Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

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A Better Alternative to Facebook

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Now back to social commentary.

Here are some reasons you don’t want to use Facebook:

1. Basically lousy software: often doesn’t work; inflexible; lacks useful features;
2. Ads, ads and ads;
3. Unsettling feeling that you’re a pawn in Facebook’s get-rich-quick scheme;
4. Ultimately, Facebook is a tool of the corporatist/government/news media power structure, deceitfully hidden under the guise of a “community-building social network platform”.

They want to build a community alright – of dumbed down, brainwashed, stressed out, divided, agitated and confused  consumer units.

The user-unfriendliness of Facebook is deplorable.  Any decent software engineer could design a better interface over a cup of coffee (and probably implement it in a week!)

As proof, consider how easily we could lay out specs for a better system.  It could be as simple as this:

1.  Instead of subscribing to Facebook, you (and everybody) set up a personal blog, or just a Tumblr account.
2. Whenever you see an interesting web page or news story or have a picture or comment, post it to your blog or Tumblr page instead of FB.  (These days you can do this automatically from your web browser.)

3. One more thing is needed. Each person needs a blog aggregator web page.  This is basically a page you own, which has feeds to all your friends’ blogs.  If one of your friends posts something to their blog, a notice is given on your accumulator page.  This can easily be done using RSS feeds.  Very possibly there is already way to set up such an accumulator page (or the equivalent) in Tumblr, WordPress or Blogspot etc.

4.  If you see an interesting item on your accumulator page and want to comment, simply go to your friend’s blog and comment there.

Voila!  A better alternative to Facebook, without ads, where you totally control the content.  Someone with just a little programming knowledge could easily design a customized personal front-end page (i.e., accumulator page), in any format desired.  For example, you could have your friends’ comments, news headlines on topics of interest, and announcements from business or organizations you like in separate columns or sections.

Another possibility would be to have some third-party service set up accumulator pages for people for free or a very nominal price.

(Yes, I know that, in theory, Google and Yahoo offer this feature; but you can only personalize the pages they supply to a very limited extent.)

This sort of thing — a fully personalized ‘news and views’ front end page is the whole point of RSS feeds anyway.  These totally personalized pages should be routine.  A likely reason people aren’t already using them is because the big corporate entities — Facebook, Google, etc. — are trying to co-opt the Internet for their nefarious purposes.

So, ultimately, Facebook is not needed – unless maybe you find it somehow beneficial to know how many of your friends’ ‘friends’ are illiterate, boring or nuts.

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Written by John Uebersax

August 11, 2012 at 12:37 am

How to Give Yourself a Superior College Education for Virtually Free

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Update:  As of November 2016, things have gotten even better than when this article was originally written.  The Great Courses now offers its courses online (viewable on computer or phone) for as little as $14/month.  The new service is called The Great Courses Plus.

Modern technology is rapidly making the brick-and-mortar university obsolete in its present form. Many college lectures are already available online for free.  There are also third-party courses, which are typically of superior quality,  and cost much less than physical college courses.

Please note that I’m not talking about expensive online degree programs.  I mean buying lectures or courses individually and teaching yourself.   If you have money to burn, or don’t mind borrowing $50,000, and have a desperate need for a piece of fake parchment with your name printed on it, then there are plenty of colleges and universities that will be happy to take your money, and in return will fill your head with 60’s era New Left baloney.  But if what you want is a solid education, the point of this article is to show that you get this on your own, and for a lot less money.

The leader in third-party college lectures is The Great Courses (TGC; formerly, The Teaching Company).  They already have an extensive catalog of nearly 400 classes on DVD, CD, or for download, with more on the way.

TGC lectures have many advantages:

  • At a regular university, only a few professors will be ‘superstars’.  But TGC recruits the top professors from around the world.  All lectures are given by intelligent, interesting, motivated, and skilled presenters.
  • The production values are high.  Lecturers are well-dressed and well prepared.  Talks are given in pleasant settings that enhance the learning experience.
  • You can watch or listen to them whenever you want; lectures can be paused or replayed.

The list price of TGC courses ranges from around $50 to $250 (much less than one pays at a university).  However, there’s no need to pay full price.  First, many libraries have TGC courses, and these can be watched for free. Second, most courses are available used at places like Ebay and Amazon.  Third, a group of students can get together and swap courses.  This means that one can typically get a used TGC course for $50 or less.

Example Curriculum

As proof of concept, let’s see if we can construct the equivalent of a four-year college education using existing TGC courses.  We’ll assume that the goal is to get a well-rounded, Liberal Arts education, with a balance among science, history, literature, social science, and fine arts.

We’ll divide the curriculum into four years, and a year into two semesters, with four courses per semester.

[Update: as of November, 2016, The Great Courses Plus offers unlimited online viewing of their catalog for $20/month or less.  Check that site first to see which of these courses are included there.]

