Educational obstacles
buzzed, B&W
Back when I was substitute teaching, I spent a lot of time reading and thinking about advantage and education.

The GF and I have spent a lot of time talking about this as well, most recently with conversations sparked by the NY Times Top Colleges That Enroll Rich, Middle Class and Poor. The NY Times has been doing a fair amount of coverage on how college is becoming more and more aristocratic, and this quote resonated with me, since it was referring to the study I had read almost ten years ago:

For one thing, the low-income students who enroll there tend to graduate. For another, research has shown that the individual college attended by upper-middle-class students has little effect on their eventual earnings, after controlling for their SAT scores. But it does seem to matter for poor students. They get something extra from a top college.

The GF pointed out a rad op-ed response today, Why Poor Students Struggle. Nothing particularly new here - students struggle because they don't have the support networks, don't know the "rules" of academia, the conventions of the middle-class and higher, etc. These ideas were touched on in Kirn's 2005 essay Lost in the Meritocracy, which apparently he leveraged into a full length memoir, published in 2009. While Kirn focuses on the fact that our system of education is really just a game, and if you jump through the hoops the right way, you can be a "success" without actually learning anything, he does spend a fair amount of time talking about how being the poor kid from rural Minnesota made the elite world of Princeton an eyeopener.

Today's editorial really focuses on this part, that even though you can play the game and make it into a great school, you likely won't fit in, and to continue on that track has a large cost:

To stay four years and graduate, students have to come to terms with the unspoken transaction: exchanging your old world for a new world, one that doesn’t seem to value where you came from. The transition is not just about getting a degree and making more money. If that was all socioeconomics signified, it would not be such a strong predictor of everything from SAT scores and parenting practices to health and longevity.

I laud the NY Times for highlighting these challenges, but the fact that the issues Kirn faced back when he was a student still exist today suggest that there is still a huge issue that needs to be addressed. I'm not sure what the answer is . . . a co-worker mentioned a study or experiment he had heard of, where they grouped the at-risk college students together, and had provided them with a support network (perhaps similar to Upward Bound?).

Ice buckets, non-profits, and more donations . . .
buzzed, B&W
So, this ice bucket challenge seems to be doing pretty well.

While I'm personally sick of seeding all my various social media feeds overwhelmed with links and videos, commentary, likes, rants, etc, I find the nature of the campaign fascinating. What made this campaign take off? There were previous campaigns of a similar nature, mainly around jumping in cold water (with some horrible stories around it), but they didn't take off - maybe finding bodies of water large enough to jump in prevented those from going uber-viral?

Does the campaign really raise awareness? My gut says no, as I still don't know anything about Lou Gehrig's disease, why it's an issue, etc, and I'm not more likely to donate to the ALSA now. In fact, it's done the opposite, and I'm donating to alternate causes . . .

The fund raising aspect of it is crazy - the press release from August 19th states that the ALS Association had raised almost $23 million, while the press release from the 20th has them clocking in at $31.5 million - that's $8.5 million in a day. Apparently 184,317 donors gave between the press releases . . . that's an average of around $47 dollars a donor. An amazing windfall for an organization that raised $1.9 million in the same time period (July 29 to August 20th) last year. I want to see the timeline graph of donations over time once this is all over and their 990 filing should be interesting this year and next (it'll be interesting to see how their percentage of dollars spent on the cause vs. administration changes).

Who knows what this organization will do with that - I don't know of many entities profit or non-profit, that could gracefully handle a $30 million influx. Do you try to spend the cash and get it out quickly, hoping to benefit folks directly? Set up an endowment, so you can guarantee funding for years to come? Dump it all into research? Bring in more staff? So many opportunities, and could definitely make for an interesting case study for non-profits in the future. To their credit, they're riding this wave well, providing nice updates, press releases, etc.

The tech side of this is interesting too - I wonder if their website ever crashed under the load? It's definitely sluggish now, and attempts to access their donation page (hosted by blackbaud) are sluggish too. There's probably some interesting stories about scaling up to handle this gigantic influx of traffic.

