Class Hysteria

By Matthew Halverson December 18, 2008 Published in the October 2008 issue of Seattle Met

College is a balancing act. Over here, you’ve got your classes and your term papers and the whole scholarly pursuit thing. But over there, you’ve got the experiential, joie de varsity of college life, with its campus quirks and revered traditions and legal and semilegal extracurriculars. Devote yourself to the former, and you’ll miss out on the full experience. Pour yourself into the latter, and, well, your experience won’t last long.

So like well-rounded college kids, we attacked the topic of Pacific Northwest colleges from both sides: On page 92, we used statistics and anecdotal evidence on everything from freshman class size to student satisfaction with professors to rank the top 39 schools in Washington and Oregon. And starting on page 66, we give you an alum’s-eye-view of several of those schools, uncovering what makes them more than just “institutes of higher learning.” What we dug up was predictable (UW has a powerhouse research program? Get out!) and weird (Reed students fight over a 300-pound cement owl) and almost enough to make us want to reenroll. Almost.

{page break}

Cat Nipped

We hate to admit it, but Butch might just be the Northwest’s best mascot.

YES, THIS IS HUSKY COUNTRY, and using this space to do anything other than call the Cougars neutered kitties is practically traitorous. But you know that thing about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer? With an assist from Washington State University’s spirit program coordinator, Ivy Wang, we tracked down Butch T. Cougar, our frenemy from the other side of the state to get inside his head.

You know, the word cougar has taken on a whole new meaning lately. Are middle-aged women on the prowl hurting your reputation? They can try! Nah, Butch T. Cougar will always be the first and foremost cougar!

Do you get any static from cats in the wild? “You sold out and went big time,” or anything like that? Yeah, I’ve gotten some of that, but I just flash my Capital One National Mascot of the Year trophy, and that shuts them up pretty fast.

With that title under your belt, have you peaked? There’s always more to do. I’m so excited about this coming year, with our new coach, Paul Wulff, and the renovations to Martin Stadium, that I’m a little distracted. I think I’ll go for the Capital One gig again soon, or maybe try the National Mascot Competition in Orlando next year.

I hear you went to Hawaii over the summer—must be nice. What does a seven-foot-tall cat do for fun in a place like that? Mostly I sunbathed and surfed while I was there. I’m so busy during the year that it’s great to be able to relax and live the good life during the summer. And this year is great, because I’m going back with the football team on Thanksgiving weekend.

What mascots do you hang out with in the off-season? I just finished doing a Mascot Challenge in Seattle where I beat the pants off of Harry the Husky and other mascots from the region. I mostly only hang out with other mascots because it’ll make me look good!

How are things with Harry? We’re friendly, but there’s no way we could be friends. We just try to be civil. The worst is when people make us pose for photos, like we’re buds or something.

{page break}

The Rivalry to End all Rivalries

Okay, that’s overstating the case, but we do have two of college football’s best grudge matches.

Washington and Oregon have two of the biggest—and longest running—intrastate rivalries in all of NCAA Division I football, and those annual showdowns have more in common than you might think. We compare some of the highlights…

The Civil War: OSU vs. U of O // The Apple Cup: UW vs. WSU

First Meeting

1894 // 1900


U of O leads the series 55-46-10. // UW leads the series 64-30-6.

Trophy Name

Platypus Trophy // Apple Cup

Trophy Disappearance

From 1959 to 1961, the Platypus Trophy was awarded to the winning school. Then, inexplicably, it disappeared for 40 years, before popping up in a closet at Oregon’s McArthur Court in 2005. Beginning with the 2007 game, it goes to the winning school’s alumni association. // The original trophy, the Governor’s Trophy, was awarded from 1934 to 1939, but was lost sometime during WWII. It was eventually recovered at a bankruptcy auction in 1998. It might have had sentimental value, but by then it was obsolete: The Apple Cup trophy became the prize in 1962.

Goose Eggs

In 111 meetings, the Beavers and Ducks have tied 0-0 six times, including a 1983 contest nicknamed the Toilet Bowl. It was the last time an NCAA Division I game ended in a scoreless tie. // The Huskies and Cougars tied 0-0 three times, including a 1942 contest, in which a 30-yard pass slipped through the hands of Washington State’s Nick Susoeff in the end zone, robbing the Cougars of a trip to the Rose Bowl.

