Archive for December, 2006

A recap, plans, and Happy New Year

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

The year started out with my wife’s mother, Betsy, having just moved to Missouri.  It turned out to be an opportunity to get to know her better, and I wound up enjoying her company a lot.  Sadly, in May she had a heart attack, and she never really came back fully.  She died in August.

Betsy’s death was one of a variety of factors that have made me start thinking about retirement.  I’m eligible to retire in 2010, and although I probably won’t quit that soon, I’m definitely thinking about it before I’m 60.  Sophie graduated from college this year; only Hannah is left, and she should be done in May 2009.  We won’t have so much in financial obligations then, so financially retirement will be feasible.  More important, I realized that there are lots of things I’d like to do outside of my work.

Since turning 50, I’ve been making a much more focused effort on maintaining my health.  As anyone who’s looked at this blog knows, I’ve been bicycling a lot this year — 5000 miles, including 444 miles across Iowa in RAGBRAI.  I’d like to do a good bit more cycling while I’m still able to.

This year, I plan to do some work on the house; our bathroom needs renovation badly, and I want to move the laundry room up from the basement.  I’m likely to do RAGBRAI again. I’ll do some century rides — I hope to do the Natchez Trace Century again, and no doubt the Tour de Cape, and a few in between.

As for work, I have some things to pull together in my research, although funding is drying up for the things we’ve been doing.  Mainly I want to concentrate on the things that I find interesting and worthwhile, and try to get away from the things that are boring and worthless.  Seems obvious, but I’ve never really thought about it clearly before.  I’m a full professor; I don’t have to do crap that I hate.*

As for my family life, I want to go visit Sophie in Minnesota, and maybe see Cabell and Hannah in Massachusetts.  I’m not going to work all summer this year unless there’s a really compelling reason for it.

That’s it.  My resolutions.  Happy New Year to all of you, and I hope your 2007 will be filled with things that are worth doing.


‘His disciples asked him and said to him, “Do you want us to fast? How should we pray? Should we give to charity? What diet should we observe?”

Jesus said, “Don’t lie, and don’t do what you hate, because all things are disclosed before heaven. After all, there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered up that will remain undisclosed.”‘ — Gospel of Thomas, v.6

Another fine day for riding

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

It was actually colder this morning than yesterday, but it was so clear and sunny that I decided to go for a ride early.  I have this problem, when the kids are home visiting like this, that my life isn’t very synchronous with theirs.  Or Robin’s.  During vacation like this, I sometimes sleep as late as 7:30.  The rest of the household sleeps until 10 or 12.  I find myself wandering around looking for quiet things to occupy myself until people wake up.  So, it being so sunny and nice, what could be quieter than leaving for a couple of hours?

This time, since it was below 40 when I started, I wore the balaclava, as well as a fleece jacket under the windbreaker.  It was actually very comfortable, even when the first half of the ride was into the wind.  I rode to Oak Ridge, then down D to Jackson, where I went to the Casey’s to get some Gatorade.  While I was choosing it, a guy behind the counter was having a loud conversation with a fiftyish woman.  First there was the woman was unsure whether Bill Gates invented the internet, or just the computer, but the counter guy told her that he just invented some of the software.  Then the woman allowed as how they should get rid of the internet and “go back to the old way.  We wouldn’t have none of this identity theft if it wasn’t for the internet.”


Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

I went for a ride today — it was about 50 degrees when I started, so I used the ear warmer band, but skipped the balaclava.  Turns out that was a mistake.  It got colder during the ride, and there was a pretty strong wind from the south, so I wound up kind of uncomfortable on the way back.  On the plus side, I started from the gym parking lot, so when I got back I headed straight for the jacuzzi.

Christmas Eve Day

Sunday, December 24th, 2006

Back update: thanks to everyone who wished it well, my back seems to be up and running again.  I picked up Sophie at the airport Thursday without incident, and Friday I drove up to Madison to get Cabell.  While I usually don’t go in for night driving, I decided that it would make sense just to load up and head back immediately this time.  For one thing, since she’s moving out of the apartment there, there was no furniture at all, hence not much to do in the evening except sleep and get up to drive.  So I called from the road and pitched this idea to Cabell, who was amenable.

