Sunday, November 30, 2008

Who should play in BCS bowl games?

Assuming that USC beats UCLA and Oklahoma beats Missouri, the pool of possible at-large teams will include the loser of the Florida-Alabama game, Ohio State, TCU, Ball State, Boise State, Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. With the Big 6 conference champions and Utah filling 7 spots, that leaves 3 at large spots. If USC loses to UCLA, they will likely fall out of at-large consideration. If Missouri wins, Texas will likely jump to one of the top 2 spots, making no other big-12 team eligible for the BCS. (and leaving 2 remaining at-large spots)

Who should fill the final spot? One simple metric is to look at the quality of teams they have beating (as well as the ones they have lost to.) Simply looking at bowl eligible teams, Boise State has beating 8 teams that can go to the post season, and has no loses. Florida has also beaten 8, but would have two loses (1 to an unranked Mississippi, and another if it loses the SEC title game.) If Alabama loses the SEC title game, they would be next in line with 6 wins (and a loss to a top 4 team). Texas would be next with 6 wins, and a loss to a top 7 team. That would take care of the three at-large picks. (Boise State, the SEC loser and Texas)

Of course, looking at most predictions, it looks like Ohio State is likely to grab the spot from Boise State. After all, its all about money, rather than performance. One way to twist it around would be to give the top 12 teams 50% of BCS payout, and then give the other 50% to the actual participants. At least it would equalize the money, and those that don't play in the game could still earn a nice paycheck.

Another interesting note: if Florida beats Alabama, none of the possible at-large teams will have any loses to teams outside the BCS top 10. On the other hand, all of the conference champions (except Oklahoma) would have loses to teams outside the BCS top 10. Do we really want to keep the automatic conference champion qualification?

Quality wins of at large teams:

Boise State: 8 bowl eligible
Oregon: 9-3
Hawaii: 7-5
Nevada: 7-5
Louisiana Tech: 7-5
Freson State: 7-5
Bowling Green: 6-6
San Jose State: 6-6
Southern Miss: 6-6

Florida: 8 bowl eligible (loss: unranked)
Georgia: 9-3
Florida State: 8-4
Hawaii: 7-5
Miami: 7-5
LSU: 7-5
South Carolina: 7-5
Kentucky: 6-6
Vanderbilt: 6-6
Tennessee: 5-7
Arkansas: 5-7

Alabama: 6 bowl elgible
Georgia: 9-3
Mississippi: 8-4
Clemson: 7-5
LSU: 7-5
Kentucky: 6-6
Arkansas State: 6-5
Arkansas: 5-7
Tennessee: 5-7
Auburn: 5-7

Texas: 6 bowl eligible (loss: #7)
Oklahoma: 11-1
Missouri: 9-3
Oklahoma State: 9-3
Rice: 9-3
Kansas: 7-5
Florida Atlantic: 6-6
UTEP: 5-7
Arkansas: 5-7
Colorado: 5-7

Texas Tech: 5 bowl eligible (loss: #2)
Texas: 11-1
Oklahoma State: 9-3
Nebraska: 8-4
Kansas: 7-5
Nevada: 7-5
Kansas State: 5-7

Ball State: 4 bowl eligible
Western Michigan: 9-3
Central Michigan: 8-4
Navy: 7-4
Northern illinois: 6-6
Akron: 5-7

Ohio State: 4 bowl eligible (loses: #5, #8)
Northwestern: 9-3
Troy : 7-4
Minnesota : 7-5
Wisconsin: 7-5
Illinois: 5-7

TCU: 3 bowl eligible (loses: #2, #6)
BYU: 10-2
Air Force: 8-4
Colorado State: 6-6
UNLV: 5-7
Stanford: 5-7

Oklahoma State: 3 bowl eligible (loses: #2, #3, #7)
Houston: 7-5
Troy: 7-4
Missouri: 9-3
Colorado: 5-7

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Interesting maps

A site has a few controversial maps. Redrawing the US map to reduce the number of states and realign the boundaries. It would be interesting to see how things would turn out if something like that happened. Imagine the New York Metro Area being one state, and not having to deal with those 'upstate' folks. Though it may be useful to also divide up California a little more.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New BCS poll released

The new BCS rankings were released today. This is the first poll to include the US News rankings. At the top, Texas has pulled clearly ahead of Oklahoma and will have the inside track to the BCS championship game - if it can get past A&M. USC should have a lock on the BCS championship game unless something disastrous happens against UCLA or Notre Dame. Utah remains in the 8th spot, and should have a lock on the BCS spot for non-"big 6" conferences.

For at large teams, the loser of the SEC championship game should be a fairly sure bet, as should Oklahoma. The final spot will probably go to Ohio State.

RankTeamHarrisUS NewsComputerBCS Score
6Penn State0.76740.28850.73000.5953
7Texas Tech0.74320.00000.89000.5444
10Ohio State0.64110.19230.57000.4678
11Boise State0.66700.00000.63000.4323
12Oklahoma State0.56880.00000.58000.3829
18Ball State0.47230.00000.40000.2908
20Boston College0.18840.40380.18000.2574
21Georgia Tech0.14560.38460.24000.2567
23Notre Dame0.00000.71150.00000.2372

Monday, November 24, 2008

BCS changes selection criteria

American Football Coaches Association President Tyrone Willingham announced that, effective immediately, the coaches will not permit their poll to be used in the BCS selection procedure. AFCA executive director Grant Teaff indicated that it was "a violation of coaching ethics to allow the coaches to have such a key roll in the BCS championship process. It is unfair to allow certain coaches, with their vote to determine who their opponents will be, and whether they can play in the championship game. We have seen things reach a crisis situation this year with the Big-12 championship being decided by the BCS ranking. This gives some coaches an unfair advantage in picking their own league championship. We would be better off just using a coin flip."

In response to the situation, BCS coordinator John Swofford announced that the US News and World Report "Best National Colleges and Universities" rankings will be used in place of the coaches rankings. "US News does a good job of ranking our nation's colleges. We think it will be a great opportunity to show that academics really do play an important role in collegiate athletics." These rankings will make up one third of the BCS selection criteria, just as the coaches poll had previously.

Shortly after the change was announced, some conference realignments were announced. Jim Delany announced that "effective in the academic year 2009-2010, University of Chicago will resume playing football in the Big-10. They were one of the charter members of the Big-10's predecessor conference. After they dropped football in the pre-war days, we had lost track of them. We have recently discovered that they had been playing Division III ball. It was just unfair to have them playing at a lower level, so we invited them back to the Big-10"

University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer announced on his web site that the University had received a "significant sum of money" in return for having their football program resume play in the Big-10. "Big-10 commissioner Jim Delany said we would be a shoe-in for an at-large BCS bowl with our high US News Ranking. They offered us an endowed chair in the physics department as well as additional library funding in exchange for allowing the big-10 to share in some of the BCS money."

The Big-12, perhaps in response to the big-10 becoming another "big-12" announced its own expansion. Commissioner Dan Bebee said "we had always wanted Rice to be a member of the Big-12. We just didn't another team in the north division to balance the conference. Now that Washington University in St. Louis has joined the conference, those problems are allayed." He also announced that the conference would be renamed Big-14, because "unlike other conferences, we know how to count."

There have been rumors of further realignment. An Emory University spokesman reported that they had received requests from both the SEC and ACC to join their conferences. However "I will reiterate, that Emory does not have a football program, and has no intention of starting one." Rumor has it that the SEC is still on the lookout for additional member, but is not very hopeful. According to an anonymous source "This brains thing really got us. After all, we're in the southeast, where football is king, and academics, well, they'll take a back seat. We do have Vandy, but after that, there is not a whole lot to pick from. We're thinking of sending a few thugs out to help get people to vote Florida in the top 25."

