Posted on September 16, 2013 by Christopher Thrall

The Augustana community considers the ways that a single overarching issue can impact our studies, our future and our daily lives.

Progress-Landing-2The Augustana Annual Theme is a topic selected for the Augustana community to consider the ways that a single overarching issue can impact our studies, our future and our daily lives.

Professors will offer seminars through a wide range of seminars over the course of the year, and highlight the theme in their class lectures. Several guest speakers will be invited to present their ideas to the Augustana community, both through public lectures and as guest presenters in selected classes. Students will be encouraged to focus on the annual theme in independent study courses or group seminars, and to present the results of their work in a student conference.

Past themes have included food production, dissent, gender and resilience. This year’s Theme treats the subject of Progress.

The theme of Progress can be addressed from many disciplinary viewpoints: historical, biological, environmental, economic, political, psychological, technological, and many others.

In some fields, the concept of Progress can be dealt with directly and positively – the progress that has been achieved can be summarized and the progress that is expected to occur can be forecast.  In other fields, the concept can be ironic, misleading, illusory, or fraught – we should ask if the progress is sustainable, what dangers it might hold, what consequences we might have failed to predict, or if its benefits are worth the cost.


Fall Semester Theme Activities


Theme Slides16 September     Theme Seminar – 2-004, 12:30-2pm

Alex Carpenter and Jerôme Mélançon – Progressive Rock

This presentation looks at the history of the genre, and considers progressive rock in light of Theodor Adorno’s theories about popular music, culture and ideology, and focuses on Pink Floyd as an exemplar; we also look at contemporary strains of progressive rock, including Tool and System of a Down; and maybe even Rush, for some Canadian content. One important aspect of the presentation is an exploration of what might be a fundamental paradox of progressive rock, namely its strongly regressive tendencies (in its recourse to ideas about form and scope drawn from classical music).

Theme Slides223 September     Theme Seminar  – 2-004, 12:30-2pm

Jonathan Mohr – Moore’s Law Meets Amdahl’s Law: Exponential Progress Hits the Wall

For the past half-century, progress has been epitomized by Moore’s Law: Gordon Moore’s observation (1965) that the number of components in integrated circuits (ICs) had doubled every year from their invention in 1958, and his prediction  that the trend would continue “for at least ten years.” The virtuous circle that reducing the size of the components etched in silicon in an IC allows it to run faster and use less power has enabled the computer technology industry to provide us with exponential growth in the speed and capacity of our computers while keeping costs approximately constant. In the past few years, however, our success at shrinking semiconductor transistors has run up against some physical constraints: we can’t shrink the wires that connect our microprocessors to the circuit boards through which they interact with the rest of the computer system, and we can’t dissipate the heat that is generated by our blazingly fast processors and our massive memory arrays. In order to keep providing us with exponential growth in computer speed and capacity, chip-makers have now been limited to multi-core designs—instead of giving you a smaller and faster processor, you get 2 or 4 or 8 copies of the same processor you bought only one of two years ago. In theory, that should give you an exponential increase in processing power, just as you expected. But Moore’s Law collides with Amdahl’s Law. Gene Amdahl gave us a formula to calculate what degree of speedup we can achieve by executing our code in parallel on multiple processors. It shows that the speedup depends on what proportion of the code to solve a given problem is intrinsically sequential (i.e., can be run on only one processor, while the other processors wait for something to do). For most problems, having two processors will only give a speedup of between 1.2 and 1.5. (It’s a speedup, but it’s not the speedup you thought you were buying.) There is a lesson to be learned from this example: The fact that we made exponential progress in a particular field for 50 years doesn’t mean we can continue to make progress at that rate forever.

Ingrid Urberg – The Nordic Countries as Progressive Role Models: Realities and Myths

The Nordic countries are frequently referred to in both the popular media and in academic circles as being progressive in a myriad of ways ranging from social programs and education to environmental policies and practices. In the past few months alone, the CBC has broadcast programs on elder care in Denmark, education in Finland, Norway’s penal system, and Iceland as “the world’s most feminist country.” In this colloquium talk, I will discuss a few of the ways in which the Nordic countries are  held up as models of progress today, but also look at lesser known and frequently overlooked facets of these societies which are arguably regressive and socially conservative.

Click here to visit Augustana’s Theme website.

Click here to see Theme events for the Winter semester.

Click here to join Augustana’s Theme Facebook page!

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