Wednesday, March 15, 2006



I’ve got a few questions (from various sources) to which I don’t have answers. Faithful readers, I seek your wisdom!

- (From a reader) Does it make a difference (when hiring faculty) if the candidate got all of his degrees from the same place? At the cc level, it really doesn’t, but I can’t say how it plays at more research-driven places.

- How does your school handle student advisement over the summer? The faculty likes to claim advisement as its bailiwick, but it also hates to come in during the summer. Students trickle in all summer long. Have you found a way to square this circle? (I know I’ve asked this before, but new readers have come along since then, and I still haven’t solved it.)

- (From The Boy) What holds the water in the toilet bowl? I mean, if there isn’t some sort of barrier, why doesn’t the water in the bowl just drain out the hole? (At least the tank has a valve. The bowl just has a hole.) Especially when the bathroom is upstairs? I’m embarrassed to admit that he stumped me on this one.

- Is the Krispy Kreme Donut Burger (with bacon and cheese!) the worst idea in the history of food? A minor league baseball team, the East St. Louis Gateway Grizzlies, has inflicted this on the world. I suspect this is why the world hates America. (Via MBB)

- Does anybody else get dizzy when running on a treadmill, or is it just me? I can’t even use the moving-arms things on the elliptical without getting dizzy. Am I alone in this?

- Why couldn’t the IRS just put a basic free tax prep program online? Just put an Excel-like program behind a pdf of the 1040. Could it really be that hard?

- Why, in the name of all that is holy and good, do SUV’s get a tax deduction? Is there a dumber deduction in the entire tax code? My little four-cylinder compact pays full fare, but someone driving a Ford Excursion gets a subsidy. Is Bin Laden behind this?

- Medical imaging technology has made great strides. Yet prostate exams are still conducted by the old finger-up-the-wazoo method. Why? Why? There’s a Nobel Prize in it for whoever puts an end to this barbarism. ASAP, please.

- Does your college have a phys ed requirement? Is there any talk at your school of adding/dropping such a requirement? What are the arguments?

- Why aren’t post offices open in the evening? I mean, people work.

- What do two-career couples with kids ages, say, 5 to 12 do over summer vacation? If the kids are too young to work or stay home alone, and both parents work, what do they do?

- For that matter, why is almost all of academia still on an agricultural calendar? I appreciate the need to help with the harvest, but it’s hard to grow much on quarter-acre lots.

Any wisdom you could spare would be greatly appreciated...

My undergrad university did not (and still does not) have a phys ed requirement.

It's one of the reason I chose this particular school.

It also has no football team. That was another big factor in my 18-year-old decision making process...
KRISPY KREME DONUT BURGER?!? Is that supposed to be some sort of population control mechanism?
The Krispy Kreme Donut Burger is not new. A place in Decatur, Georgia named Mulligan's invented it a few years ago and named it the "Lutherburger," after Luther Vandross.

I'm serious.

But worse...the same place created the "Hamdog." The Hamdog is a hot dog wrapped in a beef patty that's deep fried, covered with chili, cheese and onions, and served on a hoagie bun topped with a fried egg and two fistfuls of fries.

I'm not making any of this up.

Check it out here.

Every time someone orders a hamdog, the baby Jesus cries.
I believe the SUV deduction stemmed from the idea that only workers who require such a large vehicle for their job--hauling big loads of big stuff--could use the deduction. This was back in the day when SUVs as they are now did not exist. We just had big ole pick-up trucks, the Chevy Suburban, and the Bronco, among a few others.

And as you've noted, the deduction now serves mostly the preps who own the vehicles for status.
In no particular order:

Faculty at my school are on a 9 month contract; for summer advising, the school PAYS faculty to do orientation advising for incoming students over the course of the summer. Chairs generally have a 12 month contract, and so pick up random student questions from majors and such, as do folks teaching summer courses. And most faculty also answer questions by email when they're around.

Do you pay your faculty to be around 12 months, or 9 months?

