Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What I learned this year

Before I resolve anything I thought I'd reflect a bit on the past year. The great thing about a personal blog is that it allows you to look back.

I wrote about two things more often than anything else: work-life balance and my frustration with lack of faculty technology knowledge and use. It's clear that those things were key factors in my deciding to quit. I had probably been thinking about quitting longer than I was truly conscious of. One thing I learned from that decision was that it was difficult. I spent a lot of time agonizing over how it would affect my family financialy. I shouldn't have. I should have gone with my gut.

Stepping out of my role as a tech support person has allowed me to begin looking at the effects of technology on life and learning more comprehensively and more deeply. In many of the presentations I gave last year, I was already going there, thinking especially about social software and my own scholarship.

I turned 40 this year and my oldest turned 13. That changes your perspective a little. While I certainly don't feel my life is over now that I'm 40, I certainly feel there's no sense in wasting time. Spending time with my kids has become more important as I realize how little time I really have with them. Oddly, I also feel greater feedom to do what I want.

It's been quite a year. I'm looking forward to the next one.

-- Post From My iPhone

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

You can never go home again

Technically I'm in the town I grew up in but I'm not in the same house or even in the same area where most of my childhood took place. Home has not been home for me since college when my parents got divorced and the world reordered itself. Most of my friends moved away and their parents too so it's unlikely I'll run into anyone I know. That used to be a regular occurance. The lack of these familiar things don't bother me. In fact, I think if everything were the same I'd find that more disconcerting--like despite all that's happened since I left hadn't made a difference, that no matter how hard we try we're pulled back by some force into our old lives.

I'm thinking about this not just because I'm here but also because the new year is approaching. So much has changed and it's at once refreshing and disorienting. As I look around my town with the new right next to the old and familiar, I think about what is good to keep in my life and what should be torn down like a condemed building. I don't want to become the abandoned eyesore but the strucure that's been maintained by keeping the good parts and replacing those that have outworn their purpose.

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, December 29, 2008

We made it

After a sprint through the airport, we made the last leg of our flight to our destination. We've had a good night's sleep and coffee. Let the family fun begin!

-- Post From My iPhone

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Travel adventures

From Geeky Mom
We've been attempting to get somewhere today. It started out with a 4:30 am call telling us our flight was canceled and they couldn't get us on another flight tomorrow morning. We really wanted to get there today so we decided to fly out of Newark. The flight wasn't until later but we were all awake so we decided to go out for breakfast and hit the road. An hour into the trip, Mr. Geeky got tired so we stopped at a rest stop for a nap. Geeky girl also napped.

Once at the airport, we were selected for special screening. Do you know what a pain it is to go through that process with two kids and lots of electronics? Bleh. So now we wait. I hope we arrive eventually.

-- Post From My iPhone

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

The Geeky family is wallowing in the sloth and fullness of the season, which means things have been pretty good. Electronics reigned supreme again this year, with a new iPod and cellphone for Geeky Boy, who's realized the costs of those two habits are going to eat up most of his allowance. Geeky Girl is busy playing new SIMS extensions on our new computer. We finally replaced our almost 8-year-old iMac with a newer one. That was the big gift of the season. Mr. Geeky got a netbook and I got a microphone for podcasting, plus pjs. I have enough pjs now that I can work at home in my pjs fairly regularly. It is teh awesome! There were also some books to go around for everyone, but in general, things were lower key at least in terms of the number of gifts this year. My dad started college funds for the kids as their gift for this year and my mom got them exactly what they wanted off their list--which wasn't much.

I hope everyone had a wonderful day and for those continuing the holdiay season, continued well wishes. Peace and joy to all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What's Left: Shopping, Cooking, Baking, oh my

Update: The item I wanted--canceled. Note to online sellers: if an item isn't in stock, don't sell it on your website. Duh. Their consolation: we didn't charge your credit card.

Normally, I'm not running around at the last minute buying stuff. I don't like shopping and so I try to dispense with it as quickly as possible. But this year, thanks to the online shopping experience from hell, I'm running around trying to replace the gift that will not arrive in time for Christmas (still has not shipped!). I went to three different stores yesterday, including the brick and mortar version of the store where said gift is supposed to ship. And, they were out of everything. The traffic was horrible. Everything took longer than I thought. Bleh. So I came up with an alternative and am going to pick it up today.

On the plus side, we made our first batch of cookies yesterday. After school today (yes, the kids still have school), Geeky Girl and I are going to make Grasshopper Pie and fudge. Tonight we'll watch Christmas Vacation, and I can finally relax (at least until it's time to whip up dinner tomorrow night). It's all part of the season.


Grasshopper Pie Recipe

1 C. chocolate wafer crumbs
1/4 C. sugar
3 T melted butter
1 C heavy whipping cream
2 T milk
3 1/4 C. miniature marshmallows
2 T white creme de cacao
1/4 C. green creme de menthe
1 pt. vanilla ice cream, softened

Combine crumbs, sugar, and butter. Press along sides and bottom of 9 in. pie plate. Chill.

Whip whipping cream. Chill. Melt marshmallows and milk in pan. Cool. Add creme de menthe and creme de cacao to marshmallows. Fold this into whipped cream. Spread layer of ice cream on crumbs. Then spread marshmallow mix on top. Chill in freezer. Set out of freezer about 20 minutes before serving.

Monday, December 22, 2008

House Envy

A friend and I were talking over the weekend about longing for better houses. A mutual friend is in the process of buying what sounds like to both of us a fabulous place to live. We both have good houses in good locations, but we both also have things we don't like about our houses. And whenever someone we know buys a new house or we visit someone with a great house, we start seeing the flaws in our own houses all the more clearly. Luckily for me, most of the people I socialize with are other faculty who are as priced out of the larger house market as I am. But there's still the occasional playdate visit that sends me into envy again.

I also noted that I have a smaller house than my parents did. Financially, my mother ended up in about the same place as she was when she grew up. My dad fared much better. Me, I'm doing worse (yay for the education industry!). Of course, it would have been difficult to go up from where my dad was--near the top of the income ladder, especially for the small town I grew up in. Every once in a while, I lament that I didn't follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer. Of course, knowing me, I would be a public service lawyer of some kind and still not make any money.

House envy (and probably general envy of other goods) has to have played some role in the current crisis. You watch friends and relatives move up to bigger houses or add on to and improve existing houses and you think, I want to do that. And so you go to the bank and no, you can't quite afford it, but the broker plays on your envy and next thing you know, you're paying more than you can afford for a house that isn't worth as much as it once was. I think it's a pretty easy trap to fall into.

The whole issue of envy is something I've been working on a lot. I think because my lifestyle is somewhat downsized compared to what I grew up with, I've struggled with my frustrations at not being able to have some of the things I had as a kid. At the same time, I contribute some of the relationship issues my parents and I had (have?) to the fact that they were both somewhat obsessed with keeping up with the neighbors and we were in a living space where we could all easily avoid each other. So, I've been focusing on other things: spending time with the family, enjoying the things I do have. I actually want less stuff now, not more. And we've tried to do small things to make our house more enjoyable. Frankly, I often feel lucky to have a roof over my head.

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life

I watch this movie every Christmas, sometimes twice. I remember when TNT used to show it every day for the two weeks leading up to Christmas. The first time I saw it all the way through was the Christmas after my sister died. I was staying at my then boyfriend's house. The emotion of it didn't hit me then. I think I was either too cynical or too focused on just the relationship between George and Mary.

Now I can't watch it without crying. Even though I know what happens.

I share the views of this article, which explains that George's life isn't all that wonderful. It's confining and dull, full of those horrible adult responsibilities we all wish we could dispense with in favor of travel and other recreational activities. I've always seen Mr. Geeky in George. The oldest kid, who put off college while his younger brother went immediately after high school. While Mr. Geeky stuck nearby his home town throughout grad school, his brother went off to med school, internship and residency. Now, of course, the tables are turned and Mr. Geeky lives far away in the big city while his brother returned to his home town.

As I get older, I feel the sense of letting go of earlier dreams from my youth. There are certain things that will never happen. And what I get from the movie is the grieving process of that. There's the denial, pain, anger, depression and loneliness (near suicide in the film), and then the post-angel part of the film is the upward swing toward acceptance, ending in the hopeful message that "No man is poor who has friends."

