Computer Vision and Machine Intelligence: Advancing the Human/Machine Partnership

first_imgAs we head into VMworld, hot on the heels of a successful Dell Technologies World, it seems like an appropriate time to provide an IoT update.As you know, last October, we unveiled our vision and strategy, a new Dell Technologies IoT Solutions Division as well as IoT-specific incubation projects including Project World Wide Herd for federated analytics. This project has now entered a formal technology preview for VMworld as it approaches production launch under a new name to be unveiled soon.A lot has happened since that announcement so settle yourself comfortably for a long but hopefully interesting read!Engineered solutions, bundles and evolving IoT offersI’m happy to report that our new IoT Solutions Division is fully operational. The division’s core charter is to engineer IoT and edge computing solutions that combine the power of the Dell Technologies hardware and software infrastructure portfolio with partner assets for specific use cases. Our ultimate goal is to make it easier for our customers to realize business value at scale.In parallel, we’re also working to enable the channel by collaborating with partners to develop easy-to-consume and deploy solution bundles. Examples launching soon include solutions for cold chain retail, Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) and remote monitoring of Oil and Gas field assets.In terms of existing purpose-built IoT offerings from throughout the portfolio, we continue to find new applications for our Dell Edge Gateways, with customers valuing their rugged utility combined with the global scale and support of a Tier 1 manufacturer. A few months back, VMware launched version 1.1 of Pulse IoT Center, which addresses the often overlooked function of being able to remotely manage heterogeneous things and gateways at scale.Surveillance opening a view into much broader potentialAll good stuff, and to coincide with the delivery of our first engineered solution for video surveillance, I want to put this announcement within the context of the broader Dell Technologies IoT/Edge vision and associated roadmap.Surveillance is a use case within our broader computer vision strategy – the first milestone for our vision-vision, if you will. And so, this first engineered solution – while important for video surveillance – is also significant in the greater scheme of things.The bottom line is that we see computer vision as a foundational enabler for many IoT use cases – after all cameras are one of the best sensors around. Further, applying analytics to these data feeds enables customers to more cost-effectively monitor events in the physical world and automate decision-making.Our aim is to enable computer vision in a variety of use cases in addition to classic surveillance so that customers can “see more than meets the human eye” (enter Transformers theme music) and receive alerts and summaries based on important context.But wait there’s more!One foundation, different workload themesAs part of our roadmap of engineered solutions, we’re investing in a single Dell Technologies infrastructure foundation comprised of hardware and software, spanning the edge to the cloud and addressing the needs of OT and IT on Day 0, 1 and 2 (before, during and after deployment). This work will be done against two key workload themes – computer vision and machine intelligence.Each component in this loosely-coupled infrastructure offer is engineered to work together to optimally support these two themes, depending on which elements are included and dialed in alongside value-add from our partners. Even though it’s ultimately one foundation, we distinguish between the two themes as each track has slightly unique functional properties that require different combinations of tools from the overall Dell Technologies portfolio and partner ecosystem.Computer vision workloadsComputer vision workloads are enabled by cameras and imaging sensors (including thermal and infrared). They generally require different types of analytics tools than structured machine data, have inherently heavy “northbound” content flow, and as a result drive high compute and storage needs by default.No surprises here – I challenge you to find someone who thinks it’s a great idea to blindly stream 4k video over the internet compared to snapshots of critical events – at least, someone who doesn’t represent a telco, ISP, or public cloud provider who wants to move and/or store your data for a price, only for you to pay again to get it back!Traditionally with vision-based solutions, “southbound” data flow has generally been limited to driving displays and speakers plus PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom) control for motorized cameras, but more below on how this is changing with advanced robotics and autonomous vehicles.Machine intelligence workloadsMachine intelligence, on the other hand, involves structured telemetry data from control systems and sensors, including those that can provide data that cameras cannot.Of course, image-based sensors can provide extremely rich information about the physical world – not just video in the purest sense but also serve to detect attributes like acceleration and motion, position of a robotic arm, wobble of a motor shaft, temperature and visible gas emissions. However, last time I checked cameras can’t measure parameters like voltage, current, pressure or oil particulates inside of a sealed engine block.Simple telemetry-based sensors are also important when low power operation (and especially long battery life) is required. Finally, in some cases, it’s not feasible or desirable to install a camera to detect certain conditions due to privacy concerns. For example, how would you feel if a camera was used as a motion sensor in your bathroom to turn on the lights?Another more universal consideration for machine intelligence is the notion of control, which drives unique requirements to address latency and predictability – ranging from “hard” real time (e.g. super low-latency and deterministic, as in deployment of your car air bag) to “soft” real time (e.g. reactions in seconds to minutes, if not more, and tolerant of slight variances in response time). Granted, vision-based systems that perform in hard real-time are increasingly a necessity in robotics and autonomous vehicles.Pi and the SkyI like to talk about how we’re in the “AOL stage of IoT”, which puts developers in what I call “Pi and the Sky” mode when it comes to machine-based data – simply connecting their sensors or PLCs to some sort of Raspberry Pi-class device, and in turn to the public cloud, simply to get started because it’s cheap and easy.While it’s widely accepted that a shift to edge computing is a necessity to support the sheer amount of data coming online, developers just getting started with capturing basic telemetry data from sensors don’t realize they have an edge data problem… yet. Accordingly, these deployments are often first addressed at the thin gateway edge and the cloud, unlike computer vision where data saturation happens pretty much immediately.In short, the time scales for the adoption of edge computing at scale are different between computer vision and machine intelligence even though the same foundational computing infrastructure elements can apply for either theme.EdgeX Foundry – enabling an open ecosystem for machine intelligenceLooking outside of the company, we see our investments in the EdgeX