Goalpost Blunder

Elated about an overtime victory in 1998, hundreds of OSU students rushed the field after the game and knocked a goalpost down…and on to the head of freshman Cara Martin, who suffered a concussion and spent a week in the hospital. // Angry about changes to student seating in Husky Stadium in 1989, a hundred UW students rushed the field after the game and tried to knock a goalpost down. University officials claimed the students were incited by a column in the school’s newspaper titled “Tear ’em Down.”

Unlikely Hero

A touchdown by Oregon State fullback Booker Washington in the final minute of the 1964 contest lifted the Beavers over the Ducks, 7-6. It was Washington’s first—and last—collegiate score. // Third string WSU quarterback Hank Grenda, who found out an hour before the 1968 showdown that he’d be starting, had a hand in all 24 of the Cougars’ points—including kicking a field goal—in an upset shutout.

Incident involving nontraditional projectiles

During a postgame riot in downtown Eugene in 1937, OSU fans attacked U of O students with—among other things—flying ears of corn. // During a postgame near-riot in Martin Stadium in 2002, WSU fans attacked UW players with—among other things—flying beer bottles.

Elements be damned

In 2001, a year after getting spanked in Corvallis, Oregon came home and slipped and slid through a monsoonlike downpour (complete with 30-mile-per-hour wind gusts) to beat the Beavers 17-14. // In 1992, a year after getting spanked in Seattle, Washington State came home and plowed through a blizzardlike whiteout (complete with 18-mile-per-hour wind gusts) to upset the Huskies 42-23.

{page break} 

The Phat House

When did dorm life become the high life?

The first clue that this isn’t your average college dorm? It’s not called a dorm. It’s not even a residence hall. It’s a “residential commons.” (Go on, you know you want to say it with an affected British accent.) Built in 2006 for a cool $17 million, Kaneko Commons is not only the poshest spot for Willamette University students to call home (on an already pretty posh campus), it’s also the most eco-friendly. Dave Rigsby, associate dean of campus life at the Salem school, gave us the nickel tour of this four-bedroom suite—for which each student pays about $7,000 per year.

1. How do you get into this ultraexclusive unit? Be a four-year resident. Rigsby says Willamette is trying to build a community at Kaneko (cable TV is banned to discourage residents from vegging out in their rooms), so the longer you stay, the better the pad you’re eligible to land. And that means even Kaneko’s cramped freshman rooms are hot properties. The place is so sought after, about 40 students camped out for days just to register for a spot when it opened.

2. No more Dumpster diving for ratty old couches with questionable histories or coffee tables made out of cinder blocks and particleboard. The apartments in Kaneko come fully furnished with couches, chairs, beds, dressers, bookcases and desks. But heads up, Hot Pockets lovers: Bring your own microwave.

3. Students who have in-unit kitchens are welcome to whip up their own meals, but why bother when they can eat in the commons’ swanky Japanese-themed cafeteria? Rigsby says he’d put the food service provider “in the top five or 10 in the country,” which might sound like a load of sunny PR bull, but Rachael Ray herself dropped in to taste test the cuisine at Willamette in 2006—with her $40 a Day crew in tow.

4. Each unit has heat and A/C, but these floor-to-ceiling windows provide natural temperature control: Let the sun shine in when it’s cold, let the breeze blow in when it’s hot. And as a green bonus, some units have -solar panel–topped awnings that produce about 8,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.

5. A message to the coax cable, our friend of tethered connectivity: You’re not welcome here. The entire facility is wireless, meaning Mr. Mop-Top doesn’t need to be jacked in to email his profs, do some homework, or check Facebook. And once he’s bought a couple hundred songs on iTunes and Twittered about the whole thing, he can even hop onto the college’s Web site to reserve Kaneko’s Zipcar for a beer run.

{page break}

Tofu U

Where’s the beef in Walla Walla?

Ah, the Freshman 15. That gremlin of poundage that hunts down and gloms onto so many new college students. It’s insidious. It’s inescapable. It’s…not really a problem at Walla Walla University. No matter where they go on campus, no matter which cafeteria they hit, kids at WWU will find nothing but fruits, vegetables, and a whole lotta gluten. Wait, what? A meat-free college campus? “As long as the school has been open, we have been serving vegetarian food,” says Sheila Meharry, administrative assistant to the vice president for student life.

