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Wednesday, February 13 2013

Manipulated Statistics ... or Not?

A couple of weeks ago, the University of Evansville Alumni Association started telling its alumni that they had fabulous job placement. To quote their tweet:

98% of UE Business grads last year landed a job in their chosen field & avg starting salary was 40k

This seemed incredible right away. First, the school of business at Evansville is very small, generating between 60 and 80 graduates in an academic year, meaning that 98% of students would probably mean "all but two."

Second, because this data has to be determined in some way, most likely by a survey, there is the potential for selection bias, where the survey might be distributed only to a select group, or the survey might somehow discourage the unemployed from responding.

There wasn't anyway to prove or disprove this, until this week when UE released a larger survey of the entire 2012 graduating class (not just the school of business).

In that survey, the headline was that 92% of Evansville graduates were either employed or pursuing a graduate degree, with a median salary of $42,000.

The problem? Part-time jobs are being counted. I can't imagine that many college graduates are looking to wait tables. Looking at strictly full-time work, or graduate school, the number is 67%. That does exclude some people who did not specify the nature of their work, so it may be a little too low.

But that number isn't going to trigger anyone's BS detector, which is arguably a problem with both the 92% and 98% figures.

Saturday, January 14 2012

Introducing BAM!

"Bam" became the tagline of celebrity chef Emeril LaGasse at the start of the last decade.

With Emeril's star having largely faded, a coalition has now proposed a new use for the word. They propose to use it as an acronym to replace the word "Jazz". The acronym's long form? Black American Music, and Nicholas Payton introduces us to the new genre with his new album, "Bitches."

The word "Coalition" may not be the right one. It appears that Nicholas Payton was the first to publish his thoughts on the issue on his blog in a lengthy November entry where Payton simply states several dozen reasons why "Jazz" is no longer a relevant term. A few other musicians have signed on since then although I have been unable to find a listing.

So I give you two pieces of music to compare, both taken from Payton. First is the quintessential "Take Five" from Dave Brubeck. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwNr...
And the second is off of Payton's recent release, "Bitches" (apparently a reference to Miles Davis's groundbreaking 1970 Columbia release, "Bitches Brew") is the original composition "Give Light. Live Life. Love." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXgy...
Not so different, stylistically. Close enough that they can be described using the term jazz, I think. But one has sold millions of copies (over 43 years) and the other would be delighted to sell 100,000.

And that is really the core of Payton's argument -- Jazz is a hard sell in America today. Maybe jazzers should try something else.

With that, "Bitches" provides some interesting new tracks such as "iStole Your iPhone" which melds elements from Jazz, the Caribbean, and Urban music. But take away the vocal track, and its still jazz.

Another part of Payton's explanation is one that flirts with "Occupy Jazz." Payton tries to convolve jazz with the n-word, calling it in a subsequent blog entry "the derogatory j-word." I don't want to touch that one, so I simply quote someone hopefully more versed in the field than I, AllAboutJazz columnist Greg Thomas

Equating jazz with the "n" word, is, in my estimation, not wise.

My total opinion of the project is this: I feel it is a fool's errand for Payton to try changing a genre that has become known for its closed-mindedness, a genre with few living influential figures, and hundreds of academics who will try to defend the original label by psychoanalyzing the statements deceased greats like Miles Davis.

The album itself probably deserves 3 and a half stars on the five star scale. If not for Payton manufacturing this controversy, it probably would have slipped under the radar of almost everyone as being too experimental -- which suggests that Payton's speaking out is having the desired effect. If not for the "BAM" storyline, I never would have heard of the album. It will be interesting to see if the statement causes Payton to be shunned in the future, though.

Sunday, June 12 2011

Evansville Freedom Festival presented by Hadi Shrinersfest

Flashback: Late Summer 2008. The Evansville Freedom Festival board has an upheaval and decides to split in two. The Freedom Festival featuring Thunder on the Ohio will become the Freedom Festival in mid-June and Thunder on the Ohio in August.

Flashback: Summer 2009. The Evansville Freedom Festival, presented by the Growth Alliance for Greater Evansville (GAGE), flops. According to reports in local media, the Growth Alliance lost $300,000 on the festival. Thunder on the Ohio takes place to a smaller than average crowd.

Flashback: Summer 2010: The Evansville Freedom Festival, again presented by GAGE is reduced to a fireworks show on July 4. Thunder on the Ohio is canceled because the board has insufficient money to bring in the "Unlimited Hydroplane" boats which were a fixture in Evansville for 30 years.

Flashback: Fall 2010: The mayor and the Hadi Shrine jointly announce that the Shiners will be taking over planning for the 2011 Freedom Festival, and that the US Navy's Blue Angels will be a part of the show for the first time in 7 years.

