Author Archive: kaiyen

throwing a cement mixer

[Since I don’t get to the definition very quickly…cement mixer curveball defined.  I can’t find video for it…]

I’m a baseball fan. I would not say I’m a “hardcore” fan if only because I don’t have enough time to remember individual OBPS or WHIP for hitters or pitchers, respectively.  I do know enough to know what those stats are, though…

What I do know is that a lot of analysts and color commentators get the technical stuff wrong during games. This always drives me crazy because, of your job is to help enlighten viewers and listeners about why that was a poor fielding decision or that bad mechanics les to the pitch that led to that home run, then do it right – don’t be lazy and take the easy way out.

A great example has to do with curveballs and, in some cases, breaking balls in general.  These are funny beasts.  The best of them can be devastating pitches that can easily be a number 1 pitch (see:  Barry Zito when he was good).  A mediocre one can be a third pitch that keeps a batter guessing just enough to make the first two pitches even better.  The worst of them…well, they’re bad.  But the point is that a breaking pitch is something almost every pitcher throws, but to varying degrees of effectiveness.

They’re also odd pitches, plain and simple.  They rely entirely on the spin on the ball, letting all 108 laces and friction with the air coupled with incredibly fast rotation to make the ball drop anywhere from 6″ to 2-3′ (yes, feet).  To achieve the right rotation, you basically let the ball slip out of your hand.  Rather than putting your fingers behind the ball to impart velocity, you actually release the ball over fingers that are facing the hitter.  Depending on how much pressure you put on the ball, where the grip is tighter or looser and even how much you extend your arm at release, you get different kinds of spin and end up with big looping curves to hard, “power” curves to sliders that come in at one side of the plate and dive towards the other (anyone that’s seen Randy Johnson and his power slider in his hey day can attest to just how much movement a pitch like that can have).

The mechanics behind a good curve are just as critical as the grip and finger pressure.  It’s hard enough making sure that your arm slot is always in the right place or that your weight shift is right.  Now you have to make sure to stay “on top” of the ball.  Since a curve goes up before it goes down, you have to use the fact that you’re on a raised mound to throw a curve downward, essentially.  But this isn’t easy – as someone that had a big looping curve in high school, it’s more just “doing it” than feeling it.  I shortened my stride a few inches and, for a curve, kept my arm in a bit (a slider, which is thrown with more velocity and breaks more sideways, is thrown with more extension) but otherwise just let it fly and let the spin do its thing.  Making sure to always bring that stride in just a little bit, and to stay focused on every curve to stay on top of it is hard, and requires excellent mechanics from the beginning.

As a result, you get all kinds of terms.  If you release the ball with your entire hand facing the batter, you get a “cement mixer” where the axis about which the ball rotates faces the hitter.  It just spins sideways.  This won’t break much because the friction is on the wrong sides of the ball.  If you don’t stay on top, the ball will end up higher than you want.  If you put the wrong amount of pressure on one finger or the other, or don’t quite get as good of a grip on the seems as you’d like, the break isn’t as much as you want or perhaps, if you’ve got a pretty good curve, it might not break in the right direction (I could vary my slider from about 5″ at the last minute thrown quite hard, to about 1.5′ starting earlier on thrown with a bit less velocity with more pressure on my index finger).

A curve is not easy to throw, in other words.

If one watches even a moderate amount of baseball, one will invariably see a hitter launch a long homerun off of a breaking ball.  Often because of the reduced velocity of these pitches (even a slider, which is thrown pretty hard, is going to be a good 4-5mph slower than a fastball), it will look almost like the pitcher lobbed the ball in there and the hitter just nailed it.  Almost always, the commentator says that it was a “hanging” breaking ball – one that just didn’t break as far as it should have, and the hitter could anticipate and time the movement.’

But saying that every curve that is hit hard is a “hanger” is simply unfair.  There are in fact many reasons why a curve might get hit.  And this is where my analogy begins…

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sometimes you have to put baby in a corner

Lately, I’ve been either working with people who are less than enthusiastic about developing a meaningful rapport with myself and my department or have been affected by various issues that have made them less collaborative/cooperative.  In general, I try to build relationships that will help out in the long-run.  That will create allies, that will form partnerships, etc.

