I’m on Sabbatical…I think

This semester I’m officially on sabbatical leave from my faculty position at West Chester University. I’m supposed to be spending my time working on my sabbatical project, and that’s what I’ve been doing…at least part of the time. But during the first two weeks of this semester, I’ve found myself responding to a lot of situations at school that aren’t directly related to my sabbatical project.

For example, last week I spent quite a bit of time helping faculty colleagues with their computers. One of my colleagues had a computer that wouldn’t boot on the first day of class. A few had problems connecting to our departmental server. And there were a host of small issues that I was called upon for advice.

Not that I’m complaining. I appreciate being useful, and it gave me an excuse to keep in touch with my colleagues. But it was making me wonder if I was really on sabbatical…or just “sort of” on sabbatical.

This week I’m happy to say I’m making more progress on my sabbatical project. I’m hopeful that by the end of the year, I’ll see some tangible results. Much of the work I’m doing will be coordinated with our departmental intranet, which I’ve recently developed at communication.wcupa.edu/myCOM. I’m building myCOM using the open-source learning content management software Moodle, which I’ve used in the past for maintaining course web sites on our departmental web server. Eventually, however, I would like to have the content I’m creating integrated into an iTunes U site, something that West Chester University was supposed to have launched a year ago.

EndNote X1 released

Today Thomson ISI ResearchSoft released EndNote X1 for the Mac.  EndNote is a bibliography program that is used by many scholars to format citations, search online databases and manage reference libraries.  The Windows version of EndNote X1 was released in June.

I’ve been using EndNote since the very first version was developed by Richard Niles at Niles Scientific.  The early versions of EndNote were such a pleasure to use, as they were clearly and simply designed to provide quick access to references while writing.  I remember writing most of my journal articles and convention papers in the early 1990s with EndNote, and building up a massive library of references “the hard way” by entering in the data myself.  While manually entering references took a lot of time, the process helped me feel much closer to the articles and authors I was citing.

My early love affair with EndNote started to fade about eight years ago.  I used to be a regular upgrader, buying every new version as soon as it was released.  But when EndNote was acquired by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) in 1999, the product started to gradually deteriorate.  Like many other software ventures started by a small group of passionate individuals, EndNote lost a lot of its charm when it was gobbled up by a large company with widely divergent interests.

Philadelphia-based ISI was a big company with a long history in the reference library industry, perhaps most famous for the Current Contents series of bibliographic indexes, and of particular note for communication researchers, the Social Sciences Citation Index. ISI had been purchased by publishing giant Thomson in 1992, which added another layer of management on top of an already large company. ISI had developed its own bibliographic software, Reference Manager, which used to compete with EndNote.  The year before ISI acquired EndNote, it bought another popular reference program called ProCite from Personal Bibliographic Software. 

So when ISI added EndNote to its software stable, the company had three different bibliographic  programs: Reference Manager, ProCite, and EndNote.  Rather than merge the three programs together, ISI has continued to market them as separate products to this day. During the last eight years, development of EndNote has become slow and incremental. Upgrades have became more expensive, while the value of features added to each upgrade has declined.  And the Mac versions of EndNote have been particularly lackluster, consistently lagging the Windows versions.

I may begrudgingly upgrade to the latest version, if for no other reason than to see if it is any better than the rather buggy EndNote X.  But sometimes I wish I could just turn back the clock to the early days of EndNote, when the program was such a joy to use, and just plain worked.

Honoring the memory of Leo Thompsen

This evening I had the honor to speak at the memorial service for my uncle, Leo Thompsen. He was a kind and generous man, with an irresistible smile and an impish sense of humor. He had a genuinely positive outlook on life, with an unshakable faith in God and in the fundamental goodness of humanity.

Leo2.jpgLeo Thompsen was born in Brooklyn on June 1, 1924. He proudly served his country as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division during World War II, and was one of the last remaining survivors of the Battle of the Bulge.  After the war, he attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute (more commonly known today as Virginia Tech) where he received a degree in civil engineering.   He moved to Alaska in 1953, where he lived most of his life, first in Juneau and then later in Anchorage. He survived Anchorage’s famous Good Friday earthquake of 1964, which to this day was the most powerful recorded earthquake to hit North America. He was happily married to Harriet, his wife of 41 years, who passed away in 1997. He had three children: his son David and daughters Karen and Joann. During the later part of his life, he spent considerable time in the summer months in Kodiak with his good friend and companion Ileen, and often traveled to Oregon during the cold Alaskan winters. He passed away on July 24.

