March 2008 Archives

Four Years Old


Happy Birthday Saint!

Teaching and Learning


I've just spent four days sitting in meetings in which a succession of engineers, biologists, and chemists spoke. During all but one of those presentations a few experts in the audience paid attention while the rest of us fought to stay awake and wondered how many of our finite number of heartbeats were being wasted on this.

And then... and then, on the last day, the next-to-last speaker was a Teacher; he had the gift. And the audience was spell-bound, and we were like my god-- I understand him, and we looked at each other wide-eyed and knew we were all thinking the same thing.

As paranoid as I am about writing about my work, I have to tell you who he is: he's Dr. Vince Ortiz, a prof at Auburn University. Earlier in the week we'd all introduced ourselves and he realized how many of us weren't chemists, and he, he alone, decided to amend his presentation on the fly by using a white board to supplement the material on his powerpoint slides, to explain what he was doing for us non-chemists. He wasn't really animated; he didn't even smile. He used his hands a bit, but mostly he just spoke slowly, explaining things in simple terms.

He talked about Schrödinger's Equation and how he was attempting to solve it computationally, and he talked about harmonic oscillators and hyper-surfaces and infinite sets of basis functions, and we were like why oh why couldn't he have been my chemistry professor in college and we all came away a whole lot smarter and knowing we'd witnessed something rare and wonderful.

Only one speaker followed him. As this hapless fellow walked to the front of the conference room, someone in the group said "You're in trouble now that we all understand this stuff," and we all laughed.

TGIFridays, Dallas-Fort-Worth Airport


It's been a long time since I've had a long enough layover to get a meal between flights. TGIFriday's "Dragon Chicken" isn't too bad and I'm on my second glass of wine. The sauce is too sweet but as I said, I'm on my second glass of wine so what the hell. Unfortunately the long layover means I'll be getting home at around 1am. I decided yesterday to fly home tonight rather than wait til tomorrow morning, when I'd've had to drag myself out of bed at 4am to catch an early flight.

Oh, I was in Albuquerque this morning, by the way. For a week of meetings that ended at noon today. The weather was beautiful all week, as it almost always is. During previous stays in Albuquerque I've chosen a hotel close to the airport, but not this time. I couldn't get a room near the airport at a reasonable rate (meaning the per diem rate I'll be reimbursed for no matter what I actually pay), so I ended up staying in the city, and I'm very glad I did.

Finally, on this trip, I learned my way around Albuquerque. I learned the layout of the city after having been here maybe a dozen times over the past four years. I discovered a Whole Foods Market at the corner of Indian School and Carlisle, and in the future I plan to stay at the Residence Inn that's just off Carlisle, just north of I-40. The rooms all have kitchens and I hate eating alone in restaurants, most times.

Yeah, I finally got my bearings in Albuquerque. I-40 runs east and west, I-25 north and south. Carlisle, San Mateo, Louisiana, all run north and south. Central runs east and west. I have a good sense of direction, and once I'd mapped the city out in my mind I could get pretty much anywhere I wanted to go, because the layout of the city is so simple. It's like New York that way, although New York is simpler yet. It's unlike Washington D.C., which is a nightmare that I can still get lost in, no problem.

Eisenhower Ave. metro station--9pm


I was there night before last, at the end of a long day. Home again at last, having rounded out my stay in Arizona with a couple of Harry Potter movies and take-out from Olive Garden.

Before I left Arizona I spent an afternoon walking around downtown Prescott, that is to say, circumambulating the courthouse, which defines the center of town. I was amazed to see that Kendall's, the burger-joint/ice-cream-parlor where I worked as a cashier/fountain-girl when I was eighteen, is still there, and the sign hasn't changed:

And standing on the lawn in front of the courthouse, I captured Kendall's in the background and Bucky O'Neill in the foreground, on his horse:

Sorry about the quality of this picture. Trust me, the statue is of a cowboy on a horse. He's there in all weather, but he doesn't care, because he's stoned. Get it? I remember laughing hysterically at that line when I was 17. Comedy gold. Which reminds me that many of my memories of the time I spent in Prescott involve passing a joint around.

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