Monthly Archive for June, 2006

SOI Dissolution: Dean Penniman’s Story

Dean Penniman vs Provost Tripathi
It’s turning out to be more dramatic than Beverly Hills 90210 (how about Buffalo 14260?)

Earlier this month, the School of Informatics (SOI) was unilaterally dissolved by UB’s Provost, Satish Tripathi. This sad news was blogged by many of us.

Just yesterday, affected students voiced their concerns through a podcast organized by Jim Milles.

Today, we get forwarded a personal statement by the now ex-Dean of SOI, David Penniman.

While SOI students have been waiting to hear official word on why the school was dissolved, Penniman has come forth to tell his side of the story. His statement is currently circulating on various mailing lists, but do remember to take this with a grain of salt since this is his own personal account. Now there’s just one person left to give us the last piece of the puzzle… I’m waiting to hear what Provost Tripathi has to say about the school’s closure, as I believe that SOI students deserve accountability for such non-consensus action.

Here’s the forwarded personal statement from David Penniman:

Statement from W. David Penniman
Dean, School of Informatics
University at Buffalo
June 25, 2006

Earlier this year Provost Satish Tripathi and I held frank discussions at my request regarding his unwillingness to release the faculty lines committed in our last budget cycle. He had repeatedly refused to free up the resource, indicating he was not ready to invest more in the School when he felt its focus was unclear. He consistently rejected arguments regarding the broader definition of informatics that took us beyond the computing domain into a broader perspective of informatics. His view is consistent with hard-core computer scientists who consider this emerging area to be limited strictly to computer technology. He refused to see the broader implications of this emerging area concerned with technology and its interaction with many other aspects of application and implementation as well as society at large. I had repeatedly shown him accepted published definitions of the field of informatics appearing in scholarly literature that recognized the domain of informatics as a much broader field and he consistently rejected these definitions. He continued to say that our School lacked focus.

Decanal Review
At the same time that this dialogue was going on, a decanal review process initiated early in the year (I had volunteered as one of three deans for this process) was nearing completion. This review was done by a committee of faculty headed by a senior engineering faculty member, Andrei Reinhorn. I had wanted a review as I was nearing the end of my fifth year. The Provost was given the report sometime in late April or early May. I repeatedly asked him to go over the results with me. He had already completed the two other deans’ reviews (Law and Education) and renewed their appointments. I asked why theirs were going so rapidly and mine was not. He informed me my situation was different.

Due to subsequent events, I have learned that the review was overall quite positive with some areas for improvement noted – including being more inclusive of faculty in decision making. With such improvements, the report noted that I could be a top-tier dean. The provost would not show me the report nor give me a written summary as originally stated. He instead indicated he was still studying the report, but that it indicated I was below average. I told him I found that difficult to believe. A review of one of our degree programs by an external accrediting team done in April and May of 2006 found me to be “well qualified and visionary”. I shared this result with the Provost after our May 24, 2006 meeting described below.

May 24, 2006
On May 24 the provost met with me and said he wanted to discuss in secret three options: 1) Keep things as they are with me running the School 2) Change the leadership 3) Close the School. I provided him with arguments as to why closing the School did not make sense. I urged him to speak to the process consultants out of the President’s Office who had been working with me on strategic planning issues within the School. I also proposed that at our next meeting (June 5, 2006) we focus on questions
around the School and not me. These questions included: a) why was he considering closing the newest and most innovative School at UB where a promising new faculty and a growing externally funded research agenda existed, b) why wasn’t he considering how to make our School even better and c) what metrics would he use to evaluate any of the schools at UB and how did they apply to our School? He acknowledged that these were good questions, but said he wanted to do my decanal review first.

May 24 to June 5, 2006
Between May 24 and June 5 I decided I could not abide by his request for secrecy and discussed his three options with a few senior faculty. I sought their advice on how to respond. They felt my assessment of the situation was correct. He was not listening to the information I was presenting and had likely already made a decision concerning the School.

June 5, 2006
At my June 5 meeting with the Provost he informed me that he intended to change the leadership of the School, but said I could remain as dean for one more year. He added that the year would be used to decide what to do about the School. He indicated that his decision was based on the decanal review, the presidential consultants I had used as process consultants within the School, and his own opinion. I felt it was not consistent for him to say he would search for a new dean while “deciding what to do about the School”. I asked to be allowed to think about what he had told me overnight. He agreed. After consulting with a few senior faculty aware of the situation, I considered what I felt would be best for the School.

