Pearson Academic Software, How do I hate thee, let me count the ways….

On top of the appalling, dreadful, nasty, crap-tastic steaming pile of code that I refuse to call software, the access fee for it is outrageous.  It’s almost $150.00 just for the access code.  That’s assuming you don’t have to buy book, cases, or anything else.  So, please, give your students a break.  I’ve seen semesters where my books topped $1000.00.  No one’s scholarships or tuition reimbursement plans cover that.  Very few grants will allow it.  About all you can do is take out a student loan or live on peanut butter and crackers for months to make it up.

If you are a professor at any higher ed institution and you truly hate your students, you can use any of the Pearson products like MyFinanceLab, MyMathLab, or my latest rant, MyEconLab.  I know what all the marketing puffery says on the Pearson website.  My experience is that… well… let’s just say I’m surprised they still have pants that haven’t burned up yet.  Some of it might have been true once up on a time, but my experience with this stuff has been HORRIBLE. If, after reading this, you deliberately chose to inflict this overpriced crap on your students, well, I don’t really have a word bad enough for you, which is saying something.

This is my second class with this Pearson MyLab & Mastering software and I have to say that “horrible” would probably be an upgrade from my current experience. 

It is incredibly frustrating and cannot possibly be beneficial to the educational experience.  As point of reference for you, I broke my femur and didn’t cry.  This software has frustrated me to the point of tears. I can’t use it in public because it involves a large amount of very “blue” vocabulary and the destruction of small, easily replaced items. Its wrong a lot but it tells you, student, that you are wrong.

I’m going to post some of my most recent examples.  I was a hard science undergrad (biochemistry) so dealing with these business concepts is new ground for me – much like dealing with stereo-isomers would be for you.  However, if you think that constantly being told you are wrong when you’re not while you’re trying to learn a new subject doesn’t 1) make the process harder than it has to be, 2) drive the frustration level through the roof, and 3 ) just generally piss someone one off, you shouldn’t be teaching. I had this crap as “MyFinanceLab” for my finance class.  I complained about it so much that finance professor thought I was being a big baby.   Unfortunately, I have had nothing BUT problems with this stuff.   I thought I’d gotten away from this particular bit hideousness when I got out of that class.  Imagine my shock when I find that my economics professor is going to use this.

The worst part is that we’re only 3 weeks into the class and this is what I have so far.  3 chapters and 3 homework assigments generated all this and I have some I haven’t posted yet. 

This time, however, I’m prepared.  I’m snapping screenshots showing all the stoopid things that software does. I swear this stuff is coded up by deranged monkeys who don’t have the sense god gave a grapefruit. I’m going to post some screen shots and explain what’s wrong with each one of them…

One asks me to look up some data and then plug in it before doing some calculations….  You’ll notice that my answers and the ones its asking for match exactly but I’m still “wrong”.    ImpossibleQuestion

This question asks me to draw a graph….  Do you see any differences between the one on the left and the one on the right?  Neither do I, but I’m still “wrong”.

BadSampleQuestion This one asked me to do some calculations and plug in some numbers….  Once again, I’m “wrong”…. YetAnotherBadQuestion -3

Even their help function is wrong.  It changes the numbers given in the question, but fails to update the answers and other things.

HelpWrong

In this one the help that’s provided isn’t related to this particular question. Here’s the question:

QuestionForUnrelatedHelp

And here’s the so-called “help”.  Note that, other than i, there is absolutely no mention of the variables we are presented in the question.  Because this help isn’t actually pertinent to this question.

UnrelatedHelp

This one is a real prize winner since the “right” option isn’t even offered. Note all of the options that you’re given to pick from.  First up the question:

QuestionForAnswerNotOffered

Now look at the “correct” answer…. Do you see it listed above?  Neither do I, which is why this one made the list….

AnswerNotOffered

Now I have this one…. Once again I’m wrong even though it’s the only answer offered that even approximates the “correct” answer.

ProductionFunctionQuestion

Oh, joy!  Another “wrong” graph…..  They don’t give you any numbers to graph in the question.  Apparently, I’m not doing so well because I’m not psychic and can’t pick the right distance between ND and ND2.  Has anyone here ever tried to draw a perfectly straight line with a mouse?  I thought I did pretty good…. *sigh* Did I mention that I’ve come to truly hate this company and everything they make? 

