Friday, March 31, 2006


I'm very glad that the sewer in the faculty office building has backed up into the air handler room. It's a lovely aroma and makes me happy to be in my office.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Saving my semester

I've written previously about how difficult this semester has been. I haven't really noted much improvement. I've made connections with individual students, but none of my classes have a good vibe still. And some of the students have been rough to deal with - the ones who get up and leave without trying if the lab has math in it, the ones who demand to know why they have to take the course for their major, the ones who yell at me because they find the course difficult and I have to bite my tongue and not yell back that this IS the easier version of introductory physics, the ones who are inert in the classroom... Last Wednesday, during the introduction to Mars lecture, my class was almost completely silent. Things that have sparked great discussions with previous classes did nothing here. I kept thinking during that hour, "I'm just gonna go back to my office and cry. Just bawl." Then one of my students approached me after class. He said that he was thinking about becoming a teacher and wondered if he could ask a few questions. Then he asked me, "How do you deal with a class that just refuses to respond, no matter what you do?" And I realized that some of my students were frustrated by their classmates' lack of interaction, too. We chatted for quite some time, and when he left he told me that he appreciated all of the effort I put into our class.

So I'd just like to thank Brian for saving my semester. I was pretty much bottoming out there, and he threw me a lifeline.

Friday, March 24, 2006

New pix from Mars!

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter returned its first images today - resolution on the image below is about 2.5 meters per pixel. Nifty!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Absence of Light

Planets shine by reflected sunlight, can you tell? - rings, moons, and Saturn, from Cassini

Monday, March 20, 2006


This weekend was full of fun. We drove out to L.A. on Friday night and hung out at a coffee shop and Venice Beach on Saturday morning. It was lovely in L.A., enough to make my love/hate ratio 30/70 instead of the usual 5/95. Then we met up for brunch with Kirsten and Aaron - yummy! We also had a few hours of baby therapy with Tristan and Gwendolyn - it's lovely to see Amy and her twins, I'm just sorry that Brian is so busy we couldn't see him. Then there was the play - we went to L.A. to see Aaron perform and we were not disappointed. (Congrats, dude!) Then we went to see "V for Vendetta" at the Arclight. A great theater - all theaters should have such great sound, assigned seats, large screens, and a restaurant. And yes, that was all on Saturday. Sunday meant lunch with the folks and a quick drive back home, where my car surpassed 40 thousand miles at less than two years of age. Fun - hectic, sleep-depriving fun.

Alas, though, it also brought the end of my Spring Break. Boo!!! I'd rather be having fun.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Death Star approaching Yavin 4

Sometimes I just can't help myself - Mimas passing in front of Tethys, from Cassini

Monday, March 13, 2006


Today I hit the 60 lb mark - I've lost 60 lbs since August 2004. It's going slowly now, having taken almost six months to lose the last ten lbs. But slow and steady is a good thing. I'm going to try to keep it up a little while longer.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Today's View from Phoenix

Yesterday, a particularly cold storm ended 143 days without precipitation for Phoenix. Snow fell in the surrounding mountains, so today I went to one of Phoenix's urban parks - Papago Park - to take some pictures. Trust me, the beauty could not be adequately captured by my lame attempts.

Just to show you that I am indeed in the desert, here's the view to the South:

But here's the view to the East:

And here's the view to the Northeast - never has the contrast between Red Mountain and the White Mountains been so obvious:

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Solar System News Roundup

The solar system was prominent in the news this week. First came news that Saturn's small moon Enceladus might have liquid water geysers. This would be an incredible find. The Earth is the only world known to have liquid water at the surface. Jupiter's moons Europa and Ganymede may have subsurface oceans. But for water geyser activity to be happening in Enceladus, the water would have to be awfully near the surface. Many questions remain, though - most small worlds are geologically dead, and I don't know that the scientists studying Enceladus have determined the reason for such unexpected geologic activity. Let's hear it, though, for the amazing science coming from the Cassini mission.

