The Education Bubble

October 30, 2013 | 1 Comment

Now that The Spoiled One is in her sophomore year of high school, we are starting to look at colleges and suffering a bit of sticker shock. This is surprising since we went through this three times already with her older sisters. What we were surprised to find is that even though tuition was pretty outrageously high when the older ones went to school, in the 13 years since Darling Daughter #1 graduated from high school , college tuition has increased over 50%.

I’m having the same reaction here as when I sold a house in southern California many years ago. We had received the history of transactions involving our house. About 10 years previously, it had been built and sold for about $50,000. Five years later, we bought the house for $100,000.  When we were ready to sell it and move away, it was appraised at $150,000. Mind you, this is the same house in the same neighborhood. Not only had we not improved it particularly, but the neighborhood was not as desirable. The surrounding area had been built up; the crime rate was up. So, 10 years later, something not quite as good was selling for three times as much. All of our friends told us not to sell the house, that prices would go up and we would make a ton of money. I thought the opposite, that there was no way this house was worth the appraised price. I sold it and shortly after that the market dropped in California and it was many years before the buyer could have sold that house even for what she paid for it, much less made a profit.

Tuition at universities has gone up many times what it was when I graduated 35 years ago. My own alma mater has increased 1,000% . Do graduates make 10x what they did when I graduated? Ha!

Is higher education 10x better? I would argue that it is noticeably worse. When I was an undergraduate, it was rare to have a class taught by someone who was not a full time professor who was on campus before and after class, just in case we might want to discuss something.

Now, more often than not, the professor has a full-time job elsewhere – as I do – and his or her attention is divided between that “real job” and teaching. Yes, I do teach as an adjunct, but I do it once a year, when I can carve out time to give teaching the attention it deserves. When my kids were young and  I needed the money, I taught every extra class I could. I KNOW that the students did not get as much attention as I would have liked to have given them, because I was juggling three jobs. I also know that many more adjuncts are in the position I was then than are in the position I am in now.

As someone asked me on twitter, what am I going to do then?  Check out the University of California campuses, which for state schools are an outstanding value, and look for private colleges that are not insanely priced.

While all of these campuses urge students not to look at the price, asserting that very few people really pay it – I paid well over 90% of the cost of New York University. Darling Daughter # 1 got an academic scholarship that paid 25% of her tuition her first two years, which left us all of her expenses for books, meals, housing in Manhattan, plus 75% of the tuition. We were on the hook for 100% of everything for the last two years. She graduated from high school with a 4.3 GPA and graduated cum laude from NYU. The school’s attitude was that we might not have had the ability to pay the tuition all up front but we had the ability to borrow it.  I paid the last parent loan payment this month, ten years after she graduated.

It will be interesting to see what happens to higher education as more and more people flat refuse to pay for what is increasingly coming to resemble a very expensive union card … but that’s another post.



In some ways, this has been an extremely productive week and it’s only Monday, although when you work every day, it’s hard to say when your week starts. Sort of a zen-like question of where the circle begins, isn’t it?

I’m not complaining. I love my work so much it is hard for some people to understand. In another life (well, when I was so much younger that I looked like a different person, anyway), I was the world judo champion. I teach and coach judo now, when I can. Recently, I have tried to explain to some people that I could not come to tournaments because they take all day. They did not seem able to grasp the idea that I don’t WANT to drag myself away from work for an entire day.

Today, I was doing a “hidden pictures” game. You know, where you find things like a tomahawk , buffalo robe etc. Our main games are 3-d virtual worlds but they also have several casual games with them – tic-tac-toe with snares and rabbits instead of X’s and O’s , a memory game that includes both math problems and pictures from the game, and some random games I did when I planned to go in one direction and then ended up solving a problem another way. That’s how I ended up with a game that is like memory but you match three cards instead of two. It has nice graphics but it’s just hanging out there.

ANYWAY …. so, today, I got a lot done on the hidden pictures game but it was ugly code.

I used the HTML5 canvas element. One thing I did that was clever (if I do say so myself) is have the bottom layer be all of the objects that aren’t clicked on.

background for hidden pictures game

This is clever because it makes it harder for the player to find the objects on top that they are searching for, and it also makes it super-easy to create new games by simply swapping out the background layer underneath by changing one line:

bkgd.src =”new-background3.png”;

The rest of it, well, some of it, goes like this …. the drawAll function draws the two layers.

function drawAll() {


This draws the first layer

function draw1() {
ctx1.clearRect(0, 0, width, height);
ctx1.drawImage(bkgd, 0, 0);

Then I draw the objects that are hidden, in the second layer. The benefit of using canvas is since we don’t know what types of computers, screen sizes, etc. the students will be using for the game, and in fact, it varies greatly, I can define the canvas size and make sure the canoe is in the lake and not on top of a buffalo.

