Saturday, November 27, 2010

Be Patriotic! Cheat! Spend!

In a recent post, Ashley Thorne discusses "Lessons of a Professional Paper-Writer" . Thorne cites a fascinating Chronicle of Higher Education column entitled "The Shadow Scholar: The man who writes your students' papers tells his story"

This is a class (inequality) issue: those with money can afford to buy entrance to careers, those without cannot advance in life unless they work hard--something not required of their affluent peers. Therefore I propose a federal program, "No Term Papers Left Behind" to close the writing gap by 2025. This means-tested program will fund ghost writing in high school and college. No child, no term paper ought to be left behind. Those who are more affluent but lack the proper skills may also be eligible if their standardized test scores fall below a certain level. Differences in intelligence and upbringing are no excuse for failing our children. We need to embrace those differences!

Statutory definition: “children” are eligible until 26 or until they complete their degree.

This vital federal program will “grow the economy” and give a hand up to the disadvantaged. With a degree in hand, they will earn (but not learn) more. With this increase in aggregate demand, they can stimulate the consumer durable sector of the economy and buy houses to soak up the inventory of unsold homes.

Privacy and confidentiality are ensured and will be protected to the utmost. The U.S. Department of Education will not tolerate revelations of plagiarism: it is nobody’s business but the student who does (or doesn't do) the work. After all, if someone does the work, then American productivity continues to rise---to the benefit of rich and poor alike. So, those dirty rats who would undermine the American dream of college credentialism will be punished.

Meanwhile, practice safe cheating until bourgeois morality (work, thrift, excellence) fades with the introduction of these new teaching methods.It is in the interest of "social justice" and American competitiveness that we have more college graduates. Only then can we boast "We 'r Numbyr Wun!"

Be patriotic! Cheat! Spend!

Friday, November 26, 2010

He's Back! Bill Ayers, Robert Kennedy's Son -- and What this Has to Do With "Higher" Education

Bill Ayers is back in the news. Robert Kennedy's son, newly on the board of the U of I Chicago, led a move denying Ayers emeritus status as a retired professor. Newsweek covered the story here (they lost a bit of the nuance in my quote but the story is an accurate summation of the controversy).

I had not thought of Ayers since I blogged about him two years ago(“Little Red School House”). In retrospect, while the issue was balance, not bias (so I argued) how does one balance someone so far to the Left? Can one even imagine a former member of the John Birch Society sans explosives being welcomed with open arms by education schools?

On turning radicals into academic entrepreneurs: The more incendiary, the better (think Angela Davis, Ward Churchill). And think of the speaking fees one can draw as a radical professor! Sure, sure, the student fees are supposed to represent the range of opinions in society at large (U.S. Supreme Court, Southworth, 2000). But who polices such Court decisions? The barbarians within the gates? Hardly.

Professor Ayers, erstwhile domestic terrorist, lived on the wild fringe of sixties radicalism. Like so many others, Ayers secured a position in academe that allowed him to bore within education by promoting "social justice" and "revolutionary education." While his ideas on education might seem "out there," they are taught in education schools as part of the canon of "progressive thought"--often in "School and Society" courses required of all future K-12 teachers.

Not that I am ungrateful. I must thank the Ayers of the world for making education school so stultifying that I left and entered graduate school to become a historian – for better and worse.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Portable Software: Better than Ever

Most of us have programs that we need but do not use very often. Why add a half dozen of these programs to your computer and thus "gunk" it up? Discover the wonderful world of "portable apps!"

A portable application is one that installs on a flash key and leaves no trace on your computer. You can run the program entirely from a flash key or on your computer's hard drive (all your portable applications run from a single folder with subfolders for each application--never touching the computer's registry!). Great for using on public computers that don't allow you to add your software or to fix a friend's computer.

The single best site for portable software (all free) is

This wonderful site also adds a launcher and auto-updater for all your portable applications (see above sample image. You can change how it looks and how the applications are organized.

Other sites (with launchers and updater):
(also comes with a launcher and auto-update)

Here are the programs that I use but you may find your own "suite" from the list of 300-400 available at the above sites. Many are cross-platform (work on Windows or Mac). All are FREE. Students take note: You can bring your flash key to computer labs (very handy since computer lab PCs do not allow you to add your own software).

