Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Email time suck

Here's some math. On any given day, I receive about 40 emails. About half of these require a response. I'd say that each response requires an average of 8 minutes. Conservatively, then, I could spend 2.67 hours every day dealing with email. That doesn't even count dealing with our help system in which, on average I have about 12 issues to handle, each requiring 15 minutes to handle. That's another 3 hours. Tell me again when I'm supposed to do my job?

Monday, January 29, 2007

#$*&@ Figures!

I spent the weekend revising a couple of dissertation chapters. I had hoped to finish both of them, but the second one I was working on had figures and they did not want to stay put. I'm so glad I don't work in a field that requires figures on a regular basis because I'd probably go insane. I'd also probably find a better program to manage my figures. InDesign comes to mind. Most word processing programs can handle the occasional image, but I have something like 20 in this chapter. Okay, maybe just fifteen, but still.

I've also misplaced my camera's connection cable and am having to borrow the school's card reader to do my 365 project. I missed Saturday because basically I was inside staring at a computer screen all day. Sunday, it occurred to me to snap a photo of the screen. I took one when the computer crashed (as a result of rearranging figures), and another one after the documents had been recovered. Luckily, I save often, so I only lost a couple of sentences.

The 365 project has made me realize how much I stick to a routine and similar surroundings every day. Partly, that's due to the dissertation project which has kept me at home inside. Partly, too, it's the weather. I'm not a cold weather person, so I haven't been outside much. By March, I think the outlook will improve. The dissertation will be out of my hands; the weather will be improving; and I'll try to do more interesting things.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Wikipedia--again

I'm so glad I didn't have time to read this this morning. How many times are we going to have this discussion? Just keep marking the papers down. Or better yet, have your students edit the wiki. Yeah, I know, it's hard to teach people how to do real research.

/snark

Linkilicious Friday

  1. Notional Slurry » Digitization access licensing and scholarship’s “best before” date

  2. At What Point Is It Her Fault?

  3. Heading Home from ELI--Lessons and Leanings

  4. Social Bookmarking, Folksonomies, and Web 2.0 Tools


I changed the link to #4. It allows you to access the article via your own library. May not work for everyone, but it's worth a try.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What I need to know

In talking to people over the last few weeks--and really years, I guess--I've noticed that people don't always understand not only what I do, but the broad knowledge I have, and feel I need, in order to do my job effectively. So I just wanted to put this down off the top of my head:
  • A variety of software applications, including but not limited to:
    • iMovie
    • Flash
    • Dreamweaver
    • Photoshop
    • Word Processing
    • Spreadsheet
    • Camtasia (screen recording)
    • Cleaner (video and audio file conversion)
    • Audacity and/or Garageband
    • Acrobat professional
    • iPhoto
    • Skype
    • iChat and AIM
    • PowerPoint
    • A variety of web browsers
    • Blackboard and other course management systems
    • Drupal and other blogging platforms
    • CD and DVD burning software
    • FinalCut pro
    • Picassa
    • Illustrator
    • QuickTime
    • OpenOffice
    • GIMP (linux-based photo editor)
  • HTML and CSS
  • An understanding of how our Student Information System works (PeopleSoft)
  • A general understanding of databases. I have actually created a simple database-driven web site, but I wouldn't want to do that on a regular basis. It's harder than it looks.
  • Knowledge of the field of educational technology. I need to know the latest research and understand what experts say about the effects of technology on learning. Best practices in integrating technology into different disciplines
  • Basic understanding of instructional design. People get whole degrees in this, but I understand the basic principles. We don't actually do instructional design, really, at our institution.
  • Understanding of web design principles and standards.
  • RSS, XML
  • Some system administration skills--modifying the apache configuration, setting file permissions.
  • A smidge of php.
  • How to use search effectively. I can't tell you how many times Google has helped me solve a difficult problem.
  • Various web 2.0 applications
    • Blogger
    • Odeo
    • del.icio.us
    • furl
    • flickr
    • linkedin
    • facebook
    • youtube
  • An understanding of how above applications are affecting education and learning
  • Excellent writing and communication skills, especially the ability to communicate technical information to non-technical people.
  • All three major operating systems--Mac, Windows, and Linux
  • Streaming media creation and serving
  • How to connect various hardware--digital cameras, scanners, palms, iPods--to various kinds of computers.
  • How to scan slides, photos, and documents into appropriate formats and at appropriate quality levels.
There's lots more, I'm sure. But I think sometimes faculty (and others) who tend to have a narrow area of knowledge don't quite understand the scope of what I do. Many, many people believe I have one of two areas of expertise. And while it's true that I have a greater depth of knowledge in some areas over others, I still need an understanding of things (like system administration) that I'll never be an expert in. I feel that this broad knowledge is not something that's always valued in academe--at least not on the faculty side. But maybe I'm wrong about that?

