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.