Sleeping in Seattle

Bob & Etsuko at Snoqualmie FallsWell, I arrived in Seattle on Friday evening. I stayed with Bob and his wonderful fiancee Etsuko. Saturday Bob had to work (ah, the joys of owning your own business), and I slept the morning away. When I finally got up I hung out in a local cafe, Java Jazz, and caught up on emails and some ShopInBerkeley new pages (ah, the joys of owning your own business).

When Bob got off work, he and Etsuko and I headed up towards Snoqualmie Falls, a nice waterfall (270 feet, almost twice the height of Niagra but only about 10% of Yosemite). We had a nice meal at the Thai restaurant across the street from their house, then settled in for more yacking before bed.

Next time I come to Seattle I’ll have to plan more time–there were just too many people here I didn’t get to see.

Today I’m heading southward on I-5, with a stop tonight in Eugene to see Lou, her new beau, and I think just one of her kids. Today should be a realtively short driving day, then Monday will be fairly long–but I should be happily in my bed before midnight on Monday.

Into North Dakota

I made it across the Mississippi today! Guess that means I’m in “the West.” I crossed the Big Muddy where it isn’t so big, nor so muddy, in Brainerd, MN. If memory serves me right, Brainerd is the city where Marge Gunderson is from in the movie Fargo.

Well, put a physics teacher behind the wheel of a car for hours a day, provide him with a Scan Gauge II, and you’re bound to come up with statistics on gas mileage. Scan Gauge will tell you any engine error codes, but in addition it provides real-time gas mileage values. Driving my 1999 Saturn SW1 with the air conditioning on uses 17.2% more gas. Driving at 65 MPH compared to 55 MPH uses 22.3% more gas. Of course, this is where the challenge arises: Today I’m trying to cover 518 miles. If I drive 55 instead of 65, it will take me 1:27 longer (9:25 vs 7:58). What do I care more about, future generations having gas or my time? (Is that a loaded question, or what?) I’m glad I installed cruise control on the car, because this sure makes it easier to drive 55. I’ll probably set it around 57 today.

Remember that the shape of the car determines its air resistance, which has a lot to do with the change in mileage at higher speeds. My wagon is fairly square in the back, which is not a very aerodynamic shape.

Today’s experiment: Driving with the windows up vs driving with the windows down.

One other thing I noticed about driving 55 vs 65 is how much faster 65 feels. 55 feels like plodding along, where 65 feels zoomy. Of course, the speed limit on the Interstate I’m now driving on is 75!! It’s no wonder 55 feels safer when you compare stopping average stopping distances: 50: 175 feet; 60: 240; 70: 315. The change from 50 to 60 MPH creates a 37% increase in stopping distance!

I got in another 400+ miles yesterday. Since today I’m going to try for 518, making it to Winnett, MT, I’ve got to get going quick.


David DiManna in Toledo, Millers in upper Michigan

David DiMannaSunday included a drive across the last little bit of Pennsylvania, then Ohio, then a bit of Michigan. The Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes were fairly uneventful, and I made it to Toledo in time to have dinner with cousin David DiManna, his son Danny, and his new gal (who I’m embarrassed to say I forgot her name–but I usually do this the first frew times I meet someone–I’ve got to work on that writing down names thing to help with my memory). We got some good catching up, gobbling up dinner, and laughing at Far Side comics.

After dinner, I drove a few hours up into Michigan. Being a collector of stadiums, when I realized that the “Big House” was on the way (U Michigan’s stadium), I had to stop by. It wasn’t much out of the way, but the stadium was closed for renovations so I had to be satisfied with taking a photo from outside. Ann Arbor seemed like a nice town, lots of sidewalk cafes on Main Street.

The Big House I made it up to Bridgeport, MI (just south of Saginaw, which everyone knows where it is). I found a decent motel there, and slept the night away in a double bed room ($10 more than a single bed, but they didn’t have any more non-smoking singles, and the smoking single stank!)

In the morning it was off through the forests of upper Michigan to outside Boyne City where four of the Miller clan were hanging out in a cabin in the woods (Dan is living in DC area, and wasn’t able to make it up.)

I first met Jim when we were both vending beer at the Oakland Colesium and Candlestick Park. He and Patti were married a few years later, and they left the bay area for Chicago when Dan was about 8, Max about 4, and I don’t think Neil was in the picture yet. The next year, when Neil was just born, I went to visit them one summer and Jim, Patti, and Neil took off for New York for a few days while I stayed with Dan and Max. Now Neil is going into his sophomore year in high school, Dan has graduated from college, and Max is in college. My, how time flies.

