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Amazing Fireflies




In my next lifetime, I want to be a math geek. In particular, one like Steven Strogatz, who has managed to make a career out of studying events like this one:

Every night along the tidal rivers of Malaysia, thousands of male fireflies congregate in the mangrove trees and flash on and off in silent, hypnotic unison.  This display extends for miles along the river and occurs spontaneously; it does not require any leader or cue from the environment.

Wow. Sounds like something worth witnessing. And attempting to understand. Strogatz focuses on “feats of synchronization [that] occur throughout the natural world”… 

… whenever large groups of self-sustained oscillators interact.  This lecture will provide an introduction to the Kuramoto model, the simplest mathematical model of collective synchronization.  Its analysis has fascinated theorists for the past 35 years, and involves a beautiful interplay of ideas from nonlinear dynamics, statistical physics, and fluid mechanics.

But, since I am so very far from being Steven Strogatz, I would at least like to hear him speak about such things, which he will be doing, on September 16th at Bronfman Auditorium. If I could, I would be there. To me, it sounds like getting one tiny step closer to understanding magic.

The lecture on September 15th sounds wonderful as well. The focus of that one is “of his extraordinary connection with his high school calculus teacher”.

It’s about the transformation that takes place in a student’s heart, as he and his teacher reverse roles, as they age, as they are buffeted by life itself.  It is intended for a general audience, and especially anyone whose life has been changed by a mentor.  (It also includes some nifty calculus problems.)


Misc News from Speak Up

Again, for the purposes of archiving, here is a round-up of local and miscellaneous news recently posted on Speak up. Additional comments are welcome.

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Mayda Del Valle ’00 and O

Dell Valle

Spoken-word artist, Mayda Del Valle ’00  has been selected for the Oprah Power List.

Sharing company with the likes of  physicist Shirley Ann Jackson, four-star General Ann Dunwoody, artist Kara Walker, and comic Sarah Silverman, Del Valle is featured in the September issue of O Magazine.

The O Power List  is a tribute to “20 remarkable visionaries who are flexing their muscles in business and finance, politics and justice, science and the arts.”

The segment on Del Valle says:

“Mayda Del Valle doesn’t waste words. Or time. In 2001, at the age of 22, the Chicago native became the youngest poet and first Latino to win the Individual National Poetry Slam. Since then, her bracing style — informed by latin jazz and hip-hop —  has set off sparks on Russell Simmon’s Def Poetry HBO series and Broadway show; in May she performed at the White House at the invitation of the president and First lady.”

When O asked Del Valle to talk about what she does, she composed this poem:”

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Michael Glier ’75 in Botswana

Michael Glier

Professor Michael Glier ’75 has updated his site with lots of gorgeous photos, artwork, and journals of his stint on the Okavango Delta in Botswana. It is part of the Antipodes segment of his ongoing project which involves “painting the landscape at opposite points of the globe.”
He writes beautifully:

The Delta is wild and to visit it is to travel back in time to the world before human ascendance. But the primacy of the landscape is an illusion. This is a national park, managed well by the government of Botswana. It is tempting to think of this place as a primal landscape—a cauldron of life that bubbles and boils on its own, assuring renewal. But it’s not. Its wildness and isolation only emphasize the fact that humankind now manages the entire surface of the earth. Every scrap. There are no redemptive Edens left. There are only parcels of wild space that are dependent on managers for upkeep.

Take a small journey of your own by visiting the entire post here, and be sure and scroll down to view his wonderful sketches.


Gun Debate from Speak Up

Most of the chat on Speak Up gets deleted after a period of time, but there was a particularly spirited debate regarding gun laws, that I thought was worth archiving. It began with a comment and link posted by Jeff Z:

“The gun bill *mentioned above BARELY failed. Eph [Mark] Udall (Colorado) one of 20 dems to vote yes. Uggghhh.”

And the rest follows below the fold.

*(article referred to at beginning of thread now linked here)

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Alumni News from Speak Up

In the interest of archiving some of the links on Speak Up, I have re-posted them here, below the fold. Feel free to add commentary if you’d like.

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Michael Glier

photo-Michael Glier

Michael Glier ’75, is one of many Williams professors who are also practicing artists. Currently in Botswana, he is working on the third part of an ongoing project that involves painting on location in various parts of the world.

