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Swimming with the Jellies

The first time I came to St. Croix, I was too cheap and too poor to buy goggles with corrective lenses. My vision is pretty poor without glasses. One eye is quite different than the other. So I got regular googles and just accepted I couldn't see very much while snorkeling.

Using lenses from old glasses, I made two versions of my own corrective goggles. The first time, I put a single drop of super glue and stuck the lenses in the goggles. It worked pretty well, except that the middle of the lens is exactly where you're looking -- so you can see pretty well, except for what you want to look at. :-/ The next time, I glued lenses onto three buttons placed at the corners of the lenses and then glued the buttons into the goggles, They worked pretty well and I used them for years. They catastrophically failed the last time I was here: I put my face in the water and they immediately filled up with saltwater -- which was a huge surprise.

I had intended to replace them at my leisure before I came down. But I'm by nature too lazy to get around to things like that. But I brought my prescription hoping that maybe I could buy something while on island. When we arrived, I went to one of the local dive shops who said they didn't really have anything for sale. I was ready to give up, but Alisa checked with another local shop and found that they could order something promptly that used individual pre-ground lenses for each side. They just correct for distance -- not for astigmatism -- but probably good enough, I thought. So we put in the order and held our breath.

I was very excited when the lenses came in: I took my goggles back to the shop and he installed the lenses. We came back to Cottages and I ran out to the beach and jumped into the water. AND I COULD SEE! Jellies! Jellies! And more jellies! EVERYWHERE! Not wanting to get painfully stung, I promptly jumped back out of the water.

I was about ready to give up when Daniel brought one back in a bowl and I realized they weren't jellyfish -- they were Ctenaphores, or Comb Jellies. They're not stingy. Actually, I had always wanted to see a ctenaphore -- they're almost transparent and have rows of cilia that are supposed to bioluminesce. So I ran back out and jumped back into the water. There were so many ctenaphores, it was like swimming through jelly. There were millions of them. Billions of them.

And I could see! I could see the sand! I could see the rocks! I could see the fish and the flounder and the crabs. And the tube worms and the sponges and coral.

At night, Buzz and I took dive lights out for a night-dive. There was a huge bunch little planktonic organisms and came along with the comb jellies —— maybe larvae of something. But the water was thick with little critters swimming around. If you turned the lights off a lot of them would flicker and flash like fire flies. We swam out to a big rock and watched the fish in the lights. We saw a big spiny lobster -- their eyes glow in the lights. On the way back, I looked for comb jellies without the lights. They didn't seem to luminesce much, but then I bumped one and the rows of cilia lit up like Christmas trees. Beautiful.

In the morning, I went out early to collect cullet for another old rum bottle filled with sea glass. It's a lot easier to find it when you can actually see. Who'da thunk it?

Coming Home to the Islands

We arrived on St. Croix late Monday evening after a long day of travel. We had gotten cheaper tickets by agreeing to a long (8 hour) layover in Miami Once, when we had a long layover in San Juan we stayed in the Admiral's Club which made it much more tolerable. We looked into that this time, but both were under construction. So I found us a quiet lounge and we mostly just hung out there. But then our flight was moved to another gate and we rode on the sky train. Then it was delayed and so we hung out a bit longer. But eventually we arrived to St. Croix where Buzz met us at the airport with a jug of rum & grapefruit juice. It felt like coming home.

We've been coming to St. Croix for a dozen years. The first time we came Daniel was just a little guy who had only learned to swim the week before. Now, he will turn 18 while we're on island. We plan to visit the distillery, which he's visited many times before, but never been able to sample the rum at the end of the tour.

We haven't come every year: last year I used the resources I might have used to come to St. Croix so Phil and I could go to the Universala Kongreso in Lille. I was really happy to go and to spend time with Phil. But I've been missing St. Croix all year.

I don't think I would want to live here full time. I worry that after a couple of weeks, it would start to lose its magic. It is like magic when you step off the plane and smell the tropical air. And when you come over the hill down to the coast and see the blue Caribbean Ocean laid out before you.

