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Dec. 1st, 2013

cassie 2

A good Thanksgiving break

Not only did I have a great dinner at a friend's house on Thanksgiving day, but I managed to dress both looms (meaning they are now warped and ready for weaving), nearly finish spinning some silk/wool, cleaned out the gutters and did a final cleaning of the gardens. All the detritus of life ( such as junk mail) that has been  accumulating since the beginning of the semester has been tossed/filed/put away. And if that wasn't enough, I managed to read couple of mystery books as well.

All in all, a relaxing break.

Oct. 8th, 2013


I never thought I would be doing this...

First I was a researcher.

Then I became a professor (still doing research) which required me to become something of an entertainer (an extremely unnatural state for me. I am not an actor by anyone's definition.)

Now I am becoming a movie writer/director/editor/producer. (A slightly less unnatural state?)

I am still learning how to make videos and the process is slow and painful, but with moments of humor. Today, I started laughing so loud that my colleague in the office next door came over to see what was up. I had three electronic devices running simultaneously with so many windows open on my main computer that I lost count and couldn't find what I wanted, which started me laughing when I realized I was looking at the wrong machine.

However, my students are really watching my crude, incredibly boring first attempts at videos, and they say that really find them helpful. So I'm making some effort to make them less a droning lecture and more a conversation. When I record the voice track, I always think of Bob Ross, the painter who had a show on PBS during my choldhood. I was glued to the TV when he was on. Something about the way he talked as he worked was almost hypnotic. I can still remember some of what I saw/heard despite no special effects, music or changes in sound volume. It was just Bob, a canvas, some brushes and a palette of paint. So I try to channel him as I speak, hoping to equally engage my students. I'm not really sure how it comes across, but one student did tell be it seemed like I was just talking to her as I did in my office, so maybe it's working.

Thanks, Bob. Who knew you were going to impact my life this way so many years later.

Jul. 10th, 2013

cassie 2

Return from the shadows

So I seem to have recovered enough from this past school year to actually be interested in posting on LJ again. I have been lurking in the shadows, but really, what I wanted to write about I couldn't and what I could write about was simply a lot of whining.

That's what I have a cat for (well, and for mouse control, although she is retired from that job now).*

June was spent doing a lot of spinning and messing about with fiber. I went up to the Central New York Fiber Festival early in the month where I made up for the pathetic quantity of fiber purchased at Maryland Sheep and Wool. Besides some very pretty spinning fiber, L. and I split a Tunis (sheep) fleece. It is gorgeously soft, a lovely gray/brown, and now clean. It is going to be fun carding it up and spinning it. I suspect it will form a very cushy yarn since the fiber has a lot of crimp in it.

I also played with dyes, making a color wheel of sorts from the dyes that I had on hand. The exercise was well worth it since it pointed out that I need a true blue and a true red dye. One of my blues is toward the green side and the other produces a very pale blue. My reds fall to the purple and orange sides so they at least cover each other if I don't really want a true red. I think I may have a packet of red kicking around, but I really need to organize my dye cabinet.

Lastly, G. and I were playing with the carder, some dyed fiber G. dug out of her stash and some sparkle/firestar fibers we had collected. The samples we carded up are gorgeous. We also tried out some recycled sari silk, but G. has those samples and I haven't seen them yet.

Oh, and I bought a new sliding hook flyer for my spinning wheel, which is almost 30 years old.

O.O My how time flies!

And really what I thought I was going to write about was picking blueberries this morning and getting fresh peaches from the orchard. All I can say is fresh blueberries and peaches...mmmmm.

Feb. 12th, 2013

cassie 2

Flipping classrooms...or can technology drive me any more nuts?

So I mentioned a while ago that I was going to try the whole "flipping the classroom" thing in my general education class. For those who are now squinting at their computer screens and thinking "huh?", "flipping the classroom" refers to posting something equivalent to a lecture online and then having students do what would essentially be considered homework in the classroom. (Or as I would rather call it, active learning in the classroom.)

