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2014 January 26

Mostly in the Timing

Last night, I watched my son perform in the high-school play for his home-school umbrella school (Alternative Family Education).  The parents’ club hires West Performing Arts to organize the school plays (they had three—elementary, middle, and high school) and provide the performance space (West End Studio Theatre).

The high school production this year consisted of 8 one-act plays, seven of which were from David Ives’ collection All in the Timing,hence the name “Mostly in the Timing”. The one exception was a sketch from the Carol Burnett Show (episode 10.6 in 1976, of two people in an elevator with one-word lines).

I had not seen any of the plays before—I’d not even run lines with my son for this production, so it was all new to me. I enjoyed all the plays, though “Degas, C’est Moi” needed some more rehearsal, particularly for the stage crew. I can see why these pieces by Ives are so popular for high schools and colleges—they are funny, well-written, and fairly easy to stage, relying on the lines and the acting, rather than on sets, costumes, or props for the entertainment.

"Variations on the Death of Trotsky"  Leon Trotsky with axe smashed into his skull.

“Variations on the Death of Trotsky” Leon Trotsky with axe smashed into his skull.

My son was in five of the eight one-acts, with one of them being a last-minute casting after another student dropped out of the production.  He had the role of Frank Mikula, a construction worker in “Mere Mortals”; Horace, the male mayfly in “Time Flies”; Leon Trotsky in “Variations on the Death of Trotsky”; Collin in “Elevator”, and Pedestrian and Unemployment Worker in “Degas, C’est Moi”.  This required some quick changes of costumes and some radically different body language for the different parts.

They had 11 actors and 3 directors (for a total of 13 students, as one director also acted) for a total of 38 roles. My son ended up with the most roles and the most lines, probably as a result of stepping in at the last minute for the role of Frank Mikula.

My wife made the ax-in-the-head costume piece for Leon Trotsky.  They debated for a while whether to shape it like the mountain-climbers’ ice axe that the script calls for, or a more iconic wood-chopping hatchet (which seems to be the more popular choice for staging the play, based on Google image searches).  They went with the hatchet.  It was constructed out of old padded envelopes, cardboard, and duct tape, sewn to a wig.  It ended up looking pretty good, and it did not flop over (which is what my wife was most concerned about).

Victoria and Collin in the elevator

Victoria and Collin in the elevator

Frank Mikula (left) and Charlie Petrossian (right) eating lunch 50 stories up.

Frank Mikula (left) and Charlie Petrossian (right) eating lunch 50 stories up.

Mayflies Horace and May, discovering that they're on television.

Mayflies Horace and May, discovering that they’re on television.

They have another run this afternoon, and I look forward to seeing it again.

2014 January 25

Shakespeare Play On video

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:44
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Bill Richter of Shakespeare Play On sent out e-mail today with an update on the fund-raising progress. They need to raise another $160,000 in 6 days, but it looks like they might make it if more people  contribute:

Dear Friends,

It’s been a really busy week, and with only 6 days to go, I wanted to give you a few updates, share a video with you, and ask you to help make sure our revels are not ended.  But first, I want to make sure each of you knows that your gift(s) to us at year-end and this month are enormously appreciated.  Thank You!

By  now, I’m sure you all know about our Advisory Board, but if not, check out our website, www.shakespeareplayon.net, and click on the “who are we?” tab.  You probably saw our announcement that within 50 hours of announcing the Advisory Board, we raised over $300,000 (doubling the funds to date)!

I hope you’ve been following our progress on our website every morning.  Scroll down and you’ll find a ticker that allows you to monitor our progress each day—we are a bit over the $725,000 mark, which means we are about 80% to the goal—not out of the woods yet, but a whole lot closer to the Glen!

On the subject of the Glen, we have received a detailed term sheet from UCSC for the Glen lease and we are working with the UCSC real estate team to get the details down.  It’s looking quite good, and the dates Mike and Marco would want for a season are available.   Of course, there is still a lot to be done, but progress is being made on this front as well.

