Thursday, March 05, 2009


Wondering Aloud

Wondering Aloud

- How is it possible that the comforter is warm, the blanket is warm, and the sheets are freezing? The sheets are under the blanket and comforter. Shouldn't they keep the sheets warm? I'm perplexed.

- A few days ago, some readers called me out on my claim that the average age of cc students is dropping. Apparently some national statistics suggest otherwise. I was surprised, since all of my counterparts across the state report the exact same thing I've seen. A quick search revealed a raft of different statistics, none of which were transparent about their methodology. Our local stats, which fit with my wandering-the-hallways observation, suggest that the average age is closer to 21 than to 29. In discussions at national conferences, cc admins from all over have reported drops in average ages. I'm beginning to suspect that there's a really basic measurement issue here. The national stats that popped up on Google don't describe any on-the-ground reality I've seen. I don't know if it's regional, or if it hinges on the definition of student (credit vs. non-credit would yield two wildly different numbers), or if some of the national numbers are of the “Mikey was killed by pop rocks and Coke” variety, but it's got me wondering. You'd think this would be straightforward, but it doesn't seem to be.

- Surest sign of recession: our Admissions staff reports that it's raining men. Culturally, we aren't entirely prepared for this. Just out of curiosity, over the last week and a half I've been keeping informal track of the gender breakdown at the meetings I've had. In every group of ten or more, the men are outnumbered, usually by at least two to one. At a recent meeting, I raised the question of supports for male students, given their sudden enrollment spike and their historically higher attrition rates, only to be answered by an extended silence. I'm not entirely sure what will happen when the Fall class gets here, but I think we're in for some awkward cultural moments.

- Why do people on shows like “The Bachelor” propose?

- This one's for people who understand economics better than I do, and who are invited to comment. Right now the government is flooding the banks with money, hoping that some of it, somehow, will find its way out of banks in the form of consumer or business loans. It doesn't seem to be working yet, and even optimists seem to think that recovery is some time away. My question: once recovery kicks in, and all that loose money is sloshing around in the system, won't all that loose money be inflationary as all get-out? And if it is, would that be an entirely bad thing? A hearty round of inflation would do wonders to fix all those 'underwater' mortgages and to cheapen the cost of servicing existing debts, since they could be paid off in depreciated dollars. At a certain level, inflation seems more equitable than unemployment, since inflation hits everybody but unemployment focuses most of the pain on the unlucky few. Is this all part of the plan? Anyway, my fearless prediction: once the recovery kicks in, watch gasoline prices skyrocket.

- Why doesn't Apple have a netbook? As a former colleague of mine used to say, this ain't rocket surgery. And don't give me that “the iphone is a netbook” crap. If I can't touch-type, it's not a netbook. An inexpensive, elegantly-designed Apple netbook could blow the doors off (what's left of) the market. In my walking-the-hallways observations, netbooks have turned this year's crop of students away from Apple, which is new.

And now back to the regularly scheduled blog...

John Gruber has some thoughts on why Apple isn't making a netbook, written in his usual pithy style.

And while my knowledge of economics is probably worse than most, my hunch is that crediting the people behind the "flood the zombie banks with cash" plan with having found a sophisticated strategy to help out underwater homeowners is being awfully generous.
I think the answer to the Apple question is pretty straightforward. Apple is a luxury brand. Making a not very good computer would hurt that image.
I propose you play the song "it's raining men" throughout the college. To prepare for the culture shift. Or sheer hilarity, either way.

Silly comment from someone who knows less about economics than you- Flooding the banks with cash won't result get it to other places... banks hold on to money, obviously!
Re: inflation vs. unemployment. I like the idea, but unfortunately even inflation does not hit everyone equitably. Seniors on fixed incomes are hit the most.

Re: are we in for a bout of inflation, it's really not clear. My understanding is that at the moment the bailout is being used to soak up losses that banks incurred by buying up assets at (what turned out to be) excessively high prices. In principle, once we give the banks enough to soak up *all* or most of that bad debt, they should be allowed to resume normal operations. If we keep feeding them after this point, sure, it will lead to inflation. But if we know when to stop, it's not obvious to me that we should see inflation.

