Tuesday, November 20, 2007

UI resources

So like all good instructional designers I have just enough knowledge to know that I don't know much at all about a wide variety of topics, one of those being interface design. I have a brother-in-law who is currently working as a contractor for Microsoft, on a UX (user experience) team for a product that he could tell me about . . . except for some pesky little non-disclosure agreement. I did, however, ask him what he tends to read as background material for his job--here was his response:

The design of everyday things (or the Psychology of Everyday Things) is still considered good. The principles of interactive design haven't changed that much by what I know. There's a great book just put out by MIT press called Designing Interactions, highly recommended but not a textbook, per se.

The book that gets the most circulation around my office is Don't Make Me Think by Krug. For usability issues, it's great and still current, and specifically about web pages. The irony is, it's almost impossible to really make it work across the board for an application like the one we are building, which has a really high learning curve and such a specific alpha user base. Objective: teach marketing professionals how to break into the search ad world. Jakob Nielson still gets some play, but is outdated and more or less out of touch. There are also a number of blogs that get some play. Blogs are really valuable and getting more so all the time, beyond books I think.

Agreed on the last point (with obvious exceptions like http://sitcogblog.blogspot.com, I mean really, who is writing this crap?). Joking aside I always get interested in what practitioners do. After all if they get paid to do it, it must be worth something right?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Come big or stay at home?

One of my favorite expressions that seems to sum up a Washington Post Story from 12 former Army captains

There is one way we might be able to succeed in Iraq. To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.

As a side note, this apparently didn't make the op-ed print section, and is only available online. You wouldn't be alone in asking why they ran an op-ed piece on a movie producer but didn't run this one. But you'd still be shy an answer.

So this is a nice bi-partisan slap really (which is always something I prefer), the open hand is delivered to "stay the course" advocates whose one variation is a troop surge (which the captains specifically refer to as a method of getting insurgents to relocate as opposed to just plain getting them, and pissing off local populations in the process), and the back-hand is delivered to the steady withdrawal folks. Thus the come big or stay at home comment--start a conscripted military or send them back home as quickly as possible.

I honestly don't know what to think either way, but I do know that if you're one who claims to listen to commanders on the ground, here's 12 of them talking.

I do know one thing. I remember on 9/11 Tom Nickel (one of our best and brightest doctoral graduates) came into our office and was talking about our history with Osama Bin-Laden, that we trained him and armed him as a fighter in the Afghanistan war against the former Soviet Union. This was all news to me at the time. The reason I bring this up is that this is one of our current strategies in Iraq. Frustrated by the gloves we put on in not wanting to use overwhelming brutal force (acting as insurgents to fight insurgents) we're choosing to wage war by proxy, arming Sunni militias to oust Al-Qaeda operatives. We train them, we arm them and then (at some point) we have to leave. A former ruling minority surrounded by their former oppressed majority. Looking in my crystal ball, I gotta say this can't be a good thing for us.

Monday, October 15, 2007

School Vouchers, Oreos, and Cheesecake

So I can't help but weigh in on this issue, with the vote coming in a few weeks' time. For those of you outside the state of Utah, we're considering a measure to put between $500-$3,000 dollars (per student) into the hands of families who send their children to private schools. The summary bullet points for the pro-voucher folks are some pretty good sound bites. According to the folks at UtahVouchers.com, this is about:

Your Money
Your Child
Your Choice

One of my favorite ads for the voucher program is a couple explaining it with an Oreo analogy. Each child in a class of thirty has an Oreo for every thousand dollars spent on them (7,000 per child), one goes to a private school, taking the maximum 3,000 and the remaining amount stays in the school. The argument is a smaller class size, with more money for the public school--plus the one child gets an opportunity for private school they might not otherwise have.

Here's my problem with it (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). First, the $4k stays in the school district for only 5 years. I'm not clear on where it goes after that, but it goes--presumably to the private schools where it is being spent, more likely back into the general fund that is supporting the voucher program (more on that in a bit). The idea is that natural enrollment increases will replace those dollars--which sounds great as long as our per pupil funding stays the same, and gets adjusted for inflation (note this would just be to support the status quo, we'll talk opportunity costs in a bit too).

So during that first 5 years, where is the money coming from? The state general fund, not the uniform school fund (as UtahVouchers.com is quick to point out). A seemingly fabulous idea, but here's the opportunity cost. What if you took the 9.2 million dollars for vouchers and put it into the poorest of our school districts? Increasing teacher pay/professional development/mentoring/retention, reducing class sizes, increasing access to technology, providing more vocational classes and programs? Yes it's a drop in the bucket in terms of the 3.5 billion dollar uniform school fund, but here's the thing. It isn't one bucket. It's several different buckets and you're dropping it in the one that's already full. What's more, you're doing it with everyone's tax dollars.