As we head into our last week and the final push to fund the 2014 season, we find ourselves still needing to dig deep.  $160k deep.  Deep into our pockets, deep into our communities and deep into ourselves.  I know that you’ve all made generous gifts, so asking you to make a follow on investment so soon is hard—but you didn’t really expect us to back off now, did you?  After all, the theater the community has dreamed of is within reach:  there is no limit to the art Play On can create, no limit to what Play On can become, and there’s no role it can’t play in our lives, community and the American Theater that is not within our control.  We’ve waited a long time for this opportunity, so go for it!  If you can help cap off Play On’s fundraising for the 2014 season with an additional gift, now is the time to do so.  Please donate by going to:  https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/shakespeareplayon 

Our friends at the Nickelodeon Theaters here in Santa Cruz have offered to run a 30-second Play On spot for free on all screens, all shows, through our deadline.  I thought you would enjoy being among the first to see Play On’s video before it hits the big screen.  Produced by our web and social media volunteer and guru Steve Boyle, with a message from Mike Ryan, and a vocal track by Marion Adler, it’s really quite good.  Enjoy and share:    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTnBI5Qry7o

Again, to donate, please go to https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/shakespeareplayon

If our request catches you at a bad time, we understand.  But we’d ask you to send this note to a few of your close friends, people you know are our fans.  Invite them to learn about us, watch our video, and if the spirit moves them to play on, to donate a bit at  https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/shakespeareplayon

Please also be sure to ask your employer to match your donation, if you work at a company with a corporate giving program.  That’s a great way to double your gift.

Keep those dedications coming along with your gifts – “sweets to the sweet”.  Play On is glad to deliver your messages to friends and loved ones!

On behalf of the Board, Mike, Marco, our Advisory Board, theater artists and our community, thank you so much for your stalwart support.

If you have questions, please be in touch.

Thanks,

Bill

Donations:          https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/shakespeareplayon

Web:                     www.shakespeareplayon.net

Facebook:           https://www.facebook.com/ShakesPlayOn

Twitter                 https://twitter.com/Shakes_Play_On

Video:                   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTnBI5Qry7o

Donations:          https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/shakespeareplayon Or send a check, payable to Arts Council (with “Shakespeare Play On” on the memo line), to Arts Council, 1070 River Street, Santa Cruz, CA  95060

Here is the advertising video that they’ll be running at the Nickelodeon:

NSF Idea Labs in STEM Education

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 15:27
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Mark Guzdial recently copied a NSF announcement about a new program that sounded interesting to me: NSF Dear Colleague Letter on new Idea Labs in STEM Education:

DEAR COLLEAGUE LETTER

Preparing Applications to Participate in Phase I Ideas Labs on Undergraduate STEM Education

NSF 14-033

The Directorate for Education and Human Resources has implemented a new program for “Improving Undergraduate STEM Education” (IUSE) through its Division of Undergraduate Education (EHR/DUE). The IUSE program description [PD 14-7513] outlines a broad funding opportunity to support projects that address immediate challenges and opportunities facing undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, as well as those that anticipate new structures and function of the undergraduate STEM learning and teaching enterprise. The IUSE program description creates an opportunity to submit unsolicited proposals across all topics and fields affecting undergraduate STEM education. It also includes an opportunity to participate in the first phase of three different Ideas Labs aimed at incubating innovative approaches for advancing undergraduate STEM education in three disciplines (biology, engineering, and the geosciences). These “IUSE Phase I Ideas Labs” will bring together relevant disciplinary and education research expertise to produce research agendas that address discipline-specific workforce development needs. The purpose of this Dear Colleague Letter is to provide additional information regarding the focus of the three Phase I Ideas Labs and guidance on preparing applications for community members seeking to participate in them.

There were two of the “Ideas Labs” that sounded relevant to me in my role as undergrad director and curriculum designer for the bioengineering program and as a bioinformatics teacher and researcher:

Biology

The biological sciences workforce for the future, including graduates of two-year schools, four-year institutions, and graduate programs, will need mathematical and computational skills beyond those of its predecessors. These tools also are required across the wide spectrum of biological sub-disciplines. …

Engineering

Social inequality in engineering education and practice is a durable problem, one that has resisted perennial efforts to “broaden participation,” “increase diversity,” or “improve recruitment and retention of women, minorities, and people with disabilities.” While a great deal of previous and ongoing work has focused on fostering the ability of individuals to access and persist in the engineering education system, this Ideas Lab will focus on changing the system itself. …

A five-day workshop with other people struggling with these problems might be interesting (though I don’t know how I could take a week off from teaching for an unknown week: one of March 3-7; March 17-21; March 31-April 4—they haven’t yet figured out which workshop will be which week).  Of those, only March 17–21 is at all feasible: missing the last day of class and exam week for this quarter. With a day of travel needed on each end, the ideas labs would take a full 7-day week.

I find writing proposals rather painful, and this one wouldn’t even result in any funding, so I re-read the letter more carefully to see if it really was something I wanted to do.

