Semester finally over

Today, I finished the last of the grading and submitted all of my students' grades. I had a couple of students with questions and concerns that I addressed promptly. Afterward, I joined Tom and Buzz at Packards, a bar in Northampton, for lunch and a couple of pints of beer. We had a nice time chatting -- Tom and I had missed the previous lunch at Opa Opa last week due to the blizzard and other bad luck. It was good to get caught up.

Earlier, Lucy and I went to Lukasik's Game Farm and picked up a couple of small geese for our Christmas feast. Lucy and Buzz both guessed that I had wanted to have goose as a result of Dicken's Christmas Carol, but I don't think that's it.

As a young man, I became fascinated with having roast goose. We never had goose growing up, but at some point, I began to pester Lucy about wanting roast goose until she finally got me one at some point and I got to try it. It was fine. It was even better than fine: it was the fulfillment of a lifetime ambition of mine at the age of 14 or something. I'm not quite sure how the idea got into my head, but I have a suspicion.

There is a section in the Three Musketeers in which the musketeers have gone to the Parpaillot to breakfast and keep getting interrupted, so they make a bet with someone that they will go breakfast in a bastion and simultaneously hold it against the enemy for an hour:

"And what bastion is it?" asked a dragoon, with his saber run through a
goose which he was taking to be cooked.

"The bastion St. Gervais," replied d'Artagnan, "from behind which the
Rochellais annoyed our workmen."

"Was that affair hot?"

"Yes, moderately so. We lost five men, and the Rochellais eight or ten."

"Blazempleu!" said the Swiss, who, notwithstanding the admirable
collection of oaths possessed by the German language, had acquired a
habit of swearing in French.

"But it is probable," said the light-horseman, "that they will send
pioneers this morning to repair the bastion."

"Yes, that's probable," said d'Artagnan.

"Gentlemen," said Athos, "a wager!"

"Ah, wooi, a vager!" cried the Swiss.

"What is it?" said the light-horseman.

"Stop a bit," said the dragoon, placing his saber like a spit upon the
two large iron dogs which held the firebrands in the chimney, "stop a
bit, I am in it. You cursed host! a dripping pan immediately, that I may
not lose a drop of the fat of this estimable bird."

"You was right," said the Swiss; "goose grease is good with pastry."

I'm not sure, but I think this may be what fascinated me as a young man about the idea of eating goose.


I taught my last class yesterday. We did a poster session on the tardigrade research project the class had taken up. I always worry a bit when we do these big projects -- they're always a bit risky and don't always work out perfectly. Last semester, several of the groups had crashed-and-burned, in spite of (what I thought) were herculean efforts on my part to support and sustain students' efforts. This semester, things went relatively smoothly. One group insisted on using Powerpoint for their poster and, sure enough, it wouldn't print properly. We struggled with it and eventually -- at the very last minute -- we were able to get something to print. Overall, however, the posters were fantastic. The students had worked very hard to collect tardigrades, mount them in slides, identify them, and collect beautiful imagery. The posters were attractive, well-organized, and most had carefully constructed figures.

It was fun talking to the students about their projects. Several had reported how hard it was to find any tardigrades at first, but how, once you trained your eyes what to look for, you began to see them everywhere. Several talked about how cute and engaging the tardigrades are -- not everyone liked them so much, but I think everyone liked them more than the cockroaches I had students study the previous fall. (Maybe next fall, I can do something else warm and cuddly, like leeches. The cuddle up real close and are quite warm, especially as they finish their blood meal.)

I made a request at the beginning of class that, if anyone had any extra time, I would appreciate some help cleaning up the lab, since it had gotten messy while they were finishing their projects. I went down later in the afternoon to start cleaning and it was already done! A couple of enterprising students had taken it upon themselves to really make it shine. I was really touched and, in spite of the gathering gloom, it made the day seem brighter.

Some of the students have contributed their slides to the departments Natural History Collections too -- it will be useful to have them in the teaching collection so that future students will be able to see what a tardigrade looks like. (Although they're really easy enough to just go find when you need some.) A very successful semester in writing.