June 6, 2006
On June 6 I informed the Provost that the School would be better served by placing someone in charge whom he would listen to, and I would go on leave for the year instead of continuing as dean as he had suggested. He agreed that day to my suggestion and immediately appointed Lucinda Finley (a distinguished faculty member of the Law School and currently vice provost for faculty affairs) as interim dean effective August 1, 2006. He indicated a desire to meet with the faculty – many of whom were not on campus for the summer.

June 8, 2006
When the announcement went out on June 8 that I had agreed to step down, the faculty on the decanal review committee, I was told, were dismayed. They felt they had submitted a very positive report with some areas identified for improvement and could not believe I had been removed.

June 14, 2006
On June 14 the Provost stopped in my office immediately prior to his planned meeting with the faculty (I had not been invited). He told me he was closing the School and would be informing the faculty in the next few minutes. He then met with the faculty and told them of his decision. The faculty were stunned at his decision and his lack of collegial involvement of them or the Faculty Senate in the process. Their objections caused him to say he would “sleep on it”. He then went next door to met with the administrative staff and told them the same thing, but said he had agreed to sleep on his decision. He subsequently implemented his decision and intends that the process of dismantling the School will be completed by the end of the Fall semester.

Opinion Statement
What appears above are the facts as I have documented them during their occurrence. As to my opinion, any dean serves at the pleasure of a provost, but serves first the faculty. I believe I have done that. A provost may fire a dean for reason or not, but he must not be allowed to fire a school. I will continue to object publicly to this administration’s motives and means regarding the School as well as their end objectives. This administration has failed to act in the collegial manner expected by the faculty and has taken dramatic action when most university faculty are away for the summer. They have misused their power and have discredited an innovative school, the university, and me. This entire debacle brings real doubt as to the credibility of the collegial process supposedly underlying their administration, including the UB2020 process. Shame on them.

W. David Penniman, PhD
Dean, School of Informatics
University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14260
716-645-6481 x-1176
Fax 716-645-3775

Games that are good for us…

Games that are good for us...

I recently found a few Nintendo DS games that are actually useful, namely Brain Age as well as Cooking Mama and Shaberu! DS Oryouri Navi (a cooking titles)

Brain Age

Ever since I got my Nintendo DS Lite, I’ve been playing with Brain Age a lot and it’s been quite out of this world. While I can’t tell whether I’m mentally sharper in real life, there are short time-based test in there that challenge your observation, memory, math, speech and hand-eye coordination. Since you’re suppose to play it daily, it not only charts your overall progress on a graph, but check in on you in surprising ways. Just the other day the game asked me almost at random what I had for dinner on June 14th. I thought I had spagetti, so I penned that down, only to be corrected by the game saying I had BBQ instead. Apart from the regular tests, I’d forgotten how the game has you do seemingly completely random stuff, only so that it could test your memory about it later on. I wish I’d taken a picture to show you what I mean… it was a pretty magical moment.

Cooking Mama

One reason why I’m not a passionate cook is because of the linear destructive nature of this culinary art. There are many factors that come into play and one screw up can lead to burnt food. I’m looking forward to this because it simulates cooking in a non-destructive environment. According to Majesco Entertainment, this cooking game lets you:

  • Create 76 different, real world dishes from fried eggs to cabbage meat rolls! By mastering the first 15 recipes you can unlock 61 increasingly complex bonus recipes to expand your skills in the kitchen.
  • The stylus is your master kitchen tool! Use it in more than 200 mini-games to chop, slice, pan fry, knead, grate, mash, tenderize, mix, peel, carve, roll and more. Once your dish is ready, you can even use the stylus to prepare the final layout of your meal.
  • Cool food down by blowing into the Nintendo DS microphone
  • Combine recipes to create more advanced dishes
  • Share recipes with up to 4 other people or transfer a saved game to a friend via the DS wireless link
  • Earn bronze, silver and gold medals based on the quality of your cooking
  • Practice mode lets you finetune your cooking skills without being judged

There is one other cooking related title coming out called Shaberu! DS Oryouri Navi. Even though it’s a Nintendo DS title, it isn’t exactly a game, but more of a fun interactive cookbook. Go Nintendo explains that it will feature over 200 recipes, voice recognition control (e.g. “Next page!”), touch pen control and full voice instructions on how to cook. I guess that’ll be like GPS for chef wannabes!

