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2016 September 24

US News covers UCSC referendum on athletics

US News and World Report wrote an article,So Long, Banana Slugs? Students Cry Foul About Paying More for Sports, about the UCSC student vote last year on funding athletics.  In it they pointed out that athletics does not really benefit universities:

And while administrators often say athletics benefit their universities—and 77 percent of Americans in a Monmouth University poll said they thought big-time programs make “a lot of money for their respective schools”—the NCAA itself reports that only 24 of its 1,200 member schools take in more than they spend on sports. Even after broadcast rights, ticket sales, sponsorships, sports camp and investment income is taken into account, colleges have to subsidize a median 27.5 percent of athletic spending, much of it from student fees, the AAUP says.

“The fact is, all the data shows that many of the purported academic benefits of sports—recruitment, prestige—have all proven to not be true. They don’t exist,” Tublitz said.

One of the things that I like about UCSC is that sports is a participatory activity, not a spectator activity. A lot more students are involved in intramural sports and in individual fitness activities than bother watching the 250 or so varsity athletes, who the university has been subsidizing at a rate of $1million a year. I’m pleased to see that the national press is noticing that the subsidy of athletics by universities makes no sense, and that UCSC has an opportunity to be a leader in turning their back on this nonsense.

I’ve posted on this topic before: I’m proud of UCSC undergrads, Sports at Any Cost, and Not so proud of UCSC undergrads this year.  I am hopeful that students will realize that subsidizing a couple hundred of their fellow students to play for them is not nearly as valuable as playing themselves—that they are better off taxing themselves for equipment and facilities that all students can use than for special services (coaches, trainers, transportation) for just a few.

I also hope that the UCSC administration comes to its senses and realizes that students are having a hard time getting into the classes they need, because of all the growth in student enrollment without a corresponding growth in instructional resources, and that the $1million dollars a year they pour down the athletic drain  could be used to provide more classes.

That $1million would pay for about 100 more courses taught by lecturers, or 40–50 more taught by tenure-track faculty, about 40 more TA sections.  (Surprisingly, TAs cost departments much more than lecturers, because departments have to pay the tuition for TAs, which get recycled back into other things—like subsidizing athletics, probably.)  The money would benefit about 3000 students a year, rather than the under 300 who benefit from athletics subsidy.

I think that it is past time for UCSC to leave NCAA sports and return to having just club sports, as they did when I first started teaching at UCSC 30 years ago.

 

2016 September 23

Evolution of caffeine

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 13:07
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PZ Myers has a nice discussion of the convergent evolution of the synthesis of caffeine (separately evolved at least 5 times!), based on the paper from PNAS, Convergent evolution of caffeine in plants by co-option of exapted ancestral enzymes, by Huang, O’Donnell, Barboline, and Barkman.

Biologists used to think that there was one canonical pathway for caffeine synthesis, from xanthosine through 7-methylxanthine and theobromine to caffeine.  The paper shows that some plants use a different pathway (through 3-methylxanthine and theophylline) and that the enzymes used even on the common pathways are different.

The evolutionary model that best explains the data is that ancestral enzymes were promiscuous (which means that they had several different functions, not that they were sexual) and were eventually duplicated and specialized for caffeine production.  The researchers reconstructed some of the ancestral enzymes from the modern descendants and confirmed that this hypothesis was reasonable, as only single amino-acid substitutions were necessary to confer the two different specificities of the modern enzymes from the ancestral ones.

Threadsteading: A Game for Quilting and Embroidery Machines

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:03
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I just found out about a cool game, but one that few people can play: Threadsteading.

Threadsteading is a two-player game for a modified quilting machine. The quilting machine is a computer-controlled longarm quilting machine, which moves a sewing head around a 12′ x 2.5′ area to stitch 2D paths.

Threadsteading-Image1Our custom input controller is attached to the sewing head, so it is always located just under the fabric surrounding the needle’s position. We’ve also reverse-engineered the control to the machine so we can send sewing paths directly to it. The game is thus played entirely on the quilting machine, and each round of the game results in a permanent physical artifact: a quilt.

full article at  Disney Research » Threadsteading: A Two-Player, Single-Line, Territory Control Game for Quilting and Embroidery Machines

They also have a version of the game that can be played on a smaller scale on a computer-controlled embroidery machine, which is something that is more likely to be found in a home.

I found out about the game because two of the designers are affiliated with UCSC (April Grow is a grad student who was a Disney Research intern, and Gillian Smith is a UCSC alumna), so the game was mentioned in a recent press release by Tim Stephens about student-designed games in the UCSC game-design program: UC Santa Cruz student games featured at IndieCade Festival.

Some of the other games mentioned in that press release also sound interesting, but none are quite as out-of-the-norm as a game on a quilting machine.

2016 September 20

Trick for encouraging cooperation

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 15:26
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Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, provided an interesting technique for encouraging cooperation in his business-school classes (a culture noted for cut-throat competition between students):

How could I get students to help one another?

Four years ago, I found a way. The most difficult section of my final exam was multiple choice. I told the students that they could pick the one question about which they were most unsure, and write down the name of a classmate who might know the answer — the equivalent of a lifeline on the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” If the classmate got it right, they would both earn the points.

Essentially, I was trying to build a collaborative culture with a reward system where one person’s success benefited someone else. It was a small offering — two points on a 120-point exam — but it made a big difference. More students started studying together in small groups, then the groups started pooling their knowledge.

You can read more about his attempts to encourage student cooperation in Why We Should Stop Grading Students on a Curve, published in the New York Times.

