Monday, June 26, 2006

Weird Literature

In searching for something on, I ran across the following, which I present with only the comment that I find it very weird:

The Differential Calculus As the Model of Desire in French Fiction of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: Kenneth C. Hockman Hardcover, 1997 - Not in stock.

The Battle of the Bugs

I seem to have a modest war with bugs going on now.

When I first moved in, I noticed an ant or two around. I put out some ant bait traps. They're still around, not in hordes, but often enough that it bothers me. I've put out the remaining bait traps in an attempt to get rid of them all. I'm wondering if I'm going to have to get a bunch of sealable plastic bins to put all my food into.

To cool off the apartment, I usually have most of the windows open. (Of course I end up opening and closing various blinds and windows based on where the sun is coming from to minimize heat coming in and maximize cool air. This is a pain. I will never live anywhere without central air again.) At night, this becomes a problem, because if I turn on a light in the apartment, I get flocks of tiny little gnats, which can apparently fit through the screens. I bought a "bug light" which insects are supposed to not be attracted to and put it into a lamp which I used for a while at night. It does seem to draw somewhat fewer gnats, but those that come in swarm around the lamp anyway, so I'm not sure how well it really works. More recently I've taken to isolating myself in my bedroom (where I have the window unit) with the door and windows shut at night. For this problem, the coming of winter will actually be a blessing, since I can leave my windows shut.

Then there are the spiders. I found one big one inside my front door the other day. (He is no longer with us.) There was one who kept building a big web attached to my mailbox. I would knock it down everyday when I saw it, and it would keep getting built back. (I didn't want whatever it was to try to eat the mailman someday.) I never could find the spider who built it 'though. Last night I when I went to take out the trash, I found the bugger rebuilding the web. Great big nasty looking thing. I squooshed it, and now the mailbox is web free. (Yes, I know the spiders will help with the other bugs, but there are some places I just don't want big nasty looking spiders. If the one on the mailbox had relocated somewhere else--say, the bush below the mailbox--I would have been OK with that.)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Life is Better with Air-Conditioning

I finally managed to get a window unit installed in my bedroom, which is making my bedroom much more comfortable now. I was somewhat at a loss for a while because I had looked at installation instructions, and they seemed to include all sorts of bits to screw into the window itself. These are of course not really my windows, so I was a little hesitant about this. But after talking to people at Sears and Lowe's, I decided I could just ignore the bits about putting in screws and bolts (at least for a small unit).

However, I still had a thin rim of the window which juts up out of the sill over which the unit has to fit. (This is pretty standard. It's just what the window slide down against when it closes.) Unfortunately, no manufacturer seems to make units with any sort of groove or channel to accommodate this. The standard recommendation is to lay a 2x4 along the window sill and place the unit on this. So that's how my unit is set up now, and I have ignored all the instructions about screwing or bolting anything to the window itself. If it falls out and kills anyone, I'll let you know.

Of course, all this begs the question of why the manufacturers of window units don't build the units to accommodate what is apparently a fairly standard window design, and instead suggest that you jerry-rig it with a couple of boards.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

In the words of Yoda, "That is why you fail."

I recently went through that time of the year again, where students were desperately trying to figure out their grades to within a hair's breadth, and trying to make deals with the devil (me) to pass (or get whatever grade is needed to counteract how they are doing in all their other classes). I posted all the grades for the last test in my classes to help people who are trying to decide whether to use a late drop. (Students could drop a small number of classes in their careers near the end of the semester.) I also got all the calls and e-mails from students desperate to pass, frequently sure, just positive, that they could not have done so badly on the last test. The machine must have made a mistake with their opscan. I also always get the (slightly) more subtle students asking hopefully if there will be a curve. (By which they mean, "Will you add some points to the tests so my score is better?")

But I usually get one other type of question near the end of the semester, usually in my lower level class: "How do I figure out my grade?" Or frequently just: "I keep trying to figure out what my grade is, but I don't understand how to do it." Granted, I have a moderately involved grading system which involves several categories, such as labs, homework, quizzes, and class participation as well as three tests and a final, but ultimately these just boil down to following the instructions to calculate each component of the grade and adding these up.

