Gas station without pumps

2017 July 22

Logos no more

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:19
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On Thursday this week, I spent most of my afternoon waiting in line to check out at a bookstore.  The main used-book store in town, Logos, is going out of business after 48 years and they have started their closing sales (which will probably last another month or two).  Thursday was the first day of their sale, and though prices were not particularly low (20% off their usual prices), a lot of people wanted to mourn the passing of the bookstore (and use up their store credit before all the “good” books were gone).  The result was so many people wanting in that the fire marshal insisted on a rule that a person could only enter the store when one left.  But the wait to get in was not all that bad (about 30 minutes)—the delays were in checking out, as the store had only four registers in operation and none of the cashiers had ever been trained for speed (bookstores gain more from social interaction at the register than from high-speed transactions).  I was in line to check out for about an hour, and my wife, waiting in the other line, was in line for about 3 hours.  Most of the 125 people that the fire marshal permitted were waiting in one or the other checkout lines.

Here is how the Sentinel started their article  Logos, a beloved Santa Cruz bookstore, falls victim to a changing retail economy:

For the first time since the summer of the moon landing, Santa Cruz will soon be without Logos, the used-book emporium that has been part of the downtown landscape since the days of the Pacific Garden Mall.

In about six weeks, after a long everything-must-go liquidating sale, Logos will shut its Pacific Avenue doors for good.

John Livingston, the store’s owner and operator for its entire 48-year run, said that he put the store up for sale a year ago. Facing little interest and no serious offers, as well as sharply declining revenues, he has decided to close his business.

Since the rebuilding after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the anchor businesses downtown have been Bookshop Santa Cruz near the north end of Pacific Avenue and Logos near the middle.  (More recently, Cinema 9 has also drawn a lot of people downtown.)  The rest of the businesses are mostly a mix of surf shops, boutiques, gift shops, and eateries.  (After dark, only the restaurants and bars are open, and the highest crime rate in the city seems to be about closing time for the bars downtown.)

For a while around the turn of the century, Santa Cruz was the chief battleground between independent bookstores and chains (the owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz was the president of the Independent Booksellers Association and both Crown Books and Borders opened stores in downtown Santa Cruz with the avowed intent of crushing Bookshop Santa Cruz—both are gone, but Bookshop Santa Cruz remains).  Logos was mostly ignored in this fight, as there were no large chains trying to get into the used-book business, which has long relied on customer browsing, impulse purchases, and store owners who know both their customers and their stock—not a business that scales well.

Between a third and a half of my over 3000 books have come from Logos, and they have been where I’ve sold back my surplus and duplicate volumes.  A bookstore that primarily sells new books (like Bookshop Santa Cruz) may be better for authors, but browsing the stacks of a used bookstore for books that are long out of print or undeservedly forgotten is a pleasure that cannot be duplicated by on-line shopping.  I’ve bought a few books online, when I knew precisely what I wanted and it wasn’t available locally, and I’ve bought new books from Bookshop Santa Cruz, but most of my purchases have been used paperbacks from Logos.

These purchases were a result of browsing—I needed a book (or 10) for bedtime reading, and I had only vague ideas about what I wanted: usually science fiction or fantasy, with characters I could identify with and decent world building (both of which are rarer than they should be in the genre). Browsing is very difficult in on-line purchasing, and new bookstores tend to be too stuffed with the latest fad books (where they make what little profit they get) to have much that I’m interested in reading and haven’t already read. (OK, that may be more a commentary on the narrowness of my tastes than on the contents of the store.)

I mourn the passing of an era—soon there will be no places left to browse through stacks of paperbacks, looking for treasures amongst the dross.  Logos had decent book buyers, so the ratio of treasure to recyclable paper was higher than at many bookstores (though it always irked me that they would buy back only about a quarter of my surplus books—they’d sold the books once, why did they think they couldn’t sell them again?).

My wife has even more cause to mourn Logos than me, as about half the books she acquired for her school library were from Logos. Almost as many were from Friends of the Library books sales, but that source is much less reliable and requires very fast decision making for children’s books, as they are snapped up quickly.

For those, like me, who appreciated the pleasures of finding strange and wonderful books and being able to buy them for very low prices, take a little time in the next couple of weeks to visit Logos for remembrance’s sake.

