Monthly Archives: August 2017

Educational Technology and Other Oxymorons

I.

1992. The dawn of the PC. But, even at this early stage, there was obsolete hardware. The folks at “Big Purple”, International Computing Business Machinery, ICBM, had thousands upon thousands of Model AA PCs that weren’t selling, now that the Model AAA was on the market. ICBM’s solution? Simple. Donations.

The first group of teachers to be trained on the Model AA filed into the crowded lab. They were all Math teachers because computers all used numbers, and that was math, right? Math was hard and computers were hard, so it just made sense to send in the men and women that had learned something hard to learn something else hard. Because math. Or something like that.

It’s not that the teachers were particularly good at math. Some of them needed staff development hours for the year and this training seemed as good as any. Some of them had been volunteered by their building principals. Only a few were actually interested in using computers, even if they were old Model AAs.

The trainer welcomed everyone but, before he could ask the teachers to say their names, what school they taught at, and something interesting about themselves, a hand went up. A very concerned young lady looked over the top of her glasses at the trainer.

The trainer asked, “Yes, is there a problem?”

Mrs. Bailey from Hall Middle School said, “Yes, there is. Are these things kid-proof? Am I going to have parts of these things scattered all over my classroom?”

“I’m happy to say that these are kid-proof. They’ll stand up to whatever your kids can throw at them.”

An “M” key flew straight up from Mrs. Bailey’s keyboard. The trainer cleared his throat. “Whatever you did, I’m sure the kids won’t attempt.”

Mrs. Bailey was no magician. She revealed her trick. “I took a pen cap and put the edge of it under the key and up it went. Now I also got a fun spring to play with. If I put my hand over the key when I pry it up, it pops up quietly and then I can also snap it back in quietly – with or without the springs under the key. I can then set about spelling three of the seven words you can’t say on television without anyone else knowing.”

“Well, this is where your classroom management skills are needed, so you can keep an eye on the students.”

“So I spend the whole class watching keyboards? What if I have to teach something or explain something to a student? Or take roll, as mandated by the state and local authorities?”

The trainer said, “How about we talk about that later?” but the damage was done. All the other teachers were buzzing with concern about what other cheap plastic the kids could pop off the AAs. The trainer struggled to finish the session.

Out of revenge, the trainer complained to the principal at Hall Middle School and Mrs. Bailey got reprimanded for her unprofessional behavior. But, later that year, the Computer Literacy classes degenerated into ad hoc Keyboard Reassembly classes when they weren’t Clear Stuff Out of the Floppy Drive classes. Or Reconnect All the Cables Properly classes.

One teacher in charge of Computer Literacy finally found a way to keep the kids from jacking with the PCs: he installed some bootlegged games on all of them. Problem solved.

II.

2002. By now, most kids knew how to survive Computer Literacy classes. Since the classes involved either playing the games already on the boxes or bringing some games from home to play on them, math teachers were no longer involved. Instead, either coaches that found history too hard or vocational teachers whose programs had been canceled ran the Computer Literacy classes.

Each classroom, regardless of subject taught, had 2 or 3 ICBM Model 10A PCs in it. Because technology. Also enhanced access to cutting-edge resources. And school of the future, don’t forget school of the future. So, in Mr. Hull’s World History class at Benson High School, 3 PCs sat on a table in the corner closest to his desk. He didn’t want the keyboards all over the room, so he kept them where he could watch them.

Mr. Hull used to let the kids use them for general research, but too many of them just plugged in headphones and listened to rap songs. Mr. Hull wanted to disable the sound cards on the PCs, but he didn’t have admin rights, so the cards were still active.

He wanted to let kids that didn’t have PCs at home use them to work on research projects, but most of them were kids that just listened to rap songs if he looked away. If he watched them, then they just did Google searches for “world history”.

Mr. Hull was ready to give up on research papers, anyway. He was sick and tired of having to give kids zeroes for plagiarism. Every time he assigned a paper, about one kid in ten turned in one that was straight up copied from a repository of doctoral dissertations. The dumb kids and really procrastinating smart kids were easiest to catch, since they turned in word-for-word copies. It was the diligent kids of average and above intelligence that posed the biggest threat, since they’d re-word the papers so that their origins would not be revealed by Googling the first sentence.

And so, the computers stayed mostly quiet in class. They got revved up on purpose if Mr. Hull wanted to settle a bet and told a kid to look up some obscure, but specific fact. One time, a kid insisted that drinking bleach was a great way to cure indigestion. Even though other kids in the class found three other medical web pages that spelled out, in no uncertain terms, that drinking bleach was 100% bad, the kid kept insisting that he was right and the rest of the world was wrong. So much for the Internet being the fount of information… hardly worth being a fount if the idiots weren’t going to drink from it.

There was that one time that Mr. Hull checked out the laptop carts from the library. 20 laptops per cart, and a wireless access point in each cart. He gave all the students a topic to research and away they went! In the first class, 5 people loaded a relevant website with information before another 24 got stalled because one guy had plugged in his headphones and was listening to another damn rap song, thereby killing the extremely limited bandwidth available on the wireless. During second period, all the laptop batteries died. They were supposed to have lasted 4 hours on a charge… by third period, Mr. Hull was back to oral lectures, writing on chalkboards, and assigning pages to read from the textbook.

