Friday, May 06, 2011


Too Long for Tweets, Too Short for Posts

- With all the technological advances of the last decade, why are we still using passwords? They’re both insecure and cumbersome. Computer geeks of the world: whoever comes up with a more elegant answer than passwords has a pile of money waiting for her. I’m just sayin’.

- I recently went through another roundtable with local employers, talking about our technical and workforce-oriented degrees. I could have cut-and-pasted from the discussions at PU ten years ago. They kept saying the same thing they said a decade ago in a different state: it’s the communication skills and the ability to see the big picture that count. I actually asked if they’d be willing to just hire the sharpest liberal arts grads and train them; most of them gave variations on “y’know, we used to do that...” Note to employers: do it again. We have some damn smart liberal arts grads with excellent communication skills, and they tend to be quick studies.

- We took The Dog to a doggie shrink earlier this week. I feel like I crossed some sort of cultural divide in even admitting that. The issue is that she attacks visitors in the house. The shrink basically came up with “some dogs are like that. Try this collar.” Thanks.

- Even after all these years, I’m still amazed at the number of people who say “listen” when they mean “obey.” It’s entirely possible to listen to an idea and disagree with it. “The administration didn’t listen. It didn’t do what we said.” In that passage, the second sentence offers no support for the first, unless you define ‘listen’ to mean ‘obey.’

- If I read one more story about the “higher education bubble” that fails to mention the unbelievable affordability of community colleges, or that takes Harvard’s tuition level as somehow normative...

- The Girl made the cover of the local newspaper last week. You can be as cynical an academic as you want; when you see your kid smiling brightly on the front page, it makes your day.

There are excellent alternatives to passwords, but (1) you can't afford them and (2) they are more cumbersome than a strong password.

If your IT people can't give a short tutorial on simple strong passwords, fire them. [Hint: disenvoweled short phrases with special characters for spaces.] If you can't use strong passwords because your system will not accept more than 6 or 8 characters or exclude weak ones, replace it.

I'd say more, but my longer comments keep getting deleted.
Re: Dog Shrinks. EVERYTHING scares my parents dog, Parker. If a stranger looks directly at him, he'll run out of the room. My parents had to take him to a obedience class specifically designed for neurotic dogs. Now they're using massage therapy & pressure points to manage his anxiety. As silly and over the top as it all sounds, I'm so glad Parker and DD's dog ended up with families who are willing to help them, rather than boot them back to the shelter.
There is a serious disconnect regarding employers and training. The investment you make in training a solid, eager-to-learn employee regardless of degree status will always be rewarded. And I think most decent managers know this. But the dominant hiring paradigm is still, "find someone who did this exact job somewhere else, or who has a degree in X, so that she can take on the highest possible workload as soon as she walks in the door with minimal training."

Organizations don't work that way. No matter what kind of education and experience you have, you will need to learn the requirements of your institution, and your manager, and the needs of your co-workers. So much of what most desk jockeys do can absolutely be learned, but someone has to be willing to put in the time to train. I know everyone within academia and without is understaffed, so nobody wants to take that time, but what we are doing now is not working.
disenvoweled - my new favorite verb!
Let me play translator--there are implied phrases missing from the end of this sentence: “The administration didn’t listen. It didn’t do what we said.” The missing part is: "They didn’t do what we said, and they did a piss poor job of explaining why not, strongly conveying that they just don't care about our concerns." Or maybe that's just how things work at my institution?
I had an admin who used "consensus" to mean "agreement". "We still don't have consensus" meant "you still haven't agreed with me" — and meetings would drag on for hours until people agreed just so they could leave.
I've been hearing the myth about how businesses want to hire more liberal arts grads since I was a liberal arts grad back in the 1980s. It's never been true.

I've never figured out why the lie persists -- that is, what employers have to gain by pretending that they're interested in English majors when all they want is more MBAs.

Here's how you know the business world isn't interested in liberal arts graduates: they never give money to liberal arts programs. When was the last time you saw a rich donor's name over the Philosophy building, or a corporate grant for studying poetry, or even some CEO willing to part with five bucks to help out the hungry History major he passes in the street? Engineering programs, research labs, business schools, you bet. Ethnic Studies? Not so much.

They feed a line about wanting communication skills, critical thinking, and creativity, but then they go on hiring people just like themselves.

I know, bitter much? Well, old wounds fester.
Dean Dad, I'm sorry you're having trouble with your dog. The business of attacking people at the door is fear-based aggression and while a fancy collar might work, what really works best is you or TW asserting authority and control. Have the dog on a leash when people come to the door or put one on before you open the door. (Works best when you recruit a friend to do door-knocking at a time you both have free.) Then make the dog sit and be quiet for YOU before the door opens. Reinforce that sit and attention when the door is opened and when the person comes in.

Good luck with that. Time, attention and burning off a dog's energy will help in teaching them to accept others' visiting.
"Time, attention and burning off energy will help in teaching them", applies to more then just dogs.

Industry wants smart literate people with good communications and interpersonal skills who also are Engineers, Technicians, Accountants, Machinists, Chemists and so on.
Personally, I think businesses make a huge mistake in not hiring folks who have been trained to learn and communicate. Fortunately, MBA programs admit liberal arts grads.

On the other hand, community colleges offer a wonderful opportunity for students to gain specific skills (business classes, computer classes, etc) while broadening their liberal arts skills (communication, critical thinking, etc). Most of our programs at Local Community College require students to take courses outside their vocational goal classes. My art history courses- an excellent value for your money if taught by real art historians, and not just the "art staff"- are filled with potential nurses, businessmen, computer experts, plumbers, auto mechanics, cosmetologists, etc. learning to write, learning to analyze, and learning ways of thinking that allow for creativity and constructive problem solving.

All at an affordable price. How win-win is that? Community colleges rock.
Businesses don't hire liberal arts majors because class warfare is more important even than profit. The last thing our plutocratic overlords want is meritocracy.
On hiring liberal arts grads, I don't think it's some conspiracy or stigma against academia. Obviously employers want smart, motivated people with strong critical thinking and problem solving skills. But this is generally: they also really need someone who can do conditional formatting in Excel *right now*. That honours history student with great writing abilities who's a problem solver? Sounds good. Can they use Crystal Reports? Oh, nevermind. Why don't the employers provide training? "It's not in our mission/economy has caused cutbacks in training/we've had success with local schools doing the training". Might be somewhat true, but it's still hokum.

Of course, it is at least theoretically possible to integrate such tools into traditional classroom settings in the arts and sciences.
JMG, this was the #1 benefit of my work-study job in college: it gave me some exposure to computers in an employment setting. Everything else I know about computers - and I now work in a fairly technical field - grew out of that. So I ended up being the prototypical liberal arts student and ALSO someone who could do a mail merge in their sleep. It's worked out pretty well for me so far.
The thing is, training on a given technical job for a good liberal-arts grad takes maybe a week.

So employers are giving up years of productivity to avoid doing a few days of training. Impressive, in its own way.
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