Sunday, April 30, 2006

Talking with a happy online graduate

Online Education – Does it work?

This weekend was my college’s homecoming and as usual it was a great time to reconnect with old friends. I had the opportunity to have dinner with my best man and a reader from my wedding. As with any gathering of fraternity brothers we shared all the old stories and laughed to the point of depriving ourselves of life-giving oxygen.

At one point, the reader’s girlfriend mentioned she just finished her bachelors’ degree online at UMUC – University of Maryland University College. Online education is near and dear to me because of my work at and our recent partnership with the Apollo Group, parent company of the University of Phoenix. With all the time I’ve spent with our counterparts at Apollo I quizzed her about her likes and dislikes of the online learning experience. (I would have preferred if she attended UOP, but I wasn’t involved in the decision process) I have read and heard the benefits on websites and talked with education executives, but this was an opportunity to actually get a real life review. Not a quote from someone on a website. What did she say? She loved it. Why? I’ll detail the points below.

Flexibility – She’s got a full-time job and didn’t want to give that up and go back to school. She could work late at night; get ahead on her studies if she wanted.

Better value – It was cheaper then going back to a brick and mortar institution.

Avoid bad lecturers – Since there really isn’t a lecture there was no chance of getting stuck with a professor that doesn’t engage you in the subject.

Anonymity – There was no social order in the class, allowing her to fully participate. As anyone knows in the regular classroom there is plenty of room for intimidation and certain students to overpower the discussion.

I’m going to separate out the most critical point because I think it’s deserves a separate paragraph.

She felt she worked three times harder than she would have in the classroom setting because she owned her own learning.

Sure the professor creates the curriculum- but in an online setting you still have to learn the material. There are no lectures that might result in osmotic learning. While I was in business school, one professor who also taught online classes at UMUC and he said, “You can’t hide online.” Meaning- in a normal classroom there are plenty of students who make it through a class never participating. That’s not possible online because it’s measurable. The professor knows who is doing their assignments which usually include posting a certain number of times online.

Does online education work? YES, just as long as the students want to learn. This is no different then someone attending an Ivy League school or a state school. If there is a desire to succeed, online education is a powerful tool for people who can’t find a solution for the needs in conventional education systems.

Online education reputation suffers similarly to the people who don’t go to Harvard or never get a college degree. If you look at a lot of data regarding successful entrepreneurs many never went to college or ever finished. There is a cost of admission in our society; we think that Ivy League schools have a superior educational experience. Well what about the rest of the world? There seems to be a lot of highly motivated individuals in developing countries who are after our standard of living. They don’t have access to many of our institutions, yet that doesn’t stop their quest. Our society values a college degree, it’s expected. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have invested time and money in pursuing a degree who end up happier being a tradesperson. We need to provide everyone with the opportunity to arm themselves with the tools they need to pursue what they are passionate about.

I’m planning on taking an online class in the near future on a topic I’d like to learn more about. You’ll read about my experience as I take my class.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Mumps and the Bird Flu

I've been following the mumps outbreak in the Midwest and wondering how comparable it might be to a flu pandemic.

Articles say that is spreads like the common cold - similar to the flu. Reading an article on that says they think the mumps got out of Iowa carried by two students on an airplane.

Take a look at a graph I pulled from the PBS article. Look at that exponential growth rate!

Imagine what the bird flu graph will look like.

Just picked up a 4-pack of Coca-Cola Blak

Coca-Cola recently released a new drink which is a carbonated fusion beverage. Just tried it, it's a tasty beverage. Only about 45 calories to a bottle - it's as if you mixed a cup of coffee and a coke.

An interesting tidbit is that it contains both HFCS as well as aspartame.

