Camping

I've arrived in Montreal for TAKE. I'm staying in a student dormitory at UQAM. I'm doing most of my blogging this week in Esperanto at my Esperanto-USA blog. Montreal is a really interesting place and the pace of the congress is such that we have a fair amount of time to explore. I'm enjoying that my time as vic-president is coming to an end. Someone saw the notes I took at the board meeting and asked, "Don't you want to be secretary?" Yeah, right.

At TAKE

Yesterday morning, everyone was talking about WALL-E. Alisa and Daniel had gone to see it when the first opened, but Charlie and I didn't go. I'd just taught him how I make tortilla soup and we wanted to stay home and savor it. I tried to call Charlie to ask him if he wanted to go, but I didn't get an answer. I figured he was busy playing WoW on Lucy's computer.

For years, I had a home server set up in the basement, running either linux or openbsd. At one time, they provided real services that I depended on, in terms of routing or firewalling or offering file services. Lately, the only service I've been using was Muppyville, so when Lucy got her new computer, I shut down the server, installed Muppyville on her computer, and set it up to be the server. When I logged into her computer, I could see that the WoW application was running. But how to get a message to Charlie?

I figured maybe I could run an applescript that would pop up a dialog box. I tested it on my workstation, but it didn't work -- I got some error about no interaction being allowed. I did a google search to see if I could figure out what I was doing wrong and discovered some pages that explained how to use the speech synthesis from the command line. So I crafted a few messages to Charlie: "Hey Charlie! Want to go see WALL-E? Call me! [...] Hey Charlie! Call me or I'll keep pestering you!" Eventually, when it became clear he didn't know who it was, I sent a message which included my name and he called me. It had totally freaked him out.

Lucy thought it was one of the funniest things she ever saw. Charlie initially thought it was someone in WoW talking to him, but couldn't figure out how someone would know who he was. Lucy was still chuckling about it this morning.

We went to WALL-E for the 4:30 matinee. It was great! The reviewer at Salon panned it, saying, "The gloss of preachiness that washes over "WALL-E" overwhelms the haunting, delicate spirit of its first 30 minutes." I didn't get that at all. I think that if it had tried to preach to people, it would have ruined the story and it worked because it didn't try to.

Going to see WALL-E

I stayed through the end of BioQUEST and then hit the road toward home. I drove to Champaign on Saturday, Lucy and I left early on Sunday, and we arrived home midafternoon on Monday. It was a very long drive, but largely uneventful.

On Monday evening, I was invited to dinner with the speakers of the NSM conference on science education for the following day. They had reserved Chez Albert for the evening and offered a delightful meal. My only quibble was that I couldn't get De Ranke XX Bitter, although the chardonay they had selected was quite nice. I kept drinking the chardonay in spite of ordering meat for the meal. I've never claimed to be more than a gourmand.

The conference was interesting with many excellent speakers. I was a moderator for one of the breakout sessions. It was a little confusing in that there was both a "moderator" and a "facilitator" and it wasn't perfectly clear what each was to do. In the end, the "facilitator" deferred to me and I simply ran the whole session -- several people told me they appreciated how I ran the session. I offered a few remarks to frame the issue, which was designing effective introductory laboratories. I said

I've always been interested in teaching laboratories, because they're a place where it's obvious that students are supposed to do something. Jerome Bruner once said, "Learning is not the product of teaching -- Learning is the product of the activity of the learner." Building an effective introductory laboratory is a challenge, however, because you have a large population of extremely heterogeneous learners and often a large population of heterogeneous instructors, many of whom are inexperienced. Building effective labs requires optimizing across a complex array of factors and often requires substantial compromises. We have today two speakers who have designed effective laboratories and we invite them to share with us how they navigated this complex landscape of challenges.

I was pleased that, one of the speakers after lunch, referenced and used my quote from Bruner, indicating that I'd had at least some impact.

