Friday, November 25, 2005

Holiday Cheer


The Christmas season begins today. The malls opened by 6 am so eager shoppers could spend their way depper into debt. It's only 8:30 am as I write this and already CNN is reporting on shoppers beating one another. BAH HUMBUG!

This is not what the holidays are about folks. It's supposed to be a time to spread cheer.

The English have the wonderful tradition of "Boxing Day" which has been celebrate since the middle ages. On December 26th they opened the "alms box" in which the people placed their extra money and gave money to the poor of the neighborhood.

You can spread cheer in small ways.

Share a smile with a stranger. Better yet! Waive to the person who cuts you off in traffic but make sure to use your whole hand. You'll be glad you let the stress turn into something positive.

Or you can do it in big ways.

This season I wonder what kind of holiday the Katrina victims will be having? We could make it better by sending help to their rebuild homes. You could go down to New Orleans and volunteer, open your home, or just write your Congressman. Whatever you do will make a difference.

While you're at it tell your respesentatives to bring the troops home for the holidays too!


Happy Christmas (War Is Over)
Written by - John Lennon & Yoko Ono

So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so this is Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight

A very Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

War is over!
If you want it
War is over!
Now!

Remember. The holiday season is not about what gifts you get. It's about the love you give.


Copyright 2005 by Mark Leon Winegar

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Campus ethics


The academic world has been concerned with the teaching of ethics to undergraduate students for several years. But how can we teach ethics without "walking our talk"? The Center for the Study of Ethics clearly asserts,
"Educational institutions are microcosms of culture and the society that supports them. As such, they should be bastions of ethical behavior. These institutions should be the training ground for students to determine and practice their personal ethics code which will guide them for the remainder of their lives."
I agree. Which is why I am very concerned about an incident that occured on my campus this semester.

At my school students are leased laptops computers. Every full-time students is charged a fee to cover the lease and associated costs. Students are not permitted to connect their own computers to the campus network. Part-time students may lease a laptop from helpdesk for shorter periods of time.


The incident began with a disconnect between the admissions department and the information technology services staff. When the dust cleared the school had admitted more students than computers to lease. This is not a bad problem if your proactive.


The solution is easy. Buy more computers! Unfortunately, common-sense must be rare on our campus because the problem went ignored for some time.

At mid-term more computers were purchased but distribution was not immediate. We are now in the 13th week of the semester and it appears that each student has their computer.

The Center stresses the importance of administrative decision-making. They also stress the importance of the institution as a positive role model of ethical behavior.
"Decisions are made within administration which affect the entire institution, including faculty, staff, support personnel, students, and even visitors to the campus. These decisions should be models of ethical consideration for all involved, and should serve as examples for the school community. Higher education has the role of providing not just such examples for students, but of providing students with education in ethical values, including the underlying concepts, critical thinking skills to help in decision making, a broad view of universal ethical codes, and a sense of responsibility for others when making personal choices."
The fee students are charged is $1,680 per year. It is not clear how much of this is allocated for the laptop computer because all fees are lumped together. However, the technology exceeded $1,000 before it was bundled with the others. The shortage caused students to look for alternative sources of computing devices. This is when they learned the computer in use sold for approximately $800 before it was discontinued. These are the facts as they were presented to me by my students and I'll not draw any conclusions about them at this point.

One of my colleagues inquired of the President as to the status these students laptops during a recent faculty senate meeting. It was still unknown at that time whether or not all of the students had received their computers at that time. She continued her inquiry by asking if the short-changed students would be recieving a refund? The President's reply was, "We'll have to investigate that."

Consider for one moment that you paid for a product in your local shopping mall upon the promise of immediate receipt of the goods. What would you think if you later discovered that the product was unavailable? What would you do if the store manager told you she''d has to investigate whether or not you were entitiled to a refund?

Not only is this behavior unethical but I have to believe it is illegal too. Why is it any different when we're talking about a college instead of a retail shop?


The Center would like faculty to teach ethics in the classroom.
"Each classroom becomes a laboratory of the process of decision making, and of critically examining choices in the workplace, interpersonal relationships, and personal lives. Teachers can play an important role in assisting students to view ethical choices as a vital part of their future lives, both as professionals and in their daily living."
My discipline is Computer Science so I can't hide behind a veil of ignornace when students ask me about this issue. Sometimes I wish I could.

I'd like to know how I can teach ethics under these circumstances without acknowledging the unethical aspects of my school's policies and administration decisions. Any ideas?

I raise this issue at my own peril. Please realize I do so out of sincere concern for my institution, students, and profession and in the hope that others will closely examine the ethics of their policy decisions.

If the decision makers at my school read this please reconsider. It's not to late to do the right thing.


Copyright 2005 by Mark Leon Winegar

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Caveat Emptor

My students are starting to share the rumors about Microsoft's radical new operating system under development. This is exciting for them but I've been around the microchip often enough to know Gates' crew is always working on another radical new OS. I'm not impressed.

Microsoft has a habit of forgetting the minor details in it's major operating system product releases. Windows XP shipped without the proper drivers to support the peripherals attached to thousands of computers. Everyone I know of who upgraded to XP moved away from it with all haste. Fortunately my school didn't install this OS on any computers my students and I used. However, they did jump the gun on installing Windows 2000.

The installed 2000 on all of the campus computers including the two Computer Science labs without ever testing it. Tehy never even let the Computer Science department know an upgrade was happening. So, when we arrived on campus we discovered that none of the programming language compilers worked with Windows 2000. After extensive research we learned that there weren't any compilers available for 2000 yet at any price. Our Information Technology Services Staff just turned their backs on the problem. We were dead in the water. The only way we got through the year was to install compilers onto the few laptops students had and let them program in groups.

Programming in groups is not the most sound way to teach programming skills but we had no choice. The erroneous decisions of the college administration and ITSS department backed us into the corner.

So, when there's talk about a new killer operating system from Microsoft I just laugh. You see I've moved the Computer Science department over to Fedora Core 4. Now the Computer Science department is, more or less, in control of its own destiny.

So if you are an administator maintain some of your esteem but letting someone else play the role of the early adopter and learn from their pain.

My advice? Schools should never be on the bleeding edge of technology.



Copyright 2005 by Mark Leon Winegar