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.