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The Foyer is a Room: For John Timmons

He made much and there’s too much of it to say it all in one weblog post.

On Friday, December 12, I, other friends, and Tunxis Community College lost the powerful presence of John Timmons. John was a faculty and staff member of the college for over thirty years. I met John after moving to Connecticut in the mid 90s and started working with him closely soon after. At the time he was directing our ambiguous instructional media department. Why “ambiguous” doesn’t matter. What matters is that the department assisted the college with digital instructional and online tools. I remember my first encounter with John, telling him stories about my work at UT El Paso with digital forums. I wanted his assistance with replication and system development for commuter students. He jumped right on the case. We found the Webboard system and got right to work, and this was the beginning of a long and profitable friendship.

We developed tools and pedagogy. We developed Tunxis’s New Media program. We attended conferences. We met with others to talk stories and writing in the Narratives group. He introduced me to the guitar and gave me one. He helped build an air hockey table for my son. We developed and grew the 100 Days diorama. We collaborated on art, books, film, and media projects. He was principal, along with his partner, in guiding me through a divorce and opening my heart to new love and loves (for which I will always be grateful–that’s for you, Bae!). This was deep and intimate stuff, and along with Maggie, whom he dearly loved, and other good friends, we joined and have joined in a life circle that will continue to grow and effervesce even in John’s absence, because he was a big man with a big heart and big talent. He will never really depart the planet or the minds of those who knew him.

These last years saw us continue a habit: we’d meet and smoke and drink coffee or water or beer and talk for hours about what we had been thinking and were thinking. This was an old habit. In the old days, we’d stand outside the college and hatch plans, provoke those who walked by, then walk back to our offices. Then we’d go out again. Even when we quit the smoking habit, we’d sneak a pack together and pick up the conversation. We shared the art we were enjoying. He’d show me some progressions. Every movie he suggested was a good one. When I think of him now, it’s hard to be sad. Rather, I’m just glad he was a part of my life and I smile. I’m glad he will never disappear. Much of what I make from now on will see his subtle genius in it.

His legacy is and will be wide. No matter the demand, John would never say “No” to it. John’s influence brought online education to Connecticut and not a lot of people know this. He built the College’s first website and initiated early crews into the wonders of the digital database. He brought Interactive Fiction programming to new media students. When he told me about his adventures with Zork, Deus Ex, and Half Life, I knew we’d hit it off. His big line in this regard was just to say: “The Foyer is a room.” Or do well by your Grammy. It was because of his leadership that many people now have professions; they must now work to fill John’s shoes and learn to avoid saying “No” to the things and people that matter.

We’re doing a lot with wishes these days and so I’ll close with a story that John inspired in one of our fiction projects. It speaks a lot to John and how he thought about things. Sometimes it’s hard to read between lines. It’s called Wishing Tree.

People have that book they remember reading. They find the book later in life, pick it up, open it, then put it down because it isn’t the book they’d read when they were young. It has the same title, the same words, the same folds in those places where the reader had paused. But it’s a different book. The reader wonders what happened.

When I went back to that old wish tree, the paper slips now brown with age and clinking in the breeze like dried fruit peels, I found the one I’d written and hung there so long ago. Understand that we can wish to keep something; we can wish to hang on to what we have. In this world, one can wish for riches or peace or a cure or even another world or rain. Given this, the tree had sagged, so weighted down it was with wishes. When they’re new the trees stand green and high and proud, but whey they grow old, they lean and look sad in the shaded evenings. Their backs grow crooked. There are so many wishes.

When I removed my wish, the tree kept its posture. It wasn’t such a heavy wish, not so bold, and wasn’t the kind of wish that would bring the clouds to the desert or the warm to winter or life to the dead. No, it was a simple wish, the script written small with the nervous hand of a child. It is, however, customary to keep wishes to oneself, and so I can’t reveal the wish, and I wouldn’t know what to make of it anyway, as, since the wish had been made, I couldn’t say what had happened, what had changed. Why such a wish would matter to me, unknown. But I do know that in most things, other than oil spills and the sicknesses I can do nothing about, I would wish for nothing, as I yearn for nothing more than what I have.

