June 2007 Archives

June 28, 2007

Open Letter to Salt Lake County Mayor: Regarding the Utopia Project and County Acceptance

Lately, I have to admit I have been impressed with Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon. While I opposed his election to begin with, he began to make sound choices within the county government that I was rather impressed with. To begin with, he denied the funding from the County to build a soccer stadium in Sandy City that would only benefit Sandy City financially. As I live in West Valley, I didn't see the financial benefits coming directly to my City, and saw it as a way to fund growth within only one aspect of the County. My understanding of the County government is to provide leadership and growth to benefit the whole county, instead of just one city. Well, the State is funding it now, and I'm OK with that. The State will get more funding from it, and it will be less of an impact on the taxpayers overall.

Well, with this understanding that the County government is there to benefit the entire county, I thought I would try contacting Mayor Corroon to see if the UTOPIA project could be expanded to the whole of Salt Lake County, instead of a few cities that ignored the interests of the communication monopolies, er, companies that oppose the measure. Here is the letter that I sent:

Dear Mayor Corroon,

I would first like to say that I have a lot of respect for you. Being one that normally votes with the Conservatives, I was rather impressed with your decisions you have made as mayor, and will probably vote for you again should you run for re-election.

But there is something that has been playing on my mind, and on the mind of many of your constituents within the Salt Lake County: That of affordable, usable network connections.

Now, this may sound like a small and simple issue, but businesses live and breath by the speed and bandwidth of their internet connection. New businesses are just waiting in the wings for the affordable bandwidth to start providing video streaming, network services, and various other services that require high speed, reliable connections.

Many cities, such as West Valley City (my city), has reacted by focusing on bringing their people and businesses the UTOPIA project. I'm sure you are aware of this project, and the arguments for and against it.

My interest is in those cities that have refused to participate in such a ground-breaking move. These cities have received assurances from various companies that communication companies that they will be able to provide the same services with the aging infrastructure that has yet to provide satisfactory service to their customers, let alone businesses. These companies seem to feel that a municipally organized and run infrastructure is a threat to their business model, and (in my opinion), their monopolies.

That is actually the case. No longer will they be able to charge inflated prices based on maintenance of their network. Instead, they are placed within a level playing field by the municipal network, and will have to compete with other companies that can now host their own services. Ultimately, it's a win for consumers.

So my request is that the County consider the Utopia project as the next possible leap to developing the county infrastructure.

I thank you for you time, and look forward to your response!

Jeremy Robb
Concerned Citizen


Now, I haven't had a lot of luck getting local government officials to respond to my emails. West Valley City Councilman Joe Coleman seems to have completely ignored my appeal for cycling lanes and paths in West Valley going East to West (which means I will not be voting for him again anytime soon). But I think I may be able to get a response from Peter Corroon, in that he's a bigger fish, and may have a more vested interest in keeping tabs on bloggers and what they say.

So, for those of you in cities that have refused to address the idea of the Utopia Project being implemented, I'm swinging for you. I think that everyone in the valley should have an internet connection that will allow for better living through communications. The benefits for Education alone would be outstanding. Imagine not having to build any more schools because we have distance education classes allowing kids to remain at home for part of the week. That would be a huge savings to the school districts in and of itself. All because the County did what cities were too afraid to do: wire their citizens up.

June 27, 2007

Utopia: The Mysterious Promise

This year there have been a lot of things to be excited about: Movies that I have wanted to be released for some time, books that have been of interest to me, electronic devices that have had me drooling since I had heard rumors of them. All of these have been holding me in suspense for the year, but none as much as the Utopia Project.

I've mentioned this before in previous posts, but for any that haven't heard of it, the Utopia project is a municipal project held within various Utah cities to bring fiber optic connections to every home and business within that city. Probably based off of the success of the iProvo project, this extends connections along the length of the State, principally along I-15. Not all cities are participating, in fact the one city that really needs it (Salt Lake City) has refused to participate based on various discussions with the principal broadband monopolies, er, providers within Utah.

Regardless, my city, West Valley City, has decided to invest in this infrastructure in order to benefit its citizens. Murray has also agreed, so those living in Murray will be pleased as punch with the news (if you haven't already got it, you lucky devils!). The only problem is, the infrastructure is growing at a snails pace. It makes sense, as they are installing enough switches to supply access to all the citizens at full speed, as opposed to the practice of piping as many people though the same switch and hope they don't all use the net at the same time. *cough* Comcast *cough*. This way the bandwidth remains strong for all users.

