U.S. high schools are "obsolete"
It isn't clear what, exactly, he meant by "obsolete," by Microsoft chief Bill Gates wasn't paying a compliment to the high schools when he spoke at a recent Governor's conference on this topic:
"America's high schools are obsolete," Gates said. "By obsolete, I don't just mean that they're broken, flawed or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools _ even when they're working as designed _ cannot teach all our students what they need to know today."
Summit leaders have an ambitious agenda for every state: to raise the requirements of a high school diploma, improve information sharing between high schools and universities, and align graduation standards with the expectations of colleges and employers. Governors say they're in a position to unite the often splintered agendas of business leaders, educators and legislatures.
But such changes will take what Gates singled out as the biggest obstacle: political will.
Requiring tougher courses for all students, for example, could face opposition from parents and school officials, particularly if more rigor leads to lower test scores and costly training.
The conference was attended by at least 45 governors from the 50 states and 5 U.S. territories. Their concern appears to be genuine.
The nation's governors offered an alarming account of the American high school Saturday, saying only drastic change will keep millions of students from falling short.
"We can't keep explaining to our nation's parents or business leaders or college faculties why these kids can't do the work," said Virginia Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, as the state leaders convened for the first National Education Summit aimed at rallying governors around high school reform.
It's all about O
And the woman in the ad is as unique and interestinga she appears; here's the report on a recent phone interview:
The lovely Sabine Ehrenfeld (pronounced "Sa-BEAN-uh") was driving back from a snowboarding trip with her children, on her way to casting calls the following day. Still, she found time to chat in a delightful and disarming manner. I learned the following:
In addition to German and English, Sabine speaks French and Italian. She is proficient in basic tactical pistol skills, because she thought it would be a fun thing to learn. She also has a private pilot's license and 350 hours in the air. After reading the Richard Bach book Biplane, she was inspired to fly solo—in an old-style, aerobatic tailwheel plane—from California to Montana. With camping gear in the back so she could land along the route to sleep and refuel. I am not making this up.
It's generated more interest than the Oscar's broacast.
He's an artist, too
Ward Churchill made it from working as staff at the University of Colorado to full, tenured professor in one year, but his scholarship is now being challenged. His ethnicity -- he formerly either claimed or implied that he was a Native American -- is disputed. And now his art has received some criticism.
At right are two pictures -- an original by the late artist Thomas Mails (copied here from a book) and an "original" called "Winter Attack" signed by Ward Churchill. Some have noticed striking similarities. It's possible that Prof. Churchill got his own independent artistic afflatus that just happened to be the mirror image of an existing creation. But even then, a person knowledgeable of this area of art would be aware of the similarities and reference the earlier work. Other explanations for the similarities are less respectful of Prof. Churchill.
A reporter tried to get an explanation from Prof. Churchill:
[The reporter, Mr. Chohan, asks:] "This is an artwork we've got called 'Winter Attack.' It looks like it was based on a Thomas Mails painting; it looks like you ripped it off. Can you tell us about that?" Chohan asked.
That prompted Churchill to take a swing at Chohan while he held a stack of papers in his hand.
The exchange continued:
Chohan: "Sir, that's assault, you can't do that. Can I ask you about this? It looks like you copied it."
Here's a video of the exchange.
His artwork, speeches and disputed ethnicity claims can't be adding much to the University of Colorado's reputation as an institution of higher learning. Why don't they do something?
The Rocky Mountain News depicts the CU administration as practically paralyzed with fear at the possible retaliation Churchill could visit on them should they attempt to chastise him.
There is the possibility of an "early retirement package."
University of Colorado officials are considering offering Ward Churchill an early retirement package that could end an increasingly uncomfortable standoff with the controversial professor. ... David Lane, Churchill's attorney, said he has not been contacted about a buyout offer. But, he said, while his primary focus is on protecting Churchill's constitutional right to speak out, he would be willing to listen to a university proposal. "If they offer $10 million, I would think about it. If they offer him $10, I wouldn't," Lane said.
And herein is, unfortunately, a lesson in financial planning for anyone working at a large state institution of higher learning. These institutions depend on their state legislatures for funding increases and the state legislators that vote for these funding increases must explain their votes to their voting constituencies. Lengthy legal procedings played out over months or years in the press can be viewed negatively by the local public and, in turn, may lead to decreased motivation among legislators to support budget increases. So "early retirement package" is often the weapon of choice when these universities must discipline one of their employees. One way to get a better retirement package may be to create enough problems for the university that they are motivated to pay more to see you leave. It is a safe bet that no other faculty at CU are having their lawyers talk about $10 million retirement packages (though here the statement appears to be hyperbolic, though maybe it is just setting the range where negotiations must start).
