Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Meet the Press for Idiots

If my pal F ever comes back here, she's really gonna love this one.

In the meantime, Alanna, this is what you miss by going to bed early.

Thanks goes out to Shakes.

An Education from Notre Dame? Priceless.

For those of us who never thought we could afford an education from MIT – or other prestigious universities – do I ever have good news.

As long as you’re not interested in a diploma, MIT, Notre Dame, and UC Irvine, among others, cordially invite you to sit in on class – from the comfort of your own computer chair, and for free.

Although this apparently has been going on for a while, it took NPR to bring it to my attention. Janet Babin of Marketplace Money reports:

Maybe where someone got their degree doesn't impress you. But who isn't curious about what makes some colleges so expensive, and so competitive?

Well now, a few of those elite institutions are pulling back the curtain on the secret formula, making top-notch courses available online for free.

MIT was one of the first. MIT lets you peruse its OpenCourseWare program, where you can see a class syllabus, review quizzes and answers, and even watch videos of class lectures.

A faculty committee created the program several years ago as it worried that the Internet might pass MIT by.

Online students can follow along, but they don't have access to professors, and they don't get any kind of course credit.
The OpenCourseWare Consortium includes universities from all over the world, and describes OpenCourseWare as follows:

a free and open digital publication of high quality educational materials, organized as courses. The OpenCourseWare Consortium is a collaboration of more than 100 higher education institutions and associated organizations from around the world creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model. The mission of the OpenCourseWare Consortium is to advance education and empower people worldwide through opencourseware.

The Goals of the Consortium

-Extend the reach and impact of opencourseware by encouraging the adoption and adaptation of open educational materials around the world.
-Foster the development of additional opencourseware projects.
-Ensure the long-term sustainability of opencourseware projects by
identifying ways to improve effectiveness and reduce costs.

Not everyone is thrilled. Babin reports the reaction of one disgrunted UNC student:

[I]t's not just about the money. Student Denny Lyons says he'd be against it even if he were on a full scholarship.

DENNY LYONS: We're the ones asking the questions, directing classes. And I guess I have a huge problem with everyone else being able to get benefits off my own intelligence or my own ideas.

Some, but not all, classes are videotaped, so this is apparently what Lyons is referring to. As a teacher who uses active learning (at least partially student-driven discussion classes), I have to wonder: if it's not about the money, how does Mr. Lyons feel about his onsite classmates getting the benefits of his stunning intellect?

No one need worry about the online learners competing with the paying students in the marketplace. Again, the OCW courses offer no credit, so no diploma. "Self-learners," as the various OCW providers call them, clearly show up for the knowledge, which is vastly different from the goal of some (certainly not all) paying college students who come to college precisely to get the piece of paper that they expect to cash in for a lucrative job. For them, if education happens in the interim, that's a nice side benefit.

I look forward to filling a few gaps in my own education; I have my eye on Intro to Philosophy at Notre Dame. To be taken in my spare time, of course.

Notice to Tailgaters: A Physics Lesson

As much as you might like it to be otherwise, I can drive no faster than the car in front of me without engaging some of the nastier side effects of the laws of motion.

Thank you, and have a nice day.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I am Spartacus!

Following driftglass,

I am Spartacus.

Because I don't have time right now to compose my own thoughts, literally, I'll crib from two fine bloggers. First, the aforesaid driftglass:

Shakespeare’s Sister has announced that she is bowing out of the Edwards campaign.

Needless to say this is a very sad and sobering development.

And needless to say that she is doing it with orders of magnitude more grace and élan than either the rabid howler monkeys on the Right or the pudding-soft children within the Edwards campaign are capable of mustering on their best day.

And needless to say that the Right’s madness has manifested itself in threats of violence against my friend Shakes, because that is how the Right operates.

And then my #1 favorite blogger, Waveflux:

Melissa McEwan resigned today from her position as netroots coordinator for John Edwards' presidential campaign.

[...] Melissa's statement and her resignation demonstrates maturity and integrity, qualities starkly lacking in the bullying Bill Donohue and his Catholic League.

I don't worry about Melissa; she is tough and smart and will prosper. I do worry about the rest of us in a society where a pious demagogue can make cheap, unchallenged headlines by way of slander.

I said earlier that there was only one response to bullies like Donohue, and it doesn't matter whether they lurk at the margins of politics or at the center of civic discourse. Only one response, and needed from more than just the targets of their attacks, from more than one lone political campaign. The repsonse that's needed to counter the likes of Donohue, thugs who want nothing less than to silence you, is more speech, and better, and from all of us.

Though in a pinch, nailing bullies for violations of 501(c)(3) regulations will also do.

History here.

And here.

And here:

And here.

And here.

And death threats? That's just wrong.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Meet Kate

Or Clair. Or Audrey. Or even Kenneth.

My friend Alanna sent me an e-mail with a link to this sample.

