Category Archives: Wayne

Wayne’s Woodworking Update: Satinwood Peppermill and Salt Shaker

After a few days of being busy with work, I’m back to slowly updating my blog with pics of my woodworking.  My latest update is a (very) belated Christmas gift for my dad, a peppermill and salt shaker made of satinwood.  Click here for more pics.

Satinwood Salt and Pepper 2 small

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Dr. Pitcher Tells You How to Vote

This time it’s personal.

That’s right, the upcoming election features more stuff that affects me personally than any previous election.  So I am going to tell you how I’m voting (and how I’d like you to vote) on these issues.  I could try to convince you with logical arguments, with appeals to compassion for others, even with numbers and charts and graphs.  I’m not going to do that.  Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you know me, and maybe you’re even my friend.  So I’m going to tell you how these issues affect me, and maybe that will convince you.

 

President: Barak Obama

Mitt Romney is an ass.  Let me say that again: MITT ROMNEY IS AN ASS.  Why?  Because he vetoed my COLA, that’s why!  When I was a professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Romney was governor of Massachusetts, the state legislature approved a COLA (Cost Of Living Adjustment) salary increase of a few percent for University of Massachusetts faculty.  Romney vetoed it.  I will never forget how he tried to deal with a bad budget situation by screwing over underpaid and overworked college faculty.  If he tried that in Massachusetts, what’s to stop him trying something similar as president?  I will never forget the Mitt Romney vetoed my COLA.  Neither should you.  Vote for Barak Obama.

 

California Proposition 30: Yes

This is simple: help keep California’s community colleges open.  Help keep higher education available for everyone.  Help me keep my job.  I know Prop. 30 raises taxes a bit, particularly on the wealthy, but public education in California needs your help.  Why yes on Prop. 30 and not on Prop. 38?  Simply because community colleges will not see any of the additional revenue raised by Prop. 38!  Again, help me keep my job.  Vote yes on Prop. 30.

 

California Proposition 32: No

I agree with the principle of campaign finance reform, but Prop. 32 unequally affects union members.  Prohibiting campaign contributions for both corporations and unions seems equal enough, but it’s the prohibition on using payroll deductions that’s the problem.  Prohibiting payroll deductions (used for political purposes—nice and vague, isn’t it?) unequally affects unions and their members.  Corporations aren’t going to use payroll deductions from employees to make campaign contributions—they’ll just use other funds (profits, etc.)!  And the language of the proposition is a riot too: it’s not payroll deduction, it’s “the inherently coercive means of payroll deduction.”  WTF?!  Payroll deduction is a convenience, not coercion.  Prop. 32 is another case of trying to trick California voters into voting for inherently biased legislation.  Let me keep paying my union dues via payroll deduction.  Vote no on Prop. 32.

 

California Proposition 38: No

Only one of either Prop. 30 or Prop. 38 can pass.  Prop. 30 helps community colleges, Prop. 38 doesn’t.  Prop. 38 also levies a more severe tax than Prop. 30.  Don’t raise taxes too much, but help me keep my job.  Vote no on Prop. 38 (and yes on Prop. 30).

 

Other California Propositions

Here’s how I’m voting on some of the other California propositions, even though they don’t have as immediate an effect on me.

Prop. 31: No.  Too confusing, with unknown potential effects.

Prop. 33: No.  More false claims about potentially lower insurance.

Prop. 34: Yes.  Abolish the death penalty in California, if only to save the state money.

Prop. 35: Yes.

Prop. 36: Yes.

Prop. 37: No.  Too many exemptions.  Reading the text of the proposition I discovered that foods for sale to restaurants would be exempt from the labeling requirements!

Prop.  39: I actually haven’t decided yet.  Probably no.