Finally, and most importantly. Re: sheets. I presume you heat your home. The warm air warms up the outer layers of your bed. It precisely because the sheets are covered by the blanket and comforter that they are not warm.
I can't help you with recession/inflation, raining men, or bachelors, but I do know that a terrific solution to the sheets problem is an electric mattress pad (like an electric blanket, but built into a mattress pad so it doesn't bend, fold, spindle, or spontaneously combust). Turn it on 5-10 minutes before going to bed, and poof! Warm sheets. Expends a few watts, but as long as you're running it only a few minutes a day, it's very few watts, and the payoff, in colder climes, is totally worth it.

And if Apple would make a not-sucky netbook, I would so buy one in a heartbeat.
"Why are the sheets colder?" is a good question, now that you mention it. It's also the one I'm best qualified to guess at. I'd think its the same reason room-temperature metal feels colder than room-temperature wood. Your body is warmer than room temperature, and when you touch something, heat flows from your body into it. But it doesn't flow very well through thermal insulators like wood and blankets. If your fingers aren't losing much heat to the thing they're touching, it won't feel cold. Plus, what heat you are losing quickly warms up the parts you're actually touching, and then it tends to stay there, in thermal insulators, and those parts stay warm. Big, dense things, even if they are insulators, take longer to warm to your touch. So my theory is that the sheets are perhaps better slightly better heat conductors, and they are certainly in contact with a bigger thermal reservoir -- ie, the bed. Sleeping on the ground is even colder, the Earth being pretty big and dense as well. Just be glad you don't have sheet metal sheets.

(The word verification catchpa is "dement" which I think is the best one I've ever seen.)
Anonymous: If the sheets started out colder than the air, then the blankets would be able to keep them colder than the air for a little while, but not forever. It's like putting your lunch one of those thermal lunch bags. But unlike your lunch, the sheets have not been in a fridge, so why should they start out colder than the surrounding air? But we can test our theories experimentally. If we don't make the bed, do the sheets still feel colder? (Yes, that's why I don't make the bed... An experiment.)
Mike: Many people, me included, are attracted to netbooks because they are extremely portable. Some are also of surprisingly good quality: my computer-geek husband is very favorably impressed with mine. He also tells me that the corporation he works for has just ordered a pallet-load of the model I own for their "road warrior" execs and scientists, all of whom are well paid and not inclined to put up with cheap equipment.

DD is exactly right about the niche: that almost-full-size keyboard combined with a very small footprint is a great combination. I can actually get real work done in a doctor's office, and use the computer on a crowded airplane where the guy in front of me has put his seat back down all the way.

My geek friends are buying netbooks left and right, and my boss' first reaction to seeing mine was to start pricing them out for herself. Cross the netbook platform with Apple's design sense, and you've got the electronics equivalent of crack. They are really missing out on an opportunity.

Oh: and I agree what Anonymous 3:50 said. This is not a sophisticated economic strategy. I don't think even the word "strategy" applies here.
The money "sloshing around" is only a problem if we already have "too much money" in the system.

That will only be a problem if we actually start to have a recovery in the next 3-6 months.

Why this? Well, the stimulus plan is built on a spend-plan of 18 months. There is no stopping it. It's not conditioned on the state of the economy. It's a spend plan.

If we spend it during a recession/depression, then it is stimulating the economy, pushing us to the frontier of the efficiency curve, meaning that it creates what we want (jobs, incomes, etc) without creating what we don't (inflation). Why? There is no competition for the scarce resource, thus no upwards pressure on the price. Market forces with this "slosh" will soak up the excess capacity, thus returning us to prosperity (or something close to it.)

If on the other hand, we have a quick recovery, then we create competition for the (now scarce--as in "currently in use and no longer laying around") resources (labor, capital, materials, etc) and market forces will now work to force competition with price.

"I can work for you at $10 (and thanks for hiring me when I was out of a job) but I can now go work for HER for $12."

So--we want a nice, slow recovery.

Argue at will.
Dictyranger - I think there's a slight terminology problem. netbooks are cheap, usually small, laptops suitable mostly for email and internet browsing. The name comes not from their size, but from the fact that they're designed to practically need the

The still small but more powerful and more expensive laptops are generally described in other terms.

