Saturday, December 29, 2012

10 Rules for Students, Teachers, and Life

10 Rules for Students, Teachers, and Life by Sister Corita Kent, generally attributed to John Cage

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later. There should be new rules next week.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Web Design Workshop

One week summer workshops are a great option to take an intense, short-term class that teaches you some real skills to begin putting into place immediately.

They've changed a little, as they're now taught throughout the summer, where they used to be taught during a workshop week between two of the four week terms. I guess that would be nice if you wanted to go through more than one workshop.

Looking at their current offerings, they have workshops related to using Photoshop, creating a resume and portfolio, sign language, understanding the history of China, and appreciating fantasy fiction. Okay, maybe all of those might not be immediately useful.

The summer workshop I went through was about using Dreamweaver and Fireworks. This was over a dozen years ago, well before Adobe bought out Macromedia, and the web still had a bit of a wild west feel to it. Sites were simple, designs were kitschy, and digital cameras were low-res and high-priced. I actually borrowed a digital camera from my department to do a couple websites after the workshop, and it totally reminded me of Luke Skywalker's binoculars.

It looked like his binoculars, and the quality probably wasn't much better. Of course at that time, you couldn't print digital photos anyway, and monitor resolutions on those fat old CRTs weren't good enough to be able to tell that the quality was low. About the best you could do on old CRTs to make them half decent was to crank up the refresh rate so they didn't flicker. You wanted something higher than 60 Hz so the flicker wasn't visible, but if you went too high, you could damage the monitor, so you had to decide how much you wanted to gamble. It was always fun degaussing old CRTs as well.

Here's a photo I actually took at the time. Note the little border I added around the edge for no good reason. Then there's all the dirty noise that almost gives it an instagrammy feel. I think most people taking photos on all but the nicest cell phones these days could just upload as is and say they used an instagram filter. That's probably why people like instagram, because it makes their phone photos look like they're supposed to be old and dirty. Someone recently sent out a photo from a major work event, of over 100 posed people. It looked awful - faces all blurry and washed out. I looked at the picture's metadata, and sure enough, it was taken on an iPhone4. Why someone would waste the time of that many people to get them all posed and then just take their photo with a camera phone, I don't think I'll ever understand. We have nice cameras now - use them.

The workshop was a fun one. It was one week, several hours in the morning and afternoon, every day. We even got brownies each day during an afternoon break. We each made a personal site and showed it off to everyone. They were all terrible, I'm sure. We learned the basics of using tables, lists, font formatting options, frames (I know), linking, creating buttons that changed when you moused over or clicked on them, etc. I figured out some basic JavaScript that randomly picked a different picture to show on the home page each time it loaded. Several of us used AnimationFactory, which is surprisingly still around, to find 3D-ish animated gifs to put on our sites. I remember after showing off our sites, we sat around watching random videos. In particular, I remember showing Weird Al's music video The Saga Begins (American Pie). Still a great video.

The most important part of the workshop is that I now had a few days' worth of exposure to Dreamweaver and thus could add it to put something on my resume. The resume with that skill listed got me a job on campus at Career Services. They had various IT-related tasks that needed to be done around the office, but the biggest one was launching a new website. Don't get me wrong - I'd been making notepad websites for several years at that point, but they wanted the site done in Dreamweaver, and I was the man to do it. That job was a really fun one and a great career starter. I used it as an internship, so I'll write more about it when I discuss the internship class.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Origin of the Universe

I occasionally ponder on the origins of the earth. When I was younger I could make my brain hurt trying to think of how there could have always been something that existed somewhere and how there is no end to anything, yet everything we know is that there is always a start and end. So how did we start if there was nothing there to start it? I don't worry about that anymore. Why? A scripture in the bible solved it for me, and not the one in 2 Peter 3 about a day for the Lord being 1000 years for us, but one in Revelation of all places.

Revelation 10:5-7

5 And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven,

6 And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer:

7 But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.

So time will be turned off. It's a temporary constraint to our understanding. I don't understand what the big picture is, but I know time isn't permanent. At least I believe it doesn't, to the extent that it no longer gives me headaches.

A few days ago I saw this graphic posted who knows where, which I tried to track down, and I can't figure out the original source, so if anyone knows where it came from, let me know so I can give proper attribution. The idea is that none of us knows what is truly real. There are real things we can't see just as there are things we see that aren't real. There are always people who think they have it all figured out, whether based on their interpretation of the bible or on what Bill Nye tells them. The truth is that none of us knows the truth, and with apologies to Jack Nicholson, we probably can't handle the truth.

It then makes me wonder when I see an article like this one that purports to explain Why Marco Rubio Needs To Know That The Earth Is Billions Of Years Old. Go read it if you want. The author, who is a technology writer for Forbes (not a theologian or a scientist), calls out Marco Rubio for answering truthfully that he doesn't know how old the earth is. Rubio states that he is neither a theologian or a scientist, and none of those experts can agree, so he's leaving the debate up to them.

The interesting point that is called out of the many that could have been is that if the earth isn't billions of years old, then all our DVD players will stop working, laser surgery will start failing, and our nuclear reactors will all blow up tomorrow (Are you paying attention, Mayans?) because everything we know about science is wrong.

Awkward pause.

Just a minute while I finish looking up the Wikipedia article on logical fallacies.

One of the most important ideas that I learned about in the multivariate statistics class I took in my PhD program (which I will get to blogging about in a couple years at the rate I'm going) is the principle of parsimony. The idea is that you go with the model that is the appropriate balance between simplicity and completeness, or you start with the simplest hypothesis, with the fewest number of assumptions, and work towards the more complex ones.

Thinking about all the elements that would have had to blow up just right to form new elements and align themselves somehow into what would become self-aware beings is a bit complex for me and the basis of another big headache. That's not to say I don't believe the earth is billions of years old, or that at least the materials used to create the earth are that old. I said before that it gives me comfort that time will be turned off at some point, but that doesn't mean that time doesn't still exist and play a role in our larger existence, just that it won't be limiting as it is now.

Foes of the religious will dismiss what I'm about to say as me dealing with my cognitive dissonance, but hear me out. This is the parsimonious model I've come up with that brings together my belief in the bible and the creation and in my understanding and trust of scientists. Matter in various shapes and forms has existed for a long time, billions of years or more even. The universe has existed for billions of years. God has existed for billions of years. If we read the biblical history literally, our earth was only created maybe 10,000 years ago, depending on when the clock started ticking. It was created from remnants of other worlds and placed with our solar system into the universe that already existed.

The laws of nature, such as how light works, gravitational pull, and chemistry, are constant. They haven't changed. Our DVDs will still work tomorrow. At least I hope the laws of physics will last long enough for me to see The Hobbit. We just have some billion year old recycled pieces of another planet that happened to have animals that were a lot scarier than the ones we have now. No, dinosaurs never walked this planet. They walked on another planet, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Not reasonable? Which is more far-fetched? God recycled the dinosaur's planet in making ours or the earth and dinosaurs evolved from nothing, they were all killed from a meteor and resulting ash cloud, and then we evolved again from nothing? The scientists are guessing when they come up with their hypotheses about why the dinosaurs went away. They don't know. So why is my guess of a hypothesis any worse off than theirs? Which is more parsimonious?

I learned within the past year or two about dark matter. Granted I don't know a lot about it, but the basics of it is that there is something that exists in such a way that it increases the mass (and thus the gravitational pull) of galaxies but that cannot be seen. Wait, let's think about that. We know (or think we know) how gravity works. But something in the galaxy behaves in a way inconsistent with our understanding of gravity. So scientists hypothesize that there is a mysterious, invisible matter that accounts for 84% of the mass of the universe in order to make their previously held theory (gravity) continue to work. Now is a good time to refer back to the cognitive dissonance link in the "Foes of the religious..." paragraph above.

