Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lost in a Good Book

This novel has a plot - something about saving the world from destruction and finding a kidnapped husband. But as with other Jasper Fforde books, that is only of minor importance. What matters is all the tidbits and sideplots that flow in and out. Thursday Next is a special agent that inhabits an alternate world, similar, but different to our own. In the previous book, she was married. Now she is pregnant. But, the Goliath corporation does not like some things that she has done so they had some time travelers erradicate her husband. She also finds herself constantly in trouble at work and with the law. However, she has also apprenticed herself with Great Expectations Miss Haveshim and is getting better at traveling in and out of books. She also runs in to other coincidences, does some time traveling and even traps a supreme bad being. She does not manage to find her husband. However, she can have conversations with him in her thoughts. Unfortunately, she also sees an olf bad guy (Hades) that she destroyed there also. Hades sister had plotted to destroy the world by letting a nanotech sweetmaker get lose. This thing will, alas, consume all organic matter to produce the sugary topping, thus destroying the world. Luckily, Thursday's father comes in to take it away to the beginning of the earth where it helps start life. And there are also bits about the restoration of a lost Shakespeare manuscript and the Chesire cat, a Kafka-esque court, and plenty of other bizarre goodness. Each scene could stand on its own. However, there is plenty of "glue" and continued experiences that add to the entertainment value.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Adams vs. Jefferson

Adams and Jefferson were friends who found themselves separated by the birth of political parties. Adams is portrayed as the erudite conservative who lives within his means and desires to cling to old traditions. Jefferson comes across as the brash Hollywood type who appeals to the masses, while at the same time holding slaves, philandering and consuming significantly beyond his means. Though the book is about the election of 1800, the majority of the time is spent covering the earlier history of these political figures, with the actually election only appearing at the end of the book. This gives time ample time to cover Adam's presidency, with Jefferson serving as the vice-president. The 1800 election is informative in that allowed for a peaceful transition of power from one faction to another. With the tied Republican election decided in the Federalist house, there were plenty of chances for anarchy and political shenanigans to take over. But somehow, it all worked out. (And the constitution was soon reworked to allow for the inevitable political parties. The book provides a nice account of these men as people of their time. Alexander Hamilton also comes across as a man "behind" much of the extreme Federalist ideals - and somebody that is feared by Adams and Jefferson alike. In the end, after their presidencies, Adams and Jefferson rekindled their friendship via mail, and both died on the 4th of July.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Boise State to the SEC

Today, Texas A&M was officially welcomed as a 13th member of the SEC. Now they just need to add Boise to get to 14. The current "future" membership of the top 7 football conferences: Big East: 7 (- Pitt, Syracuse, + TCU) Big 12: 9 (- Texas A&M) ACC: 14 (+ Pitt, Syracuse) SEC: 13 (+ Texas A&M) Mountain West: 10 (+Fresno, Hawaii, Nevada, - TCU) Big 10: 12 Pac-12: 12 The odd numbers could be the most concern. The Big-12 is probably the least "in need" of expansion. After all, there was no real "loss" in television market with A&Ms departure. Prior to this season, the schools were all scheduling 4 non-conference games, so it would just be a switch back to there. The Big-12 also has lawsuit-happy Baylor. Would a team really want to risk being stuck there based on the whims of Baylor? Even worse, with the conference going through two consecutive seasons on the brink of extinction, would it be worth the risk to join? The Big East, however, could be desperate. Seven teams does not seem like a conference. With Connecticut, Rutgers and West Virginia looking for the exit door, TCU could easily get cold feet. (How would that feel to finally get to an AQ conference, only to have the conference yanked from under them?) They need to make some bold expansion moves fast. Perhaps the ACC should just invite some combination of the three and put the Big East out of its misery. TCU could then find its way back to the MWC or perhaps the Big-12. Thirteen is an unlucky number, so the SEC needs to act quickly to add another team. How about Boise State? The constant knock on BSU is that they can win a big game, but couldn't make it in the weekly grind of the SEC. Why not give them a chance to prove it? They are a name brand with a good following. They are located nowhere near the southeast, have a smaller stadium and smaller reputation than any of the SEC teams, but would make for some interesting football games. Even better yet, they could do something similar to international soccer and have some spots reserved for "top programs" from outside the SEC. If they win, they stay in the conference. If they lose, they are "relegated" back to their old conference. For now, they could grab Boise, along with a couple other "top" teams. (say some combination of East Carolina, Houston, Central Florida, BYU and Navy). They finish in the top half of the conference, they stay. They finish in the bottom half, they are gone. During this time, they "remain" a member of their old conference in other sports, and share some of their "bounty" with the home conference. If they enjoy a long period of SEC success, they may get invited to stay. Otherwise, they simply get rotated out. This scenario can be a win-win for everyone. The SEC gets the quality opponents with extended media markets. It also reduces the chance of great teams bolting for competitive conferences. The mid-major conferences get the showcase their top teams. These teams get the access they have been craving. (They can win the SEC and become national champions with their work on the field.) The increased interest should produce a cash cow. The rolling nature of the agreement provides greater access and money for many schools without harming the take of the "established powers". While the farm system may be a great idea, there are probably plenty of other realignment moves we will see first. Which conference will be the next one to act? If the Big East does not pull something quickly, it will be in danger of extinction. Will some of the conference USA teams by willing to "move up". (Maybe it wasn't such a good thing to boot Temple.) Or perhaps the Big East will decide it is not worth it and throw in the towel on football. It can return to a mostly religious school basketball league (similar to the WCC out west.) Connecticut and Rutgers will with the ACC, WVU the SEC, with the others knocking on the door of Conference USA for a chance back in. The BCS bid can float in the ether, giving another at-large bid. Or, better yet, it can become a "floating" bid, guaranteed to the top-ranked conference champion or independent, thereby ameliorating BCS critics, while still keeping the big-money open.

