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2 posts from December 2011

December 22, 2011

The College Degree Myth

SchoollessEducational institutions have it all wrong. 

If you go to college, you will earn more money than if you did not. College admissions departments send collateral that show increases in income levels for those who earn degrees. Teachers, undoubtedly with the best intentions, hoping to find something that will motivate their students to learn the material they're being taught, repeat the same chorus: "If you don't pay attention now, you will not be able to go to college. If you don't go to college, you won't be successful."

They ask you to look the other way when they teach you about people from this august list.

  • Benjamin Franklin
  • George Washington
  • Abe Lincoln
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Thomas Edison
  • The Wright Brothers
  • Steve Jobs
  • Bill Gates
  • Michael Dell

None of them earned college degrees. All were brilliant. All were succesful. And in case it's not clear from the list, several in the group had to overcome modest -- even oppressive -- circumstances of their youth to achieve great things.

There may be an explanation for this. In his classic book, How to Lie with Statistics, Darrell Huff suggessts that the premise of the statement is the child of a post-hoc fallacy, that presumes that because many people who have degrees are successful, the degree must have caused it.

"Actually we don't know but that these people are the people who would have made more money even if they had not gone to college. There are a couple of things that indicate rather strongly that this is so. College get a disproportionate number of two groups of kids: the bright and the rich. The bright show good earning power without college knowledge. And as for the rich one... well, money breeds money in several number of ways. Few sons of rich men are found in low-income brackets whether they go to college or not." 

People like Lincoln, the Wright Brothers, Douglass, etc., weren't stupid on account of their lack of a degree, and they weren't self-made men. They were "Open-Source Learners" -- people who tapped into the resources of their age to improve their understanding about how some part of the universe works.

How much more should we in the 21st century, who can write and talk with and see people halfway around the world in an instant -- for next to nothing -- be able to improve our understanding of how some useful part of the universe works, and with the tools at our disposal, put it to good use?

A little background

My brother Gannon ran into a motivation wall when we were kids. Convinced by the world that he needed to go to college to be successful, once he got it into his head that he could neither afford college nor earn a scholarship, he lost hope, checked out mentally, did as little as he thought he needed to in order to stay eligible for sports and bided his time until he could graduate and join the Marines.

And he was smart. One semester in high school, he dedicated himself and got straight As. Just to prove that he could. After having accomplished that, not believing the effort was worth it, he fell back to Bs, Cs and Ds.

Since then, I've watched his very intentional transformation from a amatuer hobbiest illustrator to a master craftsman. (You can follow some of his work on his blog). His skill can't be chalked up to superior genetics or fancy schooling. It is a product of reading, collaboration, and 5 years or 10,000 hours of practice.

How to Pursue a Degree Without Going to College

In his book, Schoolless (Available on Amazon in paperback and for the Kindle), Gannon doesn't argue that college isn't useful repository of excellent learning tools, or that people should eschew a college degree... Rather, it is a celebration of alternative learning strategies that don't cost $27,000 (the average cost of a 4-year college degree in 2005).  

Wondering how you're going to possibly send your kids to college? Lost hope in ever getting a degree without a mountain of debt? The good news is that you have options. There's still time to get this book for Christmas! Do it today. - Cam Beck

 

December 21, 2011

My (Brief) Android Sojourn

Android_logoA few months ago, with my iPhone 3GS spiraling into obsolescence, I waited anxiously for the announcement of the iPhone 5. Android would also release its newest software, named "Ice Cream Sandwich," the same month, but with my existing music library so dependent on Apple's iTunes network, I initially considered the idea of going to Android to be a far-fetched dream. However, with the prodding of some Android-centric friends, positive reviews of Ice Cream Sandwich, and an overpowering curiosity that might exceed the boundaries of helpfulness, I decided to ditch my old iPhone for the Samsung Galaxy S II "Skyrocket." 

After a week, though -- and to the disappointment of my very good, helpful, generous and patient Android friends -- I had to switch back to the sweet familiar taste of the iPhone.

What I learned

First, some background. I have never had any use for those "Mac vs. PC" debates of yesteryear, and less so for the "Android vs. iPhone" debates of today. 

