14 July 2014

A cloud for every season – who says you only need one cloud solution?

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast show Rob Reynolds, a senior software developer and creator of Chocolatey, explains how he uses a variety of different cloud computing solutions for hosting his applications. Amazon’s EC2 is great for streaming and AppHarbor is brilliant for integration with Git and easy hosting of apps. Azure was overpriced and difficult, but they have made a lot of improvements recently which Rob thinks might warrant a second look. Rob suggests that anyone trying to offer a cloud computing product should consider the freemum model. Offer some capabilities for free and charge for add-ons.
It was fascinating to hear Rob talk about his initiatives to create theChocolatey and Chuck Norris Open Source initiatives that are adding using capabilities to the Windows world. Who says Open Source is only about Linux?
You can read Rob’s blog here:

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15 November 2012

Secrets of a master blogger

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast show Mukesh Agarwal shares the secrets that have led him to be a master blogger, able to make an actual income of his sites. It turns out that the key to blogging success is simple: deliver what readers want. Mukesh explains how he has been able to constantly hone his blogs by watching which subjects attract the most interest and then focus on that. He is constantly creating new blogs targeted to subjects readers are most interested in. Of course, it helps to have useful content and a real interest in the topics you write about. Mukesh’s natural interest in VOIP has made blogging about methods to better use the internet for audio conversations a natural fit.
His web sites on the Uhuru service consistently outrank the thousands of other sites in traffic levels.
Mukesh has found the Uhuru service offers the kind of advanced features he is looking in running his sites but he has certainly felt the pain of some of the Uhuru service outages while it is in beta is eager to see it go into commercial operation. Even an hour of downtime a month is a big deal to Mukesh’s blogs that get hundreds of thousands of visitors a day.
You can reach Mukesh by using the contact form at http://www.freecallshub.com/

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06 July 2012

GIS and the cloud – the perfect marriage

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast show Ming Lee, the manager of on-line operations at ESRI UK, talks about the tremendous benefits his company has seen in taking their Global Information Systems (GIS) software to the cloud. By moving to virtual machines on hosting services like Amazon Ming has reduced IT costs and increased capacity to handle large amounts of traffic and processing all at the same time. Ming can spin up new machines as fast as he wants, and take them down when no longer needed. Ming has looked as Platforms as a Service (PaaS) but found that the highly customized apps he supports won’t run well on them. However, new GIS apps are being written with the cloud in mind from the start (such as not relying on the OS for state) which will enable even more productivity improvements in the future.
Be sure and check out the GIS web site Ming helped make possible that tracks Diamond Jubilee events throughout the UK, in celebration of Queen Elizabeth
Another great GIS site Ming supports focusses on the Titanic:
You can read Ming’s blog here:

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20 June 2012

The clouds are different down under

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast show Pabich Pawel, a Senior Consultant at Readify, talks about his experiences helping companies in Australia bring their web applications to the cloud. Unfortunately, the dearth of local cloud computing services often means that Australian companies have to put up with barely tolerable latencies accessing off-shore clouds. The closest Azure hosting service is in Singapore. It also doesn’t help that many of the services Pabich’s customers want, like Microsoft’s MSMQ, aren’t even available on the cloud (just try and find MSMQ on Azure).
In other respects, migrating to the cloud is no different for Australian IT professionals than anyone else. Moving to virtualized environments on the cloud is always a good first step since you can easily move existing apps no matter how messy they are that way. As more and more apps are built to be cloud friendly the Platform as a Service offerings (PaaS) become more practical. Pabich likes using AppHarbor for his personal projects. The Git integration on AppHarbor is a big plu
You can find Pabich’s blog here:

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10 June 2012

Creating a School of Excellence: Admissions vs. Demissions

An effective student selection process is central to creating a great private school environment, but not sufficient. When the atmosphere or social dynamics of the student body deteriorate, it is easy to point fingers at admissions, blaming them for accepting unqualified students. While admissions can make mistakes, or even take unsuccessful gambles on marginal applicants, it is imperative to have a clear process for identifying students who don’t belong and counseling them out.

Many schools count exclusively on the admissions filtering to manage the student body, excepting extreme cases like felonies on campus. When, inevitably, a few students prove themselves a nefarious influence on the student body, they must be exit, both to eliminate their influence on others and to set a clear example that such behavior is not tolerated. A school must maintain clear academic and behavioral standards and apply them consistently.

Parents who send their children to private schools are not only paying for quality academics, but for a filtered environment where their children will be surrounded by quality students. The less effective the filtering, the less value there is in paying a premium over quality public alternatives.

The same principle applies to faculty. In spite of the fact that many private schools issue annual contracts to their faculty with no extended commitment, they hesitate to ask mediocre faculty not to return. Further, as pay is often based exclusively on a combination of seniority and education levels, there is little built-in incentive for faculty to maintain their vigor after they have established themselves. As long as they perform above the minimum requirements, they can focus their extra energies on their families and personal interests. This creates an environment of mediocrity.

