Thursday, December 09, 2010

Prompt 5: Let Go

Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

The first thing that comes to mind is a vision of myself as a very good athlete. I have played ultimate frisbee for many years, and at one point at a fairly high level of competition.* I've not played competitively in a very long time, but the last five years or so have played semi-regularly in semi-regular and semi-skilled pickup games in Bar Harbor. I've been slowing down for quite some time, but this year I think I moved another notch slower. I seem to have perpetual hamstring problems and I just can't sprint the way I used to.

So this year I've let go the memory of the player I once was. Well, not the memory, but the idea that I can still be that person, or that it even makes sense to imagine that I can be that person. I've not been playing a high level since forever, as I've been quite aware. But I no longer feel bad about it. If someone half my age outruns me, that's ok.

* In the early 90s I was captain of my college team which made nationals twice, placing sixth in the nation my senior year. Later I was on a club team that somehow managed to place fifth at the world championships. I was not a star by any means, but I was good enough to play a supporting role on some very very good teams.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Prompt 4: Wonder

Wonder: How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

Looks like I'm not alone in feeling grumpy about some of the prompts. Anyway...

I don't think I did anything to cultivate a sense of wonder, and that's ok. I don't know that I need wonder, and to the extent that I do, I don't know that it needs cultivating. And wonder isn't necessarily a good thing. I most often find myself wondering about how things can be so messed up or stupid. But I don't have to do anything to seek this out. The stupid finds me just fine. All I need to do is go to faculty meeting. Or open my email. Or for a different sense of wonder I could read the news and think about the most recent elections. No thanks. Plenty of wonder in my life already. No need to cultivate any more.

To end on a slightly less negative note, good, uplifting trance music continues to help me not succumb to despair and/or just start punching people. Here is a track I'm liking a lot this week. I don't think it cultivates wonder, but it does make life suck a little less.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Prompt 3: Moment

Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

I'm not fond of having to choose just one. I felt very alive much of the year. Anyway, the first moment that comes to mind is kayaking on the north shore of the St. Lawrence as we do almost every year. The last day of our trip was amazing. It was perfectly still and gray and foggy. It was just an amazing day. We didn't see many whales that day, but it was still incredible. The water was so still that I could hear birds diving and surfacing on the water and seals breathing.

There were some other amazing moments from that trip. Twice we saw a trio of Northern Gannets fly by. They're intense-looking birds. Their name in French is better than English: Fou de Bassan. It was also great hanging out at our campsite, hearing whales, watching the stars come out, and seeing glowing satellites circling the earth.

A few other moments come to mind, all of them quite different from each other. For me there's nothing quite like the feeling of a class that went really well. So there are lots of little moments from teaching that stand out, especially for my Calculus, Linear Algebra, and Sustainable Energy classes. Those three courses in particular I think were quite successful.

This summer I had time to do some research that involved some programming and data analysis. It wasn't anything that involved, but being able to focus on coding for a few days was really nice. I find coding to be remarkably energizing and focusing. I wish I could do more of it. Conveniently, I'm teaching a programming class next term, so I'll probably get my wish.

I also recall a few amazing meals from 2010. We had some great food at our favorite restaurants in Portland and Quebec City. We also cooked some great food at home.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Propmpt 2: Writing

Well, I'm already behind on this reverb10 thing. So maybe I won't worry about doing one a day, but will go through the daily prompts at my own pace.

Prompt 2: Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?

First of all, I find this prompt a little annoying. It's like I'm being asked to confess or someone is trying to make me feel guilty. The prompt was written by Leo Batuba, who maybe should mind his own business.

Anyway, now that I've gotten that out of my system, what stops me from writing? Well, I don't think it's any one thing. If it was, I would have eliminated that thing already, since I'm not an idiot. Usually it's the accumulation of lots of little things that just nibble away at me. I try and carve out dedicated time for writing, but life sometimes just doesn't allow it. That's not an excuse, it's just a fact.

