Friday, February 29, 2008

Origins of Base Ball in Huntingdon, PA

My mother, Judy Hoffman, has sent me some of the results of her research into early base ball in our home town of Huntingdon, PA. We now know that the first base ball club in Huntingdon, known as the Social Base Ball Club, was started in the spring of 1866, according to the Huntingdon Globe of May 19 of that year:

Base Ball Club at Last.
We are pleased to state that a Base Ball Club is about being organized in this borough. About twenty five young men enrolled last Monday evening, and intend practising until the necessary materials for the club shall have been purchased. The young men enrolled are persons of some energy, and we have no doubt the "ball" thus set in motion will be kept on a perpetual roll until Old Huntingdon's sons will be able to cope with their most successful comrades of the bat in neighboring counties.

Someone in Huntingdon needs to send an email to the future so they don't forget to celebrate the 150th anniversary in 2016.

The pdf of clippings from 1866 Mom compiled has quite a few box scores from the Huntingdon papers, which wasn't always done elsewhere in the county:

--The Shirleysburg Herald does not countenance the game of base ball. It intimates that publishing the 'innings' is running to extremes. We would inform the editor that "base ball" is not "town ball," as he represents, and it bears a higher significance in being our National Game. We love anything originating in America, especially that which tends to banish idleness and fogyism among our people.

Unfortunately, the argument against covering base ball seems to have won out, because coverage in local papers drops precipitously in subsequent years.

One thing that I find striking is that they managed to organize a game against the Kickanaepawling club from Johnstown, PA by the middle of July. Johnstown is 70 miles away on the other side of the Allegheny Ridge. I imagine the team took the train through the then 12 year old Horseshoe Curve. The truly scary part is that that trip on a passenger train probably took the same amount of time 150 years ago as it does now. If you've ever taken a ride on that line, you know what I'm talking about. Anyhow, that's some pretty impressive networking. I don't even think they had Facebook back then!

View Larger Map

Mom also included a set of clippings about the Huntingdon County League championship run of the 1935 Saltillo Indians, of which my grandfather, Ed Hoffman Sr., was assistant coach. I must admit that when I started to look at these clips, I wasn't sure what the big deal was, but as you get to the championship, you can imagine the epic drama this season had become:

Game To Decide County Champion

...This is the fifth and deciding game of the series. Petersburg has won two games and Saltillo has won two. The competition is keen, and a good game of baseball is expected.

The final game was originally scheduled to be played on Wednesday, but through misunderstandings, misrepresentations, etc., it did not materialize. The Petersburg team last Wednesday went to the Alexandria field for the game, while the Saltillo team went to Woodvale. Both teams had large followings on that occasion. It is hoped the fans will overlook last week's disappointment, and turn out at the Blair field in Huntingdon tomorrow afternoon.

There are a few quotes from my grandfather, who passed away before I was born, from the Chicken-Waffle supper held in the team's honor after the championship:

Ed Hoffman, the assistant manager, declared Saltillo had put up a dangerous team for title honors the past two years. The town people showed their appreciating of a winning team by supplying the funds for new uniforms at the close of the season. "It was a nine man team," Mr. Hoffman stated, "with a good pitching staff and the right kind of material to support the pitcher."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What 'No' Means

Cathy Davidson hopes that the 990 or so people who didn't win a Digital Media and Learning Award will "try again" in the next DML competition. I know, as skeptical as I've been about this competition, that I encouraged quite a few people involved in "digital media" in primary and secondary education to give the first contest a shot, in part because I read in this "competition" an effort to reach out for innovation outside the standard circle of grant-receiving academics and non-profits. How much I was imagining that is hard to say in retrospect, in part because of this detail Kevin Prentiss flagged:

So I tried to go back to the innovation contest explanation to see how they described it. I wanted to see how much I was projecting what I value/ believe on to the words they used to describe what they were looking for. When I was reading the page, it sounded completely different from what I had in my head. It sounded like their description fit the winner pool pretty well, actually, so clearly I had just read my own meaning into what was there. Then I saw the "Updated" note at the top: February 21, 2008.

The description of what they were looking for was changed on the date they announced the winners. No wonder the description and the winners match up nicely.

So anyhow, when you look at the results, of 17 winners, by my count, eight are connected to universities (6 from Duke, USC and University of California), and six are from reasonably well established non-profits. None are directly connected to schools. Nor were any of the judges teachers or people who primarily work with kids as their job.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is exactly what you'd expect from a collaboration between academics and a large grant-making institution. It is business as usual. And that's why I for one am disappointed with the results of the contest, the list of award winners does not seem substantially different than the list of grantees from the "regular" Digital Media and Learning grant winners. I was hoping for a little more risk taking and innovation in the selection process.

So, no, I'm not going to be encouraging, say, Bud Hunt to give DML II a shot. He's got better things to do with his time.

Giving the XS Server Some Love

John Watlington:

I'm extremely pleased to announce that Martin Langhoff will be joining OLPC, taking the position of School Server Architect, starting officially around March 15th.

Martin is currently one of the lead developers of Moodle --- a FOSS Course Management System for online learning (, although he has contributed to a number of other FOSS projects. Most of his last 10 years of work is well indexed by Google. Interesting keywords to try include mod_perl, GIT, Midgard, Arch (or GNU Arch), Moodle, OSCOM, metadata, dublin core, performance, Eduforge, Elgg, e-Prints, Mahara, PostgreSQL, Debian, TWIG, Ubuntu.

He will continue to reside in New Zealand. He's fluent in English and Spanish, and can speak some Portuguese, Catalan, Italian and German.

I will continue to work on the School Server, but will increasingly focus on the hardware, as we renew our efforts to provide low power, environmentally robust servers for rural schools. It is also time to begin work on the next generation of laptop hardware.

This sounds like a good thing to me.

Also, Morgan Collett is using his blog to refresh the documentation on getting an ejabberd server running for your community of XO users, so I encourage you to give that a shot and give him feedback.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sleeping with Your Eyes Open

If you keep up with the XO development chatter, it is pretty clear that there are lots of details to untangle around power management. Nobody has tried to create a laptop which puts itself to sleep and wakes itself up transparently while you're using it before. This is a big change, and it is going to take a long time to sort out and truly maximize the potential benefits.

