Sunday, May 27, 2007

Things I Don't Like About the Mac

I have said many nice things about my new MacBook Pro, but I would like to dedicate this post to the braindead things that really annoy me about it.
  • No way that I can find to terminate individual programs when they crash and freeze - and contrary to the hype, programs do crash and freeze on the Mac
  • That 'apple function' key that you use instead of 'ctrl' (which is two keys over) to do things like cut and paste and to start and stop bold and italics - especially since in many online forms, like this one, you use the ctrl key, even on the Mac.
  • Missing first letters. For some reason when you focus on a text field (by clicking in it, in order to type some data) it has to stop and think about what it's doing, or something, so I very frequently lose the first letter in what I'm typing
  • No separate tab (or icon, or anything) for separate windows lanched by the same program - no wonder Mac users loved tabs - working with separate windowns on a Mac is a royal pain. Especially small windows, like, say, the compose window in Thunderbird. I am constantly moving windows around to find a window that has been buried and which has no icon to maximize it.
  • 'Close' that doesn't quit programs. When you click on the little red ball (equivalent to the Windows 'x') it closes the window - but leaves the program running. The processors are very powerful, but I don't want to leave major applications running after I've closed all their windows.
  • 'Delete' that only woks in one direction. The 'Delete' key works like the Backspace key on a windows keyboard - it deletes whatever is in front of the cursor. But there's no obvious way to delete whatever is in front of the cursor. Oh I'm sure there's some way. But it should be a separate key - like, say, 'Delete'.
  • Doesn't connect to my iRiver. There's no hack, download, etc. It simply won't work. Ever.
  • Proprietary audio formats. Thank goodness the iPod and MacBook play MP3s. Otherwise they wouldn't play anything. I had to buy an applicaton (an exhaustive search revealed no free app) to convert WMAs. Moreover, CDs I rip using the Mac won't play elsewhere. I find myself using the Windows machine to rip them, converting the WMAs to MP3s, and then porting them to the Mac. Loads of fun.
  • TIFF images in Powerpoint. Why oh why would the computer store images being used PowerPoint in TIFF, knowing that it will never play on any Windows machine (and again, there is no way to fix this). Yes, apparently Grab can export in GIF and JPG, but this involves an extra step, and moreover requires that you launch and run the application using Preview. I mean, huh?
  • Windows that don't resize properly. Like, say, the 'Applications' window, which won't resize when icons are outside the viewing area. I am always forgetting to scroll horizonally (as well as vertically) to find icons. Worse, new icons are by default added to the window outside the viewing area. That threw me for a real loop before i discovered it was braindead design.
  • Windows that don't resize properly, part two. The only way to resize a window is to grab it at the lower right hand corner. What about the sides and other corners? Dead. This is a real problem when...
  • Windows that open under the menu bar at the bottom of the screen. You can move your mouse over that area without the icons expanding to twice their size and moving about, and you can't click without launching an application. So why are windows displayed under those icons? Especially windows that can only be resized from the bottom?
  • No decent FTP application. I finally found Cyberduck, which is free and at least works. But it only shows a single pane, meaning you're always moving windows about and resizing them (and trying to find them because they've become hidden under other windows. As for the other FTP applications, like the unlamented Fetch, the more left unsaid, the better.
  • No decent drawing application. Paint Shop Pro was my workhorse in Windows. It let me edit photos, it let me make diagrams - anything I wanted to do with images. No such application exists for the Mac. Trying to draw with Photoshop is nightmarish. I tried Inkscape, but it was unusable. I still have no solution for this.
  • Keyboards that won't stay lit. I like the lighted keyboard; a fantastic invention. But when it is at low light, it is constantly urning on and off. I think the sensor is in the keyboard, which means it is constantly being shaded by my hands. Off and on. Off and on. Ack! Put the sensor somewhere else. Add a governor that delays it's lighting and unlighting.
  • Flash and cameras. Flash appears not to work with the camera or audio input device.
  • Popunders. I remember, Acrobat Reader use to launch and then freeze, refusing to perform unless you answered a popup query. Fine - except the query appeared under the reader, so you could never get to it. Some Mac applications function like that. How can you tell? When the yellow 'minimuze' button stops working.
  • Slow menus. Some of the menus are inexplicably slow. For example, clicking on the wireless access ion. It always takes a second or two to open. A second click closes it (ack! when would I ever want that? Anywhere else on the entire computer could close it, why also the one spot that opens it).
  • Letters skip. I don't know what it is, but every once in a while the letter won't register when you type it. No, it's not my typing. It's as though it's doing something else and didn't catch the pressing of the key.
  • No decent text editor. I've tried a few - an Emacs editor, which reminds me why I don't use Emacs, a couple simple text editors, Text Wrangler, which doesn't ask for permissions properly (it tries to guess my user name from my name - silly silly program).
  • Preview - which displays PDF files - preserves the page position when you advance from one page to the next. Which means that when you finish reading one page and start on the next, it displays the bottom of the next page, because that's where you were on the previous page. Argh! I have to scroll back ujp for every page. No way to just scroll through, either - you have to hop from page to page. Very annoying. (Also, of course, when you enlarge text size from the default 'too tiny to read' to something like legible, the window doesn't adjust to the new page width - so you always have to resize the window. It never remembers your text size either.
That's about it for now, all I can think of off the top of my head. I may encounter some others; if so I'll add them.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