Although I had to endure a lengthy journey to attend his memorial service, I’m glad I did. I had a good visit with my cousins, and was happy to share some of their memories of their dad at the memorial service. The program also included some fine violin music from Kathryn Hoffer, who also played at Leo’s 80th birthday party, which I attended in 2004. Leo received military honors at his memorial, including a touching honor guard salute.

There were well over a hundred people in attendance at his memorial. Leo made numerous friends in his life, and it was good to speak with many of them at the reception following the service.

To read more about the life of my uncle Leo, please read his online obituary. And if you knew Leo, please considering signing his online guestbook.

I’ll miss you Leo! You were truly “one of a kind,” a special person who touched the lives of many. I consider myself fortunate to have been your nephew. One couldn’t have asked for a better uncle.

Waiting in the Doctor’s office

One of the more unpleasant aspects of growing older is the increasing amount of time one spends waiting in doctor offices. It’s not unusual to spend an hour or longer waiting to see a doctor, even if you show up early for an appointment.

If it sounds like I’m complaining, I am. Indeed, I’m waiting in a doctor’s office right now. And it’s been a long wait. Too long. Why is it that doctors complain if patients are late for an appointment, but don’t mind keeping patients waiting?

At least the office I’m waiting in now has free internet access so I can write this entry. I guess I should be happy for the little things. But if there is one area where America’s healthcare system can use significant improvement, it’s the wait times patients have to endure.

Maybe Michael Moore is right…

A visit to Newlin Grist Mill

This morning my wife, sister-in-law and I paid a visit to the Newlin Grist Mill, a restoration of a water-powered mill that was originally established in 1704. I didn’t know quite what to expect at first, as I’m not a huge history buff, and hardly a “mill enthusiast.” But it turned out to be a very interesting and enjoyable visit.

We began at the visitor’s center, a small building that houses a few exhibits, a small video theater, and a gift shop. After looking at some of the exhibits, we watched a brief video about the mill, with a somewhat corny but cute story about a young boy who found himself “transported back in time” by a visit to the mill. We were then asked if we would like to take the guided tour ($5 a person). My sister-in-law offered to pay, so we took her up on the offer, and spent the next hour or so listening to an informative tour guide describe in detail the intricacies of water power, wooden gears and spinning grind stones. The most impressive part of the tour was when the tour guide turned the water on, and we were able to watch the huge water wheel being set in motion. It was loud and impressive, and we got to see the mill mechanism “in action,” not once, but twice, from two different rooms of the mill.

After the tour of the mill, we looked at some of the other buildings on the property, including the neighboring miller’s house, which housed quite a few antiques. We also enjoyed just walking the grounds. The mill is surrounded by a beautiful park, featuring a trout pond, picnic tables, an idyllic creek and numerous walking trails. It was a beautiful morning for a walk, and taking lots of pictures, of course.

The Newlin Grist Mill is located in Concord Township in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, just off of Route 1 and Cheyney Road. Both my wife and I have passed by the Mill many times while driving down Route 1, but neither of us had stopped to visit. We’re glad we did…the Newlin Grist Mill is well worth turning off of busy Route 1 to step back to a simpler, slower time.

I’ve posted more pictures from our visit to this Picasa Web Album.

Fun with Panoramas

I recently have been experimenting with panoramic photography. During my recent travels, I attempted to take a number of photographs that could later be stitched together into QuickTime VR panoramas. Below are links to some example panoramas I created using DoubleTake, a handy program for panoramic stitching on the Mac. They aren’t perfect, as you can still notice some seams if you look closely. But I don’t think they’re bad for an amateur.

To move around in the panoramas, just click and move the mouse. Use the shift key to zoom in and the control key to zoom out. Note that you’ll need to have QuickTime installed on your computer to view these files.