Productivity As Quality As Well As Quantity

Just a short follow up to the last post — when we talk about efficiency or productivity in education, I know that eyes roll and someone usually starts composing a rant about how kids aren’t items on an assembly line and the point isn’t to push out twice as many in half the time.

This misses the point that productivity is value neutral. It’s an increase in capacity that can be used to do more things at the same level of quality, or do the same amount of things at a higher level of quality.

Given the current funding constraints on higher education, you can’t be for quality education and against looking for ways to increase productivity, at least productivity in the sense of finding more efficient uses of limited time and physical resources. If I read the cost disease theory right (and I may not be), without productivity gains a product is either going to have to cost more over time or be produced at a lesser level of quality. And the time where we could continuously charge more for our product is about to end.

Colleges and Bloat

I couldn’t get at the Chronicle article “College Administrations Are Too Bloated? Compared With What?” from home (no login here),  so I read the paper it looks like it may have been based on instead.

It’s well worth a look — it articulates what I think many of us knew but could not express — that college is expensive because it is structured as a service industry, and the rise of college prices relative to the rest of the economy is actually in line with how all other labor-intensive service industries have tracked. And it introduces an explanation which is apparently well-known to economists, but is new to me — cost disease theory. In cost disease theory, gains in productivity in industries benefiting from technological and process enhancements adversely affect costs in service industries, where there are no such gains — both types of industries compete for the same pool of workers, and the rising wages in the industries experiencing productivity gains force wages in the service industries upward — even in the absence of productivity gains.

There’s really only two solutions to this, according to the authors. The first is not really a solution per se — it is to see the situation rather like a haircut or a musical concert — you cannot significantly increase productivity associated with the delivery of the service. You’re just going to have to lump the costs. The second is to reconfigure the process of delivery and achieve productivity gains.

But the key point here is that if you do not achieve productivity gains, costs will not remain stable — they will rise.

[One interesting note — I probably could have written this in half the time if I could have blockquoted some text from the paper to explain the above concept. But the PDF is locked against copy and paste. If you want to explain why higher education is doomed when it comes to productivity, closed processes like that might make a good start.]

Techno-Utopians Please Take Note

Please discard from your pitch:

  • Tom Friedman world-is-flatism
  • Kurzweilian Singularities
  • Prenskyan Digital Nativism
  • Dot-commer “Marginal cost of zero” talk

And please replace it all with this simple observation by Tom Hoffman:

I don’t understand why “computers can make it easier to do the difficult, sophisticated things we’ve been trying to do for years” is a less appealing, or at least less used, argument than “New! Disruptive! Etc.”

(Feel free to suggest additions to the discard list).

To promote the progress of science and useful arts

There’s a great post over at Zeroday — a project to have a mob of us ask, politely, via twitter, what the artists cited in the Sony v. Tenebaum decision think of it. In other words, there are 17 bands or so Joel Tenenbaum was cited for downloading. The plan is to get a comment from each band on what they think of the $675,000 fine.

As part of that activity he’s posted a spreadsheet of the bands Joel was sued over. And excuse me if I don’t get a whiff of must off of it:

Nine Inch Nails
Radiohead
Aerosmith
Nirvana
Sublime
NOFX
Green Day
Janis Joplin
The Rolling Stones
Pink Floyd
Simon & Garfunkel
Elliot Smith
Buckethead
The Kinks
Beatles
Unity Reggae Band
Creedence Clearwater Revival

Put aside the irony that Reznor released his last work for free, and the most idiotic thing about the list is how old the works must have been (assuming Joel wasn’t listening to that hot new CCR record).

Most of this music has to be thirty to forty years old. A lot of the people that made it are dead. (How long do the record companies feel they are entitled to make a living off of Janis Joplin & Elliot Smith?)

In other words, the list tells us the same thing that crappy radio does — the plan of the record companies has always been to make a living off the short-tail back catalog, first by forcing everyone to rebuy old albums on CD, and then hopefully by selling more of it to a whole new generation.

Teens Don’t Work, Either

“Teens don’t tweet” is trending on twitter right now, I imagine in response to this Nielsen report.

My thought on this is that there are an awful lot of activities that are useful to adults but not to teens, and vice versa. If we’d get over the insane notion that the cultural wave we are experiencing right now is being driven by 12-year-olds (it’s not), maybe we’d get further on analyzing this.

