Posted by: crudbasher | April 21, 2014

Disaggregation Of College Funding?

A few years ago the Obama administration took over the student loan business. That then represents an aggregation of that various entities that previously did it. The problem is, this is directly the opposite direction in which society is moving. As explained by my Theory of Disaggregation, the Internet connects producers and consumers directly with no middle man required. This then inevitably leads to society restructuring from one structured primarily on physical proximity of resources, to one based on intellectual proximity of resources. This means that people who have similar interests can collaborate online even if on opposite sites of the globe. Improved communications (including transportation) means that most of our goods in the US are actually made in China and then shipped to us.

Back to college funding.

H/T Forbes

Meet Alaric Blair, a 47-year-old elementary school teacher from Calumet City, Ill. He is strict, pleasant and ambitious. Right now, he’s taking advanced classes at Chicago’s Dominican University, hoping to recast himself as a school principal. It’s costing him $10,000 — and he has no desire to get tangled up in the current student-loan mess.


That’s where Blair’s story gets intriguing. Rather than borrow money to attend Dominican’s program, he has arranged $10,000 of equity financing through Education Equity Inc. It’s an ingenious, Chicago-based start-up that hopes to change the way many students pay for their schooling. For each $5,000 of financing that Blair obtains this way, he agrees to repay a total of 0.7% of his future earnings over the next 10 years.

It makes a lot of sense to do this. It forces people to look at what they are actually getting into and it will match up money with people who will get an actually useful skill.

Of course it’s not fair right? That is what some will say about something like this. What if some kid wants to get a Ph.D in Greek Literature? I have no problem with that but they shouldn’t be subsidized with tax money. I don’t think there should be loans at all. In fact, I guarantee if there was no federal student loan system, college wouldn’t cost nearly as much as it does now. Any price will rise to absorb a subsidy, it’s just economics. Of course there wouldn’t also be $47.8 million dollar dorms on some campuses.

I like this program and think we will see more like this in the future (unless the government makes it illegal). Capital should be matched up with potential. That is the only way to make sure we allocate finite resources wisely.

Posted by: crudbasher | April 18, 2014

How Education And Society Are Tied Together

I came across this really good article about John Abbott who is the director of the 21st Century Learning Initiative. In it he talks quite a bit about how you can’t reform education because it is a reflection of the society that spawns it. I think this is right and not only because I have been saying that for years. :)

H/T MindShift

As Abbott sees it, the need for reflection has never been greater. Spurred by technological advances, “civilization is on the cusp of a metamorphosis,” he says, that will lead either to societal collapse and chaos, or to a resurgence of liberty, community, and ethics. Either way, schools are stuck in the past: The emphasis has been on feeding children static information and rewarding them for doing only what they’re told, instead of helping them develop the transferable, higher-order skills they need to become life-long learners and thrive in an uncertain future.

This approach — a product of the Industrial Age, which relied on compliant factory workers and mass consumption — promotes weakness rather than strength. It has become even more regimented (and thus more disempowering) in recent years due to a lack of trust. Adults who feel hard-pressed to predict or control their own destinies, and who feel confused about the “big issues of life,” Abbott notes, are less willing to give children the time and space they need to shape their own futures.

So let’s think about that. What kind of citizen does the government want? That’s important because they run the public school system. Independent minded people who question authority or people who are weak and need authority to tell them what to do? I suppose the way you answer that will be dependent on your feelings on freedom and government. On one hand if you trust government and think the people who compose it are dedicated public servants then it must be strange to you why public education is so terrible. On the other hand if you don’t trust government and think it exists for its own purposes now, then the state of public education makes a lot of sense. It is infuriating but it make sense.

It’s about time that we as a society decide what kind of country we want and then elect the kind of leaders who will make it happen.

The article is really good, so I encourage you to read the whole thing!

Flock of sheep, New Zealand, Pacific

Posted by: crudbasher | April 17, 2014

Disaggregating Cell Phone Components?

As technology gets faster, it also gets cheaper and uses less power. This reality is creating an interesting development in cell phone technology from Google.

H/T arstechnica

Google’s”Project Ara” is a phone that wants to fight that trend. The goal is to create a smartphone pieced together from individual modules, theoretically giving users the ability to upgrade and repair their phones without replacing the entire thing every couple of years or so. Phone too slow? Upgrade the processor. Hate your camera? Get a new one. Battery worn out? Replace it.

It’s an interesting idea. This could possibly be successful but in only one area: some businesses can use it for custom hardware.  A big limitation of existing smartphones is you pretty much have to use the hardware feature they ship with it. Oh sure there are some gadgets you can add on such as credit card readers but those are very simple.

