Wednesday, March 31, 2010

For Instructors Who Want Their Students To Have Office Documents

I've been futzing with Windows Live tools for the last couple of days and I believe I've discovered a particular use for instruction that will be liked by students and faculty alike. It is on the theme of taking the file sharing function out of the LMS and putting it into Web 2.0. This is particularly for those who want students to have the actual office documents, not PDF versions. If you want to share PDFs, a different alternative is needed.

This can be done with Firefox or IE, but not Chrome.

1. The requirement is to have a Windows Live account. If you don't have one and want to try out this suggestion go here and make an account.

2. Once that's done, go to the More menu and choose Office Live.

3. Sign in. It will take a little bit to configure your space.

4. Once that's done, on the left where it says My Workspaces, make a new blank workspace. Name it whatever you'd like, for example, Class Files. Put in a description if you'd like.

5. Then click Share. Send an email to yourself as a viewer. Also select the check box: Let everyone view this without signing in.

6. If you want to try uploading files now, you can. Click the Add Documents button in the main frame. Choose Excel, PowerPoint, or Word documents. By holding down the shift key you can add upload several consecutive documents at once.

That's all that is needed as the instructor for posting the files. My suggestion would then be to take the Web page where the files are and link to it from within the LMS that you use. To do this:

a) Go to the email that you sent yourself. (It might take a few minutes for you to receive that.)

b) Right click on the link to the space. Copy the link.

c) Go into your LMS site and make a Web link with the hyperlink you've just copied.

Now test this out from the student perspective. You want to make sure that students see the files online and can download them if they'd like.

i) If you've used FireFox to make the space, use IE to follow the link, and vice versa.

ii) Click on any particular document name. Verify you can view the document in the browser and save it to your desktop.

iii) A particular tip for viewing PowerPoint files in the browser. You likely will have to reduce the font size. Otherwise the presentation will go off the screen.

That's all there is to it. This is exactly like having a file folder for all the files you plan to share with students. Apart from the PowerPoint appearing too large, this is very intuitive. And although the Web page for these files is public, the url is very obscure so people aren't likely to stumble onto it.

Not living up to our own expectations

Do we play the role which is our fate? Or do we make the role we wish to play?

Legend has it that Your Show of Shows, one of the best comedy/variety shows on TV in the early 1950s, featuring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, really worked so well because of the powers behind the throne, the wonderful writing staff, which included Neil Simon and Mel Brooks. Simon understood his forte was as a writer and he went on to write many very well known stage plays. But Brooks' comedic style is so over the top (which is why Zero Mostel was perfect to play the lead role in the Producers, since he was of the same ilk as Brooks) and one suspects Brooks was essentially the same when among friends as with a public audience, that he was fated to end up in front of the camera, as the 2000 Year Old Man and later in films like Blazing Saddles. Woody Allen, while also a writer for Sid Cesar for some specials on his later show, apparently was a reluctant entrant into doing stand-up comedy; Allen's agents convinced him because other performers weren't doing justice to the written material. The same sort of thought explains Allen's subsequent appearance in films he has directed, the mixture of comedy and irony from the perspective of a nebish very hard to replicate.

Why is it that one wants to perform in public, to promote one's ideas or to promote oneself? Robert Wright has a very interesting essay drawing a parallel between Malamud' protagonist in The Natural, published in 1952, and the Tiger Woods situation today. The book is darker than the movie, which has a happy ending and portrays Roy Hobbs as innocent and the victim of an unlikely shooting. In the book Hobbs is the perpetrator, lacking discipline and displaying venality, the best there ever was is not meant to show charm and naivete. It's hubris for which penance must be done. In the book, Hobbs does not find redemption. Wright suggests it should be so for Woods as well. At the least, he should really atone, note simply go through some made for TV token at humility.

In a loosely formed group originally slated to do its work in February, this is the last day in March for which I write my concluding post in Motley Read. Alan writes that it has been like running an endurance contest and wanting to reach the finish line in the marathon. Perhaps sticking with the same subject matter for quite a while in the posts that our group has written is old fashioned and not in accord with current rhythms. I can also report that in this reading of Dubliners I rarely had the old joy from reading where the story would completely take over and I'd lose myself in it. Instead I remained conscious of the the writer Joyce as he produced these stories, taking note of his craft, his choice of language, how he set up the situation. I also thought while amid the stories I was reading about whether Joyce was a product of his time and where he grew up or if what I read could have been any bright young mind drawn to written expression and whether the stories would have been largely unchanged if Joyce had written when Malamud did (the Natural was published in 1952) or even at present.

Joyce was a contemporary of Kafka, another writer I've struggled to understand. Until reading The Dead I had thought they were quite different in perspective, with Joyce essentially the critic looking from the outside in and Kafka the self-critic, our lot in life is literally to be on trial, in our own minds. Kafka is more abstract, no doubt. I thought The Dead was Kafka with a twist; it is written on human terms. Joyce renders his characters not as symbols, but as friends and family or people we know well even if they are not related and we don't really like them.

