Monday, April 30, 2012

What to do about student loans?

Well, for starters, it would help if the interest rate were allowed to double.  Yes, that would cause some pain among students, but consider the side effects.  At 3.4%, student loan interest can be essentially viewed as "free."  At twice that, not so much--it's nearing the rates one pays for a mortgage or car loan if one has sketchy credit.

Now is that fair?  Well, if you're going to college, you might say "no," but consider; what do you call an unsecured debt taken out by someone with little or no credit record, and where the creditor has no say in whether the debtor studies engineering, medicine, law, English, or transgender weasel studies?  I'd call that a risky loan, especially inasmuch as the creditor--our government of course--really does not even control whether the person is qualified to attend the university they're going to.  Fully 35% of students entering college today require remedial courses, and only 17% of them can hope to graduate.

So while it may be too hopeful to ask that government prohibit student loans paying for remedial classes, or for government to set a minimum standard for getting a student loan at all, perhaps letting the interest rate to up to its natural level would instill some clearer thinking among students and college officials alike.  "Maybe at 6.8% interest and 810 on my SATs, I don't need to go to a first class college after all."  "Maybe without all those marginal students cluttering the big lecture halls, we need to figure out what kind of education we really ought to be delivering."

And finally, "without all those hung over kids in class, my professor is finally free to teach!"  Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Now that's picky

I just received a note that a job I'd applied for was not in the cards because the hiring manager wanted to hire a quality engineer with a stronger mechanical background--keep in mind here that at my former employer, I produced a workmanship spec that covered various phases of the machining and plating process, and I also was the only QE that wandered into the machining areas.

But hey, if I'm going to be rejected for this reason, I've got some good company in other QEs who would have been rejected for the same reason.  W. Edwards Deming.  Walter Shewhart.  Philip Crosby.  Kaoro Ishikawa.  Joseph Juran.  All of these lacked that "mechanical engineering background" and thus had very little to tell their clients.   It's not like Deming helped make "Made in Japan" nearly synonymous with high quality goods, after all.

Either that, or perhaps the criteria I'd consider overly specific simply reflects an ugly fact  that all too many people with professional credentials have never learned to think beyond a very narrow set of situations, and hence hiring managers feel the need to be overly specific in this way. 

Sad, but understandable, I guess.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Nope, it's not "castle doctrine" or "stand your ground"

Many pundits, like E.J. Dionne, are under the impression that somehow "Castle doctrine" and "Stand your ground" laws are responsible for the tragic death of Trayvon Martin.  Let's get some things straight; since it did not occur on George Zimmerman's property, the castle doctrine--which applies only to incidents on a person's property--does not apply.

In the same way, "stand your ground" also does not apply for a very simple reason; the question at hand is whether Mr. Martin's actions posed an imminent threat of death or grievous injury to Mr. Zimmerman and whether lesser force could have stopped the threat.

For that matter, the "duty to retreat" enshrined in Minnesota law might even be a moot point even in Minnesota.  Mr. Martin was a decent high school cornerback--meaning he was most likely much faster on his feet than Mr. Zimmerman--and the allegation is that after the first bit of the confrontation, Mr. Zimmerman was on his back.

And so it all comes down to simple questions; who started the fight, and whether Mr.Martin's actions posed a credible threat to Mr. Zimmerman's life.  Lots of debate on that, but what's clear is that this tragedy has nothing to do with "stand your ground" or "castle doctrine" laws.  Pray for a just verdict in this case, whatever the facts may be.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Another reason I'll never be President....

....unless God wills it, of course.  At any rate, here's the scoop; evidently White House spokesman Jay Carney was rather nailed to the wall for the low percentage of women in the Secret Service--evidently it's 11%.  Now Carney dodged the question rather artfully, but I'm thinking if I were him--or in the position of his boss--I'd have acknowledged the possibility that, yes, the presence of women on that team might have cooled things down a bit, but the ugly reality is that when defending the President, you want the biggest, strongest guys out there whose bullet-proof-vest-clad bodies will come between assailants and the President.

And I'd add that if I had my way, we'd apply the same logic to the Army, Navy, and Marines.  When lives are at stake, gender politics can take a hike.  Which is why I'll most likely never live at that famous address in the District of Columbia.

Monday, April 16, 2012

In "honor" of some church music

I am no participant, if I can avoid it, in the worship (music) wars; given the choice, I would see both ancient and modern instruments, genre, and such in music--to the point where I would assert that a great arrangement for Isaac Watts could well be a heavy metal ballad.  Nay, I go further; at a certain point, I would argue that Chickenfoot might do better than a lot of church organists and worship teams, and not just because of the obvious skill of Anthony and Satriani.  Listening to the poem has a lot to do with the message, and those guys know how to listen to the poem and express it well.

