Teach Your Children Well

userpic=ucla-csunToday’s lunchtime news chum brings together a collection of articles related to education:

  • The Middle “R”: The Ventura County Star has an interesting article on California’s writing standards: particularly, the standard that requires cursive to be taught. It’s an interesting debate: in this era where “typing”  (or is that “keyboarding”) is a required skill (when I grew up, it was optional), is there a need for two styles of writing: block and cursive? Is block sufficient? In particular, is block sufficient to provide a unique written signature upon which we still depend? As for me, I know my normal writing style is a mix of block and cursive, with a signature that doesn’t match either. But what about you? Do you still use cursive?
  • GPAs above 4.0. When I went to school, back in the dark ages, the best grade you could get was a 4.0; perhaps a 4.2 if you got an A+. Nowadays, AP classes permit even higher grades, and students are going to college with a whole portfolio of AP classes. Universities are fighting back. Here’s an example: Darthmouth has announced they will no longer accept AP credit. The concern is that AP courses do not resemble actual college courses in any way–for one thing, they are “teach to the standard test”.
  • Community Colleges. Community colleges are in trouble; in fact, the community college in San Francisco is on accreditation-watch and may close. So Gov. Brown is trying to rescue the institution (which is vitally important to the middle-and-lower tier HS students — it is a way to get the education HS didn’t provide and get the associates degree — a vital stepping stone to CSU or UC). Brown’s goal is to keep community colleges affordable, keep classes accessible and move students faster through the system to allow them to graduate or transfer to a four-year university at higher rates. His plan is to limit the number of credits students can accumulate, with a cap on state-subsidized classes at 90 units. Students who exceed that to pay the full cost of instruction, about $190 per semester unit versus $46 per unit. He would also change the funding formula to reflect students who complete the class, not students enrolled at the 3rd-week.
  • Online Courses. The Internet (founded, I should note, at my alma-mater UCLA) has revolutionized education. Earlier this week my daughter posted about the distance between two courses, noting that the second course (which was a 700 person Astronomy lecture) had a webcast that the professor was encouraging students to watch instead of attending†. The impact of the Internet is also seen in funding — based on direction from Gov. Brown, the UC Regents are exploring expanding online courses, although they are not sure whether they will make or save any money.  I think online courses can work if done right — in particular, they need the equivalent of face-to-face small sections to encourage student discussion and critical thinking on the topic. These sections could also be online, but if the online course is lecture only, it won’t be successful.
    [†: PS to my daughter if you are reading this: I encourage you to go the lectures anyway. Not only are you likely to meet interesting people outside of your discipline (History ≠ Astronomy), but you are likely to be able to see the board better, and being at the lecture will eliminate distractions.]
  • Paying for College. There were all sorts of things hidden in the fiscal cliff legislation — that probably doesn’t surprise you. Providing goodies to congresscritters (or there constituencies) is a way to get a bill through. I’ve previously mentioned the commuter benefit. Here’s another. The bill extended the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This credit “allows students and their parents to claim up to $2,500 a year for college expenses, (which) benefits 9 million families a year.” It also extended a few more tax deductions and credits until the end of 2013 and gave permanent status for employer-provided education expenses, the Student Loan Interest Deduction and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. I know that these will affect us — both the credit and the interest deduction (we are paying the interest on our daughter’s loans until she graduates). Alas, there may be some cuts to Federal Work Study programs.

Music: I Can Get It For You Wholesale (Original Broadway Cast): “The Sound of Money”


Furious News Chum: Hostages, Logos, and Sex

userpic=observationsAlas, I seemed to have come back from ACSAC with a cold; that combined with a lot of backed up stuff has delayed any posts. Still, I do have a few stories about people getting furious about things that I want to share:

