Should CS Be Required?

Each of the nearly 2,000 freshmen entering Georgia Institute of Technology each year must take a computer science course regardless of their major, says Charles Isbell, associate dean for academic affairs at the school’s College of Computing… Similar to traditional general education requirements such as philosophy or world history, the purpose of each courses is to turn out well-rounded graduates, Isbell says.

“Why you need to take a CS1 … is the same reason why you need to take humanities, why you need to take a science, why you need to take a math,” he says. “It’s not because you’re going to be programming …. it’s because each of those represents a different way of thinking.”

Computer science was not a requirement at my alma mater (not GT). Introduction to Computers was an easy core class lots of students took. The class offered by Mathematics and Computer Science was about the components of a desktop, using Microsoft Office, and making a web page. The College of Education and the College of Business offered their own versions tailored to their disciplines.

At first, I did not want to go through a class on “This is a mouse. This is a keyboard.” At the time I was looking at upgrading from an AT form factor to ATX. Microsoft Word 95 was my fifth word processor. Plus I had made the web site for African American Studies for the university. In the end I took the class because it would improve my GPA. Like, I thought, it was an easy A, but the instructor did challenge me by making me available to help the others in the class.

This was not a real CS class though. I had already taken one, FORTRAN, which apparently did not count towards my core to graduate, oddly enough. I took another, Introduction to Programming, where I picked up some Java. Both programming classes gave me novel practice at the time for how I solve problems, plan, and researched. They were good for me.

Despite not graduating with a computer degree, I did have a strong computer background and ended up in a computer profession. So my perspective pretty much is skewed in a positive direction for all college students taking computer science classes.

Social Ghost Archetypes

I met Allie for the second time at a birthday party. The birthday girl is a Social Tech Ghost. Allie is a Pseudonym Surfer and former Dunbarian. Another person at the party is an Infrequent Checker. I decided these remain legitimate strategies to keep from getting drawn into spending too much time online. Since I like to label things, Social Ghosts, stuck in my head. From the perspective of someone relying on social network web sites to communicate, these are difficult people to locate, keep, or reach. Much like ghosts.

The Social Tech Ghost: This person entirely abstains from social network web sites. This is a person who wants to see you in person or talk to you on the phone. Email is grudgingly accepted. Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, and Friendster are accused of ruining friendships due to being impersonal. They are fads to be resisted in order to maintain strong social bonds. Probably this person would be a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s article Small Change except they do not read my blog post about weak ties, Twitter, or Facebook so they did not know about me posting the article.

The Pseudonym Surfer Ghost: He or she participates online under fake names. You drop them from your friend list because you have no idea who they are. They might work in an environment hostile to employees getting tagged in photos of wild parties. They might be online to interact with a handful of family and close friends not any random acquaintance who feels they deserve to be friends.

The Infrequent Checker Ghost: This person has a profile. However, months can go by between logins. Peer pressure forced them to get an account, but there is no peer pressure to actually use it.

The Dunbarian Ghost: Too many “friends” causes this person to purge. The right number may or may not be Dunbar’s Number: a mean of 147.8. What is important is the person feels the need to be social with everyone on the list of friends and too many makes that too hard. Therefore some need to get lost.

I am sure there are more. What other social ghost archetypes do you know?

P.S. From the “In Real Life” perspective, I am a Social Ghost. So. Meh.

Curious Traffic Spike

I glanced at my Google Analytics stats for this site and noticed a huge traffic spike. Somehow my TED Talk: We Are All Cyborgs post landed Bing’s number two spot and Google’s number three spot for “ted talk we are all cyborgs” a couple days ago. Normal for a Tuesday is something like 650 visits. That Tuesday I got 2,578. It kind of reminds me of the Made post.

The actual We Are All Cyborgs talk was the number one spot for both search engines. Why would anyone come to my site for the same video?

(Glad I turned back on WP-Cache again.)

DDoS of Social Media

Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal and other sites all admitted to suffering from a DDoS attack. It seem to me the purpose of a Denial-of-Service attack (DoS) against a web site is to flood it with so much traffic the site becomes unusable. The DDoS is where multiple other computers are coordinated into launching the attack.

All three of the above mentioned sites have had recent issues keeping up with growing usage. The USA inauguration and Iran demonstrations peaked traffic so much the sites seemed like they suffered from a DoS. Already at the edge, an attack tipped the barely making it social media sites over it. Some users abandon them for less popular (so more stable sites). Those who stick around suffer from learned helplessness.

Causing all this hullabaloo over a single user seems odd to me. I don’t speak Russian, so I don’t know if this guy from Georgia (the country) deserved it. Also, it is almost the one year anniversary since Russia invaded Georgia. During the invasion, DDoS attacks disabled Georgian web sites. So, maybe this is to show Georgia the Russians are still capable of causing problems? This is why security evangelists want us to be able to deal with threats.

Various computer viruses over the years have turned millions of computers into zombies for botnets. So… If you are upset about your favorite social media site getting taken down, then maybe you should act on ensuring your computer and others in your social network were not enlisted into a botnet?

Tell Michael Chasen

From a January 13, 2009 email from Michael Chasen to the customers:

Please share any feedback with me directly at a Web site created for just that purpose called Tell Michael Chasen.  I will personally read every message I get, so please let me know what you think.

That page in the email is no longer available.

I guess it was moved in the web site redesign for the launch for Learn 9 (Jan 27), then this page lasted at its original location all of 14 days. The new page is Tell the CEO.

A redirect to get those of us who refer to the emails we have received to the right page would be nice.

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. 😀

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)

The LMS is So Web 1.5

The claims Blackboard’s Learn 9 provides a Web 2.0 experience has bothered me for a while now. First, it was the drag-n-drop. While cool, that isn’t Web 2.0 in my opinion. A little more on track is the claim:

The all-new Web 2.0 experience in Release 9 makes it easy to meaningfully combine information from different sources. The Challenges Are Real, But So Are the Solutions

Integrating with a social network like Facebook is a start, but again, in my opinion, it still isn’t Web 2.0.

So, what is Web 2.0? I did some digging. I think the Tim O’Reilly approach meets my expectation best. He quotes Eric Schmidt’s “Don’t fight the Internet.” as well as provide his own more in depth.

Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them. (This is what I’ve elsewhere called “harnessing collective intelligence.”) Web 2.0 Compact Definition: Trying Again

Users expect a site on the Internet to meet their needs or they eventually move on to a site which does. There are so many web sites out there providing equivalent features to those commonly found in an LMS. There is the danger of irrelevance. This is why every LMS company or group strives to continually add new features (aka innovating). The bar continually gets raised, so LMS software continually needs to meet this higher standard.

Tim additionally provides some other rules which you can see at the above link.

When an LMS reachs the point where the resources of the Internet helps people learn, then it will be a Web 2.0. As long as an expert or leader imparts knowledge on students, the LMS is still something different than Web 2.0. Sorry…. The irony? This is exactly what Michael Wesch and PLE advocates preach.

Blame It on Oprah

Ev said, “To those asking: Site slowness today had nothing to do with @Oprah.” Social networks are amusing and fun at times. I’m just a fan of moderation. Too much of anything will ruin it. Ever since Twitter became the new Golden Tool of PR, I knew it would be a matter of time.

Friends and coworkers bring up Twitter as though they have nothing else to say. Apparently the web sites we use define who we are just like fashion did in the 1980s and 1990s. Well, I am a black teeshirt and shorts guy.


So… I’m spent on < 140 characters.

Update: Maybe not… I’ve culled the list of people I am following from 96 down to 37. Maybe more if I look at it anymore. (Even the 10 most extraordinary tweets couldn’t diswade me.)

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.



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. 

The Digital Switch

The Long Tail claims consumers, given more options, will reflect their widely varied interests. Physical stores cannot fill all of the demand, so bytes stored on disk are the fastest, cheapest method for getting stuff to consumers. We see a mostly example of this shift in the shift to digital music.

Vinyl records were the first physical music media form I used. Later, cassette tapes (1980s) and compact disc (1990s) achieved dominance. In 2001, I started the transition to digital music. There were some stumbles along the way because of technology changes and trusting vendors saying Digital Rights Management is good for consumers. At present, I only listen to digital music when using my own collection.

Digital video seems more complicated. Web sites streaming and on-demand television have the potential to fit the Long Tail model where consumers have access to insanely varied content when they want it. DVRs neither fix the when (just shift the airing to another time) or the insanely varied content. Movie rental distributors like Blockbuster and Netflix are moving toward distributing digital movies and TV shows in setups similar to on-demand. Nothing has even come close to winning.

Digital books may yet get some traction. Computers screens cause eye strain. Laptops don’t feel like a book. PDAs, Blackberrys, and other handhelds with small screens require a ton of scrolling. A recent solution to this is “epaper” which doesn’t constantly refresh. The Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Sony Reader are the biggest players. (The Long Tail is not available for the Kindle but is for the Reader. WTH?)

Remaining issues for me:

  1. Ownership is dying.
    • I really like the idea of playing music on my iPod or from CDs. I play DVDs on my computer because I can’t play my DVR stuff in a hotel. So streaming and on-demand only solutions bother me as long-term solutions. If it is easy for distributors to store it because it is just bytes, then it is easy for me to do so as well.
    • I have books from 20 years ago I can still read. Technology changes too much to depend on something I buy today working tomorrow. So maybe “renting” is a way better approach for digital media?
  2. The black markets for music and movies prove consumers want everything any time. Companies must embrace consumer demand and make it easier for consumers or suffer. I think companies changing to accommodate consumer demand is the only reason the music companies have survived. Litigation cannot solve it.
  3. Hardware investment gets expensive every few years.

My solution? Wait and see.