A bit expensive ~$6 for a 4 pack.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Clear communication never gets old - effective email

Andy Monfried just wrote a great piece on the rise of email as the primary communication tool for both clients and co-workers. His piece has inspired me to write about internal email etiquette ~ effective emailing.
  1. Clear Subject Line - I can't count how many emails I receive that don't have a clear subject line. If a critical decision is needed put that in the subject line. In the world of 200-500 emails a day, you need to stand out. Don't be scared to change a bad subject line - sometimes you're on an email that's been forwarded across multiple parties - change the subject line if it's not clear. Break the chain.
  2. Know the difference between CC and To - The general rule I follow is that if a person needs to read or make a decision or give input they belong on the To line. If it's just copying a person's boss or making sure you're keeping someone in the loop CC them.
  3. Never use BCC - Why? For a few reasons. First, I can easily count on my hand the number of times the BCC'd party hits reply to all. Who looks dumb now? Second, it's a weak way to try and get action from another party. How is that BCC'd person going to do something? They'll look like a mind reader or just micromanaging manager. If you need to get someone looped in so they can take action, CC them. IF you must BCC - I suggest you don't, just go to your sent folder and forward the email with your comments to the BCC party.
  4. Prioritize your inbox - My company uses Outlook (I assume like everyone else's company) and I use all different types of rules. Certain emails that I never have to read get sorted away automatically. These may get read on the plane. Is there someone (your boss) who's email is critical? Have Outlook pop up an alert window. Color code emails. There are plenty of tricks, customize them to fit your exact needs.
If you have any tips or comments please share them.

Sitting on the sidelines watching

You might think this has to do with sports, if you know me well that is highly unlikely.

I have SiteMeter on my blog and it helps track what pages are popular and how people get to my blog. I blogged about a new site,, on March 23rd - click here for that post. I was commenting on the cool functionality, a more adult (not that kind of adult) version of MySpace. There was also a very funny video of a cat up for adoption attacking it's handler had to include that.

Over the past month I've been noticing a marked increase in the number of people reaching my site coming from searches for LiveDigital. This past week it's been a handful a day. Checking out it shows this site is reaching more and more people. Hence it's stir is creating a minor stir for my insightful comments. I've included the graph below.

The popularity of LiveDigital is spilling over to my blog. If I upgrade to the paid Sitemeter I would be able to perform more analysis such as graphing these searches against the Alexa graph.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

More On Prostate Cancer Virus Link

As I've blogged before I'm interested in links between diseases and viruses/bacteria. Click here for my previous post.

One of my favorite authors, Carl Zimmer blogged about more data regarding a link between a mouse virus link and prostate cancer. Read it here.

It's interesting to read about how virus genes have been inserted into our own genes.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Kidney Anyone?

There have been rumors that China is executing prisoners and taking their organs. Click here for an article on it.

What I found more interesting was that they are using Google Adwords to advertise their services.

Take a look at this circled ad.

Here is the link:

I wonder if this is legal to do?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Setting the bar low

Sam Decker has a great post regarding his return to the TiVo service and the importance of design in a product. Read it here.

As I have blogged before, I'm a big TiVo fan. Had my Series 1 box for over five years. I've bought and sold their stock and made some money. On a regular basis I'm evangelized their product, but what I've heard more recently is - "oh I've got a DVR from my cable company."

They aren't the same, Sam's posting is a great example. The only problem for TiVo is that most people haven't experienced it. Their bar hasn't been set for a DVR solution.

I can't comment on how good the other cable company's solutions are, but my guess is they all use similar suppliers of technology. Similar sub-par performance.

TiVo needs to figure out how to reach all these cable DVR subs and show them their solution is better.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Thoughts after a long drive

After a long drive to NY a couple things come to mind.

1. I drove past a van completely styled like the A-Team van. Exactly like it.

2. Driving on the Belt Parkway is like driving in NASCAR.

3. TiVo won it's patent battle against Echostar - Great News.

4. I'm glad tomorrow is Friday.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Help Me Be Able To Drink Beer

AKA - Update on my Celiac Run fundraising progress

I've blogged about Celiac and the costs on the health system.

I set a goal of raising $10,000 this year for the 5th annual Run/Walk for Celiac. Five years ago I purchased the domain for the first walk to setup a website for Pam at the Center for Celiac Research.

