Bray on Innovation

A huge snowstorm blew in today and shut everything down. The middle school, which was scheduled to have a "late-start day" anyway, just closed, but the elementary school stayed open for the morning. Daniel was extremely bitter. The University waited until noon to close, by which point it was snowing about 2-inches per hour. It took me more than half-an-hour to ride the bus home from Morrill. I could have walked faster, but I didn't want my computer and camera to get wet. (And its hard to walk in the snow and I'm lazy). Alisa had gone out just as the snow started to lay in a few supplies and got caught in the traffic jam. She waited and eventually managed to get out, but it took a lot longer than one might have expected. The whole region was in gridlock. Thank goodness I didn't have to try to get across the bridge.


I rarely just post entries with links to cool stuff, but there's been so much cool stuff lately.

The boys and I have really enjoyed hearing Jonathan Coulton's Still Alive in the VGCats cartoon. Its very catchy and we're all whistling and humming it constantly. It was also exciting to see that Emily danced with JoCo in Chicago. How surpassingly cool is that!

I'm really looking forward to wishing everyone a "happy chrifsmas!" this year. What a perfect response to the seasonal culture wars by the religious right.

Links to Cool Stuff

Yesterday, a bunch of families were invited to Amherst College to preview Bubble Trubble. A few weeks ago, Daniel was an extra and we went to see if any of his footage made it into the movie. It looks like most of it ended up on the cutting-room floor. Alisa struggled with feelings of disappointment, but for me the issue had always been Daniel's participation in the process. He undoubtedly would have found it more satisfying to appear (as prominently as an extra can) in the final version of the movie, but he still got the full experience of participating.

Phil mentions feeling seasonal affective disorder at this time of the year. I have shades of that as well. One thing I did to improve my mood was to set up our birdfeeder. We have it hanging on a long rope from the cherry tree in front of the dining room. I haven't always managed to get a birdfeeder set up because the time to set it up is busy. I should plan a few other intentional projects that will make me feel better -- I've thought about making a wreath again this year. I think that would cheer me up more than making a wraith would, anyway.

Bubble Trubble Preview

There is a fascinating article about Craig Venter at Salon right now. His autobiography, A Life Decoded has just been released and the articles talks, not only about the book, but about how new science is being organized and funded. Unfortunately, I think the article has it completely wrong. The author argues that 20th century science, which saw a dramatic increase in the tenured professoriate was a response to the 19th century "gentleman professor" -- that "professionalized specialization was a necessary mechanism for processing the bounty of 19th century discovery". The author goes on to conclude that the new entrepreneurial scientists are an appropriate return to the tradition of independent scientists of the past. I think its actually more subtle and problematic.

I think the 20th century saw a dedication to public investment in the common good. This was partly driven by the pre-eminence of the nation-state, based on the military experiences of the two world wars and creation of superweapons (ie, nukes and ICBMs). Partly, it was also driven by the interaction of organized labor and industrialized production, which produced a unique democratization of distribution of wealth. Wealth was never more evenly distributed than a very brief period between the 50s and the 70s. This is what resulted in investment in public knowledge creation.

What we're seeing now is a return to the patron model where you have to be either super-rich or funded by the super-rich in order to engage in knowledge construction. The ranks of tenured professors are dying off and being increasingly replaced by freeway faculty. Its a disaster for a public agenda of research to benefit the common good. It's all very romantic to hearken back to the days of gentleman scientists, but you might as well idealize feudalism -- its the same thing.

Structure of Science

I've rarely had a weekend seem so welcome. This week has been horrendously busy. Today, I had people lined up out the door to print poster presentations. They all did posters on Powerpoint. Two of them worked OK and two didn't. One poor woman had two presentations that got thoroughly screwed up when you tried to print them: one of them had a graphic that became invisible when you printed it. In the other, there was a about a half-inch of the poster that disappeared. I try to tell people not to use Powerpoint, but they won't listen to me and they still expect me to somehow fix things when they don't work. It's truly maddening. I've been collecting pictures of posters that people made with Powerpoint that didn't work to show people and I've got a set of directions for how to get started with Scribus (which is the program I recommend for posters).


The end of the semester is rapidly approaching. Everyone is incredibly busy trying to pull final things together. I've been working on a proposal for an honor's section of the writing course and a proposal to set up programming clubs. Today, I took a break from that to offer testimony to the Governor's Readiness Project.

