Gas station without pumps

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

Threadsteading: A Game for Quilting and Embroidery Machines

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:03
Tags: , , , , ,

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 August 10

Response from UCSC on MRC’s beauty spot

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:37
Tags: ,

In MRC’s beauty spot revisited, I complained about the temporary construction staging area having become a permanent blight on campus. I brought the blog post to the attention of the administration, who had the campus architect answer me:

I am responding to your inquiry about the staging area on behalf of the Chancellor. Thank you for your comments and I apologize for the delayed response. The areas adjacent to the East Remote Parking Lot are anticipated to continue to be used for contractor staging, as campus infill sites lack on-site staging space. During periods of low demand for contractor staging, the areas will be used as surge campus parking. Transportation and Parking Services is exploring the feasibility of making the area in and around the East Remote Parking Lot more efficient.
Please let me know if you have any other questions or would like to talk about this further.

I decided it was worthwhile to pass on Ron’s comment about the lack of environmental review, so I asked,

OK, but a question came up in response to my blog post.  Did the campus ever do an EIR on the development of that “temporary” staging area which now apparently has been redesignated a permanent staging area?

And I got a subsequent reply:

The Campus determined that the creation and use of the staging area was categorically exempt from CEQA so no environmental document was prepared. At the time, the Campus anticipated that the staging area would only be needed for up to 5 years, at which time it would be restored. However, since the campus has accommodated enrollment growth under the 2005 LRDP through infill development, ongoing construction in the central campus has necessitated continued use of the staging area.
The Campus created a mechanism to collect funds for eventual restoration of the area. This mechanism is still in place.
Please let me know if you have any additional questions.

While a temporary staging area may be categorically exempt, I’m not sure that a permanent one is. I believe that the exemption was based on the assumption that the site would be restored after five years.

It has been 16 years now that this five-year staging area has been around, and there are clearly no plans to ever restore the site as originally promised.  Perhaps the Sierra Club or some other land-use watchdog might want to look into this issue—I don’t have the time nor the energy to pursue it further.

2016 July 30

UCSC iGem 2016: Sugar Slugs

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:46
Tags: , ,

UCSC’s 2016 iGEM team has finally had their crowd-funding site go live at  They have an interesting project this year:

Engineering a Better Future

The world of crop production is laden with agricultural co-products that are unfit for human consumption. The vision of the UCSC iGEM team is to develop a novel process for converting these co-products into the high-value sweetener, Erythritol. It’s simple, sweet, and best of all, zero-calorie.

Ever wanted a bioreactor you can control at the click of a button? Our team is also designing and building our very own autonomous bioreactor, the Taris V1. Whether its temperature, pH, nutrient uptake, or beyond, our bioreactor will also monitor and feed its internal conditions into an online interface where users can seamlessly track their data and change conditions as they see fit. Talk about convenience.

With its low cost and ease-of-use, we hope our Taris V1 bioreactor can serve as a platform for other teams across the globe to create innovative solutions to real-world problems.

Source: UC Santa Cruz | UCSC iGem 2016: Sugar Slugs

I don’t know much about what they are doing for the metabolic engineering to make the erythritol, but the bioreactor project is a rather fun “maker” project.

They have posted their budget on-line, and by far the largest cost is getting to the iGEM “Jamboree” in Boston in October. All the lab equipment is provided by UCSC (except the bioreactor they are designing and building), and all the student labor is free (in fact, they are paying summer tuition in order to take the iGEM course). So they have about $1000 for hardware, <$200 for reagents, and $31,300 for travel to the conference.  I think that they’ve over-estimated the price of flying to Boston, though, as Southwest flights are currently about $320 round-trip, and ground transportation at each end would probably add only about $200 to that, so 21 people  (20 undergrads and 1 instructor) should be able to do the travel part for under $11,000.  They’ve probably underestimated the lodging costs though, unless they are planning to pack like sardines into an AirBNB rental.

I’ve been thinking of going to the iGEM conference myself this year (on my own money, not crowd-funded), as I’ll be on sabbatical in October, and not teaching. I’ll have to make up my mind soon, though, as the cheap flight prices will probably go away.