The part neither of us had really planned for adequately became obvious when I got to Madison and looked at the stuff that needed to come back with us.  Cabell had put some stuff in storage in Madison, and sent other stuff ahead to Boston, but there was still a lot of crap left.  While my late-90s vintage Infiniti sedan is fairly roomy, it’s not exactly a cargo vehicle.  I kept carrying stuff out and wedging it into the trunk and back seat, and every time I’d go back in, Cabell had brought out yet more crap from somewhere.  I finally got everything more or less rigid stuck in somewhere (after convincing her that we could just replace the three bags of hangers and the box of computer paper).  All that remained was a mountain of coats, linens, pillows, blankets, etc.  We went out and started cramming soft stuff into every conceivable crevice and cranny.

The drive back felt like one of the early space voyages.  Each of us was sealed into a little pocket just the size and shape of a body.  One of the wheels of Cabell’s vacuum cleaner was in my right ear.  Cabell had to put her legs up on the dash because the leg space was filled with her laundry bag.  Every 90 minutes we had to stop and get out and stretch, to prevent Cabell from having blood clots; this was just as well from my point of view, as my hips were killing me.

Actually, it was mainly my right hip, which always hurts like hell on long drives.  This was a good sign, since the recent injury was to the left hip.  Both of them feel okay now.  We finally got home at about 1:30 Saturday morning, and now I’m pretty much rested and recovered.

Meanwhile, tonight we’re having our friends the Smeebers (Smith/Stahlhebers, actually) over for dinner.  I’m making lamb korma, curried sweet potato latkes, and naan.

1 down, 2 to go

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

Tuesday night I picked Hannah up at the airport in St. Louis. She’s home for the whole break before spring semester. Today I go back to the airport to get Sophie , who will be home for a little over a week. Tomorrow I drive to Wisconsin to get Cabell. As long as my back holds up, I’m okay.

Yesterday my friend Don came over and helped me cut a Christmas tree in our yard and get it into the house. I had planned on cutting one that would need trimming to get it to fit under our 12-foot ceiling, which is what we usually do. Like this one last year:

But this time, I decided that I really just didn’t want to attempt to yank a tree that size through the doorway, drag it down the hall, yank it through another doorway, and then put on the usual mini-Iwo Jima routine standing it up. I was afraid I’d damage my back permanently, for one thing. So, we just cut one about 9 feet tall. Cabell is already pissed, and she hasn’t even seen it yet. Oh, well. Somebody has to be the Grinch.

I’m in pain.

Monday, December 18th, 2006

So yesterday I went for a bike ride in the morning. It was a beautiful day for it, almost 60 degrees with scattered clouds, and I felt so good that I went all the way to Millersville and back, about 30 miles. This isn’t a long ride for me really, but it’s long for this time of year. Anyway, I got home, still feeling great, had a shower, made some french toast for me and Robin, sat down to eat, and noticed a little twinge in my left lower back.

By the time we drove into town for Unitarian Fellowship at 6, my back was just locking up in excruciating spasms every time I shifted position in my seat. I made it through UUF, and we went home, where I took a pain killer and went to bed. This morning it was somewhat better, and I went to the gym and did a lot of stretching and a light stationary bike ride, during which I felt pretty good. Still, when I got to work, sitting at my desk was painful.

I had a chiropractor appointment for Wednesday anyway, so I called up and asked if I could come in today, and they said sure. This, btw, is one of the differences between my chiropractor and my regular physician, who would have been able to fit me in around New Year’s. (And yeah, I’ve seen the research about how ineffective chiropractic is, and all I can say is that my personal experience has been very positive. I’m not a controlled experiment, but after going to the chiropractor I have had big improvements in several joint ailments, so I keep going for such things.)

Anyway, the chiropractor said my left ilium was twisted around out of place. On the way home I had an aha moment about that. On my ride yesterday, I stopped to look at a tiny little private cemetery in back of an old homesite. When I rode up the gravel drive, my front wheel started to skid and I had to get my left foot out of the pedal cleat very suddenly… which you do by twisting the foot … I twisted it very sharply and avoided falling, but it occurs to me that, for an old fart like me, that kind of a sudden twist to the leg would be a good way to wrench a hip joint around. Gotta be careful when you’re a fogey.

