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Education in the Cloud

I think I've always struggled with academics because of it's rigid, imposing structure.  Especially in the modern world when so much rich information is open source and living in the cloud, it only makes sense for academic institutions to truly go open source.  Still, I've definitely got this bias coloring my position on how higher education should be run.

You might imagine I'm talking about MIT OpenCourseWare, but I'm asking for much more than that.  That is just a tiny step in the right direction.  I think the fact that education still lives in an institution is a disservice to education itself.  All colleges and post-graduate colleges should open up their course-ware, resources, and personnel towards a unified educational system that is always available online.  Why should lecturers die with the lecturers?  Why should I not get to cross-reference other similar coursework?  Grading should be unified and not subject to the arbitrary discretion of a doting professor or sleepy TA.  Teaching and tutoring can be found online at any hour from any country.  So how would this scale?  In the spirit of crowd-sourcing, any student can become a potential teacher with all the web and video technology we have today. It will bring the world back to an age of master and apprenticeship.

I have a general impression that education lags behind reality.

I'm also not much of a fan of majors and prerequisites.  How many people really end up in careers that have anything to do with their majors?  How many people really stay in one career path for their whole lives?  How many people can really get by without ever having to learn anything ever again?  Majors force people to make hard choices about what direction they want to go in and lock in on it, even though I believe the point of education is to instill a good sense of life-long learning.  Why couldn't I have entered education as a life-long learner, taking any class I want for the rest of my life?  For example, there isn't a good space for this today between UW and BCC.  I'm restricted to their sub-par selection under Continuing Education (and having to wait for enrollment periods is pretty annoying too).  I'm also not interested in getting a major, minor, certificate, or really having to pay thousands of dollars for it.  Ideally, I want it when I want it and free, like Wikipedia, Youtube, chat, etc.  

My favorite quote is Mark Twain's: Don't let schooling get in the way of your education.
Well there is just one big flaw to my wishful dream.  Labs and other hands-on type of work would be impossible in the cloud.  It would be pretty tough to fund all the high-tech machinery, but it also wouldn't be impossible.  It seems that Metric Create Space is able to provide computer engineering-ish labs detached from the institution.  I don't see why there couldn't be an equivalent bio-tech lab or what-not.

BBC 100 - Score 55.5%

Competition: BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?

Instructions: Copy this into your NOTES. Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read. Tag other 'Book Nerds'

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen X
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien X
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte X
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee X
6 The Bible - 1%
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte X
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens X
Total: 7.1

11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott X
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy X
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller X
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare - 80%
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier X
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien X
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger X
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot X
Total: 7.8

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald X
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens X
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams X
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky X
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck X
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll X
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame X
Total: 7

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy X
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens X
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis X
34 Emma-Jane Austen X
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen X
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis X
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hossein
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne X
Total: 7

41 Animal Farm - George Orwell X
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown X
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery X (I read this twice because it was just that good!)
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy X
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding X
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
Total: 5

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert X
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen X
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens X
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley X
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - 50%
Total: 4.5

61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck X
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas X
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy X
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville 10% (This was the bare minimum needed to scrape by in AP English class)
Total: 3.1

71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens X
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker X
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett X
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno – Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
Total: 3

80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens X
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker X
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White X
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle X
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad X
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery X
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams X
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas X
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare X
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl X
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo X
Total: 7

Final Score: 55.5%

I think the BBC 100 needs to be revised because item 14 pretty much includes 98, making that a redundant listing.  It will be a glorious day when I finish the rest of these.


