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Education … a right!

April 19, 2017

I believe that everyone in this country has the responsibility of making sure that all citizens have equal access to quality education. Whether it’s pre-k or college, everyone has a right to a good quality education without concern for cost. And I don’t believe it’s just the responsibility of the parents, but the responsibility of all, to make sure this happens.

In fact, I believe we should have fully funded education, pre-k through college graduation. Not to say that everyone needs or wants a college education. Some people will want community college, trade schools, etc… Everyone should have access to those.

Sorry grad students … graduate school is still on you. Though I do feel that we should continue to fund researchin the sciences, the arts, or whatever. There should be plenty of funding available in research institutions and academia to help fund projects that can better our world.

I would even go so far as to say that we have an obligation to re-education of our workforce to meet the demands of the times.

Keywords so far … good quality, equal access and free.

We are talking about the future of our country here, and the world. We’re not talking about short-term gain, but long-term commitment.

Our children deserve the best. They deserve teachers who are well funded, well paid, have the resources they need and are encouraged to provide the best quality education that they can. They are the teachers of our children and of our future. They deserve it.

Our Department of Education should be about educational excellence, conducting research into the best forms of education out there, learning new techniques, learning from educational programs around the world that work. We can learn from school systems all around the world, not just in this country. The department should be fighting for the rights of our children, not for the rights of corporations to make money off of the education of our children.

And there are simple things that we could do to get things rolling. Making sure our children have good quality meals, breakfast and lunch, that can be focused on improving their ability to learn. Nothing against cafeteria workers, they do the best with the crap that they are given. And some school systems are starting to greatly improve meal options for students. This needs to happen for all school districts, not just the ones who can afford it.

Until now, education has focused mainly on the “known” or content of knowledge. It has thus ignored the most fundamental component of learning, the “knower”. However, without a means to develop more than 5% – 10% of a student’s innate potential, no amount of information will ever produce truly educated, truly dynamic, or successful citizens.

We should be advocating for scientifically proven educational programs that can unfold the full creative potential of every student and produce ideal citizens capable of fulfilling their highest aspirations while contributing maximum to the progress of society. By harnessing America’s greatest resource–the unlimited creativity of our over 300 million citizens–we can bring fulfillment to education and ensure America’s competitiveness and continuing leadership in the family of nations.

One simple example is 20 minutes of quiet time in the morning when the student gets to school and in the afternoon before they leave for home. This has been proven to reduce stress levels in students and improve their ability to absorb information throughout the day. The student can spend this quiet time however they like, in meditation, in quiet prayer, resting, reading a good book … something that is relaxing.

The last few paragraphs should be familiar to some of you!

Unfortunately with the focus of the Trump Administration and Secretary Devos we are going in the wrong direction. We should be making sure everyone has equal access, not just for the privileged, but for everyone. Voucher systems have not worked in the past. If it can be proven that voucher systems can provide equal access to equally good education then I’m all for it. But what we have seen to date has not been the case. The voucher system has only been good for the privileged.

And we need to make sure that parents have the ability to participate in the education of their children, that they understand the importance of that participation. And by fully funding education we can help parents in this by removing the costs of education (as well as many other things that should happen to support parents, but that’s for a different post.)

As a taxpayer, as a voter, and more than that, as a compassionate global citizen, I am willing to do what it takes to make sure this happens. I’ll fight for it at the local level, the state level and the federal level.

Education is a right, not a privilege. We should all be working hard for the future of this country by supporting our future generations.

 

 

 

 

What to focus on?

February 11, 2017

Since the inauguration it has been difficult to focus on any one particular issue since everything seems to be under attack. DeVos’ pick for Education Secretary, Scott Pruitt for EPA, Steve Bannon on the National Security Council, the travel ban placed on countries with 90+% muslim populations, the Keystone and Dakota pipelines, not putting his assets into a blind trust and instead having obvious conflicts of interest, eliminating regulations that were put in place to protect consumers from corporations that are more interested in their bottom line profit margin than the well-being of American citizens, deregulation of the financial and real estate industries, denying that climate change is a problem, attack on many of our social programs including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the Affordable Health Act. Since the inauguration it seems that all I’ve been doing is being in reaction mode. Quick, call your Senators for this reason, write this group to oppose that, sign this position to protest or support something … react, react, react.

So I started to think about what it is I would want to focus on instead of just reacting. There are a certain set of issues that I find of most importance to me at the moment. I don’t think I can focus on all the issues, even though I do find most of them very important. But I can’t do that, it would just drive me crazy.