This technology will be pretty useful in manufacturing and research and also maybe in schools. The ability to have some of these devices in a classroom with learning modules you can connect up would be cool. I think another reason this will work for schools is then you can upgrade the device slowly since most of the time budgets don’t allow mass upgrades of all the technology in the school.

We will see where this goes. My gut tells me this will just be a niche product.

Posted by: crudbasher | April 16, 2014

Why Higher Education Isn’t Tweeting Much

Apparently people in Higher Education don’t use Twitter much.

H/T Campus Technology

In a report published in the March 2014 issue of British Journal of Educational Technology, Christine Greenhow, an assistant professor in the College of Education, and Benjamin Gleason, a doctoral student of education, examined the use of popular social media services by academics and found their practices lacking. In a survey of 1,600 researchers, they reported that 15 percent of respondents use Twitter for professional purposes, 28 percent use YouTube and 39 percent use Facebook. The way those services are primarily used is to find collaborators and disseminate scholarly work or the work of others. It’s not to reach out to students for the purposes of instruction.

One study like this doesn’t completely convince me it is true but let’s think about if it makes sense. If we assume it’s true there are two possible reasons for this.

1. Some professors have been professors for many years and are very set in their ways. Why should they Tweet?

2. Twitter and other social media is a two way street. Quite frankly, a lot of professors aren’t used to being questioned by their students. Twitter is a non hierarchical system. Your Ph.D doesn’t amount to much online.

I think the numbers will gradually change as older faculty retire and their place is taken by people who grew up with social media. We will see.

The various Internet companies such as Google and Facebook need to get the rest of the world’s population on their services. Therefore, they are investing in ideas on how to do that. It used to require a lot of infrastructure such as phone cables to connect people with telecommunications but times have changed. The same technology that has been miniaturizing smart phones is also miniaturizing the nodes required to connect them to the Internet.

H/T Singularityhub

Facebook wants to be as cool as Google. Google wants to be the most innovative tech firm in history. Both are aiming to deliver internet access to the world’s offline billions—one with balloons, the other with drones. But what about dirigibles?


The maker of commercial satellites knows well the cost of putting hardware into orbit. So what about something a little lower and cheaper? Enter StratoBus, an autonomous dirigible designed to lug 200 kilogram payloads into the stratosphere.
At 20 kilometers, StratoBus would operate above commercial airliners and below space divers (see Felix Baumgartner). Sunlight would bathe the 70- to 100-meter dirigible’s solar panels all day, while its energy storage system would get it through the night—powering its instruments and twin propellers.

Here’s a video.

Two things make this nearly practical. First is the miniaturization and reliability of communications technology. Second is the explosion in drone technology. This is also in keeping with my observation that the Internet is going to empower creative people.

If these companies succeed in their plan to connect the rest of the world the implications for education will be profound. Billions more ideas will flood onto the net. With translation technologies these ideas will be accessible to everyone. This will increase the rate of innovation many times. It will also be put a mass of people online who will want to learn things. This is a vast market for any education provider who wants to enter it.


Posted by: crudbasher | April 14, 2014

Dropping Enrollments Emperil Small Universities

I’m going to get into some tech this week but I saw this story and it confirms one of my predictions.

From my predictions post this year:

3. I think we will see a few universities start to have public financial troubles because of lower enrollments. If the stock market crashes I think we will see a lot of them having troubles.

And here we go:

Small U.S. Colleges Battle Death Spiral as Enrollment Drops

Dozens of schools have seen drops of more than 10 percent in enrollment, according to Moody’s. As faculty and staff have been cut and programs closed, some students have faced a choice between transferring or finishing degrees that may have diminished value.


Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has predicted that as many as half of the more than 4,000 universities and colleges in the U.S. may fail in the next 15 years. The growing acceptance of online learning means higher education is ripe for technological upheaval, he has said. “I’m not sure a lot of these institutions have the cushion to experiment with how to stay afloat,” said Michelle Weise, a senior research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a think tank the Harvard professor helped establish in San Mateo, California.

What is going to happen here is some schools will be able to trim their fat and become more efficient. However, most won’t want to do without their Assistant Associate Dean Provost Of Diversity and Culture and will delete classes and teachers. That simply makes the school more administratively top heavy. It’s a death spiral.

Now keep in mind why this matters. Radical change never happens when things are ok. It is always born out of strife and massive disruption. In the previous 20 years universities have gotten fat on government loans and as long as students kept getting jobs, nobody really questioned the return on investment. Now they are and the trend is being accelerated at Internet speeds. Can universities change at Internet speeds too? Actually that’s the wrong question because it assumes schools actually know what is happening and know what to do about it. Most are so immersed in traditional thinking they will never see it coming. This is what Schumpeter termed Creative Destruction.