So I've been recording short* lectures on how to work various chemistry problems and then posting them on our university's classroom management system. Each video covers only one specific concept and how to use it in calculations. That's followed with some suggested practice problems that are simple applications of the concept which is then followed by a short 2-5 question quiz and then the whole sequence repeats with the next concept so that it eventually builds into what I would have done in class with examples on the board and clickers. The following day in class, they are assigned more difficult problems to work through in group setting where I can guide them along when the group gets stuck.

All in all, it seems to be working. And they don't all roll their eyes at me when we break up into groups. These students seem to enjoy the whole working in groups for 75 minutes more than class discussion/lecture. But holy cow, does making a single video eat up a huge amount of time. (And we are not talking Nova quality here or anything near that**.) It takes about 90 minutes to record a 5-10 minute segment and most of these learning modules have 2 or 3 segments. Then the recordings need to be compressed, uploaded and the quizzes and other supporting material around them created.

I want a team of writers, editors, special effects people and gaffers (whatever they do, I'm pretty sure I need them.) Oh, and stunt doubles. I'm pretty sure I could use a stunt double.

I have to give credit, though, to the three learning technology people we have supporting our campus***. I called one yesterday evening about a student who persistently says she can't access the videos and the one support person couldn't figure out the problem, so another one went rummaging around my site late last night and couldn't see anything wrong. So now we are going to go into a huddle and find a different way to do the same thing, only better.****

If I didn't see some sign that it seems to be helping some of the students, I would drop this like a rock. But I'll keep on with it and see what comes of it through the semester. Maybe I'll do some anonymous polling at midterm.

*short is intended to be about 5 minutes, but apparently I can't explain a concept in less than 7 minutes. However, I also talk much slower when I'm recording, which might also be a help to many students.

**Currently, I'm using an iPad app called Explain Everything, which is essentially a white board that I can write on and record explanations at the same time. I can also include photos, but I haven't yet incorporated video inside the video. There's a better program for that if I want to get that fancy. This app is very good for what I'm using it for, by the way.

***3 people is not very many for a campus of this size. Fortunately they are very good and most of us like to wrestle with the technology ourselves (or let someone in our department figure it out and then have them teach us.)

****I'm seriously hoping that this also means easier, but I doubt it.

Feb. 11th, 2013


An update on the miscellany of my life

Well, writing seems to be happening again. That may have something to do with the restoration of a more sane work schedule where I actually have time to think about things rather than react to them. Over the past two weeks, mostly on the weekends, I've written about 5000 words on what seems to be a series of nature and science essays. Since I now can go for walks in the morning (as opposed to getting up, bolting down breakfast, give the cat 10 minutes of attention and then bolting out the door to work until well after the sun is down), I spend some time checking out the lake that is one of my sampling sites and the woods in the park. If I time things just right, the beaver that lives at the east end of the lake is swimming upstream as I am walking down stream. We sort of glance at each other as we pass. S/he doesn't seem in the least disturbed by my presence anymore.

I like walking at sunrise or sunset because of the light and the way the water affects the air, especially in the morning when there is a mist rising. Without the stress of wondering how I'm going to get everything done, I can think about other things, and mostly what I think about is why there is mist on that particular morning or how are the trees responding to the warm winter. Things like that. I carry a small notebook that can tuck easily into a pocket so that I have something to jot my thoughts and ideas down on. (Another curse of growing old(er) is not seeming to be able to remember everything...or maybe being old(er), I just have more things to remember.) Anyway, some of those thoughts are the starting points of these essays. I'm not sure anyone but myself will ever want to read them, but at least it is writing and I'm enjoying the whole process.

