Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chilling Out

For the first time in our long winter break, I feel like I'm actually on break. Between grading, writing evaluations, pushing very hard on a writing project, and also writing a grant, I've been keeping busy. Doreen and I went away for a few days before Christmas, but I had work with me and although it was a nice change of pace, it didn't quite feel like a break. I now have a few days to chill out before winter term starts. I've still got stuff to do, of course, but I feel like I can let up for a little bit.

Currently I'm enjoying an insanely good beer while watching the cats try and get into trouble. The woodstove is hot, and while the house isn't exactly warm, it is rather cozy.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Sounds like the Copenhagen summit has ended very badly. This video from the American Natural History Museum seems like a fitting elegy.

If you have a fast enough computer, watch it in full-screen mode by clicking in lower right.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Op-ed and Depressing Comments

Doreen and a COA student have an op-ed piece in the Bangor Daily News today about the Copenhagen climate negotiations. The comments on the piece make for interesting—and depressing—reading. The venom and animus is alarming. It's not surprising, it seems to happen on every article about climate change these days. E.g., here and here. It's rather disheartening.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Sudden Transition

In just a few days it seems to have gone from early fall to mid winter. Four or five days ago it was almost 60 degrees. Saturday night we got around 8 inches of snow. Today it was all winter. Grey, cold, and snow on the ground. We got a little more snow tonight. And it gets dark really early. Winter is definitely here. We've transition to the time of the year when we need to consistently maintain a fire in the woodstove, and the parts of the house away from the stove are always a little chilly.

I'm almost done with writing evaluations from fall term. Then I can focus solely on writing projects for the next few weeks. I'll be glad to have the time to work on other things.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Random Tidbits

  • There is a house in Bar Harbor that already has Christmas lights up. Is this really necessary?
  • A few days ago when driving home past the dumb Christmas lights house I heard a part of a story on NPR about a new CD of Norwegian lute music. The commentator gushingly said that the music was classical, but also sort of jazzy. I changed the station.
  • I've made unusually good progress on grading. I'm basically done with my physics grading, which is good. I have three Calc III problem sets left to grade, but I think this won't take too long, since the class is kinda small.
  • The list of things I need to get done the next few weeks is frighteningly large.
  • Today was remarkably frustrating in some ways. I spent a good chunk of time dealing with really stupid stuff. Hopefully tomorrow will be better. I'm not optimistic.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fall Term Ends

Today was the end of our fall term. I'm glad it's over, although it's always a little sad to say good bye to a class.. I'm tired and weary. For a number of reasons this term was much more draining than most. A break will be good. In many ways I have more work to do over break than I did during the term. So perhaps it's more of a change of pace than a break. But nevertheless, I'm looking forward to it.

Had a nice, relaxing meal with Doreen at the Side Street Cafe this evening. It was a nice way to end the term. The food was quite good. Now at home and too exhausted to do much of anything. I'm looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Late Afternoon

I went for a run late this afternoon at Little Long Pond. I almost didn't go. It had been a rainy weekend and I hadn't had super productive day. So I thought about staying home and continuing to work on grading. But I decided to go. Definitely the right decision. Little long pond was just incredibly beautiful. It's always a nice spot, but today was different. The late afternoon winter light was great and there was amazing mist hanging still over the pond. The day was warm almost like summertime, but the light was low and wintry. It was incredible.

I had received sad news earlier in the day. Someone I got to know in China a few years ago is terminally ill. He's far too young -- it's hard to make sense of it. It's a really stupid cliche, but thinking of him while running made the day even more precious. It was just starting to get dark as I finished up. A few hundred meters before the end of the run I could suddenly smell the salty ocean. It hit me all at once; the smell was fantastic.

I'm now at home, moving slowly through yet another pile of grading. Listening to Miles and Trane and trying to get ready for the week.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dulce et Decorum Est

For veteran's day, the final stanza of Wilfred Owen's poem Dulce et Decorum Est:

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The translation of the Latin is: It is sweet and right to die for one's country.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Letters of Recommendation

The season of writing letters of recommendation has begun. I did my first one last week, and already have a bunch more in the queue. There will be a flurry in December and early January, when most graduate school applications are due, and then another flurry in January and February, when undergrad research internship applications are due.

