Tag Archives: school

Gates Notes: Online, All Students Sit in the Front Row

I don’t talk about my going to school much here, for a variety of reasons that I don’t delve into here, but this piece from Bill Gates provides a good overview of the current state of continuing education:

In my experience, what separates the great courses from the mediocre ones is the quality of the professors, whose passion and expertise bring their subjects to life, as much online as in-person. That’s why it’s critical that during this time of transition we keep our focus on the instructors. They are the ones who inspire and guide students. The best online learning technologies expand the reach of the most inspiring professors by allowing more students to be part of their classes.
Gates Notes: “Online, All Students Sit in the Front Row”

This, however, is just as important point as the above:

The biggest challenge facing all higher education institutions is how to ensure more students stay in college or university and complete their degrees. They are looking everywhere for solutions. Arizona State University, for instance, discovered that the college catalogue overwhelmed students with too many class choices and gave them too little guidance. So the university redesigned the entire experience. The new, personalized online catalogue features “major maps,” which outline a major’s key requirements, optimal course sequence, and career options to help keep students on the path to graduation.

I can see where students, potential and otherwise, would have a problem with course selection, as with anything where there is a lot of choice and minimal guidance. I’ve faced that dilemma a few times, especially now that I am mopping up the last of my non-credit requirements, and more able to choose the courses I want to take. But course selection is an answered question in the form of advisors. The key to good curriculum choices is to have a plan walking into school. If someone doesn’t have a plan, a good advisor will help create one. But, course selection is the least of my problems as a continuing education student.

The larger, and much harder, problem is balancing school with other responsibilities. There are times when my passion for school outweighs my passion for work. Work is, at times, mundane and uninteresting because I am in maintenance mode, fixing bugs in Applescripts and my utility apps because of some application or operating system upgrade. Compare that to learning something completely new to me in any of my classes, and I can’t get out of work fast enough to go to class or do homework. Then there are times like this semester when the opposite is true, where my passion for work exceeds my passion for school, and doing enough work to get good grades (not passing grades, good grades) is really hard. Add two kids in the mix—five and three this year—and I occasionally get overwhelmed. There’s been a lot of “take a deep breath” moments over the past several years because quitting my job, dropping out of school, or ignoring my kids is never an option.

Being smart about my time is at the core of that balancing responsibilities. Good time management means everything is strategized and planned, from what I eat to maintain a semblance of good health, to when I spend some time with the kids so they don’t feel ignored, and all the way down to when I go to bed to get enough sleep to press on the next day. Courses are at night by necessity, which means I don’t get home until 23:00 (at the earliest if I don’t need to speak with the professor right after lecture). I love going to campus and sitting in the classroom. Online lectures are convenient and I get the meat of the course, but nothing beats the atmosphere of being in a classroom watching the lecture live, and being able to ask questions. But, my morning alarm goes off at 04:00 for a variety of reasons, and there are times when I have to choose sleep over live lecture and instead watch the course online when I am in a better state to do so. Honestly, most nights I don’t go to be because I am relaxed and tired; I often go to bed simply so that I can get enough sleep for the next day’s activities. Not that any of this is a complaint; this is all simply a statement of fact. I will never complain about school because I have chosen to take on the challenge, and I believe one ought not to complain about those things for which one has volunteered.

I have a course I am taking this semester now where the professor is really great, very engaging as is the material he assigns, challenging coursework in all the good ways, but the papers are philosophical, therefore very time-consuming, and sections are required (though my understanding that is against the school’s policy, but, hey, each course is its own little kingdom as my advisor once told me). At the same time, I have a company-wide project I’m now leading at work that just got approved after years of flogging to the powers that be. For that, I need to be alert and awake for some really tough meetings where I have to make tough decisions. That sounds very cliché, I know, but it’s true. Building a content management solution that my company will live with for probably the next ten years requires making decisions at morning meetings that will impact our workflows for years to come.

All things being equal, a project with years of impact that will be a huge addition to my resume, unfortunately, has to trump one grade out of thirty-two I’ll complete by the time I’m done with school. To put it another way, school will be done in two years, but this system, and my job, will be around for a lot longer. Instead, I have to focus on the core coursework needed to get a passing grade and finish off the semester with my sanity intact. My professor likely wouldn’t agree, not that I would blame him, but my getting burnt out will do no one any good, least of all myself.

