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Comment Re:Codeword (Score 1) 479

You are right, codewords wouldn't work, but how about a skill testing multiple-choice question(s). If you get enough right, you can get escalated. I once spent 3 hours on the phone with a VOIP provider with a simple database problem at their end that they kept trying to say was my phone. They said that it was against company policy to let customers talk with engineers. I have since moved all of the phones that I control to another provider. In the end, if I had had 30 seconds with somebody not working off of a script, I would have stayed with them.

Comment Paper works (Score 1) 446

Seriously, paper is the most permanent thing that we know of. I did some consulting work with a long-term data storage company several years ago, and we found that no current data format is really stable for more than 5-10 years. Well, the one way that actually works is to make a metal CD master of your data, press a test CD, test it for data integrity, and then store the master. Metal stored correctly lasts indefinitely, and you can make a copy any time that you need it. Kind of expensive, though.
Having said that, the best advice is to print our you most important documents with on good quality acid-free paper with a good laser printer, and all of your picture with a good quality photo process printer. Then save those documents in your sealed fireproof safe. Truth is that most people don't really have that much truly archive quality data. Pick your couple of hundred pages of financial documents and personal/family stories, and your couple of hundred best pictures. That much is easy to store, and we have good readable paper documents from many of hundreds of years ago.

Comment Re:The old college system is not cut out for today (Score 2) 372

I agree. I am a chemistry professor, and have taught both large and small classes, and with and without technology in the classroom. The biggest advantage of technology comes either where face-to-face contact is difficult, or when you need things to scale to large sizes. While the 50 minute lecture is a bit useless (though not much more useless than a 50-minute youtube clip, or a 50-minute animated clip) what really matters in the learning environment is small group student-student and student-teacher interaction. This could in theory be done through chat/web forum/e-mail or whatever, but that is so much less efficient that sitting in a room talking. Where there are students that cannot be physically present, these technologies work. Alternately, if we want to start scaling things up to 1000s of students per class then it could start making sense.

An interesting example of the (mis)use of technology. I teach a freshman chemistry class with 250 students. We use a multiple-choice test for mid-term assessment, and then do post-exam reviews to help the students. When I first taught the class, I was talking with a colleague about the reviews, and he explained that he would make a DVD using Keynote for visuals. When I asked him how much time he took, he told me that it takes 5-6 hours to make the keynote presentation, record the audio, cut it all together in imovie, and then make the DVD. I quickly realized that if I did 3 50-minute live reviews, it would take me 2 hours less, and would therefore be more efficient, and it would give me the chance to answer questions and get feedback. It seems like the technological solution is better, but is more work for me, not less, and there is no obvious benefit to the students.

Comment Re:Oh, please.. (Score 1) 282

You must be young, because that isn't how it happened at all. In the 80's, when Microsoft became big, the business world was dominated by IBM, Wang, Borroughs and big players like that. Corporate computing was a big mainframe, with terminals installed and controlled by the IT professionals. People had personal computers at home, and some of them realized that they could use a computer like the one at home to solve problems at work. So non-IT professionals started setting up their own spreadsheet/database things independent of IT, and that brought about the PC business revolution. It was only later that Microsoft and MSWindows became the business standard, and then leveraged their position back into the personal/home market.

So the iPhone and iPad are doing exactly what microsoft did: using guerilla IT tactics to subvert the dominant computer paradigm.

Comment Re:High school doesn't prepare you for college (Score 1) 841

I teach freshman chemistry at a large private college, and I think that most of my students would actually prefer mindless memorization of facts. We run two courses for freshman, one that is big sections with multiple choice tests aimed at pre-meds, and another that is calculus based where we focus on problem-solving tasks, and the development of ideas. For most of the students, this is the first hard course they have ever taken, and most of them have one of two reactions: either they see it as a sign of personal failure that for the first time in their lives it isn't easy, or they blame me for asking them questions that aren't anything like what I taught in class. In their minds, they believe that they are already intelligent, and my challenging them intellectually is threatening because it doesn't acknowledge their native brilliance. The think that they have critical thinking and only need facts, when in actuality they have plenty of facts but are lacking in critical thinking.

In the end, though, the biggest problem on our campus is one of expectations. Our course catalog states that "a well prepared student should be doing 3 hours of were for each credit hour to get an average grade". Most of my students see their roommates and friends with non-science majors spending 1/3 of the time on their courses, and feel that they are being cheated because I really expect them to spend 10+ on my course. Educational research shows that time on task is the best predictor of learning and cognitive development, so I don't feel bad setting my students hard tasks, but they don't tend to see the value of hard work soon enough.

Comment Re:SCO = Herpes (Score 4, Insightful) 208

As a person living in Utah, I can attest that there is an inordinate number of out of work lawyers here. Not only that, we have a lot of lawyers here that are very entrepreneurial. That is a very bad combination, and there are lots of silly legal things happening here. So, if your choices are to take on a potentially hopeless law suit or collect up shopping carts at Walmart, stupid law suits don't look to bad.

Comment Re:Hmmm. (Score 2) 698

Actually my daughters' hearing aides are even cooler. They not only have variable amplifiers that are tuned to match their hearing loss, they also have a pitch shifting program that shifts higher frequencies down so that as their high frequency loss increases, we can just move the upper frequencies down to where they are still sensitive. Happily they don't need that yet, but it is available.

And while I agree that the prices are insane, things are a bit better than they sound. Our audiologist includes all fitting, re-programming, adjustments, and continued testing in the cost. So we don't pay anything for our twice yearly visits, which saves a couple of hundred dollars a year, and we figure counts for 25% of the purchase costs over a 5 year life time.

