Wednesday, June 24, 2020

From the Homeschool Front … CyberPatriot by Colleen Hroncich


When my 15-year-old daughter asked if we could start a CyberPatriot team, my initial thought was “No.” It’s not that I didn’t support the idea. I learned about CyberPatriot several years ago. Sponsored by the Air Force Association, it sounded like an amazing program. Kids form teams, learn about cyber security, and work in online competitions to find and fix security flaws in virtual machines. 


The reason I wanted to say “No” when my daughter asked was that I know next to nothing about the inner workings of computers. Like any mom who wants to push off a major decision, I told my daughter “I’ll think about it.” Like any experienced daughter, she knew that meant “probably not.”

My kids know I like them to take initiative. We have a busy life. If they wait for me to make things happen for them, they’re going to miss out on some opportunities. So my daughter asked if she could contact a computer science professor at a local college to see if he’d serve as a mentor if we started a team. To my surprise, he immediately agreed.


In addition to finding a mentor, my daughter recruited 5 other kids to join her team. The mentor met with us and helped us understand the concepts involved in the competition. He showed the kids which training modules would be most important for the initial competition round. 

My daughter and I have worked together on the training modules. I now understand why websites insist on such elaborate passwords. An 8-character password with only numbers can be cracked in under one second. Add lower and upper case letters and symbols, and it’ll take up to three weeks to hack. If you bump up to 9 characters, it’ll take 5 years to crack. At 10 characters, your password is safe for up to 526 years!


The CyberPatriot program is giving my daughter and her teammates useful skills that will help them secure their own devices. It’s also exposing them to potential careers that won’t be going away anytime soon. Happily, we’re getting these benefits with little expense and a lot of flexibility. The competitions are online, so we don’t have to travel to a distant tournament site. And they can be completed at our convenience within a 6-hour window during a specified weekend.

My daughter is also learning responsibility and leadership as she tries to plan meetings that will accommodate the schedules of multiple homeschool families and a college professor. 

I’m very happy my daughter wasn’t discouraged by my “I’ll think about it” response. CyberPatriot has been a learning experience for us both. It’s definitely worth looking into for your students.



Colleen Hroncich loves that homeschooling allows her to learn right alongside her children. A published author and former policy analyst, Colleen’s favorite subjects are economics/public policy and history. She has been active in several homeschool co-ops and is a speech and debate coach.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

econlife - Where to Find an Electric Vehicle’s Emissions by Elaine Schwartz



What if every car on the road is electric? Wyoming would need 17 percent more electricity. while for Maine, it’s a whopping extra 55 percent.

Because each state has a different grid mix, your zip code matters when you buy an EV.

The Grid Mix

Each state has a different grid mix that determines the emission expense of an EV. One state’s primary electricity source could be natural gas or hydro-power. Another’s could be coal or nuclear plants.

This is the summary:




But let’s take a closer look. (Unless otherwise indicated, all graphs are from the U.S. Department of Energy/Alternative Fuels Data Center):

Washington state gets 63 percent of its power from hydro-related sources:




Quite different, New Jersey depends on natural gas and then nuclear power. Combined, they provide almost 95 percent of New Jersey’s electricity:




Meanwhile Kentucky gets almost three quarters of its electricity from coal powered plants. Combine that with natural gas and hydro sources and you are almost at 100 percent:




Again different, California depends on natural gas but hydro and solar are up there too:


And finally, Texas power comes from natural gas but here we have to add coal and wind too:




Our Bottom Line: Emissions

Whether zooming in on the country, a state, or your garage, the closer we look, the more we see about how much an electric vehicle helps the environment.

A mathematician once told us that the length of the British coast is infinite. Yes, when you see it from a distance, it appears to be an unbroken measurable line. However, the closer you look, the more you see. There are small inlets that have tinier indents. They go on forever, getting smaller and smaller.

Do enjoy this brief zoom that starts large and winds up with a dendrite area:




Our emissions data reveal the same phenomenon.

To determine the actual emissions benefit of an EV, we need to look upstream at the well-to-wheels factor and compare it to direct (tailpipe) emissions of internal combustion machines. Well-to-wheels refers to the electric grid mix. It takes us to fuel production, processing, and distribution.

Next, we should even be thinking about when you charge your car. Midnight, when demand tapers, is much better than the early evening because your power plant has peak capacity that we should try to utilize. In addition, we can check if your state has installed charging stations. Policy planners could even consider the way EVs store electricity when fully charged.

So, where are we? To find the emissions created by your EV, we need to know your zip code.

My sources and more: My subscription to the Fact of the Week from the DOE came in handy yesterday. It took me to each state’s grid mix that, like me, you could find it tough to stop looking at. From there, The Washington Post discussed at grid optimization. Then, to take an interesting leap, I recommend this Yale Daily News Benoit Mandelbrot obituary on fractal math. (Please note that my Mandelbrot discussion was in a previous econlife post.)


Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

econlife - How Maps Tell Us More Than Directions by Elaine Schwartz


The Orlando area near Disney World can be seen in two different ways. It just depends if Disney made the map or Google. Emphasizing all that is Disney, their map excludes a nearby state highway as well as a residential area that has non-Disney resort properties. Google provides a less commercial image.

The Orlando Disney World area:




Where are we going? To the message from a map.

What Maps Tell Us

Google

While a Google map might not be selling us something, it does reflect a bias. Compared to Apple, a Google map highlights more roadways and transit. Apple, meanwhile targets users who want to know about shops and landmarks:




Columbus

Here in the U.S., we were rather fortunate that the 15th century Martellus Map got it wrong. Using it as a reference, Christopher Columbus would have concluded that the trip to Asia was shorter if you went westward. Consequently, he wound up in what became the Bahamas.

Using the maps under the Martellus, you can compare the size of the journey to Japan, depending on the direction you select:


The London Underground

Fast forwarding to contemporary British commuters, the problem was a distorted Tube map. Because people thought that Notting Hill Gate was south of Paddington, they used that route to get to Bond Street rather than a shorter link from Baker Street:



Our Bottom Line: Externalities

Maps create externalities. Defined as the impact on an uninvolved third party, an externality can be positive or negative. Vaccines create positive externalities when people unrelated to the recipient remain healthy. Quite different, a negative externality can spread harmful consequences as when a factory pollutes.

With maps, we can have an explorer bring both positive and negative externalities to a vast proportion of the world that Europeans had not occupied. British commuters can waste time and Disney might not help all visitors with a map that focuses on itself.

My sources and more: Today’s post is based on “The Economics of Maps” from The Journal of Economic Perspectives. Slightly concerned, I did not check what they said about each map. However, we can be entirely sure that maps are always biased because they selectively choose facts. And, those biases create externalities.



Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Spare Time Reading by Mike Siekkinen

Though summer has come and gone, I still get some reading time in for enjoyment. I thought I'd share some of my favorite authors and books I may revisit. I do tend toward the fantasy, science fiction and horror genres so if you do also, you may find some of these authors and stories worth a read.

Stephen King  Hands down scariest author for me. Great story telling and he rarely has let me down with his novels. I normally do not want to put a King novel down! Some favorites have been The Stand, The Gunslinger Series and It.

J.R.R. Tolkien  Best fantasy series to date. Established the rules all others use. Compelling and complete. A master story teller with his epic. I know many have read it but if not, give it a try. It has something for everyone.

Dean Koontz  I love the Odd Thomas series but he has many other great books. Another master horror/supernatural story teller. I have enjoyed his series as well as his stand alone books.

Michael Moorcock  From my youth, the Elric of Melnibone series is an epic tale unlike others. His catalogue of novels is extensive and his theme of the eternal hero has a number of series worth reading. Give him a try.

Ursula K. Leguin The Earthsea trilogy is a great read as well as many of her standalone stories. She has fantasy, fiction and science fiction in her writings.

Fritz Leiber His fantasy novels are fun and his Fhaferd and the Grey Mouser series is a blast to read. He has an extensive collection of science fiction and fantasy novels.

Patrick Rothfuss  I just finished his Name the Wind novel and can’t wait to get into the next book. Great storytelling. Another fantasy series I am enjoying.


What are you reading in your spare time?

mike_s_blog
Dr. Mike Siekkinen, a retired U.S. Navy submariner, became a teacher as a second career. He teaches history at St Marys Middle School as well as Adult and Career Education at Valdosta State in Georgia.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

econlife - A Tale of Two (Very Different) Restaurants by Elaine Schwartz



Used to be that a restaurant was where we talked, and ate, and relaxed. Maybe we had some wine and good food. At Prune, in Manhattan’s East Village, our dessert could have been the sugared black plums on warm buttered toast (pictured above).

In this three-year-old image of Prune, you can see it was tiny and cramped…and diners loved it:



Now Prune has closed, maybe forever, maybe not. But in Midtown, Junzi remains opens. Let’s look at the difference.