Foundry project as key to enabling the machine intelligence theme in our solution roadmap in a very open and scalable way.There’s a lot of detail about the project online so I’ll keep it short here, but in case you haven’t heard about EdgeX, it’s an industry-wide vendor-neutral open source project, hosted by the Linux Foundation and focused on facilitating open interoperability between commercial value-add solutions at the IoT edge. The idea is to maximize customer choice, making it easier for them to achieve faster ROI with their IoT deployments.Even though EdgeX is a hardware and OS-agnostic framework versus an OS itself, one way I describe it is that it’s slated to do for IoT what Android did for mobile – create an open marketplace of interoperable devices and applications.I’m proud to have been part of the team at Dell that first seeded the project with code in April 2017 that was developed over the course of two years with lots of feedback from partners and customers. The project has since taken on a life of its own in a growing community effort.You can read about what the community has since accomplished and learn more about key project tenets and priorities for this year in my post here. Eric Brown of also did a great write-up on the recent “California” code release as well as what’s in store for the project’s “Delhi” release in October.Freedom of choice, but we’ll provide you with some great, interoperable choicesContinuing the topic of customer choice, each business unit across Dell Technologies has its own offers that are either IoT-specific or very relevant to IoT, and more generally-speaking edge computing. Our strategy is to render each of these offers as independently-valuable but also better together when used in integrated solutions combined with choice of third-party value-add. Bottom line, we’re all about providing customers with choice and flexibility, not just now but into the future.In order to enable this, we’re not only contributing to the EdgeX Foundry project as a community member but also leveraging the EdgeX framework internally to help federate our own solutions portfolio. Picture a set of building blocks with super-flexible, open glue, where customers can use all the enabling components together or separately in a mix and match approach.Getting past the “AOL stage” to IoT scale and advanced classThe loosely-coupled nature of the EdgeX framework enables customers to have consistent tools for data ingestion, security and management, regardless of what devices they use combined with their choice of on-prem and cloud applications. We believe the notion of decoupling – 1) the “infrastructure plane” from the “insights plane”, 2) the edge from the cloud and 3) domain knowledge from technology – in an open, interoperable fashion is the only way IoT can scale longer term in an inherently heterogeneous, multi-edge and multi-cloud world.In fact, we anticipated the shift to edge computing when we started accelerating our IoT investment back in 2015, building on top of 20 years of experience serving embedded OEM customers. This is why we led with our purpose-built Dell Edge Gateways in addition to spinning up the internal Dell Project Fuse effort, which turned into the open source EdgeX Foundry project of today.EdgeX goes commercialEarlier this summer, Dell Technologies Capital also invested in IOTech – a vendor-neutral “Red Hat” of EdgeX that is commercializing the code as its core business model. IOTech’s first offering “Edge Xpert” will enable customers that want to benefit from the open EdgeX ecosystem to invest in their choice of plug-in value-add rather than having to expend resources to support the open source EdgeX baseline.Further, IOTech is building a second commercial variant of EdgeX that will serve hard real-time use cases while using the same APIs at the perimeter so customers can re-use device and application services. This has the potential to change the game in the automation world.Important to note is that while EdgeX is a key step towards enabling machine intelligence in a very open and scalable way, the framework is not suitable for video analytics today. That said, the community is in the process of adding support for binary data at the request of Hitachi Vantara at the most recent public face-to-face Technical Steering Committee (TSC) meeting. This will make it capable of passing through certain types of image data in a variety of use cases.Committed to open standards for distributed computingOverall, enabling distributed computing based on open standards is fundamental to our IoT strategy. We have been active participants in the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) and Open Fog Consortium over the past number of years and have recently joined the Automotive Edge Computing Consortium (AECC), which will address considerations for both computer vision and machine intelligence in the automotive space.Advancing the human/machine partnershipNow that I’ve presented all the elements, let’s take it a step further – especially powerful is leveraging computer vision combined with machine intelligence to provide people with even richer automated insights into the physical world!For example, think about pointing a camera at a manufacturing conveyor belt to inspect the quality of parts flying by while simultaneously ingesting data from the PLCs and sensors on the machinery producing those parts. By analyzing the mashup of this data, both the production supervisor and quality engineer would know what was happening with the machines that produced the part when the cameras detected the flaw. [Side note: “machine vision” is also a term used in this space, which is basically computer vision applied in manufacturing use cases such as quality control, process and robot control, etc.]This paradigm applies to nearly all other verticals and use cases in a similar fashion. In another example, a building facilities manager may merge event data from surveillance with machine data from devices like badge readers, motion sensors, beacons and thermostats. AI and context-based reasoningOf course, applying analytics to drive outcomes is a key part of computer vision (and machine intelligence for that matter). Minor rant first – I always get a kick out of those that talk Artificial Intelligence (AI) when they’re really just working with a basic IFTTT (If This Then That) rules engine.The promise of AI is, of course, true context-based reasoning. In other words, it’s about making sound judgement calls in a real-world situation with many inputs and many different potential outcomes. Ethics and morality come into play too but this post is shaping up to be long already so I’ll save those topics for another time.It turns out it’s rather simple to tell a bad part from a good part on a manufacturing line with the right camera resolution and analytics tools – because it’s highly predictable (using the old “one of these is not like the others” trick).It’s also pretty easy to retroactively search recorded video with tools that classify readily distinguishable objects, based on prescribed context. Like “’show me everyone with red shirts in that area between the times of 1:00 and 1:15 last Wednesday” or “show me all the pink cars that turned left at that intersection today” (hopefully not that many!), and so forth.Further, it’s fairly rudimentary these days to train a model to tell the difference between a car and a bicycle. The ability to recognize specific faces and even gauge relative demographics (e.g. age, gender, race) with no prior knowledge of the individual is also getting quite (eerily) good.Animals tend to be a little trickier, and while I wouldn’t be too impressed if your algorithm could pick out a giraffe in a field of hyenas, you’re getting warmer if it can tell a cat from a dog and you’re really starting to impress me if it can distinguish minor differences between animals in any given breed.It’s all possible with the right image resolution, compute power and model training. It’s just that data scientists have been a little more focused on identifying humans than animals in the wild kingdom (but more on that below).Making a judgement callDiving deeper into context-based reasoning – how do I know that person who may look a little shifty is really up to no good? For example, if an algorithm detects a person leaving behind a bag in a crowded public space, did they purposely drop off something that can do some harm or did they just accidentally lose their gym clothes? It turns out making these calls accurately isn’t so easy. Where are the pre-cogs from the movie Minority Report when you need them?To avoid a false positive while making a proactive judgement call about a theft, I would need to know things in the moment like that the suspected offender has a criminal record with the authorities, or at least have a record of past questionable behaviors in my store (via my private database) – and be able to analyze a collection of this historical behavior together with real-time context to definitively predict the theft before it happens.It’s tricky and we’ll likely have as close to as many false positives as with humans, but nevertheless, AI will increasingly help us automate these judgement calls. Maybe not like a pre-cog hanging out with Tom Cruise but at the very least, catching crooks red-handed on the way out the door.The true power of IoT is triggering actions in real time across a variety of interrelated use cases and contexts. It’s about a system of systems and networked intelligence. And part of this networked intelligence is the notion of combining sensor-based data with business data, whether it be your ERP, CRM, social networking tool de jour, or otherwise. Within the Dell Technologies family, Boomi can help with this data fusion!Retail customer tracking… wait make that trendingLooking at automating judgement calls through sensor-driven analytics in a different context, how do I know that person who just walked into my retail store is a big spender, meaning I should summarily roll out the red carpet? [Aside: I found it funny at the National Retail Federation (NRF) event a few years ago when apparently the industry decided to no longer call following customers’ patterns in stores “tracking”, rather rebranding it as customer “trending”, after all the latter does sound a little less creepy.]In case you didn’t know – a sophisticated retailer knows for a fact that you stood in front of that end cap for 46 seconds debating but not purchasing those cookies on special. All because, you actually went to the freezer aisle to grab a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream instead… at full price… for the third time this week!Kind of creepy, right?Privacy goes out the window with sufficient valueHowever, I find that as much as people talk about privacy concerns, it all goes out the window if sufficient value is received. If I told you ten years ago that you’d leave location-based services (LBS) on your phone all the time, you would have thought I was crazy. But, guess what, the majority of people with smart phones today do just that. Where else do you think all those red and yellow traffic lines come from? (Waze of course is the ultimate opt-in way of capturing this data). And then, there’s the always-on Alexa’s of the world.It’s also about context – you know when you shop for something online and then your life becomes all about that product for like three months after? Literally, every single nook and cranny of your browser is an incessant carousel of that product. Did you forget something? No, I didn’t forget it – I chose not to buy it!However, here’s where context matters. As much as I find that web phenomenon supremely annoying, let’s be honest, if I were to walk into a brick and mortar retail store (which means by the way that I just signaled strong intent to buy something), I sure would be happy to receive a personalized coupon on the spot. Even though it would still be a little creepy that they knew it was me that walked in, and that the coupon was for Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.Using our AI powers for goodSure, we’ll have some false positives along the way and privacy will unfortunately be violated (both unintentionally and intentionally) from time to time. Of course, GDPR is working to address this, more on that another time. However, ultimately technology is about driving human progress and as long as we use our powers for good not evil, I think we’ll be just fine.Speaking of the wild kingdom and doing good, as part of their “Data for Good” program, one of our analytics partners SAS® is collaborating with the non‐profit WildTrack – an organization that uses non‐invasive techniques to monitor and protect endangered species.With the help of SAS® technology – built on top of Dell PowerEdge server infrastructure – WildTrack is using extensive data on endangered species like cheetahs and leopards to improve conservation efforts by collecting footprint images and analyzing them with a customized statistical model in SAS to gain insights into density, distribution, and habits of these species – their software can identify species, sex, age-class and individual animals from their footprints. WildTrack researchers are also using Dell Latitude Rugged Laptops at their field sites in Namibia for managing their data.Given enough data, with SAS deep learning, AI models can be trained to perform human-like tasks such as identifying footprint images and recognizing patterns in a similar way to indigenous trackers in Africa – but with the added ability to apply these concepts at a much larger scale and more rapid pace. WildTrack has developed algorithms to monitor a range of species from Amur tiger and Giant panda in China to Black rhino in Namibia, to Mountain lion in the Americas, and in partnership with SAS is actively expanding their program to roll-out more innovative techniques in the future.This is very cool stuff, and of course, even more interesting is when you combine all of the above with emerging technologies like blockchain and AR/VR, but more on that in future blogs!From DVR to automated real-time insights Now to be fair, computer vision has been around a long time – in the same way that many use cases that are now called IoT have. However, as with IoT, we’re at an inflection point where available technology, not to mention an ever-increasing demand for real-time data, is making these trends accessible to the masses and soon to be pervasive.In the case of computer vision, this is especially due to the advent of better tools including drag and drop interfaces to train models (almost “Pinterest like”) and co-processing via GPUs and FPGAs to greatly accelerate analytics workloads. While we’re getting closer to the art of the possible, we have to stay vigilant for issues with privacy and false positives that I spoke about earlier.And yet, today, it’s true that something on the order of 90% of surveillance deployments are really fancy DVR at best, with best-in-class analytics being retroactive context-based search of archives after an event such as a crime.Surely you’ve seen a TV or movie scene with some security guard eating out of a bucket of fried chicken while staring at a wall of fuzzy 8” black and white CCTV screens. This has been the norm (perhaps minus the KFC) for many years. However, it’s getting cost prohibitive to put people in front of screens to try to capture critical events in real time, plus in order to drive new business outcomes (such as offering a customer a deal when they walk into your store) you need to act in the moment. Here’s where computer vision kicks in.A clear path to innovationWe’re seeing more and more sensors coming online in general and the introduction of 4k video is enabling new analytics-driven outcomes because of the more granular detail that can be captured from the physical world compared to traditionally lower-resolution CCTV cameras. Like detecting a license plate number or specific face from a long distance, or a slight bulge in someone’s jacket that wasn’t there when they walked into the store, or that it was actually Cherry Garcia and not Chunky Monkey ice cream that I grabbed.We’re also seeing increasingly creative usage of drones equipped with sophisticated sensing capabilities, not only outdoors for inspection of infrastructure like oil pipelines and bridges but also indoors to take inventory in a warehouse by flying around after-hours scanning barcodes on packages.Shallow learningAnd with all of this vision-based data, we’re seeing deep learning techniques move closer and closer to the device edge in addition to more and more silicon purpose-built for AI. Another recent Dell Technologies Capital investment was in Graphcore – a startup developing AI-optimized silicon that can be used for both learning and inference.Whether Graphcore’s processor sits at the edge (for example, in an autonomous vehicle), the cloud or somewhere in between simply depends on use case. We’re seeing similar investment and M&A activity across the market, including Intel’s acquisition of Movidius.The deepest of deep learning will always happen in the cloud where we effectively have infinitely scalable compute but we’ll continue to see more and more models being pushed to and even trained at the extreme edge. I jokingly call this “shallow learning”.Invest now so you don’t pay for it later All of the use cases I’ve talked about and more are driving new architectures including an increasing need for edge compute. Net-net, even in the case when a customer may think they’ll be fine with pumping data to the cloud for a simple IoT use case or leveraging fancy DVR for surveillance with brute-force reactive search, we advise them to invest in more compute headroom at the edge now.My message is – don’t get caught later having to rip and replace infrastructure in order to drop in new AI workloads for real-time analytics. You need to equip yourself now to stay competitive as the world transforms around you.One infrastructure for distributed computingIn a perfect world, a user who is leveraging drones to capture high-resolution aerial imagery would love to be able to fully process that data in the drone itself, but unfortunately the laws of physics can be pesky at times.However, at the very least they’ll want to increasingly pre-process that data in the drone, then send smaller data to a server cluster in a nearby field base station (perhaps in a truck or Modular Data Center) for further processing, and finally backhauling only the most meaningful information to the cloud for additional processing and archiving. This is compared to sending huge image files directly over a cellular, or worse satellite connection to some distant cloud.And in any event, with GPU- or FPGA-based acceleration compared to processing with a traditional host CPU, an image that once took weeks to process can now take days, if not hours.In all cases, our goal at Dell Technologies is to equip customers with the right scalable, secure, manageable and open infrastructure today so they can grow into new use cases over time, simply by adding more devices and pushing new applications via containers or VMs to any compute node spanning the edge to the cloud.We build the guts so our partners can bring the gloryImportant to stress again is that at Dell Technologies, we’re all about the underlying infrastructure. The last thing we want to do is compete with partners and customers that were deploying IoT use cases before it was called IoT.As such, we’re curating an ecosystem of Technology and Services partners that provide domain- and use-case specific offerings on top of our engineered infrastructure foundation to deliver complete outcome-oriented solutions for customers. Our foundation will be equally applicable to scale out any use case when paired with the right partner software, hardware and services, and EdgeX provides an open way to facilitate increasing plug-and-play interoperability across the board over time.Simplifying surveillance as the first stop on the vision trainMy colleagues in the Dell Technologies IoT Solutions Division have done a fantastic job pulling together our first targeted solution for surveillance through close collaboration with the Dell Technologies portfolio Business Units, our analytics and camera partners and the open source EdgeX community. This will continuously evolve into a foundation supporting myriad use case-specific solutions spanning both the computer vision and machine intelligence themes.As part of this effort, we have validated various sizings of the combined solution in our labs and made sure that it’s not only simple to deploy but also highly reliable. While there are great benefits of virtualizing compute, networking and storage for scalability and performance, we also want to make sure that we offer rock-solid uptime so customers don’t experience service dropouts in critical moments.History repeats itselfI’ll close with a story of how I believe computer vision is taking a similar path to the POTS to VOIP (Plain Ol’ Telephone System to Voice over IP) transition in the enterprise.Looking back, despite OT (Operations Technology, e.g. facilities within a building) traditionally owning the phone system, the business ultimately directed IT to take on the support of emerging VOIP technology due to the savings involved and flexibility gained.Similarly with video, OT has historically owned CCTV systems but the technologies involved with where we’re headed (compute, storage, networking, AI etc.) are driving a need for IT skills to deploy and manage computer vision solutions in scale.As I like to say, IoT starts in OT but scales in IT.On that note, I talk quite a bit about the importance of OT and IT convergence, including jokingly highlighting how this trend makes for the preeminent IoT conference Venn diagram (for more on this check out Part Two of my five-part blog series on digital transformation and the need for a cloud-native edge).At Dell Technologies, we’re here to work with our partners and both OT and IT organizations alike to make this transition as smooth as possible so customers can benefit from entirely new business outcomes in spades.Thoughts? I’d love to hear your comments and questions. Join the IoT conversation on Twitter: @defshepherdLearn more about Dell Technologies at Learn more about Dell EMC OEM at Keep in touch about ongoing developments in the Internet of Things. Join the Dell EMC OEM IoT Showpage here.last_img read more

Capitol fences highlight delicate dance over safety, access

first_imgWASHINGTON (AP) — The reaction from members of Congress, local lawmakers and neighborhood residents was swift and emphatically negative when the Capitol police force’s acting chief said permanent fences around the Capitol complex should be part of the “vast improvements” in security needed to protect the building and the lawmakers who work inside. It’s a sad fact of life in the nation’s capital that security measures are seldom temporary. But a Virginia Tech architect says it’s possible to address security concerns and make places more welcoming to the public.last_img read more

3 Idaho National Guard members killed in helicopter crash

first_imgBOISE, Idaho (AP) — Three Idaho Army National Guard pilots have died after their Black Hawk helicopter crashed near Boise during a training flight. Col. Christopher Burt said the helicopter was last contacted at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday while it was on a routine training flight. The UH-60 Black Hawk’s emergency transmitter locator was activated about 15 minutes later. Search and rescue crews found the wreckage just after midnight Wednesday morning near a mountain named Lucky Peak. The names of the pilots killed in the crash were not immediately released so officials could notify their relatives. The cause of the crash is under investigation. Crews were still working to recover the bodies Wednesday afternoon.last_img read more

NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Cowher has memoir out in June

first_imgNEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame coach and NFL analyst Bill Cowher has a book coming out in June that his publisher is calling “more than just a football story.” The former Pittsburgh Steelers coach, who led his team to a Super Bowl title at the end of the 2005 season, has a deal with Atria Books for the memoir “Heart and Steel.” Cowher, inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, will look back not just on his career, but on his private struggles. In 2010, he lost his wife and father within three months of each other.last_img read more

College students to perform two operas

first_imgSaint Mary’s College will look to hit the right note this weekend as six students perform two short operas this weekend. The performances of “The Old Maid and the Thief” and “The Telephone,” both by Gian Carlo Menotti, will showcase the talents of students involved in a one-credit opera workshop, associate professor of music Laurel Thomas said. “In the semesters we do opera workshop, students can receive one credit for taking the class,” she said. “The term ‘opera workshop’ is used quite loosely, in the sense that we might do a one-act opera in its entirety, or we might do several scenes from different operas, which is how the term is usually used.” Thomas said the College presents a staged musical performance each year within the music department, with the exception of every fourth year, where the College teams the music and theatre departments to create a full-length musical. “Every fourth year we do a large musical together,” she said. “We are currently in discussion about doing a smaller musical every other year, and we tried this last fall when we collaborated to produce ‘Into the Woods’ by Stephen Sondheim.” Thomas said she is responsible for selecting music each year that caters to the students’ skill set. “I always choose the opera or opera scenes based on the students in the department who are musically capable and interested in working hard on a production,” she said. Thomas said the operas she selected this year are comical, and will showcase each performer’s talent. “I hope that people will enjoy the music, find the singing of high quality, but mostly, that they will be able to laugh and have fun,” she said. “The Telephone” runs about 20 minutes long and is about a female character, Lucy, who is on the telephone with Ben, who is trying to propose to her. “It is an earlier case of a problem we still have today — technology getting in the way of true communication,” Thomas said. The plot of “The Old Maid and the Thief” reflects the history of 1930s — the era in which it was written. “‘The Old Maid and the Thief’ reflects Menotti’s view of this town and its inhabitants,” she said. “Though it is a comedy, the female roles in this opera are not necessarily all likeable. It was the first opera written for radio broadcast, another indication of its era.” The operas will be held on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Little Theatre in Moreau Hall. Tickets are free for students and cost $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens and $8 for faculty and staff of the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College and Holy Cross College.last_img read more

