May 24

My eyes may now be semi-permanently crossed

It took an effort, and by effort I mean most of the weekend and Friday before it, but two-thirds of my grades are now submitted. Grading, then making sure I have all of the same grades in independent spreadsheets, the making sure the formulas comport with what’s on the syllabus. After that, I have to make sure I did the math correctly. I do this part several times because, ya know, math. Then I make sure my two spreadsheets agree with one another. With all of those potential stumbling blocks avoided, it’s time to actually upload the grades.

You can import this data from a spreadsheet, but my classes are small enough that I do it by hand. Scroll down a list, select the correct value from the drop down boxes. The problem is that my classes are large enough that all of the names won’t fit on one screen, and so I must scroll. But, also, scrolling websites is somehow a challenge in this, the 21st century.

It’s a process, and now mostly complete.

I’ll wrap up the last class in the next day or so. The good news is that most of the above has been completed for that one too. And summer is coming.

Theoretically. It’s been damp and cold for days. It’s mid-May.

Some around-the-place shots. We have some nice tables out back, and I know I need to clean this off the iron, but the moss does look nice.

Maybe next week, presuming we have a day when it isn’t raining.

The weather doesn’t seem to be hampering some of the other things growing around here. Well, hello, peaches!

I’ll be pulling all of these — and many, many more — inside in a few months.

Want some peaches? Now taking requests.

The rhododendrons are looking lovely, as well.

Let’s go back to California to see the bloody-belly comb jelly. Red looks black even just below the surface of the water, and in the deep sea, where these creatures live, you won’t find spotlights. It is very dark 1,000 feet below the surface in the North Pacific.

These jellies, then, hide in plain sight. Predators and prey never see those incredible colors of the light diffracting off the combs. Technically, these are ctenophores, meaning that they are not true jellies, but the name is sticking. This species were first collected off San Diego in 1979 and described in just 2001.


There’s one more California video, I think. I’ll try to get it here next week.

Tomorrow, we’ll see how things are shaping up with a few of the other growing things. But, for now, I have to get back to the household chores. I have to make the place look presentable; company is coming tomorrow!

May 24

It’s gonna be performative evaluations

Grading will never end. This was my own doing. The way the semester’s calendar came together I had two classes that were a little heavy in the last three weeks. Not so much as to be daunting for students, but to give them a little challenge. It has, however, become a bit daunting for me.

I have final projects to grade in one class. In two other classes there are two large written assignments, two smaller assignments, and final exams.

So guess what I’m doing between now and kingdom come?

I am making some progress. I got through all of the smaller written assignments yesterday. Trying to build momentum and all of that. That took several hours.

Smaller assignments.

Today I got through the final projects in my New Media class and tallied grades. I’ll go over those again tomorrow to make sure all of the numbers are correct. (Update: The math works!)

And then the work continues all through the weekend, probably.

Yesterday evening I did get out for a brief bike ride. Better work and the weather that’s probably the last ride I’ll get for the next week or more. In that context, this sort of thing is frustrating, but that’s the way it works. At the end of the ride I set two Strava PRs on segments even though they didn’t feel like they were especially strong, so I almost had some form. That’s the way it works for me. A few ups, followed by a bunch of downs immediately thereafter.

I saw some great livestock on this ride, though.

Makes me want to go on another bike ride!

Instead, let’s revisit another bike-themed feature, We Learn Wednesdays, where we discover the county’s historical markers via bike rides. This is the 34th installment, and the 61st and 62nd markers in the We Learn Wednesdays series.

So let’s go back to Fort Mott, where last week we saw the old gun batteries that defended the Delaware River and Philadelphia, beyond.

Today, we’ll examine the observation towers that served those batteries. This is fascinating technology at the beginning of the 20th century.

Fifty-two feet above the ground, soldiers in this observational tower were able to identify an enemy vessel, calculate its speed and distance, note weather conditions and communicate this information to the main plotting room and the ten-inch guns at Battery Harker. Soldiers at the gun batterys used this information to compensate for weather, set the firing range and direction and potentially fire at an unsuspecting vessel.

This tower was completed in 1903. It has two levels: an observation room and meteorological station on the glass-topped upper level, and a target plotting room below, from critical data would be relayed to soldiers aiming the big guns.

We learned last week that when they tested the guns they blew out the windows on the fort, and at nearby farms. These were powerful guns, meant to do terrible damage, and they had to control for the recoil. What went into that is most impressive.

When the big guns were fired, vibrations similar to a small earthquake affected the delicate instrumentation contained with the observation towers. Soldiers had to continuously adjust their instruments to make accurate readings.

To solve this problem Army engineers designed a concrete-filled tube below the tower and attached it between the instrument platform and the ground. The tube was then encased in a steel jacket. It served as a basic vibration-dampening device to protect the instruments and a means of insulating power and phone wiring as well.

These were serious people doing serious work, and they didn’t just invent these techniques on the spot. But every new thing you learn should make you wonder how the once-upon-a-timers came up with the solutions that worked.

If you look across the moat toward the river, you will see the second tower. This fifty-five foot high tower has a single observation level for taking accurate sights on enemy targets. Its primary function was to obtain target information for the twelve-inch guns of Battery Arnold.

And here is that other, simpler tower.

Five gun batteries, two observation towers. And, remember, Fort Mott was just one of three forts protecting this stretch of the Delaware River.

In it’s day, Fort Mott was a self-contained military community. There were more than 30 buildings here, some of which we’ll take a glance at later. There was a hospital, a PX, a library, a school and more. Fort Mott was rendered obsolete when Fort Salsbury became operational just after World War I. The last soldiers were removed in 1922, the fort became a state park in 1951.

If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Tomorrow: more grading! And maybe some other stuff, who can say? You can! Try the comments below.

Apr 24

Not an interregnum, but something of an interregnum

We begin this happy Tuesday with our most popular weekly feature, a check-in with the kitties.

Phoebe has discovered the aloe vera plant of late. I have brought it back inside because of our nightly low temperatures. It was turning yellow and developed a dark spot, the telltale signs of being below 50 degrees. Poseidon noticed it instantly, and, now, I have to shoo them both away from the thing.

Poseidon, when he’s not watching birds and trying to bite plants or get outside, has become quite the innovator.

If it fits, he sits. If it has a flap, that’s where his head is at.

Like I said, he’s an innovator.

And, as you can see, the kitties are doing just fine.

And most of the plants are doing well, too. Look at this lilac go!

I’m pretty sure I’ve all but lost a potted rose bush. And I’m either over- or under-watering two other plants. Or maybe they need new pots. Or newer soil.

Plants should come with better signals for these sorts of things.

It’s probably the water. But which condition?

So I’ll start the finger tests. And maybe go outside, from time to time, to admire the lilacs.

I held my last class of the semester last night. It was a screening of video essays. The assignment is one designed to expose students to a video editing platform, Premiere Pro, and make them synthesize at least one of the topics we’ve discussed this semester, using found footage and their own voiceover.

The class has been working toward this singular project for three or four weeks, and so some of what we saw last night was good, and a few were quite impressive, indeed.

At the end of the class I thanked them for spending their Monday evenings with me, invited them to keep in touch, reminded them of my first lecture of the semester (they politely declined a final speech) and sent them on their way.

And so the semester has ended. For that class, anyway. Not for me. Now I must return to the grading, which will take some time.

I put too many final assignments in these final days. Can’t let that happen again. I may still be grading through the weekend.

Expect some filler.

Like this. I saw this at Penn Station Friday night. And I’m a sucker for messages in staircases.

Tomorrow, we’ll have some more historic markers, some other fillers and we’ll find out if my eyes have gone blurry after a mere two days of deep grading.

But, hey, we’re here, at the end of the term, so happy Tuesday!

Feb 24

Just some more miles

Grading. Forever grading. What I’m poring over is a basic hard news story assignment. There’s only about 40 of these, and most of them from various school board and town council meetings. There are a few people who went to the same meetings, and that’s fine. The students found different angles to report on. But what’s most interesting, to me anyway, is the news they found.

Sadly, a lot of these meetings aren’t getting covered in the small towns because of the spiral the news industry is presently in. Some of the stories my students are writing about are absolutely worth the reporting. Some of the stories are quite good. I know I’ve learned a lot about some of the regional goings on from these stories. I hope my students are getting something out of the feedback. It’s a treat to write all of that feedback, but it can be time intensive — sometimes, I think they, are longer than the stories —

Me? Write long? Never.

Today’s bike ride was interesting. Let’s set the stage. A week ago, this month became my most productive bike riding month, in terms of miles. I’d put in more miles in 22 days than I have in any single month in the last 15 years. (This probably helps explain some aches and pains.)

Somewhere in this area on today’s ride, I eclipsed my first thousand miles of the year.

Definitely helps explain some of the aches and pains. And also the parts that feel pretty good. That’s probably not a lot, 1,000 miles in two months, but I’ve never even had one month with 500 miles or more, until this month.

Which is where this gets silly. I have a spreadsheet with all of these little cycling tidbits on it, you see. Because of that, I knew I could get over 1,000 miles today. And that seemed a great winter goal. Soon I’ll be riding outside again, but to have 1,000 miles as a base, in the basement? It was appealing.

So, when I opened the spreadsheet to add today’s totals to the ride, I looked at the page where I keep the month numbers and realized, if I did just 1.5 more miles, I would have a 600 mile February. Again, not that much, but it’s a lot to me.

So there I was, after dinner, getting back on the bike, just to get that extra 1.5 miles. I did this in jeans, and slowly, because this is silly. But it’s a goal to hit, even if I only just became aware of it.

So I did three miles.

February 2024 is a month that’ll be hard to top. And, since we’re at the end of the month, here’s the big chart.

The green line is a simple projection of where I’d be riding 10 miles per day. The red line reflects my 2023 mileage. The blue line is what I’ve done so far this year.