Writing for me is sometimes surprisingly easy, and sometimes surprisingly hard. I don't really know how to predict which it will be, which is why it's surprising. Looking ahead to 2011, in some ways I hope to be writing less. My textbook should be done soon (although I've been saying that for a long time) and I'm looking forward to doing more research and coding and reading, and not writing quite so much. On the other hand, I know I'll still end up doing a ton of writing of all sorts, as in my job writing is just impossible to escape.

I think I'll end this reverb response now, because I'm tempted to say some more cranky things about Leo. The next few prompts look more more interesting. Perhaps I'll respond to prompt three tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

reverb 10

So I thought I would give this #reverb10 thing a try. I'll only be able to do it up until the 15th, since I'll traveling from the 15th to the 30th and won't have internet access. And I may get bored with it before then. But for now, here goes.

Prompt for December 1: One Word
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

For 2010, I guess the word would be frustrated, or maybe unfinished or incomplete. It wasn't a bad year at all, but there were a few frustrating things, and also there some major projects, mostly research-related, that I had wanted to finish but which I probably won't.

For 2011, maybe the word will be completed or finished.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Turning Toward Winter

It seems as if winter is here. I went for a run today at Witch Hole, and there was no one else on the trail. My only company were a few ducks and lots and lots of wet leaves and pine needles. Toward the end of my run it started snowing a little. It was awesome.

The town has more or less emptied out, and it's getting darker and darker. My rhythm is shifting toward winter. The last few days I've had a nice fire in the woodstove, and today I made soup using the last of the kale and chard from the garden.

There are just three weeks left in the term. The end is in sight. I'm actually mostly on top of grading, which is nice. There is still a lot of work to do, though. The toughest will be writing lots of evaluations once the term ends.

I continue to make progress on my Chaos and Fractals book. It's been tough to get a lot done during the term, but I've actually kept up some writing momentum. I really want to have the whole thing done by mid-December. I'm not sure if this is a realistic goal, but I'm going to push hard and get as close as I can.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Holistic Cat Food

The local Hannaford is out of the dry cat food that I usually get. So the other day I was looking around for alternatives. "Nature's Place," Hannaford's natural or green brand, has a type of cat food called "holistic cat food." What could this possibly mean? Does the bag come with cat brain teasers and exercise devises to stimulate the mind and body as well as provide calories? If my cats eat the food will they develop a greater sense of the connection among all things and develop a capacity to see things as connected and contextualized as opposed to isolated entities?

I won't find out. I opted for Iams indoor weight control food instead of Nature's place holistic cat food.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Scenes from Bar Harbor

At the grocery store, during the short break between customers the young woman bagging fills spare grocery fliers with hearts, drawn with a bright yellow highlighter.

At the natural foods store, a fit-looking middle-aged man in a Che Guevara t-shirt buys a large five-gallon tub of bulk tofu and hauls it into his car.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Mid-Summer Core Dump

A few people have noted that's it's been approximately forever since I've posted here, so I thought it was time for an update. Tomorrow it will be August. So I'm telling myself that I'm at the half-way point of summer. This isn't really true, of course. But I'm telling myself this anyway and trying hard to believe it. It's almost working. Anyway, a bunch of summertime thoughts follow.

This is the first summer I haven't been to China in a long time. I had gone for six years in a row: 2004-2009. I miss it. I really like Beijing. It's a fun, lively, huge city with lots to do. And the food is awesome. I hope to return again soon.

While I'm disappointed to not be in China, I'm nevertheless perfectly happy to be in Maine. This is the longest summertime stretch I've spent in Maine perhaps ever. Doreen and I went to Quebec City for a weekend and to the Boston area for a few days in June. And we have our usual trip to the Saguenay region planned in late August. But other that that, I've been here. For the most part, it's been great to be in Maine. Summers are nice here, and while I love traveling, it's also nice to stay put for a bit.