The biggest shortcoming of the conference was the lack of time. Each speaker had only 10 minutes -- we then had to spend half-an-hour with questions from the audience, which tended to be dominated by a few cranky people. There were many good questions as well, but there were two people in my breakout session who ended up, at the end of the conference, probably having spoken more than most of the speakers -- and they were not the ones you might have wanted to set the tone of the conference. It would have been better to have longer presentations and provide separate, smaller "birds-of-a-feather" sessions for discussion, perhaps with a mechanism for reporting out the substance of those discussions to the whole group.

The biggest statement the conference made to me was the idea that someone in the administration actually cared about science education and modern pedagogy. When Lombardi arrived, the tone of the administration seemed to be that the quality of education didn't matter -- the only thing that mattered was that you did some and that it wasn't unacceptable. Given that the dean is leaving, however, its not clear how much impact the conference will have long term, or if there will ever be another.

I was pleased to have arranged an invitation for Ethel Stanley to speak at the conference. Her flight was late getting in, so unfortunately she didn't get to join us at Chez Albert. We did spend the afternoon after the conference, chatting in my office and then went to Bub's Barbeque with Tom and Buzz and all our kids. I don't believe Ethel had seen Charlie since he was two. She was charmed to see how he's grown. We also took Ethel to breakfast the following morning. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard. It's great to belong to a community with such wonderful people.

This morning, I got back on my bike and was able to actually ride for the first time since my crash. I just rode to work. My knee is stiff, but I think that soon I'll be able to ride without any serious impairment. I can't wait.

Next week, I head for Montreal for TAKE.

Returning

Today, the groups at BioQUEST report out. We called our project Spice Invaders. I've finished the parts of the presentation that I'm working on and uploaded my pieces. One part is the Lefkovitch model that I made using a spreadsheet and another piece is a Netlogo model on Invasive Plants and Disturbance. As usual, it was a productive week and gave me an opportunity to explore stuff I hadn't done much of before.

I'm still thinking about what I want to do as the theme for the writing class in the fall. Previously, I sent students out to do some kind of field work and actually collect data. I'm considering having the students explore models this semester. We could try out some models early and proof them by collecting some data before the weather gets bad and then build bigger and more powerful models for their final projects. But I worry that students will complain about doing so much "computer work".

Final Presentations

This time, I decided I was interested in working on learning how to build models related to invasive species and Garlic Mustard. I spent a lot of the day yesterday struggling with the linear algebra of population models. When I went to bed last night, I decided I was making things too difficult for myself and, this morning, I realized I could implement it quite simply using a spreadsheet. When I came in this morning, I sat down and sketched it out. It turned out to be quite simple to implement a Lefkovitch model -- I still don't really get the linear algebra, but maybe that's not necessary.

There are 3 or 4 other people working on the invasive species project with me. We're trying to develop some investigative cases that will lead students to conclude that they need a model to make predictions about what's happening. We also are working on building a set of directions that students can use that aren't too directive for making a Lefkovitch model. Finally, I'm interested in building a netlogo model to look at the relationship between disturbance and invasive species.

Tomorrow, we'll finish our curriculum development project and present it. On Saturday, I'll start driving home.

My injuries are much better. Today, I can walk, rather than hobble. I still haven't really been successful at riding my bike, but I'll probably give it a try again this afternoon. The first time I tried, I couldn't get my foot in the pedal. The second time, I managed to get my foot in the pedal, but I couldn't make it go around without standing up in the pedals. Maybe today will be the charm.

Project at BioQUEST

SciencoIn spite of my knee, I went to the Botanical Garden and hobbled around for an hour after lunch. It was wonderful. I've always loved the garden and wish I could visit it every week or two and really learn to recognize all those plants.

We finished up in St. Louis around 2pm and headed on to Cape Girardeau. It was a couple hours drive south, through increasingly old terrain. We arrived and were installed in dorm rooms. The last time, I stayed in a dorm, it was pretty comfortable. This place is pretty bare bones. The shower is so small, I can barely turn around. At the hotel in St. Louis, they gave me 4 pillows per bed -- here, you get one pillow and you have to make the bed yourself. At first, I couldn't get the air conditioning to work, but eventually got it to cool off and slept pretty well.