It's great fun to type in song lyrics or poems and listen to Audrey (so far my favorite) recite them with lifelike vocal inflection and facial expressions. Want to be particularly freaked out? Feed Audrey a paragraph from your own blog and have her read it back to you. Oh, and her eyes follow your cursor.

I tried removing some punctuation and she didn't do as well, but it still wasn't THAT bad. And it's against my religion to try to type in misspelled words, so someone else will have to try that experiment.




WARNING: Apparently there's a limit to the number of times they'll let you play with it. I've been thanked for playing and have now been directed to, essentially, the sales department.


Dishin' on the Grammys

I don't know when the last time was that I watched the Grammy Awards. I 'aged out' of the demographic that record companies target a long time ago (ironic, in that I actually BUY the music I listen to), so I generally don't have any idea who any of the honorees are. But I got suckered into the Police reunion buzz, even though, frankly, it was Sting and two guys doing Roxanne. I mean, if my eyes had been closed, I wouldn't have known the difference between Sting with the Police and Sting with other guys.

So the Police were first and that's when I should have turned off the TV, since I had other things to do with that three and a half hours.

But I was pleasantly surprised.

It wasn't really an awards show; it was a music show with the very occasional award. Most awards were given pre-show. And most awards given during the show were some sort of lifetime achievement thing (frequently awarded to dead people), although they didn't call them that. So, some awards of my own:

Scariest (and saddest) Plastic Surgery: Smokey Robinson, who won't be needing a costume on Halloween...

Most (usually) wasted voice: Christina Aguilera. Why does she squander that phenomenal voice on the garbage she usually performs when she's capable of singing like she did last night? (This is not a new thought for me; I think this every time I hear Christina belt out an actual SONG.)

"Snap!" award: Dixie Chicks, those lib'ral traitors, win five awards. Dixie Chicks win for Country Album, then the camera slides over to Reba McIntyre (who has been a vocal shut-up-and-sing critic) for a reaction; she looks like she's sucking on a lemon. Then Reba has to do the next announcement. Sorry, Reba. Apparently not everyone wants the Chicks to shut up.

Moxie award: Robin Troup. Who? The "My Grammy Moment" winner. Grammy ran its own little American Idol; three unknowns -- who all looked about 17 -- vied for a performance with Justin Timberlake, as determined by America's vote. How one might decide between the three was unclear, since they looked and sounded alike (maybe more info -- longer performance samples -- was available on the Grammy site?). Troup prevailed, and in her performance (all three young women had practiced with Timberlake) held her own. But of course all I could think was: Timberlake, don't touch that girl's clothes.

Why I'm Glad I Watched Award: Gnarls Barkley. Had heard the name, had heard snippets of the song "Crazy." But live? Crazy.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Virtual Refrigerator

I'm on a purging, reorganizing, and redecorating kick. I've been at it in fits and starts for a while, but still I'm spending a good part of every weekend getting SOMETHING done.

Standing in my kitchen, holding a piece of paper not nearly as important as a birth certificate, but something I knew I ought to keep -- a flyer full of info from my garbage collector -- my urge was to put it on the refrigerator.

But another of my goals is to stop loading up the fridge with paper. I saw a great idea on HGTV's Mission Organization a week or so ago: attaching thin metal magnet boards inside kitchen cabinets for this kind of stuff. I forget what the woman used, but I think a piece of flashing might do the job if it's made of the stuff that magnets love. But that's for another day.

Today my problem was the garbage flyer and I was stumped. To make matters worse, it sat outside for a few days and is weathered and dirty. If I put its dirty self in a file folder, I'd forget all about it, defeating the purpose of saving it.

And then I thought about putting it "on" the computer.

I created a folder for my desktop, labeled it "Virtual Refrigerator," scanned the flyer, put the scan in the folder, and threw the original away.

Problem solved. The folder will be in my face all the time, just like the front of the fridge is. Going forward I'll scan all those things that fall into that "refrigerator" category, and I'll look at the Virtual Refrigerator at least once a week to see if I still need the stuff that's in there. And I'll know where that kind of thing is.

Best part? I have a big hard drive. It'll never get too cluttered.

Why didn't I think of this sooner?


I've come to see my daily trip to the mailbox as the garbage run.

I go to the box, come inside, sort through that which should be shredded and that which should go straight to the recycling bin. When life is overly busy, this can pile up for a few weeks. This week I took note of how much actual necessary mail I received. It came to exactly two items: a bill (which can't be received online) and my W-2 (which actually can).

So --
we're cutting down trees
burning fuel to manufacture all this junk
burning fuel to deliver all this junk
burning a tiny bit of electricity each time I run the shredder
burning fuel to take the stuff to the landfill (where the recycling center is).

No wonder our environment is hurting.

People hate spam, but I don't. I use a Hotmail address for all my business transactions, and my spam accumulates there, where I deal with it at my leisure. I'll take spam over stuff that exists just for the purpose of going to the landfill.

What a waste.