# blueollie

## Feeling strong enough to complain

Ok, no 100 percent; I still have some illness “afterglow”. I’ll put this on my virus post.

But I didn’t cough much when I shoveled snow (about 3 inches of easy, fluffy stuff) in very cold (14 F) weather. I cursed the idiot plow drivers as they buried our walks instead of putting the snow on the useless median and did the walks…again.

Peoria is simply a horrible place to live; Canadian winters (last 2 anyway), incompetent city government and idiotic people.

But when I finished shoveling (AGAIN), walking to school and climbing the stairs I was soaking with sweat…and did not cough…once. I can’t tell you what a huge improvement that is. I’ll probably walk on the treadmill tomorrow.

But my wife is home, taking up space and coughing away…no rest of the wicked, I suppose.

No relief from the brutality of this winter either; yes, THIS YEAR, and LAST YEAR have made the “top 10 coldest Februaries on record:

February 2015 is on track to being one of the coldest February’s on record for Illinois. Data through February 24 puts the statewide average at 19.4° F. This is 11.5°F below average and slightly colder than last February’s 19.4°F. Before February, this was shaping up to be a mild winter with near to above-average temperatures (see graph to the left, click to enlarge).

At this point, February 2015 is ranked as the 8th coldest on record, edging out 2014 (see table below). The NWS forecasts show that temperatures for the rest of February will be 15 to 20 degrees below average. Therefore it is possible that it could move up the ranks. I will post more on this at the end of the month.

Yes, it will get colder:

And yep, we will get slammed with more snow again.

We have the worst of both worlds: Canadian winters and US conservatives in the same place.

Work

When I started as an assistant professor, our Provost insisted that to be tenured, all tenure-track faculty had to have scores on their anonymous student evaluations that were above their department’s averages. I tried to explain to him that if this were sustained over time, the result would be that all tenure-track faculty would be required to have perfect scores. After that happened, no one would get tenure, since it would no longer be possible to score higher than average. He gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look.

(by department average, they mean vs. all tenure track and tenured; this is the “everyone should be above average idiocy”)

And yes, they expect you to view whatever “research” they did on a level with yours.

February 27, 2015

I won’t lie: I wondered how teaching would go.

It turns out that I was able to climb the 4 flights of stairs with no difficulty. So I am feeling better (cold log is here) but I do have a cough which is (TMI) very productive at the moment. I’ll have to take something for it prior to going to bed, else I won’t be able to sleep.

There were two positives to come from this cold:

1. This past weekend, I saw 4 of the 5 Missouri Valley basketball games. Of course, 3 of the 4 games I watched were blowouts; the Illinois State vs. Loyola was reasonably competitive (67-60 ISU). But Bradley lost to Northern Iowa by 17, Drake crushed Missouri State 78-43 behind 62 percent 3-point shooting (it was 35-14 at the half!) and WSU cruised past Evansville 62-43; Ironically the Bradley loss was by a lesser margin than the other games. And at least BU was still in the game at the half (down 27-23); WSU lead Evansville 30-14 at the half.

So, had I planned things better, I could have caught the SIU vs. ISU blue and had my own “Arch madness” on the TV. Still, 4 out 5 games isn’t too bad.

I wonder if TV game viewership goes up during cold/flu season.

2. I learned something about teaching from today: today I taught:

Lagrange Multipliers (brief calculus II)
Limits and evaluation of limits along different paths for functions of 2 variables (calculus III)
The separation axioms ($T_1, T_2$ ), closure and interior in topology.

I didn’t really use notes as I was dead to the world this weekend. But it looks as if I did a competent job even though I was part of the walking dead during the classes.

Reason: I know this stuff. THAT is the take away to teachers: if you want to be able to teach something effectively, you need to know it well beyond the level you are teaching it.

I’ll put it another way: if you need a “teacher’s edition” with the answers in it, you suck and you shouldn’t be teaching the stuff. I’m not opposed to having a solution key to give to the grader or, on occasion, to see what unwarranted assumption the book made (and yes, they sometimes make them…much to my disgust).

February 24, 2015

## I’m liberal for a reason, but conservatives are not all crazy…

Yes, genetically, I am a liberal. I couldn’t make myself be conservative if I tried. One of the reasons is that I am simply not tribal enough; the very idea that my country, people, etc. are the “best ever” and chosen by some deity/force of history to lead the rest of the world sounds ridiculous to me.

But, I fall afoul of other liberals in many areas too.

