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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Coming this fall? (Most likely.)

Once again, it’s been far too long since I’ve posted so I want to begin with an excuse. I, for one, rarely believe someone who tells me they’ve been too busy to do something. I’m sure that some people are actually that busy but it’s a relatively small group. I’ve not had a lack of time, I’ve had a lack of thoughts. I think that’s probably what those too-busy folks mean. When they do have free time, their brains need a rest so my excuse is that my brain has been tired.

Now that I’ve dispensed an excuse, I did attend a really interesting meeting this week. For the past few years, UIS has been developing a student portal. This is one of those times that being part of a university system works against you since UIS could have done this much quicker if it would have just been us and not a system wide project. While I’ve heard this before, it seems to be true now – we will see the portal beginning this fall!

So what is a portal? If you don’t know, you might actually use portals already and not realize it. If you are a Yahoo user, for example, you may use the My Yahoo feature which allows you to customize your Yahoo page so that you have access to exactly the sort of content and services you want. The same will be true of the UIS portal – it might even be called MyUIS when it launches.

I’ve seen the demo environment and it looks really great. It is a tabbed environment (think of your tabbed browser window) in which some tabs are locked in place and others will be open to customization. The development team has been creating modules that users may select for their customizable space. Some of these are university specific and some are not – I noticed a module for CNN headlines and for top ESPN stories.

So how will this change your experience as a student?

In a significant way, the portal will act as a front door to UIS. You will log-in to the portal and everything else will be open to you – BlackBoard, the student registration system, financial information, DARS, email, etc. In addition, all of the services will be portal modules so you’ll have them all available to you in one place.

I think you’ll see an end to campus announcements clogging up your UIS email account (I’m not sure how many exclamation points this deserves so I’ll just use one!) We will have an RSS feed for announcements so you’ll get this information in a dedicated portal module. While it hasn’t been done yet, I intend to start a Liberal Studies feed as well so that I can continue to provide program specific data without relying upon email.

We are still waiting for complete details but we are expecting a fee increase next year some of which will go to funding this project. One planned idea for this funding will be to provide access to software. So, just as you might have a portal module with the name MyEmail you might also have a portal module named MySoftware. It would be as if any computer you might use is a part of our campus computer labs. Rather than trying to describe this, since it’s over my head, here’s a video explanation. (I’ve seen a demonstration of this technology and it was a jaw-dropper.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Brother, can you spare a dime (or 100,000,000,000,000 of them.)

I’ve not been a very good blogger lately but I suppose works does come first. Sorry.

When I was a kid, I watched The Beverly Hillbillies. As you may recall, Jed went out hunting and struck oil. Jed and family were able to move into an opulent Beverly Hills mansion because they were millionaires. This is one of my childhood understandings of the world: millionaires were rich beyond my wildest dreams.

Now I’m all grown up and my wife and I make a nice living and maintain a nice lifestyle but nothing like the Clampets. We live in a pretty normal house, we have modest cars etc - the American dream. But, as odd as it seems to me, we will make as much money in our lives as Jed Clampet made from his oil well. A millionaire? Sure, I’d take a million if you offered it to me but I wouldn’t even quit my job for that kind of money. I’d just feel like I had a comfortable retirement nest egg.

About ten years ago, Dr. Evil came into the future and tried to hold the Earth ransom for a million dollars and the governments of the world laughed at him. Billionaires were the new millionaires. A billion dollars. I could live the Clampet life with that kind of money.

Then we went to war in Iraq. If you recall, the initiate budget request was in the neighborhood of $80 billion. That seemed like a flabbergasting amount of money. Did that sort of money even exist? Maybe that’s the point that we started losing track of how big these dollar amounts were getting. I don’t mean that to be a political statement about the war. It’s just that we argued about this staggering amount of money and then just kept coming back for more money time and time again: $54.4 billion, $70.6 billion, $21.5 billion, $58 billion, $40 billion, $60 billion, $70 billion, $100 billion. These are the actual estimates I’m finding online for the appropriations between 2003 and 2007.

Now, just a few years after we’ve come to terms with a billion being a lot of money its beginning to seem like little more than a down payment - hello trillions.
In an attempt to understand a trillion, I offer this website I found on Twitter.

That’s some Texas T.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Interesting ways to waste time

Okay, I’ve come clean, I’m a blogger. The unanswered question is whether I’m a blog reader.

