Saturday, November 27, 2010


I don't have quite the audience or flare of Ron Paul, but I had a thought regarding the recent complaints over enhanced search techniques by the TSA. My last flights were right before the new regulations went live, so I haven't been through any of this myself. I did have one packet each of mayo and mustard make it through four security screenings in October without being caught. I also had a TSA agent tell me to throw out my toothpaste, even though it was only 3 ounces and fit fine in my ziploc bag. I told her about three times that it was under the size limit before she finally made the connection, let it through, and said something about how it was nice having passengers that know the rules.

The basic problem I see, besides the inconsistent training, is that the TSA wants to live on both sides of the government/private enterprise line. As a government entity, their employees are shielded from prosecution for actions in the line of duty. A wave of their hand and they can call a cop over to arrest you for the most minor thing, yet however egregious their offenses, they have a shield that protects them.

This is where it gets muddy, though. They can search you with or without cause. They can hold you for as long as they feel like with no explanation. A cop can't do either of those things. A TSA agent can provoke you until you crack and then have a cop cart you off. That's entrapment in the legal world, but they want to be treated like a private enterprise all of a sudden and not be subject to the constitutional protections against government abuses. They require you to stand where they tell you and for how long and have you arrested if you give up and decide you no longer want to be their customer after entering the secure area.

Oh, well the airlines are a private enterprise, and there's no constitutional right to fly, so if you don't like it, you don't have to fly. Of course. If I don't like the color shirt the local grocery store makes its baggers wear, I don't have to shop there. If I believe soft drink companies are poisoning us, I don't have to consume their products. If I don't want to be mugged, I avoid certain streets in certain cities. Many stores have signs saying they can refuse service to anyone or that customers must wear shoes and a shirt to be served. Those are all simple enough and deal with private enterprise. There are varying levels of governmental involvement in all of the above situations, but when it comes down to it, I generally have pretty decent alternatives. If I need to get from one side of the country to the other reasonably quickly and safely, I have not as many choices. The airlines, while they are private, are highly regulated and propped up by government subsidies, since it is a national security issue in many ways.

So which is it? Is the TSA a government agency that is subject to constitutional protection against illegal searches or are they acting on behalf of their clients, the airlines, in a civil/private matter like security guards in a sports arena? Is the TSA a private organization that can make a customer wait hours while providing lousy customer service or are they a law enforcement agency that can only detain you for cause?

There is a tension here that cannot last. Perhaps we can get the Tea Partiers to take up this issue and do something useful with their powerful masses.

More Hiring Fun

I haven't blogged a whole lot about my change of employment that happened this summer. I'm sure at some point I'll let loose about it, but for now I'm still drinking it all in. However, I do have some fun stuff left over from working at USU related to job applications. I've written about other strange interviews and bad resumes before, and while I hesitate to talk about hiring issues a ton, since an offhand comment about someone you didn't hire can become a major lawsuit issue, I've also heard from a reader or two that those kinds of stories are some of their favorites. So I'll try to balance things as well as I can.

The first is from an interview within the past year. It was going reasonably well until I talked about what is expected while working in the computer lab, making a half-question-half-statement about not being on Facebook all the time while working. It turned into a kind of awkward moment when she pretty much told me she probably would be on Facebook a lot. Kudos for honesty? Or recommendation for a psychologist to help with your addiction? Or just end the interview as soon as possible, because we're not hiring you?

Just as I was leaving, while they were in the middle of hiring my replacement, we also had quite a bit of staffing to take care of, since several people had graduated or had other personal things come up that they weren't coming back in the Fall. I was hoping my replacement would do all the hiring, but when the timeline got tight, I had to review the resumes we had received.

I had received about 250 emails about student jobs in the lab. In 2 hours, I made my way through all 250 emails, whittling the list down to 20 potential hires which I passed along to my just barely hired replacement to make the final decision. Whew, that was fun! I did have the sense to copy out a few gems from the cover letters and resumes I received. Some of the best:

Lagoon (Seasonal) Managed a group of 6-8 employees, keeping them in line and on task

I knew it was important to keep customers in lines, but I didn't realize they had lines for employees, too.

I'm interest in working in the CIL Lab. What is required for?

English proficiency, maybe for?

Working knowledge of all Windows and Apple based software.


Child Care, Many repeat requests

So you babysat your neighbor's kids every weekend?

I would be willing to work before, after or when I have breaks in between classes.

Being a campus job, I can't require students work during classes, but yes, before, between, or after classes are pretty much the times I make everyone work.

