Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

In less than two hours, 2006 will be over. The year 2007 still seems impossibly far in the future, and yet it's almost upon us. Looking back, 2006 has been an ok year. There were some very positive highlights, but there were also some fairly major pieces of work that weren't that fun or satisfying. The result is that I didn't get to do some other things that I think I would have enjoyed more. But the good news is that many of the tedious and/or un-fun things should be drawing to a close in the next few months.

On Tuesday the 2nd our Winter Term begins. I'll be teaching a new class on Programming and Computer Science. It should be a lot of fun. It's been a long time since I've taught anything brand new. Once I stepped into administration I pretty much stopped developing new classes. I'd like to, but I just don't have the time. Also, teaching only four classes a year instead of five hasn't given me any teaching slots in which I can experiment with new topics. (The Computer Science class is technically an overload -- it's my fifth class this year when I'm supposed to be doing four.)

My winter break has been mostly good. I've slowly gotten some work done, had a good time visiting family in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and I also did a major re-organizing of my home
office. The weather has been warm-ish, however, so there has been little snow and no ice skating. Optimistically, I did get my skates sharpened, so I'll be ready as soon as the ice is.

I'm looking forward to the start of the term. It will be good to get back into a routine, and it will be nice to dive into the challenge of teaching programming. I hope also to get back in the rhythm of posting here more frequently.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Fall Term Closure

Just finished grades and narrative evaluations for my fall classes. As usual, the narrative evals took a long time. Nice to finally have them done.

Now I get to turn my attention to the soul-crushing reaccreditation document that I need to write and also a research paper that I need to edit and hopefully submit soon.

Spent a while tonight listening to Sigur Ros. I like them a lot. Haunting, in an Icelandic and austere way.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Eagle Flies

This morning there was a bald eagle soaring and circling high above our backyard. I'll choose to take this as a good omen.

I've not posted here for a while. I've been fighting a low-level cold, working through lots of grading and usual end-of-term exhausting, and dealing with a number of large and small administrative things which are all less than joyous. Perhaps because I'm trying to do too much at once, I'm finding that I'm not getting that much of anything done. I'm making progress on work, but at an annoyingly slow rate.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Monday Vignettes

A few scenes and reflections from the last week:

  • At the grocery store in town there are now small editions of the "For Dummies" guide for sale in the check out aisles. The guides are displayed next to the other periodicals and puzzle books and astrology listings. These "dummies" guides are about the size of TV Guide and are printed on what appears to be fairly low quality paper. In my aisle there was a large stack of dummies guides, but not much selection. The only titles they had are "The Bible for Dummies" and "Dogs for Dummies."

  • Last week was unusually warm. Thursday night driving home around 9pm it was above 60 degrees. Friday it was warm enough for me to wear shorts. Two friends of mine have heard spring peepers at night. The peepers probably aren't too happy now, however, as it's 28 outside. I hope that only a few of the peepers hatched last week. If they all did, they'll probably all freeze and then there won't be any in the spring, which would be sad.

  • Friday evening I found a live slug in my kitchen sink. This is very odd, as I hadn't been washing any produce. So it's a mystery as to how it got in the kitchen. I'm convinced that Doreen has something to do with it, but she denies everything.

  • Yesterday I dropped Doreen off at the airport. I stayed in the gate area with her until she had to go through security. While waiting, I noticed a large man who was wearing a bandana/hat sort of thing. Printed on his headgear was the phrase "It's the American Way," and accompanying this phrase was the silhouette of a woman on her hands and knees. The bandana was black, the lettering was white, and the woman's silhouette was colored in with red and blue stars and stripes.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


It's been an unusually busy and stressful week, so I haven't had time to post much of anything. So, just a few random observations and thoughts.

I was horrified to find Christmas music playing last night on the radio when I was driving home. Do we really need to hear "Frosty the Snowman" on November 11?

At the checkout line in the supermarket there are now "For Dummies" books in addition to People Magazine, horoscopes, word jumble books, and the like. These dummies books are smaller than the regular ones; they're about the size of Reader's Digest or TV Guide. The line I was in had multiple copies of only two titles: "The Bible for Dummies" and "Dogs for Dummies."

It's been unusually warm the last week or so. It's also been a rather rainy week. This morning I was awoken by rather loud thunderclaps. I like thunder except when it's really close, in which case it's scary. A friend and ultimate teammate of mine was killed by lightning in 1994.

Tomorrow begins the last week of the term. I am looking forward to the break.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Yesterday was a little unsettling. Mid afternoon I needed a snack, so I decided to make myself a salad. There were some greens in the refrigerator that Doreen had prepared the day before. So I grabbed a bunch of them and made a quick salad dressing and started eating. First, I noticed a hair in the salad. Not a big deal. And then there was some little black thing that could have been a long-dead fruit fly. It was very small. Perhaps it was a tiny, blackened, wilted piece of lettuce. I removed it and flicked it into our compost bucket.

I kept eating, and soon noticed a plump green worm/caterpillar. Ug. This was harder to shrug off. I asked Doreen if she had actually washed the salad greens. She insisted that she had. I removed the worm and added it to the compost bucket. I continued eating the salad, but inspected every leaf very carefully. I finished what was in my bowl, but it took a while, as I was being very cautious. Somehow the salad wasn't that satisfying. I was still hungry, but decided to not to have any more.

Later that day I cooked dinner. It was super yummy. I made a wilted spinach salad and pasta with a creamy mushroom and walnut sauce. The "cream" is actually walnuts that are pureed in a blender. I hadn't made this recipe before and was very pleased with how it turned out. It was a little bit of work, but it was definitely worth it. Yesterday was chilly in a late-autumn-in-Maine sort of way, and the rich pasta and the spinach salad were perfect for the weather.

Alas, you can probably guess where this story is headed. I was half way through my second serving of the yummy pasta when I noticed a small, white worm thing on the edge of the bowl. I showed it to Doreen. She denied any knowledge of it and claimed that it was wiggling slightly. I didn't really want to inspect it too closely; I quickly flicked it into the compost bucket, a move that I was becoming quite familiar with.

What's really baffling is that it's hard to figure out where the worm came from and how it could still be slightly alive. Perhaps it had been hanging out in the bag of pasta. But the pasta had been boiled vigorously for 12 minutes. And the walnuts were thoroughly pureed. So any walnut-worms would have been similarly pureed. (Ug.) The other ingredients were onions garlic, and mushrooms, all of which were slowly sauteed for at least 10 minutes. So perhaps this is one tough worm, capable of surviving sauteeing, boiling, or pureeing. Or perhaps the worm crawled in some somewhere after the meal was done. I've considered this incident several times over, and each time I reach this point and then I think that I should stop thinking about it.

I'm pleased to report, however, that today my food has been bug-free. I think.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


What will I do with my "extra hour" today? Apparently I'll spend much of it waiting for water to boil. The storm has passed and it's stopped raining. But it's very, very winding. A little over two hours ago we lost power. Our stove is electric, so this means that we're using our woodstove for boiling water in addition to heat. It'll work, but it takes a long time.

Checking the Bangor Hydro website, it seems as if there are outages all over the eastern half of the state. I'm hoping that we get power back soon, since without power we have no water -- hot or cold, as our well has an electric pump. Often when we lose power there is still electricity on campus. However, that doesn't seem to be the case today; it looks like all of Mount Desert Island is without electricity. So I'm not optimistic that we'll get power back any time soon. I suppose that this is ok -- I can just do lots of grading -- as long as it comes back on to take a shower for Monday.

Update: A few hours after writing this, the power came back on. The campus has electricity, too. However, much of the island seems to still be without power.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Rainy Saturday

It's a rainy, windy Saturday. The weather is miserable, but I kind of like it. There is a time and a place for everything, including miserable weather. It's around 50 degrees, raining heavily, there are wind gusts up to 50 mph, and it's dark and gloomy. I slept late this morning, and spent a nice few hours listening to music while doing laundry and straightening up and doing tons of dishes. Somehow almost every pot and pan in our house was dirty. One hour or so later, everything was clean. Tonight I'll make some yummy spicy tofu for dinner, and the cycle of dishwashing will begin anew.

Monday is the beginning of week eight of our ten-week term. I'm expecting the next few weeks to be unusually busy, so I'm trying to get myself ready for this final stretch. My goal is to start the week caught up on grading, ready for all my committee meetings on Wednesday, and with a house full of clean dishes and laundry.

The wind continues to blow and it's now almost completely dark. The lights have flickered a few times, so I should end this entry. Time to head home, cook some tofu, grade some assignments, and fold some laundry.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Further Musings on Scents and Humidities

I remain very happy about my strawberry scented pen. I had it with me today in our weekly Deans' meeting. I was taking notes with it, and on a few occasions I smelled what I had written. As the meeting was winding down, Ken Hill leaned over and said, mostly jokingly, but with a touch of concern in his voice, "you keep smelling your ink -- this has me a little worried." I explained that my pen was scented. He nodded agreeably, but the expression on his face suggested that he didn't quite understand.

I realized this morning that my daily shower routine involves a strange array of scents: lavender, grape, grapefruit, and some slightly perfumey soap that has a scent that I can't describe but is somewhat reminiscent of recently mowed grass. But in a good way. And on days when I shave (which is roughly every other day), I use azulene shaving cream and "northwoods" shave balm. Azulene, according to wikipedia is "an organic compound whose molecules contain 10 carbons and 8 hydrogens and consists of a five-membered ring fused to a seven-membered ring." Interesting. But I like how my azulene shaving cream smells, and it's good for my skin. I also like my "northwoods" shave balm, although the scent is a bit much. Doreen says it's like some sort of bug spray.

