Friday, October 31, 2003


I ran an old blog post (the one about Millikan) through gender genie (which I discovered thanks to Misbehaving). The result was overwhelmingly male and when I told the program that the text was written by a female I got the comment: "That is one butch chick." So women aren't supposed to be analytical? I tried an email to a friend about personal issues and even that got a higher male score than female, though it was much closer.


My daughter wanted to be a penguin for Halloween. We worked hard on the costume but I am afraid everyone is going to say: "Who are you? Darth Vader?"

Thursday, October 30, 2003


Wednesday, October 29, 2003


I was diagnosed yesterday with pre-diabetes. It shouldn't be a suprise; I've worried about my blood sugar for years (because I was borderline for gestational diabetes and because I was diagnosed with diabetes 5 years ago only to have my doctor say no, don't worry, on the basis of a different test). I'm below the diabetes line partly because I have done a good job of improving my diet (using the glycemic index). Yet the diagnosis still has thrown me for a loop. One of the things that bothers me most is that I feel everyone will see it as my fault for being overweight. With some outside help, my doctor has gotten the message not to tell me I have to lose weight (that triggers too many negative childhood messages). But it was clear that he didn't quite know what to say when he couldn't make that his central point.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003


My professional society's Women's Caucus has discovered that this upcoming annual meeting will be our 30th anniversary. I was in college 30 years ago, not going to the professional society yet but caught up in the early excitement about women's history and new opportunities. We are much securer as women professionals than we were then, but the world has changed a lot less than we expected. We thought we could change how people thought.

Monday, October 27, 2003

technological frustrations

The latest news from computer support is:
Just when I thought all the problems were fixed. Apparently Daylight savings time has messed up the internal clocks on the ISM. Since Daylight savings time occurs at 2PM, and all the machines on campus are set to rebuild at 2PM, their behavior has been unpredictable. They are all rebuilding at strange times.
I assume he means 2 AM, but still it seems ridiculous. In one classroom I taught in Internet Exporer froze up every time I tried to start it, but Mozilla worked. We are having many more computer problems this fall than we did last spring.

Friday, October 24, 2003

papers to grade

In my large class for freshman engineers I give a choice of assigned topics for a short argument paper (the topics change every year). It is always intereresting to see what topics the students choose. This year order of preference was:
life extension
the future of the space shuttle
impact of genetic engineering on farmers
viruses and worms on the internet
electronic publishing of textbooks (only one paper on this topic)
Their preferences suggest a romantic view of technology, where I expected them to be interested in topics that affect them most directly.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

girl 101

My 10 year old daughter said the other day that she wanted to go to a real clothes store, like Gap or Old Navy. I buy not only most of my kids clothes but even most of my own clothes at WalMart and Target. Her request brought up my guilt that having missed Girl 101 myself (and not being interested in learning because of my feminist principles) I don't know how to teach her things that most girls learn about female culture. She already feels that it is going to be difficult to decide whether to shave--I told her that most women do, though I don't, and she will probably want to. At this point she seems to see it as hard to be disloyal to my example.

Sunday we stopped at an outlet center and went to the Gap and Old Navy outlets, as well as a few others. And yesterday I actually took her to the nearest real mall. I probably haven't been in a mall in 5 years. It wasn't crowded so it wasn't too bad but it wasn't inspiring. She bought one shirt but the thing she wanted most was a Beanie Baby.

Monday, October 20, 2003


My friend vowed:
I desire to dedicate my whole life to God and the Body of Christ in the Order of St Helena. And I wish, of my own free will, to share in this community's life of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience.

I believe that God has called me to make this dedication of my life.

I solemnly vow, with God's help, to live the life of Poverty, regarding nothing as my own, but always striving to live simply, to share generously, and to use the good things which I have been given to the glory of God.

I solemnly vow, with God's help, to live the life of Chastity, to root in God my power to love, using my freedom to love and to serve God, and to live in the single celibate state for the service of others.

I solemnly vow, with God's help, to live the life of Obedience, remaining open to the will of God as it is heard not only in my own prayer, but also in the insights of others and in the common mind of the community, and committing myself always to serve not my own will, but the will of God.

Sunday, October 19, 2003


Yesterday I went to the Convent of St. Helena in Augusta, Georgia, for the service where a friend took her first vows as a member of the order. It was very moving to see her vow poverty, chastity, and obedience and to be welcomed into the order. I think what made me cry most was the sense that she has been accepted into a safe home. Since I don't have any pictures of the service here are some rocks I balanced in the convent's meditation garden:

Thursday, October 16, 2003


No, I can't build from the bottom up. I've already made myself a place in the world, and it is a good place. Somehow I have to put a foundation under that. I do have an image for that--about 10 years ago the old family house on Cape Cod was jacked up so a new foundation could be built under it.



I did this at the South Carolina Botanical Garden, which has an extensive sculpture program. I keep wondering if I am going to get into trouble for doing unauthorized art.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003


Two students coming into my classroom for the class after mine were talking about a course that one of the students was considering taking on line. The first student said he thought he would learn a lot more if he went to class. The other student said "You don't need to learn that much."

There is the fundamental conflict of goals. I want my students to want to learn, and some of them want to learn as little as possible.

Monday, October 13, 2003

rock balancing

I made myself a rock balancing web page.


There are days when I just can't accept not being able to please all the people all the time. I teach a lot of freshman engineers, and the history course they take from me is low on their priority list. I would like to think they come away thinking more carefully about the impact of technology on society; some do. I would like to think they learn because they care and are interested, and that is probably unfair to expect. But the issues I want them to think about matter so much to me.

Friday, October 10, 2003




Someone said to me yesterday that it wasn't that he saw some of the intense ways I follow my inner journey as bad or wrong, but he did feel the need for caution. He said cars are good but you have to be careful with them. I laughed and laughed and said I argue with my freshman engineers all the time about whether cars are good.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003


My son finished sixth grade last spring, which is as far as our local Montessori school goes, and the question was what next? He's ahead in some things and behind in others and has had a lot of problems with teasing, so we didn't want to put him in public school particularly in this era of budget cuts. The only other private schools in the area use the Bob Jones University Curriculum, and I'm not willing to send my kids to a school that doesn't teach evolution. So last spring we talked to a Montessori School 20 miles away, that has 7th and 8th grades. The middle school teacher initially said they couldn't meet P.'s needs, but we persuaded him to agree to take P. this fall for a 6 week trial period. Thankfully that teacher left, and the idea that P. was accepted only for a trial period seemed to disappear. Yesterday we had a teacher conference on the results of the first 6 week block. As part of the transition to public school this Montessori has tests and grades in middle school. P.'s lowest grade was an 83, and most of his grades were in the 90s, and that is essentially without accomodations (except a laptop we provide). The teacher said P. participates a lot and is fitting in very well. I've known it was going well, but it is awfully nice to get the official confirmation.

Sunday, October 05, 2003



Friday, October 03, 2003


For what it is worth, this is the first anniversary of this blog. It is doing what I wanted to do, serving as a place where I can put the different parts of my life together. What I've never been clear on is audience. It seems to work as a place where some friends can see what is up with me and write me an email when something particularly strikes them. I think I need to just not worry whether anyone else reads it. I don't want to make it less diverse and I don't have time to write at more length, so I am what I am.

Thursday, October 02, 2003



It took a lot of tries to get this one to balance. But the two I balanced last week were still up despite wind and rain. There is a picture of all four here.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Evidence in History

Timothy Burke writes about the danger of distorting evidence in historical writing. It reminds me of a story that I heard Gerald Holton tell in a paper at a history of science conference many years ago. He had been reading Millikan's lab notebooks from the famous Millikan Oil Drop Experiment. Holton's conclusions are published in: Holton, Gerald. 1978. "Subelectrons, presuppositions and the Millikan-Ehrenhaft Dispute." Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 9:166-224. Reprinted pp.25-83 in The Scientific Imagination (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1978).

In his experiment Millikan measured the electrical charge of oil droplets by how they moved in a magnetic field and calculated that the charges only came in certain amounts. You could have an oil drop with a charge of 2 or 4, but not one with a charge of 2.5. This showed that electricity came in fixed amounts in particles that came to be called electrons rather than being something that could come in any amount (like heat).

On each page of the notebook Millikan goes through a lengthy calculation to find the charge of a single oil drop. If you have done the modern version of the experiment be aware that Millikan's version was much more complicated because he had to calculate a correction for the evaporation of the oil. Holton showed us a slide of one notebook page in which Millikan's calculation found a charge almost exactly half way between the fixed amounts. At the bottom of the page Millikan wrote: "This couldn't be an oil drop." And it may not have been--it may have been a dust mote. (A defense of Millikan.)

Some scholars argue that Millikan was not as ethical as he should have been--in fact the 58 observations Millikan reports in his scientific paper are culled from at least 107. I draw a different conclusion. We make sense of the world by a process of simplification--we could never know anything unless we select for the evidence relevant to the particular simplification we want to make. As a historian, I select the evidence that is relevant to the point I want to make rather than putting a lot of irrelevant evidence in my paper. Someone else may come along and feel I have distorted the story. I can avoid some of that problem by being honest about my point of view. It is certainly possible to take selection too far so that it becomes distortion, and that is to be avoided and criticized. But selection is necessary and there is no nice neat line that defines when you have gone too far.