I was extremely satisfied with the poster session in my class. There are always things I wish I had done better and places where I can see to improve for next year but, overall, the outcome has been satisfying and the students are undertaking their research projects in fine fettle. Now if I could just find the time to finish my grading -- I'm woefully behind.

The school system finally rejected Muppyville. If I hustle money for them (ie, by getting a grant) they might think about it again. It was exactly what I suspected when I tried to get involved -- it's what's happened *every* time I've tried to do something that required engagement with the schools. Tell me again why should bother trying to get grant money when I'd have to work with these people to spend it?

End of Semester Approaches

Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday in academia falling, as it does, in the middle of the run-up to the end of the semester. Students and faculty are closing in on the peak of activity before finals and suddenly, there is a full-stop. The boys and I left on Tuesday morning and today I'm in North Carolina visiting relatives. I brought my grading, so I can get it finished before I go back on Monday, but its still otherworldly.

I got up at 3:30am to make sure we made our flight -- I allowed a generous amount of time to catch the shuttle bus from the parking lot to the airport, since it can sometimes take a half-hour or more. As it turned out, the van pulled up right behind us as we parked the car. As we boarded the plane, a light snow began to fall, so we had to be de-iced before we took off. We were late getting off and the plane felt like it was idling all the way to Philadelphia because flights into an out of Philly were being delayed by the weather. I had planned on getting the boys some breakfast during our layover, but as it turned out, we arrived with only enough time to make our connection. Poor li'l Daniel was nearly frantic with hunger.

We arrived in good order and have been visiting with various folks since we got here. It's always strange to step into the lives of others for just a few days.


Today Daniel is acting as an extra in filming for the movie Bubble Trubble. He had to wear "adult business attire" and come down to Open Square in Holyoke at 9am this morning. It's cold out and much of the time he's just sitting or standing around. Luckily, he doesn't have to spend all the time outside -- there's a nice cafe inside with coffee (and brownies and hot dogs and chips, and everything else to tempt a little boy). And it also has a wireless connection.

It's funny to see the all the kids. There are 30-40 kids all walking around wearing business suits. It plays tricks with your mind to see little kids wearing adult clothes. Sometimes they act like adults, which plays with your mind one way and sometimes they act like little kids which plays with your mind a completely different way.

I've brought my camera and I'm taking a lot of pictures -- I'll post some later.

I also have wandered around Open Square a bit taking pictures. Its a place I had potentially suggested for Esperanto-USA to move to. Not that I think they will.

Bubble Trubble

I've been checking periodically to see if Muppyville shows up as "categorized" in SurfControl. We had submitted it about a week ago. I was beginning to suspect they wouldn't categorize it, because all you can see when you go to the page is the login screen. But they did! Muppyville is now categorized as "Computing and Internet". Is there any page on the Internet that you look at with a computer that couldn't be categorized as "Computing and Internet"? Oh well.

The Muppyville Saga Continues

Last night, Lucy and I went to see Daniel Lerch of the Postcarbon Institute who was speaking about the Post Carbon Cities Guidebook. (Someone bought a couple of copies, so some people need to know not to go and buy copies for themselves. :-) It was a talk primarily aimed at the leadership of cities and towns to discuss the implications of rising energy costs and the need to reduce global warming. It was a good talk. He hit an optimistic tone, talking about various measures that communities can take to reduce their vulnerability and to prepare for the coming uncertainty. I said:

So, you're presenting an optimistic picture talking about what communities can do -- or must do -- and saying that it will be a "wild ride". But you don't talk much about what you think the outcomes will actually look like. Would you be willing to present some scenarios of what you think a post-growth, solar-energy economy future might look like?

He smiled and said, "Well, no." He had already pointed out that the reason we were confronting "uncertainty" was that current models were unable to predict what was likely to happen -- especially in the face of geopolitical realities. The future hinges on contingencies like, whether or not we go to war with Iran or what the oil-producing countries decide to do when it becomes clear that we've hit the peak.

I think a real question hinges on whether or not the US decides to hang onto the Iraqi oil no-matter-what. It's pretty clear that this is what the Bush administration is planning. Much of the US population hasn't figured it out yet and thinks that we can get out of Iraq anytime we want by giving up on the "We Must Create Democracy in the Middle East" plan that they were sold (after the "We Must Destroy Weapons of Mass Destruction" plan had been shown to be a lie). I guess it's more fun to listen to Rush talk about Lindsay while driving your Hummer around than think about stuff like that.


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