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The 16.4%

on February 12, 2015 in Uncategorized No Comments »

The early estimates are out that my place of work … my alma mater … the University of Wisconsin-River Falls … will face a 16.4% budget cut for the budget year beginning July 1st, 2015.  Even with what I learned in my college composition class, my speech class and all my other communication experiences, I don’t think I can adequately convey the impact this has, but that’s not going to stop me from trying.  And likewise, the cuts aren’t going to stop us from trying as an institution to do what we’ve always done to educate and make the world a better place.

Teach more with less “they” say. We’ll still teach English.  That can’t stop of course.  But the student who needs more clarity because she didn’t understand the explanation … she might not get that opportunity as there are now 12 other hands raised in the class of 120, instead of 3 others in a class of 30. The student who needs some help with wordcrafting on a Friday afternoon? Yeah, he’s on his own too.  The instructor is busy providing academic career guidance to the extra 50 student she had to take under her wing after her coworkers were laid off.

You don’t do enough work “they” say. We’ll still teach biology.  That won’t stop of course. But the student who’s doing undergraduate research on a promising treatment for pancreatic cancer might miss that breakthrough discovery that would improve the lives of thousands. Her mentor is too busy grading exams for an extra 60 students this semester to look over her notes from the afternoon’s lab research and ask a question that would change her life.

You need to focus on preparing people for the workforce “they” say. We’ll continue to do outreach as well of course. But that boy who would have benefited from the spark of excitement seeing the magic of static electricity at his elementary school’s STEM night won’t be inspired to pursue a career in electrical engineering. He’ll bounce from job to job, struggling to support his family as he’s been unable to find his passion.

These are all hypotheticals, but I hope they illustrate very real ways these cuts can impact both our current students and potential future students. If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to pick an instructor from any academic department at your local higher education institution and ask them what effect cutting 15-20% of their institution’s instructors would have.  We’ve already had our “fat” cut these past few budget cycles.  I won’t argue about whether it was really fat, because that’s water under the bridge.  What’s left is people. Real people, whose driving desire is to make a difference in the lives of our students.  People who want to help those students achieve their goals, whether they’re as small as understanding the physics problem on today’s homework, as big as being the first person in their family to graduate from college, or as lofty as the pursuit of a PhD and discovering a treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Please understand that the time to speak up is now. May is too late. Regardless of the fact that our legislators don’t have to vote until June (or even later as has happened in the past), our students will be deciding in April what classes to take this Fall. This means we need to decide which classes are going to be offered and whether we’ll have staff to teach them.

Unfortunately, I don’t really think the people who most need to understand this message will ever see it. If you’re a Wisconsin resident who understands how you’ve benefited from higher education, whether it be a UW campus or other institution, please make sure your friends and legislators understand that the cuts being proposed will be very damaging and in fact are doing damage to our state’s reputation already.

This year has been stressful so far.  I’ll get to that more in a later post … really … I promise!  I want to focus this post on higher education, specifically at the University of Wisconsin.

I think many people who’ve not been through a public university really understand what these institutions provide.  On the outside, sure, they’re just another place to acquire the knowledge you need to embark on a career.  But they’re really much more than that.  I’ll start with that p word I put in there … public.  Public institutions are supposed to be accessible to the public (at least more so than their private/for-profit counterparts).  In many cases, that means they are government subsidized to enable that access.  In return, not only do these institutions provide quality learning for the students who enroll there, they provide a resource of information to the public and perform a variety of outreach activities. They do all of this while competing against private institutions for both students and the quality faculty to teach those students.

I say all of this in light of yet another large budget cut directed at the U of Wi.  “Faculty should teach more” they say.  “They only teach an average of 14 hrs a week” they say.  “Be more efficient” they say.  For fans of market competition, they’re conveniently forgetting some truths.  For one, faculty do far more than lecture.  They mentor research projects.  They advise career paths.  They grade tests.  They plan course materials.  They research and revise course materials to keep them up-to-date.  They perform outreach, such as participating in STEM presentations to area grade schools, or hosting science days to expose middle schoolers to cutting edge demonstrations. They counsel students who turn to them for help. They blow on a spark of knowledge to turn it into flame of passion for it. Yes, there are some “bad eggs”, but generally our faculty put in far more time outside of lecturing than they do behind the podium. As far as teaching more, prospective students are looking for attention that requires low student:faculty ratios. So not only are we dealing with budget pressure that deters good faculty from wanting to work at the UW, we also are being pressured to teach more students with fewer faculty, thus driving students away.