I think what's moving about the film, then, is that I go through all of that with George. Every year, I am reminded of what's really important and quit comparing myself to the Sam Wainwrights of the world. It's a moment of realizing my own shallowness and then letting that shallowness go. The emotion of that and the suddenness of it would make anyone cry.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Online versions of box stores suck

No wonder box stores (I'm looking at you Target) are suffering. Their online counterparts suck. I've order two things--important things--for Christmas. The same day I ordered several other things from places like Amazon, Honeybaked Ham, and I have tracking numbers for all of those items. A couple have already arrived and a couple more look likely to arrive tomorrow. The stuff I order from Target (one item is not available in their store): not shipped yet. Ordered on Monday. One thing's for sure, I'm not rushing to Target to replace the order. I'll find what I need elsewhere. Idiots.

And if you detect a little bah humbug in that, it's true, I'm a little edgy about the season. I think a few others are too. Perhaps many people are frustrated, sad, scared, etc. because of the economy. Well, they're taking it all out on the rest of us.* I haven't been honked at so much in my life as I have been in the last week. And I promise, my driving hasn't warranted these honks. Even my son commented on someone's misplaced honk on our way to school the other day.

*Maybe they have a right to, but damn, it's not my fault. And if they actually talked to me, I might offer sympathy and support.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A-Z movie meme

I think Tim is going to regret tagging me. I have really bad taste in films. I'm much more of a book or tv show person for some reason. Mr. Geeky is the movie guy. I was, however, happy to see that Tim's not the hugest fan of Hitchcock either. I mean, I like his films, but Mr. Geeky will watch *anything* by him that's on.

So here's the list for both of us (mine is listed first, Mr. Geeky's is second):

American Beauty | Alien
Best in Show | Brazil
A Christmas Story | Citizen Kane
Dr. Strangelove | Diehard
Elizabeth |
The Evil Dead

Ferris Beuller's Day Off | Fargo
Gone With the Wind | Groundhog Day

Hairspray (both versions) | Halloween III: Season of the Witch (don't ask)
It's a Wonderful Life | Independence Day
Juno |
Jurassic Park
Kramer vs. Kramer | Kung Pow: Enter the Fist ( I was torn myself)
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King |
Lord of the Rings (the whole series) -
we do tend to watch the whole thing in a marathon session
Monty Python and the Holy Grail|
and Memento (tie!)
Nine to Five | North by Northwest
Out of Africa | O, Brother Where Art Thou
Platoon | Planet of the Apes
Quiet Man | Quantum of Solace (there are no Q movies!)
Rear Window | Raiders of the Lost Arc
Shakespeare in Love| Silent Running
Talladega Nights | Twelve Monkeys
Unbearable Lightness of Being | Unforgiven
Valley Girl | Vertigo
When Harry Met Sally | War of the Worlds (1953)
X-Files | X-Files (hey! we agree)
(no Y for me) | You Only Live Twice
Zorro | Zodiac

Doing More with Less

Or, as Dr. Crazy puts it, "Excellence without Money." I've appreciated greatly the conversation going around the blogosphere that Dr. Crazy links to surrounding the issues of asking faculty to take one for the team. In some cases, that means no raises, cutting travel funds, or increasing class sizes. Sometimes it means giving up a percentage of salary. Dr. Crazy analyzes this situation quite well, and I agree with her attitude that this job is a job and she shouldn't have to give the blood of her first born to help out her employer. I can't find the references now, but a whole back, there was a whole conversation about how academics struggled with this perception that their campuses were like their families. Some even brought out a priesthood metaphor. I think all that rhetoric about families and priesthood is used to cover over the fact that many faculty are not properly compensated or appreciated. I agree with Dr. Crazy that there's only so much belt-tightening that one can do.

On the staff side, when things get tough, the situation is even grimmer (and perhaps this applies to contingent faculty as well, but my experence is the order of layoffs is staff, part-time contingent faculty, full-time contingent faculty). Dr. Crazy acknowledges that she's in a position of privilege as a faculty member. The janitor, whose job gets outsourced, not so much. As Dr. Crazy said, someone earlier in their career hurts more when the raise doesn't come. For many staff, the lack of a raise is the difference between being able to commute to work or not or between paying the heating bill or not. Most staff (and I'm guessing faculty too) have seen their real incomes decline over the years. I experienced a downturn in my first 6 months on the job. I got no raise the first year and only a paltry one the second. The 3 years after that were fine, but still, overall, I saw my salary decline. Add into that that faculty have the opportunity for merit raises--a sizable one when getting promoted to associate or full and yearly ones based on teaching, research and service accomplishments--while staff do not and you end up with some real inequalities that cause some serious pain during hard economic times.

I'm not putting forth this information to say to faculty, you don't know how good you have it, but to say that I think staff, too, should not take on more sacrifice. Too many of them do. They look at themselves as part of a family or team or whatever and put in extra hours without pay or offer to donate to the college(!) or suck it up when they go without raises for a couple of years. I was pretty hard-nosed about my work hours. I went in at 9 and left at 5. Although there were a handful of times I worked extra or at odd hours of the day, it was truly rare and I often took an extra hour or day off to compensate. Most policies include a phrase about "working until the job is done." That means as a salaried employee, you're expected to get your work done even if it means working 50-60 hours week, bringing your actual hourly pay down to just above minimum wage. You can really only ask that of workers for so long before they say, "Do your own damn work."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Technology and Education is in the air

Yesterday, I got a request from our school district to fill out a survey about "21st Century Learning." I did. They asked a lot of the right questions. Although they did ask about whether all children should have laptops, most of their questions were about whether web 2.0 tools should be used and how and what kinds of things would the school need to do to make that happen. One of the things I said was that it would be nice if they could make it easier for parents to participate in their kids learning process through the use of these tools. Right now the extent of my technological participation is a Course Management system that just lets me see grades after the fact and email. Yes, some of the teachers post their assignments on the web, but that's not participatory. What I suggested was, something along the lines of what Will Richardson has done in the past, having parents reading the same books and commenting on student blogs about those books or learning about science together. If I knew what my kid was doing in his classes, then I might be able to participate in a more meaningful way.


I've also been reading the Net Gen Nonsense blog, which I highly recommend to advocates of technology in education. I've been an advocate of technology in education, especially socially-oriented and user-creation-based applications, not for the sake of developing technology skills, but because these tools enable better and deeper learning, if used appropriately. And yes, our students are using some of these tools, but as I've said time and time again, they need help using them for learning, especially the kind of in-depth learning required in college and that will hopefully continue throughout life. A key quote from a recent study cited by Mark on his blog:
"Students make limited, recreational use of social technologies such as media sharing tools and social networking sites...the findings point to a low level of use of and familiarity with collaborative knowledge creation tools, virtual worlds, personal web publishing, and other emergent social technologies."
I'm reading Don Tapscott's Grown Up Digital, which spouts much of the ideas this study is trying to knock down--that "kids these days" are living and breathing web 2.0 and so we need to change our educational and work systems as a result. Actually, what I'm seeing is that there are a handful of students who are using these tools creatively and intelligently and many of them are pushing for changes in work and school, but it's a very few. What keeps me up at night are actually the vast majority of students who either don't have access to these tools or worse, who do and either don't use them or use them irresponsibly. I think we need to change not because students are demanding the change (because quite frankly, they aren't), but because we need to have studets who are creative, collaborative thinkers.


I've also been finalizing parts of my Gender and Technology course for the spring, and I've found myself thinking over and over again--what can I do here to drive this point home or to have students experience this more directly rather than just reading about it or hearing me talk about it. So, I'm including some gameplay, some experiences in Second Life, lots of blogging, building a network graph, and creating mashups and multimedia assignments. The hard part about including this stuff is that everyone is going to be at different comfort levels with the technology. And I hate it when technology gets in the way of the experience. It makes me wish we had a lab section. And I think that's the rub. I'm comfortable with all this stuff and will find a way to use it effectively and help the students get past the technical hurdles so they can see the point. But most people a) aren't comfortable and b) don't have the time and/or patience to deal with the hurdles. It makes me wonder who is going to be left behind.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I do more before 8 . . .

So far, I've made breakfast, two lunches, wrapped two presents, looked up addresses to ship said presents, and collected the recycling for today.

It's going to be a long week.

