Covid 19 Resources

COVID-19 Resources

A compilation of COVID-19 data sources and analyses I have stumbled across.





Should a College Degree be Convenient?

The Jain Family Institute (JFI) just released a fascinating analysis and tool that explores, what they term, the geography of higher education access. The analysis is intriguing.  They develop a school concentration index (details here) utilizing zip tabulation area data. An interactive visualization tool accompanies their analyses. Impressive stuff!

Fundamental to the analysis is the fact that:
The majority — 56.2 percent — of public four-year college students attend an institution under an hour’s drive away, and nearly 70 percent attend within two hours of their home, according to the latest Higher Education Research Institute’s CIRP survey (via econofact). 
Interestingly, JFI's analyses, and the interactive graphic, enables visualization of concentration with a 30 min., 45 min., or 60 min. distance.  It would be useful to see the data for a two-hour drive radius.

Two key challenges I see with  the analysis published are:

  • First, geographic proximity is assumed to be essential.  This ignores online education opportunities available to part-time and full time students seeking higher education. The data for online programs suggest that most choose an institution geographically proximate. However, for online students. campus access is less important.
  • Second, students are assumed to be homogeneous;  segments within higher ed evidence important behavioral differences.  Students pursuing an associates degree via face-to-face courses, generally, are part-time students and commute to/from campus.  For this segment, geographic proximity is important to enable integration of pursuing an education with work, family, and other life activities.

    Students pursuing a bachelors degree on a part-time basis similarily benefit from geographic proximity of campus to home.

    Students pursuing a bachelors degree full-time come in two flavors. Flavor one is the 'traditional' college model in which the student lives on or near campus. Geographic proximity of campus to home is less critical. These are the students that, per the data above, likely live a one to two hour drive from home.  Full-time students that elect to live at home and commute to campus are a second flavor. These students can save a considerable amount by living at home. At many schools, the cost of room and board exceeds the cost of tuition (net not gross). For these students, geographic proximity (i.e., a commute of less than an hour is critical). Commuter students in a major metro area, such as greater New York City, have access to mass transit options (e.g., train) that are not available in less populous areas. 
Does convenience matter for students pursuing higher education? As with anything interesting, it's complicated. I believe the short answer is yes. But that requires acknowledging and factoring into the analysis important differences between student segments.  A drive distance that may deter a student interested in pursuing an associates degree part-time may be viewed positively by a student seeking to live on campus and pursue their degree on a full-time basis (think buffer from 'surprise' parental visits).  This requires that the data be modeled separately for each student segment.   

NOTE: My interest is in understanding factors that might inhibit academically qualified and financially capable individuals from pursuing higher education.


Canon EOS 80D Initial Impressions

For the last decade (that's multi-centuries in techno land), a Canon EOS 40D has been my primary camera. For those interested in lineage, the 40D replaced a D60; a durable DSLR that my youngest daughter continues to use. It is REALLY impressive, amazing even, that a consumer electronic device is still functioning 1.5 decades of service later.  But I digress ...

Seeking better high ISO performance and the ability to explore shooting video, I picked up a Canon EOS 80D kit this past weekend at Costco (it is similar to this kit on Amazon.com). Although I don't really need additional lenses, Costco's price for the kit got me. The kit includes:

  • Canon EOS 80D Body
  • Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens
  • Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens
  • 32 GB SD Card
  • Extra Canon LP-E6N Battery
  • Canon Instructional DVD
  • Voucher for a cleaning by Canon professional services
  • Canon camera bag (perfect for storing my 40D)
In short, the kit includes everything needed to provide a great starting kit for someone.  I'll see whether the lenses ever get used. The 18-55 is a very nice range for walking around. It's compact size is a plus. And it provides more at the wide end than does my Canon EF 24–105mm f/4L is II USM, a great "walking around" lens. I have yet to unbox the Canon EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 IS STM Lens and will likely eBay it. But, I digress.

