Monthly Archives: August 2013

College 2.0, but…

Innovation Hub (an NPR radio program) did a program called “College 2.0” in June 2013. There is some interesting conversation and thankfully some discussion of intrinsic motivation being the primary problem and a focus on learning vs teaching. I believe guest Eric Mazur (Harvard physics prof) says something to the effect of intrinsic motivation being sucked out of us so it is the job of college profs to help restore/rekindle it.

“The key point is not so much ‘how do we make teaching as glossy as possible?’ No. It’s ‘how do we create a desire to learn?’”


Interestingly, much was made of the concept of better ways of doing lectures — keeping them active using CRS/PRS (Classroom Response Systems/Personalized Response Systems) to give multiple-choice questions throughout and having students then discuss with neighbors and then come back to the big group to discuss, etc. Students are (more) engaged, and prof can quickly tell if the class is following based on histogram results. Of course this has been done since at least the mid-90s. UMass-Amherst had Intro Physics like this way back then
And the Socratic method, since … Socrates?
So the MOOCs of today obviously can’t do this since it’s one-way. You can only eavesdrop on a pre-recorded example of it. And rewind. Still, that is pretty amazing… being able to “get a $250,000 education for free”.

So… some interesting discussion, but limited vision of where things are going in the next 5/10/15 years. The panelists acknowledged change is happening, but… no real big picture vision.


1) Seth Godin on the show recently too. Some good food for thought.

“College for most people is just high school, but with more binge drinking and debt … What you pay for now, at a four-year institution, is not the courses — because you can get the courses for free. What you pay for is proof that you finished.”

“I think talent is way over-rated.”
“The fear of being wrong.”
“Value is created by being weird.”


2) Interesting (1984) rant about curriculum, Socratic method, conversation and diversity of faculty (relates to what value brick-and-mortar campuses will still have in MOOC age)

A response

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Stack Rank at Microsoft

new to me. “…postmortems of his lackluster 13-year reign have pointed to stack ranking—which, to be entirely fair, predated him—as both a cause and a symptom of the corporation’s decline.” ” After I left Microsoft, I was left with lingering paranoia for months, always wondering about the agendas of those around me, skeptical that what I was being told was the real story.”

SEE ALSO: Free to Learn (Peter Gray 2013) references to evaluation

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the way i roll…

Since I do work for a variety of clients, I am of course happy to adopt whatever systems and styles they use if it is important to them. But I do have my personal preferences if I have the choice:

FONT: Verdana, 8 pt (I believe I have used Geneva on Mac in the past)
The basic point is that there is no need to use monospaced fonts with the languages I typically use: PHP/MySQL/Javascript


INDENT STYLE: Allman Style

if (foo) 

1 – AVOID: blocks of code that don’t fit in one small screen
2 – AVOID: nested IFs or LOOP. In almost every situation it can much more readably coded with a max depth of 1

And generally if you have more than about 1 level of {}’s in your method/function then you are probably failing at #1 above.

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gmail’s new compose window – summer 2013

gmail/google recently made it non-optional to use the new compose window. The best solution I’ve seen so far is simply to revert to the “plain HTML” version — Even the larger version is annoying. Not just the size/overlay aspect to it. But also the abstracting-away of the email addresses, instead showing “Erik Haugsjaa X”

So someone let me know when gmail stops forcing the new compose window. Until then i am using the ?ui=html version. it’s great! I might switch to yahoo or fastmail at this rate! The main advantage to gmail vs the others at the time was superior spam filtering. perhaps that’s still a problem elsewhere?

This is a bit of an aside, but I also currently prefer fastmail’s handling of business accounts for email vs. google apps. It’s an added expense, but might be worth it vs IT time depending on your needs.

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Simple Solar PV math

First: assumptions:

1. Price of grid electricity. In MA, it can be kinda expensive. And let’s assume you are doing GREEN UP or NEW ENGLAND WIND FUND to make you 100% renewables. Let’s guesstimate $0.20. That might be low, but whatever. It will also increase at rate of inflation. say 3%.

2. Price of solar panels installed. I think it might be even cheaper than this now, but let’s say it’s $4000/KW peak (what the panels are rated)

3. Output of said panels in an average year. I believe in New England, assuming maybe 90% sun (maybe w/ microinverters) and roughly S facing, you can assume 1200 KWh/KW peak. So if you install 1KW of panels, you will get 1200 KWh/year.

4. Borrowing money at 5% for 30 years.

5. Panels will pretty much work with no maintenance (maybe a new inverter) for 30 years. They have a warranty nearly that long. And likely for many more. But we can ignore that.

Second: Calculation:

$4000 at 5% fixed 30 years is $258/year
… EXCEL: = 12 * PMT(5/1200,30*12,4000)

And so that is

$258 / 1200 KW = $0.215/KWh for that electricity in year one

Thirdly: what does that mean exactly?

We are basically at “GRID PARITY” pricing with PVs here in New England from day zero and year one, and…
1. Even assuming NO TAX BREAKS, which there actually are.
2. And things will just keep getting better and better as inflation happens. Even assuming you get costs of living increases at your job which help you keep pace with the equally increasing fossil fuel prices, with the solar, you are locked in to 2013 prices for 30 (or more) years!

Forthly: Comments and Conclusion

One complication is that people move every 7 years I think I’ve heard. So the problem there is that the buyer of your solarized home will not understand all of this wonderful stuff, and solar PVs will be even cheaper 7 years from now, so when you sell, you won’t be able to sell the house for much more with the panels. Maybe a tiny bit. Maybe. And you will still have your extra 5% loan for the PVs to pay off.

Which is why I still think it might be most conservative to do GREEN UP (or similar) or NEW ENGLAND WIND FUND and get your 100% renewables that way.

And buy a Prius when it is time to buy a new car. And eat less meat. These 2 have been shown (calculations again!) to contribute as much to reducing CO2 as solar panels do. And for many situations they also cost less! And they aren’t attached to the house, so they can come with you when you move.

On the other hand, there are many reasons to do things in life besides money. Most of us live in houses, buy cars, and build kitchens… all far fancier than we NEED. So then… so WHAT if you add some fancy solar panels to the house. If you can afford it, then go for it. They are cool. And the kids will learn a lot from it.

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Book Review: A Pattern Language

Green building people… if you are designing/building or buying a house, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this book — A Pattern Language (1977, Christopher Alexander et al.). I also recommend it to those thinking deeply about education, Sudbury Valley School/Democratic Free Schools.

I have skimmed and skipped around, and I am sure there is much hooey to ignore (I certainly can’t speak to the CONSTRUCTION section), but there is MUCH to consider deeply and carefully. Fail to consider the points made at your own risk!!! Lots of food for thought. Don’t worry about the perhaps seemingly haphazard organization of the sections. Just enjoy the sections for themselves.

And I am speaking from personal experience. When I ponder what makes one house or apartment I have lived in comfortable, I inevitably find a number of “patterns” which pretty clearly make sense of it. Here I list some of my favorite sections from the BUILDINGS major section, numbered as they are in the 1200 page book:

(76) House For A Small Family
(In this pattern I think he is wrong… the 2-part house is a typical ranch/rambler/split-level. It’s a question of age. When the kids are little, they love having their beds/room very near the parents.)

(109) Long Thin House (Popular in many green architects designs… I actually don’t like this very much!)
(110) Main Entrance, (130) Entrance Room
(111) Half-Hidden Garden (explains the success of some patios I have experienced)
(112) Entrance Transition, (113) Car Connection
(117) Sheltering Roof
(125) Stair Seats
(127) Intimacy Gradient
(128) Indoor Sunlight (duh but still some interesting comments)
(131) The Flow Through Rooms (Which contains one of my personal favorites — loops “Even better, is the case where these is a loop”. This one is almost NEVER followed in many new smaller houses I look at… but it is fundamental to why many older homes are comfortable. And kids love them! And you will too if you live in New England or somewhere cold!)
(132) Short Passages (as opposed to bowling-alley hallways like one house we looked at recently)
(133) Staircase as a Stage (both our current and last house made good use of this pattern)
(137) Children’s Realm
(142) Sequence of Sitting Spaces
(143) Bed Cluster (partly why the boys’ bedroom is so comfortable)
(154) Teenager’s Cottage (the basement!)
(159) Light on two sides of every room (Nice, but also better ignored in some cases I have found)
(167) Six-foot balcony (porch size rule-of-thumb)
(181) The Fire (“There is no substitute for fire.” Don’t let your dream of a superinsulated passive house let you forget this!)
(190) Ceiling Height Variety (In spades with our current house. love it!)
(192) Windows Overlooking Life (“Rooms without a view are prisons for the people who have to stay in them.”) (SVS related as well)
(196) Corner Doors (yes!)
(197) Thick Walls (Your superinsulated home will have that!)
(203) Child Caves
(242) Front Door Bench, (243) Sitting Wall


(Also, an aside. This book is also very interesting to me because of the way it links to different sections within each of the individual writeups. It is hypertext written before it’s time! It would work well as a PDF E-Book with links to the different sections.)