Not all conferences are thinking expansion. Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen stated that the Pac-10 has no intentions of expanding. "With Stanford, Cal, UCLA and USC the Pac-10 already has 4 of the top 5 west coast schools. And Caltech dropped football 15 years ago." The ACC is also content with their standings. "We have Duke and Virginia in the top 25 with USA Today. We figure, every other team has made it in the top-25 of the coaches poll, so this will only further add to the parity of the conference."

Notably silent has been the Big East. According to some anonymous tipsters, they are attempting negotiations to merge with the Ivy league. However, they have had major hangups on how to integrate the non-basketball schools. The Ivy league is also contemplating a switch to the Football Bowl Division on their own. The return of the "Harvard-Yale" national championship games does seem appealing to some. Though others would prefer the Ivy League just remain to itself.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Boise State's long odds

Could Boise State still make a BCS bowl? Well, yes they still could. However, at the moment, they would have to be picked over USC and Ohio State for an at-large spot. USC is ranked a few spots higher and would be a really hard sell. If Oregon State loses to Oregon, then USC will take the Pac-10 spot. However, "pedigreed" Ohio State will likely still get it over Boise State. The only way to 'guarantee' a Boise State spot would be for a string of upsets to prevent a second team from any of the major conferences (other than Big-12) from being in the At-large pool. This would require a couple of really bad Florida losses to get them out of the top 14. However, even that is no guarantee for Boise, as it will likely open the possibility for Ball State or TCU to be at-large candidates. (TCU looked quite convincing in its schedule, though 2 losses may be a stretch for the BCS. Ball State may endure Letterman fans.)

Florida State beats Florida
Georgia Tech beats Georgia
Auburn beats Alabama

Alabama beats Florida

Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma

Maryland beats Boston College
Virginia beats Virginia Tech

Florida State beats Georgia Tech

Oregon beats Oregon State

Texas Tech, Texas, USC, Boise State, Missouri, Ball State, Cincinnati win out

1. Texas
2. USC
3. Utah
4. Texas Tech
5. Alabama
6. Penn State
7. Oklahoma
8. Boise State
9. Oklahoma State
10. Ohio State
11. TCU
12. Florida State
13. Ball State
14. Cincinnati
15. Florida
16. Missouri
17. BYU

Texas, USC
Alabama, Penn State, Florida State, Cincinnati
Utah, Texas Tech
Ohio State, Boise State

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Microsoft offering free security software

Microsoft will be offering free security software. The stocks of security makers McAfee and Symantec were subsequently hammered, though they tried to spin this as a 'capitulation' on Microsoft's part. They are probably right.

Microsoft security software, will pretty much only set the baseline for hackers to work around. Windows is supposedly 'secure', yet hackers have been finding holes and vulnerabilities for years. An extra layer of Microsoft software will only create another layer to hop through. If it becomes widely used it could make the computing world much less secure. Uniformity and ubiquitousness makes things easier of hackers. Also, if it is 'too secure', it will often be bypassed to enable comfortable computer usage. If it is not secure enough, it will not prevent basic attacks.

The computer world could learn from agriculture. Large monocultures are highly susceptible to pests and diseases. An organism that attacks corn would find a heyday in acres of Iowa corn fields. Some extreme weather can also ruin crops all around. To counter this, large amounts of pesticide and other means are used to help fight the problem. And even these means are limited, as pests can evolve resistance.
On the other end, small scale organic cooperative farms are much less vulnerable, even without pesticide. Should the corn pest be in the vicinity, it may not even make it to the farm's corn crop. And even if it does, it would only impact a small portion of the farm (instead of wiping everything out.)
A computer culture with a diversity of platforms is much less vulnerable to widespread attacks. There are very few reports of Mac or Linux attacks. Are those platforms inherently more secure? Well, they may have some security advantages that make them more challenging to attack. But, a dedicated hacker could overcome them if they really wanted to. There main advantage is lack of monoculture. Linux and MAC platforms make up a much smaller share of the computing ecosystem. And even in that share, there are many different versions of the mac and linux operating systems. It would take a much greater effort to create a virus that could successfully attack these systems. And once created, propagation would be more difficult, because there are so many Windows 'dead ends'. It is much easier to create a bug to attack the dominant monoculture.
In the windows monoculture, a variety of 'pesticides' can help prevent spreading of bugs. If everyone used the same security software, then it would be simple matter of creating 'resistant' bugs that could overcome them. If there are a variety of different security systems, then the bug would have to be able to bypass all of them - a much more difficult task.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Three BCS teams from the Big12?

Could the Big-12 land three teams in BCS bowls? From the BCS eligibility criteria, the top 2 teams, and the winners of the Big 6 conferences get automatic bids. The "no more than two teams" rule is not mentioned until the discussion of at-large criteria. How far fetched would it be? Actually, not too far.

Suppose Tech beats Oklahoma and Baylor and goes to the Big-12 championship game undefeated. Alabama, looking forward to Florida, lets its guard down and loses to Auburn. The end of season standing would look something like this:

1) Tech
2) Texas
3) Florida
4) USC
5) Alabama
6) Utah
7) Oklahoma

So, we come to the championship games. Alabama's 'preparation' pays off, and they beat Florida. Missouri comes alive and nips Tech. Missouri gets the big-12 championship, and tech falls down to #2 in the BCS rankings. This leaves the championship game as a rematch between Tech and Texas. But wait, the champion of the Big-12 is also guaranteed a spot in the Fiesta bowl. So, Missouri would end up there.
Another interesting scenario would be Oklahoma beating Tech coupled with some rivalry losses, leaving three Big-12 south teams in the top 3. If one loses the championship game, they would likely be 'stuck' with three BCS teams.

Still it requires a lot of things to fall right this season, though nothing that is too far fetched.

The Big-10, however, is almost set up for it. With each team not playing two other teams each season, there could be a possibility that 3 teams end up undefeated in conference play. There if they never played each other, the team that scheduled the fewest number of IAA teams would get the Rose Bowl birth. So suppose, Penn State and Ohio State finished undefeated, but each schedule one IAA team. Northwestern managed to go undefeated in conference play, but scheduled all IA nonconference teams - and lost them all. They would still get the Rose Bowl - even if the other two were ranked one and two.

College for Free

Business week had a little article about "free" colleges:

The blog has a link to a similar post, that
took a slightly different approach (looking at conventional 'pay'
colleges that had ways of going free.)

