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Archive for the category “education”

Whom To Leave Behind – a new version of the same old Lifeboat

This really belongs on Bob Hunt’s Thoughts and Prayers for the Faithful, but I’ll take a crack at this myself from the perspective of time.

On Google Plus, Joyce Donahue shared a Daily Kos story about a school district who used a questionable instructional exercise.

A middle school assignment asking children to play God and choose who gets to live or die—based solely on demographics—has parents demanding an explanation from a northeast Ohio school district this week. The earth is doomed for destruction, the worksheet reads, and only eight people (who are apparently all based in the United States, because ‘Merica) can fit on a spaceship bound for the safety of another planet—which means four must die. The paper then asks the students which eight they’d save, before coming to a group consensus on the final passenger list.

In “Whom To Leave Behind,” the participants are supposed to choose the lucky eight by weighing which of the following twelve people are most deserving to live, and which of them might as well die.

An accountant with a substance abuse problem
A militant African-American medical student
A 33-year-old female Native American manager who does not speak English
The accountant’s pregnant wife
A famous novelist with a physical disability
A 21-year-old female who is a Muslim international student
A Hispanic clergyman who is against homosexuality
A female movie star who was recently the victim of a sexual assault
A racist, armed police officer who has been accused of using excessive force
A homosexual male who is a professional athlete
An Asian, orphaned 12-year-old boy
A 60-year-old Jewish university administrator

There is no right or wrong answer in such an exercise. The point is for the group to come to a consensus on a decision.

Daily Kos was horrified.

Honestly, whatever the intention may be, the impact of this assignment toes a very strange, and dangerous, line, especially in today’s Trumpian climate of blatant bigotry.

lifeboat422

But those of you with a historical memory will realize that “Whom To Leave Behind” is nothing new. And it wasn’t always the evil right-wing fascists that were pushing such morally objectionable ideas. Back in the 1980s, the evangelical Christian community was upset about the game “Lifeboat,” which was obviously a plot by the evil left-wing Communist liberals to get more babies to be aborted or to get decrepit people to be euthanized. Provocative Christian musician Steve Taylor even wrote a song and released a video about it:

Taylor, who is probably the best satirist since Randy Newman, drove the point home by having a bunch of kids sing the song’s chorus:

Throw over grandpa ’cause he’s getting pretty old
Throw out the baby or we’ll all be catching it’s cold
Throw over fatty and we’ll see if she can float
Throw out the retard, and they won’t be rocking the boat

When Taylor released the video, I’m sure a lot of people were convinced that the wingnut Christians were making the whole thing up. But it’s easy enough to find examples of the Lifeboat exercise even today. Wonderful corporate team-building exercise…right?

But this is my favorite example – playing “Lifeboat” at a children’s hospital school where the participants may be facing death themselves. This version has a nice wrinkle in which the participants actually role play the people in the lifeboat. So, after the group makes its decision on whom to murder, the “game” ends as follows:

And then, most importantly, the person who is to be sacrificed has to be able to articulate why he or she was chosen, and in particular, the principle that was used to make that choice.

In other words, the kid has to say why he or she should die.

Regardless of the flavor of the game or the name given it, the emphasis on this wonderful ethics exercise is to value rank people, putting some below the line and determining that they do not deserve to live. But if you watch the Steve Taylor video, you’ll see that the kids come up with their own solution – one with which the Daily Kos writer would heartily agree.

They made the boat bigger so that EVERYONE could fit.

P.S. For those who followed my “provocative” link above and read about Steve Taylor’s song “I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good,” I encourage you to read this other post, which not only touches on the song “Jim Morrison’s Grave,” but also on Taylor’s thoughts on Kurt Cobain.

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No, you CAN’T cut yourself off from the world. It’s not allowed.

Since long before the time of Henry David Thoreau, people have had the desire to venture away from their usual surroundings. In the modern age, this has become more important, as modern people seek to temporarily rid themselves from the distractions of 21st century living.

But (in an article shared by Alex Scrivener) Reason magazine points out Penn State (which has had its own issues of late) thinks that such ventures are dangerous.

The student “Outing Club,” which has gone backpacking, kayaking, and hiking in state parks over the course of its 98-year-existence, will no longer be allowed to host outdoor events after administrators conducted a risk assessment….

A key issue for administrators was that the Outing Club frequently visit locations with poor cell phone coverage. This wasn’t an issue during the Coolidge administration, but now that cell phones exist, students are apparently expected to remain glued to them at all times.