I’ve observed a lot of general hostility towards the comprehensive education that our 4-yr UW schools provide. That’s understandable. After all, why should an engineer need to take an art class, right?  That’s a waste of time. Until you realize that down the road, that engineer could be looking at the problem of how to display an image and think back to the art class where they learned about pointillism and construct the image point-by-point. If that engineer has to write up any proposals or supporting documentation, they ought to have some language skills. Problem solving works best with a variety of viewpoints, and there is something of a trend in that direction, bringing together multiple disciplines to solve problems. A university degree provides more well-rounded individuals who are going to be better problem solvers.

I wish more of our voters, as well as our legislators, understood what they have, before they try to trim it and mold it into something else entirely.

It’s been a few months … this blog’s been neglected a bit.  Many changes at work.  You might say “duh!  it’s IT!”, but it’s more than that.  An increased focus on time and resource management through use of proper project management tools.  We have a ways to go, but I’m reasonably confident we’re traveling in the right direction.  We’ve had a lot of staffing changes in the past few months … somewhat kicked off by the unexpected departure of my manager.  The next few months will be challenging, but new challenges are part of what I enjoy.

On a different front, one of my personal projects has been rebuilding the foundation for our church’s website which got hacked due to neglect.  I’d like to think the person who did it had a sense of humor, since he/she did link our mission statement to a Viagra ad, but sadly I doubt that’s the case.  We have a fair amount of content left to get moved into its new home, but there’s also some organizing to be done.

Another one of my projects has been punted again (perhaps indefinitely).  Last year I did some experimentation with virtualizing on my home server using Xen.  I ended up reverting to running on bare hardware due to problems with virtual disk volume corruption.  This time around I didn’t even get that far and had some PCI-passthrough issues with my TV tuner cards.  Maybe I’ll revisit it again some year, but I’ve decided that I have other areas that need more attention and would produce more benefit.

I’ll post about other life aspects soon, but I hear a bed calling my name.

“Lovely winter we’re having this spring” … so says the sign at the AmericInn in New Richmond.  I have to concur.  What the heck is up with a snowstorm in mid-April?  Really?  You may remember the “diary of a snow shoveler” humor that gets regularly circulated?  If not, it appears below.  It’s not that I have to shovel the stuff … but I’m getting rather tired of it.  Much thanks to whomever originally wrote this.

Diary of a snow shoveler

December 8 – 6:00 PM
It started to snow.
The first snow of the season and the wife and I took our cocktails and sat  for hours by the window watching the huge soft flakes drift down from heaven.
It looked like a Grandma Moses Print.
So romantic we felt like newlyweds again.
I love snow!

December 9
We woke to a beautiful blanket of crystal white snow covering every inch of the landscape.
What a fantastic sight!
Can there be a lovelier place in the whole world?
Moving here was the best idea I’ve ever had!
Shoveled for the first time in years and felt like a boy again.
I did both our driveway and the sidewalks.
This afternoon the snowplow came along and covered up the sidewalks and closed in the driveway, so I got to shovel again.
What a perfect life!

December 12
The sun has melted all our lovely snow.
Such a disappointment!
My neighbor tells me not to worry- we’ll definitely have a white Christmas.
No snow on Christmas would be awful!
Bob says we’ll have so much snow by the end of winter, that I’ll never want to see snow again
I don’t think that’s possible.
Bob is such a nice man, I’m glad he’s our neighbor.

December 14
Snow, lovely snow! 8 inches last night.
The temperature dropped to -20.
The cold makes everything sparkle so.
The wind took my breath away, but I warmed up by shoveling the driveway and sidewalks.
This is the life!
The snowplow came back this afternoon and buried everything again.
I didn’t realize I would have to do quite this much shoveling, but I’ll certainly get back in shape this way.
I wish l wouldn’t huff and puff so.

December 15

20 inches forecast.
Sold my van and bought a 4×4 Blazer.
Bought snow tires for the wife’s car and 2 extra shovels.
Stocked the freezer.
The wife wants a wood stove in case the electricity goes out.
I think that’s silly.
We aren’t in Alaska, after all.