I wonder how many "free" opportunities will survive this economic
downturn. It actually seems that many schools use school as a
measure of pride. (I recall hearing a story that Northwestern was
seen as an 'average' school until they bumped up tuition.) And with
financial age, tuition really only impacts the upper middle class.
(For the wealthy, the cost is peanuts. For the middle class,
financial aid will cover most of the difference - with many of the
elite schools moving towards mostly grant-based aid.) However, it is
still nice to schools actually encouraging academic achievement.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Non-BCs: Hope for OSU loss

It's quite simple. Non-BCS teams should hope for OSU losses. If both Oregon State and Ohio State lose, the path is clear for a second non-BCS team to be an at large team. Going down to the top 18, to take in those at the cusp of the at large pool, things are fairly clear. A whole bunch of SEC and Big12 teams are there, so each conference is likely to get an at large bid. For other conferences, the Big East doesn't appear until 19 and the ACC at 22. Even if there are some severe upsets, it would be almost impossible for an at-large team to make it in from either of those. The only worrisome teams are the three Big10 teams and USC sitting in the top 18. Since #8 Penn State and #15 Michigan State play each other, that should sort itself out, leaving one of those outside the at-large pool. A Penn State win would keep Michigan State out. A Michigan State win could actually help the non-BCS. That would give the championship to Ohio State, and make it unlikely that a second Big-10 would be chosen at large. There is also the remote possibility that Michigan State could stay at #15 after the win. However, an Ohio State loss to Michigan would really be the only full-proof way to keep a spot free.
The Pac-10 is more worrisome. If USC gets upset, then they will be out of there. Their remaining games are rivalry matches against UCLA and Notre Dame, so there will be some intensity. However, those two teams are clearly overmatched by USC. Should Oregon State win out in its next two games, they will get the Pac-10 spot, and USC will surely get the at-large spot.
If there is a second at-large spot, it looks like the BCS representatives would be the BYU-Utah winner and Boise State. Ball State has slipped out of the top-14 (due to a fall in computer rankings). However, their next two games against solid MAC opponents should bolster those rankings (if they win.) TCU has a game remaining against a solid Air Force team, so they may have a chance at sneaking up to the top 14 (and like Ball State, have never played in a BCS game. Should Utah win, they could get the pick over Boise State.)
As it stands now, one non-BCS team will definately playing in a BCS bowl. Utah and BYU both have just their rivalry game remaining, and the winner will surely be in the top-16 and above the highest ranked ACC or big east team.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The ACC and bowl games

The ACC's top team has 3 losses. However, in part thanks to this parity, it is still possible that all teams achieve bowl eligibility. Even in the worse case scenario, 9 teams will be eligible for the post season. (The SEC is the only other conference that could potentially equal that feat - though it would require some major upsets.) 
The mass eligibility is reflecting in part by non-conference records. No team has a losing non-conference record.  However, the cupcake padding is apparent, with teams like Georgia Tech playing 2 IAA schools.  And non-conference wins against ranked opponents?  Well, Cal was ranked 23 at the time they lost to Maryland. Though it doesn't look like any team from another conference that lost to an ACC team is currently ranked. And with the three ranked ACC teams losing this week, it remains possible that no team beaten by an ACC will be ranked. (However, its likely that a couple new ACC teams will creep in to the bottom of the rankings.)
This bowl season should be fairly lucrative for the ACC. With enough teams to fill all 9 bowl tie-ins plus a BCS bowl, they should be able to maximize their revenue. An interesting statistic may be (post season revenue)/(total BCS rankings). The mountain west could very well end the season with 3 teams ranked higher than any ACC team, and yet be shut out of BCS and New Years bowls.  The MWC tie-ins would likely result in some great snoozers against mediocre Pac-10 teams. (If by some miracle, UCLA beats Arizona State and USC, we could get the 4th BYU-UCLA game in 2 seasons)  If Boise State and Utah both win out, Boise State's reward would be a home game against a lower tier ACC team. (Great fun!) At least they could take some solace in that the team they are playing probably beat the team playing in the big BCS bowl.
Why does the ACC get this special treatment? They have some teams that won some championships a few years back. Florida State and Miami both have fairly recent championships.  Clemson, Georgia Tech and Maryland have also won championships in the past.  The Mountain West also has past champions in BYU and TCU, but the most recent is 1984. However, this would favor the Mountain West over the Big East, where Pittsburgh has the most recent championship in 1981 (1976 if you stick only with major polls).  Syracuse and Rutgers can also claim championships, but you have to go back to 1869 to find Rutgers' most recent one. The conferences seem to benefit more from inertia, than current progress. The mediocrity of the ACC actually helps it look like a good conference - after all, they have no absolute bottom-feeders like those teams in Washington. But, it does make for some less than desirable games.
We are stuck with an annoying hybrid situation that seems only intent on maximizing television revenue. It would be more satisfying to go back to an old bowl system. A few major bowls. Mostly on New Years. Take some of the conference champions along with some of the better teams. There is no pretext about championship.  If a team really wanted to prove it was the best, it would have to go thump some major powers in non-conference play, then win its conference. This would eliminate the cupcake beatings to pander to the polls. If we are going to use some magic formula to determine the champions, why do we even bother playing bowl games?  Just plug some numbers in to the formula and voila, a champion emerges. 

Why do college football rankings change?

A few games last week among top-ranked teams.
#2 Tech (#2 : 0) beat #9 Oklahoma State (#13 : -4)  56-20
#8 Utah (#7 : 1) beat #12 TCU (#18 : -6)        13-10
#7 USC (#6 : 1) beat #21 Cal (Unrated : ->4) 17-3
unrated Iowa beat #3 Penn State (#8: -5) 24-23

In all the games, the home team won. Three of the wins would be expected, with the higher rated team winning at home. The Penn State game was an upset, though it was close. Did TCU suddenly become a worse team because they barely lost to a team that was better than them?  Oklahoma State got blown out by a higher rated Tech team.  But does this just show there is a bigger gap between the top teams and the rest?
Even more baffling is the relative difference of the changes.  Why did TCU fall 6 spots after barely losing on the road to a higher ranked Utah, while Penn State only dropped 5 spots while losing to an unranked Iowa?  And why did Cal fall so far after losing to a much higher ranked USC?
The seemingly excessive gyrations help explain the cupcake non-conference scheduling. A loss to a better team hurts a lot. Beating an inferior team helps a little. Thus, the goal is to avoid better teams as much as possible, and schedule all games where wins can be expected. 
Perhaps it would be better just to do away with this BCS garbage and "pseudo championship" and go back to the old bowls as bowls.

BCS bowls for the non-BCS

The current state of BCS bids.  There are 10 spots in BCS bowls. Two go to the top-ranked two teams, 6 go to the BCS conference champions. One goes to the highest ranked non-BCS team (provided they are ranked high enough.)  And any remaining spots go to at-large teams in the top-14, with a limit of two teams per conference. 

So, what scenarios would be best for the non-BCS teams?
First, the top 2 need to be conference champions. As it looks now, the winner of the SEC championship game should be there. As long as Missouri doesn't win the big-12, the big-12 champion should also be in the top 2.
Then, the at-large pool in the top-14 needs to be favorable. The ideal situation would have the 6 BCS conference champions and 8 non-BCS teams, guaranteeing 4 non-BCS spots in the bowls.  Next best would be for one conference to dominate the top-14, with non-BCS filling the remaining spots. Since only one team from that conference will make it in, that leaves 3 spots for the non-BCS.
How do things look today? Well, currently, only 3 conference champions are in the top-14. North Carolina is barely out at 16. The big-12 representatives are down at 21 and 22. For the pac-10, USC is in the top group - but Oregon State is currently the conference leader.  
As the standings look right now, the 3 at large BCS bids would probably go to Texas, Florida and USC.  Should Oregon State (or USC) lose, the at large spot would probably go to Ohio State. Now if Oregon State and Ohio State lose, things get interesting.  The big-10 title and rose-bowl berth would probably end up with the winner of the Michigan State-Penn State game.  The loser would likely fall out of the available at-large range.  Next in line to be at-large eligible would be North Carolina, Florida State, BYU, TCU, LSU, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.  North Carolina and Florida State would likely end up in the ACC championship game, with the winner getting an automatic bid, and the loser out of the at-large range. BYU and TCU are non-BCS teams, and LSU is pretty much out due to the many SEC teams ahead of it. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh play each other, with the winner likely getting the Big Easts's automatic bid, and the other out of contention. This would leave Boise State, Ball State and one of the Mountain West teams as possible at large teams (after at large spots were taken by Big12 and SEC teams.)
How likely is this?  Well, Michigan-Ohio State is a fierce rivalry, so an upset could be possible there.  Illinois has given OSU a beating before, but it looks doubtful this year.  Oregon State has tough games against Arizona, Oregon and Cal.  Running the table will be a challenge (though not impossible.)  USC losing against Notre Dame, Stanford or UCLA look less likely (though they lost to Stanford at home last year.) Penn State also appears to be taking care of Indiana.
Up higher in the BCS rankings, there do not seem to be many things that can potentially change the non-BCS odds.  Oklahoma's games against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech could reshuffle the big-12 standings, but the big-12 south champion will probably still end up in the national title game.  The big-12 north champion (currently Missouri) could throw some kinks in the national championship game if the beat the south champion. However, this will likely not impact the non-BCS teams as the big-12 is pretty much guaranteed two BCS spots (with a maximum of two available per conference.)  However, I'm sure there will be plenty of anger about BCS rules if the big-south loser of the championship game ends up left out.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Presidential vegetables