Alan's post focuses on the fall of Gabriel, when he is alone with Gretta, his wife. Alan doesn't take up the earlier part of the story, where Gabriel is identified as a writer of some accomplishment, the favorite nephew of his Aunts who host the dance, and an accomplished public speaker who is felicitous in the stories he tells about his hosts. Indeed, Gabriel displays many of the features that we'd ascribe to a leader today - an ability to listen in a way that he shows others he is really hearing. That, however, is not enough for Gabriel, not nearly enough.

Gabriel wants to inspire and arouse, in that respect like Roy Hobbs, though he doesn't care about doing so for a public audience. He wants this reaction only from Gretta, his wife. He wants to appeal to her primal passions, for his passions have been awakened by her. Yet it is not to be so. Unlike Hobbs, Gabriel appears to have committed no indiscretion, no utterance to display his hubris. His sin was of the mind only, enough however to deliver his fall from grace.

I conjectured in a comment to Alan and Jared that Joyce wrote The Dead while a young father, with the mother showing more attention to her offspring than to Joyce himself. Not fully understanding the maternal instinct, he might then very well blame himself for her apparently letting the flame die down, if not losing interest in him altogether. So he consigns himself to play a supporting role rather than the lead he thought was his part. This is the realization that Gabriel comes to. Living the good natured part of his public persona then becomes his personal purgatory for having aspired to be the leading man.

If this analysis is in the ballpark I wonder for how long these sort of thoughts remained with Joyce. The works for which he is most well known were written after Dubliners. Could it be that all of his subsequent creativity really was the consequence of writing as an act of contrition?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A picture of the artist as a young man

This photo is circa 1904. Sisters was published in September of that year. Looks pretty solidly built and no glasses nor mustache. Not my mental model at all. The source is the National Archives of Ireland where you can view a full size image and really take it in. If you stare at the face for a while, you will begin to see how he looked as we know him now. But at first glance he appears unrecognizable, at least to me.

Monday, March 29, 2010

BIG IT and little it

What's the point of havin' a rapier wit if I can't use it to stab people?
- Jeph Jacques
Nativism is on the rise. In a rather disturbing column, Frank Rich lets us know that its not Health Care that has the Tea Party Movement roiling. Its Gangs of New York all over again. Rich mentions Kristallnacht, thereby likening the recent hate speech targeted at icons of diversity, John Lewis and Barney Frank, as a step toward fascism and the rule of the mob. Maybe it is. Perhaps its time for a public discussion of The Ox-Bow Incident. It can happen here. Bob Herbert wants reasonable minded people to push back. This behavior shouldn't be tolerated. Will that work? He does seem right to vilify those in the media and those in Republican party who have been fanning the flames. It is a perverse form of leadership, betting on a backlash, the anger of the silent majority. David Frum takes on his own party about the Health Care legislation itself and the overheated rhetoric behind it. But he was a speech writer, not an elected official. Which conservative with better leadership credentials will restore a path toward toleration for differences in point of view and a move toward negotiated solutions. It would seem easier to do on Finance reform. We'll see.

I've been involved in a little madness too, the March kind. Each of the ballgames this weekend were well contested and compelling to watch. One of things not commented upon, at least not directly, is that two of Final Four teams, Butler and Duke, have white ballplayers in pivotal roles. Gordon Hayward of Butler, is baby faced and looks completely unintimidating from the neck up, but he's got game. As the article explains, he learned basketball at the guard position and then had a growth spurt. (This is the same story as for Ohio State's "player of the year" Evan Turner.) Butler is no fluke. They were rated #15 before the season started and have at present the longest winning streak in the country. But Hayward and his partner at forward Matt Howard, don't look like they should be good. Guru Dick Vitale had them losing in the first round to UTEP. Now the word is out and Hayward is viewed as good candidate for to make the NBA. But there were some perception hurdles to overcome first.

Duke perhaps is not quite so unrecognized. Two of their white starters, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler get shown on Sports Centers a fair amount so are familiar to any basketball fan. Their center, Brian Zoubek, was unknown to me. I hardly watched any ACC basketball this season, supposedly a down year for that conference. Duke out rebounded Baylor 41 to 35 and looked like the physically more dominant team, particularly in the second half. (Baylor's center, Josh Lomers, was in foul trouble the entire game and played very few minutes as a result.) Nonetheless, Duke was considered the #1 seed that didn't really deserve its seeding. Yet in Sagarin's ratings Duke has been very high all season. Could the perception that they didn't deserve their seed while Syracuse and Kentucky did, though both of them are now out of the Tournament, be the result of that fact that Duke starts 3 white players?

