The end of the semester is rapidly approaching. Everyone is incredibly busy trying to pull final things together. I've been working on a proposal for an honor's section of the writing course and a proposal to set up programming clubs. Today, I took a break from that to offer testimony to the Governor's Readiness Project.

I was extremely satisfied with the poster session in my class. There are always things I wish I had done better and places where I can see to improve for next year but, overall, the outcome has been satisfying and the students are undertaking their research projects in fine fettle. Now if I could just find the time to finish my grading -- I'm woefully behind.

The school system finally rejected Muppyville. If I hustle money for them (ie, by getting a grant) they might think about it again. It was exactly what I suspected when I tried to get involved -- it's what's happened *every* time I've tried to do something that required engagement with the schools. Tell me again why should bother trying to get grant money when I'd have to work with these people to spend it?

End of Semester Approaches

Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday in academia falling, as it does, in the middle of the run-up to the end of the semester. Students and faculty are closing in on the peak of activity before finals and suddenly, there is a full-stop. The boys and I left on Tuesday morning and today I'm in North Carolina visiting relatives. I brought my grading, so I can get it finished before I go back on Monday, but its still otherworldly.

I got up at 3:30am to make sure we made our flight -- I allowed a generous amount of time to catch the shuttle bus from the parking lot to the airport, since it can sometimes take a half-hour or more. As it turned out, the van pulled up right behind us as we parked the car. As we boarded the plane, a light snow began to fall, so we had to be de-iced before we took off. We were late getting off and the plane felt like it was idling all the way to Philadelphia because flights into an out of Philly were being delayed by the weather. I had planned on getting the boys some breakfast during our layover, but as it turned out, we arrived with only enough time to make our connection. Poor li'l Daniel was nearly frantic with hunger.

We arrived in good order and have been visiting with various folks since we got here. It's always strange to step into the lives of others for just a few days.


Today Daniel is acting as an extra in filming for the movie Bubble Trubble. He had to wear "adult business attire" and come down to Open Square in Holyoke at 9am this morning. It's cold out and much of the time he's just sitting or standing around. Luckily, he doesn't have to spend all the time outside -- there's a nice cafe inside with coffee (and brownies and hot dogs and chips, and everything else to tempt a little boy). And it also has a wireless connection.

It's funny to see the all the kids. There are 30-40 kids all walking around wearing business suits. It plays tricks with your mind to see little kids wearing adult clothes. Sometimes they act like adults, which plays with your mind one way and sometimes they act like little kids which plays with your mind a completely different way.

I've brought my camera and I'm taking a lot of pictures -- I'll post some later.

I also have wandered around Open Square a bit taking pictures. Its a place I had potentially suggested for Esperanto-USA to move to. Not that I think they will.

Bubble Trubble

I've been checking periodically to see if Muppyville shows up as "categorized" in SurfControl. We had submitted it about a week ago. I was beginning to suspect they wouldn't categorize it, because all you can see when you go to the page is the login screen. But they did! Muppyville is now categorized as "Computing and Internet". Is there any page on the Internet that you look at with a computer that couldn't be categorized as "Computing and Internet"? Oh well.

The Muppyville Saga Continues

Last night, Lucy and I went to see Daniel Lerch of the Postcarbon Institute who was speaking about the Post Carbon Cities Guidebook. (Someone bought a couple of copies, so some people need to know not to go and buy copies for themselves. :-) It was a talk primarily aimed at the leadership of cities and towns to discuss the implications of rising energy costs and the need to reduce global warming. It was a good talk. He hit an optimistic tone, talking about various measures that communities can take to reduce their vulnerability and to prepare for the coming uncertainty. I said:

So, you're presenting an optimistic picture talking about what communities can do -- or must do -- and saying that it will be a "wild ride". But you don't talk much about what you think the outcomes will actually look like. Would you be willing to present some scenarios of what you think a post-growth, solar-energy economy future might look like?

