Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Day 17 -- Trenton

I ran four miles today. I decided to run less distance, but pick up the speed. I ran it in 32 minutes, which is a good pace for me. The first two miles were even faster, but I couldn't keep up the pace.

I finished the day between the Trenton exits on the New Jersey Turnpike, so I stopped for a visit. I ran into this guy, who seems to be doing things the hard way. He is travelling to all of the state capitols to get pictures of himself in front of them. What does he think Photoshop is for?

This raps up the first month of my journey. Here's my progress so far:

Distance: 85.1 miles
Time: 12:08
Starting Place: Rockefeller Plaza, NY
Ending Place: NJTurnpike, mp 55
States: 2

Monday, January 30, 2006

Day 16 -- Foggy and Mild

It's a foggy and mild morning in New Jersey. I went 6 miles, trying to make up for some dietary indiscretions this past weekend. Actually, my dietary indiscretions were indiscrete enough that an extra 2/3 of a mile isn't going to do it. I'll just have to try to stay on track this week. I'm planning to run five days (the first such week of the year.) We'll see whether that happens.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Date Night

Mrs. Jogger and I hired a babysitter last night, and went to a party. This is no small matter, because our babysitter demands combat pay. It was a good time. We had adult conversations (albeit much of it about kids) and hot food and adult beverages. We met some new people and caught up with some old friends. There were kids there, but I'm glad we left ours at home. Whenever someone crawled under the table or started fighting over toys, we just chuckled and went back to our conversation.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Michael Berube on Academic Freedom

A must read for all you academic types. It's long, but it's worth it. A very small sample:
Many people, it seems...expect college faculties to be full of liberals the way they expect country clubs or corporate boardrooms to be full of conservatives; it’s just the way the world is divvied up. They get the money and the power and the finely manicured golf courses, and we get the survey classes on the American novel.

Go! Read! This will be on the final.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Missed my goal

I didn't make it this morning. I slept in. Little Jogger #3 was up in the middle of the night because his legs itched. He has very sensitive skin, and he tends to work himself into a lather. So to distract him, basically, I put on Monsters, Inc., and we stayed up and watched it. I was hoping he would zonk, but no such luck. If he'd picked a less fun movie, I might have zonked, but it had been long enough since I'd seen it, so I didn't.

Oh, well, I'll set myself a goal to run five times next week, if not necessarily 5.3 miles every day.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

What she said

Shakespeare's Sister has a brilliant post about the uproar about boys falling behind girls in school. It was the cover article in Newsweek this last week. I read the article, but I was hesitant to wholly buy the conclusions. Shakes has elegantly articulated the reasons why I shouldn't.

Day 15 -- Freehold

I made my 5.3 miles today. I don't even think it was as hard as yesterday (although it wasn't any faster.) I passed the Freehold exit, so I stopped in for a visit. The Township of Freehold web site has a very nice photo gallery, with photos of parades, community activities, buildings, parks, and all kinds of stuff. I chose a winter scence, and brrrr, I'm cold! I need to take a picture of me in sweats to paste into these winter scenes.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Letters of Recommendation

Dean Dad has an interesting post suggesting that letters of recommendation for academic positions are at best useless and perhaps harmful, and that they should be abolished. I have a few thoughts on the subject, and rather than trying to cram them into his comments, I'm putting them up here.

First of all, I'm quite familiar with the phenomenon of "reference inflation." I love the way Dean Dad puts it: "An arms raise of puffery." I recall reading a very interesting discussion of it in Stephen Carter's book Integrity. I don't have my copy handy, so I can't look it up, but I give a wholehearted recommendation to anyone to read it.

Since reading Integrity, I've tried hard to make my own letters of recommenation reasonable and realistic. I've tried to avoid the trap of calling every student "one of the best students that I've ever had," as Carter describes the problem.

But this leads to a new problem. How is the the person reading this letter of recommendation supposed to distinguish between my letter, an honest evaluation of a good student, and a similar letter that some chronic exaggerator has written for some slacker? Or, for that matter, if I really do have a terrific student to write a letter for, how am I to communicate it that I really mean it when I say they are one of the best students I've ever had.

I think it's also true that there can be a disconnect between the candidate's goals and the letter writer's. I think this happened to me. I got my Ph.D. from a fairly prestigious, large research university. My goal, however, was and is to teach at a smaller school that values me for my classroom presence. I never really intended to have a major research program, and as things have worked out, I haven't done a lick of real research in 10 years. I did get letters from people who knew my teaching, and who understood my goals. However, I had to have a letter from my advisor (How could I not?) and he just didn't get it. He is a big-name researcher, and it's really all he understands. I'm quite sure that his letter of reference was "research oriented," and I believe that this turned off some schools that were potentially a good match for me. I do know that the first few interviews I got were from schools that wanted more research than I was prepared to give. I did finally find a school that was an excellent match, but I suspect that was because they ignored my advisor's letter.

Having said all that, I'll reverse field and say that I don't think we should abolish letters of recommendation. When I've sat on hiring committees, the things that have told me the most about the candidates are their own personal teaching statement and their letters of recommendation. I feel like a get a good picture from these taken together, a much clearer picture than I get from a transcript or a C.V. that lists a bunch of fairly ordinary accomplishments. Yes, I do discount the odd letter that is poorly written, or that seems to paint a different picture of the candidate than the others taken together.