I wouldn't have even thought about this topic but for Tom Friedman's column, The Real Dream Team, where he makes the argument that as long as American allows immigration from Asia, then those kids will make for the scientists and engineers of the future so our fate will be secure. Isn't this a (mildly) racist argument too? Are we really served by promoting the stereotype? And what of the next generation after that?

Do each of us harbor a mild form of racism in thinking about reality, each domain having its high achievers and also rans, with us putting people in boxes in advance of seeing how they perform? I'm sure Kahneman and Tversky would tell us that yes we do this, it's part of human nature. If so, should we try to reform ourselves? or learn to live with it?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Finding something when you are looking for something else.

I was kind of irked by David Brooks' column today, more than a bit righteous about exploding deficits, wasn't that just a mask for his real opinion - he is anti big government even when the budget is balanced. And where was he when the Bushies were piling up the deficits due to the tax cut, the Iraq war, and rampant Congressional spending? Before my blood reached the boiling point it occurred to me to do a bit of fact checking. Perhaps Brooks has been more of a deficit hawk all along and I just wasn't paying attention. So I did a little searching on his columns to see what I could find.

Sure enough, I found this piece from Feb 2008 where he predicts big government spending in the offing (not a hard prediction given the circumstances) and concludes with the thoughts that the Liberals will overreach. His true colors are showing. Then I found a different piece, written smack in the middle of the Bush years, where Brooks establishes his deficit hawk bona fides. One wonders why he didn't write more of that sort of thing before or since, but let's do note for the record that it is there. Then he has this piece written right before the shoe dropped to show he was completely misreading the economic signals, though at the time so were others.

Looking for more ammunition of this sort, I begin to find sites that are unrelated to David Brooks. First, I find this page called Starving The Beast, by a professor from Mount Holyoke. What's funny about it is the argument is essentially the same one made by Matt Santos (played by Jimmy Smits) in the West Wing Season 7 Episode, The Debate, to the effect that the tax cuts precede the spending cuts but the former are popular while the latter are not so the outcome is budget imbalance.

Returning to reality, I find a piece that seems to me a gem, a screen shot of the lead is below. It's from five years ago. Greenspan gets my vote for being a good guy here. He wants to reimpose Congressional rules that were in effect when Clinton was President that any tax cut or spending increase would have to be matched with some other fiscal action to offset it. I wonder why, given all the the discussion of an exploding deficit, that there hasn't been more on the institution of such rules, though seemingly everyone laments earmarks.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars

We are witnessing some extraordinary events in College Basketball.

Northern Iowa, led by a guard who is the son of an Iranian volleyball coach, puts away the top seed, Kansas. Saint Mary's, led by a big man Omar Samhan, son of an Egyptian father and an Irish mother, put away Villanova. Tom Friedman in his Sunday column talks about what used to be the Westinghouse (now Intel) Science Competition and how many of the names of the recipients are of Asian origin - our talent pool is enhanced from legal immigration and their offspring who manifest the parent's aspirations. But who'd have thunk it? It matters in the world of sports too, only it's the Middle East that's populating the talent pool.

Northern Iowa is actually a 9 seed, but Saint Mary's is a 10 seed and there are two other double digit seeds in the round of 16, which has to be a record. One of those is Washington, which is from a power conference that supposedly had a down year - a lot of inferences are made by how teams play in November and December that may simply not carry over to March. The other is my alma mater, Cornell, a 12 seed that has completely destroyed its opponents so far. Wouldn't it be something if they put away Kentucky?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Go Big Red

A real NCAA victory by an Ivy League Team.

The embedding has been disabled but you can get the Alma Mater played by the chimes at YouTube.

Do we manipulate students like pols manipulating the press?

Roger Cohen had a very good piece today. It is meant as advice to the Obama administration to be more spontaneous and less controlling. But it triggered other thoughts for me.

When I worked in the Central IT organization for Campus, I would get interviewed by a reporter from the Student Newspaper. These kids were likely journalism students, but they were rather inexperienced and as a result would often misquote or misinterpret what I had said. (And I knew I wasn't alone in that category.) They weren't trying to get me with this. They simply didn't have enough training to consistently be able to render the sense of our interview.

So I got into the habit of asking whether I could see their piece and on more than one occasion, I believe, the interview itself happened via email, so they could lift my passages directly. This was more pleasing for "getting the story right" but now I wonder whether it was not good at all for them to learn to be effective reporters.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Boys will be boys....

.... or do their toys make them so?

This one about the game designer Sid Meier
is interesting. On the idea of getting the players hooked early, there is a lesson for all of us teachers. Somehow the students eyebrows need to be raised pretty close to the start of a course. On the idea that all gamers are egomaniacs and good game design plays to the crowd --- that is very frightening, especially as we think of all the time kids put in playing games.

