November 2009 Archives

links for 2009-11-18

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childhood musical memories


AKMA pointed me towards the voting for the best Sesame Street videos ever, and it's awfully hard for me to decide amongst some of the old favorites. I had the original Sesame Street album, so the songs from that are the ones that tug at my heartstrings. The original Rubber Duckie Song by Ernie, Kermit's classic "It's Not Easy Being Green," Cookie Monster's wonderful "I Love Trash," and Big Bird's alphabet song all are bringing back wonderful memories for me. Oh, and Ernie's lovely "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon"!

Don't know which I'll vote for about you? What's your favorite?

disney bound!


Tomorrow afternoon we (me, Gerald, and the boys) board a flight for Orlando. Seven days of sunshine, warmth, and disney fun (well, disney for me and the boys...Gerald's going to pass on that).

The last time the boys were at WDW they were 3 and 5 years old...I suspect that ten years later the experience for all of us will be very different.

We've purchased 6-day passes with the option to go to DisneyQuest (uber-arcade w/lots of VR tech) and the water parks each day as well.

If you've been to WDW recently, I'd love to know what you think are the can't-miss attractions for adults and teens. We bought the "unofficial guide" as well as access to the plans on, so we have a good head start. But suggestions are more than welcome!

open/closed meeting policies in academia


I just left a college curriculum committee meeting in which a major topic of discussion was whether we should continue our current practice of asking faculty proposing courses to leave the room while we conduct a closed discussion and vote on their proposals (after having had an open discussion with the proposer present). The meetings are not open to uninvited guests at any point.

For a year now I've been asking why we ask people to leave, and at the end of last year I asked that we have a chance to vote on the process this year. Today we had a discussion where my argument was that since curriculum discussions include no "PII" (unlike, say, a tenure committee), there's no reason not to allow the meetings to be open.

Several of my colleagues responded with counter-arguments. One was that members of a curriculum committee have a better understanding of process, which a "regular" faculty member might not appreciate or understand, and thus the committee should be able to have their pre-vote discussions without the presence of the faculty member. Another was that individuals tend to be deeply vested in their own proposals, and thus would have a hard time not taking criticism of the proposals personally--and that this, in turn, would put untenured faculty on the curriculum committee at risk if they criticized a proposal from a senior faculty member.

I have my own responses to these arguments, but I'm not going to share them here. Instead, I'm interested in knowing about other institutions' policies. Are curriculum committee meetings (and/or other committee meetings) typically open to anyone who'd like to observe? Are they closed by default, and open to invited guests for specific portions, or are they open by default, and closed only during specific parts? Are votes openly recorded? Are minutes of discussions shared?

links for 2009-11-11

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links for 2009-11-08

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paypal for parents and teens

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If you parent a tech-savvy tween or a teen, you've probably spent more time than you'd like typing in either your paypal info or your credit card number each time they want to purchase a game or other item online.

In our household, in addition to that annoyance, there's also the fact that our kids are terrible at keeping track of their own cash, and don't have easy access to a bank to deposit checks they might receive from family. Like many parents, we've mostly operated on a "Bank of Mom & Dad" principle...we keep track of how much of their money we've got, and add to/deduct from that when they get money or want us to buy something for them. It's a hassle, because none of us enjoy the record-keeping or arguing over whether or not we paid for their purchase last week.

So when I saw last week that PayPal was now offering ""student accounts":" for teenagers (ages 13 and up), I was intrigued. After reading the fine print, I couldn't really see a downside, so I opened accounts for both of the boys.

The way it works is that the parent sets up the account, and then decides what level of access the kid gets, and how much notification the parent receives. Here's the list of options:

student account permissions

We have a pretty high degree of trust in our kids, so we set very few restrictions--that's something we can change later if the trust turns out not be warranted. But there's very little risk involved here--they can't overdraw the account because PayPal will reject any transaction that doesn't have sufficient funds to cover it.

I then transferred into their accounts the money we'd been holding for them in our bank account--back allowance, checks they'd gotten from family--essentially closing out their accounts with the "Bank of Mom & Dad."

PayPal also makes it easy to set up an automatic payment into their accounts from ours, so rather than keeping track of their allowances, I'm now having the agreed-upon amount automatically deposited into their account. I can change that at any time, but having it set up as the default means we don't have to remember if they got their money in any given week.

Even better, PayPal offers the option of a debit card in your kid's name, which allows them to purchase things at a store, and to withdraw cash from an ATM. They charge a $1 fee for ATM withdrawals, but no charge for purchases with the debit card. (And, if they want cash without a fee, they can always transfer some money back to our account, and get cash from us in return.) Again, since PayPal won't approve a transaction if there aren't sufficient funds, there's no risk of them overdrawing or running up debt.

Lane tested his new debit card at a local convenience store yesterday, and it worked like a charm. He's also now able to transfer his Second Life earnings directly to his own PayPal account.

All in all, I'm very impressed with how well this service seems to work, and how nicely it allows kids to have independence in managing their own money while still providing parents with oversight (more oversight, really, than if they were simply using cash). It's only been a week, but we're all giving this a big thumbs-up.

links for 2009-11-02

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picture the impossible gala

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We did it!

On Saturday night at midnight, the countdown clock hit 0 and the guests headed home from a wonderful four hour celebration of our game.

All in all, the game was more successful than we'd hoped for.

Over the next few weeks we'll be crunching data and sifting through photos and forum posts and coming up with both a numeric and a qualitative assessment of how the game went--the good, the bad, and the "let's not talk about that ever again."

Many, many thanks to all my partners in crime on this project, especially Traci Bauer, the D&C's managing editor and my co-lead on the game. The team that put this all together was amazing, and that we did it on a budget of next-to-nothing is even more astounding.

Speaking of which, a BIG shoutout to Bing for helping fund the development, to SCVNGR for giving us a great deal on their platform for the seven weeks of the game, to ""Kodak":": for providing the awesome prizes (including twelve of the amazin Zi8 video cameras, which are way nicer than my Flip Minio), and to the Marie C and Joseph C Wilson Foundation for providing the grant to fund the donations that went to the three faction's charities. I can't begin to tell you all how grateful I am for your support.

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