Category Archives: Education

Why is Education so Expensive?

When I was going to college, everything cost what felt like an arm and a leg. Textbooks were one of the larger burdons students didn’t always see coming as the semester grew closer. In some cases, these books made up a larger amount of your initial investment than housing (for the first month of the semester). Things haven’t really changed since then, except that tuition fees, books, and housing all come with a higher price tag.

According to College Board, books can make up over $1,000 of your yearly college investment. Tuition at two-year public schools clock in at around $2,400 per year with private four-year institutions charging tuition and fees scaling up to over $25,000 in one year alone. This means that if you don’t have an impressive scholarship or some other form of serious financial backing, you’re likely to get stuck with an oppressive amount of debt from student loans.

If you decide to take on student loans, you’re likely going to have to pay them off over the course of your career. Some students opt to join military or volunteer organizations that promise to assist with paying off student loans in exchange for service. If you decide to dive in to your career of choice, you may find the financial advantage of the diploma won’t come in handy until years down the line when you’ve eliminated the debt caused by getting the degree in the first place.

Education is an absolute must for any society to further itself technologically or academically. For too many students the focus of the best years of their lives is spent wondering how they’re going to pay for their education, and not how they’re going to benefit from it in the long-term. As much of an importance as we place on education as a society, we seem to do little to prevent it from being out of reach for so many of our young citizens.

We have the technology, and many schools are beginning to offer online courses that reduce the overhead of the campus and allow good professors the ability to teach important lessons to a larger audience in a way we never could when I attended, or anyone from generations prior. Instead of reducing the costs for their students as a result, universities seem to be pressing even harder and asking for more from a student body that rarely has anything left to give.

Here is some response to this post by the community on Google+:

Craig Clawson – My brother had to purchase a virology textbook that cost $978 dollars. that is just greed, pure and simple.

Erin Fox – It’s expensive because it’s meant to be exclusive. As my Philosophy professor said, “We can’t educate everybody. Who would clean toilets?”

Shane Corning – I began at a University after High School. Scholarship, the whole nine. Guess what? They didn’t have any practical classes, and some of the Profs were barely qualified to teach a H.S. class. So I went to Community College and actually learned skills I could use in jobs.

Why Education is Still Important

Education is incredibly important, even in this world of technology where knowledge is just a few keystrokes away. Students today are being taught differently than they were when I went to school. Assignments that had to be completed using a No. 2 pencil with every step of my process represented in notes are now being turned in electronically through email in a growing number of cases. This shift in education has allowed for more relevant and targeted lessons to be presented to students. It can also allow for a few extra shortcuts which some argue may negatively impact a student’s ability to learn.

I’d be the last to say that technology isn’t improving our lives by simplifying otherwise difficult tasks. Services like Wolfram Alpha have enabled users to access answers to problems in a speed unheard of just years ago. However, even with these powerful tools at our fingertips, there is no substitute for knowledge. Being able to find a solution to a problem in times when technology isn’t at hand can be the difference between an opportunity seized and one lost.

English is a subject easily overlooked for its importance in life after school. A dependency on spelling and grammar checkers can lead to a terrible impression on those you attempt to communicate with on a day-to-day basis. Believe it or not, there are people that make a good living checking grammar and spelling for public figures, executives, and celebrities simply so they can avoid the occasional embarrassing typo from going out to the public. In the world of business, having strong written and verbal communication skills is paramount to success.

Computer skills are also extremely important, and learning them while you’re still in school can make a big difference on your professional life once you graduate. Knowing how to type, use basic office applications, and navigate common operating systems is no longer a handy extra skill, but a requirement for most modern jobs. This is one area where the introduction of more technology in classrooms can be a lasting benefit to students.

Math, science, and social studies are often difficult subjects for students. The question as to whether or not these subjects are still relevant to life after graduation comes up more often than educators would prefer. The fact of the matter is, unless you know exactly what lies ahead in your life (which you very likely don’t), you never know when something you picked up in class might actually have a big impact on your future.

Successful entrepreneurs, inventors, software developers, and just about anyone not in an entry-level position benefits from a certain amount of knowledge inside and outside of their field. If Steve Wozniak didn’t spend some time studying engineering as a youth, the personal computer might never have taken form in the way that it has. This innovation could have failed to see fruition for years – and the bounty would have fallen in the hands of another, more knowledgable individual.

Even with all the technology we have today, there is no substitute for knowledge.

