Righting wrongs

I’ve been silent on social media about the racial conflict that has flared up in recent days. It isn’t because I am silent about it in real life, because I regularly speak up about that when I see it, and have done so for most of my life. The people who know me know I have no tolerance for any bigoted nonsense.

On social media, I’m not tagging my black friends because they know I am an ally. I am also not tagging my Latino friends, my LBGTQ friends, my Islamic friends, my Jewish friends, my friends of Asian heritage, my disabled friends, or anyone else. They know if they need my help, I’m there.  And I’m not going to give Facebook and Twitter more info for marketing and tracking.

I’m not trying to share quotes or insights about this online. I’m trying to listen to others voices and understand things that I have not been forced to directly experience. I may never fully understand it, but I see too much of it occurring, and have over my lifetime.

I don’t believe Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or blogging is real life. Much of that online culture is actually somewhat destructive of values I hold dear. I use it to have a path to friends I might otherwise lose in the shuffle of life. That, and to see the occasional meme or joke.  But I don’t mistake it as a real place where we live.

I fear that too many people get caught up in posting, or marching, or sending money — today — and in a few weeks will be back focusing on cat videos and pictures of their sourdough bread. The way to make a difference is to live the difference, and consciously engage in dialog with others, consciously speak out about injustice, and seek to be a better person every day.

I truly hope that the people I see whose posts are all about the rioting rather than the reasons for the rioting look deep inside themselves about what matters. I hope that those whose concern seems to be mostly about the property are not really that shallow — that it is an artifact of the posts that are shown to me.

I advise you each hug the other person (when the SARS-COV-2 threat is past and assuming they consent), or fist bump, or lock arms, or whatever is involved in showing you are not scared of someone who is different. Share your humanity. Reach out to others. Life is too short and too difficult to spend any of it hating another person because of looks, or religious beliefs, or who they find attractive. Instead, open your heart on a regular basis. (Although, do try to avoid toxic people, like Trump supporters.)

As John Wesly advised 300 years ago:

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.

Whether you support victims of injustice or not isn’t a matter of what you post; your support is measured in what you say and do and how you live the rest of your days. Make it count.

Old bio

OMG. My friends Dolores and Wayne Zage ran across a bio I gave them over a dozen years ago when I spoke at an event they sponsored. It is still fresh today, although the “20” years” is now “33”:

Oddly, Spaf was born many years ago on, of all days, his birthday. He was the first child for his poor but proud parents, and his arrival changed their lives forever: although they continued to be poor, they were never proud again.

After some time, many dreary experiences, and repeated electroshock therapy, Spaf obtained degrees in math, computer science, and beer (the latter was an honorary degree, bestowed by peers) from Georgia Tech. It wasn’t so much the work he did as it was his ability to annoy his committee to the point of getting him out the door in 1986. He spent the next year engaged in activities that he now describes as “a postdoc…nothing more, and certainly nothing involving explosives” in a low voice accompanied by furtive glances over his shoulder.

At Purdue since 1987, Professor Spafford is still unclear when the statute of limitations runs out for his “postdoc.” However, after 20 years in Indiana, he is beginning to relax about possibly visiting several Southern states and Central American countries again, and he no longer giggles nervously when people mention “grits” or “kudzu.”

Spaf, as he is known to his students and therapists, is alleged to work in the areas of information security, science policy, and computing ethics. Despite having a crack staff at CERIAS, many colleagues, and more than a few students, none have actually seen him “work,” although all have seen him arrive late, leave early, and supposedly drive to the airport at least once a week.

11 Bits of Advice Based on Experience

I wrote an answer to a question on Quora, asking for advice I would give to anyone.  As with many things on Quora, the question got changed, the answer got buried, and people moved on.

I was reminded of the list today.  I still think it is pretty good, and it is based on life experience.  I added one more point to the list I posted on Quora.  I try to follow these principles and think they are sound.  I decided I would share it here, as I have not written much recently (I’m really slammed with my sabbatical this year).