Understanding how the universe works seems to me to be a completely separate question from how we and the particular world we live on were created. They still don't know for sure where the moon came from. But we do know it's there and can predict its movements and measure its effects on the tides. We don't know where the dinosaurs came from or how they died, but we do know that their rotting flesh makes good fuel for powering our cars and heating our homes. Well, maybe oil comes from dinosaurs.

My pointing out the great deficiencies in the knowledge of scientists does not mean I think they are idiots but rather to point out that any of the things they say about religious folks could apply equally to them. I do respect scientists, and I believe that many useful discoveries can be made by investigating the origin of the universe, just as much as studying the operation of the universe. As of next month (December 2012), it will be 40 years since a man last stood on the moon, and I think we should go back.

More importantly, I think we should be more respectful of one another's ideas, because if I'm right, then both theologians and scientists are right. If I'm not right, chances are both of them are wrong with me as well, and neither has the standing to point out the flaws of the other.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Back to Work

I've been waiting for President Obama's recovery plan. He didn't have one during the campaign, but neither did Mitt Romney. I was excited to see this video come across the wire, in which President Obama was to discuss growing the economy and reducing the deficit.

At least I think that's what it's about. It's what the title says. I can't get past the googly eyes of the lady in the upper left corner. Go ahead, start it up. I'll wait. The lady right above him looks like she's having a hard time focusing as well. You'll notice they slowly zoom in on the president throughout the video, most likely to cut out the distracting people around him, but that just makes you wonder where the short lady standing right behind him came from. The lady in the audience at 4:21 has something going on with her eyes, too. I sure can't focus enough to listen to what he's saying.

For some reason the googly eye lady in the upper left makes me think of this.

And that makes me think of this.

And that means I still have no idea what President Obama's plan is or if he really has one now. Can anyone explain it to me? After all, you just watched it, too, right?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Political Turnover

You've probably all heard the quote from Warren Buffet about fixing the national deficit.

I could end the deficit in 5 minutes. You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of congress are ineligible for re-election.

That's a nice thought and a simple solution, but it has two major holes. The first, most obvious, is that it would be up to Congress to pass such a law, and we all know that's never going to happen. I think their new law template automatically includes verbiage that exempts themselves from whatever law they're passing. The second is that our problems go beyond whether there is a deficit. The corruption in Washington goes deeper than whether the government is spending more money than it's bringing in. We need turnover to get rid of some of the layers of corruption, which is the opposite of the current system of encouraging seniority.

A quicker way to fix some of the problems in Washington, which would suffer from the same problem as Warren Buffet's recommendation in that Congress wouldn't agree to pass it, would be to hold congressional pay at the level it was when each member is elected. So, to see how that would work, Orrin Hatch would be making $44,600 now instead of $174,000. This would help with the incentive to turn over anyone who has been there for decades.

The best way? Do not allow anyone to run for elected office while holding an elected office. If you want to run again, you'd have to actually resign your current position, even if it's the same one you're running for. In effect, there would be no such thing as reelection - only election. In the mean time, someone else is appointed to your seat for the last year of your term. If you're running for a completely different office, you show your confidence by stepping down, instead of knowing you have a fail-safe to fall back to the position you've been ignoring while running for the new office.

I don't know much about Mia Love, but one blogger pointed out that some people in the city are concerned that she has been slacking as mayor while running for national office. I wonder the same about President Obama - if he's out shaking people's hands and raising money, he's not fixing the country.

A possible way to game this would be to have two people who alternate back and forth and endorse each other, but I think once someone is out of office for a few years, they would be less likely to be sent back than if they were the incumbent.

What other ways could that system be gamed? What are some other ideas with just as unlikely of a chance of being passed by Congress that might more effectively turn things over and get some new people in Washington? Would more turnover cause more corruption than we have now?

photo by basykes

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ron Paul's Farewell

Excessive confidence is placed in the judgment of politicians and bureaucrats. This replaces the confidence in a free society.

We should have more trust in ourselves and less in the government. Too many people have for far too long placed too much confidence and trust in the government and not enough in themselves.

Why does the federal government restrict the drinking of raw milk?

Why have we allowed the federal government to regulate commodes in our homes?

Has nobody noticed that the authorities can't even keep drugs out of the prisons? How can making our entire society a prison solve the problem?

Why should anyone be surprised that Congress has no credibility when there is such a disconnect in what they say and what they do?

Sacrificing a little liberty for imaginary safety always ends badly.

To achieve liberty and peace, two powerful human emotions have to be overcome. Number one is envy, which leads to hate and class warfare. Number two is intolerance, which leads to bigoted and judgmental policies. These emotions must be replaced with a much better understanding of love, compassion, tolerance, and free market economics.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Jersey Strong

From Paul Kiesche, a friend I grew up with in New Jersey:

Proud to be Jersey Strong, our design company, Paul Kiesche Design, LLC. created this logo. It’s just one more thing we can do to help. By working together, New Jersey will come back stronger than ever.

This logo is completely free to use, print or share. If we get enough likes, comments or interest, we will make and sell t-shirts, stickers and possibly more. Then, we’ll donate all the money we make after expenses to help the relief efforts for this disaster and future disasters.

Here are the rights-free logo files if anyone wants it to print for any reason.

Pass it around, and let @pkieschedesign know if you're interested in shirts, stickers, etc., but of course you're free to print your own if you'd like as well. You also might comment on Paul's blog.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Political Pumpkin Walk

The North Logan Pumpkin Walk is a fun family tradition. Each year they have all the scenes made from pumpkins by anyone who volunteers to create one, and then you generally end up in a kind of current events scene. A few years ago, for example, they had a scene entitled "Martha Stewart Living in Jail" that was a great hit.

This year's culminating scene was a political one, presented without comment.

Friday, October 26, 2012


Science and Application of Human Nutrition was the only summer class that went the full 12 week summer term until a stats class in my doctoral program. My undergrad summer term was strange with a bunch of four week classes, a one week class, and then this one that seemed to drag on, even though it was still a month shorter than a normal Fall or Spring course.

There are few classes that make my required list for all majors. Econ is one, Family Finance (even though I never actually had to take it), English (even though none of the English classes I've seen teach writing at the level I think needs to be met), Statistics (get rid of Calculus), and Nutrition. I know the Philosophy department has some type of Logic course that I'd be tempted to add if I knew more about it. There's probably a PoliSci or History course about how our political system works that would be good to include as well.

To be a functioning member of society, you need to be able to make intelligent decisions with inherent trade-offs, know how to call BS on all the numbers you see in any news story ever, write logically and intelligibly, manage your money and plan for retirement, and take care of yourself physically. In Boy Scouts, I think the Cooking merit badge should be a required one. It wouldn't take much to push me over the edge and say that Cooking should be a required course in college as well, but Nutrition comes close enough.

I only wish I remembered more about what I learned. I do recall talking about lactic acid, which is what causes pain after you've worked out hard. Part of the process of converting glucose to energy results in excess lactate, which changes the acidity of the blood, and you hurt until the acid levels return to normal. Continuing to work out the same area will get it to a point where it is used to exerting itself and will be able to keep the acid levels balanced.