  • A Hostage Situation. When I returned to the ranch here at Circle A, I eventually needed to visit the men’s restroom. Upon entry, I was presented with a wall detailing an odd hostage situation. Evidently, someone had left their reusable Starbucks mug on a shelf. They forgot about it, and came back and posted a note requesting its return. This was followed by a number of pictures showing the cup in various places (the top of A1′ with a gnome, at the top of a Christmas tree, with Santa). There was also a ransom note, done in the normal cut out letter font, indicating that the cup was still alive (and including a picture of the cup and today’s newspaper to prove it was alive). The note requested that 2 STE (staff-time equivalents) of charge number be deposited in a particular job order (9990-00) if the cup was to be returned alive. There was also a handwritten note from the cup indicating they were threatening to recycle it. I think some people have slipped over the edge. [ETA: The wall has grown with a note from a concerned party indicating that the cup is required to administer an critical chemical solution to its owner vital to the owner’s technological output, a photoshop of the cup on the side of a milk carton, and a disposable Starbuck cup with a Post-It stating “Found in Stall #26”. I’d take a picture, but we can’t use cameras at work.]
  • A Logo Situation. The University of California has redesigned their logo, and everyone is up in arms about it. Most people think it is undignified, and looks like a loading symbol. It has gotten so bad that memes have developed with people doing strange things with the logo. I agree with the Lt. Gov. — the new logo should be ditched. A simplified version of the current logo could easily be designed for webpages; not the radical silly redesign they have done.
  • A Sexual Situation. There’s another furor about UC — this time about sex. Specifically, a columnist for the Daily Cal took advantage of the lack of people on campus the day before Thanksgiving to explore where she and her partner could, umm, conduct human relation experiments. Naturally, the prudish folks protested to the Daily Cal in the comments, and the story was picked up by the newservices. Insert predictable response about those crazy students at radical Berkeley.

UCLA and The Garden

It’s been a busy day, what with two appointments and splitting a 1700+ page document into a 1500+ page document and a 400+ page document…. but I still wanted to share an article with you about a judge preventing UCLA from selling the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden. This is a garden that was willed to UCLA; they’ve been maintaining it for years. Now they want to sell it. Why? According to the article:

“The university believes that resources are best directed toward our academic mission and not toward a garden that serves no teaching or research purpose,” said university spokesman Phil Hampton in an emailed statement.

Read that closely. They want to sell the garden because it serves no teaching or research purpose. Really now? So why are they building a hotel on campus. There are plenty of hotels in the neighborhood, and I’m unaware of UCLA having a hotel management program. Building an ungodly expensive hotel serves no teaching or research purpose. Neither does the artwork that adorns the buildings. Utilitarian buildings are cheaper; why waste the money on making university buildings pretty. Why have an arts program for the public? Hell, why have an athletic program–that serves no teaching or research purpose.

Gardens can have a research and teaching purpose if used properly. They can provide research into botany. They can be used for art classes. They can be used for history classes. Don’t use teaching and research as an excuse; use it as a challenge to make your programs better.

Oh, and if you are trying to rationalize selling the gardens, at least be honest about it. UCLA needs the money. But somehow, I doubt it will go towards reducing registration fees or student costs.



Colleges and Finances

My lunchtime reading has also highlighted a number of articles related to colleges (particularly UC) and finances. Hopefully, they won’t ruin your lunch.

