Friday, December 18, 2009

So, I moved my blog

I got so frustrated with fixing the comment situation on this blog, I decided to move it.  The feed, I believe will redirect automatically, but here are the urls you need to know.

blog url: http://www.geekymomblog.com/
feed url: http://www.geekymomblog.com/feed/

Please come on over.  It's even decorated for Christmas!

Comments

So, my comments are gone.  Haloscan was bought out, and, unfortunately, they want to charge for their comment system.  So I exported 7,456 comments, over five years' worth of comments.  All the old posts have no comments now.  I think this one will have comments--we'll see.  And all that crap under recent comments--no clue.  Sigh.  It was a good run.  We'll miss you Haloscan.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

WoW Wednesday: Anti-Social Groups

Many of my compatriots have noted how unsocial the groups are in the new dungeon system that automatically groups people together.  I have noticed the same, and in fact, that's why I'm still doing runs with guildies on a regular basis.  The other thing about running with these anonymous groups is that they go so fast, you can't even pause to comment in guild chat.  At times, this isn't a problem.  After all, the point of these runs is to get emblems and most people in the groups have run these dungeons plenty of times.  Often, then, the dungeons are just cruising along just fine; there's no real need to say anything.  But I've been in a few groups where some communication, even if just about the task at hand, is definitely in order.

Once I was healing a dungeon where the tank wouldn't wait for me to get mana before plowing ahead into the next group of mobs.  He died once as a result, and then yelled at me for not healing him.  I yelled back that if he wanted me to heal him, he needed to wait until I had the ability to do so.  I'd said something a number of times about this.  If he'd been paying attention, which I don't think he was, he would have known that.  One of us, him I think, quit the group over that.  And the next tank we got was great, waiting for everyone to be mana'd up before beginning a fight.  And I've seen other situations where someone should probably have said something before someone else messed up and got us all killed.  I saw a druid aggro an extra group or two, making healing super challenging for me.  And I've seen the less traveled dungeons, like Oculus, fail pretty badly.  Actually, my experience with Oculus has been that as soon as people see that that's the draw, they quit.  I popped into one where 2 people had already left the group and another person was saying this was their first time in it.  I quit that group.  It would have been hours of my time, just gone!

Some people are saying that the new dungeon system eliminates the need for guilds.  It might for some people, who are in the game just for the game, but for people who like to hang out with others virtually, guilds will still play an important role.  It's a little like IRC chat with a game in the background.  And the harder content, raids and the highest level dungeons, are still better to do with a group you're familiar with.  So guilds might change, but they'll probably still be there in some form.

Review of Photo Card sites

Normally, we create our own Christmas cards.  I will often buy something that looks nice, sign them, and ship them off to friends and relatives.  We've done a newsletter or two, usually after big changes in our lives, like getting new jobs or moving.  This year I decided to go high tech (as I should, with a name like Geeky Mom!).  Everyone's always clamoring for pictures of the kids, so I thought a nice card that had a few pictures would be a nice treat.  We don't take many pictures.  We certainly don't do formal pictures (though now I kind of wish we did).  But I gathered a few photos together that I liked and ventured off looking for a place to produce a good card out of them.

I originally started making a newsletter out of them with Pages, which, from a technical standpoint, was working well.  From a personal standpoint, I felt "ick" about it, so I dropped that idea pretty quickly.

After a Google search, I started at Tiny Prints.  (Confession: when I am searching for products or companies, I really do click on the sponsored links or the ads.  I figure if they're smart enough to advertise on Google, they're worth my checking out.)  Tiny Prints had some truly lovely designs and plenty that allowed several photos and so I selected one I liked and began designing.  It was easy to upload photos and I could even connect to Flickr and import photos from there, so I was cruising along.  I dragged and dropped my photos on the front and even had the option of putting more on the inside (which I did).  The whole process was very intuitive.   I wanted to have them mail the cards, so after reviewing my results, I checked the option to have them mail them.  All I needed to do then was upload a CSV file with all my recipients names and addresses.  I readied the file and went through the upload process.  It didn't say much about what to do except that I needed to tell it what column was what.  I had combined first and last names in the first column, so I just told it that was a first name.  I had combined city and state, which it balked at, so I put them in separate columns.  But it wouldn't overwrite my old data.  So, one by one, I deleted my old contacts and imported the newly corrected file.  It finally recognized all my contacts.  I added them to the order and then clicked the "go to cart" button.  Cart was empty!  I did this a few times and never got the cart to fill up, so I went to another site.

Next up was Shutterfly, a site I've used before and from which I've received many a card.  They do nice work.  They had nice options, though they didn't have one with more than 4 photos.  I had 6-8 that I wanted to include.  At this point, I didn't really care.  I just wanted to be done.  I created the card quickly and then when I got to the point of mailing out the cards, I was going to have to enter each name and address by hand.  No thank you.  I moved on.

So then I hit Kodak Gallery.  The designs there were fabulous--lots of options and plenty with more than 4 photos.  Like Tiny Prints, I could put photos on the inside and even on the back!  Very cute!  Like the other two sites, Kodak offers a "mail it for you" option.  But it, too, required hand-entering each address.  Again, I moved on.

I landed at the one of the most venerable card companies in the US, Hallmark.  They had photo cards and plenty of designs, including the one I chose, which had many photos, inside and out.  Since I'd been through the selection process and had a good idea of what kind of card I wanted, I settled on this one quite quickly.  I imagine that if you don't know what you want, you could spend quite a while searching through the selections.  Tiny Prints offers the option of narrowing by number of photos, type of card, and even color.  Kodak did as well.  Hallmark didn't.  You had to look through the 5 pages of designs, so that was one drawback.  But, when it came time to put address in, I easily uploaded my csv file and bingo, all my addresses were there.  And they're there for the future, too! I can enter birthdays and anniversaries and mail cards right from Hallmark.  I like that.  So, I ended up ordering from them, even having a few extra cards shipped to me in case there's someone I forgot.

So here's the summary.  None of the sites really sucked.  They all had good designs and were easy to use.  Where some of them failed was in the addressing to recipients section.  I'll give Tiny Prints a pretty big break since this portion of their site was in beta.  I'll definitely be returning to check them out.  Generally speaking, when someone is ordering en masse, they need to send to a lot of people.  Uploading a file, or importing from any number of contact programs (as several sites offered) is an absolute necessity.  I used to be in the greeting card business, and I'm quite impressed with the offerings now available online.  Most of these sites offer all types of products besides cards--books, calendars, mugs, and more.  Some sites might be better at those things than others.

One thing I noted on all the sites was that it was geared toward people without hyphenated names or multiple names in the family (true of both the creator and the recipient). For example, I wanted to put Blank/Blankenship in the return address, but it balked at that.  And there was not enough room on most designs to put something like this, even if hyphenated.  Note to card companies: give more space for the family name. Maybe people who hyphenate or keep maiden names don't send cards!
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Poll: Best and Worst Gifts

Many years ago, I did a poll here for the best and worst gifts you've ever received.  The answers tickled me.  So, what were the best and/or worst gifts you've ever received.