In typical BioQUEST fashion, we're to form groups today and pursue a short project to be presented tomorrow morning. I have a number of ideas for things I might want to do, but there's not time to do very much. And I'm not inclined to spend all my time working on the project either.

Link Clouds with Wordle

I made it to BioQUEST yesterday. At the hotel in the morning, I checked that I could actually attend to my personal needs (like putting on shoes and socks) and, after a quick breakfast with Phil and Jackie, I got in the car and drove to St. Louis. I'm still not very mobile, but I can hobble around enough to survive.

After introductory remarks, I participated in a session on developing a problem-space in desiccation tolerance for teaching advanced techniques in plant biology. The approach one scientist is using involves constructing phylogenomic trees to see whether genes involved in desiccation were recruited from stress pathways or seed/pollen pathways. There was a parallel session on GIS. After dinner, there was a talk about cassava and ongoing attempts to improve the cassava plant to make it a more attractive crop. Cassava has been neglected because, although its very widely cultivated, its mainly used by poor people who don't participate in the money economy and, therefore, it doesn't have big economic impacts the way rice or corn does.

Today, we finish up at the Botanical Gardens and drive south to Cape Girardeau where we'll be for the rest of the workshop.

BioQUEST begins

Whoops!Phil and I took a longish ride today to Meadowbrook Park. On the way back, I took a spill onto the pavement. My wheel dropped into a rough spot in the pavement and I lost my grip on the handlebars. The pavement came up quick and I ended up on my back in the road. Phil asked, "Are you OK?" I responded "No!" I got Phil to pull the bike off me, which had gotten tangled up with my leg and, by then, I'd decided that I wasn't going to die immediately. I managed to get up enough to move to the edge of the road and then rested in the grass. Phil called Jackie and she and Lucy came to get me with the cool car.

I've got a lot of bruises, but don't seem to have broken anything. I've smashed up my knee pretty bad, but it can take my weight, so I don't think there's anything seriously wrong with it. I don't think I'll be riding my bike for a few days though. Amazingly enough, my bike seems fine -- just a scrape in the coating on the lock.

Everyone helped me get home, brought me ice packs, ibuprofen, and a good, strong drink. After resting for a bit, I'm up and about, in a manner of speaking. I'm hoping I'll still make it to BioQUEST tomorrow, but I don't think I'll really know until I go to get up tomorrow morning.

Whoops!

I haven't done a huge amount of bicycling since I've been in Champaign, but I think I've gotten out every day. Some of the days I rode here, but for the past couple of days, we ended up leaving bike or bikes here, driving over, and then going out on rides.

On Thursday, we rode to Bo Peeps for breakfast. They make a lot of tasty skillet dishes, but I just got the potatoes and cheese. It's what the skillet dishes are all based on, but I've been eating too much and it seemed like plenty of food to me. On the way back, Phil and I detoured to ride on some of the local bike trails.

Later in the day, the Reelights we had ordered arrived. I installed them on my bike first and will install them on Phil's bike today, as his birthday present. While installing them on my bike, I discovered I had broken another spoke on the rear wheel. We called the nearby bicycle shop, but they said they couldn't squeeze me in. We called another place that also was nearby and they were too busy as well. I then called Bikeworks. The guy who runs the shop is a local legend that inspires strong feelings both pro and con. When he answered the phone, I explained I was from out of town and needed a spoke replaced. "What?" he said. "You're from out of town and you brought your bike with you? Well, bring it in!" He explained later that he was sure I was going to ask to rent a bike. He replaced the spoke while we waited and gave us lots of free advice along the way. I like the comment in the youtube comments that explains how you can't win: Try it yourself first, and you're an overconfident moron, but ask him questions without trying first and you're told to 'strap on a pair'." I was very happy to get my spoke replaced so that I can keep riding while I'm on my trip. Go Bruce!

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