I’ll grant that Reason has a political axe to grind, so I consulted other sources, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – and didn’t feel much better.

Ms. Powers said the university conducted reviews of all campus recreation-supported student groups — 76 sport and three outdoor recreation organizations — to evaluate student safety risks and produce assessment reports. She declined to provide a copy of the assessment report for the Outing Club, saying it is not a public document.

The other two outdoor recreation organizations, the Nittany Grotto Caving Club and the Nittany Divers SCUBA Club, were also judged too risky and directed to end trip offerings. Club sports that passed the risk review include the Archery Club, Boxing Club, Alpine Ski Racing Club and Rifle Club.

While I’m sure that Reason magazine was inwardly pleased that the Rifle Club wasn’t considered dangerous, you have to wonder about these designations – especially since (for the most part) it is presumed that adults are engaging in hiking, scuba, and caving.

But one thing is certain, according to the current president of the Outing Club:

The Outing Club has been through many changes in its 98-year history….

So the university studied about obsolescence

I was trying to trace down the origins of something shared by Mitch Wagner – namely, a tweet from Vala Afshar that included the following:

“Investor concern over the threat of new technologies is overstated”

—1999 Blockbuster analyst report

Today, our local Blockbuster Video is a Chase Bank.

When I first read the quote, I placed great emphasis on the fact that it was uttered by an analyst, not by Blockbuster itself. But then I read something that stated that the quote came from a report commissioned by Blockbuster itself.

The “something” that I read was in the Digital Communications Team Blog at the University of St. Andrews.

standrews

This blog post recorded the salient points from a lecture by Paul Boag, co-founder of digital consultancy Headscape and author of Digital Adaption. Apparently this lecture was given to staff at the University; I’m not sure if any students were present. However, as we shall see, Boag’s message was primarily to the staff.

The lecture was entitled “Digital Change.” Boag started by talking about the Blockbuster example, where the whole digital media movement passed the company by. Then he moved on to Kodak, another company that was so attached to the physical medium that it never really mastered the digital one.

After that, as Carley Hollis notes, Boag hit a little closer to home.

The inability to adapt to a world which is changing around us is one of the biggest risks to institutions today – and that includes the University of St Andrews.

What? A risk to a university? But people are always going to want to travel to an educational institution and read books, right?

We need to realise that if we do not work to meet the needs of these students – recognise that their needs are different to the need of students of even five years ago – then we will be failing them. And if we are failing students, we are at risk of failing as an institution.

The remainder of the post describes how the University’s digital communications team is seeking to render ITSELF obsolete. Until such time as “digital” is integrated into everything, though, the digital communications team is striving to help students and staff move forward.

What I said about the communications revolution…in 1991

Many years ago, when I was taking MBA courses at Cal State Fullerton, I wrote a paper for one of my classes. Some of the content was derived from research that I performed at the time, while other content came from books that I had lying around my apartment, such as the autobiographies of Jimmy Carter and John Sculley.

I guess the paper must have been OK, because after I wrote it, the professor, Brian Kleiner, approached me and said that he could get it published.

Why not? I thought.

So in 1991, an English journal called Industrial Management & Data Systems published a paper by John E. Bredehoft and Brian Kleiner entitled “Communications Revolution and its Impact on Managing Organisations Effectively.”

I’ve referred to this paper at times. You can find it on my LinkedIn profile. I’ve referred to it on Google Plus – twice. And I just mentioned it in an Empoprise-BI post.

But I haven’t actually READ the paper in decades. Oh, I was curious about reading it, but not thirty-two dollar curious.

But then I found a free copy of the article by searching. You can bet I downloaded it.

JBBKCommRev

And now I’m looking at the paper, curious about what I thought about the communications revolution in 1991 – and how my thoughts relate to the present-day 2017 communications climate.

Now bear in mind that I wrote my original class paper over a quarter century ago, and I don’t really remember the details of its creation. And Kleiner obviously had a hand in the final printed article.

Having said that, our emphasis on three variables – the speed of business communications, the distance over which timely information can be transmitted, and the volume of business communications – was certainly on target.

If anything, “distance” has been removed as a variable. After I got my MBA, I was tangentially involved in discussions regarding how electronic data interchange (EDI) could send data from Walmart’s headquarters in Arkansas to my then-employer in Monterey Park, California. Today, the data for those transactions could be stored in Colorado, or in Europe, or in India, making concerns about distance minimal.

