Friday, December 21, 2007

The end of the earth

I am currently in an internet cafe in Puerto Natales. We took a bus here this morning from Punta Arenas, a city of 125,000 at the far Southern end of Chile. It´s at around 51 degrees south latitude. Yesterday we took a ferry to an island in the Strait of Magellean that has something like 100,000 penguins nesting on it. It was very, very cool. The penguins are quite tame, so we could get pretty close to them. And they´re very, very cute. We saw some Chliean Skuas and some other very cool birds. We got some good pictures, but there´s no easy way to post them right now.

Tomorrow we will head off to Torres del Paine national park for six days and five nights of trekking. It should be great. From all that we´ve read and seen and heard it seems amazingly beautiful. I think we have all the gear we need and since we can leave some stuff at the hostel we´re staying at our packs will be heavy, but hopefully not unbearable.

On the bus ride this morning I saw some rheas and some flamingos. Both are very weird looking. The flamingos, when in good light, almost glow. And Rheas are just odd. I don´t understand how such a large, flightless bird can survive the winter here.

Speaking of winter, it´s the first day of summer here, but it´s remarkably chilly and windy. The weather is actually pretty nice, but if this is summer weather, winters must be really tough. I don´t think it snows much down at sea level, but the darkness and the wind must be difficult. Both Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales are nice but quite weather-beaten. Lots of faded paint and trees bent by the wind.

It´s a little after 9pm and it´s still very light outside. The sun sets around 10 and it doesn´t get fully dark until 11pm. Nevertheless, it´s time for us to head back to our hostel, do some final packing, and try and get to bed early. Our bus to the park leaves at 7:15am.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I've made it to Santiago. Getting to Boston was a snowy adventure. I'm kinda amazed that the bus made the Portland to Boston leg. The snow looks thick and slipper and there were many cars that had slid off the road. But once I made it to Logan the trip was fairly smooth. My flight was delayed somewhat out of Boston, so I had a very tight connection in Miami, but I made it.

Santiago has been nice so far. In some ways it reminds me of Mexico City, in some ways of New York. We've explored some and had some pretty good food. We're currently in Abarzua, a nice cafe-bar near our hotel. They have good coffee and free wireless.

Tomorrow we fly south to Punta Arenas. We'll spend two nights there. In between there's a cruise out to a penguin colony. Should be very cool.

Time to finish coffee and head out in search of dinner.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Tomorrow I leave for a two-week trip to Chile. I've spent the last day or so pretty frantically trying to finish up all sorts of things before I leave. I've had mixed success. While I have gotten a lot of things done, there are some other projects that I really had hoped to make more progress on. As is often the case, lots of little important things get in the way of larger, longer-term things.

Anyway, it's 11 degrees outside right now. And tomorrow we're supposed to get nailed with a big storm. Much snow and wind, with some ice and a little bit of rain, too. I think I can make it out of Maine before it gets too bad. My flight is out of Boston, and I'll drive to Bangor and take the bus. But to try and beat the storm I'm going to take the earliest bus of the day, which is 7:15 am. Ug. If I can make it to Boston I think I'll be ok, since it seems like the storm is going to be mostly rain there. But it's hard to tell. I think a lot of coastal New England will be right on the edge between rain and snow.

I suspect I'll sleep very little tonight, as I still have a lot of packing to do. This isn't that big a deal, since I'll have lots of time to sleep during my journey.

I'm looking forward to the trip a lot. I think we'll see some really cool things. The centerpiece of the trip is doing a trek in the Torres del Paine park in Patagonia. If I can get online during our travels I'll post some pictures.

Holiday Spirit

This is awesome. It's a gallery of many pictures of children sitting on various department-store santa's laps bawling and/or looking terrified. Don't look at just one---scan through lots of them for the full effect.

(Via Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Some Excellent Grad School Advice

I've been talking with lots of studnets over the last month who are applying to graduate school and I'm in the midst of several letters of recommendation. So I've found myself giving lots of grad school advice---mostly about how to get into grad school. But today I found some great advice for students who are already in graduate programs: How to get a PhD and save the world. The post is by Chris Blattman, who is an assistant professor of political science and economics at Yale.

I found this via Greg Mankiv's blog. Greg is a professor of economics at Harvard and formerly was chair of the council of economic advisors under President Bush. I probably disagree with Mankiv politically on almost every issue, but he's very smart and posts interesting stuff.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Some more press for COA

There's a nice article about College of the Atlantic in Plenty, an online and paper magazine about sustainability and green living and such. There are a few amusing comments, but nothing about avatars, which is a relief. Overall, I think it's a good article and a pretty accurate portrait of the college.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tuesday Stuff

  • I filled out a recommendation form for the Tepper School of Business yesterday. There were two typos on the form. Nice work. Do business schools not believe in proofreading?

  • We got three more inches of snow yesterday. It was light and fluffy. Right now it's snowing lightly but supposed to turn into rain.

  • The router in our home network has some sort of virus or has been possessed by a demon. It's been triggering security alerts at our ISP for the last 24 hours or so. Arg. I don't really have the time or patience to deal with this right now.

  • The day after the demon possessed my router, this article appears on the arXiv: WiFi Epidemiology: Can Your Neighbors' Router Make Yours Sick?. Coincidence?


Well, I'm finished with my narrative evaluations. Fall term 2007 is officially behind me. Time to celebrate with a Fin du monde. Tomorrow I turn my full attention to other writing projects, including letters of recommendation and some referee reports.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Letter U

The "U" on my laptop's keyboard just snapped off. I can still type "U"'s by pressing on the button that usually lives beneath the square plastic thingey with "U" on it. But it's not easy to type fast. Fortunately, "U" isn't that common a letter. Nevertheless, I'm not thrilled with the situation. It seems like the key should snap back on, but I haven't been able to get it to snap yet. Arg.

In other news, I'm done with Linear Algebra evaluations and am making slow but steady progress on the Human Ecology evals.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Plugging Away

I've submitted my Physics evaluations and I'm almost done with my Linear Algebra evals. I have a lot of work still to be done on my evals for the Human Ecology Core Course. This will be the main task for tomorrow. I also finished a letter of recommendation today. The student is applying to a around dozen schools, so I still have to send off other copies. But once the first version is written making the slight changes necessary for other schools is pretty easy. I think I have at least four more students for whom I need to write letters next week.

There was a little bit of a thaw today which resulted in some rather spectacular icicles hanging off our house. Although I like icicles, it's not good for the roof to have them hanging off the eaves. Icicles are heavy, since they're basically water, and water is heavy. So I knocked the icicles down. It's sad to see them, but it's for the best.

It's late, but I still have some energy, so I'm going to try and get a little bit more work done.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Miscellaneous

Beginning the final push to finish narrative evaluations. They're due Monday. And I have more than a few letters of recommendation to write. So I'm caffeinated and trying to make the most of my hyperness and short attention span by working productively on several things at once. So far, so good.

Anyway, here are some miscellaneous Friday musings:
  • Ham for Chanukah. Awesome.

  • I have a bit of a cold. So I've been munching golden throat lozenges. They make everything better. On the package it says: "Coursing wind and clearing heat, resolving toxin and disinhibiting throat, transforming turbidity with aroma." Excellent. I bring a bunch back with me every year when I return from China.

  • It was cold this morning. According to the weather web page the low was seven degrees. I'm not sure what it was at our house, because our outside thermometer is totally encrusted in snow. So I can state with some certainty that it was below 32, but that's about it. The hot water pipe to the bathroom sink was frozen this morning. Fortunately, that was the only pipe frozen. It's warmed up a lot as the day has gone on, so I susepct it will be unfrozen when I return home.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


The snowstorm arrived, pretty much as advertised. It's now Tuesday morning and it's been snowing for over 24 hours. It's hard to tell, but it looks like around ten to twelve inches have fallen. Yesterday was a lazy day spent inside. I ventured out only once or twice to do some shoveling. The snow started off pretty wet and heavy, so lots of the trees and shrubs are bent over and sagging. But the last few inches have been lighter and fluffy, so things are looking very pretty.

Meanwhile, Doreen has been tromping around Bolivia. She recently returned from some salt lakes in the western part of the country where she saw flamingos. She sent the the following picture. Pretty cool.

Time for me to finish my coffee and extract my car and head onto campus. The roads appear to be in pretty good condition. So I should head in and get some work done. Since I didn't do much yesterday, I'm feeling like I'm behind where I'd like to be. I had a lot of momentum from my week in Santa Fe which I don't want to lose.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Back Home

After a long day of travel I've made it back home. The house is cold, but I have a big fire going so it should warm up soon. The cats are fine and I don't thnk any of the plants died.

I made it here just in time. A messy storm is supposed to hit us tomorrow and last for a little more than a day. Eight to fourteen inches of wet snow and fifty mile an hour winds. I hope we don't lose power.

I better water at least a few of the most thirsty-looking plants before I go to sleep. It's good to be back. I'm looking forward to a long night's sleep with a cat curled up next to me.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Wet Friday

The storm has arrived and so far it's been just a lot of rain. It's a little gloomy, but it's kinda nice, too. I can't recall being in Santa Fe during such a hard, steady rain. I've been here for steady snow and lots of fantastic thunderstorms. But I can't remember persistent rain. As the temperature drops a little more the rain might turn to snow. But right now it's still very liquid. I can see it beading up and running down the windows in my office.

I finished the proposal I was working on yesterday. Some good comments from a COA colleage pepped it up so I think it has the right level of enthusiasm. It's hard to know if the funding agency will be happy, since the instructions and guidelines for the proposal weren't that clear.

I had Vietnamese food tonight. The only noteworthy thing about the meal was that an unusually large amount of some fibrous material got stuck between my molars. As soon as I get back to the place I'm staying I will floss.

It's the end of a long week, and I've spent much of the day feeling a little brain-dead. I'm looking forward to recharging a little over the weekend. Sunday I travel all day back to Maine. Not relaxing, but it's a different sort of stress than de-bugging code and editing proposals.

Time to head to my temporary home, floss, have a glass of red wine, do some reading, and sleep.

Thursday Ramblings

It's nearing midnight here and I'm plugging away on a preliminary grant proposal sort of thing that's due midday tomorrow. I need to get a pretty complete draft done tonight so I can get comments from a few people at COA tomorrow morning and then I can make some final edits. The proposal is straightforward, and it seems quite certain we'll get almost all that we ask for, but it's a little boring. It'll help us develop a few new classes and better support some classes that we already offer. The stuff I need to provide the granting agency is supposed to be short. But I find it very difficult to write short first drafts. So I expect that at least half of what I'm writing will end up being cut tomorrow morning.

There is a winter storm watch for Santa Fe for Friday into Saturday. From the weather reports it's not at all clear how much snow we'll get, or even if we'll get any. It might end up as rain. Right now they say there could be one to two feet of snow above 7500 ft. Santa Fe is at roughly 7200ft. So does this mean we'll get rain? Or just less snow? Or both? Some snow would be nice, as long as things clear out in time for me to head home. I leave from Albuquerque early Sunday morning.

Well, despite the fact that I'm bored, I should push though and finish the draft of this document. It will be a late night, but it'll get done. I might need to make a cup of tea for a final energy boost.

Update: I'm done with the draft. I think it's in pretty good shape, but it's not very peppy. I'll try to insert some peppiness tomorrow morning when I do my last editing pass. I'm now going to head to the place I'm staying at and eat some sushi. I picked up some sushi at Whole Foods when I was there this evening. My plan was to eat some salad from their salad bar and then the sushi for dinner. But the salad filled me up, so I still have the sushi. I don't really know what motivated me to get the sushi in the first place, since I'm not a huge sushi fan. But for some reason it looked good. When I was in Paris last summer I had sushi for the first time in years and it was surprisingly tasty.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

New Mexico

I'm in the midst of a one-week visit at the Santa Fe Institute. The main purpose of my visit is to plan the 2008 Beijing Complex Systems Summer School. But while I'm here there are a number of other projects I'm working on, too. The days have been busy, but good.

I've been coming to SFI since 1996. It's a great place, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to spend time here over the years. SFI isn't a utopia, but it's been in some sense a refuge for me over the past decade. Even though I haven't spent that much time here in the big scheme of things, SFI has a certain familiarity and almost a home-like feeling.

Although I've had a very productive few days, I'm starting to wonder how I'm going to get done all the things I need to get done before December 16, when I'm heading to Chile to spend two weeks with Doreen trekking and hanging out.

Well ... this post is going nowhere. I'm feeling somewhat introspective and pleasantly melancholy, but I seem incapable of capturing these thoughts in writing. This doesn't bode well, since the vast majority of what I need to do in the next few weeks is writing of some sort of another: A small grant, a research paper, student evaluations, two referee reports, many letters of recommendation, and many memos and notes and emails. But I suppose that these writing tasks probably shouldn't involve too much introspection or melancholy, so maybe it's ok.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Spice Odyssey in Northern California

I visited family in Northern California over the long Thanksgiving weekend. The day before Thanksgiving I did some shopping for the meals I was going to cook Wednesday and Thursday. One of the ingredients I needed was marjoram. Dried, not fresh. It's Northern California, so I figured this wouldn't be difficult to find. The first store I went to, a relatively high-end little grocery store with lots of great produce, didn't have any marjoram at all. Hmmm... I wasn't sure what other stores were in the area, but I knew there was a Safeway nearby, so I gave it a try.

The Safeway was packed with frantic shoppers. Scanning the spice section was particularly tricky because there was a guy desperately looking for poultry seasoning. He had enlisted the help of one of the Safeway workers, and together they were scanning the shelves, squinting and muttering "poultry seasoning... poultry seasoning." I too was scanning the labels on the shelves, and found the slot where marjoram was supposed to be. However, there was no marjoram. Instead, there was cardamom. Close, I guess. It does rhyme. Sorta.

I left the Safeway empty handed. My last hope was another Safeway, this one closer to my brother's house. Happily, this store did indeed have marjoram. Victorious at last, I bought a small bottle and headed home. We cooked some excellent food, and had a nice few days.

Perhaps the highlight of my spice Odyssey occurred at the first store. I was scanning the shelf labels to see if marjoram was listed. No marjoram. But there was a label for poppy seeds. Almost. It was misspelled as "poopy seeds." Awesome.

Monday, November 19, 2007


It's been a productive, if frantic, day:

  1. Dropped Doreen off at the Bar Harbor airport. Her yogurt didn't make it through security, but other than that her departure was uneventful.

  2. Got my snow tires up on, an oil change, and a yearly state inspection. The car needed some work (brakes and a light somewhere), so I got that done today, too.

  3. While waiting for my car I graded my physics finals and half of the last problem set.

  4. Drove onto campus.

  5. Sent rejection letters to some of the candidates in the search that I'm chairing.

  6. Contacted the three finalists for the position and started scheduling their visits.

  7. Contacted a handful of other candidates that we phone interviewed but who we probably won't be inviting to campus.

  8. Finished grading the last physics assignment and assigned final grades.

  9. Bought a plane ticket for my upcoming trip to Chile.

  10. Reserved a rental car for my week in Santa Fe.

  11. Dealt with over 100 emails.

I realize that this probably makes incredibly boring reading. But it's exciting to me. Time to head home and turn my attention to some domestic tasks: laundry, dishes, and packing.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A New Era

As of yesterday, we finally have a high-speed internet connection at home. We can't get cable where we live, and a satellite internet connection seemed too expensive and, from what we had heard, relatively slow. We were close on several occasions to giving in and getting satelliteinternet, but then we'd hear rumors that cable was going to arrive soon. But the rumors never came true.

Then, last spring, the town signed a contract with redzone wireless to provide a wireless mesh network for Mount Desert. We were originally told that we would be online by late August. Didn't quite happen. Putting the infrastructure together tookredzone a lot longer than they had anticipated. But we're now connected. Seems like a miracle.

The connection is still kinda slow. But it's at least five times faster than dial-up, which is a big improvement. And Doreen and I can both be online at the same time, and being online doesn't tie up the phone. So this is a huge leap forward.

In other news, I've had a nice, relaxing weekend. Tomorrow Doreen leaves for a six-week trip to Boliva and Chile. I'll meet her for the last two weeks. Tuesday I head to California to see family for Thanksgiving. Tomorrow I'll be frantically working to try and tie up many, many loose ends before I split.

Friday, November 16, 2007

It's Over

The term is officially over. Today was the last day of classes. As usual, I'm exhausted, but in a mostly good way. I feel pretty good about how my classes went, and although as usual I felt too busy, it was a pretty fun term. I'm looking forward to a weekend of doing things around the house, getting organized, and slowly starting my grading and evaluation writing.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cold, Busy Week ten

Well, week ten of our ten-week term is upon us. As usual, things are pretty insanely busy. But, at least for now, not necessarily busy in a bad way. There's a part of me that enjoys the stress and focus of the end of the term.

The weather has definitely turned wintry. There was a brief snow flurry on Saturday. It didn't stick, but it did get my attention. It's been in the 20's at night, and the days are cool and the leaves are almost all gone.

I'm currently listening to a Prince Birthday Edition of Crap from the Past, which is a super cool weekly radio show from St. Paul.

Hopefully I'll have time for more of an update soon. Right now I need to head home and make dinner, and then read some drafts of student papers and prepare a class on Markov chains.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

COA and the NYTimes

There's a very nice article about College of the Atlantic in the New York Times today.

The only thing that's weird about the article is that our president is quoted as saying "we’re exploring the possibility of virtual classes that involve avatars." Yikes. I'm hoping this was a joke or at least there's some context missing that would help this quote make sense.