Check out this graphical representation of the most popular names over the past 10 decades -- colorful, dynamic (move the cursor over the graph or type a name) and informative.
The dark side
There is more "dark matter" in the universe than there is normal matter -- the baryonic matter of which planets and stars are made and that is visible. Dark matter's presence can only be inferred by its influence on visible matter -- it can't be seen. And a lot of it has just been discovered:
Astronomers have discovered an object that appears to be an invisible galaxy made almost entirely of dark matter.
The team, led by Cardiff University, UK, claims it is the first such object to be detected.
A dark galaxy is an area in the Universe containing a large amount of mass that rotates like a galaxy, but contains no stars.
The galaxy is so large that if it were an ordinary galaxy it would be easily visible with an amateur telescope.
Astronomers say the discovery marks an important breakthrough because, according to cosmological models, dark matter is five times more abundant than the baryonic matter.
Phoenix gets relief from drought
Three years ago, Arizona was in the midst of a drought and the reservoirs were at their lowest levels ever. The rain of the last four months has changed the picture considerably:
Roosevelt's contents as of today - roughly 1.32 million acre-feet, or almost 81 percent of capacity - is historic because it's more water than the lake has ever held. SRP and the Bureau of Reclamation raised Roosevelt Dam by 77 feet in 1996, creating new space for storage, flood control and dam safety.
The lake has now begun to fill that new space, rising above its old capacity and, in the parlance of engineers, getting the concrete wet for the first time.
SRP has no doubts about the new structure, even though it's never been put to a real-life test. It was built to withstand the "probable maximum flood" - the worst flood conditions hydrologists could think of - as well as the "probable maximum earthquake."
"If you're going to build a dam above a metro area with 3 or 4 million people, you want to make sure it's a very safe dam," Ester said.
Epitaph: Last photos of the Thai tsunami
These are the last pictures taken by a vacationing couple in Thailand -- the one on the right (click to enlarge) is the fifth of six pictures that show the wave coming to shore. The couple was caught in the wave and died. Their digital camera was destroyed, but the photos on the memory card were preserved.
Librarians and Google
Some time ago someone suggested that Google was making the job market for research librarians a little thinner. What do librarians think of Google and the digitizing of millions of books so that not only is the web searchable but so are many books? Here are some comments from Michael Gorman, President-elect of the American Library Association:
[I] question the usefulness of Google digitizing millions of books and making bits of them available via its notoriously inefficient search engine. The Google phenomenon is a wonderfully modern manifestation of the triumph of hope and boosterism over reality. Hailed as the ultimate example of information retrieval, Google is, in fact, the device that gives you thousands of "hits" (which may or may not be relevant) in no very useful order.
Those characteristics are ignored and excused by those who think that Google is the creation of "God's mind," because it gives the searcher its heaps of irrelevance in nanoseconds. Speed is of the essence to the Google boosters, just as it is to consumers of fast "food," but, as with fast food, rubbish is rubbish, no matter how speedily it is delivered.
Feel aggressive in the kitchen?
This might not help; on the other hand, maybe this knife holder (click to enlarge!) will help you feel like you are dealing with the aggressions constructively.
Looking for a facelift for your interface? There are many here for both MAC and Windows operating systems. Take a look.
The business of selling the Oscar's ceremony
The Academy Awards were initiated as advertising -- movie attendance dropped off significantly in late winter and an awards ceremony would create "news" that advertised movies -- exactly what Daniel Boorstin termed a "pseudo event." People might skip reading the movie advertisements but they couldn't miss reading the headlines.
In 1952, the Awards ceremony was out of money and was about to be cancelled. At the last minute, RCA put up $100,000 to broadcast the event on their TV network, "NBC."
The stars thought this was a bit of bad taste -- TV was where the bad movies went "to die," according to Bob Hope. It would be like a ceremony in a graveyard. But movie buffs supported the idea because they didn't have to wait until the next morning's paper to find out how won. They were there!
The movie stars soon realized how much bigger the "audience" was going to be, too, and as a result the "drama" surrounding who won got a bit more dramatic, the wardrobes got a bit more outlandish, and, surprise, the acceptance speeches got longer.
And by 1960, the movie stars who got access to the stage were well aware that they were getting a rare opportunity: a national (soon, international) audience to whom they could speak without being required to follow any script but the one they wrote for themselves.
