Archive for: August, 2006

Review of Remember Me

Aug 30 2006 Published by under Book review

A couple years ago, I taught a freshman seminar class called "Matters of Life and Death". In the course, we looked at philosophy, anthropology, medical ethics, literature, and film to try to get some insight to how our awareness that our lives are finite influences how we live those lives and how we understand what kind of meaning they have.
And, about once a week, one of my freshmen would ask, "Why are we spending so much time in this class talking about death?" (Supply your own rant about inability of eighteen year olds to draw good inferences from course titles.)
Even though death is an attractive topic when frosh are choosing their classes, there is something about the teenager's mind that seems resistant to thinking about death very hard or very long. Perhaps that very resistance just another instance of the all-too-human inability to really grasp the notion that some day we will not be alive, that the world will go on without us. The bodies we're using to drive our minds around this place will give out, one way or another, and those who survive us will have to do something about them.
How the aging population of the U.S. is dealing with the problem of getting rid of the bodies (both their own and those of their loved ones) is the subject of Lisa Takeuchi Cullen's book Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death.

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Clues for those who have misplaced their calendars.

Aug 30 2006 Published by under Passing thoughts, Personal

Suddenly your inbox is overflowing with messages from people you've never met expressing their intense interest in your subject.
And, driving across town in the morning takes twice as long as it did just a month ago.
And, your laptop takes a tumble and breaks a hinge.
Plus, the photocopier at work seems to be involved in a work action (but, curiously, can't be bothered to make a placard to announce its grievances).
And, the combination-locked computer-enabled classroom is suddenly without its all-important doorstop (which lets students get into the classroom), so you're reduced to cramming one of your sandals under the door.
Good golly, it must be the beginning of the school year!

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In which the blogger has to think about what turns on the manner in which her students address her.

Aug 26 2006 Published by under Academia, Personal

Thanks to all readers who responded with suggestions as to what my students should call me. As a number of you pointed out, what I choose here isn't just a matter of local custom (there seems not to be a unified custom on this at my university), nor of personal comfort (for me or my students). After all, the form of address is going to play a part in setting the tone for my interaction with my students.
And here, maybe my indecision about the right form of address reflects the fact that I have aims that are potentially in conflict with each other.

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Friday Sprog Blogging: Pluto update

Aug 25 2006 Published by under Kids and science

It seems the IAU ruling on what counts as a planet has stirred a little controversy in the Free-Ride home.
Dr. Free-Ride: You heard what happened with Pluto, right?
Younger offspring: It's not there any more.
Dr. Free-Ride: Uh, it's still there, just as big as it was and pretty much where it was before.
Elder offspring: But it's not a real planet any more. Pluto got kicked out and they made Xena a planet instead.
Dr. Free-Ride: Umm, that's not right either.

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What should my students call me?

Aug 24 2006 Published by under Academia, Personal

OK, it's the time of the semester when I get a bazillion emails from students enrolled in my classes, and students trying to enroll in my classes, and assorted others. And, the emailers each choose a manner of address out of thin air, since usually they haven't met me yet and have no idea how I prefer to be addressed.
The problem is, I'm not sure how I would prefer to be addressed!

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A brief list of reasons I'm against capital punishment.

Aug 24 2006 Published by under Social issues

Because Shelley asked (and Josh, Mike, Chad, Nick, PZ, and John have all posted answers), I'm going to chime in.
Shelley asks:

Are you for or against the death penalty, or (if it's conditional), in what cases? Furthermore, do you believe that societies that sanction war are hypocritical for opposing the death penalty?

Rather than giving a detailed argument in favor of my position on capital punishment, I'm just going to enumerate my reasons. Then, I'll see if I can say something sensible on what this ought to mean for my position on war.

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Review of Coming to Life

Aug 23 2006 Published by under Book review

Like a bunch of my ScienceBlogs SiBlings, I read Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard's book, Coming to Life: How Genes Drive Development. As I am not a trained biologist of any stripe (and haven't been enrolled in a biology course since the 1980s), I'll give you my impressions of the book from the point of view of a curious non-expert.

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Spatial synchronicity (or, how should I feel about this?)

Aug 18 2006 Published by under Passing thoughts, Personal

As I noted earlier, the population density in my office at school decreased enough to free up some room for a couch. The original plan had been to adopt an ugly orange love seat from a colleague's apartment, but it looks like the UOLS will be going in his office, since the couch he was planning to bring in for himself won't fit his office.
So, I hied myself to IKEA and bought the maximum amount of couch that would fit in the trunk and folded-down back seat of my car. (If you must know, it's a Prius. Not cavernous, but good with the mileage.) And seriously, if the flat-packed box of couch pieces had been even half an inch wider, I would not have been able to cram it into my car.
With the kind assistance of two students and a colleague, we got the couch to my office, whipped it out of the box, perused the non-verbal instructions (which seemed to suggest that the people assembling the couch should be naked while doing so -- a suggestion that we ignored), and put that couch together. It fit perfectly into the bit of space that had opened up in my office.
Which is to say, that huge amount of extra space I was all excited about getting? Amounts to roughly the back of a Prius. How sad is that?

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Younger offspring offers a new visual representation.

Aug 18 2006 Published by under Kids and science

Robert Fludd, "The Great Chain of Being", 1617
Maybe you're familiar with the classical notion of the "great chain of being", the hierarchical relationship between all the stuff in the universe. It was meant to show the connections between animals (including humans), vegetables, minerals, and the stuff out beyond the Earth, including angels and God.
Younger offspring felt (and I can't help but agree) that it was time for an update.

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Friday Sprog Blogging: bloody minded.

Aug 18 2006 Published by under Kids and science

Elder offspring: Blood is cool.

Younger offspring: (Covering head with blanket) I hate blood, because I hate owies!

Dr. Free-Ride: But your blood does all sorts of good things for your body. You know that you're filled with blood, right?

Elder offspring: Actually, your body is two-thirds water.

Dr. Free-Ride: And what do you think there's lots of in blood?

Elder offspring: Oh yeah, water.

Younger offspring: I hate blood. I wish I didn't have any.

Dr. Free-Ride: You need it to get oxygen to all the parts of the body.

Younger offspring: No I don't, I'll just breathe harder.

* * * * *
The sprogs recommend:

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