Archive for the ‘questions’ Category

Hypothetical

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Suppose you run a data center. You have lots of personally identifiable information and a lot of other data that is is critical to keep safe. You have a vendor who has a software package that you have thoroughly tested and decided after careful evaluation that it is secure. Then they come to you with a second piece of software and say something like “this is a subset of that other piece of software but we have added more security.” Do you –

a) retest the new software and make sure that none of the changes they made made things worse rather than better

b) take them at their word and put the software right into production

If I am your boss and you choose “b” why should I not fire you on the spot?

Note: Any similarity between this hypothetical question and recent events in the news is purely coincidental.

Bill Gates–The Great Satan of Education Reform

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Business and education are different. And that is putting it mildly. One of the big disconnects is how salaries are calculated and raises are assigned. In education people basically get raises based on two things: longevity and education. In industry experience counts for setting salaries and raises are determined based on some sorts of measurable metrics of accomplishment. In education just getting a degree is grounds for a raise. In business/Industry a new degree doesn’t count for any automatic increase. The assumption is that the education you have acquired will improve your ability and performance and so will be rewarded based on improved performance.

Bill Gates is suggesting (see Gates Urges School Budget Overhauls) that the education model be more like the industry model. He is calling for an end to automatic step increases and separate higher pay levels for advanced degrees. Rather he is pushing for pay for performance. Needless to say teacher unions are not happy about this.

The issue is more complicated than Bill Gates seems to think it is. It’s also more important to deal with than I think the teacher unions think it is. First off pay for performance is not as easy or working out as well at Gates thinks it is. W Edwards Deming, the father of modern quality control in much of the world, was a serious critic of the practice. His view was that there was too much subjectivity and actually much less variance between most employees to justify the differences in raises. While he believed in exceptional performers who were worthy of higher raises he was basically more of a supported of education style raises. Experience and training generally did result in better performance and Deming believed in training as a key to better productivity and performance. In education the evaluation of performance is also a lot harder than in a lot of jobs. The base it all on test scored ideal is seriously flawed for starters. People who don’t understand education really don’t seem to get that. They are looking for easy to gather metrics and have grabbed on to some that are a lot less reliable than they think they are.

On the teacher side I think many ignore the truth that there is a difference, as one superintendent of schools put it to me, between 20 years of experience and one year of experience 20 times. Years if experience is the same sort of simple solution that pay for test results is. That is it seems logical and objective but it ignores basic realities of how people operate. Some people get into a rut and never improve – or worse degrade over time. Many people do get better over time but even so not all at the same rate. And then there is the issue of training. There are teachers who actively look for and take training as a way to improve their practice. There are also teachers who attend training so that they can retain certification/licensure but have no intentions of letting that training change the way they do things. And yet the second group is rewarded in the same way the first group is. That seems somehow wrong to many people.

Ultimately we do need to reform schools I believe. But it is not going to happen unless educators are an active part of the discussion rather than the targets of reformers. Both sides need to understand the other, listen to the other, and be willing to explain why an idea is good or not good rather than just saying “no.” Bill Gates is not against good education. Teachers are not against improving the way education is delivered. But you’d never know that from the rhetoric. Dialogue is what we need but I don’t see anyone really working at making that happen. Rather we see each side (or multiple sides in some cases) just trying to marshal the public, who are generally way in over their heads in education discussions, against the other. This seems to be to be doomed to failure with our students and ultimately the country as the loser.

Education Professionals and Non Professionals Running Schools

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

So my thing to wonder about today is the various attitudes about non-education professionals in education. Specifically it seems that a lot of education professionals attack people like Bill Gates and other would be school reformers from industry and politics for their efforts. They say these are not professional educators and so should stay out of things. OK I can see that line of argument but here is the rub. Most of those same people are strong supporters of local school boards whose memberships are totally made up of, wait for it, non education professionals.

And in fact my experience is that most school board members do less homework and study about education that the big name non-education professional “reformers.” Anyone else see the contradiction here?

Now I have spent time on a school board, six years on the board of a private Catholic K-8 school, time on a public school budget committee (an elected position BTW), and 9 years as a classroom teacher. I’m not sure that makes me an education professional but I do think it makes me more aware of the issues than the average person. And based on those experiences I have concerns about the way we fill school boards for public schools. Some concern about private school boards as well but actually less because the process of selecting board members is very different. But that is a topic for another post.

What I want in someone who makes policy suggestions/decisions for schools is someone who knows what they are talking about. Ideally they read a lot, talk to a lot of people who are education professionals, and have some experience in the classroom – not as a student. This does not fit most school board members but except for the classroom experience does fit a lot of the business and political people who are interested in the issues. So why do people who oppose them support local non-professional school boards? I have a theory.

