Musings, Rants, and Random Thoughts

the new (scarier?) conservative

The front page of the San Francisco Chronicle a few days back included a story about Carly Fiorina’s bid to oust Barbara Boxer as one of the US Senators from California.  Actually, the article is more about how Carla is part of a “new” breed of pro-woman, pro-life voters.

This article struck me for a number of reasons.  First, there is an immediate concern that people will be so wrapped up in the Whitman-Brown gubernatorial race that they will forget about the one for Senate between Fiorina and Boxer.  While I am worried that Whitman is going to grab me off the street and tell me I’m an immigrant and try to send me to China (can’t send me “back” if I was born in New Jersey and have never been to the “homeland”), I am also concerned about Fiorina’s platform.

The other and perhaps more important aspect to Fiorina’s run is that she is apparently representative of this new group of women voters that are feminist and fight for women’s rights, yet are also pro-life.  I must admit that I had a hard time separating the two – that a woman can believe fiercely in her own rights, yet no in having the choice on the issue of abortion.  One can be pro-choice but anti-abortion.  But specifically pro-life, which means taking away the right to choice, is striking.

This brings me around to several articles that emerged when the Obama administration took over and the Democrats seemed to “control” Washington (ugh – what a mess that all is now, including Obama’s recent moves regarding the oil spill in the gulf, compromises on health care reform, inability to bridge the gaps even within his own party, etc) about how young, moderate conservatives no longer had a party to call their own.

As the Republican party has become more and more conservative and, if you listen to Limbaugh and Palin, rather extremist (IMO), it seems that there are many that identify themselves as right of center (sometimes significantly so) yet are not comfortable with what the party has declared to be its values.  I used to think I was a bit right of center.  I’m a centrist, but maybe a bit conservative.  But now, as I look at how far to the right the Republican party has swung, I look at my opinions and realize I’m decidedly on the Democratic side.

But this is in terms of beliefs.  I don’t necessarily want to label myself as a Democrat, but if I go by positions on various issues, that’s where I am.  In comparison, there are many mild conservatives that have beliefs and positions that leave them too far to the center of current Republican ideals and therefore with nowhere to go.

I believe in Keynesian economics and, more specifically, that the only financial entity that can “afford” to make massive, nation-wide fiscal changes is the federal government.  I believe that the only way to fund such stimulus is by deficit spending.  I can easily place myself within the Democratic camp on this one.

In comparison, what if there is a conservative who believes that the government has to intervene, has to spend to grow, and must put in regulations on the financial sector yet also is pro-life, generally small-government-oriented, and in accordance with other Republican positions?  Well, based on the rhetoric that comes out of the right-wing camp about the stimulus package alone, I have a few friends that feel left out in the cold, with no party to call their own.


the land of the lost

Some organizations are monolithic and distant.  Huge, hulking, single-minded set of drones that present an impenetrable barrier to two-way communication.  Messages within are often top-down.  Big Brother tells you what to do, and all you have is a memory hole at hand.

Should messages be top-down, from the organization but emanating out to the rest of the world, then hostility and autocracy comes into play.  The Borg have arrived. Resistance is Futile (and nanites really, really hurt when they take over your blood cells).

Other organizations are smaller, agile, and quick to respond to opportunities and threats.  Kind of like a a fox, except without the whole “killing rabbits” schtick.

When these nimble groups do get aggressive, however, you’re more like Jurassic Park Velociraptor food if you get in the way.  And I’m not talking Jurassic Park 3, where you can trick them by blowing air into an old skull (as if Sam Neill knew exactly how much air a raptor used to communicate with others).  I’m talking the first movie, where they figure out how to open doors.

But let me describe yet another organization.  Somewhat less together, and harder to describe.

Tribes exist on separate islands.  Some islands are bigger than others, and many are clustered and somehow related, but are separate islands nonetheless.  Many islands have not yet established communications with others.  Some tribes have not even invented means of communication.  Jungles as dense as those on Papau New Guinea, where entire civilizations are still being discovered each year, cover many of these land masses.  The tribes are competitive – this isn’t just Survivor, but Survivor:  The Villains.

The islands and sets of islands are floating on a giant set of tectonic plates on the most seismically active planet ever.  Volcanoes erupt between islands, cutting them off from each other and sending giant plumes of ash that serve to annoy if not disrupt operations on other islands.  What’s worse –  various well-meaning people die horrible deaths trying to save others that have strayed too close to the edge.