A few years back I just gave up and gave my students an Excel spreadsheet into which they can enter their grades to find their final grade. But I think about it every semester, and it occurs to me that if students are having trouble figuring out their final grade, they are having trouble with fairly basic math (averaging and percentages, mostly), and that this does not bode well for their grade in a math class. It comes back to what a friend of mine told me years ago: students who are failing math classes frequently don't know it, because they're bad at math, so they can't correctly figure out their grade.

(As an aside, they are usually disappointed to discover that it will not tell them their grade without knowing the final exam grade, which is worth 20 points of the final grade. They often want to know "But what's my grade without the final?", which I don't understand at all. Without the final, the highest grade they can get is an 80. If you want to estimate your grade, you have to input some estimate for the final, because the final contributes to the grade. It's that simple. I can't calculate your grade without the final, because the final is a part of it. I usually recommend students use their test average to estimate their final exam grade, but it is an estimate. Anything you do to figure your grade "without the final" involves in some way estimating the final, but students don't seem to get that.)

I'm Back

I'm moved, partially settled, back on-line, and doing a million things.

I'm sort of adjusting to the new place, although I've had a few shocks, like when I found out it didn't have air-conditioning. (In the South, if no one mentioned a lack of air-conditioning when selling you an apartment, it would mean they were trying to kill you. Up here it just means they're trying to make you moderately uncomfortable.) I'm looking into window units, particularly since having the windows open all the time doesn't combine well with either the fraternity a block in front (which holds late night parties) or with the cow pasture a block behind. (I like seeing the cows; they're pretty. I just don't care for smelling them when the wind changes.)

Eating has gone pretty well so far. I'm in walking distance of a few restaurants here in town, and I've had good luck with the nearby big city (no giggling) of Erie. In fact, I've found the good shopping district of Erie. I always know I'm in good shape when I've found where the Target is. (OK, I'm sure someone thinks Target is tres gauche, but I like it and I generally always like the areas where they build them.) In the same area I've found the Mother-of-All-Supermarkets, called Wegmans. They have everything, and every time I go in, I find more stuff to buy than I intended to. Last time I discovered the olive and antipasto bar. Then some cheeses. And ooo--look at those donuts in the bakery! That was the point at which I figured I needed to leave so I could still fit through my front door by the time I got home.

In any case, I'm still in the halfway point of unpacking. I have all these boxes half-empty, plus a bunch of boxes of books I can't unpack at all because I don't have any bookshelves anymore. In fact, I have no furniture at all for my living room or dining room, since I opted to give away a lot of old furniture when I moved. But this means I have to shop for furniture now, which is another thing for me to do.

But in any case, I'm here. And I can't help but think, as I did right after my partner and I both moved last time, of the ending of the Lord of the Rings. (The books. I don't remember if it's in the movie that way.) At the end, when Sam has seen off Frodo, and gone back home to greet his family simply with "I'm home," there's a melancholy and unsettling feel to it, almost unsatisfactory. Frodo is gone, and the story is closed, although there's certainly more living to happen. But things didn't go back to the way they were, and they never can. It's a theme Tolkien seems to like. Near the end of the Silmarillion, Tolkien makes some comment about the fact that the story started with the high and light, and ended in a certain degree of gloom and despair; he says that is the way of the world, and things will never return to the way they were, unless it is at the end of all things when the world is broken and remade anew. (I'm probably way off on the phrasing here, but hopefully not on the sentiment. I'd look up the quote, but remember all my books are in boxes.) It's probably related to general Christians theology, with the idea of an early Garden of Eden, followed by a fall (a descent into darkness), which will never be fully righted until the end of the world. But my main point here is just that there is the same sort of sad, almost empty feeling when Sam says "I'm home" at the end of the story, even though things have mostly turned out alright. A story has ended, and nothing will be the same again.

So as I said to myself after the last time my partner and I moved about two years ago, after I had said goodbye to him for a while and returned to my (then) new apartment: I'm home.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Going Off-Line for a Bit

The packers and movers are coming tomorrow. I don't know yet when they are delivering; I'll find out tomorrow. Of course this means that as everything gets packed up and I start traveling back and forth again, I'll be off-line for a while, but I'm not sure how long.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Travel Notes

At the beginning of this week I made a two day trip up and back to my new place, to get some things taken care of (like signing the lease and getting keys at some point before I had a moving van at my back.)