This draws the second layer

function draw2() {
ctx2.clearRect(0, 0, width, height);
ctx2.drawImage(arrows, 750,280);
ctx2.drawImage(arrows, 150,560);
ctx2.drawImage(knife, 0,360);
ctx2.drawImage(basket, 40,320);
ctx2.drawImage(basket, 300,320);
ctx2.drawImage(basket, 540,520);
ctx2.drawImage(cup, 330,370);
ctx2.drawImage(cup, 730,470);
ctx2.drawImage(canoe, 30,380);
ctx2.drawImage(tomahawk, 650,300);
ctx2.drawImage(knifeh, 880,340);
ctx2.drawImage(knife, 340,580);
ctx2.drawImage(robe, 440,480);
ctx2.drawImage(robe, 790,520);

There is more code to this and as I was writing it I thought I should be making an array – but I didn’t because this way was quicker. It’s not that I didn’t know how to do it – in fact, I had it partially done but then realized I was talking less than 15 IF statements and I would be done in under half an hour. (Yes, I know, 15 IF statements – ew — but each of them came up with different clever sayings that I thought would amuse the kids – and then I changed that, too.) I also did another really sloppy thing. To make the item disappear I replace it with an empty image. There’s probably a better way, but this worked.

There is a method to my madness. No child playing it is going to be able to tell whether I made an array for the images or if I just drew them like this. Once we have students playing the game, we can decide whether we even want to retain it in the game. We may replace this with something where they actually wander around the 3-D world and look for objects, but we were running short on time to have two games completed by February.

On twitter, @davrs commented that every programmer ever had those interim solutions that became permanent. While mine don’t usually become permanent, they become semi-permanent more often than I would like. I wrote my first website using Netscape Composer, then, after a length of time I would be embarrassed to admit, I switched to frames with Adobe GoLive, which seemed like a pretty neat idea at the time, then to templates using Dreamweaver then to jQuery, javascript, HTML5 and co.

I guess that’s why I love my job so much – I’m always learning new things, even if the old ones DO hang around longer than iI had planned



I was ambivalent about going to Las Vegas for the regional conference of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics because my time is pretty limited. I’m really glad I went.

Some thoughts on fractions:

What IS a fraction? Partitioning. A part of a whole. More than that, each part is equal.

Are fractions numbers? Any mathematician would say yes, of course. They aren’t integers but they’re numbers.

First, kids learn that when you multiply two numbers you get a larger number. BUT …. when you multiply with fractions, you get a smaller number.

When you divide one integer into another, the answer is SMALLER than the number that was divided. However, when you divide an integer by a fraction, you get a LARGER number. When you multiply two fractions, you get a smaller number. When you divide one fraction by another, you get a larger number.

I never thought twice about it, dividing fractions, you invert the second fraction and multiply. Why?
If you invert the first fraction, you get the wrong answer.

Second, many kids don’t realize at first that you can have fractions on the number line.

Third, while HIGHER numbers go after one another on the number line, like 8 goes after 6, LOWER fractions go after one another on the number line, with 1/8 going before 1/6.

WHY? Well, as an adult, it might seem obvious, if you have more pieces, say 8 instead of 6, the size of each piece will be smaller.

One teacher said she just explains it to her students as “All the rules are backwards for fractions.” But …. why?

I learned math the old-fashioned way, where we were taught algorithms like invert and multiply and they worked fine for me. I went to some sessions using manipulatives and when the question was “What is 1/2 of 1/2?” of course you get a fourth by taking 1/2 of 1/2 – but why are you physically dividing your group of tiles (or whatever) to multiply?

When you divide fractions using manipulatives, if you divide 1/2 by 1/8 you get 4. WHY? One presenter explained it very well. She said when we divide we are basically asking the question

How many groups of size X go into Y?

So, if we divide 56 by 7 we are saying how many groups of size 7 go into 56? The answer is 8.

How many groups of size 1/8 go into 1/2 , well, that’s easy, 4.

