Friday, August 29, 2014


If you ever mention how many people don't apply for college financial aid because the forms are too complicated you'll inevitable get a response like "if it's too hard to fill out a form, you probably shouldn't be going to college."

The thing is, filling out financial aid forms and understanding health insurance really is difficult. One of my friends just graduated from MIT and he health insurance expires at the end of the month. She e-mailed me asking for help understanding how to get a plan and how they work, and when I helped her out she wrote this back:
I actually saw the MIT webpage link about what to do after graduation earlier, but when I clicked on all the links I got so confused by all the terms and timelines. This is so much clearer now that you broke it down for me, I'm not freaking out anymore!

[. . .] I think if I get really sick, getting my dad to send $6750 over shouldn't be a problem. For the longest time I was so confused when browsing the different insurance plans about the term 'deductible', I thought it was something to do with tax-deductible.
MIT students also struggle with filling out some financial aid forms. I helped out an international student who was confused about why they needed so much information from her parents back in Kenya, and how she was supposed to figure out what it was asking for, much less how to get the information!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Does 538 now suck?

My understanding was that 538 always sucked at everything except forecasting elections and discussing baseball statistics. And by "forecasting" I mean making a prediction of who would win Florida after a third of votes had already been cast.

But I have changed my mind. This new post is hilarious.

538 has mostly been trashed for writing articles where they take a simple time series, eyeball it to make a wacky point, and then do linear extrapolation with it until Kingdom Come. So what did Nate Silver do? All of the above.

This is obviously Native Silver doing satire of 538.

Friday, January 31, 2014

What the F is up with Washington?

ESPN took a poll of users asking them to evaluate David Stern as NBA commissioner.

What the F is up with Washington State?

Maybe it has something to do with this.

(Technical point: The map shows the most common or model response, not the average [median] response. If it showed the average response then Washington State would give him a C and every other state would give him a B.)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Following

I watched the first season of The Following over the weekend and the thing I kept coming back to was how the villain, Joe Caroll, isn' that bad of a guy.

We quickly find out that Joe is a former professor of English Literature who murdered 14 girls on his campus around 2003-2004, although that number is later revised to 12.

My question is: what English professor hasn't ruined at least 14 lives?

College is expensive. Young people are impressionable. English is easy. There is a real appeal to a short-sighted 19-year old  and English professors are known for seducing students into the major and then leaving them for dead when they graduate saddled with debt and without skills.

I'm obviously joking but it would be nice to see an article from someone defending majoring in the humanities where they emphasize responsibility to the students. You hear a lot about how lazy students are (they are) and about how the humanities are important because they train you to "be a good citizen" (wtf?), but I haven't heard a professor in the humanities pour his heart out talking about how he cares about his students and it pains him when he finds out they are deep in debt and unemployed. Everyone teaching in college for 10 years or more has students like that and English professors surely have more than the average.

Monday, December 23, 2013

B.S. in English

Gerald Howard tells us about the value of his English degree with stories from his experience working as an editor:
We were theoretically required at that time to have our [profit and loss statements] yield a return of at least 8 percent, and I had become adept in ways to make or exceed that number. You could shave on the cover art. You could shave on marketing and advertising. You could basically lie about projected sales and hope no one called you on it. The techniques I had developed in college to make my ham-handed chem lab experiments yield the proper results found a practical new use.
Basically, you could lie.

But Gerald didn't lie . . . that much. His profit and loss statement only estimated a 7% rate of return so the CFO didn't want to approve it. How did he convince him?
 I made some weak noises about literary excellence, backlist sales, commitment to authors.
Basically, he made up some bullshit. (See "The Rule of 2.")

Lying and bullshitting are valuable skills, especially on Wall Street, where many Ivy League humanities majors look for a job. But Gerald doesn't think you should major in English just for the skill set.
The point is truth and beauty . . . [they are] why you should major in English.
That is not a typo. He writes it twice: "truth."

Monday, November 18, 2013

Don't be a Martin in FL

A lot of people have the Trayvon Martin story all wrong.

The focus has been on race. Travyon was black. George Zimmerman was not. That is why Travyon was killed.

But white people get killed by assholes in FL too. In fact, the most famous "stand your ground" case, one where the law actually applied, featured a black man who killed a white man in front of the white man's pre-school age daughter.

Now the sports world is abuzz about the racist treatment of Jonathan Martin at the hands of his fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito. But does anyone doubt that white rookies get hazed in the NFL too, inside FL and outside?

The real common denominator in these cases is not race, it's the last name Martin.

If you're last name is Martin get the fuck out of FL ASAP for your safety and wellbeing.

Black people get murdered and harassed in every state, leaving FL is no escape. But Martin's seem to be singled out in the sunshine state.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Medicine isn't a Science

We've all heard a lot about how economics isn't a science like physics, medicine, and chemistry.

Economists didn't predict the financial crisis. Didn't you hear?

That got me thinking.

Susumu Tonegawa who won the Nobel prize in Medicine in 1987, is a professor at MIT. His son also went to MIT.

I say "went" not because he graduated but because he committed suicide during his freshmen year, right in his dorm room.

If medicine were a science, Tonewaga would have been able to predict his son's death. But he couldn't. You draw the conclusion.

But it isn't just Tonegawa who gets this stuff wrong. My wife is reading How Doctors Think so I read through a few chapters and it seems like every doctor has misdiagnosed a patient. In fact, even the good ones he singled out recount many misdiagnoses, sometimes even fatal ones.

You almost get impression from reading the book that doctors don't really understand the human body well enough to predict when people will get sick or prevent people from dying. But medicine is a science so I guess that is a wrong impression.