I love the easy-going attitude of the people. Nothing really works the way you expect. But that's OK. It's usually close enough and as long as you don't bring any expectations, it's fine. Centerline bakery doesn't have any pastries? Let's try Nacho's! There's no rental car available? There'll probably be one tomorrow…

Now that we've had a few days to settle in, some new folks are coming in tonight for a week. Tomorrow is Emancipation Day and Monday is the Fourth, for which Buzz has planned a little symposium for archeologists, turtle people, and mongoose people to all present some of our on-going projects. And we've got a bunch of on-projects to talk about.

All too soon, we'll be packing up to head home. And I'll be glad to get home. Like Rose always says, if you never leave, you can't come back. I'm already looking forward to coming back.

Mike's Place

In early June, Lucy, Daniel and I headed west to visit Phil in Champaign. From experience, we know that we can usually get across New York and Pennsylvania in one full day of driving, and we often aim for Kent to spend the night. The first time, I was interested in visiting the memorial at Kent State and, the next time through, with both boys, we went early in the morning to visit the spot and reflect before pushing through.


This year, we had gotten a good start and we arrived a bit earlier than usual. Once we were checked in, we explored toward Kent to look for dinner. I noticed a place, called Mike's Place that seemed totally packed. That's usually a good vote of confidence, but it seemed so full we might have trouble finding a place to park or getting a table. But after exploring and rejecting the other options (like Bob Evans) we pulled in to check it out. Then we noticed the X-Wing fighter parked in front and it seemed like an even better choice.

Mike's Place

Once inside, we got a table much more quickly than I had expected and then were confronted with the menu. It appears that, served with every one of the hundreds of possible entrees, you also get a side-dish of attitude for free. Toward the end, you can find "Rules of Dining at Mike's Place" that include nuggets of wisdom like "Only Mike or Managers may refer to waitress staff as Serving Wenches. (They call us managers Studpuppets! Honest!)". It was a charming place with an incredibly diverse range of dining options. I got the I AM SO CONFUSED, BUT I LIKE IT! for $6.29.

We take gyro meat, corn beef, Swiss, homemade Blue cheese dressing & grilled rye & Wham! So many flavors, it’s too good to be just a sandwich, maybe it’s a Super Sandwich!

They had an IPA by Deschutes I was interested in trying, but when I got it, it was terrible -- it was kind of malty and plain. I then tried the Yuengling IPL which was better. When I got the receipt, I discovered they'd served me a Dos Equis instead of the IPA. Oh, well. Nobody's perfect. I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I don't get Dos Equis because that stuff is nasty.

All in all, it was a very satisfactory experience and one well worth repeating if we stay in Kent again.

Weekend Bicycling

With Pedal2Pints coming up, I'm trying to get lots of time in the saddle so I'll be ready. I've riding to work most days and have taken a few longer rides, including to the ends of the bike trail -- ~20 miles round trip. And the long weekend looked like a good opportunity to get some riding in. But it was hot.

On Saturday, I meant to get out early, but delayed too long. By the time I set out, it was already sweltering with temps in the high 80s. I ended up riding to downtown Amherst where I discovered the town was packed due to an Amherst College reunion. All of the outside tables at Amherst Coffee were taken, but when I arrived at the Black Sheep, a table opened up just as I arrived. I parked my bike and left my helmet on the table to claim it. When I poked my head in the door, the room was jammed with people. So I sat outside and drank water for a few minutes until the line went down. Then I ordered a small latte and enjoyed it sitting on the sidewalk by Sweester Park. I noticed that the out-of-town traffic was crazy, though. People kept racing back and forth in cars.

Aŭtoj rapidas
kaj unu la alian
provas pasigi.
Mi nur vojflanke sidas
kaj trinketas la kafon.

In the afternoon, I rode downtown again to help run the Amherst Media table at the Rotary Fair. Attendance at the fair seemed a bit low due to the high temperatures (in the mid 90s) and we also had a brief shower that was momentarily quite heavy. It was a lovely way to to spend an afternoon with friends and, afterwards, I could mostly just coast home.