So, as Dean Dad and his commenters make clear, it's a complicated issue. It will of course be up to the local hiring committee whether to require letters or not, and it always has been. I can't say that I'd mind it if such a requirement became less standard, and I'd certainly support DD in his effort to eliminate them in his own searches. But I really expect we'll keep them here at my institution, and I think I prefer it that way.

technorati tag:

Day 14 -- Jamesburg

I ran past the Jameburg exit today, so I thought I'd take a look. According to the Official Site of the Jameburg New Jersey Historical Society, "Jamesburg is a 0.9 square mile town, incorporated in 1887. It was named after James Buckelew, whose house still stands today as a reminder of his ingenuity and foresight." It sure has some nice historical buildings, like the one I'm standing in front of here.

I did make 5.3 miles today, but I was dragging the last half of that. Two more days of this seems like a pipe dream right now. But it wouldn't qualify as a challenge if it were easy, right? I made it through today, and I'll worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

First Day of Stats

I finally had a dream last night about showing up to class unprepared. I know, it's kind of strange to do it after the first day of class, but it was still before the first day of stats, which was today. And the dream was about showing up to stats unprepared, so it's appropriate.

I did not actually show up to stats unprepared. The first day went pretty well. They seemed to have fun with the "Questions on Backs" exercise (see this post), and, as usual, we got some interesting data to work with. One question was, "What is the fastest you've ever driven?" The top reported speed was 195. Another was, "Was [our college] your first choice of colleges? There were some yesses, some nos, one "Here" and one "1". No one came forward to defend the weird answers, so we just had to speculate. My favorite questions was, "How old do you think the professor is?" One student answered "20". There's an A for class participation for the day!

The classes seemed pretty game. Neither class had a lot of questions, yet, so I'll have to try to draw them out. I like to make cards with the students' names on them and draw a card to decide who to call on. That keeps me from always calling the same people, and it seems fair to the students, because they all have an equal chance of being called on.

Tomorrow: day 2 of Linear Algebra and Modern Algebra.

Day 13 -- A minigoal

I ran 5.3 miles again today. Not much to see on the road, so I set myself a minigoal of running 5.3 miles five times this week. Why 5.3 miles? Because here in RealityLand(tm), where I'm running around in circles at the gym, the lane that I run in has 7.5 laps to the mile. So 40 laps is a nice 5 1/3 miles.

Monday, January 23, 2006

On wearing a tie

I wore a tie today. I've long enjoyed wearing ties. I used to wear one once or twice a week, but last semester, I wore one almost every day, and this semester, I'll probably do the same. I've been thinking about why I do that, and since a blog is the perfect place to answer a question that no one has asked, I'm going to tell you.

The main reason I'm wearing them more often is because I can. I've lost about 50 pounds in the last year, and now my shirts are actually comfortable with the top button buttoned.

It's also true that I have a lot of ties. I think I have about 50. Some are goofy -- I've got a Toy Story tie and a Veggie Tales tie and a Loony Tunes tie. Some mean something to me -- I've got several ties that I got from my father, and ties that I bought while traveling or got on special occasions. A lot are just pretty. They are a lot more interesting than any shirts I have, and than most of my sweaters.

Mostly, I think that I wear ties because I'm a non-conformist. In my department, you can't stand out by dressing down. If I dressed less formally than everyone else, I'd look like a homeless person, or worse. But almost nobody else in my department ever wears a tie. A few of the women regularly dress up, wearing the female equivalent of a shirt and tie. But none of the men do, so I can stand out.

Back to Class

First day of classes was today. I was very pleased with how things went. Students seemed to be willing to work, and one or two seemed pretty sharp. Both projects went well. For the Hippos project, I did have one person who figured out before we talked about it that there would be two answers and why there would be two answers. But then when we compared notes, I had to draw it out of him. He had a very good grasp of the problem and its solution, but wasn't quite willing to present it. Oh well, that's nothing new.

In that class, there are two or three people whom I have had in class before. One even said that he went out of his way to take another class from me. He might well have been sucking up, but the truth is that he could have taken this from someone else. In the Modern Algebra class, there are about a dozen that I've had before in one class or another, but that's no tribute to me, because this is the only section of that course this year. It's me or nobody.

Overall, it was a good first day. I'm looking forward to this semester.

Day 12 -- Rutgers

Made 5.3 miles today. I'm passing somewhere close to New Brunswick, so I thought that I would make a stop at Rutgers University.

My mother, Grandma Jogger, earned her doctorate at Rutgers in the 70's. I was about 12 years old, plus or minus two. I remember going with her a couple of times to the campus. Once or twice I sat in on one of her classes. It seems to me that she was teaching it, but she might have been taking it. I also remember her using computer punchcards to enter the data for her statistical analysis. If you are old enough to remember computer punch cards, you'll know what a pain that was.