First impressions of the 80D are very favorable.  Build quality seems very solid.  It is smaller than the 40D, which I like. My hands aren't that large. The 40D with grip always felt a bit big. The 80D is more comfortable for me to hold. It has a nice grippyness to it that inspires confidence. 

Controls are similar enough to the 40D that the learning curve is shallow.  It has been a quick transition. Yes, the on/off switch is in a different location. And, yes the 80D has more buttons, but the layout is logical and well thought out.  I especially like the location of the focus-point selection button. It makes changing the active focus point (or set of focus points) intuitive and easy.  The built in level is another nice feature. The in-viewfinder level feature is, based on initial trial, too finicky for practical use. Perhaps, with practice, it will become useful.

The swiveling touch screen is a nice touch. I'm still getting used to the touch features, but they are VERY handy.  

ISO performance is promising.  The 40D got noisy at ISO800 and ISO1600 was usable under very special circumstances.  The 80D, on initial trials, appears useful to ISO6400, and possibly above depending on conditions.   This means that routine shooting at ISO800 or ISO1600 is possible.  This low light performance opens interesting creative possibilities. 

The 80D's 45 focus points is a vast improvement over the center clustered short list of focus points. The 80D focus performance is fast and sure. So far, I've only tried single shot.  AI Servo mode trials remain.

Video? So far, I've shot but a couple minutes of exploratory video.  Too soon to render any opinion on that front. 

What else did I consider?  I carefully considered the Canon EOS M50. The feature set and the DIGIC 8 processor (vs the DIGIC 6 in the 80D) got my attention. But, ultimately, the diminutive size of the M50, it's lackluster battery life, and questions about AF performance with my L lenses and the adapter tipped me away from the M50 to the 80D.

So, there you have it. Very initial impressions of the Canon EOS 80D.  Image quality?  A topic of a future post when I have some samples to share. 


Kindle Fire 7" tablet 2.5 Years In

About 2.5 years ago I shared initial impressions of the 7" Kindle Fire tablet. My impressions at the time were and remain mixed. The inability to run Google Apps remains a major annoyance and significantly limits the tablet's functionality.  A saving grace is that the Amazon App Store distributes the INO Reader and SONOS apps.  Critical in my world.  And the battery would last almost a week of normal usage.

About a month ago, the Fire's battery life took a dive.  The battery drains rapidly, even when the device is not in use. The tablet must be tethered constantly to use-enabling power cord.  Very frustrating. But not unexpected. Another Kindle Fire that graced the Digito Household experienced a similar sudden departure from utility. Sigh.  Based on these experiences, it is unlikely another Kindle Fire will cross my threshold.

In case you are wondering about the iPad 2 ... well, it still lives. Sort of.  It is glacially slow. Ya gotta love Apple's strategy of fatally crippeling devices that are otherwise functional. It lives on the handle bar mount of the bike on a trainer and serves (sort of) as an entertainment device. I say, sort of, because the only app that works with some dispatch is the timer app.  At least I know how long I've spun the pedals.

While we're on the subject, a Samsung Tab A 8" tablet has been my workhorse tablet for the past couple years.  The size is great for many applications, including running the fabulous Navionics Boating USA HD app when sailing Meridian.

Costco is currently running a killer deal on a Samsung Tab A 10.1" tablet. I couldn't resist and ordered one. It should arrive early next week.  I look forward to having more screen real estate available for route planning and for Kindle books that have lots of detail, such as Nigel Calders's classic and enormously useful Boat Owners Mechanical and Electrical Manual 4/E.

Not so Quicken

Whoo boy! I've been a Quicken and Quicken Bill Pay user for over three decades. Like many, I would update every two or three years. Intuit's annual incremental upgrades were never too dramatic. The accumulation of two or three years of incremental upgrades generally yielded a useful improvement in my user experience.

In April 2016, H.I.G. Capital acquired Quicken from Intuit. The Notorious H.I.G. promptly switched business models from the legacy shrink-wrap physical product in store shelves to a subscription model. In effect, Quicken has always been a subscription product. Typically, connectivity services would go dark after three years. A functionality loss sufficiently aggravating to inspire splurging on the latest Quicken version. Thus restarting the cycle. The Notorious H.I.G. transitioned Quicken to an annual subscription service. Akin to Adobe Creative Cloud, software functionality ceases absent a current subscription.

