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Archive for the category “education”

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 This means 50 percent of what you now know will be out of date in less than four years.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:

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.


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.

Drop that calamari, you terrorist!

Security consists of a series of competitive advances, in which someone comes up with a new advanced technology, and then someone else figures out a way to defeat that technology.

One of those technologies is infrared technology.

Soldiers spent centuries figuring out the best way to see enemies at night without being seen. Early methods, like carrying torches, were more dangerous for the torch-carrier than his target….

Advancing without seeing is pretty difficult, however, which means a technological solution is the way around it. Night vision goggles, the ones with that famous green filter, amplify available light, which can turn low visibility into high visibility. The problem comes with regular light sources, which night vision also amplifies to a blinding extreme.

Infrared, instead, focuses on a different part of the visual spectrum, and so is less affected by sudden changes in visible light.

And now some people have come up with a way to defeat infrared technology, by making things invisible to an infrared device.

However, they didn’t invent anything new. Instead, they looked to nature:

What can the U.S. military learn from a common squid? A lot about how to hide from enemies, according to researchers at UC Irvine’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering.

As detailed in a study published online in Advanced Materials, they have created a biomimetic infrared camouflage coating inspired by Loliginidae, also known as pencil squids or your everyday calamari.

Led by Alon Gorodetsky, an assistant professor of chemical engineering & materials science, the team produced reflectin – a structural protein essential in the squid’s ability to change color and reflect light – in common bacteria and used it to make thin, optically active films that mimic the skin of a squid.

With the appropriate chemical stimuli, the films’ coloration and reflectance can shift back and forth, giving them a dynamic configurability that allows the films to disappear and reappear when visualized with an infrared camera.

For more information, see the UC Irvine press release.

Why are some revolutions imperceptible?

I recently read something by Jim Ulvog, which referenced something written by Matthew Yglesias. But before I talk about what they wrote, I’d like to share an example of what they were both talking about.

When I first entered the fingerprint identification industry in 1994, the computational power required for fingerprint encoding and matching exceeded the capabilities of the general-purpose computers available at the time – even high end computers from Digital Equipment Corporation. Because of this, my employer had to build special-purpose cards to insert into these computers to allow them to keep up with the computations that were required. I was writing proposals at the time, and spent a lot of time enthusing about the fact that these special cards were much smaller than the ones used in the prior generation of automated fingerprint identification systems. Because of this small size, I wrote at the time, these products – Printrak’s “Fingerprint Processor 2000” and “Minutiae Matcher 2000” – were truly revolutionary.

Within a few years, the computational power of computers had increased, and Printrak was able to do away with the Fingerprint Processor 2000 and the Minutiae Matcher 2000 altogether. We no longer needed special purpose boards to crank out these processes – and, as an added bonus, some of the computers didn’t have to be expensive Digital Equipment Corporation computers any more. We could buy a computer from Compaq (which, coincidentally, purchased Digital Equipment Corporation), and this computer was completely capable of performing all of the fingerprint processing without any special card.

This completely revolutionized the automated fingerprint identification system industry, since it was now possible to use general purpose computers for fingerprint identification. Rather than depending upon the AFIS vendors such as Printrak to provide souped-up computers, government agencies could (if they wished) now buy the computers themselves, from the same purchasing schedules that they used to purchase their other computers.

A huge revolution, but most of you never heard about it. Why not? Because the automated fingerprint identification industry was, and is, extremely small. The four leading AFIS vendors in the 1990s had aggregated annual revenues of much less than US$1 billion dollars. So it’s safe to say that Printrak’s reduced need for DEC computers was not the catalyst that sent DEC into the arms of Compaq.

Back to Ulvog and Yglesias. Ulvog’s post Impact of the technology revolution has barely begun states that the recent technology revolutions have taken place in industries that don’t play a huge role in the economy. But when technology changes impact larger industries – Ulvog cites education and health care as two examples – then we’ll REALLY see changes.

Ulvog’s thoughts on this were crystallized when he read Yglesias’ article, Why I’m Optimistic About Growth and Innovation. Yglesias begins by talking about a huge technological change that took place several hundred years ago – yet at the time, that change was imperceptible to the broader public.

A printing press based on movable type, for example, was an enormous boon to productivity in the book manufacturing sector. It had almost no impact on economy-wide productivity, however, simply because the book manufacturing sector of 17th-century Europe was trivially small.

So when, according to Yglesias, did the Industrial Revolution really take hold? When technological changes were applied to a much more important industry – apparel manufacturing.

In a similar manner, Yglesias (and Ulvog) note that recent technological changes have occurred in industries such as journalism and music. “But,” you argue, “journalism and music are HUGE. Rupert Murdoch and the music company heads control huge companies.”

Not really.

Take a look at the 2012 Fortune 500. This list doesn’t measure companies based upon stock valuation; it measures companies based upon actual revenue. (An argument could be made that profit is more important than revenue, but I don’t think that a ranking by profit will significantly impact my point here.)

Number one on the list? Not a journalism company. Not a music company. Number one on the list was ExxonMobil, with over $450 billion in revenue.

Number two was WalMart, with revenue of over $445 billion. Yes, they sell music – along with everything else under the sun.

You have to go through a number of companies – other oil companies, auto companies, banks, health firms, diversified companies such as Berkshire Hathaway – before you get to a company that makes a substantial amount of its revenue from journalism or music. That company, News Corp (Murdoch’s firm) is 91st in the Fortune 500, with revenue of about $33.4 billion – or an order of magnitude lower than the revenue of an ExxonMobil or a WalMart. Time Warner, by the way, is 103rd at about $29 billion.

