December Dilemma

From a CNN article, For Many, December’s a Dilemma by Joe Sterling (mentioned by Phillipe Copeland):

Navigating the Christmas season can be a challenge for the millions of people who don’t celebrate the holiday. Many acknowledge and sometime embrace the season’s customs, such as gift-giving and sending out greeting cards, while at the same time they are conscious of maintaining their own religious identities.

I will admit, when I was Catholic, Christmas was significantly easier. There was no conflict as I was wholly within the mainstream of others I knew. Choosing to become a member of the Bahá’í Faith didn’t significantly reduce the importance of Christmas for me. Bahá’í don’t celebrate Christmas with each other. Nor would we alienate those around us who choose to celebrate. Similarly, I would hope people don’t feel alienated when I fast in the

We still eat with family on Christmas Day. True, I no longer to to midnight or Christmas Day mass. My mother, who is also a Bahá’í stopped giving Christmas presents and only gave Ayyám-i-Há presents, a Bahá’í celebration in February just prior to our Fast and New Year. She does give presents to my brother and his wife who give and receive presents with their other family. I no longer expect Christmas presents or put up a tree, but that is okay.

Keep in mind Christmas as we celebrate it now, merges several holidays, making it convoluted. The primary one, the birth of Jesus, resonates with the Baha’i Faith. We recognize the station of Jesus and all his accomplishments. The Wiccan / Druidic winter solstice, Germanic Yuletide, the Roman Saturnia all are comingled into Christmas. As other faiths like Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Islam, Judaism, and even Kwanzaa deal with the surrounding peoples celebrating Christmas, their traditions could trade in and out with Christmas. In the end, the sentiment of giving gifts is a good one, assuming one doesn’t go to excess.

The real dilemma ought to be what is the impact of gift giving. Joel Waldfogel, an economist, thinks receivers value gifts less than the giver, causing a loss in value to the economy, so he recommends gift cards. Several Bahá’ís and Christians I know donate to charities instead of gifts.

Asterisks in the sky


Happy (Con)trails

Originally uploaded by Ezra S F

Flickr member Zack Sheppard did me a huge favor yesterday picking this picture for a Flickr blog about Asterisks in the sky. So in one day this picture was exposed to 5,931 people.

Several of those looked at the adjacent picture and others for a total of 10,640 hits yesterday. Lots of comments on many of my photos.

Wow. Just wow.

Turnitin.com

I’m surprised I have not blogged here about the student lawsuit against Turnitin.com? An anti-plagiarism service, Turnitin has students or faculty members upload papers into the database. By comparing new papers to the database, it gives ratings as to whether it is likely a student plagiarized.

Now the search goes out for any student who has a paper that’s being held by TurnItIn that they did not upload themselves. Students Settle with TurnItIn

In theory I could be someone in this situation. Back in 2005, a coworker asked my mother if someone by my name was related to her. This coworker was taking some classes at the university I attended. Turnitin had threw up a cautionary flag on the Originality Report because it was somewhat similar to something with my name on it. The problem is this product came into use at the university after the time I was a student. So I never submitted anything to it. The department from which I got my degree kept a copy of my papers (many submitted by email) and used this product at the time.

Another possibility is this tidbit about the product: Over 11 Billion Web Pages Crawled & Archived. I was actively blogging before and at the time of the incident. Assuming it could identify my name out of all that content, this match could have come from my blogging.

When I contacted Turnitin about this back in 2005, they told me I would have to remove my paper. I re-explained that I didn’t submit the paper. So Turnitin explained that whoever did put the paper in the system would have to remove it. The guy acknowledged the difficulty of the situation in identifying who posted it.

Racial Profiling

Walking home from the bus in high school, I saw police cars and officers in front of my house. Their presence made me extremely apprehensive. The only little assurance was my father talking to the officers. Someone broke into the house and stole some of our stuff.

We felt violated. Our own home was unsafe.

At the time however, the people with guns with a tendency to keep their hands near them were much more threatening than some anonymous teen who wanted some quick cash.

Police officers are the good guys.

Take this scenario:

  1. You’ve spent almost a full day on a plane or in airports flying from Shanghai to Boston so you are extremely jet-lagged.
  2. (SUGGESTED ADDITION) You picked up the flu while in China (remember Avian Bird Flu?).
  3. Your front door won’t open when you get home, so you end up gaining access to the house from the back door. Eventually with help you do get it opened.
  4. While calling someone to come fix the door, a police officer shows up to question you about being the owner of the house. (Let’s ignore that Harvard owns it. You just reside there.)

