Saturday, September 25, 2010

Time Travel

Well, it's been a fascinating few weeks. When research is going well I actually sort of enjoy insanely long days in the office every single day of the week with no time to even do my laundry or buy groceries. Or cook. Or eat. Today I have a minute to breathe, but only because I'm all the sudden really worried that my data are too good to be true in that they might exhibit evidence of time travel. (You see how I made "data" plural there? I hate that. Next I'll be speaking only in passive voice or talking about myself with the the royal we.) Obviously this means I've goofed or my model is mis-specified or something. Anyway, my birthday was a while back so I ran a fun midnight 15-miler up to Inspiration Point with Gazelle. I also caught a free sneak preview of the financial collapse documentary Inside Job. It's worth seeing, but if you already dislike investment bankers and have listened to the This American Life episode called The Giant Pool of Money, there's not that much new information.

That's all. Back to work.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Like I said, no more blogging.

Can anybody out-google me to a list of the names of those who died in the Persian Gulf War? Actually, I don't need names, I need service unit, home county/state of record, and date for all US military fatal casualties from Jan 1, 1990 to October, 2001. DoD press releases usually have this information, but they don't always issue a statement, and an incomplete set doesn't help that much.

Monthly recruiting goals by service branch from 1990-2006 would be dreamy too.

Otherwise, I'm 1600th in the FOIA line.

Friday, September 03, 2010

That's It

And with that, I probably won't be posting much for a while. I'm hoping to be on the job market this year, which means military labor supply research 12+ hours a day, 6.5 days a week for the next couple months. I'm signed up to present in a lunch seminar in a month, then if all goes well, job applications go out mid-November. I unsubscribed from a ton of blogs, removed a bunch of sites from my bookmarks toolbar, cook less, and run only enough to stay sane. Wish me luck, and if you're a potential employer, say, at a great school in a great location, I would be an awesome colleague and an excellent teacher and researcher.

Difficult and Meaningless

I read Matthew Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, and I shouldn't have bothered. Reading Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a few years ago was more than enough motorcycle-philosophy for one lifetime. First, I must admit, relative to other intellectual qualities I have, reading comprehension of philosophy is not one of my strong suits. Only when philosophy is reduced to near-math, or when it is very clearly applied to practical decisions in real life do I enjoy it. With that said, I still think Soulcraft is unnecessarily complicated, boring, and doesn't actually say anything that means anything. It's dense drivel.

It's styled as a philosophical defense of the trades, and starts out talking about how it's easy to pick up good used machine lathes and other shop tools off eBay, because schools have been abandoning shop in favor of "the knowledge economy." Then there's a interesting discussion of Frederick Winslow Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management, Marx's theory of alienation, and Henry Ford's assembly line production. Crawford writes,
Thus, according to Taylor, "All possible brain work should be removed from the shop and centered in the planning or laying-out department..." It is a mistake to suppose that the primary purpose of this partition is to render the work process more efficient. It may or may not result in extracting more value from a given unit of labor time. The concern is rather with labor cost.
Basically, the goal is to hire cheaper stupid people. This idea of factories encouraging mindlessness interests me. If the skilled workers from a firm "go elsewhere" once production has been automated, where do they go once all production has been automated? What are the social implications of that? Can we really have an economy based entirely on selling each other stuff that was manufactured in China? These questions interest me as a person and a social scientist, so it's very unfortunate that Crawford didn't answer them. I can't recall more than one scientific study cited, or even a survey about happiness or pride in your work; it's all just Crawford's philosophical ramblings.

His ramblings are, thank goodness, interspersed with his personal stories of being an electrician, working on his VW bug as a teen, and repairing motorcycles. But if you can't already name every part inside a motorcycle engine, don't expect to understand anything, because Crawford is showing off. Crawford also got his degree in philosophy and worked some stupid desk jobs, one formulaicly writing scientific abstracts on articles he wasn't given time to read, the other for a conservative think tank where he was encouraged to reach pre-conceived oil-industry conclusions (he tries not to give details, but google tells me it was the Exxon-funded George C. Marshall Institute--which actually weakened his argument in my mind--you worked for a polemic conservative oil-industry think tank and you're surprised that you found your work soulless!?).

Other than to say that the book's endnotes, when they are not direct citations, are laughably useless (e.g. "I grew up in a commune."), that's all I'll say about the book. Like many other people, I think about whether my job is useless. I can write statistical program code, but I can't fix a car (and they're making cars more computer-controlled and less human-friendly all the times--some new Mercedes don't have engine oil dipsticks.) Would I be happier if I did something outside or with my hands? Would most people? Does everyone need to go to college? As a nation should we encourage more vocational education so those who don't go to college can find meaningful (i.e. non-retail) employment? I think all these questions are important and interesting, but I don't think Crawford answered any of them.