An Education Opportunity for Those Paying Their Debt to Society

This is an excerpt of an editorial that originally appeared in the New York Times.

Conservatives and liberals who clash on just about everything else agree that the harsh drug sentencing laws that swept the country starting four decades ago have been wholly counterproductive, driving up prison costs to bankrupting levels, undermining confidence in justice, and decimating communities. But as Congress seeks to reform federal sentencing policies, it should revisit other outdated policies that trap people with criminal convictions at the margins of society — and indeed have driven many of them back to jail — by denying them jobs, housing, and education.

[RELATED: Your Next Best Hire May Have Spent Time in Prison]

The Obama administration did just that last week, creating a pilot program that will allow a limited number of inmates to receive federal Pell grants to take college courses behind bars. It will last three to five years and be open to inmates who are eligible for release, giving priority to those scheduled to be released within the next five years.

The program, created by executive authority since Congress closed off access to Pell grants in 1994, is cast as an “experiment’’ to gather evidence on how education affects recidivism. But mountains of data already show that inmates who receive college degrees in prison — or who only participate in prison education programs — are far less likely to return to prison.

Congress was incapable of hearing that message in 1994, when it was ratcheting up criminal penalties under the misguided belief that people who commit crimes deserved to be permanently exiled from society’s mainstream. Among its other dumb moves was to revoke inmate access to Pell grants in federal and state prisons. Congress left the impression at the time that inmates were eating up an undeserved share of student aid when, in fact, they received fewer than 1% of the grants.

The move had a disastrous impact on prison college programs. About half shut down.

Read more at the New York Times.


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The OtherMill Puts Manufacturing, IOT in the Hands of Small Biz Owners

OtherMill cnc milling machine

When you think of manufacturing, images of enormous machines isolated in a machine shop or factory come to mind. But ask Danielle Applestone and she’ll tell you today’s most advanced manufacturing machines are small enough to “pick up and put in a car.”

Applestone should know. She’s the CEO of The Other Machine Company, a San Francisco manufacturing tech firm. Her firm builds something called The OtherMill (pictured above), a desktop computer numerical control (CNC) milling machine. It’s a manufacturing machine that can create complex shapes without the need of CAD drawings or extensive user skill.

The OtherMill is at the forefront of a micro-manufacturing movement within the Internet Of Things trend.

Devices that once cost hundreds of thousands if not millions and required large facilities are now much smaller and networked. This approach to manufacturing has sparked small groups of manufacturing enthusiasts to appear. It’s part of a larger “maker culture” and it’s very much akin to developer communities that spring up around a given software.

CNC machines may sound a lot like 3D printing when you hear a general description, but they are mills and lathes with some major differences. CNCs can handle most any materials, while 3D printers are usually limited to certain material types.

CNCs typically can create shapes faster than 3D printers, and have adjustable drilling quality. Users can mill parts of varying thickness quality, even on the same part, thanks to the programmed automation in CNC machines.

The OtherMill makes these basic advantages accessible to budding machinists.

The machine size is dramatically reduced and is highly automated. That means people can quickly get up to speed and use the machine, without years of training or specialized CAD knowledge for support drawings.

That ease of usage is part of Applestone’s manufacturing philosophy.

“We want [business] people making things with professional tools,” said Applestone.

“We made a machine that does the same mechanism of cutting and moving around, but only 18.6 lbs. The portability aspect is really important.  It’s a thing you can pick up and put it in your car. It can be part of your life that feels inviting. You want people to get going pretty quickly. You don’t want to be saddled with a lot of software learning. So you don’t have to know CAD. You can take a picture and turn it into a vector file,” she added.

OtherMill cnc milling machine

We caught up with Applestone (pictured above) at the recent O’Reilly Solid conference, an expo of Internet of Things related technology, where she gave a keynote address.

She notes the importance of managing scale in a budding manufacturing or product business.

“You have a thing you want to build, and you save to figure out the scale of business that you want to build around it. Maybe it’s a small thing that you do as a hobby, and you make a few things for your friends and that’s satisfying to you,” she said. “If you want to have a business a little bit larger, you have to think what is the market for this product and if this is a product you can bootstrap … Not every good idea is going to provide crazy returns, but that does not mean it is not worth pursuing.“

Applestone is very accomplished. She has a doctorate in material science, and a masters degree in chemical engineering. Those accomplishments infuse her awareness of the growing need for more women in technology and in manufacturing.

She says, “I like that there’s a dialogue, though it’s not always positive. I am hopeful that people are now feeling that they can reach out and find resources on how to do diversity. When there are no examples, what are they going to do?

“In our business, we use Slack to have a safe place to have women talk about their professional issues, and a safe place for men to ask questions to learn without being shot down. At the end it is a great opportunity to talk about gender issues.

“There are at least news articles that talk about balanced workforce. That topic wasn’t on people’s radar at one time. Now it’s not just We should do this. Instead, it’s We should do this, and here’s why.

“And you can never put too much money into middle school science education for girls, or for all kids. It is money well spent.”

Images: The Other Machine Company, Small Business Trends

This article, “The OtherMill Puts Manufacturing, IOT in the Hands of Small Biz Owners” was first published on Small Business Trends

Never Try to Boil the Ocean

What is it about focus that you’re not focused on? Companies large and small still get scalded trying to expand their product lines and markets before they’ve even perfected a basic offering. The people who got it right first, from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs, created lasting demand. Looks like Google Glass is getting the message.