Notre Dame named to Forbes 2012 top college list

first_imgMembers of the Notre Dame community have long been aware of the University’s continual growth and rise to prominence as a national research university, but now the financial world is taking note as well. Earlier this month, business magazine Forbes ranked Notre Dame No. 12 on its 2012 list of America’s top colleges and universities. According to, this holistic ranking is based on information gathered from five general categories: postgraduate success, student satisfaction, debt, four-year graduation rate and competitive awards. Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Enrollment Don Bishop said the Forbes ranking methodology uses “reality-based outcomes” to measure the quality of American colleges and universities. “Forbes is a financial expert, so not surprisingly, they tend to look at outcomes in what your costs were for going to a school, the productivity of that school in graduation and student satisfaction and the actual success – not perception or prestige – five, 10, 20 years out after graduation,” Bishop said. “It is gratifying that Notre Dame rises even higher in that more realistic, outcomes-based approach.” Bishop said he believes Notre Dame fared well in Forbes’s ranking due to a correspondence between the values outlined in the ranking methodology and those of the University. “We tend to have the same values that Forbes seems to identify, such as the quality of undergraduate education, student access to faculty and the feeling that students are getting attention and inspiration from that faculty,” Bishop said. “We don’t intend to overuse rankings, but this particular ranking is more thoughtful and robust, and when we discuss where Notre Dame’s strengths lie, a lot of attributes [Forbes] articulates, we articulate.” Because the list includes both national research universities and liberal arts colleges, Notre Dame ranked eighth among its research university peers and No. 12 overall. This ranking places the University ahead of half the institutions in the Ivy League as well. “We think that’s a fair assessment,” Bishop said. “This ranking is a very useful tool for Notre Dame because it places us in a more advantaged situation in conversations with students to talk about the benefits of the University. Now you have an external source recognizing that and placing a high value on it, too.” One of those “Notre Dame benefits” acknowledged by the Forbes ranking is the University’s emphasis on financial support for students and its impact on the pool of students applying to Notre Dame, Bishop said. “We think financial support is important in lowering debt, and improvements in our financial aid over the last decade have moved Notre Dame up,” he said. “We’re now getting students to enroll that may not have enrolled 10 years ago because of our more supportive financial aid. That’s a strength that’s only going to get stronger.” The increased financial support for students in recent years has been facilitated by the simultaneous growth of the University’s endowment, which Bishop said now ranks in the top 10 among private universities, compared with its top-15 ranking 15 years ago. “We’re moving up in the success of the University due to the support provided by alumni and the general public,” Bishop said. “We also just completed a $2 billion alumni donation campaign last year, which was a historic accomplishment.” The growth of Notre Dame’s endowment has also allowed the University to invest more heavily in its faculty and campus facilities, Bishop said. “We have one of the top faculty cohorts in the country, and Notre Dame continues to invest in a stronger faculty each year,” he said. “The quality of the faculty and the access students have to that faculty has been a major investment in the last 10 to 15 years that’s only getting stronger each year.” Bishop said the combination of those three factors – faculty, financial aid and facilities – contribute to both the University’s growing reputation and its commitment to providing students with the best education possible. “Not only are we very good at raising money, but we’re very good at investing that money and getting a higher return, which means we can provide better facilities, faculty and aid,” Bishop said. “When you have those three things going your way, you’re going to keep making up ground on others as long as you know where you’re headed.” Although national college rankings like those of Forbes are generally held in esteem by much of the American public, Bishop said the University strives to “be a better Notre Dame” that holds true to its mission, rather than evolving into a “generic” top 10 university. “Notre Dame has a vision of where it’s headed in terms of mission … It is not driven by outside rankings. It’s driven by the belief that it’s our responsibility to get better every year in many different ways,” he said. “More importantly, we value a sense of obligation and service to others. We’re not here just to be No. 1 for our own benefit, but the more successful we are, the more we can serve others successfully, and people believe that here.” Despite the high financial costs of attending Notre Dame and Forbes’s focus on the economic value of a college education, Bishop said he believes enrolling in the University proves to be a “good return on a very expensive investment” in the long run. “Notre Dame has a very strong sense of mission and focus along with expanding resources that make us a better value today than when we charged much less some time ago,” he said. “Yes, it’s more expensive, but it’s worth a lot more.” Overall, Bishop said the Forbes ranking will further the University’s national reputation and attract high-quality applicant pools in the future, but it should not take away from Notre Dame’s unique character. “[The Forbes ranking] improves the conversation, but it should not dominate the conversation. It still needs to be about the unique benefits of Notre Dame,” Bishop said. “We’re No. 1 at who we are, so we need to get students who care about that.”last_img read more