My best: my wedding ring in the shape of Queen Elizabeth's crown

My worst: I can't really remember, because I usually return them. :) I've gotten some bad sweaters in my life.

Like before, I'll post the results.

More Christmas Poetry

(because real work is too hard)

Part the first

I was dressed all in cotton, from my head to my feet,
And my clothes were all tarnished with flour and sweets.
A bundle of gifts I hauled from the trunk,
And I looked like the homeless hoarding my junk.

My eyes, how they drooped! My dimples how sallow,
My cheeks lost all their color, my whole face kind of yellow.
My sad little mouth was drawn up in a bow,
And it really looked as if I might just blow.

The stem of a glass I held tight in my fist,
And the liquid soothed all just as I wished,
Sinking down through my throat and into my belly,
Which made me feel like I was made out of jelly.

The cheer soon returned, my right jolly old self,
And I laughed as I downed yet another mad elf.
In a blink of my eye and a twist of my head,
I soon came to know I had nothing to dread.

I spoke not a word, but went straight to my work,
And wrapped all the presents, then turned with a jerk.
Then laying a finger aside of the key,
And clicking the mouse, off the gifts went with glee.

I closed down my browser, and let out a long whistle,
And breathed in fresh air so that I would not fizzle.
But I say to you all, before I fade out of view,
Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year too!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mad Elf Ale to the Rescue

Seriously, after a parent-teacher conference, a trip to the department store, the card store, the grocery store and the hardware store, I need a drink.  Too bad it's only 3:45 and we still have a winter concert to attend and before that, dinner to make.  I got 10% of the stuff I wanted to get done done.  I guess there's always tomorrow.

The week before Christmas

And all through the house, every creature was stirring, especially the mouse.  (Computer, that is).

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that something would soon appear there.
The children are restless, about to unwind,
While visions of vacation days dance in their mind.

And pa in his sweats, and I in my robe,
Shopped online for gifts around the globe.
When out on the lawn, there arose such a clatter,
That I rose from my desk to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the blinds and threw up the sash.

The sun on the rain of the newly swept street,
Made it look new and uncannily neat.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But the trash truck drawing ever so near.

With a shout out to pa and a rushing around,
We hauled out those cans without losing much ground.
More rapid than eagles the holidays they came
And now we knew that this was no game.


Now gift cards, now wrapping, now cooking and baking,
Don't panic, don't sweat it, it's all in the making.
To Amazon-dot-com, to the end of the mall.
Dash away, dash away, dash away all.


As wild animals that before the storm all bolt,
When they see the funnel cloud drop with a jolt,
We dispersed in all directions, each on his own,
Hoping without hope to just get it all done.


And then, in a twinkling, I heard quite nearby,
The sound of the phone making its cry,
Reminding me over and over and over again,
To clean up the kitchen, to put the clothes on spin.


(To be continued . . .)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas shopping: Help Wanted

We ventured to the giant mall yesterday to do the rest of our Christmas shopping.  After eating lunch and walking around for about 20 minutes, we decided to go home and shop online.  Things I hate about shopping at the mall:

1. It's crowded.
2. It's giant and requires a lot of walking to get from store to store--good exercise, sure, but not so good when you're trying to be efficient.
3. Salespeople push things on you.  For most of the people I have left to buy for, I haven't figured out what to get.  I'm just looking around, thinking about things.  I do not need people to hound me to buy something.  Note that this is different from the ones who are truly helpful.  I'm talking about the ones pushing crap you don't want to buy.

Still, online shopping can be just as painful.  I've spent the better part of this afternoon looking for things.  Some things I wanted to buy, I didn't, because they didn't offer gift wrapping.  So I actually did a search for online shopping with gift wrapping.  These two articles gave me some ideas.

I'm still stuck, though, on what to get my father.  He's a hard man to buy for. He's a golfer, a wine enthusiast, and a hard-working lawyer.  He also likes biking and watching football.  You'd think I could come up with something with all that.  I've decided not to go in the wine direction because that's what I did for his birthday.  I don't know what he has golf wise.  And I'm not very knowledgeable about the other stuff.  So, I'm stuck.  What do you all suggest?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Slumber Party Survived!

Guests resting at a sleepoverImage via Wikipedia
Last night Geeky Girl had a couple of girls over for a slumber party.  I had gotten tons of snacks for them, including a request for sundae makings. There was popcorn and pretzels and hot cocoa. We'd downloaded Elf.  Geeky Girl got out some key Wii games.  When they arrived, we ordered pizza--cheese only, of course.  They ate picnic style on the floor.  After dinner, the silliness began.  They watched tv and commented on the relative cuteness of people and on their acting abilities (wow!).  Geeky Boy was the recipient of a giggle fest.  There was a ghost story, which meant a trip upstairs to discuss the story and request that the lights be left on.  They never watched Elf.  Instead, they put on music and took turns pretending to be in a music video.  They did eat sundaes and pretzels.  And I think they mostly enjoyed themselves.  They were asleep by 11:15.  I'm about to make them waffles for breakfast and then everyone's going home.

I don't remember ever having a slumber party myself, only going to them.  We certainly had plenty of room for one (unlike in my current house--more than 3 invitees would be pushing it).  At my slumber parties, we had seances and played truth or dare.  Someone's hand always got put in water, a bra got frozen, and sometimes conflicts broke out.  Compared to those, this was tame.  Maybe kids just don't do those kinds of things anymore.  Geeky Girl did mention wanting to put whipped cream on someone, which I forbade for fear of it getting on the furniture.  Maybe they needed a critical mass of people (which, thankfully, we'll never be able to fit in our house) and an instigator.  Whatever kept them from the crazy antics of my childhood, I am grateful for.
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Friday, December 11, 2009

Opportunity Knocks

A week ago, I applied for a part-time job.  Event though I enjoy my independent status, I keep an eye on various job lists, looking for interesting opportunities.  Thought I've seen some intriguing full-time jobs, I haven't considered them simply because they're full time.  I'm just not ready for that.  I was a little reluctant about applying for this part-time job, just because it would be a change in my current routine, but there was a lot that interested me about it.  It was in my field, educational/instructional technology, but was for a slightly different audience than I'm used to.  It entails teaching student teachers in the sciences about using technology in their teaching.  I love working with science teachers, so that was a plus right there.  Also, I knew I might learn something from teaching this class.  The differences between higher ed and K-12 are great enough that I'll have to do some work and learning to understand the constraints of K-12 and technology work.  I have investigated working in K-12 and it just seems like a really interesting place right now when it comes to education and technology.  The class is 5-weeks long, and intense 2 hours/day, 4 days/week session.  That schedule, too, intrigued me, compacted a semester's work of work into 5 weeks, something I've done before, and it fits with my schedule. 

