Sunday, December 28, 2008

Good Times in Bad

I am sitting at home in bed, nursing a cold. My retirement portfolio tanked 30% this year. I regained the 5 pounds I worked so hard all summer to lose. Why am I happy?

I met up with some old friends from Boulder in a pizza joint in Menlo Park on our way home from San Francisco. Our kids played, as we lingered over the meal and at Kepler's books afterwards. I have issues with the way the University of Colorado treats its graduate teaching assistants (not well), but my life is much richer for the people I met there.

As Richard Florida points out in Who's your city?, Boulder really is a special place. It is not just the jaw-droppingly beautiful mountain setting; it's a mecca for Earth Science and Atomic, Molecular and Optical (AMO) Physics.

Last week, I helped preside over an AGU session entitled High-Resolution Active Optical Remote Sensing of Atmospheric Processes in which every paper had a connection to Boulder. (Some of the papers don't list a current Boulder connection, but many authors have studied or worked there at some point in their careers or their Lidar system was built by a laser jock trained in Boulder.) Come to think of it, every other person at AGU seemed to have a connection to CU.

The last two weeks have been a blur, what with discussing science at AGU, volunteering to help run the meeting, visiting family and friends, and catching a cold. There is not much progress on the knitting or reading front. But I did read a fantastic column by James B. Stewart, Good Times Can Be Had in a Bad Economy.
Now we're in the midst of what many are calling the worst recession since World War II, something that might even qualify as a depression. I don't know what the future holds. But looking back over the years has brought me to a somewhat startling conclusion: Recessions have coincided with some of the best times of my life. Is this coincidence or causation? I'm not sure.

I don't mean to minimize the suffering and hardship that recessions bring and that are all too evident now as evictions and unemployment soar and as charitable endowments and donations plunge. But to the extent recessions shake up the status quo and force us to examine our goals and priorities, they also offer enormous opportunities.
Just as my own past health crises helped me get my priorities in order, a recently laid-off friend is exploring new avenues.



  1. Interesting links. And a couple of universities are on both lists: top money making and top peace corps volunteers, so perhaps there is a link

  2. Smartmoney's methodology purely looks at payback for tuition on the 3-15 year time frame. Hence, state universities with a large percentage of engineering students score highest. In states with both a top Ag/Eng university and a flagship university, the Ag school wins on that metric.

    It is interesting to note that, schools that send a large percentage of students on to earn PhDs will not score highly by that methodology. That's why UC Berkeley's graduates enjoy lower lifetime earnings than UCLA's.


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