He Quit His Job and the World Got Richer – The Khan Academy

There are 1440 minutes in a day. That’s 120 opportunities, in one day, to consume a video from Salman Khan. He’s a game changer for education. He started The Khan Academy , a video tutorial service using only Youtube and his knowledge base. There are 1600+ videos and each one usually runs a little more than 11 minutes.

I often rebuke the notion we are failing at math and science. We can improve, that is for sure, but testing memorization isn’t really learning. Videos like Khan’s help students get their feet on the ground. They can rewatch it, ask questions of their teachers, and cross reference it with Google, Wikipedia, and other traditional resources.

Bill Gates has taken notice as well. The reason is because the teaching methods are simplistic. And because of that, the distribution can go wide. The relative cost and investment is so low that it creates a novel not-for-profit business.

I’m curious about the net positive effect of this type of education. The aggregate benefit of short videos for tutorials, video games for problem solving, music for creativity, and blogs and twitter for cleverness is immense. The structure of learning is not only a class room.

TED Talk: David McCandless from Information is Beautiful

My last post was from the Information is Beautiful website that I’ve used in past. Well coincidentally, David McCandless did a TED talk and his sentiments about the value of data are right on par with my thoughts on it. I recommend watching the video below. You’ll see some interesting stats about fear, military size, and volcanoes.


Working Thoughts 8/27/08
Eventually Globalization Comes Back to Us

Billions of Dollars: Giving, Spending, Fighting, Accumulating, Owing, Losing, and Earning

The smart people over to Informationisbeautiful.net created something called a The Billion Dollar-o-Gram . Its a Treemap. I don’t visually get why its called that, but it’s the method for displaying heirarchical data by using nested rectangles.

What I like about it is the relationships. Understanding proportions when talking about big numbers is difficult, so an illustration like the one below helps immensely, especially when people mention a few billion spent on this or a few billion going on that.

I suggest checking out a book by them as well. It’s called The Visual Miscellaneum and it’s $17.81 over at Amazon.com .

One more item about their work, they provide a link to all their supporting data .

Well Said Leadership Characteristics

Every Sunday the NY Times runs an interview of a business leader called Corner Office. The questions are about leadership, hiring, and career advice. The answers are usually insightful. For example, this past Sunday George S. Barrett was the interviewee. He’s from Cardinal Health – the Chairman and CEO to be exact. Adam Bryant asked a question about Leadership and got a response I wholeheartedly agree with. Leadership is essentially about particular characteristics and how they are conveyed. He sums it up well below:

Q. What’s your philosophy of leadership?

A. Articulating it in a single sound bite is hard for me, but I’d say this. I do think leadership is largely about trust, and trust has a couple of dimensions. It starts with competence. People have to believe that you really know what you’re doing. They have to really trust in your judgment because the data is so complex out there that they have to believe you can see through all the silliness and have some sense of the right course.

People have to trust that you have a point of view about what this enterprise is going to look like. What do we seek to be? And they have to trust that you understand them, that you get them. Not necessarily that you know them personally, but you understand what it’s all about to work here and that you have their interests at heart. I think that when you can do those things, it can be a powerful combination.

I think people sometimes equate leadership with charisma and decisiveness. I think those are powerful tools, and I hope I have both,but they’re not to be confused with leadership. I know a lot of very charismatic people who lack judgment and competence, and they’re not great leaders. They’re just fun to be around. And I know some very decisive people who lack judgment, which is terrifying.

Also, I think a leader has to be comfortable with having the weight on their shoulders. And that’s not for everybody. It can be hard, and it’s a different experience if you haven’t had to experience this. That’s not for everybody, but I like it because I don’t feel like I’m alone. I windup bringing the group together, and we own the weight. I love that part of it.

I also believe that leadership is a two-way street. I tell my team, “I expect to learn from you as well as you’ll learn from me.”

Working Thoughts 8/17/07 (this is a seminal belief of this blog)
At What Point Does It Stop Being Education?