I wrote some stuff about letters of recommendation for students. If there anything I should add, from either the point of view of the recommender or the person being recommended? If so, please leave a comment or drop me an email.

I'm trying to put together some pages with advice and links for students. The letter of recommendation page is just the first step. I'm going to try and write some about undergraduate science internships and research experiences later this week.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Disappointed in Maine

In a close vote, Maine voted to repeal a law granting same-sex couples the right to marriage. It is disappointing and disheartening. The path to justice is not easy. Progress is not inevitable.

I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs. Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future. ... When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.
Martin Luther King Jr., "Where Do We Go From Here?" (1967)

I see a tremendous creative force in students and friends here at COA. And although today seems dark, I have faith that their light will continue to shine. As my friend Suzanne often points out, disappointment is powerful. It means you've found something you care about. Disappointment has much to teach us, if we let it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Milky Future

Buying half and half gives me a glimpse into the future. I always look at the expiration date when I make my selection. The carton I got today expires Dec 2. Difficult to believe.

We're in the time of year when autumn moves in fast. Every day it seems to get dark noticeably earlier than the day before. The leaves are falling off the trees, and the town is getting emptier and emptier. Nevertheless, dairy products that expire in December still are a shock.

Friday, October 23, 2009


  • Listening to Armin van Buuren's "A State of Trance" 427 at head-splitting volume. Fantastic. Just what I need.
  • I need to have a big weekend of grading. If I can get reasonably caught up, the next several weeks might be bearable in terms of work.
  • Had a very nice meal at Mache Bistro tonight. I hadn't been there since they got a new chef a few years ago. It was quite good. Certainly better than I remembered it being before.
  • This post is going nowhere. Perhaps I'm more brain-dead than I thought. I hope I get a good night's sleep tonight. I need it.

Friday, October 16, 2009


A student asked me recently why I haven't been blogging so much of late. I'm not really sure why. There's probably not a single reason. But one factor is that I've spent an enormous amount of time writing grants lately. In the last month or so I've submitted three grants. One is a proposal to the National Science Foundation to support the Beijing Complex Systems Summer School that I help to organize. (This is with the Santa Fe Institute, not College of the Atlantic.) The other two grants were each for around 100k to support various sustainability and sustainable energy things at COA.

The grant narratives totaled 36 pages of pretty dense, single-spaced text. I also had to write budgets, budget justifications, project summaries, timelines, and so on. So it was a lot of writing. Writing three grants in a row has been interesting. I don't mind writing grants. I think it's a good challenge, and it's nice to be able to get money to do good things. However, it can also be a little odd or disorienting, as it can require writing things in ways that I'd really rather not write things.

For example, two of the grants were ostensibly about education, but there were certain educational activities that they wouldn't fund. So I had to talk about education without too directly talking about teaching. And for one grant I had to use the words "sustainability" and "stakeholder" a lot. I don't like either of these words very much. But this was clearly what the granting agency wanted to hear, so I used these words often. I took some small solace in the fact that my spell checker refuses to believe that these are legitimate words.

Anyway, I'm glad to be done with grantwriting for a while. I have some other writing projects I need to work on, but they're not grants, and so I can write them as I want to, not as I think somebody else wants me to. Of course I still have to be mindful of audience, since I'm not writing things for nobody to read. But I feel like I have a lot more flexibility in how I write things.

So, in part I haven't been blogging because I've been doing a ton of writing, and thus writing blog stuff doesn't provide the change-of-pace that it does when I'm busy with non-writing tasks.

In other news, the term grinds along. As usual, I like my classes a lot. And as usual, I'm a little behind in grading and I wish I had more time. Fall has definitely arrived. The leaves have turned and are starting to fall. We've had a number of frosts this week and it's been grey and windy. It's quite beautiful, if somewhat cold.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Two Surprises

Today I had dinner downtown and bought myself a cookie at the Morning Glory Bakery. I returned to campus for a few hours and decided to leave the cookie in my car to have later. When I got in my car to go home I had completely forgotten about the cookie, and so it was a very exciting surprise.

