Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Profile on Paris

For Joe Paris, professor of Computer Science and President elect of the faculty, teaching wasn’t a profession he was born into. While he was finishing his Bachelor’s at Western Oregon University he learned that the Computer Science department was looking for someone to teach office applications courses. In need of  some supplemental income he took the position. “At the time teaching wasn’t even on my radar, I suppose you could say I sort of fell into it,” he said.

He has been teaching ever since, and has been an instructor here at LB for the last eight years. He was the treasurer for the faculty and is now the President elect representing the faculty. He is well liked by the faculty, clearly given his recent election to President, and is respected by his students.

When asked how they felt about him, one student in his “Programming in C” class, Azahra Keith responded, “I like him, he spends time helping me out of the classroom. When I get behind I know I can go to his office where he will help me out.” Other students in the class smiled and nodded in agreement.

He is also well rated on, the known to be brutal website, Rate My Professor. Students there said of him, “Joe Paris is an excellent teacher. He expects a lot from his students” and “I found Mr. Paris was very knowledgeable and helpful. I found his expectations were high and he pushed his students. I felt he was a great instructor and I learned a lot and would recommend him to others.”
Given the kind of vitriol that normally populates anonymous ratings sites it speaks to the kind of instructor that Joe is that the vast majority of his ratings, going back to 2005, are positive. A good instructor isn’t an easy instructor. While Joe might not be the easiest instructor, he is a good instructor because he will push you to meet your potential instead of dumbing it down to padden your GPA.

When asked what motivated him to teach, he said that as an instructor he is motivated by helping engaged students explore a topic they are interested in and helping them to have those “ah-ha” moments when a new, difficult topic clicks for the first time. “Seeing that sudden look of understanding on a student’s face is very, very rewarding,” he said.

While Joe has a passion for computer science, he doesn’t feel,like some, that everyone needs to learn how to code a computer. He feels that, “Computer literacy, is absolutely crucial to success in the world today.Preventing the loss of your important data, keeping yourself safe in an increasingly hostile digital world, and evaluating the information you find online are vital skills. Computer literacy is just as important to life today as reading, writing, and arithmetic.”

So while it might not be for everyone he did say that “Programming is really about creativity and creation. Taking a computer – an inert pile of metal, plastic, and silicon – and bending it to your will.  You’ve taken this machine, which is secretly scary to many of us, and made it do your bidding. That can be a real rush!”

Beyond just teaching Joe has taken an active role in campus politics first as treasurer and now as president elect. Dodi Coreson said of him, “The students love him, he is very caring and takes a lot of time in his office to worth with the students. I supported his bid for president, he is a really nice guy.“

When asked about why he decided to run for campus office he said, “Taking on a leadership role at the college was not a decision I made lightly. As President of the Faculty Association I’m looking forward to working with the college administration, classified personnel and students to help shape the college’s future and guide its direction.”

Joe Paris is more than your average professor, he is a man who is on a mission to make life better for students and faculty. When students or faculty are having a problem they should know that Joe is the kind of person who will stop and listen to them.

For those former students of Joe you should know that he said of you, “It’s also always thrilling to hear from students who have graduated and are working in the field who contact me to let me know how they are doing or to tell me how what I taught them helped them in their current position.“ So if Joe made a positive impact on your life, reach out and let him know.

At a Glance
Joe Paris
His Ratings
Fireside Chat with Obama talking about Computer Coding for High schoolers
Code Academy