But overall, the article is great; I think it's a pretty accurate portrayal of COA. It will be interesting to see if this publicity yields a surge in applications.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

About Trees

A note to the person who was driving in front of me yesterday on Eagle Lake Road. Yes, the trees are beautiful right now. But if you see a tree that is especially you colorful you don't have to brake suddenly. Because here's the thing about trees: they don't move. What this means is that you can slow down gradually and pull over to the side. Then you can get out of your car and walk back to the tree, or turn around and drive back, or put the car in reverse and go back to the tree. The tree will still be there; it's not going to run away.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Search Terms

Somebody recently found my blog by seaching on google for the phrase vodka in a humidifier. The most search term that has led the most people to this blog is free socks. The vast majority of the free sock seekers who arrive at my blog are from outside the US, with a suprisingly large number from the former Yugoslavia.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Big news! College of the Atlantic has been selected as one of Cosmogirl's 100 best colleges. There is no mention of the criteria they used to select their top 100. I wonder if they'll send us free lip gloss.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Genetically Modified Budweiser

It seems that Budweiser uses genetically engineered rice in some of their beer. Here is a press release from Greenpeace. And here is a post about the GE beer on Brookstone Beer Bulletin, which seems to be a frequently updated website/blog with information about craft beers, especially in Norther California. On the Greenpeace website there is further discussion of the contamination, including an excellent spoof of a Budweiser TV commercial.

Doreen and her Greenpeace colleagues have been working on this for a while. Now that this information is public, it will be interesting to see how Bud responds.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Miscellaneous Updates

A few tidbits from the week and the weekend:
  1. The soul-crushers, also known as the NEASC review team, spent around two and a half days on campus last week. I think the visit went pretty well. The preliminary report was mostly very positive, and the areas of potential weakness were pretty much the ones that we had anticipated. I was quite impressed with the review team; they gathered a lot of information quite quickly, and seemed to be quite sharp.

  2. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were quite warm. It was almost summer-like. Today, however, it felt like fall. Not cold, but a little crisp. It was sunny and breezy and beautiful. When I arrived on campus mid-afternoon there were two large V's of geese flying south flying very high above the college. Their honks sounded very cool.

  3. Doreen returned today from a week in Quebec. She brought back some yummy biotechnology: Quebecois beer, yogurt, bread, and cheese.

  4. I planted around 150 bulbs today. Hopefully they'll survive the winter and we'll have a flowery spring.

  5. In addition to doing a lot of work around the house, I finished a batch of Physics grading and completed a review of an NSF grant.

  6. It's starting to get chilly at night. Soon it will be time for the first fire of the season.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Soul Crushers on Campus

I've written before about the soul crushing document that I helped write. The full document, our NEASC reaccreditation self-study, is available here. I was the main author for standard four.

Well, this is the big week: our visiting team is here to check us out. Tomorrow morning I spend an hour with this guy discussing the soul crushing document. Although the document is indeed soul crushing, I'm actually looking forward to the discussion. I think the visit could be a good opportunity to get some honest feedback about some of COA's strengths and weaknesses.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Rainbow Benefits

This week we needed to re-enroll for health benefits. Our plan is the same as last year, so this was pretty straightforward--we just had to copy over our information from last year's form. There was one interesting twist, however: Doreen's enrollment form was printed on some sort of rainbow stationary. It was a slightly thicker than usual piece of paper with a large pastel rainbow scene printed on the top half of the paper. Why did Doreen get this special rainbow form? My form was just on a regular piece of white paper. Was someone sending a message to Doreen? It is very, very difficult to imagine that our business office has rainbow stationary. Could it be that somebody else had left rainbow stationary in the photocopier? Also difficult to imagine, but this seems more plausible than rainbows coming from the business office.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Career Choices

Inspired by New Kid on the Hallway, I took a career quiz on Below are the forty careers that are supposedly best suited to my interests and likes.

Too bad that Professor is the 39th best career for me. And what's Horse Trainer doing at #5? Perhaps horse training is similar to academic administration? I also don't think I'd make a very good Butcher (#29), as I haven't eaten meat for 19 years.

  1. Food Scientist
  2. Hydrologist / Hydrogeologist
  3. Agronomist
  4. Computer Trainer
  5. Horse Trainer
  6. Personal Trainer
  7. Cook
  8. Oceanographer
  9. Mathematician
  10. Pharmacologist
  11. Actuary
  12. Database Developer
  13. Pharmacy Technician
  14. Web Developer
  15. Pharmacist
  16. Foreign Language Instructor
  17. ESL Teacher
  18. Music Teacher / Instructor
  19. Meteorologist
  20. Computer Programmer
  21. Business Systems Analyst
  22. Special Education Teacher
  23. Physical Education Teacher
  24. Medical Lab Tech
  25. Geologist
  26. Video Game Developer
  27. Forensics Specialist
  28. Elementary School Teacher
  29. Butcher
  30. High School Teacher
  31. Teacher Assistant
  32. School Counselor
  33. Microbiologist
  34. Environmental Consultant
  35. Paleontologist
  36. Early Childhood Educator
  37. Diving Instructor
  38. Career Counselor
  39. Professor
  40. Nanny

Friday, September 14, 2007

One down, twenty-nine to go

It is the end of the first full week of classes of fall term. The week was much busier than I had expected, but mostly in a good way. I spent lots of time preparing for class and teaching and working with students, which is almost always fun. The first batch of homework assignments roll in today, however, so soon I will be back on the grading treadmill. Grading, while necessary, is surely the least fun aspect of teaching.

Despite not serving as an associate dean this year, I still got almost 100 emails a day this week. But nevertheless it seemed almost managable. I managed to exercise twice this week—Tuesday and Thursday evening—which was good. Last year I was lucky to find time to exercise once during the week. Hopefully I'll be able to continue throughout the term.

I'm currently in my office but soon will head to the Bar Harbor airport where Doreen is arriving after around two weeks away in Amsterdam and Washington DC. I think she'll be home for a few weeks and then away for around three weeks in October. She didn't mention where she'll be going. (Or maybe she told me and I forgot.) My guess is Mexico.

The weather here has been nice. I really like fall in Maine. This morning was crisp, but the hummingbirds are still around, fighting and gorging themselves at our feeders. I suspect that they'll leave within a week or two, not to return until late May. So each glimpse of a hummingbird is especially noteworthy, since it might be my last for over half a year.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Today I finally started to get back in gear for the school year. I'm not there yet, but I'm getting there. It started in the morning. I was listening to Tiesto's In Search of Sunrise 5: Los Angeles on the way to school trying to get psyched for the day. It's one of the new CDs I bought in China and has been providing much inspiration lately. I was in the midst of JES's People Will Go and I spilled coffee on my pants. Then, as I was cleaning up the coffee (while still driving and listening to Tiesto) I spilled more coffee on my pants. Excellent. The good news is that I was wearing coffee-colored pants. Definitely in mid-season form.

Yesterday I gave a talk to incoming students. I think the talk went well, but I didn't really get to meet any of them; I just spoke to s room of around 100 students and then went on my way. But today I spent a bunch of time meeting new advisees and talking with lots of new students one-on-one about their course choices. It was fun and energizing to meet them and talk about thier past math experiences and their hopes for the future. It's a cliche, but it was a clear reminder of why I teach and why I teach at COA.

So today has been a good day. I'm still feeling behind in getting ready for the term, and I'm still just slightly in shock at being back in the US and back at COA. But I think I've turned the corner and am close to being psychologically ready for the new term.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Back in Maine

I am back in Maine and here to stay. I don't think I have any plans to travel until Thanksgiving. Doreen and I returned from Pennsylvania late Monday, a little less than a week ago. The trip was exhausting, but it was a good thing to have gone. I returned with a strange sinus cold or infection or something. Perhaps it's Pennsylvaniaitis. My sinus under my eye hurt, but only on the right side, and my right ear also hurt, and I generally felt sub-optimal. I was never super sick, but I was annoyingly not at full strength.

Anyway, I spent the week doing housework and errands and trying to deny that the school year is about to start and I have tons of work to do. In many ways it's been an excellent summer. But it ended quite abruptly. I was away from home and on the move from late June until around a week ago. It's been a bit of a whirlwind. All of a sudden it's over and it's time to unpack, settle in, and get ready for fall term.

So last week I was in a bit of a daze, not only because of Pennsylvaniaitis, but also because I just needed some time to readjust to life in Maine and get mentally ready for the new academic year. The weather has been absolutely beautiful, which hasn't made it any easier to focus on work. I did some work work, but mostly I did laundry andyardwork and cooked a lot. Friday Doreen and I went for a short kayak near our house, and I've also been on two short runs. It feels good to be getting exercise again. I hope I can keep it up during the school year.

Although classes don't start until Thursday, tomorrow is in many ways the first official day of school for me. I'm giving a welcome talk to entering students tomorrow at 1:00. It'll basically be the same talk I've given the last few years. Students seem to like it, so I figure there's no need to change it too much. I'll spend the rest of the day getting ready for classes, preparing handouts, and catching up oncorrespondence. I've done some prep for Linear Algebra, but there's still lots to do for my other classes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jardin des Tuileries

Below is a picture I took on Saturday at the Jardin des Tuileries, which is near the Louvre in Paris. It was a beautiful day and I took quite a few pictures. I was particularly pleased with how this picture came out. It's not great, but it's better than the terrible pictures that I usually take.

The weather was beautiful. It was cool and there were great clouds in the sky. The Parisians found it cold, but for me it was perfect.

Back in the USA

I've made it back from Paris and am home in Maine. It's good to be back. The country seems to have done ok in my absence. We didn't start any new wars and there were no major infrastructure malfunctions or bridge collapses. Not a bad week for the USA, I suppose.

It also wasn't a bad week for COA. We've been named the greenest college in the US by Grist. I'm not certain that we fully deserve the honor. (My office certainly isn't green; I have a horrible single-paned window so it's tremendously inefficient to heat in the winter, I don't have access to a double-sided printer, and I have a high Wattage incandescent bulb in one of my lights.) But it's still a nice honor. And COA certainly does an admirable job at both having a green campus and a green curriculum. Being "number one" is a little weird, though, as I think there are lots of other schools doing excellent and original green things, too.

I didn't have internet access for much of Friday and all of Saturday and Sunday, so I wasn't able to post any updates from Paris. And today I've got a ton of stuff to do before Doreen and I leave for a few days in Pennsylvania. I'll try to post more of an update later today or perhaps from Pennsylvania if I have time. But the short version is that the summer school I was lecturing at was quite fun, and I really enjoyed meeting some of the students. I also enjoyed spending time in Paris. In particular, on Saturday I had an awesome time. I went toMusee L'orangerie and then wandered all over Paris.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Brief Paris Update

I'm sitting outside at a cafe near the Jardin Luxembourg and the Luxembourg RER stop. It is an absolutely beautiful day. Crisp, partly cloudly, bright, almost cool. It's almost autumnal. I'm psyched. It would be a great day to wander around the city. Alas, I have my third marathon lecture later this afternoon.

I stayed up quite late preparing my talk for today. I think I have enough material to fill the three hours and fifteen minutes I'm supposed to talk for. The talks here are amazingly long; I don't know how the students handle it. It was fun preparing. I was energetic from some after-dinner coffee and I felt very productive.

Today I'm wearing a pair of linen pants that I had custom-made in Beijing. So far I'm quite pleased; they're very comfortable. And apparently they're at least somewhat stylish. Earlier this morning I was mistaken for a Parisian: some French dude asked me directions.

Yesterday was a day of felafel. After spending the morning working, I took a bus to Pletzel, a n old Jewish neighborhood in the Marais on the north bank of the Seine. There are great felafel shops there. I was very hungry, so I had two. I successfully asked for them without cabbage in French. A small but important victory. I then walked back to the Complex Systems Institute via Notre Dame. I had another felafel for dinner, this one from a place near the Institute. All three felafels were yummy. So it was an excellent food day.

Listening to a David Guetta mix while watching people walk by. Lots of tourists and lots of Parisians as well. A French couple is sitting at the table in front of me. They're both drinking smoothies and talking on their cell phones. A tour bus from Slovakia just drove by. I would like to spend a few hours here drinking coffee, listening to music, and watching people. But complex systems beckon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wednesday in Paris

Things continue to go fairly well in Paris. I've enjoyed being here, and I've especially liked meeting the students who are attending the school here. I wandered around the city a little bit yesterday and I remembered what a beautiful place Paris is. There are neat buildings everywhere, small streets, cafes and boulangeries, and it is almost serene compared to Beijing. Quite likely this is because half of Paris leaves the city in August. The city feels semi-deserted at times.

Nevertheless, I found myself feeling a little unsettled yesterday evening and this morning. All the travel I've done the last week is taking its toll. Jetlag (or just ordinary exhaustion) set in last night around 10:30, and I crashed pretty hard. I slept for a while, but I'm not sure it was great quality sleep. Toward morning I had some weird dreams. I only remember little snippets from them, but they were kinda odd and so I woke up in a strange mood. The cafe at Cite Universitaire where we have breakfast is closed, as it's a national holiday. I probably should have known this, but I wasn't sure so I walked over there anyway, hoping to get coffee, only to find all the doors locked. So the morning didn't start off ideally.

But now I am at a cafe listening to a David Guetta mix and enjoying a large, strong cup of coffee. So things are looking up. I'm amped up on coffee and music and making progress on my talks for tomorrow and Friday. I've got a lot of prep still to do, but I have a good sense of what I want to cover, so I'm not too worried. And the work that I do to prepare for the next few days will be helpful for a review article that I've agreed to write.

I hope later to have more time to explore and wander. But I feel like I should get more work done before I do so.

Monday, August 13, 2007

In Paris

Well, I've made it to Paris. My flight from Newark left a little late, but it actually arrived early. There were strong tailwinds. I got some pretty good sleep on the plane, although I was still a little groggy when I landed. Things were looking good, until my bag didn't appear. I left my information with a helpful Continental airlines person and headed toward Cite Universitaire, which is where I'm staying in Paris.

I found it without any difficulty. I'm staying at the Maison des Province de France building. The room is nothing special, but overall it's a pretty nice place. More about it tomorrow, when I'll try and post a few pictures. Right now I can't get the internet in my room to work, so I'll be posting this tomorrow when I can get online.

When I arrived I wasn't optimistic that I would see my bag any time soon, so I set off in search of a change of clothes. I had been wearing the same clothes for longer than I cared to think about, and the thought of having to lecture tomorrow in the same clothes I'd been wearing for the three previous days didn't excite me. I talked to a helpful person at the reception desk of the building I'm in and she gave me directions to a street where she thought there might be some clothing stores open.

I found a quite interesting store that had discount stylish t-shirt type things and button down shirts and shoes. Tres branche. Or at least maybe a little branche. I got two T-shirts which are weird and which I like and Doreen will probably dislike. I was psyched. There was a great radio station playing, which I later found out was 101.9, "fun radio." I'm listening to it now on my mp3 player. The format is Soul and Dance. I really like the stuff that they play. Some great French soul/hip-hop stuff a la Mc Solaar, and then some good dance and electro. It's unlike any station I've heard in the states, with the possible exception of a station in San Francisco, whose call letters I can't remember.

Thus far speaking French has been an adventure, but has gone ok. Except for the interaction at the airport where I needed to leave info to try and find my bag, I've tried to conduct every discussion in French. Often people switch automatically to English, but there have been some conversations that have been all in French. Actually, calling them "conversations" is a bit of a stretch. But there has been some successful communication. The woman downstairs doesn't seem to speak any English and we've had quite a few successful interactions: she gave me directions to the clothing store after I explained that my luggage hadn't arrived and that I really needed a shirt; I checked in and got my key; and later I asked her to turn on my phone and then she told me how to use it.

One of the challenges for me is to get over worrying about being correct. My goal isn't to say things right, but simply to be understood. E.g., I really need to figure out how to make a phone call so I can find my luggage. If I accomplish this task, then my communication has been a success, even if I've made dozens of grammar and pronunciation errors. In English, at least written English, I try to be really really careful about grammar and syntax. (I know this doesn't always some through on this blog.) So entering into a conversation in which I know I will make errors but I need to do it anyway doesn't come naturally.

It is now 11:20 pm local time. I am sitting on my bed at the Maison drinking a surprisingly good glass of red wine. It's "Art de Vivre" from the Roussillon region. It's a 2-Euro, small, screw-off bottle that I got at a supermarket this afternoon. I normally wouldn't get such a thing, but it's France, and the supermarket was a small little natural foods sort of place. It's quite drinkable. Nothing special, but nothing offensive, either. But this is fine, since it doesn't have any pretensions or illusions or grandeur. It seems comfortable with itself. It's not nimble or spry, but is quite solid.

Tomorrow, barring heinous jetlag, I'll get up kinda early and try and find the place where they serve breakfast here. Then I'll set off to the Institute de Systems Complex. The first set of lectures is at 9:00am. My lectures are in the afternoon. I think I've got most of Monday and Tuesday's lectures planned. Wednesday I have off, and then I lecture again on Thursday and Friday. I'll need to do some prep Tuesday night and Wednesday, but things are under control.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

More Travel Woes

Alas, I am not in Paris, but stuck in Newark. My 5:30pm flight from Bangor left the gate at 7:45pm and then stayed on the tarmac until 10:05. Not surprisingly I missed both evening flights to Paris. I then waited in line for over an hour to get rebooked on the next flight. Then it was a challenge to find a hotel. There are so many stranded passengers that all the nearby hotels are full. Eventually I found a place that was a 15 minute cab ride from the airport. Time to get some sleep. I've now spent two nights out of the last four stranded at NYC metro area airports.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Home, Ephemerally

I finally made it back home around 3:15pm on Wednesday. It is now late Friday morning and in a few hours I leave for the Bangor airport. If all goes well, I'll arrive in Paris at 9:55am local time, Saturday. Will try to post from France, although I'm not sure what the internet situation will be there. I'll also have quite a bit of work to do to prepare my talks, and I'll be jetlagged and will also want to explore Paris. In any event, here are a few assorted musings on my two days back in the U.S.

  • During my time in JFK, LGA, and Boston Logan I was struck by how overweight Americans are compared to Chinese. It was pretty amazing and a little alarming.

  • It's been great to be back in my own house, in my own comfy bed, and to see my cats, even if it's only been a few days. The weather has been great: sunny, clear, and cool. A wonderful change from Beijing. Hanging wash on the line is a delight.

  • Somebody just handed me the final copy of the entire Soul-crushing Document. I haven't had the courage to read it to see what silly things people added while I was away. I'll read it over later in August.