The planet is so active that, like Jupiter’s Titan on seismic steroids, it actually changes shape with eruptions and quakes.  At times, the planet becomes almost cubical in shape.  It is also like a giant balloon – if you try to poke it with too sharp of a stick, with too much energy, in an effort to elicit a specific response, you just set off more eruptions and discontent.

Welcome to my land of the lost.

note:  in no way is my group the fox, the raptor, Big Brother or the Borg (though we could certainly use transwarp tunnels now and then).  We are far from perfect and sometimes the messages we send are so mixed that it’s like we just fell from our own tower of Babel.  And sometimes I am the one doing the talking.  At the least, I am absolutely the one responsible for what we say and do.  My comments above do not mean that we are better and perhaps we’re not any different, either.

fighting complacency

I had a conversation with a classmate of mine recently, discussing various issues of interest at our school, the university at large, and educational technology in general.  We quickly moved from the specific – technology that we have seen implemented ourselves – to the general.

We spoke, essentially, about how one must approach educational technology.  Academic Computing, academic technology, instructional technology – they all refer to the same thing.  Servers, switches, computers, projectors, even dry-erase boards and the types of walls that surround a room – any kind of technology, hardware, software or otherwise, used to improve teaching and learning.

This topic has come up a bit since I completed by MBA, as well.  People ask me what my plans are next.  I have no intentions of leaving my current job for the time-being, but it has put a renewed emphasis on what it is I want to accomplish in my job.

What drives me is, in one way, the desire to fight complacency.  The flip side of fighting complacency, of course, is the pursuit of innovation, to ask why and why not at the same time, and to always pursue the best, even when better will do.

I hope that I will be able to stick to this path.  I hope that I will not succumb to complacency, losing my desire to always pursue the continued improvement of services and tools that the students, faculty, and staff at the school can use.

Not quite the post I wanted it to be, but it gets to the point…

the endless pursuit of…complacency

This is a post about differing perspectives on technology and support of student learning here at SCU, so I must preface things a bit.  Any administrator at any academic institution, especially in “these tough economic times” (a phrase that I am so sick of…yet I use here in this post) has to make tough decisions about how to invest one’s money.  Especially if expenses have trended and gone generally in one direction for many years, it’s hard to suddenly say “let’s spend more money, in a different way!”  I know this, even as I put together initiatives for new projects and programs that either change my budget or require additional funds.  So I can empathize with the mentality that I’m describing below.

Doesn’t mean I agree with it, though.

Santa Clara has a great program that supports innovation in technology.  The Tech Steering Committee offers up grants to those that are pushing forward with technology in the use of teaching, learning, and/or research.  It’s meant, at the least, as seed money to see if something will be useful.  Ideally, it’s to get a project off the ground that will, with proven success, turn into an ongoing operation.

I have applied for a grant each year I’ve been at SCU with the latter goal in mind – I want to start something that will last for years into the future.  As part of a larger roadmap of where I think the law school should be headed.  And I have received 2 grants in 2 tries, totally over $24,000.  I applaud SCU for this program, which was offered even during the especially lean 2009-2010 budget year.


where is Apple going?

Companies compete on the basis of cost or value advantage over other products.  Either they make a product at a lower cost than competitors (often at the expense of value), or they offer more value (which is measurable to an extent, but is more than just the difference in willingness to pay or WTP).  A very few companies are able to compete on both – having a dual advantage over competitors.

For Apple, I truly wonder where they are in terms of strategy.  As far as computers, margins are so ridiculously low that they can’t possibly be competing on cost.  Every single bit of a computer is a commodity now – even the coolest part of any computer, whatever you may think it to be, is just a common item as far as accessibility and availability are concerned.  Apple does have a value advantage, and they utilize this by getting away with charging more than competitors for similar products.  Even so, the value difference is not enough to really make computers a meaningful source of revenue over time.

Speaking of revenue – the iPhone makes up 40% of Apple’s revenues.  That’s almost unbelievable.  And it is also a key component of Apple’s strategy over the past few years.


see what has become of Bill Jobs. I mean Steve Gates. I mean…

Maybe a week ago, the market capitalization of Apple exceeded that of Microsoft for the first time in history, dislodging the latter from the lofty perch that it has held for years and years.

