Category Archives: Life Journal

Improving the quality of STEM education in our schools

Computer Science For All. Were you aware this was a federal government program?

It was announced by the White House January 30, 2016, over four years ago (see the full announcement here). The initiative appropriated $4B for states and $100M directly to school districts to expand computer science in grades K-12 for, among other things, “training teachers, expanding access to high-quality instructional materials, and building effective regional partnerships. It would seem that such a program would have an impact on the types of courses offered at the high school level and below.

Well, my daughter recently chose the classes she wanted to take for her senior year of high school here in Southern California. I looked over the classes offered. Do you know how many computer science, technology, robotics, or other classes that may require programming?

Zero.

That’s right, zero.

Over the last four years, I haven’t seen any changes in the computer offerings at the high school my kids have attended. If anything, it’s gotten worse over the last 10 years. My oldest daughter may have had more choices when she selected classes back in 2010. There may, and I emphasize may, have been one class offered back then.

I give credit to the White House for making an effort. Saying you are going to do something is a start. Mandating it means more, but it’s still not enough. To effect change, you need to measure results and enforce accountability. As we all know, you get what you measure.

So how do we improve the quality of STEM education in our K-12 system?

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Lessons Learned in Crisis Management

As with just about everyone, I’ve been unsettled, stressed, and concerned about the news of the Coronavirus over recent weeks, days, and hours. While I have my opinions on the virus and how events are being handled, they are just that – opinions, which I’m not going to share here. I will keep those to myself since I am neither an epidemiologist, scientist, or statistician, and I definitely did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

What I’ve found interesting is how the crisis has been handled by our government leaders, at all levels. Leaders aren’t made during good times, they are forged during times of crisis. These are my observations and lessons learned.

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Why I read science fiction

Imagine you could take your smartphone and go back in time fifty years. The year is 1970. You pass someone on the street and show them the piece of aluminum, plastic and glass in your hand. You proceed to explain to them that this device allows you to call or instantly message anyone in the world. It is connected to vast libraries of information, can provide directions, and provide answers to any questions you or they might have. It has a voice interface that allows you to talk to it and receive spoken answers.

Given the popularity of 2001: A Space Odyssey (the book and the film), which was released 2 years earlier, the person might assume you were showing them a movie prop. They would hardly believe that such a device would ever be possible, even though Stanley Kubrik and Arthur C. Clarke foreshadowed these and many other technical innovations in their breakthrough movie.

And therein lies the main reason science fiction has become one of my primary reading genres.

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The NBA Draft Tournament

I’m not a huge fan of the NBA, but I have to give commissioner Adam Silver his due. He has been doing a good job shaking things up and looking for ways to make his on court product more interesting, more exciting and more relevant.

The shake-up of this year’s All-Star Game was a good start. Having the outcome benefit local charities gave the players more incentive and drew the crowd into the game. I also liked playing to a set score rather than time. It made the end of game a lot more fun to watch. It was certainly better than the free throw and timeout fest the end of every other closely contested game turns into. To show how captivating it was, even Lisa was hooked with Brad and me.

Another idea Silver is also looking at is mid-season tournaments similar to international soccer. I like the idea, although there’s a lot of details that need to be worked out. Brad and I were kicking around ideas the other night when an interesting thought occurred to me – scrapping the NBA draft lottery in favor of a draft tournament.

So if you’re listening Mr. Silver, hear me out.

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10 things I learned from a year of meditation

Having read about the benefits of meditation in numerous books, I took up the practice the beginning of last year. I wrote about my initial meditation experiences here.

I’ve kept up with and continued my meditation practice since that time. According to the Headspace meditation app which I use, I recently passed the mark of 365 straight days. The regular practice has revealed a lot about myself, my mind, and the world around me.

Here are 10 things that I’ve learned through the experience of meditation.

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The Dark Side of Capitalism

Philosophically speaking, I favor capitalism over other economic systems. The free market is a beautiful thing. When operating as it should, consumers are free to choose the companies and people they want to do business with. Those entities that provide the most value to consumers are rewarded, and those that don’t go out of business.

I also favor smaller government, particularly at the federal level. When the government regulates marketplaces, they alter the playing field. Their actions can significantly disrupt a market and determine the winners, even when not intended. When this happens, consumers are usually the ones who lose.

Unfortunately, my philosophical views don’t always work out for the best. There is a dark side to capitalism. There are times when unchecked capitalism is not in the public interest. In extreme scenarios, it can bring harm to the public. It can concentrate wealth among the rich through the exploitation and transfer of wealth from the public domain.

Allow me to explain.

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Winning the Day

Over the last couple of years, I’ve read numerous books on improving personal productivity. I’m interested in learning and putting into practice what the experts do and recommend to operate at their highest performance level.

One item that has come up repeatedly is starting the day with planning and solitude. Why? By starting the day off right, you win the morning. And by winning the morning, it puts you in the best position possible to win the day.

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Is your time spending you?

“Either you’re spending your time. Or your time is spending you.” – Seth Godin

I’m reminded of the classic story where you are given a magical bank. Each day it puts $86,400 into your bank account, but there’s a catch. (There’s always a catch, right?)

At the end of the day, whatever you don’t invest, whatever you don’t give away, whatever you don’t spend, it vaporizes. It goes away without anything to show for it.

If you were granted this magical account, what would you do with it?

I’m sure most of us would blow it on ourselves, but eventually, that would get old (or then again, maybe not). We would start to find ways to invest it in future opportunities. And once we experienced the joy of spending it with and giving it to others, we would start spending it with and giving it to those around us. Eventually, we would realize that every dollar is precious and would make certain that we were getting the most of every dollar, every day.

Where am I going with this?

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Planting trees

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in” – Greek proverb

I’ll admit it. There are a lot of things in life that I take for granted. Here’s a few of them:

  • Turning the handle on a faucet and having clean water come out
  • Flipping a switch to light the darkness
  • Driving my car on well-maintained roads
  • Heating my house during the cold winter months
  • Having access to a wealth of information through the internet

I could continue on, but you get the point. The common thread in this list of amenities is that they are the result of infrastructure built by those before me. At some point, people made decisions to put their time and effort into building things that were bigger than themselves. They had the foresight and took the initiative to build something that would not only benefit them and their direct descendants but also society as a whole.

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