Published in the Chronicle!

I have wonderful news to my loyal but sadly nonexistent readership: I’ve been published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The article is about social science and humanities PhD employment in the IT industry, and is essentially a more directed version of what I wrote for Hortensii a few weeks ago, which I have previously mentioned.

The article didn’t make it to the (online) front page, but was the top story under Advice. I have no idea if it will make it into the print edition.

The What and Why of Amazon Web Service (AWS)

Someone created a really great stepwise resource on how to set up an Amazon Web Service (AWS) account with a database server and Linux server (OK, it was me), but I didn’t explain the what and why of AWS.

AWS is a cloud service, and in that way it’s a lot like others; I have used Dreamhost in the past, and I’m using Arvixe (this link will get you a discount) now for this site.

AWS give you several useful things:

  1. A free account for a year
  2. Free accounts for both faculty and students if using as part of a course (I have yet to do this, but have read about it)
  3. Access to low-level services (Virtual Private Servers configured how you want them)
  4. Access to high-level services (for example, their Relational Database Service (RDS) gives you a fully configured relational database; you just select storage and backup options, then connect, create users/databases/tables, and you’re up and running)

There’s more, butI haven’t explored it yet. That’s the basics of the what.

The why is more complex. The simple fact is that for 9 of 10 users, a hosting company can provide a better cloud service than something you roll yourself.

Running out of battery. More later…

Beware of Help

I’m a clever guy. Or so I like to tell myself. I know (from experience) that Amazon does not make their phone numbers for support & customer service readily available; you have to go through layer upon layer of “help” documentation, which I’m sure is useful to many of their customers, but my problem cannot be addressed except by a human being.  And perhaps not even then.

So I googled “kindle support” and grabbed the first number, which is:

Help & Support For Kindle –‎‎
Call Now(888) (381) (7309)TollFree. Experts. Toll Free. Call Us Now!

Now here’s the point of my idiocy; this is not Amazon. This is a third party, and they managed to come up in this search by buying Google Adwords. But I was not paying enough attention, and I called them. Well, to begin with, they were rude, which should have been a clear indication that they weren’t Amazon; I have never had Amazon be rude. Second, they didn’t understand my issue, telling me it was a network configuration issue on my Kindle, which it’s not; I’ve downloaded countless books. Third, they tried to charge me $199.95 to “fix” the “problem” that I didn’t have. I asked to speak to a supervisor, and long story short, they hung up on me.

I guess I knew that there were predatory companies out there charging money to support devices that they don’t really understand. What I didn’t know was that they make effort to appear to be the legitimate service/support line. Now, I’m not quite dumb enough to pay the money, but I’m sure others aren’t. I don’t use the word “predatory” lightly. Caveat emptor!

PS. I’m going to email Google Adwords and let them know they’re being used by predatory companies. I doubt anything will come of it, but at least I’ll have tried.

Setting Up an Amazon AWS Account

Amazon AWS (Amazon Web Service) is an amazingly cool tool for anyone in technology. They offer servers (Linux and Windows), databases (relational and NoSQL), online storage (SSD!), and, well, a mess of other things. And they’re free. That’s right, free (for 12 months, using the lowest level of services). Beyond the free stuff everyone gets, they offer grants to academics and students.

However, this stuff isn’t trivial to manage. You need a certain amount of expertise, and even a student in CS or IS doesn’t necessarily have all of the background she needs to set up and configure everything.

I’m planning on using AWS in some of my courses, so I put together a document describing how to set everything up. Right now, the document will take you from just past creating your account (which you can do on your own, and is pretty easy) to setting up a server instance (Linux) and a database instance (MySQL). The document is in a draft stage, is not pretty, but is linked from this post. The document is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, and is available here in two formats: PDF and Word .docx. The PDF is probably easier for most purposes, but the Word file is available for a few reasons: first, if you want to improve it under the terms of the CC license I want to enable that, and second, PDFs are notoriously hard for accessibility software like screen readers to use.

A few caveats:

  • You don’t need to know Linux/UNIX at all to follow these instructions, but you’ll be somewhat stuck until you learn more
  • The same is true for relational databases/MySQL
  • Did I mention the document is a draft, and an ugly one at that?
  • The security setup is perfectly fine for a testbed. Do not use these security settings for anything important
  • I have yet to add backup configuration
  • The SQL files to build the database(s) and load them with data are not ready yet. When they are, they will be posted here. They will be released under some open source license, and will likely be available from Github, too
  • Seriously, this security setup is not good for anything important, sensitive, mission-critical, real-world, etc.

If you have any problems, please document them as clearly and completely as you can and inform me at Feel free to ask for help, too; if I can give it, I will. If you find this useful, let me know so that my ego can get a nice little boost. If you modify it, improve it, redistribute it, etc., please let me know.

Instructions for Setting Up AWS (PDF)

Instructions for Setting Up AWS (Microsoft Word)

IT as an Employment Home for Wayward PhDs

Before I returned to academia for a PhD and a career, I was an information technologist/software engineer for eight years. I began this work with a BA in English and History. I think IT is a wonderful career for PhDs in any discipline looking for alt-ac or non-ac work, and I’ve written an essay in how to market yourself and find a job on the topic for Hortensii, a project to help PhDs find employment.

I care a great deal about PhDs without permanent, meaningful employment. The employment situation for PhDs in most disciplines is terrible; it’s a little better for those of us in computer science and related disciplines because there is so much appropriate industry work available for us.  I wanted an academic career and consider myself to be exceptionally lucky to have found tenure-track employment. Even so, it took me six years.

PhDs are forced to compete for a very limited number of academic positions, most of which are not tenure track, not full-time (and don’t include benefits), and not permanent. Add onto that the fact that many PhDs, even the ones who received institutional financial support for their advanced degree work, have high debt in the form of loans for college and graduate degree work.

Beyond just the bad employment situation, though, is the shameful fact that we, as a nation (although this applies to Canada and Europe, as well) have trouble finding employment for such a large group of exceptionally bright and hard-working people. I don’t think PhDs are owed academic jobs; the world doesn’t work that way. However, I can’t see a possible justification for our unwillingness, as a society, to find appropriate employment for people who have devoted so much of themselves and their lives to learning and the betterment of society. The issue isn’t that we owe them anything; the issue is that we’re fools for not using this workforce well.

Finally, a Website

For someone who has been employed in technology since 1994, it took me a while to finally set up a website. My name is Joshua B. Gross, and I’m a Professor of Computer Science at Blackburn College. I’m not the Joshua B. Gross who is a professor of biology at the University of Cincinnati.

My interests are in software development/software engineering, artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML), human-computer interaction (HCI), computer games, and cognitive psychology/cognitive science. I have worked as a psychologist (not the kind you talk to about your problems, although you certainly can, and many people have), a software engineer, and a faculty member in computer science and game design departments. I have a PhD from Penn State in Information Sciences and Technology (an interdisciplinary program where I studied AI, HCI, and computational cognitive psychology), an MS from the University of St. Thomas (the one in St. Paul, MN, not the Virgin Islands) in Software Engineering, and a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in English and History. I have lived in 11 different states and more cities/localities than that. I have never lived outside of the US, but I hope to have the chance someday.

I can be contacted by email at  gross dot joshua dot b at gmail.