Dizzy on a treadmill? Seems to me you need to see the guy who knows about the prostrate thing and ask.

The DRE/prostrate thing. Med tests are chosen based on: cost, effectiveness at finding problems (true positives), invasiveness, potential harm (injury risk during the procedure, false positives, false negatives).

Prostrate exams are cheap (experienced finger + glove + a little KY), minimally invasive, and do a decent jobs at finding basic problems with very little risk.

Alternatives would be at least as invasive (rectal ultrasound), or hugely expensive (MRI).

Toilet has to do with curves and gravity. Here's a site with a basic picture:

My school is no longer on an agricultural calendar. We're on an economic need and religious calendar. Seriously, we can't start until the tourist season is over, and have to end before it begins. The religious thing is now supposedly hidden by name changes, but realistically everyone knows why we have breaks when we do.

And finally: day care and babysitting (grandparents, whatever).
I should clarify about the dizziness. I use the elliptical three times a week for a half hour each, and all is well. But I use it by ignoring the moving-arm thingies; I just treat it like a low-impact stairmaster. The moving-arm thingies cause the dizziness. Is this odd?
The CC and state system requires one phy-ed credit for an AA or BA degree. Some privates do and some don't.

Tax deduction??? huh?? I drive an SUV, how do I get the deduction??? Is this an income tax deduction or are we talking sales tax? Federal or state?

For the kiddies....daycare.

Academic people will continue to choose teaching as a career. I think summers off is a HUGE motivating factor for a good percentage of teachers.
Damn. You ask many hard questions.

Of all things, regarding the kids--send them to day camp, of course! Even better, send them to sleep away camp. I started going when I was 9 or 10.

Isn't there one late day at the post office? Not that it helps much.
The IRS does provide free tax prep software (or at least links to other tax sites that will do your federal returns for free). If you go to, and click on "free file," you'll find some.

Bardiac, thanks for the toilet link! I was stumped too.
The dizzyness thing isn't quite so bizarre when you remember our family history. Uncle B gets motion sickness from carousels. I get dizzy easier than most folks. You come by it honestly.

The bobbing and lurching of the treadmill causing dizziness isn't so strange. The elliptical trainer hand-holds are the same way. They probably get your head moving forward and backward. Do that for long enough, and ugh.

That'd be my guess.
By the way, the "bobbing and lurching" of the treadmill comes from not being used to the damn things. When I use 'em, I'm all over the place. Forward, backward, a little to one side, a little to the other...

You can get used to it and learn to run steadily, but I'm guessing that the initial motion sickness prevented DD from reaching that level of familiarity with the infernal device.
Yes to the P.E. - two semesters of "Lifetime Physical Activity Program", even for varsity athletes.

Summer advising by staff. (Truthfully, they may do a better job. Our faculty advisors are heavily slanted towards Humanities, while the students are not. I'm sure the extra $750/year discretionary spending account alloted to faculty advisors has something to do with this trend...)

The DRE should be used in conjunction with a blood test for Prostate-Specific Antigen. Together they make a good diagnostic tool. Pay attention if your PSA starts to rise, even if the total number is still low! The "doubling rate" is significant.

Our downtown post office is open until 8 p.m. on weekdays and the one at the airport is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Doesn't at least one post office in your town offer half-day Saturday hours?

The time for year-round school has come.
Ooh, I know the toilet thing. The water in the toilet goes out in a sort of sideways S shaped pipe:


The bowl is the leftmost part of the S. so what happens is when you flush, the water level raises to above the top of the right part of the S, and can flow down and out (until the water level gets back below the bottom of the S.

You can also see this by looking under any of your sinks.

Why is this? Well the idea is that the water acts as a sort of barrier to keep the smell of the sewer water from getting into your home.
1. The current tax system is way too complicated for an Excel-like program to handle. For someone who files the 1040 EZ, maybe even the 1040A, it might be possible, but not for most middle class taxpayers. In fact, the federal tax system is so complicated that doing one's taxes manually and accurately is just about impossible, a computer is needed for all the cross checking, phase-outs and various penalties. Perhaps you've heard of the AMT, the special tax for rich people that no rich people ever pay, that mainly hits two-earner couples in blue states?

