Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012

The McCown's wish you a Merry Christmas!

And a belated Happy Halloween! wink

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fall semester wrap-up

The fall semester has ended, and I'm wrapping things up and preparing for the spring. I wanted to briefly reflect on the semester as it was quite an eventful one.

The semester started with the grand opening of Phase I of Legacy Park, one of the largest construction projects at Harding in quite some time. The "park" is a combination of uniquely designed apartment buildings. You can see some photos of it here. One of the buildings hosts Searcy's first Starbucks.

Probably the biggest event of the semester was the naming of Harding's next president, Dr. Bruce McLarty, in November. The announcement came with some controversy which I addressed on this blog. Dr. Burks still has another semester presiding over Harding as the official transition day is set for September 20, 2013.

Harding hosted some notable speakers this semester including Karl Rove and Harding alumni Willie and Korie Robertson from the TV show Duck Dynasty. Guess which one completely packed the Benson Auditorium approximately an hour before the talk even began? My wife and I were fortunate to get to eat dinner with the Robertsons and about 200 others before the talk. I went to Harding with Willie and Korie, and I remember Willie as the guy who worked in the bowling alley. I posted their yearbook photos on Facebook, and the pic was featured at the end of a KATV news segment. Yes, I can now say my work has been featured on television. wink

Harding had an amazing year in terms of sports. In August, Janet Cherobon-Bawcom became the first Harding alumnus to compete in the Olympics. She ran the 10,000 meters in the the 2012 Summer Olympics and placed 12th. The Harding football team had an incredible season, finishing 9-1 and playing in their first NCAA playoff game. The Lady Bison volleyball team finished the season undefeated in their conference, and they won the 2012 Great American Conference Tournament.

On a personal note, I had the typical busy semester, but it went well. My oldest son started kindergarten, and that was quite a transition for my wife and I. I can only imagine what it will be like when he leaves for college! I'm thankful to God for his strength in getting us through the ups and downs this year, and I'm excited to see what the new year will bring.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ladies: Why are you into computing?

It's a well known fact that females are in short supply in the computing field. According to the CRA Taulbee Survey, the percentage of female graduates with computing degrees has steadily declined from 35% in the mid-80s to 11% today. So what is it that attracts some females and makes them persist in a profession that is so heavily dominated by males?

My colleague Scott Ragsdale has been tackling this exact problem, and he is in need of some data. Here's where you ladies can help out.

If you are a female who has completed an undergraduate computer-related degree (e.g.,computer science, computer engineering, information systems, etc.), would you please give just 10 minutes of your time to complete the Female Computing Graduate Survey? Your input is crucial in helping determine factors that can lead to better strategies to attract and retain more women in the computing field.


Thursday, November 08, 2012

Harding University's President McLarty

Bruce McLartyOne week ago, Harding’s Board of Trustees announced that Dr. Bruce McLarty would become Harding’s fifth president. The announcement has received mixed reactions. Many see the selection as an affirmation of the status quo, a sequel of the Burks era. And while this calms the fears of many who desire Harding to “stay true” to its mission, others were hoping that a different type of president would be selected, one that would take bold initiative and lead Harding down a more “relevant” path. This rather sizeable demographic of mainly younger alumni are very disappointed by the selection, and they feel as if their alma mater has essentially written them off. As a young Harding faculty member, I can identify with some of the disappointment that I have read online in blogs and Facebook. However, my everyday involvement with the administration, faculty, and staff here at Harding gives me a somewhat different perspective, so I want to briefly share my views as a Harding insider.

First let me say that I am thankful for the effort that Rich Little has put into clarifying the hopes and disappointments of the Harding alumni who have felt slighted by the Board’s decision. Rich was once a Harding student body president, assistant to Dr. Burks, and a Bible faculty member at Harding, and he seems to share a similar mindset of many young Harding alumni. A week before the Board’s announcement, he wrote an eloquent blog post about his desire to see Monte Cox serve as Harding’s next president. Since then he has expressed his disappointment as has Mark Moore, Don McLaughlin and others on Rich’s blog*. The posts are heart-felt, to the point, and gracious, and I have learned a lot from reading them and the comments left by others. One thing that has impressed me most is how these guys decided to write using their own names when it’s so much easier to criticize while hiding behind anonymous personas.

