Zero Day: A Novel by Mark Russinovich

Entertaining and educational, this techno thriller is Mr. Russinovich’s first novel and it sends home a very eye opening and unsettling message. He has an extensive background in computers and networks and has been an esteemed Technical Fellow at Microsoft. In his story he presents a very vivid picture of the vulnerabilities and devastating outcomes that are possible in a cyber attack on the US and Europe. The story starts out slowly with an investigation into the mysterious failures and anomalies of a number of major computer systems. The technical aspects are well researched and clearly presented and developed for the reader. In the second half the pieces come together and fast paced action to avert the impending cyber attack, becomes more dominant. I found the story and characters interesting, but the best part of this book is the depiction of the vulnerabilities of our way of life in our increasingly computer/network relevant world. Especially recommended for inquiring minds on what can only be one of the major emerging issues of new age. (3 out of 5 stars)

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The Small Size Concept, that Achieves Big Results

 In business or the public sector, the size of an organization can make all the difference in how quickly it can change and adapt new ideas to an incredibly dynamic world. I believe that in educating students with diverse abilities and backgrounds, small can also be better. At the Concept School (TCS) just such a dynamic school exists—small classes, student leadership/mentoring opportunities between middle school and high school, and a highly integrated interdisciplinary program. As a teacher at The Concept School, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to both witness and contribute in the effectiveness of the Small Size Concept.

Often students attend large schools where classrooms can number 20 to 30 or even more students. The ability of a teacher to understand a student and adapt a lesson for that specific student is difficult, with high classroom numbers. The teacher of a classroom with a large number of students is hard pressed to continuously access and provide feedback to their students at a tempo that enhances a students learning.

A TCS classroom size averages a ratio of eight students to one teacher. This small ratio allows a TCS teacher the opportunity to focus and understand their individual student’s motivations, abilities and learning preferences—thus enabling the development of specifically targeted lesson plans. This small classroom size also allows time, on a regular basis , to work one-on-one with a student —accessing their understanding and giving them continuous and timely specific feedback on their progress.

The small size of my math classes has allowed me to tightly track, access and guide my students in a way that would be much more challenging in a larger size class. Much of my time in class is spent guiding and coaching students as they engage math problems or activities. Time with lecturing and instructing to the class is minimized and a student’s actual experience with addressing the math is maximized. Students are also engaged in checking and correcting their answers. This serves to increase their accountability and role in addressing their learning style. A quiz is given for each skill mastered (usually a textbook section.) So a chapter with five to ten sections would yield five to ten short quiz assessments of the students. This high frequency of quizzes might prove labor intensive for a larger classroom, but is very manageable in the small classes of TCS. It gives students a quick/high rate of feedback on their understanding of the material. This has increased their confidence and allowed learning issues to be addressed quickly and comprehensively.

A low student to teacher ratio also allows a teacher to take advantage of the special interests and creative ideas of students. For example in a Computer class I had students work on individual spreadsheet projects that connected to their specific interests, like roller coasters and baseball. The TCS small class size also allows a spontaneous redirection in a lesson plan when a new idea or learning opportunity arises. Case in point, after working on a internet based research project on computer pioneers, one of my students had the idea of creating a set of computer pioneer trading cards using graphics software with information from the internet. With a large class, redirecting an assignment and providing new guidance and instruction on the fly would be a Herculean effort. The small class size of TCS made it easy.

TCS is also a fertile ground to foster leadership and mentoring opportunities for students because of her overall size and small classrooms. The small size of TCS classes and their close proximity, allows TCS to match younger students with older student mentors. This relationship can give the younger student a successful model to emulate and strategies to better develop their learning styles. Leadership opportunities exist at TCS on the classroom level as well.

A class-to-class leadership approach in instructing has been very successful. My high school chemistry class recently developed and taught a practical hands on lesson showing the growing of crystals by way of a supersaturated liquid to our middle school science class. The middle school students enjoyed the lab and instruction created by their upper school classmates. For the high school students, the lesson execution not only reinforced their chemistry understanding, but provided an opportunity for the development of their leadership skills. A separate middle and high school, which most public schools operate would make such a joint venture more challenging and time consuming.

The small size concept may be most effective in our school’s ability to have a truly integrated staff—administration and teachers from all disciplines. While working in a larger more traditional school it was not uncommon for me to deal exclusively with other math teachers. I hardly ever talked with school administration or teachers from other disciplines (e.g. English, Social Studies, etc.) Such “stove-piping” can create blind-spots in a teacher’s knowledge of their students. At TCS, the “whole school” is the student’s team. A student’s progress and development is discussed among the staff on a daily basis. This enables the staff to not only keep current on a specific student’s progress, but to address significant student issues in a consistent and timely manner.

A small integrated staff also allows material to be connected from different disciplines with much greater ease than a larger school. For example special classes have been organized and effectively run through team-teaching. This approach is easily organized because of the small size and close proximity of the staff. Classes in anthropology, and criminal justice, both taught by social studies and science teachers, is an example of this type of classe taught at TCS. Students greatly benefit from this dual perspective teaching. Their attention is held from the variety of teaching approaches and they begin to understand that subject areas can span over more then one discipline. These cross-discipline connections can be identified and developed because of the daily teacher interchange.

Perhaps the biggest success of TCS’s inter-disciplinary approach is the school wide participation once or twice a year, in putting on a theatrical performance. This past year two such productions were successfully performed. Scenes from “A Midsummer Nights Dream” by Shakespeare and “The Wizard of OZ” by Frank Baum were produced by a school wide production team of student performers and stage designers. These productions transformed the entire school through action and appearance in reflecting the themes of the production (i.e. Our school performance room was transformed into Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.) Students, facility, and parents came together in a strong community building exercise. Students experienced history, art, engineering, and real life problem solving. They develop pride in their school and own efforts and learn to work cooperatively as a team.

The small size concept with small classes within a small school setting can significantly improve the learning environment for all students. Smaller classes give teachers time and space needed to establish a relationship in which specific lesson activities can offered to a given student with continuous and timely feedback. A small school also provides positive connections between the middle and high school students. Students in leadership and mentor roles can help other students as well as themselves. A small, highly integrated staff enables the whole school to act on behalf of a given student and provide consistent and timely support. A small school can also foster interdisciplinary connections and bring the learning community together through individual and group efforts in developing and executing school projects such as theatrical performances. The “Small size concept that achieves big results” is an approach worthy of serious consideration for all students.

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Threads West: An American Saga by Reid Lance Rosenthal

A fun read! This book is the first of a six book series about the trials and trbulations of a group of men and women during the great Westward expansion of the United States. I found Rosenthal’s work easy, but descriptive and evocative style very enjoyable. His story is well researched and his words appear to come from first hand experiences. As I read I felt the imagery he weaved with his narrative and I must say his stories are akin to time traveling. The characters are interesting and the story captivating. This is what reading a good story is supposed to be about. Do you love a good historical romp through the old west? Do you want to feel like a western pioneer in the mid 1800’s? Do you love adventure, romance, and/or mystery? I encourage you to check out this book and its series. (  out of 5 stars)

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The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War, by James Bradley

A provocative and in many ways a sobering book. Mr Bradley illuminates many key and sometimes forgotten foreign policy actions in the early part of the century under President Teddy Roosevelt. He makes a case for these actions being the prime movers in setting the conditions that will lead to World War II in the Pacific. The book also describes a United States more publicly tolerant of imperialistic and racist points of view then today. This was the public world view for many countries in the world at that time. I found the reading of these times both fascinating and disturbing. The analysis of events in the book shows that the results of initiatives cannot always be understood in such a complex realm as international relations. Faulty assumptions and unexpected events can lead to unsatisfactory states. While I don’t believe the United States was completely responsible for setting up the conditions for a war with Japan, I believe their early twentieth century actions may have contributed greatly. The “not always remembered” accounts of United States mistreatments of their colonials and other Asia peoples serves to remind us that we haven’t always acted with the high ideals we like to believe we always hold our county to. But a country can learn from their history and perhaps there are lessons from this work that can be applied to todays world. For anybody interested in world history from a different point of view I recommend this work. (four out of five stars)

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The Thorn Birds by McCullough Colleen

A captivating story/saga of unfulfilled deep love through three generations of women. The saga is balanced on the love story between Meggie Cleary and Father Ralph de Bricassart, Father Bricassart’s Love for Meggie is strong but his vows to the church and his professed love of God is stronger. Meggie must cope with her deep devoted love for him and the hope that one day he might commit himself to her completely. Their story forms the main theme of this powerful but difficult and unreconciled love. This theme is advanced and varied in a wonderful story that spans 55 years. Ms. McCullough’s writing style was perfect in evoking images for the heart and the mind. She paints this wonderful story through many of the events of the the 20th Century and describes a unique way of life in the Australian Outback. This is my first book by Ms. McCullough and I plan to check her others works as soon as I can. I strongly recommend the Thorn Birds for all, especially for those who enjoy historical romances. 

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Sitting Bull, Prisoner of War by Dennis Pope

An eye opening multifaceted/factual account of a sometimes misunderstood American icon. This work covers the period of Sitting Bull’s surrender to American forces in July of 1881 till his release from custody in 1883. A time period not well investigated by other Sitting Bull biographers. Mr. Pope combs through the available documentation and first-person accounts and synthesizes a straightforward readable narrative that dispels many misunderstood accounts of events sometimes perpetuated by TV and movies. At times the reading may seem a bit routine in its clear and accurate statement of the facts, but with patience the reader gleams a more deeper understanding of Chief Sitting Bull’s state of mind at the time, as well as the context of the time period of his incarceration. The book illuminates the human side of Sitting Bull and the people connected to him in this unsettling time of change in American history. This work also gives a great case history exploring the complexity and issues regarding the treatment of Native Americans in the 1880’s. I recommend this for those interested in Native American and/or American Western history.

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Khan: Empire of Silver: A Novel of the Khan Empire (Conqueror) by Conn Iggulden

A very enjoyable and insightful book. This is the kind reading I extremely enjoy. The book presents a great story while giving a wonderful lesson of an important if not very profound period of history. Conn Iggulden treats the reader to a story with not only an engaging plot with great pacing but keeps the history very accurate and provides insightful historical speculation. The novel takes place post Genghis Khan during a turbulent period of Mongol history where political maneuvering to secure and maintain power of the Mongol Empire is pursued and a military campaign of the most profound proportions almost succeeds in changing all history as we know it. Mr. Iggulden includes a map, a list of characters and excellent historical notes to enhance the readers enjoyment. I’m putting Mr. Iggulden’s other historical novels/series on my wish list. A very enjoyable read that I recommend highly especially for history and military buffs. (4 out of 5 Stars)

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