Archive for July 2007

Managing “The Wall” through Trump Towers

Thursday, 5 July 2007

FYI: Today’s 5-mile tempo run was muggy: (+68f, 100% humidity, bugs galore).

Okay, I really didn’t like it as an 8th grader, but I think as a teacher, Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” (part II) makes me smile:

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave the kids alone
Hey teacher leave us kids alone
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

As an 8th grader, I took that to mean that the teachers were the bad people and that kids were the victims. I liked school and I liked my teachers (only a lone 1st grade teacher still scares me in my memory). As an adult and a teacher, I like the message of the song and yes, I do find myself singing at school (to myself). And it’s probably because the picture in the song does happen sometimes, but more than that, I think students do feel this way:  antsy and passive and stuck.

So, when I read about how some folk cheer on NCLB and think that it’s a great idea to revolutionize US public education, I start humming the song again, but with a nervousness.

Today’s Chicago Tribune has an opinion piece trying to encourage its readers to give the law more time and most of all: to point out the good things of the “law of the land.” One major problem, I see, is that you can not talk about education through the lens of NCLB without using Business-speak (for somehow, US businesses can fix education if education would only kowtow to the slavery of the “bottom-line” of numbers).

Here’s a taste of how this business of education terminology is used to “support” this stance (and remember: we are talking about a child’s ability to learn):

Thanks to NCLB, many parents are better consumers of education. Nearly half a million parents now shop among private tutoring firms to choose the best extra help for their child.

And this simple solution that is based on a reliance of funding that may or may not be there (and, I Spy privatization) :

One way to enforce the law is to provide more alternative choices for students. The Bush administration wants to fund scholarships that students in failing schools could use at any other public or private school.

Another:

Measure progress, not status.

And here’s the explanation of the above idea:

Under a “growth model” for measuring student gains, a state evaluates how far each child progresses each year. If schools post sufficient student gains, they can meet the NCLB requirement of Adequate Yearly Progress.

And that is what is offensive about the opinion piece: It puts a test (the “bottom line”) as being the only way (well, actually there are other measures, but the test is the easiest one to look at–for both politicians and the media) to find out if the student knows. A problem is the reliability of the test: Doesn’t anyone remember that the school district that this law is based on was a lie? The “Houston Miracle” was a hoax and yet, like other legislation that was pushed through in a show of unity after the horrible days of the end of 2001, the public believed and trusted our lawmakers.

The unions are not so much the problem with the success of NCLB; the problem with NCLB is NCLB.

A suggestion for the next educational reform (oh, and we just love to have at least one or two a decade): Return public schools to a democracy. Allow your classroom teachers to help make decisions rather than make them merely workers, only to fulfill something that goes against the process of learning. (Oh, try this: look at who is on these education reform committees and try to I Spy the active classroom teachers…it’ll take awhile to find ’em) Lastly, stop referring to education in business terms… they’re students, not “just another brick in the wall” or number on a high-stakes exam.

Afterword: Perhaps, maybe, we should use a sports metaphor, like baseball, to measure student success. You don’t measure a player by last night’s game, but after a 100+ games and season–that way you have an accurate picture of their strengths and weakness and can work with the player/student on an individual basis. Just an idea.

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A holiday decluttering of a workspace

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

The before pictureAnd thus, here is the before picture and if you go to the source file on flickr, you will get an annotation of all of the stuff that is happening in there (books, cds, piles and piles). In fact, in my original caption, I’m almost proud of all of the things that are cluttering the area (almost an I Spy picture). You should notice that every surface is piled and where there is a space (esp. the cubby holes), well, something just has to be there, right?

And so, after being reminded by a 43 Folders post by Merlin Mann, I decided on tackling this area to let it breathe a bit. My general conditions were to throw away about a 1/3 of the paper pile stuff and to move anything that did not contribute to the workspace to another appropriate location.

And the after picture:

The after pix I’ll annotate this one with the Flickr notes, but I’ll happy to see that all of the stuff and things are gone and what is left is a place to work. (Mind you, this is the family community computer and all hands touch and use it, so it needs to be usable for everyone, not just me). The job took about 45 minutes and that includes moving the new stuff to another location (in temporary piles until that room is finished…okay?). Aside from the two inuksuit in the upper right-side, everything is useful for this space. And, most importantly, now it can breathe.

Close shot of USB cord organizerProbably the more interesting discovery is what to do with this CD-storage space (when that was a popular thing to do with these corner computer desks). Since we don’t have a use for putting our CDs here, I decided to use it for storing the 4 different USB cords on the left side (where the USB extension from the ol’ eMac resides). It seems to be a good use of space and we can locate the appropriate cord without having to root through a wad of cords that we used to stuff into one of the cubby holes.

