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2014 August 17

Oregon Shakespeare Festival

I’m a little envious of my son—he’s gotten to go to Ashland twice this year to see plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  He’s seen nine different plays there this year, two of them twice.

For the first trip this year he went with Alternative Family Education, as part of their Dramatic Literature course in spring semester.  They teach the course each year around the plays that they’ll be seeing in Ashland—he’s taken the course three times and enjoyed it each time (except for some of the written assignments).  The first time he went, I was on sabbatical, so took the time to travel with the group as a “chaperone”—we’d had to fly to Ashland separately, rather than travel with them on the bus, because the trip left the day of the state science fair, though we both rode the bus home.  Since then he’s been able to travel both ways with the school group, but I’ve always had a heavy teaching load in the spring, and couldn’t justify skipping class for a pleasure trip to Ashland.

Last week, he traveled with a group from West Performing Arts.  This is the first time that WEST has done an Ashland trip, and it was planned at the last minute, so they were not able to get enough tickets or transportation for parents to accompany the group. It was a smaller group than the AFE—only ten teens and two adults. They were originally planning to see five plays, but while they were in Ashland they managed to get the last twelve standing-room tickets to Into the Woods, so they ended up seeing six plays—a pretty intense schedule with only three hotel nights!  They didn’t do as many workshops as the AFE group, but a lot of the workshops are aimed at general school groups, not at kids who had as much theater training as this group.  I don’t think that the teens minded not having a lot of workshops—most of them had just finished a two-week intensive Shakespeare conservatory, and all of them had done at least one of the Shakespeare conservatories (either this year or in a previous year).  It was an older group than the AFE trip also, as three of the teens were 18 or older and had graduated from high school.

I had some time this summer and could have gone myself, but arranging my own transportation and lodging at the last minute did not appeal to me, and my wife was not particularly interested in going there. She would travel to see world-class opera, particularly if the destination also had great art museums, but not for theater—the local productions are high enough quality for her and not much trouble to attend.  We had season tickets for Santa Cruz Shakespeare this year (as we did for Shakespeare Santa Cruz most previous years), and we’ve got season tickets for next year’s Jewel Theatre season.  We’ll also go to 8 tens at 8, an annual production of 8 new (or fairly new) ten-minute one-acts, and probably the best of the rest, a staged reading of another 8 from the pool considered for 8 tens at 8.  We also usually see the Shakespeare To Go performance, though not together—my wife sees it when they tour to her school, and I see the last performance they do, up on the UCSC campus. We’ll probably also go to the WEST Ensemble Players performances and the summer teen show by WEST. Though our son won’t be in them any more, we still know a number of the actors and they kids usually do a good job (tickets are cheap also).  If Santa Cruz Shakespeare puts on a holiday pantomime this year, we’ll probably go to that to, and possibly go to see the long-form improv group Freefall at one of their shows.

We’ll be going to one more WEST Performing Arts performance this year—a fund-raiser for their scholarship program this Friday.  This is not a rehearsed production—they’ve just requested a number of their more reliable actors to do monologues or sketches.  So my son will have one last chance to perform at West End Studio Theatre, though he hasn’t decided what he’ll do yet.

So with 14 or 15 theater events a year, and more available if we wanted them (UCSC stages several plays every quarter, but we rarely go to any of them), it isn’t as if I was starving for theater. My wife doesn’t get to anywhere near that number of operas (a few in San Jose and a few in San Francisco) and has to make do with broadcasts in the movie theater—and I wasn’t counting the broadcasts of National Theatre London that we see at the movie house, so I shouldn’t count opera broadcasts either. I’ve no cause for complaint.

Still, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has a bigger budget than anything in Santa Cruz and produces some pretty impressive shows—I would like to see them again. Maybe next year.

2014 August 14


Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:42
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If you’ve been wanting to teach your child to program, but found Scratch too complicated for your 5-year-old, there is a new option: ScratchJr.

On the  ScratchJr – About page, the developers say

What is ScratchJr?

ScratchJr is an introductory programming language that enables young children (ages 5-7) to create their own interactive stories and games. Children snap together graphical programming blocks to make characters move, jump, dance, and sing. Children can modify characters in the paint editor, add their own voices and sounds, even insert photos of themselves—then use the programming blocks to make their characters come to life.

