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Macbook Pro

Photo BoothI recently was able to convince the department to get a macbook pro so that I could start getting up-to-speed with the new Intel architecture. People have been getting them in the department for a couple of months and soon I'm going to be setting up labs with the new platform and it will be useful to get my feet wet in using the new processor to see what works and what doesn't.

One thing that comes with the new macbook is a built-in "isight" camera and an application called "Photo Booth". You can use Photobooth to take pictures, much like a photo booth, but you can also apply a variety of effects, several of which are jaw-droppingly funny -- especially for kids. Above you can see a picture we put together with the "mirror" filter.

So far, I haven't found anything that doesn't just work. I'm impressed.


I haven't gotten in much bicycling this summer -- my seat had worn out last year and I had a flat front tire, which I had tried a couple of times to fix. Last year, I had wanted some new tires in the spring, but the bike shop had put on the wrong ones and I decided not to fight them about it because I just wanted to get out and ride. But the tires were crap and didn't last even the one season. So I hadn't gotten around to getting my bike out this spring. Then, I received a surprise gift: for the work I did on the ASM website, the organizers gave me a generous gift certificate to the other bike shop in town.

A brief aside about the Pioneer Valley... People sometimes talk about 'high pressure' sales environments -- the Happy Valley is more like a 'hard vacuum' sales environment. You have to chase the sales people around to get them to sell you anything. It took multiple visits and calls before I managed to get them to order what I wanted and get it installed, but on Thursday, I got my bike back ready to go.

First, I bought a Brooks Champion Flyer saddle. I had gotten a Brooks saddle once before and really loved it. People say that you need to break them in (which is true), but my experience before, and again this time, has been that a Brooks saddle is better new than whatever saddle I was using before. The website goes to some length to convince readers that they'll be happier if they get a sprung saddle. "Really" they say. "Take our word for it. You'll be happier." So that's what I got this time -- I think they're right. It's a very comfortable saddle already.

I also got some Continental TravelContact tires. It was actually this review that caused me to buy the tires. They're remarkably good -- it's amazing what a difference good tires can make.

I rode the bike home the first day, to work and back the second day, and to Pete's (one of our usual rides) on the third day. I think I'll have to let my rump have a day off tomorrow, but next week I'll be back in the saddle again.

Emerging Leaders Program

The program I'm in is supposed to help people take a leadership role in the organization. I've been disappointed with the central activity of the program, which I believe is misguided. Whenever, I create an activity for students, I try to compromise on aspects that are less important and preserve the authenticity of aspects that are central to the experience. The central activity of the emerging leaders program is to conduct a campaign in support of a candidate for office, but the only factors that have been preserved are the surface features: the need to create flyers and try to get people to vote for you. The ideas that might underlie a campaign, a careful match between ends and means, are entirely absent. It's about trying to get people to vote for someone based on, well, nothing. One of the worst effects has been that, instantly, there was a strong sense of competitiveness among the teams trying to get "their" candidate elected (the candidates being selected more-or-less randomly and the teams assigned to candidates more-or-less randomly). This competitiveness undermines any potential collaboration that might have otherwise existed among teams -- this was brought out immediately when the leaders tried to get teams to share ideas about how they might accomplish some task and there was no-one -- NO-ONE -- willing to speak. Pathetic, but absolutely predictable.

I've thought for a couple of days about how I might have organized things differently in order to preserve collaboration across teams. I decided that I would set the task of the committee to develop and publicize a resolution with the goal of getting the maximum number of people at the conference to sign-on. Many of the tasks end up being the same, but it would be a great experience to try to get the emerging leaders to reach concensus about a resolution and then to get the rest of the attendees to sign it. And everyone would be able to work together. Moreover, at the end of the conference, there would be a statement or two, signed by a large number of members, that crystalized the current thinking of the organization -- it would be *real*.

I decided to be a trouble-maker this morning. I knew the MTA president was going to preside over a mock meeting for our workshop, so I got a copy of a motion that was made at the last MTA meeting about the public relations and organizing committee and made the motion during the mock meeting. It produced a big reaction and a lot of excitement at the meeting. It can't have any direct effect, of course, but it did keep the pressure on, at some level, and continues to inform the newcomers about one of the important contentious issues in the organization.

Williamstown for MTA Workshop

I'm in Williamstown this week for the MTA emerging leaders workshop. I've found myself being increasingly recruited to take leadership rols in the organizations I'm involved in and find that I could use some aditional training in being an effective leader. I'm not sure this class is it, but it was available, so I took it. The focus of the workshop is to divide into campaign teams and run a campaign for someone to be a president and vice-president of the workshop. If I were going to run a workshop on leadership, I'm not sure what the focus would be, but I don't think thiss would be it. That said, I'm trying to be flexible and to learn what I can. My shoulder is still killing me, though.


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.


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.


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