  • Last night I made sauce from scratch from locally grown tomatoes and made a nice salad. The lettuce for the salad was from our next-door neighbors, and the salad tomatoes were from our garden. I also sauteed up some Kale that our neighbors had given us. It was great to spend some time cooking. Preparing good food in my own kitchen is something that I really miss while traveling.

  • I had an insanely yummy Green Monster sandwich at the Morning Glory Bakery for lunch.

  • I'm looking forward to Paris, but I'm also looking forward to spending more time at home.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Not Home Yet

Note: This was written around 11am on Wednesday 8 August in Boston Logan International Airport.

I am not home yet. I have lost track of how long I've been traveling. I think about a day and a half. As I write this I am sitting in Logan airport in Boston, listening to Armin van Buuren's A State of Trance (Episode 306) so I don't have to listen to the airport radio which seems to be a tame assortment of pop hits from the 80s and 90s, interspersed with condescending reminders about how difficult it can be to recognize your luggage.

The trip started off fairly well. We took a cab to the airport, leaving at 10am Tuesday morning, Beijing time. There was traffic, but we made it in plenty of time and I was able to check in. I had a little bit of time in the gate. I purchased two tomato and mozzarella sandwiches from Starbucks, which turned out to be a very wise move. I might have starved on the flight without the extra food. I also purchased a Fuwa (friendly) T-shirt. It's orange and has Ying Ying, the smiling Tibetan antelope on it.

I boarded the plane and then was informed that there was an air traffic hold in Beijing, which meant we had to spend an hour on the tarmac before taking off. On the one hand, it's not that big a deal. The flight was already scheduled for 13 hours, so an additional hour is only a 7.7% increase in airplane time. On the other hand, the flight was already scheduled for 13 hours, so an additional hour was the last thing I needed.

The flight itself was fine. The food was edible, and I snacked on sandwiches so I wasn't hungry. I slept much of the time. I was quite tired, since I had only slept a few hours the night before. The plane arrived at JFK about 45 minutes late. Customs and immigration were fairly smooth, but my bag was one of the last ones off the plane, so it took a little while. It looked like I was going to make my connection, even though things were a little tight.

Then things started to go badly. I went to re-check my luggage on the other side of customs. They wouldn't take my bags, saying that my connection was too tight. (My plane to Boston was leaving in 45 minutes.) The Air China person said I should take my luggage to American Airlines, the carrier I was taking to Boston, and check in there with my luggage. I asked if this was really a good idea, and I was assured that it was. Ok. So I took my cart up an elevator over to the "air tram" shuttle and went from terminal 1 to terminal 9. I wheeled myself to the American counter where I had to wait in a fairly long line. At this point I had pretty much given up any hope of making my Boston flight, as the journey to the American desk took a while. While I was in line I was amused by a young dad and his three-year-old son. They were wearing matching brown converse sneakers, which I thought was quite cool. The dad was bi-lingual; French and English. I got to listen to some French and didn't understand too much. Doesn't bode well for my upcoming trip to Paris. I could understand words and a few phrases, but not too much beyond that.

Eventually I made it to the American Airlines counter where I explained my plight. The person at the counter was friendly and sympathetic, but she couldn't do anything for me since the original ticket was issued by Air China, and thus it was Air China's responsibility to to re-book me. She couldn't understand why Air China would send me to American, and she cheerfully hinted that the Air China person might not have known what she was talking about.

So I then did the journey in reverse, taking the Air Tram from terminal 9 back to terminal 1. Terminals 1-9 are in a loop. But because of how the tram is set up, I had to go the long way again. I.e., I visited terminals 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3,and 2 on the way to 1. So the trek was again a long one. I did get to look at many planes painted in different colors as I traversed the airport, and I listened to many different languages as other travelers got on and off the tram.

Back at terminal 1, I head to the Air China counter. Uh-oh. There is no Air China counter. Their last flight has checked in, and the Air China counter has turned into an Aeroflot counter. A disheveled Russian dude is thoroughly uninterested in my situation. So then I wander from counter to counter, trying to find someone who knows how to contact Air China. Most counter people were spectacularly unhelpful, although two people at the Air France counter at least seemed to care. They suggested that maybe I could find someone down at the baggage claim, perhaps at an Air China luggage desk. This was a good idea, but it seems that Air China doesn't have a luggage desk.

Before continuing my tale, an interlude about elevators and a plea to other travelers. I was pushing around (and around and around) a cart loaded with bags that were too heavy to carry far. I could carry them for a ways -- like from the curb to the check-in counter. But I wasn't prepared for this JFK Odyssey. So I was stuck using the cart. I had to change levels often, which means taking elevators. JFK is replete with escalators. There's no need to take an elevator if you don't have to. Nevertheless, lots of people without carts or strollers were taking the elevators, meaning that on a few occasions there was actually a line for the elevator or I couldn't fit my cart in the elevator because it was filled with people. People who should have been taking the escalators. The escalators are faster than elevators, and I'd think that for most they're much more fun. So please get your ass out of the elevator and take an escalator. It won't kill you.

Anyway, at this point I'm starting to wonder what to do. There is no number to call on my ticket. Directory assistance does not have a number for Air China. I tried calling Doreen. She should have just landed in Newark (we were traveling separately), and perhaps she would have some good ideas. She didn't answer her cell phone. I looked for some general information or a help desk and didn't see one. Finally I found some airport official luggage dude or something who said I should go to Lufthansa, since they handle Air China when Air China wasn't around. I thanked the man for his help, and wondered why this information was kept secret. A small sign somewhere pointing lost Air China travelers to Lufthansa might not be a bad idea, no?

So I found the ticket counter for Lufthansa and found an extremely helpful person. I think her name is Lisette Reyes. She understood the situation instantly and knew just what to do. She started re-booking me and called an Air China representative. We tried many permutations, but it didn't seem that there was any way to get me to Bar Harbor or Bangor that day. But there was a 6:00am flight to Boston out of LaGuardia which would then get me to Bar Harbor at 9:15am. Perfect.

Then the Air China person arrived. She really didn't want me to take that flight. She tried to convince me that it would be more convenient to wait at JFK and take a later flight to Boston that would have me in Bar Harbor at 3:15. I explained that actually I didn't think this was convenient. She disagreed. I explained that I thought I would be a better judge of what would be convenient for me than her. The she said that there is no way to get to LaGuardia from JFK that early. Really? There's not a single form of transportation running at 4am in New York? Finally she agreed, and I got a seat on the 6:00am flight out of LGA. Note to anyone from Lufthansa reading this: Lisette Reyes should be employee of the month or the year or should get a big raise. She rocks. Note to anyone from Air China who might be reading this: I'm not impressed with your staff at JFK.

Air China put me up in a Ramada Inn right next to JFK. The Ramada was an odd place. It was huge -- perhaps 300 rooms -- and so far as I can tell its clientele is exclusively stranded passengers and flight attendants. This gave the hotel a rather unsettled feel. But it was free, so it was fine. I had a meal voucher with which I got a pretty good veggie burger and enjoyed it while watching the Mets game in the bar area with a cold beer. Not exactly what I had in mind for my first meal back in the US, but things could have been worse.

I went to sleep pretty early and got a 3:15am wake-up call. I didn't have any clean shirts. But then I remembered by Fuwa purchase in the Beijing airport! So I showered, packed, put on my Ying Ying shirt and got a 4am cab to LGA. It was a humid morning and was drizzling a little. It was kinda hot in the airport and I worked up a bit of a sweat hauling my heavy bags to the check-in counter. I noted on the scale at the check-in counter that my large backpack was around 50 pounds. (In part this is because I was hauling a lot of documents and papers for Doreen.)

Slightly sticky and warm, I went through security. I didn't set the alarm off, but I was nevertheless selected for additional screening. I assumed the Christ-like position and readied myself to be wanded. Nope. I was going to be subjected to a pat-down search. Great. It was a struggle, but I maintained my composure while the TSA man pressed my nice new cotton shirt against my warm back and chest. When he was done, I peeled the shirt off my skin, restoring a slightly refreshing layer of air between me and my clothes. I put on my shoes and headed to my gate.

We boarded a little before 6:00 am. I noticed that it was raining harder outside. Then I noticed lightning. Uh-oh. Then more lightning and then thunder and then rain smacking noisily against the side of the plane. We stayed at the gate. Then they had people from the 7:00am shuttle start to board our plane. At 7:15 the storm had mostly passed by, and we pushed back. But then there was a ground control hold because of weather in Boston. So we waited. And waited.

As if to mock me, there was a long feature on Chattanooga in the USAir magazine. It was filled with enthusiastic, peppy prose about how wonderful the city is. Needless to say, there were several mentions of the stupid aquarium. I lived in Chattanooga from 1991 to 1993. Although I have some good memories, much bitterness remains, especially toward the aquarium. Everyone in the city was thrilled about the aquarium, which opened in 1992. It was a point of civic pride and evidence of a city on the rise. For me, a large building filled with fish did nothing to improve my quality of life.

While I was reading about Chattanooga they turned up the air conditioning full blast. The result was a full-scale fog machine effect. The air was so humid that water condensed into fog in the air ducts. It was pretty cool -- definitely appropriate for the music I was listening to. The lightning outside also contributed to a slightly psychedelic effect. Some of the businessmen sitting around me looked slightly confused and or annoyed. I enjoyed it.

But I didn't enjoy hearing that our flight was canceled. We rolled back to the gate and sullenly filed off. It was now around 8:00am and I had spent two hours in the plane. I was re-booked on the 8:00am flight, which was delayed and was going to leave around 8:50? Why was it delayed? Because the plane hadn't arrived from Boston yet. I was stupefied. Why not take the plane that we were sitting on to Boston? It seemed perfectly fine. It was poised to go to Boston before. Why make everyone get off and then wait for another plane to go to Boston? But I thought it best not to bring this up, so I dutifully accepted my re-re-booking for the 8:00 flight.

The flight actually left the gate around 9:20, and we then spent at least a half hour on the ground before taking off. There was some fog in the plane, but not as much as before. I read the New York Times, which was mostly depressing news about people dying in Iraq and Newark. I also read a short item which said that Thai police officers who are caught breaking rules are going to be made to wear a pink Hello Kitty armband as a punishment. The Thai police spokesman said that Hello Kitty is fun, but that it would embarrass the macho police officers who would have to wear it, and so it would be an effective deterrent. The world is an interesting place, eh? I wonder if parents will start making their girls who misbehave wear Thai policeman armbands. Personally, I'd much rather dress up like Hello Kitty than a Thai policeman.

As noted above, I am now in Boston in the midst of a three and a half layover. I believe that the airplane destined for Bar Harbor has just pulled up at the gate. With any luck, I will be in Maine in a little more than an hour.

Update: One more frustration. When I first got off the plane in Boston I went to see if I could get on an earlier flight to Bar Harbor. There was a flight (that had been delayed) that was leaving in around half an hour. They wouldn't let me take the flight. There were seats available, but they said that my luggage wouldn't make it. I said that I'd pick my luggage up later if it was on a subsequent flight. They wouldn't do it because apparently I had to travel with my luggage on the flight. Fine. So I spent three hours in Boston. When I finally arrived, I had a slight panic attack, because I didn't see my luggage get off the plane. Turns out the my luggage did make it on the earlier flight, and hence I could have avoided sitting in Boston for three hours. Arg.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Less than 12 hours

I leave China in slightly less than 12 hours. I'm currently in the midst of packing. I think it will all fit, but I've accumulated quite a few odds and ends -- books, CDs, DVDs, T-shirts, and so on -- and it will be a little bit of a challenge. Doreen has also acquired a ton of papers from her trips to Hong Kong, Manila, Delhi, and Bangalore, and it has fallen to me to carry them. Right now it's looking like my bags will be very heavy, but that everything will fit.

The last three summers Doreen and I traveled around China for around three weeks after my summer school work was done. This year we're heading straight home. We had hoped to have a quiet month together in Maine and travel up to Quebec to kayak with the whales. For a variety of reasons -- some good and some bad -- we won't be able to do so. But we've had a nice few days in Beijing, relaxing and hanging out. And we will get to spend some time together in Maine before school starts and before Doreen jets off to Europe. She has a sabbatical from COA in the fall, so she'll be away much of the time.

We are celebrating our last night in Beijing by sharing a bottle of red wine and packing. The wine is Suntime Manes Dry Red Wine. It was chosen by the summer school's official sommelier, Professor Henry Wright. He ranks it as one of the better Chinese reds he's had. The reviews from Professor Doreen Stabinsky are somewhat mixed: "It tastes like grapes." "I'm glad we didn't waste space in our luggage bringing this home." And, "It's actually not bad. It tastes pretty good, just not like wine." I'm finding it fine. Not great, but good enough for a long night of packing.

I will try to post more Beijing thoughts when I get back to Maine. Right now I should turn my attention to packing and wine.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Getting Ready to Leave

It's Sunday night in Beijing and I leave Tuesday in the early afternoon. So my month or so in China is winding down. It's somehow hard to believe. I've spent much of the evening trying to think about mentally shifting from SFI/Summer School mode back to Maine and then back to COA. It's time to start thinking, even if only a little, about classes and other fall term stuff. I don't have a lot of preparation to do, per se. I've taught the classes before and am pretty much ready to go. But it takes me a while sometimes to get mentally psyched and ready for a new term, especially in a fall after a summer with good and different adventures.

The CSSS crowd has pretty much cleared out. My two closest SFI colleagues are gone, as are almost all the students. It feels oddly quiet and a little lonely. Tomorrow I'll have a bunch of packing to do and emails to send and a few loose ends to tie up. Today, Doreen and I went to a big flea market sort of place south east of Tienanmen. We didn't get much, but it was a fun trip. It was tiring, however. The air today was terrible, and even though it wasn't that hot, the day took a lot out of me. I had hoped to get some work done this evening, but I haven't really had the energy to focus. So I've spent the time reading blogs and then writing this not very interesting post.

It seems like at least half of the bloggers that I read are moving this month. Perhaps this is why I'm feeling a little unsettled -- I've just spent around an hour reading lots of unsettled blog entries. In academia, I suppose that August is the big moving month. Looking back, I realize that since I graduated college in June of 1991, I've moved in August of 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001. Moving can be hard; it's tiring and costly and potentially stressful. It's hard to believe that it's been over five years since my last move; the memories of moving are still quite vivid.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Two Lists

I will leave China in five days, and I have very mixed feelings.

Things I'm looking forward to at home:

  • My bed.
  • My cats.
  • Insanely strong coffee and good bread, warm with olive oil for breakfast.
  • Cool weather.
  • Friends and colleagues in Maine.
  • Cooking yummy food while listening to loud music.
  • Quiet Maine nights.

Things I will miss about Beijing:

  • Good Chinese food, especially eggplant. I've never even come close to cooking eggplant so it tastes like it does in China.
  • Clubs that play music that I like.
  • The local coffee shop where the staff cheerfully greets me with a chorus of "good morning" no matter what time of day it is.
  • Some great friends that I've made over the last two years.
  • The excitement of living in a city of 16 million people.
  • Eating pizza and cupcakes with chopsticks.
  • The inspiration I draw from working with and being around so many smart, creative, and kind people at the summer school.
  • The sense of adventure and possibility associated with almost everything here.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Update from China

I had great intentions to post regular updates from China. Alas, that seems not to have happened. I don't quite have the energy for a post containing actual paragraphs. So instead some random bullets will have to do:
  • The Complex Systems Summer School has been going quite well so far as I can tell. Student presentations are Thursday and Friday, and I'm eager to see how they turn out.
  • I've been having a great time in Beijing. Perhaps too good a time. It will be hard to leave. I've become very good friends with some of the staff and faculty here.
  • I will be speaking at the ICS PIF Summer School 2007 in Paris, France the week of 11 August. I will give an expanded version of the lectures I gave this year in China. It will be fun working on the lectures, and I'm very much looking forward to going to Paris.
  • I'm hoping to turn my Paris lectures into a review article. I'm not exactly sure when I'll have time to do this, but it's definitely something that I want to do.
  • I feel extremely lucky to be able to spend time in Beijing and Paris this summer. It is a nice counterbalance to living in a small town. I love living in rural/coastal Maine, but I definitely miss city things.
  • I'm not sure, but I believe that my colleagues back at COA have finalized the soul-crushing document. I suspect that it has crushed other souls in addition to mine. Overall, I think that we made the process of writing the document much more painful than it had to be. I'm a little frightened to read the final version. I fear it will make me simultaneously mad and sad. I'll read it eventually, but I'm in no rush.
  • It is very hot in Beijing and the smog is incredible. Usually the light is so diffuse there are no shadows. I was up at dawn the other day and the sun had just risen and it was light, but I couldn't tell which way was east, because I couldn't see the sun through the smog and haze and humidity.
  • I am currently infatuated with The Friendlies. They are also known as Fuwa. I like them.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Map of the Neighborhood

Yesterday and today I spent a while making a map with Google of the neighborhood in Beijing around the Chinese Academy of Sciences. I'm not certain if the link will work, but here it is. Google doesn't do streets for China, so this is just a satellite view. (If when you initially click on the link you don't see anything on the map, click on satellite and then you'll see a very impressive satellite of the city. The resolution for Beijing is quite good, so you can zoom in a lot.

The large cluster of blue markers is the CAS neighborhood. I added links to the forbidden city and Tiananmen Square for reference. Also, on the upper left I've indicated the location of the Fragrant Villa, which is where we held the first week of the school.

I've found this satellite map to be very useful for orienting myself in Beijing. And it's also just cool. I'm amazed at the resolution. I'm not sure if this will be of much interest if you're not currently at the CSSS. The overhead view doesn't really give a sense of what it's like to be on the ground. But nevertheless, this map does a pretty good job of conveying the overall scale of Beijing, which is almost unthinkably immense.

Although Beijing is busy and bustling, the campus of the CAS is relatively quiet. There are many dragonflies buzzing around the large open area in the middle. Sometimes sparrows chase the dragonflies. And at night there are bats.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Beijing Update

It is Sunday here in China and the first week of the of the CSSS is done. The school has moved from the Fragrant Villa, on the edge of Beijing, to the campus of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the Haidian district. In this area are several major universities in addition to the Chinese Academy.

