TED Talk: Clay Shirky: How cellphones, Twitter, Facebook can make history

The tumult in Iran is huge news of late. As a Baha’i, news of the persecution of Baha’s in Iran has stepped up because of the Internet. Stories crossed the ocean through email. News agencies almost never picked up these stories. As fast as the Iran government could shut down CNN and NYT and BBC reporters, the same government cannot seem to quell dozens who don’t have press credentials or passports to revoke from sharing the message.¬†So the idea of several thousand sharing a similar message evading the same government doesn’t seem all the surprising to me.

[The Iran unrest] is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media. This is it. The big one.

Calling this unrest a revolution seems premature. Still, all this information making it overseas is interesting to watch.

2nd Blackboard Blog

A blog without comments to me isn’t a blog. Blog posts are about stimulating discussion, so the comments are most important feature. Content without feedback is a publicity or news story not a blog. So Blackboard Blogs at educateinnovate.com isn’t really a blog.

Steve Feldman, Bb performance engineer, had the first Blackboard Inc blog with Seven Seconds. He mysteriously stopped last fall. ūüôĀ

Ray Henderson, new Bb President for Learn, has a blog. Read this introduction post. He specifically wants discussion and dialog. Someone at Blackboard who understands The Cluetrain Manifesto? I am hopeful this is a sign of positive change.

Little Changes

Flipping channels, I ran across Deep Impact during a speech given by the president (played by Morgan Freeman).

The black president didn’t amaze me. Hollywood figured out how to portray them a decade before the US figured out how to elect one.

What amazed me is that with all the really cool forward looking technology for the time, instructions for how to communicate the evacuation was sent by fax to news agencies. Yeah, it wasn’t emailed. The White House didn’t post it on a web site. No mention of Facebook. ūüėÄ

Is NASA powering landing craft with nuclear drives?

At least since this movie aired we have implemented programs to discover both the large and medium objects capable of regional to global catastrophes.

We still need a plan to do something about the ones we anticipate will hit us. Or how about a plan to save our legacies? (The children, art, history)

Microsoft Outlook 2007 Wishlist

From 2001 to 2006, Microsoft Outlook was the email client I used for work (and on my home computer to access work stuff). Back then, Exchange was not available, so a number of the features were more hacks than reality. However, it worked pretty well.

When I changed jobs, Netscape and Thunderbird were the pre-installed clients. I opted for Thunderbird. It worked pretty well for me. Calendaring was in MeetingMaker. Everything worked pretty well.

Recently work shifted to Exchange, so going back to Outlook made sense. Maybe because I have so much experience, the transition was not as bad as it might have been. Still… These are gotchas which have annoyed me lately:

  1. Editable subject usability: The emails from our client issue tracking system put the description where its hidden. I was really pissed that I could not edit the subject until I figured out unlike most software which changes the shading to show it is now editable, Outlook just lets me edit at any time. Also, editing the subject after it is used by something else like a task results in the change in the email but not the task. (The main reason I want to change them is so it appears correctly in the task list. ) Copying to a second email results in the same problem. Apparently I have to either create a new task and copy-n-paste the subject I want or forward the email to myself.
  2. Spacebar moves to next message instead of next new message: I really like the Thunderbird method of skipping to the next unread message when I hit the spacebar at the end of the current message. It even will find the next unread message in another folder. Outlook just advances to the next message.
  3. Boolean is more than OR: I had this fantastic Thunderbird filter which looked for user@ AND domain.tld. Outlook only honors OR. We have 15 admin nodes and databases which send up reports. Alerts and tickets come from a different source and unaffected by this.
  4. Search ignores special characters:¬†I thought in the past I had sent email to abc-defghi@domain.tld. However, the message bounced, so I searched my email for part of the address “abc-defghi” as its not in the address book. I got results which match “abc” not “abc-defghi”. So it ignored the hyphen and everything after. FAIL!
  5. Send email as plain text or paste a plain text:¬†Yes, I know lots of people have HTML capable clients. I hate Outlook puts my replies in a sickly blue font. When I copy and paste from the elsewhere in the message, it changes the font. So then I have to go and do formatting to have a presentable email. I just want to type and send. I don’t care about fonts, colors, etc. If I did, then I would create a web page. …¬†(Added 2009-JUN-03)

That’s it for now.

Preserving CE/Vista Settings

I’ve been asked for notes about this a few times. So here’s a blog post instead.
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A coworker is working on scripting our updates. We lost the Luminis Message Adapter settings in applying the patch to the environment we provide to our clients. Fortunately, those settings are maintained by us not our clients. So I pushed those settings back very easily. Unfortunately, it points to the need to capture the settings for the potential purpose of restoring the settings.

