Free-market education isn’t the way to go

February 23, 2017

Dismal Results From Vouchers Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins

The belief that free-market improves structures with societal underpinnings is just a broken idea.

Want to fix education?  Invest in teachers.  Simple things like:  enough resources that teachers don’t have to go to Staples and pay for supplies with their own money. Student loan forgiveness.  Block grants to states to distribute to the most depressed school districts to increase salaries and attract better teachers.

Maybe here is where a tax credit would be nice though that is incredibly complex to administer.

Invest less in expensive “Smart Boards” and put iPads into the hands of students.  Heck, let them play with Raspberry Pi’s.  We are a technology-based economy and every student should have a basic understanding of computers. It has become as basic as math (which we seem to be lousy at teaching as well)!


Support the Fourth Estate

February 18, 2017

In Trump Era, Censorship may start in the Newsroom

I’ve mentioned this before.  The Press is critical in the counter-balance of falsehood, mistakes, outright lies not only of the Trump administration but of the entire political establishment.  It is critically important that the public support the press!

It is important when the press is persecuted (e.g., A Jewish Reporter Got to Ask Trump a Question. It didn’t go well.) that established press, and social media, cry out about the injustice.

We must beware of the warping of the role of the press (Trump Calls the News Media the ‘Enemy of the American People’).

Orwell’s 1984 is looking very prescient.


Trump may go “nuclear”

February 2, 2017

Trump may go Nuclear.

Isn’t this the truth.  The feeling I have is that Trump’s role is less about “draining the swamp” than “blowing up the government.”

It will be an interesting experiment.  How much does the disruption of government matter?  Where will America be in four years?  How irreversible will the changes be?

In some sense I think Trump will do two things that are positive:

  1. Spur people to become active in America and express themselves, hopefully more positively than negatively.  I hope people will step into the widening chasm being opened by Trump to shore up the values that make our lives worthwhile.
  2. Prove that our democracy really is resilient.  This may take a long time.  At this point the government seems to be completely disconnected with the people it should most protect.

Don’t get me wrong, I think we are in for some real setbacks.  Some of these setbacks are going to take a long time to recover.  I worry about Healthcare, but even more so, I worry about the environment.  Nature is resilient but on more geological time frames and without any regard about human aesthetics.  If the world were to smolder and simmer, Nature would eventually adapt and evolve, It might not become a very pleasant place for us, but it might be very pleasant for creatures like cockroaches.   I’d hate that to be our legacy to our grandchildren.

How do you fight Trump!

January 30, 2017

I struggle with how to respond to the Trump presidency. Here are my current thoughts:

1. Fight policy. Fight with facts. Don’t make it personal.
2. Subscribe to a reputable newspaper. Examples: NYTimes, Boston Globe, LA Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribute, The Guardian.

Why subscribe to a newspaper? Because we need the fourth estate to expose lies, to correct falsehoods, and to do this relentlessly.

3. Communicate with your representatives. They are being swamped right now so don’t expect a response. You will be part of a statistic that will grow and will be heard in aggregate.

4. I’m not sure where to send money. Some ideas: Bernie’s Revolution. The Democrats. But perhaps organizations on the ground such as the ACLU, the SPLC, Doctors without Borders, etc.

5. Responding to the imminent demise of Obamacare is likely to turn this into a battle with the States. It is likely that part of the replacement of the ACA will be something like a block grant to be administered by the states. We need to push states to prepared for universal coverage.

That’s a quick thought…more quick thoughts later. Don’t hesitate to reply. I had to turn on monitoring to avoid endless spam but I will happily allow any replies that are at least close to appropriate.

Mr Trump should plead for Forgiveness.

January 29, 2017

American Commando Killed: Trumps first casualty

Trump believes he “knows more than generals.” I certainly hope he personally explains the death of this soldier to his parents and other loved ones.

We have a president that not only expresses himself in 140 character quips, but apparently actually thinks in snippets.

Clearly the buffoonery of the closing of US borders to seven countries (countries that are business associates of Trump conveniently omitted) is another indication of actions that are simply not well thought out (see US Senate response).

It is absolutely critical this course of thought (let alone action) be checked by the other branches of government. We are careening down a road that may have irreparable consequences. Just ask this soldiers parents.

Congratulations IBM on Wasting Watson

May 3, 2016

Here are three of the publicized uses of Watson (2,880 POWER7 processor threads and 16 terabytes of RAM — not quite a super computer such as IBM’s BlueGene but millions of dollars of hardware nevertheless):

A dress that lights up based on social network feedback

Oil Company defends against anti-fracking tweeting

And let’s not forget:

Customized granola

Honestly, IBM, couldn’t you leverage this platform for something more significant?  You got off to such a great start with clinical decision support.  Perhaps meaningful problems need more than “Human-like interaction” and “Big Data analysis”.



