Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wired on iTablet

Large-screen color tablets, when they finally arrive, will rock the world. Here's Conde Nast's take for Wired Magazine.

Turn down your sound, then click here.

This Year's Freshmen

Most of this year's Freshman were born in 1991. For many of us, that seems like yesterday. To relate, we've got to be careful about our historical perspective.

For these students...

• Text has always been hyper.
• The KGB has never officially existed.
• Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream has always been a flavor choice.

The Beloit College Mindset List is a great way to jog our thinking. See this year's full list here.

American Government

Here's another brief course profile, this time from the Political Science Department.

American Government
Really US Government
Taught at 2 yr and 4 yr schools
General Education requirement
Requirement for transfer to 4 yr schools
Lecture, quizzes, papers, mid-term, final

14 chapters, 380 pages, 25 pages per chapter
13 chapters government structure, 1 policy
Brief growing in popularity (due to lower cost)
20 chapters, 650 pages, 32 pages per chapter
16 chapters structure, 4 chapters policy
Adds 7 chapters on Texas government

Both faculty and adjuncts
Most are education oriented
Often tech-phobic

Both freshman and sophomores
Both non-majors (mostly) and majors
Some had HS Civics, others didn't
Many lack college reading and writing skills
Many are politically naive
Others follow Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Charter Cities

How can a struggling countries break out of poverty if they are trapped in a system of bad rules?

Paul Romer is developing a radical new model of growth and governance, which calls for the establishment of city-scale special administrative zones.

View Paul's TED talk here, and visit his foundation's web site here.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Aplia Fall 2009 Courses

For Fall 2009, Aplia is offering an amazing 30 courses in 12 different disciplines:

Principles of Accounting
Financial Accounting
Fundamentals of Accounting
High School Accounting
Managerial Accounting

Business Communications
Business Communications

Business Law
Excerpted Cases
Legal Environment of Business

Decision Sciences
Management Information Systems
Operations Management

Developmental Reading
Developmental Reading: Mid-Level

Principles of Microeconomics
Principles of Macroeconomics
Principles of Economics
Survey of Economics
Intermediate Microeconomics
Money, Banking, and Financial Institutions
International Economics
Advanced Placement Economics

Financial Management
Preparing for Finance

Human Resources Management
Organizational Behavior
Principles of Management

Principles of Marketing

Introductory Logic

General Introductory Statistics
Introductory Business Statistics
Statistics for Psychology

Individual Income Taxation

Saturday, July 25, 2009

California Coast Photos

Waddell Creek (x2)
Moss Landing

Business Statistics

Completing our trio of statistics courses – three very different courses.

Business Statistics
• Business school requirement
• 4 yr. schools
• Comprehensive course
• Broad list of topics (metrics, probability, inference, regression, time series, decision analysis, ...)
• Real business data (relatively clean)
• Skill oriented
• Often uses Excel

• Business School / Economists / Statisticians
• May have taught this course for many years

• Business school majors (business, economics, finance, accounting, ...)
• Less fear of math
• Interested in decision making

• Breadth
• Regression, inference, hypothesis testing

General Statistics

Another in our growing collection of course profiles...

General Introductory Statistics
• General education math option
• 2 yr. & 4 yr. schools
• Many topics (data, graphs, metrics, probability, ...)
• Traditional Approach: Low-level skill & drill
• ASA: Literacy, real data, concepts, active

• Mathematicians: skills & drill
• Statisticians: conceptual (new direction)

• Variety of (non-math) majors (e.g. teachers, nurses, ...)
• Fear math
• Many need math remediation
• Don't expect to ever use statistics

Motivation (useful?)
Math remediation
Tension: Skills vs. Concepts

Behavioral Statistics

I'm beginning to collect "course profiles". These are like personas, but for courses rather than users. Here's another...

Behavioral Statistics
• Required for Psychology and Sociology majors
• Sophomore or junior year
• Attempts to enhance the "science" image
• Uses large, messy data sets
• Emphasizes hypothesis testing
• Often introduces SPSS

• Psychology or Sociology Professors
• Most would rather avoid this course
• Often push practice, practice, practice

• Social Science Majors (75% Psych)
• Fear math
• Lack math background, skills
• Would like to avoid this course...
• ... but are required to get through it

• Both profs and students want to avoid this course
• Students fear math, lack math skills
• Course pushes rigorous statistical analysis
• Profs push practice, practice, practice
• = Ugh!

Friday, July 17, 2009


Stanza is another (of many) book readers for the iPhone. In my opinion, it's a step up from Kindle for iPhone. I'm currently reading my third full novel, but haven't tried technical books. Here's my impressions.

