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Posts from the Popular Culture Category

Black Mother Jailed for Sending Kids to White School District

That link has been lighting up the internet today and I couldn’t help but address it. The gist of the article is that a black woman, Kelly Williams-Bolar, was convicted of fraud for claiming to live at a different address so that her children could go to a school in that address’s neighborhood. She was sentenced to 10 days in jail and 3 years of probation in this felony case.

Beyond that, the article goes into a diatribe of how this is an attack on blacks and that no white woman would ever be convicted of such a crime. It also makes the claim that “…it’s not like she stole $30,000 from the district…”. All of this is hyperbole with no factual basis. The woman tampered with court records. End of story. It does not matter if your reasons are noble, a crime was committed.

Since this was a felony conviction Williams-Bolar is no longer eligible to be a teacher, which is what she was in school to become. Some call this harsh and unfair but if a doctor committed a crime that affected one’s health, people would be screaming for his license.

Truth be told, I do believe the sentence was a bit harsh and I wish they had convicted her of a misdemeanor crime (or at least let her plead to one). It is tough to see someone who wants to better themselves dig the hole deeper, but we see it all of the time.

The most worrisome part in all of this is the language used by the writer of the article. It’s harsh, it’s hateful, and it’s vitriolic. The writer takes broad strokes to paint a picture of segregation still prevalent in this country without any negative regard for Williams-Bolar’s actions. Rather than admitting that what the woman did was wrong, Boyce Watkins immediately throws the blame at the courts, the country, and the educational system. The only good thing Mr. Watkins did in his write up is make sure to get his statistical terms correct, using correlation rather than causation.

*cue comments that I’m a racist*

Today is the last day of early voting in Texas. If you have early voting in your state today could also be the last day for it.

I don’t care who you vote for but get out there and vote. Read up on your state’s issues, candidates, and news and head to the polls to do your civic duty. November 2nd is election day and midterm elections are just as important as Presidential elections. Get out there and vote!

There is a new documentary coming out on Sky1 in the United Kingdom called “An Idiot Abroad”. Ricky Gervais has taken a non-traveler and sent him to explore the Seven Wonders of the World. Hilarity ensues.

In some of my travels I have encountered people like the subject of this show. They’re not really idiots, they just do not have the desire to travel or leave their comfort zone of their home country. I’m sure some of it has to do with self-preservation and not putting oneself in harm’s way. Going abroad is intimidating for a lot of people, so I don’t hold it against this guy. The show does look hilarious though.

[A warning - there is nudity and foul language in the previews below]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUTH1coLIWE

An Idiot Abroad – Preview Part 1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TChZa-GfAtA

An Idiot Abroad – Preview Part 2

I’m burned out. Yep, utterly burned out. There is an incessant bickering that I thought was part of the process but it turns out it is just ignorance attempting to out-stupefy the opposite ignorance. In case you have not caught on yet, I’m talking about politics and all of the argumentative and condescending commentary that is out there right now.

There is a time for discourse and we need such discourse to keep things balanced, but as of late, the discourse has turned into a ruckus. Wait, ruckus is too nice of a word, full out brawl is better. We have Glenn Beck making some of the most random comments I’ve heard while on the left there is a general consensus that everyone on the right is a bigoted racist who wants to invade Mexico. All of the chatter is like a giant ray gun pointed at my brain. I just can’t take it anymore.

I thought I could away from it by avoiding television news. I wouldn’t have to listen to Katie Couric read us a page from her notebook or Glenn Beck ramble on about freedoms. I thought I would be able to manage my Twitter account well enough to somewhat block out the continual rants from both sides. It all still trickles in. My primary source of news has long been articles written by actual economists and political science writers but I’m relying on it even more now.

What really amazes me is that people are still ranting about Sarah Palin. Really? If she is as useless and unimportant as people claim she is then if you stop talking about her, maybe she’ll stop being so important. By ranting you’re just perpetuating the whole thing.

That brings me to the issues that currently face the country. A jobs report came out today and it was not good news. The national unemployment rate continues to stay in the 9.5-9.7% range. This is an issue that President Obama and the House and Senate should be discussing fervently. Not pushing agendas, not looking for the best opportunity to drop a sound bite, but simply talking about options. Of course, this is only one issue, there are many others and I think for all of them, realistic discussions in which political prowess does not come into the mix would be a good thing.