Page one of the “project description” seemed reasonable:

  • Provide a brief summary of your professional background (100 words maximum). Please note that if you are selected as a participant, information provided in answer to this question will be made available to the other participants, to facilitate networking at the Ideas Lab.
  • Describe your experience and interest in working across disciplines (100 words maximum).
  • Describe your key contribution(s) to addressing the specific STEM workforce development theme of this Ideas Lab (see above) through novel and potentially transformative approaches (no more than half a page).
  • Indicate your ability or inability to participate during any of the scheduled Ideas Lab dates (March 3-7; March 17-21; March 31-April 4).

But I found page 2 a bit difficult even to think about:

Please spend some time considering your answers to the following questions. Your responses should demonstrate that you have suitable skills and aptitude to participate in the Ideas Lab (unrelated to your research track record).

  • What is your approach to working in teams? (100 words maximum)
  • How would you describe your ability to engage non-experts or people with a different perspective to yours on this topic? (100 words maximum)
  • The Ideas Lab encourages a free exchange of ideas: enjoying the sharing, shaping and building ideas over an intensive 5-day setting, working as an equal with individuals you may not know.  How do you see yourself suited for this type of interaction?  If possible, describe any comparable experience you have had.  (150 words maximum).

I was also a little bothered by the description at the end of the engineering workshop:

In the Engineering Phase I Ideas Lab, engineers and social scientists will face head on the systems and structures that reproduce social inequality in engineering education and in the engineering workforce. A complete and direct discussion is not afraid to examine manifestations of racism, sexism, and ableism in engineering, and to also consider classism, heteronormativity, ageism, and obstacles faced by Veterans and other non-traditional groups. The Engineering Phase I Ideas Lab will generate new framings and new strategies to move the nation toward greater inclusion of marginalized groups in engineering.

In both places it seems clear that they have already decided precisely how to frame the question to get the answers they want to hear based on the jargon they use to describe the problem, and that they are not interested in hearing from any one who might disagree.  They seem to be trying to create a panel to rubber stamp some plan they have already devised, and are looking for a committee of yes-men to staff the panel.

I’m afraid I’m too much of a curmudgeon to be able to help them with that—I also have extreme doubts that they are going to succeed at anything with this plan but spending a lot of money on the pet ideas of the social scientists who came up with the plan, with no positive effect on engineering education or the “durable problem” of under-representation of women, blacks, Hispanics, and people with disabilities in engineering fields.

“Changing the system itself” sounds a lot like the MOOC advocates rallying call, as does the list of parameters they are proposing to modify:

Many prior efforts for inclusion have been hampered by a presumption that certain parameters can’t be changed (for example, eligibility criteria, narrow definitions of what counts in or as engineering, limited roles for 2-year institutions, or a four year degree model).

While I believe that ABET has been too narrow in some fields in their accreditation standards for engineering programs, I’m not convinced that throwing away what makes engineering a useful discipline is going to accomplish any socially useful goals. Applying the grade inflation and lowered expectations of other disciplines to engineering may indeed produce more diversity of graduates, but would probably make industry start insisting on higher qualifications, increasing the time and expense of meaningful engineering education, and shrinking rather than increasing diversity in the workforce.

The biology Ideas Lab has a more solvable problem:

The Biology Phase I Ideas Lab will consider strategies to integrate these critical competencies in quantitative literacy into a biology core curriculum and to study their effectiveness and/or impact to generate knowledge that will inform their broader implementation.

but I’m a little worried about the precise “quantitative literacies” that they have identified:

Specifically, these are “the ability to use quantitative reasoning” and “the ability to use modeling and simulation”, to gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics and complexity of biological systems. In addition, many areas of biology, from molecular, organismal through ecosystems studies, are reliant on large databases. Biologists of the future will require the mathematical and theoretical foundations necessary to abstract systems-level knowledge from complex data sets.  These skills will be important also for proper database management, preservation of the data collected, and effective use of the information they contain.

The emphasis on biologists needing to learn how to manage data and how to use large data sets is important, but the fact that they mention “mathematical” rather than “statistical” skills, and stress “modeling and simulation” implies to me that they are still stuck in the physicists’ mindset of differential equation modeling, which is not that compatible with the data biologists have available and the modeling that biologists need.  There is no mention of bioinformatics or statistics in this call, so I think that they are likely to be going in totally the wrong direction.

