New Level of Absurdity Reached! Achievement Locked Even More!


I’ve written several times about nonsense in Higher Education. Administrators in Higher Education love bureaucracy like zombies love brains. Some bureaucracy has to exist. We want to make sure people are treated fairly. We want to ensure people have access to appropriate amounts of financial aid. We need to document course work and hours. We need to ensure federal and state laws are followed. I get all of that. Over my 18+ years of higher education experience I’ve learned a number of things about the inner workings of higher education. No doubt I have many more things to learn.

I’ve run up against a new, nearly insurmountable form of bureaucracy. I think they are called, “Accountants.” Under normal circumstances, I would be “Pro Accountants.” I have a lot of respect for numbers, and decimals points, especially numbers including a $ or €. I like ∏, and while I was never good at ∫ or ƒ I still appreciate them for the mathematics each represents. In fact, I like a lot of the Greek alphabet.

But, my beef has little to do with the math or numbers falling within the wheelhouse of accountancy. My beef has more to do with what appears to be nonsense policies contrived with what I can only surmise is either an excruciatingly myopic interpretation of some obscure IRS guideline, or is simply a means not to do any work.

A colleague of mine and I are conducting two workshops. The first workshop is in April, the second workshop is in June. We are going to train people on geomentoring. A geomentor is a person who has received instruction or who works in a geospatial field and can help transfer geospatial knowledge to young people. Participants in our first workshop are mostly students with a couple of staff. Participants in our second workshop will be teachers, middle and high school educators.

We hope. Hoped. I’m not sure at this point.

We received a small NASA grant to develop and host a workshop to communicate and demonstrate NASA educational materials to two local populations. When news came our proposal was accepted, we were really excited. Finally!

And then my university accountants got involved.

Our workshop had an Achille’s Heel we did not see coming. See, we wrote into our grant the capacity to reward, e.g. compensate participants with $50 each in the first workshop, and teachers in the second workshop with $150. I’ve been in workshops where I have received materials, or an Amazon gift card as a means of saying, “Thanks!” I know of faculty who have gone to other universities for workshop who have received similar expressions of gratitude for attending and participating.

However, at my uni, if you attend a workshop and could potentially receive some form of gratitude that has a monetary value, you must become an employee in order to receive it.

For the last two weeks I and my colleague have been waging a Logic War against accountants. The accountants want to treat our workshop attendees as employees. The attendees will be assigned employee numbers. The attendees will have background checks performed by Human Resources. The attendees will have to provide Social Security Numbers and fill out an IRS I-9 form.

On our side, on the side of workshop facilitating, we also have a number of ludicrous chores. We have to distribute our workshop flyers next week for our June workshop. Not a bad idea, really; people need a chance to plan. However, we have to do this so that anyone interested in the workshop can begin the process of becoming a university employee, so the individual can file their I-9, submit a copy of their Social Security Number, and fill out their background check paperwork.

♣”How many participants do you have?
“Nine or ten.
♣”So, you’ll need ten I-9 form so we can do withholding. And, we need their social so we can begin their background check.
“Background check? What? Why?
♣”Well, they are receiving compensation for their work. Being so, we need to enter them into our HR system so they can get paid. Background check is part of the process.
“What work? This is a workshop for educating people about geomentoring.
♣”It is a “work” shop, correct? They will be doing work. If they are doing work, and are working for you, then they are employees, and we have to do withholding on their pay.
“Yes, it is a workshop. We are educating them and training them on some NASA educational materials. But, we aren’t hiring them. Workshops don’t hire people? Are you high…maybe just a teensy-weensy stoned?
♣”Do you control the time of the workshop? When it starts and ends? Do you control the hours they work? Do you tell them what to do?
“Well, of course. It is a workshop, after all. That’s the point. We train them over a given time period. We show them how to do stuff.
♣”So, we are in agreement, then. They show up when you tell them to. They sign in to computers. They follow your instruction. They are then working for you. The gift card is their compensation.
“What? No! They don’t work for me. I have not hired them. I am giving them a $50 gift card to thank them for their participation.
♣”Yes, I know; just like the uni “thanks” you for your work, you get a paycheck.
“Huh? No…wait, I do real work. I teach, I consult, I manage. These people are guests who have signed up to learn how to integrate GIS and remote sensing and NASA educational materials into their classroom.
♣”Who else do they work for? If they are working for us, are the workshop hours going to increase their work week hours into over-time?
“Oh, for shit’s sake, I’m refuse to entertain any more questions because none of this is rooted in Reason or Logic. I refuse to be infected by your crazy-conflation of workshop participants into university employees. By engaging with you, I am complicit in making this Pratchettian situation a reality. I’m not going to play the Copenhagen Interpretation with you, as I fear by humoring you, I bring this absurdity into existence.

While this dialogue is contrived, about 80% is real. The part I concocted is the very last comment. Seriously. 

Additionally, we have been saddled with answering the following questions for each workshop participant:

1. Has the individual provided the same or similar services to other unrelated entities or to the general public as a trade or business during the last 12 months?
2. Will the department provide the individual with specific instructions regarding performance of the required work rather than rely on the individual’s expertise?
3. Can the university set the number of hours and/or days of the week that the individual is required to work, as opposed to allowing the individual to set his/her own work schedule?
“Has the individual provided the same or similar services to other unrelated…” Pardon my French, but how the F should I know?? And what bearing does this have on giving someone in a workshop a gift card to the university bookstore? If Michigan State University can do this with no problem, then why is a small regional university in the South experiencing conniptions about a gift card.
And herein lies the rub. This really isn’t about a gift card. This is really about an obscure policy not simply impacting people in a workshop but imposing a will which has already damaged the reputation of a small regional university with a large Division I research university.
I did not grab Michigan State University’s name at random. As I learned this week, my uni has become, uhm, “uni non gratis” at Michigan State University. Evidently and singularly the result of dealing with our finance department (and potentially HR), Michigan State refuses to work with my university. Too much of hassle.
In my earlier years, I had a few buffers between my contact with contracts and the stream of funds. For a number of reasons, I am much closer to the money, now. I heard tales of ridiculous encounters, paperwork lost, paperwork delayed, micromanaged paperwork. In those days, my superiors would find ways around our local bureaucracy, such as funneling grant or contract money through another university or state agency simply to avoid the Event Horizon of my uni’s accountants. Recently, though, another colleague of mine told me he had worked without a contract for the first month of the semester in 2014. He had recently received a promotion, from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor. In order to clear his old title, he had to be deleted from the payroll system as “Assistant,” then added back as “Associate.” In our system, this cannot be handled by checking a box. Evidently, the process is handled with two mutually exclusive processes, potentially by two different people. One person deletes the entry in the database; the other adds a new entry into a database – when the paperwork arrives. What if the paperwork is never passed along after the “Associate” entry is deleted? Well, you aren’t an employee any longer, that is what happens. When he discovered this (discovered because he no longer had insurance coverage, either) a letter from the college dean and the provost was required to document his employment. “Yes, he is still an employee of the university.”
Neither I, nor my colleague on the workshop, nor my dean, nor the staff of our Sponsored Programs Office have been able to communicate to our Accounts Department, “You cannot treat workshop attendees this way. This literally makes no sense.” I have run across a hand-full of faculty and professional staff who simply do not engage our local community in adult-level workshops due to the obstacles created in our Accounting Office. In a few cases, they network with faculty at other schools in order to use that particular schools accounting office and circumvent our own.
These bizarre and capricious accounting practices damage reputations, both faculty and institutional. They reduce cooperation among schools and institutions. On the one hand, administrators encourage grant submissions, yet the supporting financial offices actively work against the grant awardees and any other associated institution.
My questions are, “Does this ring as familiar with anyone? Has anyone experienced similar situations at their institution? Or, perhaps run across similar problems maybe not at their own school but with another institution?”
PAX

Spring is Finally Here…Maybe


Flooding along Ohio River, March 2015

Flooding along Ohio River, March 2015

The above region depicted in the image above should be familiar to most of us in the United States. The blue “veins” are the regional arteries of part of our nation’s transportation network. Here, we can see flooding along the Ohio River near Henderson, KY. Also, small areas of flooding are located across from Paducah, KY., and west of Ballard, Co., KY., near Cairo, Illinois. If you would like to see a “before” image, visit NASA’s “Earth Observatory” website. We tend to forget rivers in the United States are as important as our system of interstate highways. People notice when roads fall out of repair; we drive on highways all the time. Few of us realize how vital our waterways are for global commerce, not simply for pleasure. Flooding, as well as droughts, can have long-term impacts on the movement of materials within the United States, or the delivery of materials to port facilities, in preparation for shipment to other countries.

Weather Journal for March 25th, 2015

Date of the observation: 3/25/2015

Time of the observation: 13:27 CST

Geographic location: Murray, KY 42071

Air temperature (units: F and C): 74° F / 23° C

Wind speed: 11mph (west-southwest WSW)

Relative humidity (%): 57%

Dew point (units: F and C): 59°F / ° C

Barometric Pressure 30.04in / 1017.27 mb

Heat Index/Wind Chill (units: F): 77° F / 25° C

Skies: Mostly clear, maybe 10% … right now.

Yesterday was the nicest day in weeks, mostly sunny with air temps in the low 70s.

Today is warmer than yesterday, with air temps in the mid-70s at the time of observation. We may be experiencing a little compression warming, which occurs when an air mass gets pinched between two denser air masses. A cold front recently cleared from our area, but a cold front is approaching our area. The air mass in the middle is getting squeezed and this can lead to slightly warmer temps.

Later today, tonight, and tomorrow our region is expected to receive a lot of rain, maybe inches or more by some forecasts. Cold air is moving in from the Plains and the air mass is colliding with warmer, moister air from the Gulf of Mexico. We all know what happens when warm air comes in contact with a cooler mass, we get condensation. We see this happen on the outside of our tasty summertime beverages. We could see a lot of rain from the collision of the cooler air mass with the warmer air mass.

One final note. Spring just began, and will run essentially through the end of June. Some of the questions I pose in the homework ask people to think about when certain types of weather occur, as in “what season?” When temperatures warm, when we get lots of rain, when we get the majority of severe weather, people tend to associate “warm” and “sun” with summer. Yet, summer may not be the precise season when some forms of weather are most likely to occur. Also, bear this in mind. The questions will state, “During what season do most <insert_phenomenon> occur.” The operative word is “most” as in “more than 50%.” Severe weather can occur year-round. However, the vast majority of severe weather occurs predominantly during two seasons.

PAX

Book Review: World Order, by Henry Kissinger


World Order, by Henry Kissinger. Penguin Press. 2014. 420 pgs. $36 

Dr. Kissinger has six books to his credit; this is the only book of his I’ve read. I’m not receiving any compensation for reviewing this book. I did receive the book for free, but only because I entered a Penguin book contest near Christmas of 2014 and this was the book I selected as a winner.

I was not particularly impressed with this book, though perhaps through no fault of Dr. Kissinger or his prose. Perhaps my expectations were misplaced, too. Knowing Dr. Kissinger wrote this book, and the book dealt primarily with how countries and regions sought to achieve some sort of equilibrium, I expected more personal anecdotes, more personal observations, more particular details regarding geopolitics contemporaneous with his career. If you are reading this review in anticipation of purchasing this book, do not buy the book with those hopes in mind.

