Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Quiz Widget

I did a Google search on the title of this post. After a fashion I found Quibblo, which for direct Multiple Choice questions seems quite usable. Below is a demo. This sort of thing for self-test along with presentation content delivered online seems like a natural.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Acting Like Children

Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.
- Jerry Garcia

Here's an explanation for why the House rejected the bailout plan. One wonders how much the Dow has to go down before they pass the bailout plan on a re-vote. It sure seems as if the sky really is falling.

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I've finally gotten around to change my header to reflect that the University has a new domain and as a consequence my email address has changed. In the process of doing that I observed that my Feedburner feed for this blog is taking a long time to refresh in my various readers (Bloglines, iGoogle, Google Reader) and I wonder if it makes sense to switch back to the atom feed in Blogger, although there is no tracking with that.

Edith Too

I’ve been puzzling about how Congress and the White House have been playing Russian Roulette with the Financial markets and how everyone seems to have dual agendas. Most everyone seems to view the bailout as necessary. The Financial System is teetering. But the politics of it are going the other way. Here is analysis from the News Hour last Friday.

MARK SHIELDS: Ray, you talk to people on the Hill, which I've done this week, and they say, "Look, nobody wants to cast a vote on this, nobody." I don't care who it is, I mean, Barney Frank or Mike Pence.

Nobody wants to cast a vote on it because it is -- I mean, it's controversial if you do -- I think a vote against it probably gets you through the election OK.

But voting for it is -- you want to avoid difficult, painful, torturous votes, especially this close to an election. And George Bush is a weak ally for the people who are trying to push it. I mean, he hasn't been able to deliver anything.

Let’s consider the magnitude of the bailout relative to the size of the economy. GDP in 2007 (the last year where the figures are available) was about $13.8 trillion. Total government spending (Federal, State, and Local) in fiscal year 20007 was about $4.9 trillion. So government spending is about 35% of GDP. The bailout is 1/7 of government spending or about 5% of GDP. That’s a lot. It’s very frightening. The scale of the bailout speaks to the enormity of the problem it aims to address.

The politics of this is all about the income redistribution consequences of the bailout – from taxpayers to holders of illiquid securities. So the populist view is to be against it. The argument for it is that it will shore up the World Economy and avoid shrinkage of the size of the pie, enough so as to make the bailout worthwhile. Unfortunately, nobody knows whether that will happen. The macroeconomic consequences with the various feedback loops involved are hard to understand. There has been much discussion of the Swedish solution from the early 1990s. But decline or growth of the Swedish economy creates barely a ripple in the World economy.

There has been much less discussion about the timing of this intervention. R. Glenn Hubbard, former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors to President Bush, said we should have done this intervention some time ago. I’m inclined to agree with him. We’ve witnessed a cascade of historic interventions to save particular institutions and only when that didn’t seem to have arrested the problem have Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson opted to go this extra mile with the bailout. But many serious economists question the bailout entirely, and worry whether the cure is worse than the disease. Certainly, as in Ed Leamer’s piece, they argue for due caution in getting a plan that is reasonable.

The memory of how we got into the War in Iraq is casting a long shadow on these deliberations. There is no question that we should have debated that move much more seriously than we did (which was not at all). Nobody wants to make the same mistake twice. But in a fundamental way the two problems are quite different. Nobody saw the WMD and we had to go on faith that the intelligence truly indicated they were there in Iraq. Everybody sees what is happening in the markets – the wide fluctuations in the Dow, the bursting of several very large financial institutions. There is a smoking gun and everyone has witnessed it.

Now we have the irony that Congressional Democrats and the Bush Administration are seemingly on the same side of the bailout with House Republicans playing the populist role. If you’re in the minority and can’t really determine the outcome, you have freedom to speak your mind. Democrats, on the other hand, need the political cover of a bipartisan bill, playing the Ben Franklin card. Even with the bailout the economy is likely to remain in turmoil for some time to come. There will be a lot of finger pointing in a few months and many of these people who vote for the bailout plant are up for reelection.

I wonder with this if there a lessons for all of us in the work that we do. Recently, I’ve been involved with Leadership education. And the question I’m asking myself is, “what does leadership look like and would we know it if we were staring right at it?” The movie The War Lover was on TCM a week or two ago. John McCain, who has been getting a lot of press as of late, seemingly shares many characteristics with Buzz Rickson (played by Steve McQueen). Barack Obama is more of an Ed Bolland (played by Robert Wagner). In the story, after some early success with impetuous moves that defy authority, Rickson ultimately goes over the deep end. Seemingly, the lesson is that leadership requires understanding our limits and staying within them.

There’s a different way to explain the behavior the two Presidential candidates rather than focus on their animal spirits. The alternative comes purely from choice calculus. (I wrote up a formal argument of that some time ago. You can find links to it here.) Favorites tend to play it safe; they have the lead and want to nurse it till the game ends. We all know that. Similarly, underdogs take risks. They expect to lose. If the gamble pays off then they are no longer underdogs. For example, had the election been held the week after the Republican convention, the Palin pick might have done just that for McCain. Taking a series of gambles, however, is likely to increase the chance of losing. That’s what seems to have happened to McCain the past couple of weeks.

There may very well be a difference between the perception of what leadership is and actual leadership. Still a different definition is that leadership is getting things done by allowing others to receive the credit. Most of us are still immature and look to get the credit ourselves, but like the members of Congress who must vote on the bailout, we don’t want to accept the blame when things go awry. Paul Krugman asked, Where are the Grown-ups? That’s a good question.

Increasingly frequently, I find myself asking the same question, within the learning technology field and more broadly within Higher Education. My campus has a recurrent structural deficit, about 4% of is operating budget. But this year there’s been more construction on Campus than I can ever recall previously, and we’re far from done yet.

The Protestant Ethic is dead. Optimism has taken its place, the revenge of Alfred E. Neuman.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Surveys with Auto Updates

The form and the gadget that shows the results are from Google Docs. Please vote. You don't have to be from Champaign-Urbana to participate. Indeed, you don't even have to have sampled the restaurants here. It's easy and you should be able to see the results update in real time after you've cast your vote.



Friday, September 19, 2008

Transcriptions with Dragon from Prior Recordings

I had made the following recording last May, well before I purchased Dragon Naturally Speaking. The recording is in MP3 format. Having previously trained Dragon to my voice, it is capable of taking such an audio recording and produce a transcript. Below is the raw transcript it produced without any further editing from me. As with what I produced yesterday, it is not perfect. But it is reasonably good, good enough in my view that if somebody went through it afterwards to clean it up, they could do so without getting lost in the process. So I continue to be impressed with Dragon. BTW, I ordered Dragon under a special promo where it cost $110 with the handling and shipping included. That's not bad at all - definitely affordable.

mp3 file playable online

This essay I'm really just scratched the surface on stock markets just to get a bit of the flavor is not much depth there at all so I've provided some links to some additional resource all of these links go to Wikipedia pages and you should think about itself as a launch point rather than as a full explanation of any of these topics will spend the course talking about these issues and hear the ideas just to get a little bit of flavor so I want to begin with this critique by saying the the focus was on stocks but we should also look at other financial assets via obvious other financial asset is bonds and stocks to consider equity ownership in the firm bonds is debt loan is Tom and in thinking about finance issues you a thing about both equity and about debt is a whole literature and finance about debt equity ratio and the value of the firm you follow that link you'll find a further link to something called the Modigliani Miller sphere which talks about those conditions under which the debt equity ratio has no impact on the value of the firm of those conditions are kind of stark and unrealistic but good as a launch point to think about the issues of and then once you've done that you want to start thinking about riskiness of financial assets and here is one omission two types of risk one is simply the risk in the asset value, so the price of the stock goes up and down like ways the of selling and buying price of a bond does fluctuate although if you hold them until the end of the term you know him what the reduction will be and you also know the interest payments on the bond there's also a different type or risk a risk of default that is that the Bible never get repaid and stocks and bonds manage the default risk differently so ownership is different than the creditor of the firm and how it deals with the full risk so there some things that one could spend a long time on here we just want to give a little gloss to get him one step further than what's in the original essay

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Producing a transcription with Dragon Naturally Speaking

This is my next experiment with Speech Recognition. This time I'm using Dragon Naturally Speaking version 10, which seems much more accurate than the engine built into Windows Vista. I didn't use Dragon as a dictation device, but rather to make a "transcription." Below is the raw text it produced, unedited. I recorded the audio with Audacity. That's also included. With multimedia where there is voice over of other content, and the voice track is produced after the visual track, I can now see producing a tolerable transcript as within reach. This is still far from perfect, but getting a tolerable result is entering the range of the do-able.

By the way, in training Dragon with my voice, there was an option for it to access my email and My Documents folder, so it learns from my writing as well as my speaking. That is way cool, though I have no idea how that helps.

