Sunday, June 29, 2008

Update: Hooray for the Internet

Marmots: They're sort of both.  Males are territorial and have harems of multiple females and offspring, usually creating a family unit of less than 20 animals.  We can split the 10 points.

Planets: Here are descriptions of where the planets are chillin' at over the course of this year.  They are not always visible, but it was probably either Jupiter, which is at opposition right now (essentially we're seeing a "full Jupiter") or Saturn that we looked at with binoculars.  One million points for me for general astronomical correctness; ten for Tyson for correctly differentiating between a star and a planet.

A Dirty Sanchez is either funny or gross, depending on the degree of seriousness with which it's suggested.

Brian Jones founded the Rolling Stones and is now dead.  I still don't know how or why John Darnielle thinks he'd be like Brian Wilson. Maybe sort of old and sad, and trying to capitalize on their past success?

Dinu Lipatti was a Romanian pianist.  I don't know why someone would need his bones.

Gas in Baker is an even $5.

Sand accumulates not because of static cling or anything like that, but primarily because of a process called saltation.

The lake that covered a big chunk of the intermountain west was Lake Lahontan.  A summary of Nevada's brief history as a seafloor is here.

As for Mercury, that's going to take some digging, and I haven't downloaded Google Earth on this computer yet.  If anything interesting turns up, I'll post it.


My trip to the ER in Mammoth reminded me of this video (by not being anything like this).

Arguments and Discussions that Require Internet Assistance, but Arose While Travelling Without Immediate Computer Access

What is the deal with the town of Mercury?  The sign says there are no services, and roads leading into town appear to be gated.  Also: check Google Earth for satellite photos of the Nevada Test Site.

What are the social habits of yellow-bellied marmots?  Are they social, like prairie dogs, or more territorial?  (Ten points for me if they're social.)

Was that, in fact, Saturn we saw the other night?  Can someone please find a way to explain to Tyson that Jupiter and Saturn are NOT visible every night, all the time? (Minus one million points for me if I'm wrong on that one, because I'm not.)

What are the physical properties related to the movement of sand dunes?  How come all the sand in the Great Basin desert is all in one place?  What keeps the sand together as it moves?  (I say the size of the particles and their composition--lots of silica--does a static-cling maneuver and holds everything in place.

What parts of Nevada were, at one time, under water?  When?  How many times?  Salty or fresh water?  What about the lake that covered central Nevada all the way to Idaho and into Washington, and now survives as the Great Salt Lake in Utah?

What is a Dirty Sanchez?

What happened to Picaridin, a DEET alternative in bug repellent that keeps bugs off but DOESN'T melt plastic?

Who is Brian Jones, and why would he be like Brian Wilson?

Who is Dinu Lipatti?

If gas in Mammoth Lakes is $4.99 a gallon, what's it going for in Baker right now?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

And it only took a week longer than expected!

Our car is fixed! We are headed to the Sierra!

We dropped our car off at the dealership more than two weeks ago, and the engine has finally been put back together and it looks like we are just about ready to drive the hell out of it again. We were told it would be ready by last Wednesday or Thursday, and when it wasn't put back together by Saturday, they rented us a little Scion for cheap, but we are SO READY to have the Matrix back--and with a rebuilt, not used, engine like we wanted in it.

Tyson, naturally, has been packed and ready to go for the last two weeks, and we cleaned up the house and threw the rest of the stuff together this afternoon. We're going up to Rock Creek Lake and hiking up to a lake and a pass a couple of miles above North Lake. We will definitely have pics when we get back!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

HTML is making me crazy

I feel like hurting someone.

I inserted some nifty code recently so I could divide my posts like you see here.  I thought it would be nice to put that whole long copy-pasted entry  below the fold, so to speak, to make scrolling through the page easier.  Unfortunately, my new code uses the "span" designation, which is also what Blogger defaults to whenever you, you know, DO ANYTHING, like hit enter or change the text color or anything else.  It was really driving me crazy.  That last post took me about an hour and a half of picking through all the damn tags that kept getting added every time I checked my work.  Finally I just gave up.  Does anyone (Brannon?) know if there is a way to bypass Blogger's HTML editor if I want to write all my own code once in a while?

On the bright side, this post was relatively straightforward.

Budget Cuts!

I started the morning today with a somewhat dismaying message via school email from our superintendent RE: state budget cuts: 

DATE: June 24, 2008
TO: All Employees
FROM: Walt Rulffes
SUBJECT: Status of State Budget Cuts

Many people have contacted me asking the status of how CCSD will handle the increasing State budget cuts. An answer I gave that was accurate last week needs to be revised this week as the picture continues to change. If you are observing media reports, then you are likely as current as I am regarding the amount of State reductions in revenue. The purpose of this memo is to bring you up to date regarding how CCSD is affected, which most likely will change as State conditions change.

The school district has no authority to unilaterally increase its revenue. Federal funds and bond funds are legally restricted in use and must be spent specifically as designated. The day-to-day operations of the school district are funded from its general fund, which is controlled by the State.

I won’t discuss herein the initial cuts that have already been made, as that information has been provided elsewhere and is not germane for this discussion. Of importance now is how does the district deal with more major reductions in its funding?

Here’s the gloomy background. The latest State projected additional revenue shortfall, after more than $900 million has already been cut, is identified below:
 $250 million or more for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2008; and $1.2 billion for the next biennium, which is the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years.

The big question is, “How much will CCSD’s share of the shortfall be?” I wish I knew, but since public education as a whole makes up half the State’s budget, it’s a fair assumption that CCSD’s hit could be as follows:
 Another $50 to 70 million for 2008-2009 school year; and Another $135 million for the 2009-2010 school year.

Against this background, here’s my prognosis for how funding reductions will translate to CCSD.

Q: What about the 4% employee COLA the Legislature included in its original funding?

A: The District and Unions followed the provisions of collective bargaining and put the 4% COLA into contract agreements. The Support Staff Union contract was ratified by Support members and approved by the School Board. The CCEA and the CCASAPE contracts have been ratified by their respective members and are scheduled for School Board action on
June 26, 2008. My recommendation is to approve the contracts.

Q: What about all the talk of taking the COLA’s to offset the State shortfall?

A: Here’s why I am recommending to the Board to approve the contracts. First and foremost, you deserve it. I don't know how we can expect our employees to absorb the increased cost of living, e.g., gasoline, food, and in the case of teachers – health care. There are about 7,000 employees who are not eligible for a step-increase, and the 4% is their only improvement. The support staff contract has been signed, sealed, and delivered, as well as the employee contracts in most other school districts throughout the State. I do not see how school districts can legally breach contract agreements, and CCSD’s staff deserves equal treatment to that of other school districts in regard to the COLA.
There’s more. While this has not been widely recognized, if the District/CCEA contract agreement is not approved, the new program for the retired teacher health plan falls through the crack, leaving future teacher retirees without a reasonable medical plan.

Q: So what’s the consequence of the cuts?

A: Well, hopefully the State will minimize cuts to public education with other alternatives – to which I am not privy at this time. I know that there are legislators and others who are seeking options to avoid further cuts in essential State services. Examples include the proposed 3% room tax, Terry Lanni's proposal to add an increase in the payroll tax to the mix, and borrowing against future revenues such as the Tobacco fund.

Q: If further cuts are necessary, what’s at risk in CCSD?

A: This is the tough part. We will be forced to cut the central, regional, and school administrative services where we can, as well as support functions. The Budget Department has already told central administrators to submit 6% cuts in their budgets. Out-of-state travel requests, contract and consulting services, and capital purchases from the general fund will require approval of the Budget Department. The Human Resources Division (HR) has placed a hold on certain categories of hiring, not only because of the budget cuts that are looming, but also because enrollment growth has dramatically slowed. Expenditures from the SB 185 funds, which are the school improvement grants, have been put on hold. SB 185 funds will likely be withheld by the State. Also, remember the District is facing unfunded inflation (as in fuel) and added costs (as in 7 new school openings). Some relief could be possible if a fee is imposed for certain services, e.g. transportation and non-academic activities, but it will be very unpopular.
The big dollars will have to come from where big expenditures are occurring. HR is holding many classroom vacancies open until more is learned from the State because those vacancies will likely be needed to absorb teachers who are currently assigned to non-classroom functions. In an earlier message, it was estimated that the projected reduction in CCSD revenue is the equivalent of an estimated 2,000 positions. Nothing has changed to reduce that estimate.

