Note to self: The contextual implicaton is that CREATIVITY ever existed in the Silo's of Irrelevance in the first place. NOT!
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Friday, October 26, 2007
The Outsourced Brain
The gurus seek bliss amidst mountaintop solitude and serenity in the meditative trance, but I, grasshopper, have achieved the oneness with the universe that is known as pure externalization.
I have melded my mind with the heavens, communed with the universal consciousness, and experienced the inner calm that externalization brings, and it all started because I bought a car with a G.P.S.
Like many men, I quickly established a romantic attachment to my G.P.S. I found comfort in her tranquil and slightly Anglophilic voice. I felt warm and safe following her thin blue line. More than once I experienced her mercy, for each of my transgressions would be greeted by nothing worse than a gentle, “Make a U-turn if possible.”
After a few weeks, it occurred to me that I could no longer get anywhere without her. Any trip slightly out of the ordinary had me typing the address into her system and then blissfully following her satellite-fed commands. I found that I was quickly shedding all vestiges of geographic knowledge.
It was unnerving at first, but then a relief. Since the dawn of humanity, people have had to worry about how to get from here to there. Precious brainpower has been used storing directions, and memorizing turns. I myself have been trapped at dinner parties at which conversation was devoted exclusively to the topic of commuter routes.
My G.P.S. goddess liberated me from this drudgery. She enabled me to externalize geographic information from my own brain to a satellite brain, and you know how it felt? It felt like nirvana.
Through that experience I discovered the Sacred Order of the External Mind. I realized I could outsource those mental tasks I didn’t want to perform. Life is a math problem, and I had a calculator.
Until that moment, I had thought that the magic of the information age was that it allowed us to know more, but then I realized the magic of the information age is that it allows us to know less. It provides us with external cognitive servants — silicon memory systems, collaborative online filters, consumer preference algorithms and networked knowledge. We can burden these servants and liberate ourselves.
Musical taste? I have externalized it. Now I just log on to iTunes and it tells me what I like.
I click on its recommendations, sample 30 seconds of each song, and download the ones that appeal. I look on my iPod playlist and realize I’ve never heard of most of the artists I listen to. I was once one of those people with developed opinions about the Ramones, but now I’ve shed all that knowledge and blindly submit to a mishmash of anonymous groups like the Reindeer Section — a disturbing number of which seem to have had their music featured on the soundtrack of “The O.C.”
Memory? I’ve externalized it. I am one of those baby boomers who are making this the “It’s on the Tip of My Tongue Decade.” But now I no longer need to have a memory, for I have Google, Yahoo and Wikipedia. Now if I need to know some fact about the world, I tap a few keys and reap the blessings of the external mind.
Personal information? I’ve externalized it. I’m no longer clear on where I end and my BlackBerry begins. When I want to look up my passwords or contact my friends I just hit a name on my directory. I read in a piece by Clive Thompson in Wired that a third of the people under 30 can’t remember their own phone number. Their smartphones are smart, so they don’t need to be. Today’s young people are forgoing memory before they even have a chance to lose it.
Now, you may wonder if in the process of outsourcing my thinking I am losing my individuality. Not so. My preferences are more narrow and individualistic than ever. It’s merely my autonomy that I’m losing.
I have relinquished control over my decisions to the universal mind. I have fused with the knowledge of the cybersphere, and entered the bliss of a higher metaphysic. As John Steinbeck nearly wrote, a fella ain’t got a mind of his own, just a little piece of the big mind — one mind that belongs to everybody. Then it don’t matter, Ma. I’ll be everywhere, around in the dark. Wherever there is a network, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a TiVo machine making a sitcom recommendation based on past preferences, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a Times reader selecting articles based on the most e-mailed list, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way Amazon links purchasing Dostoyevsky to purchasing garden furniture. And when memes are spreading, and humiliation videos are shared on Facebook — I’ll be there, too.
