Curmudgeon Day

Tomorrow is National Curmudgeon Day. I wanted to bring this to your attention in case anyone wanted to wish me well. Actually, thanks to son-in-law Jim for letting me know that tomorrow was my special day.

So, I prepared for tomorrow by visiting EPCOT. This is a great location to prepare for tomorrow. I had fun criticizing the prices and my feet will likely still hurt when I get up to face another day.


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Priorities and political indifference

I see myself as an educational blogger and some may be surprised and perhaps annoyed that I comment about political issues. I do not consider these comments as being off target. In fact, I consider the decisions made by politicians and the factors that motivate politicians of greater significance than what technology is used in classrooms and what activities educators ask students to complete. As far as annoyance goes, I am annoyed with those who argue they are focused on learners and learning when they ignore general political issues. What variables do you assume will have the largest impact on learners?

The general issues that have led me to this conclusion are economic inequity and the role of money in the political process. The knowledge and motivation that students bring to the classroom has long been recognized as possibly the most important factors in how effectively they benefit from a group learning experience. The quality of instruction matters, but it matters the most with students who come with the least. Coleman first noted this reality in the ‘60s and I have seen nothing that has disputed this position since. Of course, quality education seems inversely related to existing benefits rather than working in the opposite direction. The incentives do not seem to be there to change this situation. I see this as a political problem educators are not willing to reverse.

It appears that our political system is pretty much available to the highest bidder. Political decisions regarding funding place no effective limits on contributions and those who spend the money expect to be compensated via political decisions for their contributions. The one man (person) one vote mantra exists in getting individuals to office only if the primary process does not cull candidates and politicians are true to their promises once in office rather than give in to lobbyists ready to help with funds for whatever seems necessary once politicians arrive. The growing inequity in wealth and the increasing role wealth plays in political life has created a downward spiral resulting in greater disparity and less political responsiveness. This has to be a spiral we can recover from if meaningful change is to happen.

I had hoped that the Internet would somehow reverse this cycle, but this will happen only if the message from time to time focuses on the major sources of variability rather than personal preoccupations that will produce little change. My concern is that the myopic are worried about their brand and are afraid that negative comments may direct their audience elsewhere. Perhaps, but I also think those who think this way are part of the problem even though they claim to be part of the solution. Perhaps I should name names. Spend some of your time addressing priority problems with your audience.

A couple of links:

The CNN series on money and political influence

Lawrence Lessig’s book (comment here) Republic, Lost

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Improve Twitter!

It is likely common knowledge that I have a mixed reaction to Twitter. My common reaction after a Twitter session is that the feed is made up primarily of drivel and self or in-group promotion. I cannot understand even having tried from time to time how groups believe a Twitter chat offers the most meaningful way to interact.

However, having made my personal reactions clear, I obviously make some use of the service. I admit to constantly checking Twitter from my mobile devices. There is likely some useful information in this observation. I assume this is because I use my phone and often one of my tablets to skim. I can quickly thumb past the inane. What I tend to be looking for are links? I think I use Twitter as a discovery and not a learning tool. The discovery process is not sufficient for learning, but discovery does direct me toward content that may be useful. Perhaps there should be a way to hide any Tweet that does not contain a link.

Twitter, here is what I would suggest.. Create an internal mechanism for extended “posts”. You seem to have recognized the value of this strategy for images. Why not with other forms of multimedia content? I think it is fine that I can automatically forward a Tweet that links back to this content, but you may be missing out on an opportunity by allowing your users to do their real learning elsewhere.

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One comment on cold weather

We are in the midst of an epic cold snap (according to the weather folks). Those of us living in the upper midwest are experienced in cold and become annoyed when other folks promote their experiences with the cold. Perhaps this is unfair. If you are not prepared and equipped, modest temperatures are cold.

I was supposed to be on my way back to work today. I am not. Minnesota and North Dakota are pretty much shut down and road conditions are dangerous. Sliding of the road would not be a good. Despite national attention, today is not as bad as several days this past week. It was only -24 this morning and we had several days when the thermometer read -27 when I first checked in the morning.

It could be worse, the view out the window is pretty “cool”.


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The ice dam – a tutorial


This instructional material has been prepared for those of you who think 40 degrees Fahrenheit is cold.

An ice dam typically forms at the edge of a roof when some of the snow in the roof melts and the water runs beneath the blanket of snow. Snow may melt even on very cold days if a roof has not been well insulated. The water trickles down toward the gutter as it does in warm weather. Often the gutter is filled with snow or blocked in some way creating slush. When the temperature goes back down, the slush freezes forming ice. Ice may also form when water moves past the heated part of a roof onto eaves that extend beyond the heated room below. When more water forms and drains down the slope of the roof it encounters the dam of ice formed previously and puddles up. The dam grows in size and more water collects behind it.

This puddled water can cause serious damage to a roof. It may seep under shingles and when it freezes pop the shingles up. It may find an opening through the shingles and drip into the house. Significant damage can occur if the problem is not addressed. It can be one of those pay me now or pay me later deals.

The photo shows the snow pack on our house. This situation developed from several heavy snows without wind. A warm day or two and the snow hardened up so that it would no longer blow off the building. If you look closely, you should be able to see the ice forming at the edge of the roof.

Sometimes homeowners purchase special aluminum rakes (snow rakes) that allow them to remove the snow along the edge of a roof. This becomes difficult to do when the snow hardens and not possible with a roof like ours which is 2 ½ stories in some sections. Someone has to go up there to get rid of the snow. This is a job for someone who knows what they are doing and who is significantly younger than me. The idea is to get rid of as much snow as possible and salt the ice dams so the ice melts. This is an expensive proposition – it takes some time and is difficult and dangerous work. Home ownership can involve such unexpected costs.

Happy New Year! My son calls this a “first world problem” and I agree.

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We are not (hopefully) in Kansas anymore

I must admit I missed this story when it originally broke, but I follow Slate (a site focused on long form posts) and picked up the story just a few days ago.

Evidently, back in September, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a description of a University of Kansas professor being suspended for a tweet that targeted the NRA following a massed shooting. You might wonder how much trouble you can get into given a limit of 140 characters. Evidently, a good deal. The tweet indicated that “blood was on the hands of the NRA” which probably by itself would not be too objectionable, but then went on to say “Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters.”

The tweet evidently was noticed and likely frequently retweeted and in reaction the Kansas chancellor, Bernadette Gray-Little, directed KU to place Dr. Guth on leave.

Reading about this action caused me to think back on what I may have said in response to similar events. I did comment on the school shootings, the NRA, and also on the vote of a  newly elected North Dakota senator I had supported financially. My comments were in a longer form and more carefully worded. I believe comments that over the top lose any possible effectiveness the sentiments expressed might have. One can express contempt for a policy – the lack of a defensible need for high capacity ammunition magazines or the lack of a response to the need for background checks that address mental illness – without wishing ill on the children of those holding such flawed beliefs or taking such stands in response to political pressure.

Still, private irrational and indefensible comments are everywhere. College professors are actually probably even less inclined to “lose it” and make inappropriate comments than are politicians or titans of public (stock supported) companies. Such comments, however, are inevitable and now with our willingness to share thoughts online more visible and permanent. There are two issues here – who is allowed to express their displeasure and what should be the consequences for an inappropriate comment. In both cases, I am assuming the situations involve comments made as personal opinions and not as a representative of any organization (such as is the case with this post). Dr. Gust did not promote his comment as the position of the University and could not have done so in 140 characters.

It does make you wonder. Does anyone recognize that I am a college prof. when reading my posts or tweets? Does anyone know which institution employs me? Does anyone believe my comments somehow carry the stamp of approval of my employer? Does anyone believe my personal position on important issues should be silenced because I work for the people of North Dakota?

The President of the University of Kansas did eventually respond to the intertwined issues of responsibility, free speech, and academic freedom. The comment from KU President are difficult to interpret (administrator speak), but I think he says that we support different views and believe in academic freedom. I hope so anyway.

This situation generated so much attention because the initial comments were online and because the actions taken were also evaluated online. I keep hoping that online comments give everyone of us an opportunity to comment and engage. Being civil is certainly to be expected, but we all become frustrated when positions we clearly see to be wrong are somehow protected with flawed logic.

Further analysis can be found at the American Center for Civil Liberty site (read the extended discussion).

