Monthly Archives: October 2006

Teaching Reforms and Humour

A funny spoof (in French) on education reforms in Quebec since 1960.
L’enseignement à travers les époques – 🙂 & < – by adamsofineti

The “current” buzzphrase in Quebec is «approche par compétences», which could roughly be described as a “performance-oriented approach to learning” or, somewhat more generally, “objective-oriented learning.” The main conceptual tools used in this approach come from socio-constructivism, at least officially.

It’s never a good strategy to make fun of colleagues but I can help but be amazed by how a conference presentation on «approche par compétences» manages to not say anything substantial on the subject. Here’s an iTunes link to that presentation. I’m sure professor Marie-Françoise Legendre is a very thoughtful scholar and that this MP3 version of her talk doesn’t do justice to her presentation, but there’s something about some of these approaches which just, honestly, makes me laugh.

Funnily enough, my father was trained by Jean Piaget who is sometimes associated with constructivist approaches to learning. (In fact, my relativistic/holistic approach to life and anthropology probably relates very directly to some indirect influences from Piaget.) And my favourite Course Management System, Moodle, mentions (social) constructivism and constructionism in its philosophy statement. Many of the pedagogical principles labeled by those buzzphrases are widely accepted and I do personally tend to accept them. At the same time, some pedagogical practises allegedly based on these principles seems almost absurd to me and several colleagues.

An interesting situation, if not a rare one.

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Refworks and RefGrab-It

The more I learn about RefWorks and their recent developments, the more impressed I get at how clueful those people are. Latest feature,  RefGrab-It, a browser bookmarklet to directly import references from pages that include Digital Objects Identifiers (DOIs), relevant RSS feeds, or ISBNs. Now that some journal publishers (such as Blackwell/Synergy) are enhancing their online offerings with features such as reference lists and alerts for article citations (“alert me when this article is cited”), things can become fun in academic publishing.


Good Customer Service: Netflix

Sure, no company’s customer service is ever perfect but I like what Netflix has done.

As I’m back in Montreal and Netflix (unfortunately) doesn’t ship to Canada, I put my Netflix account on hold. It used to be that you could do just that from your account page but, these days, you need to send a message to customer service. Which I did and they suspended my account right away. I sent back the last DVD I had received from them and had put myself a note for when the hold would be lifted.

Because the PDA on which I had noted this date died on me, I didn’t notice that the date for my account reactivation had come by and, this morning, I received messages from Netflix telling me that my account was active again, that I was charged the regular fees, and that a movie would soon be sent to my address in Massachusetts. Oops! I should have changed my reactivation date! My mistake! Too late! Let’s hope I can push it back and not receive a DVD at an address where I’m not…

So I sent a message back to customer service. Not only did they reply quite fast and put a new hold on my account but they actually credited my credit card account for the fees that they had automatically taken from it. Sure, it makes a lot of sense to do just that. But many companies would only reimburse you if you complained, threatened to sue, and made a big fuss about it. So, it’s surprisingly nice to not have to go into a fit for a small thing like this.

Again, really, it’s not much. But it proves that Netflix got it: you don’t get good business if you constantly try to nickel and dime your customers.

So, thank you, Netflix!


Ne brisez pas la chaîne!

Ah! Ça fait du bien de rire un coup!

À la fin d’un message contenant une de ces blagues typiques sur les hommes et les femmes:

Envoyez simplement ce message a au moins 5 millions de personnes de votre entourage… Cette chaîne a été commencée en 1625 avant ma belle-soeur par un moine moldave passionne d’informatique à la paroisse de St-Poal-de-Martres au Portugal dans le but de sauver Thérèse, une petite fille gravement malade. Aujourd’hui cette petite fille a 378 ans et elle est atteinte d’un cancer des testicules et d’une fièvre affreuse de la glande thyroïde contractée lors d’un viol par un cerf en période de brame en foret de Rambouillet a proximité d’une marre souillée par des déchets radioactifs malencontreusement tombes d’un avion furtif… De plus, lors d’un safari en Afrique du Sud, avec Nouvelles Frontières, elle s’est fait bouffer un genou et  une oreille par un panda importé d’Himalaya en visitant le zoo de Johannesburg.

