Posts Tagged ‘Rice University’

Odds and Ends Monday

November 21, 2013

A Few Days Late…

Since September, it seems that I have been spending more hours a week in the air than I have spent on the ground working. This is a real drag on my lifestyle and relationships. I’m not a party animal type, but I do enjoy putting a movie on my 10 ft. screen, cranking up the volume just a bit, and sipping on a glass of decent Cabernet now and then – or spending a long lunch with a good friend and catching up on their going-ons. Instead, I pull up a cheap armchair in a hotel room somewhere more often than not for the news on an HD TV before turning off the lights. It’s not really so bad, I suppose. Heck, I don’t have HD TV at home – I need one for Christmas!

So, to the tid-bits:

My research on wireless security initiatives is progressing – I have a solid use-case set for airport communications along with a comparison of the various technologies that are applied on the airport surface. The AeroMACS WiMAX profile proves a winner compared to any other wireless technology being considered by the civil aviation industry today. The only significant shortcoming for WiMAX is the susceptibility to interference in the assigned frequency spectrum. A jamming signal in the same spectrum looks a lot like a very effective denial of service attack. I think this particular threat makes a good topic to focus on.

I am reading a fascinating book by Scott Anderson, Lawrence in Arabia. This is an historical account of T.E. Lawrence’s time in the Middle East during the First World War. Lawrence’s battlefield is familiar to me after my years in Saudi Arabia. Aqaba, Wadj (Wejh), Yenbu, Rabegh, Jeddah, Tabuk, Medina, and so many more. These cities on and near the Red Sea were all familiar to me in the 1980’s. There was something wonderful about the expanse of the desert and the variety of the landscape that I really found beautiful and absorbing. The people were hospitable, and some were anxious to meet me and talk over tea in the suqs (the markets). Most people I came to know on the Red Sea coast had no significant knowledge of their history. In Tabuk, there was a very old locomotive from the Hejaz railway from the World War that was sitting in a few pieces on its side rusting away in the sand. I convinced the Mayor and the local cleric at the principle Mosque to right and reassemble the locomotive and erect a plaque to tell the story. I was happy to have paid for the plaque. I wonder if the locomotive and my plaque are still in that Tabuk city park today.

Lawrence in Arabia is captivating, and it tells the story of Lawrence’s exploits so superbly that I can almost imagine my way back in time. Anderson is a sharp scholar with a keen wit who presents the historical context masterfully. Read this book!

My quarterly excursion to Rice University in Houston over the weekend allowed me some quality time with old friends. David and I recounted a few “sordid” stories of our college days. Marta and I automatically engaged in a very European kiss cheek to cheek three times for luck. Greg and Lissa filled the empty seats at our table for brunch, Davy swooped in at the last moment, and we all thoroughly enjoyed a few casual hours walking the campus after so many years away. The campus is still a comfortable place for me to stroll about in.  Ten hours driving and one night In Houston was quality decompression time after so many trips to Europe – and to DC, Montreal, DC, Cleveland, DC, Phoenix, DC, DC, DC, DC…

Speaking of Cleveland, that City is turning around a bit. There are nice renovations in the entertainment district on the lake, and there are new affluent developments and a wonderful nature park near the airport. The city is “abuzz” about it’s music scene, and the people of Cleveland are optimistic about their future.

A rant – air travel is horrible and getting progressively worse. The airlines cast new equipment and changes in procedures as improvements. Well, new and different don’t often translate into better as far as I am concerned. I have flown in new American Airlines Airbus 319’s several times in the past few weeks. These planes are a bit noisier than Boeing equipment, and the seats are more compact. Width aside, every other seat dimension is 3-4 cm (about 1-½ inches) too small. The armrest is particularly uncomfortable for me as it is too short for my elbow to find a resting place anywhere except for directly on the seat marker that has sharp edges sticking up above the surface at the end of the armrest, and it is too low causing me to lean sharply to one side or the other. Lumbar support as far as it goes is in the wrong place, the headrest is at my shoulders, and the upright incline is set too vertical at about 8 degrees instead of a more comfortable 12 or 15. These seats are designed for children! The power and entertainment system hardware is on the floor to one side of the seat bracket, and it is a huge assembly that takes away precious room under the seat with sharp edges that really aggravate my ankles. There is no storage place at the seat for a magazine or newspaper or tablet or laptop making a drink or food incompatible with anything work or entertainment-related – worse than before, if you can imagine… The entertainment system has an awkward user interface that requires a terrific number of selections to find – to fine what? There is no content available without making a purchase. What was airbus thinking? What was American Airlines thinking? The surface looks good, but it is simply bad design when you peel back the vernier… If you spend 40 hours a week in the air, you will quickly notice these elements, and you will grimace.

Last night’s Rice Alumni event was quite interesting. What lead up to the Cuban Missile Crisis? Well, we heard all about it in the Texas Theatre where Oswald was apprehended. What a neat venue for this event! The missile crisis was bluster and bluff by Niki, and plugging the military-industrial complex by Jack. When backed into a corner, Niki pushed missiles into Cuba to retaliate for US missile installations in Turkey that the president may not even have known about, and we had a real stand-off. “Want a war?” Khrushchev  asked, and Kennedy said, “No, but there are a few terms and conditions in that contract…” Cooler heads prevailed, and it was a good thing they did.

I am finally home for awhile. Good!

Huh? What? What did You Say?

August 15, 2013

I am rarely dumbfounded by a conversation… Well, I am often dumbfounded, but I rarely listen to the end, and then suddenly stumble in mid-sentence and fail to ferret out something – anything of the intended meaning and context when we wrap up. I can recall three conversations in my lifetime where I left feeling total puzzlement because I failed to grasp anything my companion intended at the end. This naturally happens at the end of the conversations – all signs point to comprehension until – “zing”- suddenly, we “ran off the rails”, and nothing that followed made sense to me (or probably to either of us…). Just the other day, I had a forth such conversation. It was all I could do not to ask, “Huh? What? What did you say? What don’t you understand?” after an hour of obvious comprehension. So as not to embarrass anyone or alienate myself, I will ponder on this in the most abstract way I can.

I am talking with an acquaintance about an opportunity. It is a serous conversation. We are talking about millions of dollars of investment – years of work – a transformation of attitude – a paradigm shift. I can see aspects of the “plan” so clearly in my brain. I see the primary opportunity, the complimentary opportunities, the obvious risk set, the “forks in the road”, the tests and challenges, the measures of progress and success, and the endpoint… It is all pretty clear in my brain. I am listening hard when we start to explore the “forks in the road” because, suddenly, nothing my acquaintance is saying makes any sense. I call this phenomenon “orthogonal conversation”.

When I talk about strategic matters with a client, I “peel the onion” – pretty much the plan path as I explained above. I am particularly intent to explore the risk set and the forks in the road with every key player in my client’s organization if this is work-related – these are the nuances that can influence how decision makers’ think about a portfolio of opportunities, and these conversations can reveal significant new issues to me that my client never indicated (but should have…).

Now with my recent acquaintance, I am struggling to figure out 1) what significant concept I don’t know or understand that this other person does, or 2) what fundamental thing the other person does not understand? It’s one or the other because suddenly our thinking is inconsistent and nothing is making sense… Suddenly, the context has changed, the opportunity seems to have changed, and even the language has changed – the use of key words… I am still scratching my head wondering how to unwind this and get back on track.

Has that ever happened to you?

Let me take a little detour – just for a moment to make this “real” for you – an illustration of the puzzlement. While at Rice in a linear algebra class, we were handed a mid-term exam that I was certain I would do well on. The first page was easy enough. The second page was one that I couldn’t complete a single problem on. The science and engineering courses at Rice were known for testing on what you were not taught in class – “Can you extend the basics on the fly?” was the point of many of our exams. Here, I could not work through a single problem on half of the exam. I was really thrown off balance. Did I miss something fundamental? I was a bit “pissed off” and I was dumbfounded. The entire class was dumbfounded, I discovered. In the next class session, the professor returned the first page of the exams (every problem correctly answered for me) and explained that the erroneous second page was from an exam for his tensors class. “SORRY…”, he said. OK – felt better.

You can now imagine how I feel in these orthogonal conversations when suddenly, nothing makes sense. I had my fourth such conversation in my lifetime just the other day. I am still scratching my head wondering just how to get us back on the tracks…


Odds and Ends Monday

January 21, 2013

I have been busy lately:

The WiMAX Forum – you think Wi-Fi for your laptop and cellphone is great, just wait for WiMax. My oldest client has asked me to be a leader in the WiMax Forum, so I am getting up to speed on the politics of this tech forum. Lot’s of fun and a few great challenges for me, here!

My Nikon 1 J1 camera – it is lots of fun – a minimalist camera with a disappointing megapixel count but a great user interface for me. I took this camera with me to Taiwan, and it took great pictures – a good compromise between a point-and-shoot camera and a semi-pro camera. I like the interchangeable lens, and that was the differentiator for me that pushed me into the line at the CostCo register!

My good friend Mark Hepworth – our City Councilman – is running for Mayor. I think Mark will make a superb Mayor. He is principled, ethical, and credible in the City politics scene. Mark asked me to work for his campaign a few months ago, and I am glad to work for him.  I can’t wait to call Mark “Mr. Mayor”!

