Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Say Hello to the Savannah Plant

My office plant is 21 years old.  I know this because it is the same age as my oldest daughter Savannah, with whom it shares a name.  My daughter had the name first of course, and I didn't name the plant until a few months later.

When my wife had our first child, I did not want to bring flowers to her room because at the time I was worried about her allergies.  Instead I brought a baby plant in a very small container.  The drive home with the human baby in the back of the car was nerve racking to me and like first time fathers, I was a bit overprotective.

Not so with the plant.  It came home with us along with the balloons and flowers and other well wishing items in a box or possibly even in the trunk of the car.  It sat in our home for a while before I eventually took it with me to my office in Pioneer Square, Seattle.  There is sat by my desk, in many ways ignored.  It started to grow its trunk, a spindly little thing.  Then one day I came back from lunch and found it doubled over, unable to stand up due to dehydration.

I was going to toss it.  I had more pressing concerns like running a company then worrying about being an abusive plant owner.  Erin, one of the project managers would occasionally tsk tsk me and water it, but that was about the only care it got.

So I was about to chuck it when the irrational me stopped me.  "This is the plant you brought your wife when you had your first born child!  This is "The Savannah Plant!".

Don't name your plants.

Someone in the office had gone for Chinese food and had brought back some chopsticks.  I took a string, propped up the plant and tied the chopsticks to the trunk to stabilize it.  Then I watered it thoroughly.  I was impressed with how after only a couple of days of care it began to show some strength. 

I kept that plant with me and it began to grow taller than I expected it.  For goodness sake it started to look more like a tree.  The closest thing I have found to identifying it is a ponytail palm.  Pretty soon it was about three feet tall and took up a bit of space in my office.  I had to change the container to a bigger more accommodating size twice over.

Then I took it back home with me when the company was sold and I moved on.  I placed it in my home office where it continued to grow, but with an uneven amount of sun and a lot of bulk.

I would keep turning it as it grew toward the window light, and it lost many of the lower branches.  I knew I couldn't plant it outside but it was looking pathetic with only a few palm leaves on the top.  It had reached around seven feet in height.  The final straw came when someone noticed the spiders making there home in the few branches at the top and even in the trunk below.

That Fall, around ten years ago I lost the argument with myself.  Savannah plant or not, it had to go.  Like ripping off a band aid, I jumped from my desk and grabbed it by the trunk (avoiding the spiders).  I roughly carried it out with me out through the back yard.  I swung it hard enough to dislodge the current pot it resided in, I broke it in half and chucked it onto the pile of yard waste, trimmings and broken tree branches that would wait until Spring before being hauled off.

I stayed away from the bone yard by the side of the house that Winter, and it wasn't until Spring that I borrowed the truck to haul the materials away.

When I turned the corner of the house with the intent of cleaning out the side yard I had to stop and look for a few minutes.  The broken trunk of the tree remained bare, but from the root ball the plant had continued to grow.  It looked a bit like it did when I first brought it to the hospital on Oct 15th, 1993.

I went into the garage and found a suitable pot for it's size.  I replanted it and took it to my first office at the University of Washington Tacoma.  It has had two transplants since then.

It is back to four feet tall and probably needs a new pot.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"What is the Married Name of my Middle Sister" and the Virtual Scavenger Hunt


About 10 years ago I was thinking of how to create an assignment that was both an examination of search tools and hopefully a lot of fun.  I also wanted to open their eyes to how much personal information was available on the web.  So for my class Living and Working in a Virtual World I put together a virtual scavenger hunt.  Back in 2007 I wrote about it here on this blog.

I have been conducting the hunt once or twice every year since, depending on when I am scheduled to teach the course.  Each year, as search technologies and specialized sites such as Redfin, Expedia, Amazon and Facebook further dominate our lives, the items on the list have gotten easier to find and retrieve.  And as for personal information, the default seems to be that it is freely given without any worry.

Where once the hunt would take an entire class period, with only one third of the items found by much the participating teams, it now takes only about one hour for several of the teams to find them all.

And I have tried to make them more difficult.  Some are items from the first hunt, which by virtue of being dated have become more difficult to find.  But there is one in particular that I want to mention.

Item number 19 on this years hunt reads.  "What is the married name of my middle sister?"

Think about that.  These students only know me as their professor, with only my name and affiliation with the university as a starting point.  They need to be able to find out about my family, the order in which they were born and who they married.  All in about 5 minutes, as it is the last item on the list.

Remember when "What is your mothers maiden name?" was a common password check?

This year of the ten teams participating, four gave me the married name of my youngest sister and two gave me the name of my eldest, with only one team succeeding in finding the married name of the middle sister.

You may not be shocked, you may be concerned, but for the most part, in the present day you should at least be aware.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Intellectual Exchanges in the Course of One Day

Yesterday was a great day to be busy.  When I am not busy I sometimes wonder if I am missing something.  On the other hand, some days are so busy that you need a little time to digest the information and decide on which components you need to act on and which you simply had the pleasure of listening to.


The morning started with the set up for Weds 1 Million Cups Tacoma entrepreneurial meet up.  Now on its 20th week since the initiative was launched, we fill the Swiss with energetic business folks ready to learn from a South Sound presenter and figure out where they can help in the economic growth of the presenting company and the South Sound as a whole.



Bob Masterson from the Center for Commercialization (C4C) discussed the steps necessary to take solutions born from research through to licensing and application in businesses.  There were a good 50 people who came to listen and ask questions, but I could not stay until the end as I needed to head off to my class and introduce our guest speaker author Erik Hanberg from Side X Side Creative. 



Erik kept the class of 32 freshman, sophomore, junior and senior students intrigued with his story of exploring opportunities that have presented themselves through the evolution of the web.  From using new technologies to build the components to running a community theater, to web sites that both purposefully and accidentally have gained wide exposure to his foray into the online publishing world he provided insight and encouragement.



I then had to run over to the Center for Data Science where Girish Srinivasan, Clinical Solutions Leader at Samsung Electronics, gave a brief intro into Samsung's foray into the medical business. He'll also discussed his work on readmission risk prediction using CT imaging.

To cap the day off, I attended the 2014-15 Stadium High School Daffodil Princess selection where my daughter returned from her freshman year at UW to pass along the duties she had been carrying out over the last year.

Busy day.







Friday, October 3, 2014

Thanks to A Historically Strong Advisory Board

As I mentioned in my last post, the Institute of Technology at the UWT has come a long way in the last 15 years.  Today, following our usual advisory board meeting in the morning, which introduced four new advisory board members, we held a celebratory lunch for those board members past and present.  It was an informal event meant to recognize how their guidance and work helped to create the successes of today.

One of the inaugural AB members, in an ex-officio capacity, is Congressman Adam Smith.  He kicked things off  with a few words and some recollections of our earlier years, as well as a nod to the needs of a qualified work force that we are filling today.


During lunch, several Institute students who were members of the university's Grey Hat Goup joined the discussion on how best to progress with new programs, new centers and potentially a new name.  Afterwards they acted as campus guides, bring everyone to the Center for Data Science to view some of the current projects that graduate students and faculty are working on. 

Projects included healthcare costs prediction applications, logistical and transport systems, social media evaluation tools and large scale data analysis of academic performance of secondary schools.