Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A new incandescent bulb

A while back I heard about California thinking about a bill baning incandescent bulbs, and just recently I heard about a bill like this being tossed around in Australia. When I heard about these bills I thought to myself about how horrible an idea it is. I am all for reducing greenhouse gases, but banning light bulbs? During the day my house is lit by natural daylight, and at night the bulk of the lights in my house have CFL bulbs in them.

CFL are great little energy savers, but they aren't the be all and end all of lighting. For one thing you can't use them everywhere. Some of the lights in this house I wish I could throw a CFL into but they just don't fit, the fixtures were designed for a standard bulb. They don't do well in areas with a lot of moisture (bathrooms), and they really don't have as pleasing light as an incandescent bulb does. Not to mention that a CFL will never have the throw (CFL are a softer, more diffused light) that an incandescent light will have. While they are getting better about this, CFLs still have the potential to give you a headache since they aren't consistently emitting light like an incandescent (most CFL have ballasts on them that step up the electricity to 120 or more Hz so they are less likely to cause headaches). Also CFL can't dim (useful in film making).

I am a film and video guy, so I use a sorts of different kinds of lights in my job. When I first heard of this proposed ban on incandescents I thought that it could have to potential to screw over a lot of low budget and even big budget filmmakers who use normal everyday, 98 cent incandescent light bulbs everyday for lights on set and as extra fill lights (a household light bulb in a chinesee lantern makes a great soft fill light). Also if it wasn't worded carefully it could cut off the supply of bulbs for the big film lights as well, not to mention all the lights in projectors.

So here is the good news, GE has devolved a new high efficiency incandescent lamp. The new bulbs will emerge as about twice as efficient standard incandescents bulbs and ultimately they will be four times as efficient and will make them comparable to CFLs. This is a much better solution that trying to regulate light bulbs. These lights are expected to hit the market by 2010.

By the way, I am no way trying to say don't use CFLs, just that these were silly bills. Bills like these were really only ment to give the impression that they are trying to do something for the environment without really doing anything. Why not try to regulate the way electricity is made instead?

GE's press release about the new bulb:

Monday, February 26, 2007

What would it mean to Michigan if GM bought Chrysler?

There have been quite a few different articles popping up about the possibility of GM buying Chrysler and my question is what would that do to Michigan's all ready ailing automotive industry? Would the good out weigh the bad?

This question is of course not an easy one to answer. There is no quick fix to either GM or Chrysler's problems. Even if GM were to buy Chrysler and get it out of the red while helping GM itself turn around, these things aren't likely to happen any time soon. For any of the benefits of a marriage such as this there would first have to be some house cleaning, meaning redundant managerial departments would be rolled into one (lay-offs) and most likely plants would be combined to make better use of economies of scale (more lay-offs). Not to mention it would compound GM's growing health care problems. The UAW would have a problem with lay-offs (as would I) that the new super company would have to over come. Then there would be the problems integrating dealers.

It's easy to see how the combining of these two companies could be bad for Michigan, but could it be good? The merger would allow the company to take advantage of greater economies of scale by sharing parts and R&D between more cars. It would allow Chrysler to better integrate it's engineering into it's parent company in ways that Daimler could only dream of (there aren't a whole lot of Mercedes built on Chrysler bodies, but it would be no problem building a Buick on a Chrysler body). The benefits of the the two companies coming together could save them billions and ensure their future better than if they were alone.

Then course you can't bring this subject up without mentioning the possibility of Toyota knocking GM out of the number one automaker spot. This spot isn't something GM wants to give up and combining the two companies would make GM that much harder to knock from it's spot. Not to mention that both Renault-Nissan and Hyundai want an American brand and are interested in a Chrysler buy. GM can't be very happy about the idea that either of these companies getting their hands on Chrysler.

My question still remains though, would this be a good deal for Michigan in the long run? I would have to think that anyway you slice it, if GM were to buy Chrysler it would hurt Michigan in the short term. But are they any ways that Michigan's ecomony comes out a winner in a deal like this? And would it really hurt if Chrysler were sold to Nissian or Hyundai? Right now it is already held by a German company. Also is it really worth all the hoops GM would have to jump through in order to make a deal like this profitable for them? Right now I think Michigan would get the short end of the stick when it comes to a deal like this, but really I have no idea. If all the talk in various media outlets are any indication this is a real possibility.

Here are just a few links to articles on the Subject:

A quick google search will turn up a lot more

Friday, February 23, 2007

ID badges for Teachers

I'm not to sure how many of you know about a little village called Clinton Michigan, but right now it is being dragged into the spotlight and causing The Daily Telegram to support a teacher while bashing the school board and Superintendent. The issue that is dragging this little school into the limelight is a new safety measure that is being adopted by other schools in this area and has already been adopted in larger districts. The district is requiring all school employees to wear a name tag and that every visitor to the school wears a visitor pass. When the policy was implemented, all of the teachers complied, all but one and this teacher is facing losing his job over it. The problem the teacher has with this policy is that he states that wearing a badge takes away his individuality. The School states that the badge is a way to help first responders identify staff in an emergency situation saving time and hopefully saving lives and as a way to identify people who are not supposed to be in the building. The police chief of the village supports the IDs as does a security firm hired by the school over the summer before the policy was implemented.

