Fee for service? Not in education!

Despite the .org suffix for my domain name, I am very much a for-profit person. However, I think there’s little place for a for-profit, fee-for-service model in education. I work for the residential computing group of a university and the department, in turn, is part of larger computing group that aims to serve the academic needs of the university community through the provision of public computer clusters and consulting and technology resources for faculty, staff and students. (This organization is separate from the overall IT organization for the university that is more focused on university-wide systems and infrastructure, such as the network and central databases.)

Somehow, the larger computing group that my department is part of was given the responsibility to turn around a fee-for-service group on campus. They were something like two million in the hole, but the university hoped to give them to us so that we can make them self-sufficient and possibly, profitable. While I’m sure they’re good people and don’t want them to be put out on the street, I don’t really see how the group fits into our department’s, much less the university’s mission as a whole. In general, they provide Web services (Web site design, online surveys, logo design, etc.) to groups on campus that can pay market prices for their services. They are encouraged to conduct business only with university organizations, although they can work for outside clients on a very limited basis (if only to break even).

There are two major problems I have with this model (outside of my own reservations about the quality of their work):

  1. A fee-for-service group of qualified professionals is a great resource for those university groups that can’t afford to, or even want to hire full-time staff for special projects, like conducting an online survey or having their Web site redesigned. However, if they are charging market prices, it makes the entire endeavor less cost effective for the client. Because they are a fee-for-service group, long-term support is either non-existent or existent, but very expensive, cancelling out the value of having the fee-for-service group in the first place.
  2. The group was made part of a regular university department, I’m assuming, to be tied into that department’s and the university’s mission and to take advantage of the management resources available within the department. They are required to be financially self-sufficient (which is good in this economy and the current state of budget cuts), but they still take resources from the department. Besides the management resources required to keep the group running, management has been encouraging “working together,” which essentially amounts to taking homegrown software solutions and other tools built within the department and selling them as part of their services. While we are being monetarily being compensated for use of our products and staff time (as we normally do since we offer them as services for other departments ourselves, albeit at a much, much lower price), they are essentially getting to offer a much more valuable suite of services because of their attachment to our organization. In exchange, the theory is that they offer their own services– free Web design work, consulting, etc. However, since we are a computing group, we already have staff that are specifically assigned to work on those types of projects. So, the question is: is the exchange equal or even necessary?

In my opinion, no.
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No go for Asian Americans on primetime

I almost forgot with the war going on that “Black Sash” was premiering on the WB. Of course, my trusty TiVo was programmed to pick up stuff with Russell Wong, so I was happily reminded as it started recording the new show.

Unfortunately, I was not so happily impressed by the show itself. Yes, as I’m writing this, there’s still 20 minutes to go in the pilot, but so far, the show has been some updated version of “The Karate Kid”, except not as good as that might sound. Wong is an ex-cop who was set up by his former partner, getting caught with tons o’heroine and being sent to a Hong Kong prison for 5 years. He’s back in the Yay Area now and he’s teaching martial arts to a group of teenagers (none who are Asian it seems) and being the Mr. Miyagi of today’s angsty teens– there’s the the angry girl who wants to avenge her father’s murder, the abused teen trying to get out of a battered home, the nerdy girl who’s actually ridiculously hot and is pining away for a boy, and the black kid who, outside of a gadget habit and being the object of nerdy girl’s affection, seems pretty much to be included because he’s the black kid. And hey, after Jim Kelly’s crucial part in “Enter the Dragon”, you’ve always got to have the black dude who is into martial arts. I’m all for promoting Black-Asian relations.
Continue reading No go for Asian Americans on primetime

Oh, Photo!

Yes, my friends and I mock all those silly people out there who use analog cameras. Granted, if you’re looking to do some real, impressive, hot shot photography, you should go with an analog camera with all the lenses and attachments and stuff, but the value behind a digital camera is growing everyday. You can buy a decent digital camera now for one or two hundred dollars and taking digital photos can provide some great flexibility:

  • You can immediately see what your photo will look like and retake those eyes-closed, weird smile, makes you look fat, short or stupid photos over and over again until you get it right. Yes, it can’t perform miracles, but you can try to get the best image you can.
  • With a decent size piece of media (Compact Flash, SmartMedia, etc.), you can take hundreds of photos without ever having to rewind or reload.
  • Video. Some of the more magical cameras let you take short clips of video footage. It won’t be a replacement for a real video camera, digital or otherwise, but could be useful if you need a quick video clip of silly antics.
  • Immediate gratification. If you need a photo right away, you can simply take the picture, download the photo to your computer and then use it in either digital or printed format. Personally, I find it very useful when I need to take a quick snapshot of stuff I’m selling on eBay or something I want to quickly send someone over email.

Continue reading Oh, Photo!

Trouble in Paradise

So, when I was enjoying free cocktails and beautiful sun in Kauai, the nation went to war. It’s very strange– Hawaii can be on a completely different terror alert than the rest of the country. Hey, it’s the island way.

So, the war had already been going on for over 24 hours when I returned to the mainland and now that I’m done clearing things off of my TiVo, I’ve got CNN going on in the background all day long. (BTW, why is Wolf Blitzer allowed on the air?) I have to admit: I still don’t see the point of this war. Bush keeps calling it the war to free the Iraqi people and yes, Saddam is a very, very bad man, but when did the Iraqi people ever ask us to free them? Are we getting Iraqis pounding down the door seeking political asylum?
Continue reading Trouble in Paradise

Vindicated

My friend came over on Saturday and we started chatting, more like arguing, about the war on Iraq and the situation with North Korea. He’s been following everything closely and thought that I was crazy to not support the war on Iraq and to be concerned more with the situation with North Korea. His point was that Iraq poses a direct threat and that North Korea does not. He says that Iraq clearly has weapons of mass destruction and Saddam is willing to use them, as he already has against us and his neighboring countries. Kim Jong Il, on the other hand, only wants money and knows that if he were to launch any attack, it would be suicide. I argued that I just don’t buy the whole issue Bush has with Iraq– I think it’s a product of the Bush administration’s strange obsession with Iraq and Bush’s hope to get reelected. Kim, on the other hand, may want money, but he is a completely unknown variable with the way that country has been closed off for so many years and I don’t put it past him to launch an attack just to prove a point. I mean, who lets hundreds of thousands of his people starve to death in the spirit of self-reliance and military strength? It’s that stubborn Korean pride that I know so well and there are no limits to it. We argued back and forth until the Stanford-Cal men’s basketball game came on, at which point all discussion ceased, rightly so.

So then, last night, I watched a bit of “Real Time with Bill Maher” and the same issues came up, of course. Bill pointed out that while Saddam does have weapons and is not following UN sanctions, North Korea is clearly getting ready for something by taking out fuel rods, testing missiles and tailing American spy planes. He considered that a direct threat, not Saddam’s behavior for the past twelve years. He said that it was time the US stopped waiting for the international community to do something and step up– that any use of nuclear weapons is an attack against the United States, as many presidents have said before and that the only way to prevent a nuclear war is to follow a policy of MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction. Damn skippy.

Priorities, Priorties

Well, the whole world is all messed up and I can’t help blaming Bush for it. Everyday, we get closer to going to war with Iraq and I just don’t understand why. So, they say Saddam’s stockpiling weapons again and when we told him to stop, he didn’t. No, shit, really? Yes, he’s technically in violation of Gulf War treaties, but are we really surprised? I mean, just because we whooped his ass over ten years ago (damn, has it really been that long?) doesn’t mean he’s not going to try some stupid crap again. He’s Saddam. That’s what he does. You can’t be an evil dictator without doing stuff like this.

The price of gas is skyrocketing now and people, as usual, are claiming that this war is really about oil in the end. We want to “stop terror,” but other countries aren’t joining in because of economic ties, i.e., they need oil. Maybe that’s the case, maybe it isn’t. It’s probably more about the Bush administration’s strange obsession with Iraq, Bush’s attempt to emulate his father and hopefully unlike his father, time the war on Iraq just right so it’ll carry him through to a second term. As for oil though, last time I checked the US has enough oil resources domestically to meet its needs, but environmentalists and the like won’t let us drill for it, forcing us to go to OPEC. Oddly enough, while this is certainly a simplistic way to look at it, the same people who won’t let us drill don’t want us to go to war. Well, what the hell are we supposed to do then? Yes, we should probably trash all our gas-guzzling cars and all get little electric vehicles (well, I won’t until Lexus makes an electric luxury sedan with over 200 HP under the hood), saving the environment and reduing the burning of fossil fuels, but the reality is that there are a lot of freakin’ things that need oil and gas and that’s not going to change overnight, so what do we do in the meantime?

But the real thing that is scaring the crap out of me is the situation with North Korea. Why is no one taking this as seriously as they should? Yes, we could whoop their ass if they ever tried anything, but it only takes one nuclear bomb to kill a whole lot of people and mess up those who didn’t die from the explosion and their children for decades. There is some strange irony to the fact that the first uses of the a-bomb ended World War II, resulting in Korea being released from Japanese colonial rule. Of course, the post-war division of the country by the Allies also resulted in the Korean War, the political division of the country into two separate states, and the development of a very isolationist, very closed, very scary Communist North Korean state. Ah, history.

Incidentally, I went to the dentist a few weeks ago and he acted like I might be personally responsible for the situation with North Korea. He’s got his hands in my mouth, light focused on my face, and the conversation is pretty much like this:

  • Dentist: “What is your ethnicity again?”
  • Me: “I’m Korean.”
  • D: “Right… that’s what I thought. What do you think about this whole thing? Its very scary.”
  • M: “Yeah, it is. I think they’re just after aid, money.”
  • D: “Mm… so you think it’s just blackmail?”
  • M: “Yeah.”
  • D: “You’re parents imigrated here? When was that?”
  • M: “1973.”
  • D: “Oh, so you were born here.”
  • M: “Yup.”
  • D: “Right… right…”

I don’t think he was really looking to call INS or anything, but weird, definitely weird. Of course, no day is complete unless somebody’s asked about the immigration history of your family while inside your mouth.

So, as we start the mad goose chase to catch Saddam again (what happened to our search for Osama Bin Laden? can we only focus on one Middle Eastern villain at a time?), North Korean jets tail American spy planes and the North Koreans start missile testing. Is this what Bush calls setting priorities?

Simple Host rocks my world

I finally found a hosting service that meets all of my needs– Simple Host. Lots of disk space, lots of bandwidth, lets you run your own CGI scripts (therefore, the blog is now hosted where it should be) and great email management features. All for a reasonable price.

It seems too good to be true. We’ll find out if it is.

The code word is “Bahamas”

So, it looks like Bush is going finagle the current situation with Iraq into a full-scale war. Gephardt has already formed a presidential exploratory committee to try for a presidential bid– do you think Bush will be able to time the war just in time for his reelection campaign? His father may have gotten us through the Persian Gulf War, but it wasn’t enough to get him reelected for a second term. Is GW trying to succeed where his father failed?

Whatever his plans, they say bad things come in threes and I don’t know what the third thing will be, but the second is definitely the escalating situation in North Korea (we can’t call it a “crisis”– Powell said so). Somewhere in the haze of Christmas turkey with kimchee and New Year’s wine, North Korea decided to give the proverbial finger to the UN and reopen their nuclear facilities. “Energy” they say is the reason for doing it–the US apparently didn’t follow through on a promise of energy resources–but last time I checked, I don’t think you need to develop bomb-grade plutonium just so your lights stay on. Even China and Russia aren’t doing much to help the situation. They’re like, “Oh, damn, yeah, those North Koreans are a little crazy. I mean, we’re Communists, but they’re Communists.” Not everyone realizes that North Korea doesn’t subscribe to the happy go lucky, free market economy version of Maoist Communism China does. They take it back old skool–Stalin would have been proud.

Who knows what will happen in North Korea? Powell refuses to call it a crisis and the newly elected South Korean president seems to realize that his country is on the top of the North Koreans’ list of “Things to Blow Up” and is trying to come to a diplomatic compromise. And this isn’t World War II and the North Koreans are not nearly as organized as the Germans or the Japanese, but if we end up going to war with North Korea, I’m sure there will be some type of yellow peril hysteria. Yes, it may not be like the 1940’s with the Japanese, but especially after 9/11, we all know Americans aren’t afraid of a little racial profiling. And they’re going to have to come up with a new name because we already know what “internment camp” means. Between you and me, if I call you suddenly and say “I’m going to the Bahamas,” you know something’s up.

Those crazy Republicans

Ah, the Republicans have done it again. It’s so sad, but Trent Lott’s throwaway comment during his speech at Strom Thurman’s birthday celebration may just get him ousted from not only his seat as Senate Majority Leader, but his seat in the Senate in general.

Here’s the main problem: they televised this crap. If the old white guys running the Senate were going to get together and reminisce about those good ol’ segregationist days, they really should have done it behind closed doors. I’m sure much worse things are said everyday behind the closed doors of exclusive country clubs and high powered corporations, but not on national cable television for chrissake. What are these guys, amateurs?

And the hole is only getting deeper. Lott is desperately apologizing, going on BET and telling everyone how hey, he’s not racist since he has African American people and other minorities on his staff. Whoah, Trent, let me sign you up for the NAACP Image Award. News flash: if you’re trying to prove that you’re not a racist, don’t start enumerating how many minorities you know, or employ or whatever. If you keep track of shit like that, then you racist, playa.

It’s kind of strange to think that all this is going on over some comments at a birthday party. Of course, we also impeached a president over a stained dress (who keeps that kind of stuff?) and some nasty episodes with a cigar.

Should Lott lose his seat as Senate Majority Leader? Probably, if he lacks the sensitivity and clarity to see how his comments could be construed as offensive and racist. Doesn’t somebody read his freakin’ speeches before he gives them? Plus, he’s just making the GOP look bad (or worse than usual) and if they want to do some damage control, there needs to be some real consequence to his actions.

Should he lose his seat at Senator of Mississippi? That’s for the people of Mississippi to decide. Of course, as Lott said himself, his state voted for Thurmond in 1948 and they’re proud of it.