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Today was the National Geographic State Geography Bee, and for the third year in a row, Matthew got to go. Even getting to the state bee itself is quite an accomplishment as it means you’ve won the competition at your middle school, then taken the test that all school winners take, and are selected as one of the top 100 kids in the state. Matthew has always been a huge fan of geography, and it’s been extremely gratifying to see him have success in this.
The first part of the state competition is the preliminaries where each contestant is asked 8 questions. The top 10 kids move on to the finals with a tie-breaker round used if necessary to get to the 10. This year, Matthew was one of 12 kids who got all eight of their preliminary round questions correct, so he went into the tie-breaker round. Although this was the second year in a row where it had happened, my understanding is that it’s more common that the tie breaker round consists of kids who got 7 of 8, with fewer than 10 kids typically getting all 8 right.
Matthew survived the tie-breaker round, getting both questions correct and moved on to the finals just as he had last year. Once there, his goal was just to improve on his position of last year (tied for fifth), and he did just that – this year tying for fourth in the state. Needless to say, we’re very proud of him.
The final round moved fast enough that I wasn’t able to get down all of Matthew’s questions, but I did manage to write down the ones he faced in the preliminaries and tie breaker round. So, how many would you have gotten right?
1. Death Valley is located on border between California and which other state – Nevada or Illinois?
2. Which city is more populous – Indianapolis or Chicago?
3. Which country experiences colder winters – Cambodia or Mongolia.
4. Which island country is not in the Pacific – Samoa, Vanuatu, or Mauritius?
5. In October 2012, archeologists announced the discovery of Viking artifacts such as yarn and wet stones on Baffin Island in what North American country?
6. The syncretic religion of Santeria, also known as Regla de Ocha developed in this, the largest of the countries in the Greater Antilles. Name it.
7. From the 16th to the 18th century, Poland was united with what present day country whose capital city is Vilnius?
8. This capital city is the legislative capital and seat of parliament for South Africa and is overlooks the Table Bay. Name it.
And here are the tie breaker questions:
1. The Seikan Tunnel connects Hokkaido and Honshu in what island country?
2. Name the southernmost country in the Balkan Peninsula
As a parent, you quickly learn that your kids are going to surprise you more often than you think. You just hope that there are more positive surprises than negative ones. We had a positive one recently that I thought I’d share.
Over the last couple of years, our son and daughter have become fans of several podcasts. In particular, they really love The Incomparable and on the 5by5 podcast network and the MacWorld podcast – especially the Pundit Showdown episodes which they find hilarious. I can’t tell you how many times they’ve listened to the Star Wars episodes of the former, but they practically have them memorized.
About a week ago, my wife and I went out to dinner. When we got home, the kids told us they had recorded their own podcast episode. It’s in the style of The Incomparable where they completely dissect The Princess Bride. Nobody but their parents will likely listen to the whole thing, but it just tickled me to see how they imitated something they love.
Sometimes, you see a prayer that just speaks to how you’re feeling. At church today, this one seemed to have been written with me in mind:
You asked for my hands, that you might use them for your purpose.
I gave them for a moment, but withdrew them, for the work was hard.
You asked for my mouth to speak against injustice.
I gave you a whisper that I might not be accused.
You asked for my eyes to see the pain of poverty.
I closed them, for I did not want to see.
You asked for my life, that you might work through me.
I gave a small part that I might not get too involved.
Lord, forgive my calculated efforts to serve you-
only when it is convenient for me to do so,
only when in those places where it is safe to do so,
and only with those who make it easy to do so.
Father, forgive me, renew me, send me out, as a usable instrument,
That I might take seriously the meaning of your cross.
My lovely wife Julie discovered this recipe a few years ago and it’s been a family (and friend) favorite ever since. Based just on the title, it’s hard to believe that these could taste as good as they do. But taste good they most certainly do. And they’re very easy to make.
* 1 Family sized bag of Frito’s Scoops
* 1/2 cup light corn syrup
* 1/2 cup sugar (or Splenda)
* 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (Jif is our favorite)
1. Lay Fritos out on wax paper bowl side up
2. Combine corn syrup and sugar in a pan and bring to a boil.
3. As soon as the boiling begins, remove from heat and stir in peanut butter
4. Drizzle on top of Fritos using a pasta utensil or slotted spoon
We frequently double the above recipe if we’re sharing beyond the family, but the above would serve 8-10 people.
The news of the week (Texas A&M leaving the Big 12 for the SEC) seems to have everyone convinced that we’re just a short time away from having 4 super conferences of 16 teams each. And I fear that the conventional wisdom is right on this one. I fear it because it is madness.
Consider a hypothetical 16 team Big Ten that adds Missouri, Pittsburgh, Texas, and Rutgers. The league would be split into two 8 team divisions with the conference winner determined by a championship game. So far, so good. But think about the schedule for a bit – especially if Ohio State and Michigan are kept in separate divisions (itself a form a madness, but that’s another post). Every year, Ohio State would almost certainly play the other 7 teams in it’s division plus maintain the guaranteed matchup with Michigan. That’s 8 games from your 12 game schedule.