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Victory for Open Access

An important victory was won for Open Access advocates last week with an announcement from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), who directed, “each Federal agency with over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development expenditures to develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government.”
In plain English, all major research arms of the United States, including the NSF, NIH, USDA, DOE, and more, are to begin making available online all data and peer reviewed publications that were financed with your tax dollars.
Rights activists, including the late Aaron Swartz, have been fighting for years to “liberate” research from publishers’ archives and to stimulate academic discussion in broader society. This announcement from the OSTP, in response to their actions and the “We the People” petition signed by 65,000 people, is the first major victory in the battle to make publicly funded research actually available to the public.
Citing the value of freely accessible weather data and genomics research, the OSTP affirmed what rights activists have been saying all along: “Open Access will create innovative economic markets for services related to curation, preservation, analysis, and visualization.” It will also “accelerate scientific breakthroughs and innovation, promote entrepreneurship, and enhance economic growth and job creation.”
While this is a victory in the battle for Open Access, it is far from over. This memo still allows for an artificial 12 month embargo on Open access in a nod to publishers that, “provide valuable services, including the coordination of peer review, that are essential for ensuring the high quality and integrity of many scholarly publications.” It also fails to adequately deal with the potential copyright shenanigans that for-profit publishing companies may engage in to mitigate their potential losses from this policy.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation was quick to point this out and to note that, “because a future administration could just as easily change its policy away from open-access, a legislative solution is necessary for ensuring a future of innovation and access to knowledge.”
       The battle has been won, but the war continues. While it’s important to be mindful of editorial costs to journals, publicly financed research need not necessarily be monetized by third party rent-seeking entities. Peer review can be, and is, coordinated by groups like plosone.org and arxiv.org. Call your legislators and let them know that Open Access to ALL publically funded research is a requirement if they want your vote.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


I don't normally write poetry  but I was smoking my morning ciggy and this sort of popped into my mind.


My innocence lost 
Not the innocence of youth
But the innocence of divine and certain truth

Connections abound to knowledge and facts
But the meaning of life and certainty of why is just beyond view
I struggle, buffeted by the winds from the voices of those who certain of their view 
shout into the night, This is the truth!

But just below the cacophony of fools i hear the sweetest of sounds, i hear the echos of truth. 
If only the voices of those so certain could stop for just a moment. 

Uncertain of its source I search in blindness
for those that might stop and listen
and help me find it. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Riding the Waves of change - part 1

To the average person on the beach, waves become visible just before their crash. The slow and steady growth is almost imperceptible, and when the growth changes to decay, the wave’s crescendo is visible to all. The power of the wave comes crashing down sweeping away those caught unaware and propelling those who saw the change coming.
Such a change in growth patterns is happening in colleges across America. The slow steady rise of tuition, population, and debt has reached a point where a break must occur. Just as a wave breaking provides both surf and undertow, the break in education can be a boon to students driving them towards competency and completion or deadly undertow dragging them back towards poverty and minimum wage.
Just as the lifeguard scans the beach looking for dangers and swimmers in distress, LBCC college administration has been scanning the educational horizon looking for ways to bridge funding gaps, propel more students towards completion, and adapt to changing demographics. This effort is being referred to, by LBCC administration, as the “Redesign”.
While the “redesign” is not yet fully defined, according to Bruce Clemetsen, Vice President, Student Services, the redesign is about trying to get to a sustainable model for education. “We still believe in the role of community colleges in community development. We have to adapt, and we are at a moment of extreme adaptation.”
This redesign will eventually touch every element of the college, from simple changes like texting students important information to more systemic changes like degree curriculum and requirement changes.
One of the potential curricular changes described was to the Culinary and Welding programs. Mr. Clementson spoke about how writing skills training could be embedded in the culinary and welding curriculum.
Instead of students going to a dedicated writing class, they would have a kind of circuit writing professor who worked with their, and other, instructors to meld writing with their instruction in their craft. While everyone needs to be able to communicate via the written word, not everyone needs to know the liturgical outflows of long dead white men.
By teaching writing skills and craft skills together the thought is that students will receive a more practical accreditation while also receiving the necessary level of  writing education for their preferred field.
The goal is, for some degrees, to move towards a more pragmatic and Socratic model with less lecture and more practice, flipping the classroom in essence. Part of the redesign is asking the question, “Is there a better way to teach or facilitate learning?”
The redesign, as it relates to curricular changes, is, according to Dean of Student Services Lynne Cox, in part a recognition that there is a tremendous amount of free information available online and that colleges and universities need to become a place where one learns how to apply knowledge.
Mr. Clementsen said, “Some things will be going away, to create space for newer things.  pockets of students will feel this change.” While he wasn’t specific on which programs or activities were meant for the chopping block, it was clear that he and the rest of LBCC administration were doing everything they could to maintain as many programs, for as many students, as possible. It was also clear to that Mr. Clementsen and the rest of the LBCC administration are very much interested in the ideas, aspirations, and goals of faculty and students.   
Parts of the redesign are already being implemented. Some of these changes, like mandatory advisement and career center development, are meant to facilitate achieving Oregon’s 40-40-20 goal. The goal is to, by 2025, reach a point where 40% of Oregonians a bachelor’s or higher , 40% have an associate’s or higher, and 20% have a High school diploma. The goal is itself a recognition that today’s economy is a knowledge and services based economy and if Oregon is going to remain competitive in the national and global marketplace its citizens need to have the requisite education to compete.
Cox described Career Center Development as a program designed for helping undecided students decide on what major they want to focus on or what career best fits their skills and lifestyle. For some students one of the biggest stumbling blocks to college completion is figuring out exactly what one wants to do. A program like this, coupled with now mandatory advisement, should be beneficial to the student who needs some guidance finding the path to success.  
An integral part of this redesign is increasing communication between administration, faculty, and the student body. Mr. Clementsen stressed the value of this community and the need to foster deeper and longer lasting connections between it’s members. A student body that is well connected tends to be more successful he said, and it is his, and the rest of the administrations, intent to raise the bar without leaving students underwater.

