Snowy day

I was scheduled for jury duty today. I was summonsed to the court in Belchertown to appear at 8am. I got up at a normal time, but left early to make sure I was there on time. A grumpy officer made me empty my pockets and eventually frisked me, when I still couldn't go through the metal detector without setting it off. The process basically involved sitting there for a couple of hours (I took a book to read) until they dismissed us when it became clear that the cases on the docket were going to be resolved without going to trial. They showed us a funny video with a female judge who spoke like Elmer Fudd and kept talking about "wight to twial by juwy" and "wule of law". When they dismissed us, the officer explained that the card we would receive for our employers would state what date we'd served, but didn't indicate what time we'd been released. I went ahead and went back to work anyway -- but after lunch.

Today, Mary Carey had an article in the Bulletin about our Esperanto lunch with Jos

Jury Non-Duty

On Thursday last week, I drove to Boston and then spent the night. On Thursday, PHENOM held a rally at the statehouse to kick off this year's push to get the state to fix and fund higher education and to make it more affordable. Massachusetts has done a very poor job of supporting public higher education over the past 20 years: the buildings are falling apart, funding has declined in both absolute and real terms, and fees have increased something like 300%. The main needs-based financial aid program, Massgrant, used to cover 80% of a student's tuition and fees -- now its something like 15%. Ellen Story spoke briefly and encouraged students to stay active in politics.

Afterwards, I headed for the Hynes Convention Center to register for AAAS and then hooked up with Jim Lieberman and Jos

Busy four days

The comic Rhymes with Orange is about frugality today. Unfortunately, their website runs two weeks out of date, so I can't send you to look at it. It has the caption "The Long Term Relationship" and shows a middle-aged couple in a card store holding hands. The woman says "I'll pick out yours. You pick out mine. We'll read them here, then go spend the five bucks we just saved on renting a movie." It's perfect.

The weather has shut down the public schools today. The University is closed until 11am. We got several inches of snow and sleet, which is changing over to rain. There is a skin of ice over everything, but its supposed to get up into the 40s. It's going to be a nightmare trying to get the driveway clear, but it doesn't look like it will freeze up for a day or two, so hopefully that will give us time. Still, its going to nasty getting into work today. Tomorrow, the weather looks fine for my trip to Boston.

A couple of weeks ago, I sent a brief note to Chris Sanders. He's the guy who conceived of Lilo and Stitch -- one of my favorite movies of all time. Over the summer, he set up a website to showcase his art and more recently he's been blogging Kiskaloo, a new comic he's created (which I think of as something like a cross between Non-Sequitor and Calvin and Hobbes).

I sent him email because the boys and I watched a show about prehistoric proto-mammals that looked like the kinds of things he tends to draw. I got a reply from him today thanking me for thinking of him and mentioning that he'd been really interested in a Gorgonops fossil at the natural history museum when he'd been a kid. It was fun to get a reply! Go Chris!


The past week has been exhausting. I agreed to be on the middle-school principal search committee, but was surprised when it turned out that it would require 20 hours of time during the first two weeks of the semester. It's been difficult and has not earned my any popularity contests with people who expect me to always be there for them. That said, it's been very interesting and I feel like my input has been important. I believe the short-list of candidates would have looked different without my participation and that, in the long run, it may make all the difference. We interviewed three candidates on Thursday and I was so tired when I got home last night, I had a drink with dinner and then pretty much just went to bed.

I got to see what the next version of the Student Information System will look like. If you like the current system, you'll like the new system. Of course, nobody likes the current system. When asked about some of the obscure categories among the course groupings, we were told that there were administrative requirements for dummy classes. I facetiously asked if the administrators also took the dummy classes -- all in good fun, of course.

Unfortunately, next week doesn't look much better than this week. I have AAAS at the end of the week and then (hopefully) a visitor from Chile coming for a day next weekend. I can't ever seem to get ahead.

My class seems off to a good start -- the one hour twice a week schedule feels better than once a week for two hours. Seeing the students more often makes it easier to remember names and the shorter chunks of time seem more productive.


Maizpana SupoYesterday morning, I made one my favorite new dishes: Tortilla Soup. I think I first had tortilla soup at La Parilla Suiza in Phoenix. It made a big impression on me. Sometime last summer, I had the idea that I could probably make some, so I made up a recipe. I browned some chicken with some chilis, added a can of broth and a can of diced tomatoes, brought to a boil, and then added a bunch of lime juice with a handful of fresh cilantro crushed into a each bowl. Poured over tortillas and sprinkled with Mexican cheese, it's become a favorite in our house. I'm now making giant batches with a huge can of broth and two large cans of diced tomatoes.

The first week of the semester was something else. I've started teaching twice a week for 50 minutes, rather than once for two hours. So far, I like it better -- its hard to keep the students productively engaged for two hours straight. But it does mean getting ready and teaching twice, rather than once in the week. By Thursday, things were a bit quieter, but there have been almost constant demands on my time.