Have you seen any more interesting games that are good for us?

Mum’s Magical Birthday Flowers

Mum's Birthday Flowers

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
– Arthur C. Clarke, “Profiles of The Future”, 1961 (Clarke’s third law)

I ordered a bunch of flowers online last night and it got to my mum in Singapore within a few hours. Granted I ordered it online through a Singapore florist, but remember that since I’m in Buffalo, distance and time suddenly didn’t matter anymore. I felt as if I had delivered it myself. That’s magic!

Podcast session on School of Informatics dissolution

Podcast on School of Informatics dissolution
Click here to see more photos from today’s podcast session

If you can multitask, listen to Jim Milles’ “Check This Out!” podcast while reading my post:
Episode 033: Buffalo School of Informatics to be dissolved

Today I attended an interesting podcast session on the unilateral dissolution of UB’s School of Informatics. Organized by Law Librarian Jim Milles, students affected by the program were invited to voice their concerns. As Jenn pointed out, 19 current students and recent alums were present even though we were in summer session.

These mainly consisted of the Masters in Library Science students, while the rest were Communication and Informatics students. I didn’t see any faculty nor officials present, so a lot of questions were really up in the air. I saw this primarily as an oppotunity for students to demonstrate how unfairly managed this administrative decision was made. You can read the rest of the points raised today on Jenn’s Library Matters blog.

If you’re interested in helping or have more questions, do visit Jim Milles’ “Check This Out!” blog and leave a comment. Heck you can even leave an audio response for his follow-up show at 989-4422. Join in the citizen media revolution today!

What kind of Digg user are you?

Digg vs Slashdot

Last year, I drafted an article entitled “How to game for fame (and maybe fortune)”. I got some the baseline down, but left it on the backburner since I needed do more experiments. I’m resurrecting this since we’re all still fascinated by the popularity of Digg, especially over Slashdot.

Five Types of Digg Users
Back in December 2005, Richard MacManus of the Web 2.0 Explorer (ZDnet) decontructed Alex Bosworth’s take on the Dynamics of Digg. For our benefit, he discovered that the system is “very simple” and made up of five groups of people. What’s interesting is how all five of these groups interact (each with their own rewards), in order to make the Digg system work. Here are his thoughts combined with mine on the demographics of

1. Readers
Type: Alex guesses that this consists of ten to twenty percent of users who ever click ‘digg’.
Motivation: Reaping the discoveries of other Digg users via the frontpage of popular links

2. Diggers
Type: 10-20% says Alex. He also says these are the least important members of the system, because “once a link is on the front page, it makes marginal difference the number of votes next to the link.” I personally think they are still important for verifying a great link (e.g. 298 vs. 2150 diggs)
Motivation: Alex doesn’t make it clear, but I would think it’s a like giving a “personal stamp of approval” to give good links more credit.

3. Hardcore Diggers
Type: People who sit in the queue of submitted stories and watch for breaking news that should make its way up to the front page, or report stories as being spam or irrelevant.
Motivation: Digg queue watchers looking for cool links before anyone else has seen them (e.g. early adopters). See Digg Spy.

4. Submitters
Type: People who submit stories. It’s highly competitive and difficult to be the first to post a successful story (one that makes the front page).
Motivation: Establishing their Digg reputation via a list of submissions ‘published on the homepage’

5. Publishers
Type: Often bloggers who want to get readership for their content.
Motivation: Blog publishers promote their own content through digg.

Alex believes that the Hardcore Diggers is the group with the most power in the Digg system. Publishers have an interest in getting their stories dugg, so who better to court than those who are as involved as Hardcore Diggers. It’s similar in a way to popular bloggers who get sent emails by companies hoping to get a link.

How to be a Top Digger
Here’s the kicker: It isn’t enough to just pounce on the latest news submission anymore.