This is like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: “Nothing at all was right.” Except… This state of mind was interpreted by the police officer this way:

“From the time he opened the door it seemed that he was very upset, very put off that I was there in the first place,” Sergeant Crowley told the station, WEEI. “Not just what he said, but the tone in which he said it, just seemed very peculiar — even more so now that I know how educated he is.” NYT

This seems like the perfect opportunity to ask questions about Dr. Gates’ day to establish something of a rapport to ascertain why he might be so upset. It’s not so peculiar when the context is known. I bet if all this had been placed in context at the time, then this would not be front page news.

Worldwide Photo Walk

Flickrite Shadows I’m looking forward to this Athens part of the Worldwide Photo Walk in four weeks. I’m even more impressed it filled to the 50 person capacity. We have been having meetups for Athens Flickr users since September. I don’t think any have approached half that number. (There are only 32 members in the Flickr group.) I attribute this success to Steven Skelton‘s efforts spreading the word.

June 15th – Nature Photography Day

For Nature Photography Day 2008, I made an NPD Flickr group and invited a bunch of people. The only rules were to a) post pictures taken on June 15th (thank you Flickr / EXIF) and b) about nature or destruction of nature. Unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention to the group as I should have. So a bunch of nature picture spammers (they post the same picture to dozens of groups) posted hundreds of rule violating photos to the group pool. A month later I closed posting to the group because the spammers wouldn’t likely stop of their own accord.

Anyway, I forgot about NPD until the day of. No one posted to the group of their own accord. Who remembers after a year? I cleaned out the photos not following the rules. Set calendar reminders a couple weeks in advance to publicize the group. Hoping NPD 2010 will go better.

I’m also considering bending the rules. Maybe close to June 15th is close enough. Something like anywhere in the range June 10th to 20th is close enough? What do you think?

Anyway, here are the pictures from the group:

Facebook Usernames

If you cannot find me, then you are not looking. If you search on Facebook for Ezra Freelove, then I am the only result at the moment. Maybe all you knew was Ezra and the city where I lived? Facebook search is not so great you could find me through my first name plus something else you knew about me (other than email or city). Probably this is for the best. We don’t want to make it too easy to stalk people, right?

Allowing users to make a username is a promotion. The blogosphere making a fuss over all this is a Chicken Littleesque. Sure Myspace, Twitter, and a number of other sites have addresses with usernames in them. No one is forcing people opposed to having one to make one. Only in the past month could one choose a username for one’s Google profile. Prior to that it was a hefty large number of numbers.

I think the reason some people prefer usernames comes down to elaborative encoding. To retain something in memory, we associate that something with existing items in memory. Short-term memory has only about 7 slots and digits are each a single item. Assuming a single incrementation per account created and over 200 million users, using a numbers means there ought to be 9 digits worth of numbers to memorize. Words occupy a single slot in short term memory, by far simplifying remembering. Which would you rather try to remember 46202460 or ezrasf?

An argument against usernames comes down to using the memory of the Facebook database or other computer memory. Computer memory is better than human memory for stuff like this.

All of these work and go to the same place:

  1. http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=46202460
  2. http://www.facebook.com/ezrasf
  3. http://www.ezrasf.com/fb

Pick your poison. Enjoy.

Feedback Loops

Remakes don’t scare me. Some are good. Some are bad. 

The thing to remember is, “Its just a movie.” The world won’t end over a poor movie. There’s always another one in a few weeks to either like or hate. If it stands up to the test of time, then you’ll buy the Blue-ray and next three formats over the next 30 years. If not, then just ignore it ever existed… Much like I’ve done with Superman III, Superman IV, Star Trek The Final Frontier, and hundreds of other movies.

Getting worked up over change? Not worth it.

Quibblers would have kept “Star Trek” more like its old self. Quibblers inhibit revolution. Quibblers would deny the basic law of forward motion in pop culture:

If you love something, they will remake it.

But if you really love it, you will set it free, and let them.

The Trouble With Quibbles

Film makers should keep in mind, the types of people involved in  fads: connectors, mavens, salesperson. Fans are mavens. People are going to trust the opinion of these fans. So if the fans’ concerns are just a few quibbles but still an endorsement, then the general public will flock to the movie. If these quibbles amount to wide rejection of the movie by the existing fans, then the general public will mostly stay away from it.

Quibbles are not really the issue. Endorsements are. 

I think you missed that there is a life-cycle to most such endeavors, and feedback is very useful at specific times, and disruptive (in a bad way) at others.

