Sunday, April 26, 2020

Education In Isolation

I have two kiddos (17 (M) and 14 (F)) in public High School. I have a nephew (10) and niece (7) in public Elementary. 

Needless to say the “education from home” amidst this COVID crisis has been troubling. In talking with my brother, it sounds like Elementary education has being going reasonably well for his family. These thoughts are primarily formed by my experience with my crew. 

As with the state of our Hospitals, the systems and frameworks we setup to educate our children (public and private) have failed deeply in this pandemic. While there is an immediacy to the physical health challenge of course, I’m faced with the longer-term impact of what this pandemic means to the next generation’s education.

A few things stand out for me:
  • Social. Humans are social animals (even us introverts), and the developmental window our children are in has been slammed shut when it comes to social/human interaction. As the state of our broader world today has proven to us, video/audio/text is not a replacement for healthy human interaction, in fact, it wreaks havoc on it. The psychological impact this isolation is having on our kids is heavy.
  • Curriculum. Watching the teachers attempt to morph their curriculum to “remote learning” has been a disaster. The tools they’re using to disseminate information, collect information, register attendance, and generally communicate is embarrassing. It’s hard to blame any of the teachers themselves; most are doing the best they can. Teaching younger minds through disconnected experiences en mass, simply doesn’t work. It’s hard to blame the administrations themselves either, as they had to turn on a dime into the unknown. Particularly troubling on the curriculum front has been that my kids can get all of their work done in just a couple of hours each day. Part of that is probably a stripped down curriculum to simplify the process during stressful times. Another part is of course because in-person education incoroporates socialization which is important. However, I’ve resolved at least a few hours everyday of our in-person schooling was probably a complete waste of time and wholely inefficient.
  • Teachers. Parents aren’t equipped to be teachers of the curriculum we’ve come to expect our children to learn. Teachers aren’t equipped to teach/deliver said curriculum “remotely.” We’re many decades into supporting a system (in-person, school-house, “teachers”) that wasn’t remotely designed for “at home.” To make things worse, that support has been pitiful at best over the past several decades. The system’s been crumbling for a long time.
  • Online. There is a non-trivial percentage of our population that doesn’t have reliable infrastructure (quiet place at home, network connection, devices) to support “remote learning” anyway, so, the above points don’t even apply. I read a story the other day about some kids being caught outside their school under a blanket huddling around a screen to use the school’s WiFi access point in order to do their schoolwork.
  • Welfare. I didn’t understand why our school district administrators were beating the “food distribution” drum so loudly from the onset. It turns out, we use our public schools as a means to actually feed a non-trivial percentage of our child population in the United States. I had no idea. This gets complicated when there’s no cafeteria to leverage for distribution.
  • The Gap. We are faced with at least a three-month gap in the education of our children at large. Are they learning during this period? Of course, but, not at all to the degree they were before the crisis. How does that play out downstream? From graduation, to college, to future employer expectations, etc.

I can’t believe things could be any more desperate for our education system than they have been over the past few decades, but, they are. Our districts are sitting ducks for the slick technology packages that technology driven education firms have been aching to sell. “5G? Now’s the time!” “Screens for all? Now’s the time.” “Digital curriculum? Let’s get you setup with that!” I fear that desperation is going to cause deep and wide contracts to be signed without a semblance of a broader plan for national education expectations. We may be entering a highly splintered education era.

It would be cool if we ralllied in this time of need and pulled together a comprehensive plan to educate our children. One that supports the children, teachers, and the parents. Education would be such a neat thing to throw weight behind in this moment. We have a chance to reboot the system. I’m curious to see how this goes.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Tech Company B-Corp Certification Surprise

I found myself down the B-Corp Certification exploration rabbit hole. Now that the certification craze dust has settled a bit (remember a few years ago when everyone wanted to be B-Corp Certified?) we have some industry data around what it all means in practice.

Definitions

There are two "B corp" things to consider when talking about what it means to publicly commit to more sustainable business practices: one, B-Corp Certification which is a certification that a company receives from https://bcorporation.net/ (there are consultants out there who can drive the process for you). two, the Public Benefit Corporation incorporation type for corporate entities.

The Surprise

I was exploring "B-Corp Certification" in the context of a "tech company" considering codification of its existing business practices in a more public manner (money where its mouth is kinda stuff) when I came across what appears to be some fairly gnarly blockage for most tech companies. Most U.S.-based tech companies incorporate in Delaware (why they do this is a separate discussion and one you can just search the network for), yet B-Corp Certification of a Delaware incorporated company actually requires you to convert to a Public Benefit Corporate (PBC). You can read about that requirement at the bottom of this page which outlines some fine print. This means you'd have to move away from S or C Corp status, in order to be B-Corp Certified.

