Archives for the Month of November 2005 on Through the Magnifying Glass

Christmas Tree vs Holiday Tree

If you happen to see a spruce tree covered with 10,000 lights and 5,000 ornaments displayed, do you initially say "Christmas" or "Holiday" tree? It so happens that this particular tree is on the Capitol grounds and House Speaker Dennis Hastert wants to make sure it is called the "Capitol Christmas Tree."

During the 1990s, the tree was referred as the Holiday Tree. No one knows why people started calling that. The Speaker wants to make sure that when the lights turn on Dec 8, everyone should think of it as a Christmas tree and nothing else.

Also, on the other side of the country in Encinitas, CA, the mayor of that town wanted to rename the annual parade from "Holiday Parade" to "Christmas Parade." Mayor Dan Dalager said he wanted to just restore the title that existed when he was younger. Somehow, someone changed it to "Holiday" for no particular reason.

Unfortunately, three local groups have told the town they will pull out of the parade if the name gets changed. A girl scout troop, the Leucadia Town Council, and the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Southern California were the groups named. Strange enough, the mayor did change the event of the "Spring Egg Hunt" to the "Easter Egg Hunt" last year and nobody made a fuss about it.

Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year! Wait, before you read this line, you need to sign a legal waiver.

Unjust patent holding companies

The Blackberry is your office away from the office. With its essential wireless email functionality, you can keep in touch with what's going on at work while on vacation or out of the office. However, this wonderful device is in the middle of a court dispute between Research In Motion (RIM) and NTP Inc., a patent holding company. Recently, the US District Court in Virginia refused to enforce a disputed $450 million settlement between the two companies and rejected RIM's request to delay the case. This result puts more pressure on RIM to settle the case or face a possible shutdown of its US mobile e-mail service. Unfortunately, a new round of settlement talks may push the amount to more than $1 billion for NTP.

The problem with all of this is that NTP is strictly a patent holding company. It does not produce any physical products, but instead makes money by buying patent rights and then getting real and actually working companies to pay them money to license said rights to these technological innovations. Today, patents are no longer being used to cover actual inventions. We now patent certain procedures for the business or the particular way a transaction is being processed. Trying to invalidate a wrongful patent may takes years to accomplish. This would let companies such as NTP free reign in filing lawsuit after lawsuit against companies who are unwilling to deal with prolonged legal issues. In fact, this is the easy way for them to make money off hard working people like you and me.

In the beginning, we thought that the legal settlement where RIM pays NTP $450 million would end the dispute, but the deal fell apart. RIM tried to force NTP to accept the deal through the courts, but lost. With more pressure on RIM, NTP figures it can now steal more than $1 billion dollars from the Blackberry maker. Strange enough is that some of the patents NTP is using against RIM have now been invalidated by the patent office. Unfortunately, it's not yet final, and the courts are still siding with NTP.

This case will soon become a danger to every other technological company out there. After NTP gets their money from RIM, it will then focus on Microsoft, Sony, HP, and others and will use this case to their advantage. Research in Motion is trying to get this case before the US Supreme Court. It is with hope that this will end this bad practice of patent holding companies making money off everyone else.

Reuters - Judge deals RIM blow in BlackBerry case

Forbes - RIM on the Brink

Washington Post - Government Enters Fray Over BlackBerry Patents

The Airport Security Experience

Over the Thanksgiving holidays, millions of travelers head home to their relatives and friends to celebrate a day of overeating and not worrying about going nuts over those calories. These also include travelers coming from abroad like myself.

Heading to Newark (EWR) from London Gatwick (LGW) was not a problem. Security in London is a bit more lax since you are not required to take off your shoes/sneakers or take your laptop out of your backpack/briefcase. Of course, if you set the alarm off, you get light-wanded and padded down.

Immigration at Newark was messed up. I frankly do not know how they can arrange the queue that badly. The area has been widened the last time I was there but the counters for US citizens were arranged in a L-shaped configuration, and the security folks had trouble seeing over the crowd which lines needed filling. Instead of one main queue, create two lines for each side of the L-shape layout. It makes it easier to assign people to each line as they reach the end of the initial queue. Customs was quick. A glance at your blue form and you're through.