Anyway, on days which involve shaving, a total of six scents are applied to me. Individually, the scents are all good, with the possible exception of the "northwoods" shave balm. But what about in combination? Is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? Or perhaps some of the scents cancel each other out, sort of like the destructive interference that occurs when two waves that are out of phase combine.

Speaking of which, I was browsing through a catalog that we get, "Harmony," that has lots of eco-groovy gifts and energy-saving gadgets and organic things. (I would much prefer to get a catalog called "dissonance," but I don't think such a catalog exists.) On one page there are a number of different humidifiers. Two pages later are listed some nice looking de-humidifiers. I now want to buy a humidifier and a de-humidifier and put them in the same room and let them fight it out. Perhaps they would just cancel out and nothing would happen. But it might be a case where apparent opposites combine to produce something novel, like some sort of Hegelian synthesis, or like vodka and red bull.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Strawberry Surprise

A few days ago a pen I had been using for a while ran out. It was a purple ball point pen that I started using right before I went to China in early July. I liked it because it wrote well, and the pen was small, so it fit comfortably in my pocket. It's always a slightly momentous occasion when I use up a pen. I throw it out triumphantly and congratulate myself for working so hard (or doodling so much) that I used up an entire pen. I also congratulate myself for not losing the pen before I had used all the ink.

Anyway, since I used up a pen, I figured it was time to bring another pen into my rotation. I chose a blue-inked retractable ball point pen that I purchased when I was in China. This pen is mostly purple, with some pink as well, and has almost stick-figure-esque drawings of several small bears. The pen reads "A Bear's Cub." I like the colors quite a bit, and it's comfortable to write with, as the pen is wide and the lower portion is covered with a pleasing pinkish plastic. In small print near the top of the pen is written, "When you are delighted, I am a good friend continuing it." Awesome.

So I used my new pen to jot a few notes. And then at some point I suddenly realized that it was scented! I was psyched. I've used scented pens before. In fact, I got a bunch of scented pens in China, and just the other day used a green pineapple-scented pen to grade Calculus exams. But scented pens are usually gel rollers or some variant thereof. This was ordinary ball point ink. So it was a happy surprise that this pen, in addition to being purple and pink and having bear cubs on it and a sappy Chinese-English phrase also was scented.

At first I couldn't figure out what the scent was. But the truth is that I didn't really care -- I was just so happy that it was scented. When I stopped to think about it I figured that it was either cotton candy or that it was a smell so cool that it didn't have a name. But after a few days as I thought about it more, I've come to the realization that it's strawberry. Yummy.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Another Small Earthquake

There was just another small earthquake. As was the case the last time, I was in my office and the whole building shook and rumbled. But it didn't feel as big as the previous one, and definitely didn't freak me out as much. Nevertheless, earthquakes in Maine are weird and a little spooky.

I'm monitoring the USGS Earthquake site to see if the earthquake appears.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

An Autumnal Saturday Update

Today it was chilly enough that we could no longer deny the arrival of fall. So we fired up the woodstove. Our cats are psyched -- they're sleeping soundly in the living room, which is where our stove is. One is sprawled right in front of the stove. The heat is quite nice and cozy.

Yesterday I successfully purchased whole milk. A few days earlier I had attempted to purchase whole milk but got non-fat milk instead,. I realized why I made the mistake. At the store there are two brands of organic milk, and each occupies one row in a particular refrigerator case. On one row the milk is arranged left to right, in order of increasing milkfat content. One the row below, milkfat decreases as one goes left to right. Unnecessarily confusing.

An additional clarification about milk. A friend who is a milk fanatic read my previous entry and responded very enthusiastically. However, I don't drink milk. Nor does Doreen. A few weeks ago we got a yogurt maker and we use the milk to make yogurt. It's quite good. We also got a an ice cream maker at the same time we got the yogurt maker. So we've also been using the milk to make various ice creams. I can't remember the last time I drank a glass of milk, but it must have been a long, long time ago. I don't really have anything against milk, it's just pretty far down on a list of fluids that I'd like to drink.

In other news, Thursday afternoon/evening I did some routine upgrading of various software packages on my laptop. Everything seemed to go fine -- I just set it to do a bunch of upgrades while I was doing work on my desktop at school. However, when I got home and tried to turn it was clear that something had gone horribly wrong. The machine didn't even boot -- it would hang part way through. Hitting "control-alt-backspace" got me into terminal mode and a login prompt. However, after typing in my username I would instantly get another login prompt, and never a prompt for a password. I was quickly in a state of despair.

I spent a good bit of time Friday and today figuring out what went wrong and fixing it. It turns out that there were two things that got messed up when upgrading. First, I updated PAM modules, which are used for login authentication, among other things. However, the net result was that certain PAM libraries were simply missing, which is why I couldn't log in at all. As if this wasn't enough, upgrading gtk2 had somehow messed up the ability for lots of graphical programs to handle png image files. The result of this was that these programs sometimes just crashed or hung. This included the graphical stuff that happens when the machine boots. Once I got rid of the new version of gtk2 and re-installed the old one, things were back to normal.

So I've spent much more time than I had planned the past few days dealing with my laptop. I had been living a charmed life computationally -- I hadn't had a crash or any sort of incident in a very, very long time. Some bad karma must have caught up with me on Thursday. Both snafus seem very weird, and it's even weirder that they occurred at the same time.

Tomorrow will be a day of yardwork and much grading.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Are Cans Bottles?

It's been a little while since I've posted an entry here. I should probably write about the lovely inauguration of our new college president that occurred last weekend. And I could also write about the agonies and headaches associated with assembling with winter course schedule and arranging all for all the visiting faculty. And I might still do so. But for now, just a quick entry concerning my trip to the grocery store last night.

I ended up staying on campus later than I had wanted, in large part because I was working on the winter schedule. (In particular, I noticed that we had a genetics lab scheduled, which is a problem since intro genetics isn't a lab course.) Anyway, I was in a bit of a rush, because I was going to cook dinner (spicy Chinese eggplant) and I was already hungry. I needed to get whole milk for Doreen, and I needed some toothpaste. Fine. Easy. I grab the two items, chat with a few acquaintances -- we're a one-grocery-store-town, so I almost always see people I know when shopping -- and get in line.

In front of me is a middle-aged couple with a dozen items or so, including: A large Hershey's chocolate bar, a banana, two apples, five or six pink yoplait yogurt containers, a bottle of red wine, some breath mints, and a 12-pack of some variant of 7-up. The cashier processes the items while the man watches the items and their prices as they appear on the screen. The cashier tells him the cost. The man squints at the screen and says in a terse, slightly hostile voice with an accent that I'd place somewhere between New York and Philadelphia: "Why is there a bottle deposit on can?" and gestures once at the 12-pack of 7-up. He seems genuinely pissed off. I gather that he's noticed that there's a deposit for the cans on the screen, and that the deposit is listed as a "bottle deposit," and that this imprecision is cause for considerable anger. Or maybe he really thinks he's getting duped by the cashier.

The cashier at first appears flummoxed by this question. But then he gathers himself together and offers a response, delivered in the sort of slow, deliberate cadence that is usually reserved for six-year-olds, the partially deaf, or non-native English speakers. He says: "well. when. you. have. removed. the liquid. from the cans. there is. a machine. out there. [points to the entrance to the store.] where. you can put. the cans. and get. your. money. back." The shopper stares at him silently. After a few moments he swipes his American Express card without a word, signs, and walks off.

Awesome. I like how the cashier made reference to "removing the liquid from the cans." I usually refer to this as drinking. But that's rather narrow of me. Perhaps other people buy cans of beverages and just pour them out right away to get their five cents back. Or, maybe sometimes people put full cans in the "can return machine." (This is basically the inverse of a large soda-vending machine. You put a can in it, it reads the bar code, sucks the can into its interior, crushes it, and then gives you a nickel.) I now have a deep desire to see what would happen if one put a full can of soda in such a contraption.

I then proceed through the checkout line without incident, although the cashier and the bagger both look incredulous when I tell them that I don't need a bag. I drive home, get out of the car, walk into the kitchen and realize I am holding a half gallon of fat-free milk. I don't know how I managed to do this. It's not like I forgot that we needed whole milk. I remember explicitly thinking "whole milk ... whole milk ... whole milk ... " when scanning the milk options. I have no explanation for why I grabbed fat-free. Perhaps my blunder can be blamed on a combination of hunger and delirium from having spent too much time ironing out winter schedule details.

Tonight I will try yet again to purchase whole milk. I hope to do better this time.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Numb(er)ing Committee

Earlier this week I received in the mail a ballot for the officers for one of the professional societies to which I belong. Being the passionate fan of democracy that I am, I almost always actually read these things and vote. Usually I don't know any of the candidates, so I read over their statements and bios and make my decision based on some arbitrary and possibly even capricious reasons.