At least the digital gradebook wasn’t half bad, as long as it didn’t crash. The digital attendance, however, drove him up the wall. If he had a nickel for every time a kid walked in within 30 seconds of being marked absent, Mr. Hull would have a very nice supplemental income stream. Once marked absent, a student had to be cleared with a paper slip. Mr. Hull hated those paper slips, they were a total pain to fill out.

It was really embarrassing whenever Mr. Hull made another kind of attendance mistake: marking someone absent because he or she was just really small and quiet. That always hurt when he goofed up a quiet kid’s attendance. He felt obligated to endure the pain of filling out the correction slip for those poor kids. He tried to minimize those mistakes by sitting the kids towards the front, but, even then… there were so many distractions, what with 30 or so kids in every class…

For a while, Mr. Hull would just fill out attendance at the end of class, when things were quieter, but he got chewed out for not having roll done in the first five minutes, which was some stupid local and/or state regulation. So now, Mr. Hull just counted everyone present, every day. No correction slips for kids actually there, and the front office didn’t push too hard to correct the actual absences, since the school got money based on average daily attendance.

III.

2012. The smartphone revolution had made teaching next to impossible. Ms. Sweeney at Mulvaney High was desperate to do something, anything, to shut those satanic machines off. The kids would either text and Facebook constantly when she taught or cheat and share answers constantly when she gave a test or a quiz. It was at the point where now Ms. Sweeney only gave oral assessments to combat the cheating, which also made some students pay a little attention. But she needed something more to close the gap.

And that was why she was looking at a certain web page that mentioned frequencies, effective ranges, and shipping prices from China. Yes, Ms. Sweeney was planning to purchase a device that, when used, would make her a felony violator of the Communications Act of 1934.

She had done her research: not only did she know which bands to jam and what radius would be least likely to bleed over into other classrooms, she also had her legal coverage handled through her union dues. She also had a ready defense: if anyone busted her for jamming mobile signals, she planned to play the anti-terrorism card and claim that the Homeland Security Act of 2002 superseded the 1934 law.

Ms. Sweeney picked out a very reasonable cell jammer with 6 meter range and 3 antennas, for taking out the major signal types. At only $29.95 with $5.95 shipping and handling, it was just right for her budget. Oh, her eyes did linger on the $1995 one with 150-200 meter range, but she knew she’d be crucified if she tried to get away with using that bad boy.

3 weeks later, the jammer arrived and Ms. Sweeney was ready to put it to good use. She set it up at her desk where she could hit the on button without it being too obvious. It took a few seconds to warm up and then, whammo! Her cell phone showed zero signal. While it wouldn’t do anything for kids playing games that ran on the local device, it would kill off anything running on cellular networks.

And, just her luck, the access point just over her door was out of commission. No guest wireless for the phones that couldn’t reach a cell tower. Although her students wanted her to get it fixed, Ms. Sweeney was in no hurry to call in a ticket. She had a wired connection, after all, so it didn’t impact her web access.

The only impact to her access was the damned proxy server, always blocking her access to YouTube. There were tons of legitimate videos on that site that could be used in class, but access to that site was blocked by district policy. Ms. Sweeney’s workaround was to use a video downloader and copy those videos she thought she’d need to her local hard drive. There was another process to fill out a bunch of paperwork to get the videos approved and an exception made for them in the proxy, but that process was just too slow. Much easier to pirate the things.

Speaking of piracy, since the district no longer issued laptops with DVD players, Ms. Sweeney had to get pirated digital copies of all the films she wanted to show for her class. She didn’t feel like it was piracy, since she already owned a copy of the movie. Thanks to both Kickass Torrents and The Pirate Bay, she was well-stocked and prepped for her needs.

And now, her digital empire was perfected with the addition of the cell jammer. She waited until the kids in her first class had started to use their phones and then she turned it on. It was hilarious to watch them mouth back and forth to each other questions like, “Do you have signal?”, “Is your provider unavailable?”, and “What the hell’s going on?”

Deshaun Williams asked, “Miss, can I go to the bathroom?”

Ms. Sweeney said, “If you leave your cell phone with me.”

Deshaun said, “Never mind…”

After the kids had pretty much given up and put their phones away, Ms. Sweeney turned off the jammer. Intermittent problems were much harder to triangulate and slap with a fine not to exceed $112,500.

Now that the kids’ technology was turned off, Ms. Sweeney felt like she could finally teach again.

A few months later, when the administration introduced a brand new technology initiative to bring up standardized test scores by pushing study materials to the students via a cell phone app, Ms. Sweeney decided it was time to leave teaching and to consider a career in network security.

And so she did, pretty much doubling her teaching salary within the first 2 years. A little premature for “happily ever after”, but a good start.

What Does It Mean to Be American? Ask a Sikh!

We Are Sikhs

I have many friends who are Sikh and many more co-workers of that faith. If you know anything of the history of that faith, you know that they share many ideals with Americans. Read about them, get to know about them, and discover something beautiful in the world.

