Archive for February, 2009

Also at AAPT

23 February 2009
Rhett A.

Rhett A.

Going to the AAPT conference wasn’t all about my photo with Connie Willis.  One of the best things about the conference is meeting and talking to all sorts of interesting people who are doing interesting things.  I talked to some high school students who were presenting a poster on water purification, for example.  I spoke with a woman who has been teaching kids to program some optics simulations using vpython.  I learned about making stop-motion animation from Brian Gravel, of the Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach.  You can read Rhett’s post about the software, SAM animation, at Dot Physics.  I learned about video labs from a high school teacher who works with a Rutgers University professor.  Dave Vernier of Vernier Software showed me how to use my LabPro equipment and a voltage probe to generate sine waves.  And I had a great talk with Rhett from Dot Physics after a session on “clickers,” at which Stephanie Chasteen presented a talk.  Stephanie is ScienceGeekGirl, and we had a good talk about technology and education over lunch on Saturday.

Stephanie C.

Stephanie C.

So the next step is following up on some of these conversations.  I have some slips of paper covered with URL’s (that’s website addresses) to investigate (not sure where those are right now…), a small pack of business cards, and some sticky notes from WebAssign that I have a few notes written on.  Somehow I missed getting the contact information from the Department of Energy woman I talked to, but I might be able to find her another way.  I also still have a business card from last year’s winter meeting, in Baltimore, which I still have not followed up.

Well, that is the way things go.  Here I am, blogging about these people but not contacting them, and I will now go and finish grading a batch of tests I have, but I won’t send e-mails tonight.  Maybe this weekend I will do that.  Maybe.

By the way, did you notice?  Stephanie is wearing a shirt from xkcd!


22 February 2009

For the past few weeks, I’ve been gong over to the home of some friends one or two times a week after school.  I’ve been scooping their cat’s litter boxes for them.  They have a lot of cats, and the 7 or 8 cat boxes need daily scooping.  There are probably 7 or 8 friends on the scoop calendar, all told.

Why are we helping out with the cat boxes?

Because J is pregnant and not allowed to scoop litter boxes, and her husband T is undergoing radiation and chemotherapy for a tumor at the base of his tongue, which necessitates a feeding tube in his abdomen, which means he isn’t bending over lately.  Plus, anyone with a compromised immune system probably shouldn’t scoop cat poop.

The prognosis for T’s recovery is very good, thought there will be some difficulties over the next few weeks, starting with his next round of chemo.  He keeps the group up to date with the progress of his treatment via a “Yahoo group.”  The baby is due in late March and we all hope T will be able to be present at the delivery.

Meanwhile, members of the Yahoo group are making food, delivering groceries and boxes of cat litter, helping out with home improvement projects, and scooping, scooping, scooping.  I’m glad to be part of a community that takes care of each other like this.


17 February 2009


This is Alison Des Forges, at the graduation party my parents held for me and my friends back in 1988.  Two summers later, in 1990, she helped me learn Scottish Highland dancing (we worked on the fling and the sword dance) during the last summer I spent living in my parents’ house.

This was when she was, to me, just my friend Sandy’s mom.  It was her house our little group of friends went to after senior prom.  She hosted us on New Years’ Eve our first winter break home from college, when we thought we might enjoy some alcoholic beverages. We wound up testing them to see which burned well and which didn’t, as opposed to drinking any.  What a bunch of nerds we were.  We grew up to be doctors and professors, travelers and teachers.  And Alison, having raised her teenagers and gotten them off to college, tried to stop the genocide in Rwanda.

That’s what she’s known for, now.  MacArthur “Genius Grant” awardee.  Human Rights Watch Africa expert.  But to me, she’s still Sandy’s mom, Jessie’s mom, Roger’s wife.  And she’s gone, on that plane that crashed outside Buffalo last week.  I’m glad I knew her, and the world is a much better place for having had her in it.  My sympathies are with all who were touched by Alison.


17 February 2009

One of the things I love about attending conferences is the chance to meet people and have great conversations. Then there are just those who I get to meet. I got to meet Paul Hewitt several years ago at a conference, and I got to tell him that I knew a woman who had taken his physics course and majored in physics because of him. I got to make him smile.

Paul Hewitt is the author of a physics textbook called Conceptual Physics. We use it at my school for the lowest level of first year physics, and I also have AP students read it. Many physics teachers admire Paul Hewitt very much, so it is actually pretty cool to have met him. I can also impress my students by recounting how I heard a talk by S. James Gates, who to my students is “the guy on the poster.” I’m not sure why it is so exciting to have seen in person a guy on a poster, but OK.

Well, this conference is the one where I got to have my picture taken with Connie Willis, one of my favorite authors! Woot! She even gave me permission to put the photo on my blog, so here it is:


When I was in high school, I first read Willis’s novelette Blued Moon, which was published in Asimov’s* (a magazine of short science fiction stories) in the 1980’s. I loved it, and thought that even my mother would enjoy it. My mom said she didn’t like science fiction, but this was a story about coincidence, language, and English majors.

Since then, I have read every book and story by Connie Willis that I have been able to find. I learned that he husband was a physics professor somehow, which made a lot of sense when I read At the Rialto and her novel Bellwether. At the Rialto is a short story that takes place at a quantum mechanics conference, and Bellwether involves someone who keeps alive the memory of her high school physics teacher.

I met Connie’s husband Courtney Willis at a conference in Madison, WI. I was heading out to find dinner one evening with my friend Liz, and Courtney was also on the same mission. We all found our way to an Afghan restaurant and had a good meal and a good conversation. Then a year or so ago I finally met Connie Willis when she gave a talk and a reading at Swarthmore College. She had a bad cold at the time, but she did the reading anyway and I hung on every word, and afterward asked her to sign my copy of her novel Passage.  The novel she read from that night will probably be published next spring (2010) and I am very much looking forward to reading it! It takes place largely in her favorite time and place: World War II, the Blitz. It features characters who are time-traveling historians, as in her short story Fire Watch and her novels Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog.

So, I still haven’t had a true conversation with Connie Willis, but I am still pretty pleased to have had several opportunities to say hello at the conference, and feel all glowy that I was at the same conference as Connie Willis. I also stayed at the same hotel Al Gore spoke in, in the same city where President Obama was spending the weekend, and I was in the same room as a Nobel-prize-winning physicist more than once! So I guess it was a pretty special weekend, but I still missed my husband and our cat. I’m glad to be home!

*short for Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine

Me time

13 February 2009


Well, I am just about ready to head for Chicago, hopefully on an earlier flight than planned by going standby.  So it will be a fairly long period of sitting and waiting in and on public transportation today.  I’ll be attending the AAPT winter meeting this weekend, learning stuff and hanging out with some of my favorite kinds of people: physics teachers!

I’m hoping to run into sciencegeekgirl and the dotPhysics blogger, meet the wife of my distance learning professor of the past year, have chats with some old acquaintances from various parts of the country, and also learn stuff about teaching physics.   There will be sessions on pedagogy, innovative labs/activities, uses for new technologies in the classroom, research on how to teach physics so that people learn it well, and current research/theories/news.  Nobelist George Smoot will give a talk, and so will pioneering astrophysicist Vera Rubin, who discovered that dark matter has to exist.  Since the AAPT meeting is being run in conjunction with the meeting of the AAAS, I might go to some of their sessions as well.  I’ve been told Al Gore will be speaking. (It’ll be today and I don’t think I’ll go, but I might…)

I’m off to finish packing and catch a train to the airport!  Buzz will keep my husband company until Monday night.

To Sir, With Love

8 February 2009

Warning: there are spoilers in this post.  If you plan to watch this movie and don’t want to know what happens, stop reading at the break.

tosirwithloveI watched To Sir, With Love last night, the movie starring Sidney Poitier.  I had gotten it from Netflix a couple of months ago, and finally got around to watching it.  It is a teacher movie, like Stand and Deliver or Dangerous Minds, in which an inexperienced teacher is put in a classroom with a group of ne’er-do-wells.

In Stand and Deliver, Edward James Olmos stars as the man who teaches math to hispanic kids in LA.  Ultimately, he teaches them calculus.  In Dangerous Minds, Michelle Pfeiffer stars as an ex-marine who teaches English to tough kids.  Both are based on true stories.

In To Sir, With Love, Sidney Poitier is an engineer, and he doesn’t teach any particular school subject to his kids.  He promises himself he will not lose his temper with the kids, but their shenanigans get to him.  If there is one thing kids don’t need to be taught, it is how to push an adult’s buttons!  That, I have experience with.  My personal strategy is not to have any buttons, but sometimes they pop up unexpectedly. (more…)

What models can and cannot do

8 February 2009


Last week, 5.5 inches of snow fell on our back deck.  This was unexpected.  The computer models at accuweather had predicted a dusting of snow, or maybe 1-3 inches.  I told my students to expect a regular school day, I did not even think there would be a delay.  But as I worked into the night and looked out the window every so often, I saw a lovely picture developing.  The trees were getting that “frosted” look, the street unplowed.  I got out my “wet weather shoes” for Wednesday morning, and went to bed.


Happily, we had no school on Wednesday (I had a good nap, got some work done, shoveled in good time, wrote that “25 things” post).  Apparently a “freak band of snow” had settled across Southeastern PA overnight and we were in it.  Surprise!

Today, I put on my “wet wether shoes” to go to church this morning.  On this gorgeous, sunny warm day, the sidewalks and street gutters were running with water from the meltoff.  It had started yesterday, and finished today.  All gone.  no more snow.  And it should stay warm this week.  According to the models.

I could have sworn I smelled spring on the air as I walked from the train station to my church.

But the weather models are also predicting a temperature dive next weekend and possibly a stormy week following.  Great.  I am leaving for Chicago for the AAPT winter meeting/AAAS meeting on Friday, and I am counting on the planes being on schedule.  I’m returning Monday evening (President’s Day) and I plan on going to work Tuesday morning.  But aside from anticipating freezing my butt off in Chicago as I hustle between the two convention hotels (what happened to winter meetings in Orlando?  or New Orleans?  or San Diego?), I also know that weather models are notoriously changeable this far out (Punxatawney Phil aside) and there is no point in worrying about the weekend until I have to pack on Thursday night.

On the other hand, if we get some more of this, I won’t mind.  I like snow.


(Hey, this is my 100th blog post!  Yay!)


4 February 2009

Since  a number of my friends are not on Facebook, I thought I would subject you to the “25 things” phenomenon here.   In Facebook, you are supposed to write a “note” containing 25 pieces of information about yourself, and you are supposed to “tag” friends so they can do it too.  I think it is “tag” in the sense of that game we played as kids where you run around trying to avoid being touched by whoever is “it,” not “tag” in the sense of label.

So here they are.  My 25 things.

1. I prefer red wine over white wine.

2. If you had told me 20 years ago that in 2009 I would unreasonably desire shoes and chocolate, I would never have believed you.

3. I love my job teaching more and more every year, and I also continue to love learning. I am learning to speak Japanese and I am learning some computer programming, and lately I have learned more physics than I knew before.

4. I plan to never dye my hair, which is already turning gray, to my disappointment. I had hoped to have hair like my dad’s, which didn’t really show any gray until he was about 50.

5. I had stopped enjoying photography when I went through a bad breakup in my early 20’s, but I have happily been rediscovering it. However, since I find it annoying to upload photos to facebook I don’t do it much.  (blog note: I do upload to flickr sometimes)

6. I can tell Keemun, Assam, Darjeeling, and Oolong apart by taste or smell, and I prefer to take mine plain, made with BOILING water poured over loose leaves. But I drink Lipton also.

7. Once I swore I would never again date a computer-game-player, but when I fell in love it was with a man who plays computer games and he is the best thing that EVER has happened to me. I even have a certain appreciation for computer games now.

8. Sometimes I am surprised and pleased that I have been able to solve a particular physics exercise, even though I have been solving them for over 20 years now (if you count high school too).

9. My mom says I once told her, as a child, that I wanted to marry a Japanese man. Well, my husband is only half Japanese, and I now have a Japanese-American mother-in-law who knows more about computers than I do.

10. OK, this isn’t news: I am a prodigious procrastinator, and it is a bad thing. I am aware of it and trying to get better, but it is a long hard road. It’s the things I don’t enjoy doing that I put off, instead of getting over them. What am I putting off right now? Grading the quizzes I gave yesterday.

(ok, only 15 more “things” to go, but I need to grade the rest of the front side of the quizzes first.)

11. When we bought a house I was excited to have a garden, until I discovered that I do not actually enjoy gardening. However, I do enjoy worm composting.

12. I still subscribe to the newspaper, but I fell so far behind on Sunday crossword puzzles that I have stopped clipping them. I love to read the comics pages even though a lot of the comics are dumb, and I hate it when my newspaper is late in the morning.

13. I enjoy owning a Nintendo DS Lite.

14. I am in favor of raising taxes and using the funds to (1) repair our infrastructure (2) provide universal health care and (3) convert to sustainable energy. I guess that makes me a “tax and spend liberal.” I hope my conservative friends will still be my friends.

15. Even though I don’t do it very often, I enjoy sewing.

16. I have an unhealthy relationship with potato chips.

17. My hairdresser told me never to comb my hair, and I love her for it. It makes my morning routine that mush shorter!

18. If I were building my own house, I would include a metal roof, solar panels, plenty of windows to put my houseplants in, built-in bookcases, a butler’s pantry, big enough closets, a room for playing Rock Band and DDR (my husband will live in my house with me, of course), and temperature zones for efficiently controlling the temperature in different places. There’s probably other important details, but it’s pretty much a moot point anyway.

19. With the exception of letters I received from an ex-boyfriend, I have kept almost every letter I have ever gotten, including a letter from Mr. Fred Rogers and an e-mail from one of my favorite authors, C. J. Cherryh. Actually, I think the ex-boyfriend’s letters are still in my parents’ house, unless they have thrown them away by now.

20. I’m not a big fan of opera.

21. People who wake up before their alarm clock rings and then get out of bed because they can’t sleep amaze me. I have no difficulty lying in bed not sleeping, if it is too early to get up.

22. I subscribe to MAKE magazine, but I have yet to make a project from it. I have issues 10 – 16 and someday, someday I will make cool stuff I learned about in MAKE’s pages.

23. I carry two “leatherman” tools in my schoolbag, and I enjoy fixing little things at school. I’m much more likely to fix something at school that I am at home. Though if it requires soldering, I’m on it. Do more things break at school than at home? Maybe…

24. I am more likely to get a word or name from the news stuck in my head than I am to get a song stuck there. I remember for a while it was “Rigoberta Menchu.” Did you ever notice that Rigoberta Menchu rhymes with domo arigatou? Maybe it only does that in my head…

25. I went to elementary school with singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco.

It’s Today

3 February 2009

My “blogoversary,” that is.  I started TeaWithBuzz a year ago, and I was hoping to get to 100 posts by today, but this is only #98.

I am celebrating by grading papers and making No-Pudge Brownies.  Unfortunately, since I need to grade papers, that is all you are getting from me today.  Maybe another post this weekend.