Archive for February, 2003


Mixed Mode Surveys

Mixed Mode – Handling method-differences between paper and web questionnaires (PDF).

In this article, the authors show that in spite of identical design of a web questionnaire and a paper questionnaire (in principle the web questionnaire was printed), test subjects give significantly different answers depending on which version they fill out. Further, they give a few practical pieces of advice to people intending to do mixed mode and/or web surveying.


Photo gallery

Kiara’s taken over Owen’s photo gallery. I just wasn’t keeping up with the steady stream of incoming photos. I toyed with setting up a photo gallery app that would automatically create the web pages for her, thumbnails and all, but in the end decided that it made more sense for her to just create and edit the pages herself using her photo software and Dreamweaver.

The problem is that the photo software-generated markup sucks. I considered post-processing the HTML, but if I’m going to go to all that trouble I might as well write the photo gallery app. Besides, Kiara’s pretty damn smart. On her first day tinkering with Dreamweaver, without any help from me she figured out more than some people I know who have been maintaining web sites for over two years. I came home to find her peering closely at the HTML, trying to determine why something wasn’t working right. Last night, after updating the February pictures, she mentioned that she’d figured out how to attach a style sheet.

Ye gods, she’s great.

So I don’t think it’ll take her long to figure out valid XHTML. I suppose that I could even help.


Correction: IT conference not officially cancelled.

The other day I wrote that the MnSCU IT conference had been cancelled. Matt called me on this today, so I should clarify: strictly speaking, it has not yet been cancelled. Everything but, though. It is not yet official, or perhaps even firmly decided yet. From what I can tell, it’s 95% certain that the conference will be cancelled, or at the very least postponed.

You might think that it would cancelled for budget reasons. Yes, but only indirectly. A number of Minnesota state agencies have been taken to task recently by the local media for what seems to be outrageous spending practices. Things like conferences and meetings being held at resorts or hotels rather than in State-owned buildings. Even though almost all the expenses at our conference are picked up by vendors, there’s concern that even the appearance of overspending would be damaging to MnSCU‘s public image. We could probably set things up so that the vendors pick up all the expenses, but that probably wouldn’t come across in a ten-second spot on TV news.

Oh well. Anyway, for the one or two people who care, now you know what I know.


Sun Gives Away Software to Faculty and Students.

In an apparent effort effort to forestall the rapid adoption of Linux in the enterprise, Sun is making some of its software free to students and faculty. Stuff like Solaris 9, StarOffice, and Sun ONE Studio. The idea, it seems, is to get students familiar with these tools while in school so they’ll be enthusiastic about them when they start working.

I wonder how that will turn out. My interest in free and open source software was at first inspired by the price tag. I was a poor student, after all. It was only after I’d become familiar with the tools that I became attracted to the philosophy. I would eventually have become a free-as-in-freedom devotee anyway, but I wonder how much I would have brought that into the workplace had I been steeped in the Microsoft world, or even Sun. Donno.


What Would You Do if the Secret Service Came a-Knockin’?

A couple agents from the Secret Service stopped by yesterday, investigating something for which they needed access to our systems. All the while I kept thinking how little I know about what they can and cannot legitimately expect from us. I wasn’t directly involved so I don’t know what they were asking for or whether they had or even needed a warrant. The USA Patriot Act changed a whole lot, including emergency situations in which a warrant is deemed unnecessary. Librarians might be aware of the changes, but I don’t think that techies in the trench are. I hope that management is.

Pity that our IT conference has been cancelled, this would make a good session.

The agents were nice guys, though, clean-cut snappy dressers with a good sense of humor. Not a jack-booted thug in sight. I didn’t get a good look, but they were apparently quite handsome: one woman said she was trying to type but the guy standing next to her was so cute that her hands were sweating. Heh.


There’s a virus going around.

I volunteer as a reading tutor in a local school, where I heard someone today comment about how many kids were home sick. “Must be a virus going around,” they said. I was briefly puzzled, thinking they must mean a computer virus and wondering how could that impact children’s health.



No more verbs. Or subjects.

Yes, stopped using subjects in my sentences. How observant of you. Sometimes verbs, too. Easier.

A few years ago I gave up the passive voice for Lent. This seems easy at first but is actually extraordinarily difficult. Which is, of course, the point. Which is even funnier since observing Lent is not part of my tradition.

Avoiding the passive voice was made even harder by the fact that at the time I was taking a French linguistics course in which I studied use of the passive voice. I made an exception for that class. At the same time, I was writing quite a few very diplomatic memos and email at work. It’s tricky business to be diplomatic without the passive voice. Just try it sometime.

It turned out to be a very worthwhile exercise in self-discipline. Out of necessity, I became much more conscious of everything I said or wrote.

Then somewhere along the way, all that went to hell. And you’re reading the result.


HF 341

Speaking of bad things happening in the Legislature, there’s a bill before the House (HF 341) to remove sexual orientation as a protected class in the Minnesota Human Rights Act and elsewhere. That is, GLBT Minnesotans would no longer be protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, hate crimes, etc.

Being protected from discrimination does not mean that you have special privileges.

This seems to be happening with little debate. If this bill is approved, Minnesota would become the first state to ever extend then rescind protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. I remember well when these protections were first enacted. That was a joyful day. Let’s not go backwards and screw it up.

Turns out that this bill is being pushed by the Minnesota Family Council — an innocuous-sounding name for a right-wing Christian lobbyist organization. (Whenever anyone claims to uphold “Judeo-Christian principles” they usually mean “conservative Christian values” in the “nuke a godless, communist, gay baby seal for Christ” vein. Why is that?) Aided by misinformation, distortion, and exaggeration.

More information on OutFront Minnesota’s web site and the Twin Cities Independent Media Center, which I’ve just discovered. Do something about this. Please.



Module::Build, a pure Perl replacement for ExtUtils::MakeMaker. This will be great. I work with some production boxes that don’t have make available, so installing a Perl module is kind of a pain. I also expect to have a much easier time reading a Perl build file than a makefile.


Dear Governor Pawlenty…

Thank you for not raising my taxes!

Let’s see… you chose not to raise my taxes by a maximum of $1,000 per year for the next two years and instead your decision will cost us $4,150. Wow I am glad we moved to Minnesota to admire your “common sense approach” to government. Now I remember why I don’t vote for republicans.

Right on. I cannot believe that people are really being fooled that not raising state taxes will result in cost savings. Of course the costs are being pushed off to city and counties, so people may well end up spending more in taxes. Not to mention the cuts in human services that will result in higher long-term spending. Hopefully the legislature will pass something a bit more sane than Pawlenty’s no-new-taxes approach, but I doubt it.

I confess that I am having a hard time looking at the big picture in budget questions beyond the cuts that might put me out of a job. Normally I’d be outraged about gutting programs that do serious good in people’s lives, all in the name of silly, short-sighted campaign promises. Okay fine, I am outraged. But it’s taken some time and more energy than I have available to think beyond how this will affect my ability to put food on the table.

That selfishness, of course, is part of the problem. I love Bob Collins’s comment about people in the suburb where he lives, who

…often have houses that are too big, which they purchased for the status of it all, they’re running a couple of SUVs which costs $80 a throw to fill up and probably are leased or have a pretty large monthly payment. They’ve got 3-bay garages, better to hold the boat and SkiDoo with and they think the reason they’re having a had time making ends meet is their property tax bill.

Damn frelling straight.

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