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At Iowa State University, spring 2013

2013 June 19

Remarkably it has been nearly a month since my last visit to Iowa. I’ve been meaning to make a few notes on my most recent visit to dear auld ISU, though.

First off, probably the coolest thing: 13 years after graduating, I randomly stumbled upon a working glass-blowing studio not only on campus but in an area I probably walked through at least twice per day for four years.

Stuido of ISU Gaffer's Guild

Inside the studio

I mean, get out! There I was, just strolling around ISU one evening in the company of a couple of fellow alumni (and their brood of prospective students), and we pass the open door of one of the still plentiful older, unobtrusive utilitarian buildings… and I think one of us sort of peered inside, and this young man invited us to come in if we wished, and… suddenly there we were inside of this glass-blowing studio. Couple of dudes were working with molten glass, and the third introduced us to the basics of what they do and how the studio is run, etc. Awesome.

And yet, nearly as awesome was another discovery I made maybe a week after my visit to campus: Iowa State University is home to an Asteroid Deflection Research Center. Yes, let me repeat: Asteroid Deflection Research Center. I am nearly brokenhearted that my proposal to help them create some apparel or other merchandise has gone unanswered; I am confident that this could be a big hit. (No pun intended.) Oh well, what did Butch Cassidy say about vision…

I did a good deal of simply wandering campus, while there, and there are always cool discoveries every time. Some are more concrete, like the above, or banners informing me that an ISU professor won the Nobel Prize in chemistry a couple of years ago. (Here’s an awesome story about the guy.) Others were more subtle, like this:

Neon sign "ROBOTICS" in window of crappy old building


I love this photo. Let’s see, I was also amused by various leaflets and notices tacked up in that apparently timeless college fashion. This one just outside the College of Design was my favorite:

Poster using Comic Sans, ironically

Those wacky students

I mean, say what you will about Comic Sans, doing things “ironically,” or both. I think this is kind of clever; it got me to look and I have to suspect that it got quite a few other art/design students to look also. Hope he got his asking price for the camera.

A few other notes… I was particularly interested in what’s happened to computer labs; I mean, “in my day” quite a few students still went through the year without a computer of their own, even in the geeky Honors dorm. Today, I’ve got to imagine that nearly all ISU students own at least one if not two or more of: a desktop, a laptop, or a tablet. For now, though, the labs of the late 90s are still there, though the general-purpose lab in the Durham Center is considerably thinned-out. I can see the labs in the College of Design, e.g., remaining in use just for teaching purposes; even when every student has a computer, teaching is probably simpler when they’re all seated in front of an identical system. Won’t surprise me if the Durham lab vanishes entirely one of these days, though.

On the other hand, some things never change. If you ever visit the Iowa State Memorial Union, and walk in the main entrance, you may be surprised when any and everyone else you see goes out of their way to walk around a bas-relief zodiac set into the floor; you may even see this and figure you had better do the same. Don’t. There is this idiotic tradition at ISU since forever of not walking on the MU Zodiac, and I suspect I have to be among probably 1 in 1,000, perhaps even fewer, students who does not participate. It actually surprised me, last time I was there, to see people walk around it without a second thought as though there were a physical barrier in the way—despite the fact that I observed this every day for four years—probably because it’s just so stupid.

And this is just something that bugs me, and has for years, and I’ve decided to just tack my thoughts about it on, here, just to put them on record in some way.

I appreciate tradition. Tradition can be good. Walking around the zodiac, and perpetuating the story of a “curse” that will result in flunking your next test if you walk across the zodiac, is just stupid indulgence of embarrassing superstition that has no place at The Iowa State University of Science and Technology, whether or not you literally believe it. Added to this is the fact that the artist’s intention was for people to walk across the damn thing, and the fact that you look like I g**d*** idiot walking around it.

I believe that I rejected this brain-dead notion from the first time I heard it. Certainly, I know that I walked directly across it throughout my four years as a student, as well as ever since.

I never failed a test, never earned lower than a B in any course, and graduated with Honors, Distinction, and a 3.81.

It may take a million years, but I’m going to do my part to wear that thing down level with the floor like the artist, and reason, recommend.

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