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Monday, February 08, 2016

#SundayReads 7-Feb-2016

Charlie writes: During this week I only read one book:

Old 300: Gone to Texas, by Paul N Spellman, 2014, self-published, ISBN: 1497470587

My father-in-law took me along to the yearly meeting of the San Jacinto Historical Society, here in Houston, TX. The author delivered an entertaining talk about his research into the 300 families who were granted properties under the Empresario Samuel F. Austin during the years 1822-1826. Dr. Spellman has been teaching Texas history for a generation, to fourth and seventh grade classes, to university students, and most recently at Wharton County Junior College in Richmond, TX, and felt that it was time to document three issues:

  • Who were these people?
  • Why did they come to Texas?
  • Where did they come from, and how did they get here?

Professor Spellman was able to lay hands on the original land records in the Texas Land Office in Austin, and then tracked back through census records to conclude that there was at least one family with a connection to each of the 24 United States at the time, and some from Ireland and Canada. He also discovered that not all the 300 were huge, poor families, although there were many who fit that bill. While Austin tried his best to keep out bandits, and had confronted five escaped convicts, throwing out two, not all the folks were necessarily upstanding characters. There were a handful of women who arrived as widows when husbands died on the perilous journeys to the Brazos and Colorado River basins. It seemed that the land route through Nacogdoches and the "Piney Woods" was easier than the skiff journeys over the sand bars of the Gulf of Mexico from New Orleans.

The book also used the word "filibuster" in a sense I had never encountered, meaning "a person engaging in unauthorized warfare against a foreign country." There had been some earlier attempts by citizens of the USA to invade Mexico and settle the northern portions, but Moses Austin had proposed to settle Anglo farmers who were willing to live under the Mexican catholic administration on tax-free plots to encourage the development of the area. Of course, this settlement approach ended up not lasting very long. In fact, the original grant was made by a government which was overthrown before he could mobilize his settlers, and his son Steven had to travel to Mexico City to renew the deal with the new administration, taking him nearly a year (during which he learned Spanish!).

You will find some of these 300 names, like Fulshear, Dickinson, Austin, Bastrop, Kerrville and Stafford across Texas today. The Texas Rangers date from these early years, and the importation of slaves also dates from this time.

The book was a long read, but carefully drawn. His original draft had been nearly 600 pages, so the 400+ represented quite an abbreviation. Dr. Spellman also quotes a few pages from other histories to give a taste for the challenges experienced by various families. I was particularly interested in his quotes from various, conflicting accounts of the first deaths recorded amongst these 300 families in attacks by the local Native Americans (p 194-196). This explains why history can be somewhat difficult to pin down.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

#SundayReads 31-Jan-2016

Charlie Writes:

During our sabbatical time, reading has become a priority. Noticing Kajsa Hallberg-Adu's weekly reading list inspired me to report in on mine as well. Not sure I'll be able to keep up the tempo, but it will keep me accountable....

Readings this week:

Children of the Earth: My Memories of EARTH University's History, Jose A. Zaglul, EARTH University, 2010. 221 pages.

This paperback, available in English translation as well as the original Spanish version, is sold at the Gift Shop on the EARTH University Campus in Guacimo, Costa Rica. Dr. Zaglul is the founding president of EARTH University, another institution benefitting from the Master Card Foundation scholarships program. Mary Kay and I had visited their Guacimo campus in Costa Rica for two days last week, and were eager to read the founder's take on the challenges of creating a university on a former banana and livestock plantation in the humid tropics of Limon province. The campus has about the same land area as Stanford University and teaches tropical agriculture.

I was very interested to read about the origins of their yearly international festival, organized by the students themselves, which has as one object the funding of travel for family members of graduates who would not be able to attend commencement otherwise. Also fascinating was the similarity of emphasis on entrepreneurship and ethics, with the additional "justice" component in their educational model. I think there should be ongoing collaboration between the schools, and hope that I can contribute to making that happen. While there, we had dinner with five students from Ghana, who explained how they had endured a "crash" course in Spanish while living with local farming families for the trimester before starting classes. We were humbled to even imagine attempting college in a foreign language, but they seemed to be thriving.

Liz Coleman speaks on Liberal Arts Education

The problem is there is no such thing as a viable democracy made up of experts, zealots, politicians and spectators.