2. Why is there a deduction for SUVs? Politics. That's the reason for every deduction. It benefits the auto industry (and the UAW) which makes most of its money from pickup trucks and heavier vehicles.

3. Not only should post offices have evening hours, how about the Department of Motor Vehicles? Why should I have to take a vacation day when I have to deal with them?

4. My college, Famous Engineering School, required 4 quarters of Phys Ed taken anytime during the undergraduate years (this was, BTW, well into the last century). There were a wide range of quarterly subjects--I remember taking golf one quarter, squash another, for example. Most undergrads took well in excess of 4 quarters--I think I did 8, but I stopped counting. The classes were pass/fail, graded solely on attendance, not achievement.

Except for one: swimming. Everyone was also required to pass a swimming test, and those who flunked had to take beginning swimming (me). Those who flunked the test at the end of the quarter had to take beginning swimming over again (me). The requirement was waived after a full semester of trying (so I graduated).
Re getting all degress from one school: My department does not allow this, and kicks you out after the MA if you got the BA here. I think it depends, although I think many might frown upon it as you will be given only one view of your discipline.

Treadmill: I never get dizzy on the elliptical machine, but I have to hold on to SOMETHING on that and the treadmill or I feel like I am about to fall off. It is weird. I have pretty good balance in yoga, so I don't know what's up.
I like the juxtaposition of the Krispy Kreme burger, the Phys Ed requirement, and how the toilet works. They are all connected, of course.
As to the agricultural calendar and how two-career families care for children, this is the same question. Answered by, this is why we are a two teacher family. We all have summers off! Yeah!
I loved the ag calendar in Idaho. We all got the potato harvest off, even though there were no potato farmers at my school, as far as I knew. It happily (for others) coincided with the beginning of hunting season. For us, an extra few days off.
Also: our post office lobby is open 24/7 with a DIY automated machine.
2. Student advising
We just got the email asking us to sign up for advising days this summer. The advanced planning is much appreciated and I don't mind this summer duty -- as it turns out I will see many of them in the Fall -- I am teaching several sections of a required Gen Ed course at my small school.

4. I really do not know what to say about the donut burger and the heart attack extravaganza Harvey describes (the Hamdog).

8. We had a 2 course physical fitness requirement -- it turned out to be much more enjoyable than I had feared.

10. My parents put me in summer day camp until I was old enough to stay home / take get ahead classes in summer school. The YMCA camp was great; I have many more fond memories of day camp than I do summer school (especially biology lab).
I have nothing helpful to add, but this point is particularly relevant to me right now:
- How does your school handle student advisement over the summer? The faculty likes to claim advisement as its bailiwick, but it also hates to come in during the summer. Students trickle in all summer long. Have you found a way to square this circle?

I'm in the midst of trying to arrange a summer exam and it's like pulling teeth and herding cats at the same time. I'm required to pay full tuition for the summer, and yet no one is around to do anything? What exactly am I paying for?
I have no real useful advice except in regards to the treadmill/elliptical. Do not look down. Seriously, it's that simple. Don't look at the conveyor belt thing or ar the arm things (wish I could be more eloquent here). Look straight ahead. Don't read, because unless the book holder is right at eye-level, you're going to catch some of the movement peripherally. Hope that helps!
I'm guessing that the schools that require phys ed must continue to do so in order to provide job opportunities for the alumni of my current employer who have received PhDs in gym.
"For that matter, why is almost all of academia still on an agricultural calendar?"

So a family with two working adults and two children at different schools can get on holiday together?
Don't even get me started on the agricultural calendar of schools. I, unfortunately, as a lowly 12-month staff member who happens to run a summer program, it's nearly impossible to take a vacation.