But their call for yes-men makes it clear that opinions like mine would not be welcomed—even if I could take off a week to sit around chewing the fat in Washington DC.  So I won’t be wasting my time trying to fill out the proposal forms by the Feb 4 deadline (the letter was only cleared for release on Jan 23, so it is clear they only want people who they had quietly hinted to ahead of time applying).

Oh well, politics as usual in Washington, DC.

2014 January 24

Theater month

This has been a busy month for theater in our household:

  • 21–22 December 2013. My son performed in “Inspecting Carol” as Sidney Carlton (hence, Jacob Marley and Fezziwig) with WEST Ensemble Players at West End Studio Theatre.
  • 30 Dec 2013–3 Jan 2014. My son had a 3-day workshop with West Performing Arts on “site-specific theater” which included street performances downtown.
  • 10 Jan 2014. We went to see “8 tens at 8”, a collection of new one-act plays performed by Actors’ Theatre at Center Stage.
  • 18–19 Jan 2014. My son performed in “Call of the Wild” at West End Studio Theatre as John Thornton, a husky, and a narrator.
  • 20–24 Jan 2014. Tech week for the AFE high school play with 3–6 hours of rehearsal a day.
  • 25–26 Jan 2104. Performance of the AFE high school play at West End Studio Theatre. They are doing 8 one-act plays, mostly from David Ives’ collection All in the Timing, so they’re calling the performance “Mostly in the Timing”. My son is in 5 of 8 one-acts, with one of them being a last-minute casting after another student dropped out of the production.
  • 1 Feb 2014. Going to see “Best of the Rest”, a staged reading of the 8 10-minute plays that did not quite make the “8 tens at 8” by Actors’ Theatre at Center Stage.
  • 2 Feb 2014. My son will be performing with Dinosaur Prom Improv at Broadway Playhouse.

There was one serious conflict this week, with auditions for “Much Ado About Nothing” (the Spring play for the WEST Ensemble Players) at the same time last night as one of the “Mostly in the Timing” tech rehearsals.  My son really wants to play Benedict in “Much Ado” (he’s never gotten a romantic lead, and Benedict is probably the best-fitting romantic lead for him), so missing the auditions was painful.  Luckily the director for “Much Ado” was at the “Mostly in the Timing” rehearsal the day before, so was able to propose an alternative way for him to audition.

Today he has 6 hours of dress rehearsal for “Mostly in the Timing” plus an hour an half of practice with Dinosaur Prom—I don’t know when he’ll have time to do his AP chem homework. At least the college application essays are over with. One of the big advantages of home schooling is the ability to adjust schedules so that intense weeks mostly dedicated to one activity are possible.

Things should quiet down after next week, with just “Much Ado” rehearsals (3 hours a week) and Dinosaur Prom (1.5 hours a week), though there will be a workshop on doing auditions sometime this spring.

Community-wide the big theater news is that Shakespeare Play On has raised pledges of $697k in a month and only needs to raise another $188k (in the next week) to keep the summer Shakespeare tradition in Santa Cruz alive.  I really hope they make it, as Shakespeare performances have been one of the big highlights of the summers here for as long as I’ve lived here.

 

2014 January 23

Pill prices are not uniform

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:44
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This year UC eliminated the health care plan that I’ve been using for the past several years, and the closest similar plan was quite expensive.  I decided to switch to a low-cost plan that has a high deductible, which means that I’ll be paying cash for my prescriptions and doctor visits this year, at least until I reach the deductible (which probably won’t happen—unless I have a major bike accident or someone in the family gets seriously ill).

I take generic atorvastatin, a very cheap drug, on a daily basis for controlling cholesterol. I decided to check whether I should continue with the pharmacy I’ve been using (the closest one) or look for a cheaper one.  Under the previous insurance plan, I could select pharmacies for convenience, since my co-pay was the same no matter what.  I checked online, and found that Consumer Reports had found a big difference between pharmacies for generic atorvastatin, so I called both my current pharmacy and Costco (the one that Consumer Reports had found cheapest).

If I stay with the CVS I’ve been using, my atorvastatin would cost me $9.40 a day.  At Costco, it would be 77¢ a day (both based on 100-pill purchases of both 2omg and 40mg pills and no Costco card or other discounts). I had expected some difference in price, but not a 12-to-1 difference!

If I used a pill splitter, I could reduce the costs to $7.05 a day at CVS or 61¢ a day at Costco, but the hassle of splitting pills is not worth 16¢ a day.  Needless to say, I’ve asked my doctor to switch my prescription to Costco.

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