In short, I had a fun time just thinking about math and how to teach it.

I also learned about a lot of resources for teaching mathematics. Mathsnacks.com has animations and videos (free). Casio has some cool calculators that can do simulations, graphs and even plug into the USB port on your computer for you to copy data for your students to analyze. There is also a Casio program you can download that emulates the calculator on your computer (so you can show the screen while teaching with a laptop).

Now, I’m excited to get home both because I have a lot of ideas for the statistics class I will be teaching next month and also for the game that we are developing using fractions.

I didn’t meet a single person who wasn’t enthusiastic about everything they learned here. So, one final take-away message – the regional conferences are where you get a lot of bang for your buck. I plan to put more regional conferences on my schedule for next year and no national/ international ones. I think you gain just as much for far less money and time away from the office. (Of course, this depends on your interest, but I’m very interested in applied research and best practices.)

Along those lines, I’ll be back in Las Vegas in a few weeks at the Western Users of SAS Software conference, talking about factor analysis, categorical data analysis and exploratory data analysis. Should be fun.




There have been some interesting posts lately regarding the 100 Thing Challenge. In brief, the idea is to reduce all of your personal possessions to 100 things.

Let’s be honest. That is never going to happen here at The Julia Group. When I brought it up, The Invisible Developer suggested that he could perhaps reduce to 100 CATEGORIES of things. For example, he has over 1,000 CDs. That could be one category. Sigh.

If you look around, it looks fairly uncluttered. The CDs are on racks lining the hallways upstairs and down. Another few dozen are in a bin under the bed. Still, we have thousands of things, stuffed into drawers, in closets.


Our local grocery store gives a 30% discount if you buy six bottles of wine at once. They also sell bags to carry your six bottles of wine home. I have SIX of those bags. If I ever decide to have a heavy metal band over for a party, or open my own liquor store, I’m all set. One of those bags is now collecting the recycling to be thrown in the recycling itself.

Why do I have SEVEN vases in the cupboard under the sink?


When was the last time more than six people at once sent me flowers?  I put one of those vases in a bag to give away.

Why do I have two pairs of scissors in the kitchen alone? (I also have a pair in my desk and probably a couple of other places as well.) I threw the rusty, old pair of kitchen scissors away and kept the new one.

I laughed at the idea of Reduce Month, giving away 30 things in 30 days. My goal is to get rid of 100 things in one day. I started yesterday and made it to 31. So far today, I’m at 39.

The question is, “What counts as a thing?”

My definition is “One decision = one thing.” Also, less space = less things. Eating one jelly bean from a jar of jellybeans does not count, but throwing out the empty jar does. Since my jar contains a few pounds of jelly beans, my jelly bean habit has yet to contribute to thing reduction.

Deciding to throw away the Sunday LA Times that I have read is 1 thing. Tossing a receipt from parking from 18 months ago that somehow remained in my desk = 1 thing. Putting things away doesn’t count, but putting them in the bag to give to Goodwill does.

I don’t like to waste anything and I tried not to throw away something I might realistically use.

I have two staplers on my desk, probably another one in my desk and a fourth one in the closet. The last time I have ever had the need to staple anything was – a really long time ago because I live in the 21st century and I have a computer. Two of those went into the Goodwill bag.

Why not three? Well, I have a job and I’m busy. Here is my one minute rule with getting rid of things – if it takes one minute or less to decide, I do it now. Looking in my desk or the closet for that third and fourth stapler would take time. If my getting rid of things takes me hours each day, it is not sustainable.

Because I wanted to get rid of more things than yesterday (I am so competitive that I am even competitive with myself), I went through the refrigerator and started tossing food that was expired. The Invisible Developer argued that he had read an article saying expiration dates weren’t that valid. I pointed out that whatever the margin of error was, it was probably less than the two years ago this jar of salad dressing expired.

What I have found, two days into it, is that my 100 thing challenge might increase my quality of life.

We have a habit of buying food at the store and then going out to eat, because there are a lot of nice restaurants within walking distance. After we have worked at our desks all day, going out for dinner sounds nice. Since I wanted to throw away more things, I went to the kitchen and ended up eating the rest of a salad from yesterday, an avocado from my friend’s tree and a pear. All were good and the total cost of going out was zero.

I also found things I had forgotten I had. We had several cans of loose tea leaves. I was going to toss them, thinking I didn’t have a tea strainer, but a quick search found one, so now I’m sitting here drinking a nice cup of tea.