An issue that seems to be irking many is the apparent lack of transparency in how the search committee finalized their decision to appoint Dr. McLarty as president. Many felt that since he had been a preacher less than ten years ago, he lacked the experience and academic pedigree that the other candidates offered. The Board had publicly announced at the beginning of the search their desire to listen to anyone who would give them input into the decision, but when the end result was an appointment that many thought Dr. Burks had orchestrated, they felt as if their input had been completely ignored. Many have requested an open letter from the Board clarifying the reasoning behind their decision. My feeling is that such a clarification is unlikely to be issued, and even if it were, it would be unlikely to stem the criticism and do little to heal the rifts since what’s done is done.

On the other side of the coin, there are many who see nothing wrong with how Dr. McLarty was chosen. Many prayed fervently that God would lead the search committee to the best candidate to take over leadership of the university. They wonder why people would criticize a committee which is composed of individuals who most would consider to be honorable, God-loving men and women. If the decision was made after earnestly seeking God’s will, how could anyone be so brash as to criticize the decision? Of course we all know the difficulty of discerning God’s will in very specific instances (a topic for another day), and sometimes we fall into the fallacy of thinking that God has only one single path that our lives or the life of an organization must follow or we will somehow miss the plans that God has in store for us. Sometimes we forget that God uses people who are absolutely and utterly incapable to do incredible things, just to show us who is God and who is not.

So putting aside the Board’s decision-making methodology, this leaves the question: Is Dr. McLarty equipped to be the next Harding president?

When I met with some of my colleagues the morning after the announcement last week, I was very curious to get their take on Mr. McLarty’s appointment. Everyone had nothing but praise to offer. You might think this was expected since no one wanted to be seen as the guy criticizing the new boss. However, these individuals are always very candid in our discussions, and several of them had known Dr. McLarty for years and seen him in a variety of situations, both good and bad. They were all very impressed with his character, his leadership abilities, and his vision for Harding as a place where one could continue to get an affordable education. One colleague recalled a church leadership meeting that he and Dr. McLarty were involved in regarding a very contentious issue. Some of the attendees wanted to proceed with implementing a particular program and others were dead-set against it. When the meeting had concluded, everyone was completely on board with implementing what was once unthinkable to some. Dr. McLarty was single-handedly credited with bringing these individuals on opposing sides together. Perhaps this is a glimpse of what kind of president Dr. McLarty will be.

I don’t know Dr. McLarty as well as some although, as my disclaimer at the end of this post indicates, I do greatly admire him and have benefited from his wisdom in the past. I believe Dr. McLarty is the kind of guy who knows his strengths and weaknesses and will surround himself with knowledgeable and capable people who will help make his presidency effective. Dr. McLarty will work hard to engage those who have been put off by his appointment, and I think he’ll surprise many of them. His lack of academic experience does not mean that academics are somehow unimportant to him; I believe Dr. McLarty shares the same belief that most Harding faculty have, that Harding can give students an education that is both academically rigorous and Christ-focused.

Harding has arguably been on a successful path for many years, increasing its student body, starting new programs, and building new facilities, but many of us recognize that change is happening within the churches of Christ and that many formidable challenges will face the university in the next decade. While there are some who fear change, Dr. McLarty does not strike me as one of these individuals. He also does not strike me as one who is inflexible or unwilling to listen to those who have dissenting opinions. I believe Dr. McLarty knows there is a difference between overseeing a church and presiding over a university (although his skills honed from the former job will be well put to use). There are many talented people here with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives who will help him as Harding attempts to maintain its relevancy in a changing world.

My hope is that the alumni who are not pleased with Dr. McLarty's appointment will forgive the Board of any perceived injustices and will make a concerted effort to support Dr. McLarty. When you disagree with him or a specific policy, make your voice heard in a way that encourages dialogue. Avoid using your checkbook as a way to wield power... don’t you hate it when you hear of some wealthy donor playing this game? We’re all in this together. We all want to see this university continue to engage and transform young people like it did us. Lord willing, we will continue to do this for many more years ahead.

*Full disclosure: I have a connection to all the individuals mentioned in this post, and I’m very thankful for these men and respect them greatly. Rich Little was in my social club at Harding, and he was one of the funniest guys I knew. Mark Moore recruited me to come to Harding; his caring attitude for me and his exaggeration of the 2:1 female-to-male ratio were significant factors in my decision to attend. Don McLaughlin is one of the most engaging preachers I have heard speak from the Benson stage, and I love to hear his crazy stories. About ten years ago, Bruce McLarty met with Becky and I several times in pre-marital counseling, and I am so thankful for his wise words in preparing us for a lifetime commitment. I'm also thankful to President Burks for his years of service and for giving me a chance to serve on the Harding faculty. Although I do not know any members of the search committee, I believe they too are honorable men and women.

Update on 11/30/2012

In an article in The Bison, Dr. Simmons, chairman of Harding's Board of Trustees, has responded to the criticisms I mention in this post about the Board's appointment of Dr. McLarty. His defense of the Board's appointment was probably not as well thought-out as it should have been, but he does re-iterate one thing I mentioned here, and that is Dr. McLarty will likely make good use of the talents of those around him.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Words with Friends: It's called a tie

This can't be right. You guys ever hear of a "tie"?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ridiculous Apple ID password restrictions

Apple's draconian password criteria are guaranteed to produce two results: 1) Lots of people forgetting their password, and 2) Lots of people writing their password down.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Web Science course in Spring 2013

I'll be offering an Introduction to Web Science course for upperclass computer science majors in the spring. This is the second time this course has been offered; the first offering was two years ago.

This course will cover a number of topics that are very relevant to computing today like how web search engines work, analysis of social networks (like determining who is your "best" Facebook friend), and leveraging the wisdom of the crowds to make personal recommendations. We will use Python to write all our programs.

Because of the advanced nature of this course, it is assumed students will have already taken COMP 250 (Internet Development) and COMP 245 (Data Structures).

Friday, August 24, 2012

Memento Browser for iOS now available

My WAC research team is proud to announce that the Memento Browser is now available for the iPhone, iPod, and iPad. The browser has been available for Android for a few years, but Heather Tweedy, one of my undergraduate research assistants, just finished work on the iOS version this summer.

If you're not familiar with Memento, it is an enhancement to the HTTP protocol which allows web clients to make requests for web pages that once existed in the past. The Memento Browser allows you to see how a web page might have looked last week, last month, or last year.

The screenshot below shows what the website looked like on August 10, 2012. You can select the Date button and choose any date to see what the web page looked like on that day. The old web pages come from a number of web archives, especially from the Internet Archive. If an archived page cannot be found in an archive, it cannot be displayed.

Check out the app and let me know what you think. You can also download a Firefox add-on called MementoFox if you'd like to add Memento capabilities to your Firefox browser.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

New Jersey mission trip

Last week my family joined with three other families (8 adults and 7 kids) on a mission trip to New Jersey. We worked with Carl and Alicia Williamson, missionaries sponsored by our Cloverdale church, who have been planting a new church in Holmdel, NJ, called the Gateway Church of Christ.

The trip involved 2 days of travel by bus each way (yes, it was quite an experience with 7 little kids) which gave us 6 full days of working. We held a carnival and cookout at a housing project, did crafts with seniors at a nursing home, painted the community center where the Gateway church is currently meeting, did some cleaning for seniors at a retirement facility, shoveled dirt and split logs for a church member, conducted a Bible study, and did a few other miscellaneous tasks. We also worshiped with the Gateway and Brunswick Church of Christ and took a day off to visit New York City.

My wife is writing up a more detailed narrative of our time, and I'll post a link to her story when it is available. We were very thankful to have made the trip and were blessed with making many new friends and seeing God working in the lives of others. Now that we're back, it's time to focus on wrapping up some research and getting ready for another semester!

Update on 8/14/2012 - Becky's article about our trip is now available on the Cloverdale Church of Christ website.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Home from the WAC Summer Workshop

Last week the WAC Summer Workshop was held on the beautiful campus of Stanford University. This two day workshop was sponsored by the NSF as part of our WAC project. A diverse group of twenty-one graduate students (most from computer science and library science) met to learn more about web archiving and the many challenges archivists face in collecting and making the data accessible to a wide audience. The three Harding students working with me this summer (Heather, Richard, and Daniel) were also in attendance.

A number of excellent presentations were shared, and you can access many of the slides from the workshop's schedule page. Scott Ainsworth has written up a nice summary of the workshop on the Web Science and Digital Libraries Research Group blog.

The Sunday following the workshop, Becky and I took the three Harding students up to San Francisco to spend the day since their flight was not until late in the evening. Our first stop was the Lake Merced Church of Christ where we worshiped with the small congregation that meets there. We met a number of individuals who had ties back to Harding. After eating lunch with the church, we headed north to the Golden Gate Bridge. We walked the length of the bridge, and it was rather cool, windy, and cloudy as you can see from the photo below.

After our "little" walk, we continued north to the Muir Woods where we saw some incredibly huge redwood trees. The photo below shows us standing between two of the larger trees in the forest.

We later drove around San Francisco and saw as much as we could before we had to drop off our van and the students. Becky and I stayed in San Francisco for a couple of more days to celebrate our nine year anniversary. I won't bore you with all the details of our vacation, but I'll close with this last photo which Becky took of me playing a vintage Star Wars arcade game at the Musée Mécanique. I was also able to play some other classics from the 1980s: Spy Hunter and Robotron: 2084!

Monday, June 25, 2012

WebSci 2012 wrap-up

I returned home late last night from the ACM WebSci 2012 conference at Northwestern University (just north of Chicago). This was the fourth time this conference has convened but only my first time to attend.

The Teaching the Web with Web Science workshop met prior to the opening of the conference, and I was given the chance to present the curriculum used in my Intro to Web Science course that I taught at Harding in the Spring 2011 semester. I really enjoyed meeting other faculty, students, and practitioners who were interested in Web Science education. Thank you to Stéphane, Su, and Hugh for organizing the workshop.

There was an impressive lineup of keynote speakers at the conference. I especially enjoyed hearing from:

  • Jon Kleinberg, who gave a very technical overview of how status can be observed in on-line social networks,
  • Sinan Aral, who discussed his recently published paper on social influence which shows that married people are the least susceptible to influence on Facebook, but those with the relationship status "It's complicated" are the most susceptible to influence.
  • Luis von Ahn, who really got the crowd excited about his attempt to translate the web into every written language using Duolingo. His next idea of eliminating crime using the Web received widespread if skeptical interest from the audience.

There were also a number of very high-quality papers. I'll just mention a few presentations that stood out:

  • Daniele Quercia's Loosing "Friends" on Facebook which found that "a relationship [on Facebook] is more likely to break if it is not embedded in the same social circle, if it is between two people whose ages differ, and if one of the two is neurotic or introvert." (You're going to unfriend me because I'm introverted? Ouch!)
  • Sebastiano Vigna who found Four Degrees of Separation in the Facebook graph, an update to the six degrees finding by Stanley Milgram that has been used historically.
    "...people are in fact only four worlds apart, and not six: when considering another person in the world, a friend of your friend knows a friend of their friend, on average."
  • Stéphane Bazan's "Infowar in Syria: The Web between Liberation and Repression" (find it in the proceedings) discusses some of the novel tactics used by the Syrian government to discover rebels and their friends using social media.

The campus of Northwestern is beautiful. It is located just north of Chicago. Both photos below were taken while I was standing next to Lake Michigan on a running trail that goes through their campus. The first photo shows the back side of the campus, and the second shows downtown Chicago in the distance.

One of the best things about the conference was meeting up with my sister who I hadn't seen in a few months. Neither of us knew the other was going to be in Chicago (my sis lives in Philadelphia), so it was a great surprise to discover the morning I arrived that my sister was already in town! It's hard to believe God didn't have a role in arranging that meeting. smile

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

WAC summer 2012 research kick-off

On Monday I met with the three Harding students who will be doing research this summer on the Web Archive Cooperative (WAC). We discussed the projects we'd be working on and the upcoming workshop at Stanford which we are all excited about.

There are three major thrusts that each will be working on in the next 10 weeks:
  • Heather Tweedy's first task will be completion of an iPhone/iPad web browser that implements Memento. This app has already been developed by my colleague Steve Baber and just needs some testing and tweaking before we can release it on the Apple Store. Heather will then work on creating a Wayback Machine-like interface for which will easily allow the public to see old versions of web pages.
  • Daniel Sebastian will be taking over some research that was performed last summer for locating missing music videos on YouTube. He'll be creating a Firefox add-on that will automatically direct the browser to the new location of a music video if an old link failed to work.
  • Richard Schneider is collaborating with the Internet Archive on crawling the mobile web. He's investigating the differences between the Web and the mobile web from a web archivist's perspective.

I will be helping these students on their projects and also creating distributable curriculum for teaching web science at the undergraduate level.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

To sell or not to sell...

This time of the semester I have a number of individuals stop by my office and ask if I have any books I'd like to sell. These book re-sellers are nice people, and they are always very polite. It would certainly be easy to part with some of my books for some extra cash. But here's the dilemma:

I didn't pay for these books... the publishers did.

Textbook publishers regularly send me textbooks, hoping that I will adopt them in my courses. Some of them I request, and some come unsolicited. If I choose not to adopt the books, the publishers typically request that I mail them back.

I was curious what other computing faculty had to say about the issue, so I posted a question to the SIGCSE-announce mailing list that sparked an enlightening discussion.

Some of my colleagues had no qualms about selling books that come unsolicited in the mail. Others said it was completely unethical and that the practice contributes to higher prices by depriving the author of a sale, depriving the publisher of a sale, and putting another book on the market at near-to-new cost.

Elliot Koffman at Temple University pointed out that the faculty senate at Rutgers had examined the issue and come to the general conclusion that the practice was unethical. They encourage their faculty to return unused books to the publisher or give them directly to students.

I have historically given my unused books to students. Of course my students could be re-selling the books, but there's nothing I can do about that. It seems that Harding would be wise to adopt a resolution that encourages our faculty to be consistent in how we treat book re-sellers. I think there are so many of them lurking around because so many of us are willing to sell our books. Perhaps we all just need to be educated about the practice.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

WAC Summer Workshop at Stanford University

This summer my colleagues and I am organizing a workshop for graduate students working in the field of web archiving and web science.

Exploring the WAC: Challenges in Providing Access to the World's Web Archives
Stanford University
June 29 - July 1, 2012

If you are a graduate student interested in attending this workshop (travel within the US and lodging are provided), please read the Call for Participation on the workshop website and contact me as soon as possible. We only have 20 spots available.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Knol is closing down

Google's four year experiment called Knol (unit of knowledge) is being taken out of service on May 1, 2012. This is just one of several projects Google is shutting down. Knol was launched in 2007 as platform which allowed users to write their own articles and receive comments and suggestions from others. Some thought it might be a strong competitor of Wikipedia since it replaced anonymity with authority in the publishing space, but that has certainly not happened.

Google has coordinated with Annotum to allow users to migrate their content out of Knol, but I'm curious how many articles will be lost permanently because of inaction. Knol has a robots.txt file that prohibits web crawlers from crawling their site, so I presume that none of the Knols are archived by the Internet Archive.

I wrote my first and only knol about search engines back in Feb 2009. Instead of migrating my article to Annotum, I have saved it to my own website.