Friday, December 12, 2008

RBOC: Friday Edition

  • Routine, what routine? This week has been filled with disruption. The first two days were half-days, doctor's appointment on Wednesday, and today, thanks to a forgotten permission slip, I'm retrieving my oldest from school at 9:00 while the rest of his team goes on a field trip. Sigh. Not to mention, Mr. Geeky was away yesterday and today, so there was no help to be had.
  • Holiday stuff. Presents are almost all purchased and sent. It was a book year again this year. Every couple of years, we just head to a book store and start buying stuff we think our family members will like. We still have stuff to get for the kids and for each other, but mostly done. Greeting cards purchased and will likely be filled out and mailed slowly over the coming weeks.
  • Work. Coming along. Made some some progress on deadline-oriented projects yesterday especially. Also did some contract work on Monday. Still feeling a little more disjointed than I'd like, but it's probably a result of the disjointed week more than anything.
  • Housework. Feeling like it's mostly under control. I've moved a lot of bigger items that were in the way out of the house. This weekend, I hope to engage the family in some cleaning projects, however briefly. I want to be prepared for the chaos Christmas will surely bring.
  • In other news. I have a few things I want to blog about, but I'm going to wait a while. I'm still gathering thoughts. If anyone wants to hear about something in particular, feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Kid Restrictions

One of the things we've instituted since I've quit is tighter control over the kids' screen-based leisure activities. We were sort of half-heartedly doing this over the last year, kind of taking it day by day, but now we have Rules (with a capital R no less). Geeky Boy's obsession was the computer, spending hours playing games, watching YouTube, etc., while Geeky Girl plopped herself in front of the tv for far too long. So now they each get an hour a day during the week and 2 hours/day on the weekends. This has led to their having to get creative about entertaining themselves. They've played shuffleboard, read books, come up with some kind of ball game that involves stairs and the cat, created videos, and occasionally driven us a little crazy.

Geeky Boy has actually expanded what he's doing online, so in addition to just playing RuneScape and finding cool YouTube videos, he's been working on an Inform project, and he started a new blog. Now that all that activity must take place within the span of an hour, he finds himself faced with decisions about how to spend that time. All good I think.

Believe it or not, Geeky Girl is less attracted to reading now than Geeky Boy, but she's pulled out the last Harry Potter book again in addition to revisiting her Flip video camera. I'm hoping the increased non-tv time will lead to even more reading.

And they also both have chores--kitchen duty and room cleaning--that they must attend to every day as well.

It's been an adjustment for them, but they're not really complaining about it much. Every once in a while, we'll get a "just five more minutes" or "can't I have a 1/2 hour more today" but for the most part, they're adjusting just fine.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Still trying to find work-life balance

The conversation that started on Mama, Ph.D., which many of us picked up, continues. Tedra brings out some pretty scary stats on the rate of tenured and t-t female faculty who are married with children as compared to men. It raises the question, once again, of why people question whether women can handle both family and career. As many of the commenters have said on my earlier post, it has a lot to do with the balance of work at home. As I said somewhere in there, I just think women are still more likely to care whether the house is in decent shape and the kids have doctor's appointments, etc. So sometimes they just do it and don't ask. But I think we should ask. And I think husbands/partners should jump in more and as Libby said, they should push for more flexible schedules, too. And Libby added universal health care to the list, which I think is a fabulous addition. And, can I add affordable college, too? That was a big part of my struggle in deciding to quit.

This is one of those weeks where, if I were working full time, I'd be juggling a few too many balls. Today and yesterday, my youngest gets out at 11:30. Mr. Geeky could have managed yesterday, but today, I would have had to get child care or take 1/2 day off from work to deal with not only my daughter, but the parent-teacher conference. It's not that I don't want to do the parent-teacher conference, but the double-whammy of having the conference and the lack of child-care is problematic.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Misheard lyrics

Because it's been a day where I couldn't even get 5 minutes in front of a computer, here's a hilarious video, courtesy of Geeky Boy, who always finds the coolest stuff on the interweb.

Friday, December 05, 2008

And cat blogging too . . .

A video

Blackboard as part of the Military-Industrial Complex

I've been working on various things that have to do with taking advantage of social software to create active, collaborative learning environments for students. When I talk about using social software, I'm talking about using blogs or wikis or Facebook or Twitter or other freely available web applications and leveraging them for educational purposes. Anyone can do this without having access to an educational institution. I could set up a whole class using Blogger, Facebook and pbwiki.

Blackboard was originally created as a simple way for faculty to put course material online back in the day when putting up a web site meant knowing how to code html and navigate the pathways on a server to get your files in the right place. Most faculty didn't know how to do this. And so Blackboard and a couple of other companies sprung up as solutions to this problem. Ten years ago, this was great! The web was very interactive anyway and this made it easier for people to post syllabi and course documents. Blackboard was not, however, any kind of innovative technology. It certainly didn't change the teaching and learning game. It was, and is, still built primarily as a one-way communication medium. Faculty post information and students read it.

Social-software oriented education allows students to create a more personalized learning environment and create a many-to-many communication channel. They no longer have to (nor can they, if done right!) sit and wait for information to flow from the professor to them. They can post their own information, ask questions of each other, see out new information and share it, comment on it, all without needing the professor to intervene. Social-software oriented classes that are open and public also benefit from interacting people not in the class, creating a broader audience for their work and learning from broader perspectives beyond the confined walls of school.

The factory-model of education treats, as the video below explains, students as widgets, as one size fits all. Blackboard perpetuates this model by not allowing for much customization, few communication tools, especially those that allow many-to-many communication, by keeping everything behind a password and not allowing for interconnection even within a single institution. Faculty cannot share course materials. Students cannot interact with students from other classes, much less with people outside of the class. Blackboard is built on the concepts of education from the industrial age, even though it was built in the information age.

As I say all the time, the software matters when it comes to using it for teaching and learning. The layout, its flexibility and interface, its ease of use all will affect the teaching and learning experience. Blackboard creates a really unfriendly learning environment. It's contained and closed off, which gives the message that education only happens within the confines of a "course" and not in the interstices of courses. One can learn, it says, only the information I give you. It pretends, as Michael Wesch is fond of saying, that information is scarce, when it's not. It makes education and learning narrow and defined when learning is huge and broad and takes place all the time over a lifetime and that is the message we need to be sending.

I used to think Blackboard was okay as a stepping stone to other things, but now I think it's not. I think it's okay to use it to keep your copyrighted materials and maybe your grades, but I don't think it's okay to use if for learning.

Blog vote

I can't decide what to blog today, so you can decide for me:

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Teaching and Learning and Education

One of the great things about being both an educator and a parent is that you get to think about teaching, learning, and education from all kinds of perspectives. As a parent, I'm constantly teaching my children and they are constantly learning (not just from me, of course, but from everything). I also have to interact and react to the educational system my children are a part of. As a college educator, I'm also thinking about teaching and learning within my own classroom, and also about the higher ed system in which that teaching and learning takes place. I've been doing that on multiple fronts this morning as I've been reading the LEAP report and working on a presentation proposal. I also read these two posts by Aspazia that relate to the book I read not too long ago and my continuing work to help my son through the educational system.

For me, education is separate from teaching and learning. Education is a system within which teaching and learning occur. A school is a part of that system and the usual context within which most children get formally educated. What I've been thinking about a lot lately, both as a parent and as an educator, is how formal education interacts so little with the teaching and learning that goes on outside of school. Aspazia points to the deficit system of education where what formal education does is build on what's missing, presumably filling in the gaps of what has not been filled in informally instead of building on a child's strengths. The child must conform to the system rather than the system conforming to the child (a point also made in relation to ADHD both by Aspazia and by Peg Tyre). I'm thinking as a parent about how to help bridge the gap between the way my son is with the way the school wants him to be and at the same time, insure that he's learning. I would also like to find ways to encourage the school to change.

At the college level, with my own students, I'm also seeing a gap between what we do in class and what they do outside of class. So they're exploring Facebook, Wikipedia, and YouTube while we are reading printed articles and books, listening to a lecture on said printouts and occasionally having discussions about that. It would be great to bridge those two worlds, not have one subsume the other (as I think is happening when a CMS is the technology of choice). We need to find a way to help students connect what's happening in the classroom to the world they actually live in. I see the gap between the two widening as people shun Wikipedia or YouTube and cling to a "classic" education. When you can't apply what you're learning in the classroom to your real life, you don't learn.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ladders, Lattices, Mothering, and all that shit

Pardon me, but I'm in a bit of a mood right now. I've been following the discussion at 11D that is a spin-off of two Mama PhD posts about balancing an academic career and family and off ramps and on ramps to such careers. The second Mama PhD post references this article in the NY Times about career lattices, about providing a variety of opportunities for not just climbing a ladder, but pursuing other opportunities that may be lateral moves, part-time work, etc. As the post points out, such opportunities seem unavailable in academe.