Q: What’s the timing of all this?

A: Timing depends on the State. At the time of this writing, the Legislature is scheduled for a special session to begin on June 27, 2008. If that occurs, or if a resolution is worked out prior instead of having a special session, we should know before July 1, 2008, what the fiscal impact will be on the upcoming school year. At this point, the bulk of what I am hearing centers around "cuts" rather than finding new revenues to make up the difference.

Q: What's the prognosis for the budget we're submitting for the next biennium?

A: We have been directed by the Nevada Department of Education to submit $133 million in cuts for the next biennium in September of 2008, which takes effect for July 1, 2009, assuming it’s approved by the Legislature. While we are complying with this request, it is important to remember that the level of funding for education and the opportunity to provide new revenue sources will certainly be a major topic of the 2009 legislative session, and I hope you will join me in working to find alternatives to the devastation this level of cuts would produce.

God forbid our governor raise taxes on local folks to, you know, learn their kids to read.  I'm really REALLY glad our weak excuse for a union (an "association," actually, as if that explains the inefficacy of most of their presence in Carson City) bundled the cost of living increase in with provisions for retiree health benefits.  At this time last year, when it was unclear whether retirees after 2008 would, in fact, be eligible for insurance coverage, we were projecting something like 5000 people to retire this year, and I just don't think the state wants to have to deal with it's largest county's teachers not getting salary increases AND needing to hire 5000 more new teachers.

What I find most worrisome is that it looks like the area that'll be taking the biggest hit is research.  Ruffles mentions curtailing expenses for "consultants" and SB 185 funds, and it's that money that A) brings new research into the district and B) disseminates it to teachers--new teachers in most cases.  SB 185 money is designated "School Improvement" money--we all write a school improvement plan each year, and these funds help schools achieve their goals, generally in the area of subgroups passing the Big Tests.  Schools with a pattern of not making AYP get extra help, such as mentors and money to pay teachers to go to conferences, and to pay other teachers to come to site-based trainings to hear what the other people learned at their conferences so that everybody can stay up on current research. 

Yes, we could probably limit some of the "consultant" spending because I've seen some of the people and research the district brings in, and a lot of it is redundant and I'm sure some of it is pretty screwy.  On the other hand, Harry Wong spoke at one of the new teacher conferences I went to, and all teachers got treated to a presentation by Ron Clark one staff development day last year, and I found both of those experiences valuable.  And it was SB 185 funds that paid for the two full-time mentors I had at the middle school in Northtown, where I learned enough in a year and a half to be a project leader next year and my administrator's nominee for Teacher of the Year.

Maybe it's not all bad.  Because our district is so huge (fifth largest in the nation), reducing the amount spent on research consultants means going back to tried and true practices and GIVING THEM TIME TO WORK before jumping straight onto the next bandwagon when we don't see immediate results.  Cutting funds in these areas will allow our district to function reasonably well for next year, even two or three more years, but I don't want to be around here in another 10 when we're really feeling the effects of allowing our district's current research-based practices to stagnate.  Once the state sees that we can do without this budget money, the odds of us getting it back are slim, and funding will probably never be back to the level it is now.  I also think we'll see much lower retention rates for new teachers because it is primarily them that the SB 185 money helps.  Most of our new hires are locked in to jobs veteran teachers don't want, and without a support system present, I can imagine many of them looking at their measly $34K salary and wondering if it's really worth it.  And there's not much of an incentive for veteran teachers, especially those approaching retirement, to pass on their expertise or to continue to develop their own practices.

So anyway, we'll see how this goes.  I've been fortunate this summer in that my principal is highly committed to my program and finding the money to get it off the ground.  She submitted my entire list of facilities requests, about $18,000 total, to the banker without striking anything, quibbling about costs, or even questioning any of the items we asked for.  Nothing can get paid for until the July 1, but so far, my stuff's first in line.  It's not district budget problems that affect me, I just need to make sure I keep the same principal forever.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A sad little hip-hip-huzzah for irreverance

If I were in charge of things around here...

I was looking forward to this post over at Daily Kos, and I got to thinking about what other pie in the sky ideas might make America even better. Because I'm just coming off three days of late nights with friends who are in town, I can't exactly remember what my ideas were, exactly, but I had some.

