WA State Legislature Reconsiders Cap on Tuition – Impacts on the GET Plan

WA GET Plan (529) by on January 13, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Despite passing legislation in 2007 that limited the growth of in-state tuition, the WA legislature is considering removing this cap. From the Seattle Times article:

Gov. Chris Gregoire urged lawmakers to grant universities “tuition flexibility.” And a UW-backed measure that would give universities tuition-setting authority, within limits, is gaining the support of some key lawmakers. Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, who chairs the Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee, said he expects to file a bill this week that would give the state’s six universities the ability to set resident undergraduate tuition rates.

The bill currently being considered limits tuition growth to 14% in any one year and requires that the universities limit their growth to 10% a year.

Obviously this has an impact on the WA Get Program. The 529 plan currently targets investment returns of 7% a year, which corresponds to the prior cap on tuition growth. Since the out-of-state tuition reimbursement is indexed to the growth of in-state tuition, the higher tuition growth rate should translate to higher returns for this guaranteed investment vehicle.

Finaid.org highlights how reduced tuition support by state legislatures is quite common during financial downturns:

During recessions and for a year or two afterward, state governments tend to reduce support for higher education. This translates directly into increases in public college tuition rates. So when other investments are dropping due to a declining stock market, prepaid tuition plans will tend to increase.

The Washington Legislature may be doing just that as they try to close a $2.6B budget shortfall.

Overall, my opinion is that moves like this make the WA GET 529 Plan more attractive, particularly as a component of a diversified college savings strategy.

Google’s Bold Chinese Move

Search,Security by on January 12, 2010 at 10:17 pm

I’m both stunned and impressed by Google’s announcement that it will either end censorship in China or close google.cn following a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack on [Google’s] corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google.”


If Google follows through with its intentions, it will be one of the most public actions taken by any organization (corporate or government) in protest of China’s restrictions on free speech in the last few years. Even a Google-cynic such as myself can’t help but cheer their actions. The other search engines should follow Google’s lead.

Almost incredibly, Google is may actually be able to impact Chinese policy. We will see how the next few weeks unfold, but Google may well do more for free speech in China at this moment than any international organization has been able to do in the last decade. The constructivist view of international relations is becoming an increasingly stronger model.

Google was hacked!?

And possibly equally significantly, Google has had its intellectual property stolen by hackers. And we’re left to presume they were state-sponsored hackers. Sure, most organizations are a nudie video away from getting pwned, but if Google can be targeted successfully, what does that say about the rest of corporate America?

Be careful with Google Sitelinks (How I screwed myself)

Personal,Search,travel by on January 7, 2010 at 10:07 pm

While I’m generally a big fan of Google Sitelinks, I recently screwed myself by carelessly relying on them.

A few months back I planned travel for Affiliate Summit West. I began my process with a search for “Affiliate Summit West”. The search results today are below (which look pretty similar to what I recall seeing originally).

affiliate summit west - Google Search_1262889895341

I was already registered for the show, knew which day I was speaking (Monday) and since the show was in the same location last year all I needed were the dates.

I clicked on the ‘About the Show’ sitelink and booked travel based on the dates on that page. A few weeks later, my wife booked a trip to Hawaii based on my calendar availability.


While all of the sitelinks were for the 2010 version of the conference, the ‘About the Show’ sitelink took me to the 2009 details. I carelessly booked my travel plans based on the wrong dates… which now collide with our trip to Hawaii…

Clearly, the error is mine and mine alone. If I had gone directly to the Affiliate Summit website and used their navigation, I would have not been in a position to make the error.

So, be careful deep navigating with sitelinks. Trust site owners more than Google (sounds obvious right?).

Amazon EC2 Spot Pricing – Why bother with regular EC2 instances?

Business by on December 14, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Amazon announced today Spot prices for EC2 instances - market-driven pricing for unused Amazon EC2 capacity.

You bid an amount per hour of usage, and if the spot price is equal to or lower than the amount, you then get the instance for that hour. This would be a great way to do things such as process time-insensitive data (maybe log files, updates of denormalized data, etc.)

A quick look at the historic graph, shows spot pricing for a Linux m1.small running between $0.025 and $0.35 per hour, averaging $0.030 per hour. Normal instances cost $0.085 per hour. Reserved instances cost $0.030 per hour.

The question that I’m most intrigued with currently is whether we should just move all of our normal instances to Spot instances. We would then set bids equal to the regular pricing. In theory, our pricing should never be worse than what we pay currently and would most likely be much better.

The long-term outcome is likely to be that all of EC2 pricing (except for the Reserved instances) moves to Spot Pricing.

The only risk I can think of is other companies doing the same thing but bidding more than the regular instance price. Then we’d get screwed as all of our instances are turned off. But of course, any company that switches from a regular instance to Spot instances, should free up an equal amount of capacity as they are currently using.

What am I missing? Are there other risks to this strategy?

