Tuesday, June 24, 2003

From barely 60 and downpouring to 90 and humid in a snap! The tomato plants are loving it, the rest of us living things are glad to see the sun, but would have preferred 75 and dry for a while, thank you.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Everyone is all worked up about the Math A Regents. I'm still not sure what seniors are doing in Math A. That means there were 4 years to teach to the test, and still the effort was a failure. Sigh. (An update, Commissioner Mills has announced that the seniors can march, but they might not get diplomas.) The math stuff is all water-under-the-bridge to me, the first step was when I left my administrative job, then the final step was when my dissertation was approved (to the point where when asked to come out west and make a pitch on the subject I said "No thanks") but I have big time mixed feelings. I'm not a fan of multiple choice tests, and I know that the changing Regents standards mean a lot of low-resource kids will fail.

But on the other hand, after 5 years of grading math tests (and discovering that 60%+ of students can't do arithmetic), one year plus of BOCES (and discovering that way too many perfectly "normal" students are labeled), 10 semesters of teaching foundations (and discovering that the majority of students can't write, and a sizable number are ethically challenged), I wonder what is going on in K-12, and not just in the cities or rural areas - but in the resource rich suburbs too.
Hooray! Here's a piece of wonderful news concerning animal rights.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Wow! Blogger suddenly does look different. I know the homepage has been saying this would happen for a while, but I am still surprised.

No time to play with it at the moment -- it is late. I am bothered right now because shortly before we left Castleton to head to Samsonville this evening, I noticed that one of my hanging baskets was missing. I have four nice, identical green planters hanging from the front porch, and every year I "fix" them myself with peat moss and compost. This year, each has a zonal geranium, a petunia, and some vinca.

Two days ago, Bob noticed that some of the marigolds I planted in a box in front of the house had been ripped out, and the plants and dirt were tossed on the ground. We decided it may have been a neighborhood cat, since something like this has never happened before, and I have heard cats will sometimes dig in flowers. The plants seemed OK, so I replanted everything, and forgot about it.

I did hear the dogs barking quite ferociously at one point today, but I didn't pay much attention and I guess that was a mistake. So the marigold mystery is solved, it was not a kitty in search of a litter box, but a vandal. The culprit must not be very tall, because they left the rope hanger, instead detaching just the pot. This makes me think more than one person was involved, someone to support the rather heavy pot, and someone to snap off each hook.

I thought if it was a kid, maybe they just threw the pot away in the nearby trash cans or tossed it in the weeds across the street, but no such luck. I didn't notice any other damage or anything else missing, but on the way out of town we stopped at the local police station and I reported it.

I saw in the newspaper today that the village is considering re-establishing a police force of its own, something which was discontinued in the 1980s. Since then we have relied on the town and state for patrols. The purposes of resuming a village force are to decrease vandalism and speeding, and both seem like worthy causes to me. People drive very recklessly in the village, using our steep one way streets as commuter "thrus."

On Monday, I'll go back to the hardware store to see if I can locate a matching pot, since I bought the four I had three years ago. And, back to the garden center to replace the flowers. Then, next week, I will be on alert!

In the sixteen years we have lived there, we have never had a problem with vandalism or theft. We have wonderful neighbors, and it really is a nice little town. By this I mean not upscale at all, just plain, simple, ordinary, and generally good. I guess we have been lucky. The officer we spoke with said school has had a lot of half days recently, and this means there are too many unsupervised teenagers during the afternoons.

Although to folks who live in areas where crime is commonplace it probably seems like no big deal, this incident makes me both mad and sad! Why would someone want to destroy my flowers?

Thursday, June 19, 2003

There is no Tuesday Too

1. A lot of hubbub has been going on the last two days over remarks Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) made regarding the desire to break personal computers to protect copyrights. We're all copyright holders here -- indeed, it would be exceedingly difficult to not go through life in America without issuing at least one de facto copyright -- and since we're all uniformly qualified to discuss this issue, I'd like to know how important is your right of copyright is to you.

"Lord Thring asked me what I thought would be a fair and just copyright limit. I said a million years - that is, copyright in perpetuity. The answer seemed to outrage him; it quite plainly irritated him" (Mark Twain [1906], The Autobiography of Mark Twain). I agree with Mark Twain! I wrote a little more about copyright (and a bunch of other things, most not related) here.