The pass/fail assessment of faculty is in stark contrast with the graduated grading system used habitually for students. Honors ceremonies unite the entire student body to celebrate the students who make the dean’s list and who achieve great grades, but teachers are usually only celebrated for seniority or external accolades. That sends the signal that teachers are better off conserving their energy in order to last longer and thus move higher up the salary ladder.

The majority of students and faculty respond positively to effective incentives, raising the standards of the entire school. In a school such incentives, performance would improve such that few students and faculty would need to leave, and they would be motivated to constantly give their full efforts.

Identifying clear values and expectations and creating consistently enforced incentives to propagate those values among both faculty and students creates an environment of excellence. Quality admissions and hiring solve only part of the problem. Quality on-going incentives within the community keep it vigorous and healthy.

17 May 2012

Does your desktop belong in the cloud?

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast show Brian Byrne, the founder of MeshIP, tells about the benefits of running desktops in the cloud. For the same reasons that cloud computing makes sense for web servers, there are compelling reasons to run your personal productivity and desktop tools in the cloud as well. Brian’s company offers a VDI hosted solution which allows centralized management and backups. Running your desktop in the cloud might not be cheaper than buying a low cost PC for your desk, but when you add in the reliability improvements and IT management savings, the advantages of desktop hosting in the cloud are substantial.
You can find more about Byrne’s company here:

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15 May 2012

Not all .NET roads lead to Microsoft

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast Troy Hunt, a software architect and Microsoft MVP for developer security, talks about his great experience using the AppHarbor Platform as a Service to host his .NET applications. He has looked at Microsoft’s Azure PaaS but found the requirements to rewrite his .NET apps to be prohibitive. Moreover, the AppHarbor integration with GitHub offers source control management that Troy hasn’t seen anywhere else.
The .NET PaaS takes away all the pain of having to manage servers. There is no going back to traditional hosting on virtual machines for Troy.
You can find Troy’s blog here:
You can find Troy’s app that tests the security of .NET web sites here:

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14 May 2012

RavenDB – the NoSQL database for the rest of us

RavenDB – the NoSQL database for the rest of us
In this episode of the Uhuru podcast show Oren Eini, a software developer and avid blogger, tells about his passion of bringing NoSQL database technology to Windows that led him to become a major contributor to the Open Source RavenDB project. While the NoSQL database offerings on Linux are pioneering a lot of great ideas they are inflexible and extremely difficult to configure and use. RavenDB is different. Almost anyone can get RavenDB up and running quickly and it doesn’t require an immersion in esoteric configuration settings to tune.
Since RavenDB uses simple REST APIs it can be used by any applications, whether they are on Linux or Windows. RavenDB runs well on cloud infrastructure services like Amazon Web Services and is also available in a dedicated service.
You can read more about Oren’s ideas at his blog (where he writes under a pseudonym).
You can read about RavenDB here:

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10 May 2012

The most common mistakes in selling a cloud service

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast show Peter Cohen, the founder ofSaaS Marketing Strategy Advisors, explains how selecting the right technologies for a cloud service requires a good dose of business and marketing acumen to succeed. Picking the right technology or platform to build a cloud service is just one piece of the puzzle.
Peter has seen wanna-be internet businesses make all manner of rookie mistakes such as under spending on marketing (who knew) and selling on cost alone (you’re dead if your only differentiator  is price). Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for success as a cloud service. Good marketing and pricing strategies will vary based on the specific business. Just make sure you are flexible and measure, measure, measure, results of everything you do.
You can find out more of Peter’s SaaS marketing ideas at his web site:

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Shadow IT and the cloud – Déjà vu all over again

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast show Brian Gracely, Director of solutions at EMC and host of the CloudCast podcast, reminisces on how cloud computing is filling the same role of empowering users as the PC and LANs did back in the ’80s and ’90s. With this phenomena of “shadow IT” developers and small departments are able to take advantage of cloud services and completely bypass traditional IT departments. All this empowerment does come with risks. Putting critical data on insecure cloud services with little traceability can come back to haunt you. There is still value in involving IT with cloud projects. Of course, forward thinking IT departments should show their users that they bring value to their cloud initiatives if they don’t want to see themselves shut out of even grass roots initiatives.
Brian also cautions that you shouldn’t expect cloud services to suddenly reduce bottom line costs. The cloud may offer unprecendented flexibility and start up velocity but they aren’t always as cheap as you think.
You can read check out Brian’s blog here:
His cloud computing podcast show is here:

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27 April 2012

Cloud Foundry Bridges the Clouds

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast, Dekel Tankel, a Cloud Foundry marketing manager at VMware, explains how one of the things that interested him most about Cloud Foundry was it’s ability to cross the chasm between clouds, allowing customers to easily move their applications between cloud service providers. To Dekel Cloud Foundry is all about giving more choices to developers without locking people into a particular service or technology.
Developers can start with the Cloud Foundry micro-cloud as they build their app prototypes, running locally on a laptop, and then deploy to a cloud service when their code has matured. No other cloud service offers this degree of flexibility ranging from the private to public clouds.
At times the enthusiasm for Cloud Foundry is daunting to Dekel (they had 10,000 developers register in the first 72 hours of launch) and the volume of Open Source contributions is hard to keep up with. It would be easier to control and contain the progress of Cloud Foundry if it had been closed and followed a proprietary architecture, but it’s all been worth it.
You can follow the Cloud Foundry blog here:
You can register for your own free Cloud Foundry account here (use the word “cloudtoday” for the promotion code for immediate approval):
Of course, you can also register for a free account on the Uhuru PaaS, which is based on Cloud Foundry and offers extra enhancements like support for .NET applications.

