Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Workshops, and the role of computer training

I just finished a series of workshops with the group I work with at Montclair (PRISM) in conjunction with PCCC. It was very interesting to be working on a joint effort with these groups. I have been working for the PRISM project (and it's previous incarnation, CETERMS) since the summer after my sophomore year. They are a grant funded project that provides teachers with training in the math/science areas. It is actually the place I got my start teaching. Someone was scheduled to do a technology workshop and called out sick. I had been assisting the workshop coordinator, so I knew the workshop, and I gave the workshop that day. I've been doing technology training for them ever since. I've done Internet concepts (and for 1999, that was pretty forward thinking!), PowerPoint, data analysis with Excel...and a few more workshops. I also used to do their Web site (coding the Web pages by hand, instead of with a tool like Dreamweaver). Who knew I would turn out to be good at teaching and would turn it in to my career? I certainly did not, and I don't think the woman who runs the program foresaw this either.

Anyway, this summer presented a very interesting challenge. The theme that was chosen for PCCC and PRISM to work together was Forensic Science. I didn't really see any way I fit in to this, but eventually as I worked to liaise between the two groups, I noticed they had fingerprinting database software. Basically, it would be able to look up people's fingerprints and match them to a local criminal database that you create. It's not FBI, but it's good enough for training and small police forces. When I suggested including that, I was told that they did not have anyone qualified to teach it, and that people were waiting to go to training for the software.

The beauty of studying computers is that once you have a feel for computer interfaces, new technologies are easier to learn. I sat down in front of this program (by a company named Sirchie called ComparaPrint- though oddly enough, I can't find it on their Web site so I can link) and picked it up very quickly, and I have never seen a program quite like this one. I managed to learn how to use the software very quickly because I understand the concepts of databases. This software is basically a big database package, and since I understand databases, all the natural operations (adding a record, performing a query, generating a report) came pretty naturally. Likewise, back in my undergraduate days, I remember teaching myself a programming language called Perl by doing what we called "hacking around". I just sat down, played with the language, and learned the key things in one night. That was easy for me since I learned programming concepts at Montclair (as opposed to receiving training in a specific programming language). Montclair did an excellent job of using the programming language as a vehicle to teach programming concepts.

In most college programs, there is a mix of theoretical concepts and facts, and the general feeling I get is that if you teach students how to learn about their field, it will treat them well going forward. It reminds me of the old saying "give a man a fish, and you will satisfy his hunger...but teach a man to fish, they will eat for a lifetime". Most careers require evolution, and computers perhaps more so, so this is why I do not think it is critical if my students remember what tab the spell check button is on. My personal opinion is that Information Technology should not be a degree where you simply learn where to click around, but a career where you learn how to learn new technologies. This is why, even though I teach software in my application software training classes, I do tend to ask some short answer questions about how the tool can be used.

I had a lot of fun, and I do not think that many people (some of whom may be reading this now, since I did give out this blog address) realized exactly how short of a time I was using that tool.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

How Old Spice just changed social networking

I was watching the baseball All-Star game the other night and there was an Old Spice commercial that came on. This commercial featured a good looking guy basically telling women that their man doesn't look like him, but they could smell like him. It was really over the top and goofy.

So yeah...amusing enough, I chuckled. Were this the end of it, that would have been enough, but the commercial producers arranged for their Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit sites to allow people to tweet/post questions. The actor, a former NFL hopeful named Isaiah Mustafa, then posted an incredible amount of responses...all of which were done in a towel in his bathroom as if he had just left the shower. Some of them were to famous people, and some to random people. Some of the celebrities he tweeted videos to include Demi Moore, George Stephanopoulis, Ellen Degeneres, Rose McGowan, Ashton Kutcher, Ryan Seacrest, Starbucks, and perhaps most famously, Alyssa Milano. Alyssa Milano went back and forth, with the actor posting four videos flirting with her, and even sending her flowers in real life, and prompting Alyssa Milano to post a video response in a towel of her own (view the entire set of videos here).

Apparently, he responded with over 180 videos over a few days, and had 5.9 million video views in the first day, according to this article. The amazing part is that this is getting news coverage, and celebrities are basically giving Old Spice free advertising. This is just one of the most amazing Internet buzzes I have seen. Sadly, the videos seem to be done for now according to the Twitter feed, but I wouldn't be shocked if Old Spice brought them back based on the popularity.

The question for Old Spice is always "will this improve sales" and the answer isn't clear at this point. If nothing else, they generated buzz!

The actor, based on this, was signed to a deal with NBC, who hope to capitalize on his buzz and create a sitcom.

Check out the tweeted video responses here:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Amazon Free Shipping For College Students

Let's say you wanted to purchase one of Kevin Mitnick's books on Amazon. At the moment, "The Art of Intrusion" costs $11.53. If you were to purchase this, you would need to get to $25 worth of purchase to get free Super Saver shipping (5-9 days), or you could pay $3.99 for shipping for this item and get it in 3-5 days.

Amazon also has available a program called Amazon Prime. This will let you get free shipping on most orders, but most of the time to sign up for Amazon Prime costs money ($79 a year).

At the moment, it is free to students. Sadly, for PCCC students, it requires a .edu email address, which our College does not provide. However, for readers who are at other colleges, you may be able to take advantage of this. Amazon does reserve the right to ask you to provide "proof" that you are a college student.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Bill Gates joke

I was reading an article by one on my favorite writers, Joe Posnanski, about Lebron Jame and where he will end up.  As a Knicks fan, I am hoping the answer is New York, but we shall see. The article had a joke that was similar to one I had heard about Bill Gates.  It went something like this:

Bill Gates dies and meets with St. Peter in purgatory.  St. Peter says to him "Bill, you did a lot of good in this world, but you are also responsible for Windows ME and Windows Vista.  I'm going to let you decide whether you want to go to heaven or hell, we will take a tour of each."

St. Peter takes Bill on a tour of heaven, and there are angels playing harps, things like that.  Bill thinks this is nice, but is curious as to what hell looks like.  St. Peter takes Bill to hell, and the devil himself takes Bill on the tour.  There are warm, sandy beaches with beautiful women on the beaches, people drinking and playing volleyball, warm sunshine and laughter. 

The devil returned Bill to St. Peter and gave Bill the choice between heaven and hell, and Bill chose hell. 

A week later St. Peter decided to check in on Bill and see how he was doing.  When he got there Bill was chained to a wall, being burned and tortured by demons.  St. Peter asked "How's everything going?". 

Bill said "This is nothing like the hell I visited last week!  What happened to the hell I visited with the beaches and sunshine??"

"That was a demo," replied St. Peter. 

(I've also seen the ending "that was just the screen saver")