Friday, August 31, 2007

Microsoft Loving Apple These Days?

I've written about my new Mac in the past and thought it was about time to write about it again. Prior to the release of the iPhone, Apple was running those ads with Justin Long, the hip young guy who used to be on the Ed show, and John Hodgman who (in the commercials) bears a rather strong resemblance to a tight cheap-suited/sportcoated, un-hemmed pants, bad hair day, chubby version of Bill Gates. I'm sure you've seen at least one of them - here's a collection of all 15 of them a user has put on YouTube.

Well done and yes they make me smile! Apple is really letting Microsoft have it huh? My first impression was yes but let's think about this a bit. Mike Q sent me an email last week saying that one out of every six notebook computers sold in the U.S. is now an Apple. I seriously doubt these are first time computer users and the majority of them are PC converts like Mike, myself and many of our academic and business/industry colleagues.

What's the first thing a PC convert asks when they decide to take a close look at the Apple machines? Does it run Windows?! The answer used to be no but today, with Intel processors and applications like Bootcamp, Parallels and VMWare, both the Apple and Windows operating systems can co-exist on the same machine. In the case of Parallels and VMWare, both operating systems can be used simultaneously.

Microsoft has to be loving this - the company doesn't sell hardware - they sell software. Let's take a look at what the average user will spend from a Microsoft product perspective starting with a new Mac user who is a Windows "convert" and still wants/needs Windows apps:

Parallels Desktop 3.0 for Mac (non-Microsoft product): $79.99
Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate: $209.79
Microsoft Office 2007 Professional for Windows: $499.95
Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac: $399.00
[note: all Microsoft prices from Microsoft website]

Adding up just the Microsoft applications gives $1108.74! What's really interesting is the fact that many (including myself) actually purchase two versions of Office that run on the same machine. Of course people can get away with upgrade pricing or get academic pricing (yes I did) if eligible. This drops the price a bit but you get the idea.

Now again, from a Microsoft product perspective, let's take a look at the purchase of a new Dell notebook - let's say a new Business Class Lattitude.

Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate: $209.79 (it's likely a lot less $ for Microsoft since Dell gets volume pricing from Microsoft)
Microsoft Office 2007 Professional for Windows: $499.95
[note: all Microsoft prices from Microsoft website]

Adding these numbers gives $709.74 - still a hefty sum but less.

Laugh at the ads if you wish - people at Microsoft have to be smiling. Of course the real threat to Microsoft is not Apple - it's the free webware apps like ThinkFree, Google Docs and Spreadsheets, Zoho, etc......

Read Show Notes and listen to Mike Q and my latest Podcast titled Enterprise 2.0 linked here.
Podcasts also free on iTunes.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Digital Kids

CNET's has been running an interesting series since the first of the year titled Digital Kids. They've published eight pieces so far this year - you can find them all linked here. I've enjoyed reading these and have touched on some of the topics. The most recent is titled Say so long to traditional letter writing and was writen by Stefanie Olsen. Stefanie starts by decribing Catherine Cook, a straight A student who had to look up how to mail her Georgetown University application - she forgot where to put the zip code.

Here's a quote from the piece:

"It shouldn't be much of a surprise that Cook thinks letters and snail mail are going the way of record albums and pay telephones. In fact, many kids say that e-mail--one of the Internet's oldest forms of messaging--has lost its appeal for everything except keeping up "adult" or professional relationships".

Th piece goes on with some comments from Cindy Post-Senning, Director of the Emily Post Institute - you may remember Emily Post or have heard of her. Emily's most popular book is Etiquette, first published in 1922 and currently in its 17th edition, having most recently been updated by Peggy Post, Emily's great-granddaughter-in-law,

Good stuff and I have tremendous respect for the Emily Post Institute and the things they do. I'm not really too worried though about kids not being able to address envelopes. For kicks I asked both my 12 and 16 year olds what they would do if they forgot how to address an envelope. They both rolled their eyes (duhhh Dad) and said they would just look it up on-line. So, what the heck, I did a quick Google search of "How to address an envelope" and, they're right, it's easy to find in many places. One of the best references I found is this from Sul Ross University, a school in the Texas State University System.

In the piece Ellen Seiter, a professor of critical studies at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California is quoted:

"All types of writing helps all other types of writing,"

"The important thing about writing is formulating thoughts and ideas."

My two daughters write more than I ever wrote when I was their age. One of their favorite places is FanFiction.Net. You also have to throw MySpace, Facebook, discussion forums, blogs, etc, etc, etc into the mix. The difference is they are not doing it with a pen and paper. I'm not worried.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Shutdown Redux: Some Good Advice

I've written about shutting down (a friend recently referred to it as "going off the grid") in the past....... well....... if you've sent me some email over the last 10 days or so I apologize if I have not replied yet. We've been on vacation in Clearwater the last couple of weeks - I'm typing this in the terminal of the Tampa Airport.

It was a good vacation - I can always tell it's been good when I answer the question most people ask - "What did you do"? If my answer is along the lines of "Not much" or "Not really sure" then that was a good vacation from my perspective anyways. Sure - we did a bunch of stuff - lots of snorkeling, swimming, eating, fishing - still have not caught a snook off the beach - yet. We did catch a bunch of other fish (some that we still cannot identify) and we got a lot better at throwing a casting net for bait.

We also connected with some old friends and made some new ones. My daughters (12 and 16 now!) have both been playing violin for a long time (12 years for the 16 year old and 9 years for the 12 year old) and yes - they brought their violins with them. They practiced (a little) and played a couple of times for and older couple we know - if I had to guess I'd say they are both in their mid 80's. Turns out the woman had once been an accomplished pianist - she started when she was 6 years old and ended up stopping when she got married. I found it ironic since she has a beautiful grand piano in their beautiful home overlooking the beach and the Gulf of Mexico - what an inspirational place to play.

After my daughters finished playing yesterday both her and her husband told us how upset they were that she had stopped playing and how her sister had not stopped playing. It's a pretty major regret for both them. We've all heard this same advice applied different ways but it's basically the same - don't stop. Pretty good advice I would say. I'm glad my girls had a chance to hear it from someone else and I know they'll remember it. Thank you Bunny and Mel.