My guess is that many teens don’t tweet partially because the micro-societies they belong to are rather insular, and often place-bound, places where the “friend” model works well. Twitter’s “pub-sub” system is a far more flexible and effective system for gathering information outside your primary group of friends — but I think for many teens this is not a huge issue.  Things move directly from the College Humor site or YouTube hotlist, into their circle of friends and that’s fine.

I don’t know about you all, but what I find is that for professional communication at least, Facebook is lousy. It’s lack of pub-sub seperation discourages people making the sort of far-flung connections they need to stay informed. The way that it closes off your updates to non-friends is great for concealing you life from the eyes of parents, but lousy for professional use, where all of your updates are not searchable by the community at large.

What I use Facebook primarily for is keeping up with friends. Twitter ends up being about collecting and disseminating professional and political information (with some cultural bits in there). If we dropped the Prensky nonsense for just a minute, it might be easy to see that although many teens don’t use tools like Twitter they may need them in the future as they develop networks based more on interest and professional need than on, well, socializing. In an ideal world, responsible higher ed institutions would see guiding students through that evolution as one of their primary roles.

That’s what we’d do, at least, if we’d get over the insane notion that the cultural wave we are experiencing right now is being driven by 12-year-olds. And I think society is on the cusp of making that realization — just not quite yet.

Eulogy for Art Caulfield

As many of you know, my dad, Art Caulfield, died two weeks ago, at the age of 66, from anaplastic thyroid cancer. In a way it was due to a long illness — the anaplastic form of this cancer was new, but he had battled thyroid cancer before, both in his 30s and about eight years ago. But the new incidence was sudden, moving from a pain in the shoulder on father’s day to his death five weeks later.

I could have written a river of prose on this blog about him and his life in the days just after he died, and I felt compelled to, but something about that felt to cloying and too raw, as if I was asking for pity or condolence, when that wasn’t really the point.

But today, curious, I googled “Arthur Caulfield” and “Arthur E. Caulfield” and found that the man that had introduced me to the power of the Internet — the person who encouraged me to join my first bulletin board site as a kid of 13, the person who I remember excitedly coming home one day in the late 80s with a copy of Vanevar Bush’s “As We May Think” and telling me how hypertext on top of networks was going to change the world — this man has no internet footprint of his own.

And that’s just wrong, just plain wrong.

So I beg your indulgence here — I am pasting his eulogy below.  It’s not a plea for sympathy or condolence — but just a matter of justice I think — For those that may be looking for him in the future, whether they be old friends from Presque Isle, people he knew when he served in Vietnam,  or friends he may have had at Digital Equipment (DEC)  — I want them to find something substantial. And this blog is the most effective way to make that happen.

