Reflections on a Broken Wrist by Scott Lindrup

So, I recently went on my annual ski trip with my rowdy bunch of buddies . . . ok, we aren't really that rowdy anymore, but I managed to break my left wrist on the very first day. It's the first time I've ever had a major injury the kept me from getting back on the slopes and I've been skiing since I was 5 years old so I guess I'm pretty lucky. Well, now that there's a fair amount of rehab and I'm nowhere near my indestructible twenties , some of my non-skiing friends are telling me to slow it down and maybe take up croquette or really any activity that doesn't involve a potential battle with gravity.

Never going to happen.

So, I thought I'd just put up a video that I edited from our trip a few years ago to British Columbia as a reminder to myself and everyone else why it is very much worth a broken wrist to chase the powder. We went out to the back country with a great company called Big Red Cats. They treated us to one of our best days on the snow. So, enjoy and get out there for a few more turns. Me and my now bionic wrist will be ready to go next winter. 

Troll Thwarted, Podcasters Safely Cross Bridge by Scott Lindrup

Podcasting has risen steadily in popularity over the last few years and the recent ruling against patent holding company Personal Audio LLC suggests that podcasting could experience even more growth in the coming years. High profile podcasts, Adam Corolla's show probably being the most prominent, were targeted by Personal Audio LLC under the dubious claim that they owned a technological patent on the on the basic distribution of podcasts.

This claim, while seemingly absurd on technical merit, was most likely part of a strategy to harass podcasters and force them to settle for a much smaller amount than the original claim just to avoid the annoyance, cost, and time to defend against the claim. The judge, however, ruled that the supposed patent was not valid in the first place and was therefor unenforceable.

This does not end the fight against patent trolls but it does strike a blow for the good guys. It also gave some attention to podcasts that, for many listeners, were just another category to be ignored in iTunes.

Podcasting is often portrayed as a competitor to traditional radio or even just another way to listen to traditional radio. Indeed, popular radio programs like “This American Life” also have popular podcasts that are just releases of the original show, but some shows are using podcasting to experiment with new styles and formats.

The “Serial” podcast recently earned well-deserved accolades for its storytelling and production quality. “Serial” follows the story of a Baltimore teen convicted of the murder of his girlfriend. The most interesting thing about the podcast was that it was released while the reporter was researching and reporting the story. Each episode was a snapshot of a real moment in the investigation. Probably the most frustrating part of the podcast that, unlike traditional stories, there was no concrete resolution offered at the end of the series.

Some of the most popular podcasts are long form interviews or conversations. These sorts of conversations would be unwieldy or even impossible in a traditional radio format.  They would be too long and the conversations would be forced to fit neatly between ad breaks. But as podcasts, they can thrive.

Many podcasts aim to be just the right size for the average commute. A solid 30 or 45 minute podcast fits nicely into that timespan that might otherwise be spent listening to terrestrial radio along with the ever-present advertising.

So what is the future of podcasting? With the Personal Audio LLC ruling, the way is somewhat clearer. Advertisers are starting to take notice and with that notice, rates for advertising within podcasts will rise. Will this drive out the creative independents and turn the medium over to large corporations who can deliver better produced content at a higher rate? That remains to be seen. I certainly hope that increased podcast popularity further broadens the range of perspectives available and broadens the audience taking part in the conversation. 

Fail On, SpaceX by Scott Lindrup

Who doesn’t dream of owning their own spaceship company? I mean, seriously, Elon Musk, you’re basically trolling every kid who grew up reading Asimov and worshiping Star Wars. You made billions in the internet boom and then, instead of going all wolf-of-wall-street, you decided it would be more fun to build the best electric car and, oh yeah, build spaceships. I’m totally jealous.

SpaceX is a different kind of spaceship company. That’s not to say there are all that many to compare but one trend that I hope the other companies will pick up is the ridiculous transparency of SpaceX. We get to live stream their launches, including their failures, and then Musk happily tweets what happened and how they plan to fix it.

I love that they boldly and proudly fail. Building spaceships is hard and we are approaching the time when the general public, well the ridiculously wealthy general public, will become participants in the spaceflight economy. Secrecy does not breed trust and trust is a necessary component for commercial spaceflight. 

Watching a Falcon 9 successfully launch, deliver it’s payload to the ISS, and then fail spectacularly when it tries to land itself on a barge floating in the middle of the ocean is a thrilling thing. It may seem counterintuitive that this builds trust but I think it’s a pretty great strategy. 

Make no mistake, SpaceX needs a nearly flawless safety record to continue to grow, but it really doesn’t risk much to put everything they do out into the public. If they fail, it’s going to be out there. If they succeed, and they succeed a lot more than they fail, that will be out there as well, answering every misstep with glorious HD success. I can almost guarantee that the first successful recovery of the Falcon 9 will garner significantly more attention than their failures and that’s precisely because we’ve been able to see those failures. 

So, Mr. Musk, keeps those videos coming and keep tweet trolling all us jealous nerds. I’m emotionally invested and, as much as I like all the explody goodness of the Falcon 9 falling over, I’m even more geeked to see that baby standing proudly as the smoke clears. 

