Thursday, November 22, 2012

Career slowdown due to childcare is a human rights issue for academics and other professionals

This morning,the Globe and Mail has an article about a report from the Canadian Council of Academies discussing the difficulties female faculty members have advancing their careers.

In general, the process of academic advancement does not mesh well with raising families, whether you are a female or a male.

In order to achieve tenure and promotion, professors are supposed to continually build a publication track record. Taking a break, or 'slowing down', just doesn't work.

One can't properly take maternity or parental care and expect to advance. Indeed female colleagues of mine routinely work during their maternity leave. One even has had her nanny with her in her office looking after her young babies, just a few weeks after each child is born. Why is such leave often impractical: 1) You have to maintain supervision of graduate students; you can't just abandon PhD's in process; 2) You can't just abandon research programs you have carefully negotiated since you often have deliverables or expectations from research clients. 3) It often takes 12-30 months to get papers published in top conferences and journals; you have to keep that process moving, and attend the conferences when papers are accepted. 4) The process of hiring and getting new PhD students going can take 1-3 years; if you wait until you get back from a maternity or parental leave, you have a long gap again before you have a productive research team (and heaven-forbid that you might have another child on the way).

After any statutory or negotiated leaves in a baby's first year, you have a fixed number of courses to teach, so any slowdown while children are young inevitably is deducted from your time to do research and write publications. Slowing down 33% (e.g. from 60 hours a week to 40 hours a week) due to  family responsibilities, might mean reducing the research time from 30 hours a week to 10, a 75% cut. Hardly anyone realizes this consequence.

Interestingly, the Law Society of Upper Canada (Ontario), which had a progressive policy towards enabling female lawyers to take time of for childcare by helping cover their office expenses during their absence, is poised to drop that policy.

This problem, however, is not exclusively a female problem. It affects men too. It contributes to divorce when male academics (and lawyers or other professionals) are unable to take their share of the childcare and family workload. It leads to family-oriented men getting left behind in the career ladder, or simply deciding not to take opportunities that otherwise they would have done.

I have personally found that I have not been nearly as successful in research since having my three children. The sleepless nights and other family tasks have slowed me down very considerably. I know this is the case for other male colleagues. PhD students can be particularly badly affected. I was lucky to have made it to full professor just at the time my first child was born. I believe I might never have made tenure even if I had had children earlier. It must be so much harder for women who have a greater biological imperative to slow down their career.

Institutions and society must recognize this issue, especially now that women make up the majority of students in most academic disciplines. I have seen too many women professors just leave because of this issue, or decide not to take on higher-level responsibilities. And my graduate students both male and female, that have had children, inevitably have huge drop-offs in research performance.

It must become a violation of human rights to not consider childcare and family in promotion, and to not as an institution or profession have active programs in place to accommodate employees and members while their children are young.

Universities and granting agencies, for example, should explicitly have policies that expect and account for 60%+ drops in research productivity when people have young children. Co-supervision of graduate students should be the norm for essentially all graduate students. And when I talk about young children, I don't just mean babies and toddlers; the productivity effect of caring for family may slowly drop off, but it doesn't really ever drop to zero, and should continue to be accounted for until children are capable of travelling by themselves to activities and looking after themselves at home when required.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Yes the provocation and arms buildup by Hamas is intolerable, but aren't there other ways for Israel to respond?

The average person in the world today sees Israel's bombing and military buildup and finds it hard to see the justification for the amount of force being deployed. This will just fuel the hate against Israel, which is not in Israel's best interest.

Yes, elements in Hamas have been bombing Israel for the last year with relatively ineffective "boring" rockets that nonetheless terrorize Israeli citizens. Yes, I accept that Hamas is becoming more brazen and starting to deploy more effective weapons that need to be stopped. Some level of right-to-defend is justified. Yes, there are a great many people in Gaza with fundamentalist attitudes that demand the destruction of Israel.

If the world is supposed to believe that Israel is a mature democracy, can't Israel try other tactics. Some of the following come to mind:
  • Call for United Nations resolutions every time they are bombed.
  • Instead of bombing with explosives, bomb with millions of 'propaganda' leaflets explaining to the Gazans how evil the Hamas bombing is. Or bomb with devices that have loudspeakers that explain to Gazans what is going on.
  • Unilaterally stop the tit-for-tat for a few days to see what happens. If Hamas rockets continue, give a burst of intense response at a pre-announced time, but then stop again. Accelerate this, but always show more restraint than Hamas.
  • Call on elder statesman from other countries (US, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan) to get together to help figure out how to get Hamas to stop the provocation and rhetoric.
  • If they have to bomb (perhaps because they have intelligence about more sophisticated weapons), announce 10 minutes before where they are going to bomb, so people can escape but relatively little military hardware can.
  • Parachute in water and extra humanitarian aid to let the people of Gaza think a little about their intentions.
  • Post on an interactive website exactly where they aimed, and what they intended to hit, for the world to see.
Some of these ideas may be impractical. But surely there most be something other than pure intense military response that is vastly greater than the rockets that Hamas has been using. Israel has so much stronger an army, superb anti-rocket military defences, powerful friends around the world. They don't have to destroy their reputation and foster ever more hatred among neighbouring countries by overdoing their responses.

There is just no way that the current action will serve as a 'deterrent'; angry people are not deterrable.  If anything the current action will just stoke up more attacks on Israel for years to come and risk wider war and more Israeli deaths. It is clear that the action must be aimed at destroying weapons Israel knows or suspects to be present. And perhaps they have to be careful not to reveal the source of their intelligence, hence precluding some of my ideas above. Nonetheless, showing restraint and waging an intense propaganda war surely must be viable.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

iOS battery drain: Cause is runaway background processes such as Skype

There have been many threads on the Internet after iOS updates about battery drain on people's iPhone and iPad mobile devices.

People blame Apple, demanding a cure and threatening to switch to Android. People have suggested such 'solutions' as factory restores, logging out if iCloud etc. It seems Genius bar staff at Apple are often not able to solve the problem, and some have not believed the problem is as serious as it is.

I had the problem for the first time after upgrading my iOS devices to 6.0.1. My battery was draining from 100% to zero, sometimes in as few as four hours. It was also running 'hot'. Before my iPhone 5 had lasted at least two days on standby.

I experimented carefully with various solutions one at a time. In my case, it turned out that Skype was the culprit. Even though I haven't used Skype on my iPhone for a long time, its background process was still active, and reactivated after every reset. The solution was to 'kill' Skype fully by double-clicking the home button to bring up the 'recent apps' list, finding the Skype process, holding down the home button until the the red 'minus sign' appears, then clicking on it. After doing this, my iPhone's battery is back to normal.

Other people have reported a similar problem with the Facebook background processes, or the iCloud background processes. In the latter case it seems that logging out and logging in is the cure.

Why are these background processes behaving badly for some people and not others? It could be malformed data in the particular person's account, or any number of other possible causes. Clearly these issues are sporadic and only affect a minority of iOS users.

Apple, I think, is not to blame here, but could be part of the solution. Those with a conspiracy theory mindset might guess that Microsoft has seeded bugs into Skype to drive people from iOS to Windows 8 Mobile! Of course, I don't believe that. My theory is simply that a latent bug in Skype was surfaced by upgrading iOS to 6.0.1 for me. Other bugs for other people might have been surfaced by other upgrades.

Apple should, however, put software in iOS to detect processes that are using too much power during supposed sleep times, and warn the user about them (with instructions about how to kill the process), or force those processes to die or use far fewer resources.

The AppSwitch tool is a very good tool, by the way, to see which processes are running in multitasked mode.

Apple's stock is in a downtrend, and I am convinced that the battery woes are driving lots of people away from iOS unnecessarily. There are other issues for Apple's woes (ridiculous patent attacks against them for example), but this is one they can deal with fairly easily.