This blog is pretty much inactive

Academic and personal life have swept away much of my free time anymore, and I will not be updating this blog further.

Instead, check out my academic/professional webpage at:

Engel Geography


Gabrielle Giffords and Political Discourse

I wanted to mention that I am frustrated by some in my party’s choice to use the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords as a weapon against far-right political discourse. Do I think that violent political discourse is harmful and unproductive? Yes, of course I do, and those that know me, and have read what I’ve posted here will see this is not a new stance of mine. I have decried the lack of moderation in our politic, and the harm in the increase in vitriol and partisanship in our government and society.

However, it is just a continuation of this vitriol to attack the right using the argument that their political rhetoric directly (or even indirectly) led to this terrible tragedy. How is doing this anything different than where we were before?

Russ Douthat wrote an op-ed I firmly resonate with:

After 9/11, the entire nation united for about a week, it was a tremendous moment in the wake of a tragic event. For the first time in my life, I could taste at least in some way what my grandparents felt in the months after Pearl Harbor. However, in the weeks and month after 9/11 what followed was not continued unification, but a drastic increase in partisanship and strife. Now, with the current tragedy, we didn’t even get a week before the fires of partisanship fired right back up. I wonder when this might stop, and where, ultimately this adversarial virus in our country will take us in the coming years.

Gearing up for the start of things

Well, the new semester is looming, and I’m getting ready for it the best way I can…by writing a quick blog post.

I’ll be teaching an Intro level course in Physical Geography this semester. I’m not reinventing the wheel by any means, this is a standard course taught in every Geography department across the country. However, it will be a challenge, because I have to also keep up with my dissertation research.

Actually, although I expect it to be a whole lot of work, I am very excited about it. This is essentially, exactly what I’ll be doing once I finish the doctorate- teaching, and managing my research projects simultaneously.

Speaking of, how is the research going, you may ask? All in all, pretty okay. It was a dry summer, so I didn’t get the amount of field data I was hoping for, and although we had a snowy December, the melt came on New Years Eve and Day- pretty much the only time during the winter which guarantees I can’t get a proper field crew together to go out and actually measure. So, I missed the melt. There is still a lot of winter ahead of us though, so maybe it will still work out. I need to measure/capture at least three separate flood events before I’ll feel like I’m doing alright for my dissertation research. So this Spring and Summer are pretty vital if I want to finish by Summer 2012.

Most of the winter break so far I have been sieving massive amounts of sediment, and though I’ve made tremendous progress, I’ve still got about half of the work to go. It’s monotonous, brain-numbing work that leaves me dusty inside and out, but at least it’s easy to do. Once I’ve got that step done, I’ll be set to do some cool flow modeling, so I’m looking forward to getting that out of the way.

On the life front, I’m going to be a DAD!! Jordan is pregnant, and is currently about 12.5 weeks. Look at this little guy/girl:

How can I not be in love with that?! Jordan is due in July, so this will add another layer of goodness to the mix to manage, but I am excited beyond belief anyway. I guess I will not have the luxury of laziness at all this year huh?

With a baby (planned!) on the way, the future is looming large in my mind. I’m soon to be facing a job decision. Jordan and I love our church, and there is more than a little heart-tug which wants us to stay, at least for a few years here. Then again, there is also a large desire to move back to Texas to be closer to the bulk of our family and grandparents. All of this though begs the question of what kind of job will I be able to find? Am I going to even have the opportunity at a job where I want it? Most of you know Jordan and I are devout Christians- this will be a year of a lot of prayer on this matter. We’re praying for discernment on what and where I’ll do/go, and also just to let go and remember that God is in control. I’m sure I’ll write more about such things this year.


Here’s a blow by blow.