Working Thoughts 8/17/09
Job Losses and the Self Employed

Different Ways to Climb the Steel Stairs to the Top

I went to a Catholic elementary school. It was the type of building that was stately from the front with massive doors and an elongated walkway to the entrance. However, if you took the profile from the side, it was just a rectangle box. As you opened the doors you were presented with a climb to the second floor. It was about 80 steel stairs up. Once you got to the top you were presented with a long dim hall with class rooms on each side. The first to the left was sixth grade, next on the right was fourth grade. Back to the left further down was fifth grade. Second and third flanked the ends. The hall culminated with the door to first grade. This building was old: steel and concrete with little or no insulation. Every morning to start school we’d all gather in the big hall and say parts of the rosary. A classmate of mine, Rhiannon, once passed out.

I have plenty of stories about this school and here’s a couple.

  • In third grade I was put in charge of the heat. Being an old school it had a massive furnace in the basement. Occasionally the submarine style door would be open to it and I’d swear it was 120 degrees in there. Anyway, the heat was distributed to each classroom through coils near the windows. I sat next to the nob that allowed heat to come into the room. If someone was cold they had to come see me so I could turn the nob on. I have no idea why I was put in charge, but I performed the job well.
  • In fifth grade we had daily spelling tests. Each student had a cheesy single month calendar taped to the wall near the windows. They were hot air balloons. Every time someone got a 100% on a spelling test they would get a small hot air balloon sticker to go along with the day of the week on the calendar. As the month would end, Kristin on her calendar had just about every day filled up with stickers and Jason had none. It was a visible cue about who scored well on the spelling tests and who didn’t. I looked at those balloons quite a bit and they motivated me to be near the best. I wanted to beat Kristin. The spelling test was practically secondary, it was just a means to an end – beating Drew, Patrick, and Kala.

Its 21 years later and I can vividly see those balloon stickers. They were the only colorful things in the school.

I wasn’t motivated to score well on the spelling test just for the sake of it. I didn’t care about it. But I was motivated by getting a sticker. A site called Ultrinsic.com is doing a similar thing with college student’s grades. The site allows you to open an account and make small wagers about your performance in different classes you are registered in. Think you’re getting an A in biology – bet $20 on it. The amount of the bet practically doesn’t matter. I’m so much more interested in a football game if I have $5 dollars on it. I normally wouldn’t care, but with $5 on it I want to see if I’m right and I will pull for whatever team reinforces my opinion.

I think a site like this can work out, but the problem I see with it is the time horizon is too long. Gambling is so powerful because of the immediate feedback of it. If I had to pony up money in September, by the time December rolls around I’ve considered it a lost cause. I had an opportunity at a sticker every day.

Unfortunately for my Catholic school, it didn’t pass a few of it’s own tests. The cost to keep it viable was too high and it’s now a green field… nevertheless, I can still see it.

Wealth Distribution and Taxes: What’s Fair?

There’s a lot in the news lately about the George W. Bush tax cuts that are set to expire. These cuts were part of a larger tax cut program Bush put into place during the years 2001 through 2003. The only part of the tax cuts that is still up for debate is the tax rate for the top income bracket. It is 35% and is set to go back to 39.6%.

Opinions, interestingly, are coming from all sorts. For instance, billionaire Wilbur Ross said he was OK with his taxes rising, as long as the tax income goes to something worthwhile like R&D. And plenty of uber rich people have pledged their income to causes they support , like the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation or other charities. Alan Greenspan, once an advocate for the tax cuts, is expressing the need to let them run their course. $700 Billion in revenue is too great a haul for the US to ignore, especially since it comes from a small portion of citizens.

Or at least you think it does. The tax code is fairly arbitrary in how it separates out income brackets. As James Surowiecki points out in his New Yorker article titled Soak The Very, Very Rich , the top bracket is 3% of the US population and that tier starts at  two hundred thousand dollars a year as an individual or two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year as a household. This number encapsulates many small business owners and people who live in expensive geographies like NYC or San Fransisco. I don’t agree with increasing the tax burden of these people. Small business can be a hiring machine in the right environment, so sapping income isn’t a good idea. Plus, there’s a big difference between $250,000, $1,000,000, and $10,000,000.

