Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Male Bashing Never Ends

Do you think these books would have been published if their titles, instead of insulting men, insulted women, or Jews, let alone Blacks? For example:

All Women Are Jerks

Are Blacks Necessary?

If Jews Ruled the World, Sh** Would Get Done

Lessons from a Career Counseling Session

I just finished a session with a career counseling client, I'll call him Rick. The session embedded a number of principles that might help you in finding a career or landing a job.

Rick is a project manager for a defense contractor. He knows he wants to change employers but is unsure whether he just wants to go to a competitor or make a radical change.

I said, "Okay. Assume you weren't saddled with the ball-and-chain of having to choose something related to your past job and 'transferable skills'. What would you do?"

He replied, "I want to create something." Knowing him, I asked, "Wouldn't you be better off directing the realization of someone else's idea?" He agreed, but he protested, "Don't I have to be more specific than "I want to direct the realization of someone's idea?"

I replied, "It depends on whether the nature of the project matters much to you. If you'd be as happy turning around a struggling plate glass business as creating a beautiful backyard, don't narrow yourself. To do that would be to impose false precision on your job target."

Again he objected: "You're right. It doesn't matter much to me what the project is, but without a focus, no one will hire me." I responded, "You're right--if you try to get hired by answering want ads--That ad, for example on Monster or Craiglist, will be read by countless people, from Azerbaijan to Zambia. So the employer will likely be able to find someone with direct experience."

I continued, "Here's how career changers are most likely to land a job: Make a list of 100 people who know you. They don't even have to love you. Let's take the worst case: a boss who fired you. He might be willing to give you a lead on a better-suited job. And that's the worst case. Chances are that if your list includes your relatives, your parent's and wife's relatives, your friends, your wife's and parents' friends, your past and present coworkers, bosses, customers, and vendors, your haircutter, accountant, lawyer, doctor, church members, co-volunteers, etc., you'll likely get leads to people willing to consider you for a project manager job outside of defense or refer you to someone who might. And you might hear about career areas you never would have thought of in a million years. Last week, I got a call from a client who got a job at a toy company monitoring plush stuffed-animal factories in China."

I ended by saying, "Just tell as many people as possible who know you or someone close to you, "I'm a successful project manager for a Fortune-500 defense contractor but would love to direct projects in a different field. Anyone you think I should talk with?"

We ended the session by discussing how to write a resume, which, as I mentioned, will be useful mainly in applying for positions similar to his current one. I said, "Imagine you're having a beer with your brother who happens to be hiring project managers in the defense industry. What would you say to him that would legitimately impress him, make him think, "Damn, this guy is good," make him want to hire you? That's what you want to put in your resume."

Any questions? Comments?

Toward Truly Transformational Teachers

I've been listening to courses on CD from the Teaching Company. Those courses are taught by nationally renowned teaching-award winners. I've been so disappointed.

The Teaching Company, indeed most students and university administrators, have much too low standards for what a great course would be.

A truly great course would immerse the students in fascinating and/or thorny situations in which they fully experience what's going on, and actively use their mind and courage to triumph over those situations, often exclaiming, "Aha!"

I am aware that it is not easy to create and teach such a course but THAT and nothing less should be the goal.

Key to that is to look OUTSIDE academe for instructors. People who opt to get a Ph.D. are unlikely to be transformational instructors: Ph.D students are people who have deliberately opted out of the real world for "a life of the mind." And if those Ph.D. students don't start graduate school focused on trivia, graduate school and the professoriate's reward structure makes most of them that way.

The best undergraduate instructors are likely to have these characteristics:
  • Caring more about elevating than informing their students.
  • Are NOT natural geniuses in the subject matter. The brilliant mathematician rarely can help typical students become people who, in their bones, in their daily life, reason well quantitatively. Someone who struggled to get an A in quantitative reasoning but now really "gets it" and uses it in her daily life will likely be a more transformational instructor for the typical student.
  • A bright but not brilliant student who has just a bachelor's degree. Too great a disparity between students' and instructor's ability and knowledge base will reduce the likelihood of that instructor being transformational for the student.
  • Is theatrical. It is difficult for many students to remain focused even on a five-minute mini-lecture. The ability to be a compelling storyteller is a real plus but lectures are very rarely transformative. So the instructor must have the restraint to use even the most fascinating lecturettes only as a spice, not as the main course.
  • Must make immersive simulation the main course--for example, putting students in the role of the general in a Civil War battle, a surgeon deciding where and how to cut, an investor deciding where to invest his life's savings, a disaster relief manager deciding how to allocate resources.
Of course, such instructors are difficult to find. That's why I so believe the way to improve the quality of education worldwide is to find such people, have them develop those highly immersive courses, and distribute them online.

Readers of this blog know that I have developed a model for a general education curriculum that is consistent with all of this. For your convenience, I reproduce that HERE.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reinventing General Education

Readers of this blog may recall that I've been working on reinventing General Education. Most college students view those courses as largely irrelevant to their lives.

My proposal outlines 24 courses whose content is of great real-world applicability, taught online by the nation's most transformational instructors. The courses would be made available to all colleges and universities to use as an alternative to their traditional general education program. For an overview of my plan, click HERE.

Here's an update on my efforts to make New General Education a reality. I have contacted senior officials at the Gates Foundation, Google, Apple U, Kauffmann Foundation, an undersecretary at the U.S. Office of Education, Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) the Executive Director of a regional accreditation commission, the just-retired provost at U.C. Berkeley, a vice president at the California State University and the University of Phoenix, the president of Napa Valley College, top editors at the Chronicle of Higher Education and at Inside Higher Education.

Those who have responded all agree that my proposal is excellent. For example, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales wrote, "Your project sounds wonderful and I wish you the best but I can't get involved in any other projects at this time." Indeed no one I've contacted has opted to get involved. Sigh.

I do have meetings scheduled in January with a couple of college presidents and am being introduced to a wealthy entrepreneur with interest in reinventing higher education but I'm not optimistic that those will be sufficient. Any ideas on where to turn?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

"Why Doing a Ph.D. is Often a Waste of Time"

I thank Peter Christiansen for sending me this article from The Economist: The Disposable Academic: Why Doing a Ph.D. is Often a Waste of Time.

After reading the article, I posted this response on The Economist's website:

I speak with some knowledge here: I hold a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley specializing in evaluation of education and subsequently have been on the faculty of four graduate schools, including Berkeley.

In my view, the key to abbreviating the length of a Ph.D.and post-doc program is to eliminate the arcana, of which there are mountains. Primarily teach the tools required for excellent research: e.g., research design, how to critique research, and yes, expose the students to core cutting-edge areas in a discipline to help them identify their desired research focus. Such training could, in my judgment, most time-effectively be learned if the program were just two years long.

As important, I'd cut by 80% the number of slots in Ph.D. programs, referring the other applicants to equally abbreviated, practically-oriented doctorates (e.g., Psy.D, Ed.D.) taught not by Ph.D.s (disproportionately esoterica-focused theoreticians) but by master practitioners with the rare ability to convey their mastery to students.

So much university research is known, apriori, to be of trivial value, certainly known upfront to be cost-ineffective expenditures of taxpayer dollars--and much of such research indeed is funded by the taxpayer. Especially in these tough economic times, it would be wiser to allow taxpayers to retain their money than to fund yet another study on, for example, the deconstruction of the use of the doppelganger in 19th century literature.

UPDATE: Upon reading this post, a reader forwarded me this even more powerful caution against pursuing a Ph.D.

And I'm reminded of an article on the topic that now, five years later, still remains top-of-mind for me.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Why Men Don't Listen to Women

Women often complain that men, especially their domestic partner, don't listen to them. Many of these women claim that men can't communicate. A woman said to me today, "All men want is a blow job."

Women would be wise to recognize that many men decide it's unwise to engage in certain conversations.

For example, a man may decide that listening to his wife or girlfriend "process her feelings" will not make things better. It will more likely exacerbate her illegitimate feelings of victimhood, often at the man's expense.

For instance, if a man forgot his wife's birthday, she might go into a tirade about how it makes her feel unloved. Often she exaggerates how bad it makes her feel so she can extract maximum guilt and recompense from him. To gain still more brownie points, she'll bring up some past faux pas he committed--for example, she caught him watching porn or, "John, and this is not the only time. Just last week, you insisted on watching that stupid football game when you knew it was important to me and the family that we visited grandma. I feel totally not loved. I don't count at all!" (Another deliberate exaggeration to extract maximum goodies from him.)

In such a conversation, he's aware she's overreacting, and to allow her to vent uninterrupted would give undue legitimacy to her grievance. Yet if he defends himself, for example, pointing out examples of her selfishness, she'd accuse him of expanding the argument. Nor is she likely to be assuaged if he offers examples of the many ways he has shown his love. She'll likely feel or assert that she's unheard, invalidated: "Does that really justify your watching porn or forgetting my birthday?! Just listen. Stop defending yourself! I just want to be heard. Can't you just listen for once?!" He's in a Catch 22; he loses either way. So understandably, he wants to avoid the conversation, whereupon the women incorrectly believes then men can't communicate, that all men want is a blow job.

Indeed, many women demand being listened to and that the man dare not offer a solution to her problem lest he be denying her her agency. "I just want to vent. I want to share my feelings. When I'm ready to solve the problem, I will."

Many men get frustrated when the woman he loves has a problem he could solve but he's forced to sit there with duct tape over his mouth. Rather than being frustrated, he preempts or short-cuts the conversation, or simply spaces out, whereupon the women often says or thinks, "Men can't communicate. All they want is a blow job."

A study by Georgetown gender communication specialist Deborah Tannen debunks the conventional wisdom that women talk more than men. Fact is, men talk approximately the same amount--16,000 words a day.

The difference, I believe, is that men more often talk when a constructive outcome is likely--Men are not as dumb as women proclaim. Nor is a blow job sufficient to manipulate a man...although it couldn't hurt. ;-)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Great College Scam

I've long written about colleges, in their greed, digging ever deeper into the applicant pool, admitting students who are not even close to ready for college-level instruction, very unlikely to graduate, and even less likely to land a job that requires a college degree.

Now, in The Great College Scam, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports a study of Bureau of Labor Statistics data that proves the point most frighteningly:

60% of the increased number of college graduates from 1992 to 2008 work on jobs requiring just high school!!!

It's time for the media to expose a college education for what it is: America's Most Overrated Product.

Update: HERE'S a derivative article on the topic.

Little-Known Truths About Boys and Men

Here, I adapt a letter I received from the Foundation for Male Studies.

Would society tolerate these statistics if they pertained not to males but to females?
  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1.5 million more women than men graduate from college each year.
  • According to the National Institute for Mental Health, the male suicide rate is 300% of females'.
  • Boys regularly fail academically, repeat grades and are punished more often than girls in elementary and secondary schools.
  • 82% of the US jobs lost in the current economic downturn were to men, according to the US Department of Labor.
  • In the U.S., only men are required to register for a draft. Only men are allowed to serve in direct combat. 99% of the deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan war have been men.
  • In 90% of the cases, custody of the child is awarded to the mother.
  • 8 out of 10 children medicated for behavioral problems are boys. Often these drugs are prescribed to quash boys being normally active. The real problem lies in the schools—geared to girls' learning styles.
  • The National Institutes of Health reports that the annual amount of federally funded research on women's health was $3.4 billion, ten times as much as on men's--even though men live 5.2 years shorter!
Former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan wrote: “I believe that women have a capacity for understanding and compassion which a man structurally does not have, does not have it because he cannot have it. He’s just incapable of it.”