So I applied on Friday, got a call on Monday, and interviewed on Wednesday and accepted the job later that afternoon.  I got a very good vibe, obviously, from talking to my interviewers and the more I talked to them, the more interesting the job sounded.  The class is small, fewer than 5 students.  That, too, is a plus, especially when it comes to a hands-on course.  I'm pretty excited about the whole thing, actually, even though I went in a little reluctantly.  On the way home from the interview, as I was thinking about accepting the job, I thought about how much I liked that I could pop into something like this.  Though it would certainly be nice to have something more permanent, for me, I like having a variety of opportunities and the freedom to take advantage of them as they come along.  In theory, that's what the consulting work is like, though it may be that I end up doing more part-time things like these.

Friday Fun: Parenting's Not That Hard


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Girl Drama

On the way home from school yesterday, I was talking away about my own day, when Geeky Girl stopped me and said, "Mom, I need to talk to you."  These are words you both want and don't want to hear from your kids. On the one hand, I definitely want my kids to come to me with their problems.  On the other hand, what if the problems are too big even for me to handle.  "I have some girl drama issues," Geeky Girl continued.  This, I could deal with.  I won't blog the details, but let's just say that this was a legitimate conflict, a social thing handled awkwardly on all sides.  Feelings were hurt and no one knew quite how to smooth them over.  Geeky Girl told me all the ways they'd tried to resolve this issue, including trying to "talk it out" (GG's term, not mine) during library time.

Geeky Girl and I talked over potential solutions, the pros and cons of all of them.  We sat in the driveway for a good fifteen minutes going over the possibilities, put it aside for a while, and then came up with a final solution before bed.  Social interactions are amazingly complicated.  Kids this age are still incredibly self-centered usually and take everything personally, something that will continue, I told Geeky Girl through high school.  There will be people who don't wave to you in the hallway and you'll want to think that they did so on purpose, as a slight.  And maybe they did.  But, I told her, it's best to assume they didn't.  Assume the best in people without getting walked all over.  It's a fine line to hold.  Always believe in yourself, be true to yourself.  I told her all of these. And I told her to be the bigger person and be the first to patch things up.

I remember so many situations in middle and high school, where I was put down by "friends."  I'm sure I did my fair share of ignoring people, purposely not talking to people, and other behaviors intended to hurt people's feelings.  It's a kind of defense mechanism really.  Someone hurts you, you find someone else to hurt and/or hurt them back.  I don't want Geeky Girl to do that.  If I could keep her from getting hurt at all, that'd be great, but I know that I won't be able to do that.  In the short term, she's going to be around these people for quite a while and she'll need good friends to navigate the teenage years.  In the medium term, her horizons are about to expand when she goes to middle school and she may or may not remain friends with these same girls.  And then in the long term, the chances of her remaining that close to her elementary school friends beyond college are pretty slim.  Possible, but not likely.  But, of course, all that is meaningless in the moment.  And in the moment, she wants the whole thing to go away.  And now it's on her shoulders to try to make amends, even though she wasn't in the wrong in the first place (no one was, really).  A lot for a ten-year-old.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

WoW Wednesday: Shiny and New

Yesterday, Patch 3.3 dropped. With it came new dungeons, new raids, and a whole new way of grouping up with people to run dungeons. It also came with extended downtime, tons of issues with people logging in, not being able to zone into instances and more. Even on a standard patch day, one can expect servers to be down until about 1 p.m. est. But on this day, servers didn't go back up until about 7:30 or 8. Which left a lot of us a little antsy. I had planned on a little late afternoon trial, but when the servers didn't come up, I had to do actual work. And laundry. It was sad. I was thinking about all those poor sys admins freaking out as they tried to figure out how to fix the problems.

But once I got in, I was able to run a couple of dungeons fairly quickly. I was anxious to try the new dungeon finder that collects a group across not just your server, but all the servers. Like battlegrounds, where people from many servers can be in one battleground, dungeons now work the same way. And it's random! Which I really like. So, the way it works is that you click on the dungeon finder, which is where the old LFG icon used to be, and an interface comes up where you select what role or roles you can play. Some healers can heal or dps. I can dps or tank (though I'm off tanking for a while). After a few minutes, you are automagically grouped and transported to the dungeon. No summoning people, no waiting for someone to finish a quest or fly from the boondocks. It's awesome! There are pictures and more info on how this all works at WoW.com.

Don't get me wrong. I love running dungeons with my guildies, but sometimes there just aren't enough people on to run. And we tended to stick with just the daily and maybe ToC. And it sometimes took forever to get a PuG together to run something. The general public also wanted to just run the daily usually. Now, though, I can see myself running enough dungeons until both my 80s have hundreds of emblems of triumph and can buy all the gear they want without wasting a lot of time. So last night, I hopped into the dungeon finder, checked off the dps option and wandered around Dalaran while I waited. The first dungeon I ended up in was my least favorite, Oculus. In fact, the whole group complained about it. But we did it. Because it was the first random dungeon I'd run, not only did I get Emblems of Triumph off each of the bosses, but I also got some gold and 2 Frost Emblems, which gets you gear like this. My next dungeon was Azjol-Nerub, which went very quickly and netted me a couple of extra triumph emblems.

For fear of getting sucked in and playing all night, I logged out after that, but plan to play again later today, after I get my work done. I'm anxious to try the dungeon finder with my lower level priest and with my 80 who lacks decent gear. I really like the fact that it's random. I'm partial to surprises and back when I played a lot of Civilization IV, I always chose the random option. I like the challenge of dealing with the cards you're dealt. Though some of my guildies said they'd had some weird groups, with players who weren't geared at all, the two groups I had seemed really good. I didn't inspect their gear, but I could tell from how fast we downed mobs that we had a good collection of people. It would be cool if they could add the ability to friend across servers. Then you might end up with a collection of strong people you could call on for raids and dungeons when you can't or don't want to rely on randomness.

I'm also looking forward to seeing some of the new content, but that's definitely something I hope to do with the guild. And, of course, I'll write about it here when I get there.
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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

I'm in a giving mood

Maybe it's because of the holidays, or maybe it's just who I am, but lately, when people mention they like something or want to try something, I want to go out and buy it for them as a surprise. These are people I barely know. I actually had the thought of looking up a blogger's address (someone who blogs under their own name, obviously), and sending them something they'd mentioned they'd like to have. I can't afford to do this, of course, but I really do wish I could. I just like the idea of someone getting something they want totally out of the blue.

The Internet and Entertainment

People are talking about the proposed deal between Comcast and NBC and what it will do to the business. NBC owns Hulu, which streams many popular tv shows (and many not-so-popular ones) for free, allowing people to watch shows any time. The speculation is that this will no longer be free, that Hulu will go behind a paywall. Comcast claims this won't happen, but because online streaming sites are not yet profitable, it seems like a paywall is one avenue for revenue.

