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Planet Money podcast April 19, 2014

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Let me introduce you to one of my favorite new podcasts. Planet Money is a NPR show that is a lot like Freakanomics. It covers topics that affect our lives day to day and gives some insights into some aspect pf your finances you might not think immediately about.

In this week’s episode,  they discuss the automotive industry and how we have to pay more for cars because manufacturers have to retool their vehicles to meet both American and European markets.

Planet Money #533

The funniest part of this one was when the VW engineer (inadvertently) called Americans dummies for not always wearing their seat belts.


Favorite Audio Podcasts July 9, 2013

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There is so much good content online. You could read, watch and listen to anything and everything at any time. I have a hour long drive to work and from work. Rather than just listen to talking heads or bad radio, I download and listen to content as often as I can. I also listen when I work in the yard or exercise, but I still have growing library of information that seems to multiply everyday on my computer.

Here are a few of my favorites. Like I said, there are many more, so if you have one that I haven’t listed, please let me know.

lifehacker Lifehacker. They have a great web site and once a week, they release an hour long podcast that covers the latest news, hints and listener questions. If you are looking for a way to improve your life in any way, through technology or not, you definitely need to check out their website and if you like that, these guys are fun to listen to each week. I usually come away with at least two things I want to implement into my life.

pti_300PTI (Pardon The Interruption) is an ESPN show with Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser. They are classic sports journalists who can speak to any sport and do. They cover all the latest news and action highlights and bring in often touch on hidden gems. They only down side is that this is an audio recording of a TV show, so they will reference videos or images you can’t see. I wish they would make this a video podcast and it would make my other (next) list.

krys_boyd_150NPR has some amazing content. I listen to several compilation podcasts that pull in stories of my favorite categories, like Economy, Education and Technology. But my pick for this list is a little known show from an NPR station in Dallas, TX. They run two one hour interviews shows every weekday and each one is usually very interesting. The host, Chris Boyd, is one of the best interviewers, always incredibly prepared and offering thought provoking questions for a great conversation with the interviewer. This show lives up to its name, THINK! I have a couple more blog post coming from recent shows that I listened to – unfortunately, I am about 8 months behind in my listening!

mzl.xvsnrnou.170x170-75On CNN, Fareed Zakaria has a great global news coverage show called GPS, Global Public Square. It is another show converted to an audio podcast, but I find very little if anything is lost in this change. Fareed is another excellent interviewer and very well informed journalist and he can open eyes to the global situations that affect us all. I highly recommend this one if you are looking for a global perspective and how activities across the world affect Americans.

sidebar_book_drive_pDaniel Pink is a well-known author of business, management and work environment books. He started with Free Agent Nation in 2001 and his most recent book is called To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others. But I think he is best known for the best seller Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us from 2009. Pink’s podcast is call Office Hours. It is a casual interview/conversation with other authors and professionals in the field of organizational development and behaviors. While I don’t always agree with the accuracy of this assumptions, it often gives me something to think about how I operate in life and at work.

What Motivates Us At Work? April 11, 2013

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The answer is simpler than you might think… acknowledgement!

Why Technology Does Not Work August 10, 2011

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When I grew up, there were no (or very few) cell/mobile phones. The phones we used had a rotary dial that required you to work to make your call. When you wanted to do a load of wash, the machine probably only had 5 modes for small, medium and large loads. A car radio had AM and FM and maybe a cassette player (or 8-track). According to the Nielson Company, 50% of cell phones will be smartphones (versus feature phones) by the end of 2011. (I might actually switch early next year if I think I can finally justify the data plan.) So, today, these smartphone cell phones are computers that can do just about anything (take pictures, send emails, play games) and even the basic feature phones can do these things. My washing machine has 12 preset cycles, plus additional options for fluffing the wash, timed cycles, and using less water while it auto adjusts/recognizes the size of the load. My car radio has AM, FM, 6 CD slots, Sirius XM, as well inputs for Bluetooth, Auxiliary cable and even USB. (yes, I have tried all of them.)

In the US, we pride ourselves on having options. Those are a lot of options. At what point is there too many? There are over 300,000 apps in Apple’s app store. Many of those are different photography apps that can give you any number of filters, editing features and sharing tools. Think about all the ways you could share a picture with others.
1) Print it and send it via “real” mail.
2) Email it.
3) Post it to Flickr, Picasa, Snapfish, Kodak, and many many others.
4) Tweet it to TwitPic, Instagram, yFrog, and many many others.
5) Facebook, Google+, others….