He smiled and said, "Well, no." He had already pointed out that the reason we were confronting "uncertainty" was that current models were unable to predict what was likely to happen -- especially in the face of geopolitical realities. The future hinges on contingencies like, whether or not we go to war with Iran or what the oil-producing countries decide to do when it becomes clear that we've hit the peak.

I think a real question hinges on whether or not the US decides to hang onto the Iraqi oil no-matter-what. It's pretty clear that this is what the Bush administration is planning. Much of the US population hasn't figured it out yet and thinks that we can get out of Iraq anytime we want by giving up on the "We Must Create Democracy in the Middle East" plan that they were sold (after the "We Must Destroy Weapons of Mass Destruction" plan had been shown to be a lie). I guess it's more fun to listen to Rush talk about Lindsay while driving your Hummer around than think about stuff like that.

Amherst School technical staff make pedagogical decisions for teachers

On Monday and Tuesday, I was in the office until the middle of the evening evaluating Annual Faculty Reviews, so tonight I didn't feel a bit guilty leaving a few minutes before 5pm, so I could be home to answer the door for the Trick-or-Treaters.

I spent half the afternoon helping a student print a particularly large poster. We had to print it two and a half times and it took about an hour each time. We started out talking about the department and ended up talking about music and boxer bogs. She mentioned an odd song called Fibber Island by They Might Be Giants, which she said was something like Jonathan Coulton songs. I went ahead and bought it through Amazon, so I wouldn't have DRM. I wish Apple would stop selling DRMed music (and, even better, let me get unencumbered versions of the songs I have).

Being on the personnel committee is pretty horrible. Its a lot like watching sausage being made. Even if the sausage tastes pretty good, it never tastes as good when you've seen what goes into it. Evaluating AFRs is the same way. You start out with good intentions... I always feel dirty afterwards.

This evening, Lucy and I watched some episodes of Naruto while waiting for the trick-or-treaters to arrive. I think we missed a few, but we decided to start out with the Curry of Life episodes. Those are definitely some of the best ever. Hai! Gai-sensei!


This evening, the boys and I tried to make the "Curry of Life". In a recent Naruto episode, the team goes to a curry house which Lee says makes a life-saving curry. In his flashback, it shows how Lee has collapsed after running a three-day marathon in his sleep and how the people in the curry shop repeatedly try feeding him curry, making it spicier each time, but without success -- until they make it really, super spicy (and add a bunch of weird things, like a turtle, salamander, mouse, and who-can-tell-what-else). They then serve Curry of Life to everyone in the team, which is black and bubbly -- everyone eyes it very suspiciously. After Lee tries it, pronounces it perfect, and is gobbling it franticly, everyone else tries it. Unfortunately for them, it's so spicy they are all knocked out -- Naruto is knocked flat on his back. So that's what I was asked to reproduce.

I googled a few recipes and then went to the store. My first effort, tonight, was edible, but not spicy enough (even if I'm only aiming for normal spiciness) and too sweet. I'm actually aiming for gang ped, which is one of my favorite Thai dishes. The boys were disappointed that it didn't knock them out, but agreed that it was quite tasty with rice and are eager for me to try again next time.

Curry of Life

I attended the Amherst Democratic Town Committee meeting for the first time in about 6 months. I resigned as secretary last year after the committee had, I felt, turned away from trying to represent or engage the community and had become the Impeachment Committee. I served for several months trying to redirect the committee toward a more productive and relevant course of action, but eventually gave up.

The main item on the agenda was a motion by Leo Maley against casino gambling. It was a good motion, narrowly crafted, that focused on gambling as a missed opportunity to have a more productive discussion about improving taxation. But I went to the meeting to oppose the resolution.

I personally don't think gambling is a good idea. People talk about it being like a regressive tax on the poor, but its really more like a tax on the stupid. I think it only affects poor people more because stupid people are frequently also poor. Maybe people think that, because they think poor people are stupider than other people. It also taxes the deluded and the addicted -- and some of those people ruin their lives with gambling. That's sad, but those people are doing these things today anyway.

