Saturday, June 12, 2010

World Cup Soccer

I am back after a four month hiatus from blogging. I have a bit too much going on in my life, but I am restarting for the summer, at least. We’ll see how it goes.

Today is my 17th wedding anniversary. We’re off for the night and friends are taking the kids. First though, my daughter has her end-of-the-year dance recital. She’s turning into a great dancer, and I am excited to see her happy about dancing. I have to record the US-England World Cup soccer game, though. Soccer is the one sport that I actually still watch regularly on TV. Here is our country’s first game of the biggest tournament in the sport, and I will have to miss it. I don’t know when I’ll actually get to watch the game, either. Perhaps Sunday night.

I will try to post more often over the coming weeks. Probably about soccer. Lots of soccer in the coming weeks. Life is good!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Project Management

I had lunch yesterday with a colleague who had just downloaded new project management software to keep track of the work on his various grants/contracts/projects and to keep track of the work his various people are doing for these projects. I can only imagine that he is in Gant Chart Bliss about now. Everything is organized and all of his students, postdocs, and research scientists are accounted for. Life will be beautiful for him for a while. Until he gets bogged down with all of the things he has to do, and he realizes that he didn’t have time to add a time management upkeep task to his life. The charts will go unmaintained for a few months and everything will be out of date when he gets back to it. He will then have to start over, recreating the entire project management structure again. Bliss will not be a word that he will use to describe this situation. No, he will most likely be in Gant Chart Hell.

Well, at least that’s my prediction for what will happen by this summer. For me, I am not ready for project management software. I have a small enough group that I can keep track of it in my head, for the most part. Yes, I have a calendar that is rather full, and I am very glad that my computer beeps at me to tell me when I am supposed to be doing some things. I am also fortunate enough to receive reminder emails about project progress reports and other management tasks that I have to deal with occasionally. But, as for what should be getting done on the specific grants and projects, I don’t try to over manage it all. Perhaps this isn’t the best option, but people in my team of researchers seem to stay motivated and get stuff done, and things seem to be moving forward at a reasonable pace on most of the projects. I am sure that some could go faster if I were a harder nosed manager with those people, but so far I am willing to allow that slack in the system so that I don’t have to resort to project management software. I don’t want to be sentenced to Gant Chart Hell. That just doesn’t sound fun to me. At least not yet.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Two Liter Bottle Caps

Welcome to 2010 on The Heaping Teaspoon blog! I promised myself weekly posts this year, and I am already off to a bad start. Oh well. Better late than never.

I distinctly remember a conversation I had back in my youth about how best to screw on the cap of a 2-liter bottle. The issue was which thing to turn: the cap or the bottle. My siblings and I debated this for a while and decided that it was easier to turn the bottle than the cap. This seems to make no sense, but for some reason it felt more natural to us to turn the big bottle instead of the little cap. We couldn’t explain it.

My current house gets its water from a well in a corner of the property. So, the water isn’t fortified with fluoride, and my kids’ dentist recommended that they use Act every night to get some extra protection for their teeth. This weekend, I watched my daughter screw the cap onto the Act bottle by twisting the bottle, not the cap. She did it again the next night. I asked her about it and all she could say was, “I don’t know.”

So, here’s my thought. I think it’s easier to twist the big bottle rather than the small cap for two (related) reasons: the gripping surface area is bigger and the turning radius is larger. The first reason means that you do not have to grip as strongly to secure the cap. The second reason means the motion is more linear than circular. The action is therefore more like a big pipe wrench than a needle-nosed pliers.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Books I've Read 2009

I’ve been keeping track of the books I read each year for about 10 years now. I usually just write a page about them in my planner and move on, but this year I thought I would share the list. My goal is to read at least a book a month, on average. Sometimes I get bogged down with other things, or I pick a really long one, so the cadence isn’t right, but I usually catch up with a shorter book or when I travel for work. I usually only get a half hour or so of reading in before bed, but that isn’t every night, so a typical book takes me several weeks to get through it. I’m not a particularly fast reader...20-50 pages an hour, depending on the density of words and ideas in the text.

Instead of going through them in the order I read them, I am clumping them according to subject.


