Month: June 2014

(sigh) They don’t even try anymore

The latest email scam, in its entirety.

(no subject)

Brooks, Jody <>

Sun 6/29/2014 8:27 AM


Brooks, Jody <>;

Mrs. Gloria C. Mackenzie picked you, E-mail: for more info

No subject. No real message. Addressed to someone I never heard of. And with my luck, this would be the one that actually turns into a million dollar reward.

Dear Lucky Friend

Dear lucky friend, This is a personal email directed to you.

[Yes, being addressed “Dear lucky friend” is soooo personal. Makes my heart beat faster to hear from my good friend… uh… George Traykov again.]

My name is George Traykov and I have decided to write you to share my fortune to two (2) lucky winner.

[Two (2) is more than one, George, so it would be the plural “winners,” not “winner.” Just saying. With all that money you have, you should hire an editor.]

I won the lottery twice but I’m still not happy being labelled the world’s most ungrateful winner hence I have voluntarily decided to donate $500,000.00 USD to you as part of my own charity project to improve the life of 2 lucky individuals all over the world.  

[Here’s where some punctuation might be useful, Georgie boy. Do you mean: “I won the lottery twice but I’m still not happy, being labelled the world’s most ungrateful winner.” or “I won the lottery twice, but I’m still not happy being labelled the world’s most ungrateful winner.” See the difference?   Also, you want to “improve the life of 2 lucky individuals all over the world.” What the hell does that even mean? As before, “life” is the singular form, while “lives” would be more in line with those 2 (two) lucky individuals. But more important, how can those 2 lucky individuals live “all over the world?”]

If you have received this email then you are one of the two lucky recipients and you are to send your response to my legal counsel < Peter Littlefield Esq > with the email address [  ] for more info on how you can redeem your prize/donation. You can verify this by visiting the web pages below: Yours Sincerely, George Traykov

[So here’s what it all comes down to, George. I clicked the link you provided, and the story of your hitting the jackpot twice is apparently real. However, judging from the comments on that page (pasted here), it sounds like somebody is using your (I assume) good name in a prank email, or you are a two-timing worm. 

To wit: 

Mare23 days ago
I received an email stating that I am one of two people chosen as beneficiaries. Could this possibly be true? If so, this donation is a Godsend! I will be able to get back on my feet and do the same for others.  Thank You.
guitarreddog*27 days ago
I recently received an e-mail that states I am one of the lucky beneficiaries. Can this really be true? Wow! My e-mail address is  Thanks in advance!
alex47 days ago
I received email also…So three of us already received emails from George.  What we are doing next?  Here my email:  I can not afford to be spammed down, but if it is truth, then sow me there is a money is.  Thanks. 
Mare8 days ago
I was contacted by littlefield directly, he tried to call me without success. Unfortunately I was recently robbed and could not pay for the courier so a wire transfer has to be done, the cost is minimal, about 25.00 US dollars. and since I don’t have more than that in my account Im not worried about getting ripped off. I haven’t told anyone not even my spouse. If this is real then I will be debt free and can do the same for someone else. Good luck to you all.

Angel_eyes4424057 days ago
I received an email from a person saying they were George Traykov and he wanted to give me money. It said to contact his attorney I have no money for these people to scam but I have a copy do the email at very sad to take care of misfortunate people.
 And here I thought I was your dear lucky friend. How disappointing.]

UPDATE: See the comment below from someone who took the initiative to write back to George and got a response!

Building ‘the perfect university’

Ben Nelson

Ben Nelson

What if you could create a new kind of university? What would it be like? For Ben Nelson, CEO of the Minerva Project, it would combine a redefined student body, a reinvented curriculum, rigorous academic standards, cutting-edge technology and an immersive global experience. Nelson launched Minerva in 2011 to provide an Ivy League-like education at a fraction of the cost. Although classes take place online, Nelson, who was previously the president of online photo service Snapfish, emphasizes that Minerva is not a MOOC in any way. “It’s not massive and it’s not open. The courses are online, but the experiences are residential.” The inaugural class of 70 students will attend tuition-free, but will pay room and board. Subsequent classes will pay just $10,000 tuition. “It’s the most selective undergraduate class in the history of American higher education,” Nelson says. “We initially thought we would have 15 or 19 students, but we got close to 2,500 applications. It’s pretty stunning.”

