Sunday, October 02, 2011

California and bust

I keep roughly the same schedule on weekends as I keep during the week. I wake up early, I have a macchiato and read emails. However, in the weekend, I read blogs and personal emails I've saved up during the week. The Consumerist blog pointed me to an interesting article by Michael Lewis in Vanity Fair on California. Go read it - in its entirety. Here are a few interesting quotes to wet your appetite:
The average Californian, in 2011, had debts of $78,000 against an income of $43,000. 
The head parole psychiatrist for the California prison system was the state’s highest-paid public employee; in 2010 he’d made $838,706. 
San Jose has the highest per capita income of any city in the United States, after New York. It has the highest credit rating of any city in California with a population over 250,000. It is one of the few cities in America with a triple-A rating from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, but only because its bondholders have the power to compel the city to levy a tax on property owners to pay off the bonds. The city itself is not all that far from being bankrupt.
For instance, back in 2002, the San Jose police union cut a three-year deal that raised police officers’ pay by 18 percent over the contract. Soon afterward, the San Jose firefighters cut a better deal for themselves, including a pay raise of more than 23 percent. The police felt robbed and complained mightily until the city council crafted a deal that handed them 5 percent more premium pay in exchange for training to fight terrorists.
He didn’t view the city’s (Vallejo) main problem as financial: the financial problems were the symptom. The disease was the culture.
Dr. Peter Whybrow thinks the dysfunction in America’s society is a by-product of America’s success. ... The human brain evolved over hundreds of thousands of years in an environment defined by scarcity. It was not designed, at least originally, for an environment of extreme abundance. 

After reading the article, two things came to mind:
(1) It is wrong we spent more on prisons than on education. (And yes, they are related.) Let's start by  revisiting the three strike law, especially for minor, non-violent felonies. At the same time, nobody is worth an $800K salary.

(2) Where is the time when people lived within their means; people valued simple stuff. For my grandma, having survived two world wars in Europe, key was to have daily a good cup of coffee and a ham sandwich. It is a somewhat like in the old days on farm - live within your means.

I sometimes have the hear how in Europe this or that is better - "We drive smaller cars. We use less water. We produce less waste. We don't use as much plastics. etc. etc." All true. But it is only true because governments have made people care and adjust by levying higher taxes. As Peter Whybrow stated in the article, it is because we don't know what to do with abundance. So if you want the people to care, let's raise taxes (temporarily) to fix both at the same time: adjust the culture and have some funds to fix the educational system.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Impressions from visiting LSU

As my flight home from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had been canceled twice, including a overnight stay in a Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport (BTR) airport hotel, I had a few moments to document my first on-campus recruiting trip to Louisiana State University - LSU in Baton Rouge for Real-Time Innovations.

I had the honors of presenting my first US company, VLSI Technology, many years ago at an info session and on-site recruiting event to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. But it has been too many years ago to remember the details. But Cal Poly dwarfs in comparison to some of the universities on our current roster in size. Nevertheless we also are visiting Cal Poly and have recently hired some great engineers from Cal Poly.  

A couple of observations:
  • The first scenes on-campus were those of large couches outside the frat houses and guys throwing the football while onlookers were sipping a beer. These could have been scenes straight from Revenge of the Nerds. 
  • The Cook hotel on-campus is right next to the lake. The hotel is all about sponsorship: very room has a sponsor name tag with one of the best room being the Shaquille O'Neal suite
  • Computer science students focus on HPC, thanks to Eric, the on-campus cluster at the CCC, and the Queen Bee cluster at the Baton Rouge capital building. Louisiana has invested a lot in compute and communication infrastructure. HPC talent is in demand among the Oil and Gas exploration companies in the Gulf of Mexico. At the career fair, all the Oil and Gas exploration companies were recruiting heavily for both petroleum engineers, but also computer scientists able to help them run the compute clusters. Beyond HPC, LSU didn't impress me with lots of education on distributed computing or networking.
  • Career services is a well oiled machine. I am not used this at my university in Belgium. 
    • A well run career fair
    • Nice on-campus interview booths
    • Displays educate the students on proper interview attire (sponsored by Mervins and Target). 
    • Feedback forms on students.
  • This is a wealthy university. The Student Union is very modern, with great facilities and including three giant screens to watch the LSU football games. We were (un)fortunate that our company introduction was right before the LSU-Alabama game. LSU football (undefeated in the 2011 season) must bring in quiet a lot of money. The stadium is larger than the largest soccer stadium in Belgium and in Argentina combined. It would be a unique experience to tailgate and watch a game at the LSU stadium. 
LSU Tiger Stadium can fit more than 92,000 people 
  • LSU has on-campus tiger, Mike the Tiger (official site). This is a real tiger and mascot of the team. No stealing the mascot here. 

We ended our visit with some blackened alligator and one of the many international (including Belgian) beers at Chimes. Alligator is very tasty and it's better (and a little more chewy) than chicken!