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3. 08

HOWTO: Downgrade a Toshiba Satellite C855D-S5315 to Windows 7

Written by: gcw - Posted in: Uncategorized -

For Christmas my brother and I got our mother a Toshiba Satellite laptop. Like any new machine it came with Windows 8 and like any sane person my mother hated it. Being the wonderful son that I am I offered to install Windows 7 for her while I was home this summer. This was a mistake.

I assumed that it would just entail popping a Windows 7 DVD into the drive and downloading a few drivers from the manufacturer. And it would, if Toshiba didn’t deliberately make it difficult to get Win7 drivers for their new laptops. Oh, they have the drivers, the graphics and USB controllers and WiFi adapters are all exactly the same as on the Win7 laptops they were making a year earlier. But they won’t let you download the drivers for a model that comes with Windows 8 installed.  Toshiba is lucky I can’t punch a company in the face.

I did get it to work by following the instructions here:


With the following caveats:

  1. I had to fix the SM Bus Controller last (otherwise the computer would not restart)
  2. I had to fix the LAN controller using this file.
I’m not going to be another person to predict the end of Microsoft, but if you have to force users into your latest product by bullying manufacturers into making it impossible to downgrade that is not a good sign for your future.




16. 06

Authority and the internet

Written by: gcw - Posted in: Uncategorized -

You can’t use Wikipedia as a source.

That’s what I tell my students over and over again. And if they ever ask why I always repeat the academic mantra “because there is no author, therefor no authority.” And yet, when you really want to answer questions with a google search you often find that people slap their names on some very dubious articles.

For example, I need some routers that support DD-WRT for the Wireless Communications class I teach. DD-WRT is basically an operating system for your wireless router that will open up all the expensive, fancy features but it won’t run on every router (as I found out during my labs last semester). So being both technically savvy and lazy I simply googled “best dd-wrt router”.

Best DD-WRT Router

Of the top 5 responses, 3 are from nice respectable web sites and have clear authorship and 2 are forum discussions (no identifiable authors). And yet those 3 are absolutely useless because they contain bloggers linking to other bloggers and regurgitating what someone else has already said about “best DD-WRT routers.” None of them took the time to actually sit down with each of them and test them out for functionality and signal strength. The forums don’t have complete information because each each poster only has experience with their brand, but at least it’s real information.

My point is two-fold:

  • Firstly we should be spending as much time helping students discern useful from useless internet sources in the practical realm as we do in the academic realm but we’re not. We would have them repeat the information from those 3 sources as if they had weight.
  • Secondly I should get a variety of routers that support DD-WRT and have my students compare them.


24. 05

Documents and Color

Written by: gcw - Posted in: Uncategorized - Tags: , ,

If I want to know when to use italics, there are an abundance of resources that will tell me the rules of grammer or for any particular formal style. The same applies for underlining or bolding text.

But what about highlighting? Or different colored text?

There are a lot of good reasons to use color. Primary to those of us in education is the fact that color conveys information. More information in the same amount of space is a very good thing.

But very few labs, worksheets, handouts, books or even websites that I come across use color to convey information. We’ve all grown so used to the limitations of a a 19th century printing press that we have just accepted them as reality. (not an uncommon problem)

I should commit to a plan to increase the amount of color used in handouts and labs next year, but as I mentioned above I’m not even 100% sure of the best way to use it. And just saying that I will use some artificial number of colors on each document seems…well…a little artificial. I wish someone smarter than me would add color to The Elements of Style and be done with it.

19. 12

Programming lab-practicals; follow up

Written by: gcw - Posted in: Uncategorized - Tags: ,

In the end I couldn’t come up with a particularly salient assignment that illuminated mastery of all the course objectives of the programming class so I just lobbed this at my students. It was brutal. No one, absolutely no one, finished within two hours. Half of them didn’t even finish the first phase. One student gave me a look as they were leaving that left me sure I would see this in the hallway:

Now just because it was brutal doesn’t mean it was bad. While I don’t confuse rigor for quality in education, I also don’t believe that an education should be a comfortable experience at all times. And this exam did hit the major learning objectives that I had for the course and that I had tried to prepare students for. Also, I did get a nice spread of grades that correlated well with the student’s other work (the more labs they had completed, the higher they scored on the lab-practical).

But I learned a few things I’ll definitely put into practice for my next class that has a hands-on examination:

  • Lay out the objectives first, preferably in a way that I could share with the students, weeks before the lab-practical
  • Try and figure out a program/application that would need all of those objectives (instead of tacking the objectives onto the scenario)
  • Spend a lot more time thinking about chunking, that is
    • How granular should each task be, preferably one per objective?
    • How should they be ordered so that students have the greatest oppourtunity to demonstrate mastery?
    • How long should each task take?
  • Spend more time in class preparing students for activities like this. I had some in-class programming quizes early on in the semester but that fell by the wayside as we progressed.

It’s not hard to normalize the grades after the fact, and I would still categorize this as a successful lab-practical and a successful semester, but I plan on doing better next time.


17. 12

Economic illiteracy and online education

Written by: gcw - Posted in: Uncategorized - Tags: , ,
So, there is this adjunct problem. Adjuncts are often paid very little and are becoming a larger part of the higher education workforce. Coincidently there is also this dadgummed MOOC revolution, with Corsera and Udacity changing how we deliver eduation to students (or so people keep telling me). So what would it take to bring both of these higher education trendes together? Money.
And in comes StraighterLine where students can sign up for online courses, the teachers of those courses can set their own fees and all is right with the world. Except to adjunct advocate Josh Bolt who considers it a sign of the educational apocalypse. I’m not even exaggerating, he actually said:
Programs like Professor Direct, in their current incarnation, will destroy the greatest educational system in the world if we don’t force some checks and balance onto them.
How an online startup that has been offering 16 new classes for zero amount of time will destroy a 475 billion dollar industry with an established non-governmental regulatory system (which prevents StraighterLine from access Federal monies, most importantly student financial aid) is beyond me.
The gist of StraighterLine is that, unlike the MOOCs,  they will charge money for their online courses and the teachers involved get to set the price. They already have some colleges lined up that will accept their credits. So the promise is that you will no longer have adjuncts being underpaid because they can make more teaching online courses like these, essentially cutting out the middle man of colleges.
Josh is convinced this is a terrible thing because…well because he doesn’t understand economics:
Teachers aren’t setting their own price any more than a dairy farmer sets his own price for milk. Sure, a teacher can value her course at what she considers to be a living wage, but if the consumer isn’t willing to pay that price, then the teacher’s valuation essentially means nothing. In a market-driven economic exchange, the consumer sets the price.
Except no. In a market-driven economic exchange both the supplier and the consumer agree to a price. If the diary farmer wants more than people are willing to pay for milk, they won’t buy it. Likewise if people won’t pay enough for milk to make it worth the farmer’s time, he’ll sell old Bessie as hamburgers and jerky. No one gets to set the price.
StraighterLine isn’t the end or education as we know it or a bold new way to make teachers millionaires.  It’s just another market to sell milk at, and more markets mean more options and that can never be a bad thing.

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