The thing is, most people pay for tv already, via their cable bill, so having to pay to watch the same shows on another device is irksome. Some people, like Coates, don't pay for cable and instead watch via Hulu or iTunes, paying for shows as needed. Ideally, I think, one would pay one bill and then have access to the same content via whatever device you want to watch it on whenever you want to watch it. If I get HBO by paying extra through my cable company, I ought to be able to watch those shows on my computer or my iPhone without having to pay for it again. Right now, that's exactly what I have to do in most cases. In theory, the cable companies are working on a system that will allow subscribers to log into a site and watch the same shows they might watch on their tv on their computer.

But the elephant in the room in all of this is the changing habits of tv viewers. People just don't plop in front of the tv anymore at specific times. They have certain shows that they watch, but not necessarily when the network airs them and often without the ads. I watch very little tv myself and we've considering cutting off our cable and buying what we need through Amazon, which downloads to our TiVo box (for which we have a lifetime subscription). Yesterday, over lunch, I finished watching The Biggest Loser from last week, which I recorded via TiVo. And that's usually how we watch tv. We record 5 or 6 shows and then we watch them when we have time. All of us are more likely to be online than in front of the tv when relaxing. If we were in a pay per show situation, I suspect the cable company and the network might be losing money off us. So, the big question is, how do you allow consumers to continue in their tv watching habits and still make money?

I like my tv. It's big and it's in front of the couch where I can stretch out and relax. What I'd like is to be able to watch the show I missed last night and forgot to record without having to pay extra. I'd like to turn on my tv and be offered that option. I'd even be willing to watch an ad or two.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

An Update on the Gym Situation

I joined the gym this afternoon. The owner actually remembered me, which was nice. It's actually a bit less meat-locker-y than I remember it. They have a huge number of classes for seniors and when I was there this afternoon, I'd say the average age was about 45-50. I suspect this has something to do with the time of day. I used to go in the evenings, when it was often young 20-something men and women looking to beef themselves up.

As I was walking into my house after signing up, I ran into my neighbor whom I often see on my walks. She runs and/or walks every day, often accompanied by her husband, who rides a bike. "Isn't this weather great?" she shouted to me. I grimaced a little, as it was just under 40, a temperature I can manage, for sure, but I don't consider it pleasant. Turns out, she's from Canada. This feels balmy for her. I'm from the South. This is as cold as it gets in many of the places I've lived. I used to ski and do winter sports through my 20s. But I've lost my tolerance.

Plus, through the gym, I have access to yoga classes, which I've been wanting to restart. I think it will be good for me.

Parenting and Girls Day Out

Saturday, Geeky Girl and I went to the big mall for a girls day out. She was in need of warmer clothes. (Dang the growth spurt!) As we have done in the past, we turned the day into an opportunity to hang out together. Since it's the Christmas season, we decided not to head straight to the clothing store, but to meander as we wished, popping into stores to see if there were any appropriate gifts for family and friends. Shopping, as far as both of us are concerned, is something one does out of necessity, not as a treat. But shopping for others is a lot more fun. We also have lunch and a snack at some point during the trip, which gives us the opportunity to talk. We don't talk about much. I get updated on friends and some of the funny things they say or do during lunch or recess. I hear about future plans or, especially on this trip, what Geeky Girl wants for Christmas. I don't do a lot of talking. Mostly I listen. Sometimes I offer suggestions for things to do on our trip or later. It feels, not like we're mother and daughter, but old friends.

On Sunday, Mr. Geeky and Geeky Boy went to the hardware store and Starbucks. And yes, I realize there's a big gender divide here. But while Geeky Boy hasn't gone shopping with me in a while, Geeky Girl has made plenty of trips to the hardware store with Mr. Geeky and shares his love of science fiction movies, which Geeky Boy and I tend to pass on until proven they're worth watching.

It was a snowy weekend and cold, so between trips, we snuggled up on the couch or in the bedroom to watch tv. We have a saying in our house that when we're tired, it's time to watch bad tv. So we happened upon a marathon of Supernanny. Just like watching organization shows, I get a little boost to the ego when I watch shows like Supernanny. I've had my parenting ups and downs, but it's never gotten as bad as it is on these shows. While it's sad to see someone's house in complete disarray on a show like Clean House, it's even sadder to watch kids who are not being parented well. Both episodes we watched featured large families, one with 8 kids and one with 6. My first impression for both families was that they had not thought through their decision to have the first kid, much less the later ones. They hadn't considered how their lives would change nor had they considered how to manage their lives as the kids grew. In the family with 8 kids, the parents had not even reached 30 yet. They were very young, and it showed. In the other family, the mom seemed to be ready to run away. It was like you could see the bubble over her head that read, "This is not what I signed up for; I'm outta here."

More than any other event in my adult life, parenting made me face the reality of being a grownup. The first family, the young couple, seemed to be playing at being grownups rather than really being grownups. They had a script to follow of saying things to the kids like "Get down from there" or "So help me, if I have to come over there." They were the phrases they'd likely heard as kids that were likely equally ineffective. In the second family, the dad was definitely a grown up and was trying hard to support his wife and work with the kids, but the mom, well, she flat-out refused to be a grownup. She didn't want to discipline the "baby," a 2 and a half year old with typical toddler issues. And she misdirected discipline onto the oldest when it was often the younger kids who were poking at the older ones, trying to get a rise out of them and to get some attention.

No, it's not fun having to say no, or having to set boundaries, to punish children in ways that also punish you. Being a grownup means being responsible for your actions and for the actions of your children, when they're young. It means establishing guidelines for them. Even now, with my kids largely in control of their own behavior, when we go to family gatherings or fancy restaurants, I still remind them of the kind of behavior I expect. I pretty much don't have to do that with Geeky Boy any more, though over Thanksgiving, I did tell him to set an example for his younger cousins and try to settle them down. I was sincerely worried something would get broken.

Being a grownup pays off in the long run with the ability to really enjoy your kids. And hopefully, they will enjoy you as well.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday Fun: WoW and a LOLCat

This was me a couple of days ago, whining to the kids from bed to bring me a beverage:

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Contemplating Training

So, I kicked off some serious fund raising efforts yesterday and although the walk itself is 317 days away, 20 miles is a lot. And it's winter. And I am a weather wimp. And I'm running out of paths. A treadmill would offer me the opportunity to walk as far as I want without having to figure out where I can walk to. In my immediate neighborhood, through which I have walked numerous times, I can count on sidewalks and other amenities for walking. A long circuit I developed is a little over 3 miles. I could zigzag through blocks and probably get it up to 5 miles. But bleh. Venturing out of the neighborhood, to walk to the next town over for example, means no sidewalks in many places and heavily trafficked streets. Sometimes both together. I don't relish the idea of walking along a main thoroughfare with no sidewalk.

