Archive for December, 2011

Assistive technology interoperability between virtual and real worlds

Thursday, December 29th, 2011


Accessibility is an important area of interoperability between real and virtual worlds that must be considered during standards-setting. The number of persons with disabilities is large and increasing, as is their use of virtual worlds. All elements of virtual worlds must be accessible. Four types of real world disability impact functioning in virtual worlds: keyboard/mouse; print; hearing/speech; and cognitive. Some virtual worlds include accessibility features, such as resizable UIelements and fonts. Alternative keyboards and mice usually work adequately in virtual worlds. However, common text-to-speech, speech-to-text, and screen reader software doesn’t interface well with virtual worlds. Existing accessibility guidelines and legislation (Universal Design, Internet accessibility standards and guidelines, and online game accessibility guidelines) might be applicable to virtual worlds. Practical limitations to implementation of these solutions include their complexity and cost. As government agencies, universities, and employers increase their use of virtual worlds, specific standards for virtual world accessibility, including interfacing with common assistive technology, need to be created and enforced.

Journal of Virtual Worlds Research logo.

Bethlehem Steel in pictures

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Bethlehem Steel was once a symbol of American prowess in industrial manufacturing. One of the country’s largest steel producers, it supplied ships and guns for wartime, created steel beams for the first skyscrapers, and ushered in an age of mass production. Steelmaking at its main plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, continued for nearly 150 years, until 1995.

The machine shop was thought to be the world’s largest building of its kind at the time of its ¬≠completion in 1891.

Bethlem Steel machine shop.

Balko on the the government’s pursuit of Siobhan Reynolds

Monday, December 26th, 2011

Of course, the government doesn’t like a rabble rouser. It becomes especially wary of rabble rousers who begin to have some success. And so as Reynolds’ advocacy began to move the ball and get real results, the government bit back. When Reynolds began a campaign on behalf of Kansas physician Stephen Schneider, who had been indicted for overprescribing painkillers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tonya Treadway launched a shameless and blatantly vindictive attack on free speech. Treadway opened a criminal investigation into Reynolds and her organization, likening Reynolds’ advocacy to obstruction of justice. Treadway then issued a sweeping subpoena for all email correspondence, phone records, and other documents that, had Reynolds complied, would have been the end of her organization. Treadway wanted records of Reynolds’ private conversations with attorneys, doctors, and pain patients and their families. It was unconscionable Here’s an activist advocating on behalf of suffering people, and the government comes along and demands she turn over accounts of her private conversations with those same people. (Some of whom undoubtedly sought out extra-legal ways to relieve their pain, since the government had made it impossible for them to legally find relief.)

So Reynolds fought the subpoena, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And she lost. Not only did she lose, but the government, with compliance from the federal courts, kept the entire fight secret. The briefs for the case are secret. The judges’ rulings are secret. Reynolds was barred from sharing the briefs she filed with the press. Perversely, Treadway had used the very grand jury secrecy intended to protect the accused to not only take down Reynolds and her organization, but to protect herself from any public scrutiny for doing so.

Picture of Siobhan Reynolds

Hammoudeh on policy to counter The Oil Curse

Monday, December 26th, 2011

Planned immigration should be expanded, foreign ownership should be made more flexible, stock markets should adopt new technologies including hedging tools to hedge against crashes, more funds should be spent on education, research and development, and economic diversification through wise privatization with strong governance (49% for the governments with no oligarchy and kleptocracy), less on wars and the political enterprise, and more investor-friendly legislation should be legislated including protection of intellectual property.

Picture of Shawkat Hammoudeh

Mousavizadeh on the world of risk in 2012

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

A number of countries rethought their own economic and political models, whether Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia, Russia, or African countries. The combination of increased political independence, stronger economies driven by commodity flows, structural drivers from China, and the failures of a lot of Western development models to deliver either growth or equality for a lot of emerging markets, have led a number of countries to redesign how they govern themselves. I use the term “archipelago” because of the fragmentation of power, capital and ideas. There will be more distinct voices, all of which feel they have a reason to be heard, and interests they can now defend because they are economically stronger than 20 years ago.

For investors, this means a much larger role for the state. You will see more use of state-owned entities, state backing for national champions, state activism on trade and investment. We are used to seeing it from China and Korea, but you are going to see it more from Europe, from Britain and Finland.

Barron’s article

Picture of Nader Mousavizadeh

Economic impact of Villanova University

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Villanova University contributes nearly $51 million annually to Radnor Township, according to a study by the Philadelphia-based Econsult Corporation, an organization specializing in high-quality economic research and statistical and econometric analysis. “Villanova University: Economic and Community Impact 2011″ reports an annual impact by the university in excess of $186 million to Delaware County, $666 million to the five-county Philadelphia regional economy, and $692 million throughout Pennsylvania. The report analyzed fiscal year (FY) data over a five-year period, from 2006 to 2010.