2. Several posts ago, I commented that I had driven on the beach at Ocean Shores. Where is the oddest/most surreal place you've driven or parked a car? In that particular case, it was one of those things that struck me as, "Of all the things I would expect to find on a beach, a big white van isn't one of them". It could be along those lines for you, or on some other odd/surreal definition of your own.

Well, driving in itself is pretty surreal for me, since I don't routinely drive. But as a passenger, two things come to mind. Most recently it would be two years ago, waiting to make a left turn and hearing, from a good, long distance behind someone's brakes screetching, and those lingering moments of anticipation before bang! The truck was rear-ended. Then several years ago, coming back from Saratoga on the northway (a highway that is always somewhat surreal) at night, seeing a strange car, surrounded by some sort of cloud, that appeared suddenly, and vanished. Like a ghost car. Yes, we were tired and yes that ride is tiresome. But I doubt we would both imagine the same thing unprompted...

3. Have you seen anyone, or have you yourselves used smokeless (& ashless) cigarettes yet? More importantly, do you think that smokers with smokeless cigs should be allowed back in public places they've been banned from?

I'm not sure. This is the first time I've heard of them. Sounds like a good idea, but I think the research focus should be on making less toxic cigarettes generally. All the anti-smoking, anti-couch potato, anti-etc. health nut obsession strikes me as both good and bad. Sure, I'm all for it, we should avoid fat, stretch, walk, not smoke, not drink, you name it, of course fast food and watching TV all day are bad. But at the same time, some of it seems to promote an uptight intolerance and plastic way of living, a-la scary science fiction.

I've been happy about, but also have mixed feelings on the recent smoking ban (also surprised it passed). In terms of offices and schools, it has been so long since people could smoke inside them that I don't even remember what it was like, and I think the ban has been a good thing. The people clustered at the doors chaining away never bothered me, as long as the butts stayed in an ashtray.

In recent years, my experience (and I eat out quite a bit) has been that the majority of restaurants had divided up the sections appropriately or bought enough ventilation so that the smoke wasn't really a problem anyway. OK, that's restaurants; honestly, I rarely go to bars anymore. Last time I was in a true bar was after the Blue Room, we stopped at a nice little place called Savannah's. It was definitely too smoky for my liking, and we didn't stay long, but I'm not sure how much people who frequent bars care, or I guess what I mean is smokefree may wind up driving away business.

Somehow, it reminds me of prohibition, and that is regarded as a public policy disaster, if rather romanticized. One thing for sure, making bars smokefree isn't going to get me out of my house and into a "ginmill!" So although for their own good, I wish everyone would quit, and I do prefer smokefree places, I think it should be a bar owner's decision, and patrons can vote with their feet.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

I sent the 23 students who have already signed up for the course an email to prompt them to get started. I thought they might need more direction than usual. Online courses always attract a variety of types of students, but summer students are even more diverse than the students who take courses during the year. Their computer skill level may be different, their familiarity with learning over the Internet may not be the same, and they are not necessarily matriculated students at the university, or even anywhere in SUNY.

Something I have been thinking of adding the the course when I teach it in the Fall (summer is too compact to schedule this) are one or more chat sessions. We are not encouraged to do this, since it is supposed to be asynchronous, but I want to try different things to discourage cheating, and increase engagement. I am thinking it may help to keep students "on the same page."

I've had the page count added to Gully Brook Press for a while, and by far the most popular search that gets the site a hit is "bungalow houses."

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Today it actually feels hot! Rain is predicted to return tonight and it certainly seems humid enough.

I replanted zucchini, cucumbers and marigolds yesterday because the slugs have been having a feast. I put out some beer traps for them, too.

Blogger has been a little unreliable, I wish switching to something else wasn't such a hassle...

No activity in my class yet, which is a surprise. Usually summer students want to get started early because of the intense workload.

The university switched to an online (from a telephone) registration system, and there are all sorts of snags. But it is too hot to spend a lot of time upstairs working (and no air conditioner will be turned on yet).

Monday, June 16, 2003

Finally, a nice weather weekend, and we opened the pool! The water is very murky, and there were quite a few leaves to scoop out. I didn't relish the idea of getting in that mess, but wound up jumping right in on Saturday without giving it a thought. We have a new fence in S'ville that surrounds the deck and half of the pool. This is the largest area the dogs have ever had, and this weekend was the first time they have been in the new area. The pool has a new deck platform, which replaced a rickety plastic ladder. We haven't bolted down the ladder half that goes in the pool yet, and before Saturday, it was still in the shed. From the deck to the pool there is a boardwalk.