One of the best parts of the summer has been having time to do research and writing. I've spent some time with both R and python, have solidified my understanding of some statistics, and have done some interesting reading and writing. In general, it's been really fun to be able to do some programming and some real research. I find something incredibly satisfying and relaxing about programming.

I've also been doing a lot of writing. The main thing I've been working on is my textbook on chaos and fractals. I've been working on this for a while and it is nearing completion. I don't really have a feel for how much work I have to do yet, but I know that it's a lot, but also that the end is in sight. The book is under contract to Oxford University Press, and they're kind of expecting it at the end of the summer. I'm not sure I'll make it, but I haven't given up hope.

In the course of working on the book I've come to the conclusion that it is fairly easy to write a decent textbook, but that it's quite hard to write a really good one. The book by now is at a point where it works well for me. But of course I'm writing the book so that people who aren't me can teach and learn from it. So this requires a good bit of additional writing. When I teach from it I provide background motivation and transitions from one chapter to the other. But these need to be in the book itself. This has been taking quite a bit of time.

I've also spent some time the last few weeks working on a research paper. The basic results are actually seven years old, but my collaborators and I haven't published them, and there are some new ways that I have to present our results that I think will make it a good paper. It's been fun to re-acquaint myself with the research and to make some interesting plots. I hope to have this submitted in a few days.

Research aside, it's been nice to be in Maine. Although the weather was uncomfortably humid and hot for most of July, it's still be pretty pleasant. And the last few days have been amazing. Warm, dry, sunny, and pleasant. My garden is in good shape this year. The unusually warm weather has been good for tomatoes. We've already harvested a few, and lots more are on their way. I think we'll get a few eggplants. I'm not sure what's going on with our tomatillos. We had a good lettuce crop, the kale and chard is hanging on, the onions look good. and we've had lots of parsley and cilantro and basil. Winter squash vines are doing well, and I think we'll have a few cucumbers next week.

I've also enjoyed having a chance to exercise semi-regularly. We've had decent ultimate frisbee games downtown twice a week, and I've been doing yardwork on the weekends and also running and biking some. I don't necessarily feel in better shape than usual (or less worse shape than usual), but nevertheless it's nice to be moving.

Overall, being able to exercise, garden, and spend some time on research and writing has been great. I still feel frustrated that I can't do more. I wish I found it easier to get completely lost in research, but it's hard with so many things going on. There's still a lot of summertime left, though.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


For a long time I've been a fan of Balance Bars. They're pretty tasty and a good snack when I'm hungry and need a little something to eat and don't want a full meal or anything. Yesterday I had a balance bar and for some reason my eye was drawn to the word "fish" on the list of ingredients. I wasn't even trying to read it, but the word just jumped out.

Then I read it more carefully and it turns out that Balance Bars contain fish gelatin. I find this super gross. I haven't eaten meat or fish for 20 years or so. I'm certain that I've had fish products in stuff, especially when traveling in China. One of the types of Thai curry TastyBite entrees has fish in it as well, which I only discovered after having it once or twice. So it's not like the Balance Bars are the only fishy stuff I've ever had.

Nevertheless, I think this is just gross. Fish are yucky. Well, actually, I think fish are pretty cool. They're great as fish -- things that swim around in the water and that we should just leave alone and not eat. It's the eating of fish that I think is yucky. Yes, I know there are some cultures that eat lots of fish. That's fine, I guess. But I don't want to eat fish. I don't know why Balance would put fish in their chocolatey nutrition bars. Ug. I wrote Balance an email, but they didn't answer.

I guess I need to read labels really carefully. But I'd have thought that Balance Bars were free from animal and fish products. Oh well.

Anyway, I've got a bunch of Balance Bars now that I have no intention of eating. If there's anyone reading this in Bar Harbor who want them, let me know.

