It May Pay to Be a College Dropout: Thiel Fellows Program!

Dear Commons Community,

Below is a reprint from a Huffington Post piece on the Thiel Fellows Program that pays 20 young college dropouts $100,000.  to give them the freedom and support to think about the next world changing technology.

Good luck to them!



Huffington Post

Peter Thiel ’20 Under 20′ Applications Open: Where In The World Is The Next Zuckerberg?


Once again, the hunt is on for the next great college dropout.

Peter Thiel, Facebook’s first big investor and the co-founder of PayPal, announced Monday that his nonprofit foundation has started to accept applications for next year’s class of “20 under 20” Thiel Fellows.

For the third year in a row, the Silicon Valley billionaire is giving at least 20 young adults $100,000 each to drop out of school. The two-year fellowship aims to give “freedom, support and time” to a select group of teenage whiz-kids who, Thiel believes, don’t need a college degree to create world-changing technologies.

“Our world is suffering from a tech innovation drought,” Thiel said in a statement released yesterday. “We think young people are capable of tackling hard problems and building big things, and we hope to enable more of them to work on cool projects for two years.”

A survey released in July found that startup founders under the age of 30 are more optimistic about their companies than their older counterparts. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard University in his sophomore year to build the social networking site, is the latest to glamorize the image of upstarts who forgo formal educations and entry-level positions to start their own ventures. (Microsoft founder Bill Gates, too, famously ditched Harvard.) Though a study released in 2009 showed that the average founder of a successful startup launched his firm at the age of 40.

There are now 43 Thiel fellows, including 39 men and 4 women. Some have seen more success than others, HuffPost reported in August, when the program announced its newest class in a CNBC special. James Proud, one fellow, reportedly sold his online ticketing business for a six-figure sum. Eden Full, another fellow, won a $260,000 social entrepreneurship award earlier this year to improve solar energy in developing nations. Meanwhile, other participants have bounced around from project to project with few notable achievements.

The 2012 class attracted 1,000 applicants from 20 different countries, Thiel’s foundation has said. Applications for a Thiel Fellowship in 2013 will close at midnight (UTC) on December 31, 2012. Teams of up to four may apply. Each individual must have been born after December 31, 1992.

Fellowship recipients will be announced sometime in the spring next year.


Why Faculty Blog???

Dear Commons Community,

At the recent Sloan ALN Conference held in Orlando, I was asked the question by Holly Rae Bemis-Schurtz :  Why faculty blog?  A number of colleagues here  at CUNY have also asked me this question over the past couple of years.  Below was my response to Holly.


Prepping for the Last Presidential Debate: Rom-ney-sia and Libya!

Dear Commons Community,

President Barack Obama and candidate Mitt Romney are beginning preparations for their last debate on Monday night. Every indication is that it will be another in-your-face brawl as was the last one.  After a week which saw the two candidates trade “fun” one-liners about each other at the Alfred E. Smith Dinner, the gloves have come off.   President Obama yesterday referred to Romney as having “Rom-ney-sia,” which Obama said presents itself as forgetting one’s earlier stances.

The comment came as the Obama campaign looked to tie Romney to his earlier, more conservative stands, including suggesting in a Republican primary debate that he’d be happy to sign a bill outlawing all abortion — even though he once supported abortion and his campaign says he supports abortion in the case of rape, incest or the health of the woman.

“He’s conveniently forgetting what his own positions are,” Obama said. “We need a name for this condition—let’s call it Rom-ney-sia…. If you say you’ll protect a woman’s right to choose but you say you’d be ‘delighted’ to sign a law outlawing it in all cases, you’ve got Rom-ney-sia.”

The subject of Monday night’s debate will be foreign policy and Romney is sure to hammer President Obama on Libya.  One recent report has it that:

The CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington within 24 hours of last month’s deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate that there was evidence it was carried out by militants, not a spontaneous mob upset about an American-made video ridiculing Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, U.S. officials have told The Associated Press.

It is unclear who, if anyone, saw the cable outside the CIA at that point and how high up in the agency the information went. The Obama administration maintained publicly for a week that the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans was a result of the mobs that staged less-deadly protests across the Muslim world around the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on the U.S.

The debate is scheduled for Monday night at 9:00 pm (EDT).



Newsweek to Abandon Print and Go Digital!

Dear Commons Community,

Newsweek announced yesterday that it would be abandoning its print format and going to an all-digital format.  A New York Times article  states:

“…Newsweek buckled under the pressure afflicting the magazine industry in general and newsweeklies in particular, with their outdated print cycles that have been overtaken by the Internet.

In a message posted on The Daily Beast, Tina  Brown [editor] announced that Newsweek would cease print publication at the end of the year and move to an all-digital format. The transition, she wrote, would include layoffs, and at a staff meeting Thursday morning, she grew teary-eyed when she told employees that she didn’t know how many people would be let go.