AntotherBadGraph

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In-DUH-viduals With Cell Phones

If you steal something, most *smart* people don’t want to tell the person they stole from who they are.  Unless, of course, you happen to be this guy.  He snapped “selfies” with his stolen phone that got uploaded to the real owner’s accounts. This guy’s photos popped up on the real owner’s Facebook account. 

Our next in-DUH-vidual recorded herself using – you guessed it.. DING DING DING… her cell phone –  teaching her toddler to smoke pot.  Then she decided to share the video.  Fortunately, her friends have more sense and sent the video to the police.

This Einstein plugged his phone into charge while burgling a house and forgot it.  This Dynamic Duo dropped a cell phone during a mugging.

And our grand prize winner, the Rocket Surgeon who butt dialed 911 while conspiring to commit murder.

 

 

 

Uportal on Ubuntu Or Why Uportal Sucks Rocks

Ok, let me start off by saying Java’s not my thing. But I’ve been wanting to experiment with uPortal.  Frankly, I think that their documentation leaves a bit to be desired when it comes to building this on Ubuntu with standard packages.  The nutshell version is that uPortal might be good product but the documentation sucks rocks.  There is no help available.   Just a side note:  If you want people to use your product, it needs to be easy to use.  That means easy to install with good documentation and some sort of useful help mechanism (IRC, message boards, etc.) when things don’t go according to plan. 

  1. uPortal’s directions aren’t so great to begin with.
  2. The only place you can get help is from the mailing list.
  3. You can’t send anything to the user list unless you subscribe.
  4. The subscription mechanism doesn’t seem to exist

BIG FAT IMPORTANT NOTE YOU MUST READ BEFORE YOU GO ON:  I HAVE YET TO GET THIS TO WORK.  ITS CLOSE BUT IT IS STILL NOT WORKING.  IF YOU FIGURE OUT THE SECRET SAUCE PLEASE LET ME KNOW. 

The uPortal document indicates that you should build from source for production machines.  *sigh*  Can’t I have a .deb please??????? No….  $%#@!@

Go download uPortal version 4 – http://www.jasig.org/uportal/download.

I’m going to leap out on a limb here and assume that you can download a gzipped tarball by yourself and then untar it on your server without needing someone to hold your hand.  If you do need that, I’m going to venture that uPortal probably isn’t something you want to attempt unless you have bourbon, asprin, and maybe a hand grenade handy.  So rather than resorting to desperate measures, find someone to help you that understands Ant, Maven, and Tomcat.

uPortal requires java, maven, ant, and tomcat

First, I’m assuming (dangerous, but I see no other indications) that they’re using Sun/Oracle Java.  To get that, you need to add this ppa: https://launchpad.net/~webupd8team/+archive/java

NOTE: You CANNOT use MYSQL if you want UTF-8 support!

“DRAT!  Now I have to remove MySQL and install PostgreSQL”

apt-get install sun-java6-installer maven ant tomcat6 tomcat6-manager postgresql ant maven

Go head and install ant but you will have to downgrade to the Raring Ringtail version which seems to be working OK on Trusty Tahr.  This will give you the required 1.8.2.

You will need to edit /etc/environment and define the following:

JAVA_HOME=”/usr”
M2_HOME=”/usr/share/maven”
ANT_HOME=”/usr/bin/ant”

 

Required Versions #1 :  Building with Java7 or Java8 has failed repeatedly.  YMMV. The “sure-fire” tests fail with anything other than Java6.

Required Versions #2:  Building with tomcat7 has failed repeatedly.  YMMV. Tomcat6 – despite its issues – seems to be a requirement.

Required Versions #3:  Building with Ubuntu’s default Ant package has failed repeatedly.  YMMV. Ant 1.8.2 seems to be a requirement.

Required Versions #4:  Building with Ubuntu’s default Maven package has failed repeatedly.  YMMV. Maven 3.0.4 seems to be a requirement. 


You’ll need to symlinks in /usr/share/tomcat6 to all the directories housed /var/lib/tomcat6

Going the other direction you’ll need to create a symlink for /usr/share/tomcat6/lib in /var/lib/tomcat6

That seems to make the build process quite a bit happier.

Add this to /etc/tomcat6/context.xml

        sessionCookiePath=”/”

You will have to add this to the /etc/tomcat6/tomcat-users.xml.  Make sure that you make a note of the EXACT user names and passwords since you’re going to need them again.