On the way up, I stopped in the restroom at the West Virginia welcome center, and found a peculiar little fold-down plastic seat inside the stall, apparently to stow your baby while you're, erm, busy. I'm not saying it's a bad idea (actually it's probably a great idea for someone traveling solo with an infant), but it does sort of tickle me to think of putting a baby in something that strongly reminds me of a cup-holder on the side of the stall. (If the baby remembers any of this, it may require therapy later.)

I was interrupted in my musing by the guy in the stall next to me calling out "No more Wendy's for me!" To my relief, someone else answered him; he apparently had a friend in the restroom he was communicating with, and I was not expected to carry out a through-the-stall discussion of the state of his digestion.

Since it's summer, there is a small portion of the roads in the US which are apparently not under construction at this time. (I didn't seem to find many.) I ended up running a few hours later than I expected, but still had a chance to meet briefly with the Realtor in the afternoon and arrange to finish up in the morning. I got one unpleasant surprise: the apartment doesn't have air conditioning. (The things I don't think to ask.) Granted, for at least 9 months out the year, you'll have no use for it at all, and it turns out most places in the area don't have air conditioning. (Heating bills are estimated to run in the mid 200s a month in the winter in fact. All of this is fairly foreign to the boy who mostly grew up in Texas, even if he did go to school near Cleveland.) But I've never been a fan of the "sweating builds character" school of thought; I'd rather just be comfortable all 365 days, and it probably helps my allergies. I'll be looking into window units I guess.

I opted to head into Erie (the big city) and look for an adventure for dinner. I navigated some fairly run down streets for some time, but eventually found a reasonably nice area and even ran into the Quaker Steak and Lube, which I'd seen recommended. It was cute; it's all automotive themed, and the food was fairly good. I'll be back there again. (And it seemed to work out better for me than Wendy's apparently went for my stall-neighbor earlier in the day.)

The apartment is reasonably nice, although not completely ready yet. I'm a little disappointed that it seems to be creakier than I would have liked (you can hear people moving around in the attached apartments), but I think it will be OK. It's not only across the street from campus, but also a very short walk from downtown, which includes multiple bars and the requisite Chinese take-out place. A bit further walk even gets you some more restaurants and a video rental place.

I made a reasonably good attempt at sleeping, and took the next morning to get my mail held and arrange renter's insurance. (The mail, as it turns out, is actually delivered to a personal mailbox outside the door of my apartment. I didn't think the post office did that anywhere anymore.) I stowed some stuff I didn't want the movers taking in my basement and got the lease finalized. (Yes, the Realtor actually gave me keys and let me stay in the apartment before they had a signed lease. And after they told me it didn't have air-conditioning. They knew not their peril, even if they had a security deposit.)

And then turn right back around and drive another seven hours or so back again. To be repeated at least once next week with the movers this time. Urg.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I don't like roller-coasters

I've mentioned this before. I'm a self-described roller coaster weenie. I have almost no tolerance for "thrill" rides at all. I have a picture my partner took of me on Test Track at Epcot last summer, which is probably pretty mild as far as most thrill rides go (and that's the only reason I agreed to go on this one at all), and while my face looks ok, in the bottom corner of the picture you can see where my hand has an absolute death-grip on the bar in front of me. I think you can make out the white of my knuckles, or could if the resolution were any higher. (That my partner was actually relaxed enough to be taking pictures says that we are very different people. I didn't even notice he was taking pictures; I found out when I was going through the pictures he took and getting a puzzled "Where the heck is that?" feeling.)

Now with that firmly established, I can talk about the feeling I'm getting as I call movers and pack my office and do all these other things that finalize moving. You know that feeling you get when you've gotten on the roller coaster (or something close to it), once you're strapped in and your starting to move? You know, especially if you're now remembering that you're terrified of roller coasters? That internal tensing, where you start thinking "Oh sh*t, what have I gotten myself into?" That's exactly what I was feeling when I started calling movers. I think I could actually feel the coaster starting over the first drop.

One friend (who actually wrote me recommendations for my job search) told me that when she quit one job for another, someone gave her a card that said:
Change is good!
Change is good!
Change is good!
on the outside, and on the inside:
(You go first.)
Someone else gave me a nice framed poster titled "Change". (It's holographic and shows a tree which loses and gains its leaves; very cool.) I told her about the "Change is good!" card and she just laughed. She told me she knows me too well to try to tell me that change is good; she said her poster just says "Change".

Oh well. Let the roller coaster begin.