And the school’s been open since 1892, so you can rule out the idea that there’s a desperate attempt to appear hip and trendy behind the meat moratorium. No, the private school based in College Place, Washington, is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which advocates a vegetarian lifestyle. So instead of chicken strips, you get salads. Instead of Philly cheese steaks, you get stir-fry. And instead of hamburgers, you get—wait for it—“shamburgers.” (That’s what Meharry calls the soy-based patties that are available, along with soy hot dogs and meatless pizzas, in the school’s Student Association Center.)

Not all Walla Wallans are Adventists (and not all Adventists are vegetarians), but even campus carnivores who balk at going meat-free eventually “settle down and enjoy it,” Meharry says. And for those who don’t? “McDonald’s is just around the corner.” About those shamburgers…

{page break}

Ciscoe's Not-So-Secret Garden

The gardener-turned-TV star created his own Shangri-la at Seattle U.

When Ciscoe Morris released more than 20,000 insects on the Seattle University campus in 1983, the administration reacted more or less the way you’d expect them to. “They thought I was out of my mind,” he says. That’s a reaction that anyone who’s seen Morris in action on Northwest Cable News can identify with, but this was before he’d developed a reputation for being an overly stimulated garden gnome. He was just getting started as the school’s head of grounds and landscaping, and he was actually trying to wipe out bad bugs with good ones.

The administration eventually came around, and Morris spent the next two decades ripping out every garden on campus and starting over with a collection of exotic trees, bushes, and perennials that would turn Seattle U’s green spaces into some of the most biodiverse in the region. “We had a great collection of stewartia before anybody had them,” he says. “We had these evergreen dogwoods that you won’t find almost anywhere else. We would plant Chilean fire trees. We’d try to bring in Japanese maples that nobody had seen before.”

Morris left his post as campus greenery czar in 2002 (he comes back occasionally “to have pizza and beers” with his friends from the landscaping department), but last year the school decided to acknowledge his contribution to its sustainable gardening program by renovating and renaming his favorite spot on campus, behind Loyola Hall. The James Ciscoe Morris Biodiversity Garden was unveiled in late September. Seattle U grounds employee Janice Murphy, who headed up the project, said the celebration would be “an afternoon, tea-and-cookies kind of thing,” but don’t be surprised to hear that a few of Morris’s six-legged friends crashed the party.

{page break} 

Homer’s Home Away from Home

Max’s Tavern doesn’t have Duff on tap, but it might just be Moe’s real-life inspiration.

The question is getting old: “Is this really Moe’s from The Simpsons?” For years, patrons of Max’s Tavern, just off the University of Oregon campus in Eugene, have been asking owner Ward Fairbairn about the rumored link to Homer’s favorite bar in Springfield. “It’s entertaining folklore,” he says. Series creator Matt Groening likes to drop references to his home state of Oregon in the show, so you can see how the legend got started. But talk to Fairbairn long enough, and the legend starts to sound like the truth. (Talk to Groening, and you might have an answer, but good luck: Our requests for comment weren’t returned.)

Exhibit A: The decor

Weakest evidence first: Until Max’s remodeled in 2004, both it and Moe’s had the bar on the right and booths on the left, dark green paint above wood paneling on the walls, and a bloated regular named Barney. (Okay, we made that one up.) Maybe not exactly enough to declare the rumor true, but it’s a start.

Exhibit B: The Place Mat

While digging through his closet in “Three Gays of the Condo” (season 14, episode 17), Homer finds a place mat from the bar when its name was spelled Meaux’s. To anyone who wasn’t clued in, it was just another here-and-gone sight gag. But to Fairbairn, it was a wink and a nudge from Groening: See, a few months earlier Maxim had quoted Fairbairn on the Moe’s/Max’s rumor. “When I saw the place mat,” he says, “I was like, ‘Wait a minute…’”

Exhibit C: The Renovation

After the health inspector shuts down Moe’s in “Mommie Beerest” (season 16, episode 7), the bar gets a top-to-toe remodel. Renovations happen all the time, right? Maybe, but Moe’s went under the wrecking ball just months after Max’s did. Not only that, the walls got a coat of yellow paint (just like Max’s did), and the most prominent piece of new decor was a clock (just like at Max’s). Again, no one outside of Eugene would have noticed, but Fairbairn was convinced Groening was goosing him.

