Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Face Made for Radio

It's a good thing I have a face made for radio, because I'm going on KVNU's Voice for the People, Thursday, November 20th, to talk about OpenCourseWare. We start at 5:40 PM MST, and will likely go until the show is over (6:00). If you want to listen in, you can do so at:

Feel free to call up and mock me mercilessly.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Monopoly of Higher Education...

His awesomeness, Brian Lamb, has posted a thought provoking piece over on his blog. In it he says:

"I staked out something of a confrontational stance... that higher education is still conducting its business as if information is scarce when we now live in an era of unprecedented information abundance."

This is an interesting point. We live in an age where information is not only plentiful, but it's easily searcheable and accessible. It's not a question of whether or not the information is out there. You can rest assured that it is in fact out there, you just have to find it. And more and more finding it is a relatively simple matter.

So, is higher education in danger? People go to a university to obtain an education, right? To get understanding? To read and learn about things. But now that information, education, and understanding can be found on the internet. They are in direct competition with Google, are they not?

I have a dirty little secret. I do web design for a living, and I've never had a single course on web design. I taught myself everything I know from the web. I didn't need the higher education system.

Universities should be shaking in their boots, right?

Wrong. Because universities still have a monopoly. One that shows no signs of cracking. That monopoly surrounds certification. I might know everything there is about programming, history, teaching, whatever, but employers aren't interested in that. They want to see my diploma. A diploma is such a beautifully quantifiable thing. So simple.

On his blog, Brian mentions that a person asked him, "...if we live in an era of information abundance, why is the primary drive around OERs (and OCWs for that matter) the publication of more content? And what other activities around the open education movement might be an effective use of our energies? What other needs have to be met?"

I would give a hearty push for a solution to the certification problem. It's a much stickier problem and has yet to really be discussed by the openness community (at least from my perspective, which is probably a perspective from the 'outside'. But I would argue that this challenge is a much more important one, and definitely a game altering one. OCW is great, and a lot of schools have added a lot of useful content to the world. But the world is filling up with content. If we want to see a real difference, let's make it possible for people not to just find content (they can already do that with Google), but let's make it possible for them to demonstrate competency. I feel that would make a distinct difference in a lot of people's lives.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My First Ruby Code

So I've written my first bit of Ruby code. Allow me to bore you with the story.

The other day my son and I were checking out the local thrift store. The Boy came across a board game that appeared to be brand new. The cards were still wrapped in cellophane, the cardboard chits were unpunched, and it was only $1.50.

He bought the game and raced home. He punched out the bits, was excited to play when much to his chagrin, he realized that there were two decks of cards missing. The game was incomplete. He was devastated.

What is a Dad to do? Well, I hopped onto boardgamegeek, posted a question about what was in the decks in the forum, and within 3 hours, I had the answer to my question. We now knew what the other decks comprised of.

My son recreated one of the decks with a bit of cardstock and our printer. That deck was basicly a ticket system, that moved you around the board. But the other deck was a bit more tricky. There were 26 cards, divided up into four types of flowers; 8 blue, 7 orange, 6 red, and 5 green. The idea was you flip over 3 cards, and then if you turned over two or three of the same color, then you get more or less points.

Being the geek that I am, and having just read about SmallBasic, the two of us sat down and wrote a small script that figured the chances of pulling out each card, and then displayed the appropriate card. Small Basic was very simple and easy to get into, but I've been meaning to poke around Ruby for quite some time. In the end, I rewrote it in Ruby, just to say I had done it.

Ruby ended up being easier than I thought, and very clean. I'll post both scripts below, for you geeks who care about things like that. Since I'm a complete and total novice, I'd be more than interested in any feedback from 'pros' out there. Is there a simpler or more elegant way to do it?