National Post Lies

Would it be too much to say that the National Post is lying to the Canadian public? No, that would be a lot kinder than what many others are saying. Like this commentator:
The National Post is reaching new lows of vulgar propaganda in its intellectually dishonest attempts to influence public opinion in the direction its political affiliations. Its downright disgusting to see such blatant attempts at dishonest propaganda, on a almost daily basis on the cover and throughout your paper...

There are huge amounts of the Canadian public that see right through your ugly and transparent attempts to manipulate and dupe the public with persuasive and distorted words. You should be ashamed of yourselves for displaying such a lack of journalistic integrity.

I'm inclined to agree, after the newspaper's take on NASA scientist James E. Hansen's take on Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth:
James E. Hansen, a NASA scientist and one of Mr. Gore's advisors, agreed the movie has "imperfections" and "technical flaws." About An Inconvenient Truth's connection of rising hurricane activity to global warming - something refuted by storm experts - Mr. Hansen said, "we need to be more careful in describing the hurricane story than he is."
What does Hansen really think? From his review:
It is hard to predict how this unusual presentation will be received by the public; but Gore has put together a coherent account of a complex topic that Americans desperately need to understand. The story is scientifically accurate and yet should be understandable to the public, a public that is less and less drawn to science.
I am in favour of freedom of the press, however, I think that out-and-out lying ought to be illegal, and that the National Post editors ought to be called to account for their dissembling.

What was that comment again?
Your paper has become simply a biased, desperate political propaganda rag.
Yeah, that's about right.

Via Deltoid, which has extended quotes

Friday, May 18, 2007

Self-Interest and Sustainability

Responding to Wayne Hodgins, who postulates that an environmentally sustainable policy can also be one based in enlightened self-interest.

I have some sympathy for the point of view expressed here, because policies that are not in some sense rooted in self-interest are generally regarded to be, not in the common interest, but rather, in the specific interest of some group of individuals.

This is the basis for numerous arguments from the more right wing side of society, the basis for the point of view that 'taxation is theft' and other such arguments. It is important to understand that even policies that are intended to redistribute wealth are not merely for the sake of redistribution, but rather, there is a particular point to the distribution that will benefit the greater population, and not merely the recipient individuals.

A good example of this is disease prevention. When public measures, such as vaccination, are undertaken, and are paid for (niminally) by the wealthy, and provided for the poor, the immediate benefit is to the poor - they don't get sick - but the ultimate beneficiary is society as a whole - there are no more epidemics. Everybody benefits, not only the recipients of the aid.

That said, there is some danger to making 'enlightened self-interest' the sole driver for any public policy.

For one thing, above a certain income level, the amount of taxation imposed will exceed the benefit gained. A rich person, for example, might be taxed more than it cost to completely insulate himself (using walled communities, etc.) from the effects of any epidemic.

