Continuum vs. Curriculum

I was fortunate to attend a meeting with a group of progressive educators yesterday and was struck by one aspect of the conversation: the idea of an educational continuum as opposed to a curriculum.

After some deep thought on this matter I find that this concept is inherent in contemporary society, and key to being an effective modern citizen.

A curriculum, after all, suggests an endpoint. It’s a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. What’s more, it often excludes self-reflection. We each are segregated into one aspect of something, be it work, play, or learning. Instead, someone else – yes, like a teacher – assesses you. The idea of a curriculum depends on there being a second or third party as a gatekeeper to allow you to progress through it.

A continuum is an all-encompassing iterative approach to living, working, and learning. There is no end, and our dependencies on others become a matter of collaboration more than exclusion. Our steps in a process are small and circle back on themselves. We are required to have a fuller awareness of ourselves, our surroundings, and our social groups.

The concept of continuum is embedded in our evolving society. Think of games. The board games of the last century had a beginning and end. Video games are all about repetition and self-evaluation, often in a never-ending pursuit of constant improvement. Think of Minecraft. Then there’s the old concept of a “career,” with a pension and full-on retirement at the end. That’s no longer relevant. Instead, as life and work overlap, there is a growing approach to professionalism that involves cycling through a variety of jobs through life right up until death.

Life is not linear. It’s an ever-evolving cycle. It’s a continuum, not a curriculum. It’s nice to see learning moving that way.

Northwestel Internet Service Problem Revisited: Upload Throttles Download

I wrote about this problem with Northwestel’s internet service earlier this year (Internet in the North is Broken), but it deserves addressing again since it so significantly impacts the quality of service we get from our monopoly internet provider.

To keep it simple, let’s say there are two “roads” included with Northwestel’s internet service. On one road you can drive data out of the Yukon, on the other you can drive data in. Each road has a different speed limit on it. The road in has a speed limit of 50 km/h. The road out has a speed limit of 2 km/h.

In other words, you can drive data into the Yukon at a reasonably fast rate, but if you want to drive data out, it’ll take you a while.

The road in to the Yukon is used to “download” information from the internet. That could include anything from a web page you’re viewing, to a Netflix movie you’re watching. The road out of the Yukon is used to “upload” data. That might be anything from sending an email message, to uploading photos to a web service.

The unreasonably slow speed limit on the road out of the Yukon is bad enough. What makes it worse, however, is this: if you take full advantage of it, it will impact the speed limit on the road into the Yukon.

Say, for example, you drive some data out of the Yukon at a speed of 1 km/h, half of the maximum speed rate on that road. That will effectively also reduce the speed limit of the road in by half, from 50 km/h to 25 km/h.

That’s bad enough, but here’s where it gets even worse: if you take full advantage of the road out’s speed limit and drive your data out of the Yukon at 2 km/h, or 100% of that road’s speed limit, the road in will be completely shut down. You won’t be able to drive any data into the Yukon until you’re finished driving your data out.

Here’s a chart to demonstrate this visually:

Northwestel Upload Throttling Effect Chart

The chart on the left illustrates the “potential” use of Northwestel’s $110 Internet 50 package. It offers a “download” rate – the road into the Yukon – of 50 Mbps (which I’ve previously referred to as 50 km/h). For the road out of the Yukon, it offers an “upload” rate of 2 Mbps. I’ve referred to these combined rates as the service’s “potential.”

The second chart illustrates what happens when you use the upload portion of the service at a rate of 50% of its potential, or 1 Mbps. The download portion of the service is effectively cut in half. Finally, the third chart shows you what happens when you maximize your upload potential – it effectively kills the download portion of the service.

When you consider Northwestel’s Internet 50 service, you would imagine that it offers two things at the same time: a download rate of 50 Mbps AND an upload rate of 2 Mbps. Reality is much different however – those two aspects of the service never occur simultaneously. So with Northwestel’s Internet 50 package, you get EITHER a 50 Mbps download rate OR a 2 Mbps upload rate. You never get the two aspects of the service fully at the same time.

There is one further problem with Northwestel’s internet service: if you drive data out of the Yukon at top speed for an extended period of time, both roads will break. In other words, if you drive data out of the Yukon consistently at 2 km/h for what I’ve generally found to be any longer than 5 minutes, the speed limit on both roads drops to 0 km/h. (On my modem this is often represented by a blinking orange light.)

