More Thoughts About the University of Phoenix- Part 2- Can We Get Some Real Reference Material?

OK, part 2 of my posts on UOP. As I said in a previous post, I do enjoy the school and I’m learning a lot from my courses. Like all schools, I do have some comments, and this time they’re going in my end of course critique. The SQL course I’m currently in has textbooks that reference Oracle quite a bit. Our instructor told us that we can use Access. Actually, I can see how SQL can do wonders for making Access more powerful. However, I’m finding it tough to find the actual commands that Access uses in textbooks that only teach Oracle. How many people do you personally know with Oracle installed on their laptops? I ran into some problems with a series of queries that I was supposed to write for this week, and I found that the Access 2007 help file is just about as useless as any that Microsoft has ever produced. I do respect Microsoft quite a bit, but one thing they have NEVER, EVER done right is to produce a help file that has any real use at all. Of course, they can’t do a search algorithm either, which is why it’s much easier to use Google to search Microsoft.com than it is to use whatever Microsoft calls it’s search technology to search their own site. I’ve found Apple Computer’s website search engine is just as bad if not worse than Microsoft’s. I tried searching for a "G3 iBook Power Adapter" and got 10 pages of iPod accessories as a return. Too bad they don’t have a Google search box on their store.

UOP instructors are all required to hold Master’s or higher degrees and must be leaders in their industries. This can be a very good thing. Have you ever been taught by somebody with no real world experience? They sit in the classroom and teach their whole lives. When I was in high school and had to take a foreign language, I took German because I had lived in Germany. The German teacher had never even been there! I knew a few things that she didn’t, and you can bet I used them. I do like that UOP instructors have to work in the industry for which they teach. I’ve been taught by experts in their fields. The drawback to this is that instructors have lives and other responsibilities and sometimes they just don’t respond to their students. Another class that was going through parallel to us (until we hit the programming units and lost most of both classes!) had an instructor for Project Management who was teaching another class and also working on a doctoral class at the same time. They got practically no feedback from him.  I resent that I have to bust my butt to turn in my assignments by midnight on Saturday, and most instructors don’t get the grades back for 2 weeks. Since the assignments build on each other, it’s very hard to begin work on your next assignment before you know if you’ve totally screwed up the last one or not. That is the situation I was in this week. Last week, I got the grades back for the 1st assignment a few hours after I submitted the 2nd one. I just submitted the 3rd one today without any feedback on the second one. I’m going to mention this in my critique too. Last class, I was finishing up the 4th week’s assignment when I got an email from the instructor asking some questions about the 2nd week’s assignment. Since I had completely screwed that one, and I had 2 more that were built upon it, I had to redo all three of them in the last week of the class while trying to finish up the Learning Team project.

I have good instructors, but I think they should face some penalty for not returning grades by, say, Tuesday. Just like we lost points for each day we’re late, they should have to give us points for each day they’re late.

Anyway, don’t think I don’t like UOP. I know most schools have one problem or another. If you’re looking for information though, I hope I’ve been able to help.

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More About University of Phoenix Part 1- Time Management in the Real World

I write now and again on the subject of time management. This week really threw me for a real world loop involving all kinds of time management and priorities. I wanted to write more about the University of Phoenix, but I don’t feel like I can do it without filling in some other details leading me to this blog entry. When I first went looking for information on the subject, I really couldn’t find many independent blogs and web pages with opinions on the school, so maybe I can contribute somewhat to the world of information.

I’m in the 4th week of a class called SQL For Business. UOP classes are 5 weeks long and can be fairly intense. I’ve had some classes that were easier, and other classes that had me running up until the last minute. This one, I’ve managed to stay ahead somehow, but I have really worked at it.

I used to be able to get some work done on Sundays. I don’t have near as much time anymore, because my church started up small groups and my wife and I are leading one. We’re very happy about that.  I spent Monday reading most of my material for the week as I got time at work. It’s tough to get evenings for class because I do need to spend time with my kids. Tuesday I was supporting a test, and I wasn’t at my desk. I was hoping to get my work done Wednesday, but my oldest didn’t sleep well and I stayed home so my wife could get some sleep. Today I ended up working late, hoping I could get my work done for school. I had a staff meeting, a company brief by a VP, and I also had to swing by the car dealer to pick up my registration and then to the inspection facility to get my car inspected. At least I passed. Normally I fail the first time and I have to take my car back. Anyway, tomorrow is out because I have another system test and Saturday I have a hiking/camping trip to go on.

To put it lightly, I really had to work to prioritize this week. Obviously, the camping trip is a goal I am shooting for, and the two tests I’m supporting are important because I’m trying to work my way into another position. There was nothing I could have done yesterday, because my wife and children are very important to me and staying home with them was the right thing to do, as I was able. And so, I had to sort through all of the things I should do and all of the things I wanted to do and either delete of put off quite a bit. Actually, when you’re really pressed for time, it’s amazing how many things on your schedule turn out to not really matter in the long run.

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Need A Free Download Manager?

I’ve never really cared for download managers before. They always seem to get in the way, they want to start at startup, and it always seemed like too much of a hassle to configure them. It was always easier for me to pick the download destination individually and use the download manager that is included in whatever browser I happen to be using at the time.

Several months ago, I was trying to download something at work. Maybe it was a Virtual Machine of one Linux distribution or another. I honestly don’t remember. All I know is that I remember it being important to me at the time, and the download kept timing out. I was starting to grow frustrated, so I decided to get a download manager. I did a web search for "Free Download Manager", and wouldn’t you know it, I found one by name.

Free Download Manager has been useful to me. It wants to stay in my startup menu, but doesn’t seem to suck up many resources at all. It supports multiple downloads as well as pause and resume, and it will resume a download that has timed out, which has proven valuable.

This afternoon, I finally broke down and decided to get the Windows Mobile 2005 upgrade for my HP iPaq 4700 Pocket PC. (This must be purchased and can be delivered either in a download or mailed on a CD-ROM). The download made it up to 53% but didn’t seem to want to go any farther in Firefox. I decided to put Free Download Manager on my laptop and it was able to successfully download all 331 Megs of the WM 2005 installation file at once.

Of course, by the time I went through this, I ran out of time to try to do the actual upgrade, so I will have to try tomorrow.

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Can Somebody Invite the University of Phoenix into the 21st Century?

Last year, about 2 weeks after my second son Caleb was born, I suddenly realized that I needed to make a serious decision about my future. I wrote a few weeks ago on Think TQ, which I had discovered and been reading their materials for a few weeks about the time I made this decision. I had been reading a lot of David Allen and Michael Hyatt and several other productivity personalities and they were beginning to have an effect on me. I sat down and set some goals, and the product of these goals really made me change my direction. Now, I have made thousands of goals in my lifetime, and I’ll make thousands more and most of them will not happen at all. Goals are very important, and yet goals must be aligned with your values and long term outlook. I could write a goal to "learn to crochet", but it probably won’t happen because I really don’t have any talent or interest in it. That goal will gather dust until I face the facts and delete it. I have learned however, that when I do set a goal directly in line with my values, things start to happen.

I’ll give a little bit of background before I go further. I became a Christian in May of 2002. Shortly afterward, I made an emotional sort of decision to go into the ministry. I pretty much jumped at the first distance learning Bible college I came across and enrolled. The school was not accredited, but I didn’t know what that meant anyway and I figured if it was God’s will then there shouldn’t be a problem. I enrolled in the Biblical Counseling program. I’m sure it’s a very noble field, but I soon found that I did not dedicate myself very well to my coursework. I ended up having to request (and pay for) an extension. After I changed jobs, I started to look to my career. I began to realize that a non-accredited Biblical Counseling really won’t carry me far in my career field, would not get me certified to actually counsel anybody, and I really don’t like people anyway so why did I think this would be a good idea? (Note, I am not a sociopath, I just mean that the world is a much better place with me troubleshooting computers instead of people).