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25 April 2012

Taking .NET to the cloud is a process

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast show Michael Collier, an architect at Neudesic, shares his experiences in bringing .NET applications to the Azure Platform as a Service (PaaS). Michael explains how migrating existing .NET apps to a PaaS is a process. Managers have to be educated about the cloud so they feel comfortable using it. He has often had to rewrite parts of the .NET apps to make them compatible with the Azure PaaS. The migration process is different for each app, depending on how it was built. .NET apps that follow best practices can run on a PaaS with almost no changes at all (e.g. not storing state on the server, etc). Other apps can be much more difficult to migrate (e.g. using COM, relying on server state, etc).
In the end, the migration to the cloud is well worth it. Developers can focus on what they love doing: writing great apps!
You can find Michael’s blog here:

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17 April 2012

The Stateless App

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast Andy Piper, a Cloud Foundry developer advocate at VMware, talks about how to build great apps for the cloud. In his work with developers Andy has found that stateless apps are the easiest to transition to cloud platforms such as Cloud Foundry. Looking for particular files or settings on a server prevents your apps from being able to benefit from the automatic deployment scaling or redundancy features of new hosted Platforms of a Service. Luckily, many apps are ready to run on a PaaS already. At recent hackathons Andy has that many of the existing apps deployed on Cloud Foundry without any changes at all.
You can read more about Andy’s advice for building apps in the cloud on his blog:

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13 April 2012

When The PaaS Isn’t Enough

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast Andrey Cherkasin tells about his decision to abandon a Platform as a Service and move to a custom hosting solution. Andrey was an early adopter of the Cloud Foundry PaaS technology, and was thrilled with being able to setup his own private PaaS. Unfortunately, Andrey’s needs for support of numerous Ruby platforms made it impractical for his needs. He now relies on a custom cloud solution using Chef Scripts and a smart OS.
You can follow Andrey on his blog:

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12 April 2012

The Long Path To The Cloud

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast Jason Nappi, a software developer with SmartPak, talks about the journey he has been on to move his .NET application to the cloud. Everything is now running in virtualized instances that can be easily replicated to handle additional load, but the monolithic database model used by his software doesn’t lend itself well to most cloud platforms. It would be nice to utilize the scalability possible on Azure, but that just won’t be possible without re-architecting the database. Jason is closely watching technologies like database auto-sharding to find ways to further improve the performance of his apps in the cloud.
You can read more about Jason’s ideas and trials on the cloud at his blog:

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07 April 2012

Gimme That PaaS Source Code!

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast show Krum Bakalsky, a software engineer, shares his passion of participating in Open Source projects. In particular, VMware’s decision to place Cloud Foundry into Open Source has inspired Krum to become a significant contributor to the community effort. The Cloud Foundry community has been the perfect place for Krum to learn about the guts of building enterprise class software and to gain real experience as a participant. The fragmented nature of the Open Source world can be frustrating at times, such as when Krum discovered other programmers had already been working on something he was doing, but the collaborative environment more than makes up for these deficiencies.
You can read about Krum’s Open Source exploits and ideas on his blog:

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04 April 2012

Medical Imaging In the Cloud – Just a Matter of Time

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast Dr Victor Fang, a research scientist with Riverain Technology, talks about how the medical industry is well on its path to moving IT to the cloud. While medical diagnostic images (like x-rays and MRIs) are still stored locally today, most companies are looking at ways of putting them in the cloud. It has just taken a while for cloud services to reach the level of security and privacy needed to comply with government regulations. At conferences Dr Fang has attended recently he has noticed the explosion in businesses offering cloud hosting, which is just one indicator of where the medical industry is moving. Dr Fang also couldn’t help but notice that hospitals where he’s worked are typically behind in adopting stateless web applications, relying primarily on traditional Windows-based client/server solutions that are harder to move to the cloud.
The health care industry can move slowly at times, but it makes huge waves when it does move, and the cloud is just around the corner.
You can follow Dr Fang on his web site.