However, while using the XO primarily as a book reader, you do see flashes of how effective this approach can be. I was reading in bed, then put my XO down and took a nap before dinner. Five hours later, my XO is still sitting next to the bed, backlight still on, cpu asleep, battery at 93%. So, clearly the potential is there for game-changing power consumption, if they can keep the ball rolling long enough to straighten out the kinks.

Update... 20 minutes later, the battery is empty, so you might want to focus more on the "kinks" part above.

President as Organizer?


Clearly, I think, either approach could work. But what I think is interesting is the different implications for governing. If a President Clinton wants to pressure some Ohio members of congress into casting a tough vote they don't really want to cast, she has a lot of tools at her disposal for bringing them to heel. One thing she can't do, however, is generate pressure based on her local political organization in Ohio. After all, it's not her organization, it belongs to the state and local elected officials and she just borrows it from them. Obama, by contrast, may have that option. And what's more, it's a technique that can work "behind enemies lines" as it were, against Republican members of congress whose districts don't include any entrenched incumbent Democrats with their own organizations.

Will Obama in fact find a way to extend his campaign tools to the art of governing and political pressure? There's no way to tell. But he might. And much like his approach to campaign, it'd be a huge game-changer. On some level, after all, it's sort of irrelevant whether or not Obama's outsider organizing methods are actually superior. He didn't have the option of being the establishment candidate. What we know is that his organizing methods were effective enough and, at the end of the day, much more effective than the organizing methods of any previous presidential candidate.

Money in the System

There are a variety of ways to think about how the money to put inexpensive computers in the hands of teachers and students could be offset from other costs. In particular, textbook replacement is an obvious route, but it is difficult for the layperson to say how much of the cost of a textbook is printing. That is, what would the various spreadsheets look like if we still used the current corporate providers of educational content but ditched the paper. Well, here's one clue (via twie):

R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. Tuesday said it had won a seven-year, $800 million contract from McGraw-Hill's education unit.

Donnelley, a Chicago-based printing company, said the contract covers textbooks, workbooks, testing material, teacher's editions and ancillary products.

I can't see any technical reason why McGraw-Hill wouldn't equally easily be able to announce a $500 million dollar contract to subsidize XO deployment in US schools, $25 million to subsidize related software development and, I dunno, $75 million for their server infrastructure with the goal of phasing out printed curriculum materials.

I don't know much about the textbook business, but this also implies that McGraw-Hill's "2015 vision" for education still involves lots of paper. Or perhaps if $800 million reflects less paper and without ongoing conversion to digital they'd be spending $2 billion on printing.

In related news, I've been mostly using my XO as a book reader. I read My Own Kind of Freedom and a couple other long pdf reports on it and found the experience to be quite pleasant (aside from Sugar not knowing what to do with a zipped pdf). I wouldn't feel comfortable assigning an hour of reading every night on a handheld or regular laptop (it would be possible, but difficult to compel) but I think it is reasonable on an XO.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Finding a Needle in a HASTAC

from the HASTAC site:

In particular, the infrastructure of HASTAC has been supported by Duke University and the University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI). Through programs such as Information Science + Information Studies (ISIS) and the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies at Duke and UCHRI’s system-wide extensive research, HASTAC has been supported by universities of exemplary quality and unusual risk-taking vision.

Oddly enough, it turns out that, out of hundreds of entries, four of the seven "innovation awards" (the bigger ones) in the HASTAC administered and MacArthur funded Digital Media and Learning Competition went to faculty from Duke or University of California schools.

I can think of several ways it might have come out this way, but none of them reflect very well on the competition. At best they discovered the most promising work in the field was mostly already in their own institutions, which would suggest that in retrospect, casting a wide net was a waste of many people's time. You might be able to come up with other interpretations.

Keiretsu anyone?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Clarifying My Earlier Points

OK... look at the Open Learning Interplay conference page. I'm saying this is a group of people who don't care about free software, as in "free as in freedom" software. This is not, actually, a controversial statement. The honest response is "Correct, we are not free software advocates, we're 'open educational resource developers,' which is different; that's why we made up a different name." Or "Correct, we're learning science researchers, and software licensing is not our concern."

Neither one of these groups makes any pretense of valuing freedom, so it is quite obvious that when they get together, they won't be talking about software freedom. But they will be patting each other on the back about their "openness."

I don't have a beef with OER people, the only problem is that the students of the world need somebody to try to get the learning sciences to take software freedom seriously. Each missed opportunity hurts.

Your Moment of Koi Zen

From Sunday afternoon.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Rejection of Open Source by the (US) Learning Sciences Community

Kudos to Doug Holton for assembling an "Open Education Scorecard" for software written by the learning sciences community. I've written about many of these projects over the years in individual posts, but it is very helpful to get a nice summary of the state of play.

Ten years after the coining of the term "open source," long after open source software has become mainstream throughout industry, there is very little open source software for K-12 education being written by (US learning sciences) academics. And there is only one thing that will change that: if grant-making institutions change the terms of their funding.

The good news is, they could do that at any time and turn the whole community on a dime. The bad news is, there is no sign they will.

Later... Stephen questions how broadly true my generalization applies. I'm thinking US learning sciences academia here.

Poor People in Rich Countries

Paul Krugman's column and blog post from today refer to some good analysis of relative poverly levels in developed countries, apropos to last week's discussion. In particular, Tim Smeeding’s “Poor people in rich countries“ has some good stuff:

A substantial fraction of the variance in nonelderly cross-national poverty rates appears to be accounted for not by the variation in work, but by the cross-national variation in the incidence of low pay, as shown in Figure 2. Because the United States has the highest proportion of workers in relatively poorly paid jobs, it also has the highest poverty rate, even among parents who work half time or more (Smeeding, Rainwater, and Burtless 2001)...
What seems most distinctive about the American poor, especially poor American single parents, is that they work more hours than do the resident parents of other nations while also receiving less in transfer benefits than in other countries...
However, the United Kingdom made a substantial push toward reducing child poverty since 1999. In 2000-2001, the child poverty rate in the United States as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau was 15 percent. If that absolute poverty rate is converted and applied to the United Kingdom, the child poverty rate in the United Kingdom was also 15 percent in that year. Both the United States and United Kingdom economies hit a sour patch in the early 2000s. However, Britain has spent an extra 0.9 percent of GDP for low-income families with children since 1999 (Hills 2003). Nine-tenths of a percent of United States GDP is about $100 billion, which is more than the United States government now spends on the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and TANF combined. The result of this spending in Britain is that the poverty rate for United Kingdom children had fallen to 11 percent by 2003-2004, while the official United States child poverty rate was at 18 percent in 2004 according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2005, Table 3). It seems unlikely that the United States labor market by itself will generate large reductions in poverty for families with children. Single parents with young children and those with low skills will all face significant challenges earning an income that lifts them out of poverty, no matter how many hours they work.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Little History Lesson