How long can I keep throwing away more things each day before we run out? A long time. Remember, things keep coming in. We get shipments of coffee, flash drives, books and God knows what else. We buy groceries, clothes, office supplies.

I don’t know how many things come in here on an average day, but I’m betting it’s less than 50, and since I’m gone at least 1/3 of the days in the average month, sometimes 1/2,  if I can get to getting rid of 100 things a month, I will be making headway.  My theory is that the less stuff there is in my life, the more quickly I will be able to find what I need and the more enjoyment I will get from the things I decide to keep.

I’ll let you know how it goes.




Having taught math myself for the past 30 years, and with a brother who is a middle school math teacher, I am obviously not tarring all math teachers with the same brush, but I am really starting to get pissed off here. I have beautiful daughters, and it is not just me who says so. Here is the oldest one.

Maria and Eva cuddled up

Here are the other three.

daughtersSee the middle one there? When she walked in for the first day of an advanced math class, the TEACHER (who was a woman), asked her,

“Are you sure you’re in the right class?”

Ronda came home and told me about it. She said,

Well, I guess I don’t really look like I belong in there. I’m the only non-Asian girl in the class, and I’m tall and blonde. I really stand out.

Ronda is extremely good at math. When she was young, we assumed she would get her Ph.D. in some kind of science, but she decided to go the UFC / movies route instead.

The other three could have been extremely good at math, but it was not a particular interest of theirs. The littlest one, on the left, has done quite well in math, until very recently.

What has happened with all of my daughters, though, is that the schools and I have generally butted heads with what we expected of them. When my oldest daughter met with the high school guidance counselor, and was asked what schools she was interested in, Maria said,

“I’d like to go to either Harvard or NYU.”

The counselor laughed and said,

Of course, everyone would like to go to Harvard or NYU but let’s take a look at the local community college.

I called the counselor up the next day and asked if she was fucking kidding me. I told her that her daughter could go to the community college, but if my daughter wanted to go to NYU or Harvard that is god damn well where she was going to go. Maria did graduate from NYU, in 3 1/2 years, thank you very much, when she was 20 years old.

Of my three older children, one has a bachelors from NYU, one has a masters from USC and one is finishing filming Expendables 3 this week and then flying off to film Fast and Furious 7. They are a fairly accomplished group.

And yet … more often than not, I was pushing them academically more than their teachers were – and you can’t find a much more yuppie school district than Santa Monica-Malibu, and most of the time they all went to private schools.  As a general rule, if they fell behind (which in my mind is anything less than an A because, seriously, what do they have to do but study? It’s not like they’re working in a coal mine after school or cleaning their rooms or anything.) – I was much more upset about it than their teachers were.  They did not EXPECT my children to make straight A’s, take AP Calculus, get into top schools.

When Maria walked into Geometry in the ninth grade, one of the girls she had run cross-country with the year before, who was a junior in the same class, exclaimed in shock,

“You’re smart?!”

Yes, one of my daughters was a cheerleader. Two were very much into sports in high school. Two were very much into going to the mall and buying every item of designer clothing sold in America.

If you are a math teacher, honestly, ask yourself do you have the same expectations for every student in your class? Really?

I asked myself that same question several years ago. I teach graduate-level statistics and I used to encourage the students “who I thought would be interested” to present their research at conferences, to publish it. I quit doing that. Now, I make those announcements in class, repeatedly, and encourage everyone.

Year after year, students have surprised me by the level of motivation and the quality of their work.

Honestly, if you teach AP Calculus and you have a pretty blonde girl that comes to your class some days in a cheerleader outfit (because that’s what they wear on game days), and is making a B or C, do you assume that is the best she wants to or can do? Honestly? Just between you and me?

One of The Spoiled One’s favorite movies is Legally Blonde. You know why? Because everyone assumes the protagonist is dumb because she’s interested in fashion, pretty and naive. In the end, she is dissuaded from dropping out by a professor who tells her that she can  do it, and the movie ends with her graduation from Harvard Law School.

If you’re a math teacher, I’d like you to watch that movie, because my kids DO live in southern California and they DO shop in Beverly Hills and contrary to what you think about how they look, they DO belong in your class.




Why do we still teach systematic random sampling as an option?

As you may recall from your Statistics 101, simple random sampling is when you select from the sample at random. So, if you want 100 people out of a sample of 10,000 in a dataset, you would pull a random sample by, most likely, using a random number function.

