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Spring break 2017, Revisited

Okay, I’ve calmed down a bit since yesterday’s essay. I’m now ready to write the essay I intended to write about spring break.

It’s now the start of Spring break at Grinnell College. For unfathomable reasons, Grinnell’s Spring break is two weeks long [1]. That means that there are many opportunities for me to both relax and get work done. So, let’s think about what I should be doing [2]. As I reflect on break, I work with big categories: department chair responsibilities, teaching, professional responsibilities, stuff for home, organization, relaxation, and anything else that didn’t fit into those categories.

Department chair responsibilities

Things tend to be due at the end of spring break, so there is a variety of writing that I have to do. It looks like we will have over 40 majors in the class of 2019 [4], which means that we will need another faculty line to make sure that we can teach reasonable-size courses. I will, therefore, write a proposal for a tenure-track position [5]. I have a document or two [6] to write regarding the transition of MathLAN. That reminds! I also need to review the latest department statement on the role of Linux in our department. I should also write the department’s responses to the latest series of questions on Research Opportunities for All.

I have a variety of meetings for the second week of break (or perhaps late in the first week). I should talk to our division chair about the proposal. I have a scheduled meeting with some administrators about the issues I was complaining about yesterday. I should try to arrange a meeting to look at space opportunities for 2018-2019. I’ll need to meet with some of the students who are planning to declare CS majors.

I should probably check the status of the documents I’m supposed to be writing about student travel to GHC and Tapia.

And I’m sure other things will come up.


Because I spent most of a week at SIGCSE and managed to lose sleep at both ends of the trip, I have a large backlog of grading that I assume will take a few full days of break. Let’s see … one exam for CSC 151, two quizzes for CSC 151, four or so programming assignments for CSC 321, and a variety of small other things. I also plan to write the answer key for the CSC 151 exam.

I should work with my fellow CSC 151 teacher to write the next homework assignment and to sketch the next exam. We made the second exam too hard [7], so we should spend a bit more time on it.

Most of my CSC 322 students are using the Devise gem for Rails. I’ve never used Devise [8]. I hope to develop a simple Rails project with Devise so that I can answer their questions better [9].

I have five weeks of CSC 282 after break plus one week of debriefing. I should try to make sure that I have readings written for those weeks, or at least the first few [10]. I know that we’ll do Macros immediately after break. I also need to write an essay on gdb [11] and then we should switch back to Unix issues for the last three sessions.

My Jekyll sites still need some work. I should spend a little bit of time playing with them [14].

Professional responsibilities

I’ve agreed to do an external review of a peer institution. That should be fine but will take about four full days including travel, plus another day or so to write the review. But I learn a lot doing external reviews and I like to believe that I make a positive difference when I do so. I also have an awesome co-reviewer, so it should be fun.

I finished reviewing three short paper for a conference. Those took less time than I expected. I find reviewing useful service; I learn some things and I’m told I provide useful feedback. My experience with these reviews suggests that I’m also a bit more careful about contacting the program chair about potential concerns in the structure of the paper.

I have about two dozen scholarship proposals to review for Tapia and GHC. I review these primarily because these are communities I value, and I know that they need reviewers. I also get to learn about some cool applicants. I have also found that reading the recommendations associated with these proposals helps me write better letters of recommendation [15].

I will continue my normal responsibilities as co-moderator of the SIGCSE mailing lists. It’s also been awhile since I compared the list of SIGCSE members to the folks on the mailing lists. If I have time, I’ll do that, too.

Stuff for home and family

Our kitchen and family room needed some work. I’ve done that. I have a bit more that I should do in the family room.

Our yard needs raking. That would also be a good excuse to spend some time outside. I should find time for raking and such.

Youngest son is performing in the high school solo and ensemble festival. I will go watch him perform and also watch some of his classmates perform. A day of music is a day of joy [16].

My home office needs organization and cleaning. That task may be part of the next category, but it happens at home, so I’m putting it here. I also think I’ve brought in about a dozen books in the past month, so I need to get rid of at least a dozen to compensate [18].

I need to replace the side-view mirror on the minivan. That should be an interesting adventure [19].

Middle son wants help with printmaking. I look forward to the opportunity to be back in the studio [20].