For the first three chapters, World Order reads like a textbook for an upper-level history or political science course. A history or political science course with a distinct Western bias, for sure. The entire book is couched in the Westphalian System of State Development, in and of itself a development of regional politics and conflict of 17th century Europe. As is often the case with books I read on geopolitics written by those educated in Western society, authors seem to consider nothing outside Europe ever existed, that Europe brought the only models of civilization to the planet.

Chapter Two details the repercussions of the Congress of Vienna, the implementation of the Westphalian system, and establishing a geopolitical order throughout most of western Europe. Essentially, people were not used to identifying with a state (a country), or having to recognize new political boundaries, or aligning themselves with an entity of significantly larger size than a fiefdom. The benefit of recognizing borders and defining areas of control was conflict was minimized. War was not eliminated, but for years after the Congress of Vienna, Europe had witnessed less conflict than in the previous generations. Less war meant being able to redirect resources to other economic pursuits, especially exploration, colonization, and conquest of other world regions.

Reaching beyond Europe brings these nascent world powers into contact with Southwest Asia, a region most media refers to as the Middle East. Kissinger argues, in my opinion, the Westphalian system simply doesn’t work for the Middle East, with a few possible exceptions. The exceptions include Turkey, Iran, perhaps Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Israel I include only because the state of Israel was brought about through force of will by the United Nations and did not (and probably would never have) evolve and rise of its own accord within the Levant region. The remaining portion of the Middle East realm, which also include portions of North Africa comprise a human mosaic of different cultures, different languages, and different religions. Many of these components tend to have sub-parts which are mutually incompatible. The political structures and climate which arose in Europe were never present in the Middle East, for a variety of reasons, thus the Westphalian system lacks any substantive cornerstone on which to build any lasting states. Turkey exists as the last bastion of the Ottoman Empire. Iran exists as the homeland modern Persian state. Saudi Arabia exists through the will of a complicated familial network supporting a monarchy.

Don’t look for any powerful insights into Middle East geopolitics, however. Dr. Kissinger doesn’t include any particular person episode or any chronicle of his experience of working on any major geopolitical issue concerning the Middle East. I found the lack of any experience disappointing.

His views of Asia are also somewhat disappointing, as well. The growth of the Chinese state is passed of as “the single pinnacle of human hierarchy.” To translate, the Chinese emperor was seen as a god, and thus everything existed under him, regardless of where on the global. So, in spite of never having visited Europe, and not even knowing about Europe, Europe is still a subject to the Chinese emperor. While true, the development of the Chinese state was a little more complicated and nuanced than one might understand from reading World Order.

Furthermore, Dr. Kissinger frequently cites from the Arthashastra. The Arthashastra is a journal composed by a 4th century BCE Hindu minister, Kautilya. The particular philosophy set forth by Kautilya in the Arthashastra can be summed up in this quote: “The conqueror shall always endeavor to add to his own power and increase this own happiness.” (pg. 196) This seems to suggest constant conflict as the leader would continue to strive to minimize both internal and external opposition. Ruthlessness was an asset to be used to “build a harmonious universal empire and uphold the dharma – the timeless moral order whose principles were handed down by the gods.” In other words, the Arthashastra promotes war and conflict, with the result being everyone is brought under one dominion led by a benevolent ruler…hopefully.

Admittedly, I did enjoy this particular section as I am not well-versed on Hindu or South Indian culture. I bookmarked the Arthashastra for future research, as I had not run across this reference before. Yes; I know, what cave do I live in.

Dr. Kissinger while being a remarkable personality in U.S. politics, especially the portion of his career overlapping with Richard Nixon, is fairly much loathed throughout in the world. Not included anywhere in this book are the attempts by various U.S. administrations to undermine governments around the world. Nothing notable about Vietnam, though Dr. Kissinger does discuss some of the issues pertaining to Korea, control of the Korean peninsula, and the interests of various nearby global actors, the U.S.S.R., China, and Japan. Not surprisingly, though, there is no mention of any particular activities, such as the carpet-bombing of Cambodia. The meddling in politics in Chile is not to be found, nor any sort of intervention in Central America. I find it very challenging to read a book purporting to be about World Order when the author has first-hand experience sowing the seeds of disorder.

Some of his history seems to be off, too. “Begun in 1904 with American funds and engineering expertise on territory seized from Colombia by means of a local rebellion supported by the United States, he is referencing the Panama Canal. (pg. 251)  This account does not jibe with any other historical evidence I’ve encountered. The Panama Canal was initiated years earlier by the French, by two separate companies, both of which ended up going bankrupt. The U.S. entry into the canal zone was the last and most fruitful, but we certainly did not begin the canal. PBS’s “The American Experience” provides a nice timeline of the Panama Canal effort.

The later chapters of the book seem to gloss over all sorts of contemporary events. Dr. Kissinger spends a good portion of a chapter exonerating President Nixon from a very controversial presidency. President Ford is barely mentioned; President Carter amounts to a paragraph. President Reagan comes across as a savvy geopolitical genius. Both President G.H.W. Bush and President G.W. Bush are credited with being critical-thinkers of their respective geopolitical episodes. Finally, President Obama is described as contributing America’s history of seeming “ambiguous.” An interesting comment considering Dr. Kissinger has been instrumental in developing American foreign policy.

The last chapter seeks to examine the impact of technology, especially social media and smartphones. Dr. Kissinger offers some very salient commentary. He worries about the reliance upon a public opinion as a means of policy-making:

“the participants in the public debate risk being driven less be reasoned arguments than by what catches the mood of the moment…Participants at public demonstrations  are rarely assembled around a specific program. Rather, many seek the uplift of a moment of exaltation, treating their role in the event primarily as participation in an emotional experience.” (pg. 358)

Dr. Kissinger raises many good points. Actually, I wonder if they are his, though. In the epilogue, he admits to not knowing much about technology. In fact, most of his knowledge from his commentary comes from conversations with Eric Schmidt, of Google. Upon realizing, this I again felt somewhat underwhelmed by this book. I would much rather prefer to read about the impact of technology upon people by someone more conversant in technology, like Eric Schmidt himself. I do have to exercise caution with this opinion; I don’t want to discount the importance of the message simply because I would prefer a different messenger.

The quote above is not really prescient; the Fallacy of the Masses has been quite active for a while. Fallacy of the Masses fallacy is the belief that since a large number of people share the same belief that belief must be accurate or true, i.e. “how can all those people be wrong?” The precise concern in our current state of U.S. politics is political leaders will prefer to pander to potentially ignorant populations than actually make good, tough choices based on thoughtful consideration. Leaders will make decisions based on how popular those decisions might make them, eschewing the hard, and potentially better, longer-term decision which could potentially make them less popular – and less electable.

I’d like to recommend this book; I simply cannot. Some aspects might be fine for those without any knowledge of European history. The first two chapters are fine for a brief synopsis of 17th century European history, for instance. Beyond those chapters, the portion about the Hindu world-view is interesting. But this book gives short-shrift to Chinese history, provides a small slice of Hindu history, and does not adequately touch 20th century geopolitics. My sentiment is most of this knowledge is better gathered from other books by other authors, however. About 75% of the way through the book I felt the contents would have been better suited as a few essays in Foreign Affairs. I don’t think there is enough information contained herein to move any conversation forward.

Thanks for reading.

PAX

One Geographer’s Perspective of Slavery, Racism, and the NBA


Recently, I made an irresponsible, insensitive tweet. That tweet does not reflect me, nor my uni, and I offer my sincere apologies to anyone I offended.

I was hoping to elicit a conversation with my tweet, made during a recent Arkansas vs Kentucky basketball game. However, as I am very naive at times, a conversation is not what I got back. I didn’t get any hate email, or any substantially vociferous blow-back; I didn’t get hundreds or thousands of haters. Only one. And the one wasn’t even really offended by what I said. No, he was simply upset because he interpreted, wrongly, my comment as being directed at “his” basketball team – and “no one attacks Kentucky basketball.”

This post is part rebuttal, part observation, and part a discussion of slavery, racism, and to address the specific point I was trying to make, the structural racism within the NBA.

To be clear, these comments represent my own; no one else, just me. And, if my comments come across as supporting racism or as being racist, then I have failed in my message. My intent is to clearly detail my observations, though, honestly, and unfortunately, I have no substantive solutions to offer.

Phil-Jackson-ARKvUK-game

Phil Jackson, president of the New York Knickerbockers, at the recent Arkansas vs Kentucky men’s basketball game.

I debated a long time on how to write this post. Start at the end, work my way backward? Or, start at the beginning, and proceed chronologically? I could make an argument for both. But, indulge me a little, as I am going to go back in time, a little, as this story needs some background.

I have taught world geography since 1997. I have two geography degrees. Teaching world geography presents an amazing opportunity to learn and to teach. In fact, I spend so much time learning about our world and I have very little time to communicate everything. World Geography is a survey course exposing students to a host of global issues and concerns. We talk about deforestation, urbanization, population growth rates, literacy rates, unemployment, regional music, regional food, and great places to visit. World geography is not all fun, though. We have to talk about the ugly part of human society and culture. We have to talk about patriarchal societies (male-dominated) which suppress women and girls, keeping them from educational opportunities, at best, and murdering them for acting against local cultural mores or for engaging in activities construed as being blasphemous. We discuss Pakistan, Afghanistan, and religious extremism. In places, like Malawi, albinos are maimed for body parts to be used in rituals (This is Africa, 2015.)

In 2009, I had a female student from Zambia. In class, when discussing some issues associated with geography of disease, I mentioned a belief, held exclusively by men in some southern African countries, having sex with a virgin was a cure from HIV/AIDS. The Zambian student related essentially the same information as I, as she felt compelled to discuss this issue, too. Another student in class worked in South Africa as part of a mission trip. She worked at an all-girls school. The all-girls school was a compound, surrounded by a tall wall, 10-12ft in height, the top being lined with barbed wired and embedded with broken glass. The top was girded so to keep men from climbing the walls to rape the girls inside.

Teaching geography can be a rewarding experience, however, some people do not like being exposed to the horrific circumstances occurring around them.

Slavery still exists. There are more people in slavery today than in other point in human history (“Modern Slavery;” Freetheslave.com.) By some estimates, there are between 21 – 36 million people trapped in slavery today. Next time you visit your favorite ethnic restaurant, you might be waited upon by a slave. Really. You might be like, “You’re effing kidding me.” No, not really. You can examine this National Geographic online map for some information regarding the global reach of slavery. And, then, allow me to introduce a couple of terms.

Slave: [1] “someone who is legally owned by another person and is forced to work for that person without pay; [2] a person who is strongly influenced and controlled by something” (Merriam-Webster, 2015.)

Indentured Servant: “a person who signs and is bound by indentures to work for another for a specified time especially in return for payment of travel expenses and maintenance” (Merriam-Webster, 2015.)