I picked up one more little gem that I stuck in the back of my head from Pierre Thiry. Pierre is director of The Institute for Convergence of Optical and Network Systems (ICONS) at the City College of San Francisco. Pierre called me on my cell wanting to setup a call yesterday (Monday) to discuss an opportunity both of us are working with the same company in different parts of the country. I wrote back to him, told him I was on vacation but could still make the call. Pierre got back to me and said let's move the call to Wednesday. He finished with the line "Vacations are precious". Thanks Pierre.

Two excellent pieces of advice.

I'm late on some email - if you've sent me something I promise a reply tomorrow!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Stealing Copper Wire and How Much an Old Penny is Worth

A retired neighbor of my parents collects scrap metal. He does pretty well scavenging the town dumps looking for things people have tossed that have copper in them. He also collects brass and aluminum - he especially loves the heavy aluminum covers of old gas grills. A couple times a year a guy comes out with a truck with a scale on it and he gets paid by the pound. He's learned picking up scrap metal can bring in some good supplemental income.

Occasionally he'll pick up some discarded wire in the dump or a construction site - the last time I was visiting I asked him what he did about wire insulation since he is paid by the pound. The answer is simple - he burns it off.

It looks like thieves have discovered copper also - venturing outside the town dumps and up the telephone poles, cutting wire, burning off the insulation and selling it by the pound to scrap companies. The problem has gotten so bad in the Las Vegas area that Embarq, the 4th largest telecom company in the United States, announced on Wednesday that they are offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone caught stealing copper wire. Here's few Embarq quotes from a piece in The Register:

“Copper theft is going on in any town across the nation. But we thought we’d start here because of the high number of incidents,” commented Charles Fleckenstein, a spokesman with Embarq.

More than 60 people have been arrested for copper theft this year in Las Vegas alone. This type of crime has been on the rise globally in recent years, due to the soaring value of coppers and other metals, which can often be sold as scrap at recycling depots.

"You've got people that are going out there and trying to steal wire cable," said Embarq spokesman Charles Fleckenstein. "It's an area where we have almost 13,000 miles of cable and it just looked like a real good area to get started."

"Copper thieves often drive vans, don hard hats and scale telephone poles, in an attempt to blend in with legitimate telephone workers. But instead of fixing broken lines, they pilfer the wire used to connect ATMs, emergency 911 call centers and phone service".

According to Kitco Metals, scrap copper was selling for approximately 70 cents per lb in August 2002. It closed on Friday at a little over $3.40 per lb.

I'm going to move off topic for a bit. Copper.... you may be thinking pennies - right? A new US penny has a mass of 2.5 grams but wait - new pennies minted after 1982 are 97.5% zinc core with 2.5% copper plating..... not much copper. However, before 1982, their mass was 3.0 grams and they were 95% copper.

Let's take a look at the value of a pre-1982 penny based on the $3.40 per lb copper scrap cost.

1 lb = 453.59237 grams - we can use this to calculate the value of 1 gram of copper:

Value of 1 gram of Copper = ($3.40/lb)/(453.59237 grams/lb) = $0.00749/gram = .749 cents/gram

Now, a pre-1982 penny weighs 3 grams and is 95% copper - it looks like we may be able to make some money here:

Amount of copper in a pre-1982 penny = (.95)(3 grams) = 2.85 grams

Based on .749 cents per gram for scrap copper:

Value of a pre-1982 penny as scrap = (2.85 grams copper/penny)(.749 cents/gram copper) = 2.135 cents/penny!!


Is it legal to sell pennies as scrap? I'm not sure - the closest answer I've found is here. Regardless - a pre-1982 penny is worth more than twice its face value as scrap and you know what some (legal or illegal) are doing....... and..... Zinc closed at $1.40/lb on Friday........

Copper thieves are not just stealing wire and old pennies - air conditioner units are also hot items because they contain a lot of copper. Image living in Las Vegas in the middle of the summer and having your phone lines cut out and air conditioner stolen...... Sweltering heat with no way to call the air conditioning company - bring on Fiber to the Home.

And speaking of fiber to the home - last month I blogged here about Verizon cutting out copper lines to homes that are having FIOS fiber to the home service installed. If Verizon is cutting this stuff out and dumping it in a landfill tell me where - I'll quit my job, buy a truck and hit the dumps!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

iPhone Hacked Again

A New Jersey 17 year old, George Hotz, says he spent 500 hours trying to figuring out how to unlock his iPhone on T-Mobile - it looks like he's done it. George, a pretty sharp kid planning to attend Rochester Institute of Technology this fall, posted a 10-step hack on his blog Thursday and also posted a video on YouTube:

Shortly after the iPhone came out it was hacked the first time - providing a way to use iTunes, surf the web, etc using a WiFi network and without AT&T activation. Today, claims there are actually four different documented methods to unlock an iPhone.

Before you go trying to hack your iPhone like George you may want to read Engadget's Know Your Rights: Is it illegal to unlock my iPhone?

These are interesting times.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Muni WiFi : One Year and a Minneapolis Bridge Tragedy Later

Mountain View, CA Official Google Blog

- the network' has over 400 mesh routers that cover approximately 12 square miles - 95% of the mesh routers are used each day
- approximately 25,000 homes are served
- approximately 15,000 unique users are currently using the network each month

- since January 2007, network traffic has grown almost 10 percent each month

- the network is currently handling approx 300 gigabytes each day
- each day approximately 100 distict types of WiFi devices are accessing the network
(I wonder how many are iPhones?:)

A Mountain View WiFi coverage map is linked here, Areas that do not have coverage typically do not have light poles to place the network equipment. If you happen to live in an area of Mountain View that currently does not have coverage you can contact Goggle about hosting a Google WiFi node on your property. Contact information is listed on the coverage map page.

Municipal WiFi networks were all the rage last year. Today a lot of the excitement has worn off - it's time to get some of this enthusiasm back. CNET News published an interesting but unfortunate piece on August 8 titled Citywide Wi-Fi network put to test in Minneapolis with reference to the I-35 bridge collapse tradegy on August 1. It just so happened USI Wireless had been deploying subscription based Wi-Fi in Minneapolis (one of my favorite cities) since April, with about 18 square miles of the city currently covered. Much of the initial installation was in the area of the I-35 bridge collapse. Here's a few quotes from the CNET piece:

"Within moments of the bridge's collapse, USI CEO Joe Caldwell said he was on the phone with James Farstad, a wireless consultant for Minneapolis involved in setting up the Wi-Fi network, to see what he could do to help".