I think that the first week went well. I was pleased with how my lectures went, especially the ones on Thursday and Friday, which contained some new material. The students seem to be doing a good job of forming groups for their projects. On balance it was a pretty fun week. And now that my lectures are over I should have more time to enjoy Beijing and the other lecturers and to hang out with the students and other faculty. Beijing is a great city. The food is fantastic, and there's tons to see and explore and do.

The weather has been hot and smoggy, but it's actually slightly better than I remember last year. I don't know if it's just luck or if there has actually been some progress made on improving the air quality. I suspect the former.

Doreen arrived Friday evening after an epic two-day journey from the Amazon. She'll be here until approximately Wednesday, at which point she embarks on a tour of large Asian cities: Hong Kong, Manilla, Dehli, and then back to Beijing on or around August 2. We'll then have a few days together in Beijing. We both leave for the U.S. on the 7th.

Friday, July 06, 2007

In Beijing

I've made it to Beijing. I'm currently sitting in the new Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics which is on the campus of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). It's a very nice new building. It just opened up in March, I believe. We will have our CSSS classes here during weeks two-four of the school. I'm staying at CAS for a few days, and then we head out to Fragrant Villa, a "resort" of sorts on the edge of the city where we'll be for the first week.

My flight to Beijing was long and largely uneventful. There was a pigeon wandering around inside the terminal at JFK airport, which I thought was kinda cool. The pigeon seemed quite at home.
I slept most of the way on the long flight from New York to China.

Beijing is hot and smoggy, just like I remember it. It's good to be back. The CAS and its surrounding neighborhood feel much more familiar than I had expected. There's an element of returning home that I didn't quite expect. Walking around the neighborhood today was nice, albeit very hot and sticky.

Right now it appears that I'll be able to post to my blog, but that I can't read any blogs on This is annoying, but I'm not sure that there's anything I can do. Wikipedia is no longer blocked, at least for now. Last summer wiki was blocked and I couldn't post to my blog at all.

Time for me to get to work. I have a bunch of prep still to do for my lectures next week as well as some logistical stuff I need to work on.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Heading to Beijing

In around eight hours I leave for a five week trip to Beijing. As I did last year, I'll be co-directing the Complex Systems Summer School (CSSS) organized by the Santa Fe Institute, and hosted at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Although I don't feel even remotely ready, I'm glad to be going. The CSSS will be very interesting and great fun.

This year has been very draining on a lot of different fronts. When I step out of the terminal into the hot, smoggy Beijing air I'll know that the year is behind me. (Tomorrow the high in Beijing is supposed to be 92 degrees and the low 87.) I've worked hard the last three days to finish up lots of 06-07COA stuff. The academic year will really be over when I venture out into Beijing about 30hours from now.

Assuming that is no longer blocked from China, I should be able to post pretty regularly while I'm away.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

An inconvenient distinction

Can you distinguish between the writing of Al Gore and the writing of the unabomber? Take the quiz. I didn't do very well. It's interesting, though. They're surprisingly similar. The unabomber, however, is a much better mathematician.

(Via George Borjas.)

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Term Ends

The term is finally over and I'm currently in Montreal. Graduation was Saturday, and Doreen and I drove here yesterday. She has three days of meetings, so I have three days of hanging out.

I'm currently at Cafe Pi grading calculus problem sets. I've got a huge pile of physics and calculus grading to do, and then many narrative evaluations to write. When I return, I need to do battle one final time with the soul-crushing document. And then I'll finally be more or less free from this academic year. I'll have a few short reports to write, but that will be it.

The end of the term has been busy, and I've been mentally and physically fatigued. It's possible now that the year is over I'll return to semi-regular posting.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Perfect Universal Truths

I've not been very good about posting anything lately. We're in the last couple of weeks of the year and I'm feeling behind in everything, so posting has been a low priority. As I get caught up I hope to return to posting at least semi-regularly. In the meantime, a few odds and ends:

  • One of the great aspects of being a math teacher, from the always excellent xkcd.

  • We use a lot of bay leaves when cooking and we seem to have been going through those little bottles of Frontier bay leaves quite quickly. So for some reason we ordered a pound of bay leaves in bulk from our co-op. I'm not sure this was smart. A pound of bay leaves is a lot. Picture a large paper grocery bag filled a third of the way to the top with bay leaves.

  • The hallway outside my office has been painted in bright Easter colors: yellow walls with purple trim. It's a long story....

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Miscellaneous Amusements

I've been too busy and frantic to write a real update for a while, and my schedule doesn't look to be getting any better the next week. So, in lieu of a real post, here are some assorted amusements:

Saturday, April 28, 2007


The Educational Jargon Generator looks like a potentially quite useful tool. This weekend I have to re-visit and edit the soul crushing document about which I've lamented previously. The jargon generator should help me come up with spiffy-sounding phrases that our accrediting body will surely love:

  • target strategic applications

  • disaggregate meaning-centered education

  • embrace hands-on competencies

  • streamline synergistic units

The list is endless. (Actually, it's not technically endless. I calculate that there are 204,750 possible phrases. This should be plenty.)

[Via Casing Out Nines]

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Miscellaneous Sunday Stuff

A few random Sunday evening things:

  • This afternoon I participated in a panel for parents of accepted students who were visiting campus. It was fun; I enjoy talking with parents aboutCOA.

  • Also this weekend was the spring meeting of our board of trustees. The meetings went fairly well, although some of the meetings seemed a little random.

  • A student sent out today a link to an eagle cam, a webcam with live images of an active eagle next. It's kinda cool. The eagles even have their own blog. Wing Goodale, the author of the blog, is a graduate of COA's small Masters program.

  • We're bracing for the N'oreaster that is sloshing up the East coast. The next few days look to be very windy and rainy. So the weather will be a little but unpleasant, but the rain will almost surely wash away almost all of the snow that is still around. Hopefully we'll be hearing spring peepers soon and my tulips, which have been in a snowbank for a while, will be able to start growing again.

  • I dealt with 173 email messages today and sent 46.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Monday Procrastination

Having some fun with the Monster Name Decoder.

Fearsome, Evil, Livestock-Devouring, Maiden-Abducting Nightmare

Sinister, Townsfolk-Abducting, Baby-Injuring Nightmare from the Sunless Knobby Yonder

Maybe I should get back to grading and some of the millions of memos that I need to write.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Snow Day

We ended up getting over a foot of wet, heavy snow. And it's not over yet; it's still snowing fairly hard. All classes were cancelled today. It'll be a big mess when it melts, which might be quite soon. But for now, at least, it's beautiful outside. Above and below are a few pictures of the snow. I've already spent a while shoveling this morning. I have quite a bit of work to do before out cars are free.

There are lots of birds at our feeders today: probably a few dozen juncos, and bunches of goldfinches, pine siskins, chickadees, a nuthatch, a morning dove, some sparrows, and at least one house finch. It's quite a feeding frenzy. We also saw a stray (semi-feral?) cat in our backyard. Doreen has seen him before, but it was the first time for me. He's fluffy and is mostly white with a little bit of calico. He wasn't having an easy time getting around in the deep snow. We don't know who he belongs to, nor do our two nearest neighbors. The cat is quite skittish. We put some food for him under the barn. Hopefully he'll eat the cat food and not one of the birds.

There are also squirrels prancing around in the snow. Below is a picture of a rather stylish red squirrel, who has been having fun digging tunnels in the snow.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Snow and Ice Cream

On Monday we had a few inches of snow. It seems that it always snows once in April, so I figured it was good to get it out of the way early. It was quite pretty, and since it had been sunny and relatively warm the week before, it didn't seem like a big deal. The roads were pretty slippery in the evening, though. Doreen didn't quite make it all the way up a big hill on the way home. Fortunately, some nice Maine guy with a truck helped her out. After getting to the top of the hill with the help of the truck, she parked her car (she was right new the park headquarters) and called me on her cell phone. I drove and picked her up and we went home together. Her car doesn't have snow tires, and mine does, so mine is much better in slippery conditions.

Anyway, it is now Wednesday night. The last several days have been quite tiring. My classes are keeping me busy, and there's a bunch of administrative work right now. And ... it's now snowing again. I drove home in a moderately heavy snowstorm. There was already around an inch of snow on the ground. It was kinda odd driving home in the second snowstorm of April while alternating between listening to the Mets game and reggae on WERU.

We're supposed to get between five and nine inches. Some ice, sleet, and rain should be mixed in as well. Could be a bit of a mess. (Note to any prospective students who might be reading this blog: significant snowstorms in April are unusual.) But I like snow, even in April. I certainly prefer snow to cold rain.

I ended up getting home around 9:15pm. It was a long day; I arrived on campus at 8:30am. I was tired, and Doreen and I were both hungry. So, I made ice cream and brownies. The brownies were from a mix. The ice cream was from scratch. Making ice cream is ridiculously easy now that we have an ice cream maker.

So, it is snowing out, it is the middle of the second week of the term, a snow plow just drove by, I am tired and enjoying my classes, and I just ate fresh ice cream and brownies. The Daily Show tonight is a re-run that we've already seen. Thus, I think it's time to read some calculus and go to sleep.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Various Signs of Spring

A few signs of spring, and other thoughts:

  • I have finished my grades from Winter term. My narrative evaluations are done, although I still need to proofread them. I'll do this in the morning.

