Friday, January 28, 2011

Questions from an Industry Point of View

Yesterday I had another conversation with an industry acquaintance about interdisciplinary computing. Once again the conversation drained my latte but left my head full of interesting ideas. Part of our conversation was intentionally oriented towards what a large corporation might want to know about interdisciplinary computing initiatives. It is always refreshing to look at things from new perspectives and ask the tough questions. I'd like to share some of the questions that arose and my initial thoughts on them.

For fun, I'm going to pose them in the form of a fictional conversation between myself and a CEO. I'll call her CEO C (for computing :) . This is *not* a report of an actual conversation with a CEO.

What might CEO C want to know?

CEO C asks: From having discussions of the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary computer science initiatives (see Lisa's posts going back to Jan 7th in particular) how can you then create action? Cynical CEO C says she has seen many great ideas that don't make it past the idea or prototype stage.

My Thoughts: There are examples of success out there (see my post on the 10 year track record of an IC program in Missouri). We need to ferret out as many examples of success as we can find and look carefully at what made them succeed. The people involved in the Missouri program have a wealth of information to share. There are other programs out there in academia - we need to do our research and look for patterns. We also need to nail down what did not work and why. We don't need to stick to Computer Science. We can learn a lot from other disciplines that have a record of interdisciplinary integration. Two areas come to mind. The Physics Education community has done an excellent job of gaining acceptance and respect for education research from with Physics departments. Math Education has also done well. These are examples of interdisciplinary success of a particular type - we can learn from them how they got there.

Bottom Line: We do not have to reinvent all the wheels. We can learn from others.

CEO C then asks: How will you get measurable results?

My Thoughts: This sounds like a classic Goals, Outcomes, Measurables discussion that needs to take place. Given that this is an area I consult in, I could go on for a long time about the topic. But I'll keep it brief and just say that if the time is put in up front to develop these items clearly and concretely and in the proper order, understanding what each term means, then we will be in a position to obtain those measurables.

CEO C then asks: Ok, are you gaining a better workforce out of these initiatives? Global competitiveness is very important.

My Thoughts: I'm sure that others will have excellent ideas to add, but my thoughts on this are that one way to answer the question is to build it into the development of Goals/Outcomes/Measurables. Ask the right questions, develop the right assessment mechanisms and follow up longitudinally. Include industry deeply in the conversation.

CEO C says as a comment: If you accomplish all of the above, we will spur the economy and overall economic growth.

I respond: Yes :)

Friday, January 21, 2011

An Interesting Interdisciplinary Computing Program With a Solid Track Record

When I take a look at the list of items that our interdisciplinary computing group brainstormed for an ideal environment I immediately think of a really interesting academic program at Northwest Missouri State University called Interactive Digital Media. This 10 year old program is truly interdisciplinary and one of the original developers was at our meeting: Carol Spradling. So I had to ask Carol (who I have known for many years) if she would sacrifice one of our snack breaks to tell me more so that I could share it here.

The final and perhaps most agreed upon criteria for success listed in the previous post was the following:

"Intellectual content from all represented fields are equally present. ...

Having intellectual content from each discipline is critical if we want to avoid the perception that interdisciplinary computer science is the application of computing to another field and nothing more."

The Interactive Digital Media (IDM) major brings together 6 faculty, 2 each from the Computer Science / Information Systems department, the Art department and the Mass Communications department. This unique major has three concentrations to choose from: Computer Science, New Media, Visual Imaging. Local industry has been involved from the inception of the program as a multimedia minor within Computer Science.

The development of the IDM program was a lot of hard work, but the trust that is so important was built by dedication and constant communication that continues today. Faculty meet regularly to adapt what each teaches based upon what the others are teaching. Only the capstone course is team taught. As a result, the faculty have to be committed to working as equal contributors and to developing creative ways of achieving synthesis. The necessary communication is a non trivial time investment, one of the challenges to interdisciplinary work. When new faculty come on board, there can be a need to go back and revisit issues to bring that person up to speed. Finally, as we all know, technology advances wait for no one. Courses have to be continually updated and new technology always has to be learned, considered and bounced off their industry partners - and tried out. Ideas have not always gone as planned, but they have adjusted and moved forward. Team work makes this possible.

The incremental and inclusive development of this program is a great example of how many of the hurdles facing interdisciplinary computing can be overcome. In the  late 1990s, Carol told me, they realized just how much there was a need for people with cross disciplinary skills. Specifically, they saw the need for design, technology, social and communication skills. They had done their homework, interviewing industry and gathering statistics on jobs available to graduates. They decided to partner with Mass Communication. Soon they realized that bringing the Art department into the team was important. Together the 3 departments (without an influx of funding and no ability at the time to create an independent major) developed course ideas and asked local industry for feedback and suggestions about those courses and their syllabi.

Over the last ten years Carol has watched the program develop from a minor to a major program of study. She related how she now sees students go out and get exciting jobs; jobs they are passionate about. Carol is particularly pleased to report that there is a high percentage of women in the program. In fact she said the influx of women "thrills" her. She is thrilled to see young women feeling that they can get into a technical field. "There are so many fields that have technical components. Social media [for example]...[These fields] require the technical knowledge".

Where do students go and what kinds of jobs do they take after graduation? In answering my question I believe that Carol might have used the phrase "all over the place". Large companies, small companies, broad work, niche work. Programming, database work, combined database and programming, technical project management, graphic design that requires fluent programming - to list just a few examples. There have been some truly unexpected employment stories such as the student who became an instructional designer for a dairy association. The student trains corporate personnel how to integrate technology into their jobs.

Another student is employed in a school of nursing, working with a course management system, addressing curriculum issues and in depth multimedia use in general. This student has tapped into the national need for nurses and the trend that more nursing programs are going on-line, thus needing assistance delivering instructional materials. Coincidentally, I had been talking the week before to the wife of a friend who is nearing completion of an online nursing program here in the San Diego area. The availability of this program has been the only way that she, as a non traditional student ("older" meaning in her 30s, and an immigrant), can make the career change she desires. So when Carol spoke about the excitement many students (and faculty) feel about the opportunities opened up by the Interactive Digital Media program, I understood the importance of her program from several perspectives.

The vision and dedication of the faculty Carol works with has brought the type of success in enrollments, job placement and other factors that allowed the program to be elevated from a the minor to a major program of study. The successes of the program sounded to me like they have been quantifiable; not only has Carol published on the program (there is a paper written in 2008 in the ACM Digital Library) but they have used a university wide Total Quality Management process to ensure continual improvement. TQM is itself an interdisciplinary process, thus complementing the goals of the IDM program.

Establishing and maintaining trust. Overcoming vocabulary and perspective differences. Ensuring depth of content and equality of content across disciplines. These were the major issues listed in the "challenges" discussion and the Interactive Digital Media program has tackled them well.

The program has achieved gains for Computer Science and the partner disciplines, including increased student diversity and overall numbers, new and broader job placements and excellent relationships with local and regional industry. As Carol put it, the program has opened up a new world for students. She was also pleased to tell me students in all three concentrations (not just the Computer Science concentration) are embracing technology and moving on to use it in other ways after completing their technical coursework. Something for any computing faculty to be proud of.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An Ideal Environment for Interdisciplinary Computing

After discussing the benefits of engaging in interdisciplinary computing and the challenges we face we considered what an ideal climate for fostering interdisciplinary computing efforts might look like. If you recall from the earlier posts about this meeting, these conversations took place our first morning, as a sort of "lay it all out on the table" exercise. The intent at this stage was not to eliminate ideas that might be arguably "impossible or impractical", nor to come to a consensus or final list.

I found it very productive to go beyond the initial benefits and challenges conversations to a discussion that drew upon those ideas. This was where some real sizzle came into the conversation. By this point people were ready to rock and roll* with their visions. Some ideas were familiar and some were not; sometimes one idea might appear to contradict another idea. But it was all material to sink one's teeth into.

I'd like to share some of these brainstormed ideas; they provide food for thought and are a pre-requisite to the inevitable "what next and how do we get there" questions.

Hopefully they will pique your imagination as they did mine.

- The vertical school based system is eliminated i.e. topics are not rigidly identified as belonging in a specific year.
-  Coursework at the college level is not limited to people who already have "the background" (this phrase is in quotes because defining it is a very interesting discussion in itself!)
- There exists a highly supportive environment for people to build bridges between disciplines, share perspectives and talk. This will produce greater trust, competence and value.
- At the college level each department creates two endowed chairs whose focus is on the support and development of interdisciplinary computer science / computing.
- Budgets include a guaranteed line item dedicated to interdisciplinary computer science / computing.
- People on campus who are dedicated to interdisciplinary efforts are actively located and supported at all levels (administration, staff, faculty).
- We locate other models outside of computer science where interdisciplinary collaborations already work, we study and learn from them.
- Colleges and universities reward interdisciplinary work with tenure.
- Recognition that the issues and focus are different at the K-12 (pre-college) and college level.
- Recognition that there is more to computer science than programming and we model that recognition in the classroom.
- We include more visualization (through any of a number of mechanisms) in computer science coursework.
- Vertical communication within a university is smooth.
- Peer reviewed journals that cross disciplinary boundaries are highly valued.
- Workload assignments recognize that interdisciplinary computer science / computing teaching and research may take extra time and workloads are adjusted accordingly.
- There exist more social venues for informal but critically important interactions in interdisciplinary computer science / computing work - conferences, workshops. Increase those  "water cooler conversations".

- Intellectual content from all represented fields are equally present. This point came up often, in various guises, during the two days we met.

Having intellectual content from each discipline is critical if we want to avoid the perception that interdisciplinary computer science is the application of computing to another field and nothing more.

* We were staying at the Hard Rock Hotel, which in addition to providing all the meeting facilities and services of a more traditional hotel, was another "think outside the box" experience.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An Unusual Computational Science Educator

Sometimes crisis propels an existing passion to the forefront of someone's life. This is the one line explanation of how Shodor was founded 15 years ago to advance science education via computational modeling and simulation.

When I first posted about the Interdisciplinary Computing meeting I attended last week, I made a point of mentioning Bob Panoff. Bob is not only a truly interdisciplinary individual but a great person to talk to. So as soon as I could I pried him away from others so that he could speak to me for this report.

If you haven't already looked at his company web site, before you do so, think about what his company name might mean and why he chose it. Don't peek. We'll come back to that. It says a lot about Bob's attitude towards life and work.

You never know where a conversation with Bob will go. It starts at point X and the next thing you know you are somewhere else entirely. But it all makes sense.

It often starts with some interesting comment or question.  He asked me: Do you know what "Quantitative Emotion" is? Given my background, I started thinking about AI. But that was not what he had in mind. He teaches the answer this way: by sending 8th grade students (approx age 13) out into shopping malls to ask people one of two questions.

"is 40% large or small?" Most people respond "it is large".

"is 2/5 large or small?" Most people respond "it is small".

Hmm.... Changing the representation of data makes people feel differently about what something means. Quantitative Emotion. Interesting....

A post-mall conversation with the students (and me!) leads to discussion of multiple representations, and how to present data in different ways - generally through computation and simulation of that data. Bob is all about computational simulation.

One of Bob's very favorite questions, which he also sprung on me, is: "How do I know that it is true?" 

What? Know what is true? Answer: most anything. How do you know that it is true?

This question underpins much of Shodor's work in developing science education materials. "How do you know?" Computation and simulation provide the means to analyse and answer the question. How did Bob arrive at this central question? While in graduate school he taught himself how to use computational simulations to analyse the interactions between pieces of physics problems and to measure the validity of calculations.

Although not a computer science student, he read as many numerical methods books as he could find, most of which had been written in the pre-computer era. (Part of me wondered just where he found these ancient dusty texts, but we were racing the clock against lunch break so I didn't ask). He taught himself to use computing to apply those numerical methods and solve the physics problems.

Pattern recognition and pattern characterization then fueled his interest in simulations. The more he created simulations the more convinced he became that science education in general could be improved through creating effective simulations. How to choose between different approaches in the lab for example, how to compute the properties of materials such as liquid helium, deuterium and solids with impurities. He refers to himself at that period of his life, when he worked in academia, as a computational physicist. Along the way he worked in a supercomputing center. He spent time looking for commonalities between disciplines and how they did use or could use computing, and he worked to share those ideas with other disciplines. In his spare time he started a group  to improve science education. He started by delivering workshops.

Crisis struck in 1994 when he was told he had a kidney tumor and 6 months to live. At this point he decided to follow his true passion with what time he had left. Abandoning formal academia, he incorporated Shodor and went full steam ahead with computational science simulation with the mission of improving science education at all levels.

Short and Dorky. Bob was once called "SHOrt and DORky" by a student, hence the company name. Of course. Creative and humorous and ready to use whatever comes his way.

15 years later Bob Panoff and Shodor are still at it and highly successful. Bob works full time following his passion for computation in the service of science education. As important, his desire to share his work and ideas land him in places like our meeting. Go Bob.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Interdisciplinary Computing: Bumps and Holes in the Road

There are of course setbacks and challenges to implementing interdisciplinary computing and our group discussed those as well (if you haven't read the previous two posts, this is the third in the thread). As we had people with backgrounds past and present in biology, computer science, math, physics, music - performance and theory, architecture (not the computer kind), healthcare, there were lots of angles.

In our first morning discussion of these challenges, some themes popped out, just as they had with our discussion of positive experiences. Here is some of what arose for consideration:

Lack of common vocabulary. Specialties have their own lingo, buzzwords, abbreviations, and sometimes the words are the same words used by another field but with different meanings. Engaging in conversation with a specialist in another field can be an instant reminder about how much we have internalized and take for granted when we talk among ourselves.

Different perspectives on appropriate methodologies for research, assessment, reporting, project development. This is a huge topic. Simple to explain and discuss (but not necessarily resolve): is first person or third person expected in a formal write up? Not at all simple to resolve: is statistical or qualitative research desired or valid...what type of statistical or is rigor agreed upon? Really difficult: what does the other field actually *do* when they design and implement a program or project and can it be (should it be) fully understood by the participant from another discipline who works on the project?

Application level skill issues. This point follows up on the last point in the previous paragraph. One example: Discipline X wants to use software A; Discipline Y wants to use software B. Both have their well supported reasons. How to resolve the question to everyone's satisfaction? Similarly, programming and programming language issues can be "exhausting" as one person put it so well. What to use, how many to use, does it have to be a specific language? You know, we have these conversations even within computing; we exhaust ourselves talking about languages. When interdisciplinary teams tackle the language questions the discussion increases in complexity several orders of magnitude.

Trust. This is perhaps one of the biggies. Perhaps the biggest. People related experiences about the need to build trust between disciplines, between people at different levels of an organization, between people with different responsibilities.

Even when there is abundant goodwill on all sides trust has to be earned. It cannot be taken for granted or else some innocent blunder may set back or seriously damage a project. Sometimes, there are large silos that people work in and these have to be bridged. Note: lots of words were used, and I'm not sure which I prefer - bridging seems to convey the positive intentions of everyone in the meeting.

What is computing and/or computer science anyway? This is another topic where even within our own computing discipline(s) we do not always agree. Exhausting. Another exhausting topic. Members of our meeting related experiences about perceptions and mis-perceptions of what "it" is, and in particular how the word "technology" fits in. Similar stories have appeared on the SIGCSE list and many other forums.

I'm intentionally not repeating specific examples of the setbacks we discussed because I don't want to unintentionally embarrass anyone nor imo is it relevant for this post that is trying (with questionable success) to stay manageable in length. I want to focus on the high level issues.

A few summative related issues that lead to setbacks for interdisciplinary initiatives: the tension b/w tools and theory; specialists vs. generalists vs. interdisciplinarians (blogger thinks that is not a word... how timely!); pure vs. applied;  student majors vs. student non-majors. And the notable point that silos can occur within a department - not just between departments.

Challenges that were phrased as questions included:

How to help people in a partner discipline continue to use mutually agreed upon / developed concepts as their students move up within their curriculum? Problematic.

How to keep an interdisciplinary course from turning "light and fluffy" or just an exercise in tool use? If students don't have a quantitative background for example, how do you give them that background sufficiently to proceed with the course? Just adding a prerequisite or two or three doesn't address the problem head on.

Computer science as a discipline has our set of "big ideas". We can abstract them, but how do we then help other people to understand and want to work with them? (this harks back to the vocabulary, method and perspective challenges)

And to end on a LARGE note: there are a whole set of different challenges for the interdisciplinary team that is starting a program from the ground up vs. the team that is working within existing programs and major fields of study. Even more so when the collaborators consist of computer scientists and experts from the non sciences.

phew! Much of the above will not be news if you have been involved in interdisciplinary efforts. However! that is one reason why I chose to start the conversation several posts ago with the upbeat and positive side of this work. No problem is impossible to address in one way or another. But to do so we had to first lay them out and lay them out we did!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

What CS Gains From Interdisciplinary Computing

Following up on last night's post about the reasons why many people engage in interdisciplinary computing work, I'd like to briefly list off some examples that came out in our meeting discussion today. At one point we decided to get specific and share examples of how the computer science discipline has directly benefited from interdisciplinary collaborations.

Here are some of them, written as close to verbatim as I could take notes on the fly. I'm certainly not expert in many of them, so anything I say that is missing an important or interesting piece hopefully someone will chime in and amplify for me. However! this is a classic facet of interdisciplinary collaboration - no one individual can know multiple fields at the same depth and accuracy. That is part of why it is such productive work!

The Folding at Home project involves experts in bio-medicine, distributed computing, bio-technology, high performance computing. As the site implies, computer science has been stimulated in HPC (high performance computing), algorithm development, networking, and simulations. We have expanded boundaries of computational understanding in all these areas.

Distributed computation not only in that project but in other very large scale projects has pushed the boundaries of computational efficiency to new levels as we develop the necessary algorithms to tackle ever more seemingly intractable problems, that are not necessarily so intractable.

Online auctions. I missed the intro to this conversation, but when I picked up, the discussion was about the movement from manual to electronic auctions requiring a change in how economists worked on what turn out to be NP-hard problems. Computer science theory is making advances so that these auctions can function properly. I could use someone helping to fill me in on what I missed in this conversation because it sounds very interesting!

Working with the film industry has driven both the development of 3D graphics and User Interface development. Many of the "old" rules of thumb (meaning circa early 90s) no longer apply and computer science has stepped up to revamp our understanding of what we can do with graphics at very fundamental levels. User Interface theory and application has evolved right along with it. For example, imagine how far we have come from Star Wars  (1977) to  Toy Story (1995) to Avatar (2009).

These advances in computer science from interdisciplinary work with the film industry in turn spurred development on the side of GPUs (Graphic Processor Unit), which were then deployed in so many areas of computing from games to simulations and beyond that they cannot be easily itemized.

Music downloads - the virtually ubiquitous desire to stream music in one form or another, has led to advances in basic streaming technologies and support algorithms that now are used in far flung applications such as digital image processing in medicine and transfer of image data (MRIs for example) to medical service providers on short notice across long distances. There was mention specifically of recognition algorithms as a subset of algorithms that have advanced, - I could use some supplementary information on this one!

Just a few ideas to whet your appetite. Speaking of appetite, I may not have one for a week. Two days of intense cognitive load and equally intense gastric load have left me with wonderful memories and a bit of a tummy ache. Brings a new meaning to "Brain Food".

Friday, January 7, 2011

Interdisciplinary Computing: Finding Common Ground, Experiencing Joy, Tangible Benefits

I spent the day meeting with a group of 15 dynamic people from around the country from academia and industry, who are all passionate about and actively involved in some way with interdisciplinary computing. At the helm of our 2 day meeting: Boots Cassel from  Villanova University Computing Sciences and Ursula Wolz from The College of New Jersey Computer Science. This was the first of several meetings and we were there to begin an ongoing conversation about how to support interdisciplinary computing education. This was our "why are we here and where are we going" meeting. Day 1.

Boots made a comment early on that stuck with me: "We need to give as much as we get".  That phrase reflected the tenor of our conversation even as we wrestled with definitions, perspectives, categories, labels, experiences and visions. 

I previewed the question of what interdisciplinary computing is last week - imagine that conversation magnified, expanded and fueled by 15 never shy, highly experienced practitioners.

That is where the fun started, and continued...Around more delicious food than I can begin to describe (we'll see in a few days if I can still walk upright) we started off by  working to establish common ground and perspectives. Almost immediately we were directed into small breakout groups for sharing our best experiences with interdisciplinary computing, the setbacks we experienced, and what an ideal climate for interdisciplinary computing education would look like. 

It is always nice to start out on a high note, and considering that overall, the day was one big high note (I don't think I'm out on a limb by making that generalization) I'll share this post on part of our pre-lunch breakout conversation - the process of discussing some of our best experiences with interdisciplinary computing. 

Besides, I need to keep my head from exploding with the effort of trying to say too much in too small a space. 

Finding Common Ground. People shared their satisfaction and joy when faculty from different disciplines reached out to successfully work together, overcoming hurdles (different topic) and creating something - a class, a curriculum, a project, an internship, research, a job - that neither could have done without the expertise of the other - as equals.  1 + 1 != 2 Rather, 1 + 1 > 2  (I hope my tired colleagues don't take that literally and think all the food has addled my brain)

Finding Common Ground.  Between combinations (pick any) of universities, K-12, industry, disciplines, departments, various sciences, humanities. It is a cultural issue as well as a content issue.

There is clearly something wonderful that happens when people from across disciplines and associated cultures work successfully together. Aside from the practical point that it "looks good", it feels good, judging by the way people were telling their stories. A few of us did a little bit of hopping around in our seats and there was the occasional gesticulating of limbs.

Not only students, but faculty are able to view the world in a new way when a computing person and another disciplinary person successfully collaborate and break new ground. One approach, discussed particularly enthusiastically and with many examples by Bob Panoff from the non-profit Shodor, was the power of harnessing computing technology to find common ways to describe the world through modeling and bringing phenomena to life. Stories form in people's minds and the world takes on new meaning.

Someone pointed out that in these collaborations, we are forced to address issues, details and concepts we never would have thought of otherwise. 

Personally, I would prefer to say that I am "privileged" to address issues, details and concepts I would not have thought of or encountered otherwise. To me,  interdisciplinary computing, especially when it improves people's lives in some way, however small, is a constant exciting exploration and adventure.

Tangible Benefits to Students. Industry jobs are often (always?) interdisciplinary in some way so employers like students who have these skill sets through direct experience. For example, they work better on teams and can more easily shift to new areas within their company. 

Many new terms were tossed up for consideration just within this part of the conversation: convergence; intertwining, cross-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary, inclusiveness. 

A lot of good things to think hard and deeply about.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

WikiLeaks will profoundly affect Computing in 2011

Happy New Year everyone.

In reading and listening to many of the online outlets discussing the significant stories in science and technology for 2010, WikiLeaks often comes up. The interesting issue for everyone, but especially those of us in the computing field, is the debate about whether WikiLeaks is a positive force in society or a destructive one. Your answer to this question flavors your opinion about the aggressive moves the US and others are taking against WikiLeaks personnel and equipment. Just today, the FBI in the US seized servers in the state of Texas after being led to them by IP information provided by Paypal who was not happy about being attacked.

The link I provide above for WikiLeaks may cease to exist at any time after I post this online. That says something.

WikiLeaks states on its site:

"WikiLeaks is a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists. We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices."

Do you agree? With their mission? Their tactics? Their results? Is their behavior a new Internet driven way to expose and fight injustice? Many people believe so and believe that they operate in the only way that they can, and that the strong reactions against them just prove that point. They point to the benefits of their actions in forcing discussion and consideration of topics that might otherwise be pushed to the side.

But many global governments do not agree at all. They view WikiLeaks as a threat to national security and in some cases have even called them terrorists. How much of their reactions are a knee jerk reaction to having communication control wrested from them in a new way?  How much is well founded anger based upon sensitive secrets and political maneuvers that we probably should not know? After all, "leaking" news is not a new phenomenon. In some cases the leaks are planned and orchestrated by governments. But not always.

The jury is out on this one. I confess I do not yet have a well formed opinion. This is a complicated subject. It is so heavily political that it his hard to untangle what data should be used for forming a judgement of the merits of WikiLeaks.  There are multiple layers of WikiLeaks actions, the subsequent counter actions of other entities, and the subsequent re-actions by WikiLeaks or its independent supporters to being attacked virtually and through legal processes. When a story goes viral on the Internet, even when confined to a specific community, then the cats are out of the bag and can't be put back in.

This is an unfolding story that will have important repercussions in 2011 for social issues in technology and computing. Because whatever happens to WikiLeaks will continue to have a strong outward ripple effect - how will other reporting agencies respond? With vigor, or with fear? Will they report more, and ever deeply into investigative journalism using the power of the Internet or will they self censor themselves?

I have not followed the leaks and societal repercussions enough to have formed an opinion about whether they are in fact spurious, significant, trivial, or just unclear because of all the behind the scenes machinations of governments. For example, I do recall that the US government was embarrassed by having some information revealed about how members of the Obama administration supposedly felt in private about other world leaders. Is this trivial? Who cares if the Secretary of State or the President (or someone else at a similar level) thinks that world leader so and so is a dork (I'm making that word up). We all hold private opinions of people we treat with respect because we feel we must. the revelation significant because people lose face in the global community where so much goes on behind closed doors and the public never knows about it until years later when an ex politician writes a memoir? (Sometimes thoughtful and fascinating and sometimes a self serving sleep inducing bore)

Computing technology has fueled this whole new take on the meaning and implications of free speech. Where to draw the lines and how to determine them?

Talk about crossing disciplines....

So I am convinced that some of the longest and more profound societal impacts will be outgrowths of the WikiLeaks events going on today. This is a story that will ripple outwards across the global pond in unforeseen ways.

I wish I could fast forward 12 months to this time next year and see what has happened. I dare to predict that the results on computing use will be profound, whether the average citizen is aware of it or not.

I hope 2011 is a peaceful and happy year for everyone and that you focus on what is most important in your life, not just what is in front of your face at any given moment.