Antipodes, the project, is a road trip to paint outdoors in landscapes on opposite point of the globe. In the summer of 2009, I’ll travel to Botswana, and then in the winter of 2010, to its antipode, Hawaii. With any luck, I hope to spend the next few years visiting other antipodal landscapes to paint. The purpose, besides satisfying my curiosity and attempting to make a few memorable paintings, is both to respond to specific places and to visualize the earth. If we are to maintain the environment so that it’s fit to inhabit, we must simultaneously preserve our neighborhoods and consider the global consequences of our actions. To stretch one’s perception from the local to the global is a feat that requires imagination and empathy. It’s also a challenge that defines our time. Antipodes is an attempt to represent this challenge.

Glier describes the entire project here. From his five most recent paintings in progress, to essays chronicling his travels, the site is an adventure in itself. He writes fluidly, ranging easily from memories of growing up in Kentucky, to farm life in rural Botswana, to a rather frightening encounter while plein-air painting at “Woman’s Rock”. I encourage you to share in the experiences of the talented, adventurous Professor Glier.




















More creative genius from Ephs, Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson (both ’97) of the Barnstorming, one of my absolute favorite sites (thanks to Ronit!). 

When Robbi and Matthew aren’t posting about their adorable baby, or their recent fishing adventures in Alaska, they are sharing their incredibly innovative artistic endeavors. You can read about them and their work , here, on their site, (scroll down to the July 15 post for the story behind the artwork above, but enjoy “The Fisherman Prepares” on the way) …and, you  can get more information on the genesis of this particular project on this link.

A seriously talented duo.

P.S. Can’t wait to hear more about Alaska.


Editing and Deleting

What follows is a conversation that began on “Speak Up”.

To recap a bit, PTC made a comment on this post. The comment was a criticism of Karl Rove, the author of the article to which Dave linked. There were no disparaging remarks made about the subjects of the post, the Krissof family. In fact,  I would go so far as to say that if there is any one subject on this blog site on which all agree, it is that the Krissof family commands all of our deepest respect and admiration. 

To continue: PTC’s comment was deleted. No note appeared in it’s place stating why and by whom. PTC then made a statement on “Speak Up” that his comment had been deleted and that is where the discussion (below) begins.

As a board member, I encourage the discussion to continue in a positive way, with the goal being more clarity on the EphBlog policy regarding the rules on editing, deletion, and censorship.


Pot of Gold

Pot of Gold

Special thanks to “Nuts” for finding this beautiful photo by Akemi Ueda ’11. On the link, Akemi says:

After moving into my room for the summer, I got to see this amazing double rainbow from the fourth floor of Morgan. Awesome end to the day.

And an awesome photo, Akemi. Hope you are having a great summer!



From Henry Bass ’57:

Joseph S. Perrott ‘57 has just published an exciting novel, SURE-KILL, now available from Amazon. Joe was in my class and was an all-time Eph football and lacrosse great. (He is in the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.) After Williams he was invited by the then-legendary Baltimore Colts to try out for their football team.

Instead he went to Penn to study English literature. Though his profs wanted him to go on for a PhD, he decided to teach English and coach football at Penn Charter, a well-known private secondary school in Philadelphia. At Penn Charter he discovered a talent for counseling young people with problems. So mid-career he went back to school to get a degree in psychology and has been practicing therapy for some years.

He calls SURE-KILL a “fictional memoir,” implying that his novel is a case study of a psycho killer based on personal counseling experience. Joe may not have had a psycho killer as bad as Paul, his main character, but he must have had patients that really scared him.

The novel deals with the forces that shaped Paul, from a bad family situation to difficult colleagues. Paul also suffers from the failures of psychotherapy, including some practiced on him by his therapist sister. Paul is too much of a challenge for bungling cops and easily breaks out of a mental institution.

SURE-KILL is a penetrating critique of the failure of therapy professionals to deal with dangerous people. It is also an exciting and moving story, a tribute to Joe’s literary background. He effectively switches back and forth from a third-person narrative to a first-person account by Paul, the killer. You come to identify with Paul and realize that if you had been unlucky enough to inherit a terrible gene all this might have happened to you (though Joe does not take sides in the nature-nurture debate.)

It’s an important book on a subject that really matters, and an exciting read.




So, Parent ’12 posted this link on “Speak Up” several days ago. And (no) thanks to her, I have been thinking about honeybuns ever since.

But I also could not help but notice, that unlike the “Cheese Bread” post, not one blogger has waxed eloquent about this supposedly irresistible Paresky delicacy.

Jeff’s “Anonymous Professor made mention of them, they are listed as one of the draws on the Reunion Schedule, they somehow played a part in one of Morty’s holiday cards, yet not a single Ephblogger has rhapsodized about the Paresky Honeybuns.

What is the story? How long have they been around? Are they as good as they look? And are they really served up “grilled”, with butter!?

(Sheesh, my heart is clenching just thinking about it.)