Can't leave the planet Mars out of the news. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter successfully completed its orbit insertion around Mars. It will be aerobraking into a low Martian orbit for the next six months. Expect the first Mars data in November 2006.

Lost in the coverage of Enceladus and MRO was the followup Hubble observations of the two new moons of Pluto. Scientists have determined that the two new moons show the same color properties as Charon, Pluto's largest moon, pointing to a common origin for all three moons. It is thought that another Kuiper Belt object smashed into Pluto and formed the three moons, much as we think a Mars-sized object impacted the Earth and formed our Moon.

And on a local scale, but seeming almost as important today, it's raining here in the Phoenix metro area, bringing an end to a record-setting 143 days without measurable rain! Believe it or not, some parts of the region are getting snow! From the Arizona Republic:

Friday, March 10, 2006

So far, so good

Other states have similar bills before their legislatures - keep an eye on them, people! From the Arizona Republic:

Offensive-coursework bill shot down

Students can't refuse materials

Robbie Sherwood
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 10, 2006 12:00 AM
The Senate rejected a bill Thursday that would have allowed university and community college students to refuse assignments that they found offensive on religious or moral grounds.

Senate Bill 1331, introduced by Gilbert Republican Sen. Thayer Verschoor, failed by a vote of 17-12. That means students will not have an alternative to reading or watching important but controversial works of film and literature such as Schindler's List, The Invisible Man or The Color Purple.

But that is because there is no alternative to those great works and their lessons, said Sen. Jim Waring, R-Phoenix, who led an impassioned floor fight against the bill. Waring held up a copy of Ralph Ellison's groundbreaking novel The Invisible Man, which is still opening eyes to the pain of racism more than 50 years after its publication. The book contains a graphic eight-page depiction of incest.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
, widely considered among the greatest American novels, but the subject of recent censorship debates because of the language it uses to depict Blacks.

"(Twain) was making a point about the South and about discrimination, about the treatment of people of color," said Allen, R-Scottsdale. "That book has been banned because some people were patently offended. I can find something patently offensive in a heck of a lot of things. Does that means students in college should not be exposed to what the world is?"

Verschoor and a pair of East Valley House members took on the issue after a Chandler-Gilbert Community College student complained that one of the books required for a class, The Ice Storm, offended him because of its sexual content. The student filed a grievance with the school, but the school denied it and offered him another class. The student refused and approached Verschoor about changing the law.

To demonstrate his objection to the bill, Waring also produced an e-mail from an Arizona State University student sent earlier this month to an instructor of a film class on Steven Spielberg. The student asked for an alternate assignment to watching the director's Oscar-winning Holocaust drama Schindler's List. The class also showed the R-rated World War II film Saving Private Ryan.

"I came to class yesterday but left early because I do not watch R-rated movies," the unidentified student wrote. "This being the case, I was wondering if you had some sort of alternative assignment that you would like me to do instead of the Schindler's List journal."

ASU officials reminded the student that the course syllabus warned that the films in the class might contain language that is considered obscene and denied the request.

"It begs the question why you'd sign up for a class on Spielberg if you don't want to watch Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan," Waring said.

While this discussion focused on moral objections due to depiction of violence or sexual content, you can imagine how us science instructors felt about this can of worms. We're keeping an eye out for reintroduction of the bill with changed language.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sense of place

I awoke this morning from a very pleasant dream. I was in an urban area, perhaps a city park of some sort, quietly populated with a few people. It was snowing gently, muffling the sound such that all I could hear was the crunching of snow beneath my feet. I felt peaceful and content, with the day ahead of me seeming so full of possibilities.

Definitely a dream, not a reality. The sense of place I had in my dream that I don't have in my waking moments, well, it's left me feeling slightly blue today.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Shadows and Ice

It's been too long since I posted an image from the Saturn system - Enceladus, rings, and Saturn, from Cassini

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Static tranquility and glowing change - aurora over Alaska, by Daryl Pederson

Friday, March 03, 2006

Dull and Duller

This semester is chaotic and busy and stressful. I feel like I do nothing but work. And I'm excited that Spring Break is in a week so I can catch up on grading. I bore even myself.