Geodesic Distance Function in PHP

I was working on some code to process some GPS track logs and I wanted to be able to accurately calculate the distance between 2 points in the log. I did some searches, but there were no obvious solutions written in PHP. However, I did run across Chris Veness’ version in javascript. I worked through his function and mashed it up as PHP. The result seems to work, but for me with slightly less accuracy than the javascript version. At this point the problems seems to be the limit on the number of significant digits that PHP is using vs. JavaScript. If anyone finds any other problems, definitely let me know.

Why is this so great? Not only is this distance based on a curved surface, but you can vary the ellipsoid model being used (see vars $a, $b, and $f) to get a result with even greater accuracy. Just to clarify, the HowFar function does require the points to be in radians, not degrees, so be sure to use the deg2rad function to convert your lat/long into a usable format.

How To Get Free Topo Maps

I really like a good map. A GPS + Laptop is great, but nothing works like a piece of paper when the batteries go dead or your laptop falls into the lake. Unfortunately, finding high quality topo maps for free is a chore.

When I first started searching for topo maps all I was able to find were those provided by Jared Benedict over at Then he started the map ransom project, which finally freed the maps. Now you can download any of the US Quads you want over at libre map. The drawback here is that the topos are all 100dpi scans (for most of the quads). Depending on how you print them, it can be difficult to make out some of the details.

Well, after some more searching I was directed to the USDA Forest Service geospatial data clearinghouse. Here you can download high quality (300dpi mostly) raster TIFs of the same quads, produced by the NFS. One great thing about the NFS maps is that the forest roads are all numbered.

The downside is that some of the NFS maps don’t have roads the USGS topos have, and vice versa. In practice it’s definitely best to have as many maps as you can of an area if you want to have the best coverage of an area.

Build Yourself An iPod Shuffle Charger

-- Note: Read all directions before beginning!

First, lay all the parts out on the table, and make sure that you have everything accessible.

Cut your usb cable in half and peel back the insulation so that you have all the wires out.

Strip the ends of the wires on the usb cable. Take the green, white, and black wires and twist them together.

Heat up the soldering iron and get it ready. Remember to always use saftey glasses when soldering!

Solder overview

The first solder you’re going to make is from the 9v battery clip to the voltage regulator. Solder the RED (+) wire to the INPUT on the voltage regulator. Check the back of the box to make sure, but this is usually the left-most pole.

Next, solder the white, black, and green usb twisted wires, AND the ground (-) from the 9v clip to the ground on the voltage regulator. This is probably the middle pole on the voltage regulator.

Finally, solder the (+) RED wire on the USB cable to the OUTPUT of the voltage regulator. This is probably the rightmost pole.

Solder overview

Next, double check your solder connections to make sure they are correct and there is no solder bleed-over.

Connector pinoutNow connect the + probe on your volt meter to pin 1 on the usb connector, and the - (black) probe to the other pins. On each pin the volt meter should read +5v. It is critical that you verify the output voltage for each pin. If you mess this up you could break your Shuffle!

If you are satisfied (and brave), connect the Shuffle to the usb connector. It should blink green, then yellow and green, and finally blink yellow steadily. If it does this, then your charger works. Congratulations! If not, check your solder joints and get your volt meter out again. And pray you didn’t fry your shuffle!

Case being packed

Finally, mount the parts inside the project case. I cut a notch on one end just wide enough for my usb connector, and filled the empty space with foam I had lying around from something I had shipped to myself. There’s no perfect way to do this. Just do what you think works. Heck you don’t have to mount it at all if you don’t want to!

Okay, now grab a beer and watch as your yellow light blinks on-off-on-off-on-off-on-off…

All connected

All connected

Pseudo Patriotism

I am so frustrated lately by this pseudo-patriotism that serves merely as a whitewash to cover a deep and growing arrogance.

Let me explain myself.