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30 March 2012

Everyone Needs a Cloud – Even If They Don’t Think They Do

In this Uhuru podcast episode Jonathan Schnittger, a senior developer atiQuate, talks about even companies where cloud computing doesn’t make sense for their own products can still benefit from back-office cloud services like e-mail, file sharing, etc. Jonathan’s company creates security scanning software that has to be run on local networks which precludes cloud hosting. Many of his customers are using cloud services like Amazon. Even the large enterprises he works with are hosting more and more of their applications on the cloud. Desktop replacement with cloud services is another hot area Jonathan sees organizations adopting, but the solutions for this are still immature.
You can follow Jonathan on Twitter:

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Pioneer Of The PaaS

In this Uhuru podcast episode Wely Lau, a software architect at NCS Private Ltd, talks about his pioneering work with the Azure Platform as a Service (PaaS). He was using Azure as an early tester even before it was released! There have been growing pains along the way, but today Wely is building complex applications on Azure that save his customers loads of money. He describes one fascinating project where he reduced the time to process thousands of records to prioritize work for a shipping company from over 4 hours to 2 minutes by dynamically spinning up additional application instances as needed. This is the dream of the cloud – pay for what you need, when you need it, rather than having large sunk costs in systems that are only used on a periodic basis. Wely is also closely following other PaaS services such as Amazon’s new Beanstalk, and now the Uhuru AppCloud (of course!).
You can follow Wely on his blog:

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28 March 2012

PaaS Requires a New Set of Skills

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast Imran Ahmad, President of Cloudanum, tells about his experience helping major organizations roll out cloud computing projects. The new Platform as a Service space solves a lot of the cloud management issues Imran’s customers face, but it takes a new skillset and way of thinking of the cloud. Many of Imran’s clients are exploring Platforms as a Service (PaaS) but not one has rolled out a production service yet. Too many PaaSes require changes in how apps are written to be immediately applicable to existing applications.
I will just have to get Imran to try to Uhuru PaaS to see how it IS possible for apps to be deployed on the cloud without re-architecting.
You can read more of Imran’s ideas on his blog:

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Testimony of a cloud convert

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast show Tim Genge, a senior software architect at RealmSoft, talks about his recent conversion to the cloud. Cloud computing used to be nothing more than marketing double-speak as far as Tim was concerned. Now that he is running his own business and working with customers in the banking sector he “gets” it. Yes, many aspects of the cloud are similar to traditional client/server software models but the way in which people use it to transform their businesses is truly impressive.
Tim has been looking seriously at Azure as a platform for his software, but he needs it to run on a private networks as well since his customers won’t trust everything to the public internet. Tim also has a client-side component to his software which makes it difficult to find the perfect cloud solution since no one seems to focus on that area.
As an addendum to the interview, I should point out that after the discussion we clarified that Azure does NOT, in fact, have a local version that Tim’s customers can run on their local networks. Tim says he is going to investigate the Uhuru PaaS as an alternative .NET PaaS (which just happens to run in private networks just fine).

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27 March 2012

Software testing moves to the cloud

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast show Feza Pamir, the VP of Marketing at QASymphony, explains how his company uses the cloud to offer their own cloud service, to help software test teams manage bugs and the entire quality assurance process. QASymphony currently uses Amazon virtual machines for hosting their service but support local deployments on private networks and are looking at other service providers that might have different levels of security that would allow them to meet varying customer needs.
Feza makes it clear that choice in cloud hosting is critical because his customers have such different needs – even private clouds have a role to play since there are still situations where organizations need to keep data on their own network.
While platforms as a service, like Uhuru, are an interesting hosting option to Feza the technology his company has built has such a degree of low-level customizations that they need the greater control of configuring the operating system to their needs. If he had to do it all over again it would be nice to build the QASymphony applications in a way that would make them more compatible with PaaSes.

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The database hitman tries the PaaS

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast show Anil Mahadev, a Principal Software Consultant aka DB2Hitman, shares his experience of working with the Uhuru PaaS. He was amazed with how quickly he was able to deploy a .NET app. Moreover, it was easy for him to configure his application to work with the Microsoft SQL Server service by following a few steps. By contrast, it took Anil a lot longer to get off the ground and running with Azure.
No question about it, Anil feels that the Uhuru PaaS is great for developers and test engineers. The big question is whether IT is ready to go the way of the PaaS.
You can listen to the entire interview here.

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25 March 2012

The health of the cloud

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast Terry Montgomery, a Project Manager at Health Roster, talks about his experience with managing IT projects in the cloud. According to Terry, the medical industry may be slow to adopt new technologies but the value of cloud computing is so compelling that they are moving fast. Amazingly, it is the small operations like physician offices which are leading in cloud adoption with products like practice fusion. Hospitals and large health-care organizations are dipping their toes into cloud computing with virtualization of their private data centers. Compliance issues, and HIPPA, may have created some initial caution with cloud adoption in health-care, but Terry sees that these issues are being addressed and that the industry is ripe for the cloud now.

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22 March 2012

The Virtual Machine perspective

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast show, Shalin Jirawla (a software engineering student) shares his thoughts about cloud computing. He talks about his interest in using the cloud for real-time computing applications. While Platforms as a Service are interesting to Shalin he feels that complete access to virtual machines is necessary for most of the things he wants to do for now. His experiments with Microsoft’s Azure haven’t been overwhelming.
That’s the kind of challenge Uhuru loves! Let’s just see if the Uhuru PaaS can’t help Shalin with his work…
Here is the full recording of the interview.

