Special Characters Are Meaningful Too

Dear Google,

When you treat special characters such as underscores, colons, and hyphens as a space, you corrupt my search for a single term into multiple terms, aka not what I sought, so I get too many useless results. Function names, class names, or file  names ought to be treated as a single word not several words. Even when I place quotes around them you treat it as two concurrent words not a single word.

Please correct your algorithms or at least give me the option to have your product work correctly. Maybe like Google Book Search you should have Google Code Search? Software is information too.

Thanks!

Ezra

Communication

A while ago, there was some kind of difficulty understanding why we (the DBAs) and another group were unable to read the same words yet not draw the same conclusion. The words in bold are what I wrote on my white board explaining why there was a difficulty.

Communication

  • Vocabulary
    • Standards: Words have agreed upon meanings which we refer to as the definition. However, the same word can have different meanings depending on context. Therefore we need…
    • Experience: Past usage by self and others determine which definition is appropriate during any specific event.
      • Mental Filters: We cannot handle everything which happens to us at once, so our brains cheat. Filters drop everything except the expected. Which filters are in use to expect certain things can be as easy as beginning a conversation with certain keywords.
      • Recall: Getting past the filters gets to memory retrieval.

A lack of common experience means we get primed for different mental filters. Therefore to have a good conversation, everyone needs to draw on common experiences, a process called framing.

This is pretty much as far as we got, I think.

Common experiences could be physically shared. An example could be: “Do you remember the meeting 7 months ago when discussed changing the sourcedid.source for those four schools?” The mental filters for concepts discussed in that meeting are primed.

Common experiences could be metaphorical. Anything someone else should have lots of experience using makes a useful way to convey information without having to go very far. Unfortunately, it is hard to know in advance how much someone actually knows.

LMS Non-Negotiables

I listened in on the first town hall meeting for our USG LMS Transition Task Force on Thursday. There are 3 more town halls this week and a final one December 9th. It sounds like the task force is looking for what items are non-negotiable, extremely important, nice to have. Here are the non-negotiable items from the list. Here are my thoughts.

  • Security: Agree. Student data is critical information to keep away from those who ought not see it while giving access to those who should. I would include in this an audit log of administrative actions such as changing passwords, resetting virtual classrooms, or anything else which possibly could be abused.
  • Scalable: Agree. We’ve seen fantastic usage growth other the years. When I started with this project four years ago, we had only around 100,000 active users. We now approaching 300,000 active users. Even each user does more now than then. There is no reason we will see an end to usage growth.
  • Integrates with enterprise systems (i.e. Banner): Agree. There is a need for a relatively easy way to ensure the faculty and the students have accounts which are placed in the correct virtual classrooms. I’ve seen a desire for real-time integration. The Luminis Data Integration Suite always looked to cause more problems than it would solve.
  • 508 Compliance: Agree. Every user ought to be able to get the information in the class. However, to truly meet this I would think that would include fixing faculty uploaded content so that is accessible.
  • Don’t go backwards (features and functionality meet or exceed current functionality): Unsure. I’m not aware of an LMS option which meets every feature we currently have in Vista 8. The only way to meet this one is to negotiate which are the non-negotiable features.
  • Cross-platform and cross-browser support: Could not agree more. Most web sites I visit work in any web browser I choose. Vista 8 has limited supported operating system and browser combinations. Don’t forget the cantankerous Java Applets multiple versions of Java behave erratically and prior to Java 1.6.0_11 left in place older versions. Also sometimes new versions of Java suddenly do not work.
  • Ease of use and good user interface (student, instructor, administrator): Agree. More is not always better. I sense a frustration about a lack of efficiency accomplishing tasks.
  • Timely support and response: Agree. I understand this one to mean fix the problem in 1-2 weeks not a year plus.
  • Good communication regarding downtime: Unsure of the intent. Vista 8 has a pretty good announcements tool. Does it mean be more aggressive in telling the users when the system will go down next for a scheduled maintenance? I wonder if it means my organization (hosting) ought to take a firmer hand rather than continue to depend on the campuses in letting end users know.
  • Back up and restore capability (minimum 1 year – nice to go back farther)/archiving/back-up without significant downtime: Unsure of the intent. Our system backups are daily without any downtime involved. My best guess is it means something like a wiki history for all content and tools and maybe the whole virtual classroom. Should something bad happen the faculty member ought to be empowered to fix it and not depend on going to an administrator every time. While Vista 8 allows faculty to make their own backups, this was disabled to avoid performance issues. Also, the restore overwrites everything and not selective enough to ensure the faculty would not lose other data trying to retrieve something specific. Imagine losing 10 weeks of work in order to retrieve an accidentally deleted file. (Administrators have unintentionally done this.)
  • Ability to bring in guests to the system (i.e. collaboration): Agree. In a bricks-and-mortar classroom, the faculty can just ask a guest to come to the right room in a building. With Vista, the virtual classroom is more like a fortress requiring the faculty member to complete some kind of paperwork/memo to get an id so the guest can pass through security.

