Thursday, March 26, 2009

A New Honors Seminar

Well, Friday is the workshop for Senior Teachers, as well as the info-session for would-be senior teachers, and this has me thinking: If I were going to propose an Honors seminar, what would it be?

Working Title: Time Travel and the Angst of Humanity
Time travel pervades our literature, our cinema, our music, our art, and our fantasies. As a reader, writer, and movie fanatic, I find I have an insatiable appetite for this particular topic. Judging by the extraordinary popularity of so many time travel books and movies, I am inclined to think I'm not the only one. In class we could feed our imagination on sumptuous texts like Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Dickens' A Christmas Carol, H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, Clarke's Time's Arrow, Rafferty's Rainbird, and so many other amazing authors like Ursula K. Le Guin, L. Sprague de Camp, John Kessel, Connie Willis; on and on the list goes. We could gorge on discussions about the physics and mathematics of time travel theory: from wormholes to cosmic strings; from special relativity to the speed of light. We might snack on the theories of Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan. We could nibble the current research and actual experiments conducted by experts like Lijun Wang or Günter Nimtz. And most importantly, we should indulge our hungry eyes with the wonders of films like Back to the Future, Groundhog Day, Somewhere in Time, A Sound of Thunder, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Flight of the Navigator, The Philidelphia Experiment, Les Visiteurs (my all-time favorite and all-time-awful Jean Reno movie), or Planet of the Apes, La Jetée, Time After Time, and Primer. Our futuristic feast would not be complete with TV series like "Buck Rogers," "Dr. Who," "Land of the Lost," "Quantum Leap," "Futurama," which deal exclusively with time travel, and others like “The Simpsons,” which just dabble in its possibilities. And for dessert, we must have Star Trek and Star Wars!
Whether we move forwards or backwards, by centuries or by seconds, time travel is a means of releasing the angst of mankind; our preoccupation with consequences; our yearning for lost eras; and our desire to know the unknown.
What else would you add to this time-travel banquet? What class would you teach?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Feedback for UHP

In addition to giving us a place to share ideas and learn from each other, we hope this blog will also provide a place for input and feedback about what UHP is doing and how well it is working. So, please notice the poll to the right side of the page asking about the Legacy experience. Any other ideas for future polls?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Honors has Wireless?

One of the things that bugged me most when I got here is the spotty (i.e. non-existent) wireless coverage here in the basement of the Student Health Center. We've been told that we're on a list at ITS to get a wireless transceiver in the forum, but that list is apparently long. Even when we do get wireless, from the Forum there's no guarantee it will reach back down the hall, say to Scribendi and the eastern most classrooms. For a time, I was making due by dragging a portable router with me to class each day, but that got old fast. Jenny and I at least have been chomping at the bit to do something about this, and we recently spotted some cheap wireless routers online. They were easy to set up, but harder to name.
Now we have three access points: Storm, Rogue, and Jubilee (well Jubilee's with me right now, but she'll be back later today). These should provide wireless coverage to our Forum, halls, and classrooms. So if you're setting up a laptop for presentations, hopefully this means one less wire for you to connect, and if you've got your laptop for anything else, the entire distracting and information filled intertubes should be at your fingertips.

If you have suggestions for names, we're shooting for a natural trio (I left out Jean Grey on purpose) of powerful women.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thinking about my relationships with feeds

It wasn't so long ago that I began reading and using feeds (rss, atom), but today I see that feeds have totally changed the way I interact with the internet. For anyone who doesn't know the first thing about feeds, this short video from produced by Commoncraft and part of the 'in plain english' series should be of help.
For those of you who want the gist of a three-minute video without watching it, feeds take the old direction of internet reading:
me------>favorite sites
and reverse it:
me<------favorite sites.
I notice this simple reversal the most in how it has enabled me at long last to experience the joy/boredom/frustration/routine I had always noticed among my parents and others as they habitually worked through the morning paper. Sometimes the experience is relaxing, a gentle introduction to the day, think a cup of coffee and warm sunbeams streaming through the kitchen window. Sometimes you just don't have time to get around to reading and the experience breeds a certain kind of guilt as you see events piling up on your table. But the basic and overriding similarity is that news (or comics, or classifieds, or whatever) come to you.

If you still think of blogs (or whatever other word you might apply to periodic content delivered on the internet) as a hinterland, this is not the time or place for me to convince you of their importance and ubiquity, evan and especially compared to only four years ago. But I won't leave you empty handed. The Pew Research Center and Technocrati keep track of some of the raw numbers, and the same outfit that produced the above video also produced this little gem, another three-minute introduction, this time to blogs.
Getting back on topic, the main difference between my day-to-day experience with feeds as compared to 'reading the newspaper' is that this new newspaper is infinitely customizable, in both content and form. I can constantly choose what it is I'm reading, who it's coming from, how much of it I see at once, the medium in which it's presented, etc., etc.. The second difference is that even though the main arrow of interaction is:
me<------favorite sites
reading feeds is not a passive, one way street. Any item is an invitation to discussion in either the original context of creation (e.g. a comment feed attached to a blog post) or among any of the other distributed communities on the internet to which I belong. The extent of intercommunicative affordances of feed readers or aggregators (the user-side tech that does the work of presenting the content you subscribe to) themselves increases at an incredible pace. Just yesterday, my main reader Google Reader implemented a more robust method of holding these conversations. It's as if the newspaper included the watercooler as well.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Summer Reading for Entering Freshmen

UNM is considering choosing one book each year that they ask entering freshmen to read over the summer before starting classes in the fall. The idea is to give students some common ground to discuss and then be able to connect with each other about. As the Provost's memo explains "The basic concept is a recommended summer reading for all new students, the goal of which is to foster a common experience that will help develop a sense of community with their new environment and introduce them to a part of the academic life they are beginning." Books other institutions have used for such programs include:
Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed in America
Levitt and Dubner, Freakonomics
Suskind, A Hope in the Unseen
Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe
Hosseini, The Kite Runner
Prejean, The Death of Innocents
Salzman, Iron and Silk
Hakakian, Journey from the Land of No
Kidder, Mountains beyond Mountains
Urrea, The Devil's Highway

For a memo about this Lobo Reading Experience program, follow this link.

What do you think? Would this be a good idea? What other books might you suggest for such reading?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

DNA and Due Process

My friends will tell you that I love a good legal debate (even though I am not a law school grad). I love the intricacies of the arguments, the evaluation of evidence, and the importance of precedence. I also love the sound and rhythm of words like "jurisprudence," "preponderance of evidence," "substantive vs procedural," "pejorative meanings," and “penumbras of interpretation.”

Yesterday evening, while stuck in the usual, bad traffic along Alameda, I was delighted to hear a reading of the transcripts from a recent Supreme Court case on NPR. The case involves William Osborne of Alaska who, in 1993, was convicted of raping and beating a prostitute. Prosecutors did use DNA evidence, but the methods of DNA testing 16 years ago were only about as good as a blood test. DNA testing now is so accurate, that the odds of two unrelated people sharing the same DNA are one in several trillion, explained NPR judicial correspondent Nina Totenberg. As such, Osborne sought a federal appeal to have evidence from his trial tested under new methods and compared with his DNA. The federal appeals court ruled in Osborne's favor but the State of Alaska has now appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court. Does the State of Alaska not think that DNA evidence is reliable? Do they not trust it? No, they trust it. But the state of Alaska contends that Osborne was given a fair trial and given access to DNA testing available at the time. Not only that, but his victim identified him, and he also admitted guilt before a Parole Board in 2007. All of his deadlines for appeals have expired and essentially Osborne has exhausted all of his options under due process of the law. And that granting this post-conviction examination of evidence would place an undue financial burden on the state if other convicts were allowed to apply for the same process and essentially “game” the system.

To hear what I heard on NPR:

So, by the time this report has ended, my car was still creeping along between 4th Street and Rio Grande. With time to kill, I began to wonder: what’s really at stake? Alaska is among 6 states in the U.S. that does not allow convicts to access DNA testing AFTER a conviction has been made. But why not? Doesn't the Constitution guarantee all citizens the right to confront and cross examine evidence and witnesses brought against them? Yes, it does under a little clause called due process in both the 5th and 14th Amendments. No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law. But Alaska feels they gave Osborne due process. Essentially, they are worried about the finality of criminal proceedings. And that makes sense because if convictions are not final, then defendants can file an unlimited number of appeals, thereby backlogging the courts. I agree we definitely do not want that to happen, because then all citizens might lose access to the judicial process to which they are entitled. On the other hand, the due process clause does not invoke a time-frame. And in the end, due process ultimately obligates the courts to establish guilt or INNOCENCE based on evidence. DNA testing serves simultaneous roles: to release the innocent (wrongly convicted) AND to capture the guilty. There are some 232 recent cases which have been overturned thanks to re-examination of DNA evidence, as well as the case of Ronald Cotton, who was exonerated of rape 11 years after his conviction. The victim in that case identified Cotton and was more than 100% sure she had accused the right man. DNA evidence showed her real attacker was actually a man named Bobby Poole, who looked somewhat similar to Cotton. If modern DNA testing had been around when Ronald Cotton was arrested, then Poole would not have been able to roam free for 11 years committing six more rapes. If Osborne is innocent, then who has been roaming free the last 16 years?

In the end, the question I am left to grapple with (until the Supreme Court rules on this case) is the same question Justice Kennedy posed: Do you think there is a right to establish innocence based on new evidence after conviction? Lawyers for the State of Alaska ultimately responded that they did not believe there was any such Constitutional right, but I’m not sure I agree. I do open this question up to debate here.