Briefly let's talk about another fact that UtahVouchers.com openly discloses:

. . . the state's cost of every child in private school is supplemented by money paid by their parents, since the voucher normally does not cover the entire cost of tuition

This makes a tremendous amount of sense, private schools can get expensive. In fact, according to ChoiceInEducation.org, the median tuition rate is $3,800 per year. Let's crunch some numbers. Someone in the middle of the low income 2 person household (say a single mom) making $12,210/year qualifies for the full $3,000. She has to make up the $800 difference--which is about 6.5% of her annual income spent towards education. A single mom in the middle of the 2nd highest bracket earns $57,989/year and qualifies for only a $1,000 voucher. She makes up the $2,800 which amounts to 4.8% of her annual income. So it looks like we're helping the low income families, and that's certainly the way school choice is being pitched, but in reality we're helping people who don't need that much help at all. All of this assumes, of course than an equal range of income families participate and that the only costs of private school are tuition. Every additional dollar spent on things like transportation, school uniforms, etc . . . can be subsumed by the wealthier family a lot more easily. My bet, is that this will consist of a series of $500 tax breaks for the wealthiest families who already send their kids to private schools.

The honest sound bite for vouchers is

Your Money (I've got plenty of my own)
My Child
My Choice

We may not be taking Oreos away from public education, but we are adding Oreos to the education pie, just concentrating them into a tiny little slice that goes to the guy who already ate all the cheesecake, and the bon-bons, and a whole box of dove ice cream bars.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The power of large numbers

I just got the following message that gmail somehow failed to flag as spam (I can't possibly be reading my messages faster than other folks--so what gives? I've grown accustomed to certain advantages in not keeping up to the minute with my email).
Dear Friend,
I am Mr.Chi-Lin Huang I work with Bank Sino Pac, formerly known
asInternational Bank of Taipei as Executive Vice President & Deputy Head
of Division,Wealth ManagementI have a deceased client funds in my bank of
$17.3M USD and I need you to front as beneficiary,your benefit is 50% of
the total funds.Ifinterested
contact me with your Name,Address and Phone number,for more information on
Huang Chi-Lin
As much as I hate to decline potentially lucrative business deals (and of course my whole life I've being dying to front as a beneficiary) I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm not going to fall into 8.74 million dollars by contacting Huang Chi-Lin. And my guess is that millions of the recipients of this message feel the same way. So why go phishing with such lousy bait? Because even if you only git one nibble in a million, you've come out ahead. You've literally made almost no investment to get started.

What do we have in education that compares to this--a relatively low investment (near negligible) with the potential for high payoff? I got thinking about this after a DRK-12 conference in which there was much discussion of the "next generation" of educational problems. Several of these discussion points were closely related to web 2.0 kinds of issues (flickr was explicitly invoked for example) along with (as you'd expect MMORPGs/environments like 2nd life). While there might be tremendous benefit to seeing someone put together a learning environment in 2nd life and then share it with the world it is not what I would characterize as "almost zero investment" quite the contrary, open education is all about investment--and in some sense the ROI isn't all that grand. To date, the biggest re-use I've seen of my (admittedly quite small) contribution to the community has come from/to myself. Students going through the new CS3 version of the flash class can choose to use the Flash 8 materials if they have an old version of the software--and pull them down from OCW.

I'll grant that this has been tremendously useful. But--this still involved a fair amount of effort to put up (although I'll admit I didn't do much of the heavy lifting). So if open courseware and open education aren't the exciting investment opportunity of the educational domain what is? What comes at a minimal cost with the long odds of a high payoff? I see it in bad ways of course, my kids negotiate everything and I mean everything. Talk literally is cheap, so they've learned to speak up and see what happens--because they know it's a non-zero chance that we'll cave or change our minds. Sounds a lot like some of the behaviorist "pigeon pecking" experiments.

But can't this be a force for good? How about open content spam? You email a Shakespearean sonnet to the in boxes of teeming millions with the hope that a handful will actually read it. You add commentary/critique/discussion opportunities with the hope that 10% of them will continue on after just reading the sonnet.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Everything new is old . . . again

So what is a next generation console game? According to this BBC article, and the fine folk helming Halo 3, it's this:
We're expanding our ability to empower our fans to really take the game and make it their own.

Halo 3 will include tools to let gamers edit their own game movies and share them among friends, swap photographs from games, as well as re-build many of the maps the makers have provided, through a feature called Forge.
This sounds really cool, really innovative. Ground-breaking. Sort of a Web 2.0 vision of console gaming, that nobody has ever even conceptualized before, much less put on store shelves . . . Oh wait tic, maybe this has been done before. In fact, this is really just about game mod tools--which have been around at least since 1991 - with the Bard's Tale Construction Set. I personally didn't use the BCS, but I did play the Bard's Tale series a *cough* few times. And if I hop in my way back machine I can remember the Adventure Construction Set, also on my C-64 but back in 1985. I had this really cool Star Trek adventure where you had to repel a bunch of Klingon boarders and then storm their ship. But I digress. Granted, this is a bit different since it's difficult to build much of a developer community when the majority of people transfered files on a 5 1/4" diskette. But here's the thing:


Not that that's a bad thing--the market clearly is ready to support it, and would like to see it again.

