Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gameday: Longhorns keeping it interesting...

Before I begin, I just want to say, I told co-worker Otto on Friday, as my last words before we parted ways "Texas will win, but its going to be ugly. I'd say we'll win by 10." I am Carnac the Magnificent.

I had no expectations at the start of this season for the mighty Texas Longhorns. As much as I would love a victory in a BCS bowl each and every year, that's just not realistic. So if we can get a winning season, and Colt McCoy has a final year worthy of his career at the University of Texas to date, then... good enough.

Shipley played great as always

Fans took it for granted Texas would roll over Louisiana-Monroe, and they did. And then, last week, against Wyoming, most fans were expecting a 45+ win, and were left scratching their heads when UT looked less than stellar in the first half, only seemingly waking up in the second. Sure, they won 41-10. But it wasn't a slam dunk 41-10.

(editor's note: For some reason I wrote "34-10" initially for the 2009 Wyoming/ UT score. It was late. I was full of cheese and sausage. I have no idea where I got that number. Let that be a lesson to you when you try to blog when you should be asleep.)

And so onto this week.

You have to admit, Colt's inability to complete a pass longer than 5 yards and a secondary that seemed utterly perplexed for the duration makes for an exciting game.

I honestly believe Colt just had a rough half a game (maybe the offensive half, but...), and that the issues with the secondary are correctable. But there's no doubt that something looks off with a team that's got some inflated currency in the polls.

Obviously neither issue was a game-ender, but it does say there's a lot of work to do before UT plays OU in Mid-October.

Speaking of OU... after a tough first week, they've already found another Heismann contender in Landry Jones. Holy crow, is that guy good. Sam may be out of a job even if he wanted to come back in a week or so. But good news for Sooner fans is that they are, minimum, getting a sneak peek of the possibilities for next year.

Also watched the U. Mich./ Eastern Michigan game, just'cause. Not as interesting as the UCLA/ Minnesota game.

Meanwhile powerhouse schools like USC and BYU were taken down this week, giving all those pundits room to pause (as if USC doesn't ride a largely unearned wave of LA-centric good press every season). Today I laughed and laughed (with a hint of madness) when I saw the clips of the final moments of the USC/ Wash game.

Finally saw the Florida highlights. Man... Those guys are really a #1 team. If Texas had to play them... yeesh.

But... let me be blunt. I was not only unhappy that Texas lost to Tech last year, thus screwing up our BCS standing, but, if I may, Raiders fans might note that UT fans did not tear bleachers from the stadium and storm the field (we save that for OU and TAMU games, thank you).

So, yeah. There's a certain relief that Tech (one of about four schools who consider UT their primary rival. You are not. That's OU, whom we respect and fear. Then TAMU, who is our sabre-rattling cousin who shows up on the holidays drunk and looking for a fight) is out of the way, with a mark in UT's win column. Had UT let this one slip away at home, we'd be kissing this season good-bye. I can wait for the OU game before we do that.

I don't mean to criticize, but...

It seems the great state of Washington sees fit to take its murderous, psychotic criminals to the county fair.

I'm all for rehabilitation and treatment of the mentally ill. Truly, I am. But killing folks should not win you a roof over your head, three hots and a cot, and annual trips to see who wins the blue ribbon for the county's best blueberry pie.

Do you know when the last time was I got to go to the @#$%ing County Fair?

Anyway, it seems that the State of Washington misplaced one of their psychos, somewhere near the fried Oreo booth.

Well done.

Nathan C's Story on the Radio

Nathan C works at Texas Public Radio in San Antonio. He also wears tweed, turtlenecks and corduroy, and frequently looks down his nose at people exactly like you.

Well, none of that is true. Nathan is a hip, hip guy who knows more about movies and jazz than almost all of The League Nation combined. Seriously, dude is an encyclopedia (and he also knows a surprising amount about Disney animation).

Anyway, Nathan is one of the honchos at Texas Public Radio in programming, but he also does stories from time to time.

Check this out. Or here.

I meant to post earlier, but Jamie just came back from running an errand and said "Nathan was on the radio!"

Jamie and Nathan (and Steanso) all went to school together.

Anyway, the story is on a documentary about a family struggling with autism and the unusual way they're finding to work with their kid.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Disney's "The Incredible Journey": A Study in Animal Abuse

I know I'm supposed to be on hiatus, but...