Another sign of the return of sanity is that I'm now actually taking steps to repair the water damage in my master bath. The toilet seal leaked sometime in October, but rather than just make a mess that I could clean up, it decided to leak water beneath the (very cheap and poorly laid) linoleum. Despite the plumber who I called to fix the leak saying he didn't see any mold or damage, I want the linoleum pulled up (it has a clear water mark the screams "This toilet leaks!") and the subflooring checked and replaced if necessary. I knew it was going to take a bit of work and I just couldn't make myself deal with it when the whole thing happened. So I fixed the toilet and left the floor for another day.

Of course, when I was out looking at flooring, I found some really nice laminate that would look great in my kitchen/dining room. And really, doesn't the kitchen counter need replacing?

I'm ignoring that little voice...Seriously...I'm not listening to it.

Not much in the way of weaving is happening at the moment, but I do have some gorgeous silk on the wheel. It's from Treenway silks in the color they call Vesuvius Bay Ballet. Treenway is the Cadillac of silk fibers. I love their spinning fiber. Even better, their prices have come down since it changed hands although the fiber and the dying seems just as fine as it ever was. If I ever get my digital camera to talk to my computer and the computer to talk to a photo hosting website whose privacy policies I can understand and trust, I will post a few photos. (That was another project put on the back burner for the past 6 months.) Also, I need to figure out what weirdness is going on with the camera. It seems to have lost a lot of its infrared filtering capability and so anything red comes out crazy weird. I fear the camera may not have liked going for a walk in the rain last fall when all of this started happening.

Ah well, mostly life is back to normal.

(Or what I really hope is normal.)

Feb. 3rd, 2013


I must be getting old(er)

Somehow, I have gotten pulled into a project that involves constructing mountain bike trails in the nearby city park. Perhaps, I shouldn't say "somehow" because I can trace the whole path to that point through a series of emails from the head of a local biking group that is working on installing bike lanes throughout the city, something I highly support since I do a fair amount of bicycle commuting.

So I get this email about the city park project and click through to take a look at the map of "proposed" trails. The email is asking city residents to write to the council to support the project, and it seemed as if they were having a hard time getting that support. After looking at the map, I had a whole lot of questions about the project that made me wonder whether the park was the right place for it. Of course, being me, I emailed those questions back to the bike group.

The rest is history, as they say.

Yesterday I spent a couple of interesting hours tramping through the park and seeing what was planned on the ground. Despite being pretty good with maps, it really helped to actually walk through the space and hear what was planned. The proposed trails were actually improvements on old trails already present and the removal of trails that were detrimental to the environment. The person spearheading this project really knew what he was doing, having done this in other parks in the area. So no problem there, and I was glad to have spent the time getting to know two very interesting people who liked biking (and kayaking...I now have a standing invitation to explore several ponds I've been studying from rather limited access points.)

But really...did we have to pick the coldest Saturday of the winter so far to do this? My feet were frozen by the time I got back. (And, no, better socks would not have helped since I was wearing wool and my insulated hiking shoes. It's a circulation issue.) I ended up collapsing on the couch (with a warm kitty snuggled with me) for several hours. This morning, I ache and am still exhausted. I've forgotten just how much the cold can take out of you.

Would I do it again? Sure.

But not today.

(And now that I think about it, I will be doing it again tomorrow, since I am going out sampling with one of my research students tomorrow.)

Jan. 26th, 2013


Reviews on two books about climate change

I've been reading books on climate change, looking for one that will do for the general education chemistry class I teach in the fall. So far I've read two and a third is sitting on the shelf waiting its turn. So I thought I would write up my impressions in case anyone in LJ land was interested.

The first book I read was Dire Predictions by Michael E. Mann and Lee R. Kump (pub date 2008). (The subtitle to this is Understanding Global Warming and the subsubtitle is The illustrated guide to the findings of the IPCC.) Michael Mann is big in the field of climate research, so I figured this one was worth reading. (Lee Kump is, too, according to his biography, but I've heard of Michael Mann and not Lee Kump, if that means anything.) When I paged through the book, I was very hopeful. Lots of graphs, tables, figures...you know, science. Then I started actually reading the book.

I should probably explain that not only is this book written for general public, but it is written at a level that any interested young adult could understand. Each page begins a new topic. There are lots of pictures and varied font sizes and styles. Visually, it is a very appealing book.

The text and discussion started out reasonably well, explaining some of the basics of the chemistry and earth science involved. The authors followed this with a discussion of climate models and how they are tested against known data. All of this is great! Exactly what I was looking for and very clearly explained. However, as the discussion turned to what were the probable impacts of climate change in the future and what we should/could be doing to avoid, mitigate or adapt, the tone of the writing lost its balance between presenting the science and what we know and trying to express how urgent the problem is becoming. The further I read the more unbalanced it became until the near hysterical tone became grating even to me (who understands and agrees that this is a problem that needs to be faced). There was nothing wrong factually with what the authors were writing, just the presentation of the material on future projections and impacts. So while I think this book has a lot of good science that I would really like to dig into with a class, the tone of the book would be enough to turn off most of my students. I want them to open their minds to the science and the issues, not just pretend for the sake of a grade. In the end, I would give this book a 4/5 rating for general reading.

So I moved on to the second book I bought. Climate Change by Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfe (with the subtitle Picturing the Science. Pub date 2009.) This book has lots of pretty pictures that do illustrate the current impacts of climate change and industries that are important in either fueling climate change or adapting to climate change. There's not that many graphs or figures. I really like data to support claims and to illustrated what the text is talking about. Teaching students how to read graphs, tables and figures is important. Some day they might actually want to research something (such as cancer and the effectiveness of various treatment options, etc.). However, this book is incredibly well written and written at a much higher level than Dire Predictions. Because of that I fear many of my freshmen students might find the prose at times very dense. (And one of the reasons I think graphs are very useful to explain relationships.) These authors strike just the right tone, one of concern, but without any hype. They explain what is well understood, what is understood in the broad sense, what we need to learn more about and also what we really don't understand and can't yet explain. They also explain that even if we still don't understand everything, we know enough to predict that things will get bad if we don't change what we are doing soon. They examine all the potential ways of dealing with climate change and discuss why there is no one way that will work. I loved this book, but again, I don't think it is quite what I want for my students. As a book to learn about climate change, its impacts and the challenges we face in dealing with it, I would give this book a 4.5/5.

If only I could meld the figures from the first book with the writing of the second....

I have one more book to read. This one is called The Climate Crisis by David Archer and Stefan Rahmstorf (published in 2010). This one looks more like a textbook than a popular science book, and Amazon seems to think of it as a textbook. Flipping through the pages, I see lots of good figures, so I'm hopeful. Maybe this one will have the right balance for my class.

After reading two such books, though, I'm taking a breather. For now, I'm going to read Honey From Stone by Chet Raymo. It's a series of essays on seeing the spiritual in the natural world, but it is also set on the Dingle Peninsula of Ireland where I had gone hiking for a week. (And would really like to go back to.)

Oct. 30th, 2012

cassie 2

Life after Sandy

Well, Sandy tried her best, but it is nearly November after all. Sunday the winds began to pick up. The rain began to come down. The gutters and downspouts gurgled, an odd rhythm beneath the swishing wind.

Monday noon, the weather got a bit more exciting. The wind was really swirling, not sure what direction to blow, but blowing as hard as it could....somewhere in the 40 mph range. The gusts were strong enough to whistle around the corners of the house and to roar through the trees (not sure what the peak gust wind speed was). The rain, driven by the wind blew first one way, then another. It came down as a steady, fine rain that I associate with Nor'easters more than tropical storms.

By 6 pm, when Sandy was making landfall near Cape May, NJ, things began to ever so slowly quiet down. By 10 pm, it was noticeably calmer, and by this morning, the wind seemed nearly calm. It was still raining, but now a cold rain. 