Exhibit D: The Patron

The strongest evidence—if true—comes from rumors that Groening hung out in Max’s in the 1970s. Old timers who have been bellying up at the bar for decades told Fairbairn that the cartoonist was a regular. (Of course, that might be the beer talking: How did they know Groening in his pre-Simpsons days?) And as far as Fairbairn is concerned, he may still be sneaking in from time to time. “The question is, Would he look like any older hippie in Eugene? So how do I know if I’m standing in front of him?”

{page break} 

School Spirits

The Ghost Cow of Pioneer Hall

The story Word around the bong at Linfield College is that years ago some students led a bull to the top of the bell tower in Pioneer Hall, but when it refused to walk back down, they pushed it out of a window. Its bitter ghost supposedly still roams the building.

The verdict Like the one about Lola, it ain’t easy to prove. But we believe it, because it’s pretty sweet to think that an angry ghost cow might be terrorizing students.

The ghost of Kamola Hall

The story The kids at Central Washington University claim that the legendary apparition Lola of Kamola Hall (because everyone knows cute names make ghosts less scary) is the unhappy spirit of a student who put on her wedding dress and hanged herself from the residence hall’s rafters after learning her fiancé was killed in WWII.

The verdict Students claim to see Lola about as often as they swear off drinking after a rough night at the bars—one says he saw a ghostly face peeking out of a closet in a picture on Facebook—but proving those sightings aren’t just hallucinations brought on by overactive imaginations is tough.

The Bodies Beneath Inlow Hall

The story It’s all about how you tell it. Say that an * Eastern Oregon University* administrative building has bodies in the basement, and it sounds like a prof snapped after grading too many finals. Say that the building was built on top of a pioneer cemetery, and it gets less creepy. But only sort of.

The verdict It’s dead on. EOU has carted more than a few pioneer bones out of the basement over the years. In fact, a renovation team unearthed the bodies of a man and a baby in an old crawl space just three years ago.

{page break}

My Life as the Doyle Owl

Reed’s highly coveted 300-pound piece of avian statuary speaks out.

One minute I’m sitting on my own roof on the Old Dorm Block minding my business, and the next I’m covered in dish soap, watching kids push each other over for a chance to drag me through the mud. Only at Reed College. Those kids don’t care how old or how heavy I am (pushing 100 and almost 300 pounds, thank you), they’ll throw me over the side of that Blue Bridge and suspend me there just to make their friends go bananas. Do you have any idea how gross that canyon water is? It’s almost as gross as being covered with cooking oil and set aflame. Seriously, if I was meant to be en fuego, I would be a roasting chicken. And what, for the love of Doyle, was with the helicopter that airlifted me off of the Thesis Tower? It’s not enough that they have to constantly steal me from each other? They have to show me off and get everyone whipped up, too?

I am an old cement bird. I deserve to rest in front of the dorm where I was born (okay, cast). I do not deserve to be subjected to these kids’ rock music or play a part in a rock band’s video (I never did care for Tears for Fears). I don’t even get to enjoy my holidays in peace. There’ve been Thanksgivings where I’ve been dragged into the president’s office and displayed in the window for hours. I’ve been driven all over tarnation during the Christmas season, including all through the Northeast and Midwest. Have you ever been out there in December? I’m made out of cement and I was freezing my tail feathers off. But that’s not as bad as having to hang out in truck beds, basements, and college houses listening to these kids plot the next trial of my already thin patience or getting my picture taken with all sorts of riffraff. Who are Steve Jobs and Dr. Demento, and why did they want their picture taken with a beat-up statuary owl?

Did you know those “Reedies” have even made copies of me? Yeah, copies. Of me. Of course, once they get up close no one believes that those plaster fakes are me. How could they? I am inimitable. Well, inimitable and discolored from being slathered with substances like Vaseline, Crisco, and orange paint. Oh, and dented in a few places from being dragged behind cars, pushed off the back of cars, and just, generally, dropped. But hey, they still let me in at Disneyland. —As told to Lauren Rother, Reed College, Class of ’07

{page break}

Campus 101: Slacklining

Like hacky sack for the rock-climbing set, slacklining has become the campus diversion du jour at schools like Willamette University. (Never heard of it? Imagine walking a tightrope with more give and not nearly as high off the ground.) Second-year grad student Jon Williams showed us the ropes.

