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Showing posts from March, 2010

How Advanced Degrees Can Close Doors

A friend of the blog emailed this NPR sob story about indebted graduates from elite grad-programs who can't land a job. Have a listen:

Around the 1:15 point in the story, there's a comment about how the woman being interviewed isn't getting any calls or interviews, even for waitressing jobs. To the audience, this is supposed to evoke feelings of recession anxiety, as even the most highly educated individuals from the most elite schools are struggling to land jobs for which virtually no education is required. But this is a flawed understanding of the labor market and it leads to miscalculations about how education and opportunities interact.

When you're a teenager, there are only a limited number of opportunities available. You can scoop ice cream at Cold Stone or make sandwiches at Subway or run the cash register at a McDonalds. When you graduate from high school, you can do that stuff plus more. Maybe you can become assistant manager at a Best Buy or do blue-collar work…

The Tale of Two Suburbs

A friend of the blog tipped me off to this piece of blatant boosterism that appeared in last weekend's Plain Dealer. The column is tough for me to stomach, because, as much as I want to extol the virtues of Cleveland, it seems way over-the-top. It's misleading at best and factually dubious at worst. My research turned up virtually nothing on the author, Lisa Gitlin. What we do know is that she has lived in suburban Washington DC for ten years, even though she much prefers Cleveland.

(from Flickr user bankbryan)

The first obvious question I have is: why is Gitlin living in suburban Washington and not in Cleveland? Maybe there is a perfectly logical explanation. Maybe not. We have no idea. It seems fairly obvious that she has been removed from Cleveland for long enough to have hazy memories of the Cleveland neighborhoods she writes about.

More importantly though, Gitlin's column shines a light on a common problem I've noticed in articles comparing this city vs. that city. P…

A Festival of Films

I've been trying to think about what I want to say about the Cleveland International Film Fest (CIFF) for a few days now. There are a few things I'd like to comment on, and then I'll give you three of my favorite films from the festival, which I would recommend checking out on DVD when they're released. You should also check out my post over at Brewed Fresh Daily about thinking ahead to future film festivals.

Anyone who regularly watches independent movies knows that the trailers always hype the awards these films receive at Sundance and Tribecca and Cannes and other prestigious festivals. I've never been to any of the big-name film fests, but I imagine that they are filled with celebrities and VIPs and people out to 'be seen.' I think what makes the CIFF so awesome is anyone with a desire to see films can be reasonably accommodated. You don't have to know the right people or have a ton of money. If you like film and there is something you really want to…

Who Wants to Live in Manhattan?

Have I mentioned that I think Ryan Avent is one of the most articulate thinkers about urban economics? His recent series of posts about zoning and sprawl are outstanding. Let's begin with this:
What is clear from price data, however, is that there is unmet demand for walkable neighborhoods. Homes in walkable neighborhoods are expensive, and not because those homes cost a lot more to build. Homes in safe walkable neighborhoods are really expensive. And homes in safe, walkable neighborhoods with good schools are mind-blowingly expensive. Some people prefer to live in low-density neighborhoods. Price data suggest that many, many others would love to live in walkable neighborhoods but simply can’t afford to, because it’s difficult to build them.The extreme example of this phenomenon is Manhattan, which is both the most walkable and the most mind-blowingly expensive place in America. And still, plenty of people live there.

(from Flickr user matt.hintsa)

I think if you ask people about why…

More March Madness Math

After last week's post on the ideal March Madness strategy, a reader and I had a pretty in-depth conversation about whether there is any point to make a serious effort in filling out brackets. His argument, and I'm quoting here, is "how many guys follow basketball all season, make intelligent and well-thought out picks, only lose the pool to the dumb blonde who picked based on how pretty she thought the teams' uniforms are." I'm going to be honest, I've witnessed something like this before, but I don't think it refutes my point.

(from Flickr user Mouzzy)

Think about it like this. Imagine that you play in the same NCAA pool every March. The buy-in is $10 and it's winner-take-all and the prize is $100. Now let's say you carefully study teams and statistics and make solid picks. You still lose 8 out of the 10 times. Should you consider this a failure?

Absolutely not. In this scenario, you've paid in a total of $100 ($10 each year) and you've…

The Electric Car Fantasy

I get irritated every time I read about electric cars on a "green" or "socially responsible" blog; like theseposts, among many others, over at GOOD. The whole idea that electric cars can solve our environmental and social problems is fantasy. Do I think of electric vehicles would be better than the current fleet of vehicles on the world's roads? Sure. But they are a long way from the ultimate solution. Before we have conversations about the awesome future EVs might potentially hold, we need to step back and understand exactly what problems these machines would solve and which they would not.