Here's my takeaway on a professional level. Chances are excellent that whatever you're working on, it's been done before too. PBL for instance. You could say that it started with Howard Barrows in the late 60s and you'd be right, but whether or not he created it with a blind eye to educational theory it has clear conceptual ties to Dewey and the broader educational reform movement, and that's just taking one step back in time.

We are really good at putting our conceptual blinders on and forging ahead, perhaps covering territory that's already been done--which isn't a bad thing in and of itself, I'm a big fan of replication research, but when you replicate inadvertently, that's a very bad thing. In general, you want to tweak the design a bit--explore an outcome that the initial study didn't, or modify the intervention slightly. And the best way to move forward is to read what's already been done to help inform your replication work. Lit review, lit review, lit review. Probably the most glossed-over practicum experience in any doctoral program--which is bad since doc students produce such a huge amount of the primary research.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Annunciation is key

So, Deonne, Sarah, and I were at a PI conference in D.C. early this week up until the morning of 9/11. For the most part I didn't think about it too much. We did get a chance to walk the mall on 9/11 before our flight and decided to tour the capital building (where the senate meets). For those of you who haven't been, I highly recommend it, especially if you have someone with you who has been there before. All of the museums were free, as was the tour of the capital building, and there are some dang cool museums too (we went briefly into the holocaust museum, but only had about 45 minutes before we had to hop on the Metro). The Metro is very easy to work with (although I still managed to almost get on the wrong train just about every time--a special thanks to Deonne and Sarah for not letting me head out to the burbs. Oh, and the announcements left a lot to be desired, a bit like the speaker at the drive through).

Anyway, back to the capital building, they gave us what my colleague Kathryn DiPietro (who spent several years in Tennessee) would call a "come to Jesus" talk about the security measures. This involved saying in a loud and clear voice that we were not to leave any belongings in the capital building for any reason, and that we could not bring anything we could eat or drink into the building. This was backed up with very capable steely-eyed flat bellied professionals wearing sunglasses despite the clouds and rain, carrying rifles that (as Danny Vermin might say) could shoot through schools. So I'm a little nervous about the details, and even though Deonne was assured that gum was okay, I decided to confirm with one of said steely-eyed flat bellied professionals and asked "but gum's okay right?" at the second (of three!) checkpoints. Turns out that it's extremely important to emphasize the "m" in gum. Because it sounds a lot like "n" and I got a look (this one was not wearing sunglasses) that made me want to rethink my life.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Something is seriously wrong here

I had no clue about this but according to this article we've got PZEV (partially zero emission vehicles) being sold in 8 states that are illegal to sell in the remaining 42. Now, this isn't necessarily about improved gas mileage, but it is about clean air. As an example of just how clean the air can be:
As the California Air Resources Board has noted, the tailpipe emissions of these cars can be cleaner than the outside air in smoggy cities.
Which may not seem like a big thing here in cache valley, except when you think about our inversion, which can spike us to the top of the list for poor air quality. The cost looks to be about $400 for these cars, which IMO doesn't necessarily price people out of buying a new car, and that's assuming all those costs are passed on to the consumer. Honda, is partially eating these costs on the Accord, and I'm sure there's an economies of scale issue here--if they weren't building two of the same vehicle, and were building more PZEVs that cost should come down. So why I ask you, can't we legalize these vehicles in all 50 states? Better yet, why can't we mandate them? We have the worst vehicle emissions standards in the developed world. Bar none. There are big clean air offenders like China who have cleaner vehicle emissions standards than us, and I don't think we're doing our auto manufacturers any favors by keeping our standards low because their vehicles are often illegal to operate in other countries.

I'm so grateful that the clean air act is protecting us from the sub-humans who would actually attempt to buy a PZEV for use in a state that doesn't have these standards. I would shudder to think that anyone is actually trying to curb pollution.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Linux Home Web Browser

Ok, so there's apparently a big reason why my father-in-law was about ready to throw out this machine. I've succeeded in getting kubuntu 7.04 installed on this lovely work of art but I think I'm going to stop there. Attempts to do anything creative with the video card have not been successful and frankly it's a bit of a miracle I managed to boot off the CD-ROM drive at all. (it essentially ate my first copy of the install disk by marking it up a ton--almost as if a hamster were inside the machine trying to scratch a line on it as it rotated). So kubuntu linux is running great but that's as far as I'm going for now. My father-in-law did ask me to spec out a box to do something more interesting, so I'll keep you posted if anything comes of that.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Linux Home Media Center

I was at my in-laws this past weekend and my father-in-law was all set to discard a 1.6 Mhz 512 RAM Dell Optiplex machine (it even has a firewire card he added on). Putting aside for one moment that these specs are almost on par with my work laptop--and realizing that in retrospect I should have just calmly packed it into the van and said goodbye, I decided to follow up on an ambition I've had for the last couple of years--a home media center that uses Linux. Unfortunately, if it works I'll be giving it back to him because I opened my pie whole a bit too early. Not to mention something like this at our house, with our "TV" and our "stereo" would be a bit like putting a fresh coat of paint on a pig.

