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Cherry Blossoms April 7, 2011

Posted by gordonwatts in life, University of Washington.
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It happens once a year, of course: Cherry Blossom Season. You can find it all over – Japan is famous for it. But back at the University of Washington we have our own little grove of Yoshino Cherry trees on the Quad. For the two weeks or so the place becomes a bit of a tourist destination – it is packed with people. Some just sitting and reading, but most walking around and snapping pictures. I went a little crazy this year. If you love this stuff, you can find it all over the web. Here are links to some of the stuff I’ve taken:

  • Pictures from a cloudy day on flickr.
  • A large panorama view. This is probably the easiest one to get an understanding of what the square looks like.
  • A giant 451 photo 3D reconstruction (a photosynth). I’m really looking forward to the technology (recently previewed) where you can walk around with a video camera and that is enough to build one of these!
  • A desktop theme pack for Windows 7. If you like having your background image change every 30 minutes to a different view of cherry trees, well, this is for you!

Enough till next year!


Under Attack March 23, 2011

Posted by gordonwatts in DOE, university, University of Washington.

I’ve been trying not to make a comment on the budget situation in the USA. Or on the current discussion about teacher pay and benefits. Or about the state of science funding in this budget atmosphere. Or the drive to eliminate the Department of Education. Or the revival of the teach the controversy push. Others have made the case much more eloquently than I could have. This is more of a personal take on some of this: I’ve never felt under attack quite the way I do right now.

There seems to be a concerted attack on science funding in the US at the federal level. The feds fund most research that is too long term for a company to fund – which is becoming more and more as the stock market forces companies to think more and more short term. A healthy research program in a country needs to contain a balance for the sake of the long-term health of the economy. And a healthy economy is the only way to make jobs. The large cuts that are reputed to befall the Office of Science, which funds most of the national labs, will force lab closures. Facilities where we do science – gone! 1000’s of people layed off. Heck, if you are trying to cut out 60 billion you can take a guess as to how many jobs that is worth. At $100,000 per person per year – so really nice jobs! – that is another .6 million added to the unemployment roles. Right. That’s going to turn out well!

Second is this constant discussion about teacher pay. I’ve seen comments on newspaper articles with statements like “we are just paying them to babysit our kids.” Seriously?? Maybe we should just eliminate the schools and have the kids all at home. No formalized education system. Now, that has never been done before! And so obviously it must be better! Oh… wait. I guess it has been done before. I think it was called the middle ages… Arrgh! Yes, our K-12 system needs some real work. But beating the crap out of teachers in newspapers is not the way to get good people into the classroom! And the idea that teachers are overpaid paid? Seriously? [I’m not trying to channel Grey’s Anatomy here] I find that hard to believe. Perhaps they are getting better retirement plans for what they are paid – but I suspect that is because when the unions couldn’t negotiate a pay raise – so they went for an increase in the pension. I wonder if you paid teachers a more fair wage, but kept their pension plans the same size, if the rate would be more in line with normal?

On a more local note, one of our state legislators was heard to say “Higher education is a luxury we no longer can afford.” I don’t even know where to start with that. Washington is like every other state, it has some rich people and some poor people. UW is a state school – the state provides subsidies for the in-state students to make it more affordable. A robust state and federal scholarship program back fill for people really in need. The idea is if you are good and you want to get a higher level education, the federal government, the state government, and the university will do its best to make sure that finances do not get in your way. This has been a bedrock of all higher education in the USA for many years now. Do we go back to a class based system? What are people thinking, really? I get they are trying to cut the budget, but think for a few minutes about the implications of what you are saying!

And to those who say education is radically more expensive than it has been in the past – at the UW that is definitely true that the cost an instate student pays has gone up a lot over the last 10-15 years. Definitely more than inflation(by a bit). But if you look at the amount of $$ the university pays to educate a single student that has remained almost constant. Wait. For. It… That is right! State support has dropped dramatically. So the university has to cut expenses and find other sources of income – i.e. raise tuition. Blaming the university for this is misplaced. Last year in the state of Washington after the state legislature cut the UW funding by 26% the university raised tuition by 14% over two years. Legislatures were known to stand up at town halls, etc., and express their displeasure at UW for doing that in hard economic times. I’m happy with them being displeased – I was displeased – but at least be honest and say that the state cut 26% of the university’s funding. It isn’t like that was a capricious raise!