Alors, s’il vous plait, pour elle, ne brisez pas cette chaîne!
Vous êtes son seul espoir de guérison et en plus, cela vous portera chance.Comme par exemple a ce jeune Irlandais qui, en 1912, fit suivre ce message par SMS. Dans la semaine, il se vit offrir une place pour une croisière inaugurale sur un superbe transatlantique britannique le "P’tit Annick". Lors de ce voyage il découvrit les frissons de l’amour et les bienfaits de la natation.

Ne gardez surtout pas ce message dans votre ordinateur plus de 16 minutes sans quoi la malédiction s’acharnera sur vous jusqu’au retour des bernaches a cou roux. (et non a Kourou).il y a un peu plus de 2000 ans, un homme reçut ce message sur son ordinateur portable.Comme sa batterie était vide et qu’il ne pouvait pas la recharger vu qu’il n’y avait pas encore d’électricité a cette époque, il fut crucifie avec des clous rouilles et comme si cela ne suffisait pas, on lui mit sur la tête une couronne de piquants qui font mal. Ça fait tout de même réfléchir, alors n’hésitez plus !

Renvoyez ce message à tous vos amis. Cela leur portera chance, a vie. Chaque fois qu’ils iront aux toilettes, il y aura encore du papier. Chaque fois qu’ils achèteront des saucisses à la volaille,ils bénéficieront de 20 centimes d’euros de réduction immédiate à la caisse. Chaque fois qu’ils mangeront des moules, il n’y aura pas de petits crabes dedans (sauf pour ceux qui aiment bien). Chaque fois qu’il y aura Céline Dion à la radio, le téléphone sonnera.Enfin, ils seront désormais exempts de répondre à tous les messages chaînes qui nous foutent les boules! Si vous le faites, en plus,! vous recevrez prochainement un bon de réduction de 25 % valable dans tout le catalogue des 3 Cuisses (sauf pages 323 à 332) et moi, je recevrai un bon de parrainage.

Ce message a déjà fait 759 874 236 587 686 fois le tour du monde.

Pour Thérèse, pour vous, pour moi, pour tous vos amis, ne brisez pas cette chaîne.

Merci


Advice to New Mac OS X User

My reply to Martine Pagé’s post about her transition to Mac OS X.

Funnily enough, I moved in the other direction (I needed a dirt-cheap computer), back in late December. Still miss my 2001 iBook (500MHz, 384MB RAM) and Mac OS X.

One thing I noticed (and was mentioned by others, elsewhere) is that Flock is much less of a resource hog on Mac OS X than on XP. No idea why. Though I never had issues with Firefox on OSX, I had switched to Flock and this made my transition to XP less fun. Safari can be a great tool, especially if you use one of OSX’s best-kept secrets: Services.

Ah, Services! The best tools for compulsive writers. You know, those menu items like "Summarize," available in pretty much all Cocoa apps and several Carbon apps. They also include support for the system-wide multi-lingual spellchecker (a fantastic tool for us, bilingual writers). Be sure to check out some of these, especially WordService. And once you start using Nisus Thesaurus, you’ll wonder how you did without it.

Perhaps the main trick with the Mac, mentioned in several comments here, is to only use the mouse when you really have to. Especially if you use the Mac to write, at any length. Use keyboard shortcuts as much as possible. Luckily, they’re very consistent across the system so you’ll be used to them in no time. When you’re writing, shortcuts are much more efficient than any kind of mouse movement. And you can usually apply shortcuts to any menu item. Menus are there to find out about features or to reach some of the lesser used features of an app.

Writing, on the Mac, is really pleasurable with the right tools. My favourite writing tools overall are outliners. Yes, there are outliners on any platform. But Mac OS X users arguably have a much better selection than anybody else. (What is widely recognized as the best outliner on Windows has been discontinued a number of years ago and doesn’t support any XML format.) If you’re interested in outlining, be sure to check ATPO. If you’re not yet into outlining, you might want to give OmniOutliner a try (IIRC, it comes preinstalled on new Macs as a trial version).

