Wednesday, April 15, 2015

In Defense of Honors Programs (or, Read a Fucking Book)

In planning the follow-up to a survival skills event for incoming Honors freshmen, the question came up of how best to articulate to new students the value of WWU's honors program. Especially for STEM students, the fact is that the liberal-arts-focused Honors courseload can be expected to overlap very little (if at all) with their major's courses. That's a non-negligible number of extra credits, and there's nothing scarier than a delay in graduation, and so lots of people in the program question, at one point or another, whether the program is worth seeing through to the end. It's our job to try and make the case that it is.

Of course, regardless of obligation, it'd be disingenuous of us to argue this point if we did not ourselves wholly believe it. For my part, I am lucky in this regard, because in spite of (because of?) being a Math/CS double major, I'm convinced that the honors classes I've taken have on average been far more valuable than anything I've taken in either of my majors. Ditto for the classes I'm planning on taking. That's not because I don't like my majors -- far from it, I'm crazy about them. But computer science is close being treated as a trade skill, and math's "beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture" (Russell) nourishes only certain parts of the mind. Both majors are fantastic for what they are, but what they are is not a complete education. Similar things could be said for practically any other major: They leave gaps, and honors fills those gaps.

My first, informal attempt at articulating to my co-planners this argument for why to stick with honors went something along these lines:

Why stay with honors? Because we offer things you can't get anywhere else. We have classes you can take as a freshman that're on par with the upper-division classes in specialized majors. You can just be like, "I want to learn about Russian literature this quarter" or "I want to learn about film this quarter" and nobody's going to be like, what the fuck, you're a chem major. These kinds of classes are just there, and anyone in the program can take them. If you don't want to be an English major but you want to study great books, we're your best shot. If you want to be in rooms full of clever people talking about Nabokov or Robbe-Grillet or Bely or Dante or for that matter anyone else worth reading, we've got you covered. We've got some of the best professors in the university teaching our classes. Great classes, taught by great professors -- what more do you fucking want?

2015 iCTF Retrospective

After some delays, last Friday saw the 2015 UCSB iCTF come and go, and it was quite the experience. This is (to my knowledge) the first year that Western has joined the competition. We didn't exactly place first, but it was great fun and lots of lessons were learned. Now that it's over and we've had a few days to reflect, here are some thoughts on what we did right, what we could've done better, and what I didn't go in expecting.

There were two big surprises, for myself and (I think) the rest of the team: First, the sheer mind-boggling number of exposed vulnerable services -- upwards of 40, I'm pretty sure -- and second, the inability to directly attack other teams.