Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I don't want to write this post...

...for a couple of reasons.

One, I have not watched and analyzed every video in this list. Some might argue that I therefore can't comment on any of them. (I haven't eaten every anchovy ever canned, either, but I still don't want them on my pizza.) And it's possible - perhaps likely - that somewhere in the hours of humorous, be-hatted, alarmist YouTubery linked above, my objections are answered. (Maybe some kind commentor with more patience than I will provide the link.)

Secondly, I am not a climatalogist, nor do I (ahem) play one on the internet. As far as climate change / global warming is concerned, I figure I'll do what most humans do when faced with changing conditions: adapt. Hey - it worked for the Cro-Magnons when the woolly mammoths went away. (I'd love to see a New Yorker cartoon showing a caveman with a "Stop Global Warming - Save the Mammoths" sign.)

Third, I really would prefer to do other things with my time. For example, watching videos like this (in my dreams...) or this (the boys still have it!).

Fourth, the chance of anything I write having the slightest impact relative to the hours of content churned out by Greg aka "wonderingmind42" aka "that science teacher with the hats" is pretty slim. But the subtitle of this blog IS, "We speak of things that matter, with words that must be said." As an ethologist might say, I've reached my blogging activation threshold on this topic.

So what's my beef with Greg the Hatted? Two things. One, he's misusing one of my favorite rhetorical devices, Pascal's Wager. Second, he presents a three-dimensional problem in two, ignoring a critical aspect of the debate that totally changes the risk-management equation.

First, Pascal's Wager. The whole point of the Wager as a decision-making tool (or rhetorical device) is that it presents us with a pair of linked dichotomies. Either God exists or He doesn't/ Either we believe or we don't. These are binary choices. Either-or. There is no spectrum, no range of options, no middle ground. Your daughter is either pregnant, or she is not. She is either married, or not. There's no "sorta-kinda" in a Pascal's Wager decision matrix.

But the decisions that Greg presents are both spectra, not binary choices. It's not, "Is climate change happening, or not?" It's "To what extent is it happening?" It's not, "Either we do nothing, or we do something." We're NOT doing nothing. Individuals - and big companies - are voluntarily taking steps to reduce their carbon footprints. The question is, "How far are we going to go?" More on that in a minute.

The second problem I have with Greg is that he leaves out a critical 3rd dimension of the decision matrix - to what extent can we do anything about it?

Here's Greg's argument in a nutshell (ok, a hand-coded HTML table):
 We do somethingWe do nothing
It's not realI: Economic inconvenienceII: No worries, mate!
It's realIII: Different but livableIV: End of the world
Ok, so I've oversimplified an oversimplification, but there it is:

Quadrant I: If global warming (GW) isn't real, but we try to fight it, we have some economic disruptions.

Quadrant II: If GW isn't real, and we do nothing, no problem, mon.

Quadrant III: If GW is real, and we do something, the world will be different but livable.

Quadrant IV: If GW is real and we do nothing, Game Over.

There are two problems with this analysis beyond false dichotomies already described. One, it glosses over the nature and scope of the economic impact of making a really significant impact on carbon emissions, never mind the political intricacies of getting India and China to go along. We're not talking about curbside recycling, folks. We're talking about turning out the lights and shuttering whole industries. Massive disruptions in the global economy. Millions thrown out of work.

"Different but livable?" Sure. The Middle Ages was "different but livable". The Amish have a "different but livable" lifestyle. To take it to an absurd extreme, we know that the cattle industry produces a whole LOT of methane. Should we then kill all the cows and enforce a worldwide "diet for a small planet?"

The second problem is that it assumes that we can do anything about it. Maybe we're past the tipping point. Or maybe the largest component of GW is solar activity, or it's just the natural climatic cycle, like the past several ice ages and warming periods. Maybe no matter WHAT we do, climate change is (or isn't) going to happen. So let's look at that table again:
It doesn't matter what we doWe do somethingWe do nothing
It's not realI: Economic disasterII: No worries, mate!
It's realIII: Climate catastrophe PLUS economic disasterIV: Climate catastrophe BUT we have resources to adapt
See how that changes things? The picture is much bleaker - now we have THREE chances of bad things happening.

Quad I: If GW is not real and we wreck our economy for no reason, then we've ... wrecked our economy for no reason.

Quad II: If GW is not real and we do nothing.. :-)

Quad III: GW is real, but remember, in this table there's nothing we can do about it. So we blow all our economic resources on commanding the tide to not come in. Ecological disaster plus economic disaster. Hey buddy - got a spare soylent cracker?

