The Kentucky Derby

May 2, 2015

Today is a special family day.  In Seattle the Opening of Boating Season (33 CFR 100.1304).  At our home, the Opening of Mint Julep Season.  In perfect coordination with the Kentucky Derby.

Just like I choose teams in March Madness (what’s my connection with the college, tempered by the seed), I chose horses by their names.  And I read the NYT analysis this morning…the NYT really has staff that handicap horse racing?  My greatest success was in 2012 with “I’ll Have Another”.  And so today I am challenged.  My $24 “dollars” for four WPS bets:

Carpe Diem.  Brings strong memory of the best commencement speech I’ve heard, Sherman Alexie at UW in 2003.  8-1.

Frosted.  This is how bad the set of names are this year.  But in honor of my colleague Bruce Frost and my joy in watching David Frost interviewing Richard Nixon (the frost-bitten Dick), Frosted will have to do.  15-1.

Bolo.  Lee Silver, a favorite Caltech professor always looked sharp in his bolo tie.  And a woman trainer.  30-1

A Baffert Horse.  The two favorites.  American Pharaoh is out, let my people go.  Dortmund?  Oh well.  3-1.



June 7, 2014

For many reasons I have become engaged in “reproducibility”, the corner stone of science.  My original interest was on the computational side, but I’ve learned about many new and effective practices on the observational side as well.  Many, many technical and cultural issues for the STEM community.

I should document my most recent encounter with reproducibility.  I received an inquiry from a librarian at an industrial consortium seeking a gray literature, technical report, documenting a box of FORTRAN I shepherded when I was an undergraduate.   With the underlying database, I constantly carried two boxes of cards at all times.

Why anybody would want a technical description of code that is 41 years old  seems mystical, yet I did have this on my shelf, now scanned and delivered.

I wish I had so much more recent work as well documented.

Computing Update V

June 7, 2014

We were in Atlanta visiting my in-laws a couple of weeks ago and one of my tasks was to deal with a major intrusion onto my mother-in-law’s Windows computer.  She certainly had no need for pop-up windows offering her soft porn.

I tried to engage my geek son Mark in discussing this issue but he wouldn’t engage…was boring to his sweetheart Chris…and he told me to blog it.  Here we go.

My technical skills under Windows are dated.  So I struggled through, back and forth between Control Panel (which seems to become worse and worse to navigate) and searches on Google and Bing.  (If Bing is to succeed it should be the dominant search engine for Windows, but not yet true.)

The problem I surmise was my mother-in-law downloaded a Firefox distribution not directly from Mozilla.   On April 30.  And tried to recover from that disaster on May 16 further piling on.  It took roughly six hours but I was able to eradicate all the evil that had set in.

All of this reminds me why Windows is simply unacceptable.  Why have an operating system where programs are installed with their own uninstaller, that the distributor writes and makes uninstalling impossible.  Contrast OS X, drag the application to the trash and empty the trash.  That Internet Explorer allows add-ins where the distributor can prevent removal/disablement.  That major anti-spam/virus/malware engines allow anything that is putatively useful (ad-ware as a specific example).  And did I mention fake McAfee anti-virus as part of this mess.  That the registry even exists prevents simple technical solutions and make Windows particularly non-consumer friendly.





Triple Crown

June 7, 2014

My primary interest in horse racing is the Kentucky Derby only because it also marks “Opening Day” in Seattle (CFR 33.100.1304) and in the McDuff family the opening of “Mint Julep Season” (and I must admit we use Tennessee Sour Mash instead of Kentucky Bourbon).

Each year I place three WPS bets for the Kentucky Derby.  I know nothing about horse racing, so I go by the names.  The horse “I’ll Have Another” has put me so far net ahead that I can likely never spend another penny to remain profitable.

Today was the first time I’ve ever watched the Belmont Stakes.  A horse named “California Chrome” just isn’t a name that will attract my bets.   (But just completed an incredible redistribution of wealth.)    But it was of interest for I do like the side story of hard scrabble owners, old trainer, old jockey.

What was amazing to me was the NBC coverage.  Frank Sinatra Jr. singing New York, New York.  Incredible graphics about how much longer the Belmont track is.  Not only California Chrome wearing a nasal strip, but also the jockey.  And the post race analysis that the Triple Crown is not fair to the horses.

Thankfully it is now “Hockey Night in Canada”, except it is New York v. Los Angeles.  (And one final mystery, why is the WordPress spell checker objecting to my spelling of Los Angeles?)


UW and Public Records I

September 22, 2013

I will return to my own public records request following up on this posting re Hypenvironment.  But for now my own request, that was fulfilled within one business day, takes back seat to the remarkable settlement to (ex-, but is that lasting?) Assistant Professor Bichindaritz.   Much detail of this $720k settlement is available on her attorney’s web.

The key details are the exposure to the practices of UW as revealed in her pleadings to federal appellate court.  Of course I am citing a best-case (aka biased) account from her own attorneys.  But where is Provost Wise?  And what should we make of Academic HR at UW?

Retiring from UW I

September 22, 2013

At the University of Washington some things run on one calendar, others on another.  As of September 16, I am retired in the sense that the university is not paying me.  They soon will again as I choose to exercise my post retirement re-employment rights.  Yet I am covered by the health plan for the remainder of the month, so I remain Professor.  But technically  I will not become Professor Emeritus until October 1.  That time will pass quickly…

In the meantime upper administration has failed again.  I repeatedly sought advice as to my “last day on payroll” date so that I would have my salary in our merit pool, yet not receive a salary increase so that the rare merit pool that exists could go to good use for young, underpaid colleagues.  I was given specific guidance upper>dean>department that if my payroll cutoff were 9/15/2013 then my (due on 9/1) raise would not be applied and the amount would go to pool.  Then in mid September “upper” changed its story, too late to go backward.

I suppose from a careful reading of the Faculty Code this might be the only decision that could “pass muster”, with a record of past legal challenges to the faculty salary policy.  But upper administration could actually have tried to establish intent, offer waivers of rights, whatever.  In practice it means I have a young colleague who would have received, and richly deserved, a 10% increase only receiving 7%.  And as I am re-employed I needlessly receive my 3.5% increase that could be used to much better purpose going forward.

The future of the quality of our faculty is for those “seniors” willing to get out of the way, like me,  to be respected in that decision making.  UW needs to do much better.



iOS 7 I: One Thing Not to Like

September 22, 2013

iOS 7.  Some people love it, some people hate it.  Much to like, most of the complaints are “water off McDuff’s back”.  Except: (!)

I went to add an event to my calendar and needed to set the time.  The new date/time setting control is lame compared to all versions since at least iOS 4.  Used to be when you scrolled and got close, touching the right number ratcheted it in.  No more.  Huge decline is usability and accessibility.

I’m amazed that I can’t find similar feedback in web searches.   Would love pointers to similar commentary.


April 17, 2013

I have tried to stay calm, admittedly with marginal success, since the School of Oceanography was siphoned away from a clear role in what was the UW College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences to its new home in the College of the Environment.  It has not been an easy transition for our School or for me.  Was pretty easy to understand how we fit into the old college:  Oceanography mapped to Ocean and Fishery Sciences.  Has been much harder to see the mapping of Ocean to Environment, for we now are a basic science department in a college too strongly mapped to environmental sustainability and problem solving.  With most of our funding coming from the National Science Foundation, whose mission is transformational basic science, this is a strong disconnect.  Yet I try to be a good citizen.

The past week has put me over the edge.  We have had a high-end set of portrait photographers (and Benj and Sara, you are top notch!) taking portraits of our faculty for our new “edgy” college web site.  I was cooperative, on-time, wearing my Infectious Awareables E. coli tie.  Benj was impressed that I had cleaned my glasses just before coming.  And what seems like a couple hundred shots later, there were some I liked.

To me the meaning of the word faculty is a member of the faculty.  Certainly those that vote.  These include many exceptional young talents and older even more stellar talents all of whom do a significant share of teaching, full-time with a title in the Lecturer series.  I learned from the young talent in our school that she knew nothing about this photo happening.  I sent an e-mail to the assistant in the college office coordinating, and heard back within a hour or so from our Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Diversity explaining that 1) this was an expensive process and so 2) the project is “limited to those faculty who have grad faculty status with endorsement to chair “, so that 3) “there are a range of faces not represented in this group who are strong forces in the college”.

Yet the very reason given to me by her is that the project is “an attempt to sum up the scholarly diversity of the college with an eye towards prospective students, secondarily…”  So exactly how is it that the full-time, voting faculty members who actually teach a critical portion of our curriculum are ignored?  What should I think about my role if I am one of these faculty members?  What should I think if I am a student taking one of those courses?  What should I think if I am a parent of this student?  What should I think or my parents think as I consider our college as a prospective student?

Google thinks my word is new…we are the College of Hypenvironment.

Tales of Institutional Control

February 18, 2013

Last summer Caltech, my alma mater, was sanctioned by the NCAA for lack of institutional control.  There was no shortage of coverage describing what happened:  NY Times, Washington Post, and many, many others courtesy Google.  Quoting the Washington Post:

“There are no athletic scholarships at Caltech — you have to be a student-scholar to be admitted.

So what was Division III Caltech doing wrong?

In the first three weeks of each trimester, students there are allowed to “sample” classes and “shop” for courses before registering for them.* These students are technically part-time until they enroll for their courses, and part-time students cannot participate in NCAA sports. This happened with 30 Caltech athletes in 12 sports between 2007 and 2010.

(*Here are some of the classes Caltech offers: “Optical Wave Propagation,” “Markov Chains, Discrete Stochastic Processes and Applications” and “Signal Transduction and Biomechanics in Eukaryotic Cell Morphogenesis.”

Caltech turned itself in.

What did the NCAA do? They threw the book at ’em.

(At least when you throw the book at Caltech, someone there can actually read it.)

Three years’ probation, a one-year postseason ban in the affected sports, vacated wins gained with ineligible athletes and a ban on off-campus recruiting.

The long arm of the NCAA law comically reached out to prevent Caltech from competing for championships it never wins and to cease recruiting it never does.”

Rewinding to the Google search above the third page returned, at least as of today, is this AP wire article preserved on the NCAA web site.  It is a pissy little piece, first paragraph:

“At Caltech, where the laws of physics are understood, the rules of the NCAA apparently proved elusive.”

that eventually reveals:

“The NCAA blamed a lack of oversight and communication between athletic administrators, coaches and the registrar.”

More grievous is the layout of the page imbedding this article.  One of the links in a sidebar:  Enforcement.  I don’t expect that this page will last long.  I’ll be “printing” a pdf to embed here.  Some highlights:

“Integrity. Fair play. Accountability.”

“The NCAA enforcement program strives to maintain a level playing field.”

“The mission of the NCAA enforcement program is to … impose appropriate penalties if violations occur.”

Appropriate?  Was the playing field not level?  (As an aside, Caltech already well knows my view of whether they should remain a member of the NCAA, for the principle here must be that academic regulations emanating from the faculty must always trump such silliness.)

Fast forward to today.  An enforcement case where the stakes are much higher.  Totally botched. Where does the NCAA lay blame for “a lack of oversight and communication?”

Today’s press briefing detailing the unethical, unprincipled, unsupervised behavior of its enforcement wing has put the ex-UW Big Dawg, present NCAA President Mark Emmert in a dicey position. So what will come of “Integrity. Fair Play. Accountability.”?  VP for Enforcement fired.  A committee appointed to review the enforcement processes.  (Ironically the Enforcement page linked above highlights all of the changes coming to the process this summer under the guidance of University of Oregon President Ed Ray.  Like I say, how long will this page last?)

Many sports columnists see hypocrisy here, that Emmert hasn’t exercised institutional control and should take the sword himself.  May well happen, we’ll know in time.  Certainly there is a basis for such a view in the new enforcement regulations that become effective August 1, 2013, especially the one concerning responsibility versus knowledge.  Says the NCAA statement on October 30, 2012:

Penalties in the previous structure relied on whether the head coach knew of the violations or whether there was a “presumption of knowledge.” But under the new structure, rather than focus on knowledge or the presumption of it, the bylaw will be amended to presume only responsibility. Accordingly, if a violation occurs, the head coach is presumed responsible, and if he or she can’t overcome that presumption, charges will be forthcoming.

But learning from the Caltech sanctions some minimums:  Three year probation:  three year probation of NCAA administration.  A one-year postseason ban in the affected sports:  no attendance of NCAA administrators at post-season events.  Vacated wins gained with ineligible athletes: recapture of salary of the responsible NCAA administrators.  A ban on off-campus recruiting: Let’s skip the prohibition on outside recruiting so as to be able to clean house.  These seem appropriate.

More appropriate would be also vacating Caltech’s sanctions.

The Big Wide Water World

January 22, 2013

This morning I became aware of the Up-Goer Five Text Editor.  The editor was inspired by this XKCD cartoon that explains how the Saturn V rocket works using only the ten hundred words people use most often.

XKCD and scientists go together.  And so many have now used this editor to write about research.  There is even an archive for these short essays.  Some are quite compelling and elegant.  I especially like this one about the Boltzmann equation.   So I tried myself:

I study hot water coming out of cracks in rocks at the bottom of the big wide water world.  How hot? How fast? How much?   I study with a water car that a computer makes follow track lines. The numbers from the water car go into a computer to answer the questions.

Why do I do this?  Stuff in the hot water helps animals live without the sun. When the rocks at the bottom shake and break, the moving of the water changes and the stuff in it. Then the life of the animals change.

Kind of like Tom Swift explaining things.

What is disturbing is that many very important words to oceanographers are not in the top ten hundred words.  Not ocean.  Not sea.  Not salt.  Astronomers have stars, space, and time.  Mathematicians have numbers and lines.  Computer scientists have bits and computers.  Life isn’t fair!