The Miller's in the Devil's JacuzziAfter relaxing a bit at the cabin, we took off to a local lake (Walloon Lake). Patti describes their vacations as sleeping in long enough to get to the lakes after most of the beachgoers are on their way home. We had a great time wading around in the fine sand bottomed lake (don’t get many of those in California), and a splash in the “Devil’s Jacuzzi” outlet.

Jim, Max, Neil and I went out to the local creek after swimming: Neil for fishing (he’s quite the fisher), and Max to catch up on some reading while Jim and I wandered up the creek. There was a little dam on the creek, complete with electric generating plant.

In the evening, it was off to DQ in town, for a nice ice cream treat, and a look at Lake Charlevoix (a big lake that empties into Lake Michigan).

Mackinac BridgeThe next morning I took off for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, across the Mackinac Bridge. Photos of the bridge are included in my photo album linked below.

Tonight I’m staying in the Indianhead Motel in Ironwood, MI, just south of Lake Superior. I’ve been listening to a “books on CD” that has been great for passing the time. The book is good, and I’m enjoying it’s help in passing the miles.

I’ve been using 89 Octane gas and setting the cruise control at 55 MPH, and I’m getting about 41 MPG in the car!!

More pictures here.

Tomorrow I’ll probably be making it as far as Bizmark, ND.

Lots of love,


Virginia and Maryland: Good family

Cory and SteveGinny and LeeClick here for larger photos.

Thursday I made it up to Flint Hill, VA to the Alexander homestead. Cousin Karen and Steve were home, as Cory was spending a relaxing summer with them (ha! she and Steve had spent the day working on one of their properties). The shock for me was the new workshop/studio out back (see photo). It looks like all the angles on it are 90 degrees (for those of you who haven’t seen their house, there are very few right angles in it).

Cory, Karen and I stayed up till midnight, but poor Steve who doesn’t have the Amoss “gab” gene had to retire earlier. We had a great time catching up, and sharing teaching stories (Karen teaches in the local-rural-high school supporting special ed kids and Cory is a grad student in writing who teaches some undergrad courses and writing rooms). They all seemed to being doing well, and it was great visiting.

I used to be quite the camera person, but now I’m forgetting to take photos all the time. On my way out, I did get a photo of Cory and Steve in front of the new shop/studio building (Karen had already run off to sign some paychecks for a non-profit she helps with).

Friday I drove up to Asbury retirement center to visit my aunt Ginny. We had a nice visit, gabbing about teaching, family, etc. etc. Ginny’s hanging in there, not letting her kids catch up with her in age. An interesting family history tidbit I learned was that Ginny spent only one year of her life living without her mother (Boiney, for those you who don’t know her). Ginny (and my mom and Aunt Getrude) stayed at home until they were married. For Ginny, this was age 26. One year later my grandfather (A. Lee) passed, and Boiney was left with little “retirement” income, so she moved in with Ginny and Dan. Dan, being a good Italian, knew that you take care of your family, so he had no problem with his mother in law moving in with them. Ginny says Dan and Boiney got along great.

Wonderful talk by George Coyne

George Coyne, SJThe capstone of my time here was a talk by George Coyne, SJ. Coyne talk was titled “Dance of the Fertile Universe: Cosmic and Human Evolution.”Coyne is the former Director of the Vatican Observatory (1978-2006), and has written extensively debunking the “Intelligent Design” theory. He gave a quick history of the universe (“if the universe is one year old, scientists have only been around in the last second”), and discussed the role of science, politics, and religion.

I was impressed by his presentation on the inaccuracy of framing the debate as “Chance or necessity” (of how humans came to be on earth). Rather, he suggests that chance is the method that God used to create us. “He” knew how the universe would end up when He created the Big Bang. Although I’m not quite sure whether Coyne believes that God knew how the world would end up, or just that something good would come of it. In his writings, I have gleamed that his perspective is that we humans cannot understand the workings of God and creation, and that what we perceive of as chance may be intentional on God’s part.

This is, of course, sort of a cop out. ‘Well, I can’t prove the existence of God, but I’m going to believe it anyway.’ But I think that’s what it’s all about in the end. Beliefs are just that. We have some circumstances that lead us to a belief. They may be:

  • Religious upbringing
  • A life-altering experience
  • Extensive study
  • A ‘feeling’ or sensation that something is right.

