Tuesday New Chum: Twitter, Hidden Meanings, Blue M&Ms, and Practical Majors

Some interesting news articles, gleaned from recent lunchtime skimming of the papers:

  • From the “Tweet, Tweet” Department: More and more interesting uses for Twitter are arising. The New York Times reported last week that more and more small businesses are using Twitter to promote themselves (one need only look at the roving restaurant scene in LA to see this). The Daily Breeze reported that another service allows people to send tweets to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where they will be printed and inserted in the wall. We see more and more newspapers advertising themselves on Twitter (and Facebook). So it’s growing… but is anyone listening? The Los Angeles Times is reporting on a recent study that showed most people don’t even know what Twitter is (of course, it is interesting to see that next to the ad about the LA Times on Twitter). BTW, I also wonder about the corporate impact of these companies being on Twitter and Facebook: it means that corporate firewalls will likely be opened to allow access to those sites, as they are now legitimate news sites. Once that door is open, oh the time that will be wasted.
  • From the “Find the Hidden Meaning” Department: Newspapers often run contests to collect reader photos. A few current contest have caught my eye. The New York Times is collecting photos of reader’s dogs. On the other coast, the San Francisco Chronicle is collecting photos of pregnant women’s bellies. I’m trying to figure out the hidden meaning in this. Any ideas?
  • From the “Green M&Ms” Department: Growing up, we all heard the rumors about green M&Ms. Well, CNN brings us a story about the health effects of blue M&Ms: they supposedly help your back. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that when they injected the compound Brilliant Blue G (BBG) into rats suffering spinal cord injuries, the rodents were able to walk again, albeit with a limp. The same blue food dye is found in M&Ms and Gatorade. The only side effect was that the treated mice temporarily turned blue. Hmm, medicine that turns something blue… that brings a poem to mind. All together now…

    I did not sow, I did not spin,
    And thanks to pills I did not sin.
    I loved the crowds, the stink, the noise.
    And when I peed, I peed turquoise

  • From the “Practical People” Department: The Ventura County Star has an interesting report on college students and their majors. It seems in these days of frugality and economic turmoil, students are forgoing their dream majors, instead opting for majors that will bring them a well-paying job… and trying to get that degree in less time. Actually, this isn’t much of a surprise, but it is starting to affect the programs offered by universities to attract students.

Come Saturday Morning, I’ll Chum Away With My Friends…

The wife’s at the CDF Conference, and my daughter’s off at her middle school helping with the lighting design for their next musical… so I’m home alone to clean the house and skim the papers. A few items for your enjoyment:


Recruiting Students for Engineering

This afternoon I was at Valley State (oops) CSUN for a meeting of the Industry Advisory Board for the School of Engineering and Computer Science. One subject we discussed was how to convince students in high schools and middle schools in the valley to consider careers in engineering and computer science. I mention this because of an article in today’s New York Times about fundamental shifts in the job market. Jobs are going away in this market… and unlike in other markets, these jobs are simply not coming back. There are many industries where there are fundamental shifts in the number and jobs out there. Newspapers are one: jobs in journalism are going to be very different in the future than they used to be. Manufacturing, especially the automotive industry, will be the same way. We’re going to see contractions in such manufacturing and sales that will never come back in the same way that they once were. Same thing with financial services: you’re going to see fundamental changes in the loan origination market. I’m sure this has happened before: where are the buggy manufacturers? Where are the town blacksmiths?

In any case, this article got me thinking about the original question. Engineering jobs: be it computer science, electrical engineering, civil engineering, engineering management, etc., are not going away. Just as Northrop Grumman out here is getting rid of 750 administrative job, they are looking to hire over 800 technical positions. So how to we convince students in middle school and high school to consider technical careers? In particular, how to we encourage minorities to go into these careers? The percentages of women in engineering and CS is at best static. I don’t know about other minorities, but I don’t believe they are rising. So how do we get people to go technical?


‘Tis The Season To Be Chummy

Today’s lunchtime news chum seems to all be connected to marketing and advertising. I have no idea why.

  • From the “Creative Financing” Department: Tired of the mundane school fundraiser? Have enough greeting cards? Don’t need another magazine subscription? An instructor in Rancho Bernardo (near San Diego) has a novel idea: Sell advertising space on the exams. The teacher, Nick Farber, started letting parents and local businesses sponsor tests this fall after learning budget cuts would limit his in-school printing allowance — tracked by the school’s copy machines — to $316 for the year. The cost of printing quizzes and tests for his 167 students will easily be more than $500, he said. So Farber, who says he’d never asked for money from parents in his 18 years of high school teaching, pitched the ad idea to parents at a September back-to-school night. For checks made to the math department — $10 a quiz, $20 a test or $30 for a final exam — they could insert an inspirational quote — their own or someone else’s — or a business advertisement at the bottom of the first page. He’s already collected more than $300, and is on track to top $1,000.
  • From the “Valley of the Dolls” Department: There has been an interesting legal verdict in the battle of Barbie vs. Bratz. The judge banned MGA from making or selling the Bratz doll. Note that this is almost 30% of the business of MGA (HQed in the San Fernando Valley). The LA Times gives more details: the judge ruled that Mattel (HQed in El Segundo) is the legal owner of the edgy toy line and has the right to recall all unsold Bratz. The order says that MGA may no longer manufacture, sell, advertise or license its core lineup of Bratz dolls or any other product with the Bratz name. However, the order does not take effect until February, and an appeal is expected. My expectation: Mattel will keep manufacturing the dolls under their imprimatur, and there will be more job losses in the valley.
  • From the “Notice how Saturn wasn’t in the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter?” Department: As we all know, the “Big 3” are all in DC pleading for their lives (oops) asking for a handout (oops) groveling. One piece of information coming out of this is that the one division truly GM created, Saturn, may be on the chopping block (most of the brands came in with the mergers that created GM). According to the LA Times, Saturn may be on the chopping block, be sold, or be merged. It has evidently not been profitable, they’ve abandoned most of their original core ideas, and their cars are either rebadgings or imported Opels that the exchange rate is killing. Instead of being a model of how to compete with the Japanese and other imports (the original goal of Saturn), it has become a drag, and didn’t provide ideas to improve the other divisions. This is highlighted in the NY Times article on the subject. Could perhaps GM be too hidebound, and this be the reason for its failure? Nah. GM knows it isn’t their fault.

Chum chum-un-ey, Chum chum-un-ey, Chum chum chum-ee!

As we come closer to the wire for the conference, I’m getting crazier and crazier. Thank goodness for lunch time and being able to read the news. That will keep me calm, right?

  • From the “Sneaking It In Under The Wire” Department: The Bush administration is planning some last minute regulation changes that will provide for a broader ability of doctors and other medical personnel to refuse to do things based on their conscience. This broad new “right of conscience” rule would permit medical facilities, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare workers to refuse to participate in any procedure they find morally objectionable, including abortion and possibly even artificial insemination and birth control. In addition to permitting the refusal of abortions, it would go further by making clear that healthcare workers also may refuse to provide information or advice to patients who might want an abortion. (Given the controversy with Prop. 8, I could also see providers refusing to help same-sex couples on moral grounds–a bad thing). HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said he intends to issue the rule as a final regulation before the Obama administration takes office, to protect the moral conscience of persons in the healthcare industry. If the regulation is issued before Dec. 20, it will be final when the new administration takes office, HHS officials say. Overturning it would require publishing a proposed new rule for public comment and then waiting months to accept comments before drafting a final rule.
  • From the “Goodnight Irene” Department: The legendary folk singer Odetta has died at 77. I hope this isn’t the start of another trifecta; Mary Travers has been sick for a long time. Anyway Odetta was one of the top folk singers of the 1950/1960 folk revival. I’m one of those revivalists: I was much less into rock in the 1970s and 1980s — I was listening to Peter, Paul, and Mary, the Kingston Trio, and soft folk like John Denver or Gordon Lightfood. Even today I listen to albums by The Weavers, The Gateway Singers, Tom Paxton, and of course PP&M and the Kingston Trio. Odetta was central in the folk music community, and it is sad to see her voice stilled.
  • From the “Son, Go To College” Department: According to the New York Times, higher education may be unaffordable for most in a few years. California fares better than most, but still the costs of a UC or CSU education are rising, and high school students are fighting over a smaller financial pie, with loans less available. I’m not looking forward to facing this myself in 2012. Basically, a recent report shows that published college tuition and fees increased 439% from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation, while median family income rose 147%. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.
  • From the “Wilma, Stop This Crazy Thing!” Department: Next on the musical bandwagon: “The Flintstones”. Yup, Bedrock’s favorite familiy is being prepped for the stage by none other than Marco Pennette (Book), with music and lyrics by Jeff “Avenue Q” Marx and Jake Anthony. The plot of The Flintstones, according to Variety, will focus on contemporary issues: “Wilma, for example, mulls leaving Fred because he still acts too much like a caveman and hasn’t adapted to more modern ways. Barney and Betty tackle fertility issues before deciding to adopt. Musical will also tackle global warming — but in this case, as The Flintstones takes place before the ice age, the characters will confront ‘global cooling.'”