Where do I stand against my goal? $1,290.00 Click here to help me reach my goal

I just placed some Google Adwords to see if I can drive any donations from celiac related searches.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Loving My Sirius Starmate

I'm thoroughly enjoying my new Starmate. The TiVo pause and replay functionality is great along with the wishlist alerts. I'm looking forward to taking it on a long drive. My iPod is great but it requires me to create playlists. This requires effort and time, I have plenty of one and lack the other.

Sirius let's me go back to the days of 103.7 WRX in Providence RI. I spent my summers in the Hamptons and was able to tune into the greatest classic rock station ever. It went away in 1999 or 2000, changed to alternative rock.

The deep Pink Floyd cuts were gone.

Sirius has brought them back, consolidation of local radio stations and homogenization of formats has left the radio dead to me. No longer are there a few channels in Baltimore or New York that I can flip between for the perfect song. Choices are limited, but Sirius has brought them back. I've easily got 9 channels of great classic rock and I'm still finding more.

Is satellite radio the equivalent of Web 2.0 for radio?

People talk about Web 2.0 blowing up the portals audiences as people assemble their own custom content from professionals and amateurs. (seems familiar to network and cable tv) Choose any of a number of great stations, scan for your favorite artists, and easily check traffic updates every four minutes. If I want to replicate that with terrestrial radio in NYC, I have to switch from iPod to AM 1010 on the 10s for the traffic. I have to wait upto 10 minutes for traffic, with Sirius it's a maximum of 4 minutes.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Cooking up some methamphetamines

Well maybe not, but I experienced the meth problem first hand today. My wife is sick and needs some expectorant, leading me to stop by the local Rite-Aid.

I’m a big fan of making sure you take just the right type of cold medication. For example, if I have nasal congestion, I only want nasal decongestant. It’s easy buy an all-in-one cold remedy which has drugs your body doesn’t need.

I decided to buy three different types of Robitussin (cough and congestion, chest congestion, head and chest congestion) to make sure my wife was completely covered. For those who follow Maryland news there is a growing methamphetamine problem and people are cooking up this drug from common over the counter cold mediation. This problem is leading many local governments to pass laws that lock-up cold medication behind the counter and/or limits on how many boxes you can buy at a single time.

I head to the checkout counter with my three boxes of Robitussin. As I’m being checked out the register beeps and requires me to provide my driver’s license to the cashier. The cashier had no idea why I need to provide my license; I had to explain the meth issue.

I can only imagine what happened before this register check was in place.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

TiVo replicates the cable model

I just got my TiVo email newsletter today and noticed that they are now offering an 80 hour Series 2 model for as little as $16.95 per month (3 year signup required). I coped and pasted the fine print below.

  1. At the time of purchase of a TiVo Package Payment Plan, you will be required to commit to the TiVo service for one (1), two (2), or three (3) years based on the TiVo Package selected.
    You may either choose to: (a) pay for your TiVo Package Payment Plan on a monthly basis; or (b) prepay for your TiVo Package Payment Plan.
  2. If you choose the monthly TiVo Package Payment Plan, your options are as follows: (a) Commit to the TiVo Package for three (3) years at $16.95 per month; (b) Commit to the TiVo Package for two (2) years at $18.95 per month; or (c) Commit to the TiVo Package for one (1) year at $19.95 per month.
  3. Alternatively, you may prepay for your TiVo Package Payment Plan for either three (3) years at $469, two (2) years at $369, or one (1) year at $224.

Interesting because if you buy that same recorder in a store you'd pay $219.99 (Best Buy). You only end up paying $94 for the recorder with the new one year plan. I think this is a great move by TiVo, lower the upfront investment and then rely on auto-rebilling after the contract ends.

I hope this really juices up their subscriber numbers.

Still not impressed with Sirius customer service

Today I returned to Best Buy and brought back the defective Sirius Starmate radio.

I've got the new one up and running after activating it in my car in the BB parking lot. There was no way I was going to drive all the way home and find this one didn't work. While I was activating by the phone I had to escalate to a supervisor because I wanted the $5 discount on the activation because of my inconvenience. Normally you pay $5 less if you activate online. The supervisor assured me it would show up as a credit against my account. I just checked, it's not there.

I'll be calling tomorrow and will be asking for more.