So, the problem with “fan feedback” non-stop is that they tend to fall into a mob mentality, off being “trolls” about any innovation. But, that said, remember that early forms of the Batman movie with the Heath L Joker was shown to fans (at a Comic Con) to get feedback on the style and whether too over the top. The feedback was used to find the balance and deal with the nature of the ending. Fans were given leaks and teasers (semi-trailers) along the way as well, but the mob rule was not allowed not hound the people making it.

That said, what makes a movie work or not is very different from what made its source material work. The reason the Spiderman movies worked for a large audience who knew nothing about the comics had a lot to do with the simpler nature of the comics. Batman has always been more complex in the psychology of its heroes and villains, as much by what does not happen as what does. Watchman is trickier given its narrative model and how much it connected with its time (Cold War, etc).

— PaulK
The Downside of Feedback

Design by committee sucks. So fans should not take over the process. However, total rejection of fan criticisms probably will result in rejection by the fans and slow sales.

The Twitter Timesink

Glenn asked: “What is it about Twitter that makes it more of a time sink than Facebook?”

I consider a time sink something where I invest a high value of time for boring and poor value.

My contacts mostly duplicate in Twitter what they provide in Facebook. The time I spend reading Twitter posts I’ve already read in Facebook is a waste of my time. My Twitter contacts respond about a 1/5th as much as Facebook users (it used to be higher in Twitter). So I get more out of Facebook.

Twitter Replies suck. The Replies system makes it look like my contacts reply much more to me than others which I find highly unlikely. More likely the Replies implementation stifles conversation by requiring either everyone to be public or to allow all the participants to follow each other for there to be one conversation. Instead its many different (sometimes hidden) duplicate conversations. Facebook comments are attached to the status update so following a conversation is significantly easier.

Twitter Apps suck. Last Friday, I looked at Facebook Connect for AIR. My complaint about it was my interactions with Facebook would be as limited as Twitter. The promise of Twitter apps is to do more than the Twitter.com web UI provides. Many just provide easier ways to do the same thing: see your Twitter timeline. Others let you see quantification of your usage. Facebook apps by contrast provide access to content not within Facebook, so more of the web because part of my Facebook access so I can actually do more.

Except Socialthing and Tweetdeck. They are exemplary implementations of Twitter Apps. They extend the functionality of just Twitter by itself and are primary reasons I kept at it for so long. Socialthing unofficially died a while ago and official stoppage of support was announced last week while I wasn’t using it. Tweetdeck probably will stick around for a while.

Twitter lacks granular privacy. In Twitter, either you are private or public or ban specific users. I’m torn between public and not. So I opted for private with sneezypb where I mostly subscribe to friends. My other account, ezrasf, was where I subscribed to Blackboard community members, educational technologists, etc. Facebook could improve some in privacy as well. Compared to Twitter, Facebook makes a great attempt at granular privacy. Plurk, another microblogging / status update site, represents the privacy  Holy Grail for me. It allows for making specific posts public, private, available to groups, or individuals.

LMS Security

This morning there was a flurry of effort to locate an article called “Hacking WebCT.” My coworker was able to locate it. We were disappointed. 

The main points of the article were:

  1. Lazy administrators make compromising user accounts easy.
  2. Lazy instructors make getting questions for assessments easy.

These apply to any LMS. So, here is some advice to counter the issues raised in this article.

 

Accounts

Default passwords are the bane of any system. Make users change them. (Yes, this increases support tickets.) This usually comes about because the administrators did not integrate the LMS authentication with LDAP, Kerberos, or CAS  which allows for central management of accounts. Central management of accounts means fewer accounts are likely to sit around with easily guessed intially imposed credentials. 

Linking many services together also raises the exposure should one account account me compromised. Enforce decently strong passwords. Too strong and frequently changed password will encourage users to employ means of remembering passwords which defeat the point. Passwords probably should not ever be just birthdays.

Not sure what advice to provide about the potential of a student installing a keylogger on a computer in a classroom?

 

Assessment Cheating

A long availability period (like a week) provides opportunities for enterprising students to exploit the issues with passwords to see and research questions in advance. Instead, a quiz with a short availability period like an hour means less time to go look at the other account, record the questions, research them, then go back into the proper account and take the assessment.

Instructors should use custome questions. Students can obtain questionss provided by publishers in ePacks or with textbooks from previous students, the same textbooks the instructor received, or even web sites online which sell the information. 

High stakes testing ensures students are looking to cheat. When the value of questions is high, these easier methods than knowing the material ensures a war between students and instructors over cheating. Of course, lowering the value of the questions increases the workload of the instructor. 
🙁