“The goal is to have curious and creative students who can function in life...”

From the article Wrong Answer, published in The New Yorker edition dated July 21, 2014, concerning organized cheating, by teachers and administrators, on standardized tests in Atlanta schools:

John Ewing, who served as the executive director of the American Mathematical Society for fifteen years, told me that he is perplexed by educators’ ”infatuation with data,” their faith that it is more authoritative than using their own judgment. He explains the problem in terms of Campbell’s law, a principle that describes the risks of using a single indicator to measure complex social phenomena: the greater the value placed on a quantitative measure, like test scores, the more likely it is that the people using it and the process it measures will be corrupted. “The end goal of education isn’t to get students to answer the right number of questions,” he said. “The goal is to have curious and creative students who can function in life.” In a 2011 paper in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, he warned that policymakers were using mathematics “to intimidate—to preëmpt debate about the goals of education and measures of success.”

The article referenced is available online – Mathematical Intimidation: Driven by the Data – and is an interesting exploration of the concept of “value-added modeling” in educational testing.

So much of the educational agenda over the last school year was consumed with public discussion of the December 2013 release of PISA test results for the Islandaround the Home and School table as much as anywhere else – that it’s helpful to gain context about how testing is conducted, how the results are interpreted and reported, and whether or not they are of value for making practical decisions about educational policy.

Where's my summer been?

For the last 90 days I’ve been running an app called Backtitude on my Android phone that sends my geolocation to a server where it gets stored away in a database.

Backtitude updates my location every 5 minutes, but only if it detects that I’ve moved more than 20 metres, so it’s recorded a total of 4,189 geolocations over 90 days rather than 25,000+ that it would have otherwise.

I built a little web app for myself to visualize my travels: there’s a dot on every location and lines connecting each successive one.

Here’s what my summer – May 21 to August 20 – has looked like so far:

Map of my summer so far, zoomed way out.

I took a trip to Europe in June and a trip to New England in July: that’s what the long connecting lines are.

The map is more interesting when I zoom in; here’s my travel on the Island, for example: I’ve gone as far west as Ellerslie and and as far east as Cardigan.

Travel on  PEI this summer

And here’s my summer in Charlottetown, where I spent the most time:

It all becomes more manageable if I decrease the date range that I visualize; here’s the last 24 hours in Charlottetown, for example. Outside of the Richmond Street corridor that connects my house to my office, everything else is dog-walking.

24 hours in Charlottetown

There’s utility both in looking at the overall terrain I’ve covered, but also in looking at specific trips: back in July I decided to follow Waze’s guidance for getting into Logan Airport in heavy traffic. As a result, I blindly drove hither and thither and had no memory of where I’d been. Except that I did:

Trip into Boston

So I know, as a result, that on July 18 at 4:47 p.m. I was on Rte. 57 between the 128 and Alewife.

And here, earlier in July, is a day-trip into Utrecht in The Netherlands, arriving at the train station, walking through the centre to the Universiteitsmuseum, then a walk uptown for summer before returning to our campground:

Utrecht afternoon.

And here’s a walk around the centre of the town of Zaltbommel one afternoon on an open studio tour:

Zaltbommel studio tour

Looking back over the last 90 days my travels are fading from memory far enough that navigating back through my geolocation timeline has an effect similar to flipping through vacation photos. I’ll be interested to experience the same thing once I’ve been tracking my location for, say, a year or two.

If you’re interested in doing the same thing, here’s the server-side code that accepts geolocations from Backtitude.

What's that, you say? The Return of Comments!

One of the side-effects of suspending the cross-posting to Facebook that I announced yesterday was that you readers were again left without any way of leaving comments on posts here, something that, once I removed the ability to comment here directly several months ago, Facebook jumped in to fill a vacuum.

While I didn’t want to go back to old-school-spam-embattled commenting, I did want to reintroduce reader comments, and so I migrated the archive of 20,000+ comments stretching back more than 15 years into Disqus, something I dipped a toe in the water of in 2012

Like Facebook, Disqus too is “a commercial somewhere else,” but in this situation I think the utility afforded by Disqus makes this outsourcing worthwhile, at least as an experiment.

So comment-away, dear readers.

And, while you’re at it, revel in your newfound access to comments of yore: the Mac OS X Accounting Software for Canada? post, for example, has 175 of them, many containing really useful information.

Comments on the return of comments – and on the functionality offered by Disqus – are welcome.

Update later in the day: I knew that Disqus was too good to be true. I realized, almost as soon as I started to navigate the web, that the Disqus business model is based on its ability to litter cookies into users browsers tied to content, which is then sold to third parties as a vector for advertising. I noticed this because I was using this post on Transunion to test comments, and all of a sudden all the advertising I was seeing on the web was for Transunion. This kind of thing is precisely why I turned off Google Analytics, another vector for advertising data to leak out of the site, and so reintroducing this through the (otherwise quite handy and functional) Disqus seemed like a step backwards. So, new plan: I’m importing all of the old native-to-Drupal-stored-here-not-elsewhere comments – you’ll find them in place now, albeit rendered in a rather ugly fashion – and I’ll turn back on the ability to add new comments tomorrow. Sorry for the confusion. Lesson learned.

Update the next day: Comments have returned. Proceed as you were.

And so ends the Facebook experiment. I hope to see you all outside from time to time...

About a year ago I had someone coming to visit me from away and the only way I had of getting in touch with them was through Facebook.

Which meant that I was exposed to Facebook again for the first time in several years.

And so I decided to pay attention for a while: I was interested to see if, despite misgivings about its status as a sort Compuserve-like private Internet, there was value to be derived for the parts of my soul I was forced to give up.

I stuck with it for a year. I did, indeed, connect with some long-lost friends. And got some good letterpress advice from Sweden. I even set up an IFTTT recipe to automatically repost anything appearing on this blog as a new Facebook post, just to see what would happen, and when I shut off comments here Facebook became the de facto place for readers to leave comments. There certainly was some value to be had in the connections I made there, and in the continuous partial attention I was able to pay to a wide circle of family, friends and neighbours.

But, after a year, I’m bringing the experiment to a close. This will be my last post echoed to Facebook, and you shouldn’t expect to be able to reach me through Facebook’s communication tools any longer.

Which means that if you want to read what I write, you’ll need to come over to http://ruk.ca/ to do so, and if you want to reach me you’ll need to use one of the other myriad ways you’ll find laid out at http://ruk.ca/contact-peter-rukavina.

What’s ultimately responsible for disconnecting me from Facebook is simply being uncomfortable with contributing to the Facebook paradox: people join Facebook, and stay there, because everyone else, it seems, has a Facebook account. And so on. It’s where the baby pictures are. And the value proposition for many means that they’re willing to put up with the highly-targeted ads to see those baby pictures.

I’ve got nothing against the baby pictures, but I’ve decided that I can’t countenance continuing to engage with a system that is missing so many aspects of what makes free, open, non-Facebook Internet attractive.

And so, as much as I’m able, I’ll work on furthering that free, open, non-Facebook Internet, creating other less onerous homes for baby pictures.

It’s been an interesting year. I’ll see you all outside, I hope.

Winter River Trail Head

Cautionary Tale for CIBC Visa customers sold to TD Visa

In an episode of corporate gymnastics that I don’t completely understand, CIBC sold part of its Aerogold Visa business to TD Canada Trust. I happened to be in the part of the business that was sold, and so in June of this year my CIBC Visa became a TD Visa (ironically I’d switched away from TD Visa several years ago to CIBC; they just keep pulling me back in again).

As part of the transition, I received a new Visa card number, and had to switch to using TD’s online systems. Because I’m a “pay my credit card balance every month, on time” kind of person, on the day I received my new TD Visa card, I immediately registered for a “TD EasyWeb” account for the card and turned on email statement notifications so I’d be sure not to miss my first statement.

And then life went on.

Until yesterday when I went to pay for something with my new TD Visa only to have it declined.

This morning I phoned TD to find out why and I was told that there was a “non-payment hold” put on my account because I hadn’t made a payment. I replied that I hadn’t received a statement yet, despite having set up email statement notification.

It was only at this point that I learned that, sometime after I set up a new EasyWeb account for the new credit card, TD, of its own volition, merged the new Visa card into my existing EasyWeb account, attached to a line of credit and a long-dormant chequing account. This old EasyWeb account didn’t have email notification turned on, which is why I never received a statement.

The agent claimed that the only way to make all of this right was to make a payment on the account, wait 3 to 5 business days for the payment to clear, then wait a further 2 business days for the hold to be removed.

In other words, I’d be without my business credit card for a week.

Despite my protests that this would be extremely inconvenient – not only would I not be able to purchase anything online for the business, but any automatic payments associated with the account would presumably be kicked back declined as well – I was told there was no way to override the system and that I was stuck.

I hung up.

I called back.

I explained the situation again, from the start, to a second agent.

The second agent told me he would immediately remove the hold, remove the $16 in interest that had accrued because of non-payment, and that I could start using the card again immediately.

So, TD, I’m not impressed.

And if you find yourself in the same situation you may want to both check to make sure you’re email statement notifications are turned on, and, if you find agent number one unhelpful, call back and speak to agent number two or three, who may have better answers.