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21 March 2012

The next step of the cloud – making the office virtual

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast show Ben Yehooda (the CEO ofLevaman) talks about how his company is building cloud services to make the virtual office of the future a reality today. Just as the cloud has made it possible for companies to avoid having to build their own physical IT infrastructure, Ben is working hard to eliminate the need for physical infrastructure too.
Why can’t employees just work together remotely from wherever they are? Why invest in expensive office space? Ben explains why he thinks tools like Skype and Office 365 are limited in their abilities to re-create the vibrant office environments with serendipitous conversations and sharing of information.
Levaman practices what they preach. Their employees are scattered around the world and they have never owned a physical server.
You can hear ben talk about his vision of the cloud and virtual offices here:

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13 March 2012

VMware’s walk on the wild side – Cloud Foundry and Open Source

In this episode of the Uhuru podcast Dave McCrory and Patrick Chanezon, both senior staff at VMware, explain how the decision to introduce the Cloud Foundry Platform as a Service (PaaS) as an Open Source project has helped far more than its hurt. Dave and Patrick talk about how they had the first community bug fix pull requests within the first day of releasing Cloud Foundry to the Open Source community. After a year in the Open Source realm they feel Cloud Foundry has matured far quicker than it ever could have otherwise.
There is a certain logic here. For a technology like a PaaS aimed squarely at developers, sharing the source code and engaging the very people intended to use the service can lead to a lot of great benefits.
Still, it can be a little frightening to see the community take your life’s labours in directions you may not have intended, or dreamed, as the example Dave and Patrick site of Smalltalk support being added to Cloud Foundry illustrates, not to mention .NET support and other sundry enhancements that companies like Uhuru have added.
You can listen to the entire podcast here:

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12 February 2012

Taught v. Learned

Teachers often commiserate with one another over how little of their lessons are actually retained by the students. The standard defense is that the material was taught, but that students are too fickle to remember or at least admit to have remembered it. Teaching cycles often look something like this: assign reading, complete worksheet, discuss in class, distribute study guide, review, test, repeat. Perhaps most perplexing of all is the fact that students often perform well on assessments and then promptly seem to forget what they learned.

The problem lies partially in our natural tendency to forget some of what we learn, but perhaps more importantly in the difference between teaching and learning. Most lessons are not meaningful to the students, leading them to focus on isolating what they need to memorize to maximize their grade and then moving on. In short, the teachers teach what they think is important for students to know and the students, finding the material largely irrelevant, develop short-term cramming skills to perform well on the predictable assessments and then promptly forget the material.

As written tests are the most common way of verifying what students learned, teachers can point to strong test results and claim that they successfully taught the material, exonerating themselves from any subsequent student “forgetfulness.” From the student’s perspective, it becomes increasingly tempting to adopt an attitude of cynicism toward the boring, meaningless process. Inasmuch as students find their classes irrelevant, school becomes a mind-numbing process of going through the motions in order to get a grade. Copying worksheet answers, cheating on tests or gaming the system appear increasingly legitimate if the process is pointless to start with.

Modern teaching techniques, often involving group work, differentiated instruction and technology, attempt to address this divide between teaching and learning by making education more interactive, and thus more engaging. Given that students are bombarded with stimuli from various electronic sources and socializing all day long, the theory is that schools have to compete for their attention by using similar techniques. Unfortunately, such theories reduce students to animals whose attention can only be secured by flashy graphics on screens and social interaction. Intellectual engagement largely ignored, and the academic engagement resulting from these "21st Century Methods" continues to fare poorly against "19th Century Methods."

Ultimately, successful student engagement involves respecting the students as individuals and as thinkers. It requires the teacher to create an environment where students discover how the world works experientially, and appreciate the relevance of what they are studying. The definition of a master teacher is whether he can create such a learning environment. It can be done with or without modern technology; the more technology is used, the more additional skill the teacher requires to ensure that the technology contributes to rather than distracts from the focus of the learning.

Evidence of this basic principle is not hard to find. Master teachers like Rafe Esquith manage to effectively and consistently engage large, public school 5th grade classes, despite minimal resources and considerable bureaucratic obstacles. Meanwhile, many private "21st Century" classrooms and schools, boasting small class sizes, minimal bureaucracy, teaching assistants, diversified teaching styles and the latest technology achieve considerably less student engagement and meaningful learning.

There are some tangible steps which teachers can take to ensure that learning is happening. First, never waste the students' time and intelligence. Start classes on time, dispense with busywork assignments like crossword puzzles and mindless worksheets. Beware of excessive use of workbooks and mindless assignments like coloring maps.

Second, encourage integration of new concepts into existing knowledge. Start with what students know and create scenarios where students have to discover concepts by actively solving real problems rather than by passively listening to lectures or viewing media. A textbook example of this is Jane Elliott's Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise. It is difficult to imagine a more effective way to teach the concept of racism.