First Bush the first bad mouthed broccoli, and now Obama has an
aversion to beets. (
first_family_food) Why do presidents always pick on my favorite

Just so no to auto industry bailout

Why is it that capitalists love the free market until they get in
trouble? Perhaps the current financial crisis is a sign that its not
good to let companies get too big. (Unfortunately, the result is the
opposite, with big banks swallowing up other 'sick' big banks.) At
least with banks, the government has been willing to let some fail.
If we really want to bailout the auto industry, we should declare a
"Bear Stearns", "Washington Mutual" and "Lehman Brothers". After we
let those go away, we could start bailing out other automakers. So,
lets see, how 'bout we let GM, Ford, and Chrysler all go belly up.
Then we can bail out Tesla.
American auto companies lost their way a while ago, as the foreigners
have produced better cars, and built better labor relations in the
US. Sure, they employ lots of people. But, they have also laid off a
lot of people. If one were to shut down, would that make much of a
dent in the past decade's overall layoff count?
We should let the dinosaurs go. In the short term, our auto needs
could easily be filled by the Japanese and European carmakers. They
could probably even buy off some of the better Big-3 plants and
convert them over. In the long wrong, new, more nimble transportation
providers will evolve. Cars as we currently know it are on their way
out. We might as well let the companies that build them go that way

Open Street Map

Open Street Map looks like a great alternative to the TeleAtlas/
NavTeq maps in mapquest/google/yahoo land. By providing the data in
the public domain it should allow for a plethora of new applications
(such as bike routing). However, its only as good as the data
provided. Luckily the Bay area is filled with techie geeks!

Why do we have public schools?

Why do we have public schools? Is it to educate students or to maintain property values? Or perhaps it is to provide "day care" so parents could work. Or maybe its just a jobs program or a vehicle for community stabilization.
Education still remains the primary "acceptable" reason for public schools. Most debates usually find some way to tie things to education, even when seeking other goals. Any possible education 'side effect' will be given primary focus to make the goal more palatable.
Property values is one argument that is also fairly acceptable to make in the open. The reputation of a school and schools district can have a significant impact on property values. Reputation can also be a virtuous circle. Schools with a good reputation are more likely to attract families that care a lot about education. This in turn will produce high performing schools, which will further improve the reputation. In urban areas, reputation can make a significant difference in property values. In Sunnyvale, a house in the Cupertino district may sell for a a few hundred thousand dollars more than a similar house a block away in the Sunnyvale school district. This occurs even in cases where both schools' performance are similar. (And in spite of the fact that both school s feed in to the same high school district.) Cupertino simply has a better reputation and all of its schools exceed state standards. Sunnyvale's reputation is 'ok', with some schools exceeding state standards and some schools falling way behind. (The quality of the schools is more a reflection of the population demographics than education, with the more poorer schools primarily being in low-income areas.) The reputation of the Cupertino district makes it more desirable, driving up housing prices. The reputation of the 'good' schools in the Sunnyvale correlates with higher property values than in the areas with bad schools (though not as high as the Cupertino district.) This may serve as a 'feedback' loop to encourage the continued economic segregation.
Though how much do the schools themselves really impact property values? As long as a school in a high-value area is 'adequate', the reputation will continue to attract good students, and the test scores will continue to look good. A school would have to be exceptionally good or exceptionally bad to break out of the trend. Thus, education and property values diverge significantly. From a property values perspective, the main goal is to minimize risk. Bold education moves may make teachers unhappy, or harm scores. Running schools in uniform way, and throwing extra dollars at it to minimize murmuring will keep everyone happy.
Community stabilization seems to come out as an excuse for other arguments. People don't want their local school closed, in part because they worry about property values. Or teachers don't want vouchers or charter schools because they worry about jobs. "Neighborhood" schools are, alas, an endangered species. In urban areas, school choice, charter schools, magnet schools, racial balancing, and a host of other factors have lead to a reduction in true neighborhood schools. In suburban areas, it is often distance and consolidation that play the leads. Its cheaper to build one larger school. And if everyone will be driving their children to school, it is just as easy to go to a magnet school of choice. Past experiences in forced integration often drove the wealthy out of public schools (either by moving, or choosing private schools.) The results may have been slightly more integrated schools - but much less integrated districts. A key side-effect was the decline in the influence of schools as a community pillar.
And that brings us to the jobs program. The prime proponent of this argument is the teachers' union. Often the public assume that the union's goal is to improve education. The union is willing to play along with this belief for the political benefits. However, its fiduciary duty is to the union and its members. The union would be successful if nobody learned anything in schools - as long as the teachers had fulfilling secure careers. However, the union is unlikely to go to this extreme. Teaching is more satisfying when students are learning. In general teachers want what they think is best for their students' education. However, teaching remains for most, a job. Working conditions and job security are of key importance.
For the union, stable membership is also important. Though a college professor would be more than qualified to teach a high school AP course, in most states they would not be qualified to teach. They have to go through a teacher training program and pass a certification test. It probably doesn't do much to improve teaching ability, but it would make them more committed to public education (and thus to the union.) In California, even private school teachers have to go through the certification process. Most states also dictate minimum instructional hours and curriculum to be taught in schools. This makes moving from job to job more straightforward. A tenure and seniority process, on the other hand, encourages teachers to stay (while also limited the ability of districts to dismiss teachers.) The barriers to entry help to prevent too much competition in the field, while the relative standardization allow for many different job opportunities. Since schools are located just about everywhere, this is an ideal job program.
An ideal job program should not be confused with an ideal educational program. The need for public school teaching credentials is commonly accepted, though there are plenty of people opposed. As a policy, it probably does a good job keeping most total idiots out of public schools. On the negative side, it probably prevents a lot of really great teachers from becoming public school teachers. The seeming homogenization of teachers allows schools to be more like assembly lines. Once qualified, a teacher can be plugged in as a cog on the education line. The union makes sure the salaries do not dip too low, while the standardization prevents salaries from rising too high. This also reduces the application of creative energies. (Thus creativity in education is often shown by classroom decorations rather than innovative teaching plans.) This encourages greater equality, but reduces the possible areas for innovation (or even custom adaptation).
As an entity, it is unions' duty to fight against competition. Compulsory education laws with high dropout age help to keep the target audience intact. Mandatory curriculum and days of instruction help limit competing schools. Mandatory teacher credentials for private schools makes it even more difficult for other schools to appear. School vouchers must be attacked - though they may allow more money per student in the public schools - put it would also lead to elimination of public teaching jobs (and be an indictment of the quality of public education). And besides, if public education is that bad, you can probably find a rich foundation that will subsidize students - allowing them to leave the schools without any loss of revenue. (Washington D.C. schools have announced an attack on tenure, noting that public school tenure only benefits adults. Attacking a job program during an economic downturn may seem odd - but D.C. schools do have a really bad reputation. And the plan is also an "opt in" plan that gives huge raises - funded by a foundation - in exchange for giving up some tenure rights.) Finally, it is also important to grow the membership by encouraging policies such as class size reduction and public preschool.
Preschool brings us to the daycare argument. Public schools watch children during the day, allowing parents to work. The schools are a cheaper alternative to daycare, and provide learning to boot. After-school programs help to fill out the day. This argument is not as common as the others - probably due to conflicts. (If a goal is daycare, shouldn't school days match working days? Are students up to days that long? And who would work all that time? Would that help or hinder education?)
In the end, the multiple competing interests have produced a decidedly average public education system. Students get a good (but not great) education. Teachers have good (but not great) jobs. Property values are maintained at a consistent level, and parents get a partial day break from their children. Is this what we want in public education?

