Results of the Spaf’s Bow Tie Auction for Charity/Non-profits

The auction closed yesterday.  My sincere thanks to everyone who participated.  I was unsure how much interest it would generate, and somewhat concerned about whether it would generate anything significant for the organizations.  Pleasantly, a number of people responded with generous pledges.

Here are the winning bidders, bids, and destinations for each tie:

  1. Jon Loeliger, $175, the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Austin, TX
  2. Bryn Dole, $150, Purdue University/CERIAS
  3. David Elliott Bell, $300,  Purdue University/CERIAS
  4. David W. Baker, $350,  Purdue University/CERIAS
  5. Henrik Kramshøj, $150, UNICEF
  6. Karen Lopez, $501, Purdue University/CERIAS
  7. Bryn Dole, $150, Purdue University/CERIAS
  8. Aaron Lepold, $150, American Cancer Society
  9. Linda McGlasson, $125, Purdue University/CERIAS
  10. Lynn Terwoerds, $150, UNICEF

Additionally, Paul Rosenzweig pledged $100 to Purdue University/CERIAS.  If that bid had won a tie, he was going to donate it to a worthy grad student.  (Paul is a regular bow tie wearer, too.)

As per the “goodies” offer in the original post, Bryn, David. David, Karen, Linda and Paul will each get a CERIAS challenge coin.   Bryn, David, David and Karen will also receive a CERIAS-logo item.  And Karen will get treated to dinner and a bow tie-tying lesson from me if we manage to determine a shared location sometime before too long.  No one made a $1000+ pledge, so I don’t need to reveal what I had in mind for that. 🙂

Additionally, although I didn’t disclose this in the original post, I made a personal commitment to ensure that all the charities I listed get something out of this.   Therefore, in addition to whatever I may donate at year’s end, I donated (from personal funds) $150 to each of:

Thus, the total amount raised for these organizations from this mini-event comes out to $3051 — and no one was required to dump anything on their heads!

If you would like to toss in a donation as part of this overall effort, please do so!  These are all great groups and worthy of support.  I will honor my “goodies” offers for any donations made through the end of August!  Contact me for details.

 

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Charity Auction — Some of Spaf’s Bow Ties!

Total bids + 6 pledges (no tie):  $3051 — Auction closed!

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Letting Go

Several things all crossed my path recently that have a common theme: letting go. For some people, moving on is simple. For others, it is difficult. And for some people, it is impossible. So, for Father’s Day I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts on the topic.

What do I mean by “letting go”? Many things. Accepting change. Accepting some things have passed. Getting over the death of someone close. Ending a relationship. Leaving a stage of life. Embracing now-grey hair. Saying goodby to hair itself. Accepting getting winded going up the stairs. Giving up seeing your toes while standing. No longer getting through a day without a nap. Selling a family home. Replacing a favorite car. So many other things fit the theme.

By nature, some of us get so used to people and places and states of being that the disruption of change is painful. We also have emotional ties that can make it more difficult. It seems to be the human way for many of us, although a few of us seem to relish change, and there are times in our life when we long for it.

I remember when I was in my early 20s, I was eager to get out into the world, on my own, and start to “live my life.” I didn’t realize until many years later how much I’d miss the actual life I was living, surrounded by my family and close access to places where I had cherished memories. I have new memories, and new cherished family & friends that I did not dream of then, but I cannot help but miss those times. I had to let go — in my case, while driving from NY to Atlanta to begin grad school — but I have never really turned away. I miss those times and people and places, and on the (very) infrequent times I get back to that part of the country I am sometimes overwhelmed with memories triggered by the smallest things (mentioned in one of my earlier posts here). Later, as I left Atlanta to move to Indiana and start at Purdue, I had some of the same “letting go” pains from my time in grad school. And undoubtedly, if I leave Indiana and Purdue for something else, it will be traumatic — maybe more so, as I have lived here longer than any other place — yet it will require letting go to move to something else.

We all handle letting go in different ways, and a lot of that depends on what it is we think we are relinquishing.

