October 24, 2011

Off the grid

Sometimes you need to get off the grid and have a bit of privacy.  With the proliferation of phones that don't have removable batteries, it becomes fairly difficult.  Many other technologies such as RFID are embedded in identification documents and credit cards.  It is easy to wrap up these items in aluminum foil or in RF blocking Mylar bags, but you risk being unfashionable or as being branded a paranoid lunatic.  To control when and where your wireless devices can talk, a company called MIAmobi has created a fairly ordinary looking pouch that has a silver foil lining that blocks RF.  The company's website does not state specifics on the RF attenuation or what the frequency range that it blocks.  A similar, less expensive, less fashionable bag can be had from Ramsey (yeah, the guys who make the FM transmitter kits), which is designed for cell phone forensic testing.




September 10, 2010

Bypassing Higher Education

Today the Washington Post had an interesting article on that state of college education in America.  The article goes through a ton of different subjects including the lack of return on investment, the amount of debt racked up, and the length of time it takes to get an undergraduate degree.  While some of these are valid points, all of these arguments don't look at the main reason we have a higher educational system: To Make Society Better.  Everything else is secondary.  There are no guarantees in this world except death and taxes.  Hopefully a higher education will give the student/graduate the skills needed to obtain a job and position in society, but it also requires individual initiative on the part of the graduate to make their place in the world.  It would be a sad world in which people didn't study education, anthropology, archeology or dead languages just because the money wasn't there when they graduate. 


(Photo Courtesy of dr. coop on Flickr)


January 07, 2009

OLPC layoffs, boo!

With the technology market and the web 2.0 in the toilet (oh, and the rest of the economy is going to hell in a hand basket), the OLPC group has announced that they will be laying off people.  Best of luck to everyone involved is this amazing endeavor.

Sad logo for OLPC layoff. 


From the OLPC Wiki:

Like many other nonprofits that are facing tough economic times, One Laptop per Child must downsize in order to keep costs in line with fewer financial resources. Today we are reducing our team by approximately 50% and there will be salary reductions for the remaining 32 people. While we are saddened by this development, we remain firmly committed to our mission of getting laptops to children in developing countries. We thank team members who are departing for their contributions to this important mission.

This restructuring is also the result of an exciting new direction for OLPC. Our technology initiatives will focus on:

  1. Development of Generation 2.0
  2. A no-cost connectivity program
  3. A million digital books
  4. Passing on the development of the Sugar Operating System to the community.

With regard to deployments:

  1. Latin America will be spun off into a separate support unit
  2. Sub-Saharan Africa will become a major learning hub
  3. The Middle East, Afghanistan and Northwestern Pakistan will become a major focus

Separately, OLPC will be dedicated to bringing the cost of the laptop down to Zero for the Least Developed Countries — the $0 Laptop.

Restructuring brings with it great pain for some of our friends and colleagues who are being let go. These individuals are people who have dedicated themselves to the advancement of a noble cause, and to say that we are exceeding grateful for the time, the ideas, the energy and the commitment they have given OLPC does not — cannot — adequately express our admiration or our gratitude. The fact that there are 500,000 children around the world who have laptops is testament to their extraordinary work and is already a key part of OLPC's legacy.

The future brings with it some uncertainty, some difficulty, but also the excitement that comes with the rededication to a cause, and a new path that will allow us to realize the moral purpose of OLPC. I hope that each one of you will remain supportive of OLPC, and its mission of opening up a universe of knowledge to the world's poorest children living in the most remote parts of the Earth.

— Nicholas Negroponte


November 12, 2008

Educational Alternatives

brick and mortar baby!

(Photo Credit: my_new_wintercoat on Flickr)

I read this yesterday in the San Francisco Chronicle: "For the first time, California high school seniors face the prospect that a B average and completion of required college preparatory classes might not be good enough for a state college."  

That is one of the scariest things that mediocre student can hear in California.  When I was in high school I pegged a pretty strong B average.  Never a stellar student in high school, yet not at the bottom of the barrel.  For students like myself, I found comfort in the fact that I could get a excellent and inexpensive undergrad education in the California State University system.  Now that it has been underfunded for close to two decades, it is not up to the task of fulfilling the educational needs of the state. 