All of this is resonating with me, of course, as I'm in a bit of an off-ramp at the moment. I have no idea what I'll on-ramp to in a few months--could be the academy, could be my own business, or it could be the right job at the right place. I have a feeling, though, that what I'll put together will be not quite full time. Because honestly, doing the parent thing is a shit-load of work and I really, really don't want to short-change that. But I also have to say that I'm a little disappointed that we couldn't make the dual-career family work. There are a lot of reasons for that. A flexible, intellectually satisfying job just isn't to be had at the moment. So I'm making it up as I go along and despite some frustrations in picking up the pieces of the household maintenance that got left behind as a result of the dual-career thing, I'm much, much happier than I was a few months ago. And I think I'll be happier still one my career does start to take shape and once the house gets to a point where I'm not digging out from under a bunch of crap. That's taking retraining not just myself, but the whole family, which is a long road, let me tell you.

Although Laura and the other professor moms lament the strictures of the academy in terms of career movement, things are not much different on the corporate side either. Even though things are changing more there than in the academy, there's still the same assumptions about what a career means: "For some, a career that isn’t going steadily upward is a career going nowhere" (NY Times). This was the attitude of the man referred to in the article, and I think it's telling what the wife's response is:
You were successful because you worked really hard at one thing — your career — while my role was to carry out all the noncareer elements of life, from child-rearing to household projects to community involvement and so on.
It's that focus on one thing that leads to success both in academe and in the corporate world. Women more so than men, don't have the luxury to focus on one thing for such an extended period of time. My own career is a testament to that--graduate school, lose funding, get corporate job to put hubby through grad school, have kid, move across the country for hubby's job, go back to grad school, have another kid, move across the country again for hubby's job, adjunct for a while, get full time job because adjuncting doesn't pay the bills, finish Ph.D., quit job, start a business. And honestly, that timeline isn't that unusual regardless of what the husband does. I saw women whose husbands worked for a large corporation get transferred every couple of years. How the hell are you supposed to maintain a career with all that moving and all those life changes. And throughout that whole thing, it was Mr. Geeky who was focusing on his career, not so much with a careerist kind of attitude, but just pursuing interests and opportunities. Meanwhile, I was trying to juggle both. And as I've said before, it's not that Mr. Geeky was uninvolved, it's just that I probably thought about my career and the kids about equally not in terms of everyday tasks, but in terms of long-term goals, etc. and Mr. Geeky did the day-to-day stuff equally, but wasn't really thinking long-term about the kids. At least that's my impression of things.

And then there's just the feeling of being discounted because you do have a family . . . but only if you're a woman. From Leslie, at Clutter Museum, comes this nugget in response to Ed Rendell's microphone blunder:

Some of the commenters at 11D expressed frustration at having to have this conversation so many times. I'm frustrated too. And I think partly it's because I have no idea how to fix the problem and of course, those of us who are frustrated are the ones without any power. It'd be great if we could all band together and do something about it, start a think tank or something. As Laura said, there's an awful lot of talent volunteering at school because they can't find satisfying flexible work. How stupid is that? In my ideal world, here's what life would be like:

1. Husbands would do as much housework as wives.
2. Good, part-time work would be readily available, with pro-rated benefits.
3. Schools would come up with a schedule that makes sense for working families and/or provide services and programs when 1/2 days are scheduled.
4. In the academic world, adjuncts would be paid a decent salary (see #2).
5. Women would not be seen as less desirable employees because they took time off to care for children.
6. Employers would offer leaves for women (and men, if they want) that are longer than simply the physical recovery time from giving birth. And leave doesn't just have to be taken right after the baby is born. Got a kid struggling with school? Maybe take some time off and then come back part-time.

That's just a start. It frustrates the hell out of me that employers can't get more creative about work schedules and that if someone presents a solution like one of the ones listed above, they're seen as not as committed to work. Ugh. So, how do we fix this? Are there opportunities with the new administration to encourage employers (including colleges and universities) to adopt better policies? Or is this a lost cause?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What counts as work

And why aren't there enough hours in a day. Yesterday, I had a lot planned. I had the usual morning routine. I worked on my web site all morning and then had a skype call at 11 to discuss a presentation proposal. I met some colleagues for lunch to discuss some possible work. Lunch lasted a bit longer than anticipated. I had planned to drop off some recycling, hit the grocery store and be home around 2:30. I was going to clean the dining room/kitchen, including taking care of a couple of much-need organization projects. Instead I wasn't home until 3:00. By then, Geeky Boy was home and I was completely and totally exhausted. If, what I do getting the kids ready for school and in maintaining the house count as work, I had been working (with a 1/2 hour break for a shower) since 6:30, or 8.5 hours. So a full day. If the work I do for the family doesn't count, then I only "worked" for about 5 hours.

On both fronts, I *still* didn't get everything done. Everything always seems to take longer than I think. Sigh.

21st Century Allowance

The New York Times reports that PayPal has come out with a service for teens and parents, where teens can have an account, spend money and parents can monitor all of it. I think this is a great way for parents (*cough* like me *cough*) to have an easy way to pay allowance and for kids to learn about saving and spending. I suppose you could do this with a regular bank and have access to the account online, but this seems easier somehow.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Complete slug

I was a complete slug this weekend. I'm only now catching up with world news. I know horrible things happened. I don't know the details. I'm kind of in denial.

Mr. Geeky and I got up early yesterday and had breakfast and went shopping without the kids. We had no real agenda, but we ended up getting about half of the presents we needed anyway. I'm at a point where this whole Christmas present thing could go away. I don't need anything else. The kids don't need anything else. I think sometime in the near future, I may just say, don't get me or my kids anything, and we'll just travel for Christmas or something. Now that the youngest is no longer a believer, it opens up a bunch of opportunities.

So now it's back to work and school, though Christmas vacation is only 3 weeks away. I have some projects with deadlines so there is work to be done over the next few weeks. And the house slid a little this weekend although the kids did a good job keeping up with kitchen duties. I have some frustration with the household duties, but I will leave that aside for now. More intelligent commentary is coming soon.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


I'm thankful for a lot of things this year: my health, the opportunities I have, my family and friends. What are you thankful for?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gaming is not an addiction

Nick Yee at Terra Nova posts a link to a BBC article explaining that 90% of the time, gamers are not addicted to gaming. Neither Yee nor the BBC article claim that excessive gaming isn't a problem, but it's not addiction the way alcohol or drugs are an addiction. What it represents is a social problem. Many gamers are boys who feel isolated at school or at home. As I pointed out earlier this week, Tyre's book covers gaming as a problem and although she interviews people who run rehab centers for gaming, she seems to lean more toward the idea that gaming is a substitute for something that's missing in boys' lives, mostly success at school and social acceptance.

The BBC article takes parents to task, claiming they don't put enough restrictions on their children's gaming activities. I'm sure that's true in many families. I know from experience, though, that even with restrictions, you don't always know that your kid is gaming. Kids can sneak a laptop into their room, for example, or go to a friend's house and play. What I think needs to happen (and I say this partly thinking out loud about what might work for me) is that kids need to be encouraged to do lots of different activities and to have lots of activities available. That means having books around to read, friends to play outside with, other hobbies such as art or building things to fill the time with. Parents have to lay that foundation and sometimes even arrange opportunities for other activities for their kids. This is something I've been thinking about a lot as we head into winter. I think too often parents assume this kind of stuff will just happen--and maybe it used to 20 years ago--but not so much anymore.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Springpad Organization tool

Via eHub, I found Springpad, a tool that organizes all kinds of things. I haven't played with it much, but what appealed to me most was the Weekly Meal Planner and Household Budget. On the meal planner, you can add recipes to your day. Then you can generate a shopping list. The formatting is a little wonky--likely as a result of the original web page formatting, but it's doable. I use an iPhone app that I love for my shopping lists, but I'm usually working from the Cooking Light site and/or a paper planning list. If I could connect those two apps together, that might be heaven.

There are all kinds of other springpads to track health and medical records, exercise plans, to-do lists and more. It's beta, of course, but definitely looks like an interesting tool to try out for a while.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Slow Blogging

Laura at 11D mentions the slow blogging movement. My dear friend and colleague, Barbara Ganley, was featured in this article on Slow Blogging, which is oddly in the Fashion and Style section. What's up with that? I'm kind of a medium blogger myself, though some days (like today, for example), I find enough time and enough interesting tidbits to blog more than once. I think some bloggers lean more toward the habits of essay writers and others toward more rapid-fire commentary. There's room for both and probably everything in between. The blog is dead! Long live the blog!