"The first thing Caldwell did was open up the subscription-based Wi-Fi service so anyone could use it for free. Because the network had only been built around part of the disaster, Caldwell then ordered additional Wi-Fi radios to be placed in areas surrounding the catastrophe to blanket it with signals, providing an additional 12 megabits per second of capacity to the area around the bridge collapse.

Caldwell hoped that people with Wi-Fi-enabled smart phones would use the wireless network instead of their cell phones to make calls, thus alleviating the flooded cellular network. Cellular service in the area was overloaded within 30 minutes of the collapse, Farstad wrote in a blog he posted earlier this week".

"That evening, usage on the network jumped from 1,000 registered USI Wireless customers before the disaster struck to 6,000. Exactly how many of those 6,000 users were actually using the Wi-Fi network in lieu of the cell phone network isn't known. It's unlikely that many people were able to use the network for voice communications, given that most cell phones don't have Wi-Fi capability and those that do may not be able use voice over IP clients".

Here's more from CNET:

"... it provided a network for the community to City of Minneapolis resources, hospital emergency coordination units, State of Minnesota Department of Transportation traffic routing information, Red Cross Blood Bank collection points, and local and national news outlets".

"The USI Wireless team also quickly installed three Wi-Fi-enabled cameras that had been purchased by the city for a community policing effort, but hadn't been deployed yet. The cameras were set up along the river banks near the disaster site to provide a live video feed over the network directly to the command center".

"I'm not really sure what the relieve effort would have looked like if this network had not been in place," Caldwell said. "You can't really download these detailed maps easily using an EV-DO card. And you definitely couldn't have the kind of video streaming that is there down there now."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Goodbye and Congrats to a Buddy

This is something I have been dreading writing because I knew it would eventually happen. Many of you that I’ve met at conferences/meetings/etc have also got to know Steve Budd, Springfield Technical Community College Assistant VP of Development. As a next step in his career Steve recently decided to begin his search for a presidency and – no surprise to anyone that knows him – he has been offered and has accepted the presidency position at the New Hampshire Community Technical College – Claremont. The Clarement press release is linked here. This was actually the first presidency Steve interviewed for – congrats to Steve and Claremont – you’ve really made a great choice!

I would classify Steve as a new breed of Community College leader – willing to take some risk and understanding that risk does not always result in success. Working closely with Steve over the last few years we’ve had our share of successes and failures. I‘ve always believed the signs of a person’s true character appear after failure and not success. I’m sure most would agree.

One of my favorite bloggers, marketer Seth Godin, recently published a couple of short blogs, one titled Toxic employees and the second titled Toxic bosses. In the Toxic bosses blog Seth finishes with the following line:

“Great marketers often have the unusual combination of humility and confidence. Toxic ones have neither”.

I'm going to take some liberty and change "marketers" to "presidents" in Seth's quote.

I get out a lot – meet a lot of faculty, administrators and yes – presidents of colleges. I’ve met good ones and not-so-good ones (of course in my opinion and.... no names!). I usually can judge pretty quick but have never really been able to put into words how. Seth’s words hit it on the head - "the unusual combination of humility and confidence". Among other positive characteristics Steve has this unusual combination.

Congratulations again - Steve and Claremont.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

RIP Joybubbles - An Apple Computer Inspiration

In 1971, four years before Apple Computer was started, co-founder Steve Wozniak, read an article in Esquire Magazine entitled "Secrets of the Little Blue Box" written by Ron Rosenblum. The article described how a 2600 Hz tone generated by a "blue box", or other means, could be used to make free long distance calls.

To get a better understanding, let's take a brief look at telephone network technology in the 1970's. All telephone network signallng was "in-band". This meant everything - call
establishment, the exchange of user information, call routing and (most importantly) billing, was done on the same band as voice. This is completely different from today where all signaling (except on the local loop - the "last mile" pair of wires coming in to your home) is done out-of-band using a technology called Signaling System 7 (SS7).

The Esquire article Wozniak read back in 1971 provides a good description of hacking or "phone phreaking" this early phone system. Here's a rather long quotation with Rosenblum asking
Al Gilbertson (whose real name has been changed), the creator of the blue box about how the technology works:

"...When you dial a long-distance number the first thing that happens is that you are hooked into a tandem. A register comes up to the side of the tandem facing away from you and presents that side with the number you dialed. This sending side of the tandem stops whistling 2600 into its trunk line. When a tandem stops the 2600 tone it has been sending through a trunk, the trunk is said to be "seized," and is now ready to carry the number you have dialed -- converted into multi-frequency beep tones -- to a tandem in the area code and central office you want.

Now when a blue-box operator wants to make a call from New Orleans to New York he starts by dialing the 800 number of a company which might happen to have its headquarters in Los Angeles. The sending side of the New Orleans tandem stops sending 2600 out over the trunk to the central office in Los Angeles, thereby seizing the trunk. Your New Orleans tandem begins sending beep tones to a tandem it has discovered idly whistling 2600 cycles in Los Angeles. The receiving end of that L.A. tandem is seized, stops whistling 2600, listens to the beep tones which tell it which L.A. phone to ring, and starts ringing the 800 number. Meanwhile a mark made in the New Orleans office accounting tape notes that a call from your New Orleans phone to the 800 number in L.A. has been initiated and gives the call a code number. Everything is routine so far. But then the phone phreak presses his blue box to the mouthpiece and pushes the over the line again and assumes that New Orleans has hung up because the trunk is whistling as if idle. The L.A. tandem immediately ceases ringing the L.A. 800 number. But as soon as the phreak takes his finger off the 2600 button, the L.A. tandem assumes the trunk is once again being used because the 2600 is gone, so it listens for a new series of digit tones - to find out where it must send the call.