When I arrived home, the kittens (who aren't really kittens any more -- they're big and grown up) weren't at the door to meet me. The reason is that they were playing with a dead or almost dead mouse. It took me a while to get them to relinquish the it. At this point I'm pretty sure the mouse was quite dead. There was quite a bit of blood on the kitchen floor. Ug. I feel bad for the mouse. I wonder if he was friends with the pack of mice that seem to be living in my office on campus.

Monday, September 14, 2009

For Rashmi

Below are remarks that I read earlier today at a memorial gathering for Rashmi Bhure, a 2009 graduate of COA who died last week. It was incredibly difficult and sad to write, and very hard to read aloud.

We gather today with heavy hearts to mourn the passing of Rashmi Bhure and also to remember and celebrate her life. I knew Rahsmi as her teacher and her academic advisor, and I am grateful to be able to share some memories and reflections in the company of others who knew her and cared for her.

Our thoughts today are with Rashmi's mother and her sister. Know that all of us at COA offer you our deepest sympathies. You are in our thoughts, our prayers, and our hearts.

I extend my condolences to students, both here in this room and spread out across the globe, who have been touched by Rashmi's life and feel the pain and loss of her death.

I also acknowledge four of my friends and colleagues who in recent months worked especially closely with Rashmi: Sarah Luke, Rae Barter, Lucy Creevey, and Todd Little-Siebold. I know these last few days have been challenging. Your care and guidance meant a great deal to Rashmi. It means a lot to me, too. You have my deep gratitude.

Rashmi was my advisee since her first days at COA. She began her studies here focusing on development and economics, feminism and gender studies. She took challenging classes and did well. Like many COA students, she arrived on campus with a vision for a better world, and was exploring paths to conceptualize and realize that world. Her professors praised her curiosity and sincerity, her thoughtful comments and interactions in class.

I got to know Rashmi directly as a student when she took my Calculus class in her second year. The material was not easy for her, but she challenged herself to understand. And she succeeded, and she left my class understanding Calculus. But Rashmi was on her way to learning that economics and calculus and policy were not her true passion. The type of change she was interested in could not be measured by a derivative. Her dreams and hopes were too big to be measured in dollars and utility functions.

A turning point for Rashmi was the Popular Psychology class she took with Rich Borden. I think she was surprised to find that the study of psychology resonated with her in a way that economics did not. She then planned a residency, the equivalent of three independent studies, for the subsequent fall. She chose to call this project "Approaches to Emotion in Ancient Indian and Western Psychology." Under the guidance of Rich Borden and Jen Munyer, Rashmi sought to understand and synthesize Eastern and Western approaches to emotion, the mind, and the self. Rashmi wrote that this residency was a transformative experience and helped her make sense of her COA education and her life. She found this work intellectually satisfying, stabilizing, and on more than one occasion expressed gratitude for the support she received from Rich and Jen and the opportunity to craft such a project.

Rashmi spent most of the next several terms in India, doing internships and a senior project with various self-help and microfinance organizations, and also with a youth media group. She completed her senior project, titled "The Microfinance movement: Studies in India," and this July was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree. I am so proud that she made it.

I will remember Rashmi as a kind and gentle young student. Rashmi was acutely aware that she straddled religious and cultural worlds. She patiently lived in this superposition—humble, curious, and delicate. Rashmi had remarkable grace, not only in her physical comportment but in the way she strove to make a path through a world that for her was too often difficult and frightening.

As teachers we are used to students coming in and out of our lives. It is part of the rhythm of our profession. But no teacher expects to say goodbye to a student in this way. I struggle to find words for my confusion and pain. I feel I have so much to say, and yet there is nothing that can be said. There is no category to which the emptiness belongs, no calculation that makes sense of it, no words that lessen the loss.

We cannot fully know the forces that breathe life and love into an otherwise still earth. But we do know that it is right to dedicate our time on earth to nourish those forces so that their light burns a little more brightly.

We cannot fully know the darkness that took Rashmi from us. But we can seek solace and warmth in friendship, fellowship, and community.

And we cannot possibly know Rashmi's pain during her last days or hours. But we know that beauty and love endures in even the darkest of times. We can hold each other a little closer, give thanks, and treasure each, deep breath.