I saw a debate that you and Anant Agarwal of edX participated in over the issue of “more clicks, fewer bricks.” The audience was not on your side at first, but a post-debate poll showed that opinion had swung your way. What was the turning point?
That was clearly hostile territory. I think people’s conception of online education has been colored by all the coverage of MOOCs. But online education existed well before MOOCs, and takes many different forms: adaptive learning platforms, live seminars—technologies that connect two different locations around the world where you have gathering students. I think all Anant and I really needed to do was point that out.
The second thing going against us was the idea that online learning is unproven, that we just don’t know how effective it is. That’s probably the safest place for people who want to deny that there’s going to be technological progress to hide.

But evidence shows otherwise?
Yes. There is actually a lot of proof about what’s effective and what isn’t in higher education. The majority of the proof showed that what’s currently done is not effective—a 10 percent retention rate for lectures two years out, for example. You simply can’t get any worse.
And clearly, if you use technology, it must be able to get better, simply because you can iterate. You can say, “Hey, this works. This doesn’t. Let’s change. Let’s continue to make improvements.”

In announcing the Minerva Project you said you are “effectively building a perfect university.” That’s a bold statement.
Most institutions get built over time primarily by accident. Whether it’s a university, a charity, a business, a government—they have a founding principle. But, as they evolve, the goals of the founding principle often wind up being in conflict.
This is especially true in any kind of enterprise where money is involved. You are in a market and people pay you for services. The problem is that when you evolve around the profit rule, your original vision is compromised.
We are designing a university from the ground up and we are designing every aspect of it to fulfill one goal—to educate individuals who we believe have the real potential to be innovators and leaders in a variety of different fields from a global perspective. It’s not to educate the world’s best tax accountants or concert violinists or rural family doctors. Those are all noble, important professions, but Minerva is more focused on the people who are going to be creating or leading the major institutions of the world.
Everything about our institutional design is meant to, 1) create the environment and infrastructure to best deliver that training and 2) to create a mechanism that will self-heal. That means, if there is any temptation for us to do things that won’t promote that kind of outcome, we simply won’t do it institutionally.

A traditional university can’t do that?
The only time you can really create an institution like that is at the beginning. If universities today were to say, “We’d like to just do everything that Minerva does,” they would have to make some choices that would be almost impossible to make—they couldn’t, for example, do collegiate athletics. It doesn’t fit in our model.
If they say, “We want to make sure that we get this amazing global exposure like Minerva,” the problem is they’ve
got this enormous mutlibillion-dollar campus. What do they do with it?
It’s impossible to change the wholesale nature of an institution years later. You can do aspects of it, such as adopting a new curriculum. It’s not easy, but certainly more doable.
So there are aspects where, frankly, we hope that universities will wholesale change themselves all the time, but it’s more likely that they could only change parts as opposed to the whole thing.

So Minerva will have the ability to evolve and adapt as needed?
Correct. And that means you have very low fixed infrastructure, so you can evolve in many ways. We are designing our courses to be 15 to 19 students per class, but if it turns out the optimal number is 14 or 21, we’ll just change it.
Let’s say that a certain field of study doesn’t make any sense anymore. Our faculty is not tenured, so if there is no relevance to a field 20 or 30 years from now, well, we just change that particular department. It will be very easy for us to evolve.

You alluded to the fact that Minerva will be a global school. Explain.
We have these rotation programs around the world. Our first year is in Buenos Aires and Berlin. If Buenos Aires is no longer relevant for our students, we’ll just go to different cities. We don’t buy buildings in any of these locations. We lease or rent them.
Everything about the structure allows for flexibility. The value of being the world’s greatest university—and striving to that goal—is a larger incentive than any other possible short-term or medium-term gain. If somebody says, “I’ll donate $100 million to your university on the condition that you admit my idiot kid”—which happens at every elite university in the country—we can just say no. It’s just simply not worth it for us to tarnish our brand for a bribe.

You’ll be in a different city each year. How will that work?
San Francisco is the first year. Every student comes to San Francisco. They go through the cornerstone curriculum their freshman year, the common freshman experience. And then they break into cohorts of 150 students. The cohorts then travel to different cities over the next six semesters. And when they show up in each city, they have the infrastructure for living in that city. The living component is just the residence hall, the residence life manager that manages the hall—there will be RAs that coordinate things, and there will be public safety, psychological surveys and, of course, health care in every city.
The academic component is delivered place-independent via our technology platform. The professor can be anywhere in the world. The co-curricular opportunities, the ones that integrate the students into the city, will be handled by residence life managers. They are the ones that arrange all of the experiential learning that occurs in the cities, exposing the students to everything that the city has to offer in really deep ways. That’s kind of the immersive component. The extracurriculars—when you are doing student newspapers, student government, what have you—actually take advantage of the fact that you have this global network of students. Imagine what a student newspaper would look like if it had 25 foreign bureaus. Pretty powerful stuff.

