Gas station without pumps

2020 February 27

UCSC’s grad student strike for COLA

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:35
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A group of UCSC grad students have been striking since December 2019 to get a “cost of living adjustment” (COLA), because of the high cost of rent in Santa Cruz and the unaffordability  of housing for students paid as TAs.  The strike started out as withholding grades at the end of Fall quarter and expanded to refusing to do any work Winter quarter (while still getting paid their full salary).

I started out having a lot of sympathy for the grad students—the TAship pays only $2,435 a month (plus health insurance and tuition waiver) for the standard half-time position [https://www.ucop.edu/academic-personnel-programs/_files/1920/1920-adj-scales/t18.pdf], and the cost per person for their own room in an apartment is $1,025–$1,351 [https://www.ucop.edu/student-affairs/_files/housing-costs-near-campuses.pdf].  UCSC does have the most expensive housing market of any of the UC campuses (except the med school at UCSF, which has a COLA).

Most of the STEM PhD students are supported with grad-student researcher positions, which generally pay more.  All the TAs are paid the same, but the GSR positions are on a ten-step scale, with the departments I’m familiar with all using GSR VII ($2,904/month) [https://www.ucop.edu/academic-personnel-programs/_files/1920/1920-adj-scales/t-22.pdf]

The usual rule of thumb for housing is that it should not cost more than about 30% of what a full-time job earns.  That is a pretty stupid rule, though, as it assumes that all other costs scale with rent, which is demonstrably untrue in California—non-rent costs near UCR are very similar to non-rent costs near UCSC.  The real question is whether there is enough money left over after paying rent to pay other necessary costs.

A TAship is not supposed to be a full-time job that can support an extended family—it is a half-time job that is supposed to be enough for a single student to live on frugally.  So when the COLA supporters sent email to faculty with the following sob story, I felt that they were missing the point:

Since I was an undergraduate, a portion of my wage has been sent back home to my immediate family members to pay for necessities. I don’t want to see my family struggling, so I would much provide some money for them. My mother, who had a heart attack in February, was put on a seven-month leave from her job, and I had to provide more for my family at that moment. After more recent health issues, I have had to return home multiple times to physically help out, which means I am still paying rent on a space that I only spend partial time in (not including the airfare).

While one may feel sorry for a student who feels they have to fly home multiple times a year and wants to provide financial support to their parents, it is certainly not the function of a TAship to fund those actions.

The University of California grad students struck several years ago to form a union (affiliating with the United Auto Workers, which struck me as a strange choice at the time), with the first contract being signed in 2000. The UAW recently signed a contract with UC, approved by a vote of the  members.  The UCSC grad students were not happy with the contract, but there are far more grad students on the other campuses, so the union contract was approved, despite fairly strong dissatisfaction with it at UCSC.

The current strike at UCSC is not supported by the UAW leadership, but they have also not chided the strikers for picketing with official UAW-on-strike signs.  The union leadership wants to pretend that they have nothing to do with the strike, while also pretending that they back the strikers.  In practice, I think that the union leadership screwed up the contract negotiations and are looking for a backdoor way to re-open the contract.

The wildcat strike, which violates the no-strike provision of the signed contract, is damaging UAW’s credibility as a representative of the grad student workers.  This undermining of the union is likely to cause more damage to grad students in future than any “wins” that the strikers manage to get from the administration.

What the grad students here have been requesting is $1,420 a month increase in pay, claiming that this would put them at parity with UC Riverside (the second-cheapest campus for housing costs), even though the difference in rent is only about $450–$690 a month.  Compared to the other UC campuses in pricey housing markets, UCSC is only about $100–$300 a month more expensive.

So when the UCSC administration offered all PhD and MFA students $2500/year, the strikers should have declared victory and gone home.  That money would bring UCSC to parity with the next 5 cheaper campuses, and it is about all that UCSC can offer, given that UCOP is not allocating any new funds to UCSC.  The money would come from cutting student services and not hiring new faculty needed to replace retiring faculty and handle the increasing student population.

Instead, they doubled down on the strike, demanding that their ridiculously large pay increase be written as a side letter to the union contract—something that UCSC administration cannot legally do, and the UCOP administrators in Oakland see no reason to do (and many reasons not to, as every other campus would then demand the same side letter, basically voiding the union-negotiated contract).