That remarkable statement is but a droplet in an endless river of anti-male voices. Such voices are already well embedded in the very institutions we trust, and the situation is not improving.

How can we start turning things around for the benefit of everyone?

Please send The Foundation for Male Studies your gift in any amount. Whether $5,000.00 or $5.00, your gift will be wisely invested in meeting enormous and crucial objectives. Simply visit and fill in the form to choose your gift online. You can also mail a check here:

The Foundation for Male Studies
333 Mamaroneck Avenue - 444
White Plains, NY 10605 USA

The Foundation for Male Studies is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, so if you donate before December 31, your gift is fully tax-deductible for your 2010 tax returns as allowed by law.

Looking Forward,

Edward M. Stephens, MD

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Rather Different Sort of Holiday Letter

My dear readers of this blog,

Writing this blog adds more meaning to my life than most anything else I do. So at this holiday time, I feel moved to send you some sort of holiday letter.

Rather than bore you with crap about my life, here are my favorite quotes about Christmas, bracketed by my two favorite Christmas-related YouTube videos, followed by a parody of the office holiday party, and a few closing words from me. And without further ado:

My favorite scene from the movie A Christmas Story.

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ~Norman Vincent Peale

Christmas is a time when kids tell Santa what they want and adults pay for it. Deficits are when adults tell the government what they want and their kids pay for it. ~Richard Lamm

Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall. ~Larry Wilde, The Merry Book of Christmas

I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year ~David Grayson

Even as an adult I find it difficult to sleep on Christmas Eve. Yuletide excitement is a potent caffeine, no matter your age. ~Carrie Latet

Remember this December that love weighs more than gold. ~ Josephine Dodge Daskam Bacon

Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special! How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer.... Who'd have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously? ~Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes

The spirit of Christmas fulfils humankind's greatest hunger. ~Loring A. Schuler

Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen. ~Attributed to a 7-year-old named Bobby

Oh for the good old days when people would stop Christmas shopping when they ran out of money. ~Author Unknown

I do like Christmas on the whole.... In its clumsy way, it does approach Peace and Goodwill. But it is clumsier every year. ~E.M. Forster

Next to a circus there ain't nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit. ~Kin Hubbard

People can't concentrate properly on blowing other people to bits if their minds are poisoned by thoughts suitable to December 25. ~Ogden Nash

I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. ~Charles Dickens

Celine Dion: Oh Holy Night

FROM: Pauline Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: 4 November 2010
RE: Christmas Party
I'm happy to inform you that the company Christmas Party will take place on December 23rd, starting at noon in the private function room at the Grill House. There will be a cash bar and plenty of drinks!
We'll have a small band playing traditional carols. Please feel free to sing along. And don't be surprised if the CEO shows up dressed as Santa Claus! A Christmas tree will be lit at 1:00 PM.
Exchange of gifts among employees can be done at that time. However, no gift should be over $10.00 to make the giving of gifts easy for everyone's pocketbook.
Merry Christmas to you and your family.
FROM: Pauline Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: 5 November 2010
RE: Holiday Party
In no way was yesterday's memo intended to exclude our Jewish employees. There will be no Christmas tree or Christmas carols sung. We will have other types of music for your enjoyment.
Happy Holidays to you and your family,
FROM: Pauline Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: 6 November 2010
RE: Holiday Party
Regarding the note I received from a member of Alcoholics Anonymous requesting a non-drinking table, you didn't sign your name. I'm happy to accommodate this request, but if I put a sign on a table that reads, "AA Only," you wouldn't be anonymous anymore!
How am I supposed to handle this? Somebody?
Forget about the gift exchange, no gift exchange allowed now since the union officials feel that $10.00 is too much money and management believes $10.00 is a little cheap.
FROM: Pauline Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: 7 November 2010
RE: Holiday Party
My, what a diverse group we are! I had no idea that December 20th begins the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which forbids eating and drinking during daylight hours. There goes the party!
Seriously, we can appreciate how a luncheon at this time of year does not accommodate our Muslim employees' beliefs. Perhaps the Grill House can hold off on serving your meal until the end of the party - or else package everything up for you to take home in a little foil doggy bag. Will that work?

Meanwhile, I've arranged for members of Weight Watchers to sit farthest from the dessert buffet and pregnant women will get the table closest to the toilets. Gays are allowed to sit with each other. Lesbians do not have to sit with gay men; each will have their own table. Yes, there will be flower arrangements for the gay men's table too. To the person asking permission to cross dress - no cross dressing allowed.

Low fat food will be available for those on a diet but we are unable to control the salt used in the food. We suggest those people with high blood pressure taste the food first. There will be fresh fruits as dessert for diabetics.

Sorry! Did I miss anything?
FROM: Pauline Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: 8 November 2010
RE: The ****** Holiday Party
Vegetarians! We are going to keep this party at the Grill House whether you like it or not, so you can sit quietly at the table furthest from the "grill of death," as you so quaintly put it. You'll get your f****** salad bar, including organic tomatoes, but you know tomatoes have feelings too--they scream when you slice them. I've heard them scream. I'm hearing them scream right now!
I hope you all have a rotten holiday and then drink, drive and die.
FROM: John Bishop, Acting Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: 9 November 2010
RE: Pauline and the Holiday Party
I'm sure I speak for all of us in wishing Pauline Lewis a speedy recovery. In the meantime, the management has decided to cancel our holiday party and instead, give everyone the afternoon of the 23rd December off with full pay.
Happy Holidays,

We are living in tough times. The government may tell us the recession's over, but we all know it's getting ever tougher out there. That makes Christmas's message all the more important. I know I speak for my wife Barbara, the love of my life, in saying that in 2011 more than ever, we'll indeed need peace and good will.