What do you do with the other 4 games? Today, everyone plays 4 non-conference games per year. But if that holds, or even if it’s reduced to a mere 3 non-conference games, then there will be teams in Ohio State’s conference that it never plays or only plays home-and-home against once every decade and a half or so (conference schedules are usually set 2 years at a time where year 2 flips the home/away designation of year 1). What’s the point of having Michigan State and Ohio State in the same conference if they almost never play each other? **UPDATE – it occurs to me that if you have 3 non-conference games per year, and given OSU’s habit of scheduling in-state schools, you might see Ohio State playing Akron more frequently than it does a conference opponent**
We could solve this particular problem by having even more conference games, but that too is a problem on two fronts. First, it would be an economic hit to the powerful schools like Ohio State that have gotten used to having at least 7 home games per year. Second, it would all but eliminate the marquee non-conference match ups that are such a perfect balance to the regional conference action. Say goodbye to Ohio State taking on Texas, Miami, USC, and the like. And that would be a shame.
The only option left is to increase the number of games in the schedule. If you had 13 or 14 games per year, you’d still be able to have a good blend of conference and non-conference action. But would the university presidents ever agree to this? The cynic in me says they might, but that would go against most of what they’ve said about protecting the integrity of the student athlete.
I’m not sure I see a way out of this. I’m hoping the Big Ten is smart enough to stay at its current 12 teams. Even that feels a bit large to me, but I vastly prefer it to the madness that would be a 16 team league.
The talk of the day seems to be about the latest jobs report from the Government Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows a worrying employment situation in the US. In short, though total employment grew by 18000 jobs, that’s nowhere near enough to keep up with population growth and the net result was a rise in overall unemployment. The political classes are going to spin this as is their custom. But this caught my eye:
I’d actually argue that creating jobs – at least in the short term – is almost by definition one thing that big government is good at. The Republican charge of “big government” liberalism is as old as Republicanism itself of course, but is it true in the current situation? This is an answerable question. The BLS allows you pull the stats for government employment over time. And here’s a chart from that data:
In short – government is getting smaller under Obama, not larger. At least as measured in terms of employment.
Throughout the course of a life and career, everyone goes through many phases. Sometimes, the transitions can only be recognized with the benefit of hindsight – like the growing realization that the first 35 years of your life spent without the benefit of hot sauce was a missed opportunity. In other cases, you realize what’s going on as it’s happening. Such is true with me now.
For the last few years, I’ve worked full time trying to build Resort Gems into a growth site. Although that work is not completely done, the “combat operations” portion is drawing to a close for me. But, starting on August 15, I’ll be moving on and going to work for Edgecase.
I have long admired Edgecase as a company. I became aware of the company in late 2007 while still working at AOL. A small group of artisans working in Columbus on the hottest new subfield of web application development – Ruby on Rails. For the last few years, it’s been a joy to work alongside them – first in a client/vendor relationship and later as people sharing the same office (our company has sublet space from them at the coolest office building in Columbus). Now it will be my supreme pleasure to join them and work alongside a world class team a colleagues.
I have been absolutely blessed in my career to have several great jobs – all of which I have loved (with the possible exception of my newspaper route when I was 14). My time with VacationView will remain among the best professional experiences I could possibly hope for. But, for now, it’s time to move on to the next chapter.
There’s been an interesting discussion on the Columbus Ruby Brigade mailing list the last few days regarding the decision by the organizers of the Red Dirt Ruby Conference to make the session videos available for sale. Some were upset with the way the announcement itself was made (by not making clear that a cost was involved) while most seen to agree that this type of offer is a nice technique to help cover the costs of the conference. I tweeted that I thought this was a smart move. Nonetheless I’ve decided that I won’t be purchasing the videos given the current terms and figured I’d explain why just in case any of the conference organizers care to receive the feedback.
The offer essentially boils down to:
- $99 price tag
- streaming only
- limited time access (only until June 2012)
- high-quality videos
- access to all videos for this year and last year
While the final two points are positive, the first three are problematic from my perspective. Let’s start with the price which seems awfully high to me. I’m not afraid to pay for content in general or even videos in particular. In fact, this is one of my favorite ways to learn. I’m a paid subscriber to both Screencasts Online and Gary Bernhardt’s excellent Destroy All Software services. And over the last several years, I’ve bought 24 different Peepcode episodes. As I said, I like this stuff. But $99 is very expensive for what you get. I suspect the conference organizers may have arrived at the price by trying to think what would be fair for the advertised 30 hours of video. And if people were to in fact watch all 30 hours, then the price seems eminently fair. But that doesn’t seem very realistic to me. Who has that kind of time? There are about 4-5 sessions in the group that I’d absolutely love to see, and another 3-4 that look interesting enough from the title that I’d at least give them a try. All told, I’m guessing that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 hours of content that has me excited enough to pay for access to. I suspect I’m not atypical in this regard. But that works out to about $16/hour.
Consider that price compared to the market price. Geoffrey recently(?) raised Peepcode prices from $9/episode to $12/episode. And each episode is typically 70-80 minutes in length. Gary puts out 4 new Destroy All Software shows which total about 80 minutes for $9/month. Don McAllister charges $19/month initially and then lowers the price dramatically to $25 for 6 months. Don provides about 3 hours per month for that. Confreaks provides conference videos for free (to viewers). When compared to this, my anticipated utility from the Red Dirt videos seems very pricy. There are many different ways to decide how to price your product, but at a minimum, you must not exceed the price that people are willing to pay. But unfortunately, that’s the case here – at least for me.
Finally, unlike all of the other competitors I’ve mentioned here, only Red Dirt Ruby conference limits my access to the videos – making them less useful. You can’t watch them on a plane. You can’t watch them 15 months from now. All of these are potentially justifiable business decisions on their part (i.e. to cut down on piracy), but they need to recognize that these choices make the videos less convenient than what is standard, not more (as their website seems to imply). This reduction in value should be accompanied by a comparatively lower price, but we’ve already seen that this is not the case.
As I mentioned earlier, I do believe that the organizers for the conference are on the right track here. It’s impractical for me to attend many conferences. And while the best part of attending a conference comes from what happens outside the sessions, it’s nice to be able to learn from experts. I wish them well and hope that the lessons learned from this and similar efforts make conference video access a regular option (but for a reasonable price).
It pains me to say this, because I really do like Jim Tressel, but I think last night went very poorly for OSU and it will wear even worse with the passage of time. To wit:
- the crack by Gordon Gee that he was happy Tressel didn’t fire him was absolutely bone-headed. I hope he regretted it the moment he said it because the last thing we needed was the president of the university reinforcing the idea that the head football coach runs the place. It was especially egregious, given that last night was supposed to be some kind of public reprimand.
- the self-imposed punishment feels entirely inadequate to me. At a minimum, the optics of him serving 2 games while his players serve 5 is awful. Yes, the violations are different and potentially warrant different sanctions, but (a) Tressel should be held to a higher standard and (b) Tressel’s crimes are worse than the players IMO. I personally think the floor for the punishment should have been 5 games plus vacating all 2010 wins (with the possible exception of the Sugar Bowl).
- part of the sanctions were a public apology from Tressel. I thought he was short on contrition last night. The opening stuff about contrasting the emails he got this time with the ones he gets for hospital visits and the like felt very self-serving to me. He didn’t use the word “sorry” or “apologize” in his remarks (he might have in response to a question) and the closest he came to actually apologizing came late with this bit:
I’m disappointed that this happened at all. I take my responsibility
for what we do at Ohio State seriously. And for the game of football.
And I plan to grow form this, and I’m sincerely saddened by the fact
that I let some people down and didn’t do things as well as I could
possibly do. I am pleased that the young people involved are safe.
They’re not involved in any criminal activity. They’re all in college
and they’re all going to graduate from Ohio State. To me thats what it’s
This should have come at the opening and should have been stronger.
The decision to allow the players involved to play in the Sugar Bowl was probably justified, but to many people it gave the impression that OSU was willing to trade ethics for victories. The knowledge of how Tressel acted at the time reinforces that impression. And my sense is that how the press conference itself played out is unfortunately more of the same.
The last year and a half has been quite a whirlwind for us. Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth Carl Bernard von Moltke famously said
No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy
Had he been talking about being an entrepreneur, he might have instead said
No business plan ever survives contact with the market
And so it has been with us. Initially formed as a site to allow timeshare owners to trade with each other, we’ve since renamed the site (twice) and flipped the model completely to reflect the feedback from customers and friends who have used it. Now, resortgems.com is a site with a much broader appeal than the one we started out with. It offers benefits to timeshare owners (looking to earn rental income from their unit) and travelers (looking to get the best value for their vacation dollar) alike.
Some of the initial feedback given to us was that we didn’t have enough inventory. Although we have more than ten thousand timeshare listings from owners (we call these “gems”), that wasn’t enough to provide the breadth and depth of coverage that people need. To help solve this problem, we’ve now added the capability to book a room at over 25000 hotels in the United States (more locations coming soon).
This is the time of year when you’re no doubt planning lots of upcoming travel. Whether it’s for spring break or summer vacation, there’s a good chance that you’ll soon find yourself needing to make arrangements for a place to stay. My request is to give us a shot to serve your needs in this. We work very hard for all of our customers to find them the best deal we can and have put a ton of effort into making the site attractive and useful.
As always, I’d love any feedback you have – especially if you look us over and find us lacking in some respect.