Year 1 (Semesters 1 & 2)

  1. A Brief History of the World
  2. Classics of American Literature
  3. Psychology of Human Behavior
  4. Biology: The Science of Life
  5. Art of Reading
  6. Introduction to Astronomy
  7. Economics
  8. How to Listen to and Understand Great Music

Year 2 (Semesters 1 & 2)

  1. Understanding Calculus
  2. History of the United States
  3. Introduction to the Study of Religion
  4. Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology
  5. Nutrition Made Clear
  6. Development of European Civilization
  7. America and the New Global Economy
  8. Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology

Year 3 (Semesters 1 & 2)

  1. World’s Greatest Paintings
  2. The American Mind (History)
  3. Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition
  4. Oceanography: Exploring Earth’s Final Wilderness
  5. Game Theory in Life, Business, and Beyond
  6. Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies
  7. Discrete Mathematics
  8. Our Night Sky

Year 4 (Semesters 1 & 2)

  1. Masterpieces of Ancient Greek Literature
  2. Meaning from Data: Statistics Made Clear
  3. Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning
  4. Understanding the Secrets of Human Perception
  5. Why Economies Rise or Fall
  6. The Cathedral
  7. War and World History
  8. Physics and Our Universe: How It All Work

Assuming an average cost of $50 per course, the total cost would be 8 x $50 = $400 per year, or $1600 in total.  As noted, if your local library has any course, or you can borrow one from a friend, it’s free. [To be revised taking into account the even less expensive online subscription plan.]

Additional Educational Resources

TGC lectures usually come with detailed course guides, including outlines, bibliographies and study questions. To enhance learning, you can consult the suggested readings and even write out answers to the questions.  True, this might require more discipline than having a professor motivate you with grades. But if you really need someone else to ‘kick your butt’ for motivation, a life coach is much cheaper than university tuition!

The one thing that DVD courses lack is the sense of community one hopes to find at a college.   But you don’t have to pay tuition to join a college community.  Just rent a room in Berkeley, Austin, or Madison and join the intellectual culture; spend your days in self-study and evenings in recreation and conversation with intelligent people.  Attend lectures and films, and take advantage of the opportunities for civic activism.  Use the library.  You might even find that self-study is giving you an edge over your college-attending friends.

It’s true that DVD or online classes don’t result in a diploma or degree (yet).  But, honestly, are those things necessary?  Yes, some employers require them.  But the better companies place more value on the person.  Showing that you have the dedication and self-discipline to teach yourself might impress these employers more.

The Future

Universities cannot continue to charge huge tuitions and load students with debt.

Hopefully, public opinion will push them to change. One thing they could do is to expand advanced placement options, such that students may test out and gain automatic credit for courses and subjects they’ve already mastered.  In theory, someone could self-study, but have the university certify their competence.

Alternatively, we might see third-party companies fill the gap by administering, for a small fee, standardized tests or oral exams, and then issuing a certificate of completion or diploma.

Links:

 

Written by John Uebersax

February 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Each Man a Scholar

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deer-with-tHE other day I was walking around Brussels, noticing the people in the streets, many overburdened, and wondering how I might help make the world better. Suddenly the words, “Each man a scholar” came into my head, as if whispered by a Muse. What struck me was the intelligence in the faces I saw. Brussels is a very sophisticated city, and it seemed very plain that these same people, bright and well-educated, were capable of great achievements. Yet I suspected many or most were going home to watch television, sink on the sofa, or just worry about life in general.

Hence the implications of the thought, “each man a scholar” (which, of course, I naturally understood to mean ‘each woman,’ too). With these words came all at once a much broader and grander vision. The idea is that in this age of computers and the Internet, the role of each person in society is different. Each person can become an expert in some small, but important subject, and share the results of their work with the entire world. Not only is that possible, it seems like this what God is calling us to do, for He has placed us on the earth, you and I, at the precise moment in human history where all this technology has become available.

Such, I propose, is a natural and effective response to the difficult issues that confront us today. Solutions to such problems as hunger, poverty, injustice, disease, alienation, and war all exist. What we lack is a model for organizing ourselves to solve them. The Internet provides us with opportunity to forge such a new paradigm. What might be accomplished were each person who is able those blessed with a good education, computer literate, and with sufficient free time to spend an hour or two every week donating their time to public service in this way?

Belgium, 2008

Instant Google indexing of blogs

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I noticed yesterday that within minutes of making my latest post it appeared in Google search results (i.e., the main Google search engine, not just the one for blogs).

I tested it again just now and, yes, it took only 5 minutes or less to index a post.

Maybe WordPress sends the new page directly to Google for spidering and indexing — in any case, it’s nice.

You can read more about it here:

http://blog.butterflymedia.ro/google-instant-indexing/

and Matt Cutts’ blog.

Written by John Uebersax

February 14, 2008 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Inernet