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.

No Hiding From Blackboard

Some former WebCT (bought by Blackboard) customers switched to ANGEL rather than move to Blackboard products. PDF Apr 14, 2009 Today, Blackboard announced it is buying ANGEL. You can run, but you cannot hide from Blackboard.

Some light reading for you…

  1. Learning, Together ANGEL Learning and Blackboard® have decided to join forces.
  2. Blackboard Plans to Buy Another Rival, Angel Learning | Chronicle.com
  3. Why HigherEd is rejecting Blackboard … | Laura Gekeler
  4. Open Thread on Blackboard/ANGEL Merger | mfeldstein.com

So the options left are…

  1. Blackboard-WebCT-ANGEL
  2. Moodle
  3. Desire2Learn (currently in patent troubles with Bb)
  4. Pearson eCollege
  5. Sakai

Merge Historically Black Colleges With White?

Retention is one of those numbers higher education leaders tend to review to determine how effectively the faculty reaches the students. Historically black colleges and universities were created because students found it difficult both to get into “neutral” colleges and graduate from them. That latter part sounds like they were created in part to solve a retention issue.

Enter Georgia Senator Seth Harp who suggests a couple HBCUs in Georgia should merge with their neutral neighbors. The idea is to save money by not having more than one college in a town. Are black students as successful at “neutral” colleges as their white counterparts? If not, then the reason these schools exist has yet to be solved.

If we want to eliminate HBCUs, then we should have colleges and unviersities where all students succeed regardless of race (or gender, religion, or other factors).

Monopoly Fears

Something brought up my abandoned Friendster blog, which had a link to fiftymillimeter which used to be my favorite photography site by people in Athens prior to me even moving here. Why “used to be”? Well over a year ago, they stopped posting to the site. Sad, I know. Still, I was curious, Where are they now? I ran across Twitter-Free Fridays looking for Toby Joe Boudroux.

What I found interesting about this post was his approach to whether or not Twitter is or is not a monopoly. I agree with the first part. The last sentence surprised me.

Being at the top of an emerging market segment does not constitute a monopoly. Unfair practices, abuses of that dominance to limit fair access to resources and outlets – those are monopolistic. If Twitter struck a deal with Mozilla that blacklisted other microblogging services, we’d have something to talk about. Opening APIs freely and allowing supplemental markets to emerge hardly seems consistent with railroad barons.

Supplemental markets would be the equivalent of a railroad baron allowing new train stations or business to sell to the customers using the trains. Open APIs allow other corporations to find a niche. However, they are not a direct competitor. For example, with Twitter, the API is not used by Pownce or Jaiku. Friendfeed who fits in both the lifestream market and the micro-blog markets does use the API. More commonly, the Twitter API is used by companies like Summize or Twitpic in searching or posting content.

If economists or lawyers determining whether a company with a large market share is monopolistic are influenced by open APIs creating supplemental markets, then this could be a strategy to avoiding DOJ further scrutiny? At Bbworld / DevCon, a frequent point of pride from the Blackboard folks was the anticipation of Bb9 to have a more open, accessible, and useful API. This API will be able to do everything the current one in the Classic line can currently do. The anticipated additions to this API could benefit many supplemental markets. (Let’s just forget at the same time, they are saying API for the CE/Vista products is a dead-end development path.)

Scoring points with the DOJ (and more importantly the court of public opinion) could never hurt while trying to sue a much smaller competitor like Desire2Learn. Some characterize Bb as not likely to stop until D2L no longer exists. Who knows? I doubt even Chasen knows. Still, it would far fetched to characterize just this as making Blackboard a monopoly.

There are pleny of alternative LMS products to the Blackboard Learning System: Moodle, Sakai, ANGEL, eCollege, and many, many more. Heck, the rumor mill would indicate more and more higher education institutions are considering and even changing to the alternatives. Blackboard acknowleges institutions likely run multiple products. With Bb 9, they encourage people to use the Learning Environment Connector to single sign-on to into the other products. With the Bb9 frame remaining so they know who got them there, of course.  Don’t forget about a Personal Learning Environment,

Certainly I dislike that Blackboard hears my objections and continues to act in ways contrary to them. However, that happens within my own team. Neither group are criminal for ignoring me.