Fixing the roads is relatively easy – you just have to reset your modem by unplugging the power cable, counting to 10, and plugging it back in. But when you’re consistently uploading data throughout the day and the roads repeatedly break, it can become a hassle. (Plus there’s the fact that my modem can often take upwards of 10 minutes to properly reset.)

(I’ve sort of worked around this by plugging my cable modem into a timer plug that automatically cycles the power to my modem every 30 minutes. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s cut down on how much I have to run up and down stairs to reset the modem.)

You may not have experienced this problem to the extreme that I have. I’m a heavy user of cloud services like Apple’s PhotoStream, Dropbox, Google Drive and online photo services like ThisLife and Google Picasa. Each month I drive about the same amount of data out of the Yukon as I drive in.

So I frequently maximize my use of that road out, and I frequently have to reset my modem. (In fact, as I wrote this blog post I had to reset my modem 3 times.)

The way the average user may have experienced the problem, however, is with a general sense of service degradation.

For example, someone may be upstairs watching a movie on Netflix on Apple TV or XBox, as someone else arrives home after taking a lot of pictures with an iPhone. As the iPhone accesses the home network, it will begin to take over the outbound road by uploading those photos to PhotoStream. And that action will effectively cut off the road into the house and kill the Netflix movie stream.

The average user is unable to recognize the cause and effect of the situation because the online services are largely invisible. It’s at this point most people grumble and say something like, “The internet connection into the Yukon sucks!” When, in fact, it’s how the internet connection is being used locally that is causing the problem.

There’s irony in this: Northwestel gets cursed for a large problem, when the issue is actually much smaller and more local.

And easy to fix. Here’s how: Northwestel could remove the upload rate limit from all accounts. That 2 km/h speed limit is completely artificial. It’s placed there as a “behavioural modifier” (the same mind game some parents play on their young children) to deter customers from “misusing” their internet connection.

Redundantly, Northwestel already has a better, arguably more effective, behavioural modifier in place: the data cap and its associated overuse penalties.

Northwestel internet accounts include a set amount of data volume each month. With the Internet 50 plan it’s 150 GB. It really doesn’t matter if that data is driven into the Yukon or driven out. Either way, it’s all the same.

Should a customer exceed that monthly cap, Northwestel has the weighty hammer of the overuse penalty to knock us with. Again, it doesn’t matter if the extra data is uploaded or downloaded, we get charged $5 per GB all the same.

Unfortunately, Northwestel is disinclined to entertain improving service quality in the interests of customers (believe me, I’ve raised this issue with its marketing team), and instead remains steadfastly committed to its obtuse, illogical marketing plan. So in the absence of competition, that leaves us forced to develop our own workarounds to the shortcomings of Northwestel’s internet service, of which I’ll write about another day.

For now, suffice to say in closing that the internet in the North remains broken and is likely to stay broken for some time to come.

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Cell Phones are Shackles at Bell Prison

If you’re a Bell customer, the company will make you its prisoner next month when it turns your mobile phone into the equivalent of an ankle bracelet that tracks your every move.

And your contract with Bell will become your prison sentence that indentures you to suffer an nigh-escapable term of information servitude to the company.

Starting November 16, Bell will collect data about where you go, who you phone, what apps you use, what web sites you visit, along with many others details about how, when, and where you use your mobile device. Continue reading

We Can’t Trust NorthwesTel

Everybody has at least one “NorthwesTel Sucks!” story. A couple of weeks back we all got a new one.

As any customer so unfortunate as to be incarcerated in NorthwesTel’s service structure knows, it’s a constant struggle to live within the prison of painfully low data caps that the company provides.

Even NorthwesTel’s most expensive internet package offers a data limit so low that it’s nearly impossible to avoid exceeding it in this age of Netflix, YouTube and Steam.

And if you do go over? Oh boy, you could mortgage a small house with the fiscal punishment NorthwesTel will inflict.

To help us avoid being beaten down with those overuse penalties, the company provides us with an ad hoc tool for keeping track of how much internet data we use.

The problem is, it’s difficult to use, it’s undependable, and it’s prone to failure.

So none of us should be surprised that just last month this crude data monitoring and alert system that NorthwesTel duct-taped together a few years back inexplicably broke. Continue reading

On Penis Swords and Parental Responsibility

Recently, an 11-year-old girl explained to me how her 10-year-old brother got a dildo gun and penis sword in Saints Row IV, a video game that was released last month.