2017 July 15

More recent theater events

I haven’t been posting about theater I’ve seen since the post Recent theater events, which was back in April.  Here is a list of things we’ve seen since then:

Date title produced by
2017 May 13 Great Expectations WEST performing arts
2017 May 19 Avenue Q Santa Cruz High School
2017 May 20 Sylvia Jewel Theatre
2017 June 3 Zoot Suit UCSC Theater Department
2017 June 5 Two Gentlemen of Verona UCSC Shakes To Go
2017 June 10–11 Midsummer Night’s Dream UCSB Shakespeare in the Park
2017 June 17 Merry Wives of Windsor Silicon Valley Shakespeare
2017 July 14 The 39 Steps Santa Cruz Shakespeare

The WEST teen production for the spring, Great Expectations, was fairly well done, though there were a few actors who were too quiet, even in the small Broadway Playhouse.  The teen productions have a mix of first-time-on-stage actors and experienced ones, so can be a bit hit-and-miss.  Their WEST Esemble players are their more experienced teen troupe—I did not get to see their production this Spring, though my wife did—they had an adaptation of Robin Hood that they performed at some local schools, including the one where my wife is the librarian.

The Santa Cruz High production of Avenue Q was good—we went because it included an actress who has also performed (at WEST) with our son (she’s also the daughter of one of my former students—we found out that she was in the Avenue Q production when we ran into her and her father at a local eatery).  The biggest problem with the Avenue Q production was that the singers were miked, but the mikes did not work consistently. I’m not a big fan of musicals, but Avenue Q seemed better written than most.

The next evening after Avenue Q we went to see Sylvia by the Jewel Theatre. The acting and production were good, but the script was rather weak material, so the production as a whole was not very satisfying.  It was quite a contrast to Avenue Q the night before, which had much weaker production values but better material. It showed that even a professional production can’t rescue a weak script.

Zoot Suit at UCSC was an amazing production, combining first-rate acting, superb costuming, and a first-rate script. The script was updated by the author (Luis Valdez) last year for a production in Los Angeles, and this production was directed by his son, Kinan Valdez. Because Luis Valdez is a local author, he attended the performance the same night we were there and was available after the show for Q&A (we did not stay for that, because we needed to catch a bus home). This was probably the best student production I’ve seen, at UCSC or elsewhere.

My wife and I saw the Shakes to Go production of Two Gentlemen of Verona at the elementary school where my wife works, as I was unable to get to any of the performances that they did on the UCSC campus. As always, the Shakes to Go production was fast-paced and simplified for school children to be able to follow, but well done within the constraints of a production that has to be finished in 50 minutes and needs to be portable enough to be set up on in an unfamiliar location in about half an hour.

We traveled down to Santa Barbara to see our son in Midsummer Night’s Dream, where he played Peter Quince (the leader of the play within a play). I made a video recording of both performances, but haven’t yet rendered it to put it up on YouTube.  The play was difficult to film, as they had a lot of the action in the audience, and I had a hard time panning the camera fast enough to catch what was going on.  I liked the production, but I never know how much of that is just my bias towards anything my son is in.

After my son got home from Santa Barbara, all three of us took the bus to San Jose to see Merry Wives of Windsor in Willow Street Park. The performance space in Willow Street Park is quite nice—a very large stage area with a steeply raked bowl for the audience and a wooded backdrop. It was a fun production, but not quite at the high standards of Santa Cruz Shakespeare (more at the level of good student productions).  The performance was free (suggested $10 donation at the end), subsidized in part by the San Jose City Council, I believe.  We spent as much on getting to the performance as we did on the show. Unfortunately, we probably won’t be able to go to the other Silicon Valley Shakespeare productions this summer, as they are in Sanborn Park, which is inaccessible by public transportation. (We might be able to use Lyft to and from the Lawrence Expressway train station, but that makes for a fairly long trip, and catching the last Highway 17 bus home could be difficult.)

Last night we went to see Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s production of The 39 Steps, a farce based on Hitchcock’s movie of the same name. The production is amazing, with the 4 actors playing dozens of roles (well, one actor has 1 role, the actress has 3 roles, and the remaining roles are all played by the 2 remaining actors). The costumes and costume changes were perfect. The show was hilarious and has been getting good reviews—I was surprised to see that Grove had not been sold out and that there was a lot of groundling space still available.

All four actors in the Scottish inn scene, photo from the SCS media page

Santa Cruz Shakespeare is doing only comedies this summer (the other two are Measure for Measure and Two Gentlemen of Verona). Their interns are doing Candide, and the company will be doing two staged readings: A Most Dangerous Woman and The Night that Never Existed. We, of course, are planning to see it all.