What are your "so crazy they just might work" plans?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

How did I miss this??

Oh, man!  Can anybody spot me, like, 400 bucks?

The Amaz!ng Meeting is in town this weekend, featuring 2 of my favorite internet boyfriends:

Yes, that's Adam Savage and PZ Myers.

For those of you who don't know, the James Randi Educational Foundation (sponsors) is the one offering the million-dollar prize for verifiable evidence of any paranormal or supernatural event.  Thousands of hot, sexy rationalists are affiliated with the JREF, and they and their fans will be taking over the Flamingo for the weekend.  I'm sure all the dealers in the casino are thrilled to have a bunch of intellectuals roaming around, scoffing at all the rubes who bet red because it's "due" or yell at the guy next to them at the blackjack table for "taking" their cards.

Locals Penn and Teller will be there too, but their show has been vitriolic and sucky lately ("Lesbians on a blind date prove the 0-60 on the Prius is awful; therefore, alternative fuel is a left-wing lie."), so I won't be sorry to miss them.  [Interestingly enough, Penn used to visit my Starbucks pretty often.  Don't ask me how I remember these things, but he used to get a venti iced coffee with vanilla and lots of room.  And he is REALLY tall.  And his daughter's middle name is Crimefighter, he said on NPR.  Really, I am not a stalker, not even a fan (but I would still totally name my kid Moxie Crimefighter).]

As much as I really, REALLY want to go shamelessly throw myself at Adam from Mythbusters, registration is RIDICULOUS.  I guess real rationalists are supposed to be smart enough not to have student loans or multiple high-interest credit cards.

That's What I Just Said!

Some bigshot (I initially typed "bogshit"--twice!--how's that for a Freudian slip?) over at the Chicago Trib just had to add his two cents to my reminiscing about summertime and cheap(er) gas prices. 

So fucking original, dude.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Off the couch, and out of the bathroom

You can tell just how unexciting my travel-free summer has been so far as soon as we start diving into the subject matter of today's post:

A bladder infection!!!

Yes, the biggest, most interesting thing to happen since I last posted was that I spent a total of about three hours in the can today, and about six more sitting at my computer or on the couch furiously jiggling my knee and repeating "I will not wet my pants I will not wet my pants."

It was seriously the worst one of these I have ever had.  You should have seen the chunks of bladder-flesh that left my body today.  But, thanks to the miracle in a box that is phenazopyridine hydrochloride, I actually sat through a whole movie without a trip to the bathroom (plus, my pee is a psychedelic red-orange--fun, huh?).

So I haven't actually left the house since Friday, and I am looking forward to getting up early and dashing up to school to get some stuff to work on while we host a national debate tournament and I'll be toiling away off-campus all week, although I freely admit the reason I didn't go anywhere yesterday was that I just felt like being a total scrub, not that I couldn't risk being 30 seconds from a bathroom.

I hope everyone else is finishing up a much more productive (and less painful in the pants area) weekend.  Happy Fathers' Day to my dad, Tyson, Bob, John, Brannon, J, DBB, Michael, and anyone else I've forgotten!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It's the end of an era.

It makes me really sad that Americans' God-given right to throwing camping gear in the trunk and driving aimlessly around the country for days on end seems to be over.

Not that it's been very economical for two or so years now, but 4 dollars a gallon? Now the low-budget road-trip is a dying institution.

Tyson's been on shaving strike since school got out until he catches fish. He got as far as laying all the camping and fishing gear out in the living room, packing some of it in the motorcycle saddlebags, and, well, that was it. The official reason for the delay of tonight's scheduled departure to California's southern Sierra is the wind, which on our smallish bike in the middle of the night is certainly a legitimate concern. In a frenzied fit of cabin fever, he even proposed both of us taking the van. Consider the horrendous fuel economy (about 10MPG lately) and the fact that the a/c isn't working, and you'll see just how desperate we are to even entertain the notion of a road trip.

