Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Wikipedia, Sigh

Mark Bernstein:

Yesterday, ArbCom announced its preliminary decision. A panel of fourteen arbitrators – at least 11 of whom are men – decided to give GamerGate everything they’d wished for. All of the Five Horsemen are sanctioned; most will be excluded not only from “Gamergate broadly construed” but from anything in Wikipedia touching on “gender or sexuality, broadly construed.”

By my informal count, every feminist active in the area is to be sanctioned. This takes care of social justice warriors with a vengeance — not only do the GamerGaters get to rewrite their own page (and Zoe Quinn’s, Brianna Wu’s, Anita Sarkeesian’s, etc.); feminists are to be purged en bloc from the encyclopedia. Liberals are the new Scientologists as far as Arbcom is concerned.

The optics are terrible: of the 14 arbitrators in the case, between 11 and 13 are men.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Some All-Nude Zoopraxography While You Wait for Spring Training

Rob Edelman:

Of the 781 images in Animal Locomotion, 16 relate to baseball. Their plate numbers are 273–288. The first is labeled “Base-ball; pitching.” Five are “Base-ball; batting.” One is “Base-ball; batting (low ball).” One is “Base-ball; catching.” Five are “Base-ball; catching and throwing.” One is “Base-ball; throwing.” One is: “Base-ball; running and picking up ball.” The final plate is “Base-ball; error.”

All the models are identified only by three different numbers: 25, 26, and 30. According to the prospectus, the “greater number of [human models] engaged in walking, running, jumping, and other athletic games are students or graduates of The University of Pennsylvania—young men aged from eighteen to twenty-four—each one of whom has a well-earned record in the particular feat selected for illustration.” With this in mind, the most likely “baseball models” are in fact ballplayers. The most noteworthy is Thomas Love Latta (1865–1961), a catcher and captain of the varsity nine. The other two are Robert Edward Glendinning (1867–1936) and Morris Hacker Jr. (1866–1947).

Sunday, January 18, 2015

STEM It Up, Kids!

John Skylar:

"I hate science." In six years of graduate school, this has to be the phrase I’ve heard most frequently from my colleagues.

People who have dedicated their lives to science.

People who made a decision when they were about 16 years old to focus on science, who went through four years of undergrad and an average 6 years of graduate school, and 4-10 more years of training.

People who’ve spent every moment since 2000 entirely dedicated to making new facts using the scientific process.

"I hate science." Why this instead of, "I love science?"

Frankly, everything about the career, the business of science, is constructed to impoverish and disenfranchise young scientists, delaying the maturation of their careers beyond practicality.

You'd think it would be a bit easier to find science teachers among all the people bailing out of academic science careers.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Culinary Incubator

If Providence doesn't have one of these, we totally should:

Dash is 550 sq ft commercial kitchen available for hire on an hourly or monthly basis. Our commissary style kitchen allows food creative's, bakers, chefs, butchers, cart owners, or anyone involved in a food start-up, to prep their wares in a well appointed new kitchen. Dash is also available for cooking classes, recipe development, pop-up and tasting events, or private dinner parties.

In 2015, good food is one of our greatest economic development assets.

Also, tasty!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Open Source SIS Market

I've been working on, essentially, a 10 year report on SchoolTool's development. This is one of the things which has been deterring me from blogging lately.

Anyhow, I did some retrospective research on the open source SIS "market," over the past decade, and it is somewhat of a cautionary tale for open source advocates.

Through the whole decade, there was a family of PHP open source SIS's in a more or less "complete" form, being used at some schools in America and elsewhere. We took a fairly brief look at the code early on, and it was pretty obviously terrible PHP. Like most early PHP, the code wasn't much more than a bunch of templates turning a database into web pages. If the templates are badly written, there is just not much to redeem the application. My snap judgement was that, if you wanted a good PHP SIS, to do anything other than start over from scratch would be a massive waste of time.