We have a crime wave in our neighborhood. My neighbors are up-in-arms -they are worried and anxious – three homes burgled in two weeks. I have arranged a meeting with the Chief of Police, here, this week. As the HOA “guy” (the President), I have a Crime Watch team organized with street captains, an efficient e-mail pyramid, and cameras and signs and lots of stuff to fight crime. Regardless of all of this, we have a crime wave, here. We have the crooks on camera in the commission of more than one burglary, so we’ll catch these rats!

January reporting deadlines for my companies are due in a week (groan) – working on this – well, I should be working on this right now, but I am procrastinating…  Blogging, instead!

My alma mater Rice University has drafted me to work on their local College of Engineering Alumni Committee – we need to raise some money for this department, and I think I can help!

My good friend JC and I had dinner recently with past Senator Kay Hutchison

IMG_0456and Nobel Prize winner Dr. Robert Curl (the carbon “buckyball”). I had dinner at the Curl house a number of times while I was at Rice – their son Mike and I were dorm roommates… It was good to spend some time with Bob and his wife that evening and catch up. We somehow meet about once a year and enjoy dinner in a “highfalutin” venue somewhere – every year, somehow…

IMG_0457The other night was the Texas Academy of Mathematics, Engineering, Science and Technology – the annual TAMEST awards banquet. This is a terrific venue to rub shoulders with brilliant and impacting people in Texas!

“Home Maintenance Week” – well, two weeks was last week and will be this week – some sheetrock repairs, fence repairs, irrigation system repairs, window repairs – all either done last week or to be done this week. I do some of this, and hire out some of this – the annual January maintenance homeowner activity for our household… I have everything “under control”!

A Christmas present was the 1988 and 1989 “Mission Impossible” series on DVD – watching the 1988 series now. This is a classic serial that I have not ever seen on contemporary TV – sad – a great TV serial!

So, time to get back to filing my W2’s and W3!

Brian – Out for now!

The Future “Industry” of Education

May 24, 2012

My alma mater Rice University celebrates it’s 100th anniversary of it’s founding on October 10, 2012. My own view of Rice is that it is an exceptional university – perhaps one of the most notable 50 or so in the world. My experiences there were as exceptional as the school. I worry a little bit that the next 100 years will be a struggle for Rice and for many, many great universities in the US and throughout the world.

There are a number of forces and trends colliding – here is what I observe:

  1. A University education is becoming unaffordable. Tuition at US universities continues to climb at an alarming rate that is far steeper than the increase in the cost of living. Most parents on the verge of sending their children to a university will face a staggering tab that will be between $100,000 and $250,000. The average college graduate today assumes a $25,000 student loan debt, and that debt burden will certainly grow significantly, too.
  2. On-line universities are starting to proliferate. Every month or two, I hear a new on-line university advertise on TV. Employers like these on-line universities – they are inexpensive for the companies that reimburse their employees of continuing education expenses, and they don’t interfere with work commitments.
  3. Certifications and cert-like credentials are ever more in demand for technical jobs. One job I investigated had 17 certifications required representing an investment of about $20,000 in credentialing fees – far cheaper than a 4-year degree from most public schools. Many technically demanding job postings I see advertised fail to require a college degree in the list of credentials and certifications – this is a growing trend in the labor market.
  4. Incoming student quality is declining. Public K-12 education performance in the US lags way behind the rest of the world, and the trend for US public education is a continued decline. Many universities have student bodies that are about one-third foreign students. These foreign students are increasingly of a slightly lesser caliber than a few years ago if quiet confidences from my academia friends are to be believed. As universities in their other countries, particularly India and China have become more capable and noteworthy in the world, they attract a growing number of the truly talented students in their own country.
  5. Public funding for schools is declining. K-12 and public university funding is declining as states and cities slash budgets. Universities face a conundrum of rising costs, reduced funding and uncertain endowment values. The only sure outcome for many universities is shrinking course offerings and ebbing quality as staff is dismissed and salaries are capped to counter the financial pressures.

My fear is that for all but the most distinguished universities in the US, the US “brick-and-mortar” university will struggle to survive with declining undergraduate student quality and degree credibility and perceived worth. This outcome is tragic in light of the high value of face-to-face student body interaction and face-to-face student-professor interaction that can’t be realized without a physical place for learning.