 

Monday, December 15th, 2014


Energy Experiments

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We had our wood stove insert installed today.

We usually keep all of the thermostats at 65, with some set at 67 for morning time. But the goal is to heat the house with the stove so that we save oil. The last delivery is the kind that shrinks the throat to the circumference of a straw. We got the thing started and in a little bit of time the living room went from 65 to 70 then 75 then up to 78, and now the remainder of the lower floor of the house is at 69, a nice grace distance beyond the 65 constant. We also turned the central air fan on to assist in distributing air.

Hopefully, we can keep the boiler from coming on enough to promote sustainable heat. Burning wood is a pretty good deal as the carbon footprint, if the burning is good, is even with a log or tree’s natural disintegration. With necessary felling and cleanup come March we should have a lot of wood ready for the next few years.

Friday, February 3rd, 2012


On Seeming Contradictions or Maybe Not-So Seeming

Reading Kathleen Megan on education national rankings is interesting.

A couple of quotes from which to develop:

Meotti said the New England 2020 report on educational attainment forecasts a 3 percent decline from 1993 to 2020 in the number of 30-year-olds in Connecticut holding bachelor’s degrees or higher.

and

He said the situation points to concerns that he and other state educators have raised about college graduation and retention rates and about the percentage of students who arrive at college unprepared for college-level work.

and

“The business community is concerned about this,” Kaufman said. “If we are going to be able to pull ourselves out of this recession, we must focus on high-skill, high-wage jobs: engineering, science, math. We need a highly educated workforce. We would be very disturbed to know … that we are not as competitive as we once were in the national rankings.”

Kaufman’s remark at the end of the article doesn’t, it seems to me, point to a set of real solutions to Megan’s suggested problem: a decline trend in percentage of higher ed degrees. But it does, in sentiment, reflect a focus on educational goals that might be expressed as a general “good.” The general good is “high-skill, high-wage jobs” and “a highly educated workforce.” Unfortunately, the relationship between “high-wage” and “engineering, science, and math” and thereby a fix to the recession seems thin and not strongly connected for good conclusion drawing. How, for example, would a ton of engineers pull us out of the recession? Maybe they would but the article doesn’t develop this cause and effect relationship. Maybe lots of highly-educated writers would do the job. Or maybe not.

Another method of coming at the issue of higher ed, degrees, economics, and recessions is to consider “reality.” Currently in Connecticut the political winds are pointing toward actually reducing resources for primary, secondary, and higher education. In New York we have the SUNY Albany situation, which, I would assume, is a general trend across the country, at least in terms of the conditions under which universities and colleges would consider reducing costs. In this context, to lament any sort of reduction in student preparedness, trends in levels of higher ed and access in the United States, and declines in the creation or sustainability of “high-wage” sectors would seem to be irrelevant without an appropriate response.

In yet another Megan article we have:

For the first time ever, enrollment in Connecticut’s public and private colleges and universities broke 200,000 this fall, driven by soaring numbers at community colleges and at eight of the state’s private colleges, including four for-profit schools.

That’s a lot of people going to school. Question: are there enough chairs and classrooms to accommodate this number? If not, more might be built. Or maybe not, as states have no money with which to augment their infrastructure. If not, should more be built so that the required number of “math, science, and engineering” students can satisfy the requirements of their degrees.

Across the country and under the cloud of the current “accountability movement,” teachers and their institutions are required to do more with less, which was “less” even when enrollment was lower. If more students enroll in a particular college, that particular college has to expend more resources to maintain its mission. The pickle is that a particular college or university will not be provided those resources because the additional resources–space, wages, staffing, professional development, overhead–don’t exist or are being used elsewhere.

We could say, “Well that’s just the way it is.” Fine. But, to grumble therefore about the bus in the driveway that won’t move because it lacks a rear tire, and a mechanic is at the moment removing the other rear tire, and then to continue slapping the driver in the back of the head for “going so slow”–none of this seems very rational to me.

Friday, November 19th, 2010


On Green House Gas Emissions and Cities

Roger Valdez of World Changing points to a study in JUPD on fundamental relationships:

So while the study has its limits — it compares just two neighborhoods in a single city– it points, as other studies do, to the evidence that sprawl and car dependence are closely linked, and are responsible for a disproportionate share of GHG emissions.