I decided to pause a moment and reflect on the issues that are currently most important to me.

  1. Education. My son is a freshman in college. The average college student graduates with over $30,000 in debt, not to mention the debt that parents take on as well. Wouldn’t it be nice if they weren’t weighed down by such debt right out of the gate? Then there’s the unequal opportunities that our children have around the country. This group of people have better opportunities than others because of where they live, how much money their parents have, the color of their skin or their gender, and more.
  2. The environment. I want my son to grow up in a world that is livable, where he has clean air to breath, clean water to drink, a clean place to live and clean food to eat. And not just him, but his children, and their children and theirs … we need to think seven generations ahead instead of a few financial quarters ahead.
  3. My health and the health of my family. We live in a country whose focus is on disease care instead of health care, and where healthcare is a privilege when it should be a right. Everyone has a right to good quality health care, the care that they need not the care that they can afford. It could be that one of these days I’ll need healthcare but might not be able to afford it. It would be nice to have that without draining my or my family’s finances. Same goes for the rest of my extended family.
  4. My parent’s retirement and my retirement. I want to be able to eventually stop working, sometime before I die. Well, maybe not completely. I’m still waiting to start my dream job, working in a small corner grocery store in a small town and live in a small apartment above it. Anyway … I want to be able to retire and live comfortably, but even that’s under attack right now.

So there they are, the four issues that I want to focus on at the moment. I’m not saying that other issues aren’t important, or that I won’t on occasion write a letter to my representative, call their office, attend their town hall meetings on issues other than these four. I still care about animal welfare, human rights, women’s rights, the issue of our military industrial complex, foreign policy, eliminating the death penalty, revamping our criminal justice system and others.

There is one issue that I think we can all agree needs to have some focus, and that’s our broken democracy, our broken government, our broken election system.  We might not agree on how to resolve the issues facing our democracy, but I think we can all agree that Houston, we have a problem.

And I hope that we can have healthy discussion around all of these issues. I’d love to be able to blog about an issue and have people comment on it, offer their opinions, and not have it turn into petty childish name calling or personal attacks. There is not a single person on this planet that has the same position on every issue that I have. And I would hope that the discussion would be based in fact, not lies, half truths, or hearsay. We all need to fact check before sending things on.

In my humble opinion our country is under attack, our very way of life is under attack, our values are under attack. We are under attack by a group of people who are more interested in keeping their jobs than helping their fellow citizen, a group of people who listen more to people who donate more, a group of people who are more interested not being wrong than doing the right thing, more interested in opposing the “other side” than realizing that there is only one side.

So this is my healthy way of expressing myself, of keeping focused instead of being in a reactionary mode all the time.

Thank you Peter Fox and RPI

August 27, 2016

So long and thanks for all the Fantastically Interesting Semantic Happenings!

I have worked with Peter Fox since April 2002, the last 7 1/2 years at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and before that at University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). But now it is time to say my farewells as I have accepted a new position with a startup company in Boulder, Colorado. My last day with RPI is August 31, 2016.

I have learned a great deal during my time with RPI, and not just by working on funded projects, but from the many students who have stepped through the doors at the Tetherless World Constellation (TWC). It has been a joy to learn about all of the different interests that the students have and the research that they are involved in. These students have a very bright future ahead of them, as is evident by the students who have already graduated from TWC. Working in the field of Semantic Web and Data Science has been a wonderful experience. I even got to teach for a semester, intro to information technology. A … uh … interesting experience.

The funded projects have been my main focus for the time I’ve been with TWC, most notably Virtual Solar Terrestrial Observatory (VSTO), Deep Carbon Observatory, OPeNDAP (an open source software project used within the lab), Resource Discovery for Extreme Scale Collaboration (RDESC), ECOOP, collaborations with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Australia’s CSIRO, and so many more projects and collaborations.

Along the way I have worked with many great coworkers, students, faculty and collaborators. Special shoutout to Stephan Zednik, whom I’ve worked with for almost 10 years now, Evan Patton, who recently received his Doctorate degree and is now working at MIT, and Jacky Carley, for whom the lab would more than likely fall apart if she weren’t there. From Stephan, Evan and Jacky I have learned the most and have gotten to know them well through the years. I don’t think I could name them all here and I don’t want to leave anyone out. You know who you are.