Prop. 40: Yes.  The presence of this proposition on the ballot was merely to delay implementation of the state senate districts approved by the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

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Little League Summary/Update

I know Jonah’s Little League season ended a couple of months ago, but I wanted to post a season update/summary, even if it is a bit late.  At least I have a good excuse–we bought a house (some details here at Santina’s blog)!  Here’s the Castro Valley Little League Minor B Yankees update:

  • Jonah rocks!  Seriously, he has a left-handed swing reminiscent of Will Clark’s.
  • We’re not supposed to keep track of standings, but the Yankees finished with an 11-7 record—they actually played more games than any other team (18 out of 19), due to rainouts and our coach (coach Sparky) being really enthusiastic about scheduling make-up games.
  • I was the team scorekeeper, and even ended up keeping score for the All-Star game.  Man, scorekeeping involves paying very close attention to the game.  It would have helped if there was more training—I was fortunate that I knew how to keep score, even if I’d never scored a game before.  Next year I’ll try to organize some better scorekeeper training.
  • Team hitting—good; pitching—good; running—OK; fielding—could use a little work.
  • Jonah was one of three players on his team to hit a home run.  Did I mention he rocks?
  • Jonah had two saves (no one else on the team had any).  He pretty much channeled his inner Brian Wilson (that’s the currently injured Giants’ closer, not the Beach Boys musician)—none of the saves was straightforward.  Still, Jonah rocks!
  • Jonah was responsible for two of the three caught stealing plays his team made—one as second baseman tagging out the runner, and the other as catcher throwing out the runner at third base!
  • Oh yeah, I ended up umpiring (behind the plate!) for three of Jonah’s games.  During one of those games Jonah’s teammate Daniel was pitching and was throwing hard but was a bit out of the strike zone.  At the minor B level the catchers don’t always catch the ball, so I ended up getting hit by quite a few pitches.  At one point the opposing manager yelled out, “Ump, take your base!”
  • Jonah finished the season as the team’s best hitter.  His best friend Arinjay finished as the team’s best pitcher.  Both were no-brainer selections for the All-Star game.
  • In the All-Star game the American League (Jonah’s team) beat the National League 13-3 (or was it 13-4?).  Jonah went 2 for 2 with a walk, two doubles, and 4 runs batted in.  He also pitched the final out of the game.
  • Jonah also won the home run derby, 7-8 year-old division!  By the way, Jonah rocks!
  • All in all it was a great season.  Jonah did really well, which is awesome, but more importantly he had a lot of fun playing baseball this season.  Coach Sparky had a lot of positive energy—at times practices were tiring for the parents helping out, but the kids loved it.  We’re going to do everything we can to get Jonah on Sparky’s minor A team next year!

    Jonah “the Natural” at bat.

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The Tenure Post, take 1

I promised in a Facebook post that I’d be posting about getting tenure “shortly.”  Well, here’s my attempt at a post about getting tenure.  I’m not sure I’m doing it justice, but here it is anyway.

On Wednesday I received a letter notifying me that I have been awarded tenure!  It’s official now!  Yay!

I am unquestionable happy (ebullient, even) with receiving tenure.  It is the culmination of many years of work–not just at Chabot, but also at UMass Boston, NIEHS, and grad school.  Still, it’s a weird feeling.  There was no defining moment in the tenure process, nothing at all like a thesis defense.  My level one tenure committee recommended tenure, then my level two committee signed off on it, and then the board gave it their OK (it was a consent item, along with all the other personnel actions, at the Feb. 16 meeting).  I suppose the level one recommendation was the hard part.  It’s not like the board was going to override it.  Still, I didn’t want to do any celebrating until I received the official letter.

And now I have that official tenure letter.  On the global scale, while achieving tenure at Chabot College may not be quite the same as getting tenure at Stanford, I couldn’t be happier with my situation.  It’s a function of being in the right place and knowing it.  I have found a place to work where I fit very well.  I feel valued and respected.  I still tell people about the time, early in my first semester at Chabot, that my colleague Laurie came by my office to ask me a question.  She asked me (I don’t remember what the question was) as if I had been there for five or ten years!  I definitely didn’t feel like a junior faculty member then.

I have been fortunate to have found such a good fit.  I love what I do (teach chemistry).  I like participating in the running of the college (as Curriculum Committee Chair).  Sure, there are things at work I’d rather not deal with, but it’s worth it in the long run.  Maybe I’ve looked for a job like this because this is what I saw my dad had–a job that he enjoyed, where he was highly valued, where he was an important member of the company.  I too wanted to be an important member of something.  And now I am.