I have learned recently that perhaps it’s a futile effort.  That the best tactic is, to turn a phrase, to put [the] baby in the corner.  <nod to Dirty Dancing>

I use the term “baby” on purpose.  A professional that is unwilling to develop a rapport – or even listen to one proposing to form such a relationship – is, in the context of a professional work environment, a baby.  This is someone who is immature, pouts about the realities of his or her job rather than faces up to the challenges, and points fingers and places blame on others.

When working with someone that is like this, my manager gave me some very sound advice recently.  Don’t try to build a rapport.  Ignore all the inane, illogical issues surrounding the discussion.  Place out of mind the obvious fact that if we were to work together, we could get so much more done.

Focus on what you need, and how to get it.

Not in a selfish way – if we are ones that are frustrated over lack of building rapport, we are likely ones that are generally not selfish when it comes to working with others.  But in the sense that, should all diplomatic efforts fail, just focus on what you need to get your job done.

Put that “baby” in a corner.  Pin him or her down with whatever mental constructs you need to block out all the noise.  Focus in on what information you need – how long before the problem is fixed?  What do you need from me to fix it faster?  How quickly can we get out of this conversation now that we’ve gotten our needed information? – and put on blinders to everything else.

This is really a last resort (and as last resorts go, this is far from Machiavellian) and one should still go for collaboration and communication first.  But I’m already finding it to be a useful communication construct when one runs into serious and undeniable barriers.

Counter-points?  For those 5 people that read this?

cybernudity

A while ago, I read an article describing what is commonly-called the “NetGen” or “Gen Y” (loosely defined as those born since 1982, though I don’t personally agree with that demarcation) as being very comfortable with “cybernudity.”  In general, this means that those that have grown up with computers and the internet as everyday tools of life (as compared to a “new” invention that has changed the way one works, interacts, etc) have not real problems with the world knowing everything about their activities, their interests, their religious feelings, etc.  You can see this everyday in seemingly pointless Twitter posts and Facebook status updates.

The article also claimed that the NetGen is simultaneously fiercely protective of its identify security.  While these individuals don’t mind if strangers know that they are at the local coffeeshop meeting with friends (via a FB Places or Foursquare check-in, perhaps), anything that would lead to identify theft is completely out-of-bounds.  You can know where Jane Doe is, but you do not get to be Jane Doe, no matter how “cyber-naked” she is.

This brings us to an interesting place – sites such as spokeo.com and many, many others hook up to Facebook, LinkedIn, Yellow Pages, personal blogs, etc and aggregate all of one’s personal info.  You can look up a person by name, drill down by state and city, and find out a great deal of information.  This includes stuff like family size and wealth, type of residence, and even street location.

On the one hand, this kind of information is exactly what one would need to steal one’s identity, short of an SSN.  On the other, the places from which this information is gleaned if often required to be public.  Consider:

  • Facebook still defaults far too many things as public, meaning that one’s personal info on the largest social networking site is right there, in the open.
  • LinkedIn, by nature, needs to have a detailed public profile in order for professionals to find each other.
  • The Yellow Pages is a critical component of running a business effectively, which means you are putting your information as owner out in the open.
Those are just three examples.
So, if the NetGen likes being cyber-naked, but wants to protect identity, but also needs to be visible in the right places in the right ways, and still ends up on spokeo…what to do?  The line gets fuzzier, indeed.

what do I really bring to the table?

A great many of us, I am willing to wager, want to believe that we are doing something meaningful in life.  That whatever it is we do, it is making some kind of difference to someone.  It is quite reasonable that the “someone” is one’s supervisor, by the way, and that the “meaning” is in the quality of the work we do.  Not everyone is out saving the world.

However, there are people about whom we marvel when we consider the work being done.  The people that are, in some ways, saving the world.  Inevitably, one thinks twice about his or her own accomplishments in such situations.

Perhaps not everyone is as introspective as I am (please don’t ask me how I’m feeling when the new year or my birthday is around the corner, as I really get gloomy then).  And perhaps…though unlikely…there is a reader of this blog that has worked with cancer patients or started a school in a third world country.  The type of stuff that makes me sit back and just say “wow.”  But right now, I’m willing to bet if you took a look at the work of some of my colleagues, they would make all of us sit back for a bit.

Note – this is not a post about how I think my work is lame.  Not at all.  I enjoy my work and I do feel that I make some difference – for good – here and there.  It is a post about how much I admire the work of others.  I am incredibly lucky to call some of these people co-workers.

