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Archive for April 2011

Do we want management consultants messing with Higher Education?

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From a report by McKinsey (website):

The United States needs more college graduates. Opinions vary on exactly how many, but McKinsey estimates that the nation will need an additional one million each year by 2020 to sustain its economic health. That would mean increasing today’s annual total— 2.5 million—by 40 percent…

To meet this goal, universities and colleges would have to increase their output of graduates by 3.5 percent a year over the next decade. That’s a daunting task…

To meet the target without spending more, colleges would simultaneously have to attract additional students, increase the proportion of them who complete a degree, and keep a tight lid on costs. Gaming the target by lowering the quality of the education or granting access only to the best-prepared students obviously wouldn’t count. Not surprisingly, many people within and beyond higher education say that colleges can’t possibly do all these things at once.

But McKinsey research suggests that many already are, using tactics others could emulate. In fact, the potential to increase productivity across the varied spectrum of US higher education appears to be so great that, with the right policy support, one million more graduates a year by 2020, at today’s spending levels, begins to look eminently feasible. The quality of education and access to it could both improve at the same time.

Ok, I get it.  The US needs more college graduates.  But do we want a bunch of management consultants getting their hands on higher education?  When I read the McKinsey report  it seems to me that “college graduate” now means a vocational education and that the desired productivity will be achieved by turning higher education into a factory process.  It is an example of “Greater Taylorism” applied to higher education.  (read about Taylor and scientific management)

This caught my eye… the elimination of educational “waste”.  A sort of “lean manufacturing” approach to higher education.

Reducing nonproductive credits

Up to 10 percent of all credits taken by US students are in excess of the number required to graduate. True, such credits may expand students’ minds, but they add cost to a degree. Tracking students’ progress and skillfully intervening when necessary can help reduce that cost. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), for instance, has a monitoring system that discourages students from embarking on redundant credits altogether: no bachelor’s graduate at SNHU completes more than 150 credits en route to a degree, while 20 percent of graduates at similar institutions have upward of 150. Better preparation for college work and a policy of allowing transfer students to conserve credits help reduce redundant credits too.

“True, such credits may expand students’ minds, but they add cost to a degree…”  And colleges will “monitor” and “skillfully intervene” to stop such waste.  There will be no intellectual “mind expansion” beyond what is required by the corporate market demand for labor at any point in time.  What year is this?

When I read the quoted paragraph above I thought of the 1984 Apple commercial created by Chiat/Day.  The US may need more “college graduates” but what is the nature of these college graduates?  What McKinsey may have in mind is education understood as a lean manufacturing factory stamping out undifferentiated marching armies of  “college graduates”  fabricated to uniform specifications (there will be no “unproductive credits”).  This will not lead to what  the US really needs most.  And that is people who can think out of the box (beyond the specification) in innovative, creative, and insightful ways.  This will not be a capability produced or enhanced by a factory education.

Would McKinsey hire a person with a factory-made education? – doubtful.  Can you win in a competitive job market if you can’t differentiate yourself from the other job candidates?  What happens, over time, when your factory-made education is no longer relevant to the job market?  Do you go back to get “re-fitted” or does a person fresh off the education assembly line take your place and you are placed on the trash heap?   Do companies hire people who are merely average?  Why be average if you can be remarkable?

Sometimes a person hurling a hammer is necessary.  Be that person.

Resources

Read the full McKinsey Report – Boosting productivity in US higher education
https://frrl.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/boostingproductivity_inhighereducation.pdf

Steve Jobs commencement speech at Stanford University
https://frrl.wordpress.com/2010/01/25/steve-jobs-apple-ceo-how-to-live-before-you-die/

Written by frrl

April 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm

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Virtual vs Real: A Review of Knife Edge RealFlight G5.5 RC Simulator

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You can download a free demo copy of this software herehttp://www.realflight.com/index.html

Rummaging around the basement, in addition to some old radios, I found my Radio Control (RC) airplane.  This plane has not seen flight for a decade – at least.  Found my Futaba transmitter/controller too.  Looks like I might be in business for some RC flying this year.

In the “old days” the way you learned how to fly RC was to join a club and get some training.  Fortunately for me, there were lots of RC clubs in the area and the park district set aside flying fields for flying RC airplanes and helicopters.  Perfect.

Back then the only option for learning how to fly radio control was what I would describe as “white knuckle” learning.  After some “ground school” you got out there in the flying field along with an instructor.  You and the instructor had a conversation about the “flight plan”.  Start the engine; check the radio transmitter, receiver and servo’s; trim the control surfaces, and make some final checks.  Ready to go.

The instructor would use your RC transmitter/controller to taxi the plane onto the runway, take off, and once straight and level flight was obtained hand you the controls.  “There you go kid – it’s all yours.”  There I was, The Great Waldo Pepper.  Holy cow.  That is where the “white knuckle” learning began.  It ended in one of three ways – successful landing, lose the plane in a tree, or crash.  At risk was several hundred dollars of airplane, electronics, and my time invested in building the plane and getting all the electronics and servo’s installed in the plane and working.  If you were lucky, if you got in trouble, the instructor could take the controls from you and get you out of a mess – sometimes.

Pilots Log – 2011

Making my way to the local hobby shop to get some model airplane engine gas along with a few accessories I saw a demo of a RC Simulator called RealFlight G5.5 from Knife Edge Software.  The hobby shop had a computer set up with the software and the controller ready to go.  I am not at all a game player.  Why would I want to play a game called RealFlight?  I live in the real world and I want to fly real RC airplanes.

I obviously am not paying attention to the advances in RC Flight Simulators.  What makes Real Flight G5.5 interesting is not only the great graphics but  that it comes with a controller that is nearly identical to a real RC controller.  So, controlling the flight of a real RC airplane with a real Futaba controller is (I would say) almost identical to controlling the simulated airplane using the supplied simulated Futaba controller.  Take a look at the pictures below.  Real Futaba on the right; RealFlight simulator controller on the left.  The look and feel of the controls is nearly identical.

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Written by frrl

April 24, 2011 at 7:08 am

Memes: Do Bad Barrels make Bad Apples?

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When I saw the cartoon above it reminded me of this idea of “Bad Barrels”.  The prevailing idea is that there are bad apples – a few people in an organization that bring disrepute on an organization but that there is essentially nothing wrong with the organization.

The idea about “Bad Barrels” is that there are organizations and organizational cultures that turn good people bad.  (Read about Memes here and below)

Look at the cartoon above.  How much is Wally now an agent (agent in the strong sense) of the corporate culture in which he, Dilbert and the rest of the gang work?  That is, Wally is now perpetuating (spreading, transmitting, enforcing) an idea of a particular work environment.  (Wally becomes a “host” in the meme model)

The question is this.  If Wally were ever promoted to a position of power in an organization would he “right the wrongs” of the organization he works for as depicted in the strip or would he take on these values and treat people in the same way that he is treated by his boss and now hates?

Will “the barrel” (the environment in which Wally works) change Wally into the very evil that he hates?

I know it’s a comic strip.  But, I have seen it for decades in a lot of organizations.  At some point an “agent” (or “host” in the meme model) in the organization says something like, “You don’t know how things work around here“.  Or, “You are naive.  This is how we do things around here“.  Of course those “things” are the evils that you are asked to participate in, contribute to, and pass on to the new people who have yet to be initiated into “the way we do things here” – the “barrel” of the corporate culture and zeitgeist.

An Opportunity to Reveal Character

The really really great thing about all this is that it provides a person to make a choice based on character.  These challenging opportunities provide a very visible (and sometimes very public) proclamation of a person’s character as demonstrated as opposed to what someone says of their values.

Think of people like Sherron Watkins of Enron.  How many people said to her, “Sherron, this is how we do things here.  You are naive.”  To which she essentially said, “No, this is not the way it should be and it will not be.”

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Written by frrl

April 22, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Should anyone take advice from Scott Adams and Dilbert?

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I understand why the top students in America study physics, chemistry, calculus and classic literature. The kids in this brainy group are the future professors, scientists, thinkers and engineers who will propel civilization forward. But why do we make B students sit through these same classes? That’s like trying to train your cat to do your taxes—a waste of time and money. Wouldn’t it make more sense to teach B students something useful, like entrepreneurship? – How to Get a Real Education by Scott Adams

On April 9’th 2011 there was an article in the Wall Street Journal by Scott Adams.  As everyone should know, Scott Adams is the cartoonist that created the Dilbert comic strip.