It sounds like a logistical nightmare.
Well, when you try to build what we’re trying to build, you don’t compromise. You don’t say, “We want to give you truly a global-immersive environment, but we might as well do it from Topeka because it’s cheap.” You could do that, but then you don’t really give the students that opportunity. What we’ll find at Minerva are difficult choices that are made simple by the mission.

So the students are together in a particular city, but the classes are delivered online?
Correct. Minerva takes the 16-person seminar and improves upon that model. We take an existing analog offline and make it better using technology. We have created a platform which is more effective than gathering 16 people around a table. And again, that is a decision where we could have said, “In every city you go to, we’re going to go and congregate in classrooms.” That’s easy. It’s familiar. It’s something the students understand.
The problem is it’s sub-optimal because we’re trying to deliver a scaffolded curriculum, a curriculum where every course builds on the courses that have come before it and provides students with choice. The technology enables the kinds of active learning that, offline, is difficult to impossible. We believe—and we have evidence—that our platform is superior to that experience.

Looking for reform in all the wrong places

Andrea Gabor

Andrea Gabor

As an expert on the life and work of W. Edwards Deming, whose quality control strategies revolutionized Japanese and American industry, Andrea Gabor believes American education can draw an important lesson from his legacy.
“The best companies today promote management cultures that are all about collaboration, creative problem solving, flat organizational structures and distributed processing,” she says. “But much of what we associate with education reform is top-down, hierarchical, command-and-control management.”
A journalism professor at Baruch College, Gabor has written extensively on the role of private enterprise in education reform. The focus of her forthcoming book about education (as yet untitled) concerns the applicability of business systems to schools—or more specifically, the lack of applicability of many of the business systems that have been proposed as solutions to the problems of education.

In a recent article, you questioned market-based reforms that “have been widely touted as the answer to America’s educational woes.” Let me play devil’s advocate here: What’s wrong with having people like Jeb Bush and Bill Gates install market-based reforms?

I’m not arguing that all market solutions are wrong. What I’m arguing is that educational reform is being driven by a very small number of very wealthy businesspeople who look at schools through a particular lens that is often inappropriate for schools. And in doing this, very often there’s a reductionism that takes place.
There is very little patience in our society and in our culture. So you end up having a barrage of top-down, half-baked, unsystematic, flavor-of-the-month solutions, market-based or not.
My favorite example is from a school superintendent in Leon County, Florida, who recently estimated that his district endured 21 changes in proficiency standards during the past six years. And just in the five or so years that I’ve been following New York City schools, there have been major changes in the standardized testing regime almost every year.
Schools and companies are both social systems. But schools have very different cultures from corporations which often drive change from the top-down. One of the things that my book argues is that we’re looking for education reform in all the wrong places. There are lessons that can be learned from the business world—in particular, the collaborative, non-heirarchical approach of systems thinkers, which informs both the open-source and the quality movements. This approach is much more suited to the culture of schools.
There is a lot of grassroots-driven change happening in schools and school districts all around the country, and much of it is under the radar and is not getting attention because it’s not driven by the big power brokers, like the Gates Foundation. It’s not necessarily charter- and choice-based. It’s not about lots of technology, bells and whistles. It is about doing the hard work on the ground.

Give me an example.
My favorite example of that is Brockton High, the largest high school in Massachusetts. Back in the 1990s, when the state mandated that students had to pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test, Brockton realized that the majority of its students might not graduate from high school. It’s a very poor community. A group of teachers got together and decided to put in place a literacy strategy. They said, “We are going to work on literacy in every part of the school. We’re going to work on literacy in English class, in history class, in math class and in physical education.” There was a literacy component to everything they did. They developed a strategy with almost no outside help and virtually no outside money.
They just kept working on literacy. It’s very unsexy. But, lo and behold, the vast majority of Brockton students now do well on the MCAS and go on to college. About a quarter of them end up with scholarships because this literacy strategy works. It was a grassroots effort.

How did Brockton fly under the radar?
I think all the stars were aligned. Things were really bad back in the ’90s and they were desperate. They were willing to try anything. They also had the same principal and superintendent for a number of years, so the school was somewhat protected from the usual churning that often adversely impacts schools. In the meantime they kept getting better and better and that protected them. Importantly, when the principal who started the program retired, her longtime assistant principal, who totally bought into the literacy strategy, became her successor. That’s another management lesson. One of the biggest challenges for any organization—school or corporation—is succession planning.