I don't have any answers for my beloved CSU system, but if I were a parent sending my kid off to college right now, I would look at many different opportunities.  Many private schools are offering attractive tuition plans with decent financial aid.  Saving on housing costs by staying at home and going to school is another option.  I know many kids want to go off and have their "college experience", but sometimes you have to look a what is financially viable.  Keeping an open mind toward educational experiences will improve your child's odds of finishing their undergrad education in four years and getting to work being a productive member of society.


November 08, 2008

Degree Mill Spam

Many online and hybrid distance learning institutions are doing a great job filling a huge educational need.  In the great tradition of Degree Mills, there are many shady operators using Spam to market V1agra, C1al1s and Masteers degrees.  I was cleaning out my Spam filter today and ran across this one.  The number changes, but the message is pretty much always the same.  Maybe I'll call and order a PhDD in a fieldd of my choice.

No Exams/Books/Tests/Interview/classes     
100% No Pre-School qualïfication required!       
Inside USA: 1-305-390-XXXX      
0utside USA: +1-305-390-XXXX       
Bacheëlor, Dêgreë, MasteerMBA, PhDD (non accredited) available in the Fieldd of yoür choice so you can
even become a doctor and receive All the benefits That comes withh it!     
Please leaavee below 3 Infö in Vooiçemail:     
1) Yourr naame       
2) Youur country   
3) Your phonè no. [please include Countrycode]   
Call Now!! 24-hours a day, 7-Days a Week waiting For your call 
IInside USA: 1-305-390-XXXX    
0utside USA: +1-305-390-XXXX   
Our Staff will get back to You in 1-3 working dayss


Continue reading "Degree Mill Spam" »

October 02, 2008

Changing horses midstream

A few months I had a chance to listen to a keynote speech by Jeff "Skunk" Baxter at a company event.  You may recognize his name as guitarist from the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan.  You may also be really confused as to why this guy was speaking at a conference that I would be at.  You see, halfway through his career, Jeff took a passing interesting into ballistic missile defense and began a course of self study.  His non-establishment thinking allowed him to make some connections that others had not seen, which culminated in several white papers and a consulting gig with the US Department of Defense. 


(Photo: Public Domain: Missile Launch by USN, 2007 - DoD 070622-N-XXXXX-004)

While we could have a long discussion about "thinking outside the box" and the equivalent of scientific "outsider art", I'm going to go in a different direction with this post.  I think what Jeff shows is that with enough willpower and enthusiasm you can completely change your career.  Given that he most likely enjoyed being a rock star and fostered his enthusiasm in missile technology, other people despise their jobs, but are stuck to them because they cannot afford to pay the rent while not working. 

Within the last ten years the advent of online learning has gone from a novelty to a fully accepted reality.  It is possible to receive the education and training required to completely change your career, all while working at the job you can't stand.  What is required here is setting your priorities and your goals.  It can be so easy to become mired in a mindset in which you feel that you have been doing the same job for so long that you can't do anything else.  Once you are over that hurdle, you'll find that the things that are required (i.e. Money, time, family support, etc.) will come much easier when you have chosen your path.   


On a side note:  For those who scoff at an outsider's ideas, take a look at the logical progression of Skunk's white paper on using the Aegis battle command system as the core of a missile defense system, to the scenario that was used in Feb 2008 to take down a dangerous malfunctioning satellite.


August 26, 2008

Electronic Childhood Regression

Recently I was reading an article in Computerworld about Richard Stallman and his zeal for open source computing, and happened across RMS's disgust towards the OLPC project making it possible for Microsoft Windows XP to run on that platform.  Operating system and tools preferences as a political statement is interesting, but not the point of this posting.  The fact that Stallman was using the XO-1 laptop as his portable of choice at one point was most interesting factor to me.   

I spent some time surfing through the XO Wiki to find out more information and ran across a full Livebackup ISO file that I could load onto my current laptop to try out the user interface.  After about half an hour I was sold.  I was already in the market for a smaller laptop for travel, so it was off to eBay to see what was available.  After a few days of bidding and losing, I found a nice XO-1 in Washington D.C. for about $200.  I know, I know, for $300 I could get a brand new ASUS EEE PC with twice the memory, twice the flash and I could run Windows on it.  That's not the point.


