Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I am here at my daughter's robotics class. She is doing this in the evenings. Theoretically, she is learning C, too, but not really. They are still playing with building the robots without actually programming them. Four boys and my daughter. And, if I am not biased, she is probably the best one there. Totally unbiased. She was actually the lead programmer for her Lego Robotics team last year. Yeah, she pretty much kicks ass (Crab-Girl, if you are reading this at some point in the future, you do kick ass!)

Was I this geeky when I was a kid? The guy who is running the class is something like 15 years old. He is a super geek. I think that I would have qualified as being in this category also. I don't know if he is wearing tube socks with his wallet in his sock, but maybe that was only cool in the 80s? Ok, enough ragging on poor 15 year-old kids that will eventually grow up to be me....

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I love music. I love listening to music. I would have it on all of the time, just because. I have actually, at times, been listening to something soft and delicate and said to my self, I should listen to music and move to put something on, and realized that there was already music playing. I just is so much a part of me.

I like a wide variety of music, but I have to admit, that I don't wander off the beaten path too much. Most of the music that you would find on my computer is music that you could hear on SOME radio station. What typically happens is that I hear a song that I really love, and then I go out and get every album by that band/person. Some examples:

1. Oingo Boingo. Everyone knows "Weird Science", but very few people have pretty much everything that they have ever made (well, I don't have everything...) "Cinderella Undercover" is one of the best songs ever made. "The cartoon animals on Old McDonald's Farm, are nodding off with needles in their arms."

2. B-52s. "Love Shack"? You think that's the best there is? "Rock Lobster" and "Wig" are the best. Then "Planet Clare" and "Private Idaho". Come on. It doesn't get any better than this. When you are cleaning the house on a bright spring day, nothing is better.

3. Metallica. Hell Yeah. These guys rock. But, I have to admit, that most of the popular songs are their best songs. "One" is so unbelievable. "Master of Puppets" is ok, but there are definitely better.

4. Kate Bush. Ok, I haven't listened to here in a long, long time. Haven't listened to Tori Amos much lately either.

5. Springsteen. Nebraska is one of the best albums ever made. Tunnel of Love. That is some good stuff.

6. We are on a Coldplay kick. Not gay, but love Coldplay.

Ok, I don't need to go through all the music I listen to. You pretty much get the point. It is close to the path. Not exactly on it, but close.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Just getting by

I am feeling guilty because I haven't written anything in a while. So here is a catch-up blog:

1. My students took a test on Tuesday. In preparation, one of the GSIs held a review session (he was sick of getting e-mail questions also). I bet him a beer that the test grades would be unaffected by (a) the fact that we tried to put together a very nice test and (b) he was holding a review session. I don't know about the other sections of the test yet, but the multiple choice average was 81%, which I bet him it would be 82% +/- 2%. Nailed it. I guess I am a cynical old bastard. But right.

2. I went to Washington DC for a 1-day meeting on what type of science you can do from a suborbital platform that will be launched every few days (think commercial space ventures). The general idea is that only rich people will pay $200,000 to go into space, but a $200,000 is cheap for a rocket flight from NASA's standards. It is quite interesting. The flights are about 10 minutes long. You experience 5g on the way up and 6g on the way down. And are ~weightless~ for something like 3 minutes. That would be really cool. But, I bitch about spending $50 each for all day at Lego Land.

3. I rode my bike from downtown to home. I was hardly tired, which is a good sign. My butt didn't hurt either. Great. I think I am going to bribe the kids to let me go for bike ride tomorrow.

4. My new Post Doc started work about a week ago. It will be an interesting ride. He has an interesting personality. I am not sure that I understand it right now. I will try to keep you posted. We ordered a computer for him a week ago and it still hasn't come in. That is frustrating. You basically can't work without a computer. He is very intent on doing one specific thing, while I want him to work on other things. While it is ok for him to work on this one thing a bit, it is what he keeps coming back too. I really hope that he works out....

5. I finally got a grad student to agree to come work with us. He is from just down the road. Seems like a nice guy. He actually works in the building with some other folks right now, who really like him. Good programmer, which is what I really need too. So, I am hopeful on that front.

6. With Obama's $3,000,000,000 infusion of cash into the National Science Foundation, and an increase in next year's budget of something like 10%, it may be a very good year for me. We shall see. I was told a few months ago that if the 09 budget is passed, I will get a grant. So, it has passed. Further, I was on another (hardware) grant for something like $2M. That now has a very good chance of being funded. And I have been asked by people to write another (hardware) grant for about $2+M (depending on the language of the NSF major research instrumentation grant call for proposals). If all of this money comes in, I am going to have to hire a large number of people to help out. And I have a NASA grant that is pending that I was told should be announced on March 19. It is now well beyond this date. Typically, if you are informed by the date, it is bad news. So, the longer it takes, the better the news may be.