In a systematic sample, you select the first number at random. Say you want 1% of the population, like our 100 out of 10,000 example. You would select a number between 1 and 100 and then you’d select every 100th person after that. So, if your number was 98, you’d select person #98, 198, 298 and so on.

The danger is always that your data may be in some sort of systematic order. For example, if you had collected students tests and entered them, you might have classes where teachers seated the students alternating boys and girls. So, you might get a whole bunch of boys or a whole bunch of girls.

Yes, systematic sampling is easier if you are pulling the data by hand,  but given that almost all samples in any real-life use are pulled by a computer, why do we even teach systematic sampling? If you have a data set already created, I can’t think of any benefit to systematic random sampling. What, it takes the computer .0015 seconds instead of .0007 seconds?

The only possible benefit I could imagine was if you were sampling people as they came through the door of a clinic or shopping mall. In that case, it might be easier to start with a person at random and then badger every Nth person.

Even that doesn’t really make sense to me, though. It seems that in those settings, you have a hard enough time getting people to stop and talk to you, you ought to just try to grab every person you can get.

Let’s say you are doing an observational study, though, of public behavior. In this case, you really could do a random sample and, theoretically, a systematic random sample would be much easier than trying to keep track of whether that person who walked by was #17 and the next was #134. Still, even this specific situation is no excuse. It would be really easy to write a program that makes your phone beep at random times, a minimum of some fixed duration apart (the time you plan on observing each person) and at each beep you could observe the person who was walking by, browsing in front of your store window, or whatever it is you’re observing. I’m positive those programs already exist so you wouldn’t even actually need to write it yourself.

It just seems to me like systematic random sampling is an idea whose time has gone the way of Roman numerals.



Feeling confused and hypocritical.

I have read a lot of sad posts lately about sexual harassment, by women in the technology industry who were sexually assaulted, women in science who were verbally harassed.

The reaction to the harassers of many people (and I admit, my initial response) has been akin to “burn ’em at the stake!”

An article from Slate on the science blogging scandal advised older people, established in their careers that

You will occasionally meet younger people who go out of their way to speak with you at professional events, ask you interesting and sometimes personal questions, and hang on your every word. Those are not puppy-dog, crushed-out eyes staring up at you. These are eyes hungry for a professional break. These people are not trying to sleep with you. They are trying to get hired by you.

Actually, I have seen that some times they ARE trying to sleep with you. When my husband passed away, I was 36 years old. For the next few years, until I remarried, there were students, newly-graduated PhDs and others who were hanging on my every word and I’m pretty certain trying to sleep with me. No, I didn’t take anyone up on it, but I’ll be honest, I’ve never, ever been attracted to younger men. Yeah, they can be cute but so can puppies and three-year-olds and I’ve never felt the desire to have sex with any of them, either.  I was lonely after my husband died. Would I have acted differently if I had been attracted to any of these young men? I like to believe so, but it’s hard to pat myself on the back for resisting a temptation I didn’t feel.

It’s certainly not just me.

I grew up with a nice guy, extremely shy, awkward teenager who as an adult was drop-dead gorgeous (but still shy). He used to tell me stories about his students coming on to him that are too graphic for this blog (and that’s saying something). All it did was make him embarrassed.

So, yes, sometimes they ARE interested in you but you’re just not interested in them.

Even if you are, that is no excuse. You, oh older established person, are supposed to be the mature one in the room. I knew a judo coach in his forties who used to date his young students, who were barely legal. Another coach said to him,

“That is disgusting! They are just attracted to you because of your position. You get in my car and we’ll drive down to the local high school and see how many of the girls find a balding guy in his forties attractive.”

I agree completely with all of this. Even if the person IS attracted to you, there is a power differential. You can never be sure if they really feel comfortable saying no. If they decide that this is not the relationship they want, they may not feel comfortable ending it.

And yet … when I was a young engineer, not only did I date one of the managers but when I was 26 years old and he was 44, we got married, had two wonderful children and were married for a decade until he died. (My daughters have noted that I have forfeited for life any right to describe a romantic relationship as ‘too old for you’ unless the person in question is older than their grandparents.)

We tried to keep our relationship quiet. In fact, when my supervisor overheard me saying that I did not have time to talk, he misunderstood it to be related to a project we were working on and advised,

“You might want to try to make a good impression on him. Mr. Rousey could really help your career.”