Quad IV: In this scenario, GW is real. Eco-catastrophe. But at least we'll have the resources to adapt, since we didn't destroy the global economy trying to forestall the inevitable.

We can relocate the coastal cities, build bio-domes, starships, whatever. But at least we'll have options.

The third dimension - does it matter what we do? - totally changes the risk-management analysis.

If we CAN make a difference, then we get one of two flavors of Doomsday. Choose your poison - economic collapse (Quad I) or ecological collapse (Quad IV). Presumably, if we CAN avoid climate change by dint of human effort, then Quad III will be simply "different but livable." (But no, you can't haz chzbrgr. We had to kill all the cows to save the planet.)

But check this out - if it turns out that it doesn't matter what we do, the climate is gonna change anyway, we get THREE flavors of Apocalypse! Economic disaster - but no climate disruptions (Quad I), ecological disaster - but economic resources to deal with it (Quad IV), or a combination of both (Quad III).

If we can have an impact, Quad III is "different but livable."

If we can't...

Instead of Amish Paradise we get Soylent Green.

Mad Max.


Or this.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

How NOT to do customer service

FWIW, I found out about this story via Twitter. What an amazing tool.

A couple of days ago I wrote about lessons learned while serving time working in the food-service industry.

Lesson #1 is, Customer Service is Job One.

A manager and trainer at a certain Steak n Shake need to learn that.

A Deaf Mom Shares Her World: Steak and Shake Denies Service
I went through the empty drive through and drove past the speaker. After waiting a few minutes at the window, I finally honked the horn and waited some more. After a second honk a few minutes later, a young man appeared.

"Hi! I didn't order back there as I can't hear," I said, pointing to my ear. "I'd like two small shakes, one vanilla and one chocolate."

"You'll have to drive around again so I can take your order through the speaker," the guy said.

"I can't hear back there, so I'll need you to take my order here," I explained.

"No, it's our policy. You'll have to just drive around and tell me your order and then I can take your order."
Believe it or not, it gets worse. Much worse. Read the whole thing.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

b-duh, b-duh, b-duh....

Call my mind officially blown. Scrape up the grey matter and reassemble, please.

Backstory: Susan Reynolds is a blogger who's battling breast cancer. She's active on Twitter. (oh, look it up!) A community of Twittering supporters has materialized over the past few months.

Somehow a TV producer got wind of the story and decided to do a story on Susan.

Tonight, someone on Twitter suggested creating an online map of folks who support Susan to show to the TV folks.It took about fifteen minutes for someone to do it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Economist debate on social networking in education

The Economist is hosting an important debate. Proposed: Social Networking technologies will bring large [positive] changes to educational methods, in and out of the classroom. (Thanks to Will Richardson for Tweeting on it.) Here's my take:

I have been an educator in one form or fashion for over three decades, with students ranging from pre-kindergarten to post-graduate. Of all the degree programs, lectures, seminars, colloquia, books, et cetera ad nauseum I have experienced / endured, the single thing that has had the most profound impact on my thinking and professional practice is informally sharing ideas with colleagues.

"Social Networking" is just another name for "Community of Practice." The question is, what is being practiced? I can use YouTube, Twitter, del.icio.us, etc. to fritter away the hours with ephemera (and frankly, sometimes I want to do just that!). Or I can use these tools to subscribe to the brains of some really smart people that I would otherwise never meet.

"SN" is just a tool, like a screwdriver is just a tool. You can use a screwdriver to poke holes in a wall, pry open a can, or assemble a mechanical marvel. (You can even drive a nail with it in a pinch.)

It's a set of affordances and constraints, no more, no less. Our students use these tools already. Are we going to try to make them stop using them, disregard them as useless, or will we try to open their minds to using them to learn in new ways?

The story goes that Ben Franklin was invited to witness one of the Montgolfier Brothers' balloon flights. A fellow next to him scoffed, "What use is THAT?" Franklin murmured, "Indeed. And what use is a newborn baby?"

Monday, January 14, 2008

Podcast with Clay Burell on helping students build Personal Learning Networks

“Quick In, Quick Out” Podcast: PLN Class Design Discussion with Cleveland, Maryland, NYC, Qatar, and Seoul

Wow. I happened to be on Twitter at lunchtime. I noted that minutes before, a fellow I had recently started "following" (because another of my Twitter contacts replied to him, and I liked what I saw) asked for folks to join him in a quick Skype call to talk about the class he's teaching on Personal Learning Networks. I finally installed Skype just last week in order to chat with a couple of other Twitter folk, I had a few minutes, so what the heck - I looked Clay up, added him to my (very short) contact list, and called him.

