Archive for April, 2008

From today’s New York Times:

Dr. Robert J. Alpern, dean of the Yale School of Medicine, said that the university presently had no limits on participation in company speakers’ bureaus, but that because of the medical college association’s report he was thinking of taking them on.

“I don’t have a problem with doctors making $3,000 or $5,000 a year on the side,” he said, “but it’s a totally different thing when it’s $80,000.” Even more distasteful, Dr. Alpern said, is that the slides used in many of these presentations are created by drug makers, not the speakers.

“That’s like ghost-talking,” Dr. Alpern said.

[snort] Well, yes, yes it is. And to any of you out there who might have used or seen the 2001-2002 slides for the BE ACTIVE program, “Booga-Booga!”

Keep in mind, however, that incarnation of BE ACTIVE was a promotional program, complete with branded colors and logos. Do you expect writing and graphic design credits on an ad? Ah, but you might have expected the slides to have been designed by the person speaking to you at the time. Or maybe not — the presentation had authors, but the speaker’s bureau obviously had other people giving the presentation….so you would have known that the words being said weren’t exactly the words of the person who authorized the slides. All the speakers were lectured about how this was a promotional program, and if they weren’t comfortable with that, they shouldn’t be participating in the program.

[sigh] That was back in 2001. Why is this news now? I suspect because there aren’t enough medical breakthroughs coming from pharma research to distract us from how the rest of the system has been working. The gift horse gets its first trip to the dentist as soon as it stops winning races!

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Many parks in cities are areas that result in crime.

[No, areas themselves do not result in crime. Some areas become places where crimes can occur, but usually the responsibility falls on the people who enter those areas.]

Policy makers and community leaders are having a growing appreciation for the positive effects urban trees provide.

[The professor, on the other hand, is having a fit.]

Manure that is excreted from farm animals is far less significant than the nitrogen that is introduced versus fertilizers which are much more harmful.


I think the lack of attendance at school games is an issue for the University, I being one of those people.

[Where does one begin?]

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You’ve seen the lawn out there; you know I want less of it.  A student of mine has found a Yellow wood I could have installed, and since the Bluestone order arrived earlier this month, I’ve been digging up sections of the yard, culling out the pebbles [and occassional bricks, marbles, and rusted iron], and then backfilling with LeafGro, peat moss, dirt, and assorted new plants.  The varigated willow looks pretty happy next to the big black elderberry shrub in their new bed, and next week a quince, two blueberry bushes, and some asters will join them.  Maybe some daisies and black-eyed susans from next door; my neighbors said they’d like theirs thinned out a bit.

Those would be human neighbors, of course.  The insect neighbors don’t talk, per se.  But I have been getting messages from the local bees.

The big bumbles have told me, in elaborate pantomime, that the daffodils will NOT DO.  They blundered around the flowers, trying to find exactly where the nectar was hiding, and what they were supposed to hang onto inside the trumpet, since obviously there was no space for hovering in there.

A honeybee mentioned that it was very lost and not likely to find its way home, landing on the ledge of my second floor window and sheltering in the channel where a screen would normally fit [that’s another story].  There was no pollen in its leg sacs, and I don’t think the clover has started blooming yet.  So I went downstairs and got a drop of honey from the larder….stuck my finger out the window and gave the bee a snack.  It tanked up [yes, bee tongues tickle] and buzzed away.

And then there are the other bees….who truly surprised me by demonstrating the truth of a NY Times article about native bees only hours after I started puzzling over the idea of bees building with clay.  I’d dug a pit in the front yard where I was going to amend the soil and plant a star magnolia tree.  I’d poured a bucket of water in the night before so I could get a sense of how the drainage was.  And then when I came out after my morning news reading….I looked in the hole and …there were bees.  Slightly larger and much fuzzier than honeybees, each scrabbling away at the damp clay, flying off somewhere, and then coming back for more.  Oh dear.  Now I’ll have to find a way to keep some of the clay available where they can find it, and make sure no one is nesting down there before I put the tree in.

For more information on how to help native bees, go here:  Xerces Society

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“What we’re doing is we’re going to finalize everything we agree to.”

— Sheila Dixon, Mayor of Baltimore

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“Their was a beginning of less faith in Japan’s economy.”

In contrast, no end to the need for a visit to the Writing Support Lab.

“When I go fishing I nver keep any fish from the Chesapeake Bay because if the fish is infected with DDT or has a high portion of Mercury, you will be infected by eating the fish. In today’s society people are getting sick from the high tolerance levels of DDT or PCBs in the water.”

Could we just all agree to automatically delete the phrase “In today’s society” whenever it occurs? Unless someone is writing a historical analysis, there is no reason to think that phrase is adding any content to a discussion. It strikes me as the textual equivalent of snapping your gum while giving a speech.