Thus the blue-box operator in New Orleans now is in touch with a tandem in L.A. which is waiting like an obedient genie to be told what to do next. The blue-box owner then beeps out the ten digits of the New York number which tell the L.A. tandem to relay a call to New York City. Which it promptly does. As soon as your party picks up the phone in New York, the side of the New Orleans tandem facing you stops sending 2600 cycles to you and stars carrying his voice to you by way of the L.A. tandem. A notation is made on the accounting tape that the connection has been made on the 800 call which had been initiated and noted earlier. When you stop talking to New York a notation is made that the 800 call has ended.

At three the next morning, when the phone company's accounting computer starts reading back over the master accounting tape for the past day, it records that a call of a certain length of time was made from your New Orleans home to an L.A. 800 number and, of course, the accounting computer has been trained to ignore those toll-free 800 calls when compiling your monthly bill.

Free long distance calls - certainly got Steve Wozniak excited. According to a posting on Steve Wozniak's website - he called his buddy Steve Jobs and the next day went over to the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and poured through the technical library there looking for an article that listed all in-band signalling frequencies. They then went over to Job's house and built a couple of multivibrator oscillators - tone generators! The first devices they built were unstable and did not generate accurate frequencies. Wozniak ended up finding a guy by the name of Mike Joseph in his Berkley dorm who had "perfect pitch" and could identify musical notes. According to Wozniak:

"If it didn't work, he'd tell me what notes he heard. If one of them was a C-sharp and was supposed to be an A, I could look up the C-sharp frequency and find out where my frequency divider was off, and replace a diode that was bad".

The Wozniak/Jobs blue boxes were perfected and the business partnership between Jobs and Wozniak was born with Jobs working with Wozniak to sell the blue-boxes. They had some success and decided to begin working on a personal computer. Jobs sold his Volkswagen, Wozniak sold his HP scientific calculator, together raising $1,300 to fund their startup - the rest is history.

What does Joybubbles (in 1971 known as Joe Engessia) have to do with all of this you might ask? In the 1960's Joe was a blind (from birth) student at the University of Southern Florida who could whistle a perfect 2600 Hz pitch and, many claim, was the inspiration behind the development of the blue boxes. He was mentioned, along with other phone phreaks including a guy who went by the name of Captain Crunch, in the Esquire article. Rosenblum referred to Joe specifically as "the catalyst uniting disparate phreaks". Before the boxes were developed Joe demonstrated the concept worked. An inspiration for Wozniak and Jobs - for sure.

Here's an early video of Joybubbles phone phreaking:

In the video he routes a call in a 1000 mile loop through the telephone network from the phone in front of him to the phone to his left - these two phones are on separate lines. He does this just by whistling - amazing huh?

Not everything has a happy ending though. Perhaps the Esquire article put a target on Joe since his real name was used. This video piece also did not help. Eventually he was arrested, charged with malicious mischief and given a suspended sentence. He stopped phone phreaking. It gets worse..... as a child Joe had been sexually abused by a teacher and, in 1982 reverted back to his childhood, functioning in his own mind as a 5 year old. In 1991 he changed his name to Joybubbles.

Joybubbles passed away on August 8, 2007 in Minneapolis. The cause of death has not been determined. He lived most of his life on social security disability with part time work as a scent tester. According to his obituary in the New York Times, university agriculture researchers used his superb sense of smell to investigate how to control the odor of hog excrement. Also from his obituary - his second life as a youngster included becoming a minister in his own Church of Eternal Childhood and collecting tapes of every “Mr. Rogers” episode. When asked why Mr. Rogers mattered, he said: “When you’re playing and you’re just you, powerful things happen.”

A brilliant man, Joybubbles had an IQ of 172. He was 58 years old and is survived by his mother and sister.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Internet Disruptions: Skype, Microsoft and Shotguns

On Thursday, August 16, Skype users experienced a critical disruption. The disruption was the result of a massive restart of Skype user computers around the world within a very short period of time. The reboot was the result of a series of Microsoft update patches that required a reboot. According to the Skype press release:

"The high number of restarts affected Skype’s network resources. This caused a flood of log-in requests, which, combined with the lack of peer-to-peer network resources, prompted a chain reaction that had a critical impact".

"Normally Skype’s peer-to-peer network has an inbuilt ability to self-heal, however, this event revealed a previously unseen software bug within the network resource allocation algorithm which prevented the self-healing function from working quickly. Regrettably, as a result of this disruption, Skype was unavailable to the majority of its users for approximately two days".

The press release continues:

"The issue has now been identified explicitly within Skype. We can confirm categorically that no malicious activities were attributed or that our users’ security was not, at any point, at risk.

This disruption was unprecedented in terms of its impact and scope. We would like to point out that very few technologies or communications networks today are guaranteed to operate without interruptions".

I've been away on vacation and have not been as connected as I usually am - as a result the outage did not really affect me. I do use Skype frequently and if I had been in the office it would have caused some problems. I find it interesting, and a little disturbing, that one of the first things Skype clarifies in the press release is the fact that the outage was not caused by any "malicious activities".

On Monday there was another incident that caught my attention - someone has been shooting (with a gun) fiber optic cables in the Cleveland area. As a result, Internet service providers in the entire country experienced a slowdown. You can read the Network World gunfire piece here. Here's a couple of quotes from the piece:

TeliaSonera AB, which lost the northern leg of its U.S. network to the cut, said that the outage began around 7 p.m. Pacific Time on Sunday night. When technicians pulled up the affected cable, it appeared to have been shot. "Somebody had been shooting with a gun or a shotgun into the cable," said Anders Olausson, a TeliaSonera spokesman.

The company declined to name the service provider whose lines had been cut, but a source familiar with the situation said the lines are owned by Level 3 Communications Inc.

Within the last week we've had both upper layer and physical layer major Internet disruptions. It certainly makes me think twice about our communications vulnerabilities.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Recruiting and Retaining Students Using Web 2.0 Apps - Some Examples

CNET News has published an interesting slideshow showing how different Colleges are using Web 2.0 applications to entice and engage students. Here's a brief summary of some of the examples:

At Dartmouth:

- Undergraduate students are required to use wikis and blogs in a film studies and
comparative literature course.
- A neurology-neuropathology class at Dartmouth Medical School used wikis to
research and create case studies.