And volume? Um, kids, back when I was an MBA student in 1991, I couldn’t whip out my mobile phone and watch a movie. Come to think of it, I didn’t even have a mobile phone in 1991.

Needless to say, the passage of time has resulted in some amusement while re-reading the article today. Back in 1991, the editors of Industrial Management & Data Systems saw fit to call out this profound statement:

A person with a modem can “dial up” and solve a problem

The quote itself comes from a paragraph in which we assert that the technologies could allow people in different locations to work together to solve a problem. We even quoted from an article in Rural Sociology in which Don Dillman discussed “geographically unbounded interactions” and wondered how they would affect rural life.

(Yet people still insist on living in Silicon Valley. Go figure.)

And, I’m sorry to say, there is one instance in which we got it plain wrong. I’ll take the blame for this one; I doubt Kleiner originated this idea.

Because of the technology advances, we can gather much more accurate information than we could previously.

Yes, I wrote that.

And I thought I had a compelling case. I talked about the use of grocery checkout scanners and how it allowed the Ontario Alpha Beta (I lived near the Ontario Alpha Beta in 1991; it’s now a 99 Cents Only Store) could give really, really precise information about purchases.

Boy, was I stupid.

I made the assumption that the scanners were providing correct information, and that there were no malfunctions in the scanners or in the systems tabulating the data from the scanners. More importantly, if you’ve been paying attention to the recent news, I also made the assumption that any reports of this data were completely accurate, and that no one had falsified any of the data. To be fair, this paper was published several years before Enron’s collapse, and a couple of decades before automobile companies were caught falsifying emission data.

On the whole, though, while some of the details ended up being skewed over time, our paper clearly emphasized the importance of communications in 1991, and the continuing importance of communications today.

Now I just have to find an online source for the other publication that I cited on LinkedIn – my undergraduate thesis on the Land and Water Conservation Fund. That’ll be a hoot, even if it is written in American rather than English.

How to educate large numbers of people – and achieve measurable improvement

Education is often filled with buzzwords. When I was a kid, we had buzzwords such as “new math.” Later, we had “back to basics.” Today’s buzzword is “common core.” These buzzwords often take on religious overtones, as we champion and denigrate each one.

However, the true measure of any educational system is whether it actually educates anyone.

Take this recent example. Many introductory college courses have large numbers of students, and effective methods need to be employed to educate in vast quantities. On the surface, the proposed method may sound like your typical trendy starry-eyed ivory tower theory.

[T]he mechanics faculty at Purdue University have developed the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom (PMFC) – a new approach to engineering mechanics education. This complete, yet evolving, course system…seeks to combine the more successful elements of the traditional classroom with new hybrid textbooks, extensive multimedia content, and web2.0 interactive technologies to create linked physical and virtual learning environments that not only appeal to students, but markedly improve their technical competency in foundational engineering technical areas.

Sound trendy, but what are the results?

New findings indicate that the rate of students receiving a D, fail or withdraw from courses has been substantially reduced since its implementation. The DFW rate in Basic Mechanics I was 32 percent in the fall semester of 2008 and 18 percent in the fall semester of 2013. Likewise, the DFW rate in Basic Mechanics II was 21 percent in the spring semester of 2009 and 11 percent in the spring semester of 2013.

While some may quibble over whether this is an accurate measure of whether students are actually being educated, it’s undeniable that increasing numbers of Purdue students are performing at C level or above.

When knowledge expands

A recent Mel Kleiman post began as follows:

Human knowledge is now doubling every 3.7 years. This means 50 percent of what you now know will be out of date in less than four years.

Let’s focus on the second word of that post. When Kleiman says that knowledge is doubling, is his definition of “knowledge” equivalent to my own?

To clarify, I have consistently used a four-step model from Sujatha Das that discusses data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Clearly data is always expanding, but is actual knowledge expanding?

Based upon Kleiman’s example, I suspect that we are using the same definition of knowledge.

Just to bring it home, let’s imagine you need open heart surgery. How would you like to have it performed by someone who hadn’t learned anything new about the procedure in the past 48 months?

Open heart surgery requires knowledge. (But it also requires wisdom.)

If knowledge is truly doubling that quickly, this has significant ramifications for how things are done – and, as Kleiman notes, who we get to do these things.

What if the people in your capital cities cannot eat?