To me, the significance of this is more about a “popularity bubble” that I think Apple is experiencing.  There are a lot of intangibles for Apple, and one could argue that it is in fact more valuable than Microsoft in the long run.  I think the value of intellectual property might be pretty close between the two, in reality, but Apple has begun moving into some markets (um…with the iPad) that are still growth markets.

The question, to me, is whether this potential for growth is worth as much as investors think it is.  I’m really not sure.  First, let’s acknowledge that the market for computers is flat and margins are basically zero.  There is no growth in the personal computer market, no matter how many Macbooks and iMacs are sold.  They just don’t make enough money off of each one.  And, while Apple’s ability to adopt technology just before competitors (USB, WiFi, among others) is at times uncanny (and its marketing teams’ ability to hype the bejesus out of those advantages is just remarkable), it is probably also more expensive for them to be introducing those features before others.

So computers are a dead end.  Portable music players are beginning to plateau, I wager (I haven’t looked at the numbers in a while), and IMO the inclusion of a video camera on the 5th Generation iPod Nano is a sign that designers are beginning to grasp at straws.

Portable media via innovative mobile devices…that’s where the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad come in.  And it’s also why Steve Jobs is turning into Bill Gates.


the sanctity of our electronic data…

NB and caveat:  I say “we” a lot in this post.  I do not mean the “we” that is my organization and/or the university at which I work.  I mean academia in general.

There has been a lot of debate – everywhere, but especially in academia – about outsourcing.  Lately, this has been e-mail.  The most notable and commonly used has been Google mail for Education. Their suite of products offers quite a few features but, by a mile, the major feature used is mail.  Integration with existing user accounts, maintaining domain name, etc – Google has done a good job (though I have mentioned before about how I don’t think they’ve done a good job developing their products beyond an initial stage).  Microsoft has entered the fray with their live@edu product, which is obviously aimed at schools.  It integrates well with Active Directory from what I’ve heard, so it’s ready for what many schools are already using for directory management.

However, that’s mostly been just e-mail.  And even then, there is a lot of debate about whether it’s “safe” to have one’s e-mail data off-campus.  There is this opinion that one’s e-mail is apparently too important to outsource.  Now, presuming that FERPA security and privacy rules have been met, it doesn’t make any sense to me.  First, if an accounting or law firm can outsource, then so should a school.

But, fundamentally, what makes our e-mail so special?  What makes our data in general so special?  What’s wrong with outsourcing?  At the very least, we are looking at a less expensive option, with sufficient security (again, presuming that a school’s counsel is comfortable with FERPA compliance), and a whole lot more engineers and system administrators running and maintaining the system.

I have been putting forth an effort to provide substantial network-based, enterprise-level storage for the faculty and staff at the law school.  Of course, I want to work within the university infrastructure first.  But we still run into the same issue – fewer system administrators, fewer people managing the servers.  We have some great staff at the university that are dedicated to their jobs, but you can’t compare the admin to system ratio and economies of scale (in both human and monetary capital) that a big outsourcing company can provide.

This proposal means putting all of one’s data on someone else’s storage solution, off-campus, and in the “cloud.”  In some cases our data might be across the country.

But what’s so wrong with that? Why is our data so important that we can’t accept this as a possibility?

why not blame apple?

This is a post I started…a while ago so it’s sad that I’m only getting to it now.  Anyway…

Over the last few months at the viral and national marketing level, there has been a “war” going on about ATT’s 3G coverage.  This has been fueled mostly by disgruntled iPhone users that aren’t getting the kind of data speeds they want.  ATT’s coverage is spotty, it’s 3G coverage is even spottier, etc.

There have been protests held where users try to overload the ATT network (not best link, but wanted to provide something…) by using a lot of data-intensive apps all at once.  Then Verizon has been attacking ATT’s coverage quite aggressively, with ATT striking back with their own advertising campaign.

The funny thing is…why is no one blaming Apple?

Apple was the one that said that

  • the iPhone would be branded as an Apple product and initially (and for quite a while) sold at Apple stores
  • would not be branded at all as an ATT product
  • advertising for it would be for the phone, not for the carrier
  • Apple would get a big cut of the sale price of each phone

Supposedly, when Apple approached Verizon and it’s huge network about this, Verizon refused.  ATT acquiesced.

