Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Doc in a Box

Business 2.0 (June 2007, p. 42) provides the latest in outsourcing. American lawyers can outsource their forensic medicine research in real time. As they depose the doctors from the opposing side, the lawyers send an audio record, via skype, to a team of Indian medical specialists. These overseas docs confer (out of hearing range) and IM questions that the lawyers should ask. As they answer, the docs in India then provide follow up questions, getting the opposing docs to go on the record -- and frequently to qualify their testimony.

The American law firms pay an Indian firm 75 bucks an hour for the service. After taking its cut, the Indian firm pays the docs in the box $20 to $25 per hour, about twice their Indian rates.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Status Skill Marketing

Nick Wreden at Marketing Profs.Com introduces a neat new idea, status-skill marketing.

The idea is simple enough. People have always sought status symbols -- a Rolls Royce, a bottle of vintage wine, a suburban mansion -- to show off and impress others.

In our society of knowledge workers and creative and innovative idea shapers and instant millionaries, however, it is a lot cooler to know how to do something than just to own something. Hey, everyone can OWN something. But what can you DO with it, dude?

Japan airlines now includes Japanese lessons among its entertainment options on overseas flights. You no longer impress folks with that trip to Japan, but you sure might when you hop from the plane and start chatting away in Japanese?

Wine dealers are offering courses in wine tasting. Sports car dealers are giving away lessons in race driving. Art dealers are teaching buyers the fine points of building collections. They are not just selling the status symbols but tying their sales to the much more impressive sophistication in their use.

According to Wreden, "one study claimed that 20% of consumers who learn a skill based on a product will buy that product, 65% will buy that brand again, and a mouth-opening, eyebrow-raising 96% will tell a friend about the experience."

Now a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and nothing would be worse than a transparent veneer of sophistication. We all know what we thought about that little know-it-all in seventh grade. So in order for status skills to work they have to penetrate at least a bit below the surface.

This is where university-based "executive" programs might enter the market. You can only learn so much Japanese on that overnight trip to Tokyo, or so much art history from the dealer advising you about the current post-impressionist market. Most instant millionaires, however, would not be caught dead in typical university-based continuing education courses, which are either based on regular university courses for your teenage daughter or shaped for the elderhostel crowd.

So keep an eye out for upper-end executive "status skill" cohort programs coming soon to a campus near you.

Your Personalized Signs of the Times

According to Investors Business Daily, a new digital signage trend is emerging. Printed signs in hotels, stores, shopping malls and other public places are being replaced by digital alternatives that are sensitive to your own personal needs and interests.

Advertisers and marketers like digital signage because it is located where consumers are ready to buy.

"In the near future, digital signs will get personal," IBD predicts. The hotels and shopping areas will provide RFID, radio frequency identification, badges to customize content for guests who approach the signs.

Suppose you are with a conference. Well, the hotel may have three conferences running that day, and as soon as it picks up that you, the viewer, are from conference X, it shifts to information about when the next session starts, featured speakers, even directions to the meeting rooms.

Suppose, however, that the conference has many breakout sessions. At registration you can indicate your specific interests, along with your divisions or special interest groups. This can be entered on your RFID, and the sign can then personalize its content for you. The sign may also wish you a happy birthday, congratulate you on a recent publication, or remiond you to take your insulin.

A bright flashing banner may also tell you that you only have 10 minutes before the session to buy a convenient snack at a kiosk whose location is indicated on an animated map.

You can leave that big fat program guide in your hotel room.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Harvard Says it Will Focus on Teaching, Sort Of.

A Harvard Task Force, led by renowned social theorist and Dean Theda Skocpol, has called for a renewed focus on teaching. The report called for sweeping institutional change, including, "continuing evaluation and assessment of teaching and learning"

The report also proposes that teaching be weighed equally with research in annual salary adjustments. Skocpol says that outsiders are always surprised to learn that teaching doesn't count at all in judging faculty peformance.

But then there is the bit where you take it back.

"The aim of the report is not to de-emphasize research in any way, but to bring about a greater institutional focus on teaching," one of the task force members explained.

Let's see now: we're going to get a lot of "sweeping change" and "continuing evaluation and assessment" and a "greater institutional focus" -- but not to worry --we won't be de-emphasizing research in any way.

Could you run that by me one more time?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The New Second Tier

Second tier universities like Lehigh have seen their cachet climb because of the "astonishing competitive crush at the top" reports The New York Times.

"The logjam is the result of supply and demand. The number of students graduating from high school has been increasing, and the preoccupation with the top universities has become a more national obsession. . . Supply, however, has remained constant as sought-after universities have not expanded their freshman classes."

The top tiers are merging. The students struggling for admission to Harvard or Yale are now fighting just as hard to get into Lehigh. “It’s the same tier, basically,” a high school director of guidance counselor states.