On Friday, we had icky weather, but took Lucy out for her birthday dinner celebration at the Indian restaurant. I've been careful with my diet since the start of the new year, but I took at day off and splurged. It was wonderful to have rice and papadum and pakora (as well as tandoori chicken and aloo gobi).

I've been reading In Defense of Food which resonates strongly with me in most ways: food is a lot more than just something to keep you healthy. It's nice to get together with people for a meal and food can be a comfort and a pleasure. I think his thesis that "food" is necessarily better than food products is silly, though. Some kinds of plant products (like apples) evolved to be food and are undoubtedly good for you. Lots of plants have created all kinds of secondary plant compounds, however, that are intended to keep animals from consuming them. We use a lot of these in food as seasonings (or as drugs!) but to say that eating plants is good for you, overlooks eating all the plants that aren't, like Deadly Nightshade or Jimpson Weed.

The real case against food products is not a prima_facie one, but one based on capitalism. The real problem with food products is that they are engineered, not to be good or good for the consumer, but to make the maximum profit for the corporation. By organizing our society around what people who can are willing to pay for, results in a wasteland of cheap crap that ruins our lives and the environment.

Super-fun pak

Andrew Leonard recently posted about shopping with no human contact. I remember seeing a promotional video for self-service checkout systems that explained that, the systems wouldn't necessarily just eliminate jobs, but it would allow the stores to repurpose their staff from menial jobs to more customer-oriented jobs. Bullshit.

Technology is increasingly being used to replace human interactions. It certainly is the direction we've been going -- at least for the lower and middle class. In fact, I think most people prefer that. People are a PITA to deal with.

It was a shock to me when I visited Spain in the 1980's that few stores in Madrid even allowed you to browse. Most stores had their products inside glass display cases and you were not expected to look to see what they had, but rather to tell the shopkeeper what you needed and then to have him show you what products might meet your needs. The idea of "just looking" was utterly alien to them.

It used to be that sales people could offer useful insights to the customer. Recently Circuit City fired all of their most experienced salespeople. There was the perception that experience salespeople add more value because they presumably know the products and can more effectively answer questions. With the rise of the internet, I'm not so sure that's true anymore. Most people I know, compare features pretty carefully using the internet first and visit the store only to see and touch the products, to get a sense of the fit and polish. I tend to be skeptical of what salespeople have to say -- especially when you know they're being compelled to try to sell you "extended warranties" and other crap you don't need.

If you're really wealthy, of course, you can hire great people to pick out great stuff for you or harass people you don't like or whatever you want. And some stores, that cater to the wealthy, will continue to have highly-paid staff. But most people, seemingly, would really prefer to buy stuff at Voldemart and save a dollar or two.

Shopping experience

I came home early on Thursday, stayed home on Friday, and worked through the weekend to do some much needed spring cleaning. I picked up and reorganized the living room and the dining room. It took three days of relatively focussed and difficult work. I didn't really touch the junk room, but it's a start. We have a snug little house that's quite comfortable when it's not overrun with clutter.

I've also got a project I can sic Alisa on. We really need to replace several light fixtures in the house: two in the kitchen, one in the dining room, and one in the basement. We might also do something about the garage while we're at it.

Today, another Noreaster blew in and closed the schools and the University. I have enough work that I really can't take the day as a holiday, but I'll enjoy spending the day around the boys anyway, even though I'm working.

Spring cleaning

For a change, I'm actually staying up for the New Year. For the past couple of years, I've fallen asleep before midnight, but I'm awake this year. I napped for a while early in the evening with Penny asleep on my chest. I'm lucky it didn't suffocate me -- she's not a little puppy anymore.

The New Year is as good a time as any to be reflective. A high priority of mine has always been to have a balanced life: to balance work, Esperanto, and my personal life. In the previous year, I got way burned out on Esperanto -- when I did Esperanto-Day 2006, I spent 5-10 hours a week for months. In January 2007, I was so burned out on Esperanto that I did relatively little all year. This year, I want to try to strike a better balance: to be productive without getting over involved and burning out again.

One of my goals, which I've already started, is to write a wikipedia entry when I write a blog entry for Esperanto-USA. I've done it twice so far, drafting entries on Boxing Day and Saul Alinksy. That way, I can kill two birds with one stone.

Best wishes for the New Year!

New Year

Today, as I had threatened, I actually did something. I've been remiss in updating the Esperanto-USA website, so today I brought it up-to-date. There had been a couple of drupal updates that I hadn't found time to install, I installed the Diff module, and I hacked in support for Klaku is like an Esperanto version of Digg, based on Pligg. There is a nice module to support Digg in Drupal, but there's nothing for Pligg, unfortunately. I just hacked in a link under each post to klaku -- it's not perfect, but it's something.

Lucy remarked that I only had two more days of vacation left. It's been a good vacation. I haven't thought about work much at all. I've checked my email a few times a day and responded to questions from my students regarding grades, but that's been about it. One person needed the combination to the BCRC and there was a reply from George regarding a link I had forwarded it, but that was about it. No crises, no disasters. Just peace and quiet.


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