Like one of those old Populist cartoons.

3 05 2012

Let me interrupt this hiatus to discuss a development that has given me a lot more time to blog: Our entire campus computer network has been down for the last two days and it’s still mostly down. Did I mention that this is finals week???!!!

For me, this is mostly just an inconvenience. I’ve spent more time at home and at Starbucks than usual. However, for many of my colleagues this has been an absolute catastrophe. You’ve seen the chart on Blackboard usage at our place already, but some of those popular functions like the gradebook or the mechanism for accepting papers are kind of important (particularly at the end of the semester). Blackboard returned last night, assuming you have your own way to access the Internet and any student who lives on campus doesn’t have it. E-mail, web pages and most everything else are still completely down.

I promised myself I wouldn’t gloat, but I do think this story should serve as a reminder of the shape of the electronic infrastructure in modern higher education. I think it resembles the old Populist cartoon that I’ve reproduced above (thanks to my old friend Bob Miller) with all those people standing between the farmer and the consumer, taking a little bit of the proceeds every step of the way. We proffies are the farmers, losing a little more of our livelihoods every time a new middleman appears.* And like the Populist farmers of old, if any of those middlemen decide to make unreasonable demands upon us there’s really nothing we can do about it.

The edtech situation I prefer is not a circle but a sun, with the professor standing in the middle. I’m still getting some e-mail (from off campus, obviously) during the outage because I mostly use my G-Mail account for professional business. I can still record (but not post) grades during the outage because I use an Excel spreadsheet for my gradebook. [The grades get posted from another program entirely though and that’s still not up.]

This doesn’t make me a genius. It simply means that I have a lot of experience with this kind of thing. As this morning’s Pueblo Chieftain explains:

This is not the first time a computer program has affected CSU-Pueblo students.

In 2010, student leaders gave a vote of no confidence to the campus technology service because of repeated disruptions in computer service.

So if you think tech services at my university are particularly awful, you’d probably be right.

They, however, seem to think otherwise. Last night on Facebook, the CSU-Pueblo account claimed:

CSU-Pueblo is the third university in Colorado (this year) that has experienced this type of outage and the second during a finals week.

I don’t know if that’s more depressing if it’s true or more depressing if it’s not.

In either event, the lesson here should be clear: Don’t keep all your eggs in the same basket. More importantly, maintain control of all of your baskets. Any LMS, almost by definition, threatens that kind of control.

PS One more old cartoon featuring a circle of people before I end this. Who’s responsible for the CSU-Pueblo network outage?:

T’was him.

* In the case of online education, this can add up to a pretty penny. Does that constitute railing, Kate?


Rube Goldberg devices.

17 11 2008

I think I’ve always known what a Rube Goldberg device was, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one until my friend Robert sent me the link to the ASIFA Animation Archive. While there are a few Goldberg comic pages there, you can see more of these strange and incredible inventions at, which appears to be the official site of the Rube Goldberg estate. “Best known for his INVENTIONS,” it explains:

Rube’s early years as an engineer informed his most acclaimed works. A Rube Goldberg contraption – an elaborate set of arms, wheels, gears, handles, cups, and rods, put in motion by balls, canary cages, pails, boots, bathtubs, paddles, and live animals – takes a simple task and makes it extraordinarily complicated. He had solutions for How To Get The Cotton Out Of An Aspirin Bottle, imagined a Self-Operating Napkin, and created a Simple Alarm Clock – to name just a few of his hilariously depicted drawings.

Do yourself a favor. Go enjoy the gallery of Rube’s art there. This stuff is a riot.

PS I’d post a picture here, but it appears that the estate is rather picky about copyright infringement.

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