And, of course, there’s Peter Fox, who I consider to be the best supervisor that I have ever had in my 25 years of being a software engineer, and whom I am proud to call a friend. Peter Fox was one of the people who brought me on board at UCAR back in April of 2002. I have enjoyed all my time working with him on all these great projects. He’s the person who has challenged me all along the way, encouraged me to participate in the community, to become a better software engineer and a better person. Thank you Peter for all your guidance and friendship.

But now for something completely different.

I have accepted a position as Senior Software Engineer with Entangled Media, a startup company in Boulder, Colorado developing their app called Younity. Younity looks to be a great application that is installed on your desktop and/or laptop allowing you to share all your files with the devices that you have installed the client app (IOS and Android). Movies, music, documents, pictures … all the content you want to have shared across all your devices without having to store them in the cloud. Content is streamed directly from your desktop/laptop to your devices using the cloud as a relay. It’s pretty cool. I’ll get to learn all about Amazon Web Services, work more in Java and JavaScript, and learn many more technologies along the way. Very excited about this opportunity.

So thanks for all the memories, and I hope to keep in touch with you all.

mrpatrickwest@gmail.com

Skype: mrpatrickwest

facebook: mrpatrickwest

google: mrpatrickwest

Teaching Despite the System

December 14, 2014

I have a friend who is a teacher. We’ve been talking over the past few years about lots of different things, one of those being her career as a teacher, all the things that she does, the students she teaches, the materials she uses, and the educational system in general. Great conversations, to tell you the truth. The things that teachers do these days, teaching our children, future generations, if you will. They are, in effect, responsible for the education of our future leaders, our future workers, our future military, our future thinkers, our future educators, and so many more. They have a huge responsibility. And for the most part, most of them are doing a tremendous job. Well, they’re doing a tremendous job despite what they have been given in an education system that is becoming more and more difficult to teach in, more dysfunctional, and even to learn in.

In some areas the system is getting better. People are starting to recognize more the importance of proper health care and nutrition, and how that impacts our students abilities to learn. At least here in the Boulder Valley School District of Colorado, they are starting to serve healthier lunch choices, not such heavy carbs that inhibits the student’s ability to learn. So kudos to the food services group here in BVSD.

Every two to four years the system has the potential of significant changes made, typically not for the better, but simply because there’s someone new in political office. Mostly because this time around the election swung from a D to an R, or back again. Funny thing is, that that elected official is a lawyer or salesman or rancher or whatever, not an educator. I can’t think of one who is or was an educator. But they seem to have this grand idea of how the education system could be better. Oh wait, not that. It’s because the politicians corporate donors have a better idea of how the education system should be run, one in which would benefit the corporation financially. One that would produce worker drones for future jobs in the corporate world.

No child left behind. Or, as it should be called, leave all children behind. Or was it leaving no child left behind on the road to nowhere. This plan has to date been the worst for our education system.

One of the big issues I have with the education system is the standardized tests. More and more, teachers are forced to teach to the tests, not the subject matter. Teach how to take the tests better. How well the student does has an impact on how well the teacher is graded, how well the school is graded, how well the school district is graded, and so on. It’s not about teaching the student the subject matter, or teaching the student how to learn and be problem solvers, or how to be citizens of our communities. So the incentive is to teach to the tests to make sure the students do well and the teachers and school system receive favorable grades as well.

And more and more, those standardizes tests are being administered by private companies, the tests made up by private companies, the material written by private companies. These corporations are making out like bandits on the backs of our students, but mostly at their expense.

My teacher friend has repeatedly commented on how her job has become increasingly more difficult. That she has so much more paperwork to do, new systems to learn to account for how well the students are doing compared to expectations, which are determined by how well they do on these standardized tests. The teachers are having less and less time to actually teach the students, to help them learn, be present for them, to help them be future members of our society.

What, you ask, do I think should be done about it?

  1. Fully funded education pre-k through college graduation (bachelors or associate).
  2. Instead of basing school funding on property taxes or local taxes, make it equal across the nation, accounting for cost of living of course. But make sure that every student in every school all across the country have the best possible materials.
  3. Better requirements for healthier foods served at the schools. Studies have shown that consuming healthier organic foods, lower carbs, can improve a student’s innate ability to learn, to absorb information.
  4. Quiet time, 20 minutes at the start of the day and 20 minutes at the end of the day. This one helps the students to become present at the school in the morning, to calm them down, get them ready for the day. And at the end of the day to close out, calm down, and prepare for their after school activities and going home. It works, look it up.
  5. Do away with the standardized tests. Teach the subject matter. Teach the kids how to be problem solvers, how to think. Not what to think, but how to think for themselves.
  6. Teach the kids basic tasks that the everyday person does after graduation. How to balance their books, create a budget, cook, be able to take care of themselves.
  7. The Department of Education becomes the Department of Educational Excellence, researching the best environments and systems from all around the world, trying out these ideas in schools, making sure teachers have the best tools that they need to teach.