ScratchJr was inspired by the popular Scratch programming language (, used by millions of young people (ages 8 and up) around the world. In creating ScratchJr, we redesigned the interface and programming language to make them developmentally appropriate for younger children, carefully designing features to match young children’s cognitive, personal, social, and emotional development.

ScratchJr is now available as a free iPad app. We expect to release an Android version later in 2014 and a web-based version in 2015.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a review of the program, as I don’t have an iPad to check it out on (nor do I have easy access to 5-year-olds, now that my son has grown up).  They did a great job on Scratch, though, so I would hope that ScratchJr has extended the concepts to a lower age group appropriately.

2014 August 13

Junk mail from UCSB organizations

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 15:04
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I was expecting my son to get junk mail from UCSB, but I’m surprised at how much is addressed to the “Parents/Guardians of …”.  Today we got two pieces:

  • From the UCSB Alumni Association, suggesting we  buy him a lifetime membership in the Alumni Association (they’ll throw in a beach cruiser bike and a class T-shirt).  Now I’m aware that alumni associations are pretty aggressive about trying to get alumni to sign up, but I had not previously heard of them recruiting students who hadn’t even started yet.  I guess they are worried about losing the 20% of students who don’t graduate from UCSB even after 6 years.  If those students sign up for life membership in the alumni association while they are still students, they can be marketed to forever, even if they never become alumni in the traditional sense.

    Giving a bicycle as a premium for joining the Alumni Association is not a bad idea, but it is a single-speed beach cruiser, probably of the cheapest possible variety, without racks or lights.  If it had been a 3-speed with brakes on both wheels and a rear rack for panniers, it might have been worth joining the Alumni Association for the bike.

  • From the Residence Halls Association, suggesting that we buy him a “Welcome to UCSB Care Package” consisting of a sports bag, an aluminum sport bottle, a frisbee, a mini football, pens, and “tons of great snacks”—all with the RHA logo on them (except, perhaps, the snacks).  None of those items are ones my son is likely to need more of.  They also sell a couple of care packages for finals, including one with a stainless steel tumbler, a roll-up picnic blanket, sunglasses, coffee/tea packets, snacks, and a “travel stick and flag notebook”.  Their birthday package includes a water bottle, a teddy bear, and balloons “as well as many delicious snacks”.  This is apparently not the first year they’ve done this, so they must have gotten a lot of suckers customers in past years.

    Now, I think that sending care packages from home with favorite snacks is a great idea, and we may even do it a few times, but the selection of stuff in the RHA care packages seems not at all suited to our son, and sticking the RHA logo on everything is practically a guarantee that the resulting objects have no “coolness” factor at college.  Probably they put a water bottle in every care package because students go out of their way to lose the RHA bottles.

Explanations for first bill from UCSB

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:31
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In First bill from UCSB, I mentioned an e-mail I had sent to UCSB with queries about my first bill. I got a reply today, so I’ll post their answers (with the typos intact):

  1. Which meal plan did he sign up for?  The $5,202.94 price seems to be between the costs quoted on for double room unlimited and double room 17 meals.  I assume that there is some variation from quarter to quarter on price, based on number of meal times, but the rates aren’t broken down by quarter and the bill doesn’t say which meal plan, so I’m not sure what we are paying for.

    To answer your question regarding the meal plan cost, I would recommend to look at his housing contract or he can contact the housing department at 805-893-5513 they will be able to answer this question in detail.

    My summary: “we have no idea what we’re charging you for—it’s not our department”.  I’d love to look at the housing contract, but I don’t believe they’ve sent it yet. Note that the bill comes before the statement of what the bill is for, and even direct inquiry doesn’t get the details.

  2. We requested a student health insurance waiver and appealed the rather arbitrary initial denial (which was an incomplete form e-mail that just complained about the Blue Shield phone number that we had provided).  When will we hear on the appeal of the waiver?  Do we need to pay now and get a credit when the appeal goes through?

    Once the health insurance appeal has been processed you or your student should receive an email of the decision within two weeks. If it has been more then you two weeks he my contact the student health insurance line directly at 805-893-2592.

    We’ll wait a couple of weeks, but that doesn’t tell me whether I need to pay and get reimbursed or simply not pay that portion.
  3. The link to  redirects to which just has a pointer to  Why not just point to the right document on the bill without double indirection?