I was reminded of this on news of an acquaintance’s much-beloved wife dying, and his hostile reaction to some expressions of solace from others. He didn’t want memories — he was not ready to let go. She is gone, but he has so many memories and such a different life because she was there; she is not really gone in every sense, but he doesn’t yet understand how to let go of the part of her that is no longer there.

I was reminded of this with discussion with a good friend, who is having difficulty coping with his daughter’s pending departure, first to travel, and then to college. He is having trouble letting go of his not-so-little girl. I was reminded how that same situation moved me to tears a year ago….although a chronic illness has brought her home indefinitely, and I will have to suffer that departure yet again. There is a sense of loss at the routine, at the things that I wish we had done together or could do again. Yet, there is a certain pride about her independence and dreams, and a realization that — at some point — she will need to be on her own. But dammit, does it need to be so soon?

I was reminded at Memorial Day of how many people had to let go of someone before their time should have been done. Yet, how different our lives (and the lives of millions of others) been had they not stepped up to the unknown.

Last week, I ran across a gift from a past girlfriend, and I was reminded of the good times we had 40 years ago. She and I are still friends, and I wish there wasn’t such a distance between us because she still makes me smile.

I realized when I stumbled across a picture that my high school graduation was 40 years ago this month.

I was reminded of a former dear friend who, a few years ago around this time seemed to have lost her mind and become a different person. I had the hardest time letting go until I discovered she had been lying to me about a great many things — the person I thought I knew may never have existed. It was difficult to let go of that imaginary person.

I was reminded of several friends who have drifted away in time, and a few special ones who died too soon — LinkedIn and Facebook recently prompted me to remember their birthdays, and a whole set of memories came flooding back. I miss some of the laughter and solace and insights. Some of them are only a phone call away, but we have had to let go because of time and space, and making that call too often would mean having to let go all over again.

I was reminded of this as something caused me (yet again) to think of my own mortality, and the question of whether I will do all I hope to do before then? Some things already slipped from my grasp. Am I ready to let go of some of those dreams?

Letting go is necessary for each of us, to provide “room” for new experiences, and to help us grow as people. There is a saying (Zen, I believe) that anything we cannot bear to lose, owns us; the goal of life is to be free of all owners. Perhaps none of us really requires anything beyond ourselves, but the reminder of the richness that people and routine bring to us makes it difficult for some of us to let go. People who are eager for each new thing can’t quite understand that, it seems.

I know that one of my own faults is that I don’t move on easily enough, at least in my personal life. I get too comfortable with things around me that may not be as good as they could be, but I don’t want to expend the energy to change to something less certain. When I was dating, I was seldom good about break-ups — I couldn’t accept they were over, and (in retrospect) that probably made them worse. I am not good at dealing with the inevitable, either — the cancers that took my grandmother and mother, for instance, or my daughter’s chronic health issues. I react with continual searching for some “fix” and hold out hope for a miracle (not in the religious sense). Again, in retrospect, I probably hold on too long. I know I am not alone in this.

I wonder if there is something genetic in this? When I was blogging about some genealogical research on the Spafford family line, I noted “… family motto has been rendered as Fidelis ad extremum or ‘Faithful to the extreme.’ Another version has been “Rather Deathe than false of Faythe,” which is rather the same thing. I gather that my forebears were not particularly good of letting go, even of lost causes.

Father's Day 1956May 2007

In one sense, a failure to give up is a failure to surrender to adversity. It is a testament to hope. The people who refuse to let go of hope, of life, of success, of love — they may not always succeed, but sometimes they do simply because they persist when others would have surrendered. There is survival benefit for some of us who don’t let go so easily — there is some chance we may yet succeed. The key is understanding when to continue, and when to let go. As one aphorism goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But then, give up so you don’t look like a damn fool about it.”

Today is Father’s Day. I remember my father, sometimes clearly and sometimes not. I lived under the same roof with him for 21 years, and another 30 years in relatively close touch. He worked so hard to make a good home for us, and to provide whatever he could for my sister and me to succeed. Yet, I seem to have only a few memories I can summon up at will — there are many buried, but I need something to jar them loose. I haven’t let go — time has taken a toll. I realize it will be this way with my daughter, who apparently hasn’t yet realized it is Father’s Day today, and I am a little saddened that I may not be much of a memory to her. Yet, I think about how much of who I am was shaped by my father in all those years, and I know that my influence will be there as long as she lives, and maybe even passed down to any children she may have. Given the nature of life and time, I really can’t expect much else.Me & Liz

Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, and to the children who have been shaped by them. Don’t let go of the memories or the opportunity to yet shape them. If your father is within reach, give him a hug. Or heck, if any father is in reach — to let go, sometimes you need to embrace, first!

Meanwhile, in the CERIAS blog…

I just posted an item in the CERIAS blog that has some relation to my personal ideas that I post here. Entitled “If you are bored or morbidly curious,” it is a post about the computer history effort at the Charles Babbage Institute. More specifically, it is about the oral history interview they did with me.

So, check out that post if you are into that kind of thing… especially if you are bored or morbidly curious. 🙂

Thoughts on the Tragedy at Purdue

Yeah, it was a tough day on campus today, although my day wasn’t nearly as bad as that of others.

The news account presents it rather simply:

A Purdue University engineering student was killed and a peer charged with his slaying Tuesday after a midday shooting in a basement classroom.

That doesn’t convey the shock and the disruption. One student with a problem walked into a class being taught by a TA, and shot him several times. He was arrested as he was walking out of the building. No motive is yet known, but really, there is no rational motive — the suspect is almost certainly mentally unstable. There is no reason in our society for a college student in his 20s to seek out and kill anyone, let alone a peer in a public place.

It was not a campus shooting similar to what has happened at other schools and universities in recent years. This was not a case of an angry, unstable person unloading on anyone in sight. This was targeted and personal — and is really a case of workplace violence. With a small change in circumstances, the same thing could have happened at a local restaurant. It would have shocked us all had that been the venue, but it probably would not have made the news out of the region. Context matters and a shooting in a school seems to provoke a more visceral reaction than a shooting at a party or a business. And the news story today of what is undoubtedly a greater tragedy, of photographic proof of many thousands of deaths by torture in Syria by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, wasn’t even noted by most around here. Some murders seem to shock more than others, although each demeans us all.

Still, a number of people grieve tonight, here, for this particular case and perhaps as well for the shattering of their own innocence and sense of safety. Many of our students have just begun to become aware of their own mortality, and few have experienced the death of a young person in their “group.” As a campus community, this was a shock for a great many of them … as well as to the faculty and staff who look after them.

There was a candlelight vigil tonight in single digit temps that attracted many hundreds. Tomorrow, classes will not be held as we have a day of reflection and mourning for Andy Boldt, 21, a senior in Engineering who had so much to look forward to. I hope people also grieve some for the suspect, Cody Cousins, 23, who must have some deep problems, and who may just have thrown away most of his future. And I wonder how Professor David Meyer will deal with this — both students were his TAs, and the shooting occurred in the recitation section of one of his courses.

If there is any good that came of this, it was to see campus emergency measures work. The alert went out quickly, and the campus went into lockdown (which most people paid attention to). What really worked well was the police response. The suspect went into the basement room where the victim was, shot him, and then walked upstairs and out of the building — where he was immediately arrested by the first officer on the scene. First police response was within 2 minutes. Within a few minutes more, the building was being cleared by over two dozen armed officers from the West Lafayette and Purdue police departments.

This past summer, the Purdue and WL police were using the building where CERIAS is housed for “active shooter” drills. They ran scenario after scenario, in full gear, at full speed, for several days. I talked with some of the officers, and they indicated that they train regularly for all sorts of incidents, including hostages, bombs, and more. This was simply one more, at a time when the buildings were mostly empty. Most faculty and students only encounter them for speeding or have drunk too much alcohol, but the men and women on our local forces are just great professionals. Along with the Purdue and WL fire departments and EMS crews, we have an incredible support system here. It worked, although it was for something we didn’t want to have tested.

I am in my 27th year at Purdue. This is only the 4th homicide on campus that I recall in all that time. That’s 4 too many, but for what is effectively a small city of 40,000 (that’s just the campus population), that’s a lot better than the national average. The last shooting on campus was 17 years ago. (The last two homicides were by hammer — 50% of the homicides on campus in my time here were not from firearms.)

As a faculty member I have had to confront angry students. I have had to deal with students, alumni, and even some colleagues with obvious mental disorders. Stress, lack of sleep, and drugs can activate latent problems, so student life is a crucible from which all manner of demons arise. Some disorders with organic causes don’t show up until mid-to-late 20s or 30s. So, sometimes we see people who are fine, but a month later they have developed problems. It is sad, but it happens, and sometimes the authority figure at the head of the classroom becomes the focus of their attention.

I have had threats of violence made against me, including death threats (with some outstanding). I’ve sought out resources to try to help those people. I’m not sure we provide that for our TAs. For too many of our young people on campus, their only experience with frustration, hostility or danger has been in games on their iPhones and Xboxes so they don’t know how to handle those in the real world. That’s a problem, and they don’t know it’s a problem. I wonder what we can do to address it.

As I reflect on all that happened today, I am fortunate that so many people cared enough to contact me to see how I was. (At least, I assume that is the case; it may be I am simply the first person who comes to mind when Purdue is mentioned.) I think most of them were concerned about my well-being; the two former friends who might actually be happy had I been the victim have been quiet. (And no, that is not an attempt at humor.)   

As with every day, when you awake, realize it may be the last day you have, or that someone dear to you might have. Traffic accidents, heart attacks, fires, killer flu, deranged students…. there are many things that can change the world in an instant. Don’t put off telling someone you care. Regrets can last a very long time. And when you can say something nice to someone — “good job,” “you make a difference,” or even “thank you” — you might just try to do so.

Be safe.

(And if anything happens to me, remember this.)

Souvenirs and Memories and Auld Lang Syne

Every summer I undertake at least one task intended to cut down on clutter. This is often a losing battle, as in most cases the time spent fixing the clutter keeps me from doing 10 other things, all of which induce massive clutter of their own

This summer, I decided to clean up my contacts file and business card file. I know that many people have this problem — how long do you keep business cards? How do you keep your address books up to date? Which ones do you keep? How do you match them against your online contacts?

About 12 years ago, I instituted a model where I stamped the date on the back on the business cards, and would throw them away in 6 months if I didn’t reference them. However, it quickly became too much trouble to weed through them, plus I accidentally threw away a few I wanted. So, I started just keeping them all. And as I went out to speak, attended conferences, and had visitors from around the world, the collection grew and grew (sort of similar to my waistline, but I think that is coincidental).

Somewhere along the line I got a reasonable address book program (Now Up-to-Date), and I had my assistant type in some addresses. It had a matching calendar program that linked things (yeah, I know, Outlook did too, but I was a Mac & Solaris guy), so I used that a lot. It was integrated with Palm software too, so I started using it heavily…until it stopped working sometime after the Qualcomm purchase, so I moved everything over to the Mac Addressbook. Over time, I’ve grown accustomed to that, although I still don’t particularly like it. However, syncing across my iPhone, iPad and various Macs plus a WWW interface make it really handy.

A few years back, I started using services that merged address books and even did lookups to correct some entries. As a result, I got addresses from LinkedIn, from Plaxo, from Facebook, and vcards from colleagues. Often, these didn’t play nicely together, so some address entries got really, really screwed up. It really needed a clean start, and I couldn’t afford the time for that.

Meanwhile, the business cards continued to accumulate.

This summer I had finally had enough. I made one big superset address book from all of the online sources. We hired a high school student looking for a part-time job, and she has been going through that superset address book, slowly cleaning up entries, removing duplicates, fixing entries where the software thought the last name was “Ph.D.” or “CISSP,” and generally bringing some order to what was online. Along the way, we’ve discovered several bugs in the Addressbook program, including one where the “Notes” field refuses to stay edited. But slowly and surely, she’s been cleaning everything up.

The next step is the business cards, which I still collect. I have some that go back to before 1994, and some from last week! I just finished going through all approximately 2500 of them. (Yes, I meet a lot of people, and I haven’t been good about organization.) It has been quite a trip down memory lane, as I remember about 80% of the people represented on those cards.

  • I’ve run across dozens of cards listing people as “Assistant Professors” and they are now full Profs and deans (even a few university presidents!).
  • I’ve found at least 10 cards where I recall that person dying — including friends Gene Schultz, Will Winsborough, Jim Anderson…. Sad to remember once again.
  • At least a half-dozen listing “Captain” or “Major” of people I know went on to get General’s stars (for some reason, I didn’t have much interaction with Navy personnel in the 1990s).
  • Many cards of technologists and members of technical staff who are now chief scientists and presidents of their own companies.
  • Literally hundreds of cards from people whose companies no longer exist for one reason or another.
  • Many, many more of people I know have retired, and who I hope are enjoying that lifestyle.
  • Quite a few cards of people at 3-4-6 companies as they moved around and advanced.
  • A few people I cared very deeply about who have drifted far, far away of their own volition, never to return.
  • Many score more people I feel guilty I have not been in touch with for years (many!)
  • Yeah, as a whole, none of this is surprising. People get older, some wiser, and movement occurs.

I’m really tempted to keep all the cards to look through in another 10 or 20 years when I retire. But that is what got me in the circumstances I am now. I’m resolved to throw out the ones I know for sure aren’t still even close to accurate. My brain is full as it is, so perhaps this is the best way to make room for the next round? And I know the memories triggered by looking at those cards are all still rattling around in between my ears, if only I get a prompt to think about them.

Although, it does raise some question in my own mind…I was quite a different person when I was collecting those. I wonder what memories of me, if any, those people have? And how different am I now from then, as well as them? That’s probably a deeper question than I should ponder on a Sunday night with three theses yet to review.

So, if you get an email from me (or an assistant) in the next month or two asking to check or update the info I have on file for you, consider yourself special for being in the “kept” list and please respond. (And if you think there’s a really good reason why you SHOULD be in my list, whether you’re there now or not, send me your info in a vcard with an explanation of why i should add it to my nice, clean new address book DB.)

As Robert Burns put it:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot
and old lang syne?

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend
And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

“As I turned to make my way back home, the snow turned into rain…”

Change is Not Always Good in Higher Ed

Update: As of this morning, Mitch Daniels has been appointed as the 12th president of Purdue University. (Press release here.)


Not too long ago, the University of Florida was in the news over budget-driven plans to cut CS. That plan was partially beaten back, but animosity lingers, and many faculty have their C.V.s in circulation, looking for more stable positions.

The University of California system has had an on-going budget crunch that is making many people unhappy.

Students in Quebec have had long-running demonstrations (the government labels them as riots) to protest tuition hikes. (That is not to imply that Quebec is a U.S. state, but to show the problems aren’t limited to the U.S.)

Other states also report woes with budgets being slashed for years (often decades), while the same legislatures trimming the budgets prohibited tuition raises that fully covered the difference. This almost always resulted in salary freezes and failure to fund long-term renovation and growth. That is how a powerful institution begins to decay.

In the last few days we have seen growing uproar over the ouster of the University of Virginia’s president, allegedly because she was unwilling to consider taking the University private and was not simpatico with the business moguls on the board. One of the most prominent CS faculty members and scientists in the nation, Bill Wulf, has resigned his post at UVa in disgust and protest over this.

What are common as threads in these incidents (and more) are that public universities are stressed by reductions in state budgets, and that many decision-makers believe those with great financial success in business are somehow imbued with expertise to be applied — nay, admired — in other venues. (It isn’t only academia; think Herman Cain and Mitt Romney as examples. Their success in business has somehow suggested to many they have acumen appropriate for national, political office.) Cutting benefit costs, hostile takeovers, leveraged buy-outs, and the like don’t fit well in academia (or government). This is a great essay in Slate about this theme that is well worth reading.

Next up may well be some dissent at Purdue University about its next president. It hasn’t been formally announced yet, but all the various news outlets portray it as a done deal that Mitch Daniels will be the next President of Purdue University.

We tend to be a little more restrained in this part of the country, so the protests and uproar cited above are unlikely. But the choice of Mr. Daniels (and I emphasize Mr. as his highest degree is a J.D., roughly equivalent to an MS degree) is far from a “dream come true” for all the faculty and students. His career in business and government has been characterized by cost-cutting and privatization moves that are not suited for an institution of higher education. He has not shown particular understanding or accommodation for the value of academia beyond what it can do to pump up the state economy during his term as governor, either. His strong partisan political ties also can have a negative impact on the university, as he has been more associated with those who wish to force their superstitions and biases on others rather than be open to choice and reason.

Mr. Daniels would be a puzzling choice. No experience working in academia. No advanced degree. No history of great vision on education or advanced research. He’s 63, and Purdue regulations require administrators to step down in the year they turn 65, so it would be a limited term unless the Trustees make a special exception 2 years from now. And he’s still the sitting governor, so he’d have to either step down or delay his taking the position for several months.

It also raises some significant conflict of interest issues that should be extremely troubling — Mr. Daniels has appointed 7 of the current 10 trustees, and reappointed three others to their current positions. Thus, all of those trustees owe their current positions to Mr. Daniels’ actions. Considering that over the last few years the Purdue faculty have gotten increasing hassle and red tape about our consulting and professional service outside the university, the Board of Trustees are certainly not setting a good example if they do this.

Note that I am not in any way suggesting that Mr. Daniels has exerted undue influence or is incompetent. He has served well in many business and elected roles, and been reasonably successful. He has seemed to be very honest and forthright. He has also seemed open to bucking political pressure from even his own party. In general, he also seems like a reasonably nice guy. My point is that these qualities are not sufficient to make one qualified for the role of president at a Tier I research university.

Many of us have been following the search for a new president, although it has all been done in secret. Rumor has it that there were at least two highly qualified candidates, but the Board was unwilling to pay the expenses to hire them and close out their current obligations. Without the specifics that is difficult to confirm, but also troubling to consider. Universities always seem to have money to buy out coaches’ salaries or erect new buildings named after alumni, but not to hire a highly qualified president? Clearly, if true, there is a problem of priorities present.

There is an underlying, common theme nationally to all of this — the population, influenced by vast lobbying wealth from monied interests, has shifted to admire those who manage money from those who make discoveries and educate the public. Service, except in the name of $$, is no longer held in esteem. Doubt it? Consider all the people and rhetoric naming public school teachers and fire fighters as “thugs and leeches” because they seek pay raises to match inflation, and to keep their pensions. Consider the disparity of massive bailouts to huge investment banks driven into near ruin by greed, while families of deployed military personnel many times have to resort to food stamps. Consider the salaries and adulation heaped on sports figures and pop culture icons; news outlets will publish opinions of these “stars” on world affairs and scientific issues such as climate change, which they treat equal to (or give greater weight to) than those of scholars who have spent decades studying the issues. It is little wonder that politicians are passing laws banning use of the term “climate change” because it is not “business friendly,” and the average U.S. citizen believes the world was created by some mystical being rather than well-documented scientific processes. If Fox News started airing segments about the “Theory” of Gravity, those same people would develop a fear of spontaneously floating off into space! It sometimes appears we are entering a new dark age where reason is trumped by the self-interests of the robber barons and hierophants.

The changes in Higher Education outlined above do not do anything to help stem the rising tide of ignorance, nor do they help put the U.S. on track to reinvigorate our economy with scientific advancement and an educated workforce. They are uninformed, tactical responses to more fundamental problems, and exacerbate those same problems. We need more education, and more respect for fact, with less pursuit of goals driven by religious superstition and greed. (Interestingly, the dominant religions involved, which many of the players profess to hold dear, preach about helping the poor, treating others as equal, living peacefully, and eschewing great wealth. Apparently, these people are immune to irony.)

The appointment of Mr. Daniels as President of Purdue is not official until tomorrow, and the Board of Trustees may surprise everyone by voting to appoint someone else. However, no matter what happens at Purdue, including if Mr. Daniels turns out to be a passable president, the fact that this is even being talked about as possible, coupled with the news from Florida and Virginia, should really cause people to be more generally concerned about what is happening to higher education in the U.S. These are not moves that strengthen higher education or the basic research enterprise in the long term. Other countries elect scientists and engineers to run their countries, while we continue to marginalize ours. The longer-term consequences cannot be to our liking.

(Speaking for myself, only, of course.)

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