I think I could go on and on. How do you decide? Which is the “best”? Is one more effective or efficient? In today’s world, we are all looking for ways to be more productive, but I have ask, how can we be more productive with all these options and new ones that come out every day?

The next part of the problem our society has with all these technology advances is that each one has more options than people can comprehend. While all these improvements are supposed improve our productivity, only a small percentage of people even 1) know about new application 2) take the time to learn about new options and 3) make it a habit enough to make them more productive. While a larger percentage of people are using these complex tools for games like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and others that don’t do much for productivity or real mental stimulation and enhancement.

I am very concerned about this cycle. There is a whole industry built around this process and the amount of real productivity gains we get is so small. One of the current financial debate topics in the US revoles around the urgency for more jobs. More than two years ago, after the financial crisis started, I wrote about a need for a new outlook on the “new economy”. But two year later, the debate still hasn’t resulted in any clarity. Do we want to create more jobs that are just creating more brain drains? Are we creating jobs solely to support our need to have more time wasters? I don’t get it.

And as I write this, I think about the reporting that is coming out of Somalia and the massive famine and drought that is destroying that area. We have a massive disconnect between what we want and what we need. Despite all the technological improvements we have made in the last 30 years, the problems the world is experiencing are no different or are growing. The only producitivity improvements we are getting are in those things where people can make lots and lots of money. If there is no money in saving lives,… our priorities are screwed up.

Yes, there a niche markets for people to “donate” there time and some money on hobbies that look into goodwill activities. But what we need is a way to funnel more of the world’s free time and talents into solving the world’s issues. Every time I run on a treadmill or workout on a stationary bike, I think about how inefficient that is. Yes, I am doing something good for my health, but I am also using electricity, when in fact there are ways that my activity could be generating electricity. And why doesn’t this change? My hypothesis is that the answer is that while the initial price of adding the generator technology is there, it isn’t as much as the money the electricity company is losing month after month.

OneNote: Notebooks, Sections, and Pages August 3, 2011

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I have been looking for a good solution to keeping my thoughts in a place where I am not always wondering what I am forgetting. Before computers, people carried around these books called day timers or planners. It was a place to see your calendar and take notes. Now, many people carry around computers and don’t want another book to carry. But the computer is too big to pull out every time you have something to jot down. So, we (the collective we here does not included me, yet, though I do sometimes count my iPod touch) have smart phones that have computer capabilities in a small form factor. But there are still obvious space/size limitations of their screens.

On my iPod, I have tried using simple list programs, but they are often too simple. I have also heard lots of people talk about EverNote and I tried it but found it too complex and it requires an Internet connection to view or update content (which I do not always have with my iPod). I also could not find an easy way to integrate it into my desktop computing. I am looking for something that is JUST RIGHT. I finally think I have found something that meets MANY of my needs. So, I want to talk a little about OneNote.

It is a Microsoft “add-on” to the Office Suite (I am using Office 2010 now at work). It is integrated into all the main products, Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. It has the same menu ribbon and common icons which are important when looking for how to do things, especially in a new product.

I am still getting used to this application, but I have some tips for anyone just starting out, especially if you want to use the full integration like I do. Essentially, this application allows you to maintain notebooks with sections (tabs across the top) and pages within each section. OneNote lets you attach multimedia to your heart’s connect, such pictures, videos, and other types of documents (like Word or Excel). As someone who likes to manage documents at the file level (in Windows Explorer or command prompt), I find it very interesting that Microsoft only creates a different directory using the notebook’s name. Within that directory, there is always a file named “Open Notebook.onetoc2” as well as a “.one” file for each section. If you want to rename a Notebook, expect to have to do some manually file management. This is reason number one that using this product requires some forethought.

When using OneNote, it is very easy to add content. You can send messages from Outlook with the dedicate icon in the ribbon (but the section must exist first). OneNote also installs a “Printer” that allows you to send a file to a notebook through the print function in ANY application. And with Windows 7 at least, you can drag and drop anything (text, images, etc) right into a notebook/page.

So, what do you do if you don’t have access to your computer all the time? (for now, let’s skip the smartphone). Microsoft recently rolled their versions of the Office Suite products into online applications. Much like the Google Docs that came out first, you can now manage Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote files through a web browser. The way this works is that you need a MS Live account, which includes Hotmail, MSN, Xbox, or Live mail accounts online. You can store all kinds of files in these accounts and now have access to these files from anywhere you have a computer. This service is called “SkyDrive”.