How to Cook Like a Single Geek

Many of the single geek guys I know are not very handy in the kitchen. They tend to live on pizza, ramen and things eaten straight out of the can. I know that I’ve been guilty of these same habits for far too long. I’m beginning to learn that cooking isn’t all that difficult – even for those of you whose brain is wrapped around some piece of code.

Have you heard of a slow cooker? Who knew these things could literally save lives? It takes about five minutes to throw something in there and turn it on. You can then go back to your work (or games!) for 6-8 hours. Pull yourself away, dump the food onto a plate and its time for noms! I’m not kidding, guys. This is pure genius.

Are you a fan of cheese? Take a couple of boneless, skinless chicken breasts (yes, you can use the frozen kind) and put them in the crock pot. Dump in two cans of nacho cheese soup and two cans of cream of chicken soup. Mix it all up and let it cook for about six hours on low settings. You don’t need to add any seasonings or other ingredients. This cheesy fabrication will fill you up and keep you happy for hours.

Again for chicken fans – cook some chicken breasts with your favorite salsa. When it’s finished, it will be a snap to shred the meat up and use it on sammiches or on top of a mound of mashed taters. Good gravy this is simple.

Speaking of gravy – did you know that the store usually carries a roast ready to go into the slow cooker? Check the meat section… they’ll have a roast, the seasoning packet AND the veggies in one tidy little package. Dump the roast in the pot, add some water and the seasonings and start cooking. A few hours later, you can toss in the veggies and let them roast another couple of hours. Voila! You have just made one hell of an awesome meal. (This one is an excellent way to impress a *girl*)

What ways do you keep yourselves fed, guys… NOT counting the pizza, top ramen and canned junk?

Webgrrls Empowers Women in Technology

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Webgrrls International is a forum to exchange job and business leads, network, form strategic alliances, mentor and teach, intern and learn the skills needed to succeed in an increasingly technical workplace and world. In this interview with Nelly Yusupova during BlogWorld, we discuss the challenges women face in business, and how Webgrrls helps women to get ahead in business through networking and technology.

Webgrrls helps women to leverage the power of technology and tools to empower themselves. Even if you’re not completely geeky, there are still many benefits to you. The organization has been in existence since 1995, and has members from every walk of life, age, race and technology background. The organizers and other members can help teach you the tech you need to know to succeed and reach your goals.

I was shocked and happy to see the number of women walking around the floors during BlogWorld. Nelly says that it’s almost a “non-question” these days. The tech sector is not just dedicated to men. More and more women are coming forward and proving that they are just as highly capable as their male counterparts. She’s quick to point out that women have a lot of potential power as developers, even, and need to stop being afraid to show it.

As the CTO of Webgrrls, Nelly says her biggest challenge is keeping up with everything and everyone. You need to have a strategy, and hold yourself back from jumping ahead too quickly. It’s better to do fewer things the right way than to try to go after too many things just to be on the “cutting edge.”

Blogging has transformed female-oriented communities and helped give them the power to step forward. Webgrrls has over 30,000 members and is rapidly expanding to include more females from around the world. There is strength in numbers – even when it comes to helping women connect and conquer the tech scene.

Jealousy Will Eat You Alive

No matter what line of work you choose, there will always be someone who does it better than you. You will find more prolific writers, smarter code monkeys and better designers. Finding someone to look up to is good, as is a little healthy competition. Jealousy, however, can eat you alive – even online – just as it did back in high school. That despicable green-eyed monster will do nothing more than bring you down and incapacitate you.

I don’t care how good you are, there are people out there who are better. It’s a fact of life. You’re never going to be “the” best, no matter how hard you try. You can – and should – strive to be the best you possible. Pushing yourself is a good thing. Trying to go beyond any limits you see yourself as having is fantastic. Striving to be exactly like the guy on the next blog – or better than him – is a complete waste of your time.

Who wants to read something that is already being done elsewhere? I know it’s insanely hard to find something unique and different to write, design or create every single day. Take something you find interesting and build on that. Add your own spin to it and do so in a way that brings it to life even more. Allow others to see your personal touch in everything you do, instead of thinking “oh, that’s exactly what I saw on Johnny’s site earlier.”

Being jealous of those who do things differently or better is plain ridiculous. What good will that do you? I see this happening constantly, even within our own community at times. So what if Sally writes better than you do? Are you putting forth your best effort? What more can you possibly ask of yourself?

The beautiful thing is that you don’t have to be Sally or Johnny. No one expects you to be the best, so you’re disappointing no one but you. We already know that there will always be more and “better,” so we don’t expect perfection everywhere we go. You’re the one putting that pressure on yoruself. It’s certainly not us.