Vulnerability in Teaching

Vulnerability as a teaching strategy. Some motivation for me to share my struggles in CS111 this past term on our blog.

Against The Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, Peter L. Bernstein, John Wiley & Sons, 1996. 0-741-12104-5

A romp through the history of probability and statistics, concentrating the later chapters on the famous economists and behavioral scientists who presaged Freakonomics. The final few chapters' discussed the "porfolio insurance" meltdown of the 1990s and what it implied about the hubris of quants. These guys developed illiquid derivatives that proported to re-allocate risk, making the market safer. At the time, the author seemed convinced that the regulation of this activity was un-necessary, as the big banks just were too big to fail. Written a dozen years before the sub-prime mortgage collapse, it was odd to contrast with the events recorded in the book and movie The Big Short.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Charlie writes:
Practical Ethics at Ashesi University: Discipline inspired by faith

Clipart from Troy State University's website: "Plagiarism: It's Not a Laughing Mattter"

Teaching at Ashesi University College is an honor, but the ethical component of the work became more intense this last term.

I was teaching Ashesi first-year students studying business administration or management information systems an introduction to computing and programming course. That course's broad syllabus includes topics like how to generate a strong password, what is the internet, scientific prefixes used in computing, building and using basic databases, navigating email and the moodle-based software used for classes at Ashesi, and constructing a personal Linked-In page. We also introduced computer programming, using javascript, the "language of the web."

After designing an interactive web page with javascript, we went on to develop an electronic "battleship" game. In class, we showed how a series of buttons on the page could be linked to functions to play this game. The second programming assignment had the students generalize the individual button functions into a single handler with a parameter in order to make the code easier to read or extend. We also wanted the students to realize that editing existing code is often part of programming work.

The students pushed back that they were having problems with this assignment, so we presented other examples of functions with arguments and extended the deadline.

While grading the submissions we realized that many of them were either identical or very similar to others. On my invitation, Ashesi's Dean of Students presented the school's position about copying work on individual assignments the following week. I set about warning the 15 students who had submitted solutions identical to one or two others.

Ashesi uses an "Informal Resolution" process, where instructors can administer various sanctions in cases where a student has not kept with the standards we expect. The instructor can select from a range of sanctions less severe than failing the class, and the student my accept that sanction or appeal to the Ashesi Judicial Council (AJC) if they feel unfairly punished. The lecturer must report the evidence and the sanction to the Dean of Students, to prevent any student from avoiding AJC after multiple "Informal Resolutions" in different classes.

I initially proposed a sanction of a zero on the assignment plus a warning, but after having administered this to the 15 students, our Dean felt the school's administration wouldn't find that sanction rigorous enough.

My missionary colleague spent some time the next week coaching me through what message I needed to send, and what sanctions I felt sent that message. I ended up with a two-tier scheme. After further examination, I found there were 20 additional students who had submitted nearly identical solutions, changed just enough to avoid detection by submitting identical files. These seemed a more serious issue, deserving of a more severe sanction.

Side-by-Side comparison of two submissions, red text identical, green text changed slightly to hide the plagiarism.

I constructed a somewhat more complicated game as a makeup assignment, which we expected each of the 35 students to complete without copying each other's work. This makeup was worth no points, but was required in order to pass the course. Both groups were given a zero on the original assignment. The group with similar submissions were also docked a half grade on their final course grade.

The logistics of meeting with the original fifteen students a second time, the 20 new students, executing the agreements, presenting evidence in one case of a student who had a prior "Informal" and whose case was promoted to the AJC directly, and the emotions raised over the whole scandal were probably the most difficult few weeks I have experienced here at Ashesi. Yet, after a few weeks of time away and reflection over how I enforced expectations, I feel the effort was consistent with Ashesi's mission to train a new generation of ethical entrepreneurs who will transform Africa.

