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It’s Hockey Season (and you probably don’t care)!

My team - The Buffalo Sabres

As soon as my NFL teams, the Ravens & the Vikings, are eliminated from competition, my attention shifts to the next sport on my schedule: ice hockey. (My team is the Buffalo Sabres, but I’ll save that story for another day.)

Now, I know that there aren’t a ton of hockey fans out there in Maryland, and for perfectly understandable reasons. First off, it’s almost never cold enough in Maryland to safely skate outdoors, which means that if you learned to skate, it probably happened at an indoor arena. Skating at an indoor arena in this area is inconvenient (there just aren’t that many of them) and, if you get serious about skating, can be expensive. As a result, very few Marylanders are good skaters, and if you’ve never experienced the thrill of whooshing along at 20 miles per hour on a sheet of glass, you’ll probably find it hard to relate to hockey.

That having been said, there is a second, and I think larger, barrier to acceptance of ice hockey in America: television. Some sports really benefit from television; the NFL is the perfect example. Before the NFL became a packaged product of the broadcast networks, it was a niche sport in the United States (that’s why the 1958 Colts-Giants game was so huge – it created interest in the game from television networks). As color broadcasts of the NFL became the norm in the 1970s, the sport exploded in popularity, because frankly, football is much better on TV. It’s true. Slow motion replays, reverse camera angles and extreme close ups of the action make the game much more entertaining on your couch than in the stands. It’s like someone designed football in the late 1800s knowing that one day someone else would create a medium to exploit it. It’s no wonder that most of the revenue NFL teams depend on for survival comes from their TV contracts.

Hockey, on the other hand, exists at the opposite end of the spectrum. As a hockey fan who regularly sees televised games and has also been to many in person, I can testify: hockey live is 100% better than hockey on TV. The NHL has wracked their collective brains for decades to figure out a way to translate the electricity of the game to the small screen, but without any real success. When I was a child, they had apparently decided that education was the key, so I was treated to a series of cartoon interruptions by Peter Puck, who explained the rules of the game in a way that might appeal to fans of Scooby Doo.

In the 1990s, when Fox took up the NHL banner, it was decided that the problem was that people had a hard time following the puck. The answer? A strange, glowing puck that changed colors depending on its speed.

More recently, rules have been change to promote scoring, cameras have been placed closer to the ice to replicate the intimate feel of a hockey arena, and rink-level microphones have been added in an attempt to capture the intensity of the game, with varying degrees of success.

The truth is, if you want to be converted to ice hockey, go have to go to a rink and see a game. As soon as you walk in, and that rush of cold, dry air smacks you in the face, something changes. The small arenas let you get closer to the athletes than you may be used to, and the way the sounds of the game (pucks being slapped by sticks and then ricocheting off the glass, bodies driven into the boards) echo inside the building are completely unique to the live experience.

It’s been thought that Americans can’t accept games that finish at 2-1 or 1-0. Honestly, the tension of a low-scoring game, where everyone knows that the next goal will likely decide the outcome, is about as much drama as you could hope for. And when your team finally, suddenly, unexpectedly puts the puck into the net (because that’s the way goals are scored in hockey – unlike the inevitable, relentless feeling of a scoring drive in football), the explosive release of emotion by everyone in the arena is unsurpassed in sport. (At a Caps-Penguins game last year, my pre-teen daughter nearly had a heart attack every time the Capitals scored, such was the reaction of the crowd.)

Hockey is a game of speed and endurance (the physical toll taken on players is so great that that they need to be switched out every minute or so), played almost without interruption (take that baseball & football), and is mercifully short, with games rarely going over 2:30 hours.

Hockey also has one element that no other team sport has – fighting as an accepted part of the game. Once, twice or (if you’re lucky) maybe a few times per game, players will drop the gloves and spend a few minutes wailing away at each other’s faces. Please understand – these are not baseball or football fights. When the referees decide that the contest has been settled and they start pulling the fighters apart, well, (to quote a recent film) there will be blood. Fighting is considered a natural part of the game, in effect the self-policing of the more violent tendencies of the sport, by the participants. What I mean is, let’s say that one of your guys has just absorbed what you think is a cheap (and maybe dangerous) hit from an opponent. You’re angry, you want to settle the score, and you want the other team to know that this kind of dirty play won’t be tolerated. You could try to injure the other player as retaliation, or, you could just skate up to him, push him into the boards and rub his face into the glass. Of course, he’ll resist, and then the two of you will drop your gloves and try to break each other’s noses. When it’s all said and done, the anger is quenched, the message has been sent and no lasting damage is done. All in all, I’d say it’s a pretty good emotional venting system for a pretty violent sport.

But alas, once again, fights are so much better when observed live.