I have to work from the [2] definition of “slave,” as slavery is more-or-less illegal in today’s society. The person waiting on you who may represent the ethnicity of the restaurant, may be an indentured servant. An indentured servant falls under the classification umbrella of one of the Five Forms of Slavery, “debt slavery,” as outlined by The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Across the United States, the FBI and ICE are arresting hundreds of people every month engaged in human trafficking. A simple internet search of “human trafficking + USA” will results in hundreds of thousands of hits. The illegal movement of people, mainly women and children, across international borders is as prevalent today as any time in human history.

In my in-class world geography courses, I bring these topics up in class. Everyone is uncomfortable. Good, I say. You need to be uncomfortable. “This shit is wrong. I am not going to equivocate, or use any argument of cultural relativism for these circumstances. There are greys areas in the world, and there are black-and-white issues. This is a black-and-white issue. Human trafficking and exploitation of people in dire circumstances is wrong. Effing wrong.” I don’t use the f-word in class, but I will say “effing” as a viable substitute.

OK; that is where I am coming from. I see stuff I do not like very often, and sometimes my mouth gets ahead of my brain.

Now, I posted the picture of Phil Jackson above for a particular reason.

Let me be clear about a few things before I begin: I am not saying Phil Jackson is racist, nor supports racism. Mr. Jackson is well-respected within and outside the NBA. I do not mean to impugn his character. However, his visage as displayed on my television made my mind go places, and I sent a tweet which was insensitive.

Mr. Jackson’s face reminded me of images of old, White southern plantation owners, and old White men who bought, sold, and traded slaves until the Civil War. I have seen Django Unchained a few times and I am reading the Quentin Tarantino comic book, Django-Zorro, right now, so these themes are fresh in my mind. Mr. Jackson even reminded me a little of Mr. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) from Django Unchained, in how his goatee is styled, to the scrutiny is he directing towards 10 Black men on the basketball court.

I thought, “Oh, man; this looks horrible. Here we have an old White man, resembling – maybe only to me – the southern White plantation owner who oversees a new batch of Black men to put to work. Uhg… Why does this happen?” My heart sunk, because in that one image of Phil Jackson I saw a hundred-plus years of slavery and racism.

But, not only history of slavery and racism, but current issues with at least racism, and perhaps “debt slavery.” Phil Jackson represents the NBA; he is the president of the New York Knickerbockers. While not an owner, per se, he represents the pinnacle of front office management. Of all NBA teams, 97% or owned by wealthy White men (“3 Leagues, 92 Teams, 1 Principal Black Owner,”538.com.) The lone exception: the Charlotte Hornets, with Michael Jordan as the principal owner.

In 2011, the NBA owners locked out players on July 1. The major point of contention was distribution of wealth; the owners wanted to reduce player income by 10%, from 57% to 47%. During the period of negotiations, Bryant Gumbel on his HBO Real Sports show likened David Stern’s (NBA Commissioner) role in the lockout to a “modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys … keeping the hired hands in their place” (2011 NBA Lock-out; wikipedia.) Author William C. Rhoden (NYT sports columnist) in his book $40 Million Slaves had earlier dealt with the topic of players as “slaves” in spite of earning millions of dollars” (2011 NBA Lock-out; wikipedia.) During the same negotiations, NBA Players Union lawyer Jeff Kessler criticized the owners’ “take it or leave it” bargaining approach: “instead of treating the players like partners, they’re treating them like plantation workers” (2011 NBA Lock-out; wikipedia.)

Yet, even before the 2011 NBA lock-out, important Black leaders were drawing attention to problems with the owner-players relationship. In 2010, after LeBron James made his intentions of leaving Cleveland known, the Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert penned an angry tirade against LeBron. Rev. Jesse Jackson had this to say about Mr. Gilbert:

“He [Gilbert] speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers,” the reverend said in a release from his Chicago-based civil rights group, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. “His feelings of betrayal personify a slave-master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner-employee relationship — between business partners — and LeBron honored his contract.” (ESPN)

Recently, Donald Sterling, owner of Los Angeles Clippers, was found to have made racially inflammatory statements about his players and Clippers fans. Even more recently, Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson issued an email about how Black people “scared away the whites” (The NBA’s Racism is Structural, Not Just Individual; Colorlines.) While Bruce may have been trying to address the inherent racism among Hawks fans, he did a poor job of getting his message across, and offered no solutions.

Like me. Here is my tweet:

“May just be me, but Phil Jackson looks like a southern plantation owner looking to buy a few slaves.

Yes; my tweet contains two inflammatory words: “plantation” and “slaves.” I am 100% in agreement with that assessment. Now, do I believe Phil Jackson is a slave owner? Honestly, not in the traditional sense, perhaps. Do I think any college basketball players is a slave? Again, not in the traditional sense.

If anyone else had been in that Rupp Arena seat but Phil, I’m sure my brain would have reacted differently. If Michael Jordan was scouting, or Magic, or Isaiah Thomas, or Karl Malone, or Patrick Ewing had been sitting down front scouting the Wildcats or the Razorbacks I doubt I would have had any reaction. But, seeing Phil sitting there did not sit well with me.

My tweet was really meant to communicate, “Hey, I am a White guy and I see an uncomfortable situation that is borderline racially insensitive occurring right now, on my television, just like what Bryant, and William, and Jeff (though Jeff is White) were saying during the 2011 NBA lock-out!” But, as good intentions sometimes work out, my message was not taken that way by one fellow. Now, he and some cohorts have taken it upon themselves to attack me, people I know, and organizations I am affiliated with on Twitter, on Facebook, and via emails directed at specific people.

But there is a HUGE problem my stupid and insensitive tweet was trying to draw attention to, a problem with many facets. Let me enumerate them, in no particular order:

  1. One White gentleman sitting in judgment of 10 Black men.
  2. One White gentleman judging 10 men Black men on nothing other than athleticism (that I can see), i.e. not based on grades, intelligence, compassion, contribution to community.
  3. One White gentleman judging who, among those Black men, is best able to make his team more money, even more profitable.
  4. Basketball players get drafted based on athletic skills; they do not “apply,” they get little choice of what team they are drafted by.
  5. Basketball players are contractually bound, and unable to move freely from team-to-team until they achieve “free agency.” Free agency…as opposed to what…?
  6. The allure of NBA creates unreasonable optimism among youth, encouraging minorities to abrogate their education in favor of a potential NBA career. And, I find this disappointing.
  7. 97% of NBA teams are white-owned.
  8. 76% of NBA teams are African-American.
  9. 18% of NBA teams have African-Americans in the front office or in management positions.
  10. I have no idea about gender composition in the NBA, or the WNBA, for that matter.

I do not want to offend anyone, really. I will be the first to admit I do not know enough Black people, and know zero Hispanic people at this point in my life. And, I will be the first to admit I do not know much about Black culture (see my post, “The Geography of Blackness.)” However, I do support Black culture, as I write about in a post from February, 2013, “Why Black History Month Matters.” Educators who do not understand how to integrate the issues associated with Civil Rights do not need to be in a classroom, in my opinion. Nor do people who advocate Creationism or Intelligent Design, but I’ve written about that issue previously.

The United States needs “People of Color” (PoC) to stay in school, especially Black men. To undermine, to alleviate, to eliminate the structural racism endemic in our society, the best way in my opinion, is from the inside. Educated people hire other educated people, other educated Blacks and Hispanics, and as a result we all take ownership of making our society better and stronger, over time. I personally fight with my athletes every semester to pay attention, to do assignments, to focus.

You have to protect yourself. Don’t shrug off your education. Your education will stay with you for a lifetime. No one can take away your education. Your education is protection against being taken advantage of by unscrupulous agents, supposed friends, “financial advisers” and others who would drain you of your livelihood. And, what are you going to do if your dream doesn’t pan out? What if your only game is playing abroad, in Italy, or the Czech Republic? What if you suffer a career-ending injury, one or two years into your career? What are you going to fall back on?

These are the pleas I submit to my athletes when I seem them faltering in my classes. No, I rarely get any kind of reply from them. They either listen to me quietly, or the ignore my emails, or they turn me over to their coach. So very frustrating. Our society needs more Black accountants, chemists, physicists, doctors, veterinarians, etc.

Events in Ferguson, Missouri are evidence of how far our U.S. society has to go. While race relations have progressed since the 1960s, too many White people pass along their culture of animosity and bigotry to their children. Even today, a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma is being disbanded (hopefully) for being overtly racist. There is no room in our 21st century society for those attitudes. I don’t like the N-word, I have never used the N-word, and I don’t like hearing Black people call each other the N-word.

When I hear Black people use the N-word with each other, I hear this: “You will never be anything. You were a slave, are a slave, and will always be a slave. Remember our history; you won’t amount to anything.” To me, the N-word is way of repressing people. Maybe I’m wrong; I’m wrong a lot. Maybe someone can help me interpret that word another way – I still won’t ever use it, though. I knew from the earliest age I can remember that word was ugly.

But, now, I’m faced with charges of being a racist by one person on Twitter, and he is making waves for me. Being called, “racist,” has literally brought me close to vomiting, makes me sick to my stomach. I haven’t put much thought to this but my initial view is being a racist is not much of an improvement over being called a “pederast” or “pedophile.” I’m literally sickened by the accusation.

I have talked about this circumstance with a few of my Black friends, one of whom had an interesting comment. “Now, you know how each of us feels when we actually experience racism and discrimination. That is the way we feel early in our lives. Now that I’m older, I can handle it better, it doesn’t feel as bad, you get immune to it, get used to ignoring it. But, it still feels bad.”

I took that knowledge and magnified my feelings 1,000x’s. Take the most humiliating experience you’ve ever had. Now, multiply those feelings by 1,000. How would you feel? And, guess what? You can’t do anything about it – not in this case – because people are humiliating you because of your skin color. Ignorance can be remedied by knowledge; mistakes can be corrected. Second chances can be awarded. How do you give a Second Chance for being Black? Or Chinese? Or Hispanic?

Racism is a pestilence.

Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, most of my friends were Black kids, and were predominantly Black girls, actually. My sister’s best friend was a Mexican girl. Rochelle has been a life-long friend to my sister, actually. I haven’t kept up with any of my high school friends. But, my neighborhood had many Black families, and all of them had girls my age. So, most of the girls I knew growing up were Black girls, and most of my friends throughout my entire primary and secondary education were Black kids. My closest Black friend, I wouldn’t know until high school. I would ride my bike 45 minutes, one-way, to visit my friend, John.

I did have one moment of cowardice in junior high. A couple of my Black girl friends told me one of their friends, also a Black girl, had a crush on me. This information created a certain amount of anxiety in my head, and a freak-out moment. Yes, part of this anxiety was because LaTonya was Black, but she was also one of the prettiest girls in school, and I was like, “What the hell does she want with this snotty-nose kid?” I had a lot of bad allergies in junior high. Another part of my anxiety derived from my mom being a teacher at the very same school and she forbade me from having girlfriends, period, no matter what color they were. I didn’t have my first girlfriend until I was a junior in college. Honest-to-God truth. The final part of my anxiety had to due with my dad being an unabashed racist. He used the N-word whenever he talked about Black people and ignored my mother’s commands to stop. And, that is why I know the N-word is an ugly word.

But I digress.

