Saturday, January 29, 2011

Random Roundup

1. Obama's State of the Union speech last week announced, in a way that has become customary for this sort of thing, an increased emphasis on math and science education. I think it's a line that gets more guffaws than it used to, not without reason, and I've followed some conversations from some of my very favorite out-of-network blogs, where American technololgical exceptionalism was derided with some of the good, bitter humor that our situation has earned. I'm tempted to laugh along with, but wait... I'm not joking, this is my job! I guess I feel stung enough about these points to offer a mild rebuttal. Since those posts are, like, already from last week, and since I do not wish my infrequent commenting to be limited to the dickheaded antagonistic variety, I guess I'll just deposit the thought here.

It's worth asking how much power scientists and engineers command in American society right now. It's a solidly middle-class occupation, and in an era when the middle class is shrinking and the price of extensive training is skyrocketing, that's at least something. It's not the sort of career that makes you rich or a leader, and I often cynically suspect it's lauded in the press precisely because it's a non-threatening pursuit. Even in pricey endeavors like defense contracting and medicine, scientists aren't running things, or if they are, they need to abandon science in order to get on the management track. And as Ed points out, it's not as if the people doing R&D are immune from cut-rate Asian competition. The folks working in the field today understand that (outside of the military-industrial complex), technical work is quietly getting frog-marched out of the country right behind Labor.

I did add a pallid point to one of those posts that I fear the tyranny of humanities majors who can't assess technical data at least as much as I do the inhumanity of technical people, and that's true, although I may have understated it. I also agree that the humanities is important (if you have seen any portion of my craptacular archives, then you're aware of what I spend my time writing about). But look, oppression by the innumerate is what we have right now, and if you don't believe me, then please let me interest you in my homeopathic cures, Amway sales, and supply side economics. If we break down the leadership class by occupation, then observe how we're ruled by lawyers, lobbyists, financiers, and managers, perfectly respectable occupations and all, but these are people for whom persuasion is more important than evidence, and they're the ones reminding us that the atmosphere can't possibly be affected by the megatons of carbon we pump into it. We're constantly pushed around by the professional definition of poli-sci geeks (politicians) and visual artists (advertisers). No fair you say, to define humanities and social sciences by the evil versions. Well, that's my point.

2. Why the hell is it that I can never sleep in on weekends but on Monday through Friday, I can't wake up with the alarm? I think the answer is that my body is actually accustomed to waking up at 5:39 or 5:48 every morning, which is a weekday challenge and a Saturday travesty.

3. The two most useful links I've found all week, via the Roy Edroso gang:
- What's happening in Egypt
- What happened in Iraq (and Afghanistan--to another abyss, motherfuckers)

Both of them provide an easy entry point to describe a situation that is considerably more complicated (and in the second case, depressing) than official announcements and the evening news would prefer to discuss.

4. I've complained at length about new and improved information business models that force you to subscribe to your own content. This is an egregious way to distribute books and music, which many people prefer to keep for decades, and for which, now that digital formats are more fungible, they can otherwise no longer scam you to replace your collection every couple of years.

But there's a place where this kind of business makes a hell of a lot more sense, a business where you don't necessarily hold onto the content for a long time, but frequently reference a very small fraction of a very large body of it. (Hell, like cable TV, which is maybe why the fuckers are trying to get away from subscription to more pay-per-view.) Additionally, let's replace a system where the current subscription model is so prohibitively expensive and onerous that only your large overpriced institutions can handle it. I'm thinking subscriptions to scientific journals.

I work at a small scientific company (Massachusetts is littered with these) that can't afford this kind of thing, and I'm constantly forced to sneak onto various university library systems to get the papers that I routinely need to understand to do my damn job. Why can't I find a Rhapsody-like service, a virtual library, that fronts the ridiculous prices of journal services and then lets second parties subscribe to some number of downloads per month for a modest fee? That would be incredibly useful. (Most journals will let you download a pdf for a one-time charge of 20 or 30 bucks, which I guess helps if you have a corporate card, and are willing to take the risk that this low-impact paper is not a likely piece of shit. Note this is a pay-per-view model too. The fuckers.)


Cindy said...

I think the people in your first point have not figured out there is a buck to be made in your last point.

Keifus said...

Oh joy, the unholy union of marketing and science, together at last, like chocolate and peanut butter. It's like a world populated by my boss.