I had Quicken 2017. The Notorious H.I.G. established end of life at April 30, 2020. I fully intended to milk this version for all it was worth. I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but it was oddly coincidental that, each Quicken 2017 update brought significant technical issues. The most annoying was an issue that prevented entering the password needed to download transactions. A fresh install fixed the issue. But my confidence was shot.

And what should magically appear in my inbox but an offer for a two year Quicken Premier subscription at a 40% discount. Intriguingly, the Quicken Premier subscription includes Quicken Bill Pay. I've been paying forever $9.99 a month for Quicken Bill Pay. Two years of Quicken Bill Pay exceeded the cost of the two year Quicken subscription. Hmm .... that got my attention.

Curious, I contacted Quicken support. If I subscribe to Quicken Premier, will my existing QuickenBillPay account stitch over and the monthly charges stop? Yes, I was assured, they would.

So I took the plunge on June 30, 2018, and ordered up a two-year subscription of Quicken Premier. The download and install of Quicken 2018 happened as one would expect. No surprises. All accounts loaded, banks connected, etc. All seemed OK.

A couple weeks later, a $9.99 charge for Quicken Bill Pay appeared in my bank account. Puzzled, I again contacted Quicken customer support. The perky customer service rep. admonished me, "Oh, no, you must cancel your old Quicken Bill Pay account and create a new Quicken Bill Pay account. And here's a URL pointing to the details you need." Gee, thanks! Would have been great if the customer service dude had shared that keen intel last week.

So, I initiated creation of a new QuickenBillPay account. Entered payment account info and, sat back. A perky email promptly arrived informing me that two micro deposits will appear in the account in approximately 48 hours. Enter those amounts to finalize account registration. Swell!

When the micro deposits failed to appear after a week, I again contacted Quicken customer support. The very helpful individual quickly diagnosed that I made an error when entering the account number. He stepped me through the simple process of establishing another payment source with the correct account information. He promised that he micro deposits needed to confirm the payment source would appear within 48 hours.

Fast forward another week, the micro payments are still M.I.A. I placed another call to Quicken customer support. Now, the Quicken Premier subscription includes "Priority access to customer support." Quicken appears to consider a 25 minute wait time "priority access." Nonetheless, I eventually connected with another perky customer service rep.

She asked: Have you submitted a voided check?

Me: Um, no, I've not been asked to.

She: Well, you need to. Here's how to submit your voided check ...

Me: Oh, OK.
She: We are backlogged and the micro payments won't appear in your account for 12 to 14 days.

Me: Oh, swell. Oh, by the way, two days ago, I was charged for QuickenBillPay. I cancelled that. 
She: Oh, that was your final payment. 
Me: Oh, swell, so far I've been charged about $20 for an account I thought was closed. Quicken has disabled all payment accounts attached to that QuickenBillPay account. At the moment, I have no online payment service active.

She: Would you like me to reactivate your old account?
Me: Um, no. Thanks. 

So, here we are, six weeks after activating my Quicken Premier subscription, still dorking around finalizing configuration of my QuickenBillPay service. To be continued, I'm sure.

Not so Quicken.


Amazon Kindle Fire Fire: Not bad for $50 If you Can Manage the Frustrating Limitations

A 7" tablet is, in my personal device ecosystem, an essential device. It is my go-to device for reading news (thanks to the Inoreader Android App), managing email, keeping up with the Delos crew on YouTube, and controlling my multi-speaker Sonos system via the Android Sonos Controller App. My iPad 2 goes largely unused except when in situations where WiFi is not available and its 3G capability keeps me connected.

When my beloved Nexus 7 bricked, the new Amazon Fire 7" called my name. At $50 per unit, or six for $250 (buy five get a sixth free), Amazon hits a compellkng price point for a 7" tablet. It's an impulse buy. A "why not?" A "nothing to loose" and (possibly) much to gain value proposition. But is it?