Mac makes fairly small laptops that are still powerful and pricey (The 13" Macbook is about the same size as some laptops that are sold as netbooks). They just don't make netbooks. I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple make a smaller laptop, I just don't see them making a *netbook*.
hmm... lost a word somehow... should say, "The name comes not from their size, but from the fact that they're designed to practically need the internet"
We still have a 12" iBook G4 that continues to do yeoman service for our high-school daughter. It is slightly larger than most netbooks, but it has a much bigger screen, a full-size keyboard, and enough power and speed to run most applications.

Apple still offers the original white plastic 13" MacBook for $1K. It seems like if they wanted to offer a competitor to netbooks, they could dust off and modernize the 12" iBook and sell if for less than that amount.

Yes, netbooks are cool and small and cheap, and we just bought them for a mobile computer lab at our CC. But ask them to do any heavy-duty work and they bog down to molasses!
Ah, time to put on my "economist" hat.

"won't all that loose money be inflationary as all get-out?"

In normal curcumstances, yes. The Federal Reserve has, essentially, been throwing what's called "high-powered money" into the system. It's had no effect because banks (and other financial institutions have been sitting on it. We're in what Keynes called a "liquidity trap"--holding money is as good an asset as holding (for example) savings accounts; either way, you get essentially no interest, and cash is safer.

So what happens whenthings begin to pick up? Just as the Fed threw that high-powered money into the system, it can take it back out, by selling US Treasury bills and bonds to people (interest rates have to get off essentially zero for this to work). Getting the timing right could be tricky.

But, believe me, Bernanke and his colleagues are aware of the issue and they do know what to do about it.
The only point I'll comment on:Our local stats, which fit with my wandering-the-hallways observation, suggest that the average age is closer to 21 than to 29. In discussions at national conferences, cc admins from all over have reported drops in average ages.
I'm surprised your wandering-the-halls observation have supported the theory. The big push where I am (and a whole fresh can o' worms) is to get as many dual-credit students in the pipeline as possible. Nothing pulls your average (mean, median, or mode) age down like multiple sections of 16 and 17 year old high school students getting credit for classes they take at their high school campus while never setting foot on your college campus.
Hi DD, longtime reader. first-time commenter.

Re: the average age enrollmetn stats, it probably depends on whether you use the weighted average (credit hours) or the pure average (of student age). Young students are probably enrolled full time (or nearly fulltime) meaning that they are in the halls a lot and you and your instrcutors see them in classes. Older students are more likely to be taking fewer courses, but if you are counting every student equally, the mean age would rise. additionally, if using mean age, even a small influx of retiring baby boomers would also pull up your average without pulling up other (more relevant) descriptive statistics like median.
Okay, so Apple doesn't have a NetBook, but that doesn't mean you can't run Mac OSX on one.

If you like the compact operation of the NetBook, but want not just the feel of the Mac OS, but an actual OSX installation, look no further than Wired Magazine (or just search Google for "MAC OSX on Netbooks")

Leo LaPorte (@LeoLaporte for you twitter fans) even installed it, said it worked quite well, then over-wrote it with Windows 7.
And while we are at it... I realize DD that you are not saying that your "observations while walking down the halls" are actually valid data-collection techniques, but I would suggest, if one were to actually use that technique, it carries some specific data-collection biases with it.

For instance, are older students as likely to hang around on campus as younger ones? Are there behavior patterns that would make one group more, or less, likely to be counted with an "observation in nature" type of methodology?
Re: "pumping money into the economy."

One (side?) issue that we aren't really discussing publicly.

Where is the money coming from?

Are we just printing it (inflationary!)?

Are we taking it out of the economy (taxes!)?

Are we borrowing it from future generations (national debt!)?

Everyone I'm sure has read the chain-letter-email about the econ prof who has the student over to his house to slop water from the deep end of the pool to the shallow end in order to explain the "stimulus" package.