Two Restaurants

Prune

Days before Prune closed on March 15, its owner saw her revenue cascading. It slid from Saturday’s $12,141 to Thursday’s $2,093. Hours after the owner decided to shut down, so too did the city. Gathering her 30 employees, she knew she could not afford her payroll, sales taxes, rent.

As Gabrielle Hamilton explained, in her 20 years in business, she had survived 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, and the Great Recession. But the coronavirus was different. Her dining recipe had brought success until we started to worry about social distancing.

She said she thought about take-out, an app, and a delivery service. But her style was too different. Yes, she has 10-year lease so reopening is a possibility. But her side-by-side 24 inch tables will no longer work.

Junzi

On West 41st Street in Manhattan, Juntzi Kitchen is open. No longer serving the tourist or office crowd at lunchtime, its fast casual Chinese food is ready for delivery. When Yong Zhao realized he needed to tweak his business model, he stocked up on larger takeout containers. Instead of single portions, he prepared larger family friendly meals. He had a chef streaming heating directions to all who ordered a three-course dinner. His logistics facilitated Grubhub deliveries and customer pickups.

In 2019, Junzi looked like this:



Now, the tables are gone and Yong is planning for the future.

His friends in China tell him that they seat parties of three or less at every other table. Diners have an app tied to their national ID number that tracks temperatures and contacts. A sign in front documents the establishment’s cleaning schedule, health stats, employee data. Yong’s plans could be similar.

Our Bottom Line: Land, Labor, and Capital

Called the factors of production, land, labor, and capital are the ingredients in every good and service recipe. Only months ago, a restaurant’s land, labor, and capital depended on the owner’s vision. People like Gabrielle Hamilton wanted a cozy establishment with her own kind of cooking. Her 30 employees included servers, bartenders, and a sous chef. Her tables, her stoves, and the chefs’ treasured knives would be in a list of her capital. As for the labor, they formed a sort of family. Regular customers became a part of the group. They produced 14 services, were open for 7 days, served brunch and lunch. Now she has to decide whether to change her land, labor, and capital if she reopens.

But the owner of Junzi is ready to change his.

My sources and more: While the NY Times Magazine took a close look at Prune in 2017, Planet Money told the Junzi story in a recent podcast.


Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

econlife - The Innovations That a Pandemic Inspires by Elaine Schwartz


As xkcd suggests, our 2019 selves would have been mystified by a surging interest in flour during 2020:



But you can see that online interest in bread machines has also increased:



Pandemic Innovations

Affordability

Expecting consumers to cut back on spending, companies are simultaneously targeting luxury and economy. For the U.S., Europe, and emerging market economies, the goal is a menu of similar products that cater to different budgets. PepsiCo tried the same approach during the Great Recession (Dec. 2007-June 2009) when they based marketing on paycheck cycles. Convinced that we are more loyal to a brand if we have cash, they publicized pricier packages when we were paid and smaller packs later in the month. Somewhat similarly, Proctor & Gamble has a version of Tide that is 20 percent cheaper and Nestlé is producing smaller seasoning packets as well as the normal sizes.

Hands-free

In Thailand, a mall is experimenting with elevators that have foot controls. Instead of selecting a button to indicate your destination, you use your foot on a pedal:



For doorknob safety, a British firm developed a “hygienehook.” The idea here is to open a door without touching it:



There also is a Hygiene Hand that touches the elevator button, the ATM, and the phone screen for you:


Sanitizing

The Hong Kong International airport is testing a disinfectant enclosure. From what I could surmise, travelers step inside for a 40-second spritz. Inside you get your temperature checked and your clothing cleaned of viruses and bacteria:



Our Bottom Line: Structural Change

I suspect that our economy will experience some structural change during the next several years. Defined as the replacement of old industries by new ones, structural change requires new skills from workers, new capital, and new products. Our best example is the replacement of typewriters by computers, and of horse and buggy apparatus by autos. Also though, I can remember pre-9/11 airport design when there was no security perimeter to prevent gate and shops access.

Because of the coronavirus, some of the places and devices that brought us closer together will be replaced by a socially distanced and sanitized array of goods and services. They will range from everyday sanitation to traditional offices that could become obsolete.

Returning to where we began, more interest in flour seems minor but it could be the tip of a massively restructured “remote” economy.

My sources and more: Seeing the xkcd cartoon, I knew there had to be other examples beyond this WSJ article on smaller packages. So, from there, you might enjoy (as did I) tales of innovations from Aljazeera, and FastCompany, and the Standard.

Our featured image is from Pixabay.



Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.