Top Diggers

As part of Digg’s redesign on last monday, a user popularity ranking system has emerged which tries to highlight civil-minded users. Like A-list bloggers, I believe these top diggers are in line to be the opinion leaders who matter. While Technorati’s Top 100 Blogs shows us the most influencial bloggers in the blogosphere, Top Diggers shows us the complete popularity ranking of all its users. Do note that this ranking is pretty well conceived so that highly ranked users are those who contribute greatest to the community. There’s equal emphasis on self-publishing quality content as well as the promotion of other users’ stories that matter. As you’ll see on the ranking page, users are measured by:

  • Popularity: Numbers of submitted stories promoted to the front page
  • Submitted: Number of stories submitted
  • Popular Ratio: Percentage of submitted stories that make it to the front page
  • Dugg: Number of stories a user has dugg
  • Comments: Total number of comments a user has left on stories submitted to digg
  • Profile Views: Number of times others have viewed this user’s profile

Improving Digg
The creators of Digg have set up a user reputation system which works in their favor. To game today, means you’ll need to submit a lot of quality articles, help digg other user submissions and comment widely. I’ve join a mailing list dedicated to Digg-bombing articles, but after a while I saw less meaning behind it when too many people started asking for diggs. Since I’ve personally encountered users submitting badly stories under tantalizing headings (raising false hopes), I’m hoping for more control over demoting stories as well. Perhaps even put a measure for the antonym of Digg (e.g. UnDigg?) where we can then see how well a user polices for deviant user submissions.

How do you use Digg?
Being a blogger, I find that I share similar traits with all five users groups, so bear in mind that users are more than likely to have multiple traits. I do tend to watch Digg Spy a lot, but mostly to read than to digg articles. I believe majority of the users use Digg like me since motivation to digg relies solely on personal interest in it. Talk about Digg as a community of geeks, I also don’t see the point of connecting with one another. Perhaps a more matured social networking feature set is still missing in the Digg Friends feature. Right now, the reward for me is really in having all the breaking news available on just one page, and now that they’ve expanded their genres to cover almost everything under the sun (not just tech), Digg is an even more invaluable resource for me.

The Inconvenient Truth gets thumbs-up for accuracy

On Sunday night, Penny and I went to catch “The Inconvenient Truth” at the local Dipson Theatre. There’s something about these older art houses which adds grandeur to a film, something that’s missing in all those modern multiplex cinemas. In any case, it’s a film with a very important lesson about Earth, intermixed with Gore’s life story which explains what motivated him on his personal environmental crusade. While geeks like me naturally absorb all the facts, I was pretty pleased with Penny who not only stayed awake throughout the film, but could talk to me about it the next day too. Though she definitely faired better than most scientists’ wives, I think she’d agree that the movie does call on your human conscience.

If you haven’t seen it, there’s even more reason to watch it now…

The Associated Press contacted more than 100 top climate researchers by e-mail and phone for their opinion on the film. Among those contacted were vocal skeptics of climate change theory. Apparently most scientists had not seen the limited release movie, nor read the book.

However, of the 19 climate scientists who have seen it, they all had the same general impression: Gore conveyed the science correctly; the world is getting hotter and it is a manmade catastrophe-in-the-making caused by the burning of fossil fuels. In essence, the nation’s top climate scientists are giving “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore’s documentary on global warming, five stars for accuracy.

Even more interesting is that fact that while more than 1 million people have seen the movie since it opened in May, that number does not include Washington’s top science decision makers. President Bush said he won’t see it and the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA haven’t seen it. At least the president’s science adviser said the movie is on his to-see list.

“They are quite literally afraid to know the truth,” Gore said. “Because if you accept the truth of what the scientific community is saying, it gives you a moral imperative to start to rein in the 70 million tons of global warming pollution that human civilization is putting into the atmosphere every day.”

Perhaps some people believe that what you don’t know can’t hurt you
Yeah right.

Get off your butt and learn more at

Sidekick 3 upgrade price = Time to sell my kidney

T-mobile's Sidekick 3 Upgrade Offer
Upgrade prices for current Sidekick owners. Regular folks can get this on 10th July at a steeper price.

Some of you asked me what I thought of the Sidekick 3… I stayed away from writing about it since many gadget bloggers have already gotten their’s and blogged about it. It’s not like I didn’t try to get one… just read the response I got after asking T-mobile for a “special upgrade”:

Kevin, I reviewed the issue and have disappointing news with regards to a further price reduction. As a returning T-Mobile customer and current SideKick II user you have the opportunity to upgrade your device prior to the regular public. You also receive heavily discounted prices on the SideKick III right from the start. I reviewed your line ending XXXX for upgrade eligibility. It has been 45 months since you last upgraded the device and you certainly qualify for maximum pricing. You will note that the price drops dramatically if you agree to a T-Mobile contract. For your convenience, […]

I noted that you have been a loyal T-Mobile customer since October 8, 2002. I reviewed the pricing on the SideKick III. No contract the price is $399.99. A I year contract drops $50 and brings it to $349.99. A 2 year contract drops $100 and brings it to $299.99. I am not able to offer a further discount. […]

Thank you for contacting T-Mobile, we value your business.