The 40-minute spontaneous conversation that ensued spanned the globe - literally. I'm no expert in Web 2.0, but via Twitter, RSS, del.icio.us, etc., I can subscribe to the brains of people who are. This stuff is really amazing. You gotta try it.

Sage advice?

A fellow in my network is thinking about ditching engineering and going to work in a kitchen.

I started out at Burger King in high school. I did 18 months in fast food. Fry station, counter, drive-though, finally A-line. "Hold the pickles hold the lettuce..." - That was me. I was in the Flow. In the Zone. Hard work with a good team is a helluvalot of fun. ZipZapZoop - I cannot be fazed. I OWN this line.

Until someone yells, "TRUCK!" (That's the 18-wheeler with a week's worthe of supplies.)

I earned my keep in kitchens until about a year after I got my Master's.

In college, a buddy was the Grill God of the local Mickey D's. 80 hours/week, because he *would*. One afternoon (after a morning after the "night before"), he wailed, "The eggs were SMILING at me!!!"

He had a nightmare once: He was all alone in the store. Every beeper in the place was going off - the grill, the fries, the pies, the fish... A tornado passed overhead, ripping off the roof and drenching the lobby. He has to go grab a mop. Then a school bus pulls in...

You will sweat. You will dance. You might sing. You will get cut, burned, and bruised. You may get fired for telling your boss he's violating the health code, and bask in quiet satisfaction later when the place closes. You'll get sick of the smell of teriyaki sauce. You will be able to break four eggs, using two hands, in three seconds.

You will understand the following at a deep level:

1. Customer Service is Job 1.
2. Rotate the stock.
3. Clean as you go.
4. You can get LOT done in thirty seconds.

Finally, whatever you do later in life, you will be able to will look back at your time in the kitchen and say, "I've worked harder for less money."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Recalling the previous generation

My Dad served in the US Navy during WW2. He liked to say, "I served with Nimitz... (pause) ...along with a couple million other guys." He was an Electrician's Mate, tasked with servicing the radars and radar altimiters of the new night fighters such as the F6FN Hellcat and F7F Tigercat. Most of his time in service was spent in Florida. He never saw combat. (His older brothers and in-laws saw their share, though. One was a paratrooper at Normandy and The Bulge, another lost a finger to a Howitzer breech mechanism somewhere in France, another had several ships torpedoed out from under him in the Merchant Marine.) Dad had some good stories, though. Here's one:

Dad was training new F6F pilots (excuse me - Naval Aviators) how to use their radar altimiters.

He explained how the unit shot a radio pulse (traveling at the speed of light) down to the water's surface, and measured the time until the reflected pulse was received. The altimeter automatically converted the travel time of the radio pulse into altitude above the water. (The unit had a toggle switch that would set its sensitivity to +/-50 ft or +/-500 ft. Quite a few pilots died in training until it was realized that they'd left the switch at "+/-500" while flying below 100 feet. They figured it out after fishing a few of the birds out of the drink and noticing the switch position.)

During one training session, one hotshot Naval Aviator was lounging back and clearly not paying much attention. Dad said, "Hey - you don't think this is important?" The flyboy replied, "Man, I'm cruising at three hundred miles per hour. By the time your little ray-di-oh blip bounces off the water, I'm looong gone!"

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hello, Twits!

Thanks, Sue, for flogging my lil' segment of the Long Tail to your Twitter network.

I was astonished to realize that I've passed three years here. If you're curious about the name of the blog, the first post explains it.

I'm sure there's plenty in the archives that's cringe-worthy, looking back, so I won't. (I do like last month's "Geese" post, though.)

Note - many posts (especially from '04) offer up political opinion from the right side of the aisle. You Have Been Warned. :-)

So welcome, have a look around, drop me a comment if you like.

Remember the old Toyota commercial?

Note - this post is 90% content-free. It's not exactly "ad ipso factum moribuni garlactorium ibid" Greekign, but it's close.