As some of us have noticed, there is gambling available all around us. There are racetracks and booking facilities in Massachusetts. There are lottery machines in every convenience store. And you don't have to drive very far to go to a casino if that's really what you want. In fact, Massachusetts residents spend more than $800 million in casinos in Connecticut. Furthermore, it seems nearly certain that, irregardless of what the Governor does, the Wampanoag tribe is going to open a casino anyway.

Deval Patrick looked at the issues and decided to propose allowing a limited number of casinos. I think the primary reason he did it is jobs. In spite of the heated rhetoric on both sides, casinos don't seem to have big impacts on most aspects of the communities in which they're located. They do, however, result in more jobs, dispersed among more people.

I think Deval has been trying everything he can think of to fix Springfield. He's been trying get UMass to do anything it can think of to fix Springfield too. He doesn't have a magic bullet, so he's using what he's got. None of its perfect, but having more jobs seems better than not having more jobs. Unless you've already got a job.

I think Deval also thinks that, if we're going to have casinos, we might as well do it in a way that gives the state some ability to influence what happens. If our citizens are going to gamble -- and they are -- we can use revenues from it to help deal with the bankruptcies and ruined lives that inevitably result.

Everyone at the meeting was invited to speak on the motion. I spoke against it, but nearly everyone else was for it. In spite of Leo's motion being primarily about "improving taxation", most people cited a moral opposition to gambling as their primary reason for supporting the resolution. Someone claimed that the goal of the casino proposal was to increase the number of gamblers in the state and, after that, several others spoke passionately about how despicable that goal was.

The committee voted to adopt the resolution, with a few amendments. I proposed an amendment to the motion saying "Whereas casino gambling promotes sin and immoral behavior;" since that was the actual reason most of the people had cited in supporting the resolution, which actually didn't mention those things. My amendment was rejected.

It was an interesting discussion. The fact that Leo and I had actually brought some research on the topic, meant that it was not purely opinion that drove the discussion. Although I personally think that gambling is unpleasant and stupid, I don't have a problem with people choosing to spend their time and money that way. Its just another dumb way to spend money, really. I think professional spectator sports are stupid too, but I don't think they should be outlawed just because they're stupid and pointless.

In the end, I was most uncomfortable by the prospect that well-educated and well-off people were so willing to impose their morality on others in the guise of protecting them -- especially if it means that unemployed people won't get the jobs that they might otherwise get. I don't agree with everything Deval Patrick has done, but I think he's doing the right kinds of things.

Same planet, different worlds

Once again this fall, I ran an open house for the intro biology labs. I went out to my usual spot to try to find some copepods, but the little basin was empty. I grabbed some leaf litter and filled the rest of the container with water to see what we could find. I also grabbed some mosses, lichens and liverworts to use to look for tardigrades. I found lots of nematodes and rotifers and a few tardigrades.

There seemed to be more people this year than in year's past -- at one point the room was packed with people asking questions: How many lecture courses do students have to take? When can students start taking "interesting" classes? How can students work in research labs? How can students do "hands-on" stuff?

The main message I try to transmit is that, although Intro Biology is a large class, we make heroic efforts to give students a "small-class experience", by using small-group techniques in lab and by having a "lecture" that is not really lecture at all, but small-group problem-solving in an auditorium. I believe that our Intro Biology experience is one of the best in the world and that students, even those who scored a "5" on the AP exam and think they "know" biology, come out of the class with a much better understanding of how biology works.

Open House

I completed my Annual Faculty Review document today and submitted it. I actually got the document done yesterday, but needed to submit a letter describing my responsibilities and some copies of letters where people were thanking me for doing nice things. I realized as I filled it out that when I came here, I was responsible for one lab of 22 computers. Now I'm responsible for 6 labs containing nearly 100 computers with 4 different configurations. That, combined with the new poster printer has resulted in me having a lot less time than I used to have to do interesting projects. I met with the chair this afternoon and we talked about workload and stuff. I've been feeling a bit over scheduled or over tasked lately and now I can see why.


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