I am one with the external mind. Om.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
|TechTour Day Two: WiMax World touts the future of long-distance broadband|
Posted on 9/26/2007 4:52:50 PM
Thousands of believers in the future of WiMax gathered at Chicago's McCormick Place Wednesday morning for the official opening of the WiMax World 2007 conference.
Conference founder Elliott Weinmann, president of Trendsmedia, the events division of Yankee Group Research, conference sponsors, said WiMax World is the fastest growing telecom show in the world. He joked that the first WiMax World four years ago attracted "about seven people," but Tuesday morning the legendary Arie Crown Theatre in McCormick Place was packed.
Berge Ayvazian, chief strategy officer at Yankee Group, and Phil Marshall, vice president of enabling technologies at Yankee Group, presented a "state of the WiMax" address.
The two men said there are 275 WiMax trials and deployments in 65 countries, of which 75 are actual commercial deployment.
There are huge new commercial WiMax services going online soon, however, from Clearwire and Sprint Nextel, both of which will lead to true commercialization of the market. Ayvazian called that a "huge breakthrough."
WiMax will also probably be offered under the upcoming auction of spectrum in the 700 megahertz band now used by VHF analog TV, although many current trials are in the 3.5 gigahertz band.
WiMax will probably emerge as a two-market model, they said, with one part of the market concentrating on home and business broadband, and another portion of the market concentrated on mobile computing, taking over business that's now provided largely by WiFi hot spots and cell phone air cards.
They also said the market will be comprised of three kinds of businesses: upstarts, which they call "rabbits;" regional pioneers, creating WiMax communities; and "dominant defenders," telecom companies who will use the technology to bring broadband to the masses.
One thing for sure -- there's market demand. A Yankee survey showed that more than 40 percent of North American consumers want mobile internet, but less than 10 percent have it.
Yankee Group predicts WiMax subscribers in North America will grow from one million in 2008 to eight million in 2011.
WiMax developers must also continue to foster companion markets for their service -- the way Google married search and advertising, and the way eBay married online buying with brick-and-mortar buying.
WiMax is also likely to become part of a wide diversity of devices, from cell phones to PDAs to PCs.
Muni Wi-Fi, WiMax
Two afternoon panels took up the issue of municipal wireless projects, in which WiMax will play an increasing part, whether for basic service or backhaul of large groups of data streams.
Panelists said incumbent telecom carrier opposition to public-private wireless partnerships has largely evaporated, and some are joining partnerships.
Several major revenue sources for such systems exist -- subscriptions, value-added services, and advertising.
Grand Rapids' public-private wireless system was held out as a national model.
Sally J. Wesorick, wireless project manager for Grand Rapids, described her city's lengthy process toward a citywide wireless system, which started with eight Wi-Fi demonstration hot spots that generated positive buzz.
The city's goals for the project were public safety, economic development, digital inclusion, improved city services, service for visitors and residents, the ability to attract and retain young professionals -- and to design the system so that there was no burden on taxpayers.
The city plans to use its WiMax network for field reporting, database access, e-mail connectivity, video surveillance, digital photos and work order management.
The city's 2006 request for proposals allowed vendors to build a system with either Wi-Fi or WiMax technology. The city chose WiMax based on site visits to other systems, including a driving test in Greenville, S.C.
The company last December awarded the contract to Clearwire LLC, the first partnership of this type between Clearwire and a municipality. The contract is also believed to be the first large scale municipal mobile WiMax deployment, the first truly cost-neutral arrangement and the first WiMax-Wi-Fi hybrid network.
Clearwire will use city assets to build the system, whose rates will be market-driven, but the deal requires Clearwire to offer cheap, $9.95-a-month accounts to the poorest 5 percent of households in the 45-square-mile city.
The system will have Wi-Fi hotspots for the transition period between now and the time WiMax chipsets are widely available in computers and other devices.
There's not yet a firm date for the network's startup.