December 16
Ice storm this morning.
Fell on my ass on the ice in the driveway putting down salt.
Hurt like hell.
The wife laughed for an hour, which I think was very cruel.

December 17
Still way below freezing.
Roads are too icy to go anywhere.
Electricity was off for 5 hours.
I had to pile the blankets on to stay warm.
Nothing to do but stare at the wife and try not to irritate her.
Guess I should’ve bought a wood stove, but won’t admit it to her.
God I hate it when she’s right.
I can’t believe I’m freezing to death in my own living room.

December 20
Electricity’s back on, but had another 14 inches of the damn stuff last night.
More shoveling!
Took all day.
The damn snowplow came by twice.
Tried to find a neighbor kid to shovel, but they said they’re too busy playing hockey.
I think they’re lying.
Called the only hardware store around to see about buying a snow blower and they’re out.
Might have another shipment in March.
I think they’re lying.
Bob says I have to shovel or the city will have it done and bill me.
I think he’s lying.

December 22

Bob was right about a white Christmas because 13 more inches of the white   shit fell today, and it’s so cold, it probably won’t melt till August.
Took me 45 minutes to get all dressed up to go out to shovel and then I had to piss.
By the time I got undressed, pissed and dressed again. I was too tired to shovel.
Tried to hire Bob who has a plow on his truck for the rest of the winter, but he says he’s too busy.  I think the asshole is lying.

December 23
Only 2 inches of snow today
And it warmed up to 0.
The wife wanted me to decorate the front of the house this morning.
What is she, nuts?!!
Why didn’t she tell me to do that a month ago?
She says she did but I think she’s lying.

December 24
6 inches – Snow packed so hard by snowplow, l broke the shovel.
Thought I was having a heart attack.
If I ever catch the son of a bitch who drives that snow plow, I’ll drag him through the snow by his balls and beat him to death with my broken shovel.
I know he hides around the corner and waits for me to finish shoveling and then he comes down the street at a 100 miles an hour and throws snow all over where I’ve just been!
Tonight the wife wanted me to sing Christmas carols with her and open our presents, but I was too busy watching for the damn snowplow.

December 25
Merry freaking Christmas!
20 more inches of the damn slop tonight -Snowed in.
The idea of shoveling makes my blood boil.
God, I hate the snow!
Then the snowplow driver came by asking for a donation and I hit him over the head with my shovel.
The wife says I have a bad attitude.
I think she’s an idiot.
If I have to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” one more time, I’m going to stuff her into the microwave.

December 26
Still snowed in.
Why the hell did I ever move here?
It was all HER idea.
She’s really getting on my nerves.

December 27
Temperature dropped to -30 and the pipes froze; plumber came after 14 hours of waiting for him, he only charged me $1,400 to replace all my pipes.

December 28
Warmed up to above -20.
Still snowed in.
The BITCH is driving me crazy!!!

December 29
10 more inches.
Bob says I have to shovel the roof or it could cave in.
That’s the silliest thing I ever heard.   How dumb does he think I am?

December 30
Roof caved in.
I beat up the snow plow driver, and now he is suing me for a million dollars, not only the beating I gave him, but also for trying to shove the broken snow shovel up his ass.
The wife went home to her mother.
Nine more inches predicted.

December 31
I set fire to what’s left of the house.
No more shoveling.

January 8
Feel so good.
I just love those little white pills they keep giving me.
Why am I tied to the bed?

It’s been a while… quite a long while in fact.  Life got busy.  I got to work on projects.  One of those (Xen) had to be punted and I’m getting the itch to try it again.  I think it will have to wait though.  A higher priority is figuring out how to deal with a website content management system that’s old and unsupported, not so much for me as for church.  I’ve tried out a customized package of drupal … which seems neat, but doesn’t seem particularly responsive when I first hit the site … not a good thing.  It has plenty of CPU/memory behind it so I don’t know what the issue is.  Better bet is to look at migrating from Joomla 1.5 to Joomla 3.0.  Whether I can do that with the upgrade plugins or not, I don’t really know.