Shifting Careers Blog no more

Bummer. I just discovered this blog six months or so ago as I started contemplating the possibility of a different job structure. I've gotten great advice from it, and just find it interesting as a lens into the world of entrepreneurship and freelancing.

Geeky Mom Reviews: The Trouble with Boys

One of the things I did this weekend was to finish this book. I have about 4 books going at the moment and this is the one that kind of stuck. As most of my readers know, I'm struggling with Geeky Boy's school difficulties and I picked this book up in hopes of gaining some insight or finding a good solution. The book is very well researched and Tyre doesn't shy away from including some controversial positions, especially in the section on brain research. She doesn't give those controversial positions a break, either, pointing out, for example, that one proponent of an educational program directed at boys that's based on brain research is not a researcher himself and doesn't even have a degree in anything related to brain science. The real scientists are very circumspect about what their results have to say about differences in learning between boys and girls.

The book covers a lot of ground, starting with preschool and going all the way through college with a few detours here and there. My own son was not one of those typical fidgety boys who always needed to be running around so the early chapters don't apply to my personal experience, though I certainly know boys who fit the descriptions in the book. Some of the personal stories are just heartbreaking. Boys at the age of 6 or 7 who come home dejected and tell their parents they're incapable of being good, where good is defined as sitting still for long periods of time. In the early years, Tyre covers such issues as recess and ADHD, pointing out that programs like NCLB have meant in some schools the elimination of recess, which ironically makes it harder for boys to focus. She shows how many more boys are diagnosed with ADHD and that teachers themselves often push parents to get their boys diagnosed (even though it's unethical for them to do so). She criticizes teachers who have no tolerance for the energy of boys and at the end of the book, calls on them to leave the profession.

Her point about school in general is that it favors girls all the way through. From the early years, when sitting still is important to neatness and organization in the middle to working harder in high school, girls do better at the game of school. I've seen many signs of this throughout our school years. In second grade, at our very first parent-teacher conference here, Geeky Boy was chastised for his handwriting and his lack of organization. I laughed this off at the time, assuming that he wouldn't be writing much past elementary school anyway. In our very first year of middle school, however, his teacher again criticized his handwriting and even had the whole class (predominantly boys) practice handwriting for a week. I yelled about this, saying that I didn't think it was appropriate and that the kids should be learning content. Her response was neatness counts for the final grade. It really just made me mad. In middle school, too, being organized is hugely important and very few boys are good at it. From the book:
'Eleven-year-olds go from having a single nurturing teacher to having six teachers with different personalitites and different expectations. Then there's the paperwork. Every teacher gives handouts, requires you to bring certain textbooks or workbooks to class. Each one assigns homework, and each assignment has a deadline.'
It's more organization than is required of most paying jobs. And it's required for 11-year-olds. Geeky Boy still hasn't mastered this. And unfortunately, his parents aren't much help here. We've developed our own coping mechanisms, but we're don't naturally keep our lives organized. I, personally, have been working on this since I was about 12! Geeky Boy aces almost every test that's given to him and he actually talks about the things he's learning. It's clear, for instance, that he's totally into his history course and that he's getting a lot better content in it than I ever got in school. But he fails to turn in assignments because he forgets to do them or forgets to turn them in and his grade gets dragged down. It's distressing to think that a smart kid like him isn't doing well and could, in fact, miss out on opportunities down the road simply because he hasn't come up with a good way to keep up with all his responsibilities. And, sadly, as Tyre points out, this is exactly what happens to many boys. They miss out on upper level and AP classes in high school, which means they aren't as good candidates for college.

One chapter that was hard to read was the one of video games. Tyre does not outright condemn them the way many parents do, and even goes so far as to say that there is little evidence to support that video games, even aggressive ones, cause violence in kids. What she does say is that games can be addicting, in part because they fill a void caused by school. Video games offer boys an opportunity to socialize and to be successful. If they don't feel successful in school, they can feel successful in a game. She tells a couple of stories of young men who get so caught up in their gaming that they end up in rehab programs and/or dropping out of college. This was a hard chapter to read in part because I don't know if I buy the idea of Internet addiction. On the other hand, I know it's hard to keep my own son away from the video games. And I worry that he may head down a road where gaming becomes more important than life. At the moment, I'm trying to model this for him, by setting limits for myself and only playing when I've gotten my work done. Currently, thanks to his poor grades, he's banned from gaming anyway. Sigh.

Tyre's book is full of good information and I would actually recommend that not just parents of boys read it, but parents of girls as well. The book is, however, short on advice for parents. She recommends changing the whole system, a tall order for any one parent to contemplate. Although I've had some success in explaining to teachers how telling my son he's failing because he can't write neatly leads him to be discouraged in areas that he is actually doing well in, I find the school system so daunting that I don't interact much with it at all. Tyre would probably advocate that I be a little more active and stubborn about the situation. That idea terrifies me. I will say that knowing it's not just my kid and that school is stacked against him, I can do my best to help him cope. And that's pretty much where we are now--coping--and biding our time until high school, where we hope we will begin on a better foot.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Links a million!

Once again, I find myself with a collection of links that I could have blogged about, but didn't. So here ya go:

First from
And now from the reader file:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More fun with economics

In the comments, Janice points out this article in the NY Times also discussing the math problems people have when trying to figure out what's reasonable to save on. Mr. Geeky and I have spent hours in the past doing the back and forth of deciding whether to buy something or figuring out how to save money. For me, saving $80/mo. on school lunches isn't worth the time I'd have to spend making the lunches. But both kids have indicated they'd like me to do this. We'll see.

Poor people have poor ways

This is a phrase I'm sure you've heard and one my father-in-law said to us a lot when we were in grad school. There's an interesting conversation going on over at Half-Changed World about the cost of food and how low-income people are buying more Spam and other not-so-healthy options. I have written about health, food, and class twice before. Yes, it's true many of us do not have the survival skills of our grandparents. I can make my own pasta and bread, but I don't like to mostly because I lack equipment, time, and space to do so. Of course, I've been spoiled by watching food shows. My grandmother's kitchen was 2/3 the size of mine and she made everything from scratch. I think mostly it's a matter of establishing certain habits. We have a good farmer's market, but I forget to go. Many of the CSA's are $700/yr or thereabouts, which is a bargain really, but if you're poor, you don't usually have that kind of money and don't know what to do with half that food anyway. And growing my own? Well, I have a postage stamp of a yard, which I've joked about growing potatoes and cabbages in and then guarding those with a gun, but really, I don't know much about growing either. I've done it. I could do it, but could we really save a lot by doing that?

I spend on average $150/week on groceries. I buy a fair amount of produce, but I do use a lot of shortcuts--frozen veggies, pre-made dough, the occasional frozen entree or side dish--and I buy meat. But I could live without it if I had to. These days, I tend to see what's on sale and then think about what kinds of things I could make from it. Ground beef was two for one last week. That made a spaghetti meal and tacos. And it wasn't the lean meat either. And that's the thing--and what I said 3 years ago too--the good stuff is expensive. You can complain all you want about poor people not knowing how to prepare healthy meals, but when you're just looking at the bottom line, you're likely not to pay as much attention to the nutrition labels.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My daily routine, or, God, I do laundry every day!

This week is about establishing some sort of routine so that I don't spend all my time eating bon-bons and watching "What Not to Wear." I still feel that I need to dig the house out from under its years of neglect, so I really do do laundry almost every day. Something always needs to be washed.

My day starts at 6:30. I wake up Geeky Boy, shove him into the shower while I go get coffee. Mr. Geeky is sometimes responsible for this task, but a) he stays up later than I do and sometimes it's just as hard to rouse him at 6:30 and b) Geeky Boy doesn't get up for him as well and c) he's not very patient with Geeky Boy's resistance to waking up (yes, pot, kettle).* At 7:00, I wake up Geeky Girl and I go downstairs and make breakfast. Right now, that's an English muffin and a half grapefruit. Sometimes it's eggs. Sometimes we skip that and Geeky Boy eats at school.

At 7:30, I drive Geeky Boy to school. We're within walking distance, but it's a really long walk. He has to leave no later than 7:10 (which means getting up at 6:00) to get there by 7:35/7:40. When it's cold, we always drive him. I'm home by 7:45.

Meanwhile, Geeky Girl has been getting ready at home. Mr. Geeky is away this week, but normally he prods her through the process. She needs less prodding than Geeky Boy, which Mr. Geeky likes immensely. He can check email, etc. and not have to be "on" as much. She leaves at 8:00 for the bus.

During my work days, I would get in the shower either right after I got home from dropping Geeky Boy off or between 8 and 8:30. Now it's 8:30 at the earliest. When Mr. Geeky is here, I usually wait for him, so it's 9 or 9:30 before I shower. This may seem irrelevant, but I generally don't start my "work" day until after I've showered, but I think delaying that until 10 is going to be problematic, so the shower may get postponed in lieu of work. The joys of working at home!

At any rate, this week, I've worked through until lunch on a couple of writing projects, splitting the time evenly between the two, so about 1.5 hours on each. This is working for now, but I have a feeling, I may end up alternating days on each project or working on one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, something like that. The main thing I want to establish is that morning (which is my best brain time) is for work of that nature, not for housework, etc.

After lunch, which lasts only 20 minutes or so, I do housework-type stuff. I'm limiting this to only an hour. Each day is devoted to a particular part of the house. Today is living room day. What I've been doing is not just general straightening, but also massive cleanouts. Today, for example, I'm going to work on the entertainment cabinets, getting rid of some things we don't need and organizing it. I'm also going to hang the blinds, blinds that we purchased at least 6 months ago (this is what I mean by neglect).

From 2-5, I putter. I've done different things. Sometimes, I just take a complete break. But mostly, I've been reading or finishing up a house project or baking. I've also tinkered around with a web site I'm working on for my future possible business, responded to various emails, etc. Geeky Boy gets home anywhere from 3-4 and Geeky Girl gets home at 4, so really, it's hard to get involved in much of anything if I'm only going to have an hour to devote to it. When they get home, I get them started on homework. I also assign them chores. Every day, as I'm puttering, I think of things for them to do. Yesterday, I had Geeky Boy gather all the trash and take it outside. Geeky Girl is still excavating her room and they both had to clean the kitchen. Today, I'll probably have Geeky Boy sort the recycling. Every day, there's work to do on their rooms. I'm trying my best to establish new habits for them. In the past, there's not really been time for chores except on the weekends and we all kind of rushed around in a vain attempt to maintain order.

This leaves evenings free. Sometimes, there's more homework to complete or a chore or two to finish up, but generally, by 7:30, we can all relax and do whatever. Yesterday, we watched the Daily Show together. We've played games, etc.

I have a feeling that the holidays are going to throw a wrench in all of this. But, I'm hopeful that by at least Christmas, we'll have a good enough foundation laid that I can really get cracking on things by January. Right now, I consider myself on sabbatical without a project.

*For the record, I think it's ridiculous that school starts for teenagers at such an ungodly hour. I really, really wish they'd change this, for all our sakes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Online Learning

I was waiting for some comments to come in before I wrote about this article on online courses from IHE. Sure enough, the curmudgeons were first to the punch, noting that online courses vary in quality and gosh, what about cheating. Thankfully, reasonable people pointed out that F2F courses vary in quality and gosh, students cheat in those too.

The main thrust of the article is actually about how to motivate and compensate faculty for teaching and developing online courses. Course releases and monetary compensation are among the incentives already tried and have somewhat succeed. Someone in the comments suggested allowing the development of these courses to count for tenure. I think that's a step in the right direction. The subtext of the whole discussion seems to be about whether these courses are "real" courses and whether the people who teach them are "real" faculty. Although I've never taught a class solely online, I know from experience that developing good online components for a courses takes a lot of time and thought. I've seen some places move to a model that has instructional designers take content given to them by faculty, create a course (usually in a course management system), and then the faculty member steps back in to teach it. It's an efficient model, cheaper than paying a faculty member to develop the course, and it is probably effective some of the time. Likely, it depends on how well the course is run by the faculty member.

It is still my contention that faculty should be more involved than that in the development of online materials. Yes, an instructional designer/technologist can be hugely helpful in guiding faculty through the process and perhaps even developing some of the resources and tools that may be used in the course. But I think the faculty member can't facilitate the course very well if he/she doesn't participate in developing it. I can't imagine stepping in to teach a course I didn't have some knowledge of.*

Many of the colleges mentioned in the article are trying to get current faculty to teach courses online. In some cases, I suspect that might be like teaching old dogs new tricks. I'm sure there are interested and motivated faculty who want to teach courses online, but once you've tapped those out, why not consider hiring full-time faculty who teach only or mostly online and who are compensated appropriately. Teaching online *is* different from teaching face to face. Yes, much of what one knows about learning and teaching translates, but motivating students, creating good assignments, monitoring participation, etc., are all pretty different online. Why not let people specialize in that? It's already happening at all online schools, some of which don't pay their faculty well or treat them fairly. Landline schools could stand out by having quality faculty teaching their online courses.

Edward Winslow is right, the change is coming and all the grumping in the world isn't going to stop it. With the economic downturn, are students really going to be willing to shell out for tuition and room and board when they could live at home, commute for a few classes and take the rest online? And what about all those people who've been laid off and need to retrain? Can they travel 500 miles away to go back to school? I don't think so. Online education is a great option for lots of people. Traditional schools can either take advantage of the situation or risk missing out and possibly going under.

* I know some places that have standardized syllabi and textbooks even for F2F courses. I don't mind so much using the same textbook and standardizing some elements of a course. But a standard course outline would drive me batty.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lost in MySpace

Last night, the kids and I watched our usual roundup of Sunday night tv: King of the Hill, Simpsons, Family Guy. We started with this clever episode of King of the Hill on MySpace. I thought it captured the pros and cons of social networking quite well. A couple of my favorite moments:

Donna: You just don't get my generation!
Hank: Donna, you're my age.

Hank (typing in his blog): Donna is an idiot. Post.
Donna: I'm sure my 4000 friends will find that very interesting.
Hank: Is that supposed to scare me. Are your 4000 friends gonna come through the screen and get me.
Other worker: The people are not really in the computer, Hank.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Weekend update

I kept meaning to blog yesterday, but it was an actual busy day. I went to see another ear doctor in the morning to find a solution to my vertigo. It's so awesome when you have a doctor listen to you and tell you what she's thinking in terms of a diagnosis and treat you like an actual grownup with a brain. I have to go for some tests at another office, but these should give us a good idea of what's going on.

I had lunch with my students that work for me in the lab I ran. They are so awesome! Most of them will be taking a class with me in the spring, so it's not goodbye. It was fun to hear what they had to say about technology (most of them don't remember not having a computer in the house) and working and having a family. I'm looking forward to next semester.

I had a meeting in SL with Barbara Ganley and Martha Burtis. It's nice hanging out in virtual worlds with people.

I spent some time cleaning. Next week the serious cleaning ends. The plan is to work in the mornings and do just a little cleaning in the afternoon before the kids get home, and then do a little more work while they're doing homework. The kids have cleaning projects this weekend to help me finish up some things I've been working on. Geeky Girl actually organized a kitchen drawer spontaneous after she saw what I'd done to a cabinet. Geeky Boy wants to work on his room now after seeing Geeky Girl's room starting to shape up.

The hard part for us is how to get rid of stuff. We have lots of toys and books (used but in good shape) that I need to find a home for. So that's a project for the weekend too.

Mr. Geeky leaves for an international trip this afternoon. We're helping him get ready for that and we think we're also going to try to go to a movie after we see him off.

Two nights this week, we played Boggle and then we all remembered Word Racer, and we have enough computers that all of us can play at the same time. I kill at Boggle, but Geeky Boy kills at Word Racer. He claims he can see patterns better. He's also a wicked-fast typist. I actually took typing classes in high school and at my best, I can type 80 words/minute. He's gotta be faster than that. We've done a lot of things this week that have been interesting and fun, but that the kids have to be learning from. Geeky Boy is playing the fantasy stock market after we spent some time looking at the market trends in the NY Times. He's made $7 so far on a biofuel company. Geeky Girl was home sick and we watched Kit Kittridge and talked about the Great Depression. It's nice to not just have the time (I could have always made the time), but the energy and brain space to have those conversations.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What Michelle Obama represents

I finally got around to reading this Salon article on Michelle Obama's slide from professional working woman to traditional First Lady/Mom. I've seen this happen to so many women in my life, including myself to a large extent, that it's a familiar story. And I can't decide if it's a sad story or not. I think it's yet to be seen. I'm looking forward to the possibility of Michelle focusing some attention on the dilemma many women face of trying to balance work and family, especially for those who decide to take some time away from the fast track to tend to children. Perhaps we'll see some policy changes that help people balance their work and family lives.