I was reading one such bio and got to the section listing professional service. To my amazement, the following committee was listed Florida Statewide Committee on Common Course Numbering. Wow. Many questions come to mind. Why do you need a committee to figure out course numbering? Course numbers are arbitrary, no? Couldn't somebody just assign the numbers? Who could possibly care? Will someone get really angry that their new course is listed as Sociology 127 instead of Sociology 134? And why does a state need a common number system, anyway? I suppose this could make transferring credit easier if one goes from one state school to another. But it seems that even with different numbering systems this isn't that tricky.

But here's the truly astounding part: The person whose bio I was reading has been on this committee sine 1984. That's 22 years. How can it possibly take 22 years to come up with common course numbering? No wonder Florida has a hard time running elections--it takes them at least 22 years to number university courses. Or is it a standing committee? If so, what possible ongoing business could this committee have? It absolutely boggles the mind.

Occasionally I feel that I'm engaged in Sisyphean tasks at COA. A friend has suggested that I keep the bio about the Course Numbering Committee as a sort of affirmation. When I'm feeling down I can look at the bio and be thankful that I don't have to serve on a committee that takes 22 years to number courses.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Earth Shakes on Monday

About a half an hour ago there was an earthquake. It was pretty big and very alarming. The building my office is in -- which is a huge stone edifice -- shook noisily and there was a very loud rumbling. Doreen, who was at home at the time, reports that the cats freaked out and ran upstairs, and the shaking was dramatic enough that she actually went outside to see if something large had hit the house.

Details are online here.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sunday Update

I have reached a point where the document is no longer crushing my soul. I've finally wrapped my head around it, and in so doing I think I've tamed it considerably. I've got a way to think about it that doesn't suck joy out of life or make flowers wilt. Now it's just a big task or chore. I can picture what it will be like when it's completed. So now I simply need to work hard and get it done. Not easy, but at least I no longer fear for my soul.

In other news, it is now October. The days are getting noticeably shorter and cooler. Today I wore shorts, but my optimism was unfounded. It was cold. The leaves are turning and the grass is still green, and the world is looking quite nice. It's been a beautiful fall.

I finished my calculus grading. It look quite a while. I suppose that's what I get for assigning so much homework. Another busy week awaits. And next weekend is the inauguration of our new college president. It should be both fun and a little surreal.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Document Revision and My Soul

In my previous entry I made reference to having to review a document that had the potential to crush my soul. Alas, I regret to report that my soul has been crushed. It has now fallen to me to re-write the soul-crushing document. In the long run, this is probably a good thing, since I think I can turn it into a document that will not crush other people's souls. But in the short run, it's not so good, since I must continually read and think about soul-crushing administrivia.

How does one recover from reviewing a draft of a document that threatens to nullify all that is joyous and bright? I'm not sure. But I am developing some empirical evidence that beer and ice cream help, and that mediocre mashed potatoes and agenda-less meetings don't help. I've also found it quite therapeutic to listen to Goats CDs at almost painful volumes while driving to and from campus.

Back to Calculus grading. I'm almost done with my batch for the weekend. Then I get to devote my full attention to making the soul-crushing document safe for others to read.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Some Monday Statistics

Some statistics from today:

  • I received 122 emails. And it's only 7pm. More are no doubt on their way.

  • I sent 40 emails.

  • I taught one class.

  • I have 153 messages in my inbox.

  • I have 25 calculus assignments to grade.

  • I ran 3.2 miles. Very slowly.

  • I have six Complex Systems assignments to grade. I should have more.

  • I am very hungry and it is time to go home.

  • While I was typing this little blog entry I received and sent one additional email.

  • I need to review a reaccreditation document tonight that I fear will crush my soul.

  • I must go before more email comes and swamps me.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The term has definitely started

There is no longer any doubt that the term has started: I've got piles of grading to do. Twenty-three Calculus assignments and ten Complex Systems assignments. This will be the situation for the next nine weeks. Now that I've started the grading ritual, it is clear that I'm in the midst of fall term.

However, as far as the weather goes, it's still surprisingly summery. This weekend was warm and clear, and I was able to go for a bike ride both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday I did a load of laundry, and it dried quickly on the line. Also on Saturday I did a lot of filing and straightening in my office on campus. It was quite satisfying.

The cosmos and snapdragons in our yard continue to pump out flowers. There is still one hummingbird at our feeder, but I suspect it will head south soon.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Feeling the MapleSoft Love

About two weeks ago I posted about a thank you gift from MapleSoft that seemed somewhat amusingly lacking to me. In brief, the situation was that the College spent around $2000 to upgrade Maple, and as a thank you they sent me a kinda mediocre poster and then offered to send me more of the same mediocre poster if I wanted. This was a nice gesture, but didn't suggest to me that the poster was limited-edition collector's time. My post was meant almost entirely in jest. I like Maple and everyone I've ever spoken to at MapleSoft (the company that makes Maple) has been extremely pleasant in an earnest, Canadian way.

Monday of this week I received a package from MapleSoft. Odd, as I hadn't ordered anything. What could it be? The box was sort of big. Perhaps they were sending me some manuals? But the box was too light to be filled with books. So I opened it, and was shocked to find an amazing array Maple goodies. Some folks from Maple had seen my blog entry and were apparently sufficiently amused and/or dismayed to take action. I had figured that MapleSoft had seen the blog entry, since I noticed in my logs that my blog had gotten a handful of hits from Waterloo, Ontario, which is where Maple is headquartered. But I never expected a response from Maple, and certainly not one like this. Let's go through the contents of my box of Maple joy...

The box contained a nifty tote bag, pictured above. It's a nice, and appears to be quite well made. There's a little bit of velcro to help it stay closed, and it has a nice outer pocket. I'll definitely be able to put this to use. Also shown in the picture are three nice ball-point Maple pens. Also definitely useful.

Maple also sent me a nice, 100% cotton Maple t-shirt. The photo above shows the back. The front is also quite nice; it has a small Maple logo that's embroidered right on the shirt. Quite cool. But there's more.

The MapleSoft folks also sent me a large notepad and a copy of their conference proceedings from the last Maple conference.

I also got a small magnet that will stick to a refrigerator or filing cabinet and hold onto a piece of paper.

And last, but certainly not least, MapleSoft sent me a nice blue water bottle. It even has a little plastic strainer that fits in the lid so that I could use it for tea if I wanted.

I was stunned to receive the box. It's hard to capture my feelings when I opened it. It was a mixture of joy, sheepishness, and a sense of the surreal. It's not unusual for me to feel that my life is a little surreal or bizarre. Usually this is a not-so-good-feeling, but opening the box of Maple paraphenalia was a good sort of surreal feeling. I'm genuinely touched by the gesture. The cool Maple stuff was accompanied by a nice, humorous note from one of MapleSoft's vice presidents.

So, a big thank you to all the folks at MapleSoft. Your box of Maple items was definitely a highlight of my week. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to blog about it sooner; the first week of classes was remarkably hectic. I hope all is well in Waterloo. Here in Maine it's been a beautiful autumn.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Mango Tree in Maine

Last weekend I was emptying the compost and, as is often the case, there were lots of things growing in the compost pile. There were many weeds sprouting and also a few potatoes. But then I noticed something unusual. Turns out that a mango seed had sprouted and had produced a shoot that was around a foot tall. I thought this was really cool. There have been many mango pits in the compost before, but none have ever sprouted.

So I dug up the mango plant and put it in a pot with a bunch of potting soil. It seems to have survived its transplanting just fine. Below is a picture of my little mango tree that I took this morning. Something ate part of one of its leaves, but other than that it looks very happy. Soon, however, I'll need to take the mango tree inside; tomorrow night it's supposed to get into the low 30's. I'll try to keep the mango tree alive indoors through the winter. I'm not great at keeping plants alive, so I'm not optimistic. But I figure it's worth a try.


In other news, we're done with our first official week of fall term. I think both of my classes are off to a good start, although it's far too early to tell. The week was surprisingly hectic, but basically positive. When I left my office on Friday my email queue was at 99, about the same as it was at the start of the week. Friday alone I dealt with around 125 incoming messages and sent almost 50 emails. Today was a day of exercise, doing stuff around the house, having a nice dinner with friends, and doing some reading. Tomorrow will need to be a more serious day of work.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Maplesoft Thank You

Ok. So it's been an interesting day. And by interesting I don't really mean "fascinating", but more "interesting" like how it can be sorta interesting when you get a blister someplace that you don't usually get one. So there are a number of things I'd like to rant about. I'll choose to rant about the thing that is least likely to get me in trouble.

I'm still going through some of the snail mail that accumulated while I was away for seven weeks. The last piles I'm going through are those items that I immediately identified as being junk mail and/or not requiring any action on my part. One of the things I went through today was an 8.5 x 11 envelope from Maplesoft., a software company that makes the program Maple. Maple is a computer algebra system that I use for many of my math classes. It's a pretty good program. Overall, I'm quite pleased with it. I wish there was an open source alternative to Maple, but there isn't, at least not one that's sufficiently user-friendly for my introductory students.

Anyway, I believe we recently upgraded our site license. I think this cost us around $2000. Our site license is small because we don't have many students. I'm sure Maple costs a lot more at bigger schools. Anyway, this letter was a thank you note. Included in the envelope was a free poster detailing the history of the western units. It has information about inches and centimeters and furlongs and such. The poster is ok, but not particularly snazzy. Hardly a collector's item.

