Thursday, December 18, 2008

Living in a Different World

I must live in a different world. The world I live in involves working hard for what you earn. It involves having safety nets for those who need them. As a liberal-leaning Democrat, I still believe that people should be rewarded based on criteria that are open, accessible, and transparent.

When I heard that the CEO of Merrill Lynch asked for a $10 million bonus, despite the fact that it had been sold to Bank of America in an effort to prevent complete collapse, I nearly spit out my tea.

Now, bonuses are nice, and I believe anyone doing their job should get one. More often, in fact, than just once per year. However, to think that someone who has been at the helm of a company that was sold to another entity in this situation could presume that they somehow earned or were entitled to such an amount was, in my opinion, truly flabbergasting. According to some reports his rationale was that he saved investors money by selling out to Bank of America. After some resistance by the corporation, he finally withdrew his request for the bonus.

As I think about this situation, I begin to contemplate the auto industry as well. It seems to me that the lesson here is that one cannot expect money or compensation without producing something. The issue, as I understand it (and I am no expert here) is that the auto industry employs a good number of people. If they fail, then there will be many more out of work. But... I have to pose the question: What happens if they get bailed out without any conditions, and they simply fail 3-6 months later?

I suppose that many scenarios are possible. One is that this could happen, and then the inevitable is delayed. If, however, new programs are in place and new hiring is going on, then there may be a shift that keeps unemployment where it is at. The question is: Do the people in the auto industry have the skills necessary to compete in the marketplace, or will they require further training? The shift could be that those who are pursuing further education take new jobs, but that those who do not cannot qualify for these same jobs. I don't have the answer to this problem, but merely pose it as a possibility.

Other scenarios include an earlier collapse of the auto-makers, which may lead to the same set of issues. Of course, it could be that this "wake up call" will lead to restructuring in such a way to make the auto industry profitable and that a rebound will occur both in the auto industry and in the economy as a whole. In such a case, things would be back on track.

Would letting the industry crash result in a new, improved set of automakers in North America? Possibly, but who knows?

At any rate, many of us will be witnesses to these events as they unfold. Ultimately, whatever we do we must remember that the environment (including us, the customers) will select for the most advantageous companies. What goes into being an advantageous company in an economic recession is yet to be determined. Does it involve paring down the number of models one sells? Does it involve more market research into the preference for lower-priced, lower-gas-guzzling cars? Does it involve working with the workers and their unions to arrive at good labor practices and fair wages? It seems to me that ultimately the marketplace will make decisions - now, will the automakers be able to anticipate those decisions early enough to survive? That remains to be seen.

With all of this, it's time to get back to knitting for an hour or so. It will calm me in a time of change. Plus, I can knit and watch the news at the same time later on.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lace and Learning

Well, I think it would probably be appropriate to say something about knitting in this blog. I'm excited about a new pattern that I've been working on from a wonderful book entitled, "Scottish Inspirations from Rowan Yarns". The particular project is the Lacy Vest that you will find if you follow the link. It's pictured in a porridge color with gray trim (dark gray at the bottom, and light at the top and arms). My version is going to have a trim in "lobster", and the body of the vest will be in "thatch", which you can view on this website. Where did I buy this lovely yarn? From my favorite local yarn store of course: Seed Stitch Fine Yarn in Salem, MA. I really like the open feel of this LYS, and the owner (Victoria) and her staff are all really great. Plus, they have community knitting on Thursday nights - always a treat!

What do I like about the pattern? Well, I had not knit lace in a long time, and starting to do so again really was a treat. As I repeated the 6-row pattern, I began to see that there was an easy way to determine if I was knitting/purling/yo'ing/etc in the right places. The pattern really reveals itself as one continues through the process! Also, although the yarn is a 4-ply wool tweed that borders on fingering weight, the needles are a 3.75 mm (US 5), so it actually knits quite fast. I'm tall (about 5'10"), and the back of the vest until the neck decreases was about 31 repeats of the 6-row pattern (or about 186 rows). This took me about 2 weeks, knitting for about 30-60 minutes per day.

The vest, I think, will make a lovely vest or shell. I can't wait to see the front unfold!

So, what about Lace and Learning? Well, as the pattern unfolds, I think about how persistence and paying attention to what you are doing reveals the pattern before us. Not only does this happen to knitters, but it happens to anyone learning how to become competent when learning a new system. This really reminds me of learning when I was a university student. It always seemed like there were various concepts that we were learning, but the pattern of how everything went together was only revealed by working on learning everything, paying attention to how it all fit together, and letting the pattern reveal itself. Just as a successful knitter does these things with his or her knitting, so does any successful student of anything.

I have knit lace before, so I had no fear of it. However, I notice that the thought of knitting lace, making cables, or other techniques in knitting strike fear in the heart of some knitters. In fact, some of the looks on the faces of people when such techniques are mentioned are not that much different from students who have to learn statistics in my college-level class! I remember the fear well: As I finished my first class in statistics as a Freshman, I went home and cried. I thought for sure I would be a failure, and not make it through my chosen course of study. In fact, I was convinced my academic career would be over at that point!

So what happened? Well, DH helped tutor me with some of the basics involving the Greek letters. Once I figured out that these letters were really just telling you what to do, it seemed to me that this was a lot like cooking or knitting. After all, I could learn that T = tablespoon and that t= teaspoon, so I could learn that μ = population mean and that M = sample mean. This is not much different than learning that k = knit, p = purl, yo = yarn over, skpo = slip next stitch, knit one, pass slipped stitch over. Even further, we learn that little squares on a graph represent knit, purl, yo, etc., stitches.

As I thought about how we learn, it is clear that we learn through the use of symbols in a very meaningful way. We must not fear learning anything new - just remember that the trick is to figure out what the symbols are, and what they represent. As you learn how to respond to each symbol, eventually the pattern will reveal itself if you keep at it. So it is with just about anything worth learning.