Archive for March, 2012

Now that I have a moment…

March 11, 2012

I have a moment!  I have a moment!  I have a so-called Spring Break!  With a tottering pile of papers and other work, including saving the world and discovering an inhabitable planet just in case, my euphoria doesn’t really seem justified.  But even a moment or three where I don’t have some pressing deadline (I have deadlines but there are none in the next five minutes) calls for a celebration. 

I am too tired to do much more than report on a movie I saw recently.  It was a documentary called A City Dark, about how street lighting and electric lights in general have changed humanity’s relationship with the night sky.  I got to see the sky in places like Arizona and New Mexico, (I’ve actually really seen the sky in NM years ago and never forgotten it).  There are so many stars!  And you can see the hazy veil of Akaash Ganga, the Milky Way.  There is something special about living under a sky like that.  I think it would make me feel connected to something larger, help me put my life in perspective.  Some of my fondest memories from childhood are of sleeping in cots on the rooftop terrace of my grandparent’s house.  The movie maker seems to be saying something similar — that the loss of that ages-old relationship with the night sky traps us in cocoons of light, where we only see ourselves and each other and all the “works of man.”  Which I imagine feeds our pathological solipsism as a species.

Other species are even less fortunate.  City lights distract turtle hatchlings in Florida.  The movie shows intrepid biologist heroes rescuing as many baby turtles as they can.  Similar heroes prowl the bright canyons of big cities, looking for disoriented migrating birds killed or injured by collisions with skyscrapers. There is even a potential connection between breast cancer and the absence of darkness.

The movie acknowledges that lighting makes us safe, decreases crime.  But it says that while we fear the dark, we (like other species) also need the dark.  The solution is actually relatively simple, and in this day where energy is getting ever costlier in more ways than one, it makes sense. Reduce all but essential lighting at night, and put a hat over all the lights so that we don’t have light pollution going up into the sky.  I wonder whether motion-sensing lights wouldn’t also be part of the solution.

I left the movie theater changed.  I kept thinking of the poem in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness.  Go see the movie.  It’s worth it. 

Argghhhh… Frustrations and Depressions

March 2, 2012

I don’t generally whine about the teaching aspect of my life but…

So here I’m teaching a course that I haven’t taught in three years, and it is a basic, required course, non-science majors.  I put a lot into it because I have to convince a bunch of students who hate science that science, even physics, hell, especially physics, can be a) utterly interesting and b) comprehensible and c) something to do (maybe) with the world around them.  And I have, in a period of two days, a student I had to throw out for texting (after repeated warnings to the class as a whole — some people really don’t understand that professors actually mean what they say) and a student who stated quite unequivocally how much she hated science.  Now I’ve come across science-haters before — you throw a frisbee in any direction in America and you are sure to hit someone who hates science — and I even sympathize with them to some extent because I’ve worked very hard to understand where these folks are coming from culturally and otherwise.  Popular urban culture in the US is incredibly anti-intellectual in my experience.  This is why I try all kinds of things to interest my students and generally a majority of them will respond positively.  But what does one do with those who resist all attempts?  I don’t give up on any student so I will continue to try, but in the meantime it is very discouraging.  Teaching is a two-way thing, where the enthusiasm of the teacher feeds the student and the answering enthusiasm feeds the teacher.  Unlike the other class I teach for science majors, this one is a lot harder despite the “easy” course material simply because that positive feedback loop is difficult to set up, let alone maintain.

All this will eventually get me to a state of thinking creatively (I’m incredibly stubborn about this) but in the meantime, frustration is the name of the game.