Compared to Atlanta and Cleveland, you do not go through a security x-ray when you land. It is really ridculous for the travelers to go through another security checkpoint after they have been on the plane for 8 hours. I don't think there's any trust there.

Leaving for London is always different. Airport security at Newark was long as usual. The initial queue was organized and there was a line for those that had Onepass Elite. A sign on the wall stated that you may not be needed to take off your footwear. Of course, a passenger in front of me was about to pass through the scanner, and the security guard barked at him to go back and take off his shoes. But her statement was not even helpful. "You are STRONGLY recommended to take off your footwear." How about "REQUIRED?" Please, if we want to make the process as smooth as possible, just tell us to take off our footwear right at the beginning. I personally wish they ended producing the metal strands in our shoes so we would not need to take them off. It kinda sucks if it was raining and the floors would be slippery and wet. Every person going through would have wet socks.

Of course, you need to take your laptop out of your bag, and your belt buckle too. All of these add unnecessary minutes to the line, but you would figure the technology is advanced enough where we do not have to worry about these things. A laptop bag should be easily x-rayed with the computer inside, don't ya think?

The funny thing I saw while in line is a gourmet service lady trucking a square cart of about 15-20 layers of bread. She has to take each layer apart and put the bread bags into the tray for it to be scanned. Let's see, 15-20 layers and there were probably 20 bags on each layer. So this woman had to put through almost 400 bags of bread through the x-ray. Not efficient at all.

Immigration in London was quick for those that had non-EU passports. A quick question about my employment status and I was through in less than two minutes. Customs was just quick as long you go through the green section. You still can get picked out of the crowd and security would ask you additional questions and check your bags.

What an experience! :)

New Greek Village's Impact on Current Housing

As current Greeks debate about the future of a new Greek Village area on north campus, we need to look at how it will affect Greek chapters that live in actual mansion/houses and those that do own their own property.

The plans for the new Greek village houses would provide modern furnishings, work/study area, network-connected with wireless, and would offer different sizes depending on the membership of the chapter. Each house would also be designed individually. This would avoid any problems with the village becoming just a block of identical residence halls.

Even though this would greatly help those chapters that do not live in a house (i.e. certain floors of a residence hall) or live in University-style houses (the old res halls at the top and bottom of the hill on south side), there ought to be some concern among the chapters that do live in a house that is either owned or leased from the University. Along Bellflower Road, Phi Mu, Alpha Chi Omega, Zeta Beta Tau live in houses that are owned by the University. [Corrected] For these houses, Phi Mu and Alpha Chi Omega are owned by the University. ZBT is owned by the Lambda foundation; and the former FIJI house is owned by the Xi Deuteron Building Association. In the Magnolia Area, we have Theta Chi, Delta Tau Delta, Alpha Phi, and Phi Kappa Theta. The Alpha Phi house is owned by the University. Theta Chi, Delta Tau Delta, and Phi Kappa Theta own their respective houses, but the land underneath Theta Chi and the Delts are leased from the University.

In any case, these chapters above actually live in a "house." While it is true that a new Case Greek village will bring a sense of getting all the chapters together and to encourage a sense of spirit and brother/sisterhood, the ones that do have houses have made quite an individual footprint on their current location on campus. Should they be "encouraged" to move to the new Village?

For my own personal view, it is best to establish a student population around a specific area, namely the north side, but we should not further segment the undergraduate population. Ideally, the plan would create a three dimensional picture. On one end are all the first-years living in the current residence halls (with a few staying on south side due to higher than expected rate of enrollment), the second area is the NRV housing the upperclass students, and the third are all the Greeks. Yes, there is some mixture of different classes, but we should not explicitly divide them up this way.

