September 18, 2000-- Newsletter #98

By Joe Burns

September 18, 2000--Newsletter #98
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors,

Did you hear

If you sell over the Internet in California, you might have to collect tax. At least that's what a bill put before the congress states. Democratic assemblywoman Carole Migden proposed the bill in such a way that it doesn't seem to conflict with the Internet Tax Freedom Act. This is a dumb move. The original idea, to collect more tax, will simply be thwarted when all the business will pick up and move elsewhere. Plus, what if I live in California, but my server is in Mexico? Now what?

Two researches at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) have found a problem with NAPSTER users now that the courts have become involved. People are still taking, but hardly anyone is sharing. Those who take files, but then do not put files back into the system are called free riders. They researchers found that the top 20% of those using the system donated almost 98% of the music. The suggestion is that if this continues, what is available will stagnate and the system might collapse in on itself.

Did you get the Amazon email that said they were changing their privacy policy and will soon be sharing their data with others? It's not happening yet, but the email suggested it was going to happen soon. I've seen three stories on this and no one seems to have a comment from Amazon.

Now onto today's topic

How many of you out there are college or university students? Raise your hands. Uh-huh. OK. How many of you were required to have a laptop computer when you went off to class?

That many, huh?

How about you private high-school students? Laptops?

I see.

It's a growing trend. More and more, students are not only told that laptops might be a good idea, it's becoming a requirement. I've been in more than one committee meeting that's discussed raising tuition $500 a year and simply giving students laptops when they arrive. The machines would be loaded with all the software needed for a major and would be replaced after the student's sophomore year. The laptops would be password protected so that the student couldn't steal the software or copy on some of their own software. (Yeah that would last a good two weeks.)

Storage? No sweat. CD burners would be in the classroom or provided as an add-on to the laptop. They're becoming pretty cheap.

There would be little portals all over the school where students could sit, plug in and surf away.

Cool, huh?

I voted for it. I think it's a pretty good idea. I'll bet a lot of you students out there feel the same way. There are a few other things to think about past the good it will do, like what if the new freshman drops the laptop and it does a triple with a half twist off the stair railing, or the hard drive crashes, or the software isn't quite right? There must be backup plans. My thinking is the student brings in the bad computer and simply trades it in for a new one while first is being repaired. You get one mishap for free, you pay from that point on.

From a student point of view, that's cool. The big concerns I ran into were from other teachers. Here are a few concerns they brought up:

1. Note taking. If you work in an office, just stop and listen to the clickity-click. Pencils and paper are not overly loud, but try putting 30, 50, 70, 100 students into a lecture hall, all with laptops and listen to the noise they make.

2. Attention. First off, any teacher will tell you that in order to keep a class's attention you usually have to do something just short of juggling flaming chain saws. Even then, I'm amazed at how many students yawn with a mouth wider than the MGM lion at the beginning of the Wizard of Oz. I teach two classes where students sit in front of computers. I can't remember the last time I had all eyes up and on me at the same time. I wanted to get a discussion started in the last class and actually had to ask the students to shut the computers off in order to get their full attention.

3. Computer-savvy. Just because a person is a student, doesn't mean they all know the workings of a computer. We can all use a pen and paper, but can we all highlight, copy and paste? Better yet can the teacher? I think the later is of the most concern to some.

4. Speed. Can we all use the computer at the same pace? I type very fast do you?

5. The computer is down. Pencils can be sharpened. Busted hard drives take time to fix. If laptops are required, then students will expect professors to incorporate them into classes. Once a class becomes wrapped around a computer, if it breaks oh boy. Even if we do implement the trade-it-in format, the student will still be down at least one class period.

Yes, I know these are all concerning topics, but you know what? I don't care.

A university committee could beat this idea until there's absolutely no life left in it at all, then break off sub-committees until we micro-examine every portion of this format, and still not convince me that this isn't the way to go.

We may have to start off slowly at first, even make the ability to use a computer a requirement for coming into the school. Those students interested in attending will prepare themselves, or we the school will offer summer classes to prepare the students.

We would be hard-pressed to find a job that doesn't require the ability to use a computer. I know at my school, all students are required to either take, or test out of, an introductory computer class. I say the class remains in place, but students bring the laptop to class. Then take it to their next class. Then take it to their next class.

Over-crowded computer labs would be a thing of the past. Students could write their papers at any time of the day, from any place on campus. There wouldn't be the long line of people watching the clock tick away as people take up a computer terminal answering email while they have a paper to write.

Are there down sides? Yep. Will there be problems?

You know what? We deal with them. Incoming freshmen should be cyber-equipped. I think the pros well outweigh the cons.

Plus since we raised tuition as part of the deal, you get to keep the laptop when you graduate.

Providing you pay all of your parking fines and over-due library fees first.


That's That. Thanks so much for reading. I do enjoy writing knowing that someone will actually run their eyes over the words.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And remember: Are you a NERD? I am. If you're one too, be proud! Do you know who came up with the word? Dr. Seuss. It first appeared in his 1950 book, If I Ran the Zoo. The line goes, And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-Troo And Bring Back an It-Kutch a Preep and a Proo a Nerkle a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!" If you'd like a to see an image for a Nerd. Go to:

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