Saturday, April 28, 2007

It's that time

Just writing my to-do list here. Move along, move along.

  • write 1 physics final
  • write 3 astronomy lecture finals
  • write 5 astronomy lab finals
  • write 2 astronomy lab quizzes
  • grade astronomy papers
  • grade physics papers

That should keep me busy for the next few hours. Whee!

Sunday, April 22, 2007


This weekend has gone by in a blur. How did it get to be Sunday night already? Oh yeah, this is where the time went:


  • Corresponded with many students.
  • Corresponded with TAs.
  • Checked physics essays for cheating - found one. Not a good move on his part.
  • Graded many astronomy essays.
  • Wrote two letters of rec.
  • Wrote two astronomy quizzes.
  • Corresponded with part-time faculty.


  • Did grocery shopping.
  • Did some much needed recycling.
  • Went to the bank.


  • Spent a leisurely breakfast tormenting much beloved Philip.
  • Spent an hour dancing around the apartment with my iPod.
  • Dinner outside at the brewpub with my dear Greg.
  • Suns beat the Lakers!
  • Sat outside in the stunningly lovely weather with Greg while he grilled tri-tip and chicken, making the best dinner ever. Mmm...I shall call him the Grillmaster now. Mmm...

Hope y'all had a good weekend!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Sad Questions (long)

This week was sad, busy, and stressful. For the first few days of the week, the students were subdued. I don't know that any single action could have prevented the tragedy at Virginia Tech. I do know that letting the students bear arms in the classroom is not a solution. My arguments?

  • I have students show up to class drunk.
  • I have students who use calculators to multiply by 1.

One of the biggest problems facing higher education today is dealing with students with mental health issues. Do we expect instructors, who are untrained in this matter, to pinpoint problems? Differentiate between the blues and clinical depression? I have no answers, but anecdotes:

  • I wrote an essay in high school that my English instructor praised highly, but also let me know that I should feel free to talk to her about anything and everything. It was a much appreciated offer, but I didn't take her up on it. I am eternally grateful she did not contact my parents, nor do I think the content warranted such attention. Nowadays? At least parental contact, I'm sure, and that would have made matters much worse for me. The catharsis of writing was what I needed.
  • Two very important men in my life, Greg and Aaron, would have been detained. Kirsten and I would have been single. Splatterpunk, anyone?
  • I had a student once who, quite frankly, gave me the creeps upon our first meeting. My gut told me he had issues, but my Ph.D. in physics doesn't make me qualified to make such diagnoses. I had to treat him just like any other student. I started to notice strange behavior in class on his part, particularly towards young women. Then he even appeared to follow a girl when she finished her lab. I made eye contact with another student, who said to me, "Did you see what I just did?" I went into the hallway and called him back in. For a few classes after, I would distract him with discussion while the last girls left the classroom, because his, um, interest in them was overt. I went to the chair of my department, who is amazing, and he said that he'd have a word with this student with security present. The student didn't show up that day, though, and never showed up to my class again. The chair still contacted his family, who said that the young man had been hospitalized and had problems that were controllable with medication. The next year, he showed up in somebody else's astronomy class at our satellite campus. He made one girl so uncomfortable that she told the instructor, who contacted me. Once again, the chair and I started the mandated steps - first warning, then removal if behavior continues. However, this did not go smoothly. The dean who showed up to monitor this class and make the warning told the instructor after class, "You just don't understand this student's culture." Um, does his cultural background explain why he followed the instructor out to his car yelling threats immediately following the warning? We eventually succeeded in having him removed, but not fast enough. He actually touched the leg of that female student in class, and she withdrew before we finished all of the steps to get him removed. I still have regrets that the system didn't work fast enough, and my chair and I fought to at least have the young woman's registration fees refunded for that class.
  • Many students have voluntarily revealed to me that they are on medications - depression, social anxiety, bipolar disorder. I would hazard a guess that as many as 50% of my students in some semesters have been under mental health treatment. Is it my duty to ask them if they are taking their meds? Is it the college's responsibility to monitor this? Force them to take the meds?

