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Comment Abandoning Time-Worn Processes Leads to Atrophy (Score 5, Insightful) 153

Scientists determined that those people who made use of machine washing rather than hand washing had diminished hand strength and neurological motor communication necessary for fine motor control. Seamstresses who bought thread rather than using the spinning jenny were similarly impaired. But worst off were teamsters who used the internal combustion trucks rather than teams of horses and used forklifts and other mechanical devices rather than loading their vehicles by hand. Their overall body strength was much reduced.

Comment Re:The social effects are much worse. (Score 1) 372

In the past, before these subsidies that distorted the pricing so horrendously, most students had to study something that brought real value. While a few dicked around in an abstract, rather useless subject like philosophy, most students studied science, engineering, mathematics, law, and medicine. These are the sorts of subjects that allow the students to, in the future, provide real value to society.

That's arguable. In our "anything that can be outsourced should be" culture, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics degrees are no longer guarantees of adding economic value, either. And not everybody is good at those subjects. In my experience as a college educator, forcing students to dedicate four years of their lives to a a subject that they hate just because it theoretically pays better after graduation is self-defeating. You end up with students that don't really want to learn the material, struggle to pick it up, and drag down the rest of the class as you try to help them keep up.

Eventually, even medicine will be mostly automated. We'll still need nurses for a while, because robotic nursing is a genuinely hard problem, but doctors could basically be replaced by IBM's Watson and a glorified secretary today. Besides being an extremely expensive career to go into, the long-term prospects are bleak. So the question you have to ask yourself is this: Do we really want to live in a society of lawyers?

Also, as others have mentioned, education used to be much more highly subsidized than it is now, even taking into account the availability of college loans (which are largely a more-expensive-to-the-student replacement for the government subsidies that used to exist). Yet people continue to choose those degree programs. Could it be that you're wrong about the value to society? Folks with degrees in the performing arts are guaranteed a menial income for the rest of their lives, but they're also doing something that they enjoy. When faced with a society of people who are getting more and more unhappy, given that happiness is a strong predictor of longevity, arguably those degree programs benefit society a great deal even before you consider that their creative output improves society directly. And many art history majors learn (either as part of their degree or on the job) how to do fundraising, which contributes greatly to the arts, and thus to society as well. AFAIK, there aren't degree programs specific to arts development in most places, so art history and music degrees are often as close as you can get.

Now I'm not going to argue that I know the value of those other degrees you mentioned. I suspect that at least for now, they mainly qualify you to be a high school guidance counselor or maybe a politician, but that's just a guess. But in my experience, the job market creates interesting opportunities based on the availability of people with specific skills. If there are enough people with those currently low-value majors, somebody (maybe even somebody who majored in one of those fields) will come up with some interesting task that those students can uniquely perform after they graduate, and society benefits from the creation of those new areas of work and study.

Finally, I would add that the purpose of college is to educate students for the sake of learning—to open their eyes to the world's possibilities. Its purpose is not to be a trade school. We don't need more cookie-cutter STEM majors who got their degrees because they pay better out of school. We need a society of people who appreciate the world in which we live, who find ways to do what they love and love what they do, who understand how to learn, who understand how to think for themselves, who understand that they live in a diverse world of people with different backgrounds, different interests, different cultures, and different perspectives. And that is far more valuable to society than being able to check "yes" in the box that says "I have a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math", and I say that as someone with a Master's in CS, but with an undergrad degree that included a double major in CS and communications, with extensive music ensemble coursework on the side. There is great value to society in degrees outside of STEM. Not all value is financial in nature.

Comment Re:Yeah, the bubble will pop long before that (Score 1) 372

Isn't that exactly the type of wasteful behavior which attributes to higher costs? If for instance classrooms were at 50% utilization for two hours between 8-5, just because everyone is doing meetings at the same time, you could reduce the number of classrooms by 10% if you simply spread meetings throughout the day.

It doesn't work that way. The reality is that students are used to being in school from about 8 to 3. They tend to resist taking classes much past that time, and by college, they tend to resist taking classes before 10 as well. Realistically, you get about five good hours during which you can teach classes, and the more classes you schedule outside those core hours, the more students will cram into the classes within those hours, so you just end up with very imbalanced sections that make it harder to teach.

And it isn't just momentum, either. Lots of students commute to their university, which means early and late classes don't work. Parents (both college students and faculty) have to pick their kids up from school. Students have part-time jobs to pay the bills. And so on.

Finally, it isn't practical to just say, "We're going to spread classes evenly throughout the day", because students need time to actually work on their homework. And that time needs to be during the day so that they can use campus facilities such as computer labs, tutoring centers, etc. It simply isn't practical for the entire day to be used for instruction, because it costs money to operate those other facilities, too, and you'd end up having to cover the cost of extending their hours dramatically if you extend the core hours for classes, which means significantly increased staffing, which ends up costing more over the long run than adding one or two extra rooms to a building.

Comment Re:Failure is always an option (Score 1) 200

Although true, I would argue that what's really needed are standard, third-party cab hailing apps that know about all the cab companies in an area and find you a cab, rather than having to have an app for each cab company in each locality where you might need a cab. It isn't really reasonable to expect each cab company to solve the problem themselves, and it can be tricky for competitors to work together.

Comment Re:Failure is always an option (Score 4, Insightful) 200

I worked as I traveling consultant for 10 years, 80 to 100 flight segments per year, in major cities across the US, with the accompanying cab/uber rides to go with them, and I can unequivocally say that taxi/limo service before Uber was terrible. It was caused by cities artificially limiting supply/bullshit regulation/catering to special interests, all of which Uber/Lyft/etc need to continue to kill, for the good of all.

Taxi services are terrible because it is hopelessly expensive to drive a vehicle point-to-point and the amount of money that the government allows them to charge is not enough to actually pay for repairs and improvements to the vehicles. Uber only "works" because:

  • They've externalized the vehicle costs by forcing the drivers to pay them without allowing the drivers to actually charge fees high enough to cover those costs.
  • There are plenty of people who haven't figured out how much money they're going to end up spending on vehicle maintenance as a result of all that extra driving.
  • They're taking advantage of huge subsidies and burning through their cash reserves to dump their services on the market even further below cost.

The unionization threats are happening because a large enough percentage of the drivers are recognizing Uber for the complete scam that it is. By many estimates, the minimum price at which Uber will be profitable while providing the current level of service is about 4x their current prices. That makes taxis look downright cheap. Increased competition can't ever reduce the cost below a floor set by certain unavoidable costs for things like gasoline, brakes, etc. Well, I guess technically you could have a taxi service with no brakes, but I wouldn't recommend it.

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