As I've grown up I've been somewhat infatuated with my country and the values that it was founded upon. Freedom. Freedom from oppression. Freedom of speech. Freedom to criticize. Freedom to protest. Freedom to choose your own governmental representatives. Opportunity. Opportunity to work. Opportunity to serve. Opportunity to protect our liberties. For those values I have been, I am, and I always will be willing to lay down my life. Those are values I hold dear. They are blessings and should be viewed as such.

Yet as time has passed America has become infatuated not with the truths she was founded on, but infatuated with herself. A deep arrogance has begun to blossom. We are a conceited people, who demand vengence for the wrongs done to us not so much because they were horrible deeds, but because they were done to us, Great and Mighty America. Who art thou to challenge our greatness? Who are you to pick on us? We have become the self-concious bully on the playground, seeking to get revenge for the sand thrown in our eyes. I do not consider the events of Septemer 11, 2001 as insignificant. Thousands were murdered that day, and I consider that the most abhorrent of evils. I cannot articulate the sorrow and anger that wells up inside of me in response to the horrors committed. Yet also I find that I am deeply incensed at this conceit that wells up out of the general population. It is as if with one voice all are crying out, "How can you harm us!? As Americans we have a right not to be attacked! How dare you hurt might America!?" But who is standing and declaring the injustice that was done, and in turn crying out not for vengence, but for justice? On the surface it may seem insignificant. In either case, in fact, the response may be the same. But the underlying attutudes and motivations deviate wholly from that which this nation was established on. For when we seek not justice but vengence, we are becoming like the very evildoers who delivered that vile evil against us. Do we seek revenge or justice? An eye for an eye or the rod of discipline? Our we motivated by hatred or righteous anger? Are we filled with integrity or a blood lust?

If patriotism now means that I must declare my own existence more important that the existence of someone else on this earth, then I shall have no part in it. But if I can be part of a patriotism that declares that all men truly are created equal, that justice must be upheld, that freedom and libery are great blessings to be held onto with joy, that these blessings are only considered "rights" when those who are given them are blessed with a government who acknowledges these truths, and that we have no place to be arrogant because we ourselves are but stewards of these great values, then show me the way, for I will spill my blood first to defend this form of patriotism -- a patriotism upon which that "Great America" was built.

AT&T and My 8260

ATT Wireless is great. The Nokia 8260 is not.

Back in January I dumped SprintPCS for ATT and purchased a brand new Nokia 8260. At first the service was great. ATT was much more reliable than Sprint, and their customer service was so far beyond Sprint it isn't describable (though Sprint is so atrocious I'm not sure it would really take much). Then everyone started to sign up with ATT. And I mean everyone. Half my friends and several fellow employees at work jumped on the ATT bandwagon as they lowered their prices. With all these new customers ATT should be doing well right?

Apparently there have been so many new customers that ATT is struggling to keep up with all the new signups. Their infrastructure is being pushed to the limits, and as a result they've had to cut back on the bandwidth they allot to each user per call. Now for most users this really doesn't make too much of a difference. A few more pops and crackles here and there maybe, but that's pretty much it. But not for an 8260 user.

The Nokia 8260 is a sexy little phone that I had wanted for quite some time before I purchased it. Small and light, I was excited to get my new phone. The problem, however, is that the 8260 has an equally small antenna (internal no less) to go with its small case. This normally isn't a problem, but when ATT started to cut back on their bandwidth the 8260 just couldn't keep up. So for the last 4 months I've been having lots of problems. This week they became unbearable.

When I first started having problems with my phone (lots of dropped calls, missed calls, fast busy) I called ATT and complained. After thoroughly explaining my situation and going through a lot of tests they sent me a new 8260. This seemed like a good deal to me; at the time I still thought maybe I just had a defective phone. Then I started talking to others and found out that the 8260 is quite notorious for horrible reception, especially in the conditions I've been using it in. One friend has gone through over 5 8260s. Thus I wasn't very surprised when my new phone didn't operate any differently than my old one.