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Christmas Eve

forestevesA change of pace – happy holiday to all. A photo from the forest trail near our second home.


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There are plenty of technology legends. Sometimes legends are self proclaimed and sometimes status is achieved through deeds.

I think my wife falls into the second category. This has been the case since the mid-80s, but sometimes being experienced can be held against you. Being female and “older” could lead to some false assumptions. In appreciating talent, it is often better to watch than listen.

We arrived at the cabin for a holiday break and found that our television would not work. It seemed likely that the problem was the large accumulation of snow that buried the  dish on our roof. Cindy is more social than I so she called the provider to ask for a suggestion. I am guessing that the support person in Florida could not fully appreciate the nature of the problem, but evidently you cannot get a technician to evaluate your situation until it is clear that some sort of obstacle is not the problem. Snow is an obstacle. The fact that the dish is on a pitched roof 2 1/2 stories above the ground is evidently great for reception, but not access and maintenance.



I would have been comfortable exploring “cord cutting” until one of my kids made his/her way to the lake. Cindy had shows to watch.

What to do when a ladder cannot reach? Climb through one of the windows in the loft (I would not fit) and fix the problem.




Sure enough, the television works. I think I would have crawled back inside at this point and had a cup of coffee.

Cindy decided the view was pretty nice and had me get her iPhone so she could create a panorama. A Christmas card picture for you.


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Beer money ploy repurposed

What appears below is probably one of my favorite curmudgeon posts. It is certainly the time of the year to bring this post back (I am sitting in a classroom annoying students working on my final by the clicking of this Dell keyboard). However, I have been taken by the holiday spirit and it occurs to me that the money from selling back your textbooks could be put to a better use. Buy your mom a decent present!!!

Note: Aside from how I suggest you use the money, the rest of the original post still applies.

The end of the semester is drawing near. The college book store has contacted me to determine if I am going to assign the same textbooks next year. Now is the time to explain the “beer money ploy”. I am not certain just who should benefit from understanding the beer money ploy. Knowledge of this ploy might be applied in offensive or defensive mode. My lot is not to take sides, but to educate.

The beer money ploy offers an opportunity for students to generate a little extra spending money as the semester ends. This is useful at a time when money tends to be tight, but the ploy must be executed strategically. Apply this strategy too early and your GPA may suffer. Apply the strategy too late and all your buddies will have left for home and you will have no one to party with. The beer money ploy is based on the differential between the initial cost of textbooks and the price the book store will pay you to sell your books back. Say you have a book that costs $100. Think of this as an investment – in your education and in your beer fund. If you rely on help in purchasing your books, it is important that the full detail of this ploy remain somewhat hidden. It helps if you complain a lot about the high cost of textbooks. At the strategic time, after you have studied for your finals and before your friends have left, you head to the bookstore and sell your book back for $50. Like magic – $50 beer money.

Follow this site – from time to time I will offer other helpful financial tips. Next – borrowing money from your roommate.

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The talent

Somewhere along the way I picked up a concept I continue to find useful and I am certain quite likely annoys others. It concerns recognition of those who are “the talent”. I think this is a phrase I first heard my son use. He works in video and the phrase refers to the actors/people who are in front of the camera rather than the people who are behind the camera. What I like about the phrase is that it identifies those who in the final analysis make something work. All contribute, but some support and some must deliver.

I thought it was an important perspective while I worked as an administrator and I think it is an important perspective in the work I do now developing and supporting the skills teachers rely on in engaging students with technology. Ideas have little value until put into practice.

Perhaps it is important to identify who is not “the talent”. Administrators are not the talent. Your “vision” (one of those words I hate) is only as good as the willingness and skills of those who actually do the work. Administrators are in a support role – find good people, find the resources they need, defend them when necessary, allow those who execute to be recognized for their accomplishments.

I think tech people need to take this same perspective. I do not care if you promote each other as rock stars or as one super hero or another. You too are support personnel. You are only successful when “the talent” executes.

The problem from my perspective is that those who must actually make ideas work are not in positions that are visible and find it difficult to self promote. Too often, those in support positions have better opportunities to promote themselves and each other. So, if you have time for promotion and believe it is necessary, perhaps it would be more productive to use some of this time and skills to promote “the talent”.

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