For one thing, we are pushing mostly all campus activities to north side because that is where all the students are. Of course, there are events being held at Thwing, Emerson, and at Fribley/Carlton, but for student groups, they have to arrange an event where they can get the most turnout. Moving all the Greek chapters to one area would guarantee that most social events would be held on one end of the campus. The other end result is a more regulated social environment because the University would own the houses and all events will be even more strictly controlled. Who knows if the University decides to have a RA live in each Greek house.

Also, why should they round up everyone into one area? Since we know that the South side residence halls would continue to be used, and that they are in the process of being renovated, why can't we re-develop the bottom and top of the hill areas? We should tear them down and build house-style buildings for the South side chapters and chapters that do not have a house. In addition, Fribley and Carlton Commons should be renovated. We also understand that South side would house both professional and graduate students. The South residential village could become quite a place for social and cultural events. This is one great opportunity to take advantage of.

A lot of things are changing on campus. The new logo, the new buildings, a larger student body, and a different learning environment. But if we are to change our living style, let's choose to expand and mix instead of dividing and setting everyone apart. We should know that besides the more than 4,000 undergrads, there are thousands of grads and professional students too. Let's take this opportunity to build the new Greek village as a step to re-develop the rest of the housing areas.

The Passion for European Football

Believe it or not, I have been sucked into the world of football while staying in London (that's soccer for the folks on the other side of the pond). I am a West Ham United fan and I could not imagine that football here has such an enormous impact on everyone's daily lives. Pretty much everyone has a passion for it and/or rugby. Somehow if I happen to go to a US soccer game, I would not find myself interested. What would you expect at a game between DC United and New England? When a team goes on the defense, US fans would just yell "Defense Defense." On the offense, we usually love chanting one word sentences.

Here in England, each football club has their own official song (i.e. from a soundtrack or locally created), chants and songs for the team of past victories, and songs that make fun of visiting teams that have lost to them. There are songs of their best players scoring a hat-trick against a local rival club, and parodies of other football club songs (just to piss them the away supporters off). At the top of that, there is the Premiership League, known as the "top flight" of english football (basically the elite league, Division 1). Then you got the Championship League (Division 2), and League 1 and 2 (Division 3 and 4 respectively). West Ham FC is in the top flight for this year, having gotten promoted at the end of last year.

Fans of both teams are not allowed to sit among each other. There is always an away section for them. At West Ham's Upton Park, it can seat about 33-34,000 people, but at most 3,000 of those seats will be set aside for the visiting team's supporters. Lines of stewards (aka security guards) separate the designated section from everyone else. I am sitting in the second section away from the visiting fans, and we just love throwing insult after insult, cat-calling, singing our songs and chants out, and they would do the same to us. Of course, a steward would usually come over to our section and tell us to keep it down, but what can you do if you are winning 4-0 and the game is almost over. Cursing out the other side's team and the referees for making stupid calls is basically the norm here. I doubt anyone can do that in an American stadium. You'll be more likely to be thrown out of the place.

But while living abroad, you hear about the best football teams in Europe and they play in the UEFA Champions League, which is pretty much the "World Series" for football itself. You get teams in England like Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United battling it out with Spain's Barcelona and Real Madrid, to Portgual's FC Porto, to Italy's AC Milan, and to Germany's Bayern Munich. If you want to talk about football in any of these countries, you can get quite an earful on who is the best team out there on the pitch.

While in the states, there's everyone talking about Manchester United, but really, there's more to it than just them. I think for anyone coming back from Europe, we get an irrestible urge to make sure DirecTV has a package on European football games.

As a West Ham fan, it's going to be hard to miss the whole thing when I head back to the states. Also, don't think the movie "Green Street Hooligans" is the real thing over here. Truly, it's not. It can get crazy here, but the violence in the movie is no longer there. Yes, there is still a rivalry between West Ham and Millwall. I can tell you why there is one, but I will hold that out for later.


Residence Hall v. Academic College Representation

As I compare the new USG representation system with the previous system when I was an officer, I am trying to figure out what type of advantage it is giving to everyone.