Well, yes, hte analogy is flawed- but not for hte reasons you think. THe analogy is flawed because

1. The bucket is leaky (government spending is inefficient)
2. The water is not going back into *your* pool; it is going into someone elses pool (transfers out of the US economy)
3. It ain't gonna rain for along time (protectionism ascendant)

So anyhow- if you take $30,000 away from me in taxes, skim $5,000 of the top, then give the $25,000 left over to my negihbor to cover his paper losses because he took out a second on the inflated value of his home so he could go on a cruise . . . or, worse yet, use the $25,000 to subsidize the cost of biodiesel so we can dump it below cost in the European Union (sparking a retaliatory trade war) . . . etc. etc.

what eactly did we just "stimulate?"
8yearoldsdude beat me to my comment. At my college, headcount favors students in their later 20s, but enrollment by units favors the young 'uns. Lies, dammed lies, and statistics, I guess.
Flannel sheets, dude. You just need to get some flannel sheets. When you're huddled down in some high-end flannel sheets, the rest of it just doesn't matter...
Just a quick response to The Professor: when I refer to "our local stats," I'm referring to the data reported by our Institutional Research department. It covers tens of thousands of students over the last five years, and it shows an unambiguous downward trend. The 'walking-around' part is simply a gut-check. My point was that both the data and the gut-check contradict the national data, and my counterparts around the state have reported finding the same.

Yes, it's possible that my state is exceptional, but I'd need to be convinced of that. My suspicion is that the gap is an artifact of the way students are counted. If you only count students in credit-bearing courses, there is No Way In Hell you get anywhere close to 29. If you include all the non-credit workplace stuff, then maybe.

A quick Google search turned up a paper from the 70's called something like 'will the real average age of a cc student please stand up?' According to the abstract, popular myth assumed an average age of around 30, but the real average was 19. That could have been written today.
yacp -- good job on conflating the bank bailout with the stimulus package. You're an inspiration to libertarians everywhere.
As for the original question, you're assuming that the purpose of the bank bailout is not to transfer a lot of money from taxpayers to bank managers (and shareholders). This is a false assumption. Thus, there will be no money to slosh around, because it will already have been long-since distributed.

Geithner is apparently in this to make his buddies rich. I thought we were done with this sort of thing, but Obama just plain picked the wrong guy for Secretary of the Treasury and has literally not had time to discover this to his personal satisfaction.
Not to pick at nits, but ...


"A quick Google search turned up a paper from the 70's called something like 'will the real average age of a cc student please stand up?' According to the abstract, popular myth assumed an average age of around 30, but the real average was 19. That could have been written today."

Then are you really seeing, as you write, "an unambiguous downward trend"?
Our IR data show a 2 to 4 year difference between the Median and the Mean (the mean is higher) and a fairly stable local min for age 21. It would seem that traditional age students come in and transfer or drop out, and then returning students start to come in at 22.

Our data are based on "unduplicated headcount", which means each warm body is counted regardless of course load or type of enrollment.

When I read your comment about netbooks, my first thought was "how could Apple come up with something better than the Kindle?" But clearly I must be behind the times, or ahead of them, to think that students might want one of those for school.

On economics, the Fed allegedly stands ready to react to inflation. But I don't get your comment about "fixed income". Some things are, indeed, fixed, but Social Security is indexed and what you can get out of your investments depends on value and current rate of return - both of which tend to increase if inflation were to rise as a result of an overheated economy.

No sign of that, by the way, partly because the lag time for the Bush infusion of capital into the economy via the banking system has been much too long.
SS is indexed, but pensions are not necessarily such. And if seniors skew toward consuming items inflating faster than average -- health care -- and away from items inflating slower than average -- computers -- they might get burned more by higher general inflation.
as a woman who started out teaching college in my mid-twenties, I have had my share of male-dominated classes. In general they have not been the most positive experiences, so I am not looking forward to that cultural shift. I would love to know what support systems colleges should provide for male students. Women have had to struggle and fight for support system that many colleges eliminate in economic downturns.
---First, Dicytranger is absolutely right whens/he (?) says "the netbook platform with Apple's design sense, and you've got the electronics equivalent of crack." Crack is expensive, and it's called the "Macbook Air." No, seriously, I agree: Apple is missing its moment to shine [even more].
---Second, it's cute how men start to worry when they are "outnumbered" and need a support system, when for centuries, excuse me, millennia women were told they were outnumbered because they just weren't as good. Christ. Get over yourselves. At our cc, big administrative changes are afoot. Several women with much experience are said to have turned down offers of big titles and a place in the debacle, uh, new administration when they asked for concessions, like time to write and publish. Who are the upper admin (all men) now courting ? A young man in political science, two years out, no administrative experience, for dean of a whole school of arts and sciences (you wouldn't believe what they're going to call it, so never mind). Yes, they are "negotiating" with this young man over immediate tenure and "time for scholarship." Please. Stop the nonsense. Now.
---Third: Flannel Sheets, preferably not in plaid. Plaid gives me a headache even imagining it.
Get a mattress pad warmer - best invention ever.