<role to manage WAR files via HTML /manager. The name should be as is! –>
<role rolename=”admin-gui”/>
<!– Role to manage WAR files via script like Maven. The name should be as is! –>
<role rolename=”admin-script”/>

<!– One user cannot have admin-gui and admin-script roles –>
<user username=”MyManagerGui” password=”PASSWORD” roles=”admin-gui”/>
<user username=”MyManagerScript” password=”PASSWORD” roles=”admin-script”/>

Now you must go to the directory where you unzipped your uPortal files and edit the pom.xml

Find the section on plugins and add this:

            <plugin>
                <groupId>org.apache.tomcat.maven</groupId>
                <artifactId>tomcat6-maven-plugin</artifactId>
                <version>2.1</version>
                <configuration>
                    <url>http://localhost:8080/manager/html/</url&gt;
                    <server>my-tomcat</server>
                    <path>/myapp</path>
                </configuration>
            </plugin>

Now go to your home directory or, if you’re like me and you’re doing this as root, /root

Find the .m2 directory in that home directory and add a new file named settings.xml inside it.

<style=”padding-left: 30px;”><settings xmlns=”http://maven.apache.org/SETTINGS/1.0.0&#8243;
xmlns:xsi=”http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance&#8221;
xsi:schemaLocation=”http://maven.apache.org/SETTINGS/1.0.0
http://maven.apache.org/xsd/settings-1.0.0.xsd”&gt;
<localRepository/>
<interactiveMode/>
<usePluginRegistry/>
<offline/>
<pluginGroups/>
<servers/>
<mirrors/>
<proxies/>
<profiles/>
<activeProfiles/>
</settings>

 Now save that, so we can edit it.

remove the line that says <servers/> & replace it with this:

 

<servers>
<server>
<id>my-tomcat</id>
<username>MyManagerScript</username>
<password>PASSWORD</password>
</server>
</servers>

Install postgresql’s  friends:

apt-get install docbook docbook-dsssl docbook-xsl openjade1.3 /
opensp xsltproc openjade libpostgresql-jdbc-java /
postgresql-9.3-plv8

Set the postgresql Password.

su - postgres
psql
ALTER USER Postgres WITH PASSWORD '<newpassword>';

Add the lines to add Posgresql Support to the pom.xml:

<dependency>
<groupId>postgresql</groupId>
<artifactId>postgresql</artifactId>
<version>8.2-507.jdbc3</version>
</dependency>

NOTE: Make sure you start tomcat BEFORE you start the build.

Now go back to the folder where you un-tarred uPortal and see if it will build & deploy  for you:

ant clean deploy-ear
ant initportal

So after about 1000 tries it FINALLY builds but the app then promptly dies.  It’s far beyond my abilities to figure out and after a week spent tinkering with it, I’ve long since ceased to care if it ever works.  My suspicion is that it doesn’t work so well or it would be easier to build.  Even their “Quick Start” gives me a boat load of errors.

My log files are chock full of error messages like this one:

ERROR [main] context.ContextLoader.[] 2014-05-19 15:43:12,137 - Context initialization failed
org.springframework.beans.factory.BeanCreationException: Error creating bean with name 'customEditorConfigurer' defined in file [/var/lib/tomcat6/webapps/u
Portal/WEB-INF/classes/properties/contexts/applicationContext.xml]: Cannot resolve reference to bean 'portalPropertyEditorRegistrar' while setting bean pro
perty 'propertyEditorRegistrars' with key [0]; nested exception is org.springframework.beans.factory.BeanCreationException: Error creating bean with name '
portalPropertyEditorRegistrar' defined in file [/var/lib/tomcat6/webapps/uPortal/WEB-INF/classes/properties/contexts/applicationContext.xml]: Error convert
ing typed String value for bean property 'propertyEditors'; nested exception is org.springframework.beans.TypeMismatchException: Failed to convert value of
 type 'java.lang.String' to required type 'java.lang.Class'; nested exception is java.lang.IllegalArgumentException: Cannot find class [javax.portlet.Portl
etMode]

I’m officially quitting. It’s not worth the effort.

2012 Useless Products

 

  1. The Kush Breast Support/Dildo
  2. The Shake Weight – only enjoyed by my gay friends
  3. The TV Hat – I think this might explain some of the driving I see
  4. The Daddle – Just…. creepy….  Can you kids say “Pony Play”?
  5. Electric Facial Mask – Jason #97???
  6. Camera Hoodie – The faster the heart rate, the quicker it snaps photos.  Perfect for that geeky perv in your life.
  7. Instant Privacy Shroud – in case you’re confronted with the camera hoodie….