The Pizza Testing Paradox by Scott Lindrup

I just watched John Oliver eviscerate standardized testing on “Last Week Tonight.” Everyone should watch it. As usual for the show, it’s spot-on and hilarious. It also got me thinking. There seems to be a fundamental flaw in how we measure effectiveness. Let’s take George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind act that really pushed standardized testing over the edge.

One of the initial motivators for NCLB was the overall poor performance of US students on the PISA tests. These are international test that try to gauge overall performance on basic competencies like math and reading. US students were ranked near the bottom of those tests when George W. Bush announced his No Child Left Behind program. They are still at the bottom.

NCLB mandated increased testing and tied it to school funding based on student performance. This meant that schools had to stop teaching a broad curriculum and focus on preparing students for the barrage of tests just to survive. Ok, now this seems a plausible solution .  .  . ok, it’s not even superficially a plausible solution.

The NCLB approach to standardized testing relies on the tests being accurate measures of an individual student’s progress. The increasing performance disparity between students with different cultural or economic backgrounds certainly questions the accuracy of those tests but so does common sense.

Standardized tests are poor measures of individual performance precisely because they are standardized. In any population of students, there will be varying comprehension of topics. Standardized test don’t measure shades of gray so they will never tell you if a particular student understood 90% of a problem or 10%. They don't measure partial understanding. They also don't measure if the student slept well or ate breakfast or got in a fight on the bus to school. All these things have an effect on performance.

Even for fundamental concepts that should be a sort of “you get it or you don’t” situation the test can’t be sure that the student missed a question because they didn’t understand the concept or because they didn’t understand the question. Imagine a student whose first language is not English attempting a simple math problem phrased in English sentences. Did the student miss it because they didn’t understand the math or because they didn’t understand the grammar.

But I think all of this misses the fundamental flaw. The tests aren’t measuring competence. They are measuring test performance. Is that the goal of our education system? If so, it is failing. But I don’t want test performance to be the goal of our education system.

Shouldn’t we be measuring real world performance? Shouldn’t we prepare students for jobs or for college? Measures for success in those areas already exist. Measure how many students graduate and get jobs. Measure how many students go to college and complete a degree. Then measure how many of those students get jobs. Those are the real goals, aren’t they?

Of course we need measurements along the way to find areas where we need to focus or improve our approach but don’t tie those intermediate measurements to funding. Use those to get better not to punish schools and teachers.

Let me try an analogy. If you make a pizza and it doesn’t taste good, you can’t just adjust the taste the next time around. The taste is result of a complex procedure involving the quality of the ingredients, the process of combining them, cooking procedure, and personal preferences sprinkled throughout. What you would do is break it into the necessary steps and ingredients. None of these intermediary steps will have the taste of the final pizza at that moment, but if you judge each part individually and improve where appropriate, you will likely improve the taste of your final pizza. The flour used to make the crust in no way tastes like the final pizza but the choice of flour is essential to the final outcome.

Education is far more complex than making a pizza but I think the principle is the same. If you monitor the process throughout and adjust the individual components, you might get the results we all want, happy and successful members of society . . . and better pizza.

Hyperdrive Warranties by Scott Lindrup

I stood in line all night to see the Phantom Menace. I remember enjoying the experience immensely. People were dressed up as storm troopers and Jedis and I think there was even a few Jawas there. We played games and had trivia contests. We were all so happy and optimistic right up until the crawl started and we met the greedy trade federation and their dispute over the taxation of trade routes. What was this? Where is the period of civil war, the dark time for the rebellion, the . . . ok, Jedi’s opening crawl was kinda lame, but at least it had a vile gangster. I should have known at that moment to pull my heart off of my sleeve and hide it back inside my Empire Strikes Back lunchbox. That crawl was C-3PO desperately trying to tell Han that the hyperdrive was broken. I should have known it wouldn’t work. Hyperdrives don’t come with warranties.

Now we are here again. I’m so irrationally excited for The Force Awakens that I don’t even care if it rips my heart out. I slobber over teaser trailers and interviews with J.J. Abrams. I watch the trailer frame by frame and try to make out if that really is the same cyborg hand Luke had at the end of Empire. I want to be amazed, J.J. Abrams. I’m in. What’s that C-3PO? Something about the hyperdrive? Nonsense. It’s totally going to work this time.

What the hell is wrong with me? Can’t I just be a normal person and forget about this damn movie until it actually opens in a movie theater? Of course I can’t. Star Wars is intertwined with my youth. It’s too personal to me, and to most Star Wars fans, to just be blasé about it. It’s more fun to care about Star Wars, to revel in its idiosyncrasies, to open our vulnerable little fan boy hearts to it.

Sometime soon I’ll stand outside a movie theater in the middle of the night and play Star Wars Trivial Pursuit and this time I’ll lose to a twelve year old because he loves the damn prequels and knows the name of the planet where Count Dooku fought Yoda. I’m ok with that. The anticipation, the dread, the excitement; it’s all part of the Star Wars experience. So wind me up. Tease me with more clips of storm troopers and X-Wings. Because when you really need it, when you’ve just snatched a one handed Luke from the bottom of cloud city, just before Darth Vader can wrap his tractor beam around the Falcon, R2-D2 is going to fix that hyperdrive.

Punch it Chewie.