The previous model was that representatives were elected by residence hall, the four Greek areas, and a determined number of commuters. The new model is where the freshmen class gets to elect their reps by residential college, the rest of the students elect theirs by academic discipline. The Class Secretary of each year now gets to vote in the GA.

The freshmen get to elect 13 (3 x 4 residential colleges + 1 commuter). Upperclassmen elect 9 from Engineering, 9 from Arts & Sciences, 2 from Nursing, and 2 from Management.

Granted, under the old model, there have been problems of getting interested reps from some of the residence halls. Every year, we may get 2-3 halls with no rep at all, and it takes a semester to find one person who wants to do it. A few times, it would be hard to get all the Greek areas represented. Electing commuter reps has been the worst pain of all. We have almost 1000 commuters, but on average, we have been only able to get at most 5-6 of those spots filled. Getting a good turnout of candidates for a USG election rests on the ability of the Election Commission to get "the word out!" I have been involved with seven USG elections and I have seen good and bad Commissioners. Their performance would usually mirror the turnout of the candidates and election. Often enough, we have not done a good job in getting commuters to come out and vote. We should have worked closely with the Case Commuter Club and ESS on that.

The new model that we have here basically throws the problem with the apathetic residence halls, the Greeks, and the commuters under the rug, and putting a brand new carpet over it. I have to assume in order for the freshmen candidates to be able to campaign at the three residental halls of their specific residential college, they have access to all three buildings. Otherwise, it is pretty much a residence hall rep system for the first-years. A candidate would not need to go over to the two other halls. He/she would just need to get enough people in one building to get him/her elected. Plus, I guess it won't help if all three reps from a residential college all came from one building.

For academic discipline, it's an easy model for representation but does not provide enough accountability. The only two flaws in an election would be for students that have not declared a major and those that are pursuing a double or triple major. I am sure the voting system would likely prompt a student for their choice into which constituency they want to be a part of. For campaigning, how can you rely on the candidate's ability to talk to their constituents? First, who exactly are they? How would you know if a student in your engineering class is actually an engineering major? He/she could be an Arts & Science or a Management major taking an engineering elective? Would the EC provide a list of current students in their major core of study to help "level the playing field?"

Another weakness is how to inform the constituency. For example, we have 9 reps for the College of Engineering. How would they handle the communication? Do they select one of their number to be an acting spokesperson? Do they divide up the students into mini-constituencies? The worse case here is getting overlapping e-mails. But really, who is accountable to who? In addition, how would a "recall" situation work out? You ask a fellow engineering student that elected rep C has not been doing a good job, but he would reply, "Oh I voted for rep A, why should I need to get rid of C?" I think it's just make it harder for students to attempt such a petition (if it is needed).

From what I can see, the new model dilutes the ability of representation. It hides the fact that your commuter population may not be represented by the GA. Plus, it does not help when your first-year commuter rep got elected with 6 out of 11 votes casted. It also hides the presence of a Greek population. I am sure this was created to reflect a better outlook of the student body, but at the sacrifice of accountability? At least you got the Class Officers formally involved with the GA. That was one thing that was needed.

Perhaps this model is needed since we are going with a new Case but somehow the size of the student body does not justify the change. I would expect a size like OSU to do this since their large student population would warrant such a system like this. I wonder how much debate was done on this, and why Greeks/Commuters did not amount any opposition. Anyway, what's done is done, but I hope that the new system gets strongly reviewed by the end of the year. If there are glitches that need to be fixed, they need to be fixed by the end of the year. Students will understand that not everything is perfect on the first try.

Author of "Controversial" Op-Ed Piece at Winthrop University Withdraws

For those that haven't visited the web site, this was about a student at Winthrop University who wrote an op-ed piece on the student newspaper (The Johnsonian) who expressed the view that some African-American students on campus were overly argumentative and do not appreciate everything that the campus and the country has done for them. In her column, "Student observes double standards at Winthrop," she questioned the need for preferential treatment and did a comparison on the racial climate of today versus the years before the Civil Rights movement. She went on to oppose minority scholarships and organizations devoted to blacks. Her first sentence in her column said "Black people at Winthrop will probably be angry." She was right.