So, in thinking about the treadmill, I've thought, well, I could purchase one or I could rejoin the gym around the corner just for the use of the treadmill. They don't have contracts or anything and it's a nice gym. On the other hand, it might be nice to have a treadmill in the house, problem being a) we have no room; and b) they're really pricey. Even if both Mr. Geeky and I joined the gym, the cost for a whole year would be half that of a good treadmill. So I'm leaning toward joining the gym, even though it seems a little silly to do so just for the treadmill.

Long time readers know that I am not good at keeping up with exercise. And even with a 60-mile walk facing me, I find myself easily putting off the work. If I'm putting money into the gym membership, that would certainly make me feel compelled to use it. And I can walk at a variety of times--early morning, night--times I won't walk outside because it's too cold or it's dark. Any advice, oh wise readers?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

WoW Wednesday: Lulls in the action

Of course, this week's WoW playing was interrupted by Thanksgiving--where I had. no. internet. access. And then by the baking extravaganza (made almost $150, btw). Sometimes life intervenes in game playing, as it should, really. But sometimes, the game lags a bit. When that happens, when the game loses its luster, some people end up giving up, figuring that if they're not interested anymore, they should just quit. Often this happens when you hit max level and have maxed out your gear and you think, well, there's nothing left to do. Which might be true. But Blizzard keeps coming out with new things, sometimes in patches and sometimes in larger expansions. We are, in fact, waiting for one of each of these shiny new things which promise new dungeons, new races and more.

I don't play so much for the stuff except inasmuch as the stuff gives me the opportunity to play more often with people I enjoy spending time with. So, when the game starts to feel old, I don't want to quit because I'd miss that time. There are some options:
  • Take a break. Thanksgiving was a natural break. But any time the game is not enjoyable, it might be a good time to step away. Play another kind of game--trivial pursuit or bejeweled maybe. Or read a book. Or watch tv.
  • Start another character, something really different from what you're currently playing. I'm finding that playing a different kind of character gives me a new perspective on the game and on the people in it.
Obviously, if you go back to playing and it *still* feels dull, then maybe it is time to quit. Maybe you've outgrown the game or gaming altogether. It's not the end of the world. People do quit on a regular basis. Gaming has been a part of my entertainment menu since I was 12, so I doubt I would ever give up on it altogether. But I've been through my fair share of different games, some of which I still play once in a while--the Sims, Civilization, various web-based puzzle games. While I feel like I'm in a bit of a holding pattern with WoW, waiting for some new content, it's still fun enough to play regularly.

Just call me Martha

Pumpkin pie drops 2Yesterday, I baked all day. From 9-5. I took a break for a chat with a friend at lunch, but then I actually forgot to eat. The cookies on the left are Pumpkin Pie Drops with Browned Butter Drizzle. Yes, they're yummy. I made seven different kinds of cookies, about 20 or so dozen, I'd guess. It took a day and a half to make them all. I'm crossing my fingers that most of them sell, though my family wants plenty of leftovers.

I generally like to bake and the last couple of days were fun. Even as an experienced baker, though, I learned some things as I went. The cookbook I had had said not to use insulated cookie sheets, but that's all I had on hand. You can use them, but you have to add as much as 10 minutes to the cooking time. Which is annoying when you're making 20 dozen cookies, one or two dozen at a time. These work well. I have one and though the thickness does increase the cooking time a few minutes, they seem to cook evenly and the cookies brown pretty well. The best investment I made were these cooling racks. In my small kitchen, it was great to stack several dozen cookies in a single space.

The most used ingredients were butter and flour. Flour, from a cost standpoint, is pretty cheap. A five pound bag can be as little as 2 or 3 bucks. And I only went through maybe 1/2 bag. Butter, on the other hand, is expensive, about 4-5 bucks a lb. I went through about 3 lbs of butter. Next time, I might try to buy direct at about 1/2 the price.

I'll be away for most of the day selling the results of my labor. I promise a WoW Wednesday post later.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

In case you're wondering

No, I didn't make it to 50,000. I had absolutely no time to do anything. When we would finally get home from various relatives' houses, I was too exhausted to think. This week, too, is busy, as I'm hosting a fundraiser tomorrow for my 3-day breast cancer walk. I'm baking dozens of cookies to sell. After my fundraiser, I'm meeting with someone to discuss digital scholarship issues. So, it looks like Thursday before I'll get back to writing regularly again. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel though and, if I had to guess, I'd say I'm a week or so away from having a complete first draft. It's been a really great process, whatever happens with the product itself.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Debrief

ToastingImage by lorda via Flickr

I had a thoroughly enjoyable Thanksgiving. Used to be at any family gathering, I got anxious about my appearance, what I was doing for a living, etc. I was keenly aware of being judged at these things, of people considering what I looked like, what my job was, what my kids looked like. And yes, that's as painful as it sounds. Now, I just don't care. I don't need some random relative that I see once a year to approve of my life. It makes the whole thing more enjoyable when you can just sit back and enjoy the ride. Here's some things that occurred to me over the long weekend:

1. I'm really, really proud of my kids. They behave admirably among adults, engaging in conversations with them, telling them about their lives. They invariably inadvertently show off how smart they are.

2. By extension, I'm proud of the way Mr. Geeky and I have raised them. We've always thought hard about parenting and took it seriously. It's nice to see that hard work paying off. You don't always notice it during everyday activities.

3. Where I live may not be perfect, but it has a lot to offer. I found much of the surrounding area we were visiting quite depressing. At one point, I asked Mr. Geeky (who grew up there), is the whole place this bad? Other relatives also said that the particular area has indeed gone downhill. Some comparisons:
  • In both places, everyone is pretty spread out. But the reasons are different. In the place we visited, the spread was mostly a result of suburban sprawl. Here, I suppose, that's some of it, but mostly it's the result of an urban setting, with the city serving as the center around which we all settle. In Mr. Geeky's hometown, there's no real center.
  • I can walk to shops and services, and in fact, I do my best to frequent those local shops. In Mr. Geeky's hometown, you have to drive everywhere. In fact, they're at the end of finishing a huge expansion of the various bypasses and highways. There are eight lanes of traffic crisscrossing the city in all directions. It's like a sea of pavement.
  • If I lived in Mr. Geeky's hometown, I'd have a hard time finding organic anything. I made a visit to 2 different grocery stores and they barely had a produce section. Four aisles of convenience food, but only the very basics in produce. I'm sure that there are places where I could find better options, but I found it very sad that the people in the area didn't even have access to substantial produce.
4. I'm happy with the choices I've made about my life, and happy with the way things have turned out. And I feel that without having to compare my life to other people's. Sure, there are still things I want out of life, but that doesn't mean I'm unhappy with where I am. Having to explain yourself over and over again to various relatives solidifies that feeling.



