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!

Computing Update VI

January 6, 2013

This is the time of year, imbedded in Whistler, to do major maintenance of my computing environment.  And with my holiday gift to Tobae…four hours of computing support free of raised voice and any other bad behavior on my part…her computing environment as well.  As so here I sit with my MacBook Pro next to her slightly newer MacBook Pro.

Mine was bought in March, but it didn’t become my “production” computer until September.  Burned once by Migration Assistant, I pretty much build from scratch and it takes awhile.  Then a few weeks of carrying both with me.  Finally convinced that I didn’t have to go back and forth anymore, found a good home for the old computer after extracting its hard drive and putting a new one in for its next user.

And so it has gone for Tobae.  She has a very old MBP.  In November I visited brother Ken who works at the Apple Store in Bellevue Square and acquired a new one for her.  And it has been mostly sitting ever since, waiting for time to get all the things working that need to be working.

The day started poorly.  I’m not quite sure what happened when trying to apply one of those multiple operating system updates from the App Store, but was quite evident the computer was not planning to boot again unless I re-installed.  A ‘Command-R’ boot and two hours later (most of this was time downloading) and  was back to the out-of-the box state.  (This “Internet Recovery” feature is quite sweet!)  Smoothly sailing thereafter:  additional browsers (Firefox and Chrome), 1Password, iStat Menus, Quicksilver, Dropbox, configuring Mail.  A few tasks left…Microsoft Office, Google Earth, MacGPS Pro.  Not to forget to moving all existing data, but that is best left for last…one of the trickiest parts of a slow transition. Pretty linear.

And then there is VMware Fusion.  Easy to install the program itself…the harder work setting up virtual machines, and for Tobae this is Windows.  Windows is critical for Tobae in two ways.  She runs her practice on QuickBooks and (just like for Quicken) the Windows version is so very much better than the OS X one.  And the Providence Hospital electronic medical records system is Windows-based.  However there is nothing more challenging than Windows licensing as one changes hardware, for the ability to run the operating system requires an activation step intimately linking the product key (effectively the license) to the hardware.  Windows 7 seems the right place to be for at least another year or two.  I’ve been running it for about a year now.  With XP support going away in 2014, time to get Tobae off of XP.

One can spend considerable time trying to make sense of Windows licensing, especially in a virtual environment.  Bullet proof is buying the ~$270 retail version.  $270?  An alternative, and Microsoft doesn’t give very clear guidance, is the OEM version meant for new computers spanning computer manufacturers to DIYers.  Or what isn’t clear, building virtual ones.  At ~$140 pretty compelling.  But there is one (near) truth.  The OEM version anchors to one and only one motherboard forever.   So workable, but with risk.   I was concerned that we had only OEM licenses in our personal world at this point but finally established that the license Tobae holds is a retail version, so the upgrade version of Windows 7 (~$130) will work.   It is ordered.

Pretty easy to contrast this Microsoft licensing nonsense with the lack of nonsense from Apple for OS X.  Yes Apple hardware is more expensive.  Going from 10.X to 10.X+1 costs a little, nothing like ~$130.  Most impressive though is the model of trust.  Certainly there is a license from Apple to which one agrees.  But there are no certificates of authenticity, holograms, license keys, activation, branding chaos (e.g., Home, Pro, Ultimate).   Thank you Apple for knowing that “I am not a crook.”

Most Notable Republican?

October 30, 2012

I should memorialize a remarkable letter I received from Mitt Romney, seeking a contribution of “$1,000, $2,500, $5,000, $10,000, $25,000, $50,000”, up to my “maximum personal contribution” limit of $75,800 for the “Romney Victory” team.  This will help spare the country from “crushing debt”.  This is not an economic plan for me for it would require $75,800 of new crushing personal debt.

Why didn’t I just recycle the letter from the go?

Dear Russell,

I am running for President of the United States and because you are one of America’s most notable Republicans, I want to personally let you know why.

Most notable Republican?


And for anybody confused by the $75,800 personal contribution limit?

Romney Victory, Inc., a joint fundraising committee authorized by and composed of Romney for President, Inc., the Republican National Committee, the Idaho Republican Party, the Massachusetts Republican State Congressional Committee, the Oklahoma Leadership Council, the Vermont Republican Federal Election Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee.


Wine Country IV

August 13, 2012

My, I have been quiet.   Friend Ron posts ~25 times a month.  My 2012 average is ~1.  Need to do better. (And as I think about posting this, his production values are high…when I haven’t given links just google or bing or whatever).

What better way to renew than add a few notes to Ron’s excellent discussion of our visit to Walla Walla wine country in late July.  I can’t thank Gail and Ron enough for including us.

I had been moving rapidly.  To Whistler for a week with my brother and his family, except midweek I visited New York for a meeting.  I left Whistler very early on Sunday to pick up Tobae at home and make our way to Walla Walla.  On the way we listened to KIRO 97.3 FM, Seattle Kitchen with Chefs Tom Douglas and Thierry Rautureau.  We were able to insert some wisdom regarding X in conversations in Walla Walla.  With good luck Tobae will remind me of what X is!  But in total, I drove 9 hours that day.

We left Snohomish on Sunday in time to visit Portteus on the drive, outside Zillah on Rattlesnake Ridge.  A favorite of ours, but inexplicably we hadn’t been in a long time and were out of their many food-friendly and tremendous value wines.   Our first visit we arrived at the winery a good hour before tasting opened based on some bad information.  But owner Paul Portteus was extraordinarily gracious, stopped what he was doing, and gave us a full tasting.  At that time we found that Rattlesnake Red was a tremendous bargain.  Coupled with a terrific reserve Merlot (and I usually don’t like Merlot) and some good Zins.  This time we mixed two cases…pretty sure those contained Rattlesnake Red, Bistro Red, Reserve Merlot, Reserve Zin, Petite Sirah, their first Pinot Noir (strange hot country for this), and Old Vine Zin.  At the winery Rattlesnake Red (29% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, 14% Petite Sirah and 14% Zinfandel) is $8/bottle in case quantities.  Can’t go wrong!  Nearly all (all?) of the fruit is grown on his expansive vineyard.  (I wish I could remember the name of the not quite family member who took very good care of us.  And it was great to see Paul come in while we were there and take a strong taste…I wish I had caught of which wine.)

And so we continued on and arrived in Walla Walla perhaps five minutes ahead of Ron and Gail.  We made dinner plans.  I regret I didn’t quite explain to Ron that the menu at Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen looked fantastic and the result on arriving without a reservation was a full house.  But we agreed to sit outside as the sun was setting and it was delightful.  Much more quiet than the booming interior and the service was top notch despite the extra distance from the kitchen.  I will yet figure out how to make blackberry gazpacho, odd looking from the blackberry color, but with eyes closed worthy of the name.

Ron details our travels and dining on both days of the visit (Walla Walla, 1; Walla Walla, 2; Walla Walla, 3).  I can only add a few personal notes.

Day One was full of learning for me, perhaps the most I’ve learned in a single day of tasting ever.  As I contemplate my own very small vineyard (Pinot Gris certainly should work, and Pinot Noir continues moving northward), I paid considerable attention during our vineyard tour at Walla Walla Vintners.  I now have a vast store of pictures of how their trellising system works and equipment I’ll need; I’m looking forward to cutting down on mowing of the once “soccer field” as the vineyard goes into production.  The beauty of stop two at Buty was that our host had a legal background.  Many new insights into the lasting effects of prohibition as well as the new distribution system in Washington State.  Wasn’t sure how the stop at Waters would work out, until it became clear there was a bottling truck on site.  I’d seen one before, but nobody else had.  And it was a treat for me to get inside and up close.  Followed by a very special tour at Forgeron hosted by Marie-Eve.  Most of our third case came from Forgeron:  I’m certain it contains their Primitivo.  (Followers of this Wine Country thread know that I love D-cubed Primitivo from Napa Valley.)

Day Two was right up there on the learning scale.  Rasa was easily the geekiest winery ever.  QED, Occam’s Razor, Principia among wine names.  It wouldn’t be obvious without personally hearing Billo talk about their wines, but especially with Car Talk going out of production these brothers should create Wine Talk.  Like Ron I agree Northstar was a disappointment, but essentially from contrast with all our other visits in terms of intimacy.  Interesting idea to be a Merlot house, just as the Duckhorn’s staked out Napa Valley.  But as I mentioned earlier, Merlot is almost never my thing.  (Must say compared to Northstar, I prefer Portteus Reserve Merlot by far and at a better price.)  Garrison Creek had an extraordinarily  beautiful and green physical plant and some fine wines, but way (way!) too much oak for my taste.  Greener, certainly greenest I’ve seen, is Pepper Bridge.  An extraordinary tour from Walla Walla legend Norm McKibben.  Fascinating to hear and learn of his depth of knowledge that brings together production, quality, economics, and care for the environment.

Now to my central point.  Ron acknowledged multiple times our fantastic host/guide Phillippe Michel.  What he missed was this incredible blog post from the owner of Walla Walla’s Shady Lawn Antiques.  Phillippe not only sells barrels, he fixes barrels.  Forever.  And most charming he is dressed in the pictures exactly as we first saw him.  And that he is from Belgium, not France, opened a world of humor.

Thanks too to Imbibe Tours.  Our tour was arranged separately; they donated the transportation.  But very, very clear that they would be great hosts taking you to quality, mainly by reservation, wineries off the beaten track.  Many thanks Jay.

Privatization of Liquor in Washington

June 29, 2012

Immense changes came to Washington State on June 1…a binary transition from state liquor stores to an odd system dominated by past locations of the state liquor stores and new competition from large grocery stores and mega-liquor retailers (10,000 sq ft is the bar).  No mini-marts.

We celebrate mint julep season, but must admit that we don’t use bourbon, but rather Tennessee sour mash, aka Jack Daniels #7.  And so my primary basis of comparison is a handle (1.75 liters) of JD7.

In my last transaction at a state-run liquor store (mid-May), I paid $53.80 for a handle.  I next purchased one at Snohomish Top Foods early in June and with tax it was $58.64.  Visiting California in early June, only $33.86.  (Son Mark makes an excellent point:  he’d rather pay $58 per handle than his 10% income tax.)    But still if I apply all the Washington taxes to the California price JD#7 should be in the low $40s.

Now open “Total Wine and More”.  Base price $27.99, with taxes added $40.93.  Checked QFC when picking up bagels today and they have collapsed down to ~$48 total.  Took a month, but the benefits of the initiative are now appearing.

(Noted later…it was even less expensive when I visited than the web price.  Base price $25.99, with taxes added $38.44.  More than $20 better than at Top Foods, now Haggen).