So, for example, if News Corp and Time Warner were both to be completely devastated by technological change, and were to be liquidated, it would cause some discomfort. But if ExxonMobil, Chevon, or ConocoPhillips were to be liquidated, we’d probably be plunged into another Great Depression.

This is one of the reasons why Jim Ulvog talks about the oil industry so much. In his post, he provides this example:

…the astounding ability to change direction on a drill and control its location 10,000 feet underground and out 10,000 feet horizontally from there. Could you push a 20,000 foot piece of steel piping through solid rock and have the tip be exactly where you want it to be, plus or minus a few feet?

What has this technology – and others – done?

Turned North Dakota into the second largest oil-producing state in the country. More than Alaska or California.

Put US oil production back to where it was over 20 years ago.

Makes it a reasonable possibility the US could be a net energy *exporter* in a decade or so. An exporter.

And that’s going to make a bigger difference in our lives than the New York Times’ efforts to work out a monetization model. Not that this isn’t important – I know a number of journalists who have been displaced or adversely affected by change, and it’s undeniable that the music industry is changing. But a $1 per gallon increase of decrease in the cost of gasoline will have a huge impact on the ENTIRE economy.

But where is the doctor?

I recently wrote a futuristic post in which most of the medical examination process is automated. One of my sources for the post was this VentureBeat piece that referenced the views of Vinod Klosla.

Accomplished Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla likens modern healthcare to witchcraft, and says technology will replace 80 percent of doctors….

Khosla said that machines, driven by large data sets and computations power, not only would be cheaper, more accurate and objective, but better than the average doctor.

Khosla made his remarks at a Health Innovation Summit, which was naturally attended by a number of doctors.

These remarks were about as successful as Ronald Reagan’s 1975 suggestion that Social Security be made voluntary – a suggestion that cost Reagan the Florida primary. Reagan lost because of the self-interest of older Florida voters, who felt that fewer young participants in Social Security would endanger their own benefits.

And there is certainly evidence of self-interest in the debate about health care. Khosla himself is an investor in medical technology companies, and would naturally benefit if these companies (rather than doctors) were handling medical needs. The doctors, who do not want to be unemployed, obviously took offense; one was reportedly “nauseated” by Khosla’s remarks. (I’m not sure how the doctor remedied the nausea.)

And there are other self interests out there, as evidenced by those who warn against the great doctor shortage.

With a growing, aging population, the demand for physicians will intensify over the coming years. According to AAMC estimates, the United States faces a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians by 2020—a number that will grow to more than 130,000 by 2025.

Needless to say, AAMC has a solution for this – increases in residency training. By the way, AAMC stands for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

However, AAMC probably does not represent the interests of another group.

At present, Belize is home to four offshore medical schools. These and other offshore medical schools in the Caribbean target students, who although they may be motivated and talented, cannot get admission to med school in the U.S.

And I haven’t even touched upon the basic composition of the death squads in the United States. Some argue that “Obamacare” will result in “death squads” of government officials who will make life or death decisions. This, of course, is contrary to the current system of privately-owned “death squads,” in which private companies deny benefits and thus make life or death decisions. Not surprisingly, some doctors who aren’t getting paid by either the government or by the insurance companies have taken matters into their own hands:

“About four years ago, one insurance company was driving me crazy saying I had to fax documents to show I had done a visit,” said Stanford Owen, an internal medical doctor in Gulfport, Miss. “At 2 a.m., I woke up and said, ‘This is it.’ ”

Dr. Owen stopped accepting all insurance and now charges his 1,000 patients $38 a month.

“When I decided to abandon insurance, I didn’t want to lose my patient base and make it unaffordable,” he said. “I have everything from waitresses and shrimpers to international businessmen. It’s a concierge model, but it’s also the personal doctor model.”

Dr. Owen, who once had three nurses and 10 examining rooms, said it was now just him and a receptionist. He has become obsessed with keeping overhead low, but he said that, for the first time since the 1990s, his income was going up.

So perhaps Dr. Owen will be one of those doctors who buys a machine from Vinod Khosla or another investor. Or perhaps Obamacare or private insurance companies will quit paying for medical care from a human.

Where does that leave the medical schools in the United States, Belize, and elsewhere?

Before your professor contacted you on Facebook

I recently saw an item on Facebook that caught my eye.

Here is a link to the new revised edition of the Zach Hunter book you asked about before class today.

This was a message from a college professor to one of his students. I happen to know both the professor and the student, by the way.

As I looked at the message, I thought about how things had changed since I was a student.

If Professor Ray Kierstead or Professor Arthur Leigh wanted to send me a message, they’d probably have to see me in class or encourage me to set up an appointment with them during office hours. Professor Kierstead or Professor Leigh wouldn’t just show up at my dorm room.

The professors obviously couldn’t send me a Facebook message like today’s professors can; Facebook wouldn’t even be established for another quarter century.

The professors couldn’t email me. Email was in its infancy, and even if the professors happened to have accounts on the DEC PDP/11-70 UNIX computer, I’d have to go all the way to the computer room to read them. It wasn’t like I had a computer terminal in my room or anything like that.

The professors couldn’t even phone me. Well, I guess they could; there was a pay phone in each of the dorms, and I think that they accepted incoming calls. (Younger readers, someday I’ll tell you what a “pay phone” was.)

So today, via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or similar services, it is easy for professors to keep in touch with students and vice versa. Obviously there are drawbacks to this; if the professor happened to be vegan, and if the student happened to post something about a late night visit to In N Out, this could cause some issues. (However, I know that this particular professor likes turkey, so there’s no vegan issue here.)

I happened to think that this increased inter-communication is a good thing. But then again, I’m not a student today.

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