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Monday, November 23, 2009

I almost quit NaNo

This morning, after only getting about 5.5 hours of sleep, and after writing an incoherent rant on tenure, I looked at my computer screen and wanted to run away. I thought about the laundry that needs to get done, the preparation for our Thanksgiving trip, the fatigue, the almost-gone, but still kind of there wrist pain. And I thought, so what if I don't get to 50k. Enjoy Thanksgiving. Just relax. And I started planning a different day, one where I made hotel reservations and put away laundry and started packing. But then I looked down at the computer screen again and my document was already open and I knew exactly what I was going to write next and it just seemed easier just to write. An hour later, I had two thousand words.

I have no idea if I'll make it to 50k and I have no idea if I'll do any writing at all over the holiday. I'm taking it day by day. Anything is possible, but even if I don't make it, I'm pretty damn proud of what I've done.

Tenure, or Tilting at Windmills

This post by Dean Dad, response to this post by Michael Berube, created quite a stir in our household this morning. The tenured faculty member tried to defend himself to a Ph.D. who's never landed a full-time t-t job, and in fact, doesn't want one, but wishes there were more options for employment in academia. What kind of choice is t-t vs. migrant labor. Once in a blue moon, I see a continuing non-tenure-track position in my field. I have never seen permanent part-time work.

I don't have a dog in this fight as one commenter at Dean Dad's said, so I don't keep up with the literature though I do read blogs about "the fight for tenure and academic freedom." I think tenure at many places is misguided at best, detrimental at worst. At a few places, tenure works as it should. I think those who draw a hard line around tenure and claim there is no other way to protect academic freedom and employee rights have actually contributed to the current situation where more and more adjuncts are needed to teach the classes that some tenured faculty don't.

Tenure certainly isn't a way to recognize how hard faculty work at places where they're teaching 3-4 classes a semester, doing service, and have a research requirement. In fact, I would argue that as tenure requirements have gone up, the work load for faculty has increased dramatically. Is academic freedom so important that you would sacrifice any semblance of an actual life for it? That is, to gain academic freedom, you would work 60, 70, 80 hours a week? I know that not all places ask for that kind of work, but I know from reading enough academic blogs that many do. And that many academics have given up quite a lot for their work, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes not.

I just think that one could imagine another way, where work loads are limited, where requirements are clearly spelled out, where one would have recourse during disputes, and where there would be some transparency. And, yes, you could have academic freedom.

Mr. Geeky reminds me that in such a complex system, any one element, any small change, might have unintended consequences. And that there's no one plan that would fix it. True enough, and in fact, I think the whole system is what it is because of those small choices. One place decides to replace a retiree with two part-timers instead of hiring a t-t person. Other places follow suit. The original decision seems to work well, so the next retiree is replaced with part-timers. Enrollments increase. Now it's about adding positions--part-time or full-time? In tough economic times, you know what the answer is.

I have no idea which "side" is right. All I know is that the economics are not usually on the side of tenure and that when costs need to be cut, positions are looked at with greater scrutiny. But it seems to me that there are a lot of losers in this fight and it's not among the people who are doing the fighting. The losers are the students, the Ph.D.'s who can't find good work in higher education, and the public whom we owe an educated populace.

Lob your tomatoes now. :)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Fun: Academia vs. Business or Faculty vs. Staff

This comic perfectly describes how I often felt in my staff position:




I was often thinking like the Academia side of things, but the response to my ideas, from both faculty and staff, was like the Business reaction. I got the Academia reaction from colleagues elsewhere, which helped ease the pain of the Business reaction. Long-time readers might recall stories where I was asked to help with hooking up DSL, sort email folders, or upload documents in response to my reporting on the latest research in teaching with technology. No matter how academic I sounded, what people often saw was the mechanical side of my work. Sigh.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I am now officially a Shakesperian

Hello fellow shakespearians I am geekygirl coming back for TWEEN TAKEOVER!!!!! If you are not a shakespearian please tell people near you to gasp for no reason. If you are a shakesperian congratulations you won a car. To get your car please go here: An Unknown Planet in a Different Galaxy. If you are utterly confused of what a shakesperian is let me give you some info. I am in fifth grade last year we were thinking how great it would be to have a shakespeare club. Our seminar teacher told us we should make petition and have a parent sign it. The principal agreed that we could have a shakespeare club with a couple volunteers. So in our club we vote on a couple plays and then narrow it down to two and out of that we vote again. This year just about everyone picked Midsummer Nights Dream and last year we did Hamlet which was fun dying.

I want to be Hermia. Hermia is one of the leading characters out of three other ones. I want to be Hermia so bad, but I won't get upset if I don't get the part. I will be sad, yes but that doesn't mean I can't be a fairy or a slob named Bottom.

I would like to see your comments and who thinks I should be Hermia, a fairy, or Bottom. Bye, Geekygirl.

Writer's Cramp

Mouse and keyboardImage by lorda via Flickr

Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have seen me deliberating yesterday about whether to write through the pain of the repetitive stress injury I seem to have developed. For the record, I decided to write by hand, which was only slightly less painful than typing. I even went out and got a new mouse and a keyboard pad (which heats up!) to help alleviate the pain. And I topped it off with a massage.

But today, I can still feel the pain, a burning sensation that sits mostly in my wrist and shoulder, though at times, it feels like it's traveling up my whole arm. I'm typing on my laptop right now, in case you're wondering, which is definitely more comfortable than my other keyboard. I'm considering sticking to the laptop.

Of course, the other option is to lay off writing completely, but I'm determined to finish this NaNo thing. Mr. Geeky thinks I'm insane and wants me to just take care of myself. I won't even go into the many times he's stayed up all night, worked through illness, and even played ultimate frisbee despite an injury.

I'm not a fan of pain, but I've been told by doctors that I have an extremely high tolerance for pain. Both times I gave birth, the doctors (different ones) were surprised I wasn't freaking out. I also slammed my finger in a car door, which yes, hurt like hell, but I remained calmer than Mr. Geeky, who ran around like a crazy man. When I researched this RSI thing, most the info I found suggested learning to live with the pain, which kind of sucks really. So, what I may do is just write for a shorter period of time. Normally, I write for two and a half hours straight (with a break in the middle), but maybe I need to only write for an hour, take a couple of hours off and then go back to it for an hour.

Long term, I'm considering things like acupuncture and more regular massage, but I welcome your suggestions for good short-term solutions.
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

WoW Wednesday: Weird PvP Behavior

I'm continuing to level my priest primarily through PvP, with a few quests thrown in here and there. She's at 48 now. I'm hoping to get her to 50 before the weekend since I'll be switching back to my death knight on Sunday for the holiday achievements (more on that next week).

I mentioned in my last PvP post that a lot of whining happens in chat during these games, with people telling everyone how much they suck. Horde always sucks according to these people, which cracks me up since if you play enough bg's, you realize that it's probably about even and depneds on the composition of the group. Besides the whining, I've noticed some other interesting behavior, some of which is quite detrimental to the group.

I'm going to use Arathi Basin as my main example, a bg where there are five bases to be captured. When a team holds a base, they receive resources. Whichever team gets to 1600 resources first, wins. When I play a bg, I think of myself as part of the group and try to look out for the group interests. In a good bg, most people are thinking this way. At the beginning of such groups, someone will often designate subgroups take on different tasks, so that everyone's not running for the same area. If no one does this, I tend to follow a group to a particular area. And I generally check the map fairly frequently to see where people are. I ask where the opposing team is, etc.

The first behavior that bugs me is being afk (away from keyboard). If you do actually go afk, either by typing /afk or by not pressing any keys for a certain amount of time, you'll be kicked out of the bg. But there are people who go hide in a corner, sucking up the experience and the honor without doing anything. These people can be reported as afk. However, all that does is send them a little note asking them if they're afk and notifying them that they need to engage in combat or they will receive no honor. I'm not sure about experience. When I was investigating how this whole thing worked, I found out, too, that if you're reported by enough people often enough, you can have your account banned for a few hours.

The problem with being afk is that it means your team is shorthanded. I was in a bg where there were two people afk and when there's only 10 or so people playing, that can make a big difference. It got frustrating when those two people kept showing up again and again. I was doing the daily bg quest and need to win the bg in order to complete the quest (which gives significant experience). I reported them every time. One of them went out and fought and then died and stayed dead. Another holed up by the start point. I checked to see if they ever moved, and they didn't and I reported them. A couple of other people noticed them, too, and reported them. But they still kept showing up, which made me think there were few consequences for their actions. This is a clear case of individual desires (xp and honor points) trumped the group desire. The sad thing is if they had participated normally, they would have been more likely to get more of what they, as individuals, wanted.

The other annoying behavior is when people go after bases that are hard to hold or solo a base. Each team, for example has a base near their starting point. Generally, these bases are captured immediately at the start of the game. While it's true that it can be a good strategy to capture the opposing team's nearby base, it's hard to keep and you can lose valuable time and players by trying to keep it. The reason it's hard to keep is that team players often spawn at the start point nearby, meaning there's a constant flow of opposing players coming at you. Sometimes people will get bored and go after another base, just because, leaving a base unguarded or weakly guarded. Usually, it's a suicide mission unless you get lucky and it's unguarded. Usually, though, as soon as the announcement goes out that you've assaulted that base, the team comes swarming in and you die.

Despite some of this annoying behavior, I'm still having fun playing in bg's. I've generally had more good groups than bad and I like the way it's a limited amount of time. You're in and out quite quickly, while quests and dungeons can take much longer periods of time. So it's been a great way to take a quick break..

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Imperialism

Today in my social studies class, we enter the 1880s with imperialism. It's a very strange idea and concept, and personally, the separation from poor and rich, making them very far apart. Anyways here is how it went down.

Imperialism, for those of you who don't know, is one nation controlling another for five different reasons.

Economy: Of course making money. We'll do anything to get some moneys. Sweat shops, cheap labor, whatever.

Exploration: Some people wanted to explore these uncharted areas. I think this is really a lame coverup reason of some of the other things.

Political: Power! That power hungry white folk of the European countries ate up all them countries. All of Africa was controlled by Europe except Etheopia and Liberia.

The last two are Religious and Idealogical, but they are basically the same. Ideology back in the day that white people were superior and primitive. To save these people they bring them Christianity, all in the mean time, white dudes are taking everything they own.

Now I write this to show you what I have been learning, but I would like to hear what your learning experience was, whether it was in the 90s or 20s.

Monday, November 16, 2009

More on the writing routine

Peg Single has another column in Inside Higher Ed about establishing a regular writing routine. Her audience consists of grad students writing dissertations and faculty writing books and articles. But writing is writing and doing it regularly every day is good practice. Although blogging is off-the-cuff and informal, I don't doubt that blogging every day has been useful to me. But I can also let blogging, important as it is to me, suck away time from other kinds of writing. I did that a bit today when I wrote that long post on educational technology (one I'm sure 3 of you will read).

I had basically established a routine this fall, but NaNoWriMo really solidified that routine by putting pressure on to get to a certain word count every day. Single talks about setting time-based vs. task based (word or page count) goals every day. I had been using a time-based goal, but it was getting easy to scale that back or to otherwise waste that time and have little to show for it. Now I use a combination of time and task-based goals, with an emphasis on the time. Blogging generally has to occur before my writing time begins and I will put it off if I don't get to it before that.

For NaNo, I've been trying to write 3000 words a day because I'm behind and I do so during one set period of time. My basic rule now is 3000 words in two hours. I will go over that time if I'm close to meeting the 3000 word goal. Realistically, I can hit 1500 easy in that time. Getting to 3k is always a challenge, but a good one. I will quit at the two-hour mark if I am struggling to get the words out. No sense banging my head against the keyboard. Today I got to 2k instead of 3 and I think that's okay.

Single also mentions stopping when you've reached your goal, even you feel like you want to write all day. Other responsibilities will pile up if you take the day to write and you'll just have to put off writing to get those things done (laundry, anyone?). I don't think I've felt like going on and on ever in my writing life. There's always a point where I know I need a break. For years, I've been doing exactly what Single suggests below, and it's been extremely helpful:
Before closing down your document, write a few notes to yourself, notes that will jog your memory at the beginning of your next writing session and will help to get those creative juices flowing. Also make sure to type in your placeholder, such as the three asterisks I mentioned earlier, so you know where to start at your next writing session.
I finished a section today and so tomorrow will start the next section. I spent the last 15 minutes of my writing session jotting down an outline and some key phrases that will help me begin writing the next section. I also keep a notebook by my keyboard where I jot down things that come to me throughout the day. Just because you quit typing at the keyboard doesn't mean that your brain doesn't keep working on your writing project. I also jot things down that I want to include (or think I want to include) but haven't written in the current draft yet. These are sometimes scenes, sometimes just concepts, like emotions I need to get across or descriptions I need to include. That, too, can provide fodder for the next writing session.

I'm behind on word count because I decided to take the weekend off. That had been my routine before NaNo, to only write during the week. I like treating writing like work where the weekends are time off, because it is work and while Dan Brown and Stephen King might work 365 days/year, we don't all have to.

The Future of Educational/Instructional Technology

Over a year ago, I discussed the shift I was seeing in how faculty use their educational technology support staff. The shift I had noticed (and continued to notice until I left a year ago) was a shift from a consultative mode to a service mode. Instead of faculty coming and asking to sit down and talk about the potential uses of technology in their classes and get help in figuring what to use and how to use it, they started to simply ask that the work be done for them. There are two reasons for this shift (in addition to the usual issues about faculty time). One, the faculty that asked for consultation rather than service were typically the more tech savvy among their colleagues. They are now mostly doing the tech stuff on their own, even the new stuff. Two, the demand from students for more use of technology in their courses has increased so that those faculty who were average to less than average users of technology started using it and didn't get the consultative mode and/or didn't want it. They saw technology as separate from their course and the work they needed to do for their course and therefore, delegated that work to whomever they could.

