I’ll be in Cincinnati Friday 12/22 through Wednesday 12/27. If you plan to be in Boston for the new year, drop me an e-mail!
I’ve been reading a lot about the increasing popularity of wood-fired boilers for home heating. This technology has attracted an outspoken set of advocates who claim that wood is cheap, renewable, and domestically-produced.
These things are all true, but in their zeal, wood-fuel advocates have forgotten one of the most staggeringly important changes the industrial revolution brought to our landscape: the shift from wood fuel to coal (and later, oil). For millennia, the dominant source of fuel for heating and cooking had been wood. But wood is inefficient, and entire forests would be stripped clean to provide winter heating. Straightforward combustion of wood is also a tremendous source of pollution. I haven’t tried calculating any numbers, but I’m pretty certain that in a modern population of our size, it is not a viable fuel for everyday use.
It’s funny how history repeats itself. What next, another killer smog?
I met Stephen Meyer in February 1999 when I signed up for 17.319, Environmental Politics and Policy. I might have been a young and impressionable freshman at MIT, but that was not a prerequisite to having Professor Meyer make an impression on you.
His sheer breadth of scientific knowledge and his uncanny ability to mesh it in great detail with diverse, seemingly unrelated subjects was eye-opening. A natural lecturer, he had the comedic timing of a professional stand-up and honest, bottomless enthusiasm for his subject matter that could infect even the most languid undergraduate.
Upon my return to MIT in 2004, I was surprised to discover that Professor Meyer’s political interests were so diverse that he also taught 17.471, American National Security Policy. The Political Science office spoke about the class in reverent tones, but I didn’t need their encouragement to sign up. Everything I had heard was true. Once again he stunned me with his wealth of knowledge, keen insight, and rich experiences. There was a running joke that his old friend Condi Rice was supposed to come and do a guest lecture for us, but she always had another appointment.
Not long into the term, Meyer appeared at lecture with an intravenous tube connected to a small waist-mounted pouch. This, he explained, was a portable chemotherapy pump. He quickly and offhandedly mentioned that the cancer that he had survived a few years back had returned, but he had been through this routine before and it was not going to be a big deal. He explained that he might occasionally appear tired, or lose his voice, but nothing else—not even his fashionable bald spot—was going to change. He resumed his lecturing and never mentioned it again.
True to his word, Professor Meyer slogged his way through the term, delivering impeccably organized and well-considered lectures to my class and several others. He continued advising scores of graduate students. Somehow he kept up with his research, his writing, and his community work. Sometimes, mid-lecture, his voice would falter and he would pause for just a moment to rest. The class would wait pensively until the awkward silence was dismissed with a quick joke and a smile, and the lecture would move on.
At the last lecture, Professor Meyer thanked us all for being such great students. Our interest and enthusiasm meant a lot to him, he said, since this would be the last time the class is offered. The class was one of the best I’d ever taken at MIT. Why on earth would they cancel it? I asked this question of my TA, Jessica, as I handed in my final exam on December 14.
“Steve’s cancer is terminal, and he won’t make it through the next year,” she whispered to me in front of the remaining test-takers. “But don’t tell anyone I told you that. He doesn’t want people feeling sorry for him. He wants everyone to focus on the material, and he wants to keep teaching it right up to the end because teaching means everything to him.”
Her comment moved me greatly.
Stephen Meyer was successful in many pursuits. As a government consultant, he advised the Reagan and Bush administrations on the complex nuances of national security policy during a turbulent period of international change. As a friendly citizen, knowledgeable scientist, and heartfelt advocate of the environment he lived in, he took developers on “nature hikes” to show them up close the plants and animals their work would displace. As a teacher, he indelibly impressed upon his students not just details of environmental calamities and security debacles but broader ways of understanding the interplay between complex systems, the political machine, and the public. He made seemingly specialized fields relevant to everyday life.
Tomorrow’s doctors learn with PowerPoint, not patients (The New York Times).
I tried to make Pioneer Telephone (a small Maine company with the best rates) my long-distance provider. They confirmed that the changes were made after I signed up, but I still can’t place long-distance calls. A friendly Verizon agent informed me that my LPIC (for Intra-LATA calling) had been updated but my PIC (for Inter-LATA) was not.
“Can you just fix it for me please?”
“I could easily fix it, but there would be a $5 service charge on your bill.”
“And if I have Pioneer initiate the change?”
“Then it is free.”
“What if I pretend to be Pioneer right now?”
“I can’t do that. I guess you should just tell them to put in the order to update your PIC.”
At least they changed my Intra-LATA service first. Verizon charges an outrageous rate for in-state calling. What a mess though. If I find getting good rates for long-distance service this confusing, I wonder what it’s like for the average person…
The Internet tubes will be connected to my new apartment on Monday, so expect to see a little more activity on this page after that.
12/12 UPDATE: Apparently UPS “3-Day Select” shipping means, “we’ll select whether to take 3 days or 6!” My DSL modem doesn’t arrive until tomorrow now. Come on!
I feel obligated to point out that today is the 65th anniversary of 12/7.
I’m moving this weekend!
But I’m not going very far. In fact, I’m not even using a truck. It’s about two blocks away from my current place, yet it’s a completely different living experience. Stay tuned for some kind of broadcast email with my new contact information.