As I developed my addiction over the past year, I was, for the most part, a blogger who did not read anyone else’s blog (with the exception of the student blogs listed here.) In time, I began to consider what this meant and I came to two conclusions. First, since I was not reading anyone else’s blog, they were not reading mine, and second, writing a blog without reading other blogs sort of means that you’re a jerk.

I was nothing more than some guy roaming around the Internet mumbling to myself. I was the guy at the party who gives you the stink eye and walks away when you introduce yourself. I was that neighbor who is always asking you to help him move a dresser but never answers the door when you knock.

I don’t want to be a jerk, although I can’t always help it, so I made a point of looking for blogs that I would read regularly. This is easier said than done. Let’s be frank. Most blogs are simply not worth reading. I’m not really interested in reading someone’s personal journal since most interesting people don’t have time to blog. I’m also not interested in someone’s creative writing since it’s rare to find much creativity in their efforts. Still, if you look hard enough, you will find blogs with which you can make a connection so if you are interested in blogging it’s really important that you read blogs as well – don’t be a jerk like me.

Here are some recommendations. I’m choosing mostly popular blogs and I’m avoiding those that might be the most offensive. Do you have any suggestions for the rest of us?

This Is Why You’re Fat This blog makes me hungry although I can’t eat these things at my advanced age (meaning I want my age to continue advancing so these things are off limits.) This is one to review regularly since it is frequently updated.

Stuff White People Like If you’re easily offended, this is one to avoid. If you’re not easily offended this is a really funny blog that lampoons pretentiousness like no other blog. The comments are MUCH more offensive and often the best part of the posts. You never really know if the comments are angry or satirical.

FailBlog I’m linking you to the G-rated version of this site since you never know what you’ll find here (if you prefer the full blog, just click on the logo.) This is a collection of pictures and videos of things that have failed at something. You will find an occasional win thrown in for good measure. There are 4 or 5 posts a day so this is one you can check regularly.

Strongly Worded I stumbled across this blog as I was looking for something interesting to read and I am glad that I did. Strongly worded letters to things like snow, chickens, and the Nabisco Corp.is a really good idea and John Strongly will surely get a book deal if he keeps it up. Based upon the fact that he has only a few followers and no ads on his site he is new to blogging so if you start reading him now you will eventually be able to say that you followed him before he was famous.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A monkey on my back

My name is Andy and I am a blogger. Like most personal problems, I was unaware of this fact until it was too late. A year ago this week, I turned to blogging as a form of mental exercise but I never thought it would become a habit. “I’ll just try it,” I thought. That was 360 posts ago – one a day without fail.

If you read this blog regularly, you realize that I haven’t written that many posts here. I’m not referring to this blog. It’s my other blog that’s nearly a year old.

One of the difficult aspects of working for an online degree program is that there’s always a chance that a student, or a potential student, will type my name into Google. Go ahead, give it a try. I promise, the results aren’t exciting. And that’s the point – I’ve crafted a purposefully boring online persona, at least under the name my parents gave me.

There is, however, another ‘me’ who blogs every day. He doesn’t have to worry that he’ll offend someone and cast a negative shadow on UIS. He’s free to have an opinion or free to complain about a bad day. That ‘me’ has 4 blogs, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and an email address. That other ‘me’ isn’t that exciting either but he’s the unguarded part of my personality.

I wonder how younger people will deal with this sort of multiple personality disorder? They’re growing up on the Internet and it is recording every horrible, awkward moment of their young lives. My generation has had to deal with embarrassing high school yearbook photos but their entire adolescent suffering is being recorded and archived just waiting for them to enter a career path. Are we going to see a trend of people legally changing their names so that they can reboot their identities?

Friday, January 30, 2009

A code to live by

I have to admit an ongoing fascination with all things hobo. I know this comes from my love of 1930’s era movies and that my vision of the hobo lifestyle is highly romanticized so I have determined to learn more about the topic and to see hoboes in the harsh light of day. (I just read that sentence and it sounds as if I might be joking but I’m completely serious.)

I’m currently reading "The Hobo: The Sociology of the Homeless Man" by Nels Anderson. It is a very odd book in that Anderson must have spent a good amount of time hanging out on the “main stem” in Chicago. His text is a simple reporting of what he found there in early 1920s but he creates a very vivid image. I suspect I may post some of the more entertaining ideas in the future.

