Retiring from UW I

September 22, 2013

At the University of Washington some things run on one calendar, others on another.  As of September 16, I am retired in the sense that the university is not paying me.  They soon will again as I choose to exercise my post retirement re-employment rights.  Yet I am covered by the health plan for the remainder of the month, so I remain Professor.  But technically  I will not become Professor Emeritus until October 1.  That time will pass quickly…

In the meantime upper administration has failed again.  I repeatedly sought advice as to my “last day on payroll” date so that I would have my salary in our merit pool, yet not receive a salary increase so that the rare merit pool that exists could go to good use for young, underpaid colleagues.  I was given specific guidance upper>dean>department that if my payroll cutoff were 9/15/2013 then my (due on 9/1) raise would not be applied and the amount would go to pool.  Then in mid September “upper” changed its story, too late to go backward.

I suppose from a careful reading of the Faculty Code this might be the only decision that could “pass muster”, with a record of past legal challenges to the faculty salary policy.  But upper administration could actually have tried to establish intent, offer waivers of rights, whatever.  In practice it means I have a young colleague who would have received, and richly deserved, a 10% increase only receiving 7%.  And as I am re-employed I needlessly receive my 3.5% increase that could be used to much better purpose going forward.

The future of the quality of our faculty is for those “seniors” willing to get out of the way, like me,  to be respected in that decision making.  UW needs to do much better.




April 17, 2013

I have tried to stay calm, admittedly with marginal success, since the School of Oceanography was siphoned away from a clear role in what was the UW College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences to its new home in the College of the Environment.  It has not been an easy transition for our School or for me.  Was pretty easy to understand how we fit into the old college:  Oceanography mapped to Ocean and Fishery Sciences.  Has been much harder to see the mapping of Ocean to Environment, for we now are a basic science department in a college too strongly mapped to environmental sustainability and problem solving.  With most of our funding coming from the National Science Foundation, whose mission is transformational basic science, this is a strong disconnect.  Yet I try to be a good citizen.

The past week has put me over the edge.  We have had a high-end set of portrait photographers (and Benj and Sara, you are top notch!) taking portraits of our faculty for our new “edgy” college web site.  I was cooperative, on-time, wearing my Infectious Awareables E. coli tie.  Benj was impressed that I had cleaned my glasses just before coming.  And what seems like a couple hundred shots later, there were some I liked.

To me the meaning of the word faculty is a member of the faculty.  Certainly those that vote.  These include many exceptional young talents and older even more stellar talents all of whom do a significant share of teaching, full-time with a title in the Lecturer series.  I learned from the young talent in our school that she knew nothing about this photo happening.  I sent an e-mail to the assistant in the college office coordinating, and heard back within a hour or so from our Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Diversity explaining that 1) this was an expensive process and so 2) the project is “limited to those faculty who have grad faculty status with endorsement to chair “, so that 3) “there are a range of faces not represented in this group who are strong forces in the college”.

Yet the very reason given to me by her is that the project is “an attempt to sum up the scholarly diversity of the college with an eye towards prospective students, secondarily…”  So exactly how is it that the full-time, voting faculty members who actually teach a critical portion of our curriculum are ignored?  What should I think about my role if I am one of these faculty members?  What should I think if I am a student taking one of those courses?  What should I think if I am a parent of this student?  What should I think or my parents think as I consider our college as a prospective student?

Google thinks my word is new…we are the College of Hypenvironment.

The Big Wide Water World

January 22, 2013

This morning I became aware of the Up-Goer Five Text Editor.  The editor was inspired by this XKCD cartoon that explains how the Saturn V rocket works using only the ten hundred words people use most often.

XKCD and scientists go together.  And so many have now used this editor to write about research.  There is even an archive for these short essays.  Some are quite compelling and elegant.  I especially like this one about the Boltzmann equation.   So I tried myself:

I study hot water coming out of cracks in rocks at the bottom of the big wide water world.  How hot? How fast? How much?   I study with a water car that a computer makes follow track lines. The numbers from the water car go into a computer to answer the questions.

Why do I do this?  Stuff in the hot water helps animals live without the sun. When the rocks at the bottom shake and break, the moving of the water changes and the stuff in it. Then the life of the animals change.

Kind of like Tom Swift explaining things.

What is disturbing is that many very important words to oceanographers are not in the top ten hundred words.  Not ocean.  Not sea.  Not salt.  Astronomers have stars, space, and time.  Mathematicians have numbers and lines.  Computer scientists have bits and computers.  Life isn’t fair!

The Coming Year

December 31, 2010

At midnight, I complete my six plus years of service as the Director of the UW School of Oceanography.  (And over 20 years in administrative posts in the department).  Well not quite complete…there isn’t yet a successor named and so I have agreed to hang on for another little bit, conditioned on a new title:  Interim Director.   This puts me in lofty company, for UW has an Interim President, an Interim Provost and and Interim Vice Provost for Research.  And the Interim President has set a bold philosophy:  interim means for a period of time, but with full power to act and not look back.  I think it is better than being a lame duck?  And with my winter home this year being Whistler, I’ll introduce yet another service mark, “Skypedirecting”, to join Skypetails and Skypedining.

I’m excited, optimistic, and a bit wary around being a “normal” faculty member.   I have some plans for research with Tim Crone at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, building on a collaboration while he was a graduate student here.  I’m launching some new directions in teaching, bridging to the UW E-Science Institute, to advance crucial skills for oceanography undergrads and grads not addressed  in our present curriculum.  I’ll have time to do some deeper analysis of demographic data for graduate programs in the ocean sciences, something I’ve led for the past several years on behalf of Consortium for Ocean Leadership.  I may even publish the last chapter of my Ph.D. dissertation.