The next time you feel yourself becoming jealous of what someone else does or has, remember that the only one who matters is you. When you look into the mirror at night, are you happy with what you see? If the answer is no, then reevaluate what YOU are doing, how you’re doing it and what you can do to make things better. Measuring yourself against everyone else isn’t going to cut it. You are the man (or woman!) in the mirror.

How to Put an End to Racism

This is definitely not something I normally discuss on my blog, but I felt very strongly that I had to write this story tonight. I’m not breaking any big news stories when I remind you that racism is rampant in this country – we all know it. The level of discrimination and hatred against people of all colors and nationalities is growing by the day. Where does it end? How can we put a stop to it? I’ve been asking myself these questions ever since I learned of a particular incident that happened earlier today. I know I don’t have all of the answers, but I sure know where to begin: stop teaching your children to hate.

Over in Indiana, the weather was gorgeous on Wednesday afternoon. My Community Manager Kat was holed up in her office working while her daughter took her granddaughters to the park to play. The girls are ages two and four, and both love to interact with other kids. What transpired during the outing horrifies me beyond belief. I cannot begin to fathom why or how any parent could do this to their child.

Four-year-old Jenna went up to a little girl around her age and asked her to play. The little girl gave Jenna a dirty look and said “You’re white.” Jenna was confused, and replied “no, I’m skin colored.” The other girl yelled to her mother that she would not play with Jenna because “she is white!” The child’s mother found this to be hysterical and encouraged the behavior. Jenna was crushed and wanted to go home because her new friend didn’t like her. Jenna couldn’t understand why the little girl was so “mean” to her.

That, my friends, is a classic example of why racism has never died out in this country. Hating someone because of the color of their skin is a learned behavior. You aren’t born with the mindset that you should look down upon people who are different from you. You learn by example and by absorbing what others in your family believe. Many people outgrow these types of behaviors as they mature and begin to see the world through their own eyes. The problem is that not everyone does, and the hatred festers, grows and is foisted off on the next generation.

Until we stop teaching our youngsters that they should deride others who don’t look or act a particular way, racism will never end. Violence and anger will continue to cause a rift between those who co-exist in this small world of ours. We are all HUMAN. Why can’t that be enough?

Punctuation Abuse is on the Rise

It’s a well-known fact that I tend to become a tad upset when people do not obey the rules of PUGS. Blame the English teacher in me. Point the finger at my upbringing. Taunt me if you will, but it drives me completely batshit crazy to see the lack of proper punctuation floating around these days. I swear it’s becoming an epidemic! Spend five minutes reading any blog, Twitter stream, or Facebook Wall and you’ll understand where I’m coming from. It’s enough to make me reach for the unboxing juice… even when I’m not opening anything!

Whether you’re trying to save time or hoping to come across as cute or funny, it’s not working. Intentionally spelling words incorrectly makes you look like an idiot. Adding extra letters isn’t “cool,” it’s just plain silly. Attempting to be l33t is so 2009, dude. Knock it off! Take the extra time to spell words correctly and add in those commas or periods.

How is anyone ever going to take you seriously if they cannot figure out what the heck you’re trying to say? Sadly, it’s not only teenagers I see doing this on a regular basis. There are many adults out there who are just as guilty. I actually read a blog post a few hours ago that might have been phenomenal if it wasn’t full of run-on sentences and words spelled incorrectly. This post was written by someone I respect under normal circumstances. Glancing quickly through other pages on his site, I was saddened to learn that this happens regularly. Apparently, he doesn’t think enough of his readers (YOU!) to take the time to get things right.

I’m not perfect. I make mistakes occasionally – even with my PUGS. The key is that I don’t do it on purpose. I also don’t do it often. I spend those extra few moments to check through my work. I fix up any errors I may come across, and go back to correct anything that is pointed out to me later on. Maintaining a professional image is important to me. I would hope it is to you, as well.

For those of you who are sticking your tongue out at me right now due to the fact that you’re only fifteen, you need to pay attention. You aren’t a business person yet, no. You likely aren’t worried about how professional you appear. It’s also quite probable that you haven’t yet realized that your digital footprint will follow you for the rest of your life. You read that right: the rest of your life. Just a few years from now, you’ll want to get into a great college. One look at your Twitter stream may get you turned down pretty fast, young grasshoppers.

Be mindful of what you’re doing. It only takes a few seconds to type out a word the right way. It takes even less time to add in some punctuation. Doing these small things can boost people’s perception of you in a very big way.

Do You Have a Backup Plan?

