Kalamazoo Promise

Written by Nexcerpt on June 8th, 2010 in Patterns & News.
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Last night, President Obama offered the commencement speech at Kalamazoo Central High School. Kalamazoo — along with its educational system and outreach to the world — was on full display. Hundreds of media resources converged here, inviting thousands of people around the world to share, at least virtually, our “success” story.

Technologically, I’d say that we blew the opportunity.

At LinkedIn, I’m a member of Michigan Universities United. That group linked to an Mlive.com article about economic development in Southwest Michigan:

I know some Southwest Michigan First execs, and try to stay current on their programs and goals. But, I could not read that MLive article. I could see the header and comments (which were largely embarrassing), but not the body of the article itself. Hmph.

I tried to read the article with two other current browsers. I searched the MLive site. I tried an alternate URL on the MLive site. I even tried a different internet connection. Nothing.

This means that anyone searching for articles on education, Kalamazoo, and economic development — the day after Obama spoke here, on those issues — could not see the article. Hmph.

• • • Demonstration of Michigan Technology Standards: -10 points     Current total: -10

Since my company does article discovery and news clipping, I checked our database and found the version of the article seen yesterday. Redemption! Here is that temporary text rendering.

• • • Demonstration of Michigan Technology Standards: +10 points     Current total: 0

I tried to log in to MLive to add a comment of my own. The system refused my correct login. So, I asked for a password reset, and performed one. However the system also refused that password. The system then asked me to re-register, which I attempted to do. The system informed me that my email address was in use. Which it was. Since I just used it to reset my password. Which was then refused. Hmph.

  • Update: 2010-06-08 ~ 17:00 The body of the Mlive.com article is now visible. My longstanding (and reset) password now works. I subsequently learned from Meagan Holland, Editor of the Grand Rapids Press, that MLive underwent a major upgrade slated for 01:15 to 12:00 today. New formats there confirm it was quite a substantial change, which understandly slipped beyond the scheduled slot. So, I’ve snipped the snark for this particular phase of discovery. Luckily, the Demonstration of Michigan Technology Standards score currently stands at zero…

I decided make my comments at LinkedIn instead:

A Kazoo grad may have tuition paid at any of fifteen public State of Michigan universities, including Lake Superior State, over 350 miles north. Nearly thirty community colleges are eligible as well — including those as far as Gogebic in the western UP, over 600 miles by road. (Or, only 550 via Chicago, at the risk of being exposed to “ideas” from the outside world.) However, NO tuition is available for any course of study outside this state, at any of hundreds of fine schools no further distant. Regardless of a student’s intent — regardless of needs, strengths, or goals — they must remain in Michigan to study.

Of course, this is a prerogative of the funders, and presumably reflects underlying tax interests of the foundation. Arguably, it also may promote retention of graduates after degree programs. But, perpetuating such insular strategies does little to help move the State beyond its past and current woes.

(I happen to feel very strongly about this issue. I was lucky enough to get far outside Michigan for undergraduate courses, graduate study, employment, and professional training. Some other time, I’ll rant on why Michigan is so insular — literally and figuratively — and how that continues to damage our economy and future. But, the rest of today’s technology demonstration makes a similar point.)

In the course of researching my comment, I was actually prevented from viewing the Kalamazoo Promise site. In fact, I was warned it was unsafe to do so — as I suspect thousands of other visitors all over the world have been warned during the past few days. Including media pundits. And political leaders. And corporate executives. And potential investors.

First, I was shown this five-second warning:

Kalamazoo Promise Redirect

We know what you're looking for... but you can't have it.

I rarely have seen such a bizarre warning. A public web site (certainly an informational site, arguably a promotional one) which does not require authentication, nonetheless insists that viewers use a secure connection. It even calls attention to the strangeness of changing “http” to “https.” That’s not a Hmph. That’s a [Boggle.]

• • • Demonstration of Michigan Technology Standards: -10 points     Current total: -20

Why this script exists — why it would not be handled silently as a 301 redirect, for example — seems nearly as baffling.

• • • Demonstration of Michigan Technology Standards: -10 points     Current total: -30

Next, after that inexplicably robust five-second delay, I received this warning from Firefox (3.6.3, the current version):

Actually, what you're looking for is a Scary Bad Thing...

• • • Demonstration of Michigan Technology Standards: -10 points     Current total: -40

Which raises the question to the highest order: Why wasn’t this certificate properly signed?

• • • Demonstration of Michigan Technology Standards: -10 points     Current total: -50

I investigated the certificate, and found that it was issued by Secant Technologies, a born-and-bred Kalamazoo firm that — good God a’mighty, fellas — really knows better. (I’m certain they know better, because I know several people there — hell, fifteen years ago, I used to teach there.) It appears they also host the Kalamazoo Promise web site.

That kind of presentation is exceedingly uncool. It makes me wonder: Who’s testing this stuff? Is no one in the loop interested in how things work? In how people use the web? In quality? In performance? In making Kalamazoo, and Michigan, and our technology environment look good?

Clearly, folks at Secant accept their own certificates, and thus never considered how the world would experience this site. It’s also likely that Kalamazoo Promise staff wondered, at least once a few years ago, what was happening. Maybe even someone at Southwest Michigan First felt puzzled. But, obviously, no one took the time to pursue the quality of the experience.

This is a horrifying symptom of The Essential Michigander Mindset: the ability to say, “Looks good to me…” and not actually think about what’s happening.

I wouldn’t expect everyone involved to understand all the levels at which this experience is technically unacceptable. But shouldn’t someone have cared?

This is a huge problem in Michigan. Most people here are so wrapped up in what they want, and what they get, that they ignore the experience of others. At times, there is a conscious effort to resist higher values and higher standards. Yes, I said it: a lot of people in Michigan have low standards for themselves, their work, their government, and their State overall.

This attitude — what I call the Essential Michigander Mindset — killed the auto industry. The executives demonstrated this mindset, as did the unions. Together, they choked one another in a clench of mediocrity. The same attitude now poisons politics in Lansing. It encourages sloppy thinking, bad budgeting, poor land use planning, needless destruction of natural resources, and a thousand other forms of permanent damage.

The Essential Michigan Mindset is at the heart what is wrong with Michigan. Perhaps the Kalamazoo Promise is supposed to help correct it. Sadly, though, I don’t see many signs of progress.

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