Because it's growing so slow, I don't have that option. In stead, I have opted for the Blue Zone, which offers wireless access for less than Comcast, and at about the same speed (for me anyway). But it is terribly slow, and it seems to get slower every day. Perhaps it's because I'm used to using the Internet pipeline here at the U (sitting on the backbone of Utah), but even my family that doesn't go to the U is complaining about the lag. Perhaps they are doing the same thing Comcast is doing, and connecting too many people to the same antenna, and are not going to upgrade because of Utopia. Whatever the reason, I am aching for the Utopia project to come to my area.

Why am I bringing this up? Because there was a sign of hope on the way to work. As I was heading down SR-201 to work this morning, I saw a Utopia truck pull onto the freeway from West Valley. Imagine my excitement in seeing evidence of the continued expansion of the best network project since Telegraph lines were ran throughout the area back in the day. Yes, it gives me that glimmer of light in the long tunnel of darkness that continues to trouble my network connection.

June 25, 2007

Reliability and Validity within Assessment: Reaction

Reliability and validity within assessment, as well as all parts of education, is necessary in order to make the results of that educational work appeal to peers and those requesting the work done. Without reliability or validity in the work, the results of that work become useless. But in order to understand that impact of both aspects independently, it is necessary to understand the terms clearly.

Reliability
Reliability has been defined differently depending on the experts that have been consulted. Baer defined reliability as “the degree to which two observers viewing the same behavior at the same time agree on its occurrence and nonoccurrence” (Gresham, 2003). This means that in order to truly have a reliable result, it would need to be recognized by at least more than one observer of the same result at the same time. As a definition, this is perhaps the most widely accepted of applied behavior analysis, and remains so to this day (Gresham, 2003).

Johnston and Pennypacker defined the results very differently, as “the consistency with which measure of behavior yield the same results” (Gresham, 2003). This applies to the consistency of results based on the same behavior, and is perhaps more applicable for individual experiments and observations. This differs, because the first definition by Baer doesn’t take into consideration individual bias of the observer during the behavior observation. Therefore, in an educational environment, one teacher can see the results of a student’s behavior as being completely different than another teacher’s observation, even though it is the same behavior being observed. This definition provides for the actual results of the behavior, and not the interpretation of the behavior that produces that result.

Validity
Validity does not rely on hypothetical constructs for description, but on actual results (Gresham, 2003). According to Johnston and Pennypacker “if the behavior under study is directly measured, no question about validity exists” (Gresham, 2003). This leaves only indirectly measured results to be given validity, which is therefore validated by directly measured results. Of course, this view assumes that direct methods of measurement do not contain large amounts of error (Gresham, 2003). This of course does present a problem for our definition of validity, when the question of error is brought before us.

In answer to that problem, many behavior analysts consider the concept of accuracy to be much more important than validity (Gresham, 2003). While validity measures the results, accuracy measures the degree in which the results reflect the true state that the analysis is meant to measure (Gresham, 2003). This of course calls into consideration the content of the analysis that is being measured, and its reflection on the true state that is being measured.

In answer to that, it seems that content validity has become more relevant than any other types of validity (Gresham, 2003). Linehan has argued assessment procedures need to be focused on actual representative sampling before validity can be given to the results (Gresham, 2003). Others feel that multiple sources of results, as well as measures, provide validity to the overall assessment, as it can give a more complete picture of the analysis to be evaluated (Henderson-Montero et al., 2003). Both provide a more comprehensive understanding of the results through valid content, allowing for acceptable statistical error.

Reliability and Validity in Application
Now that we have a general feel for what we want in our assessments, how can we apply this knowledge to an actual assessment situation? Lane and Ziviani (2003) managed to address these particular points in their assessments of children’s mouse proficiency.

The first step was to determine what exactly the results were that they were looking for. This was particularly difficult, since in many areas their assessment was breaking new ground in this field. What they were looking for were measurable results that could be gathered through computer interaction using only the mouse. In order to provide variability in the testing scenario, they tested their subjects one week apart for each case. They then pooled the results that were measured for a more accurate assessment, as opposed to assessing each group individually. They then used standard measurement procedures and algorithms to allow for a standard that their peers could relate to when the findings were published.

In order to assess the reliability of the assessment, Lane and Ziviani conducted additional studies other than the initial one, from various pools. This provided for more accurate measurements of the results, and provides reliability based on Johnston and Pennypackers definition of reliability with regards to results (Gresham, 2003). They also tested in environments that were mutually available, convenient, and comfortable for those being valuated. This allows for a more accurate measurement.