I'm watching the original version of Disney's "The Incredible Journey", a movie I last saw on what must have been a 16mm print in elementary school.

This is one seriously screwed up movie. I mean, its a cute kids' movie as far as stories go.

But I turned it on partway through, and have seen the following:

1) This movie seems to take place in multiple simultaneous time periods, from the 1880's to the 1960's. And maybe both in the UK and the US. That's a tough journey for any animal.
2) They threw a real live cat into a raging river to get shots of a cat paddling furiously in a raging river.
3) And then threw a retriever in right after the cat, but he got to smash up against rocks
4) Then they released a real, live Lynx after the poor cat. Neither the cat nor the Lynx were screwing around at all. I sort of wondered how many cats they went through to get that shot.
5) They may have also stuck real porcupine quills in the lab's face.

Am beginning to appreciate PETA's role in Hollywood.


Digger claims Jamie for Spain

Godspeed, Mr. Kitty.

pic courtesy Doug

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Good-Bye to Digger the Cat

We're sad to report that Digger, Doug's much loved cat, has passed.

When Jamie and I began dating, Doug was living in Austin working for one of the sky-rocketing tech companies in town. It was fairly routine that Jamie and I would visit Doug at his apartment, where, one day Doug literally found several kittens on his doorstep. Doug would adopt one of the cats and his friends the others.

As a dog person, Digger was the first cat I actually liked. He liked to play, wasn't prone to clawing one's leg for no reason, and seemed interested in people. He was a very friendly guy, and was, in no small part, part of why I considered getting a cat before we were in a house and could get a dog. Doug was also one of the first people who I saw who didn't treat his cat like a conversation piece, but genuinely played with and had a relationship with his cat.

Later, Digger would make the move with Doug to The Bay Area in the company of former roommate Russ and Digger's sibling, Disco. Digger was one of several cats at the now legendary Silicon Valley homestead The Sneaky Frog. Later, Digger would be joined by Dixie.

And when Kristen and Doug began dating, Digger gave Kristen the stamp of approval.

But almost as long as I've known Doug, Digger has been in the picture. He's been a good pal to Doug, and (if you ask me) a good ambassador for his species.

When we visited Berkeley this summer, I am happy to say that Digger was in good spirits and came out to play with us, making a playscape of some packing materials and generally not showing his age.

Of course, Doug was with Digger almost every day of his life, and Kristen has been the past few years as well.

Sadly, as these things go, Digger is an older cat, and he recently became ill. I am sorry to report that he passed today. Our thoughts are with Doug and Kristen.

We'll miss you, fella. A lot of people loved you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Story of Jeff the Cat, Part II

In the time before time… when all was fire, and flesh and claw, the cat would rise from a place in the north of the city.

There came a time when the queen would decree a travel westward, into the face of the burning sun and into the place of the barren wastes, where trees bearing fruit grew spiny and creatures scuttled on their bellies across the earth.

The queen traveled ahead to the wasteland, choosing the place they would call home. The matter done, she called forth the cat, the wise canine companion and their human manservant.

The cat, always quick to anger, was without guile, and so demanded his transport not by carriage on the roadways, but passage in the belly of the silver beasts that coursed the sky.

“Ha!” declared the manservant. “They stow you in a crate like precious cargo!”

But the cat did not respond. The knowledge of his error was plain. He would ride in the beasts' belly, feeble from the elixir given him by the manservant to ease his nerve. The queen would receive him and place him first among the clan to inhabit the new dwelling, before even she gave up her temporary residence to come to the new place.

Alone he hid beneath the porcelain throne, waiting, until one day (he knew not how long) the door was thrown open and the dog and the manservant arrived with the comforts of their home. But it was not the cat's home.

For three years did the cat dwell in the desert, his displeasure constant, his look one of an ever growing madness. Still did the cat strike out against the queen and the manservant and queen, and why they suffered him to live, none could say.

In the third year the foolish dog came to the cat’s house, and here she made a bed for herself.

She wore not the gruff solemnity of her canine kin whom the cat knew, but appeared with a wild madness, her mind adrift, her thoughts as thin as the wind.
The foolish dog, though the cat paid her no heed, would go undeterred in her interest and affection for the cat.

“We are friends!” she insisted.

The cat slinked away, needing no companion but his own stewing anger.

Until one evening, long after the queen had retired and the manservant watched over his companions, did the cat demonstrate to the foolish dog his disdain.

The manservant met the gaze of each of the companions. “I ask you three, what is best in life?”

