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!

December 21, 2006 December 21, 2006 archives by Scott No Comments

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?

December 18, 2006 December 18, 2006 archives by Scott No Comments

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.

Stephen Mey­er died Decem­ber 10 at age 54.

December 12, 2006 December 12, 2006 archives by Scott No Comments

Tomorrow’s doc­tors learn with Pow­er­Point, not patients (The New York Times).

December 12, 2006 December 12, 2006 archives by Scott No Comments

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…

December 12, 2006 December 12, 2006 archives by Scott No Comments

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!

December 9, 2006 December 9, 2006 archives by Scott No Comments

I feel oblig­at­ed to point out that today is the 65th anniver­sary of 12/7.

December 7, 2006 December 7, 2006 archives by Scott No Comments

Storrow Drive at Night 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.

December 2, 2006 December 2, 2006 archives by Scott No Comments