“Not only has this had a toxic impact on the bay, but also consider human health.”

Errr… Okay, let’s. Now what?

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…that you realize you forgot to buy milk yesterday.

[insert assorted really bad words here]

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Sex and violets

Well, it’s Spring; what do you think is happening everywhere right now? Apoplectic Titmouse is proclaiming his territory at all hours, the Love Doves are billing and cooing, the Dumb Bunnies are sitting near our back door washing themselves near the compost heap [in ways that suggest that perhaps what they really each wanted was a cigarette, but we’ve banned smoking in restaurants here in Elsinore]. Thousands of trees are flowering [the dogwoods haven’t started yet, but the oaks, maples, Bradford pears, and cherry trees are going at it, just in time for Zyrtec to go OTC. Damnit].

Which brings me to the violets. At old Chez Rethoryke, there was a special time in the spring, much nicer than the Festival of Bad Writing [which, alas, knows no season], called the Festival of Seven Violets:

  1. Pink, scented [probably Viola odorataMadame Armadine Pages“]
  2. Labrador [which isn’t really Viola labradorica, but instead Viola riviniana Purpurea Group
  3. Downy Yellow [Viola pubescens]
  4. A little greyish blue violet I was told was a “Confederate violet“, because it was greyish
  5. White with faint purple striping [Which is the more violet which more commonly online is called “Confederate”]
  6. White with purple speckles [Viola sororia “Freckles”]
  7. Your standard garden variety purple violet

It looks as if everyone survived their first year Baltimore! Pictures later, and perhaps more links.

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Items that are different are similar in some examples and different in others.

Of course they are.

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It is a Tuesday, sunny, and we’re smack in the middle of April, which means it’s time for [well, yes, taxes] the First Mowing of the Year at the nearby Church and Graveyard!

Little tractor mowers [they have to be small to nip in between the gravestones], spiffy scooter mowers [sort of Segways with teeth], gas-powered string trimmers… About as loud as a Copter derby, but they’re on the ground.

When they work their way around to the far side of the church, past the labyrinth, the sudden silence is like a marvelous, unexpected gift from a friend.

Until the children in the daycare playground start screaming again.

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This may be what I get for trying to kill two metaphorical birds with one assignment. I wanted to have the students read a chapter on proposal writing and then do a little practice. That was Bird #1. Bird #2 was to have the students do some international thinking: how could you apply what you were learning to problems outside the US?

Activity #1: You’ve just been reading articles about how people apply knowledge from their fields to new problems — specifically, complicated problems that need to be solved cheaply [using as few resources as possible]. You’ve also just completed a Field Guide, which had you talk to Experts about how they might use their skills if they weren’t doing their current jobs.

So now you are ready to think about how you might apply the knowledge that _you’ve_ been getting to a real-world, difficult problem.

Goal: Find a real-world problem in another country, and describe how you could work with other people in your field to help create good solutions. Think of this as a cross between what the freshmen at MIT were doing with their projects, and what the IBM people were doing during their international assignments.

Format: a short proposal for a project, in which you describe where you want to go, what problem you’d like to tackle, and how the knowledge you have gained from your undergraduate work/job experiences so far, will help solve that problem.


1) You aren’t going alone — there will be other people with your training [and perhaps with more experience, but still in your Field] going with you. Some of those people will have the language skills and the finances to help the project along.

2) The IBM activities weren’t Changing the World — they are doing small scale things. That’s fine.

3) Your proposal does not have to be long, but you will want to post it to Blackboard to get feedback by Thursday, and you should help each other out by commenting on each other’s work before next Friday, so that you each have time to revise your work for Tuesday’s class when I’m back in town.

I’ll be here until Tuesday morning if you have questions. Post your questions on Blackboard, so that everyone can see my responses.

Reading for the week: Technical Communication Today, Chapter 21 – Proposals

The goal was that they would review each other’s work during the week I was away in Naw’lins, and then hand in nice clear mini proposals. I even sent them information about Watson Fellowships [for examples of a post graduate year of interdisciplinary, international adventure and research], the Peace Corps [for examples of problem-solving with very little funds], and IBM’s international fellows program [to see how businesses actually value people who can do these sorts of things].

Given all this, I’m thinking that I should at least get the following features in their work:

  1. There will be a problem described, and there will be a non-US place that has this problem.
  2. There will be a description of the field-specific skills which will be used to help address this problem
  3. There will be a description of what things they hope to do
  4. There will be some description of what the ideal outcomes could be
  5. There will be some formatting that follows the basic shape of proposals as described in Chapter 21

Care to lay bets on how outrageous my expectations are…?

Then again, I just looked over at a fellow English prof’s site, and got some perspective: at least I’m not reading placement essays this season. Yowza.

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