Rather than exploring the yard, both dogs and the cat are most interested in going from the deck to the boardwalk to the steps and platform near the pool. Sniffing around in the grass? Why? I resolved to splash the cat when she comes near the pool, since it would be awful if she fell in, plus she might try to escape the yard by jumping on the edge of the pool and slipping around the fence, but I wasn't too worried about the dogs. I thought Rudy might be brave enough to jump in eventually, but doubted Sophie would have that much nerve. And, I never figured that they would want to go up on the platform unless we were up there, or in the pool. I was inside the house, changing into my bathing suit, trying to get psyched to get in the very green and debris-filled water, and Bob was retrieving the ladder from the shed. Suddenly I heard Bob yell, "Sophie's in the pool!" I ran outside, and saw Rudy standing on the platform. I could hear splashing.

I know dogs can swim, but you must visualize Sophie. Her body is long and enormous, her legs are ridiculously short, and her paws are tremendous.(You can see her picture here.) I ran up the steps and jumped into the disgusting water without thinking about the slime, or even noticing whether the water was cold. At first I couldn't tell if she was struggling - the cover was not tied down but it was still floating in the pool and I thought she might be tangled up in the cables. But then I saw, with relief, that she was fine - she was swimming with no problem, her head was bobbing above the water, those long ears and her face looked very serious. She did not come directly to me when I called her, but instead swam to the other side. In a flash, Bob was in the pool too, he scooped her up, and heaved her up on the deck. After all, she is Bob's baby.

At that moment, we both realized we had no way to get out of the pool. Bob boosted me and I managed to scramble on the deck, and eventually I located the ladder, unscrewed the two halves, and carted it to the pool, so Bob could get out too. We aren't sure whether Sophie fell or if she jumped, but she does not seem scared, and the animals are still way too interested in the pool platform. Eventually we barricaded the bottom of the steps with a wooden skid, and decided we will need to get a gate.

Friday night we went to see the Wizard of Oz at the New York State Theatre Institute. It was a good show, the closing night of the performance and of the season. Of course, there were many kids there, and some were too little to stay engaged so late at night. Looking around the audience, we decided we could almost be mistaken for the grandparents!

Friday, June 13, 2003

Recently I read something about Helen Keller from the New Yorker that was linked in Arts and Letters Daily (I think it caught my eye because of the reference to Mark Twain). The article mentioned that Helen Keller's teacher, Annie Sullivan, was in a poorhouse in Massachusetts when she was a girl. That got me thinking about the Poorhouse article again.

In the links at that site, there were some photographs of poorhouse cemeteries, and there is one in Minnesota that is a public park, with horseshoe courts built over the graves. In Ulster County, the poorhouse lands are now the fairgrounds, and the cemetery, or what's left of it anyway, is behind the county pool.

We sometimes walk the dogs in the lovely cemetery near the Castleton house. For some reason, these poorhouse images brought to mind a little stone that is in the cemetery that reads: "In memory of the infants who died during the epidemic of 1918." Who were they?, I have always wondered. Were there so many that they had to be buried together? Or are they scattered about, but only later there was time to remember them?

I think when you are fascinated by history as I am, questions about life and death crop up even more often than they do otherwise. Sometimes I have to tell myself to let it go. But more than being morose, these thoughts also are gentle reminders that it is important to be happy now and to enjoy every day, even the rainy ones, even the ones filled with less than pleasant tasks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

I finally got rid of the poison ivy in the yard yesterday. Also, the deer fence around the garden is up. It is raining today, so I am working on my summer course, which formally starts June 23, but is accessible beginning June 16.

Here's the Chronicle of Higher Education's service, Arts and Letters Daily. There are always a lot of fascinating and very diverse links listed.
Here's an interesting, to the point, and "sure seems true to me" article from Prospect, called Nutrition: the new medicine [click "articles," then "current issue" to get there]. (Via the Chronicle of Higher Education.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Update on the Wynkoop House, from the Daily Freeman. (Thanks Ma). The greed makes me sick.
There may not be a Tuesday Too.

