Week that was

I wrote a long blog post yesterday and lost it when my machine crashed. Stupid iPods. I had Charlie's iPod plugged in. I plugged in mine and it asked to update it. So I agreed to update it, but it failed and eventually the whole machine became unresponsive. I eventually had to take it down and lost my unfinished post.

It was a busy week at work, but good and productive. I'm not chair of FSUC&ECC anymore! I got a new committee set up for MSP and recruited someone for a key position. My class seems to be going pretty well. The TAs used my gene expression models and they didn't break. I've been spending a lot of time in the BCRC, which is good. Basically, I'm busy, but things are going well.

The ad at BoingBoing finished up and I wrote a report about it. I was pleased that it bore out my general thesis, which is that investing effort in getting bloggers to say something can amplify your message. I didn't think you had to be a rocket-surgeon to figure that out, but getting the ad to happen sucked up so much of my time that I really began to question whether it was worth it. The ad was such a success, however, that even those who'd been the biggest skeptics were talking about it "kicking a--".

We had parent-teacher conferences for both boys this week. Charlie's successfully made the transition to middle school -- he seems to be having a great year. Daniel's having a rough start with third grade, but only in the sense of missing a good opportunity for fun. He'll come around.

Books

At the library on Saturday I found three books to check out: Seeker by Jack McDevitt and Glasshouse by Charlie Stross. Seeker was OK, but Glasshouse was a really great book -- a real home run.

When I picked up Seeker, I couldn't tell if I'd read it before or not. In fact, I had to read 50 or 100 pages to be sure. It's very much like Polaris, his previous book about the same characters. It's a kind of scifi archeaology story -- I'm a sucker for that stuff. I enjoyed it and I'm glad I read it, but it was a bit forgettable.

Glasshouse is set in the Accelerando universe, but doesn't depend of having read any of that stuff before. I found it gripping -- almost impossible to put down. Very clever and well crafted. And then it all comes together on page 317 -- one of the funniest pages I've ever read. I wished I could share it someone, but you need to know too much to appreciate the humor. Really good. Go out and read this book.

Whew!

TGIF! It's been a tough week. I came down with a cold on Friday, so my last weekend was pretty marginal and the work week seemed endless. Still, I got a few things done.

The big news was that I finally persuaded ELNA to buy an advertisement. We bought a small text ad. It took me weeks of persistant effort to make the case that we should advertise at BoingBoing and that we should advertise Esperanto Day there. But after investing perhaps 20 hours of focused effort over a period of weeks, I was finally able to bring it off. The ad is live at boingboing as I write this. I keep hopeing that Esperanto Day will eventually develop a life of its own and begin to gain momentum without requiring constant effort on my part. It feels like it could be close, as every day, I'm finding new references to it here and there.

Updated unknown gene expression problems

For a couple of months, I've had an idea for updating the Gene Expression Models I started creating a couple of years ago. There are three models: a lac-operon simulation, a model that illustrates the ways that two genes can interact to control the operation of a third gene, and a set of unknown problems for students to explore.

The unknown problems present a system of 5 genes to students. The students need to understand how the genes interact: which ones turn on or turn off the others.

I had figured out that there were three basic types of unknowns, those that: oscillate, run to fixation, or embody a race condition. In discussion with Randy, we had decided that there is also those that are self-initiating versus requiring a stimulus of some kind. In thinking about it, I decided that it was a useful diagnotic technique to be able to add some of each of the gene products independently. So I added a button that lets you squirt a little of each kind into the system. And I created one problem that doesn't do anything until you squirt something into it. I'm very happy -- it works great and adds a nice wrinkle to exploring these systems.

Hypermart internal server errors again

We've been using Hypermart for hosting at Esperanto-USA -- boy do they suck. Repeatedly, over the past 6-8 months, we've had periods of days where 50-80 percent of the connections are rejected with an "internal server error". Because some to half of the connections work fine, it's pretty clear that it's not an actual problem with our site -- I suspect that they have a server farm and a bunch of the machines get compromised or misconfigured resulting in the problem. The worst part is customer service -- if you contact them the nearly always hit reload and say "Oh, it was just a temporary problem -- it's fine now." Of course, all you have to do is hit reload a couple more times and you can see that the problem happens half the time you visit the site. Incredibly, the last time there was a problem they wanted me to tell them my password before they'd escalate the problem. Eventually, we found a way around having me tell them my password (which I am adamant a sysadmin should *never* ask for). When they did escalate the problem, we didn't hear anything for a couple of days (while the problem gradually got better -- I assume as they did reinstalls of screwed up or compromised machines in the server farm -- and then we got a note saying "We can't reproduce your problem". Morons. We really need to get a different hosting service for E-USA. I'm glad I don't use them for my personal site.

Highlights

Deval PatrickIt was a long first, full week of the semester. Some highlights included seeing Deval Patrick at a press conference in Springfield, going to the mat at ADTC for declining to provide feel-good services for a committee, and being compared with Dick Cheney.

It was really cool to see Deval Patrick give a stump speech. There was a huge crowd at his office in Springfield -- a couple of hundred at least -- including Ellen Story, Peter Kocot, Peter Vickery, Claire Higgins, and other notables. It was an extremely diverse crowd -- something you don't see in Amherst everyday (outside of my children's elementary school classses). And it was a very impassioned speech that called on people to reclaim their civic duty of being engaged with politics, a topic that is near-and-dear to my heart. I really hope he wins the Democratic primary; I think he has a good shot at becoming governor of Massachusetts.