Next is another is the push to increase the teaching load. I currently teach one class a quarter – so three a year (I get paid for only the 9 months that I’m teaching – I have to find my own funding for the rest of the year). That one class is about 3 hours in the class room in front of students. Pretty cushy, eh!? I taught graduate particle physics this year. This is my third year so I’d like to think that I know it by now (not) – but all told during the week it would take about 20 hours of my time. The first time I taught it – when I had to teach myself some field theory – it was taking more like 50 hours a week. When I teach the easier undergraduate courses I tend to have 100’s of students – so it also works out to be about 20 hours a week. Some weeks a lot less, some a lot more. So, it would seem I have at least enough time to take on another course! Except there is one big problem here – my job isn’t just to teach undergraduates. My job is to also teach graduate students, mentor post-docs, and do research. UW is the #1 public institution in the USA when it comes to bringing in $$ from grants. You add another class, then you will effectively change the nature of the University of Washington – make it a teaching institution rather than a research institution. The ramifications of something like that are huge – rankings, desirability, research & undergrads, etc. Do people to say things like this understand how all this is connected?

This last election brought in a lot of new people (at least at the federal level). I remember being elected to a few positions having to do with HEP. I had all sorts of ideas – but I discovered that when I arrived that all the decisions that had been made were all made for a reason! They weren’t arbitrary. You can’t go wrecking around like a bull in a china shop – you have to carefully consider what you are doing and the ramifications. I get the feeling many of these new folks just don’t care. Really just don’t care. Even worse, they don’t know history – which means they are doomed to repeat it. Many of the ideas on the table around America have been tried before – if not here, then other places. I would love them to take a careful look. There is plenty of room for new things to achieve some of the same goals – why not try them rather than closing your eyes and just letting the knife fall where it may? In physics we call this a “prescale” – we just randomly through out data because we have too much. Here we are randomly throwing out programs because we have too little. In both cases this is an implicit admission of defeat: we aren’t smart enough to make a strategic cut.

Ok. Enough. Thank goodness there is a counter balance in most cases to these drives to change things so radically. It won’t be pleasant, but the system is too large and what comes out of it too valuable to actually destroy it in a few short years, despite best efforts of some. Now that I’ve vented, back to working on my classes and my research!

Update: Fixed “under paid” –> “over paid”. Of all the typo’s! Smile

We’re Broke… or not… where is the data!? January 26, 2011

Posted by gordonwatts in DOE, NSF, science, University of Washington, USA.

It is hard for me not to feel very depressed about the way government funding is going in Washington. Especially all the “cuts” that keep being  mentioned. So I thought I’d spend an hour doing my best to understand what cuts are being talked about. Ha! Sheer fantasy!

Before I write more, I should point out that I very much have a dog in this race. Actually, perhaps a bit more than one dog. Funding for almost all my research activities comes via the National Science Foundation (NSF) – this is funded directly by congress. My ability to hire post-docs and graduate students, train them, do the physics – everything, is dependent on that stream of money. Also, two months of salary a year come from that stream. In short, almost everything except for the bulk of my pay. That comes from two sources: state of Washington and student’s tuition. A further chunk of money comes from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science – they fund the national labs where I do my research, for example. In short, particle physics does not exist without government funding.

So when people start talking about large, across-the-board cuts in funding levels I get quite nervous. Many republicans in 2010 campaigned on cutting back the budget, hard:

“We’re broke, and decisive action is needed to help our economy get back to creating jobs and end the spending binge in Washington that threatens our children’s future,” Mr. Boehner said.

Up until recently they really haven’t said how they were going to do it – a typical political ploy. But now things are starting to show up: cut funding to 2008 levels, and then no increases to counter inflation. The latter amounts to a 2-3% cut per year. No so bad for one year but when you hit 3-4 it starts to add up. You’ll have to let go a student or perhaps down-size a post-doc to a student.

But what about all these other cuts? So… I’m a scientist and I want to know: Where’s the data!? Well, as any of you who aren’t expert in the ways of Washington… boy is it hard to figure out what they really want to do. I suppose this is to their advantage. I did find out some numbers. For example, here is the NSF’s budget page. 2008 funding level was $6.065 billion. In 2010 it was funded at a rate of $6.9 billion. So dropping from 2010 back to 2008 would be a 12% cut. So, if that was cut blindly (which it can’t – there are big projects and small ones and some might be cut or protected), that would translate into the loss of about one post-doc, perhaps a bit more. In a group our size we would definitely notice that!

But is that data right? While I was searching the web I stumbled on this page, from the Heritage foundation, which seems to claim reducing the NSF to 2008 levels will save $1.7 billion, about x2 more than it looks like above. Who is right? I know I tend to believe the NSF’s web page is more reliable. But, seriously, is it even possible for a citizen who doesn’t want to spend days or weeks to gather enough real data to make an independently informed decision?

Check out this recent article from the NYTimes about a recent proposal coming from  Congressman Jordan whose goal is to reduce federal spending by $2.5 trillion through fiscal year 2021 (am I the only one that finds the wording of that title misleading?). As a science/data guy the first thing I want to know is: where is he getting all that savings from? There are lists of programs that are eliminated, frozen, or otherwise reduced – but that document contains no numbers at all. And I can’t find any supporting documentation that he and his staff must have in order of have made that $2.5 trillion claim. So, in that document, which is 80 pages long, I’m left scanning for the words “national science foundation”, “science”, “energy”, etc. Really, there is very little mentioned. But I have a very hard time believing that those programs are untouched – as the article in the new york times points out, since things like Medicare, Social Security, etc., are left untouched (the lions share of the budget – especially in out years), and so all the cuts must come from other programs:

As a result, its effect on the entire array of government programs, among them education, domestic security, transportation, law enforcement and medical research, would be nothing short of drastic.

I agree with that statement. 2.25 trillion is a lot of cash! Can you find the drastic lines in that document? Well, perhaps you know more about Washington. I can’t. This gets to me because now if I have to get into an argument it is a very abstract one.

Pipedream: What I would love these folks to do is release a giant spreadsheet of the US gov’t spending that had 2008, 2009, 2010 levels, and then their proposed cuts, with an extra column for extra text. That is a lot of data, and would probably be hard to compile. But, boy, it would be nice!

Tests are Good for You January 21, 2011

Posted by gordonwatts in Teaching, university, University of Washington.

The New York Times had an article the other day talking about a discovery that is making rounds:

Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques.

I’m here to tell you: duh!

In fact, we’ve institutionalized this in our physics graduate schools. Most university physics departments have the mother-of-all tests. Here at UW we call it the Qualifying Exam. Others call it a prelim (short for preliminary). And there is a joke associated with this exam, usually said with some bitterness if you’ve not passed it yet, or some wistfulness if you long since have passed it:

You know more physics the day you take the qual than you ever do at any other time in your life.

The exam usually happens at the end of your first year in graduate school. The first year classes are hell. Up to that point in my life it was the hardest I’d ever worked at school. Then the summer hits, and you get a small rest. But it is impossible to rest staring down the barrel of that exam, often given at the end of the summer just before the second year of classes start. You have to pass this exam in order to go on to get your Ph.D. And for most of us, it is the last (formal) exam in our career that actually matters. So physiologically, it is a big hurdle as well.

How hard is it? My standard advice to students is that they should spend about one month studying, 8 hours a day. For most people, if they study effectively, that is enough to get by. Some need less and some need more. This is about what it took me. What is the test like? At UW ours is 2 hours per topic, closed book, and all it is is working out problems. No multiple choice here! It lasts two days.

So, how do you study? There is, I think, really only one way to get past this. For 30 days, 8 hours a day, work out problems. There are lots of old qualifier problems on websites. Our department provides students with copies of all the old exams. Even if you don’t know the solution, you force your self to try to work it out with out looking it up in a book – break your brain on it. Once you can solve those problems with out having to look at a text book, you know you are ready. Imagine trying to study by reading a text book, or by reviewing your first year homework problems. There is no way your brain will be able to work out a new problem after that unless you are a very unique individual.

Note how similar this is to the results shown in the article:

In the first experiment, the students were divided into four groups. One did nothing more than read the text for five minutes. Another studied the passage in four consecutive five-minute sessions.

A third group engaged in “concept mapping,” in which, with the passage in front of them, they arranged information from the passage into a kind of diagram, writing details and ideas in hand-drawn bubbles and linking the bubbles in an organized way.

The final group took a “retrieval practice” test. Without the passage in front of them, they wrote what they remembered in a free-form essay for 10 minutes. Then they reread the passage and took another retrieval practice test.

The last group did the best, as you might imagine from the theme of this post!

This is also how you know more physics than at any other time in your life. At no other time do you spend 30 days working out problems across such a broad spectrum of physics topics. If you study and try to work out a sufficiently broad spectrum of problems you can breeze through the exam (literally, I remember watching one guy taking it with me just nail the exam in about half the time of the rest of us).

Working out problems  – without any aids – is active learning. I suppose you could follow the article and say that forcing the brain to come up with the solution means it organizes the information in a better way… Actually, I have no idea what the brain does. But, so far this seems to be the best way to teach yourself. You are actively playing with the new concepts and topics. This is why homework is absolutely key to a good education. And this is why tests are good – if you study correctly. If you actively study for the test (vs. just reading the material) then you will learn the material better.

And we need to work better at designing tests that force students to study actively. For example, I feel we are slipping backwards sometimes. With the large budget cuts that universities are suffering one byproduct is the amount of money we have to hire TA’s to help grade our large undergraduate classes is dropping. That means we can’t ask as many open-ended exam questions – and have to increase the fraction of multiple choice. It is much harder to design a test that goes after problem solving in physics using multiple choice. This is too bad.

So, is this qualifier test hazing process? Or is there a reason to do it? Actually, that is a point of controversy. Maybe there is a way to force the studying component without the high-anxiety of the make-or-break exam. Certainly some (very good) institutions have eliminated the qual. Now, if we could figure out how to do that and still get the learning results we want…

Finally, Getting A Spine April 20, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in university, University of Washington.
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The problem with politics is that even when you are mad you have to bite your tongue. These 20-30% cuts I’ve been talking about are, however, going to be a disaster for us. Our president has decided that it is time to apply a bit more public pressure. This scares me – this means all the private tools and backroom access he has available have failed. From a Seattle PI article:

Emmert said he was "offended" by the funding proposals coming out of Olympia. Across the nation — including hard-off states such as California and Michigan — no states are proposing such drastic cuts to higher education funding, he said.

Nationwide, Washington is ranked 30th in state funding for four-year institutions, Arkans said. After the proposed budget cuts — using either the House’s or Senate’s budget proposals — Washington would drop to a rank of 42nd.

"We’re running out of adjectives and adverbs," Emmert said. "It’s unprecedented in the state’s history. What’s happening in the Senate and the House may be unprecedented in the States — the United States — in the post-war era."

This was in the middle of a discussion he was having on layoffs that will hit the U by the end of this April.

BTW, I mentioned several times that we were #1 public university when it came to federal funding. I don’t think that is true any longer. New statistics I just say indicate that NIH funding levels dropped us to #5 overall, and #3 for public institutions. NIH funding is the largest part of our funding, so that means our total funding rank has probably also dropped.

UW To Get A Demotion April 16, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in University of Washington.

Picked this up while surfing my email:

These unprecedented cuts will permanently kick the University of Washington to second-tier status and throttle programs at Washington State University and Western (note to friends of Western’s Huxley School: It’s rally time). Washington will import more of its talent, just as it exports its top high school grads. No more supercilious guffaws at Oregon and OSU, schools that felt the slow earthquake of 1990’s Measure 5 that starved basic education and ultimately squeezed higher-ed as well.

The article also mentions something I’ve started to hear around the halls here:

The real and anticipated squeeze is already under way. At the UW’s College of Arts and Sciences, four faculty members have announced plans to bolt over the past three weeks. It’s the prelude to a brain drain: Better jump ship before the pirates heave another grappling hook.

The rest of the article is pretty interesting – it goes on to talk about some of the difficulty in arguing for higher education when faced with a zero-sum budget, as the Washington state budget is.

Chop 20%-30% April 15, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in university, University of Washington.

In the previous posts I mentioned the legislative atmosphere towards higher education and some general parameters in the ongoing budget discussions.

So, lets consider a 20%-30% budget cut. First of all, you can’t absorb that in straight staff cuts. As much as some professors would like to believe, the staff at the UW makes it run. Without them we’d never get to teach or do research or anything else.