The money quote for me in this article:
Barack continues, "No matter how liberated I liked to see myself as -- no matter how much I told myself that Michelle and I were equal partners, and that her dreams and ambitions were as important as my own -- the fact was that when children showed up, it was Michelle and not I who was expected to make the necessary adjustments. Sure, I helped, but it was always on my terms, on my schedule. Meanwhile, she was the one who had to put her career on hold." Barack considers his dawning realization that in his wife, as in so many working women, there was a battle raging. "In her own mind, two visions of herself were at war with each other," he writes. "The desire to be the woman her mother had been, solid, dependable, making a home and always there for her kids, and the desire to excel in her profession, to make her mark on the world and realize all those plans she'd had on the very first day that we met."
Like many men his age, Obama is "liberated" in the sense that he recognizes that women have the right to have the same ambitions as men, but doing to the work to make that happen locally is hard. I also think that women have that same battle Michelle had (has?). I think women recognize more than men do (sometimes) the value of good childrearing and even if they can afford it, have a hard time handing that over to others.

In just the week that I've been away from work, I've already seen positive results from my being around. Geeky Boy told me this morning on his way to school how glad he was to have all his homework done, that it felt really good. After all the homework battles I didn't have the energy for after work, dinner, cleaning, this was music to my ears. And proof at least to me that parently presence is important, at least for my family.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Snake Martini

A goofy thing I made--pretty fun little tool:

Skeptical of Digital Humanities

Okay, I'm just going to throw this out there. I'm ambivalent about digital humanities. I know what you're thinking--that as a technologist and a humanist, I'm the last person on earth who should be skeptical about such things. But the more I read in blogs and elsewhere, the more kind of creeped out I get. I have a real sense that many of these practitioners have a historical and technical blind spots when it comes to their use of technology to explore humanist subjects or vice versa, to use the humanities to explore technological developments. I feel as if they are layering on their own field on top of technology rather than looking at technology for what it is. Very few of these people could code their own work (though some can, I realize) or even if they can't, understand fully the relationship between code and text, images, and video. Instead, they tend to come up with a philosophical rather than a technical relationship between those things. And maybe it's not even understanding that's necessary, but respect. Respect for the complexity of the interrelationship of code with itself (how functions and variables and such work together and are intertwined), and with other elements. Maybe what I'm feeling is a sense that digital humanists see technology not as a thing in itself, but as means to an end and it is the end that is to be explored thoroughly and not the means.

I feel like I'm headed into Marxist territory here, looking at the means of production. Yikes. It's not that I think the end isn't worth exploring, but that one does need to consider how these technological products are produced. While many digital humanities organizations encourage the use of open source software, for example, I'm not seeing too many actually contribute to the production of that software or partnering with their computer science colleagues to do so. (I'd be happy to be proven wrong about that.) Most images and video, for example, are contained in proprietary formats as are some database formats. I recognize that many humanists use what is readily availabe and easiest to use and that often means using what your institution provides to you. Most institutions have invested in Microsoft, Adobe and the like and have not invested in Open Office, GIMP, WordPress, etc. Although I'm a fan of Google and it's many delicious web apps, it, too, is proprietary. We need to think about these things both from a preservation standpoint and from a standpoint of free information.

I haven't fully thought all of this out. And I would like to do some more thinking about it. I would welcome comments, questions, arguments, etc.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Not really working yet

So, I'm not really doing anything one might categorize as "work" yet. Which is okay since I hadn't planned on doing anything in that category until say, December-ish. I am reading. I hope to start doing some writing next week. Mostly I'm trying to get my health back and my house into maintenance mode (rather than "can't even find a pair of underwear in the morning mode"; not a good mode, trust me).

Yesterday, I went for a walk and raked leaves. It felt good to be outside. It also felt good to accomplish something that had visible results. Being a complete weather wimp and it being a chilly 38 degrees today, I'll not be venturing outdoors today, but I do hope to squeeze in some yoga on the wii fit. There's also grocery shopping and laundry to be done and a little work on the kids' rooms (a harrowing experience, let me tell you). In between all of that will be some reading (I have about 4 books going). Last night, instead of having our heads in our computers or glued to the tv, we played a game of Boggle (which I won). Much as I love technology, sometimes it's good to step away from the keyboard. I'm trying to find the right balance. It's awfully easy to do nothing but hang out online when there are no meetings to go to.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Headaches gone for now

Not that I want to turn this into a health blog, but just FYI, the headaches have gone for now. I did spend the entire afternoon watching "Mystery Diagnosis" and there were several episodes dealing with headaches. The causes ran the gamut from tumors to hormonal imbalance. Yuck. I'm hoping to get a walk in today, get some fresh air, stay away from the computer again.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Mystery Diagnosis

. . . is probably not the best show to watch when suffering from mysterious symptoms.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Eventful night

Our little neighborhood is usually all in bed by 10 p.m. Very few things happen. We've had a small house fire, a suspected Lexus ring, and a couple of high-school parties, but nothing more exciting than that. Last night, we were awakened at 3:00 a.m. to a horn honking, constant, like someone had fallen on the wheel. That was followed by a lot of yelling. Our houses are close enough together that Mr. Geeky, who'd gone downstairs to see what was going on, could hear the whole thing. The shouting match ended with someone getting punched and glass breaking. By then, Mr. Geeky was already calling the police.

The woman who was doing the honking and the shouting and the punching had already left by the time the police arrived. But she came back, less loudly this time. By then, we couldn't sleep. So it was 9:30 before we roused ourselves.

It's a bit disturbing to have your social norms violated. In our neighborhood, domestic issues are kept inside. To have them on display like that feels odd. Worse, we are actually worried about the safety of our neighbors, not for ourselves, but of course, we don't want to butt in. Sigh. I just hope it all gets resolved.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: What are you looking at?

What are you looking at?, originally uploaded by lorda.

I'm going to actually try to stay off the computer today. I have had a headache basically all week. It's completely annoying. And yes, I'm going to have it looked at.

I know Friday cat blogging is old skool, but it's a nice way to end the week. For the record, she's lying in the bathtub, her favorite thing to do (when there's not water in it).

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Why Productivity is Bad (Sometimes)

A couple of months ago, I pretty much quit looking at my to-do list. I quit putting new things on it and I just kind of went with the flow. Although I still think the GTD system that I used has some really good points, I think there are a lot of aspects to the productivity mantra that leave me cold.

I've actually always liked organization systems. Ever since I was in about junior high, I started making lists and schedules. I guess I've never quite trusted my head when it came to remember what was on my plate. In college, I didn't have much of a system, but did feel organized, especially the last year and a half when I was working two jobs and applying to grad schools. I planned a class schedule my last semester that put all my classes on Tues/Thur. I worked and/or wrote on the other days.

By grad school, I had very little to really organize. I had 3 classes and it was fairly easy to keep up with everything. When I moved into the corporate world and had a kid, suddenly there was a lot more to keep track of. So I followed the 7 Habits system. And that worked for a while and it was nice to think that things I was doing were "things that mattered" and "contributed to my life goals" but still I was just checking stuff off of list.

When I discovered the GTD system a few years ago, I liked it for its simplicity and its geekiness. I was able to use some technical tools to track my tasks and it was fun to keep tweaking the system. I credit GTD for helping me organize a conference and for helping me finish a Ph.D. while holding down a job and raising a couple of kids. It was really useful for breaking down big projects into smaller tasks and focusing on the next thing that needed to be done rather than being overwhelmed by the hugeness of the end goal. It's also helpful for going through email and stuff that's sitting in piles around my house. I can look at an email or pick up an object, ask myself "what is this?" and then figure out what needs to be done with it. Again, it holds back the feelings of being overwhelmed by forcing me to focus on one thing at a time.

But it started to make me feel like a cog in a machine of my own making. I began to just check things off the list and even reviewing at the end of a week, I just added more stuff to the list. And a lot of that stuff was stuff that was coming in from email and other outside sources. I had little opportunity to step back and look at the big picture. Even though David Allen's books do talk about thinking at different levels during the review process, I think the system is mechanized to such a degree that it's really hard just to not do anything. That time has to be scheduled just like any other. I started to feel guilty if I just wanted to read a book or take a bath or sit quietly with a cup of tea. I kept thinking, "Shouldn't I be doing something right now?"