For those of you in similar searches, does this list look similar to yours? What would you add?

Some things I am surprised are not non-negotiable.

  • Better grade book: The existing one in Vista 8 is cumbersome, especially the grade calculator. A key use of the LMS is for students to understand their performance in the class. However, keeping up with the calculated grade at any given point is a lot of work for the faculty.
  • Reporting and analytics: The faculty, advisors, and tutors need to know which students are having difficulty.  Department heads and deans need to know which instructors are failing to spend enough effort teaching a class. People composing budgets need to know how much the LMS and auxiliary software are used.
  • Administrator becomes another user: Similar to *nix’s “su – user”, some problems only become apparent when using the correct account. Rather than change the password, take a look, and give the user the new password, administrators need an easier way of reviewing.

Teeshirt Roundup

Recently, Patrick asked how many geeky teeshirts do I have? I have 17 unique shirts. (Bought multiples of a few.)

Bruce asked how many have a picture on Facebook? He had posted many of the pictures of me and most of those involve a geeky teeshirt.

Thinkgeek Shirts
got root?
got root?
/Everyone stand back/ I know regular expressions
Regex Front
You Are Dumb in binary
You Are Dumb in binary
Rays cast from this shirt travel at over 670,000,000 MPH
Rays cast from this shirt travel at over 670,000,000 MPH
Do or do not. There is no try. (in shell)
Do or do not. There is no try.
98% Chimp
98% Chimp
Reverse Engineer
Reverse Engineer
Im blogging this.
I'm blogging this.
I failed the Turing test
I failed the Turing test
Come to the dark side, we have cookies -V
Come to the dark side, we have cookies -V
There's more than one way to do it.
There's more than one way to do it.
There are 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who dont
There are 10 types of people in the world; those who understand binary and those who dont
Threadless Shirt
Video games ruined my life. Good thing I have two extra lives.
Video games ruined my life. Good thing I have two extra lives.
Woot Shirts
Shutterbug
Shutterbug
@-@ Imperial Walker
AT-AT
Misc Other Printer Shirt
sudo Make me a sandwich
365 Days #14 2006-12-27
Blackborg
Blackborg Teeshirt
New Kids Under the Block
New Kids Under the Block

P.S. There are way too many photos of me wearing the Turing test shirt. I’m gonna have to bench it for a while.

Things We Can Live Without

Video Games ruined my life. Good thing I have two extra lives.

We have a tendency to over-exaggerate what will make us either happy or sad. That gadget, clothing, car, etc. probably will not turn the world into a Utopia. So I found this Profhacker post, “Things We Can Live Without” interesting.

I don’t mean annoying things we could do without, like complaints about grades or being stuck in traffic. I mean things that we thought we couldn’t live without but which it turns out we can. I mean things that held such great promise for happiness, completion, or freedom but which turn out to be useless, disappointing, or even enslaving.

Here is my list:

  1. Hybrid car – I rationalized at the time the battery life cycle was not well defined enough for me that going hybrid was that much better. My car gets pretty good miles per gallon. Enough so that with the same size tank of gasoline it can get from here to my hometown and back 1/3rd of the trip where I was used to having to fill up when I got home to even go visit a friend. However, I don’t care about the mpg as much as I thought I would while deciding on the purchase.
  2. iPod – Almost a year ago I bricked the Windows install on my home laptop and went Linux. My iTunes associated with the iPod was on that old Windows install. The hard drive still worked, so I tried moving the library to another Windows computer. Unfortunately the paths were different and Windows is not as good as Unix at symbolic links. I was still missing the only thing that mattered to me: ratings and play counts. So I tried to download the ratings off my iPod and fix it. That bricked the iPod. Rather than go out and buy another iPod, I made MP3 CDs to use in the car.
  3. eBook Reader – It seems so sexy to have my entire library on a tiny device. The reality is I have about 100 paper books to finish (growing faster than I read them) before I can consider switching over to another medium. Until all the bookstores switch to digital and prevent me from buying paper, the odds are low I’ll switch.
  4. Video game console – I used to play more video games than I watched television. However, for the past 4 years I have not had a console hooked up. (For a couple weeks in March-April 2006 I did have my Nintendo 64 hooked up, but I did not have cable or Internet at the time.) Ultimately, I no longer play as much as I used to play as the Internet, socializing, work, Netflix, and even television sap too much of my time.
  5. Home phone – When a company “had” to have my phone number they got my parents’ number even after I moved out on my own. Then I moved to another city. So I got my own home number thinking this is what I needed to interact with companies. Certainly I wanted to keep my cell phone pure and not get a dozen useless calls a week. Then along came Google Voice (especially the call screening specific numbers feature) to make it so much easier to appropriately handle corporations and political candidates who cannot email relevant information.

The list of things I probably should live without or at least reduce usage despite feeling obligated to do them. Thing is…. Will I?

  1. Television and movies
  2. Facebook, especially apps and memes
  3. Restaurant eating
  4. Eating meat
  5. Time spent online

Library Netflix Model

I tend to buy books. As Heather pointed out on Flickr, I could save lots of money by checking books out from the library. I don’t for one big reason. I am lazy. Most of my purchases fall within a sweet spot of wanting to read more about something because I heard about it on the radio, saw a television episode on a topic, read something in another book, or talked to someone about it. My memory is poor so I only buy a book if I happen to hit the bookstore prior to forgetting. For most of these that means Amazon. To get a book from a library would be mean remembering to go there AND the book I wanted which is unlikely.

However, books sit on my shelf for sometimes years before I get around to reading them. I also tend to read several at a time which slows my pace on any particular book to about 250 pages a month unless I devote more time to it.

Netflix works similarly for me. I add things to the queue and maybe eventually get around to getting the disk. I’ll watch a disk a week maybe. Netflix’s Watch Instantly is much better for me as I can pick whatever I want off the list and see it then. Even then I might watch half and watch the rest later. I’m watching 3x more with the Watch Instantly model than I did off the DVD model.

While I would like an eBook Reader, I don’t find the purchase model compelling.  Take the Netflix concepts of:

  • A watch instantly queue (more a list of everything I am interested in watching)
  • When I am ready to read it downloads to my device.
  • When I am finished, I no longer have access.
  • Do not limit me to one out at a time.
  • A monthly charge for the privilege of all of the above.

With that kind of model, I would be willing to buy a Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or whatever for anytime access to an enormous library of books. They could even charge me $10-15 depending on how many I can have out a time.

Community

Are people in the United States more insular? Is technology getting in the way of us being able to communicate? Why is technology breaking up marriages according to NPR? The line which stood out to me is:

But opportunity is a key predictor of infidelity, and social media have increased opportunity exponentially.

Just 10 minutes before this aired on NPR, I was talking to George about my Dorm, Major, or Race post. The biggest factor as to the friends we make is opportunity. Kids going to a public K-12 school become friends with those in their neighborhood because that is who they are around all the time. Kids going to a college where they are unlikely to have easy access to high school friends means the kids become friends with those people they are around all the time. I proposed to George changes in who people consider their friends has more to do with where people spend time than a decrease in the need to be social.

Those of us who spend most of our time online will be friends with those people interact with online. Those of us who spend large amounts of time in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, or grocery stores get to know the other regulars and employees approximating friendship. Hobbyists getting together become friends precisely because they  spend so much time. Humans are social creatures so we spend time with others wherever we spend time. Even those isolated from the general public in prison develop ties with the other prisoners around them. Wherever we spend our time is the source of our new friends.

Every time we choose to spend time with specific people we choose to strengthen neural connections with those people. Physical contact like a hug which triggers the neurotransmitter oxytocin making us feel bonds to that person. Seeing *hug* or /hug may not deliver the same effect, but I suspect it delivers something similar. It may be just enough that we like the feeling.

Compared to hanging out in the neighborhood, social media provide richer opportunities. Being “friends” through social media result a win-win effects without taking as much effort on both parties. The risks are also lower for social media friends. Your friend across the street might judge you for the embarrassing thing you did out in the street, but your Facebook friends only know if someone blabs about it. So much easier to make and hold these relationships compared to what we go through locally.

Knowing the people who live in nearby buildings is useful. Positive social bonds means in ambiguous situations the assumptions will be positive rather than negative. The more neighbors who think positively about me, the less likely they will assume bad things about me. (Like that I look like a scary Muslim.)  As a knowledge worker I often put too much value on the person with ideas I like over the physical body to help me accomplish actions. I do occasionally need help doing things I cannot think my way through.

Hawthorne Effect

At work we are being asked to enter the amount of time we spend on certain activities into an online form. This is ostensibly so some people can get a handle on where people at my level (the bottom) can get better a sense of where we are putting our efforts. Yet, we are not supposed to go to any great effort to track what we do. (I think the assumption is we already know on what we spend our time.)

It makes me wonder though if anyone planning this anticipated the Hawthorne effect? By putting observers in factories, productivity improved. Nothing changed except people being worried about reprisals while anticipating the ramifications of the observers. This means the results are biased and non-reflective of what people actually will do. For this time tracking stuff, the observers are the bosses who have to review the data we record and approve it. Yes, self-reporting information is a horrible way to get at this information accurately, yet that is the method chosen. Combine self-reporting with not spending a lot of time tracking it accurately, I’m going to guess accurate data is not desired so much as anything more than a complete lack of data. Possibly completely wrong data is okay as long as there is something upon which to be able to make decisions.

So… Personally, I am trying out RescueTime to get a better sense of where I spend my time.

Unsupported=Supported?

The answer to the differences between the wiki and browserchecker.xml according to Blackboard? It is very much intentional to leave unsupported browsers in the browserchecker.xml just in case those unsupported browsers do still work.

Also in the answer was that in general only the two most recent stable browsers will be kept as supported. Since IE8 is the most recent, IE7 should also be kept. To have deprecated IE7 would mean something really bad was found with it as only one browser is supported on WinXP. (One users have to put in Standards Mode to get to work.) The matrices of supported browsers.

So it sounds like, IE7 was dropped from the supported list early because there were significant problems. Yet Blackboard doesn’t use their method of telling end users which browsers to use not to use the browser they dropped from support… On the chance it does?

My head hurts.

==================

UPDATE 4pm: Apparently Blackboard has 4 slots to test Internet Explorer. When the two operating systems were WinXP and WinVista, that meant they could test IE8 and IE7 on the two. 2 browsers x 2 OSes = 4 total. When Microsoft added Win7, that meant they needed to test IE8 on 3 operating systems and IE7 on 2 (5 total).

When IE9 comes out soon, there will be 8 potential browser and operating system combinations with only 4 testing slots. Most likely at that point the Windows Vista support for IE7 and the Windows XP support for IE8 will also have to be dropped in order to add support for IE9 on Windows 7 and Windows Vista.

Internet Explorer 9 Internet Explorer 8 Internet Explorer 7
Windows XP likely won’t test likely won’t test likely won’t test
Windows Vista priority priority likely won’t test
Windows 7 priority priority not available

Changing Education Paradigms

Sir Ken Robinson, who has the great TED talk on how education kills creativity, Schools Kill Creativity, has a new one. A key concept is divergent thinking, an essential capacity of creativity, is the ability to see multiple answers or approaches. Education appears to kill off divergent thinking. Creativity is important to problem solving.

I had not considered the big risk for public education is the degree is not a guarantee of a good job. Certainly, people warned me my degree was useless for getting a job in the bachelor’s level, so I’d planned on getting a Master’s or even Ph.D. However, even those were no guarantee. This probably ties in with Anya Kamenetz’s idea maybe the better approach is to provide the content openly and turn education into services to help students master the content. I would agree education has aligned itself into an industrial production of graduates with increasing standardization.

How the current model is bad for kids and various things would solve it has been the discussion a parent and educator friends of the parent have discussed since I was at least in high school and all through college. Montessori and charter schools were all predicted to break public education yet it still stands. DIY Y is the latest. Why do they still stand? Because while experts know public education is not sustainable and the general public would agree, they rely heavily on politicians to make their decisions. It is easier to campaign about fixing education than it is to correct any of the systemic issues. My prediction is until public higher education tuition rises so high about 50% of potential college students cannot afford to attend even with available scholarships, things will not change much.

Ken’s stance on ADHD is eerily similar to the ideas presented in The Edison Gene.