Gentle Wisdom

David mentioned in one of his posts that some of the best of EphBlog is what arrives in the comments. I agree, and note that it is sometimes from anonymous, and seemingly intermittent bloggers.

In the spate of athletic posts, an incoming freshman, “MT”, made an appearance. He said he was an athlete, and he expressed chagrin at the tone of the thread and wondered instead why athletes weren’t encouraged and applauded for their success at “balancing a challenging school with a time consuming passion.” 

In the comments that ensued was one by “Reader”.  I thought it’s gentle wisdom perfectly captured the positive aspect of pursuing and balancing one’s passions, whatever they may be. 

Thank you to “Reader” for saying so much in so few words, no small thing after all, especially here on EphBlog. ;-)

MT –

In my experience the “best”, most well rounded, most interesting, most successful people are those that have seemingly disparate interests – athlete/scientist, musician/historian, etc., etc. And they are not necessarily the ones who work their butts off to get straight As because they find other things interesting and worth spending their time on. There is a real advantage to being an athlete or a musician or an artist whose major is not phys ed, music or art at an academically rigorous school like Williams. These students have a variety of things to focus on; to be trite – they really do learn how to work and play well with others, to develop priorities, learn how to manage time etc, etc. There are many student who can put the study time in and get great grades at places like Williams; labeling anyone as an underachiever based solely on academic performance is doing them a huge injustice.

I would much rather hire/work with a person like this than one who is an academic achiever with “appropriate” ECs.

I hope that the school you [chose] to attend offers you lots of opportunities and that you take advantage of them, not to become a stellar academic, but to let you grow as a person.

Good luck



Clarence Otis Jr. ’77

As Will Slack has nostalgically reminded us, the end of the 2009 school year is almost here. For many Ephs this means summer jobs, and time at home catching up with family and friends.

But for roughly a quarter of the Williams student population, this is a more poignant time, one that entails packing up for good rather than filling a storage unit, and saying goodbye to friends with whom they have shared their lives for the last four years. It also means graduation, the ultimate denouement to four years of challenging and life-changing study.

This June, the commencement speaker will be Clarence Otis Jr. ’77. And in a year in which the job market might seem especially daunting, this man’s story is one to inspire.

Special thanks to ‘Brother Spotless’ for posting this lively introduction in “Speak Up”. I look forward to hearing more from him and Mr. Otis.

Both articles are a good read. Enjoy!

Hungry? Well Williams College Alum Clarence Otis Jr. (class of ‘77) knows how to feed you. As CEO of Darden Restaurants Inc., Otis runs the largest casual dining corporation in the nation, including restaurant chains Red Lobster and The Olive Garden.

Otis will be the Williams College Class of 2009 Commencement speaker. Hopefully he brings cheddar bay biscuits; the hungover graduates-to-be would be ever-grateful…


Williams Tutorials

I’ve heard a little bit about tutorials here on EphBlog, how unique they are to Williams, how they have been one of Morty’s pet projects, how they should be put on the ever-growing list of “things that need to be budgeted”, but I don’t recall hearing much about them from those who have been, or are currently, enrolled in one.

This article on the Williams website says:

More common in older universities in Britain, the tutorial format is rare in U.S. higher education.

How rare? Does anyone know where else they are offered?

How a tutorial course is conducted does vary, but usually 10 students will be enrolled. At the beginning of the term, the instructor divides the students into five pairs. Each pair meets with the instructor each week for about an hour. At these weekly meetings, one student will deliver a prepared essay or presentation about the assignment for that week. The other student and the instructor offer a critique. The following week the students switch roles.

I’d like to hear more about this. Does the prof determine the pairs, or can two students decide they want to partner?

Student course evaluations for tutorials are very high – generally significantly higher than for other courses at comparable levels. In a survey of alumni from 1989 through 1996 who had taken at least one tutorial, more than 80 percent indicated that their tutorial was “the most valuable of my courses” at Williams.

Any of those 80 percent reading EphBlog? If so, could you tell us about your tutorial experience?


Williams Tops Amherst



(Special thanks to Parent ’12 for linking to this lively article in the NY Times about yesterday’s re-enactment of the 1859 game.)

Some fun facts:

*Williams was trounced by Amherst in that original face-off, with a 25-inning game, and an end score of  73-32!

*The field was not a diamond back then, but instead, the configuration you see here. 

*The umpire wore a bowler hat, waistcoat and tails (something of which I believe even Rechtal would approve).


What fun!

Who was there to witness the antics? Could we get a first-hand report?


Spring Family Days


I noticed, with great nostalgia, that Spring Family Days are about to begin in Williamstown. In one way, it seems eons ago that I was packing a bag for my trip this time last year, and in another way, it’s hard to believe that my son is already nearing the end of his sophomore year.