So we spend $2000, which means Maple gets $2000. And they thank us with a poster about the metric system and other units? Why bother? A small thank you note would be more than sufficient. But if you're going to give a gift, give a real gift. It doesn't have to be anything expensive. Perhaps a keychain or a T-shirt or a little flash drive or some free socks or something. Maybe it's just me, but a poster about units of measurement just doesn't seem right. And ironically enough, the date on the letter coincides with my birthday.

The letter states, in part, "In appreciation of your support, I have included the latest addition to the Maple Poster Series: "A Short History of Western Units" poster which examines many common units of measure used today, and traces a timeline on the modernization of the study of units." Ummm, ok, I guess. It's kinda interesting to know that there's an entire series of posters. I wonder what the other posters in the series are. "A Short History of Mechanical Pencils?" (Actually, that would be kinda cool.)

But then the letter continues, "If you'd like to obtain more posters, I'd be more than happy to send extras to you at no charge." On the one hand, this is nice. But on the other hand, it does nothing to convince me of the preciousness or specialness of the poster. Here, have a very special poster. They're so very special that we'll give you unlimited additional copies for free. Somehow this doesn't leave me feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

In fairness to Maplesoft, (and in case anyone from Maplesoft reads this blog) I should mention that they've been great to work with. Their salespeople are helpful, knowledgeable, and extremely pleasant. And I think their product is a good deal and has worked very well for us. So despite this rant, I don't harbor any ill feelings toward Maplesoft. But I do think they might want to rethink their "spend $2000 and get a poster that is so special we can't give them away fast enough" policy.

That's enough of a rant for this evening. Writing this while listening to a dumb Alice DeeJay CD at wall-shaking volume seems to have lightened my mood. Sound intensity is measured in decibels. And if I want to learn about the history of decibels, now I have a poster that will tell me all about it. Yay.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Welcoming New Students

This morning I welcomed the new students to campus and shared with them some thoughts about College of the Atlantic's academic philosophy and mission. We have many different goals for new student orientation at COA. We want students to get to know each other and staff and faculty, and of course we need to tell students about academic requirements and policies and such. But the purpose of the session I spoke at was to try and set the tone for academic work at the college and to talk about our educational philosophy and shared beliefs.

I've done this for four years now, and I enjoy it. Preparing the talk was a difficult but fun exercise. The first time I gave the talk was an enormous amount of work, and each year I spend a lot of time thinking about what I'm going to say and how to say it. I've pretty much given the same talk every year, although I continue to refine it. Although I don't usually do so, for this presentation I wrote out my comments almost word for word. I had too many different thoughts and I didn't think I could do a good job improvising as I normally do when teaching or giving research presentations.

My remarks from this year can be found here as a pdf file. (If the pdf file doesn't work, drop me an email or leave a comment and I can convert to html.) I think it works much better as a speech than a piece of writing. But nevertheless it might make interesting reading. I freely admit that it borders on a being little too sentimental or melodramatic. But I'd like to think that this sort of thing is ok once or twice a year. I think that teaching at a college, especially one like COA, is important work, and attending college can be powerfully transformative. This talk/essay is an attempt to articulate why I think this is the case.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Testing Picasa

This post is mainly to test picasa's ability to take pictures from my hard drive and blog them. Thus far, I'm only moderately impressed with Picasa. It seems nice, but it's taking a ton of CPU time. It seems like it spawns a half dozen processes. But it does appear to be potentially quite handy.

The picture below is from the summer of 2004 when Doreen and I trekked Tiger Leaping Gorge near Lijiang in Yunnan, China.

  Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Springtime in Academia and Greeting New Parents

Fall in academia, at least that portion of academia that teaches students, is like spring in the rest of the world. It's the season when there's a sense of renewal and hope. New students appear on campus ready to learn. Fall term is when I most look forward to my classes. I have a lot of energy, I'm not tired from the previous term, and the students are usually at their most energetic, too.

Sometimes spring arrives slowly: one spends weeks watching buds gradually appear on trees and then open up gradually over the course of a month. But other times spring seems to appear all at once: all of a sudden there are crocuses blooming in the yard, or you notice that it's still light out after dinner. The same is true of fall and the "back to school" season. Sometimes there's a long countdown, and other times it feels like a bit of a surprise.

The latter occurred on Sunday when I greeted parents of new students. We hold a brief orientation session for parents and families of new students on "move in" day. While the students are off getting organized for their outdoor orientation trip, we gather parents together, welcome them into the College of the Atlantic family, and answer any questions they might have. This is the fourth year that I've taken part in this event, and I enjoy doing it.

I remember the first year I spoke to parents. I had prepared a few introductory and welcoming comments. I was a few minutes into my remarks and I noticed that some folks in the audience were looking sort of strange -- a little green or something. I've given a lot of talks, including quite a few to parents, and taught a lot of classes, but this look was one that I didn't recognize. Not being very clever, I couldn't quite figure it out. Then I saw someone with tears in her eyes, and I got it. For whatever reason it hadn't quite occurred to me how emotional a day it can be for parents when they drop their sons or daughters off to college.

Anyway, on Sunday I again found myself speaking to parents of new students, and again I saw all sorts of emotions on the faces of the audience. Just two days earlier I had returned from China. In one sense, I was prepared for the presentation; I've done this before and I knew what I wanted to say. But in another sense, it caught me a little bit by surprise, like when one sees crocuses in late winter. It's not unexpected. We know that flowers come in the spring and that the academic cycle starts again in late summer or early autumn. But it nevertheless can be a surprising moment to actually see the crocuses.

One of the reasons I like talking to parents of the new students is that it serves as a really good reminder of the importance of many components of my work teaching and administering at the college. It's increasingly common to speak of our students as customers. And this is, in a sense, certainly true. And I also sometimes think about how much college costs, and how this gives us an obligation to do the best possible job for our students. But all of this seems trivial when I think about sixty or so parents looking at me while I promised them that the rest of the faculty and I would do our very best for their children. The parents' expressions showed a mix of concern, hope, pride, sadness, joy, and love. I wish all faculty -- at COA and elsewhere -- could share the experience of talking with the parents of new students on "drop off" day.

The leaving-for-college transition is an interesting one. It's a big deal. I think back to when I left for college. I wasn't dropped off at school by my parents, as I lived too far away. Instead I grabbed a cab to the airport and flew to Minneapolis. I don't remember too much about the particulars of the day. But I do remember a general sense that I had a clear opportunity to re-invent myself. Or, perhaps to have myself re-invented by a new group of friends and peers. I had attended the same small school from 4th to 12th grade. For the most part, my social standing and the cliques I hung out with hadn't changed since 5th grade. So there was something tremendously liberating -- and a little frightening -- about being in such a new setting. It was a totally clean start. In one's life there are probably only a few such instances where one gets a fresh start in this way. I can count only three in my life, and I doubt any more are coming.

Although I have no direct experience with it, I'm sure that having one's son or daughter go off to college must be an exciting and difficult day. A friend and colleague will be dropping her oldest son off at college this week. I've talked with her some about it and I think it will be a very happy day, but a day of complicated feelings.

Later today I will again greet and talk with parents of new students, this time the parents of those students who did not participate in our outdoor orientation program, and hence are arriving on campus and moving in today. This will be a smaller group than last week, as the majority of entering students have already arrived. The students from outdoor orientation return from their trips today, and over the next few days returning students will start trickling back to campus. Monday and Tuesday are orientation, Wednesday convocation and classes start Thursday. Although I'm not quite ready for it, I'm nevertheless looking forward to getting into the routine of the academic term.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Doreen via podcast

Last month Doreen was interviewed by David Ballard on Gettin' Down to Busine$$, a relatively new podcast on The episode she was interviewed on is called "Organic Food vs. Factory Farms and GMO's." I think the podcast is dated July 27, 2006. If you can't get the podcast at the above links, here is a direct link to the mp3 file. The file is around 18 MB.

It's not the most scintillating interview/podcast I've ever heard. There were two guests, and the interviewer would pose general questions and it wasn't clear who he wanted to answer. Nevertheless, it's reasonably interesting.

Small Town News

There's not much news in Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island. The weekly newspaper, which I enjoy and which a friend and colleague writes for, is a pretty quick read. One of the parts of the paper I always at least skim is the "Police Beat" column. As is pretty standard, I suppose, these are short items picked up from police reports the during the previous week. Reassuringly, most of these items are completely trivial: the paper will often print who got speeding tickets that week, and occasionally report on non-events such as someone calling the police because they thought something was stolen from their house and then calling back 15 minutes later to say that they were mistaken and that the supposedly stolen object has been found. This stuff actually gets printed.

Today, though, something new: there was a brief mention of someone who was given a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt. Surely, even in Bar Harbor, something more important is going on.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Back from China

I returned from China a few days ago, arriving late Thursday night. Surprisingly, my jetlag has been minimal. The last time I got back from China it took me quite a while to synchronize to the new time zone. This year it's only taken a day or so. It's a little surreal to have returned. The seven-week trip is over and I'm right back in my everyday Maine existence. In about 24 hours I traveled 12 time zones. A little hard to fully grasp.

But mostly it's great to be back home and back in Maine. I've been enjoying some of the simple pleasures of home: hanging laundry on the line on a sunny day, sleeping with a cat curled next to my head, cooking for myself, and sleeping in my own comfortable bed with flannel sheets. I've been particularly enjoying the clean air. Beijing is amazingly polluted. It was great to get off the plane in Bangor and breathe in the clean, cool Maine air. I don't think I really understood how unhealthy and uncomfortable Beijing air was until I got a good dose of Maine.