7. New Yellow Dog still pees in house. News at 11. Actually, she is doing really well, except for at night around 9 PM, when we just have walked her an hour before, so we don't believe that she really has to pee. Then she does. In the house. So, now we are taking her outside all of the freaking time. During our only resting time. Nice. But, whatever.

8. I read 4 student papers in 2 days. These are full up, submitting to a major journal papers, not undergraduate class papers. What a pain in the ass.

9. I have 2 more to read that are not student papers. Interestingly, both are by the same first author. I am co-author on one and (anonymously) reviewing the other for a Journal. Strange.

10. I have gotten a few "Death Cab for Cutie" albums (what do you call a collection of mp3s now? Not a disk. Not an album. A pod?) I bought one from Amazon ($9.97 for mp3 downloads, which is a okish deal... at least they will play on other things besides an iPod, which I don't have - I have a Blackberry).

11. On that note, I hate the way the Blackberry handles multimedia. It sucks donkey balls. And you can quote me. This is my official review for my Blackberry: "e-mail - ok; surfing the web - sucks; Blackberry mapping program - sucks; Google maps on blackberry - awesome; mp3 player - sucks donkey balls; and as a phone - ok." When you move all of your mp3s onto the memory card, and restart the blackberry, it makes some sort of a database of the songs and such. Only, it takes it about 10 minutes to do this (every time you turn on or off your BB - think about airplanes....) And then, if this was the only issue, it would be fine, but no, it actually looses songs and whole albums. So, one time you turn it on, the new Death Cab for Cutie album shows up, but the next time, it doesn't. So, you reboot. Doesn't show up. Screw it, listen to something else. Another interesting feature is if you listen to music while it is trying to build this database, it stops building it. So, what you have when you start building is it. Now, it doesn't loose it off the memory card, it just doesn't figure out that it is there. Really irritating. Contract is up in November. Can anyone say "iPhone for Christmas?" Oh, I can.

12. Crab boy is growing his hair out long. He looks so shaggy now it is unbelievable.

13. Crab girl got her bottom pallet expander. Crab Mama had to bribe her with ice cream for a week to do it. Small bribe for what she will get out of it. Her top expander is working miracles - she has something like 6+ mm of more space up there. Hopefully they won't have to yank more teeth when all of her adult teeth come in. I had 8 yanked. Maybe they can keep her to 4....???

14. We lost connection to out instrument that is sitting out on the Antarctic continent. It is literally in the middle of no where. It took six weeks to get people in there to deploy it. I strongly advocated to put it at McMurdo (which is about a week to get to and a few days to get home from) for a year to field test it. I was outvoted ("why do we need to test it when it is an almost copy of the last one that we built???" Oh, it turns out that they have lots of failures on Iridium modems - and if they fail, your instrument is basically dead in the water.) I am pretty sick of being outvoted by people and doing it their way, only to have a big old turd drop on us. I am going to start bringing up all of the turds. They will be flying around like a turd storm if people dismiss what I say any more. Turds will be hitting the fan. It had to be said.

15. Crab Mama just left the room to go to bed. So, I guess my time has come.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pansy-*ss Students

For the last few semesters, I have given students a list of questions that may appear on the test. I then say that if you can answer all of these questions, you will probably do really well on the test.

Now, this semester, a number of students have e-mailed me and my GSIs direct questions directly from my power point, asking me to answer the questions. WTF is that about? I can not believe that students would come out and just cut and paste questions from the ppt doc and ask me to answer them. Why don't you show up to class? Even the last class, in which I read all of the questions to the students and allowed them to ask questions. Like "can you answer that one?" To which, I asked for anyone else in the class to answer it. They usually did. If no one knew the answer, I answered it in detail.

I really think that this is because I don't require students to attend class. I think that I have a LARGE part of the class that doesn't bother showing up at all. That really pisses me off.

It says something fundamental about the way that I am. If I give you freedom, I expect you to pull your end, and not f*ck around. It seems like a lot of people don't understand that. I imagine that I don't communicate that very well. I will have to try harder.

It is sort of like putting a sign on yourself that says "hey, walk all over me!" and being pissed off when people do. The sign comes off now.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

granny taxes

My mother (Crab-Granny) is sitting next to me. Waiting on hold with the IRS so we can finish up e-filling her taxes. She recommended that I blog about it an use swear words. So - sh*t.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Two years ago, when I moved into a Tenure-Track position I was given lab space. I told them "I don't have any hardware projects, so I don't need this space right now." I was told that yes I do need that space, because space is like gold - you horde it and don't give it up.

