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Brazil

I'm back from Brazil. It was an intense trip that got off to a rough start: from the tickets on a bankrupt airline, the visa that never came, and the last-minute frantic drive through Boston due to the collapsed big-dig tunnel, it looked for a while like I might not make it. But I did and I had a tremendous experience.

I spent several days in São Paulo. Its a huge, incredibly polluted city absolutely wracked with fear over a criminal insurgency that conducted around 150 attacks during the week I was there. More than a dozen buses were burned, a fact I was painfully aware of everytime I rode a bus. Many houses and buildings had two, three, or four layers of security to prevent attacks: One house I visited had a huge barred fence, topped with razor wire, topped with an electric fence -- you had to be buzzed through one gate, enter a small barred space and, only after closing the first gate would the second be opened. It is a different sort of place than the Happy Valley.

The congress was fantastic -- Esperanto in the US is often treated as a joke, but people in Brazil really love Esperanto and it really shows. I met scores of people and had very interesting conversations with everyone regarding everything from US foreign policy to showerheads to pets. Next year's congress is in Rio. It would be worth learning Esperanto just to attend a Brazilian conference -- it was a wonderful atmosphere and a tremendous experience. You can read more about the trip in Esperanto.

Coming home has been rough, though. Plato, my beloved dog, was diagnosed with canine lymphoma just before I left and succumbed yesterday. He collapsed in the early morning and we rushed him to the animal hospital unconcious. They got some fluids into and brought him around, but we decided it was better to let him go. We got a few good minutes with him to pet him and say goodbye and then we had them come in and help him go. It was hard, but I feel better knowing that he won't have to go through something like that again.

On the way home, I also strained my shoulder -- the rotator cuff is inflamed and extremely painful. I got a shot of cortisone (with the longest needle I've ever seen) and some painkillers to take the edge off. It's very distracting, however, and hard to get work done.

Vacation coming up

I've been so focused on getting ready for Brazil that I haven't been thinking much about our upcoming family vacation. I've wanted to have my presentations ready to go, so I've been completely focused on that. I'm nearly there.

I've got two presentations roughed out: one about using reasoning problems in class and another about using technology to support local group activity. I'm relatively pleased with both of them. I'm about half way done with the last one, which will be a summary about local groups in the US. I've been struggling with how to deal with the meat of it, but I think I've got it figured out.

I've also been working on getting an old laptop set up to take with me to do the presentations. I've got an old G3 Lombard set up with OS X and OpenOffice. Unfortunately, it's a bit memory starved, so I've been trying to minimize the memory footprint of the system. I set up X11 to run rootless and used Tinkertool to let me turn off the finder. It's slow, but it appears to be competent to run the presentations. My contact said that I should be prepared to connect to the projector using S-VHS, which I think means S-Video. The Lombard has an S-Video port and I tested it last night to make sure I could get the whole thing to work. Charlie was impressed I could make my presentation show up on the TV. I could have left it set up with OS 9, but then I couldn't use OpenOffice or a modern web-browser.

Not everything is going perfectly, however. My visa to go to Brazil still hasn't arrived. I would feel a lot better if it arrived before I have to go on vacation. Furthermore, it turns out that the airline I bought my tickets from is operating under bankruptcy protection and is having terrible problems. I hope there will be a plane there when I go to New York, but it's not at all a sure thing. I'm just looking at it as an adventure and will try to be ready to roll with whatever happens.

Trip to UN

Tomorrow morning, I go with Charlie's 6th grade class on a bus-trip to the UN. We leave in the early morning and get home in the late evening. I'm looking forward to it -- I've never been before. I thought about trying to contact the UEA office that is at the UN, but they don't seem to have an email address and I have a hard time being bothered to telephone people -- a weakness of mine.

I finally got my visa application sent off for going to Brazil. What a nightmare! They should at least have plenty of time. I don't know how long such things take, but they have basically a full month.

I've been getting stuff in anticipation of my several weeks of travelling. I designed and ordered some new business cards. I've been down to the last few cards of my original set I got when I arrived in the department nearly 10 years ago. I'll be excited to see how my new design worked out. I also ordered some new shirts and a mug from zneaĵoj.

I checked the Brazil Congress site and saw that 355 people are currently signed up for their Esperanto congress. That will, without question, be the largest Esperanto convention I've ever attended, although still nowhere near as large as the UK, where there are usually at least 2,000 people.

Esperanto-Tago

For a few months, the ELNA folks have been talking about trying various outreach methods to do outreach and publicity about Esperanto. Some of the people talk about buying advertising -- I've been more inclined to think about what we can for little or no money. One thing that Rob Read said was that we ought to focus on a small market and try to penetrate deeply. Mostly, people have been talking about science fiction enthusiasts and teachers-of-latin. I realized that the community I was most interested in were bloggers. Bloggers are interested in communication -- are communicating with a world-wide audience -- and are increasingly influential. That's part one.