It's also a surprisingly polarizing campaign. I like Charlie Sheen's take on it, but other's think he's ruined it. I tend to support it since I believe most non-profits need cash more than publicity. There's also people criticizing the amount of water that's been used, or just seem negative about it all in general. I mean, come on? You're lamenting the fact that it takes a viral campaign to raise awareness around ALS or that people are doing this publicly, maybe even to boost their own egos? I have expect to see such stories under click-bait links like "You'll never believe . . . " or "Top 5 reasons for . . . ". Let's celebrate the successes for this non-profit and the incredible fundraising they've managed to do.

Even if I'm over seeing the videos, apparently people love seeing their friends and celebrities dump water on their heads, and this thing still has legs. Crazy.

In any case, Kelly tagged me for the challenge around 23 hours ago. I'm not going to have time to dump ice water on myself (and I really don't enjoy being in photos, much less video), so I've gone ahead and donated. Kelly donated to the Micheal J. Fox Foundation instead of the ALSA, and I followed suit since she's the one who tagged me.

The part I like best about this campaign is that it's motivating folks to donate (over 600,000 according to today's press release), and I realize my donating sort of ends the chain, which is why I'm blogging about this, as well as issuing my own challenge of a sort. For anyone who does the ice bucket challenge in the future and lets me know, I'll donate $100 to a cause of their choice.

The "fine print" for this offer is that you have to have done the challenge after I posted this, let me know (tag, message, comment, whatever), and let me know to which organization you'd like me to donate. I'd prefer organizations that can process online payments and that are local as opposed to national, but those aren't hard requirements. I'll do this for up to 4 folks.

Hopefully this does a little bit to keep the spirit of giving to causes you're passionate about alive . . .

Global Finals 2014
buzzed, B&W
Ugh, I never finished this post - uploading the draft with where it's at . . . definitely more thoughts and such, but not going to get them down anytime soon . . .

I'm a little surprised I haven't blogged about a Global Finals since 2009.

In any case, I made my now annual pilgrimage to Knoxville for Global Finals. This year was a little different, as while in the past I'd worked with the Events Team, this year I was a lead. I think in the past, I've generally taken a leadership role, trying to help out with events wherever I could, but this year I officially had the title (and black polo to go with it). This also meant being involved with the planning up front.

So, highlights and lowlights from this year:

  • Remote, diverse teams are hard - as most folks do these days, we leveraged email and conference calls, but this one had a number of obstacles

    • Non-profits tend to be bad at tech - we had a lot of information that was in so many different places, and everyone had different versions. Crazy that this isn't centralized better, wiki, database, Sharepoint, etc.

    • Conference calls without agendas - this one drove me batty. People would schedule calls to "touch base." What the hell? Who does that anymore? If you need to sync, at least let people know what your questions are. If you've got a properly functioning team, the sync shouldn't be necessary, and can likely be done in email. If it's something you need to talk out, let people know what you want to address and talk out ahead of time so they can have the proper materials and information. Part of this is exacerbated by the fact that I'm definitely an engineer, and appreciate that kind of structure, while many of the other folks are the touchy-feely types who want to explore and discuss.

    • Poor communication - I'm in a weird spot as a volunteer for a non-profit who's contracted with the University of Knoxville for the event, and need to interface with both groups. UTK is in a weird spot that I'm not the one who's paying their bills, plus it's in their interest to have more control of the events (so they can make themselves more involved, thus making it harder for DI to hold Globals elsewhere). I'm not a fan of politics, tend to be pretty candid, and dealing with these groups drives me batty at times.

  • Too much last minute stuff - Di's got a lot of folks who just want to add things, thinking it's no big deal. And they're right, from their perspective, it's no big deal, as they don't see how much scrambling everyone else is doing to make their requests happen. Heck, one of my co-leads was sending out emails at 2AM to people for when/where/what they needed to be doing for the Closing Ceremony in 17 hours or so. I'm pretty sure not everyone had smartphones/email, so there were people who didn't make it.

  • Losing my cool - I tend to see myself as the level headed, voice of reason, but lack of sleep and exhaustion made me get terse. Most notably, while setting up for the Welcome Ceremony, when two folks said they needed a different path to the stage, I threw my pen and got very, very frustrated. It was around 10 PM, and our team of 8 or so had just spend the last two hours taping the arena floor to accommodate the parade and seating, and while we could adapt and change, it was clear everyone was frazzled, and I didn't think I could really ask people to redo things. We eventually sorted it out, and I didn't have to ask our team to do too much more, but not one of my finer moments. There were also a few times I got aggitated with one of our team members, when really, he was doing his best, and his inability to do what I was asking was most likely due to my ask not being clear enough to start with.

  • Not pulling my weight - I definitely felt like my co-leads, Cathy and Diana, definitely pulled more than their fair share. I get that I'm the new guy, but like I said, Cathy was sending emails at 2 AM, that I didn't even know needed to be sent, while I was out socializing with our team, having a beer (or two).

  • Closing Celebration - I love the closing. I've managed the queue before teams take the stage for their medals, and it's so great to see the excitement and emotion of teams as they come up to the stage. This year seemed to start off slow, but there was one amazing team, where the elementary age boy is running up, stopping in front of me, and I can seem him full-out crying and weeping because he's so excited and overwhelmed.

Crossing the lines
buzzed, B&W
There's been plenty of studies that show mixed socioeconomic schools lead to better outcomes.

The Tale of Two Schools is an interesting piece in the New York Times Magazine that took a brief look at a program called Classroom Connections, which connected students from two schools that are six miles apart: University Heights (in one of the poorest congressional districts in the US) and Fieldston (private school with a tuition of $43k a year). It sounds like a rad program, getting these two extremes to see each others lives.

As a magazine piece, they went for big pictures and a few quotes from the students. It's hard to tell how much the students have internalized the lessons they're learning, and how much is just lip service from the individual quotations, but still an interesting read. One of the Fieldston students said:

I consider my family to be in the upper middle class. We are well off and can afford the luxury of vacations, a private education, an apartment in New York City. However, many of my friends are much wealthier than I am, and sometimes this makes me feel inadequate and somewhat ashamed. But I recognize the unbelievable privilege I have, too, and my financial situation only motivates me to use it wisely.

Just one more sign that the "middle-class" is such a vague term. This article from USNews talks about how "the current definition of middle class is so broad that it excludes only the top 1 or 2 percent and the bottom 10 or 20 percent." And of course, no one thinks they're rich - "In the latest Mendelsohn Affluent Barometer, most of the $250,000-plus earners say they’re only in the top 20 percent. In fact, as a group, they’re in the top 3 percent and higher."

Positive Thinking
buzzed, B&W
When I was younger, I was pretty cynical, and thought things like meditation, introspection, etc were kind of silly.  Somewhere along the line, probably while I was an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader in Montana and helping training our incoming members, I saw (and eventually internalized) the value of being open to these types of activities.

I'm still far from a touchy-feely kind of guy, but I try to be more open to the emotional aspects of things now.

In any case, while running tonight, a cyclist was riding towards me, and while she passed yelled "Oh my god, I love your dedication!"  (We'll ignore the fact that my running is sporadic at best, and I actually prefer running at night.) 

Definitely put a little smile on my face and gave me a bit of a boost while running to have that random stranger cheer me on. Thanks!

Do all banks suck as much as USBank does?
buzzed, B&W

Not a fan of my bank these days.  I'm a pretty low maintenance customer with USBank, having had my various accounts for I'd guess 10 to 15 years.  I'm not a huge customer, but do have a checking, savings, and brokerage account with them.

I rarely require service, and I think the only teller/banker transactions I've done over past 5 years or so have been when they've changed their account types, and I need to switch accounts to avoid a fee or what not. 

I had a notably crappy experience in June and July of 2013, when I was switching account types. I went to the 4000 Kietzke location in Reno, since they had Saturday hours - I ended up having to wait 90+ minutes just to talk with a banker (the branch manager, who in her defense was pretty solid)  to say I'd like to switch from my current account type to a different account type.  Not sure why the teller couldn't have done that for me in 5 minutes, but whatever. 

The banker suggested I talk with one of their investment folks since I had a fair amount of cash sitting around idle.  I know this isn't a great thing, and at a minimum should throw it into an MMA or CD or something, but I just can't make myself care, especially with interest rates being so low these days.  Let's say best case I'm looking at maybe $200 a year, but that savings to me was effectively lost due to the incompetence of the investment consultant/banker at the USBank branch (4000 Kietzke).  The guy's not there, so I scheduled an appointment for another Saturday morning.  Anyway, I end up going back, waiting, and the guy never shows (even though the bank had called and confirmed the appointment earlier in the week).  The guy calls me later in the week, leaving me a voicemail, asking if I still want to explore options.  I don't recall there being any apology, and since my bank visits had basically costed me two Saturday mornings (which to me are worth significantly more than $200), I just dropped it. (Cross posted to Yelp)

Tonight, I had another bad experience, trying to use their mobile app to sign up for what they call DepositPont - same thing all the other major banks are doing where you can take a picture of a check to deposit it.  I click on the "deposit" button in the app, which then presents me with three survey style questions (how often I plant to use it, how much I plan to deposit, and I forgot the third question).  I answered all three, and am then presented with a message that states "Looks like you didn't complete your DepositPont enrollment.  Please call 800-US-BANKS (872-2657) to finish signing up."

I then call, only to find out that I can't be helped unless I call back again tomorrow morning.  The customer service rep sounded half awake, and I had to ask many specific questions about what times I could call to get the issue resolved, how to best navigate the menu system to make sure my call went to the right place, etc.

While I was reluctant to sign up for the service, thinking a $0.50 charge for each deposit seemed a little silly, figured that was the price of convenience.  At this point, DepositPoint is anything but convenient, and I assume that by the time I navigate the phone support another time, try to re-activate DepositPont on my phone, this attempt at "convenience" will have actually cost me close to an hour of my time.

At a minimum, the error message when signing up via the phone should state what hours support is available.  For a truly positive experience, the sign up should not dump the user out saying the enrollment did not complete and providing no information as to why.

Blah.  Crappy software, and hard to recommend at this point. 

I'll likely stick with USBank, since it's too much hassle to switch banks (direct deposit and a bill pay system that seems to work), but I can't recommend it.

Poor surveys . . .
buzzed, B&W
So, what option should I have picked?


Does no one proofread?

Hint: My Civic was a 2000 . . .

New phones, new operating systems, new bugs . . .
buzzed, B&W
So, I upgraded to an iPhone 5S last Friday, as my 4S had a broken screen, and I'd been eligible for a while.

I backed up my 4S to my laptop, and went to restore it.  I was surprised when the apps didn't restore, but apparently you have to select the option to Transfer Purchases for apps to backup and restore. 

In any case, I eventually backed up my apps from the old phone, and then restored them to the new phone.  Unfortunately, I had already downloaded and installed some apps, so all the apps were installed to the new phone, but no icon placement restored.  So, I spent an hour or so restoring my icons.  Then, I went to work trying to log back into the various apps, transfer settings, etc.

One of the games I played didn't allow for logins, but instead relies upon the device serial.  The account transfer procedure for this was to download another one of the company's games, which had logins, which would update the setting for all the related games.  I'm guessing this would set some local database value on my phone and update their servers with my device serial.  So, I went to download the new game, clicking on the install button in the App Store.  I watched the progress icon rotate and the app install, then clicked on the "open" button, but nothing happened.  I tried clicking this button a few more times, and nothing happened, so I ended up powering down and powering up.

