Sunday, May 20, 2007

Road Trip

Well, the new station wagon has been on its first road trip, got its first fill-up from me, and it was great! We piled in three adults and three kids yesterday (only one unused seatbelt), put our stuff in the Yakima roof carrier, and drove to the coast. We had a very smooth ride. Since it was fully loaded with a roof carrier, I didn't expect good fuel economy, but I was pleasantly surprised to get 26.8 mpg on the trip down. We only went 24 miles in the first hour of driving down because of traffic on the under-construction interstate! Then we took the scenic tour through several small towns to see an art gallery and an aquarium. The wagon only got 25.5 mpg on the drive back, but the weather was so windy that I was steering to correct for the wind pushing us around. It's rated for 20 mpg in town and 26 mpg highway, so I think it's doing really well. Once we get a trailer hitch installed, the old wagon can go!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Car Quest: Done!

Oh thank goodness! Car shopping is over, and we like the end result. The initial car shopping was painful: new cars just aren't worth that price tag.

Yesterday afternoon, we bought a 2002 Mercedes E320 station wagon from a private seller, and this morning we took care of the DMV side of the house. Patty and Selma Bouvier had nothing on the hour-long line or the inconsiderate service, but that DMV trip is done thankfully. The ride is exquisite. The driver's seat may be the most comfortable yet! The features are appreciated (like center console window controls, modern Mercedes computer dashboard, sunroof, and quiet engine). The extra leg room for the second row of seats was a great improvement. This wagon has the third row seat that looks so fun for kids! So we have seat belts for seven in this wagon. (The 20-year-old wagon being replaced only has seat belts for five since it doesn't have the third-row seat.) Karston likes playing in it, too. We'll need to get a trailer hitch for this wagon as well, but we know where to have that done now. We do have more than one choice of trailer hitch brand this time, but we plan to stick with Da'Lan for the quality. Same champagne color as the old wagon, but tan interior instead of burgundy (burgundy is pretty, but tan makes it look more spacious), gas instead of diesel (diesel wagon wasn't imported then). Basically the same wagon, 15 years newer.

I'm relieved that the wagon search is over. Whew.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


I just handed in grades, so I'm thinking about, well, grades. I only had eight students this semester, and I decided that I was OK giving only A's and B's (good group of students!). I noticed an interesting pattern when I converted their grades into the final form. I'm not allowed to assign an A+ or a D-. I did want to distinguish the top score from the other grades, but without an A+, that's tough. However, graduate students here are on a different scale, H-P-L-F for High, Pass, Low, and Fail. The H is supposed to be harder to get than an A; the P is the broad side of a barn; and the L should be rare (and bad) but at least you didn't Fail. Well, the top student this semester is a graduate student, and I was very happy to assign an H.

The pattern that struck me was that all of my B's were the other graduate students in this class! Since the H is harder to get than an A, I think there's a dis-incentive to put in the extra work to get a regular A (that translates to a P) and any form of B (that also translates to a P). So I had one graduate student who aimed for the stars and earned an H, a handful of undergraduates who worked hard and earned A's and A-'s, and a handful of graduate students who worked and learned and earned all flavors of B's that became P's.

So the piece of paper I just turned in looks much more boring than the actual grade distribution. This, in turn, makes me wonder why I worked so hard on assignments and grading. I've been teaching long enough that I know how to get a reasonable spread on grades from the questions I ask. I did that this time around, but on that last piece of paper, the only one that matters, it didn't show up. If this happens again, I wonder what sort of teacher dis-incentive it will generate?