The other thing that has my raised my blood pressure significantly lately is all of this talk about the Constitution and people’s rights. There are two camps here, both claiming that their understanding of the Constitution is the right one. To be honest, I think they’re both wrong. One side wants you to believe that the Constitution is a completely living document, open to interpretation and meant to be applied as needed. The other believes the Constitution is a completely strict document that needs to be taken literally. Both of these views go to the extremes. The way I see it is that the Constitution is living, but not in the way most think of it. It was meant to be changed, but only by amending it. It was also meant to be interpreted but not to the extreme that we should break it down to minutia and apply to every single possible permutation of an issue. To do so would not only be time consuming, it would be next to impossible.

What we need is a true understanding of a Constitutional republic. As a nation we have become so much more complicated than when founded, it is making adaptation difficult. It makes me wonder if people still really believe in the concept of states making their own decisions when it comes to politics. If people do then a lot of the bickering seems mighty overblown. We can be positive and yet have discourse if we remember how to actually debate something rather than parrot what our favorite television personality says. We need more readers of history and less of Twitter. We need more action and less activism. We need to grow up a little.

It’s 6pm, you are just getting home from work. You immediately freshen up and head to a nearby restaurant. You arrive at the restaurant, take out your cell phone and “check in” to Foursquare or Gowalla. You are seated, you order your dinner, take out your phone and tweet something you heard or saw go by. You finish your dinner, tweet how amazing it was, pay the bill, and then tweet again about what bar or establishment you are going to next for after dinner entertainment.

This seems to be the evening of a lot of people, as evidenced by browsing Twitter and the location based services I noted. I’ll be the first to admit it has been one of my habits. But, after a great deal of thinking about it, I wonder what these services really add to anything we do in our day to day lives, particularly the location based services.

What’s the Matter With Us?

Twitter has its place, it is a communication tool. Different people use it in different ways that make sense to them. Foursquare and Gowalla do not share the same kind of necessity as Twitter, just a niche novelty that, honestly, is kind of cool. Do we need such tools? My guess is that we don’t; They are just a new form of entertainment. Maybe it is just me, but I feel as though I am pulled in a bunch of directions by these different things. Add on top of them Google Reader for keeping up with news and other blogs, e-mail, Facebook, and whatever else you can think of, and it seems to become more work than it is worth.

The few times I have been incommunicado, the more obvious it has become that I need these tools less and less. Sure, their novelty is nice, but at what cost? What else could I be devoting my time to rather than letting people on Foursquare (some whom I don’t even know) see where I am at?

Is there a bigger trend here? Have we created the beginning of a time when verbal communication is no longer completely necessary? A lot of people think that children who are homeschooled are socially inept, to which I disagree and point out that more kids text today than talk on the phone. Not only do they text, but they have created a subset, shorthand language to do so. Maybe they are not inept but they have certainly begun a move away from “normal” communication, making further moves even easier.

Sure, there are other time wasters out there, there always have been. The difference now is that the time eating opportunities are constantly with us, no matter where we go. For me, this seems to speed daily life up, like fast forwarding an old VCR Cassette. We’re having the information thrown in front of us so fast that we do not have the time to really consume it. In a way, this pushes us apart. We are listening to people, but not really hearing them because we are distracted.

Can We Fix This?

We already have started to try. There are a number of people who have abandoned Twitter, Gowalla, Foursquare, MySpace, and Facebook out of a need to slow down and get back to normal. I am not suggesting the tools are causing the problems, they are simply making it easier for us to go through the motions of less communication and less interaction.

For me, fixing this means moving away from the tools as my entertainment and instead using them when necessary and filtering them often. A mass delete of the applications is not going to help you and it certainly is not the answer. Understanding what kind of time you spend on the services and how it affects your day to day activities is the way to start. From there, it’s up to you on whether it’s too much and how to correct it.

This definitely is not a call to abandon ship, it is me looking at what I have noticed over the past couple of years and asking others to do the same. What are your thoughts? Is this a bad path we are following or am I completely crazy and paranoid?