Being cheap vs. Being Green

What is the difference between being cheap and being green? In many cases they are the same. Consuming less is cheaper, and better on the environment. Using an existing good for a longer period of time reduces costs, and reduces the impact on the environment.
However, there are also cases where cheapness and greenness are on opposite sides. Imported produce may be cheaper than local organic produce, but much more damaging to the environment. There is also a large murky middle ground. A hybrid car may be more expensive and "less green" to manufacture. However, it is cheaper and more green to operate. The lower operating costs could increase driving, thereby negating any green or cost benefits. Or, if a heavy driver retains the constant driving habits, it could be more green and more economical. Or if driving distance is already low, the savings may never exceed the purchase premium. However, the premium could be seen as a "green investment" in an improved technology.

The difference between "cheapness" and "greenness" can be identified by sorting out the true costs of goods. On basic level, most everything has a "raw material" and a "labor" cost involved. Sort out the two, and get a true cost from the "raw material" cost. But labor itself also involves raw materials. Perhaps a cleaner way would be to separate "energy" and "markup". The energy cost can further be separated in to "renewable" and "nonrenewable" categories. Markup can include basic profit margins, as well as taxes, subsidies, and other "rent seeking" behavior in the production.
Research and development can also be considered part of the markup. R&D, however, does not necessarily green in itself. Often it leads to improvements that reduce the amount of energy inputs needed. However, at other times, it may increase the inputs (while at the same time increasing selling prices.) Costs are also not uniformly applied. Drug companies, for instance, may sell the same drug at very different costs in different countries, even though manufacturing and research remain unchanged.

Economic analysis can also lead to distortions. A time-discounted method could render future energy savings moot. A short term value of time could also lead to consumption of heavily processed foods, in spite of the health and cost disadvantages. However, with a thorough analysis, the economic view should end up similar to the 'green' view for most commodity items.

With non-commodities, social impacts and desires can make a difference. On an individual level, the decision to not own a car, and walk or bike everywhere is a more green behavior. However, it could also be argued that not everybody is willing to do that now. Buying a fuel-efficient hybrid is a way to help support auto-industry improvements that will allow everyone else to be more green. However, these improvements may allow others to drive longer, delaying the point when they give up their car. Perhaps a personal long term 'cheapness' analysis is the best way to remain green.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What makes a good school?

What makes a good public school? Standardized test scores are often used as a measure. California uses these to create "API scores" However, this can favor schools that "teach to the test", as opposed to ones that actually teach. It also does a poor job measuring smart kids. (They would probably ace the test with no teaching.)

AP test scores are the measure preferred by US News. These do a good job of measuring the advanced work that the schools do in preparing students. However, there are still plenty of ways these could be misleading. A school with many smart kids may have lots of AP test takers, even if instruction is subpar. It can also show institutional bias. A school that offers a lot of AP classes will perform better school that doesn't push AP tests. It also only does a good job with the top students. And, it is only applicable to the upper grades of high school.
In the same vein as AP test, college admissions could be used. This is, after all, a common end goal for high school. A school that sends lots of students to your college of choice may be ideal. But, it tells little about the quality of instruction.

Unfortunately all of these measure achievement, but provide little clue of the actual quality of instruction. An ideal metric would take the "inputs" in to account also. How could that be done? The income of the families in the district could be used as a guage. Unfortunately, this can be difficult to accomplish. Using district-wide median income may skew results (especially for large districts). Using school-area income may be reasonable for neighborhood schools with no out-of-area transfers. However, isolating the appropriate area, and finding the data could be challenging. And finding schools that don't have any out of area transfers could eliminate a great number of schools.
There is also the question of what data to collect. Income seems like a straightforward one. However, the comparison range must be taken in to account. A high-income area in South Dakota might have a lower income than a lower-income area in Silicon Valley. The reduced and free lunch statistics may be useful. But, they only account for extremes. Education levels of parents, race, English ability, and parents status are all factors that can be taken in to account. A good measure can try to create an equal base and compare how performance compares to expected performance. This may identify some exceptionally performing schools. However, especially at the "high parent involvement" end, this wont tell much. (Parents and tutors may compensate for poor education.)

Is there a good way to quantify school quality? Do we have a lot of really bad schools that appear to be good simply because parents care?

Stupid Car Tricks

Yesterday, at a red light at Foothill and grant, there were three
cars stopped in the right turn lane. The right turn is signed "No
turn on red". So the cars were acting appropriately and waiting for
the green light. Finally the left turn signal turns green. They
remain properly waiting until halfway through the phase, one car in
the back just lays on its horn. Apparently, it if you can see some
green, it must not be red, right? The car in front was patient
enough to wait the two seconds for the light to turn green.

This pails in comparison to the Foothill Arastradero exit. It has a
left-hand through lane, and a right hand right turn lane, with a big
sign indicating "no left turn". One day a car just decided to
disregard this, and make a left turn from the left lane. Another day,
a little sports car must have decided, "Oh that just means no left
turn from the left lane. I guess it must be ok from the right lane"
And proceeded to turn left across a couple lanes of traffic once the
light turned green. (Hey if your going to be fragrant about laws, why
not just ignore the red light also?)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Too rich to eat properly

Chef Jamie Oliver complains that people don't know how to cook. He worries that, especially with an economic slowdown, people's reliance on fast food will cost them too much, and cause them to be malnourished (and obese.) Proper nutritious cooking is the answer to saving money, increasing health, and reducing obesity.

He probably has it right on the dot. But how do we fix it? And how did we get here in the first place? (Alas, he mentioned that America is already off the deep end... But maybe we can still survive.) There seem to be a near infinite number of 'culprits'. Urbanization disassociates people from their food sources. It's not far to see what people eat being disassociated from food. Or perhaps the problem is feminism. Women wanted to do everything that men traditionally did. Unfortunately, men didn't want to do everything that women traditionally did. This led to the 'outsourcing' of traditional domestic tasks (cooking) to McDonalds. And need I mention the car? The symbol of laziness also allows people to work further and further away from home. Too far to come home for lunch, so you must go out. And since your spending so much time in the car, might as well just get more food on the run. (Don't want to waste any time eating.) The list can go on and on...

