04.25.12

University handouts

Posted in Society at 14:58 by RjZ

It costs more than it ought to go to university, and it’s getting more expensive every year. Tuition has nearly doubled in just ten years at state schools like the one I attended (you may have to search, but CSUF went from $2300 to $4600).

President Obama visited CU Boulder yesterday seeking support to extend the Stafford program which maintains low interest on student loans. Low interest loans allow students to delay the painful investment it takes to get a degree until it is more easily paid off when they’re finally earning money. For many, it’s the difference between reaching their potential and never getting an education.

By spreading out payments, the real cost of education is shielded from the consumer. Students take a risk that the money they invest will generate greater incomes in the future, but, as today’s stagnant world economy has shown, there is no guarantee. The government finances that risk with lower guaranteed interest rates. According to Colorado representative Scott Tipton, “It costs roughly $6 billion a year for more than 7 million students to keep the lower rate.” Students are told throughout their lives that a degree equals opportunity and statistics continue to support that, but what is the rate of return on investment and who’s making the strongest pitch?

In an arms race to outdo each other for customers students, universities must constantly add amenities and degree programs. Did you know you can get a degree in Leadership and Organizations? This masters level program ($23,184) from University of Denver will enable to the student to lead a non-profit organization. Unquestionably an admirable aspiration, but how many non-profit leaders do we need and how many of them will be that different from the for-profit leaders in other organizations (or even should be)?

What about for-profit leaders? With MBA’s costing upwards of $100,000 it’s pretty easy to wonder what students are getting for their money. MBA graduates will tell you it’s all about connections, which it may very well be, but that sure is some very expensive networking. I’ll bet just as many students will become the next Jobs and Gates (both, along with many others, lacking degrees) if they invested their $100K in a business idea and had a four year head start over their college-attending competition.

In terms of return on investment, low interest loans to future leaders of our nation is probably a pretty good deal, but as long as we’re engaging in social engineering, shouldn’t we consider a thing or two to ensure we’re getting something for our money? (And is this the slippery slope we want to start sliding on?) Somehow, we ought to be sure that universities, the ultimate beneficiaries of this subsidy, are somehow free to pursue academic excellence in whatever way they (and the market) decide is best, but are simultaneously focused on the their student’s customer’s real needs. Those needs are training, experience and education; and not just new customer acquisition with perks such as stadiums, multi-media classrooms, and an ever increasing range of customized degree programs.

If we’re struggling to keep costs down for students, then perhaps, until the economy improves, we might skip the slightly less critical degree program in Oriental herbology. OK, fine, who knows what wonders Oriental herbology has waiting for the west. How about Campbell University’s Sports Ministry degree “preparing [students] to teach sport in a Christian environment and under the eyes of God.” (Actually, I couldn’t find that degree on their website, but then I could find their Bachelors or Business Adminstration in PGA Golf Management, so you get the idea.) All this and more is paid for with student loans.

I agree with President Obama: “college isn’t just the best investment you can make in your future, it’s the best investment you can make in your country’s future.” If we’re going to keep offering subsidies to universities in the form of cheap loans to their customers, how can we make sure that, at least, the money is spent on their education?

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04.17.12

Travel Photography – shoot like a pro, without taking the time

Posted in Photography, Travel at 15:29 by RjZ

I take pictures when I travel, but don’t travel to take pictures. Too bad. I’ve practiced the theory that if you go to pretty places and snap enough shots you’ll get some interesting photos, and that’s worked pretty darn well, but the really nice shots are just luck that way. Nothing wrong with that, but it can be frustrating to look at your photos upon return and wonder “what would it have taken to take some of those really amazing shots you saw before your journey?” I’d love to tell you, but the fact is, I don’t know and neither of us is likely to take the time anyway.

Instead of reminding you to stake out a location, discover the best angles and perfect light, and wait for just the right cloud bank, here are some ideas you can do without ruining your trip. Unless someone is paying you to travel to a far away place expressly for photography, then you too, likely have something you want to do during your visit, aside from watching the whole trip through a viewfinder. You could get those amazing shots by doing your homework, but amateur travel photographers, are almost always, first and foremost travelers, not photographers.

Out-and-back again

You’ll rarely have the time to really scope out a location and discover the best shots and the right framing. Often you’re doing the best you can with the lens on your camera when you happen to walk past something. If you’ve got multiple lenses you might notice a shot would be perfect with your telephoto, but moments later, the walk-around has to go back on the camera. All this lens swapping will slow you down. Instead, most outings, can be some sort of out-and-back deal. You walk around the church, or museum, or monument with one lens on, and walk back with another. During the first walk, snapping happily at whatever strikes your fancy, you giving a bit of thought to the other lens you’re going put on for the way back. It’s like doing a mini site review, and your traveling partners don’t even have to notice. The only caveat is that if you see something you think is interesting, by all means take the shot! You can’t be sure you’ll always get back, but you can always delete a few extra photos.

Plan dinner

There are times of the day when nearly everything is a winner. That time, right after sunset, for example, when a well exposed shot turns the sky a deep azure blue that contrasts so well with warm glowing spot lights on monuments. You’ve got to eat, but can’t it wait just a few minutes? It is truly a shame to be sitting at dinner when you could be out getting lucky snaps, over and over again. Maybe it’s not the best light for this location, or you haven’t found the perfect angle, but just delaying dinner a half hour can make all the difference in shots you’re proud of.

Never leave home without it

Most professionals may plan, and sit, and wait for the perfect shot, but they still get lucky now and again. You can’t take a lucky shot with your camera in the bag or back in a hotel room. I stay in hotels too cheap to trust with my camera, so I have the thing strangling me for the entire trip. The upside is that no matter what strikes my fancy, the camera is always ready.

More controversial is how much you drag with you. Rare is the traveler who is comfortable looking like a wedding photographer on assignment, with backup camera and extra lenses swinging from every limb, but, for the same reason that leaving your camera home means you’ll never catch a lucky shot, I suggest everyone weigh just how horrible it will be if they take a tripod, flash, or extra lens. It’s up to each person, and balancing your photography with your experience is a challenge, but remember, these things won’t do you any good at home. Mini tripods and sandbags are easy to pack and a heck of lot better than nothing.

Read a comic

Great scenery takes great patience, and loads of time which you don’t have. Instead, take advantage of how you and your friends will see the bulk of your pictures these days: several at a time. It takes time, planning and loads of talent/luck to make a single picture capture a story, but it’s way easier with three or four shots to tell same story . Instead of framing a single shot of something gorgeous you’ve come to see, imagine a page in a comic book, where  few well chosen panes capture the scene completely. You need an establishing shot, some action, some detailed close up, and if you’re lucky, some result of your scene. Maybe it’s you and your travel partner eating an ice-cream. An establishing shot of the street and ice-cream stand, a snap of your partner buying a scoop, a close up of the ice-cream, and finally, a couple of empty bowls. None of these shots is necessarily so amazing, but together, chances are you’ve made a charming vignette from your trip. Either way, you did have ice cream. Mmm, ice cream.

Professional planning takes time and experience, but even a little can go a long way and all these are can be ad hoc each day of your trip. You can capture both the fun you had and a bit of local culture all at the same time. Have the gear you need (and are willing to carry) and have it ready all of the time. Think just abit about what you’re taking a picture of and how it will look flattened out on paper or a computer screen, and you’ve already stepped up form taking snapshots. Finally, at the end of the day, or end of the trip, telling stories is what photography is about, even if you need the crutch of four shots and one walk-around lens to accomplish half of what the greats can with time, planning, patience and a Leica range finder or a medium format box camera. Most of them, didn’t have any sightseeing to do!

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04.12.12

Raising a family is hard work, but you don’t get paid

Posted in at 15:45 by RjZ

And they say only liberals worry about being politically correct. Conservatives are up in arms because a democratic strategist characterized Ann Romney as “not working a day in her life.” Oh, here we go…of course she’s worked! She’s raised children! How can you evil liberal elitists not acknowledge that raising kids is the most important thing in our society?

You know, it is damn important. And alright, maybe she misspoke, but um, are they saying that it isn’t clear what she meant. She hasn’t worked for a salary. It’s important, but not the same thing. And by the way, most Americans with kids have to actually manage to do both, work, and raise kids, work at home raising kids.

Or are conservatives suggesting that the occupy Wall Street crew is “working” by hanging around occupying and being the people’s megaphone?

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04.06.12

What happened before they went to church

Posted in Society at 9:44 by RjZ

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley loves her parents. She’s proud of how they raised her and what she’s become thanks to them and she believes that even though she converted to Christianity that her Sikh parents aren’t, as some suggest, going to hell. Speaking on National Public Radio (NPR) about Mitt Romney, she said “I don’t think we should focus on what church a person walks into…I think we need to on what they do when they walk out of church.”

Now I have a double standard. I think it’s just fine for someone with socially liberal views to be accepting of a variety of behavior which she doesn’t personally practice or support. It’s actually rather normal for straight people to have no problem with homosexuality even if they’re not interested in it themselves, (and vice-versa!) It’s quite common for women who have no interest in ever having an abortion to support a woman’s choice to decide when to have a family. You don’t have to share a view to accept it. I have a double standard, because I submit that it’s just fine to have these views regardless of your own behavior, but it’s not acceptable when your view states quite clearly, denying what you’re taught in Sunday school is wrong and will result eternal punishment by the almighty. It’s not OK to preach, as many of our conservative religious and political leaders do, about family values and attack others for their perceived lack of morality while sleeping around with same-sex drug using prostitutes.

Governor Haley’s cafeteria religion, choosing a little of this and a little of that from the menu of faith, creates an all too convenient world-view, which, while hopefully kind and accepting, is impossible when it comes to predicting what her beliefs are. She’s Methodist and that’s OK, but her parents are Siks and that’s just fine too? Apparently the part in her Methodist faith which says that the only way to heaven is through Jesus applies to mean people and political opponents, not her parents.

I have a double standard because those who make strong claims are obligated to live up to them. I might agree with Governor Haley’s words if someone else had said them. Coming from a self-identified person of faith, I am not sure what to think. Religion plays such an important role in U.S. politics because many actually imagine they can know a candidate by which church she steps into. A few weeks ago, Mitt Romney was questioned about whether he believes inter-racial marriage is a sin. Mormonism has accepted inter-racial marriage for a few decades now, so his snippy “no” was no stretch, but Evangelicals and agnostics alike will wonder this election year how much of a person’s heart we can know based on what they claim their religion to be.

What kind of God do Romney and Haley believe in? A God who loves each of its creations, regardless of what they do, or one who demands certain standards and will punish those who do not live up to these expectations? For if it doesn’t really matter which church you go to, but only what you do once you leave, then why would it matter if our politicians are Christian, Mormon, Muslim, or Jewish? How would it make any difference if they were theist, deist, agnostic, or atheist? Shouldn’t we be able to judge them by their actions and not by their proclamations.

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