Category Archives: College

The Cost of Knowledge

A number of state public interest research groups have created a report entitled “Rip-off 101: Second Edition – How the Publishing Industry’s Practices Needlessly Drive Up Textbook Costs“. If you haven’t spent much time in college classes recently you may not be aware that it’s not unusual for students to spend $900 a year on textbooks. Many students now recoup some of that cost by selling their used textbooks back to the bookstore (let’s not even get into that scandel), but as publishers move towards electronic textbooks that is not going to be a possibility any longer. Of course publishers could drastically reduce the price of electronic textbooks and end up making about the same amount of money but they see this as just another way to profit on the backs of debt-ridden students.

Luckily there has been slow bust steady progress towards free and open “textbooks” and curriculum. This really started with the MIT OpenCourseWare project and has since expanded to numerous other offerings. Of course I’ve already written about Schiller’s free physics textbook, the All About Circuits electronics curriculum and the Learning by Doing CCNA textbooks but now there are even more.

The Textbook Revolution, Free Tech Books and Assayer websites all have lists of different free e-textbooks availible on a variety of subjects. If you’re in the position of influencing textbook purcahsing I would urge you to look and see if any of these free offerings could meet your needs. Perhaps you’ll even blend a few of them to create a free textbook unique to your class. In any event I’m certian students would appreciate the thought.

Open Physics

Christoph Schiller has written a free physics textbook and made it availible online for non-commercial use. I took a look at it and have a few ideas. First, he should make a printed copy availible via the fantastic Lulu publishing company. Secondly, I think he should make it officially availible under the Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share Alike licence. It’s essentially that anyway and it would provide a better understanding and probably better legal grounds to the same end.

Finally, this book is overly technical and not user friendly for the introductory college physics student or advanced high school student in the United States. I would love to see a more traditional US physics text be made availible under a free license like this. I found it difficult to locate common US physics units in this book (eg. 2D kinematics, 3D kinematics, springs, waves, light (wave, not particle) and lenses, magenets and electricity). It would be great if someone could put together a book that looked this professional but which was shorter and designed for a more introductory college / advanced high school course. If someone wanted to work collaboratively on a project such as this I would be thrilled to be a part of it.

One example of a free license textbook is “All About Circuits” which was originally a PDF document but has been updated and become an online reference. I do wish they would come out with a PDF formatted book again though, it looks much more professional when printed. This electronics textbook was licensed under the Design Science License which seems to be even less restrictive than the Creative Commons NCSA license.

MSP and nothing to do?

There’s always something going on at the University of Minnesota. Two of the calendars that will help you find events including concerts, plays, lectures, movies, workshops, meetings and more are the Campus Events calendar and the TCSU & SAO calendar. There’s usually more listed on the campus events calendar which is farily comprehensive but the Student Activities Office calendar might be a little more student friendly for those just looking for something fun to do after class.

For those that haven’t seen…

First of all, if you’re not a regular PC Magazine reader (why not???) you may find it interesting to see I was mentioned in the Nov. 30, 2004 issue. The online version is finally availible so you can see it there. See, it does pay to write and to know people…

Additionally, if you are or know college students encourage them to check out the Facebook. It’s a great idea started by a few college kids who ran it out of a dorm room for sometime. A pictoral directory of college students sorted by school. You can search and find people you have something in common with (HS graduation, same dorm, same school, same major, etc) it’s a killer idea and is taking off really quickly! This can be seen in the fact that site response times are steadily getting worse. Here’s hoping that the internet pipe to the site gets bigger soon! This is social networking working the way orkut should be but isn’t. Check it out!

Webcam Lives Again

I’ve been really, really busy getting settled in back home for the summer and working on my internship, mode updates on all that at a later time. Because of my internship I was able to get a 3Com HomeConnect webcam that is compatible with my current OS so my webcam is back up. Click this link to check it out!

almost done

I’m almost finished with the first semester of my senior year! Classes ended Wednesday, I have a final Monday, one Tuesday and one Wednesday. I’ve been really really busy as of late, mostly finishing up the school year and preparing for CurrentJam. More on that at

one and only one

Tonight I went to a concert on campus. The first one (other than band and choir) I’ve gone to in my three and a half years here. This is because normally they get some really bad bands and a lot of bands that don’t appeal to me. Apparently they don’t appeal to many other students either because they usually get a terrible turnout for them. This one was different, over 500 tickets were sold. They weren’t all college students by any stretch of the imagination, but there were still a lot more college students than usually go to concerts on campus. I think this shows pretty well that the committee that selects the live music on campus has no idea what students want to hear. The students who want to hear the kind of music they bring to school are the ones who won’t show up, either because it’s school sponsored or because there’s no alcohol. In any event they just don’t get a turnout like this. So what was this hoppin’ band that everyone turned out to see? None other than the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Who says college students don’t appreciate real music?

