March of progress, reloaded

March 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Science 

To compensate for the um, excitement of that last post about project management, I present my readers with this especially striking depiction of the March of Progress image.


[March of Progress image]

There are two central points about this image, generally speaking. First, it represents evolution incorrectly. The figures become more upright towards the right side of the image, which is intended to represent progress towards modern-day human beings. Evolution does not progress, let alone towards us. Second, it’s racist. Portrayals of dark-skinned people as primitive had been a staple of racists since well before the late 1850′s; evolutionary biology simply provides a new context for this representation. It remains offensive; those who think it isn’t aren’t taking it seriously enough. Recall the 2009 controversy over the representation of Barack Obama as a monkey—being shot by police. The Tightrope web site (“It’s not illegal to be white. . . yet”) has a t-shirt using a monkey to represent Obama, and if you really think this isn’t racist, you can show the world by buying one. I point out the scientific problems first to pre-empt the inevitable knee-jerk criticism that political correctness is the motivation for my complaints about the image. Even Grand Wizards and Neo-Nazis should object to this image on scientific grounds, although I doubt that the ignorance and intolerance framing their world view does not promote serious study of evolutionary biology.

This instance is especially outrageous because the March of Progress is a march towards whiteness. Astonishing. It’s not my area of expertise, but is it correct that the 4th and 5th figures from the left have hairstyles more likely to be worn by people of African descent? The rightmost woman has hair not in general natural for a person with black skin, because it is brown.

Academic departments seen from a project management perspective

February 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Collaborative work, Work 

The proliferation of project-oriented work groups in the corporate and non-profit world stands in contrast to the organization of colleges and universities into academic departments. Good project management establishes clear channels for communication and coordination among members of the group. The project management plan takes into account the needs of all stakeholders, including users of any products resulting from the group’s work. Groups are composed of individuals whose skills complement one another’s. They are expected to take initiative and solve problems as they arise. The group uses digital tools to facilitate communication and share resources. The nature of a project is to have a definite endpoint. Along the way, benchmarks, preferably quantitative and open to the view of all stakeholders, measure whether the project is on track. The project plan includes plans for what to do when things get off track. The project manager is accountable for the group’s progress. Others outside the group are accountable for supporting the project. Reality is rarely so neat, but these anyhow are some of the ways project-oriented work is supposed to be carried out.

The academic department is a permanent organizational unit with objectives which remain stable for its lifetime, and recur on a regular basis. As anyone who has had to work out a scheduling conflict with a department chair, an academic department is designed with an indefinite time line in mind: there are no provisions whatever for adapting to the needs of students or faculty.

An academic department can function indefinitely with no leadership whatever. Students enroll in classes each semester. The chair must make sure there are enough sections, but no effort is required to recruit students. Classes are scheduled and apportioned to faculty. The deans require reports of various kinds. Standards, such as learning objectives and the mission statement, are established by the department itself, which collects data used to evaluate its performance. The chair must make sure the department stays under budget, but the budget is an artificial construct used to apportion resources to the department, which cannot run out of money. No collaboration is required. Input from faculty concerning major decisions can be obtained by email. There is no need for faculty to share syllabi or discuss pedagogy. There is no special requirement that faculty in the same department co-author books or papers. The department can function adequately even if faculty see each other only a few times each year. Senior faculty are at liberty to ignore junior faculty. There is an ample supply of new ones, should new hires leave the department for greener pastures or else fail to be granted tenure.

Nothing follows from any of this about whether academic departments should be transformed into project-oriented work groups or made to adopt practices in such work groups. For instance, it is probably nearly impossible to quantify teaching successes or good mentoring. Requirements of intellectual freedom are incompatible with direct oversight by administrators or faculty in other departments.

Academic departments should, nonetheless, be held to high standards of excellence. More in later postings about that.

Glue on a laptop screen: how to get it off

December 31, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Tips and tricks, Uncategorized 

This happened to me:

  • Due to a minor medical condition which doesn’t warrant going into, I had to put band-aids, or as is said in some parts of the world, “sticking plasters,” on my fingertips.
  • Because they don’t stick all that well, the band-aids came a little loose.
  • As a result of typing on my laptop with the loose band-aids, glue was transferred onto the keys from my fingertips.
  • Next, glue was transferred from the keyboard to my laptop screen.
  • The usual cleansers, such as iKlear, the generic stuff I got at Best Buy, and soap and water,  only served to spread the glue around on the screen.

I knew to google this before panicking. On a years-old HP message board, I found an answer. Get a petroleum based cleaner, made for removing things like paint, caulk, wax, asphalt, and glue. Goo Gone is a good brand. When I used to work on bikes, I used this to clean grease and oil stains out of my clothes. Avoid alcohol-based solvents, such as Windex and similar window cleaners. (Note: I think Windex comes in non-alchohol formulations, but since there are other cleaners readily available, it’s not worth hunting around for.) Avoid acetone. Use a lint-free cloth, like the ones that come with screen cleaners. Don’t use paper towels, which will scratch the screen. Don’t worry, even though the stuff seems industrial-strength, it’s perfectly fine to use on your screen. Wipe the screen until the glue is gone. Then, take a different lint-free cloth, get it a little wet, put a dab of soap on it, and wipe off the residue of the goo-gone. I used dish soap. If there’s any glue left on the screen, repeat the step with the goo gone. When the glue is gone, use your screen cleaner to wipe off the soap and water residue. You can use the same technique if there’s glue on your laptop’s case. Make sure there’s enough ventilation so you don’t inhale too many solvent fumes.

Now that you have goo gone around, you can remove the glue from all those things around the house that have residue from price tags and labels on them!

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  • Heavy tag cloud cover ahead!