Special Pages

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Watching my daughter grow.

Some of you may know that I have an 8-month old daughter. It has been wonderful watching her grow up. Recently, she grew two teeth, started to crawl and pick food up from a bowl.

It really is great to see her do these things for the first time, but part of me misses the time when she was so small and couldn't even sit up. It's just that every moment is precious and I want to store them all up and release them when I want. With any luck, she'll grow up and leave home and be a wonderful adult, but I guess I'll be sad when that happens. This doesn't make too much sense, but I think thefather's amongst you will probably know what I'm talking about.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Am I Like Pontius Pilate?

I know that Easter was more than a week ago now, but a conversation my wife and I had then got me thinking. We were discussing the role of Pontius Pilate in the mystery of Easter. The conversation was on the lines of  `apart from allowing Jesus to be crucified, what exactly did Pilate do wrong?' In other words, where was his sin?

In some lights he can be seen as a victim of circumstance. The passages state that he found no wrongdoing on the part of Jesus. It was clear to him that he was guiltless. What then did he do? He handed Jesus over to be crucified because the chief priests and elders were inciting the crowd to revolt. The priests and elders also threatened him. When they said that since Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews, he undermined the authority of Caesar. The unspoken logic runs like this. If you let Jesus go, then you too also undermine the authority of Caesar. I don't think Pilate would want to be known as a rebel or dissenter. So, to save his own skin, and to ensure peace he handed Jesus over to be crucified. His sin was to look for the easy way out even though it meant someone being condemned to death.

Am I like Pontius Pilate? Do I look for the easy way out?Am I ready to placate a group of people juat to have peace? Even when the peace comes at the expense of someone else or when the group is wrong?

It's something to think about.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The missing Spring

Two weeks ago it was sub-zero, in terms of temperature. Last week the temperature was up to 27C. It remains that hot today. Whilst a 30C or even 60C swing isn't unheard of here over the course of two or three weeks as Winter rolls into Summer, we at least get a few days of Spring each year. At some point the temperature hovers around a nice cool 15C for a few days. The flowers bloom in quick succession. The crocuses first, and then the daffodils out by the first week of April. The trees bloom and then by the end off April the dandelions come out, by which point the temperature is  ready to heat up. This year, with a milder winter (yes just below freezing is mild), the process has started earlier. Unfortunately, we missed the cool temperature part. It really was around freezing one day (with snow) and then up around 20C the next. The flowers have only just come out and I'm in the unusual position of wearing shorts and sandals before the trees have even started to bud.

The cold weather is hard, and I don't do well in the heat. I always look forward to my few days of moderate temperatures, but they have not materialised so far.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Weights and Measures

Every Monday and Wednesday, while we wait for my wife's lecture to start, we listen to a group of soil science undergraduates discussing their weekly assignments. A couple of the students know what they're doing but more seem confused. What they're confused about is the mathematics. The maths is quite simple, from my perspective, they are simply calculating masses for the most part. At any rate all of the calculations only involve multiplication, division, addiction or subtraction.

There are two reasons why these undergraduates seem confused. The first is that find themselves baffled by mathematics in general. You have to wonder why such students chose to study a science for their degree. This same problem happens back in the UK. Students who are interested in science but dislike mathematics choose what are perceived to be softer sciences, such as environmental science, thinking they can minimise the amount of calculations they'd have to perform. Unfortunately for these students soil science and other such disciplines contain a lot of calculation. There is a perception problem. The perception is that the earth and environmental sciences contain a lot more descriptive analysis than quantitative.

The second reason that these students are baffled is that they have to use metric, a system that they are not used to. When you grow up knowing about feet and inches, it is hard to envision centimetres and metres. Making it harder for the students is that the initial questions are set in Imperial units. That's to say the students have to convert from Imperial to Metric in the course of their answers. The questions are set in Imperial because it helps the students to visualise the problem. However, their answers are required to be in SI units (which are mainly metric) because they are studying a science. This leads to some statements along the lines of "What do we multiply by to convert from yards to metres?"and "Do I have to divide by 14 here". This leads me to think why make it so hard for them. Why not just use metric measurements in the first place.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Is it a Boy or a Girl?

It's amazing the amount of comments one gets when one is carrying a baby. Even at nearly 5 months I still get a lot of comments from strangers about my baby, even for a culture that is incredibly bouncy (genuine or not -have a nice day!!!). Strangers hardly ever used to speak to me before. The most common question is "How old is he/she/the baby?" The exact phrasing depends on whether the questioner is sure that my baby is a boy or a girl or whether the questioner is not sure. It's actually difficult to tell, either way. After that opening gambit, the stranger will often ask about the sex of the baby, unless that information has already been supplied. My baby is not yet old enough to be running around screaming so strangers are often very pleased to stop, smile and say hello.

No one asks me about me. This can actually be quite useful. Whilst my wife is teaching on campus, I'm often wandering around the buildings having a look to see what is around. No one has stopped me to ask me what I'm doing, but they have stopped to smile at the baby. It's not that I'm going anywhere I shouldn't, but if I was just a guy wandering around I would have been asked whether I was lost or needed help. Now, people seem to assume I'm meant to be places, even with a baby. I guess  they reason that someone wouldn't be on the sixth floor of Microbiology with a baby, unless they were meant to be there.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Roundabouts are the future.

It seems that Americans, or at least traffic engineers, are finally embracing roundabouts (or turning circles as Google maps likes to call them). The article I just linked to stresses how much safer they are than other types of intersection but talks about them as if they were something new.

Of course, they are new to many Americans. They may have been around in other places for a long time, but they are quite rare over here. I must admit I was quite pleased when a roundabout was built at a junction near where I live. I found it so much more preferable to the other choices. Unfortunately, I was the only one who seemed to know how to drive around one. They had to put up Give Way signs before entering the roundabout, despite that being the rule. The problem is that most people are used to stop signs and just won't stop if there is not one present. Most junctions are controlled either by traffic lights or by stop signs. Given the grid nature of a lot of American cities, four-way stop signs are very prevalent. A four-way stop means that cars coming from all directions must stop and go in the order in which they arrived. But that's not all for stop signs. They appear even when there is no reason for them to be. They appear on major roads before the junction with minor roads. There is one such near our house where the minor road is just a car park. The traffic on the main road has to stop for the very unlikely occurrence that a car is emerging from the car park. It's a residential road with little traffic and the car park is also residential. There is just no good reason for the junction to be controlled by a stop sign.

So I for one welcome our new roundabout overlords. Long may they prosper.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A Winter wonderland and bronchiolitis

We flew back to the US after spending 3 weeks in England. Before we left the US the weather was mild and aside from a couple of days of frost the weather in England was mild also. There was even a hint of Spring in the air.

It was a bit of a shock to be greeting by a blanket of snow on our arrival. For the first time ever I was not thrilled to see the stuff. The reason for this is that we were travelling with a 3 month old with bronchiolitis. Thankfully she was over the fever stage but she was vomiting a lot. She did get most of it out of the way before we got on the plane by vomiting all over my parents. There was just the one instance of her vomiting on the plane, but unfortunately it was all over me.

The snow was also not helpful when we were driving in it to take the baby to the doctors. Midwesterners deal with snow driving well, but the snow on that day was heavy enough to warrant a Winter Weather Advisory. Our baby is still ill and not doing particularly well as I write. I hope she gets better soon.