Gmail

Lessons From a Weekend of Training Cadets

US Civil Air Patrol members practice searching...

This past weekend, I spent my Friday, Saturday, and most of Sunday out in the Blue Hills reservation just south of Boston, MA training the cadets of Boston Cadet Squadron.  These young adults are members of Civil Air Patrol, the volunteer organization that I have been a part of for eight years now.  Our goal for the weekend was to work as a single team while we trained in Emergency Services, survival, and overnight camping.  At least that had been the plan.

I have been instructing these same topics for a number of years now but of late, my lessons have focused on learning through my teaching.  Working with cadets that are from ages 12 to 18, I have found it a challenge for me to properly orient my instruction and leadership style to suit the varied needs of the cadets in our squadron.  Timing can be ironic - I'm currently a teaching assistant and candidate for Teach for America.  This means that I've been working in the "teaching" area for a while now and I am just starting to notice the issues that come along with being a teacher.

There are such varying levels of support needed by our cadets - everything from complete autonomy to complete and total supervision.  There are a few that I would trust to be out in the woods for weeks on end but others that I would prefer to have a physical leash to.  How does one cope with these situations?  How do I change behavior when I don't have the "full" story on cadet conditions, attitudes, and history?  Answer: you do your best and work as a team.

In order to make legitimate change with these cadets, I need to alter behavior.  Through my experience, I have found this to be a difficult task, though not impossible.  The United States Air Force Academy taught me many things about leadership and one of the most powerful tools we experienced was the power of peer accountability.  This is the idea that you are responsible for the actions of your teammate, and they are likewise responsible for yours. 

We are making changes in the way that we work within the group.  I am changing my role within the power structure.  We will go back to basics in order to obtain the correct temperment and attitudes.  We will remove priveledges such as talking, break times, and "fun" activities if need be.  We will provide structured rituals such as current event and news reviews, squaring of corners, and the buddy system.  Finally, we will delegate responsibility to the lowest level possible while enabling those levels to make good decisions.

Hopefully, these changes will create the environment necessary for proper learning to take place, for friendships to form, and leadership to flourish.  My goal for these kids is for them to develop into leaders with a sense of purpose, drive, and self respect that their peers in inner-city Boston do not have.  I want them to be constantly thinking about the group, not just themselves, I want them to work as a team.

If you have suggestions for making this process easier, please email me at james(dot)m(dot)connors(at)gmail(dot)com or leave a comment here for people to share.

[Edit: removed "children" from first paragraph 10.10.08]

Google As a Social Commentary

 

Image via Wikipedia

I'm not sure if this is the post that you were looking to find on this blog but stay with it for a few minutes because I think it's going to turn out fine.

For many of us, "Googling" has become the new standard for information searching.  I know for my own self, Google has become the center of my world.  After UCD blocked our access to outside mail servers (they were afraid of scary viruses...) I had to find other email solutions outside of Boston University infrastructure.  Naturally, I turned to the one parent figure in my digital life - Google.  Gmail, GCalendar, and GTalk are now the focal points of my information gathering.  I have embraced the Goog and it feels good.  I know that I am an early adopter of sorts but I can't be the only one doing this.  Google is now inseperable from our society and we from it.

Yesterday, Thursday the 5th of June, Google announced a new feature to their ever popular GMail service - GMail Labs.  This beta service, along with many other Google Labs program, is a way for you to access non-mainstream features in order to make your life easier.  Features such as changing the way your signature is displayed, adding the old Snake game, or even locking yourself out of GMail for 15 minute email time-outs are all part of the offering.

So, that's all well and good, James.  We know you are a geek and love this stuff but what about the social commentary part of all this?  Here it comes.

Google doesn't do things lightly - they move relatively slowly, though much faster than other corporations of its size.  The launch of a new service is a definite sign that there had been interest in such a feature as well as someone that was interested in developing the tool - perhaps part of their progressive 15% time allocation for employees to pursue their own projects.  To me, this is a sign of a new wave of human.  In my mind, this is the same sort of movement that is propelling Barack Obama through to the Democratic party's nomination - we want change and now there is a voice, a drive to get it.

Let me expand.  As part of this new feature, private users will be able to code their own features for GMail and have them integrated with the service.  Sure, you can do similar things using extensions and personal scripts such as Greasemonkey and Better Gmail 2 for Firefox.  Those services are great but they aren't native, each user has to go out and get it for themselves.  GMail Labs will be for the masses and supports all those that are out using Google products.

Some are bashing Generation Y as the generation that will ruin the world with our preoccupation with social networks and social media.  I happen to believe that we will be the agents of change that our parents could never dream to be.  We have a drive, a carnal need to change things.  We are driven to make an impact on the world around us.  Generation Y will be a seen as the network of individuals that come together to make change in this world.

The launch of GMail Labs is a perfect example of this.  When a company like Google makes a move, it's for a good reason.  Their strategy reflects society and our passions, our desires.  I would look to Google to become the next Microsoft... but in a rather friendly, positive partnership rather than the hostile prisoner relationship we have with Redmond.

 

 

Irish Education or American, You Decide

This semester, I have been studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland through the Boston University Dublin Management Internship program.  Unlike many of the other BU abroad programs, we directly enroll in a host institution rather than taking classes at a Boston University student center.  This means we are taking the actual Irish classes along with Irish students as they work towards their degrees.  This interaction and firsthand experience has allowed me to gain an interesting perspective on differing educational systems. Here at the University College Dublin Quinn School of Management, the curriculum, course requirements, and credit hours are very different for equivalent degrees in the United States.  There are a number of reasons that I think the educational environment is different here.  First, students do not pay for their school tuition, the government does.  As much as it is elitist to say, I think this may contribute to student buy-in as far as the educational process goes.  Since they have no financial responsibility, as compared to US students, students may not take classes as seriously as they might otherwise if there was a financial stake in their coursework.