1. Pick two sturdy trees about 40 feet apart and tie one end of your line (one-inch tubular nylon webbing) around each, about three feet off the ground; the line should be taut but still give.

2. Put your strongest foot on the line about a quarter of the way from one tree. Make your heel and big toe the main points of contact and brace that foot against the leg on the ground.

3. Bring the second foot up on to the line, making sure to put it in front of the foot that’s already on the line; keep your knees bent and your arms out to your sides.

4. Take short, heel-to-toe steps, staring at the tree in front of you. If the line swings out to one side, use your hips to swing it back; your belly button should stay directly above the line.

{page break}

The Great Debaters

Two of the region’s masters duke it out over—what else?—beer.

We could have just told you that for decades Portland’s Lewis and Clark College has had, pound for academic pound, one of the best debate teams in the country, that it has placed first or second in the Northwest Conference Division I sweepstakes eight times in the last 10 years. But that wouldn’t have been as fun as letting two of its argumentative alums put their debating pants back on to spar over the quintessential question of our time: Which state has the better microbrews, Oregon or Washington?

Pro: Oregon Beer

Are you tired of fighting depressed Mariners fans drowning their sorrows in cheap Olympia or Ivar’s chowder on your way to the Pyramid brewery? Is that suspicious Pyramid Hefeweizen leaving you unsatisfied and wondering if the only criteria of a “hefe” are that it be made with wheat and appear cloudy? Washingtonians, let this native Oregonian introduce you to a mind-blowing smorgasbord of beers.

Venture south of the border for a flavor fiesta: Float down the Deschutes River with the Green Lakes Organic Ale from Deschutes Brewery in hand and celebrate nature by drinking of the river. Doesn’t that sound better than sitting in a raft in the cold Puget Sound, sipping on a Snoqualmie Wildcat IPA that’s as unbalanced and hoppy as a bitter housewife? The Ruby or Terminator Stout on Nitro at a local McMenamins Pub is sure to please (“Nitro” adds an American Gladiators element that makes everything flashy and fabulous at once). Hair of the Dog, Widmer, BridgePort, and Full Sail have all got game, like Walton dominating Kareem back in ’77.

Your tormented taste buds need out-of-state beer like Amy Winehouse needs rehab. Come to Oregon for true Beervana. —_Meredith Price, Class of ’07, 2005 NPDA National Champion_

Pro: Washington Beer

I may be a Lewis and Clark grad, have a love for Portland that runs deep, and have an odd appreciation for beavers and ducks, but I have to say that Washington beer kicks Oregon beer to the curb, holds it down, and doesn’t let go.

Now, I cut my beer taste-buds on Mirror Pond and Full Sail, but I grew out of that phase. Here’s why:
Pyramid Breweries has the labels, the taste, the fascination—who hasn’t stared and wondered why a Washington beer has a pyramid as a logo? Founded the year Reagan was reelected, this beer demonstrates a conservative feminism: It tantalizes but doesn’t scandalize, giving a coy wink with its bright label but pulling back with its solid taste.

One of my friends claims Fish Tale Poseidon’s Imperial Stout might be God’s answer to the devil. Its dark flavor and rich taste exude freshness, attitude, and broad confidence. In the world of microbrews, if originality is king, then this beer is His Excellency.

The result is simple: Washington over Oregon—in population, longitude, and beer. —Landon Mascareñaz, Class of ’05, 2005 NPDA -National Semifinalist

{page break}

Get Your Geek On

Hellboy lovers, rejoice: Portland State is the official resting place of Dark Horse Comics’ archive.

When Portland State University offered to let Dark Horse Comics founder (and PSU alum) Mike Richardson store his company’s archive in its special collections a couple years ago, he didn’t have to think long to say yes. (Take your comics collection and multiply it by humongous, and you’re getting close to the size of his stash of superhero memorabilia.)

It’s a good deal for him, but an even better one for you. Let’s say you want to check out a copy of Usagi Yojimbo Vol. 1. Even if you’re not a student at PSU, you can snag it through interlibrary loan, so we asked Howard Boyd, manager at Zanadu Comics in downtown Seattle, to tell us which issues are must-reads.