What if you could slim things down a bit? Say you want to keep class sizes similar to what they are now (something that many legislators draw a red line in the sand over). How about doubling the teaching load for each professor? We professors are currently assigned a single course a quarter. This generally means between 3 and 4 hours of face time with the students (in the classrooms), some class preparation time, and some office hours, and some grading time. Class prep time varies depending on the course. An easy course might require only a single hour of prep time to teach one hour. The graduate level class I was teaching the last two quarters required about 5-8 hours of prep time for every hour of teaching. In the case of a heavy load you couldn’t double it – obviously – there aren’t enough hours in the week. But why not the light classes? I don’t know the legal basis of our agreement with the University, but most of us joined the University because we wanted to do both teaching and research. If a change like this happens it will change the balance of our research and teaching time. That will certainly drive a lot of the people currently at UW away – UW will no longer be one of the top ranked research universities in the USA, and will no longer get the largest amount of public funding for a public institution in the USA. All of this will mean the students that are attracted won’t be as good, we will have less students (less grant money to fund students), etc. UW will not be what it is today – it will become more like a teaching institution rather than a teaching and research institution. A game changer, as I said earlier.

What else could you do? How about attrition? Initially we were considering a 13% budget cut. My impression is that it would take 2-3 years for attrition to shrink the faculty to the correct size. That is 2-3 years of no hiring. I’m sure departments could survive, though they would be gritting their teeth at being unable to compete for some of the best people on the market (which many department at UW normally do). And that 2-3 years is well matched to the budget cycle in the state of Washington – we do it in 2 year cycles. But when you are talking 20-30% budget cuts now you are talking 4-6 years of attrition. Massive forward loans would have to be arranged. Perhaps you could use some of the federal stimulus money to help – but that is only around for two years. Attrition would have another side-effect: increased class sizes and longer times to graduate or fewer students to be admitted. UW is a state institution – one of the main charges is to educate the population of the state – so none of these options are very palatable to either the faculty, the university administration, or the legislature.

Ok. What’s next on the list? The tenure issue (at UW) can be gotten around by closing a full department. For example, decide you don’t need physics any longer – at that point my tenure no longer means anything. The university has committed to doing its best to find me a job, but, lets be serious – in these times? This is a pretty crude tool. I’m sure you could come up with some small departments on campus that aren’t nationally ranked and have very small numbers of students and aren’t considered vital to a liberal arts education – but I wonder if you could come up with enough of them to absorb a 20 or 30% cut. Any organization our size is bound to have some fat – but 25% fat? I doubt it.

Finally, another option is to raise tuition. Currently we are allowed to raise it 7% per year. If that was doubled to 14% per year, and done for two years in a row, the end result would be mitigating these 20-30% cuts to something more like 10%. A 10% cut the university can deal with without a fundamental change in its mission. This option is generating the most political heat right now. On the face of it, it looks pretty bad – raising tuition during hard economic times isn’t exactly smart. However, it turns out part of the federal budget increases and stimulus bill were a bunch of new money for financial aids for undergraduates. Some projections I’ve seen from the university say that if you are family making less than 160K you won’t notice the increase at all. So raising the tuition seems like a good way to transfer more federal money into the university’s accounts. There is one hiccup here, unfortunately: graduate students. Cuts in the budget that would happen due to 10% cuts would reduce the number of TA’s we could hire, which means graduate students would suddenly find themselves unemployed. Graduate students make almost nothing anyway – and now we have significantly upped how much they have to pay. Fortunately, relatively speaking, graduate students are a small fraction of the university student population – so solving that problem is much easier than solving the same problem for the undergraduate population.

In the end I’m sure it will be a combination of some the above. Whatever, I hope that the rhetoric calms down enough so people make a rational decision based on the minimal impact to students, research, the university mission, and still make sure that the state budget gets balanced. There is no way to escape cuts at this point, but lets not throw the baby out with the bath water.

There are probably other options that are out there that I’ve not thought of. Feel free to leave a comment!

How Big A Cut? April 13, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in university, University of Washington.
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A 20% or 30% cut in the university budget is a game changer – the University of Washington would not be the same institution it is today if it is cut 20%-30%.

Last post I mentioned that Washington higher education state funding was facing something between a 20% and 30% cut. It is important to know what is actually being cut. It turns out the university gets its funding from three sources, roughly equal: state funds, grants, and endowment. The endowment money is colored: when it was gifted to the university it was gifted for a particular purpose – and often that can’t be used to hire people. I believe UW’s endowment is down about 25% or so right now. Grants are the research grants that people at the university get – for example, my NSF grant. The university skims off 20%-30% of the money from each grant and puts it towards operating expenses. Stimulus funding and increased budgets at the federal level mean that the grant income is about the same or even a bit better – as long as we don’t loose the people applying for those grants.