The protesters have made a serious effort to shut off access to campus every day, by blocking the two entrances to campus.  This has been a nuisance, pissing off a lot of people that would otherwise have supported them, but it has been no more than a nuisance, as they only got enough bodies on the picket line to shut down the entrances from about 11 a.m. to 4:00 pm each day.  Those who have work to do come in before the grad students get up and go home after the grad students have packed up.  Undergrads are inconvenienced by having to walk a block between bus stops (the Metro buses don’t cross the picket lines, even though these are not union pickets), but nearly all have been coming to class and trying to get the education that they are paying $1000 a week for.

UCSC is the only one of the UC campuses to which all motor vehicle access can be blocked by a small group of protesters.  This is probably the reason why UCSC has the most disruptions from strikes and protests of any of the UCs—a small group can make a large nuisance of themselves here, when a similarly sized group would be completely ineffectual on the other campuses.

Today, the protesters changed strategies and marched around campus being disruptive.  They marched into one classroom where students in CSE 102 (a theory of computing course) were taking a midterm.  They then harangued the students taking the midterm for 10 minutes—after being asked to leave by the students taking the test.

At this point, the protesters have lost any sympathy I had for them.  They wouldn’t take a generous gift when it was offered, and they have made it clear that they are not interested in undergraduate education, but only in protest theater–making a lot of noise in the hope that someone will pay them to shut up.

2020 February 2

Forty-first weight progress report

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:22
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This post is yet another weight progress report, continuing the previous one, part of a long series since I started in January 2015.

I am very slightly ahead of where I was a year ago (about 14 days further along the weight-loss curve).

The overall pattern shows a lot of similarity between the last two years—weight loss while I’m working followed by weight gain during the summer and fall.

I’m hoping that the first quarter of 2020 will again result in a loss of 10 pounds, taking me down to about 160 pounds, though I’d be happier with 158 pounds, and would settle for 162 pounds, if I could stay there.

I’m biking up to campus 5 days a week this quarter and I averaged 5.13 miles/day in January.  My walking is up a little: my Verily study watch from Project Baseline reports 240k steps for January (about 7,700/day) from about 130k  (4,000/day) in December.  I’m not walking long distances (downtown and back once a week for dinner), but I’m on my feet a lot in lecture and lab for about 11 hours a week, which seems to add up.  The stupid interface that Project Baseline provides does not give me much access to my data—I can’t tell when during the day I’m getting the steps, nor can I see how Jan 2020 compares with Jan 2019.

I don’t have time to get to the gym, so I got myself an exercise mat and some resistance bands, so I can at least pretend that I’m trying to maintain some strength in my upper body.  I’ve not been using either very much, which is pretty much what I expected.  I’ve always hated to exercise, and nearly always find something more “important” to do.

2020 January 1

Fortieth weight progress report

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:47
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This post is yet another weight progress report, continuing the previous one, part of a long series since I started in January 2015.

My weight for this year ended up slightly lower than at the beginning of the year, but over the summer and fall I regained almost all the weight that I lost in the first quarter.

It has been remarkably difficult for me to keep off the weight that I lose. If I’m home during the day, I have lunch and snack and my weight creeps back up.

I’m hoping that the first quarter of 2020 will be like the first quarter of 2019, with a loss of 10 pounds.

My bicycle riding was more consistent in 2019 than in 2018, because I rode up to campus 3 times a week in summer and fall, either for workouts at the gym or for the physics class I sat in on.

I’ll be biking up to campus 5 days a week, but my walking will be reduced somewhat, as my left heel has been bothering me. I don’t think I’ll have time to go to the gym, so I’m not bothering to renew my membership—I’ll probably get myself some resistance bands, so I can at least pretend that I’m trying to maintain some strength in my upper body.

2019 December 28

Holiday activities

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:28
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We celebrated several holidays over the past week: Festivus, Christmas, and Chanukah. We neglected Solstice this year (most years we make solstice cookies).