My Weight Loss

February 6, 2016

In the past 9 months, I’ve managed to lose 30 pounds and have kept it off.  I was motivated by a couple of things:

  1. A guy at work who works in India and sees me relatively infrequently said, in not so many words, I looked like I had put on weight.
  2. I was running out of clothes to wear.
  3. I was diagnosed with type-II diabetes.

The third one was the kicker.  Once you look into diabetes you realize how bad it can be:  blindness, stroke, circulation problems leading to amputation, etc.  Being overweight was a major contributor.

So I began a weight loss program of my own design.  It is actually pretty simple.

Rule #1:  Take in fewer calories than you burn.  This is a basic statement like saying you need to know F=ma to get to the moon.  Is is necessary but far from sufficient to succeed. I keep a mental note of my calorie intake per day and adjust as necessary.

Rule #2: Make time to take care of myself.  I dedicate 1/2 hour every morning to walk on a treadmill.  I typically do this early in the morning. I considered it a way to justify having breakfast.

Rule #3: I weigh myself every day.  If I am up a little, then I eat a little less for the day.

I changed what I ate, partly because of the type II diabetes:

— cut carbs
— increase fruit
— increase protein
— increase sugar-free, no-added-sugar, reduced-sugar “stuff”

You must pay attention to labels.  For example, most flavored yogurt has a lot of sugar.

Analyze your food triggers.  I found that stress at work made me want to eat.  It is not that I don’t eat; but I recognize the trigger and maybe will eat an apple or a large glass of water.

Recognize that your relationship with food is going to change.  There’s an old story about an actor talking with Cary Grant and Cary told him to not get involved with food to keep yourself in shape.  In my case, I try not to eat what I don’t enjoy and then eat less of what I do enjoy.  I think that has to become pretty pervasive.

I also take Metformin for my diabetes.  This has the side effect of helping in controlling hunger.  In my case, metformin has some unpleasant side effects (gas) and if I didn’t need it for my diabetes I certainly wouldn’t take it.

We’ll see how long I can keep this going.  I certainly feel better.   I find that my average speed walking on the treadmill has increased.  I’m hoping that my metabolism is improving.

There are also different plateaus.  I’m at 185 pounds and I definitely have to work to maintain that.  I would like to lose 10 more pounds but it will require a redoubling of my efforts.  I want to stay stable for a while.

Let’s see where we are a year from now.




A Commencement Comment

January 6, 2016

I sometimes ask myself:  If I could provide advice to recent graduates of my alma mater (RPI), what would I say?

Here is my comment:

It is good to have the freedom to do lots of different things. Being the master of your own time is good.

Being Rich allows this.

In some ways, being somewhat poor, in that you don’t have stuff tying you to a place, job, etc. that you don’t like, allows this.

Being affluent is a problem. Once you are affluent, you develop requirements for income.  You’re probably not rich enough to do just what you want. But you are not poor enough to walk away.

This means that if you are not happy doing what you want to do you may be stuck since you have a lifestyle that requires that you continue what you are doing.

I meet a lot of people in this situation.  I certainly have been in that situation at times in my life.

It is quite a challenge.

Another point:  Be kind.  Be measured by how you treat people that are “lesser.”  This doesn’t mean you have to not demand excellence from people around you, but being kind to these same people is not excluded.

That’s it.  Those are my two comments.  Maybe not quite “ra-ra” but deliberately so.



Where TV Technology is Going

September 29, 2015

Where is TV going?   That is a billion(s) dollar question.

Sure TV’s are going to 4K (and even 8K … see   But that is not the big game changer.

The big game changer is the inevitable convergence of the technology that brings you NetFlix and the technology that brings you “normal” TV.

If you have cable TV and Internet, you have both TV and IP networking coming over the same wire.  Both carry data packets. Cable TV is organized as MPEG2 transport streams.  The network is tightly controlled to ensure that each packet is delivered in time for a correctly rendered picture (every now and then you might notice blocks appearing on the screen when the packets are slightly disrupted). The data only travels in one direction: from cable “head end” to your cable set top box where it is decoded and converted to a format for your TV.  You tune into a channel and receive around 10 Mbps for that channel (it’s more complex than that but for our purposes it is good enough) and you are sort of guaranteed to get this bandwidth.

