Post MTA

Each year I go to MTA, I have a sense that we could be more effective if we organized sooner. This year, we did a reasonably good job, but there's still room for improvement.

The issue that dominated the convention was organizing to defeat the referendum that would eliminate the income tax in Massachusetts and decimate education and local services. The Committee for Small Government wants to force a reduction in government spending and has hit on an attractive sound-bite: get rid of income taxes. They claim the average savings, per taxpayer would be around $3600. They don't tell you that someone earning a million dollars a year saves $53,000 and that the lost revenue would about equal the discretionary spending in the state budget (ie, the money that the state contributes for local services, like police, fire, and education).

In 1980, a referendum was introduced that limited the amount that property tax could be increased in the state. Proposition Two and One-Half had draconian effects on education. Across the state, nearly 10,000 people were cut and many young teachers were driven out of the profession. Class sizes increased People who had lived through that time spoke eloquently at the MTA meeting about the results. This referendum would probably have similar effects.

At that time, there was a perception that Massachusetts residents paid too much in taxes. This time, I think people are more aware of our precarious circumstances. There is deferred maintenance all across the state: our public buildings are in poor shape already and the roads and bridges are falling apart. The biggest risk is people believing they can "send a message" by voting for the ballot measure. If it passes, it really will be a disaster for the state.

Shiny Floors

Last night, the janitorial staff came in to strip and wax the floors in my office and in the BCRC. This morning, the room smells like floor cleaner and the floors are all shiny. It was a huge amount of work yesterday to get objects up off the floor and today there will be an equivalent amount of work today to get things put aright. I really like having a clean floor, though.

There is only one class meeting left in the semester. The students are pushing their way toward having final projects finished. The first of the data has been posted in the repository, but there are still groups in a whole variety of intermediate states. I feel for them trying to pull it all together at the end. One student was frustrated by how tedious the data analysis was. Good science almost always involves a lot of tedious work.

Last night, Alisa and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. We went to Chez Albert in Amherst and had dinner together. The food was wonderful and I was pleased to see they had my favorite beer, the De Ranke XX Bitter. After dinner, we walked to the common and watched them setting up the carnival rides.

Tomorrow, I head to Boston for the Annual Meeting of the Mass Teachers Association (MTA). I've gone three or four times before. Each year, we've sent a larger and larger contingent from UMass. I am convinced that we derive real value because MTA has real influence in the legislature. This year, there was a proposal to raise our health-insurance premiums that was removed from the budget after substantial pressure. MTA has been particularly good at these kinds of defensive actions. But Higher Ed is just a tiny sliver of the organization that is dominated by rank-and-file public school teachers. By sending a full contingent and being active in the organization, we increase our visibility and keep our issues on the agenda.

Picture-taking

Tri formoj de likenojIt's been fun to get my camera out and take pictures. I have a hard time getting excited about doing photography in the winter. I love the spring, though. The picture to the left was taken just outside the door: our azalea is covered with lichens. In this one picture you can see crustose, foliose, and fruticose lichens. Lichens are cool.

I rode my bike to Mt. Pollux yesterday. I had read that some students were going to meet there to collect data. Unfortunately, I missed them -- maybe their plans changed. They hadn't asked me to come, anyway -- I just was looking for a good bike ride. It was perfect: about 12 miles over rolling terrain. I didn't go very fast, but I made it there and back. It was beautiful weather: warm sun with a cool breeze.

Mt. Pollux was an apple orchard. On the top of the hill are a couple of old maple trees with some benches underneath. There are glorious views of the Holyoke Range and you can see the steeple at Amherst College poking up through the trees. I think you'd be able to see UMass as well, but someone has thoughtfully planted some evergreens in that direction.

It was about a perfect ride. It's uphill all the way to downtown, and then all downhill along the bike trail to West Street. There was a tough (for me) climb up west street and then gently rolling to Mt. Pollux. The ride back was gentle at first, then the long climb up the bike trail, and then downhill through town and campus.

Picture-taking

LikenojI went with another group of students on Saturday to collect data. I took some pictures, in addition to the research images. It sounds like another group is going out this afternoon, so I'm planning to ride my bike to meet them.

One of the things I love about doing research is how I start looking at one thing, I notice more stuff about everything. Without projects, I have a tendency to blunder around without noticing what's happening around me. When I get started on a project like this, I'm reminded of how much I've forgotten in terms of tree and plant identification. I don't know the first thing about identifying lichens.

That's actually not quite true. I do remember the first thing: the three basic forms of lichens: crustose, foliose, and fruticose. In searching around for ways to identify lichens, I found The Macrolichens of New England (Memoirs of The New York Botanical Garden, Volume 96) . It sounded perfect, so I bought it instantly. I don't know if it will arrive in time to help us with our projects, but hopefully, we can turn around and do lichens again another semester.

