Category Archives: Rants

America’s STEM obsession is not only narrow, it is dangerous

In this excellent article, Fareed Zakaria argues that our recent practice of valuing STEM education at the expense of a more broad-based liberal education will screw America over, in the long (and perhaps not-so-long) run. For one thing, it is becoming obvious that critical thinking, creativity, “people skills,” etc. are what make economies flexible and successful (a point that emerging powerhouses like China are starting to emphasize)–and America has been a flexible, vibrant economy for a century, despite the fact that our students’ math and technical skill test averages have never been particularly good, compared to other nations’. Another point is that STEM skills are exactly those skills next on the chopping block for computerization. Computers will soon be able to write their own code, for instance, but they will not (yet) be able to write their own rich, engaging narratives. So we are pushing students increasingly toward those fields whose skills are most likely to be obsolete in a generation or two, and systematically strangling the university programs that teach the skills most likely to help our current and future graduates survive the economic and career upheavals that will only increase in frequency and intensity from here on out.


There are two increasingly cynical possibilities for why the American government and people are so willing to ignore the (potentially obvious) points Zakaria made: First, nobody currently calling the shots for higher education funding has any incentive to think about other people or about the long run, because they are blinded by their own short-term financial motivations and/or their own thinking, crippled by a lack of the benefits of a liberal education.  Second (and this one is much more cynical; I wish I could find the source, where it was said far better than this): The last thing people currently in power in this government want is a populace capable of imagining alternative systems. I’m pretty sure, however, that even the most Machiavellian government administrator is perfectly OK with a population full of highly skilled technicians who have never taken a humanities or social science course.

Validation! I’m not faking all those hours.

This article in Vox describes the typical academic’s work week through a variety of studies. Overall, they fit my experience. When things are at their slowest, my week is maybe around 45 hours. This sounds like a whine, but it’s not about my job: I really enjoy what I do, and don’t mind 45-50 hours most weeks. When my week goes over 60 hours, which happens fairly often, I occasionally question my life choices, and during those insane weeks (like grant preparation weeks) when I sleep 4-6 hours per night and do almost nothing else (i.e., taking time to pee or eat breakfast seems like minutes I can’t possibly spare) I want to beat myself into unconsciousness with a shovel. I’m really trying to avoid having those weeks ever again… but, realistically, maybe I can just keep them down to maybe once a year. Continue reading

Blackboard Learn is of the devil. THE DEVIL.

Today’s first I-Hate-Blackboard experience: Availability Follies

I have a merged course in BbL. Although about 65 students are enrolled, I have 105 in Blackboard, and they (plus more) will all be there for the rest of the semester, because apparently it’s very difficult to remove them or something. So my gradebook has a pretty poor signal-to-noise ratio.

I’ve been assuming that about 65 of those students were my true enrollees and the rest were irrelevant to the course. The fact that 30 of the students have the course listed as “unavailable” in the gradebook seemed to bear that out. Now I find out that some of the students for whom the course shell  is not available are actually enrolled in the course and blocked from participating. I got a helpful email from the online learning tech folks showing me how to make the course available for those students. Here’s the process:

  1. Go to Users & Groups
  2. Choose Users
  3. Find the students whose availability is set (for reasons I still don’t understand) to “No”.
    • Note 1: the list, in my case, must be repaginated to display everyone at once–with a predictable increase in page load times–because BbL is incapable of remembering which page of the list I was on, otherwise).
    • Note 2: No, of course you can’t just sort the list by the “availability” column and put all the “No” users at the top. That would be crazy.
  4. One by one, for each name:
    1. Hover by the name so the little “options” button appears
    2. Click the button
    3. Select the option to change availability
    4. Wait for the new screen (a full screen takeover, not a pop-up) to appear
    5. Mouse to, and click, the availability selector drop-down
    6. Select “Yes” and click
    7. Mouse to the other side of the screen and click <submit>
    8. Repeat 30 times
  5. No, you can’t do this to multiple users at once–why would you even ask that?

Continue reading

Dear SPSS: We Have To Break Up

Dear SPSS (or PASW or whatever you call yourself these days),

It’s not working out. For the past few years I’ve tried to pretend everything was all right–and even before that I wasn’t completely satisfied, but I never really expected to be, because there’s no such thing as a perfect statistics application, right? So who’s to say what’s “good enough” in this crazy, mixed-up world? Maybe my standards are too high if I’m not content with your admittedly vast array of analytical features. I guess what I’m trying to say is, It’s not you; it’s me. Continue reading