Dean Millot:

Prior to 2002 there were two schools of thought about charter and charter scale with sufficient funding to have a recognizable voice in public discourse: 1) a bottom-up, "membership" - oriented perspective based on independent charters and local social entrepreneurs; 2) a top-down "leadership" -oriented" perspective focused on the nonprofit Charter Management Organization. (The second group, not I, coined the two terms). The proponents of the leadership model are part of the aforementioned network which includes the charter movements funders - especially in the Walton Family and Gates Foundations, and the financial intermediary New Schools Venture Fund and more specifically their program officers. After 2003, proponents of the bottom-up school and their organization were defunded, neutered, or taken over at the state level - consider Eric Premack (Charter School Development Center) and the fight over control of the state association in California, John Ayres (Leadership for Public Education) in Chicago, and Shirley Monestra (DC Charter School Resource Center) in the District of Columbia. Voila, the top-down school emerged as the only viable voice nationally or Washington for the movement. And remarkably, all those little folks who cant make it without that foundation support got very quiet about it all very fast.

I'm glad someone's willing to write this kind of stuff down in convenient blog form.

I HATE ServerPronto, an Infolink Company

Can I just mention that ServerPronto, an InfoLink Company, is my least favorite company in the world. I had to cancel my old credit card, so I've been steadily switching all the accounts that autobill. I get a notice from ServerPronto directing me to a web page where I can update credit card information, like everyone else does. Except on the ServerPronto site, it just has a link to submit a trouble ticket. So I do that, but their trouble ticket interface doesn't really submit a ticket when you hit submit, you have to click through another screen, which I always close, so my tickets don't get sumbitted. As far as I can tell, you really just need to call them, but they don't put their customer service number on the email and it is hard to find it on the site.

Friday, February 15, 2008



And lastly, not show related, but impossible not to mention: The next Wedding Present album has a title: The Steve Albini-recorded "El Rey" will be out in May.



The only reason that we believe ourselves to be innovative is that we are too lazy to go to the library and read what was done in the 1960s.

The Cat Came Back

In the first 11 years following Kitty's adoption of Jennifer and I -- we didn't know this was a long-term relationship and thus, she's just Kitty -- she enjoyed perfect health. We never even took her to a vet until she developed a lesion on her breast, which turned out to be an aggressive form of cancer. The tumor was removed but the prognosis was grim. However, the cancer has not returned in the subsequent 14 months, which is way outside the bell curve of typical results for her type of cancer.

However, shortly after her original surgery, Kitty developed a benign growth on her jaw. We didn't want to go through the trauma (for her) and expense (for us) of removing it because frankly, we expected her to be dead in a month. In the following year, it grew and spread down her neck and pushed into her mouth, making it difficult for her to eat and making the surgery required to remove the tumor increasingly difficult. Finally, we decided to try surgery. I couldn't quite bear to simply wait until Kitty couldn't eat and put her to sleep.

Or neighbor, Dr Cathy Lund, is our vet. She runs City Kitty, a kind of high-end hipster cat clinic in the Jewelry District. She and I were both unsure if this was going to work. Removing an invasive tumor from a cat's jaw and neck can't be easy. I almost called and canceled the surgery, but finally took her in Wednesday morning.

Kitty now has an two inch incision running from under her lower lip about two inches down her throat. And she's walking around the house, eating, and generally acting more confortable than she has in months. There are still about a half-dozen axes hanging over her head, but for the moment, just a remarkable display of surgical skill by Dr. Lund and resilience by Kitty.

What's Massive?


The "massive injections of financial assistance" to the poor in the United states have obviously been insufficient.


Is there some country that provides more than the U.S.? That is doubtful.

This is an illustrative graph, from Worthwhile Canadian Initiative:

As you can see, every country but Ireland spends more on social services as a percentage of GDP. This is from 2002 OECD data. If you prefer looking at colored maps, Wikipedia has one, and the 2001 data in tabular form.

Or to flesh it out in more narrative form, here's a good description of Denmark's approach:

Another important measure of overall economic health is GDP per capita, which in effect approximates the wealth generated per person per year. Here, the United States remains near the top of the developed world, at $39,732. Denmark, though also in the top fifth of the oecd, is at just $31,932. It's a significant difference, but one that reflects, in part, the fact that Americans simply work more hours, don't get as much vacation, and can't take such generous pregnancy or sick leaves. GDP per capita is also an average, pulled up by the extraordinary wealth of America's elite. Once you consider the distribution of income and material goods, it becomes apparent that typical citizens in Denmark are doing as well as--and quite possibly better than--their American counterparts. Nearly 80 percent of Danish households have access to a home computer, the second-highest proportion in the world; just 62 percent of U.S. households can make the same claim. And, while the United States scores a bit higher than Denmark on the U.N. "Human Development Index," which combines financial standard of living with measures like knowledge and life expectancy, Denmark bests the United States on the "Quality of Life" index, which the Economist Intelligence Unit devised to measure a similar combination of factors. One reason Denmark scores so well is that programs like universal health care and day care mean middle-class Danes don't carry around the same sort of anxieties that their American counterparts do. The existence of such programs also helps explain the most obvious economic difference between Denmark and the United States: America's poverty rate of 17.1 percent is the second-worst in the oecd, behind only Mexico. And Denmark's? It's 4.3 percent, tied with the Czech Republic for the best on the planet.

Or, as Aurvig-Huggenberger of the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions puts more pithily:

"The big difference between the United States and Denmark is you put an emphasis on individualism vs. the collective," she says. "We have no working poor. There are no kids living in cars with no child care. We pay high taxes for it. But in the end, how much money do you need?"

Now, it is difficult, if not impossible, to come up with an apples to apples comparison of the value of the total social services offered to low income citizens of different countries. For example, what's the relative value of Medicaid compared to Danish or Swedish public medicine? If a procedure costs twice as much in the US as in Denmark (or vice versa), have you received twice the value? How do you account for the aggregate value of the universality and consistency of universal medical care compared to a program limited to a subset of the poor? If one country gives $10,000 to one person and $0 to the second, and another country gives $6,000 to both, which is more generous?