So today I called ATT up and made my case. They sold me an 8260 that was supposed to work on their network. I bought it in their store, and didn't even get a substantial discount on it when I purchased it. Now the phone I bought from them doesn't work on their network like it is supposed to. John at ATT looked back through the list of previous calls I had made to ATT explaining how my phone sucked and suggested that we try to find me a new phone. I heartily agreed. He offered me the 3360 for 29.99 after rebate. I explained that I already bought a new phone and I didn't want to buy one again. This was their fault the phone didn't work (indirectly) and paying for a new phone was not what I wanted. John agreed and credited my bill the 29.99. The phone will be FedExed overnight. So in another day or so I will have a new phone that should work and I won't have had to pay for it. This is why I am a big fan of ATT. They go out of their way to help the customer, and are willing to do things like send me a new phone for free to keep me as a customer.

Sprint, on the other hand, keeps sending me bills for $0.00 every month. Apparently they aren't willing to stop billing me. These bills are annoying, but part of me is very satisfied when they spend money every month to send me a bill for $0.00. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to deal with a company who's policy is, "solve all problems in one call," rather than, "Make sure the customer knows they are lucky we are letting them be our customer."


The soft footsteps echoed throughout the hall with a rhythm that indicated a relaxed pace, with a hint of eager purpose. As the echoes grew louder, the pace became very slightly brisker. Louder and louder the steps came, closer and closer, faster and faster. Suddenly they stopped. The echoes died slowly and reluctantly, fading into the unseen walls.

Slowly the knob on the heavy oak door slid to an inverted position. The door slid sliently on its huge brass hinges, opening half way.

His stature was surprising, his footsteps having betrayed his small frame. Yet, as he entered the small room it was as if the entire room bowed in deep respect. He quietly closed the door behind him; the deep brown of the oak came into contact with the cold concrete, briefly awakening the echoes in the hall. He then turned away from the door and sighed a deep, heavy sigh, emptying himself of all the pressures and stresses life had placed on him.

Cautiously he crossed the room, as if to maintain composure and thus keep the respect of the room. With each step the soft carpet bowed its thick fibers to his feet, cradling them as one would a small child.

Across the room he bent down and took up a small stick with a hint of white on one end. Dragging the thin peice of wood across the concrete he brought to life a brilliant point of light that showered the room in brilliant white. Leaning forward a bit he placed the small flame in the fireplace. Like an energetic child the flame excitedly grew and soon a brilliant fire was crackling and popping and hissing to an unknown tune.

Satisfied, he walked the small distance to the only peice of furniture in the room, a small, black leather chair. For a moment he admired the chair. Crafted by the finest leather craftsman in the region, the care taken to ensure quality showed. Each stitch was exquisitly and perfectly made. The dark stain of the cherry wood reflected the crimson carpet to produce a deep maroon that danced on the wall with the flicker of the fire.

Having completed the necessary appreciation of his chair, he turned slowly around and sat down as carefully as possible, as though he was not certain it would hold him. Softly he sank into the rich leather, creating a small swooof as he did so. The leather held him up with the care one uses when handling an infant. Placing his head back in the chair he closed his eyes and sighed another sigh, from deep within him. He opened his eyes again to watch his cares float gently into the fire and disappear up the chimney.

Content with his new state of mind, he turned his gaze to the window. He was stunned at what he saw. He had sat in this chair many nights before, but never had he seen anything like this. As he stared out the window he saw millions of thin white saphires falling from the dark night sky, reflecting the deep gray of the moon upon the snow covered hills below. As the saphires fell before the window they danced with delight at the flickering fireplace, brightening the snow outside the window with trillions of swirling, flowing sparks that appeared for hardly a moment before disappearing again into the gray from which they came.