So far I'm just at the stage where I'm reading, and Jen is giving me weird looks about the conspicuous box parked in our living room, but I'm starting to get optimistic (when I see videos about people popping in a DVD and having it automagically work right out of the box) and at the same time a bit nervous overall (when I read about a 30 minute project turning into an hours long nightmare). But hey--the hardware (so far) is free right? I'll keep you all posted on just how well this works out.

Right now, the plan is pretty simple (which should help):
  • No TV in (they get HD and I don't think this machine could take that kind of heat).
  • Simple DVD playback
  • .mp3 playback
  • web browsing
  • arcade emulation (when is the last time you played a nice game of space invaders--or the game that could have funded my first year of college: cyberball). This, incidently is the other reason why we can't have something like this in our house.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Large Scale Wireless

So, I pulled this from search engine watch. Apparently Google is part of a coalition of companies petitioning the FCC for some of the airspace that will be vacated by broadcast television when the move to digital TV takes place in a couple of years.

Personally, I like this idea. I currently have one viable option for high-speed: cable through Comcast, and I'll just say that as an ISP they leave a whole lot to be desired. We generally have a couple of down times a month.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Look whose making edits now

This BBC story discusses a tool called Wikipedia Scanner, which harvests some of the traffic on the site and sources edits by their IP address. Of course, there are ways around leaving these kinds of tracks (e.g. spoofing) but I'm willing to be there's a fair amount of accurate data out there.

So my favorite highlight was that an entry on Rush Limbaugh's audience reads
Most of them are legally retarted

I think this story is interesting on a couple of levels. For one, it's probable that CIA employees, someone in the Vatican, and folks in the private sector have edited Wikipedia entries that do things like impact their public image or relate to their work (with notable exceptions like CIA-sourced edits on Oprah Winfrey, unless . . . . nah couldn't be). So if there were any doubts before about the quality, importance, and relevance of Wikipedia then they've got to be diminishing by now.

The other thing that's interesting is peer review for topics that are steeped in controversy. Who do you pick to manage the page on Rush Limbaugh for instance? Clearly I would be a poor choice, as I do tune into the show sometimes (in spite of my mediocre mental faculties) for the comedic value--but I don't tend to laugh with Rush, more at him. At the same time I can think of several friends who would be an equally poor choice for the opposite reason, they love the show and nod right along with him when he talks about the environment being "just a political issue". And let me tell you he's spot on because Ralph Nader has ridden that horse all the way to the White House.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Can't we all just get along?

There was a recent editorial in the local paper on biking. I'll quote it below because I'm not sure just how long the link will persist:

Back in the ’50s and ’60s when I was growing up in Logan, we respected the traffic laws and vehicles on the roadways when we rode our bicycles. We also had to buy a license plate for our bikes every year which cost us $.50. If you didn’t have one you were ticketed. Now when I ride around the valley, there is no respect. Total disregard for the vehicles and above all the stop signs and traffic lights.

It’s time our legislators start making these people pay tax and license these two wheelers. The police should start writing tickets for stop sign and red light runners.

We pay our road tax on everything we own. It’s past time for them.

Jerry Jensen


I like the idea of a license as long as the fee is commensurate with the provided services. We have no bike lanes, and the amount of wear we put on the road is negligible. So I don't think the licensing fee should amount to much, and I'll gladly pay it. As for ticketing I completely agree. If cyclists break the rules of the road, they should be fined like anyone else. I do think (and see) lots of contradictions to the idea that there is no respect for motorists. Cyclists have a tremendous amount of respect for motorists--by necessity as you tend to outweigh us by orders of magnitude. I put my life in drivers' hands every time I ride, and for the most part that trust is very well placed.

The times I've seen motorists do stupid things (two have pulled out right in front of me, and one cut me off to make a turn, forcing me to slam on my brakes or get side-swiped) in the past year are a drop in the bucket compared to the number of cars that have passed me, or even motorists going out of their way to make sure things are safe for everyone.

You should try it out, this is a great place to bike. For the most part people are very friendly, it's good for you, it's good for the valley, and it saves a ton of money.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Google Scholar has made life even easier

I just got clued into this from one of our doctoral students (Curtis Castillow). Apparently you can set up Google Scholar so that it can directly export to your bibliography manager of choice. Well, there's 5 choices at least but it covers my manager of choice--End Note. You can set this up under the preferences section. I always thought it was cool they recognize your institution and provided links to local holdings, but this is a nice additional step. Of course it's probably been around a long time and I'm just now getting around to figuring it out . . .

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What the heck?

So I've got an article in the final stages of publication and had an interesting email this morning. This particular journal was recently bought out by a major publisher and had it's price jacked up an unbelievable amount. I recall a debate a few years back between David Wiley and a publisher about the journal racquet. This is from memory but I think his big claim was that we provide the actual content (authorship), the peer review, and the editing at no cost to most journals. Which is quite true. The rebuttal was that the journal provides copy-editing.

Now back to my email. I get a URL to print-ready .pdfs and a request to . . . (wait for it) . . . copy-edit. No joke. Within two days. I gotta say that it's fabulous to do all the work and then get the privilege of buying back the work that I and my co-authors did.

So exactly what are we paying for now? Server space? I can't imagine how we got to this point--and the best part is that the prices keep going up! Libraries consistently have to reduce their subscriptions because journals are literally pricing themselves out of a job. I think the average is something like over 10% a year (the particular journal I'm talking about far exceeded the 10% average).

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hacking is about to get really fun

Remember back in the day, where all the action for hackers was in the computer (the movie Tron comes to mind). Now, with more and more fully networked devices--it seems like hacking could take on a surprisingly tangible quality. Getting hit by MyDoom was a serious bummer, particularly the version that blocked anti-virus sites but hey--it's you're computer right? Somebody gets a backdoor to it, it starts participating in a Denial of Service attack, your friendly neighborhood IT department blocks your network port, you have some downtime and you move on. You're partly to blame for not keeping up to date with security patches, virus updates, and by opening an attachment, but hey--no big deal.

Now though, we've got some real potential for fun. We're getting ready to wire our cars and put them out on the grid. I'm envisioning a future world in which kids walk around with a 5.9Ghz device that can at the click of a button inform every car within 1 km that it's about to have a wreck and it needs to slam on it's breaks. Better yet--not all of those cars will either be enabled or set to respond to a pending wreck--so figure that 40% of the cars slam on their breaks and the other 60% rely on their human operators to figure out what's going on (maybe they'll get an audio warning like "you're about to crash, Dave").

And it's not just cars--how would you like to have some kid convince your fridge that it's out of milk for 30 days in a row--the same fridge that's set to automatically order milk when you run out? Or turn on your stereo full volume at 3am? Life could get really interesting soon . . .

Friday, May 25, 2007

An Open Letter to Wilton Sekzer

I just finished watching Why We Fight and was touched by the story threaded throughout the documentary of a retired NYC police officer named Wilton Sekzer. (Spoiler warning--this reallly is a great movie to watch, and if you're interested you might want to do so before reading). To catch up those who haven't seen the film, he lost his son in the 9/11 attacks and after hearing that Saddam Hussein was connected to them asked to have his son's name placed on some sort of a munition used in the Iraq war. Hopefully you'll glean the rest (especially the important parts) from my letter.
Dear Mr. Sekzer--

I'm so sorry for the loss of your son. I can't imagine what that's like. I've lost family members but never to a violent attack, and never my own children. Parents aren't supposed to outlive their kids. I remember having the same response as you when I saw the news coverage--wondering why they kept showing the buildings falling down over and over again and wishing that they'd just stop out of respect for the dead, the dying, and for thier families and loved ones.

I think I can understand your desire to have some sort of revenge--in part because I don't think it was purely a desire for revenge. It was a desire to make some sort of a tribute to him and to his loss. At the time you asked for his name to be placed on a weapon you thought it was a meaningful tribute, that it was a way for him to strike back at his attackers.

When the Iraq war first started I took the administration at face value too. I knew there wasn't a connection with Al-Queda they hate each other. But I beleived them when they said Saddam Hussein was a threat to us, and that he had weapons of mass destruction. I believed (and still believe) he was a tyrrant to his own people, and beleived Cheaney when he said the Iraqi people would welcome us with open arms.

You didn't make a bad call. Like you say in the movie, you acted on what you were told. I think the thing that chills me to the core is part of the email chain you read during the movie. It came from someone at a Marine Air Division in response to your request and read "Can Do, Semper Fi." My brother has been in the Corps for 20 years now, and served in Desert Storm and the Iraq War (several times). He is always faithful, the marine from your email is always faithful and so are all the men and women in our armed forces (even if they don't use the same motto). They have to be. Our democracy has to stop at the recruiting station or else the military will never be able to act. They have to follow orders that from their perspective appear to be legal or else the whole thing will collapse. If those stealth bomber pilots who dropped the opening salvo questioned every target, or even a single target then they wouldn't be able to function. The problem can come with who they have to be faithful to.

Your choice doesn't tarnish the name of your son, or reflect badly on you. I respect that you're a man of action--that when the news coverage was so devastating to you, that you called up the network and asked them to stop showing the buildings collapsing. I respect that you wanted to memorialize your son. Our military men and women aren't tarnished either. They made commitments and they're honoring those commitments. What is tarnished is our president and his administration.

Thank you for talking so openly about something so hard, for sharing your loss with us, and for your justifiable outrage.


Some highlights from the film:
  • A 2,000 pound smart bomb with "In loving memory of Jason Sekzer" written on it was dropped on April 1, just a couple of weeks into the War.
  • Of the 50 smart bombs dropped in the opening weeks of the war, all in an effort to hit leadership targets--none of them achieved their goals.
  • Civilian causualities during the opening weeks were about 90%. The smart bombs are not so smart.
The film discusses Iraq only as a talking point, it's actually about things that are far more disturbing than that--the relationship between military contractors and our government and this crosses political lines. The fact that our current president is a Republican is completely arbitrary. Democrats are just as invested in the war machine.

Friday, May 18, 2007

I prefer apples from the tree, thanks

I'll admit to being a wuss this Winter. I maybe averaged one day a week riding my bike into work. Now that I have fenders, maybe I'll take it up a notch during the next cold season. I have noticed, now that it's good Summer weather in the Springtime the return of one of my least favorite things: Horse apples. Now I am an animal lover (as in I love to eat them). And I understand that they need space to do their thing so that we can exploit them in various ways. I don't mind riding by cow pastures, or the sheep at the ag research station--a small price to pay. A pitance in fact, for things like mutton. But for a guy that never rides on horse trails. In fact, I pretty much only ride on the road, I see an amazing amount of horse excrement.

Now I've always been of the philosophy that we should share the road. So saddle up I say--but how about bringing a shovel along? Sure it's less toxic than dog poop, sure it's bio-degradable. But it sits there for months.

Perhaps I'll have to start a poop rellocation program of my own . . .

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Publication lag

Just got finished coding a study for our meta-analysis. I found two sources from the same authors, one in 1993 (a conference paper) and one from 2000 (a journal article). Turns out they're the exact same paper. So it took them 7 years to publish it. Having gone through the process myself I can believe it in theory, I once had a journal keep a manuscript for over a year--but 7 years from conference proceeding to journal article? Wow. Now, some of the lag has to be due to the authors (perhaps waiting to submit, revisions, etc . . . although the final article looks amazingly identical to the initial conference proceedings). But some blame has got to rest with the existing peer review/publication process as well. I have a hard time believing that the authors sat on this for 7 years.

A couple years back I took a subset of this data (preliminary results of the meta-analysis) and looked at lag between time of data collection and time of publication. The average was 4 years across 57 outcomes (not sure about the number of studies but something < 27). A different benchmark, because this includes time to prepare the manuscript whereas the authors in the study above already had a finished manuscript. And again, part of the time is the authors preparing the manuscript after collecting the data. But all of that said, this still seems to point to journals holding on to manuscripts for a long time. In our field, anything longer than a year from submission to print is probably too long and I'm willing to bet the average is actually longer than that.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

That's Not Extremism and I *Sniff* Mean It!

Brett Shelton just sent me a link to this article in the Herald Journal. I should preface this by saying that I'm a card carrying Democrat (although I'm thinking of abolishing that practice--not because I prefer the Republicans, I still consider myself a liberal, but I'm starting to think that both parties are more than a little ridiculous.

All of that said, I'm having a hard time believing that this article was representative of the convention. How could any group of individuals honestly be this stupid even some of the time--knowing that they are in the public eye? A couple of choice quotes:

Illegal aliens are in control of the media, and working in tandem with Democrats, are trying to "destroy Christian America" and replace it with "a godless new world order -- and that is not extremism, that is fact," Larsen said

If you have to say that it's not extremism . . . then it's probably extremism.

At the end of his speech, Larsen began to cry, saying illegal immigrants were trying to bring about the destruction of the U.S. "by self invasion."

There's got to be a better way to say that.

Republican officials then allowed speakers to defend and refute the resolution. One speaker, who was identified as "Joe," said illegal immigrants were Marxist and under the influence of the devil.

You know that makes sense, I always wondered why they called Utah a red state. Thanks "Joe"! Perhaps instead of asking for green cards we should start looking for bifurcated tails.

Senator Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, spoke against the resolution, saying Larsen, whom he called a "true patriot and a close friend," was embarrassing the Republican Party.

igns of intelligence (except perhaps the bit about him being a close friend). Although I do admire somebody who doesn't deny a standing friendship despite such an obvious need to distance yourself from the person.

Greene said she was disappointed in BYU professors who protested Dick Cheney's visit to campus, calling them "self-appointed intellectuals."

Ok, I'll admit that I'm not one to uphold the sanctity of the ivory tower. I agree wholeheartedly that intellectual pursuit happens outside the academy and that it should continue to be that way. That said--college professors are, by definition intellectuals. It's like trying to insult chicken by calling it "self-appointed poultry."

All of the speakers praised those gathered. Lt. Governor Gary Herbert said Utah County Republicans are "guided by correct principles"

This just isn't funny to me at all. It's an overt appeal to LDS church members (of which I am one) and is a specific reference to a message that we hear over the pulpit every election year. In part, that message states that we should pick candidates not based on their political party but pick those who, in our opinion, are guided by correct principles.

If the following is a Republican rebuttal to accusations of ethics violations, then they really have no leg to stand on:

. . . Cannon said Democrats have just as many corrupt party members as the Republicans but the media does not report Democratic ethics violations.

Here is my cut at an abstract of the article: Republicans have just as many members as Democrats who stray from correct principles, but hey--we're not Marxists, and we're not influenced by Satan--that embezzlement thing was the natural man all the way baby. Plus also *crying* we're not extremists.

Which truthfully (and thankfully) isn't the whole picture. At least according to this article Republican officials were denouncing Larsen's proposed resolution before it was even discussed at the convention. It's good to know they're not that moronic as a whole. I still wonder why they'd give him such free reign--he may be free to talk but can't you put a lid on something that has no shot at passing and is a sure bet to make you look incredibly stupid?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Reading Dissertations

I've been reading a lot of dissertations lately as part of the PBL meta-analysis that I'm working on. I have slightly mixed feelings about them so far--in some cases they are amazing sources for additional literature (in fact the bulk of my time is spent chasing some of these references, and the nice thing about reading the dissertations is they usually give you a lot more information about what they're citing than a journal article--e.g. I generally have a good idea about whether or not the article will be codeable for our purposes). Some of them are downright horrible, I'm amazed at how little information can be packed into 180 pages. Some are really quite strong and some (this is my epiphany for the day) are quite reflective about the makeup of the dissertation committee behind them.

I for instance recently read one such dissertation (on PBL) that contained an extensive review of behaviorism. I don't want to start an epistemological argument or anything, but my general view (shared by several others) is that PBL is quite pragmatic. I know others feel that it's very post-positivist or constructivist and I can certainly see the merits of this opinion. I've even seen efforts to tie PBL in with cognitive information processing, and yes there's some good connections to be made there, but I have yet to see (with the exception of this dissertation) a tie to behaviorism. Ok ok, I know I'm traversing categories of educational philosophy as well as learning theories, but at the end of the day I haven't seen a whole lot of people making ties between behaviorism and PBL. The dissertation in question wasn't using behaviorism as the only tie-in, in fact constructivism was given a great deal of prominence as well. What the lit review read like was one or more committee members with strong epistemological beliefs insisting that both "views" be represented. If that was indeed the case then yikes.

It's also got me thinking a lot more about how much a dissertation reflects the committee that participated in the effort, and the department/program the dissertation came out of. It seems like that would be a good set of glasses for all of us to put on as a dissertation reaches the closing stages. And of course it gets me thinking about whether or not I've made unreasonable requests as a committee member . . . I don't think I have but I've got a sneaking suspicion that I'm probably the worst person to make that call.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Flash class finally up on OCW

Thanks to my teaching assistant Garth Mikesell, my Flash Course is finally up on USU's Open Courseware archive. Among other things, the last snag was editing out a segment that used a copyrighted comic from the New Yorker in the introductory video. So thanks to Garth, and to Marion and his team for all of their work on this (the biggest holdup by far in this project was me). Of course the downside is that this will be obsolete in a few weeks with the pending release of the Adobe CS3 bundle. Man, guess I'll be spending this summer doing some more screencasting.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Hat Trick

So I've been playing ice hockey now for about seven months at the local ice center. A loooooong time ago I played street hockey and roller-hockey, then last summer I took a few lessons, played a few pick-up games and then started my first season in a pretty low-key adult (non-checking) league. We just finished up our last game of my second season and I got a hat trick! Even better, 2 of the 3 goals were what I would describe as real goals (mostly I get garbage goals, putting in a rebound while the goallie is on his/her back), all three were off of actual passes--and man all three were good passes, right on my stick and right in front of the net.