For now, here is the Hobo Code. I’m pulling this content from www.hobo.com . It is attributed to the 1894 Annual Convention Congress of Hoboes which was held at the Hotel Alden on Market St. in Chicago. Market St. is the “main stem” that Anderson mentions. The “main stem” is the main street for hoboes in any given town.

You’ll see the phrase “jungle” used as a verb. A hobo jungle is when hoboes collect in one place to compare stories and to learn from each other’s experience. “Boil up” means to literally boil your clothes so that you kill whatever might be on them.

1.-Decide your own life, don't let another person run or rule you.

2.-When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.

3.-Don't take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.

4.-Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but insure employment should you return to that town again.

5.-When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.

6.-Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals treatment of other hobos.

7.-When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you.

8.-Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.

9.-If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.

10.-Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.

11.-When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.

12.-Do not cause problems in a train yard, Another hobo will be coming along who will need passage thru that yard.

13.-Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose to authorities all molesters, they are the worst garbage to infest any society.

14.-Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.

15.-Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.

16.-If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it, whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!

I don’t think I have the internal fortitude to ever tramp. I like my couch and television way too much. Still, I have to say that I think the world might be a better place if we all followed the Hobo Code.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Some blogging options you might want to explore.

I’m trying to get back in the habit of posting so I’m hoping these posts will get me brain active again

I just posted a comment to an older post on someone’s blog and it occurred to me that it may not be obvious how to know when someone has commented on your blogs, particularly if they comment on an older post.

If you go into the Settings tab of your blog and click on the Comment’s link you’ll find an option Comment Notification Email down at the bottom of the page. If you put your email address here and click Save Settings, you’ll always get an email when someone posts a comment.

One other idea that you might like to consider. If you find yourself using a camera phone and you have an email/texting package, you can send photo directly from your phone to your blog. Under the Settings tab, look for the Email link and you’ll see two options.

The first option is similar to having an email sent to you when someone comments but in this case, you can list your friends email address and it will send them an email whenever you publish a new post.

The second option has a blank that you need to fill in to create a mail-to-Blogger email address. Whatever you send to this email account, whether it’s a post, or photo, or both, will publish to your blog. This is a fun option when you take a trip since you can let others know what your seeing without having to take time to update your blog at a computer. Again, don’t forget to scroll down to the Save Settings button – it doesn’t always appear without scrolling down so it’s easy to think you’ve updated the settings.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Do you ever wonder who's reading your blog?

It’s been so long since I’ve posted to this blog – sorry. Welcome back to the spring semester and welcome to ScottM blogging under the name Random Zealotry. If you get a chance, visit his blog and say hi.

I mentioned last semester that I have a number of blogs and I post to one of them every day. I’ve been trying to build an audience for this blog. I’m not sure exactly why, probably just for the challenge. As I write this, I’ve managed to get 503 hits on my blog since the year began. That’s chicken feed in the big picture but to give you some perspective I had only 2000 hits in 2008 so I’m off to a big start this year.

How, you may ask, do I know these stats? I use a service called Stat Counter http://www.statcounter.com/ There are a number of web-counters but I’m pleased with the information that Stat Counter provides. It’s pretty easy to use.

First, you have to register an account which is quick and easy. Once you’ve done this you need to add a project (you can track multiple projects from a single account.) You’ll answer a few questions to add a project. If you don’t understand a question, I’d say just leave the default answer and move forward to the configure and install code screen. You’ll have a few options – I chose the invisible counter. On the next page, you’ll pick what sort of webpage you want to track – Blogger is the default for me but if not you’ll find it on the list. This will generate the Javascript code you need to add to your blog as well as instructions for how to do this. This probably sounds difficult but it’s easier than you’d imagine and the Stat Counter will guide you through. It even sends an email to you with the Javascript and instructions.

Once you’ve done this, look at the menu bar right below the Stat Counter logo for the My Projects link. Click there and you’ll see your blog and any other projects you might add to this account. Of course, you might have to wait a while for someone to visit your blog so that you can track them but you’ll be surprised at what you can learn about your visitors. For example, today I see that 11 people have visited this blog including someone in Beijing, in the Netherlands, in San Paolo, Brazil, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, as well as our friend Jessica (http://everythingifnotthesun.blogspot.com/)

One thing I would recommend doing is adding a blocking cookie to any computer that you use regularly so that you won’t end up counting yourself whenever you visit your own blog. Look for the Blocking Cookie link right above your projects list.

Sorry for the boring post. Hopefully I’ll learn something more interesting for next time but I thought this might be interesting.