Beyond the small hills lay the deep forest, now a blanket of silver in the distance. From behind the cover of the brush one was likely to catch the glimpse of glittering eyes as they peered out from the depths toward the sparks in the distance. In front of the forest hopped a small snow rabbit in search of shelter. He stopped momentarily to gaze at the gala of light before continuing on his way. A young doe walked slowly across the hill, returning to her home deep within the depths of the silver blanket.

Suddenly two eyes appeared right before the man. Startled he jumped to his feet and readied himself for the threat before him. Startled himself, the masked creature squealed and skittered across the silver hills toward the forest, writing his path in the snow as he went.

The man sighed and sat back into his chair, not quite as carefully as before. Considering the event that just took place he smiled to himself and chuckled. Soon his chuckle turned into a deep full laugh that enveloped the entire room and leaked out onto the hills outside the window. Still laughing, the man reached beneath his chair and removed his book, opened it to the page that was marked, and he began to read.

Web Hosting Nightmare

A little over a year ago (February 2000) I registered my own domain - Whoark is a magical word, and if you want you can read all about it. Having the liberty of running several linux boxen at work, I thought it would be cool to run the site on my own box. I could handle all the details and make any changes I would want without having to ask a tech for help or permission. The only problem I was worried about was how to handle the DNS. Then I found out that provided me with the option of controlling my DNS info on their DNS servers. Excited, I quickly set up my site on my box at work. My friend, Kirk, ran the main site on a box of his, while my subdomain and mail was handled on my box. Everything worked, and everything was fun for a year...

Then on April 4, 2001 I was visited from two guys from IT letting me know that it was against policy to host any outside domain on the network. Truth is I sorta (okay, not sorta) knew this, but I had (and still have) about 0 traffic, so I figured it wouldn't be a big deal. They informed me I needed to immediately remove my domain from the network. So I went to and pointed my site to my friend's box. Of course, the domain didn't work, but it didn't generate a not found error and it wasn't pointed to my box at work, so I wasn't violating policy. Immediately that afternoon I started looking for hosting places.

The first I stumbled upon was Liquid Web Hosting. LiquidWeb seemed to provide me with everything I needed (subdomains, lots 'o space, mail accounts, ftp, ssh, etc.) The only thing they didn't offer was IMAP mail, but I knew I could always forward to my box at work without violating any policy. So I signed up right away and waited eagerly for my account to be setup. By Sunday afternoon my account still wasn't setup and I was getting pretty anxious. So I filed a trouble ticket and was informed my account would be set up asap on Monday. I figured no big deal, and waited until Monday. Monday came and my account was activated, just like I was told. I happily and quickly updated to point to my new dns servers and uploaded my site. I setup my subdomain and mail and got ready to have fun. SSH worked fine, and I was very happy. Then I think it was tuesday night, ssh stopped working. I could no longer access my site. I filed a trouble ticket and they said they were working on it. I didn't mind too much, but I was annoyed. So I went to make my site updates via blogger, the greatest web log utility in the world. I made the setting changes I needed to and went to publish my updates. "Generating files...transfering files...transfering files...transfering files... error getting input/output stream" Hmm. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what the problem was. I could connect to the box via every ftp client I could find, and I could use blogger to publish to other sites, so I couldn't figure out what was going on. Turns out I never did figure it out. But that wasn't the last straw...

SSH finally came back (at least that's what they told me). Turns out they updated to OpenSSH. Turns out for some reason my client (the official client) wouldn't work. Their response? "Try another client." Try another client! If you can't support the official client, what the freaking heck are you doing?!! Suffice it to say I prompty started looking for new service.

Finding another site proved difficult. I searched everywhere I could think. I hit google and slashdot each about a million times. But I couldn't find anything! Then finally I was reading a post at /. and I found a reference to Hurricane Electric. I went to their site to check them out, and they seemed very professional. The price was right, but I couldn't verify whether they offered subdomains or not. So I emailed their support and asked. They wrote back and said they did offer it as an additional $10 a subdomain, but there was a workaround if you didn't want to pay. Well, I figured right there that if they were willing to give me a workaround I was definitely interesting in being a customer! So I signed up, changed the DNS again, and followed their instructions for setting up my subdomain. After waiting a couple days for the DNS to change over, I found that my subdomain wasn't working. Everything but my subdomain worked fine. So I tried different configurations. Actually about 8 different configurations. The problem was that it took quite a wait to test each one because I could only make a change once a day. It took waiting until the system-wide update each day at 5am. After a week I just had to give up. I would like to say that HE was a great place, very professional, very helpful, very secure, and very knowledgable. Also, they're in the same building as MAE-WEST!!!! I was sad to have to leave, but my site wouldn't work. So I started searching yet again.

Finally this week I found Interserver. I found them by accident actually, but PTL I found them! They claimed to offer everything I needed (except IMAP of course, but I just don't care anymore and forwarding works fine). I signed up and check to see if I could SSH and Blogger in. And they worked! DNS took quite a while to change over (almost 60 hours) and my work was cacheing the old ip forever, but finally just before I left this afternoon it worked! So now, 21 days after the nightmare began, my site is up again. At this point I have no desire to ever change hosting companies again and I'm very frustrated at the hosting industry in general. But my site works, so I'm pleased with that. And kudos to Interserver! They're working great. Keep up the great work please! I don't have much hair left to lose after this fiasco!

Remote War Bots


I'm a big fan of the classic Robot Wars as seen on PBS. For the last few months I've watched "Battle Bots" on Comedy Central. I have to tell you, I'm seriously depressed. Not only is Battle Bots atrocious, it acts like it's not. For the last couple months I've been thinking about an idea for a similar concept on a grander scale. I can my game Remote War Bots (RWB).


RWB will be played in a remote area of the Nevada or New Mexico Desert (the final location has not yet been chosen). The RWB compound will consist of a piece of land two miles square (four square miles total area). The actual playing space will depend on the class of the robots participating. The playing space will range from 100 feet sqaure to the full 4 miles square.

Weight Classes

RWB will consist of five classes of bots:

Micro Class Max Empty Gross Weight: 1kg Mini Class Max Empty Gross Weight: 20kg Small Class Max Empty Gross Weight: 100kg Medium Class Max Empty Gross Weight: 1000kg Super Class Max Empty Gross Weight: None The Largest Empty Gross Weight specified for each class is the most that a bot may weight without power source or weapons attatched. In each class weapons may be any size and mass, but must be launched from a vehicle. Note that a launching platform is considered a building, and thus weapons may be launched from a platform but the platform's empty weight must be at or below the Max Empty Gross Weight. Terrain

The terrain on the playing field will consist of sand, gravel, rock, asphalt, water, mud and other various substances. The player should not assume a consistency in terrain from battle to battle. The playing area will always have a small river running down the middle of the playing area. The river will be at least 10 feet wide and at least 5 feet deep at its deepest point.


In RWB all bots are allowed and encouraged. Any type of transportation is allowed, provided it conforms to FAA regulations (if traveling above 3000' AGL). Every bot must be able to be controlled remotely.


All operators will be housed in a control bunker. Repeaters will be allowed and stations will be set up to place your tower outside the playing area. If your tower must reside within the playing area, it is fair game for desctruction. Repeater towers positioned outside the playing area are not allowed to be destroyed by the enemy purposefully. The judges will determine what is purposeful destruction and what is not. Should a repeater tower be destroyed outside the playing area and the incident be ruled an accident, the play will be suspended until the player can repair or replace his tower. If he cannot do so within 1 hour, the bots will be removed from the playing area and the area will be prepared for the next teams. Play will resume once the tower has been replaced. If the player cannot replace his tower, he must resign and his opponent will be ruled the victor. Power will be provided for control apparati (100 Amps). Repeater towers are limited to 500 watts power output. Direction broadcasting exceptions may be made if the player can demonstrate to judges convincingly that the broadcast truely is directional and the broadcast hardware must be adjusted so as not to cause interference to nearby radio operations (i.e. Government, Aircraft). Other modes of communication are allowed (and encouraged!). However, all communications gear must be inspected by judges to ensure it will not be used as an offensive weapon by the player. The control bunker will be located at a different location depending on the class. Visuals will be provided to the contoller via overhead derigible, long range cameras mounted on surrounding hills, and tower cams mounted around the perimeter of the playing field. The controller is strongly encouraged to provide himself with robots that broadcast their location so that he may have a more accurate understanding of the location of his bots. Within the control bunker the players will not be allowed to see one another or one another's equipment.