We are witnessing in realtime the transformation of society at a rate never before seen. Nobody is exempt. You can’t run and hide from the Stormfront of change.


Posted by: crudbasher | April 11, 2014

Fantastic Modular Robotic Toy

Oh I want this so much!

You can assemble them in different ways, and each block come with a default behavior. Then you can reprogram the block by just manipulating them. If you want to keep going, you can then use a computer to write some code and make them do complex behaviors. How perfect for kids to play with!

This sort of technology will rapidly get better and more advanced because the the components will get more powerful, smaller and cheaper. Add in the social effects of the Internet and the ecosystem of knowledge will rapidly spread. Kids will share ideas with each other and will learn.

To put the cherry on top, you can also use Lego with the blocks and I imagine you will be able to 3d print new block eventually.


PS. I bet you were expecting me to mention Disaggregation? Ok I will. :) These blocks are basically disaggregating a computer into separate physical pieces. Heh heh.

Posted by: crudbasher | April 10, 2014

Lost My Kitty and Friend

Hey folks,

I’ve had a bad week so I haven’t felt like blogging. I had to have my cat Lily put to sleep. She was deaf, had hyperthyroidism, chronic kidney failure and was down to 3.7 lbs. I have been doing a lot to keep her going over the last 3 years but last Thursday she stopped eating and began getting weaker. She was telling me it was time to let go. So I did. I was with her until the end.

Thank you sweet Lily for being a good friend to me these last 8 years. Sleep now.

I’ll start blogging again tomorrow.



Posted by: crudbasher | April 4, 2014

Falling Enrollments Are Only The Beginning

I’ve been predicting this for a while now.

H/T The American Interest

Even with tuition rates soaring, many colleges are still searching under the proverbial sofa cushions to paper over gaps in their operating budgets. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, some are downsizing staff, while others are slashing athletic programs and even selling off buildings. Over the past six months alone, ten schools have cut hundreds of positions, and it appears likely that more schools will follow their footsteps as the year progresses.

It’s going to get worse. Think about it. Enrollments have been dropping despite the following:

  1. an unprecedented building campaign to improve campuses
  2. unprecedented marketing tools
  3. Huge investments in technology
  4. Unprecedented sums of money available for federal student loans.

Against this is the following:

  1. The size of the college age population has begun to taper.
  2. The price of college has skyrocketed (+ 100% over the last 10 years.)
  3. Getting a degree is not a sure bet at a good career anymore.

So what is going to happen when colleges have to cut back on their facilities and technology improvements? The only thing that will get students back to college is to make it much cheaper and to unbundle it from degrees. Make it cheap and ala carte and people will come back. Students are not as willing to take the gamble to take on massive debt to have a better life.

Colleges and universities are governed by economics just like everything else. It’s about time they started to act like it.

See more: Are Universities Too Big To Fail?

Posted by: crudbasher | April 4, 2014

Implications of Amazon Fire TV has announced a new settop box that lets you put the Internet on your TV. This isn’t remarkable by itself as there are now quite a few ways to do this. No, what interest me is this shows how easy it is now to create a device to do this for a very low cost.

H/T Arstechnica

At a press event in New York Wednesday, Amazon unveiled a new device that allows users to stream content to a TV screen. The flat, black Fire TV has a quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and a dedicated GPU, hardware that will help address some of the usual concerns about streaming devices, according to Amazon, and support a push into gaming.

The device comes with a small remote, and its interface puts Amazon content front and center. Customers can access their watch list and scroll through organized sections of movies and TV shows. A separate section for apps is listed in the home interface, where users can access content from partners.

We tend to keep our TVs for much longer than our computers. This is why I never really liked “Smart TVs”. They tended to be slow, and rapidly became obsolete as new products came out. Instead, this method of disaggregating the Smart parts of the TV from the display makes more sense to me. I have had two Roku devices and the release of the Roku 3 was a big reason to get rid of our cable TV. (the birth of my son was the other big reason.) I don’t miss cable. I have an HD antenna, and Netflix and Amazon prime. Between those three I can watch nearly everything I want.

The cost of computers keep dropping rapidly. In a few more years a box like the Fire TV could be free with a subscription to Amazon Prime I bet. This is because the cost to make the box will be almost zero. These boxes are interesting to me from an educational point of view because they are a ready made delivery system for educational content. Couple them with a computer to provide feedback and you have an interesting capability.


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