Nations are usually governed from a single capital city, so for strategic reasons, it is important that the people in the capital city have food to eat. However, as people have moved from rural to urban areas, and as (some) urban areas have dramatically increased in population, the ability of some capital cities to be self-sustaining has declined.

As a University of Copenhagen study notes:

Higher farmland yields have influenced the cities self-provisioning over the past 40 years, but overall the ability of cities to feed themselves is unlikely to keep pace with increasing population, the research shows….

Particularly in the capitals of Australia and Japan, where the population has increased tremendously over the past 40 years, the self-provision has declined; in Canberra from 150 to 90 percent and in Tokyo from 41 to 27 percent.

This is despite the increase in yield of agricultural land per hectare. Copenhagen on the other hand, has increased its self-provision slightly from 34 to 45 percent because its population has remained fairly constant.

More information about the study, and its implications, can be found here.

How big is your library?

Everything Everywhere has shared a picture of the Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar, Germany. I tried to embed the picture but was unsuccessful, so go to the link above to see it. The library consists of shelves of books…shelves and shelves of books. Although I don’t know how many books are in the library, this source says that 1 million articles are available; I don’t know if “articles” means “items” or “newspaper/magazine articles,” but clearly the library has a ton of items.

After I saw this picture, I wondered – could this library fit on a Kindle?

Probably not. According to an item on Amazon’s Askville service, the Kindle Fire can hold about 6,000 books.

But the Duchess Anna Amalia Library could certainly fit on a good laptop.

FaaS and online education

We need to be especially trendy with our acronyms. I am not trendy, and therefore missed out on the acronym FaaS. According to Mike Meikle, this particular acronym has been around since 2008.

It stands for “fraud as a service.”

Technology is neutral, and the same technologies that can be used to conduct legitimate businesses can be used to help illegitimate business thrive.

Once purchased, a fraud customer can review monthly status reports within a customer “dashboard” to check a current scheme’s profitability. The services can include “All in One” Trojan suites, which provide the subscriber custom command and control tools over thousands of infected computers in a botnet, from which you can direct a custom fraud campaign. A Pay-Per-Infection service or Centralized Trojan Infection, where a subscriber (criminal groups) can use the fraud providers resources to target specific computers and then only pay for those computers that are successfully infected with the preferred Trojan.

And the list of services goes on.

What if you want to start your budding fraud career, but you don’t know how? The current-day trendy solution of online education can help here also, as Alison Diana notes.

Like their counterparts at major universities, criminal professors are teaching the next generation of cyber criminals via Skype, online courses, and individual tutorials.

And like any good university, job placement is offered:

Modeled on other as-a-service initiatives, one ultimate goal of FaaS is to place “graduates” with the increasingly powerful organized criminal groups behind many of today’s data breaches. Indeed, some teachers go so far as to advocate for their students, vouching for those who display talent in cracking systems….

It’s only a matter of time until we see job boards for ethically and legally challenged businesses. (Note to self: reserve domain name clinkedin.com to service incarcerated professionals.)

Again, technology is neutral.

Things I wrote thirty-one years ago are still preserved – for now

I am less than a month from the ten-year anniversary of my blogging career. I haven’t really said anything about it much yet, but a recent Louis Gray post has caused me to start thinking about it.

Gray’s post is entitled “Our Fragile Web of Dead Domains and Lapsing Links.” Anyone who has been blogging for a while has encountered this – and if you haven’t, Gray explains the problem:

[I]t’s not too uncommon for entire sites and bookmarks to vanish from the Web, with only Archive.org and other clever cachers left to tell the tale.

For additional thoughts and some examples, read Gray’s post.

With very few exceptions (this tymshft blog being one of them), all of the blogs that I have created have been on the Blogger platform – originally an independent platform, later hosted by Google. But what happens if, someday, Google goes away? Don’t laugh – it could happen. No one thought Montgomery Ward would disappear, so it’s quite possible that my grandchildren will have never heard of Google.

Well, if Google were to disappear, then my very first blog post, written on Tuesday, October 14, 2003, could be lost forever. Since WordPress is not part of Google – yet – I’m going to employ a little bit of redundancy by reposting my first blog post, in its entirety, right here.

Why did synthetica start with fake bluegrass sounds? Why not? This is the Ontario Empoblog, or the blog for Ontario Emperor, which has nothing and everything to do with Canada, New Mexico, and Texas, but also California, which is a location in California. It exists in cyberspace, which is also synthetic.

The Ontario Empoblog may or may not touch on a variety of subjects, including music, poetry, poker, the supposed familial relationship between Brian Eno and Slim Whitman, the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop (1,121 – I checked), various comments about frogs, and the nature of nature.

Imagine the tragedy if this cultural artifact were to disappear forever. Luckily, I’ve preserved it. Unfortunately, I haven’t preserved the significance about comments about frogs.

For the record, my second post (written ten days later, on October 24) was better:

When Patti Smith married Fred Smith, did she take her husband’s last name, or keep her maiden name?

Which brings me to the topic of something else salted away in Google’s servers – something much older.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I was an early participant in Usenet back in the early 1980s. Back then, you’d get onto Usenet by typing such in a terminal that was attached to a minicomputer (in my case, a DEC PDP/11-70). Over a decade later, people would access Usenet via a service called Dejanews. Google eventually bought Dejanews and its data, and merged it all into Google Groups.

On January 3, 2012, I wrote a post in my Empoprise-BI business blog called (empo-tymshft) A little more on Usenet. As you can probably tell from the title, this was a “tymshft” post that was written before the tymshft blog came into existence. That post quoted from something that I wrote back on Noember 14, 1982 – almost thirty-one years ago. I accessed this text from going to the link https://groups.google.com/group/net.records/msg/f726733bb7eea278?dmode=source&output=gplain&noredirect – a Google Groups link to something from the old Dejanews archive that came from archives of Usenet postings. Again, if Google goes away, perhaps my 2012 blog post AND the Google Groups archive of the 1982 Usenet post may go away. So again, I’m going to preserve this important historical artifact here on WordPress:

Message-ID:
Newsgroups: net.records
Path: utzoo!decvax!cca!hplabs!hao!menlo70!sytek!zehntel!teklabs!reed!bred@sri-unix
X-Path: utzoo!decvax!cca!hplabs!hao!menlo70!sytek!zehntel!teklabs!reed!bred@sri-unix
From: bred@sri-unix
Date: Thu Nov 18 10:19:00 1982
Subject: Wall of Voodoo album
Posted: Sun Nov 14 23:46:25 1982
Received: Thu Nov 18 10:19:00 1982

Just bought Wall of Voodoo’s latest album “Call of the West”
(I.R.S.) a few weeks ago. The group uses synthesizers, etc.
while still maintaining a western American feel both in music and
lyrics (such as the lyrics in “Lost Weekend”, about a couple who
just lost their life savings in Las Vegas, and “Factory”, about a
factory worker). I’m not sure whether the album’s being played
on many radio stations, having only heard it on Reed College’s
(Portland OR) radio station KRRC. Wall of Voodoo has recorded at
least one other album, “Dark Continent”, but I haven’t listened
to it yet.

Questions: has anyone else heard this album or the previous one?
Opinions? How long has Wall of Voodoo been around?

John Bredehoft (…!teklabs!reed!bred)

P.S. At least one other person likes this album; the KRRC copy
has mysteriously disappeared…

This isn’t the first time that I discussed this particular 1982 post. Several years ago, I gave a presentation in which I talked about the changes between 1982 and 2007. In the space of a quarter century, we went from talking about Wall of Voodoo on Usenet to talking about Wall of Voodoo on MySpace (they had a MySpace page at the time). In fact, I talked about it on my MySpace blog. Today, if you go to https://myspace.com/oemperor/blog/317516134, you can see…well, you can see this.

myspace-404

This is only part of the image. The entire image uses artist pictures to spell out the number “404.”

Cute, MySpace.

P.S. Just in case the story about Google’s acquisition of Dejanews becomes a dead link, here is the meat of the story:

February 12, 2001 11:30 AM PST
Google buys remaining Deja.com business
By Paul Festa
Staff Writer, CNET News

Internet veteran Deja.com sold off the last of its parts to relative newcomer Google, ending a long and troubled run as an advertising-supported also-ran….

Despite closing out the final chapter in a six-year saga, Deja.com executives sounded upbeat about the acquisition.
“We think Google is a great home for this service,” said Richard Gorelick, chief strategy officer. “Our service and their service work very well together.”

Deja.com originated as Dejanews, a site for searching and participating in discussion groups carried on the Internet’s Usenet network. It changed its name to Deja.com when it decided to focus on product reviews by consumers. The company subsequently added information on consumer products, making it a competitor to sites such as mySimon, which is owned by CNET Networks, publisher of News.com.

Yes, CNET and news.com – the people who brought you the com.com that Louis Gray was talking about in his post.

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