Real practicing economist here, who has written much on money and inflation. Yes, the funds sitting in banks are potentially HIGHLY inflationary, and inflation is a bad thing. It destroys economies from the inside out and, in fact, it does more harm to the poor (who can't protect themselves) than the rich. Anyone who cares about the poor should not be sanguine about inflation.
The 'Fixed income' statement always confounds me, as well.

First, most people on salary are on a 'fixed' income. Nothing guarantees that any firm will give you a pay-raise comparable to the rate of inflation (heck, many got payraises last year that exceeded the COLA rates.)

Second, nothing precludes any healthy individual from working, at any age. Well, except those people like Dean Dad who advocate pushing the old folk into retirement.

Finally, I would think there would be more fear and trepidation for those that are NOT on a 'fixed' income, since their income is by definition at risk. It could be at risk of increasing or decreasing, but it remains at risk.
I actually agree with all of this, except that health concerns are a big deal for folks who have retired.
re: inflation, you are correct, but it's easy to halt inflation by raising interest rates. Right now interest rates are at the zero lower bound, so we need to do crazy spending to stimulate the economy, When things pick back up the fed is free to raise interest rates
Yeah, but that assumes inflation won't be a policy goal -- it may be that in order to adequately handle how bankrupt our major banks are, we will have to inflate our way into giving bondholders a haircut.
I'm surprised when I see the statistics about college campuses being over 50% female. Being in a College of Engineering, the walking around the halls technique would lead me to conclude that a large majority of university students are male. There are possibly 10% women at my end of campus, but I know that the walking around technique doesn't generate a representitive sample so I don't disagree with the statistics.
What a wonderful open thread this has turned out to be.

Anonymous at 4:59 PM asks a very good question while CrankyinAcademe at 5:30 PM (IMNSHO) confuses a real issue with two real problems.

I'd really like to hear DD blog about whether his college has a higher dropout rate for men, and what they are trying to do about it.

The real issue that was raised is that many young men do not function well in the female dominated structure of our K-12 school system. For example, our schools don't have recess in the usual sense of the term, so active boys get labeled ADHD just because they need to get out and play more often than their female teacher thinks they should - if the system even has that sort of break. It gets worse as these students fall behind in skills like reading, resulting in an asymmetry in the dropout rate. Our CC's stats clearly show a big discrepancy between M and F admits, their "prep" placement, and their success rates.

There is also a huge problem at our CC where young men do not accord the same respect to female professors as they do to male ones. I gather this is what Anonymous is talking about. I can get away with disciplinary actions that would get a woman labeled. Does this prejudice on their part inhibit their learning? I have seen cases where I am sure that is the case. They just don't believe it when a woman tells them something is the correct answer. Since the majority of the faculty teaching chemistry at our college are female, yet the majority of our pre-Engineering students are male, this cannot be ignored. Can a support system help remedy this? Can it help young men get over their sexism and, in some instances, racism and hatred of foreigners from certain countries? I don't know.

I do know that the young women in my classes tend to use our support systems to a larger extent than the men do, but there are some counterexamples that puzzle me.

I feel sorry for the innane admin situation CrankyinAcademe discusses, and I'm glad our CC has not had that problem. But having women in a number of key positions at our CC has not helped the M/F asymmetry in the dropout rate of our most at-risk students.
Thank you for all the great posts
so adorable! they do look like
The cantan is great, all the posts here about that pattern have prompted me and it looks like you did a very professional job. thermal pallet cover
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