I mean, I used to build my own computers and was pleased enough that I could customize to my heart's desire. If one piece failed it was no big deal, because I could replace the piece, not the entire computer. At work, I worked on both PCs and Macs. I think I was hired into my early design jobs mostly because I could use both platforms equally well, and they couldn't find anyone (except clients) who would venture to design on a PC. 

Eventually, I discovered that it's a lot of work (and money) to keep pace with the rapidly changing technology, and I opted to go with easy, instead, which leads us to my brief sojourn into Android-land.

Size Matters, and Bigger Isn't Always Better

Samsung's advertising campaign focuses on the device's size and screen quality.

 

It is nice; there's no doubt. Its Super AMOLED+ (whatever that means) screen is a beauty that delivers rich colors and deep blacks. I could watch a movie on it. Except that I don't use my phone that way. The increased size just makes it difficult for me to use with one hand -- especially when typing.

A Little Tactile Feedback Goes a Long Way (or not)

One of the early gripes of the iPhone is that it had no tactile feedback. Steve Ballmer famously laughed off the iPhone for business use because of the lack of tactile keyboard.

 

However, the iPhone DOES have four well-designed points that give tactile feedback. The home button allows you to orient and activate your phone easily. The three switches that control volume, the vibration setting, and the power are firm and discourage accidental interaction. 

By contrast, every time I pulled the Samsung out of my pocket, I had to reorient it, and I often pressed buttons I didn't intend to press, which forced me to spend more time than I should have to recover from those accidental interactions.

Also, the lack of tactile feedback on the Android is more of a liability for me than it is on the iPhone. Autocorrect humor notwithstanding, the iPhone's screen keyboard just predicts my intent better, even when I make errors.

Here's an example of one of my very typical Android typing attempts:

"Just? Ade SwiftKey? You default keyboard. I auto irreconcilable not imprrssive"

What I was TRYING to say was this:

"Just made SwiftKey my default keyboard. Its autocorrect is not impressive."

Just for grins, I typed the same message on the iPhone just now. Here's what it gave me: "

Just made swift key my default keyboard. It's autocorrect is not impressive."

Not perfect spelling or grammar, but at least sensible to someone who knows what SwiftKey is.

Android allows you to pick your own keyboard, I tried several and was never able to find any that matched the iPhone's sensitivity and effective error mapping.

More Options Can Slow You Down

One of the things I was most anxious to try was the advanced customization options that the Android device allows. I was able to put a weather app on my lock screen, so I don't even have to unlock the device (let alone launch an app) to see what the weather is going to be like for the next few days. 

There was an app that transcribed my voicemails (though I never got it to work, I don't doubt that it could). Another app could back up all my texts into an email. 

It took awhile (and patience) to figure these features out, but with persistence (and patience of one of my Android friends), I was able to do a lot of cool stuff. Google Maps on Android devices is also clearly superior.

But once I had amy device all tricked out, I realized that I just don't use my phone that way, and that I still had to deal with the device's drawbacks for my day-to-day use.

Galaxy S II Not Fully Compatible with my Car's Entertainment System

I like listening to my music and my audiobooks while I drive. When I use the iPhone, I can see what's playing and who is singing it on my navigation/entertainment display. On the Android, the best I could get is affirmation that something is streaming from my phone.

My Android friends expressed dismay over the industry's fascination with ensuring compatability with the iPhone over the platform that has more market share (though part of the compatability that is important to me deals with the music player aspect, which leverages Apple's dominance there).

In the end, whatever their reasons (probably fragmentation), the Android device just doesn't work for how I want to use it. And I'm more likely to switch the phone to work with my car than I am to switch my car to work with my phone.

Android Will Continue to Do Well

Patent Wars aside, it's good for there to be competition in OSes, as long as it forces the players to innovate. I hope Android devices continue to do well, but at least for now, I'm not going to be one of their customers. But I don't have to be. They don't need me to be. As one iPhone Lover at Techcrunch put it, "they probably don’t (or shouldn’t) care too much about converting iOS users over to Android. All the non-smartphone users out there remain the much bigger prize to go after (for both Google and Apple)."

- Cam Beck