Nothing that I saw while I was at Rutgers (i.e., on their web site) reminded me at all of the campus in the 70's. I suppose if I actually physically went there, I might remember something.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Day Before

This is one of the hardest days of the year for me. Classes start tomorrow. I'm nervous, although there's nothing in particular to be nervous about. I always claim that being nervous is just a sign of professional pride, but that's probably just rationalization. There's not much I can do to prepare for class. I just need to...wait.

My first day of classes, I always try to have something active for the students to do. I was always bored by professors who came in and read us the syllabus, and I always resented to wasted time when I did it. So I quit doing it years ago.

Tomorrow, I have two classes. In Linear Algebra, I'll set them to work on the "Hippos Problem," which is a nice little problem that I picked up in graduate school. It's a fairly straightforward problem, solvable with high school algebra. The catch is, there are two solutions, and which one you get depends on how you set up the equations. If things go right, I'll have some groups get one solution, and other groups get the other. Then we have to backtrack to figure out why there are two solutions, and whether there might be three or more. The moral of the story: The calculator can do the math, but you have to be smarter than the calculator.

In Modern Algebra, I will have them generate the Cayley tables for some simple permutation groups. (I know, many of you didn't understand that. Bear with me.) What it is is a very brief introduction to the mathematical structure that will take up most of our time in the course. They can do it using manipulatives. They take a little isoceles triangle and twist it around and put it down on top of itself, and see how the corners match up. It's a nice exercise, that I stole from a book by Ellen Maycock Parker.

On Tuesday, I have Elementary Stats. I stole a great opening day exercise from Allen Rossman and Beth Chance. I have stickers made up with some survey questions -- How old are you? Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi? How old do you think the professor is? I stick them to their backs, and they go around the room and answer the questions on each other's backs. Then they have to try to guess what the question on their own back is. It's a lot of fun. It would be quicker, of course, to just hand out a survey, but this gets them up and moving, and provides a little spark of interest.

The common theme, you will notice, is that I didn't come up with any of these exercises myself. I have, from time to time, tried to develop my own in-class activities, but without exception, my best activities were invented by someone else. It's a good thing that I don't have to pay royalties on classroom activities, or my classes would cost me a lot of money.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Which super hero am I?

Your results:
You are Spider-Man
The Flash
Iron Man
Green Lantern
Wonder Woman
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.

I think that I would have scored higher on the Wonder Woman scale, but I answered "No" to "Do you ever wear a push-up bra?"

Click here to take the "Which Superhero are you?" quiz...

Grade Inflation

Well, it's semi-official. The default grade at the University of Prince Edward Island -- at least in one course -- is a B-. Not a C. Not a D. Not -- Heaven Forbid! -- an F. If you fail to show up to David Weale's History of Christianity course, you get a B-. I am only heartened by the fact that the University actually put their collective foot down and said, "No." I think the most frustrating thing to me is how open about it he is. He doesn't seem to see anything wrong with it. He has totally given in to the myth that the purpose of higher education is certification, not actual learning. "Happens all the time," he says. "I'm just upfront with it." If I ever get to the point where I'm satisfied that students in my class are getting decent grades without learning anything, somebody just shoot me.

Hat tip to Ancarett.

Day 11 Was Yesterday

I made 5.3 miles yesterday in the New Jersey sunshine (or clouds. I'm not sure.) I didn't get a chance to even blog it, because I had a meeting in the afternoon in Madison. I left here at around 2:00 and didn't get home until close to 10:00. Anyway, nothing eventful happened in either Wisconsin or New Jersey.

Well, something noteworthy did happen here, although I didn't have to do anything to make it happen. The department voted to grant me tenure. As I blogged here, there wasn't a whole lot of suspense in this vote, and it isn't even the official last word. Nonetheless, it's nice to get that much affirmation.

No progress today or tomorrow, since the gym is closed. Classes begin on Monday, and I, for one, am ready. Mrs. Jogger says that classes can't start until I've had my dream about showing up to the first day unprepared. If so, that's the only thing on my "To Do" list. There's only so much I can do to prepare before classes start. I have the first day of classes ready, and a pretty good start on the second and third days. I have friends who go ahead and write all their exams before classes start, but I can't do that. I need to wait and see how the classes go, and what sorts of things I end up emphasizing.

So, nothinig in particular to do this weekend except try to keep the little Joggers from destroying the house.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Day 10 -- New Jersey Turnpike

Image from New Jersey Roadtrip. (And is anyone else impressed that I found the actual exit from the GSP to the NJT? I love the web!)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Day 9 -- Watch your speed

I made 6 miles today, the longest run so far this year. Tomorrow, I'll switch over from the Garden State Parkway to the New Jersey Turnpike.

I guess I'd better be careful. Check this out:

New Jersey will launch a 30-day speeding ticket frenzy. The state estimates that 9 million dollars will be generated in speeding tickets. 1 million will go to pay state troopers overtime. There will be 50 state troopers on duty at all times patrolling the 9 main intersections and highways.

They are the following: ...1-95 (Jersey Turnpike) north and south...Garden State Parkway north and south

Now 5 mph above the limit can justify a ticket and every state trooper is supposed to pull a car over and write a ticket every 10 minutes. They have issued 30 brand new unmarked Crown Victoria cruisers and they are bringing all their part timers on full time. If you work in New Jersey, New York, or CT, you must take one of there interstates, routes, or parkways. It's up to you how fast you are doing when they do.