I did come across with an OECD graph which I think tells the truth about how social welfare spending plays out in real life:

What this graph shows is that before taxes and transfers, other OECD countries have higher low-income rates than the US. After taxes and transfers, all but the UK have significantly lower low-income rates. Whatever the absolute costs of these transfers, what Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden are doing is more effective. This resonates with what I've observed traveling around Northern Europe and living in the US.

I believe the conventional wisdom: that Europe makes a greater investment in social welfare at a greater cost. If you want to know what a "massive injection of financial assistance" looks like, look at Europe. Compared to the rest of the developed world, we're experimenting with what happens when, as a country, you spend less on social services. However, if Ken can prove that wrong and demonstrate to me that a European-style welfare state is in fact cheaper than ours then well, that'll make me really happy, because it makes the argument for those programs even stronger.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The These Two Posts About the Same Event?

Andy Carvin:

The professors unanimously decided that they would no longer automatically turn over their copyright to publishers, thus allowing them or the university to publish the work online for free.

The (An?) actual motion, via Ivan Krstić:

Each Faculty member grants to the President and Fellows of Harvard College permission to make available his or her scholarly articles and to exercise the copyright in those articles. In legal terms, the permission granted by each Faculty member is a nonexclusive, irrevocable, paid-up, worldwide license to exercise any and all rights under copyright relating to each of his or her scholarly articles, in any medium, and to authorize others to do the same, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit. The policy will apply to all scholarly articles written while the person is a member of the Faculty except for any articles completed before the adoption of this policy and any articles for which the Faculty member entered into an incompatible licensing or assignment agreement before the adoption of this policy.

Now, I'm not saying Andy is wrong, I'm just saying he spins this to sound much less interesting and innovative than it actually is. I don't even think there is any agenda behind it; Andy just seems to have a reflexive establishmentarian tic. Weird.

Either that, or they are writing about two different motions.

Also, I like the "not sold for a profit" language much better than "for non-commercial use only." The former seems much narrower and clear than the latter, but IANAL.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Viv-Text Returns from Hiatus

Now that the writer's strike is over, I've resumed posting videos of my daughter to her blog. Here's a special Tuttle SVC only bonus cut of Vivian indulging her favorite pastime:

Blogging from Another Planet

Stephen provides a lengthy rebuttal to Ken DeRosa, but really, how can you argue with someone who writes this:

...the favored bromide of poverty advocates is to increase the family income of poor families and hope that the parental education part might follow, along with a bunch of associated behaviors which we believe to be associated with high-SES families...

At least that's the theory. We've been testing this theory for forty years now by providing massive injections of financial assistance to the poor. The gains in academic achievement, however, have proven to be elusive.

Um... yeah. The problem is that this hasn't been our policy, rhetorically or legislatively in a long time. Yes, a lot of people with no political power advocate for income equality, but in the real world, we've been doing the opposite of what DeRosa claims for decades.

This is the Way I Feel Reading Ed-Tech Blogs

From Tim Bray's excellent XML People:

TimBL starts to expound another of his brilliant ideas, which while technically not half bad, exhibits profound ignorance of a decade of history. Imagine a young priest sitting down with a conclave of cardinals and explaining that the Catholic message would be so much more coherent if they dropped all that rococo blessed-virgin-Mary-mother-of-God stuff. After a certain amount of this, Eve is literally shaking with fury, the volume is up, and the waiters are watching our table nervously.

I've been cutting back lately...

Seems Like Just Yesterday...

...that Chris Rapier was a black-haired freshman toddling around WRCT shooting his mouth off. Now he's all growed up and on Slashdot.

Advocacy or Congratulations?

Will anyone on this list strongly advocate for the use of free software in the learning sciences? I doubt it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Voluntary Foreclosure

Krugman explains:

Voluntary foreclosure comes when people simply walk away, either because the mortgage is “nonrecourse” — the bank can seize the house, but no more — or because they figure, probably correctly, that the bank won’t really try to pursue them.

Hal Varian (Berkeley prof and now chief economist at Google) puts it simply, and in somewhat exaggerated form, by saying that everyone will just default on their existing mortgage and move one house to the left, buying a new house for less than they save by walking away from the mortgage they have. Things don’t work that smoothly, but that gets the principle right.

And what that means is that a substantial portion of the decline in housing values that’s now in progress will eventually show up as losses, not to homeowners, but to investors. We’re talking about some significant fraction of, say, $6 trillion (a 30% decline in home values from their peak). A trillion dollars in investor losses sounds quite reasonable to me.

You're going to see a lot of this.

Idle Speculation on High Finance

It seems to me that while Buffet's offer to buy the non-shitpile obligations of the big bond insurers is completely unappealing to the bond insurers, it will make it harder to push through a government bailout of the insurers, which makes me slightly happier.

Trying Out the Nokia 810

I feel like I'm starting to run some kind of technology smuggling operation here... I've got Wendy's XO sitting in a box, waiting for her to give me mailing instructions to Australia. Yesterday a Nokia 810 Internet Tablet arrived for a Lithuanian friend who gets a developer's discount for working on some of the open source software that can be used on the device, but apparently the discount can only be used from the US, or something. Anyhow, I've temporarily got a N810 which he's agreed to let me try out a bit.

I saw one of the first 770 tablets at a party at Mako's, I guess back in 2005, and thought, "This might be usable in a few more generations." Nokia seems to be taking an extreme slow-walk to this product line, it feels like they've been doing just enough R&D to feel out the product space without going all out (a la the iPhone). The N810 gives one a polished web browsing experience, but still seems a bit rough and underdeveloped in other areas. Given the importance of web browsing, this is not a bad strategy. If nothing else, the N810 proves that the XO has enough horse power to provide an acceptable browsing experience with a Gecko-based browser.

The N810 would look a lot better if the iPhone didn't exist, in particular, the N810's browsing experience would benefit from multi-touch scrolling. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for them to overcome the technical and patent (I imagine) hurdles and implement that. It is frustrating that that the N810 and the XO share so much underlying architecture (Linux, GTK, Python) but that the XO hasn't been able to benefit more from what's been accomplished on the N810.