  • UC Fees Increasing… maybe. Well, that “maybe” is a highly-likely (sigh). If the state doesn’t increase funding by $125 million, it is likely the 10-campus UC system would raise tuition by 6% this fall. Further, if the initiative in November doesn’t pass, we’re looking at a mid-year tuition increase in the “range of double digits” or drastic cuts to campus programs and staffing. With the 6% increase, tuition for in-state undergraduates would rise $731 to $12,923. Sigh. I just keep reminding myself that it is still a lot less than private school tuition, even with merit scholarships. One side effect of the increasing tuition, though, is that more and more California students are going out of state. There are a number of factors that are fallout of that: some are taking advantage of a special program that gives in-state tuition to some out of state students, others are depending more on merit/need scholarships from out of state private schools (which increases their costs, and thus tuition), and it creates more space for out of state students to attend UC/CSU (bringing in out of state resident fees).
  • Paying for College. When you think about paying for college, there are a number of ways to do it. One is scholarships. The other is to reduce parental costs, freeing up cash for college. Erin’s exploring the former, and we’re doing the latter. This includes shopping for the best auto insurance quotes, and exploring refinancing. Alas, since the last ReFi, values had dropped more. This is why I’m pleased to read about the streamlining of HARP. We’re not underwater, but we’re now under 20% equity. Doing a HARP ReFi will go a large way towards making college more affordable. We won’t be able to take advantage of the other program to reduce loan balances because we’re not underwater–but that’s OK.
  • Bright College Days. Thinking about Erin going off to college has me wistfully looking back at my days at UCLA. I uncovered a few articles looking at the history of buildings in Westwood, including the buildings that used to be the Bratskeller and the BofA and the buildings that used to be Maria’s and Bullocks. Ah, the days when Westwood was a real college town…
  • Value of College. Is college worth it? That’s the on-going debate these days. A recent study shows the effect of a college degree: Only about half are working full-time, with the majority starting with less pay than expected while also dealing with huge student debts. Nearly six in 10 think they’ll end up less financially successful than their elders. Workers who graduated during the recession – from 2009 through last year – earned a median starting salary of $27,000 – or $3,000 less annually than earlier graduates. Nearly a quarter of all respondents said their current job pays much less than they’d anticipated.Female graduates earned $2,000 less than their male counterparts. Most fresh college grads said their first jobs didn’t help them advance along a career path – and that the positions didn’t even require a four-year degree. Four in 10 said they took the work just to get by. So does it pay to go to college? Is it worth between $150K-$300K over a lifetime? Well, a survey from 2011 showed that people with a bachelor’s degree make 84% more over a lifetime than high school graduates. In 1999, the premium was 75%. How much do they make? The 2011 survey showed that, on average, a doctoral degree-holder will earn $3.3 million over a lifetime, compared to $2.3 million for a college graduate and $1.3 million for those with a high school diploma. That said, people with less education in high-paying occupations can out-earn their counterparts with advanced degrees, yet within the same industry, workers with more schooling usually earn more. What is unknown is how that changed between 2011 and 2012. Still, these are important things to keep in mind when trying to decide if college is worth what you pay. Lastly, it is important to remember that college is often more than just what you learn: it is the ability to network with alumni that might open the door for you, make the connections to recommend you, or provide you with contacts. Often these are much more valuable in the end run.




Today’s posts (there should be three of them) will be covering the past, present, and future. The past comes from this morning’s email, which brings news of the death of Robert “Buz” Uzaglis. Buz  was a character in the UCLA Computer Science department when I met him. I was in my second quarter. The first had included E10, the introductory programming class that I basically skipped, taking only tests (it was in PL/1, and I already knew well how program in FORTRAN). Second quarter was E20 (later called CS20), the “weeder” course. Buz was the instructor. He gets up and informs us there are two sections of the course this year… one in PL/1(X), the IBM PL/1 optimizing compiler. The other is this section. We’re using Algol 68C. He then holds up a book on Egyptian Hieroglypics, gives a maniacal laugh, and says that we’ll need this to decipher the error messages. Why Algol 68C? From what I understand, Buz was involved in the creation of the language.

This morning’s news brings the report of his death at age 71.

Coming up today… posts on the present and the future.

Music: Stop The World, I Want To Get Off (1962 Original Broadway Cast): Overture / The ABC Song / I Wanna Be Rich


Deaths of Interest: Actual, Imagined, or Anticipated

A number of deaths have come across my desk in the last few days:

  • Gene Spafford. Gene Spafford has died. Well, actually, he hasn’t, but he has written his obituary in advance. You should read it–it’s a hoot! It truly reflects Gene’s unique sense of humor. We’ll miss him.
  • Hybrid Roses.  Earlier this year I got the urge to plant bare-root roses. I went over to Lowes… and there was nothing of interest. I remember the days when I’d visit Green Arrow Nurseries, and there would be loads and loads of varieties. Today,  it is harder and harder to find interesting hybrids and varieties, grandifloras and such. There’s a reason: Varietal roses have gone out of style: rose breeders have gone bankrupt, and in this economy, people are more interested in hardier landscape roses.
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica. The print edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica is dead. I remember growing up in a world of encyclopedias. We had the World Book at home, with yearbooks added regularly. We also had Funk & Wagnalls. Today, everyone believes that well-known bastion of knowledge: Wikipedia and Google. Yet another sign of the devaluation of learning in our society today (if you need another example of the devaluation of learning, just look at the Republican Presidential campaign).
  • Education in California. Steve Lopez has an excellent piece in the Los Angeles Times about how, at every level from public K-12 to universities, California has gone from an educational giant to a laughingstock. I touched upon this a few days ago. I, too, am a proud product of California education: Los Angeles Unified (Palisades HS) and the University of California (UCLA). My wife is also California-educated (Chatsworth HS and CSUN). Yet our daughter is escaping LAUSD just in time (she’s a senior), and hopefully she’ll be able to go to a good school out of state (because we’re not sure if we could afford state schools). It is just sad to see this.