For me this is a throwing stones in a glass house sort of thing. I don't play games anymore (I did play Railroad Tycoon in the 199os) but last night I was screaming at the TV as Stony Brook was picking our pocket (they were much shorter than we were and we were throwing bounce passes, not smart) and raining threes on us in the first half. (When I was in college they were SUNY at Stony Brook and had no basketball team I can recall.) We played a little better after the first 10 minutes or so and I screamed less in the second half, though the game was close till right near the end. I do try to keep my childish behavior cordoned off to a fairly limited space of fandom and I note that our consummate politician, President Obama, understands this is the social norm, so shrewdly records a clip with Andy Katz to show his own picks for the NCAA Tournament brackets.

I wonder if there is a quiet conspiracy between game designers and the Republicans.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Growing up or blocking ourselves out

Intelligence without poise, what does that look like, attractive in the evident potential and possibility, or so awkward as to force us to avert our eyes? The duckling was never ugly on the inside; it was only us viewers who made it so. Why must it be with young people coming of age? We expect much from them. We want that much more.

Last night they had a banquet at the high school for the speech team, the students a bunch of emoters, the teacher, near retirement, carrying on through the entire ceremony, proud of what he had wrought, in mock competition with his students, the biggest emoter of them all. All the world's a place for the ego to be on display. If one has stage presence, why not? A variety of awards were doled out and brief performances given, a night for the students to showcase in front of the parents. My son received acknowledgment for his essential goodness and mentoring of the more junior students, though not for his oratorical skills; the fish who chose to leave the water on his own after some encouragement from the teacher, a choice I probably would not have made were I in his place. He is more open to possibility, at the expense of his own shyness.

How do these tensions resolve? Does the late bloomer let the joie de vivre eventually flower, demonstrating grace with empathy and a gregarious nature begat from the isolation of the teen years? Or does the intellectual part of the persona take over completely, encouraging a withdrawal from other people, the detached and analytic perspective inadvertently causing his humanity to wizen, solely to focus on his own self-protection, as if that suffices as a life purpose?

In our little MotleyRead group, we are nearing the home stretch on Dubliners. I must want it to be over. In my father's pigeon French: Manger est bon, mais avoir manger est meilleur. (To eat is good, but to have eaten is better.) Maybe my memory is tricking me to believe it is almost done. I had thought A Painful Case was the story right before Grace, though a look at the table of contents for the Bantam Classic version clearly reveals it is not. I did reread the introduction by Brenda Maddox, where she discusses Joyce's anger at his Irish brethren, for their incapacity to lead full lives, as I wrote about here. In A Painful Case that incapacity is on full display. Among all the stories, the main character Duffy is closest to my own character. I understand his isolation, looking at it from the outside in, and feeling it from the inside out.

Alan describes Duffy
very well and the image of the old man sitting on a bench that Alan uses to introduce his post creates a very effective vantage from which to contemplate Duffy. Yet there remains a puzzle. Was his instinctual reaction to sever from Emily inevitable after their touching, in which case it surely was a sad outcome but just as surely there was no crime committed, or did Duffy exercise discretion; he could have fought off his instincts and embraced his passion but did not rise to this higher plane? Having read Maddox, Joyce must have meant the latter or so it seems, though Joyce obfuscates matters, at least for me, by referring at the outset to Duffy's meticulous nature with a pedantic underpinning. Folks like that are born that way, not made, aren't they?

At the Speech Banquet one of the passages read was a version of the poem, First They Came, a forceful indictment about not getting involved, thereby implicitly accepting responsibility for the unintended but horrific outcome that emerged thereafter. Coupling First They Came with A Painful Case makes for a shot across the bow, one I need to pay heed of, and though I don't wish to preach I suspect many others need to pay attention as well.

As my father would say, attendez-vous vos affaires. Indeed.

Monday, March 08, 2010


Who knows if this will hold, once the results are announced let alone when the American troops withdraw. Nonetheless, it is fascinating to witness now.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Mikogo for small group Web Conferencing

We've had a hiccup with our Adobe Connect server and needed some alternative while it gets fixed. So I went looking for Web Conferencing/Screen Sharing applications that can be used in conjunction with Skype or the telephone. I tried a couple of these and then found Mikogo, which looks pretty functional, allows up to 10 users in the session, and as it says above is entirely free. So all of that is pretty nice. In our test of Mikogo, the image was pretty large, not much latency at all, and you can cede control to other uses - either let them show their screen or let them control your screen. Shades of The Outer Limits.

On a related note, and this wasn't a sufficient test, in some recent Web conferences I was part of we used the telephone because we didn't trust the voip in the conferencing product to be reliable enough. That was expensive. I only tested Mikogo with two others, perhaps not a fair comparison, but the Skype audio quality was quite good. That might be something to consider in the future for doing calls.