It's magical getting new glasses. I can still remember the miracle of getting glasses for the first time and having the whole world snap into focus. Now, getting new glasses isn't so dramatic, but it's still amazing to be able to see.

As an interesting counterpoint to Phil's post today, the woman who fitted my glasses simply gushed over how wonderful they looked on me and how good they made me look. Whether it was true or not, it made me smile and feel better about the experience than I might have otherwise.


I'm reminded today of how it's the connections with other people that bring the most satisfaction in life. Sarte famously said "Hell is other people" (which, as a parent, I modified to "Hell is other people's children") but without other people, life is not worth living.

Today, Laura and Jared stopped by and surprised me. They just walked into my office, unannounced. I haven't seen them in a couple of years, although we have exchanged messages electronically a time or two. I always love to hear from alumni -- but especially from former students, BCRC-staff, and friends. We chatted for a couple of hours about the university, work, the economy, and life in general.

Tomorrow, several of my Esperanto friends are planning to join me at Join the Impact, to protest California's passage of Proposition 8. I've made some signs in Esperanto to hold. I spent a while trying to come up with catchy signs. The best I came up with were "NE M8U NIN" and "EGALAJ RAJTOJ" and "GEEDZI?O GEJEDZI?O".

I'm really enjoying my local Esperanto group this year. On December 13, we're going to have an Esperanto Day celebration at the Jones Library. We'll have a potluck lunch at noon and then watch Gerda Malaperis. Join us!

When I think of connections with other people, I also can't forget my family: My two wonderful boys, who always make me smile. My wife, oryx, friend, partner, and stalking pony. My mother who keeps me sane. My brother, who I correspond with constantly. My dad. I try to never forget how lucky I am to have these connections that keep me grounded.


The end-of-semester crush has begun. People are beginning to buckle down and get stuff done, which brings more of them to ask me for help on various things.

Rodger had spoken with me about making a searchable interface for data from the insect collection. I showed the pages we had created previously. They finished the data from the first order (Lepidoptera) and sent me a spreadsheet. I used it as a pretext to go back and look at my old code and think about how to migrate it to the new server. I wrote all the old informatics scripts using mSQL. I started building these when it wasn't clear which database was going to become the one to use for web applications. I liked several things about mSQL: it compiled cleanly (while MySQL often would not); it used unix users and groups, it was simple to set up and use, and it was extremely stable. We're not planning to use mSQL on the new server, so I need to migrate everything over. This was a good test case.

I left work early to arrange a location for the Zamenhof Fest. A week ago, as I began trying to set up the Zamenhof Fest, I sent an email to the Jones Library about reserving a room. I sent the email to the library. On Wednesday, I got an email back that explained I had to visit the library in person during business hours. So, I went downtown, filled out the necessary paperwork, and got the room reserved.

Lucy and I had planned to go downtown anyway to have an early dinner at Baku's, the new African restaurant. It's actually been there for a while. I've wanted to go there, but Alisa had tried their food at some point (at the Taste, I think) and didn't like the sauce -- too ketchuppy. I could see that. I got the curry chicken with jollof rice, fried plantains, and vegetables. Lucy got the jollof rice and black-eyed peas. It was all delicious. They had fair-trade Kenyan coffee, which was very good too. It brought back a lot of memories for Lucy of her African adventures.


Today there aren't enough superlatives in English language. I feel like I've awoken from a fevered and terrifying nightmare to see a bit of sun peeping through the windows. After eight devastating years of predatory mismanagement of the country, we are finally going to have a president that wants to lead and govern -- and not just derail the country, raid the treasury, and enrich his cronies.

Don't get me wrong. Barack Obama is not going to be perfect and, with our broken and dysfunctional government, what he can achieve will be even less. But simply for the sense that someone in the administration cares about trying to make things better, rather than always looking for an angle to screw the country with, what a difference that will make.