Why the Nook won’t hold a candle to the Kindle

Business by on December 7, 2009 at 9:14 pm

I shop on Amazon a lot - especially since Amazon Fresh was launched. In fact, I pretty much use it as my first stop for the purchase of most everything.

I don’t own a Kindle and don’t really plan on getting one soon. However, that doesn’t stop Amazon from trying to sell me one. I’ve greyed out the non-kindle above the fold real estate on Amazon’s homepage.


Naturally, I was curious how Barnes and Noble was promoting the Nook. See below:

Amazon is dedicating more space to promoting Crest WhiteStrips than BN is dedicating to promoting the Nook. Does the Nook really have a chance?

Progamming for MBAs

Business by on November 22, 2009 at 10:35 pm

My first job out of MIT was as a consultant for Bain & Company. Bain, like other strategy consulting firms was fueled almost exclusively by MBAs and recent college grads.

Excel was used extensively for casework. New consultants received several levels of Excel training and nearly everyone developed Excel expertise. SPSS made an occasional appearance in casework, but Excel was the tool of choice when the data set could be manipulated in Excel.

Super Models
The models and analysis conducted using Excel ranged from simple cash flow analysis through to analysis of data exported from ERP systems and models of thousands of chain store financial statements. Consultants that were unable to pick up Excel rarely went far in the company.

In many ways, skilled consultants used Excel as a basic programming tool.

1,048,576 >> 65,536
I rapidly became an Excel-geek, and I’ve carried my Excel-fu with me throughout my career and have used it to solve numerous problems. I elected to upgrade to Office 2007 solely because of the 1M row limit. I still find Excel quicker than MySQL and/or Python for a number of one-off analysis tasks. Data is far easier to explore, reformat and summarize in Excel.

Now add clusters
Even today, I regularly run tasks that max both of my CPUs in Excel. I have a good sense where the limits lie and avoid them. Microsoft has been testing Excel 2010 running on a cluster of machines. Nearly all the analysis that I do with Excel is exploratory in nature, and Excel provides an excellent solution for the vast majority of these problems. Microsoft is definitely mapping out a path towards the next step which truly excites me:

And then the cloud
Doing all of this in the cloud would truly be interesting. I and nearly all MBAs have no interest in running local HPC clusters. It gets really interesting when you can run a version of Excel that has access to the computational resources in the cloud. I’d happily pay computational fees to use Excel to process vastly larger amounts of data.

I’d also expect that much of the analysis conducted in the financial community that uses MBAs (and some PhDs) for algorithm development will likely remain in Excel rather than going through an implementation stage with a development team.

Google is of course on the way to doing something similar. For now they have targeted the casual user, but I’m sure that will change as Apps develops.

No there isn’t going to be a landrush for Internationalized Domains

Business by on October 31, 2009 at 11:52 pm

The media[WSJ] really[Independent] has this wrong.

The news in question was ICANN’s announcement (PDF) of internationalized top level domains.

Consider this quote from the AP:

Since their creation in the 1980s, domain names have been limited to the 26 characters in the Latin alphabet used in English - A-Z - as well as 10 numerals and the hyphen.

or this breathless prediction from Wired:

Domain-name speculators will race to buy as many names as they can in languages they don’t understand in order to create more contentless “landing” pages to make money from people who accidentally type that URL into a browser address bar.

Except that ICANN hasn’t done anything to allow new registrations. They are just allowing existing top level domain endings (.com, .net, .org) to be typed differently. Anyone could register internationalized domain names (IDNs) on the .com TLD since 2000. However, for a long-time no major browsers supported IDNs. The real land-rush happened around 2007 when IE7 became the first major browser to support IDNs by default and domainers rushed to purchase IDNs.

The announcement from ICANN only pertains to the bit after the dot. Imagine how awkward it is for a user in Japan to type their intended domain in katakana and then switch to an ascii script to add “.com” to the end. All that ICANN is saying is that it will allow the creation of equivalent TLDs in scripts other than ascii. However, these TLDs will simply be aliases of existing TLDs.

Chicago Marathon

Personal by on October 24, 2009 at 10:01 pm

A few weeks back I ran the Chicago marathon with my sister. My sister has been a Team in Training mentor for several years and has run more than a few Chicago marathons.

I’ve never run a full marathon with her and I wasn’t planning on running this one. I thought I’d run part of it with a camera and snap photos of her and her friends as they ran the race. I ended up running the entire run and had a blast.

It had been a long time since I’ve run a ‘major’ marathon. The Las Vegas and Phoenix marathongs each had a sizeable number of runners, but they do not compare to races like Chicago. The biggest difference was the city’s commitment to the event. In Chicago, the day revolved around the race. Fans lined the course, which went through the heart of downtown multiple times. I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed the run.

Start of the run
Start of Chicago Marathon
Outside the Lincoln Park Zoo - Probably around mile 5. My sister is stretching her IT band on the left - she ran the whole thing with a strained IT band - her doctors told her that she wouldn’t injure it; her knee would just hurt a lot.
Outside Lincoln Park Zoo
My sister and I around mile 23 or so.
Michelle and I on the course
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