I was having a fight with my wife about the program. Actually, we had several fights. She was rightly upset at the money we spent on the program and the little I had accomplished. I was trying to work on my class one night and kept getting interrupted. I blew up. The next day, the same thing. I finally said "Well, I’ll call them on Monday and tell them I’m dropping out!" When my wife didn’t try to stop me, I left the room to think. Could this be the right decision?

I had made a 90 day goal about this time to complete a certain milestone in this program, and I was making little progress. But this goal was forcing me to confront an unpleasant little truth: as noble as I thought this field could be, it did not seem like a good fit for me. I’m a computer geek/wannabe engineer. I like to work on computers and other information technology subjects. I really do enjoy it. After thinking for a little while, I sat down on my computer to check the websites of some of the adult education institutions that I knew about: Phoenix, Kaplan, and I forget others. I did a Google search for others. I then called a good friend of mine who had completed a Bachelor’s degree from Phoenix to ask him what he thought of the school and ask him what he thought of me dropping out of the Bible college. I told him I spent a lot of money on it but we might be better off if I admit that I made an expensive mistake and try to move on. He told me that sometimes we have to admit that. I gave it a lot of thought and prayer, and looked at the programs that were offered. I found that Phoenix had the best all around IT degree. Kaplan had IT, but wanted you to specialize in one of 5 fields: network, database, design, and a couple others. I did not at the time want to specialize that far. Actually, I still don’t. After reviewing some of the options and talking to my friend about his experiences in the IT program at Phoenix, I decided to call for more information.

Caleb was 2 weeks old when I took the High Speed Line (commuter train) into Philadelphia to meet with the admissions counselor. I must have been smoking crack to want to start a bachelor’s program with a new baby, but I had to do something. I completed the paperwork and got my transcripts sent in, and then I sat back and waited for the program to start. I enrolled in a program called FLexNet. The on ground program meets once a week, but if you know anything about the Philadelphia area, you would not want to try to fight your way from the southern part of New Jersey to Wayne Pennsylvania (near King of Prussia) by 6 PM on a Wednesday night. My friend advised me not to take the online program because during his time as a hiring manager he felt that online degrees are too new and some older managers might think it is a degree mill. FlexNet seemed to be just about right. You attend the first and the last class sessions in the classroom, and everything else is done online. So far, I am very happy with the FlexNet program. It meets my needs well. I am able to attend class just about anytime that is convenient for me but I am also able to meet the instructor and my classmates in person twice a class. I can work on class during the day at work when I have time, or at home in the middle of the night. Last year, while visiting my grandmother, I set my laptop up in her kitchen and dialed into a 30 day trial People PC account in order to attend class. When my mom passed away, I was able to keep up with my coursework while visiting with my family. I was given some lattitude by my instructor considering the circumstances, but I did mostly keep up. I am very happy with FlexNet and would recommend it to anyone.

OK, with that background in place here is the point to my post. The equipment and services that University of Phoenix uses seem outdated. For FlexNet, we use an Outlook Express newsgroup. Seriously, I thought those went away after 1998. Another gripe I have is that our accounts only support an 8 Meg limit. I began this blog entry last night while frustrated because I could not get a 7 Meg database to upload in time for the deadline for the assignment. The newsgroup can be accessed through Outlook Web Access, but that’s even worse than Outlook Express. You cannot reply to a post through OWA, at least, it won’t stay in the tree. It shows up as a new post. During one class when several people had to use OWA, the newsgroup was a mess. Conversations could not be followed at all.