The result was an outcry among the student body, particularly black students who have found the column offensive. A forum was quickly set up in Tillman Hall after a previously scheduled talent show. Most students were focused on the student's comments about the current state of blacks in America and the fear whites feel about expressing opinions on racial issues. But look at this, the woman that wrote the piece was bi-racial.

Herald Online - Winthrop campus in uproar over column

Obviously, students on the Winthrop campus immediately assume a black vs white position. Black students asked their white friends if they supported the op-ed column, and vice versa. It turned out that the forum managed to settle down the fervor generated by the article, and it was pointed out that the author probably could have said it a bit differently. Black students, after reading the column several times, understood what the author was trying to say, but agreed that her choice of words were poor.

Unfortunately, some continued to think she was racist and being insensitive, and because of the amount of attention she has made, the student withdrew from the University. No reasons were cited, but it is very likely that her safety was in question.

The Johnsonian - Byington withdraws

How can racial issues be discussed without getting accused of being a racist? This is an issue that needs to be tackled with an open mind and without assumed prejudices.

Mass E-Mails are useless, better web sites needed

As a follow-up to Greg's issue with "Too Many Newsletters", and the responses made by Jeremy Smith and Aaron Schaffer, I believe that the use of mass e-mails have outlived their usefulness.

When mass e-mail was first used, it was designed to inform a large number of people about the latest events or announcements that are deemed important for the University community. Today, with the flood of spam, chain joke messages from friends, and after a message from your college department/office, student group, and the occassional alert from Protective Services, we have treated the wonderful idea of mass e-mail as trash. Electronic communication has become impersonal and unwanted. We are more likely to delete such a message or filter it out from our Outlook/Eudora. USG has gone so far as to ban the use of mass e-mail during election campaigns and restricted candidates from sending their campaign message via third-party mailing lists (i.e. student groups).

When an event is coming up, you may get the flyer in your post office mailbox, and see the poster about it on the wall, then the student group that is sponsoring the event sends you the details via the mailing list, and then another student group sends you the same message as a forward from that same group. If it is a major event, your USG rep may send you a reminder or UPB may do the same thing. Next up is your hall council sending a notice about it. Oh wait, then your RHA rep sends you as a forward from another major group. It keeps on continuing until the event is finally over.

For myself, I am getting tired of the text-based mass e-mails themselves. It is boring, really, it truly is. I think we are more interested in how people send us e-mails with essential and effective content. For newsletters being sent via e-mail, they should be designed with HTML coding. Attaching a word or pdf document just takes up more space. People want to see pictures, bold-faced lettering, tables, just like the paper version. You would think that years later, we should be able to produce better e-mail than the occasional plain-text format. If you want to send a message with one announcement to a 1,000 people, step back and think about it. If it is a security alert, then you are justified in sending it. Otherwise, think long before hitting that "send" button.

My other problem is with the groups for not utilizing their web sites as a major portal site. Students frequently went to the UPB, USG, RHA sites in the past to get the latest info because it was updated on a periodic basis. Why send the newsletter through e-mail or post when you can post a PDF version of it on the site? At least UPB changes their info on a weekly basis because of their event schedule. The Observer is primarily a print publication and they are working on re-designing their site, but their emphasis should be equally concentrated in both print and web publication. If the Observer had a kick-ass site, then students would flock to their web page every Friday because that's when the new issue comes out. If the USG post their agendas and minutes after each meeting and update their list of new campus issues, students would visit their site more often. Or how about we put some sort of interactive component on that site? How about "Ask the President" column or a weekly opinion piece by a fellow representative? Or perhaps a web extra edition on the Observer that you cannot find on the paper version?

If these groups and depts want to get the word out, they should learn to showcase their events and issues on their respective sites, then we could just deal with that mass e-mail message about next year's tuition rate going up another 10 percent.