In order to provide validity to the results, two aspects were considered: construct-related validity and criterion-related validity. Both focus on Linehan’s definition of representative sampling as a source of content validity (Gresham, 2003), and are used to validate their findings based on how valid the actual measurements would be.

With construct-related validity, Lane and Ziviani focused on the ability to complete aiming, tracking, drawing, and target selection tasks with maximum speed and efficiency (Lane, Ziviani, 2003). This provides a clear idea as to what is being assessed, and how the results should be measured. Therefore, the actual measurements should not be effected by content that contains unpredictable errors (Gresham, 2003). Criterion-based validity focused on the specifically on the predictability of the results based on a coefficient of 0.5, which is pretty standard for similar assessments (Lane, Ziviani, 2003). This also provides validity, as the criteria are made valid with the expected results reaching the predictable mean in the statistical review.

Conclusion
And so we see that once a definition of reliability and validity are reached, and our understanding of those terms are firmly set in the assessment, the assessment itself can provide valid results that are reliable within statistical means. The actual definitions that you select determine the direction of your assessment, as well as the general validity and reliability as seen by your peers.




Resources
Lane, Alison, and Ziviani, Jenny, Assessing Children’s Competence in Computer Interactions: Preliminary Reliability and Validity of the Test of Mouse Proficiency, OTJR, Winter 2003. Vol. 23, Iss. 1; pg. 18

Gresham, Frank M., Establishing the Technical Adequacy of Functional Behavioral Assessment: Conceptual and Measurement Challenges, Behavioral Disorders, Tempe: May 2003 Vol. 28, Iss. 3; pg. 282

Henderson-Montero, Dianne, Julian, Marc W., Yen, Wendy M. Multiple Measures: Alternative Design and Analysis Models, Educational Measurement, Issues, and Practice Washington, Summer 2003 Vol. 22, Iss. 2; pg. 7

June 19, 2007

Criteria and Standards

With every assessment that is given, there needs to be a specific set of goals behind that assessment to make the results become meaningful and useful. Without those standards and recognized criteria, an assessment cannot be an accurate measurement of the abilities or skills possessed by the learner. While many instructors and students will spend most of their time focusing on the results, we as potential instructors would need to recognize the methods used to develop the standards by which results are measured.

The need of Standards
As previously stated, standards are required to make an accurate picture of the skill level of a learner through the results of an assessment. The actual assessment method is not necessarily important, as long as it can accurately show the performance of an individual with regards to a specific skill set.

The first order would be to define the standards that are to be identified by the assessment, and how performance indicators for these standards should be adapted to the target student population (Browder, 2003). The criteria being set need to be standard across the board, so that accurate results can be measured. Once set, various assessment methods can be applied to measure those particular performance requirements.

The example given by Browder would be methods of assessing the performance and skill level of disabled students. In this situation, passing out milk to other classmates in the morning can address standards in listening, speaking, number operations, and problem solving (Browder, 2003). This same can be said with a learning team within the University of Phoenix. Team behavior can be used to assess organization skills, team-building abilities, leadership qualities, and teamwork skills. The assessments in both examples are not standard written assessments, but yet have the same qualitative properties, if the criteria being measured are taken in context of the demonstrated skills in each activity.

With the understanding that standards for several criteria are being set and need to be reached with each assessment, it becomes necessary to define the criteria to the student. Otherwise the student will tend to become unaware of the standards they are required to reach, and thereby left to imagine their own requirements, right or wrong (Hinett, 1997). This can lead to misunderstandings that inhibit the student’s ability to perform under ideal conditions for proper assessment.

This is where rubrics become important to students. They define the standards that are required, and outline what criteria are assessed in the learning environment. This initial rubric can take the form of a complete course outline with grade expectations and assessment points that will be looked at, or it can be a simple set of instructions and rules to follow during the assessment. At each level certain standards are required identified and presented to the learners for clarification and guidance to what is expected of them.

Developing Standards
Now that we understand why standards are important and how they are implemented in an evaluation environment, it is now necessary to understand how such standards are developed. Black and Duhon (2003) identify a clear way to develop standard requirements and grant validity to assessment findings. They identify valid criteria as results to the extent which scores on the test are correlated with other variables that the instructing institution expects for associated test performance (Black, 2003). This method is generally developed as the results of previous experience of the educational institution with similar student reactions. Once the school has identified the standard they wish to set through their experience, they can then compare their findings with those of other schools with similar demographics. This presents an industry standard that is expected for all schools to reach. But suppose a new concept, technology, skill, or process is developed? How is one to identify a correct method of measurement that has the potential of standardizing criteria being assessed?