Sunday, June 06, 2010


It's been a nice Sunday so far. Slept in and spent the morning reading and doing dishes and other housework while listening first to Johan Geilen and then Spearhead. I was able to get a decent run in during a break in the rain. I got wet, but at least it wasn't pouring. Now I'm in my office trying to get organized. Listening to Above & Beyond and trying to just do stuff and not think too much about all I have to do. Am having mixed success.

A thunderstorm rolled through which was nice. A big thunderclap rattled the windowpane. It's still drizzling but is supposed to stop soon. Shortly I will head home for a good meal and an evening of grading while watching hockey and basketball finals.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Almost Over

Chilling out at home. Listening to an old Hed Kandi radio show while Doreen listens to French news streaming online. Today was the last day of classes of spring term. Late afternoon we had our awards ceremony, which was its usual mix of awkward and nice. This was followed by a reception for seniors and their families, which was fun. Then Doreen and I went to dinner with a bunch of the graduation speakers. It was a nice meal, but the acoustics at the restaurant weren't good, so it was loud and hard to have a discussion. Tomorrow is graduation.

I'm glad the term is over. It was a very tiring ten weeks. I need a few days to recover and then I have mountains of work to do. I have much grading and then almost fifty evaluations to write. There are two papers I need to referee, and I'm the external reader on a dissertation. All of these I should do by the end of June, if not sooner. And there is a book review that I'm supposed to have done in July. I also have a bunch of grant-related odds and ends that need to get dealt with. And then there is my main task for the summer, which is to finish my Chaos and Fractals textbook. I'm looking forward to it all, except for the grant stuff.

Tomorrow, though, will be a morning of rest, and an afternoon and evening of celebration with graduates and their families.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Secret Memo

If you are using the photocopier and it stops and tells you to load paper into a tray, do as the machine suggests. Don't just walk away. Because when you do this, your copying job doesn't get deleted. It stays in the machine's brain. This is true even if you log out of your account. Then when someone like me comes along who is willing to put paper in the copier, your job automatically gets completed. If, say, you were photocopying documents that you wanted to be confidential, well, they're not confidential any more, since they are streaming out of the machine and it is hard for me not to notice them.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Halfway to Summer?

We're at the midpoint of spring term. So in some sense we're halfway to summer. I'm looking forward to it. I will be traveling less than usual, and so will get to settle in and hopefully enjoy summer in Maine. I'll have some major work to do, but it still should be nice.

Spring term is slugging along. I'm enjoying my classes, but things are really busy. Much busier and a little weirder or something than they should be. I'm not sinking, but I'm working really hard and just barely staying above water. There is a growing number of things that I'm behind on and it's starting to get troubling. I owe some grant reports and am behind on some correspondence. I just haven't quite had the time or energy to deal with it all and get caught up. Nor have I had the time to sleep as much as would be healthy.

And things are just odd. COA is in the midst of a strategic planning process which is at times surreal. Lots of people are on edge about it. The draft documents we've received have been less than inspiring. It's hard to know how to engage in the process, whether or not I should engage, and whether or not my (or anyone's) input is welcome.

The last two months have been the warmest on record in Maine. And the oil spill in the Gulf sounds horrific. It's hard to imagine how much damage and destruction will follow.

But the warm weather has brought spring to Maine very early. Flowers are about two-three weeks early. Lilacs will start blooming next week. Today was achingly beautiful. Warm and sunny and summery. Made it hard to get a lot of work done. I bought a bunch of plants for the garden and did some yardwork and laundry and went for a short and very slow run. I continue to slip farther behind, but it was a wonderful Saturday.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The stupid, it burns

So I was driving in to town today and I was listening to a Red Sox pre-season game. Kinda odd since it doesn't feel remotely spring-like, as it I think the high temperature today was 32. On the other hand, it does feel like spring in that spring term starts the day after tomorrow. And I'm already so far behind it's pathetic. And frustrating.