Now, some of these deaths are inescapable: I don’t think there is any way to save Britannica. Some are imaginary: I hope Gene continues to be around and enlighten our industry for years to come (although I’m not sure his grad students feel the same way). But the rest we can do something about: We can demand good varietal roses. We can demand the California stop decimating education in favor of prisons. We can elect politicians who want to save education — at the state and the local level. It is up to us to prevent unavoidable deaths.

Music: Aspects of Love (1989 Original London Cast): ‘She’d be Far Better Off With You’


A Visit With an IMP

I love to recall the Tom Paxton quote about nostalgia: “It’s OK to look back, as long as you don’t stare.” Yesterday was one of those days, being the formal grand opening of Klienrock Internet Heritage Site and Archive at 3420 BH (Boelter Hall at UCLA), as well as being the birthday of the Internet. You did send a card, didn’t you?

Seriously, yesterday was the anniversary of the first communication (called a message, but it was decidedly not email) between two Interface Message Processors (IMPs) connecting UCLA and SRI. A grand party was held at UCLA, and those of us who were around for the early days of the Internet were invited back to campus for the grand unveiling. Take that, plus free parking in Lot 9, and you had me.

We drove in through Westwood. Sad, sad, sad. Loads and loads of vacant storefronts. Not a single bookstore. One famous theatre torn down; another closed. Seemingly, only chain restaurants. It is a dead student town and is sad. I really remember the days when Westwood was vibrant, back in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. It will take some radical work (and radical lowering of rents) to get that energy back.

Arriving at UCLA, we went to the event. More people had shown up that the organizers expected. It was backed up into the hallway between 3400 and the elevator. This made it difficult to mingle and see who all was there, but I did recognize a few folks (WSU, DAS) and a few folks recognized me. We got a chance to listen to some interesting talks from Dr. Kleinrock (who was the UCLA lead and designer of packet switching), Mark Kampe, Charley Klein, and others. After the speeches, I got a chance to talk and reminisce with some friends (I hesitate to say old friends, as that reminds me we’re getting old) from UCLA Computer Club days. That was truly a unique institution, and I miss it.

We then walked down to Ackerman Union, and I was saddened at all the growth and change on south campus. Buildings, buildings everywhere: They’ve built a new building over the side of Lot 9; they’ve built new space where the nuclear reactor was; there’re bulding between the two halves of the 2nd Floor of Boelter. They’ve torn down Engineering I, and are have built a new Engineering V and are building Engineering VI. There’s no grass; nary a bit of free space.

I thought about what is gone and the impact of change. Of course, the Computer Club is gone; who needs an institution like that to get computer access. However, the ESUC lounge is also gone; I have no idea if the ESUC is room is gone from the rotunda. I walked up to the Math Science Addition to see what happened to the old CCN space. The terminal rooms and output bin rooms have all become offices. What had been the mainframe room is now a “technology sandcase”. Over at Ackerman Union, the place was completely redone. Gone was the Coop, the Foosball tables, the Air Hockey. In was a load of chain fast food joints. This filled up most of both the 1st and A levels. On the B level, the bookstore was totally redone, although they did have a great art pen section. It is sad to think that the UCLA bookstore is the only bookstore remaining in Westwood.

As we left, I wanted to hit Record Surplus on Pico. To my surprise, they were gone. My wife did some investigation after we got home, and the good news is they only moved: they are now at Santa Monica and Centinela. At least some things remain.


Small World Department: UCLA Computer Club

As you may know, I’m in Austin this week for ACSAC. As I’m flying out of Los Angeles, I start up a conversation with the person next to me. She’s an engineering graduate from Cal Poly Pomona, and mentions her dad worked doing IT at UCLA. So I ask his name. Turns out I know him: he was in the UCLA Computer Club with me (SCW, for any clubbies reading this). ’tis a small world indeed!