The advantage of RWB over other bot war games is the lax restrictions on weapons. The only restrictions on weapons are:

No nuclear weapons (due to the US's agreement to adhere to a test ban treaty). The yield of a warhead cannot be so large that it could likely cause injury to the controllers. Rest assured that the controllers will be far enough away that should you be able to injure them your bots will have to be destroyed in the process. No organism (biological) weapons Toxic Chemicals must not be radioactive. Large spread chemical weapons (i.e. "crop dusting" your opponent with hydrochloric acid) will be allowed at the judges discretion. Although we admire your creativity, we can't keep moving to a new site after every battle, and most bots don't do well driving on a sea of acid. =) Unique forms of weapons are allowed and encouraged.


Gameplay will begin with each player positioning his bots at the designated starting locations on his side of the playing area. Play will commence at the judges signal. Play will continue until the first of the following is reached:

A 1 hour time limit, after which a 10 minute sudden death round will occur. Complete Immobilization of the enemies bots. Should the one hour time limit be reached, a sudden death round of 10 minutes will be played during which the boundries of the playing area will be reduced to the next smallest weight class (in the case of the micro class play will finish on one side of the river). Complete immobilization occurs only when a bot is incapable of operating in an upright position. Turning a bot upside down does not count as killing it. It must not be able to operate in any significant way when uprighted. Should all the enemies bots be turned upside down the player will have a five minute period during which he may attempt to immobilize the bots. Shoudld he fail to immobilize his enemies bots, each player may right his upside down bots and play will continue. Should the time limit be reached or each side expire it's weapons, a judge's decision will be made as to the winner. Winner's will be judged on a 100 point system. 5 judges will destribute 20 points to both players. 5 each in the areas of strategy, grace, aggressivness, and intelligent control. The winner will move on up the bracket, the loser down. A final winner will be found in each category, and the prize awarded (a prize has not yet been chosen, but suggestions have been money, a hummer, a ballistic missile, and a jet).

Kudos to NASA! Today the first human spacecraft to ever touch down on an asteriod did so successfully. This and the attatchment of the new Destiny space module are major milestones. One step closer to Mars, I hope. And of course the Napster saga continues.

More Than a Left Brain

If you want to know the definition of "Left-brained" you would need only to examine my life. My habits, my actions, and my mannerisms all point to my powerful left-brainededness (Dave would be proud of me for making up a new word).

If you don't know what I mean basically my personality has thus far been (accurately) characterized as one of a perfectionist, an analyzer, anti-emotion, impersonal (at least to some degree), and mathematical. You might compare a left-brained person with a right-brained person using the analogy of shapes. A left-brained person would be a square, while a right-brained person would be a circle. Everything in my life is usually black or white, right or wrong. There is not much room for grey.

More recently I've begun to hang around people who are more right-brained than I. It turns out this is a very good thing. I believe that God has really shown me how both right and left brain, black and white and grey, intellect and emotion can and do work together to make this world what it is.

I've seen the world become a much more vibrant a bright place to live. My general outlook is more positive, and I see beauty in things I didn't before. The example I can best use is probably that of music. I've come to see just how music takes the precise detail of a note and combines it with others in a creative, (usually) emotional way to create a beautiful melody, peaceful harmony, and moving performance. There really is more out there than I was seeing.