School boards get almost all of their information from the professional running the school/district. The control of information is the control of the agenda and for the most part of the decisions. The result is that the professionals largely control the board’s decisions. You can see why the critics of school reforms would like this. Educated free-thinkers are generally not welcome on school boards. By controlling information to other interested groups (the PTA can be a very powerful force especially in small town elections) superintendents can often help make sure that board members who disagree with them have a short tenure in office.

Am I being cynical? I don’t think so. I think that many educators who oppose outside reformers and yet support non-professionals on school boards do so only because they know that opposing any sort of outside control is doomed to failure. having ignorant school boards is the next best thing, in their eyes, than no school board at all.

Am I wrong? I’d love to hear (read) a better explanation.

Questions? Do I get questions?

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

In short yes I do. I have gotten used to being asked all sorts of questions. Apparently people expect me to know about everything even remotely related to Microsoft.

  • “My printer doesn’t talk to my new computer?”
  • “When is such and such a product coming out?”
  • “What can you say about this court case Microsoft is in?”
  • “Such and such product doesn’t want to install, can you tell me why?”

Answers? Yeah, sometimes I have answers. People don’t like all of them though. For example, the printer not talking to your computer is probably because you don’t have an updated driver and that is the printer companies responsibility not Microsoft’s. It’s amazing how often I get asked about hardware BTW. Not the rare piece of hardware that Microsoft actually sells under their own name but some object that is advertised as working with Windows.

And the occasional Apple question. Why? No idea. I guess because it is a computer.

For products, Microsoft comes out with all sorts of products all the time. I don’t work with all of them. I’m not a gamer and I don’t work in the game group so I have no idea (or much interest most of the time) when new editions of games are coming out. And if I knew but it hasn’t been announced publically I can’t (will not) tell you any way. Chances are that if the product/game/what ever is important to you than you already know as much about the release date as I do. And if I know more?  Sorry, but I really like my job and announcing product release dates is way above my pay grade.

Court case? My understanding with the lawyers is that I don’t comment on legal issues and they don’t write code. We’re all better off that way. Oh you want my personal opinion? Sorry, I don’t know you well enough to share that. And you know, I really do like my job.

Few people ever have enough information for me to diagnose an install problem. I need to know every other piece of software they have installed, every version, every error message they have seen and even then there is a great chance that the product is outside my area of expertise.  Sigh! Though I do try when I can.

I don’t mind the questions BTW.  I get more frustrated with myself when I can’t help. But I really like it when I can help. So as long as people ask I will do my best to answer. But I don’t know everything.

The Vick Affair

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

So it appears that Michael Vick has signed a new football contract. And not everyone is happy about it. He was convicted of running a dog fighting operation and served his prison time for it. I always thought that technically that was “paying ones debt to society.” It appears that some people want him never to work again. I’m not sure if they don’t want him to work anywhere or just not play football. But it doesn’t seem fair to me.

I’m not excusing what he did but I don’t think we should have unforgivable sins. If people pay their court ordered debt then we should give them a second chance. What’s the alternative? Sentence them to a life of crime or keep anyone in jail for life regardless of crime?

What Does A Degree Mean?

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Fairly often I see people list their degrees or their highest degree received next to their names. I think it is supposed to impress people. A way of saying “look at me I’m smart.” Now in some cases the degree indication makes some sense. Basically that is limited to the academic environment or some professional/licensing situations though. In academia degrees received is pretty much directly tied to rank. Outside academia is all too often seems pretentious. It doesn’t add credibility to what one says or writes in the business world. And unless you have a terminal degree (generally a doctorial level degree) you’re only going to impress people with lower level degrees than you have. So why bother advertising that?

Now some degrees do carry professional weight. MSW (Masters in Social Work) have special meaning and are required for some jobs or professional licenses. But in other fields other things make more sense. CPA (Certified Public Accountant) is more important than a specific degree for accounting. Or PE (Professional Engineer) over a specific engineering degree. A lot depends on the field and more importantly the audience. Advertising a degree outside of those contexts, well, to me it doesn’t mean much.

A friend of mine once asked senior management if they would get a raise if they earned an additional degree. The answer was “not automatically.” The assumption was that if you really learned things that helped you do your job better the normal reward and promotion system would take care of you. You are valued for the work you do and not for the degrees you earn. This is not true in academia but that’s something of a world a part.

So what does a degree mean? Basically all it really automatically means is that one has completed a course of study. What really counts is not the degree earned but  the knowledge gained.

Getting Tired of Laptops

Monday, July 27th, 2009

I’ve been using a laptop as my primary machine for years now. At least six but probably more like 8 or 10. The only time I use a desktop is when I use someone else’s computer. Mrs. T’s perhaps to play games. Or a computer in a public place. Most of the time a laptop is just fine. But lately it doesn’t seem fine.

Part of it is screen size but not completely. At home I have a 19 inch screen attached to my docking station. That helps a lot. I have a 21 inch LCD I need to make room for and that will be even better. Part of it is the keyboard. I’m seriously looking at plugging in a full-size USB keyboard. I feel constrained on a laptop. Lately it seems like the constraint on my fingers is leading to constrain in my brain. In any case it is starting to feel like too much work on the laptop keyboards.