I will own much more of my time.   I’ll ski fuller days.  I’ll read more.  I’ll spend more time with family and friends.  I’ll take on some additional work for American Friends of Whistler.  I’ll write for Stance and Balance more often.  I’ll move from concept to action in my capacity as self-appointed Inspector General of the World:  visit us at

Happy New Year!

TSA and the Buddha

June 13, 2010

As we passed through airport security at Bob Hope Airport (aka Burbank, BUR) this morning, I was greeted just beyond the metal detector by a glove-clad, TSA supervisor who informed me (and I must say this wasn’t recorded and I think I captured its content faithfully, but so it only counts as my best recollection):

I’m going to need to apply an unusual random protocol.  May I rub your belly?

What the heck.  Sure.  I wanted to be on the plane.  All above the belt.  He rubbed my belly.  Took two seconds.  He thanked me nicely.

But now Tobae and I are having a debate.  (Debate might not be the right word, but it is best I not appear to be irritable).  Was I profiled for the paunch over my belt?

I never quite got up the nerve to ask my seat neighbor on the flight whether he received similar treatment.  If he didn’t, profiling is surely ruled out, for he could have blown up the plane and more.


June 3, 2010

Memories of Ken Griffey, Jr., The Kid.  Back-to-back home runs with his father in 1990.  The remarkable 1995 season.  Saving baseball in Seattle.  Breaking our hearts in 2000.  And his return, in 2007 still with the Reds and then with his signing in 2009 to end his career here.  These and others will quickly displace the sour taste of this odd, last season, seemingly with a clubhouse not infected with his visible joy for the game.

And so my memories of 1995.  Griffey played only 72 games, out with injuries.  His batting average that year was his lowest as a player in Seattle (of course, until his return in 2009).  Not surprisingly, the Mariners struggled mightily and were 13 games back on August 2.  8-1/2 out on my birthday August 29 (Thank you for reinforcing my precision recall!).   But for me, 1995 was a busy summer of research, the year of our research cruises for “Mixing Zephyrs“.  25 days in late May into mid-June and 14 more the latter half of September.  My attention as the Mariners steadily rallied was more on being ready to sail on September 15 fully prepared to capitalize on a very interesting result from the earlier leg: tidal triggering of flow perturbations.  But underneath, knowing that as we sailed we were just 5 games out.

At this point I’ll borrow a piece of writing I did in 1997, again while at sea in September in the midst of our second run at the playoffs.  This appeared in a web-based logbook on September 16, 1997 (they were not yet called blogs!)

Baseball Blues For a basefall fan, there is no worse time to be at sea than September. The pennant races are tight and after faithfully following games, scores and standings, we are now cut off from newspapers, television, and KJR Sports Radio 950. We get word from friends of most Mariners scores, less often the Angels score, and with increasing frequency, happily, a magic number. But all the substance and subtlety has been lost…who pitched? who’s injured? how many HR does Junior have? who will we be playing come playoff time? why did Lou bring in the right hander with 2 outs in the 7th and the tying run on 1st?

Likewise, once we sailed in 1995 we barely knew what was going on other than that we were winning and steadily: 4 back, 3 back, 3 back, 2 back, 1 back and then on September 20, tied for first.

My colleague Marv Lilley and I were going wild.  With the standings tied we had to have playoff tickets.  And we knew our wives were not going to be much help; in fact, mine would be no help!  But after a ~$100 phone call (calling from sea at that time was $10/minute) the administrator of our department stepped up for us and we secured rights to four strips of tickets, way out in left field at the Kingdome, a couple of rows from the top of the section.  All we needed was to actually keep winning.  By the time we stepped off the ship, up 3, then slipping to finish tied at the end of the regular season.  Monday, October 2, one game playoff, Randy Johnson phenomenal, AL West Champions.

No need for me to recount the baseball side of the Yankees series.  Marv’s family and my family alternated nights, with Marv substituting for Tobae on my nights.  (Tobae finally did go to one game in the ALCS and I believe I heard her cheer.)  My best memory was after Game 2 waiting at 3rd and Jackson for a bus back to UW.  Marv was astounded by the fascination of Daniel and Mark (then 7 and 6) with the parking meters.  We are such a rural family that they had never seen one!

Closing this post by returning to the cruise calendar.  ALVIN Dive 3000 occurred on September 20, the day the Mariners tied up the standings.  My “Apollo 13” experience, Dive 3004, was on September 24.  Lost to Oakland, up 2.  It must have been the baseball euphoria that got me back in ALVIN for Dive 3005, when we captured the chemical evidence that substantiated our temperature data…zephyrs were mixing, but not at all in the way we had imagined.  Once the ALCS was over, and baseball buzz subsided, I reflected on my Apollo 13 day…and not happy over the complacency around safety, I haven’t been in ALVIN since.

Thanks Junior!

Sam is My Man

December 12, 2009

In early November I talked about “Hot Rocks on the Ocean Floor” to my friend Tracy’s third grade class, fifth time I think.  It is always tremendous fun.  An age where they are just beginning to understand and understanding is still okay.

A pleasure is receiving the thank you letters.  Each charming in its own way.   But this one stood out:

Dear Dr. McDuff, I hope you liked Meridian Park [School] cause we liked you.  That show was interesting, your awsome!  You look like a pro thats what I want to be a pro I want to be a star just like a you.  I want to be just like you when I’m a grown up I want to be just like you; Smart intilliegent and the smartest oceanographist in the world.

Thanks Sam!