The method can easily be identified by first identifying the criteria of the assessment itself. Is there a skill that should be identified, and if so, how can it be measured? Once that concept is identified, similar methods can be used as control comparisons. The example that Black and Duhon use relates to the performance of business majors on the new Educational Service’s Test (ETS) Major Field Test in Business. The goal was to see how accurate common methods of assessing achievement would measure up to the ETS.
The criteria
The students being tested were being organized with the following criteria in mind:
1. GPA (both in Business specific courses, and overall)
2. ACT/SAT scores (Both accumulative and English/Math only)
3. Age difference
4. Gender
5. Major emphasis

The results
Once the material was gathered the following results were gathered:
1. For each Business GPA point increase, the average ETS score was 7.49 points higher.
2. For each Accumulative ACT score point increase, an average of 1.51 points increase was found for the ETS.
3. For every year increase in age, an increase of 0.71 points was average on the ETS.
4. As for Gender, males tended to score 3.79 points over women.
5. In respect to a major emphasis, those majoring in Management tended to score 3.57 points lower than all other majors, once all other criteria had been controlled.

Once the statistics have been gathered, it is now important to understand how they are significant. If there is a high correlation (+/- 0.70) between any pair of independent individuals, it indicates a statistical mean, with it’s corresponding distortions (Black, 2003). Once a mean or “collinearity” has been reached, it represents a valid, measurement that can be used as a standard towards additional results. It identifies the statistical predictions of where students will generally score based on previous experience, skill exposure, and educational background. Once that standard can be reliably measured, assessments become equally reliable.

Conclusion
So, through identifying statistical trends in scoring results, as well as the criteria that should be measured, evaluations and assessments can be used as a reliable tool for instructors to see what requirements need to be met in order to produce the best results in education. Students are also able to realize those requirements by following defining tools such as rubrics that are presented to guide them through their educational aims. It keeps them mindful of the standards required by the educational institution, and thereby keeps them focused on the skills that the course is supposed to teach them.



Resources
Hinett, Karen Review Symposium: Enhancing Learning through Self-assessment, Assessment in Education, Vol. 4, No. 2, 1997, p. 321

Browder, Diane; Spooner, Fred; Algozzine, Robert; Ahlgrim-Delzell, Lynn; Flowers, Claudia; Karvonen, Meagan What We Know And Need to Know About Alternative Assessment, Exceptional Children, Fall 2003, Vol. 70, Iss. 1, p. 45

Black, H. Tyrone; Duhon, David L. Evaluating and Improving Student Achievement in Business Programs: The Effective Use of Standardized Assessment Tests, Journal of Education for Business, Washington, Nov/Dec 2003. Vol. 79, Iss. 2, pg. 90

June 15, 2007

Learning Management Systems: Open Source is Still Best

Being in education for 5+ years has been enlightening for me. I have found that educators will be more likely to choose the quick way out, rather than the best way. What am I talking about? I'm talking about Distance Learning management systems. Too often have I seen state-regulated education facilities spend thousands of dollars on a learning management system that has limited application to what they really want.

The reason why I get so incensed regarding these decisions is because it's completely unnecessary! There are several learning management systems out there that are 100% open source and free to use, and still offer a simple management setup. One of which is Moodle. Moodle offers the same features that any paid-for LMS would offer, but is completely free. The best part of it all is that each module that is developed is published for the whole Moodle community to utilize. There is even a project that is integrating Moodle with Second Life, providing a synchronous virtual learning environment along with the asynchronous learning environment that is commonly associated with Distance Learning.

So why am I mentioning this? Because in going over my old Masters program papers, I saw one I did on WebCT. At the time, I had only experienced WebCT as a learning management system, while getting exposed to then separate Blackboard. Since my paper was written, the two LMS's have been merged into one large company.

Now, don't get me wrong, WebCT can be very useful. There is a reason why it has been chosen by the Educational Board of Reagents. It represents a well programmed (in Perl, mostly), well thought out LMS. The only real problem I have with it personally is that it costs so much, and education is one place where money is very limited. If it were my decision, I would probably offer up Moodle as a learning management system, particularly with any distance learning programs within K-12. Higher education would also benefit, but as they generally get private or government grants, money isn't nearly as much as an issue as with K-12 programs.

Since finishing my degree, I started looking for LMS solutions that would provide a learning environment that is quick, easy, and simple to deploy. I found Moodle, and installed it on my Mac laptop. I instantly fell in love with it. I have since not needed to use an LMS (a Wiki is fine for my development currently), but one day I hope to start offering some distance learning classes of my own and will be utilizing Moodle for that function.

If you are working on a learning management system, trying to decide which to go with, or need something to help deploy your classes/online training sessions at work, I would highly recommend checking out Moodle. If for nothing else, it would provide a good experience into what can be done when the right people apply themselves to a financial problem.

June 14, 2007

The Cob Project, and Nature at the U

Today, I thought I would post on the progress of my cob oven in the back, as well as the wildlife that currently lives up around the Annex building at the University of Utah.

The Oven Project
As promised, here are the pictures! The project is coming along nicely, and has some higher walls than it shows in the picture. The arch still isn't complete, but we will see what I can get done this weekend. You may notice the holes along the top. Those are placed to help anchor the next layer on top of that layer. As the walls grow, you can only place so much before they start to sag. At that point, you need to wait until it hardens a bit more before placing the next layer up. As it can take a couple hours before the next layer can be placed, I keep holes to anchor the layers together.

Something else to keep in mind when working with cob: the walls will shrink as they dry (for obvious reasons, I would think ^_^). So if you are going to build up a cob oven, keep in mind that you need to make it larger than the final project will be once dried.

You can also see the stones I placed down for the base. I felt that should I actually use it to cook food, I would feel more comfortable using stone than the earth itself, or even the lime finish that I will be placing on it.

Wildlife on Campus
Something that has always interested me about University campuses is the presence of wildlife with so many people around them. Most campuses have squirrels or rabbits on the greens, but here at the U we have magpies. They are everywhere. I did find a squirrel here at the Annex building though, and it's living in the power shed just west of the Traxx line. Also, right outside my window, I have a family of mourning doves. I noticed that family not long ago when it was just the mother nesting, and now the eggs have hatched. Here is a picture of the two young ones.

June 13, 2007

Distance Education and Technology: The Cyber City

Not long ago I read a story about the "Cyber City", a concept where students would learn completely within an online environment, with learning centers that were wired to the hilt as the central hubs. As a result of that story, I wrote the following opinion paper. I hope you enjoy it. ^_^


The Cyber City paper is an interesting take on the future of education within an ideal, almost utopian, environment. One can almost hear the “Star Trek” theme in the background. The basic concepts of these envisioned goals are not particularly new, as all educators throughout the ages have likewise seen a similar goal of global access to learning. So what makes this view unique? Mostly, it’s the technology that is integrated with a motivated willingness to learn that changes this vision from all others.

And Old Concept
I say that all educators have so envisioned such an environment because you can see evidence of it back to Socrates’ Academy, and the teachings of many of the ancient Greek philosophers (Plato translation, 1993). Even then, the idea of universal education and learning was thought of, though learning material was restricted to the local personal libraries of Homer and other ancient writings.

This concept continued to evolve through the development of the Great Library in Alexandria, and it’s rival in Pergamon. This developed the first globally declared monopoly on intellectual material by Alexandria and their policy not to export pyprus, the only writing material then known, and the first backlash with the development of parchment from lambskin in Pergamon (Nagle, 1999).

These ancient citations merely point out that the ideal educational environment is not new, and schools had originally began as learning groups guided by a knowledgeable
instructor, and a learning group motivated to learn. Much the same idea is presented in the Cyber City article, but with different technology, and more cross-generational motivation for learning.

Old or New?
So, if this idea isn’t so radical, why does it require such a radical change? Well, as we look back at the gradual institutionalization of the learning process, we see it was developed to keep students motivated when they were more likely to be preoccupied with other endeavors, be it adult or child. Hence, the success or failure of the Cyber City scenario doesn’t depend on the methods of delivering the learning material, or the care in which the learning environment is developed, it relies on the fundamental motivation of the learner and their desire to be educated.

The success of the distance education program relies heavily on the motivation of the student, and not on the actual program itself. While new technologies and educational material can better prepare the student for that motivation, it still comes down to the student’s personal commitment to the learning process.


This makes the Learning Centers of Cyber City (Gooler, 1994) little better than what the Great Library was to the ancient Greeks. There, students can find all the known information in a single location, with access to it’s many secrets. The only difference would be the technology that these materials can be viewed and interacted with. Should students in ancient times decline to visit the library, they miss out in their educational endeavors. The same would be for those students that chose not to go to the Learning Centers, whether in the Central Dome, or in the local neighborhood.