When the teacher was first asked to comply with the policy he walked out of class in the middle of the day and has not been back, taking sick days up to this point. At Monday's School Board meeting the teacher made his case to the board, after failing to make it to the superintendent. The School Board stated that they did not want to see an “excellent teacher” leave the district over this matter, but that he had to wear the name badge. The teacher then offered a few comprises; he would personally introduce himself to every student and learn every student's name, in addition to personally introducing himself to every Clinton Police officer and he would take one week unpaid as a deterrent to other staff members also not wearing their badges. After the meeting he offered another compromise to the superintendent where he would sign a liability weaver stating that he would be willing to be shoot by any intruder if he did not have to wear the badge.

This item popped up in both The Daily Telegram and The Tecumseh Herold and my problem with both stories is how one sided they both are. Both articles made the School Board meeting sound as if it were the entire community versus the School board and all but two members of the audience were in support of the teacher. Sorry, but that just wasn't the case. My understanding from someone there in support of the board, is that the teacher had a lot of support in the audience (I guess he is a very well liked teacher by his students) and his supporters were by far the most out spoken members of the audience, but they were not the only members. The articles also fail to mention that the state has required schools to beef up their security measures by requiring schools to do two lock-down drills a year*, along with the fire drills, and tornado drills it is already required to do. Oh and the articles also fail to mention how all of the other staff members of the district have complied with the policy and that many teachers support it. Did I forget to mention that that The Daily Telegram compares the teacher to Henry David Thoreau? Both articles make the school board sound as inflexable tyrants, when really what they are doing is applying this policy to everyone equaly.

To a certain extent I understand the teacher, but I still have to side with the School on this one. The IDs are not just for the safety of the person waring them, but for everyone in the school. Clinton is indeed a small town (that fact was raised as a defense for not wearing the ID), but it has still had its issues. Parents have had to be hauled away from the school by the police for violent behavior. Kids have brought guns to schools (in elementary, middle and high school). Students have beaten up teachers and any number of other things have all happened in this small town's schools. Even if the teacher were to introduce himself to all of the Clinton Police Officers, if there were a major incident the small Clinton Police force would not be able to handle it themselves. If the ID had more than just the persons name, picture, and Clinton Community Schools on it the teacher would have more of a case, but I have many friends that work places where they have to wear an ID badge (including as teachers in other districts) and most of the time that ID has much more info on it than the one Clinton Teachers are required to wear.

Even in a small district like Clinton not all staff members know each other as evident by a security check ran in the districts buildings. This check was one reason the new policy was enacted. A member of the security firm hired by the School walked through each of the buildings, timing how long it took to be told to go to the office to sign in. The member of the firm was able to walk all around the middle school and high school buildings before being asked to sign in at the office (The elementary staff stopped him almost as soon as he walked in the door). In the middle school the security member was able to wander the halls for 13 minutes before being questioned as to why he was in the building.

I don't always like all these new security measures all the time, but wearing an ID badge at work is not something I consider over the top. A lot of those working in the private sector have had to wear IDs for a very long time. Even at a fast food joint people are required to wear name tags. If I knew the guy I would most likely have more sympathy for him, but it is not worth losing your job over having to wear what is really just a name tag.

* There are two levels of lock-down one where every door into the building is locked, every door to classrooms are locked and the windows are blocked and one where in addition to have the lights have to be shut off and students and teachers have to sit in the corners of the rooms silently. Each version of lock-down must be practiced twice a year.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Think before cutting benefits for teachers

The school funding problem has been brewing for awhile now here in good old Michigan. There has been a lot of ideas thrown around as to how to fix this problem and one of those ideas is cutting benefits to the staff. To that I say hold your horses and think about this for a minute.

As if it isn't already hard enough to get good teachers, now there are people out there saying we should give them less (to be fair there were already a lot of people out there saying teachers get to much, but now there seems to be a few more, or at least those people are louder now that the shit is starting to hit the fan). Being a teacher is such a thankless job, and being a good teacher is a lot of hard work that doesn't end when the school bell rings. A good teacher can make more money and probably with less effort working in the private sector. Teachers not only have to have a degree and teaching certificate, they have to have X amount of schooling after they get that certificate to keep it. Then they need more training for the state, and more on top of that for the district. Some of that the school pays for, most of it they don't.

One of the things that has set Michigan schools apart from schools in other states are their benefits to staff. Because Michigan schools have a good union and good benefits because of that, they have enough teachers and are therefore able to keep class sizes smaller. If you look at schools in some other states, they have poor or no unions, and weaker benefits. And those same schools are always in need of teachers because of that. Teachers may hire into schools in those states, but many move away after a few years of teaching to other states like Michigan. I'm not saying that every state that needs teachers has lossy benefits, just that every state that has lossy benefits needs teachers. In some of those states the teacher even has to eat lunch with the kids because there is no lunch room staff.

I've talked a lot about schools on this blog in the past, and that's because I think they are important. But the thing that makes or brakes a school is the people who work there, most importantly the teachers. Without teachers a school is just a building with text books in it. Until we get some sort of Universal Health Insurance, schools need to continue to provide benefits to their teachers, or they won't have any more.