I cannot admit to going out of way to promote Black culture; I simply do what I think is right or helps people. In 2007, one of my graduate students was a Black female. I worked with her for about 18 months, the result of our work culminating in a great job in Washington, D.C. I recently helped a girl’s middle school basketball coach at predominantly Black city school. To help encourage her players, and her students, I bought her Maya Angelou‘s recent CD of poetry set over contemporary hip-hop music. My teacher-friend and I are always scouring bookstores for books on African-American culture and historical figures to help promote positive Black role models among all youth, White, Black, Asian, whoever. She and I realize Black youth need to see Black people of different backgrounds to help their aspirations; and we also realize positive Black role models must be promoted to White children in order to combat the racism practiced prevalent in too many White homes. I do know that each of us must work to break the cycle of racism, that White people, especially some politicians, and some political groups, must stop believing we live in a “post-racial society.” We clearly – CLEARLY – do not live in a post-racial society. Not even close. We are heading in the right direction; slowly yet surely. With each new generation our American society is getting better.

By writing this post I run the risk of sounding like I want an award or some sort of recognition. Nope; I don’t. I don’t want any recognition and I don’t believe I am worthy of any recognition. On the other hand, I don’t feel having my life and my workplace impacted by people calling me “racist” is fair, or even correct. I am not a racist; nor do I hold bigoted sentiments against gays or lesbians or transgender people. People need the right to lead their lives, make each day better for themselves, marry whoever they choose. No government should have the authority to govern marriage, other than to allow people to get married, divorced, and acknowledge those circumstances.

But I’m on my soap-box, now.

We all make mistakes; we all say or do things we may not entirely contemplate the severity of the response, or how some people relish taking words out of context in order to make themselves appear more important. If we want to strive to have real, true discussions about race in the United States, all of us have to work at having open minds and cannot and should not leap upon a single statement as means of invalidating every prior or subsequent comment or action, at least not without giving the person or group an opportunity to clarify their message. Then, react, if necessary.

Let me close by reiterating a variation on my opening:

I made an irresponsible, insensitive tweet. The message contained with the tweet does not reflect me, nor my uni, and I offer my sincere apologies to my Black friends, co-workers, and anyone else I offended.”

Thanks for reading.

PAX

Aquatic Drones for Environmental Research


The United States has long been exemplary of our societies support for innovation and entrepreneurship. Individuals from George Washington Carver, Otis Boyken, Thomas Edison, to Ellen Ochoa and Steve Jobs, the environment of creation has helped establish the United States as having the best climate for developing new technology and for entrepreneurship.

Now upon us, upon American society, is a new age of “personal makership” to coin a new term, maybe. While the United States has never had a want, a desire to make and improve, the technology has generally been out of the range of all but the most sacrificing of people. Today, though, a host of complementary technologies are now available to Americans of all ages, from 8-year old to 80-year old entrepreneurs. Technologies like 3D printers (Makerbot, Cubify), scanners (Cubify), computer-controlled milling machines and routers are now at price points within the grasp of thousands of people. Internet-based companies offer printing and fabrication services for people who would rather not buy equipment but uses someone else’s capital. New companies like Make, Arduino, and Littlebits create opportunities to learn, engage, and create using microcomputers. Old companies, like Intel, now offer new micro-boards for people to use in various projects.

drone-medium-Mars-Spirit-Rover-MER-A-3000x2250

Mars Spirit rover (Source: mars.nasa.gov)

All things considered, this is a very exciting time for millions of people. Never has so much been available to so many at such a low cost of entry, perhaps ever in the history of Humanity. And, these opportunities will only get better, not worse.

Drones, otherwise described as “unmanned aerial systems” or “Unmanned aerial vehicles,” are without any doubt an exciting and fascinating component of our environment, from this moment in history forward. Scientists have been using drones for decades. Oceanographers have been using remote vehicles for surveying ocean depths for decades. Meteorologists have been using drones for collecting atmospheric data. Even NASA’s space probes are really unmanned drones dispersed through our local solar system neighborhood, really. Curiosity, Spirit, and Opportunity are really terrestrial drones.

Drones have captured the world’s attention through their use as a platform for launching missiles at al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, and ISIS. Our military has used them for spying, for keeping countries honest about military actions, and for blasting people and equipment to smithereens. However, drones, UAVs, UASs, have many more useful and benign uses. Unfortunately, military applications have trashed drone reputation, and redemption of reputation through appropriate drone applications is going to be challenging. When the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) appears to require all drones regardless of size to keep a physical copy of a flight manual aboard the drone [techcrunch], even people in our own U.S. government may present the biggest challenge to drone use.

I don’t want to focus on the military applications of drones for this post. That is a series of posts into-and-of themselves. For this post, I want to focus upon a very singular application and entreat any interested parties, e.g. Google, Hexagon, or ESRI, to consider these thoughts.

Painting Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia by Charles Marion Russell (Source: wikipedia)

For most of human history, we have gained knowledge about our environment by sending humans “into the field” to collect “ground truth” or, as my first graduate professor preferred, “ground reference information; because, really, what is Truth?” Scientists ventured out themselves, or sent students, or sent themselves and students, or hired locals with student over-sight; whatever the permutation, people had to venture out. Now, we have the technology, almost but-not-quite ubiquitous, to replace or at the very least, supplement, our information collection efforts for our environment. To be clear, I don’t think people will ever be fully replaced. We should always maintain some “hands-on” curiosity of our environment, and always remain a little suspicious of any data collected. Data captured by drones should be never be beyond scrutiny.

The Leica-Aibotix X6 hexacopter; good for utility line surveys.

The Leica-Aibotix X6 hexacopter; good for utility line surveys. (Source: author)

Many companies have been founded upon the promise of drones and associated technologies. Some companies, particularly those serving economic sectors whose clients need frequent aerial imagery are also getting in on the action. Utility companies, gas and mining companies, agriculture-based corporations, plus government agencies such as the National Parks Service, need recurrent aerial imagery and surveys simply to manage assets. Leica Geo-systems, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hexagon Group, showcased a nice hexacopter at the ESRI User Conference in 2013. The Aibotix X6 is capable of handling a variety of image sensors, from simple RGB digital cameras, to multispectral sensor cameras, even to supporting some LiDAR systems.

Liquid Robotics prototype aquatic drone featured at ESRI UC 2013. (Source: author)

Liquid Robotics prototype aquatic drone featured at ESRI UC 2013. (Source: author)

What fascinated me at the ESRI International Users Conference, a conference replete with Makers – I mean the place is lousy with cool, innovative people, excited to meet the challenges of our environment head-on – what fascinated me was a couple of fellows from Stanford and their nifty aquatic drone. These two students had just formed their own company, Liquid Robotics, to develop and build unmanned data collection devices for gathering information on the open ocean. I found their aquatic drone mesmerizing. A simple, surfboard-looking device; no, more like a sealed kayak, maybe. Flat on top, with a keel several inches deep. The flat dorsal surface was covered with solar panels to generate enough power for the communications equipment and sensors. The unit is not self-powered; the drone merely floats along on the waves, broadcasting position via coordinates gathered from the on-board GPS. The drone deploys a series of blades from the keel which catch the current, propelling the drone in the same direction as the current.

At the time I chatted with the founders of Liquid Robotics, their drone essentially measured current velocity, sea surface temperature (SST), and a longitude, latitude (x,y) coordinate, plus all the ephemeral data coincident with collecting a GPS coordinate. I asked, “But, what about other measurements? Water temperature? Salinity, or other characteristics? Will future versions collect samples?” Yes, they replied, they had plans on providing upgrades and different models to accommodate clients needs. I continued my line of questioning. “What about freshwater? What about developing devices for collecting information about our freshwater bodies of water? What about reservoirs, or the Great Lakes, or the Great Salt Lake? Do you have any plans on developing devices for those bodies of water?”

Their reply took me aback. “No. Why would we want to develop for reservoirs? Those are just standing bodies of water.” OK, so, these guys are engineers at Stanford. They are not stupid. However, clearly they do not understand the hydrodynamics of reservoirs very well. Reservoirs, pretty much by definition, are created by the impoundment of moving water. While the study of ocean water and associated currents is extremely important for climate research, the study of freshwater resources is critical for understanding critical ecosystems directly connected to our food supply, energy, human health, and the geopolitics of water. I think I left an impression upon them, but not sure how deep the impression went.

SFBaykeeper-UAS-GoogleEnter Google, and more specifically, Google.org. Google.org manages a program which lends a Google StreetView camera to groups or organizations with interesting projects. Recently, I ran across an article showcasing the use of a Google StreetView camera to collect imagery along the San Francisco Bay. The Google StreetView camera was attached to a remotely-controlled motorized platform, operated by people located on a nearby boat. What an amazing prototype, right? However, development cannot stop with merely mounting a Google StreetView camera to essentially what amounts to a modified catamaran.

A lengthy post, as most of mine tend to be, but stay with me as I am going to bring in some other related projects and expose the potential for far more mature endeavors.

Reservoir Research Using UAVs and Landsat 8 Satellite Imagery

If unfamiliar with Google and Google’s own directed research to help environmental causes, I encourage you to watch the YouTube video below. Google’s own server farms host USGS Landsat 8 imagery for researchers world-wide. Anyone who has ever used what I consider to be the granddaddy of all Internet applications, Google Earth, has used Landsat 5, 7, and most recently, Landsat 8 satellite imagery. Landsat imagery forms the foundation basemap imagery against which all other imagery is overlaid.

At Murray State University, the Hancock Biological Station (HBS) monitors the Tennessee River watershed, including the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kentucky Lake. HBS uses a number of different technologies to gather water quality information covering one of the most important and historical waterways in the United States. HBS collects data from fixed locations which also double as osprey nests. Other fixed sources include a small number of buoys. These technologies broadcast data back to HBS using SMS, incorporated with data which has been collected for decades.

The third data collection method in use at Hancock is a boat. Yes, a boat. On a regular basis, HBS deploys a manned boat to collect all sorts of information. I’ve been on a couple cruises to observe and help. Water samples are collected, at depth. Turbidity is assessed. Water temperature, wind speed, wind direction, dissolved oxygen are measured. A large number of in situ tests are run, as well as samples collected for later analysis. Each cruise hits 14 to 17 randomly selected sampling sites. At each location the same procedures are duplicated. On November 8th, 2013, Hancock conducted its 500th monitoring cruise.

Now, I said, “…on a regular basis,…” Specifically, HBS deploys its boat every 16 days. Why every 16 days? The Landsat 8 satellite has a return frequency of 16 days, meaning Landsat 8 can image the same Earth location every 16 days. Thus, knowing the return schedule of Landsat 8, HBS plans its monitoring schedule around the return visit of Landsat 8. In fact, over the course of the program, HBS planned each monitoring mission around Landsat 5 and Landsat 7. HBS skips a mission or two in the winter months; a mission is planned every 32 days. Over 200 students and faculty from around the world have used Murray State University and Hancock Biology Station to advance the progress of water science studies.