Present: The Blue Angels ended up canceling last-minute due to internal problems, but the festival went on. The price dropped 100% from 2009, and the crowd seems to have gone up by 100%. The thing is, there is actually less to do than there was in '09. GAGE brought in a major amusement ride company which operated noon to midnight. That space is occupied this year by the Budweiser Clydesdales, each horse in an individual cage about 10 ft by 10 ft. GAGE had river races, a dog talent show, a BBQ competition, a queen contest, and major concerts (Billy Currington, the Kevin Bacon Band).

All of that: gone. This year's Shrinerfest had smaller regional entertainers from Indianapolis and Nashville. Mike Harvey, a syndicated radio disc jockey appeared to be the headlining entertainment.

But! There were several hundred more people at Mike Harvey's "sock hop" than were there for Billy Currington two years ago!

Ladies and gentlemen, the power of free. If my memory serves me, the best tickets for Currington were $125. The cheapest tickets were $15. The Mike Harvey appearance was underwritten by a Bierstube with a $5 cover, but there was no admission charged if you weren't inside the fenced-off beer garden.

What it boils down to is the fact that the Shriners understand the community better than GAGE did. Even though the attractions are of a lesser grade than the GAGE festival had, the crowds are better despite similar weather. There's no way the Shrine will lose $300,000 this year.

Monday, March 28 2011

A Musical Final Four

CBS and Turner Sports this year commissioned a revision of their iconic theme music which has been used for their NCAA tournament broadcasts since 1993. Initially I thought it was only a reorchestration of the theme, but they actually hired a new composer and the new theme has multiple cues for use going into break.

The original 1993 version was interesting to listen to in a full mix, but it had a very intense 90s sound to it: the theme was obviously synthesized. I can still hear Pat O'Brien talking over this theme as he introduced a game between Louisville and Kentucky, as the Eye Device opened up into Rupp Arena. The heavy dose of electric bass and staccato notes in the horn section makes me like this version. I absolutely loved that logo with the Eye Device falling through a netting.CBS NCAA Logo 1993 The fact that the instrumentation (such as it was) varied from moment to moment, giving a possibility to play a few different styles of cuts going to break, and good extended versions as parts of the introduction, as Pat O'Brien did.

1993 was therefore the year that CBS debuted its five note signature which so many now identify with the NCAA tournament.

CBS previously revamped the music in 2004. The version that they created that year was uptempo but repetitive. There was a 4 minute mix of that theme, but it was essentially a loop of about 17 seconds of music over and over, with no real variation in the instruments. The repetitive nature of the theme made me a little bit glad when CBS joined the trend of using mundane rock songs as bumpers from time to time. The composer seems to have added a second voice to the music, as the theme opens with the traditional five note signature. Then you hear low brass (probably a trombone) respond with its own five notes. Every time the main signature is played, the trombone is not more than two beats behind. I feel the composer was trying to bring out the nature of basketball of point and counterpoint as two teams go up and down the court, but he did not consider allowing for variations.

The 2004 update did have some good features though. It was primarily recorded with real instruments (I think I still hear a synthesizer line). The addition of a drum beat was a nice sonic addition. The overall tempo of the piece was appropriate, although a couple of well-placed staccato notes could have provided the variation I was longing for. Overall, I felt this theme was tired by the middle of this season, no doubt due to CBS using the same 4 seconds going into every break.

The 2011 refresh does a lot of what I felt was missing in the 2004 version. The 2011 version opens with the 5 note signature in a powerful form, the response somewhat more weakly, the first part again, and then a triumphant response. The next part sees orchestration gets kicked up a notch for the most virulent version of the 5-note signature to date. For about 10 seconds, it becomes reminiscent of the 2004 update with the trombone line, but a drum interlude has been replaced by a rock guitar (could be a steel guitar, but I'm not certain). Again, the 2004 combined signature/response appears, and the theme ends with an excellent build-up featuring electric guitar, a few well placed trombone notes, and the powerful signature that CBS has been playing extensively over the last two weekends.

To make the "final four" truly four, I will also submit the current ESPN college basketball theme. This theme has a neat signature as well, but it hasn't been through iterations and is only 5 or so years old. The ESPN may be a little too complicated to be memorable, with what appears to me to be a nine note signature.

I give the following grades to the themes presented here:
1993 CBS theme: A (groundbreaking)
2004 CBS theme: C (bastard stepchild)
2011 CBS theme: A- (definitely an improvement; hopefully CBS uses it well)
ESPN CBB theme: B (respectable, but not at the top of its class)

Thursday, December 9 2010

Benchmarking to Performance

This happens to be the title of the article I wrote for publication in PHP|Architect magazine this month.

I mentioned one of the dirty words of computer science, "Benchmarking." So far I haven't received any explicit feedback, but I tried not to fall into the traps :)

Monday, October 18 2010

Harry Pickens Trio

The Harry Pickens trio performed a concert earlier today. They're a jazz trio from Louisville, consisting of Pickens leading with the piano, Chris Fitzgerald taking the bass, and drums played by Jason Tiemann.

To put it mildly, it was brilliant. They played everything from "Back Home Again in Indiana" (one of my favorites), where Pickens showed his influence from Oscar Peterson, to Sting's hit "Fragile", Norah Jones's "Don't Know Why" and Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man."

There were two fantastic things about this performance:

Improvisation

Nobody had any music in front of them. At first, I thought that meant they had practiced so much that the whole set was memorized. As the concert went on, I realized that there wasn't even a set list. Pickens began each tune by playing through it, and then his triomates began to play with him, and it sounded really great. After the intermission, he said that there were no arrangements used by the band, and that every performance was a little different. That leads me to the other thing:

Joy

Pickens's seven-foot frame was sitting at a Steinway grand piano, grinning like Jerry Lewis in characature. Jerry Lewis MDA TelethonThis grin flashed whenever the drummer or the bassist hit a really tasty series of notes. Not only that, but he was jovial with the crowd, even taking requests at the end. (This was a great idea and had very good response from the attendees.)

If you'd like to experience some of the trio, they do have a couple of CDs available. I've not reviewed the recordings, but the live performance was so good that I probably will do so tomorrow.

Thursday, September 16 2010

OrgSync - Another Service You'll Never Need - Or Even Want

My school is one of a couple hundred which uses the OrgSync service for managing student organizations. I would like to take a few moments to SCREAM.

First of all, there is an assumption that students join organizations so that they can show potential employers how involved they were. At a "training" for how to use OrgSync, the presenter essentially said that the main reason the University chose to use OrgSync was so they could more easily create "Experience transcripts."

There is an assumption that some potential employer might care that I was a member of Gamma Gamma Gamma. Even if the employer does care, they should not, and the University should not perpetuate this idea that a Gamma Gamma Gamma is better than a Kappa Kappa Kappa.

Other than the philosophy, OrgSync is a mess. They're trying to overtake Facebook, but from a position of real weakness. OrgSync is based around groups and events, and not people. But they've regenerated their user interface to make it nice and fluffy like Facebook.

Indeed, the theoretical usefulness of OrgSync is to be able to see all of your organizations and their events at a glance. But the Facebook-style interface impedes this. OrgSync Home. This is a screenshot of my OrgSync homepage. Notice a distinct lack of events. If you want a listing of events, you might want a calendar. OrgSync has that. By default, it shows you events taking place in the current month for organizations of which you are a member.

Let's say I want a listing, instead of a calendar (the calendar may be limiting in some cases). So I choose the home page for the IEEE, an organization of which I am a member.OrgSync Organization Page Oh, there's nothing on the homepage other than a blurb set by the organization president. Silly. If I want the organization feed, I have to go one click deeper.

Now let's say I want a listing of events that are being put on by one of the most important organizations on campus, the Student Activities Board, of which I am not a member. They may average one significant event every two weeks, and are not known for publicizing things well.

The only way to search organizations is to use the "Add an Organization" tool. So I do that, click on Student Activities Board, and I'm greeted with an access denied message. There is no way to access one organization's listing of events, not even those explicitly shared. There is, however, a "community calendar" view, which is well-hidden and contains too many events to be useful. If I want to find all events happening on a certain day, this is great. But it doesn't help me to find all events put on by some organization.

I'll conclude by admitting that I live in a happy little perfect world. In my happy little perfect world, no one has to police whether holding an event on the lawns outside the School of Business will destroy the grass, and no one has to decide that white is the only appropriate chalk color for sidewalks. Also in my perfect world, if I wrote on my resumé that I was a member of Gamma Gamma Gamma in college, my prospective employer would not ask for confirmation because there is perfect communication, and no need for advertisement, or OrgSync.

And, while I'm sure a better solution exists (WITHOUT the 'ooh we want to be social media too crap'), a solution that is cheaper than OrgSync, I can rest assured that the student congress approved this with proper due diligence, and that my opinion is fully in the minority.

Thursday, July 29 2010

Book Review: "The Entrepreneurial Engineer"

Almost universally, students hate textbooks. Well, I'm a student, and this is a textbook. (The price tag of $50 list proves it!) This book from David E. Goldberg serves as a good introduction to business for people who aren't inclined to The Wall Street Journal. Goldberg actually suggests reading the Journal, although I doubt more than 5% of his readers ever will.The Entrepreneurial Engineer

At 200 pages and in a breezy style, The Entrepreneurial Engineer can be easily read in a week (likely 2-3 days if you're dedicated). The book is based around Goldberg's Ten Competencies, each of which becomes a chapter of the book. A number of them are actually overlaps from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but this is far more focused on the specifics of business and less on general interpersonal relationships.

The thing that I love about this book is the fourth, fifth, and sixth competencies. Write well, speak well, and "Do Unto Others". There is no reason for anyone to not be able to do these three things. Aside from admonishing those who think they can get by without being able to write and give a product presentation, Goldberg actually offers tips and methods to improve skills.

Yes, giving your presentations to the bathroom mirror actually does work (that's mine, not Goldberg's).

There's also good opinion writing about where Goldberg things the future of business lies.

Due to the prohibitive price, I give this book four libraries out of five. Barnes & Noble link