January 28th, 2014


Once Again We Wait


WMU takes down their Closed On 1/27 message. GVSU also acts like nothing going on.


Already 500 schools closed for Tuesday. Including pretty much all the public schools between here and there. Forecast is for severe wind chills through 7am Wednesday. Roads are slippery and the police are saying stay off the roads tonight, except for emergencies.

This isn't a matter of getting free time. I've got Physics to teach and we've missed three days so far (Kindle autocorrect = "three fatalistic so far hurts" -- WHAT was it thinking?). We've got Exam 1 on Friday, whose forecast is still good, I might add. But it's a matter of safety and a matter of letting the crews do their work and not adding to the problems.


The University of Michigan IS closed on Tuesday. Ann Arbor last closed thirty-six years ago. There was even a stink this month because U of M didn't close on the 6th and 7th. The official explanation is that classes hadn't started yet, so they didn't need to close. Except employees were told to show up or take vacation. There was some question about whether if you tried to take an unpaid day or work from home without prior approval, you could lose your job. Also... the University of Michigan had never actually come up with a list of essential personnel, so they could just let everyone else stay home. No. List. Of. Essential. Employees.

Naturally last week there was a news story where the university pointed out they "never" close. Yeah, that argument fails at Western, too. (grin)

No word yet as to which of these issues have been addressed or what anyone's status or pay on Tuesday will be.

Totally Unnecessary

Lest you think U of M is unique, the University of Illinois also did not close on Monday. But some students responded to an email from the Chancellor stating that school would be open Monday by becoming vicious sexist and racist e-thugs. Unbelievable.

Look, I get it. U of M and U of I are different from a GVSU or a WMU. As the state's flagship school, Ann Arbor and Champaign-Urbana are heavily dominated by their universities. Students and most faculty tend to live closer to campus than in a more regional campus. So the onus is on them to stay open for all those who can brave inclement weather and maintain classes.

And sure, it sucks to walk or drive across campus in weather like this. It's serious. It's bad.

But that's no excuse for making vile threats and statements against an administrator because of race and gender. For my money, I hope they track down some of these people.

Plan B

As for me, I do have an alternative plan for Tuesday. While faculty are no longer allowed to cancel classes -- the university is now worried about getting sued for breach of contract and false advertising more than the safety of their faculty and students, it seems, if I cannot get in or should not get in -- I have the capability of Skype-ing in the lecture if someone with a laptop and Skype can hook up to the projection system. Not ideal, but it covers the bases.

And maybe the phone will ring at 4:25 in the morning again.

Dr. Phil

One Down, One Not Down

6:00 am

The 6am phone call was a blank message. A quick check on Mrs. Dr. Phil's Kindle Fire HDX showed that GVSU was closed. Given road conditions and outside conditions -- plus my mobility issues in case something untoward happened -- there were a lot of slide offs yesterday and last night-- I chose not to go in.

But Western steadfastly decided to stay open.

WMU is open Jan. 28, classes are in session, cold weather precautions urged

While University officials are continuously monitoring weather conditions in West Michigan, the campus is open for normal operations and classes are in session. The University Home page wmich.edu and the WMU phone hotline at (269) 387-1001 are the first two places any change in status will be noted.

For information on the status of regional locations, visit the Extended University Programs Web page.

Because the forecast calls for extreme cold, students and faculty and staff members are encouraged to take necessary precautions when they are outside for any amount of time.

  • Limit time outside and be sure to wear multiple layers of clothing.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a scarf or mask.
  • Minimize bare skin exposure to prevent frostbite.
  • Stay hydrated; more fluids are needed in cold weather.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine, as they are dehydrating.
  • Watch out for others, and call for help if necessary.

Safety should be the first concern of all students and employees. If dangerous conditions are encountered, students should alert their professors to the reason for any absence, and employees should call their supervisors to make arrangements to request and use annual leave.

So we're on to Plan B -- Skyping in the lecture. Alas, given that we've already lost some days, I never got around to field testing this, so it should be interesting.

Wish us luck. (grin)

Dr. Phil

Phoning It In

Skype, actually.

The trees outside are caked with great gobs of snow. The wind is enough that I keep seeing armfuls of snow crashing through the branches. Good decision to let the weather and the road crews have another day. Meanwhile, it's hilarious to see The Weather Channel worrying about the snow in Atlanta -- I can still see your footprints and the sidewalk -- and Savannah -- completely bare and green so far.

But with Western holding classes, I needed to do something with my 10am class. I'd given this some thought during my enforced time at home, while not knowing what kind of winter we'd get. ANSWER: over 70" here -- three times what we had this time last year -- and over 222" of snow up in the Keweenaw, where even Michigan Tech closed from what I've heard.

So... the plan was to field test this operation early on, except there hasn't been the time. Which means the field test had to be for reals operational.

Asus Eee PC (KATNISS) running Windows 7 set up with Skype. TWO Skype accounts, so that the remote laptop won't use someone else's Skype account and this one only had the link to my Skype account. I have a studio grade microphone, but didn't set it up. If there's a next time, I will have to see if Audacity can record the audio simultaneously while Skype-ing.

I called our lab supervisor who got a better laptop than his from our computer tech guy. They installed Skype -- and then couldn't connect. I had my Bluetooth Borg ear implant running on my cellphone, so we could talk and troubleshoot. Turned out that Skype was still logged into the 2nd account, not my first account. Easy fix. Then move into the lecture hall and hook up to the video projector.

NOTE TO SKYPE: It would be nice if you displayed the account name and not just the person's name.

Sound turned out good, even with the piddly laptop lid microphones. Lighting was an issue. A murky, but bright sun was coming up and we closed the nearest blind, but I forgot to turn on the halogen torch lamp. So I was lit from the side and backlit from the wall behind me. Next time.

The silly little webcam on the Asus did a really good job with reading equations I wrote on a small pad and held up close to the lens. Had to change the way I held them so as to not block the inset mirror view of my outgoing picture. I think I can change which corner the inset resides, too.

Whatever the remote laptop was, I could see pretty much the whole lecture hall or the board, but not both -- I chose the students. I suppose if there were two remote laptops I could use my Kindle as a muted monitor as the other remote looked at the blackboard. But that's getting complicated.

Overall it was an intense and productive hour. I estimated at least 60 of the 96 students were there.

We're living in the future. Now excuse me, I am going to record audio files of today's lecture for those who couldn't come...

Dr. Phil

Last Year, This Year, Next Year

In the constant turmoil of time, calendars and planning, ConFusion has announced the start of the 2015 con.
ConFusion 2015, the 41st ConFusion by name and 42nd annual January gathering (starting with the AA Realx-I-Con in 1974), is a go! 2015 looks to be an exciting year--it will be the year that Marty McFly really traveled to in Back to the Future II, whatever that Facebook meme says, so look out for those hoverboards, they must be right around the corner. (No, seriously, look out!) We're anticipating another excellent con, with the first-time appearance of author Karen Lord, researcher Dr. Cynthia Chestek, and gaming gurus Monte Cook & Shanna Germain. We'll also welcome back Heather Dale, now performing as our Music Guest of Honor. And then there's Aaron Thul, longtime fan and conrunner, returning after two years away as our Fan Guest of Honor. Please do join us, and we hope to see you there in January!
And I do so hope to be there next January.

Dr. Phil