One of the best things about living in Vegas is the sheer variety of outdoor stuff within just a few hours--from the beach, to Baja, to the Sierras, to the Colorado Plateau, to the Grand Canyon, to great fishing and hiking and kayaking and climbing. Let's face it: Vegas is not the most interesting place to actually be if you're not a tourist, club whore, or rich. The huge appeal (besides not ever having to wear more than a jacket over a t-shirt in the winter) is in going somewhere else.

I can remember waking up one Saturday morning in the early fall having just gotten over a nasty, lingering cold. On an impulse, we threw all our crap in the Matrix and went west and north about 4 hours to the Alta Toquima wilderness. We hiked around through yellow aspens, and it was so nice to feel like I was finally over that cold. But the water was low and the fishing was not great, and it was still way too light out to set up camp and sit around until 11, so we drove about 4 more hours back east, making a big zig-zag across the lower half of the state to get to the Snake Range and Great Basin National Park, where we camped out and in the morning were practically assaulted by gangs of deer who just marched through our morning coffee and oatmeal. We hiked up to a bristlecone grove, then drove back home, stopping to look over to top of Cathedral Gorge and again for dinner at the old Caliente train depot.

All said and done, we drove about 800 miles in 36 hours, just to get out of our house. Driving the van right now, that's 80 gallons of gas, or $320. That's just not the kind of money regular people can afford to pay for no good reason.

But for people like me and many others in the West, there is a perfectly good reason to take trips like that. One of the reasons we moved out here was to explore and enjoy this relatively wild and empty part of the country. Impractical? Yes. Romantic? Definitely. Yes, I realize how whiny I sound, getting all bent out of shape about not being able to drive aimlessly all over the place. I know that my attitude is probably representative of stereotypes of American hubris and entitlement. But dammit, I'm done working for 10 weeks, and I want to go hiking in the mountains because it's 105 outside and it hurts my skin to stand in the sun for more than two minutes.

So anyway, we're about sick of dealing with the Matrix. We're waiting for a phone call from Toyota corporate tomorrow to find out if they're willing to help out with the $4000 engine replacement, but are not very hopeful. I think going about 14 months without an oil change is not going to help us out there. Our new Plan B is to trade the Matrix, and quite possibly also the van, for the smallest, cheapest, most fuel-efficient, best-warranty-having hatchback we can get (a Kia Rio5 or Spectra is looking good) and paying it off as fast as possible for approximately what we're paying now. Then, when that's paid off in about 3 years, we can get the natural-gas-powered Civic we really want. If we get things squared away in the next week, we can probably make it to the Sierras before Tyson has to be back for jury duty and I have to watch our neighbor's dogs.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Summer Vacation, Day 1

It's the first day I don't have to get up and go to work.

So what did I do?

Woke up at 6 and made a gradebook template for my program with the right calendar information, attendance codes and categories, color-coding, score categories and weights, and semester grade calculations. Then I went to the gym, then got JUST ABOUT done with formatting the 28-page syllabus (We call it an Employee Handbook!). I just need to double-check some factual things, like how many extra grade points you get for an AP course, and it's good to send out to my team. I'm sure there'll be more edits to make before we go back in August, but edits are way faster and easier than starting from scratch so the hours I've spent on it, even at 6 a.m. on my first day of vacation, were in no way time wasted.

Now it's 10:30, and I'm actually getting a little worn out. I think that's enough school work until I go in to school on Monday to bully my facilities guy into writing a very large check for furniture.

Because I can't really afford a vacation this summer....

So I just pore wistfully over maps.

Like this one:

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

One more to go...

I have just under three hours of "kid time" left.  After that, I have "scantron machine time," "course expectation writing & formatting time," "pretending to carefully read and score essay time," and lots and lots of alone time with my filing cabinets.  I need to track down a half-dozen people who can order books, supplies, and furniture for my program, drop off a series of sketches for my facilities guy to look at, pretend I've been keeping impeccable and timely hard-copy attendance records, turn in stuff, and get a bunch of signatures on my checkout list.

But then, I have "dyeing my hair purple" time and "staff barbecue time," followed by a "we did it day," more ordering, etc etc.  

And hooray for me; I am pretty sure I get to teach Watchmen next year in Honors American Lit.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Moving sale... everything must go!

I did some re-arranging today. First, I removed all work-related names from my blog, and I moved a few posts to Echoes. I also made both blogs public again. the new address is .
So tell the masses.