The specs are promising. The screen is crisp (171 ppi / 1024 x 600).  The 1.3 GHz quad-core processor is capable. The 8 GB of on-board storage can be expanded to 128 GB by addition of a micro SD memory card. Lots of storage head-room there. And, in the field, the battery yielded full day use. Yep, lots to like. (For full specifications go here).

The operating system, a variant of Android, is much more Androidish than the first generation Fire Tablet. Amazon's take on the Android OS has a custom launcher that ties the Fire tightly into the Amazon ecosystem. One screen displays recent activity, including books read, movies watched, apps, etc. That recently used page proved useful. Another launcher page displays all installed apps. The remaining launcher screens are devoted to pitching Amazon content (books, audio books, movies, apps, games, etc.). Indeed, on powering up the device one is greeted by a pitch for a app or other goodie available from Amazon. In short, this tablet has a lot going for it. And at $50 a compelling impulse buy.

The Kindle Fire 7" is tied to the Amazon app store.  If you intend to consume Amazon content exclusively, that works well. The Amazon app store is stocked with myriad apps beyond Amazon's. However, the collection is unpredictable. And this unpredictability may prove to be a deal breaker (or force purchase of a different tablet). For example, the GoPro app is not in the Amazon app store. Neither is the lovely Wunderground weather app. On the bright side, the Sonos Android Controller app is available from the Amazon App store. And, oddly, the Amazon app store includes the NetFlix app (a direct competitor to Amazon's Prime Video), but does not stock the YouTube app.

The Amazon app store's limitations loom largest if, like me, you are thoroughly integrated into the Google ecosystem. The Amazon app store stocks none, nada, zip, zero of Google's fantastic Android apps. No Gmail, no Drive,  no Pictures, no Sheets, no Calendar. No YouTube.

As workarounds, the Amazon app store includes apps that are pointers to full screen browser sessions for Gmail, Calendar and YouTube. While a step in the right direction, these bookmarks are less than ideal if you use Google services.

The Kindle Fire ships with native email and calendar apps. The email app lacks the email sorting functionality that make the Gmail app so useful, and renders email a useful tool. The email app that ships with the Kindle Fire 7", because it lacks the magical email sorting functionality that Gmail and Inbox execute so well, managing daily email, given my typical volume is not possible. The calendar app that ships with the Kindle Fire 7" is serviceable.

How does the Kindle Fire 7" function as an Amazon consumption device?  I'm not a big movie watcher and play no games, so no insights are available on those fronts. The Kindle reading experience is, oddly, challenging. I found it challenging to access the menus without flipping several pages back and forth in the process. My Kindle PaperWhite provides a much more satisfying, and less frustrating, reading experience.

After using the Kindle Fire 7" for two weeks, with growing frustrations due to the lack of Google apps, I yielded to the call of an Acer Iconia Tab 8 while making a CostCo run.  Early impressions are very favorable. The screen is fantastic! It provides a fairly straight-up Android 4.4 experience. One concerning factor is that Acer is providing no guidance on whether and when Android updates will be available. Having experienced the ugly side of upgrading too soon, I'm currently happy with the rock-solidness of Android 4.4 Kit-Kat. We'll see how it performs over time.

Meanwhile, please share in the comments your experiences with the Kindle Fire 7" or the Acer Iconia Tab 8.


Reflections on SCOTUS' ACA Decision

Some reflections on today's SCOTUS decision re. the Affordable Care Act follow:

  • The "individual mandate" provision is unconstitutional when viewed through the lens of the Commerce Clause. The prevailing justification provided when the law was created and sold to the public was thus deemed out of bounds.
  • The "individual mandate" provision is Constitutional if construed as a "tax." SCOTUS apparently applied the "duck test" to reach this conclusion (i.e, if it waddles like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck). 
  • The determination that the individual mandate is a tax directly contradicts President Obama's assertion  that the individual mandate is not a tax and makes clear that the ACA imposes a huge tax increase on much of America (or at least the minority of Americans that actually pay income taxes). One gets the impression that the "liberal" justices, joined by the Chief Justice, were at pains to make obvious the President's lie.
  • The court's finding that the mandate is a "tax" reveals that the intent of the Affordable Care Act is to raise revenues for the government; not to make health care affordable. 
  • The tax determination fits the stereotype of President Obama as a "tax and spend liberal."
  • The tax determination will likely afford the Tea Party with renewed energy, enthusiasm, and focus, especially for Tea Party rallys already scheduled to occur in conjunction with Independence Day celebrations. 
  • A majority comprised of "liberal" and "conservative" justices converged on the decision that the individual mandate is a tax.  This "bipartisan" majority has the potential to nullify (or confuse) critics prone to characterize the decision as "partisan politics." 
  • SCOTUS severely limited powers under the Commerce Clause with regards to provisions of the ACA that would discontinue a state's Medicare funding if it did not comply with federal government mandate. 
Taken all together, SCOTUS' decision appears to have the potential to create more challenges for the Obama administration than it resolves.  On balance, the decision seems to afford critics of the ACA greater traction than is provided supporters of the ACA.  The decision also streamlines messaging objectives for opponents of the ACA in a way that makes it more difficult to message support of the ACA. It will be fun to observe how this unfolds in the coming weeks and months. @AnnAlthouse summed all this up with her concise Tweet: 

My view of the Obamacare case in 2 words: President Romney.


Useful iPad Apps

To complement my list of useless iPad apps, here's a list of useful iPad apps ... apps I use daily. The list is in no particular order:
  • Google search for iPad. Love the hands-free voice search feature. Beyond search, this app also provides a portal to all of my Google App services. One negative is that the Google Search app does not afford easy switching between Google accounts.
  • Safe Gmail for the iPad. This app provides for easy switching between multiple Google accounts. A real frustration reducer.
  • Gmail for the iPad. If/when Google enables quick account switching, this will be my go-to app for email. On the margin, the archieve and trash icons are too close together. It is too easy to trash a message by mistake.
  • MobileRSS for the iPad. I keep hoping that Google will publish a reader app that is as convenient as the Google Reader for Android. Until that happens, MobileRSS, is my go to feed reading app. MobileRSS integrates seamlessly with my Google Reader account. It also makes sharing posts via Twitter , email, Facebook, etc. a simple two-tap process.
  • Safari. Safari is an OK browser. The recent addition of Chrome-like tabs is a mixed blessing. The tabs use precious screen real estate. I rather liked Safari's previous "view all open windows" navigation scheme.
  • WSJ for the iPad. Because of this app, I now prefer to read the Wall Street Journal on my iPad, rather than the dead trees version. Dow Jones is to be commended for this!
  • DrudgeReport for the iPad. What can I say?
  • Facebook for iPad. This app is better than accessing FB via Safari, but that's not saying much.
  • Twitter for the iPad. As with the FB app, the Twitter iPad app beats accessing Twitter via Safari. However it's annoying and confusing to use. Why, for example, is the compose new tweet button located at the bottom left of the window?
  • WeatherBug for the iPad. My favorite weather app.
  • Google Maps. Gmaps on the iPad is just as useful as it is on the Android platform. Endless fun.
  • Google Earth. Ditto. Fun to pinch to zoom and swipe to relocate the earth.
  • Netflix. Gotta have it.
  • Kindle for the iPad. Essential for accessing and reading our household library of Kindle books.
  • Kno Textbooks. Useful for organizing technical reports and other documents in PDF format.
The iPad's lack of Flash support means that I cannot access the vast media library that accompanies my Amazon Prime account and makes impossible use of the myriad websites that use Flash.

See my companion post: Useless iPad Apps.