Couldn’t we just make them learn?
Now, granted, local governments can require students of a given age to participate in a given learning environment, but that makes each learning environment instantly a “school”, where students are required to study a given amount of time on a subject, or a specific subject for any amount of time. That is the main problem I see with this Utopian form of education, it will eventually become institutionalized just as the ancient forms of education has for centuries before. This would all be done in order to install a form of motivation, whether intrinsic, or extrinsic.

Conclusion
So, while a utopian view of technology, business, and society looks great in an academic world, we can see that these same ideas have been previously tried, and

continually fall back into a structured, institutionalized form of education that will again become the source of scrutiny by the educational community, over and over again.




Resources
Ancient:
Plato, The Last Days of Socrates, Penguin Classics, Translated by Tredennick, Hugh, 1993

Modern:
Nagle, D. Brendan, The Ancient World: A Social and Cultural History, Prentice Hall, 1999
Gooler, Dennis and Stegman, Charles, A Scenario of Education in Cyber City, Japan-United States Teacher Education Consortium, July 12, 1994

June 12, 2007

The Utah Scottish Festival and Highland Games

This last weekend was the The Utah Scottish Festival and Highland Games, an annual tradition within the Scottish American community. They were held at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, and all that attended had a blast.

The games represent a yearly tradition within my family, at least since before I had been married. I used the games as a "test" to see if my then girl friend would be able to handle the pipes, the kilts, and the food that identify my heritage. She was (though just barely on the kilt), and we got married. ^_^

We have since returned every year, and now I can take my son in his kilt made by his grandmother so that he can enjoy the games as a kilted member of the MacFarlane clan. For those who know me well this isn't anything new, but for those that don't may be wondering why this festival is so important to me. Well, there are a couple of reasons why I feel it necessary to continue the tradition of my forefathers:

The Sense of Identity
Everyone intrinsically searches for some type of identification of self. Some people find joining into the latest fashions a good way to identify themselves, while others look for personal achievements. Others look to their heritage, and wish to keep those traditions alive. As I am an historian, I choose my heritage to identify who I am.

Part of that centers squarely within Scotland. Most of my ancestry comes from the Highlands of Scotland, or from the Borderlands. My namesake comes from a carriage maker in Perth that left Scotland to avoid prosecution (as opposed to persecution). Yes, he left (according to legend) because he threw a spanner onto the front seat of Queen Victoria's favorite carriage. Unfortunately, it had to go through the dashboard to get there.

Others left because of their religious convictions, generally because they were heading to Utah to join with the main body of the Mormon faith. Still others left to support the American Revolution against Great Britain. All in all, the majority of my family came to the United States from Scotland, and as such I have a soft spot in my heart for the land that bore my ancestors.

A Sense of Family
In my mind, being a Scottish American means that you have a strong sense of family ties, and those ties are very loosely defined. That means that friends, relatives, and neighbors can be considered part of the "clan", and you will do all that you can to protect them. This, in my opinion, defines the Clan mentality, and why communities can be tied together by names and associations.

The Food (Believe it or Not)
The Festival is one of the few places where you can order meat pies, shortbread, and haggis. Yes, you can get haggis at the festival. It's really good, too! My son even liked his little taste.

For those that are unfamiliar with haggis, it is a dish made with sheep heart, liver, and lung ground up with some spices and oatmeal. It's then stuffed into a casing (traditionally a sheep's stomach), and then boiled and baked until ready to serve. It's a traditional staple of Robbie Burns Night, and also considered one of the most daring foods to eat.

But, for those who are a little squeamish regarding such a meal, they had the traditional summer fare (burgers, hot dogs, roast turkey legs), with the addition of Fish and Chips and an Australian Grill. It all looked so good, but as I go there every year for the haggis, I stuck with tradition. But, if for nothing else, I would recommend the Haggis for the experience. ^_^

The Clan
For years the MacFarlane clan was not represented at the Highland Games, for various reasons. Starting about 7 years ago, a family from Jackson Hole Wyoming started coming as they participated in the contests (the hammer throw). It's now a tradition to walk by while viewing the exhibits to yell, "Loch Sloy!" to the clan. That's the gathering call for the MacFarlane clan, and it's our way of identifying each other. ^_^

The Games
While I don't get to see all the contestants because of a grumpy toddler, the games do interest me. There are several, some of which are akin to track and field events:

1. Tossing the Stone: tosses a regulation weight stone (each a different shape, because it's a real rock) for distance.
2. Tossing the Weight: A weight on a chain is tossed for distance.
3. Tossing the Hammer: A weight at the end of a handle is tossed for distance.
4. Tossing the Sheaf: using a pitchfork, the sheaf (bag filled with hay) is tossed up over a bar for height.
5. Weight over the Bar: A 56-pound weight is tossed over a bar for height.
6. Tossing the Caber: The caber is an 18 foot long pole weighing between 80 to 120 pounds, and is tossed for height and form (how it lands).

For more information, check out Utahscots.org, the website for the Utah Scottish Association.

The Animals
Every year they have a sheepdog contest, where sheepdogs herd their sheep from one end of the pitch to the other. The sheep also generally tend to be Highland Sheep, a specific breed. Once in a while (though not this last year), they will also have Highland Cows. Also, once in a while, Brittish dogs are put on display. If you have never seen the Scottish Deer Hound up close, it's an experience I would recommend.

The Pipes
They have professional piper competitions, as well as popular Celtic bands that come and perform. The Wicked Tinkers are an annual event in and of themselves. ^_^ They also have Highland dancing, and Irish dancing competitions. If you are interested in these traditional dancing styles, it's a great event to participate in.

All in all, it was a great experience. I would highly recommend it for anyone, whether you are Scottish or not. After all, learning about other ethnicities allow us to take pride in our own while respecting others.

All in all, the festival is a great experience for anyone that would l

June 7, 2007

The Quest for Standardized Certificates

The computer industry is truly a wonder. No other industry has so much innovation, grows so quickly, or comes up with such a diverse method of doing things. As such, the industry seems to lack specifics regarding how to best learn about the technology. Most people within the industry then learn by experimenting, after given some basic information from the developing company.

But what if the skills desired are not necessarily applicable to a single company, but range through an entire industry and has diverse applications? This becomes problematic, as the development of any training material or reference material can become outdated quickly, and yet the need for such material is overwhelming.

On such example is Search Engine Optimization. Currently, there are several programs out there that claim to offer certifications based on their own issuance, but there is no guarantee that the certificate is recognized as an industry standard. Because of this, Search Engine Optimization is treated like an art form, rather than a set of skills that can be applied in a given situation.

The Lack of Standardization

Standardization only comes from an overwhelming acceptance from the industry at large. This can either be done unilaterally (i.e., Microsoft Certification, Sun Certification, Red Hat Certification), through a cooperative that organizes themselves from the industry's base to form a set of skill standards (i.e., Linux Professional Institute), or from a set of recognized experts that determine the standard within their fields (i.e., standard college educational standards).

In the world of industrial training, the needs assessment is based on the skills required to do the job. Most companies conduct their own internal needs assessment, which will result in a job description. Some may even look at what other companies assign, and try to duplicate those requirements without truly understanding what the requirements mean. Either way, the needs assessment is completed based off of an individual company's needs.

How to Build Solidarity
Solidarity within an industry comes from an industry-wide recognition of the requirements for a specific position or skill. Once solidarity has been reached (i.e., network administrator tasks are identified), they can be customized based on the company's unique requirements and are more easily met by those looking to participate within that industry.

In order to gain that industry-wide recognition, it would be necessary to focus on building ties between the industry leaders, find the similarities, and focus on the skills that can bring about success as defined within the industry. This means conducting a massive task analysis across multiple companies in order to identify the standard skills that will benefit all.

The Daunting Task Simplified
While this may seem like an impossible dream, it can be achieved if identified in these generic terms:

1. What is the expected result?

2. What skills are necessary to achieve that result?

3. Which results and skills are unique to the company, and which are universal?

4. Which should be unique, and which should be universal?

5. How can the skills be best presented, so that those learning can apply them?

Once these questions are answered, a consensus has been reached to the point that training can be given, and that training has recognized industry approval. At that point, any certificate that comes with it can be seen as an industry standard. That is, provided that there is an evaluation system that can certify the skills can be practiced.

The Evaluation
All standard certificates come with some sort of standardized evaluation system. Whether it is the old reliable multiple choice test, or a more hands-on evaluation process, the results are the same. That person is now recognized by the industry to have the skills required to perform the job he was trained to do. Whether that be SEO Specialist, Linux System Administrator, or Underwater Basket Weaver, the evaluation system is necessary to identify what is being absorbed.

But that's not all! It's also an excellent way to evaluate how effective the training material is, or the reference material can be. It all comes down to the Bell Curve, that hated curve what was always incorrectly applied in High School. The Bell Curve is actually the shape of a graph showing the normal distribution where the mean, median and mode are all identical.