Concrete Dark Horse Presents Issue 2

A thinking man’s comic, Concrete steered away from the traditional superhero orgy of spandex costumes and mutant powers to focus instead on…a guy who has his brain transplanted by aliens into a half-ton concretelike body and becomes a travel writer.

Hellboy Seed of Destruction Vol. 1

Paranormal investigator. Big stone hand. Kind of looks like the devil with a topknot. Hellboy might be the most iconic character in Dark Horse’s stable, and after a couple of lucrative trips to the big screen, he’s a profitable one, too. This is where the fiery good guy who looks like a bad guy got his start fighting bad guys who look like really bad guys.

Sin City Dark Horse Presents Issue 50

Crawling with hit men, pole dancers, and a mustard-yellow child molester, this gritty series of pulp fiction helped author Frank Miller break into Hollywood (he’s behind 300 and this Christmas’s Samuel L. Jackson–anchored The Spirit). But more important, it brought a brand new palette of noir sensibility to the genre, even if it was inked almost entirely in black and white.

Aliens vs. Predator Dark Horse Presents Issue 34

Talk about a property with a unique trajectory: from screen to page and back to screen. In a savvy move for the rookie comics company, Dark Horse acquired the comics rights to both sci-fi/horror film franchises in the late ’80s and did what any fanboy with a thing for murderous extraterrestrials would do: Put them together and let them go at it.

Tag and Bink Star Wars: Tag and Bink Are Dead Vol. 1

So you liked the Star Wars trilogy, but you thought it needed a little humor (the unintentional stuff doesn’t count). This is as close as you’re going to get. With a nod to Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, this two-parter follows a couple of bit characters just trying to survive in that galaxy far, far away. They don’t.

{page break}

School of Life

Professor George Ball, 93, distills a lifetime of experience down to 391 words.

For half a century, Dr. George Ball has been the social conscience of Walla Walla’s WHITMAN COLLEGE and a candid mentor to its students, dishing out advice on education, life, and even sex. Oh yeah, and he’s 93. It’s been three years since the religion professor officially retired—you know, because 90 seemed like a nice round number—but he still keeps an office on campus, and he’s more than willing to offer up a little wisdom to anyone who wants to listen.

On perspective It’s very difficult in a society like ours, which is so much based around success, particularly economic success, to think that there are other aspects of life that would be more fulfilling, more sustaining, more reassuring.

On progress The college itself was quite different when I came here. All the girls had to be in the dormitory at a certain hour, and the dormitory was locked.

On true love If it didn’t exist, there’d be an awful lot of false or fake love.

On buckling down If you float along and just do the easy things or choose the easy major, then you wind up at the end of four years with nothing special that you can really aim at or give yourself to.

On God Religion, by itself, is not good, because it can actually make you feel in some ways that you have enemies or that people are damned or lost.

On war It’s so hard to think that the weapons of power are with the people without real conscience.

On marriage My wife is 12 years younger than I am, which is beginning to show: The household and all the rest is falling more and more on her because she knows I’ll forget.

On Facebook I’m very poor with equipment. You should write me down as ignorant.

On life The essence of the matter is that we’re in it together, and the human race, actually, will rise or fall in terms of the capacity of people to take into account the needs, the feelings, the distresses of other people and respond to them, rather than to provide purely a safe and protected haven for themselves.

On showing up to work even though he’s retired Just because they let me have my office out of habit. I don’t deserve it or anything like that.

{page break}

Freaks of Nature

Pioneering research professors show us their fauna fetishes.


Yes, the gecko has gone corporate and learned to speak (in a Cockney accent, no less), but Kellar Autumn, professor of biology at Lewis and Clark College still loves it for its ability to walk up walls. For a decade, he and the comic-book-sounding Gecko Team have been shaving the tips off of the lizard’s toes (don’t worry, they grow back) to figure out how its millions of nanoscale hairs stick to smooth surfaces. He’s registered 60 patents, which is great, but his coolest discovery might be that a dime’s worth of gecko hairs could pick an offensive lineman off the ground.