- To learn library research and analytical writing skills, Dartmouth freshmen are using
wikis to create encyclopedic entries on topics like "African American Music and Voice"
for their required expository writing class.

At Texas A and M:

- iTunes University is being used as a public relations tool to reach perspective students.
- Professors are making short 3-minute videos describing their background, interests
and classes they teach.

At Seton Hall:

- Potential freshman are sent a log-in and password along with acceptance materials -
this is done before students have formally accepted an invitation to attend. The linked
site includes information on campus life, summer reading assignments, orientation
information and the ability to contact potential roommates and others in their major.
- Prior to the invitation to attend students get a web-based Seton Hall email account.

Yes - these are all big name schools but take a look - iTunes University is free! In addition, the Dartmouth links are especially interesting because they are using the blooging and wiki features/functionality of the Blackboard learning management system (LMS). If you are not an academic, LMS's are essentially online classroom portals providing discussion forums, assessment, lecture content, etc. At first look Blackboard version 7 includes limited blog and wiki functionality - it does provide RSS feed functionality for blogs. Like many of the academics that read this blog, our campus has upgraded over the summer to version 7 - we'll be giving it a good look this fall.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Michael Scott [The Office] and Jimmy Wales Explain Wikipedia

One of the few shows I do watch on TV (I Tivo it) is The Office. and yes - I even watch the reruns. Last night was a treat with Michael, played by Steve Carell, giving his Wikipedia impressions. Here's his clip from YouTube:

Tongue in cheek funny stuff but still - this is the impression many (especially those in the academic field) have and - yes - there is some justification.
Here Wikipedia founder
Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales discusses two different views of Wikipedia - Emergent Phenomena and a Community of Thoughtful Users:

Let's compare videos - Michael is taking the more common emergent phenomena perspective which, from Jimmy's perspective (and mine), is the lesser of the two. Here's a quote from an interview Jimmy did a couple of years ago with Mark Hurst from Good Experience. Jimmy was asked by Mark about Wikipedia's error correction after Jimmy had claimed a 5 minute turn-around time.

A lot of people, when they learn about Wikipedia, have this very attractive idea that it's an emergent phenomenon - the sort of thing where a million people add one sentence each to build the site. But really, the vast majority of changes on Wikipedia are made from a hard-core group of users. It's not a Darwinian phenomenon of millions of people, but rather a community of people. That core group is in constant communication, via IRC, and on the Web itself - they're always talking, in 40 languages, about the articles. That's how the site gets corrected so fast. People notice the change and very quickly communicate it through the community. The tight-knit group of users makes all the difference.

So it's not built and maintained by millions of people popping in, posting and popping out, never to return again. It's built and maintained by a much smaller community of thoughtful users that closely monitor and maintain content. Perhaps we could even say community members have some social "skin in the game".

How well does the Wikipedia concept work? According to the Wikipedia entry, as of August 14, 2007, approximately 7.9 million articles had been posted in 253 languages. 1.95 million of which are in the English edition.

How accepted is it? Let's consider academia - there is much criticism and controversy regarding the use of Wikipedia in the classroom - some faculty discourage use, some ban it and others allow it. Wikipedia has an excellent entry titled Criticism of Wikipedia linked here. I also (as referenced in link) would not consider Wikipedia a primary source just as I would not consider an encyclopedia to be a primary source..... however, most Wikipedia entries are richly linked to acceptable primary sources.

Wikipedia is likely one of the first places students (and faculty including myself) do go to start researching a topic - whether "banned" or not.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Business Week: Keeping Jobs Onshore

In this blog I continue to take a look at the August 20 and 27 Business Week feature “The Future of Work”.

Let’s start today by taking a look at offshoring and let’s take it from the perspective of a 22 year old college student. That’s what Business Week Software Editor Steve Hamm does in his piece How to Keep Your Job Onshore. Hamm talks about Matt Cavin, a freshman Theology student at Valparaiso University who, one day while on a summer study program a couple of years ago in China, happened to be reading Friedman’s The World is Flat in a Chinese park. As Matt read it was as if a light bulb went off in his head – experiencing first-hand the intensity of Chinese students as they studied English, Math and Science – Friedman’s words about the movement of U.S. jobs off-shore really hit home.

Fast forward – Matt gets back to the U.S. and remaps his future – he ditches the Theology major and will finish a triple major next spring – International Business, Economics and Mandarin. Today Matt sees opportunity – he is not scared but he is running as fast as he can. Matt understands that today just about any job that can be done over the web can be off-shored. It’s not just the computer programmers anymore – it's lawyers, pharmacists, accounting, banking, medicine….. the list is almost endless.

In his piece Hamm also discusses “multidisciplinary skills” and mentions one of my favorites (likely because this is my background) – computer science/engineering and biology. He goes on to discuss how young people in the U.S. must really sit down and plan their careers, Hamm says they must break down their jobs into the tasks that are easy to move and those that are not. They must prepare and ensure that they are excelling in the areas that cannot be easily moved if they want to stay in this country and have successful careers.

Alan S. Blinder from Princeton published an offshorability index study last March. The study pdf is linked here and it's another must read. In the study he classifies 8.2 million current jobs in the U.S. as being “highly offshorable” and 20.7 million more jobs as being “offshorable”. According to Blinder the most likely white collar positions heading offshore are software programmers, data entry clerks, draftsmen and computer research scientists.

How do we react? How do we plan? For us academics – what do we teach? For our students - what do they study? What aspects/pieces of our respective disciplines are offshorable? What pieces are not? As we update our curriculum are we focusing on the parts and pieces that are not highly offshorable? How are we preparing tomorrows workforce?

Like Matt, the student at Valparaiso - are we (you, me, our colleagues, our students) running as fast as we can?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Business Week: Collaboration and Team Work

Today I’ll continue with the Business Week August 20 and 27th issue that focuses on the future of work. A recurring theme throughout the issue is collaboration and teamwork. Multi-national companies like IBM are hiring sociologists to connect people that have never met into virtual teams. Virtual world applications, like Second Life, with 3D avatars are being used to promote social networking and corporations are creating their own virtual “campuses”, offering thousands of online courses.