You can sync (or share) your desktop OneNote notebooks through your SkyDrive. Once this is done, the desktop application will try to Sync these files to the web, although I have found it to be buggy and that is required some time to manually sync at times. However, once you have these files are “in the cloud” you can manage your notebooks through the web applications which have the same interface as the desktop application. Unfortunately, the web apps do not have all the same functionality, but the core functionality appears to be there to create, update and format your notebooks. This will work well for me, when I am working on my OS X laptop that does not have the Microsoft Office application installed.

Now, what about when you don’t have a computer in front of you. If you have an iPhone or Windows Phone (6.5 or 7), you can also utilize the OneNote app on the go. As of August 1, 2011, there was still no release of Android or Blackberry versions, but I am sure someone is working on it. However, for those of you on Android or Blackberry don’t fret too badly, because you are not missing much. I can only speak to the iOS version, and I can say for certainly it is lacking majorly. I would certainly hope the Window Phone version is much better.

You can not Create notebooks in the iOS version. You can also not create Sections. This is the second reason you need to plan ahad before you start getting too far into using this application. I suggest setting up your primary structure tree (notebooks and sections) on your desktop application before using the iOS app too much. You can go back and add sections using the desktop or web apps if you need to do so. You can create Pages, however you have to be very careful, since it is very easy to create something that is not categorized and therefore goes into an “Unfiled” notebook that you will need to sort out later in the web or desktop version. The icon at the bottom right (page with folded corner and plus sign) only creates “unfiled” items. I recommend using the large plus sign within the section you want to create the new pages. And this is the only real functionality too. You can view recently viewed items and you can search items. If you created a page or when editing an existing page, you can add check boxes or bulleted lists. You can also pull in photo from your iOS photo album, but that is it. Oh, you can delete a page, too. I was happy to find that the syncing back to SkyDrive seems to work flawlessly and quickly.

All in all, I am hoping that the version 1.2 of the iOS app that I downloaded has some much needed improvements coming. But I think it is a good start and I am going to continue to try using it. I will allow me to access my notes from different places without too much planning. Of course, if I continue to have problems with the desktop application syncing to SkyDrive and I have to manually do this, I will walk-away and look for something else again. If you have any experience with OneNote, EverNote or something else, please add your thoughts to this post. Thanks for readiing.

Johnny Lee demos Wii Remote hacks @TED in 2008 March 3, 2011

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I really need to try this out! Too cool!

Technology has come a long way and even more in just the three years since this presentation. We are going from keyboards, to touch screens, to… it won’t be long before our kids wonder why we have to touch anything to use our computers and phones.

Movie Review: Waiting for Superman January 7, 2011

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I saw this one a couple of months ago, but it was powerful and something I think every parent and educator should be watching. Here is the Netflix synopsis, followed by my thoughts. It is going to get long because it is an important topic and I thought the different responses from two different perspectives are important and valid.

Dynamic documentarian Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) weaves together the stories of students, families, educators and reformers to shed light on the failing public school system and its consequences on the future of the United States. In this Sundance Audience Award winner for Best Documentary, Guggenheim deftly examines the options to improve public education and provide America’s teachers and students with the help they need.

This topic is controversial right now. There is lots of talk about how the American educational system is falling behind the rest of the world. I think our democracy is maturing and showing its age. We have a variety of problems and no vision and way to fix them. The Educational System is broken in many ways and we are stuck in a rut. I think this documentary reveals some honest truths. Many people have their heads in the sand and until everyone recognizes that we are not rising to the occasion, we can not move forward.

I purchased Geoffery Canada’s book “Whatever It Takes”. I hope to have a review of that story in the next month or so. Please let me know if you read it.

