Desierto norte de Chile

Monday, April 27, 2009

My house church

A friend of mine asked me recently to give more details about my house church. So here it goes -- house church. That word has so many meanings, but I think it fits. Basically we're a group of people who meet together in a living room on Saturday nights. The structure is pretty similar each night: 5 mins of opening prayer (in unison, ended by the pastor praying slightly louder than the others), two or three short songs (I've got about 10% of the words... but fortunately the song selection isn't so large), a short scripture reading (again in unison), and a 30-min sermon. We end with a short "altar-call" and offering. Then the hostess provides some kind of food (last saturday it was gigantic donuts; the other week it was tamales and coke). I enjoy it and like being stretched. I'm still working out the "why" I attend... perhaps equal-part community, biblical teaching (the pastor is theologically solid), cross-cultural experience, language practice, and probably several other reasons I've forgotten by now. Oh yea, if you didn't know or hadn't guessed by now, all of the house-church activities take place in Spanish. So that's my Saturday evening house church. I sure hope they decide to use the air conditioning next week!!

End the University as We Know It ??

Here are a few of my thoughts (& criticisms) in response to the NY Times Op-Ed piece today, "End the University as We Know It":

- I agree that Tenure has complicated the job market for many graduate students who want to become professors by keeping slots filled by older, senior faculty members
- I disagree that the primary training of graduate school is to go be a professor (I think it's to be a critical thinker equipped with skills & tools to enable criticism!)
- I also disagree that turnover of senior faculty (or having everyone on seven-year contracts) is desirable. I think good teaching comes with time and mentorship. You only have to look to primary schools to see the negative impacts of high turnover.

- I agree that the peer review process (self-governance) has resulted in "hyper"-specialization and that collaboration across (or within) disciplines is difficult
- I disagree with the idea that "research and publication become (has) more and more about less and less" -- at least in meteorology, which is a relatively new academic discipline (50 or so years) with many relevant and still-unanswered questions (how do tornadoes form? how many hurricanes can we expect in 2050? how does this compare with today? why did it rain 0.73" on May 27, 2008 in Santiago?) However, I've served on the "summer research" committee and reviewed proposals from senior faculty (Physics, Math, Chemistry, & CompSci) for summer funding, and their questions did seem pretty idealized (what is the behavior of Equation X in chaotic environment? How does molecule Y interact with Molecule Z?)... maybe this is the author's point?

- I agree that graduate students are underpaid for the work they do.
- I disagree that "without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations..." We don't have any graduate assistants at USNA and are still expected to publish one paper per year and teach three 20-student classes per semester... and I think we do fine.

- I agree that collaboration should be encouraged amongst disciplines.
- I find it ironic that in the author's "web" example of how departments should be rearranged, his list didn't include one pure or applied science: "religion, politics, history, economics, anthropology, sociology, literature, art, religion and philosophy" (economics being the only one of that list that incorporates much math). Perhaps he should re-state his claim: "End the Humanities as we know them".

- I agree that application of important questions is desirable.
- I disagree that original discovery (basic science research) need include application. I.e., to answer "how does a tornado form?", one doesn't really need to consider any "important philosophical, religious and ethical issues." Or, more relevant to the article, "how much rainfall should sub-Saharan Chad receive in 2050?" is an important science question that needs scientists trained in the sub-discipline of climate modelling (with a strong synoptic & climate dynamics background)... not an interdisciplinary team of humanists thinking deeply about the question

- I agree that streamlining of Academia is a good thing.
- I disagree that de-personalizing the academic experience is useful. The author's example, "Let one college have a strong department in French, for example, and the other a strong department in German; through teleconferencing and the Internet both subjects can be taught at both places with half the staff" implies that a virtual professor is equivalent to the real thing. I disagree. Furthermore, this argument is contradictory to specialization (if you specialize in French, where is your German knowledge?) and for job production: if all college students in the US took an online course in French from Columbia, why have the 1000s of French teachers in other universities? Why not have the "University of French"?? This, again, flies against the idea that "specialization is bad".

- I agree that graduate students should be well-prepared for careers in industry, even more than the should be prepared for academic careers. I think current graduate programs in Engineering and Science already do this well: "the exposure to new approaches and different cultures and the consideration of real-life issues will prepare students for jobs at businesses and nonprofit organizations."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

It was a hot and sultry night

Last night was nearly unbearable at our house-church. After a near-record high in the mid-80s, our small group convened as usual at 7:30 p.m. in an apartment about 2 miles from where I'm living now. We fit about 15 people into the living room, and either the air conditioning wasn't working, or the host didn't want to turn it on. Regardless, the combination of the hot air, the crowded living room, and the lack of air conditioning led to a pretty miserable (sweaty!) night.

Fortunately we finished early and were able to escape the heat. I wonder if the rest of the summer will be the same?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

It's the end of the semester-- whew!

I've nearly made it through my first semester of teaching at the Academy. While it's hard to make general or sweeping statements about the future, I expect I'll always remember these students, as they will always be my first class here. I have definitely learned quite a bit about teaching and communicating, and overall I'm pleased with the results. I think my students are well-prepared to succeed in their future major courses, and for those non-major students in my classes, I think they've been exposed to some concepts that will serve them well when they're out in the fleet.

A few lessons:

1- I am a people-pleaser, and that is not the best approach when you're a professor.

2- I oscillate between thinking respect is earned, and respect should be given.

3- Students will (nearly) always want the easiest way out.

4- Meteorology really is a great discipline, full of an amazing real-world laboratory that each day is new and different.

5- I miss Chile and life in Santiago.

6- Thank God it is spring again. I am ready for it to not be winter for about 9 months!

7- While I'm not stressing about it, buying (or trying to buy) a house/condo/property isn't easy. It's exciting to think that I get to shop around for the place I want to live for (at least) the next few years. I also worry about making a bad decision (ending up in an unsafe neighborhood or with a "lemon" property). My current three guiding thoughts are (1) I want to live within biking distance of USNA; (2) I want to live close to friends from the spanish-speaking church; and (3) I want to find a resonably-priced property that's in good condition (and not going to spring $20k of expenses on me in the near future).

8- Today there is a MDT risk of thunderstorms in Okla and the Tx panhandle and I'm excited about following the event online.

9- I owe some photos from Norway to the blog. They're already up on Facebook but I want to add them to the blog.

10- I'm going to join Dr. Godfrey and the UNC-Asheville class in two weeks to head west to the plains for two weeks of chasing. And the combination of 80-degree weather here in Annapolis today, plus the MDT risk, has got me excited about chasing again (I would be chasing today if I were in Okla... there really are few "flies in the ointment", so to speak-- good moisture, good shear, not too many high-clouds or large-scale synoptic forcing, backed low-level flow, and a convergent dryline... all point to a few supercell storms that should be tornadic).

11- Zach is coming to visit this week for a few days -- should be good to reconnect with him and offer hospitality. Not sure what we'll be doing (well, Thu & Fri I have to work), but maybe on Saturday we'll take at least a day trip to visit a city or go hiking or something interesting. Of course I'm content to hang around and veg-out if that's what he wants to do (full-time work means the weekend gets quickly coveted as needed down time!)

Until later...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It really has been cold and dry here

I arrived in Annapolis at the start of 2009 and have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring ever since. Since March 21, 2008, I have not lived in a place that has been in "calendar summer" -- that's going on 13 months without a summer!

Here in central Maryland, the past 90 days have been slightly below normal in temperature (about 1 degree Fahrenheit and significantly below normal in precipitation (about 4.5 inches). See the figures below. Hopefully the temps will warm up soon; I've had enough of autumn, winter, and spring!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Poverty, work, and handouts

Taken from my sister-in-law.

I recently asked my friend's little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be President some day. Both of her parents, liberal democrats, were standing there, so I asked her, 'If you were President what would be the first thing you would do?' She replied, 'I'd give food and houses to all the homeless people.'

Her parents beamed.

'Wow...what a worthy goal.' I told her, 'But you don't have to wait until you're President to do that. You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and sweep my yard, and I'll pay you $50. Then I'll take you over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out, and you can give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house.'

She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, 'Why doesn't the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?'

I said, 'Welcome to the Republican Party.' Her parents still aren't speaking to me.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Hark, the sound, of Tar Heel voices . . .

. . . Ringing clear and true.
Singing Carolina's praises,
Shouting "N-C-U".
Hail to the brightest star of all,
Clear its radiance shine.
Carolina, priceless gem,
Receive all praises thine.

I'm a Tar Heel born,
I'm a Tar Heel bred,
And when I die, I'm a Tar Heel dead,
So it's Rah-rah, Car'lina-lina,
Rah-rah, Car'lina-lina,
Rah-rah, Car'lina-lina,
Rah! Rah! Rah!

2009 National Champions!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Few thoughts

1- Work and classes have gone really well the past few weeks. As we hurtle toward the end of the semester, it's good to be able to wrap up many loose ends: in the lecture material, I think my students really get the way the atmosphere works -- both at the micro and macro levels. We've had quizzes, homeworks, and labs due in quick succession, and I know I'll be glad to be done with grading probably as much as the students will be glad to be done with the "doing".

2- Today was the first thunderstorm of the year in Annapolis. I was teaching 2nd period and we had to pause class and go out to look at the storm. While it wasn't violent or vigorous, it was a nice storm, and it fit with our "macro" approach to the atmosphere.

3- I've had several groups over to my apartment the past month. Starting with bible study back in February, and then continuing through the UNC-Duke watch party in March and two other basketball (Elite 8 and Final Four) parties in late March & early April. I prepared lots of food for the Final Four watch party on Saturday, and David and I are still eating the leftovers.

4- Last night my friends from ESL class - and also from the spanish-speaking church - came over for dinner, which was great because I've been trying to connect with them for the past few weeks! They invited me to play soccer with them on Saturday, and today (Monday) my legs are still sore! But we had a good time. This Wednesday bible study comes over for the final time (with this bible study); we're studying Barak, one of the Judges who worked with Deborah to defeat the Philistines. Should be interesting.

5- UNC plays tonight in the National Championship game. I'm cautiously optimistic for two reasons: one, they're playing pretty well now, and two, they already beat Michigan State back in December. Being a prognosticator, I'll predict Carolina to win, 88-80. We shall see what happens.

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