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The Weekly Blab

The Weekly Blab

Volume 6, Issue 18—January 23, 2012


Computer Update

This issue of the BLAB is being written on the new mac mini I wrote about last issue.  All known bugs have now been worked out, Microsoft Office has been updated, and Alan Gabrielli even figured out how to get iCal (the new calendaring tool for the mac) working with Zimbra.  I’m unaccustomed to such speed and memory, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it!


The Beat Goes On…

I’m happy to report that SPSU continues in its winning ways with more reports of student success.  SPSU students have been selected for both Engineering Student of the Year (Garrett Bailey, Mechatronics Engineering) and Engineering Technology Student of the Year (Christopher Cutter, MET) by the Georgia Engineering Alliance.  This is the second year in a row that SPSU students have been chosen for both awards.  Congratulations to the winners, and to the faculty who have helped them achieve these honors.  The Alliance dinner is on February 25.


Family History Update

I got a lot of nice responses from people who enjoyed reading about my grandfather and the song he popularized in Romania (“Sanie su Zurgalai”, Sled with Bells, click on the link to hear it), that went on to become a hit song in both English (by Les Paul and Mary Ford) and French (by Edith Piaf).  Nicolae Pascu (MATH) confirmed that everyone knows this song in Romania, and that it is quite popular.  Beth Stutzmann (ETCMA) wondered if we had any of the songs my grandfather had written, or the musical notation for them.  Great idea (and I can’t believe I didn’t think to do this myself!)  I’ll be checking with my family in Israel to find out.


Future Cities Report

The Future Cities competition was held this past Saturday, and quite an event it was.  I arrived a little before 7:30 AM and parked in the lot behind the new cafeteria.  I went up the parking deck elevator to get to the ETC (where the competition began), and had a hard time getting out on the 4th floor, because the place was packed with middle school students and their parents and teachers carrying models of their cities.  Snaking my way through the crowd, it was the same mob scene on the first floor of the ETC, as well as up the stairs to get at long lines to register on the second floor. 

Last year’s Future Cities competition was a pretty big event—76 different student teams participated.  This year, the number was double that—145 teams were in attendance, each consisting of an average of three students, and coming from as close as Marietta and as far as Quitman (almost in Florida).  Ably led by Dawn Ramsey (Academic Support Center) and Tony Rizzuto (Architecture), I’m told that the number of judges was 181, plus there were 31 timekeepers, 2 photographers, and 46 other “official” volunteers.  In addition, professors Bronne Dytok, Bob Tango, Tony Rizzuto, Kathryn Bedette, and Mine Hashas (all Architecture) all contributed their studio students to set up the panel rooms in Design II, Building I-1, and the ETC, as well as to break them down again at the end of the competition.  Additional student TA’s came from the Academic Support Center.  Add in the parents, teachers, mentors, and guests, and you easily come to more than 1000 people participating, and can see what a massive job it was to make happen. 

I was a judge for session #28 in the morning, and it was a pleasure to see how imaginative the students were in designing their cities and coming up with novel ways to power them sustainably.  In addition to the design and model, at least one team came up with a theme song for their city (which one of the team sang), and several teams had costumes corresponding in some way to their city.

In the afternoon came the big conclave in the Recreation Center basketball court, where every seat was packed and lots of people were standing or sitting on the floor.  I got to be the “master of ceremonies”, and introduced the many teams and the celebrity judges, giving out some door prizes in between (A year’s worth of Chick-fil-A!  A gift card from Target!  Two scholarships to the summer engineering aviation camp!).  The five finalists then presented their cities to the judges, and the various awards were given out, with the top prize going to a city called Nevaeh (that’s Heaven spelled backwards), from Queen of Angels Catholic School in Roswell, GA.

It was a great time, and my thanks to everyone who made it possible.


Another Interesting Video, and Another Tale From My Past

You never know what you’ll run into on Facebook.  I was going through some updates from old friends, and one had linked a video (click here to see it) that he thought was pretty interesting, called “Get Service”.  When I watched it, I had to agree.  It’s about how you never really know who you’re dealing with, and that you can always make a difference.  The video was produced by the Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and it’s well worth the four minutes it takes to have a look.