Well, he certainly helped my career, but a large part of that was paying the mortgage and the nanny while I earned my doctorate. So, there is the confusing, hypocritical part, because if he had paid attention to what all the human resource people said, to what *I* am saying almost 30 years later, to all of the warning signs screaming “No, this is not appropriate!” –  my life, his life, our children – it all would have turned out completely different.



Funny the things that can bring back memories. There is a store in the Promenade that sells niku-pan. If you don’t know what that is, you’ve never lived in Japan. Imagine a cheap biscuit filled with gravy and a tiny amount of some meat-like substance and you have the idea. It’s cheaper than ramen noodles, even in Japan.

biscuit with meat inside

When I was a foreign exchange student, 18 years old and living off of my scholarship and what I could make teaching English, I ate a lot of niku-pan. It was all I could afford near the end of the month. It’s even less appetizing than it looks and I doubt it delivers a blast of nutrition. All I can say in its favor is that it was filling, cheap and hot – warm clothes being another thing I could not afford, having something hot in my hands to warm them up, even temporarily, was appreciated.  I was training judo every day, sometimes twice a day, going to class and teaching English. It used up a lot of calories. I was always hungry.

I was thinking how far I have come since then.

Because I had been arguing with The Spoiled One about her grades and studying lately, this also reminded me of another event from several years ago, when one of her sisters was not doing the best in school. This came up in a conversation with someone and I had said I saw no excuse for my daughter not making A’s, that when I was her age, I was living on my own, supporting myself and still attending college and doing well. The other mother replied,

“Blah, blah, blah, well look at you. I am woman, hear me roar. Just because you did those things doesn’t mean your daughter can. Not everyone is able to be an overachiever like you.”

This gave me pause for a minute until I responded,

“How fucking dare you imply that my daughter is capable of less than me! You don’t know anything about me OR my children!”

I’ve gotten this reaction many times in my life, though seldom as blatant. There is the assumption that sure *I* left home at 15, earned a PhD, started a business, etc. but person X can’t do it because — because — because why?

Maybe this misconception comes about because I don’t mention how much I have truly screwed up in my life – failed classes, quit jobs, hurt my career by pissing off people for no better reason than my own arrogance and stupidity at the time. Believe me, there is a long list, and I haven’t even mentioned some of the guys I dated – stupid boyfriend choices could be a couple of lists all by itself.

I had my years of being broke, hungry and working the night shift at minimum wage jobs. The secret to getting ahead isn’t never screwing up. It isn’t even to stop screwing up. Once I got an education, got a good job, bought a house, had a baby – then I got divorced. It’s easy looking back to see a trajectory that looked like this, if I charted from when I was born to how good life was:

Chart with peaks and valleysDepending on what point in time you checked in, it might have seemed that my life was getting worse or going nowhere. The secret is to just keep going. That work I put in during my teens, twenties and thirties paid off. Even when things looked really bleak, when my husband passed away, I still had the option to pick myself up and keep on going.

The biggest screw up a person can make is to just give up and accept that they can’t succeed because, “I’m not like you.”

How can you possibly say that? You don’t even know me, and if you did, you’d know better.



I have a meeting scheduled for Washington, D.C. that includes federal employees and government contractors. Many of these people are not working now and the building where it is supposed to take place is closed. I had to decide whether or not to buy my plane ticket today and take advantage of the three-week advance purchase. The cost for a non-stop ticket from LA to DC was $320. The same ticket, bought with two-week advance notice was $580. So, what do I do?

If I know for sure that the government would stay shut down, I would calculate the loss from the ticket like this:

– $320 * 1   + $260 * 0 =   – $320

I would have  a 100% chance of losing the $320 on my non-refundable ticket and a 0% chance of saving $260 so I would be out $320 and therefore it would be a dumb idea to buy the ticket. On the other hand, if the government is for sure going to open up again, then my profit would be calculated like this

-$320 *0 +  $260 * 1 = $260.

The problem is, I do not have a crystal ball telling me what is definitely going to happen. What I do know is that a little bird told me the meeting will be cancelled if the government is still shut down in nine days, since it is not the sort of thing that could be pulled together (or cancelled) at a moment’s notice. I also know that my two probabilities in this case are mutually exclusive, either the government is shut down or it isn’t .