Small Basic

num = 0
num = (num + 1)

a = Math.GetRandomNumber(100)
While (num < 4)

If (a <32)
Then TextWindow.WriteLine("Blue")
Goto start

If (a < 59) Then
Goto start

If (a < 81) Then TextWindow.WriteLine("red")
Goto start

Goto start





round = 0
while round < 3 do
number = rand(100)

if number < 32 then puts "Blue" end
if number > 31 && number < 59 then puts "Orange" end
if number > 58 && number < 82 then puts "Red" end
if number > 81 then puts "Green" end
round += 1

Friday, November 07, 2008

If you haven't seen it yet...

I may be the last person on the internets to see this, but if you haven't seen it yet, sit back, turn up the sound, and enjoy!

Patents for Sale

Looks like NASA is selling off some of their patents. The first line says, "Congratulations taxpayers! A group of patents developed on your dime by a NASA researcher, sold at public auction last week in a new effort to parlay innovative technology into commercial goods and services."

I guess this can be seen as good news. On the one hand, NASA has a little bit more money, and they can continue to do cool things. But Darryl Mitchell, a manager at NASA, says the real win is that now these technologies are in the private sector, and they will create jobs and help the economy.

My question is why not release the patents into the public domain? Free the ideas from their shackles, and let anybody play with them. Why not say, "whoever wants to take a crack at this, go ahead. Let the best company win." Patents just lock things up. A company can buy the patent, and then take their merry time doing whatever it is they want with it. Open source works with software, and now we're seeing it work with content. It also seems to be working with hardware, as a recent Wired article points out (an article that is not yet online).

So, why are we keeping these innovative ideas, ones that taxpayers have funded, locked up? Which scenario is better for taxpayers and the economy, for one (wealthy) company getting and sitting on the patent, or many different companies competing and fiddling with the ideas and innovations that the patent has locked up? I see more jobs and innovation coming from the latter.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Inside Higher Ed.

For all of you who laughed at me the other day when I mentioned Warcraft and learning in the same breath, there is a great article over at Inisde Higher Ed. that talks about using fear and humiliation as legitimate teaching aids. A few quotes:

"A 25-person raid is the same size as a class, and like a class its leader can only take it to places places that it is willing to go. Teaching, like learning to down a boss, is about helping people grow their comfort zone by getting them to spend time outside of it. The question is how to push people so that they will be ready to learn, instead of ready to tear their hair out.

"Almost immediately I could see why its members were successful — their raid leader did not pull his punches. In the middle of fight I would hear him saying things like “Xibby, don’t think I don’t see you healing melee — please do your job and focus on the tank.” At times — like when our Paladin failed repeatedly to engage Thaladred the Darkener, who responded by repeatedly blowing up our warlocks — voices were raised.

"A willingness to take risks can also be shored up by commitment and drive. Our guest leader drove my guildies nuts, but impressed me with his professionalism. Does this mean that after graduate school even generous doses of sadism seem unremarkable?"

It's a very good article, I recommend reading the entire thing.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Hardest Part

I have a confession. I hate writing. I really do. It's difficult, it is time consuming, and I spend most of the day convinced that I'm horrible at it, so why bother in the first place? There are very few redeeming aspects about it. I write because...well, I'm not sure why. I just know I get a story in my head, and it won't leave me alone until I get it out.

But as much as I dislike the writing process, the process that comes after the book is done is even worse. I am now shopping for an agent/publisher.

Agents and publishers are very nice people. I have nothing against them, at all. But the fact of the matter is that a major portion of their job is to reject people. They have to tell them that they are not interested in representing/publishing their particular story. I know this in my head, but it doesn't make the process any easier.

For those of you who have never had the lovely opportunity to send off a book to a publisher/agent, let me try to paint you a picture of how it feels.

Imagine you've just had a baby. You have carried this baby for 9 months in your womb. The process of carrying and delivering this baby was incredibly difficult. But when you hold the baby for the first time, and you see how beautiful she is, you know it's all been worth it. The pain, the suffering, the tears, the worry...all worth it.

The nurse comes in, and you hold the baby up so that she can take a good look at her. The morning light shines on your baby, and she coos for the nurse. What a precious baby! What a precious moment!

The nurse glances over and says, "Wow, that is one ugly offspring you've got there."

Yeah, that is exactly how it feels. Right in the gut. Kapow!