I've spent the last few days dealing with email and snail mail and doing laundry and other things around the house. I've talked to a few friends and colleagues when on campus, for for the most part things have been quiet. It's been quite nice and relaxing. Last night I took a bath and read the latest issue of the American Journal of Physics. Quite a Saturday night. This evening I may take another bath and read The College Mathematics Journal or perhaps Dissent or The Atlantic Monthly. I have a lot of journal and magazine reading to catch up on. I also have some classes to prepare: Calculus I and Chaos and Complex Systems. Both should be a lot of fun.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

On Loneliness

I've now been in China for a full month. The trip and my work here has been good so far and I've been having fun. But, at the same time I've been feeling, for lack of a better word, lonely. Some of it is simple homesickness. I miss my own bed, my own food, my cats, and so on. But I also miss Doreen.

I haven't experienced loneliness or longing like this too often, so I've spent a while trying to unpack various thoughts. One of the things I've realized is that sometimes I'm more lonely when I'm with other people than when I'm alone.

I've felt this way before. This was especially true when I lived in Chattanooga. I had some very close friends, but most of the time when I was with others I felt out of place and by myself. I was never that gregarious, but in Chattanooga I really learned to keep myself company. It was really hard at times, but it
was a good experience in some ways. I didn't necessarily dislike the people I was with, but I just didn't have that much in common and didn't really have much to say and didn't really want to hear what others had to say.

However, the sort of loneliness-among-others that I think I'm experiencing now is completely different. I've been spending time with people that I like tremendously. But I still feel lonely sometimes. I think the only other time I felt something like this was during the first two years that I taught at COA. The first year Doreen was teaching full-time at Cal State Sacramento. The second year Doreen was gone much of the time on a Fulbright fellowship in the Philippines.

Since the beginning of our relationship we've been used to being apart. But these two years were hard, because not only were we apart, we were living in separate homes. And we didn't know when our jobs would make it possible to live in the same place. I made many good friends during those those first two years at COA. (And most are still extremely close friends.) I would often go over to various friends' houses for dinner and conversation and kindness. But almost paradoxically, sometimes such evenings would accentuate a sense of loneliness.

It's this sort of loneliness-among-others that I feel I've experienced some lately. Being around kind, friendly, smart people is great but also makes me miss the kind, smart, friendly person I like the best. This seems kinda dumb and silly. Or maybe just sentimental. But oh well. Guilty as charged, I suppose.

However, Doreen arrives tomorrow. In less than ten hours she touches down at the Beijing airport. I'm unspeakably excited.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Moon for the Month

I have been in China almost exactly one month. Tonight was the first night that I saw the moon. It was almost startling to see it in the sky. It was a little orange from the pollution, but it was clearly visible. On most nights the sky is a surreal slate gray, neon and spotlights diffusely reflecting off low clouds and smog. The night almost appears brighter than the day. By daylight the sky is sometimes a difficult gray-brown haze. At night the sky is silvery.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Dispatch from Beijing

Note: I wrote this on July 26 when I was still in Beijing. However, it appears that I didn't succeed in actually posting it, since I was working with a clumsy text-based interface to get around the fact that blogger is blocked from China. Hence, I'm posting it now, 26 Aug, from Maine.

I've now been in Beijing a little bit more than three weeks. Hard to believe that I still have another month in China. I had expected that the trip would be an interesting mental and psychological challenge, as this is the longest that I've been away from home in one stretch in a very long time, if ever.

I've read and heard that the three to four week point in a foreign culture is a time when "culture shock" often sets in. The newness and novelty of a place wears off, and customs and habits that once seemed wonderfully new and become old and start to grate. I think this is happening to me a little bit. I've spent a month in China each of the last two summers, so this year China isn't that new. Thus, it's not as if I'm coming down from a big burst of adrenaline. But it does feel that I've hit a bit of a wall.

Beijing is a wonderful city. It's huge and buzzing and crowded and smoggy and restless. Beijing is big in a way that makes me feel small. In contrast, New York City is big in a way that makes me feel big, too. The rate of transition in Beijing is difficult to describe. There is construction everywhere; it seems as if they're rebuilding the entire city. But as amazing as the physical changes are, my sense is that the social and economic changes are even greater. I can't even begin to understand all that's going on, but it seems that there is a growing consumerist middle class, and simultaneously a gap between rich and poor that is staggering. And I can't even imagine the changes and upheaval caused by demolishing so many buildings and neighborhoods.

So Beijing makes me feel small not only because it is so physically huge, but because there are such huge social and economic forces rapidly at work. I've only seen the Northern Lights a few times. But every time I see them I have a powerful sense of smallness -- an awareness that I'm just a tiny part of huge object hurtling through an even huger space. It's a good small feeling. The Beijing small feeling isn't so good.

I fear that the above sounds too negative toward Beijing. It's wonderful in the way cities can be. There is a bizarre Mexican restaurant a short walk from us. I saw around one hundred people doing some cross between aerobics and line dancing to a mostly modern beat at night outside on a plaza above a very modern underground mall. Beijing has the biggest and most crowded bookstore I've ever been in. And there are people and bicycles and cars and trucks and buses and more people everywhere.

In any event, Beijing has me feeling small. And I also just miss home. I've been tired and I've had a cold and I've found myself thinking of home a lot. Tonight around dinnertime I had an intense craving for spaghetti. Tomorrow I might go out in search of some for dinner.

When I agreed to co-direct the Complex Systems Summer School in Beijing, one of the aspects of the work that I was most excited about was the opportunity to work with staff and faculty who weren't involved with College of the Atlantic. So far this has indeed been one of the best parts. I've really enjoyed getting to know better and work with some of the staff who are helping organize the CSSS. There are some remarkably kind, smart, and thoughtful people here who are really fun to work with. COA -- probably like almost any good job -- can be remarkably consuming. Being here -- and not there -- has given me a good perspective on some things.

Monday, July 17, 2006

More Wiki info

A friend emailed me with a link to a Washington Post article about China and Wikipedia. It's pretty interesting.

Today one of the lecturers mentioned wikipedia, recommending it as an excellent resource to get some quick, clear technical information on a topic. A few students then mentioned that it was blocked. The tenor of the response was interesting. The students seemed amused that the lecturer didn't know that wiki was blocked, and also the students seemed somehow cheerfully resigned to the fact that they can't get wiki , at least for now.

Ultimately, it's hard to imagine that China will be able to keep wiki blocked. It will be interesting to see how long China tries to keep it up, and if the censorship gets worse before it gets better.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Wiki Blocked, too

So it seems as if wikipedia is also blocked from China. This is interesting, because this is a recent development. When I was here last summer I could get to wikipedia without any problem.

I suppose I should be somewhat outraged. Mostly, though, it's just kinda sad. Wikipedia is cool -- it's a great way to learn about stuff. It's a drag to think that 1.3 billion people are denied the pleasures of browsing and learning stuff via wiki.

I'm accessing blogger (which is also blocked form China) by telnetting to one of my accounts in the U.S. (Actually I ssh instead of telnet, for security reasons.) I then access blogger from my U.S. account using a text-based web browser.

Right now I'm using the browser lynx, which seem to work ok with blogger. However, somehow the text interface won't let me write paragraphs beyond a certain length. This is annoying, but it might help my prose be more readable by preventing super long paragraphs.

The first week of the CSSS is over now. I think things are going quite well thus far. The lecturers this week were very strong, and the students seem excellent. Now that my lectures are done -- I spoke Monday-Thursday -- I should have more time and will try to post here more frequently, provided that my trick of accessing blogger through lynx via a US shell account continues to work

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Blogger blocked?

It appears as if URLs are blocked from China. This will make posting here difficult. But not impossible...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Heading off

In a little over three hours I head to the airport. A quick flight to Newark, a four hour layover, and then 13.5 hours and I'm in Beijing.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Frantically Getting Ready for China

I leave for China in around 36 hours. I'll be there for seven weeks. So I'm frantically trying to get ready. Lots of loose ends to tie up, errands, packing, etc. I'm having to face the fact that I'm not going to finish everything that I had imagined I would finish. For the most part, this is fine. All the undone tasks will be waiting for me when I return. And many of the tasks I can do while I'm away. I will have better internet access during my month in Beijing than I do at my home on Mount Desert Island.

My itinerary is a good one. I fly from Bangor to Newark, and then direct to Beijing. The flight is almost fourteen hours and takes me almost directly over the North Pole.

I will try to post here regularly during my time in China.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Doreen on Internet Radio

A few days ago Doreen was interviewed on an internet radio show DPeeps' People's Network. Doreen and the host, KhaazRa MaaRanu, talked about a number of issues around genetic engineering in agriculture. An mp3 of the show is here. (The file is around 11MB.)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Where has June gone?

It's been far too long since I've posted an entry here. I've been busy with end of the term grading and evaluation writing, and lots of end of the year administrative stuff. Also, Doreen and I spent a few days in Quebec City, and last weekend we spent in Boston. So I've been moving around some, doing lots of work, and trying to recover from the term. I'm always surprised how exhausted I am at the end of a term. I have great intentions to maintain momentum, finish my grading in a few days, and put the term behind me. But almost every time I end up sleeping a lot and catching up on errands right after the term ends, and I almost never manage to complete my grades and evaluations much before the deadline.

