Apparently I will soon be too old

My hair is long since “beginning to grey”, which is becoming a cause for concern. My wife has always said that if my research funding dried up I could always jump to some other job programming. But the article linked above suggests otherwise. Even though I got carded yet again at Trader Joe’s last week, Brooke’s worst case scenario probably is going to be worse than she expects. As I march towards mid-forties and beyond, I’m also in a march towards being unemployable.

While I am not expecting to lose funding for my job in the immediate future, I’ve decided to start making plans for a career path that doesn’t include being a transportation researcher forever. This will hopefully mean that my fallback plan in case of immediate layoffs will get better than some nebulous “something in web tech or programming”.

This blog post is one in hopefully a string that will start looking at options in the intersection of web technologies, programming, and transportation research. To start things off, I’ve listed some random data points in no particular order.

  • Activimetrics: About a year ago Craig and I thought it would be a good idea to start a side business. He came up with the name Activimetrics, but that is about all we did with that.
  • Market research for sale: Today I got yet another spam for “details of our global intelligent transportation systems market report.” from Research and Markets for the low low price of EUR 2651. I can’t imagine who spends that kind of money for such a report who wouldn’t already have that information available to them. I’ve also always been impressed by RedMonk and their idea of open source analysis.
  • My research doesn’t generate much interest: None of the grad students here are jumping to work on my research, but by the same token, none of them are able to contribute significantly to my projects.
  • Hot Topics
    • Freight modeling is hot
    • Activity modeling is hot
    • Emissions modeling is hot
  • Traffic management revolutions: our California Traffic Management Labs project really is going to redefine how traffic management happens in California
  • Blogging: I really suck at blogging

One thing I do have going in my favor is that I like learning, and I’m reasonably good at it. I’ve been playing with CouchDB on the side, and gradually folding it into my day job. I was shocked by the difference between my code and Moose-ified code, esp. MooseX::Declare, so I’ve been working on using Moose. I’m good at JavaScript, but the idioms of the most proficient JS programmers are not mine, so I’ve been studying their code.

But despite the fact that I can stay at the forefront in any technical area, I think I’d prefer to make a difference with a team of people, rather than forever trying to do everything myself. In the end, I think that is the best reason to push to get a side project going.

I also like teaching, just not so much that I want to move away from sunny southern California (or more importantly, make my wife move). I’ve been the one-man shop handling our Sakai install for pushing current topics of research out to Caltrans employees, and I like that work.

Revisiting my random list of things possibly relevant above,

  • Activimetrics: Starting a company is more than making up a name and registering it. We need to do something.
  • Market research for sale: Apparently people pay for information that is relatively easy to collect, and if I understand RedMonk’s business model, they pay more for custom tailoring of information to their needs. This is something to keep in mind as a steady source of revenue. As a former grad student and current researcher, I know how to collecting information, and I also know that doing it is laborious. At the same time, it is an excellent way to get new hires up to speed with the state of the industry. Further, it has never been easier to disseminate information in a formal, methodical way using open source tools like Sakai.
  • My research doesn’t generate much interest: The grad students here are not my students, and I am not a professor, so of course they aren’t interested in my research! But I must admit that I don’t market my work enough. It could be that there are students willing and able to help me out, and they just don’t know what my projects are.
  • Hot topics: Freight modeling and Activity modeling are hot because Emissions modeling is hot because there are some legislative mandates that insist on reducing emissions and nobody really wants to take the medicine in the blue bottle labeled “destroy the foundation upon which all civilization rests”. A corollary: If transit is so great for emissions, why doesn’t anybody measure and publish the per capita emissions of greater New York compared to greater Los Angeles. I wonder what the per captia emissions of awesome bike-friendly countries like the Netherlands or Denmark are.
  • Traffic management revolutions: The best traffic management ever would be to put a price on every single trip by car. That will never happen. Every other option will always result in traffic. Seems like there should be full time employment forever trying to untie that knot.
  • Blogging: I resolve to practice writing blog posts until I only suck a little bit at blogging

2 thoughts on “Apparently I will soon be too old

  1. I don’t know who your students are, but I *love* reading your blog and thinking about how traffic could be modeled. I’ve not been to grad school, but I do love looking at data and trying to make conclusions about it. Obviously you are trying to come up with some new information, but are there papers you could link to that people could read to get a start on the field?

  2. …are there papers you could link to that people could read to get a start on the field?

    Yes there are, but of course there are way too many to just list. This is an excellent question, an excellent point of view, and dovetails nicely with my job. I will start posting articles on this topic, aiming for at least one a week.

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