Also… Communities:
(9) Scattered Work (Discussing the problem of separation of work from homes)
(12) Community of 7000 (That democratic voices are lost when towns/cities get too big)
(14) Identifiable Neighborhood (We live in one now)
(18) Network of Learning (hmmm… sounds like a Sudbury Valley School (SVS) ad)
(26) Life cycle
(31-33) Promenade, Shopping Street, Nightlife, (58) Carnival
(40) Old people everywhere

And more SVS-related themes:
(57) Children in the City
(64) Pools and Streams
(68) Connected Play
(72) Local Sports
(73) Adventure Playground
(80) Self-governing workshops and offices
(84) Teen-age Society
(85) Shopfront Schools

Also… Transportation:
(11) Local Transport Areas (A diatribe on cars), (20) Mini-buses (half taxi, half bus), (22) Nine percent parking
(51) Green Streets (good for driveways)

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Choosing a summer camp

Here are some lessons learned in picking summer camps.  I am talking about a specific type, since that is all I have experience with so far — namely a general day-camp for kids who are (at the moment) 6 and 9.  Not overnight.  Not specialized.  We’ve experienced 4 different camps so far and talked with friends about 3 others.  So here goes:

1. Established.  Organized.  Not a mess.   This is pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how disorganized some town-run camps can be.  Not all.  Just noting my experience.  Go with the camp which has been around for 40 years and with the same director and very low counselor and CIT turnover.

2. Must have buildings.  This will rule out great awesome camps but so be it.  When the thunderstorms are threatening, you don’t want camp cancelled or for kids to be bussed off-site.  Trust me.  You do not.  It leads to complications and disorganization and inability of parents to work.

3. Kids must want to go.  Duh!  If after a day or 2 your kid doesn’t want to go to camp, then AS WITH SCHOOL, this should be a clear sign to you that it’s time to choose a new camp.    Sorry, just stating the obvious… but camp and school should be FUN!  We are not warehousing kids here!

4. Freedom.  I am sorry, but kids like to be FREE.  I know you might not believe it, but yes, even 4 and 5 year olds like to play completely on their own (with adults available if need be but not leading or structuring things).   So it might be hard to find, but trust me… the more options and freedom at camp the better.

5. Cost vs Driving.  Remember your driving.  So if there is an awesome (but expensive) camp closer by, it is probably worth it.  Not even including your time, driving costs roughly $0.50 per mile overall.   Including your time, well… forget about it!  Choose the closer camp!  Skip the school bus options and pre- and after- care options if you can.  Try hard!

6. Mix it up.  Ideally do a few different camps.  Even with the best camp in the world available, it’s fun to mix it up.

7. Mix up the ages!  The best camps allow total age mixing.  Grouping by activities not ages.    Never heard of that!?  I assure you they exist!   Like <a href=””>Sudbury Valley School</a>

8. Pools trump ponds and lakes.  Either are great especially with slides and diving boards.  But note: Here in New England, ponds often get too hot and/or yucky.  Some lakes can be too cold.   If you have a sailor ask about realistic wind.  Marco Polo works better in a pool.

9. Chill on the camp swim lessons.  Some camps the kids have loved lessons.  Others not.  I am not sure how to evaluate, but I am telling you… some are better than others!  Probably the ones that are FUNNER and FREER get better reviews.  That’s my basic take from talking with my kids.

10. Culture.  Not sure how to evaluate this, except it seems the well established camps tend to do a better job of having a camp culture of RESPECT, FUN, FRIENDSHIP etc.

OK, that’s the list for now.  I might add to it below and it might change as the kids get older. I will link to updates.

See also:

Kids need freedom not camp counselors

Choosing the familiar over the optimal

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I love reading 1-star reviews at Amazon so of course I liked this article/blog post

“The following are excerpts from actual one-star reviews of books from Time’s list of the 100 best novels from 1923 to the present.”

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The problem with 180 days of school is that 180 days is 36 full weeks (180/5…. when subtracting school vacation weeks and holidays) so that means 16 weeks are left.  And I don’t have 16 weeks of vacation time!

And family with 2 working parents (or single parents) are well aware of this.  Heck, even families with a stay-at-home-parent are often aware of it.

Options for pre-teens:

– screens (tv, computer, video games) or other at-home fun.

– camps (of which there are many types… day, overnight, weekday overnight, general, special topic/interest or a 1/2-1/2 mix with general)

– grandparents

– babysitters/nannies

– unorganized neighborhood fun (rare these day)

– organized neighborhood fun/kid-watching coops

– sports leagues, bands, orchestras, lessons (dance, music, martial arts) etc etc etc

– neighborhood pool coop/pool club

Many of these still require a parent around for either transport (typical camps are 9-4 unless you do pre and/or after care for example) and you can’t drop a kid at most pools unless they are at least 12.

Just saying.  It’s very tricky to work this out.  Even for parents who are lucky enough to a) be married and b) have flexible work schedules

In some European countries it is a little better since they have less summer vacation.  But they often make up for it with more time off during the school year.  2 weeks off at 3 different times plus random days off) = 7 weeks off vs our 5 weeks (in Massachusetts, USA)

1- columbus day
2- thanksgiving thu and fri
10- winter break – 2 weeks
1- mlk day
5- feb vaca week
5- april vaca week
1- memorial day

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