Dilemmas of a Professor, 2023


As I wave my ID at the door to the Dondero building, a curiously eclectic structure of super-cool swooshing doors embedded in the hegemonic red brick of the campus, my handheld bings in its Obi-Wan Kenobi voice, a little hack my ex-student Alex gave me.  The university requires us to have on our handhelds the mess-comm systems so that whenever we enter any building, priority level 4 mess-comms are pushed through whatever filters or such we have.  When the master summons…  Sir Alec Guinesses’ voice intones: “You have an urgent mess-comm.  Please report to the Provost’s suite ASAP.”

Shit.  Like I need to cross paths again with Calindra Soares again.  She is still fuming at me for sharing the memos on health care costs with the student bloggers. 

I head over to the Provost’s office, on the ground floor of what was the library until last year when the new  “KnowNow Center,” really a collection of small info spaces linked by ultra fast networks and peopled with a mobile staff, opened to much hoo-hah.

Xian is on my mind.  So bright.  We are as lucky to have him here as he was to get out of Bejing before the current “troubles” began.  Yesterday he showed me a prototype he had built with Rosa of what she called the “magic wand.”  Not really a wand at all.  Simply a small plug-on to a hand-held, using Linux, Open, or Goog-dows Operating systems, it looks more like a small magnifying glass, the kind the kids used to look for grubs in the backyard.  Rosa, all of 25, but so wise and sad from her war service, held it in her prosth hand.  I wonder if she will ever tell me how she lost it- was it from the IEDs the White Aryans were using in Idaho in ’20? Anyway, it looked so “old school” compared to the micro-motors in her hand.

They both thought I’d love the old school look.  I did.  I do.  But enough to risk whatever is brewing in the Provost’s office?

They should have been more excited at the coding.  The magic wand can scan any product and instantly score it on the three life metrics- Earth, People, and Fairness.  I am so glad we stopped calling them “sustainability implementation metrics.”  Jesus, what a mouthful.  As well-intentioned as McKibben was, he needed to take a MIDE class on language and impact.

But Xian’s smarts came through when he created a data hub off the US grid that can keep the core data of the three life metrics safe, secure, and, best of all, dynamic.  Now, as the supply chains for food, electronics, smart textiles, or pharma shift in days and weeks (instead of months and years as it was when it was Apple and Foxconn), the people out there, both official and “amateur,” tracking the truth of where our stuff comes from, will be able to keep the core data dynamic.

And deliver it to any consumer in Brazil, the Core EU, Mexi-Texas, or even here in Lewisburg.  In a little magnifying glass “wand.”  Empowering consumers to shift their support to living products as quickly as the MNCs and their “granks” keep trying to escape the seeing eyes, electronic and natural, of this newly awakened “Buy Life, not Death” movement.  Elijah, my son, away in New York, clouded me a vid of people spraying  clothes at that Banana Republic store with that elixir- the one that turns blood red once the micro transistors embedded in the fabric by the maker record the item as purchased; the new owner will now be seen by others as having bought an anti-Life shirt.  But Banana Republic dispatched its social media “volunteers” to seed the cloud and facebook with apps and vids showing happy workers in Malaysia.  With Xian and Rosa’s “magic wand,” the hack-tivists at the stores will be able to verify or denounce the PR stunts.

Why would Provost Soares care?

I sit in her office.  I can’t recall walking in, I was so preoccupied with what the wand could do.

She sighs and leans against her high standing desk.

“Ken Limon bumped me.”  He is the CEO of one of the “granks.”  The new finance professor hates it when I say that.  I pointed out that English changes all the time and grank as a contraction of  “grande bank”  captures both their too-big-to-fail size (combined assets at 50% of world GDP last I saw) and the irony of how the US now feels like a banana republic- pushed around by the foreign-based grande banks.

“Wow.” I reply in a dead-pan.   “Isn’t he busy?”

“He is furious.  Refusing to fund the satellite campus in Myanmar.  He says one of your minions is hacking Citi’s databases for a project.”

I clench my fists.  “I thought we were told that donors’ agendas would not interfere with the projects.  Mine or anyone’s.”

She glares at me.  “This one will cost us $500 million and a toehold in the Asian theater.  Is that worth it to you?  For some pointless student innovation project which probably, even IF we get patents on it, only produce a few Ks.”

“I have not even acknowledged I know what you are talking about,” I am more angry than I want to   show.  Nervous too.  I am trying not to feel like the kid in trouble.

“How does Limon even know?  What is his evidence?”

She looks down for a split second.  Guilt?  “Some autobot data…”

I stare for a full second.  “So our own trustee is spying me?  And you are more worried about what some super smart kid might innovate?”

She tosses a sheet of iPaper at me.  It lands on the coffee table.  I can see Xian’s picture on the top, upside down.  Columns of data are below, shimmering, waiting for a touch input.

“Tell him,” she glances at the shimmering image on the iPaper, “to stop.  Maybe we can’t stop you.  But he is behind on payments.  His status as a student is at risk.  Is that worth it to you?  What do you think of the ethics of that?  Your dream of bolstering those radicals out there,” she cocks her head as she says this to gesture to them, “or one kid’s ticket out of the war in China.”

I glance again at the image of Xian.

“I have ten minutes to bump Limon back.”

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5 thoughts on “Dilemmas of a Professor, 2023

    • Yeah, I was mimicking some cyber punk stuff I like. Plus I like making up words.

      Thanks for reading it…

      Kind of on a limb there.

      Did you catch I replaced the books with administrative offices in Bertrand?

      Who manufactures the wand? Well, I’d have to write more.

      Good question though. Maybe little workshops of DIY makers who self-organize. Like open-source manufacturing.

      Or a co-op somewhere.

      Or maybe Foxconn is tricked into making it!

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