On Sunday, I got out a bit earlier and rode to the bike trail. The last section of the Swift Way before you reach the Norwottuck Trail is pretty steeply uphill. At the top, I stopped briefly on one of the benches there and rested before continuing on. I debated whether to go down, toward the river, or up, toward downtown. I decided to go up and see if I could get coffee at Amherst Coffee. I got back on my bike and started riding. I pushed on up the trail and then turned and headed up the long hill into downtown. I crested the hill, coasted into downtown, and parked by Amherst Coffee. Then I discovered I had lost my phone.

I normally carry my phone in a shirt pocket for playing ingress, but I was wearing an Istvan Bierfaristo shirt that doesn't have a pocket. So I had put my phone in my back pocket. But when I sat on the bench, I had to take my phone out of my pocket and I realized I must have left it on the bench.

So I headed back. I rode back up the hill by Amherst College and then coasted back down to the trail and down the trail to the bench. And my phone was still there.

At that pointed, I decided that what I needed rather than coffee was beer -- and it was nearly lunchtime -- so I rode back to Hangar and sat outside until a waitress came to inquire whether I wanted anything. I admitted that I'd been hoping someone would bring me some beer if I waited long enough. She assured me that my wait was nearly over and brought me back a beer menu.

I've been really happy with Hangar since they took over the Amherst Brewing Company's food service operation. They have a great selection of beer and the food is excellent. I ordered a pint of Wormtown's Be Hoppy while I looked over the menu. I got a couple of samples to try: the Lagunitas Waldos Special Ale and Maine Beer Company's Another One IPA. They were both interesting and different. The Another One was citrusy -- almost lemony -- while the Special Ale had a whole palette of interesting flavors. At 11.5% alcohol, you can only get it in small glasses, but I got a small glass anyway to savor the interesting flavors at more depth.

Eventually, it was time to leave to get home in time for the Cardinal's game with Lucy. But I was glad to get some riding in as Memorial Day was scheduled to be rainy. (Although it's nice to have an excuse to not go out and ride today. :-)

Malbona Esperantisto

Pasintsomere, mi vojaĝis al la 100a Universala Kongreso. Mi ekvojaĝis kun mia frato. Ni decidis paroli nur Esperante survoje kaj dum la kongreso, do ni pasigis pli ol semajno en Esperantujo. Finfine, dum la fruaj matenaj horoj en Islando, survoje hejme, ni babilis iomete en la angla kaj, iom post iom, transiris tute al la angla. Kaj mi parolis Esperanton, almenaŭ iomete, ĉe ARE en oktobro.

Dum la aŭtuno, tamen, mia loka grupo ĉesis kunveni. Mi provis organizi kelkajn aferojn sensukcese kaj ĉesis provi en januaro. Ekde tiam, mi apenaŭ parolis Esperanton.

Tio ne signifas ke mi neniel uzas Esperanton: mi legas aferojn ĉe Facebook kaj mi finlaboris mian lastan libron Ideoj Ĝermas. Sed mi konstatis hodiaŭ ke mi nek aŭdas Esperanton nek parolas ĝin dum semajnoj. Aŭ monatoj. Kaj mi sentas min iomete sola.

Mi iom bedaŭras ke mi ne partoprenas MeKaRon ĉisemajnfine. Mi nek partoprenas Landan Kongreson nek NASKon nek Universalan Kongreson. Mi estas malbona esperantisto.

Mi tamen havas kelkajn novajn projektojn kiujn mi antaŭenigas. Mi proponas traduki librojn el Esperanto por eldonejo -- Ni vidu ĉu ili akceptos la proponon. Mi ankaŭ ĵus akceptis postenon kiel redaktoro por Terglobaj Voĉoj. Tio por mi estas reveno ĉar antaŭlonge, mi verkis serion da artikoloj por reklami projekton kiun mi faris por la t.n. Ligo por Esperanto en Norda Ameriko.