With Purple Mountains Magestied Above the 2c Plain, Fruited.

The news the last few days has carried reports on how the Citizenship and Immegration Services branch of DHS have changed the citizenship test to focus more on concepts of what it means to be an American, and how our government works, as opposed to historical facts and figures, such as who said what. I was thinking about this in relation to something pointed out by my daughter’s 8th grade history teacher. She noted that history often gets short shrift in the standardized testing: 8th grade history has to cover not only US history from the constitution to WWI, but review 5th, 6th, and 7th grade history. This happens again in 11th grade, where they have to review 8th, 9th, 10th, as well as do the 11th material (US history post WWI). I also noted the time dilation problem: we give students one semester to study over 200 years (1769 through 1915), and then one semester to study under 100 years (basically, 1915 through about 2000). That’s not fair: you can’t do the same depth of study. Is it any wonder that kids today don’t see the similarities between GWB and Andrew Jackson, or that history is repeating itself in so many ways?

This got me thinking about the changes in the citizenship test. Are we teaching our children what it means to be Americans? Are we raising critical thinkers like Thomas Paine, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe. Washington wasn’t on the list, because he talks up a storm with those wooden teeth, but when it is time to sign the parchment-o-rooni try to find him. Do they understand what representative government is (it’s not voting party-line, but it is also not voting solely in accordance with poll numbers)? Do they understand what each of our enumerated freedoms are, and why they are so important to fight for? Are we raising robots or aliens?

My daughter’s teacher said: “If your child is fourteen by November, realize that in four years they will be voting for our next president.” Are we really preparing our children to intelligently do this, especially with how we teach social studies in the schools? Are we adequately preparing our immegrant population for citizenship? Just as with converts to Judaism, often they value it more because it was a conscious choice instead of a birthright? But as with conversion, are we ensuring they learn sufficient material so that their old ideas from their old political systems don’t remain — that they truly understand how things work (and, alas, don’t work) in the US?

All good questions. Maybe I shoulda’ been a history teacher.


What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

And now for a slightly more serious post. The Washington Post today had an interesting article on the naming of schools. It appears that (at least in the DC area) the naming of schools after people, especially dead presidents, is out of fashion. Districts would rather name their schools after something slightly less controversial, like neighborhoods or geometric features. Some quotes from the article:

“But over the past decade, even though 12 Northern Virginia high schools have opened to handle one of the fastest-growing populations in the country, not one of them has been named after a person, much less a president or a general. Instead, the various school-naming committees have embraced scenic, geographic or patriotic titles: Battlefield, Colonial Forge, Dominion, Forest Park, Heritage, Mountain View, Riverbend, South County, Stone Bridge, Westfield and two schools named Freedom.

Maryland is still naming high schools after people, but it appears to be out of sync with Virginia and much of the rest of the country. According to a new Manhattan Institute for Policy Research study, impersonal school-naming practices are a national trend. Three researchers found that 45 percent of public schools built in New Jersey before 1948 were named after people, compared with 27 percent of schools built after 1988. Similar patterns were found in Minnesota, Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, Ohio and Wisconsin.”

I’ve thought about that in the LA district. Although there are a fair number of schools in the LAUSD named after dead presidents, not all are accounted for. In LAUSD there is: Cleveland, Garfield, Harding (now University), Grant, Jefferson, Kennedy, Lincoln, Monroe, Roosevelt, Taft, Washington, and Wilson (note that “West Adams” doesn’t count, as that’s geographical)… and for non-presidents, Phineas Banning, Miguel Conteras, Susan Miller Dorsey, Franklin, John C. Fremont, Alexander Hamilton, David Starr Jordan, Alain Leroy Locke, Manual Arts, John Marshall, John H. Francis, Helen Bernstein, Esteban Torres, Einstein, Patton, Wooden, Whitman, Thoreau, Rodia, and Ellington.

Why are named schools important? The article answers this: “School names can shape values by providing educators with a teaching opportunity”

As a side note: You can’t have all presidents, as some names are repeats: Adams, Harrison, Roosevelt, Bush, Arthur, Johnson.

So, what names are in your district? Do you cover all possible presidents? Where is Millard Filmore High School? William Henry Harrison High? Andrew Johnson High? Rutherford B. Hayes High?