(from Flickr user NA.dir)
Problems EVs might solve:
1. Geopolitical Turmoil - the problem with refining oil into fuel is that many of the oil producers are corporations owned by governments that are hostile to the United States. If we can switch to a fuel produced by domestic corporations or those in friendly countries, it would be a step in the right direction.

2. Pollution an…

The NFL's No-Brainer

NFL owners are currently meeting to discuss a few rule changes, including one to alter the way overtime is played. To me, this seems like a no-brainer. The issue is this:
Currently, the first team to score any points wins. The team that wins the coin toss determining the first offensive possession in overtime now wins the game almost 60 percent of the time, [Rich] McKay said, up from about 50 percent between 1974 and 1993.Considering the popularity of the NFL, the few games each team plays per season and the stakes that ride on each win and loss, it seems unfair to allow outcomes that are heavily influenced by random chance.

(from Flickr user Scott Kinmartin)

Here's how I would design the rule if I had unilateral control of the NFL: the winner of the coin flip would choose either to kick-off or receive. If the team that receives first scores on the first possession, the kick-off team gets exactly one chance to tie or win the game. If neither team scores on their first possession, the…

Yes, I Made a Video Resume

As I've mentioned here before, I am in the process of an entry-level career search. I won't go into the details about what I've been up to, but let's just say that the employment environment is about as rough as every media account and "scariest jobs chart ever" post makes of it. Or to put it another way, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that people are leaving the labor force because they are becoming discouraged, I completely understand why these people are feeling so down.

So I'm stepping up my game. I created a video resume.

Lessons in Business

Earlier today a buddy and I biked over to the West 9th Phoenix Coffee for a chat with Phoenix’s founder, Carl Jones. There were about a dozen or more who turned out for a nice discussion. Many topics were covered, from philosophy to coffee culture to local politics. What I want to focus on is Carl Jones’s take on business, since he is after all, a successful businessman.

When you think about it, the Phoenix Forum itself is something extraordinary. For Carl and Sarah Wilson-Jones (the company's ‘superbarista’ CEO) to take two hours out of their day and invite the community to come and chat is something that many business executives would never dream of doing. As far as the stereotypical business school executive goes, Carl and Sarah probably wouldn’t fit the bill; and that’s something to think about, because even if they don’t play the part, they still are successful business executives.

I asked Carl about the most recent addition to the lineup of television garbage, the show Underco…

Season Ticket to the Bar

A friend of the blog tipped me off to this post by Darren Rovell.
Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar & Grill is opening near Fenway Park next week with a twist. It’s selling season tickets. For a one-time $500 fee, patrons will get a guaranteed table during Red Sox games. A same “ticket” for Patriots games costs $350 and $250 for Celtics games...On the surface, the $500 might seem tough to swallow, but if played right, it could be an incredible value. Consider the fact that the person who buys the season ticket gets a $25 food and beverage credit every time they show up. Watch 20 games at the restaurant and you’ve already made your money back. At first I thought this sounded like a pretty novel and entrepreneurial idea, until I got to the part where Remy's manager is quoted as saying that the program is primarily being marketed to big companies with deep pockets.

(from Flickr user caribb)

The problem I see with Remy's season ticket program is the same problem I see at the ballgames them…

NCAA Game Theory

Last year I downloaded a huge set of data to build a model that would estimate the bracket with the highest probability of winning a March Madness pool. I did OK in the three pools I entered, winning one of them. But I've had some time to rethink the strategy, and incorporate another cross-section of data. Now that the betting is closed for this year's tournament, I'll share a few of my thoughts.

(from Flickr user SD Dirk)

First, picking March Madness winners is at least as much about game theory as it is about raw mathematics. The problem with the bracket that my model tells me has the highest probability of winning is that it picks the same winner that most of the other participants are picking. This year, that's Kansas. When you have the 'favorite' team as the winner in your bracket, that means you need to stay ahead by picking a lot of early games correctly - that's tough because those games have the least predictable outcomes. The better strategy is to s…

The "Busy" Ideology

I've read a couple of very good pieces on the concept of 'busy' over the past week. The first is Scott Berkun's post on the cult of busy; the second is the post that inspired it, Marissa Bracke on why she stopped working with busy people and why busy is a cop-out.

(from Flickr user funkandjazz)

To me, the key point is that 'busy' is a relative, not an absolute state of being. Most people are not inherently busy. People make themselves busy and then they expect their 'busyness' to matter to other people. It doesn't. People typically aren't impressed by busy. People get annoyed by busy.