The IP network is much different. It carries packets in both directions.  There is no guarantee that you will get packets at any given rate.  However, you can get packets from anywhere in the internet (unlike the TV side of the network which allows you to get content from a limited number of channels).  The way video is delivered is more complex because of this.  Bits need to be buffered to ride through the vagaries of IP delays and incompatibility.  Sometimes you can get 10 Mbps, sometimes you can’t.

To handle this, a lot of work has been put into what is called Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) delivery.  Without going into a lot of tedious technical detail, ABR is what allows NetFlix and YouTube and Hulu to deliver high def video to millions of viewers.

It is rapidly getting to the point that, given equivalent bandwidth to what is available for cable TV that a standard IP connection would be capable of delivering all the content that you see with cable TV.  Why is this important?  It enables many things:

  1. Infinite channels
  2. One infrastructure for the cable system (to be technical: DOCSIS without QAM).
  3. TV Guide is a web site
  4. TV Everywhere by default
  5. More personalized behavior

While some of these benefits may seem esoteric, it is likely that within 10 years this conversion will be well underway.  This goes beyond “IPTV” which is basically no different in behavior to “normal” cable TV.   It will make YouTube and NetFlix truly peers of CBS and HBO.  That is a huge difference in the market place.  It changes the way we think about content, how advertisers place ads (you may see a very different ad than your neighbor), and who controls access to the content.

Are there technical hurdles?  Yes!  If Netflix is consuming 30% of all North American bandwidth on the Internet, how will we handle 100’s of Netflix and an order of magnitude more viewers over the Internet?  It will fundamentally change how we manage networks, distribute content, and manage access rights.

But the course is inevitable.

My Short Experience With Project Fi — or — The Value of Customer Service

August 15, 2015

Here is a note I sent to the folks at Project Fi at Google.  I am not criticizing the Project Fi technology (though in my situation it didn’t really work), but rather the way they mishandled customer service.  For one of the richest companies in the world, the investment in customer service seems embarrassingly poor.


Now that my cancellation with Project Fi is complete, I would like to share some feedback.

1. For the life of me I can’t understand why I couldn’t get a payment plan for the phone. With a FICO score of 815 from Experian, a single late payment in 2013, and a history of paying off homes, cars, and consumer credit, this still has me flummoxed.

2. If you look at my history, it took forever to get my cancellation processed. There was confusion over whether my phone number could be reverted back to Google Voice. I spoke to a number of customer service people and had the case upgraded to a manager, Rosanne. Rosanne told me she would complete my cancellation process and transfer my phone number back to Google Voice and contact me when this was complete.

4. Four days later I returned to my Fi account to see it was active again. I resumed trying to Cancel it, found that the transfer to Google Voice option was now available, and I completed the cancellation. Rosanne never contacted me, I completed the transaction instead of customer service, and as far as I could tell there would be no follow-up from customer service.

5. At this point I still couldn’t return the phone to get credit for it. I had to ask for the mailing label and instructions to return the phone. Since I was out $500 for the phone (see #1), this was reasonably important.

6. I returned the phone, tracked its progress myself, and then monitored my credit card to see when the refund had been made. Since #2 I have not had any contact with Project Fi service.

Let me contrast this with two other service encounters I have had.

1. Renting books from Amazon. I rent the book, I received status on my order. I use the book. As my rental term nears expiration I receive instructions on how to return the book with mailing labels, etc. I drop off the book and receive E-mail that Amazon sees that I have dropped off the book and will let me know when they receive it (they track the return label automatically). I have assurance that my return is being handled, that Amazon is aware of it, and that all billing is satisfied. Keeping me informed gives me peace of mind and builds trust in the company to use them again.

2. Warranty work at Apple. My son has a problem with the graphics processor on his MacBook. It is not an uncommon problem. The folks at the Genius bar assess the problem, we note that there is a hairline fracture at the side of the screen, and the computer is sent off for repairs. The service center calls and says: You need a new screen. We exchange photos of the screen before and after shipping, the service center checks, in real time while talking with me, with the representative at the Genius Bar, and Apple agrees that the screen was further damaged in transit and replaces it free of charge. The Free of Charge was great, but it was the diligent communication with me that made the greatest difference.

Project Fi has some interesting technology (though that technology really didn’t work for my environment). But a cell phone provider is much more in the service business than the technology business. Being in the service business means a commitment to customer communication and proactive actions. You need to up your game significantly if you are going to be a serious player in this space or end up as an “experiment” that ultimately fails and is retired.


— Michael Kilian