Friday, September 23, 2011

What can the Mountain West pull off?

For the second year in a row, the Big-12 managed to emerge from the brink of extinction. The Big East just lost two of its football programs. Last season, the Mountain West invited a new school to join, only to lose another school a couple days later. Then the conference attempted a raid on the WAC in a failed attempt to prevent a defection of another school. They later added another former WAC school as a football only member. Then another MWC team announced a defection to the Big East. But, the conference is still a "has been", the best of the "mid-majors" conferences. Can the conference jump in to the realm of the big boys and become a BCS automatic qualifier? I'd bet if the Pac-10's Larry Scott were running things, that would already be the case. Instead, we have rumours of the Big East trying to poach more programs. The Big East? Yes, schools would fly across the country to play football teams that usually rank worse than the Mountain West. But there is more, they get to send all their other programs out there. Sure, its a top notch basketball conference, but do all athletes really need to go out there? And what of these rumors of Air Force going to the Big East in football only? Ugh. Could the MWC engineer a BCS-sharing mechanism? Partner with the Big East to have a "playoff" between the best team in each conference for the BCS spot. Both conferences get the benefit of the extra money of the playoff game. The MWC gets the advantage of guaranteed access. However, the Big East stands to lose by requiring the money to be split among the additional MWC teams. But, if the Big East can be convinced they will lose the autobid soon, this could work. TCU could be a wildcard here. If they dart to the Big-12 (which makes a lot more sense than the Big East, or even MWC), then the Big East would need to struggle just to call itself a football conference. Adding Navy and possibly army could help a bit. However, beyond that, you start to hit the baggage. Would the basketball members really want an East Carolina or UCF? And why does a conference made up of former Conference USA members deserve the bid? If they suddenly become better due to the BCS money, it just goes to show further problems with the system. On the other hand, maybe the Big East will get gutsy. With Connecticut, Rutgers and West Virginia all showing wandering eyes, the conference needs some big names. How about plucking Boise State in football only? If the MWC objects, they may seek a "soft landing" in the WAC for the other sports. Add in BYU and Navy, and the conference does not look half bad. Doesn't really look "east", but when the Big 10 has 12 teams and the Big 12 has 9 or 10, it is right for the course in college sports. Which conference will pull it off? We should know within a year or two...


An old guy is near death, and we get to travel back to early 20th century America to learn about his life. I didn't find much of value in most of the novel until near the end when it started to become intriguing. We learn about how he snuck off from his family and started a new life, but kept coming back to check in on them. Then the novel suddenly ends right as it is starting to get good. Oh well, at least it was short.