Does anyone read books anymore?

Via The Chronicle, I found this editorial from a librarian. In it, he suggests that librarians are moving away from dealing with books and actual reading and focusing on information literacy, meaning navigating information in online databases and on the web. He calls this teaching "computer skills":
The buzzword in the trade is "information literacy," a misnomer, because what it is really about is mastering computer skills, not promoting a love of reading and books.
This is the common framing of technology vs. books, as if understanding and appreciating technology naturally precludes a love of reading. In the eyes of people like Mr. Washington, he's in a zero-sum game where books and computers can't *really* live side by side. It's why someone in my position is looked at with skepticism because I'm one of those people who wants to take away books and make everyone read everything on a computer or better yet, watch the YouTube version. This is all completely untrue. I certainly don't think books are going anywhere. I'm an avid reader myself. My whole life I've been an avid reader and a technophile. However, I will say that you can't ignore what's going on with technology. More and more people, especially high schoolers and college students, are getting their information on the web. Librarians are uniquely qualified to help students sort through all that information. If they just direct students to books, then students will be missing out on a lot of information, information that may very well be more relevant and more recent. Is it really a librarian's job to inculcate a love of reading in students? Isn't that a parent's job? Or maybe an English teacher along the way? And is it the end of the world if someone doesn't want to read Bleak House? I've known lots of people who don't read "literature," including most of the people in my family. They still read. Mostly they read mysteries and popular fiction, magazines and a daily newspaper. Yes, the NEA report says that reading is declining, especially among the 18-24 crowd. Many people in this group are required to read for school, much more than I remember being required to read when I was in college. I also remember not having time to read for pleasure in either college or grad school. I'd like to see another study about reading online. Do people now read more online? And maybe this whole thing isn't a problem with technology, but a problem with our society generally not encouraging leisure time. I'm willing to join the fight to encourage more reading when librarians (and I know many who already do) will admit that navigating and being critical of web-based information is equally important.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Am I Getting Anything Done?

I was somewhat successful yesterday although I had to force myself to focus at one point and not check email. As part of my GTD plan, I try to only check email first thing in the morning, around lunch, and just before I leave. But it's sometimes hard to ignore, that little tone that lets me know another message has arrived. I really want to reread the GTD book again. I feel like there are parts of the plan I've forgotten about.

One thing I did that usually works for me was to actually schedule a couple of tasks I had been putting off. I have a lot of semi-ongoing projects that if I don't make time to work on them, I will ignore them. They have no end date and very little impact, but they still have some importance to someone--things like documentation.

Though I managed to stave off panic yesterday, still it sometimes seems like I have way too much to do.

Monday, January 22, 2007

First day of school: GTD

It seems a long time coming, but classes finally begin today. I was thinking last night about where I am with my GTD system. I've decided it needs some work. I really want to feel like nothing's falling through the cracks. I still often feel like I'm rushing around, putting out fires rather than focusing on what's most important. With my email box largely under control, I need to tackle my physical inbox and I need to review all my projects. The challenge in doing this today will be obvious. The first day of classes is generally pretty busy. Can I function in a "normal" mode today and keep some perspective? We'll see. One thing that complicates my ability to be zen about busy times of year is the attitude of those around me. Very few people just take things in stride. They all run around like chickens with their heads cut off. This creates a panicked atmosphere in which it's hard to remain calm. But I'm going to try. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Naked Conversations: A Review

Naked Conversations, by Shel Israel and Robert Scoble was not a good book. I wanted to like this book. I like blogging. I think businesses should open up to the idea of blogging. I'm interested in what's going on in business blogging. But this book didn't really add anything to the conversation. Instead it offers some examples of both good and bad business blogging and pretty much standard caveats about how to handle blogging.