So my advice to the uninitiated: get thee to a hockey game. Don’t know where to go (without dropping several hundred dollars in D.C.)? No problem. UMBC has the best college hockey team in Maryland, and they play a lot of home games at Piney Orchard Ice Arena In Odenton. Students are free, but otherwise, you’ll pay a few dollars for great seats and a totally fun ride.

But try to get out there soon; it won’t be hockey season forever.

JamieUMBC Joins The MyUMBC Development Team!

The MyUMBC team is Collier Jones, Bradley Tinney, Billy Schneider, Kevin Somers, and now – me!

As many of you know, I’m fortunate enough to be a staffer at UMBC’s Department of Information Technology. And many of the folks at DoIT know that I like to write stuff, as evidenced by this blog. Now, in a wonderful synergy of two things that I love (technology and writing), I have been asked to assist the awesome team that works behind the scenes to make the magic that is MyUMBC.

Now, if you remember an earlier post of mine, you know that I’m not nearly smart enough to do what the MyUMBC team does on a daily basis. Fortunately, I’m not being asked to do any of the heavy lifting (read: coding). What I’ll be doing is writing about all of the nifty and useful things that are happening with MyUMBC, and helping the UMBC community to get the most out of the great tools they’ll find there. It sounds like I’ll be having a lot of fun, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Last week I had my first meeting with team leader and coder extraordinaire Collier Jones, and as he gave my a quick tour around the beta version of MyUMBC, I just couldn’t believe how great it looked. The Events area, for example, is designed with many clever tools and yet is is so easy to use, I find it hard to imagine how much work must have gone into making it happen. If you’d like to have a look yourself, here it is. Or, you can just admire this screenshot:

So now I get to both enjoy our new tech tools and write about them, too.

Sweet.

MyUMBC Goes Ravens Purple

With the Ravens in the playoffs again, it’s neat to see everything in town going purple, like City Hall:

UMBC is getting in on the fun, too. For example, when the Ravens are in the playoffs, the top of the AOK Library goes purple:

I know in this photo it looks blue, but trust me, it's purple.

And now, the MyUMBC web portal has joined the mania:

I hope there’s a reason to keep that color up for a few more weeks, a least!

MHEC Ruling On UMUC Program Must Be Reversed

Last October, the Maryland Higher Education Commission ruled that University of Maryland University College‘s online doctoral program in community college administration was a duplication of Morgan State‘s face-to-face program and thus a violation of civil rights protections in place for historically black colleges. As a result, UMUC is now prohibited from offering the course in Maryland, although curiously, it can offer the course in the other 49 states.

The MHEC‘s misguided ruling reflects not a bias toward Morgan State as much as it reflects the age of the members of the Commission, with the only member of the Commission younger than 45 being the student representative. The delivery system for higher education in America is being rapidly altered by existing and emerging technologies, and these changes require a modern, more nuanced way of thinking about universities, what they offer and how they serve the needs of the community. I have firsthand knowledge of this, being enrolled in UMBC’s online Instructional Systems Development program.

To anyone paying attention, it is clear that various forms of distance learning will play an increasing role in the delivery system of the nation’s colleges. As this occurs, there will necessarily be overlap with some traditional programs. However, it is a mistake to treat online courses as if they were classroom courses for the purpose of excluding them. We should be encouraging the development of parallel online courses, not shutting them down. And giving Morgan State, a university with limited online experience, two years to create something from nothing, is at best a weak nod in the direction of distance learning.

What the commissioners may not understand is that UMUC’s program isn’t competing with Morgan State’s – it’s competing with other online programs across the country. The MHEC’s decision presupposes that the market served by Morgan State, traditional students available for attendance in a classroom, is the same group of people targeted by UMUC’s online program. Clearly, this is not the case. Online learners are almost always working adults seeking to fulfill their educational requirements while maintaining job, family and other commitments (like me).

The good news is that the university system’s Board of Regents is unwilling to surrender so easily, and will ask the Commission to reconsider. From the Sun article:

“The decision completely ignores a stated priority in the 2009 Maryland State Plan for Higher Education,” wrote Board of Regents Chairman Clifford Kendall in a letter to the commission. “The State Plan supports access to degrees through online programs in order to meet ‘the needs of a largely working, adult population who require a flexible schedule.’ This decision sets a potentially debilitating precedent that will discourage universities from doing the very thing that MHEC’s state plan charges them to do.”

Demonstrating his antiquated view of the situation, MHEC Chairman Kevin O’Keefe said, “I remain convinced that this was an isolated issue.” Even more depressing is O’Keefe’s belief that there will not be a “…strong sentiment among the majority of our members that we should reconsider the issue.”