Look up the Northern California Innocence Project and find out more about the amazing work they do.  Look up the cases of Maurice Caldwell and Franky Carrillo.  Those are just a couple of the articles you will find in a quick search.  Both of these men were imprisoned for YEARS.  DECADES.  Wrongfully.  And, with the help of other law firms that generously donate their time, the lawyers at NCIP overturn these convictions not just on DNA but on poor defense attorneys, prosecutorial misconduct, or inaccurate “eyewitness” accounts.  This is truly inspirational material.

The other day, I was over at the NCIP offices and was joking with Paige Kaneb  – one of the supervising attorneys – about how we had purposely turned off her DVD-playing capability on her computer just to mess with her.  Totally random joke and, admittedly, the kind that I make too often (oh, you’re having problems?  that’s right, we decided to turn the internet off for you today..).  But then I thought some more about that random chat later and realized that this person, this completely accessible, friendly person that is laughing along with my poor attempt at humor helped free these two men.  Paige also mentions that she wants the DVD feature so she can watch footage from the LAPD.  So she can help free someone else.

Later that day, I’m talking with Linda Starr, the project’s Legal Director, about what kind of laptop she needs.  My questions are about how often she will be traveling with the laptop, what kind of battery life she needs, and other practical but banal items.  Linda will be using that laptop on the road, helping to poke holes in the incredibly fallible human component of our legal system.  But the laptop is just a tool used in pursuit of justice.  It’s Linda herself, her devotion, and the work that comes from that devotion that just amazes me.

Yes, part of me is feeling this sense of disproportion between my concerns about the accuracy of our equipment inventory and the work at NCIP.  I’m the little elf that keeps the machine going while Linda and Paige (and don’t get me started on Cookie Ridolfi, who is a force of nature, to say the least, and worthy of an entire blog post) make real change.  I make sure DVD players are working and talk about what kind of computer one should buy.  Maybe I get to do something “exciting” and suggest a mobile broadband hotspot so that they can help work on these cases in the field.

And even if someday I’m the president of a university, or working in strategic development in a major tech company (yes, those are my goals), part of me will still think that what I’m doing pales in comparison to anything Paige, Linda, Cookie, and others do on a daily basis.  And today, as the head of technology at the SCU Law School, my work feels somewhat narrow and tangential.

Paige, Linda, Cookie, and to all of the others at NCIP – on the odd chance you ever see this, please know that I feel lucky to be able to be the one that helps with your printers and DVD players.  And that I hope that, maybe just a little, the strategic plans I work on today for the law school’s technology future will help make your jobs easier.

Monterey College of Law Pilots iPad Programs for Students and Faculty — Campus Technology

Monterey College of Law Pilots iPad Programs for Students and Faculty — Campus Technology.

A professor here at the Law School forwarded this to me recently.  He didn’t say anything in his message.  He just sent the link.  I guess I would have appreciated an attempt at something other than saying “I want an iPad too” but I’ve learned to manage my expectations these days.

There are a few interesting aspects to this post, some more meaningful than others.

  • It is tied to BARBRI, the Bar Exam prep program.  Programmatic backing is always a critical component to any initiative.  If there is no clear purpose, tied into a practical activity in which the end-users are interested, then it’s likely to be dead in the water.  So that’s good.
  • The main point cited for providing iPads is because students learn and faculty…do scholarship outside of the classroom.  Well, they have done that outside of the classroom for quite some time now.  On the student side, I can see where a new interface to this content can be meaningful.  That is good.  But faculty clearly aren’t teaching via the iPad (at least, not likely).  They are not likely creating content via the iPad (possible, but if you’ve met law faculty you’d know from where my skepticism comes).  And the iPad is not the device for doing scholarship.  That’s not so good.

Interesting idea.  Poor reasons cited in the article for the effort.  Sounds like more hype than content.

IT is difficult

FYI:  I struggled with the title of this post for days.  No matter what I did, I felt like I was writing something a 14-year-old would do and laugh about.  Very sad.

I often start my work-related posts with a qualification that I fully realize the difficulties that face university Central IT.  I make my comments about technology in higher ed and my opinions about the best ways to implement such technology and policies purely as my own opinion, but also with respect to the hard work of my university colleagues.  My opinions might be contrary to not only the university’s actions but even to their policy (or maybe even to their way of thinking), but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect their efforts or the challenges that they face.