7-zip: free (and more powerful) alternative to Winzip. Compress and decompress folders, file batches and test them to see if there are errors.

Audacity: the first user-friendly version of this super-popular audio editor. Past versions frustrated me to no end because they were so complex. This is easy to use and handles all file formats.

Bonkenc: audio conversion

CCleaner: cleans up temp files and registry after install/uninstall.

*Classmate Grading: fantastic grade book (commercial). I've been using it for over ten years. Tried the rest and the small lifetime fee is worth it.

DVD Styler: converts videos (AVI, MP4, FLV, WMV) to a DVD format for playing on DVD players or computers. Awesome for home videos or putting together a presentation. I use it to compile a playlist of music videos for my big flat screen TV.

Firefox 4: OK, I have Firefox on all of my computers but what to do when I'm on the road without a computer? Put Firefox, with all my bookmarks and extensions, on a flash key. I can use on any public access computer and leave no traces behind.

Filehippo Update Checker: Filehippos is an excellent place to download software. It also offers older versions if you don't like the latest version. The free Update Checker scans your computer and identifies all updates of your programs! What a time-saver compared to checking each program manually. You can even set it to run at startup, check all your programs for new versions and then shut down. Wunderbar!

GoogleChrome: fast alternative to Firefox with a huge (free) store of extensions.

Imgburn: CD/DVD/Blu-ray burner. If you are copying DVD video folders: Select “Build” – output as “Device” (not image) – and click the icon to burn. Imgburn will also create mp3 disks and ISO images (a single-file clone of an entire software installation disk). Use the default settings (the advanced features are mind numbing in their complexity).

JavaRa: "removes old and redundant versions of the Java Runtime Environment (JRE). Simply select 'Check for Updates' or 'Remove Older Version' to begin."

MozBackup: backups up all the settings of your Firefox to install them with one or two clicks on another computer's Firefox. No more adding extensions, bookmarks, etc. manually.

OpenOffice 3.3: an excellent alternative to Microsoft Office. The Microsoft suite is still the best but by a thin margin.

PDF-XCHANGE VIEWER: top-rated PDF reader with added features (highlight, typewriting)

PDFTK Builder: all the power of Acrobat in a very small program that splits, combines, merges, edits PDF files.

Renamer: how many times have you imported a batch of files with gobbledygook file names (as with digital camera numbering)? This free program will change file names according to rules that you add from a handy list. For example, I imported pictures of my family in Maine from Summer 2008. I added two rules:

1. Replace camera numbers with “Maine vacation” (followed by number sequence);

2. Add the original file date (the date I took the picture) to the filename suffice. Thus, “Maine Vacation 08-01-2008 (1).” Often, when you copy or import pictures or other files, the date changes to today’s date, not the original date. This corrects that problem and many more.

Revo Uninstaller: better than the built-in Windows uninstaller because it scours the registry and removes all keys. Revo also uninstalls stubborn programs that don't want to be removed!

Startup: great for adding or deleting programs to your startup, delaying startup of a program, etc.

VLC: plays any video or DVD file. Can also record entire movies or clips of movies by hitting a red "Record" button.

WinPatrol: prevents web sites and programs from installing unwanted start-up items (including malware). Paid version provides great information on what those stray programs are on your computer ($30 lifetime fee covers all your computers). This frees up a lot of memory and makes your PC faster. Why do computers "slow down" with age? Because the programs you install inject themselves in start-up and ALWAYS RUN even when you don't need them. This is the number one problem I encounter when “fixing” a newbie’s computer. Because I own Winpatrol Plus, I simply carry (or use) the portable version to help my friends or check my own computers. WinPatrol identifies unneeded software, and you can then disable those that don't need to be running.

Xmedia Recode: a comprehensive audio/video converter. Xmedia handles all formats and has a long list of presets to format to a iPhone, Xbox or other gadget. Fast and useful. Also does batch jobs.

One final note:

Once you find portable programs you like throw the inventor a few bucks. He/she deserves it.

See also: