Thursday, November 30, 2017

Stop Bad Tax Bill That Could Kill Postgraduate Science Education

Graduate students (people studying for their masters and PhD degrees) are a huge part of the workforce of modern science. They run the experiments, maintain the laboratories, enter and analyze the data, write up the results, etc. They also help their professors with teaching. And of course, they eventually graduate and use their expertise working in important fields like research, business and industry, government, and academia. Thus, graduate students contribute immensely to the progress and promulgation of science, allowing our scientifically informed, technologically advanced, economically productive society to flourish. Our graduate students ought not to be messed with.

It's not easy being a graduate student, though. For one, it's hard to even get into graduate school. First, you have to do four years of college to get an undergraduate degree, and you have to do it with excellent grades, GRE scores, and lots of extra research internships to get the experience and recommendations needed to secure a spot in graduate school.

A reason there are few spots in science graduate school is that most professors take on graduate students only when they have enough research grant money to pay those students' tuitions and stipends. Some professors are science superstars who manage to bring in enough money to fully support several graduate students at a time. But most are like me and struggle to get enough grants to support even one or two graduate students, even with help from small scholarships and tuition waivers that some lucky students get for themselves. It's rare for graduate students to pay their own way through school, and they shouldn't be asked to, because: A) they're doing real scientific work, which should be paid for, B) they're already in debt from their undergraduate years, and C) unlike kids paying for law school or medical school, they don't have lucrative jobs waiting for them when they're done; they're just doing it for their love of science.

Unfortunately, a provision in the US Senate's new tax bill will make it much harder for graduate students to make ends meet, if the bill passes. Currently, the students are taxed on their stipends (the money they actually get paid), but because they're paid so little ($15k/year is common) they're in a low tax bracket that allows them to keep enough money to survive. Students are NOT currently taxed on the grant money that directly pays their tuitions; a large amount that the students never see. This new bill would start taxing students on the value of their tuitions in addition to the value of their stipends, forcing them to pay a middle-class-sized tax bill with a poverty-class-sized income. That would basically make it impossible for students to survive the 2-6 years of postgraduate study that it takes to get a masters or PhD degree, and/or would require colleges and professors to somehow find vastly larger amounts of grant money to support the students that they can barely support as it is. Not cool.

This tax change would be devastating for students, professors, and those who benefit from science (which is everyone). That said, the provision affecting graduate students is just one part of the much larger tax bill, which happens to be awful in many other ways, as well. It basically amounts to a "Reverse Robin-hood" strategy of stealing from the poor to give to the rich. Look it up on a reliable news website like, then, if you haven't already done so, please contact your senator to complain. You can look up your senator's contact info here:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

SUP Race Report: Englewood Beach Paddlefest 2017

Race: Englewood Beach Paddlefest 2017

Date it happened: 11 November 2017.

Host/Sponsors: Hosted by "Hooked on SUP Paddlesports" and a bunch of other sponsors and volunteers listed on the race's paddleguru page.

Location: The Gulf of Mexico off Englewood Beach, Florida, and into Stump Pass inlet.

Distance: There were three race courses- a 9.2 km one, a 4.8 km one, and a 2.4 km one. The long one went south along the beach and briefly into Stump Pass inlet, before coming back out and going north along to the beach to the start / finish. (See my GPS track.) The 4.8 and 2.4 km courses were 2 and 1 laps, respectively, around a triangle course in the ocean centered around the start / finish and marked with interesting animal-shaped buoys, like a unicorn and a peacock. I did the long race.

Conditions: It was sunny and pleasant with temps in the low to mid 20s (Celsius). The wind was significant (5-15 knots), but since the wind direction was offshore the water was flat for most of the course. The only spot we had to paddle upwind and into chop was entering Stump Pass, where we also fought current from the outgoing tide and skirted shallow shoals. Though the Gulf of Mexico was mostly flat, subtle, shin-high swells running from north to south were just big enough to provide little boosts and to confound some racers' attempts to draft each other.

Participants: There was a good turnout of about 120 people of all ages, with participants spread out among the short, medium, and long distance races. Most were on race SUPs, but there were a lot of recreational SUPs in the short race, and several surfski kayaks and outrigger canoes in the long distance race. Two of my CGT Tribe buddies did the race on surfskis- veteran South African paddler Murray Hunkin, and Justin DiGiorgio, for whom this was his first surfski race. Other CGT crew included Donna Catron, Bryan Herrick, and Phil Trudgeon in the medium race, and Mark Athanacio, Cindy Gibson, Meg Bosi, Bill Mussenden, John Weinberg, and me in the long race. Other tough contenders included Cuban hulk Yensys Loyola in the short race, and Sunova Boards sponsored paddler Brad Ward in the long race. An increasingly tough competitor for me, Travis Kindt, dealer of ECS boards and proprietor of the Zeke's Surf Shop in Stuart, FL, was also there with his partner Leisa, who took some good pictures.

Gear: I used "Minty," my 2017 14x23 Riviera RP. Brad Ward was on a 14x23.5 Sunova Flatwater Faast Pro. Mark Athanacio was on a nameless custom 14x23 board that he helped develop with a shaper and glasser in California. Travis Kindt was on a 14x25 ECS Stealth. Yen Loyola was on a 14x27 Starboard Allstar.