The most eye-opening part of the course is where you use a provided software program to track what you eat for something like a week, and it runs the numbers to tell you where your diet is deficient. Of course, the course goes deeper than that by showing you how the various nutrients and other things we eat interact. You consume a ton of Vitamin C, great, but too much can start blocking the absorption of copper and throw off your iron balance. Knowing the number of calories in fat, alcohol, sugar, and other foods can help you moderate.

If I'd been thinking about how it would be affecting my body, I might not have eaten a whole Brownie In A Mug last night. I don't know how diabetics feel when their insulin levels are off, but it may be similar to the I-feel-really-good-yet-really-bad-at-the-same-time feeling I had after eating it. On the plus side, making a mug-sized brownie will keep you from making and eating a whole pan. If you're going to make it, throw in a few chocolate chips and a teaspoon or so of peanut butter. And split it with someone.

Brownie In A Mug

4 Tablespoons Flour
4 Tablespoons Sugar
2 Tablespoons Cocoa powder
2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
2 Tablespoons Water
Dash of salt

Mix dry ingredients in a mug. Add oil and water, and mix well.

You could drop in a pinch of baking powder if you really want, but it's very much optional and probably doesn't make any difference. Peanut butter, chocolate chips, Rolos, Cadbury cream eggs, etc. also optional. I actually added a few drops of vanilla as well, maybe 1/8 of a teaspoon. You could also swap out butter for the oil. Maybe you're getting the picture that this is a small enough and fast enough recipe that you can play with it a bit.

Microwave about a minute and 30 seconds. Maybe start with a minute and work your way up until you know how your microwave and mug interact. It will be a little gooey, which is good. A scoop of vanilla ice cream would be a great addition.

I didn't have ice cream, but I poured in a little milk at the end, otherwise I don't think I could have gotten through it. My 7 y/o was asking for more after finishing his. Oh to be young and unaware of what damage all that sugar and fat does. I'm looking forward to the phone call after he takes Nutrition in college.

Friday, September 28, 2012

International Economics

International econ is an important extension of economics, one of the more important subjects we learn about in business. I'm not quite sure I got everything I could have out of this particular course, due to some peculiarities of its delivery.

The first peculiarity is simply that it was a summer course. Of course, I love summer courses for their intense, focused nature and then how quickly it's over. The second peculiarity was related, kind of. The related part was that it was summer, very hot, and the cooling system in the Natural Resources building where we were meeting went out.

At least one day class was cancelled due to the heat and probably HVAC technicians working on the problem. One day we met outside. We just sat around on the ground - grass, cement, whatever - and talked as other people walked by and our voices floated off to nowhere instead of bouncing back off the wall in the strangely shaped auditorium (extra steep and building support pillars blocking the view from some seats. Several days were spent with industrial strength fans blowing on us, drowning out part of the conversation. If it wasn't a compressed summer course, missing a day wouldn't have put us behind so far, plus it probably wouldn't have been as hot, and there would have been more days in between to get it fixed before the next time we met.

Getting to the actual content of the course, I think we would be better off as a country if more of us really understood these concepts. We hear about issues with other countries like Greece not being able to pay their debts but don't really understand how that affects us. We talk about manufacturing jobs being sent to China, but what does that do other than send some of our jobs there?

As interconnected as the world market is, everything we do affects others. Our stock exchange may close but another one on the other side of the world is opening. Arbitragers are constantly trolling for pennies of difference in exchange rates in different markets in order to run a pile of money through both markets and capitalize on the difference. We want free trade, yet some tariffs help protect jobs in our country in order to ensure we don't lose critical skills and become dependent on others.

Listening to the political debates currently going on, there are expectations that the president or other political leaders have much more control over world events than they actually do. You can't instantly create millions of jobs like Obama claims he can do. Romney's claim that he can stabilize our economy by helping people in other countries start businesses likewise sounds nice, but is a fairly unmeasurable long term plan that depends on a lot of factors to come together.

We listen to statements from everyone running for office, and it's hard to separate what's realistic or not without a firm understanding of the principles that affect international trade. The real improvements in worldwide economies can only come through many sides working together in the long term, following sound economic principles. No one is really interested in that as they focus instead on squeezing a couple cents profit times thousands or millions of dollars or shares of stock traded while markets are synching.

photo by carderel

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Time Zones and Daylight Savings

Years ago, the vice president over the department I worked for had a Blackberry. Based on a strange way about how the Blackberry interfaced with the Exchange server (and how he put in his appointments), when he set up appointments on his phone, they would end up being an hour off sometimes. When he was traveling to the west coast, for example, if he put in appointment for the next week at 10 a.m., that would be 10 Pacific, and when he returned to the office it would show at 11 Mountain, and by the time he realized what happened, he'd missed his meeting.

The part that took longer to figure out was that if he went down into the basement of the building we worked in, his regular signal would get lost, but he would catch some stray roaming signal that was not adjusted for Daylight Savings Time, his phone would change times, he'd enter an appointment, walk back upstairs, and his appointments were wrong. Training him to pay attention to whether his phone had changed times was not an option that he seemed to have the capacity to deal with. I ended up fixing the problem by changing a setting in his phone to not adjust time automatically to the local network time.

Working at a school now where the students and staff are spread out all over the country or further, this is a common issue. I had one coworker who repeatedly set up appointments with me in Outlook two hours off. She would look at my calendar and not realize it was showing her times based on her own time zone. She thought that since it was my calendar, it was my time zone, so she didn't need to adjust for the difference. Finally when I showed her how to specify the time zone, too, they started coming in right.

I had some major confusion with a student in one of my courses. His problem is that he's from Arizona. Arizona doesn't use Daylight Savings Time. Great for them. They have their reasons, largely due to the extreme heat. That's fine, but if you live in Arizona, you become the anomaly and thus the person who I believe needs to pay closer attention to time differences. If I was living in the U.S. and working for a company based in China, it would be my job to keep track of time differences.

So this is how the conversation went.

AZ: I am on Arizona time and do work during the day. I am available after 4:00pm on Wednesday.

Me: I work until 9 on Wednesdays and Thursdays. This Wednesday is pretty full. Would sometime Thursday night work?

AZ: 5:30pm-6:30pm AZ time, that would be 5:30-6:30 your time?

[Thursday morning, before I had a chance to respond to the previous email...]
AZ: Are we set for a call today at 5:30 pm MST?

Me: I am planning on calling tonight. I just want to make sure we’ve got the right time, since you had said 5:30 AZ time, but during the summer we’re off by an hour due to daylight savings up here in Utah, so 5:30 MST, 6:30 MDT.

AZ: 5:30MST / 4:30PST
AZ is currently on PST
So 5:30MST (if I am correct you are on MST) will be 4:30 for me.

The breakdown started when he mistakenly listed 5:30-6:30 for both our time zones, when I think he meant to change one of them. I responded looking for clarification, because I wasn't sure what he meant, since 5:30 in AZ is not the same as 5:30 in UT.

His response to my request for clarification was telling of the general lack of understanding of time zones and daylight savings time. I live in Utah, which is Mountain Time. From Spring to Fall, we are on Mountain Daylight Time. From Fall to Spring, we are on Mountain Standard Time. Since Arizona does not change for DST, it is on Mountain Standard Time all year long. Arizona is never on Pacific Standard Time. Never. During the summer, Pacific Daylight Time springs forward and is the same as Mountain Standard Time, but Pacific Standard Time doesn't change. It's still an hour behind Mountain Standard Time. If I'd have called at 4:30 PST, it would have been an hour later than he expected.