So many questions, so few much sadness.

Jamie Bishop was dear to friends of mine. The Jamie Bishop and Jocelyne Couture-Nowak Scholarships will be awarded annually to German and French majors at Virginia Tech. Donations may be made payable to the Virginia Tech Foundation for the Jamie Bishop Scholarship (for German Majors) or the Jocelyne Couture-Nowak Scholarship (for French majors):

Virginia Tech Foundation
University Development
902 Prices Fork Road
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Working things out

Today would have been my father's seventy-fourth birthday. He died in August 1999. It seemed to be a quick death from our perspective, but for the amount of pain he was in, it was agonizingly slow. I regret that I cut short our last conversation - he was in quite a bit of pain, so I told him I'd catch him the following week, but there was no following week.

A colleague has been diagnosed with Pick's Disease. He's only in his fifties. Many of us have been quite affected by this news, putting together all the little symptoms we just didn't recognize, much the same way he suddenly doesn't recognize us. I wonder if he understands that many of us appreciated him?

I have two dear friends making big life decisions, and they both asked me for advice, which I did my best to give them. I think I gave good advice. However, in doing so, I realize how I don't follow that advice. Things that seem so clear in hindsight or from the outside are so blurry in the moment. I guess I'm just dwelling on all of this because there are changes ahead, and I'm faced with uncertainty and situations out of my control. I'm feeling on edge and I'm hoping the choices I've made are the right ones. I can certainly think of things I should have done and things I should have said, but never did.

Sometimes it just feels better to write things down.

It rained tonight, unexpectedly. What a gift.

And there's always Saturn, from Cassini

Monday, April 09, 2007

Good thing I was drinking cocoa...

...while grading a paper from a student. First of all, he referred to "astronomy" as "astrology". Secondly, his summary of a newspaper article derided the idea of being able to infer a previous collision between Kuiper Belt objects as being "too great for a reasonable person to believe" and that humans in the current era couldn't possibly have the ability to make such a statement. In fact, he extols his own skepticism and that he doesn't believe everything he reads. It distresses me, because putting this opinion together with his body language in lecture, I think he's been approaching the whole course this way. Don't get me wrong: I encourage my students to call me out when they think the ideas are too wacky to be possible. It's especially crucial in astronomy. I'm always careful to point out where the error bars are large or what assumptions underlie an idea. The goal of this course is to get enough of a fundamental basis so that you can be a "reasonable" person. To read this with only one month left in the course leaves me feeling a little pointless. Sigh.

It's all clear now

This explains that 98/60 at my last doctor's visit.

Cocoa calms blood pressure.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Hack, Wheeze

Well, the sore throat and the earache are gone, but the plague of snot continues. I can't even taste my cocoa! I did not finish anything approaching the amount of work I should have done this weekend. It's going to be a busy week, but then again, I am at the "one month to go" mark of the semester, so busy is the norm til the end.

But for all that, the weekend was pleasant and mellow. Who can complain about a weekend that involved eating donuts at the park at night? Hope y'all had a good weekend.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Year Zero

Nine Inch Nails has posted their new album Year Zero in its entirety in a streaming format on the website. Very different from previous work, political commentary wrapped in a story arc throughout the album. Noisy in the beginning, beautiful in the end. (Would somebody please convince Trent to do a piano tour? Please?) And if you haven't explored the associated ARG yet, here are a few sites to look at:

End of Public Service Announcment.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

One of those days

Today I'm very tired. I think I got through last week on sheer adrenaline, but my supply gave out last night. I was already feeling poorly when I graded exams that made me feel even worse. I mean, I'm not having an awful day, but a tired and cranky day? Oh, definitely. So I will attempt to dwell on beauty and otters and It's-Its and weekending.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Simple Life

One of my goal's for yesterday was accomplished - I had an It's It. You know how most things from your youth aren't as good when you're an adult? These are still as good as I remember. Mmm...

Goal for today: see an otter.