Since I stand to lose more than gain, if the odds are 50-50 I’m actually better off NOT buying the tickets

-320* .5  + 260*.5 =   -160 + 130 = -30

At a 55% probability of the government being open in the next nine days, I break even (well, I’d be out $1).

-320 *.45 = $144   ,  260 *.55 = $143

That’s not all, though. If we fly into DC we have to stay somewhere for a couple of days before we can fly home. That’s another $1,000 for two rooms for two nights (because two of us are sharing a room). So, my possible savings is 3 x 260 or $780 for three people but my possible loss is 3 x $320 plus $1,000 or $1960

With the equation

Profit or loss expected =  -1960* (shutdown probability) + 780*(not shutdown)

My break even point turns out to be 71.5%.  If there is only a 28.5% probability of a continued shutdown, my expected loss is 90 cents.

I can’t help but wonder how the shutdown is affecting the travel industry. We put off buying the tickets until the 11th hour – literally. I bought the last ticket past 11:30 pm on exactly 21 days before the departure date. I think there is probably less than a 28% chance the government will still be closed in nine days. On the other hand, I did factor in that our staff could meet in Washington with each other, and since we live in three different cities, that would be productive. If the government opens within the next three weeks, which seems more than a 28% probability, even if we don’t have the meeting originally planned, it will still be possible for us to get some work done. The Perfect Jennifer informs me that the Library of Congress has a lot of historical material that is unique and valuable for our game. She was in Washington doing research for us last year. There is also the fact that this was a meeting we did not have the option of skipping or re-scheduling.

Given my calculations, I wondered how many other businesses, small and large, are delaying travel and other government-related expenses, or canceling it altogether. Hopefully, everything will get worked out for me, although I feel bad for those other businesses, the hotels, restaurants, airlines that are not getting the business these weeks, and the people who work for them.

If it doesn’t work out, I will be pretty pissed off, because not only will I be out the money, but I don’t care what Jennifer says about the joy of historical research with primary documents, I’d much rather be home writing the next levels of the game or doing analyses for a client or writing a lecture on survival analysis. On top of that, we pay a lot of taxes – and just shut the hell up about you’re trying to save “hard-working taxpayers”. You know why you don’t see me at some idiot tea party rally waving a confederate flag? Well, in addition to the fact that I’m not an idiot, I’m right here in my office working hard so I can pay taxes, salaries and the electric bill. And if I pay out money on this trip for no real reason and then have to pay all over again to actually come out here for the meeting that was cancelled, then that will be LESS money I am paying in taxes because I will have LESS profit to pay taxes on. Not only is this stupid shutdown costing people money – including, potentially, me – but it is also reducing the tax revenue those people would pay.

Tell me again how this is supposed to be helping small business or the deficit?

Oh, well, since we will have Dr. Erich Longie with us, Maria suggested that if the government is still shut down, we can all go lobby to change the name of the Washington Redskins.




Maybe when I get even older than I am now, my retirement plan will be to go to really beautiful places and learn stuff. I could take a class in Hawaii, attend a workshop in Halifax or visit museums in Venice.


Actually, that’s kind of what I’m doing now. Today, I had the opportunity to talk about exploratory data analysis using the data from our pilot study of Spirit Lake: The Game . I also gave two other presentations, on factor analysis and categorical data analysis.

Much better than that, though, (for me, anyway) ,I got to learn about the ODS graphics designer, a drag and drop method of creating statistical graphs.

(Oregon Day, for the uninitiated, is a day when the Portland SAS Users Group and State of Oregon SAS Users group get together. )

After a long walk in Riverfront Park

20131010-183625.jpg I dropped into a tapas place nearby – Bar Andaluz for a drink and dinner. Amazingly El Fin del Verano ( a cocktail – translation, the end of summer) tastes exactly like the end of summer, plus lots of alcohol.

Having failed retirement a couple of times already, I’m trying to ease into it by working less than 11 hours a day and only working 27 days a month. Hence the walking in the park today and hiking yesterday.

Any would-be investors in The Julia Group needn’t worry. At the current rate it’s going to take me another decade to retire.

If you’re looking to follow my plan, I can highly recommend Oregon Day to add to your itinerary next year. Even if you don’t use SAS, the presentations included a lot of good information on data analysis, statistics, graphics and data mining in general. You can probably deduct the travel costs on your taxes and the event itself is free.

And seriously, there is a lot to be said for going to a place where even the ground is pretty!


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