Mi bedaŭras ke mia loka grupo forvelkas. Mi pensas ke eble mi decidu re-aktivigi ĝin kiel ĝi estas unue: mi elektu lokon kaj "kunvenu" tie, spite tio, kion aliaj volas fari. Ili plej often ne volas kunveni ĉiaokaze, do mi sentas ke mi povas fari kion ajn mi volas. Kaj se ili volas veni, des pli bone. Kaj, se ne, eble aliaj venos.

Journey or destination

Philip writes about summer work and setting up some goals for the summer. In looking at his goals, he realizes that some are things he wants to "do" and other are things he wants to "get done", so he changes them to all be things he wants to do.

I've always found the journey vs destination metaphor to be more useful. I've never been very interested in going out to ride my bike around: I want to have a destination. And I find it very satisfying to get there. Sometimes it's OK to just noodle around aimlessly, but I'm not likely to push myself or try very hard that way.

That said, I try to be mindful all along the way. I stop to look at flowers, take side trips to explore new places along the way, or just to rest and look toward the mountains. And to be prepared to shift to a different destination if something else seems better.

To me, that's what the distinction is: I'm not undertaking a journey for the journey's sake. I'm setting out for myself: to get somewhere. It doesn't have to be somewhere new or exciting, but I'd have a hard time traveling without some kind of goal in mind. Imagine it:

Fred says, "What are you doing this summer?"

George replies, "I'm going to travel."

Fred says, "Oh! Where are you going?"

George replies, "Well, I'll be in a car for a while. And then maybe I'll go on a train. And then..."

Fred interrupts, "No. I mean what is your destination?"

George replies, "What is this 'destination' of which you speak? I'm going to travel!"

I remember the metaphor I used when I was working on my dissertation. To me, it was like crossing a mountain range: I spent a year going back and forth looking for an easy pass over the mountain range and when I couldn't find one, I began climbing up first one mountain and then another. In the middle, it looked like mountains all around and I was totally unable to imagine how I'd gotten there or how I would ever finish. But, eventually, I climbed up the last mountain and then was down the other side and through before I knew it.

Having a destination gives meaning to the journey. I mean, it's a little like "walking". Without a destination, you might as well be playing golf.

Barbara Madeloni Re-elected

In recent years, I've had to chose whether to attend graduation or MTA Annual Meeting. This year, however, they were scheduled on different weekends and it was a pleasure to be able to do both.

I'd gotten disgusted with the MTA leadership and then was so amazed and pleased when Barbara Madeloni was elected president. She's struggled because many in the leadership failed to give her their support, but in spite of that I think she's done an excellent job. She's really changed the dialog about education and unions in the state. It's been an incredible turnaround. But Barbara was up for re-election and she had two opponents: the guy she beat last time and the current vice-president.

The turn out to the meeting was huge -- so large that, although we usually had tables, they had to set up stadium seating to fit in enough chairs.

MTA Annual Meeting

I wasn't sure what was going to happen, but I was encouraged when I went to the Educators for a Democratic Union caucus meeting and found that one in three participants was a first-timer. It was incredible to see how many new members had come to make a difference!

Once again, the public schools are facing an existential threat. The monied interests want to privatize the schools and have put a measure on the ballot that would allow them to open a dozen new charter schools every year. That means they could wipe out the public schools in two or three towns every year. Reports are that they've raised $18 million to devote to passing the measure.

The MTA and AFT are working together to defeat it in a coalition called Save Our Public Schools. The main piece of business at Annual Meeting was to approve our contribution toward the funding. It was going to require some tough choices. As we debated the issues, the election was going on.

My main frustration is that almost every election cycle, we have to face another threat from enemies with deep pockets that play mischief with the law. Our legislators tell us they hate ballot measures and so we haven't run any. But yet we end up having to defend ourselves and it's bleeding us dry. One year, it was to defeat a ballot measure that would have eliminated the income tax. Another year, it was to allow administrators to fire teachers more-or-less arbitrarily.