Certainly I'm not going to base major decisions in my life on emotion. I will still be a black and white guy for the most part. I still see the details in everything. I usually miss the larger picture because I'm stuck on the details. I don't usually just appreciate that something is, I want to know how it works. But I will try to look beyond the details to the grander view. To step back and look at the forest. I think that I will appreciate life more because of it.

Next time you're trying to figure out how to make your microwave into a local-area wireless network hub, take some time and check out a sunset. And if you usually catch that sunset, spend some time at the library and find out why the sunset looks so beautiful. You'll be a better person because of it.


I must admit I was having serious cold feet when we pulled up to the place. It was in the middle of the hot desert; an old beat-up hangar and a strip of asphalt fit only for ultralights and flying tin cans. Painted desert brown the outside of the building looked like it hadn't been touched in years. I've come to think that might be exactly right.

After finding a bathroom to let off the nerves I built up over the 60 minute drive I returned to find a man talking with the rest of our crew. One of the planes had a transponder problem and it had been being fixed that morning, so the crew and plane had to make a 15 minute flight from across the city. So we waited.

I think at this point it's important that I mention how stinking hot it is in the desert in August. I'd also like to point out that swamp coolers do not work well when the humidity is even slightly high. Today it was a little more than slightly high. So we waited - and cooked while we did.

As we waited the manager invited us to sign over our lives to him and his crew, which we did (to his surprise) after reading all that we were signing over. I've signed my life over before, but wow was this a great waiver. Basically I signed on the line indicating that I knew that I was likely to die and agreed that I really did want to die and that no one else was making me die. What a great sport.

When the crew showed up we went through the procedures. This consisted of practicing our position in the plane, our position in the air, and our position when landing. After a very short time (much shorter than I anticipated) our jump-master, Dwight, said, "Alright, who's up?" Reacting to peer pressure and ego, I raised my hand and suited up. A typically uncomfortable harness was fitted to me, I was handed goggles, and we headed for our tin can.

I was pretty sure the old Skylane wouldn't even make it off the ground, but God works miracles every day and we made it up to jump altitude after 20 minutes of diligent praying and looking through the hole in door.

Once at jump height I got into position and my harness was made significantly more uncomfortable (thankfully). The instructor clipped me to him, opened the door and told me to get into position. I reached my right foot out and placed it onto the wheel spar, slid my left knee over toward the door and leaned out onto my right knee. Jump-master Dwight began to count.




I jumped out of a plane 2 miles above the surface of the earth.

Free-falling is nothing like I thought it would be. I was thinking it would be 45 seconds of missing stomach. Instead, it's 45 seconds of unparalleled escapism. It's just you and the clouds for 45 seconds. Then he pulled the cord.

I severely underestimated the glide step of skydiving. I thought all the fun was free-fall. I was wrong. Gliding with the birds was incredible. No engine, no steering wheel, no glass. Just me and the birds and the clouds and the sound of a small breeze as we slipped smoothly through the clear blue sky.

After five or so minutes my nature trip ended and I stepped back onto the ground, reuniting myself with the crew.

This is an experience I will never forget and hope to be able to relive someday.

I saw a great shirt today. It said "If being in a plane is flying, then being in a boat is swimming. Get out of the plane."

Academic Freedom

"That's Academic Freedom."

When I was in elementary school, junior high, and high school I was under a false assumption. I believed that I was in school to learn. I believed that in school I was to learn about math, English, history, public speaking, and the like. I believed that by learning these things, I would be a better person; that I would be a learned person. I also believed that my teachers were there to teach me. I was under the impression that I my teachers, being wiser and more learned that I, would impart to me their great wisdom and I would be better because of it. Now, obviously this is an idealistic exaggeration of what I really thought. I had bad teachers. I was in classes where just getting through the class without muttering, "I hate this," to myself was a good day. But whatever my belief of what school was supposed to be about was, it was shattered this week when I learned about a new concept - Academic Freedom.