Working for an educational organization I get an interesting insight into the topic. Here is the response from our Communications Dept:

Waiting for Superman talking points
Waiting for Superman tells a moving story about injustice in public education—a story that those in the education community have been telling for decades. But we must remember that this film is ultimately just entertainment. It lacks a policy analysis based in fact and research.
• While great charter schools do exist, not every school can be a charter, and not all charter schools outperform traditional public schools. Only one in five charter schools outperform traditional public schools; two in five charter schools perform worse than traditional public schools.
• While there are struggling public schools, there are also successful public schools across the country that are helping children from all backgrounds achieve success in them, unheralded teachers, administrators and school board members are doing extraordinary things every day. Unfortunately this film doesn’t feature those schools or educators. Given that the vast majority of American students attend traditional public schools, change in a single classroom, school or even district is not enough. We need replicable, scalable, effective ways to provide all children the education that they need. No solution is as scalable, accessible or accountable as a great neighborhood school.
• Detroit’s Carstens Elementary School, where nearly 100% of students are African-American and over 90% receive free or reduced-price lunch, is a beacon of light for its surrounding community. Back in 1997, “student achievement was zero,” but today students thrive. 100% of 3rd and 4th graders met state standards in math in 2010. They also outperformed the state as a whole in reading. And in addition, students here are good citizens: Despite being disadvantaged themselves, they know the importance of donating to relief efforts in Haiti or to a canned food fundraiser. The staff work hard to meet all the needs of students, and they pride themselves on their shared leadership. (Learn more at http://www.learningfirst.org/motor-city-miracle)
• While this film focuses only on the challenges of urban schools, we must not forget that there are significant challenges in educating rural and suburban students as well. In addition, there are challenges in working with certain student groups who were completely ignored in this file, such as high needs populations or students with disabilities. Yet as in urban areas, there are great schools overcoming those challenges every day.
• While it is important to examine the challenges that exist in public education, which this film does, we must not merely criticize the system. Rather we must use them to begin a dialogue about how to ensure that every student succeeds.
• We commend the film’s call to action on behalf of public schools, opening an important conversation, and beginning a dialogue about the changes that need to take place, including but not limited to community involvement.
• Public schools are charged with offering ALL students an opportunity for education. Not everyone can win a lottery or meet the admission and financial criteria of a private or parochial school, but public schools provide all students an opportunity for success.
• The message that “charters are good” and “teachers unions are bad” oversimplifies complicated issues and threatens to thwart thoughtful discussions about education reform. This creates an “us versus them” mentality and promotes division rather than collaboration.
o While unions can become more accountable and transparent, they have historically played leading roles in improving public education.
o Most nations with strong public education systems have strong teachers unions.
• Members of the education community are at the forefront of developing and implementing ways to improve teacher quality. No one wants teachers in the classrooms who don’t belong there. We need to deal with the reality that teachers need tools, resources and support to do their jobs well.
• School boards recognize that it takes leadership that shifts expectations to higher levels. It takes dramatic changes in instruction to produce new results. It takes new forms of professional development to help teachers develop skills to reach struggling learners. It takes assessment systems that help us diagnose and improve, rather than rank and penalize. It takes greater levels of parent and community engagement that creates a support system for every child.
• While money will not solve all problems, (because the problems are more systemic than the resources of any school) most successful schools receive significant financial support from private sources.
• Waiting for Superman implies that standardized testing is a reasonable way to assess student progress. However we need much more authentic assessment to know if schools are doing well and to help them improve.

And then this, I thought was a very interested and different viewpoint from the school district superintendent where we live… just a few miles from my work.
Short Version:
· “Waiting for Superman,” a documentary on public education created by the producer of “An Inconvenient Truth,” has come to metro Detroit. http://www.waitingforsuperman.com/
· In Huron Valley Schools, we are not waiting for Superman.
· Our GRAD 100 program is focused on graduating 100% of our students with the skills necessary to be successful in the global work place.
· Although the film does not acknowledge the extra effort required to educate all students, especially at-risk students or students with disabilities, in Huron Valley we have initiated support systems to ensure every student is successful.
· Our hard work is paying off. District MEAP and MME scores exceed the state average and, with few exceptions, meet or exceed the Oakland County averages.
· Improving public education is a shared responsibility between parents, teachers, administrators, Board members and other elected officials, as well as community members to ensure every child succeeds.
· We will continue our “super” efforts to provide Huron Valley students the relevance, rigor and relationships necessary to develop into well-educated, successful adults. We greatly appreciate the super support of our parents and our community for joining with us as we stay focused on this critical mission.

TED: Changing the Education Paradigm December 29, 2010

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Education First… students first… after watching this video, be sure to go to Students First . Org and sign up.

TED: How to teach? Learn from Mistakes. December 29, 2010

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I am always looking for new ways to figure out how to help Alec learn, so I thought this was insightful talk.

Work Anywhere! Amen! November 30, 2010

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