Tim B.
Customer Care Specialist
T-Mobile USA.

OK, I got the email response within an hour, which was pretty impressive. Alas, it’s no benefit being T-mobile’s loyal customer since Oct 2002, I still got no special treatment. So like the rest of the world, I’ll have to pay for the upgrade to the Sidekick 3.

How much is it you ask? Being a current Sidekick owner it’s suppose to be a good deal, but at about $349 with 1 year contract, it’s quite a lot for me. Maybe if someone bought my Sidekick 2 off me, then I’d buy it in a snap.

Still, this phone is a serious must-have, especially for current Sidekick users. As Jeremy from most eloquently puts it:

What I’m here to tell you is this – believe these words or discount them, but here they are – I used my Sidekick 2 as much last year as my personal iPod, which is to say, “every day, several times or more.”

I agree that this is one device that I rely on more often than anything else in my entire gadget stash. Besides making calls, IMs, and emails, I use this to blog on the move (moblog) thanks to the wonderful keyboard and built-in camera. While it’s marketed at teens, the Sidekick is really as addictive as those Blackberries, yet with the simplicity of a Mac. Remember that the Sidekick is designed by ex-Apple developers so you can see how holistic experiential design comes into play.

Anyway, you can read more about how awesome the Sidekick 3 is at or watch a video of it at

UPDATE: See what other Sidekick 3 fans are saying so far…

Paul Stamatiou’s Yahoo Internship…

Paul Stamatiou's Yahoo Internship

Congrats to online buddy and all-star tech blogger, Paul Stamatiou, who was recently invited to work for Yahoo as a blogger intern! While I’m not sure what he’ll be doing exactly, he seems to be having a ball of a time. Just look at what he says from inside Yahoo:

Working at Yahoo! is the ultimate experience. The amazing campus, engaging activities and great people definitely made an impression on me during the past two days. Everyone I’ve come across at Yahoo! is eager to meet new people and get to know them; yes, even the coders are sociable! Unlike other places where my friends intern, Yahoo! interns don’t make coffee and send out letters. For one, every building (there are 7 on the Sunnyvale campus) has a Starbucks-type caffeine vendor and the drinks are free! Yahoo! interns are part of a project that makes an impact and people on the internet will get to see their work (with the exception of internal engineers, sorry)…

Man, I sometimes do wish I had more time to pursue blogging professionally (particularly Web 2.0 content), but I guess I’ll settle with my flavor of half-tech & half-personal ramblings which for some reason you guys actually bother to read. Anyway enough about lowly me… just go read Paul’s post about life inside Yahoo and the famous online personalities he gets to work with.

Read the whole scoop here!

Today’s Links: Quicksilver Cheatsheet for n00bs & 1337s

Quicksilver Radial Menu
Quicksilver’s experimental radial menu screen captured by writetomikek

100 Bullshit Jobs… And How To Get Them

The 100 Bullshit Jobs (and how to get them)
Hint: Click to see a high-res photo and check out what Patrick Murray says…

Interestingly, Stanley Bing lists the 13th most bullshit job as being a blogger!

Publishers Weekly describes Bing’s book pretty well…
There’s an element of bullshit in all jobs, including his own, but bestselling author Bing (Sun Tzu was a Sissy) has taken a wickedly satiric approach and ranked the BS quotient in jobs both common and obscure that require little effort but pay well. From aromatherapist to motivational speaker to velvet rope nazi to critic (touché), he dissects the skills necessary to excel in these jobs, as well as the upside, the downside and the “dark side.” Using humor and insight, no job is off his radar, including high power corporate jobs like investment banker, rarified non-jobs like boulevardier (George Hamilton), and the crumber, who “removes detritus from dining in restaurants.” Bing’s central piece of advice is to hone your internal bullshit detector and find the right balance between fulfillment and fluff: “In the end, a life that is made up of nothing but bullshit is as untenable as one that is completely dedicated to content. It is your gift on this earth, your right as a living, sentient human being to fight for the right mix.”

For $12.97, I think it’s an edutaining book which might even have you rethinking your career prospects… that’s unless you’re already working in one of the 100 listed bullshit jobs!

You can get details and buy the book via Amazon.