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.