Candidates debate domestic policy

first_imgPresident Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney debated domestic policy Wednesday evening in the first of three presidential debates during an evening that seemed to focus more on style than substance at the University of Denver. In a reversal of the usual pattern, Romney’s poised, polished performance seemed to outshine Obama’s lackluster appearance, political science professor Michael Zuckert said. “Romney knew exactly how he wanted to put things and he put them pithily, he put them smartly and sharply ⎯ he was very smooth,” Zuckert said. “Obama was still looking for words and ways to formulate things … He should have had better formulations right at hand that he could have relied on and spoken more forcefully, instead of groping around for ways to express things that he could have had on the tip of his tongue.” This impressive showing from Romney won him the debate, at least stylistically, Zuckert said. “In terms of overall impression, Romney carried a lot of the debate, but in terms of issues, I think Obama carried it,” Zuckert said. “I saw the polls afterward and they said that they thought Romney could handle the economy better, that Romney could handle jobs better.” The thermometer measuring audience reaction on the bottom of the CNN broadcast of the debate seemed to indicate that the audience was reacting more to style than substance, Zuckert said. “It isn’t clear to me how much of the content of what they actually said made an impression, but I do think that style counts a lot,” Zuckert said. “That’s an example of why rhetoric is important – people react more to the impressions things leave on them rather than the substance of what is there … and the impression in this performance was that Romney is ‘presidential.’” Film, Television and Theatre professor Susan Ohmer said Romney’s structured answers helped him retain attention. “It was striking to me that he numbered his points,” Ohmer said. “That’s a strategy that you see in formal debate that helps keep listeners organized – a very smart strategy on [former] Governor Romney’s part.” Moderator Jim Lehrer, executive editor and former news anchor of PBS news hour, told the candidates that the debate would be divided into six units of 15 minutes, each structured around different focal points. The first question asked the candidates to speak to their plans to create jobs, which focused the debate on differences between two disparate plans to stimulate the economy. Economics professor Eric Sims said this beginning gave Romney a lot of momentum starting the debate. “I think people vote with their pocketbooks,” Sims said. “People want to ask the question ‘Are you better off now than you were four years ago?’ and I don’t think many people can say yes to that question – the president is taking a hit for that.” Rarely has an incumbent candidate been reelected to the presidency after presiding over a downturn in the economy, Sims said. “Historically speaking it is surprising that a president would be running this well with the economy in this shape,” Sims said. “To be fair it is hard to tell how responsible President Obama is or is not for that… he did walk into a bad situation but it is very unusual that we are in a recession and he is polling so well.” Both candidates have very different visions on how to solve the jobs problem, but Romney’s points were more salient because he was able to put Obama on the defensive, Sims said. The president failed to refocus the discussion of the economic progress and job creation during his term as an analysis on improvement, rather than focusing on its current status, Zuckert said. “Bill Clinton gave Obama a script that he could have used more effectively on that issue, and though Obama did try, he didn’t push it as forcefully as he might have done as a ‘Look where we started from and look where we are type of thing’ as opposed to ‘Look where we are at the absolute moment,’” Zuckert said. “Obama didn’t emphasize the trends, some of the trends are not great but they’re better than Romney portrayed them.” Zuckert said the focus on the economy played right into Romney’s hands. “Criticism of Obama on unemployment is still Romney’s best technique, but I’ve been waiting to hear more details about how he would actually change [unemployment],” Zuckert said. “I just haven’t heard a policy to me that sounds persuasive enough yet, to me it’s just not enough detail.” Romney was able to contrast his experience with business and economic policy with the relative lack of progress made in those areas in the past four years, Sims said. “That’s Obama’s weakest point. Barack Obama has a lot of pluses: he’s very likeable, at least four years ago he brought this attitude of hope and change to Washington, but the reality is that the economy stinks,” Sims said. “I think this was playing to Romney’s wheelhouse, domestic and economic policy: That’s where he has experience… In their discussion Romney came across as having a very good grasp of economics, in contrast I thought the President looked a little timid at times.” One of the strongest points Romney made was a criticism of the timing of Obama’s health care law, Sims said. “Romney’s point was that he was surprised that Obama was going to move this healthcare reform through [Congress] so fast right in the middle of an economic downturn, and that though we do need that kind of legislation – some kind of healthcare reform in the long term – when the real issue should have been jobs, President Obama was pushing through healthcare reform that created a lot of uncertainty,” Sims said. “Uncertainty is not conducive to a healthy labor market on both ends.” Ohmer said the differences in policy between Romney and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan were highlighted during the debate and by the work of fact checkers after the debate. “Ryan has endorsed legislation that will [end] Pell Grants, while Romney has said he wouldn’t do that,” Ohmer said. “Romney has also said that he won’t cut five trillion dollars when fact checkers said he would.” The degree to which each candidate moved toward the middle was striking, Zuckert said. “Even though people have said the issues were really strongly defined, they moved back towards each other,” Zuckert said. “Romney did maybe more than Obama, but both did substantially: Obama did in his litany about small businesses and job creation, and Romney in how he tailored his position from what we have heard before.” The fundamental difference between the candidates is the role that each envisions for the government within the economy, Sims said. “They characterize each other as free market capitalism and socialism, but on the broad level it is really that one side wants less government intervention and more power and choice in the hands of the individual, while the other side wants more government involvement – I think at the end of the day that’s the main difference here,” Sims said. The debate has changed America’s perception of the choice to make in November, Sims said. “Last night Romney came across as in control of the debate, and looked presidential: He helped himself a lot,” Sims said. “I think the Obama camp will have a different strategy next time around … as they move away from domestic policy to foreign policy it will be interesting to watch – we have a much closer race today than we did 24 hours ago.”last_img read more