Data Collection Progresses

Over this week and next, the semester reaches its climax. On Monday, I tried to get my students organized for collecting data, but we didn't really get everything set until Wednesday. Last night, I went with one group to collect data at the East Amherst Common. I'll go with another group tomorrow. The other groups haven't contacted me -- I suspect that means they'd just as soon not have me go with them. The goal is to have the data collected by Monday, which will give us a full week to analyze the data and write the final reports. It would have been good to have another week, but I'm really excited by the data we're collecting.

This semester, the students chose to look at lichens on trees. I love lichens -- I've always thought they were really cool. We're collecting imagery of lichens on trees on town property in Amherst. This is a critical year to collect the imagery, because the coal-fired cogeneration plant on campus is shutting down this year, being replaced by a new oil and gas fired plant. The imagery we collect now can serve as a baseline for studying the changes in air quality associated with the new plant. And we're looking at a bunch of other factors: distance and orientation of roads, traffic, north-south orientation, species, and distance to other trees. There is real potential here for publishable work.

We had a great party in the department to celebrate Zane receiving the Distinguished Teaching Award. The chairman said a few words and then Randy and I each spoke a bit. It was such a treat to see Zane surrounded by her colleagues and students. And friends -- friends all. I sometimes get frustrated by the University and the senseless way they approach things and then I remember who I get to work with. Zane and Randy and Elizabeth... And George and Chris and Robbie... And Tom and Tom and Sally and Brian and Elsbeth... And everyone. Well, not quite everyone. But I really love my job. What wonderful people and what a great place I have to work.

Semester reaches its climax

Today, Alisa, the boys and I attended a band concert by the Minuteman Marching Band. I had received the tickets for participating in the University's charity campaign. The marching band is quite large -- 375 -- and plays very well. I thought the boys might appreciate seeing a really good band, since they're both playing band instruments. I was pleased to see that one of my students is in the marching band.

I rode my bike there. It's great to have a bike on campus. You can get places faster than any other way (although sometimes I dream of having a zip-line from a high building on campus straight to my house.

There is a house coming on sale in the neighborhood. It's one of my favorite houses in the neighborhood. It's a small house surrounded by cedars and mountain laurel with a lovely japanese maple by the driveway. Zane and I walked up and looked at it on Friday. A neighbor tried to sell the house to Zane -- they'd be happy with any owner that won't rent the house to students. I would be great to have Zane as a neighbor, although I don't think they're quite ready to buy a house yet.

Band Concert

After a year of supporting a poster printer, I've gotten fed up with people who still try to make posters using Powerpoint. Powerpoint may be a fine application for some things, but it really sucks for making posters. Yet people keep using it. I've tried and tried to get people to not use it and they don't listen. They make their poster with Powerpoint anyway and then come and say, "I'm really sorry, because I know you hate Powerpoint". For-once-and-for-all, let's get this straight: Steven Brewer Does Not Hate Powerpoint.

Steven Brewer Does Not Hate Powerpoint

Daniel ?e WatrobasDaniel and I got out for a good bike ride each day of the long weekend. After the 3 mile ride to Jones and back on Saturday, we rode 5 miles on Sunday, to Big Y and back. On Monday, we rode around 12 miles to the Sugar Shack and back, with a detour to Watroba's. Daniel had wanted to get some of the wonderful chocolate milk at the Mapleline Farm store, but they were closed. He ended up getting a hot dog and a bottle of chocolate-milk-like substance from a giant corporation packaged in a plastic bottle.

Watroba's is good to have. I wish they were slightly larger, had more refrigerated goods, and were actually on the bus line, rather than a half-mile away from the nearest stop. I don't think there's any way to take public transportation to a grocery store without having to walk a long way and/or wait for infrequent busses. Watroba's is close enough to ride to when the weather is decent, but it's hard to imagine riding a bike to the store in the dead of winter. I guess when we're huddling by the stove trying to keep warm because we can't afford to buy heating oil, getting some exercise riding a bike to the store won't sound so bad.

Today, I rode my bike into work and home for lunch. I'm not sure I could ride much farther, though, because a certain part of my anatomy is sore and it's not my shoulders. A few days rest, and I'll be ready to go toughen up some more. My next goal is to ride to Northampton so I can see the rail trail connection between the Norwottuck and Northampton trails.

Long Weekend Bicycling

Yesterday, Daniel and I rode to the Jones Library. We met Lucy, who brought Penny in the car, and we took our usual walk through town. While Lucy and Daniel went into the library, Penny and I sat on a bench outside with the bicycles. Penny usually hops up on the bench with me and leans against me. We enjoyed the beautiful spring weather and watched people walk by -- Penny taking particular interest in the canine passersby. One fellow walked by and glanced at us. Then he looked again. He could see Penny and me and two bicycles. He walked over and asked, "How did you bring the dog? Does she ride a bike?" I admitted that my confederates were in the library and that Penny could not ride a bike.

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