    No response, but none expected.
  4. The fees at gives the campus total as  $4,620.05 but the bill is for $4,520.05  Where is the $100 discrepancy?

    He was require to send in $100.00 with his Intent to Registrar. The $100.00 payment is applied towards the first quarter tuition. That is why he is being charged $4520.05 instead of  $4620.05.

    OK, but standard business practice would be to record the deposit with the Statement of Intent to Register as a credit, rather than silently and mysteriously changing the fees.

  5. What is the unexplained “Contract Processing Fee – On” charge on the bill?  There is no mention of this on the document explaining the fees.

    The contract processing fee of $25.00 is for the housing contract.

    Hmm, there is no mention of the “contract processing fee” in the stated price of the dorm contracts. Secret, hidden fees should be illegal.  I expected the RHA student fees, but not an extra fee from the university for handling billing. Furthermore, the fee was on the bill for $50, not $25.  Does the billing office not even know the secret fees themselves?

  6. Is there an easy way to transfer money directly from the Scholarshare 529 plan to UCSB, or do I need to write a check and wait for Scholarshare to reimburse me?
    I will provide you a link with the 529 college saving plan instructions If you wish to pay the balance out of pocket and then submit your request from the 529 college plan in order to get reimbursed, you may do so.

    The link says that the 529 plan needs to mail a paper check and gives the address.  The check must also include the student’s name and “PERM number”.  The Scholarshare web site does have instructions for sending checks directly to universities, so I could do that or pay the amount out of my current bank account and have Scholarshare reimburse me.  If I ask Scholarshare to send the check, I have no idea how long it will take them—we were warned at orientation that it could take weeks.  So it seems safest to send the check myself and get Scholarshare to reimburse me, as long as I don’t risk overdrawing my checking account.  I’ll wait a couple of weeks to see whether UCSB can process the waiver of the student health insurance correctly.

  7. We were told that the summer orientation charges would appear on the BARC bill, but I don’t see them.  Is there a revised bill coming?

    The orientation department has not charged the orientation fee yet. I would suggest to give it a bit more time and the charge should appear on the next billing statement.

    That seems reasonable, but why is orientation so far behind on their billing?  They should have known when the bills were going to be sent to freshmen and had their billing to the right department at least a week ahead of time.  Note that there is no mention of when the “next billing statement” will be.

Overall, I remain unimpressed with the competence of the business side of the University of California.

2014 August 11

Testing JanSport warranty

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:42
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I’ve had a JanSport backpack for a number of years, and it is beginning to fail rather badly (hole in the leather bottom, main zipper fails frequently, shoulder straps fraying where they join the body of the pack), but rather than throw it out and buy a new back pack as I first intended, I decided to try out the JanSport warranty:

JanSport engineers quality, durable, and reliable products. So, if your pack ever breaks down, simply return it to our warranty center. We’ll fix it or if we can’t we’ll replace it or refund it. We stand by our packs for a lifetime and since we’ve been making packs since 1967, that’s a guarantee you can stand by.  []

I filled out the form, vacuumed out the pack (“State law requires that items be clean before being returned for repair or replacement.”), stuck it in a small box, and mailed it to them today.

In the process of sending it, I found that the USPS now provides a discount for packages if you buy the postage on-line rather than in person.  Shipping the pack to San Leandro, CA only cost me $5.32, which includes $50 insurance and free tracking (it should be there by tomorrow afternoon). The web site does cleverly push you towards their more expensive products (like flat-rate Priority Mail Express), but it is not hard to get the full range of options and find the cheap one.  For most packages the post office seems to have lower rates than the competitors. Though big companies can negotiate lower rates for exclusive contracts with UPS, FedEx, or DHL, people like me who ship one or two packages a year do much better sticking with the post office.

Since a comparable JanSport pack to the one I sent in costs about $55, I think that $5.32 to get the pack repaired or replaced is a good deal.  I suspect that they’ll replace it rather than repair it, since replacing the main zipper, patching or replacing the leather, and repairing the shoulder strap will probably come to far more labor cost than just replacing the whole pack, but I’d be happy to have a functional pack again whether it is new or a repair of the old one.  They don’t make the same color any more, but I let them know which of their current colors would be acceptable replacements, if the pack isn’t worth repairing.

I’ll see in a few weeks, whether the JanSport warranty really means anything.

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