Finally, my mother is shopping for a small internet device. She's a Mac user, so I think she'd be happier with an iPod Touch than a N810, but I think she might like an Eee PC most of all. It would be hard to pull the trigger without spending more time with an Eee PC, though.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Brown MAT (circa 2000) in a Nutshell

It has changed some, but this is how we rolled at the end of the 20th century in the high school half of the Brown Teacher Education Program.

You've got about 30 Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT's) and 10 seniors in the Undergraduate Teacher Education Program (UTEP's), and three clinical professors, one each for English, social studies/history, and biology. You end up with 10 to 15 in each group in the humanities, 5 to 10 in bio. The MAT's have a one year (12 month) program, starting in June.

You show up, have two crash weeks or so and then do Brown Summer High School (BSHS) for a month, which is run as an enrichment program for local high school students. It is heavily subsidized, so most of the kids pay little or nothing. If anything it is a more diverse crowd than in the Providence schools because you get a few random affluent students in BSHS. There are usually a few kids from various alternative programs in the city who get credit for BSHS classes, but basically, it is enrichment and the kids who are there want to be there, so it isn't hardcore in terms of behavior, but in terms of ability, skills, etc., it is an extreme range.

Classes are held in the morning, from 8 to 12, two classes, an hour and 50 minutes each. Teachers teach one section a day, in teams of three, who work together for the month. Each team is observed throughout the month by a mentor teacher. Each year each subject has an essential question and a text, and is expected to finish with an exhibition, but other than that teach team has great flexibility in the direction the curriculum goes.

The secret sauce in the whole summer program is the mentor teachers. They've got a cadre of experienced master teachers who come back year after year, and not only participate in planning, observing and intensively debriefing BSHS classes, but they also attend and help teach methods classes.

So for students in the program, a day during the summer is something like:

  1. Get up, go to Brown.
  2. Team teach a 110 minute lesson with two other students.
  3. Debrief every frickin' thing that happened during the lesson with your team and mentor for the next 1 to 2 hours.
  4. Lunch.
  5. Methods class or educational psychology for two hours.
  6. Dinner.
  7. Planning the next day's class with your team.
  8. Homework.
  9. Crash.

One thing that is probably lost in translation here is the intensity of teaching a long class with loosely defined objectives in a team of three novices. You get a little microcosm to argue out theory and put it into practice the next morning.

So that goes on for a month, with all the MAT's and senior UTEP's together, then everyone presents their best lessons and goes away for a month. The summer is the heart of the program.

Then you spend one of the next two semesters either student teaching or taking mostly content area classes at Brown. The student teaching takes place in a variety of public and private schools in Providence and the suburbs, depending on your needs. The cooperating teachers can be a little spotty compared to the inner circle of BSHS mentors. The student teaching has a couple differences from the standard model (as I understand it). You only teach two classes a day; you're expected to observe one other class a day, from as wide a variety of classes as you can in the school and visiting others if you can; the remaining time is for planning and reflection. You also have a methods class and usually one at Brown in your subject area. You also do a "personal inquiry" project, which tends to be a kind of weak action research kind of thing. I know mine sucked.

I found the non-student-teaching semester at Brown to be useful. I filled in some gaps in my English background. I hadn't been planning my course selections at CMU and Pitt around a teaching career, so I had no Shakespeare, for example. So I had a Shakespeare course, a Comp Lit course which introduced me to Walter Benjamin, an educational philosophy class with Richard Archambault which kind of ruined me for putting up with blogoshperic stemwinding, and... a British poetry or something course of which I remember none of the content, but where I did learn to do close reading, which none of the other courses I'd had had focused on. It is helpful to just take content area courses in a different school. Brown and CMU (and Pitt) have rather different approaches.

Intended or Unintended Consequences?

Hard to say:

Though the FCAT rules in Florida schools, in a few cases in which teachers have been fired for poor performance, the district essentially ignored student test scores, prompting a district court of appeals to call for the reinstatement of those teachers. The court cited state law that requires student performance play a starring role in how teachers are evaluated.

In an ironic twist, the state's reliance on the FCAT and other standardized tests to boost student achievement and hold schools more accountable, is forcing the district to take back teachers they deemed incompetent.

Via Sherman Dorn.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Thought about Teach for America

One of the weird things about Teach for America is that it isn't like an alternative program for people who don't want to graduate school at all. I'd love to see statistics for what percentage of TFA'ers go on to get MBA's, law degrees, advanced degrees in education. I bet it is a pretty high percentage. It is just a program who don't want to get professional training before they go teach kids for three years.

Also, it is not like there aren't high quality teacher education programs at prestigious schools. There just aren't prestigious teacher education programs. As far as I know, the year to year size of the Biology teaching program at Brown is primarily bound by the number of qualified applicants the get, which is often like, FIVE. Or SEVEN.

We had a lot of sharp, ambitious interesting people in my class at Brown, but there were also a lot of people like me who had somewhat checkered academic pasts. I certainly couldn't have gotten into any other graduate program at Brown. And I never, in a million years, would have been accepted into Teach for America. I wouldn't have gotten an interview. They wouldn't have even talked to me. They'd be like, "Could you put that flyer back down without spindling it so someone worthy might still be able to use it?"

Saturday, February 09, 2008, Pretty Much Crapped Out

Yes, is pretty much toast. I need to pay some attention to getting it moved to another home. I'm afraid trying to get usb2vga completely exhausted my tolerance for figuring out bleeding edge OLPC stuff for a while...

Sugar on Ubuntu

Walter Bender:

And, working with Jani, he fixed some license issues in the Sugar packages that will allow our packages to get into the Ubuntu 8.04 release in April. If things go as expected, Ubuntu users will be able to choose at boot Sugar as a desktop. Hopefully this will attract more users and developers to Sugar.

This is an important step, I think.

None Dare Call It Tyranny, III

Dahlia (not really a bomb thrower) Lithwick:

The only thing the Three Mikes did know beyond a reasonable doubt was that the legality of water-boarding has nothing to do with international treaties, secret legal memos, acts of Congress, or their personal interpretations of same. The claim on which they were all perfectly clear is that the legality of future torture will be determined by the president and the attorney general as the occasion arises. It will not be measured by any objective standard of conduct but will turn on "the circumstances" surrounding them (in McConnell's formulation) or the value "of the information you might get" (in Mukasey's). It will be a secret decision, made using shifting, subjective standards, for which neither the torturers nor the legal decision-makers will ever be held to account.