Perhaps it is asking too much of this particular group of individuals to free themselves of a lifetime of assumptions about higher education and the way this product is delivered to its market. Too often, membership on the MHEC is a reward for a career of service to the community and while this may seem noble, it deprives the commission of the benefit of fresh thinking and new ideas. It may be that the only way for Maryland to become a leader in e-Learning, m-Learning and other non-traditional delivery systems is to replace (or supplement) the existing members of the MHEC with individuals who are not so tied to the past. I just hope that by the time this happens, national leadership in higher education hasn’t fallen too far from our grasp.

Winter Session 2010 – Baby, It’s Quiet Outside


The Winter Session is a great opportunity to grab some extra credits in just a few short weeks of what would otherwise be considered down time. Let’s face it: the winter break is too short to do anything productive, like land a job, so why not get closer to graduating instead of lying on the couch gaining weight?

Still, for those of you who go home every December, and maybe wonder what it’s like around UMBC during the Winter Session, let me give you one word: quiet. Yes, there are classes going on, just not many. Yes, there are students on campus, just not many. Yes, there are activities and fun things to do, just not many. So for those not here, I present this pictorial:

The first thing you’ll see when you arrive on campus are largely unbroken fields of asphalt where automobiles normally are. These are parking spaces, which come out of hibernation in the Winter Session.

Lot 9 at the Engineering Building

Lot 8 next to the UMBC Police station

The next thing you’ll notice is that it’s cold in early January – I mean really cold.

The glass is always half full at the Commons

Aerodynamics could be tested here. Wind chill -10°F.

During the Winter Session, you’re struck by how large the campus feels.

Between AOK and PUP

With no competition, everything seems open, free and orderly.

Clean as a whistle in January

Plenty of available computers at the AOK Library

Need to eat fast? No problem.

Plenty of open tables

Of course, it's quiet at the Help Desk, too.

No lines in the Bookstore

All clear at the Yum Shoppe

Yep, neat and orderly

Of course, shops have limited hours and some, like Starbucks and Pura Vida Cafe are closed altogether.

No coffee to be had here

So, to all of you at home, stay warm and enjoy your Winter Break. UMBC will be here waiting for you when you get back.

On the wall at the Help Desk, ECS 020

At The UMBC Basketball Game (Thanks, UMBC Training Centers!)


A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to win a pair of basketball tickets from UMBC Training Centers. The seats for last night’s game against Penn were in a great location, at center court, just four rows behind Media Row. As a bonus, the women’s team was playing the early game, and my wife and I arrived in time to see the ladies rally from 5 down with 1:36 left, only to have Carlee Cassidy’s potential game-tying shot bounce off the rim as time expired.

Here are some of the images I captured at the game:

It was a pretty good crowd for a Wednesday during Winter Break.

Damon Massenburg works with me at the Help Desk, and he was at the game, too.

Damon not only works for the Help Desk, he also works for the basketball team. (And who says there's no work out there for students?)

Between games, my wife and I settled into our seats and soaked up the pregame atmosphere. Not everything, I’ll admit, made sense to us.

We watched as stunned coaches struggled to comprehend nervous players' strange behavior before the game.

The UMBC players entered the gym through a giant Moon Bounce.

Just before tipoff, the players gathered to share secrets, oddly enough, in the most public place they could find. It was like they were intentionally excluding us from their club and I felt hurt. And sad.

The radio broadcasters had this cool software that told them if they were pronouncing their French vocabulary correctly.

This printer on media row wiped out the paper equivalent of six cords of firewood while I was at the game.

This nice gentleman came by to collect the reams of printed paper and distribute them to random individuals scattered about the gym floor.

At one point, True Grit rushed the floor and tried to incite a rebellion, but no one seemed to notice.

During a timeout there was an attempted robbery; and then the mugger realized that all he was likely to get from a crowd of college students was about ten bucks and half a bottle of Five Hour Energy.

The Cheerleaders demonstrating their patented "Have another cheerleader stand on your hands" stunt. We, along with everyone else present, were very impressed.

"The Stunt" can be successfully deployed in various locations on the gym floor, as demonstrated here.

The radio broadcasters' attention remains riveted on the potential for tragedy inherent in "The Stunt."

The Dance Team, like a rival gang in a Broadway musical, are not impressed by "The Stunt." They take the floor from the Cheerleaders and begin distracting the crowd by remaining perfectly still.

The Cheerleaders, seething from the corner, plot their revenge against the Dance Team.

Finally, in a fit of pique, the Cheerleaders storm the floor, scattering the Dance Team. Once having retaken their ground, they stake their claim by performing "The Stunt."

Eventually, having conceded the night to the Cheerleaders and the near mythical power of “The Stunt,” the game resumes, and UMBC loses to Penn, 82-71.

And that’s what it’s like at a UMBC basketball game – at least the way I remember it.