It’s been a big offseason. And, sometime soon, I’ll be back to riding outside once again.

There are a lot of roads to explore!

OK, I’m out of photographs. I’m going to share one more photograph next week, because it comes with one of my favorite stories of our New Year’s trip. I still have a lot of video to share, but I’m running low on the still images.

Here’s one of me with some grunts and other reef fish in the background. I can minimize my bubbles too!

And this is the saddest site in diving, when you’re back to being just below the surface, and the dive is over.

So, Monday, one fun story, and then a lot more videos in the days to follow.

I suppose I should get back to the Re-Listening project. This is the one where I’m listening to all of my old CDs in the car, in the order in which I acquired them. I’ve been (intermittently) writing about them here to pad things out. These aren’t reviews, because who cares, but usually just memories and excuses to post some music. The problem is, where I am in my collection right now, there aren’t a lot of big, prominent memories attached to any of these.

I was in a burning discs phase, you see. A lot of fairly interesting things were getting slipped into my CD books, but none stayed in the stereo so long that I could tie a lot of experiences to them. This installment sees us in November of 2004. A colleague — who also left the newsroom and returned to a university campus, as a social media manager, where he seems to be doing well for himself — made a copy of U2’s “How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” for me. I can’t recall what I made for him in return. Hopefully it was decent. This is decent.

And so there’s the whole album, if you want to hear it. Nothing quite as iconic, perhaps, as their early stuff, but when I listen to it now, it sounds like U2, and that’s never a bad thing.

Except for the catorce in “Vertigo.” You can still roll your eyes at that.

Feb 24

Mostly words about reading words

I am grading things. This is a week of a lot of grading. I made the mistake of grading the simpler stuff first. I thought it would build momentum, but now I’m not so sure.

There are a lot of things to grade this week. The only thing to do is take them on one by one and try to provide useful feedback to everyone along the way.

In class last night we talked about social media and how it is used, sometimes for good, sometimes for less desirable purposes. These are the four readings the class had this evening.

#BlackLivesMatter and the Power and Limits of Social Media

Social media helps Black Lives Matter fight the power

It takes a village to find a phone

From hope to hate: how the early internet fed the far right

The thing about this class is that I’m always eager to see what they’ll think about the next readings. I hope they come to see how all of the things they are being asked to read over the course of the term come to complement one another and, ultimately, come to work together.

What I’ve been grading today are assignments out of that Monday night class. This assignment asks them to chart several days of their personal media consumption and write about some specific things in that context. First of all, everyone should do the charting exercise now and again. We all think we have a handle on how much we read and watch and listen to this and that, but there’s nothing quite like seeing it on paper. Every time I do this assignment students come away surprised by something or another. That’s useful for some of them, and some come to a conclusion that they want to make a few changes to their personal habits. But the writing is interesting, because they have to tell part of their own story, and you learn a lot.

One student watches 1950s variety shows on YouTube to unwind. Another introduced me to some new music. Still another name drops some bands I played on college radio a million years ago — that must have been an interesting childhood soundscape. Another wrote, beautifully, elegantly, about the impact Little Woman had on her life. It’s a nice assignment.

Then, of course, I spent a few moments reading Louisa May Alcott’s poetry. Her stories, I think, are better than her poetry, but maybe that’s me. Or her books, some of which are magically timeless. Perhaps I should add Alcott back to the list of things to read. She might be another one of those authors that is lost on us when we’re young.

Speaking of books. I finished When Women Were Birds on Sunday night. It was 54 essays Terry Tempest Williams, who, was gifted her mother’s journals. As she lay dying, she says these are for you, but don’t read them until I’m gone. Some time after her mother passes away the daughter is ready to look in those journals, eager to gain the insights of a woman she knew, wanting to learn about the woman she didn’t know. They’re all neatly arranged, these journals, waiting for her to discover what’s inside. They’re all blank. And, from this, Williams writes about her mother, the birds of the west, womanhood, faith, family, and what is there and what’s missing.

It is a writer writing, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I think I finished it in four late night sessions.

The next problem is that I have so many things to read, how do I choose what to read next? I have a random number generator on my iPad and I let it decide. It decided that, next, I’ll read Brian Matthew Jordan’s Pulitzer Prize finalist book, Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War. Jordan teaches at Gettysburg College and this text has a great reputation for the depth of its research. I saw that right away in the footnotes.

I bought this in December of 2020, and it’s just been sitting there, waiting for the random number generator to call it into action. And chance has good timing. I like to change up the periods I read about, and haven’t read anything from the 19th century since the end of 2021, somehow. (All of which is to say I need to read more, obviously.)

This photo isn’t good, and breaks a lot of the supposed rules of photography, but I love it anyway.

It is the way the light dances at the surface, how the water is blue and white. Sky and clouds and water and you could go any direction you wanted to right here, at least in your imagination. My dive buddy, my lovely bride, is facing away from me, but that’s OK. I like the composition.

Makes me want to go diving. Go figure.