Disruptive IT for Higher Ed

The blog post by Ian Cox about his new book “Disrupt IT” motivated me to offer some reflection on the type of IT Disruption that I have needed to employ for my slice of Higher Education. I have not read his book but I can tell that I would agree with his premise that IT has become the change agent. It is easy to connect technology to why change has accelerated in recent years. But change is not accelerating in Higher Education. Be clear, we do not need to change because of technology, but it is technology that has highlighted the need for change. And that is where IT may be the perfect change agent for Higher Education.

Higher Education is still avoiding the real technology elephant in the room, the “Internet”. We deal with a whirlwind of questions about how students learn and why does college cost so much and why isn’t it about students getting jobs. Maybe we should use more technology in the classroom or software to manage our student success. But it does just come back to the fact that Higher Education no longer controls the data which is converted into information which can become knowledge for anyone motivated enough to absorb it.

OK, back to disruption. I came to Missouri S&T because I wanted to make a difference in Higher Education for the STEM segment that I feel is critical for our future. I do believe IT needs to be the change agent and doing so at such a technology dominant university is the perfect challenge. Yes, I inherited an IT service model that was catering to our traditional decades old higher education culture. And Missouri S&T is facing the same challenges stressing many public research universities in the US. Challenges of serving increased enrollment with an aging infrastructure using an outdated business model. How can IT help?

First you have to change the culture of your IT staff while also laying the groundwork to change the university’s relationship to IT. This is all done by building trust. IT staff that are working in the traditional control service model may be reluctant to breakout of that comfort zone. IT staff love to be needed and that old model offered that, but what about innovation? IT staff should be the innovation leaders or at least they should want to be. I believe that path to a successful IT culture change has to build from IT being innovative and gaining pride from how that innovation can impact the university. And the key to unlocking that innovative spirit in your IT staff is to show them that you mean it. Invest in their ideas or at least let them own your ideas. And above all, assure them that it is OK to fail.

Gaining trust from your university is more tricky since some of your customers are very content with the old IT support model which may still support their outdated business model. However, the important customers are the faculty. The reality for them is that their job has only gotten more difficult to perform. Teaching loads have not decreased and research funding is more and more scarce. IT offering support for teaching load tends to point toward the utilization of technology and exploring online delivery. But IT does not need to push any of that, IT just needs to offer assistance in utilizing it. IT does not need to push online learning to secure their value in EdTech support. They just need to offer support, faculty need the help, leave the politics of course delivery to the Provost. And IT support for research needs to come again as the assistance model. A researcher used to get a grant that outfitted their lab with technology that was managed by a grad student and had enough fluff to allow some breathing room. Today it seems like more time is spent submitting grant proposals then actually fulfilling the research of the successful grants. IT has to find a way to be a trusted partner so that researchers can sell that support to win their grants. This is a budget dance, but IT has to find a way to free up researchers to actually do research.

When IT appears to be achieving positive repositioning, some strategic disruption can put it all together. IT departmental reorganization will inevitably be needed, but turn it into an opportunity. Gain some visibility for IT on campus by offering support to a much needed service. That might be a service to students it might be supporting another service provider like the library. Don’t lead with a software service disruption, that will come later and will probably be IT’s greatest contribution, but total trust is needed for that.

Competing in HPC, “Big Data” and Visualization

One of my challenges in coming to Missouri S&T has been to leverage the most effective use of our meager High Performance Computing, HPC, capabilities to stimulate learning and non-funded research. This has been an ideal opportunity for myself to evaluate this rapidly evolving area of HPC with no predetermined assumptions. Some early observations were that we did not have adequate super computing resources, but it was also apparent that those with enough resources did not necessarily produce proportional results. What we did have was an understanding of what we would do if we had more resources. If I just focused on HPC I would find myself in a resource battle trying to gain recognition in the research community based on cores and compute capability. But we were also interested in visualization and then along came interest in “Big Data”. What I saw was an opportunity.

