kaiyen: pepper

the life and times of Allan Chen

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Taking the middle road

In a previous post (since lost in a botched wordpress update) about my ‘strategic’ plan through my MBA program, deciding what classes to take, etc, I was debating my overall approach.  The question was whether to take the more challenging professors so that I’d ostensibly (important word) learn more and get more out of those classes, or to try and take some easier ones to keep my load more level.  The opinion among my fellow classmates is pretty split, for what it’s worth.

At the time, my inclination was to take the harder classes, so that I’d get the most out of things.  Since then, however, I have learned a few things.

First, just because a professor is ‘interesting’ and ‘challenging’ doesn’t mean he or she is good.  One professor I had supposed really made you think more, but he also didn’t cover any of the course material.  He also challenged students to think critically and voice their opinions.  However, that just devolved into actual arguments with him over semantics and meaning.  It was ridiculous.  All of this would have been fine, except that we were still quizzed on the course material, I seemed to be the only person taking the reading seriously, and I wanted to go over the course material.  So a professor that is merely “interesting” isn’t good enough.

Second, some professors that are tenured – and this goes for any school/discipline/etc – are just riding out the wave.  They lose track of why they are teaching.  And sometimes they lose sight of how to structure a course.  There is one professor, in economics, who, depending on whom you ask, is either really challenging and makes you learn a lot at a fast pace or is just mean and difficult for the heck of it.  While I would love to take the class twice – once with someone else and once with him – to find out which of those two is his actual approach, I have no interest (nor much respect) in taking a class where the professor is difficult just for the heck of it.  So, again, need to read between the lines.

Finally, there are some disciplines in which I am simply weak.  I am not good at Finance.  The complexities of portfolio construction, cost of capital – that’s just hard for me.  I get the basic tools but the harder ones just fly by me and I have to work really hard.  Does that mean I take the easy professors’  Actually, no.  But I do take the ones where it’s a bit more open and loosely-structured of a course, where I can absorb information without being overloaded with assignments.

Fortunately, for Econ, I found a professor that was a good middle ground between one who is known for being relatively easy and the one who is extremely difficult.  And in general, I still do seek professors who will challenge me.  But I am now a lot more careful about what ‘challenge’ means and think about how I learn, how I want to interact with teachers, etc.

My reviews, over time, will illustrate the lessons I’ve learned in choosing professors.

Review: Professor Cheryl Shavers, Management, Leavey School of Business

This is the fourth of my reviews on the professors I’ve had while an MBA student at Santa Clara University‘s Leavey School of Business. There are lots of sites out there that provide feedback and rates – ratemyprofessor is the most notable. The SantaClaraMBA Yahoo group also has a big database of comments and lots of additional information in its message archive. But only here can I write as much as I want  🙂

I review professors from a variety of perspectives.  First, I explain the context(s) under which I took the class.  Time of year, time of day, etc.  Then I talk about the quality of the class and the professor, and finally about the professor as a person.  After all, we are trying to learn about our interactions with people, so knowing that side of a teacher is critical, too.  So these would be interactions outside the classroom, etc.

The facts

I took Professor Shaver’s class in Winter Quarter, 2008.  It was the 5:30 section, Tuesday and Thursdays, I think.  Already Winter seems like a long ways away.  The course, Management 512, is titled the ‘Social Psychology of Leadership’ but is best described generically as a leadership course.  Professor Shavers does go over the material out there, but it’s not research-based.  The book introduces some of the research concepts out there, but essentially Shavers challenges each student on how to handle certain situations.  She poses problems and asks us what to do.  The course is pretty loose, mechanically.  A bit of reading, some questionnaires, and each group has to do a presentation on a particular case.  There is also a final individual paper.  But the course is otherwise discussion-based.

My motivation for taking the course was two-fold – one practical, the other programmatic.  First, it was an requirement for the leadership concentration at the school.  So I intended to take it at some point.  Second, it was available that quarter, plain and simple.  So I took it.  However, many of the students in the class are taking it just as they are finishing up their time at Leavey, and you’ll often have students taking Capstone (the final class in the program) sitting next to you.  It’s actually a nice mix of students, though, and really breaks one free from the first year or so of requirements and core courses.

Them’s the facts. Now read on for the review.

