College: Still not for everybody

I know I already ranted about why not everyone should go to college, but I was reminded today of my first year at CSU. The class I TA’s my first three semesters was called CS 110: Personal Computing; it was an introduction to computers for non-majors that covered how to use Windows and Microsoft Office.

Now, this is pretty much the easiest college class possible, because it’s divided into units (one for Windows, one for Word, etc) and you can opt out of a unit by getting 85% or higher on the pretest; then your pretest grade is your grade for that unit. A few people, but not many, take advantage of that, which is somewhat surprising considering that all of the pretest questions are available in advance.

So let’s review. There’s a pool of questions, which make up the pre- and post-tests,  that are available from the beginning of the semester for anyone who wants to go over as often as they want. There are three TAs and over a dozen lab assistants to help you figure out the answers if you get stuck when practicing for the pretest. This is a 100-level (freshman) class.

And yet…we have people who fail to graduate because they take the class senior year and don’t pass.

I would like to offer commentary on this, but seriously…words fail me.

If you’re an undergraduate reading this, I’d like you to take away two things:

  1. If you’re offered an easy way to learn the material while doing less work, take it! It’s less work for you, the instructor, and the TA.
  2. Don’t wait ’til the last minute to take required classes, especially required classes in an area you’re not particularly comfortable with. This is particularly true of classes that may not be offered every semester; you really don’t want to wait a whole ‘nother year to graduate!
  3. If you don’t understand what’s going on, ask for help! What’s particularly annoying about people failing this particular class is that there was almost always someone in the computer lab ready to explain how to do something; the class was pretty much designed to be difficult to fail. If your class has a TA, he almost certainly has office hours; use them!

Rant: Teacher Pay

So this afternoon I’ve been looking at job openings for community colleges in the Denver area. Not many places have full-time openings (and the ones that do have an annoying tendency to not answer their email in spite of requesting applications through email), but there tend to be a small number of adjunct positions open at each college.

So what leads to today’s rant? I was looking at the salary listings for one of the community colleges.  Lecture classes, like math, pay $609.00 per credit hour, which is disgustingly low; even if you taught a full 5 classes per semester, that’s only $18,270 per year for a job that requires a master’s degree! On the other hand, if you teach a PE class, that pays a somewhat more respectable $1,218.00 per credit hour. Seriously? Teaching someone to throw a ball is worth twice as much as teaching them to do algebra?

Anyway, suppose a class meets for only fifteen weeks each semester, twice per week for 75 minutes each time. A math class generally has homework due every week; assume that the instructor is pretty efficient and can finish grading the homework in four hours. That comes to a total of 6.5 hours of work each week, not counting office hours. A class that meets 2.5 hours per week would be three credit hours; 15 credit hours would thus work out to 32.5 hours per week, which is probably more than full time once you add in having to drive between three colleges to get that many classes. At that rate, the typical graduate student loan should be paid off in roughly…forever…


As I mentioned before, one of the books I’m reading this month is about PHP, MySQL, and Javascript. One minor annoyance when working on server-size scripting is, of course, the need for a server. True, if you’re a student it may not be that much of a hassle to ssh in to the lab computers, but it’s still one more step, plus you may end up making things publicly available without intending it.

Personally, I want to work on my own computer with the tools I have installed here; at the moment that’s a Windows 7 machine (although I’ll be booting up linux later to play with Google Go). Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to set up a WAMP  (Windows Apache/MySQL/PHP) and do everything locally. Right now I’m using EasyPHP; it’s a simple install and makes it easy to start and stop Apache and MySQL as needed.

XKCD comic
This has been fixed, but the point remains.

Update your software! A problem involving WordPress..

One thing I’ve learned about lately is the amazing variety of problems that can be caused by not having updated software.

Most recently, after setting up this blog, I started getting weird error messages and problems in my WordPress administration. After a little work, I realized that the problem is my webhost defaults to PHP4, but many things in WordPress require PHP5. They DO have PHP5 installed, so it’s a simple fix: just add the line “AddType x-mapp-php5 .php” to the .htaccess file and all is well.

If only all strange errors could be dealt with so easily..

In other news, I’m wrapping up my series on Search Engine Optimization over on the One Ear Productions blog; this morning I posted part 5, Pagerank Doesn’t Matter. I’m in the process of reading through the latest O’Reilly book on SEO, so a number of my posts right now are on that topic; a full review should show up on my book review site within the next few weeks. Other books in the queue include one on designing iPod/iPad/iPhone applications and one on PHP, MySQL, and Javascript; I expect I’ll be ranting on those topics later this month.

Going Back To School

With the economy the way it is, many people are considering going back to school to brush up on their skills and improve their prospects in the job market. If this describes you, here’s what you’ll need to know.

If you’re returning to school, we’ll assume you’ve been in the workforce for a while; if you’re going for an undergraduate degree, you may be able to receive credit for previous experience. Talk to an advisor at your school and find out if you can apply previous college credits or test out of lower-level classes. On the other hand, you might need remedial work in some areas, most likely in mathematics; your advisor can tell you how to set up a placement test to determine whether you’re ready for classes. A college education isn’t for everyone, but someone who’s been in the workforce and is making an informed decision to go back for more education is well-positioned to succeed.

Continue reading Going Back To School

College Education: Not For Everyone

These days, it seems the conventional wisdom is that everyone should go to college. What nonsense!

True, a bachelor’s degree is pretty much required for many entry-level jobs these days, but for other positions that pay just as well, you’re better off going to a trade school and learning a skill. I’m all for getting a well-rounded college education even if it has no practical relevance to what you’re doing, but if I’m hiring a plumber, I’d rather have someone who spent two years learning all about pipes.

Continue reading College Education: Not For Everyone

No Child Left Behind..Unless They Want To Be

My second year teaching middle school, our slogan was “Failure is not an option”. The official policy was that every student has the ability to succeed and it was our job to help them do so.

Well, yes, that’s true. Every child can learn. The problem is, not every child WANTS to learn. For some students, school is something they do a couple times a month when disrupting class sounds more interesting than whatever else they had planned that day. For some, school is something they do because the court orders them to show up. No, I’m not exaggerating – both were true of multiple students.

On to the rant. According to the right, only three things are required to make all students succeed: replace all public schools with private and charter schools, test constantly, and outlaw unions.

Continue reading No Child Left Behind..Unless They Want To Be

Hello World

Just what the world needs, another new blog! Even though I’m fairly busy writing for other sites, I felt the need to have a good place to rant about things. Plus, I like to explain things and I don’t always write up my good ideas because I don’t have an appropriate place to put them. Thus, this blog.

Readers can expect to see posts on computer science, current events, education, programming, politics, and whatever else happens to catch my interest. Hold on; it’s going to be an interesting ride..