Really scary alerts do happen

In response to the scary alert that was erroneously posted in Hawaii, I am reposting this post from 2012. I am in no way implying these events are equivalent or that the event in Hawaii had the potential to generate more negative consequences.

——-Weeks go by when there is nothing interesting to blog about and then there is a day like today.

I was headed across campus at 1 to have lunch with my wife. The emergency alert system suddenly activates:

Evacuate Grand Forks, Evacuate Grand Forks, you will be given further instructions.

Strange I thought. I have actually evacuated once, but that happened in the middle of the night because of a flood. What could this be? We seem an unlikely target for some kind of military action. Not exactly a high value target.

Two possibilities seemed most likely; 1) students from a rival institution had hacked the system possibly related to the potato bowl this weekend (yes, we have a potato bowl), 2) an ammonia tanker in the rail yard had ruptured.

It occurred to me that we were playing a team from the west coast with which we have little history so hacking the system reserved for emergencies seemed something you would save for a rival. The ammonia thing seemed a possibility so I searched for the instructions that were promised. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

I decided to have lunch.

The explanation came 40 minutes later.

The emergency message asking people to evacuate Grand Forks should was intended to be a siren tone test only. A siren-only test is sounded the first Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m.  The Emergency Management Office apologizes for any inconvenience.

You can tell the person writing this announcement was excited. Now, aside from thinking too many people had to be consulted before someone bothered to explain, I am fascinated by this image I now have of the preprogrammed emergency box.

What do you think?

Button one – this is a test

Button two – evacuate Grand Forks

Button three – head for the basement

Button four – head for higher ground

Do you think that in an emergency someone might issue a confusing message or not know what to say? Hence, all emergency messages had to be carefully worded and preprogrammed.

I now think they need a button with the message “Whoops – my bad. Never mind!”



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FCC to lower standards for broadband

In rejecting the existing net neutrality policy, the FCC argued that getting rid of the government protections would improve innovation. It takes some creativity and a narrow view to take this position, but the Republican members of the FCC were willing to try.

An important pro-neutrality argument was that online access cannot be considered a traditional business subject to market pressures because there is so little actual competition. Hence, users do not really have the opportunity to reject the policies of a given provider if no or few realistic competitors are available.

It appears that the FCC has found a way to address this concern. The FCC is moving to lower the definition of broadband access. In a world where U.S. internet opportunities already lag behind other developed countries, the government here is now lowering rather than raising standards. If you struggle to watch Netflix on your existing broadband, just wait until you try with the new standards.

I have written about the logic of this adjustment previously and it relies upon the idea that much online access uses cell phones. The bandwidth you can access with your phone does not come close to the bandwidth you can likely use with your cable or phone company provider (usually at least 25 Mpbs down and most providers are already pushing more expensive higher bandwidth plans as more useful). Also neglected in this position is the reality that data plans are expensive and most “all you can eat” data plans do not allow using the phone as a wifi hotspot.

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A refection for the new year

The concept of a self-made man is pretty much a myth. It is significant that the reference is to men and not women.
Effort with or without opportunity is the difference between having something to eat and increasing your stock portfolio.
The United States is on a path that fails to appreciate this distinction. Without the willingness of government to curb the advantages of differences in past and existing opportunities we are on a path toward growing inequity and the lost opportunity of undeveloped talents.
Recognize your privileges and get over how hard you think you work

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Gifting success

I am horrible at findings gifts for Cindy. We are at the point in our lives that we pretty much buy what we want online when an idea strikes us making finding something useful and surprising beyond my creative talents. I also start far too late – often December 24. This means I must go to a store and we spend our holiday season up north limiting my options.

This year was different and I am declaring my choice a great success. I purchased a lefse griddle. This may sound strange, but Cindy and daughters were planning to make lefse and for success you need a griddle that heats to a higher temp than your standard kitchen appliances. The ideal temp is 500.

I had the insight that led to my success on the morning of the 24th. There is a kitchen goods store in Siren, WI, and I was nearly there when I realized that it was a Sunday morning and most stores are not open. But, it was and they had had a lefse griddle. What are the odds this all worked out.

There is now the very real possibility that I have set a standard never to be achieved again. This is very likely, but for the time being I will enjoy my success and worry about next year on the 24th of next December.

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Facebook offers way to check if you followed or liked Internet Research Agency posts

The Internet Research Agency is a Russian troll farm responsible for spreading many of the fake news stories circulating on Facebook during the 2016 election season. Facebook now offers a tool you can use to see if you were taken in to the extent that you liked or followed any of these sites. It will determine if you viewed these fake sites.