Useless iPad Apps

An iPad 2 (32 GB with Verizon 3G) has been in my bag for about six months. I use the iPad for:
  • Email. The iPad makes for an OK email device. Editing typos remains more difficult than with an Android device. Android provides a convenient way to locate an insertion point. iOS does not. The lack of SWYPE for iOS makes text entry more tedious than necessary.
  • Reading books and technical reports.
  • Reading blogs and news sources.
Here's a run down on the iPad apps that I've found to be useless (as in I've never used them or rarely use them):
  • Messages (New with iOS 5. I have now clue what it does).
  • Videos. Never used it.
  • iTunes. Ditto.
  • Photo Booth. Huh?
  • Photos. Why?
  • Music. How different from iTunes?
  • Face Time. Google + hangouts and Skype are better.
  • Mail. Awkward.
  • Calendar. Apple FINALLY added the ability to use swipe gestures to change months, etc. Generally awkward to use.
Most of these apps reflect Apple's legacy approach to content. Apple has historically assumed content is loaded on the device. In contrast, I operate in a cloud based environment. Google Apps is my primary tool for personal and work email, etc. iOS5 is a step in the cloud direction.

See my companion post Useful iPad Apps.

Overall, it's an OK device. Android provides a superior user experience. iOS lacks key information display features (such as widgets). And I find more consistency across Android apps than I find in Apple Apps.


Adobe Turing Test Fail

In anticipation of updating my Adobe Creative Suite, I probed the Adobe.com website in search of a chart that compares the myriad CS suite versions. Failing to find the chart, or any other tools useful for comparing Adobe's various CS5.5 suite offerings, I initiated a chat with Adobe's sales support system expecting a quick and direct answer to a simple question. As the chat transcript below reveals, Adobe's automated customer support chat service is unhelpful and fails the Turing test:

Please hold as we route your chat to an Adobe Representative.

Welcome to Adobe.com! My name is Robin. May I assist you with your selection today?

Robin: Hi, How are you doing today?

rob: i'm seeking a chart that compares the various 'suites'

Robin: I'll be glad to help you with that.

Robin: For me to assist you better, can you tell me what kind of tasks would you like the software to help you accomplish?

rob: i have 'cs3 design premium' installed now. curious how the various bundles compare.

Robin: I'm afraid, just to clarify, when did you installed 'CS3 Design Premium'?

rob: don't know an exact date. it's been a while.

rob: the website used to have a link to a chart that compared the contents of the various bundles. it was very useful. i'd like to find it again.

Robin: I'm sorry, you're using older version of the software, Adobe released new version of the software CS5.5.

rob: my question is about cs5.5

rob: is this a turing test fail?

Robin: Let me explain you clearly.

Robin: Rob, CS5.5 Design Premium includes Dreamweaver CS5.5 for web site designing, Photoshop CS5 Extended which will help you in editing photos in more advance way, Illustrator CS5 to create images for printed productions and logos, InDesign helps you to designs and publishes documents for print , Acrobat X Pro to edit, create, manage and convert PDF file and all Flash related software.

rob: please point me to a chart that compares the different CS5.5 suite offerings.

Robin: Please give me moment.

Robin: Please click here

Robin: Did you get the link?

rob: yes, thank you. that is exactly what I was seeking.

Robin: Lets go ahead and placed the order, okay.

Robin: Rob, are we still connected?

Robin: I haven't heard from you in a while. Would you like to continue chatting?

Robin: I'm sorry, we have not heard from you. We're happy to help. However, if you do not respond soon, this chat session gets terminated automatically.

rob: all purchases must go through our purchasing office

Robin: I can understand you're concern, is there any thing else?

rob: and all vendors must be able to articulate the significance of the number 42 in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide the the Galaxy.

Robin: Thank you for visiting Adobe.com today! Please come back online if you need any assistance. We will be happy to help.

Robin: We'd like to hear your comments. Please click on the 'Close' button in the upper right corner and take a moment to complete a short survey. Thank you! Have a Nice Day!

The convoluted grammar, and the repeated failure to respond appropriately to my specific questions, leads me to wonder: Does Adobe have a strategy of actively discouraging people from learning about and purchasing their products? As I've used Adobe products for more than 20 years, this is very disappointing.