Marty Nemko

To Help Your Resume Rise to the Top of the Pile

Unlike when the economy was stronger, I must admit that I am not having great success in helping average and below-average candidates land decent jobs.

It's not easy even for excellent candidates, but these strategies are helping their resumes rise to the top of the applicant pile.

Focus on what would make you better than your competitors for the desired position. Examples:
  • Critical skills not held by your competitors. For example, I had a supply chain manager stress his expertise in sourcing not only from Beijing and Shanghai but also from even lower-cost suppliers: inland China, Viet Nam, and Thailand.
  • Quotes from customers or from your latest performance review. For example, "Jane Jones has the rare combination of brains, great work ethic, and being fun to work with." (from my most recent performance review.)
  • Evidence that you not only have experience critical in the target job but excel at it. Examples:
-- In each of my four past performances reviews, I received the top rating: "Exceeds Expectations."
-- A PAR (problem-approach-resolution) story(ies) that demonstrate your excellence: Our employees were unhappy with our desktop support. I created the concept of "Your Personal Geek," in which our IT staff were assigned to specific employees so a relationship could be developed. Satisfaction with desktop support has jumped.
-- Not a broadbrush statement like, "Spearheaded efforts that saved the company 20%." Even if that were true, few readers would believe you could attribute that solely to your efforts. Better: "Located better sources for components for the XPR video card, lowering the cost 9%, a saving of $64,000, while retaining its low MTBF rate."
You want a concentrated, not a dilute resume. Minimize the number of statements that don't present an important advantage you have over competing applicants: non-critical details, attributes that some of your competitors likely have, and redundancies with statements already in your resume.

Highlight your most compelling advantages over the competition. The top of your resume should usually include a highlights section with three or four easy-to-understand, one-line descriptions of your most compelling advantages over your competition for the desired position. Alternatively, present a one-or two-line summary that makes the case.

As always, I welcome your comments, for example, your favorite strategy for ethically helping your resume rise to the top of the pile.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Should You Sue Your College?

My previous writings, for example, THIS, have documented the frighteningly small freshman-to-senior value-added that colleges provide in reading, writing, critical thinking, etc.

I think back even to some of my graduate students at prestigious U.C. Berkeley, and a surprising number even of them had poor reasoning and writing skills.

A letter I received today reminded me again of higher ed's obscene willingness to grant a degree without regard to whether that degree certifies even minimal competence. This person has a master's degree from a California State University. Here's what she wrote:

Subject: previouse advise
Importance: High
Hi Marty
You and I spoke over the phone. During a talk show you had with Ron Owens back in 2005. I was accepted to three school at San Francisco State the school of Social Work, School of Public Health and the school of Public Administration..You advise me to choose the school of Public Administration because this field was going to take many in terms of government policies and new procedures in becoming more streamline in customer service. I graduated with my Masters in 2007 and I have found that this degree is worthless…….I have worked for the state for over 10 years and this degree has not helped me……. now I feel like I am stuck and extremely frustrated. What can I do now??? (I changed irrelevant details and deleted her name to preserve her anonymity.)

I'm not a lawyer, and perhaps there are reasons why such a lawsuit might not prevail but I believe that millions of students might investigate suing their alma mater for malpractice, breach of contract, or defective product.

For example, in admitting an unqualified student into a bachelor's program and/or pushing him or her through without the student having acquired bachelor's-level competence, it seems to me that the institution breached its implicit contract. That contract asserts that if you pay your money and pass your courses, you'll graduate in four or five years with a degree and bachelor's-level skills in reading, writing, critical thinking, mathematical reasoning, plus expertise in a major. Yet that often does not occur.

If colleges don't lose expensive lawsuits, they have little reason to change their ways. After all, they prefer to educate students as cheaply as possibly so there's maximum resources available for what they care about: research and maintaining their fat-salaried, bloated administrations.

Might you have a case against your alma mater? Any lawyers out there want to give me the thumbs-up or thumbs down on whether this could be a winnable case? A class action?

Eight Staggering Statistics About College Student Cheating

This article documents that the majority of college students cheat. I believe the three main causes are:

1) The obvious one: a decline in ethics among our leaders: priests have sex with children parishioners, athletes use illegal drugs to give them an unfair advantage, politicians lie--well, that's nothing new. If role models matter, we're not modeling well.

: All of us, especially those who are prominent, must realize that our actions educate the young on what's really the way to behave.

2) Students feel the course material isn't worth learning and the assignments, such as term papers, aren't worth doing.

: Professors really should make courses and assignments of greater value. Sit in on college classes and examine the course readings and assignments, and if you're honest with yourself, you'll realize how much of it is unimportant in the larger scheme of things.

3) Colleges are admitting ever weaker students. Such students simply can't graduate unless they cheat.

Solution: Admit only students whose high school records (including the difficult-to-cheat-on SAT ) suggests a reasonable probability that college is the wisest post-secondary path for that student.

Female Clark U Prof: Many victim feminists' statistics are wrong

A female Clark U professor's blog asserts that much research showing women as victim is misleading or bogus:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Predictions and Trends for 2011

My annual predictions, with implications for career, business, and investments have been reasonably accurate. They are among my most widely read and republished work. Here are my predictions and trends for 2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Self-Employment Idea: Personal Geek

Most people have technology they'd like to use more fully: their SmartPhone, DV-R, computer, etc. But they don't know how.

For example, their computer has slowed down, they're using only the basics of Microsoft Office, LinkedIn, or Facebook, and they're paying too much for phone service, Internet access, or web hosting.

Then there's the stuff people are afraid of buying because they're not sure how to set it up: big-screen TV, home security system, surround-sound audio system, home computer network, etc.

Plus there's technology the people don't even know about but could make their life better.

Enter the personal geek, who makes house calls: does an audit of the person's needs, buys the stuff cheap on the Internet, installs it, trains the person on their new and existing techno-items, and provides ongoing support, as needed.

I think it's a self-employment idea that, in the right hands, has a high probability of success.

Is Computer Programming & Software Engineering Really Such a Hot Career?

Listen to the government, media, and educators, and you'd think software engineering and programming are among the smartest career choices. Alas, for most people, not so.

Of course, one big reason is that, like all jobs where the work product can be sent over the internet, ever more programming jobs will be offshored. There's no way that companies that hope to survive against their competition can pay $60,000-$100,000 a year plus benefits plus the costs of ADA, FMLA, Workers Comp, Social Security, and all those employment lawsuits that Americans are so fond of filing, when programmers in Asia can be hired for 60-80% less, net. And that's before ObamaCare is implemented!

There are additional reasons why software engineering/programming is overrated. Most of these reasons are provided by software engineer Alex Uveski but they comport with other programmers'/software engineers' reporting:

1. Unlike in most fields, after about five years your pay tops out. After that, your salary growth is dead: 20-year C++ programmers get paid the same as a five-year C++ programmer. Yes, a small percentage become managers or software architects, but most don't: For every architect, there are many programmers. And if you're a manager, you're puzzle-solving less and bossing more.

2. Programming languages are ever getting upgraded, so you spend your nights and weekends teaching yourself Version Next.0--there's no paid training. Otherwise, you are competing against the next horde graduating from college, who are newly trained, eager, and willing to work cheap.

3. The high-tech corporations lobby the federal government to keep a large pool of H1-B (imported) workers in the U.S. Yes, there's a shortage--a shortage of excellent U.S. programmers willing to work 12 hours a day for $50-70,000.

4. The Department of Labor uses misleading statistics to assert that U.S. jobs in software engineering/programming are growing. Their mistake: they lump together programmer jobs with more senior positions: that's like lumping together a BMW designer with a JiffyLube oil changer.

5. Programming is among the most sedentary jobs. You must sit all day, staring at a computer screen and typing (watch out for repetitive strain injury,) usually more than eight hours a day. Not healthy.

Are You Too Materialistic?

As we're in the throes of our annual spending orgy in the name of Christmas, I'd like to remind you that the cost of a materialistic lifestyle is far more than the dollars spent. You must also consider that:
  • To pay for it, you and/or your spouse may have to forgo a less remunerative career so they can make the money to pay for that materialistic lifestyle. It strikes me as sad, for example, when someone who'd love to be a writer must spend 40-70 hours a week for decades as a bond trader to pay for her/his spouse's desire for a more-than-utilitarian home, car, jewelry, vacations, etc.
  • The more you perceive the need to make lots of dollars, the more likely you are to cut ethical corners in your business dealings and to be less generous in your charitable donations.
  • The more you look to "stuff" as a core source of your life's satisfactions, the more likely you are to miss out on life's greater rewards: maximally beneficial work, relationships, beauty, and such no-cost magic as YouTube videos, where you can see the world's greatest performers doing one of their greatest performanced. For example, appropriate for the holidays, HERE is Celine Dion singing Oh Holy Night. For me, few material purchases could give me more pleasure...and I'm an atheist!
  • You convey materialistic values to your children. Is that really what you want to do?

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Very Short Guide to Reducing Your Stress at Work

In these tough times, which don't promise to ease soon, we're all asked to do more with less. Of course, that increases stress. Here are some antidotes:

Retain perspective: How important is that, really?

You can control only your effort, not the outcome. Do your best and then let it go. How your work is received or what others do with your work is usually beyond your control. If there's nothing you can do about it, simply move on to the next task. If worse comes to worst and, for example, you get fired, it usually means there's something better waiting for you. At least think that way. It'll reduce your stress.

Avoid rushing. What causes stress is not so much working long, it's the fight-or-flight response that comes when you rush. If possible, start early, stay late if necessary, but avoid rushing.

Be nice. If you look for maximum opportunities to be nice to people, you'll feel less stressed and, in turn, people will likely be nicer to you, which will reduce your stress further.

The Art of Working Smart

Here are my favorite ways to get more done in less time:
  • Think time-effectiveness. Don't do the task the fastest way. Don't do it the most thorough way. Do it the way that will yield the most benefit per minute.
  • Choose your gear. For each task, consciously decide whether to do it in first gear (slow and careful,) 2nd gear (moderate,) or 3rd gear (fast and less careful.)
  • Default to doing the task rather than putting it on your to-do list. I do that with most of my sub-five-minute tasks.
  • Know what matters to your boss: Ask, "What's priority?" and "How can I make your life easier?"
  • Use sponge time. Most days have lots of time bits you can sponge up and get work done: when a meeting starts late, in line at the supermarket, during your commute, etc. When I'm driving, I often think about a project, taking notes on my omnipresent memo pad.
  • Telecommute? Ask for permission to telecommute if, considering the time saved in not commuting, you'll be more efficient.
  • Don't be too proud to ask for help. Where feasible, ask for help with too-hard work or when there's simply too much.
For a version of this article with some examples added, click HERE.

A Very Short Guide to Overcoming Procrastination

As we start the New Year, so many people say, "I'm going to stop being a procrastinator."

I've written widely on overcoming procrastination, most recently this. But readers have said its comprehensiveness is overwhelming.

So here's a highly abridged version. These are the strategies that have worked the best for the most people. Perhaps you'll find one or, dare I hope, all of them useful.

Be aware of the moment of truth. There's a moment when, consciously or unconsciously, you decide whether to do the task or go do something more fun. If doing the task is in your interest, steel your will and make yourself get started.

Accept uncomfortability. To be even modestly successful in life, you must accept that life often requires you to do the uncomfortable, tasks that require effort and aren't as fun as what you'd enjoy more.

Value accomplishment. Your worth is heavily dependent on what you accomplish. Once you believe that, you won't even think about whether to do the task. You'll do it automatically. Contributory people think, "How much can I accomplish." Societal takers think, "What's the least work I can get by with." Decide you'll be as big a contributor as possible.

Recognize that you can survive failure. Yes, if you fail at the task, it will be evidence that you're not that competent. But not trying ensures that you fail and perhaps that you'll be perceived as a loser. The good news is that probably, if you follow the advice in this blog post, you 'll succeed, at least succeed often enough that you're not perceived as a loser. If you're failing at work tasks too often, perhaps it's a sign you need a better-suited job.

See yourself as a follow-through person. A number of my clients have said, "I just can't picture myself as a follow-through person." It may help to retrain your brain neurons: Even though it sounds touchy-feely, frequent affirmations like, "I will be a follow-through person" may help and certainly can't hurt.

Divide the task into baby steps. Write them down. Don't know how to divide it? Ask someone for help.

What's the fun way?
Every step of the way, ask yourself, "What's the fun way to do this task? Do it half-baked? Alter the task so it uses more of your strengths? Find a partner to work alongside you? Listen to music while you work? Whatever.

Get started. Ask yourself, "What's my first one-minute task?" Do it. Take a low-risk action.

Make yourself stay focused. Take your mind off everything else: other problems you're facing, the fun activity you'd rather be doing, etc. Stay focused on the task at hand. Perhaps remind yourself how good it will feel when you've gotten it done.

Use the One-Minute Struggle.
When you reach a hard part, struggle to figure it out for no more than one minute. After that, chances are you won't solve it. You'll just get frustrated and stop doing the task. At the one-minute mark, decide if you could complete the task without doing that hard part, or get help.

What task should you be getting done? Should you force yourself to get started now? Do you want to use one or more of the techniques above?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Don't Let Journalists Convince You That Education Can Close the Achievement Gap

Standard (read liberal) journalists, for example, Jonathan Alter, will uncritically publish statistics trumpeted by heads of programs designed to close the achievement gap.

But when you peek even slightly beneath those statistics, you'll see that--like investments promised to yield amazing returns--those statistics are misleading or bogus. Examples:

Today's program du jour is the Knowledge is Power Program. (KIPP.) But see this as reported in the Washington Post.

The principal of Central Park East , the Harlem public school whose reported amazing successes resulted in two gushing features on 60 Minutes, admitted to Dr. Barbara Nemko and me on a site visit that the reality was far worse than the publicity indicates. Central Park East had had a one-of-a-kind extraordinary principal, Debbie Meier. When she left, the school's test scores reverted to that of other Harlem high schools.

Another program I'm very familiar with is EdTrust. It touts that by putting all kids, no matter how low achieving, into a rigorous college prep curriculum and providing lots of support, kids will learn much more, graduate at a higher rate, and succeed in college. But a wide range of experts have called Ed Trust data misleading, even dishonest. I would have thought that such criticism would most likely come from right-wing groups but most of the outcry has been from Democrats. For example, respected liberal U.S.C education professor Stephen Krashen wrote an article entitled, "Don't Trust Ed Trust." Gerald Bracey, who for two decades in the prestigious Phi Delta Kappan has authored reports on the state of education, wrote an article in the Huffington Post called "The Education Trust's Disinformation Campaign." A Democratic member of the California State Board of Education, Jim Aschwinden said "Everyone knows Ed Trust is a sham. Go talk to Carol Liu, a Democratic senator who wanted to investigate Ed Trust and was stonewalled but eventually found out that the statistics EdTrust reports about its poster-boy program--San Jose Unified School District--were bogus."

Even the vaunted Head Start, so popular with politicians because it intuitively sounds so good, does not, after 50 years, have good data to support the massive amounts we spend on it. In fact, the just released major study found that Head Start produces "no lasting benefit."

In the 30 years since I finished my Ph.D. at Berkeley specializing in education program evaluation, I've examined dozens of so-called model programs, starting way back with Marva Collins Prep, also the subject of a glowing 60 Minutes profile, and now closed because "lack of enrollment and lack of funds."

I've come to conclude that a model program is one you haven't visited.

The U.S is #1 in the world in per-student spending and the U.S. school districts that spend the most money (like DC--$30,000 a year per child--even with super-superintendent Michelle Rhee) have scores at the bottom. Yet for the first time, China just participated in the worldwide comparison of student achievement. It ranked first despite far smaller expenditure on education.

In these tough times, before asking the taxpayer to dig yet deeper into their already depleted pockets, after already having spent more than a trillion(!) dollars to try to close the achievement gap, we must face the unfortunate truth that education can only do so much.

UPDATE: I've just perused a book called Bad Students, Not Bad Schools, written by a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, who makes the same case as made in this blog post but with tremendous rigor. I commend it to you. I've invited him to debate the question of the closeability of the achievement gap with outgoing California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O'Connell. Both of them have accepted. The debate will occur on my KALW-FM radio show on Jan 23 at 11 am Pacific time. It can be heard live, worldwide, on and archived permanently soon after on my website,

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Seeking Brilliant Guests for My Radio Show

I'm looking for guests for my NPR-San Francisco radio show. I'm interested in very smart people with whom I could have have a wide-ranging, dazzling, exchange, especially about issues related to work. The person must also be a clear and engaging communicator.

Previous excellent guests have included Craig Venter, Jack Welch, Alan Dershowitz, Linda Chavez, Albert Shanker, Noam Chomsky, Robert Reich, Vanguard founder John Bogle, Richard Dawkins, Jim Cramer, Deborah Tannen, Anthony Bourdain, and Charles Murray.

Any suggestions?

Monday, December 6, 2010

The True Underemployment Rate

A more accurate way to compute the underemployment rate would include:
  • Unemployed and actively looking for work (currently 9.8%)
  • Discouraged workers. Those who'd like to work but have given up. (another 10%)
  • Underemployed. Those working part-time who'd like to work full time (another 10%)
  • Misemployed job level. Those working at a lower-level job than they're qualified for (I estimate another 15%)
  • Misemployed interest area. People who dislike their field of endeavor but felt forced to be in it because of a lack of jobs in a field they're interested in, for example, the arts. (I estimate another 20%).
In sum, I believe that well over half of Americans are not doing work they're satisfied with. (And that doesn't count the many people who don't like something about their particular job: their boss, coworkers, the employer's ethics, etc.)

What to do to reduce the underemployment rate?
  • A national jobs database so employers and employees could more efficiently be matched.
  • Career advising starting in the 8th grade so more people could, early on, identify a well-suited career goal.
  • A public service announcement campaign encouraging people to hire tutors for their kids, personal assistants for themselves, and companions for their elderly relatives. That would create millions of pro-social jobs that currently don't exist.
  • Have all high school students take a course in ethical entrepreneurship. People with new business ideas create jobs while meeting the citizenry's unmet needs.

Managing Depression

If you're chronically mildly to moderately sad/depressed, these things often help:
  • 10-12 sessions of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  • Regular exercise
  • Cutting down on abusives: alcohol, pot, cocaine, etc.
  • An outlet: help others and/or do something creative: write, act, paint, play music, etc.
Note that I've omitted antidepressant drugs. Often they don't work, stop working after a while, and/or have side effects that outweigh the benefits (weight gain, sexuality inhibition, even anxiety increase.) It may be wise to see if the above strategies work well enough without medication. If not, see a psychopharmacologist to discuss if it's worth a trial on an antidepressant.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Think Three Times Before Going into Multilevel Marketing (MLM)

A client asked me, "Should I go into a multilevel marketing business?" (They're also known as MLM or network marketing.)

MLMs are businesses in which you try to make most of your income not by selling product but by recruiting others to sell product.

I had known little about MLM except that I knew two people who tried it and neither made money. One ended up with a lot of water filters and the other guy a garage full of laundry products.

So I did some reading about MLMs. In an era gone by, when many people lived rurally and few stores served them, MLMs had some viability. Indeed, Avon, Electrolux, and Tupperware started as MLMs. But today, with value-priced retailers of nearly any imaginable product even in rural areas (e.g., Wal-Mart) and the Internet serving nearly everyone, I believe MLMs are a bad business to get into. One major reason: If a product is worth selling, it will be available online or in stores--no need for an expensive, multil-level distribution network.

Indeed, the Wikipedia profile of multilevel marketing includes these reports on income earned in multilevel marketing:
  • The London Times reports that a British government investigation revealed that just 10% of Amway's British agents made any profit.
  • Newsweek reported that, based on Mona Vie's ($40 a bottle juice) own income disclosure statement "fewer than 1 percent qualified for commissions and of those, only 10 percent made more than $100 a week."
  • USA Today reported that "The Direct Selling Association (an advocate for the industry) says the median annual income for those in direct sales (MLM) is $2,400."
The Federal Trade Commission among others warns than many MLMs are little more than pyramid schemes, in which the goal is not mainly to sell product (like high-priced juice, vitamins, skin cream, etc), but to convince friends and neighbors to sign up to sell those products, which generates money for the recruiter. Too often, the main result is friends and relatives who resent you because of your sales pressure and/or because they ended up not making a living but losing money.

I certainly understand why, with today's high un- and underemployment rate, MLM appeals. After all, President Obama promised that if the taxpayers coughed up the $1 trillion in attempted stimulus spending, the unemployment rate would decline from the already high 8%. Instead it has leapt to 9.8%, and the underemployment rate is twice that.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, for almost anyone, there are wiser approaches to self-employment than a MLM scheme. If you're looking for a structured approach to self-employment, I suggest you forgo both MLMs and franchises, and instead, scout around for a successful simple business (e.g., a gourmet sandwich truck), and hire its owner to coach you in starting one.

My Top Ten Ways to Improve the World

#10. Radical election reform: Replace bought politicians with wisely selected ones. I'm undecided between two approaches:

1. All campaigns would be two to three weeks long, 100% publicly funded, and consisting only of a neutral body such as C-Span or Consumer Reports posting the candidates' voting records and positions on key issues, plus a broadcast debate followed by a simulation of the candidates running a meeting.

2. Our government officials would be selected using passive criteria, like a stock index fund. For example, it might consist of the most newly retired of the nation's 10 largest nonprofits, a randomly selected CEO of the S&P MidCap 400, the Police Officer of America's Cop of the Year, the School Principal of the Year, the most award-winning scientist who finished her/his Ph.D. in the last decade, plus five random citizens.

You protest, "The incumbents would never allow it--the foxes are guarding the hen house." My approach would be to get the media to urge voters to vote against candidates that oppose a fairer electoral system.

#9. Replace ObamaCare with NemkoCare. Patients having (ahem) skin in the game is key to cost control: the invisible hand of 300 million people voting with their feet. So, all but the truly indigent would pay fee-for-service except for catastrophic care, which they'd pay for with private insurance.

To empower consumers to make good decisions, all health care providers would be required to post patient satisfaction rates and success rates for procedures, adjusted by severity of illness.

Caring for the millions of currently minimally cared-for patients will require more doctors, nurse practitioners, etc.
To provide them while improving quality, provider training would be shorter and practical--wrested from the university and provided by master practitioners. Physicians, let alone nurses, do not need a year each of college-level inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, calculus, and physics. Their training should be provided by the finest clinicians, not by academics, who mainly do research on esoterica.

