Monday, March 31, 2014

Anticipation

I'm testing the release patch for Cleo's newest software offering as we speak.  And it looks good.  Waiting on pins and needles for our QA guys to do their thing and give it the official ok.

This feeling never gets old.  I love shipping software!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Banning Ads on Consumables

I heard a story yesterday that Turkey was banning advertising alcohol.  That got me thinking, wouldn't it be a good idea to put a ban in place for all human consumables?

I'm not a particular fan of prohibiting the consumption or possession of any item that harms no one but the consumer.  Prohibition failed, and the war on drugs is following suit.  However, I don't think that advertising food and drugs is such a great idea either.

We've seen smoking rates plummet since advertising rules were put in place.  Why not extend this to all drugs?  And then on to foods as well.

Many of the obesity problems that countries with Americanized diets face can be traced back to sugary and processed foods.  These are the ones most heavily advertised.  Why not level the playing field a bit?  Since there is no way in the foreseeable future that carrots will have the same ad budget as cookies and soda, removing the cookie and soda advertisements should give the carrots a fair shot.

Also, this should extend to pharma.  There is no reason that I need to see advertisements for products deemed risky enough that a doctor has to approve their use.  If a drug carries secondary consequences such that a health professional must make the determination if I should use it or not, creating a market for that drug weakens the patient->doctor->pharmacist system that we have in place.

I have no particular dislike for the marketeers of the world, but it is difficult for people to make healthy decisions when others are spending billions of dollars persuading them to make unhealthy ones.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Why the Hell Are We Teaching Excel To 11 Year Olds?

So my daughter's computer class has progressed now from typing Word documents to Excel spreadsheets.  What the hell does a 6th grader need with Excel?  Is she realistically going to balance her piggy bank with a complicated spread sheet formula?  Or is that meant to inspire her to enter the Future Excel Drones of America(c) club?

When I was in 6th grade I was learning HyperCard.  We were animating stick figures and making choose your own adventure decks.  You know, the kind of things that are appropriate for a 6th grader.  In the process the groundwork was laid for my programming career.

So seriously teachers, administrators, boards, pta's and all others involved, let's let our kids be kids.  Teach them how to be curious and playful and intelligent.  There's a whole lifetime ahead to learn to do boring office tasks.  And besides, people like me are trying to eliminate those boring office jobs any way.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

To a Great Friend

On a day not unlike today almost 12 years ago you came to my wedding and made a profound observation that I've never forgotten.  When Megan and I lit our unity candle it went out as we walked away.  We turned around and lit the candle once again and the show went on.

Later that day you pointed out the metaphor that happened.  Megan and I had our plan fall through and silently went back and lit the candle.  You said "Remember that."  You pointed out that that's like life.  Something doesn't work out and you just go back and do it again until it does.

Today at your wedding you and Beth blew out your unity candle.  You handled it much the same way, just with a bit more humor than us.  Remember that.  That's like life right there.  And as long as you and Beth keep laughing you two will have a long and wonderful journey together.

Congratulations, Mike.  May love and laughter grace your life always.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Student's Perspective, Part 2

This post is in reply to Zuleyka Zevallos's comment on a previous blog post.  Perhaps I've gotten a bit long winded as I've violated Blogger's char limits.

Hello Zuleyka,

The problems with discussion boards in online course work go beyond a matter of poor moderation. The problem is structural in the way that discussions are conducted in online courses. I only have the experience of the schools that I've attended to gauge from, but these problems span 3 organizations that I've personally taken classes from.

The problem breaks down into 3 issues:

1. Technology. The boards themselves are based on dated BB technology, and much harder to follow than a G+/Facebook linear comment style or a tiered approach such as Reddit/HN. (Blackboard has undergone a major revision at my current school that I haven't yet had access to, so this may not be relevant any more.)

2. Student engagement. Whereas good online discussions happen all of the time organically within self selected groups, students are often engaged in coursework that they are taking simply out of requirement. I would guess that the forums of any MOOC classes out there would be much more lively than a required college class. The students of a traditional course are most likely not any less competent or driven, they just don't have the same level of intrinsic motivation as someone who pursues a course on a completely voluntary and relatively uncompensated basis.

3. Instructor Requirements. In response to lack of student engagement, the instructors and/or departments set forth grading rubrics to force students into the board for lack of a better word. They reward the desired behavior extrinsically thus further reducing the chance for organic conversation. Beyond just motivational factors, there gets to be such a volume of repetitive conversation on the boards that a student cannot parse it fast enough to meaningfully participate and often ends up answering blindly into the crowd to satisfy the rubric.

I understand the need for students leaving college to have interpersonal skills. As a professional working in the field for which I am currently pursuing my degree, I've been able to climb the ladder and get ahead of those who've completed their studies in part due to my ability to communicate ideas effectively. These are for the most part skills that I've attained through personal pursuit rather than traditional schooling.

I brushed upon it before, but the process of taking a course from the physical realm to the network involves a bit of translation. Like any transformed work there are trade offs involved. Consider the following two continuum:

Interpersonal interactions(traditional) ---- Independent Works Skills(online)
Instructor/peer face time(traditional) ---- Greater course accessibility(online)

With online course work, you trade off interpersonal interactions and instructor face time for enhancing one's independent works skills and greater course accessibility. I've developed a higher level of independent abilities because of the time that I've spent pursuing coursework without the classroom time. I was able to get within a few credits of acheiving my degree while attending to other life requirements because of the accessibility of online schooling. If you adjust the way courses are translated and have hangout discussions you are moving the needle on both of the gauges. You get back more of the interpersonal interactions at the expense of a minor amount of independent work skills. However to get that face time you are most likely going to have to place in time requirements, and for that you will pay a price in course accessibility.  This isn't to say that making such a change wouldn't be worthwhile, just that it wouldn't come without cost.

No matter what avenue a student uses to pursue a degree there are going to be skill and knowledge gaps when that student graduates. It will be up to the student to choose if and how to round their experiences through continued or supplementary educational opportunities. The challenges are different for online or traditional students, but that fact remains that a student should not consider themselves done with their education simply because they've attained a degree.

Thank you very much for having this discussion.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Student's Perspective Regarding the Quality of Online College Coursework.

The following is a response to Zuleyka Zevallos's post on Google+.  Because of length and potential benefit beyond the G+ discussion I chose to post here rather than comment.

As a student who's about to finish a degree cobbled together between in person and online classes, I can say that not all online classes are equal, or even close.  I've had painfully difficult online courses that taught me little and easy ones that have taught me much.  And every color in between.  It depends on a number of factors.

The best umbrella I can give for what makes a good online class is the manner in which the course is "translated" from the in person course work.  Every institution that I've been to attempts to copy the model of lecture, discussion, lab/in class work, and traditional deliverables.

The most beneficial courses spend more effort translating the lectures and labs than they do the discussions.

Good online courses I've had either limited the amount of effort spent on discussion boards or dropped the discussion requirement altogether.  In most cases the discussion boards in online classes are an echo chamber in which a rubric is fulfilled rather than a valuable discussion.  They serve largely to assure administrators that online students are getting the 'college experience'(which they are not) and to pad the student's.  Losing out on peer discussion is just part of the trade off of attending school online.

The effort that an online instructor may spend reviewing mandatory discussion is much better spend on lectures and lab work.  Courses that I've attended with recorded lectures are much more engaging than those without.  Courses without recorded lectures can still be very high quality if the instructor creates valuable lecture writings.  Some of my best courses did not include multimedia, just really good content delivered in a reasonably well written format.

Lab work is an often overlooked tool in the online instructor's toolbox.  Self guided lab content for minor amounts of credit encourages students to work through concepts that they will encounter in other coursework. This occurs in an example format much like an in person instructor will white board through concepts during a classroom discussion.  This is the part of the class room discussion that deserves the most effort to replicate.  Instructor to student interaction is more valuable than student to student, particularly when the peer content is contrived.


Monday, August 19, 2013

You've had *your* fun. We want our government back.

According to the Guardian, the newspaper's offices were raided earlier today by British security agents who told them, "You've had your fun.  We want our stuff back.", shortly before physically destroying machines that contained the local copies of the Snowden files.(I say local because I would really hope that there's about 11,296 copies of that data stored around the world by now)

The problem is that these goons seem to believe that this information is the government's to own.  They seem to believe that the news media doesn't have a right or responsibility to bring these documents to the peoples attention.  Time and time again, the Snowden files and the subsequent debate have proven that the agencies' senior staff are lying to congress, that the courts don't have the ability/authority to police the nsa, and that it is quite possible that Obama himself is lying about the privacy intrusions of the NSA programs in question.

"You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more"? Nope. This isn't anywhere near over. This isn't over until the NSA as well as their international counterparts get shuttered.