Perhaps the reason I didn't like this book is because I am not its target audience. The audience seems to be business leaders, ceo's, pr and marketing people and mostly people who don't really understand what blogging is. Since I know what blogging is and how it's changed a lot of what I do, I obviously didn't need the information the book provides. So maybe someone who's clueless about blogging might get more out of it. However, I also didn't find the book very well written. First of all, it has two authors but it tries to have a single voice. In a book that's supposed to be about conversations, it's ironic that it has no sense of conversation. In trying to have a single voice, it has no voice. At the beginning of the book, the authors reference Cluetrain Manifesto, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. CM also has multiple authors. Rather than trying to mesh the voices together into something monolithic, each author gets a voice. I think NC would have benefited greatly from this approach. I want to hear Shel and Robert, not "The Author."

The best section of the book is the "Doing it Right" section. Here there's a list of ways to blog effectively. The suggestions offer here make sense but won't be new to anyone who's been blogging.

If you're in business and want to blog, rather than reading this book, I'd suggest just reading a bunch of blogs and getting a sense of blogging that way. If you want to understand the foundation upon which the idea of business blogging is built, read Cluetrain Manifesto instead. It's a better read and more effectively conveys the change that the Internet has had on business.

Most of the reviews at Amazon are positive, but here's one that echoes my own thoughts:

"This book falls in the category "airport literature", i.e. written for managers who like to be updated on topics and lingo."

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

A little bored

Although I've seen a couple of interesting presentations, I have to admit I'm kind of bored with this conference. Unlike academic conferences where the same people tend to show up year after year, the nature of these conferences is that there's not that camaraderie. There are a couple of familiar faces, but for the most part, the people change from year to year. People leave these positions after a few years and often go on to something completely different or to somewhere far away. Also, though we're all from the same area, our institutions are so different, it's hard to relate to people. For example, I went to a presentation by Temple on building a new collaborative lab environment. It was a $16 million project and there were 640 computers and 150 software packages. That's a scale I can't even imagine. I haven't been particularly impressed with the sessions on teaching and learning. No one's saying anything new or they're geared toward distance education. And they're all (with one or two exceptions) too focused on the technology and they're not even thinking about pedagogy. The question that comes up at every session, though: how do we get faculty on board/involved? And of course, there are no faculty here to answer that question. We're talking in a vacuum.

Maybe I need to move on to a different conference. I'm skipping a session right now because there was nothing of interest to me and I'll probably skip the next one. The teaching and learning track is offering something on using an intelligent agent to provide Blackboard help. I don't really want to know about that.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

95 Emails

Yesterday, I plowed through 95 emails plus taught a workshop, and helped a faculty member work with an excel spreadsheet to update data and make a chart. Most of that email was questions and requests, the most common request right now being to move old course material in Blackboard over to a new course.* I feel like I did a week's worth of work in a day. That's a good thing since I'll be out the rest of the week. I started to feel the energy of the beginning of school which, though hectic, is certainly invigorating.

I'm looking forward to the conference where I hope to have some good conversations and hear some interesting presentations. And there will also be good food and drink.

I'm sure there will be 95 emails waiting for me when I return, but that's okay.


*This is something that people can do themselves, but the same people every year forget and ask me to do it. Or they wait until it's too late to do themselves and the material is only available on DVD.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bleh

I'm feeling a distinct lack of motivation. Partly, that's because there's so much to do, I don't know where to begin. I'm only going to be at work one day this week (today). Tomorrow, I head to Baltimore for a conference, which I'm looking forward to, but now I'm thinking about how much work needs to get done before classes start on Monday. The world will not fall apart, but still. I'll also be gone next week for a day and a half for a mini conference. Looking forward to that, too, but again, the timing. Next month, I'm running my own conference. So far, so good, but lots of stuff to do for that, too. Things will clear up by March and I swear, I'm taking a vacation then.

I guess that's the way academics are. There are stretches of time with no specific obligations but plenty to do during which the things that need to get done don't quite get done. And then there are the stretches of time with too many specific obligations, plus the leftover stuff that didn't get done before. I suppose every industry has its busy times, but I think I'm getting too old for this roller coaster ride. Partly, it's my own fault for signing myself up for these things, but life would be boring if I just sat back and coasted, wouldn't it?

