Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 30th, 2022

Badges Instead of Grades

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Of course, it could be both badges and grades, either as a transition from grades only to badges only or as a hybrid system of badges and grades.

I find the idea of badges very attractive. For one thing, it gives more granular information. In a semester, you might acquire a dozen or two badges in different skills and knowledge in some course, and that collection provides much more information about what you known than does (for example) “B-“. Moreover, one gets much more pleasure from earning a badge (particularly if the badge has a good design) than from getting a grade. In addition, badges appeal to the collecting instinct that many have (cf. baseball cards, kitchen gadgets, razors and shaving soaps, and so on).

Rory Hough writes at Usable Knowledge, a website of the Harvard Graduate School of Education:

Mention “earning a badge” to most people and they think of the scouts, where you collect sew-on patches for learning skills such as fire safety or how to play the bugle.

Harvard professor Danielle Allen and her team at the Democratic Knowledge Project think it’s time a similar “badging” approach be used in schools across the country to replace traditional letter grades. As they spell out in their new white paper, A Call to More Equitable Learning: How Next-Generation Badging Improves Education for All, badging is a more accurate, equitable way to measure, record, and report K–12 student learning.

“What badges do is replace that very rough, crude way of reporting on student learning with something that is much more transparent with regard to the components of what’s been mastered,” Allen says. “It’s much more flexible because students can really bring out different components of their mastery and make their case for why their specific learning journey has been the right one for them and so forth.”

Badging isn’t a completely new idea, or a fancy one, says Allen — in some ways, traditional grading is its own basic form of using badges. “There’s a sense in which every grade is already a badge,” Allen says. “If I have an A in trigonometry, that’s my trig badge.”

What elevates badging from the traditional letter grade system, however, is what’s “behind” the badging, says David Kidd, the project’s chief assessment scientist and a research director at Project Zero.

“The badge itself is just a signifier. It signifies that a competency has been developed with pre-defined definitions,” he says. “Essentially, what we’re trying to do is make sure the badges have credibility that they’re backed by meaning.”

The problem with using traditional grades to measure and report learning to colleges and even future employers is that it’s not clear what the student has actually learned, says Allen. A student does an assignment and is given a grade and then a transcript of grades. “You really don’t know what the student has mastered,” she says. A student earns a “C+” on a history test but turns in a neat binder on time, and the grade gets bumped to a “B-.” Their mastery of the history material never changed — another, unknown factor (being neat) did.

“The key culprit is the Carnegie Unit,” says Kidd, referring to the unit developed in 1906 to measure the amount of time students spend “learning” each subject, and to standardize experiences across schools. A total of 120 hours of “seat time” in a subject earns a high school student in the United States one unit of credit. “It’s come to dominate how we learn in this country.”

Unfortunately, seat time, and the way we currently measure what goes on during that seat time, doesn’t accurately show what skills students master.

“When we talk about ‘GPA’ or ‘test scores,’ there’s an assumption that those things mean something,” Kidd says. But they don’t, and they don’t mean the same things across districts or states. They might not even mean the same thing across one department in one school. The traditional system also doesn’t acknowledge learning that happens outside the classroom, in extracurriculars like writing for the student newspaper or being captain of the cross-country team. Skills gained working at part-time jobs rarely get noticed. There’s also the issue of accuracy. A second-generation immigrant may not take Portuguese classes at school but speaks fluently with elderly residents who come into their family’s store. “This understanding of Portuguese wouldn’t show up on a transcript,” Kidd says. “We have no real way of showing this to admissions officers.”

In contrast, under the Democratic Knowledge Project’s proposed badging plan, badges would be awarded not on seat time, but once a student masters a skill and demonstrates that mastery (and not just in school settings). Students also wouldn’t earn just one badge per subject, like they currently earn one grade per subject (an A in geometry). They’d earn multiple badges within a subject. For example, students taking an English language arts course might earn a badge for identifying ideas and details in text and another for their ability to collaborate or problem-solve. At one school, badges might be earned through projects, at another using quizzes and essays.

Kidd says future employers looking for . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

The Cantillon Effect and Credit Cards: The $257 Billion Payments Mess

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I use a (Visa) credit card for all my shopping — the last time I used cash was before the pandemic — but I use a no-fee card and I maintain a credit balance (i.e., a balance in my favor). At the beginning of the month, I transfer to my credit card the amount I have budgeted for daily expenses (groceries, discretionary items, and miscellaneous). That gives me a relatively large credit balance on the card, and then I chip away at that over the month as I made my purchases.  I never pay any interest on an unpaid balance on my card because I never have an unpaid balance.

It took me a while to work this out and to learn to stay within my monthly budget. (For me, the secret was to focus on staying within my weekly budget. That turns out to be relatively easy, and if I stay within my weekly budget, I end up being within my monthly budget.

But Matt Stoller has a good column in which he points out that for most people credit cards can be a trip. He writes:

In The Man Who Broke Capitalism, journalist David Gelles profiles how General Electric CEO Jack Welch transformed an icon of America from an industrial giant to a financial house of cards. Preferring to issue high-margin financial products instead of bending metal, Welch was at the forefront of the shift in the American economy towards banking and away from making things. And no other product symbolizes this shift more than the credit card, a business GE made its own in the 1990s, where the firm dominated the private label issuance market.

There’s a reason Welch went into this market in a big way. Credit cards are insanely profitable, roughly four and a half times more lucrative for the lender than any other form of credit. If you add up the two main streams of revenue, this industry generates up to $257 billion in revenue every year, which is about $780 for every man, woman and child. That’s a ridiculous amount of money for a payments system, far more than it should cost (and far more than it costs in almost every other country.) And as you’d expect, the reason for the excess profits is simple. Monopoly power and cheating. The American payments system is deeply concentrated, beset with unfair practices designed to sustain market power and hide true prices. As one industry consultant put it, financial institutions “hide the fees and the customers will still have to pay for them.”

Let’s start with the basics. Credit cards are two products combined into one. The first is access to a global payments network that lets a consumer and merchant transact. For consumers, a payments network seems free, but merchants must pay between 1.5-3.5% to middlemen on every single transaction, which amounts to between $61 billion to $137 billion a year. These swipe fees – which go to networks like VISA, Mastercard, or American Express, as well as issuing banks and processors – are essentially a private sales tax that goes to credit card networks and banks.

There’s very little competition in the payments system. VISA and Mastercard control 70% of this highly concentrated market. To give you a sense of the market power at work here, last year credit card networks raised their swipe fee prices to merchants by 24% and swipe fees are now the second highest cost for most businesses, after labor. In Europe, fees are much lower, because there’s a straight cap of 0.2% per transaction.

Where does this market power come from? Well merchants, even big ones, can’t afford to not accept Visa and Mastercard, so they have to accept whatever terms they are given. One key to this market power are credit card rewards, which are the points you get when you spend money through a certain card. These rewards are roughly $20 billion a year, mostly going to high-income customers and coming from the poor. According to the Boston Fed, “the lowest-income household ($20,000 or less annually) pays $21 and the highest-income household ($150,000 or more annually) receives $750 every year” as a result of these reward systems. Naturally, the credit card networks and banks keep most of the swipe fee money, but they pass enough of it back to cardholders to create switching costs in the form of customer loyalty. Almost everyone would be better off if swipe fees were lower than they are, but credit card users see a direct cash benefit, which ensures that they will continue using their cards, and that merchants will have to accept them.

The power these reward programs generate is then turned onto merchants, who aren’t even allowed foster competition between the big credit card networks. Visa, American Express and Mastercard have anti-steering provisions in their contracts with merchants, so merchants are not allowed to distinguish between different cards. That’s why you don’t see signs that say ‘use VISA and get a discount’ in local stores, even though VISA’s swipe fees are cheaper than American Express. Such a practice should be illegal, but it’s not. After years of legal wrangling, in 2018, the Supreme Court legalized this practice on procedural grounds, ensuring that this revenue stream would continue unabated.

The good news is there’s policy movement; Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and Republican Senator Roger Marshall just released a bill to address the problem by fostering more competition among credit card networks. And since every merchant in the country is angry about the excess fees they must pay, the politics here aren’t insurmountable.

The second revenue stream for credit cards comes from credit products that allows a consumer to take out a short-term loan by carrying a monthly balance. Consumers pay interest and fees for the privilege, roughly $120 billion a year. Some of these charges include annual fees, fees for cash advances and balance transfers, rebates, minimum finance charges, over-the-limit fees, and late payment charges. Here too it’s quite lucrative. There’s about a trillion dollars in credit card debt outstanding, out of a total of $16 trillion in total household debt. While credit card defaults are higher than other forms of debt, total bank profitability in the U.S. was $279.1 billion in 2021. With $120 billion of revenue coming in just from interest payments and fees, you can see how good a business credit cards really are. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 3:37 pm

Happiness as a skill that can be learned

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I have talked about the awkwardness that adults experience as they try to learn a new skill, but when the skill is happiness, persisting through the awkward stage seems worthwhile. In the blog Less Wrong, lukeprog sets out a program to learn the skill of happiness. Will it work for you? Maybe. As Rudyard Kipling wrote,

“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
And every single one of them is right!”

lukeprog writes:

One day a coworker said to me, “Luke! You’re, like, the happiest person I know! How come you’re so happy all the time?”

It was probably a rhetorical question, but I had a very long answer to give. See, I was unhappy for most of my life,1 and even considered suicide a few times. Then I spent two years studying the science of happiness. Now, happiness is my natural state. I can’t remember the last time I felt unhappy for longer than 20 minutes.

That kind of change won’t happen for everyone, or even most people (beware of other-optimizing), but it’s worth a shot!

We all want to be happy, and happiness is useful for other things, too.2 For example, happiness improves physical health,3 improves creativity,4 and even enables you to make better decisions.5 (It’s harder to be rational when you’re unhappy.6) So, as part of a series on how to win at life with science and rationality, let’s review the science of happiness.

The correlates of happiness

Earlier, I noted that there is an abundance of research on factors that correlate with subjective well-being (individuals’ own assessments of their happiness and life satisfaction).

Factors that don’t correlate much with happiness include: age,7 gender,8 parenthood,9 intelligence,10 physical attractiveness,11 and money12 (as long as you’re above the poverty line). Factors that correlate moderately with happiness include: health,13 social activity,14 and religiosity.15 Factors that correlate strongly with happiness include: genetics,16 love and relationship satisfaction,17 and work satisfaction.18

But correlation is not enough. We want to know what causes happiness. And that is a trickier thing to measure. But we do know a few things.

Happiness, personality, and skills

Genes account for about 50% of the variance in happiness.19 Even lottery winners and newly-made quadriplegics do not see as much of a change in happiness as you would expect.20 Presumably, genes shape your happiness by shaping your personality, which is known to be quite heritable.21

So which personality traits tend to correlate most with happiness? Extroversion is among the best predictors of happiness,22 as are conscientiousness, agreeableness, self-esteem, and optimism.23

What if you don’t have those traits? The first thing to say is that you might be capable of them without knowing it. Introversion, for example, can be exacerbated by a lack of social skills. If you decide to learn and practice social skills, you might find that you are more extroverted than you thought! (That’s what happened to me.) The same goes for conscientiousnessagreeablenessself-esteem, and optimism – these are only partly linked to personality. They are to some extent learnable skills, and learning these skills (or even “acting as if”) can increase happiness.24

The second thing to say is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 2:15 pm

Dialect: A Game About Language and How It Dies

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Dialect looks like an interesting game — and it has won quite a few awards.

Dialect is a game about an isolated community, their language, and what it means for that language to be lost. In this game, you’ll tell the story of the Isolation by building their language. New words will come from the fundamental aspects of the community: who they are, what they believe in, and how they respond to a changing world.

Players take away both the story they’ve told and the dialect they’ve built together. Includes hardcover book, deck of language generating cards, 4 core playsets, 11 contributed playsets by renowned game designers, linguists and activists, and a digital copy delivered immediately. [They also offer a Standard Edition with physical pieces. – LG]

A story game for 3-5 players in 3-4 hours. 