Eulogy for Arthur Caulfield
===========================
The Greeks had a word to describe a quality of perfect conversation, one which translates roughly as “a graceful playfulness”. It’s the place in between being meaningful yet joyless, and, on the other extreme, being light-hearted yet lacking in depth. It’s the perfect intersection where a lightness of heart and creativity of the mind meet deep meaning and emotional resonance.
Anybody who talked to my Dad for even a couple of minutes knew he had that in spades. A conversation with him was a joy. It was never labored, it was engaged without being adversarial, it was witty but deeply meaningful. He fired on all cylinders: emotional, moral, intellectual, and it was all suffused with the joy he took in being with you in that exact moment. I’ve been struck all my life how deeply people that have only talked to my Dad a couple times feel they know him. I’d be defensive, and think that they can’t REALLY have known him, but often talking to them you find that they do. And I think that that is because his conversation was very much a reflection of his life. He had a graceful playfulness in all he did.
His relationship to my mom was extraordinary. They never fought. For 45 years they drank in one another’s company, and they never ran out things to say. They were partners, best friends, true lovers. They were inspiring to watch. Once when I was joking about Nicole and I going on a “date night” I remembered that my Mom and Dad had had a couple date nights way back when and I asked my Dad whatever happened to that. He told me he and my Mom had figured out they didn’t have to go somewhere to be on a date. And as much as I’d like to attribute that to his legendary frugality, it was true. Every morning at the breakfast table was a date for them.
He loved us kids. The images and memories we will treasure are often related to the curiosity and interest he had in everything in the world. He loved a good science project, the boom of the Van De Graf generator at the Boston Museum of Science, or sitting in the backyard watching a total eclipse of the moon. Even when he was completely overwhelmed with work, he couldn’t resist a Lego or Erector Set.
And he’d turn all these things into good-natured competition, not out of a sense of aggressiveness, but out of that boyish exuberance and wonder that he never lost, no matter how old he got. He would sometimes lumber and shuffle around, but challenge him to a game of ping pong, and the man was Baryshnikov. I am sure it was not lost on him that in the last All-Caulfield ping-pong tournament he won, at the age of 66, over us thirty something upstarts.
He treasured his retirement. He was made to be a grandfather, and he took to it like something he had trained for all his life. His grandchildren adored him, and he indulged them accordingly. Once in Florida, my sister watched two of her kids making a game out of dumping buckets of warm and cold water over his head in the pool. He hammed it up, thanking them for the hot buckets, and making mock-aggravation noises when the cold buckets were dumped on him. Jen watched, wondering when he would finally have had enough of the water torture, but soon realized as long as the kids were having fun, he would never say he had enough.
He always took better care of other people than he did of himself. The minute someone had car problems he’d pack up his tools and help them out, and get their car into tip top shape. At the same time, he preferred to drive his Taurus wagon around with a bumper visibly affixed with twine and superglue, clearly avoiding the chore of maintenance. For every unfinished project in his own house, there are four or five projects he finished in someone else’s.
He couldn’t stand for people to be worried over him, although he worried very much about other people. He fought very hard on his last day to stay lucid, because he knew his children were on his way to be with him. He wanted us to have a chance to say goodbye, for our own sake. We were told not to stop, because Dad thought that he could only hold on a bit more. When we got there could barely speak through the pain and the swelling, but with us all around the bed looking so despondent he managed to say “You know, I sure wish I could throw a better party.” It was the last sentence he would end up saying.
Grace, and wit, and a deep resonant love that warmed you to your core.
In the hospital, the day before he died, my brother Ben came to visit him and my Dad told him how happy he was that Ben and Caitlin were getting married. “I hope you have a wonderful marriage,” he said. Then he struggled a bit, trying to concentrate through the toxins and said “After all these years you’d think I’d have have some better words of wisdom for you, but I just can’t think of anything else right now”.
He shouldn’t have worried. He had given us wisdom all his life. “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans” he would always tell us, quoting Lennon — and it was true, because in the end for each unread book in the house and each abandoned business idea in the basement, for each thing undone or unsaid or unfinished, there are the things he chose to put his time into instead — the people around him, his friends, his family, and most of all, his life with Mom, who he loved more dearly than anything. People in the hospital would ask if this was their second marriage — they couldn’t imagine people being so tender and dedicated to one another after forty-five years. I watched as nurses came into the room crying, and saying how much my parents love had inspired them. That was over a period of two and a half weeks. Many people here saw that love over a lifetime, and it inspired all of us that much more.
It’s hard, it’s very hard. He was taken away far too young. I’d say he had so much more to give, but he gave so much already. More to the point, I wish he was here so we could give back to him, to repay him for everything he did for us. But it’s not to be, and anyway it would take a lifetime to repay.
When I think of him, and how he would want us to react to this, however, I’m pretty sure I know. He wants us all to be happy, and light-hearted right now — he knows that we can be serious without being depressed and moral without being self- important. He went as far as he could, and it is now up to us to share that graceful playfulness that was his gift to us for so many, many years.

Eulogy for Art Caulfield
===========================

The Greeks had a word to describe a quality of perfect conversation, one which translates roughly as “a graceful playfulness”. It’s the place in between being meaningful yet joyless, and, on the other extreme, being light-hearted yet lacking in depth. It’s the perfect intersection where a lightness of heart and creativity of the mind meet deep meaning and emotional resonance.

Anybody who talked to my Dad for even a couple of minutes knew he had that in spades. A conversation with him was a joy. It was never labored, it was engaged without being adversarial, it was witty but deeply meaningful. He fired on all cylinders: emotional, moral, intellectual, and it was all suffused with the joy he took in being with you in that exact moment. I’ve been struck all my life how deeply people that have only talked to my Dad a couple times feel they know him. I’d be defensive, and think that they can’t REALLY have known him, but often talking to them you find that they do. And I think that that is because his conversation was very much a reflection of his life. He had a graceful playfulness in all he did.