Work has been an adventure.  Big changes since I last posted.  New boss, new responsibilities.  Less work in areas that I enjoy but am not really the best at.  More work in other areas that are pretty unique to me.  Long term roadmap?  That is less clear.  Lots of changes are going on.  Change is happening with my parents too.  For the first winter in far more years than I’ve been alive, my dad didn’t have to worry about cows being milked.  It’s a mixed blessing of course … work provided stability but certainly took its toll on both of my parents.  Now, far moreso than with me, their future is cloudy, but I have faith they’ll make it through.  Mom is working in a care center and Dad delivers meals on wheels.  The Lord provides.

The kids are growing.  I worry about whether we provide enough mental growth potential for them at home.  We don’t really do extracurriculars like scouts with them, but I would like to take them on more learning opportunities.  They’re little sponges.  They were looking at a book on volcanoes on the sofa earlier this evening that dear daughter had checked out from the library.  I wonder how many other little girls have checked out that book.  What does her future hold?

Well, early to bed after a troublesome night of sleep last night.  Hopefully getting into posting again will clear some mental cobwebs and the spiders that come with them.

I read an article in Time magazine this week about some guys from Atari who were going back to work for a startup.  Most of these individuals were in their 50s-60s and had worked for Atari back in the late 70s and early 80s.  They basically invented most of the video game genres that we’re familiar with today.  The goal of their company is to make great games and either invent new genres or use existing ones in new ways.  An example they gave was a turn-based fighter pilot battle.  Now I’m not a gamer, but I suspect most play games that are a little faster paced than something where you aim, shoot, then wait a while, perhaps days, to see if you hit something.  However, this seems like a really cool idea to drag something out like this.

What really struck me about the article was the fact that these individuals love what they do so much, that they’re starting over again at a new job when most of their colleagues are undoubtedly looking ahead towards retirement or are already there.  I hope I love my job that much 20 years from now.


on September 28, 2011 in Uncategorized No Comments »

I like to think that I have a generally positive attitude.  I’m not going to say I’m always positive, but would certainly argue that I’m not a pessimist.  I think attitude is one of the most important aspects of your life but gets overshadowed by so many things that are more obvious.  It goes beyond the cliché of “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade”.  One major aspect of my job is problem solving, whether it be technical or not.  The obvious examples that come to mind are technical problems.  I could take the attitude of “the vendor created the problem, they can figure it out and fix it and if they have questions ask me.”  I choose to take the attitude of “yes, it’s their problem, but how can *I* help them resolve it.”  Who knows, maybe I’ll learn something in the process, but I can do something.

One of the interesting aspects of my job is that I’m not really an expert at much but what I do know covers a fairly broad range of areas.  Since I’m not as focused as say, a database administrator, I’m sometimes not equipped with the knowledge to deal with problems or tasks in particular areas.   But you know what?  It’s about attitude.  There’s a place for the detailed knowledge that something like training can provide, but if you have the right attitude you can usually find the resources to learn what you need to know.

A friend of mine made a post about being “lucky” today.  I completely see his point that it’s more often the result of work, but as I commented in response, even that is more about attitude (namely the recognition of and willingness to do the work).  If you see something you don’t like, do what you can to change the situation.  Maybe it’s a little something and won’t get you very far.  Maybe it’s tedious and will take a long time, but you’ll get there eventually.  In some cases, it may even be easier than you thought.  But, it is about attitude.  If you have the means to change the situation for the better, go for it.  Be positive.  Be powerful.

Work has been busy (duh!)  E-mail primarily.  Lots of it.  Moving it.  Creating accounts.  Fixing accounts.  Deleting accounts.   Calendar move coming the end of this coming week.  Looking forward to that.  Moving to new office this week.  Looking forward to that as well.  Learning new stuff that’s challenging.  Enjoying it.  Work is good.

Home has been good.  Looking forward to occupying basement again soon.  Kids are doing well.  Warren finally has his i-teeth through, so he’s nowhere not as crabby as he was last week.  Both kids are fighting bugs of some variety I think.  Warren has been producing putrid packages in his diapers for a few days (more putrid than normal).  Laura had a fever last night but thankfully that’s dissipated today.  Liz is struggling with something that is leaving her wiped out, not unlike what Lyme disease does.  Hopefully we can figure out what it is.

