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About Spartan Ideas

Spartan Ideas is a collection of thoughts, ideas, and opinions independently written by members of the MSU community and curated by MSU Libraries


Contributing Authors


IQ (Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering) at MSU

  Chris Contag is the founding director of the Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering and the chairperson of the new Department of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering. Contag was previously a professor in the Departments of Pediatrics, Radiology, Bioengineering and Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University. He held the titles of …


Humanities Commons and the Cultivation of Sustainable Communities

As we navigate the intense period of transformation in human communication through which we are living, identifying ways to nurture sustainable communities through which scholarship can be shared, discovered, and enhanced gains urgency. So many of the platforms through which we might cultivate scholarly lives together — Facebook, Twitter, Google, Academia.edu — are compromised by business models designed to maximize …


On developing my dissertation

“What are you researching?” Since starting my PhD program at MSU this fall, I have been asked this question countless times, but it is one to which I have no definite answer yet. Some grad students start their studies by joining an ongoing project, while others begin from scratch and create their own project. I fall …


Ex Laboratorium

The E. coli long-term evolution experiment, or LTEE for short, is approaching its 30th birthday, which will be on February 24th, 2018. In honor of all the people who have worked on this project, I thought it would be neat to commission a special, but shareable, piece of art. Given the history of science and …


From the Beginning

It was five years ago today I transferred my meanderings since the mid 90s into this blog. 246 blog entries preceded this one with another dozen or so that never got past the draft stage. Probably many of the 246 should have stayed as drafts. So the occasion caused me to go back and look …


DOJ invokes Title VI against Harvard admissions

“Elections have consequences…” — Barack Obama See 20 years @15 percent: does Harvard discriminate against Asian-Americans? CNN: The Justice Department is actively investigating Harvard University’s use of race in its admissions policies and has concluded the school is “out of compliance” with federal law, according to documents obtained by CNN. … [Click through for DOJ …


A Sinkhole That Is Pulling Us All Down

While most local papers probably did not splash the news on their front page or headline their evening news last week, our largely bought Congress just gave the Military-Industrial-Complex (MIC) a sizable raise in thanks for their contributions and lobbying pursuits. President Trump’s initial budget request for the Pentagon was for a sizable $54 billion increase for the military …


Behold, the Super Cow

Hmm… how do they compute the Net Merit and GTPI? (But, but, what about all of that missing heritability?) See also Applied genomics: the genetic “super cow” Genomic prediction: no bull. Attention climate virtue signalers: more efficient cows produce less methane per liter of milk! Drink milk from genetically engineered cows :-) Tweet


I’m in Mountain View to give a talk at 23andMe. Their latest funding round was $250M on a (reported) valuation of $1.5B. If I just add up the Crunchbase numbers it looks like almost half a billion invested at this point… Slides: Genomic Prediction of Complex Traits Abstract: We apply methods from Compressed Sensing (L1-penalized regression; Donoho-Tanner …


Thread Safety

As I noted in yesterday’s post, one of the major changes associated with the new “generic” callback structure in CPLEX is that users now bear the responsibility of making their callbacks thread-safe. As I also noted yesterday, this is pretty new stuff for me. So I’m going to try to share what I know about thread …


CPLEX 12.8: Generic Callbacks

IBM is getting ready to release CPLEX 12.8, and I had the opportunity to attend a presentation about by Xavier Nodet at the 2017 INFORMS annual meeting. Here are links to two presentations by Xavier: CPLEX Optimization Studio 12.8 – What’s New and CPLEX 12.8 – the Generic Callback. As with any new release, there …


Practicing Gratitude

Last weekend was homecoming on the Michigan State University campus, and I found myself reflecting on the meaning and significance of gratitude. So many alumni returned to campus to give thanks for all the ways MSU set them on a meaningful path. In the College of Arts & Letters, we celebrated the generous gifts we received from …


Pictures worth thousands of words

The use of whiteboard presentations, especially for short presentations  seems very useful in getting the gyst of a speaker’s intent. Even more so than Powerpoint presentations. I first stumbled on one a few years ago when Sir Kenneth Robinson condense a longer speech into an 11 minute whiteboard presentation that was just brilliant!! When I …


The Philosophers’ Way

Sometimes we forget … forget to take a break, forget to get outside, and forget to reflect on our individual and collective pasts. After an intense three days of talks at EMBO—hearing about exciting work by diverse and superb biologists in 13-minute chunks (plus Q&A); seeing dear friends Santiago Elena, Sebastian Bonhoeffer, and Roy Kishony; …


Steven Weinberg: What’s the matter with quantum mechanics?

