Beautiful Saturday

It's been fascinating to watch the response of the federal government to the financial crisis. If you search bush chazez nationalized you can see I'm not the only who's surprised to see Republicans using the fed to bail out the private sector. If you're poor, the Republicans are only too happy to have failure and bankruptcy ruin your life -- or at least to let people's live be ruined in order for the fear of it to drive behavior.

They say that the bailout is just to give the economy a chance to start growing again, but peak debt makes that scenario unlikely. American's wages have been stagnant since the 70's and, with the collapse in the value of their assets, they aren't going to be able to get any more credit to keep buying. It looks like we're going to have at least a generation of reduced spending, which is not likely to cause the economy to grow any time soon.

After decades of neglect, over the past year the University has been able to get re-investments in infrastructure. There are new buildings going up and I was able to get the BCRC computers and server replaced this summer. Two new bond bills are likely to transform the physical environment for the Biology Department over the next five years. Now, however, the university is being warned that our current budget may get slashed mid year. That's worrisome and doesn't bode well for getting our contract settled. We've been negotiating for at least a real cost-of-living adjustment for this year -- we haven't gotten one for the last 4 years. But we're being told not to expect one. Like I say, it's fascinating to watch.

Socialist Republicans

Last night, I had the electronic chat for my on-line class. Tom suggested we meet at the Northampton Brewery. I had been planning to have the chats from a variety of places during the semester but hadn't had time to organize anything, so I was pleased to accept the suggestion. But when I got to the Northampton Brewery, I found that they didn't have wireless network connectivity. When I mentioned this to Tom, he said, "Oh, yeah. But occasionally, I've been able to find a signal in there anyway." I grumbled a bit that I wanted something more reliable for my class, so he suggested the Haymarket. I went there, found a wireless signal and power, but then the network flaked out -- it would work for a few seconds and then stall for minutes. The appointed hour arrived and I couldn't even get the page to load. Tom suggested going to back to Woodstar. Finally, that pretty much worked. It took me a while to get my network working properly, but then I was able to chat with my students. After the chat session, Tom said, "Boy, you sure are tense this semester." Afterwards, we went to some pizza place to finally get our beer. Maybe next week, we'll find a place to run the on-line chat that has both wireless and beer.

Coming together

The past two weeks have kept me nearly constantly busy at work. At 4:30 this afternoon, though, I realized I was essentially caught up. The BCRC is good. I have the intro labs up and running. The plant physiology lab is good. My classes are up-to-date. The only things I know I need to do, I have to wait on other people: Kate for preferences and Tom for winxp. Yeah. WinXP in the new Super Deluxe lab. Sigh...

I met with folks in CMPSCI yesterday to talk about doing cross-platform computer labs. They've been running their ed-lab in triple boot mode for a year or so. They approach running labs differently than we do, so I'm not sure how much I learned. They set up their labs before the semester and then, essentially, they don't touch them -- or if they do, they do it by touching each workstation. They also do cross-platform by letting people reboot into different OSes. We do it by supporting the workstations with radmind and I'm planning to do virtualization to support the other platforms we need.

The virtualization stuff is cool. I downloaded virtualbox and played with it using Ubuntu yesterday and today. It's pretty seamless. You can let it take over the display and you're using Ubuntu. Of course, its like a little parasite, sucking up all your RAM and computational cycles. Once I get the winxp licenses, I'm going to try vmware fusion. I'm sure it'll be loads of fun.

The intro labs were more work than I had expected. I replaced the teaching stations and found four machines that one sort of problem or another that needed to be fixed. In two cases, it was a hard-drive that was corrupted or failing. We swapped in the spare workstations until we get the others fixed up.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted. Thank goodness its Friday.

Caught up

The semester has gotten off to a busy, but relatively smooth start. My writing class is finding tardigrades and starting to write about them. Students in ODI are feeling their way forward. Most of the labs in the building are working now. I still have to get the intro labs sorted out (by Monday), but I'm starting to have time to sit back and stretch for a minute or two now and then. Life is pretty good.

I'm using the plant physiology lab, which has scopes and computers to teach writing this semester. We've also got the BCRC reserved when we meed more computers. In the first class meeting, students tried to find tardigrades -- I had set up little bowls where we floated some lichens, causing tardigrades to drop to the bottom and walk around. Only a few found any the first time. On Monday, I got them started at the course website. On Wednesday, we met in the lab and again and the goal was to get a tardigrade in a well-slide and look at it. A couple of groups managed to do this -- I did three or four so more people could see them. I'm seeing a lot of cool stuff: different species of tardigrades, moulted exoskeletons with tardigrade eggs, etc. I'm excited about where the class will be when we get to the end.