Villanova sign

Singer on choosing our own manner of death

Monday, December 19th, 2011

In the United States, you can buy a gun and put a bullet through your brain without breaking any laws. But if you are a law-abiding person who is already too ill to buy a gun, or to use one, or if shooting yourself doesn’t strike you as a peaceful and dignified way to end your life, or if you just don’t want to leave a mess for others to clean up, what are you to do? You can’t ask someone else to shoot you, and, in most countries, if you tell your doctor that you have had enough, and that you would like his or her assistance in dying, you are asking your doctor to commit a crime.

Last month, an expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada, chaired by Udo Sch√ľklenk, a professor of bioethics at Queens University, released a report on decision-making at the end of life. The report provides a strong argument for allowing doctors to help their patients to die, provided that the patients are competent and freely request such assistance.

The ethical basis of the panel’s argument is not so much the avoidance of unnecessary suffering in terminally ill patients, but rather the core value of individual autonomy or self-determination. “The manner of our dying,” the panel concludes, “reflects our sense of what is important just as much as do the other central decisions in our lives.” In a state that protects individual rights, therefore, deciding how to die ought to be recognized as such a right.

A doctor weighing options

On the death of Thomas Hindelang

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Thomas J. Hindelang, 68, of Kennett Square, vice dean of Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business, died Thursday, Dec. 8, of heart failure at his office in Philadelphia.

“LeBow College is filled with extraordinary professors. But only one, Tom Hindelang, was known universally as ‘the professor,’ ” said George P. Tsetsekos, the R. John Chapel Jr. dean of LeBow.

Picture of Thomas Hindelang

On the university challenge to adapt

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Ivy League envy leads to an obsession with research. This can be a problem even in the best universities: students feel short-changed by professors fixated on crawling along the frontiers of knowledge with a magnifying glass. At lower-level universities it causes dysfunction. American professors of literature crank out 70,000 scholarly publications a year, compared with 13,757 in 1959. Most of these simply moulder: Mark Bauerlein of Emory University points out that, of the 16 research papers produced in 2004 by the University of Vermont’s literature department, a fairly representative institution, 11 have since received between zero and two citations. The time wasted writing articles that will never be read cannot be spent teaching. In “Academically Adrift” Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa argue that over a third of America’s students show no improvement in critical thinking or analytical reasoning after four years in college.

Popular anger about universities’ costs is rising just as technology is shaking colleges to their foundations. The internet is changing the rules. Star academics can lecture to millions online rather than the chosen few in person. Testing and marking can be automated. And for-profit companies such as the University of Phoenix are stripping out costs by concentrating on a handful of popular courses as well as making full use of the internet. The Sloan Foundation reports that online enrolments grew by 10% in 2010, against 2% for the sector as a whole.

Many universities’ first instinct will be to batten down the hatches and wait for this storm to pass. But the storm is not going to pass. The higher-education industry faces a stark choice: either adapt to a rapidly changing world or face a future of cheeseparing. It is surely better to rethink the career structure of your employees than to see it wither (the proportion of professors at four-year universities who are on track to win tenure fell from 50% in 1997 to 39% ten years later). And it is surely better to reform yourself than to have hostile politicians take you into receivership.|mgt|12-14-2011|management_thinking

Cutting costs in higher education

Higgs on the continuance of the welfare state

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

It would be a mistake, of course, to lump all of these dependents into the ruling (exploiting) class. The elderly recipients of old-age pensions, the recipients of unemployment insurance benefits, and the beneficiaries of temporary assistance for needy families are, as a rule, as far from the ruling class as one can get. However, to the extent that those who depend on government programs for substantial parts of their income enter the calculus of ruling and being ruled, they are likely to become, in effect, cyphers. They have approximately zero influence on the real rulers, yet they exert virtually no weight in opposition to those rulers, either. Fear of losing their government benefits effectively neutralizes them in regard to opposing the regime on whose seeming beneficence they rely for significant elements of their real income. Of course, for whatever voting may be worth, they vote directly or indirectly in overwhelming proportion for the continuation and budgetary enlargement of the government programs on which they depend. Hence, they help to produce seeming legitimacy for those at the top of the ruling hierarchy-a token of their appreciation for the crumbs their political masters drop on them.

As the ranks of those dependent on the welfare state continue to grow, the need for the rulers to pay attention to the ruled population diminishes. The masters know full well that the sheep will not bolt the enclosure in which the shepherds are making it possible for them to survive. Every person who becomes dependent on the state simultaneously becomes one less person who might act in some way to oppose the existing regime. Thus have modern governments gone greatly beyond the bread and circuses with which the Roman Caesars purchased the common people’s allegiance. In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the only changes that occur in the makeup of the ruling elite resemble a shuffling of the occupants in the first-class cabins of a luxury liner. Never mind that this liner is the economic and moral equivalent of the Titanic and that its ultimate fate is no more propitious than was that of the “unsinkable” ship that went to the bottom a century ago.

Picture of Robert Higgs

Henry C Alphin Jr
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