Gas station without pumps

About Gas Station Without Pumps

I’m a professor, teaching mainly graduate and senior level classes in bioinformatics, plus a new course in electronics for bioengineers. I’m also a father, raising a gifted son (now in college). These two aspects of my life will be the fodder for most of the posts on this blog.

The Gas Station Without Pumps metaphor comes from the entrance kiosk for our campus. They used to have a redwood booth that looked like a state-park entrance, but they replaced it a few years ago and landscaped with crushed rock, to get an entrance that looked exactly like a gas station, but without any gas pumps.

Almost every day as I cycle by the kiosk, I try to figure out what the administration was trying to tell us about the university by designing an entrance that looks like a gas station.  Here are a few thoughts:

  • The metaphor is for the university as a business: we have the part of the gas station that collects the money, but never got around to building the part that delivers the goods.
  • The metaphor is for the utility of the liberal arts degrees that we crank out: it looks like the real thing but there is nothing underneath.
  • There is no metaphor here: the University is literally trying to reduce motor vehicle traffic on campus.  What better way than to provide the illusion of a gas station without actually providing any gasoline?
  • The message is not a metaphor: gas station architecture is cheap and cheapness is all that matters at the University of the future.
  • The administration loves their cars and cannot imagine anything more beautiful than a gas station.

As you can see, I’m still trying to figure out what it means as a metaphor.

For several years, I did not put my name on this blog, though about half my readers knew who I was anyway. Now, since I’m pointing to the book I’m writing, to my son’s business, and to other obvious identifiers, there is no point to being coy: I’m Kevin Karplus, and the place I teach is the University of California, Santa Cruz, where I have been a professor since 1986.


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