Since then, the acceptance speeches have been a bit of a "pulpit" event with political causes chief among the speech topics chosen by winners.
But the Oscar's are still really just advertising and getting people to watch by advertising the advertising is very much part of the pre-Oscar tradition. Here is what passes for "news" during Oscar week:
L.A. Weekly has learned that [Chris] Rock has earmarked a segment of his standup to joke about George W. Bush.
Someone in Hollywood is going to make a political joke involving a U.S. President? Yes -- the Award's ceremony is going to "blow up the status quo:"
at the Academy Awards this Sunday, you can count on the guy who may well be the funniest comedian working right now to break out of the mold of mediocrity that usually defines the broadcast’s opening monologue and blow up the status quo.
And it will be on TV. That status quo changed in 1952, and the political commentary status quo blew up right after that. The news appears to be that the Award's ceremony will be the same as it has been for the past half-century: advertising cast as news.
Just in time for the Oscar's, Google Movies.
New hope for depressives
Instead of using medicines or electric shock treatments, there is growing evidence that creating electro-magnetic fields that stimulate the brain improve the condition of those suffering from chronic depression:
the new treatment does not make use of a magnet, but uses an electric instrument, creating a magnetic field that stimulates the brain. For a decade, scientists have been investigating possible applications of this method in psychiatric treatment, and the findings show that it has positive effects in treating depression. For many patients it may replace the recommended treatment by electric shock. Already now magnetic treatment for depression is available in Israel, albeit only on a private basis.
Additional research is being conducted to see if this treatment may also aid drug addicts break their addiction.
An outstanding podcast
It is virtually impossible for someone inside a large organization to speak informally and publicly for that organization if it includes comments about products or services or there are any "implied commitments." If something is to be said for the organization, the press is directed to the organization's "spokesperson" or "media rep" and they read (or quote) material that has been scrubbed by the lawyers. If it has to do with advertising, there are very serious meetings internally, some people who spoke out of turn are chastised, the "branding" people talk like their own and run the organization and everyone knows that communication with the public in public terms is very serious indeed and is only conducted by those who have the right to do that and who have been tapped as the only mouthpieces for the organization.
That's why this event is so significant:
Three years ago, it was next to inconceivable that a mere Microsoft employee -- and by "mere" I mean one not drilled in the Key Point dunning techniques of Corporate "Communications" -- would someday speak publicly and positively about a competing company or product. But that day has come, and that "mere employee," now magically transmogrified into an actual human being is Robert Scoble.
As he took a little friendly fire in my previous post, I want to reproduce here -- in full, links and all -- what he posted about an hour later...
Hi Blake Ross (and Asa and others on the Firefox team): Congrats on hitting 25,000,000 downloads of Firefox. You did what few people have done: you changed the world and got people to download and install your application.
At Demo yesterday I saw Firefox all over the place. I saw far far far more Firefox icons than I saw Linux or Macintosh icons.
In just a few months your app has become one of the most used Windows applications in the world. My hat's off to you!
And a few minutes earlier than that one, he wrote:
Hey, did anyone notice the 400 comments left over on the IE Blog yesterday?
Nah, don't start a conversation. Why would someone want to do that? Heh!
The big story here is not another browser war (not that I have anything against one; as I said yesterday, what fun!), but rather the conversation that has finally started between people inside companies and people outside those companies. The net made this inevitable, as the cluetrain manifesto predicted in 1999.
What happened? Firefox, the new browser out this year, just hit 25 million downloads. It is now a leading competitor of Microsoft's Internet Explorer. And a blogger from Microsoft, with Microsoft's ok, is allowed to have his own blog and in it he congratulates Firefox for their achievement. Can you imagine that happening at your organization? A key competitor is successful with a product? That calls for counterstrike, re-imaging, "aggressive" or "edgy" advertising that is confrontational and generates buzz.
The cluetrain manifesto predicted more civil and personal interactions as the internet grew. The authors (one of whom posted the story above) weren't sure if it would ever come about but this event made them think that it might.
The point is not the process, though. It's the product. And the product in this case is neither Firefox nor Internet Explorer. The "product" is the conversation itself. People talking to people. Just us chickens here, boss!
You may want to read the whole thing (don't be misled by the pictures -- it is an analogy).
Even rental cars support podcasting
An earlier post here had a link to the Diner, a podcast of some old radio drama and music and some commentary in-between. You can download podcasts, too, and because of the variety available, you'll likely be able to find some that you really enjoy.