The foolish dog, always quick to answer with no thought in her brains spoke first:

“To have fresh dog chow. To find oneself on a warm spring day with the sun on your tummy. To eat rocks and vomit them.”

“Wrong!” barked the manservant. “Cat! What is best in life?”

“To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.”

The manservant eyed the cat for a long time, before turning to He Who They Called The Melbotis.

“Dog. What is best in life?”

“Knowledge of the place within the pack. The trust and love of The Queen. Quiet nights by the side of the manservant.”

The manservant seemed pleased.

The cat sat silently. Behind his eyes, the flames of chaos flickered and began to ebb.

Coming soon: Part III

A Brief Hiatus

I leave you with this clip. The music is not original to the movie. This clip seems to be a fan creation. Also, I've never seen this movie before, but it just got bumped to the top of my Netflix Queue.

Miss Vera Lynn and "The Battle of Britain".

We'll be back before you know it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Snake Grows Foot, Terrifies League

Shoemaker just posted this elsewhere

I am going to go to bed and hide beneath the covers now.

Added Shoemaker found item bonus!!!

Collinsworth on his Romantic Life

I don't know Cris Collinsworth from his actual NFL days, but I've sort of loathed the man as first the host of Fox TV's "Guinness Book of World Records" freak show, and then as an NFL commentator and host.

Leaguers, I present to you: Collinsworth, the man in his own words:

Vera Lynn, Solomon Kane, K in hospital

Vera, what has become of you...?

Vera Lynn has hit the top of the UK album charts at age 92. Former teenagers may remember Vera Lynn's name from the Pink Floyd album, The Wall.

The RAF is kind of awesome, even when singing

I'm not entirely clear on why Lynn is having a resurgence at the moment, but the Andrews Sisters better start polishing their dance shoes.

Moster-Fightin' Puritan Solomon Kane headed for theaters

Do you like awesome things? I do.

Robert E. Howard was a prolific guy in his short life. You probably know his most famous work, Conan, thanks to the 1980's Arnie movie.

While a lot of Howard's work (Kull, Red Sonja, Thulsa Doom) is sort of cut from similar cloth, Solomon Kane is a puritan with a bible and a gun who doesn't take kindly to supernatural terrors.

While The League is often disappointed in the final products Hollywood churns out as they adapt different characters (I mean, I almost wept through the last 2/3rds of Van Helsing), you have to hope that some of these will wind up okay, just by statistical probability.

Also, Kobayashi is in this movie. Go figure.

I suspect this is going to be really bad, but... what the heck. I want to see what they do the idea.

College Days

Ever wonder what college was like for The League and JAL?

Metaphorically, it was exactly like this...

credit for the clip: co-worker Adam of A&M

Kristen Doing Better

You probably missed it, but Jamie's soon-to-be sister-in-law (finance of The Dug) landed herself in the hospital over the weekend. She had a routine if not-minor surgery, and seems on her way to recovery.

This is good.

K and Dug are getting married in a few weeks at the end of the month (where I am performing a singing solo. They just don't know it yet).

So let's all wish K a swift recovery, so we're not wheeling her up the aisle on a dolly.

K has been around for a number of years now, and is already in the McB family by default, the wedding just making official how everyone has felt for a good long while. So, yes, we want her in top fighting form for the wedding, but we mostly just want her back to doing backflips as soon as possible.

Joe Wilson's got nuthin' on Kanye

A huge tip o' the sombrero to Jason Craft for this one

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Virtual University and the Future of Education

I worked in the eLearning space for most of my post-collegiate career (and depending on your definition, for a year before I graduated). Due to my career path, for years, I've seen articles cross my monitor that look more or less like this one from this weekend's Washington Post.

First: read the article, or much of the following rant will not make sense
Second: In the spirit of full disclosure, my paycheck today comes from a consortium of 18 universities (and growing), and my office is located in the basement at the library of one of these major universities. Its a great job, and I'm biased toward believing my employment will continue. I have also been employed by major universities from 1997 - 2002, 2002 - 2006 and 2008 - present.

1) I'll start with an obvious problem.

The real force for change is the market: Online classes are just cheaper to produce.

This is, I assure you, not true. What is cheaper? An instructor who walks into a classroom, fires up the projector, and begins talking? Or that same instructor, the instructional designer who helps them adapt their course for online distribution, the developers managing the content management system, the servers which must be maintained (admittedly, this is moving to the cloud), the hardware required to push the data out to the world, the money spent by the school for an IT infrastructure, the money spent on the people to manage that infrastructure, the licensing of software for off-campus use, etc...?