Second, many Irish students have a three year program to earn their Bachelor's Degree as compared to the American four year system.  When looking at the curriculums, the Irish spend their entire university career in the college of their major taking courses that relate directly to that major.  There are not the same sorts of "general education" or "elective" course requirements as we have at Boston University.  It seems that by reducing the course load of outside classes, Irish curriculums are able to graduate students a year faster than most American colleges.  I wonder whether this has an effect on the work place and hirability.  One might question maturity and experience given students are hired into firms for full time work at the age of twenty-one rather than our traditional twenty-two.

Finally, the Irish curriculum and teaching style that we are experiencing is very different from that which we are used to at Boston University.  Classes are almost exclusively lecture style with little to no classroom participation and minimal feedback.  The instructor will generally talk about notes they have prepared in a PowerPoint presentation or an Adobe PDF that then displays on a projector.  Classes tend to be about three hours long with a break in the middle and meet once a week.  In contrast, the longest class I had experienced prior to UCD was two hours, met twice a week, and was VERY interactive.  Even our large lecture style courses tended to interact either by cold-call, interactive clickers, or other real-time feedback.

I have not yet formed my opinion about what system is "better" since I have not really gone out and experienced what it is like to work alongside these students.  In a little over a week, I will be starting an internship in downtown Dublin where, among other goals, I hope to experience firsthand what it is to work in Ireland.  I personally prefer the BU system and curriculum because it works better for me, or perhaps because I have grown up with it, so to speak.

What do you think?  Does the Irish system of education sound better to you?  Is it more fun?  If you were a hiring manager, who would you rather hire?  Post a comment or drop a line to james.m.connors [dot] gmail [dot] com and let the community know what you think.

Wow - Long Time, No Write

Sorry to keep you all hanging.  There's really no reason for not posting - I've been having a great time relaxing in the past while since writing last.  Brief overview of what's been going on to catch up quickly: 1 - Last week was the last week of class before our break.  It was really uneventful except for the first bit of work that I've really needed to do.  It was a term paper for our Irish history class and it's worth 30% of the grade.  I'll be sure to let you all know how it went.  I wrote about the causes of the 1641 Rebellion in Ireland.  It was just like most of the other rebellions in Ireland (unsuccessful) except that it was the first look of the North vs. South and Catholic vs. Protestant conflicts that have been in headlines over the last few years.  Needless to say that I did a lot of research for a 2000 word essay and got lost in the beheamouth that is James Joyce Library (HUGE - think Boston Public Library on steroids).

2 - Last weekend I went down to see parents and cousins in the southern portion of the island.  Castle Island, Co Kerry where they called home.  There was a lot of catching up, a bit of harmless birthday partying, and lots of relaxing.  It was really great to see all those that I hadn't seen in 9 years now.  How things have changed, but oddly stayed the same in some ways.  I ended up doing some work online for one set of cousins while fixing a couple computer issues with another.  I guess it's just my currency with which I can pay the family back for all their hospitality and the like.

3 - Currently, as of 5pm yesterday, I'm in the historic Amsterdam City.  I met Grace, long time best-friend, at the airport last night then journeyed through the city to find our hotel.  It's a cute little boutique hotel (Hotel Piet Hein) situated in the quiet and quaint depths of the museum district.  Things here have been great so far and I'm going to be writing more for sure.  So stay tuned and come back often for updates (I mean it).

Thanks for staying subscribed and keeping up to date.  Just a reminder - if you want to get in touch, don't hesitate to email me at james.m.connors@gmail.com or leave a comment here.

Choose Shared Hosting Wisely

What do we look for in a hosting service? Are there any certain characteristics that one needs to consider when making their decisions regarding where they will land their homepage. Here are a few things that I thought about when I was looking for a hosting service.

  1. Price Value
  2. Reputation
  3. Customer Service
  4. Ease of Use

Price Value What are you getting for what you're paying for? This the measure that basically indicated what services you should be receiving for the money that you're paying to the hosting service. These benefits would consist of, in their most basic form, the hard disk space provided, the bandwidth allowed, an interface panel, some mail services (maybe), and other assorted benefits. Many current hosting companies are engaging in something known as oversale advertising. That is to say that they are promising more benefits than any person could possibly use. A sample of a benefits page can be found here.

Reputation This is the word of mouth opinions of others regarding the service, benefits, and the general feel of a company. Some people will look at websites such as http://finance.yahoo.com to research their companies while others will cruise to forums to discuss their experiences wtih others in forums like these DreamHost Forums.

Customer Service Generally speaking, this is a topic that one can only research by asking other people about their experiences. Occasionally companies will post their support systems online or at the very least leave contact information for their support system. Things to look for here are the methods of contact - do they have support phone numbers or is it strictly email support? This is definitely a question that you need to ask because some users don't have a tolerance for delayed response to support requests - Developers or web designers especially.

Ease of Use Another personal tolerance characteristic. Most personal blogging or recreational users would rather have an easy to use interface that might not provide the "power user" interfaces that higher level developers would want. On the other hand, the power user will become rather frustrated if they don't get the options that they need. Carefully consider what you need and choose accordingly. Some hosts have customizable interfaces that a user can choose which interface (technical or simple) they feel is most appropriate.

The moral of the story is to do your homework and choose wisely. It's dangerous to believe all the hype and advertising without asking the questions behind the ad. Does the host have dedicated support? How has their customer satisfaction been over the last 5-10 years? What kind of uptime are they showing? Is there a SLA - a Service Level Agreement? What about dedicated servers? Think clearly and ask questions. As always, if you have questions, send me a message at james.m.connors@gmail.com and I'll be happy to discuss or assist your hosting quest.