Saturday Stew from our Super Secret Menu

Observation StewWhew! This first full week back after shutdown has been a busy one. As a result, I never found a collection of articles that formed a theme that yelled “post me”, and I was so busy that the news I was reading never inspired a rant. Still, I did collect some articles, and I would be remiss if I didn’t share them for your Saturday News Chum stew:

  • TV Economics. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found I’ve gotten more interested in subjects that bored me when I was young. One of these is economics, and this article explores the economics of a hit TV show. The article explores that odd beast that is the TV pilot season, how shows get pitched, and why the process is so risky. It seems even riskier than a Broadway show.
  • Getting Rid of Stuff. Hmm. This is another economics article — perhaps there was theme I never saw. In any case, this article explores the economics of “fulfilled by Amazon”. In other words, we probably have all sold stuff through the Amazon Marketplace. The problem with doing that is finding a place to store the stuff while waiting for it to sell, and then remembering where you stored it when it actually sells. “Fulfilled by Amazon” is a way to ship your junk to Amazon, have them store it, and have them ship it when it eventually sells. I may very well explore this in the future.
  • Tapping It Out the Qwerty Way. In yet another economic story, the youth of today are rediscovering… typewriters. Typewriters are hot again, because they make you write in a different way — a way that is more tactile, a way that tends to preserve mistakes and imperfections, and is unique to the person and the machine. Related to that is a person to waxes rhapsodic-ally about the keyboards he has loved and lost. This includes not only manual typewriters, but the lovely Selectric keyboard (which was a nice keyboard), the TRS-80, and the Apple ][. Alas, he also doesn’t include the great keyboard that was the IBM PC.
  • Food Economics. A couple of food items. First, Starbucks — that purveyor of over-roasted coffee — has decided to start exploiting Teavana and open some tea bars. These are going for the folks that — quite rightly — believe tea to be the better beverage. The problem, however, is that Teavana is all style and no substance — it is zen-like overpriced tea. I’d much rather get my tea at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf or a Peets than Teavana. Still, they estimate tea to be a $990 billion market. In other food news, did you know that McDonalds has a secret menu. Participation may vary, of course. Looking at the items on this menu, most are — to me — disgusting. Then again, I guess it is no worse than the In-N-Out Secret Menu or even the super-secret menu. One more food item from this morning: Here’s an article on how they are trying to find new cuts of meat in the cow.
  • We Got Lists. Two recent lists have caught my eye. The first is a list of genius improvements to everyday products. I like all of these ideas — in particular the washable keyboard. But almost every item on this list is a hit, from the circular plug to the displaying USB drive to the cereal bowl. The other is a list of body hacks to make your life easier. I particularly like the notion of forcing yourself to work out 5 minutes a day, and I’ve got to try the tip regarding sinus pressure.
  • Caltrans Earth. Earlier this week, I got an email from someone at Caltrans exploring greater GIS integration for my pages. He pointed me to a fascinating site they are working on: Caltrans Earth,  which integrates Google Earth and all sorts of data the Caltrans map department has (but not all, and I made some suggestions).  My only complaint is that it is way too slow and requires far too many downloads. While exploring that site, I discovered their main page, including their map catalog and their data page. I particularly like the Traversable Highways report.

Jobs, Unemployment, and Education

If you’ve been following the news at all of late, you would think there are no open jobs, and that getting a post-high school education isn’t worth the money it costs. But two articles expose that as wrong. The first article notes that there are lots of jobs for workers with the right skills; in fact, there are significant shortages. This includes jobs for people with the right college degrees (computer science being one of them), or jobs for people with appropriate technical skills. A simple high school diploma simply isn’t enough. This is echoed in another article, which talks about the tough job market for people with only high school diplomas. Quoting from that article:

A recent Rutgers University survey of young people who graduated from 2006 to 2011 finds that:

  • Nearly a third are unemployed
  • Only 27% have full-time jobs, and another 15% are employed part-time but looking for full-time work
  • Most of those working full-time earn barely enough to keep them out of poverty; their current median wage is $9.25 an hour
  • Fewer than 10% said their high-school education prepared them “extremely well” for their first job
  • Most remain financially dependent on their parents or relatives for housing or other needs
  • More than half said their generation will have less financial success than the previous generation

If you don’t get a good education, what jobs are open? Well, you could do crowd-sourced short-term labor through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. These are “micro-gigs”, such as taking little surveys, transcribing insurance claims, writing product description, subtitling porn movies, assessing search engines. This is a growing field, but it doesn’t pay much. Crowd labor revenues were up 75% in 2011 to $375 million. And the number of crowd workers is growing even faster, climbing more than 100% last year, with about 40% of the 6-million-member workforce living in developing countries.

Music: Live in the UK (Tom Paxton): Come Away With Me