There are a multitude of hidden costs completely ignored in this seemingly straightforward statement.

This doesn't begin to approach the various models employed. I've been involved with asynchronous video distribution of courses, which was a very expensive model, but also provides a guarantee to both student and faculty that you've reduced the separation between on-campus and online students. That requires, at minimum, several thousand dollars sunk into production-quality equipment to capture the instructor alone. To capture the entire "studio classroom", the price increases exponentially.

Asynchronous, non-video models tend to see significant attrition. They are cheaper to produce, and are what one sees at places like Univ. of Phoenix Online. Make no mistake, this is significant work for both faculty and student to prepare and manage discussion, with artificial, time-consuming expectations placed on the students to ensure participation.

Whether instructors have a few online students or they have thousands, part of a college class is homework. Which requires a fairly complex document management process from the distance learning organization. While most Course Management Systems offer standard form-based quizzes, hopefully higher education is requiring a bit more than a multiple choice quiz. And that all costs money, including staff to grade.

And none of this takes proctoring exams into account.

Let us not also forget that universities are not a defensive driving class. The sciences and engineering require sophisticated labs for even their undergraduates as standard operation for the course. You do not ship an oil derrick to a petroleum engineering student's home, nor a nuclear reactor to a nuclear engineering student's home. You don't inject rabbits with ebola over your sink to see what happens (I mean you could, but that's a totally different experiment).

There's a sort of Henry Ford model inherent in the idea of printing courses and being done with it. But Ford also didn't sit on his laurels and stop dead in his tracks after the Model T. Scholarship is a funny thing in that there always seems to be something to add, some changes to be made, suggesting that after you've done all of this once, even a Roman History course will need to be refreshed on a fairly frequent basis.

Author Zephyr Teachout may be shocked to find out that most universities do not have the endowments and budget that Harvard is able to play with, and cannot afford all of the technology that is required (and that may even include a Blackboard Course management System) to run an eLearning course. It may be cheaper to employ adjunct faculty and turn on the lights rather than reproduce its entire curriculum online every semester.

Assuming cost remains constant or drops is, on its face, wrong.

2) Higher education is not a product one purchases like a car.

Universities are not looking for customers, they are looking for select bodies of students to help them maintain their profile.

Teachout says:

A student can already access videotaped lectures, full courses and openly available syllabuses online. And in five or 10 years, the curious 18- (or 54-) year-old will be able to find dozens of quality online classes, complete with take-it-yourself tests, a bulletin board populated by other "students," and links to free academic literature.

Some schools like MIT are currently happy to share their content online from classes that are hitting the internet, but because universities actually value their own intellectual property, no university at my last check was offering MIT's content as their own. Nor is even the most motivated of people eager enough to (a) sit through a 45 hour semester course with no pay-off 9and certainly not do homework and lab work), (b) multiply that by enough courses that would have earned them a degree.

What Teachout describes exists, but the intention and believed use was for people who might use snippets here and there, not kill the time they could have used earning a degree watching courses and NOT earning a degree.

As universities are not businesses, and operate on a model which values scholarship above all else, I can see how it might be difficult for a business-minded person to understand that universities are not likely to begin looking to cut costs by turning to corporate pre-packaged materials.

The essence of scholarship is the generation and dissemination of ideas, something that I would believe Teachout somehow missed as a visiting faculty at Harvard. I am guessing, in fact, that Teachout most likely sampled the Blackboard course management system, realized the possible applications, and leaped ahead in her assessment without considering either the lengthy history of distance education, or the value of scholarship as created in the university campus and disseminated in the classroom.

The efforts most universities are engaged with today are the polar opposite of the McDonald's style of homogenized scholarship Teachout foresees. And, in fact, most universities are working to produce resources for their faculty to extend their scholarly communication out to anyone who can Google it. They are challenging faculty to not live in an ivory tower, but use the tools of communication to reach out to one another and better promote their work.

3) The Nintendo Generation

In 1999, an IT person came to my office to meet with my team and announced "We are looking at the Nintendo generation. We need tos tart figuring out how to turn our courses into video games or we're going to lose these kids".

Nobody turned their course into a videogame in the entire college where I worked, and yet, semester after semester, students continue to turn up.