Lost Symbol

The Lost Symbol works well as a thriller. However, it spends a little too much time trying to breach Dan Brown's version of Deism. In this story, the famed "symbologist", Robert Langdon gets a call to urgently come to Washington D.C. to fill in for a lecturer who couldn't make it to a very important lecture. However, this turns out to be a charade to get him to help unravel some deep secrets held by the Masons. The plot goes through a number of different twists and turns, with plenty of impressive escapes before the world is saved. Then it rambles on for a number of chapters on philosophy. Being a modern thriller, the hero runs in to a some archetypal government agents, and (of course) manages to get connected with a heroine who is at his side for much of the quest. He barely manages to escape many close encounters, but also manages to get caught a few times when we think he is on the verge of escaping. There is just enough variety to keep things interested without being too predictable (or too over the top.) The Masons are portrayed sympathetically, and the philosophical ramblings seem to espouse the masonic view as preferable to mainstream science and religion. (However, you have to wonder how well that represents what the Masons really think.) Just about every Washington D.C. conspiracy theory imaginable finds its way in to this book, along with plenty of geographical details of the city. (This would make it interesting for anyone very familiar with the area.) However, where the book excels is in the action. Unfortunately, a little too much additional time is used to "preach", distracting from a good story.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Conflicts that Shaped Pharonic Egypt

Conflicts That Shaped Pharaonic Egypt

These lectures provide a general history of Egypt from the pre-historical dominance of upper Egypt, going all the way to the crusades. Unfortunately, there is little cohesive narrative, with long digressions in to archaeological findings interspersed with attempts at storytelling. The delivery also has a lot to be desired. It is obvious the professor is reading rather than "lecturing" and his intonation can make it difficult to focus.

The Golden Man

In a future world, "mutants" are seen as a menace. Most or filtered and eliminated at birth. However, an elite squad is in place to hunt down and exterminate any that manage to slip through the cracks. One agent masquerades as a salesman near Walnut Creek and managed to uncover a stray comment about a stray mutant on a nearby farm. They capture the mutant (who is a beautiful "golden" man") and bring him in for investigation and potential extermination. He doesn't communicate. However, he seems to be able to avoid any attempts to fire weapons at him. They discover that he can see shortly in to the future just as we can see the present. Eventually, he uses this "power" to find his path to escape. The people then worry that he will seduce other women and eventually spread his genes, potentially becoming the post-human dominant race. Has the ability of "intelligence" reached its apex, to be replaced by this reflexive, future-seeing species. The novella is very much written in Dick's style. I enjoy the 1950s few of San Francisco suburbia. (dusty farms in Walnut Creek are a little harder to come by today.) The thought of another species with a set of enhanced skills in one area that can supplant other, possibly superiod development is interesting. It has often been carried out in a smaller scale socially. (Betamax, anyone?) Could we see it apply to a species? However, the story was underdeveloped, and spent more time explaining the situations than actually presenting them for the reader to explain.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Can the Big East Be Saved?

The founder of the Big East conference recently died. And at the same time, his conference was dealt a critical blow. With Pitt and Syracuse on their way out to the ACC can the Big East conference be saved? Would anybody want to latch on now in its fallen state?

The conference does still have the reigning men's basketball champ. Even with the losses of two power basketball programs, it remains one of the marquee basketball conferences.

However, football is hanging by life support. With TCU coming on board, they would be left with just 7 football teams. West Virginia is the only one that has a significant long-term national reputation.

A number of schools, such as UCF, are eager to move up to the ranks of the "BCS" leagues. However, should the league implode, or lose its BCS auto-bid, things could be even worse for them. They may want to play it slow.

The first step would be to get some of the football independents on speed dial. Notre Dame would be the obvious coup. They have an interest in having a place to park their non-football sports. They may be willing to add football to help save the league. Or they may just decided to jump to the Big-10.

Navy is in the right geographical footprint, and could easily join as a football-only school. They have a large following and a record of recent success that would help with the BCS standings.

BYU is a new independent with recent football success and a national following. They are not close, but they are eager for the cachet that being in an auto-bid conference would give them. By joining in football only, they get the advantage without having to undo their recent paring of sports in the WCC. If things don't go well, they can go back to being independent.

Hawaii could be another alternative. Their football team is separate from the other sports and may be willing to move. Geographically, it would be a huge mess, but a trip from connecticut to Hawaii in November doesn't sound all that bad.

The football only schools would help strengthen the BCS credentials of the conference, without adding to the large number of basketball only schools. However, there are still basketball schools that need to be replaced, especially if Connecticut also leaves.

This is where the Big-12 comes in. Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor. Invite them now. If Oklahoma jumps ship, have the press conference within the hour. Or better yet, have them join before. That way the Big East is on the offensive and can have more latitude with other schools.

In basketball, the big east is already the first "superconference." Will it stay so in football?

Saturday, September 17, 2011


A girl tells a boy she will give him anything he wants if he finds the fallen star. He goes on a quest to find it. He enters a magical world of fairyland and eventually finds that the star is a girl. In the process he has all sorts of magical adventures.

We returns and finds the girl is engaged - and in fact had been so since their initial conversation. She had thought she had led him on a futile quest. However, she has not been married, and saved herself to marry him since he had completed the quest. He contemplated the situation and decided that since she had promised him what he wanted, he would like her to marry the other guy.

He instead, marries the fallen star, and discovers that he is also only half human (and half magical). Due to other deaths, they now had the right to rule fairyland. However, they left a regent in place (who they had helped free in the adventures), while they embarked on a large honeymoon tour. When returned, they decided she was doing a good job, and let her continue to rule while the continued exploring.

This is a fantasy book and really hard to get in to.

Google: The End of the World as we Know It

Another book on the rise of the Google juggernaut. I wonder how these will look a few decades from now? Will Google crash and burn? Or will it continue to maintain its strong influence? I can see some parallels to Xerox or even Bell Labs from a few decades back. Both companies had cash-cows that were gushing in money, and used that to invest in great engineering research. Some of the many modern technologies like the mouse and graphical user interface came from these sources. However, the companies failed to take advantage of these, and eventually, the companies faltered when their mainline business gradually eroded.

This book doesn't consider the eventual fall of Google. Instead, it is concerned with the fall of media companies at the hands of the internet. Google is often seen as a "frenemy". It is trying to play nice, however, the forces are taking away the markets where old media had thrived. Google eliminated many of the inefficiencies that allowed old media to charge top dollar. While some respond by attacking Google, the smart companies are the ones that adapt. However, it is difficult. Most advertising is going online. However, online advertising only brings in 10% of what newspaper advertising does. How can newspapers survive? How can movies, music and books survive in the internet age?

The book posits many of the questions, but does not provide many answers. It does, however, provide plenty of biographical sketches and snippets in to the lives of (mostly former) googlers. It also has the somewhat self-introspective view of media writing about troubles facing media. Journalism is seen as a vital resource. The collaboration in true journalism is lost in blogging. How can this be maintained, even if the whole business of newspapers cannot? Perhaps an ASCAP for news articles? Or maybe micropayments? These are mentioned by the book, but no solution is given.

The book flows fairly well, and gets us to Google in late 2009. It doesn't go very far in depth with the company, but provides enough details of major issues to keep things interesting.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Icons of the Iron Age

Icons of the Iron Age: The Celts in History

She says "um" a lot. Whenever I focused on the word "um", I was too destacted to pay attention to the actual narrative. It is interesting how you can simply plot out an overly repeated word.

The story here is primarily an archaeological history. We hear a catalog of artwork and styles, with a little bit of linguistic analysis. What is lacking, however, is a narrative of the Celts and how they lived and evolved. Part of this may be caused by the lack of detailed knowledge of their life. (And this is compounded by arguments over who is actually a Celt, with the Irish and British Celts seemingly not originally being Celts.) The stories of warlike people may be exaggerated, due to the "war" settings in which they were encountered. (Similarly the "feminist" and pro-gay views may also be exaggerations or extrapolations based on limited or potentially misleading data. In the end, we really don't know a whole lot about them.


Similar to his Devil in the White City, Larson ties together the story of somebody's monumental achievement and another person's major crime. In this book, we learn of the gruesome exploits of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen along with the wireless achievements of Marconi.

The story of Crippen is told in a sympathetic manner. Not until the end, does he come across as a killer. I was wondering early on in the story which of the characters would be the actual killer. (The doctor was one of the last one's suspected.)

Marconi's adventures were also well-done, portraying the story of an inventor and shrewd businessman, who alas had some social difficulties. We feel for his obsession with trans-oceanic radio communication - even as he goes down numerous false paths. We also see his secretiveness and willingness to borrow from others, while being reluctant to share himself.

The novel provides a great deal of background for the characters and the early 1900s culture that they lived in. The final "murder" happens quickly with a trans-Atlantic boat chase enabled by Marconi's in-boat wireless communication. We also get a small coda of how Marconi was supposed to travel on the titanic, but a last minute change of plans prevented it.

The novel was very engaging, with the pacing providing numerous details, yet still moving along quickly.