Clearwire has 300,000 subscribers around the country for its wireless Internet services.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
It’s time to rein in the test zealots who have gotten such a stranglehold on the public schools in the U.S.
Politicians and others have promoted high-stakes testing as a panacea that would bring accountability to teaching and substantially boost the classroom performance of students.
“Measuring,” said President Bush, in a discussion of his No Child Left Behind law, “is the gateway to success.”
Not only has high-stakes testing largely failed to magically swing open the gates to successful learning, it is questionable in many cases whether the tests themselves are anything more than a shell game.
Daniel Koretz, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, told me in a recent interview that it’s important to ask “whether you can trust improvements in test scores when you are holding people accountable for the tests.”
The short answer, he said, is no.
If teachers, administrators, politicians and others have a stake in raising the test scores of students — as opposed to improving student learning, which is not the same thing — there are all kinds of incentives to raise those scores by any means necessary.
“We’ve now had four or five different waves of educational reform,” said Dr. Koretz, “that were based on the idea that if we can just get a good test in place and beat people up to raise scores, kids will learn more. That’s really what No Child Left Behind is.”
The problem is that you can raise scores the hard way by teaching more effectively and getting the students to work harder, or you can take shortcuts and start figuring out ways, as Dr. Koretz put it, to “game” the system.
Guess what’s been happening?
“We’ve had high-stakes testing, really, since the 1970s in some states,” said Dr. Koretz. “We’ve had maybe six good studies that ask: ‘If the scores go up, can we believe them? Or are people taking shortcuts?’ And all of those studies found really substantial inflation of test scores.
“In some cases where there were huge increases in test scores, the kids didn’t actually learn more at all. If you gave them another test, you saw no improvement.”
There is not enough data available to determine how widespread this problem is. “We know it doesn’t always happen,” said Dr. Koretz. “But we know it often does.”
He said his big concern is where this might be happening. “There are a lot of us in the field,” he said, “who think that if we ever really looked under the covers, what we’d find is that the shortcuts are particularly prevalent in lower-achieving schools, just because the pressure is greater, the community supports are less and the kids have more difficulties. But we don’t know.”
One aspect of the No Child Left Behind law that doesn’t get enough attention is that while it requires states to make progress toward student proficiency in reading and math, it leaves it up to the states themselves to define “proficiency” and to create the tests that determine what constitutes progress.
That’s absurd. With no guiding standard, the states’ tests are measurements without meaning.
A study released last week by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association found that “improvements in passing rates on state tests can largely be explained by declines in the difficulty of those tests.”
The people in charge of most school districts would rather jump from the roof of a tall building than allow an unfettered study of their test practices. But that kind of analysis is exactly what’s needed if we’re to get any real sense of how well students are doing.
Five years ago, President Bush and many others who had little understanding of the best ways to educate children were crowing about the prospects of No Child Left Behind. They were warned then about the dangers of relying too much on test scores.
But those warnings didn’t matter in an era in which reality was left behind.
“No longer is it acceptable to hide poor performance,” said Mr. Bush, as if those who were genuinely concerned about the flaws in his approach were in favor of poor performance.
During my interview with Dr. Koretz, he noted that by not rigorously analyzing the phenomenon of high-stakes testing, “we’re creating an illusion of success that is really nice for everybody in the system except the kids.”
That was a few days before the release of the Fordham Institute Study, which used language strikingly similar to Dr. Koretz’s. The study asserted that the tests used by states to measure student progress under No Child Left Behind were creating “a false impression of success.”
The study was titled, “The Proficiency Illusion.”
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Agencies seize opportunity to pitch new plans
For the first time in 10 years, United Way is opening up the funding process and encouraging area agencies to consider ways to better partner with the organization to make a stronger long-term impact on lives across the tri-county area.
The newly established process for 2008-2011 agency applications will allow unaffiliated organizations the opportunity to become United Way partners. This is part of United Way's overall effort to direct community resources in areas of the greatest need.