I can understand business or medical students having to live with this, but seriously, this is an IT program. Can’t we actually use IT for our class? How hard could it be for an organization as large as UOP to broker a deal with Microsoft to allow students to use a web based version of Live Meeting? On the one hand, we are getting pretty good at document version control through a newsgroup, but this causes a lot of problems. I can’t tell you how many times, the night before a presentation, 3 people are working at the same time. I’ll upload what I think is version 5 of the team presentation, somebody else uploads version 3, and another uploads version 7. Which one is most current?

I’ve been so tempted to take out a free website from Microsoft’s Live Office just so we have a place to store and access documents online.

OK, that’s a lot of babbling for a short rant. Set goals, further your education, and if you decide on University of Phoenix (which I do recommend), ask them to actually provide some IT for their IT program.

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Labor Day, Cars, and Selling Online

Happy Labor Day! I hope those of you who are exempt employees are enjoying the day off, and those of you who are non exempt didn’t have to be scheduled to work today. Though I would never complain about a paid day off work, you have to appreciate the irony of taking a day off to celebrate labor. That sounds like something that could only have come from our Congress.

My wife and I keep a DVD rack in our family room. It’s going to have to be moved eventually. Our children (1 and 2 years old) keep pulling movies down off it. I can’t quite figure out why my 1 year old keeps taking Conspiracy Theory down, no matter what position I place it in. It seems that every time I turn around he’s holding that particular movie. The jacket isn’t very colorful, so I can’t imagine why a 1 year old is drawn to it. I hope he isn’t trying to tell me something.

I put a dog up for adoption, and I’d like to rant about how much I am starting to hate selling online. When our 1 year old was born last year, my wife and I put a dog and a cat up for adoption because we felt we had too many animals and with 2 children we just couldn’t give the animals the time and love they need. I put my dog up on Petfinder, and sure enough guess what happened? Well, when we bought a new bed around Memorial Day, I put our old bedroom furniture up on Craig’s List, and got several so called "international buyers" with horrible written English skills telling me that they trust me and will deliver payment and have their shippping agent pick up the merchandise. I told them to get lost, and amended my ads to say "local offers only- I WILL NOT DEAL WITH "INTERNATINAL BUYERS". I know little about export/import, but I fail to see how it could possibly be profitable to ship a $150 waterbed overseas and sell it. I’ve read too much about these scams. So guess what happened when I listed my dog? Sure enough, I get an email from somebody supposedly in utah (sic) with grammar and spelling that would disqualify "her" for an AOL account. Do people really still fall for these scams? I’m about to just keep my dog.

My wife and I have been looking for a new car. Not a brand new car, but a different used car from what we currently have. I’ve learned over the years that you can get a lot more car for your money buying used. I can never afford a new Dodge Durango, but some of the 2000-2002 models are getting down to our price range. I discovered the Suzuki XL-7, and found a couple that may be worth looking at when car dealers open back up. I’ve found that Autotrader is the best car site for searching. It offers the best search tools of any of the other car sites. You can search by price and mileage, so I can search for certain models below $10000 and with less than 60000 miles. I have no idea what the point is to Vehix.com. I’m not convinced that Vehix uses their own website. Sure, you get a lot of returns, but yesterday when I was searching for Suzuki XL-7s, I got several 2005 and 2004 models with no price. Instead, there was a link to "email dealer for quote". I don’t want to email the dealer, I want to know if this car is within a price range I can consider or move on. I’ve found that Cars.com is about as worthless, as is msn.com auto. However, MSN Auto has the best research tools after you’ve found a model on Autotrader that you would like more information about. I really love the internet. When I go to actually see a car, I already know everything about it except how it feels to drive. I don’t have to ask the dealer if the car is reliable because I know most of them lie anyway. "Sure, it’s reliable. It’s a Pinto!"

Anyway, Happy Labor Day. I just wanted to share a few thoughts. If you’re looking for a used car, try Autotrader. It’s how we found the Kia Sportage that I’m currently driving. It’s still a decent car; we’re just looking for a 4×4 that seats more people.

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