I've lately gotten into Twitter, big-time. (I'm rapidy approaching my first KiloTweet.) Being the shameless attention-wh.. uh, self-promoter that I am, I Tweeted the fact that I'd updated SDDC a time or two. One of my TwitFriends (Hi, Sue!) graciously added me to her feed reader, and was then good enough to let me know (via Twit DM) that the feed was broken.

Being the not-nearly-as-technically-savvy-as-some-folk-take-me-to-be lazy person that I am, I took the low road and clicked the happy "Upgrade Now!" button in the Blogger dashboard.

Fortunately, that process broke a lot less than I feared, and gave me more new options than I expected. (A very rare upgrade, I must say!)

So I posted a couple of short notes, thinking that that might demonstrate whether or not the RSS feed was now working.

Note - I have not set up an RSS feed manually. I assume that Blogger has that built in, for those who want to subscribe to Blogger blogs. As I said, I'm lazy. Or maybe I just have a user-centered mindset - the application should do the hard stuff. Yeah, that's the ticket! I'm not lazy, I'm user-centered! w00t!

But apparently, the posts I'd posted weren't long enough to validate whether the RSS feeder was doing its thing. I needed a longer post. Great. It's the beginning of the semester. I'm swamped with faculty coming to me saying, "Hi. Can I have a Blackboard site for my class?" (This is not a Bad Thing, mind you. It just takes a fair amount of time.) And I need to post a long post.

So, for the benefit of Sue and anyone else needing to see if their RSS reader can pick up a freshly-updated Blogger site, here's a long post. You asked for it, you got it. (If I was less lazy, I'd find and link to an old Toyota commercial.)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hello, Readers!

Wow. I knew that'd been promoted to Adorable Little Rodent from Flappy Bird in the TTLB Ecosystem, but I assumed that was because I'd started posting more. Until I added the FeedJit map, I had NO CLUE that I was getting traffic from anywhere.

I mean, no one hardly ever leaves a comment. hint... hint...

Saturday, January 05, 2008

So I've upgraded

A few clicks, and I've blindly accepted whatever new coding schema the Google Overlords have cooked up. I was able to add a map of visitors to the site, though, and massage the layout without hand-coding the template html.

Will this make me a better blogger in 2008? Who knows? I still have to insert br tags by hand, it seems.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Observing the next generation

So the kids got Nintendo DSs for Christmas.

The DS is a handheld game/communication device that can communicate via wireless with any other DS in range, about 100 feet. You can share games, play together, and swap notes that include drawings via "PictoChat." It has two touch-sensitive screens, the usual game-controller buttons, and a microphone and speaker. Games come on cartridges that insert into a slot in the unit. It folds closed.

A few random observations...

When the boys play together, they are running around a futuristic landscape blowing up evil robots and shooting lightning bolts at each other. Sample conversation snippets: "Over there! Get 'im!" "Hey! Why'd you shoot me?!?!"
When the girls play together, they are training puppies. Sample conversation snippets: "Here, Daisy!" "Hey - she's drinking out of my dog's water dish!"
Gender differences? What gender differences?

Four kids in the back of the van, faces illuminated by a soft blue glow. They are racing cartoon go-karts against each other. Conversation snippets: "Hey! Who threw that banana?" "I got a King Mushroom!" "Balloon! I need a balloon!"

Making use of the affordances of the platform....

To train your puppy, you stroke its nose with the stylus, then speak a command and the dog's name. "Sit, Daisy!" After a number of trials, you can just say, "Sit, Daisy" and the little pup plops proudly down on his virtual derriere. Rub his nose vigorously and you can make him sneeze a little puppy sneeze. It's waaay cute.

In another game you face a monster that looks something like a giant yellow rubber rabbit, bouncing all over the place and threatening to squash you. However fearsome it may be, it actually is a very timid creature. If you yell at it, it runs away.

At one point in one of the games, you have acquired a talisman that must be placed into a niche in a door. Problem: The talisman is on one screen. The door is on the other screen. There's no way to drag it from one to the other. Solution: Close the unit, thus pressing the screens together and transferring the talisman to the other screen. (Darned clever, if you ask me.)

Why can't our educational tools be this interesting, inventive, and engaging? Of course, the DS is an educational tool. The kids are learning to solve their own problems, to find solutions from others, to share, to communicate, to figure it out on their own. They are also learning that if you give something away you can sell more of it.

(The preteen noted that the feature that lets you share games will result in more games being sold, since you'll want your own copy so you can save your progress.)

These are all valuable lessons that will serve them well throught their lives. Pity we can't measure them with a Scantron sheet.