Saturday, April 17th, 2010


Floating Ecopolis for Displaced People

Yet another interesting concept, the floating ecopolis:

There are very few urban design solutions that address housing the inevitable tide of displaced people that could arise as oceans swell under global warming. Certainly none are as spectacular as this one. The Lilypad, by Vincent Callebaut, is a concept for a completely self-sufficient floating city intended to provide shelter for future climate change refugees. The intent of the concept itself is laudable, but it is Callebaut’s phenomenal design that has captured our imagination.

Saturday, April 17th, 2010


Transit Solutions

An interesting projection that might be fun to consider for cities like Hartford:

The “Community Transit” system would also enable local shipping from business to business with cargo cells, which have the same size openings as a shipping container. As Owsen says, “Cargo cells create incentive for small business peer-to-peer shipping that stimulates local business cooperation.” The windows of each cell feature an organic dye developed by researchers at MIT that concentrates light to the window’s edge, where it is converted to electricity by solar cells bordering the surface. (links in original)

Saturday, April 17th, 2010


Corporation Impact Trillions on the Environment

How do large corporations impact the environment

A study conducted by Trucost, a London-based consulting group, recently assessed the environmental use, damage, and loss by 3,000 of the world’s largest corporations.

The study draws conclusions and information from eight years of study, and was commissioned by the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment and the United Nations Environment Programme. The report is the result of increasing concern for major companies not being held accountable for a level of corporate social responsibility in regards to environmental impact.

As policy remains in limbo, government and environmental officials continue to quarrel over abolishing the practice of subsidizing and replacing it with instating a cost for damage, and the stakes increase. Fresh water, fisheries, fertile farming soil, and human quality of life is being negatively effected each year as a result of negligent business practice.

The companies assessed by the report are from the UK-FTSE and 100 other major markets, including all 500 companies on the Standard & Poor’s list of the largest traded companies in the United States (Microsoft, Proctor and Gamble, Apple, Exxon Mobil, etc).

The report, which will officially be published in May, assessed the price tag on the estimated combined corporate damage at $2.2 trillion a year — more than the national economies of all but seven of the world’s countries in 2008.

Friday, March 5th, 2010


What Copenhagen Might Mean

Alan Atkisson on Copenhagen

The world will never be the same.

But it’s the way that the world will never be the same that interests me, for the events of the past two weeks in Copenhagen signal not just a change in global climate politics, but a change in global politics, period. The primary outcome of these negotiations is not just the Copenhagen Accord, the relative merits and demerits of which will now be debated endlessly in the months and years ahead. The second, and likely more important, outcome is the global realization that the balance of things on this planet has shifted irrevocably. Copenhagen marks a phase shift in the way the world sees, understands, and governs itself.

Monday, December 21st, 2009


Domains

Kenneth Gosselin writes in the Hartford Courant

Even though debate continues over whether the $569 million busway should even be built, the state has spent millions taking properties through eminent domain and demolishing buildings along the proposed route. It’s even tossed out some well-established businesses.

The New Britain-Hartford busway has been in the news a lot. Gosselin’s tack in the article has to do with the power of eminent domain and gray areas between the idea and requirements of the busway and its likelihood of ever seeing reality. So, question: should the state acquire properties for a project even before it sees approval and design? It seems a solid approach, but the real question seems to point to a larger problem of the state’s lack of a long term design orientation for Connecticut as a whole, which would be an intensely complicated task.

Is the busway a local issue? In larger states, what one city or town does may not immediately affect a more distant region, as those regions may be separated by hundreds of miles. In Connecticut I have a hard time envisioning parts, as the state is so small, but this may be due to my own lack of insight or familiarity.

Sunday, July 26th, 2009


Questions of Value

I’ve been thinking about “place design.” I hope my students are too.

But I think colleges need to do more to provide experience for students. So, here’s the deal. Internships for artists, game designers, graphic designers (message artists), architects and coders, and ecologists on urban planning committees.

Brownfields? Give them to the students, and I’m talking the freshmen.

Friday, March 13th, 2009