I think we should go on the offense. I think we should launch our own ballot measures and require them to fight us. The first one I'd do is to require charter school teachers to be in the same collective bargaining unit as the local public schools. But we have enough MTA members that if JUST OUR MEMBERS signed on, we could put measures on the ballot. We could do five or ten or a dozen. Maybe that would get someone's attention.

In the end, Barbara was handily reelected -- and allies won several of the races for Director and Executive Committee seats. Unfortunately, Barbara's enemies combined forces to defeat the vice-presidential candidate that was running with her, which I thought was really unfortunate because I had been, by far and away, more impressed with her ideas and vision than any of the others.

I also noticed that the reactionary forces in the union are weakening. When their spokespersons would come to the mic, you could almost predict that the body would vote against them. The MTA is odd: very strongly progressive related to unionism and public education, but extremely divided with respect to many other conservative causes. But the infusion of new blood means that the times they are a'changing.

Town Meeting Through a Lens

On Monday, I took on a new role as President of Amherst Media: Cameraman. When the students leave, Amherst Media is bereft of most of their interns and it's a struggle to find people to record town events — like Town Meeting. At the board meeting, I volunteered to help out and on Monday was called on to run one of the cameras at Town Meeting.

I've never served in Town Meeting, although I've run a couple of times. But I've certainly heard a lot about Town Meeting over the years. And I've seen snippets on TV from Amherst Media coverage, but never watched a whole meeting from "gavel to gavel". It was sobering.

To cover Town Meeting they set up three cameras — plus collect a video feed from the data projector. One camera is fixed on the moderator and one is placed on the stage and records Town Meeting members when they speak. I was manning Camera One, that is at the back of the room and records the Town Officials and Board Members who sit at the front of the room.

The first thing you really notice when you see Town Meeting for the first time is how old everyone is. As someone who spends most of their time at the University, its kind of a shock — like you've wandered accidentally into a geriatric or assisted-care facility.

The cameras they use for Town Meeting are pretty old too: they're professional, high-quality cameras, but old school: big, with a manual focus ring. They have to be positioned high, to record over the audience, and trying to reach my arms around both sides to pan, tilt, and focus, I rather felt like I was trying to dance with a coat rack. But I felt like I got the hang of it pretty quickly.

It's impressive the amount of work that goes into preparing the warrant — the list of motions that Town Meeting will be asked to approve. The professional staff in Public Works, the Police, the Fire Department, the Planning Department, put together a list of needs for the Town: new snow removal equipment, police cars, etc. For major purchases, the Joint Capital Planning Committee builds a schedule so that major capital purchases don't accidentally line up all on the same year. The Finance Committee figures out how to balance revenues with expenditures. The Select Board oversees the process to make sure the Town Committees are staffed and that everyone has had a chance for input. And then it goes to Town Meeting.

The cameras all feed into a device where the Director can watch the incoming video feeds and choose one for the live broadcast. He communicates with the camera operators using a headset and provides terse directions regarding how to frame the shots and to let you know when the focus is soft. At the camera, you have only a tiny, low-res black-and-white viewfinder that is a couple of feet away (for a short person like me), so it's hard to tell that stuff. As a photographer, my inclination is to use a "rule of thirds" when composing shots, but I found that the viewfinder has a larger extent than what the feed actually provides, so I had to compensate to put stuff closer to the middle.

I've heard people complain about Town Meeting, but it wasn't until I actually sat through a whole meeting that I really understood why. It would be interesting to actually collect data, but I would propose that only about half of the statements from Town Meeting Members are actually on target for the item under discussion. Routinely, people would stand and ask questions that just showed they didn't understand basic aspects of Town Government or hadn't read the packet. One woman didn't know what the Joint Capital Planning Committee was and seemed surprised at the idea that she should know. I was bemused that she thought it was appropriate to waste the time of 200 people brandishing her ignorance like a buckler. Or the guy who wanted to ask about painting lines on roads when the part of the budget that funds the bus service was under discussion. But ignorance and failing to bother to prepare was just one way people would waste time.