We can throw more and more information at our students, more and more requirements. But without providing the student’s with the ability to increase and improve their innate ability to learn, none of that will help in the long run.

Semantics … it’s not just software and mathematics.

December 3, 2014

Yes, the implementation of the Semantic Web definitely includes software development and mathematics, but Semantics is soooo much more then that. It’s all about meaning, hence the word Semantics. It has context. It represents concepts and relationships. Could even say that there’s a perspective to the semantics. Making assertions about quality and trust. Who said it’s of high quality and why did they make the assertion. The origins of something, aka provenance. In other words, the Semantic Web has a cognitive component.

Semantics is all about meaning. Not just meaning to a machine, but meaning for a person. The Semantic Web utilizes both when displaying information, depending on the context. If a human browses to a IRI that represents a data collection, for example, then that human would want to view the information as a web page with information that is useful for them. If a machine hits that same IRI and wants to see a particular serialization of RDF of that same information, then that’s what it will see. To both human and machine the information is semantically rich and clear.

The meaning behind terms in an ontology and vocabulary are very, very important. And we want to make sure that we use an ontology in the same spirit of its intention and meaning. If we end up using an ontology and decide that term x means something else to us, then we should create our own term x in our own namespace. We need to leave the external ontology alone. Same with relationships.

And we need to use words taking into account their definition, not subverting it or stretching the meaning of the term. “Well, if you think about it this way then it makes sense.” Well, no … terms like inheres and realizes has a definite definition, and the comment related to the term in the ontology should make that clear. If you have to ask to clarify the term, then it’s not worth using.

To use such properties as “relates”, “related by”, “related”, “realizes”, “inheres in”, and so on is semantically void, especially when the “definition” for the term ‘realizes’ looks like this:

“to say that b realizes c at t is to assert that there is some material entity d & b is a process which has participant d at t & c is a disposition or role of which d is bearer_of at t& the type instantiated by b is correlated with the type instantiated by c. (axiom label in BFO2 Reference: [059-003])”

They call that an elucidation, which supposedly means an explanation that makes something clear, clarification. I don’t know about you, but that is definitely not clear. This “elucidation”, to me, is completely void of semantics.

And to say “project realizes leadership_role”? That means absolutely nothing to me. How did the project realize a leadership role? The project didn’t realize it. That doesn’t make any sense. The project includes a collaborator who plays the role of project lead.

And let’s look at a query:

SELECT ?project ?leader
WHERE {
?project a foaf:Project .
?project grt:000055 ?role .
?role ty:000052 ?leader .
?leader a foaf:Person .
}

WTH! ?project grt:0000055 ?role … what the hell does that mean. What relationship does a project have to a role? Perhaps ?project x:includesCollaboratorWithRole ?role.

And how does a role inhere in a person? Meaning of inhere – exist essentially or permanently in. Does the role essentially or permanently exist in the person? No. The person is playing a role for a period of time with a particular context. Patrick West is playing the role of Principal Software Engineer at the Tetherless World Constellation starting in January 2009 and continuing to this day. Patrick West is also playing the role of Consulting Software Engineer with the National Center for Atmospheric Research starting in 2008. The same person, different roles with different context.

Let’s look at another example of meaning. A foaf:Agent is very different from a prov:Agent. They are not defined as being subclasses of the other, nor should they. The foaf namespace is separate and different from the prov namespace. Let me put it another way … the context of foaf is separate and different from the context of prov. The context for foaf:Agent is in terms of representing a person or organization. Period. The context for prov:Agent is in terms of something that has impact on the derivation of one entity from another, provenance.

So to say that prov:Agent subClass foaf:Agent changes the meaning of prov:Agent. And it changes the meaning not only within the scope of my application, but the meaning for anyone, anywhere, especially when we’re talking about 5-star linked data. There is no such thing as a closed container in the Semantic Web. In other words, just because I’m defining this in the context of a particular application at a particular organization, it doesn’t mean that it stays in the confines of that organization. It’s the Semantic “Web”, as in, World Wide Web. If I have true 5-star linked data then concepts and relationships are resolvable outside of my organization. So if I say prov:Agent subClass foaf:Agent, then I’m saying that about all prov:Agent instances.

What I should be doing is saying that an instance is both a foaf:Agent and a prov:Agent.

myapp:PatrickWest a foaf:Agent,provAgent

In fact, I can pull in the RDF of PatrickWest the foaf:Agent from someplace else, such as the Tetherless World Knowledge Store, because I know that the meaning of foaf:Agent is the same between the use in my app and the TWC use. But if I assert that prov:Agent subClass foafLAgent in my app, then myapp:PatrickWest is not the same as twc:PatrickWest because I’ve added the meaning that PatrickWest is also a prov:Agent.

Yes, mathematically speaking, based on graph theory, I can make that assertion. It’s syntactically correct. But that doesn’t make it valid or right. We should not, can not, modify the meaning of a term in an ontology or namespace that is not ours.

We need to get out of the notion that the Semantic Web is just about software and mathematics. It’s also social, behavioral … has a cognitive component … it MEANS something in a much broader scope, to people as well as machines, all across the Web of Information!

We’re People Too

December 1, 2014

Have you ever been in a restaurant and noticed that your server looks as if they just might be having a tough day? Doing their job, but maybe a little distracted?

Are you the type of person who gets pissed off because they might make a little mistake? Maybe they bring you fries instead of onion rings? Sweet tea instead of unsweetened tea?

Do you yell at your server, make them feel bad? Do you get on their case for every little thing? Do you go in there with the goal of getting something for free? If you order something and don’t like it, not because its cooked wrong or anything, but simply because you just don’t like it, and expect it to be replaced or get it for free?

Your servers are people too. They have lives, husbands, wives, boy friends, girl friends, children, classes to take, trying to get ahead in life, loved ones who depend on them, elders who might need health care, a pet that they love and care for just passed away, and so on and so forth. Just like you and me … They have their own lives that have come together in this one instance. How do you want that encounter to be remembered?

It’s amazing how many people think that they are their servants, not servers. People who don’t take the time to say hey, find out their name, make a nice comment about the way they look, say something nice, thank them for just being there.

When was the last time you asked your server their name? Or at least remembered their name? The last restaurant I went to, Don Pablo’s in West Lafayette, Indiana for me. And her name was Caitlyn. Lovely girl. Thank you Caitlyn for great service, and helping to make my experience with my friends a good one, a memorable one. Thank you.

So I know a few people in the restaurant business, managers or assistant managers, chefs or cooks, servers or hosts. And they have some of the best, and some of the worst, stories.

One story from an assistant manager, has one of his servers coming back into the kitchen in tears because the customer was being so mean, and just couldn’t go back out there on the floor. She was in tears, crying. Why?

So next time you decide to eat out, for whatever reason, you might want to take the time to be nice and have a good experience and a good interaction with probably a really nice person. They are people to, with their own lives, their own ups and downs, their own experiences. So why not be nice to them? As you sow, so shall you reap.

Your perspective related to my perspective

October 11, 2014

Perspective

What a great word. I love that word.

Perspective: “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.” – Google

So two people see something. Even though they are seeing the same thing, they each have a very unique perspective. Not just a different physical perspective, but also mental and emotional perspective.

Let’s examine the case where a person asks a questions or gives a piece of information to someone else. This is the case that caused me to want to write this little post here.

The person has thought of the question. The question is formulated based on the information in their head, information that they know about, they can even picture things in their mind, have an emotional response to certain pieces of information. They’ve painted a mental picture surrounding this question over a certain period of time.

With all that information that the questioner has at their disposal, they seem to assume that the person/people that they ask the question of have that same exact set of information and reaction, the same mental picture, even the same emotional response. The people being asked the question are hearing the question for the first time and have not had time to paint the picture in their minds, and it definitely won’t be the same picture. The questioner assumes that the question is clear, or the reference is clear, or whatever it is. But they couldn’t be further from the truth.

Okay … try this. Put yourself in everyone else’s shoes. From where they’re sitting, how would you ask the question so that it is clear, concise, and to the point and conveys enough information so that they can deliver an answer that is useful to yourself and to them. And how much time have you put into asking the question. Would it not be prudent to allow them to take some time to formulate an answer?

Same with note taking. Don’t assume that everyone sees your perspective on a note. Include links, include definitions, write out acronyms, include enough information so that everyone has the same information, or can get to that information.

And here’s a nice quote that I brought up with someone recently.

I have a perspective on an issue, you have a perspective on the same issue, and somewhere in the middle is the truth.