Find out more about Hancock Biology Station

What I envision is a fleet of SFBaykeeper-style aquatic drones for monitoring Kentucky Lake and nearby Lake Barkley. Currently, HBS monitors 17 stations in the middle reach of Kentucky Lake, and no stations on Lake Barkley. Station management and College of Science faculty, staff, and students have long dreamed of expanding data collection for Kentucky Lake / Tennessee River System, and adding the Lake Barkley / Cumberland River System to the research program. A fleet of aquatic drones, each member pre-programmed to hit a precise location, could be deployed to coincide with the Landsat 8 overpass. Each member would be equipped with instruments for collecting samples and running analysis. The members would then return to HBS for staff to retrieve water samples.

Sure; there are a number of concerns. Some traits of interest of volatile; some chemicals, like those from agricultural pesticides and herbicides do not last long once removed from the lake. Perhaps the fleet collects the data they are best able to measure; some remaining analysis may require a human visit. However, a fleet may allow a “division of labor,” allowing human staff to hit more locations to collect the volatile samples, while the fleet members collect the low-hanging fruit.

My point is: considerable work has been performed already to control automated deployment and dispersal of drones. When coupled to GPS and the cellular network, the drone fleet would bring fantastic growth to a mature and robust monitoring reservoir monitoring program.

Europa Sensor Platform

Europa, Jupiter’s water moon. (Source: space.com)

Agreed; my next idea is a bit of a reach. However, any sensor platform developed for Planet Earth could be modified for use elsewhere.

One of the more intriguing locations within our solar system, besides Mars, is Europa. Europa is a moon of Jupiter with a tendency to eject plumes of water, water vapor, or some gaseous fluid closely resembling H2O. The development of an aquatic drone, or an aquatic-capable drone, here on Earth, tested and run through a variety of stress tests, would have at least two positive outcomes. First, the unmanned aquatic vehicle (UAV) technology could be directly applied to any reservoir or other large body of water. Second, the platform could be later adapted for bathymetric surveys, for search-and-rescue, or monitoring of other watershed parameters. Third, the UAV technology could then be modded for other environments, i.e. Europa.

In this post, I have set forth some arguments to push for development of a mature aquatic drone research product. I would like to see my university develop such a device. I have support from several faculty, some staff, and others who appreciate the ideas I’ve outlined above. Murray State University is a small regional university albeit with a modicum of success in some of the areas detailed above. Our engineering program did well in a NASA-sponsored “2008 Great Moonbuggy Race” where the MSU team claimed 2nd place. But, what I am proposing pushes all universities parties to some extremes.

What Google has done in assisting in the creation of the SFBaykeeper has so many applications, the implications stagger me a bit. So very cool what is going on with people engineering things in their garage, in their homes, with industry support, who often, like Google, provide mentors to guide and oversee use of technology.

We live in truly innovative times.

Universities Cannot Afford Nonsense Bureaucracy


To be clear, I am not tenured faculty, nor will I ever be, unless a Prime Mover intercedes on my behalf, or my life circumstances alter significantly to allow me another opportunity to pursue a terminal degree. I suspect I will succumb to a terminal illness before that ever happens, though.

My position on campus brings me into contact with faculty, staff, and students from all over campus. I share a building with physics faculty, biology faculty, water science and geoscience faculty, military science faculty, and archaeology faculty. And this is just the building my office is located in. My building also houses Student Support Services. I also frequently work with business and marketing faculty, economics, and agriculture faculty. I get around. I know, that sounds provocative but because I am involved in geospatial education I do get around and visit many areas across my campus. Oh, and education faculty. Yeesh, I almost forgot them.

This month I had an interesting experience with a university academic committee, a high-level committee responsible for evaluating new courses, degree programs, and certificate programs. Historically, whenever I’ve been involved with assisting with modding a course, or a degree program, I’ve never been the one to shepherd the proposal through committee. This time was different.

This time, I was responsible for shepherding the proposal through committee because I was the primary author of the proposal. However, I needed a faculty sponsor since I am merely a non-tenure track lecturer. My sponsor set me up as a “proxy” so I could be allowed to speak in defense of my own proposal. I’m setting aside for this anecdote my background of teaching for my department since 1997 and having served under three chairs, five deans, and have witnessed a near-complete turnover in my department faculty over the intervening years. I’m discounting this…I think.

My proposal was for the creation of a Certificate in GIS program. The purpose of the program is simple: to provide yet another valid form of competency for our GIS majors. Last fall, a recent post-baccalaureate student mentioned he ran across an employer who would not hire him for lack of a Certificate in GIS. “Yes, I see from your college transcripts you have GIS courses with good grades. I still need a Certificate of GIS in order to give you an interview.” This anecdote lit a fire under me, angered me, and I decided to do something about this. The student’s story was only the most recent evidence of problems I have within the business community when hiring students, yet I cannot do anything about ignorant employers. I can only, hopefully, help adapt my program to meet the needs of our students, to help improve their chances of gaining employment. So, I set about to develop a Certificate in GIS program not only to help students in my department but to help students in any department who may need to demonstrate fundamental proficiency in GIS (geographic information systems/science.)

The problem is: my department and various faculty within my department have worked for about 17 years to create and implement a Certificate in GIS program.

Yes; you read that right. 17 years.

Faculty in my department initiated our very first proposal as early as 1998 to develop a Certificate in GIS program. Over the intervening 17 years, faculty tried submitting proposals a number of times only to see each proposals never get out of our college. And, for a while, there was a policy, “The college will only support one certificate proposal for this academic year.” Then, we had to deal with a rumor, “The Board of Regents is not accepting any certificate proposals for the foreseeable future.” That rumor persisted for many years and had the effect of shutting down any further proposal work.

When I was elected to Staff Congress I developed a good working relationship with our Staff Regent, and when she left the Board of Regents, her replacement was the president of Staff Congress, with whom I already had a good working relationship.

Working through the new Staff Regent we discovered the Board of Regents had no such anti-certificate policy. In fact, the Board of Regents were pro-certificates; one need to only satisfy the submission and evaluation process for the University.

With this new knowledge and evidence, I could claim, “shenanigans,” on anyone attempting to subvert a certificate proposal. Fortunately, I did not have to do this. But, I did have to discuss the creation of the certificate proposal with my chair and my dean to let them know this proposal was going to happen.

I’m hoping at this point you might be thinking, “Wow…what a Charlie-Foxtrot,” aka SNAFU (situation:normal=all fouled-up). And, yes, I agree. What a huge problem.

Universities have many, many roles, primarily to provide “higher education” above and beyond what a person might receive from a community college or from a trade or vocation school. Universities and college are institution of higher learning, meaning faculty and staff are going to foster more liberal education on to students, more history, more writing, more humanities. This is by design. Universities must be different than DeVry, different than ITT Tech, different than the Culinary Institute of America, or the Art Institute of America. To wax politically for a moment, this is what the Scott Walker’s of the United States fail to intellectually realize, and why he and his ilk should not be allowed to hold any high-level public office. Walker has no business being governor, let alone POTUS. Maybe a mayor. The U.S. deserves better than to have intellectually enfeebled persons holding office.

Universities have some obligation to meet the needs of business and enterprise, however. Universities need to be receptive to changing environments in technology, for example, and allow internal colleges and departments latitude to mod their curriculum as necessary to meet the changing needs of whatever economic sector associated degrees represent.

For disinterested bureaucrats to stymy change is hurtful fundamentally to students. Whether it is ineffectual faculty, ineffectual teaching, or stonewalling necessary curriculum changes, academic leaders need to be flexible and adaptive to change. THAT IS WHAT EDUCATION IS ABOUT – CHANGING AND ADAPTING WHEN CONFRONTED WITH NEW EVIDENCE.

I had an interesting conversation with my building neighbor, a wildlife management professor. He related a story about wildlife managers in the American Southwest and their knowledge of coyotes. Evidently, Chicago is having problem with urban coyotes. Chicago coyotes have adapted to the smell of humans, and have no problems getting into and out of small places. Thus, Chicago coyotes are very easy to trap. They aren’t afraid of confined areas and they are not put off by the smell of humans. The Southwest U.S. wildlife managers were unable to accept this knowledge of Chicago coyotes simply because, “Our coyotes are too wary of traps because they don’t like confined spaces and can smell a slight trace of human contact on a trap and because our coyotes behave this way I cannot believe your coyotes act that way.” And this coming from educated people who study how animals adapt to environmental changes yet are unable to accept coyotes adapt to an urban environment…Yeah, because no animal has ever adapted to a new or changed environment.

I will admit I say, “No,” all the time. I say, “No,” because with “no” I can get an explanation, the person must communicate their process, in detail, benefitting them in a number of ways. The student (or faculty) get the practice of communicating complex ideas. I can then help them evaluate their process, look for weaknesses, or strengths, or obstacles they may not have considered. Rarely does a “no” remain a “no.” I have found a “yes” typically results in the student walking away only to discover a vast number of problems later, problems we could have reduced if I had initially replied with, “No, but tell me about it.”

Universities, regional to flagships, need to be more pro-active about listening to faculty, faculty ideas, and instill a modicum of trust in people. The policy of, “The college will support only one certificate proposal per year,” is a baseless policy. What if Chemistry could offer some Certificate of Laboratory Management? What if Physics could offer a Certificate of Laboratory Management? Or, if Occupational Safety and Health could offer a number of certificates? I’m not clear on the rationale for limiting a college to a single certificate proposal when a significant number of students could benefit by working towards any number certificates from granted by a number of different departments.

Before I close this post out, I was amused by a part of the quality control process. The last portion of the process was essentially a scrutiny of grammar, punctuation, and formatting.

“You’re missing a semi-colon at the end of Item 3, sub-part (b).”

“I think you are missing an “and” after the comma.”

“Are you using this word as a noun or an adjective?”

I was really amused when one committee member held the sheets of a proposal up to the overhead lights. “I think your left margin is off on page 2 of your syllabus. Looks like it shifted over by one character. Yep, I’m almost sure it’s off.” I thought that was funny, until I realized if this is what stops a proposal from being accepted, some minutae associated with a page coming off a printer a little askew, I might lose my shit. Fortunately, for me, them, whomever, that did not happen.

The proposal I spent three full works drafting went through both reading of the university committee with zero revisions and zero comments. My faculty sponsor was shocked. She had served on the committee years ago, said “this never happens. Something must be wrong.” Nope. The proposal is now almost a sure thing at this point. While I wrote proposal I did submit several drafts to faculty and peers for review. Their comments I reviewed and I made changes along the way. This proposal did not occur in a vacuum. Successful proposals rarely occur in a rarified environment. They have to be exposed to light, allowed to breath, cough out the bad stuff, inhale the good stuff.

Honestly, this time the biggest hurdle was my own departmental curriculum committee. The proposal did not have unanimous support, by one dissenter. Sort of an interesting sub-story with the dissenter. As a tenured faculty, he had been the early proponent and sponsor of a few previous proposals, all of which failed. Now, on the cusp of a proposal with a good chance of getting through, he threw some shade my way.

“Who wrote this? Why is it coming from him? Who decided what courses would comprise the core? Who decided what courses comprise the electives? Who decided on the name of the certificate?”