Is it true that many people have a lot of stuff on their plates? Absolutely! But having a lot on their plate doesn't make them busy. Deciding that they are going to let the things on their plate dominate their life and relationships is what makes people busy.

One of my favorite all-time colleagues made a great point on this topic that I've never forgotten. Nobo…

An Hour With Jim Kunstler

I got a chance to see Jim Kunstler speak at the Cleveland Public Library on Sunday as part of their Writers and Readers series. If you're not familiar with Kunstler, a good place to start would probably be with the TED Talk he gave in 2003. He is outspoken on a lot of topics, ranging from suburban sprawl to peak oil to banking - but it all boils down to the same basic thesis: the lifestyles we are living are not sustainable, and there isn't a magic technology or mysterious 3rd party that will come along and bail us out.

Below is a short recap of Kunstler's talk, organized by topic, for all those interested.

The Smartest Guy Not on Wall Street

Michael Lewis is one of my favorite authors. His books, Liar's Poker, Moneyball, The Blind Side, are all excellent (did you know that Michael Lewis wrote The Blind Side? Yeah, he did - and it's about a thousand times better than the movie version of the story).

Anyway, Lewis was on 60 Minutes yesterday promoting his new book, which I plan to read in the near future. It's a nice piece. Here is part 1:

And part 2:

Chipping In for Film Fest Parking

I love the Cleveland Film Fest. Every March dozens of excellent films are shown during a ten day period in downtown Cleveland. It's also a bit expensive for those of us on a budget. Non-members pay $12 per film this year - that's a 33% premium over the regular ticket price at a Cleveland Cinemas theater, and film fest organizers are always quick to remind everyone that, even at $12, tickets are heavily subsidized by the corporate sponsors.

(from Flickr user Jess J)

But hey, don't worry, at least you won't have to pay to park your car at Tower City, where all-day parking can cost up to 12 dollars during the week and 6 bucks on the weekend. If you're attending the film fest, it's free. They think it's so important that they even put it in all caps on the website - FREE PARKING.

Except that it isn't actually free. Somebody is paying. We're all paying, by forking over $12 for a movie ticket instead of less. The corporate sponsors are paying. If you've …

Coffee Snobbery

The New York Times dining section has an outstanding article about coffee in the big apple. Even if you're not a New-Yorker, it's worth a read.

(from Flickr user indieink)

It's worth putting into perspective, though. The author names about 15 cafes in Manhattan and Brooklyn that serve either outstanding or notably good coffee. But for every one of those cafes, there are hundreds of Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Tim Hortons, McDonalds, and other run-of-the-mill, mediocre places to get your caffeine fix.

So sure, New York is a coffee town, but probably upwards of 90% of the coffee sales still come from the same handful of big corporate fast-food chains.

On a related note, if I ever acquire the skills necessary to develop a smartphone app, my app will be called "Coffee Snobs" and will be a directory of snob-approved coffee shops in all the big American cities. Why? Because I find it very frustrating to travel to a foreign city and have to drink a bad cup off coffee because …

The Magic of Bicycling

The weather has finally gotten to the point where I can make the 8-mile bike ride to work in the morning. On Monday it was still pretty cold, so there weren't many other bicyclists out. Today, it was much warmer, so there were quite a few other bikes on the road.

(from Flickr user ebis50)

I pulled up next to a fellow bicyclist in University Circle. "Good morning," he said.

"Hello," I responded, "how are you today?"

"Good. This weather is great," he said.

The light turned green and we both rode away. Sure, this was pretty much pointless banter. No, we are not best friends. Something similar happened again about a mile down the street. Another guy on a bike said hello as we were passing. What's noteworthy is that this sort of interaction never happens between motorists, and only rarely between riders on public transit.

Teenagers in Suburbia

This is a comment that a friend of the blog emailed to me yesterday:
Here's something I noticed on Saturday night: I stopped at the Westlake Giant Eagle at around 9:30pm and found tons of teenagers just hanging out and walking around the store. Is that some new trend I've been missing out on?I can't comment specifically on this being a trend, as I do not spend much time in suburban supermarkets. I do, however, have a theory about teenage behavior in suburbia.

(from Flickr user Malingering)

The turning point for most American teenagers is when they turn 16 and get a drivers license and their own car. There's some evidence that fewer teens are driving or getting licenses once they turn 16. Some are telling the "technology" narrative, that teens don't need to hang out in big box parking lots anymore because they can hang out on Facebook. I think it's even simpler than that.