The Republican, Kerry Healey, has been advertising that she supports education which, if you look at the last 4 years while she's been lieutenant governor, just seems patently false. I don't see how she's going to make that case at all.

The ADTC thing is stupid: a subcommittee wanted to send email to other Democratic committees using the ADTC SMTP server so that it would be more convenient for the people on the subcommittee to set the From: header, because that's inconvenient with the mail software they're using now. Yes, I'm the secretary. Yes, I set up the web site. But I don't want to build POP accounts and try to support people making SMTP work. If someone actually needed it -- if they didn't have SMTP service -- I would be a lot more persuaded. But when the answer is "I think you should do extra work because don't want to learn how to use different mail software," I'm unpersuaded. And it's the sort of thing that could easily become a *lot* of work if there are problems with the SMTP service or the hosting service ends up in the RBL (which has happened). I don't want to get in the middle of that. As I have explained, to various people, at length, repeatedly. But, as I knew they would, the subcommittee brought it up as a motion in the general committee meeting to force me to do it. I spoke against it. No one actually understood the issues at all, as far as I could tell; they didn't understand why this guy wanted it, and they didn't understand why I was saying no. So, eventually (over both of our objections) they tabled the discussion. I was actually ready to resign: I was going to finish the Minutes and then immediately submit my resignation. Oh, well. There's always October. Did I mention the fellow proceeded to come up and ask me again, after the meeting adjourned?

Then there's the Esperantist who compares me with Cheney, claiming that I'm wedded to a particular idea and won't consider changing it. It's the same argument I would use again him (although I'd like to think I wouldn't stoop to ad hominem attacks to try to make the point.) It's an interesting problem. He wants to advertise to try to increase the membership of ELNA. I agree that there's no question but that we need to increase the membership. I think its a mistake, however, to try to recruit members from among non-Esperanto-speakers. I think the goal should be to convince people to learn Esperanto and then try to get Esperanto-speakers to join ELNA to support Esperanto activity.

Partly this is just a "clarity of message" issue. If we always say "learn Esperanto" in English and "Membrigxu je ELNA" in Esperanto, I think it's absolutely clear what our goals are. If we try to convince non-Esperanto-speakers to join ELNA, we will have to make a case that (I think) is unconvincing.

I think we can make a better case to convince someone to learn Esperanto than we can to convince them they should join an Esperanto organization when they don't know the language. ELNA membership confers little or no benefit to someone who's just thinking about learning Esperanto. OK, there's a discount on books, but most people who are still thinking about learning Esperanto are probably going to try out learning online, without books and stuff anyway. Personally, I think most people join ELNA for no reason other than that they want to support Esperanto activity. I think that can be persuasive to Esperanto-speakers, but I think it will fall on its face when trying to attract non-Esperanto-speakers.

At the root, however, is the fact that ELNA still hasn't addressed what its mission is in the age of the internet. I don't think the services we offer provide enough value to persuade people to join. If ELNA can become successful at a new mission of, say, "growing the Esperanto community," I think ELNA will pick up more members, both because Esperanto-speakers do want the services ELNA offers, and because Esperantists will support the mission of growing the Esperanto community. As long as we continue to pretend that people join ELNA only because of the services we offer to members, I think we're doomed.

But, it's Friday... Tomorrow is a Lucky Day, when I will get to stay home with my wonderful children and try to recover my sanity because there's another week looming on the horizon. And it promises to be a doozy.

Mornings

I've always been a morning person. Once the sun is up, I want to be up (until it's time to take a nap in the afternoon). During the fall, however, when mornings get later and later, it gets harder and harder for me to get up early until at some point when I wake up before sunrise anyway. We're close to that time, when waking up in the mornings is hard.

It used to be that our morning schedule was very simple: Dad had to go to work and the children had to go to school. Now, however, one boy has to leave to go to the middle school at 7:15 (unless it's a "late start day"), another goes at 8:15 or so, and, if its Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, Mom goes to work (unless she's rearranged her schedule). My brain hurts.

It's particularly rough this week with Lucy gone. We forgot to take out the trash, the dog is feeling left alone (and has started chewing up shoes again), the kitchen is stacked up with dirty dishes, and I didn't get any breakfast this morning.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I have it awfully good -- its the American Dream. And actually, the craziness seems a bit less when the boys head off to school individually: when both boys were running around, with the dog barking, and the mom yelling "don't forget to brush your teeth!" I think it was even crazier.

Award

PlaqueToday I received the College Faculty Outstanding Service Award at work. It's nice to have my contributions recognized, although it was more intimidating than I would have imagined to actually walk up in front of all the faculty to receive the award.

The beginning of the semester is an insanely busy time, where I'm constantly being bombarded with questions and requests for help. I love it -- it's the part of my job that I love the most.

When I first got involved with the MTA, it was interesting to me that teachers and faculty see issues completely differently. The most important issue to teachers is building a firewall between their personal and professional lives so that their career doesn't consume their life. Faculty, tenure-system faculty anyway, decided early on that they weren't going to have a life other than their profession. These are people who talk about choosing whether to read a second story to their children at bedtime or finishing a grant review.

I appreciate that my position gives me the flexibility to participate in a wide variety of activities, from technology, to science, to education, to governance, to actually spending time with my children.

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.

Bicycling

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.

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