If the materials achieve a success rate that at least meets that normal distribution, then the material can be called a success. If it weights heavily below the acceptable level then there is something wrong with the materials or the evaluation method, and therefore needs review and revision. This is very much unlike the High School bell curve grading system, where the bell curve was applied after grading to assign grades. If that method were applied in professional training, it would do injustice to the skills required, as it does not accurately reflect learning.

June 4, 2007

Server Essentials and the Cob Project Revisited

This last week has been very hectic for me. What with the holiday weekend, and then with the Server Essentials class that just finished on Friday, my time has been pretty well taken up. So, for those who were wondering what was going on during this time, here are the events that were most applicable:

Mac OS X Server v. 10.4 Essentials
Another class was run, this time filling completely. I only had one student that didn't attend, but from what her colleagues said, it wasn't that much of an impact on her job (they would be doing the settings for her anyway). Other than that, the class was full, and ready to learn about the OS X Server platform.

There was an issue with internet access, which stemmed from the system setup our class had. It seems that Network Address Translation (NAT) within Mac OS X Server doesn't forward from the Wireless network to the Ethernet port. As such, the students didn't have the ability to browse the internet. Some felt this was a failure of the setup, but quite honestly, the class doesn't require internet access (all assignments were set up to work within an intranet).

Trials within the network doesn't hurt too much in the class, but when one assignment fails all together, one starts to wonder what's going on. In this assignment, the class was to connect their file server to the main Directory Master, and then authenticate from their client machine to the connected server, using a user in the main Directory Master database. The connection failed. I troubleshot the project, and was unable to find the point of failure.

I started with the account on the Directory Master. I reset the password, and then double-checked it's validity by authenticating directly to the Master. It worked like a charm, so it didn't appear to be the main server at all. I then checked the Directory Access settings on the connected server, and it all appeared correctly.

At this point, I asked the class to move on while I checked with Apple to see what the problem could be. Apple suggested that I check the connected server with a command line tool called dscl. This command allows one to view the Directory information on the server as though you were browsing through directories and files. So, I checked the Directory on the connected server using this command:

dscl localhost -read /LDAPv3/[name of ldap server]/Users/[short name of user]

That command, of course adding the name of your LDAP server and the short name of the user, will give you the plist file that includes all the user information. That includes home folders, user ID, password (starred out, of course), and preference settings. If that information shows up, then the connection is complete, and the user should be able to authenticate.

Well, the information came up, but the user was still unable to authenticate. I checked with the Password Server logs, and in neither the server nor the error logs did the user authentication failure register. I checked both on the connected server and on the main server. Something was just not working, and I was unable to find the cause.

Well, after working with Apple all week on this issue, at which point people merely thought I was not following instructions, we started our Challenge portion, and every student using their own main server could authenticate on a connected server. So, it appears that the server that I have been managing for each class had some how become corrupt. I still don't know what has happened, but regardless I am reinstalling the server to be sure it is clean and ready for the next class.

Cob Project Revisited
I have been mentioning my pending cob project to build a greenhouse for some time now, and since the announcement of the project I haven't mentioned much about it. Well, that's because various financial requirements have restricted my necessary purchase of the gravel I need to make a decent footing for my brick foundation.

Well, not to put the whole project on hold for long, I decided to start with a new project, a little less ambitious. I started building a small cob oven right next to my covered patio in the back. It extends into the garden area currently, and has come along nicely.

I started by using 5 of the several decorative large rocks that were part of the landscaping when I purchased the house. We hadn't a lot of use for them until now, and I thought they would bring the base of the oven up nicely. I put them as close together as possible, and then started mixing my earth.

The mixture I am using is basically shovels of dirt from the back yard. I am able to do this, because my yard has no top soil other than the soil included from the sod laid down years ago. Because our house is in the ancient Bonneville Lake bed, the soil is a combination of sand and clay, and mostly clay. I mixed in cut June Grass (so-called because it dies by June), which has a nice stalk to it, though it is thinner than typical straw. The mixture does crack rather severely because of the high clay content and not as much straw, but the cracks can be easily filled. I will post pictures as soon as I have some available.

To date I have the base completed, with a bit of the side walls done. I hope to have the project finished by the weekend of the 16th, because I will be at the Utah Scottish Festival and Highland Games this weekend.

So, that has been my week this last week. If you have any suggestions regarding the authentication problem my class ran into, I would be interested in hearing them!
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