I’ll be giving the iGEM team some money for their crowd-funding campaign, as it would be valuable for all of them to be able to attend the conference after the work they’ve put in—I know many of the students on the team this year, and they are the hard-working students that teachers love to have in their classes.

I urge others to make at least a token donation, to let them know that the hard work they are doing is recognized by the community.  Donations can be made through the UCSC crowd-funding site.

Disclaimer: I’m officially the “2nd PI” for the iGEM team this year, because the iGEM organization insisted on there being two faculty involved. I’ve done some advising on the bioreactor project also, though only through a few conversations with the lead designer on that team (who was also my group tutor for my applied electronics course in the spring).

2016 July 17

ABET accreditation

On Fri, Apr 29, 2016, a parent on the [hs2coll] mailing list wrote:

I think the main thing is that the program is ABET certified.

Indeed one of the most frequently asked question by parents of prospective students at UCSC recruiting events is whether our engineering programs are accredited by ABET.

Unfortunately, certification by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. is somewhat overrated. Its importance varies a lot between fields in engineering—in some fields (like civil engineering) it is absolutely essential, while in other fields (like computer science and bioengineering) it is pretty much irrelevant. Fields that expect engineers to have professional licenses are generally more interested in ABET certification.

At a small, little-known school, having ABET accreditation may be some guarantee of  having at least a minimal set of courses, but at a large research university, all it means is that the faculty were willing (or coerced) to slog through endless paperwork. I think that ABET accreditation may actually be a bad sign in newer fields, because faculty are unwilling to tinker with and improve the curriculum if they have to be sure not violate any of the arbitrary criteria of the accreditation process, which tends to be based on 2-decade-old views of what is important.

The ABET certification process is incredibly bureaucratic. It took the computer engineering program at UCSC about 2 faculty-years of effort to do the paperwork the first time they got accreditation, and a quarter to half that every 6 years for renewal.  The Computer Engineering Department at UCSC is considering not renewing their ABET accreditation, because they can’t afford to take that much time away from teaching, and the computer industry cares very little about ABET—they care more about what new employees can do and whether they have up-to-date training, not whether they have met a lot of bureaucratic requirements.

There is some value in the ABET process, as it forces as detailed look at every course in the curriculum, making sure that the faculty have examined the interfaces between classes as well as thorough documentation of each course.  This detailed examination of the curriculum can result in improvements—filling gaps or removing unneeded duplication that faculty were not aware of. But for that desirable outcome, most of the faculty must see the analysis of the curriculum as valuable and be willing to modify their courses to improve the curriculum.  This was the case when the computer engineering department first applied for ABET accreditation and justified the enormous amount of faculty effort.  (Also engineering at UCSC was very new at that time, and ABET accreditation was important for establishing that computer engineering was a real engineering program.)

The bioengineering program has decided not to seek ABET accreditation, because it is far too much paperwork for far too little value—most of our students seek jobs in the biotech industry, who hire mainly biologists and are almost unaware of ABET. In any event, the bioengineering major at UCSC would have to be broken up into 3 or 4 different majors to get ABET accreditation, because each of the concentrations would fall under a different ABET category.

With thirteen different departments providing required courses for the curriculum, most of whom regard the bioengineering program as belonging to someone else (even some of the departments that own the program!), it would be almost impossible to get the level of faculty cooperation and enthusiasm to do a proper analysis of the curriculum. Furthermore, because many of the courses are designed for some other program (biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, electrical engineering, robotics, psychology, … ), improvements in the courses to fit better into the bioengineering curriculum are unlikely to happen.  Thus the accreditation exercise would be unproductive as well as tedious.

That is not to say that our curriculum doesn’t get examined carefully, just that the examination does not involve all the faculty and produce hundreds of pages of documentation, as required by ABET. We are always looking for ways to make our program better, to improve our 4-year graduation rate, and to compensate for changes in content or prerequisites in courses currently required. The 2014–15 catalog introduced a huge overhaul of the bioengineering program, but every year sees some tweaks. (Incidentally, ABET does not approve of such large curricular changes—they value stability over innovation.)

The bottom line is that ABET accreditation is not the guarantee of quality that some parents have been lead to believe it is, and many modern engineering departments might be well advised to forego ABET accreditation.


Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: