News archive: Spring 2008

Several Small Updates

Posted by Elwin, Apr. 22, 2008

Time to break the silence. Elections are over, and our favorite candidate seems to have failed this time. The official numbers are a little odd. 40 write-in votes do not make 10% of 2575 total votes. The numbers do make sense if you assume that about 230 votes for Arthur were thrown out of some calculations but not others, so I will claim that number as our total.

There are a few other things you should know about. Tomorrow afternoon, there will be a meeting in the Union relating to the ongoing free speech situation. The Faculty Senate has rejected the proposals to change their constitution and other documents. I expect there will be more interesting developments before long.

Finally, the IOP is planning to hold a general meeting sometime before the end of the semester. Details will follow.

Elections Today

Posted by Elwin, Apr. 3, 2008

Turn out and vote, preferably for Arthur Galpin.

GM Week Disappointment

Posted by Elwin, Mar. 31, 2008

GM Week is here, and it looks like a disappointment in several ways. First is the ridiculous Red Carpet theme. What fun is that? What does it have to do with RPI? Two years ago, we had a freedom-loving, roguish idealization of piracy. Ironically, the next year's theme was the music industry. Now it's the film industry. Extrapolating this pattern, I can predict that next year's theme will be commercial software. Featured activities will include a Turn In The Pirates contest, a Lost Data Recovery Demonstration, and Almost-Free Upgrades. All participants will be required to accept a complex EULA requiring them not to remember anything about GM Week or attempt to discover how the election process works.

In addition to the uncreative theme, the animate candidates are just boring. No one is able to stay on the list of GM candidates for more than a week. None of them care enough to put up any interesting posters. (Wordplay on candidate names does not qualify as interesting or creative.) Only the freshman class officer positions have enough people running to hold a primary. You can tell no one is worried about getting into office because there have been few ridiculous campaign promises so far.

The Poly shares our disappointment, not endorsing anyone for Grand Marshal. They did take the opportunity to write a blistering opinion of Kevin Morenski, which shouldn't suprise anyone who remembers what he said about the Poly last year. Morenski has since dropped out of the race.

After all the excitement of last year, I'm afraid the tradition of Grand Marshal Week is beginning to die. But you can help keep it alive, with its spirit of fun and absurdity. Turn out on Thursday and write in Arthur Galpin for everything.

A Warning

Posted by Arthur, Mar. 28, 2008

You never thought it might snow at the end of March, just before GM Week. You never thought an inflatable whale would make a good GM either. This snow and sudden end of warm weather is just a warning. It is only the beginning of what might happen if animate candidates are elected again. Elections are next Thursday, with a primary on Monday if necessary. Think carefully about which candidate you want to support. Otherwise there will be worse things than snowstorms.

IOP Convention

Posted by Elwin, Mar. 26, 2008

There is an IOP meeting tomorrow (Thursday) at 6:30, on the first floor of the Union.

Campaign Week

Posted by Elwin, Mar. 24, 2008

Campaigning for GM Week actually started last Tuesday, but it's picking up this week. An animate candidate for Grand Marshal has appeared, the Pants Party is running someone for PU, and a few senators have started postering. The IOP, of course, has been putting up signs all last week. You will have to look closely to find them; there aren't many, and they often come down quickly. We don't have a $300 budget.

Still, this year's campaigning is starting slowly. Most candidates haven't put up any signs or made any announcements that I've heard. The Genesis Party hasn't appeared yet (maybe we finally outlasted them.) If this apathy doesn't wear off, Arthur may have a good shot this year.

Presidential Town Meeting

Posted by Elwin, Mar. 17, 2008

I wanted to go to the presidential town meeting today, but it was conveniently scheduled at the same time as a class I couldn't miss. Still, I did manage to catch the last fifteen minutes. There was a lot of talk about the "Virtual Jihadi" exhibit which was shut down recently (see RPI Free Culture for details.) I hadn't realized there was so much uproar over it.

Someone, I think the Provost, tried to settle down the discussion by reminding everyone that most of them had opinions, but only a few had responsibility, and that people without responsibility should not think their opinions are so important. When people with power and responsibility begin confusing the two, things become frightening.

I'll have to wait for the Poly to get a full description, but there should be a lot to talk about. What are the chances of the "New Student Life Initiatives" being good news?

Preparation for GM Week

Posted by Elwin, Mar. 3, 2008

One month until elections. Time to dig out posters, signs, and air pumps.

Want to take part in an RPI tradition? Want to take a stand against inefficiency and uselessness? Want to Mock the Vote? The Inanimate Objects Party is looking for help. We don't have free mugs or free T-shirts, but you shouldn't need a bribe. You do get, without charge, the fun of spreading misinformation and annoying the animate candidates.

So if you haven't lost your sense of humor and you want to support the cause, contact arthur (at) inflatablewhale.org for instructions. All skills and talents are useful, even people who just think inflatable whales are cute.

If you are an inanimate object seeking office, lacking qualifications, and needing the power of an organized political machine, send in your name and desired position to be placed on the IOP ballot. There is an informational meeting in the Union on Tuesday for animate objects fitting the same description.

The Institute as a Monopoly

Posted by Elwin, Feb. 29, 2008

Fellow Ioperative Dan Hildebrand has written a Statler & Waldorf editorial comparing schools like RPI to businesses and states. I started thinking about the topic, and came up with another perspective.

At first glance, RPI does seem like a business with students as customers. It takes our money in exchange for a product, education. On the other hand, it behaves like a government. It controls territory, created a legal system, and engages in projects. I would like to propose a third comparison: it is like a monopolistic business.

You may be thinking that RPI does compete with other schools. When you were first considering attending, they probably deluged you with mail. When you visited, you met several people with the mission of telling you how great the place is. And everyone gets excited whenever we move up one spot in the national school ranking list. But this competition serves only to attract students and money, i.e. customers. Once you get here, things change.

This is because once you arrive here, you are not likely to switch to another school. Businesses in competitive markets have to work hard to please their customers. They even invented a proverb: "The customer is always right." Meaning, "Whatever you do, don't upset the people with the money!" In a competitive market, if you make customers unhappy, they leave. But if you are a monopoly, your customers can't go anywhere else and you can ignore their satisfaction until they begin throwing rocks through your window. In practice, ignoring customer satisfaction allows you to produce cheaply, and being a monopoly means you can set prices as high as you like. So it is understandable that businesses make it difficult for customers to switch. This is called "vendor lock-in".

At RPI, students are locked in. Transferring is not an easy process. We spent a lot of effort figuring out how the Institute works and what to study to get the degree we want. Going somewhere else would mean planning all over again and acclimating all over again. It would mean making new friends and new faculty contacts. It would mean buying new school-branded clothing. Furthermore, it would not be easy to find a better school than RPI. No matter how unhappy the student body becomes, the number who leave will not be significant enough for the Institute to notice.

When a business or school locks in its customers, it behaves differently. Producing a quality product is beside the point; the important thing is a salable product. The purpose is to attract new customers, not keep existing ones. It can begin acting like a government. It can forget about being accountable to the people who supply it with money. It can create complicated regulations governing the use of its products (Institute Policies, Vista EULA). It can make important decisions about its future product line and survey customer opinion later. (Sophomore housing, studying abroad, ...)

I was surprised to discover how many people complain about Microsoft software. (I am not talking about just RPI students.) Most of them use it anyway. There is also a surprising number of complaints about the Institute. But in a monopoly world, complaints are irrelevant.

The wishes of the weak are like raindrops on the face of the sea: they count for nothing.

I was writing about the S&W editorial, wasn't I? Though I don't quite see RPI as the equivalent of a national government, I agree with the warnings.

Just as in the past, citizens will once more awaken to find their rights gone and lives miserable, and those in power should not expect a lethargic response to this epiphany.

Take a look at the posters the IOP turned out in the bad old days. That's not lethargic.

So cheer because there's someone here who knows just what to do.
His name is Arthur Galpin, and he'll beat the whole 'Tute Screw.

His name is Arthur Galpin
His name is Arthur Galpin
His name is Arthur Galpin...

Faculty Governance Update

Posted by Elwin, Feb. 26, 2008

As far as I know, the Faculty Senate is currently operating in a semi-official "advisory role". But the Faculty Governance Review Committee has come up with a plan for the permanent role of faculty government. To show that they actually put in some effort and came up with something good, they explained that they studied faculty governance at other universities to find out what works there. I would be more impressed if they studied the situation at RPI to find out what works here. But Rensselaer being the leading university that it is, they had to use innovation, i.e. reimplementing existing ideas.

What the plan actually proposes to do is still not made public. This will make things difficult for our open participatory governance. Wait a minute, I'm confusing RPI with the Debian Project.

Sophomore Housing

Posted by Elwin, Feb. 15, 2008

I was hoping to be at Pizza with the President, but I wasn't, so I will have to fall back on reading the Poly article. Requiring all sophomores to live on campus seems odd. It won't make any more money- that would take creating more housing, not changing the year of existing rooms. So they must think one year of dorm life doesn't give students enough experience. The solution, of course, is to have For Your Enformation First-Year Experience throw their e-mail announcements at them for another year.

Knowing several sophomores who moved off campus because they couldn't afford to stay, I think this plan will require financial aid increases or at least the possibility of exceptions. Otherwise students in that situation will have to transfer instead.

Defeat of the Incomprehensible TA's?

Posted by Elwin, Feb. 4, 2008

Recently the Grand Marshal has been telling us about how the Student Senate has had the quality of this semester's TA's improved. Apparently they convinced the departments to use higher standards, making sure that only students able to explain the material become TA's. I was glad to hear that so much progress has been made, because I have been assigned an almost incomprehensible TA for the first time in three years. My case might be an exception, but I can't seem to find any statistics or even news at the Student Senate site. Maybe the IOP should do its own research.

Site Changes

Posted by Webmaster, Jan. 10, 2008

This Web site is now out of alpha, finally. Dates now appear with news, links go where intended, and communication may be directed to webmaster (at) inflatablewhale.org.