Rashmi, we love you. We miss you. And we will remember you always.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Tomorrow I teach a class for the first time since March 13. It's been a long time away from the classroom for me. Will be good to get back. Physics I tomorrow and then Calculus III on Friday. Both classes I think will be pretty fun. I've taught them each before quite a few times so I think I know what to expect.

I went into town late afternoon to run a few errands. Parking was surpisingly difficult to find. At the supermarket it seemed like every other person was talking on her or his cell phone. One woman by the yogurt case sounded as if she was talking to a doctor. "It hurts when I turn to the left" I heard her repeat a couple of times as I walked past her. After the supermarket, while walking to the pharmacy I saw a mail carrier with a fairly gory depicion of a crucified Jesus tattooed on his calf.

Tonight Doreen and I went to the top of Cadillac to watch an unusually bright encounter with two human-made satellites: the international space station and the space shuttle. I thought it was pretty cool. They zipped by one after the other and were quite bright—about as bright as venus. The non-human-made stars were impressive, too.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

It all starts tomorrow

Tomorrow it all begins. At 10am I give a welcome-to-college, welcome-to-COA motivational speech thing to entering students. A few days of orientation and then classes on Thursday. Weeks of mayhem will ensue. In the next month I'll be writing two or maybe three grants. I'll be teaching two classes and working on the chaos textbook that I'm writing. I think it will be a crazy but productive term. I like deadlines and I even like some kinds of stress. I should have plenty.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

I hope they don't find me and shoot me

I just got a call from the NRA. The woman explained that they were conducting a one-question opinion poll about the UN plans to ban guns in the U.S. She was about to play me a recorded statement by some NRA guy but I interrupted and asked the caller to explain what these UN plans were. She said that it was due to Mexico, which is a country that blames the US for their (Mexico's) drug problems. Apparently Mexico is chairing some commission or something.

I asked the caller what jurisdiction the UN had over the laws of a sovereign nation like the U.S. There was a pause. Then the caller said that the anti-gun secretary of state Hillary Clinton agreed to meet with Mexico. I commented that the secretary of state had nothing to do with lawmaking since she was part of the executive branch and that it was the legislative branch, Congress, that makes laws.

There was a long silence. The caller stammered a little. I added that this was simply a fact. Congress makes gun laws, not the secretary of state. At this point the caller thanked me for taking time to talk to her and ended the conversation.

The conversation was actually kind of fun. I was surprised at how easy it was to totally flummox the NRA caller. And I was a little disappointed that the called ended so quickly.

But at another level the call was pretty scary. The caller evoked a classic trio of conspiracies/paranoia: the UN is taking over; they-want-to-take-our-guns; Hillary Clinton. Yikes. At least there was no mention of black helicopters.

I wonder how I got on the NRA's list? I suspect they won't be calling back.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Not profound

I'm not sure I have much profound to say. Not just on this blog, but in general. I seem to have a lot of small to medium writing projects to do, none of which are particularly scintillating. I have two final reports to write for grants and a preliminary draft of a grant that will need some revision. I submitted a referee report on a bland paper today, so at least that's done. And I also need to re-submit an NSF grant. The proposal was rejected, but I think it should be possible to address most of the referee's concerns in the revised proposal. Annoyingly, I think it was only one referee who had any substantive objections.

Anyway, all these things are pretty straightforward. I don't really need to be deep. I think I know what needs to be done and I just need to do it. Unfortunately, I'm not particularly fast at this type of writing, although I'm getting faster. Somehow the weight of all this proposal and report writing, plus a slug of email that I'm very behind on, and needing to gear up for the term that starts in a week, has kinda pressed all the profundity out of me and I feel kinda weary.

This isn't necessarily a bad state of affairs. I do need to be profound for around half an hour Monday morning, when I'm supposed to give an inspirational welcome talk to entering students. I've done this before, so I think I can pull it off just fine, even if my overall mood is unprofound.

