NC Science Blogging Conference

WillR and Xan at Science Blogging Conference

Bonnie and I attended the North Carolina Science Blogging Conference last week-end, and this photo shows WillR and me at the pre-conference dinner. I was really impressed with the variety of attendees and the work everyone was doing. Many of the bloggers are sponsored at ScienceBlogs, which I’ve been perusing since the conference, but so far it’s been hard to separate the science from the commentary.

Nonetheless, there was a lot of great content at the conference. Each session had a good bit of audience participation, and I thought the following observation from a middle school teacher was enlightening: students work harder when they know their reports will be posted on a school website for others students to see. Apparently, they’re more interested in impressing other students than their teachers. Or at least, more embarrassed at the prospect of publishing shoddy work to classmates.

Charity Solicitations

This past year, I’ve been loosely keeping track of the number of solicitations received from the charities we contribute to. At least that’s been my excuse for the mountain of mail on the corner of my desk all year. Here are the tallies ordered by the number of solicitations.

Organization Solicitations in 2006
Triangle Land Conservancy 1
American Cancer Society 1
Inter-Faith Council for Social Service 2
American Red Cross 4
People for the American Way 5
Salvation Army 7
Public Citizen 10
Southern Poverty Law Center 11

Local charities (TLC and IFC) seem to show more respect for their patrons, but most of the organizations are farming out their fund raising in ways that makes them look bad, in my opinion. Fake handwritten notes are one example, but I guess they must work. (The solicitations don’t correlate with the amount contributed, by the way, which is pretty uniform.)
I didn’t count informational mailings, which would greatly add to the SPLC total and would put groups like Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting in the list. We also got a handful of solicitations from organizations we haven’t contributed to in years, still happy to give us “Member since 1988” status.
We still contributed to all of the above this year, but I added to each contribution a note requesting only one solicitation per year. We’ll see.

The nicest solicitations are from the organizations we’ve never contributed to: the alumni associations and endowment funds of every school we attended for a semester or more. They often send high-quality magazines full of nice stories and photographs. Those would be, in roughly descending order of frequency: NCSSM, Duke, Clemson, UNC, and Bucknell.

Missed the Bus

Chapel Hill town leadership has latched onto a plan to revitalize downtown by replacing public parking with condos and won’t let go as the deal gets gradually worse and worse. (There must be a name for that kind of syndrome.) Citizen Will has been following that story, but I’m more interested in the parking philosophy at the heart of the changes.

Any person I ask says they don’t go downtown because there’s no convenient parking (that, and the panhandlers). People in the know find that hard to believe. After all, the parking decks are rarely full, and there are various side lots and street parking around if you know where to look, and, besides that, the buses are free. But convenient parking in the South means free, nearby parking, and the bus routes are pretty limited. The least requirement for convenience is the parking that’s free with validation or free for two hours.

One idea I’ve heard is that less parking is good for downtown because it encourages folks to take the bus or ride a bike. That might just be so stupid it’s brilliant, but in order for it to be brilliant there needs to be a much better infrastructure for the alternatives.

Chapel Hill has a great transit system, made free a few years ago to compensate for eliminated university parking; however, despite being a city department, it mostly just serves the university. I’m lucky enough to live a couple hundred yards from a bus stop, and when I worked downtown, I would often take the bus. However, even then it wasn’t convenient because of the limited frequency, limited hours, and promptness problems. Forget about taking the bus into town for dinner or a movie — most routes stop running after 6 p.m.

So anyway, … yesterday I decided to take the bus downtown for lunch. It was such a nice day, I was willing to accept the three hour commitment required by the route scheduling. Instead, I waited 15 minutes for a bus that never came, walked back home and drove in. Turns out my route isn’t running this week because UNC is on winter break. At least I got to park in lot #5 while it was still a parking lot.