Anyway, one of the things I've been doing has been getting ready for my trip to China. I'll be co-directing the Santa Fe Institute's Complex Systems Summer School (CSSS) in Beijing, China. I'll be in Beijing for a month, and then will spend three weeks traveling with Beijing. A lot of the organization of the CSSS occurs via a wiki that Santa Fe has set up. So I've spent a bunch of time posting or writing, wiki-ing? ... I'm not sure of the verb. Anyway, it's been a little tedious, but also kinda fun to put lots of information on the wiki. The wiki can be found here.

In the summer COA hosts a bunch of different summer programs, some of which are run by our staff and faculty, while others are run by other organizations. One group that falls in the latter category is "brass week." This is a week-long camp or something for players of brass instruments. The musicians are pretty good. Pretty much anywhere you walk on campus this week you'll stand a good chance of hearing somebody playing a trombone or a french horn or something. I think this is pretty cool, especially on a dark, foggy night like this. Someone is playing a trombone outside right now, and it sounds very nice.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Fear the Turtle?!

The University of Maryland, whose sports teams are know as the Terrapins, has a new motto: Fear the Turtle. When I heard this I first thought it was a joke. But I think it's for real.

With great pride in our past achievements and full of great expectations for the future of the state's flagship university, the University of Maryland family has come to embrace "Fear the Turtle" as a reflection of our great stature. First conceived as a slogan of athletic success, the phrase has evolved to embrace the spirit of achievement and excellence in every aspect of the university.

Yikes. I'm glad that I don't work somewhere where my spirit of excellence is embraced by frightening turtles. Beside, I don't think turtles are frightening. I like turtles.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


Graduation 2006 will start in a few hours. It's raining steadily, so a lot of people will be getting wet. There is a big tent set up on one of the lawns, but not quite everybody fits under the tent. The reception usually happens in the Newlin Gardens; this year I imagine that it will occur spread out in several buildings. Hopefully there'll be a break in the rain, but looking at the current satellite photos things don't look good.

Graduation is a great ceremony. At other schools I've been to they've sometimes been boring and even pompous. But at COA we do graduation well, and it's a highlight of the year. Part of this is because we're so small; around 70 students will graduate this afternoon. I probably know 50 of them, about half of the have taken at least one class from me, and several took multiple classes and/or were my advisees.

I was thinking last night how about differently students and faculty experience graduation. For students, it's a ceremony about change. It marks a transition from one stage of life to another. Faculty certainly feel some of this too, as we watch students undergo this transition, meet students' families, and celebrate together. But for faculty themselves -- at least for me -- the actual graduation and related events serve to underscore the cyclic nature of teaching. In some ways it's more of a holiday like a birthday or Christmas or Thanksgiving that reminds me of the passing of time. It's always somewhat hard to believe that it's time for Graduation (or an important birthday or anniversary) again.

Teaching isn't circular in a negative way at all. It's circular perhaps in the way the seasons are circular, or at least cyclic. Perhaps graduation is a particularly interesting time because there's a clear intersection between the circular life of teaching, and the less cyclic lives of students.

Enough geometric analysis, at least for now. I need to be on campus in a little more than two hours. Enough time to eat some pancakes, look for a nice pair pants, wash/dry/iron said pants, and hit the road. It's still raining, but the sky seems to be getting less dark.

Friday, June 02, 2006

References on Academic Publishing

I got an email last week asking if I had written up the talk on the Political Economy of Peer-Reviewed Academic Publishing that I gave at COA a few weeks ago. I haven't written a paper on this, nor do I even have any reasonable notes. My talk was videotaped, and I'm working on finding a way to have at least the audio from the talk put online. In the meantime, here are some links to some of the references I've found particularly useful.

Ted Bergstrom, professor of Economics at UCSB, has written a number of papers on journal pricing, and has assembled a very useful webpage about journal pricing. I'd recommend starting with "Free Labor for Costly Journals?" (Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 2001), available here. This paper is an excellent overview.

A Morgan Stanley report on Elsevier makes interesting reading. I also found Reed-Elsevier's annual report to be quite interesting. The 2004 annual report, which I used for my talk, can be found here. And the 2005 report, which I've not read, is here. In brief, the financial statements make it clear that Elsevier is making lots and lots of money.

Bergstrom, Preston McAfee, and Vera te Velda have put together a website,, that lets the user search for journals by keyword and discipline and will display a number of statistics, including cost, cost per article, and cost per citation. The output can be saved as a spreadsheet for further analysis.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Patchouli, turtles, and almost summertime

One more week to go and the term is over. Graduation is Saturday, June 3. After graduation there's still quite a bit of work to do. Not only is there grading to do and evaluations to write, but I'll have a lot of administrative work. I'll need to help write the academic annual report, and there are a lot of other administrative tasks that I've let slide that I'll have to start paying attention to again: re-writing the academic portion of our website and helping draft some documents for our re-accreditation.

But this weekend I haven't been thinking about any of this. Although it's late May, summer seems to have arrived. Both Saturday and Sunday the high temperature was around 80. The air was heavy and humid and still, as it often is in the summer. I went for relatively long bike rides yesterday and today. I probably should have been doing other things, but the weather was just too nice. One of the highlights was seeing three painted turtles hanging out on one of the carriage roads near Aunt Betty's Pond. I like turtles. They're cool.

I did a bunch of gardening this weekend, as well. I dug up a new flower bed and then went to various nurseries to get flowers to plant. In the process, I learned something amazing. Patchouli is a plant! Who knew? I just assumed it was a scent that someone cooked up a while ago and which then became inexplicably popular with certain segments of the population. Well, it turns out that Patchouli is not a human invention, but is a product of nature. Golly. This doesn't explain why this scent is so popular, but at least now I know where it comes from.

Anyway, I got two patchouli plants and planted them in the herb garden by our front deck. They're smallish -- less than a foot tall, and have roundish, shiny leaves. Rub the leaves a little bit and your fingers will smell like Patchouli. Amazing.

So, just one more week of classes. Chaos and Fractals is mostly student presentations. And in Calculus IV we've finished the material we need to cover, so I've been presenting semi-random special topics the last week. Tuesday I'll talk about countable and uncountable infinities, and will go through the demonstration that the real numbers are uncountable. Seems like a fun way to end the year.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Shop like it's 1999

I was at the grocery store in Bar Harbor tonight a little bit after 8. Much to my amazement, Prince's "1999" was being played through the store sound system. Not a muzak version -- the real version. Either I shop at a very hip store, or Prince isn't quite as edgy as he once was. Ok, maybe Prince wasn't ever edgy. But still ... I don't think of him as grocery store material. It's hard to know what to make of this.

Update: A friend of mine has pointed out that Prince was recently named the World's Sexiest Vegetarian by PETA. Interesting. Also interesting is that I heard "1999" last night when when I was in the produce section.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The home stretch

Week nine of our ten-week term begins tomorrow. I think things are basically under control, although I have an enormous amount of work to do. I'm behind in a number of tasks, but not more than usual, which I consider a small victory.

This weekend was absolutely beautiful. Spring in Maine requires a lot of faith -- one just has to believe, against all evidence, that summer will come, even though there is much to convince one otherwise. Then, seemingly all of a sudden, we get a weekend like this: warm, sunny, and every shade of green imaginable. Finally one remembers what summer is like. The blossoms on the lilacs in our yard are almost open, the apple trees are more or less in bloom, and there are multiple hummingbirds vying for our feeder.

Saturday I forced myself to not go on campus. It was the first time in a couple of weeks that I did so, and it surely will be the last time I'll spend an entire day away until after graduation. It wasn't a day off, though, as I still did around four hours of grading. I also did much satisfying work around the house: I mowed and raked the lawn, did some laundry, and did lots of dishes. I realize that this probably doesn't sound very exciting, but it was just what I needed.

Student presentations start tomorrow in Chaos and Fractals. I have a few more things to do in class, but it's mostly the students' show from here on out. And Calculus IV is winding down nicely. We've finished what we needed to cover. So now I'm just picking some fun topics. Last Friday was Lagrange multipliers. Next Tuesday -- who knows? -- maybe some numerical optimization techniques or applications of Gauss' law in electrostatics.

As the term winds down, I hope to post more frequently. The first part of this week will be busy and hectic, but I think things will gradually start to calm down after Wednesday.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

U-Turns and Springtime

When I started this blog, around six months and 50 posts ago, I had large pile of work to do and I hoped that blogging would be an entertaining and perhaps productive form of procrastinating. Actually, my procrastination often takes the form of housework -- laundry, dishes, cooking, and working in the yard. Anyway, it's the time of the term when work is piling up. There are problem sets to grade, student papers to read, administrative memos to write, and a crush of meetings. We have just three weeks of the terms left, so we're in a crunch to finish all sorts of administrative tasks, which means an unusually high density of meetings, appointments, phone calls, and correspondence. This, in turn, means that there are lots of reasons to procrastinate.

Last week was rainy. It rained every day, but at unpredictable intervals. Often it would look like it was clearing, and yet it would then transition abruptly to a downpour. Then it would drizzle softly for a few hours, and then downpour again. But it wasn't too cold, and the rain has made the grass unbelievably green. Leaves are coming out on most of the trees, so the foliage is a delicate light green that complements the darker, lusher green of the grass. Despite the wetness, it's been a nice spring.