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If you are using Facebook for news, you are probably doing it wrong.

I have several issues with Facebook, but probably more with the average user’s understanding of how Facebook works. There is the issue of how Facebook makes money. You are trading information about  yourself that Facebook can sell to support your “free” use of the system. Use the system understanding how  you pay.

Then, there is the notion of a “news feed”.  Here is a recent study of the “news” most Facebook users receive ( I think a significant issue is that users don’t really understand how Facebook works. They bias their experience by what they like and what their friends forward. The Facebook algorithms will gladly offer you more of the same. Hardly a fair and balanced way to see the world. If you want news within your “news feed”, try following actual news sources – New York Times, Washington Post, etc. Make an effort to view the news as reported by those who actually investigate the issues and not from your friends who likely think like you and only forward stories with this same bias. You can create a more balanced experience if you make the effort.


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Corporate Tax Myth

I remember an analysis of the 35% corporate tax payments from early in the year (I am not sure if I commented on this analysis before or not) and thought it time to share as this critical time in consideration of the Republican budget. The analysis explains what corporations actually paid rather than the theoretical tax of 35%. The actual payment is less than the present 21% proposed payment. The data are convincing. I am not aware that the present budget provides any protections against the continuation of these special corporate deductions.

As I often also complain about the FCC reversal of net neutrality (to improve corporate innovation), I would encourage your close look at the data from this report noting the actual taxes paid by ATT, Verizon, etc.

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Misinformation and the FCC position on neutrality

People may become annoyed with my frustration with the FCC and their rejection of net neutrality. There are so many things about the decision of the three person Republican majority that removed the protections to encourage what they describe as the opportunity for business innovation that I interpret as flawed.

One of the limitations in the pro-business position is the logic that competition will serve the needs of consumers. This position has been disputed. In defense of the pro-business and position, I listened to a Republican operative today make the statement that 90% of a choice among at least 5 providers and that should be plenty. This seemed completely inaccurate until he explained his interpretation. His logic was that most Internet use is now mobile (phone) and several providers offer unlimited plans.

If you actually know what this means, you know how misleading it is. I do not know of an unlimited phone plan that allows you to use your phone as a hotspot. So, if your use of technology can be completely accomplished with your phone it is true. However, if your needs require a tablet or computer, it is not. These same companies have data plans allowing use of your phone to provide access to a tablet or computer. I have one of these plans. The cost would be prohibitive for many individuals for say a 30 gig a month plan and even then you would burn through your data for the month say watching a movie or two and say a football game on ESPN3. You cannot have both plans at once – say to use your phone for entertainment and a data plan for work.

So, a very large proportion of people must function within a monopolistic Internet environment now unprotected by government regulation.

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Yes, Facebook can make you depressed

Facebook admits that use of Facebook can be bad for you.

What? You thought passive consumption of the news of the day would make you feel good? Being depressed about today’s reality is an appropriate reaction. Facebook suggests you do something about it and offer your perspective. Engagement fights the feeling of helplessness. Cat photos don’t count. Your own words matter.

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Participation gap

Last evening was my final online class session for the semester (and perhaps forever). I end the course I was teaching with a focus on multiple issues that could influence how educators make use of technology – cyberbullying, copyright, equity, online predators. The topics do not necessarily share common underlying issues beyond influencing how parents, administrators, and others would like to see student learning activities focused.

An interesting thing about online classes is that they may contain students from different regions and circumstances than the majority of those in the class. On the topic of equity, readings students were expected to review in preparation for class included an older study by Wenlinsky on different ways technology is used in schools with high and low proportions of students from low-income families and Mimi Ito’s concept of a participation gap when it comes to students personal use of technology outside of school. Ito claims that there are SES differences in the way low and high-income students use technology influenced by cultural differences. The lower income students place a stronger emphasis on social connections.

In response to the examination of cultural differences, one of my students described her teaching situation as involving a high number of gang members. She claimed that these less affluent kids had the resources for nice cell phones and interests and interactions were dominated by the priorities of their gang. This was the way they saw their present and future. This was a new revelation for everyone in the class and I admit that I was somewhat uncertain as to how to integrate this information into the discussion. I decided that this was an extreme example of what Ito was talking about and a challenge to expectations for how adolescent learners might use technology for educational purposes outside of school. I certainly had nothing to say about how an educator in such a situation might encourage technology use outside of the classroom. Reminds me of a Maslow’s hierarchy issue – it is difficult to promote higher level needs when lower level needs are difficult to meet.

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