Jacob J. Walker's Blog

Scholarly Thoughts, Research, and Journalism for Informal Peer Review

Archive for April, 2014

If you don’t think you are being hacked; if you don’t think we are being attacked; think again.

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While I am not a conspiracy theorist, nor do I tend to be an alarmist; if you hadn’t noticed, we are in a backdoor war with Putin’s Russia.  This doesn’t mean that this is a new Cold War, and I desperately hope that it doesn’t involve the threat of nuclear weapons by the U.S. and Russia.  And, as Secretary of State John Kerry has said, the U.S. will not hesitate to use “21st century tools to hold Putin’s Russia accountable for 19th century behavior”.   What we must realize is that at this very moment, Putin is surely using 21st century tools against us.  And we are in a confluence of security issues, that makes our nation vulnerable, because each of us are vulnerable, and most of us aren’t doing what is needed to solve the problems.

So what are the confluence of issues?  First there was the Heartbleed Bug, next support ended for Windows XP, and just this week a MAJOR problem was found in Internet Explorer (the default web browser in Windows), in which the Department of Homeland Security is telling people to stop using it.  I am sure the Russian government is not sitting idle while these things are occurring.

I will be posting over the next few days how to stay safe, as these are all problems that can be solved, if we work to solve them before we let our computers get hacked by Russia.   Also, the bigger picture solution is not to start to hate the Russians, as was the case during the Cold War.  We must support the people of Russia, to help them see that they have a corrupt dictator, and while it may seem to them that he is strengthening their nation, he is not.  Russians as a whole are a proud, intelligent, and educated people (so are Ukrainians).

Note: The graphic I used came from an article in Time Magazine, that was a few years in the past, but is relevant because it shows Russia using hacking to quiet dissent amongst its citizens.

Written by Jacob Walker

April 30th, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Security

Thought of the Day: How can The Economist usually get it right in its writing, but not in its execution.

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I find it interesting that several of the magazines that I think have some of the best content, have some of the worst technical implementations.  I have written in the past about what I don’t like about the web site of Scientific American.  Today, I’m going to kvetch a little about The Economist‘s attempts at using technology.

First, I really like The Economist, and their articles about technology are usually “right on the money”.  They clearly see the trends of what is going on, yet their execution of using technology sucks.  And in fact it has gotten worse.

At one time, when you bought a subscription, you would get the print and online subscription together.  Now you can buy a print subscription, or an online subscription, or a bundle.  But, what is frustrating to me, is that if you buy the print subscription, they don’t have an upgrade option to adding a digital subscription.

Further, their Android App is pretty bad.  It takes forever to download issues, and they often fail.  Further, while it generally locks me out of the full content (which makes sense, since I don’t have a digital subscription), every so often, the app will give me everything.  So in other words, it must be able to be hacked fairly easily, since I inadvertently “hack” it every so often.

And, they don’t seem to get that much better.  They recently released an Anthology Series, which looks very interesting to me.  But it won’t work on my version of Android, and even if it is did, the reviews say that it is awful software.

But maybe this isn’t so different than the problems in education.  A college or school might have amazing computer science & ICT instructors, but still implement technology awfully, because the IT department is walled off from the educators.  But should we trust a college’s education if it can’t do technology right?  Should we trust The Economist or Scientific American to give prescient information, when they can’t get their acts together?

 

Written by Jacob Walker

April 26th, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Economics

Thought of the Day: Why Diaper Companies Might Not Want Us to Potty Train our Kids

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Yesterday, I posted an idea about how a diaper company, such as P&G could really improve the way that potty training happens, and thus potentially increase their market share.  But then I immediately started thinking about if they really want to improve potty training, even though they say they do.

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Written by Jacob Walker

April 22nd, 2014 at 11:59 am

Posted in Economics

Thought of the Day: Synergy of Potty Training and Empathy

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Potty training is one of the challenges of early childhood that every parent wants to have their child learn as soon as possible!  Often reward systems have been tried, and in my experience with 2 children, they don’t work if they are too complex, or require too much duration.   In other words, toddlers need instant feedback.  But, I am testing a new method that so far seems promising, and might be something great for Proctor and Gamble to implement if they want their market share to go back up.