  • I saw at least a dozen robins on campus today.

  • For the first time today I saw juncos underneath our bird feeder at home. Also this week, goldfinches and sparrows have arrived.

  • It's supposed to snow tomorrow. Not much, though -- only an inch or so, along with some rain. My guess is it'll just be dreary and sleety for a bit. The last few days have been beautiful and sunny, so a little bit of sleet isn't that big a deal.

  • It's only the second week of Spring term, and I'm more exhausted than I want to be. I hope
    week two is easier than week one.

  • I proofread a colleague's grant proposal today. It was fun. I kinda like proofreading and copy-editing, especially when it's not my writing.

  • I dealt with 104 email messages today.

Monday, March 26, 2007

First day of the term

The first day of Spring term has arrived. It's a chilly out, but still fairly spring-like. It's a little misty, and the air almost smells like the ocean. In around two hours I'll teach my first class, Calculus II. Should be fun.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Reviewing Applications

The past month I've spent a lot of time reviewing applications of various sorts. I'm on COA's admission committee, so I've read probably at least 150 undergraduate admission applications. Also, I've read many student applications in my role as co-director for the Santa Fe Institute's Complex Systems Summer School (CSSS). I was the main reader for around fifty applications, and in making the final selections I looked over at least fifty more. (Note to CSSS applicants who may find this blog: expect to hear from us about whether or not you've been accepted by the end of the day Monday.) I'm also chairing a search committee for a one-term visiting faculty member in ethnography. This has entailed around 40 applications. And I'm on the selection committee for two internal COA scholarships.

The net result is that I've read a great many application letters, CVs, personal statements, and so on. It's been a little surreal. One thing that is odd is that the applicants I've been reading are at very different stages in their academic lives. COA applicants are mostly still in high school. The CSSS applicants are mostly in the middle of grad school. The scholarship applicants are in the middle of their undergrad work. And the faculty applicants range from ABDs to seasoned teachers and researchers.

It's odd to think about how many judgements I've had to make the last month. I've gotten used to this, as I've been on the admission committee for a number of years and have also served on several search committees and the like. But as I pause to reflect on it cumulatively, it's somehow strange thinking that I've basically given a yes or no response to around 350 various applications over the last month. Conservatively, I probably spend an average of five minutes reading an application. (Often it's much more.) This adds up to almost thirty hours spent reviewing applications. Or, assuming an 8-hour workday, this is 3.75 days of work.

Anyway, nobody asked me, but after doing all this application reading, I have a few words of advice for applicants.

  1. Don't leave any mysteries unexplained. If there is something unusual--a few F's, you've changed high schools (or graduate schools) several times, there is a large gap in your work history--provide an explanation. Otherwise, it's too easy for readers to imagine the worst. For example, perhaps you changed schools several times because your parents or your spouse had to relocate for professional reasons. No big deal. But if you don't mention this, the selection committee will start wondering if you got kicked out of the school for some reason, of if you have a drug habit, or if you are incapable of staying put. I've seen this happen often: there's something unusual in an application and the committee engages in all sorts of speculation. Sometimes the speculation is positive, sometimes not.

  2. Spell check. I'm not the sort of person who is going to flip out if there are a few typos in an application. This happens to everyone. But typos that could have been caught by a spell-checker are bad. They really don't reflect well on an applicant. And in general ...

  3. At least act like you care. You won't do yourself any favors with one or two sentence answers to essay questions, even if those sentences are clever and neatly typed.

  4. In most circumstances, it's not helpful to send material that wasn't asked for in the application. Usually, sending unsolicited materials only tells the committee that you're not good at reading directions.

Finally, a few positive comments:

  1. The vast majority of applications that I've read this year have been extremely well done. I'm genuinely amazed at how many applications I've seen form really smart, creative, and engaged people.

  2. I really appreciate, this year more than ever, applicants who take the time to make their applications clear and concise.

  3. I also really appreciate good letters of recommendation. I've written close to 100 letters of recommendation since coming to COA, and I know that writing thoughtful, informative letters takes time. Such letters can make a difference, especially for the applicants that are in the middle. For the super strong and the clearly unprepared, the letters don't matter much. But for the rest, I think the letters can matter a lot.

This has turned into a much longer entry than I had anticipated, and I have no idea how to conclude. But I'm tired of writing, so I think I'll just stop, and not attempt a conclusion.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Back in Maine

I'm back in Maine. Today has been a semi-frantic day of emails and phone calls and meetings. Despite much activity and effort, it feels like the net result has been negative--that I'm actually further behind than I was before. Some things that I thought were complete have been somewhat undone by others. It's frustrating, but that's life, I suppose.

Despite a difficult day, it's great to be back home. The cats seem happy to see me, and it's nice to sleep in my own bed. Thursday was gray and chilly, but today it was sunny and in the upper 50's. The snow is mostly melted, and there is hope for spring.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Philadelphia Airport Blogging

I'm currently in the Philadelphia international airport, in the middle of a five-hour layover. My flight from Amsterdam was uneventful. The seat next to me was empty, so I was able to stretch out. I did some reading, took a few naps, listened to some music, and tried to do a mini "core dump" of all the different things I need to be working on over the next few weeks. My list got to around 70, and I'm sure that I'm not close to having captured everything. The core-dump was pretty productive. Although it's scary thinking about all I need to do, it's scarier to not core-dump and spend my days worried about all that I need to do instead of actually doing it.

I'm in the walkway outside one of those airport malls. Specifically, I'm across from a TGI Friday's, sitting on the floor next to a power outlet. It's actually more comfortable for me to sit on the floor than in a chair when I'm working on my laptop. Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Want to Have Fun is wafting out of the TGIF's. I've always liked the song. It came out in 1983, when I was 14. And 23 years later it's being played in restaurant chains in airports, and I still like it.

My last day in Amsterdam was fun. I'll blog about it in a separate entry.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Last day in Amsterdam

Today is my last day in Amsterdam. Tomorrow I fly back home to Maine. It's been a nice week here--pleasantly lazy and relaxing. I like Amsterdam a lot and hope to return in the not too distant future. Doreen travels to Amsterdam fairly frequently, so I'll probably be able to tag along on some future trip.

As is almost always the case for me at the end of a trip, I'm simultaneously disappointed to be leaving and looking forward to being home. It will be nice to be back in my own bed and to see the cats and to get ready for spring term. Spring has the potential to be amazingly busy, as I'm teaching two classes and have a bunch of administrative tasks to attend to. I think the mini-vacation here has done me good. I don't feel completely rejuvenated, but my batteries have recharged significantly.

Off to get some falafel and wander around the city some. It was raining earlier, but it appears to have stopped. Later I'll meet Doreen, and if we have time we'll go to the Van Gogh museum.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Culinary Amsterdam Update

Some further Amsterdam tidbits, with a mostly culinary theme.

  • The falafel place that I like so much is Maoz, which is a small chain. They started in the Netherlands and now have a few dozen branches, including three in the US. The falafel is excellent, and there's a great self-serve bar with all sorts of tasty fixings and sauces that you can put on the falafel. I will head there shortly.

  • Yesterday Doreen and I had dinner at Indrapura, an Indonesian restaurant on rembrantplein. We order vegetarian rijsttafel, or rice table. It's a bowl of rice and then small plates with all sorts of tasty things to put in the rice: various tofu concoctions and veggies in curry and lots of other things. It's a bit a spectacle--like a bento box gone wild. The food arrives in many small containers that are arrayed all over the table. All in all, it was a seriously good meal.

  • At a pub yesterday I had La Chouffe ale. It was amazing--among the best beer I've ever had. It's like a subtler version of some of the over-the-top unibroue beers from Quebec.

I've had some excellent Thai food and some mediocre dutch sorts of things. Breakfast at the hotel is unremarkable, but it does provide sufficient nourishment and caffeine so I can make it to a cafe for some good coffee.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Amsterdam Tidbits

I'm still in Amsterdam, enjoying the city and wandering around. I've been doing a little bit of work, but mostly I've been trying to give myself a break. A few assorted observations and vignettes, in a bulleted list so I don't have to try and connect paragraphs:

  1. Apparently it's standard practice in the Netherlands to put choc late sprinkles on toast. The chocolate sprinkles have some long Dutch name, but I'm not fooled: they're just chocolate sprinkles, like one would find at a Dairy Queen. I tried them on my toast, and it didn't do much for me.

  2. As I mentioned in a previous post, I went for a short (and slow) run in Vondlepark a few days ago. While running I saw parrots! At first I thought I must be mistaken. But I mentioned the parrot sightings to Doreen and she confirmed that there is indeed a colony of parrots that is established in Vondlepark. Apparently there is also a parrot colony somewhere in Belgium. Good for the parrots; I'm glad they've escaped captivity and are doing ok.

  3. Also on my Vondlepark run I saw someone who looked spookily like my brother. It was kinda bizarre.

  4. I discovered last night that it's possible to get falafel after 4AM. This is definitely a sign of an advanced civilization. I also discovered that 4AM falafel is super yummy.