Followup: Almaden-Quicksilver Park hiking (Mockingbird Trailhead)

One thing I forgot to mention in my earlier post on one of the Almaden-Quicksilver hiking trails is that you come upon some interesting old mining facilities along the way.  In particular, there remains the foundation of what was one of the deepest water pumping stations that helped keep the mines usable in the area.  Not much left, but kind of interesting nonetheless.
old silver mine foundation

Review: Royal Caribbean Cruise to Alaska, August-September 2008

Just this past week (August 29-September 5), my wife and I went on a 7 night cruise to Alaska on Royal Caribbean.  The cruise left from Vancouver and headed north, and we were aboard the Radiance of the Seas.  The ever-growing flickr set has the photos that my wife and I took during our trip.  Our itinerary was:

It’s kind of hard to break this review up into usable chunks but I’ll do my best.  I’ll likely followup with some separate articles about specific topics, too.


Fuel-efficient cars – not that big of a deal if you’re even close to 30mpg

So my wife and I have been looking for a more fuel efficient car.  She has taken a nursing job which will require her to drive about 150 miles one-way twice a week (and stay at location for 3-4 days).  Our current car, a 2005 Mazda 3s, gets an almost constant 27mpg per tank (note that current 3’s get slightly better mileage – the first generation 5-door 3s came only with a 4 speed automatic and the bigger 2.3 liter engine).  It’s shockingly consistent, actually.  But with cars out there that can get anywhere from 45-55mpg according to some reports, we thought it might be worthwhile to look at them considering the cost of gas (about $4.00/gallon for regular right now in this part of CA, though that’s new – it was $4.50 like 3 weeks ago).

The results of our research are actually quite interesting.  It turns out that if you’re current car gets anywhere near 30mpg and you don’t have a huge down-payment ready, you’re not going to save nearly enough.

Review: Steve Corio, Marketing, Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business

At a glance

  • Workload:  Light
  • Teaching Style:  Interactive (kind of)
  • Interest in students: High
  • Relevance to outside world:  Low

Overall Professor Rating: 2.5

Overall Course Rating: 2

Marketing 551 is a hard class for the SCU program.  Many have described it as an undergraduate-level course and I would agree, even as someone without any background in the marketing side of things.  So it’s not easy to review a course that is so basic in the concepts it covers.  In addition, the other professors that teach 551, during the year, have less than stellar reviews.

The Review

This is the latest of my reviews on the professors I’ve had while an MBA student at Santa Clara University‘s Leavey School of Business. There are lots of sites out there that provide feedback and rates – ratemyprofessor is the most notable. The SantaClaraMBA Yahoo group also has a big database of comments and lots of additional information in its message archive. That database can be a bit hard to wade through, and the comments are short and often just link to other threads, which are themselves pretty short and superficial. Only here can I write as much as I want  🙂

I review professors from a variety of perspectives.  First, I explain the context(s) under which I took the class.  Time of year, time of day, etc.  Then I talk about the quality of the class and the professor, and finally about the professor as a person.  After all, we are trying to learn about our interactions with people, so knowing that side of a teacher is critical, too.  So these would be interactions outside the classroom, etc.  I also just write whatever it is that I think is relevant or will be helpful to others.  That is my overall goal.

This is the first review I’ve done of a course I’ve just completed.  So at least its fresh :-).

The facts

I took 551 this summer 2008, Tuesday and Thursday, from 5:30-7:30.  It was the first of two classes on those evenings – 4 straight hours of class.  And it was also the first class after a day at work.  Summer classes are always hard to take, and hard to review, I think.  The classes are longer, with a break, and some faculty modify their course material for the short, 7 week term, others don’t.  But that’s when I took the course, so that’s that.

Them’s the facts. Now read on for the review.


Okay I get it – law students are evil

This is another one of those difficult posts, as it has to do with work, and with another group on campus.  As always, I preface by saying the following:

  • Administration at a school is hard
  • Dealing with students is hard
  • Students always take advantage of everything and will abuse the system until you stop them

I see and deal with this, too, and one should not read the following as a criticism without qualification. Really.  These jobs are hard, between dealing with difficult students and even more difficult faculty.  I know that.

A new building opened up on campus recently.  One of the services implemented was a self-scheduling system for the whopping 29 (or so) small study rooms in the building.  The problem is that the system is designed for highly-controlled environments or situations where groups, such as a team at a company looking to do a phone conference, need a space for a fixed amount of time and will then leave.  The software system has no limits on the length of the reservation or how many rooms a user can book simultaneously.  It even allows one user to delete the reservation of another if password-protection is not used.  Several people acknowledge the flaws in the software.

However, the group of students that abused the system most severely – and it was BAD – was students at the School of Law.  Where I work.  I swear, every time I am even in the presence of someone talking about the rooms, reservation system, the building, or even the world in general, the fact that it was law students who abused the system comes up.  The subtext is super-text.  It’s above the surface, plain and obvious.