The fixes? Well, one suggestion he had was doing more "cooking training". That could help people go beyond pressing a few buttons on the microwave. Its a shame that 'homec' classes have disappeared from high schools. While scoring well on math and reading tests may help a school to "look good", scoring well on cooking can actually help people to live. I heard an NPR bit a few years ago about a big name chef who was cooking lunches at a school. As I recall, he received rave reviews for cooking healthy, nutritious, varied meals at the school, while involving the students. Perhaps school lunch could be a nutritional training ground instead of a USDA excess goods disposal location.

What about taxes? Governments love to tax. Prepared foods could be an easy target. The markup is already so high, that a few extra cents would probably go unnoticed. You can buy a 3oz microwavable "pasta alfredo" that cooks in 5 minutes for $3. Or, for around the same price, you can buy a pound of pasta and a jar of alfredo sauce. Spend about 15 minutes cooking the pasta, and you could easily get enough 'pasta alfredos' to last all week (and then some.) Spend a little more time to actually make the Alfredo sauce and the cost is even lower. (And you can eliminate a lot of the strange chemicals added.) By packing the noodles in a microwavable package, the company has been able to charge a premium of at least 600% on the raw food costs. Who would notice a few cents more? Perhaps the government could even use it to subsidize local organic farms to bring fresh produce in tot he picture.

Safari developer tools

The Safari developer tools are a nice alternative to firebug and
firefox. They are included with Safari, but you have to jump through
a few hoops to enable them:
On a MAC, with Safari shut down, type:
defaults write IncludeDebugMenu 1
(And make sure you are on your local system! My first attempt
failed. Then I noticed it was because I was logged in to a Solaris box!)
After starting Safari, a "develop" option will appear on the menu bar.
However, that is just the start. My favorite feature is the "right-
click" inspect feature. Similar to firebug. Though with some extra
features and notable shortcomings. (It bring it up in a separate
window, and makes it extremely clear what the element being inspected
is. However, it doesn't allow you to tweak the CSS.)
The error console is also nice - Safari always seems to be more
strict than Firefox, so it helps to more easily find what the real
problems are.
I've also found the network tab to be a little more accurate than the
NET tab in firebug.
Now if MS could just make a halfway decent debugging tool for IE...

A good splitscreen view for firefox

I've been trying to use the Split browser firefox plugin It seemed to work ok. But then firefox started crashing. Thinking it may be a plugin conflict, I disabled all other plugins (except firebug). It still kept crashing. If it can't work with firebug it makes it pretty useless for trying to compare html pages and find source differences. Hopefully, I'll find a way to get it to work - or a better plugin for the purpose.

Umm.. The election was last week

In Mountain View yesterday, there was a group of a few dozen people 'protesting' proposition 8. Most of them were holding "No on 8 signs", with a few holding signs related to religious groups. Now as far as I know, the election was last week, with no plans for a re-election. I guess this is a case of a bunch of just using whatever signs were sitting around. (Though, thankfully, we don't see the feminist crowd waving Hillary signs everywhere.) What I didn't see on any sign is "restore gay marriage" or anything else relating to same-sex marriage. Wasn't that what proposition 8 was all about? If that is what the debate is about, why not mention it? This is primarily about 'acceptance' of a lifestyle choice. Does it pay to fool people in to unwittingly accepting it?

I'd imagine these 'protests' are primarily for the benefit of the protesters. (They would probably be out celebrating if their side had won.) As far as impact on others, it is probably doing more harm than good. (Attacking religions only confirms to the religious that the 'no on 8' people have no respect for their beliefs.) The courts would be a much more appropriate place to go. The California supreme courts already found a way to grant gay marriage once. They would probably be willing to find some ground to do it again. (Though they should try to keep it out of the U.S. supreme court, where the current conservative strict-constructionist majority would easily strike down gay marriage.)

What is also striking about these post-election protesters is that they seem to be predominantly young, white people. And they are protesting against a group of racial minorities, religious minorities, and older people. Perhaps this is just the first sign of the future of the 'majority-minority' state.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Racial profiling and dentists

The Mercury News reports that 100s are protesting alleged "racial profiling" in Palo Alto. Meanwhile, a dentist is hauled away after one patient alleges that he fondled her (in an open practice with many people around in plain view.) In Palo Alto, there are not a a whole lot of black people. But there has been a recent surge in violent crime, much of it perpetrated by dark-skinned people. Thus, a dark-skinned person acting suspiciously in Palo Alto would have a much higher probability of being a criminal. Is this bad? Well, what if there is still only a 20% chance that the dark-skinned man is a criminal (versus a .001% chance that the Chinese woman is a criminal)? Would it still be preferable to wait until clearly suspicious activity is seen (even it means pouncing on the Chinese woman practicing Tai Chi?) Nobody likes being questioned by police. However, it is difficult for police to know exactly what a criminal looks like. How do they minimize the hits on the "wrong guy", while making sure that the "right guy" doesn't get away? Race is, after all, a fairly clearly identifiable characteristic. Denying it would only needlessly hamper crime prevention efforts (and may actually lead to additional false arrests.) Perhaps the solution would be to install surveillance cameras everywhere - then they would know exactly what the perpetrators looked like. (Though privacy would go out the window.)

The dentist case presents a similar case of 'guilty and proven innocent'. A dentist potentially loses his freedom and livelihood, all because of one accuser. The defense is next to impossible: "yes, he fondled me". "No I did not". Even witnesses could be problematic: "I did not see him do it"... "Well, he might have done it when I wasn't there." What is scary is that this looks very similar to a case in Davis. There a woman reported that the dentist had touched her inappropriately on multiple times. This poses a few questions: (why did she keep going back? How was it inappropriate? (Or was it inappropriate - could the patient just have been uncomfortable with the procedure?) What is also scary is that the accuser can remain totally anonymous, while the accused has his name dragged in public. (Recall the false accusations in the Duke Lacrosse case.) While it is important to prevent crimes from happening and encourage victims to come forth, anonymity also can lead to false accusations with little fear of negative consequences. Ideally, the dentist case should be resolved with a simple discussion. If he truly is a Seinfeld-type dentist, that continues with the behavior, then charges are warranted. If he was performing actions in the best interest of the patient, there may be was to do it in a less offensive manner, or even give the suggestion with concerns made apparent, only only perform it at the patient's insistence. Or they may squash privacy by setting up cameras to monitor every action.

If you don't get your way, complain

The pro-gay marriage crowd seems to believe that they came too close to legitimizing gay marriage in California, and now seems to be doing everything possible to eliminate any goodwill. They are out protesting in front of churches. How effective will that be? (Well, imagine a religious group went in to a heavily gay neighborhood and declared homosexuality an abomination. How many people do you think would be convinced to end their "abominable" ways?) Alas, this may be just what the fence-sitters will need. Now they have proof that gay-rights advocates are trying to take away their free exercise of religion.

And then there are boycotts. Lets see. Boycott Utah because a lot of people their contributed to the Yes on 8 campaign. That does seem a little harsh - after all there were many people there that were against the measure, and most were probably neutral. But the boycott is geared primarily towards the Sundance film festival and the Park City ski industry. Both are bastions of liberalness in Utah, and among the most gay friendly areas. Many of the prop.8 supporters in Utah would probably even be welcome to joining in the boycott.