School is a lot of things, but in this context, it’s an endurance race. I don’t expect schools to address that issue for me as a student, and so I wouldn’t expect to see that in Bill Gates’ article. But, his article does cast a light onto a gap in the conversation about contenting education: how best to approach the balancing of school, work, and other responsibilities. Schools are doing amazing things now to accommodate non-traditional students (here defined as not having gone to school right out of high school), but their efforts are only a part of a larger problem for many people. There is not a government or school policy that is going to provide a solution to that problem.

Medium.com: The 36 People Who Run Wikipedia

Participation and administration works not because anyone is paid or recognized, but apparently because people are authentically interested in the project. In fact, many stewards have expressed adamant opposition to payment. Among the stewards I talked with, satisfaction depended only on the intrinsic nature of the project itself: instant gratification from immediate publishing, the ability to spread knowledge, and learn — and yes, because it is fun.

Yup, the largest and most successful collaborative project in history, the modern center of human knowledge — a radically participatory model for this technologic age — is possible because people find it inherently satisfying to participate.
The 36 People Who Run Wikipedia

It’s an old story but it’s true: loving your work matters in the deepest ways. If you don’t love your work, questioning your motivation is fair, if not required. Those motivations may outweigh any satisfaction derived from your work, but work satisfaction does make for a clear benchmark.

On the flip side of this, however, is that in my first class at school, my professor absolutely drilled it into our heads that Wikipedia is really only good for a very general, broad overview of any topic, a place to find a starting point for deeper learning elsewhere more than anything, and that it cannot be trusted as cited, reference material for an academic paper. For everything that Wikipedia content gets things right, there are enough other things that are wrong, so trusting Wikipedia is next to impossible. For those areas where I have deep knowledge I found it lacking in detail much more than getting things wrong, and that could be argued as being just as bad. Whether or not inaccuracies abound in all areas I can’t really say, but that professor definitely changed our views of Wikipedia in an instant. Wikipedia is still admirable in its ambitions and outcomes, all the same.

Adobe Digital Editions is *still* the worst ebook reader I have ever used.

Somehow, Adobe managed to upgrade Adobe Digital Editions from version 2 to version 3 with absolutely no improvement. This is impressive in its own way. Text selection for highlighting is still a complete disaster. The app still translates my moving the pointer one pixels to jump the selection of a single sentence to half a paragraph, a problem that inarguably plagued the last version.

That the app was allowed to be released with such a major bug in a vital feature of any ebook reader, is astounding to me. Now I get the impression that the app lives in some sort of development backwaters, using version numbers simply to call attention rather than indicating any real improvements (which puts it in line with past Creative Suite upgrades).

For a company that is in the business of making books and wants to be in the business of eBooks, Adobe Digital Editions is just an embarrassment.

I finished my homework

Instead of having hobbies, making side projects, watching TV or movies, playing video games, or reading for pleasure, I did my homework.

eXperimental Knotty Credential Developer

An easy-to-use password generator based on randomly selected words from the English language.

Passwords need to be created such that they are difficult to crack by hackers yet still easy to remember, which is a surprisingly hard thing to do. Randall Munroe of XKCD postulated (but did not endorse; a subtle but important distinction) an idea to create passwords that balance memorability and complexity by using words from the dictionary by virtue of their length.
eXperimental Knotty Credential Developer

There is a lot more I could do with this, but I moved past the spec as encouraged and I have a lot of political philosophy to read before Monday.

Go Crimson

Sleep as a Competitive Advantage

Too many of us continue to live by the durable myth that one less hour of sleep gives us one more hour of productivity. In reality, each hour less of sleep not only leaves us feeling more fatigued, but also takes a pernicious toll on our cognitive capacity. The more consecutive hours we are awake and the fewer we sleep at night, the less alert, focused and efficient we become, and the lower the quality of our work.

The research is overwhelming that the vast majority of us require seven to eight hours of sleep to feel fully rested, and only a small percentage require less than seven. The problem is that we kid ourselves. “Like a drunk,” the Harvard sleep expert Charles A. Czeisler wrote, “a person who is sleep deprived has no idea how functionally impaired he or she truly is. Most of us have forgotten what it really feels like to be awake.”
NY Times: Sleep as a Competitive Advantage

For me, nothing beats a twenty minute nap in the afternoon, maybe thirty minutes. Anything more than that is of little to no benefit. But that twenty minutes can make all the difference in the world for the rest of my day.

I think sleep is really only part of the solution to good productivity, and that exercise and a reasonable diet are needed as well for sleep to be its most effective. I say, “reasonable diet” in that there only a relative few out there that eat truly good all the time; some foods aren’t good for the waistline, but they are good for soul and are therefore irresistible.

I have been working on my health for the past several weeks by working through an exercise regimen from Nerd Fitness. I work out five days a week on average, for an average thirty minutes a day. It’s a well packed thirty minutes prioritizing intensity over time, and within only a couple weeks I found benefits in regards to how I feel overall. Even those nights where I only could get five to six hours of sleep I felt better than before I started working out.

Apple hijacks Unix headers into Xcode in Mavericks

I am currently taking a class on Unix systems programming. While following along with lecture, the professor stated that almost always the header files needed for our type of work are located at /usr/include. However, that directory does not exist on my brand new Mavericks MacBook Pro. I have learned (after much searching the web) that the header files are now here:

/Applications/Xcode.app/Contents/Developer/Platforms/MacOSX.platform/Developer/SDKs/MacOSX10.9.sdk/usr

After doing some more research, I found that to get those Unix header files back into /usr/include, one has to install Xcode’s command line tools. But, in order to get those, one has to be a registered member on Apple’s developer website. Not necessarily a paying member, but registered.

I was once a paying member for Apple’s developer tools but I gave it up because I was not actually using everything that was made available. My focus changed and the annual $99 was going to waste. In fact, because of that and that Apple has so much of their Cocoa documentation available externally for free, my need to log into their website has decreased over time to my not touching it in over a year. Now I am jumping through the hoops to figure out which account I was using and what was the password, but that is turning out to be harder than expected for a variety of reasons on Apple’s side, the servers not propagating my Apple ID resets to the developer site being one of them. Yes, I should have done a better job of recording my information, but a simple password reset shouldn’t be this hard either. At this point, I will likely just create a new account solely for getting me what I need.

I have no idea when Apple hijacked the header files, and i can understand the logic and convenience of doing so for tool updates, but knowing what little I do about Unix, hijacking seems to be anathema to the Unix culture. Apple has made my morning nothing but hassle trying to get this fixed and I will have an assignment due soon. So, cheers for that, Apple.

UPDATE: I wound up creating an account solely for the developer account, and it was, as expected, faster and easier than mucking about with a bunch of password resets. Once I did that, getting the command line tools was not straightforward though not hard (Xcode > Open Developer Tool > More Developer Tools… which then kicks you over to a downloads page on the developer website, with registration required for access).

As for my comment about the new default header location being anathema to Unix, I realize now that’s not necessarily true. If anything, Apple can do whatever they want with their distro. But the fact remains based on everything I have read so far that there are some clear expectations about there things ought to be and the header file location is one of them. But at least now I can establish a workflow where I can use the muscle of Xcode to develop and then confidently test outside before submission.

The Federalist: The Death of Expertise

The death of expertise is a rejection not only of knowledge, but of the ways in which we gain knowledge and learn about things. Fundamentally, it’s a rejection of science and rationality, which are the foundations of Western civilization itself. Yes, I said “Western civilization”: that paternalistic, racist, ethnocentric approach to knowledge that created the nuclear bomb, the Edsel, and New Coke, but which also keeps diabetics alive, lands mammoth airliners in the dark, and writes documents like the Charter of the United Nations.
The Federalist: The Death of Expertise

About a year ago, I took a class that explored a number of issues related to this very topic, and I look forward to taking a similar class next year.

Bullet Journal: An analog note-taking system for the digital age

For the list-makers, the note-takers, the Post-It note pilots, the track-keepers, and the dabbling doodlers. Bullet journal is for those who feel there are few platforms as powerful as the blank paper page. It’s an analog system for the digital age that will help you organize the present, record the past, and plan for the future.
Bullet Journal: An analog note-taking system for the digital age.

via tomtunguz.com

I love this productivity stuff. I prefer digital tools these days—Toodledo has become a long-time favorite for work and school—so I got a bit overwhelmed with all the writing and re-writing when the system reached the monthly lists and indexing, though every aspect is a really good idea. I might actually have a use for all those Field Notes books sitting in my office for stuff around the house, which I don’t do in Toodledo for some reason.