The take away: higher education is fracturing in two.

Second tier schools like Bowdoin and Lehigh are rising to the top. Their diplomas, like those from the Ivies, will provide a mark of distinction for children from the most privileged groups.

Meanwhile diplomas from the new lower tier are deteriorating in value, simply replacing today's high school diplomas in providing a mark of perseverence.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Poverty Business

Everyone knows about the subprime mortgage breakdown.

What you may not know, because it is not on the front pages of the daily newspapers, is that the subprime mortgage industry is only a small part of the subprime lending business. An comprehensive article in Business Week examines this industry in detail.

The take-away:

Poor people are not suckers for credit risks they cannot afford. They are . . . well poor and hence vulnerable.

A single Mom who applies for a lousy eldercare job for $15K a year needs a car. No car, no interview. So she has to pay exorbitant interest rates in the subprime used car market.

Same for a disabled guy eking out a living working at home with a computer. The machine crashes and he needs another one right away. But he has no cash. He knows he will pay twice as much buying one on credit from a subprime electronics firm, but no one else will extend credit.

The poor don't necessarily need credit counseling. And laws demanding full disclosure of interest rates and total costs go only so far.

The poor need access to micro credit at fair rates. Otherwise the business of poverty, gouging the poor with usurious rates, will continue to flourish and the poor will get deeper and deeper into debt.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Your New Teacher, Mr. Claytron

The May issue of the trend-scanning magazine Business 2.0 (from Time, Inc) has an interesting section on "What's Next?" Some of the new ideas are fried chicken, but item #10, p. 33 "Forget Nanotech, Think Claytronics" caught my eye.

Claytronics is the new science of mainulating programmable clay that can "morph into a working 3-D replica of any person or object, based on information transmitted from anywhere."

Computer scientist Todd Mowry, Director of Intel Research in Pittsburgh, is the prime mover. Inspired by his hatred of video-conferencing ("Its like visiting someone in prison" Mowry says,) he had a brain storm -- why not just FAX your body-replica to the meeting, where it could mimick your bodily motions in real time and speak with your own voice. More real than real!

Business 2.0 admits that the idea seems "utterly nutty". The illustration is not merely nutty but terrifying: a conference table with a bunch of flesh and blood people chatting it up with Mr. Claytron, a dark looming presence.

Coming soon to a school or college near you?

Could we check out that video-conference set up one more time?

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The New 'A' Student: Excelling Through Intimidation

Tim Ferriss, in his book The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich advises students to follow his work smarter, not harder advice:

“For all four years of school, I had a policy. If I received anything less than an A on the first paper or non-multiple-choice in a given class, I would bring 2-3 hours of questions to the grader’s office hours and not leave until the other had answered them all or stopped out of exhaustion. This served two important purposes:

1. I learned exactly how the grader evaluated work, including his or her prejudices and pet peeves

2. The grader would think long and hard about ever giving me less than an A. He or she would never consider giving me a bad grace without exceptional reasons for doing so, as he or she knew I’d come a’knocking for another three-hour visit.

Learn to be difficult when it counts. In school as in life, having a reputation for being assertive will help you receive preferential treatment without having to beg or fight for it every time."

Innovation, the Greater Good, and More Fried Chicken

Christopher Hire has a neat post on Technorati calling for creative thinkers and leaders to define "innovation" for themselves and not let technocrats and bureaucrats define it for them.

Hire offers this definition:

"Innovation is a change to benefit and advance mankind and civilization."

He adds, "We need a creative definition of innovation, and a cultural and arts focus to innovation."

Innovation is not about every new technological blip. A new kind of fried chicken is not innovation; its fried chicken.

Hire continues: "Innovation should be about good design, about inspiration, about art, about culture, about creativity, about nature and green."

And from his company's site:

"If it doesn't do good, if it doesn't excite and if it's not contagious, then it's not innovative. It's more fried chicken. And more unneeded change."

Hmmm. Let's see. All those new educational "innovations" -- national standards, standardized tests in every grade, closing "failing" schools. . .

Are they doing any good? Are they so exciting that you're panting and moaning? Are they so contagious that teachers are falling over themselves in their rush to get going?

No, I didn't think so. It's more fried chicken.

What is the Issue: Book Reviews or Access to Books?

The blogosphere is buzzing about the decline and in some cases disappearance of newspaper book review sections, after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution announced that it was discontinuing its review section.

Colleen Mondor, in her great blog Chasing Ray, broadened and clarified the discussion in her post of May 1. The issue is not fundamentally about newsprint reviews, but access to books.

She says,

"Is this (the decline of newspaper reviews) the big important battle we should be paying attention to?

No. Not by a long shot.

Why aren't we all up in arms about public libraries?

What about funding for emergency book mobiles?