Useless Products for 2010

My long time readers will be familiar with my “Useless Products” award.  Every so often someone sends me a product that is so utterly ridiculous that they deserve an award.

 

First Prize – Mamor Dolls – This one has a breast feeding doll that actually gets pregnant, delivers, and spits out a placenta!  I don’t know about you but a doll that spits out a placenta….  I need more “W’s” for the EWWWWWW.  The web site talks about “age appropriate play”.  Age appropriate for WHO?  I’m an adult that this isn’t age appropriate for me much less a child…. 

 

Second Prize – Dog Wigs – In the spirit of guys everywhere who have comb overs, you can save your dog from this horrible fate by getting them a wig. 

Mortgage Crisis – A Different Take On Things

I was talking to my hunny bunny today about the mortgage crisis. You see, we’re not having a crisis. We have our house for sale because we found a house that we really love and want to buy. However, in order to buy it, we have to sell this one first. So we’re trying to find a buyer… (Notes: I use bank and lender interchangeably here so deal with it 🙂 )

So that started a whole discussion about finding a buyer. And why we’ve been on the market for so long without any solid offers. Oh, we’ve had an offer. But they gave us some low-ball figure – offering less than I owe and significantly less than I can afford to accept – because that was all they could approved for. The family really wanted the house and the even though the man owns his own concrete business and even tried to collateralize both his business and just his equipment, he wasn’t able to get enough of a mortgage to make the purchase. Despite having many thousands of dollars tied up in equipment for his business (trucks, etc.) and offering his unencumbered equipment as collateral for the loan, he was only able to get approved for $140,000. The bank wasn’t interested in using his equipment or his business as collateral and refused to consider it.

Given our rotten experience with our real estate agent, we started discussing some of this. My hunny bunny is a lawyer and so he’s got some other insights into the process. His first complaint is that there is no – meaning NONE – advocate for the homeowner in the foreclosure process. There’s not any part of the mortgage contract that protects the home owner from any kind of a temporary hiccup. You have a 30 year contract in which you are not allowed to miss a single payment due to illness, job loss, or any of a number of other circumstances which may be beyond the control of the home owner. Its very draconian – miss a couple of payments and we take your house.

Some states have instituted a mandatory arbitration prior to foreclosure and that’s something that I’d like to see here in Texas. It does several things for the housing market. Lots of people are afraid to buy foreclosures because they’re worried that the foreclosure might have been conducted improperly and may result in them being forced to give the house back in the future. Having a mandatory arbitration prior to foreclosure resolves that fear and it will help the banks move their inventory of foreclosed properties. It also helps keep people out of foreclosure. One of the things I honestly expect to see are some class action suits against some of the banks because they’ve robo-signed people into foreclosure without offering them the alternative financing they should have and which they are now LEGALLY required to do.

The next step is to send the file to lawyers to start the legal foreclosure proceedings. In many cases, once the file gets sent to the attorneys for processing for foreclosure, the attorney will actively dodge the home owner so that they can go to court and testify that they have not been contacted by the home owner. There are many many documented cases of this from too many places to ignore and pretend that this doesn’t happen. Why? Because if the foreclosure doesn’t actually happen, the lawyer doesn’t get paid. Like the rest of buying and selling real estate, he is financially motivated to screw the home owner over. Even attorneys for the home owners often are unable to “contact” the foreclosure attorney despite threats of disbarment complaints, etc. And having mandatory arbitration would short-circuit this process by giving the home owner a chance to request that the payments be moved to the end of the note, request an adjustment in the interest rate, etc. This would also reduce the inventory of bank owned properties on the market.

You would think that this would benefit the lender some how, yet when we look at it. it doesn’t in any obvious ways. Even when the real estate market was “hot” (pre-bubble bursting) banks still lost money on foreclosing vs working out a creative deal to allow the home owner to keep the house. So why do it? Why not work out a refinancing agreement? Well… That brings us to the next part of the problem – real estate agents.

My hunny bunny has been through the entire short sale process from both sides of the table. It’s not pretty. You hire an agent who has to do a lot of work to convince the lender that your house is indeed over valued. You have to convince your lender that you can’t make the current payments. The agent (who still gets a 6% commission BTW) will list the house and try to drive traffic in order to generate an offer. In my hunny bunnys case, once the first offer came in the real estate agent felt like his job was done and became resistant to trying to generate any other offers, possibly higher offers or in the best of all possible wars, creating a bidding war.