Cultural and generational "idiosyncrasies" are paramount as these virtual teams are constructed. Think about creating a virtual team that, for example, is a mix of Chinese, Eastern Europe, U.S. and Indian employees….. people that have never met in the real world, may not speak each others language…… and then mix in the difference in age – the digital immigrants versus the digital natives. Now bundle in the time differences between the U.S. and distant locations….. It almost seems impossible .......

Let’s dig a little deeper into the generational differences. Here’s some startling quotes from the article:

"Dow Chemical expects 30% of its 20,000 workers to retire in the next 5 years".

"Meanwhile, enrollment in U.S. chemical engineering schools is declining and companies like Dow are fighting against the oil and gas companies for a shrinking chemical engineering talent pool".

So what is a company like Dow doing? The company is trying to persuade older employees not to retire by offering flexible hours, three day work weeks and letting those that do retire know they can always come back. So now we’ve got a company like Dow creating teams of workers that may span over 40 years in age difference, probably have never met, speak different languages and work in different time zones. How different is this from a modern college “classroom”? Except for the time zone differences the scenario sounds a lot like a typical community college campus! How many languages is your college website available in? What are the age ranges of students in your classrooms? The next time you walk around campus listen - how many different languages do you hear students speaking?

How are employers dealing with these differences? Companies, like Nokia are looking for employees with a “collaborative mindset”. Nokia is very careful to build task forces that include a range of nationalities, ages and education levels. Members are encouraged to network online and share personal information like photographs and biographies.

And then there is IBM.... IBM’s Web-based services group has a 360,000 member staff that works closely as one big virtual team. The company has started an “innovation portal”, allowing any employee with an idea for a product to build online teams, organize resources and access company talent and other assets.

Corporations are working to create a “seamless global workforce”. We must continue to push and innovate in the academic community, following the lead of companies like Dow, Nokia and IBM, as we structure our modern “classrooms”.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Business Week: The Future of Work

The August 20 and 27th issue of Business Week cover story is titled The Future of Work and it is excellent. I’ll take a good look at some of the interesting content that is relevant to technology and academic communities over the next few blogs. I highly recommend you buy this issue and keep it close - in fact I would consider it to be a must read. Now let's get to the content.

Before we look ahead we need to get some perspective on where we have been and where we are now. Here's a few quotes from the issue:

"According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 34% of adult workers in the U.S. now have bachelor’s degrees, up 29% from 10 years ago".

"The modern workplace no longer resembles an assembly line – it now more closely resembles a design studio where the core values are collaboration and innovation".

"Talented people are still in high demand, and there is no evidence yet that work has become less interesting because of outsourcing".

"The rapid growth of broader, richer channels of communications – including virtual worlds – is transforming what is meant to be “at work”.

Good stuff so far right? Communication channels, collaboration, virtual worlds, future, doing things differently, risk, trying new things….. all the things Mike Q and I write about and have been podcasting about over the past couple of years. Here’s a few more interesting pieces:

"College tuitions have risen 60% since 2000".

"The percentage of 25-29 year-olds with at least a bachelor’s degree has fallen during the last decade".

This is disturbing – could the next generation of Americans be less educated than the previous generation at the same time employers are requiring a higher level of worker education? Have 4-year institutions priced themselves of of the mainstream market?

Perhaps there is some gold here or those of us closely involved with the 2-year schools. Is this an opportunity for community colleges to provide the first two years of a 4-year degree? Translation - many 4-year schools may have priced themselves out of the market for much of the U. S. population. Community colleges are much less expensive and provide an opportunity for a student to economically obtain the first two years of a 4-year degree. We've always done it - it may be time to ratchet transfer up.

Now a little more:

"A Conference Board survey results found 47% of workers were satisfied with their jobs in 2006, in 1995 the same job satisfaction survey indicated 59%".

"Lynn Franco, consumer research director at the Conference Board, believes technology may have something to do with these results – specifically the fact that it is much more difficult to get away from “work”.

From a survey conducted by Beta Research Corp for Business Week:
"36% of those surveyed believe they actually got more work done prior to email".

I find this last item incredible - let's think about it a bit - time warp your brain back 10-15 years if you were around then. How connected were you then? Did you have email? How dependent were you on technology to get you job done? If you are an academic - what kind of technology were you or your faculty using in your classrooms? Overhead projectors? Maybe you were one of those on the cutting edge and you had a document camera? Seriously - were you or your faculty more efficient? Personally my answer is no and I really hope yours is too. I'm guessing but believe that many of those who said they were more productive without email have not bothered to keep up with modern technology. Or perhaps they have not had sufficient support from their superiors......

Technology, globalization, communications, ubiquitous broadband, collaboration, virtualization….. exciting times for us in the academic world as we prepare our students for the new world of “work".

Thursday, August 9, 2007

President Bush Signs H.R. 2272 COMPETES Bill

On Monday I here wrote about the H.R. 2272: The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act (COMPETES) bill. Well.... before heading off for his one-month vacation - President Bush signed it today! Here's a couple of quotes from President Bush's morning press conference:

"The bill I will sign today will help ensure that we do remain the most competitive and innovative nation in the world. I thank members of Congress from both parties who worked hard to secure its passage. I particularly want to thank Senators Pete Domenici, Jeff Bingaman, Lamar Alexander and John Ensign, as well as Congressmen Bart Gordon and Vern Ehlers".

"You know, this bill shows that we can work together to make sure we're a competitive nation. There's a lot of areas where we can seek common ground coming this fall, and I'm looking forward to working with members of both parties to do that".

Below are the basic bullet items from the white House fact sheet:

The President Appreciates Congress' Bipartisan Response To The Competitiveness Challenge Since He Announced ACI In January 2006. He appreciates House and Senate appropriators' support for funding for ACI basic research programs starting in FY 2007 and commends them thus far in the appropriations process for fully funding his corresponding FY 2008 budget request for the National Science Foundation, the Energy Department's Office of Science, and the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology.

As The President Proposed, The Act Supports Doubling Funding For Basic Research Programs In Physical Sciences. This increased funding will encourage scientists to explore promising and critical areas such as nanotechnology, supercomputing, and alternative energy sources.