A couple of days later my 9-year-old son and his 10-year-old friend came home and shared with me a playground discussion about their friend’s exploits in a “strip joint” in Grand Theft Auto 5.

“She was, like, waving her butt in his face!” the friend explained to me, obviously barely able to even conceive of such an act.

It might strike some as shocking that there are such things as dildo guns and strip clubs in video games. Others might be angry that children are being exposed to them.

After some discussion with these kids, however, there was a much more disquieting issue at play: a complete lack of parental engagement. Continue reading

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Values Telus Brings to the Yukon

It’s old news that Telus has begun to provide mobile phone services in Whitehorse (so bear with me as I briefly rehash it here).

As of last Friday you can subscribe to Telus in Whitehorse. The company will sell you a new mobile number in the 867 area code, or move a number you already have to their service.

Right now you can only do that online or by calling their northern “hotline” at 1-866-359-6764.

Before Christmas, though, Telus will open a retail store in Whitehorse, where you’ll be able to try out phones before you buy them. I’ve been told that the store will offer a level of support and service that is unprecedented in the local market. (It won’t be hard to improve on what we currently have, however.)

In terms of actual telephone and data service from Telus, it’ll be virtually identical to what you get from Bell or Latitude. But that’s not surprising, since they all share the same technical infrastructure.

And it will surprise no one that the devices the companies want to sell you are all nearly identical.

Telus does have a very minor cost advantage, though. After evaluating plans from the two southern carriers I’ve found the new entrant’s pricing to be about 10% lower than Bell’s.

So the popular criticism of Canada’s telecommunications industry rings true even in the North: there’s no real competition, just competitors.

The difference, then, will be in the value and values of Telus in a broader sense.

Charity and community is clearly key to Telus’ corporate outlook. The company currently holds the global title of “Philanthropic Company of the Year.”

Locally, Telus has already committed to donating a portion of its sales in Whitehorse to our invaluable Child Development Centre.

And the company topped up local 9-year-old fundraising aficionado, Cole Byers’s, jaw-dropping $15,000 to battle diabetes with a cheque for another $5,000.

All this before they’d even sold a phone here, and they promise there’s more to come.

But I think there’s a more important aspect of Telus that deserves attention and credit. Continue reading

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Parody Twitter Accounts of the Yukon

Twitter has a rich tradition of spoof accounts that are used to parody public figures, organizations, and fictional characters.

And Yukon is no stranger to the trend, naturally boasting a colourful collection of online lampooners.

Before I get to that, though – just in case you’ve been living in a cave for the last seven years – here’s a brief introduction to Twitter.

Simply put, Twitter is one of the internet’s most popular social media platforms, currently boasting about a half-billion accounts.

Average folk like you and I (@robulack), alongside luminaries the likes of US President Obama (@BarackObama) and Yukon Premier Pasloski (@YukonPremier), regularly leverage its 140-character limit to publicly crack wise and inform alike.

Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) is currently Twitter’s most popular resource with over 42 million followers – more people than live in Canada.

But that makes you wonder: how do we know it’s really Justin Bieber on Twitter?

Well, it just so happens that Twitter verifies the accounts of its most famous users. You can tell that Bieber’s really Bieber by the blue checkmark badge on his profile page.

Ironically, it’s the platform’s strong tradition of spoofers that led Twitter to start verifying accounts.

Unlike on Facebook and Google Plus, Twitter doesn’t require that you prove who you are. As long as it’s available, you can register any name and assume whatever identity you like, anonymity intact.

This golden opportunity to have fun is not lost on Yukoners. Continue reading

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Recipe Idea: President’s Choice Grasshopper Salad

This is the grasshopper that was in my mouth. Let me say that again: "MY MOUTH."

This is the grasshopper that was in my mouth. Let me say that again: “IN MY MOUTH.”

Okay, I’ll admit from the outset: I’m writing this post as a form of therapy. So if you can’t stand whining and complaining, like I usually can’t, stop reading now.

Last night I made myself a salad with President’s Choice Organics Field Greens Salad Mix, some cucumber, a few pieces of cheese, a whole lot of fresh garlic, and a bit of basmati rice. I sprinkled it all with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Salad. I love salad. I eat it every day. Sometimes it’s all I eat in a day.