I’m taking this one step further – the university has been under tremendous fire for communication, governance, and policy issues with its “IS” department.  IS is made up of Central IT, Media Services (classrooms, media support, etc), and the library.  In reality, the problems and complaints have been mostly about Central IT, with a bit of bleed-over to Media Services.  Most importantly, this has come from all sides – the faculty, the staff, departments as a whole, an external committee, and even the national accreditation group used by the university.  This is a big deal, and my perception is that IT is under a lot of pressure right now.

Interestingly, a university faculty member wrote the entire staff mailing list (why just anyone is allowed to write to the list is a whole different discussion, though perhaps related to the fundamental message of this post) praising a presentation by three managers in IT at a symposium.  These three – one of them the director of IT – spoke of the difficulty of providing an enterprise level service at a university, the challenges that any large IT infrastructure presents, and the type of staff power (both quantity and quality) needed to provide services that many people take for granted.

The real issue, however, isn’t whether IT at a university (or anywhere, really) is hard.  It is.  Nor is it just that our IT department has provided sub-optimal services at times.  It has.  These are very black and white perspectives that ignore some fundamental, cultural issues.  And difficulty in provision is never, ever, an excuse for low quality of product.

For instance – the difficulty of setting up and maintaining a university infrastructure is unimpeachable.  But the methods through which one builds such a system, and the policies that govern the development and growth of such an environment, must be examined closely.  To simply say that “it’s hard – acknowledge that and we can all move on”  is a gross oversimplification, and an insult to those that try to provide high quality service in such a “difficult” environment.  The complaints expressed by many during the external committee’s “Open Forum” session were often far too vitriolic and ignored the effort needed to provide the services we had.  The e-mail sent to the staff, in turn, ignores that just because something is difficult doesn’t excuse those responsible from mistakes along the way or for not remedying those issues since their emergence.

For instance – from my outside perspective, I have no idea whether the topic of outsourcing of services – cloud, third party, whatever you want to call it – has been discussed properly.  I do not have any clue as to whether the General Counsel has put forth our official stance on having sensitive data on someone else’s servers.  I am fairly certain that a stringent review of our business processes, our personnel, and an evaluation of what we actually need so that we can find the best solution has not been conducted.  I am pretty sure that we’ll go to Google Apps for Education just because that’s what everyone else is doing.  But that’s still probably 20% guessing and another 20% educated conjecture.

Not even all the right people are included in the conversation.  Why am I not better informed of what is happening?  No, I’m not a vice president or provost at the university – I’m not even part of the central university.  But I am the head of technology (CIO, whatever) for the law school.  We are the only other 100% full tech shop on campus (everything but e-mail, ERP, and networking).  Why am I not at the table?  Why have my requests (yes, I have been proactive) to be included on whatever committees come up been met with silence?  I am at the point of leaving vague messages about “however I can help” and “just say the word” in an effort to be informed.  Whatever process they do have in place does not include looking for outside opinions, as far as I can tell, empirically.

This is just one example, but the fundamental issue is that there is a procedural gap, flaw, fault, undersea trench that no one seems to see whilst they are viewing only the extremes.  Doing IT at a university is hard.  But that means that it’s all the more important to be as smart, as considerate and thoughtful as possible.  That all options must be weighed and that things are done the right way.

digital immigrants and natives – 2 way street

Over the past…7 years, there has been much talk of “digital natives.”  Also known as Gen Y or the NetGen and broadly defined as those born after 1980 (though I like to think there are a few from, say, 1978 that, based on how that person was raised and interacted with technology, is more native than not), this generation has some pretty defined and different characteristics from previous ones.  Specifically, digital natives interact with technology not as tools, but as organic components of their daily lives.  24/7 access to data and media, constant connectivity, multitasking (a loaded term, I know), etc.  Completely different.

Gen Y would have entered college around 1998.  That’s a pretty big lag from around 2004 when I first heard the term coined at an Apple Executive Briefing on higher education, but there is always a gap between the arrival of a new “type” of student and shifts in pedagogy, curriculum, strategy, and perhaps even personnel in response.

I am purposely using quotes here and there because there is so much attention paid to how different digital natives are from their predecessors- Gen X or digital immigrants.  There is even sometimes fear about how to deal with such students, with terminology seemingly better suited to a safari trip than a web team meeting.

While at a dinner with friends of a friend the other night, all of whom were about 45 years of age, it occurred to me that the reverse is equally true – digital natives need to be considerate of their interactions and communications with digital immigrants.  If they are not, they will remain ignorant of some significant issues and may miscommunicate due to basic presumptions that can be easily dispelled.