Additionally, a policy based solely in a philosophy of enlightened self-interest will tend to be susceptible to a gerrymandering of that policy to promote self-interest. Purchasing environmentally friendly packaging may benefit Walmart, for example, but so will exceptions to disposal and pollution rules, so Walmart can sell products more cheaply that produce more waste.

Third, the policy of enlightened self-interest breaks down when an element of desperation is involved. If it comes to a point where supporting one's own interest is absolutely necessary - it's either do something or starve, for example - then this may force people into increasingly desperate actions, including actions that are not environmentally friendly.

For example, if a person has to burn down the rainforest to survive, he will burn down the rainforest. It is in society's interest to prevent this from happening, but it is also in society's interest to let the man starve - it would cost more to keep him alive than society would gain from his contribution.

The only choice the man has is to undertake actions - such as terrorism - that cost society more than it would lose by supporting him. But people respond to this by "refusing to negotiate with terrorists". Note, for example, that the U.S. could have given each man, woman and child in Iraq $20,000 rather than undertake the Iraq war, but no government would ever enact such a measure, even if it would more successfully accomplish the war's objectives.

It is indeed the case that acting in one's own long-term self-interest involves environmentally friendly actions. By not driving a car, for example, I am already prepared to cope with rising gas proces.

But public policy cannot be based on the same premise. A public policy, in order to be successful, will have to enact measures that are clearly contrary to the self-interest of some individuals. Specifically:

- the rich will be required to pay more than they would otherwise have to pay

- mechanisms must be put in place that will not allow people in power (the rich, say) to gerrymander the rules for their own benefit

- the needs of those in desperate straits must be attended to, even if there is no long-term advantage to doing so.

The well-being and survival of society is, in a certain sense, independent of the well-being and survival of its members. The survival of society has an impact on the well-being of future members, who do not exist yet.

Measures that attend solely to the well-being of present members will eventually be enacted such that this well-being is supported at the expense of future members. Since these future members cannot yet act, their interests do not naturally balance the interests of current members of a society.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Applications and Theory of Educational Social Software

Summary of a panel discussion at CADE-AMTEC 2007 featuring Terry Anderson, george Siemens and Dave Cormier.

Social Software session

Terry Anderson

Independent study - type I for information type study
Collaborative - Distance Education - Type C
Social software fits somewhere in the middle - allows collaboration, but also things like tagging, the search and sort thing that we're used to.

Taxonomy of the 'many' -
Group: conscious membership, leadership and organization, rules and guidelines, privacy controls, etc. Metaphor: virtual classroom
Network: shared interest or practice, fluid membership, reputation and altruism driven, activity ebbs and flows: Metaphor: virtual community of practice
Collective" 'aggregated other', unconscious 'wisdom of the crowds', data mining, never f2f. metaphor: wisdom of crowds
In the middle of these: personal learning environment (social learning 2.0)

Amazon recommendations - it's working. But - it's based on 'items you own' - ie., items you bought from Amazon. That's the problem - it's not all open and connected yet.

George Siemens

I remember trying to convince people to start blogging - I thought I really made the case - but exactly nobody started blogging. There's two dimensions that exist: the early adopter viewpoint, where you start to think other people think like you - but the things we talk and think about aren't really the norm we think they are. But adoption moves quickly - at one time you couldn't say 'blog or wiki' at a conference.

We think of the good of technology - but if you're Kevin Federline, you have been tagged 'crap' - when the community is democratic, you don't control the message.

Technology as a transformative agent - we have a role as educators to transform society, but there are some times where we are responsive - society acts on us. Some of these technologies are collecive - they're collective in nature. - it doesn't take you long, the premise is simplicity. That's how you get millions of sign-ups.

Are we really driving the change? Are we really seeking to respond to the change. I don't think that debate is happening in a lot of places.

I'll spare you the jargon. Some quick ideas:
- authority is changing - not gone, but a different nature - not determined by position, bt conferred on a person or group by a network - eg. Google confers authority by how many people have linked - there are experts, but not people who became experts through traditional channels
- communication - look at how research is changing - look at Keynes, it was an enormously popular textbook for 10 years - it wasn't significantly outdated at any point - almost any topic that comes up now is quickly outdated - what is knowledge today doesn't have a lifespan that hardens as an object people can talk about years ago - what is valuable information on educational technology - if it's older than 2004 I'm almost dismissive

Continuous active engagement. Knowing isn't an act of achievement, it's a continuous act of becoming

Complexification of knowledge - any idea we have is dialogued to death - listen to American talk radio - there are so many perspectives, there is this constant desire to talk - take any event in the world, go to Technorati - no matter what your view is, it's represented - it doesn't have the structure and coherence it once had

How do we stay current, we ask. Those challenges arise very quickly. The text was written two years before it was published - your textbook of 2007 was written in 2003. So we start to rely on other approaches. This is classified under the head of 'connectivism'. Many people involved in that dialogue. Learning is a network forming process. Our capacity to function is dependent on the quality of that network that we form. We depend on Google. We depend on social connections. Facebook, as you evidence - that permits that formation of networks.

The challenge today to knowing is not memorization, it's to synthesize multiple narratives. So what we need are tools to connect to other people, other sources of knowledge. The visualization of this starts to show patterns - how does knowledge flow through an organization, for example. What are the trusted nodes - what is the reach of your network - loose connections.

Dave Cormier

How do I start? I agree with George, it's about getting your networks together. But there is huge knowledge clutter, a huge morass of information coming at you all the time. I've got 3000 photos of my son on my computer. He's one year old. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that I have a problem. There's no way to stay current just by reading.

So - how did I get here?

Two years ago I was trying to do a Moodle implementation. I wanted to prove Moodle was the way to go. I was searching, and I found these guys. But my RSS feeds were driving me nuts. You can't just add things together. You have to have a plan. That plan is what your personal l;earning environment is, a way of adding things and dropping things.

We have all these digital eyes that need to be sorted, we need some sort of vetting system. The best sort of vetting system is a community - a community is like a network, but which has some sort of shared value structure. When something comes along - you can ask 'is it necessary' without going through 6 hours of work.

What that community needs is some kind of dedicated space (sacred space) - it will do that filtering, it gives you a sense of security (you can just reach out). It also gives you a way to collaborate. As long as you are in that trusted community, toy can rely on it. But PLE is a misnomer - it's not really 'personal', it's a community.

Ed tech talk - a community with certain values. We do live webcasting, 7 shows, one a day. We've done maybe 450 shows in the last two years. But what I found was - contribution to that community was probably the best education in my life. We talk about it, someone suggests something in the chat room - and me, I have all that information going by, and there's a record (unlike a conference, where it just goes away).

They are finding that that membership gives them a starting point to spread out into all the other communities.

One person can't contain all the information, one person can't communicate it to everyone else, having that group to rely on really helps.


Terry - if it's safe secure sacred, how do you get into it? What are the entrance requirements?

Dave - in Ed Tech talk, we found the community does the policing. The people in the chatroom policed the people, the chatroom is where the people start, there are people who have never been in the audio, but who go in and facilitate entry into the community. Nancy White writes, in communities, there are people who fall naturally into roles - eg., people who are conveners.

Terry - can you be a member and do nothing?

Dave - absolutely. People download and never take part People register - we don't know why.

- Common values - open content, governance, worldbridgyness, politeness rules, etc. Stephen - question of whether the 'community' exists because of a sameness (eg., values) or a connectedness

George - are the values predefined or are the values emergent...? Too often it' a cause-effect mentality - this happened, that happened. People may have a different take on those shared values. People may remember the blogger code of ethics. But a code of ethics isn't the way to go.

-- question for George -- whole idea - say, Bloom's taxonomy - it's often perceived as sequential - and I see this represented a lot in tertiary education - if you don't have these fact,you can't have those facts... that's what first-year is for. And you have suggested that it's not a sequential process - that our capacity depends on our ability to network, that knowledge is distributed, and not where everyone begins.

George - other disciplines have gone through this and education will go through it - news media, music - how do people learn to program these days - if you can participate in a space where you can mentor, be mentored - the network will be different for the discipline you're addressing - trying to orient yourself in relation to the network - and one node that used to be very important shifts - context will change the shape of the network therefore influencing the value of that network

Dave - you can't really come to things with one model - but you can say 'you have to have knowledge of this canon' - in history, maybe, but not so much in technology - you have to address immediate need, and move iteratively.

Terry - looking for war story or theme - of people trying to put these tools into formal learning - eg. using blog in a course - requiring everyone to post two posts and three responses - in a closed forum - and she discovered, it wasn't as good as a threaded discussion.

Comment - the network is outside the institution

George - it's about the value being outside the four walls

Comment - question of what makes them survive and grow, and others disappear... I have been involved in establishing networks that have taken off, while others have been forced and just collapsed

George - there's nothing about networks that need to stay the way a hierarchy stays - a network that comes and goes is quite natural. But what makes a network flourish - it's a function of the ecology. If your in a workplace that's locked down, it's not a very healthy ecology for a network to flourish.

Dave - I have a shorter response: value-add. As long as I'm helping and they are helping me, that network will go on.

Terry - reminds me of the CADE website and the struggles we had - it's not about value-add but rather about more value-add than the others. I think reputation is very important.

quest - what have you done to foster networks?

George - online conference, entrance fee of free - good dialogue. Invite others to the dialogue. I don't want to be seen as an expert - it's not that I have an answer to things.

Dave - for Ed Tech talk I managed to surround myself with hard-working people. It's a lot of work. And at the end of the day it's karma. You do something, you get it back. Feel a responsibility to your network. And we do our very very best to empower other people. It's their space. They have the control.

E-Learning in Canada: Evidence, Gaps and Promising Direction

Summary of a panel discussion at CADE-AMTEC 2007 in Winnipeg, featuring Michele Jacobsen, Terry Anderson, Heather Kanuka, and Margaret Haughey.

Michele Jacobsen:

Context: special issue of CJLT on e-learning with an emphasis on Canadian research. Systematic literature review of over 700 documents. We took the report and sent it to several researchers in the field. So we have the report plus four commentaries. This puts the peer review process right out there in the open.

What the researchers found, public response:
- e-learning is a rapidly growing field
- it provides greater access
- funding may divert resources
- teacher classes remain essential

Policy makers:
- generally supportive, but
- must be used in appropriate contexts

Others said:
- it requires careful attention to design, etc
- we need to review policies

Reviews of e-learning (about 300 documents) were generally positive. E-learning requires sustained support. But there is a lack of empirical evidence to support e-learning.

Heather Kanuka

It was a fine job of reviewing the literature. Much of the literature was qualitative (only 15 percent quantitative). That makes it hard to say what works and what doesn't. The e-learning research community has to face the reality that its efforts have failed to provide guidance. Much of the research in e-learning is based in realist philosophy, the assumption that there are natural laws that can be observed. If this assumption is erroneous - and I think it it - then we are asking the wrong questions. We simply can't pile up the generalizations fast enough.

Many e-learning researchers guide their research on the assumptions that government natural laws. Hence the lament of there being only 15 percent quantitative. So a large body of the research has little social relevance. It doesn't reflect the messiness we face as practitioners. We need to find practical solutions to the everyday problems we face, and to recognize that we are living in a 'swampy lowland of practice'. Need to use more emergent methodology that addresses messiness.

So I want to put a different sin on the finding of the researchers, that we can't find best practice. I want to say that the majority of researchers are using emergent paradigms and are finding socially useful results. Over the years I have found what works and what doesn't, and I'm comfortable with saying that, and I'm fine with not being able to generalize best practices.

Terry Anderson

There is a lack of funding for research in education in Canada. It's bad enough that only 15 percent were quantitative. 7 quantitative studies that were Canadian. There's a limited amount of insight you can get from that. The only way to generate value that you get so many of them that the effect of individual contexts are wiped out. If we had a few hundred, a few thousand, we might be able to extract some meaning from that data.

So then we ask, why aren't we doing more. And we have to say that, as Canadians, we are simply n ot committed to research in e-learning, or in education generally. By contrast, the UK, 74 different institutes. Also awards, eg. National Teaching Fellowships. And they have the JISC and a whole bunch of things.

Other countries can do things, even Russia can do things, it's not just the fact that we are in a federation.

What I really liked what they did was that they looked at all the other documents, eg. government studies, media, and so on. And they came back and made correlations between them saying positive things and why, eg., saving money, and they were happy to say the reason for e-learning is access and distance learning.

It's interesting you see the rebuttals, the old paradigm wars are alive and well, the left and qualitative studies vs the right (and I notice the right were too scared to come here today).

Margaret Haughey

We were asked to respond to the documentation itself, and in the first place I thought of it as a classification scheme, so I look at the effort to create a classification scheme that was based on different types of work. They didn't quite pull it off. The translation of it into numerical data and the trying to give things a plus or a minus with a rating scale didn't really work.

E-learning - what does it mean? We tend to talk of it as though it were dropped from the heavens - what is the impact? Or thinking of it as a tool. But the world has moved into an environment in which technology is everywhere. What's happening in e-learning is really a reflection of what's happening in other fields.

When I did my review, at the same time Ungerleider did his (but I didn't get the same kind of press) it was full of case studies. Look at this conference - personal learning environment, connective knowledge. There's a whole new way of thinking. Even as you're trying to study e-learning, it's transforming itself. Informal learning. So I put back to the authors that their definition was so broad it included everything, and when you include everything you can't draw any useful conclusions. Kids learning to keyboard - is that e-learning?

Also - integration, immersion. Thinking about it while we're doing it.

I would disagree with the generality, you use such general categories everything gets dumped into it. I see work on dialogue, on developing community. These are areas where there is a body of work.


Dave Cormier: "Do we really need the 'e' any more?" As long as we're still thinking of technology as something 'other' it will never be really integrated.

Margaret - I agree. It puts the emphasis on pedagogy.

Terry- agree, but it is interesting that the authors classified it into instructional, presentational, etc. As long as we keep in mind that it's multipurpose, we'll be ok.

Rick: I wonder if we're back to the old 'media effectiveness' question, just smudged. I wonder if people are thinking of online learning environments, Moodle, when they're thinking of this. But the 'media effectiveness' thing was debunked 20 years ago.

Terry - that zombie has risen from the coffin.

Heather - we get into conversations about what the impact is of the use of technology. Not technology determinism, but belief that technology is non-neutral. There is an impact. Telephone is the same as not face-to-face. We need to know, eg., how does text-based mediated communication change activities. Asking what the consequences are and how they impact our communication.

Rick - isn't the problem the term? We don't get specific. We talk about text-based, that's one thing. But there's Elluminate, which is audio, that's a different thing.

Diane Janes - wondering about the zombie and the effectiveness debate, and tying it with funding, that wants us to be effective. "I don;t want my child to be damaged by something that's not effective." Was the zombie ever dead? The world comes back and says, "How effective is this?"

Margaret - the conference where we presented these papers had a whole lot of OECD people at it, and then Charlie spoke, saying, you should stop it, you're not accomplishing anything. But the better analogy would be, the automobile. Once, we had maps with gas stations, because we needed them. And roads. These days, we just assume they're there. There are so many things that are part of the infrastructure of the automobile. The question of impact was asked then - why should we do this. The horse, it doesn't need gas stations. If it were only that we introduced tech, and everything else was the same, we could do the research. But things change - the curriculum, the testing, the teaching strategies.

Terry - the easy out is to say 'how do we know that was effective'. The only answer is to say, 'How would I learn'. To say with some authority, that's what I'm using.

-- the labling issue was a bit of a barrier. We're so hung up on computers, we wonder what we are going to do with voice over internet, oh no, we know nothing about VoIP. But if we say 'audio', we have a lot to say about audio. Because we say 'computers' we're losing a lot of what we learned from distance education when there were no computers. It was only in rare models that we had no contact. The labeling can really get in the way so much.

Heather - I agree. Peters wrote an excellent article on building on the foundations. There's a lot of talk about old wine in new bottles...

Terry - it's in the Bible.

--- I don;t know anything about the methodology or the breadth of the study.

Michele - journals, public policy, scholarly academic reviews....

--- maybe one of the reasons we got 15 percent is that there was a huge pile that was missed. Eg. Journal of Medical education - was 95 percent empirical research. Parallel reviews. If those were missed in many of those disciplines, empirical research is a requirement...

Michele - It was a focus on Canadian educational journals.

Terry - listed pretty broad sources.

Michele - It is online,

--- Re: people looking at technology as a value-neutral tool - it's not, of course -- people tend to think of technology as always a good thing. Wonder if you have a response to that attitude. Have we created an industry that becomes self-propelling.

Terry - well the most-used technology is the blackboard, so I don't think we're overwhelmed. I think we've got lots of conservatives.

Heather - we have to justify the way things are currently done.

--- I was upset with my son's science teacher, he was using a 1981 textbook, there's no computer, it's 1970s style education, for a junior high school in Alberta it's not very good stuff. My daughters history text is from 1983, it says there are a million computer users now in the U.S.

Heather - I was wondering what's the difference between animated objects vs transparencies?

Margaret - the real shadow piece is around th questions that is asked around impact and testing and accountability, we can see from the United States, there's a big emphasis again on objectives.

Michele - I'm also looking at the issues of equity. Also in Alberta, a school, fully funded by Apple, with one-to-one computing. There's no system of accountability, no system for assessing whether it's being used responsibly. Or access is so locked down you can't reasonably do research.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Perfect Trip

Nothing is completely perfect. But this came pretty close.

Friday morning. I woke up at 7:00 in my hotel in the Bloomsbury district of London. An hour for a nice breakfast and to read the Guardian (complemenary at the hotel). 8:00 back in my room. A quick check online to map the local Underground station. 8:30 I'm packed, one bag and one carry-on, which I can pull easily behind me as I walk to the Holburn station.

It's a bit before 9:00 and there's a pretty good crowd on the street so I pull into the cafe above the station to have a coffee and wait for the crowds to thin. It's easy to get a ticket to Heathrow at the station; the wicket is staffed and there's no line-up. Four pounds. Two long escalators down and then a short flight of stairs (some of the stations are a lot worse; I actually got lost in Gloucester Road station on my way into the city on Tuesday).

Onto the train, right at the middle of the car, there's a spot reserved for luggage and an empty seat right beside it. My bags sit there under my watchful eye for the next 45 minutes or so as I listen to tunes on my iRiver and watch the city flow by. London is a huge city, obviously, and an endlessly fascinating city.

The walk from the station to the Air Canada check-in is a good fifteen minutes. There's a lot of construction but the path is perfectly marked and there isn't a hint of uncertainty. It's 10:00 by now, I'm three hours ahead of my flight and there's about five people in the line-up. A quick check-in, an aisle seat near the front of the plane because my plan is to stay awake and read.

They've changed the security set-up at Heathrow. The last time I was there, there was one huge mob of people outside security. I wrote at the time about how dangerous it was. Now it's staged; there are large barriers in between the stages, and each stage moves pretty quickly. There are signs on the wall illustrating how to prepare your carry-on and, even better, a counter with rollers to give you a place to put your stuff in the trays. It still takes a good half hour to get through security, and I can imagine it taking longer, but it is not onerous and I don't feel like my life is in danger.

This gives me about an hour and a half in the lounge before boarding. I am able to log on, read my email, write a few OLDaily posts (including the summaries from the conference, which were a pleasure to read) and have some coffee and a snack. I am a bit rushed (I forgot that boarding is an hour before the flight, not half an hour) so I don't get a chance to get my usual airline snack of fruit and nuts. There's a machine in the departure lounge, and despite it eating two pounds (giving incorrect change and delivering from an empty row) I still manage to get some water.