"Academic Freedom." Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Maybe it conjures up images of education being available to all. Or perhaps you see yourself being able to choose whatever classes you want. Or maybe you know what "Academic Freedom" really is, and you don't have such bogus ideas racing through your head. I was certainly disillusioned this week when I finally learned the definition to this term.

Academic Freedom refers not to a student's freedom, but rather the instructor's. This freedom gives the instructor the freedom to teach with whatever methods they choose, to structure the class the way they choose, etc. I also found out this week that it allows instructors to screw their students over however they choose.

This last semester I was enrolled in 3 classes. In one of my classes we received a packet that contained seven sheets of paper with 22 questions on each page, with the difficulty of the questions increasing in magnitude as they moved down the page. Each page covered one chapter out of the book. These questions were used to review for the chapter tests. If one understood the material on the sheet, he/she would likely do fine on the test.

All of this was fine until we took our final oral exam. In this exam we were asked questions orally, and we answered the questions orally. This was fine. I did not even fear the exam until I discovered how the material to be tested was to be chosen.

As each student approached the table in front of the instructor, he or she would choose a note card from a stack of 44 that were laid face down on the table. On this note card was a number from 1 to 20 (I believe. I did not see any other numbers, however I have no reason to doubt that they ranged from 1 to 20). This number on the note card was used to determine which questions the student was asked. And where did these questions come from? You guessed it, our seven-page packet. Each number corresponded to a question on the sheets. If a student chose the number 6 (through the random selection of a card), he or she would receive question 6 from chapters 1 through 7, as well as questions 8, 9, and 10 from chapter 7, to total 10 questions.

Thus each student was unfairly given a final whose difficulty varied greatly from other students. The students who received 1 scored better than those who chose 19 (such as myself) scored rather poorly (to say the least). Note: In my efforts to prove my point to the administration, they would not grant me my request of knowing how others scored, even anonymously.

Being rather disturbed by these events I went through the channels presenting my story, informing the suits of the college that I was treated unfairly. My instructor predictably defended himself and his actions. Then I went to a dean. After overcoming the initial intimidation that I felt in the presence of the dean, I shared with him my story. He tended to agree with me - he seemed to agree that I had a point. But then I heard words that previously I had not known.

"I can't really do anything. I can see your point, but he has academic freedom. As long as the material you are tested on was taught during the course, you can be tested however the instructor chooses." He went on to say, "Even material that you are not taught, but are told to know. For instance, if your history teacher said, 'you have to know the last three chapters' but did not go over them in the book. Those would still be fair game. The instructor can test his/her students however he/she chooses."

At this point the blood drained from body. Then I soaked it back up by means of diffusion just in time for it to boil as my body temperature rose to well over 300 degrees.

I was (and still am) appalled! An instructor can screw over his or her students, causing them to have to retake a class (which is what I have to do because I can't afford that C on my transcript for scholarship reasons) all because he/she has academic freedom! So here I am out $120 for the class and another $50 or so for the books. Not only this, but all future employers will have the ability to see that I received a C in this course.

These are all annoyances, but nothing bothers me more than the fact that inept teachers can waste a student's entire semester and hide safely under the blanket of "Academic Freedom."

I used to believe that academia was about learning, about students being taught. I was wrong. Academia is about making your salary while doing the least amount of work possible. Academia is not about students; it is about money, fame, and power.

As disheartening as this experience was, I would like to extend my utmost gratitude to all teachers who teach because they believe that students attend class to learn. Thank you all for teaching. Without you I would have no hope whatsoever. To all of you please keep teaching. Keep preparing those lessons and trying to cram that wisdom of yours into our heads. We may complain about our exams, but deep down, we really do want to learn.

Note: I retook the class from another instructor the following semester and received and 'A.'