I just don’t get it.  The way I see it is:

  • Students have always and will always find and exploit every loophole you give them.  I did it when I was a student.  Why wouldn’t they do so?  Seriously.
  • If the system has a flaw, then it’s the system that has the flaw, not the students abusing it.
  • If the law students hadn’t been the first to abuse it, then someone else would have.  But perhaps that would not have been such a clear-cut population and not as targeted by the remarks.
  • In reality, it’s probably just a handful of students abusing the system disproportionately
  • Can’t we just get over it?

I was chatting with some colleagues at another university, where they work at the business school, which is also separate from the main university as our law school is.  Their first response when I told even half of the story is that the law students were probably being blamed for all the problems.  They’ve had it happen to them all the time.  This notion that their students consider themselves ‘special’ and ‘above the law’ (no pun intended).


Review: Epson RX680 Multifunction

So about a month ago I bought an Epson RX680 multifunction.  Epson can’t quite decide where it wants its multifunction printers to go. One model has an auto-feeder, which seems really nice, but no CD/DVD printing. I needed the latter, but didn’t really need the ‘photo’ multifunction printer, but so be it, and I got the 680. It was a good deal at the time.

Let me tell you – avoid this machine. It just flat out stinks. Let me list the ways:

  • Slow start up time. I have a Canon MP830 at work which is, admittedly, about 2x the price (slightly more, actually), with a feeder, and gets going in about 2 seconds. The 680 takes a solid 7-8 seconds before it starts to feed. Printing itself is fine and fast, but start up time is slow.
  • There are two paper trays, but you can’t switch between then in mid-stream. So if you run out of paper in the back, you have to put more paper in back to keep printing. I guess the idea is that you have one type of stock in the bottom tray and another in the rear tray but it’s nice on the Canon that I can just hit a button, switch trays, and keep printing. I keep both stocked as often as I can.
  • CD/DVD printing is way off. I have to adjust by several mm in both directions to get the print centered. It worked flawlessly with Nero Cover Designer on my 4 year old Epson Photo 960.
  • Settings get stuck. I print once to CD/DVD, and it tries to print to it everytime. So I have to go in and reset all settings (even on/off doesn’t work) to get it back to regular printing. In general, this would not seem a problem, except that if you make a copy while it says CD/DVD you get it stuck in just the upper corner (where’the blank CD/DVD would be).

The printer looks cool, but it’s junk for any kind of office-like environment. And I do believe that Epson is pitching it that way, even though Epson is mostly a photo printer company. My mistake.

EduPunk?where did this come from? How did schools lose their way in the first place?

Introducing Edupunk | BlogHer

Edupunk is an interesting idea. To quote from the linked article, ‘edupunk is student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced, and underwritten by a progressive political stance.’

The example given of why Edupunk is important is that of Blackboard – we implement this technology supposedly to improve the educational experience of students, but Blackboard is a commercial product, designed to sell well, marketed by a commercial company that is watching the bottom line. And that this is – well, the implication is that this is evil.

I don’t know about this. That’s why this is ‘can’t be contained’ rather than just an ‘interesting link.’ I mean’a lot of the examples of what edupunk is – ‘Lego is edupunk. Chalk is edupunk. A bunch of kids exploring a junkyard
is edupunk. A kid dismantling a CD player to see what makes it tick is
edupunk.’ – are, in my opinion, too deviant to really be of use. Are we to all go super open-source/build it yourself/stop buying from “the man?”

I have two perspectives and experiences that are relevant. First, just because a technology is from a company doesn’t mean it’s evil. It’s only evil and manipulative of how we are able to educate students if we let it be. If we lose sight of the goal, which is to improve the learning experience of students. Personally, I am ridiculously demanding of vendors – I tell them what we want to do (based on our (progressive) ideas on improving education) and tell them that they have to meet my needs. I don’t let them tell me what I need based on their products. Yeah, it costs money, and I have to consider those costs. But the issue is about how I and my department see the technology. Not whether the technology is from a company or not.

Another issue is that, if DIY is the essence of Edupunk, then let’s look at some of the monsters that have arisen out of such efforts. You want to displace something as big as Blackboard? That’s one heckuva system one has to build, and that takes a lot of resources. And do Edupunk-heads think that managing resources for a huge project like that isn’t also dealing with capital and the issues associated with compromising educational benefit for the sake of actually being able to afford to do something’