Williamstown is a fun place to visit. I have been there several times now, but it was particularly memorable during Family Days. There’s an interesting energy in the air, no small part of which is the campus-wide excitement that the late Berkshires spring has finally begun to break.

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Coffee Break with WCMA #2


Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992)
Martha Graham Letter to the World, 1940
gelatin silver print
Williams College Museum of Art,
Museum purchase, Miscellaneous Gifts Fund

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WCMA Coffee Break

grant-wood-dorr-1935 Grant Wood (American, 1892-1942)

Death on the Ridge Road, 1935
oil on masonite
Williams College Museum of Art, Gift of Cole Porter


This painting is part of WCMA’s permanent collection. I love how each piece has several stories to it, not the least of which is how it came to be at WCMA. I would like to hear more about this bequest. What was Porter’s connection to the college? Please tell us if you know.

The only other tidbit of information I will offer is that this particular painting was unusual for Wood in that it was the only one of his landscapes that depicted a motor vehicle and a less than idyllic mood.


Spring has Sprung…

…at least where I live.

This photo was taken on an all day hike yesterday. (Pssst! Yahoo says the sun will be shining in Williamstown next week.)


Happy Easter, Happy Passover, and Happy Spring to all!


Henry Bass ’57 Visits Tunisia


Henry Bass ’57 tells us of his adventures in Tunisia:

Sue and I just got back from Tunsia. It is a lovely little country with plenty of Roman ruins and also the ruins of Carthage. The Roman mosaics are the best in the world and one of the great sights of the ancient world.
Our attempt to learn a little Arabic did not work out since the alphabet alone takes two 10 week courses. Arabic, however, is the most interesting language I have yet begun and we plan on trying again. But, everyone under 40 speakes wonderful French. Ben Ali, the president for life is even providing equal education for women. Due to the French influence food is good. And the seafood is the freshest we have ever had. And they have a good dometic wine industry. We had a guide for a day trip to out of the way ruins who drove us in his car. Over lunch I asked Kasim if he wanted to go to Mecca. He said, “Henry, I will go to Mecca, when I’m much older. I will give up beer and go to Mecca.” It is a very laid back and hip country.Ben Ali is building lots of new mosques but the clergy are held in their place. Lots of young French couples celebrating anniversaries go there. Very few Americans were there and they were all with tour groups. Sue and I were the only Americans we met doing it on their own. But, if you have a little French I could not recommend it more strongly. And perfectly safe. They have a years compulsory military service for men and there are a few kids standing around in uniform with automatic weapons but no street crime. We walked through the Arab districts at night with no fear. Recognizing us as tourists everyone said “Bon nuit Madam. Bon nuit Monsieur.” Even the teenagers are very respectful.


An EphBlog Minute

I found this beautiful poem tucked into page 64 of the latest edition of The New Yorker. It’s written by Professor Lawrence Raab, who has his seventh collection of poems, “The History of Forgetting” coming out in June.

It’s 100 words, and one lovely minute. Click below the fold and enjoy.

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So, the recent thread on the Williams College Museum of Art has piqued my curiosity. I have visited the museum several times, and was duly impressed. It is a beautiful space, well-run, well-endowed, and obviously well-utilized by the college and the community. There were numerous comments that pointed out the ways in which this is so, but one in particular (by occasional commenter and Williams Art History major, Suz), gave me the understanding of just how vital the museum is as a center of learning, not only to the art program at Williams, but to the local schools as well. She says:

I think there are about 10 grade school tours a week and about 30 undergraduate tour guides. Also every 101/102 class at Williams makes extensive use of WCMA. I was even able to write for my first publication through WCMA, namely through my class with Prof. Gerrard on fakes and a related show at WCMA. WCMA is a huge resource for the college and for the surrounding community. Its closing would be the equivalent of closing all of the chem labs and telling all of the chemistry students to just get by on lectures and theory, then expecting them to go out and work in a top lab or in a top graduate program.

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Need-Blind but Hard-Pressed

There’s a new hyphenated term in town. Let’s hope it doesn’t hang around long enough to get the better of need-blind.

(Thanks to Jeff Z. for posting the link to this article from today’s New York Times)

Hard-Pressed Colleges Accept More Applicants Who Can Pay Full Cost

Published: March 30, 2009

In the bid for a fat envelope this year, it may help, more than usual, to have a fat wallet.