We had an interesting meeting. He and I don’t get along. My proposal included details from the top 20 certificate-granting institutions plus details on the certificate programs offered by our regional competitors. He had no evidence to support his contentions and argued against my evidence. Perhaps a post for another time, but ego has no role in higher education where students are concerned. Unfortunately, his comments painted him into a corner, and faculty who hadn’t really witnessed his tendency to be unreasonable were now witness to his uncooperativeness in person. I did not concede to his name change as no one on Earth’s green earth would have google searched for “certificate in geospatial science technology.” I did kowtow and removed a course I teach and replaced for a course he teaches. Now, two of his courses comprise 2/3rds of the certificate core and 0/3rds of my courses are in the core. I moved my course to an elective. Our majors won’t be affected by the change as my course is a core course in our major.

However, again and to the point of the post, faculty, whether as chairs, deans, or at whatever level they achieve and to fight against the attitude of shutting down innovation, fight against ossified thinking, be flexible to new ideas, be nimble and pay attention to changes in not only their discipline but any ancillary disciplines. One never can be sure where new ideas may come from which can be modded for use within a seemingly unrelated discipline.

When I coach, I tell my players, “Head’s up! Eyes Open!” This is how education always ought to be.

——————

Shout-out to my new subscribers! Thanks for reading and choosing to subscribe:

Michael Lawrence Langan, aka “Disrupted Physician

Coast Light, aka “The Light Within

FestReviews, aka “Festival Reviews

Lindsey Lipsky, aka “Lindsey Lipsky

Garrick Crump, aka “Garrick Crump

Rohan, aka “Writing Stories Rocks

BDHesse, aka “BDHesse

Hessian with Teeth, aka “Hessian with Teeth

Elan Mudrow, aka “The Ridges of The Ridges of Intertextuallity

#PAX

Some Comments On Recent Weather


The following is a post I wrote for an “Understanding Weather and Climate” course I teach each semester, online. I’m not sure all will read; it’s about 2000 words. Like I tend to think, “You payz your money, you takes your chances.” If anyone detects any errors, factual or otherwise, please let me know. I appreciate your attention.

I’ve been collecting images over the last couple days. I was hoping to go over these as sort of a postmortem on the changing weather, looking back on the last few days to see how we got to today.

In the image at left I have placed black arrows at the 5400m level (500mb). This is a diagnostic level where moisture above this is frozen, below this level is liquid. By examining this level we can determine who might get snow and who might get rain. In this image, regions to the right of the arrows, in the blues and purples, will be getting snow. Light blues, greens and oranges will be getting rain, if anything.

In this image I have highlighted two areas. The yellow ellipse highlights the transition zone between the amounts of available atmospheric moisture for precipitation. The larger the number the greater the amount of precipitation possible. Light areas have greater moisture than darker areas. The black circle highlights western Kentucky and the Jackson Purchase. You will have to make a mental note of your location in case you are located somewhere else.

One thing to keep in mind as we examine these images is that these maps are based off data collected at a moment in time; they are static images, not dynamic. While informative, they don’t convey the movement of air masses. We will consider that in a moment.

The image is simply upper level (850mb) temperature with western Kentucky highlighted with a black circle. In this case, cool colors represent warmer temps, and warmer colors represent ridiculously cold temperatures. For instance, the light blue areas represent areas with temperatures of about -2°C. As you look to the purples and reds, the temperature decreases. The area of western Kentucky is about -22°C.

These are not surface temperatures, to be clear. These are temperatures aloft, at an altitude of about 5,000ft, maybe a little lower. As water molecules fall if they pass through cold air, they will freeze. Depending on the thickness of the layer they pass through, snow, ice or sleet will form. If the surface layer is warm and thick enough the water droplets will thaw and fall as really cold rain. In the summertime, if the rain feels really cold to you, quite possible the rain droplets initially fell as ice and then melted as they passed through warmer air layers.

Here is the image I was referring to earlier when I mentioned something about these images being static and not properly showing the dynamic nature of the atmosphere.

This image shows a portion of the upper level Jet Stream. Sidebar: When we talk about events in the atmosphere we refer to altitudes. Balloons, aircraft, clouds, etc., have altitude. They not have elevation. Elevation refers to objects on the surface of the Earth and their height above Mean Sea Level. Mountains, buildings, towers, and such objects fixed to the surface have elevation. Buildings do not have altitude – they do not fly through the air. Aircraft do not have elevation – usually, unless they are sitting on the tarmac awaiting permission to depart, or they crash. Clouds can have elevation in special cases. Those cases we call “fog.”

The Jet Stream featured here is at an altitude of about 38,000ft. The arrows show direction; the arrow color indicates wind speed. Notice how all the arrows are mostly parallel? This is what is called “zonal” air movement and is generally not a good thing. In summertime, zonal movement usually brings extensive drought. The “kinks” or “curls” in air movement provide the instability necessary to generate weather systems – in the summer.

In the winter, the same circumstance can occur and create dry and very cold conditions. Zonal winds tend to create a clearing effect moving weather rapidly out of place. Clear skies allow for more heat (long-wave radiation) to radiate back to space and can create very cold temps. And this is sort of what has happened. Except we have had some large weather systems develop over Alaska and the northern Pacific which carry a lot of moisture. The Jet drags this moisture south where it crashes into the really cold air moving south out of eastern Canada, and then we have a real mess on our hands.

kymesonet.org A great source for weather data in Kentucky.

I want to take a look at these graphs. I have a mouse-over effect in place to help highlight the graph in the upper left. It may be annoying; not sure.

We are getting a lot of rain on Saturday; lots of precipitable moisture in the atmosphere. The “Temperature, Dewpoint, and Relative Humidity” graph is a pretty powerful graphic demonstrating what happens when the air temp and the dewpoint are almost coincident.

The dewpoint temperature will never be higher than the air temperature. The dewpoint temperature generally increases as air temperature increases, too. The way I think of dewpoint is it is the temperature at which water vapor condenses to form a dew drop, sort of like a rain drop. This condition occurs when the air temp and the dewpoint temp are nearly the same. When that condition exists at a level within a few feet of the ground, we can have dew, or fog. When that condition happens at some altitude, we will have rain, sleet, snow, etc. Depends on the temperature.

Today, temperatures aloft are warm enough that water droplets are warming before hitting the ground and we are getting a lot of rain. As I write this, Calloway Co., Kentucky has received about 3.50 inches of rain since Midnight.

Now, we might be tempted to ask, “What if this fell as snow? How much snow would we get?” The answer to that is not simple. For a long time, I used the ratio 6:1, meaning “6 inches of snow was equivalent to 1 in of rain.” That is no longer true. The ratio could be as high as 20:1; “20 inches of snow is equivalent to 1 inch rain.” The real answer is complicated and requires some moderate amount of statistics training. But, in simple terms, we can examine a certain layer of the atmosphere to figure out the ratio.

If we look at the Earth’s atmosphere from about 850mb to about 700mb, and figure out how thick this layer is, and know something about the temperature, we can determine what the ratio of snow-to-rain is. The thicker the layer, and if it is cold enough, the bigger and fluffier snowflakes can develop. Thus the ratio will be closer to 20:1. If this layer is thinner, the less development time for snowflakes, and thus the ratio is closer to 6:1. The problem for us is this is an introductory course, a survey of weather and climate, and we don’t have time to investigate this.

Marine Economy

Ohio River barge traffic (Source: New York Times)

Some comments directed at people who derive their livelihood from U.S. rivers. All of this precipitation has to go somewhere. The majority of precipitation ends up as run-off. As much as 66% of precipitation runs-off into streams, then rivers, and eventually hits the ocean. People working on rivers to help maintain U.S. barge traffic – a near invisible part of our transportation infrastructure yet one of the most vibrant in the world, by the way – have to pay close attention to these weather events. As run-off heads to rivers, we could expect some flooding. We can expect problems associated with high velocity currents, making navigation tricky, dangerous, and potentially shutting down barge traffic. While droughts can impair barge traffic from the lack of water, too much water can be a bad circumstance, as well. Barge operators and companies not only need to be aware of local weather conditions, but as the saying goes, “[Stuff] flows downstream.] Marine companies have to pay attention to weather systems upstream and days in advance in order to best prepare their crews for changing conditions. The USGS maintains a river monitoring system for these very reasons. In cooperation with USGS, the NOAA/NWS provides weather data and river gauge data for a number of sites throughout the United States.

Groundwater

People can mistakenly think, “Oh, we’ve had a lot of rain. This will really help my aquifer, or our water table, or our groundwater.” No, not generally.

About two-thirds of precipitation (66%) will eventually cycle back to oceans. Another good portion will immediately cycle back into the atmosphere through evaporation. Yet another portion will be taken up by plants and vegetation. While a person might note an immediate improvement in their specific case, the change is generally temporary.

For aquifers and water tables to recover, moderate precipitation needs to occur at regular intervals. Light precipitation tends to evaporate too fast, or is taken up by vegetation, or runs-off. Heavy precipitation can quickly saturate the ground and prevent any more precipitation from penetrating to any depth (hence the term “saturation: the inability to handle any more stuff”.) Lots of rain may help depleted reservoirs which feed communities. But, again, this is usually a temporary circumstance.

What tends to happen is people get excited at seeing water levels return to “normal,” and then people not only return to their usual rates of use, but then build-out and add more subdivisions and such. Then, after a couple years, they wonder why the reservoir is drying again.

Climate

Cyclone Marcia (Source: ABC Australia)

Now, climate. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, people may be tempted to think, “Climate change is garbage. Look at this rain/snow/sleet/etc.” I can see this reasoning. The problem with that line of thinking is the use of local conditions, or even regional conditions, and apply those conditions on a global scale. For instance, while we are having some pretty awful weather, so is Australia. The east and north coast of Australia were hit this week not by one hurricane, but by two hurricanes within days of each other. In the Pacific, hurricanes are called “cyclones” and near China, Japan, and Korea they are referred to as “typhoons.” The east coast was hit by Cyclone Marcia, a category 5, the worst. The north coast was hit by Cyclone Lom, a category 4, not the worst but still not pretty.

Climatologists examine at global conditions, how global moisture patterns change, temperature changes, changes in atmospheric chemistry, changes in insolation. Since this is climate and not weather, there may be no apparent and immediate impact. Changes take time to manifest, perhaps years. However, when they do manifest the change can appear quickly.

Let me illustrate. In the summertime, if the weatherperson misses the high temp or low temp by a degree or two no one will really care. If for example, the Weather Channel says, “The high in Murray, KY, will be 85F today,” and the actually high is 83F, no one will shed a tear.

Now let’s say this happens, the Weather Channel predicts, “The high today in Murray, KY., will be 33F,” and the actual high temperature is 31F people might freak-out. Why? The temperature is off by only a couple degrees. What is the big deal?

The big deal is at 33F the temperature is above freezing. At 31F, we are now at below freezing. While at 33F the pavement is wet, at 31F the pavement is now a sheet of ice, and the interstate now has a multi-vehicle pile-up and their are people hurt.

Yes, this is a local example of changing weather conditions, not climate, per se. However, we have to pay attention to changing climate because while 1/10th of a degree in global average temperature may not seem like a lot, this is a global average. Some site, some location, or perhaps a bunch of locations, had to have witnessed a pretty substantial change in order to change a globally measured statistic.

Whew…thanks for reading. Sorry for the length but I hope this helps.