Monday, January 27, 2014

My New Friend, Abel

Mary Kay writes:

I want to introduce you to a young man that I have just met.  His name is Sampana Abel, and he lives in Bolgatanga.  He completed Junior High School in June, and took his Basic School Certificate Examinations at that time.  These examinations are the culmination of primary and junior high school in Ghana, and your score on the BSCE determines whether you will go to high school or not.  Abel scored well enough in his exams to move on and received notification that he had a place at Bawku Technical High School. 
But Abel has had a difficult childhood.  His childhood home in the village was destroyed in a storm.  Six of his siblings have died at very young ages, leaving him with only a brother and a sister surviving.  His parents have suffered from poverty and illness and were homeless for some time.  Abel had nowhere to stay until a local woman took him in, in exchange for him working on her farm and around her house; the work was hard, and life was not easy.  Often Abel couldn’t go to school because he had to work.  Lately, though not an orphan, he has been living in an orphanage run by a friend of mine, Mama Laadi, outside of Bolgatanga.
In Ghana, secondary education is not free.  Most high schools are boarding schools, so in addition to tuition costs, money was needed for room and board.  By the time Abel was able to pull together enough money for his school fees at the end of October, school had already started.  When Abel showed up, the Headmaster told him that the class was full and there was no room for him.
Abel tried to get into other schools in the area, but they were all full.  A couple of schools would have been willing to take him into the freshman class, if Abel were willing to pay a bribe to make it worth the school administrator’s effort.  Of course, Abel barely had the money for school fees, so he couldn’t afford to pay any bribes on top of that.
While watching television one night, Abel and Mama Laadi saw  a program sponsored by the Methodist Church Ghana.  During the program, the show advertised the Methodist Education Unit and provided a phone number to call for more information about attending a Methodist School.  Abel called and asked about schools in the Upper East Region and the potential for assistance to impoverished students .  He was referred to his local Methodist minister, Very Rev. Samuel K. Bessa-Simons.
Very Rev. Bessa-Simons met with Mama Laadi and Abel and told him about the new Methodist Senior Technical School that will open in January in Sakote.  While the Sakote school does not have boarding facilities, it turns out that Sakote is Abel’s home village.  His parents are back living in Sakote, so he will have a place to live and go to school.  In fact, one of my photographs of women at the new boreholes in Sakote included Abel’s mother in it!
Abel wants to thank Living Word UMC and the friends he has never even met for providing such a great facility for his village.  He is excited about the opportunity to get an education and promises to work hard.  When I asked him what he wanted to be now that he will get an education, he didn’t know how to answer.  He said, “I never thought I would have the opportunity to get an education, so I never thought about what I could be.”  After some contemplation, though, he said he would like to become either a pastor or a teacher.
We may never know the number of lives we touch or the impact we have on others, but every once in a while, God gives us a glimpse of the difference we can make in one young man’s life!  Thank you, Living Word, for your love for Ghana and for making education available for young men and women like Abel.
"Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of one who has no sense  The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool  of a fool invites ruin."   Proverbs 10:13-14 (NIV)

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Mary Kay's Aggie Award

Charlie writes:

Last month, Mary Kay was named a Distinguished Graduate of the Zachary Department of Civil Engineering at her alma mater, Texas A&M University.

Her citation read:
     Mary Kay says her civil engineering father, Daniel D. Clinton, Jr. P.E. '52 inspired her to become a civil engineer when he guided her through a 6th grade report on using math in civil engineering. Numerous trips to Aggie football games -- and the family picnics with Tinsley's fried chicken -- sparked her love of A&M traditions and pageantry. When her father said she could go wherever she wanted for college but he only would pay for A&M, she didn't want to call his bluff.
     Mary Kay's days at A&M were filled with activities ranging from President of Chi Epsilon, Dean's Student Advisory Council, ASCE, Concrete Canoe Team, to founding member fo the MSC Legislative Forum Group. Her fondest memory is the "Camraderie" of classmates during late night study sessions, slaving in the basement computer lab trying to get a program to run, and building the "Rock" and "Rock-elle" concrete canoes. She says nothing could top "the days when the CEs would take over and open and close the Dixie Chicken and have our big domino tournament. That was what really defined us as CE majors!" She credits Dr. Gene Marquis as a great advisor, friend and mentor. He required hard work and had high expectations "but was always willing to take time to explain a difficult concept to us -- as many times as it took for us to get it."
     When she was 35 years old, Mary Kay was named the Design Manager for the F. Wayne Hill Water Reclamation Facility in Atlanta, the first (1997) wastewater treatment plant designed to meet drinking water standards. The facility discharges to the lake that supplies water to much of metropolitan Atlanta. After overcoming many hurdles, the award-winning $200 million project was completed on time and on budget.
     As stated in Mary Kay's nomination, "she is doing something that most of us have never done ... using her civil engineering skills to provide people in poverty with safe drinking water and improved living conditions." Mary Kay's biggest career step was leaving the corporate world to use her civil engineering skills in Ghana, West Africa to establish the Methodist Development and Relief Services' water program that has supplied clean, abundant water for rural families. Also under her leadership, a new Pure Home Water charitable organization fabrication facility has been constructed to distribute appropriate technology water filters throughout Ghana.
     The Clintons are an Aggie family. Her grandfater helped establish the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. Her father, uncle, sister, brother and now her nephew all wear maroon. Her husband, Dr. Charles W. Jackson, IV, P.E. BSME/MIT, MS, PhD ME/Stanford University is a math professor at Ashesi University in Ghana. Son Chip Jackson is a PhD Aerospace Engineering student at Virginia Tech, and son Ken Jackson has completed his freshman year in Computer Science at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