Instead, over the past decade, a succession of people have tried to redeem this codebase, forking the project in multiple directions, some investing non-trivial amounts of time and money in the process. I haven't followed these projects closely, spent any more time looking at how they work internally or externally. All I know is that none of them have become as popular as they should have. None of them turned into the Moodle of SIS's and seized a dominant position, even though they had every opportunity to. One reason I'm not naming names here is that I don't have any specific argument about quality other than something is wrong because they should have taken over six years ago but didn't.

This is a case of first mover advantage in open source, not just in terms of the application category, but language. Creating a new PHP SIS from scratch with superior architecture to the existing family would not be very hard. Gaining mindshare vs. the existing player is a big hurdle. "I'm going to solve the problems in the package you already know about" is an easier sell than "Move to this thing I've started from scratch, and by the way, I'm just some guy on the internet." Even starting a new SIS on a newer or perhaps more sophisticated language or platform is a clearer sell. This is an area (open source SIS) where the small profit isn't worth a lot of investment, marketing and advertising.

Essentially, there is a serious path dependency in a given product category based on the quality of the first mover. If latecomers are trying to redeem a faulty core instead of building on a solid foundation, the whole sector suffers.

One branch of this tree (at least) has become a successful commercial product.

One big challenger emerged from India: Fedena. It is based on Ruby on Rails and generally was built from scratch using modern web technologies. It might have swept the field except the prospect of making real money overcame whatever the initial rationale for open sourcing the project was, and they forked away and essentially abandoned the open source version two years ago from their ongoing commercial development. So that's that. As SIS's move more and more to cloud hosting, there's even less reason to try to market one as open source.

Shout out to Open Admin for Schools, a Perl-based open source SIS Les Richardson has maintained for schools in Alberta for probably 15 years or so, from which he probably makes some nice side income while saving schools in the region time and money.

Many, many people have written local SIS's and offered them as open source. This is a lovely idea but so far never works. It is just too much time to generalize, complete, package and market (even minimally) the product, particularly if all those tricky steps are seen as a side-light to a project which is probably the side-light of your actual job. They multiply the time involved by whole numbers, not fractions.

Finally, what about SchoolTool? Why didn't we take over 5 years ago, especially with relatively generous and consistent philanthropic backing? Well, I'll go into that more in the full report, and to be sure, I wish we had moved more quickly. But yes, we helped to clog up the market too. There were several years there where we seemed just around the corner from being "done" and having a "complete" SIS product, and with some influential backing, maybe we'd be a bad product to compete with.

Really just got to "complete" a year or two ago. And then growth can be very slow if you're talking school by school. You've only got one buying cycle a year, and people are waiting around to see if it works for other schools around them, so... it takes a while. We're starting to grow in earnest now. Hopefully it is not too late.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Or Maybe They'll Hold Their Breath Until They Turn Blue

Joe Weisenthal:

It's getting harder and harder for employers to fill jobs. In this environment, the balance of power should begin to tip more toward workers.

They could do that, or they could demand that the Fed increase interest rates to slow overall economic growth, so that they don't have to hire people at higher wages. It is the official policy of the nation, after all.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Common Core Carrot

One fundamental problem with Obama-era reform is the premise that one should not be eligible to receive a high school diploma until one proves he or she is ready for college. That was never the presumption before. You would not ask a student who barely squeaked out of high school with a C- GPA and the minimum number of credits where they were going to college, as if they had just punched their ticket to higher education.

On the other hand, I think the Common Core ELA/Literacy standards are decent at determining if a student possesses college level "literacy," that is, as such things go. It seems to me to be a decent template for a new SAT, but woefully inadequate as the basis of a K-12 curriculum.

Having said that, it makes way more sense to say "OK, if you pass this Common Core test you can go to community college for free," than it does to say "You must pass this college-readiness test to graduate from high school at all.

So... we'll see if the Common Core becomes part of the debate on the issue.