Pax

Radio Shack and the Era of Tinkering


The Slate posted a nonsense article, “The Era of Tinkering is Over,” [link] which really pissed me off. I don’t even want to provide the link but I have to because it is the right thing to do. I read Slate occasionally; their writers are sometimes on-the-mark and sometimes way off the mark. In the case of this article, the author seems to have jumped into the deep water of knowing shit about tinkering, in that the author knows zero about tinkering and hasn’t even done a modicum of research. On a positive note, maybe the author will learn to do some basic research before authoring such nonsense.

I cannot say I have been a life-long tinkerer, but the best portion of my life has involved various bits of tinkering, from maybe 10 years old to last weekend. Growing up I had two favorite places to visit. My local library was located about 3 blocks from my house, a literal 15 minute walk. I would live in the air-conditioned comfort of my public library in the summers. The other place I like to spend money was Radio Shack. My buddy, Robert, and I would walk from his house or ride our bikes to our local Radio Shack. We could take a short-cut across our elementary school playground and pull our bikes through a gap in the privacy fence into the Radio Shack backlot.

My KCMO neighborhood Radio Shack did not look much unlike the one in the picture below. The sign above my store was smaller, the facade was a dark, rustic wood. I distinctly remember this feature because Robert and I were always suspicious of the wasps hanging around the wood siding. There were other stores adjacent to my Radio Shack and I cannot remember what those stores were, they made such a great impression on me. As far as I was concerned Radio Shack was the only store in this small strip.

A close approximation of my local radio shack. My Radio Shack resembled more of a real shack, though, as I remember the store having a wood facade and less brick.

An old white fellow ran the local Radio Shack for a while. He didn’t care much for Robert and I. He would grumble around, and after a few minutes herd us out if we didn’t buy anything. Before being ushered out, we would price buttons, switches, resistors and such for whatever project we had in mind. We were heavy into model rockets at the time and would build elaborate launching systems to launch 5, 10, or even 20 rockets simultaneously. We would buy Estes rockets from another store I liked, by the way. We also repaired electronic equipment. One year, we ran across a neighbor who sold a pile of old Army surplus radio equipment. One of the big radios didn’t work but it would act like it would. We tested the all of the fuses in the radio and determined a few were burnt-out. Using money from mowing lawns, we bought some replacement fuses and got the radio working. Later, a black fellow ran the Radio Shack. He would sell us broken merchandise once in a while for next to nothing. Resistors were easy to find and replace, for instance. One summer, the store manager sold us several color organs really cheap; I think we got 4 or 5 for something like $10. In 1980, $10 was the equivalent of mowing two yards.  Both Robert and I knew how to use VOA meters (volt-ohm-amp) and we tore down those color organs to diagnose which resistors

My friend, Robert, and I would buy broken disco lights, repair them, and sell them at our garage sales.

My friend, Robert, and I would buy broken disco lights, repair them, and sell them at our garage sales.

were bad. We would then spend a few cents to buy new resistors, solder them back onto the circuit board, test with our music. We would blast Billy Squier, Rush, Def Lepperd, KISS, and whatever else we liked and knew would torment the neighbors. Robert and I would then have yard sales to sell the stuff we made or repaired.

Why all of this hyperbole?

As I do with some of my writing I like to provide a back story to demonstrate where I come from to show the relationship I have with something topic or interest.

I love the Maker Movement, the creation of Makerspaces in towns and cities across the United States, the introduction of programming, 3D printers and 3D scanners in middle and high schools in school districts across America. My own beginnings started with Radio Shack so I have a soft spot for this franchise. People who report without feeling a connection to their topic come across not only as ignorant of their subject matter but also risk missing some underlying facts.

Like the Maker Movement. Or that “tinkering” is anything but dead. As the Arduino blog clearly substantiates [link], tinkering is not only alive and well, tinkering is thriving more so now than ever before.

So, if tinkering is thriving and more robust than ever before, then what has happened to Radio Shack?

My analysis argues several points. First, Radio Shack opted to involve itself in a market already saturated – smartphones. The partnership with Sprint was not good business acumen in my opinion. Wal-mart, Verizon, AT&T, Office Depot, even my local Kroger grocery store does smartphones. Add in Amazon and other online resellers and the smartphone market doesn’t make much sense. Especially since other major players like AT&T and Verizon have stores devoted 100% to smartphones staffed with typically five or more employees during peak hours. I’ve never seen more than two employees in my current local Radio Shack.

My local Radio Shack devotes about 50% of floor space to smartphones. Gone are the days of cool electronics and gadgets and parts and stereo equipment. Sure, my local store has a utility cabinet of electronic parts, relegated to a place two aisles from the back of the store. But anyone who walks into my Radio Shack will be confronted with all smartphone models and accessories and plans. Big deal. Then, if a customer wants to buy something unrelated to cell phones, the customer will have to wait until the Radio Shack agent finishes discussing cell phone plans, or trouble-shooting a cell phone problem. I’ve mentioned a number of issues here, but I can summarize these comments by identifying three problems.

Radio Shack stores demonstrate a lack of commitment towards providing enough staff to accommodate customer traffic. Next, Radio Shack sold-out consumer confidence in electronics by thinking they could make a quick dollar in the smartphone market. Then, Radio Shack failed to realize a few years ago the Era of Tinkering was still thriving, and more importantly, evolving.

What could Radio Shack have done differently?

Look; it is not enough to be critical of some thing without offering some solutions or at least some ideas of what could be differently done.

Radio Shack’s historical success was based not solely upon selling end products but providing the parts and tools for people to build, repair, or modify items they already owned. They also supported HAM & CB radio operators who often needed replacement parts, antennas, and other accessories. Today’s electronics are sophisticated; there is no doubt about that. However, many consumer electronics are also based on simple modular designs.

I have a broken VIZIO LCD television. One weekend, I disassembled the TV. After I had the case open I found there are really only two circuit boards driving the LCD, a control board containing all of the IC chips and software for decoding the signal and providing us with a user interface. The other board is the power board which controls how AC power is distributed to the control board. I have the problem narrowed down to one or two IC chips on the controller board. I’d like to simply buy a replacement controller board but I can’t; they are in high demand. VIZIO made some really crap boards a few years ago. The IC chips, however, can be bought online. For about $35 I can order both IC chips I need. Then, I can spend some hours one weekend and de-solder the old IC chips and solder the new IC chips, and test my handiwork.

Now, not everyone would want to do all of this. That is fine. But, to train a young person to perform the service work is not a big deal. Or, to train a young person to trouble-shoot problems so people can have their electronics fixed locally might be a good idea. After all, we once did this decades ago. Families might go without TV for a week or more until a local repair person got around to figuring out what ailed the giant beast of a TV. The economics of those days made repair worthwhile. A TV might be a month’s salary or more. Today, a LCD TV might be a week’s salary or less.

Being able to repair televisions locally might help reduce some of the e-waste. People might be able to have a LCD in every room if they could pick up a cheap “refurbished” LCD from a local reseller.

OEMs also need to be more friendly to repair centers. OEMs do not seem to produce many replacement parts. The replacement parts I’ve bought are from 3rd party vendors, not OEMs. The argument OEMs make is they would rather sell consumers a new product than keep an older model alive. The “green” part of me finds that offensive. For instance, Apple Co.’s intransigence to allowing people to replace glass and digitizers for broken iPhones is part of the problem. Apple takes what could be a vibrant economy and takes a punitive stance towards those who keep that technology alive and make a buck while doing so. Companies like VIZIO, Sanyo, Sony, Samsung, and LG could really inspire economic growth by allowing people to better service devices by providing OEM parts or recommend quality 3rd party replacement parts. Now, we have OEMs making devices, we have 3rd party vendors making replacement parts, we have people engaging in perhaps cottage-type industries repairing electronics.

One of biggest failures I see in Radio Shack is their lack of vision. The people I knew growing up who ran Radio Shack could tell you how to read a resistor, a capacitor, who knew something about voltages and transformers. Not today. So, as Make and the Maker Movement grows in strength and penetrates K-12 education and even into higher education despite some resistance, the ability of Radio Shack to serve that population has diminished.

My local Radio Shack has some Make components, and a small selection of Littlebits modules, but not a huge selection. Enough to make Make interesting. No 3D scanners. No 3D printers.

Is it possible Radio Shack could have leveraged its presence to bring technology to smaller cities and towns, becoming the nexus of distribution, learning, advice and service for these innovative technologies?

Radio Shack could have been at the forefront of the Make movement. Instead of partnering with Sprint, perhaps they should have partnered with Makerbot, Make, and Littlebits. Furthermore, Radio Shack somehow felt they needed a store in every tiny town. I don’t think this is truly necessary. Perhaps they need a GIS professional with experience in location analysis to help figure out where they need to place stores.

What would be nice for Radio Shack to consider is building stores or finding retail space not only with enough square footage for cool tech devices for people to help people fabricate designs, but enough square footage to perhaps offer classes or courses for local populations to learn how to use these new technologies. Large cities have many venues for learning technologies. Large cities, like Chicago, Denver, and New York City have a critical mass of educated people to help train interested parents and youth. Is it possible Radio Shack could have leveraged its presence to bring technology to smaller cities and towns, becoming the nexus of distribution, learning, advice and service for these innovative technologies?

I honestly do not have the answer to my question. I don’t have an MBA. But, neither did Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, but then, neither does 13-year old Quin Etnyre. (ISTE article)

Part of Radio Shack’s problem was competing in a saturated smartphone market. Another problem was Radio Shack competing with online resellers of electronic parts. That battle can’t be won, really. There are people who do not want to buy online, who want local expertise, who want to see a device in action, and who want local support, though. These are all within Radio Shack’s domain to control, if they can think outside the box, if they can break-down the corporate mind-think which has set Radio Shack on a ruinous course. Office Depot does OK; if people realized they could purchase online many of the same products found at Office Depot and save 75% Office Depot might be in big trouble. Or, Staples, for that matter.

I feel for Radio Shack. I really do. And, I’m disappointed each and every time I step in my local Radio Shack. The atmosphere is not what I remember growing up. No stores have any of the ambiance of the former Radio Shack stores from my youth. Radio Shack stores are not trendy, not cool, not distinctive, and invoke nothing of their history of being a technology leader. Radio Shack weakly to copy the identity of another tech company, and failed miserably. They should have broken-down their identity, re-built their brand based upon their historical strength of being the bearer of technology and reveled in their nerdiness, and wore their geekiness as a badge of honor.

Thanks for reading!

Pax

The Ancient Mating Habits of Quicquid Qui


Yesterday, NPR broadcast a story about the notorious governor of Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, discussing his plans to cut the funding to the University of Wisconsin – Madison by 13%. His news conference comments were rather flippant as he offered suggestions on how faculty might better serve the student body by “teaching more classes.”

Additionally, Gov. Walker’s comments were supported by the Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, Robin Voss. “Of course, I want research. But, I want research that focuses on growing our economy, not on, you know, the ancient mating habits of whatever.” (NPR; 2:23min)

Both Gov. Walker’s and the Speaker’s comments lay bare their complete lack of understanding of higher education, allude to their own hubris against higher education, reveal part of the Conservative agenda to co-opt public money by funneling monies to private and religious schools, and provide additional evidence of the extremely myopic perspective infusing vast portions of our U.S. population.