Driving is expensive. Almost no 16 year-old teen can afford it on his own. In suburbi…

The Things We Didn't Know

I graduated from high school in the spring of 2005. In the months prior to commencement, I applied to five universities, got accepted at three, rejected at two, and ultimately transferred to and will graduate from a college I never imagined attending. I can't help but feel like I approached the undergrad admission process all wrong. And of this is on top of the fact that I went to a private high school that employed a half dozen "college counselors" whose sole job was to ensure that students got into the universities that were worth getting into. At least that's what we were lead to believe.

Knowing what I do now, I wish there were a few things I had considered back then.

Don't plan for the best
In 2005 the economy was cruising along just fine. Unemployment wasn't much of a concern. The toughest decision for most college grads was which of multiple job offers to accept. It was assumed, for the most part, that the same environment would exist by the time it was m…

Renegade Parking

I snapped this photo last Friday, around 2:00 in the afternoon.

Anyone who has lived, worked, or visited Cleveland Heights, Ohio will probably tell you that the local police are notorious for writing tickets for parking violations. Sure, it's ironic to see a police car illegally parked in a city that has zero-tolerance for illegal parking. Any motorist who has been ticketed for an expired meter violation might be justifiably upset; but you don't have to be a motorist to find this sort of behavior unacceptable.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are really a number of specific reasons why having police that don't park legally is bad for everybody.

1) It makes drivers feel victimized. How would you like to be a visitor in Cleveland Heights and get a parking ticket because you didn't feed your meter, only to walk a block down the street and find the police car of the officer who ticketed you parked at an expired meter? You'd probably be pretty pi…

Not My Lifestyle Kind of Center

Earlier this week I took my bike and rode over to Legacy Village, one of two "lifestyle centers" in suburban Cleveland. I've been to Legacy Village before. I don't visit often. Every previous visit I made, I came and went like 99% of the visitors: by driving in a car and parking in the ginormous "free" surface parking lot. Only after I made a trip in a way the designers didn't intend it to be made did I get a perspective on why these "lifestyle centers" are truly so awful.

(from Flickr user parislemon)

Legacy Village is the kind of place Jim Kunstler would probably call a "cartoon architecture". It's a fantasy of an idealized "village". Nobody actually lives there. There really aren't many local businesses. When you think about it, everything is kind of foreign. The people live elsewhere. The businesses live elsewhere. Every night the little village shuts and reopens again the next morning.

There are two primary entran…

Transportation and Freedom of Choice

This post on public transit by Yglesias makes many good points, including a response to the argument that public transit is a socialist ploy and infringement on liberty:
But of course [conservatives] have nothing to say about genuine infringements of liberty like minimum parking requirements, maximum lot occupancy rules, building height limits, prohibitions on accessory dwellings, etc. that are mainstays of America’s centrally planned suburbs. That’s because to them what really matters isn’t socialism or liberty (certainly nobody who cares about liberty could be as enthusiastic about torture as National Review writers are) but Americanness.I generally agree, but see it a bit differently. When George Will writes that Ray LaHood is the "Secretary of Behavior Modification," he gets away with it because good mass transit, mixed use developments, bicycle infrastructure, etc. are things that most American metropolitan areas do not have. If a city builds awesome public transit, and …

The Customer Loyalty Game

I'm very loyal to my favorite brands. I buy both my morning cup of joe and my beans at Phoenix Coffee. I recommend a Great Lakes beer whenever someone ask for a tip on a microbrew. When I travel it's almost always on Southwest Airlines (I also tip my hat to JetBlue, but without service to Cleveland, I don't get many opportunities to travel with them). When I visit a business I don't like I don't demand a refund or write a complaint to the manager or go and whine on a blog (although I do occasionally write reviews on Yelp); I simply stop patronizing the business. When I find a business I like, I give them my business and I tell my friends to give them their business too.

Not everyone behaves like this. When friends tell me about a business trip or a vacation, I usually ask what airline they flew on. The answer is often, "I don't remember. Whoever was the cheapest."

I was once an avid reader of The Consumerist blog, but I've since become disgusted wit…

A Winter of Bicycling Fun

Between December 1st and yesterday, I biked 285 miles (which I tracked using the awesome website dailymile). Almost all of the riding came in the form of simple "around town" trips in Cleveland. This was the first winter that I tried it. You can call me crazy, just about everyone else has.

(from Flickr user debs-eye)

It turned out to be much less physically difficult than I expected; and really put the "it's impossible to ride a bike in Cleveland in winter because it's so cold/snowy" argument to shame (at least in my mind).

Now, I know that many could leave comments here and say, "dude, it is impossible for me for me to bike in the winter. You only live a mile and a half from school and you took public transportation to work. I don't have those options where I live." Statements like that remind me about the goals of a decent urban environment. It isn't that biking was my only option for getting to class; or that public transportation was my o…