And the young students of tomorrow will be growing up in an on-demand, personalized world, in which the notion of a set-term, offline, prepackaged education will seem anachronistic.

A few things Teachout is missing: the idea of turning a course into something that millions of students will take will, by default, mean that the course will no longer be agile or more easily updated. It will, in fact, mean that the courses will be the pre-packaged courses she suggests won't happen.

In fact, if one wishes to partially use her metaphor, its far more likely that students would jump from course to course offering, depending upon the befits of which course were maximum and still earned them course credit. This can only happen, of course, if there are little start-up courses available AND ACCREDITED (which presents a whole new problem).

When radio and television were introduced, it was believed a primary function would be educational. Satellite, cable and videotape have made the possibility for the classroom seating virtual thousands to exist well before the internet. And that's ignoring the packet-based "correspondence classes" recognized by most universities when I was an undergrad. During this time, semi-affordable video conferencing equipment was the rage, and joint courses began being held between campuses.

My first full-time gig positioned me as manager of a studio classroom, which went from video-conference suite and tape distribution center to online broadcasting within about a year. Integrated with a CMS, we'd pretty much achieved several of the goals Teachout suggests.

Later, I'd work with something called "NTU", which was a clearinghouse which allowed for students to take courses from a potluck of offerings from all sorts of universities. Walden continues to exist with NTU as a subsidiary. I think it's a great idea, but its been in the market for a long while without finding a ranking for engineering schools. So do with that what you will.

4) CostCo Law School

I'm a tremendous fan of the dystopian comedy "Idiocracy". In the movie, as the timelost protagonist and his newfound companion wander through a future-CostCo (which stretches beyond the horizon), the contemprary character off-handedly comments that he got his law degree at CostCo.

In viewing education as lowest-common-denominator product that should be simplified and put online, so the maximum number of learners can gain the same knowledge for the lowest cost possible might be where public education is headed in Texas, its antithetical to the ideals of actual scholarship. There's value in creating communities of competitive ideas, where students have options and can work outside of their comfort zone.

Universities strive to offer programs in diverse knowledge areas with faculty in cutting-edge research not just to build up their portfolio of NSF grants, but to offer that learning experience to students.

5) The Newspaper Analogy

I get where Teachout was going with the newspaper analogy, but its a tough one to swallow. If we honestly believe that the same sort of data that's generated in our research universities will be found without those research centers, but just, you know... out there on a blog or something... we might as well start just packing it now as a culture.

I've no doubt that it would benefit community colleges to synchronize on some of their courses that take up teaching load and are basic requirements. Its certainly a possibility. But those are also a small, small portion of the courses one takes in college. And, at a major university, those are the classes that employ associate and junior faculty.

I understand the belief that courses will be aggregated, but I see it far more likely that you'll see cross-listed courses at "partner" universities (see: Western Governor's University), as researchers and various universities find ways to collaborate in the classroom as well as the lab.

That's a good thing, and its more like picking up articles from a wire service, not like saying good-bye to the local paper.

6) Keggers and Football

The university experience is, of course, as much about what happens outside of the classroom as within.

I'm not really sure I need to elaborate here. We've all seen Animal House, correct?

7) So in Conclusion

I am a strong proponent of eLearning. I believe in it. I've worked in it a heck of a lot more and longer than most folks who teach a semester in the modern university.

I would suggest the following again:

Universities are not a business hunting and pecking for student money. Unlike anything else that costs as much as a university education, it is not a consumer driven model. It is far more akin to earning a job and succeeding in that job.

It is therefore not necessarily the role of the university to turn its courses into video games or lose their students. Its the role of the student to rise to the set of challenges created by or issued by their university, not for the university to quiver in fear of their students' demands for immediate gratification, 24 hour communication with their faculty, or a specific letter grade.

In my experience, technology enters the picture not when students demand it (if they attended public school, they usually don't expect much out of a classroom), but because the university found it was more productive for their faculty to have access to the technology.

While a strata of education will see change, Teachout's belief that only elite (read: Ivy League) schools will go untouched by her model, the model of the university is not going to crumble in the 10 - 20 years Teachout predicts.

At some point education may become the consumer commodity Teachout suggests, but we're a long way from the CostCo model today. Students are still asking to get in and hoping to get accepted. Perhaps this model will change in my lifetime, but the students aren't anywhere close to dictating what happens on their campuses today.

Now wealthy alumni...