It's always painful to me to see how many people in our country disagree. So many people, conservatives and liberals alike, have spoken so eloquently about the challenges facing our country, the potential of each of the candidates, and their choice to support Barack Obama -- to see their thoughtful reasoning ignored and rejected by people who smugly say, "He's a muslim! He's a terrorist! He hates America!" when all of these points are unequivocally and demonstrably false. As Jefferson and the other founding fathers understood, you can't have a meaningful democracy if you can't have a rational discussion of the issues. Has education merely failed? Or is there a substantial body of people that is ineducable?

For the moment, its enough to take a deep breath and be able to hope again.


This morning, I updated Windows in m374 in response to the critical security update posted by Microsoft last week. It's updated on two machines near the back of the room where I did the testing. While I was updating the images, I made a few other minor changes: I changed the background from black to light blue, which should be easier on the eyes when using Windows in Fullscreen rather than Fusion mode. I also updated the antivirus stuff and told it not to pester the user about antivirus updates.

No-one had told me any other changes to make to the image. Evidently the system is working reasonably well.

I went through the exercise of removing temporary files, etc, from the Windows side and then shrank the disk images from the vmware side. I then checked to estimate how many of the files had been modified and whether it made sense to make transcript with just the changes or to just do a whole new transcript. All of the large files had been modified, so I simply made a new transcript with everything and, once I'm sure the new system is working correctly, I will just delete the old one.

Weird week

It's been a weird week. I learned that some of my haiku were accepted for publication in the December issue of Taj Mahal Review. I also published an article in Esperanto at Libera Folio. I'm part of a group putting in an NSF proposal. But on Monday, I spent almost the whole day in an OSHA mandated 10-hour Construction Training program. It was 10 hours long. But once I receive my surferticket, I'll be legally able to go work in buildings while they're still under construction. We're probably going to need to work in the new Integrated Science Building to get it ready for classes while it's still under construction. Very weird.

I'm hopeful for the election in a week's time. It would be horribly depressing to imagine anything other than a landslide victory for Obama. It's been so encouraging to imagine a country that was not ruled by predators using the country to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. Think happy thoughts...

Scientific literacy

Today, I saw an article ranting about science educators, arguing that teaching students about science isn't really necessary for scientific literacy. Here's what I wrote in reply:

It's not clear at all what "science literacy" means -- or ought to mean -- but to equate it with "content of modern science" is a particularly depauperate view. Those who advocate for scientific literacy principally want to prepare non-scientists to understand (1) enough about science to know the kinds of questions science can answer and (2) something about the nature of the answers that science can provide. These concepts are not part of science themselves, but are important to understand how scientific knowledge and practice should intersect with other spheres of human endeavor, such as politics, energy policy, and education.

I remember as a graduate student wrestling a lot with the question of what scientific literacy really ought to be. It's a tough, thorny question. Science education is descended from what used to be called "nature study" in the 1800's. In the 1960's, after Sputnik, science education became very focused on producing a new generation of scientists. The idea of "scientific literacy" is really quite new, becoming especially popularized in 1989 in Project 2061: Science for All Americans. Not everyone needs to be conversant with the depths of the history and philosophy of science, but some level of understanding is critical to distinguish scientific understanding from other kinds of ideology -- a proposition that the Bush administration never did understand.

Faith and the public discourse

This morning, Leonard Pitts suggests that most of us believe with questions when it comes to religion. That reminds me of a story I told my philosophy professor about someone I knew who wanted to follow the teachings of Jesus. This person believed the bible had the teachings of Jesus, but they'd also gotten mixed up with some other stuff -- but that was OK, because he could tell the true teachings of Jesus from the other stuff. The piece I don't understand about religion is why it's OK to be an atheist with respect to all the other religions, but not with respect to the other one. Where is the evidence that let's one make an informed decision?

I see the same reasoning among the logic that Sarah Palin and her supporters are making for her to be vice-president. She complains about the northeastern media elite who have unreasonable expectations about the knowledge that a prospective candidate should have. I can't believe anybody would fall to that line of reasoning: if your car is broken, do you hire someone who gives as evidence of their credentials, "I can see a repair shop from my window." Do you want a doctor who can't answer basic questions about human anatomy? C'mon!


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