It isn't just for web-heads, any more, as this exchange shows:
I got so hooked on listening to podcasts in rental cars with mp3 CD players that I went to a car audio shop yesterday to see what the aftermarket had to offer. When I told them I'd want a unit that allowed fast-forwarding and rewinding within selections (the players in the Ford Foci I've been renting only jump from file to file), the salesguy showed me a bunch of Alpine units that do exactly that. Some also support the customer's choice of Sirius and/or XM satellite radio, rather than just one or the other (imagine a radio today sold with AM or FM, but not both), which is nice.
But dig what happened when I brought up the reason I need fast-forward/rewind:
"I listen to a lot of —"
"Podcasts?" he said. Yeah, they're the hot new thing. All the makers are starting to pay attention to podcasting.
That's 3M security glass and that is real money on the inside of it and the whole thing is sitting out on a sidewalk unattended.
This probably wouldn't be an ad for a recommended use of the product, but it does convey confidence in its ability to perform as advertised.
While much of the discussion about the influence of blogs on mainstream media has centered around reporting and politics and fact-checking, there is another aspect of mainstream media and newspapers in particular that is of critical importance but that has escaped extended commentary on the web. That is the fundamentals of how newspapers make money. They make it from advertising and one aspect of advertising that is very valuable is that of want ads and public notices. Newspapers sell space for these notices by the word.
Craigslist provides an alternative to posting your want ad or public notice or event notice in the local newspaper. It started out as a small posting service to some of his friends:
craigslist started as a small email list for a group of friends in Northern California. Ten years later, it's a global phenomenon. In a ChangeThis exclusive, Craig Newmark talks about the values that got his business from there to here.
A recent analysis of the economic impact of craigslist estimated that it had removed approximately $2.5 billion in revenues from local newspapers over the full period of time it has been in operation. That is truly influential.
Now you can read about what makes craigslist work, explained by Craig himself.
No longer in question
This post detailed how Ward Churchill made tenure at the University of Colorado based on a single year of teaching as an adjunct. His quick tenure was based on CU's desire to enhance diversity by keeping a Native American. The decision, though about an academic appointment, didn't have anything to do with academics.
Then, it turned out that there was some uncertainty about his ethnicity. Though he had presented himself in a way that made people assume he was a Native American, AIM voiced some doubts.
There are no more doubts:
Churchill did address the issue of his ethnicity, admitting that he is not Native American. . . . 'Let's cut to the chase; I am not,' he said. [via here]
Oops. It's one thing to find out someone lied on their resume about publishing an article -- you can fire them pretty cleanly by saying that was relevant to the hiring and it turned out to be false. In this case, his supposed ethnicity was not an explicit reason for giving him a tenured academic position; it's hard to now make it a reason for firing him -- it would be discrimination to fire someone solely because of their ethnicity.
UPDATE: It's back in play. Is it that hard to trace geneology?
Ignoring recursion in logic
Here's an interesting proposition (in "Fact Finders" by Jonathan Chait of The New Republic): one political party is a collection of empiricists who follow the evidence where ever it leads them. The other party is a collection of dogmatists and ideologues who cling to principles even as the facts mount against them.
While the ideologues have the benefit of coherence in making arguments, they do so only by abandoning dealing with real data. Empiricists, on the other hand, must admit lack of coherence and certainty about anything, but this is a good thing, according to this proposer:
Incoherence is simply a natural byproduct of a philosophy rooted in experimentation and a rejection of ideological certainty.
The proposition is put forth by the empiricist party, claiming that they alone represent realism and the true struggle for the common good. The other party is engaged in self-delusion in the sense that they ignore data that conflicts with their ideology.
If it is incoherent and uncertain, of course, then empiricism as it is presented in this proposition is characterized primarily in terms of its skepticism of ideological certainty. Empiricists can predict little because they have to wait until experimentation leads them there; this makes them very skeptical of those who put a lot of weight on reason and coherence and believe that some forecasts can be made with certainty.
The empiricists' certainty that skeptical empiricism is the path to the common good reminds me of the comment that Pascal had for skeptics: he had a hard time in ultimately taking their argument seriously because their skepticism does not extend to being skeptical about skepticism as a productive mode of thought. At that most fundamental level, they are not skeptics at all but ideologues -- certain, as they are, that skepticism is the tool for finding truth.
The semantics in this article by Chait make the argument a little hard to follow. Often propositions like this one are really just clever ways of congratulating yourself for being right (if incoherent) and abusing others for being wrong (though perhaps coherent). By in large, they aren't very helpful in understanding either group.