I don't really want to contribute to the state's fundraising drive. If they catch me tearing along the roadways at top speed, they might throw the book at me.

Of course, the whole thing is just an urban legend that I found at Snopes. If you ever have any doubt about a particular virus warning, unusual photo, or just about anything else that might land in your inbox, that's the place to look.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


technorati tag:

One thing that I read with interest in all those academic blogs is the ongoing discussion of student evalutaions. This is a perennial topic of discussion in academic circles, and seems to be no less on academic blogs. One place that this led me, somewhat reluctantly, was RateMyProfessors.com.

I had heard about it (or some predecessor) some time ago, and I think I tried to check it out, but had no luck finding myself. Now I went back and checked, and yes, I am on there. My first hope, of course, was that my ratings were obscenely high. They weren't. Well, maybe they are at least high compared to my school or my department in general. Nope. Well, are they higher than someone in my department? Yes!

Of course I know that it's nonsense. I have been rated 14 times, out of about 1000 students that I've had at my current institution. Besides being small, the sample is not a random one. It consists of students who felt strongly enough to get on RMP.com and rate me. This tends to exclude the broad middle ground of students who think I was OK.

So then I turned to the comments. I immediately began categorizing them: helpful or not helpful, good or bad, clear or vague. I'm not really thick skinned enough to shrug off the bad ones, even though I know that there is probably more to be learned from them than from the good ones. But after some reflection, I realized that I'm really looking at the comments all wrong, because they are not meant for me. There are forums for the students to tell me what they think about me, and to tell my department what they think about me. But this forum is for students to talk to students, and everything should be looked at in that light.

Take, for example, a complaint that I put things on the exam that aren't on the review sheet. That's correct, I do. I could write a short essay on why I think that that's educationally valuable, and perhaps someday I will. But that doesn't mean that my students will recognize its value. And if a student feels strongly that that is bad practice, well, they should know about it before they sign up for my course. I'd be happy to tell them myself. In fact, I'm thinking that I need to be more clear about the fact that I do that, and that it is intentional, to promote it from one of those things that goes without saying.

On the other hand, some comments are no use to me or to my potential students. One student wrote something like, "Get a new wardrobe and a shave." If that's addressed to me (as it seems to be) it's just mean. If it's for a potential student, what good does it do? My school does not have nearly enough sections of courses that someone can afford to choose another section because I have a scruffy beard or a pilled up sweater.

Are there comments that can be helpful to me and to potential students? Yes. One student wrote that I "don't care" when students come to my office hours. In general, that's not true. Office hours are one of my favorite parts of teaching. I think that I work better with students one-on-one or in small groups than in lectures. I also know that I always learn a lot about my students when they come in for help. It's a truism that if one student stops in to my office with a question, then more have similar problems, and if more than one student stops into my office with the same question, it's likely something worth going over in class. But somehow I gave this student the impression that I don't like office hours. Perhaps they stopped by when I had something else to do, and I was too curt with them. Perhaps they asked a stupid question (yes, there are too such things) and I was unable to conceal my impatience. Perhaps they were griping about a grade and dissatisfied with my answer. I need to pay attention to the nonverbal signals I give in these cases, and this comment helps me to be aware of that.

So, will RateMyProfessors.com be a regular stop for me? No, I don't think so. As I say, I'm not thick-skinned, and the amount of useful information is probably too low for me to put myself through that. But I do appreciate that such a site exists, and I don't worry that potential students will be scared off.

Day 8 -- On the move, finally

After our bout with the flu, sore throats and runny noses are making their way around our household. Little Jogger number 3 woke me up at 4:45 this morning, no longer able to sleep because of his cold. I got up with him, and we watched some TV and he did some artwork until the others rolled out of bed. Normally, I would have thought about skipping my run after that, but I'm afraid I'll be stuck in New Jersey forvever (a fate worse than death!) if I don't get moving. And, I admit, it felt good. The last time I ran was last Thursday, and it was good to just get out and get the blood pumping.

I figure I'm about 80 miles from Philadelphia, and I have a goal to make it by Valentine's Day. We'll see how many more days off I have to take.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Teaching and Learning Blogs

I came to blogging from the political side. I have already admitted that my first regular blog was This Modern World, a thoroughly political blog. And when you branch out from there, you read political blogs.

I've just recently discovered that there's another, much smaller world of blogs that are interesting to me. There are a number of blogs written by college and university instructors. There are some really good discussions going on about teaching, grading, student evaluations, school politics, and all sorts of good stuff. A good place to start is the Teaching Carnival 5. I'll also try to jump into these discussions as I find things that I want to say.

Monday FrogBlogging

The little Joggers had the day off for MLK day, so we celebrated by cleaning out the frog tank. This is an African clawed frog, one of four in our tank. One of the little Joggers had a science lesson on tadpoles in second grade, and at the end of the lesson, the teacher let the kids take home some of the tadpoles. All of our friends managed to kill their froglets within a few weeks, and indeed, we lost our first two in a matter of hours by not keeping the curious cat away from the tippy frog bowl. But then we got replacements, and they have turned out to be made of pretty sturdy stock. Two and a half years later, all four are still alive.