Boredom Correlates to Mistakes

We never get to stay bored at work for very long. Every day has an emergency from something caused by a user of the institutions we host, the admins at the institution, or even people who work for our project. Wait…. Maybe it is the boredom which is the cause of the mistakes which keeps the rest of us from really getting bored. So eliminating the boredom in one part of the system would cause boredom in other parts.

Thankfully our philosophy is to automate monotonous activities as much as possible. Computer brains do not get bored to make mistakes.

According to Dr Eichele of Norway and Dr Stefan Debener of the UK, when the brain switches to autopilot is when we are likely to start making mistakes. The brain economizes by shifting electrical activity from the prefrontal cortex (attention) to the default mode network.

I can’t want for them to figure out brains which sit in the default mode network are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia. 🙂

Of course, the worst mistake you could possibly make is to get bored enough to get involved in social networks.

Anti-Malware and Blackboard Vista

Tier1 support was contacted by a student to report a problem with a quiz. Some sort of anti-malware software complained about code in the quiz. Tier1 support replicated the issue. Their software identified it as belonging to MyWebSearch. Very bad news.

Tier2 support suggested the student remove the MyWebSearch toolbar. Tier1 escalated to Tier3 who claimed that because Tier1 and the student both saw the issue, the malicious code must have been inserted into Vista by the instructor. Tier3 also escalated it to me… Tier4.

From the email conversation, no one looked at the quiz in question despite Tier2 and Tier3 both having the access (and Tier2 being involved in instructional design).

*headdesk*

Instead of providing my own equally valueless speculation, I got a copy of the quiz and looked at the HTML. Eventually, I used WinMerge to compare the problematic quiz and a previous quiz side-by-side.

Turns out the difference between the two is the use of WebEQ Java applets. (The problem-free quiz used GIF images instead of applets.) I think the anti-malware software of the student and Tier1 both reacted to the Java applet. Here is one of the items used.

<applet code=”webeq.Main” archive=”/path/to/jar/WebEQ2Applet.jar” width=1899 height=40 align=middle><param name=eq value=”<math> <mrow> <semantics> <mrow> <mi>f</mi> <mo stretchy=’false’>(</mo> <mi>x</mi> <mo stretchy=’false’>)</mo> <mo>=</mo> <mn>2</mn> <msup> <mi>x</mi> <mn>2</mn> </msup> <mo>+</mo> <mn>3</mn> <mi>x</mi> <mo>+</mo> <mn>1</mn> </mrow> <annotation type=’MathType’/> </semantics> </mrow></math>”><param name=color value=”#ffffff”><param name=parser value=”mathml”></applet>

The way WebEQ passes the parameters as XML inside a parameter tag strikes me as very odd. Maybe causes anti-malware to trigger a false positive?

These applets have been a problem in the past, as many were hard coded into the HTML prior to Vista incorporating this into the equation editor. Vista instead, uses a parameter block to pass the values to the applet.

I think our instructional designers are moving away from use of WebEQ as it has been consumed so much of their time, they hate it now.

The Shot Heard Round the Vista World

What is the worst possible outcome of an event from an admin’s perspective? You lose everything.

Next worst is lose a large portion of the data. Losing days worth of data, as Utah did, is huge. This is the biggest news since the merger of Blackboard and WebCT, I think. To Utah’s credit, they have done their best to let people know their SAN and not a Blackboard code error was the culprit.

Still, its a bad boat to be sitting in right now.

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Tags: , Blackboard Vista

I Accept!

AOL Founder Says He is ‘Sorry’ for Time Warner Merger:

Steve Case, co-founder of the one-time biggest online service AOL, apologized for the company’s merger with media conglomerate Time Warner Inc. in an interview with journalist Charlie Rose.

You killed Netscape and WinAmp! Though, I must admit, the downward trajectory of Netscape made it so bad that I find Mozilla (the current one) 10x better.