In any event, autumn approaches. The weather has been fantastic and the nights are just a little crisp. I thought I saw the faintest hint of fall color on the maple trees as I drove to campus this morning. But it might have been my imagination. Most of the new students are doing their outdoor orientation trips, returning students are trickling back, and I'm trying to finish up tons of things while also enjoying the last few unscheduled and unstructured blocks of time for a while.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


It has been annoyingly hot the last few days. It's sufficiently annoying that I cannot fully express my annoyance in the 140 character limit imposed by twitter. Thus, rather than tweet about how I'm annoyed by the heat, I will write a short blog post:

The last few days have been annoying hot. There is no need for it to be this warm. I know it gets a lot hotter in other parts of the world. But this isn't about other parts of the world. This is about Maine. And me. And I'm not in the mood for it to be hot. Happily, tomorrow is supposed to be a little cooler.

That is all.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pete Tong – the essential selection-sat-08-14-2009

Pete Tong – the essential selection-sat-08-14-2009: "

Pete Tong - the essential selection-sat-08-14-2009

Download + Mirrors

Posted in Audio, House, Mix

Experimenting with using Google Reader to post to blogger. I'm not sure I like it so far. Let's see what this looks like. Formatting isn't super.

Anyway, I'm listening to this essential section right now and am enjoying it perhaps a little too much. Lots of excellent tracks. Wow.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


It's been a weird few days. Not necessarily weird in a bad way. But there have been quite a few things that make me go "hmmmmmmm." I've reconnected with some old friends and thought a bunch about transitions. I think I watched a bridge get burned in spectacular fashion. Learned of an old friend who made it though a very difficult medical situation. And of a less old (but older in years) friend who may be facing a difficult medical situation.

The weather has turned drier and a little bit autumn-like. So I've been thinking about the upcoming term and my classes in a more immediate way. Both of my courses I've taught many times before, so there is very little preparation that I need to do in advance. It's mainly a matter of getting myself in the right mindset.

I continue to move along slowly and surely with some writing projects. I've been exercising semi-regularly which has given me more energy and a sore hamstring. A reasonable tradeoff. I have two papers in the queue to referee. Neither look scintillating. One is already overdue, so I should finish my review soon. A few of my tomato plants have tomatoes that are actually turning a little red. The eggplants have barely grown in months.

The summer feels like it's progressing in slow motion. This is good. I will be happy when autumn comes, but I'm also happy for August to linger.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Back from China

I got back from China around a week and a half ago. It was a good trip. The workshop went well and I had a good time with workshop participants and exploring Beijing. As usual, the weather was hot and humid, the food was excellent, and Beijing was dynamic and crazy and fun. A few highlights and memorable scenes:
  • It is not uncommon to see t-shirts with random English phrases on them. Often the phrase is a little garbled but the meaning is still somewhat clear, or at least one could imagine why one might want to put such a phrase on a t-shirt. But not always. I twice saw people selling T-shirts with the following words: "Buying food at a cafeteria." The "i"s were dotted with hearts.

  • Near where I saw these t-shirts there was a book vendor on the street. His cart was mostly filled with English-language books, including quite a few business books. I noted that he had a copy of Capital, by Marx. I picked up the book and thumbed through it. The vendor noticed what I was doing and handed me another book to look at. The book he handed me? Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.

  • I heard an incredible set mixed by Sander van Doorn at the GT Banana club. Sander was awesome and the crowd fantastic. Everybody was really into it. A great evening. Returning home at dawn my cab drove by the CCTV building and the large, burned out husk of the CCTV luxury hotel. In the early morning mist it was surreal.

Beijing now feels a tiny bit like a home away from home, especially the neighborhood around Wudaodou and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. I've been fortunate to be able to spend parts of the last six(!) summers in Beijing, and I hope to have to opportunity to spend more time there the next few years.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

At the Supermarket in Bar Harbor

Just got back from some shopping at the local supermarket in Bar Harbor. Mayhem and amusement.
  • A family of four in the produce section acting kinda like they've never been in a produce section before. Barking questions and commands at each other from across the aisles while the oldest son talks loudly on a cell phone.

  • Some disturbingly non-local items: avocados from Chile, oranges from South Africa, other oranges from Peru.

  • A man asked a supermarket worker if they had nail polish remover. Worker doesn't speak great English and doesn't really understand. The questioner explains: "nail polish remover is, ya know, like if you put nail polish on your nails, and then you wanted to take it off, nail polish remover would help you take it off." The questioner's wife came by and asked about the worker about make-up and told her husband to go get trail mix. I didn't stick around to see how it ended. The worker was cheerfully going to get assistance.

  • I don't think my checkout person had ever seen tomatillos before. But she was very nice about it.

  • In fairness to the checkout person, it appears that my spell-checker hasn't heard of tomatillos, either.

  • The person behind me in the checkout line seemed a little alarmed at my purchase. I got three jalapeno peppers and she asserted that I must be about to cook something really spicy. It's all relative, I guess.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Year in Review

July has started and so the last academic year is officially in the past. A few weeks ago I completed my annual workload report, and I thought it might be interesting to use some of the data I gathered while preparing it to make a year-in-review post. Some bloggers I know do this at the end of the calendar year, but it seems that the end of the academic year is also a good time.
  • Courses Taught: Calculus I, Theory and Application of Complex Networks, Introduction to Chaos and Fractals, and Calculus II. In a usual year I teach five courses. I only taught four this year because I had a one-trimester sabbatical this spring.

  • Average Class Size: 20. This is small for most schools, but very high for COA. In most years there are only one or two faculty with a larger average class size.

  • Number of Advisees: 14, although I lost a few and gained a few over the year.

  • Independent Studies, Tutorials, Senior Projects: I taught one (very fun) tutorial this year and supervised one senior project. I also assisted on two other senior projects.

  • Committee Work: Anthropology Search Committee (Search Canceled), Admission Committee, Academic Priorities Group of the Academic Program Review. I also coordinated the Maine Space Grant Consortium Student Research Fellowships and am COA's liaison to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Fellowship.

  • Scholarly Presentations. 2, although one of the two is a series of five lectures that I gave in China.

  • Peer-Reviewed Publications. 1. Feldman, McTague, and Crutchfield, The organization of intrinsic computation: Complexity-entropy diagrams and the diversity of natural information processing. Chaos. 18:043106. 2008.

  • Book Review: 1. Review of Complex and Adaptive Dynamical Systems: A Primer by Claudius Gros. Physics Today. July 2009.

  • Book in Progress: My proposal for an introductory textbook on Chaos and Fractals was accepted by Oxford University Press. Deadline is October 15. Current draft is around 275 and I expect the final version to be around 375. Most of the draft was written a few years ago. This year I've written around 75 pages. I have a lot of work to do the next few months.

  • Papers in Progress: 1. Hopefully it will be submitted in a few weeks.

  • Papers and Proposals Refereed: 7.

  • Grants Written: 3. One has been funded ($5000), two are pending ($956,000) and ($150,000).

  • Countries Traveled to: 5. (China, Germany, Poland, The Netherlands, Canada)

  • Letters of Recommendation: 47 total letters for 16 different students.

  • Emails Sent: At least 2418. A little under seven a day. This is just the email from my account. This doesn't include email from any of my other accounts.

  • Emails Received and Saved: At least 2016. I don't know an easy way of figuring out how many emails I received and deleted. I'd guess I only end up saving 1 in 10 emails. If so, then I received around 20,000 emails, or an average of around 55 a day. Again this is only for my account.

  • Tweets Tweeted: 363.

  • Blog Entries: 35. This is a lot less than the last few years. Twitter has been distracting me from blogging. My interest in blogging has waned somewhat.

All in all, I guess it's been a pretty productive year. It doesn't quite feel that way, but looking back, it wasn't that bad. I had hoped to have one more paper submitted by now and be a little farther along on the textbook.

Saturday, June 06, 2009


Today was COA's graduation. And yesterday was our honors/awards ceremony. Both were very nice, as usual. And as usual, it is a time of joy, melancholy, and mixed emotions.

It is, of course, wonderful beyond words to see students graduate, meet families, and offer congratulations. This year there is an especially strong cohort of math and physics students, many of whom I have done independent studies and small research projects with, and who have served as TAs in my classes. So in some ways it seems as if I am losing some colleagues and comrades.

The weather the entire week has been fantastic: warm and green and sunny. Aside from the bugs, it's almost paradise. Today was especially nice. The afternoon was perfect and after the sun set there was a breathtaking moonrise over the mountains.

It is sad to see students go, but it is time. New students will arrive in the fall, and the cycle begins anew. Academic life is cyclical, but it is as if the seasons are backwards. Fall seems like spring, as the academic year begins again with promises of renewal. The summer is more like winter, a dormant and restful time. The quiet on campus is striking the first week after graduation, as if the leaves have just fallen from the trees.

