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Hey, Boss, how about a raise? June 28, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Economics, Politics.
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Today members of Congress gave themselves a $4,400 raise.

The last time I got a raise, it was because my employer was pleased with my job performance and because my company felt I was contributing value enough to warrant such a raise.

PollingReport.com shows the results of various “job approval” polls for congress, and the following chart graphs these numbers over the last 3 months.  Congress’s job approval rating, in the latest poll, is 25%, with a full 63% of you saying you explicitly disapprove of the job Congress is doing:

Congress Approval Rating

Would you get a raise if you had a 25% job approval rating?  When 63% of your bosses explicitly disapprove of your job performance, I don’t think a raise of any size is in order.  So, instead of a pay raise, what if we talk about a pay cut?

After the most recent raise, salaries will be almost $170,000 per year, which is more than enough to live on, even in the Washington, DC, area.  If we were to cut legislators’ pay by $70,000, leaving them with salaries of “only” $100,000 per year, would any of them quit because of low pay?

Portuguese in Austin June 28, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Uncategorized.
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I’ve been taking Portuguese classes for the last several weeks, and I can recommend this particular class.  The class is taught by a native Brazilian Portuguese speaker, Isabela Martins, through UT Informal Classes.

I’ve had trouble finding a good resource for Portuguese instruction in Austin:

  • Austin Community College has (I believe) offered courses in the past, but they have not been able to keep them continuously.
  • There are a few Portuguese speakers who offer private tutoring, but I found rates as high as $80/hour in my asking around!
  • UT has a Portuguese department and offers a plethora of courses, but you have to enroll in the University to take them.  (The department website says that they do not allow auditing of courses, though I’ve not asked about it explicitly.)

The informal classes have been good.  I was somewhat apprehensive about doing it at first – for no good reason – because I expected an informal class to be taught in a very elementary manner by someone who may not have even spoken the language directly.  I was confident enough in my Portuspanglish (or Portunhol, as it’s known in Brasil) to skip Portuguese I and go straight into Portuguese II.

Let me assure you that I was surprised at our first assignment which was to tell the rest of the class who you were, what you were there for, what you hoped to get out of the class and whether or not you’d been to Brazil….all of this in Portuguese.  I fumbled my way through that one only to find that the entire Portuguese II class was taught in Portuguese and that most of my classmates were students who take the II class every time it’s offered, in an effort to maintain their quasi-fluent conversational knowledge.

Much of the class is reading and translating – as a group – articles from publications like Veja or watching a Brazilian video and trying to understand the language.  We also have discussion topics where we can practice our speaking with one another.  One night’s discussion topic was “Who is your favorite Brazilian composer and why?”  I would’ve been happy to participate if I knew even one Brazilian composer; unfortunately this wasn’t a topic I could discuss even in English.

Another time, the discussion topic was “I don’t like movies that _______.”  I wanted to say, I don’t like chick flicks, so I came up with:

“Eu não quer filmes que estão feitos por mulheres.”

I thought this meant “I don’t like movies that are made for women,” until the entire class turned to me, gasped, and asked me if that was really true.  I later found out that I had said “I don’t like movies that are made by women.” Oops!

In any case, if you are interested in learning Portuguese, I really recommend this class.  There is a Portuguese I class for beginning speakers and then there’s a big leap to the Portuguese II class that I’m in.  However, it is an opportunity to speak and interact with people who are interested in Portuguese and Brazilian culture, and it’s a lot of fun.

Até manhã!

Spelling bee June 28, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Education.
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I watched part of the national spelling bee on TV a few weeks ago.  I might have successfully spelled 1 out of every 10 words the students spelled correctly.  Here are all of the words that have been used in the spelling bees, through 2003:


 This list includes words like:

Keep in mind that the words on the list are spelled correctly by students no older than 15.

I also recently reread a story about Scott Isaacs, who won the 1989 bee by correctly spelling ‘spoliator’.

Finally, I talked to a friend whose 4th grade daughter’s spelling list included challenging words like ‘rendezvous’ and ‘espionage’.  It happens that this particular girl is homeschooled.  That same friend mentioned that the other 4th graders in the neighborhood (the public school kids) had spelling lists that included the word ‘summer’.

