30 Oct 2005

Comp results

This weekend, I took nine kids to the UIUC ballroom comp, and they sure did me proud. Over the course of a dozen or so events, they took home 16 (pairs of) ribbons, but even better, they got complimented by several total strangers for having fun and looking good. Also notable is that of the nine of them, six got called back and/or placed in a jack-and-jill event, dancing with someone they'd never danced with before.

Speaking of which, I danced a couple of events with Amy from UIUC, whom I had met before in a non-ballroom context but never danced with before; we got called back into Advanced-A for our Hustle and placed in Advanced-B for our International Cha. And I know this might be more attributable to the partner, but when I danced with Kathy, we got put in Advanced-A for all six events, and placed in three of them: 5th in Int'l Samba, 4th in Am Rhumba, and 3rd in East Coast Swing. So much for smooth being my better section! (But like I said, the credit is probably hers; among her other events she racked up another five placings, including two well-deserved firsts.)

Now, here's hoping ISU's comp doesn't have some horrible conflict with Knox's schedule next term, so I can sustain this momentum. My team is totally psyched about competition now, and are working on becoming actively designated a club sport, for better access to things like renting vans to go to competitions. Which would certainly be convenient!

Thursday also happens to be "take our children to work day" at IBM. If you seem significantly taller and less rambunctious than the other participants in the conference room, check whether you have inadvertently signed up for an event at "take our children to work day". If so, return to the lobby and re-register. --PL Day Info, IBM

Posted by blahedo at 10:42pm | Comments (2)

28 Oct 2005

Blago's legacy: healthy kids

You know, for all that I'm down on Illinois' current governor---he really is kind of a schmuck---I do have to give credit where it's due. The All Kids plan he's just gotten passed sounds pretty awesome: all Illinois children, up to age 18, will have health insurance. And rather than have a bunch of onerous hoops to jump through to keep out the people who "don't need" it, the plan is technically open to anyone. The only requirement is that the child hasn't been insured for twelve months, or is under one year old, or a parent has just lost a job. In addition, there is a sliding copayment and premium scale, so that if somehow some rich family wanted to enroll, they would be basically paying their way. And---this is the best part---preventive care checkups require no copayment.

I understand Vermont has a similar program, but then, we have twenty times as many people as them. I really hope this works. This is an important first step towards socialised health care, and it's happening right here. Illinois is so the best state to live in.

"Monks are not used to being compared to camels in heat, but they took it pretty well. I noticed eyebrows going up around the choir, and then a kind of quiet assent: 'well, there are days.'" --Kathleen Norris

Posted by blahedo at 11:03pm | Comments (1)

24 Oct 2005

Long weekend

My weekend started last Friday, with a party in honour of a few of our new faculty at Heather Hoffmann's house. It was the best sort of party: most of the time, most of the people were standing around the kitchen, talking. And the hosts were nanobrewers, with one beer on tap that had espresso in it. Fantastic.

Saturday, I meant to get up at ten, actually made it up and showered and dressed by noon, and had an hour to do tidying and cleaning for guests. One of whom showed up early, but whatever. I have had people over before, but those were explicitly in an "I haven't moved in yet" mode; this was the first time I had people over to a moved-in house. It went pretty well; Chris and Christopher and I played a few rounds of Rumis before moving on to Lunar Rails, a crayon rail game that ended up lasting nearly seven hours (the box said 3-4, but they lie a little and we were just learning the game). Chris won, I lost, a good time was had by all. Definitely an experience to be repeated.

Sunday, then, started out uneventful (although at coffee-and-donuts one of the parishioners was celebrating her hundredth birthday), but after the community chorus rehearsal I bustled over to the knitting club, where they had a guest speaker. Someone's friend's mom, I think, but she's a weaver. She brought a table loom, which was pretty cool; easy to understand when you watch it, and in particular, easy to understand how to get from your "basic weave" (over, under, over, under) to more complex designs. The best part was her computer program, which lets her assign warp threads to harnesses, optionally assign harnesses to treadles, and then lay out a treadle pattern and see how the weave would look. For someone who can pick up the notation fast (e.g. me), this permits a much faster demonstration of the relationship between thread, harness, treadle, and pattern than would be available from actually doing it. She also had some very interesting and impossible-seeming woven scarves; mind-blowing. I was so sad that I had to leave a few minutes early to go teach ballroom.

That went well, too, of course; it was the last team class before our competition Saturday (!), and I ran it as a mock comp, going through each dance in turn, doing a four or five minute practice period and then clearing the floor, making them walk on with their partner and dancing as if in competition for the 90-second window of time they'd have. Hopefully, this got them a little more comfortable with the format. We'll see Saturday, I guess. :)

Of course, all of this stuff meant that I didn't get very much grading done. Alas. That's what I should be doing right now, I suppose. Ah, procrastination, what would I do without you?

