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  • Education — do we measure by volume or weight?
    courses / homework

    Ever notice that when you get a bag of potato chips, it’s mostly empty space? You get a huge bag with a few grams of salted fat-chips. I sometimes wonder if many American schools aren’t similar. We send our kids to school from early morning to mid-afternoon, and then make them do homework for one to five hours more (the optimum homework load, by the way, seems to be 1-2 hours, based on rather scanty and mildly dubious research). In the end, we have notoriously ignorant citizens who get basic facts of our own history wrong, speak a single language, don’t understand the basics of politics or economics, have no clue how scientists work, can’t read or perform original research,…

  • Technology
    original phone

    Technology has been changing rapidly since I was born — in the days of computers that used punched cards, cars that used carburetors, and phones with rotary dials (that you could rent out for ten cents). I’ve never used punched cards in a computer, but I have used mainframes with terminals — including one operated over a 300 baud acoustic modem. I started using a Mac as a replacement for a typesetter (printing to a laser printer with the smallest possible margins, at 80%.) When PageMaker came out, the student newspaper replaced the typesetting machine with two Macs and a laser printer to save around $12,000 in consumables and leases per year, while doubling the number of seats. I was…

  • America’s childhood-killing, learning-blocking homework insanity
    school (homework)

    Decades ago, when Japan was starting to dominate the economy while the United States was retreating, pundits and politicians tried to figure out how we could close our “education gap.”  The solution, pundits and politicians agreed, was to toughen up. In the end, the United States launched a weak, rather flawed version of every other nation’s standardized testing, and a macho combination of longer school hours, extra homework, rigorous curricula, and tougher grading. Thus, in many towns, we send our students to long hours of school, followed by longer hours of homework, teaching them reams of trivia that they will (and probably should) forget in a year or two. Yet, we still come in well behind countries like Estonia and Belgium in…

  • Amazon didn’t kill these groceries
    pathmark

    The Washington Post recently ran a story with an interesting headline, “The new era of grocery just claimed its first victims.” The article implies that Amazon/Whole Foods and other “next generation” supermarkets have essentially bankrupted two companies, one of which operates the famed Winn-Dixie (Southeastern Grocers); the other, Tops, is a relatively small chain in New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. As a veteran of Supermarkets General Corporation, which ran Pathmark, Steinbach, Rickel’s, and some other brands you may not recognize, I call baloney. Southeastern and Tops were killed largely by investment banking, based on their history — just as Supermarkets General was. Back in the 1980s, Pathmark was the most profitable supermarket chain in America, with its mere 132 stores. The…

  • Where’s your extended validation?

    Recently, I went through the trouble and expense of getting allpar.com an “extended validation” secure-server certificate. That means if you’re in one of our pages, and you typed in the address as https://www.allpar.com rather than just http://www.allpar.com (it’s usually that way on the forums), you should see this: It means that when you look at Allpar, it’s through a secure connection, and that the certificate that makes it secure was acquired by Allpar itself, not a pretender. That’s very handy. Suppose I go to Chase bank. I see in the green area, “JP Morgan Chase and Co.” I know it’s them and not a clever phishing site with a similar name or some hidden character trick. Anyone can get a normal lock…

  • Mild to wild: The nuttiness of ’net comments
    moderation

    I started out as a writer in the print days, and have run web sites devoted to cars, computers, business, and statistical software. Like everyone else, I’ve seen a massive range of commentary. The smartest, in general, has been on the highly technical sites, where the “general population” doesn’t go — even if everything is understandable. The dumbest, generally, is on mass-media news sites, and I suspect quite a bit of that is due to “bots” — automatic software that squirts bits of hate on command. For email feedback, I’ve never seen anything beat MacStats, where I’ve had one crank in  twelve years. This is Joel West’s Macintosh statistics software site, which I’ve been maintaining since 2005. Joel himself handed it…

  • Apple’s odd priorities

    The venerable Mac site Macintouch, which also covers the I-universe, is filling with customer complaints about Apple. There are usability problems galore, odd visual choices, hidden controls, capabilities lost, on both Macs and iPhones. So what does OS 10.2 have, as its headline feature? New emojis! Because that’s what everyone cares about most! Has there been a firestorm of controversy over a lack of emojis? Maybe, but if so, I missed it. Also in the news lately are new aerial photos of the huge flying-saucer headquarters building. The company may not have workstation laptops, it may not have 17” laptops, traditional USB ports, a tower computer, or any number of varieties that customers have been demanding for years, but it sure…

  • At the core of management fads and change efforts

    Bureaucracy was first labelled in the 1800s; from there, a long line of people have proposed different ways to describe the way companies and governments work. Then they came up with better ways — or at least ways they thought were better. The results has been literally thousands of management fads. A lot of them worked well in early trials, then failed elsewhere, when they became trendy. Quite a few are still used, and often, new fads are created that are just the old ones with a different name. I’ve been around long enough to see many, many of these fads, trends, and improvement methods come and often go. Many didn’t deserve to leave, but they seem to have a “sell-by” date stamped on them; who wants…

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