This is not simply the theory of a unitary executive at work; this isn't the notion that the president makes the law, and acts of Congress are legal elevator music. This vision of executive power is that the law not only emanates from the president but also ebbs and flows with his hunches, hopes, and speculations, on a moment-to-moment basis. What we are hearing now from senior Bush administration officials is that if the president thinks someone looks kinda like a terrorist and the information sought from him seems kinda worth getting, it will be legal to torture him. And it's legal no matter who justified it, regardless of the supporting legal doctrine, because, well, the president just had a feeling that the information would prove valuable.

That's not an imperial presidency. That's the kind of presidency Yahweh might establish. I'm sure there's some law professor out there who can make the legal argument that executive power in wartime encompasses even the reckless guesses and impressionistic whims of a single man, as they arise. At which point, that too will become an "open question" on which "reasonable people will differ." And the dance will begin again.

None Dare Call It Tyranny, II

Charlie Pierce:

For the past couple of weeks, they've just gotten blatant about it. The administration of George W. Bush is bound by no law, bound by no precedent, bound not even by the forms of democratic self-government, let alone its actual substance, which is being used as a throw-rug in John Yoo's den these days. They will torture and the Congress can do nothing. Their powers to spy, to search, and to seize are unlimited and Congress is not remotely entitled to know even what those powers are. They can imprison without trial. They can force corporations -- and, indeed, individuals within the government -- to violate the law. They are not subject to treaties. They are not subject to oversight, nor even subpoenas. Read this swill from yesterday. Through his actions, and from the mouths of his minions, George Bush is now claiming fully the powers of a tyrant, by any reasonable definition of the term.

This is the only issue in the presidential campaign. It is the only truly existential threat to the country. Everything else -- health care, climate change, campaign finance, the deficit -- mean nothing if we fail on this fundamental issue. I don't know where the two Democratic contenders fall on this stuff -- their campaigns have been damnably vague about it -- but I know John McCain will be immeasurably worse. His anti-torture bill allowed torture. His "compromise" on judicial nominations allowed the Democrats to maintain the right to filibuster as long as they promised never to do so. This allowed Roberts and Alito to skunk through in order to deface the constitutional order, likely for the rest of my lifetime, and McCain has promised to let a theocratic loon like Sam Brownback to help him pick his own judges. He's always had a sweet tooth for executive power; his line-item veto was so nakedly unconstitutional that even William Rehnquist noticed. And, yesterday, he got up in front of the CPAC crowd that earlier had cheered every single one of the steps toward tyranny that the administration had undertaken.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Responding to Bill...


But I wanted to say something about school reform and how it is framed

People have been talking about radical school reform for a hundred years (Dewey, Holt, Illich, Papert etc.) but it never happens in a way that scales significantly.

If you're talking about radical reform, well, one reason that hasn't happened in the US is that we don't have a radical society. Radicalism in education, and the culture of schools, has tended to ebb and flow with larger cultural currents.

Now we have a new radical school reform movement (web2.0) with bloggers becoming frustrated that it's not scaling and whinging about it - why don't other teachers follow my example and do what I do?

It is also not clear how "radical" this movement is. Or even real consensus on what it is about. In particular, I think many teachers are confusing something that has genuinely transformed their classroom with something that fundamentally changes schooling or education. You can, for example, integrate lots of international collaborations via the internet into your classroom without threatening or disturbing the overall structure of school in the least.

On TFA: I don't know much about TFA first hand. I don't think it is evil or anything, but it is a pretty small band aid. From what I can tell, it manages to generate a small number of talented teachers who stick with the profession each year. The overwhelming majority don't stay in the classroom; I don't see why the ones who do wouldn't have been better off just getting a proper teaching degree in the first place. My wife sometimes mentors undergraduates in Brown's undergraduate education program, which would be pretty similar to kids doing TFA, and they all need more than a few weeks prep to be effective teachers. See also my friend Bil Johnson on the subject. TFA is no panacea.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

XO US Pilots... Rollouts?

OLPC News tips us off to the OLPC in NYC blog, documenting this:

Teaching Matters will run a collaborative pilot with the Department of Education to test One Laptop Per Child mobile computing devices in connection with our Writing Matters content in a middle school ELA classroom. The purpose of the pilot is two-fold. First, we want to determine if the OLPC device can significantly lower the cost of technology access for schools by lowering the total cost of ownership (hardware and ongoing maintenance.) Second, we will test this environment in conjunction with a curriculum designed to improve teacher practice in the teaching of writing. The curriculum has been designed to take best advantage of one to one computing environements.

They're doing a great job of updating their performance on a daily basis, so one gets a very clear sense of what they're doing and how it feels. So, yay! I'm glad their doing this. I would note, however, that it is highly unlikely that they'll end up with any kind of meaningful data about TCO or the efficacy of the XO's by April. I mean, I expect them to find that the hardware works well, and the software is more dubious and the source of most of the support issues. But the software can be reasonably expected to change a lot over the next year or so. It is too much of a moving target to really evaluate yet.

Time... that's the key element now... how long can they keep the production lines running until the software catches up with the hardware? I have no clue. When I think about real OLPC deployments in the US, here's what I hope can work out. Let's hope they don't try to do a major (i.e., citywide) rollout in the middle of the year (just because, that's always insane). Then let's also hope that nobody tries to do a major rollout by this September. I hope nobody thinks there is time for that. So, more pilots '08-'09, real deployment fall '09 makes sense to me. If the software isn't in much better shape by then, it isn't going to be ever. I just hope they can keep the ball rolling that long.

None Dare Call It Tyranny

David Kurtz at TPM:

We have now the Attorney General of the United States telling Congress that it's not against the law for the President to violate the law if his own Department of Justice says it's not.

It is as brazen a defense of the unitary executive as anything put forward by the Administration in the last seven years, and it comes from an attorney general who was supposed to be not just a more professional, but a more moderate, version of Alberto Gonzales (Thanks to Democrats like Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer for caving on the Mukasey nomination.).

President Bush has now laid down his most aggressive challenge to the very constitutional authority of Congress. It is a naked assertion of executive power. The founders would have called it tyrannical. His cards are now all on the table. This is no bluff.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Dropping Bombs Into the Bog

Dave Winer's definition of blogging (at least as it is commonly attributed according to Google) is "the unedited voice of a single person," and I guess what has always frustrated me about Miguel's blog is that it is the voice of at least three people, usually all pitching into each post. You've got Teacher Miguel, who I like and understands progressive education, Administrator Miguel, who just spews crapola and reads awful management tomes all the time, Revolutionary Miguel, who is fighting a losing battle to retain his credibility despite hanging out with Administrator Miguel all the time, plus various Geek Miguel cousins, etc. (GNU Miguel, Mac Miguel, etc), etc...