So, the task is done and now the fun begins when we try and maintain the area and shield off the temptation to reclutter the area.

Vergil runs, but its really about the coffee

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

As the content of this site has drifted from thoughts and musings to a record of my running marathons (and training), I’m finding that I’m drifting back to thoughts and musings while running and training for Netflix marathons.

So, as of today, I’m starting to morph this site (and its design) to fit a domain name that I purchased a while ago and is just sitting out there with no where to point to: vergilscoffee.com. Vergilscoffee was the name of my year or so as a layout editor of a local monthly publication. I had one client and that one client ceased to publish anymore and vergilscoffee ceased bringing in the big bucks (it was a fun, off-off to the side business venture).

So, that’s the short of it. I’ll be updating things soon.Peace.

Pragmatic Banking (checkbook and/or Quickenish and/or online)

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

I’ve grappled with this one since our bank in Bloomington offered “phone banking” (“using the keypad, enter the amount…”): what is the most effective (and/or efficient) way to do your personal banking?

First off, I don’t subscribe to the “wait-until-the-statement-comes-out” way of banking. You know: look at the statement and HOPE that you have some extra to cover all of your expenses. I don’t want to wonder; I’d like to know–fairly accurately–how much I have in my bank account at any given time…fairly accurately. So, here’s the options I’ve run through since I’ve been married (before I was married, well–that’s another story: gently smile everyone at the subtext at this point).

  • Checkbook (reconciling each month when statement arrives)
  • Checkbook + Phone Banking + Monthly Statement
  • Checkbook + Personal accounting program
  • Checkbook + Online Banking + Monthly Statement
  • Checkbook + Online Banking

You’ll notice that there’s a pattern here: I keep trying to convince my wife that all we need to use is the online banking (well, at first it was the phone banking, then the computer app, now it’s the online banking) and yet she insists on having something tangible. She wins each time, btw, because I’m realizing that she’s right.

The way our parents taught us to do banking (or we learned from a course in high school) is the Old School method of an end-of-the-month accountant way of recording all debits and credits in a check book register and then comparing all of those debits and credits with the bank statement. On the back of the statement are instructions to reconcile (literally: “to cause to be friendly again” and “to bring back to harmony”). You do have a relationship with your bank, whether you like it not, and each month you would restore to harmony how much–truthfully and honestly– money you have with the bank. To aid in the process, you would take into account all of the stuff that isn’t on the statement. In the end, you could figure out, to the penny, how much your relationship with your bank was worth. But there are some drawbacks: too much honesty; takes “time” to do and sometimes many people shy away from that monthly “meeting” and thus, cause for putting off reconciling and then the relationship is in a downward spin because months of statements of truth are piling up in some drawer.

I’m not going to mention much about the phone banking because its no longer an available option. I see that phone banking, along with online banking (with bill payment) as a convenience of saving big money on stamps and it is nice to merely enter in the current amount and date you want to pay out and click submit (less time than it takes to write the check).

The computer app with its “fun-ness” factor of attempting to do on computer what you didn’t want to do on paper. I started with versions of Quicken, then in the past 2 years in an air of propriety software liberty, have used GnuCash and Grisbi. The later two were fun because I got to do the whole Unix exploration through Fink and the command line (in OSX) and I view those times with great fondness. I learned a lot about the community of people that put out GNUish software and some of the overtones of the OpenSource ideas. But all of these programs left me with the same relationship script:

USER sets up app with great enthusiasm, enters in all transactions for 2 weeks, gets through, maybe, one reconciliation, and then other things captures his attention and now its 3 months later and the harmony with the BANK is strained (and HOPE enters the scene as a proxy for USER).

And it’s here’s my assessment with computer apps: It couldn’t replace the checkbook. In fact, if you have any semblance of a GTD mindset, you are frustrated because you are doing double the work (enter into checkbook and a program) for what end? Because you are supposed to manage your life with the computer? That in case your checkbook burns up (ours hasn’t yet) then you have a backup (ahh, that’s the justification for many a purchase, isn’t it?)? So, I don’t use a computer app anymore because it doesn’t work for me; it actually created more pressure on the relationship with my bank and thus I got fooled by the notion that by trashing I was being productive.

Online banking is nice and I think the bill payment function of our local bank is helpful…truly. Yes, we can get connected and check our relationship with our bank at any time. I still save receipts and enter in stuff by the end of the day and then every two or three days, check my accounting of the relationship with the bank’s accounting. These frequent encounters make for a more relaxed meeting and the little surprises of a $98 trip to Target isn’t compounded by time–for you know how things like that add up and explode months down the line, eh?

I like the idea of computers and online-ness; and for me, to strip away the flashiness of a Quicken or Web 2.0 relationship works in harmony with pen and paper.