Wednesday, September 29, 2010

This probably won't be revolutionary, but it's really interesting. 

If it were to be revolutionary, I would be very pleased.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

College costs

I've been thinking about the ridiculous price of a college education in the U.S., and why it's so high.

Here's what you're paying for:
Other students' scholarships (ha)
College funded social events.
The only ones of these that I want to have or pay for are teachers, admins, staff, and facilities. I'm not interested in funding sports teams, social events, or other people's college. If I want to get involved in sports, I'll form a club team or go watch a pro team. If I want to go to social events, I'll host them myself or do them with friends. If I want to pay for other people's college, I'll directly fund a scholarship.

The stuff I actually want to pay for is still more than I want. That is, the administration of the college I attend is very inefficient. A lot of money is wasted, some through pure carelessness, some through overpaid employees. The president earns roughly five times as much as the average faculty member, plus benefits.

Buildings are nicer than they need to be. The college I attend recently spent millions of dollars on a new student union which performs almost exactly the same functions as the old student union, and is only substantially different in its architecture and quality.

The staff at the college I attend works inefficiently. One department is estimated to spend around three times as much money on student labor as is necessary. Shift managers and supervisors often tell workers to just go take a break on the clock if there isn't any work ready. Other employers tell workers to work slowly so that work lasts as long as possible. Inefficiency is extremely common.

The teachers are paid the market rate, so I can't say they are overpaid. However, they are often bad at teaching, which I would say qualifies their salaries as wastes of money in some cases.

I don't have access to most of the financial information about the college I attend, but I would estimate that if it was run efficiently and only spent money on minimal things (that is, no student union or a minimal one, et cetera) it would cost less than half as much as it does now. Only around $10,000,000 per year goes to faculty salaries. The rest of the $26,000,000 of tuition that comes in each year is spent on other functions, most of them peripheral.

Many students, I'm sure, think that it is worth it to spend over half of their tuition to cover things other than their learning. I would rather not spend my money that way.

Solutions for this could include more minimal, education focused colleges, and also online education, which is already growing very fast. I expect that the situation will be better in the next twenty or so years, but regret that it will be after I have already wasted tens of thousands of dollars on services and facilities that I don't want.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

overpriced college board plan

So, I am forced to buy a meal plan. It lets me eat at a cafeteria. The food is lower quality than fast food. Guess how much I pay for each meal?


Even if I only eat some salad. What the fuck.

Outside restaurants and other food providers are not allowed on the college campus because of a contract with the cafeteria company.

There's a large building dedicated to the cafeteria.

What I think they should do, instead, is open up the cafeteria space to private bidders who run restaurants. There is room for about 8 fast food size restaurants there already. The competition would drive prices to a decent level, and there would be much more variety. A food court would be superior in every way to the current cafeteria.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Halo Reach

Though I'm not a huge gamer in general, about 30% of my waking time since Reach came out has been spent playing it.

Major changes:

Firstly, loadouts are available in multiplayer. You can now choose to play with one of five special powerups that you can activate every once in a while: Sprint, jet pack, armor lock, active camo/radar jammer, and hologram. The only one I really like using (or playing against) is Sprint; however, quite a few people like the others.

The battle rifle is now the DMR, and has longer range and an expanding reticle-if you fire too fast you lose accuracy.

Duals are not duals anymore. My least favorite change.

No more spike grenades. This was because, according to bungie, it was too much of a pain to switch between spike and plasma when they do roughly the same thing.

Health and shields now exist. Shields always regenerate; health only does if you're an elite, but there are healthpacks for spartans.

My favorite addition in Reach? Elite slayer. It includes the ability "evade" which allows you to dodge around 5 meters in whatever direction you want, and a few others, but evade is my favorite by far.

The maps are all very large, sadly. I'd say that there are about three Halo 3 maps smaller than the smallest Reach map. Playing with three or two people is a pain, even on the smallest maps.

Despite the few things I disliked, it's a great game overall, a lot of fun to play, and different enough from Halo 3 that it seems like a whole new game.

You can pick it up here: Halo Reach

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Is the government responsible for all financial problems?

So, each president is criticised and applauded for how the economy does during their term, and after it.
Each is also praised for what they've done to fix the country.
Really well written arguments as well. Anyway, all of these people are convinced that some president or the other had a really large role on helping or hurting the economy.

That's wrong. There are so many other factors that make such a claim incorrect. The most basic one is that the president is less powerful than Congress, so they have more power about laws than he does. They arguably also have a comparable amount of power in the executive, simply because the senate approves executive nominations. So, a president will likely do less to affect the economy during his term than his congress.

Secondly, the global market is so large, complex, and powerful that our economy can be hurt or helped dramatically in a short time by conditions completely outside America's and Americans' control. For instance, if China were to have a revolution, we would have severe economic problems since we would lose a source of cheap consumer goods. If somewhere in the middle east has a civil war about their religion or culture, and blows up our oil pipelines, then we suddenly lose a source of transportation and also many consumer goods and much of our electricity. If the euro goes up dramatically, the dollar will be hurt badly (i think). The president can't control these things, and in addition, there are many subtler changes than the ones I described above that can't even be understood very well and that are also outside the president's control.

Thirdly, people (Americans) are very complex. Modern science hasn't done much to improve people's morals or work ethics, in contrast to the immense progress in physical sciences. Whether this is because people are just more complex than other organisms and objects, or because they have souls, free will, or something like that, they can't be understood or manipulated very well. So, if most americans are lazy and incompetent, no amount of government intervention can save the problems that will be caused by their laziness and incompetence. For instance, let's say that everyone manufacturing cars in the U.S wastes 99% of the resources that go into their cars. The auto industry and also most people's daily lives (at least those who rely on cars) would be damaged seriously. The government can't do much to fix that, at least in the short term. A good economy relies on competent, motivated people and there is no effective social science that can create people like that.

Fourthly, the current state of the economy depends on things that happened five, ten and twenty years ago. A recession now doesn't necessarily implicate the current president in whatever happened. If political figures can be blamed for a current recession, we must remember that previous leaders are partly responsible as well.

The economy is very flexible and responds quickly and dynamically to events in America. For instance, the september 11th attacks destabilised the economy badly, and caused a recession. Yet some people blamed Bush for how bad the economy was during his first term.

Of course, we can still talk a little about presidents' affect on the economy. If a president does something that obviously has a specific and observed result, then it's clearly reasonable to say that he caused that result. However, we shouldn't blame presidents for everything that happens in the economy during their term, the way some of the partisan writers above have done.

mental effects of exercise

It's commonly known that exercise helps with many mental disorders and improves one's state of mind. I'm posting to address how it specifically affects me. 

Mild exercise: Anything that does not make me sweat or breathe heavily, anything that takes less than 15 minutes, anything that does not take significant mental or physical effort:

Effects:  Mild exercise barely changes my state of mind at all. Once I have done mild exercise, I feel roughly the same as I did before. 

Moderate exercise: This is something that makes me sweat, breathe heavily, and feel moderate pain. It requires mental and physical effort. 
Effect: After moderate exercise, I feel better, sometimes only slightly, and sometimes nearly euphoric. I also experience a pleasing sensation of soreness in my legs. I don't understand why this is pleasant. 

Intense exercise: Something like a competitive cross country race or hard cardio workout. Requires a large amount of mental effort.  
Effects: After initially feeling sick, I experience strong euphoria, anxiety is gone, and I can't think very clearly or focus. I am indifferent to many things that would normally bother me. 

The euphoria is known to result from the endorphins released in exercise.

I am not sure why mild exercise doesn't make me feel better at all while moderate exercise often makes me feel much better. One possibility is that part of the feeling of well-being I experience comes from toxins being released from my body, and so sweating (not present in mild exercise) is required.

I'm also not sure why the feeling of euphoria is accompanied by a lack of mental competence (lack of focus) after intense exercise. One possible explanation is that since I usually don't eat for a while before intense exercise, my body is low on actual nourishment and is at the same time being flooded by endorphins, so my brain can't function well but still feels good. 

I'm interested in other people's experiences about the mental effects of exercise. Feel free to comment with links to your own posts on this or other informative sites.

Possibly useful resources:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Academic study of literature

Shit's stupid.
Literature teachers acknowledge the subjectivity of their "work". It's commonly understood that there's no definitive meaning to any piece of work, and scholars claim that even the author of a work is not authorized to say what it means. Yet many college students, headed for other majors, are forced to write academic papers claiming something about a book whose meaning is subjective. As pointless as this seems in itself, the real problem is that these papers are then graded. Teachers assign percentages to papers, often without any consistent standard for grading, based on argument, organization, style, and a variety of other factors. Yet teachers have preferences with respect to each of those factors. For instance, a literature teacher in highschool gave me A's consistently, regardless of how much effort I put into work. However, one I had the next year gave me B's fairly often. However, the one who gave me lower grades was generally considered an easier grader. He gave one of my friends much higher grades than the other teacher (who had graded my work highly) had given him. The only possible explanation I can see for this is that each preferred a certain style and was punishing and rewarding students based on it. While style is an important aspect of writing, teachers do not have a consistent, objective standard about it, and that leads to discrepancies such as the one I described. Since they don't have an objective standard, they shouldn't grade work in the same way math and physics work is graded.

Secondly, with the large number of people with strong political and cultural biases, some of them English teachers, personal ideological bias plays a role as well. I have not personally experienced this since most of my teachers have had fairly similar political and cultural views to my own, but many students have complained of unfair treatment because their writing showed certain viewpoints rather than because of defects in their writing. For instance, in many large public universities, English classes are dedicated in part to "cultural awareness" with regard to literature. Students are taught to see famous literary works written hundreds of years ago as feminist manifestos or arguments for other ideas that were nearly nonexistent at the time those works were written. On the other side of the cultural and political spectrum, there are teachers who want a strictly Christian interpretation of many works, some of which were written by people who were not Christian, or only nominally so. Also, if I were to teach a literature class, my instinct would be to give bad grades to students who made any sort of moral claim without explaining the source of whatever truth it had. So, if a student said that Raskolnikov was an evil character, or even had any flaws, and did not explain what moral standard they were using to evaluate his actions, I would be tempted to give them failing grades for making unsupported statements. Yet most people in schools in the United States assume that it is evil to kill people. So, what seems unreasonable to me (unjustified assumptions) is a completely natural and unquestioned assumption for most students. I can't say what I would do in grading such papers, but even if I decided not to punish such papers, I would probably subconsciously give them lower grades. The vast difference between teachers' basic philosophies and worldviews causes papers to often partly be graded based on the similarity between teachers' and students' views rather than the quality of the students' arguments.

I have nothing against writing in itself. At one time, I wanted to be a journalist or columnist, and if I could easily get either of those jobs now, I probably would take them. However, I think that the subjectivity of literary criticism disallows it as something to be graded.

I had a few other arguments, but I have to go to class. May post them later.

I'd like to hear what you think about this...I'm often unsure of my own opinions, simply because I don't get an evaluation of them from others.