Oh, and there were three tombstones in that cemetery. The oldest one was the grave of Ewan W. Robins: January 31, 1837 – June 8, 1906. A small one was so eroded I couldn’t read anything on it. There was also a newer stone with two people’s info on it; obviously a replacement, as one of the two was an infant who was born and died in 1899. That one said at the bottom “They are not dead, but sleepeth.”*

*In case you were wondering, that’s a misuse of the “eth” ending, which is used like “s” on a verb in modern English, in the third person singular only.

Reluctant to give up the meaning of “reticent”

Sunday, December 17th, 2006’s word of the day today is “reticent.” They list three definitions for it, but the one that pissed me off was the third one: “reluctant”. Reticent means “reluctant TO SPEAK,” not just “reluctant” to do anything, but it’s misused that way all the time. A lot of my students think I’m some sort of language Nazi because I count off when they misspell “separate” or write “could of”. Actually, they lose a lot more points by failing to express themselves clearly or correctly, but they don’t usually see that as “English,” but rather as “content”. I do sometimes hear students saying that they had the right answer, but just didn’t say it the way I wanted them to. This is true, if by “the way I wanted them to” you mean “correctly.” I once had a student come to complain about her grade on an exam, and indignantly show me a similar question on her friend’s test from a previous semester, for which I’d given her friend full credit.
“My answer had all the same words in it!”

It was true. It was as if she had taken her friend’s correct answer, put it in a blender, and poured the resulting smoothie onto the exam. I had to point out that word order does some of the work of conveying meaning in English, so that, for instance, “the gene codes for the protein” doesn’t mean the same thing as “the protein codes for the gene.”

Anyway, back to my current curmudgeonliness: I know that language changes, and that this is both desirable and inevitable. People can profitably invent words, such as “curmudgeonliness.” What I object to is changes that impoverish language. We have a perfectly good word meaning “reluctant”; it’s “reluctant”. If we allow “reticent” to mean the same thing, we lose the ability to express the different meaning that “reticent” used to have. I want a language that enables me to say more things, in more subtly different ways, and have people understand the things I’m saying. I don’t want a language in which all meanings are carried by a single word, and the only thing you can say is “incredible!”.

Have I mentioned how much I hate the current tendency to use “off of” to substitute for practically any preposition? Grrr.


Friday, December 15th, 2006

Pretty much, anyway.  I’ve graded all the exams and all the papers from all the classes.  As soon as my co-teacher has given me his feedback on the papers from Science and Religion, I’ll be ready to turn in all the final grades.

To celebrate, I went out for a bike ride.  Okay, actually I did that yesterday too.  And the day before.  In fact, I’ve gone for bike rides 3 days in a row, less than two weeks before Christmas.  Global warming.  Gotta love it.  Sure, the coasts will be inundated, but I get more exercise.

End of the semester…

Friday, December 8th, 2006

Give or take.  At least, classes are over now, and I’ve graded pretty much everything before the final.  Well, I do have to grade one set of scientific paper analyses, about 30 of them, but they’re only about 2 pages each.  That needs to be done ASAP, so people can see the comments before the final on Monday.  Meanwhile, I’ve done some Christmas shopping (How did I survive before there was  And tonight Robin and I are going out for sushi with the Hills.

What I’m reading lately:

Inez del Alma Mia, by Isabel Allende.  I read her Zorro: Impieza la Leyenda last year, so I thought I’d read her newest book in Spanish also.  It’s good, and eventful enough to hold my interest even when I have to refer to a dictionary a couple of times per page.  One nice thing about reading a novel in Spanish is that it takes me about 20 times as long as reading one in English, so I don’t have to search for something new to read as often.   I’d like to say I’m building my vocabulary, but that would be assuming that I have a memory.  Eventually, after looking up something enough times, I do start to recognize it, though.  “Lodo” is mud.  “A pesar de” means “In spite of”.  An “espada” is a sword.  And so on.

Crazy busy

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

It’s the last week of class, and the Principal Investigator of the NSF project on which Walt and I are working has decided now is the time to get our annual report in.  I don’t think she’s teaching any classes this semester.  So this morning, I am making notes for a lecture/discussion on Teilhard de Chardin for my Science and Religion class while running Phred/Phrap/Consed DNA sequence assembly software to figure out how many gaps we’ve closed in the Coprinus cinereus genome this year.  I’d be the Renaissance man, except that I’m mainly just the “last minute” man.