The staff remaining will publish a digital magazine called Newsweek Global. Readers will continue to pay for Newsweek, Ms. Brown said, and some Newsweek articles will appear on The Daily Beast, which will continue as a free Web site. The end of the print edition will help stem Newsweek’s estimated $40 million in annual losses…

Ms. Brown characterized the move as bowing to the inevitable digital future. “You cannot actually change an era of enormous disruptive innovation,” she said in a phone interview. “No one single person can reverse that trend. You can’t turn back what is an inexorable trend.”

Sad and scary!



Mayor Michael Bloomberg starts his own Super PAC!

Dear Commons Community,

Seeking to reshape a national political debate he finds frustratingly superficial, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York is plunging into the 2012 campaign in its final weeks, creating his own “super PAC” to direct millions of dollars in donations to elect candidates from both parties who he believes will focus on problem solving.  Mr. Bloomberg’s move comes in the wake of the 2010 Supreme Court decision that paved the way for a flood of independent expenditures through super PACs, which are playing an outsize role in elections this fall. Though his spending is on a much smaller scale, he is joining other wealthy Americans by bankrolling outside groups to influence elections. These include the Koch brothers, industrialists who have backed conservative causes, and George Soros, the billionaire investor who has championed liberal ones.

The New York  Times is reporting that:

“Mr. Bloomberg expects to spend from $10 million to $15 million of his money in highly competitive state, local and Congressional races. The money would be used to pay for a flurry of advertising on behalf of Republican, Democratic and independent candidates who support three of his biggest policy initiatives: legalizing same-sex marriage, enacting tougher gun laws and overhauling schools.”

The first two of his causes are fine but his views on education represent the corporate mentality that schools should be run as businesses.  His over enthusiasm for standardized testing combined with his anti-union/blame the teacher sentiments and little patience for parental involvement in education policy decisions have not helped New York City schools.



Presidential Debate Round Two: President Obama Edges Out Mitt Romney!

Dear Commons Community,

The second presidential debate of this election year between President Obama and Mitt Romney was held last night at Hofstra University.   My impression informed by the immediate analysis of CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, is that President Obama edged out Romney.

The debate was moderated by correspondent Candy Crowley.  She held her own in keeping the debaters to the issues/questions at hand and to time limits.  She did interject a fact check that will be picked up by Romney supporters as being biased to the President on an issue related to what he commented about the attack in Libya on the American embassy and whether he referred to it as a terrorist attack immediately after the incident.

The New York Times described the candidates “as bringing bare fists” to the debate:

“It was as if a different, highly charged president had taken the stage rather than the reluctant, disengaged-seeming candidate who showed up to meet Mr. Romney at their first debate two weeks ago.

Mr. Romney stayed acutely focused on Mr. Obama’s record in the face of it all, saying that the president had failed to deliver what he promised in his 2008 campaign and arguing repeatedly and strenuously, “We just can’t afford four more years like the last four years.”

The questions raised by the audience in a town-hall style setting were as follows:

  1. Job opportunities for college graduates
  2. Gasoline Prices
  3. Specificity regarding tax deductions directed at Mitt Romney
  4. Glass ceiling for women
  5. Lack of progress in addressing many of the problems created by President George W. Bush
  6. “I voted for you but not sure I will vote for you in 2012”  directed to President Obama
  7. Immigration
  8. The attack on the American embassy in Libya
  9. Gun control specifically related to assault weapons
  10. China the rise of its manufacturing base because of cheap labor
  11. What is the misconception that the public has of you directed to both candidates.

Good political theater especially since President Obama was more aggressive and the fact that the two candidates literally got into each other’s faces a couple of times.


No More Industrial Revolutions!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a review by Thomas B. Edsall, professor of journalism at Columbia University, of a paper by Robert J. Gordon, an economist at Northwestern University. Entitled, Is U.S. Economic Growth Over?  Gordon predicts a dark future of “epochal decline in growth from the U.S. record of the last 150 years.”

“The greatest innovations, Gordon argues, are behind us, with little prospect for transformative change along the lines of the three previous industrial revolutions:

IR #1 (steam, railroads) from 1750 to 1830; IR #2 (electricity, internal combustion engine, running water, indoor toilets, communications, entertainment, chemicals, petroleum) from 1870 to 1900; and IR #3 (computers, the web, mobile phones) from 1960 to present…

Over most of human history, in Gordon’s view, the world had minimal economic growth, if it had any at all — and “there is no guarantee that growth will continue indefinitely.” Gordon’s paper suggests instead that “the rapid progress made over the past 250 years could well turn out to be a unique episode in human history.”

The United States faces “headwinds” that could cut annual growth in Gross Domestic Product to as little as 0.2 percent annually, which is one tenth the rate of growth from 1860 to 2007.”

The review has counterpoints by a number of major economists.  For example:

Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard, wrote that the Gordon essay “is a wise and thoughtful piece but a very, very speculative one. The historical evidence presented is quite reasonable.” Katz noted that projections of “what new ideas will be discovered and their potential impacts on economic growth” are “highly uncertain.” In the end, he said, “I am probably a bit more optimistic on the potential for innovation but I share Gordon’s worries about inequality and education and environmental issues.”