Since the town had declared a curfew until 10 am this morning, I spent my time finishing up all the class prep I had wanted to achieve. (Yes, I am now, for the first time this semester, ahead!) After lunch, I went for a walk in the nearby park. Lots of small limbs and twigs were down, but no large trees. The air smelled "green", at least that was my first impression. A mixture of pine, fallen leaves and probably general plant damage. Probably all kinds of plant stress pheromones being released into the air.  The water was already receding. Dunes of pine straw were piled on the far side of the walking path. On section of the park was buried in pine straw. The water was pouring over one of the dams, despite the flood gate also being open. One of the ponds I study in my research was full of swift moving water, brown with creamy islands of foam racing to the far end where the outlet was. We won't be seeing much nitrate in there for a while. Next week it will be calm enough to take sediment samples again. It should prove interesting.

The sump pump is whining away under the house. If all is quiet, I can hear it almost everywhere, but most especially in my bathroom which is nearly over the sump pit. Despite the annoying tone, it is a comforting sound because it means the pump is working and the crawl space isn't likely to flood. I expect I'll be listening to that thing run for a week. 

I didn't lose power or internet. For that, I have to give credit to the power company for repairing the circuit my neighborhood is on properly this summer (which included trimming all the trees near power lines). So that's it. It's back to work tomorrow. 

Oct. 29th, 2012

cassie 2

State of the weather update

Well, so far, Sandy isn't too bad. The backyard has begun to flood, but it isn't anywhere near the "high water" mark from a previous set of storms. (That time, the water reached the deck supports and was about 10 inches deep in the deepest part of the yard.) Also, the sump pump hasn't kicked on yet. So these two things tell me that the ground hasn't yet become saturated. That's a good thing since the high winds are supposed to kick in this afternoon and go throughout the night. Saturated ground isn't so great at holding up trees.

The wind has been strong enough to strip most of the leaves off the trees. Yesterday, the trees were frosted with bright yellow, orange and red. Today, bare gray branches sway against the sky. In one night, we went from gorgeous fall into dreary winter. (And it is a bit chilly out there this morning.)

Classes have been canceled for today, so I'm going to spend the morning prepping a week's worth of classes and try to crank out a rough draft of at least one exam (maybe two if I am on a roll). Then, when the power is more likely to be less reliable, spend my afternoon doing things that don't require electricity such as weaving and spinning. (And finishing a pair of socks in which the last sock just needs the toe knitted.) One good thing about these expensive hobbies is that they don't require electricity. I've even spun in the dark (usually on cold winter mornings when I have just the fireplace going.)

Anyway, for all of you watching this storm head towards you, I hope it's not any worse for you.

Oct. 27th, 2012

cassie 2

It's almost November and we're having a hurricane?

Gutters have been cleaned and the downspouts unclogged.

Splash/erosion things for the downspouts purchased and put in place with the hope that this time the water will flow away from the house and not get trapped in the garden. (I should know what these things are called since I just bought them, but it's been a long morning,)

The storm door has replaced the screen door on the front entrance.

The bird feeders, small planters and various furniture on the deck have all been stashed in the screened in porch or the garage.

The cat now has food.

I have food. (I've had water stashed in a closet since the beginning of summer...the usual yearly hurricane season purchase.)

The freezer has ice and large tubs of frozen soup and stew to keep it cold in case of a power outage.

The car has gas and I've run out of energy. 

They are predicting 8-13 inches of rain before this is all over. If it occurs over three days, my backyard may not flood too badly, but my sump pump is sure going to get a workout. (Note to self, call the plumbers and have them install better sump pump with battery backup.) This is the second time in just over a month that we will get this sort of rain. In flat land, it doesn't go any where. It just sits there and floods everything. With the wind and the fact that this summer's drought has weaken a lot of trees, I'm betting that lots of limbs and trees are going to come down in the wind. Fortunately (?), the circuit my street is on was having major issues this summer and the power company spent several weeks fixing it and trimming trees. My hope is that will prevent the line from going down.

I can always hope. 

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