One sign that the spring/summer tourist season is arriving is that cars have started turning around in our driveway again. We live on a main road, just past the turn-off for another main road. This turn-off is very clearly marked. Nevertheless, often cars miss it and then our driveway is the place they turn around. During July and August we have, at times, had roughly one turn-around in our driveway an hour. Usually the cars are from New York or Massachusetts.

While I find this a little annoying, it bothers Doreen quite a bit. So a few summers ago she made a "No Turns Please" sign. To do so, she used a Sharpie to write on a medium-sized piece of old plywood. The plywood had been painted white, so the black writing stood out nicely. She propped it up in our driveway and helped to cut down on the number of cars making U-turns in our driveway.

However, the paint on the plywood was old and flaking, and eventually the part where the "T" was written flaked off entirely. The result was that we now had a sign that said "No urns Please." This doesn't quite deliver the same clear message as the previous text. I like to imagine a conversation that might go on inside a car whose driver is thinking about making a U-turn. "Hey, let's turn in there." "Wait, it says 'no urns'." "Let's see, we have a few vases, a chalice, two flagons ... but no urns." "Ok. Then we can do it."

After a while, Doreen got a can of paint and painted "No Turns Please" on the board. The text is now quite visible, although it's in unevenly sized block letters that suggests a marginal degree of literacy. The letters look like they were written by someone who doesn't write much. But perhaps this lends the text a certain intimidation factor. The sign looks a little scary. We've also put a rope over one end of our driveway. (It's a semicircle, which is perhaps why it makes such an appealing target for a U-turn.)

We now still occasionally get people turning around in our driveway, but it doesn't happen that often. But one can still tell when tourist season is starting up, because we'll get one or two U-turns happening in our driveway on weekends and holidays.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The benefits of my new phone

Almost two months ago I wrote about my new fancy phone, and said that "I'm sure it will make my life more complete in some difficult to specify way." Well, I think I can now specify one concrete way it has improved my life.

Yesterday morning I was on a phone call and all of a sudden there was a lot of noise from outside my office. A large backhoe was moving earth and ripping things up and I couldn't hear. What to do? Would I have to finish the conversation some other time?

Nope. My new fancy phone has a volume button right on the front so I was able to punch the volume of several notches higher. This allowed me to easily hear the conversation, and I thus could finish the phone call without further interruption.

Friday, April 28, 2006

End of Week Five

It's the end of week five of our ten-week term. Work has overwhelmed me -- I'm feeling swamped and more behind than I like to be at this time of the term. I haven't had time to post much. So, in lieu of an actual entry, below is the abstract from a talk I gave last Tuesday. The presentation was part of COA's ongoing Human Ecology forum.

The Political Economy of Peer-Reviewed Academic Journals

I will begin this talk with an overview of the process of publishing
in academic peer-reviewed journals, highlighting the extent to which
journals rely on uncompensated labor; neither authors nor peer
reviewers are paid. Many academic journals are owned and operated by
non-profit professional societies, such as the Society for Human
Ecology or the American Physics Society, and hence pro-bono or donated
labor on their behalf seems is seen by many as a professional
obligation. However, there are also many journals that are owned by
for-profit companies such as Elsevier or Springer.

I will summarize a number of studies that show that journals owned by
for-profit companies charge between three and six times more per
article than non-profit journals, and that there is little difference
in quality between for- and non-profit journals. The extra cost of
for-profit journals is borne almost exclusively by non-profit
educational institutions and the tax-payer dollars and donations that
support them. The largest academic publishing group reported a profit
of 1.7 billion euros in 2004. The net result is that for-profit
journals limit access to information that rightly belongs in the
public domain while extracting huge profits from the academic

I will argue that the issues around for-profit academic publishing
provide a useful case study that may help shed light on broader
questions concerning how costs and benefits are distributed between
the public and the private sector. In addition, I will suggest that
the persistence of for-profit journals can serve as an interesting and
somewhat subtle example of a market failure.

To conclude, I will put forth some ideas for individual and collective
actions that researchers can take to improve the situation, and will
briefly present several successful examples of such action.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

End of Week Three

It's the end of the third week in our ten-week term. Grading is piling up and spring is unfolding in slow motion. The end of last week was spent at a mini-retreat for the team that is preparing our report for re-accreditation. The retreat was an interesting mix of some good ideas, fun colleagues, and soul-crushing administrative despair. The re-accreditation team is great, and I think we'll explore some interesting ideas. But some aspects of the work are about as exciting as watching paint dry while someone tries to push a blunt object -- perhaps a dull pencil or a tongue depressor-- through your temple into your brain.

Some end-of-week-three numbers:
  • At the start of the term my inbox was completely empty. It currently has 99.

  • In the first three weeks of the term I have sent 364 email messages.

  • Yesterday was the first day all term that I didn't spend some time on campus. In fact, I only left my house twice: once to move my car so that Doreen could go somewhere, and once to empty the compost.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Reasons to Live

There are lots of reasons to live: good friends, a sense of purpose in life, good house music, nice sunsets, etc, etc. But here are two more:

  • Jay Zeezer's mash-up of Jay-Z's "99 Problems" and Nena's "99 Luftballons (Red Balloons)". You can get it here: 99 Luft Problems. (Warning: Explicit and possibly offensive lyrics.)

  • Creature Comforts. This is a British TV show that is difficult to describe. It's a claymation thing by the Wallace and Grommit folks. The show creators interviewed ordinary folks about a bunch of different topics. The interviews were unscripted. The interviews are then set to claymation. Hard to describe, but it might just be one of the most amusing things ever. It's on Fridays at 10:20 on BBC America.
  • Sunday, April 02, 2006

    First week of the term

    Week one of our ten-week term is over. Being back from sabbatical and back teaching has been mostly quite good. Monday was an odd day of culture shock. I had forgotten how busy and intense things can get. And all the students look so much older than I remember -- especially the first-year students.

    This term will be busy, but I feel like it's off to a great start. The weather was beautiful this week: nice and spring like. When spring term starts with sleet and snow and rain, it's always a little tough. But this week was sunny and relatively warm.

    I'm teaching two classes this term: Introduction to Chaos and Fractals and Calculus IV. I've taught both before. However, I'm doing a bunch of new things with the Chaos class. For one, I've decided to write a textbook based on the notes and materials I've developed for the class. There isn't really a book on Chaos appropriate for the class, so I figure it's time I write one. It seems to me that there might be a market for such a text. I'll look for a publisher perhaps as early as this summer, although I'm sure it will be a few years before it's completed. Even if I don't get it published, I'm convinced it will be a worthwhile project, as it will be really nice to have a book for future versions of the course.

    As of this evening I have six chapters done out of what I expect to be between 25 and 30. The writing process has been surprisingly enjoyable thus far. It's actually a nice distraction. I find that when I'm working on it it's easy to "get lost" in it. In contrast, when I'm doing other work, like grading or administrative memo writing, I find it almost impossible to avoid get ting distracted. What's going to be a bit of a chore, however, is making the figures. Thus far it's gone fine, but I can see that it's starting to get tedious. The chapter I wrote tonight, on graphical iteration, had fourteen figures. Anyway, I hope that I can maintain throughout the term the pace I've set the last two weeks throughout the term. If I can, I'll have a pretty decent draft by early June.

    I'm also adding some labs to the course. This will also take a bunch of work. I'm not sure that I'll be able to add as many as I had originally hoped, but I think I'll be able to do most of what I had planned. I think they'll add a lot to the course; even some simple demonstrations should help make some abstract ideas more concrete for students.

    There's not too much new coming down the road in Calculus IV: no textbook writing and no labs. We start with multidimensional integration, which is something I've always enjoyed. The class is small -- technically it's a tutorial -- and it's a fun group.

    This upcoming week will be especially busy. In addition to all my usual work, our board of trustees meeting is Friday and Saturday. Earlier in the week our president-elect will be on campus, and I'm a part of several meetings with him in addition to all the usual trustee and administrative meetings. So blogging may be light for the next week.

    Saturday, March 25, 2006

    A milestone

    My email inbox, which just a few months ago had been at 850, is now empty. It's an oddly exhilarating feeling. It's very, very strange to see my inbox with no email messages listed in it whatsoever. But it's strange in a good way. So don't send me email and ruin it.

    In other news, there were a few sparrows hanging out by our birdfeeders at home for the first time this spring. And the forsythia that I'm forcing in our kitchen will soon be in bloom. So at least it's spring inside, even it it's not exactly spring outside.

    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    Convention on Biodiversity

    The College of the Atlantic students and faculty attending the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity, and the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Biosafety, continue to post many updates on their blog , where did my genes go?.

    Some recent highlights include:

    1. COA student Kate Thompkins delivering a statement on genetic use restriction technologies at a working group meeting.

    2. A report from COA faculty member Doreen Stabinsky on the landless people's movement and bearing witness on Syngenta's illegal field trials.

    3. A similar report from COA student Elsie Flemings: The Struggle for Life and Land: a story of the Landless Workers Movement. Elsie's report has some excellent pictures.

    Prince Update

    A friend of mine pointed out that Prince has a new CD out that is apparently getting rather positive reviews.