(Courtesy of Irregular Shed on Flickr)

So, I get this unit in the mail yesterday.  Right out of the box it is on my home Wi-Fi.  It has the feeling of the fun I had the first time I got my hands on an Apple ][.  I'll follow up with my experiences.


June 07, 2008

Online education cranks up the appeal

When I finished my Master's degree, one of the things that I lamented was the loss of my access to a lot of really great online research tools.  One of the cool things that Capella University is doing as of a few weeks ago, is giving alumni access to these tools at at a small cost after they graduate.  While google and wikipedia might have great tools to find a car dealership or to win a bar bet, having access to volumes of peer reviewed journals and other texts is not something you normally have access to after you finish your degree.  Other schools such as University of Phoenix also have policies allowing free electronic access to the research library after graduation, which is really a great marketing tool.

"Publication: Latest Headlines - Alumni Library now available
Source: Capella Editor
Modified: 05/28/2008  9:05AM
Alumni now have access to select library databases through Capella's Alumni Library. This high-demand benefit is free for alumni through January 31, 2009.
While enrolled at Capella University, many learners come to rely on access to the Capella Library, and mourn the day they lose access following the completion of their degree.

"While enrolled, our learners get addicted to having such a rich resource at their fingertips," says Jen Swanson, alumni director at Capella University. "Even after their coursework is complete and their graduation final, many alumni miss having daily access to the library databases that keep them current on the research and discourse in their profession."

The Alumni Association is pleased to announce that they are launching a new Alumni Library, with access to some of the most in-demand library databases. While the Alumni Library services are different than those provided to learners during their period of study at Capella, the Alumni Library offers many databases with scholarly journal, magazine and newspaper articles, encyclopedias, e-books and dissertations to support the research and academic needs of Capella Alumni.

To celebrate the introduction of this alumni benefit, it will be available to alumni for free until January 31, 2009, at which point alumni will be able to access it for an annual subscription fee of $50 per year. Access the Alumni Library now."

February 27, 2008

Citations made easy!

When I was in grad school, one of the biggest pains was putting everything that I cited into the correct citation format.  We used APA format, and after a few months you can cite things pretty easily, but if you only write academic papers occasionally, you might want to try out OttoBib. This site takes the book ISBN number and translates it into the correct citation format, whether you need APA, MLA or whatever.  The result also comes up with a snazzy graphic of the book cover.  Not bad for free!

February 26, 2008

The Pragmatic Adult Learner

After I finished graduate school, I was asked to participate in the Ambassador program at Capella University.  I was very happy with my education there, so I agreed to participate.  After exchanging e-mails and phone calls with several potential students I started thinking about all the things that made me successful as a working adult learner.  I've put together a small paper with my ideas on this.

Continue reading "The Pragmatic Adult Learner" »

February 05, 2008

Get the college credits where you can!


In my workplace, I have several co-workers that are going back to school to finish their undergraduate education.  I keep a lookout for them to see what type of resources are available for them to finish their Bachelor's degree faster.  Recently Global Knowledge, who is well known for their technical training courses, partnered up with San Diego State University (SDSU) to provide college credit for many of their courses.  The upshot for many tech workers going back for a degree in IT/IS/MIS/CS/etc, is that at many companies the technical training is easier to aquire than support for going back to college at night.  As I write this, I count 81 different courses available for college credit.  Since SDSU is accredited by WASC, these units should have no problem transferring to most schools, but matriculation agreements vary from school to school.  While this is not the cheapest solution for credit, if someone else is footing the bill, you would be silly not to take advantage of it.

Here are a few links:

There are also other ways of finishing college at a faster pace, in ways more suited  for working adults.  The CLEP program is offered by the College Board in a similar fashion to the AP system for high school students.  When a student passes the test for a subject, it is possible for that to count for a number of units, which can then be transferred to the college of your choice.  While I am a big supporter of young people going and having a college experience on a brick and mortar campus for their undergraduate education, this can be incredibly helpful in getting veterans and working parents through their degree program in a shorter period of time.  Tests are available in Composition and Literature, Foreign Languages, History and Social Sciences, Science and Mathematics, as well as Business, which could get you done with your first year of college in a few weeks of studying and testing.  Another program called DSST (which I believe used to be called DANTES) is available through Prometric.  While it seems similar to the CLEP, I do not personally know anyone who has taken one of their exams.