I don’t think I can use this exact technique, as none of the courses I teach involve exams—all are graded on the written reports that students write.  I could use it for homework, I suppose, but the overhead of checking other student’s responses might increase the turnaround time for homework grading.  I’m also already seeing more cooperation on the homework than I really want.

Furthermore, students quickly learn who the best student in the class is, and would just point to him or her, with no increase in useful cooperation.  So I think this technique would only work in student cultures that currently have a high degree of secretiveness and competition, not in already collaborative cultures.

2016 September 19

Coast Starlight, college train

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:49
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The Coast Starlight train, which my son just took to return to UCSB, could reasonably be called the “college train” because of the number of large universities along its route. I’m really surprised that Amtrak does not do more marketing of the train to college students and their parents. They do have a 15% discount for students aged 13–25, no longer needing a special “student advantage” card, but marketing the Coast Starlight route still seems to be aimed mainly at summer tourists.

Here is a list of the stops on the Coast Starlight, and some of the nearby colleges and universities (found using Google Maps), with times by public transit from the Amtrak stop to the college. The listing of colleges is not intended to be complete, nor to be recommendations for the colleges—I just tried to pick a few of the colleges that I thought might attract students from far enough away to generate Amtrak customers.

I relied on Google Maps for transit timings, but did not attempt to synchronize to the Coast Starlight schedule—some of the connections may be awful.  You don’t want to rely on a tight connection to Amtrak, though, as the Coast Starlight is often an hour or more late. Many of these universities are close enough to the Amtrak stations that a taxi ride or Uber from the stations to campus would be a reasonable cost—still cheaper than flying in most cases.  My son took public transportation from Santa Cruz to the Amtrak station in San Jose, but got an Uber ride from the Santa Barbara station to UCSB, to save hauling his luggage to the bus station there.

(Note: Greyhound is often cheaper and faster than Amtrak, but it is a lot less comfortable. BoltBus and other private bus services might also be worth checking.)

Seattle, WA

University of Washington is 35–55 minutes from SEA; Seattle University is 25–35 minutes; Antioch University Seattle, 19–22 minutes;

Tacoma, WA

University of Washington, Tacoma is 10 minutes from TAC; University of Puget Sound, 47 minutes

Olympia-Lacey, WA

The Evergreen State College is 1:24–1:40 from OLW.

Centralia, WA

Kelso-Longview, WA

Vancouver, WA

Washington State University Vancouver is 1:06–1:27 from VAN.

Portland, OR

Reed College, 15 minutes from PDX; Concordia University, 28 minutes; Multnomah University, 34–38 minutes; University of Portland, 13 minutes; University of Western States, 1:04–1:07; Lewis and Clarke College, 1:04–1:08; Pacific University, Forest Grove, 1:37–1:50.

Salem, OR

Willamette University, 6 minutes from SLM (10 minutes on foot);Western Oregon University, 0:58–1:40; Corban University, 57 minutes; Northwest University Salem, 0:49–1:30; George Fox University: Salem 0:44–1:26.

Albany, OR

Oregon State University, 0:33–1:38 from ALY.

Eugene-Springfield, OR

University of Oregon, 23 minutes from EUG, 31 minutes walking.

Chemult, OR

Klamath Falls, OR

Oregon Institute of Technology, 21–25 minutes from KFS; Southern Oregon University (Ashland) 2:44.

Dunsmuir, CA (Mt. Shasta)

Redding, CA

Chico, CA

CSU Chico, 13 minutes from CIC.

Sacramento, CA

CSU Sacramento, 37–41 minutes from SAC.

Davis, CA

UC Davis 27–33 minutes from DAV.

Martinez, CA

Cal Maritime, 1:27–2:30 from MTZ

Emeryville, CA

(Although Emeryville is closer to UCB than Oakland is, transit is better from Oakland.)

Oakland, CA–Jack London Square

UCB 37–59 minutes from OKJ; Mills College, 47–55 minutes; SFSU 0:56–1:03; CSU East Bay (Concord) 1:30

San Jose, CA (Caltrain)

San Jose State 11–14 minutes from SJC; Santa Clara University, 7–26 minutes; Stanford, 0:46–1:27; UCSC, 1:34–1:55

Salinas, CA

CSU Monterey Bay, 23 minutes from SNS.

Paso Robles, CA

San Luis Obispo, CA (Morro Bay)

Cal Poly, 17–24 minutes from SLO.

Santa Barbara, CA

UCSB, 41–55 minutes from SBA.

Oxnard, CA

CSU Channel Islands is nearby (11 miles), but Google Maps can’t find any public transit—the Vista bus is 25 minutes (perhaps Google Maps is missing the VCTC transit information).

Simi Valley, CA

CSU Northridge, 44–56 minutes from SIM.

Van Nuys, CA–Amtrak Station

CSU Northridge, 42–44 minutes from VNC; American Jewish University 0:55–1:09; Pepperdine 2:00–3:00

Burbank-Bob Hope Airport, CA

Woodbury University, 22–35 minutes from BUR;

Los Angeles, CA

Cal State LA, 19–31 minutes from LAX; Caltech 48–60 minutes; CSU Dominguez Hills 1:03–1:09; CSU Fullerton 1:06–1:15; UCLA 1:14–1:45; Claremont Colleges (Harvey Mudd, Pomona, Scripps, Pitzer, …) 1:20–2:00; CSU Long Beach 1:41–2:07; Cal Poly Pomona 1:47–2:06

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