Thursday, December 27, 2007

Stanford memories

A friend of mine was going to be spending time in Stanford recently. This is excerpted from an e-mail I wrote to her:

And good food at Santa Fe. I really like American Southwest food, and hard to get it in other parts of the country. While at Stanford, do take advantage of the food. Great Chinese food in Cupertino at the mall with the Ranch 99 asian grocery (far better than in San Francisco's Chinatown which is mostly relegated to tourists). And of course Napa valley with the great food and wine, French Laundry's perhaps overrated and too much trouble to get reservations, but Bouchon (also by chef Thomas Keller) is excellent and much cheaper. Nice to rent bicycles up there, and check out the wineries without worrying about excess inebriation. Stacks and Cafe Brioche are the best breakfast/brunch places near campus, and Thai Cafe is the best lunch place on campus, (their food is actually more vietnamese than Thai). If you haven't found it yet, look for the long lines in the downstairs courtyard by the math and psychology departments.

Good memories. Oh, and do walk "the Dish" a beautiful 5km loop on a high hill behind campus, and drive up to San Francisco along Skyline drive, atop the foothills through ancient forests right behind campus with numerous hikes along the way, or drive down south along the coast along highway 1, driving by Half Moon Bay, and Big Sur National Park, or as far as Los Angeles on what's called (and I agree) the most beautiful highway in America. Even highway 280 right by campus is quite beautiful especially early in the morning.

Ah, I miss Stanford.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Synthesis vs Analysis

On the interview trail with R-, someone recalled one of the most annoying interview questions they received "What are you better at, Synthesis or Analysis." But also on the trail, R- has noted, and I concur that a difficult question posed by an astute interviewer is a good opportunity to learn something about yourself.

I remember learning about Blooms' Taxonomy of Knowledge in Mrs O'Neil's 4th grade Honors Reading class. (actually, it wasn't Honors back then, but first GAT for gifted and talented and later ESP for who knows what, but I vaguely recall thinking ESP meant extra special people...) Kind of a silly thing to teach a 10 year old, but I remembering memorizing the 6 modes of learning, I can still hear the class chanting them in my head "Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Synthesis, Analysis, Evaluation." Lots of big words, which really didn't mean anything to me until years later. But I remember trying hard to memorize them as we were to be tested on the words. I remember especially working hard on the word "taxonomy" which I had never seen before, and was such a strange arcane word, though I liked how it rolled around in my head even though I had no idea what it meant. I still like the word taxonomy, cooler than "typology" which means much the same thing, and sociologist types like to use.

But anyway, as to the question, I think for me it is easy, I do both, but synthesis is clearly what I am good at. What makes me unique from my colleagues is that I like putting together ideas from vastly disparate sources. Using my degrees that range from engineering to education to political science to math. Pulling together strands from music and philosophy. Probably excessively so, but I enjoy it. I never called it "synthesis" before. But I guess that's exactly what it is. Just took 20 years for that particular 4th grade lesson to sink in.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The McCain-Lieberman Party (or Yoda and David Brooks)

Below is a post I wrote last year that I couldn't post while working for the White House (given the post's advocacy for a particular candidate). I had been wondering when the political consequences of a quieter Iraq would show up, and it is finally showing up with a resurgent (or at least upticking) McCain-Lieberman party. A McCain-Lieberman ticket is one I'd love to support.

"Hyper-partisans (like "net-root" democrats and delay republicans) may have started with subtle beliefs, but their beliefs led them to partisanship and their partisanship led to malice and malice made them extremist, and pretty soon they were no longer the same people."

The Dark Side turned to they did...

I concur by the way. His column today was about defending the McCain-Lieberman party against the more and more extremist democratic and republican parties. That nuance and moderation should not be swept away by emotion-driven tribalistic sunni-shite-style partisanship. I'd vote for Lieberman if I could.

David Brooks is still my favorite newspaper/magazine pundit (though Joel Stein comes close), despite the fact that his nytimes column has deteriorated a bit toward Krugman style suckage.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Generation Q

Friedman identifies something in his column a couple weeks ago that David Brooks wrote in Atlantic Monthly in an article entitled The Organization Kid almost a decade ago (see my old posts from way back), which made Brooks my favorite magazine writer long before he gained fame as a NY times columnist, a position whose deadlines seem to cause a major decline in quality of output.

But I dispute Friedman's thesis, even more now than I did Brooks, that kids today are impressive but passive. Maybe I'm just a product of this generation, but I don't believe we need more activism at this stage. Because on the whole, the system works. (Friedman of course probably has climate change in mind, but having spent a year learning every facet of it, I am more confident than ever that the system is working on that front as well. I welcome anyone who wants to challenge that assertion.)

I think people have decided that marching in the street and sit-ins for the issues of today are wasteful and self-indulgent. The recent Columbia student hunger strike protesting changes in their curriculum seemed ridiculous; Time magazine was almost mocking them by quoting student Emilie Rosenblat: "The day after the revolution is just as important as the revolution
itself. Our work is just beginning."

I think people realize that more good can be done doing Teach for America or starting a company. Retail activism. (I like that term) Social entrepreneurship.

For those theoretically minded, the constructivist paradigm has been fully suppplanted by neo-liberalism. People (at least in the US) no longer need to try changing norms/institutions/rules of the game, but instead, are playing within the current capitalist market driven paradigm to effect change.

Of course, if we believe our Hegel or Schumpeter or Marx or Kuhn, this stage won't last either, at some point, we will move on. But until then, Viva la Market Economics!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Net Neutrality: Final Verdict, It Sucks.

I had never had a strong position on this until now. I was actually in a White House meeting (technology was part of my portfolio) that could have shaped how the FCC would regulate net neutrality, but didn't have an opinion at the time.

I saw a statistic today that helped me finally decide my position on Net Neutrality. In Time magazine, Dec 10, 2007, on their Numbers page, they cite a PCWorld article which says that by 2010 the Internet could slow to a crawl due to exponential demand growth for video, and that needed Infrastructure will cost $137 billion. Or over $1000 per US household. Of course these numbers are likely flawed, but still illustrate the danger of not having pricing on the Internet.

Those who advocate for Net Neutrality advocate a system like our airports or our highways, where the law prohibits most attempts to regulate who uses them. This is good for giving people free non-disriminatory access. It is very bad for controlling congestion. As highway traffic and airport delays get out of control, we see the dangers.

Similarly for the internet, if we had a pricing system, that would provide the funding necessary to pay for upgrades, and minimize the congestion so that people watching stupid youtube videos and porn movies don't block all the other low bandwidth stuff that may be more productive. Of course if people are willing to pay more per kB transferred for those porn videos, then they should be entitled, a pricing system allows the system to allocate to the most productive use. But still, for the price of 1GB video, you'd be able to receive several years worth of e-mail. The Internet Net could still be effectively free for most uses.

Monday, December 03, 2007