A good analysis is in this blog. Lost in the debate is some real attempt at reconciliation. The gay rights campaign is, after all, primarily about acceptance. "Marriage" does not provide many significant state legal benefit for same-sex couples. However, it does appear to provide them greater 'acceptance' in society. However, if this 'acceptance' is forced unwillingly on others, it will only create more deep-seeded tensions.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The law of unintended consequences

When cars first came in to being they seemed great. They allowed people freedom of transportation at greater ease and distance than walking. They were much cheaper than horse carriages, and didn't produce the 'nasty' pollution of horse manure. In California, especially, they allowed people to rid themselves dependency from the ugly train monopoly. The rail barons seemed to exercise way to much control, and this was a great opportunity to get rid of the railroads influence. Building more roads was the solution to the problem. The early adopters had great mobility advantages.

However, as more people owned cars, some problems started to appear. Congestion slowed traffic. The simple solution was 'limited access roads'. However, this ability to drive greater distances on freeways was no use unless there was a place to park. So, minimum parking requirements were put in place. Things were still somewhat manageable. Kids would walk to school, and come home at play. Most households had just one worker, so one car was enough.

However, these old neighborhoods were still a little too dense for optimal car use; and nobody wanted to live on a busy street. So, new neighborhoods were built with more space for cars, and often with 'fences' facing the busy streets. These 'fence streets' were miserable to walk on, but most everybody was expected to stay in their neighborhood. Some parents started driving their children to school. It seemed to be faster. As more households had both parents working, a daycare "drop off" on the way to work became more of a norm. Dropping off at school just seemed to be a natural extension. Since houses were further apart (and family sizes smaller), neighborhood schools began shutting down. Initially some bus service could be provided. But this was much slower than driving kids, so most parents opted to drive. Soon, driving to school became the norm. School districts then begin to offer special magnet programs at various schools. The parents are expected to drive. This all goes to create more traffic, and make it even more difficult for children to walk to school. The benefit some parents initial gained from driving kids to school, eventually became a loss to kids that actually wanted to safely walk to their neighborhood school.

These loses extended to other areas. The initial benefit of low-cost super-stores resulted in the loss of neighborhood stores. Sure, the Wal*Mart had things much cheaper than the neighborhood store. But, it required an up-front purchase of a car, and additional ongoing costs of owning and operating the vehicle, as well as taxes for the roads. (If Walmart opened with a $20000 initiation fee, and $2000 in annual dues, nobody would go there. However, by externalizing that cost in to a 'necessity', it became more palatable.) The price of low-cost also destroyed some local community institutions. Would Wal*Mart support the little league team? Would Home Depot provide the nuances of how to fix the obscure electrical outlets in your neighborhood? Probably not. But they would sell you the wrong receptacle for 20% less.

The gradual elimination of transit and scattered development seemed good at first. There was no need to funnel all traffic on trains to a central location. In theory, homes and workplaces could form a fine mesh, where nobody has to travel too far and no road is too congested. Problem is, things don't work this way. People don't want to live near retail or industrial. Businesses like to be near other similar businesses. The big-box phenomenon was affecting companies as well, through consolidation, and formation of large offices. Zoning comes in to the picture to make things even worse. So today we have a model where there are many residential, industrial, commercial and retail clusters. The clusters are large enough to cause huge traffic jams. However, they are too spread out to really enable an effective transit solution. Even the few that provide adequate clusters for transit often provide just a drop in the bucket of the overall travel demand.

And finally pollution. We have replaced horse manure with carbon monoxide, ozone, and a host of other air pollutants. Noise pollution has also become a serious problem. And, as another unintended consequence, water pollution has become a serious problems as farmers use excess chemical fertilizers on their farms. Perhaps horse manure wasn't so bad after all.

More BCS football randomness

Undefeated Texas Tech blew away a top-10 team by more than 30 points. Undefeated Alabama squeaked by a top-20 team in overtime. And yet Alabama remains in first place in both human polls and BCS standings. Granted, Alabama played on the road at a bitter rival. Yet, even if we spot Tech 15 points, they would have still looked better. The computers have Tech a fairly clear #1. (4 of 6 have them first, 2 have them second. For Alabama it's 2 first, 3 second, and one third.) The computers are not permitted to look at score differentials. So, for all they care, Tech could have won by 1 point, and 'bama could have blown LSU away by 40. It looks like the only rationale for keeping Alabama first is "they were first last week, and didn't lose". Great job rankings.

It's also interesting to look at the difference between human polls and computers. The humans love Florida, but the computers are pretty that Texas is 3rd. (Interesting - the computers don't realize that UT's only loss was a last minute squeaker to the now number 1 team - while Florida's loss was to a currently unranked team.) Utah is also not getting much love, showing up as 8 and 7 in the human polls, though 4th in the computers. (Sure they did seem to get a little lucky against TCU, but a win is a win. Penn State on the other hand seems to be overranked by the humans - Is the loss really that bad of a loss? On the other hand, Oklahoma State seemed to fall too much. Sure they were mauled - but it was one of the top ranked teams, not a lowly Iowa.

USC is a couple notches higher by the humans. This seems somewhat justified. They have been doing some serious mauling of some of their opponents - something that would not show up in the computers. (Though the most recent game against Cal did not look that great.) The computers also seem to like Georgia and the ACC much better than the humans. Perhaps they should allow some score-differential algorithms in, to balance out the rankings. (Even better yet - some that penalize for home blowouts of IAA schools.)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Why are college coaches paid so much?

A recent article about Mike Leach and Texas Tech. People are concerned he will leave for greener pastures because he has only 1 year left on his contract at $1.75 million. I'm sure there is a natural impulse for everyone to seek more money when possible. But, really, what can you do with all that money in Lubbock, Texas? There is a limit to how much home you can buy. Looking around zillow, the most expensive place I could find was just under a million dollars. You could easily buy that in cash, with one-years after-tax salary - and still have enough money to live on comfortably. Sure a coach's job may be in jeopardy. But, I'm sure many workers would love to have a 5 year guaranteed job, with a $500,000 severance package.

With bankers in New York, at least there are plenty of amenities to suck money away (uber-expensive real estate, posh private schools, exclusive clubs, charities, and more.) But in Lubbock? Or College Station? or Bloomington? There are just so many cars, electronics and whatnot you can buy before you make a total fool of yourself. Maybe a few vacation condos? Again, its probably not near enough to hang with the super rich, but way to much for anyone in a college town. (Don't confuse Manhattan, Kansas with Manhattan, New York.) The college coach is often the most famous person in town. I guess it just seems logical to make sure his paw dwarfs everyone else.

Stanford, is, ironically, one of the few schools that could justify a large salary. After all, the low-end in Palo Alto exceeds the high end in most any place else. Just to provide a comparable standard of living, Stanford would have to pony up a lot. Only they don't do it, and tend to be in the low end of the salary range. And even with the large pay, they would still play second fiddle to many other big name CEOs, sports stars and other celebrities. I guess having the "farm" in a city does have its benefits.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Can we finally put BART out of its misery?

With all precincts counting, Measure B has 66.3% of the vote, vs. 66.67% needed to pass. However, there are still provisional ballots and vote-by-mail ballots to vote. Hopefully that wont change much, and it can die a nice death. Measure B was a horrible idea. After the feds pretty much told VTA that their planned BART extension did not make any cost/benefit sense, VTA hitched a great plan: "We will show that the voters are so stupid that they are willing to tax themselves to oblivion just to put the 'BART' name on something." Luckily, it seems to have failed. Hopefully that will cause the powers that be to rethink this "BART or nothing" approach.

If the choice were between adding new freeways and building BART, I would surely be in the BART camp. Only its not that way. 50 years ago, Santa Clara county decided that 'expressways' were a much better choice than BART. More recently, raising taxes to build Highway 85 seemed to be the way to go. "Upgrading" 237 and 87 to freeways also appeared to be wise ideas. Only now, after building all the roadways, it is finally dawning on people that "hey, maybe some people might actually like to take transit". Problem is that most development is geared towards cars. The further south, the worse it gets (just check out South San Jose - with residential 6 lane divided streets, where you have to walk over a mile just to get to your neighbor across the street.)