Monday, January 15, 2007

On cooking

I have always enjoyed cooking. Though I'm not a great cook, I get a lot of pleasure out of taking a list of measurements and ingredients and turning it into something that others can savor. When I interviewed for my first real job, they asked me what I did to relieve stress. I said, I bake bread. The woman interviewing me, whom I found out later, hated to cook, looked at me like I had two heads. Anything else? she asked, sure I must do something like jog or take long baths as a stress reliever.

Although, I'd love to be able to throw together the things in my cabinets to make something tasty without following a script, I think much of the pleasure (and the stress relief) I get comes from the focused attention on the recipe. I rarely have a recipe memorized and so I must concentrate on what it tells me to do. While I'm concentrating on the instructions, I can't really think about anything else. Any worries I've had disappear as I rush to get onions chopped or carrots peeled or find the curry tucked away in the cabinet.

There's the added pleasure, too, of watching everything transform. I love watching onions soften and broccoli turn bright green, sauces thicken and butter melt. And the colors of things mixed together, of broccoli next to carrots, of tumeric turning everything yellow, of tomatoes mixing with cream to be almost (but not quite) pink. It reminds me of being a kid again, when I would mix play-dough colors together or paint and I wasn't quite sure how it would turn out. And it really didn't matter. I was delighted nonetheless.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Linkilicious

Didn't find as many interesting sites this week, but I'm including the recipes from Cooking Light that we all decided were worth making again. I also caved and made a 365 blog. It's fun looking at everyone else's photos.

  1. Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges
  2. Egg Fried Rice

  3. Pork Roast with Three-Mushroom Ragout

  4. Oriental Flank Steak

  5. Broccoli and Cheese Soup

  6. Free Culture Event at NYU

  7. Splice - Meet. Mix. Mashup.

    via Phillyist


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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Day 11

Inspired by ianqui, I decided to participate in project 365. I'm not really a good photographer even though I took a photography class in college. But I'm really enjoying this and am getting more comfortable whipping out the camera whenever the mood strikes. I was especially proud of today's photo, taken on the way to grab a cup of tea.



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Homework

One theme of yesterday's Wednesday Whining was homework. I added my own homework whine before I'd read everyone else's and was tickled to see so many other people who have issues with their kids' homework. I've written about homework before and Geeky Boy's (and our) struggle with it. Pretty much everyone at Phantom's was annoyed with having to be so involved in their kids' homework. They remember (and I do, too) not having to get help from their parents; they remember just doing their homework and suffering their own consequences. I think the stakes are higher now, for whatever reason. I think there's more homework and there's more expectations on parents to be involved in the process of doing the homework. For dual-income families, this is especially hard. Either, homework gets done during an afterschool program or with a sitter or it gets done after dinner when it's late and everyone's tired. So the parent feels uninvolved or resentful, neither a good feeling.

I honestly feel pretty bad that we haven't done a better job of instilling the importance of schoolwork in Geeky Boy. I believe we've instilled the importance of learning and education, but we haven't really explained that to get that learning and education, there are hoops to jump through. And sometimes those hoops aren't fun and are quite difficult, but you have to do them anyway. Geeky Boy feels pretty defeated right now, like there's just no chance of pulling it out. School, which used to be easy for him, has now gotten difficult.

I remember when school first got hard for me. It was math. I'm actually very good at math, but when we got to trig, I was so confused. And I was afraid to ask for help. I sat in class, feeling stupid and just muddled through. But, when the final came around, I did some math and figured out I could pull out an A if I got a 98 on the exam. So, I went to my teacher and I explained that I'd let myself fall behind because I didn't always understand what was going on. So he worked with me for about an hour or so and I got it. And then I went home and studied my butt off and I got the 98. Wherever you are, Mr. Chandler, thank you! A similar thing happened again in calculus and I got a friend to tutor me. Somewhere I found the motivation to do better. Now, I need to help Geeky Boy find his.