I have to wonder if it is possible to maintain any intellectual or philosophical coherence as a mid-level district administrator. I don't think it is, unless maybe if you're someone who travels with a star superintendent rather than someone who is subjected to a series of superintendents. But it is otherwise your job to assimilate a constant stream of new standards, strategies, philosophies, management revolutions, etc. and while teachers have to deal with all that crap too, it is probably worse to have to figure out how to sell each successive wave to teachers and figure out how to wedge as much stuff as you truly believe in there as you can, if you can even remember what you really believe.

I respect people who can teach and work in screwed up public schools, but I think people who work in screwed up district administrations are crazy. It just looks like a nightmare scenario to me. 100% of the bad parts of public education without the kids. Awful.

Compare AND Contrast

This post by Miguel on Schooling By Design drives me up the wall. Miguel writes:

When I started in the District 5 years ago, I walked in with the background, arranging problem-based learning academies my first two summers in the District. Unfortunately, I didn't quite consider the 8 steps outlined in Our Iceberg is Melting and the C&I folks could have cared less about UBD...which was a shock.

Now, things appear to be changing...5 years later.

See, the problem here is that I read Miguel's blog, so I also know that he hasn't been writing about UbD for the past few years, and specifically he tends to write about Bloom's (revised) Taxonomy. Bloom's Taxonomy sucks compared to the UbD Facets of Understanding, and if you can't see why, you don't understand them.

Miguel summarizes some of the main points of the beginning of the book and adds:

In reviewing this alternative approach, it's clear that you can easily seen the problem-flow of problem-based learning or the Eisenberg and Berkowitz' Big6/Super3. These approaches easily fit in to the alternative approach to developing curriculum. In fact, re-reading this re-assures me that the way curriculum is handled in schools I'm familiar with is totally a waste of time...which is why I like technology-enhanced projects.

I appreciate Miguel's transparency into his crappy reading process here. What you do not want to do in reading a book like this, which is, in reality, deeper than the other things Miguel mentions, is jump to figuring out how it justifies other stuff you already believe. This is a recipe for not learning or changing. The Big6 overlaps the Facets of Understanding, but the Big6 is less ambitious and less profound. Rushing to overlay simple ideas over complex ones does not help you to understand the more complex ones, it just reassures you that you don't have to do any more work.

Miguel concludes:

The point is to change the mind and conduct of learners, not to make them merely knowledgeable. This reminds me of Friere's point for empowering learners...we are teaching for revolution and to accomplish that, we need wild learning spaces.

Focus, Miguel, focus! I would like to think Friere and UbD are not incompatible, but part of the appeal of UbD is that it is reformist, rather than revolutionary. It is very popular with actual school administrators. Jumping to Friere is not a good sales point for UbD, and if you're really interested in revolution, I'm not sure you want UbD, and I'm not sure that the post Miguel is linking to has anything to do with any of these issues.

Overall, Miguel seems to have attended the David Warlick school of reading, where every single thing you read miraculously confirms what you already knew and talk about in your talks.

OK, so Miguel gets the booby prize for tipping me over the edge on something which bothers me in a lot of other contexts as well. We -- meaning many US K-12 educational bloggers -- tend to do a lousy job of differentiating between various schemes and strategies for school or educational reform. We just sort of wave our hands a vague morass of undifferentiated correct-sounding happy talk. Rarely do we try to determine which of these things have more or less value than any other. In that sense, we haven't even started a conversation.

Super Weird Tuesday

I would like to highlight for a second, particularly for my non-US readers, the weirdness of what is happening today with the "Super Tuesday" primaries. We've gotten very used to the idea that after the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, each a highly idiosyncratic process in its own way, the rest of the process up to the party conventions is pretty much an extended media coronation. We haven't used this whole apparatus as an ongoing democratic process since 1984, at least, which almost everyone, including me, has completely forgotten about. For all intents and purposes, almost nobody understands how the selection process is supposed to work if it is close and goes down to the wire in all 50 states.

Everyone expects the Republicans to return to form and anoint John McCain today, a process which will be encouraged by the Republicans using "winner take all" processes in big states. On the Democratic side, they're using (sometimes not very clear variants of) proportional representation, so it is much more likely to end up a rough tie between Obama and Clinton, with the majority of delegates having been decided earlier than ever. Kos has a good overall analysis of the possibilities for today's results.

Another thing to mention is that because of the way the schedule is constructed, we've quickly gone from Iowa and New Hampshire having extreme retail politics, with candidates crawling all over tiny rural states for years, everyone getting an excessive opportunity to examine each other, to a virtually nationwide primary, that, quite frankly, few people expected to even matter. These voters have had far less time to consider their choices. Anything might happen.

The upshot here is that the next six months could be very, very confusing and expose still further the atrophied state of democracy in America.

And I plan on eventually voting for Obama, mostly because it would take quite a bit for me to vote for the spouse of a former two-term president. Bill Clinton (and George W. Bush) should be allowed to run again, it is a stupid constitutional amendment, but I'm not going to start voting for presidential spouses. It is just too creepy. And it isn't a gender thing. If Geraldine Ferraro had become a two term president I wouldn't vote for her husband either (well, plus, as I recall, he was kind of mobbed up, or something).

HOWTO: Vintage Base Ball Socks

Nothing says spring is on the way like dying some wool socks!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Music is Inherently Good

I'd like Vivian to attend attend a school that values the arts and humanities, but I'd want it to be a school which believes that the purpose of the economy and commerce is to create the social capacity to make art. Not that the purpose of the arts and humanities is to create business opportunities.

That's my beef with getting too excited, as educators, about Tommy Friedman and Daniel Pink. The proper attitude while reading their books is "Ah, here's some middle-brow business gobbledygook that I can push on the suits to justify that which I have always believed and valued." I've always figured that's what people are really thinking, but it is hard to tell.

I mean, the bottom line of all this stuff is that a liberal arts education is still what you want. Whoopee!

And do we really need someone named "Sir Ken" to tell us creativity is important? That's some kind of sick parody in itself.