Many universities are streaming classroom courses on-line live and also on demand for students who are unable to attend or for review after class time. UC Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania are notable examples of this response to student demand with significant on-line Internet resources for their students. Academic Earth hosts a collection of on-line degrees and course offerings from a number of prominent universities and lecturers. See Academic Earth

MIT offers Circuits and Electronics on-line for free along with a host of archived classroom streams available for the asking. MIT’s “On-line Learning Initiative” includes a treasure trove of  formal courseware with course outlines, notes, assignments, tests, detailed solutions and text supplements. The Circuits and Electronics course is the first MIT course offered on-line as a tailored on-line course for credit with grading and TA teaching assistant services. See MIT Open Courseware  See Circuits and Electronics

Stanford offered the Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course last Fall taught by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, distinguished leaders in this field, for free with more than 100,000 students participating. The Stanford AI course is a part of the Stanford Engineering Everywhere program. See Stanford Engineering Everywhere

MIT and Stanford prove that on-line strategies can positively augment a prominent school’s reputation. An on-line courseware debate rages in academia with concerns about copyright holder, royalties collection and distribution, effective course structure different from classroom course structure, necessary interaction strategies between students and instructors, dilution of “student experience”, monitored testing infrastructures, and many other issues. The on-line University is obviously in it’s infancy with real pioneers beginning to be seen and heard.

Rice has yet to enter the on-line “fray” with courseware. They need to do it “smartly”. Rice will in time, I am sure. But, I am afraid that many fine public universities will fail and physical facilities will go increasingly unused over the coming decade as higher education becomes another industry in turmoil in the US. And I am afraid that the value of an undergraduate college degree will diminish as certifications take on more prominence. And finally, I am afraid that the value of face-to-face interaction will be all but lost on-line.

Space Shuttle Enterprise

July 23, 2011

Dog-gone-it.  I need a date for this photo, and I don’t have it – over the years, I have misplaced a file folder (a number of them, I wager)…

When I was at Rice, the space shuttle program was in it’s early days. At that time, the shuttles were test flown, and then routinely “shuttled” across the country on the top of a Boeing 747. One weekend, the Enterprise was on public display at Ellington Air Force Base, and I went to see it up close. It was interesting – exciting. Look at all the pristine tiles (I have close-up photo). Look at the attachment structure (I have a close-up of the nose structure, and it is stout). Look at the source of the 747 – a leased plane from American Airlines. I recall that I could not see “American” painted on the side of the plane, but it is obvious in the picture – must be some infrared film sensitivity. If I return to edit this post, I’ll add those close-ups I mentioned.

I was rather intrigued by the variety of people who came to the base to see the shuttle, and with camera in hand, I spent the better part of an hour waiting for an interesting variety of people to assemble in the viewfinder. See the people walking their dogs? I never would have thought to bring the dog… See the rancher snapping a photo of his wife with the shuttle in the background? And some fellow obviously looking for someone. It was a great morning.

While waiting for an opportunity for an interesting picture, a photographer from the Houston Post and I talked casually, and the paper later paid me a fee for the right to publish this picture. I never saw my photo on the “back page”, but the $50 check I received went toward textbooks (or was it beer). Well, however I spent the money, it was well spent!

So, as the space shuttle program comes to an end, I wanted to share one photo – maybe a few more later.  Now, the Russians will take us into space – and maybe the Chinese and Indians someday – maybe even the French!

The Passion to Learn is still with the Youth

August 1, 2010

This afternoon, several local alumni and I greeted dozens of freshman students on their way to Rice University. For these talented kids, school starts in just two weeks. Their faces were painted with excitement, and their parents wore a mix of pride and trepidation. I attend this “send-off” party every year to “shine” just a bit on the students and their parents and tell these new students that they have tremendous experiences to look forward to. I remember this very event when I was just 18. These kids will do just fine – they had the proverbial spark of youth. But this year’s entering class of Rice students displayed a spark – a passion to learn that I have not seen for a number of years.

Over the past several years, when asked, these new Rice students would answer that they were going to study (fill in the blank), but they uniformly preferred to speak of what they wanted to do after their formal education. Some wanted to become politicians or lawyers or doctors of scientists. For many years, these bright students have expressed a broad swath of interests and inclinations – and more importantly they were excited by their career ambitions.

This year’s new students were much more specific about what they were going to study, and much less specific about their career ambitions. To my surprise, none who I spoke to were going to study electrical engineering – one student was excited about chemical engineering and a career in the energy industry. The vast majority were going to study “bio-sciences”. Yes, this year’s students were quite different from past year’s.

“Bio-sciences” – what is that? Not just biology – not just bio-engineering – not life sciences – I gather it is a mix of all three domains. While many of these kids were on a premed path to medical professions, most were almost completely vague about their career ambitions. Just “bio-sciences”… They were uniformly focused on learning. They were excited about their prospects at Rice. And they were optimistic about their vague futures.

It is great to see the spark of youth, and it is invigorating. It is reassuring to see the passion to learn again, too. To some degree, I think it is important to milk the “here and now” for all there is – to focus on studying hard in school, for example. To some degree, if you do that, a good future will just come to you – and I think it will make for a better adventure along the way. These students have terrific futures in store.