  1. Do things because they are right to do, not because you think anyone is paying attention, or that you will get some reward (or suffer a consequence if you don’t do them). Doing what is right is its own reward.
  2. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Normally, one sees one’s own foibles and shortcomings more readily than others do, while overestimating the abilities of others. (See also imposter syndrome.) However, don’t get overconfidence in what you think you know or can do. (See also Dunning-Kruger.) Success lies in understanding your limits, operating within them, and seeking to extend them.
  3. Everyone has sadness, loss, struggles, and fears, although the majority only show (and sometimes exaggerate) to others their success, happiness, and strengths. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have more negative in your life, or that others are somehow happier than you are.
  4. Try to practice kindness and patience; always practice respect. Appearances and circumstances may be deceiving. Even if they aren’t, try to treat others at least as well as you would like to be treated.
  5. Look back on past mistakes as learning experiences, not as regrets. Don’t dwell on them — you have the future to do better! That also means taking ownership of when you make mistakes. Admit them, take responsibility, and move on.
  6. Life isn’t fair. If there is some purpose or rationale, it is almost certainly beyond our ken. Don’t envy others, or curse what has happened — neither makes things better. Instead, keep focused on how to make “next” better. As long as you get up one more time than you are knocked down, you have chances to make things better.
  7. Learn to be comfortable being alone. Love and friendship are wonderful if and when you can find them, but much of your life — and often, even in a relationship — you spend alone, in your thoughts, if not in the physical sense.
  8. Don’t be shy about expressing yourself. Learn to say “no” when you want to, and to say “I love you” when you feel it. You are entitled to your feelings and autonomy as much as anyone else. (And as related to other things on Quora — that doesn’t mean you are entitled to your own facts, or that your opinions are necessarily correct, or that people won’t react negatively. But you have to own your own feelings and agency.)
  9. You are not responsible for the feelings or success (or failure) of any other adult. Don’t let others blame you for things you didn’t do, or try to make you feel guilty about something you didn’t cause.
  10. Find joy in the world around you. Sunsets, flowers, babies, art, smiles, snowflakes, stars…. the world is filled with wonder. Experience it. Learn about it. Don’t let anything become too commonplace to miss out on it.
  11. Never stop learning.  Learning new things will not only help keep you sharp, but it can foster new directions in your life.  When one stops learning is when one really begins decline; plants grow by putting up new shoots, animals grow by adding size, and people grow by adding new thoughts and experiences.

Not Dead Yet!

I’m not sure how many people actually follow my blog posts here, but you may have noticed a long hiatus.  No, nothing is wrong.  I’m on a year-long sabbatical from Purdue and that is keeping me extraordinarily busy.  That, along with some of my work with ACM, means I am on the road a lot, with several visits around the country and trips to New England, London, and California tossed in.

Part of my sabbatical is in New Mexico, and thus I’ve updated my blog post about visiting the state.  As Pattie and I have more adventures there, I will update that post.

Purdue recently posted a short profile of me, as part of their 150th anniversary celebration.  You can see it here.

As time and events allow, I will post more here.

Be it resolved (2018 edition)

In prior years (e.g., 2017), I wrote New Year’s resolutions.   As I look through last year’s set I realize that I yet again managed to keep them all (although I haven’t yet started to learn Russian) and should set some of them as goals for this year, too — in particular, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 14.

It has been a scary and glorious year.  Glorious, as the first year of marriage has been wonderful, including all sorts of travel, surprises, and good times.  Scary, because the kakistocracy in office in the US make me worried for not only my own future, but that of generations to come.

Be that as it may, I will set some modest resolutions for this year.   #7 and #8 are for Pattie, based on some of my misadventures this year.

1-6 as above.

    1. Do not get on a Segway again….when she’s watching.
    2. Do not attempt to make popcorn in the microwave without adult supervision.

Beyond that I’m coming up blank.  That is depressing, but maybe it means I am finally coming to terms with what fate has done to me?

Whatever the reasons and the resolutions, I wish each and everyone of you a Happy New Year!  I continue to encourage you to treat every person — especially those who are poor, sick, or downtrodden — with kindness and respect no less than what you, yourself, would expect.  If you make that YOUR resolution, it will help make 2018 a better year than it would have been otherwise.

Be It Resolved (2017 edition)

Damn, another year down the tubes. 2016 has been full of dubious accomplishments and tragic losses. I think Dave Barry captured the year in his usual inimitable way so I won’t recap all of that. My own year was filled with both, but it is ending on an upbeat note, thankfully.

Despite all that happened, I managed to keep all my New Year’s Resolutions for 2016, except for perhaps #4. I now have a string of about 6 years of resolutions I’ve kept, so I guess I should go for another round. Thus, without further ado…

In 2017 I resolve to:

  1. Stop dressing as a clown and visiting schools to try to cheer up the sad children of the world.
  2. Not allow myself — via adoption, marriage, or assimilation — to become a Kardashian.
  3. To give up bidding on Ebay for a tailored, one-piece purple bodysuit — unless I find one available in cat leather.
  4. To continue to be an example of etiquette by saying “please” and “thank you” even after Donald Trump and his minions destroy society and we are living in caves and lean-tos.
  5. No longer demand, while sitting in thesis defenses, that my students cut off their pinkie fingers as a sign of fealty. Usually.
  6. Finally find out what that whole “Game of Thrones” gameshow is all about.
  7. Try to adapt to the changes a President Trump will bring to the USA. First up: learning Russian.
  8. Not strongly urge young children to watch the movie “Alien” to really understand what a Hatchimal is.
  9. Stop saying “How could it be worse?” when talking about TV, politics, movies, hacking, or pretty much anything else. Too many people see it as a challenge rather than a rhetorical question.
  10. Not vote to leave the European Union for 3 magic beans.
  11. Not to insist that I am a “superdelegate” during faculty meetings and demand we adjourn.
  12. I will not build a huge wall around my yard and make my neighbors pay for it — although if I go skinny-dipping much they may do it on their own.
  13. Reduce my training regimen because it appears certain that competitive eating of lasagna and doughnuts will not become Olympic sports.
  14. Not be sick with worry in anticipation of what the new President and First Lady have planned for Moose & Squirrel.
  15. Not to make another deal with the Devil for a win in the World Series that results in deaths of dozens of beloved celebrities.

And finally, #16 — after several years of giving Jennifer, Adriana, Alessandra, Candice and the rest their chance, I resolve to be firm and dismissive if they finally call because I’ve been found by someone better. Eat your hearts out, ladies — you had your chance!

I hope your New Year’s is wonderful and you find a good cave before the rush. May 2017 be another year of wonder, but not “I wonder where I am and whose goat that is?”

New beginnings

TL;DR summary: 2016 largely sucked for Spaf, with 2015 providing a downramp into the suck. 2017 is going to start with a sparkle (despite the awful prospects given by the US elections) because Dr. Pattie has entered stage left. Takeaways: be positive because unexpected things can happen, and don’t hesitate to make friends because they can change your life.

Some of my friends may have noticed a slowdown in my social activities over the last year+. I’ve never been a great correspondent, but this has been unusual. Of course, being in the wilds of Indiana also impedes connecting with people!

The last 18 months have not been especially pleasant for me, personally or professionally. For example, I was ousted from my position at CERIAS by a (now-former) dean for questionable reasons. Rather than do the right thing and overturn the decision, the provost was more concerned about stopping complaints and news reports of the decision; He did make me some promises to help lessen the impact — none of which he has followed through on. I’m now officially “Executive Director Emeritus” although it isn’t clear what that means.

As another example, I didn’t get my long-hoped-for sabbatical because of a bureaucratic snafu. As a result of that, I was assigned (with only a few weeks notice!) co-teaching a 400 student freshman intro course, with no text and some new, untested technology. It went about as poorly as could be expected from all that.

There was more, but I won’t belabor it because I’ve consistently tried to stay positive. Nonetheless, my life has built up a lot of stress and disappointment. It has contributed to a feeling of not really being valued or wanted at my university … or anywhere else… but I continue to try to find some positive outcomes. And they exist. I graduated two wonderful PhD students, Mohammed Almeshekah and Kelley Misata, and I have two more nearing completion. I handed off leadership of USACM to a great colleague, Stu Shapiro. And I was renewed as editor-in-chief of the oldest journal in cyber security, Computers & Security.

I also was very pleasantly surprised at the end of the year by being named as recipient of two major awards — the 2017 IFIP Kristian Beckman Award, and as a Sagamore of the Wabash. (Neither was publicly acknowledged by my department at Purdue, of course.)

Although not professional, the awful election results haven’t helped my mood any. I fear for where the world is heading, especially for my daughter, my nieces and nephews, and my current and former students. A world where ignorance and mendacity are rewarded, and where bigotry and hatred are encouraged, is not the world they (or anyone else) deserve.

Personally, well, that has had setbacks, too. I partially separated my shoulder 18 months back, and it then developed “frozen shoulder syndrome.” As Wikipedia notes (see the link) “Pain is usually constant, worse at night, and with cold weather. Certain movements or bumps can provoke episodes of tremendous pain and cramping.” Uh, yeah. Exactly that. By the way, typing is difficult, too. 6 months of physical therapy brought me back to 90% of normal. And I’ve continued to deal with some of the regular wear and tear associated with many years and miles. I’m not as old as my students think I am, but there are mornings getting out of bed (and climbing flights of stairs) where my body agrees with them more than with the calendar.

That might be enough for most people, but of course, not for me! In June, my divorce with Kathy, my wife of 30 years, was final. It was not hugely surprising in the long view — we have grown in different directions over many years. It was surprising in the timing though, and right while I was trying to cope with many of the things above. However, we don’t get to choose when everything happens in our lives and Kathy decided early in the year that it was time for her, so there we were.

The divorce was largely amicable. After all, working together against life’s various challenges over 30 years does bring a lot of connection, as does being co-parents to a wonderful daughter. Kathy is a complex, remarkable person, and we had a good run together. She has now embarked on a new chapter in life, and I wish her nothing but happiness. But, it was still more stress for me….

However, out of change and chaos, sometimes new possibilities arise.

While all the above was crashing down on me, I had several long-time friends corresponding with me, to encourage me. These are people who I’ve met over the years where we’ve had some connection that has developed into friendship online. We don’t see each other often, but we share experiences, stories, jokes, encouragement, and occasionally provide a virtual “hug.” Their support was really helpful. One in particular had wise words and great humor about how to cope with setbacks, the divorce, and more. She was someone I met nearly a dozen years ago when she and her then-husband were grad students at Purdue. I hadn’t seen her in person in a decade, but we kept in touch online. In the intervening years she had gotten divorced, gone back to school for her PhD, moved halfway across the continent, and gotten a faculty job teaching. She had positive advice that resonated with me, and her love of puns and bad jokes was delightful. (I realize not everyone would say that about puns. Your loss.) We corresponded more and more until we decided it was time to meet again in person and see exactly what might be developing. We did, and we liked each other even more in person than online.


After several more meetings, Pattie spent most of the summer with me in Lafayette, helping me do a top-to-bottom clean-up of the house (I kept it after the divorce). Probably more than a literal ton of items that neither Kathy, Elizabeth nor I wanted was donated to charity, recycled, or simply dumped. I ran across things saved from my parents, my childhood, and family souvenirs from the last few decades. It was an emotionally trying time for me, but Pattie provided advice, humor, and affection. When my shoulder or back complained about the endless boxes, she was there to provide a helping hand and sometimes a wisecrack — a perfect mix of empathy and motivation.

After “Dr. Pattie” went back to teach in Louisiana, we had time apart, and we staged several visits and trips together when we could schedule them. The combination only confirmed for us that our paths should be joined rather than separate. So, Pattie resigned her position at the University of Louisiana Lafayette, and will be moving to West Lafayette, Indiana in late December. (Yes, Lafayette to Lafayette — one of many interesting coincidences.)

Oh, and just to tie up loose ends, we’re going to get married in 2017. We’re both old enough and experienced enough to know that what we have is special, and time is precious.

So, 2017 is going to get off to a really great start for me, and I’m hoping the overall trend stays positive. I hope it will for you, too. Best wishes to you for the holidays, and beyond



Update: Pattie and I got married January 3rd. We picked the date because it is equidistant between our birthdays. Perhaps a nerdy reason, but there it is, and a great way to start off the new year.

Faculty Qualifications

Tonight, I was reminded of an episode in my past that provided quite a bit of bemusement and amusement early in my career.  I thought I’d recount it to share.

When I was a grad student at Georgia Tech in the early 1980s, the field was growing significantly.  The faculty at Georgia Tech was no exception, and they were casting a wide net for new faculty.  Part of the process was to have a grad student serve as a non-voting member of the hiring committee, to provide a student voice in the process.

I was that voice one year.

I remember seeing a  number of interesting C.V.s and applications.  I found the experience helpful for my own career trajectory, and years later applied a little of what I learned to my own job search.  I also found it amusing — we had quite a varied bunch of folks who fancied themselves as potential university faculty.  Given that there weren’t a huge number of new PhDs at the time of the quality they were looking for at GaTech, this wider group was given some consideration.  After all, electrical engineers, mathematicians, linguists, and even philosophers all had some elements of possible study that meant they could contribute to the academic life of the program.  (One of my favorite professors was James Gough, Jr., whose background was in human languages, semiotics, and logic.)

Some of the applicants lacked any connection with computer science (that I could see), but apparently thought that having experience as a TV repairman or accountant was sufficient for a faculty position in the department.  A few had work experience using computers, but the department was really looking for applicants who had the equivalent of a PhD in a scientific or otherwise related field.

One applicant, who inspires this post, was writing from New Zealand or Australia — I forget which.  He had an advanced degree in mathematical logic, and the equivalent of an MS in computer science.  What really made him stand out was his cover letter.  It appears that there wasn’t a ready market for someone like him “down under” so he wanted to make the move to the USA.  If only we’d pay for a ticket to come interview, we would be sure to find his skills acceptable.  Not only did he know about advanced math and computation, but he was good with people and reckoned he’d make a fine teacher.  He could play the guitar and sing.  He was used to hard work, having been a ranch hand for the last few years.   And, under “special skills” he listed the clincher — right after mentioning his ability to program in Fortran and COBOL, and his ability to read and write Latin, he averred that he could “geld sheep with his teeth.”

Never before or since have I seen a job application in computing brag about one’s castration skills, with teeth or any other implement.  I suspect one or two colleagues who have worked in forensics and law enforcement have considered it, but none have bragged about their experience in this department.  I also know some female colleagues subjected to condescending “mansplaining” who may darkly imagine such drastic action (but are too polite to carry through).

What made all this all the more remarkable to me was that his application was in the folder for “Further Consideration.”   I asked one of the faculty members why that was so.  He replied, in all seriousness (I think): “He knows how to program.  That, and we bet he could keep the students in class well behaved.”

In the end, he wasn’t hired by our faculty, although there was a strong faction that wanted to bring him in for an interview “just because.”  Since then, I have always had a slight concern when meeting colleagues from the Antipodes…but I do notice their undergraduate classes seem better behaved than mine.

Crappy Customer Service

I’ve posted here before about customer service, both good and bad.

Here’s an example of really bad.

On January 8, we purchased a new refrigerator at Best Buy.  It’s a high-end Kitchen Aid model that my wife and daughter had found and really wanted.  It was not the cheapest purchase out there, but had some nice features they wanted.  The unit has 2 doors above, and a freezer drawer below.

The refrigerator was delivered and installed on February 5.  We noticed over the weekend that the light switch on one side was not working correctly — the door would be opened and the light would not come on.  It was almost certainly not working from the moment it was delivered and plugged in, but we didn’t notice right away because of the way we put things in: we didn’t open that side much.  Even so, we opened that door no more than 1o times before we noticed the problem.

Because of travel and other appointments, Kathy was only able to call Best Buy today.  They referred her to Kitchen Aid’s service hotline and said it was Kitchen Aid’s problem.  So Kathy called them to arrange to have someone fix this.

Here’s the rotten punchline — the refrigerator we paid a premium for, that we have had for less than a week — is out of warranty!  They have a 30 day warranty against defects, but they claim it starts from the date of purchase!  Thus, we are going to be charged to fix a problem that was present in the refrigerator when it was delivered.

Needless to say, this is the last appliance we buy from either Best Buy or Kitchen Aid.   I recommend you seriously consider avoiding both for any of your purchases, too.  It is clear they only care about the sale and nothing at all about customer satisfaction.


Update 2/12

The service guy came out today and found a faulty circuit board.  He admitted it was faulty and told us that whoever we talked to on the phone from Kitchen Aid was wrong.  He replaced the board, reset the controller, and there was no charge.

I am a bit less upset now with Kitchen Aid, although their phone service center people need some training.  The Best Buy 30 day warranty, however, is still a pile.

Be It Resolved (2016 edition)

Once again, a new year is about to present itself. 2015 sort of flew by, and also similar to a pigeon, it dumped on me as it passed. But 2016 is nearly upon us, and that is an opportunity to make some resolutions for the new year.

I have managed to keep all of my 2015 resolutions (and my 2014 and 2013 resolutions, too0.

So, without further ado, here is my list for 2016. I will:

  1. Continue to not give in to the Dark Side…of toast.
  2. I will not undergo gender reassignment treatments, largely because that would require testing to determine “from” and “to” for my species, and no one is ready for that.
  3. Cut waaaay back on describing myself as “on fleek” in my memos to the deans.
  4. Try to not taunt people with severe moral and mental impairments, i.e.. Donald Trump supporters. Well, not constantly.
  5. Consume more of the 4 basic food groups: Bacon, Scotch, Chocolate, and Coffee. But this year, discontinue attempts at an all-inclusive smoothie.
  6. Strive to be less of a curmudgeon — maybe just dial it back to “crotchety.”
  7. Attempt in get in shape this year. (NB. oblate spheroid is a shape, so I have a head start.)
  8. Overcome peer pressure to take a controversial public stand: Damnit, I’m for the Oxford comma!
  9. Experiment to see if my cat allergy has abated; meatloaf?
  10. Do at least one thing outrageous enough to require an update to my pending obituary.
  11. Not build and claim any islands in the South China Sea.
  12. Try to make some of my hobbies self-supporting. Any idea where I’d market earwax candles?
  13. Continue to avow that it is white and gold, not blue and black.
  14. Not reattempt an “eggnog & gingerbread” cleanse.
  15. Not donate $40 billion to charity instead of leaving it to my daughter (you’re welcome, Elizabeth).
  16. Continue to exercise understanding that Jennifer, Adriana, Alessandra, Kate, Kim, Amber, Miranda, Candice and the rest are still really, really busy and simply have not yet been able to whisk me away. (That must be the reason, right?)

I hope your New Year’s is enjoyable and safe (avoid the meatloaf and smoothies), and 2016 is a year of wonder, but not frequently as in “I wonder who I am and where my pants are?”

P.S. Jennifer, Candice, et al. — I’m free this New Year’s Eve, too. I’ll wait for your call.

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