Archive for the ‘economics’ Category

my new hero, Sohn Hong-shik

April 1, 2011

Mr Sohn has donated blood 600 times.

At first the math seemed hinky to me.  Further reading informed me:

In the early years, Sohn donated blood only once every two months, the shortest interval required between donations under law at the time in consideration of a donor’s health.

But advances in medical technology made it possible to draw only key elements of blood, such as platelet and plasma, from donors while putting much less stress on their bodies. Unlike whole blood donations, only two weeks is required between platelet or plasma donations.

I am surprised that he started donating when blood could be drawn every other month.  I started way back in the old days when you could donate only three or four times a year and I am nearly twenty years younger. Still, he has donated twenty-five times more than I have so I’m still impressed.

Foreigners can give blood in Korea but it takes a little work.

More on donating blood at Gangwon Notes: 1, 2, 3 and Buddhist monk donates blood and organs.

Hagwons as restaurants

February 21, 2011

An economist at Harvard recently discussed how market forces could improve education if schools were more exposed to those forces.  At least, that’s what I think he did; to be honest I have read only dissections of his discussion and found them interesting, particularly as they relate to hagwons in Korea. Quotes are from Metaphor Hacks and I learned of the article via the Lousy Linguist.  The economist, Ed Glaeser, compared schools to restaurants, which he feels are strongly affected by competition.

So first we have the quality of the food. This would seem to map quite nicely onto quality of education. But it doesn’t. Or at least not in the way Gleaeser and his like would like.  Quality of the food that can impact on competition is a surface property. We cannot also always trust people that they can judge the quality apart from the decor of the restaurant or its reputation – just like with wine, they are very likely to judge the quality based on a  review or the recommendation of a trusted acquaintance. In Glaeser’s analogy, we’re not really talking about the quality of food but the quality of the dining experience. And if we project this onto the quality of a school, we’re only increasing the scope of the problem. No matter how limited and unreliable, we can at least judge the quality of the overall dining experience by our own reaction to our experience. But with schools, the experience is mediated through the child and the most important criterion of quality – viz an educated human being at the end – is deferred until long after the decision on quality has been made. It’s like judging the quality of a restaurant we go to for an anniversary dinner by whether we will be healthy in 5 years.

It’s quite likely the most popular restaurants don’t serve anything particularly healthy or prepared with regard to the environmental impact. Quality is only important to them as one of many competitive advantage. They also use a number of tricks to make the dining experience better – cheat on ingredients, serve small portions on large plates, etc. They rely on ‘secret recipes’ – the last thing we want to see in education. And this is exactly the experience of schools that compete in the market. They fudge, cheat and flat out lie to protect their competitive advantage.  They provide the minimum of education that they can get away with to look good.

I have worked for some great hagwons; ones that were run with the goal of educating the students.  I also had the misfortune of working for a hagwon that would be well-described by the final two sentences of the quote.

I think we need to look at two or more metaphors when describing education.  The last two sentences really describe, mean-spiritedly, any large corporation  I am no expert on stocks or securities, but I think any publicly-traded company is required to provide share-holders with the maximum possible profit.

On the other hand, any individual working directly with clients has a very different approach and view. In keeping with the above food analogies, teachers might best be compared to the individual chefs or wait-staff or hot-dog-trolley worker.  These people need to provide what they think are the best quality products for their clients that they can.

Any metaphor can be stretched too far and teachers aren’t really like food service people; for example, we interact with our clients for extended periods and we usually don’t market the product ourselves.  Still, the above article and its spot-on description of hagwons is eerie.

Paperless teaching at ChungKang College

October 8, 2010

The Joongang has an article describing ChungKang College’s plan to ride a fad to fame use iPads in all aspects of their education delivery.

From the article:

The university said yesterday that it will start the “i-College,” a system of education featuring the use of the iPad, starting next year. The university said the system will be used in all aspects of education, such as homework assignments, lectures, the submission of homework, test-giving and student evaluations.

The goal is to improve communication between students and professors and make the relationship more interactive.

It’s interesting that they are using a platform that is almost entirely new to Korea, but i definitely applaud the idea.

This is what college management want’s to happen: a 20-year-old takes out his iPad from his bag to check the timetable for his school bus. He uses the time waiting for his bus to skim a draft text of a lecture that day, which pops up on the screen. During the lecture, Kim, with no pen or notebook, sends his homework to his professor via the tablet computer and gets feedback on his work. Later in the day, on his way home, he finds that the syllabus for his next class has arrived in his iPad from the professor. He prepares for the next class by borrowing electronic books from a digital library.

The university said the biggest strength for its “smartcampus” will be to enable professors and students to interact freely and immediately whenever they want, which will lead more students to participate in lectures and improve the quality of classes.

I see Kim sending homework – which is marked the same day – I need an iPad if they offer that kind of productivity.  I see the professor sending a great deal of information to the student (including early drafts of lectures, which I previously blogged about) but I don’t see information transfer that couldn’t happen this year or last year.

I like the idea then, but I don’t see it as revolutionary.  It is said that in each new war, generals refight the previous one.  Here, I see new tech being used just like the old tech, but more portably.  That is a good step forward, but I think one can manage a few strides forward by equipping students with tablets.

Shelly Blake-Plock at Teach Paperless has been using tablets in class for some time now and his whole teaching style has changed.  I do not want to give specific details here because I too am stuck in an information-delivery poor teaching style myself (That is, I use a white- or chalk- board and have intermittent computer and projector capability).  Still, in his American History class -and I am going by memory, so mistakes are possible – his students do not use any textbook but search in class from various online resources and Twitter their findings to their teacher and other classmates.  The teacher still needs to be knowledgable but is more of a conductor than a deliverer of information.

Again, I like the idea and I will be placing a copy of the article on my boss’ desk – anonymously?

For-pay fire department lets non-subscriber’s house burn.

October 4, 2010

I had lunch with a fellow blogger and he kindly described my blog as eclectic.   That was much kinder than scattershot, or without-a-focus.  His blog, by the way, has razor focus and thousands of hits per day.

I’m still trying to find my way in Busan.  I was comfortable in Gangwon and being Gangwon’s premier blogger (woop-de-doo!).  Do I need a niche or a specific focus for this blog?

To continue my eclecticism, let me discuss a Salon article that has nothing to do with Korea, or Canada, or the environment or anything else I normally cover.  In a Tennessee town, the fire department is subscriber-funded.  Subscribers pay $75 a year for the department’s services.  One man did not pay and when his house caught fire, the fire department stood there and watched it burn.

The Salon article is framed as part of a political debate with conservatives and libertarians on one side and liberals on the other.  As I have no particular political axe to grind, I’ll ignore that part.

The part of the story that I am interested in is when the fire department came on scene, the homeowner offered to pay. He was told it was too late and nothing was done to stop his house from burning.  It spread to a neighbor’s house and the fire department leapt into action as the neighbor subscribed to the service.

I am against voluntary payment for the fire department and feel that a mandatory tax is the only intelligent move and this story -and the Salon’s framing of it- shows why.

If the fire department had accepted the money on the spot (or received a check the next day…) and put out the fire, no one should pay the fee next year.  Even if the homeowner had to pay for several years back-subscription, that would still be good odds considering the likelihood of a fire in the first place.  I don’t know the stats, but I imagine that if a hundred homeowners were to stop paying their fees,the odds of a fire through the life of the 100 homes would be small (smokers and wood-stove owners and the like should feel a little more encouraged to pay.)  If you had the option to pay even after your house caught fire, there is little incentive to pay until that event.

So, I don’t like the for-pay system, but the fire chief was absolutely right to not accept payment on the spot.

He was remiss in not containing the blaze – the fact that it reached the neighbor’s home is a real black spot on his record.  He should have been involved to at least the minimum extent to protect the neighbor’s house.

In this article on the story -with video, the homeowners “don’t blame the firefighters themselves. They blame the people in charge.”- The only way they can rightly blame the ‘people in charge’ is to blame the p-i-c for not forcing them to pay the fee.

Still not quite ready for an eBook reader – so close, though

July 29, 2010

The new Kindle looks great and is entirely in my price range…well, not quite.

Okay, it does look great and the features are about where I want them to be and the price is fantastic.

On the other hand, I checked out a few books I am interested in:

A Charlie Stross science fiction novel:

Ken Robinson: The Element:

and, Greg Mortenson, Stones into schools:

The kindle edition is more expensive and I don’t understand why.  After reading the Mortenson paper book, I am likely to lend it to my mother or friends and that is difficult to impossible to do with the Kindle version – without lending away my Kindle, that is.  I could easily understand making paperbacks more expensive  because they can be read by several people – I wouldn’t like it, but i would understand.  The Kindle version doesn’t need to be printed, it isn’t taking up space on a shelf…why does it cost more?

Now, I do understand that the Kindle does have some benefits price-wise.  Two, are very clear to me.  First, I can download out-of-copyright books for free.  I can even see myself doing this.  I would dig into Orwell and Kipling and into pulp and classic SF – John Carter of Mars, Mysterious Island and more.  I would load up on Darwin’s books and other science texts.

But, I don’t want to kid myself.   The reason I haven’t read a lot of Orwell is that I was never thrilled by him – I know he was a great writer, but that doesn’t mean I really want to read him.  I think I once heard a damning quote of the nouveau riche, “their shelves lined with classic books, never opened.”*  I don’t need that for my Kindle.

Cory Doctorow offers his books up for free, with the expectation that people will become interested, then buy other books of his or as a sign of honesty.  I have done this; I tried to read “Someone comes to town…” off my computer screen and didn’t care for the experience, but I did later buy, “Little Brother”.

Second, I might save a little money by downloading an Amazon book, even with the higher price, when including shipping to South Korea. There is no super saver deal for me.  Still, this is nickel and diming my way to saving money.  I might be able to do it, but there is no reason to expect the Kindle to be the proper device to read from after five years.  Woo-hoo, I finally broke even on my purchase, and now it is obsolete.

I am very tempted.

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*Dang, I can’t find that quote.  I think I have the spirit of it, although I am not at all close to the letter.