Double Helix

It is tough to get involved with this book. The characters seem to be all caught up in some emotional wrongs, yet at the same time it is hard to feel sympathy towards them. Little attention was paid to details (tennis scoring anyone?), and the genetic basis seems somewhat plausible, but not very convincing. The characters also seem to come across as "what an adult would think teenagers would be if they could do what they want". Aside from all the plot and character issues, the book does move along well with some suspenseful pacing. If only the endgame of the suspense were something worth waiting for.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Apple's mothership

Apple has posted the plans for its new spaceship campus.
Architecturally it is original, but for the community it has a lot to be desired. Part of the charm with Apple in Cupertino is that the buildings are scattered throughout the neighborhood. Even the Infinite Loop headquarters building is connected by a pedestrian sidewalk to a junior high school and a residential neighborhood.

The new campus, however, falls victim to ugly car-central pseudo-eco development. The campus is somewhat isolated from living areas, and tries to make itself even more isolated. Sure, there is a lot of green space, but there is also a huge fence around the campus cutting off any public access to it.

And the plans include cutting off a section of Pruneridge to make a disconnected fenced-in path. Sure, greening over a street may be nice, but the least you could do is make a public path.

Perhaps a bigger question is whether or not this building will ever get built. Sure, Apple is on a nice upward trajectory now. But Apple was doing fairly well after Jobs was fired in the mid-80s, only to stagnate for a decade before the iPod came out. With one of the largest market-caps around (with a relative low valuation), is there much room for upward growth?

Perhaps Apple's growth will stall while the building is in the approval process, and it will be scaled down (or never built.)

Or maybe it will be built, with Apple needing every bit of space, as they sit on a cash hoard bigger than the US national debt.

Or maybe they will really vacate all the leased building, turning Cupertino in to an office ghost town - or perhaps leading to a startup boom in the city.

Tune in a few years from now to see how it plays out.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Losing by winning?

Stanford and Boise State both had decisive wins in the first week of college football. However, they both saw their chances at a national championship take a hit.

TCU lost to Baylor, taking the luster off of Boise's other future marque matchup.

Oregon fell hard to LSU, while Notre Dame lost to USF. There go a couple BCS-quality opponents. Then there was Oregon State's loss to an FCS team. But Oregon State always does poorly at the start of the season, so they may be able to recover.

Perhaps Georgia goes on to win the SEC, giving Boise a real shot at a national championship rematch. Oregon, Notre Dame and TCU could all find their way back to the top-10, their early season losses quietly disregarded.

Or we could just see another SEC champion...

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


College sports currently has a 12 team "Big-10" conference and a 10 team "Big-12" conference. You would think that by college people would at least learn how to count.

But that is just the beginning. Texas A&M is on its way out - or so it thinks. However, Baylor is holding things up by threatening to sue. These are the same schools that recently complained that A&M had "broken its word" by attempting to leave the conference.

They are also the same for schools whose leaders voted unanimously that the Big-12 would not use legal methods to prevent A&M from leaving. Uh huh. Complain when they try to leave, but then use dishonest doublespeak to get them to stay. Great.

Oklahoma is rumored to be on its way out also. And who would blame them? Its as if a guy couldn't stand a girl breaking up with him and tried to sue her to stay. Sure this might allow her to stay for a bit longer, but it does not bode well for the relationship.

BYU would be wise to stay clear of this sinking ship.

However, this could be the one chance to join an automatically qualifying BCS conference.

What do they do?

Perhaps they simply broker a scheduling agreement similar to what they have with the WAC. BYU plays a number of Big-12 teams to fill in the gaps in the schedule. Or they even join as a football-only member (and somehow rearrange some of their scheduled games.)

But a full member? The WCC is much more stable, and lets them stay the high ground, without creating ill-will with the WCC.

SMU and Houston? They have less to lose. A jump to the big boy conference would be nice. Should it collapse, the WAC would be more than willing to welcoming them back. Conference-USA could even swallow its pride to get some of its star teams back.

Oklahoma? They've been talking with the Pac-12, but I'm sure they'd love to be in the Big-10. The could resume the Nebraska rivalry, and should fit nicely in the geographic footprint. The SEC or Pac-12 could also be options. And the Big-12? Well, sure. But why?

Perhaps Baylor can pull this off. After all, they managed to weasel in to the Big-12 in the first place. However, if things do implode, others may think twice about inviting the school that just cannot take no for an answer.

Oh what a mess. At least there is some good football.