Speaking of management, you—literally—wrote the book on W. Edwards Deming and the techniques and strategies that he brought to the American auto industry. Which of those strategies can be applied to American public schools?
Well, everything, basically. In fact, it’s really interesting. I just came back from Texas, where one of the educators in the Leander School District outside Austin, watched the very same documentary about Deming that the Ford execs first saw years earlier. She said, “This would work for schools.”
So, the Leander district has actually been explicitly applying Deming’s ideas to trying to improve classroom teaching, instruction and culture, and so forth, for about 20 years.

For people who are unfamiliar with Deming, give us some background.
Deming was a statistician who brought a scientific approach to understanding processes and systems and how to improve them. At the root of that was the idea that you first have to be able to stabilize the system at whatever its capacity happens to be. And only once you’ve stabilized it can you figure out how to improve it.
Then, it’s the people who are closest to each process in the system who are best able to improve it, so it’s a very bottom-up approach. In the case of schools, that would mean teachers, parents and kids who understand how everything works, from instruction to classroom transitions to after-school programs. They understand both the probems and the opportunities for improvement and can suggest those to management teams.
The most famous example of this approach is the Toyota production system, where management is in charge of stabilizing the system, and they train people at all levels of the company to understand how to recognize opportunities for improvement and how to actually work on that improvement. It involves a lot of training, getting ideas from the people who are closest to the system, collaborative problem solving, and this idea of constant improvement. In other words, it’s not about just trying to improve your test scores. It’s about constantly trying to improve what you are doing and how you are doing it.

That’s counter to what often happens when teachers think, “I just better keep my head down and teach.”
Right. It goes back to the old industrial model of an antagonistic relationship between management and labor. Now, I do think teachers unions are going to have to figure out a different way of operating, because one of the things that the auto industry did under Deming, for example, was to recognize that they were going to have to change some of the work rules.

In a recent editorial about the coming increase of charter schools in New York, you asked, “Is there a point at which fostering charter schools undermines traditional public schools and the children they serve?” Can you expand on that?
It’s not so much that charter schools are the problem, because the original idea of the charter schools was to create sort of an innovation zone, if you will. But no one has addressed the issue of the tipping point, which is what the editorial is about.
At what point do you turn public schools into a defacto dumping ground for the most challenging children? The reality is that charter schools are virtually unregulated. They aggressively manage their enrollments. They have fewer poor kids, fewer kids with special needs, fewer kids with English language deficits by a large margin. That means that the kids with the most problems end up in public schools.
We should demand the same level of accountability from charter schools as we do from public schools. And they should be required to teach the same kinds of kids. We can’t afford to have a two-tier system.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If charter schools receive favorable treatment from the public and private sectors, and yet are allowed to turn away the neediest students, those children are doubly disadvantaged.
Absolutely. They are creating dumping schools. We saw it in New Orleans. We saw what happens when you create dumping schools. As that system got closer to 100 percent charter, you had a large number of kids who were falling between the cracks—suspended, expelled, dropping out of school and winding up out on the streets.

Best suited to the job

I was poking around the A/V Geeks section of the Internet Archive, playing some of the short films that school kids were subjected to back in the day. Great topics like Beginning Responsibility: Lunchroom Manners (featuring the famous Mr. Bungle), Let’s Visit A Poultry Farm, and the one featured here, Learn To Argue Effectively.

What I especially loved is the name of the guy with the title Educational Collaborator in a film about learning to argue: William E. Utterback. How perfect is that? And in case you think it’s some old gag name for the film, he was the real deal.


Come on guys, pay attention to details!

People just don’t seem to take any pride in their work any more, not even my beloved email scammers. There is no attention to detail.
Case in point is this note I received today, June 2, 2014. Note the response deadline.


The banking activity with today’s posting date shows Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) that has been received.  Our bank has noted the following information:

EFT Amount:                           $ 6,200.00
Remitted From: SSA TREAS 310 MISC PAY
Designated for:                        UNKNOWN

Please download and open attachment with full imformation about this Electronic Fund Transfer payment.

If you confirm that it belongs to your agency or department, please email back or give us a call.  Then, our office needs to receive a completed General Deposit no later than 10:00 a.m. tomorrow.

Note:  If these funds cannot be identified or if no one claims this EFT, we are required to process the return of this EFT by 10:00 a.m., May 7, 2014.

Thank you,

Bryant Campbell
Senior Accountant
Bank of America
(509) 574-2032
(509) 574-6112 fax


So, even if this was legitimate (you mean it’s not?), I would have lost out on $6,200 because of their sloppy bookkeeping. Darn the luck!