There is some argument to be made that daylight savings should perhaps be changed to be the standard, seeing how we are on DST approximately two-thirds of the year since President Bush kicked out the start and end dates back in 2007. If daylight time becomes the standard, maybe we could still fall back in the winter, but call it Morning Commute Daylight Time. I wouldn't have a problem with keeping it forward all year long, though, so there is a few minutes of daylight after getting off work in the evening, even if that meant the sun wouldn't rise until 9 a.m.

So, Fall and Winter are the standard. In the Spring and Summer (technically starting the last two weeks of Winter, thanks to President Bush), the time changes to DST. That means don't send out invitations to your beach party and tell them you'll start at 4 p.m. EST. Assuming it's a beach party because it's summer and warm enough to have a party on the beach, you'll want to say 4 p.m. EDT, otherwise people who know the difference might show up an hour late (4 EST = 5 EDT). Of course, those who know the difference also know that nobody else knows the difference and always says it wrong.

The trick if you know anyone south of the equator is that their seasons are opposite us northerners, but they still spring forward and fall back. I learned this when in Paraguay. Calling home on Christmas morning, I asked someone what the time difference was. They had remembered that before the time changed, it was a two hour difference between Utah and Paraguay. The only problem was that when Utah fell back an hour, Paraguay sprung forward an hour, and the two hour difference in the summer became a four hour difference in the winter and a 5 a.m. wake-up call for my family. Oops. And it was my fault, because it was my responsibility to know the difference as the one in another country.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Production/Operations Management

While it was probably one of the courses I had the least interest in initially, the Production/Operations Management course brought together some core business concepts for me that are really important. I'd probably still take the lessons from economics over those of operations management given the choice, but they actually work well together.

One of the key concepts we learned was that of kaizen and lean manufacturing. You can go read the Wikipedia article on the topic yourself, but the basic idea is that do something, measure the results, improve the process, and repeat. That's the ultra-simplistic view of it, so nobody quote me about kaizen in your master's thesis based on what I just wrote. The important part is that you look for improvement ideas from everywhere, but you start as close to the process as possible. The worker on the assembly line can probably tell you better what would make that particular job easier than a manager might.

The apocryphal story about the toothpaste factory comes to mind. You can read the fancy version or my two sentence recap. Basically, in order to detect toothpaste boxes that somehow missed getting a tube of toothpaste put inside it and shipped empty to stores and customers, they spent thousands or millions of dollars implementing a scale system that stops the line if an empty box is detected. Very quickly the number of defects drops to zero, not because there are no more empty boxes, but because the guy who had to grab the empty boxes off the scale and restart the line installed a $20 fan to blow the empty boxes into a garbage can just before it hit the scale so he wouldn't have do it by hand.

Who knows if that really happened, but it's a great story anyway.

Something else I learned, which is something I teach today in my project management class is the idea of the critical path. While there are differences with a project being a temporary endeavor and operations being ongoing processes, the idea of the critical path is the same. You track your way through from the beginning to the end of the project or one cycle through a process and determine which tasks have the most direct impact on the length of time it takes to complete the project/process. You can then determine which tasks need the most management attention to keep them on track or come up with potential ways of fast-tracking or crashing the critical path to reduce the amount of time it takes without having an adverse impact on quality.

One last item I always think about related to this class is the movie The Truman Show. It's not that anything we did in the class related at all to the show. I can't even think of any kind of lean manufacturing metaphor that could be related to the movie. It's just that in one class period, we were watching a video about John Deere and their kaizen practices. It was one of those two hour summer classes, where we got a short break in the middle of class. A friend of mine had a copy of The Truman Show in his bag to show as part of a presentation in another class. It was a VHS tape cued up to the scene where he's driving through the forest fires and nuclear accident trying to get out of town. I put the tape into the TV in front of class so when the professor restarted the John Deere video, we got Jim Carrey getting tackled by guys in radiation suits instead. It was great. I thought so anyway. The professor eventually found the tape in its container and put it back in, and I was even able to grab the movie from the desk up front while another student was talking to him after class and thus return it to my friend without the professor knowing who did it. I think deep down inside he would have rather watched a Jim Carrey movie, or maybe that was just me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Several neighbor kids were over, and everyone decided to play charades. Most of them selected relatively innocuous people, places, or things to act out like a football player or a chicken or baking a cake.

I was in the other room, so while I could hear what was going on, I couldn't see how everything was acted out. I was tempted to come play along when one particular child acted out the following, all of which had to be explained since no one could guess them:

  • a dead dog
  • a frozen person
  • a mummy
  • a bear getting shot by a hunter

It seems that most of those would at some point look largely the same as each other, holding still with a strange look on one's face. I wonder what else you could act out that would look exactly the same, although perhaps slightly less moribund? A thief caught in a spotlight? A very slow mime? A sleeping sloth?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Great Idea

I was cleaning out the back of the car and realized what a nice space there is back there if you lay down the third row seats.

Why hasn't anyone thought of this before? Our next road trip is going to be cake with the baby play pen seat configuration!

Friday, June 22, 2012


I might be tempted to call my undergraduate Marketing class the most useless class I took in college, but that honor goes another class coming up the following semester. I'll get to that later.

First I want to show a couple examples of the kinds of things we didn't cover in my Marketing class. These are commercials that are just worth watching, partly because they're almost not commercials. Sure the basketball thing is more staged than surprising, but it's still enjoyable to watch. The fear on the guys' faces in the other video is pure surprise. There's no overt salesman in plaid yelling at you to buy their products. It's just building awareness of brands.

My undergrad marketing class was a four week summer course. Like I've said before, I love summer classes. Four weeks and done. All my business core courses were those shortened workshop-style courses, which suited me fine. Being a summer course, they had an adjunct teach it. I'm not sure where they got the guy, but while I'm sure he knew something about marketing, it wasn't something he was all that keen on sharing with the rest of us.

There are two things I remember from his class. For part of the class we talked about mission and visions statements. We wrote our own personal mission and vision, which he sent back to us via mail several months after the class was over. Yes, this was a few years ago, but not so long ago that we weren't saving files we typed up on our own computers so we probably still had a copy of what we had written. So that's where he was on the technology spectrum. That said, I'm sure I have neither the printed nor the electronic version still, which is unfortunate. The other thing I remember was him talking about his wife buying tons of stuff at Wal-Mart and that every time he went into town, she sent him with a pile of things for him to return. I'm not totally sure how that connected with marketing other than something along the lines of having liberal return policies makes people feel more comfortable making purchases or maybe something regarding the customer always being right. I'm not sure, and I don't care.

More than anything, this class highlights the specific danger of adjuncts and the overall wider danger of allowing professors to "design" their own courses. Without adjuncts and grad students performing a large percentage of the instruction that happens at universities, few students would ever be graduating. Tenure track professors teach a fair share, to be sure, although some more fair than others. But that's really a different discussion altogether. The important part is that you have part-timers come in and out without any real stake in the outcome of their students other than that in order to get another contract to teach again next year, they have to keep their teaching evaluations high.

Vastly inconsistent experiences for students that depend 95% on the instructor you happen to get lined up with that semester is just not right, whether or not they're on the tenure track. How much of a disadvantage was I at not having ever heard of Michael Porter until hitting my MBA program? If Porter is important to talk about in an undergrad marketing course, then the undergrad marketing course should have a fairly standard unit on his contributions to the world of business strategy and marketing, no matter who teaches it. The individual instructor adds his or her flair, of course, but stories about returning shoes to Wal-Mart do not flair make. The Pine Sol lady has flair. Uncle Drew has flair. Don't forget the flair, but only after you've built a foundation on the standards.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Positive and Negative Approaches to Creativity

I've seen both of these videos featuring Fred Rogers and David McCullough, Jr. being passed around Facebook and Twitter, not to mention local and national news stations. Based on the millions of hits each has received over the past week since they were posted on YouTube, most of the interwebs have probably already seen them. I just wanted to point out some comparisons between the two.