So, I used the space to teach in. I have a lab class in which they build stuff. Instead of using the crowded student labs and have to work out schedules with the other faculty to share the space, I just use my own lab space for student activities. About a week ago, my department chair comes into the office and asks me what I am using my lab space for, since we are hiring new faculty and we need space (and he knows that I don't have a hardware project right now). I tell him that I am using it for student space. He coughs a bit and tells me that I am not supposed to do that. There is student lab space for student activities. I tell him that it is crowded etc. He basically says so what, and I am pretty sure he is going to take the space away.

I just got off the phone with the building manager, who asked me what I am using my lab space for. Hint hint. The end is drawing near.

I have been writing grants and such to actually get hardware projects. We just need a little patience. But, my department chair doesn't have patience. So, I will probably lose my lab space. And the students will then lose their space. And this will happen the same month that I win a grant to do hardware. I am absolutely sure of this.

So, NSF program directors, if you are listening, please give me even a tiny bit of money, so I can convince my chair to let me keep my lab. Please.

This really sort of pisses me off, since I didn't want the damn space in the first place. Now that I am actually using it for what I think is a good cause, they are going to take it away because education is not important in our department. Space is important.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

On Learning

In the last few months, I have been on a committee in the college to look at how we should alter our college-level curriculum to enhance learning and education. This has been a really interesting experience for me, since it has demonstrated that some of my ideas for how things should be taught may be correct. We have had general discussions, have had some interviews with alumni, and have talked to companies that hire our alumni.

There really appears to be a common theme among the feedback - we should do more practical projects. The general idea is that students learn by doing. In an engineering class, you can sit there and be taught about resistors and capacitors all day, but you won't really know how to use them until someone sticks you in a lab and you have to build something. Taking it a step further, you won't understand what they are for until you have to build something that is not specified in a cookie-cutter lab project.

We have really talked about this as a general concept in all aspects of education. What this really means is that we have to start using open-ended questions to figure things out. Questions that may not have a clearly defined right or wrong. You have to make your own assumptions, justify those assumptions, then answer the question. This is not how things are done in school. Students don't like this because it is hard and it is very difficult to quantify what you have to do to get an "A" in the class. Memorizing facts and formulas is much easier. It is just too bad that this is not what life is really like. It is also much more difficult for professors also. You can't ask simple multiple choice questions, since they don't probe the issues at all. You have to ask more open-ended questions, then actually read all of the answers. That is painful in large classes. It is also almost impossible to do with graduate instructors grading things also, since there may not be any clearly defined answer. So, how do tell the GI to grade it? "You will know the correct answer(s) when you see it/them." That works for some GIs, but not all.

There are further problems with this idea. The biggest of which is that most professors feel that you have to pack the student's heads with FACTS. If you don't teach them all of the FACTS then you have not done your job! So, classes are jammed with lesson after lesson on the facts of some issue or another issue, instead of how to use those facts for something practical.

The most extreme case of the 'anti-fact' 'pro-doing' teaching that I have seen is that a professor was advocating doing away with calculus, and teaching students how to do integrals and derivatives on the computer. Since, few students actually use integral tables anymore, they simply use Maple or Mathematica to solve complicated equations. This is sort of a natural extension to log/sin/cos tables. When I was in high-school, we learned how to look up the solution to log(x) on a table, instead of on a calculator, even though calculators were available most places. Now, I can imagine that this is not taught, since you can buy a calculator at Target for a nickel. How many students today have a big book of integral tables? Why bother when you can use a computer? Would it be better teaching student why you might want to actually use calculus? Give the students problems that they may actually be exposed to in everyday life (well, maybe life on their job...) This maybe sort of an extreme example.

In my department, we produce a lot of students who are supposed to do something very, very, very practical. But, we don't have a single professor in the department that does that practical thing. And the faculty have no motivation what-so-ever to hire a tenured faculty member to do that. So, we pay a research faculty member who specializes in that practical thing to teach the two actual practical classes that we offer. The students love those classes and would like more. But we don't offer them more. Instead, we offer classes on more facts about the processes. This, to me, is a completely screwed up system.