In the case of bank owned properties, the real estate agents kind of suck. I have eschewed a buyers agent after our experience with the in-DUH-vidual who listed my house. I’d rather deal with the seller’s agent directly. I am, after all, perfectly capable of downloading the NTREC forms myself and filling in the blanks to make an offer, etc. Quite frankly, if the in-DUH-vidual who listed my house can be a real estate agent, I feel quite capable. Having looked at the forms, I feel even more confident in my ability to check boxes and fill in blanks. Hells Bells, any 4th grader that can bubble in a Scan-Tron and play Mad-Libs can handle this. The language isn’t that hard to understand. The fourth grader might need a dictionary for some of the words, but that’s the biggest hurdle I see.

Here’s the real kicker. We found a house we wanted to pay cash for. It wasn’t in good shape but it was in a nice area. It looked like an ideal candidate for us to test our reno skills and maybe get some new ones. So we made an offer on it. Normally, the seller’s agent would split the standard 6% commission with the buyer’s agent so that the seller’s real estate agent and my real estate agent would each get 3%. However, since I have decided not to use an agent, I asked for the 3% that the seller’s agent would get to be applied to the purchase price of the house. I was told when I ask for a 3% discount on the property that the realtor will be keeping the entire 6%. I wave the bull shit flag on this because I’ve done everything that the buyer’s agent should except go take the class and get my real estate license. I don’t see why I can’t have the 3% as a discount either off my closing costs or something else. So I told the real estate agent “Good luck in finding another cash buyer” and walked.

Too many of the real estate agents I see on these bank owned properties don’t want to be bothered with showing them. We tried to look at FOUR houses on Wednesday. Magically, there wasn’t a single real estate agent in several of the list offices that was available to show the houses. Ok, so this is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, but guess what? It is still a work day for 90% of America. I just happened to burn a day of leave to have a “stay-cation” with my hunny-bunny. Now, none of these are expensive houses, but again we’re looking for something we can cut our reno teeth on. One of our criteria is to find a house that we won’t be able to hurt very much should we totally f*** something up.

Then you have the real estate agents who list a $150,000 house on the market with 4 photos none of which show the interior or any outbuildings. You get more photos when you go to buy a $15,000 car!! I don’t care if its rough. Photograph it and let me see just how rough it is. I might still want to see it. Add to that the fact that they don’t want to return phone calls or emails or get off that fat a** to show the place because it’s bank owned. Since it’s bank owned there isn’t someone breathing down their necks to get more showings, find a buyer, etc. As absolutely LAZY as a lot of these agents have become, I suspect that come this time next year, they won’t be real estate agents.

Taking 4 photos and parking something on the MLS might have been enough to sell it 2 years ago. Now… That just doesn’t fly. You have to work to sell stuff. Qualified buyers just don’t come popping out of the wood work. And the new mortgage restrictions are unreal. If your credit score isn’t 700, they don’t want to talk to you. And to get a credit score of 700 or better pretty much means that you ALREADY have a mortgage and probably won’t qualify for another. Depending on how much equity you have, you might be able to refinance your existing house, but you won’t be able to buy a different one without selling the one you’re currently in first. Which means that no one is selling anything despite the absolutely ridiculous rates right now.

So the banks are sitting on a huge and ever growing inventory of houses waiting for the market to pick back up so that they can sell them off. It’s the same business model that the “Tote the Note” car lots work on. We’re going to sell you something that’s over priced to start off. We’re going to charge you a ridiculous interest rate for it. When you miss a payment, we’ll repo it. Once we have it back, we sell it again. By the time we’ve sold it a few times, we’ll be profitable just from the down payments. Any payments we’ve gotten will be gravy.

Why the “pants hung low” look needs to die

I had a gay friend of mine recently comment on the “view” while on the commuter train.  He is a particular fan of the drooping waistlines and exposed boxers that our urban youth seem to favor these days.  His take on all this, and I’m quoting, “Why wouldn’t I take the train? Hey, I get to ride to work and check out some ass for free.  Last time I saw that much ass on display, there was a cover charge.” 

So the next time that your son tells you “that’s the style”, you can point to this article and explain that there is some 40+ year old gay guy walking around checking out his ass.  If you don’t want them looking, then pull your damn pants up.  s