In this public lecture Weinberg explains the problems with the two predominant interpretations of quantum mechanics, which he refers to as Instrumentalist (e.g., Copenhagen) and Realist (e.g., Many Worlds). The term “interpretation” may be misleading because what is ultimately at stake is the nature of physical reality. Both interpretations have serious problems, but the problem …


Talking Ta-Nehisi Coates, Seriously?

Glenn Loury is Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences, Department of Economics, Brown University. John McWhorter is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he teaches linguistics, American studies, philosophy, and music history. Loury (@19min): “He’s a good writer but not a deep thinker, and he’s being taken seriously …


Survival of the Steepest

Most textbooks tell you that the evolutionary process is really quite simple: three rules are all that’s necessary: inheritance, variation, and selection. It is indeed true that these three rules are all that’s needed for evolution to occur, but that does not mean that the evolutionary process is simple. In fact, quite the opposite. Real systems evolve in …


Independent Streams (Week of October 2)

Problems Summit Held For Ending Campus Sexual Assault(link is external) IPPSR affiliate Rebecca Campbell explains common trauma-responses in sexual assault victims. ‘Fake News’ Course Aims To Improve Media Consumption And Production(link is external) IPPSR affiliate William Dutton comments on the impact of ‘fake news.’ Cooking Books: DOD, HUD Defrauded Taxpayers Of $21 Trillion From 1998 to 2015(link …


Where are participants in American and Canadian teacher hashtags?

My dissertation research is focused on Regional Educational Twitter Hashtags (RETHs), which are teacher-focused hashtags that are associated with particular geographic regions, such as American states or Canadian provinces or territories. This isn’t the first time that I’ve done a project on this phenomenon, and it’s rewarding to come back to RETHs to answer some questions that …


Sport and Social Justice in South Africa

  Nelson Mandela would have been proud of Colin Kaepernick and the black (as well as a few white) U.S. athletes involved in the national anthem demonstrations against police violence and systemic racism. “Sport has the power to change the world,” Mandela believed. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that …


Getting started with ‘open science’ through blogging

Through a few different projects and people (such as SIPS and rOpenSci and conversations with friends / colleagues both online and offline), I have been exposed to the idea of open science. I’m actually going to punt for the moment. Here’s a definition that sounds about right to me: Open science is the movement to make scientific research, data and dissemination accessible …


A person-in-context approach to student engagement in science (article in JRST)

Over the past few years, I have worked with Jennifer Schmidt and Patrick Beymer to explore student engagement in science using the Experience Sampling Method (ESM). Most recently, we used what scholars have referred to as a “person-in-context” approach, using both ESM and a person-oriented approach. A figure is helpful for conveying how the person-oriented approach can be used to …


Is there such a thing as “white hat” research ethics violations?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about some of the ethical dilemmas involved in using public data for research, using an example of facial recognition researchers who used YouTube videos of people undergoing hormone replacement therapy to improve their algorithms’ ability to recognize faces from pre- and post-transition. Since reading that article, I’ve seen the occasional …


Recognizing Advisors

Advisors empower students to make life-altering decisions for themselves, armed with the best possible information. On Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017 I had the opportunity to speak at the first annual MSU Advisor Recognition Ceremony. Advising is a unique academic role on campus: in this role, advisors need to carefully balance giving students accurate and realistic …


Minimizing a Median

\( \def\xorder#1{x_{\left(#1\right)}} \def\xset{\mathbb{X}} \def\xvec{\mathbf{x}} \)A somewhat odd (to me) question was asked on a forum recently. Assume that you have continuous variables \(x_{1},\dots,x_{N}\) that are subject to some constraints. For simplicity, I’ll just write \(\xvec=(x_{1},\dots,x_{N})\in\xset\). I’m going to assume that \(\xset\) is compact, and so in particular the \(x_{i}\) are bounded. The questioner wanted to …