Comment Re:Reflexive /. Gates bashing in 3...2... (Score 2) 471

My only complaint is with the headline. It should read "Bill Gates looks to give money to people to invent a new toilet". I am pretty sure that he will not be involved in the actual development. I think that his foundation does a lot of good work, and respect the fact that he isn't just hording his money, but it should also be recognized that the actual work is done by people in the field, and not by him personally.

Actually, it kind of reminds me of a recent, very bad decision, at work. We hired a firm to develop a new web site. We checked their previous work and it looked good. As we got more deeply involved with them we discovered that the "company" was actually a couple of business front guys who wrote the contracts, and then farmed out the work to a bunch of contract college student programmers. When we ran into implementation problems, the couldn't help us because they didn't know any of the technology, and their contract workers had moved on and so couldn't help us either. But they still maintain that they are the key players in the complany, despite having no expertise in the work that they are doing.

Comment Re:"Daddy, what is a typewriter?" (Score 1) 249

I don't know about that, but I remember many years ago writing a simple assembly language program on a TRS-80 model 3 that accepted keyboard input, and streamed it directly to a daisy wheel printer. Made for a very expensive typewriter, but it was easier to get stuff done in the computer lab than in the typing teacher's room.

Oh, the old days.

Comment Re:ROI? (Score 1) 387

Well, it depends on the ratio of the growth of costs of other electricity generation methods. The cost of generation for this installation is fixed over the lifetime of the plant, so its long-term cost is basically the cost of return on a conservative bond. Cost of a coal/oil/coal/nuclear powerplant depends on the future cost of fuel, the future cost of environmental remediation/wast disposal. So if oil keep going up in cost, this plant just gets cheaper and cheaper (relatively), but if it drops back down, then it gets more expensive. In google's mind, they seem to want to fix the price of electricity so that it is predictable, even if that makes the cost higher. This is a classic hedge-type bet that they think energy costs will rise faster than inflation, which is a least a reasonable guess, even if it not certain.

Comment Re:Yes, you are right (Score 1) 804

Femto - I definitely wanted to thank you for posting your anecdotal (possibly statistical) evidence. It is quite interesting. I was wondering though if you teach anything above Freshman level classes.

  Yes, I teach upper and lower division classes. In my upper division P-chem class, the equations are so intense and complicated that nobody could take notes on a computer nearly fast enough, so nobody even tries, and I never use powerpoint myself.

After all, a Freshman Chem class (even honors) could have a very large percentage of non-science majors just trying to fill some science credits.

I mention that for a few reasons. First, science/math notes aren't all that easy to take on a laptop without LaTeX or similar. Heck, they aren't too easy to take WITH such a program. I mean...

Cu(s) + H+(aq) + NO3-(aq) ----> Cu+2 (aq) + NO(g)

That is a beast to type out and I do not have anywhere to put the oxidation states! Laptops may be very useful tools for these kids in their OTHER classes so they try to use it in yours.

I'd also have to ask if attendance in lecture is included as a factor. Most of your science tracked kids who should be earning the A's might not even attend your class. I earned A's in my first four semesters of college chem while attending a total of about 10 lectures. I am typically a book learner anyway and had the great advantage of three superb High School science teachers that developed a program on the fly that got us through organic chem.

I actually don't see that much in my class beause we I teach is enough more advanced than most people's high school class. In fact in ten years teaching, I have never seen a student who got an 'A' in my class without regular attendance. I have occasionally had a student who sat in the back and didn't participate much get the highest score, but that is rare. For my class I have done a statistical correlation of attendance and final score in the class, and it is a pretty strong trend that being more regular in attendance is correlated with getting a higher grade.

Obviously you would know much better than I how applicable my points are to your classroom/University but I thought I'd inquire if you have considered the reasons for the laptop/lower grad phenomenon that you have witnessed. Note that I did not have a laptop in college, mostly because it has been a decade or so since I graduated, so I don't really have an idea if I'd find it useful or not.

I appreciate your response. The irony is that every year I get a bunch of students (who have never taken a college course before in their lives) try to tell me (a teacher who has 15 years experience under my belt) how to succeed in my class. For some reason they assume that despite 4 years of being an undergraduate student, 5 years as a graduate student and 15 year teaching, I know less about how to navigate the academic world than they do. It was be funny except that I then have to deal with them when they get their first failing grade on a test and blame me for their lack of learning.

Oh, and I really need to learn how do my tagging and quoting correctly. Stupid old faculty.

Comment Re:Yes, you are right (Score 5, Informative) 804

As a professor who deals with this daily, I can tell you my opinion. I teach honors freshman chemistry with 60-80 students in my class. In the last 4 years I haven't had a single student who uses a laptop in class get an 'A' grade in my class. Most of them have ended up underperforming on tests, and then blaming my teaching for their failure to work up to their potential. This is anecdotal, but by the time I get to a few hundred students, it starts to look statistical. In an interesting real statistical development, we did a study in our large GE physical science class about the use of technology. We teach 8 section of the class each semester with identical homework and tests in all sections. We compared performance on tests between sections with teachers that pre-published powerpoint slides and teachers that didn't. Students statistically significantly worse in the sections where they had access to the powerpoint slides. When I poll my students they all tell me how much of an advantage it would be to have them, but it turns out that what they think will help them is not what will help them. We have passed our research on to the business school which requires students to have laptops, and faculty to pre-publish slides (because that is how the business world works) but they aren't interested in knowing.

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Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards. -- Aldous Huxley