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Written by Jacob Walker

April 21st, 2014 at 11:59 am

Posted in Preschool

Some More Thoughts about StudentsFirst and Michelle Rhee

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It is very clear that in the field of education, Michelle Rhee is a controversial figure.  She gained prominence as the chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools, in which she was featured in the documentary Waiting for Superman.  More recently she started the organization Students First, which is located in Sacramento and which I wrote a little about previously.

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Written by Jacob Walker

April 19th, 2014 at 11:59 am

A use for “Data Tables” in Excel

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One of the features of Excel that I really have never liked is that of “data tables”.  First, they sound too much like “tables” which is a newer feature that really is cool (yet, surprisingly my experience has shown that many otherwise knowledgeable Excel users still don’t know about them).    The other problem with the data table, is that it was really meant to be a what-if tool, but I have not found a situation yet, where I couldn’t create the equivalent of a data table through the use of mixed references within a formula, and the method of setting up a data table has always been tricky, as they use an array function.  (Yet unfortunately, they are still commonly taught, and Microsoft includes them in their advanced certification test.)

But, with my critique of the official data tables feature aside, the concept of having a table that includes numbers as headings to both the rows and columns can be quite useful at times.  And recently I ran into a very good use for this configuration, which is that I wanted to have a table to lookup some data within, but I needed to use 2 variables.  I usually solve this sort of problem by making a compound key by concatenating 2 or more fields into the first field, and then using a VLOOKUP with range_lookup set to FALSE.  But in the case of my problem today, I needed to have both variables be able to do an approximate lookup (in other words, find them within a range of values.)

So I solved this by making a group of data in the form of a data table (although I didn’t use the data table or =TABLE() function, nor did I make it an Excel table), where I had one variable as my row labels, and another set as my column labels.   I then combined an INDEX() formula with 2 MATCH() formulas within it, both of the match formulas having a match_type set to 1.

I know this probably doesn’t make sense to those who aren’t die hard Excel folks…  But, I have been working on a set of Libre Excel Tools for Data Science, which I’m putting together User Defined Formulas to make this sort of thing easier, and with my recent experience, I plan to create a User Defined Formula (UDF) that makes this easier to do.

 

Written by Jacob Walker

April 18th, 2014 at 11:59 am

Thought of the Day: Does “I’m going to give you until the count of three!” contribute to Innumeracy?

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When I was a child, my mom decided not to use the traditional “I’m going to count to 3” with me for discipline, because she was concerned that it might lead me to having a negative view towards numbers.  Instead she used “White, Yellow, Red”. And while it is quite circumstantial evidence with only a sample size of one, I grew up to love math, and not especially be into colors (despite being artistic).  Now as an educator who has studied a little bit about how the brain works, I think there is something to what my mom was thinking, and in fact this could literally be contributing to our nations problems with innumeracy and falling behind in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) from other nations.

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Written by Jacob Walker

April 17th, 2014 at 11:59 am

GASMO is Great!

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Picture of GASMO setup screenFor those who use Google Apps, but want to keep using Microsoft Office (specifically Outlook), the easiest way to do this is with Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook (GASMO).  This plugin to Outlook, makes it easy and nearly seamless to use Outlook without needing an Exchange server.

I had a hard time getting the tool at first, because even though Highlands Community Charter School has an Education account with Google, they kept wanting to sell us the feature (which they say we get with the Education account!).   So if you are having the same problem, I have placed the file where others can download it also, although it looks like they fixed the problem, as they have a download page again here.

Written by Jacob Walker

April 16th, 2014 at 11:59 am

Thought of the Day: “Our education philosophy is simple: We succeed when our students succeed.”

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Our education philosophy is simple: We succeed when our students succeed. – Heald College

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Written by Jacob Walker

April 15th, 2014 at 11:59 am

Five Fundamental Principles about Learning & Teaching Spreadsheets (Excel)

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A 3-D Icon for ExcelAs an instructor who has been teaching Microsoft Excel to students for over a decade, I have found key problems of learning to often occur with students due to the structure of curriculum.  The following five fundamental principles are those that I have found to be true for how students can best learn spreadsheets.

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Written by Jacob Walker

April 14th, 2014 at 11:59 am