I also feel like my work makes a difference.  I suppose it’s a bit self-centered of me to say, but I feel I play an important role in society by educating students.  In particular, working at a place such as Chabot allows me to reach students who may not otherwise have been interested in science.  I also feel I can add to the experience of those students who are interested in science as well.  Last year I had a student tell me, at the end of a year of organic chemistry, that I “made her believe in herself.”  How cool is that?

So I’m in a good place, work-wise.  And I have a wonderful wife and amazing kids.  So I will proceed to toot my own horn, now that I have tenure: Beep, beep!  😉

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The Big Cat Theory

There are many times when my son Dylan (now close to four months old) is cranky and will not be consoled by rocking, bouncing, or holding while I am sitting down with him (actually it happens with any adult, not just me).  He fusses and fusses unless I walk around the house with him.  If he does calm down while I’m standing and holding him, he starts to fuss soon after I sit down.  As you can imagine, this is rather tiring and frustrating.

The thing is, I remember Jonah showing similar behavior at a young age.  Jonah wasn’t as fussy as Dylan, but the trait of increased fussiness when I would sit down while holding him was there.

So I have this theory.  OK, it’s a bit far-fetched and rather silly, but it helps me not get as fed up with the little guy.  I call it the Big Cat Theory.

Some reflexes in infants are remnants from earlier in human evolution.  The grasp reflex may be left over from our primate ancestors–infants then needed to grab on tight to their mothers (or mothers’ fur).  I propose that the “fussing when the person holding him sits down” behavior Dylan shows is an evolutionary remnant as well.

Millions of years ago, our primate ancestors roamed the plains of Africa and were sometimes preyed upon by big cats (lions, leopards, etc.).  Stopping to rest for a few minutes had the potential to be deadly, as you never knew where a big cat could be waiting to pounce.  Obviously, infants who were docile and let their parents sit down with them fell prey (along with their parents) to the big cats.  Infants who fussed and kept their parents moving survived.  So Dylan’s fussing to keep me walking behavior is left over from avoiding being eaten by big cats millions of years ago.

That’s the Big Cat Theory.  I keep telling Dylan that there are no big cats in our house, but I don’t think he believes me.  Santina doesn’t think my theory holds water.  But even if it doesn’t, it still keeps my spirits up when Dylan is keeping me from sitting down.

🙂

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Woodworking update

Not too much to update, but I have finally posted pics of the box I made for my cousin Lydia for Christmas 2007 (the one I finished in August 2008).  They can be found in the woodworking pages here.

Upcoming woodworking projects: guitar stands for me and Jonah, a set of small shelves for the nursery, and a hope chest for Santina.

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Wood and How We Use It

I’ve updated my blog site with some pages about my woodworking projects.  I’ve been interested in woodworking for a long time—my dad had a workshop in one corner of the basement in our house in Big Flats (western-ish New York state, where I lived before moving to the idyllic hamlet of San Mateo, California).  I’ve always enjoyed watching shows like This Old House, New Yankee Workshop, and the Woodwright’s Shop.  I demonstrated myself to be handy carpentry-wise in the fraternity house.  And I finally got a sort-of shop of my own when we bought our house in North Andover, Massachusetts.

It was in North Andover that I built (along with a bunch of help from my wife and my dad) a set of built-in bookshelves for our living/family room.  It was the first time I used my router, and I really didn’t have much of an idea of what I was doing.  My plans were fine, I was just inexperienced in the use of the router.

That changed in March 2007 when I took a router basics class at Woodcraft in Dublin, CA (Santina got me the class as a birthday present).  In that class I saw the power and potential of the router unleashed.  My workshop sprang into existence in one half of our garage (in our current house in Castro Valley, CA).  I added a workbench, a stand for my router table, a plunge router with a 1/2″ collet (vs. the 1/4″ one in my old router), and a table saw.  And I began to do some woodworking.

I’ve only built a few pieces so far.  Obviously, I have a day job, a family, and a few other hobbies that keep me busy.  But I do enjoy woodworking.  I enjoy the act of creating something new from raw materials.  I enjoy the feel of the wood.  Power tools are cool too.

Probably the aspect of woodworking I enjoy most is seeing a project come togather.  I enjoy drawing up plans, but there is something special about seeing the plans turn into a real object.  Of course I make changes as I go along, but that is part of the fun.  And after all the work, being able to look at a well-made piece of woodwork is just plain satisfying.