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Games

Global map showing birthplaces of notable persons

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The map is on this page, and you can experiment with zooming in and out and use click-and-drag to find a region of interest. The first surprise I encountered was that Ron Howard was born in Oklahoma — Duncan, Oklahoma, as I found when I looked at Wikipedia.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

Depression: New Treatments, New Hopes

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From the Nature newsletter, which linked to a page of articles on depression:

Biological factors that might contribute to clinical depression are coming into light. One increasingly supported theory is that depression is linked to a slowing of nerve growth — so measures that encourage neuron formation could help to stave off the condition. Obesity is both a cause and a consequence of depression, creating a vicious cycle. And the disruptions of ancient sleep patterns by electric lighting, smartphones and modern conveniences wreak havoc on mental health. Researchers around the world are finding links between depression and COVID-19, heart health, exercise and the use of social media.

Depression rates are rising fastest in young people. The condition is also disproportionately experienced by women, because the ebb and flow of hormones during menstruation, during pregnancy, after childbirth and during menopause can trigger biochemical cascades that result in the condition. These hormonal effects are very common around the time of menopause — yet the link is still ignored by many health-care professionals.

Antidepressant drugs are commonly prescribed as a treatment, but none is universally helpful. Other types of therapy are beginning to enter the scene, from psychedelic compounds such as psilocybin to implanted devices that zap the brain with pulses of electricity.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 12:24 pm

China’s property marker ≈ Beanie Baby market

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Chiina’s Ghost Cities are filled with apartment towers that lack doors, windows, elevators, stairwells, and the like. These apartments were not built for occupancy but for use tokens in an “investment” scheme very like the craze in Beanie Babies, also intrinsically of very little value. But: “Sure, this Beanie Baby cost me $35, but I can sell it on eBay for $50!” And for a while, that held true.

The difference is that the total collapse of the Beanie Baby market hurt only a few, and not too badly at that. (That’s on the whole: one person was murdered, but in general some people just lost some money.) The collapse of the housing market in China, particularly all the worthless unliveable properties, will intensely hurt billions.)

Let me make it perfectly clear: I never once bought a Beanie Baby or even considered buying one. I don’t play with such toys, and as an investment, a Beanie Baby is worth something only if you can find a greater fool to buy it from you at a higher price (like crypto currency). The supply of fools, though clearly quite large, is still finite. And, FWIW, I also have never purchased a Ghost City apartment. Thank god.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 11:15 am

Practical humility (and a great shave)

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Today I’m using another Meißner Tremonia shaving paste, Woody Almond, and again the fragrance is very present to my nose. The almond comes through clearly, as does its modulation with Texas cedar. It’s a fine fragrance, and MT shaving paste makes a great lather. Part of that is of course attributable to the brush (and one cannot ignore the contribution made by very soft tap water), and this brush is a favorite. It has good resilience, my preferred knot diameter (22mm) and a good loft, with enough density to fill the loft but still leave it open enough to generate and hold a lot of lather. In addition, this brush, filled with warm lather, feels very good on my face.

When Gillette decided to re-enter the double-edge safety razor market, they (fortunately for us and for them) recognized that they had lost the experience and expertise in designing and making DE razors they once had. They showed practical humility by copying a good current head design (the Mühle/Edwin Jagger head) and contributed merely the handle design, based on the Gillette NEW from 90 years ago. 

As a result, their razor is comfortable and efficient (if uninspired). I fully enjoyed my shave, and the result is remarkably good.

Bathhouse no longer sells the aftershave shown in the photo (which, as you see, has interesting ingredients). However, you can buy a similar formula in bulk and add your own fragrance. A gallon of that is $25, and you could design your own label and fill 40 four-ounce bottles (gifts for years to come). 

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Royal Grey: “It smells of berries and sugar, like sugared fruit. The taste is fruit-forwardjuicy black currant hitting first, followed by citrusy bergamot that lingers and grounds the blend; vanilla smooths it out with a comforting creamy note.”

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 11:10 am

Posted in Business, Caffeine, Shaving

66 tempeh recipes

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I just received an email from Better Nature, a company with an interesting backstory. That page has at the bottom a link to download a free cookbook of 11 of their favorite tempeh recipes, but check out the page of 66 recipes on their website. The photo above is from one of those recipes (Creamy Lemon & Garlic Tempeh Pasta).

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 8:06 am

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