Third, find innovative assessment methods that allow students to apply their ingenuity and understanding to new problems, without creating the free-rider incentives endemic to most group projects. Factual regurgitation should never be the center of assessment. Instead, have them apply what they learned in meaningful ways, like these simulated WWII letters to investigate the plight of the Japanese both in Japan and in the USA. Beyond assessing understanding, assessments can also help students to develop presentation skills appropriate to their chosen medium. Perhaps the most misunderstood medium is PowerPoint, which few teachers know how to effectively use themselves.

Finally, listen to the students by checking in regularly, both through formal surveys and informal discussion. Students are usually honest, sometimes to a fault, about how things are going. By including their feedback in the directions of the class, they are respected and validated as individuals. In a balanced class, they inevitably teach the teacher as much as they learn from him.

15 January 2012

Solving Education Locally

I am a Middle School History teacher of 9 years and still love my profession. When I started teaching, I had a dream of creating the ideal curriculum and then simply propagating it around the world to overhaul education. My first few years teaching were in a private school which tried to do exactly this. Although the educational level was much higher than public schools, I became imminently aware that the core of quality education is not having the best curriculum, but having the best teachers. Curriculum is decidedly easier to replicate than great teachers.

I still do not understand how any teacher or parent (and I am both) who understands that the most important factor in education is the teacher in the classroom would ever seek centralized solutions, as such solutions can never ensure that each classroom has a great teacher in it who is empowered to make the best decisions for his classroom. Political solutions, by definition, are centralized solutions to a localized problem. It does not matter whether the centralized solutions come from government or teachers unions, they cannot ensure quality in each local classroom.

The only viable solution, in my opinion, places the control of the classroom firmly in the teacher's hands. It is the New Zealand solution of some years back: localize the funding and the decisions in each school in the hands of the parents/teachers. In other words, the principal and teachers of each school should be solely answerable to the parents of their students, with no tenure.

This could be achieved through the complete privatization of education, but that would be unpopular. It can also be achieved by school choice whereby each school receives a certain amount per student who attends and then parents can vote with their feet if they are unhappy. Unfortunately, this option is unpopular with teachers, who often don't trust parents to make sound educational choices. From my experience, parents VERY consistently request for their child to be in the classes of the most competent teachers. The other common problem with vouchers and school choice is that the governments start attaching curricular and testing requirements to the funding, invalidating the purpose of local decision-making.

Politicians will never favor the privatization or localization of education because that would remove it from their influence. They want to find central solutions to all of our problems, whereby they are the heroes who save us and are subsequently rewarded by re-election. Their "solutions" generally involve centralizing decisions even more, which is always detrimental to education.

I have travelled all over the world observing great teachers, both public and private. In spite of the problems with our current system, I have observed public, inner city, American school teachers like Rafe Esquith, who manage to minimize the negative impacts of standardized testing and poor curricula on their activities in the classroom. His 5th grade students' scores on standardized tests are high because his students are learning what they ought to in his own self-designed curriculum, not because he focuses centrally on testing.

Finally, I find that the "Finland Phenomenon" is possible in each classroom without fixing the entire educational system. Yes, there are horrible schools where teachers may be restricted from the freedom of achieving this in their classroom, but quality teachers should not stay in such schools. I have decided to create a "Finland Phenomenon" in my classroom and am impressed by how much control I have to independently make a difference and motivate students by creating the right environment.

Let us lobby for localization of educational decision-making while doing our best to create our ideal learning environment in our own classroom.

09 August 2011

This Week on Bear Radio: The bear market caused the US debt downgrade, not the other way around.

In this week’s episode we discuss why most commentators have it backwards in blaming the market downturn on the S&P US debt downgrade. The S&P downgrade occurred BECAUSE the general economic mood is becoming more bearish instead of the reverse. The markets would have crashed anyway even if there hadn't been a downgrade.

Stocks had already been losing ground for weeks and there is ample evidence that the global economy has been slowing down. The US debt downgrade is almost irrelevant. The established trend (i.e. long before the downgrade) has been for investors to flee for the perceived safety in bonds of the largest industrial nations (i.e. Germany, US, Japan). Nothing has really changed, the process has just sped up a bit.

In the end, the US dollar is set for massive appreciation as the global economy goes into another tail-spin. Most of the world's private (and public) debt is denominated in dollars which creates unstoppable deflationary forces in an economic contraction as debtors are forced to sell whatever assets they have in order to raise the cash to repay loans. Ironically, all the debt everyone complains about is going to be the primary force that drives up the value of the dollar (and the subsequent crash in all asset prices).

We also talk about the idea that as volatility increases we can expect the unexpected with relationships between asset classes behaving in ways that no one would have imagined. The web of relationships between assets has become so convoluted with modern financial instruments and trading strategies that things will behave in surprising ways when markets are under stress.

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NOTE: Remember to tune into the Optimistic Bear weekly financial round-up every Tuesday at 9:00pm, Pacific Time. You can also listen to previous shows.

07 August 2011

Ideas are cheap - making them a reality is hard

I think that innovation, in and of itself, is over-rated. There have always been people who “think outside the box” and come up with new and interesting ideas. The crucial issue is making these ideas into reality. This is where the challenge lies.

Just look at big companies whose research groups came up with amazing ideas, but the companies were unable to capitalize on them (leaving it to new upstarts to found new empires).

The same thing with countries. There are some countries with LOTS of brain power, and super-innovative thinkers. Yet these same nations are unable to ever harness the brainpower of its citizens into winning commercial franchises. France, for example, comes to mind. I am constantly amazed at the ideas which that nation’s intellectual’s and engineers come up with, yet they rarely manage to build thriving new businesses on those ideas. Russia is another excellent case in point.

You need a vibrant economic and investment environment for innovation to truly thrive and get beyond the garage. I think it is no coincidence that the number of new innovative product introductions tank during recessions and depressions, when investment decreases. In fact, it is my contention that people who look for innovation as an economic driver have things backwards. Innovation doesn’t drive the economy, the economy drives innovation (or at least the successful commercialization of new ideas). Funding more scientific research won’t do much to help if the broader economy is on the rails.

In short, ideas are cheap and plentiful. It is the wherewithal to turn those ideas into reality that really counts.

02 June 2011

This Week on Bear Radio: It’s lonely being a bear

In this episode we talk about how the ranks of Bears are being continuously depleted. Even Tim Ellis, the creator of SeattleBubble, has now bought a home. Are the Optimistic Bear and friends the only true bears yet living? Of course, the increasing levels of bullishness simply provide MORE reason for the Optimistic Bear to stay bearish. We also discuss the limitations (and outright futility) of technical analyses and even economics for predicting the future of markets. The sizzling economies of Australia, Canada, and China, are also talked about as we ponder when these bubbles are going to burst.

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NOTE: Remember to tune into the Optimistic Bear weekly financial round-up every Tuesday at 9:00pm, Pacific Time. You can also listen to previous shows.

29 May 2011

This Week on Bear Radio: The Bubble Returns

In this episode we discuss how the rash of tech IPOs and wild valuations are eerily similar to previous tech bubbles. Credit problems have only been swept under the carpet (evidenced by the fact that the US government now backs 90% of all mortgages) yet we see speculation rampant. We also talk about the value and limitations of technical analyses for investing. You don’t have to be right very often to succeed at investing. You just have to participate in the best investment opportunities and stay out of the market during the infrequent (but devastating) crashes.

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NOTE: Remember to tune into the Optimistic Bear weekly financial round-up every Tuesday at 9:00pm, Pacific Time. You can also listen to previous shows.

17 May 2011

This Week on Bear Radio: credit deflation – the unexplained phenomena

In this week’s episode we discuss how there isn’t a single school of economics that explains the modern phenomena of credit deflation. According to traditional economics theories the prices of goods and services will rise when the volume of money increases. However, we have seen cases in the last 30 years where prices fall even as the money supply grows. Whether you are a Keynesian, neo-classicist, Austrian or Marxist, not one of these theories can account for what has happened in Japan and is starting to occur in America. We also talk about how it feels like we are in a slow moving train wreck. The same dire economics stories dominate the news, such as the European sovereign debt issues, yet they just keep getting worse, month after month. It’s deja-vu all over again.

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NOTE: Remember to tune into the Optimistic Bear weekly financial round-up every Tuesday at 9:00pm, Pacific Time. You can also listen to previous shows.

06 May 2011

This Week on Bear Radio: The diversification myth and why investing today is riskier than e

In this episode we discuss the crash in the commodity markets and the amazing correlation which is occurring across almost all asset classes. Even BitCoin has been blowing another bubble. This correlation between assets, causing everything to move in lock-step, has made diversification almost impossible and created one of the riskiest investment environments in memory. We also talk about the certainty of improbable events and why it is sometimes good to panic.

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NOTE: Remember to tune into the Optimistic Bear weekly financial round-up every Tuesday at 9:00pm, Pacific Time. You can also listen to previous shows.

21 March 2011

This Week on Bear radio: It’s an inflationary world out there

In this episode Moses Kim explains that the rising prices in commodities and precious metals show that the US will be living in an inflationary environment for a long time to come. The massive US government debt and lack of economic competitiveness further ensure that the American dollar is only going to see lower valuations in the years ahead. Deflationists (like the Optimistic Bear) are mis-reading comparisons with the 1930s and Japan’s 20 year odyssey with falling prices. Precious metals, stocks, commodities, and emerging markets are the places to invest.

That said, Moses warns that Gold could be in store for a sharp, yet brief, correction.

You can find more of Moses’ ideas at:

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NOTE: Remember to tune into the Optimistic Bear weekly financial round-up every Tuesday at 9:00pm, Pacific Time. You can also listen to previous shows.

14 March 2011

This Week on Bear radio: No one beats the Optimistic Bear in bearishness! No one!