My gripe with Scott Adams is that I think he has done more to perpetuate corporate dysfunction than anyone else in popular media.  I am not alone in this.  I stumbled on a blog entry from Mark Vogt – Why I Hate Dilbert.  In part…

That’s what I HATE about it, because what I’ve seen over the years (yes, literally YEARS) is that all of the avid/devoted Dilbert follows first IDENTIFY with Dilbert’s frustration over all the myriad problems/weaknesses with the modern business world, then – this is the source of my hatred – they MIMIC his INACTION.

Each time I find myself walking past a cubicle or office (even executives’ offices) with yellowed, ragged-eared Dilbert cartoons stapled meticulously along the walls in artistic, thoughtful patterns, I mentally bookmark that person, then begin observing their behavior in meetings, on projects, in emails or even in the cafeteria….

Sure enough, a most startling & troubling pattern emerges: these people – from the lowest depths to the uppermost ranks in the company – all too often display in real life the very helpless, powerless, wimpy Dilbert behavior they “identify” with in their beloved cartoon.

The bottom line is that Dilbert, even though he realizes he works for a dysfunctional company, is utterly powerless to do anything about it.  Of course Dilbert has no organizational power to change anything – he is a cubicle-dweller at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy.

But the real problem is that Dilbert can’t extricate himself from his situation.  Extricating himself from his situation would mean quitting his job.  And of course that can’t happen or the comic strip would end.  So, for obvious comic strip reasons Dilbert does not leave his job.  But far beyond the seriousness of comic strips, as the quote above points out, many people mimic Dilbert’s helplessness.  And thus. effectively destroy their careers.

Now Scott Adams wants to advise you on Entrepreneurship

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Written by frrl

April 16, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Your Taxes and the National Debt

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Written by frrl

April 15, 2011 at 2:23 pm

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Liquid Networks – That’s how we roll

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I ran across this photo on the internet (click the image to enlarge)

When I was in college I used to spend a lot of time at the Art Institute of Chicago.  One of the paintings (I don’t recall the title) that I used to always go to see was similar to the above but much more elaborate.  The painting was physically huge in size and extremely intricate and detailed.  It was a forest scene with hundreds of all sorts of creatures doing different things.  Each creature was engaged in an activity.  Each creature had a very intricate facial expression reflective of the activity that was being performed.  Some of the creatures were distorted based on what they were doing.  For example, a man trying to lift a heavy log had arms that were stretched and elongated.

The first time I saw this painting I spent about an hour looking at the intricate detail.  Every time I went back to the Art Institute I again looked at the huge painting to see what I missed.  What were all these creatures doing in this painting?  Why were they engaged in these activities?  Which creatures were working together and which were working alone?  Why did they have these facial expressions?  Taken as a whole, what was the painting trying to reveal?

So, when I saw the image above on the internet I thought about those days at the Art Institute.  This photo on the internet was tagged with “The Liquid Network”.  So, I looked that up and came up with this blog entry

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Written by frrl

April 14, 2011 at 12:55 pm

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OpenCompute.org: The Infrastructure Behind Facebook

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We started a project at Facebook a little over a year ago with a pretty big goal: to build one of the most efficient computing infrastructures at the lowest possible cost.

We decided to honor our hacker roots and challenge convention by custom designing and building our software, servers and data centers from the ground up.

The result is a data center full of vanity free servers which is 38% more efficient and 24% less expensive to build and run than other state-of-the-art data centers.

But we didn’t want to keep it all for ourselves. Instead, we decided to collaborate with the entire industry and create the Open Compute Project, to share these technologies as they evolve.

By releasing Open Compute Project technologies as open hardware, our goal is to develop servers and data centers following the model traditionally associated with open source software projects.

Our first step is releasing the specifications and mechanical drawings. The second step is working with the community to improve them.

Please take a look, tell us what we did wrong and join us in working together to make every data center more efficient.

At little bit of a PR job for OpenCompute.org but the video and related collateral is interesting.

Most important is the philosophy of all this.  And that is openness, sharing, giving back, and improving through collaboration and community.  The belief is that by sharing we will all collectively be better.

You can find the video, pictures, and engineering diagrams and specs starting at this link –
http://opencompute.org/

Read a related article –
https://frrl.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/the-technical-architecture-behind-facebook/

Written by frrl

April 12, 2011 at 5:37 pm

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