For a guy who hated ants as a kid, Evergreen State College entomology professor Jack Longino has gotten pretty tight with the little buggers. His nearly 30-year quest to catalog as many species as he can before they’re wiped out by climate change (he’s up to about 50) has taken him to the mountains of Costa Rica and the lowland rain forests of Chiapas, Mexico, where he found a true freak of nature: a new species with an oversize handlebar mustache and what looks like a satellite dish for a head. Lucky for him, that’s not the one he decided to name after his wife.


Hummingbirds seem pretty innocent. At least that’s what Don Powers, professor of biology at George Fox University thought—until he saw one grab another bird out of midair, drive it to the ground, and pick feathers out of its head. Once he recovered from seeing that vicious territorial behavior, though, he got to work studying their flight patterns in wind tunnels; his research rewrote the book on hummingbird wing mechanics. Not bad for a guy who picked the subject of his life’s work by opening an ecology journal and settling on the first animal he saw.

{page break} 

Image: Kelly Bird

Run on Water!

Okay, that’s a lie, but these kicks will let you run in it.

Some fish get plucked out of the water and filleted. Some get snagged and end up mounted on the wall. And then some get hooked and become the inspiration for deep-water running shoes.

Back in 2003, after days of ping—ponging around his lab while analyzing the results of his research into aquatic rehabilitation, Garry Killgore decided to go fishing. Out on the water, becoming one with nature, the Linfield College professor had a so-simple-it’s-genius revelation as he watched one of his catches gasp its last breaths on the shore: “Its gill plate was opening and closing, and I thought, Oh my god, why can’t you do that on a shoe?”

The aesthete’s answer might be “Because it would look weird,” but the athlete’s response would be “Nice—now I can actually simulate running on land while rehabbing in the pool.” Those gills, which Killgore incorporated into his AQx deep-water running shoes in 2005, flatten on the way up and open on the way down, creating enough drag for a high-quality, low-impact workout in the pool. And they’re so effective that a certain on-the-mend pro golfer ordered a pair this summer and Killgore has been in talks with a certain local athletic shoe company that wants to buy the brand.

Maybe it’s time for Spike Lee to update his classic Nike pitch: “It’s gotta be the gills!”

{page break} 

The Hand Maven

A world where robotic appendages pass as the real thing is within 
Yoky Matsuoka’s reach.

You know what separates us from the robots? It’s not artificial intelligence; it’s stuff like synovial fluid. That superviscous joint lubricant is the kind of evolutionary innovation that Yoky Matsuoka is trying to understand in her quest to not only build a better prosthetic hand but also answer some of the real head-scratchers surrounding human biomechanics. “You know, how are those bones connected and how much of that is actually useful and how much is just evolutionary baggage?” says the associate professor and head of the University of Washington’s Neurobotics Laboratory. “Without understanding all of that, it’s not clear how much of what to mimic.”

What she and her team have mimicked so far is an anatomically correct robot hand that with some fine-tuning could one day literally be a plug-and-play prosthetic. (It’s also a big reason why she won a MacArthur “genius” award last fall.) So what’s left? Oh, just decoding the complex catalog of brain signals that make it possible to do everything from poking someone in the eye to plucking a guitar string and then figuring out how to get them from the noggin to the new digit.

It may seem like a feat only possible in a galaxy far, far away, but Matsuoka’s working on it, and if anything she’s actually encouraged by sci-fi cinema’s out-there ideas. “Hollywood puts people’s imagination way ahead of what is possible,” she says. “So in order to keep catching up to that expectation, we try to do things a little bit beyond what’s possible.”

{page break}

Learning to Find God Online

Five reasons that’s not as sacreligious as it sounds.

If your students aren’t complaining, then you aren’t pressing the technology,” says Leonard Sweet. No one’s going to accuse him of tiptoeing up to the tech line. Last year, the self-styled “futurist” and adjunct theology professor at Newberg, Oregon’s George Fox University launched his first class in Second Life, a virtual world where users interact via animated avatars.

Sweet’s students chat online and post messages in a forum about assigned topics during the week and then meet in the class’s virtual space, which is cool, but what’s a professor of theology, of all subjects, doing blazing this kind of tech trail?

1. Christians have been doing this kind of thing forever.

The church has a reputation for an old school approach, but it actually has a history of being tech savvy—the Bible was one of the first books to be printed. “This is just a return to the ancient tradition of having religious leaders right at the forefront,” Sweet says.