I'm still on the fence about homework. In elementary school, I think it's superfluous. In middle school, though, it's obviously laying the groundwork for high school and college. Here in the northeast, academic competition is fierce. This is where some of the extra work comes from. People want to make sure their kids get into the best schools. Public schools compete with private schools, wanting to prove that their kids are just as smart as the ones in private schools. This puts a lot of pressure on the kids. It's my job, then, as a parent, to help alleviate that pressure, to support my kids in their work. It's a harder job than I thought. We want our kids to be independent and we want to sit back and watch them become independent and cheer from the sidelines, but sometimes that's not enough. Sometimes we have to dig in with them, show them the way, and do more than cheer. It's not what we remember as kids, but this is the way it is now.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What's in a reputaton

Computing departments at colleges and universities often have a bad reputation. In Dilbert, there's a character called Mordac, the preventer of Information Services, who denies assistance and equipment to everyone. Often, the people in college computing departments are viewed the same way. People see them as slow to respond and difficult to work with. Not everyone in a computing department works this way, but unfortunately, one slow response can poison the whole department. For whatever reason, it's often extremely difficult to overcome negative pr. I heard two stories yesterday that made me shake my head. In both cases, someone had asked for help days ago and was not getting any response from our department. In one case, the person was pretty tech savvy and ended up solving her own problem. The other is still waiting and unable to do key aspects of his/her work until someone helps him/her.



I honestly do my very best to respond to people quickly, but, I, too, have had a number of times when things have slipped through the cracks or I've gotten backlogged. We have a system for keeping track of our work. Whenever someone calls or emails the help desk, they enter the information and assign it to the appropriate person. If I get a phone call or email, I enter it into the same system. Recently, I checked to see how many of these incidents I've logged in the system and it's well over 200. That's an average of about 3 a day since the beginning of school. Typically, of course, the issues don't trickle out at 3 a day. Usually, there's a day where there's 25 issues sitting there for me to deal with and I have to decide what's most important to handle first. I actually follow a lot of the GTD principles when dealing with these things. I set aside time at least once a week, but during busy times, it's often every day, to go through these and handle them. Anything that takes 5 minutes or less, I handle immediately, including letting the person know that the situation has been taken care of. Often there are issues where I need more information or that I know are complicated. Sometimes I divvy these tasks out to my student workers. At the beginnings of semesters, however, I don't have workers around, so it falls to me. It's very easy to get overwhelmed pretty quickly between what's already sitting in front of me to be dealt with, long term projects, and the panic-stricken phone calls and emails. In theory, things that sit in the system for too long will get picked up by your work group or a manager. There are a lot of things that only I can handle, unfortunately and that's true for others in my group. Also, from what I understand from those in desktop support, everyone has so much on their own plate, they can't possibly take on anyone else's work.



And then, you get delays. I don't know what to do about this. My strategy works for me, though it's not perfect. A lot of the desktop people have to go visit people whereas most of my issues can be handled remotely. During those visits, things can bog down. The problem can be bigger than they anticipated and then they get behind. Personally, I think we need more people, but I've been told that that's not in the budget and faculty often complain then that "we're spending all their money." I'm not in a position to view the problem from 10,000 feet. I see it at 10 feet and what I see is some good people working hard, but maybe not efficiently enough or maybe without enough help. I would really like for our department to be viewed as a well-oiled machine. I would like it if people felt that we provide reliable service all the time. I know some people feel that certain individuals within our department are efficient and reliable, but as a whole, not so much. And unfortunately, that hurts all of us.





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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Mean Girls Start Early

For the last few weeks, Geeky Girl has been dealing with a mean girl who also happens to be her best friend. Now we've never been particularly fond of the best friend. She's kind of bossy and whiny, but we wouldn't have put her in the mean girl category. At the parent-teacher conference in early December, however, Geeky Girl's teacher discussed the problem with me, explaining that at least once, MG had said something mean enough to make GG cry. So we started talking to GG about MG, just asking her if they got along, asked her about the incident described by the teacher and talking about strategies. And now, we get a flood of information. And we're not liking what we're hearing. Regularly, MG tells GG that she's not going to be her friend if she doesn't do X or if she plays with someone else. Yesterday, she made "angry eyes" at GG during math. And then, I also heard that she regularly lies and as GG says, "I don't like people who lie." We had MG over over Christmas and she pretty constantly tried to manipulate GG, telling her what to do. I stepped in and said GG could do whatever she wanted.

I have a couple of theories about why MG behaves this way. One theory is that she has an older sibling in high school and she must hear her and her friends behave this way. The other theory, more likely I think, is that she's not adjusting to the new school very well and her way of dealing with her insecurity is to try to control the one thing she can: GG.

