Friday, October 29, 2004

 

If you want to get laid, go to college, but if you want an education, go to the library

Finally, some people in the press are noticing the snakepit that academia has become. Not just the New York Sun, but the NY Daily News is starting to notice as well, both in articles and editorials. This is the crap I'm paying into 529s for? Reminds me of a conversation I had with a family friend some years ago. I inquired about his daughter, who had just started college at a well-known liberal arts school and he gave me a resigned look and said "They're turning her into a good little communist". You often hear about the importance of a well-rounded liberal education, with the subtext that if you're into the applied arts and sciences (e.g. engineering and finance) you're a robotic little stooge applying the wonderful concepts developed by pure academia and haven't a creative bone in your body. What a load of hogwash. When Merton and Scholes had their precious academic models at Long Term Capital Management they nearly managed to melt down the capital markets, all because they believed blindly in the superiority of the academic approach. Oh sure, I read a lot of the academic journal articles on technology (gotta keep the IEEE and ACM somewhat supported) but if you pop up in a meeting with a business unit suggesting a technical solution based on an academic approach you'll be shouted down or worse. Any tech consultant worth his salt can cite hundreds of stories of going bleeding edge and getting into a mess, all because some academic said "This is good".

One of my favorite examples of which was Stalag 13. Before my stint with them, they were an early adopter of ATM, and quickly found themselves in a pickle because of it. They rapidly bumped up against call count limitations in the switches, had ELANs extended all over the MAN, with the lovely concomitant result of routing loops (having the same broadcast domain in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Jersey makes life interesting during troubleshooting), and just in general the network became an undocumented, unmaintainable mess (just trying to sort out the PVCs was a nightmare). But they liked ATM at first, because it was fast and all of the academics said "It Is Good". Stalag 13 had some major issues getting rid of the ELANs, mainly because of hard-coding in applications, but they bit the bullet and basically it works. My recent client Colditz would do well to follow their example in how they attacked the problem.

I have a couple of friends who are academics. One is a very nice, very Orthodox Jewish fellow who's teaching computer science at a Catholic college (his boss, a Jesuit, is a very cool fellow). Politics or doctrine never enters into the equation for him, as my friend is a propellerhead of the highest order and has a pedagogic streak (I suppose he would've been a melamed in earlier times). My other friend, who I have a somewhat strained relationship with, teaches business and CS at a public college, and he is incredibly dismissive of actually applying the concepts he teaches. I suppose it might be a simple case of "Those who can't do, teach", but in some conversations he's indicated a general disaffection amongst his colleagues with large bastions of capitalism, and the thought that people like that are teaching applied skills to the generation that's going to run this country soon enough scares the heck out of me.

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