2. You can diversify the “congregation.”

Yes, Sweet has students logging in locally. But he’s also got some who make the virtual journey from places like Egypt, and their vastly different perspectives create, uh, spirited, thousand-message debates in the class’s forums. “The problem for me,” Sweet says, “is I have to read them all.”

3. Students can be themselves.

Sweet embraces the inclination to let your freak flags fly online: Students have the freedom to go wild and create their avatars from scratch. “We’ve got some very conservative, almost Mennonite women, and you wouldn’t believe what they look like in Second Life.”

4. It’s better than sitting in class.

“[The traditional classroom] will go down as one of the most ridiculous pedagogical methods of learning that has ever been invented,” Sweet says. Based on his acolytes’ participation, they agree. They chat, explore the class’s online world, and even pray together in virtual worship spaces.

5. They still get some face time.

Twice a year, the class convenes in the real world (international students are so committed, they fly to Portland or Seattle) for 48-hour meetings that are more in-depth than the online interfacing. Sweet says, “The virtual stuff stimulates this hunger for a monastic, communal kind of experience.”

{page break} 

The 100 MPG Car

Imagine driving the 100 miles from the Space Needle to Bellingham on a gallon of gas. Not the four gallons it would take you in your beast of an SUV, but a single milk jug’s worth of petrol. It sounds crazy, but Western Washington University’s Vehicle Research Institute is working on a gas-electric hybrid right now that could deliver that kind of fuel efficiency. And if that isn’t next-gen enough for you, it’ll produce less than 200 grams of greenhouse gases per mile—that’s one and a half times cleaner than California’s considerably progressive emissions standards, which don’t go into effect until next year.

It’ll hardly be just another they’ll-never-make-that concept car, though. The VRI plans to enter the Viking 45 into the Automotive X Prize competition, an international contest that kicks off next year and aims to push the boundaries of automotive innovation. Registration opens this month, and Eric Leonhardt, the VRI’s director, had 20 students hustling to fabricate the gas-electric hybrid’s chassis and test its drivetrain this summer to meet the deadline.

Oh yeah, and the prize money for that competition? A cool $10 million. Not bad for a car that only cost the VRI about $20,000 to make.

{page break}

Listen and Learn

Seattle Pacific wants you to put that iPod to good use.

Basically, Seattle Pacific University hooked up with iTunes because David Wicks was tired of digging through boxes. Every time an alum or brother of an alum or some graphic designer from Cincinnati who’d seen a cool speech on campus called up and asked for a copy of it, Wicks would have to rifle through the archives, find the cassette—or, God forbid, the reel-to-reel—and make one. “We had close to 40 years of recordings,” he says. “Anyone who came to speak on campus, they got recorded.”

So Wicks, with his aversion to moldy old bankers’ boxes, finally enlisted his instructional technology services staff to digitize the contents of the archive in the hopes that one day they’d be able to put them online for all those alums and brothers of alums and graphic designers from Cincinnati who get a wild hair to hear a lecture about Tolkien from 1984.

And then digital kismet struck: Apple decided in 2005 to beef up its iTunes store with lectures and speeches and cultural happenings from colleges and universities. And they were going to give it all away free. For Wicks, the days of digging through boxes were behind him.

Accessible from the main page of the iTunes store, iTunes U is stocked with content from almost 70 schools on just about every subject you can imagine. You want a lecture on innovation in sustainable technologies? It’s there. Maybe Nancy Pelosi’s commencement speech at Miami Dade College? Queue it up. SPU was one of the first schools to get involved, along with Stanford and Duke, and because Wicks’s crew had already been digitizing old tapes, they launched the school’s page in 2006 with more than 300 files. Today they have more than 3,000.

Anyone can grab this stuff, and they have been; Wicks says SPU averages 30,000 downloads per month. A lot of those go to students who were brushing up on course material, but then, believe it or not, there are those non-students who’d actually rather learn something on the bus ride to work than listen to the new Jessica Simpson album.

DOWNLOAD THIS The first chapter from the audio book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, by Dr. John Medina, the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at SPU. Find it at Seattle Pacific’s page on the iTunes store and you might actually start remembering things.

Filed under