When I powered the phone back on, most of the app icons that I had spent the previous hour setting their locations were gone.  I was confused, so I went to the App Store again, trying to reinstall one of the apps that was no longer there.  The App Store was showing the "Open" button for the apps, implying that they were already installed.  I then noticed this in my email:

"Your Apple ID, [redacted], was just used to download Racing Live™ from the App Store on a computer or device that had not previously been associated with that Apple ID."

So, something had obviously gone wrong.  Next, I went and checked the Settings > General> Usage, and the picture is what I saw.  When I clicked on one of the apps without a name, the name showed as "(null)".  I don't know much about the backend for iOS, objective C, or the databases that are used, but apparently something had gotten corrupted.

Blah.  I don't know what I did that triggered this bug, but it wasn't good.  The only way for me to recover was to reset the 5S to defaults and re-restore the original 4S backup.  The one advantage to this process was that since the apps were backed up to iTunes, they all restored . . . but far from the seamless upgrade process Apple talks about . .  I'm going to guess I probably spent 8 hours or so dealing with the various issues of backing up, restoring, backing up the apps, restoring the apps, organizing the icons, researching if there was a way to repair the app database, and then having to do it all over again . . . blah.

Bike to Work Week
buzzed, B&W
This week happens to be Bike to Work Week, and the Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance is organizing as usual. My commute is just under 10 miles, and takes me about 45 minutes.

Rides this week:

So, what have I found out so far?

  • Riding like this makes me hungry - at 600 calories or so, that's probably 20% to 25% of my daily calories, so obviously my body will want to make this up

  • My IT band is not anywhere near as sore as I thought it would be. While it's a little sore, and I find myself stretching throughout the day. Still, not as bad as it's been before.

  • I like the time - the morning ride wakes me up, and the ride home gives me plenty of time to process my day.

  • I miss NPR - I value my situational awareness, so no headphones while riding. This means I'm missing out on my daily NPR (and news in general) fix.

  • I'm surprised by how consistent my times are. My Tuesday commute in was on my single-speed, which is maybe two-thirds the weight of the grocery getter, and is running 25 mm (vs. 38 mm) tires, so a lot less rolling resistance. The Monday ride in was 47:39, while Tuesday's was 44:47. My time home today was 49:02, and the headwind made me think I'd have been a lot slower - there were times I was dropping to the third ring up front.

  • Gears are good. While the single-speed is great for the short, quick jaunts to the bar or coffee shop, it was pretty brutal for the commute.

  • I heart data. I've been tracking the rides in both Strava and in RunKeeper. I like Strava as it's got "segments" (mainly short hills and things) on there where it times you and lets you race against the Strava community at large. I'm using RunKeeper as it integrates with Fleetly. I haven't been working out as much as I used to, but having the cardio data with the workout data is kind of nice. In any case, part of me wants to get a Bluetooth heartrate monitor and cycling power meter (which I'm not a serious enough cyclist to justify). Still, it's amazing how much data we can get these days.

No commuting tomorrow as I have to be at UNR at 1 . . . Friday's a bit dicey too as the weather may be iffy, but I do plan on volunteering at the Bike Project's Pancake Feed . . .

Back from the dead?
buzzed, B&W
Crazy . . . I got a Dell Mini 9 back in 2008, and like many owners, the SSD appeared to have died on me, showing as 0 MB in the BIOS. I did a bit of research, but realized that the replacement drives (PATA mini PCIe) were a very niche product, and pretty expensive, so didn't bother getting a replacement.

Recently, I've been fiddling with getting it booting off USB to use as a wireless print server. It was working for a while, but after a power cycle, it stopped working. Apparently there are some driver issues with the Broadcom wireless card in there and booting off a Live USB drive (with a persistent partition).

While I was researching this, I came across a blog post titled How to revive your Dell Mini 9 failed Mini PCIe SSD disk, which implied that many of the SSDs that shipped with the earlier Minis had firmware issues. I figured I'd try the instructions out (basically creating a DOS boot disk with the utility), and lo and behold, the firmware on the drive updated.

I've got the Ubuntu installer running on it now . . . should be a lot faster than the thumb drive it was running off before, and hopefully easier to configure the wireless.

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