sealPurdue Lifestyles Briefs

March 1998

Goldberg contestants will hit the snooze bar in national contest

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Video and photographs of past contests are available. Journalists will not be allowed on the stage with the machines during the competition, but they are welcome on stage before and after the contest. Purdue will provide video and photo pool coverage and direct audio and video feeds. An ISDN line is available for radio interviews. Video b-roll, photos and a news release will be available the afternoon of the event. Satellite assistance is available. If you have questions, call Grady Jones, Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2079; e-mail,

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Those of us who are jolted awake by the sound of an alarm clock will appreciate the efforts of the college students from around the country competing in the 10th annual National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on April 4 at Purdue University. This year's everyday task is to turn off the alarm -- while leaving the clock intact.

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Each year, teams of college students from all over the United States are challenged to build complicated and often humorous machines to accomplish a very simple task -- make a cup of coffee, put a stamp on an envelope, screw in a light bulb -- in 20 or more steps. This year, students from competing universities are building contraptions to turn off an alarm clock. The 1997 national contest drew teams from Texas, New York, Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The contest, which is free and open to the public, begins at 11:30 a.m. in Purdue's Elliott Hall of Music.

Students build their machines by combining the principles of physics and engineering with common objects, such as golf balls, mouse traps, bicycle gears, children's toys, rubber tubing and an abundance of duct tape.

The event honors the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks.

Purdue's entry was chosen in February at a local contest. Using materials that could have come from their childhood toy boxes and Dad's workshop, a team of seven members of the student chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers earned top honors with a machine based on the theme "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." It used 26 complex steps and all manner of toy vehicles to turn off an alarm clock with no human intervention and within a time limit.

Each machine must run, be reset and run again in nine minutes. Points are taken off if students have to assist the machine once it's started. The teams also will be judged and awarded points based on the creative use of materials and use of related themes.

Last year's national winner was the "Rube Goldberg Pit Crew" from the University of Texas at Austin. The team's machine took 35 steps and about a minute and a half to load a CD into a player and play it.

In addition to cash prizes for the top three teams, a "People's Choice" award will be given to the team whose machine gets the most votes from audience members.

Student organizers of the contest maintain a World Wide Web page at

CONTACT: Chad Goze, contest chairman, (765) 743-2461; e-mail,

Historical movies put a new spin on old tales

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Review copies of William J. Palmer's book "Dickens and New Historicism" are available from Palmer at (765) 494-3758.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The public's infatuation with historical movies such as "Titanic" and "Amistad" supports the idea behind a Purdue University professor's new book, that historical facts are not as important as the way they are spun.

"What we're seeing is a new 'historicism,' with new voices telling their versions of history," says William J. Palmer, professor of English and expert on contemporary movies, novels and social history.

Palmer contends in his book "Dickens and New Historicism" that Charles Dickens was a forerunner in presenting history from the perspective of the poor and working class. "Dickens was able in the 19th century to give the disenfranchised a voice, redefining the times," he says.

History traditionally has been written by the victors from one perspective, he says: "Those in power have dictated history's composition even to the point of controlling what texts were read and suppressing other voices."

He says this new way of telling history isn't an attempt to recast the past. "The new historicism with its many voices is meant to 'thicken' our knowledge of events and fill in previous omissions," he says.

In "Titanic," the story is told in flashbacks through the eyes of a 90-year-old survivor, so both the past and the present emphasize the historical significance of the event. "'Amistad' is also very 'New Historicist' in pointing out that the slaves had no voice and needed a young lawyer and a politician to speak for them," Palmer argues.

He says putting classic works in present-day settings is also part of the new trend in writing history. "The new movie version of 'Great Expectations' set in present-day Miami is -- aside from the love scenes -- very true to Dickens' Victorian style of relating events," Palmer says. "Last year's rock-and-roll version of Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' was very popular among teens who could relate to the young lovers."

Palmer says retelling history through popular movies is a trend that has been going on for years. "Today's kids know about the Vietnam War because of movies," he points out.

Palmer says some topics brought out in today's movies address issues that were not considered in the old way of writing history. "Economics, philosophy and class antagonism were rarely taken into account by traditional historians and historical novelists," he says. "Dickens led the way in democratizing the process of writing history."

CONTACT: Palmer, (765) 494-3758; home phone, (765) 743-4393: e-mail,

Dean on homework: How much and how meaningful?

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- When it comes to homework, quantity does not always equal quality, says the dean of Purdue University's School of Education.

"I believe that parents should insist that their child's school experience include meaningful homework," says Marilyn Haring, who is also a professor of counseling and development at Purdue. "Meaningful homework helps a student achieve mastery by practicing new skills, and parents should be prepared to participate in it."

Haring has heard it all when it comes to parental concerns about homework. Some complain their children aren't given enough of it and therefore don't spend additional time on important educational tasks outside the classroom. Others contend that assignments brought home are frequently "busy work" that doesn't stretch young minds. Once in awhile, a parent will even suggest that a particular teacher requires too much homework, especially for those students who are involved in extracurricular activities or have part-time jobs.

So how much homework should your child be required to do? Haring says for young children, 20 minutes to an hour three to four times a week is just about right. Older students in middle school and high school can profit from meaningful assignments in the one- to two-hour range. But even then it need not be every night.

"I think homework may be even more effective if it is given on a flexible schedule and only when it truly enhances learning in the classroom," Haring explains. "Important lessons in time management can be learned if students receive assignments ahead of time and are given a specific date for completion."

But Haring stresses that all homework should be meaningful to the child.

"In the elementary school years, meaningful homework could include reading with a parent and discussing new vocabulary words," Haring says. "As students get older, it might also mean connecting classroom learning to the child's immediate environment, such as observing science concepts at work in the home."

Many schools provide homework hotlines for students and parents to obtain assignments -- and sometimes assistance -- from teachers by telephone or computer. Haring says these hotlines are more than just a convenience; they give parents an opportunity to be directly involved in "after hours" learning with their children.

"The role of parents is not to teach school subjects or to assume homework responsibilities for their children," Haring emphasizes. "Parents should use homework as a way to monitor progress and interact with and support their children. The bottom line for me is that homework assignments that are carefully crafted by a skilled teacher can be a boon for adding to students' learning and achievement, and this is what educational reform is all about."

Haring says there are a number of ways parents can be proactive when it comes to homework. It starts with an appointment to speak with your child's teacher in person.

"Tell the teacher you want to talk about ways the two of you can work together to extend your child's learning experience beyond school hours," Haring suggests. "Let the teacher know that you support homework that's challenging and interesting. But also remember that parents need to be partners with the teacher in engaging the youngster in learning."

CONTACT: Haring, (765) 494-2336; e-mail,

Resolve to plan now, save later

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Now is the perfect time to begin to plan for next year's taxes, says a Purdue University accounting professor.

"It's too late to do anything about the 1997 return, so you might as well start planning ahead." says John "Jack" Hatcher, assistant professor of management in the Krannert Graduate School of Management. "January is a great time to project what you think your 1998 taxes will look like. Once you get that picture, you can start making changes. Start a new Roth retirement account, increase charitable giving or take advantage of some of the new educational tax credits. Increase your pretax contributions to your 401(k) or retirement plan. It's so much easier if you make those decisions early in the year, rather than trying to fit it all in before you file."

Hatcher teaches tax courses in the accounting program at Krannert and offers the following tax tips for early bird planners:

  • If your employer offers it, take advantage of pretax contributions to flexible spending accounts for medical or child care expenses. "People save much more money by lowering their taxable income than by taking the standard child care credits or deducting miscellaneous medical expenses," he says.
  • Make the maximum pretax contribution possible to retirement accounts.
  • Take time to become familiar with the investment opportunities provided by the new tax laws.
  • Create and stick to a plan to keep good records either on a home computer or with a filing system.

Good records are especially important for taxpayers who have a home office or have outside income and are filing a Schedule C. That is the IRS form for reporting profit or loss from an unincorporated business of which you are the sole owner.

"The Internal Revenue Service tends to look very closely as those filers," Hatcher says.

He says all tax returns are put through a computer audit to check the math and to make sure that what taxpayers are claiming matches up with what banks, mortgage companies and charities are reporting.

"Only 1 to 2 percent of all tax filings get a full-blown audit from the IRS," he says, "but it never hurts to be prepared."

CONTACT: Hatcher, (765) 494-4478; e-mail,

Cricket-spitting contest to reappear at '98 Bug Bowl

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color photo of a family at the 1996 Bug Bowl is available. It's called Bug Bowl '96. For b-roll from the 1997 event, contact Grady Jones (765) 494-2079; e-mail,

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Cockroach racing, a traditional favorite at Purdue University's annual Bug Bowl, will get a run for its money from the latest popular insect activity -- cricket spitting.

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Traditionally, the stars of Purdue's annual Bug Bowl have been the cockroaches in the "Roach Hill Downs" race. But at last year's Bug Bowl, many of the 10,000 visitors were equally interested in crickets -- and the people who spit them.

According to Tom Turpin, professor of entomology and Bug Bowl co-founder, the cricket-spitting contest was so popular in its debut at the '97 Bug Bowl that it will reappear for the 1998 event, April 18-19.

Visitors also will be able to taste foods cooked with insects, visit a honey bee exhibit and taste some honey, stop by an insect petting zoo, and watch the famous cockroach race. This is the eighth year for the Bug Bowl, which has gained national exposure for its combination of entomology, education and entertainment.

People find the idea of spitting dead crickets for distance to be intriguing and fun, Turpin says. "Last year, there were so many who wanted to do it that we had to draw names out of a hat," says Turpin, who ran the event much like an Olympic shot put throw. "People who weren't picked were really distraught."

Even children were able to join in the cricket-spitting contest. Participants were split into four groups: junior and senior categories for both men and women. As competitors, adult women exhibited the most reluctance, but there was no shortage of volunteers, Turpin says.

"Little kids are very interested," he says. "One of the very small ones, she was very brave. She marched up to the front of the circle and just spit it out." Last year's popularity means this year's cricket spitting will be more organized, he says. It will include field judges wearing official uniforms, bleachers for the spectators and medals for those who launch their crickets the farthest.

"This is a formal type of activity. This is very serious business. We like to bill it as the sport of cricket done outside," Turpin quips.

Actually, the only serious goal of Bug Bowl is to give everybody a chance to learn a little bit more about insects.

"While they're here, people can pick up good information on the role of insects in nature and entomology. When we do the cockroach races, we always talk about the roaches' role in nature, roaches as pests, and roaches and allergies," Turpin says. "People will come up to me and say, 'Hey, I didn't know that there were 3,000 species of cockroaches in the world.'"

The event is free and open to the public. It runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 18, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 19, in and around Entomology Hall on the Purdue campus. More information is available on the Web at

CONTACT: Turpin, (765) 494-4568; e-mail,

Compiled by Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Senior Wes Kitchen of Martinsville, Ind., (left), congratulates senior Mickey Wilson of Greenwood, Ind., following the first successful run-through of their Rube Goldberg Machine during the local contest in February at Purdue. Teammate Alan Morrison, a junior from North Vernon, Ind., looks on. The team from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers won the 16th annual contest with a machine called "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." It successfully turned off an alarm clock in 26 steps. The team now will vie for the national title against teams from across the country in the National Rube Goldberg Contest on April 4 at Purdue. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Rube98.reax
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David Fisher and Liz Grauerholz of West Lafayette share daughter Lara's amazement at the size of a New Guinea stick insect at Purdue's 1996 Bug Bowl. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Bug Bowl '96
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