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All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


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My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

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EdTech Update





BFTP: The Flat World Library Corporation

The post below was written 14 years ago. How many vendors today offer large collections of e-books, reading metrics, teaching materials, etc., - "packaged" libraries? Are these a temptation for many schools looking for money-savings, as replacements rather than supplements to good in-house library programs? Anyway, I still like this old post...

October 7

Superintendent Dennis Wormwood
Left Overshoe Public Schools
Left Overshoe, MN 56034

Dear Superintendent Wormwood:

We at the Flat World Library Corporation can offer you a complete school library service at a very attractive price.

For considerably less than you currently pay for your K-12 library program, we can provide a full range of library resources AND library expertise – all online.

For only pennies a day per student, FWLC will:

  1. Provide a full range of reading materials (periodicals, picture books, fiction and non-fiction titles), videos, and reference sources that are tailored to your state standards, your district’s curriculum, and your digital textbook series. These resources are being continuously updated, and are available, of course, in a wide range of lexiles to support your differentiated instruction efforts. Our filters allow you to specify access only to the materials supporting your community’s views on issues ranging from abortion to gay rights to evolution. Select from “university community” to “small town Kansas” in your settings.
  2. Provide ready reference services, student research help, readers’ advisory service, and curricular planning advice through our real-time connections (video, chat, or e-mail) to our experts in Bangalore, India. These highly-qualified MLS certified professionals will be available 24/7 to both your staff and students from school or home. (Do you currently get service from your library staff outside of school hours, in the summer, or on weekends?)
  3. Allow teachers to submit student work for comment and assessment. Our staff will give each project a grade, check for plagiarism, and provide a report for each child to share with parents about the technology skill level of that student. We can even help your teachers design assignments and assessments so they are free to lecture.

Just think of the advantages:

  • No musty books from the 1950’s cluttering your library shelves, driving up your insurance rates. No more lost or missing books. No gum under library desks.
  • No library facilities. Turn that old library space into those badly needed special education classrooms.
  • No annoying librarians who want more money for materials, support staff, and staff development (or a living wage and health insurance). Our highly-skilled Indian workers are delighted with their $5 per hour jobs!
  • Your entire library program can be maintained by a single, semi-competent technician in your district.
  • You can justify your district’s expensive, unpopular 1:1 computer/student initiative.
  • No ugly book “challenges” since all materials have been “tailored” to your parents’ religious views.

Please read the attached study (scientifically-based research conducted by FWLC’s very own research department) that empirically demonstrates that the FWLC product can dramatically improve student performance where it counts - on high stakes tests. (FWLC has been approved by the DOE for Title II, III, IV, and IX funding – unlike traditional library materials and librarians.)

AND take advantage of our offer by December 31, and we will throw in absolutely free, 50 of MIT’s $100 laptops for families in your district that qualify for FRP meals! Act today!

Coming soon – special pricing for regional and state-wide purchases.


Bob Screwtape,
President and CEO
Flat World Library Corporation
300 Gates Drive
Redmond WA

Will you, as a librarian, be prepared when this letter appears in YOUR superintendent’s mailbox in the next couple years?

Oh, and please don’t kill the messenger!


Computer downsizing

My Macbook Air, purchased in 2011, died this week. Three beeps when I turned it on signaled a RAM failure. RAM on these devices is soldered to the motherboard. It would cost between $300 and $400 to fix this perfectly adequate, but old, machine. I sadly decided to recycle it.

One piece of advice often given to retirees is to downsize. I have done so with my home, clothes, furniture, but am now considering doing so with my computing devices as well. I am writing this on a reconditioned Samsung Chromebook I bought for $135 online. It has 4G RAM and 16G of memory, an HDMI port and two USB connections. With a reported 11 hour battery life.

Over the past few years, I have operated within a browser for about 95+% of my work. Writing, researching, reading, buying, communicating, photo editing - all done through Chrome or Safari or Firefox. I am sure situations will soon arise when I wish I had my full-fledged Air back. But so far, I am happy with my cheap Chromebook.

I watch as huge pickup trucks go screaming by me on the highways. Probably 8 cylinder, 4-wheel drive, and 12 mpg gas mileage, riding high above my little Honda Fit. And I wonder just how often the owners use the hauling or towing power of these vehicles that cost 3 or 4 times as much as my little car that gets about 40 mpg. I know it is all about image (or compensating for insecurities in other physical departments), and people certainly have the right to spend their discretionary income as gives them pleasure. 

But I think it is hard to argue on a pragmatic level about the need for a big-ass truck or a full-blown computer to do the daily tasks that need to get done. 

In a few weeks I well may be down at the local Apple store, credit card in hand, begging for a new Air. As I said, I did love that computer.

We'll see.


Tim at Assorted Stuff recently wrote a post called The Dumb Terminal, comparing Chromebooks to the old terminals connected to mainframes back in day (70s for me). Interesting read.


Driving Miss Daisy ... and Mr. Rose ... and Mrs Tulip


Over the past month or two, I have been volunteering as a driver for an organization that provides rides for people who cannot drive, usually a couple times a week. Mostly elderly, often with serious health or mobility issues, I pick them up in my car at their homes and drive them to clinics, hairstylists, grocery stores, or other places they might need to go. And drive them back home.

While I know they appreciate the ride, I believe they enjoy the conversation and company just as much. I hear about their aches and pains, of course, but also about their families, their careers, and their opinions about a lot of things. One lady was very happy with the street we took, comparing to being driven through a national park (this was in suburban Minneapolis.) Another slyly asked if the service would take her to a casino. And yet another firmly admonished me to "stay the hell away from" her while grocery shopping since she didn't need advice on what to buy. Believe me, I honored her request.

My other volunteer work has lately been with the ForeverWell program at a nearby YMCA, helping do physical health assessments of seniors and co-leading hikes in the area. Ages range from mid 70s to upper 80s. Again, socialization is a huge motivator for these folks to be a part of the program.

I worry about the amount of isolation and loneliness in our country. Remaining independent and staying in one's home instead of an assisted living facility is seen as the greatest good. Yet, I wonder if it is? How much depression and fragility and even dementia is caused by conditions where there is little to do and few others with whom to converse? I don't think isolation and loneliness does not impact the elderly alone - as an educator, I sensed a lack of connection in kids and young adults as well.

Oh, just so you know, my volunteer efforts are by no means altruistic. Since I am no longer working a 40 hour week, I need opportunities to interact with other human beings as well. After 40+ years in the "giving" field of education, it feels good at the end of the day knowing one can still give to others and have not just spent a day sucking up oxygen that could have been put to better use. One gets as much or more as one gives in volunteer efforts where you can actually see the people your efforts benefit.

Nice to have something to do that keeps me off the streets and out of the bars.