So if it’s Apple that forced the iPhone to go to ATT (heck, whatever if it ended up on T-Mobile or Sprint, which has even worse coverage in general?)…why keep blaming the provider?  Why not blame the manufacturer that had such ridiculous stipulations?

Addendum:  PC  World did a test of data transfer speeds of the various carriers, and ATT came out on _top_.  Hm.

I used to day dream

Now I merely fantasize.

No, I don’t mean anything like that.  Get your mind out of the gutter.

Before, I used to day dream, at least occasionally, about other schools calling me up someday asking how we (and, arrogantly, I) had managed to do something really cool.  About being asked to deliver a keynote at a conference.  About being a rockstar…at my job.

No, I just fantasize about stuff like being a professional baseball player or a superhero.  I always day dreamed about that stuff, of course, to some extent, but it seems like I’ve lost the other stuff and all I have is about how I’m saving the world.  So I feel like calling it “day dreaming” isn’t right anymore.  These aren’t dreams.  These are fantasies.

I’m not sure where, over the last couple of years, I lost my ability to day dream about my own ambitions, my own goals.  I do know that I need to get it back.  That I need to have not just aspirational but practical goals of my own that require more than just determination.

People say that if one doesn’t dream when they’re sleeping, they eventually go insane.

What happens when you stop day-dreaming about what you might be one day?

Amazon is dead. Wait. No it’s not.

Amazon’s stronghold on e-book pricing crumbles, will renegotiate with Macmillan and HarperCollins « Boy Genius Report.

There has been so much talk about how the iPad and iBooks store has been destroying Amazon.  Specifically, its ability to negotiate rock-bottom (and below-cost) prices for ebooks because they had such a dominant position in the field with the Kindle.  The link above, from BoyGeniusReport, was one of the first really substantive ones I read.  Another one has come out about the third major publisher, Hanchette – also associated with the iBooks store to come out with the iPad – putting the strong-arm on Amazon.

The main link on this post is rather significant, in that it includes a quote from Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp and in a rather level-headed statement, states that

We don’t like the Amazon model of selling everything at $9.99. They don’t pay us that. They pay us the full wholesale price of $14 or whatever we charge. We think it really devalues books and it hurts all the retailers of the hard cover books

This statement is quite telling.  First, Amazon has been selling Kindle books at below cost.  Presumably, this is some kind of strange reverse complement, “razor-blade” scenario.  The Kindle at a relatively high price, and then the books somehow below cost to help drive the justification of buying a Kingle (you need titles, after all, just like one needs to launch a video game console with lots of games right off the bat).  I’m not sure how Amazon is able to handle that much of a loss per book but let’s look a bit deeper.  It might also be Amazon trying to be a middle-person in a two-sided market, where it heavily subsidizes the cost to the buyer in order to produce enough content to make the whole thing worthwhile.  The “charge” to the publisher is the reduced value.  It’s not quite a perfect fit for what I’m studying right now in class but it’s close enough.

First, all Murdoch wants is to charge end-users the actual cost that Amazon is paying.  Okay, that’s actually not so bad.  Other than deviating from the established norm, Amazon is at least now operating at cost.  And considering how many Kindles are out there, they still have a high user base with books that will likely be no more expensive than those available on the iPad.

Second, the comment about value is intriguing.  Even if the prices are exactly the same on the iPad as the Kindle, then “value” to the end user is about the same.  The only difference will be psychological effect of sunk cost – having already bought the Kindle – or other factors.

One rather significant one is that I can go a month without charging my Kindle.  When’s the last time you’ve done that with anything that involves a backlight, LED or LCD screen?  Even if you turn WiFi, bluetooth, etc off you’re looking at a significant decrease in battery life.  And, let’s not forget that while you’re going to get a HUGE surge in iPad purchases at first and possibly an even bigger dent in Kindle sales, I really wonder whether it will, even over just a few months, level off on both sides.

One thing that will also be interesting is whether users will be “imprisoned” by the iPad once they get it.  Not that I am not committed now to Kindle books since I got one, but once you get an iPad, you are unlikely to go out and buy a Kindle if you think it is a better fit for your reading needs.  Unless you are a voracious reader, and the battery life for the iPad just doesn’t fit your needs.