I’d like to pick apart the comment by State Assembly Speaker Robin Voss first. His soundbite begins with: “I want research.” The audacity in this simple statement underlies nearly all of the attacks upon higher education which began during the George W Bush’s presidency. Many within more conservative faction of the Republican party want to control who gets funded, they want to direct research down to approval of individual research projects, and want to dictate specific kinds of research. One only needs to look at controversial NSF funding hearings (“NSF bill with dire implications for social sciences moves forward;” Nature, May 2014.)

Now, to be clear, I want research, too. Politicians, nor any political lackeys, should have any input into determining what constitutes research or in devising criteria for what is funded or not. That is simply not their domain of expertise.

How does one go about determining if research “grows the economy?” Who gets to decided whether or not research helps grow an economy? Those questions are not as easy to answer as Gov. Walker or Speaker Voss would have their audience believe. For as much as their Republican cohort considers President Obama audacious in his drive to provide U.S. citizens with decent health care coverage, Conservative Republican are equally as audacious in their desire to winnow the intellectual capability of our American society. They are far too presumptive in their knowledge of education to understand how education and research are fundamental to our society, and naively believe that only those concerns having blatantly obvious economic ramifications are important. Please allow me to counter this grievous misconception.

An insect identification trap

An insect identification trap

Last spring, I met a member of our engineering faculty. His wife was a biology faculty. Her research involves the study of a variety of beetle species. Beetles are an essential part of a healthy forest’s ecosystem. Forest are an essential part of our human ecumene; forest cycle carbon, oxygen, and are an intrinsic component of our planet’s hydrologic cycle. Understanding how beetles procreate and the part each beetle species plays in a forest’s health is almost analogous to understanding the bacterial fauna in our own intestinal tract. Not only are forests part of our planet’s hydrologic cycle but forests and wooded areas provide habit for those who enjoy hunting. So even if one doesn’t have a particular care of beetles, one need to have an appreciate for all of the essential components which provide essential traits necessary for hunting, fishing, or any other outdoor pursuit.

mountain-pine-beetle2

Mountain Pine Beetle

So, yes, Mr. Voss we do need to understand the ancient mating habit of “Whatever Who,”Quicquid Qui, for the simple reason we have to understand the parts in order to understand the whole, the entirety. And in doing this research other research and other innovations might occur. In the image above, the engineering was developing a trap to gather a particular species of beetle. Made from a piece of 3D printed plastic – see, right there! – a plastic elbow joint bought at Lowe’s, and a cheaper Android-based smartphone, these simple components were coming together as a sophisticate field tool.

Here is how the trap works. Insects crawl into the trap. The smart phone’s sensor detects movement and snaps a picture. Custom image-processing software on-board the smartphone processes the image to detect what is in the trap and if the contents is the insect species of interest. If the wrong species, the trap bottom drops open and dispenses the insect. If the correct species, the image and GPS coordinates are sent via cellular SMS to a server for review. A small Arduino board controls the actuation of the trapdoor. Students assisted in the design, Arduino board programming, and field testing. Unfortunately, my university lost both faculty due to a refusal to allow the biologist to apply for a tenure-track position. I never saw the fully functional model.

Hopefully, I should not have to draw a picture of how beautiful the direction the above research was heading. Did it have economic implications? No doubt. Certainly to the crowd who read my blog posts. But, I have serious doubts among our current collection of legislators, both at state and federal levels, they have the ability to contemplate the potential of such research. After all, these underlying use of the technology is to gather beetles to examine their mating habits, at least in part.

No doubt, legislators would have no problem understanding the inherent significance of today’s Internet. Had these same people been in the position to fund a network of universities to exchange information on research, I daresay the Internet would have languished for years, and perhaps we would be asking China for share their network.

From the vulcanization process so important to the tire industry, penicillin, to our immensely valuable semiconductor sector, to tie-up research in politics is to lose out on the unseen ramifications, the so-called “accidents,” which have the potential to yield huge, industry-shaking benefits, and advance not merely the United States but the world.

Conservation Republicans who once held higher education in high esteem, need to return to those days which allowed the United States to develop the world’s greatest, unrivaled, intellectual capacity, i.e. our university system. They don’t need to cut back education; they need to expand higher education. Higher education is society’s “research and development division.” How does one continue to achieve and advance and grow; how does one compete against peers, understand and develop new technologies and expand understanding without investing in research and development?

The answers to my rhetorical questions seem obvious to me. I’ve been in education nearly my entire life. But, I’ve also cleaned toilets for a trucking company, worked for Wal-mart, cleaned toilets for churches, cleaned Section 8 HUD apartments, made and served pizzas, and managed a video rental store. I’ve thrown hay (which made me almost deathly ill due to asthma), helped my grandfather deliver a calf, I’ve ridden bareback to help corral cattle, and mended fence. It’s not like I have no sentiment for hard work. One grandfather was a farmer, one was an oil-field rough-neck his entire life, and my father operated a few trucking companies over the course of his life.

People like Scott Walker and Robin Voss confuse vocational education and training with a university education. Nearly all people, do, in fact. I have this argument with faculty at my own institution, on occasion, which I find mind-boggling. I credit my degree in geography with providing me a holistic education embedded with math, economics, computer programming, language, culture, English and writing skills. Even faculty in higher education operate with blinders. Frequently, I must point out to historians, economists, chemists, biologist, and even business faculty the presence of geography in their content. The prevalence of their oversight merely indicates they, too, share a lack of perspective, at times. When I cannot convince my own college dean to appreciate the importance of Make, Raspberry Pi, Arduino, 3D printing and scanning, and how those technologies are re-inventing portions of our manufacturing sector, I know how hard getting politicians to overcome their simple-minded nature must be. Or, can be. And, it shouldn’t be this way. Not at all.

People who know Gov. Walker never completed his degree at Marquette, and use his position as governor as evidence no one truly needs a college degree to successful argue against themselves, in fact. True, Gov. Walker complete three of the necessary four years for a degree at Marquette. Also, true, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ted Turner, Larry Ellison, were never awarded a degree. Now, I think all have been granted “honorary” degrees in order to qualify them to give commencement addresses at graduation. There a couple very important distinctions between Gov. Walker and those other Gurus of Technology. First, they hire other smart people, and they encourage people not simply to remain with a static skill set but to continue their own education. These industry leaders realize for their company to remain strong and thrive employees must remain knowledgeable and educated. Each of these people also support education at all levels, K-12, community colleges, and higher education. None of these individuals seek to undermine one of the most important sectors of the U.S. economy, our Knowledge Sector. To group Gov. Walker along-side the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs completely misunderstands the personal philosophies of true thought-leaders.

I recently accepted what has amounted to a 5% pay-cut at my institution. I was paid for all the course I taught. Now, I teach a course for free. My job description was re-written so any predecessor will also teach a course for free. 5%, I have discovered, hurts a little. For those who have made comments like, “my friend just completed residency in radiation medicine had now has a job paying $350,000 per year,” your single example is not the rule and really is evidence of nothing other than your friend is smart and has a good job. Many faculty and staff at universities across the United States pay, at least in part, for our own health care. Some low-wage employees may not pay anything, while others may pay 20% or more. Plus, we contribute into a state retirement system. And, if you live in Kentucky, you know our state retirement system is $20 billion dollars in red due to mismanagement. That is not an argument for privatization; that is an argument simply to prevent politicians from being allowed to gut retirement systems. The vast majority of faculty work 40+ hours per week already, including ours mandated for service, community outreach,  serving on mandatory committees and councils, etc. I’ve known some faculty who essentially give up, but those faculty are exceptions, not the rule, and would constitute less than 1% of any university workforce.

English skills and organizational management are good skills for game design

English skills and organizational management are good skills for game design

Beginning faculty in the Humanities or Fine Arts might start around $30,000, depending on school, geographic location, and any special skills. Today, some of the best 3D design work and use of technology is coming from Fine Arts programs. Using some of the new microprocessor boards allows artists to make visualizations which move, glow, or respond to crowd or user input. Artists are now becoming programmers, using soldering guns, LEDs, and Arduino boards. Many game designers I know began in technical writing and English programs, using history or art minors to help them in game design.

For politicians like Gov. Walker and Speaker Voss to make statements which can only lead one to belief these people think they have the requisite knowledge to know best how education should be attended provides more insight into their own personal prejudices and presumptions. Unfortunately, they are not unique among their party. The U.S. House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology is loaded with narrow-minded, presumptive, and prejudicial members exclusively from the Republican party. I have no doubt these members believe they are acting in the best interest of the American people, their intransigence in updating their beliefs with real factual knowledge undermines U.S. productivity and, I would argue, undermines the competitive advantage the U.S. has enjoyed since the 1950s in higher education, which has the downstream effect of damaging both our global economic success and our very social fabric.

People should also be advised school vouchers are a means for shuffling public money into private schools, private schools which are predominantly aligned with religious institutions. Thus, whenever a Republican advocates the use of school vouchers this is essentially code for “we want to provide a way to funnel public money to religious institutions, we just can’t say this verbatim because Church versus State.” But from New Jersey to Louisiana, this is precisely what is going on. Public money, money from property taxes, being channeled into private religious schools and undermining our public schools.

Yet, they would rather argue civil marriage.

Thanks for reading!

PAX

 

An open letter to Gov. Scott Walker: stop perpetuating the myth of the lazy professor


Constant Geographer:

In the near future I might author my own rebuttal to Gov. Walker’s plans to scuttle Wisconsin’s higher education. Several high-ranking Republican Conservatives simply despise higher education. More specifically, they seem to be against state-sponsored education, against the public support of education. Listening their comments on C-SPAN and reading essays on their individual websites, one can only come away with the sentiment these GOP members would be more than happy to divest the Federal and state governments of the responsibility of educating people and turn the education of our populace over to for-profit schools and religious organizations. Some states are already using the voucher system to provide public monies to religious schools in clear violation of the separation of Church and State. More to the point, Gov. Walker and his compatriots in the GOP are seeking to break-down state educational systems using “state rights” as a rallying cry yet what their attempts are truly attempting to do is push more federal money into for-profit universities. These for-profit universities are responsible for the greatest portion of student loan indebtedness and lack of results. There are a host of other issues Scott Walker seems too mentally impaired to understand. I’ll take a stab at addressing those issues in my own response. Cheers!

Originally posted on The Contemplative Mammoth:

Dear Gov. Walker,

Last week, you told professors at the University of Wisconsin that they needed to “work harder.” You were making a case that the Wisconsin state budget crisis could be ameliorated by increasing employee efficiency, and you suggested having faculty teach at least one more class. I’m not going to talk about whether or not the budget crisis is manufactured (some have argued it could be solved by accepting federal funds for the state’s Badger Care health program), or whether your real goal is really partisan politics, and not fiscal responsibility.

Ouch. Ouch. Photo by fellow UW Madison geographer Sigrid Peterson.

Instead, I want to talk about the myth of the lazy professor, a stereotype that you’ve reinforced with your comment. I spent 2005 to 2012 at the University of Wisconsin, where I obtained a PhD in the Department of Geography; I am now an assistant professor at the University of Maine.

When you…

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