I know that my life is better when I am organized [22]. Break is usually a good time to make some forward progress on various sorts of organization.

Physical organization includes attempting to straighten my home office and my work office. I may also spend a bit of time on my overflowing research lab.

More general organization means trying to put into place a system that will allow me to better keep track of my tasks. I plan to read Getting Things Done on the plane ride back from my external review and then to try to put those practices into place during the last few days of break. I’m not sure how overly optimistic that is, but it’s worth attempting.

And, of course, I’ll attempt to return to inbox zero.


Some of the home/family tasks will be relaxing. Working with middle son and working outside should be positive. The high school solo/ensemble competition should be relaxing and joyful.

I expect to do some reading. I’m finishing the John Scalzi Old Man’s War series and will pick up a book or four more. I expect to mix some nonfiction [23] and some fiction [25]. I have a long enough to read list that I’m sure I’ll find many things that I will enjoy.

While organizing myself is not relaxing, I expect that having organized will also lead to some sense of relaxation.


I have two recommendations to write soon, one for study abroad and one for graduate school.

I still owe our CTLA a report on the first year of my grant.

I should get in contact with my summer research students about things they might do before we start summer research.

I have a variety of planning forms to fill out for the College. I’ve done my summer workshop selections [26] and my committee preferences form [27]. There are almost certainly a few others I’ve forgotten.

Of course, I will continue to write an essay each day. I’ve mentioned some of the topics above. I may also use break to return to some profiles of Grinnellians because I should have a bit more time each day. I hope you find the essays that stem from break enjoyable, whether they are about C and Unix, about Grinnellians, about some stupid decision I’ve made, or whatever. I’ll almost certainly end break with an essay about the planning fallacy.

[1] I’m not complaining; I’m just observing.

[2] Note: You should not assume that I am a typical faculty member [3].

[3] Anyone who reads these essays should know that I’m not a typical faculty member.

[4] Major declarations are due on April 3. I should have firmer numbers on April 5. But numbers will continue to change after that, such as when people add CS as a second major.

[5] Given that the Grinnell Trustees have decided that we should not increase the size of the faculty, I’m not sure what the odds of such a proposal succeeding are. But you can’t achieve something if you don’t try.

[6] Or three.

[7] By we made the second exam too hard I mean I made the second exam too hard. My colleague had me tone down the problems I wrote, but they were still challenging.

[8] I haven’t used ActiveAdmin or CanCanCan either. So many things to explore, so little time.

[9] Rails is great when it works. When it doesn’t, it’s much too much effort to figure out what’s going wrong, at least for novices.

[10] You will almost certainly see those readings in this series.

[11] gdb is the GNU [12] debugger.

[12] GNU is GNU’s Not Unix, a self-referential acronym.

[14] I will likely write about my use of Jekyll to build course sites once I’ve finished making the remaining updates.

[15] Some day I’ll remember that I should also use that expertise to help students with their scholarship applications for Tapia and GHC.

[16] No, really. I have a wonderful time listening to the students at the solo/ensemble festival. This year brings a few spectacular seniors who I will miss and who I hope to have a chance to hear [17].

[17] Truth be told, every year brings a few spectacular seniors who I will miss and who I hope to have a chance to hear.

[18] At some point, I should step up to two books out for every book in, but right now I’m just prepared to get rid of one for one, with the occasional purge of an area to make forward progress.

[19] The videos on YouTube make it seem moderately easy. I don’t think I can screw things up any more than they are already screwed up.

[20] I should, of course, make sure that middle son has permission to be back in the studio [21].

[21] I should also make sure that middle son has not decided on some new innovative process, like printmaking with thermite.

[22] Yes, there are times that I am at least somewhat organized.

[23] Mindset, History Lesson, and The Talmud: A Biography are near the top of my nonfiction reading list [24].

[24] Getting Things Done may be at the top.

[25] Kingfisher, The Hanging Tree, and some short stories are near the top of my fiction reading list.

[26] I love summer workshops; I get so much out of them.

[27] In spite of promising myself that I would not allow myself to be added to more committees, I did realize that there were a few that are a reasonable workload and that I could allow myself to be on.

Version 1.0 of 2017-03-18.