• Huge online catalog, includes the Gutenberg collection of 25,000 free classics
• Direct purchase from the iPhone, including books from O'Reilly
• Nice (1 pixel) progress bar along the bottom
• Flips to horizontal, vertical, upside down
• Free

Just OK
• Text look, legibility, etc.
• Page turning (tap left or right edge of screen)
• Font size options

• Cover art, book jackets, title page, front matter poorly formatted and displayed
• Classics were apparently scanned, and contain frequent scanning errors
• Recent version crashes when trying to set options

Amazon purchased Lexcycle, the company that created Stanza, in late April. Perhaps this will lead to a much improved Kindle application on the iPhone. Now that iPhone 3 is out, direct purchase from Amazon for the iPhone seems likely.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Kindle for iPhone

I've read several Kindle books, both fiction and non-fiction, using the new Kindle for iPhone application. Here's my impressions:

• Beautiful icon (really)
• Purchase through Amazon, with history, recommendations, etc.
• Book previews available free of charge
• Quick, easy downloads
• WhisperSync between devices

Just OK
• Text look, legibility, etc.
• Page turning (tap left or right edge of screen)
• Font size options
• Bookmarks

• Cover art, book jacket info, title page, front matter missing or poorly presented
• Progress through the book (and the length) are very difficult to judge
• Can't (currently) purchase books from within the application
• None of the books, even classics, are free

I'll review some other iPhone book readers soon.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

IDEO Method Cards

If you care about your users, you should have a deck of IDEO Method Cards. And use them.

To get you started, there are four kinds of cards. Sort them. (These are listed in the order you should do them.)

Learn: Collect and analyze information, looking for insights and patterns.

Look: Watch users go about their daily lives, to discover what they really do and what they really need.

Ask: Let potential users contribute to the design process, in ways that really help.

Try: Test the ideas before building everything. Evaluate and adjust.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Calculus notes from the Cengage team...

Calculus Courses
• Mostly 4 year schools
• Taught in the math department
• Required course for many majors
• Multi-term sequence
• Homework, but not necessarily graded

• Tenure-track math faculty
• Consider this "their course"
• Appreciate the beauty of mathematics

• Generally successful students
• Science, pre-med, engineering, physics, computer science, math
• Varied background: 20% no HS Calculus to passed AP Calculus
• Few have interest / love for math
• Generally looking for minimum work to make the grade

Key Problems
• Instructors: Diversity of students' math backgrounds!
• Students: Motivation, time management.

Developmental Math

I spent some time with the Cengage editorial team yesterday, and want to capture some key points.

Developmental Math Courses
Mostly 2 year schools
Many small sections
Students test into the course
Usually non-credit

A few lead instructors - full time
Many adjuncts - freeway flyers

Generally struggling in school
Many non-traditional students
Resent having to take the class
Lack basic math skills
Fear Math

Key Problems
Instructors: Time
Students: Fear, motivation, math skills

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Cengage recently announced that 250+ titles will be available as online books through CafeScribe. Krugman is available for $58.67.

It seems that the goal is to allow highlighting and annotation, and sharing of these notes among a community of readers. So far 11 folks have purchased Krugman, and one person has added two brief notes.

I'm skeptical. CafeScribe requires installing the MyScribe application. This required a 56.8 Mbyte download for Macintosh. The website and application appear both slow and clunky. The application crashed the first time I launched it, and the website gave we 404 errors.

Although it's promised on the homepage, I wasn't able to find a full demo book to download. At best I found a two page document, so it's hard to tell what full texts will look like.


Friday, June 12, 2009


Scribd provides online publication of books, artwork, reports, and so forth using iPaper technology. Documents may be public or private, free or paid.

iPaper is essentially an improved version of FlashPaper. It's got a clean interface, and seems to import documents flawlessly – more than I can say for FlashPaper. Make sure you check out the button with all the little squares, used for navigation.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Spaghetti Sauce

Options are good?

Just when Barry Schwartz has us convinced that too many options cause all sorts of grief, along comes Malcolm Gladwell to tell us that we really need a few choices.

Another outstanding TED talk at...

Friday, June 5, 2009


Although the CrunchPad seems to be a crude prototype, the concept is interesting.

Would students buy a similar device along with their laptop and cell phone? Instead of their laptop?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Freedom of Choice

We often think that choice – more options – is good, but maybe not. Check out this excellent TED talk video.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz's estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

Add an option; go to jail.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wired to Care

by Dev Patnaik

Patnaik claims that companies prosper when they create widespread empathy. He's so right.

At Hewlett-Parkard we called this next bench, creating products for the person at the next workbench – someone we knew well. At Apple we aimed to create products for mere mortals, often our not-so-tech-savvy mothers.

At Aplia we ask what challenges our instructors and students are facing, and look for ways that technology might help.

In each case, the key is empathy - walking a mile in our users shoes. The book's a great read.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

White Pixels Are Free

Why the name "White Pixels"?

Think of it like this. Most visual design can be improved just by cleaning things up – by removing what's not really necessary.

Pretend that every pixel – every single little dot – on the screen costs you $1000. Every line, icon, or bit of text must justify it's existence, because they're all really expensive.

But white pixels are free!