I’m interested in this.  Not having had a 4th grader before, my expectations could be off.  However, I would have expected a 4th grader to be learning to spell words like ‘rendezvous’.  Words like ‘summer’ should be learned long before the 4th grade.  I think that among the two grown-ups in our home, the 5 year old soon-to-start kindergarten girl, and the 1 1/2 year old toddler, there are at least three of us that can spell ‘summer’.  The jury’s out on ‘mitrailleuse’, though.

Being disagreeable June 28, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Politics, Work.
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One of the great freedoms we have – and often overlook – is our ability to disagree with one another, especially on political issues.  If I think the president is doing a terrific or lousy job, I can say so.  If I think a particular policy is good or bad, I can say so.  No one is obligated to listen to me, but I can still hold my own opinion and speak it openly.  You may hold an opinion different from mine, and you have the same freedom to express it that I do.  We can disagree with one another, discuss our differences, and choose whether or not we want to change our individual positions.

There are a few ground rules about disagreeing that would behoove many of us to adopt.  For example:

  • It’s ok to disagree, and words like ‘argument’, ‘position’ and ‘debate’ are not dirty words.  Consider discussing a disagreement with someone as a way to help you grow as a person and a way to build a deeper relationship with the other person.
  • You and I are sometimes wrong – discussing a disagreement with others can help us see why.
  • Remember how name calling didn’t solve any problems in third grade?  It still doesn’t in adulthood. 
  • Your argument is not correct just because:
    • You can surround yourself with people who agree with you.
    • More people agree with you than agree with the other person.
    • One or more famous people agree with you
    • You have a statistic that says you’re correct

Here are some suggestions for having a conversation with someone with whom you disagree.


Tips for being a better searcher June 28, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Search.
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Have you ever noticed that some people seem to be able to find anything on the web? Usually the information is out there, but it might take a specific site or a specific type of search query to find what you’re looking for. Here are a few tricks I use for finding things online:


Millions and billions June 27, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Economics.
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J. Paul Getty once said, “If you can count your millions, you are not a billionaire.”  I’m trying to remember that, because I don’t want to think – mistakenly – that I have become a billionaire.

Too many people don’t know the difference between millions and billions, but it’s important even if you’re not a math whiz and even if you’re not quite up to the net worth of J. Paul Getty.

Consider this example. Let’s say that tomorrow congress passes two bills, one that will cost taxpayers 300 billion dollars and one that will cost 300 million dollars. If you are a taxpayer, you really should know what this means. Do you know the difference between the bill that will cost 300 billion dollars and the one that will “only” cost 300 million dollars? When you hear a sound bite about it on the evening news, it is easy not to register the difference.

Now let’s say that instead of congress debating the bill in Washington, your own senator visits you personally and asks you to fund your portion of that bill. Since there are around 300 million people in the US, for the 300 million dollar legislation, he or she might say, “Your portion will be one dollar.” (We’ll say it’s a flat tax.) However, for the 300 billion dollar legislation, he or she would say “Your portion will be one thousand dollars.”

That’s a big difference, and if you’re someone who thinks a thousand dollars is a lot of money, consider this the next time someone says they’d like to spend it on something. Remember, you’re not a millionaire if you can count your thousands.

3 out of 5 never read a book after high school June 27, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Books.
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I originally heard this on the radio (don’t remember the source), but I found the same data quoted by Para Publishing, who is quoting Jerrold Jenkins:

  • 58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book.
  • 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 57% of new books are not read to completion.


This statistic makes me blush.  I believe another stat from that source was that the average page where people stop reading a book is page 18.

Reading teaches, challenges, and helps one think more critically – three things that most of us can use.  Try to read a book by the end of the summer.  Here are a few of my favorites:

And the one I’m reading right now:

One problem I’ve never had at work June 27, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Work.
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Suggestion:  Whether you want to put in 8, 10, or 12 hours a day, at the end of the work day, go home.  Make yourself get up from your desk and leave.  Not in the sense of slacking and abdicating responsibility, but in the sense of remembering that you can be more productive and happier in the long run if you avoid burning yourself out.

I’ve dealt with a lot of problems at work, but I’ve never had a problem with someone sneaking in at night and doing my work while I’m gone.  My work is always there waiting for me when I come in the next day.