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." --James Nicoll

Posted by blahedo at 11:03pm | Comments (1)

21 Oct 2005


Between last Wednesday and next Wednesday, I am to meet with my 12 advisees, 17 FP students, and 21 CS 141 students. Already, of the 40 that were supposed to have already happened, I've had 6 of them blown off. Is it just me, or is that a really high rate of failure?

"Of course they're not the same. Homosexuality has no cure. Pedophilia can be fixed with a transfer to another diocese!" --Lewis Black

Posted by blahedo at 2:01pm | Comments (0)

16 Oct 2005

A prime WTF

I was reading the paper today, and on page C3 of the Register-Mail I ran across a sterling example of what the Language Log folks are calling WTF coordinations. In a PSA from Ameren (the local energy utility), we are told

You can't see it. So we make sure you can smell it. It you detect the distinctive rotten egg odor we add to natural gas, don't turn anything off or on. Leave the house immediately, and the door open when you do. Then call us from another location.
I suspect that started out as "...and leave the door open when you do," and some smarter-than-thou copyeditor "fixed" the coordination, but I suppose it's possible it was produced naturally. (For the record, that original would have sounded funny too, but the fix is to change one or both occurrences of "leave" to something else, e.g. "exit".)

"I'm not an idiot, and if I really cared about any of that "to wit" shit I would have wasted years of my life in some law school." --Brent Spillner

Posted by blahedo at 11:00pm | Comments (0)

15 Oct 2005

And for tonight's excitement, we have...

After a late rise, I let the dog out and discovered my next-door neighbours pulling a cherrypicker into the back driveway; they were going to cut down the enormous dead tree on the corner of their property. This proceeded for a while, and eventually I left to go to the alumni-faculty ice cream social, around 4.

When I got back, after dark, they were working without a porch light on. Puzzling, and I thought, well, maybe they're trying not to night-blind themselves? The moon was fairly bright... but in fact, they had knocked out their own power. Oops. I turned on my back porch light, which helped them immensely, and then I said that (although I didn't have any long extension cords myself) they were welcome to plug in to my power. This let them set up a work light to finish re-running some electrical line, and they were thankful and surprised. Apparently the previous occupants of my house weren't very nice. But seriously, even if I were stingy, it's just one light, plugged in for maybe two hours.

Anyway, they have power again, the tree is mostly just trunk branches now, and the removal will recommence tomorrow morning around 10. (Thankfully, after I leave for church; especially after the power incident, I don't entirely trust them not to send a really heavy branch onto my garage. Which will be bad enough for the garage, but if it happens, I'd just as soon it not affect my car too. ;)

On Jon Stewart: "Those of us in television who dwell in the "actual news" realm are merely his content providers." --Brian Williams, MSNBC news anchor

Posted by blahedo at 9:16pm | Comments (0)

12 Oct 2005

Good night, and good luck

Tonight I saw Good night and good luck, the new George Clooney indy movie about Edward R. Murrow, at its midwestern premiere here in Galesburg. (Nice, eh?) It's pretty fabulous. I gather from reading a Wikipedia article that a few details have been shuffled around, and from a Slate review that the film makes a lot of things black and white that shouldn't have been.

I don't care. It's still fabulous.

I concur with the Slate editorial that the movie is tailored as a message to modern audiences as much as it is a historical depiction. Of course! This is clear from the opening few bars, where Murrow starts lecturing an audience about the demise of independent journalism and the importance of dissent. The movie, for all that it is basically historical, is an extended metaphor for the recent attempts to suppress dissent and label defenders of freedom as unpatriotic. It's not particularly apologetic about that.

And what a setting. The attention to detail is incredible; and real clips from the period are mixed with modern footage in a truly seamless way. As fancy CG techniques go, it's pretty unremarkable, but nevertheless highly effective. All footage of McCarthy himself is real and original---an excellent choice on Clooney's part, because any actor trying to replicate that would be accused of setting up a straw man. No, the junior senator from Wisconsin really was that much of a dick, and happy to just make stuff up if it would serve his purposes.

Sound familiar? But anyway.

A documentary this is not. But if that doesn't bother you, go see this movie when it comes out. It keeps you in suspense even though you know the ending. And it's a stark reminder that there is nothing new under the sun; those who ignore or do not understand history are doomed to repeat it.

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work" --Thomas Edison

Posted by blahedo at 10:56pm | Comments (1)

7 Oct 2005

What was that?

I wonder what I just saw. I got in to work maybe twenty minutes ago and on West St there was a state cop with his flashers on parked behind a beat-up old car. I assumed it was a speeding stop, although it was odd that it would be there and by a state cop.

After checking my email I went to get coffee, and the guy was still pulled over. The clerk at the store asked if I knew what happened, and mentioned that there were initially three cop cars with their flashers on, so this must have happened at least five, ten minutes before I arrived.

The cop only just left. As the guy drove off, I got a look at him; he looked to be just a smidge older than the average college student, but no Knox parking sticker, so I assume he was a local. He appeared to be Arab or Latino, but I don't think this was a simple case of Driving While Brown, since that doesn't usually draw more than one cop car. On the other hand, if they had been looking for him, why did two of the cops leave early? And then let him go after a stop that lasted a half an hour?