What about increasing the hours in school libraries for the communities to use?

I don't know - what about coming up with ideas to help the community get more access to books? And what about the poor kids who spend time in the juvenile justice system in the city of New Orleans? Not a library to be found in those detention centers - except the ones that volunteers are putting together on their own.

Why aren't there letter writing campaigns in support of libraries across America? Shouldn't there be at least a bookmobile in every rural community and inner city neighborhood? Shouldn't we be striving to make sure every Headstart Program has a library, every Girls and Boys Club? Why is the literary community more concerned about reviewing books then making sure that books get to the people who have the lowest access to them? On NPR John Freeman made a point of saying that while lit blogs are a good thing, not everyone has a computer. He suggested that newspapers are the choice of the people who can't get to computers (can't afford them basically). So I guess newspaper book reviewers are apparently reviewing for the "masses". But if you can't get the damn books then what does the review matter?

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Congress, College, and Copyright

According to Inside Higher Education,
"A bipartisan group of House of Representatives lawmakers said Wednesday (May 2)that they had written the presidents of 19 colleges and universities asking their officials to complete an expansive survey on the use of their campus networks for illegal downloading of copyrighted music, video or other digital content. "

19 universities were asked to document the extent of the illegal downloading problem on their networks, what they were doing to curtail the "theft" of copyrighted materials, and interestingly, what they were doing to promote “legitimate services as alternative sources for copyrighted materials.”

That is, the higher education institutions are being pressed not only to stop file sharing but aggressively to market i-tunes and similar commercial services to their students.

File sharing may violate legitimate copyright protections. But the serious theft has been perpetrated not by college students but by the congress, paid off by media giants, and with a wink and a nod from the supreme court.

The purpose of copyright is to provide some monopoly protection for writers and artists, for a short time, in order to provide a monetary incentive to create works of interest and value to the public. The entire point is to create a steady stream of such goods that will soon enter the public domain.

But the current law puts creative products into the hands of media conglomerates more or less in perpetuity. No one living can expect these goods to enter the public domain in their life times. Hence it is quite reasonable for them to regard the current copyright law as illegitimate. It is a small step from that for them to justify downloading of recent creative products, in violation of what anyone on reflection would consider to be a legitimate legal constraint.

My question is whether the universities, which in the emerging academic capitalist paradigm are themselves beneficiaries of these distorted copyright provisions, will simply fall in line to this congressional pressure or stake out a sensible position on a copyright regime that their students are willing to respect and that they are willing to police?

Friday, May 4, 2007

Topless Car Wash (Bottomless Extra)

The Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald announced today that a proposed X-rated car wash in Brisbane had been cleared for operation.

"The business offers a $55 car wash by a topless woman, and a $100 wash by a totally nude female attendant - which includes an X-rated show."

Due to a severe water shortage, Brisbane has tight water rationing. Car owners are not permitted to wash their own cars. The new car wash will use re-cycled water.

Acting Premier Anna Bligh said the government fleet would not be using the car wash. She added, "I don't think I'll be feeling the need to have my car washed at this particular service."

Thursday, May 3, 2007

History is Bunk

I repeatedly heard the same troubling message when I attended the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in Chicago last month.

History teaching is disappearing. Memory is fading. The connections between generations of professionals are broken.

Historians of education complained that their courses are being eliminated, and senior scholars in the field are not being replaced when they retire.

Prof. Vincent Anfara, a nationally recognized expert on middle schools, told me that the founders and thought leaders of the middle school movement were now either dead or no longer active. The current generation of middle school leaders, moreover, hardly even knows about these founders or their ideas. The current crop of leaders have no clear idea why middle schools were created, and are falling prey to such "innovatons" as standardized curricula and testing that would nullify everything special about middle schools as places to explore and learn in developmentally appropriate ways.

Marilee Jones has a Degree

In an odd twist to an odd story, it turns out that Marilee Jones, the prominent, and now disgraced, Dean of Admissions at M.I.T., has a college degree after all. But it is not from RPI or Union college, as she had falsely claimed.

Acording to the New York Times,

"Ms. Jones earned a B.A. in biology at the College of Saint Rose, an independent college in Albany, where she grew up. Officials at the College of Saint Rose confirmed that they had awarded a bachelor’s degree to a Marilee Jones in 1973, when Ms. Jones would have been 21."

What is the take-away here?

Ms. Jones had earned a degree from Saint Rose, a college neither competitive nor prestigious. She nonetheless parlayed her unquestioned talents into a high-powered position in academia. She counseled talented students not to go nuts about admissions to prestigious colleges. Their talents, she reasoned, would eventually raise them to appropriate positions in society.

And she was right! Her degree from lowly Saint Rose would probably not have blocked her from her entry level position at MIT, while her rise was based solely upon her talents.