African clawed frogs make pretty good pets, if you don't like cuddling. They are low maintenance. We feed them every other day, and clean out the tank three or four times a year. Honestly, it could use it more. They do tend to foul the water. But we clean it for our own benefit more than theirs. They don't mind swimming around in filthy water.

Anyway, I posted this picture mostly so that I could use the word "FrogBlogging." I doubt I'll do it every Monday, but you never know.

Happy MLK Day

"And why," you may ask, "are you not reporting your progress this morning?" The gym is closed, to honor Dr. Martin Luther King. I favor the MLK holiday, except when it inconveniences me.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


OK, I feel like the last post was pretty lame, so I'm going to bump it by answering the questions that have been flying around the blogosphere. Nobody tagged me, because nobody knows I'm here. I took them from Dr. Crazy.

Four Jobs You've Had
1. Detasselling corn. For those of you not blessed to have spent happy teenage years in the corn belt, detasselling involves walking up and down rows of corn, removing the tassels. The idea is that the corn without tassels gets polinated by other rows of corn, which have tassels, creating a hybrid.
2. Washing dishes. I washed dishes at the best restaurant in my home town for six years, through half of high school and all of college. I also washed one summer at the snootiest restaurant in Ann Arbor.
3. Student Manager. When I was in High School, I was the student manager (read: water boy) for football, basketball, and track. It wasn't a paying gig. You did it for, I don't know, the glory of it. But in college, I did it for football and wrestling, and I got paid. My favorite part is that it was a straight salary -- I think it was $250 for a season -- that got written up on the books as 250 hours at $1 an hour. This was complete fiction, of course. I always wanted them to write me up as 1 hour at $250 an hour, which would have reflected my actual workload just about as accurately.
4. Teaching math.
That's it. I'm 41, and I've only had four jobs.

Four Movies You Could Watch Over and Over
1. When Harry Met Sally. I have watched it over and over. An all time great.
2. The Princess Bride. A rare example of a great book made into a great movie.
3. Shakespeare in Love. I have only watched it twice, but I was amazed by how much I enjoyed it the second time.
4. Toy Story and Toy Story 2. As a parent, I have watched many kids movies over and over. These are ones that I enjoy, even after all those years. I still sometimes tear up over the music montage in Toy Story 2 when Jessie relives her years with her former owner. In fact, I'm going to throw in Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., and The Incredibles in this entry. Pixar just makes great kids movies.

Four Places You've Lived
1. Staten Island, New York. The only place outside the Midwest that I've lived for any length of time.
2. Ann Arbor, Michigan. Terrific town, but do not try to drive through downtown shortly after a home football game has ended. I speak from experience.
3. Madison, Wisconsin. While we lived there, it was named the number one place in America to live.
4. Fremont, Nebraska. Fifth largest city in Nebraska. Except on home football weekends, when Memorial Stadium becomes number 3, and Fremont falls to number 6.
That is not it. There are seven more.

Four TV Shows You Love to Watch

1. ER. Still pretty compelling, even after all this time.
2. Once and Again. Off the air, but still great. We have the first two seasons on DVD.
3. Boston Legal. Strangely compelling. Sometimes over the top.
4. Grey's Anatomy. Who knew that medicine was so sexy?
Conspicuously not on the list: Numb3rs. I know, I'm supposed to like it. I like the idea, and some of the math is OK, but the mysteries just aren't that compelling. I have watched a few episodes, but just haven't caught the bug.

Four Places You've Been on Vacation
1. Yellowstone. I went with my family. It was one of my last vacations with my father.
2. Chicago. I went with Mrs. Jogger when she worked with a travel agency. Got treated much, much nicer than they usually treat poor folks like me.
3. Denver. Another travel agency special. Flew off to Denver for the weekend. We'll never be able to afford that again.
4. Scotland. Mrs. Jogger and I spent a semester in London (before we were married), and that's where we went on our half-term break. Very, very, very relaxing and laid back.

Four Blogs You Read All the Time
1. This Modern World The first blog that I read regularly.
2. Pandagon
3. Hugo Schwyzer A relatively new one on my list, but a remarkable writer.
4. Shakespeare's Sister

Four of Your Favorite Foods
1. Chocolate
2. Chocolate
3. Chocolate
4. Chocolate

Four Places You'd Rather Be
I'm reading this as "Four Places You Would Like To Visit Some Day." There's really no place I'd rather be -- on a long term basis -- than here.
1. Tuscany. This is one of Mrs. Jogger's fantasies, that she has caught me up in.
2. Australia. I'd like to see a Wiggles concert live.
3. San Antonio. I don't know why I find San Antonio so compelling, as opposed to any of the other U.S. cities I've never been to.
4. Boston. Mrs. Jogger has been to Boston, but I haven't. And we have friends there, whom we haven't seen in a long time.

Four Albums You Can't Live Without
1. "Water from Another Time" John McCutcheon
2. "One Wild Night in Concert" Christine Lavin
3. "Big Times in a Small Town" Christine Lavin
4. "...and the tin pan bended...and the story ended..." Dave Van Ronk
This could be a very, very long list.

Four Vehicles You've Owned
1. 1983 Honda Civic
2. 1989 Toyota Corolla
3. 1993 Ford Aerostar (Can you say "lemon"?)
4. 1993 Ford Ranger (On the other hand, I love my truck.)

Like Dr. Crazy, I tag no one. But feel free to jump in, if you want to play.

Fictional Politicians

I don't want this to be a political blog. For one thing, there are plenty of good ones of those, and I probably can't add too much. For another thing, politics is so contentious right now, I just don't want to get involved. I have very strong opinions about a lot of political issues, but I'm also well aware that there are a lot of intelligent and well-meaning people who don't share those opinions. I'd rather reach out to them, rather than make fun of them, as happens so often on political blogs.

However, Mrs. Jogger and I were trying to get caught up on our television last night, and we ended up watching our two favorite fictional administrations right in a row, "The West Wing" followed by "Commander in Chief." And I'm going to take an opportunity to make a few observations about the differences between Jeb Bartlett and Mackenzie Allen and any recent occupants of the oval office in real life.

One remarkable thing is how well-informed these presidents and their entire staffs are. They pretty much always have important facts at their fingertips. The West Wing has a familiar process for introducing a new political development. Josh will tell Leo that Argentina has evicted the Sri Lankan ambassador, and Leo immediately knows what that means, and why it's important, and what the impact will be on the U.S. Later, Leo tells the President, and he immediately knows what that means, and why it's important, and what the impact will be on the U.S. They probably don't actually tell us in the audience until finally some reporter or underling has to ask why that's important.

The other thing that's notable is that these fictional politicians, on both sides of the aisle, really do have the best interests of the country at heart. In CinC, Donald Sutherland plays the House Speaker Nathan Templeton, who is a scheming, power-hungry career politician. But last night, when he was called on to help out with a politically tight situation, he put politics aside, and pitched in, without trying to figure out how to turn it to his advantage.

On my good days, I like to think that our government, behind the scenes, is really much like the Bartlett and Allen administrations. Smart, well meaning people, who, despite disagreements, work to make the country and the world better. If that's the truth, they cover it up pretty well. It sure seems from here like the government consists of a bunch of clueless bozos who's most important concern is solidifying their own power.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Sick Day

Well, the stomach flu that has been going around the Jogger household has alighted on yours truly. So the only running that I'll be doing today is back and forth the the bathroom. The good news is: I should be able to stay within my calorie limit today, since I can't eat anything at all. It's a great weight loss plan. I recommend it highly.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Adjust Your Dreams

What can you do
When it is clear to you
That your dreams
Will not come true

Where can you go
When everything you think you know
Disappears from view

You can hang your head
Roll over and play dead
Curse the world
And all it's evil schemes

Or you can
Adjust your dreams
Adjust your dreams
Adjust your dreams

Lyrics by Christine Lavin

Day 7 -- Irvington?

Still headed south on the Garden State Parkway. I made 5.3 miles today, which I think brings me close to Irvington. In any case, I took a snapshot in front of some sort of nice looking government building. Irvington didn’t get its name until 1852, when it was dubbed “Irvington” in honor of the literary giant Washington Irving, author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip van Winkle.” But the place now known as Irvington Township has been around since 1692 under various other appellations. Whether it was called Camptown, West Farms or Irvington, the town’s strategic location – near the center of a major regional transportation network – has contributed greatly its success over the years. All this according to the New Jersey Initiative web site.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Someone has expressed at least a little surprise about the fact that I'm not using my real name, here. The truth is that pretty much everyone who is reading it already knows who I am. (My mother reads it regularly, and at least one of my on-line friends has read it some. I don't know who else has read it. No one has left a comment, and I haven't yet figured out how to set up a site meter.) So why bother?

Well, I guess I do have a vision that this blog will some day grow beyond my family and immediate circle of friends. You could certainly find it by a general Google search, or by following some of the various ways that Blogger lets you look for something. I hope that I'll be able to find a voice that means something, and that is interesting to read.

And I want to keep the freedom that comes with not having my name hanging on it. At least one blogger that I read regularly, Dr. Crazy, has had some difficulty with this issue. She writes regularly about the academic life, including some frank discussions of her students, and she's not sure that she wants it to be easy for her students to read it and connect it to themselves. I'm not sure that I'll be doing that, but I still want to have at least some wall of privacy between "USJogger" and the real me.

Of course, it's a flimsy wall. I've revealed enough about myself that you could find me. And, of course, if you know me, my picture is all over the thing. That's the running gag in this blog. But for now, I'll continure to be USJogger, and I'll talk about Mrs. Jogger and the little Joggers, and if you know who I am, you'll know who I'm talking about. And if you don't know who I am, believe me, it doesn't matter.


I'm up for tenure this year. In fact, my tenure vote is next Friday.

For those of you outside the academic community, the idea of tenure is this: During your first six years or so as a faculty member, you are "probationary faculty," which means that you can be fired any time. All they have to do is to fail to renew your contract, and you are gone. No reason or explanation is necessary.