We've explained to GG that she doesn't have to be friends with MG and that we'd be happy to have anyone else from her class over for a playdate. We're also trying to help her come up with what she can say in response to the mean things MG says. The teacher has encouraged us to role play with GG so that she feels confident saying what she needs to to MG. The thing is the meanness is subtle most of the time. She uses a quiet and pleasant voice when she's being manipulative. So I think that GG has recognized that she's not on the up and up, but hasn't been able put her finger on what's going on and hasn't really known what to do about it. I had some very unpleasant mean girl experiences in middle and high school. It seems it's a rite of passage, but I really don't want it to be. I hope we can give GG enough confidence to deal with these situations and not feel beaten down by them. I can't believe we're dealing with this at the tender age of seven! On the bright side, it gives us time to deal with it. On the down side, it could be a looong road to the end of high school.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Weekends are never long enough

Monday always seems to come around far too quickly. I feel like just one more day and I'd be satisfied. This is going to be my first full week back at work post holiday, which probably means it's going to feel very long. Next week I'm going to a conference and ditto for the following week (although just for a day). Classes don't start for two more weeks. Second semester isn't usually as difficult to prepare for as first semester. I don't work on projects over winter break that have to be implemented before everyone gets back. Most people's memories are less porous over the shorter break so there's less hand holding. But there are still things to be done. I will organize a workshop for Blackboard. I'm running a local conference. I'm upgrading and reconfiguring the blog software. Things are quiet around campus without the students and faculty around and it's hard to get motivated when you know people are enjoying the last couple of weeks of vacation. Sure, they're adjusting their syllabi, maybe polishing off an article, but it's at a semi-leisurely pace in the location of their choice. Me? I'm in the basement of a 1980s building.

I'm supposed to set goals for myself for the coming year. I'm thinking surviving might be a good one. I've done so much in the last couple of years that I'm thinking it might be time to sit back and just do the minimum to get by. That's not really my style, but maybe I'm feeling worn out and tired. Maybe Monday came too soon.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Democrats as Alpha Males

So the New York Times has decided that the reason democrats won some key congressional seats is because they recruited some macho guys to run. They use my own home state as an example:

The fruits of those efforts arrived in Washington last week. Take, for example, three House freshman from Pennsylvania. Patrick Murphy, the son of a Philadelphia police officer, was a West Point professor, a prosecutor and an Iraq war veteran before he ran for Congress. Chris Carney was a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserves. Joe Sestak is a former Navy vice admiral whose last job was commanding 15,000 sailors and dozens of ships and aircraft for operations in Afghanistan.

“Joe Sestak — that guy’s muscular!” says Mr. Lapp. “He’s a vice admiral. I’ve told him to spend a lot of time going on the national talk shows. He can really do a service changing the mold and the way the Democratic Party is viewed.”

I don't know Chris Carney, but I've seen Patrick Murphy and Joe Sestak several times up close and personal and I wouldn't characterize either one of them as macho. Sestak is rather small in stature and a bit soft spoken and both Murphy and Sestak seem to think with their hearts as opposed to other parts of their anatomy. Those are not negative qualities in my mind, but I think saying that because someone served in the military or likes football makes them macho is a mistake. There's more to a personality than past work experience.

Lizza thinks the predominance of macho men might be a problem for women's issues. I don't think this is necessarily the case. Murphy and Sestak both ran on issues important to women such as health care and pro choice. Maybe most of their issues weren't specific to women, but I don't think we need to worry too much about these macho men inisisting women stay at home.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Being a staff member

One of the most compelling things about reading faculty blogs is the way they provide an inside look into what faculty life is really like. I wish I could do the same here, but is it interesting enough? What would be an interesting perspective from the staff point of view? We get a good view of the administrative side--deans, provosts, etc.--from Dean Dad. I feel like those of us at a non decision-making level have little voice (and perhaps little to say). You don't see stories about secretaries or other support staff in The Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed. Why? Are we that invisible? What would make us more visible and what would be compelling to know about the how we go about our jobs, what we think of our institutions and higher education? Let me know.

Book Review: The Kite Runner

A few weeks ago, as I was shopping for Christmas presents on Amazon, I looked at my wish list and my recommendation list and lamented that I hadn't had time to read for pleasure. Now that I'm not teaching, working full time and writing a dissertation, I can finally get back to reading. I thought I'd read what Amazon recommends and see if they're doing a good job of picking books for me.