The one thing I did have was the foundation of an effective research support team which included skill in adapting HPC technique to fit differences in data and workflow requirements. I also had talented student employees who totally thought outside the box and exposed many new options for us. So we started to see that we could compete in processing by adapting our HPC resources to the jobs being requested. And it became increasingly apparent that we were dealing with data that benefited from some sort of visualization to help identify what we should be looking for. For example: we have gotten good at presenting large data sets graphically over time with flexible data attribute selection where we are just looking for anomalies. Now that we are also exploring “Big Data” I could not help but ask why the concept of large in-memory processing for hadoop based data could not be married with traditional HPC and supported by our flexible visualization.

It now appears that my first year of exploration is starting to take shape. I have strengthened my human resources and have discovered that the human element is the most scarce, or at least a flexible human resource team such as we have. So now I have some financial resources to invest and this understanding of the interrelationships of these research tools is helping to stretch what I hope to accomplish. Most of our HPC cluster is devoted to students so we need a base HPC investment devoted to non funded research. For us that goal is probably a 1000 cores. But our success is not going to come from those 1000 cores, but instead from the collaborations we have developed with neighboring university computing centers who realize that we have more to share then just HPC. We can help them optimize their 1000’s of cores specific to the computation desired. Good example here is in computational chemistry.

I mentioned exploring “Big Data”, which has become the darling of big iron computer sales. In simplest terms, “Big Data” is about managing large diverse data sets and processing it with large amounts of memory. The real driver of “Big Data” is the need to analyze the massive amounts of real-time data flowing in about customer buying habits. But of course we have been led to believe that all of our analytical investigations should be using “Big Data”. Not true for analyzing student data but can be true for analyzing some forms of scientific data. And guess what “Big Data” really means it is too big to visualize with traditional spreadsheet type tools. So I am thinking why can’t we blend HPC and “Big Data” with my new nimble visualization techniques? We have all the ingredients and the most important turns out to be the human factor. So now I am throwing some DBA’s into the equation along with scientific software engineers with plans to expand the visualization resources. We should be able to provide most of our processing needs locally or via sharing with regional partners. Add in efficient on-ramps to XSEDE and Open Science Grid and we can compete with anyone.

ELI, 3D Printing and IT Innovation

I’m getting ready to attend the Educause Learning Initiative, ELI, Conference next week in New Orleans. Some of our EdTech team will be presenting TED type Talk on the motivation, implementation and justification for providing 3D Printing to all students at Missouri S&T. The basic project of providing affordable 3D Printing to our tech savvy students was a guaranteed success.

We have plenty of students who have benefitted greatly from their academic uses for the 3D Printing. And we in IT Academic Services are pleased by this success. However, an unexpected benefit surfaced when one of our Chemistry Professors saw the potential.

S&T’s Professor, Richard Dawes, heard about our making 3D Printing available and asked about printing some of his Matlab 3D energy models. He was looking for a better way to explain Potential Energy Surfaces:

Richard Dawes, Phalgun Lolur, Anyang Li, Bin Jiang and Hua Guo, “An accurate global potential energy surface for the ground state of ozone”, J. Chem. Phys. 139, 201103 (2013).

So we helped to open the door to 3D Printing for some of his research models and he was off and running with this new way of presenting and teaching Chemistry. And beyond that Richard has presented his research and this use of 3D Printing at recent conferences where he is fielding questions by other chemists about how they may be able to utilize 3D printing.

All of this helps validate my belief that IT needs to be exploring the cutting edge of technology as a component of the normal tech support that they provide. Sure we have a number of research centers at S&T that were working with 3D Printing but they weren’t concerned about chemical energy surfaces and they are not concerned about promoting their standard toolsets. So IT has to carry the torch of exposing everyone within the university to all of the possibilities for how technology might be utilized. Plus that is what makes the job so enjoyable.

Ready for next Affordable “Big Data” Visualization Strategy

I’m looking forward to what will be presented at CES 2014 in the coming week.

CES 2014

Consumer Electronics Show 2014

The larger higher density TVs with curved options may answer some questions for what is the most effective investment in visualization technology. We are going to invest but I do not want to buy/build a video demo facility as has been the eventual outcome for most university CAVE type investments. We have the tools and know how to package, render and present huge data sets but the justification comes from the visual interpretation of the data. The ability for a human to interpret and identify trends or anomalies in their data is the goal. That justifies our research, not huge walls of TVs displaying pie and bar charts.