At a Glance:
Education Redesign and Strategic Planning
Achieve the Dream
Committees Contact List for the Redesign

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Reducing the cost of education

The rise of online education coupled with aggregate US student loan debt in excess of a trillion dollars has prompted  students, educators, administrators, and legislators to look for ways to reduce the costs of higher education. With half of all LB students receiving financial aid in the form of grants and loans, LBCC is no exception.
Thankfully the administration here at LB, and Oregon legislators, are working on several plans, set to be formally announced later this month, to ameliorate the costs of receiving, what is ostensibly, one’s ticket to the “good life”.  
From using an outcomes based approach for teacher pay-scales and expanding talent grant programs to charging different fees based on the actual cost of teaching and mandatory advisement, LBCC administrators are looking for any and all ways to make getting an education easier, faster, and more affordable.
While professors might be nervous about having their pay scales changed, moving from a flat fee per service model, as currently exists, to an outcomes based approach would incentivize best practices for matriculating students. Furthermore it would begin to undo the now common behavior of professor apathy toward broad student achievement.
This is not to say that professors don’t care about their students, far from it, professors are simply not paid to care about how all their students fair. Professors get paid whether you pass or not, and that creates a perverse incentive to either just pass students along or to focus on those who “care”, while letting those who do care, but may not appear to, slide further and further behind.
The high cost of education though cannot be blamed on professors salaries entirely, there are a host of other inefficiencies in the education system. Not least of which is students taking classes they don’t actually need.
LB began to address this problem this year by requiring all first time students to speak with an advisor before they were even able to register. Furthermore, after week 5, all students will have a long term advisor assigned to them. This will enable students to better understand what classes they actually need to take.
Beyond reducing unnecessary course loads LB administrators are also looking to expand the talent grant and co-curricular scholarship programs. At present, according to Dean of Student Services Lynne Cox talent grants can only be used to fund up to 12 credit hours, administrators however have been floating the idea of expanding that to 15 credit hours. Programs like this not only reduce the debt burden of participants but they facilitate a deeper understanding of the practical aspects of one’s preferred field.
This writer, for example, while thoroughly enjoying his writing classes learned far more about what it means to be a journalist actually participating in the journalistic process. The proverbial cherry on top was receiving 3 credit hours worth of funding.
Another potential solution to rising costs is to move away from the flat fee model of “credits”. At present, a credit is a credit is a credit, and they all cost about 100 dollars per. This number is not arbitrary, it represents a ruff average of the cost to actually provide a credit’s worth of education. The problem is, like so much in life, not all credits are created equal. Some classes require very expensive tools, like welding, chemistry, physics, or nursing. Whereas programs like english, psychology, or anthropology are cheaper. By moving from a flat fee model to a granular one community colleges like LB can more equitably serve their students.
While the cost of an education is a big part of the reason for the nations trillion dollar student loan bill, it is not the only one. A big part of this student loan debt crisis is students overspending and overborrowing. Students are not always, despite taking the online credit counseling required before receiving financial aid, aware of obligations they are taking on when they sign on the dotted line.
While not all students are aware of  dangers in over borrowing some are.  Rick Brown,  a student in the Psychology department, said that he has financial aide, both grants and loans, and that he was grateful, “I wouldn’t be here without them”, he said. He also stated that other students need to better understand the ramifications of taking on tens of thousands of dollars in loans. While he wasn’t worried about being able to pay off his student loans he did say that he thought about just how much he needed before he actually went out and took loans.
Another student, Andrew McMurtrey who is studying Diagnostic Imaging, said that without  financial aid LB would not be as full as it is. He echoed Rick’s statement about understanding the ramifications of taking out loans to fund one’s education.
If students borrow more responsibly, colleges charge less, and education generally becomes more efficient the student loan debt crisis might just be averted. But this crisis will take the collective action of all participants in the education system. From teachers and students to administrators and legislators, we all have a part to play in fixing the system.