To Smoke or not to Smoke

Just as the title suggests, a stunned Italian actor had to put out his cigarette he had lit up on stage after a spectator complained, forcing the theater to change the script of an Arthur Miller play to make it smoke-free.

In Italy, smoking is banned in all enclosed public places since January.

In the script, the actor was supposed to be smoking in a scene from the play "A View from the Bridge" by Arthur Miller. After he lit up, a woman from the audience shouted "put out that cigarette." The play stopped for 15 minutes, and the performance resumed with a modified script and the smoking parts were taken out.

The article was found on Reuters.

Was this pushing the ban too far? Or how about if we were that overzealous we could decide to ban movies with smoking scenes at your local theatre since the building prohibits it? Drinking could be next on the list.

What was the woman thinking? It makes better sense if the woman had her mobile phone ringing, then we all have the right to tell her to turn it off.

Your Right to Free Speech is not really "Free"

The rights and responsiblities in the Undergraduate Handbook have not changed much in the past several years. Even though the wording has remained the same, the interpetation of them has changed. As our society becomes more embroiled in the spectre of "political correctness," people are using these rights and responsibilities to create a "Brave New World."

Yes, we have the right to air our grievances, but to be free from intimidation? I think all of us have been intimidated in some sort of way. Of course, we need to be challenged mentally, physically, and emotionally in order to handle the world after college. Undoubtedly, the statement would refer that someone would try to use intimidation that will result in physical and emotional harm, but it is vague enough where it can be thought out quite differently.

The responsibilities encourage the need to respect each other views. To guarantee them individual rights and making sure a person's personal rights are not violated can also be interpreted differently to suit the offending party. While I have to respect your opposing viewpoint, I cannot make any counter-statements that may be considered to be racist, insensitive, degrading, humilating, or even upsetting. This is why people should read the Grrrr! column off the site or to see acts of "PC" in action. In addition to all of that, we have to be aware of the laws of the State of Ohio. I have to wonder if anything within the state civil code is in conflict with Case's policies and procedures.

In light of this, I have to be surprised (if it is true) that there is some sort of ban on certain words in two residence halls. From the grapevine, it seems that if a staff member hears you say "rape" or "retarded" in a public conversation for example, you can be written up. So I guess using the words "sexual assault" or "mentally challenged" are accepted instead. I could be wrong, but this is clearly a restriction on the way we can talk to our fellow colleagues and friends. Somehow, these words are now considered to be an automatic offense to everyone.

If this is the way to contribute to a lively discussion between students, it is a bad decision to make. Instead of people sitting in the lounges, everyone will be in their rooms behind closed doors because Big Brother is listening.

One bad apple in the group faults all

Never before have I seen a member of Residence Life staff writing up an entire floor of students for not giving up any information about a missing letter in their hall entrance name.

Every year, an individual or a group of pranksters have managed to pry off a letter from the residence hall name title outside. Sherman, Raymond, Hitchcock, and Smith have all been victims. Unless you had a security camera watching each entrance, you can only have a 50/50 chance of deciding whether the alleged person was living in the building or somewhere else.

Even if you had it narrowed down to a particular floor, why the threat of writing everyone up? The easiest way is probably having each room checked since we already have given up our right to privacy by living in the halls. Threatening to penalize everyone for one bad individual is an unfair tactic. Does this person think everyone on the floor are colluding with each other? Is there a conspiracy to hide the truth? It is like walking near an intersection where a vehicle accident has occurred and the officer is writing you a ticket for not providing any information (i.e. obstruction of justice) regardless if you did not witness the incident. To me, it sounds like it was an attempt to get the other residents to "tattle-tale" the offenders out.

Why have we reached this level?

Another alum added

I like to thank Greg for letting me know that I can create my blog account off Blog@Case. Of course, I have to apologize in advance for my entries since I will be venting about people lacking common sense, the people that try to use political correctness to suppress our rights, and comparing events at Case today with my years on campus.