Irish economist spurs Irish patriotism

first_imgAccording to Irish economist and author David McWilliams, one solution to Ireland’s recent economic problems may come from the Irish but not from Ireland, it would come from what he calls the “great Irish tribe.” McWilliams gave a lecture titled, “Ireland, Europe and the Irish Diaspora – Re-imagining Ireland in the 21st Century,” in the Rare Book Room of the Hesburgh Library on Friday. McWilliams said Ireland’s current economic turmoil amidst the general problems of the Eurozone requires something drastic, but he believes this solution could be provided by the people worldwide who identify themselves as Irish. “The future of Ireland needs another shock, and that’s where you come in, where the diaspora comes in,” McWilliams said. He said the possibility of enlisting the self-identified Irish in places like the United States, Canada and Australia first came to his mind due to the comment of a mentor. McWilliams said he was assigned a very experienced Israeli mentor while working for a Swiss bank in Israel. One day, this mentor said he noticed that he dealt with many ethnically Irish people when working with American companies and asked McWilliams whether or not the Irish had any mechanism for bringing these people back to Ireland. McWilliams said he hadn’t given the subject much thought before then, but he didn’t think there was any such effort. “We’ve done nothing but repel the tribe as far as I can tell,” he said. McWilliams said he has since begun working on various projects to make use of the Irish overseas and his reason for coming to Notre Dame was to propose his ideas. “[Notre Dame] is an incredibly powerful place to start these projects. Notre Dame is a huge resource for the Irish in America and a brilliant center for Irish connections. You can use Notre Dame to champion some of the ideas and feed into its network of alumni,” he said. “This could be a huge project which Notre Dame could be involved in.” McWilliams said there are three elements of his overall proposal, a program resembling the “Birthright Israel” program, allowing Irish ex-patriots to vote in national elections and reaching out to the ethnically Irish based on town records. McWilliams said during his time in Israel he learned about the birthright program, which provides free 10-day educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults from 60 different countries. McWilliams said he is hoping to create a similar program for Irish young adults. The goal of the program is to instill a strong emotional connection with Ireland and their Irish heritage in the young adults, McWilliams said.”Emotional things that happen to you as a kid stick with you. Imagine as an American what it would mean to visit Ireland when you’re 15,” McWilliams said. McWilliams said he has seen Polish, Italian, American and other ex-patriot groups line-up to vote in their nation’s elections while living overseas. Similarly enfranchising Irish citizens who are living abroad could help to alleviate problems of provisionalism and clientalism present in current Irish politics, he said. McWilliams said those who have lived abroad for a while might have a better perspective on what is good for the Irish nation as a whole. McWilliams said he is also leading an effort to use town records and town gossips to trace the emigration stories of the world’s ethnically Irish and then reaching out to them with their own history. “We can email you, everyone’s contactable nowadays, with a Google Maps image of the specific field from which your relative emigrated from Ireland,” he said. “With tech we can bring all this together.” McWilliams said this idea that Ireland ought to do more to engage the ethnically Irish of the world, his “diaspora strategy,” was not initially as well received as it is now. He said the idea progressed through the three stages of reception from “open ridicule” to “violent opposition” to “everyone claims they were already on your side.” “The idea was fist considered risible, something to be laughed at, but now everyone has a diaspora strategy,” he said. McWilliams said this effort could be very successful because Ireland has one of the best “brand” names in the world, but it all depends on the cooperation of the Irish diaspora. “The power of the diaspora can be forged to improve the ‘product’ of Ireland, a country with the most powerful ‘brand’ in the world because every member of the diaspora is a salesperson for the ‘brand,’” he said. “We can only do this if we work together.”last_img read more

Bread of Life Dinner discusses pregnant students

first_imgNotre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture hosted its semi-annual Bread of Life Dinner Tuesday evening in the Morris Inn. Senior Erin Stoyell-Mulholland who helped plan and run the event, said the dinner is an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to interact with faculty and have conversations about issues related to the protection and support of life in the context of a brief lecture. Tuesday’s lecture featured speaker was Erin Hoffmann Harding, vice president for student affairs, who spoke on the topic of “Promoting a Culture of Life at Notre Dame.”Hoffmann Harding said she wanted to start by dispelling the notion that Notre Dame imposes disciplinary action on pregnant students — a myth she said she has heard repeated by many people across campus from students to hall staff.“This issue is one of our biggest challenges and something I am particularly passionate about,” Hoffmann Harding said.Hoffmann Harding said Notre Dame offers a wide variety of tools to help with planned and unplanned pregnancies, in particular designated pregnancy support advocates, a pregnant and parenting student assistance fund and educational online resources.“As a Catholic university, Notre Dame is committed to life and to offering students resources that support the choice of life,” Hoffmann Harding said.Students can anonymously receive pregnancy tests through University Health Services or the local Women’s Care Center if they are uncomfortable with turning to an official school organization, Hoffmann Harding said. She also said that Notre Dame takes pains to include males in the pregnancy support process, especially since the fathers are often students themselves.The question of where students can find help is crucial, Hoffmann Harding said, and options range from the emotional and spiritual support of Saint Liam’s counseling services, campus ministry and hall staff to monetary assistance from the office of financial aid.“We must be empathetic, non-judgemental and good listeners,” Hoffmann Harding said. “We want to support the choice of life.”Hoffmann Harding showed a video produced by Notre Dame, which showcased the stories of former students who had unexpectedly become pregnant while they were undergraduates in school. The students spoke about the initial fear and uncertainty they experienced, but also talked about how they were able to successfully finish their educations and form families with the support of the university.There was an informal question and answer session after the talk finished and the discussion primarily focused on raising student awareness of the issue available help for unplanned pregnancies. Suggestions from the audience included placing informational posters on pregnancy support resources in the bathrooms of resident halls in similar manner to how Georgetown University advertises their own pregnancy assistance program.Hoffmann Harding said the University is continually looking for new ways to improve their support for pregnant students and she appreciates recommendations and ideas from students and faculty.Tags: Bread of Life Dinner, Erin Hoffmann Harding, Notre Dame, Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture, pregnancy, University Health Serviceslast_img read more