Words are amazing things.  We use words to communicate to one another, but I know I can never tell you just how I feel.  That phrase could strike deja vu in listeners across the nation!  Repeated since the dawn of modern radio through our greatest hits, therein lies the greatest tragedy known to man: two star-struck souls fated to never intertwine.  So try and try, each man and each generation, each word sung or spoken or written as a result, all of which so convincing pioneers of this not-so-new sentiment.  Maybe because I know these words will sound completely different as they play in your head, maybe like an audio book or like William Shatner’s latest hit CD, that I continue to write the same story again and again, and continue hoping that one day the words will ring on your doorbell.  No, this is all a fantasy; you will completely and utterly misunderstand me, without fail.  All of my beautifully constructed sentences and cherry-picked vocabulary will go to waste, as we continue to ignore subtleties and the obvious double-meanings between the curls of Courier New.  Oh, and do not forget the potent pauses, that silent killer, lurking behind every unspeakable thought.  For all the ubiquitous blathering that goes on, for all this time, what a waste that I still don’t get you nor you me.  Maybe the words aren’t what they used to be and the words have become like a mask.  This is the mask I wear to the parties.  This is the mask I wear to work.  This is the mask I wear when you wear your mask.  I suppose some people like to wear them, and it’s totally fine, I will enjoy the show and still write you a grand review.

Ode to the Financier

Tom was a man well in his thirties, who spent his days working for a respectable financial firm in the swanky parts of downtown.  He was a man of quiet, unassuming demeanor though cloaked smartly in the uniform of a businessman.  Everyday, punctual as clockwork, he sat on a musty bench with a magazine tucked under one arm waiting for his mass transit one-stop ticket to his cubicle.  In the thirteen minutes he allotted for the morning wait, he enjoyed the sounds of traffic, watching the mounted policeman trot their beasts about the street, and savoring the spicy flavor of toasted bagels covered in jalapeno creme cheese.  

Though many mornings were much like the last, one morning Tom could not find his favorite vendor pushing a pink and blue "Amol's Amazing Bagels" cart.  The sounds of traffic were not nearly so soothing when accompanied by the sounds of his growling gut.  As he waited impatiently for his ride, Tom suddenly noticed a child pulling herself beside him upon the old bench.  Tom had decided to ignore her as any decent city citizen would his neighbor, until the sounds of tiny instrument struck his ear.  She had begun to strum and sway on a miniature guitar.  For a moment, wavering between annoyance and pity, Tom now saw her as a poor waif who must harass strangers and perform for pennies. 

Luckily for Tom, his ride arrived five minutes earlier than usual, with a far smaller outpouring throng to push through for a decent seat.  He slid onto his favorite oily algae-green seat, which smelled dank with the musk of a thousand passengers.  As Tom positioned himself for a customary nap, he noticed the waif from the bench had slid onto the seat beside him to continue her performance.  Tom did not know what to do!  He folded his arms and tried to squish himself out of existence into the window corner.  He gave up quickly.  Unable to sleep to the chords of C, F, and A major, Tom sat for the remaining hour in a state of pure, unadulterated frustration. 

The large white letters that signaled his stop were like the gates to pearly heaven sliding to a stop.  Tom moved slowly with the masses to exit the car, following the sardine trail out of the station, then drifted into various pools of pedestrians waiting for blinking white lights.  They flooded the streets and were gathered up again by tall, majestic monuments of steel and concrete.  Tom was genuinely relieved that the poor girl had not trailed him through the crowd and continued to serenade him at his cube.  From his twenty-four stories high view, Tom had a very stressful task of helping rich men grow phenomenally richer, a job which he felt would eventually pay off likewise.  However, as soon as he had felt the relief of silence, he discovered a memo screaming of unemployment and financial demise.  Tom's sense of self worth and sense of the world came toppling about him with the words marked on the note. 

A tap of the hand pulled him from his state of shock.  A familiar street musician offered her hand. 

"We shall be very good friends now, won't we?" Tom smiled and took her hand.

writer's block: haiku edition

worlds meet
realities fade
thunder lights bonds in grey dawn

old friend
we meet again
paint the river green

red packets
content sleuth
daydreams of ruined trails

Siren Call to Action

Wipe the sweat from your brow.  Rise from the hearth and dust off those ashes upon your sleeves.  Do you see men of power, wealth and fame toiling these long hours by the flame?  No, they merely complain, bitterly, how little they have and just how little more they need.  For the cost of a single gripe, these men are heaped with the rewards of their labor.  But you, my friend, you are the very low of the low, you are the downtrodden, you are the flesh that feels the bleeding edge of envy.  Covet not, my friend, you have no where to go but to rise, reborn with your hidden strength.  Let those on their thrones fear as they have feared each sleepless night that one day their days will number.  A new power, one which has been born and burned before, will spread its wings from the dying embers.  When the fires of justice burn, perhaps, let your hidden wisdom guide your blind wrath.  How many men and how many wombs have served as stepping stones to your final end?  What pyrrhic victory when the path to justice is paved with the blood of the innocent. 