Part two was remembering blog day from last year. For blog day, bloggers were encouraged to participate by posting an entry that described 5 blogs they didn't usually read. It was interesting to me see the idea gain traction and generate a lot of buzz last year.

So I'm hoping to generate similar excitement by getting people to celebrate Esperanto Day, December 15, 2006, by crafting a bilingual post in their native language and in Esperanto that describes the "language problem" from their perspective: maybe that there isn't a language problem, or that their language is being threatened, or that miscommunication creates friction in their community, or the costs of trying to maintain their language in an increasingly monolingual world. I'll be fascinated to read what people write!

Esperanto day... Pass it on!

Cedar Waxwings

The cherry tree is laden with fruit and the Cedar Waxwings have come to feast. I heard one or two last week, but for the last few days the tree is simply full of them. They make a high-pitched call, something between a squeak, a peep, and a buzz. We enjoy sitting out under our tent and listening to them. With the end of the semester, I've finally had time to just sit for a while.

I'm beginning to panic regarding my trip to Brazil, though. I've (perhaps foolishly) agreed to give *three* talks. I don't expect any of them to be terribly difficult or complex, but I still have to put them together. I'm going to need to start really focusing on this stuff.

Semester Completed, Summer Underway

The semester wrapped up this week: I submitted my grades on Wednesday. The student project mapping garlic mustard turned out remarkably well. I have been dreaming of doing projects like this for several years (especially with respect to students in various parts of the work, AKA CUE/EKI).

I'm starting to see convergence between my union organizing activity and my teaching. A big part of my teaching, I realize, is trying to inspire students to action: to do something and for our interaction to be in the context of that activity. In our union local, we've been selected as part of a strategic directions initiative to move from a "service model" to an "organizing model", which focuses on the same basic idea: through personal contacts you help people discover that the things which aren't working well can be fixed and the union is an effective conduit toward accomplishing those goals. I've ordered a couple of books that look like they'll be helpful: Organizing for Social Change and Rules for Radicals. I'm also interested in thinking how these concepts could be applied to ELNA, which is faltering as a service organization.

Ugh!

I tried to update to Drupal 4.7 this evening. It didn't work. I followed the directions, ran the update the script, and the site woulnd't come back up. The script that was supposed to update the database ... didn't. The site came back up with dozens of mysql errors. I played around with it and then tried to back out. That didn't work. Eventually, I had to wipe the database and restore from backups. Sigh... At least now I know enough to be cautious about trying to update any of my "real" drupal sites. :-/

Trip to Boston

I had a whirlwind trip to Boston for the MTA conference. I would have aimed to arrive around noon, but one person who wanted a ride couldn't leave until 1:30, so we didn't get there until after 4pm. I'll know better next year -- I really should have left when I wanted to.

Having done this last year, I had a better idea of where I was going and what I was doing. We stayed in the Westin this year, rather than the Sheraton. I was grumpy that they didn't have free wireless in the hotel, but at least they don't charge in the convention center anymore. It was good to be able to check up on what was going on. The only critical issue was that the Esperanto-USA website was unavailable -- the hosting service broke something that has taken our whole site down and it's been down now for more than 12 hours. I'm beginning to think we should start looking for a different hosting service, if this one can't get their act together.

The main issue I've been pushing for at MTA is for them to use a reasonable amount of the Public Relations and Organizing fund for organizing. Out of $2 million dollars in the fund this year, they only spent $58k on organizing -- and $40k of that was spent on a postcard campaign which is not what anyone could even charitably call 'organizing'. Many of the people involved with it just call it the 'public relations' fund because they don't value organizing. Over the past two years, we've made strides toward having organizing become a focus of the union. Maybe next year, we can actually leverage a reasonable amount of money out of the fund to support our goals.

The showstopper today was a report on the challenges facing the Springfield schools. The Republicans have been mounting a campaign against organized labor in the state, using a variety of dubious techniques to force an unacceptable contract down the throats of the teacher's union in Springfield. In the interim, they've made conditions so appalling for teachers, that more than a thousand have left over the past four years. Now, 90% of special ed teachers are uncertified -- these are among the most disadvantaged kids in the state. Would any legislator ever allow their children to be taught in a school in that state? I don't think so.

Flock

I saw today that Flock has an integrated blog-posting tool, so I thought I'd download the newest release and give it a try. By pointing it at "blog.bierfaristo.com" it autoconfigured to post to my blog. Now I'll have to see whether I can actually post.

Hmm. In my first attempt, it ate all of my HTML. I can probably adjust the configuration and fix that.

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