JD Powers winner?? LOL

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Sirius wins the JD Power Customer Service Award - Yeah Right!

Tonight my wife and I drove to Best Buy to pick up a satellite radio, we hadn't made up our mind yet. I had tried out the free XM web preview, but we were going to decide at the store after talking to the clerk. After reviewing the channel guide it, she noticed that Sirius has a few NPR channels. We decided on Sirius, bought a receiver and a boom box.

Drove home, set it up, and tried to activate it online.

Well that didn't work so well.

Called to activate it.

The activation person informs me the ID code is not valid. "You need to drive back to the store and get a new unit."

Are you kidding me? The radio receives their free channel, but apparently somehow the number isn't valid.

After pressing for a supervisor, it was clear that even she couldn't tell me what was wrong. Not even any discount for my inconvenience of having to drive back to the store.

Sirius will be lucky if I return my receiver and get another one. I might just go with XM instead after such an amazing interaction with their JD Powers award winning customer service.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Staggering Cost of Undiagnosed Celiac Sprue

I'm a Celiac and it's frustrating to see the lack of awareness among doctors. It takes on average about 10 years from first symptoms to diagnosis - that's a lot of suffering and wasted medical resources.

Take a look at some back of the envelope math - the cost is staggering.

Prevalence 0.75%
US Population (MM) 200
Years to Diagnosis 10
Medical Cost per Year $500
Total Cost (MM) $7,519

Sunday, April 02, 2006

An oldie but goodie

How pleasantly surprised I was during the Sopranos closing credits music when One Of These Days by Pink Floyd was playing. I guess in the next episode someone's going to be cut into pieces.

Taking my Garmin Forerunner 301 for a spin around Fort McHenry

I've always been a big fan of using heart rate monitors during exercise. It's a great way to see how fit you are and help adjust your pace when your outdoors. Since I seemed to have misplaced my Polar strap I ended up buying a Garmin Forerunner 301. This thing is amazing - heart rate, distance, elevation, and more. It uses GPS technology to track where you've traveled and has a computer hook up to their software which let's you track and examine your progress.

I've included a screenshot below of our walk today, clearly the fort doesn't exist - very cool product.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Getting Ready for the Fifth Annual Celiac Run

I finally got around to setting up my team for the Celiac run on May 7th. For those who don’t know, I have Celiac. I can’t eat gluten – which means no wheat, flour, barley, beer, etc.

This year I’m organizing a team of my Robert H. Smith business school alumni to run. I’m hoping to raise $10,000 for research and education. There are still many people suffering from this disease who don’t know they have it yet. Why? Because many doctors don’t realize how prevalent it is in the US.

About 1 out of every 133 people have Celiac.

If you’re interested in running or just feel like donating some cash to a worthy cause. Click Here

I can only imagine how much money is wasted on treating undiagnosed Celiacs.

Comparison of the prevalence of celiac disease and other well- known conditions:
Celiac Disease affects 3 million Americans
Epilepsy affects 2.8 million Americans
Ulcerative Colitis affects 500,000 Americans
Crohn's Disease affects 500,000 Americans
Multiple Sclerosis affects 333,000 Americans
Cystic Fibrosis affects 30,000 Americans
(Source: National Institutes of Health)

Rickshaw Anyone?

My wife and I spent the day off in NYC yesterday. After a day of shopping and visiting family we decided it was time to visit the famous celiac restaurant, Risotteria. We were at Grand Central and needed to get down there fast. The GCT taxi queue had been shut down and with no taxis in sight, we hopped on this bicycle rickshaw. Once the guy started peddling I asked how much for a ride down to Blecker and 7th.


We said “let’s think about it and head over to Penn Station.” We thought about it, but in reality we just experienced riding on city streets jockeying with taxis and buses in a rickshaw. It was a great evening warm weather, perfect for a rickshaw ride. It’s just that I thought a helmet would be a nice added accessory. I felt like this experience was close to being a bike messenger in NYC.

We ended up paying $25 to get to Penn from GCT. Via subway it would have been $4. It was a nice evening so it was probably worth it.
The driver was nice enough to hail us a cab by cutting it off with the rickshaw.