Edsall concludes:

“Affluent Republicans – the donor and policy base of the conservative movement — are on red alert. They want to protect and enhance their position in a future of diminished resources. What really lies underneath the ferocity with which the right currently fights for regressive tax and spending policies is a deeply pessimistic vision premised on a future of hard times. This vision has prompted the Republican Party to adopt a preemptive strategy that anticipates the end of growth and the onset of sustained austerity – a strategy to make sure that the size of their slice of the pie doesn’t get smaller as the pie shrinks.

This is the underlying and inadequately explored theme of the 2012 election.”




The Insanity of Standardized Testing: A Tale of Two Cities: El Paso and New York!

Dear Commons Community,

The are two stories making the headlines one in El Paso and the other in New York City involving the insanity that has evolved over standardized testing in our public schools.

In El Paso, a cheating scandal has erupted over the school district’s policies of keeping low-performing students from taking the tests in order to boost overall student performance indicators.  As reported by the New York Times,

“… in the cheating scandal that has shaken the 64,000-student school district in this border city, administrators manipulated more than numbers. They are accused of keeping low-performing students out of classrooms altogether by improperly holding some back, accelerating others and preventing many from showing up for the tests or enrolling in school at all.”

In New York City, later this month, children at 169 New York City elementary and middle schools will, for the second time in a calendar year, take a 40-minute “field test” in math and English language arts to determine which questions will go on future state standardized exams.

Lori Chajet’s daughter will not be among them, though the tests are scheduled to be given at her school, Public School 321, in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Nor will many students at Public School 261 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, or children at schools across District 6 in northern Manhattan.

Ms. Chajet’s objection is not to testing itself, but to the way tests are being used to evaluate schools and teachers.

“I want my school to use tests to help instruction, to help find out if kids don’t know fractions,” she said. “I don’t want my child to feel like her score will decide if her teacher has a job or not.”

Ms. Chajet is one of a small but growing number of parent activists in New York City opposed to the system’s emphasis on high-stakes testing. Many of them took part in a boycott of the field tests in June, when parents at 47 public elementary and middle schools of the 1,029 tested had their children sit them out. In their eyes, it was a win-win situation: Children who skipped the field tests did not risk punitive action or potential harm to their school’s grade on the city’s progress reports, while their parents could make a statement against the tests.”

The stories of school officials manipulating test scores and parents protesting them are becoming commonplace.  Are there any education policy makers willing to take on the politicians and ideologues who keep pushing for more and more high-stakes testing.



Million Muppet March to Save PBS and Big Bird: November 3rd!!

Dear Commons Community,

Reuters is reporting that plans to save Big Bird and Sesame Street from possible extinction are taking shape in the form of a puppet-based protest next month dubbed the “Million Muppet March.”

The demonstration is planned for Nov. 3rd at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

“Before the presidential debate between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney had concluded on Oct. 3, two men who had never met each floated the Million Muppet March idea on social media. They immediately united to defend public broadcasting.

Romney pledged during the debate to end the U.S. federal government’s subsidy for the Public Broadcasting Service despite his professed love for Big Bird, one of the characters on PBS’s 43-year-old children’s educational program Sesame Street, which features the Muppets.

Michael Bellavia, 43, an animation executive from Los Angeles, and Chris Mecham, 46, a university student in Idaho, separately came up with the Million Muppet March idea in response…

Bellavia bought the URL www.millionmuppetmarch.com during the debate and discovered Mecham had already started a Facebook page by the same name.

Within 30 minutes of the end of the debate they were on the phone with each other, planning the march.

“I figured, why just make it a virtual show of support? Why not take this opportunity because it seemed like there was already a growing interest in it and actually make it an active, participatory event,” Bellavia said. “I literally just said, ‘It’s happening.'”

Both men consider themselves fans of “Sesame Street,” perhaps the best-known program on PBS, which received $445 million of $3.8 trillion in federal budget outlays in 2012.

They are not sure how many people or muppets will come to the event but they do hope to create what Bellavia called a “lovefest” featuring skits and performances with Muppets.”




Sloan Consortium Conference Wrap-Up!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday I left Orlando and am presently in Seattle meeting with colleagues on a book project.   Just a quick summary of the Sloan-C Conference that I have been attending all week.  First, it was first-rate especially the keynote.  Sebastian Thrun, had a lot to say.  The overall program likewise was well-done and I congratulate the committee that put it together.  Second, the venue, the Swan and Dolphin Resort, in the middle of Disney World attracted lots of attendees who brought their children and grandchildren with them to enjoy the attractions.    Last but not least, it was good to see and and discuss professional and personal matters with colleagues, many of whom, you only see in the flesh once or twice a year but with whom you are connected weekly via email and  social media.

All in all, a good show and congratulations to the Sloan Consortium.