The Act Authorizes The President's Math Now Proposal To Improve Instruction In Mathematics. The programs will give teachers research-based tools and professional development to improve elementary, and middle school students' achievement in math.

The Act Authorizes The President's Proposed Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate (AP/IB) Program. This program would expand low-income students' access to AP/IB coursework by training more high school teachers to lead AP/IB courses in math, science, and critical foreign languages in high-need schools.

White House video, audio and text related to this bill are linked here.

Search Engine Privacy

As Mike Q and I travel around presenting on Web 2.0 technologies some of the most common questions we get are with regards to privacy. The questions are along the lines of:

- How private is my communications (text messaging, email, etc) on the web?
- How private are documents stored in places like Google docs and Spreadsheets?

- Can I securely delete things like search records from places like Google and Yahoo?

- Can anybody else access my stuff?

Yesterday the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) released a report that starts to give some answers and, more importantly, will continue to put pressure on Internet search companies and lawmakers to further strengthen privacy protections. In a report titled Search Privacy Practices: A Work In Progress (linked here as PDF) the CDT takes a look at how these companies delete old user data, strip personally identifiable information and give users the ability to delete old search records. There's been a lot of activity by companies recently so this report is very timely.

Specifically - the report takes a good look at Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL and makes the following recommendations:
  1. Search companies should continue to work towards providing controls that allow users to not only extend but also limit the information stored about them. As it becomes possible to tie more and more information back to an individual user account, users should control the correlation of their account information with records of their online activities.
  2. Researchers, academics, and Internet companies should continue to pursue new and innovative methods for (a) improving the quality of search results, preventing fraud and otherwise meeting business needs without tying searches to particular users, and (b) safeguarding data that is stored for long periods.
  3. Search companies should expand efforts to at balance the demands of the advertising marketplace with their users’ privacy needs. This should include the development of new standards and policies that take privacy into account from the beginning.
  4. Internet companies should leverage their contracts with partners to promote privacy protections across the board. Consumers can also exert pressure to improve privacy practices by staying informed and making use of available privacy tools.a simple, flexible framework.
  5. No amount of self-regulation in the search privacy space can replace the need for a comprehensive federal privacy law to protect consumers from bad actors. With consumers sharing more data than ever before online, the time has come to harmonize our nation’s privacy laws into a simple, flexible framework.
The report is short (6 pages including a Glossary) and easy to read with an excellent table on the second page that answers the following questions for the 5 companies studied:
  1. How long after search data has been collected will it be removed?
  2. How will search data be removed?
  3. Is most or all search data shared with a third party on an ongoing basis?
This is an excellent look at current web search privacy - you will likely be surprised at some of the things you see. I look forward to more "persuasion" in the web privacy areas from the CDT and other similar organizations.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Beginnings of Google Social Tagging?

The next time you run a Google search take a look at the bottom of the screen - unless things change - you'll see the following option "Dissatisfied? Help us improve." Click this link and you'll be taken to a user entry page. Below is a screen shot of a portion this page after I had done a Google search on "springer spaniels":

The "Were you looking for a specific URL that wasn't listed in the search results? If so, please enter the URL here:" entry box is most interesting. Users are required to enter content in both boxes and, after entering, are taken to another page with the message:

"We will use your responses to help us in our never-ending quest to improve the quality of Google search. While we do not send responses to information submitted using this form, you can find more information, including our user support email addresses at:"

And..... last week Mike Grehan was doing some research on Google UK and noticed a new feature at the bottom of the page on many of the searches he did that asks the user if they would like to suggest a "better page" url for the particular item being searched on. You can read Mike's blog entry on this topic here.

Are these the beginnings of a social tagging effort by Google? Perhaps this is a response to
Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales plans for Search Wikia - a project that serves as a platform for the development of a new free/open source search engine with user-editable search results. My guess is yes.

This will be interesting to watch

Listen to Mike Q and my latest podcast "Niche Search" linked here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

CafeScribe: Textbooks 2.0

Fourteen40, a Salt Lake company that derives it's name from the year 1440 when Gutenberg invented the printing press, has released (in beta) CaféScribe, an e-book marketplace and social network for students. CafeScribe is much more than just a bunch of PDF's students pay for and pull off the web. Provided are some interesting and useful tools including the ability to share notes with others and organize digital books based on things like subject matter along with other tools like digital color-coded color-coded highlighters.

The social networking component is most interesting - to give you an idea of how it works - here's some details from the CafeScribe website:

Upload and share any of your PDFs with your friends or classmates.

Share notes with others who are reading the same stuff. Academics call it "collaborative learning", we call it "divide and conquer" Why not share notes and figure out what is most important more quickly?

Rank others on how well they take notes. Find the genius note taker for your classes

The ability for students to form virtual study groups on their own campuses and across other campuses is very appealing for both the traditional classroom and distance delivery,

Even though CafeScribe is currently in beta you can still register on the website and start using it. This may be an interesting way for faculty to distribute documents for student collaboration. I'm going to experiment with it this fall with my students.

Listen to Mike Q and my latest podcast "Niche Search" linked here.

Monday, August 6, 2007

H.R. 2272: The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act (COMPETES)

Last Thursday, in a 367 to 57 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2272, a bill that provides $33.6 billion towards federal science, technology and research programs. Thursday night the bill was also approved by the Senate and is now on the President's desk.

H.R. 2272 is the result of 18 months of work led by the bipartisan House Science and Technology Committee and based on recommendations in the, 2005 Rising above the Gathering Storm National Academies report. This is from the H.R. 2272 bill summary:

"H.R. 2272 is the culmination of a year and a half-long, bipartisan effort led by Members of the House Science and Technology Committee to pass a package of competitiveness bills in response to recommendations in the 2005 National Academies report, Rising above the Gathering Storm".

"The Conference Agreement follows through on a commitment to ensure U.S. students, teachers, businesses and workers are prepared to continue leading the world in innovation, research and technology – well into the future".