We were thrilled that Mary Kay's parents, uncle Kenneth and sister Laura, as well as our son Ken, were able to join with us in the celebration.
 Following is her acceptance speech:

Dr Autenrieth, Faculty Members, Students and fellow Aggie CE graduates and supporters, it is a great honor and privilege to be recognized this evening as a Distinguished Graduate of the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering. It is hard to believe that thirty-four years ago, I sat in the atrium of Zachry with several thousand other fish engineers as the Dean of Engineering told us to look at those seated on either side of us -- only one of the three of us would graduate in engineering. It was hard work, with lots of late nights studying, waiting for printouts to see if our computer programs ran, and of course, the nights at the Chicken playing dominoes. But for those of us who graduated four (or five or six) years later, the hard work was worth it. Our time at A&M -- both academic and extracurricular -- shaped who we are today.
I have always wanted to be a civil engineer. My twenty-three year career as a municipal consultant was fulfilling -- all I ever dreamed. I had the opportunity to work with great clients to help solve the challenges posed by the rapid growth in the southeast US in the 80s and 90s. I managed the design of wastewater facilities ranging from 1 MGD to over 200 MGD, and worked on leading edge projects incorporating the use of ozone and membranes into wastewater treatment -- now common practice, but innovative at the time. I loved my work.
But all of this was just the prologue.
According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Report for 2013, about 768 million people, a little over 10% of the world's population, does not have access to adequate supplies of safe drinking water. We have made great strides -- in 2006, there were 1.1 billion people without access to safe water. But there is still a long way to go. And we are not talking about access to 80 gallons per person per day -- the amount we use on average here in the USA. We are talking about the basic human right to a mere 5 gallons per day -- within a 30-minute walk of your home.
At the same time, 2.5 billion people, over one-third of the world's population, do not have the dignity of access to an improved sanitation facility. And over 1 billion of these people practice open defecation - going out into the forest or behind bushes to do their business. All of this results in death, disease and a reduced standard of living for everyone, not just the poorest of the poor. In 2009, the WHO reported that water related disease was the leading cause of death in the world, killing 3.4 million people every year. In Ghana alone, 30,000 children die of preventable diarrheal disease each year. The vast majority of these deaths are children under 5 -- the future of the world.
In 2002, I had the privilege of visiting Ghana for the first time. While our family was there for two weeks on a short mission trip, we fell in love with her tropical climate, warm and friendly people, and rich cultural heritage. But at the same time, we saw villages without water and children drinking from rivers or ponds. At that time, my two boys started asking why children had to live that way and whether or not I could do something about it.
At the same time, I clearly felt the call of God on my life -- to love the least in this world as He loves them. God clearly showed me that while no one is dying of waterborne disease in the US, His children around the world ARE dying. God had given me the talents and A&M had given me the education to be able to make a difference, so what would I do to meet that challenge?
In 2006, I quit my consulting job with Metcalf and Eddy to pursue a new dream. Our family moved to Ghana, where I work with the Methodist Church of Ghana to bring water and sanitation to remote rural villages.
The most fulfilling part of my career is now. It is not the most technologically advanced work - pit latrines and clay or stone pot filters have been in use for thousands of years. But it is the most significant work I will ever do. Whenever I go to a village and distribute ceramic pot filters, or drill a borehole, all the small children gather around. I love to spend time interacting with them -- teaching them a song or just chasing them around the village. But the best part is knowing that these children will now have a much greater chance of growing up to live full and productive lives, all because I have given them a cup of water in Jesus' name.
Living as a missionary in Africa is not everyone's calling. Certainly, if you had told me at graduation that thirty years later I would be telling you these stories, I would have thought you had rocks in your head. But we are all called to care, and we are all called to make a difference in this world. I challenge each of you to find something you are passionate about that makes the world a better place. Dream big -- change the world. You may not be able to change everything, but you will make a difference. And life is much better when you are living your dream and are passionate about what you are doing.
And to God by the glory for all the things I have been able to accomplish.
Thank you.
 I'm proud of you, Mary Kay!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Big Day in Buiyilli