Here are some stats from James Surowiecki’s article:

  • Top tier tax bracket starts at $200,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a household
  • $250,000 is the top 3% of American households
  • $250,000 is four times the national median
  • In a place like Manhattan, an apartment can cost $900,000
  • Between 2002 and 2007
    • The bottom 99% of incomes grew 1.3 % a year in real terms
    • Incomes of the top 1% grew 10% a year
      • That 1% accounted for two-thirds of all income growth in those years
    • People in the 95th to the 99th percentiles of income have represented a fairly constant share of the national income for 25 years now
      • But in that period the top 1% has seen its share of national income double
      • In 2007, it captured 23% of the nation’s total income
      • Even within the top 1%, income is getting more concentrated: the top 0.1% of earners have seen their share of national income triple over the same period
      • All by themselves, they now earn as much as the bottom 120 million people

So at the same time that the rich have been pulling away from the middle class, the very rich have been pulling away from the pretty rich, and the very, very rich have been pulling away from the very rich.

Just to be clear, I don’t necessarily want to increase the tax rate for the super wealthy per se. They already pay a huge portion of the tax income for the US (35% of a lot of money equals a lot of money). What I do want though is to consider the unequal distribution rate of the top 1%. From the years 1995 to 2004, the most wealthy in the US went from being 3.68 times more wealthy than the average person to 4.81 times. Here is a graphic and stats :

Net Worth Measure






% Change






















  • 1980 – the top 1% richest Americans accounted for 8% of total national income
  • 2008 – the top 1% richest Americans account for 20% of total national income
  • The last time the top 1% accounted for 20% of total national income was 1928

Another chart I created a couple of years ago shows how the richest 400 people in the US has the same amount of wealth as the first 51% of the US population. 400 people have more wealth than over 50% of the population combined.

The question is about sustainability. Can the top 0.1% continue to grow their wealth and is it at the expense of the rest of the US population? If so, then taxing them a variable amount based on income distribution rates is a better idea.

Working Thoughts 8/9/07
Other Work Related Blogs

Working Thoughts 8/9/08
Cost of Living Driving Executives

July 2010 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for July 2010 (based on the job report):

Net loss
of 131,000 jobs in the month
(revised to a loss of 66,000 jobs)

  • Census workers accounted for a loss of 143,000 jobs as they rolled off the federal payrolls
  • Private sector payrolls increased by 71,000
  • Analysts expected an overall loss of 65,000
  • One year ago the US lost 346,000 jobs
  • June was revised to a loss of 221,000 jobs from an original reading of a loss of 125,000
  • May was revised to gain of 432,000
  • 6.8 million people have been jobless for more than 6 months (long term unemployed) – unchanged from June

    • 44.9% of the unemployed are long term unemployed, a drop from 44.5%
  • Businesses (private sector) have now added 630,000 jobs since the start of 2010, after cutting 8.5 million in 2008 and 2009 combined (90,000 a month)

Unemployment rate held at 9.5%

  • Analysts predicted it would be 9.6%
  • The unemployment population is 58.4% – virtually unchanged
  • The U-6 report, which is a broader group to count, stayed at 16.5%
  • PMI, a measure of manufacturing pace, is 55.5 from 56.2% last month and 59.7% the month before. Anything above 50% means the machines are running
  • Economic growth will be by sector. The strongest component of economic growth is business investment in office buildings, equipment and software, growing at 17% during the second quarter
    • Job postings on Dice.com, a technology and engineering job Web site, are up 36 percent in the year through Aug. 1
    • Postings on efinancialcareers.com, which serves as an online clearinghouse for finance positions, are up 31 percent

Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing added 36,000 jobs
  • Construction loss 11,000 jobs
  • Retailers gained 6,700 jobs
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services grew by 6,000 jobs
  • Government sector lost 202,000, Federal losses were 154,000
  • Education and Health Services grew by 30,000 jobs
    • Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 27,800

  • Professional and Business Services lost 13,000

Wage (can be revised):

  • The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $637.84 – an increase
  • The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.04 – two penny increase
  • The average hourly work week is 33.5 hours – a increase of 0.1 hours

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Report Stats Summary

Showing the Economy Through Illustrations

The above illustration shows the ramping up of volume of trades on the FSTE starting in late 1997. There is an economic purpose for these markets, but at that volume is it really weeding out the wheat from the chaff which is the point?

But I really wanted to call out the blog Visualizing Economics . It, like Flowing Data , shows stats in an illustrative way. It helps tell the story of the stats.

Working Thoughts 8/2/07
Using Fables