Unfortunately technology is moving so fast that investments may become obsolete before they actually pay dividends, justification for caution but not for procrastination. Maybe the real goal of our research will be to define the greatest ROI for visualization. I sense that a combination of some affordable large curved Quad HD screens could be just as impressive as the million dollar CAVE designs floating around now. We will focus on Visualization at our Research Technology Day next September and hopefully we will be ready to show our next version of V4DiR, Visualization in 4 Dimensions in Rolla. We are combining this investigation into visualization with our investments in “Big Data” which is already paying dividends to our Computational Science activity in Chemistry. This is the fun part for a CIO.

Google Glass Review

I guess I am a curious geek, I had to checkout Google Glass the same way I had to have an Apple II in 1979 and an iPhone when they came out. Of course I justified the $1500 Glass price tag because many at the university were itching to get their hands on them as well. I have been exploring Glass for 4 days now and I have concluded that this wearable technology is going to be Big. Not Big because of efficiency or usefulness. Big because they are just really cool.

First to catch everyone up on what Google Glass is – checkout this ABC Technology Video by Joanna Stern.

Unlike the Cyborg like appearance Google Glass generated for her wearing them in the city, I have yet to be asked about them after numerous encounters with strangers in Rolla, MO. However, it has been 6 months since Joanna first shocked people with them. The other side of that coin is that I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they feel fairly normal and do not interfere with your normal vision. You can easily forget you have them on until you want to take photo or ask Google for information.

Google Glass is definitely in Beta testing mode. If you are expecting lot’s of administrative instructions forget it. Your greatest source for answers is the heavily trafficked user forums or as Google refers to them as Explorers Community. A real downside right now is the lack of an IOS app to allow you to connect with your iPhone or iPad but that battle will be waged later when Glass goes public. Since I can’t tether my Glass to an Android Phone I walk around with my AT&T MiFi to provide Internet access, what a geek.

My first intentional public display of Glass came last night for our IT Christmas party, which by the way was great. Santa couldn’t make it but Mrs Claus and an Elf showed up to pass out gifts to the children. So I had a captured audience of IT folks and their families. First observation was that my older staff were more reluctant to checkout the Glass then the younger ones. The kids were the most interesting. It seemed like the teenagers were interested but it did not click for them as quickly as it did for the preteens.

Kids First Exposure to Google Glass

Kids First Exposure to Google Glass

Kids from say 6-12 immediately got it and you could see their minds race with imagination. Notice photo of brother waiting on his sister for a try. He quickly figured out how to ask Google about “Hunger Games”. I was told that the boy never stopped talking about the Glass the rest of the evening and he couldn’t wait to tell his teacher the next day.

I will continue to play with Glass through the Holiday’s but will then start loaning them out to the growing list of Geek volunteers. The bottom line is that there will be new battles over control of wearable technology but market share of mobile devices will be important. Get ready for an Apple Google clash over Glasses.

MOOCs Find Their Niche

There are many reactions to Rebecca Schuman’s article about Sebastian Thrun and Udacity’s “pivot” toward corporate training. Everything from ”I told you so” to “shame on Udacity”. And this is not just about the failed pilot with San Jose State to utilize Udacity to provide greater opportunity to the underserved students in their community. Although Sebastian was a bit too candid in his appraisal. I attribute that more to early confusion about what MOOCs were really about. I do believe that MOOCs have finally come of age and can be utilized for what you wish. But we can’t make a MOOC what it isn’t. MOOCs are a product of our time leveraging the incredible capability of media distribution thanks to the amazing Internet. Let’s face it, anything that can be placed on the Internet generally does and the number of hits or users is the validation of success.

MOOCs were validated by Internet success statistics and the world clamored to define them. How quickly the innocence of experimentation with massive online delivery of a few college courses turned into a disruptive movement within higher education. But disruption is all MOOCs needed to be. Udacity is a company commercializing the delivery of interesting college type courses to to world. If the courses maintained the strict requirements of their traditional university origins then we found that not that many students could really succeed. So to many academics that was a validation of the ineffectiveness of online learning. But I think we had already proven the value of online learning. All that was happening with the various MOOC providers was experimentation with a valid business model.