and the music plays

Update on the Battle of the bands!
I got to listen to eight bands play tonight the names are:
Bahookie Jacobs
Fetal Funk Bass 3000
Organized Dysfunction
Throw the Fight
Yak Farm and the Atomic Downbeats
Drafting Room

They ranged from very good to pretty bad and represented a wide spectrum of music; however, there are three that I would enjoy hearing again:
Bahookie Jacobs – your typical jam band with fairly good musicians and lyrics
Yak Farm… – Instrumentalists
Prihoda – Included a great lead singer and flutist

In other news: It’s the top of the 11th in the Boston/NYY game and the score is tied 5-all. Personally I’m rooting for Boston. After the Twins were eliminated I was really looking for a Cubs/Boston series, but even with that no longer a possibility I think it would be great fun to see Boston win a series for a change. Anyone but the Yankees…

Hard at Work, or, Hardly Working

What an interesting night! For those of you who haven’t heard I’ve been team teaching one of the mid-level networking classes here at UW-Stout on Thursday nights. Tonight I had an hour of lecture planned for six to seven PM after which I was scheduled to work at Event Services for a “Battle of the Bands” as it’s homecoming week here.

Let me tell you, it’s quite a shock and difference to go from being the authority figure in a classroom to a “normal” student job in a matter of mnutes. At 7:00 I was finishing the last sentence of my lecture on the Cisco Network Designer software and by 7:15 I was helping to change over a band on stage. It made quite an impression on me. I think a similar example would be if you were working as an upper level manager in a Fortune 500 company and then, instead of going home at the end of the day you went to a grocery store and stocked shelves. It’s a strange feeling.

In other job related news, I gave my two weeks notice to Event Services today. It’s been increasingly frustrating for me to work here as they made some bad hiring decisions at the end of last year and a few people not doing their jobs has caused a lot of paperwork and hassle for the rest of us. After deciding the job was going nowhere and finding I wasn’t having any fun showing up to work the vast majority of the time I asked my other employer (the Telecom Department (academic program))if they would like to take my hours from Event Services and they said yes I thought about it a few days and decided that I shouldn’t be workingat a job that wasn’t fun for me anymore.

On the plus side I will have added responsibilities in the Telecom department and really love the people I work with there. It’s too bad that Event Services took the turn it did because I initially loved the job. Unfortunatly soem poor decisions on the part of a manager caused a number of problems that will likely take a long time to straighten out. When we are able to all pull together (like tonight for the battle of the bands) we still work very well, but for day to day operations it just isn’t working anymore.

All’s well that ends well and I look forward to the new challenges presented to me. I also love teaching my class, but more on that another time!

Cleaning My Desk

I’ve finally been getting around to some unpacking from school and been able to get my desk mostly cleared off and my room, well my room is better than it was, but I still have a few piles of books and a box of stuff to go though. Anyway… I got this email tonight from a reader of the site and thought I would share my reply as well in case anyone else finds this site and has experianced simialar problems.


I came across your web site stating that you had bought the above DVD RAM. I am having an issue, and you being a tech type, I thought I might be able to get some insight that Panasonic’s useless tech support could not help me with. First of all, I am running Windows XP Pro, 512 meg of DDR RAM, 1.5 Ghz Athlon based system.

What is happening is really odd. The system perfectly recognizes the CD-ROM and DVD-Ram capabilities of this drive, however, when I try to access it, it says it can not access the drive due to an I/O error (not insert a disc…). I have the recommended 80 conductor/40 Pin IDE ATA 133/100/66/33 compatible cable on it. And the other CD-RW I have works perfectly (a Creative Labs CD burner). Windows XP reports the drive is working fine and sees no conflicts.

The drive does work intermittently. What would you recommend as far as first things to check. It may even be a mild software conflict. Any help you can provide is appreciated as Panasonic has proven they can’t help much at all.


====My Reply====
Hi David,
The driver for this drive is built into Windows XP so it would be highly unlikely to be a software conflict, unless the problem only appeared when burning a disc. After reseating the cable, trying another cable or possibly trying another IDE port on the motherboard (or better yet in a different system) I would report it as a hardware drive failure to Panasonic. My gut feeling is you got a bad drive but it’s worth checking the drive in another system if you have access to one. I’m using my drive in Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 without any problems so I doubt greatly it’s a simple software fix. Best Luck and thanks for visiting my site. If I can offer any more help please let me know.

–Ben Franske