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Title Portion of the bill is extremely encouraging with a strong emphasis on 2-year colleges and the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Program:

"The conference agreement provides $22 billion to the National Science Foundation (NSF) over fiscal years 2008 - 2010, putting it on a path to double in approximately 7 years. Particularly strong increases are provided in fiscal year 2008 for K-12 STEM education programs at NSF. These programs, including the Noyce Teacher Scholarship program and the Math and Science Partnerships program will help to prepare thousands of new STEM teachers and provide current teachers with content and pedagogical expertise in their area of teaching.

In addition to providing increased support for programs that address the earliest stages of the STEM workforce pipeline, the conference report will help create thousands of new STEM college graduates, including 2-year college graduates, through increased support for the STEM talent expansion (STEP) program and the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program.

For those STEM graduates who continue on the path toward academic careers, the conference agreement provides critical support for young, innovative researchers by expanding the graduate research fellowships (GRF) and integrative graduate education and research traineeship (IGERT) programs, strengthening the early career grants (CAREER) program, and creating a new pilot program of seed grants for outstanding new investigators. Such programs have an additional benefit of helping to stimulate high-risk, high-reward research by identifying and taking a chance on the best and brightest young minds".

As the director of an NSF ATE Center at a Community College it is wonderful to see recognition of the work being done at all NSF funded institutions including K-12 and the two-year schools.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Innovative Faculty and the Dyson AirBlade

A couple of weeks ago I was in Providence, RI visiting my daughter. We ended up going over to the Providence Place Mall for lunch and then we spent some time walking around the mall. We spent considerable time in both the Apple store and the Sony Style store, as we always do, playing around with as much as we could get our hands on. The piece of technology that impressed me the most on this day (I had already spent a couple of hours with the iPhone on a previous visit) was actually in the Men's Room.

You may or may not be familiar with Dyson - a UK company started by James Dyson to make bag-less vacuum cleaners. In the 1970's James did a lot of vacuuming and found himself constantly emptying the bag on his Hoover Junior to maintain a high level of suction. Frustrated with the performance of bag vacuum cleaners, he became obsessed with developing a new vacuum cleaner that would not clog up and brainstormed the use of cyclonic separation. After 5 years and 5,127 prototypes his pink (yes pink!) G-Force vacuum cleaner was born - the world's first bagless vacuum cleaner. Incredible design and wonderful product but without a manufacturer or distributor in the UK. Not one to give up, James started his own manufacturing company and started selling the product via catalog sales in Japan. Well it took off there winning the Japanese 1991 International Design Fair prize. Fast forward to today - James and his research team have developed products that have achieved sales of over $10 billion worldwide.

Let's get back to that Men's Room in Providence - attached to the wall were a couple of shiny new Dyson AirBlades. The AirBlade is a hand dryer that is unlike any air hand dryer you have ever seen. Hand dryers in rest rooms have always given me the creeps. Perhaps it's my Microbiology undergrad background - I've always seen them as a great way to spread germs around. Think about it - and the next time you are in a rest room read the instructions on the traditional blower models. They tell you to first shake the excess water off your hands (!) and then blow the rest of the water off your hands with warm air. Makes sense right - let's shake and then blow germ aerosols (bacteria, mold and viruses) at a nice warm temperature around the rest room............ How long can you hold your breath?

Well Dyson has come up with something a little different - here's a video to give you an idea if you have not seen one.

400 mph room temperature air scraping the water off your hands with the water passing through a HEPA filter that remove 99.9% of bacteria and mold from the washroom air it sucks in - in 10 seconds. Sounds a little far fetched right? I can give a testimonial - it works extremely well - fast, cost efficient and hygienic just as the Dyson website claims. You need to try one of these things out!

Dyson is one of those innovators with different ideas - you can bet people laughed at him with his vacuum cleaners - some are probably getting a chuckle right now over these hand dryers. I also bet the ones who are chuckling have never tried one.

Why am I writing about this stuff ? This summer I've been around the country giving presentations on new technology and its use in the classroom. Combined audience over 1000 people. In my travels I've met some faculty with amazing drive, ideas and ambition that lack one critical piece for success in the classroom - administrative support. So many incredible people who are not being encouraged or supported by their fellow faculty, Dept Chairs, Deans, VP's, etc.

On the flip side I've met just as many faculty who are supported and encouraged by their administration and yes - actually implementing some incredible work. You can pick the lucky ones right out - new laptops and smiling faces:)

If you are in an administrative position perhaps you've been on the fence about things like blogs, wikis, podcasts, video, etc. Maybe you have not taken the time to learn about these things. Maybe you've even flat out told your faculty no. Times are rapidly changing and this stuff is not going away. It's time to start encouraging and rewarding your motivated and innovative faculty.

If you are faculty in a position where you are not being supported stay motivated, keep plugging away and keep your options open like Dyson.

Note: If you are viewing at go to to see the video version of this blog.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

700Mz Goldmine

The FCC will soon be auctioning off 62MHz of spectrum in the upper 700MHz band. Yesterday the FCC moved forward by approving some new rules that will give wireless users more choices in this country.The spectrum to be auctioned is being freed up based on a Congressional mandate as U.S. television broadcasters move from analog to digital broadcasts. There is an incredible amount of interest in this peice of spectrum because of its ability to be communicate over long distances and pass through walls and other obstructions.

Of the 62 MHz, 22 MHz will be considered "open access" spectrum with another 10MHz dedicated to public safety networks used by first responders - firefighters, police, etc.The "open access" rule was heavily debated and pushed hard by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and others at the FCC. Providing "open access" will allow consumers to use any device and software they want in the open access spectrum range.

It looks like Google is happy with the open content provision but Google was hoping another provision would be approved. This provision, if it had been approved, would require the spectrum licensee to sell network access at a wholesale rate to other service providers including direct competition. Google had dangled a minimum bid of $4.6 Billion which many (including Verizon and At&T) believe was an attempt by Google to keep the price down - basically low-ball the auction and picking up broadband spectrum at a bargain price. Kevin Martin was especially concerned this would seriously lower the bidding price and the provision was not included in the rules. As a result, it does not look like Google will participate in the auction at this time.

The spectrum will be auctioned off no later that January 28. 2008 and I've read auction predictions of anywhere from $10 Billion to $30 Billion will be bid for the spectrum.

Regardless of who gets it and how much money is spent by the licensee - in the end it will mean more choice, bandwidth and lower cost to the consumer.