So another year has passed, my eleventh at COA. Another group of students has graduated. The summer now opens up before us, lonely but filled with warmth and quiet promise.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Windpower at COA

Here is link to a nice news story about a wind turbine that College of the Atlantic just installed at Beech Hill Farm. I had nothing to do with the class, but helped with some of the fund raising for the turbine this winter. We received several generous individual contributions and also support through the Higher Education Program of the Maine Space Grant Consortium.

It's exciting that the turbine is up and running. I hope that one day soon wind turbines will be a common sight in Maine and elsewhere.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mid Sabbatical

It's hard to believe, but I'm a little past the halfway point of my spring-term sabbatical. Although it's not really the half-way point, since I have the summer off from teaching as well. Perhaps because of this I haven't quite been able to kick into high gear. I've been productive, I guess, but not spectacularly so. Many days I get a good amount of writing and research done. Other days I just want to cook or organize or work in the garden or around the house. This is a form of productivity, I suppose, but it's not the way to get a lot of research done, which is one of my goals for this sabbatical.

I spent almost three weeks in April in Davis, California. It was an excellent visit. I also spent time in the Bay Area visiting family. Also excellent. All in all, it was great to be someplace different for a while.

Here in Maine, I've been enjoying watching spring unfold in slow motion. There are leaves on many trees now, our tulips are in full blossom, and yesterday a hummingbird returned to our backyard. I've done a lot of yard work and planted a bunch of plants in the garden. Spring in Maine seems like magic. It's hard to imagine that plants come back to life despite having been buried in snow and ice for months. I suppose it's biology, and not magic. But it's still quite impressive.

Just as spring has been in slow motion, I've kinda felt in slow motion too. I leave for another trip to California on Wednesday, and I've got lots that I want to get done before I split. So hopefully the next few days will be productive and fun. I've got much writing and coding and planning to do.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Early spring thoughts

Our two-week spring break is almost over. Classes start tomorrow, although this doesn't really apply to me, since I'm on sabbatical spring term. (More about that later.)

I've realized that there are a bunch of things I associate with spring break. The most obvious is lots of grading and evaluation writing. This is true for any period right after a term, but it seems especially daunting after winter term, because there are only two weeks before classes start up again. Also, I think I've always taught two classes winter term, so I always have had a lot of evaluations to write.

But in addition to this, there's something distinctive that sticks in my memory about the last two weeks in March. The light is brighter, but it's still cold. I resume running outside, and enjoy the air, even though it's a little colder than I want it to be. The trails are still wet, and often snowy, so I run on gravelly asphalt. A few years ago I tripped while running and cut up my knees and one of my hands. Piles of snow defy the odds and eventually melt.

There is a big rainstorm right now, which is actually quite wonderful. For although it's cold and wet and miserable outside right now, the rain is needed to help melt snow and wash away dirt and grime. When it finally stops I expect the world to look pleasant and cleansed. Flowers and leaves are still a long ways off. But at least the rain will get rid of some of the gritty snow.

I've not given up on this blog entirely. With some more flexible time coming up on my sabbatical I suspect I'll be able to go back to writing at least semi-regularly. I'm also considering retiring this blog and starting a new one. Perhaps a different name/theme/look/whatever will jump start my writing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I've been twittering a bunch lately, but I feel like writing in actual sentences. Not sure I'm up for paragraphs, but we'll see what happens.

Driving to campus today I wasn't sure what music to listen to. I ended up choosing a Chinese disco/house CD that I got a few years ago and which I've barely listened to. The lyrics, to the extent that there are any, are mostly in English or Spanish. The mix is kinda hyper and treble-ey, but it actually seemed to fit the day somehow. While driving in, I saw an eagle soaring high above the road. Always an impressive sight.

The reality of the financial slump/recession/depression is gradually becoming more real. I hear and read more and more stories of difficult times. Things aren't so terrible at COA, but nevertheless, times are tight. We're short faculty, and it looks like we'll continue to be short faculty for next year and maybe even the year after that. There's not much to be done, although maybe there are at least a few things that can be done, but I'm not sure anybody is doing them.