Wednesday: We left around 4pm from Champaign. The strange thing is that, despite the forecast calling for perhaps a ‘wee’ chance of rain, we started the day out with freezing rain, and as I type this, from a hotel in St. Louis, MO, it’s lightly snowing back home. Go figure. Actually, I can top that- we are currently in a tornado warning here in St. Louis. Global warming, and an increase in extremes? Sure, I’ll buy that. We had a foggy, misty, but thankfully uneventful drive into town. Jordan was craving some STL style pizza (which means gas oven, thin crust w/ provel cheese), so we found a little hole in the wall (literally) near the hotel. It was quite good, but no where near Peroni’s in my opinion. Good news is that it sated Jordan, so  guess that’s what matters. That’s about all I’ve got for today. Really looking forward to tomorrow- just not the get up at 4:45a part. Assuming a tornado doesn’t blow us away, I should have lots more to say tomorrow after dancing with raw turkey…

Thursday (Turkey Dance Day): Well, the travel really went great overall. Jordan and I “sprang” to life at 4:45a (just a hint of sarcasm…) and headed to long-term parking. With the national media hullabaloo about the X-ray backscatter machines, we were more than a little stressed that things wouldn’t be so nice to get from the parking lot to the gate. Jordan was planning on requesting a pat down, rather than go through the imagers- and I would have joined her. I guess here, I should add a little context. Jordan is pregnant again!!! She’s been struggling with morning sickness, and we didn’t want to have her exposed to more radiation than is absolutely necessary. Actually though, we were worried all for no reason. It only took us 20 minutes to get through security. They did have the body scanners, but actually they were not using them. We went through normal security procedure (shoes off, metal detector, etc.). Our flights went on schedule, and we arrived safely in San Antonio. Edgar picked us up, which was nice. Once home, we pretty much settled in, then headed over to Linda and Dave’s for the famous turkey dance. I guess I can’t make you wait any longer:

Friday: The day after is always for total relaxation 🙂 Jordan, Pat and I took a nice walk through the new Salado Creek greenbelt, and the rest of the day was pretty much spent on our butts. I guess that’s not all that true. We went with the Johnson clan to go see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1. Very cool movie, and so well done! I loved it. The best part though was the kid behind us saying “Aw man!” at the end scene. Classic. For dinner we had the traditional leftover re-Thanksgiving feast at Max’s house.

Saturday: Another pretty simple day. Just filled with relaxation and visiting. I did enjoy watching the OU v OSU game, and thinking about my friends Amy and Katie who had a lot of shame riding on whether their team won or lost. I figure since the Horns imploded this season, I can pay attention to other teams, even if that includes OU. We had Bill Miller, and just made it a wonderfully simple day.

Sunday: Sunday, bloody Sunday…well for the bird that hit our plane that is. Our flight was cancelled because the plane hit a large bird on the approach to landing. Everybody was safe, but it put a large, quite visible dent in the tail of the aircraft. What was most unfortunate was that we actually began to board. We were in line to board- a ritzy couple cut us in line very intentionally, because they were first class. Then they scanned my boarding pass. I walked down the gate, as they shut the door on Jordan! I got very lucky, because the co-pilot came up and was discussing that the bird had struck the plane right in front of me in the gate with another worker. I asked if I could go back and join my wife, who was looking all doe-eye at us through the gate door, and they caved. The rest of the people had to board- including the first-classers who cut us in line. Justice. Very soon after, the gate attendant offcially said the flight was cancelled, and told everybody to go to the ticket counter to re-book. They didn’t let people off the plane for 30-40 mins. Luckily, since I had avoided that fate, and we hadn’t checked bags, we got to the front of the line to re-book!

It being the Sunday after Thanksgiving, of course there were no seats left on pretty much any flights, so we got rebooked to leave Monday, catching the last couple of seats on those flights as well. I can’t imagine when the other 100+ people behind us got home. Even the drive home was interesting, because there was a major mid-latitude cyclonic storm ravaging the entire mid-section of the country. We had pouring rain and gusty wind all the way home.

So it was a wonderful time with family, and friends. It was also full of adventure, so what can you say! Peace Out.

One year ago I went on Strike with the GEO for tuition waivers

I thought it might be interesting to write just a little bit about what the experience was like. I wrote this a few days ago:

Me on the picket line at the UIUC GEO Strike over tuition waivers 11/16/2009

What an amazing time the strike was. I came from a right to work state, and I had never thought I would be affected, no less that participating in a strike. I was so moved by the fact that the University was so obviously threatening our tuition waivers. I remember going to one of the bargaining sessions, and just seeing how the UI side seemed not to respect the students sitting across the table from them.

I remember thinking, “Wow, these people just don’t care, surely this isn’t the way it is.” I thought that at some point they would stop all this nonsense and actually negotiate. Then, there was the last bargaining session. The University moved it to the airport at the last minute because it was Dad’s Weekend (I guess), and they didn’t want to draw any real crowd. Well that certainly backfired. So many of us showed up, the UI negotiators wouldn’t come in and face us. After a marathon session, where all other issues were resolved, they still wouldn’t budge on tuition waivers. What foreshadowing for today, and the change in FAA waivers! Appalling.

Well, once I knew we were going to strike, I contacted my advisor, telling him I couldn’t in good conscience cross a picket, and I’d be on the line. I had signed up for a couple of shifts. It was cold. It was rainy. And I was somber that night. I showed up, to picket my own building. Strangely, it was a little more than traumatic at first. I had to come to grips with the fact that my university had let me down- I now I was fighting a fight that never should have come to pass. I worked my shifts on the lines, but couldn’t leave. The Drum Corp had the entire Quad screaming in the rain. I remember a guy on an extra-cycle who kept us supplied with hot coffee. I was soaked. I had four people curse in my face, one pushed me out of his way, and one started to spit (thankfully he didn’t). I will always remember those people who were infuriated by our actions, but I think I’ll remember more the many people who turned away, and did not cross.

I stayed all day the first day- I was completely soaked. On the second day, I knew we were really in the fight. It wasn’t new anymore, and the realization came that we could be out here for days, maybe weeks if it didn’t go well. I worked my morning shifts, plus another hour or so, then I had to go. If only I had stayed one more hour! I got a call from a fellow friend on the line saying they had won! Go figure I wasn’t there for the march across the quad! I made it back for the spontaneous party at Murphy’s. We had won! The University agreed to include protection (based on the language of the Mass-mail) for our tuition waivers!

It was an amazing experience. It was so cool to see so many students, teachers, and service workers come together for our cause, and ultimately it lead to action. At the same time, I was honestly heartbroken at the vicious blow the University had dealt us. I had an unrealistic image of the University, all which came crashing down in that two weeks leading up to the strike. From then on out, I knew that the University only gave lip service to the concerns of the graduate employees, and anybody else that is less able to defend themselves.

Today, as I write this and look back, I am again disheartened. The University has blatantly violated our contract by changing the School of Fine and Applied Arts tuition waiver structure. It is blindingly clear confirmation that when we struck, we were totally right to fight for waivers, and indeed they were in the University’s sights. It’s still going to be a fight- the University has the advantage of permanence. Institutional knowledge among the graduate students fades fast, as we are only here temporarily. We MUST remember why we struck, and be prepared to face that monster again. The University is calculating- they think they can wait us out, and catch us as we slumber. Awake! Look at the historical precedent of abuse and feigned concern the UI Admins have show us graduate employees. Be ready, because we will be moved to action again.

Help us win $5000 to give away to charity!!

Jordan and I are taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class. As part of that class, we are competing to win $5000 from Dave’s Organization to give away in 5 creative ways to local charities and causes.

Please check out our video here:

And VOTE everyday this week!!

First TA lab in a few minutes

I’m sitting in my office- during my office hours- listening to the sounds of crikets. Not entirely fair, as it is only the first week of classes, but something tells me this will be a lasting trend this semester. Oh well, it gives me an hour of dedicated work-time which would otherwise maybe be in peril, so I can’t complain.

I teach the first section today, and I am stoked! It’s been awhile, and I do actually enjoy teaching young impressionable minds (if there is still such a thing). Easy-peasy material today, but I’ll still enjoy it- it’s also a full class (there are several on the waiting list).

Well, I’ll report with how it goes!