What Should You Do?

For most U.S. tech companies, that's pretty much a non-starter. The last thing you want is to go against the common grain of a massive legal/finance/tax industry that has been baked for decades around S/C-Corp incorporation types. If you're world is constrained enough that you, and your legal/finance/tax vendors/team, can foresee all the business dynamics therein, and you want to convert to PBC, then you can go ahead and do so without much risk. However, if your world is variable on these fronts (and let's face it, any tech startup is riddled with variability here), that's more risk than you probably want to swallow.

Etsy forwent their B-Corp Certification renewal in favor of retaining their existing corporate structure when the Certification dictated they convert to a PCB. Read all about that here.

The B-Corp Certification requirements/statutes may try and flex to accommodate Delaware incorporation rules/regulations to support more "tech companies" being able to B-Corp Certify, but that sounds like an uphill battle.

I dipped my toe in this water for a mere 24-hours. If someone has better data, please share in the comment section.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Voice UI

I've been using Alexa, and Siri for awhile now. I gave Google Home a try for a few months, but dumped it (not enough integrations with IoT devices). The promise of voice landed with the dead thud I thought it would. That said, there have been a few use cases where I've found it immensely valuable.

Home Automation

Being able to control parts (automated blinds/shades, thermostat, lights) of my house via voice commands has been great. Alexa has the most integrations and home IoT devices are so brutally splintered, that in order to effectively play the field, the only option is Alexa. I'm sure there will be consolidation here, and Apple will eventually win that battle (though HomePod might not survive long enough for it to matter). I've been shocked at how literal the voice system is however. It's been challenging building carefully constructed strings of commands in my head and spewing them verbally into the air in order to get Alexa to do the right thing ("Alexa, turn off the 3rd floor fan."). I'm a bit surprised Alexa hasn't figured out more natural/ambient context. If she could figure this out, it'd be really helpful. Having to remember the command syntax for infrequently used commands basically means I can't ever commit the commands to memory, so in turn, I don't use them. With graphical UIs, I always have visual context to guide my memory and actions.

Talking To Me

I also use Alexa for morning news briefings. Periodically I ask her to read the "Sleep With Me" podcast when I'm having trouble falling asleep. I sometimes ask Siri to "read me my new messages" in the morning (I leave my phone downstairs each night so it's not in my bedroom) in my bedroom, or while I'm making coffee.

Dictation

I use Siri for iMessage'ing and Reminders constantly. I also use OSX dictation periodically. Being free from my phone to message ppl (at home, or in the car via CarPlay) has been awesome! There are plenty of times, mostly while in the car, however when Siri gets it wrong, and that's annoying.

The Narrows

The usefulness of voice however is excruciatingly narrow. It is only usable when you are alone. You can't use it unless you're in a noise/distraction free environment. How often are you in a noise/distraction free environment? That's what I thought… basically never.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Tipping and “The Apps”

I’m reaching fatigue levels with all the delivery apps out there. From ride-sharing, to food delivery, the veil between me and the laborer’s “tip” is getting old. While “The Apps” play with their margins by tweaking “services charges,” “convenience fees,” and “gratuities/tips,” the connection I thought I had between myself the consumer, and the delivery/driver person doing the actual work is now completely muddled and confused.

From service to service, I have zero clue who’s abusing their position as labor aggregator and who is not, and I’ve done enough reading of first-hand accounts from laborers that suggest these “fees” and “tips” are being blurred into minimum wage augmentation for the firm’s benefit, to know that abuse is clear.

Adding to the confusion is zero differentiation between food delivery services. All the delivery folks deliver for all the services, so the fact that there are a half-dozen food delivery apps installed on my phone (not one of which could I tell you delivers for the specific restaurant I’m interested in in a given moment), that are all the same to me, means there is never a human to connect to one service or another.

And no, just tipping in cash doesn’t solve the problem for me. Sure it helps the one random delivery person that happens to land me as a customer, but the problem is systemic. Unless all of us decided to move to cash tipping simultaneously, the issue still pervades the labor layer in this cake. That issue is creating an abused, underpaid, fatigued, disloyal, disinterested, large labor pool to fuel what is generally a crappy experience (out of the last four food deliveries you’ve received, how many were actually correct?) for the consumer anyway.

Something’s got to give.