Assorted Links

1) Andre Aggasi revels in next calling. Admirable, but when it comes to the academic achievement gap, no amount of $ can compensate for outside of school factors including wide disparities in family resources and resolve.

2) Our world “infrastructure quality” ranking? We’re number. . . 23! Someone fill Michel Medved in.

3) White collar crime like this never makes the local evening news. Consequently, many conclude poorer darker people are more prone to crime. Honest people end up subsidizing the insurance premiums of dishonest people.

4) Heavy metal disability. U.S. anti-Scandinavian conservatives will eat this story up. Although I’m pro-Scandinavia, I have to admit, it is laughable. Thanks to Marcela V and Tyler C.

5) Shit. I’ve been trying off and on for 44 years. Now this six year-old girl has one more ace than me.

21st Century Commerce

[I have a dream as a blogger. That someday my sissy will comment. Today’s post is written with that in mind.]

In the 20th century, when someone said, “I’m going shopping,” it usually meant they were driving to a nearby store. As a pipsqueak, I’d routinely shout to my mom as she hurried out the door, “Bring me something.”

Increasingly, we log onto to our lap or desktop computers to make purchases. I do a google search and then press “shopping” to see where it’s available and for what price.

Recently, I read a Wall Street Journal story about a young professional’s finances. He buys lots of things on Ebay that I wouldn’t have ever thought of buying on-line. Razor blades for example. So I ran the razor blade numbers and found they’re 50 cents cheaper per blade on Ebay than at Costco. Google shopping doesn’t seem to link to Ebay, so now I’m going to try to remember to search Ebay separately.

Last week I was shopping for mountain bike pedals. I decided I wanted these*. I had at least four choices on where to buy them: 1) in person at the local LBS. . . local bike shop; 2) in person or on-line at a chain/cooperative/club store like Performance Bicycle or REI; 3) on-line at the behemoth,; or 4) on-line at an independent bike store anywhere in the world.

I didn’t even check the local bike store because I was doubtful they’d have them in stock and they just can’t compete on price. In fact, now I stock up on chains, cassettes, and cables on-line, which cost considerably less than at the local LBS, and just pay the LBSers for labor.

They were listed as $269.99 at Performance, but on sale for $199.99 (before tax and shipping). REI, $269.00. Too expensive even factoring in the 10% or so I get back as credit as a “member”. (Of course “cooperative or club credit” is of no value if it prompts me to later purchase things I don’t need).

They were available at some independent associated with Amazon for $159.99, or $173.91 with tax. For some reason, the shipping date was late July, early August.

Finally, they were 87.17 euros or $126.39 at a Barcelona sporting goods store. No tax, but the only shipping option was DHL for $20.58, for a grand total of $146.97.

So they went from Barcelona, Spain; to Leipzig, Germany; to Cincinnati; to Seattle; to my door a few hours ago.

* yes weight weenies, 100g heavier than the normal, smaller 985s, but with these is I can more easily do short, tennis shoe-based rides around town


My Lovely Wife

It’s time. I’m going public with my affection for my wife.

Twenty-five years ago today she walked down the aisle of a Lutheran eglesia in SoCal and committed to sticking with me through thick and thin.

She had no interest in marriage when we met in Venice, CA; went out for fish and chips at Marina del Rey; and and then flirted on a deserted Santa Monica lifeguard stand in the dark. After falling for her hard, she informed me she was going to Mexico for the summer to learn to speak Spanish. So enamored with me, she ran for the border.

Against all odds, while studying Spanish in Cuernavaca, she started to miss me. Following some steamy hand-written letters (remember those?), I flew to Mexico at the end of her language school studies and we backpacked throughout southern Mexico. Like Felix Hernandez in the latter innings, I wore her down. By the time we returned home we were halfway down the aisle.

She should have known she was dealing with a dimwit when, right before saying my vows with the videocamera rolling, I turned the small microphone clipped to my tux off instead of on. Even though there is no audio evidence of my vows, I’ve done my best to honor them.

She’s loved me as unconditionally as possible and for that I am incredibly grateful. Like anyone who has been married for the long haul, we’ve struggled at times, even more than outside observers would guess. There were moments when the Vegas oddsmakers weren’t sure we’d make it to 25. When our wires get crossed, I sometimes lose my temper and patience, and just want to stop talking and take the next space shuttle flight into outer-space. She can also lose it, but always needs to resolve conflicts immediately no matter how long it takes. I mean no matter how long.