In other words, I buy a lot of salad. Sometimes I buy the President’s Choice Organic Spring Mix, sometimes it’s the Dole one. It all depends which is cheaper. The rest of the stuff (cucumbers, tomatoes, garlic, carrots, etc.) I hand-chop. But I go the easy route on the greens. They’re pre-washed, pre-cut, and ready to eat. Or so I thought until last night.

As I chowed down on that above-described salad, my mouth happened on an unexpected crunchy bit. Well, more a mouthful than a bit. I figured it was maybe a large piece of radicchio or a part of the heart of a lettuce at first, but it was just so big. Just so freaking enormous in my mouth. Alarm bells went off. Something’s all of a sudden not right in my mouth. I decided to take that weird piece of crunchy greens out of my mouth. So I innocently reached in, grabbed the anomalous chunk of salad stuff and pulled it out.

And I looked at it. That was my mistake. I looked at this big chunky crunchy thing as it came out of my mouth and found myself staring into the big, beady eyes of an insect. A big insect. A big, fat, juicy freaking grasshopper with its legs all splayed out weird from the biting motion of my teeth.

Of course, I gagged. I admit I retched a bit too. There’s no shame in that, I figure. Fortunately (or unfortunately, I don’t know), I didn’t puke. But I sure felt like it. I got shaky, too, which was weird. I spit out the rest of what was in my mouth, washed my mouth out several times with water and gagged a few more times involuntarily. Then I just sort of paced around the house for a while, totally freaked out.

I had a grasshopper in my mouth. In my mouth there had been a grasshopper. An enormous, crunchy, juicy, bug-eyed grasshopper. It had been in my mouth.

In other words, something unexpected had been in my mouth. Something that I had never wanted in my mouth, ever, had been in my mouth. An unwanted, unexpected thing had been in my mouth. And it just so happened, to make things worse, it had been a great big crunchy juicy grasshopper.

This is the part where I sound a tad manic, so please excuse this outburst if you feel it’s a bit over the top. I felt violated. I know that’s a big loaded word, fraught with all sorts of meaning. But this is more than 12 hours later here and I’m still freaked out. I won’t put anything else in my mouth. I won’t eat anything else. I just keep thinking of that big, crunchy, unwanted grasshopper crunching strangely between my teeth and against my tongue. I keep recalling that moment that I looked at it as it came out of my mouth.

It’s still nauseating to think about.

I’m no foodie lightweight. I’ve been to Asia several times and eaten all form of strange creature in a number of countries.

But I am a control freak. I like to control what goes in my mouth. And some crunchy, juicy big grasshopper went in my mouth without my knowledge.

Now, had the label of the President’s Choice Organics Field Greens Mix sported a warning, “May contain giant crunchy juicy grasshoppers,” well, then this’d be different. But it didn’t. The only advertised ingredients are, “A blend of baby lettuces, baby greens and chicories.” No mention of “adult grasshoppers.”

So, as you might expect, I called the President’s Choice help line this morning. 1-888-495-5111. I spoke to a representative who collected information about the product and situation (oddly, she asked if I still had the grasshopper, which, oddly, I do in a ziplock bag in the fridge). She assures me that a thorough quality investigation will take place, thanks for calling in with this. Good bye. I say, “That’s it?” I’m thinking we need to sound the alarm here — what if other people have grasshoppers in their salad? We need to warn people!

She lets me know I can take the package back to Superstore to exchange it for a new one. Seriously? WTF? Like I’m going to eat more President’s Choice Organics Field Greens Mix after I just found an enormous crunchy juicy grasshopper in the last pack I ate? Are you freaking nuts?

A chink fell out of the President’s Choice brand for me today. Because I’m sure the President, whichever President we’re referring to, would not choose to find an enormous crunchy juicy grasshopper in his or her salad. But I did. And “The President,” doesn’t really seem to care.

So there. Therapeutic blogging, like Dr. Watson in Sherlock. Session over.

I do feel a bit better for having writ this. And maybe I’ve even provided a service. Maybe after reading this someone, somewhere, sometime will be a bit more cautious when preparing a salad using President’s Choice Organics Field Greens Mix, and find the giant crunchy juicy grasshopper before it ends up in somebody’s mouth.

Because, believe you me, you do not want to find a giant crunchy juicy grasshopper in your mouth. Unless you mean for it to be there, of course. Which is cool, if that’s your thing. I won’t judge. But it shouldn’t end up there if you don’t want it to.

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