Thursday, June 30, 2005

A break?

I admit it. I did not write this morning. I spent some time catching up on blogs. I admit, too, that instead of reading blogs, I've been playing video games. Basically, my mind needs a break. So I took one.

I am still somewhat frustrated by my space issue. Every time I'm sitting here at my desk, I'm thinking of ways to improve the situation. A friend who reads my blog e-mailed me to say she thought I should build a sunporch. An excellent idea! We can't exactly afford it right this minute, but it's definitely a good idea and I spent some time contemplating how to reconfigure the front porch into an office closed off from the entry area. It could work.

Writing will resume tomorrow and hopefully, I will decrease that big ugly number of pages on the side. I'm taking tomorrow off and plan to incorporate some writing into the whole day. It will be a good test of the whole space thing. I think I also need to find another time to write. I thought it might be good to write in these one-hour increments in the morning and then on the weekend, try to revise those writings and add to them.

It was good to catch up on the blogs. You are all such wonderful people, really. I know that sounds mushy and corny and if you knew me in real life, you wouldn't believe I just said that. I'm sooo not mushy. It's just really nice to read such interesting and funny things every day.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Relative Post

Both Scrivener and jo(e) have beautiful posts about their brothers. They are full of love and compassion and longing and loss. I was planning to write this anyway, just not here, but jo(e) and David inspired me with their stories. This is the story of my sister.

I viewed my sister as a friend the minute she was born. I asked my mother if she could work puzzles with me when she got home from the hospital. There are pictures of me standing next to her bassinet or crib with a great big grin on my face as if I had something to do with creating this creature. When she got beyond the fragile stage, I remember climbing into the crib with her and making spit bubbles together.

My fondest memories of her come from our time on Inglewood Drive, a street that is the epitome of middle-class, suburban America in the late 60s and early 70s. The street was lined with ranch houses surrounded by spacious yards. Kids ran all around without a care. There were afternoon kickball games. We played HORSE at my house and caught roly-poly's at the Ross's. The Jennings' always drummed up a game of kick the can just before dusk on summer nights. And afterwards, we chased lighting bugs in our bare feet, blades of grass sticking to our feet and ankles.

Though I had plenty of friends in the neighborhood, my sister became my closest friend. She was always available and for now, always willing, to play along. We set up a market in the back yard. We had "bananas" of long skinny leaves, green beans from a tree that produced pods of some kind, and we made elaborate mud pies in aluminum foil pans. We also made the chocolate milk factory at the end of the driveway. During or after a good rain, a nice deep puddle formed at the end of the driveway. We would push my bike out there and position it so that the training wheels straddled the puddle. Then I would get on the bike and pedal, which stirred the "milk." My sister would gather more dirt and other ingredients to add to the puddle. By the time the milk was the perfect shade of brown, so were we.

Our adventures were not limited to the outdoors. We also turned the carpeted stairs to the basement into a slide by using the living room couch pillows to slide down them. I remember the feeling of bumping along the 15 or so stairs. We'd open our mouths and let out an "ahhh" the whole way down so we could hear and feel the rhythmic "ah-ah-ah" as we hit each bump. On Saturday mornings we padded down to the basement, turned on the little electric heater and watched Bugs Bunny and Scooby Doo until lunch time. There's a picture of us in this position, sitting cross-legged in front of the tv and I have my arm around my sister. I am about 8. She is 4.

Our relationship was not always perfect. I still got angry with her or tested her loyalty. Once, I convinced her to walk around the carport with a stocking cap pull down over her face. She did and proceed to ram right into one of the decorative iron posts. That landed her in the emergency room for stitches in her lip. That minor accident didn't deter me and not too long afterwards, I talked her into hitting the dog while he was eating. Predictably, the dog bit her. I got in trouble for that one.

After we left Inglewood Drive, our relationship continued to be close, though it had many more ups and downs as we both grew up. For a brief time, we still had the adventures we had had on Inglewood, turning our back yard maple, for example, into a spaceship. But she made other friends and I made other friends and we grew up and became young women. There were fights over bathroom space and eventually over whether she could come with me when I went out with friends, a dilemma she solved by dating one of them. There were still nights when she slept in my bed and we still did many things together: working puzzles over Christmas break together, tackling the slopes on ski trips, surfing the waves on beach trips. I had to admit that she had grown into a beautiful young woman. She was tall, athletic, and had a knack for fashion and makeup--all qualities I did not have.

When I went off to college, we became even closer. She had her own phone line and many times I called her. She saw me through breakups, homework difficulties, homesickness, and feeling rejected by friends. When my parents split, these phone calls became ever more important as she shared the drama that was going on at home, being stronger than I thought possible for a 16-year-old. I was secretly glad I wasn't there to watch my mother melt down. My sister was basically the only grown up in the house.

The summer after my parents split, some friends from my hometown came by to visit on their trip across the country. They would be back through town on their way back in early August. They wanted to know if I wanted to come back with them to our hometown and celebrate my sister's birthday. I had a job I couldn't get away from, so I declined, sending a large bouquet of flowers instead.

That fall, I was waked in the early morning hours in my boyfriend's dorm room. It was my father calling to tell me there'd been an accident. My sister's neck had broken; she had not survived.

My sister would have been 35 this summer. I can't even imagine what she might have been. She was interested in drama, but not particularly ambitious. She had wanted to come to the same school I attended just to escape the drama at home and to be near family. She might have married, had kids. She might. She might.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Bitch, Ph.D. effect

We've all heard about the Profgrrrrl effect. Now, there's the Bitch, Ph.D. effect--check it out:

Creating the bubble

So this morning was my first attempt at using my desk, creating a bubble around me. Partly successful I'd say. I made coffee, put in a load of clothes, grabbed the iPod and padded upstairs to the desk.

Last night, I cleaned off the desk and afterwards, rewarded myself with some blogging. Mr. Geeky was sitting on the bed with his laptop and while I was in the middle of writing a comment, asked me what I was doing. I was a bit snippier than I should have been, but it was completely ironic that I was constructing a comment to the previous post about ways to create my own space.

So, anyway. This morning. I was going to blog for fifteen minutes before writing, but the internets were down. That turned out to be a good thing. I wrote for an hour--only two paragraphs, mind you, so I can't even change the page numbers on my goal. Again, though, I was interrupted by Mr. Geeky, who asked whether the internet was still down. Ugh! I was more polite this time, but I think I have proved my point. I do not have my own space.

I think I am also sensitive to the issue at home because I also don't have my own space at work. I share an office with 3 other people. I'm a social person, so it is sometimes nice to have others around. But. But if you need to do concentrated work, there's still a good chance you'll be interrupted. I do it to others; they do it to me. It's just the way it is. I'm not thrilled about it, but I try to see the advantages.

So while Mr. Geeky has his own quite spacious office at work and his own space at home, I have none. Constantly, all day long, I must contend with others. Granted, Mr. Geeky is being a stay at home dad this summer, which has its own feeling of not having your own space. But I'd trade places with him in a heartbeat.

I'm going to continue to try to create the bubble in my existing space, but I think something's going to give.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

A space of one's one

I'm honestly not sure it's possible. So a long, long time ago, I wrote about the need for my own space. Mr. Geeky somewhat obliged me by helping me pick out a new, larger desk. Which allows for more stuff to cover that desk. I was talking to my mom tonight and she was talking about how she just installed a koi pond and how much it feels like her own space and how good it is not to hear the phone or be bothered.

And this is the problem with my "space." It's still in a "common" area. It's in the bedroom. So--and this is going to sound really weird--I don't like working when the "presence" of others is around. I know--sounds very weird. But here's a couple of scenerios that might make some sense. First, I've been trying to write in the mornings (this isn't working very well and maybe you'll see why in a moment). I get up at 6:00-ish, have some coffee and then get started by 6:30, giving me an hour to work. However, all my work is on my computer, which, as I said, is in the bedroom, where Mr. Geeky is still asleep. Now, I'm not at all worried about waking him up. He can sleep through anything--but he's there! And sometimes, if he's awake, he'll interrupt me. Because he doesn't know if I'm working or just surfing/blogging. And then my concentration is blown. And I think I'm thinking about this when he's snoozing away.

And then there's Mr. Geeky's office, where I am now. The office is pretty uninviting and so doesn't attract the wee ones the way my bedroom does and if Mr. Geeky is in here working on something important, he can close the door. Perhaps more importantly, Mr. Geeky does most of his work after everyone goes to bed. No chance of interruption. I just don't have the stamina for that. I can stay up and read for pleasure pretty late, but writing . . . I shut down by 10:00 (and when your kids go to bed at 9:30, that means not a lot of time).

I'm truly frustrated by all of this, because frankly, I feel like I'm getting the shaft. If I really want to do any kind of real work (whether it's writing a memoir or writing papers related to my job) I need a better space, a space I can close myself off from the rest of the world. This wasn't as important when it was just Mr. Geeky, but now that there's the kids and household management is a project, I need some space.

It's bugging me, because I partly think I'm making excuses. But then I know that there have been enough times when I've sat down to write and been interrupted or been unable to concentrate because of the environment that I know that's not entirely true.

In our current living space, there's not really a solution to this problem. When I think about it, I feel like a little kid, who's trying to tie her shoe but can't. She knows it's possible, but it seems so hard. And I get that angry, frustrated feeling little kids get (and then sometimes they throw tantrums). And this is oh, so conducive to writing. I've thought about the front porch, but there are so many kids running in and out of the house that that would be silly. I could close the bedroom door, but this only works during times when the kids are awake and usually doesn't prevent them from wandering in or Mr. Geeky from wander in; it's considered a common area. And relocating to Mr. Geeky's office won't work because he's there; it's his space. I've tried a number of different things--going other places (but I have to borrow a laptop), writing after the kids are in bed (sometimes works briefly--if I'm not overly tired from work), writing in the morning (works at Mr. Geeky's computer, but that feels weird. I don't want him to see my work, yet. And what if he deletes it).

In my earlier post, I said I felt selfish about this and I do. I know lots of people who've managed under worse conditions. But for some reason, this has become a real problem for me. And it's blocking my ability to write. Which would be horrendous if I had to make a living writing. I'm going to make an attempt to clear the desk space and move all the bills and stuff to to old desk. That's the other problem. Everything lands on my desk--bills, school forms, letters to be mailed, random scraps of paper no one knows what to do with. Some of this is my fault. I bring it there, but a lot of times a kid or Mr. Geeky just hands me something. Here's that thing. Not sure what to do with it. Ugh! Enough! I could have built my own space in the amount of time I took to write this post!

Day of Sloth

Yesterday was the day of sloth. Friday night, both the kids spent the night out, so I spent the night lounging around, playing The Sims 2, and reading until after midnight. I woke early yesterday to sound of tiny alarm clocks beep-beeping away. So I was up and felt too tired to accomplish much. I managed to feed the kids, weed the garden and take around some trash. It was incredibly hot outside, so being outside made the slothfulness worse.

Today will be productive. I have vowed to myself no computer time until after dinner (unless I do some writing, which I might). The kids have already cleaned their rooms and I'm planning to do some work in the kitchen and living room. I really was laundry goddess last week, leaving myself with very little laundry to do this weekend! Hooray! There will also be a trip to Target for a new toaster and a trip to the grocery store. My life is very exciting. :)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Out of the box vs. building your own

One of the issues that often comes up for college IT departments, especially ones as small as ours, is whether to buy a solution or to build something yourself. On the one hand, buying a solution (a course management system, an image management system, other tools) often means stability and often available support. But often solutions are too expensive for us; the targets of these solutions are often huge universities who have tech fees and big budgets. On the other hand, building a solution ourselves might cost less, but costs more in people time. We only have one web developer, one instructional technologist, two system administrators.

The web developer's main job is maintaining the main college web site, focusing primarily on the top-level sites (admissions, public affairs, visitor site, etc.). So, for example, he's rebuilding the web forms that students use to request information to make sure they're secure and that admissions gets the kind of information they need to see if their publicity is working. He also develops new sites for departments as he has time (and he has students who assist him). In other words, he has little time to develop something for an individual faculty member.

I, unfortunately, don't have the kind of web development skills he has. I can't program. I can design a static site. But I don't have the ability to do php scripting (our preferred scripting language) in order to more sophisticated sites.

The system administrators simply give us the space and permissions to do our work, but again their primary focus is on key functionality, like email. Asking them to configure something just for a few professors is problematic.

An in-between solution to buying something but not building it yourself is to use someone else's product. For example, I could suggest someone use Flickr to keep track of their images and create sets there for presentation purposes. They can tag the images so they're searchable. It's a very nice interface--easy to use. However, then the objection comes that it's not attached to the college. It looks unprofessional to have to use a commercial product offsite. Same thing goes for blogging. If I can't get blog software installed and running on our servers, I might suggest that someone use Blogger or Typepad, but again, same objection.

It's frustrating for faculty to have to wait for either a buying decision or for something to be built. My philosophy is to give them the tools they need to build it themselves or allow them (maybe even encourage them) to use whatever is available out there that's already built. There are objections to allow them to build things themselves. What if they mess up? And then there's the almost corporate "we all have to be the same" problem. We all have to use Blackboard, for example. It stretches us too thin to provide other solutions.

It's a struggle and it's a struggle we go through almost every time a faculty member asks us for something fairly involved. I think each situation is going to be different. Some solutions are cost-effective enough to buy. Some are things that we have already built. Some are available as open source projects that we can modify. And sometimes, we just have to point them to ones out there, with our blessing.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The search for PIM Nirvana continues

I think I'm officially obsessed. Every spare moment I'm googling and technorati searching, hoping to find the perfect (or near-perfect) solution.

I was contacted by a couple of people connected to PIM, one guy from tasktoy and a guy from AirSet, an PIM that I hadn't run into yet. AirSet looks pretty cool, like it has potential. I also think tasktoy has potential. I haven't used either one of them enough to have a definitive review.

I should say that I'm actually willing to pay money for something that works. The fact that a lot of these are free is great. But I think I'd pay 4.95/month to keep myself organized via the web.

I thought I'd share my list so far. I'll be adding to this. So far I've gathered calendars, to-lists and information managers (i.e. brain mapping stuff). Check the sidebar of this post for the furl list.

Proof I can survive on my own

There will be more about personal organization later today--so much to tell you all. At any rate, I have been husbandless this week and trying to maintain general order without going insane. So far, I'm succeeding. But a few glitches have reared their ugly heads (do glitches have heads; I imagine they do). First the dryer hose detached itself from the back of the dryer--at a time when I was trying to be the laundry goddess. I made several attempts at reconnecting it, including a desperate attempt to use screen rubber to tie it down. Finally, I made it to the hardware store to get a new little clampy thing (very technical terminology, no?) to fix it more permanently. I am now able to be laundry goddess again.

Second, the car's oil light came on. Now, we don't treat our cars very well. We tend to give them the bare minimum support and drive them into the ground. Also, the coolant light kept coming on again, after Mr. Geeky just remedied the situation. So I left work early, dropped the car off at the corner garage, walked home and got Mr. Geeky's car (which I used to drive to the hardware store). Hopefully, everything will be okay with the car by today.

Third, Geeky Boy discovered yesterday morning that the toaster would not toast. He had to hold down the lever to get it to toast. I thought, well, it just needs to be cleaned. So I inspect it and lo, and behold, but there's a plastic little happy meal toy melted to the side near the bottom. We ditched the (10-year-old) toaster and have vowed to get a new one. I might get a blender at the same time since I could use a fru-fru drink after all this.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

PIM nirvana

That's what I'm looking for. It's been an interesting hunt so far, which has yielded all kinds of promising-looking possibilities, but nothing that seems perfect or even close.

So here's the journey I've been on and what I've found so far.

General observations: lots of the software/webware out there assumes that you are a business maven with clients and projects and you're on your cell 24/7 and you just want to be the best damn project manager on the planet. If you're not in this category, you get one thing--either a calendar or a to-do list, but not both (at least not of the web-based variety).

Starting points: 43 Folders and Lifehacker are fabulous resources. I found lots of interesting things to check out through them.

Calendar stuff: RSS Calendar has potential. It's got a nice, clean look. You can include the calendar in your web site easily. You can even import your calendar--and others--into your iCal. However, it doesn't go the other way. I can't import anything into--not iCal, not Palm.

Trumba is another nice-looking calendar, but it costs money eventually (not too much, mind you, but still). It does, however, allow you to import your iCal data, which is cool. You can publish it to a website or simply make your calendar public. I wish it had the javscript thingy just to include it in a website.

And you can always publish iCal to your .Mac or Webdav enabled site. But--you can't enter new events via the web. I also tried Sunbird, but it's very similar to iCal, not quite web-based.

The problem with all these (including the web-based version of iCal) is that you can't include a task list. What would be nice is a dynamically generated task list based on the date. So let's say you have tasks that are due next Monday. You have set a reminder for 3 days before the task is due, estimating that you need to spend a portion of the prior 3 days working on it. 3 days before the task is due, the task shows up at the top of the list--either to the side of the calendar or on the calendar itself.

There are some server-side calendar programs, but I don't want to go there yet. And there may be other web-based calendars that I'm not yet aware of. I looked at several more, but many were kind of creepy looking.

Tasks/To-dos, etc.: I have tried Backpackit and Ta-Da, both made by the same company, 37signals, llc. Backpackit is basically and extension of ta-da, adding the ability to add files, images (if you pay) and create kind of a web site. You can upgrade to Basecamp which is more of a full-blown project management application and not what I needed at all.

(just so you know, I have like 20 tabs open right now with all the various software I'm considering)

I also looked at Burnout Menu 2.0. Although you can export your tasks as html, it doesn't really have a web-based option.

Tasktoy was a simple task list app I found. Maybe too simple.

We use TasksPro at work--which is okay as far as it goes. I'm trying out the personal version. It looks pretty cool so far. It has a calendar though it's kind of separate from the task list. The tasks show up on the calendar and next to the calendar, but it's not seamless and it's hard to get back to the task list list from the calendar.

While I am perfectly willing to piece together what I need, pulling in a calendar from one place, a to-do list from another, and shopping lists from still another, I'm surprised there isn't a better-integrated, free or cheap task/event management system. If you're a web programmer, this could be big--big I tell you.

So, obviously, I'm still undecided. Some sticking points for me are the fact that I'm either mac or linux-based. I have a group calendar where all my appointments/meetings are scheduled that I sync with my palm. I can then sync my palm with my home ical and I don't mind importing that into a web-based program. However, I also need to be able to go the other way. If I'm in the library and suddenly need to enter a task or an event/appointment and I don't have my palm (this does actually happen to me) and I enter it on my web calendar, I need for that event to be synced--with my palm and then to my other calendars. I want everything in one place and everything in all places if that makes sense.

I'll keep you updated--and suggestions are always welcome.

Taking back the house

After the chaos of the last week of May and first two weeks of June, complete with two visits by relatives, two birthdays and two week-long workshops, I'm attempting to reclaim the house from the crap under which it is buried. In this process, I am also trying to organize my time better. Ideally, I would like to be better prepared for everything. I always feel like I'm doing things at the last minute or I'm late and apologizing profusely to people. I don't like this. I've been organized about my time most of my life. I was one of those students who started papers really early. Both at home and at work, the consequences of my not realizing deadlines until the last minute have meant that I have had to rush around and complete some (or more likely, several tasks) myself. If I had planned better, I could have delegated. An example, for my summer multimedia program, I have to make sure that the training classroom computers have the appropriate software. If I had planned properly, I could have asked User Services to take of that. Instead, me and two students were in the room the Friday before the training began installing all kinds of software.

My ideal time/project/list organizer would be web-based since I'm almost always online, but not always on the same computer. I generally like the 43 folders way of doing things and would like to adapt that to an online environment. Suggestions are welcome, but I'll be trying out a few things on my own and I'll let you know what I think of them.

It's not that I want to be some kind of organization freak (that will never happen given my personality), but I would like to be organized enough that I'm not stressing over everyday occurrences. Keep watching this space. :)

Monday, June 20, 2005

Faculty/Staff divide

Thanks to timna, for pointing out this article in the The Chronicle about the problem of academically-oriented (Ph.D.'s or I'd say, near Ph.D's as well) people taking non-academic jobs in academe.

It's interesting because I feel like if I did produce research, it would be valued, maybe not in quite the same way, but people would find it useful. I feel like I am encouraged to do research, but I often can't find the time during the say. Research, as you all know, requires extended periods of quiet time reading, writing and thinking. In order for me to do research, I would need to leave my office and go over to the library. Or I'd have to do it outside of work hours. In the first scenario, I would feel guilty if I did this too often because I'm supposed to be available to assist people who phone, e-mail or stop by. I think people would find it frustrating if I became really difficult to reach.

Today is a good example of how problematic this is. I got in this morning and began making final preparations for a video chat that was originally scheduled for 10:30, but got moved to 11:30. I had to set up the equipment, clear one meeting out so we'd have some setup time. I began this process at 9:30. When I finished around 11:00, I had someone waiting for me to help with video editing and I need to help the same person with something else at 2:00 after I've finally had a chance to eat. (I'm sitting in the video chat writing this). So it will be 3:00 before I'm free. There will be tasks waiting for me I'm sure. This is a typical day.

Outside work hours is difficult as well since I have other things to do then like my own writing unrelated to work, having a life, dealing with kids.

The problem I see is that a job like mine would be more effective if I made the time or was more encouraged to take the time to do research. Keeping up with what's going on in my field would benefit the institution as a whole. Plus, my research often leads me into other fields, giving me a common language with some of my faculty colleagues.

I haven't yet had the experience of faculty dismissing my knowledge as the writer of the article has had. Instead I often have the experience of the faculty thinking that because I'm staff and don't sign my e-mail with M.A. or Ph.D. that I don't have any knowledge to begin with. Or that I only possess specific technical knowledge. Sometimes they don't get that I am well-read, both in my field and just generally.

My recent satisfaction with my job comes in part from faculty recognizing me as an intellectual instead of "just a techie." It's often as simple as asking me "What do you think?" or responding to a suggestion I have with interest, indicating in some way they're taking me seriously. I have recently experienced this in spades and it is such a nice experience. I will likely never finish my Ph.D. and because of time constraints in my job and family life, I will likely never have an extensive research agenda. But I do think broadly and deeply about lots of things. All I ask is that people acknowledge that.

Who was I kidding?

Back on schedule? Ha! I got up at 6:45, but I had intended to get up at 6:15 and work out. Then I was going to write or read for a while.

I did not sleep well. Worried about issues at work. Worried about getting the kids off to camp safe and sound. There's trash to take to the street, lunches to make. Not to mention the sheer chaos that will ensue when I wake up the kids in 4 minutes. Like herding cats.

There's always tomorrow, right? Maybe this will work tomorrow. Today, I'm going to find the perfect calendar thingy if it kills me. Must. get. organized.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Returned & Exhausted

I'm back from my trip to Virginia. The visit included a huge party, complete with lots of booze, a bonfire, bagpipes, and camping. Interestingly, I didn't drink this year (usually this is like New Year's Eve for me), but I still *feel* like I got drunk last night. So I have the pain without having had to drunken extravaganza. I'm glad, though, because a good night's sleep will see me fully recovered and back on schedule.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Father's Day Friday Shuffle

A la Scrivener:

Dad--Beth Waters
Father And Son--Cat Stevens
Father Lucifer--Tori Amos
Papa Come Quick (Jody And Chico)--Bonnie Raitt
Papa Don't Preach--Madonna
Papa Was A Rollin' Stone--The Temptations

It's official--I need more music. I do have a Mamas and Papas album. Does that count?

Work blogging

I don't do this often--most of the time I don't have time--but here I am at work, blogging away. I have 50 minutes left before I leave. I'm leaving early for a trip to Virginia to visit friends. I feel only slightly guilty.

When I return, I hope to be refreshed and ready to get down to some good work, including re-adding writing and exercise to my routine. I'm planning to shift to the morning hours for that. The evening is not working out. Basically, I'm collapsing in a heap at the end of the day.

Here's a weird tidbit about work blogging. I used to have a work blog, but we decided to switch blog software and that's been down for a month now. I find myself at sea as a result. Normally, when I find myself a little bored or without a particular project to work on, I'll write a work-related blog post, but I can't do that. It's weird but I find blogging on work-related topics useful in thinking about issues related to my job and in getting information out to my constituents. And if anything, this is the main job responsibility I have, to think about/work on technology and education issues, but ironically, I feel guilty blogging when that is the best way I've found to work on that particular responsibility. And now here I am thinking all that through--out loud as it were. Hard to believe I get paid for this. And hard to believe I feel guilty for that.

Star Wars Mania

Before the new Star Wars movie came out, Mr. Geeky went out and bought the rest of them on DVD and had Star Wars fest with the kids. They watched a movie a night for about a week. Then he took the kids to see the new one. A couple of weeks later, Geeky Girl started watching them on her own. And a couple of days ago, the kids decided to start making "Star Wars, Jr." They're storyboarding and scripting the whole thing. They've already shot a couple of scenes.

Our house definitely feels a little weird. Geeky Girl has added "May the Force be with you" after "Good night, sweet dreams, I love you." And last night, she told Mr. Geeky that she was going to bed as Leah, but waking up as Obi Wan (or something).

The kids have also been playing Geeky Boy's new Star Wars Battle game for playstation and he's keeping accurate statistics on the number of people they've killed and who has won and lost each battle. He made up a little table that's now 3 pages long.

Help me, Obi-Wan, you're my only hope!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The dark side of 9-5

It sucks that you have to stay until 5. Around 3:30, I ran out of work. Not that there wasn't anything to do, but nothing sort of concrete and manageable within the 1.5 hours I had left presented itself. And I was tired. If I were a lawyer or consultant or something, I might have put the 1.5 hours in and billed it to whichever client's project (or case) I was working on. Or if I were a professor, I might have gone and worked out and put in another couple of hours after dinner. But a salaried job doesn't work that way. There's very little external motivation to work in terms of direct compensation for the hours you work. And a lot of internal motivation comes from a) enjoying what you do, b) being told you have to do something or c) the culture of the clock. If you don't enjoy your job, then b) and c) are the only motivations and those don't seem like good motivations to me.

On a day when 3:30 rolls around and I'm unmotivated, but don't have the guts to just say, "I'm done for today" I do things like surf the internet, read blogs, etc. Or, as I did today, I had a conversation with a colleague about something related to work, but which wasn't very productive. I'm think it would be better for everyone if I just left. Then I'd come back the next day refreshed and more productive. And believe me, the actual 1.5 hours of work will be made up sometime. I routinely work over my scheduled hours.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Domestic duties

They aren't happening. Laundry is piling up. There's no food in the fridge. Life is getting messy.

I wish I had more time. I'm ignoring all that stuff to spend time doing other stuff. I did get a lot of paperwork done Monday, but last night I decided to socialize when I had planned to get the big page number over on the right down by about 4. And it won't happen tonight because I meet with my writer's group.

I'm having the not-so-pleasant experience of thinking about things I need to do at work while I'm home and things I need to do at home while I'm at work. I'd love to just clone myself.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Processing, processing, being manic, and jobs vs. careers

That list from yesterday, not much done on it yet. But these are week-long goals. I'm hoping to have my professional blog up and running today. Not that I can't post work stuff here, but I have ways of getting my information out to the people from that blog. And I think most of my faculty are not interested in my shoe blogging. They're welcome to indulge themselves, but . . .

So I'm processing lots of information from the workshop and have lots to do as a result, stuff that I'm excited about. I'm actually doing some work at home, I'm so excited about it (thus the manic feeling).

A colleague of mine and I have this conversation all the time. We both work at home fairly often, not because there are things that have to be done, but because we get interested and excited about something and so we work on it and then come back and tell each other about the cool new thing we figured out how to do. Many of our other colleagues are not like this; they refuse to take work home. Their job represents a paycheck and no more. There are certainly times when I feel that way. When I'm frustrated, I don't want to think about work or give them any more time than I'm paid for. But I consider my job a career, a vocation even. I kind of turned my hobby into paying work, so it makes sense that I feel this way. I also recognize that doing things outside of work doesn't just benefit my place of employment, but also benefits me. I learn new skills or work on materials (web sites, articles) that might get me noticed.

I really wouldn't want it any other way. I choose to bring my work home with me; it doesn't feel forced and I think that enthusiasm shows when I'm at work (most of the time). I really wouldn't want a job that was just a job. I hope this continues.

Monday, June 13, 2005

One more day

One more day of the workshop and then back to my regular life. I'm ready for it. It has been an invigorating workshop, but I'm ready to get going on some other projects, some related to the workshop itself. I'm still trying to figure out a way to organize everything, really prioritize things.

I have the summer program to attend to, so I definitely need to check in with all the students and see how they're progressing.

I have another writing workshop to run next week.

I have a paper to write.

I have shorter workshops to run and a workshop series to plan.

I have a class to prepare for.

I have a lab to reorganize and prepare for the fall--order new equipment and software.

I have a website to revamp.

I have a blog server to revamp.

And I have some goals unrelated to the above.

How do I fit it all in? I'm dying to just sit down for a couple of hours and figure all of it out and how to get cracking. Because I think doing these things will be really good for the whole school. It's gonna be a wild, but fun ride!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Shoe blogging

To balance out the heaviness of the last couple of posts, I bring you shoe blogging!

First, Geeky Girl's new sandals:
The new shoes

Now, my new shoes, which will debut tomorrow at work:

My new shoes

And just for fun, my favorite sandals, purchased in Key West last year:

Kino's Sandals

And now we wait . . .

Mr. Geeky turned in his tenure packet. Now we wait until December/January to find out the results.

It's odd how there are so many benefits to academic life--the freedom, the semi-flexible schedule, the "life of the mind"--but the cost at which those benefits come is so high. How many hoops must one jump through just to keep a job? And Mr. Geeky is lucky. How many academics have a job made possible in part by the underpaid part-timers who teach the classes considered too "elementary" for senior or now, even junior, faculty? And let's not even talk about the cost to families and spouses. I've given up two careers already for Mr. Geeky's and I doubt I'll have to give up my current one, but the toll is exacting and in some couples we know, too much for their relationship to withstand. How many times can you uproot a spouse or family before they start to resent you?

Mr. Geeky and I were discussing how difficult this whole process had been and how much more difficult it would have been if both of us were going through it. There were lots of reasons for my not finishing and pursuing an academic career. First, I just didn't enjoy it, not just the writing of the disseration, which no one really enjoys, but the whole hierarchical way the system works, from internal hierarchies of adjunct to full professor to external hierarchies based on US News rankings. Value gets placed on the wrong things. Second, I didn't see any good job prospects out there that required a Ph.D. Thanks to the hierarchy, I wasn't qualified for a job at a "good" school with a decent workload. I was only qualified to teach at "lesser" schools with a heavy workload, something I knew wouldn't work given my family life and my husband's workload. Though I could see myself teaching, I could not see myself teaching 4 classes a semester (or 5 in some cases). Maybe now I could, but I do like having a life.

Frankly, I think the whole tenure system is messed up in most places. It encourages conservatism in a lot of ways. Innovation isn't rewarded; having the right number of articles in the right places is. And the old guard often decides what those "right" places are. Trying out new teaching methods is likely to backfire since it will result in bad student evaluations. Using student evaluations exclusively is problematic in and of itself. And the system creates this weird situation where younger/newer faculty are afraid to speak their minds for fear of retribution when it comes time to review their work for tenure. So curriculums don't change; policies and procedures don't change; things stagnate. And the expectations for tenure keep creeping up and are often not articulated clearly. Many things are not in writing. Under publications, the guidelines might say, "sufficient." What is sufficient? 3 articles, 5? a book? two books? Smaller institutions start imitating resource-rich ivy leagues in their tenure requirements, leaving faculty to compete for grants and publications with faculty who have legions of support behind them.

Don't get me wrong, I think tenure can be a great thing. Academic freedom is important, but aren't there ways of ensuring that without this arcane system? Isn't it crazy to think that after all this effort and work and contribution to a field of study that Mr. Geeky will not just be denied a raise (which is what might happen in a corporate environment) but will be fired? Six years of good faith effort, of real work--teaching, research, service--might end in a pink slip.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Conversations outside of your class

And by class, I don't mean classroom. I mean cultural/financial class. New Kid mentioned in her post about class last week that she feels insulated, about not being able to have conversations with people outside of her class so that she doesn't forget what it's like to be of a lower class or to understand what it's like:
What I find hard is figuring out where the kinds of conversations you talk about can happen. So many of the activites in which any of us take part are already divided by class. for instance, if I go workout at the Y, I'm talking to people like me who've got enough money to pay for a Y membership, and who've got time to go to the Y, and who don't work manual labor jobs where they're too exhausted to go to the Y. And if I go at certain times of the day I'm probably only going to run into other professional types. The grocery stores I shop at are firmly middle-upper class stores - why? well, because they have the things I want to buy, and I find the experience of shopping there pleasant.
I got a good dose of cross-class conversation at my hairdresser's this morning. Her entire family has a gambling problem. She used to have a gambling problem and other addictions. I know that wealthy people also have gambling problems, but it seems to me that more people in my hairdresser's realm--lower-middle class perhaps--are more likely to gamble. We live very close to Atlantic City. It's about an hour's drive away. It's very easy just to go for the night. My hairdresser and her family routinely go and spend hundreds of dollars gambling. As she said, it's not a problem if you have the money to do it. It's like going to an expensive hotel or something. But if you start tapping into the money that you need for bills, then things are getting bad.

The allure of gambling to her and her family seemed to be the promise of extra cash to buy stuff. She said her sister went to Wal-Mart and spent her winnings immediately. She's not an educated woman and neither is her family. They are stuck in dead-end jobs. They own houses and cars; they're not on the verge of poverty, but they have no way of moving up except by gambling, winning the lottery, etc. For most of the people I'm friends with, the way to moving up is to do better at your current job or get a better-paying job primarily by gaining experience or education. Or we scrimp a little, put money aside to buy a bigger house, bigger car, better vacation (or vacation at all), nicer clothes, etc. Saving is not an option for many of the people I see just below my class level (it's barely an option for me). They're already living paycheck to paycheck, sometimes as a result of poor financial decisions (buying a plasma tv on credit, for example), but not always. Saving requires some discipline and delayed gratification. Our society doesn't really teach this. Buy now! Only 29.95/month! 0% interest for the first six months! Cut taxes and start an expensive war! Borrow money to pay for Social Security! Somewhere we need to teach those lessons. People say parents should do it, but so many people have parents that need to be educated and it's hard to combat the ads, the movies and tv shows that throw glamorous lifestyles on credit at us every day.

I did not say anything to my hairdresser. If she wants to gamble, that's fine. But I also wanted to say that Donald Trump is counting on people like her to make his fortune. The rich make their money from people who are trying hard to be just like him. But there's no way she'd see that.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Random ten or seven--dark

Tangled And Dark--Bonnie Raitt
Dark Time For The Light Side--Doris Henson
Dark Star--Grateful Dead
Darkness--Kelley Hunt
Still Dark Out--Let's Active
My Dark Hour-- Steve Miller Band
Whistling In The Dark--They Might Be Giants

a la Kathy and Scrivener

Interestingly, none of us have the same songs.

random10, fridayshuffle

The real women of science

Michelle, a colleague of mine, has a great post on the hidden women of science. It's definitely worth a read.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

More on the Writing in Quantitative Disciplines

I'm still processing a lot of information, so I haven't worked out exactly what my thoughts are, but wanted to get them down. And since we're transitioning from one blogging software to another at work, this is doubling as my "work" blogging.

Today was the technology day, the day we paraded a bunch of different technology options in front of them and talked about how they might use it to give better feedback on student writing. We had everything from Acrobat to Word to DyKnow to Blackboard. I did the Blackboard part, which I didn't really like doing (which probably showed) because I really think that Blackboard is a good administrative tool and a bad pedagogical tool. Fortunately, we have a plug in for Blackboard that creates a wiki and blog-like areas, so I focused on those.

I actually like the wiki area because it's much easier to use than regular wikis. There's no additional code or markup to remember. It's very easy to figure out how to use and it has lots of possibilities. You can upload files and and images and generally create a pretty decent-looking web site. You can even get to the html underneath and do some fine-tuning. You could also do things like highlight and change text color and you could track changes by looking at the page history. So you could see a project evolve over time. It was hot and I was tired and they were tired, so I didn't quite enthuse enough about some of these possibilities.

I was thinking about some of the responses I've gotten to the previous post and about some of what I think I'm hearing about writing from the participants. This formal structure thing is *huge* and unfortunately, it's something that's mostly foreign to humanities, even writing folks. It's not that writing in the humanities doesn't have a structure; it does. But that structure is not explicit. For example, a lit paper may lay out a kind of lit review or methodology section by reviewing the previous research on the topic at hand. But this is done in a a kind of narrative fashion and there's no heading that says "Literature Review" as there often is in quantitatively-oriented papers.

When I was studying composition and rhetoric more formally, we would call the formal structure of a science/social science paper an artifact or an indicator of the discourse community. Students would struggle with figuring out what the structure was and how to write so as to appear part of the community. So what I was thinking was that the structure, since it is so formalized, is easy to master. It's the more subtle aspects of that discourse community that are difficult to master. And so what we were trying to do was to find ways to encourage that mastery among students without having to invest an enormous amount of time.

There were two things that seemed key. One was writing a good assignment and making sure that within that assignment, your expectations were clear. This does not mean creating a 5-page treatise on what to do and not do, but creating a simple, clear description of the task.

Another key was letting go. And this was the doozy for a lot of people. The key to mastering writing (at least one of them) is practice. Give the students an opportunity to practice a lot. This means letting them participate in discussions and review each other's work with the professor merely checking in once in a while to make sure things are going in the right direction. There were a few people who expressed concern about this because they were going to lose control of the situation. What if they do something wrong? But they don't need to discuss things with each other in writing because they can do that in person. What this boils down to is, what if they don't need me anymore?

When I worked at a greeting card company years ago, we had a card with an unfortunately close typesetting. The card read, at first glance, "LET GO GOON!" It became our motto for those stubborn folks who can't seem to let go of something; they're gnawing at a bone. It really read, of course, "LET GO GO ON!" And that's what I want to say sometimes. If you let go of x and let the students really work on it (with guidance from you once in a while but not your controlling presence), then you can go on to y or z. And the students will know x a lot better than you might think.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Reason #426 why I like my job

Because I get to have conversations with people like this.

We're in the middle of this Writing in the Quantitative Disciplines workshop, which is absolutely fascinating--from a technology standpoint, from an ethnographic standpoint, from a pedagogical standpoint--just fascinating.

One of my favorite moments came at the reception when Bryan and I began talking about tagging. And we're both pretty excited about it and we're explaining it and basically riffing off of each other. We were already on one side and the faculty on the other, but the space between us seemed to widen a bit. They weren't quite ready for folksonomies yet. It was quite amusing.

Lots of good conversations have taken place and it seems like people are really processing a lot of ideas here. One of the things that a group of us were talking about later was that we (being humanities people) don't always understand what the Quantitative Discipline folks meant by writing. Which sounds weird, but it seemed like they were trying to make a distinction between the kind of text-based writing that humanities people do and some other kind of writing that science people do. Writing is writing, right? It's just the conventions and style that change? What's your definition of writing?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Geeky Girl is 6!

Happy Birthday Geeky Girl! I hope you enjoy six as much as you seemed to have enjoyed five. Even though it may drive us crazy sometimes, I hope you keep talking and telling us stories. Just pause every once in a while to breathe and listen to what others have to say.

The Crack in the Cup

A while back over at Jody's place, she was talking about refilling her cup and the possibility that it has a crack in it and that it's impossible to fill. I'm feeling much the same way lately. When I first took this job, it filled my cup. It was interesting work. The people were interesting. I enjoyed. When I think about it, it's still mostly that way, but what do you do when your work is draining you and your home life is draining you. There's nowhere to go to fill your cup. And if your cup is cracked anyway . . .

I know exactly why I feel the way I do right now. It's not just the stress of projects at work and kids' birthdays and inlaws visits. Those might give me a sort of manic high if I weren't hormonally imbalanced at the moment. Seriously, having your emotional life determined by hormonal fluctuations is no fun. Because your brain says, "Man, you're being bitchy and grumpy for no reason," while your emotional center feels about 12 and wants to cry about everything. This is all because I failed to pick up a birth control prescription on time. It's amazing what that stuff does for my emotional balance.

That said, I did have a truly horrific day at work yesterday. The air conditioning in my building was broken so it was about 85 degrees. They started pouring concrete next to my building and the fumes from the truck were filtering right into my office. I couldn't leave my office because I was working on the workshop for Thursday. Then I realized that said workshop is taking place in a room with construction next door and will have to be relocated. The best alternative location is already taken. And people were calling me all day for little problems, including one phone call to assist with hooking up home DSL. People, that's why there's tech support for these products. One more time: I am not tech support for your home computer.

Then I came home and was a total grump to my whole family. I feel bad about this, but my eyes were burning from the fumes and I'd been sweating all day and I didn't get any kind of down time. I hate that. Oh, and I was going to do a couple of things last night and we had a huge thunderstorm and the electricity was out until midnight and now I feel like I have license to say--good enough, it's good enough. I don't care anymore.

I just have to get through this workshop which ends on the 13th and my summer begins. I can work on projects, guide the students through theirs and soon it will be vacation time and planning for the fall and all will be okay.

One thing's for sure, I'm not forgetting that prescription again!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

More on class

I was turned off by the article in the NY Times on religion and class, so I hadn't checked in in a while to read the series. Today's article, though, struck a chord with me. It's also worth reading the companion shorter article on taxes and how they benefit the extremely wealthy.

The article focuses on Nantucket and the increasing divide between the old money people and the new money people. The old money people are not showy about their wealth and live modestly for the wealthy. Their money and prestige derives mainly from their family. The new money folks are showy; they build huge mansions and buy big yachts and planes and wear showy clothes. They "earned" their money by working hard.

If you've ever lived in the South, this whole old money/new money dichotomy is familiar. I remember my mother talking about it when I was very little. And my mother spoke of the new money people with as much disdain as some of the interviewees in the Times article. Ironically, we were new money people.

Now, we weren't nearly as rich as the people in the article. We did not have a home on Nantucket or a plane. But we went on several vacations a year, including trips to Vail and Aspen. My sister and I wore only name-brand, designer clothes (think Calvin Klein and Jordache). My parents drove nice cars--BMW's, Pugeots, Audis--and they could afford to send us to college--any college. We lived in a sizeable house with a sizeable yard.

But there were ways we weren't showy. We didn't live in a huge house, choosing an older neighborhood over the McMansions being built on the other side of town. We never had more cars than drivers and one of our cars was always something like a Buick or a Subaru. My sister and I did not flaunt our designer clothes and none of us wore much jewelry.

Because we lived in a small town without a lot of truly wealthy people, my dad often socialized with some of these people. I clearly remember going to a wine tasting at 18 and sitting at a table with the wealthiest people in town. We were all wearing jeans and plain shirts. You couldn't tell who was a millionaire from who was a construction worker. When we had to play a guessing game by deciding which of the 3 wines in front of us was the most expensive, the wealthiest man at the table and I picked the same one. We felt for sure we were right. We'd picked the cheapest and had a good laugh about it. Separated from their cars and houses, the rich in the town where I grew up were like you and me.

When I moved here, it was quite a shock to find out that the rich really weren't like me and that I no longer qualified to sip wine with them. My education and my own semi-wealthy background wasn't enough. I could see it in the looks I got at the train station and the grocery store. In my Eddie Bauer pants and Lands End shirts, I passed only for the hired help. I wasn't dripping in jewelry or carrying a coach bag or wearing a fur coat. It felt very much like the scene in Great Expectations where Pip realizes that his dirty shoes mark his class and that he is suddenly ashamed.

One of the issues raised by the article is the isolation of both old and new money people. They are isolated from each other and isolated from the rest of society. And this is what I think is most problematic. If you don't have conversations with people who have less money than you, how can you possibly understand what their needs are, how hard it is to make ends meet, how you can't afford to send your kids to private school or move to a better school district, how you hope your children get a scholarship for college, how you can't afford the surgery you really need? I admit to looking at the very rich around here with a little bit of suspicion and yes, anger. I feel they're getting all the breaks and putting the burden on me. I feel that they just don't care about anyone else. I may be wrong, but until they get out there and vote for more equitable tax policy, I'm not going to believe them.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

A letter to my son--on being 10

Dear Geeky Boy,

10 years ago, you were born. I had no idea what I was in for. You were tiny and seemed fragile and you cried like a goat or maybe a sqeaky screen door. It was not a pretty sound. At night when you cried, I would get up (or often Dad would) and I'd feed you and rock you until you fell asleep on my shoulder, heavier and breathing long, in and out. I'd put you in your crib on your back and you'd sprawl out. Frog boy, we called you.

But soon you were making better sounds: coos and goos and ahs. Your eyes were huge as you took in the world, always seeming to observe everything and perhaps remember it too. It was easy to take you places. Often, you would simply fall asleep. Or you'd play happily with toys and jabber to yourself.

The years seemed to pass by so quickly. I remember you used to toddle in the grass in our first house and the grass was up to your knees. You said, "yoos" and that meant "shoes" or "juice." It was hard to tell. Once, you told us your shoes were in the wall. We found them 2 years later in a desk with a cabinet that we never used. You played ball with the dog, giggling hysterically when she caught it. You liked to play in the peanuts that came with your gifts. You spent hours playing in the newspaper we had pulled out from all the moving boxes. Your face and belly were round and soft.