We took public transit to the Audrey Stanley Grove last night, which really meant about 2.4 miles by bus and 2 miles walking.  It would have been almost as fast to walk the whole way, as we could have gone a slightly more direct route. We took the newly built path from Park Way Trail (at the end of Park Way) up to the Audrey Stanley Grove. It is a very steep path that my wife was willing to do uphill, but not downhill—I’d be a little reluctant to take it in the dark also. The trail is definitely a hiking trail and not for bicycles. We ended up taking Lyft home, which for the three of us was not much more expensive than the bus and much more convenient.

2017 July 12

UCSC iGEM crowd-funding 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:30
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Each year a group of UCSC bioengineering engages in a summer research project in synthetic biology as part of the iGEM synthetic biology competition.  Although they get some support from the University, they have to raise the money for going to the iGEM jamboree (the conference where every team presents its results) by crowd-funding.

The UCSC iGEM team has opened their crowd-funding site for this summer:
UC Santa Cruz | UCSC iGEM 2017: Bugs without Borders

UCSC iGEM 2017: Bugs without Borders

What is iGEM?

The iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) competition is an international symposium dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology. For over 10 years, iGEM has been encouraging students to work together to solve real-world challenges by building genetically engineered biological systems with standard, interchangeable parts. Student teams design, build and test their projects over the summer and gather to present their work and compete at the annual Jamboree.

The epitome of undergraduate research, iGEM provides an unparalleled opportunity for talented students to administer their own projects, advocate for their research and procure resources for funding. In doing so, the competition promotes creativity, collaboration and curiosity as students develop the critical, analytical, and independent real-world problem solving skills that are difficult to cultivate within the classroom.

Our Project: Bugs Without Borders

UCSC’s 2017 iGEM team is focused on the shortage of supplements and essential vitamins in third world countries. Affectionately dubbed “Bugs without Borders”, this year’s project aims to engineer a Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) microorganism capable of producing a target supplement or essential vitamin in a safe and efficient manner.

Go to their crowd-funding site and watch their video to see what they are planning for this year.

Join the Day of Action for Net Neutrality on July 12th

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 07:57
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Today is the “Day of Action” for net neutrality—a day when people and businesses everywhere can speak up for the important role that regulation plays in ensuring freedom of speech.

The FCC wants to destroy net neutrality and give big cable companies control over what we see and do online. If they get their way, they’ll allow widespread throttling, blocking, censorship, and extra fees. On July 12th, the Internet will come together to stop them.

via Join the Day of Action for Net Neutrality on July 12th

It may seem strange that regulation is important for freedom, but freedom of speech and freedom of the press requires that those who provide the infrastructure (historically the public marketplaces and parks, nowadays the internet) not be allowed to censor based on content or who is speaking.  This is precisely the principle of net neutrality, which does not allow ISPs to charge different fees or provide different services dependent on whose data is being sent.

My Internet Service Provider (ISP) is a small local one, and they are very strongly in favor of net neutrality—it is only the very large, monopolistic ISPs like Verizon that favor being allowed to take bribes to give some services preferred access to consumers.  Trump appointed a Verizon executive to remove net neutrality and concentrate power in the hands of the monopolists, but today is a time to push back and insist on freedom.

Go to Join the Day of Action for Net Neutrality on July 12th to find out more about net neutrality and to sign a petition asking Congress to defend it!

2017 July 11

Disappointed in UCSC students

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:40
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I was a bit disappointed with UCSC students this Spring. Not for academic reasons (my spring class had about the usual academic range, from not quite passing to quite bright, with most of the students working hard to get a reasonable performance). And not because of protests that students did or didn’t do (there were the usual number of student protests—some effective, some completely pointless)—Santa Cruz has a long tradition of protests, and a year without them would seem bland. What bothered me was the loss of a different tradition: that of participatory rather than spectator athletics:

Measure 68. [undergraduate and graduate combined] PASSED

Intercollegiate Athletics and Athletics Activities Access Fee

Shall the undergraduate and graduate students of UCSC enact a new fee of $38.50 per quarter to support the current and long-term operations of UCSC’s intercollegiate athletics program and provide access to students who meet Educational Opportunity Programs (EOP) criteria for athletic-related activities? This fee will sunset in 25 years (Spring 2042).