1. Why do you do these memes? Why do you think people in general do them?

The only meme I have ever done in this ejournal is the Tuesday Too. I started to do it last year when I was new to web journaling because I saw jf's invitation post in the user to user area of blogger. At the time, I didn't have any clue there were memes, I just visited her site, liked the idea, the questions, and the responses of others, and decided to respond to them. I figured, if all else failed, I'd have something to write about once a week, which at the time was my goal for posting.

Maybe others respond because memes are prompts for things to write about? Also because it makes one part of a group, a club, a (gasp) clique?

2. Do you read the responses of other people when they meme?

Yes, I always read the responses of the other TT participants. The questions were good, I don't keep a blogroll, and it gave me a few journals to read now and then. When I come across responses to some other meme, sometimes I read the answers, sometimes I don't.

3. What memes do you try to always do, and conversely which do you avoid, and why?

I always do (did?) the TT, I have never done any others. However, pre-electronic journal, sometimes I would get what I now know to be a meme emailed to me, with instructions to answer and send on to others. It was never as frequent as once per week, and usually there were numerous questions that elicited snappy, short answers.

Monday, June 09, 2003

This weekend, I finished all the planting I had planned. Friday was a beautiful day to work outside, yesterday was OK, but on Saturday I had to brave the rain to do it! It was worth it. Now I hope the weather cooperates a little, and the seeds and seedlings survive.

Two other things we did this weekend, on Friday we went to see the Matrix. I liked the first one much better, this episode seemed to be thin on plot, and overly influenced by video games. On Saturday we saw the Blue Room, and it was excellent.

Here's an interesting story from the Kingston Freeman and a link to the Ulster County Poorhouse website, complete with photographs and other worthwhile links on this subject. (Thanks, J. and Ma.) Today is a fairly nice day, but I found this site so absorbing I could hardly pull myself away.

Friday, June 06, 2003

On Tuesday, I chopped down three large burdock plants that were growing near my garden. I remembered that when I was a kid, my mother cooked the stems, and my father called them "cardone." As I recall, they were delicious. I have always been tempted to give this a try, but most of the burdock I come across are growing in areas that make the thought unpalatable, for example between cracks in a sidewalk, or in a garbage-strewn empty lot. You know, one of those places where you just know a dog has lifted his leg on the plant a few times.

These were growing in rich soil, near where I used to keep the composter. No dogs, not my two nor any others, have been near them. So I searched the Internet for information -- just to make sure my memory was serving me and I wouldn't wind up poisoning us. Burdock are a lot more common in Japanese cuisine, but the root is eaten, not really the stems. I couldn't tell from the descriptions of Italian cardone whether this is exactly the same plant as ordinary burdock, but I decided to proceed anyway. The description of the flavor was a combination of artichoke and celery, and this was good enough for me. They can be served many ways, and usually are eaten on special occasions.

They were very dirty, and cleaning them was a challenge. I cut the stems in 3" - 4" pieces, pulled off the bigger threads, the way you would with celery, then sliced them lengthwise, to facilitate removing sand and bugs. I washed them and washed them and washed them. I boiled them in salted water with lemon juice for 30 minutes to remove the bitterness. When they were done, I rinsed them. I stored them in the refrigerator until today, when I dipped them in egg and bread crumbs and fried them in olive oil.

My memory was accurate! They were delicious, and Bob agreed.

Here's another item from the Times Union on the historic preservation -- or rather, historic destruction -- front that made me sad/mad. This one is about a historic barn being torn down in Clifton Park.

Several days ago I added a site counter to most of the pages in the Gully Brook Press website. On some pages it isn't working right and I haven't had the time to tweak it, but otherwise it has been fascinating. Unfortunately, because it is free it adds an ugly banner to the top of the pages, but I am living with it for the interesting information I can collect. The virtual museum is what brings in the traffic. I can't tell whether the PDF files are getting read, I guess I would have to convert them to regular webpages to track them. I have resisted doing this, despite being urged by others to get rid of the PDF because they are hard to access, since after my experiences I want to make it at least a little difficult to plagiarize.

There is no Tuesday Too (via Sya).

Yes, I've noticed. I hope all is OK. I'll give these questions a try -- and since there's no TT, I suppose it is OK to do it on late Thursday/early Friday.

1. Request from a friend. Even if you don't do anything else for this edition of the faux-Tuesday Too, please answer this: do you ever have dreams where you read something and actually know what it is that you're reading?

