I'm against UBC joining the NCAA

Posted in Canadian life, Married life, University life at 3:31 pm by ducky

UBC is considering joining the NCAA’s Division II.

As someone who has attended as many US universities as Sarah Palin, let me say that I feel that joining the NCAA Division II would be dangerous. I can’t say that it would be unequivocally a bad idea, but it is likely to be a bad idea. (If it were Division I, I would have no reservations in saying that it would be a bad idea.)

At Division I universities, “revenue sports” — i.e. ones that people hope can bring in more money directly or indirectly (football, basketball, and sometimes baseball) — corrupt in many obvious and non-obvious ways. It might be that Division II doesn’t have revenue sports, so maybe it wouldn’t have the same problems that revenue sports bring.

While revenue sports do not always result in all of these things, these things tend to happen:

  • Weakening of admissions standards. While academic standards for athletes have gotten slightly stricter, they are still pretty weak. While there are many athletes who are fine scholars, there are also numerous cases where admissions and grading standards have been bent into pretzels to accommodate star athletes in revenue sports.
    • I saw this hurt minority students, especially those of African descent. People I respected admitted that when they saw a black face on campus, they assumed that it was an athlete, and hence less academically qualified. (Note that these were not people who harboured animosity towards blacks. They were upset at their own reaction.)
  • Bad behaviour excused. Universities tend to have their own police department. (UBC has sort of a hybrid.) Those departments get pressured to not press charges against star athletes. There is a history of really frightful behaviour on the part of athletes in revenue sports being overlooked.
  • Abuse of the athletes. Star athletes in revenue sports get surrounded by sycophants and encouraged to engage in extremely hazardous behaviours either explicitly or implicitly — playing while hurt, taking performance-enhancing drugs, etc. Almost none of them will get pro careers. The fraction is so close to zero that it is stupid… and they get completely ignored the minute their college career is over. (Go see Hoop Dreams to understand the mechanism.)
  • Overbuilding. Bear with me. When a revenue sport does really well, alumni donations go up. In particular, really rich alumni start to give big hunks of money to construct buildings. (I grew up in the hometown of the University of Illinois. For about fifteen years, the team was crummy, and there were essentially no buildings built on campus. In my fourth year, the football team did extremely well. In the next ten years, the building square footage doubled.) Nobody ever gives huge chunks of money to the maintenance fund, so what happens is that the maintenance and salary gets stretched. Tuition tends to go up as well.
  • Tribalism. Revenue sports can create a highly competitive “us-against-them” mentality that is bad news for anyone who ends up on the “them” side. This is very un-Canadian.
    • Ten years after I graduated, I was put on a work project with a University of Michigan alum (the University of Illinios’ main athletic rival at the time). Much to my surprise and dismay, I had a very strong, visceral, irrational dislike of him because he was from Michigan. (I got over it; he was totally wonderful to work with.)
    • Murray Sperber, a Canadian-born professor at the University of Indiana, received death threats because he dared to voice the opinion that the basketball coach’s was so bad that he should be fired.
    • My fourth year at the University of Illinois, the backup quarterback threw three interceptions in an important game. A friend who lived near him said that for weeks, cars would drive slowly past his house. This seems threatening and uncalled for to me.
  • Expensive tickets. If a team is consistently successful, the tickets become desirable, so the price goes up. Students cannot compete with alumni: they just don’t have as much money. The university might set aside a block of cheap tickets for the students, but at least at the University of Illinois, they were crummy seats.

One argument people make in favor of joining Division II is that it might help keep the top Canadian athletes from going to the US. I say let them go. The percentage of athletes at a university is very small; the number of “top athletes” will be even smaller. I do not thinkk it is appropriate to change the culture of a university on the hopes of attracting five people per year? Five people who are good at something other than the university’s core mission? I would much rather that UBC work on attracting the top scholars instead of the top athletes.

I believe that revenue sports are a dangerous, corrupting, un-Canadian institution.


Hire me!

Posted in Canadian life, Eclipse, Hacking, programmer productivity at 3:28 pm by ducky

I am looking for a job. If you know anybody in the Vancouver area who is looking for a really good hire, point them at this blog posting or send them to my resume.

Ideally, I’d like a intermediate (possibly junior, let’s talk) Java software development position, preferably where I could become an expert in Java-based web applications. (Java because I think it has the best long-term prospects. My second choice would be a Ruby position, as it looks like Ruby has long-term staying power as well.) I believe that I would advance quickly, as I have very broad experience with many languages and environments.

Development is only partially about coding, and I am very, very strong in the secondary skills. While studying programmer productivity for my MSCS. I uncovered a few unknown or poorly known, broadlly applicable, teachable skills that will improve programmer productivity. Hire me, and not only will you get a good coder, I make the coders around me better.

I am particularly good at seeing how to solve users’ problems, sometimes problems that they themselves do not see. I am good both at interaction design, at seeing the possibilities in a new technology, and seeing how to combine the two. I have won a few awards for web sites I developed.

I also have really good communication skills. I’ve written books, I blog, and I’ve written a number of articles. I even have significant on-camera television experience.

If you want a really low-stress way of checking me out, invite me to give a talk on programmer productivity. (I like giving the talk, and am happy to give it to basically any group of developers, basically any time, any where in the BC Lower Mainland. Outside of the Lower Mainland, you have to pay me for the travel time.)

Do you know of any developer opportunities that I should check out? Let me know at ducky at webfoot dot com.


Vancouver's ambition

Posted in Canadian life, Random thoughts at 10:15 pm by ducky

Paul Graham wrote an interesting essay called Cities and Ambition, in which he put forth the idea that different places had different messages about what was important. He said that in the following places, the following goal was most valued by the community that lived there:

  • New York: being rich
  • Silicon Valley: being powerful (which I would rephrase as “changing the world for the better via technology”)
  • Boston (Cambridge): being smart
  • LA: being famous
  • DC: being connected
  • Berkeley/SF: living better (which I would rephrase as “becoming a better person”)
  • Paris: appreciating art better
  • London: being high-class (aristocratic)

There’s no way you can prove or disprove something as fuzzy and general as this, but it feels correct to me. I remember how right it felt to move back to Silicon Valley from LA. In LA, I was on the sidelines, what I cared about was just not at all what LA was interested in. In Silicon Valley, everything aligned with what I cared about.

I naturally thought about my current home, Vancouver. What does Vancouver say? My immediate thought was that Vancouver tells you that you should have work/life balance.

My friend Michelle Chua has a slightly different take. She thinks that Vancouver tells you that you should have fun.

Michelle pointed out that there were ten game companies within a two-block radius of my house. She thinks that the game and film industry do well here because they are all about having fun, and fun is legitimate here. Interesting.



Posted in Canadian life at 1:36 pm by ducky

Woohoo!  I am no longer confined to Canada!  I got my work permit yesterday, which gives me the right to re-enter Canada.  As soon as I handed in my thesis, I could no longer enter Canada on my study permit.  I was legally allowed to stay for 90 days to look for a job, file for permits, etc., but crossing the border would have voided that right.

I have heard two theories behind the re-entry restriction.

  • If people bolted the moment they finished their degree, that called into question how committed they actually were to staying in Canada.
  • The Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) processing centre in Vegreville, Alberta, is chartered to work for people who are in Canada.  If you leave, you are not in Canada, and hence out of their scope.

We talked to a border agent before I graduated, and he seemed to strongly insinuate that they would probably look the other way for short trips into Bellingham, as that didn’t violate the spirit of the law, just the letter.  However, that didn’t seem like a risk worth taking.

So now we have our permits, and I am a happy camper.

I want to say that I adore Canadian bureaucracy.  Aside from some minor difficulty entering for the first time on my study permit due to the border agent being a bit unclear on what my permit allowed me to do, all of my interactions with Canadian bureaucracy have been pleasant.

I have a total heart-throb crush on the CIC bureaucracy in particular.   My interactions with CIC have not only been pleasant, they have been astonishing.

  • I forgot a form on my last study/work and Jim’s work permit extension paperwork.  They *phoned* me to tell me that, and to ask what I wanted to do about it — do two of the three permits and get a refund, or fax in the form?
  • Vegreville keeps up-to-date a website on how long they are taking to process forms.  International Post-Graduation Work Permit (a three year permit not tied to any employer) is listed as only 13 business days.  They processed ours in TWO!!!!  Wow.

Vegreville, xoxoxoxoxox I love you!!!


overzealous security

Posted in Canadian life at 12:14 pm by ducky

There were some stories recently about how the Vancouver Olympic Committee was looking for 900,000 person-hours of additional security from private-security firms in the three months before the Olympics. From the article, they are worried about weapons of mass destruction and attacks on “soft targets” like restaurants and hotels.

Um, excuse me: but how does posting a rent-a-cop outside Joe’s Bar and Grill keep a van full of goons with submachine guns from attacking it? How does posting a rent-a-cop (or even ten or one hundred) from setting off a truck bomb as it passes over the Lion’s Gate bridge?

It seems to me to be completely, totally, utterly pointless to spend more money on private security agents. All that will do is make people uncomfortable. If they really want to be effective, they need to spend money on more and better investigators to find the baddies before they get very far, more and better border agents to find munitions before they get in, and more and better bomb-sniffing equipment (to help find the munitions).

This is nothing but security theatre, and I resent my tax dollars being spent on it.


Welcome to Canada, please stay

Posted in Canadian life, Random thoughts, University life at 4:29 pm by ducky

Canada made a change yesterday to the International Student Post-Graduation Work Permit. From about two years ago to yesterday, there was a program in place where if you

  • graduated from a Canadian college or university
  • had a job offer
  • applied for a permit

then you could get a work permit for a year at the company you had the offer from. The company would not have to go through a process of proving that there were no Canadians who could do the job. (If you and said company parted ways, you could change the permit.)

One catch of the program was that while you were not working, you couldn’t leave the country without forfeiting the right to that permit. You were legally allowed to be in the country and look for work. (You just couldn’t leave.)

For many people, not being able to leave might not be a hardship, but I have lots of family two hours south of UBC. If something happened to my mother, I would need to leave Canada. So I figured I had to have a job before I graduated, and looking for work while trying to finish my thesis was a pain.

Now, the requirement for a job offer has been dropped, and the period has been extended. I have get the right to live and work in Canada for three years or as long as my program of study was, whichever is smaller. (This probably means two years.) Not only that, it is a totally open work permit. I can work for anyone, and I can even not work for an employer (i.e. I could consult if I can’t find a Real Job).

This relieves the stress of looking for a job enormously!



Posted in Canadian life, Married life, Random thoughts at 9:26 am by ducky

My beloved husband has been wanting to try snowboarding for a while. When I realized late on Thursday that Good Friday was a statutory holiday, we made very quick plans to go to Grouse Mountain, a local ski area. Jim and I talked by phone briefly, and later in the day, when I was in the midst of something, got a message from him, asking me to to confirm that I wanted him to go ahead and buy tickets etc. Sure, sure, go ahead.

Um. I didn’t read the email carefully. He asked if he should buy snowboard rental and lessons for both of us. And I said yes. Oooooops.

I took one snowboarding lesson seventeen years ago that was a total disaster. I was up at Tahoe for a M-F trip, and took the lesson on Monday. I was so sore that I couldn’t ski on Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday. Friday, I gave up and came home.

I was thus quite nervous about another lesson, especially since I am seventeen years older now. However, the instructor was better, and I am seventeen years wiser. I didn’t try to push it, and took frequent rest breaks. The snow was also nice and soft yesterday — there had been about 11 cm of new snow in the past 24 hours, and so I fell into nice fluffy stuff and not onto ice. (A ski patrol guy we sat next to at lunch told us that he was not allowed to ever say that the snow conditions were “icy”. He was required to say that the snow was “hard”.)

Looking at the lesson from a distance, you wouldn’t think it would be so strenuous. After all, I would simply slide down a little hill, sit down, rest, take off my board, stand up, walk up the hill, sit down, rest, put on my board, stand up, repeat. So it would be sort of like walking up a hill carrying a relatively light board, sitting down and resting every five minutes.  Not so hard, right?


  • While you are sliding down, you have to have your knees bent and springy. This takes some exertion.
  • There are two ways to go down: facing down the hill and facing up the hill. In both cases, you have to lean into the uphill edge. I found going down while facing up the hill enormously physically strenuous for my feet. I found pulling my toes up (to dig in my heels) much easier than pushing them down. I could pull up my toes by pulling up my whole foot. It didn’t seem to be adequate to push my foot (e.g. the balls of my feet) down with my calf; it seemed I also needed to push with my toes e.g. tense the muscles in my arch. I happen to have a very very narrow foot with a very high arch, so it felt like I didn’t have a lot of muscle mass in my arch to point my toes down. It was actually painful to go down the hill pushing with my toes. I suspect that I was doing something wrong.
  • Standing up on the board from a sitting position when facing down the mountain, is really difficult, and takes quite an exertion of strength. Your feet and board are way in front of your center of gravity. You have to get your center of gravity above the board — while still keeping pressure on the uphill edge of the board. What I learned to do was to grab the downhill edge with my right hand and pulling while pushing myself up with my left hand. Jim’s physical geometry and flexibility are such that he was not able to grab the downhill edge of the board like I could.
  • While standing up, if you let the pressure off of the back edge of the board, the board will start to slide. Having the board slide while you are shifting weight is a really easy way to cause you to immediately re-enter a sitting position. Thus, the number of standing-ups  probably averaged four or five per trip down.

Note: It is much easier to stand up if you are facing uphill with your board downhill from you because you can get your center of gravity several feet off the ground just by kneeling. However, then you are facing up the mountain, which is difficult. Once I learn how to do turns reliably (shifting from looking uphill to looking downhill), my life will be much better.

Jim wants to do three or four more snowboarding lessons. Ulp. I guess the exercise will be good for me.


Western medicine

Posted in Canadian life, Random thoughts, Too Much Information at 9:11 pm by ducky

Western medicine is amazingly good in some ways. They can sometimes cure things you didn’t even know were wrong with you.

The docs discovered my mom’s PMP on a CAT scan they did looking at what they think was diverticulitis, an annoying but generally easy to treat disease. I believe that she is totally recovered thanks to that early diagnosis. Me, I went to the doctor because I had a bump on my arm, and they ended up checking me out for cancer. (It wasn’t, but it could have been.)

I went to the doctor for three pretty innocuous things. I might not have gone if there were only one, but three together pushed me over some sort of tipping point.

  • The most important thing was that a bump on my arm — which the docs had told me was fine but to keep an eye on — looked different. The skin around it was peeling slightly.
  • One was that my urine output didn’t seem as “forceful” as it should. My brother-in-law had had fibroids in his urinary tract, and the thought crossed my mind that I might have something similar.
  • The last one was so trivial that I honestly can’t remember what it was.

They said my bump was infected slightly. They said that when the infection died down, they could take it off if I wanted. I did and they did.

They seemed far more interested in my urine output, and that ended up causing a cascade of diagnostic tests which culminated in them taking out a polyp six weeks ago. While it turned out to be nothing, there was a non-zero chance that it could have been cancer, where early detection probably would have saved my life.

And that underperforming urine stream?  That thing which seemed too trivial for a visit to the doctor on its own?  It got robust again all on its own.

I am just astounded at how random life is. In only a slightly different version of the universe, I could be saying, “A bump on my arm saved my life.”

the brain is really strange

Posted in Canadian life, Random thoughts, Too Much Information at 8:22 pm by ducky

The brain is really strange. Or maybe I should say, “my brain is really strange”.

The surgery that I mentioned in my last posting was to remove a tiny little uterine polyp. While polyps are almost always benign, I knew that uterine cancer was really nasty. (The Wikipedia article on uterine cancer seems to indicate that it’s usually only nasty if you are post-menopause, but I didn’t read that article until I researched this posting.)

So five months ago, when their diagnostics first surfaced the possibility of a polyp, I could have been really freaked out about it. Fortunately, I am really good at denial for health/safety issues: I once hid away a fear of heights, I was unfazed by a good friend’s 7 cm breast cancer tumour, and I took my mother’s PMP in stride.

Unfortunately, I am not good at denial when it comes to bureaucracy. I was actually quite anxious about the bureaucratic aspect of the prospect of uterine cancer. I was worried that if I got cancer, I would be disqualified from getting Canadian Permanent Residency. I’d have to leave Canada when I graduated, and that would put me in the US without health insurance and with a history of cancer. This seemed absolutely horrible to me.

Intellectually, I realized that it was rather strange to be worried about losing a visa than about losing my life, but that’s how my brain worked.

Perhaps partly this is because I have seen a lot of friends and family have really seriously hugely awful bad things happen to them, and almost all of them pulled through. The friend who had that 7cm breast cancer tumour five years ago is not just alive but very active. Mom had surgery that required 40 stitches and is — as far as anyone can tell — completely recovered. A high school friend got multiple meyeloma, which is one of the deadliest, deadliest forms of cancer there is. One friend got throat cancer three years ago and is still talking.   Another friend got leukemia, was in remission for three years, and has been fighting again for about two years. Even cousin Ellen was in remission for three years after (criminally) late treatment of her breast cancer.

On the other hand, I’ve seen lots of snafus with paperwork. Constantly. All the time. (Like how the Canadian government couldn’t figure out for the longest time that I spell “Kaitlin” with a “K” and not a “C”!) So in some ways, it is easier for me to believe that bureaucracies would destroy me than that cancer would destroy me.


funny statistics?

Posted in Canadian life, Random thoughts, University life at 11:30 pm by ducky

Last night, my beloved husband and I went to see Zarqa Nawaz (the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie) speak at our local gorgeous performing arts hall.

Her talk was wonderful and funny and thought-provoking — I’m really glad I went.

One of the points that she made was that when a Muslim does something bad, there are cries about how this is just one more example of how Islam as a religion is repressive/bad/evil/ugly/whatever, but nobody tars Christianity or white culture if someone white does something bad. One thing that she mentioned was that the leading cause of death of pregnant women in the US was homicide, but that nobody talks about how US culture is brutal to women

I was shocked by the statistic. But thinking about that this morning, I started to wonder about how meaningful that statistic was. What else are pregnant women going to die of?

  • If a woman is pregnant, she’s not going to be old, so she is much less likely to die from diseases of old age. Pregnant women probably don’t die of heart disease very often.
  • If a young woman has some nasty illness, she’s probably not going to be pregnant. Either her body won’t have the resources to get pregnant, or she’ll have the baby and take steps to not get pregnant again, or the illness (or medications) will cause her to lose the baby.
  • Pregnant women usually don’t put themselves in dangerous situations. Women generally don’t hang out in war zones, mine coal, drive trucks, or enter motorcycle races once they find out they are pregnant. (And before they find out they are pregnant, they might also get missed by the statistics.)

While yes, it is bad that homicide is the leading cause of pregnant women in the US, I’d like to see how it compares to US women of childbearing age who are not pregnant, to US men of the same age, and the same numbers for different countries.

I did a little digging, and found some stats at the Violence Policy Center (VPC) and some stats at the US Bureau of Justice (BOJ):

  • Black women were more than three times as likely to be murdered than white women.
  • Women were more than 11 times as likely to be murdered by a man they knew than by a stranger (VPC).
  • When the woman knew her murderer, 60% of the time, it was an intimate or ex-intimate according to VPC.  However, according to the Bureau of Justice, about a third of women were killed by their intimates.  (Maybe the difference is due to different classification of “intimates”.  VPC includes ex-intimates.)
  • Only about three percent of male victims are killed by their intimates (BOJ).
  • In 90% of the cases where the race of both victim and murderer were know, the woman was killed by men of a different race!!! (BOJ)
  • The number of women killed by their intimates in the US was pretty stable for 20 years, and then started falling in 1993.  It’s at its lowest point ever right now. (BOJ)
  • The number of men killed by their intimates in the US has been falling steadily and dramatically for the past 30 years. (BOJ)

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