Rapport Leadership International

This is one I was pretty sure I didn't want to even touch. Just from the name of it, you can guess what kind of place it is. I did take a minute to google it, and yes, it's one of those training courses where they humiliate you and rip you down to nothing before building you up into a machine that rips down your friends and loved ones, for only thousands of dollars a month. I don't know or care the details of RLI, Impact, or the other similar programs; I just know enough to know I don't want anything to do with them. If you want real leadership training, ask me about Wood Badge.

Proficient in Word, Excel, Power Point, The Internet and Dental Software

Ooh, proficient in both the internet AND dental software?

Sandwich Artist

Look, I know that's the title Subway gives the people who work there, but you're not an artist, and what you're making barely resembles a sandwich.

2.81 gpa

Just leave it off if it's under 3.0. If I ask for GPA, you're hosed, but if I happen to not ask for it, you might be able to slip in unnoticed. I have had people with bad GPAs be good employees and vice versa, but with the sheer numbers, any bad info you give me will be used against you. Of course, the question may arise whether 2.81 is a bad GPA. It's basically a B- average, so perhaps not all that bad. Consider, however, that to get a GPA in that range, you have to balance out every A you receive with a D in another class. Grade inflation itself is an entirely different conversation, but within the current system, more than a handful of Ds (or worse) means there's something wrong. On the other hand, the perennial 4.0 student can be suspect as well. I just added that, because I want to make sure I offend everyone equally. There's a lot more I could say, but I'm going to save it for another post.

I really would like a job.

Oh, well, yeah, that makes sense. Just come on in.

Roller Coaster Aficionado

Actually, I was intrigued by this one, but not enough to keep him or her, given the tight timeline.

That's all the quotes. There were a few other items that helped me in my filtering. One person submitted a 2 MB attachment; if it was a whole artistic portfolio, I'd understand, but we're talking a resume and cover letter that should come in under a couple hundred K. I received one resume in MS Works format. I could have converted it somehow and figured out a way to read it...but I didn't. Another interesting one was a duplicate resume that I recognize having received several months earlier; the thing that made it stand out so much was the same mistakes that made me toss it the first time still weren't corrected. As always, I received several resumes with a completely blank page appended to the end, since they didn't double check to delete the extra whitespace.

I did have a girl earlier this year apply; if I recall correctly, she was referred by someone else who had been working for me. Her resume was actually bad enough that I emailed her back with some tips to help her improve the resume before submitting elsewhere. I didn't have the time to send back constructive criticism on all these beauties, though.

Friday, November 12, 2010

More On TwHistory and Social Networking

I recently posted about the top 10 things I'd learned from TwHistory, a project I've been helping with to teach history using social media. I was at a conference recently where one of the papers presented was about how social networking doesn't create learning communities or communities of practice. I'm going to do a more full analysis of it at some point, but for now, I'd like to point out that TwHistory has shown to some extent that the supposition of the paper is false or at least not completely true. I don't know if I even want to touch on their premise that you need more control than social media tools allow to facilitate a constructivist learning environment.

Social media/networking tools are just that, tools. A classroom is a tool in a manner of speaking. Blackboard, let's see if I can say this with a straight face, is a tool. (Blackboard's "designers" are tools also, if you know what I mean.)

Of course just using Twitter won't magically build a community, just as throwing a prominent researcher into a classroom won't make him or her an effective teacher and dropping a class into Blackboard won't stimulate discussion.

A couple guys who had worked together on some previous software projects to create tools for building communities around openly licensed educational materials came up with the idea. I was involved in the first reenactment on TwHistory because of something one of them posted on Facebook. An awesome high school history teacher has enhanced her method of teaching history because of that Twitter reenactment. A grant from Talis funded a sweet new website that will allow anyone to build and share their own reenactments because it was shown that it could be useful in the classroom. People are starting to use the new site on their own now.

A community is being built using various online tools. A common reaction from many people who hear about this community is that they are now interested in using some of these social media tools that they were never interested in before, because they see it can be useful for something more than just wasting time. They want to join in, because there is a community pulling them in.

There's more to come on this topic, but that's enough for now. If you've made it this far, here's a bonus 5 more things I've learned from TwHistory.

  • To reduce the amount of complaining you have to listen to, appoint a murmurer for the group - if anyone wants to murmur, they have to get his or her permission first.
  • Expect to be "taught a lesson" if you fall sleep while on guard.
  • Assign a few select hunters, because if everyone in camp goes, you'll scare off all the game.
  • If your ramrod gets stuck in the barrel right in the middle of battle, just shoot it out at someone and pick up someone else's gun.
  • You can tell the tribe an indian is from by the shape of the moccasin print.