Today’s question is simple in structure but unbelievably complex in application. Can we restore old neighborhoods without turning them into overpriced and underused parcels of land?

After walking and driving through a number of neighborhoods in Houston that are in dire need of restoration and in the end, residents who care about their community I pondered that question. My quick, off of the cuff answer, at least for Houston, is that it cannot be done. My long, thought out answer is that it can be done but would require numerous people and organizations working together to make it happen.

Just east of downtown there is an area that used to be a warehouse district, complete with a massive rail network. Over the years, as the need for freight in the downtown area has dropped, those warehouses have moved further out of town and left a swath of land with nothing on it. The land is walking distance from downtown, yet most of it stays empty. There has been some development, but for the most part it is just grass. The townhomes that have been built were done quickly and from the looks of it, very cheaply, leaving a lot of them empty. There are no grocery stores or even convenience stores, just warehouses next to grass lots.

The city has decided to build a light rail line through the area, connecting downtown to a slightly more populated neighborhood further east. One would think that this would spur development; It hasn’t. They have also built a bike trail; It’s hardly ridden on.

What’s my point in all of this? The City of Houston and developers have an opportunity to make this area a great example of what urban living could be like. This is a great chance to add to the urban population without making the costs completely unreasonable.

Developers, this is your chance to build capacity without sacrificing history or usability. How you ask? Row style housing at affordable prices, it’s that simple. Build a few blocks of row style houses with maybe a garage on the bottom and people will start to move in. Give the homes small backyards and decent spacing between the front door and the road and people will be happy.

City of Houston, setup the neighborhoods with decent parking markings for street parking, add a few bus stops, and repair the roads. The people will move in. These are large investments for predicted returns, but they’re worth it. Right now that land is barely generating anything as far as property taxes, there is nowhere for it to go but up.

Maybe I am a daydreamer or grasping at straws, but I do have hope that Houston sees the different run down neighborhoods around the city as potential, rather than lost causes. I talk about this subject with my wife pretty often, usually as we are driving through these neighborhoods. I’ll look at an old building and make some remark like, “Wouldn’t that be an awesome office?”, maybe someone with the time and wherewithal has the same feeling.

A story has been weaving its way around the internet about an American Airlines web designer being fired after responding to a complaint from a user. I have watched as some big names in the web space have ripped AA apart for their firing of the designer, claiming that AA.com is terribly designed and letting someone go who had ideas is a horrible decision.

Every single criticism of AA ignores the most obvious detail, that the employee broke the terms of his NDA. This type of attitude seems to be the norm in society now, that the violator is somehow the victim. Sure, I agree that it is probably a bad idea to fire someone who has ideas that could have a positive affect on a website or company, but at the same time what kind of example does it set for the rest of your employees if you allow someone to blatantly break the terms of their agreement?

Sometimes, things need to be called out for being right and being wrong, no matter how you feel about the tertiary aspects of the issue.

In the web and software development world there has been a saying that the “tools don’t make the developer”, meaning the tools I use to write software do not affect the outcome as much as my abilities as a programmer. Over the years we have seen more and more technology pushed into the classroom under the camouflage of making life easier for teachers and improving student’s learning. I would submit that we’ve actually done the opposite, we have created a monster that requires technology to do the simplest of tasks. Education needs to learn from the software world and understand that the tools don’t make the student.

There are basic skills that students need to have to succeed in middle school and high school and if they choose, college. A lot of the skills have to do with fundamentals, basic math, reading, and writing. With the fundamentals in place, it is not hard to expand and continue the learning process. The issue facing schools now is wanting to expose students to technology and “easier” ways of completing tasks leading to a drop in the student’s ability to do such tasks without the technology. A basic example of this is calculators in elementary school. Why is that needed? If students are not able to do basic math without the use of a calculator, they need to retake the class. Using the excuse that a student is, “just not good at math”, is a terrible way to go forward. If that particular student does not learn how to do long division now how are they ever going to master geometry or calculus?

This is not a bashing of technology, it is simply a wakeup call. When I learned to create webpages I was using the most basic of tools, Windows Notepad. I struggled with aspects of the code, but the tool never helped me and because of that, I would argue I am a better developer.

I’m hoping this topic, Technology and Education, will become a regular one on the site.