In this episode we discuss how recent market volatility could have a bearish portent and how markets that keep rising for long periods without a significant correction are fragile. We examine how the rising price of oil could be viewed as either bullish or bearish for the future of crude prices. When it comes to understanding bubbles, the venerable Greenspan may actually have a good point: there is no good way to tell if there is a bubble until it’s over.

With so many bearish prognosticators turning bullish (even Mish has tempered his views) the Optimistic Bear declares his willingness to stand alone (or nearly so)! While not buying into the apocalyptic view, he remains firmly in the perma-bear camp, believing that major deflation is yet in store.

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NOTE: Remember to tune into the Optimistic Bear weekly financial round-up every Tuesday at 9:00pm, Pacific Time. You can also listen to previous shows.

The next shoe to fall: Reverse Mortgages

Slowly but surely we are starting to see cracks in the reverse mortgage market. Like all the new mortgage finance innovations of the bubble years, having a lender give a lump sum payment to an elderly homeowner for the privilege of collecting upon the death of the borrower sounded like a good idea. Unfortunately, we are now starting to see that many of the underlying assumptions of reverse mortgages were flawed.

In particular, it is now evident that home prices have fallen so much that many reverse mortgage holders are under-water, finding that the current market price of their home is worth less than what they borrowed. As the New York Times points out, this impacts any surviving spouses who had hoped to wind up with a little inheritance with the passing of their loved one.


Of bigger implications, however, is the fact that lenders are already starting to see situations where they are taking losses on reverse mortgages. The generous equity cushions lenders had thought they were leaving themselves have proven to be not so safe after all. When homes drop 40% or 60% in value even large equity cushions of 25% or 30% aren't sufficient to prevent losses.

Could losses from under-water reverse mortgages start to impact bank balance sheets?

I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who find their homes are being foreclosed upon when their spouse passes away. After all, these people managed to benefit from having the bank over-pay for the value of the home. At least the lender can't force anyone to make up the difference from the market sale price and the balance owed.

If the treatment of other distressed properties is anything to go by I wouldn't be surprised to see many lenders delay in the foreclosure, and sale, of reverse mortgaged properties as well. Banks have shown a great aversion to having to take write-downs on mortgages by selling for low market values and I doubt attitude will change with reverse mortgages.

24 February 2011

Yes, job search discrimination exists – get over it!

I know the frustration people feel in the job market. It took me nearly a year after Microsoft let me go in July 2009 to find full time employment again. It’s hard not to get depressed when no one returns your phone calls for informational interview requests and the only thing you receive from submitting job applications are form letters.

I began to wonder if all my experience and training was for nothing. How could I support my family working as a hamburger flipper? Is the world just intended for the very young, willing to work for peanuts as they begin their careers? Have I finally hit a wall where my lack of a college degree will prevent me from finding a good job ever again?

One recruiter at a well-known technology firm (who I got to know as a friend through my podcasting efforts) told me there was no point in my ever sending in a job application to his firm even if there was a perfect opening for someone with my background. My lack of a degree would automatically divert my application to the dust bin, according to my friend.

Is life over?

I just wouldn’t let myself dwell on those thoughts. Instead, I would drag myself out of bed every day, telling myself that this could be the day I find a job! I reminded myself that every job I ever had ever found came through roundabout methods. I’ve never led an orthodox life (or career) so why should I start now? When even my friends tell me it is pointless to apply for jobs on-line I simply resolved to go around the gatekeepers and become friends with the hiring managers themselves.

Eventually, my determination finally paid off. I am once again gainfully employed as a program manager at a software firm AND I have built a network of professional connections I wouldn’t have even dreamed possible when I was at Microsoft. Nevertheless, it took a LOT of effort and a willingness to jump into new things with both feet (again and again) to get me here.

The keys to my career salvation were twofold: 1) my willingness to work for free and 2) starting podcast shows as a networking tool.

Instead of sitting on my hands collecting unemployment insurance (and sending out resumes), I would reach out to local cash starved startups and offer to work for free, or for a promise of stock (which almost certainly would never amount to anything). This allowed me to keep my skills current AND to meet interesting people. When I do apply for jobs there is no embarrassing gap in my resume since I can legitimately tell people I have been working, and even go into great detail about the interesting work and accomplishments I have racked up. I was doing more interesting, and innovative, work at these startups than I ever did in my whole career at Microsoft! That alone was a very empowering feeling.

I also made it a goal to make at least 4 new professional connections a week, and my efforts at creating podcast shows helped immensely with this goal. I would invite business people, recruiters, and all manner of people I wanted to build friendships with to be guests on my podcast shows and to my surprise MOST PEOPLE SAID YES! I have interviewed nearly 200 people in the last year and a half, most of whom have become good friends.

Not one of the interviews I have been on came through submitting job applications. All of my interviews resulted from making connections with people in the industries and businesses where I wanted to work.

I know how hard the job market is these days, but I am able to tell people that there IS hope. Creativity and a willingness to work hard can make all the difference.

If you would like to learn more about my strategy for using podcasting to get a job check out my 10 minute video: