Sunday, February 10, 2008

Universities - Deans or Dons ?

Looks like University presidents have no shame nowadays. They sound more like Don Corleone godfathers rather than Deans of the Academy :

When John Sexton, the president of New York University, first met Omar Saif Ghobash, an investor trying to entice him to open a branch campus in the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Sexton was not sure what to make of the proposal — so he asked for a $50 million gift.

“It’s like earnest money: if you’re a $50 million donor, I’ll take you seriously,” Mr. Sexton said. “It’s a way to test their bona fides.” In the end, the money materialized from the government of Abu Dhabi, one of the seven emirates.

The pursuit of academic excellence or marketing a brand name and selling it to the highest bidder ? Well, the answer given here is pretty straightforward --> A college president is strictly a high priced fund-raiser with few ethical or moral guidelines to abide by. They could as easily be marketing airplanes or toothpaste as a college education. Don't they teach business ethics (oxymoron alert) in NYU? Perhaps not yet a required course for graduation but Sexton obviously needs a remedial course.

Why would any average NYU applicant feel that they have a chance to get into NYU today? Money seems to bring visibility and attention to those running the institution. Wouldn't a multi-million dollar gift get someone into the school faster than academic 'bona-fides' , to use Mr Sexton's term for 'being serious' . Lacking money, would any amount of lying, cheating or stealing be wrong in pursuing admission or favor from the school?

Speaking of large foreign donor gifts from the middle east oil countries .... What a contrast this story is to Rudy Guiliani's turning down that multi-million gift from a Saudi prince after 9/11 , on ethical grounds, not willing to accept any stipulations on the gift. He would've been in the mainstream to have just taken it. But he showed a very rare resolve to place ethics over money and also any consequences to his personal career and fortune. It's a shame that he is out of the race.

Contrast this to the other candidates for president today. Obama has accepted financial 'help' from an indicted real estate 'operator' so that he could buy his $1.6 million home in Chicago. The Clintons have a long history of renting out the White House to the highest donors and working with agents like Norman Hsu to funnel foreign money into their campaigns, not to mention loads of Saudi money to build the Clinton Presidential library in Arkansas. All the major candidates on both sides accept money without scrutiny or regard for it's source or any implied quid pro quid.

February 10, 2008
Global Classrooms

Universities Rush to Set Up Outposts Abroad

When John Sexton, the president of New York University, first met Omar Saif Ghobash, an investor trying to entice him to open a branch campus in the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Sexton was not sure what to make of the proposal — so he asked for a $50 million gift.

“It’s like earnest money: if you’re a $50 million donor, I’ll take you seriously,” Mr. Sexton said. “It’s a way to test their bona fides.” In the end, the money materialized from the government of Abu Dhabi, one of the seven emirates.

Mr. Sexton has long been committed to building N.Y.U.’s international presence, increasing study-abroad sites, opening programs in Singapore, and exploring new partnerships in France. But the plans for a comprehensive liberal-arts branch campus in the Persian Gulf, set to open in 2010, are in a class by themselves, and Mr. Sexton is already talking about the flow of professors and students he envisions between New York and Abu Dhabi.

The American system of higher education, long the envy of the world, is becoming an important export as more universities take their programs overseas.

In a kind of educational gold rush, American universities are competing to set up outposts in countries with limited higher education opportunities. American universities — not to mention Australian and British ones, which also offer instruction in English, the lingua franca of academia — are starting, or expanding, hundreds of programs and partnerships in booming markets like China, India and Singapore.

And many are now considering full-fledged foreign branch campuses, particularly in the oil-rich Middle East. Already, students in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar can attend an American university without the expense, culture shock or post-9/11 visa problems of traveling to America.

At Education City in Doha, Qatar’s capital, they can study medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, international affairs at Georgetown, computer science and business at Carnegie Mellon, fine arts at Virginia Commonwealth, engineering at Texas A&M, and soon, journalism at Northwestern.

In Dubai, another emirate, Michigan State University and Rochester Institute of Technology will offer classes this fall.

“Where universities are heading now is toward becoming global universities,” said Howard Rollins, the former director of international programs at Georgia Tech, which has degree programs in France, Singapore, Italy, South Africa and China, and plans for India. “We’ll have more and more universities competing internationally for resources, faculty and the best students.”

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, internationalization has moved high on the agenda at most universities, to prepare students for a globalized world, and to help faculty members stay up-to-date in their disciplines.

Overseas programs can help American universities raise their profile, build international relationships, attract top research talent who, in turn, may attract grants and produce patents, and gain access to a new pool of tuition-paying students, just as the number of college-age Americans is about to decline.

Even public universities, whose primary mission is to educate in-state students, are trying to establish a global brand in an era of limited state financing.

Partly, it is about prestige. American universities have long worried about their ratings in U.S. News and World Report. These days, they are also mindful of the international rankings published in Britain, by the Times Higher Education Supplement, and in China, by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

The demand from overseas is huge. At the University of Washington, the administrator in charge of overseas programs said she received about a proposal a week. “It’s almost like spam,” said the official, Susan Jeffords, whose position as vice provost for global affairs was created just two years ago.

Traditionally, top universities built their international presence through study-abroad sites, research partnerships, faculty exchanges and joint degree programs offered with foreign universities. Yale has dozens of research collaborations with Chinese universities. Overseas branches, with the same requirements and degrees as the home campuses, are a newer — and riskier — phenomenon.

“I still think the downside is lower than the upside is high,” said Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania. “The risk is that we couldn’t deliver the same quality education that we do here, and that it would mean diluting our faculty strength at home.”

While universities with overseas branches insist that the education equals what is offered in the United States, much of the faculty is hired locally, on a short-term basis. And certainly overseas branches raise fundamental questions:

Will the programs reflect American values and culture, or the host country’s? Will American taxpayers end up footing part of the bill for overseas students? What happens if relations between the United States and the host country deteriorate? And will foreign branches that spread American know-how hurt American competitiveness?

“A lot of these educators are trying to present themselves as benevolent and altruistic, when in reality, their programs are aimed at making money,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who has criticized the rush overseas.

David J. Skorton, the president of Cornell, on the other hand, said the global drive benefited the United States. “Higher education is the most important diplomatic asset we have,” he said. “I believe these programs can actually reduce friction between countries and cultures.”

Tempering Expectations

While the Persian Gulf campus of N.Y.U. is on the horizon, George Mason University is up and running — though not at full speed — in Ras al Khaymah, another one of the emirates.

George Mason, a public university in Fairfax, Va., arrived in the gulf in 2005 with a tiny language program intended to help students achieve college-level English skills and meet the university’s admission standards for the degree programs that were beginning the next year.

George Mason expected to have 200 undergraduates in 2006, and grow from there. But it enrolled nowhere near that many, then or now. It had just 57 degree students — 3 in biology, 27 in business and 27 in engineering — at the start of this academic year, joined by a few more students and programs this semester.

The project, an hour north of Dubai’s skyscrapers and 7,000 miles from Virginia, is still finding its way. “I will freely confess that it’s all been more complicated than I expected,” said Peter Stearns, George Mason’s provost.

The Ras al Khaymah campus has had a succession of deans. Simple tasks like ordering books take months, in part because of government censors. Local licensing, still not complete, has been far more rigorous than expected. And it has not been easy to find interested students with the SAT scores and English skills that George Mason requires for admissions.

“I’m optimistic, but if you look at it as a business, you can only take losses for so long,” said Dr. Abul R. Hasan, the academic dean, who is from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. “Our goal is to have 2,000 students five years from now. What makes it difficult is that if you’re giving the George Mason degree, you cannot lower your standards.”

Aisha Ravindran, a professor from India with no previous connection to George Mason, teaches students the same communications class required for business majors at the Virginia campus — but in the Arabian desert, it lands differently.

Dr. Ravindran uses the same slides, showing emoticons and lists of nonverbal taboos to spread the American business ideal of diversity and inclusiveness. She emphasizes the need to use language that includes all listeners.

And suddenly, there is an odd mismatch between the American curriculum and the local culture. In a country where homosexual acts are illegal, Dr. Ravindran’s slide show suggests using “partner” or “life partner,” since “husband” or “wife” might exclude some listeners. And in a country where mosques are ubiquitous, the slides counsel students to avoid the word “church” and substitute “place of worship.”

The Ras al Khaymah students include Bangladeshis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Indians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians and more, most from families that can afford the $5,400-a-semester tuition. But George Mason has attracted few citizens of the emirates.

The students say they love the small classes, diversity and camaraderie. Their dorm feels much like an American fraternity house, without the haze of alcohol. Some praise George Mason’s pedagogy, which they say differs substantially from the rote learning of their high schools.

“At my local school in Abu Dhabi, it was all what the teachers told you, what was in the book,” said Mona Bar Houm, a Palestinian student who grew up in Abu Dhabi. “Here you’re asked to come up with your personal ideas.”

But what matters most, they say, is getting an American degree. “It means something if I go home to Bangladesh with an American degree,” said Abdul Mukit, a business student. “It doesn’t need to be Harvard. It’s good enough to be just an American degree.”

Whether that degree really reflects George Mason is open to question. None of the faculty members came from George Mason, although that is likely to change next year. The money is not from George Mason, either: Ras al Khaymah bears all the costs.

Nonetheless, Sharon Siverts, the vice president in charge of the campus, said: “What’s George Mason is everything we do. The admissions are done at George Mason, by George Mason standards. The degree programs are Mason programs.”

Seeking a Partnership

Three years ago, Mr. Ghobash, the Oxford-educated investor from the United Arab Emirates, heard a presentation by a private company, American Higher Education Inc., trying to broker a partnership between Kuwait and an American university.

Mr. Ghobash, wanting to bring liberal arts to his country, hired the company to submit a proposal for a gulf campus run by a well-regarded American university. American Higher Education officials said they introduced him to N.Y.U. Mr. Ghobash spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the company’s fees, talked with many N.Y.U. officials and paid for a delegation to visit the emirates before meeting Mr. Sexton, the university president, in June 2005.

Mr. Sexton said he solicited the $50 million gift to emphasize that he was not interested in a business-model deal and that academic excellence was expensive. Mr. Ghobash declined to be interviewed. But according to American Higher Education officials, $50 million was more than Mr. Ghobash could handle.

So when the agreement for the Abu Dhabi campus New York University was signed last fall, Mr. Ghobash and the company were out of the picture, and the government of Abu Dhabi — the richest of the emirates — was the partner to build and operate the N.Y.U. campus. The Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi made the gift in November 2007.

“The crown prince shares our vision of Abu Dhabi becoming an idea capital for the whole region,” Mr. Sexton said. “We’re going to be a global network university. This is central to what N.Y.U. is going to be in the future. There’s a commitment, on both sides, to have both campuses grow together, so that by 2020, both N.Y.U. and N.Y.U.-Abu Dhabi will in the world’s top 10 universities.”

Neither side will put a price tag on the plan. But both emphasize their shared ambition to create an entity central to the intellectual life not just of the Persian Gulf but also of South Asia and the Middle East.

“We totally buy into John’s view of idea capitals,” said Khaldoon al-Mubarak, chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority. “This is not a commercially driven relationship. It’s a commitment to generations to come, to research. We see eye to eye. We see this as a Catholic marriage. It’s forever.”

It is also, for New York University, a chance to grow, given Abu Dhabi’s promise to replace whatever the New York campus loses to the gulf.

“If, say, 10 percent of the physics department goes there, they will pay to expand the physics department here by 10 percent,” Mr. Sexton said. “That’s a wonderful opportunity, and we think our faculty will see it that way and step up.”

Mr. Sexton is leading the way: next fall, even before the campus is built, he plans to teach a course in Abu Dhabi, leaving New York every other Friday evening, getting to Abu Dhabi on Saturday, teaching Sunday and returning to his New York office Monday morning.

“The crown prince loved the idea and said he wanted to take the class,” Mr. Sexton said. “But I said, ‘No, think how that would be for the other students.’ ”

Uncharted Territory

While the gulf’s wealth has drawn many American universities, others dream of China’s enormous population.

In October, the New York Institute of Technology, a private university offering career-oriented training, opened a Nanjing campus in collaboration with Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and dozens of American universities offer joint or dual degrees through Chinese universities.

Kean University, a public university in New Jersey, had hoped mightily to be the first with a freestanding undergraduate campus in China. Two years ago, Kean announced its agreement to open a branch of the university in Wenzhou in September 2007. Whether the campus will materialize remains to be seen. Kean is still awaiting final approval from China, which prefers programs run through local universities.

“I’m optimistic,” said Dawood Farahi, Kean’s president. “I’m Lewis and Clark, looking for the Northwest Passage.”

In fact, his negotiations have been much like uncharted exploration. “It’s very cumbersome negotiating with the Chinese,” he said. “The deal you struck yesterday is not necessarily good today. The Chinese sign an agreement, and then the next day, you get a fax saying they want an amendment.” Still, he persists, noting, “One out of every five humans on the planet is Chinese.”

Beyond the geopolitical, there are other reasons, pedagogic and economic.

“A lot of our students are internationally illiterate,” Dr. Farahi said. “It would be very good for them to have professors who’ve taught in China, to be able to study in China, and to have more awareness of the rest of the world. And I think I can make a few bucks there.” Under the accord, he said, up to 8 percent of the Wenzhou revenues could be used to support New Jersey.

With state support for public universities a constant challenge, new financing sources are vital, especially for lesser-known universities. “It’s precisely because we’re third tier that I have to find things that jettison us out of our orbit and into something spectacular,” Dr. Farahi said.

Possibilities and Alarms

Most overseas campuses offer only a narrow slice of American higher education, most often programs in business, science, engineering and computers.

Schools of technology have the most cachet. So although the New York Institute of Technology may not be one of America’s leading universities, it is a leading globalizer, with programs in Bahrain, Jordan, Abu Dhabi, Canada, Brazil and China.

“We’re leveraging what we’ve got, which is the New York in our first name and the Technology in our last name,” said Edward Guiliano, the institute’s president. “I believe that in the 21st century, there will be a new class of truly global universities. There isn’t one yet, but we’re as close as anybody.”

Some huge universities get a toehold in the gulf with tiny programs. At a villa in Abu Dhabi, the University of Washington, a research colossus, offers short courses to citizens of the emirates, mostly women, in a government job-training program.

“We’re very eager to have a presence here,” said Marisa Nickle, who runs the program. “In the gulf, it’s not what’s here now, it’s what’s coming. Everybody’s on the way.”

Some lawmakers are wondering how that rush overseas will affect the United States. In July, the House Science and Technology subcommittee on research and science education held a hearing on university globalization.

Mr. Rohrabacher, the California lawmaker, raises alarms. “I’m someone who believes that Americans should watch out for Americans first,” he said. “It’s one thing for universities here to send professors overseas and do exchange programs, which do make sense, but it’s another thing to have us running educational programs overseas.”

The subcommittee chairman, Representative Brian Baird, a Washington Democrat, disagrees. “If the U.S. universities aren’t doing this, someone else likely will,” he said. “I think it’s better that we be invited in than that we be left out.”

Still, he said he worried that the foreign branches could undermine an important American asset — the number of world leaders who were students in the United States.

“I do wonder,” he said, “if we establish many of these campuses overseas, do we lose some of that cross-pollination?”

Friday, February 8, 2008

Couch Potatoes need not apply

Better yet ,hook up exercise devices like cycles or step machines, to store some the energy expended .... at least use it to re-charge batteries maybe ?

February 8, 2008

Taking People Power to a New Level

Some people exercise by power walking. But what if walking could actually provide electrical power? Researchers have developed an electrical generator mounted on the knee that turns walks into watts.

The device, which in its current form looks a little like a simple knee brace with cyborg bling, harnesses power from part of the stride.

J. Maxwell Donelan, the lead researcher and a professor of kinesiology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, compared the device to the regenerative braking used to produce electricity for hybrid cars.

The generator does not capture the motion throughout the entire stride, since that would subject the user to a dragging feeling with each step. Instead, the gearwork disengages at the beginning of the step and re-engages as the leg swings back from a stride.

This means that the only drag occurs at the tail end of the stride, when muscles are actually working to slow the leg down. It does not detract from the energy required for moving forward, and in fact, by slowing down the leg at that stage of the stride, ends up relieving the muscles of some of the effort.

One device on each leg can produce about five watts of electricity, Dr. Donelan said. That is enough to run 10 cellphones, or potentially, medical devices like insulin pumps or prosthetic limbs. The power generated could be stored in a battery.

Dr. Donelan suggested that the device could also be a boon to soldiers, who may carry some 30 pounds of batteries to run their increasingly high-tech gear for a 24-hour mission. A system that could be used to replace batteries or extend their life might ease their burden and increase their abilities in the field, he said.

Harvesting energy from human movement has long been a dream of scientists in the field of biomechanics. The energy stored in body fat is the equivalent of a battery that weighs more than a ton, Dr. Donelan said.

But harnessing that power has proved an enormous challenge. People can now buy hand-cranked flashlights, for example. But “no one really wants to crank a hand crank for eight hours a day,” Dr. Donelan said.

Instead, he said, it should be possible to harvest power from an activity that people might be doing anyway, like walking.

Other efforts to tap the power of movement have included shoe-mounted devices and systems that channel the energy from the bouncing motion of a backpack. The shoe-motion systems, however, have so far been able to produce less than a watt of energy, and the backpack systems require that the special energy-generating backpack be worn.

For people who need to carry heavy loads, the backpack provides a way to generate power from effort they would be expending anyway — and even seems to make carrying the load somewhat easier, said Larry Rome, the University of Pennsylvania professor who developed it. The backpack system, in its most recent configuration, adds only about four pounds to the burden the user would already be carrying, Dr. Rome said, and it can generate some 20 watts of power.

Dr. Rome expressed admiration for Dr. Donelan’s device. “What was extremely clever about it was the design came from their very deep understanding of how people walk,” he said.

Dr. Donelan said that wearing his 3.3-pound knee device in its current form could take some getting used to. “You definitely notice it,” he said. “It is heavier than a typical knee brace.”

The weight on the side can also be awkward at first. Once a user begins walking with it, however, the generator adds no effort to movement. Because the device assists the leg’s slowing-down motion at the end of a stride, Dr. Donelan said, “you miss it when it’s gone.”

The device is described in the current issue of the journal Science.

Monday, February 4, 2008

More NYTimes bias

Here's a local description of the Lane Bryant massacre gunman vs the NYTimes article and it's description . One BIG difference between the two.

The NYTimes decided to leave out 'black male' in the description of the gunman .

From the local Channel 7 write-up:

Police are still working a composite of the suspect. The description they have released is that of a black male, 5 feet 9 inches tall, 230 to 260 lbs. and wearing a black waist-length jacket, a black cap, and dark jeans.

The NYTimes description is exactly the same except that this one critical piece is left out, one that helps to more clearly define and narrow the possible suspects in the search. As there is a significant reward offered, this information would be extremely helpful to the public as they keep an eye out.

Heavily armed officers combed the area and helicopters flew as weather permitted in a furious search on Sunday for the killer. He is described as being about 5-foot-9, weighing 260 pounds, with braided hair, a knit cap and a waist-length black jacket.

Local Channel 7 write-up:

Monday, February 04, 2008 | 7:42 AM

A $55,000 reward has been offered for the capture of the gunman who killed five women at a Tinley Park clothing store.

One victim of Saturday's shooting was a store employee, and the other four were customers.

Police say the murders were part of a botched robbery.

Police were still limiting access Sunday to the area immediately surrounding the Lane Bryant store near 191st Street and Harlem Avenue in Tinley Park. The other stores in the area reopened Sunday.


There was a steady stream of people coming by the scene of the crime to pay their respects.

Investigators continued to canvas the area surrounding the store Sunday searching for evidence that could help them in their search for the gunman who killed five women Saturday morning. But, at a press conference Sunday afternoon, police refused to comment on any evidence found and on any witness accounts.

"This is an extremely sensitive investigation. We need to keep as much information confidential [as possible]," said Chief Mike O'Connell of the Tinley Park police.

Police did, however, release the names of all five victims: Connie R. Woolfolk, 37, of Flossmoor; Sarah T. Szafranski, 22, of Oak Forest; Carrie H. Chiuso, 33, of Frankfort; Rhoda McFarland, 42, of Joliet; and Jennifer L. Bishop, 34, of South Bend, Ind.

Rhoda McFarland was the store's manager.

"She didn't treat us like she was above us. We always had laughs. If you had a bad day, she would say, 'Ok, we've got to go talk," said former Randi Rexford. "She is a great person."

Rexford also said that little money was kept at Lane Bryant. So, trying to rob it, as it appears was the case, was pointless.

"There was a locked safe in the office," Rexford said. "There was not much on hand at all. Everyday it was deposited, every morning."

The murders have reverberated throughout the entire area. Several people, some complete strangers, came Sunday to lay flowers and crosses near the store. Although police wre limited access, they allowed some of the mourners through to pay their respects.

"It could have been any of us. It could have been my mom, my sister, me. It's just a horrible thing. Anytime there is a tragedy people say they thought it would never happen here, but it just touched me because five people were at work, or were just trying to shop, " said Kim Schaafsma.

Police are still working a composite of the suspect. The description they have released is that of a black male, 5 feet 9 inches tall, 230 to 260 lbs. and wearing a black waist-length jacket, a black cap, and dark jeans.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call Tinley Park police at 708-444-5368 and Cook County Crimestoppers at 1-800-535-STOP.

The company that owns Lane Bryant is also in mourning for those who died Saturday. They closed their Chicago-area stores for the day and issued a statement saying: "We grieve for the innocent victims, and our primary concern is for the families and loved ones of those fatally injured." (To view a complete statement posted on the retailer's Web site, click here).

NYTimes article:

February 4, 2008

One Survivor in Shooting at Illinois Mall

TINLEY PARK, Ill. — The police confirmed Sunday that one woman survived an apparent robbery gone wrong at a suburban Chicago shopping center that left five others dead.

At a news conference on Sunday the police released few new details about the investigation, other than to identify the victims and to say that autopsies showed they died of gunshot wounds. The police did not disclose how many wounds each suffered, or what caliber of weapon was used.

Heavily armed officers combed the area and helicopters flew as weather permitted in a furious search on Sunday for the killer. He is described as being about 5-foot-9, weighing 260 pounds, with braided hair, a knit cap and a waist-length black jacket.

The police received a 911 call at 10:44 a.m. on Saturday summoning them to a Lane Bryant store in Tinley Park, about 30 miles southwest of downtown Chicago. They found the women, four customers and the store manager, dead in a back room of the store, which had no video cameras.

The family of one victim, Sarah T. Szafranski, a 22-year-old Oak Forest resident, said in a statement: “Our emotions are raw and we are still in shock. There is nothing adequate anyone can say at a time like this.”

The family of another victim, Rhoda McFarland, 42, the store manager, described her as a sweet person who valued work and counseled others through her church.

“She never said no to anybody,” said her father, Hilton Hamilton. He added, “A person who goes to work every day and tries to help out with people, it’s not supposed to end up like this.”

He also said she was engaged.

In addition to Ms. Szafranski and Ms. McFarland, those killed were Connie R. Woolfolk, a 37-year-old from suburban Flossmoor; Carrie A. Chiuso, of Frankfort, a 33-year-old social worker for a local school district; and Jennifer L. Bishop, a 34-year-old from South Bend, Ind.

Initially, the police had said there were five victims in the shooting, but WBBM, a Chicago radio station, reported Sunday that another woman was treated and released from St. James Hospital in Olympia Fields, about 10 miles from the scene of the shooting. Reached by phone later Sunday, a spokeswoman for the hospital confirmed that a victim from the shooting was brought there. A police source later confirmed the report, and said the woman survived and had been released from the hospital.

In front of the store, five white crosses were planted and bright bouquets of flowers stood in front of them, sprouting out of the snow.

The mayor of Tinley Park, Edward Zabrocki , said: “The problem we have experienced here in Tinley Park is not just Tinley Park, but it’s the entire region. Sadly, this is a commentary on our society, that no community is immune to what can happen.”

Charming Shoppes, the parent company of Lane Bryant, released a statement, saying, “The employees of Charming Shoppes Inc. and Lane Bryant are deeply saddened by the loss of life resulting from this horrific event.” The company also offered a $50,000 reward.

The Lane Bryant where the shootings happened was closed Sunday, but adjacent stores in the shopping center had reopened.

Lindy Strodel, 47, was getting her nails done at Cici Nails on Sunday. Like many in the area, Ms. Strodel questioned whether the motive of the shooting was robbery, noting that Lane Bryant, which sells plus-size women’s clothes, would not have had much cash on hand so early in the morning.

“You have to wonder, is there another connection there?” she said.

Women mathematicians

This article is supposed to be about a company, Microsoft in this case, that is still pursuing 'basic research', i.e. research that may not be directly related to it's core business.

But it is really a 'finger in the eye' to Lawrence Summers (although never mentioned) , former president of Harvard, over his bringing up the question of why women do not get to the highest levels of mathematical studies. The author quotes a couple of women mathematicians who seem to be successful and respected. Great, but why quote only women mathematicians when there are many more men with PhD's in these labs ? The last paragraph brings out the subtle bias of the reporter (reporter=just the facts ??) :

Dr. Chayes, who works with groups that help bring more young women into the sciences, said she hoped to serve as a role model for young women considering a career in computer science or math, two fields that have long suffered a dearth of women.

So the topic is is not so much about research labs as it is about 1) showing that women are just as mathematically competent as men and 2) giving bona-fides to Microsoft for recognizing and elevating female mathematicians to positions of authority (where they rightfully belong!) .

February 4, 2008

Microsoft Adds Research Lab in East as Others Cut Back

SAN FRANCISCO — As other high-tech companies cut back on their research labs, Microsoft continues to increase its ranks of free-rein thinkers.

The company, which has research labs in Redmond, Wash.; Beijing; Cambridge, England; Bangalore, India; and Silicon Valley, will announce plans on Monday to open a sixth lab, in Cambridge, Mass., in the Boston metropolitan area.

These are labs where people focus on science, not product development. To lead the new lab, the company has appointed one of its veteran researchers, Jennifer Tour Chayes. Dr. Chayes, 51, who has a doctorate in mathematical physics, said, “We believe that in the long run, putting money into basic research will pay off, but you have to wait longer for it.”

Microsoft, beset by competitive pressures from companies like Google, sees first-rate research labs as more important than ever. The company, which made a $44.6 billion bid for Yahoo last week as one way to compete with Google, wants a set of labs in place that can develop business opportunities that will pay off well into the future.

“Essentially every other industrial lab I know is shrinking, with the exception of Google,” Dr. Chayes said. Since she joined the company in 1997, she said, Microsoft Research has grown eightfold to 800 researchers who hold doctorates.

Those research scientists are far outnumbered by the thousands of Microsoft engineers working in advanced development and direct product development.

“The outcome of basic research is insights, and what development people do is take those insights and create products with them,” Dr. Chayes said. “The two things are very different.”

Microsoft is adamant about retaining a pure research department reminiscent of the old Bell Laboratories, whose scientists were awarded six Nobel Prizes over the years.

"Microsoft is probably the sole remaining corporate research lab that still values basic research," said Maria Klawe, a mathematician who is president of Harvey Mudd College.

Google employs 100 scientists in its research labs. Many employees are encouraged to spend 20 percent of their time on something they are passionate about that may not be directly related to their main project.

The new Microsoft lab, which will be next door to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is scheduled to open in July. Dr. Chayes will be joined at first by three other Microsoft scientists, including her husband, Christian Borgs, who is also a mathematician and who will be deputy managing director of the Boston lab.

Dr. Chayes will be one of the first women to direct a research lab run by an American corporation. She was a tenured professor of mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles, when Microsoft hired her to do research. Dr. Chayes was skeptical, she said, and wondered why Microsoft would want a mathematician whose work might not pay off for many decades. But the company promised her that she would have full academic freedom and support for unconventional work.

Dr. Chayes has since built her group in Redmond, called the Theory Group, into one of the most eminent research groups on or off a university campus. “Anyone who’s anyone in theoretical computer science visits her laboratory,” said Lenore Blum, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

Richard F. Rashid, a former Carnegie Mellon computer scientist who is senior vice president of research at Microsoft, said Dr. Chayes’s work is valuable.

"If you look at her research, it’s very theoretical," said Dr. Rashid, who holds a doctorate in computer science. At the same time, he said, two areas of her expertise have proved useful for Microsoft.

The work she did in developing simple models of certain liquids and solids turned out to be useful in the study of random, self-engineered networks like the Internet. And some of Dr. Chayes’s insights into theoretical computer science have recently led to the development of some exceedingly fast networking algorithms.

Over the years, Dr. Chayes has been courted by other research labs, including Google’s, but she says she remains content at Microsoft. One reason is the intellectual freedom it offers. Unlike other companies with intellectual property interests to protect, she said, Microsoft does not require internal prepublication review of academic papers written by its researchers.

Dr. Chayes, who works with groups that help bring more young women into the sciences, said she hoped to serve as a role model for young women considering a career in computer science or math, two fields that have long suffered a dearth of women.

Talent, talent, where is the talent?

The newest buzzword for computer workers is 'talent' . Every company and recruiting agency talks not of programmers, architects or software developers anymore, the holy grail everyone searches for is 'talent'.

By talent they seem to mean not just any worker in the computer industry but those who:

1- Come from overseas where people work harder, longer and smarter. Oh and by the way they will initially probably be cheaper too by a strange coincidence.

2- Are young. Established coders and architects over 35 (30? 25?) need not apply. Too set in their ways ; we need new ways of thinking .

3- Come from the few premium engineering schools. Those lesser schools can't produce 'talent'. College dropouts like Bill Gates need not apply even for a mail room position.

4- Have already worked at a start-up, whether it became successful or not. This inbreeding is similar to how CEO's are chosen ... only the small number who have already been CEO's or at the highest ranking executive levels need apply. Funny thing, all these successful CEO's or 'talent' had to start out at ground zero without experience on their resume. They had to take a chance and be given that chance.

Obviously, to be given that initial chance you have to be designated a 'talent' first. All others need not apply.

February 4, 2008

Another Difficulty for a Microsoft-Yahoo Marriage: Recruiting

The crowds of engineering students stood as many as six deep at the recruitment table Google set up at a job fair at Stanford last fall. Facebook’s representatives faced a similarly thick crowd clamoring for a few minutes of their time.

At the Microsoft and Yahoo tables, by contrast, students looked, but generally did not linger.

The competition for engineering talent in Silicon Valley and other redoubts of technology is as fierce as its been since the late 1990s, if not fiercer, some in the Valley say.

The battle for tech supremacy, then, is largely a battle for talent. And so one crucial question about Microsoft’s $44.6 billion bid for Yahoo is whether a combined company could more easily attract software engineers — an increasingly precious commodity. Both companies are already fighting the perception that their most innovative days are behind them.

“Engineers here want to work on tomorrow’s technology, not yesterday’s,” said Bill Demas, who worked at Microsoft through much of the 1990s and then at Yahoo until leaving last year. He is now chief executive at Moka5, a start-up of around 30 people based in Silicon Valley’s Redwood City.

“If it’s perceived that Yahoo or anyone else is not focused on the future, it’s going to be very difficult to recruit top people,” Mr. Demas said.

Size is also an issue. For many young engineers, the future is in tiny start-ups, which offer a cozier work environment and greater ownership over a project, as well as the potential for a big payoff if the company is bought or sells shares to the public.

Ben Newman, 23, who expects to graduate from Stanford in June with a master’s degree in computer science, is among those young pedigreed engineers who prefer the intimacy and excitement of a smaller company over the security of a large, established one.

A merged Microsoft-Yahoo “definitely decreases my interest in either company,” said Mr. Newman, who interviewed with Facebook, the start-up of the moment, but took a job with Mozilla, creator of the Firefox browser.

Bill Beer, a recruiter with Daversa Partners in San Francisco, said the job market was “more competitive in the Valley right now than I’ve ever seen it.” That is because of the battle for talent among behemoths like Google and Microsoft, but also because of what Mr. Beer describes as the appeal of working for “the almost endless supply of companies that are five guys in a garage with a really promising-sounding idea.”

Money, of course, is a factor in almost any engineer’s job-choosing calculus. Many of those students descending on recruiters from Google and Facebook were no doubt motivated by the idea of becoming rich in exchange for just a few years of hard work.

Yet in Silicon Valley there is also the cool factor, and the prospect of potentially working on the hot new thing.

Josh Becker, a venture capitalist with New Cycle Capital in San Francisco, said Microsoft’s profile in the Valley would be significantly raised “if they took over an iconic company like Yahoo.” But, he added, “whether that would translate into a sense that Microsoft is a cool place to work remains to be seen.”

Microsoft, which declined to comment for this article, has cast its bid for Yahoo as a classic case of the No. 2 and No. 3 in a market teaming up to challenge the leader. If the deal is consummated, a combined Microsoft-Yahoo would no doubt pour resources into the fight, and it might start closing the gap with Google in the race for online ad dollars. That would help its stock price and its recruitment effort.

“If Microsoft manages to keep talent and gains some traction, then it could help attract talent to its business,” said Michael Morell, an executive recruiter with Riviera Partners in Palo Alto, Calif. Attracting brain power to its cause is critical if it is to keep pace with Google, which has hired thousands of Ph.D.s and other software jockeys in the last few years to devise clever algorithms and add features aimed at pleasing users and advertisers alike.

On the other hand, Mr. Morell said, Microsoft might be vying to pay a large premium for a company already past its prime. “People look at Yahoo and think it might have already seen its best days,” Mr. Morell said.

One risk for Microsoft is that it could spend billions to buy Yahoo only to find that many of its most talented people have already left. That is one of the perils of high-priced acquisitions in the talent economy, where the real prize is often the collective abilities of a company’s employees.

Silicon Valley, after all, is a place where large companies have been known to pay vast sums for smaller ones largely to buy the commitment of a few gifted engineers. But like others interviewed for this article, Mr. Becker of New Cycle Capital said he was already hearing about Yahoo employees, loath to work for an even larger corporation whose bosses are around 850 miles away in Redmond, Wash., reaching out to friends working at other companies.

On the other hand, one Yahoo employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Microsoft news had the opposite effect on him and other members of his team, which has been working on Yahoo’s core search technology.

“I heard the news Friday and thought, ‘I’m staying,’ ” he said. “We really want to beat Google. And if Microsoft is equally determined to beat Google, then sign me up.” He described the exodus of people from Yahoo over the past couple of years as a “bloodbath,” but also said the search group, a relatively small group of a few hundred employees, has remained largely intact.

Even Google, with 17,000 employees, has lost some of its luster as a top spot for engineers as the potential for big gains in its share price has begun to diminish. The company still receives more than 20,000 résumés a week, or two every minute, according to Sunny Gettinger, a Google spokeswoman. But it is also starting to lose engineers to start-ups and budding Valley stars like Facebook, including engineers like Pedram Keyani.

Mr. Keyani, 30, started work at Google in June 2005, then left last summer for Facebook, which then had around 300 employees. He said at least a dozen engineers have left Google for Facebook over the past year.

“When I joined Google, there were around 3,000 employees, and in two years that number basically bubbled up to 16,000 employees,” Mr. Keyani said. “When you go from a company of 16,000 to a company of 300 people, you effectively have 50 times more impact on the direction of the product and on the company.”

Yet since Mr. Keyani’s arrival just six months ago, the Facebook staff has swelled by 50 percent, to 450. It seems a matter of time before Facebook, a leader of the social networking world, is replaced by the next “it” company, pushing the likes of Yahoo and Microsoft further down the list of the area’s most desirable tech factories.

“Facebook will be hot for a while, and then there will be other hot places that come along,” said Mr. Demas, the former Microsoft and Yahoo employee. “People want to have an impact, and it’s hard to make an impact when you’re being hired as employee No. 90,000.”

Friday, February 1, 2008

Creating more jobs Americans won't do

Here's the kicker in the article:

'... None of the automakers have said how many workers they expect to take the buyouts, but they plan to replace some departing workers with new hires earning about half the salary of their predecessors. '

Same job at half the pay . This is so blatantly and clearly stated, without the cover of euphemism and with the apparent acquiescence of a formerly strong Union that is meant to protect their members, it gives the appearance of collusion among the automakers and union leaders. It is as if the Unions are now condoning scabs and it is also a testament to the impotence of labor in America today. Just a few years ago such a statement would seem almost illegal.

They may or may not get many to apply for these jobs after such a reduction, but they can now hire illegals, claiming that there are not enough workers to fill the positions or that these are jobs that Americans won't do .

It may be that the automotive industry will go the way of the meatpacking and construction industry (not to mention most restaurant and hotel service jobs as well as agriculture and landscaping businesses) and become a low-wage, low benefit industry that hires large numbers of illegal workers.

The key concept, never explicitly stated anywhere and certainly not here, is that many of these future positions will be jobs that Americans won't do AT THE RATE OF PAY BEING OFFERED. And that lower rate is being offered because there is a mostly illegal pool of labor ready and willing within the US to accept this lower compensation because it is many times what they can earn in their native lands.

January 29, 2008

Chrysler Offering Buyouts to More Hourly Employees

DETROIT — Chrysler offered buyouts of as much as $100,000 to most of its hourly workers in the Detroit area Monday as part of its plan to cut as many as 10,000 more jobs.

The program means that nearly all hourly automotive workers in Michigan now have the option to leave their job this year. Earlier this month, the Ford Motor Company began a second round of companywide buyouts and General Motors extended buyout offers to about half of its work force.

None of the automakers have said how many workers they expect to take the buyouts, but they plan to replace some departing workers with new hires earning about half the salary of their predecessors. That is allowed under a two-tier wage provision in the contract that the companies signed last year with the United Automobile Workers union.

Anyone who has been with Chrysler for at least one year can elect to take a lump-sum payment of $100,000 in exchange for giving up health care and most retirement benefits. Workers who are eligible to retire — about 4,600 of Chrysler’s 12,000 U.A.W.-represented workers in the Detroit area fall into that category — can take a payment of $70,000 and retain lifetime health care coverage.

Chrysler made similar offers available a year ago, when it said it needed to cut 13,000 jobs. As of last June, 6,400 workers had taken a deal, but the company has not provided an updated figure since it was sold to the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.

In November, five days after signing a four-year labor agreement with the U.A.W., Chrysler’s new chief executive, Robert L. Nardelli, said the company needed to cut 8,500 to 10,000 more jobs.

Workers at nine Detroit-area Chrysler factories, including metal stamping, engine and small assembly plants, were given buyout offers Monday and have until Feb. 18 to apply for one, said a company spokeswoman, Michele Tinson. Workers at two big assembly plants have already been considering offers, and those at a third assembly plant may get similar offers soon. Chrysler recently offered buyouts to workers in Belvidere, Ill., and Toledo, Ohio, Ms. Tinson said.

“We’ll work closely with the U.A.W. to determine any further special program offerings around the country,” she said.

Last week, the president of the U.A.W., Ron Gettelfinger, said he supported the new rounds of buyouts, but he would not project how many workers would take the deals. “Whether it works for a particular individual is up to them,” he said.

He expressed confidence in the futures of the carmakers, particularly Ford, which is viewed as being in the worst shape of the three, as they continue to shrink and cut costs.

“A lot of people, especially when it comes to Ford, are not very optimistic, but I am,” Mr. Gettelfinger said. “We want to move that company forward and we feel like they’re in a position to do that.”

Assembly workers at the Detroit automakers earn about $28 an hour. Newly hired workers can be paid as little as $14 an hour under the contracts signed last fall, meaning that each worker who is replaced by someone earning the second-tier wage saves the company nearly $30,000 annually in salary, as well as thousands of dollars from reduced benefits.