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half-assed Google products

[NB – As I have been writing and editing this post, Google already updated their Docs application suite to make it a bit more functional.  I haven’t done a lot of real-time editing with someone else so I don’t know if it’s any better, but the point is that this post might be irrelevant before I do eventually hit “publish.”

There is also the chance that other items about which I complain will be addressed quickly.  Finally, this is all based on the premise that Google has done little to show true strategic planning from their somewhat haphazard roll-out of products.  Not everyone agrees with this view, and I know that.]

I’ve mentioned before that I think Google lacks strategic planning, and that their tactical moves suggest disorganization and or potentially fatal decentralization in pursuit of freedom to innovate.  First-to-market is an important achievement, and FULLY ACKNOWLEDGE that perhaps that is the one and only driving force behind the release timing of many Google products.  But let’s put that item aside for now.

With the release of Google Docs for Android, which makes their own (half-assed) product on their own operating system somewhat more usable, I thought I would take a moment to examine the number of products that the company has launched that have potential that has been too long in realization or that have just floundered about, without a clear path to success. (more…)

the disappearance of the life of IT folks..or not

One of the most common “issues” and topics of discussion among IT professionals in higher ed is our potential obsolescence in the face of the changing student population, the infusion of uncontrolled media, and non-university solutions for connection – IM, Facebook, etc.

There are various articulations of this fear, but the gist is that because of all of these changes, the way we have always done IT will no longer be relevant, and we will lose our jobs.  Or, at the least, that we need to watch for and perhaps even fear these changes.

I am, as I begin this post, attending a keynote regarding the paradigm shift that social media, desktop servers, cloud computing, and other technologies present to (university) IT departments.

Let me rephrase that to work better for me:  the SUPPOSED paradigm shift…

As I often do, I must preface the rest of this post with a bit of a disclaimer.  The keynote is by Sheri Stahler,the Associate Vice President for Computer Services at Temple University.  She is clearly an intelligent person and I’m sure she’s a great VP and manager.  She certainly is a very affable and friendly person – at least she was when we ran into each other in the elevator at the hotel at which this conference is held.  This is not a criticism much less an attack on her in any way.  This is about the points being made.  These perceptions are not uncommon in higher ed (certainly evidenced by some of my fellow attendees that raise their hands to certain queries posed by Ms. Stahler) and that truly and deeply worries me.

Ms. Stahler’s points surrounded a supposed paradigm shift caused by web 2.0, 3.0 (2.0 + federated ID via Facebook Connect, etc), social media, and the changing perspectives of today’s students.  This shift jeopardizes the very jobs of IT staff in higher education.  Our methods are no longer effective, and our jobs are in danger.  This is a gross oversimplification, admittedly.

I had the pleasure of convening and attending a presentation by Dr. John Hoh, the Director of Information Technology Services at the Harrisburg campus of the Pennsylvania State University later this same day.  While it’s awfully difficult to describe the entire session, the gist is that one must look strategically and quite critically at one’s service portfolio, identify what are commodity services that can be outsourced, what are high-maintenance, low-value services that should be handled by only a small set of staff, and what is the “meat” of your overall services.  The stuff that you want to be good at, and that you want others to know about it.  Determining this requires a very forward-looking perspective on matters. As Dr. Hoh said, the goal is to become solution-providers, not break-fixers.

Being a solution provider means that one can identify issues, see trends as they emerge, and move to take advantage of those trends as appropriate.  If one is a solutions provider, then one’s job cannot be, by definition, in danger.  It is the very nature of one that needs to see emerging technologies not just for the dangers they pose to our existing duties but also for the opportunities they present that future-proofs such staff from becoming obsolete.

Even without taking Dr. Hoh’s aggressive, progressive stance, I would argue that we are all in the business of analyzing the eco-system that includes technology and higher education.  In the same way that we must now consider how to deal with the emergence (eruption?) of the tablet device or the commoditization of Help Desk services, IT departments had to previously examine the commoditization of personal computers and the emergence of computers as a part of everyday academic life and develop those very same Help Desk services.

In conclusion, we must look at ourselves as solutions providers, and ones that determine those solutions based on our ability to analyze changing scenarios.  We have never just been IT folks, and we certainly should never be people that focus on how the “way we’ve always done things” is or is not threatened by change.  Our jobs should be to analyze and change with new trends.  While our duties might change, our job does not.