Our art majors are the last great hope the US has

I’ve been sitting here at my desk today working to get a project out the door and something occurred to me about China, India, and how the United States compares against them in terms of STEM output from our students (STEM being the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math-related degrees).

China and India are likely to produce many top-notch critical and analytical thinkers. They’ll produce highly skilled and knowledgeable technologists at an insane rate we can’t compete with by the simple fact we don’t have as many people. But smart for the sake of being smart (by our modern day definition), and quantity for the sake of quantity doesn’t always produce innovative new products and services.

America’s advantage here, assuming we still have one, is that we are and will produce more people who are more creative and imaginative. But that’s only so long as we continue to invest in the arts, the liberal arts, and services that help kids, teens, and adults at all levels of education excel in those areas. Cutting art and music programs in schools and shunning the liberal arts at the college and career level is a dangerous thing to cut. Plus, we have to be willing to understand that a person with a strong background in the liberal arts can be just as valuable to a team as an engineer or math prodigy.

It’s these people, the ones who know how to stand at that famous intersection of humanities and sciences that Steve Jobs touted that will prove invaluable to us. They’ll be the ones producing innovative new thinking.

Next year’s goal is to kick butt

So I have a new goal for 2013: kick ass in the Indy Criterium bike ride next July.

A couple weeks ago I bought this sporty number from Indy Cycle and have been dutifully using it for training each morning as my new racing bike. I do really well in long-distance, endurance rides, and I can ride 10 miles without breaking much of a sweat on average temperature days. But I’d like to excel at short and medium-distance sprints, preferably without getting winded or too bent out of shape.

I started two weeks ago on a 6.71 mile ride in 26 minutes. My average speed was 15.42 miles, but my highest was 22.39 MPH. That’s about 3:53 per mile, or 2:40 at my fastest. I’m tracking myself over the next couple weeks to give myself a month-long data set.

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For those curious, that’s a Felt F75 series. It’s a 2009, the last model year they made an aluminum body with a carbon fiber seat post and fork (the newer models were downgraded to remove the carbon fiber). It’s super light and crazy fast. It also uses the same geometry and drop outs as Felt’s Tour de France team bikes. Neat!

Chart of transit usage versus gas prices

I was just reading through IndyGo’s proposed 2013 budget (I know, that’s what I do). This chart stuck out to me (fixed route is IndyGo’s term for any bus that’s on a constant route, which excluded the short paratransit busses for the disabled and express routes like the GreenLine, Red Line, or Carmel / Fishers busses):

Gas vs bus

You can see and read more from their report and presentation files at IndyGo’s site. Also interesting to note that Columbus, Ohio has the same cost to ride a bus as us and about the same number of stops and about the same number of people living in the metro area, but has twice the riders we do simply because the routes they do have are served with higher frequency. A clear “build it and they will come” use case.

The Art of Crap

I just finished reading “Clout, the Art and Science of Influential Web Content” and while I didn’t get much out of the book, I did have a thought.

The book, for the uninitiated, is just about how to write compelling content on the web. It’s the kind of book that uses the word “content” so many times it loses its meaning. The problem is that every book I’ve ever read about this subject is usually just examples of other people’s stuff, namely Apple and 37Signals and a few others. Barack Obama’s campaign made several appearances in this book. You rarely see any nuts and bolts “how to” material because that’d be like writing a book about how to sing. That’s nearly impossible, but I’d think books about writing are at least in the right medium.

I’ve decided that writing content is just like singing. Some people are really good at it, but the vast majority suck spectacularly and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, let alone you.

TL;DR: reading stuff on the web sucks because most people suck at writing and that’s not going to change.

Indianapolis slightly more awesome for some than first thought

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Two things about Indy today.

The first, via Reddit/r/bicycling, is this photo of a bike-light in Fountain Square. Imagine my surprise that it wasn’t in Amsterdam or someplace else more, uh, less-car-centric. 

Second, Away.com ranks Indianapolis with some lofty company as one of the world’s best bike-friendly cities:

Indianapolis… really? This bustling heartland metropolis is going out of its way to cater to cyclists, both local and visiting. First, the city has almost 64 miles of on-street bike lanes, while an urban bikeway plan will add more than 200 miles of bike lanes across the city over the next 12 years. Starting in summer 2012, the Cultural Trail, a brand-new eight-mile urban bikeway, will link all six of the city’s cultural districts, allowing cyclists to effortlessly make their way from one neighborhood and attraction to the next. Not only is the ride smooth, but the sights along the way provide additional whimsy in the form of huge public art installments. On “Swarm Street,” cyclists are treated to LED-powered “fireflies” to mark the way, while the trail that goes through White River State Park, a 250-acre urban green space, provides stunning skyline views.

For comparison, remember that Indianapolis has about 3,000 stoplights for cars and the city re-paved nearly 500 miles of roads just this year for cars.