We use a combination of camps, babysitters, and the patience of Mr. Geeky to deal with the kids in the summer.
Summer advising: we do it over the web. We contact students by email and use several web-based resources to help them decide on courses. They actually register when they arrive on campus, so that those without convenient net access are not at a disadvantage. Faculty who teach in our First-Year Program serve as academic advisors for the incoming students and get a small stipend for doing summer advising.
I was told that the s-shaped tubes in plumbing were (also) to prevent rats from crawling out of the sewer system and into your house.
I must admit to not having a lot of sympathy in terms of the old finger-up-the-wazoo. Try having a plastic contraption opened up inside you so that a long stick with cotton wool can be used to get a 'smear'. All this while being told to relax!

Oh - and summers = day camps. The tricky thing is to find ones that aren't too expensive but that the kid actually likes.
I dunno about the IRS, but I can tell you that yes, it is waaaaay too complicated for the Canada Revenue Agency to just post some simple tax filing software on the Web. But, you can get some nice freeware if you look for it. Our problem is with licencing issues and such, from what I understand.
the toilet thing:
yes, it's about the S-curve, but no, it's not about gravity.
The s-curve does not allow flow through until air-pressure from above is allowed to exert its force when the stopper in the top chamber is opened. I didn't check the site on the toilet drain info. so I don't know if it explained the point about air-pressure.

A simpler demonstration of the air-pressure principle:

If you suck fluid up a straw and cover the top quickly, the fluid will not escape out the bottom. Gravity cannot pull the water out unless there is air pressure exertion from above to *push* the water down (or frankly -- up -- which is how fountains worked before mechanised pumps were invented).

Inadequate air pressure will result in drains that gurgle and do not empty efficiently. Inadequate venting can also result in the release back into the house of methane gases.

Finally, part of the reason for p-traps and s-curves is that the trap fluid in the curve, creating a barrier between the house and the gases on the other side of the water-barrier.

And if my son were asking me the question, he'd be really impressed right now, and I'd say to him:

"Sweet-pea, *that* is why they call me 'Doctor'." It's a family in-jokle and now you know why my blog is called that.
My undergrad had a phys ed requirement - 8 quarters (=4 semesters), plus passing a swimming test. I have no idea if they still do, but it wouldn't surprise me. I think my current school has a phys ed requirement, actually, though I couldn't swear to it.

As for the degrees all from one school - I think it depends on the school and who you're talking to. I personally find it a little disconcerting and I look a little askance at it. But my perspective is as a SLAC person, and I like folks to have some experience with a SLAC, and you can't get MAs or PhDs at SLACs, so... But I'd be willing to bet that if you were aiming for a research-based place and all your degrees were from Chicago or Berkeley, no one would care (FWIW, those are the schools that definitely jump to mind and places you see the trifecta from).

And my previous school paid faculty to advise over the summer, too. I think here the official advising office is stuck dealing with summer folks. (But this would only be rising first-years, as everyone who is here already gets an advisor of their own, and advising is supposed to happen during the school year. We don't offer summer classes.)
Re: Getting all your degrees in one place. In general, I think it is perceived as a negative. Institutions have different cultures and someone who has only experienced one is going to be seen as having a limited perspective. That being said, this usually happens because someone has pressing ties to a location, and so if they were applying for a job in that location (hopefully not at the university), might be seen as a sign that the person was likely to stick around.

And, like anything else, it's only one factor.

For someone in this situation, though, I'd think about what I could to counteract the concerns it raises. Getting experience elsewhere, if only during summers or short stints, particularly so that you could letters from people at other locations, could make a big difference and show evidence of initiative.
Getting all your degrees from one place can be a bit of a negative factor. Getting all your degrees from one place and being hired back there is "academic incest" -- according to my father, a retired engineering professor, who has to laughingly admit that his scornful attitude towards the same is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

In other random responses, there was no physical education requirement at my undergraduate institution. Nevertheless, I took jazz dance, modern dance, ballet, running and equestrian classes. Of course, I also took five years to graduate, but that's another story. . . .
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