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American parents take out student loans for their kids' kindergarten education


Parents in America are taking out loans at interest rates of up to 20% in order to pay for their children's private K-12 education. The average loan from one provider, Your Tuition Solution, is $14,000, while the Lake Trust Credit Union lets you carry up to $40,000 in loans for your child's primary and secondary education. Some lenders allow parents to defer payment until their kids graduate college, which is when their college loans are also called in. Annamaria Andriotis writes in Smart Money:

It used to be that families first signed up for education loans when their child enrolled in college, but a growing number of parents are seeking tuition assistance as soon as kindergarten. Though data is scarce, private school experts and the small number of lenders who provide loans for kindergarten through 12th grade say pre-college loans are becoming more popular. Your Tuition Solution, one of the largest lenders in this space, says demand for the upcoming year is already up: This month, the total dollar amount of loans families requested rose 10% compared to a year ago; at that pace, the company expects its total funding to rise to $20 million for 2012-13. Separately, First Marblehead, which exited the market in 2008, reentered last year as demand for loans began to rise.

Much of this demand is coming from high-income families. Roughly 20% of families that applied for aid to pay for their children's kindergarten through 12th grade private school education had incomes of $150,000 or more, according to 2010-11 data, the latest from the National Association of Independent Schools. That's up from just 6% in 2002-03. Those who don't get approved for free aid, like grants, increasingly turn to loans, experts say.

Student Loans on Rise -- for Kindergarten (via MeFi)

(Image: Indentured Student - Cartoon, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from donkeyhotey's photostream)

Giant peep cake

20120408-190102.jpg My sister made a giant peep cake. It looks just like the recipe photo, don't you think?

When you share with Facebook friends, you share with all the apps they use


Raganwald describes a Facebook privacy-leak that's creepy even by Facebook standards. When you sign up for apps, the app-maker has the power to extract all your friends' personal info, assuming they've shared it with you. So anything you share with your friends can be hoovered up by any app they trust. If you'd prefer not to do this, there is a setting buried in the Facebook preferences, and Raganwald walks you through checking it off.

Here’s an app that purports to help people build their “professional network:"

If you share your work history with friends and they use this app, you’ve just silently shared your work history with the people who built this app. And your locations data! I have visions of them selling an employee profiling service: "Mr. Braithwaite claimed to be employed with Initech, but he spent an awful lot of time at Sense Appeal Coffee Roasters during that time period..."

... Look at what you're sharing by default with all of your friends' apps! Selfish bastards that we are, we do not wish to make our friends’ experiences “better and more social” when they use apps that we don’t personally authorize. Turn everything off and save changes. Voila! You’ve stuck another finger in the dike holding back the endless flood of Facebook privacy loopholes.

When you share personal data with Facebook friends, you're sharing your personal data with every app your friends use

Google Chat emoticon Easter egg

In this video, Videocrab demonstrates a very odd typographical Easter-egg embedded in Google Chat. I have no idea if this is real or shooped, but it's cute nevertheless.

2012-04-06_21-10-36_872 (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Sight-gag book-ends


Knob Creek Metal Arts makes clever sight-gag book-ends and sells them on Etsy in a variety of finishes. The seller adds, "Keep in mind that I can customize anything seen here and am always open to creating custom items just for you."

KnobCreekMetalArts (via Colossal)

Latin American leaders, Obama to discuss ending the war on drugs

The upcoming Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, which will be attended by many latinamerican heads of state as well as Barack Obama, is set to be an historic debate over the legalization of drugs and the end of the war on drugs. Jamie Doward writes in the Guardian:

He insists, however, that prohibition has failed and an alternative system must be found. "Our proposal as the Guatemalan government is to abandon any ideological consideration regarding drug policy (whether prohibition or liberalisation) and to foster a global intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach to drug regulation. Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that drug consumption and production should be legalised, but within certain limits and conditions."

The decision by Pérez Molina to speak out is seen as highly significant and not without political risk. Polls suggest the vast majority of Guatemalans oppose decriminalisation, but Pérez Molina's comments are seen by many as helping to usher in a new era of debate. They will be studied closely by foreign policy experts who detect that Latin American leaders are shifting their stance on prohibition following decades of drugs wars that have left hundreds of thousands dead.

Mexico's president, Felipe Calderón, has called for a national debate on the issue. Last year Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia's president, told the Observer that if legalising drugs curtailed the power of organised criminal gangs who had thrived during prohibition, "and the world thinks that's the solution, I will welcome it".

'War on drugs' has failed, say Latin American leaders

The proper way to eat Easter eggs

This is how it's done. A ring-tailed coati mauls and slurps Easter eggs in Zagreb Zoo April 8, 2012. (REUTERS/Antonio Bronic)

Fan video for Jonathan Coulton's "Down Today" made from public domain ballooning footage

Craig sez, "This is a music video I've edited for the song 'Down Today' by Jonathan Coulton (from his 2011 album, 'Artificial Heart,' produced by John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants) using footage from public domain films mostly found on Archive.org. 'No! No! A Thousand Times No!! - a 1935 Fleischer Studio animated short film, starring Betty Boop, 'Voyage à Travers l'Impossible' (The Impossible Voyage) (1904) directed by Georges Méliès, 'Le Voyage Dans la Lune' (A Trip to the Moon) (1902) directed by Georges Méliès, 'Le Dirigeable Fantastique ou le Cauchemar d'un Inventeur' (The Inventor Crazybrains and his Wonderful Airship) (1905) directed by Georges Méliès, L.T.A. History of Balloons (1944). More music videos I've edited for songs from Jonathan Coulton's excellent 'Artificial Heart' album. Stream or buy the album 'Artificial Heart' at Jonathan Coulton's website.

Jonathan Coulton - "Down Today" unofficial music video (Thanks, Craig!)

When human beings are asked to monitor computers, disaster ensues

Ashwin Parameswaran's "People Make Poor Monitors for Computers" is a fascinating look at (and indictment of) the way we design automation systems with human fallbacks. Our highly automated, highly reliable systems -- the avionics in planes, for example -- are designed with to respond well to all the circumstances the designers can imagine, and use human beings as a last line of defense, there to take control when all else fails. But human beings are neurologically wired to stop noticing things that stay the same for a long time. We suck at vigilance. So when complex, stable systems catastrophically fail, so do we. Parameswaran quotes several sources with examples from air-wrecks, the financial meltdown, and other circumstances where human beings and computers accidentally conspired together to do something stupider than either would have done on their own.

Although both Airbus and Boeing have adopted the fly-by-wire technology, there are fundamental differences in their respective approaches. Whereas Boeing’s system enforces soft limits that can be overridden at the discretion of the pilot, Airbus’ fly-by-wire system has built-in hard limits that cannot be overridden completely at the pilot’s discretion.

As Simon Calder notes, pilots have raised concerns in the past about Airbus‘ systems being “overly sophisticated” as opposed to Boeing’s “rudimentary but robust” system. But this does not imply that the Airbus approach is inferior. It is instructive to analyse Airbus’ response to pilot demands for a manual override switch that allows the pilot to take complete control:

"If we have a button, then the pilot has to be trained on how to use the button, and there are no supporting data on which to base procedures or training…..The hard control limits in the Airbus design provide a consistent “feel” for the aircraft, from the 120-passenger A319 to the 350-passenger A340. That consistency itself builds proficiency and confidence……You don’t need engineering test pilot skills to fly this airplane."

David Evans captures the essence of this philosophy as aimed at minimising the “potential for human error, to keep average pilots within the limits of their average training and skills”.

It is easy to criticise Airbus‘ approach but the hard constraints clearly demand less from the pilot. In the hands of an expert pilot, Boeing’s system may outperform. But if the pilot is a novice, Airbus’ system almost certainly delivers superior results. Moreover, as I discussed earlier in the post, the transition to an almost fully automated system by itself reduces the probability that the human operator can achieve intuitive expertise. In other words, the transition to near-autonomous systems creates a pool of human operators that appear to frequently commit “irrational” errors and is therefore almost impossible to reverse.

People Make Poor Monitors for Computers (Thanks, Patrick!)

Steampunk Lego dino, with a backstory


Mark Stafford's "Steam-Dinos" is a Lego fantasy with its own backstory:

“A spiffing way to go to war I decided as we powered through the veldt. Mr. Roberson’s patented Triterrortops steam powered terrible lizard replica was performing above the expectations it has been set by His Majesties Royal Calvalry Corp. My report to the Generals will be that the vehicle has proved more then adequate to combat the clone-vat monstrosities of the Zimbab bio-shamens.(sic)

Also: it really walks!

Steam-Dinos-Rule (via Super Punch)