Performance is not an issue for me and neither is memory or disk space. Four GB of RAM seems fine and I have lots of extra disk space. No it is the I/O. Hopefully the large keyboard and screen will help when I’m home.

Anyone else feeling like this or are you using desktop systems a lot? Or are laptops enough for you?

Good News, Bad News

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

I care very little about the stats for traffic on this blog. I care some and I do keep meaning to ask for access to the Google Analytics information but not enough to do a lot about it. For my work blog I do care and care a lot. Largely that is because my boss who determines things like raises, bonuses and good stuff like that cares about it. I’m not solely numbers focused so don’t get too hung up on that. But since I am also crazy about statistics I watch the numbers closely for that reason as well.

One of the things I always hoped for was that I would build up more of a regular audience. That is to say people who read regularly either by RSS subscription or hitting their favorite link. I track this a couple of ways. Analytics tools show direct traffic, referral traffic and search engine traffic. The percentage of traffic from search engines (which tends to be one offs and not regular visitors) is going down. It was 60% and is now around 50%. I also use Feedburner for subscriber information. The good news is this appears to be happing. Feedburner reports an average of over 400 subscribers (I like the 7 day average for this) for example. This is wonderful.

The bad news is that the total traffic is going down. What’s up with that? Well the clue is that the percentage of search engine traffic is down. So while I am getting more regular readers the total readership is down because search engines are sending me less traffic. And I have no idea why. Technorati shows many fewer in links than it did a year ago. I peaked there are over 100 sites linking in and now it is down to 25. Scary. Why is that? I don’t think I am less interesting. Rather I wonder if a lot of the in links were spam links and Technorati and the search engine companies are doing a better job of filtering them out. (BTW I’m seeing a good number of search engine traffic from Bing which makes me happy. Try it out if you haven’t.)

I hear from other bloggers that their traffic is down as well. Could it be that search engines are not driving as much traffic to blogs as they used to? Or are they spreading it out more? What is going on? Anyone else looking closely at their blog stats and seeing similar things?

Anyway in the short term I think I have to think about how to tell this story to my boss so as to properly set his expectations. Assigning meaningful metrics to blog activity is not a science. Some would say it is not even a good idea.

Casino Float

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

I’ve been curious about the business of casino operation for a while. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is the float on chips. People buy chips to play games. The chips can be out for a long time before being redeemed.  Chips are redeemed in one of two ways. One is that a customer of the casino returns them to the cashier. The other is that “the house” returns them to circulation. Since the casino has to retain cash to cover the value of outstanding chips they can’t actually benefit from float*. They can count the money as theirs only when the house itself returns the chips to the cashier.

In theory that doesn’t make much difference between the time chips leave the cashier and they time they return is usually pretty short – generally hours.  But sometimes chips stay unredeemed for long periods of time. Some are lost, some are saved as collectables (I have a small collection myself) and some are held in safe deposit boxes (by patrons) for later visits to the casino. In those cases the casino still has to keep cash at the casino to cover the value of chips that are long outstanding. And no float.

What I’ve been seeing lately is casinos bringing in new chips – changing the design, logo, colors, etc – and declaring the old chips no longer valid. They do this with plenty of warning of course. But at some point the chips are no longer redeemable chips in circulation and the casino can take the money that people paid for those chips and use it themselves. This is cheap profit – well as long as the chips cost less to buy than their face value. Since most chips are well less than a dollar to buy (probably much less than a dollar if bought in the bulk that casinos buy them) and a dollar is generally the lowest value chip I think that profit might be pretty good.

I do wonder how much money is involved though. I tend to expect people to turn in chips that are worth more than $5. I’ve sure a lot of $1, $2, $2.50, $3 and $5 chips are never turned in and that they add up to a good number. But how good a number? Is it lost in the noise of total profits or is it a significant number. I figure that casinos have to report this somewhere but I haven’t yet gone looking for it.

Just one more thing that makes casinos more complicated than they appear on the surface.

(*Float being taking advantage of the time between when the customer pays for the chips and the chips are redeemed to invest or earn interest)

Lawyers

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

So the people who own “American Idol” (which is some TV show I have never watched) think that there are people who might reasonably think that a strip club’s “Stripper Idol” is sponsored by them. Say what! Well they use the word “Idol” and there is a logo that apparently uses a similar color and text style to the “American Idol” logo. But still – can you see people assuming that there is a connection? Perhaps an idiot might wonder for a minute or two. But would a reasonable person assume a connection? I doubt it. But there is a suit going on anyway.

Well maybe a lawyer would but if so I would drop them from my list of reasonable people. Of course the suit has brought a ton of attention to the strip club and their business is booming. So perhaps the “American Idol” people do have a piece of the action? Yeah right. Some things just make you wonder.