I know that being a good person is not a contest, but I also know that the actions of others can serve to inspire. There are some things that I’ve known Sikhs to do regularly that make me want to work harder to help other people that I know. Thank you for the inspiration, Sikhs.

How Could Things Get Worse for the USA?

I’m glad you asked that question. As I read over the news today, which includes reports of massive feuding between Trump and GOP Senators, I thought to myself that Trump’s behavior is no different from that of a Russian spy whose mission was to infiltrate as deeply as possible into the US Government and then commence to sabotage everything. The endgame for this mission is to eventually get fired from the role, but in such a way as to question the legitimacy of the firing and to leave a question mark in the minds of many if the firing actually happened, thereby plunging American politics into chaos.

So, here’s how I see a potential nightmare scenario playing out:

1. Trump stays in office and alienates everyone, and I mean everyone. So much so that his own party is ready to cut bait on him and seek his removal from office.
2. Mueller eventually releases his report and/or Congress decides to impeach and/or Congress decides to invoke the removal from power clause of the 25th Amendment.
3. Trump pardons himself and everyone else named on Mueller’s rap sheet.
4. Trump goes on a state visit to some European country.
5. Congress removes Trump from power in absentia.
6. Trump shows up in Moscow and immediately starts propaganda that he is a victim of an elitist coup and that he is still the POTUS.
7. The 27% of Americans that are basically going to support Trump until you pry their MAGA hats off of their cold, dead bodies constantly throw a wrench into the political works with declarations that whoever is in the White House is “not their president”.
8. These deplorable nutjobs all in “safe” GOP districts, so they elect representatives with similar deplorable nutjob views, who then go on to undermine everything done by either party.
9. Eventually, Putin’s doctors become so concerned about his popcorn intake that they put him on a low-sodium diet.

We’re then left with Trump spewing Russian propaganda from Moscow instead of from Washington DC, where he currently spews Russian propaganda. And if anyone wants to debate with me whether or not Trump is spewing Russian propaganda, try me. Trump’s response to the Russians kicking out hundreds of diplomats is classic “Radio Yerevan” stuff.

The politics of safe districts coupled with legal corporate lobbying – corporate lobbying was illegal prior to the 14th Amendment – has left us with politicians who are mostly beholden to extremist primary voters and huge campaign donors. That, in turn, left the USA highly vulnerable to what the Russians set up in 2016. I was skeptical at first, but now I am convinced that the Russians picked Donald Trump as their winner and the GOP took that bait. They took it all, hook, line, and sinker.

What we have right now is pretty bad, I’ll admit. But it could be much, much worse, as I’ve noted, above. Given the pace of the current spread of this gangrene, I figure something like this will have happened by this time next year. That’s a realistic assumption, so I’ll cut that in half and give it six months to play out. Which means this all goes down in the next two weeks, possibly…

The American ISIS

On 12 August 2017, a white supremacist showed us all that his movement is basically the same as ISIS when he drove his car into a crowd of people. I would rather be writing about something else on a Sunday morning, but I feel compelled to call out the alt-right for what it is: the American version of ISIS.

Its history goes much further back in time than ISIS’, but we can see when they had a caliphate of sorts during the time of segregation. People who opposed them were beaten and murdered as they sought to preserve their regime through violence. As segregation fell apart, they struggled on, even when the police forces they once controlled now started to investigate their crimes.

These segregationists, Nazis, and other groups collectively labeled the alt-right are emboldened in the wake of the election of a president who has always winked and nodded in their direction. This same president refused to disavow them or to condemn them specifically after this act of terror. This president is one of them.

His basis for survival depends upon the American ISIS and, as a result, he has become their imam, their fearless leader, their f├╝hrer. If he abandons them, he has no support of consequence in any other group. With them and their threats of violence if the polls do not go their way, he can keep a grip on power.

Senator Flake of Arizona recently pointed out the Pyrrhic, Faustian bargain that the Republican party has made in his recent book. In the wake of this tragedy, I hope that other Republicans join with Senator Flake in denouncing the violence of the alt-right and specifically setting themselves up as enemies of that movement. We do not see that courage or conviction in our spineless, pandering president. Let us at least see that in the Republican party itself, if it is not to go down in history as the gate that opened to let these deplorables into power.

I’m disappointed by many of Ted Cruz’ positions, but I do applaud him for taking a stand: https://www.cruz.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=3280 What disappoints me now is that I do not see a similar statement on John Cornyn’s page. Mr. Cornyn, where is your stand against terrorism?

I ask that question out of genuine concern. If a politician is not going to stand up and declare he is the enemy of the American ISIS, we have to ask why. We have to ask so that we know where our leaders stand. We have to know if our leaders will actually show courage or if they are nothing more than craven vote-counters.

Where do your representatives stand?

Where do you stand?

It’s not just enough to condemn the violence, the movement that spawned and justified the violence has to be condemned. A failure to even say a word is enough to give these murderers strength. We don’t have to engage them in arguments. We simply have to say that we do not agree with them and that we oppose and condemn the destruction of the American ideal.

We must condemn the American ISIS for what it is. Dignity demands it of us.