So I quit looking at lists. I quit making lists. Instead, every morning, I asked myself, "What do you want or need to do today?" I'd come up with a couple of things and I'd start working. Even though I'd started down this road while I still had a job, I hope to continue it and thensome now that I don't go to an office every day at 9 a.m.

I think I will come back to some revised version of GTD eventually. There are still the nitpicky tasks that are better off on a list: forms to return to school, bills to pay, recycling to drop off. Right now, I have a purring cat in my lap and I'm watching the wind blow the leaves in the trees. I may not be productive at the moment, but I feel pretty good about it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Line of Voters 6:55 am
Originally uploaded by lorda.
This was the line at 6:55 a.m. yesterday morning. It was like this until 9:00 a.m. People brought books and newspapers, prepared to wait it out. We had a steady stream with at least 10 people in line until after noon. By 2:00, we realized about 60% had already turned out. I began my day at 6:00. After closing the polls and counting 75(!) absentee ballots, I took everything to the courthouse to be counted and got home at 10 p.m. I was so focused on getting everything done, I have no idea how my precinct voted. I know our township and our county went for Obama. We're pretty evenly split, so it could have gone either way. Nearly 1000 people voted in our precinct. 916 showed up in person, 75 voted via absentee. There are just over 1100 registered voters in our precinct. That's a huge turnout.

As some people on Twitter have said, now the real work begins. And that is so true. A woman on CNN said last night, "We are going to hold Obama accountable, and he should hold us accountable." I think we should stay as engaged in politics now as we were during the election. I'm excited but still anxious about all the problems we will need to face together.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Today is the day

Everything could change. If Obama wins, my biggest hope is that Obama can truly bring the country together. I really do think that I have a lot in common with my Republican neighbors. It's really a rare few that I disagree with completely. I want for the disagreements I may have to be minor, inconsequential. I don't want to be called a latte-sipping liberal and I don't want my neighbor to be called a dumb redneck conservative. I want us to work together so that all our kids have a future. We're going to need to work together to solve global warming and the energy crisis, to settle our financial future and to defeat terrorism. My hope is that Obama will rally us all around these common goals.

And it starts by voting. I know most of my readers are regular voters, but I urge you to get your friends to go vote, your neighbors. We have a chance to make history, to change our country for the better, to heal the wounds of the last 8 years. Go vote! Change the world!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Gaming, Education, and Violence

Random selection of links I found interesting today:

First, a Washington Post article about how gaming "turns kids violent." The interesting thing is that by the end, the sensational title had lost some of its bite. Turns out, playing violent video games is but one factor that can make kids more aggressive.

Ironically, in the same day's paper comes an article touting the creativity many video games inspire.

And finally, this blog post from a VC about how traditional educational models are broken. Hear, hear!

Party with the Fear Brigade

Party with the Fear Brigade
Originally uploaded by lorda.
Last night, we had a little virtual party. Our first location was crashed by a creepy dude, who placed a big giant penis in our way. So we teleported to the Bryn Mawr space on the NMC campus. We sat out on the green, got everyone set up using voice chat and had a grand old time. We were all drinking things--from rum and Coke to banana daquiris. There is something nice about visualizing people while you're talking to them. I think I'm going to spend more time in Second Life. If anyone wants to friend me, I'm Scarlett Vale and yes, my goal is to look like Scarlett O'Hara.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


From Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things:

. . . [L]earning is a process by which we come to know something that we didn't know before. But what may not be as obvious is the fact that when we learn something new, that learning also changes the way we know everything else that we knew before. Learning not only changes the sum total of our knowledge, it changes the frame of all our knowledge. It alters our understanding of the world. And the person who learned is not the same as the person who set out to learn.
There's a lot packed into that and plays into a thought I had today at a soccer game. I realized that no matter what I'm doing, I'm learning. I might be observing people and their interactions, noticing how the sky is changing colors, or thinking about the physics of soccer balls. You can learn from anything, if you have the right mindset to do so. The question is, how do you get in that mindset? How do you become someone who can learn from anything, who is curious about everything?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Now What?

Thanks everyone for your supportive comments on my announcement. Yesterday was my last day of work and it wasn't as odd as I thought it would be. The last two days, actually, were filled with people coming by to chat, to say goodbye, even though I'll see some of them next week at my official party. I guess since Mr. Geeky is still there and I'll be there myself next semester, it doesn't feel so much like a going away as a leave of absence. Because I plan to continue mostly along the same lines as my work, just independently, I also feel differently than I did when I left my last jobs, all of which were cross-country moves and/or career changes. I don't have any regrets and I've had some good moments of recognizing the good colleagues I've had and that I won't have to disconnect from them entirely.

I'm sure next week will involve a little stumbling. I have in my mind not to try to do much of anything in terms of establishing a new career, to really take a vacation. I actually do really want to do the manual labor of cleaning my house, though I'm keeping that to a minimum. I want to read, write, think. I'll probably blog here more. I'm sure there will be moments when I miss the structure of my 9-5 job, but I hope to find my own structure soon. I am pretty darn excited about that.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Free Agent

I've been thinking about how to write this post for a while now. As of Friday, I will no longer be employed, by my choice. I won't go into reasons here because they are complicated and personal and it's not fair to present just one side of things. Over the next couple of days, I'll be trying to articulate my reasons to various people and that will be difficult enough. I don't know yet what the future will bring, but I'm looking forward to new possibilities and new opportunities. There are many possibilities on the horizon, but I'm going to take my time to decide which ones are right for me and the kind of life I want to have right now. One thing I've been thinking about a lot lately (and have written about here before at greater length) is how we let our work overwhelm everything else in our lives, often to the detriment of our health and our relationships. We leave ourselves with no time or energy to contribute to our communities or to the world. I think my one goal is to make sure my life is in balance, that I have time and energy for the things in my life that are important. I'm looking forward to the process of finding that balance.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Whose fault is it?

Warning: rambling thought process below!

I have to say that I've been feeling a mounting frustration about school. My kids' schools, that is. But I'm completely and totally conflicted about it, too. Will Richardson writes today about a conversation with a principal about who's responsibility it is to teach kids digital literacy. I was also struck earlier this week by Laura at 11D's Weekend Journal post, where she says, "the traditional paths to career success are made for men and the childless" in part a response to her need to be available to her kids, both in the general parent way, but also to advocate for her son with the schools and because there aren't adequate after school programs for her youngest son. There are a couple of comments in the thread to Will's post that mention "bad parenting" or "less than stellar parenting." I have to admit, that gets my goat.

The thing is, I often feel stretched way too thin. My son comes home to an empty house. We usually talk a couple of times by phone and both Mr. Geeky and I try to get him to work on homework and do household chores from a distance. This is about as effective as trying to freeze water with a blow torch. There are a couple of after school programs that I just now found out about that he could attend, but no matter what, it's not the same as having a parent around, someone you trust enough to ask stupid questions and who brings you apple pie when the going gets tough. So, I do take some blame when my kids struggle.

On the other hand, I think it's far too easy for teachers to assume that a parent is home to guide a kid through homework, to help them get organized, etc. And so, they immediately assume that something's not good on the home front when things start to slide.* I get frustrated at times because I feel like two-income families are in a real bind when it comes to getting kids through school successfully. If your kids needs, or you choose to provide personal attention, that often means after dinner, taking away from your own time to decompress for work or get other things done. I don't mean to sound selfish here, but I always find it interesting when people talk about "family" time and they're usually referring to some idyllic time long ago when parents didn't come home and frantically throw together something for dinner after a long commute home.

I think my conflict comes from feeling that there are certainly things I could do to help make school a more successful experience for my kids, but that I'm trapped in a system that doesn't fully appreciate or maybe doesn't even recognize my conflict. I've never heard anyone at a parent-teacher meeting or back-to-school session talk about ways the school helps two-income families struggling with a compressed time-frame to work with their kids. I've never heard after school programs or clubs highlighted. I also find it frustrating at the lack of societal support for both education and raising kids. Schools lack money to have more innovative programs or to extend days (things that might help dual-income families). And local, state, and federal governments have few programs that provide quality after school services.

I'll keep trying to resolve my conflict, but I have to say, it really does keep me up at night.

*I have to say that my kid's teachers have made a valiant effort to make me feel like it's not my fault that things aren't going well for my kid, and that at this point in his life, homework is his responsibility.