After tenure, you can still be fired, but it's harder. They could fire you if you failed to do your job. (Here I'm talking about not showing up for class or not turning in grades; merely being a lousy teacher is probably not enough.) They could fire you if you committed a crime, or if you slept with one of your students (which is technically not a crime, but should be.) But they can't just let you go.

The idea is to allow faculty a certain measure of "academic freedom." They should be able to talk about their views in class, and not feel like they could get fired for it. They should be able to pursue new areas of research, even ones that aren't popularly accepted.

Now, it's really not as simple as all that. For one thing, if they want to fire you, they can probably find a way. There was a case here in the University of Wisconsin System a few years ago where a tenured faculty member was fired for what the chancellor called "insubordination," although the faculty member thought it was just spirited dissent. That one went to court, I think, although I don't know how it turned out. In another local case, the administration reorganized the whole university, firing entire departments. One of the people with 18 years of experience there ended up teaching in my department.

For another thing, it's not quite so clear that they can let you go for any reason before tenure. I know of one case where someone was denied tenure and fought it, on the basis of not having been properly told of any need to improve. That would certainly be the case for me. My pre-tenure reviews have been consistenly positive, so I can't imagine that they are going to turn around and deny me tenure now.

Also, next week's vote is not the final word. The tenured members of my department will vote, but that's really just a recommendation. That goes up the line, and more people make recommendations, but the final decision rests with the chancellor. I don't think I've done anything to tick off the chancellor, but who knows?

So the truth is that next week's vote is not binding, doesn't have any particular suspense, and the outcome doesn't truly guarantee my future here at my university. Nonetheless, it's on my mind to at least some extent. Tenure is a milestone in the life of a faculty member (one that I've taken my time to get to) and I'll be happy to reach it.

Day 6 -- Westward, ho!

I made 5 miles today, every inch of it on the Garden State Parkway. Traffic is reasonable at this time of the morning, particularly since I'm heading away from the city. I meant to go a little more, but I just couldn't make it. I was dragging pretty badly after just 4.5 miles. Perhaps I'll make a little extra tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

No Progress

At this rate, I'll never get there.

Little Jogger number 3 woke up at 2:30 this morning with an upset stomach. I was up with him until about 6, when Mrs. Jogger got up. At that point, I could have gone running, or I could have gone back to bed. I chose bed.

I'm thinking about trying to get out yet this afternoon, but I probably won't. I suppose, since this is a three year journey, one day off won't hurt me.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Day 5 -- Garden State Parkway

It's warm this morning in New Jersey, with scattered clouds. I only ran three miles, which was enough to get me back on the Garden State Parkway. Now I'm in for a longer haul. I'll be on the GSP for the rest of the week, and then a week or two on the New Jersey Turnpike. I'll try to find some sights to post photos of, but I'll have to come up with something else to fill the space.

The reason that I cut it short this morning is that Mrs. Jogger was up half the night with the littlest Jogger, who was sick all day yesterday. He couldn't keep anything down. It took about 24 hours to work through his system, and now he's bouncing around like, well, a perfectly healthy 4-year-old. So I ran a quick three so that I could be home to help get the other three little Joggers off to school. I didn't really have much to do. They are pretty self-sufficient at this point. (11, 10, and 7.)

Adding to this chaos, Mrs. Jogger's mother is here for a visit. She is a wonderful, sweet person, and we're glad to have her. But her presence adds stress to Mrs. Jogger's life. She feels like she has to be a good host, and keep her mother entertained, and make sure to cook good, homestyle food. Hopefully, now that the little guy is back on his feet, we'll have a good visit.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

More on Daniel

Well, I watched the first half hour or so of The Book of Daniel last night. As I suspected, I didn't find it particularly offensive. Jesus was in exactly one scene, and frankly, he was a bit boring. "She'll be okay," he advises the father whose daughter has been arrested for dealing drugs. "She's a good kid." Ho-hum. This is the greatest religious figure of all time?

I hadn't caught in the advance publicity that one of their sons is adopted. This is an issue close to my heart, since I have an adopted daughter, and frankly, I think they totally clanked it. The subject of adoption came up twice in the part I watched. The first time, the mother says something to the adopted son (Adam?) about supporting his sister, and he say, "Adopted sister...not that I love her any less." Ugh. This just didn't sound like anything that anyone would say. Not as a joke, not seriously. I know they were trying to point out that the kid was adopted, but that was pretty obvious, since he was the only one in the family who was Asian.

The second time, the son and the daughter are arguing about his girlfriend, and she says something about what a stud he is. He says something like, "You want to find out? We're not really related." Again, ugh.

But, I'm taking my own advice. If you don't like it, don't watch it.

The real problem, I think, is that I didn't find any of the characters believable or sympathetic. They didn't feel like a family to me. They were just weird and creepy. So, I'll make Pat Robertson happy, and not watch it.

By the way, no progress today, since the gym isn't open early on Saturday. Presumably, New Jersey is open any time, so if I were really there, I could have run. But being here, I won't go anywhere on weekends until it warms up.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Book of Daniel

Well, tonight is the big premiere of "The Book of Daniel" on NBC. I'm tempted to tune in, just to find out what all the fuss is about. I suspect that I won't like it, not because it's offensive, but because it fails to entertain.