Mary Kay writes:

Last week, my friend Reed Hoppe wrote a great article about me for The Mission Society's news feed. I hope you read it through my Facebook or Twitter feeds.  If not, you can read it here.  I thought you would like to see the next installment of the story.

Today was the big day in Buiyilli.  The activity started early at the Pure Home Water office, as our staff assembled and prepared to take 58 filters to the village of Buiyilli in the Tolon District of Northern Ghana.  We picked up Jason Von Behren, the American missionary who had identified the need for clean water in Buiyilli and raised the funds for the filters, and set off to the village.  Over an hour later, driving down a VERY dusty and bumpy dirt road, we arrived in Buiyilli.

Upon arriving, the PHW staff set things up.  This is what 58 filters look like all lined up:

The women started gathering as well.  We had asked them to bring soap and basins of water for washing the buckets.  We were expecting about 50 women, but had many more than that gather.  You can see how poor the water quality in Buiyilli is - and I saw many women and children drink this water during the course of the day.  When you are thirsty, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!

Peter (in the blue shirt) and Abraham (with the microphone) did a great job of demonstrating how to clean and put the filter together and how to take care of it properly.  The village children were restless, of course, but the women listened attentively.

After the demonstration, I gave a small message on Psalm 115 and God's love for the village and Jesus the Living Water.  I stressed to the villagers that it was not me or Jason that brought the filters to the village, but God who had heard their pleas for safe water to drink.  I also told them that just as they will be proud to share the water from these filters with their visitors as a gesture of hospitality, so too they should share the Living Water of Jesus with their friends and visitors.  Everyone that drinks the water should know that it comes from a God who loves the people of Buiyilli and give thanks to Him!

Afterward the women collected their filters, cleaned them and got them ready for use.

The women of Buiyilli wanted to say a big THANK YOU to the donors in Atlanta, Jason, Pure Home Water, and most of all to Jesus for the gift of safe water for themselves and their children!

It was a long, hot day, but finally we had all the filters cleaned and ready to be used.  The villagers started heading for their homes, the women carefully carrying their new filters on their heads.  And we climbed back in the trucks and started the long, dusty trip back to town.

But I intentionally didn't say I would tell you "the rest of the story" in the first paragraph.  I don't know the plans God has for Buiyilli, but I do know that amazing things are happening here, as God brings His Light to a formerly dark corner of the planet.  I am grateful that I got to be a little part of Buiyilli's story today.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Having the name "Charles" in Ghana

Charlie writes:

On one of my treks about the Accra environs a few weeks ago, I came across a bar west of Korle Bu Hospital whose outer walls had been re-painted courtesy of the Club brewery. Since it was in my favorite color, green, and had my name on it, I just had to stop and take a photo!

Having the name "Charles" in Ghana means that you will use that form, rather than "Charlie," since the name "Charlie" (pronounced, and sometimes even spelled "Chale") would be used in the sense of "friend" as painted here. In fact, the "flip-flops" that most people here wear are called "Chale Wotes." Accra even has a street art festival called that, see photo below, their facebook page and their Twitter hashtag #chalewote.

When I first arrived, I would hear students at MUCG conversing, and my name would be popping up WAY too often. Now, I have to listen carefully, when people are using "Charlie" to refer to me by name, they generally will pronounce the 'r' in it a bit more.

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. 
Proverbs 22:1 ESV