His relationship to my mom was extraordinary. They never fought. For 45 years they drank in one another’s company, and they never ran out things to say. They were partners, best friends, true lovers. They were inspiring to watch. Once when I was joking about Nicole and I going on a “date night” I remembered that my Mom and Dad had had a couple date nights way back when and I asked my Dad whatever happened to that. He told me he and my Mom had figured out they didn’t have to go somewhere to be on a date. And as much as I’d like to attribute that to his legendary frugality, it was true. Every morning at the breakfast table was a date for them.

He loved us kids. The images and memories we will treasure are often related to the curiosity and interest he had in everything in the world. He loved a good science project, the boom of the Van De Graf generator at the Boston Museum of Science, or sitting in the backyard watching a total eclipse of the moon. Even when he was completely overwhelmed with work, he couldn’t resist a Lego or Erector Set.

And he’d turn all these things into good-natured competition, not out of a sense of aggressiveness, but out of that boyish exuberance and wonder that he never lost, no matter how old he got. He would sometimes lumber and shuffle around, but challenge him to a game of ping pong, and the man was Baryshnikov. I am sure it was not lost on him that in the last All-Caulfield ping-pong tournament he won, at the age of 66, over us thirty something upstarts.

He treasured his retirement. He was made to be a grandfather, and he took to it like something he had trained for all his life. His grandchildren adored him, and he indulged them accordingly. Once in Florida, my sister watched two of her kids making a game out of dumping buckets of warm and cold water over his head in the pool. He hammed it up, thanking them for the hot buckets, and making mock-aggravation noises when the cold buckets were dumped on him. Jen watched, wondering when he would finally have had enough of the water torture, but soon realized as long as the kids were having fun, he would never say he had enough.

He always took better care of other people than he did of himself. The minute someone had car problems he’d pack up his tools and help them out, and get their car into tip top shape. At the same time, he preferred to drive his Taurus wagon around with a bumper visibly affixed with twine and superglue, clearly avoiding the chore of maintenance. For every unfinished project in his own house, there are four or five projects he finished in someone else’s.

He couldn’t stand for people to be worried over him, although he worried very much about other people. He fought very hard on his last day to stay lucid, because he knew his children were on his way to be with him. He wanted us to have a chance to say goodbye, for our own sake. We were told not to stop, because Dad thought that he could only hold on a bit more. When we got there could barely speak through the pain and the swelling, but with us all around the bed looking so despondent he managed to say “You know, I sure wish I could throw a better party.” It was the last sentence he would end up saying.

Grace, and wit, and a deep resonant love that warmed you to your core.

In the hospital, the day before he died, my brother Ben came to visit him and my Dad told him how happy he was that Ben and Caitlin were getting married. “I hope you have a wonderful marriage,” he said. Then he struggled a bit, trying to concentrate through the toxins and said “After all these years you’d think I’d have have some better words of wisdom for you, but I just can’t think of anything else right now”.

He shouldn’t have worried. He had given us wisdom all his life. “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans” he would always tell us, quoting Lennon — and it was true, because in the end for each unread book in the house and each abandoned business idea in the basement, for each thing undone or unsaid or unfinished, there are the things he chose to put his time into instead — the people around him, his friends, his family, and most of all, his life with Mom, who he loved more dearly than anything. People in the hospital would ask if this was their second marriage — they couldn’t imagine people being so tender and dedicated to one another after forty-five years. I watched as nurses came into the room crying, and saying how much my parents love had inspired them. That was over a period of two and a half weeks. Many people here saw that love over a lifetime, and it inspired all of us that much more.

It’s hard, it’s very hard. He was taken away far too young. I’d say he had so much more to give, but he gave so much already. More to the point, I wish he was here so we could give back to him, to repay him for everything he did for us. But it’s not to be, and anyway it would take a lifetime to repay.

When I think of him, and how he would want us to react to this, however, I’m pretty sure I know. He wants us all to be happy, and light-hearted right now — he knows that we can be serious without being depressed and moral without being self- important. He went as far as he could, and it is now up to us to share that graceful playfulness that was his gift to us for so many, many years.