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Chairman

This semester I am taking over as Chairman of the Chabot College Curriculum Committee.  Friday I signed my first documents (a bunch of distance education proposals) as curriculum chair.

It’s kind of a weird feeling.  I don’t have tenure yet—I’m in my third year at Chabot and my tenure decision is next year.  Yet I am now the chair of what could well be the most important governance committee on campus.  It was an honor to be nominated to chair the curriculum committee and I am looking forward to serving.  It will be a lot of work, as I am finding out, but work that I am willing to take on.

I am continually amazed and impressed by the amount of collegiality I have found at Chabot.  I feel like my input and comments are valued by my colleagues.  I feel respected.  I feel like I am on equal footing with my colleagues.  This is in marked contrast to my previous institution, UMass Boston.  Although I did feel respected and valued by most of my colleagues at UMass, the overall environment was not as supportive as what I have found at Chabot.  Maybe it is the fact that UMass Boston is trying to be a research university and Chabot is “just” a community college.  Maybe it’s the fact that we don’t have academic ranks here at Chabot.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’m back in Califronia.

Whenever I met with the former provost at UMass I felt small, like I offered little of value to the institution as an assistant professor just starting out.  At Chabot, the Vice President of Academic Services (our equivalent of provost) treats me as a respected and valued member of the Chabot community.  The former chair of the Chemistry Department at UMass never made me feel welcome.  Here, there is no chair of the chemistry department—hell, as lecture coordinator I’m the closest thing to a chair of chemistry there is here!

And so I am now Chair of the Curriculum Committee.  And Chabot feels like home.  Wow.

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Strange Loops and Self-Writing Poems

I recently finished reading Douglas Hofstadter‘s I Am a Strange Loop and I highly recommend it. In it, Hofstadter details a theory of the soul, if you will. Both Hofstadter and I use the word soul advisedly. It is not the traditional religious/spiritual definition, but rather a concept what could also be called interiority, salf-awareness, consciousness, or I-ness. Hofstadter maintains that the sould arises from the underlying microscopic physical phenomena of the brain–once a certain threshold is crossed, the sould emerges. This threshold is what he calls a strange loop–a self-aware, self-referential, self-modifying feedback loop of cognition.

I realize I probably haven’t done a very good job of conveying what this book is about. Suffice it to say, I highly recommend it. The subject material is fascinating for anyone interested in cognition or metaphysics. The writing is also excellent and entertaining.

I want to quote part of I Am a Strange Loop as a way of getting to what I mean:

Poised midway between the unvisualizable cosmic vastness of curved spacetime and the dubious, shadowy flickerings of charged quanta, we human beings, more like rainbows and mirages than like raindrops or boulders, are unpredictable self-writing poems–wague, metaphorical, ambiguous, and sometimes exceedingly beautiful. (p. 363, I Am a Strange Loop, Douglas Hofstadter, Basic Books, New York 2007)

Here I’ve emphasized the phrase self-writing poems. I felt a particular resonance with that phrase, perhaps for obvious reasons.

Hofstadter makes one conclusion I find particularly interesting. He postulates musical taste as a sort of yardstick for measuring consciousness. He admits the idea is controversial, and I am not going to agree or disagree with using musical taste to measure one’s soul. What I want to consider is the idea of using similarities in musical tastes to convey similarities of souls/consciousnesses. What does it mean then that I have yet to meet someone with exactly the same musical tastes as I have? (Unless one of you likes jazz, grunge, and Bob Dylan and hasn’t told me 🙂 )

That’s it for now. I do apologize for not blogging for a while. Classes started recently and the blog I wanted to write (this one) was a bit deep, so there it is. Time for this poem to go self-write. 😉

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Call me Dr. P

I’m Dr. Wayne Pitcher, Chemist and Poet. Welcome to my blog. After talking about it, thinking about it, and having numerous friends suggest I do it, I am now blogging. I intend to use this space for random musings…well, maybe not so random. I have a lot of interests, from poetry to baseball to science to music to philosophy. And some areas in between. And some beyond. Of course, you may also find news and updates about my family here. Mostly I want to write and hopefully have someone read it.

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