Along those lines, there are some modern, and some ancient, songs where people have just forgotten the point where a song is a poem with a tune--somehow mumbling is good enough for them.  So in their dishonor, here's a little ditty. (with apologies to Elton Roth)

I have a song that someone gave me
It was sent from who knows where
and it's a good thing it was sent for free
for for a tune they did not care, cause that song there is no melody
there is no melody, and not a harmony
in that song there is no melody,
there is no melody to sing...

I love to "serve" upon the praise team
it's so fun to stand up there
but every one below just wants to scream
that the tune they cannot bear, for that song there is no melody
there is no melody, and not a harmony
In that song there is no melody
there is no melody to sing

I'll spare you the excruciation of a third verse, and my daughter notes that the namesake hymn (In my heart there rings a melody) doesn't have very good harmonies.  But that said, those who would obey Scripture and bring a new song into worship need to remember that if the tune doesn't lend itself to singing, neither does it lend itself to memory and teaching.  And here's something for fun.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Highly discouraging.....

Having watched as the doctors balanced the morphine dosage for my mother as she died of colon cancer, you can count me as one who is very enthusiastic about the prospect of improved cancer therapies, for obvious reasons.  Now--H/T Vox Populi--comes a report from Amgen that of 53 pioneering studies about cancer, 47 could not be replicated.

Now to be fair, these are studies, not clinical trials for the FDA (where at least two consecutive studies are required before a drug can be approved), but it is still sobering to read.  If one is doing statistically based work, 95% confidence ought to be required, and hence if a large portion of these studies are not reproducible, what it means is that either (a) scientists are choosing a standard of statistical significance that is so low as to be meaningless or (and/or) (b) scientists are putting their fingers on the scales.  Either one ought to be very sobering to us.

Monday, April 09, 2012

A good Easter.....and there's that cake again

....and my 43rd birthday, too.  Not that often that Resurrection Day takes place on my birthday, but hey, I'm glad to have that blessed event make people pay less attention to getting old!  At least until my fourth daughter tells everyone and their brother that it's my birthday.

Above is a picture of me, my mom, and my brother at a birthday celebration just a couple of years ago--my brother's 2nd, perhaps.  In looking through old family pictures, the refrain became "there's that cake again."  Why so?  Well, because 3/4 of the family always wanted the same cake--my mom went for carrot cake, much to my chagrin.  Thankfully my tastes have matured....somewhat.  So here's the recipe for "that cake."  I assure you--as does my daughter--that it will help your diet.  At least if you're trying to get to the real Banquet more quickly.

Dark Chocolate Cake 

½ Cup Cocoa                  ½ cup cold water   ½ t. salt    2 t. baking soda   2/3 cup margarine
1 2/3 c. sugar     2 eggs    1 cup buttermilk   2 c. flour   1 t. vanilla
350 F                       2-  9” layers
Mix cocoa, water salt and soda. Let stand while creaming butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Add cocoa mixture. Add flour and buttermilk alternately starting and ending with flour. Beat in vanilla. Spoon into prepared pans.
Bake at 350 F for 25- 30 minutes.

Mocha Icing

1 # confectioners/powdered sugar
½ c. cocoa
¼ tsp salt
3T. soft Margarine/Butter
1 t.  vanilla
Hot  coffee

Combine sugar cocoa and salt. Add margarine and vanilla. Pour in hot coffee one Tablespoon at a time beating till smooth thick and spreadable.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Not a good sign for consumers

Each month, I receive a magazine called "In Compliance," and one of the regular features is a listing of electronics product recalls--usually about five or six, and heretofore, I got a bit of amusement out of how many of them (virtually all) of the defective products originate in China.  As you might guess, when one moves a factory halfway around the world, there must be a powerful motivation in terms of cost, and who knows what shortcuts might have been taken?

Thankfully, the number of recalls, and their scope, is not as great as you might guess, thankfully.

This month, I tried something new; I took a different look at the list; how many of the recalls were due to components being underrated for their task?  Answer; just as all six were made in China, all six appear to be due to the use of components and assemblies that were not rated to the power, heat, and pressure levels required for a safe product. 

Again, it's thankfully not a big issue, but it's sobering to see a 100% correlation with not subtle design issues, but rather basic specification of components, among what we do see.  I also am going to guess that under-specifying components may also explain my current habit of keeping the box from consumer electronics so that I can take it back when it fails.  Sad to say, it pays off.

Monday, April 02, 2012

It takes a lot of nerve, part 2

.....for a former lecturer on Constitutional law to try and tell the Supreme Court to ignore Marbury vs. Madison.

If there are any lawyers out there who were "educated" by Mr. Obama, I think you should ask your alma mater for a refund of your tuition for any classes taught by this guy.

And a little bit more on the subject from the Wall Street Journal, courtesy of Hugh Hewitt.