My grandmother

I have a grandmother in San Francisco who’s health has been failing over the last few years. She recently went to the hospital over the weekend due to a number of complications. Although she is now in stable condition, it’s hard to say what will happen next, especially due to her age. Yet she’s already been in the hospital twice recently, it’s difficult to think about the next time she may end up there. So tonight, I’m dedicating this blog to my grandmother.

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Hurricane Katrina

This week, Hurricane Katrina decimated the southern coast of the US, including Louisiana and Mississippi. New Orleans was especially hit hard. Hundreds are already reported dead, and many are trapped because they were unable to evacuate. The amount of damage is so surreal that it makes my problems seem so insignificant. Everyone in the US is also affected financially because a number of fuel refineries were also hit by Katrina. As a result, many of us are dealing with the price of gas surpassing $3 a gallon (and possibly hitting $4 a gallon by the weekend). I’ll make my prediction now and say that the economy will not handle the ripple effect of Katrina’s destructive force. Tonight, though, I’m dedicating this blog to all of the victim’s that live in the areas hit by Hurricane Katrina.

The need for health care reform cannot be any clearer

Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin) was in the state this week talking with small business owners about his plan to help them cope with skyrocketing health care costs and coverage. But the business owners’ message was more straightforward than that: they suggest a major change in the nation’s health care system. I don’t disagree; health care costs have grown exponentially over the last few years. Every politician knows this, but none have approached the issue directly. The Appleton-Fox Cities Post-Crescent explains:

“While government continues to nibble around the edges of the problem – costs that are rising rapidly, hurting businesses and consumers, and affecting many levels of our society – the people want stronger action. They need it. In some cases, they’re desperate for it.”

So when can we expect some action from our elected officials? When do they stop beating around the bush and start attacking this issue head on? It wasn’t popular back in 1992 when President Bill Clinton made it part of his platform, but costs have gotten out of hand, and the record of those treated for health issues in the world’s richest nation is abominably abysmal.

The Post-Crescent article: Editorial: Small-business owners have message for all lawmakers

Call for Help returns

I had pretty much given up on G4TV (which bought out TechTV) a few months ago, but I still continue to receive newsletters from the network once in a while. So I was surprised when I received an e-mail stating that Call for Help was back on the air in the US. I’m excited because Leo Laporte is a great and very knowledgeable host. He has the skill of explaining technology in layman’s terms. Welcome back Leo and decent tech television!

G4TV Call for Help

Great Lakes water to venture beyond its basin?

The City of Waukesha developed rapidly over the past decade with the expansion of new businesses and residential developments. Now it is faced with dwindling water supplies. The City claims that its groundwater feeds Lake Michigan, so it should receive some water from the great lake. Whether this is true or not should first be studied. But other questions need to be answered as well.

Waukesha and surrounding communities grew rapidly since the early 1990’s (if I remember correctly). This means that they have lost a lot of natural meadows and landscapes that would have otherwise retained a lot of moisture and fed their aquifers. With road expansion and new developments, the communities are experiencing more storm water runoff. This results in more street level pollution. Lake Michigan already has a number of problems with storm water runoff from the City of Milwaukee and other coastal communities. And pollution and invasive species continue to plague the Great Lakes. These problems need addressing, and action plans must start happening before Great Lakes water can go to other areas outside of the natural basins.

Finally, the City of Waukesha’s claim needs to be confirmed. This should be done via an independent scientific study, perhaps by contracting with the United States Geological Survey (if that’s the federal agency that could conduct such a study). The findings should be verified by Wisconsin’s Legislative Audit Bureau and either the federal Government Accountability Office. This study should remain outside the political arena as much as possible.

JSOnline article: Water issues build steam

Yet more evidence that Darwin’s theory of natural selection is right

Although I don’t think the loss of life should ever be taken lightly, here is another great example of natural selection and the fact that the “Darwin Awards” are “awarded” posthumously to those that manage to remove themselves from the gene pool. I think it also falls into the “this is an example of bad karma catching up with you” category. In short, police officers are trained to defend themselves and their guns, so reaching for the officer’s firearm after taking a couple of swipes at him or her is typically not in your own best interest.

JSOnline article: Officer kills teen during struggle

Technology not living up to the promise in the classroom

Schools face a shortage of public funding and subsidies for computers in their classrooms. For some reason, I’m not surprised (which I’ve stated for some time now). It seems that some folks are unclear as to what technology can do in the classroom. I think Milwaukee Journal Sentinel journalist Amy Hetzner did a great job reporting on this in a three-part series on how computer funding for classrooms is slowing to a trickle.

She indicates in the first article how using technology in the classroom is not resulting in academic outcomes that were anticipated. Although some use has resulted in a better understanding of the technology by teachers and students, it does not seem like it has allowed kids to develop their academic skills as well as expected. Instead, many computers are not used, and when they are, teachers are using them for administrative work (such as reporting grades). Now there is some debate as to whether or not kids should even be taught the programs that will be obsolete by the time they reach college or the workforce, and even if keyboarding skills are really necessary (my answer to both is no, but then again I was pretty adept at learning how to use Microsoft Word on my own when it was competing against the mighty WordPerfect).

I think the saddest part of this article is that a seventh-grade geography class uses, “PowerPoint presentations, word processing, Internet research on cultures and countries of the world, spreadsheets to compare data, graphs and video configurations.” Although the class uses many tools for their work, the sad part is that there is no mention of one of the most powerful geography tools out there: geographical information systems (GIS). GIS has posted itself to become a major data warehouse in many fields. Knowing this tool would help prepare many geography and cartography students for the future. However, GIS is complicated to learn (in my experience), but it’s a skill that many can learn in late high school and college. Even using it as a visual tool in the earlier grades will promote it. I think that it is truly sad that the computer in a geography class does not have the most important software tool that would make sense in a geography class.

In article two, Hetzner describes the reduction of public funding and how to maintain and replace the equipment. Even those of us that work with this stuff daily know that when you buy a PC, it has a lifecycle of about three to five years (five years is pushing it). Plus the behind-the-scenes stuff (servers, network hubs, wiring, software) works only for so long before it needs replacing. Although proponents of classroom computer technology advocated their use because they are used in the workplace, they seemed to overlook these long-term needs and costs.

Article three explains how proponents believe that the reason why students are not excelling as expected is because they do not have as much access to the technology. Thus a number of schools have embarked on providing computers in front of each student. Even with this one-to-one ratio of computer use, though, the results do not show remarkable improvements in academic achievement. Even students at these schools view computers more as tools than magic bullets. One student is proficient at repairing the hardware when it goes down, while another lost her homework in the system and recognizes that computer use is not truly integrated in their work. Even their use in math and science is limited, versus usage in English for writing and history for Web searches.

Hetzner does a great job of giving a very balanced approach to how technology is being used while also providing insight as to how it is and is not being utilized. Her articles are skillfully written and show both sides of the argument. Still, some of my questions remain: How much more capable, if at all, are students becoming in the academic basics? Are they truly learning and retaining more history and science? Are they writing with grammatical proficiency? Are they able to solve complex mathematical, physics, and chemistry equations?

Unfortunately, she doesn’t answer the most important question: Will these kids be prepared to deal with these same problems when the computers break down and stop working?

JSOnline Article one: Is technology in schools the future or just a fad?

JSOnline Article two: Schools must weigh costs vs. benefits of technology

JSOnline Article three: Some push schools to put computers in front of all students