She’s the spiritual leader of our household, a Godly woman with a profound social conscience. She also is a damn sexy dancer and the best, most caring, and loving mother on Mother Earth.

My only regret is that we can’t get back all the sporadic days we’ve lost to mindless miscommunication, self-centeredness, arguing, and hurt feelings. I don’t assume we have another 25 years to enjoy each other’s company. I’m not going anywhere, but our health isn’t guaranteed and some of the cars on Mount Rainier got awfully close on Saturday’s training ride.

My plan going forward is to take full advantage of each year not knowing which might be our last. My hope is for steadily improving communication, mutual selflessness, reduced conflict, and even more profound affection and intimacy.

I’d jet down the same church aisle today given the chance all over again.

Semi-Noteworthy Links

1.) Prescription only cigs. I’m down with it. As long as the State never regulates my mega-sized peanut butter chocolate chip cookie intake.

2) National Funk Congress deadlockedTo move forward, we’ve got to get on up, and stay on the scene, like a sex machine. I want to write for the Onion.

3) A sure-fire way to raise students’ test scores. I’ve been highly critical of all of the sticks associated with high stakes end-of-year standardized tests. But to try to explain away the cheating based on the pressure created by those tests strikes me as disingenuous. Some teachers, like some people, always act with integrity. Others rarely do.

4) January 6, 2012. Meryl Streep as the Iron Lady. Is there a living actress with more range?

5) Pawlenty of love for Gaga.

In Your Face Country

Olympia, WA Weather

TodayJul 5 Wed6 Thu7 Fri8 Sat9 Sun10 Mon11 Tue12 Wed13 Thu14
Sunny Sunny Partly Cloudy Partly Cloudy Sunny Sunny Mostly Sunny Partly Cloudy Partly Cloudy Partly Cloudy
Sunny Sunny Partly Cloudy Partly Cloudy Sunny Sunny Mostly Sunny Partly Cloudy Partly Cloudy Partly Cloudy
82°FHigh 83° 71° 68° 72° 75° 74° 72° 72° 69°
51°Low 55° 51° 47° 49° 51° 53° 50° 53° 50°

Most Effective Value-Added Fill-in the Blank

Convinced that greater teacher accountability is a panacea for improving schools, The Los Angeles Times uses K-12 students’ standardized test scores to assign teachers to one of five categories: 1) Most effective value-added teachers; 2) More effective than average value-added teachers; 3) Average value-added teachers; 4) Less effective than average value-added teachers; and 5) Least effective value-added teachers.

Then they publish the results. The hell with cooperation, teamwork, and a collective identity.

An idea this good should be applied more broadly. I’m picturing college sociology students canvassing our neighborhood interviewing the wives (in two parent, hetero homes) about their husbands.

This morning I fixed my wife’s computer and purchased her some things on-line. Last weekend I wrestled a couple of her dead bushes out of the ground, trimmed the live bushes, and basically kicked ass throughout the yard. And since she’s been injured for awhile, I’ve been going the extra mile in the kitchen. I’m almost always charming, watch romantic comedies, and make her chuckle. Dare I dream? Most effective value-added husband. Can’t wait to see the shame of my neighbor friends whose evaluations don’t turn out nearly as well.

On the other hand, apparently I teased my daughters too much about boys sometime in the past, and so now, when it comes to their love lives, they’ve completely frozen me out. The dreaded least effective value-added father. At least I’ll make other fathers feel better about themselves.

And since what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, what about a cubicle-by-cubicle assessment of each ed bureaucrat’s performance downtown at the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction? I see, spend more time at Starbucks and playing hackysack in Sylvester Park than in classrooms. Continuously churn out undeveloped teacher and teacher education standards without ever consulting living breathing teachers? I anticipate the state’s ed bureaucrats filling up the least effective value-added column.

What about our members of Congress? Let’s see, they’ve lowered taxes, increased spending, grown the deficit, and failed to balance the budget. They refuse to work with anyone on the opposite side of the aisle, and for good measure, they tweet their junk (I’m anticipating the next scandal). While mathematically impossible, I’m thinking 538 least effective value-added politicians which of course means least effective value-added citizen designations for all of us.