Interestingly enough, both videos were posted on June 7, and it is now one week later, June 14. I'll throw out the easy comparison this allows us to make, that over the one week they've been up, Mr. Rogers' video has pulled in over 4.3 million views, while Mr. McCullough's video is at 1.1 million views. The obvious popularity of Mr. Rogers' as someone so many of us grew up with is evident in the not-quite 4:1 view count between the two videos. Also interesting are the like/dislike stats. Mr Rogers' video has 25% more likes per view, with only two-thirds as many dislikes per view.

I think the biggest problem with Mr. McCullough's video is the overwhelming negative tone of it. They're both saying the same thing, that you should do things you love and be creative, but I'm guessing most people don't get through the negativity of the first eight or so minutes, before finally getting to the point in the last three or four minutes, where Mr. Rogers jumps right to the good stuff.

Mr. Rogers' video, of course, is more concise, much catchier, and to tell the truth much more creative, although quotes from Mr. McCullough would make a more attention-grabbing headline.

The fun part is how Mr. Rogers is used in a negative way in the second video as an example, along with Barney, of someone who is overly optimistic and coddling. I think you can be positive and provide a message that motivates people to be creative without being sickly sweet or patronizing about it. Take a look at the following excerpts from the two video and compare the differences.

When I quote here, I'm not including ellipses and brackets and quotation marks to do it all properly, just suffice it to say that I've chopped out portions that were less relevant, such as Mr. McCullough's diatribe against weddings and quoting the statistic that half of them will end up divorced and Mr. Rogers' piece about the scary cat eyes. Although, even there, I'll throw out the similarity that weddings and an unknown animal's eyes glowing in the dark are equally scary.

From Mr. Rogers:

Do you ever imagine things? Imagine. Every person that you see is somewhat different from every other person in the world. Some can do some things. Some can do others. Do you ever think of the many things you've learned to do? There are so many things to learn about in this world, and so many people who can help us learn. Did you ever grow anything in the garden of your mind? You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind. It's good to be curious about many things. You can think about things and make believe. All you have to do is think, and they'll grow.

From Mr. McCullough:

None of you is special. You're not special. You're not exceptional. Contrary to what your U9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing 7th grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mr. Rogers, and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your paternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you, you are nothing special. Even if you're one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion, that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you. Your planet is not the center of its solar system; your solar system is not the center of its galaxy; your galaxy is not the center of the universe; in fact, astrophysicists assure us the universe has no center; therefore, you cannot be it. If everyone is special, then no one is.

If you've learned anything in your four years, I hope it's that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning. You've learned too, I hope, as Sophocles assured us, that wisdom is the chief element of happiness. Second is ice cream. I also hope you've learned enough to recognize how little you know - how little you know now. It's where you go from here that matters. Do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a a consequence, a gratifying byproduct; it's what happens when you're thinking about more important things.

Now, if someone would make a shorter, catchier, autotune version of Mr. McCullough's speech, we could really compare the two.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Corporate Finance

I love summer school. During each of my degree programs, I've had the chance to take classes during at least one summer, and it's always been great. There's something about the combination of the weather, fewer people around campus, and a compressed class schedule that all works together so well. I know they've made some changes to how the timing of summer classes happen, but when I went through it in my undergrad program, there were three four-week blocks, which could be combined or not. A class could be one of the four-week sessions, either of the two overlapping eight-week sessions, or a twelve-week session. The longest takes me back to my quarter system days; it still feels like a full class but is over before the burnout of a full semester class.

To make things even more interesting, they actually had a one-week workshop between two of blocks. So if you had a class that spanned the workshop, you got that week off. Of course, if you took a class during the workshop week, you were in there pretty much all day.

Corporate Finance was just one block, so we met for two hours a day every day for just under a month. We'd work through a month's worth of material in just four days and have a test every Friday. It was intense to say the least. I'm not sure how I ended up having almost all my business core courses in the summer, but I think it worked out nicely. As an MIS major, most of us felt more connected to the technology side of things than we did to the business side of things. That is a mistake, of course, as you really need to know both sides of the fence to truly be effective in the MIS field.

Overall, finance made a lot of sense to me. We talked a lot about time value of money. In fact, I think everything revolved around that. If we were talking about debt financing, it was about how much the debt really cost you over time. If it was about equity financing, it was the same. Do you want money now or money later? Assume a 10% rate of return... (oops).

Something that particularly sticks out to me was that I didn't buy a financial calculator for this course. I had a nice scientific calculator, but it didn't have the financial functions. Figuring it would be a waste to buy a calculator for just a few weeks, I made do with my scientific calculator. How? I memorized the formulas. How's that for gaming the system? At the time, and still thinking about it now, it felt/feels like I was cheating somehow. I don't know why, because back in the old days, they probably had to do it that way. You know, BC (before calculators). Of course, if I ever do financial calculations these days, I do them in Excel, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to get away with that on a test, especially given the relative rarity that laptops were at the time.

I have to throw out there, though, that for the last test, there was one of the formulas that was just wicked. Maybe even a wicked bear. There was just no way. I don't remember which it was, but it was just not going to be possible with my scientific calculator. But as much as I didn't want to buy a calculator for a few weeks' use, I was even less likely going to buy one to use for an hour (or more like 5 minutes during the hour-long test). So a classmate (Sean Zaugg, if I recall correctly...leave me a comment if you do Google yourself and this comes are you and Rebecca doing, by the way?) and I sat in the back row, at my request, and the plan was that he would place his calculator on the table between the two of us so that I could grab his if needed for that particular formula. He'd clear the display after each problem he worked on, so if I grabbed it at any point in time, I wouldn't see any numbers, intentionally or unintentionally. I'd be nonchalant about it, and the professor would never notice that I picked up the other calculator by me for that one question on the test. Of course, as the best laid plans worked flawlessly. Although again, I felt like I was cheating, because this time I was actually using a financial calculator on the test.

It all came around when my wife took the same class a few years later and bought a financial calculator, as recommended. The best laid plans...

The calculator was purchased with future dollars, however, so I'm going to say that I still came out ahead, assuming a 10% rate of return.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Search Results

It's always interesting to look at what people searched for to find you. I've written previously how a lot of people find my site looking for information about andragogy. I do try to talk about andragogy when I can, but I haven't gotten around to writing any real substantive posts on the topic lately. Looking at the numbers, there are still a lot of people out there looking it up, so I've still got it on my list to write more about.