What I don't get is why people are in such an uproar about it. I am a Christian, and not one of particularly strong faith. My faith is challenged all the time, by things I read, or things I watch, or just by the persistence of disaster and sorrow in the world. And it seems to me that that is a good thing. It keeps my faith alive, and keeps me focussed on God, and what He wants of me, and of the world. If this show gets me to think about what I believe and why -- even if it's mostly me thinking "Gee, they got that all wrong," -- it's a good thing.

So how come all these people of supposedly strong faith are worried about it? What is it to them? If you are comfortable with your God and with your beliefs about him, what does it matter if a bunch of secular humanists in Hollywood don't get it?

The whole thing reminds me uncomfortably of the furor over Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses. For those of you too young to remember, when it came out in 1988, there was a tremendous furor by Muslems who felt that it was blasphemous. There were death threats, including a fatwa from the Iranian religious leadership, and Rushdie had to go into hiding. My reaction then is the same as my reaction now. How can a work of fiction harm your religion?

Day 4 -- Great Falls

Five miles today got me as far as the Great Falls Visitor Center in Paterson, NJ. I'm not sure exactly why I decided to stop here, other than I thought it would be scenic (it is) and it wasn't too far. One nice thing about setting out from New York is that scenic stuff comes along pretty quickly. I had decided to start by running from Rockefeller Plaza to the Empire State Building, and I was surprised to find it was only a couple of miles. New York is smaller than I thought. Of course, once I get out to the midwest, I'll go days without a good photo-op.

Anyway, after my stop, I ran back towards the Garden State Parkway, heading "South", which is really mostly West. I'm on my way to Philadelphia, to visit the Liberty Bell. This will take a while.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

No Progress

No progress today. Mrs. Jogger had a dental appointment at 7:00 am, so I had to stay home to see all the little Joggers off to school. I needed a break, anyway. My legs are tired after three 5 mile days following a big layoff.

My boss often runs at the same time that I do, and yesterday morning, he asked me if I was training for something. I said that no, I was just working out to lose weight. So he suggested that I run the half-marathon in Madison in May. I was polite, but inwardly, I snorted. It took me three days to run 15 miles. Like I'm going to run 13 miles all at once!

I don't know who is reading this (if anybody) or what they are interested in, so I'm just going to talk about what's on my mind. I stayed up last night to watch the Rose Bowl. It was a pretty good game. Both teams played well, and they were about evenly matched. One thing puzzles me, though. How can you go for fourth and two at close to midfield when there's two minutes left in the game and you're up by 5? Kick the ball! Give 'em 80 yards to go to score. If you get a little lucky, it might be 90 or 95. But don't hand them the ball at midfield. (There, I'm glad I got that off my chest.)

Not that I was rooting for USC. I don't have a big stake in either team, but I was really kind of pulling for Texas, just because they were underdogs and because USC already had a couple of championships. So I'm happy with the outcome of the game, and I enjoyed watching it. And then I slept in a little this morning.

Life is good.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

USJogger Posted by Picasa

Day 3 -- Garden State Parkway

5.3 miles today. I went a little longer because I wanted to make the entrance to the Garden State Parkway. I didn't have any change, so I just snuck through the tollbooth. Hey, if they want me, they can come and get me.

The Jogger family finished its Christmas yesterday. We spent Christmas at my Mom's house, but we left a few of the big presents here, and just didn't get around to opening them until yesterday. I think the biggest hit was the older son's new robot, which received the highest possible praise: it's better than Max's robot.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Day 2 -- Jersey

The littlest Jogger had a bad dream about 4:30 this morning. His brother came down and alerted me, and I had to go up and sleep with him for a little while until he calmed down. It would have been a good morning to just sleep in, but I didn't want to have to get on here today and say that I hadn't run. So maybe that's what this blog is for: to keep me going.

The weather in Jersey certainly wouldn't do that. It was high 30's and misting this morning. And I didn't have anyplace special to go. I hopped onto NJ3 heading west toward the Garden State Parkway. I made another 5 miles (which was tough enough -- I had a full week off between Christmas and New Years, so I'm getting back into the swing of things.)

Monday, January 02, 2006

Day 1 -- And I'm off!

Weather this morning was cool but clear in NYC. I began at Rockefeller Plaza. I ran down 7th Avenue to Broadway, then on 5th avenue, I cut over for a quick stop at the Empire State Building. I'm not sure that this was the quickest way to get to the ESB, but this is what Mapquest gave me. Rockefeller Plaza to ESB is about 1.2 miles.

From there, I ran back up to the Lincoln Tunnel, and crossed over into New Jersey. ESB to the Lincoln Tunnel is about 0.8 miles. Here I am in the Lincoln Tunnel. Traffic appears to be lighter than you would expect.

This took me over to Jersey, where I jumped on NJ495 West. I ran a total of five miles this morning, so I'm somewhere on 495 West, in Weehawken or Union City. (The city boundaries are not very clear on the map I'm looking at.) From here, I'll head on west.

All images found with Google Image.
Rockefeller Plaza
Empire State Building
Lincoln Tunnel