The airplane is one if the new 777s. My seat is right behind the bulkhead separating the economy fare people from subsidy class, but unlike other aircraft, this airplane allows me to straighten my legs without being blocked by the wall (this may sound like a small thing, but when my knees are bent for hours at a time they lock up very painfully). Each seat has a 110 volt plug and a USB port as well as a screen with personal entertainment.

I was worried because I didn't have snack food, and I had stopped eating the food on the flights to and from Europe (it was not just awful, I felt it was actually dangerous) but on this flight the food (roast lamb) was actually quite good. After watching an episode of Corner Gas (the first episode, I think, which I had never seen) I settle in to enjoy Dr. No (I had started to watch it on the flight to Boston but didn't even get half way through). Then a pleasant viewing of one of my favorite films, The Hunt for Red October. You can't beat Sean Connery. Then taking a bit of a flyer, I select Music and Lyrics because I like Drew Barrymore, not expecting much, but it turns out to be good enough that I'll make a point of seeing the rest of it some time. Seven hours passes quickly on a good airplane.

The flight is on time. I have my usual encounter with the people in the back room at Canadian Customs (ever since my South African incident they have never let me pass through without an extra screening - this is a lesson to me to not ask the Canadian government for help when I need it, because I will be punished). No line-up, so it's quite quick. I walk through security without even slowing down and settle into the lounge for 40 minutes - enough time to check a few items online and send my newsletter.

I get to the gate and as I arrive I hear myself being paged. I walk to the desk to find that my seat has been reassigned. Do you mind a window seat? No, of course not. Turns out it's in executive class. So now I get to enjoy good life you can usually get only if you can write it off as a business expense. The crab cake salad is delicious, and of course there is plenty of fresh brewed coffee. There is video - I noticed an episode of Cheers - but I am listening to my music and finishing Second Genesis (which I had started on the flight out). Quite a good book, and I wish I hadn't left the paperback tucked in the seat pouch when I left the airplane at Winnipeg.

The flight lands at about 7:30 p.m. - the sun is still shining and the cab ride to the hotel is a lot shorter than I remember. Winnipeg, I reflect, though large by canadian standards, is really a small city after all. By 8:30 I'm in my hotel room, watching a hockey game and settling in for the night. To bed a bit early, I guess, by Winnipeg standards, but I have a nice twelve hours of sleep to end my day.

It's pretty easy to complain about airlines and air travel. I've had my rough trips, there's no question about that. But this time it was as easy as could be, and when you consider that you can wake up in London and go to sleep in Winnipeg, almost half way around the world, that's pretty amazing. So I'll give Air Canada props. They haven't always treated me well, but this time it was pretty much as good as it gets.

Oh yeah - and the trivial fact of the day is this: the ceiling lighting of the 777 changes colour during the flight, from a deep violet to red to yellow to blue. Fun.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Vouchers in the Economist

Responding to a rah rah post from Graham Glass (comment currently awaiting moderation on his site):

What this story shows is that if you pick and chose your examples you can make it look like almost anything is working.

But readers should be tipped off by the Economist story's use of mostly inaccessible results from Colombia and Sweden rather than cases from the United States, where vouchers have been attempted most extensively.

This is probably because, despite millions of dollars in promotion and a substantial political lobby, study after study in the U.S. is showing vouchers to be failing.

I have a great fondness for Colombia, but I must say, when the Economist cites the Colombian school system as a model for U.S. states to follow, it smacks of desperation.

I half expected the article to cite the Edmonton School Board, where school choice is in fact working in the best interests of students.

But of course, the Edmonton system is completely publicly funded - there aren't private schools with special agendas sniping around the margins of the system.

The voucher system - despite the publicity - is not designed to engender school choice. It is instead designed as a way to generate public funding for private schools.

There is substantial evidence that a private system does not work. A private school has to serve too many masters - and in particularly, shareholders - leaving any real concern about a child's education far behind.

The Economist once had a good reputation. These days, it is nothing but a fountain of ill-disguised propaganda with a disregard for reason and common sense that is embarrassing.