Looking at some of the other ways people have found my site since the beginning of the year, I have to wonder if there are some other items worth discussion in greater detail:

  • arizona buildings that are funny
  • billiards business card
    • not recommended, as it's harder to hustle someone if they know you play enough to have business cards made
  • beyond a reasonable doubt chart
  • i am an andragogy learner
    • aren't we all?
  • i believe in mandatory education
    • okay, but wikipedia calls it compulsory education, so I'd appreciate it if you used the correct, crowd-sourced, neutral terminology
  • things learned in calculus
    • N/A
  • "reliability means to you"
    • as my grandpappy Ol' Reliable used to say...I don't recollect if I've ever mentioned Ol' Reliable before...
  • aladdin city
  • explain the role of drivers in a network discussing their relationship to the nos and osi model
    • a driver is software that facilitates communication between the operating system and hardware; as such, it operates at the data link layer of the OSI model, particularly the MAC sublayer, although depending on the protocol and the operating system could function elsewhere; the NOS is an embedded operating system in a network device, operating at the network layer of the OSI model; so the driver effectively links the NOS and the physical layer; aren't you glad you asked?
  • people that use #,,, with twitter are lame
    • in facebook, yes, but in twitter? sorry, the hashtag actually serves a useful purpose in twitter, primarily to make jokes instantly funnier #especiallywhenyourunabunchofwordstogetherwithit #idontknowaboutthecommas
  • worlds most hardest math problem
    • I'll get back to you, but in the mean time maybe we can talk about your most hardest grammar problem
  • blogs+wikipedia+mba+legal and ethics intext:mba
    • whoa, slow down you want an mba-related site that includes the words blogs, wikipedia, legal, and ethics, but you don't want to include nonprofits, Canadian sites, informational sites, US government sites, or higher ed sites...okay, you got can I help?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

30 Years of Irony

Flipping through the comments in a story on innovations in higher education, I found an ironic statement. The article itself calls out how the need for change is met with resistance. It mentions the idea of disruptive technology from Christensen and Eyring, whose book The Innovative University I've had sitting on my desk for months. Various initiatives of the education world are also mentioned, including open courseware, MITx, TED-Ed, and Khan Academy. President Obama's call, in his state of the union address, for universities to figure things out before he starts cutting their budgets is also there.

There is a little bit of a discussion in the comments about whether degrees are worth anything if they come from for-profits, who unfortunately are among the few doing real innovative work, but I'll save that discussion for another time.

The irony in this comment just struck me for some reason. I know a lot of people use the word irony wrong, so maybe someone let me know if it's not as ironic as I think it is.
Higher ed has convinced the private sector (and legislators) that a college degree is necessary to succeed in any (all?) job when that's simply not the case. Right now, I'm doing the same accounting work with an employer-required Masters degree that I did 30 years ago with no college education whatsoever. Students that can't afford and don't need a degree can't get jobs that shouldn't required one. Over-educated graduates are filling the entry-level positions that used to go to bright people right out of high school.
I agree with the notion that degree creep can be problematic. The information technology field seems a little less prone to disqualify someone based on their lack of a degree, but it happens there as well. The commenter was required by an employer to earn a master's degree (probably after being required to earn a bachelor's degree prior to that) to do the same job he or she has been doing for 30 years, originally without a college education.

Let that sink in for a second. This person that is lecturing us on a story about innovation has been doing the same job for 30 years. But let's not stop there. People who shouldn't need a degree can't find jobs, because all the entry-level positions are filled by over-educated graduates. Would, perhaps, this commenter, by his or her own admission be one of these over-educated graduates plugging up an entry-level job for the past 30 years? If it's really been the same job for that long, and it was obtained without a college degree initially, it sounds like it was an entry-level one. After 30 years of work and earning a master's, if you haven't moved up in the company at all, it may be time to look inward. Or maybe you just really enjoy entry-level accounting jobs.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Business Statistics

Business Statistics was one of the few courses in a massive auditorium that was actually good. Its quality was largely due to the highly entertaining professor. He knew the material, knew how to teach, and he was able to keep us entertained.

One of my favorite parts of the course was that generally once per class period, although I don't remember if he did it every time, he would randomly stop and ask someone to ask him a question. It didn't matter what. Maybe it was related to the class, and maybe it wasn't. Preferably it wasn't. I remember one question in particular. Someone asked him what was in his backpack. So he opened it up and showed us. He had about a dozen dry erase markers and some tiny running shorts. Classic.

I recall one class period where the normal professor was going to be gone, so he arranged a guest lecturer for that day. As soon as some people saw it was someone else, several of them left. After a few minutes, more people recognized the guy was somewhat clueless and left. This continued until people were leaving en masse. I don't know how many people stuck it out, as I left about midway. Even with as many people as had left, it took several class periods for the normal professor to undo the damage done by the guest lecturer.

A nice facet of the class, given the huge 300 person auditorium nature of it, is that we had a lab one day a week where we would meet with a TA and a smaller group of about 20-30 students. This gave us the opportunity to discuss course topics in a more personal setting. Our lab met on the fourth floor of the old Merrill Library, which has since been demolished and had a new building take its place. At the time, the library had the slowest elevator on campus. After it was torn down, the new science building I worked in, in spite of it being one of the newest and nicest buildings on campus, took the title of slowest elevator. I still remember the sight as they tore down the old library, that the elevator shafts were the last pieces of the building still standing after everything else had been dismantled. I can't find the pictures I took of the demolition, so here's a picture of part of the outside of the building. The elevator had a staircase wrapped around it. It was so slow that it was always faster to take the stairs, but there was still always a line of people waiting to get in the elevator anyway. I didn't help speed things up any as I would hit the elevator call buttons on each floor as I'd run up to the fourth floor, making the slowest elevator on campus have to stop on every floor while it brought my classmates up.

There was a small group of guys in my lab that would study together. They never invited me to study with them, for whatever reason. I just kind of did that on my own. We would always talk about what scores we got on our tests and homework, though, and it always frustrated them that I would score so much higher than them. Then they would work themselves up even more by asking how much time I had spent studying or working on my homework assignments, and it was significantly less time than they had. Hey, between a part time job and four other classes that semester, I didn't have a ton of extra time. Statistics came pretty naturally to me, so I didn't have to exert myself too much. If the guys had invited me to join their group, I probably would have, and we might have all learned more. I still remember trying to reassure them that since they were spending so much more time studying than I did, they were sure to remember what they learned more than I did, in spite of my higher grades. Their response was a classic college student response, that they didn't care if they remembered it later as long as they could perform for the test.

A fun part of our tests was that there were always a few questions based on a recent newspaper article that was photocopied along with the test. There would be various questions asking us to analyze the numbers given, determine what was suspiciously absent, and talk about whether we thought they were hiding something or blowing smoke. Hint: they were always hiding something or blowing smoke. This was a great way to apply statistics to daily life. As I've said before, I believe that statistics should be taught in high school and college, rather than calculus. We are always hearing about scientific and non-scientific polls, margins of error, medical studies that say coffee reduces your risk of heart attack, medical studies that say that coffee increases your risk of heart attack, free throw percentages, batting averages, probabilities here, people taking credit for things they have no control over there, and so on. We would do well to understand what all these statistics mean in order to understand when someone is hiding something or blowing smoke.

Hint: They're always hiding something or blowing smoke.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


A recent tweet asked whether it was worse that a very simple and very harmless college prank was pulled or that it made the front page, above the fold headline in the local newspaper.

I think they're both equally great.

With the amount of damage that's likely done across the country by college pranks, it's nice to see something that really didn't cause any problems other than wasting a few minutes of time talking about whether "they" were really planning on removing a sculpture from campus. It's unfortunate that a previous prank included painting the sculpture, which did require some cost to fix.

I remember when the fries showed up on campus. Several of us wondered what they were thinking. We thought about creating a large cardboard french fry container to put around it, but someone else beat us to it. It was fun to see students build a huge snow hamburger next to the fries last year. Things like this get the museum director and art faculty all excited, because whenever anyone even talks about a piece of art, whether positively or negatively, they feel like they have contributed to society by starting the conversation.

Harmless pranks and common experiences create a sense of community on a college campus. Interesting local news in the local newspaper also creates a sense of community. I subscribe to the local paper, in spite of the looks I get from people when I explain that I, a person under 60 years old, choose to actually pay for someone to deliver a physical paper to my house, because of the tangible connection to the community.