Related Links
Should We Charge Different Fees for Different Majors?
Too Big to Fail: Student debt hits a trillion

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Drones and the rule of law.

“In the very near future, the United States Air Force will train more UAV pilots than conventional pilots, and today we talk about “blackening” the sky with such systems.” - Dr. Regina E. Dugan director Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency(DARPA) 2010 written statement to the congressional budgetary committee.

Drones like the Predator, Global Hawk, Solar Eagle, and Reaper are to the War on Terror as the SR-71 and U2 were to the Cold war. They bring to the table a host of new abilities and represent one of the most efficient force multipliers at the militaries disposal. Just as importantly, few other nations possess this technology and even fewer have any means for defending against it.

Drones today provide the military with the ability to spy on or strike anyone, anywhere, in the world without endangering the lives of soldiers. Furthermore,because of a dearth of legal opinions, both nationally and internationally, on the use of drones, coupled with the 2001 authorization for use of military force,  the President believes that he can use drones as a means for targeted assassinations.

The Rule of law has been an integral part of  western democratic society since the  signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 C.E.  The influence of the idea can be traced from medieval Europe to the American constitution’s, Fifth Amendment, right on to the United Nations.

The rule of law’s sphere of influence was expanding to include more than just citizens of one’s nation, however, since the start of the War on Terror that sphere of influence has been steadily eroded. By using drones to selectively assassinate, with no due process, individuals in sovereign nations without legal declarations of war the US drone program flouts the very idea of a rule of law and further erodes decades of international diplomacy.
To date the activity of drones has not been limited to just surveillance, but has included force projection ala the bombing of “Jihadists outposts” and “militant training camps” often with women and children in the vicinity.

Most notably three American citizens, Anwar Al Awlaki, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, and magazine editor Samir Khan were placed on President Obama’s kill list and were targeted for summary execution. These individuals were all born in America and were .with the notable exception of Anwar never tied directly to any acts of aggression against the United States.

These individuals were never charged, tried, or even sentenced. Instead, a secret group, with the president at its head, decided that they were deserving of death. If they can spy on and kill Americans abroad, they can spy on and kill American’s at home. After all, America, as of 2011, is legally considered part of the battlefield in the broader war on terror.

The majority of strikes however,  have targeted foreign nationals and taken place in countries that the US is not legally at war with, a clear violation of international laws governing conflict, and, to most Americans, relatively unknown.

Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and redacted have all had their airspace violated and their citizens have been subjected to extrajudicial summary execution, often with, according to Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian, little or no factual evidence linking them to a crime or terrorist group.

According to data collected by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as of this year, there have been between 418 and 437 US drone strikes in 4 countries killing between three and four thousand people.

While the United States is not officially at war with Pakistan, the majority of strikes took place there and were authorized by the Obama administration. These actions have been taken despite a lack of congressional approval or oversight, something intended by the division of war powers in the constitution, and have not been authorized by either the UN security council or the broader UN body.

According to Brent Emerson, the special rapporteur on counter terrorism and human rights for the United Nations, in the Guardian , “While 51 states possess the technology to use drones, the US is responsible for the vast majority of the world's drone strikes and the practice of targeted killing has become a central component of the Obama administration's efforts to combat al-Qaida. “

These unmanned aircraft enable the US military to strike virtually anywhere on the planet with ease and little to no relative risk to the pilot. These drones are so accurate that in Rise of the Drones on PBS’s Nova, David A Deptula, a retired Lt General in the USAF said, “The weapons that can be used operate with an error distance of 9 feet, you can put a weapon through a window sized opening with ease.”  

Drones have enabled the administration to strike at individuals, often in allied countries, deemed a threat to the nation without having to formally declare war or deal with the judicial system. While some of the targets may be truly threatening to our nation, many of those killed by drones would be deemed collateral damage under normal rules of engagement, are now dubbed militants simply for being  male, over the age of 15, and in the vicinity.

According to a study from the Columbia Law school of Human Rights, “ Media coverage of drone strikes is inconsistent, and it is likely that some deaths and even entire strikes are not captured by tracking organizations, particularly to the extent they rely on English-language media sources. There is no standard definition that the media sources use to categorize a person as militant or a civilian, nor a standardized measure by which the media sources weigh and corroborate their information.” The overly broad definition of a combatant further facilitates this lack of media scrutiny and erodes the sanctity of the rule of law.

In no Western Democracy can a person be executed for simply associating with the wrong crowd, and yet, our military routinely executes individuals who have done nothing more than associate with the “wrong crowd”. It would be like a gang task force in Los Angeles mowing down all of the teenage boys outside a basketball course because one of them was a known Crip.

Despite, or potentially because of, the winding down of traditional troop operations in the Middle East, drone strikes have become the go to tactic of our nations military. According to the outgoing Department of Defense head Leon Panetta, "The reality is its[drones] going to be a continuing tool of national defense in the future".  

This reality can be confirmed by looking at the plans of the Department of Defense to begin construction on a “drone base” in Northern Africa. Militaries don’t build air force bases that they don’t plan on using. Additionally, the Air Force now trains more drone pilots than it trains fighter and bomber pilots combined. If that isn’t an endorsement for the future of drones, nothing is.

Facilitating the intelligence advantages necessary for these drone strikes is a suite of sensors , known as ARUGS-IS(Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-Imaging System), that can see what you, and everyone else in Corvallis, or a similarly populated region, is wearing from an altitude of over three miles.

According to the then director of DARPA, Regina Dugan, “The ARGUS-IS, is a next-generation airborne capability, providing wide-area, high resolution, color video imaging that enables persistent surveillance of dynamic battle spaces and urban environments.This system is capable of generating a 1.8 billion pixel video stream from 136 sensors, 4 lenses, and two processing computers that can be subdivided into 65+ unique viewing windows.
In practice this means its wide area persistent stare can see the equivalent of 100 predator drones looking at a medium sized city. The system can generate up to 1 million terabytes(5000 hours or 1 billion gigabytes) a day of high definition video and discern people, vehicles, and their relative movements. This system is capable of imaging objects as small as six inches from an altitude of 3.3 miles  and has likely  been in operation, overseas and domestically, since 2009.

The US’s drone program’s continued violation of national sovereignty and process of extrajudicial execution not only flouts the rule of law, it destroys the trust that undergirds international relations. Why negotiate with the United States if they will just ignore your sovereignty and kill your citizens as they choose? Why follow the rules of war, namely of eschewing the targeting of civilian populations, if your enemy isn’t?

Some might argue that “the terrorists don’t follow the rule of law” and therefore are undeserving of its benefits.  To them ask, Don’t the terrorists “win” when we stop being who we were before we engaged? How are you made safer by bombing villages in regions of the world that don’t even have running water or electricity?

The fact is, programs like these produce more terrorists than they kill. The more terrorists produced the less safe America is. The United States didn’t win the cold war with bombs. The Berlin Wall didn't fall down because of superior military might. These things happened because western systems were more attractive, more industrious, more innovative, and more free.