Two Years Out, Maine Laptop Program Still Has No Measurable Results

The folks who defend the program to spend tens of millions of dollars in a largely rural state to provide loaner laptops (not ones they eventually own or keep year to year) to middle-school students are still squishy. I've written about this in years past, with my disappointment that there is no quantitative improvement, no objective measure that the program provides to show that laptops help in any regard.

The person they hired to evaluate the program bemoans that he has no measures by which to show the program has shown improvement for students because their tests show only memorization results. Sure, but if there's no item in the budget to create tests that show other kinds of analytical improvement you are left with $37 million spent and no proof whether it was spent well.

Most good programs are designed with feedback built in to understand whether a given change produces any result, positive or negative. It's terrible to see reports over and over that Maine did not plan to have any method to measure success. Throw a laptop at the kid, integrate it into the curriculum, and throw up your hands.

How about more teachers, better textbooks, better pre- and post-school programs? You know, things that there are decades upon decades of studies that they show have a measurable effect on kids' lives as kids and adults? Naw, not sexy enough.

HD Radio Redux: Still Months Away

A few weeks ago, I filed a small feature (samizdat link) for The New York Times on digital terrestrial radio, known often by its trademarked name, HD Radio. HD Radio overlays digital audio side-by-side with existing analog AM and FM station broadcasts, allowing AM stations to produce something that sounds like analog FM, and FM stations to have CD-level dynamic range and even additional digital subchannels.

When I filed the article, the timing was good because it appeared that one HD Radio receiver was on the market and three more would ship in the next few weeks to months. The one on the market is a $1,900 Yamaha behemoth that does 47,000 different things and has a million jacks on the back--and it happens to be the only HD Radio equipped component or tabletop device of any kind. (All the other HD Radios are embedded in car receivers; Kenwood, for instance, makes a generic module that works with a huge line of their receivers.)

Well, I've just done the survey of Boston Acoustics, Polk Audio, and Radiosophy, three companies expecting an August or later shipment for their products. Polk had told me earlier that they had pushed back to the first quarter of 2006. Radiosophy now says Jan. 2006 (instead of Sept. 2005) on their site. And Boston Acoustics said that Nov. 2005 is their firm shipping date instead of August, which was fluid.

What this means is that it's still the best radio you've never heard. But not for much, much longer.

All three companies ideally wanted to hit the pipeline for Christmas this year. Hitting November to March means that they'll be a little lost in the shuffle.

Glenn on Search in The Economist

D3805Tq2I've been saving up the news until it actually hit the stands (and Web): my first article in The Economist is out! I wrote "Death to folders!", a piece about the future of desktop search and the end of the tyranny of manual and self organization. I spoke to folks across a spectrum of academics and business, and received tremendous insight into the current state of things and the near-term future.

Turns out that many ideas on search have been bubbling up since about 1990, but they've only inserted themselves into operating systems and commercial programs lately. Several academics, including two quoted in the article, have wonderful visualization ideas that really need to be turned into desktop layers.

The Economist doesn't run bylines, so many colleagues have been joking with me that I could, of course, say I wrote everything in the issue. But I did write this really. It's for paid subscribers only for the first week; then the Technology Quarterly section is freely available.

Missing Piece in NOLA Left Behind Story

I've only seen this mentioned once in all of the coverage I've read of the descent to madness in New Orleans:

a) What percentage of New Orleans residents were estimated to be hard drug users before the evacuation?

b) What percentage afterwards?

People keep writing about a breakdown in order and so forth, and mention deteriorating mental health as one reason. The other is certainly withdrawal. There were no extra drugs in the city, and I imagine rich dealers fled along with the rest of the middle and upper class of the city.

If 100,000 people were left behind, which was the early official estimate (about 20 percent of 480,000 residents), and just 1,000 of them were drug users--thus estimating the drug usage in the city at 0.2%, laughably low for an urban town--then you have crazy people on the loose hallucinating, with the shakes, with uncontrollable behavior.

Sure, you have the looters laughing as they remove blue jeans and DVD players. Given that about 50,000 people were in two buildings (Superdome and Convention Center), and tens of thousands were in homes and businesses, who was left on the street?

Criminals knowing they could prey on others and steal. Drug addicts without access to drugs (and needing money if they could buy some). Mentally ill people who couldn't get themselves to shelter.

Let's not draw a lesson about society breaking down from this.

Take any city you live in. Pick an area bounded by the old town, the sports stadiums, the convention center, and a dangerous district with high crime and low income. These are often in a direct line or a square or triangle. Now picture everyone with money and cars having left town. Who would be left in your city? The desperately poor, the ill; the deranged, the street people, the criminals; the drug addicts.

The poor and the ill were abandoned in New Orleans. The other groups were lumped in regardless of degree of intent, risk, and sanity.

Society exists in part to protect people who can't protect themselves and in part to protect the majority of society that wants to live in peace from the smaller part of society that is incapable of doing anything but tearing it apart.

CNN Shows FEMA Lies Side by Side with Reality

Okay, we know the network and cable news anchors have gotten really pissed with officials. The government is trying to rewrite reality while cameras are rolling. They can't. If we were in a parliamentary democracy like England, the door would be smacking Bush's ass at 10 Downing Street.

But there's more. CNN put up this incredible quote by quote comparison between statements by the fatuous lying idiot in charge of the dismantled organization that was once FEMA against reporters and officials in the field as well as survivors.

You're seeing the kind of backbone from news stations that we haven't seen in years or decades. They are challenging power. They are contradicting lies. They are showing the truth.

Someone Also Thought of Norquist

I had this thought this morning that the architect of smaller government (which hasn't happened under Bush) has always talked about shrinking government to the size where it can be drowned in a bathtub.

I wonder what he would have been saying about drowning and bathtubs had he been on a roof in New Orleans for this last week wondering why the money and organization that would have allowed him to be rescued had disappeared?

Norquist et al. haven't shrunk government one bit. They've reduced taxes on the wealthy while tacitly not criticizing the massive growth in non-entitlement spending on military and homeland security that has, apparently, resulted in zero additional preparedness and zero additional international terrorist attacks.

No modern Republican president has shrunk government while shrinking deficits. Only one Democrat has.

See Daily Kos for a good image and comments.

Inadequate

There's nothing I can say about the hurricane or the government's response that hasn't been said elsewhere.

My only hope is that the callousness of the Bushies and the inadequate, terrible, unsympathetic response on their part will finally alert the red states to understand that these millionaires and power-hungry zealots don't care a rat's ass for them.

Where will the money come from rebuilding? From the blue states, as it has for the south many times before. Where will the private donations come from? In largest portion from the blue states.

When will someone stand up Rodney King like and say, "Can't we all just get along?"