I’ve been wondering recently about investment returns of wealthy colleges. For example, NPR’s most emailed story right now is on advice from Yale’s investment “wiz”. He earned a 28% return on Yale’s investment last year, and has averaged around 17% return. Here’s the thing: aren’t rates of return tied to risk? Am I crazy? I thought that the higher return, the higher risk (in general) you were assuming. So are these super elite universities assuming lots of risk with their endowments? If so, isn’t just a matter of time before the risk “cashes in” and the endowments take a pretty hard hit? Or are these folks really wizzes? I don’t get it. I’m not sure why I’m thinking about this. I don’t have much money to invest. And in terms of thinking about these endowments, this is a fairly minor question (the more major one, in my mind, is why they’re not using them to transform the class distribution of their institutions).

medical site blocks abortion info

Wired magazine has a story on the federal government-sponsored reproductive health site, Popline. Run by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, it is a basic search engine that accesses research on global health issues. But, that federal funding has led to some curious censorship issues:

A librarian at the University of California at San Francisco noticed the new censorship on Monday, while carrying out a routine research request on behalf of academics and researchers at the university. The search term had functioned properly as of January.

Puzzled, she contacted the manager of the database, Johns Hopkins’ Debbie Dickson, who replied in an April 1st e-mail that the university had recently begun blocking the search term because the database received federal funding.

“We recently made all abortion terms stop words,” Dickson wrote in a note to Gloria Won, the UCSF medical center librarian making the inquiry. “As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now.”

It looks like the global gag rule that prevents NGOs who receive federal aid from discussing abortion with their clients is being interpreted as applying to search engines as well. I am aghast at the apparent complicity of university officials in this. I’d like to think the academic community would have some backbone on this issue.

wish window

Content Analysis reports a sobering conclusion to an expedition looking up some prominent sociologists’ Wish Lists on Amazon.

I wonder if as academics come to realize that Wish Lists are not only not private but might actually be something strangers are interested in looking at, suddenly their intellectual-to-other-stuff ratio will rise. Somebody quick, go out there and record the content of a bunch of sociologists’ wish lists and then wait a couple years and do it again. (Although I’m not looking up anyone else’s wish lists out of a combination of principles of discretion and Probably Not Wanting To Know.)

ask a scatterbrain: managing conflict

From someone who is ABD. This is a very liberal paraphrase (you will note that the language is strongly shakha’s), but still accurate, I believe.

I have two committee members who don’t get along. They pull me in different directions. They’re not really interested in what the other person suggests, and sometimes even seem to pull in the opposite direction simply because the other person has made a suggestion. This makes it sound more dramatic than it is. But it is kinda true. Both have been really important to me in my graduate career. But it’s getting to be too much. Their tensions are negatively influencing me in ways they shouldn’t. So, any advice? Talk to them both about it? I don’t really want to cut one of them out, because they’re both doing it (it’s not obviously one’s fault) and if I cut one it seems like I’m picking sides. I don’t want to pick sides. I’m not on either of their sides. I’m on my side. And I wish they could be too! Neither is my adviser.

how do you have time to blog?

How do people have time not to blog is more like it!  After yesterday’s post about my misadventures with ScientificWord/LaTeX/Beamer/PowerPoint, I received multiple ideas in comments that would work, and then also an e-mail from a certain S.L.M. that involves the least need to do new things or to use different operating systems for my handouts and presentations.  Turns out you can export to RTF from Scientific Word, and from RTF of course it’s easy to go to PowerPoint.  The equations are all graphics, and still look much better than anything you can do in Word’s equation editor.

The only reason this might not save me any time is that I have a way of allowing course prep to expand to fit whatever window of time is allowed for it.  Regardless, I feel so much better about this than I did 24 hours ago.

driving out gays

It looks like the Justice Department was waging an all-out war against civil liberties. One of its most highly praised attorneys was apparently driven out because she is was rumored to be a lesbian. Oddly, the attorney in question is not necessarily “openly” gay – she’s described as being “private” about her sexual preference. And further, she’s a Republican. According to one informant, though, being gay (or being rumored to be so) is, “even worse than being a Democrat.” The present administration seems to be quite willing to fire federal employees for being gay. It happens with Arabic translators. Yet some gays seem to be more than welcome to stay. The rates of dismissing “on the ground” soldiers has declined. Don’t ask don’t tell isn’t being strongly enforced. To be honest, I’m not sure if that’s because gay folks just aren’t entering (and the out gays were removed earlier) or if the military is looking to take as many folks as they possibly can. I suspect it is the latter, which is odd. Gay lawyers and translators? I think not. Gay foot-soldiers? Bring ’em on.

old school

So, I last taught of a variant of the data analysis course I’m teaching this quarter way back in 2001. Not so long ago that the handouts were on stone tablets, but long ago that the presentations themselves used overhead projectors. Fast forward to now, and I’ve been working on updating and revising all the handouts for the course in Scientific Word and LaTeX. It’s not like you can copy and paste the math from LaTeX into PowerPoint. However, there is LaTeX presentation software, known as Beamer, and there is even a certain geek-cache to Beamer presentations. Except late this afternoon I spent an hour trying to get a part of Thursday’s class presentation to compile before realizing that Scientific Word’s Beamer implementation is apparently seriously buggy. Worse, a couple hours after that I conclude that only through a very cumbersome process can one get Scientific Word/LaTeX to reproduce Stata output on screen. So, the output I can do in PowerPoint; the math maybe I could do in Beamer. The room I’m teaching in only has this little whiteboard-on-an-easel, or a blackboard that is at the opposite end of the room from the PowerPoint screen.

I’m currently thinking I’m going to just use overheads.  Thing is, I’m not even sure the room has an overhead projector.  The only alternative I see is to use PowerPoint and make screenshots of the math.