In Oracle databases, this is pretty easy. As the schema user, run the following. It does some intentional things. First, we have multiple institutions, so the breaks make identifying which institution easier. Second, the same label for multiple forms gets confusing, so I am sorting by setting description id under the theory these ids are generated at the time the page is created, so the same tools will float together. (The last modified time stamp is probably unnecessary, I used it in an earlier version and left it just in case Vista for whatever reason added a new setting for the same label instead of modifying the existing one.) This can be spooled both before and after the upgrade. Use diff or WinMerge to compare the versions. Anything lost from the before version should be evaluated for inclusion adding back to the settings.

col lc_name format a50
col setting_value format a80
col label format a80
col lock format 999
col child format 999

clear breaks computes
break on lc_name skip 1

select learning_context.name lc_name, settings_description.label, settings.setting_value,
settings.locked_flag “lock”, settings_description.inheritable_flag “child”
from learning_context, settings, settings_description
where settings.settings_desc_id = settings_description.id
and settings.learning_context_id = learning_context.id
and learning_context.type_code in (‘Server’,’Domain’, ‘Institution’,’Campus’,’Group’)
order by learning_context.name, settings.settings_desc_id
/

An example of the multiple forms issue is external authentication. CE/Vista provides an LDAP (A) and an LDAP (B). The settings_description.label for both is contextmgt.settings.ldap.source. The settings_description.name for both is source. It looks like each of the two identical labels has a different settings.settings_desc_id value depending on whether it is A or B. To me it seems lame to use the same label for two different ids.

The most vulnerable parts of the application to lose settings during an update are the System Integration settings. A mismatched Jar on a node will wipe all the settings associated with that Jar.

However, I can see using this to capture the settings as a backup just in case an administrator or instructor wipes out settings by mistake. Yes, this is scope creep. Create a backup of the settings table to actually preserve the settings.

create table settings_backup_pre_sp2hf1 tablespace WEBCT_DATA as select * from settings;

Contexts: As a server admin, I maintain certain settings and push those down. Each client has control over some other settings and may push those down from the institution context. Maybe some are creating division and group admins? Maybe some instructors are changing things at the course or section levels. I may end up capturing everything?

Restoration: The whole purpose of preserving the settings is to restore them later. There are a couple methods in theory:

  1. Providing the settings to a human to re-enter. The labelling issue makes me question the sanity of trying to explain this to someone.
  2. Update the database directly would just need settings.id ensure it is the right location. Maybe dump out the settings in the format of an update command with labels on each to explain the context? Ugh.

If settings were not so easily lost, then this would be so much easier.

View: Another table of interest is the settings_v view. (Redundant?) The only reason I don’t like this view is it reports the values for every learning context which makes reporting off it much, much longer. For example, the encryption key for a powerlink is listed 8 places in settings/settings_description and 18,769 places in settings_v.

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.

Bottle v Tap

Its funny what people think about something we take for granted. Brown tap municipal tap water was stated as the reason for drinking bottled water. Is it a corporate v goverment thing? Is it because bottled water is so much more expensive than tap water so it must be better?

From Coca-Cola’s letter to the state of California about what is in DASANI water:

Most facilities that purify and bottle DASANI procure water from municipal water systems. At a few plants, however, water is obtained from protected groundwater sources managed by the bottling plant, with approvals from local authorities.¬†DASANI¬ģ Bottled Water Report as required by California SB 220 (PDF)

It goes on to describe what they do to purify the water they procure:¬†activated carbon filtration,¬†reverse osmosis,¬†ultraviolet light disinfection,¬†re-mineralized,¬†ozonation. So the municipalities get the water to within EPA standards but not FDA standards. Companies selling bottled water have to adhere to the FDA standard not the EPA. Maybe its a good thing:¬†“Generally, over the years, the FDA has adopted EPA standards for tap water as standards for bottled water.”¬†FDA Consumer magazine: Bottled Water: Better Than the Tap? (Should we be worried the same overworked agency which lets us get hit with all kinds of bacteria is protecting us from bad water?)

Athens-Clarke County Public Utilities Department has a similar report where they list how the water exceeds the EPA standards.

Personally, I would love everyone producing water to publish reports about their water quality with the amounts of detected contaminants listed as is shown in this DASANI analysis example. Too bad its just an example of a typical analysis. Anyone know where the real DASANI quality reports might be found?

TED Talk: Picking apart the puzzle of racism in elections

By Nate Silver

A less than convincing point… The list of states with voters reporting a racial bias only well matches the Obama-Clinton difference map because Nate draws the audience to the states he’s picking on: Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia (5 hits). He totally ignores the strong race bias in South Carolina, Alaska, Missouri, or Indiana didn’t translate into more votes (4 false negatives). Also Wyoming and Oklahoma both had no reported racial bias and voted more against Obama (2 false positives).

Smart Boys

George and I talked about this some last night.

Nature vs Nurture… I tend to think of both as bottlenecks for human development. The debate about which does more to me makes as much sense as debating which is better for a web application: Apache or MySQL? Both are involved and affect the end results. The debate should be about how to leverage the synergy of both, but that is another blog post.

We humans have 46 chromosomes. 23 from each parent which come in pairs. Males have an XY pair. Females have an XX pair. Brain Rules was the first I’ve read that ~1500 brain-related genes¬†are on the X and ~100 on the Y (and losing ~5 every million years). So the X chromosome is quite important for determining brain development.

For boys, the one X they have comes from the mother. Girls inherit an X chromosome from both her mother or father. To set up the strong potential of great genes for boys, look to women who are really intelligent. That tells you there is a 50% shot for the boy to get a good X. If both of the woman’s parents are intellectuals, even better.

Be smart about it though… Don’t make an IQ score for the parents part of a prenuptual agreement.

My mother has occasionally said things I enjoy remind her of her father. That’s a biased sample.¬†
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