Another thing you might want to do is check out the wealth of FLOSS (Free/Libre Open-Source Software) on Mac OS X. Not only are most Linux projects also available on OSX but there are very high-quality projects made especially for Mac OS X. These tend to be über-productivity apps (i.e., efficient software for actual work) like the TeXShop TeX editor and the BibDesk bibliography manager. Or academic apps like TAMS Analyzer. But there are more "mainstream" apps like the Camino browser (mentioned here) and the TextWrangler text editor. To be honest, I almost never bought software for Mac OS X because so much of what I needed was already available for free.

Mac OS X is also a very cool geek platform. While the Mac OS turned us long-time users away from CLIs, Mac OS X integrates GUI and CLI elements extremely well. More often than not, I had a Terminal window open to do quick manipulations on files and processes. As any Unix geek knows, the shell is often the best place to accomplish real work.

I guess I’m writing this more out of nostalgia for my days working on Macs than to give you specific advice. There’s clearly a lot to say about Mac OS X.

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Advice to New Mac OS X User

My reply to Martine Pagé’s post about her transition to Mac OS X.

Funnily enough, I moved in the other direction (I needed a dirt-cheap computer), back in late December. Still miss my 2001 iBook (500MHz, 384MB RAM) and Mac OS X.

One thing I noticed (and was mentioned by others, elsewhere) is that Flock is much less of a resource hog on Mac OS X than on XP. No idea why. Though I never had issues with Firefox on OSX, I had switched to Flock and this made my transition to XP less fun. Safari can be a great tool, especially if you use one of OSX’s best-kept secrets: Services.

Ah, Services! The best tools for compulsive writers. You know, those menu items like "Summarize," available in pretty much all Cocoa apps and several Carbon apps. They also include support for the system-wide multi-lingual spellchecker (a fantastic tool for us, bilingual writers). Be sure to check out some of these, especially WordService. And once you start using Nisus Thesaurus, you’ll wonder how you did without it.

Perhaps the main trick with the Mac, mentioned in several comments here, is to only use the mouse when you really have to. Especially if you use the Mac to write, at any length. Use keyboard shortcuts as much as possible. Luckily, they’re very consistent across the system so you’ll be used to them in no time. When you’re writing, shortcuts are much more efficient than any kind of mouse movement. And you can usually apply shortcuts to any menu item. Menus are there to find out about features or to reach some of the lesser used features of an app.

Writing, on the Mac, is really pleasurable with the right tools. My favourite writing tools overall are outliners. Yes, there are outliners on any platform. But Mac OS X users arguably have a much better selection than anybody else. (What is widely recognized as the best outliner on Windows has been discontinued a number of years ago and doesn’t support any XML format.) If you’re interested in outlining, be sure to check ATPO. If you’re not yet into outlining, you might want to give OmniOutliner a try (IIRC, it comes preinstalled on new Macs as a trial version).

Another thing you might want to do is check out the wealth of FLOSS (Free/Libre Open-Source Software) on Mac OS X. Not only are most Linux projects also available on OSX but there are very high-quality projects made especially for Mac OS X. These tend to be über-productivity apps (i.e., efficient software for actual work) like the TeXShop TeX editor and the BibDesk bibliography manager. Or academic apps like TAMS Analyzer. But there are more "mainstream" apps like the Camino browser (mentioned here) and the TextWrangler text editor. To be honest, I almost never bought software for Mac OS X because so much of what I needed was already available for free.

Mac OS X is also a very cool geek platform. While the Mac OS turned us long-time users away from CLIs, Mac OS X integrates GUI and CLI elements extremely well. More often than not, I had a Terminal window open to do quick manipulations on files and processes. As any Unix geek knows, the shell is often the best place to accomplish real work.

I guess I’m writing this more out of nostalgia for my days working on Macs than to give you specific advice. There’s clearly a lot to say about Mac OS X.

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Windows Live Writer Test

As WLW seems to be the first standalone blog editor to support Blogger Beta, a short test is in order.

Although, I do prefer Qumana and ecto, at least for the interface.

One thing that we really need is a blog tool that has access to our browser histories. That way, we could quickly insert links directly from the editor.

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