The business model for a Udacity appears to be steering toward the corporate or continuing education market. Profit needs to be realized and that is not a problem when you have engaged users. The key is the engagement. EdX which more closely emulates higher education standards is up front about their value proposition of research in effective online delivery of courses. And Coursera probably falls in between. MOOCs are now carving out their various business niches just like the many other social networking industries have done. And I think higher education can relax a bit from the fearful prediction that MOOCs would change their world. MOOCs have been disruptive as documented in Jeffrey Young’s new book “Beyond the MOOC Hype: A Guide to Higher Education’s High-Tech Disruption”. I think we also realize that disruption can be healthy and MOOCs are truly stimulating a lot of efforts to improve teaching and learning in our educational institutions.

November 24, 2013 by Jeff Selingo - MOOCs Move Beyond the Perfect Media Narrative

Producing “Big Data” Scientists

I wish that I would have attended the Big Data in Higher Education Conference at SUNY last week. Harper Reed @harper, former Obama campaign CTO, was the keynote speaker and according to the Chronicle review, he told it the way it is. ‘Big Data’ is Bunk. His message highlighted how the Obama campaign utilized analytics from “Big Data” to help win the election. And it sounds like he presented how higher education could take advantage of this technology but that the vendors for “Big Data” solutions were using the term “Big” to mostly sell big computers. I agree that we don’t need huge computer resources to utilize “Big Data” analysis concepts. However, we are going to build a Big Data system that probably leans toward an In Memory model. I also realize that higher education rarely utilizes “Big Data” effectively for business or academic advantages but that is a discussion of its own.

Harper also offered some advice in another session, “Data Scientist: the Sexiest Job of the 21st Century,” which hit home for me here at Missouri S&T. We are currently building a new cross discipline program around the buzz term “Big Data”. We have our Business and Information Technology, department contributing to the client end including the tie in to ERP. We have Computer Science and Computer Engineering focusing on the infrastructure, data models, analytic algorithms, programming and visualization needed to produce the kind of data scientists that Harper said he wants to hire. This is why I came to S&T, to help a world class STEM institution create products that can help change the world.

Comments from Disney Educause Week

The best place to hold an Educause conference is in the happiest place on the earth, Disneyland, especially during a week of sun and 70’s. This is the time of year when all collegiate techies compare notes, renew friendships and chart the future of higher education. Educause keynote speakers try to shock us, console us and then inspire us. But there rarely are any roadmaps provided for us to follow. We know we must continue to increase our WiFi density, move stuff to the cloud and relax our outdated control policies. But mostly we network with our peers.

Trends discussed at Educause that I have interest and insight had to do with the future of ERPs and LMSs. Lot’s of my colleagues are looking for answers to their ERP dilemmas. And it seems like many Blackboard customers are planning their exit strategy to a Canvas or Moodle. And in the background are all of the solutions that will insure that teaching and learning takes place more effectively. This all threatens our old school technology empires but can generate great excitement for the new school.

Yes we do need to get our act together with respect to running the business of higher education. We drank the kool-aid served us by corporate ERP solutions that we were told could be adapted to higher education. And they have been adapted at a ridiculous price. However, did we ever receive serious advice to simplify our business processes? I was recognized at the Oracle booth as the poster child champion for the most successful PeopleSoft implementation they have seen. But not for the most profitable. When I implemented PeopleSoft 3-4 years ago I forced business process change to adapt to the base system because of budget and talent constraints. But that was just a consolidation of best practices for higher education. We did not have an opportunity to redesign our business. So my advice to all of us looking for solutions to our ERP predicaments; maybe we should investigate a more effective way to administer the business of higher education first. We might be shocked at how easy it could be to adapt an ERP to a business process that made sense.

And what about Learning Management Systems? My only comment is to again step back and realize how simple LMSs are. I guess we took the opposite approach with them. We have a fairly good business process that we have over complicated by computerization. Maybe it was because we created them but were taught by our corporate ERP vendors how to commercialize them. Bottom line is that an LMS is nice to have but is not critical for teaching and learning. There are plenty of tools that can help a professor to be more efficient but no university should be held hostage to a single tool. Hmmm, that is sort of the academic way, we do all the work and another business entity charges us for it.

3-D Printed Smartphone Cover

3-D Printed Smartphone Cover

So enough of the trials and tribulations of the season. What about some bright spots like my being ranked the 38th most Social CIO or how cool our rollout of 3-D Printing for all of the students at S&T has been.

TV segment by KY3 in Springfield, MO, on the rollout of 3-D printers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology’s Library.

Higher Education will be OK

The change that is taking place in higher education right now is fascinating to watch. There aren’t many century old institutions that you get to watch go through dramatic transitions. The newspaper industry is well into a transition and it could offer great insight for us in higher education.  The recent commentary in the Chronicle by Byron P. White, “Take it from an Ex-Journalist: Adapt or Die ”, put it into better perspective for me.  Today many in higher education do admit that change is coming, however, the time line is seen as distant and the actual change is minimized. Is higher education an industry that fits W. Edwards Deming’s advice given to the auto industry as competition was on the horizon, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” The world is embracing new digitally driven options that challenge our existing higher education process. This change is not dependent upon higher education’s permission nor it’s demise.

So do we deal with this impending change by dabbling around the edges of the debate? The few institutions that are rolling the dice of transition to a new model are generally motivated by desperation. Most of us are just talking about what this change might look like. And that talk focuses heavily on the high visibility topics such as course delivery, student success or the rising costs. Look at the conversation generated around the MOOC phenomenon which is just the evolution of the online course delivery debate. Most have missed the point, MOOCs are not a threat to higher education but MOOCs are creating the disruption that in turn is exposing our weaknesses. We need to deal with our weaknesses but by no means is there an inevitable doom. I would rather assume that we could come through this time of change stronger then ever.

What are our weaknesses? This is where we get into trouble. Higher Education governs themselves by non authoritative committees. Decisions are made to insure the good for the most, least amount of change and with minimum risk for those deemed responsible.  What I am saying here is that even if we know what our weaknesses are it would be rare to announce them with detail that could lead to a solution. We tend to just try harder but there are exceptions. At every university it is easy to identify those who are capable of making a difference. They happen to be the most respected faculty or staff at the institution. But wait, most respected who possibly have solutions should be in leadership. No, it doesn’t always work that way.  Remember, avoiding change carries the ultimate trump card. So those who could lead have generally tried only to retreat out of frustration. This cycle has continued over time validated by the guiding principle of Academic Freedom.

Again, what are our weaknesses? I think the major weakness is our lack of understanding or acceptance that the  higher education business model has changed. The model we know and love has provided a valuable product desired and required for success. There was no competition because we controlled the primary ingredient, “information”. But the Internet has changed that, thus providing an alternative path to success. This does not mean that our path is diminished, it just means we have competition. I think this relates more to the competition the auto industry faced rather then the newspaper industry. The US adapted and built competitive automobiles by taking advantage of technology. Unfortunately the newspaper industry is competing against technology. But the critical step is to acknowledge the threat.

I do believe higher education will be stronger then ever. Yes competition will probably eliminate the weak, but that will mostly be the result of poor business practices. Those of us moving on will have new opportunities to improve our rankings. Higher education must continue to offer the foundation that fits the community it serves. We focus on the development of the mind, body and soul but we also fine tune our academic product to meet customer and market demand. And we neutralize the threat from technology by embracing it. The threat to higher education is the avoidance of change.

Research Technology Day

Research Technology Day

A benefit that I thoroughly enjoy from being the CIO at Missouri University of Science and Technology is the opportunity to promote, support and participate in research activities. The capstone event that represents IT’s involvement with research is our “Research Technology Day”, RTD, that takes place next week, September 9-10. Pulling off a significant conference such as this is a tremendous amount of work but we must persevere because what good is research if we don’t share it with others.

This year’s RTD takes on additional value for me because it is my first opportunity to place my mark on our research support goals. But it also allows me and my research support team to gauge where our state university system wants us to be and where our neighbors and peers are at. My impressions and observations so far:

It is easy to generate interest in a research conference with your peer IT support colleagues. It is difficult to generate interest within in your own research community. However, that is just a communications problem, once you breakthrough there is plenty of interest. Then it becomes a race to keep up with the demand and pull it off.  This year’s RTD will be great; awesome speakers, interesting research topics, good food and real “Fireworks”. But it will also be important for aligning the future of our institution’s research strategy with the changing landscape of today’s higher education research environment.  The overall motivator – this along with teaching is the major reason why we exist.

Update: Opening night of the Conference was great. I don’t think I have ever seen a better fireworks display. Way cool being showered overhead with such a show in the middle of campus. The S&T Pyro team offers us a unique skill set. Here is a video of the Display

3D Printing for our Students

We have just pulled the trigger to offer 3D Printing to all of our students here at Missouri S&T. It was not difficult to confirm that 3D Printing is about to explode in use and availability so what better venue to make it available then at a university full of engineering and science students.  Plus I have faculty who are renown for their work with 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing as they call it. They have provided me with the advice I needed to select the appropriate 3D printers for student access.

Stratasys 3D Printers

Stratasys 3D Printers

I will write another post when we open our new 3D printing service in a few weeks but for now I will give you the basics of our plan. We bought 2 Stratasys uPrint SE Plus 3D printers, the same models that UPS just ordered for their leap of faith into this business venture for their select stores. We will place these printers in our library print media area where we can manage them with IT tech support students. We have a lot to learn about the business process but it appears we can let our students pay for the objects printed with their PaperCut account. All the students need to do is submit their 3D drawing file and the uPrint CatalystEX software will help us to choose the most effective positioning and calculate the materials cost. We have a regular and an ultrasonic washer with a good sink area for cleaning off the lattice support, so here we go. The goal is to make this printing available to everyone at the most affordable price. We know that the increased access to the printers will be beneficial to our engineering design classes and I am hearing that it will be invaluable for supporting our graduate student researchers so I am hopeful that this will turn out to be a wise decision.

Will 3D Printing Change the World?

Video story by Springfield, MO, KY3 TV’s Lindsey Henry

New Era of Data Visualization is Upon Us

Big Data is a term being thrown around a lot lately, probably because it is so easy to acquire or generate huge datasets for just about everything. And when I hear scientists discuss this trend the conversation always seems to end up with the need for better tools to interpret or visualize the data. As the new CIO of Missouri S&T I inherited a data visualization project that was started by my Research Support Services group to help one of our geophysicist’s interpret his data. At first it was help with running ParaView, an open-source, multi-platform data analysis and visualization application. Projection solutions were setup and a front end data filtering and a loading tool was created. Enough work to show real potential and earn the team of students nice recognition at last year’s SuperComputing 2012 Conference.

Last May as a new team of students was coming on board for summer work we took the data visualization system to the Great Plains Network Conference where it was again highly acclaimed. The system, now called

Visualizing Four Dimensions in Rolla

Visualizing Four Dimensions in Rolla or V4DiR is now anchored by the front end software referred to as Transformer. This front end, as explained by Nick Eggleston, a junior computer science major from Maysville, Mo., who leads the project is a computer program to allow the software to show how data progresses over time. The program will also allow users to manipulate the format of their data and combine similar sets of data. The recent article reprinted in Science Today on V4DiR explains more.

I throw out all of this buildup about V4DiR to announce that I believe we are ready for a new era of data visualization. One that might actually justify all of those expensive video display monuments that have primarily been used for marketing. Maybe the concept of the virtual immersion CAVEs are truly ready for prime time. My investment has been minimal up till now but I am ready to invest heavily when I validate the most effective technology for this new era. We hope to explore this in more detail at our upcoming Research Technology Day at S&T. Join us, registration is free.

It is OK for BYOD to just be an acronym

It was not that many years ago that the acronym BYOD was coined to represent the trend of personal mobile computing devices being brought to the workplace. A few years ago as these mobile devices exploded onto the scene with close to the same computing power as our typical institutional computers, IT departments feared losing control of their technology environments. Mostly IT wanted to avoid the perceived increase in support required to help get these devices on our network. Then vendors seized the opportunity to sell us products that gave the illusion that we could maintain control. As we realized that support was not a real issue, those who still feared losing control or vendors who wanted to sell unnecessary solutions pushed a security angle. The security angle was based on the fear of what we don’t control could hurt us, again not an issue with today’s network security appliances and NAC strategies. The other security driving angle is the perceived need to manage what files these devices could store and walk away with. The reality of that argument is that USB thumb drives are far more dangerous. Mobile devices generally don’t have file systems so could be considered safer. Our security is still based on what we allow access to not what device is accessing it. So do we need BYOD policies? Probably not, we just roll them into our standard information management policies.

 

My short thought for the afternoon.

We Can’t Eliminate Fear

Privacy, is there such a concept anymore? Is it a right of the individual or is it a sacrifice of the community. This summer has been dominated by disclosures that our government surveillance organizations have troves of data and eavesdropping spyware that could be used to violate our freedoms. There is a large population that feels this is an outrageous injustice and calls for elimination of it all. There is a large population that believes that it is a necessary activity justified by the possible protection that it provides. I am now writing a post about this because I have been sympathizing with both sides; hence I have felt like I can’t have an opinion.

What finally bothered me enough to write was my concern that I might be a part of the problem. I understand technology enough to realize what is going on and that the data being analyzed is not really threatening our personal privacy, especially if we do not have anything to hide. However, that is assuming the integrity of the overseeing authority and that is where I must connect the dots.  It is so easy to market an idea in this over saturated information age especially if you play off of the emotion of fear. Weapons of Mass Destruction, Terrorist Bombings, Health Epidemics, or just bad things that could happen that we must prevent because we think we can. Things that have occurred throughout history, that only in recent years are we reacting with knee jerk preventative solutions. Why, because we can and because we have ability to communicate our concerns to an influential majority. And opposing those who push these agendas with fear marketing carries the consequence of being branded with an undesirable label.

Have we justified this invasion of our personal privacy with the fear marketing to prevent terrorism? Yes they/we have. We cannot disagree with the potential value of this invasion of privacy, which could prevent a terrible event from occurring. But what is the cost? Maybe our actions have created the outcomes. People don’t like what we do so they strike back at us to relieve their anger.  Does it spiral to a point of revolution? The answers are far to complicated for the investment that I can make. But I will conclude that I believe we need to back off from our need to eliminate fear. The personal data that has been gathered about us will eventually be misused if there is value in doing so because we no longer have control of the integrity of the governing body. Let that fear be overriding and let’s stop trying to guarantee our happiness.

Caution to the Wind

I have recently driven from Oregon to Missouri which is where I draw my motivation for this post. My journey with family and dog was about 2200 miles taking me through my old Colorado stomping grounds. It was interesting to observe the status of some of the energy producing concerns that I used to be a part of. The coal mining and the electric generation that I was a part of is still there and from what I understand it doing well and cleaner than ever.  New on the landscape were the hundreds if not thousands of wind turbine farms. Nothing new, they have given me a sense of pride for the frontier innovative spirit that they represent. But what I saw on this trip caused me to question that spirit.

Our Monuments to What?

Our Monuments to What?

Wind turbines have gotten larger and larger; hence they now dominate the landscape where they exist. Do you know why they are larger? From what I understand it is in search of greater efficiency or justification for the investment. That may help justify the investment but what if it does not pan out? What if we never reach an ROI that is not dependent upon subsidies? What if we find out those bigger turbines create bigger operational problems? I mention this because I estimate that I saw more motionless turbines then spinning turbines. Justified if the wind is not blowing, but have you ever been in Wyoming when the wind was not blowing? It may have been a light wind but it also looked like many turbines were beginning to age. I concluded that motionless wind turbines are not as inspiring as those that are spinning.

My point is one of caution. Wind power may very well be a great option, but how much thought has been given to the opposite. What if we discover that these wind farms don’t return a profit based on total cost of ownership? What will happen to those turbine monuments? What might people say about their deteriorating shells a few hundred years from now. Aren’t blogs great for tossing out these totally random thoughts?