The first book they recommended was The Kite Runner. So far, I'd say they're one for one. This was a good book. The characters and the story hooked me almost immediately. The story begins in pre-war Afganistan when the narrator is a young boy of about 9. I was fascinated by the setting, knowing nothing of Afganistan before the Taliban took over. How accurate the descriptions were, I don't know, but they were certainly compelling. The narrator, Amir, is the son of an influential and wealthy father. His best friend is the son of his father's servant, a Hazara named Hassan. Their friendship, however, is conflicted (at least in Amir's mind) by the difference in their status. This relationship is the anchor of the story. It is the conflict the narrator can't let go, even after he leaves Afganistan. The relationship is also a touchstone in many ways of the relationship Amir has with his father.

The narrator ages more than twenty years during the course of the book, and I was impressed by the way he seemed the same boy we met at the beginning of the book and also a completely different person who had been through two wars and a gruelling move to America. Also impressive were the descriptions of Afganistan during the reign of the Taliban when Amir returns to take care of some business of his father's (so as not to spoil the whole book for you). Amir remembers the tranquil Afganistan of his youth and seeing so much destruction and violence is heartbreaking. As a reader, I, too, felt the sadness of seeing something that was described so beautifully at the beginning of the book completely destroyed.

My only problem with the book, really, was the resolution. It's not that I didn't like the way it ended, but it was painful getting there. There were so many mini-conflicts at the end, I felt like I was in a bad action movie at times. The conflicts make sense, but I think at least one or two could have been left out and the ending still would have worked.

I would recommend the book wholeheartedly. It's a good read. You won't be disappointed with the story or the writing.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Mistakes were made

The title is one of my favorite Bush quotes. I love passive voice. It lets us get away with all kinds of things. One of my professors, when explaining passive voice used the example of going out to dinner with his brother. When it came time to pay, his brother said, "My wallet was left in the car." As if the wallet decided to stay in the car.

So, this evening mistakes were made. Tonight's meal, Pork Roast with Three-Mushroom Ragout, was quite tasty despite the mistakes. First mistake, should have deboned the roast. Okay, before that, I should have checked the recipe more carefully to see that I needed only 1.75 pounds of meat and not the 6.5 pounds I ended up with. And I could have had the butcher debone it. What I need it one of these. But, I managed to cut a third of the roast off with a little help from Mr. Geeky. I froze the other two thirds and will do something else with it. Second mistake, wrong kind of crushed tomatoes. Got the kind with Italian Seasoning. Didn't seem to matter that much, though. Third mistake, no cremini mushrooms. Fourth, no sundried tomatoes without oil. This is what I mean about ingredients. If the store I frequent doesn't have these things, I'm not running all over creation to find them. I just added a few more shitaki and button mushrooms and lived with oil soaked tomatoes. Didn't seem to affect it much. Fifth mistake. The timer didn't set correctly (i.e. I failed to push the "start" button) and so, my noodles cooked a little longer than they should have. Still the meal was good and I would definitely eat it again.

The lessons? 1) Read the recipe carefully before going shopping. 2) Make do with what you have.

Five things about me

Barbara tagged me and I thought this would be an interesting thing for the new year. Is there anything you all don't know about me? Of course. Here's a few:
  1. I used to sing in a church choir. I even sang a few solos. It was the one thing I liked about church. I still enjoy singing in my car and in the kitchen while I cook. I used to sing the kids to sleep. They still remember it.
  2. I have a teddy bear that's 37 years old. I used to bring him out every year for Christmas to celebrate his birthday. I haven't done that in about five years. He's alive and well (though decrepit) in the attic.
  3. I was once part of an all-women's Quake team. I was 28 or 29 at the time. All the other women were 19-22. We used to regularly beat teams made up of teenaged boys. It was a great stress reliever.
  4. I had a dog named Boo (just like the song). Boo was an avid car chaser and was hit by a UPS truck when I was 11. Ten years later, my dad got another dog and named him Boo II.
  5. I changed my major 8 times in college. I started out as an English major, but I considered French, Business, Economics, International Studies and various combinations of those before returning to English again. At one point, I wanted to be an International Business Lawyer. Sometimes I wish I had majored in Computer Science, but they didn't even have that as a major then.
Anything else you want to know?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