Hobby … finally got back to doing ‘puter stuff today.  Yay.  I set up a virtual machine whose sole reason for existence is to forward connections to my desktop at work so I can more easily make remote connections to my servers.  Call it a poor man’s VPN if you will … but that should get me through until we actually have a real VPN connection I can use.

… I just haven’t had the time or mental willingness to post for a while.  This past weekend was our first relaxing one in quite a while.  We started out with dropping the cherubs off at Liz’s parents on Thursday afternoon so we could go see Gaelic Storm at the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee for Irish Fest.  That was certainly a blast and I think even more enjoyable than I expected it to be.  Friday, we met up with my old friend Dave and his wife to do some activities in Milwaukee.  Our first stop was the Miller Brewery tour.  Unfortunately, the production line they offer tours for was down for maintenance, so we didn’t get to see any containers being filled.  It did end with some sampling of their wares, which Liz greatly enjoyed.  She’s decided that MGD 64 is right up her alley, particularly since she’s on a low-carb diet.  This was followed by lunch at the Safe House.  I wouldn’t have minded spending some more time there to check out their artifacts.  Speaking of artifacts, the next stop was the Milwaukee Public Museum where we checked out the mummy exhibit.  It is certainly a bit odd when you stand and think about the fact that what you are looking at was in fact a living, breathing human being at some point.  Very odd indeed.  After that, we had to part company so we could make our way back to the in-laws to reassure the kiddos (and their grandparents) that we had not left them for good.  Saturday was mostly a lazy day.  I got in a couple of naps.  Then we went to Mt. Horeb to visit with friends from college.  That was enjoyable but we could have easily spent many more hours visiting.  Unfortunately we needed to get our children to bed.  Sunday was the drive home.  ‘Nuff said.

I’ve got a couple of projects lined up to work on here at home computer-wise.  One is a SOGo implementation and the other is setting up a new frontend for my MythTV DVR using a Zotac mini PC. The Zotac project is likely going to be much easier but I think the other will be fun as well once it’s working.  The mini PC isn’t here yet.  I had been hoping it would get delivered this week but I’m not holding my breath at this point.

Well, time to hit the hay.  It’s been a long day.

It’s cold outside.  Not as bad as it was this morning, but still cold.  I’m getting a little tired of winter today.  I think I’ll like it again when we start getting back into the 20s for highs, but -24°F this morning was a bit much.  At least I didn’t have -38 like my parents did.  Brrr.

I haven’t posted in a while.  I’m not sure I’ll be any better this year about posting than I was last year.  I think I’m going to shoot for once a week.  Last week was my first 5-day work week in two months, due to holidays, vacation days and sick days.  This week was a short week due to holiday.  I actually got to relax for the most part.  The kids were at daycare.  Liz had to work.  I got to stay home and work on projects and catch up on recorded TV.  I did decide that in the future, if I’m going to do a marathon of CSI, I should probably follow it up with something not quite as “heavy”.  It lead to some difficulty sleeping that night.

Work has been going okay.  Juggling projects as usual but thankfully I don’t have any single one that’s causing a lot of distress.  Some coding.  Some upgrading.  Some wedge installs (e.g. installing a wiki software that really prefers UNIX onto a Windows OS).  This morning we had quite a bit of excitement trying to figure out why nearly all of our public-facing services were flaking out.  Finally narrowed it down to one piece of network equipment they all utilized and resolved by failing over to a standby unit.

Tonight is pretty quiet.  Liz is out with friends from church having drinks and cookies (lovely combination, eh?).  Tomorrow she works from 10 to 4 and then Sunday she works 1 to 8.  I really won’t mind the paycheck that comes along with it but this is going to be a long week.  She’s working every day this coming week and then is doing scrapbooking with a friend on Sunday.  I’m trying to arrange a “geek day” for myself for President’s Day … and maybe I’ll get in some outings before then since OmniFest ends Feb. 17th.  I think I’d like to see the Tropical Rainforest film as well as the Wild Safari.

My big project for the weekend (other than staying sane and keeping the children out of too much trouble) is to get the new Dance Theatre website cobbled together enough to “go live”.  I made a lot of progress this past Monday with the basic setup but there’s a lot to do yet.

My system backup just finished (something else I gotta get better at doing more frequently this year) so it’s bedtime for me.   ZZzzzzzz…..