Applying this framework to other contexts has convinced me that all we really need is a two-part, most and least effective value-added assessment.

When you forward this post to others, remember to say it’s from your favorite, most effective value-added blogger friend.

Happy Interdependence Day

If someone said to me that I could only read one person for the next ten years, Atul Gawande would be among my finalists.

His May 26, 2011 New Yorker essay, Cowboys and Pit Crews, is the transcript of his recent commencement address at Harvard’s Medical School. As always, it’s insightful and important.

Here’s an excerpt:

     The core structure of medicine—how health care is organized and practiced—
emerged in an era when doctors could hold all the key information patients needed in
their heads and manage everything required themselves. One needed only an ethic of hard
work, a prescription pad, a secretary, and a hospital willing to serve as one’s workshop,
loaning a bed and nurses for a patient’s convalescence, maybe an operating room with a
few basic tools. We were craftsmen. We could set the fracture, spin the blood, plate the
cultures, administer the antiserum. The nature of the knowledge lent itself to prizing
autonomy, independence, and self-sufficiency among our highest values, and to
designing medicine accordingly. But you can’t hold all the information in your head any
longer, and you can’t master all the skills. No one person can work up a patient’s back
pain, run the immunoassay, do the physical therapy, protocol the MRI, and direct the
treatment of the unexpected cancer found growing in the spine. I don’t even know what it
means to “protocol” the MRI.

     Before Elias Zerhouni became director of the National Institutes of Health, he was
a senior hospital leader at Johns Hopkins, and he calculated how many clinical staff were
involved in the care of their typical hospital patient—how many doctors, nurses, and so
on. In 1970, he found, it was 2.5 full time equivalents. By the end of the 1990s, it was
more than fifteen. The number must be even larger today. Everyone has just a piece of
patient care. We’re all specialists now—even primary care doctors. A structure that 
prioritizes the independence of all those specialists will have enormous difficulty
achieving great care.

The problem according to Gawande is “We train, hire, and pay doctors to be cowboys. But it’s pit crews people need.

In my field, teacher education, we train, hire, and pay teachers to be cowboys. But students need pit crews. Increasingly, the world of work require employees to function as team members.

Older docs, Gawande points out, don’t like the changes because they miss their autonomy, independence, and self-sufficiency.

Just like those older docs, I dislike the forced teaming that’s increasingly required of me. For pit crews to work, Gawande argues, “you must cultivate certain skills which are uncommon in practice and not often taught.”

The problem at my workplace is everyone else dislikes the forced teaming at least as much as me. And we’re lacking the skills Gawande alludes to. Given that increasing interdependence is a reality, it behooves us to first identify and then cultivate the “certain skills which are uncommon in practice“. To do that, we can either wait, probably for a really long time, for formal leadership to take the initiative, or we can, as I propose, take the bull by the horns ourselves.

First, a trusting, caring work culture must be created where all the team members are willing to talk openly and honestly about whatever misgivings they have about proposed group projects. Too often some of my colleagues choose not to participate in planning meetings, and then, as soon as the meeting is over, vent to one or two people about the direction of the conversation in the privacy of their offices. The technical term for this is passive-aggressive bullshit.

Another fundamental problem is people commit well in advance to being at certain places at certain times to help the team out in specific ways, only to say they can’t make it once the date draws near. Sometimes they work with the team to reschedule, other times they don’t. When a few people aren’t dependable and don’t pull their weight, conscientious team members become bitter about having to do more than their fair share of the work.

Bitterness builds, trust is eroded, teamwork suffers, and people’s negative associations with teaming harden.

Then the question is whether we should press pause and revisit people’s past frustrations in an effort to get to the bottom of why some people are resentful. Like a troubled couple that refuses to enlist the help of a counselor, the answer is always no, “If we just do the work, people’s frustrations will subside.” But they don’t, instead, they build.

Until trusting, caring communication becomes a group norm, my three team essentials—1) actively participate in team planning; 2) show up when you say you’re going to and do what you’ve committed to; and 3) at least try to have a sense of humor—won’t make a bit of difference.