The new multi-year funding process will focus on programs, services, strategies and collaborations that will address short and long-term goals in three specific areas - educational preparedness, financial stability and basic needs, as outlined in the organization's Agenda for Change.
Current member agencies and those looking to form United Way partnerships based on programs that align with one or more of the priority areas were invited to complete a letter of intent in September. The review of those LOIs will conclude Oct. 5. Applicants will be notified during the week of Oct. 8 if their submissions made it to the next phase, during which they are asked to respond to a request for proposal.
Those current partners not selected for the RFP phase will be directed to the transitional funding process.
While United Way will continue to significantly invest in a wide array of agency programs and services, funding will primarily be focused on achieving Agenda outcomes. The funding system further supports the Agenda for Change, which serves as the United Way blueprint for creating sustained community change that measurably improves people's lives.
"The decision to realign our funding process was driven by our region's growing socioeconomic and human service needs," said Michael J. Brennan, President and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan. "We know that today's issues are far too complex for any individual, group, or institution to tackle alone. We must work together and bring new groups into the fold. It is only through community building and regional collaboration that we will effect lasting change."
For more information about the LOI/Agenda for Change process (including guidelines, technical assistance sessions, and application deadlines), visit www.uwsem.org/partnertools.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Chairman says automaker interested in health care fund
October 4, 2007
BY SARAH A. WEBSTER
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford indicated on Wednesday that leaders at the company founded by his great-grandfather are generally satisfied with the tentative contract rival General Motors Corp. reached with the UAW.
It is expected to serve as a pattern for the Ford deal.
"The broad framework is certainly something we can work with," Ford told journalists during an appearance in Chicago. He was there for a ceremony to start a national network of community-based high schools, which is being supported by the automaker.
Ford spokesman Mark Truby confirmed the comments, which were first reported by Dow Jones, although he emphasized that the company still is studying the deal.
Ford and crosstown rival Chrysler LLC agreed to an indefinite extension of the current contract after GM was named a strike target Sept. 13.
GM and the UAW reached a deal Sept. 26 after a two-day strike, and the union's 73,000 members at GM continue voting on the proposed contract.
The UAW is expected to resume talks with Ford and Chrysler when the GM-UAW tentative contract is ratified.
Bill Ford, who learned labor relations early in his career from former Vice Chairman Peter Pestillo, seems to have good relations with UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, who started his career at a Ford factory in Louisville, Ky., and was head of the UAW's Ford division prior to leading the entire union.
During his Chicago trip, Ford said the company is "very prepared to get going" in talks.
He also said that the automaker is interested in talking to the union about a voluntary employee beneficiary association, or VEBA. That form of union-supervised trust to manage health care for UAW retirees is set to save GM about $20 billion from its $50 billion in related liabilities.
J.P. Morgan Chase estimates Ford's UAW retiree health care liability at $22 billion, indicating possible savings for Ford of $9 billion from a GM-style VEBA.
Bill Ford's comments were notable in that they contrasted with industry experts' recent comments that Ford may need more -- or significantly different -- concessions than those GM won from the UAW.
For Ford, the specifics of the GM agreement could force it to provide greater clarity about its turnaround plan, which aims to make the North American division profitable by 2009, Arthur Wheaton, a labor expert from Cornell University, said last week. Ford lost $12.6 billion last year and is undergoing a restructuring.
David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, said he expects that Ford, when it reaches a deal with the UAW, will disclose the six remaining of 16 plants it plans to close as part of its restructuring. Another large benefit of the proposed contract for GM is the savings related to replacing current workers in noncore jobs with lower-paid union members.
But Ford is ahead of GM in outsourcing noncore jobs, said John Casesa, a veteran auto analyst and managing partner of Casesa Shapiro Group LLC.
Over the past two years, the UAW approved what are known as competitive operating agreements at Ford plants that allowed noncore jobs to be subcontracted out at lower pay. UAW Vice President Bob King said that saved $750 million.
