Recently in Incentives Category

You don't say...

What do you mean, municipal wi-fi networks aren't the unalloyed good they were sold as?

Across the United States, many cities are finding their Wi-Fi projects costing more and drawing less interest than expected, leading to worries that a number will fail, resulting in millions of dollars in wasted tax dollars or grants when there had been roads to build and crime to fight.

I was recently in Pittsburgh, PA. Which has a downtown network that can be used "free" for two hours. I say "free", since I had to register. For the benefit of sending my info to the city, which I assume logged my IP and thus knew roughly where I was and more...I got slow service that could only be used in certain positions since the repeaters were weak and stationed poorly for coverage.

But, you know, it's hard to tell how these things will pan out.

"Economical" Mathematics

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One of the sites I visit regularly is the Numb3rs blog, written by a mathematician at Northeastern University. The site deals with the math topics that arise in the show of the same name. (No link given, for reasons below.) He does a great job of explication, and provides some interesting links. It certainly makes the show more enjoyable knowing that there is a good independent reference for the material.

But I find this odd:

Numb3rs appears on CBS which is part of CBS-Paramount, a very large corporate entity, as is TI. Neither supports this blog in any way even though your blogmeister reviews scripts for mathematical content gratis for the show. I do this as an effort to promote the understanding of mathematics -- the same reason I write this blog. In spite of several requests, neither CBS nor TI will provide a link on any of their websites to this blog; they won't even mention it as a resource. What's even more surprising is that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), a group supposedly dedicated to mathematics education, and tied rather closely to TI, has also refused to reference this blog as a resource for mathematics education.

I suppose this could simply be another case of old media not quite understanding the value of having numerous in-roads for new viewers. The number of math blogs has blossomed of late (witnessed by the flourishing -- and highly entertaining -- Carnival of Mathematics), much like economics blogs in 2005/2006. CBS and Texas Instruments are, of course, private entities free to link to whomever and whatever they wish. Though, if they want to willingly ignore -- while relying on the expertise of -- their best ambassador, I'll feel free to ignore linking to their sites.

And while I don't find it at all surprising, I do think the most telling piece of information is the fact that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics are so dense as to ignore the value of something like the Numb3rs blog. While Dr. Bridger makes some note of the NCTM's connections with TI, I can't speak to it directly -- unfortunately, I also have no reason to doubt it, either.

Aside: Access to the NCTM's documented standards for math education is pay-for-play. Seems they've learned a bit of economics themselves. Though not enough; free dissemination of the work might promote wider adoption. Never forget that not-for-profit is not equivalent to not-for-revenue. End aside.

That a public group has decided to shun connections to anyone outside their direct control is sad, though not at all unusual. Perhaps the decision to ignore Dr. Bridger's site is a remnant of the rift NCTM had with groups of actual mathematicians who disagreed with their attempts to revive the New Math teaching paradigm. The narrow view emphasizes the fact that groups like the NCTM are largely more concerned with their own existence than in achieving their stated goals. What could possibly hurt in showing kids the work that actual, employed mathematicians do on a day to day basis? Unless, of course, that means they get exposed to things that contradict the "consensus" view of the NCTM.

-The NCTM recommends "decreased attention" for "finding exact forms of answers". (5.8.O)

I'm sure this is comforting to anyone who relies on, well, anything built by engineers.

Some Are More Equal Than Others

I'm shocked. SHOCKED! PETA -- that is, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- apparently has differing standards for which animals are worthy of those ethics. Lowest on the list? Animals raised as food stock.

In the wake of the Denver blizzards, hundreds of thousands of animals have been left stranded to die of starvation or freezing. PETA has refused (as of this writing) to do anything to help out. Not that PETA's set up as emergency relief, of course, but this appears particularly callow given the typical rhetoric that comes from these people.

Why are the suddenly stranded cattle less worthy of rescue than the chickens raised for your plate? My wild guess is that the blizzard achieves the same goal as the Holocaust on Your Plate campaign: they both hurt the sellers of meat. I know, I know, it's crazy to think a public organization has a political goal aside from it's stated altruistic vision -- and it seems to have truly caught some people off-guard -- but it seems possible in this case. As it did when there was a wish for foot-and-mouth disease.

Nothing says "I thought about you" like a gift of cold hard cash. Seriously. It means you thought enough to say "I don't know your preferences as well as you do, and what I'd really like to give you is a little slice of selfish pleasure, so go spend this on anything your heart desires."

Don't buy it? Well, it seems like those gift cards are a big way to say "I thought of something you kinda like, but only in large, general terms, so here's a way to spend money within that broad category." But don't feel like you're doing people that much of a favor. Turns out, those things are big boons to the companies that sell them:

Retailers profit from unused gift cards - Yahoo! News

Companies are profiting from your forgetfulness, and the hope that you don't value the gift-giver's dollar the way you value your own. Why else would you let that remaining $5.43 just go to waste sitting on a gift card that's collecting crumbs under the seat of your car? Sure, Aunt Helga wanted you to spend ALL fifty bucks, but really, what can you get for a few bucks, and besides, the store is all the way on the other side of town...

Well, there is an option at SwapAGift, but then you have to be willing to consider your valuation of $100 here versus $100 there. The swap brings down the deadweight loss of Christmas, but doesn't eliminate it. I see it more as a new weapon in the quiver of people who will eat at specific restaurants because they get double mileage points on Thursday lunches when using a credit card.

The cynic in me likes to think that the gift-card sellers have simply learned a valuable lesson from big-city governments, who have long been relying on the remainders from unused farecards for riding on the local subway system as a way to keep the system solvent. Of course, that's not always enough.


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