Monday, December 8, 2008

Tons to tell and too tired to tell it. (But I'll try.)

The Holiday Party in Bucharest was good fun. We met a number of former Romanian Fulbrighters, and the wine lubricated tongues, so the gab went on for several hours. Another good part of the trip for me was to visit the Museum of the Romanian Peasants. There on the pedestal holding a musical exhibit was written in red marker,

"Intre ei, ingerii cîntâ Mozart.
In faţa lui Dumnezeu, cîntâ Bach."

"Among themselves, the angels sing Mozart. In front of God, they sing Bach." I like that one.

The ride home launched early Sunday morning, following a 6:30 breakfast with St. Daniel the Cabbie. Dan has been the recommended taxi driver for Fulbrighters for ten years because he goes by an honest meter. As a cabbie in Bucharest, that alone has led to his canonization. But he is far more than just an honest cabbie. He came out at 6:15 on a Sunday morning to take me on a 7 Lei ($2.50, before his tip) ride to the Gara, after we'd agreed to that two mornings before, when he drove me from the gara to the hotel. So, as we didn't need to leave until 6:50, I invited him to join me for breakfast at the Casa Victor.

Once on the train I enjoyed my first daylight ride northward through the Carpathian Mountains to Braşov, then westward across Transylvania to Cluj. Climbing through the mountains there were rugged snow-capped peaks on our left, and the alpinesque villages that I described from my September drive along a parallel road, that being the first Romanian excursion in Klaus with the Sherman-Hayes family. This time I was curious whether one of these Carpathian ski towns was where my PSU colleague Professor Roxana (Dima) Wright, who grew up in Braşov, was a ski instructor when she met Rob Wright, now her husband (and a soccer coach at Plymouth State). Please, Roxana, tell us in the comments, was that fateful meeting in Timişol de Sus? Predeal? Azuga? Buşteni? Poiana Tapului? Sinaia? Or perhaps, all the way down in Crăsina, at the southern slope of the mountains? Or, was it in yet another part of Romania?


I picked up today my Permis de Şedere (license to stay). I am now legal in Romania for a full year. As faithful readers know, I owe this bureaucratic achievement to the help and patience of Carmen Tagsorean of the Babeş-Bolyai University Center for International Cooperation. Thank you, Carmen. We did it.

Also today I taught Mihaela Luţaş' first-year class, for this week she is teaching in Italy. There were about 35 students present, and after introducing myself, I asked for any questions they had about America, American business, or American education. The first girl to raise her hand asked, "What is a party school?" I defined that term as follows. "A party school is any institution with one of these two words in its name: 'c-o-l-l-e-g-e,' or 'u-n-i-v-e-r-s-i-t-y.'" I went on to explain that the most notorious party school in New Hampshire is the Ivy League school Dartmouth College, and that the difference between such a school and a state universiity is that the students at the state school drink beer, while the students at Dartmouth will drink Scotch. I hope I didn't mislead them too much.

I also took advantage of the opportunity to advance the cause of academic integrity by pointing out that we in the universities are all standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, and that those former students and scholars very likely did not get rich being academicians. So, all they have to be remembered for is their ideas. It is therefore right and proper always to give credit to the creators of any ideas or words of others that we find in our research and use in our writings. Moreover, it is dishonest and unethical not to do so. Finally, I told them that the standard penalty for a first violation of academic integrity in my home university is to fail the course, and that the second offense results in a suspension from the school. I was a bit preachy, but unfortunately, some of my students last week gave me reason to believe that the sermon was called for, and I felt that giving it to first year students might help them make good decisions in the future.

Finally, I told a couple of stories about the great Physics professor at Amherst College, Arnold Boris Arons, one of the best lecturers I ever have known. Arons' lecture on the 19th Century experiments done with horizontal charged plates and a suspended drop of electrically charged oil, I shall always remember. I do not recall if it was Maxwell, or Planck,* or another whose experiment Arons was describing. But I recall that the droplet of oil would move up and down in the electric field with acceleration that was measureable. This acceleration could be varied by adding or reducing the charge on the droplet. But, when Arons told us that the rates of acceleration in the constant electrical field could be made to vary only in steps, not changed smoothly, and thus, electric charge appeared to have a particulate nature, my classmate Ben Bump raised his hand. "Professor," he asked, "aren't you just talking about electrons?"

Professor Arons looked over his pince-nez glasses at the ceiling, stroking his chin, as if considering carefully Ben's question. "Electrons?" he muttered. "Electrons?" Then he turned toward Ben and roared, "Mr. Bump, What the HELL is an ELECTRON?" "Ideas first! Names after!"
*UBB Physicist Titus BEU has solved this issue for me: the Oil-Drop Experiment was Robert Millikan and Harvey Fletcher's, and was performed in 1909. Hence, we have understood the electron's fundamental role for only 99 years. I'd say we've done pretty well with it.

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