New domain address: brianshah.net

I recently received information regarding my Web domain and learned that the National Telecommunications and Information Agency was going to make public the information attached to .us domains. The last thing I really want is to be inundated with companies trying to sell me services that I really don’t want. So I decided to purchase a .net domain. For the next month or so, I will continue to have both in production, but the .us domain will be replaced by the .net. I will spend the next month reviewing my site and cleaning up any references to the new address.

Since I’m in the process of making these changes, I also plan on testing a dynamic blog. This may require another site redesign.

In the meantime, if you’ve already bookmarked my site, please change it to brianshah.net.

To learn more about .us domains, please read the following article. I’ll admit that it is a little extreme, but its basic point is evident.

Americans Deserve Privacy Web site

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

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

The problem with bottled water

I’ve often wondered how the bottled water industry got such a huge leap. Just a dozen years ago, I would have thought purchasing bottled water was a waste cash. Today, you can expect to spend as much as $3 for a bottle of water at a movie theater (apparently the nearby water fountain is inadequate). I still think purchasing bottled water is wasteful, especially since people are willing to spend more per quart of water than per gallon of gasoline. Although I agree that there are benefits to buying bottled water (such as in the middle of a third-world country where you should not drink the local tap water).

I found the following article from my friend Jason. It puts the entire issue into perspective and makes me really wonder why people are still willing to pay for water. I recently went shopping with a friend that didn’t worry about buying a case of bottled water, yet he’s concerned about money. He fell ill to the cryptosporidium epidemic in Milwaukee back in the early 90s, so he could justify the cost of bottled water. However, I suggested a water filter would cost him so much less and would contribute much less to the recycling bins. I personally use a water filter to take out certain sediments that would otherwise clog my coffeemaker, but I’m not opposed to drinking tap water.

Bottled water also results in some distressing issues. In addition to the environmentally damaging consequences of bottling and shipping water in plastic bottles and disposing of the empty containers, I found the following statement too real and absolutely disturbing:

“Of course, tap water is not so abundant in the developing world. And that is ultimately why I find the illogical enthusiasm for bottled water not simply peculiar, but distasteful. For those of us in the developed world, safe water is now so abundant that we can afford to shun the tap water under our noses, and drink bottled water instead: our choice of water has become a lifestyle option. For many people in the developing world, however, access to water remains a matter of life or death…

“Clean water could be provided to everyone on earth for an outlay of $1.7 billion a year beyond current spending on water projects, according to the International Water Management Institute. Improving sanitation, which is just as important, would cost a further $9.3 billion per year. This is less than a quarter of global annual spending on bottled water.”

Bottled water does seem to epitomize the excesses of our lavish lifestyles.

Jason’s article: Taking bottled water to task

NY Times article: Bad to the Last Drop

Hasty e-mail messages

This past week reminded me of why it is important to spend time reviewing and editing e-mail messages before sending them off. Earlier this week, I committed the act of neglecting this important step, although the results were not detrimental. In the first case, I sent some instructions to coworkers about opening and printing some files on a shared network drive. The instructions were not clear, so some people were unable to open the documents and print them. In the second case, I asked someone to set up an appointment for either “tomorrow or Friday.” Tomorrow was Wednesday, but I sent the message at 10:30 on Tuesday night and the other person received it on Wednesday morning, so he thought tomorrow meant Thursday.

Both of these cases are perfect examples of the need to review your writing before hitting the “send” button. Otherwise, you may end up either confusing a group of people or really angering someone. I just can’t seem to stress it enough; I just need to better practice what I preach.