I'm ashamed to respond that I can't remember! Sometimes I have vivid dreams and the memory lingers, other times I don't dream, or at least I don't recall dreaming, but I have no clue if I read in my dreams.

2. Got any music in your collection you're absolutely ashamed of owning?

No. I'm not a musical elitist, I can appreciate almost anything and my collection has a very wide range, although I tend to overplay certain CDs. I still have some vinyl, but I rarely listen to it. And, my tastes have changed somewhat over the years. I like almost all folk, bluegrass and country-rock music, and I like some rock, country, jazz, classical, alternative, dance, pop, and show tunes. I like specific musicians or bands more than types of music, for example, I like Billy Joel, Indigo Girls, Dave Matthews Band, Natalie Merchant, Joan Baez, George Winston, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, John Prine, Dave Brubeck. I also like silence - no TV, no radio, no CD player.

3. A two-parter: you're having an allergy attack. What's the first thing you try to relieve your itchy, runny nose and sneezing?

I have some allergies, and usually don't do anything.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

I made a post -- then blogger decided to crash and it was gone (I never learn). So it will keep.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

The weather has been holding (though rain is predicted for tomorrow), so I have made some progress on the yard. It is so late to be just starting to plant! I want to set out some heirloom tomatoes that my sister started, but they are precious and I haven't wanted to risk them getting soaked. So instead I have been putting them outside for a while every day. They can't stay in their tiny pots forever, and one transplanted they will grow huge -- so they really don't lend themselves to container planting.

Monday, June 02, 2003

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting article entitled Scholars Who Blog. There are links to nine sites (most are well known, unlike this site :-), plus two directories.

On one site, I find this gem, Copycats, including comments from many kindred spirits. It was strange to read this, nice to see it isn't just me, bordering on hilarious to see how flagrant it is, and horrible to see how common it is!

The plagiarism I have detected most closely resembles what is called, in the linked post, "The Filing Cabinet." This semester's episode is over, I think. I received a round of emails, the last asking me to telephone so we could clear up our "misunderstanding." When I didn't (I am not on campus and it was long distance!), the student went to the department to complain to the chair, and while there he was advised to put his concerns in writing, and then that handwritten note was mailed to me. He wasn't aiming high, a D- would have been satisfactory. I didn't budge, and at this point, I think there will not be an appeal.

I think it is a huge, and growing problem. This is anecdotal, of course. It may have been rampant years ago, too. Or maybe detecting it is so upsetting that it distorts our perceptions. I know sometimes it overwhelms what should be our focus: serious, honest students who are trying.

I've been giving some thought to what additional revisions to assignments I can make that will decrease the incidence. I already change assignments and topics; my remarks to class on the topic are so extensive sometimes I fear timid students will think I am an ogre. I have heard some faculty argue that teaching is based on trust, so they can't worry about it. That is an optimistic view; it is so appealing to me. But when headlines focus on journalists and business people who are corrupt, I can't help believing that academe should try to reduce the problem. It doesn't matter which came first, rampant cheating in school or unethical workers, that is a chicken-or-egg question. (And frankly, it seems to me that it is at least as likely it was school.)

I do know that it really, really troubles me. (So did the evaluation comment about there being nothing good about class :-(.

Time to work outside! The rain has stopped for a few days, at least.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

I'm kind of sore but I'm glad I did that work outside -- since it has done nothing but rain ever since! I pulled out bamboo grass that is invasive in Castleton. After I finished, I had a pile about 7 feet high! I also uncovered three clumps of poison ivy. Every year I "suit up" and remove it. I was too tired to do it after the bamboo challenge, but I think tomorrow will be nice again so it is on my to do list.

Speaking of being nice outside...I hope something gives soon, because the Gully Brook (the real thing is behind the house here in Samsonville) looks pretty threatening for what is usually a gentle, even intermittent little stream.

An "alert reader" (I don't read Dave Barry much any more but I remember that from his column) notified me that the pictures were not loading in the new Battle of Saratoga virtual museum. I checked it from both machines in Castleton, and it seemed fine, but here in Samsonville, they didn't appear. That's the problem with using software that makes webpage design easy, you don't "see" simple errors in the HTML code. In this case, it was pointing to the network drive -- which both Castleton machines can locate, of course. So I'm proud to say I managed to fix it using Notepad. (I don't have any other options on the S'ville machine.) Those two seminars on HTML that I took for work years ago really have come in handy.