Introduction to Space Weather, Moldwin:

I used it for the text for my class for the first time this year, so I am counting it as a “new” book read in 2009. It’s a switch from what I had been using, but the other one wasn’t really a textbook, so I thought I’d try this out. It’s the right subject, but I think it is too low of a level for the junior-oriented class I teach. However, one student (out of 15) complimented it very highly in their open-form evaluation. I have a few months to decide if I want to use it again or not. For those of you not in the space weather business, this is a nice introduction to the field (with easy problems at the end of each section).


Call to Conversion, Wallis

I really like the Christian viewpoints of Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine and author of several books. This is one of them. It’s not a new book, but it was very well written and I enjoyed it very much. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about Christianity.

The Shack, Young

I don’t know whether to put this here or in general fiction. It’s not a particularly well-written book , in my opinion, but others were raving about it, so I gave it a try. I like the main religious idea of the book in that God wants to have a personal relationship with us, but I don’t like the make-believe fantasy aspects of the story and I really don’t like the attempt of the author to make it seem like a true story (in the foreword and afterward sections).

Political/Current Events

How Soccer Explains the World, Foer

Clever book in which the author travels to famous soccer venues around the world and then uses the stories and sights of the area to interpret world events. His main conclusion is that even though globalization has made the world smaller and made local name brands meaningless, the local people still have strongly held views of nationalism, even to the point of xenophobia. Even though capitalism loves globalization, actual people usually do not.

The Federalists, Anti-Federalists, and the American Tradition, McWilliams

A long and arduous book containing various essays regarding the Founding Fathers. A good read, overall, but some parts were very slow going. I think that I am somewhere in between the Federalists (strong central government, weak state governments) and anti-Federalists (just the opposite), but in general my political leanings are towards the Federalists.

Citizen Paine, Kaminski

This book had a short biography of Thomas Paine and then several hundred pages of quotes from his writings, organized by category. I found the quotes difficult to understand without the rest of the text around them, so after a while I just breezed through them. The bio, however, was very informative. I didn’t know Thomas Paine came to America just a year or so before 1776, and wrote his major works (The American Crisis and Common Sense) after only being here for a very short while. He was a man looking to start fight, one who wholeheartedly committed himself to a cause with fervent zeal. He went on to be a rabble-rouser in France during their revolution a few decades later.

One United People, Millican

An excellent (but slow-going) examination of every single one of the Federalist Papers. The Federalist is still one of the most authoritative works on the thoughts behind the Founding Fathers regarding the Constitution. Millican reaches the conclusion that the 3 writers of these essays are all in agreement that the Constitution supports a strong central government and weak state governments. After reading his book, I agree.

General Fiction

Streets of Laredo, McMurtry

Larry McMurtry is an excellent storyteller. This is number 4 in the Lonesome Dove series (Lonesome Dove is number 3, but it’s the most famous of the set).

The Host, Meyers

Yes, I read a Stephanie Meyers book this year. At least it wasn’t one of the Twilight books, okay?! Seriously, though, she is also an excellent writer and this was a terrific book. I highly recommend it, especially to science fiction lovers.

Kids’ Books

The Lightning Thief, Riordan

Sea of Monsters, Riordan

The Titan’s Curse, Riordan

Battle of the Labyrinth, Riordan

The Last Olympian, Riordan

Yes, I read the entire Percy Jackson series. My son was so excited about them and kept asking me to read it that I eventually gave in and plowed through them. They are good books, and Rick Riordan has a nice way of weaving a storyline together throughout several books. It was worth the time.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, DiCamillo

Okay, I’ve read a lot of kids’ books this year, but this is another that I am including in the list because my son read it for his school “book club” and parents are invited to the discussion. So, I thought I’d read it. It’s a 200-page book, but with the large font and pictures, it took about 2 hours. It’s a captivating story about learning to love, losing love, and moving on to new love.

I’m currently reading Jews and Christians: A Troubled Family as well as Eragon. The latter is a back-and-forth deal with my son where we each read a page. Not quite as good as the Riordan books, but my son is enjoying it. So, I don’t think these two books actually make it on the list, since I am not done with them yet, but I’ll mention them here at the end.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Kind Of Dense

I just realized that pantsmonkey is a friend of mine. This blogger has posted comments on my site several times over the summer, but just now I finally made the connection. I guess I’m kind of dense sometimes.