Institutions that have pledged to admit students regardless of need are finding ways to increase the number of those who pay full fare in ways that allow the colleges to maintain the claim of being need-blind —taking more students from the transfer or waiting lists, for instance, or admitting more foreign students who pay full freight.
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College Tours

Juliana Stone ’12 writes about training to be an admission tour guide. Her enthusiasm is infectious…

I was so excited about the training session that I got three new Williams College spiral notebooks and three new Williams College folders – gold on purple and purple on gold, respectively – and brought them all to the training session totally ready to write down every time someone sneezed. I don’t know why. I only needed one of each. And they had sent us each an 18- or 19-page tour-guide manual the day before. I had already underlined, highlighted and annotated it. And memorized it. I was so excited. I still am.

…and strikes me as just what Admissions must look for in a tour guide.

Read the whole essay and see if it sparks any memories of your own college visits. How important do you think the guides are in creating those first impressions? What colleges did you tour? Which visits were most memorable, and why so?


Baseball ’09

All of the recent talk about the upcoming 150th anniversary of collegiate baseball (which will be celebrated on May 3rd in nearby Pittsfield), inspired me to take a look at the baseball schedule. Lo and behold, the first conference game takes place at noon today with Middlebury, in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. (I hope our snowbirds are donning sunscreen). Tomorrow’s schedule  features a double-header.

From the look of said schedule, it looks like training got off to a rough start with the first few games, but they seem to have turned the tide, winning the last three.

Fingers crossed. Go Ephs!


March Madness




Notes from MASS MoCA Director Joe Thompson indicate lots of exciting projects in the works. This installation in particular, which opens April 4th, caught my eye:


On the third floor galleries our own man-of-all-skills Gregg Eastman is putting final touches on what will surely be one of the most amazing videographic venues in the world: a 12′ tall,  35′ diameter cycloramic screen (that’s about 110 feet in circumference if I remember my geometry), onto which Pawel Wojtasik will project a new video about New Orleans at the watery edge of its existence.  Pawel is teaming up with Steven Vitiello on sound, and the lush footage, coupled with Steven’s amazing tonescapes promises to be compelling.  Getting the eight LCD projectors to properly interlace the 360 degree video has been a tricky technical challenge, but our A/V genius in residence Gian Pablo Villamil has found brilliant software solutions to that, and our own Dante Birch has puzzled out the intricate projection mounting and optics.  You can go out and buy this sort of “in the round” filmaking hardware and software if you are Disney and have a spare half million dollars or so to spend: we don’t, so we’ve rolled our own solution, crafting up the cyclorama and video solution by the seat of our pants. I’ve seen test footage, and I think it might work out just fine, though there is still a lot of testing scheduled for this weekend:  the video itself is an exquisite visual lamentation, which is apt, as it’s one of the works-in-progress for curator Denise Markonish’s show These Days: Elegies for Modern Times.

Sounds like a must-see to me. Check out the entire schedule. And if any of you have paid a recent visit to MASS MoCA, please tell us about it.


The Winter Blues

photo by Diana


(photo by D. Davis)


So, I get a phone call from my son. It appears he is suffering from a case of the Winter Blues. Except that in his case, it’s more like the Winter Gripes. I’ll spare you the details, because chances are, you all know what I’m taking about; too cold, too gray, too much work, not enough play.

It is a very real syndrome, ranging from a general longing for short sleeves and sunshine, to it’s more serious counterpart, Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriately known as SAD.

But rather than get into the symptoms, I’d like to hear about creative solutions. In fetching Diana’s beautiful photo from the archives, I noted she talked of sledding on a cafeteria tray the very day she took this shot. That to me, sounds like making the best of circumstances.

Any other ideas out there? I do remember hearing of the snowball-fight-to-end-all-snowball-fights. What about indoor games? Scrabble tournaments? Has a storm ever shut down campus?

Tell us your ‘winter tales’ please?


Michael Beschloss ’77 on President Obama

Eph, and Presidential Historian Michael Beschloss rates President Obama’s 1st Congressional Speech Among Best Ever.

(apologies for not being able to embed video)


Smart and Rich

Special thanks to ’04 for posting this interesting article from The Boston Globe:

Economy lifting college prospects of the well-heeled.

Here’s a bit that includes a quote from Morty:

Morton Schapiro, president of Williams College in Williamstown and an economist who specializes in higher education finance, said there has “never been a better time to be a smart, rich kid. And at some schools, you don’t have to be as smart as you did before. That’s what happens in a recession.”

Schapiro referred not to his own institution, a top-tier private school that meets the full financial need of its students, but to the vast majority of schools that must base admissions decisions – at least in part – on financial means.

He predicted that colleges would find ways to boost tuition revenue. Some will require students to borrow more money and pay more of their summer and work-study earnings, for example, and others will ask parents to contribute more.



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