The new lab for Super-Deluxe is coming together. The instructor decided to get equipment and software that requires Windows, so we're exploring the best options for doing virtualization. Sigh... I'm going to try VirtualBox and vmware and try to see whether potential benefits from vmware offset the fact that its licensing will probably make it two or three times more difficult to support. I'm meeting with folks at Computer Science who've been running a multi-OS lab for a year or so.

I keep having stuff to do at night. On Tuesday night, it was Chamber event and last night, I met with the founder of Ridebuzz to talk about the technology. We had a good conversation at the Dirty Truth. There's good ideas there -- I think those kinds of approaches going to become more important over the next few years. But I think there's a lot that would need to be done before it could be a mainstream phenomenon.

Life, tardigrades, and everything

I've been enjoying my last weekend before the semester -- even better, it's a long weekend. I was exhausted on Friday night -- I've been working 10 and 11 hour days getting ready for the beginning of the semester. I think I'm close enough to ready, but there's still a lot to do.

Thank goodness I've had Tom's help getting ready for Organisms: Diversity and Interactions. We've had several productive sessions discussing how to create a more student-centered and co-created learning environment using Drupal. I've often retained control of the front-page of the course and created separate spaces for student writing. I've actually done this primarily for practical reasons: many students come into the class wanting to know exactly what is the voice and agenda of the course and by keeping the front-page reserved for that purpose, its very, very clear. I see the value in blurring the distinction: to promote the students' agendas and to give their voices added importance and value.

I'm still stuck thinking about a topic for Writing in Biology. I'm leaning toward tardigrades, but it will mean finding scopes and cameras. It could work.

My last weekend

I noticed a new fansub at Dattebayo of a Japanese show called Denno Coil. The boys and I watched the first two episodes. It's pretty good -- the themes and animation style are very reminiscent of Studio Ghibli. The characters are great -- I particularly love the grandmother: Megabaa. She appears to be not only a kind of spiritual leader for the kids, but also a technical wizard. She runs a candy store where the kids buy all of the technical stuff and software for exploring a virtual cyber world that's superimposed over the real world. I'm looking forward to the next episode.

Denno Coil

TomatiljoWe had a great time at the tomato festival yesterday. The weather was perfect and we even found a reasonable place to park -- always a challenge. I love trying all of the different varietys of tomatoes. The one I liked best -- the wapsipinicon -- seemed to be the favorite one of everybody. Tom and Ella came for a while. We had a good time hanging out in the shade and watching some cooking demonstrations. One guy made something he called "Wild Man Stew", which was pretty good. He was using some wine to cook, but encouraged people to come get a glass of wine. No-one had to ask me twice. A woman who came a bit later did some Indian cooking and made absolutely incredible pakoras and fresh onion chutney. It was a great way to celebrate my birthday.

Tomato Festival

It's the weekend before the last week of the summer. I was stressed coming back with only two weeks to get stuff ready, but the first week went pretty well. I still have a lot of work to do, but I'm starting to feel like I have things under control.

Today is my birthday. I'm planning to go to the tomato festival at Red Fire Farm. I mentioned to a lot of people that I was going there -- I think Tom and Ella are going to join us, but it seems that most people are busy doing other stuff. Too bad for them.

Yesterday, I saw something that mentioned that there was a survey by McDonalds at The Lost Ring. It's all about their branding. The marketing types believe that everything is about "adding value to the brand" and they're trying to see whether sponsoring a game like this adds value to the brand. I tried to answer the questions honestly, but I think the idea that business is about leveraging the value of a brand to convince people to buy crappier stuff than they would have on their merits is just stupid. I'm sure they would say that its just good business. The weirdest question was something like "What does it say about McDonalds that they would sponsor an experience like The Lost Ring?" My reply was along these lines: "That's like asking, 'what does it say about amphibians that when you lick their skin you have a hallucinogenic experience.' I would answer (1) it's an enigma and (2) it says more about the problems inherent in global capitalism than anything about McDonalds."

Last week of summer

DipsakoI love teasel. As an ecologist, I should hate teasel because it's a pernicious invasive species. But I don't. I love the spiky branches and the lavender flowers. Lucy mentioned she had seen some teasel near the elementary school, so when it looked like there might be seeds, I went over and got some to plant at the corner. They're easy to get: I just held a ziploc bag under the cones and tapped on them, collecting showers of seeds with each tap.

One corner of our property has high hedges (burning bush -- another invasive species) near the road. At the edge, we planted some hostas (another non-native species). I thought having teasel between the hostas and the burning bush might make a nice three-level effect. Today, at lunch time, I turned over the soil, chopped up the weeds that were growing there, and planted my teasel seeds. I watered them immediately and again after dinner. Now, tonight, I can dream of the teasels I'll have in a couple of years. Its a guilty, sinful love, but I just love teasels.

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