The final bit, the state funds, are what pays for most of the people here at UW – graduate student’s TA’s, staff, and, of course, the professors. When we talk about cutting 20% or 30% here, we are talking about cutting only the state portion of the budget. If we were to do this across the board this would mean a 20%-30% cut in the number of people (professors, TA’s, administrators, etc.). This is complicated by the concept of tenure. You can’t fire a tenured professor as long as they are doing their basic job (teaching, participating in the department administration at an acceptable level, etc.). You can layoff a tenured faculty if you close down their whole department, however.

The final bit of information is about the UW itself. We are a major research university. This means our mission is not just teaching, but also research. Students (undergraduate and, obviously, graduate) are fully expected to participate in this research. We are one of the largest public universities in the USA. We are the largest research university – that is, we receive more money in grants than any other public university. I think we are second only to Johns Hopkins (which is not a public university). Of course, our ability to get those grants has a lot to do with the people applying for them and the fantastic facilities here which means the federal research dollars are well spent.

Next I’ll talk about some of the cut scenarios.

Why do they hate us so? April 10, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in university, University of Washington.

Check out this picture:


Sorry if it gets cut off – click on it and look at the 2nd page of the PDF that comes up. Those numbers are the size of proposed cuts to higher education state-by-state – smaller is better!! Washington is highlighted. You’ll note Washington has the largest number. I’ve heard that Nevada is the one state that is worse. If you look at other state universities that are similar in size and stature to UW you’ll find they are getting 6%-8% cuts.

Our state is particularly bad off – but not the worst in the nation. I believe, for example, Florida is worse – they are planning on cutting their higher education program by 1% or 2%. Arizona – the only other university of similar size (though I think we are better ranked then they are) is planning on a 30% tuition increase to counter their cuts. A friend of mine, who is a professor there, commented “I wonder if there will be a physics department when I get back?”

So, what is going on in Washington?

Frankly, I don’t really understand what is going on. 🙂 Higher education here is getting cut harder than other programs in the state. The talk that is coming from some of our state politicians is so factually incorrect that it makes one wonder if facts are being stretched to make a point motivated by other forces (that I’m not aware of). I should also state that I see cuts to our budget as inevitable. There is just no way to avoid them – the whole state is going to suffer and everyone is going to have to bear some of the pain.

But these cuts will be painful!

The New Cup January 17, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in university, University of Washington.

IMG_9444I eat lunch almost every day at a cafeteria near by my office. UW has made a big effort in the last two years to make all the garbage that comes out of their cafeteria’s compostable. I met one of the guys who works on that at a party a few months ago. At the time he told me that almost 90% of all the garbage that comes out of the cafeteria is compostable. If they could do soda cups they would be at 95%.

Compostable has a very specific definition. 60 days in a heap and it has to have broken down. One of the out growths of this is “silverware” made out of corn starch. It works great – until you put it in hot soup. The spoons have this very odd behavior of curling up, which makes it difficult to fit in your mouth (or hold soup).

Apparently cups that hold cold liquids are the hardest to make compostable. Hot liquids are easy – you coat the inside of the cup with something, and the cup is good to go. Cold cups, however, have to be coated both inside and outside. The reason is condensation! If the outside isn’t coated, and the cold liquid causes condensation, then the water droplets that form on the outside of the cup will cause the paper part of the cup to disintegrate. Not so good! The fellow at the party told me he had found cups that would be compostable under a 90 day definition, but the UW composting contractor didn’t do 90 days.

Apparently they have solve the problem. Above is the cup. There is a twist, however. I tend to bring these cups back from lunch with some rootbeer in them. After that is gone I fill them with water and use them until the next day. If I eat lunch in my office the next day, the cup will remain in active duty. Sometimes for several days.

No more. These new cups make it almost 48 hours. At that point I noticed a ring of water forming around the cup. 🙂 Still, it is very cool to see UW have such a high rate of compostable material coming from its cafeterias. The fellow I was talking to said that the next step was to tackle the office work areas. He said this was going to be much more difficult because he had much less control over them. I would imagine so, just looking at all the stuff we throw out! I’m waiting to see!