#8. Replace curricular esoterica with essentials. Kindergarten-through-grad-school curriculum has long been selected primarily by professors, a group that has deliberately opted out of the real world and loves esoterica. Hence today, nearly all high schools students, even those reading on a fifth-grade level, must study the doppelganger, quadratic equations, stoichiometry, the Peloponnesian Wars, etc., even if that means they leave school unable to make change, critique an editorial, resolve conflicts, or prioritize ethics over expediency. Essentials must be prioritized over esoterica.

I'd wrest curriculum choice from the academics and replace them with a diverse panel of people from plumbers to CEOs, nurses to, okay, professors, who have been issued the following mandate: That which is most important for living must be taught and learned before teaching the less important.

#7. Require schools and colleges to post their report card. We require students to receive report cards every few months. We even require tires to have "report cards" molded into their sidewalls.

Well, if education is as important as everyone claims, shouldn't schools and colleges be required to post a report card on themselves? For example, shouldn't they be required to report their students' average annual growth in reading, writing, critical thinking, and mathematical reasoning, compared with national norms for schools with similar student bodies?

Shouldn't colleges additionally be required to post their four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates (disaggregated by high school record and SAT score,) and the actual average total cost of a degree, after financial aid, broken down by family income and assets? Shouldn't all schools and colleges be required to post the results of a student satisfaction survey and a summary of the accreditation visiting team's report?

#6. Replace a nation of variable-quality teachers with online top teachers. The nation has, for example, 30,000 high school math teachers, some magnificent, most not. Why not have ten of the nation's best teachers team-teach courses on video, available on the Internet, with local paraprofessionals or even teachers on site to answer student questions and provide the human touch. That would enable every child, rich and poor, urban and rural, to be taught by a dream team of teachers.

Of course, the reason that hasn't happened is that the teachers' unions have used their mammoth political clout to quash such proposals. Perhaps movies like Waiting for Superman will start to awaken the public that the teachers' unions are children's enemy.

#5. Create an Assistance Army. This would solve the employment crisis while improving America's quality of life. The government should fund a series of public service announcements encouraging people to hire a tutor for their children, personal assistant for themselves, and companion for their elderly relatives. Encouraging that Assistance Army would create millions of ethical, society-improving, widely doable jobs with minimal expenditure of our tax dollars, unlike with government-created jobs.

#4. Replace the media as brainwasher with the media as fair informer. Much wisdom resides left of center but much also exists right of center. Yet, except in the increasingly marginalized Fox News, the largest mindshare, especially among the influential class, is held by liberal media outlets: for example, CNN, New York Times, the TV networks, even Google searches, which on sociopolitical topics, in my experience, generate heavily liberal results, unlike the results of Yahoo! searches, which seem more even-handed.

The media has enormous power to affect our thinking and in turn, public policy. Not long ago, most members of the media felt a near-sacred obligation to present the full range of intelligent views on an issue or candidate. Today, with their professors' encouragement, most journalists consciously or unconsciously manipulate their audience into believing what they believe. And what they believe is overwhelmingly liberal thought because most journalists, like professors, have opted out of the real world and thus have been exposed mainly to the leftist thought hegemonic in universities and especially in prestigious journalism schools. Journalism schools should encourage their students to pull on ropes of restraint and make all efforts to fairly present intelligent perspectives from both right and left of center.

#3. Replace legal advocates with legal fact finders. In our legal system, two advocates devote their considerable intelligence and energy not to getting to the truth but to getting their side to win. That means that the side with the better lawyer has an unfair advantage. I believe that greater justice would be served if, as in the European Court of Justice, along with the judge, the two attorneys were charged with getting to the truth, not advocating, a priori, for one side.

#2. Embrace behavioral genetics. Real solutions to social problems require us to acknowledge that they have both environmental and genetic roots. Just as a VW Bug cannot run like a Ferrari no matter how well tuned-up, a person won't behave intelligently and responsibly unless both genes and environment are sound. Every mother of two or more children knows that each child emerged at birth with a distinctive, enduring personality: No matter how much effort parent and schools make, laconic infants rarely become high-energy, retarded toddlers rarely become intelligent, hyperactive children rarely become laid-back adults.

So we must not reflexively reject genetically oriented approaches to reducing social problems. We tend to viscerally reject such approaches because they evoke comparisons with the horrific Nazis' attempts to create a master race. But there's an infinite difference between the Nazis, who wanted to kill all non-Aryans, and a society that would, for example, attempt to reduce teen pregnancy by making available in schools not only comprehensive sex education but abortion and birth control, including new implantables such as the easily-insertable/removable five-year-lasting Jadelle.

We should even consider, fair-mindedly, the wisdom of funding research that would give parents the uncoerced option, subsidized for the poor, to ensure that their children be born without strikes against them: with high cognitive ability, immunity to cancer, and even perhaps the ability to love.

#1. Legislators must steward our tax dollars as carefully as their own. As every triage medic knows, we must prioritize investing our resources not in those with the greatest deficit but in those with the greatest potential to benefit. Yet we often don't. For example, our hearts reach out to children who are most at-risk, those with the biggest deficit: special education children, inner-city kids, etc. So we've reallocated huge percentages of education spending from the now-eviscerated programs for gifted kids to the lowest achievers. We've spent literally trillions of dollars in a failed attempt to reduce the achievement gap: everything from Early Start to Head Start, No Child Left Behind to dropout prevention, adult literacy to job retraining programs.

Perhaps the most blatant example of poor stewardship of our tax dollars and of our freedoms is that government is making ever more massive efforts to attempt to cool the planet with insufficient analysis of the likely extent of benefit, the opportunity costs, etc. Environmentalism has moved beyond science to religion.

If legislators and policy makers were investing their own money, I predict they'd invest differently.

I welcome your comments.