Casesa said the UAW will have to give a different deal to Ford and to Chrysler LLC if it wants to help the companies survive.
"Ford's financial situation remains fragile," Casesa said last week. "Because the main feature of the agreement is relief on health care for retirees and GM has the highest active-to-retiree ratio, it's disproportionately better for GM," he said.
GM provides health benefits to more than four retirees and surviving spouses for every active worker it employs. Ford's ratio is two retirees for each active worker, and Chrysler's ratio is about one-to-one.
Contact SARAH A. WEBSTER at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Our Schools Must Do Better
I asked a high school kid walking along Commonwealth Avenue if he knew who the vice president of the United States was.
He thought for a moment and then said, “No.”
I told him to take a guess.
He thought for another moment, looked at me skeptically, and finally gave up. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know.”
The latest federal test results showed some improvement in public school math and reading scores, but there is no reason to celebrate these minuscule gains. We need so much more. A four-year college degree is now all but mandatory for building and sustaining a middle-class standard of living in the U.S.
Over the next 20 or 30 years, when today’s children are raising children of their own in an ever more technologically advanced and globalized society, the educational requirements will only grow more rigorous and unforgiving.
A one- or two-point gain in fourth grade test scores here or there is not meaningful in the face of that overarching 21st-century challenge.
What’s needed is a wholesale transformation of the public school system from the broken-down postwar model of the past 50 or 60 years. The U.S. has not yet faced up to the fact that it needs a school system capable of fulfilling the educational needs of children growing up in an era that will be at least as different from the 20th century as the 20th was from the 19th.
“We’re not good at thinking about magnitudes,” said Thomas Kane, a professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “We’ve got a bunch of little things that we think are moving in the right direction, but we haven’t stepped back and thought, ‘O.K., how big an improvement are we really talking about?’ ” Professor Kane and I were discussing what he believes are the two areas that have the greatest potential for radically improving the way children are taught in the U.S. Both are being neglected by the education establishment.
The first is teacher quality, a topic that gets talked about incessantly. It has been known for decades that some teachers have huge positive effects on student achievement, and that others do poorly. The positive effect of the highest performing teachers on underachieving students is startling.
What is counterintuitive, but well documented, is that paper qualifications, such as teacher certification, have very little to do with whatever it is that makes good teachers effective.
“Regrettably,” said Professor Kane, who has studied this issue extensively, “we’ve never taken that research fact seriously in our teacher policy. We’ve done just the opposite.”
Concerned about raising the quality of teachers, states and local school districts have consistently focused on the credentials, rather than the demonstrated effectiveness — or ineffectiveness — of teachers in the classroom.
New forms of identifying good teachers and weeding out poor ones — by carefully assessing their on-the-job performance — have to be established before any transformation of American schools can occur.
This can be done without turning the traditional system of teacher tenure on its head. Studies have clearly shown that the good teachers and the not-so-good ones can usually be identified, if they are carefully observed in their first two or three years on the job — in other words, before tenure is granted.
Developing such a system would be difficult. But it’s both doable and essential. Getting serious about teacher quality as opposed to harping on tiny variations in test scores would be like moving from a jalopy to a jet.
The second area to be mined for potentially transformative effects is the wide and varied field of alternative school models. We should be rigorously studying those schools that appear to be having the biggest positive effects on student achievement. Are the effects real? If so, what accounts for them?
The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), to cite one example, is a charter school network that has consistently gotten extraordinary academic results from low-income students. It has worked in cities big and small, and in rural areas. Like other successful models, it has adopted a longer school day and places great demands on its teachers and students.
Said Professor Kane: “These alternative models that involve the longer school day and a much more dramatic intervention for kids are promising. If that’s what it takes, then we need to know that, and sooner rather than later.”
If American kids — all American kids, not just the children of the elite — are to have a fair chance at a rewarding life over the next several decades, we’ve got to give them a school system adequate to the times. They need something better than a post-World War II system in a post-9/11 world.