Monsters, Gods, and Heroes: Approaching the Epic in Literature

These lectures take a narrow view of "Epic", to focus primarily on long-form poetry that has a bold universal appeal. The Odyssey, Aeneid, Fairy Queen, Baeuwolf, Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost are the ones primarily covered here. Some such as Gilgamesh, Ramayana and El Cid are not mentioned. Other modern works are considered "almost epics". (Huck Finn, Moby Dick, Wagner ring cycle.) Fantasy, such as Tolkein's Lord of the Rings is considered to be the best successor to the epic.

The lectures spend some time quoting from the epics and presenting some analysis of them. However, there is not enough time to fully cover these works, leaving the analysis rather superficial, though at the same time a little too long. The narrow definition of the epic also self-limits what can be told. Some of Shutt's other more focused lectures are much better.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

One size fits all schools

In a recent Mercury news article, the Cupertino school district had all schools exceed state standards, had the top two schools in the state, and yet is a failing district. Palo Alto also is failing, despite all schools exceeding the standards. Cupertino had problems with performance of a small Latino subgroup, while Palo Alto had problems with African Americans. These subgroups both make up a very small portion of the school population. In Cupertino, the district is overwhelmingly Asian, while Palo Alto is primarily wealthy whites (with a significant Asian minority.) Both districts are dominated by highly motivated students with very involved parents. So what do you do if you have underperforming minority groups? Do you isolate the low-performers in their own classes? I'm sure this wold go over well with a "dumb kids" class dominated by Latinos. Or do you integrate them in to classes, but teach to the lowest common denominator? This would perturb students who find class boring and slow, and anger parents who expect to be involved in a more active education. Dumbing down the classes may lead to an exodus of students to private schools, leaving the district with even a greater percentage of low-performers. The students would evolve to match the curriculum. But how would this help society? The quest for "equality" in schools can lead to a very "unequal" education experience. It is hard for a school to get a good reputation. It takes years of good performance and positive views of parents. A bad reputation is easy to get. Some bad test scores can usually trigger it. Parents will use this as an opportunity to relocate or send the children to alternative of private schools. This will leave less-motiviated students with less-involved parents. This will impact the school's performance, further chasing the students away. In Chicago, there is a south loop development, with many wealthy homeowners. The development has a neighborhood elementary school. However, the demographics of the school don't look anything like the demographics of the neighborhood. The school draws from poorer minorities in the nearby region, with very few local residents attending the school. People in the neighborhood usually send their children to private schools. Thus we get a poorly performing school in a nice neighborhood, with everyone traveling a ways to school. If they do want a good yardstick to school "equality", correspondence of a school to the neighborhood demographics may be a better bet. If the demographics of the school differ significantly from the neighborhood (or the district as a whole for magnet schools), then there is a problem. Alternatively, a neighborhood school could get failing grades if a disproportionately large number of local students seek other education opportunities (such as private schools, magnet programs, or home schooling) Another problem with the "racial group" measures is that they are artificially racist. In Cupertino, if a group of Vietnamese students are poor performers, we wouldn't know, because they would be lumped with the large "Asian" group. On the other hand a similarly sized group of poorly performing Guatemalans, they would trigger a "failing" score, because there are fewer other Latinos to offset their poor scores. And do the Guatemalans really have much in common with the Argentines that they are lumped with? If we wanted to, we could probably create a demographic measure to cause just about any school to "fail". (The subgroup of "people that failed the test last year!) Would it even be better if we let people fail? Would advanced math classes for a large group of high achievers be more valuable than remedial math classes for a small group of underperformers? Perhaps we should just open up schools and districts. If people from Redwood City want to go to Palo Alto, let them test their way in. A district may excel at educating high performers, while another may do better at raising up new immigrants. Why force everyone to focus on the small groups of low-performers while letting the high-performers fall through the cracks? Let them all chose the specialty, with students free to enroll anywhere (though with the local district on the hook for transportation expenses.) Districts can then focus on their local demographic. A free market in education? Now that is crazy talk.