I was able to ask a question at the end that I think I wasn’t quite eloquent enough to make clear, but I asked him how can anyone believe in any one God/book in our multicultural world. His response was that if one cannot believe in God any more, one should not believe. I think he thought I was asking more for myself than as a general question for other “believers,” but I do agree with his answer.

I’ll probably write more on this later, but that’s it for now. If anyone has any questions or thoughts to add, feel free to leave a comment 🙂


Slow day… ?

Today was kind of a slow day. I let myself sleep in–till 8:00 🙂

I saw one plenary speaker who discussed his role in international physics education. I found it interesting at the time, but can’t remember many of the details now. The second plenary speaker was Janet Guthrie, the first woman to qualify for the Indy 500, speaking on Racing as Metaphor. She has a BS in Physics, and while she doesn’t use it much these days, she knows how to discuss the physics of racing. Her talk was interesting and humorous.

One thing the AAPT is aware of and trying to correct is the lack of women and “underrepresented minorities.” There is much focus on attracting a more diverse community to physics education, and several of the papers I heard presented today were on the subject of women and physics. One group addressed how the misperception of scientists as being solo geeks locked away in their labs has a tendency to discourage many young women who may, on average, be looking for more social interactions than their male counterparts. Good science is actually quite communal.

One thing about academics, they have WTMA (way too many acronyms). Every group studying something has to name their system something, then continually refer to is by its new acronym throughout their talk. Not only does this bug me (I think that they subconsciously think that by giving it a name it makes it more important), but when I reflect on English language learners hearing all these new “words” that have no meaning other than as an acronym, I cringe.

Tonight I attended the Science Education for the Public committee meeting because in the Physics and Society “Crackerbarrel” discussion (yeah, it’s like we’re standing around at the corner store talking over the cracker barrel) a few of us were drafted to develop a nuclear energy workshop for 2008. Luckily, the committee had other plans (that include nuclear energy but more as invited talks than a hand-on workshop), and we don’t have to do it until 2009.

It’s quite interesting to have a group of physics educators developing a program on nuclear energy. Some are working/researching in the field, and are very supportive of it. Others are adamantly against it. But as educators, we all seem to come together in trying to keep the discussion balanced: we’re here to help people understand the science behind nuclear energy, then let them make up their own minds. It’s kind of fun to not know from the first word out of someone’s mouth were they stand on the subject. You have to wait around, listen to them, and then maybe even talk to them over lunch before you find out where they stand.

Tomorrow I have to decide whether to go to the Mathematics in Physics presentations or the “Physics and Society Education” ones. I’ll probably jump between the two. After that it’s a talk Those Who Can Teach by a high school teacher from Montana who won the Excellence in Pre-College Physics Teaching award.

Then in the afternoon I get to see the speaker I have been waiting around for, George Coyne, give his talk “Dance of the Fertile Universe: Cosmic and Human Evolution.” Sounds like a great talk.

After that, it’s back to Fayetteville for dinner with Karen G (Virginia is just too far to make it, so I’m spending another night in the fine state of North Carolina),  then off to see my cousin Karen and her husband Steve in Virginia. I’ll get in a visit with my aunt Ginny as well.

Saturday is the start of the westbound leg of my trip. A speedy drive to Michigan to see the Miller clan (with a possible stop for dinner with cousin Dave in Toledo). Tuesday night I’ll be in the Northern Hotel in Winnett, Montana (my family lived in Winnett the summer between my 2nd and 3rd grade year while my dad experimented with being a Methodist minister in two small town churches).

Thursday night I should make it to Seattle to see cousin Bob and his fiancee, and a breakfast with my friend Quinn (neighbor when we lived on California Street, he will just be arriving in his new home on an island north of Seattle).

Sunday I’ll start back down the old familiar I-5, with stops in Eugene (Lou), Ashland (Moira), and Red Bluff (Smiths). Then, I should arrive back in my pad in Pleasant Hill on Monday night, August 13th. Two days later teacher duties start, with classes starting the following Wednesday. I’m sure glad I have a week without the kids after I get back. I can do meetings with little effort and planning, but teaching requires so much more.

Off to bed now, it’s late my time 🙂



Great workshops at Greensboro

I’m settled in the dorms, and have been sharing with a nice guy from outside Ann Arbor (“NOT” UM, our colors are green). He’s checking out tonight, so I’ll have the room to myself tonight.

