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Current Events

Don’t be UNC

This year, more than ever, college students returning to campus will be tested. Not only tested for COVID-19 but also tested for their maturity to follow the health guidelines put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to other students, their professors, university staff, and the community that hosts them.

UNC-Chapel Hill was in the news two weeks ago when a video surfaced of a large group of students walking out of an off-campus house party without masks, not socially distanced and in clear violation of the university’s ban on large gatherings. This was on August 5th, just two days after the first students started moving back into their dorms. Later the administration took disciplinary action and kicked three students out for not following safety protocols.

Two clusters of UNC students came down with COVID last week and five were sent to isolated housing prepared for students that needed to quarantine from the community. According to the UNC Carolina Together dashboard it looks as if there was not a lot of testing in the weeks leading up to last week which leads me to believe that there were lots of asymptomatic students mingling in the community that revealed themselves once full-scale testing began.

With available beds for those that need to isolate themselves running dangerously low, UNC-Chapel Hill announced today that they are sending students home to avoid further contact and spread.

After only one week of campus operations, with growing numbers of clusters and insufficient control over the off-campus behavior of students (and others), it is time for an off-ramp. We have tried to make this work, but it is not working.

Barbara Rimer, Dean of UNC-Chapel Hill School of Public Health

Both my kids are moving into college this week. I hope the closing of UNC serves as an example of how seriously the actions of a few can spin out of control and impact the entire student population.

Boston University has an extensive program for returning students that includes an on-campus lab that can process 5,000 test results every 24-hours shared on a public dashboard. The students have launched an online awareness campaign with a name designed to be provocative. Daily self-reporting of symptoms and regular testing are required and, if you miss either, your wifi followed by access card stop working until you eventually are asked to leave campus. All results are collected into an app which students use to check in their locations throughout the day. This same app also notifies students if anyone with positive test results was in proximity and will automatically limit the mobility of potentially infected students. All of this is at great cost to the university. They are not bringing kids back to school for the money.

Clark University sent test kits to all students at home a couple of weeks ago to prevent asymptomatic carriers from coming to campus until they can show a negative result. This week Clark is welcoming students and, like BU, are requiring every student to sign a Commitment to follow safety protocols or risk “dis-enrollment.” The university offered all students an online course over the summer, Pandemics. From Horror to Hope, to put our current situation into perspective, and hosted discussion groups for students including tips on how to politely tell someone to put on their mask on (and how to acknowledge someone’s request without sounding snarky). In full transparency, and to help put anxious parents and surrounding community at ease, Clark is publishing all test results on a public website.

All parents want the best for their children. We want them to experience all that college has to offer. We also want them to stay safe. It’s easy to question the trade off in sending our kids to live together during a pandemic. I have to keep reminding myself that they are not kids anymore, they are young adults, and there will be valuable lessons to learn from working together to “stop the spread.”

Universities are places of learning and innovation. This year, students will learn to live and study together in a time of pandemic. They will develop a culture and society that works in our “new normal.” Unlike the UNC community, successful schools will collectively enforce acceptable behavior and redefine what is cool. We will have much to learn from these pioneers.

Categories
Current Events

Happiness is a Filter

Author Michael Lewis (Moneyball, Liar’s Poker) sits in on an episode of This American Life and tells a wonderful story of Emir Kamenica, a refugee from the Serbian conflict, who, in his own words, caught a lucky break by meeting an “angel” who encouraged him to transfer from the greater Atlanta public school to an exclusive private school where he was awarded a scholarship that led to Harvard and University of Chicago Business School where he teaches today.

As Emir tells it, it was blind luck that got him there. As we learn later, it wasn’t luck, he was a talented hard worker already and probably would have ended up where he is regardless. Despite the probable or actual outcomes, Michael’s story is about your state of mind and how the way you face opportunity (and challenges) is such an important contributor to your overall demeanor. Here’s Michael:

There is no obvious connection between a person’s happiness and the way he tells stories about himself. But I think there’s a not-so-obvious one. When you insist, the way that Emir does, that you’re both lucky and indebted to other people, well, you’re sort of prepared to see life as a happy accident, aren’t you?

It’s just very different than if you tell yourself that you simply deserve all the good stuff that happens to you. Because you happened to be born a genius or suffered so much or worked so hard– that way of telling the story– well, it’s what you hear from every miserable bond trader at Goldman Sachs, or for that matter, every other a-hole who ever walked the earth.

When I traveled through Italy I remember thinking the Italians, with all their quirky infrastructure, never seemed too unhappy about it. They collected their trials and tribulations little mementos that they could bring out and share with friends and strangers. I met someone on a train and we had a horrible time that day as the train was continually delayed and it took us forever to get where we wanted to go. We passed the time playing cards and telling stories and I remember how cheery he was – he never let the delays get him down. After one particularly outlandish excuse for further delay (everyone suspected the relief conductor was sleeping in) my travel companion said, “at least this will make a good story!”

Listen for yourself – it’s a great story, starts at around 10 minutes in.

How I Got Into College

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Current Events

Unbundled Lectures and the Napsterization of Education

In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as as songs came unbundled from CDs.

– Clay Shirky, Napster, Udacity and the Academy

Digitization and distribution via the internet is a great unbundler, disrupting every industry it touches. A great unbundling is coming to education and will overtake it’s institutions, altering them forever, just as it did to the music industry. It may not happen as rapidly as it did to the record labels, academic institutions are much older, but it will happen. As long as a four-year education sets students back $250,000 and saddles them with a crippling, non-forgivable loan that leaves them no better off than an indentured servent of old, the alternatives will continue to chip away at the established institutions such as private universities.

Just as MP3s and Napster were originally dismissed by the labels as poor quality alternatives to records and CDs, the tidal wave of enhancements to the production and distribution of digital music improved the ecosystem to where we have iTunes and Spotify as serious alternatives to the traditional methods of how to acquire and consume music.

The same will happen to education. The core nugget of a university class, the lecture, is online(Kahn Academy, iTunes U, Udacity). Tests can be taken online. Class discussions are taking place over email, on wikis, in forums. Bit by bit, the elements of a formal education are being replaced with lower cost, asynchronous alternatives. It’s the Napsterization of Education.

Over 200,000 have enrolled in Introduction to Computer Science on Udacity. There is a course on how to build a start-up taught by Steve Blank. Everything on Udacity is completely free, shared, re-shared, and improved as each student makes their way through the courses. It’s not just introductory stuff either, check out CS373 on Udacity where a Sebastian Thrun, a Google VP & Fellow, will teach you all you need to know to program a self-driving car.

Exciting times!

Categories
Current Events

Seth Godin on Changes in Publishing

Seth Godin is a prolific writer and a champion for the book business. That’s why he wants to save it, but not in a format you would recognize. The Domino Project is a joint venture with Amazon to rethink the way books are, “built, sold and spread.” In a piece written earlier this week, Godin proposes an evolution for the library (“no longer a warehouse for dead books.”) and librarian (“producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario”). It’s a refreshing vision and “the chance of a lifetime.”

Trinity College Library, Dublin

The next library is a house for the librarian with the guts to invite kids in to teach them how to get better grades while doing less grunt work. And to teach them how to use a soldering iron or take apart something with no user serviceable parts inside. And even to challenge them to teach classes on their passions, merely because it’s fun. This librarian takes responsibility/blame for any kid who manages to graduate from school without being a first-rate data shark.

The next library is filled with so many web terminals there’s always at least one empty. And the people who run this library don’t view the combination of access to data and connections to peers as a sidelight–it’s the entire point.

Wouldn’t you want to live and work and pay taxes in a town that had a library like that? The vibe of the best Brooklyn coffee shop combined with a passionate raconteur of information? There are one thousand things that could be done in a place like this, all built around one mission: take the world of data, combine it with the people in this community and create value.

We need librarians more than we ever did. What we don’t need are mere clerks who guard dead paper. Librarians are too important to be a dwindling voice in our culture. For the right librarian, this is the chance of a lifetime.


– Seth Godin, The Future of the Library

Dance, Dance Wheelchair Revolution

This past weekend we headed out to the Heureka Science Center about a 20 minute train ride North of Helsinki. There are a ton of interactive, hands-on exhibits which I took photos of but this wheelchair exhibit was the most interesting.

The concept is simple. The quadrants of the circle light up randomly, one at a time and you have to roll at least two wheels over the quadrant before the next quadrant lights up. There is music playing in the background so if you take too long, the music begins to slow down, letting others in the room know you’re not doing too well.

It’s a very effective exhibit because kids immediately know what to do and it teaches you very quickly the limitations of moving a wheelchair around in a tight space.

I hope my kids have a better appreciation of those in wheelchairs next time we ride the train or bus!

John Maeda at Web 2.0 Expo

One of my favorite presentations from this past week’s Web 2.0 Expo is now online. John Maeda, a designer & interactive artist, is now at the Rhode Island School of Design after spending time at the MIT Media Lab.

Categories
Office

Yahoo Developer Network, Points for Style

Dan Theurer, one of the original evangelists of the Yahoo Developer Network, gave a talk (which I unfortunately did not attend) about lessons learned from building YDN. His slides are well worth a glance for anyone interested in building a developer community around their APIs.

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Current Events

Nutrition education lunch boxes have high levels of lead

Lunchbox

In an ironic twist of fate, 56,000 lunch boxes distributed by California’s Department of Public Health with the logo Eat Fruits & Vegetables and be Active were found to contain high levels of lead paint. Yes, these were manufactured in China.

A full recall is underway.

Cool Little Trick for Multiplication

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What’s 23 x 33? Here’s a visual way to solve the problem.

Draw 2 lines and then 3 lines to represent 23 and cross them with 3 lines followed by another 3 lines for 33 as in the drawing above. Add up the number of intersections in each corner of the square as if they were columns.

A=6 for the hundreds or 600

C=9 + B=6 is 15 for the tens column or 150

D=9

Add 600+150+9=759.

This new method of addition is all the rage in Japanese who have imported it from India as a new way to teach young children how to break down complex problems into smaller, solvable problems.

Julia’s last day at school

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Julia had her last day of pre-school last week. Here’s a photo of her with one of her teachers, “Miss Michelle.”