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Bourne Identity

A mysterious man washes ashore without any memory. He finds people trying to kill him and manages to somehow keep living. In the process he manages to take a woman as a short turn hostage, and she ends up becoming his love interest. He gradually uncovers bits of his true identity, thinking he is a master hit man, then discovering that he is actually an undercover agent trying to trap another master hitman. He has plenty of run ins with bad guys, and people around him all seem to die, but he has the skills to evade them. And he does this primarily in Switzerland, France and New York City. It seems like the standard plot for a modern hollywood action adventure. The big wonder, is why it took Hollywood 22 years to finally make the movie. (Even the TV movie after 8 years seems like a slow reaction.) The book is long and engaging. Believable? Nah, but who would expect that out of a "popcorn" book. (Things always seem to happen "just in time", never too early or too late. And of course, he manages to do most of his fighting after getting injured.) The ending also sets things up for the perfect sequal - a further manhunt for the killer, Carlos. (I was expecting him to be captured in this book, but I guess you have to keep the suspense going.)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Texas to WAC

The WAC has been moving from its mountain west roots to the Southwest and Texas. With one school in Louisiana and three future Texas members, it could make an ideal geographic base for the longhorns. The presence of other Texas state schools would also help mute political opposition. But the WAC? That was the sentiment before BYU nearly sealed the deal to move there last year. As the big fish (great white shark) in the small pond, Texas could set its own rules. The longhorn network stays. Football? Probably independent with scheduling agreements with WAC schools to fill those hard late season games. Olympic sports? You can bike from Austin to San Marcos or San Antonio. Competition level could take a dive, but that could be dealt with. Perhaps a few others like Kansas could be recruited to shore up basketball. Why not?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Where does the Big-12 go?

Texas A&M is now all but out of the Big-12. Their likely destination, the SEC will potentially be poaching another school from the Big-12. This could leave the conference as an 8 team conference. Well, it was once the Big-8 before taking on the Texas schools. Swapping Texas for Nebraska seems like a fair deal. Texas Tech for Colorado? Texas Tech for Missouri? Well, not slam dunks, but not a huge difference. Of course, that leaves the conference a small shadow of its former self. Expansion? Well, it doesn't look as good as it did last year. Had the Big-12 expanded to 12 after Colorado and Nebraska had bolted, they would have appeared to be a good destination for up and coming schools. BYU would have jumped in and brought a powerful program from the vacated mountain west. TCU would be a former Southwest Conference rival rejoining the fray. Now, however, TCU is set to join the Big East and BYU independent football and the West Coast Conference. Would the Big-12 make any sense? For BYU, the Big-12 presents immediate access to the BCS in football. However, a 9 team Big-12 could make scheduling easier for BYU. For mens basketball, it is a step up from the WCC. (However, the WCC is a respectable conference with regular at-large NCAA bids. BYU's chances at NCAA tourney runs may be better in the WCC.) For other sports, the Big-12 would involve longer travel distances. The nearest Big-12 school (Texas Tech) is further away than the furthest WCC school. However, in most cases it would only mean switching from a 10 hour bus ride to a 16 hour one. Sure it is long, but from Provo, once you get beyond, Utah and Utah State, everything is far away. (UNLV and Wyoming are 'only' 5-6 hours away.) So if you are BYU do you send your teams off on longer distance trips for the Big 12? If you think it will work well for the long run, sure. But, with a conference that looks to be on the verge of collapse, why create ill will with the nascent relationship with the WCC? By being the big dog with the WCC, BYU can set its terms (such as no Sunday play) and still get the coverage it wants. With the Big-12 it may be harder. BYU could also end up with what feels like a 6-7 game home schedule. With huge alumni populations in the bay area and southern california, BYU supporters could easily outnumber the local fans in the small WCC stadiums. Even in Portland, the BYU supporters could be a huge crowd. Gonzaga may be the only place where they have a truly hostile crowd. In the Big-12 it could be much tougher. Perhaps a football-only invite to the Big-12 may make everyone happy, and keep BYU's options open in case of a conference collapse. (New relationships could only help.) What about TCU? They have just opted to join the Big East. The Big-12 could be an upgrade. However, in the Big East, they would be a Texas brand. In the Big-12, they would be easily overshadowed by the other Texas schools. TCU also is much more valuable to the Big East than to the Big12. However, the Big-12 would fit much better geographically with the TCU. Would the Big-12 invite TCU? If they are desperate. But, if they are desperate, would TCU want to join? Considering the Big-East may be as unstable as the Big-12, that is a big possibility. Houston? Rice? SMU? All conference USA desperation moves. These former SWC teams would jump at the chance. But, would it do much for the Big-12? Boise State? Geographic outlier. They would love the respect. It could help in football, but would show desperation. Big East schools? Arkansas? Well, now it is real desperation. The big-12 may just survive, but how is anybody's guess.