The video reminded me of something that happened while Jill and I were on our honeymoon in Israel in 1976.  We were riding a bus to go to the beach, and as usual, the bus was late.  A little after we got on, an elderly woman got on the bus and sat in the row in front of us, which was directly behind the driver.  She began to complain to the driver that the buses were always late, and the driver (in Israel, the bus company is a cooperative, so the drivers own the buses and they don’t put up with much) basically told her to shut up or he’d throw her of the bus.  A few stops later, a second elderly woman got on and sat next to the first one.  The first one said to the second, “Don’t complain to the driver—he’ll bite your head off.”  I was listening and laughing during this, and translating the Hebrew to Jill. 

The two women started making small talk with each other, and telling each other where they were originally from.  The first woman said she was from some small town in Poland that I’d never heard of, and the bus driver said: “Where did you say you were from?”  She repeated the name of the town, and the bus driver said: “Hey, I’m from there too.  What’s your name?”  She told him, he said a few words, and then stopped the bus, got up, and gave her the biggest hug and kiss you’ve ever seen.  Jill turned to me and said: “What did they just say?  You’ve just turned as white as a ghost.”  I explained to her that he had just discovered that the first woman was his mother—he thought that she had been murdered during the Holocaust, and she thought that he had.  The two of them then got off the bus and walked off, presumably to celebrate, leaving us to wait for the next bus. 

The moral of the story is obvious—you never know who you’re dealing with, and you never know what you’ll miss if you don’t take the time to find out.  I’ve told this story to many friends, including a priest at my first college who even wrote a homily based on it.  I still get a chill whenever I think about it.


Tough Times All Over

A couple of articles appeared in the Chronicle this past week talking about how the various states have made budget cuts to higher education.  The news ain’t good.  The first article noted that on average, state support has fallen by 7.6% nationwide in comparing 2010-11 with 2011-12, with some states (including Georgia) dropping more than that.  Leading the nation was New Hampshire, my old stomping grounds, with a whopping 41.3% cut, but that’s a little deceptive since New Hampshire never gave very much money to its state schools.  That’s why NH has among the highest state college tuitions in the U.S. 

The other article talks about other steps that states are taking to cut costs, including merging colleges.  You’ll need a Chronicle subscription to read it, but the gist is that “money for higher education will be constrained for the forseeable future.”  In addition, as has been discussed in previous issues of the BLAB, many states are trying to tie higher-education appropriations to student graduation rates.  This is a popular idea in state legislatures, but hasn’t always worked well in the past.  In South Carolina, for example, “a performance-based formula was abandoned because it was too complex to execute.”  In Missouri, the performance-based plan was dropped “because the state could no longer afford the increased spending on higher education”. Indiana is one state moving forward with such a plan.  There, 5% of the higher-education appropriation is tied to measures including “credit-hour completion, the number of low-income students who graduate from an institution, and the number who earn degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, the so-called STEM fields.”

Part of the push is for colleges to be more cost-efficient in order to save money, but some of the push stems from a desire to keep tuition affordable for students. 

There is some good news—state economies are recovering, and tax revenues are up.  Here in Georgia, Governor Deal has proposed a $76 million (7%) increase in higher education expenditures, as well as a privately financed need-based scholarship program for low-income students.


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest focused on James Bond.  Our winner was Dean of Students Barry Birckhead, with a respectable four right.  Here are the correct answers:

  1. What is James Bond’s assigned number, and what does he have a license to do?  007, License to Kill
  2. Which James Bond actor was knighted in 2003?  Roger Moore.  Sean Connery was knighted in 2000.
  3. What do Bernard Lee, Edward Fox, and Judi Dench have in common, Bond-wise?  All played spymaster “M”.
  4. Name an actress that has appeared as a “Bond Girl” that has also won an Oscar.  Two have done this—Halle Berry and Kim Basinger.
  5. In “The Man with The Golden Gun”, what was the name of Scaramanga’s tiny assistant?  Nick Nack.


This Weeks Trivia Contest

This week’s challenge focuses on inventors and inventions.  As always, the first with the most gets the prize.

  1. What 1947 invention allowed for pocket-sized radios?
  2. He averaged one patent for every three weeks of his life.
  3. What type of structure did R. Buckminster Fuller patent in 1954?
  4. Alexander Cummings got the first patent for this indispensable invention we each use every day.
  5. What was the name of the British 2nd lieutenant who got the idea in 1784 of filling a hollow cannonball with musket balls (shot) and a charge of gunpowder?