I also almost got my first penalty, and did witness my first gloves-off fight (which is an automatic ejection and suspension for the next game, no questions asked). This is by far the most fun that I've had playing a sport of any kind. Even the games where I barely touch the puck are fun. The really good thing about the league is that even though there is a huge range in abilities, most of the good people are pretty nice about getting newbies like me involved in the plays and lettings us know where we should be and what we should be doing.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Development Arrested

So this last week I finished the Arrested Development TV series. It originally aired on Fox, I don't think I caught a single episode while it was actually on--man they needed marketing bad. Below is my review for Netflix (of which I think I've written about two total):
If you consistently find that comedies you love get cancelled then this show is for you. Critical acclaim, amazing acting and some of the best writing that I've ever seen on network television. The biggest vote of confidence I can pass on is this: One of my friends refuses to watch the third season because she doesn't want to admit the show is done. Some recommendations: Watch these in sequence--you can't miss out on anything as the show will draw on material from several episodes back. Also, don't skip the "next time on Arrested development" shots--these are not actually reproduced in the next episode and they're just dang funny (like everything else).
Note the show is available for "free" through MSN although it comes with commercials and an annoying habit of drop-frames, IMO it's worth the hit to your rental queue to watch this off the DVDs. I've never owned a TV series on DVD but I just might consider getting this one. One more warning, the show is more than a little racy in parts. No nudity, but lots of sexual humor.

I simply can't believe this show is over. Well, maybe I can a little. The show goes to great pains to poke fun at existing television (for example the lead character Michael Bluth had a visibly adverse reaction to people calling Orange County the "OC" and would immediately say "don't call it that"), but the trick is you have to have heard of the OC to know they were making fun of it--I barely made the connection. So you pretty much have to be familiar with shows that suck in order to appreciate a show that makes fun of them--no wonder only the critics loved it. It's a release for years of pent-up frustration. Oh well, I still think it has legs for the rest of us.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Cell Phones, American Idol, and other Impairments

I almost got hit this morning by some clown on a cell phone who gave serious thought (about four feet of foward motion woth of serious thought) to pulling out in front of me while I was riding my bike. Which got me thinking about just how much cell phones impair our driving and it turns out it a fair amount:
Drivers using cellular phones are four times as likely to get into a crash that can cause injuries serious enough to send them to the hospital.
Yikes, or in this case send me to the hospital. Now I don't own a cell phone, and if I do (not sure how long I can hold out--I'm starting to get weird looks) I'll have to resist the temptation to use it in the car because I can barely drive as it is. But, I think I do have plenty of impairments in my life anyway. For instance, I've started watching American Idol while working at night. In addition to having to resist the temptation to write "I'm sorry, it's a no" on the papers I'm grading, I'm wondering just what the heck I'm wasting my time on this for anyway. Although the chances of me getting into a crash while on my couch are pretty close to zero I'm convinced that they're four times more likely when I'm watching American Idol.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Free Science at Utah State?

We currently have a very active student organization in our department--and oh what a difference it makes. In our two candidate searches they've been invaluable in coordinating (and conducting) student meetings with the prospective faculty, they're engaged in outreach, they're pushing us to think about curriculum issues and it's just generally good all around--and that's just from a faculty perspective I think the bulk of their contribution has been between and among students. One of their projects is starting an online journal--which I think is an admirable thing to take on but I wonder if an expansion of the free science movement into instructional technology/educational technology/learning sciences might be a better usage of time.

I'll express my own ignorance here--perhaps it's already being done elsewhere. I guess there is something related with the IT Forum in that papers are discussed, but I'm talking about a widespread pre-print and (where it doesn't violate the publication guideliness of journals) in-print archive of manuscripts. We've tried to start an online journal in the past and the biggest problem was getting quality submissions. Heck after reading some of the articles in established print-based journals I think they have the same problem . . . This would be a step in the right direction that doesn't come with all the overhead of starting a journal. If enough interest is started with the manuscript archive, then a journal could be started from there.

I do think our librarians are already thinking along these lines--at least with the manuscript archive (and maybe have an archive up already), would be great to partner with them in some way. If USU is known so well for open education, it seems like a natural step to start building a reputation for open research.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Back into development

Even though I only put in about 10 hours or so on this .php project (see below) I'd forgotten how much I like doing development work. Of course, maybe I liked it so much because it was only 10 hours or so. I'll admit to a few moments of frustration when I tried to roll out a new class that supports MySQL for my database abstraction scheme.

It's decidely odd to be on grants now where most of the heavy lifting on development is done by other folks. I can barely keep up with the conversations now, and in the case of the COSL work they're using languages that I'd never heard of back when I got started.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

ES Free is up

The important part: I've just posted a website that let's you calculate effect sizes (called ES Free and available here). Now for the mundane stuff. This is a project that I've been working on for quite some time, but just recently migrated it to a linux server using mysql & php (previously it was just a resource I intended to use for myself and was running on windows xp, apache, php, and used MS access as the database, about two MS products too many for my taste. The big push for the migration was actually some hideous error in which .php was partially parsing scripts and then decided to give up about halfway through. The intention of the tool is to assist in computing and storing effect sizes for meta-analysis (so it's organized around studies and outcomes for studies). Right now I don't have a whole lot of ambitions for improvement--other than adding computations as I need them as part of my own work. If anyone wants to run with it then I'm happy to release the source code. If you run into any bugs let me know. I did (partly for my own sanity) add a help feature that explains the computations and when they are appropriate to use.