This is a new experiment with Dragon and speech recognition I've got audacity running and I'm not going to try to put punctuation in while I'm talking I'm just going to talk let's see how these two programs record and see whether in fact I can get the audio recorded and the text recorded to I am trying to cause at a fairly regular intervals so the text can catch up but I am not otherwise trying to put punctuation into what I'm saying so I think this sounds fairly natural and then the question is does it actually produce them good enough transcription that somebody else could go through after words and make edits so that it's more readable if you can produce something like this pretty easily we might go fairly far down the path to the ideal that I wanted to achieve and I mentioned in my last blog post that is of making completely good transcripts the first time through that is not possible but what one might produce is an edible edible document it likes edible rather than edit a bowl that one can then actually delivered to somebody else so I must stop now and deliver the raw unedited Dragon documents for you to see

Monday, September 15, 2008

Slurring our words

Today I did my first experiment with Windows Vista voice recognition.  This post is being created by voice not by typing.  Dictation by voice is not the same as ordinary speech.  First there are commands that are part of the punctuation and error checking that one would not say while talking in a normal conversation.  More importantly, there are errors that need correction.  The errors slow you down.  So tracking the errors makes this other than regular talking.  Vista does not like the way I say the word “errors”.  It is a bit frustrating learning how to speak this way.  And focusing on how speech recognition works makes it harder to focus on the subject matter at hand.

The fantasy is to do a voice recording and have speech recognition make a transcript of the voice recording.  I don’t think the vista software is good enough to deliver on that fantasy.  But it is pretty impressive how well the dictation works for itself.  I believe I could get used to this with some practice.  The real question is whether I can stick with it to get enough practice in while I am still not very good.  That is an open question.

I have on order dragon naturally speaking to see how it compares with vista and to see if it can fulfill on the fantasy.  In the meantime I hope to produce some more documents with voice recognition.  We need to understand the strengths and limits of this technology.

I was overly optimistic and when first dictating had audacity record the audio at the same time I was speaking.  I became very self conscious worrying about the recording not the dictation.  One needs to be relaxed but articulate to do these recordings.  I need more practice before I record or do as well as with the speech recognition running.  And I’m cheating here are by occasionally going to the keyboard and using that instead of speech.  So this is far from useful yet.  But I think it’s still worth trying.

I first tried dragon naturally speaking on a laptop that had a 300 MHZ CPU.  The computer wasn’t powerful enough to run the software.  But now there’s been a tenfold increase in CPU Power.  So I would hope the software can run well.  It is actually quite impressive to watch the text being generated from the voice.  However, the reliability is still not good enough to use as a true substitute for typing.  So this is likely to remain a curiosity for quite awhile.

In the absence of fulfilling the fantasy, we need other alternatives to make our multimedia content accessible.  And the simplest one is to have Manual transcription of an audio track.  That will have to suffice for now. 

Friday, September 12, 2008

Football Games Are On Saturdays

The article from which the screen shot below was taken is about the Business of College Football, particularly Head Coach compensation, and specifically Nick Saban's compensation. The piece is a bit of muckraking, which is fine. But the last sentence in the paragraph below, if taken seriously rather than tongue and cheek, as the author intended, shows the issues with performance based contracts, of the bald type that are used to reward some of these head coaches. Even if the kids behave like lunatics before, during, and after the games, they still might be legit students the rest of the time. Everyone needs to blow off some steam. The problem is when that's done to the exclusion of everything else.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

NY Times, Mac, and Windows Vista

Today on its homepage, the NY Times has a Mac Ad that is in the Banner area and on the upper right portion of the page, very precious real estate, had an "Editorial" by PC called Stop Switching to Mac. I must be getting old. I was offended by this. The normal links to today's featured columns weren't there. And putting ad content in a location normally reserved for featured News items seems real cheesy to me. How would we feel if the Obama Campaign paid for an attack Ad to be placed on the homepage with the Editorial label. If the Times can do it for Apple, what's to stop them from doing it in this other instance?

In the Technology section of the paper there was an article about the Seinfeld and Bill Gates ads. No doubt the fight over operating systems is real news. The Times should treat it as such. By putting the Apple ad on the homepage, it appears to be taking sides in the competition. I suppose that's because journalism has been headed that way for some time. I hope Clark Hoyt writes a column on this and takes his own paper to task.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Rationalizing the Palin Pick

In politics, absurdity is not a handicap.
- Napoleon Bonaparte
This video I found interesting. You don't see this sort of analysis on TV.