I had some skull-crushingly frustrating meetings today. But I had a good class and some good student meetings. And I'm working on a grant proposal that is feeling a little unwieldy at the moment. I really wish I were a faster writer.

Tomorrow we are supposed to get 4-8 inches of snow, followed by a bunch of rain. Splendid.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Random Bullets of Stuff

Minimally motivated to post a blog update, but not motivated to write paragraphs. So, random bullets:
  • I did a fair amount of grading this weekend, but I should have done more.
  • All three of our cats have had colds. Apple and Monster are mostly over theirs. Ancho is still in the midst of his. His sneezes are quite impressive.
  • For some reason my eyes are goopy and very itchy right now. It's pretty annoying. I hope I don't have the cats' cold.
  • Today was a mini-thaw. It got up to 42 degrees, and it almost smelled like spring for a little bit. Lots of slush.
  • The birds at our feeder must have smelled spring, too, since they were chirping much more than usual.
  • But now the slush has frozen and there are many slippery, icy spots on roads and sidewalks.
  • The extra light in the afternoon is very noticable. Spring is still months away, but at least it's getting light later.
  • The moonrise this evening was amazing.
  • I'm drinking a Fin du Monde. Delicious. A nice change from Dogfish Head.
  • We've eaten well this weekend. On Saturday I made a tasty spinach salad and a pasta dish with roasted onions and chard. Today Doreen made a slightly weird but excellent minestrone-like thing.
  • I'm not quite ready for the week. Hard to believe we're at the half-way point of the term.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Miscellaneous Musings

  • I've been writing lots of letters of recommendation for students applying to do summer research somewhere. I often go to the web page of the deparment or institute that will be hosting the students. There are usually a few pictures to go with the website, designed, presumably, to encourage good students to apply. The pictures for field biology programs are usually from some scene outdoors, often quite scenic, and most of the time with some animals being studies: perhaps birds of lizards or something. The biomedical program's pictures involve some combination of lab coats, microscopes, beakers, and pipettes. The math department pictures? Well ... not so hot. Sometimes it's a few people sitting at a table. Other times it is a posed shot of last year's students, usually taken in front of a blackboard.

  • My spell-checker wants to turn the word "combinatorics" into "dominatrix." Accepting this change would surely make my letter more interesting, but probably not in a way that would help the student who is applying.

  • Speaking of spell checking, there is one undergrad research program web page on which the city in which the university resides is spelled wrong.

  • And finally, a non-letter-of-recommendation-writing observation. Last night I was reading a quite interesting research paper by, I would guess, a non-native English speaker. The author meant, I assume, to say "manipulating the parameters, we obtain ..." Instead, he wrote, "mangling the parameters, we obtain." Awesome.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Not gone forever

I've been neglecting this blog, and instead focusing on teaching and grant writing and other stuff. Life has been busy and somewhat stressful, but mostly in a good way. We just finished the fourth week of the term and so far as I can tell, classes are going well. It's been a pretty productive month. I've done a better job than I usually do of staying productive and on top of things. I'm still behind, especially in keeping up with some email conversations and I've only been so-so about grading. But nevertheless, I feel like I'm on a bit of a roll. I'm not sure exactly why. Some of it is having a great mix of classes: Chaos and Fractals, Calculus II, and a tutorial/independent study on Statistics. They're all really different, which is fun.

Also, I moved into a much bigger office right before I left for Germany and Poland in December. The added space has been fantastic. It's made a much bigger difference than I had imagined. I didn't realize how cramped I was in my old office. I can now easily meet with more than one student at a time, I've got a blackboard, and I have enough room to actually organize my books. I'm very pleased.

In other news, January has been a messy month in terms of weather. There have been a number of sloppy storms, and it's gotten "evil cold", to use Andrew's phrase. But we've survived. On really, really cold mornings it's very hard to remember that it was once warm and that it will get warm again. But the days are getting longer and the light a little brigher. So spring will come. Eventually.

Anyway... I may try to get back to posting regularly here. Or I may not for a little while. Sometimes I feel a tiny bit angsty about not posting, but not now. I figure I'll post when the blogging muse visits. In the meantime, I'll certainly continue to twitter and facebook and such.