddot{u}tteldorf$ (the terminus of the U4) by way of Exelberg, Sofienalpe, and Mostalm.  The last few miles were run on pavement along the Vienna River.  This is the second time I've run (more or less) this route, although the next time I set off counter-clockwise around the city, I need to pay more attention to the trail signage so that I don't miss the turnoff for the Stadtrundweg trail.  This trail apparently circumnavigates the city of Vienna via the Vienna Woods with a distance of 100k+.  While asking a helpful elderly woman on Saturday for clarification on my location she mentioned that the Stadtrundweg trail is accessible from Sofienalpe or Mostalm.  I vaguely remember seeing some signage indicating as much but the significance of what I was looking at didn't register until after this lady mentioned it.  Oh well...next time.  As for my lower legs -- knees, calves, and Achilles heels -- I felt pretty solid.  I'm regularly stretching my hamstrings as well as working to increase my hip mobility -- both of which seem to be helpful in staving off any further injury or downtime.  I've also adopted a little bit more forward-lean while running -- a tip I picked up from a video on perfect(?) running form.  Here's to the changes I've incorporated keeping me upright, running, and healthy for the indefinite future.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Facebook Personalities

With all the hoopla surrounding the Facebook IPO there has been a spate of articles concerning all-things Facebook.  One article I read in the Washington Post, however, wasn't about the IPO, Mark Zuckerberg, the company's storied beginning, or even the challenges facing the company once it goes public:  the article was about the "eight people you meet on Facebook".  This cutesy article isn't the first (nor will it be the last) and, if I recall correctly, I remember seeing something like this circulate on Facebook not too long ago.  History aside, though, I started comparing the eight people listed in the article --- The Liker, The Infected, The Tagger, The Oversharer, The Lurker, The Trainwreck, The Ranter, and Our Mutual Friend --- to my friend list and realized I would add two to the list:  The Sympathy/Compliment Solicitor and The Prayer Warrior/God Praiser.  

The Sympathy/Compliment Solicitor makes some vague comment about a hardship in their life or an even vaguer comment about how awesome they are then expect (and often receive) an outpouring of (fake?) sympathy/accolades from their Facebook friends.  Now I'm not entirely void of compassion --- I do actually care about humanity and, naturally, value and love my friends and family --- but if someone really is dealing with something stressful, tragic, or just unfortunate and you want or need actual sympathy, then why be so evasive?  I suppose I can understand why a person might be reluctant to share the details of their woes with all their Facebook friends but if you can't go the distance and reveal what's really troubling you, then why bother fishing for sympathy with the most general, uninformed status update possible?  We don't know if you're sad because your dog-of-15-years just passed or if you're sad because you lost your library card:  yes, both are unfortunate but they deserve different degrees of sympathy.  Same goes for generic compliments.  I get it --- all of us are awesome and need our egos and esteem wanked from time-to-time --- but there is a difference between graduating from college and washing the dishes.  The former requires discipline, determination, and smarts whereas the latter requires a sponge (or dishwasher) and a few free minutes.  In the end, The Sympathy/Compliment Solicitor is shortchanging no one but themselves since if they do it often enough, we'll grow weary of their need for sympathy/accolades and stop responding altogether.  

Credit:  The Lone Warrior
The Prayer Warrior/God Praiser is a close cousin of the The Sympathy/Compliment Solicitor.  Usually this person is legitimately dealing with a stressful life event ("I'm so sorry.  My condolences during this time." seems like a reasonable thing to write on their Fb wall) but then they solicit prayers from their Facebook friends to help them get through it.  I must confess that I'm not a prayer guy (hell, I'm not even a religious guy) so I don't understand what purpose a prayer serves.  Is prayer the same thing as grace/blessing before a meal?  If not, where does prayer take place?  At the foot of the bed before going to bed?  And the people that volunteer to pray on their behalf, do they make a mental note or actually write themselves a reminder to pray for this person?  I won't digress into a diatribe about religion but if god is omniscient and they (already?) have a personal relationship with him shouldn't he already know about this person's difficult situation or circumstance?  Or is the person in such poor standing with god that they're more likely to receive help, guidance, or comfort if one of their friends --- who is in hopefully better standing --- lobbies on their behalf?  The fraction of Facebook friends you have of this type is going to vary, obviously, on whether you travel in religious or secular social circles and whether you have a religious or secular background.  I'm from Utah and have many Facebook friends I knew in high school who were very religious then and still are today.   No surprise that they all advertise their relationship to god, pray for each other, and loudly praise his greatness for things both big (beautiful landscapes) and small (sports victories).

Among the (now) ten Facebook personae, I can't say I neatly fit into any of them, although if I had to choose one, it would be The Lurker.  I read the News Feed and if someone posts something interesting I'll read it and, perhaps, visit their profile.  And if what I see grates me as odd (not necessarily bad, just odd -- 'tis all relative), I squirrel it away for future drivel.  Like this.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

(Brilliant) Blogger Resources

I'm not sure why I blog -- it certainly isn't because I have tens, hundreds, or even thousands of loyal followers eagerly awaiting to read what I write -- so I'm not sure why I felt compelled to consolidate two of my blogs and, essentially, add two more.  I think it was mostly because I found it annoying (and pretentious) to have multiple, disjoint blogs and instead of creating yet another to chronicle whatever I fancied at that particular moment -- why not create just one blog with separate "pages" for each topic I want to write about?  Essentially, a blog that looks and feels like a website with multiple pages.  Once I decided to consolidate, I thought I would be migrating to WordPress but once I started using the service it became clear that it wasn't all that much superior to Blogger and, most annoyingly, if I wanted to change the font of the text in the blog posts to Arial (or Helvetica) I needed to upgrade to premium service for $30 per year(!).  I was willing to make some concessions and suffer through the learning curve again but having to write using Times New Roman was just too much.  So I reconsidered Blogger (Blogspot) and after some trawling around it became evident that it is possible to create a website-like blog using Blogger.  It took me more or less all of one day (at the expense of my dissertation) to consolidate and construct but I'm pleased with the result.  There is no way, however, I would have been able to pull this off without these two websites:

(1) http://blogger-hints-and-tips.blogspot.com/
(2) http://www.bloggersentral.com/

and these two links, in particular (here and here).  Who knows why these two gents devote so much time to writing about and providing advice re: building blogs in Blogger but the information they shared was invaluable.  Mad props to both resources! 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Epidemiology to Econometrics?

In an uncanny turn of events, one of the statistical techniques I'll be using for my dissertation figures somewhat prominently in a field I have some exposure to:  econometrics.  In a previous academic life, I once envisioned the adult me working as a consultant, analyst, statistician, or -- if I wanted the work to sound more important and glorious than it really was -- as an econometrician.  And in order to get where I wanted to go, I majored in economics then immediately followed my BS with a masters in statistics, emphasis in econometrics.  I liked econometrics well enough but I like epidemiology more and it turns out that I'll need them both for one of the statistical analyses in my dissertation:  Poisson regression for non-negative, skewed dependent variables.  I have a biostatistics textbook that touches on Poisson regression but not to the extent and detail that I need and while lurking around the internet I found an econometric text published by Springer and written by Rainer Winkelmann that may prove quite helpful:  Econometric Analysis of Count Data.  I have another text on order but this one -- if embedded into a HTML page -- is freely and fully available from Scribd so like any cost-conscious graduate student, I wrote this blog post and embedded the book such that I (and you) can read, reference, and scroll through the book from this blog post.  Cheers to electronically available textbooks! 
Eco No Metric Analysis of Count Data