First Healthy Meal of the Year

Like many others, I'm hoping to get back to some healthier habits in the new year. To help with that, I went through the Cooking Light website and found some recipes I thought would work. They have a handy shopping list too, so that you can send your recipe to the shopping list and voila! instalist. Tonight's meal was this broccoli and cheese soup. I also made a small salad. I think bread would have been a good addition as the meal didn't feel quite filling enough. I'm always hestitant to have bread since I want to eat a lot of it and usually dripping with butter. The soup itself was really tasty, almost buttery. Even Geeky Girl claimed to like it a little, though she did eventually resort to a peanut butter sandwich. I cheated a little and used the full fat version of Velveeta because I couldn't find the light version. That's one thing that I always have to think about when choosing recipes--will I be able to find the ingredients? The stores around here are generally well stocked and there are plenty of specialty stores around as well, but I'm not one to galavant around town finding specialty ingredients for a regular meal. I did actually have my first conversation with a butcher that wasn't just "I need two of those." I'm actually thinking about finding a good butcher nearby (apologies to the vegetarians in the audience). I'm also thinking of joining a CSA, something I wanted to do last year, but thought of it too late in the season. I'm hoping for an adventurous food year!

Be it resolved

So the resolutions. Last year I didn't make resolutions, though I did make them for the beginning of the school year. I take my resolutions pretty seriously. I like the fact that on New Year's Day, we're encouraged to reflect on the past year and make plans for the new. Otherwise, I feel like I'd careen through life and not notice everything that's passing by. This past year has been somewhat difficult. I've had some setbacks both professionally and personally. In the midst of those setbacks, however, I managed to write a dissertation. The last few months, especially, have been good ones despite my being extraordinarily busy. I still felt like I hadn't lost track of what's important. So here's what I want to do this year:

  • I want to get back to exercising, at least three times a week. I was doing pretty well with this last year, but by summer, had quit keeping up with it. I have to think about when to do this. Right now, either in the morning or at night, it's dark out. I could certainly do something indoors, but walking is the easiest exercise I can do, which makes it more likely I'll keep it up. I'd like to do some yoga with that. Once the weather gets better, I can play tennis and do other outdoor activities.
  • Along with the exercise, I'm planning to eat better. This past semester has been one of convenience foods. And most of those have been fairly unhealthy. I'm sure there will be a few of those still, but if it's only every once in a while as opposed to every day, it won't be a big deal. Mr. Geeky has resolved to cook more, so we'll see how that goes.
  • Reinstitute family game night. We have a ton of board games and got some new ones for Christmas, and it'd be fun to get back to having at least one day a week when we do something together as a family.
  • Reinstitute date nights. Mr. Geeky and I were going on a date twice a month, but in December, we just couldn't get it together since I was working constantly on the dissertation and we just generally had too much other stuff going on. I just don't want this to fall completely by the wayside.
  • Quit complaining about work. I think this is going to be a hard one. I have had some frustrating things to deal with at work. It's hard not to let that stuff get you down. Plus, two of my favorite colleagues resigned just before the winter break. Mostly, I just want to focus on constructive solutions as opposed to railing against perceived injustices.
  • Related to the above work resolution, I want to follow my passions at work. I have enough freedom in my job that much of the time I can pursue my interests as I see fit. For me, that's going to mean more reading and research and more writing about that research. It's also going to mean finding a way to share my knowledge and expertise with my immediate community as well as the broader community. And, I want to find ways to connect people who are interested in similar issues.
I think that's enough to tackle in one year!

Update: One other resolution I had was to make some blog changes. As you can see, I've upgraded. Mainly I was waiting for haloscan. Finally, they have got it working with the new blogger. There will be more changes later, but I need to run off to the grocery store for some healthy food.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! I helped empty the bottles to the left there, along with about 19 other people, so this post won't be terribly long. The Geeky family traveled out of town to attend a 1920s style soiree. We had loads of fun. We not only rang in the new year, but we very nearly saw the sun rise. I think Mr. Geeky finally ambled to bed around 5:30. I had preceded him by only fifteen minutes or so. He's now in bed. And I will be too before too long. Unfortunately the kids return to school tomorrow, so we're all in for a rude awakening in the morning.

I'm returning to work on Thursday, so I get to slide into it slowly. I still have grading to do and calculating, but I suspect I'll be done with that fairly quickly. Grades are due Wednesday. I do have resolutions and some reflections on the past year, but no energy to deal with those for now. I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday and I wish you all the best in the new year.