Learning Machines

I have always wondered about school as an institution.  How could there be a predetermined track to success?  Why is there a tacit mantra that goads students to high scores, that failure cannot be an option, and that warns of disaster when leaving the well-worn path?  How could success be measured as a series of marks on paper, each one like stepping stones not to be missed? 

An institution of learning seems ironic at best.  An institution implies an organization, something set and in place, yet learning is meant to be fluid and unconstrained by such bureaucracy.  Institution reeks of bureaucracy.  Perhaps, what the institution of learning teaches best is about the institution of society itself.  One of the first things to learn about this institution is that it is very pricey because something must pay for its upkeep.  Society recognizes paper on the scale of how much money it costs to create it, which serves to preserve the integrity of its value system.  Once this paper is printed, after four years of delirious learning and burning that midnight oil, society takes that sweat-soaked paper to evaluate whether the student has been minted correctly.  Yet, once the sweat has dried and bleary eyes have cleared, the tired student will find that many have succeeded by close encounters, maybe by wits alone, but certainly without the aid of the institution and its hefty bill. 

What is the difference between the perfect, factory-made graduate and the self-made one?  One first difference that I observe between the two is that the perfect student achieves his perfection meticulously by avoiding all failure.  An observation like this may seem obvious, but if the perfect student has few qualities of perfection, that leaves a very imperfectly educated person.  On the other hand, the self-made person may not be able to avoid his weaknesses or stupidly attempts to defy this known weakness.  The self-made man will fail and will fail often, whereas the perfect student will never truly know failure.  The perfect student has learned well and has achieved a state completely devoid of failure.  No one appreciates perfection, that perfectly shaped cog, like the machinery of institution. 

Now there is nothing wrong with being a perfectly shaped and necessary cog, because the perfect and happy little cog can spin along merrily for the rest of its working life.  Should a cog ever attempt to fit somewhere else, they will feel the terrifying and new sensation of failure crashing upon them.  Meanwhile, these self-made men grind against the institution feeling that friction in the form of weary discontent, and they wrestle their covers at night dreaming, or scheming, of ways to find their place in the machinery.  Others may have already resigned themselves to finding their place.  Yet when pieces are missing from the machine, only these men can fit the mold.

I have nothing to do online

Now that I got Digsby, I found that having all of my major internet time wasters centralized to one location actually makes time-wasting very efficient.  Apparently, I have become so good at wasting time, that it takes no time at all to do it.  I had thought Digsby would be the email/social network/chat client application to kill all productivity left in me, but I was wrong.  Digsby has allowed me to get back to doing a lot more work at work, and doing very little on my laptop at home.  Oh, and Digsby works fine on Windows 7.  I was just making sure it worked okay. =)

Now I just need an application to help me suck less at sleeping.

Today I was thinking about how powerful information is.  Information workers are walking, breathing embodiments of information.  I guess my greatest asset is the information I carry, which is why I am being paid at all.  I am being paid to know things.  How great is that?  Now we just need a way for Google to query everyone's minds and give us the most relevant, telepathic results for answers to life's problems.  That will be one open source challenge that no company can battle, I bet.

I am so hungry

I am absolutely famished and ravenous right now.  Right now, I want
  • a giant rack of baby back ribs dripping with bbq sauce
  • french toast covered in bacon
  • a giant bowl of udon soup with those pink things and slabs of cold cut chicken meat
  • crunchy crunch chili and nacho cheese covered tortilla chips
  • a big BLT jimmy johns sandwich
  • a couple of burritos from Chipotle--and not just the wimpy naked burrito I always get--I want to bite and chew into a thick hearty burrito or two
Tomorrow I am going to get some congee to spice up my regular diet of jello, jelly, pudding, soy milk, apple sauce, and yogurt.  I am so ready for solid foods that require chewing with teeth, even if my mouth isn't.