For Festivus, we put up a Festivus pole and ate meatloaf on iceberg lettuce (well, vegetarian meatloaf, since my son is a vegetarian).  We skipped the airing of grievances, though.

On Christmas Eve, we went out to eat, but almost all the restaurants downtown were closed (even the Chinese restaurant that we had considered as a backup), so we ended up at the Korean restaurant Sesame.  My wife and I enjoy the food there, but there is not a lot for our vegetarian son—he was ok with the japchae, but I could tell he was a little sad that both Saturn and Monster Hotpot were closed.

For Christmas we had a live Christmas tree (the same one as last year, but it is now 22 inches tall—plus a 12 inch pot), which my wife decorated with a small fraction of our Christmas ornaments. This tree has many years before it is the size of the live trees we used to use, but we can carry it into the house with needing a hand truck. (The big one that we gave away a couple of years ago was getting to be too heavy to haul up the 3 steps to the porch.)

We also opened presents from each other Christmas morning.  Most of the presents were books or consumables—we’re all hard to shop for as we don’t want much, and when we do want something, we generally just buy it for ourselves.

For Chanukah we lit the candles on the menorah each night and had homemade applesauce and latkes one night.

Over the winter break, I’ve been getting several things done:

  • I got the syllabus rewritten for my electronics course, got the assignments all entered into Canvas (which always takes forever—filling out the same form over and over is incredibly tedious), and hired my group tutors and graders.  Creating the Canvas entries for the due dates for the 12 homeworks, 6 prelabs, and 5 labs took a couple of hours, and I still have to enter the quizzes (which I’ll do after I’ve created and graded each quiz, as each will have a different number of points).
  • The cat fountain I created failed, and I spent some time trying to diagnose the problem.  The controller board is fine, but the pump won’t run.  The resistance of the pump is now about 100kΩ, which indicates that something in it failed.  I’m not sure of the reason for the failure, but most likely the impeller was jammed by a build-up of algae.  The cats were less interested in the fountain than I hoped, and keeping the cat fountain clean was more trouble than I expected (algae growth was fast, and clearing the hose with a pipe cleaner was a pain), so I decided to scrap the fountain, rather than buying another pump.
  • The mesh seat that I sewed for my recumbent bicycle five years ago had the stitching fail on one strap. I tried resewing it with my wife’s sewing machine, but it just jammed, so I ended up resewing the strap by hand.  I expect that some of the other stitching will fail in the next year, and that I’ll be doing more resewing, but there is enough redundancy in the straps that I can ride home even with one of the straps broken.
  • My son visited Monday–Friday, so we spent a couple of days installing the new range hood that I had promised my wife six months ago.  I bought a 2-part range hood (https://www.amazon.com/Awoco-Stainless-Cabinet-Speeds-800CFM/dp/B076XBQSMK) with the blower unit to be installed in the attic, even though this is more expensive than one-piece units.  There were two reasons: to make the range hood itself lighter and so easier to install, and to reduce the noise of the blower in the kitchen.  Holding up even the motor-less range hood while we got the screws in place was tiring (for my son), but installing the blower in the attic was also somewhat difficult, so that was pretty much a wash.  The new range hood is much quieter than the old one, but I think it moves as much air.  At any rate, my wife is pleased with the new range hood, which is all that really matters.

Mostly, though I’ve been reading and sleeping—things I’ll have much less time for once the quarter starts. I do still have to write the quiz for the first week of class, but I still have a week to do that.

2019 December 16

Landline discontinued

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:08
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As I mentioned in First cellphone, I have finally bought a cell phone.  Today I got the landline number transferred to that cellphone, so that I can now discontinue landline service.  That could be a minor nuisance during the next major power outage (during the last big power outage, landline service continued uninterrupted, but several cellphone towers went offline, so cell service was disrupted).

I have one more task to do in setting up the phone, and that is to transfer my wife’s phone (which was associated with my e-mail address) to be associated with my wife’s email address.  I don’t know how difficult that will be, but I anticipate a few hours dealing with Google Fi technical support, as their web pages do not provide any way to do this yourself.  It is particularly difficult in this case, as the billing was associated with that phone, and my new phone was an extra on the account, while I want to make my new phone be the primary on the account (so that I can continue billing to the same card).

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