I see on her blog that she is deeply passionate about GLBT rights, especially gay marriage. She is saddened each time another state declares that marriage is only between a man and a woman, taking away the possibility of GLBT people to experience “the full range of human experience.”

I completely agree with her.

I should also do more to stop the legislative assault on common decency. I do not see how limiting the private affairs of other people helps those who vote for these law and state constitutional amendments. Like I have said, I think that the Bible (yes, I am a Christian) is not anti-gay, and a good website that summarizes some of the arguments in favor of this position are posted here. I am not a Biblical scholar, but I think I know enough to understand that the premises laid on this post are valid and cast serious doubt on fundamental Christianity’s staunch resistance to anything GLBT related. There is a chance I could be wrong, but I would like to at least discuss it and publicly, objectively scrutinize the arguments for and against Christian condemnation GLBT rights.

Not today...another post sometime.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I love to write, but lately I have not had the chance to really complete a manuscript. Other things just seem to get in the way, and the few hours I occasionally spend on a paper isn't enough to bring one to fruition. This is something I don't like about my job: I like so many things about it that spending time on one thing means not doing something else I actually like to do.

Last week I was at a meeting, and a colleague reminded me that I had missed the deadline for a journal special issue. I was very sad, and a bit frustrated, that I had let this slip. He then said that if I can get him a manuscript by December 23, he would include it in the bundle he is sending off to the journal (apparently this journal wants all of the papers for the special issue at the same time). Tuesday night I started converting my Powerpoint slides into a paper outline. I flew home from the meeting on Wednesday, continuing to work on the text on the plane. Thursday I finished my final exam preparations and dove back into writing. Friday I gave my exam, continued writing, and sometime past 5 pm sent out an email to my potential coauthors with a completed (but still a bit rough) manuscript of the study.

I am glad that I have not lost my mo-jo for writing, and that I can crank out a paper in less than a week, given that I completely ignore everything else that I am supposed to be doing.

Today I got an email from my colleague: he had a number of people at the meeting ask him for an extension, so he talked with the journal and the new deadline is January 22. I have time to revise. Ahh. Life is good.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Big Class Next Term

Next semester I get to teach a large survey course for non-science majors. It’s already full and I am giving overrides (I am sure some will drop), and expect the final class size will be the capacity of the lecture hall: 120. Last time I taught it this was the case (hitting 175 that time).

It’s a fun class to teach and I enjoy the challenge, but last time I it was a difficult chore to get them involved in the classroom. At the beginning of the term I used an electronic survey tool, but not enough were bringing their laptops to class and not enough of those were participating in the free response answers, so I eventually dropped it. I did it the old-fashioned way: having them raise their hands for the survey and waiting for someone to speak out loud when I asked a (simple) question. Discussion was limited to small groups, occasionally forcing them to talk to their neighbors for a minute or two, but large-group discussion, even feedback to the whole class on the small-group conversations, was like pulling teeth with tweezers...not exactly painful, just impossible.

This time around, I plan to do it differently. I am going to incorporate a lot more about identifying good-vs-bad science in everyday life than I did last time. I put in a bit of this last time, but not that much and only late in the term, once we had covered the basics of the science concepts for the class. This time I have been collecting “interesting” newspaper, magazine, and web articles this a science component to it (hopefully somewhat relevant to the class topic). I am going to have the small-group discussions again, but force them to report back to the class, and then make those reports part of the homework and test content. Hopefully my teaching assistant will take good notes on the whole-class discussion. I plan on doing this once a week, providing a mid-lecture break every Thursday class session. On Tuesdays, I will do the other thing I did last time: show and discuss videos (web, TV, or movie clips). Again, these were mainly shown last time to identify good versus bad science, but I would do it only on a few dedicated class sessions. This time, I will spread it throughout the term, doing this every Tuesday as the mid-lecture “something different.”

This “every class session” interaction will, I hope, make the class sessions more interesting for the students. I also hope that they learn something from these discussions about being critical of “scientific” information they receive through informal or unintended avenues. It’s going to require some time investment on my part, but I think it will be worth it for me as well. I am looking to the new term.