Anyway, I heard an ad on the radio for "burn flavored doritos." They are apparently super spicy. Too hot? Not to worry, just wash them down with "pepsi max cease fire." This is diet pepsi that is specially formulated to go well with the burn doritos. Specifically, pepsi cease fire "cools the burn" associated with burn doritos.

My head hurts. First of all, "burn" is not a flavor. It's just not. Something could taste burnt. But burn flavor doesn't make sense. And to the extent it does make sense, it's gross. Second, what's up with the diet pepsi? I suspect that a carbonated beverage would increase the pain, not reduce it. Sour cream or yogurt would be much more soothing.

There is a lot that is horribly wrong in this world.

Monday, February 08, 2010


We're exactly at the half-way point of our ten-week term. My class is moving along nicely, I think. I did a bunch of grading tonight so now I'm no longer criminally behind.

The cold weather is starting to get tiresome. It's been a bad year for skating, so I haven't been spending that much time outside, except for hauling wood in from the wood pile. The days are getting noticeably longer, however, which is nice.

There are all sorts of things I'm behind on. Large and small tasks are piling up. I'm starting to get a little stressed out about it all, which I think actually is good. I work better when slightly stressed out. So ... I'm hoping for a moderately stressful, and very productive week.

Monday, February 01, 2010


From Cats Winter 09-10

Three cats in front of the woodstove on a cold February evening. Left-to-right: Ancho, Monster, Apple.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Staring at the Sea

I've got this song stuck in my head. I like it a lot. Staring at the Sea by DJ Eco. Delicious, rich, energetic trance.

It was warm today. Almost 40 degrees. It felt like spring. I went for a short run outside for the first time since November. The run was pathetically slow, but it was nevertheless nice to get moving.

I cooked a reasonably tasty batch of spicy tofu and seitan. And Doreen just made some very good green tea ice cream. Yum. All in all, not a bad Saturday.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The invisible high school or the invisible college?.

Some thought-provoking ideas about what the internet means from the always interesting Clay Shirky:

Given what we have today, the Internet could easily become Invisible High School, with a modicum of educational material in an ocean of narcissism and social obsessions. We could, however, also use it as an Invisible College, the communicative backbone of real intellectual and civic change, but to do this will require more than technology. It will require that we adopt norms of open sharing and participation, fit to a world where publishing has become the new literacy.

Read the full essay here.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Research Experiences for Undergraduates

I just posted some advice for undergraduates interested in research experiences. I feel like I've had the same discussion about research internships many, many times, and so it might be a good use of time to write some stuff down. Hopefully it will be of use for students.

If you see anything I've missed or have anything to add, please let me know, either via email or by commenting here.


Sunday, January 03, 2010

Ready for Winter Term

Winter term starts tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it. I think it will be a mostly manageable term. I'm just teaching one class, and it's one that I've taught eight times before. I'll have plenty to fill up my time, and no shortage of things to work on. But it should be less hectic than fall term, when I was teaching two classes, one of which was very large by COA standards. And, I wrote five grants between August and mid-December. (Technically I only wrote four, since one was a re-submission of the August grant. But the resubmission was a complete re-write, so I think it counts as a new grant. And neither grant came close to getting funded, which is incredibly annoying.) But the grant that I liked the most did get funded, which is quite exciting. It's for almost $50,000 a year for two years. My portion of the grant will be to help develop and teach a class on sustainable energy.

Winter break has been nice, although except for the last three days it hasn't really been that much of a break. In some ways I was working as hard during the break as during the term. But it was a good change of pace. But it will also be a nice change to be back in the rhythm of teaching.

I feel I should offer up some year-end pithiness, but I don't have much to say. The academic year is more meaningful to me than the calendar year. I don't really make new years resolutions. If I did it would be to be more productive, exercise more, do a better job of staying in touch with friends, and so on. But I basically resolve these things every day. Results are mixed. I also might resolve to start brewing beer and make my own kim chee.