We’ve discussed having a good backup plan for your computer many times in the past. I’ve given you tips and tricks and offered coupons to software that can keep your information safe. One thing I don’t think we’ve ever touched on is having a personal backup plan. Unfortunately, there is no software in this world that can restore you to a previous state should something unforeseeable happen. Have you ever even thought about what you will do if the worst befalls you, preventing you from doing whatever it is that you do?

It’s difficult enough to figure out what the hell we want to be and do when we grow up, isn’t it? How the heck are we supposed to come up with an alternative plan? This is one area I’m learning that seems to be ignored all too often. We plan for computer failure. We may even plan for financial disaster via investments and savings. Those things will only hold you over for so long, though. What will you do when that runs out?

Most people will choose a career path that interests and excites them. Still others pick something that will potentially earn them a lot of money. Let’s say you’re doing something that requires a lot of physical strength. What will you do if – God forbid – you are in an accident or sustain an injury that ruins any chances of ever returning to your profession?

I’m definitely not telling you to go out and get a second degree today. I’m not going to preach to you about knowing exactly what you will do should you suddenly find yourself needing to change your life’s direction. However, I do feel strongly that you need to think about the possibilities. Instead of coasting through life feeling invincible, what would it hurt to have a bit of a backup plan in mind? Instead of finding yourself in a huge mess, take some time to wrap your mind around things you could do if the situation someday calls for it.

There have to be better options out there than the one I came up with!

Research Web Pages Smarter with Scrible

If you’re a fan of Evernote, you’re going to love Scrible. This simple-to-use bookmarklet will make your research SO much easier. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to find something for school or work… Scrible will be able to help you mark what you need in a way that makes sense to you. It may only be in beta form right now, but I have yet to find any real “issues” with it after using the service for a few hours tonight.

There’s nothing to install or download, and you can choose to use it as either a bookmark right on your toolbar or as a browser extension. To use as a bookmarklet, simply drag it to your browser’s bookmark toolbar. To use Scrible as an addon, follow the steps provided for your browser of choice.

As you can see from my screenshot, you have several different options available to you once you click to open Scrible. Highlight text just as you would with those little yellow markers on a physical page. Click on the color changer, choose a color and highlight any words you want to change the color of. Underline, bold, italicize or even strike through any text you decide needs to stand out a little more. Click the little note button to add notes to the website – anywhere on the page – and even choose which color you want them to be. You can place tiny little sticky notes everywhere!

When you are finished marking up the page, you aren’t really finished. If you choose to sign up for a free account, you can now save your annotated web page to your Scrible account online, making it simple to retrieve later. Additionally, you can quickly send an email copy of what you’ve done to yourself or anyone else… right from the bookmarklet. Best of all, there’s no chance of losing your work accidentally. If you attempt to close or change the page before saving a copy, a nice warning box will pop up asking if you really want to navigate away without saving.

You won’t have to head to the website to sign in each time you use Scrible: click the login button on the left end of the toolbar. When you’re finished and want it out of your way, click the large X at the right side. And of course, you can drag and drop Scrible anywhere on the page at any point in time.

This, my friends, is web research done right. Grab Scrible for yourself and let me know in the comments what you think!

Imagine Cup US Winner – Note-Taker

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Many people may not know this, but Macular Degeneration runs in my family. My grandmother had it and my mom has it, as well. The chances of me developing it in the future are very high. I take it very seriously when I see a piece of technology come along which can aid those people who cannot see as well as others.

One of the student teams that I was judging at the Imagine Cup is responsible for US winning software design entry Note-Taker.

Fewer than 40% of low-vision adults participate in our work force, and this team feels that lack of educational tools contributes to that. They are passionate about helping these students achieve their goals by giving them a tool to help them succeed. Using someone else’s notes – even those taken down by a mentor or student helper – doesn’t always work. Being able to take down notes from a lecture on their own is paramount to helping students absorb and understand the material.

Note-Taker combines an integrated software solution for Microsoft OneNote with a user-controlled camera to provide low-sight individuals with the ability to take notes in class more effectively. The camera allows the user to zoom in on specific sections of the front of the class, back up in time to review, and generally have better access to all the same visual experiences people with unimpaired vision.

The Imagine Cup encourages teams to compete in one of the 8 areas identified as part of the Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed upon by 189 nations around the world more than nine years ago. They encompass universally accepted human rights such as freedom from hunger, the right to basic education, the right to health, and a responsibility to future generations. Now, less than four years from the date of 2015 by which the Millennium Development Goals are to be achieved, it’s time we made a difference.