XO Thread

Dean Shareski wrote Are We Spoiled after receiving his XO. Some discussion followed. I enjoyed this comment from my friend Albertas, who was one of the original SchoolTool developers, but now is priced out of my budget and has built a nice new house in the suburbs for his wife and two young kids:

When I was a teenager (early ’90s), I was into computers. I went to a computer class in a youth center, learned to use a computer, play DOS games, program Basic and Pascal. I bought and studied books about programming, almost religiously read the two Russian computer magazines. But I did not own a computer, even though were not so rare in my environment: 2 out of 12 classmates of mine had a PC at home. I dreamed about having a computer I could program on. I would *kill* for something like XO.

I owned the first machine when I was a second year CS student (1998). It was a 386DX40 with 4 megs of RAM — a system that could easily be 8 years old at the time. It was a lot of fun to learn Linux on it, set up sound, X Window, dial-up networking, UUCP mail, Lithuanian fonts and keyboard, hack on little programs, write HOWTOs about what I figured out.

If the XO laptops will reach their target audience in Africa and South America, I’m sure there will be thousands of kids for whom it will be the biggest and most significant gift in their lives. A passport into our world, gateway into their future.

I also discovered that I'd missed Sylvia's essential Top Ten Checklist for G1G1 Reviews, which you should also read if you haven't yet. At some subsequent point I found this post by David Crossland, which quotes gnash (the free Flash implementation that ships with the XO) a mailing list post from developer John Gilmore that gives you some good background around the politics around Flash on the XO. It is more complicated than you think, and not for technical reasons:
Rob wrote: > Personally, many of the reported problems are all because the OLPC > project can't ship the codecs Gnash needs. I am so sick of the codec > issue I can barely talk. If the OLPC project can't ship the codecs Gnash > needs, then screw it, ship Adobe, and don't bother those of use trying > to fix the problem. I tried to talk them into adding Codec Buddy from > Fedora to solve this problem with zero success. Sorry, Rob; I know the codec software patent issue is painful bullshit that nobody should have to deal with. Since it's government-imposed bullshit, I think it falls into the "taxes" part of the unavoidable "death and taxes". Having just done front-line support for OLPC, how about a suggestion then: When there's a codec issue, put up a message, in the web page display, that says it's a codec issue. Don't just end up with a grey rectangle. If you want to be fancy, say which codec is being used that we don't support, and why we don't support it. At the moment all that most people know is, "It doesn't work." They direct their frustration at OLPC, Browse, or Gnash because that's what's in front of them. If we took the trouble to tell them, "This video won't display because the corrupt US government issued patent 123,456,797 on codec C and the company is demanding X cents per flash player, which we haven't paid", a much more informed discussion could take place. And the gnash team could tell the codec problems from the real ActionScript implementation bugs. And maybe after OLPC saw this, they would let you add a "Click here if you're European and have sane laws about software patents" link, which would install the proper codec. John PS: OLPC can't ship Adobe flash; they don't have a license to do so. The one you download from the Adobe website doesn't come with permission to share it. Maybe they could get one by negotiation; but they prefer to stand in solidarity with the free software community. PPS: The target audience of G1G1 was kids, many of whom seem to be in thrall to the brightly colored pyramid scheme. Here's an excerpt from one support ticket, after they installed Adobe Flash with help from a techie friend, but didn't figure out how to uninstall gnash: "No resolution. I am waiting and hoping you can get someone to 'add a very simple walk-through', as you have stated below. My daughter does not want to use her XO since she is unable to get into Webkins and Learning Today." I tried it; the homepage works, but clicking "New Member" leads to a Flash "Loading..." page that never goes away. If this is a Flash version issue, hey, how about Gnash putting up a message about *that* very common problem, too?

Finally, in regards to Dean's original question, I think complacency is as big an issue as being spoiled, although they kind of go together. If you don't see the need to innovate in the basic desktop paradigm of the computer, that is, if you're willing to accept that innovation in the basic operating system interface stopped around 2001, and that all subsequent innovation is going to run in a browser and use Javascript and Flash, then you don't have any motivation to put up with the considerable warts created by trying to reinvent the user experience on the fly, as OLPC finds itself doing.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Actually, We've Already Got Experimental and Control Groups

Sherman Dorn on the First, Kill All the School Boards thing:

To put it briefly, Miller falls into the standard "let's fix the governance structure" fallacy of a certain chunk of education reform wannabes. I just don't buy it. If school-board parochialism were the main problem, then we'd find Hawa'i's schools outdoing the rest of the country because of its unitary system. Or we'd find Southern states outdoing the north because many of them have mostly county systems, in contrast to Northern and Western states with tiny, fragmentary districts. Or New York City's system would be perfect today because of the elimination of the elected school boards through mayoral control. I'm sure that there are governance changes that would matter, but this one? It's bold, provocative, simple, and not very helpful.

This is the same obvious analysis one should make about the "First, Kill All the Teachers' Unions" argument.

Also, Miller's argument seems to be based on the idea that only a set of special interest groups like local control and board governance. I think the support is much broader and deeply-rooted than that.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Never Mind


You want to buy another computer? That's insane.

3rd XO Arrived

Incidentally, XO #3 arrived at my house today. I'll be shipping it off to a friend of Bill Kerr's. I was worried that a lot of the XO's that hadn't arrived by now would be really late. I'm sure some will be regardless. Anyone who thought OLPC could just ramp up a retail distribution chain from nothing (and then turn it off again) without having some major glitches along the way was smoking crack. All things considered it has gone better than it might have.

In the meantime, I'm considering my options for a school server while waiting for my active antenna. I'm not going to order anything until I have it in hand. I'm pretty much down to a Mac Mini, which would then become the main Mac in the house when my G4 PowerBook gives up the ghost, or one of these Mini-Box mini-ITX systems, which could subsequently turn into a quiet, low-power, headless MythTV box, backup server, web cache/firewall, music server, or something else.

The Mini would be $600, although it would be hard to buy it without the biggest disk possible to handle my iTunes without having to run an external drive, which is a real pain, so that's an extra $150. The Mini-Box would be $387, with a 60 gig drive and the cool front lcd display (which would be genuinely useful if used as a headless music or video server). I could do a bare bones (relatively, still having 1 gig of memory & 40 gig drive) version for $327.

So the price difference is pretty significant, but on the other hand, if I don't buy the Mini now, I'll probably be buying one later. I'll have to discuss it with Jennifer.