A vast number of Town Meeting members have a favorite hobby horse they want to get out and trot around in front of everyone. It doesn't matter what the topic is under discussion: they'll stand up to tell you about their hobby horse even though it's irrelevant to the motion. Or only very tangentially related. Nothing is too tangential for them to start railing about their favorite cause.

And then there are the ineducable people: people who don't seem to have any actual agenda, but are really just excited by the possibility of making 200 people pay attention to them. Who knew that three minutes could seem so long.

As I say, it would be interesting to collect data: to get people to do rankings of how relevant Town Meeting Member statements are to the topic under discussion: I'm almost tempted to make up a rating sheet and distribute them at Town Meeting. But I suspect people would take offense.

In the end, I was pleased to volunteer to help record a meeting for Amherst Media. With the incredible number of recent events: Library planning, Town Manager search, and Charter Commission, we're really stretched thin. And it was very interesting to actually see Town Meeting for myself.

Speaking of the Charter Commission, they're having a public hearing on Thursday May 12 at 7pm in the Middle School Auditorium to consider proposing revisions to our form of government. Hmm. I guess I know where I'm going to be.

A Creative Outlet

When I was a kid, my parents encouraged me to try various musical pursuits. Their own experience led them to not subject their boys to piano lessons, although looking back, I think they regretted it a bit. Phil might even have had a lesson or two. I never did.

I started playing violin in 4th or 5th grade and played in the orchestra through high school, eventually reaching first chair of second (or maybe even first) violin -- at least whenever we had a concert. There was a girl who wanted to be first chair that I would let win when she challenged me and we weren't getting ready for a concert. But I would challenge her and win before the concerts. It sounds more nefarious than it actually was. We referred to each other as "sectional partners" because we were in the same section of the orchestra.

In middle-school, I got an acoustic guitar and, with my brother's help, taught myself to play. In high school, I got an electric guitar. It was a cheap stratocaster knockoff, but was actually a pretty good instrument. I played constantly -- often practicing three hours a day. My father found the incessant noise almost intolerable. My mom (Happy Mother's Day!) said she was just happy to know where I was and that I was doing what I wanted.

I mostly played by myself, but also played with friends and in a few groups. I performed a few times solo and with groups.

Some people tell me I was a pretty good guitar player. I never really felt like I was all that good at it. I had a pretty good ear and learned a few tricks, but I certainly never really felt like I mastered it. I played with a lot of different people and felt like I could be a pretty good backup player, but never much of a lead player. Still, it was a good creative outlet and was great therapy for getting out a lot of teenage anger.

When I got to college, I started to find I couldn't make time to practice. And, after I played a jam session with someone who was really, really good (I was later told he was one of Aretha Franklin's grand-children) I decided to quit playing guitar. I could see that no matter how much I practiced, I was never going to be all that. And I was having a hard time finding any time to practice (I was a double major in Biology and Spanish). It felt like it was a lot of time and effort that just wasn't going to lead anywhere.

I probably didn't touch a guitar for 20 years.

When my kids were little, I thought about picking up the guitar again. Daniel wanted a guitar and so we got him one. But he soon tired of it and I felt like I was trying to make him do something for what I wanted rather than what he wanted.

Recently, however, I've felt a need for a new creative outlet. I poked around a bit and saw an inexpensive stratocaster knockoff that only cost new about what I paid for the old used guitar I had back in the day. It had good ratings, so I went ahead and bought it.

When Daniel heard I had bought I guitar, he looked at me. "I have a guitar," he said. "Yes, you do," I replied.

Although it came a couple days ago, I've been so busy with graduation, I didn't have time to do more than put it in tune until today. But today, I played until my fingers were sore -- which didn't really take all that long. And I'll do the same for a while, until I build up some calluses. I don't know whether it will lead anywhere or not, but I'm old enough now that I don't really care.

Outliers are not models

I liked this article about outliers that offers two useful policy insights that are worth attending to. In short, (1) schools don't cause the academic gap between whites and minorities — and it's stupid to think they can fix it. And (2) the rare counter examples, where it seems like schools are fixing it, are OUTLIERS — not models that can be replicated.


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