    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    Purple Rain-a-thon

    I've been sitting at my desk working on tidying up email and catching up with correspondence and generally trying to get organized. I just realized that I've spent almost an hour straight listening to different versions of Prince's "Purple Rain." I've got a directory full of different versions, mostly live, and xmms was faithfully playing one after the other. Yikes. I like Prince. A lot. But maybe not that much.

    Clearly it's time for a break. Time to change soundtracks and tasks: perhaps a Ferry Corsten mix while I file some old papers and notes.

    Wednesday, March 15, 2006

    New Phone

    I got a new phone for my office today. It's very exciting. It has lots of buttons, and a small digital screen so I can see who's calling me. My old phone didn't have a screen, and it didn't have as many buttons as my new phone. This is definitely a big improvement. I doubt it will improve the quality of my phone calls, but I'm sure it will make my life more complete in some difficult to specify way.

    "Spring" in Maine in March

    By many standards, March isn't really a spring month in Maine. Although not as cold as January and February, March is still cold. And there aren't really flowers and it's at least a month until leaves start to appear on trees. But nevertheless, there are signs of spring.
    1. Our cats are spending more time sleeping on the bed or in a sunbeam by a window, and less time in front of the woodstove.

    2. Monster, the larger of our two cats, is spending more time sleeping by my feet, and less time sleeping tucked up next to my head.

    3. There were robins on campus today. They looked wet and cold, but they were there.

    4. I was driving home the other day around 6:30 and there was still a little bit of twilight in the sky.

    5. There's a rumor that crocuses are poking in a certain lawn downtown. The crocuses are considered rumor-worthy says a lot.

    Spring is a long, gradual unfolding and it looks like the unfolding has begun.

    Saturday, March 11, 2006

    Biosafety meeting in Brazil

    Seven College of the Atlantic students and two faculty members are spending part of spring break at the biosafety negotiations that are occurring March 13-17 in Curitiba, Brazil. Specifically, they are attending and participating in the 3rd Biosafety Protocol negotiations (MOP3) of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The trip is organized by Doreen Stabinsky, who teaches half time at COA and works half time for Greenpeace international on their genetic engineering campaign. The seven students going to the meeting all took a tutorial with Doreen during winter term.

    The Biosafety Protocol is also known as Cartagena Protocol, as Cartagena, Columbia, is the city in which the final version of the protocol was negotiated. (Similariy, the more well known Kyoto protocol was agreed upon in Kyoto.) The Cartagena protocol is an international agreement on the handling, transfer, and use of genetically modified organisms.

    The students and faculty will be posting to a blog that I helped set up, Where did my genes go? Doreen is already in Brazil. Most of the students will be arriving late Sunday. Check the blog frequently for updates from the meeting. At this blog you can also find some additional background information on the protocol in general, and the issues that will be under consideration at this meeting of the parties.

    Friday, March 10, 2006

    Sabbatical (almost) over

    Today was the last day of winter term. This means that my sabbatical is more or less over. We have two weeks of spring break, and then classes start again on the 27th. I'm super psyched for the two classes I'll be teaching in the spring -- Introduction to Chaos and Fractals, and Calculus IV -- but I'll miss having time to do reading and research like I've had the last couple of months.

    I'm in the midst of doing some major re-organizing in my office. The amount of paper I've accumulated is stunning. I've done a lot of filing and a lot of recycling. There's still much to be done.

    It snowed about an inch or so last night. It looked very nice, but by morning it had turned to rain and the snow had entirely washed away.

    This might be my most boring blog entry yet.

    Sunday, March 05, 2006

    Back in Maine

    I've returned to Maine, and I'm very glad to be back. I'm always a little bit sad to leave Santa Fe, as it's such an ideal work environment. But it's great to be back home, even if it's colder than I want it to be. I went for a run yesterday, and a short hike today. But were good, but chillier than Santa Fe.

    For dinner today I cooked some kidney beans with an Indian spice blend that I bought at an Indian grocery store when I was in Berkeley. Tasty and pleasantly spicy. Yesterday I made pasta with a portobello mushroom sauce and a wilted spinach salad. Yummy. I like traveling, but when on the road I miss being able to cook.

    For reasons I don't understand, I've had the Police song, "Message in a bottle", playing in my head much of the evening. It's recently been replaced with Prince's "Raspberry Beret."

    Friday, March 03, 2006

    Leaving Santa Fe

    Tomorrow I leave Santa Fe and return to Maine. I've been in Santa Fe for around three weeks, and it's been a great visit. The Santa Fe Institute is a great place. I got a lot done while here and had a good time seeing some friends and colleagues and just being in Santa Fe.

    Preparations for the Complex Systems Summer School in Beijing are going well. We're close to having all the speakers arranged, and I think we have a really good line-up. Today we made most of the decisions about which students we'll accept. It was difficult; there are around four applicants for each slot. The applicants were very impressive. Emails will go out to students sometime next week. We're going to wait until all the decisions for school in Santa Fe have been made.

    The last week I've gotten a fair amount of writing done. Mostly I've just been writing up extensive notes on some projects that are still in their early stages. I've been trying of late to write more and organize research projects. I find that due to my teaching and administration load, I end up repeatedly picking up and putting down projects. I think if I try to write-up preliminary results more, it'll help me get back into a project when I've been away from it for a while. Too often I spend a lot of time just trying to figure out where I was when I last worked on something. Also, writing is a really good way of clarifying one's thoughts. Sometimes writing makes me realize how little I understand about a topic. But other times -- and this was the case this week -- writing things up helps me to realize that I actually have made a lot of progress.

    It rained a little bit tonight, which is good, because it's been an amazingly dry winter in New Mexico. Santa Fe is incredible when it rains -- the hills smell wonderful. The rain brings out the pinon and juniper and it's pretty awesome. This time tomorrow I'll be back in Maine, where it snowed a few inches today. I'm looking forward to experiencing some winter, but I hope this isn't one of those years when spring doesn't arrive until mid-May.

    Wednesday, March 01, 2006


    I was at the grocery store today standing in line. The person in front of me had a few items. The cashier rang them up and told him the total. The man then seemed surprised. He fumbles around and very slowly reaches for his wallet. Eventually he takes out a debit card and pays.

    I know this is unkind and impatient, but why not start reaching for your wallet or money before the cashier is done ringing you up? It's not as if it's suddenly going to be free so you won't need to pay. You've been to the store before, right? So you should know how this works by now. Don't look stunned when it's time to get out some money. Well, it's ok if you look stunned. I really don't care. But don't take forever. I've got things to do and I'd rather not wait while you move in slow motion trying to find what pocket your wallet is in.

    A similar frustration occurs when someone in front of me is paying in cash. Then the total comes to, say, $15.07. A good time to pay with that crisp twenty dollar bill that you got from the ATM, right? Wrong. All of a sudden time stops while I watch the person in front of me look in every compartment in her bag/purse/sachel trying to find seven cents so she avoids the indignity of being handed $4.93. Again, why not have your change handy? Or, why not just take the 93 cents? It won't kill you.

    Tuesday, February 28, 2006

    Dumb Monday

    Monday seemed to be a day for dumbness. I spent a good part of the afternoon doing some work with Mathematica, a computer algebra program. I hadn't worked with mathematica for around 8 years. It took me quite some time to re-figure out some "code" that I had written before, and I spent far too long wrestling with some really clumsy output functions. I wanted to repeat and extend some calculations that I did in my dissertation. So I printed out the relevant pages and read them over, and within one minute noticed two typos. They weren't substantial. But still. Arg.

    Then, I thought I had finished all the runs necessary for the data for a plot for a paper that I'm trying to finish up this week. So I thought I'd make some nice-looking plots. But when I made the plot it had a huge gap in it; I hadn't actually done all the runs I needed. So I set a bunch more jobs running. It'll take less than half a day to run, so it's not a big deal.

    And then, after dinner I bought a 2CD set at a used CD place. When I returned to my office and opened it, I discovered that there was only one CD in it. Arg. I will return it today.

    Sunday, February 26, 2006

    Why Chillout??

    I don't understand the sub-genre of electronica referred to as "chillout." There's a radio station here in Santa Fe devoted to chillout. And there's a sirius radio station devoted "chillout" music, too. The place I'm staying at has sirius, and so I've been listening some.

    A few days ago I realized that I have had enough chillout. I'm increasingly feeling that chillout is another way of saying "techno that sucks." I imagine a producer making a track and it doesn't come out so good. It's not energetic enough to be trance or techno, not funky enough for house. It's the sort of thing that goes well with weak chamomile tea, not redbull. No one would want to dance or even move rhythmically upon listening to it. Delete the track and start over? Nope. It can be a chillout track and can be put on some crappy chilled compilation.

    On the sirius "chill channel" yesterday I heard an absolutely dreadful chilled/acoustic version of modern English's "I'll stop the world and melt with you." Why? This should be illegal. What's wrong with people?

    A few years ago I got a Hed Kandi Winter Chill compilation that was pretty good. Well, at least it wasn't bad. Each CD had maybe two really nice tracks, and the rest were boring background music. Perhaps these several tracks fooled me, or unreasonably raised my expectations, and led me to believe that something good could come from chillout. Now I'm not so sure. I never had much of a relationship with chillout, but whatever it was, it's over now.

    I have nothing against the idea of chillout or downtempo. For example, the Back to Mine series, which is mostly downtempo stuff, is really good. Groove Armada's Back to Mine is awesome. But I think that anything that calls itself chillout is destined to suck.