I skip past most of the stories on foreign wars and the like, since I get my fill of that kind of news through Facebook, Twitter, and other online sources. I love the letters to the editor. I was intrigued by a random picture of my neighbor changing a light bulb in front of his house for no real reason. (There was a reason to change the bulb, I'm sure, just not much of a reason to put the picture in the paper.) I enjoy learning about some of the local lore, having not grown up here locally, yet having lived in Logan for longer than I've lived anywhere else.

Simple things make a community. Not just one simple thing but many. One big thing has the potential to bring people together, but it takes the simple things to keep it going. So what communities are you a part of and how do you know you are?

<Photo by Jennifer Meyers/Herald Journal>

Monday, February 27, 2012


Just some leadership videos I wanted to have somewhere I could get to easily. The last one is just funny more than anything, but the first three have some important principles behind them, although it's far from a comprehensive list.

What are your favorite video clips for teaching leadership?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Syllabus Crap Detector

As I've been working recently on designing several courses, I've found some weird stuff, as usual. Part of our process is to review syllabi of similar courses being taught at other universities. We perform somewhat of the equivalent of a literature review to determine what is being taught and how, in order to determine what minimum standards need to be covered and where there may be places that we can make our programs better by filling in the holes missed by others.

The following are a few quotes that I have found interesting for various reasons:
  • Regular attendance is rewarded because you will be exposed to what I think you need to know.
  • When I talk, be quiet.
  • Put newspapers away 20 seconds before class starts.
  • I will clear the memory of all programmable calculators before each test.
  • Get yourself a notebook or 3-ring binder, and start a journal to record your impressions/analysis about what you’re learning from your journalism reading. (in a class with large blogging, twitter, and social media components)

I found a particular faculty member, though, whose syllabus really takes the cake. Looking up his profile on ratemyprofessors, student comments seemed to confirm what I observed: unorganized, hard to follow, illogical, makes no sense whatsoever, don't expect straight answers to your questions, writes smart remarks back to the students, and gets off subject very easily. He seems to be the opposite extreme of the faculty who wrote the first four statements in the list above. He may be friends with the person who wrote the inconsistent final statement above.

So what is so illogical or hard to follow? Let's go to the syllabus (which happens to be in comic sans of all things), shall we?

The course has a subtitle of How to build your "Crap Detector" which is only referred to in one other place in the syllabus. I was hoping the other reference would help in understanding what he's talking about. You can probably guess that it doesn't. One of the learning objectives of the course is to "provide personally and socially meaningful responses to what Roland Barthes once called the 'question par excellence': 'Why the world? what is the meaning of things?' (e.g., design and use an effective 'crap detector')". So I looked up Barthes and found that he was a French literary theorist. Good enough, but what of this question par excellence?

I looked that up also. In talking about the difference between the technical and artisanal functions of writers and authors, Barthes discusses a paradox that occurs. "And the miracle, so to speak, is that this narcissistic activity has always provoked an interrogation of the world: by enclosing himself in the how to write, the author ultimately discovers the open question par excellence: why the world? What is the meaning of things? In short, it is precisely when the author's work becomes its own end that it regains a mediating character; the author conceives of literature as an end, the world restores it to him as a means; and it is in this perpetual inconclusiveness that the author rediscovers the world, an alien world moreover, since literature represents it as a question-never, finally, as an answer."

It's pretty deep stuff. Mull it over. Ponder. Enlighten yourself as you discover the hidden meaning of Barthes' paradox. Apply it to your own life and career. Then come back to the question at hand, and ask yourself what this has to do with a crap detector. I'm still not totally sure what a crap detector is, but if I had one, it would be going off right now, and we've got a ways to go.

In terms of inconsistency, in one area of the syllabus regarding how grades are earned, it states that you can receive an F for class abandonment, which in a different part of the syllabus he explains means more than 3 absences. In yet a third location in the syllabus talking about attendance, he seemingly confirms that excessive absences may result in unsuccessful course completion but then immediately proceeds to state that more than 3 absences will result in a reduction of one full letter grade. His syllabus also states that students may fail if they do not demonstrate mastery of writing and numeracy skills. He may fail his own class given his apparent lack of ability to think and express himself effectively in quantitative terms.

According to the syllabus, a student can be considered cheating by communicating in any way with another member of the class. This sounds like something the faculty who wrote the first four statements above might want to adopt in their classes.

There's more, but I'll end with this professor's teaching philosophy from the department's website:

I love mental spelunking. Each semester I get to take students through a dark cave of stalactite and stalagmite ideas, pointing the light at the ceiling-stuck cat or a three-legged donkey. “Over there,” I yell, turning the light in another direction. “Can you see it? Can you see it? . . . the NAKED CHICKEN, caught mid-stride in the next room?” With furrowed brows and searching eyes, students squint at the dark shadows, searching for even a hint of beak or comb. “Where? Where?” they ask. Then at last . . . “I see it! I see it!” one cries.

Then here is the really best part. She takes the light herself and points it far into the cave. “Can you see the lovely apple tree? Don’t you just love apples?” she says. My eyes follow the light, and there it is, right where it has always been, apples and all. But I SEE IT for the first time.

“Is that the tree of knowledge?” one asks. And, “was that the naked chicken of wisdom?” chimes another. “A look under the feathers.”

Then we all laugh together at our possibilities till our joyful tears form new mystery-shapes of our own on the floor, someday to be discovered . . . and I am once again blessed.

I have to say that as strange as it is, the more I read the teaching philosphy, the more I actually like it. I'm not so sure about the naked chicken; I believe the idea is a sound one, even if execution is lacking.

The extremes of the first few items in the list at the beginning of this post and of the who-knows-what-you're-going-to-get class by the naked chicken of wisdom both need to be tempered. If we bring the two components of structure and creativity together, we might come up with this college composition course based on The Simpsons. Now that's a syllabus!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


All universities have course codes and course names. Most course codes follow a pretty similar pattern, with 3-4 letters signifying the department and 3-4 numbers that mean various things, including the level of the course.

At USU when they switched to the semester system back in 1998, they changed from 3 digits to 4 digits to distinguish between the quarter system and semester system courses. I've never done the math on it but always wondered how much it has actually costed over time to have all the extra zeros they added to the end of every course code. At the time, they still printed course catalogs. I don't know if they even do that anymore. Whether it's incremental ink or digital storage space, it's probably not much more than several tens of thousands of zeroes, which would be a few hundred printed pages or several megabytes spread over more than a decade. I'm sure that by far it cost more to make the switch than it has been to deal with the extra zeroes. The nice thing is that recently they started allowing departments to use the extra number as something other than zero, so you could have a lab just differ from the corresponding course by the last number, for example.

At WGU, the codes are quite different, but they have realized that their numbering system needs to change. They are currently 3 letters followed by 1 number. It used to be that the first two letters were something to do with the name of the course (like basic math started with QL for quantitative literacy). The third letter was a code stating what type of assessment the course used, whether project-based or objective, and the number was supposed to tell if the course was undergraduate or graduate.

Every time something major happened to a course, the code had to change, so you can see that they're going to run out of codes quite quickly. In the mean time, you get some funny things here and there with the nearly random course codes that are generated since the ones that made sense have been all used up. For example, a course I'm about to start teaching contains the initials of my boss who has been teaching that course. I might ask that they change the course to my initials if I didn't know they were already planning the renumbering anyway.