Sunday I spent the morning in two workshops, the first on using VPython (a computer programming language) to have students create models of physical actions (e.g. a ball rolling up a ramp). The program is pretty cool because students don’t to learn much programming, but instead focus on the physics equations. The second was on energy planning, and it uses spreadsheets to look at energy planning. Students make decisions about how much they should increase or decrease different energy sources (e.g. petroleum, coal, nuclear, solar), then examine the consequences of their choices in terms of per capita energy consumption.

I’m off to a meeting now, but I’ll write more later tonight.

Off to Greensboro

I finished the Modeling Physics workshop in Charlotte, and am now sitting in the Tate Street Coffee shop outside UNC Greensboro. I checked into the dorm late this afternoon, and am happily preparing for more physics tomorrow.

We finished the workshop on Friday with lunch at a nice Greek restaurant across the street from UNC Charlotte, then I started driving to Fayetteville to see Karen again. I decided I could use a day off before returning to the world of physics education, and Karen and I had such a nice time in Asheville we decided another day together would be nice.

On the drive down, I discovered that my cruise control installation really wasn’t working that well. The install a mechanical device that controls the throttle, and it was sticking on other parts of the car. This meant that when I ran up the revs on the engine to pass a car, I suddenly discovered that the engine kept running at full throttle. Not a nice feeling. I pulled over and opened the hood. After a bit of tweaking of the control mechanism, I decided that I wasn’t going to be able to get it fixed at that time, and I unscrewed the control device and took it out. It’s now sitting on the back seat of my car. I’ll take another try at it while I’m here in Greensboro (and while the engine parts are cool!) It should be no real problem to fix, but I’m upset with the store for doing such a sloppy job with the installation.

Soon after removing the cruise, it started to rain and I had to run the wipers. I started to hear a screeching sound, and discovered that one of the wiper blades was coming out of the holder. I pulled over at the next exit and pushed it in, but I had just bought replacement wipers and had to buy the whole assemble (~$8 vs $3) because I was told that they now longer sell just the inserts because people have too hard a time installing them correctly. But the insert wasn’t installed in the assembly correctly!

About this time I just started laughing, ’cause you either gotta laugh or cry, and it didn’t seem worth crying over. At least the CAR I bought is running well. It’s only the things I added to it that are giving me problems (although the new tires are great, and I’m getting great mileage with them).

Karen and I spent the morning having breakfast, looking at photos of a couple of her trips (including Alaska to Diane H’s wedding and see Viv), then lunch at a nice Thai restaurant. It was great to have good Thai food, and the server was very aware of vegetarian’s needs. No having to tell them that chicken soup is not vegetarian if it doesn’t include big pieces of meat 🙂

I missed a couple workshops today, but no great loss. The person I really want to see, George Coyne, doesn’t talk until Wednesday. I bumped into my friend Tim E in the dorm halls. I have helped Tim with physics software and a couple physics books (my name is in the second one). Unfortunately, Tim didn’t have enough people sign up for his workshop to hold it. The two people who had signed up dropped in and he had a chance to talk with them about the material.

Well, it’s time for bed. Tomorrow I’ll try to post a few photos from the past week.

Lots of love,


Nice weekend in Asheville

View from the Grove Park InnFriday afternoon I took Gabriela to the bus station so she could go visit friends for the weekend, then I took off driving up to Asheville to meet Karen. We’re having a great time roaming around Asheville. We’ve had some great food (Tapas, breakfast buffet at the Grove Park Inn (see photo to right), Indian buffet — if there’s one thing both Karen and Lee know how to do it’s eat). To top off the day today we went to a great spa, the Shoji Retreat, south of town and had an hour hot tub followed by an hour massage. Mmmm, I’m relaxed now…

Unfortunately, I missed seeing Karen’s brother Lee by about 5 hours. He was up in Asheville for a local “burning man” type event, and hung out with Karen some in the morning. I think it’s probably been 15-20 years since I’ve seen Lee. I always enjoyed his company, and from the way Karen describes him, he hasn’t changed much. Oh well, time and tide waits for no one.

Anyway, it’s getting late, so I’ll sign off. Tomorrow we’re looking for a place to take a short hike in the morning, then it’s back out of the mountains for both of us. My plan on the way home is to stop in a town I saw from the highway, Newton. I want to get photos of the entrance to the town, then a speed limit sign and other signs of laws. Then I’ll be able to create a poster of “Newton’s Three Laws.” (It’s a physics thing…)
Shoji Retreat