Things are happening very rapidly in the area of information technology, and it is easy to forget that some things that appear very new are in fact recycled from times past. Likewise, problems confronting us locally are often shared by others.
With this perspective, I drove to the University of California Academic Computing Symposium (UCACS), which was held this September in Berkeley, at the Clark Kerr Campus extension. (The Clark Kerr extension is in the old California School for the Deaf, which relocated in the South Bay region, giving Berkeley a splendid special events location).
The UCACS conference was first held in 1983, when a new computing consultant at UC Santa Cruz, Dr. Jim Mulherin, was confronted with a software support issue and asked, "Well, what are the other campuses doing about this?"
The conference has grown each year from a handful of kindred souls to over 90 this year. Originally called "the ACS" (Academic Computing Symposium), its name was expanded to UCACS several years ago to widen the audience within the UC system. The symposium is now supported in part by the UC Office of the President, and attracts people from a variety of disciplines and services in the UC system. The most notable increase is from the library staff, although Cliff Lynch, Director of Library Automation, has been a long-time participant.
UC Davis has sponsored the event three times in the past 12 years. As the principal coordinator twice, and as an attendee for nearly all of the conferences, I offer this viewpoint.
Although computing as an academic activity has become commonplace, many issues have yet to be resolved. Consider these examples:
Jack McCredie, the Vice Chancellor of Information Technology and Computing at UC Berkeley said $120 million has been spent connecting 20,0000 workstations on the Berkeley campus. However, due to the perceived unsafe nature of the campus at night and the lower cost of housing away from Berkeley, the biggest demand now is for off-campus connections.
Clifford Lynch noted the growing dilemma of a computer-accessible library that differentially provides online access to journal articles. Articles that can be accessed directly online represent a small and selective set of the scholarly works available, Lynch said. He noted that adding full text to journal databases introduces bias in citation because the full text articles are cited more frequently. Journals published in the popular media are more often available online than those published in small scholarly journals.
An active group organized by the Office of the President is responsible for organizing and financing relevant software. Jim Dolganas announced that Apple, Ftp (Inc), DEC, SAS, SyBase, SUN, Microsoft, and Maple are part of the UCOP site-license agreement. While conference participants all expressed the need for the economic benefits of site-licensed software, opinions varied in a discussion regarding the best way to distribute current and future site-license agreements.
John Gage, a principal at SUN systems and a former co-worker at UCB pointed out that the importance of the mouse and desktop concepts familiar today were generally overlooked when presented in the 1960s, over 25 years ago. It is likely, he claims and I agree, that the really lasting technology of today is being equally overlooked yet could be right under our noses.
For instance, he pointed to the variety of worlds one can enter through the World Wide Web. In today's computing world, the opportunities made possible by the World Wide Web are attracting a diverse computing public that is willing to spend the time creating even newer virtual worlds.
Although this can seem to be an act of creating virtual "content", it may prove to be a driving force in the development of future network applications.
Even though the online information being accessed today may not paint a complete picture, the thirst for that information is insatiable and our image of what is real changes daily. When we began these conferences 12 years ago our big question was, "How do we get people at the university to appreciate the need for computing."
Now the question is, "How do we satisfy a seemingly insatiable need?