Results: The full results are posted on paddleguru. Here are some highlights-

Long race- Murray Hunkin was first overall in his surfski, finishing in 0:49:53. Brad Ward was the first SUP in 1:00:31. Mark Athancio was second SUP overall and first in the 50+ class with 1:02:19. Travis Kindt, Chris Moylan, and me were 3rd-5th in 1:02:44, 1:02:51, and 1:02:57, respectively. Twelve year old Dylan Geiger on a 12'6 404 board was the first male 12'6 in 1:10:07. Lizi Ruiz was the first female in 1:11:09, with Cindy Gibson second in 1:12:03, and Meg Bosi third in 1:12:54.

Short race- Yen Loyola won it in 0:36:36 after overpowering second place Bryan Herrick. Mary Ann Boyer was first woman and first 50+ in 0:38:47.

Play by play: Since the race was only 90 minutes away, I woke up early and drove to the site instead of staying over the night before. I felt good in the morning, with no coffee jitters since I've cut back on caffeine over the last two weeks to avoid the buzz/crash phenomenon that I have hypothesized interferes with my performance in SUP races and life in general.

My good feeling continued as the SUPs lined up on the beach for the start, and the surfskis and outrigger canoes lined up behind a piling about 100 m out. When the siren blared I started clean and fast enough that I had no "traffic" problems on the way to the piling. Rounding the piling there were just a couple guys ahead of me, though Brad Ward and Mark Athanacio almost immediately caught up and passed me, despite Mark falling near the piling. I briefly attempted to draft each of them, but it was hard because they were so fast. Another thing that made drafting hard was the tiny swells moving down the course from the north. A little swell would reach the guy in the back first and start to run him into the guy in front, then when it reached the guy in front he would ride it away from the guy behind. Basically, drafting wasn't helping me, so I tried to just go fast and catch little bumps when I could. Ahead, Brad Ward pulled away to a major lead, and Mark Athanacio worked his way towards powerfully-built Chris Moylan who was in second place at that time.

Close by me was Travis Kindt. I can't remember if he was initially ahead or behind, but I remember him gradually catching up to me as we both paddled south. I knew from July's Flying Fish Paddle Challenge that we were closely matched, and I didn't want to make the mistake I'd made then of killing myself to stay just ahead of him then getting passed later when I burned out. So I paddled a normal pace and when he caught me I alternated between drafting him and just keeping pace alongside him. Both of us were finding it hard to draft in the open water, but drafting became more favorable as we turned into the wind to enter the inlet at Stump Pass. It benefit me a lot to draft Travis there, with the help of both his wake and the wind-break effect. Midway through the inlet I took a turn pulling the draft train and did my best to power through the upwind, up-current section. Heading toward the turn-around buoy inside the inlet there was a weird shallow spot where the current was against us but some wind chop was helping. I got through with less trouble than Travis, who dropped off my draft for a while. I gained a little on Chris Moylan in front of us, who seemed to have slowed down after getting passed by Athanacio.

Exiting the inlet I got on Chris Moylan's draft for a while, then took a turn pulling. Travis caught up with us on the northward return leg. I started to worry that I'd tire myself out and get passed if I kept pulling, so I slowed and let Chris lead. Drafting him and Travis was not the relief that I'd hoped it would be, because Travis was weaving in and out of the other guy's draft and I had to weave even more to stay in Travis' draft. I did my best to concentrate on saving energy and getting my heart rate down, but I don't think I was very successful. (I ought to get a working heart rate monitor again so I can remove the guesswork from these kind of things.) Anyway, after a while of that I got discouraged and decided to break off the train and try to keep up on my own. I took a more inshore path than them and stayed abreast, but gained no ground. This situation continued until near the end of the race, when Travis kicked it up a notch and got two or three board lengths ahead of Chris. As is often the case for me at the end of a race, I didn't have the physical or mental strength left to make a big move, but I tried to edge closer to Chris and hoped to maybe squeeze around him at the final piling turn into the beach finish line. I did not manage to do that, so I wound up staggering out of the water a few seconds behind him.

Though I didn't make it to the podium this time, I had a good race where I paddled hard and mixed it up with some closely-matched competitors, which was fine by me. After the race I tried out some other folks' boards, including John Sekas' Sunova Ocean Pro 14x25, a pintailed dugout design. It was nice and stable but felt slow after being on a 14x23. Next I tried Mark Athanacio's new custom board, which has similar characteristics to the Hovie GTO. It was super lightweight and felt fast and frisky.

The post-race socializing was nice, and the lunch was really good. Although I didn't stick around for the awards and the raffle, I was really proud of my CGT Tribe friends and their racing achievements.

What's next: I think this was my last race of the year. I'll keep doing SUP training, but may spend more of my limited time and energy for working out on strength training in the gym and other fitness activities. I have some pain developing in the joints and tendons of my thumb and palm where it presses the paddle handle, and a twinge in my right rotator cuff that could stand to be rested for a while.