Votes Percent
Yes 4852 79.84%
No 1967 20.16%
Total Turnout 6819
% of Student population who casted vote 39.23%


I can’t understand the logic of allowing a student vote to tax students for the next 25 years for anything but a capital project. The yes votes of 4852 people will affect the fees for about 100,000 future students who have no say in the process. I wonder how many of the other fees students pay are similarly ill-advised programs locked in place by ridiculously long sunset clauses.

Note that this fee does not go towards improving sports and recreation facilities for most of the students, but almost entirely to support the coaches  and travel for under 300 NCAA athletes:

The fee will provide the NCAA Division III program with approximately $1.1 million beginning in fall 2017. Approximately $160,000 will be generated to support athletic activities of student who meet EOP criteria, approximately 40 percent of the student body. The fee is scheduled to sunset is 2042.


In addition, the Chancellor has promised another half a million in general funds for athletics—money that could have been spent to hire instructors for about 50 instructors for courses, affecting over 1000 students.

Of course, the athletics coaches who pushed their teams so hard to campaign for the subsidy from the 15000 or so students who get no benefit from the fee are now not happy with the result:

Two head coaches and six assistants filed grievances Friday against UC Santa Cruz in a public move they hope sheds light on their frustration with the university’s relationship with its athletics department.

Earlier this week, acting athletic director Andrea Willer, the executive director of Office Of Physical Education, Recreation And Sports (OPERS) informed two head coaches and all of the school’s assistant coaches that their contracts would not be renewed.


The Chancellor had put a more positive spin on the new contracts:

A significant change is that our head coaches will now have three-year, full-time contracts. This is good news that I believe will contribute to the long-term health and stability of our athletics program. 
The campus has offered new contracts to nine of our 11 head coaches for NCAA teams. The old ones expired June 30. The new contracts include full benefits and a 3 percent salary increase. The contracts started July 1. 
For coaches who held other non-coaching duties, the contracts were for coaching only, with non-coaching responsibilities moved elsewhere in the unit.
Eight of the nine coaches signed the offers. The ninth chose to retire.
There are changes for assistant coaches, too. They will now have six-month contracts. Previously, contracts were for 12 months, with required three-month furloughs. Contracts for the assistants also expired June 30. All assistants have been encouraged to apply when the new positions are posted in an open recruitment. [email to faculty from Chancellor Blumenthal]

When I came to UCSC in 1986, they had no NCAA athletics (at least I wasn’t aware of any, though a campus press release says the program started n 1981)—the focus of the sports programs was on the intramural program, with participation encouraged for all students.  Those who wanted interscholastic competition could join club sports, and I believe that the fencing team was pretty good.  Club sports competed with all the other students clubs for resources and did not get special privileges (unlike the reserved time, space, and staff for NCAA athletics).  I’m all in favor of students participating in sports and other fitness activities (the average student has gotten a lot fatter and less fit over the past 30 years), but I don’t see any point to subsidizing 2% of the students to do sports for the rest.

Now, I don’t think that UCSC is becoming another athletic cesspool (like Baylor, University of South Carolina, Penn State, …).  For one thing, there is no big money in Division III athletics, so the possibilities of massive corruption are rather limited, and UCSC does not have a football team, which seems to be the biggest source of violence in university sports. Our athletes are still students first (they have a higher GPA than the student body as a whole), and there are no large spectator crowds at any of their games to get into the sort of drunken riots that some schools are subject to.

But there has been a marked loss of exceptionality for UCSC over the past 30 years, with UCSC becoming more typical of universities.  They now have fraternities and sororities, they now have subsidized athletics (to the detriment of intramurals and club sports), the library recently shredded a huge number of books [], class sizes have soared, and the SAT scores of incoming students have dropped.

For a while UCSC used as a tagline “an uncommon commitment to undergraduate education”, which at the time was true. Although they still have a very high ratio of undergraduates to graduate students for a research university (about 9 to 1, where most research universities have more grad students than undergrads), a lot of the commitment to teaching has dissipated over the past 30 years.  Part of the problem has been packing in more students without proportionate growth in teaching facilities (I believe that UCSC has the highest student/classroom-seat ratio of any of the UCs), and part of the problem has been hiring faculty solely on their research credentials, paying no attention to whether they want to (or can) teach.

Some of you may have noticed that I have used third-person pronouns (“they”) rather than first-person (“we”) throughout this article.  That is I do not feel that I have had any say in the bad decisions that been reverting UCSC to the mean. This is not the UCSC I am part of, and I don’t want to be part of it.  I’ll probably be retired before UCSC gives up everything that made it unique and a pleasure to teach at.

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