I am a relatively young faculty member who has been teaching for only a few years. Maybe I am naive. I can believe that. But, I think that, while I am young enough to listen to what students and outside members of the general community want, I will try to slowly change our department to teaching more "hands-on" classes. Maybe our students will succeed more and we will grow. Who knows?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

200 students can bring you down

I am once again spending every waking minute on my class. They have an essay due on Thursday that is worth 16% of their grade. Don't ask why it is 16% instead of 15 or 20. They are slightly panicked about it. I would imagine that students are going to office hours of the GSIs, but they are also e-mailing me all of the time.

Further, my GSI who is posting the homework assignments doesn't get anyone else to look at the questions, so each week we have a bunch of issues with the homework. So, I have to respond to 20 questions that are all exactly the same.

Then, I am preparing some lectures that I didn't do last semester, so I am spending many hours doing that.

A few students want to come talk to me about their failing grades ("Here is why I haven't done any homework - can you pass me???") I don't want to have these conversations. I need to be a dick, and I am not a dick. Actually, I have to remember that these students have done it to themselves, so I am not being a dick giving them the grade that they have earned. Yeah - keep telling yourself this.

Needless to say, I am getting burned out on class stuff.

Ok, bitchy-bitch time is over. I have to go teach.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Relatively Content

Here are the things that I have been up to in the last few days:

1. I was in Boulder CO on Friday. Which feels like yesterday. What happened to Saturday? It was a blur. Anyways. I had sort of a European dinner while in Boulder - started off with drinks around 5:00 and finished dinner around 8:30. Not very typical! And, I didn't get to eat a Spicy Chicken Burrito at the Southern Sun! This is my favorite meal in Boulder. But, I will survive. I promise.

2. Last week I didn't get to work out at all. Or, more precisely, I didn't get to work out the week before because I was traveling, and last week I was too lazy to do it. I have been falling farther and farther behind on sleep, so it was difficult for me to get up at all last week, let alone get up with enough time to go to the YMCA. I am a fat blob. Well, a blob that weighs something like 20 lbs (8 kg) more than I would like. And I drink too much Mt. Dew. This week, I will work out.

3. I don't have to travel again until the 26th. That is like 2 weeks away! I was supposed to go to Europe that week, but I canceled. But then got asked to attend a 1-day meeting in Washington. So, I will go there for <24 hours. For the next 2 weeks I can work and work and work. By this I mean write reports and other crap that I don't really want to do, but have to do. Like I said, work.

4. It has been raining a lot lately. That means that we get to deal with wet dog.

5. I have to make up some lectures for my class. I promised them that I would discuss some cool topic and now have to actually do it. I am not really complaining about it, just stating facts. Tonight I will be doing some research....

6. Crab-boy mad a list of things that we had to do today. It was great. He had a few items that he absolutely wanted me to do for him, so he suggested a list. I agreed. We put things like "eat breakfast" and "walk the dog" on there, as well as "hang up Lego ships" and "Fix fishing pole", which were the real motivators.

7. I wish Battlestar Galactica made more sense. There are only 2 episodes to go and it is still very confusing.

8. Crab Mama tells me that I should go wash myself. I guess I should do that.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sh*tty Miracles

Lilly has gone 2 days without any indoor excremental excitations.

And the beaded dragon took the biggest crap you have ever seen. All by himself.

It truly is a blessed day.

Monday, March 2, 2009

State of Disrepair

Our new dog, Lilly, is a fine dog. She is happy and playful and loves to jump up and down and have fun with you. She fetches and acts like a dog. Heidi, our older, more mature dog, wants nothing to do with that crap. She is frumpy.

The problem, you see, is that Lilly pees and poops on the floor. That is hard to put up with. For example, this evening, we got home, and immediately took Lilly out. She peed. Crab-Girl played with her for a while outside, where she peed again. She came inside and played for a little while in the house, where she peed again. We cleaned that up. Then an hour later, she she peed inside again. She has never actually peed twice in an hour, so having her pee 4 times in 4 hours was quite shocking. Well, now we know.

NASA launched a $300M satellite the other day. It crashed. Oops. I can't imagine being on that team. You think that you have 2-5 years of steady funding coming in, with lots of great science to do, then wham, the satellite blows up and you have no more funding and no more science to do. Crap-burgers.

I am in a sh*t mood. Once again. I have a bunch of reports to read and/or do and I have no motivation to do them.

I am going to Boulder on Friday to have a meeting. The people who are hosting told me today that we can't use Macs. We have to use the Windows machine provided. "Test your powerpoint on a Windows machine!" the person tells me. F*ck that. I don't do Windows. I don't have a Windows machine to test my powerpoint on. Why would I? Why would anyone?

I am going to go to bed before I start swearing more.

Ok. One more. F*ck.