In this climate, who would take BART? Primarily people that take transit already. It might save a little time. (No getting stuck in traffic on the express bus). Though it would probably cost them more. New riders? Well, a few that were afraid of buses. But VTA already has an extensive light rail system that hardly anybody rides. Why should they? The stations are set in the middle of the freeway. "Hmm. traffic's light. I guess I'll just drive in". They also go a a circuitous route to finally get to their destinations. The end result is that they almost always take much longer than driving. (Often even longer than biking!) And this to arrive at a destination that is horribly pedestrian unfriendly. And links between transit systems? Hah! the light rail passes right over an Amtrak/ACE station - but the light rail station is half a mile away! Why make it easy for people to connect between transit systems?

For $5 billion dollars, perhaps we could actually build transit systems and development in a that they would actually be used. Now that would be innovative. Transit for moving people. And VTA just thought it was for providing union jobs.

Could a MAC team make it to the BCS?

We've had a good WAC team (Boise State), a not so good WAC team (Hawaii) and a mountain west team (Utah) in the BCS. How about the MAC? Ball State seems to be showing some good stuff this year. They have the requisite win over a BCS school. Sure it was Indiana. But, Ball State's victory was more convincing than Michigan State's over Indiana the following week. The victory over Navy is also nothing to slouch over. Were it not for the other non-BCS schools that are doing so well this year, they would be a shoe-in to crash the BCS party. However, now it would probably take everything to happen 'just right' for them to make it. Though the scenarios need not be too far fetched. (Boise State could lose to Fresno State. TCU could beat Utah, then lose to Air Force. Or Utah could beat TCU, then lose to BYU - and hope BYU does not climb too much.) The crummy state of the Big East (top team West Virginia barely in BCS at 25) means that only a top 16 finish is needed to guarantee a spot. So, it could be possible. However, the good money is probably still on the winner of the Utah - TCU game.

Only hurting 'special' people is bad?

I noticed a couple recent headlines on prop 8. In one, a man wearing a "no on 8" button removed the "yes on 8" sign from a guys lawn. The guy then proceeded to beat the "no on 8" guy, and was charged with a "hate crime". In another case, an older man placed a "yes on 8 sign" in his yard. A younger guy didn't like that, and came and beat him. The younger guy was charged with "elder abuse". Why do we have to reach for so many different reasons to punish perpetrators? Why not just plain old assault and battery? Or is it just a prerequisite for people to place themselves in a "special" category in order to get protection from the law?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Measure B - Can anything be sold with the letters BART?

Santa Clara County has some lovely ballot measures from VTA to vote on this election. Perhaps the most ridiculous is Measure C, which asks voters to approve a plan that is not yet written. (And then Measure D, saying "we're so bad at doing these plans that we should just stop asking for approval.) However as far as waste is concerned, Measure B wins out. The county is asking for a sales tax increase to cover the cost of operating a short BART extension from Fremont to Santa Clara via San Jose. Actual distance between the county line and Santa Clara is less than 10 miles. Add in the San Jose loop and it gets a few miles longer. This corridor is already served by ACE trains, Amtrak trains, and a VTA express bus (running at about 15 minute headways.) The cost estimate for building the train line is now in the neighborhood of $5 billion dollars. (Also on the ballot, Prop. 1A authorizes $10 billion in bonds for high speed rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles. If if all those funds are matched 2:1, that would still be a small fraction of the cost of the train to Fremont. And it would produce trains that run faster and at shorter headways than BART)

Even though building the extension is lightly to consume way too much money - money that could be spent on actually providing transportation that people use - this measure is not about that. This measure is about taxing ourselves to provide money for operating this beast. Apparently, it will have so few riders, that a huge subsidy is in order. (Perhaps they have realized that all recent BART extensions have come in over budget and under estimated ridership.) And this is for something that only serves a brief section of the county. (Though VTA somehow justifies this because it connects to caltrain. (They most not realize that Caltrain already connects with BART at Millbrae - in the last 'white elephant' adventure in BART construction.)

The audacity of this is that they sell it as a way to "reduce traffic congestion." And its unfortunate that most people buy this. Though, they figure that congestion will be reduced by 'other people' taking transit, thus leaving more space on the road for them. Unfortunately, the building environment is still such that their are limited destinations easily accessible from transit. The parking lots at BART stations attest to that. Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco are the only reasonable destinations. And these are a long ways away; and for most people, caltrain would still be faster.

If we were really serious about transit, we should actually start building pedestrian-friendly development near existing transit lines. With some of the money being talking about for train lines, why not pay people not to drive? It would likely be cheaper, and lead to greater reduction in traffic congestion.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

BCS standings - Ohio State in the way

The new BCS standings are out. Only Ohio State at 11 is preventing a mandatory 2 nonBCS teams. It's basically Penn State, USC, a bunch of big 12 teams, a bunch of SEC teams and a bunch of non-BCS teams in the top 17. If only the ACC team of the week could move up in to swap the place of OSU, things would look great for the non-BCS. There are currently three mountain west teams, a MAC team and a WAC team ahead of the top ranked ACC and Big East teams. (And the top Big east team barely checks in at number 25) Perhaps now would be the time to advocate the top 6 conference champs get in. This would produce much better games than the Utah vs. Pitt disaster a few years ago.

Prop 8 opponents - unfair and desperate

A large number of "Yes on Prop 8" signs disappeared from my neighborhood over the weekend. I expected people here to be a little more tolerant than that. But perhaps I estimated incorrectly. It seems the primary tactic of the no-on-8 campaign is to attempt to silence the other side by stealing and presenting a one-sided debate.

Today, I received a call from the no-on-8 campaign. After a fairly long pause, the person gave a quick talk about "prop 8 would discriminate against a whole class of people. Can we count on your support to vote against it?" I asked the simple question "how does it discriminate against them?" Click went the phone on the other end. If I were undecided, I would like to at least have a reason for voting against it. A law requiring imprisonment for convicted murders would also discriminate against whole classes of people. However, without further information it is impossible to distinguish between the two. The no campaign could have provided a quick response that it eliminates same-sex marriage (heck, that's even in the Secretary of State's version of the title.) If they feel that it would prejudice their position by actually admitting what it was, then the least they could do is say "bye."

Both campaigns are using some questionable 'half-truths' in their literature. However, the no campaign seems to have the upper-hand on the dirty tactics. (Vandalizing homes, labeling opponents bigots, charging others with 'hate crimes' after stealing their yard signs.) And that is coming from a "no" campaign that can probably including a large majority of the bay area residents as supporters. I had hoped that such intimidation by a 'majority' against a minority opposition were limited to third world 'dictrocities'. But that may be a little too generous...

Bikes encouraged to use pay BART parking, cars free

Bart is encouraging cyclists to use the new electronic 'smart card' lockers. Cyclists need to pay to put money on the cards to use the lockers. Meanwhile, drivers can still park free at many stations. Meanwhile many stations offer free car parking. Having a charge for bike parking is a good thing, as it encourages turnover and greater use of resources. Paid parking at stations would also be a good thing. If they were really concerned that it would discourage ridership, they could always raise the parking cost, and cut fares the same amount. True 'green' commuters would get a cut, while park and riders would break out even... Instead, they just charge the green, and leave the polluters alone.