So, now I'm all curious. I'll have to remember to check the paper to see if there's any writeup.


Posted by blahedo at 11:21am | Comments (0)

John Edwards and poverty

Here's why John Edwards is cool: he's out there stumping on behalf of the poor---which would be nice enough---but more importantly, he's stressing the fact that the vast majority of people living in poverty aren't there because of disability or laziness, they're actually working full-time.

It should be enough to know they're poor, but one of the less flattering traits of humanity at large is the belief that people should only get what they "deserve", whatever that means, and that lazy people don't deserve to get anything. This in turn becomes an easy out, permitting people to dismiss poverty as some strange form of just deserts.

The problem is, this really hasn't ever been true, although the lazy poor person is pretty much a trope in political discourse. It certainly isn't true now. Poor people aren't any lazier than the rest of us---considerably less so in many cases---and in the vast majority of cases, they're only in the position they're in because life dealt them a crappy hand. Helping the poor is not, as Edwards points out, a matter of charity; it's a matter of justice.

"Character is what you are in the dark." --Dwight Moody

Posted by blahedo at 12:15am | Comments (2)

4 Oct 2005

C-in-C again

They showed a debate at Brown University! Which is plausible enough, except that the debate venue didn't look even remotely like any part of Brown. :P Also, although its prestige makes such an event plausible, Brown is lacking in auditoria of significant size.

And even though the diary thing is defused, you know that it foreshadows something---in particular, what is it about the brother that she wrote that would've been politically embarrassing for the President? I'm guessing it's that he's gay. We'll see, I guess. Maybe sooner rather than later, since the preview for next week's ep includes one of his friends being incredulous that he's not dating (and sleeping with) any of the girls from the school. But they'll probably lead up to it for a few weeks first.

Did Geena Davis always talk through clenched teeth? She's great, but when she does that it sounds really odd. Otherwise, though, I thought this week's episode sustained the level of the previous one and still has the potential to fill West Wing's shoes. Oh, and Donald Sutherland is so delightfully eeeeevil. You gotta love that.

"The "melting pot" theory works in some areas in the larger cities. The "salad bowl" theory works rather well for other towns and cities. But I propose a third theory that covers vast areas of the US. The "child's plate" theory. In this theory all of the foods are separated into their own groups and if the ketchup touches the green beans all hell breaks loose." --Brian Pyle

Posted by blahedo at 10:54pm | Comments (0)

3 Oct 2005

Frustrating teaching day

Today just didn't go very well, teaching-wise. In FP, I had the hardest time yet trying to prod the students into discussion. I suppose that my discussion questions aren't good enough, but seriously, for most of the class it felt like they all would've rather just sat there in uncomfortable silence. A few of them might not have read the assignment, but I think that wasn't the problem for most of them. One kept answering questions in such a way as to shut down discussion---not sure if that was intentional or not---and another clearly seemed to disapprove of my lack of control, though apparently not enough to actually say very much. (I did manage to coax out a few comments, at least.) Towards the end of the class, there was a bit of actual back-and-forth between students, but it felt very fragile. When it veered a bit from what we'd actually read, I was leery of trying to steer it back, because I'm pretty sure that if I had opened my mouth, they would've all closed theirs again. Arrghhh. Of course, I can't blame them---I'm the one that's supposed to draw them out of their shells and cause them to re-examine and re-form their world view, right? I'm the one that's supposed to make them able to understand how to evaluate and make choices, right? I just don't know how. Up till today, I kind of thought I was doing alright, but then, blahhh.

Fast on the heels of that failure, I moved on to my CS 141 class. Although I've been generally happy with my pacing and such this term, today I felt like I was ineffective when I was lecturing, ineffective when I was eliciting responses, and ineffective when I put them in small groups. I "covered" most of what I wanted to cover for today, but I felt somehow that nobody walked out understanding anything other than what they'd walked in with.

And I have no idea why. Some days, I do something wrong, and I know what I can do to fix it. But I just have no idea why today completely failed to work. So I'm mostly reduced to just hoping things go better Wednesday. What a frustrating feeling.

'Sudoku comes from a Japanese word meaning "You won't believe the amount of time I have to kill."' --Howard Leff

Posted by blahedo at 11:33pm | Comments (1)

1 Oct 2005

Red letter day

I didn't get up until after noon, but I still accomplished a lot: all the million or so already-emptied boxes got broken down and taken to the attic; I rearranged my bedroom and unpacked several boxes and suitcases of clothes and such; and I cleared off and made the guest beds. Now I've taken a break for dinner and dogwalking and such, and I'm heading over to the evening session of the Black Earth Film Festival at the Orpheum. When I get back, maybe I can make some more inroads into the kitchen!

"Why do you think the world is more stupid than you?" --Yevgeniy Yevtushenko, to Richard Nixon

Posted by blahedo at 6:26pm | Comments (0)