One course that's always been funny to me is AZC1. It's not like ROTF funny, just an interesting coincidence. The course name is U.S. Constitution, Law, and Citizenship. The way I always read it in my mind is Arizona Constitution, with the irony coming into play with some of the issues they are dealing with in terms of the citizenship or lack thereof of many of their residents. Without getting into the politics or what should actually be done to solve their problems, their situation has at least served as a useful mnemonic device as I try to remember hoards of less than meaningful course codes that seemingly everyone else has memorized. At least we'll all be on the same level when the codes change, and we all have to memorize them anew.

photo by pagedesign

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

IPv6: The Day the Routers Died

I don't know if the mainstream media is ignoring this problem hoping it will go away, not aware of it, or perhaps the network techs have us prepared and don't want another "overreaction" like Y2K, but I still don't hear a lot about IPv6.

If you're not familiar with the problem, think about what happens when a state or city runs out of phone numbers and has to add a new area code. But what happens when we run out of area codes? Or what will happen when we run out of Social Security Numbers?

We have been talking about it for awhile.

There's this video from 4 or 5 years ago (long but funny).

And this video from just a couple years ago (long, not so funny, but informative).

It goes back further than that, but suffice it to say it's not taking anybody by surprise. It's now been a year since all the IPv4 address blocks ran out (No more IPv4 addresses, Internet Runs Out Of IP Addresses), although it will be awhile before individual addresses are all completely allocated. There are plenty of techniques to run multiple devices behind one IP address, and there may be some ways to recover some previously unused or unusable addresses. These workaround can cause as many problems as making the IPv6 jump might make, so it makes sense to get moving. As Randy Bush explains in the second video, those people and companies who get it figured out now will be leaps and bounds ahead of those who wait until crunch time.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Intermediate Writing

English. Sigh. Where do I start with this one? I'm going to just throw it out there. This was a terrible class. Yes, it's English, so it was probably doomed to begin with, but of all the bad English classes I've taken, this was the worst one. My junior year of high school I had an awesome teacher, but other than that, I've had little success in that department. As much as I enjoy reading and writing, you'd think I would enjoy the subject, but I've learned more about writing from my business communication course and from Marion Jensen's blog than any English class.

I was able to skip English 1010, which is more of a creative writing course, because of my AP English and ACT scores. English 2010 is research and/or persuasive writing, and there isn't a way of getting out of it. Since there is no way out of the course and since writing is a fundamental skill, it is often a prerequisite for many other courses, and there are always hundreds of students each semester trying to get in the course.

Part of the problem of this course is that it is taught by 20-30 grad students each semester. With that many grad students teaching the course, every section is wildly different from all the others. It is a hallmark of a teacher-centered education system where the biggest influence of how a course is taught is who is teaching. If our education system was more student-centered, it would be student needs rather than instructor preferences that drive learning, but that is a completely different conversation.

I admit that a big problem in this course was that it was at 7:30 a.m. I took it at that time, because I wanted to fit all my courses on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I could work on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Unfortunately, that meant that I often was a few minutes late from just rolling out of bed. Unfortunately, that meant that I often missed the first couple questions on the teacher's quizzes that he started each class with. He always had extra credit questions, but they were random, obscure things that nobody in the class knew the answers to. But who starts every class with a verbal quiz anyway?

Beyond learning the few random extra credit facts during the be-on-time quizzes, there was really just little point to the class. The thing we really could have spent a good chunk of time on was actually doing real research. Instead, we did a little half-hearted fake research. I asserted in my final paper that the university should convert the large free parking area by the stadium to a paid parking area, which is something they were considering at the time, with the stipulation that rates stay minimal. Of course, they did implement the fee, and they have more than doubled since then. What I was thinking is that the parking lots for students who lived on campus and paid a lot of money for were falling apart, and it didn't make sense to let off campus students park for free while charging residents for a ripped up lot. A decade later, they finally saved up enough money to refinish the resident parking lots, so my recommendations kind of worked.

A big problem they have with the lower level English courses is that with grad students as the instructors, student ratings of instructor performance are part of the evaluation criteria used to determine who to let continue teaching. So even if they come up with a standard curriculum, grad students who want to keep their job will do everything they can to keep students happy (aka water down the course) to get good evaluations. Except not the dude I took the class from, apparently. Seriously, why did I get that one guy?

There is a reason that the business communication course had to add a grammar test as a prerequisite. English was supposed to be the prerequisite to ensure students would be able to write. It doesn't ensure anything.

What I would recommend is a class based on Wikipedia and blogging. Students would still do research papers on whatever topics they choose, but they would be opened to the world for review. If you can make substantial additions to a new or existing Wikipedia article and participate in the collaborative effort to bring those contributions to the level that they are accepted by the community, you've demonstrated an important skill and contributed to the community. The same goes for blogging. The important difference is that Wikipedia has a specific style that the community enforces, where a blog takes on the preferred style of its author (along with a few commonly accepted blogger protocols).

Don't waste all this half-hearted research effort that neither teaches students to write nor to research. Step it up into full-on research efforts that are vetted by and contribute to the internet community. Forget banning Wikipedia as a research source; make them write Wikipedia articles!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Projects in Visual Basic

Visual Basic is a fun little programming environment/language. It's good for creating quick prototypes or making a simple interface to perform repetitive tasks in a Windows environment. I'm sure you could do big, fancy stuff in VB, but generally you'd use a more powerful language for big projects that need to be optimized or run in cross-platform environments. Something that is neat about it is that it's the language used to write macros in MS Office. So if you have a great reason to use a macro, you'll want to know a little VB. Please don't use macros if you have anything less than a great reason.

Given the quick and dirty nature of it, it's no surprise that it's the language taught to business students who need to understand a bit of programming but don't need to be able to create their own compiler or operating system. One thing I liked about this course was that of all the programming courses I've taken, it was one of the few actually taught by faculty in my department. I worked in the Computer Science department for 5 years and don't have anything against CS faculty at all, but there's a greater connection having someone from your own department teaching a course.

As a case in point, look at this particular course. When I took it, it was the last semester that just one undergraduate version of the course was taught. The whole semester, the professor who taught it would bag on accounting students or other non-MIS business majors who didn't know anything about computers or programming. They were in the same section as the students with more technical majors, because there wasn't another option. All we heard about was how the professor wanted to move on to all these advanced concepts but couldn't because of the accounting students holding us back. This, of course, was the same thing I heard as an MIS student in CS classes, how we weren't real programmers like the CS students. So CS bags on MIS; MIS bags on accounting; maybe accounting bags on human resources or marketing? At least marketers have a handle on social media, so it's probably HR that's the bottom of the technology food chain.

However the pecking order goes, the next semester would see two versions of the course, for technical and non-technical business majors. I don't know how much they lightened the load in the non-technical version, since VB is already a junior version of programming.

For an example of a quick program I wrote in VB several years later, I created a small program to automate common tasks in the testing center I used to run. I created a map of the lab with a button for each computer and for common actions. You would select the computer and then click the button for the action you wanted to perform: view the screen, reboot it, shut it down, turn it on, or mark that it was being used to take a certain test. It even had an option to cancel the shut down command if you accidentally selected the wrong computer and realized it within 5 seconds. Students get freaked out for some reason when their computer shuts down on them in the middle of a test. The funnest options were to start up or shut down all the computers at the same time. It was like a race to see which computer would boot up first, and the silence when all the fans came to a stop was so peaceful.

The program was pretty simple and was very inelegantly written but saved a ton of time for those working the lab. An employee of mine sought to improve on my design and write a fancy version 2.0 with all kinds of customization options to work in other computer labs, but quick and dirty won the race. As long as he worked on it, he never got version 2.0 working.