Here is one way: though I reject the idea that we should dictate to the rest of the world, I also reject the idea that we are especially evil either. As Steven Pinker points out in Better Angels , our moral track record isn’t that bad, when you compare us to other Leviathans.

I also think it is bad form when foreign students come to our universities and put us down (and yes, that happens, a LOT). If you don’t like “ugly American” behavior when we visit your countries, why do you act that way in ours?

I also reject some liberal attitudes toward poverty. Before you jump on me, I am FOR programs that, say, feed poor kids. There is some data that SNAP type programs reduce the probability that those who grow up poor will need public aid benefits in the future. And spending money on foot programs can help poor kids learn in school; it is tough to concentrate on ANYTHING when you are genuinely hungry.

So, I support such programs.

What I reject: I reject the claim that kids being hungry is anyone else’s fault but the parents!

So while I approve of the program, I rebel at labeling it as the failure of anyone but the parents. Is saying “don’t have kids you can’t afford” so controversial? I suppose that it is in some circles.

And just get a load of this headline: “what if everything you knew about poverty was wrong?” Uh, it isn’t:

Edin sees in these obstacles to full-time fatherhood a partial explanation for what’s known as “multiple-partner fertility.” Among low-income, unwed parents, having children with more than one partner is now the norm. One long-running study found that in nearly 60 percent of the unwed couples who had a baby, at least one parent already had a child with another partner.

Uh, that is EXACTLY what many of us think.

Seriously, at times, it feels as if holding human beings to a higher standard than we hold rabbits is considered immoral in some liberal circles.

February 21, 2015

## Taking it for granted

Workout notes running: 2 mile warm up in 20:36 (treadmill)
1 mile (middle lane, as opposed to the inner lane I used last year): 7:46 (1:58/1:55/1:55/1:56)
1 mile walk (slow)

Weights: pull ups (5 sets of 10, easy?) hip hikes, Achilles, rotator cuff rests
bench press/military press super set: bench (dumbbells) 10 x 65, 8 x 70, 8 x 70, military (dumbbell) 12 x 50 seated, supported, 2 sets of 10 x 40 standing
super set rows/pull downs: 3 sets of 10 each (110 rows, 130 pull downs, wide grip, “other machines”)

Though I thought that I felt tired going in, I felt pretty good afterward.

The run: hard enough to make me cough later (for 1-2 hours after), but not hard enough to cause pain in my teeth.
I’ve coughed after really hard runs (usually 1 mile or less; sometimes after a hard 5K when it was a 20 minute effort for me) almost all of my life..it has never been serious.

Taking it for granted
One thing about teaching the basics of a subject like topology: it reminds me of how much I take for granted when I do my own research. Yeah, I’ve worked out all of the nuances, but for many of them, it was 25-30 years ago!

February 12, 2015

## Professors, blog posts and anti-intellectualism

First things first: Today, the swimming pool was crowded; glad that I got there early. I enjoyed the swim, but it wasn’t anything special:

500 warm up, 5 x 100 where I did 100 drill with fins, 100 swim, (3 drill reps, 2 swims)

5 x 200 on the 4:00: 3:38, 3:37, 3:34, 3:34, 3:35 (not as good as last week, which wasn’t that good.

100 back (fins), 100 fly/fly drill (fins)

No, this was not an AMAZING for was it an AWESOME workout. I think that these-a-days, “awesome” (pronounced “AWEsome” means what the old “cool” or “groovy” meant.

Posts The Republicans in Wisconsin seem intent on reducing their excellent university system to something resembling a community college system. Classic quote by a state lawmaker who is disdainful of academic research:

He thought this would be fine, as Wisconsin Assembly Speaker (and probable candidate for Governor) Robin Vos declared back in November, nobody really gives a shit about the “ancient mating habits of whatever.” Just prior to dropping the budget bomb, Walker was on right-wing talk radio telling the host that professors need to “work more.”

The cuts are an existential threat. The University of Wisconsin System will cease to exist as a world-class institution. The Chancellor of UW-Madison has said that should the cuts to Madison remain, they are the equivalent to laying off 1/3 of Madison’s faculty, or 1,000 support staff. Imagine that.

Okkkkkaaaayyyy……”Fruit Flies” anyone?

Speaking of science: at times it seems almost, well, fashionable to admit that one doesn’t like science (and especially mathematics) but…well…one needs to read literature in order to be educated! Ha, ha, ha, ha: I am so illiterate I can’t even write a complete sentence!!!

And as far as speaking one’s mind: a professor had his tenure revoked because of a blog post. Now other sources said that the professor had been warned not to mention students by name….

and no, I do NOT do that. Ever.

February 10, 2015

## Students: being honest with them and sleeping with them?

Workout notes 8 miles: 6 running and 2 walking. Running: 5.5-5.6-5.7 increasing every 4 minutes, then I played with the incline (2 minutes each) 2-.5-3-.5-4-.5-4-.5-3-.5-2-.5-2-.5-3-.5-4-.5-4-4-.5-3-.5-2 then .5 to get to 6 in 1:03:36.

1 walk on the mill, then 1 walk on the track.

Yes, the gym was filling, and there were grade school girls basketball games going on in the gym. Which leads me to..students.

The problem is that almost none of my students have the aptitude or work ethic to become professional astronomers. Herrgott im Himmel, do they SUCK!

How bad are they? Most of my graduate students can’t understand significant digits, which is an error that first-year undergraduates are taught to avoid on their very first day of college. No matter how, and no matter how many times, I try to explain significant digits to them, the effect is NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER. That we only have undergraduate and M.S. programs (and no Ph.D.) is no excuse.

Yet another former M.S. student recently flunked out of a low-tier Ph.D. program, unable to pass their qualifying exams. Yet another M.S. student recently scored a single-digit percentile on the GRE physics exam. Good astronomy Ph.D. programs want them in the top 50th percentile. Great ones (like Caltech, some Ph.D. graduates from which get tenure-track jobs, albeit after many years as postdocs) want them in the top 25th. Typical ACT scores of professional astronomers are over 29; typical college students have ACT scores of 22-23; the 25th/75th percentiles of my students get 17-22.

Virtually none of my students ever come to meetings of the local amateur astronomy club, which are right here on campus. So much for how badly they want to become astronomers. Almost none stay up past 10 p.m. to take advantage of the fine observatory and weather we have on campus. I’ve had multiple students say to my face that staying up past midnight would be a problem for them. What in heavens’ name do they think it is that we do here?

That’s a good question, isn’t it? On one hand, one doesn’t want to pull the plug on a potential outlier or late bloomer. On the other hand…well what about the other 99 percent of low performers who won’t make it?

Then there is this:

From the Gawker Comments on Hooking Up With Harvard Undergrads. There Are Only 958 Comments So Far, So It Shouldn’t Take Long To Want To Blow Your Brains Out.

Yes, I am sure that sometimes some miscreant faculty sleep with their undergraduates. But the question I ask is: WHY??
Seriously. Forget that it is completely unethical (unless, say, one’s spouse has returned to school to get another degree or other such unusual circumstances). Again: WHY?

I don’t mind students in office hours or students asking me subject questions. That is what I am there for; I like to teach.

But let’s just say that, “after hours”, I want to get away from 18-20 year olds (at least the distance from the stands to the field or arena) and not to socialize with them.

Today, while on the treadmill, a couple of young college women got on the ‘mill next to me and I had to overhear some of what they were saying…it all but made my ears bleed.

Yeah, I know; women my age have bigger, floppier butts. (that is what spandex is for :-) ) But who cares? I am not built like an Olympic swimmer either. If I were suddenly single (and I have no plans to be) I seriously doubt that I’d consider dating a woman who was under 40.

And yeah, these-a-days I’d be far more interested in her resume than in her looks.

I can see it now: “potential date wanted. Here is a description of me. If interested, send resume/CV/publication list and transcripts to…” Dang…I’ve been on too many search committees!

February 8, 2015

## Carrying the torch (and I get weepy and melancholy)

I was in the office preparing lessons…this song came on and I got a bit weepy…

I don’t know why I associate this song with a certain aspect of my past, but I do. Perhaps it is because George Harrison died some time ago.

Of course my two biggest teachers were my parents; dad left us in February 2004 and Mom last May (2014).

But today, …as I prepared my lessons, I thought about my professors. Many were old men at the time they taught me (undergraduate: 1977-1980 and graduate 1985-1991) and some have died; that is just human mortality.

I am not going to pretend that I made/am making the contributions that my graduate school professors made; it is all but an axiom that you will not be as good as your advisor. After all, they are advising you because they are a distinguished Research level I professor.

But I can contribute at least a little to my discipline and pass on BOTH some of the knowledge that I have AND the knowledge of how to learn so that my students can move on and make contributions of their own.

That is how it works, isn’t it? Hopefully each generation knows just a bit more than the previous one and then passes it on to the next generation.

So, intellectually speaking, my professors live on through me. I hope that when it is time for me to pass on, that I have proved to be up to the task.

February 7, 2015

No, the the university library is not the place to shoot porn. But that might be one way to get basketball players to go to the library?

Yes, when a university team does poorly and said team has a lot of enthusiastic followers, said followers get angry.

Our local university basketball team has done poorly over the past few years and local fans are screaming for blood; the coach, athletic director and university president (who is retiring after the semester is over). At the last home game, some fans booed loudly and the coach (and sadly, players) received cat calls; some were vulgar.

And yes, this was noticed and…well, an athletic department official (PR director) spoke his mind:

It is no secret that a great deal of unrest has fallen upon The Hilltop, due in large part to the struggles of the men’s basketball team. Obviously, a 7-15 overall record on the heels of three 20-loss results in the last four years is a bitter pill to swallow. I can assure you every aspect of the program is being evaluated and every effort is being made to avoid a continuation of these results into the future.

I cannot help but notice the poison being spewed at the athletic department from near and far and I find the ease at which people lash out with insensitivity disturbing. Everybody who works in a high-profile profession understands the public scrutiny that comes with the position, but that does not make it any easier to hear the many vile things that are yelled and written in public forums. Much of that public ire is being directed at my friends and colleagues, and in an indirect way, myself. It is emotionally draining and only adds stress to the job. It is stress that comes with the territory and is understood, but it is stress none-the-less.

Whenever judgment is leveled on others, I think it is a good idea to first take a look in the mirror and remember that judgment is being made on a fellow human being, a neighbor with loved ones who is giving his best effort. That moment of reflection may not change the judgment, but I hope it affects the manner in which messages are delivered.

Though I won’t dispute the message (because I agree with it), I do think that it is NOT helpful as it is hosted on an official university website; is sure smacks of “quit being mean to us”.

Note: the athletic department has made some PR gaffes (e. g. raising season ticket prices while the team was on a down cycle). And, at least there are still a lot of people who still care; they still sell 5-6K tickets per game (though 2.5-3K actually show up) and there are still 2 very active fan boards on the internet. A much worse situation is when people quit caring entirely; then the smaller on campus arena will have more than enough seats.

Note: yes, I am a fan but in some ways I am the worst kind of fan. I show up, cheer and go home, whether the team is 25-5 or 5-25. I buy new university gear when my old stuff wears out. I might give a modest amount of money but most of it goes to academics (some goes to women’s sports) and it isn’t as if my gifts are dependent on W-L records. If all fans were like me, most of the competition would be D-2 level.

According to a study published in the Journal of Creative Behavior, college students find athletes and dancers sexy, but not students who love computers and science.

. This might explain my long periods of loneliness. :-)

On the other side: when it comes to teaching college, yes, at times, it might be expedient to take the easy way out and not hold students to high standards. But professors who give in to this pressure:

can often pay a heavy price later. Those professors become known as “easy professors” and end up attracting the slackers and whiners.

Of course, you suck it up and hold them to standards because it is the right thing to do, but that isn’t always easy.

January 31, 2015

## The challenge of keeping one’s mouth shut

Our university just made an announcement: the current President is stepping down as of this May:

PEORIA — A search will soon be underway for Bradley University’s 11th president.
Joanne Glasser announced Thursday afternoon that she will step down at the end of May, after completing her eighth year on the hilltop.
“I believe it is time for a leadership change to allow fresh eyes and new ideas to continue the excellent momentum of our institution,” she wrote in an email to the campus.
She described her tenure as “an honor, privilege and joy.” The school’s first female president, Glasser leaves behind a legacy of significant accomplishment, particularly \$128 million in brick-and-mortar projects, along with a healthy dose of controversy.
The head of the board of trustees that she reported to, Doug Stewart, praised Glasser for being “a remarkable leader of our university who brought energy and new vitality to our campus.”
The timing of Glasser’s announcement allows board members to have it at the top of their agenda for their scheduled meeting Feb. 5-6 and provides time for an orderly and unrushed transition, Stewart said by phone Thursday evening. He said he hopes they can have someone hired by the start of the fall semester.

The article then goes on to talk about the President’s tenure and provide some tidbits about the current challenges facing the university.

There are some comments that follow. There is also some discussion of this on a couple of “Bradley Basketball fan boards) here and here.

Bottom line: many people commenting really don’t know what they are talking about. Why this is important: I need to remember this when other issues are discussed. By definition: most discussion of issues are uninformed ones.

Note: I will not add to the sea of misinformation out there. I will say that being a university president is a tough job and the next one has some tough challenges ahead.

January 23, 2015