But you grew and your face became a boy's face and your belly thinned and your little legs stuck out from your shorts. You started to enjoy big kid things, like playing sports and video games. We played Lara Croft together for hours. Sometimes you'd play Pac-Man or Galaga with me. You learned to swim and read and play soccer. You were sweet and sensitive and never wanted anyone to feel sad or be hurt.

When we moved halfway across the country for Dad's job, you were hurt. For days, you cried and said all you wanted to do was go back to our old house. I cried for you when you weren't looking. I didn't want to hurt you either, but I knew I had and I knew I might do so again without meaning to.

Soon enough, because you're so friendly, you made friends and were happy again.

Every year, you get bigger and smarter. You are still sensitive and you're thoughtful. You really think about things. I like it when you ask questions like, "Why do we have to have wars?" or "Do you think God is a woman?" or "Why doesn't everyone drive hybrid cars?" Sometimes the answers confuse you and even scare you, but you keep thinking.

I don't know what you're going to do for a living when you grow up, but I do know that you'll always be smart and thoughtful and insightful. You'll be empathetic and caring. You'll be strong when you need to be. With those qualities, you can do whatever you want.

Happy Birthday!

Friday, June 03, 2005

The birth story meme

Lawmom and jo(e) have started a meme. So here's the story of my first.

Like Lawmom, I have a strong tolerance for pain. On Saturday June 3 (10 years ago today), my inlaws gave me a baby shower. We were showered with lots of gifts, but the next day, we went out shopping to get the few things we still needed--crib mattress, diapers, wipes. We spent the whole day at Baby Superstore. We planned to meet Mr. Geeky's brother and his wife for dinner. As we were waiting for our food to arrive, I started feeling not quite right. I picked at my food and decided I was in labor. We told my brother-in-law and his wife not to say anything to the rest of the family.

We left the restaurant and started our 45 minute drive back home. We were listening to the NBA playoffs. The Pacers were playing the Knicks. They had to win this game in order to stay in the playoffs. About halfway home, I asked Mr. Geeky to give me his watch. I said, "Either I have really bad gas every five minutes or I'm in serious labor." Mr. Geeky didn't quite believe me. We did decide if the Pacers won, we'd name our kid Reggie--boy or girl.

When we got home, we unloaded the car and we even videotaped the baby's room. I tried on my slippers that I'd bought to wear at the hospital. As I was walking around, admiring how soft and comfortable they were, I suddenly felt sick. I ran into the bathroom and threw up, getting vomit on my slippers. I told Mr. Geeky that I thought it was time to go. Mr. Geeky ran around a little bit frantically, which is his usual response to crisis, before he finally gathered his wits and our stuff and we headed to the hospital.

It was about 9 p.m. or so now and the streets were pretty empty already. We were only about 6 blocks from the hospital. Mr. Geeky was disappointed that there was no need to speed. In fact, I was uncomfortable enough to not want to risk the bumping that went along with speeding.

They checked us in and it turned out my OB had two other patients there. He came in to check on us, told us to remain comfortable and he'd be back. I was 7 centimeters dialated at the first check. I went to 10 very quickly. At some point, I decided I wanted something to take the edge off the pain, but it was too late. At 1:00 a.m., I gave birth to my son, the first of my OB's patients to do so despite being the last to arrive. I was exhausted and so weak, I stayed in the delivery room for an extra three hours. My blood pressure had plummeted when I gave birth and I almost passed out. I was given an IV of glucose and soon I was feeling halfway normal.

I was pretty happy with my birth experience. I wish that I hadn't nearly passed out, but my OB and the hospital staff were very respectful of my wishes and really let the birth progress naturally.

And now that tiny baby that we brought home in a little white jumpsuit with tiny blue fishes and a matching hat is 10 years old. Hard to believe!

Doubly Stressed

Mr. Geeky and I don't do well when both of us are stressed at the same time. With his tenure packet due in a week and me teaching 9-5, followed by a grant-funded workshop next week, we are both a little tense. I'm basically trying to keep my regular work up early in the morning and after 5 since I'm trapped in a classroom all day. It's helpful if one person can be the voice of calm.

It's also helpful if home life is calm. Unforutnately, my inlaws are coming today and the kids' birthdays are Sunday and Tuesday. We hadn't planned a party because we knew this week would be hectic and we thought we'd do it next weekend or the following weekend, but then we realized that either other things were going on or we were out of town for the next 4 weekends. So we quickly called a few friends for an afternoon of roller skating and/or tube crawling at the nearby sports arena. We did something similar a couple of years ago when we were moving into this house. It's actually a very nice way to celebrate a birthday. Just a couple of people, no need for cake and all that jazz. Fewer presents and less craziness.

Of course, I'm failing at the whole Mommy madness thing by not hand crafting invitations, hiring a magician and putting together perfect goody bags. Thankfully, no one in this neighborhood does that either, so we're good. I do hate it when I'm disorganized like this. And it always happens when there's too much going on both at home and at work. I think even the most organized person would probably break down a little. At least that's what I'm telling myself.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A tech geek among the humanists

This week's chronicle brings an interesting article by an English professor who actually likes technology. He actually touches on nearly every aspect of my job and I'm e-mailing the article to nearly everyone I work with.

First, he discusses the importance of a professional and up-to-date web site for departments. The summer multimedia program usually redesigns 5 or so department websites every summer and we help the department secretaries learn how to maintain the sites afterwards. The missing ingredient for us is often the content. The faculty chairs are often slow to provide relevant content. As Benton suggests, having an actual faculty member do this means they have more of a vested interest in the content. Here's the money quote: "A sloppy, out-of-date departmental Web site suggests a badly managed, individualistic, and probably dysfunctional department."

Second, he talks about developing online courses in a liberal arts college. Although nothing like that is being developed at our school, I do have a handful of science faculty trying out screencasting this summer and in the fall, either as a way to get the lectures out of the classroom and use class time more effectively or to provide more opportunity for review of the material.

Third, he discusses the use of computer grading, emphasizing that grading papers is not always the best use of a faculty members' time, especially for early papers that often have similar mistakes. He suggests too that students could review each others' papers for common mistakes, so that the paper is in better shape by the time it reaches the professor's desk or inbox. This goes right along with the grant-funded workshop I'm working on this summer. We're evaluating ways of marking student papers that are more effective, going back actually to the assignment itself and constructing a good assignment to begin with and using peer review and other strategies to help students with drafts.

These all fit perfectly I think with the mission of the liberal arts college and are ways to use faculty time more effectively--for teaching and research. He did not mention whether there are staff supporting him or not. He mentions html skills, but do they have good web designers/developers on staff? Is there an instructional technologist around who will assist with the design of the online course? Does he talk to his IT staff about the software and infrastructure needed to accomplish his goals? I think he's right on the money with everything he's trying to do, but it would be interesting to know how much help he gets, if any.