Now, I know that different schools have probably had different experiences, but I can also say from still being on job lists for the type of position that I once held, that what those jobs are asking for now are not the kinds of skills I have or had. Most are positions for course management support. The position entails teaching faculty how to use the system, providing support (though what support means is never defined). Sometimes the position entails system support as well, which is a whole different skill set from the teaching side, often requiring some programming skills and at the very least, system administration skills (something most educational technology people have a tiny bit of, but not enough to manage a whole system effectively). In addition, because course management systems are increasingly used by other units besides the academic ones, there's often a clause in the description about working with non-academic units, meaning that you're hiring a person whose focus is teaching and learning to help the athletic department put videos online (I'm not making this up).

Another common job is that of instructional designer, a job that varies widely. Sometimes the job entails creating media for courses, such as video, flash, and learning modules. Often the job is described as working with faculty and others to "design, develop, and implement online and hybrid courses." I know people who have these kinds of jobs and they often end up doing the lion's share of the work. Faculty drop off syllabi, images, video, etc. and the designer makes the course. It's production work, and granted, it requires a good deal of thought and likely, the person doing the work is better off having some knowledge of college teaching, but the requirements often don't indicate that such knowledge is useful. Most ask for a master's degree in instructional design, educational technology or just plain education. But I can tell you that those degrees are usually aimed at K-12 environments, often at the teachers themselves and not the support staff. The best jobs include teaching as part of the job requirements, but only 1 in 100 ore fewer include teaching either as a requirement for getting the job or as a responsibility of the job itself.

I'm not the only one who left because the job was shifting to a technical support job and one that supported not just the academic side of the house but the administrative and student services side as well. Several colleagues that I've talked to over the last few months have either quit or wish they could because they're basically being a glorified technical secretary or help desk person rather than someone who provide knowledgeable advice about the best practices in teaching and learning with technology.

All this brings me to Michael Bugeja's article in the Chronicle. He argues that in the current economic situation, colleges need to scale back their use of technology. I agree. It's interesting that he mentions the gadgets, the equipment, the Second Life accounts, but not course management nor the staff that supports any of the above. Perhaps he's being careful and doesn't want to suggest that those who staff Ed Tech departments or who support, for example, Second Life, should be let go. I'm reluctant to suggest the same, but it seems to me that in some cases, a specialized person doing that kind of work might not be worth it, not if a school isn't going to make good use of that person.

I did not see the kind of technological expansion that Bugeja mentions. I struggled to even get faculty to use Blackboard, much less clickers, Second Life, or mobile devices. I didn't see faculty creating new courses around new technology. I offered a freshman seminar on blogging two years in a row, but otherwise, I didn't see courses on Facebook or Twitter or iPhones, nor did I see regular courses making use of those tools. And, at other schools similar to my own that I've done some consulting for, the same is true. Most are still trying to get faculty to use the technology that makes sense to use. There's been no crazy expansion into Second Life.

That said, I have seen a general increase in the use of technologies that are free. Blogs, wikis, Google apps, Twitter have all come to be used effectively in classrooms, but not because an educational technologist was there to make it happen. Most of the uses I've seen have come from the faculty themselves, who increasingly are using these tools in their own work, so it becomes natural to them to try to use them in their teaching. No extra staff needed. And usually, no cost for the tools themselves.

If schools really want to save money, they might consider looking first at the CMS. If one is necessary, then they might consider going open source. But I'd take a long hard look at whether a CMS is even necessary. Not only does the system itself cost money, but the staff to support it also costs money (and the staff cost remains if you go open source). And radically, I might suggest that instead of hiring educational technologist, one might consider having faculty serve in that role, perhaps with a course release to do so. Perhaps there'd be a faculty member in that role in every division (i.e. sciences, humanities, social sciences) or, if your school is large, in every department. Production might be relegated to student workers or lesser paid interns rather than on costly full-time staff. And I know, this sounds bad, eliminating educational technology staff.

The other option for such staff is to take them out of the IT department, and put them under the academic units. The more closely they can be to the faculty they consult with, the better. And if they can teach a course every year, even better, so that they know what faculty face. I think either model I've suggested, could potentially reduce technology costs. After all, sometimes, the IT people (ed tech people included) get wowed by the technology and jump in head first without thinking about whether or not it will actually get used. Even if the cost is only in time, that's still a cost that some can ill afford.

I don't think, as Britt does, that Bugeja casts technology as an evil. Instead, what I think he's saying is that technology is expensive and it needs to be assessed more carefully before spending the money on it. I agree that Bugeja fails to point out many of the positive aspects of using technology in teaching. But we technologists also need to remember what technology costs and make sure it's worth that cost before using it. Technology is not always the answer. Though many of my ed tech colleagues agree with that statement, most faculty think that ed tech people are technology pushers. We have to get away from that. What often needs to change is the teaching method. Sometimes technology can push someone in that direction, but sometimes, we have to start with the non-technical teaching issues first.

I see, then, two potential futures. One is to keep going down the production road, and that is a road that many larger institutions are already going down, since those who do the production cost less than the faculty. They can produce a video lecture that reaches 700 or more students and only have one faculty member, maybe even a grad student TA. The other is to go down a road where there is less technology of the one to many kind like CMS's. And the use of that technology will be led by faculty with fewer ed tech people needed.

I have more disjointed thoughts, but will save them for later. Being away from educational technology for the last couple of months has made me see it differently. I feel like the model we have--ed tech people as a separate entity--just isn't working and isn't creating the change in education that we need. And I see that change happening more and more though individual faculty who are "just doing it."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

More on Academic Conferences

Am I the only one who thinks academic conferences are weird? Why do they feel a little bit like a junior high school dance?

For background, go read this post about my last academic conference. I'll try not to repeat what I said there. Because I'm not in a discipline, I tend to go to conferences that are interdisciplinary or a little tangential to some established discipline. This is a good thing as the presentations can be on a range of topics. I was recalling some of my earlier Renaissance conferences yesterday. While the Renaissance is a huge period covering several countries, there are some conventions that get repeated at conferences. It can get tiring to hear yet another paper about women's poor treatment in [insert author]'s work. This latest conference definitely had a wide variety of topics. I heard papers on dna art (very cool), on illness in literature (also cool), twittered subjects (disappointing), and a reading of short stories and essays (perhaps my favorite).

My biggest complaint is the fact that everyone read their papers. This was especially hard on those of us (I'm sure I'm not the only one) who were unfamiliar with the topic being presented. Many of the papers were theory heavy, involving complicated arguments about philosophical positions on consciousness or relationships. Note: people cannot digest such complex arguments in 20 minutes via listening. Perhaps if one is familiar with the theory, one could follow the argument, but most of the time, I could not. Some people, despite reading, did a very good job of distilling the argument into its simplest form. But most did not. Once upon a time, this would have made me feel dumb, but now, I just feel like the people presenting are not doing a good job. If the idea of a conference is to disseminate your ideas to more people, then it seems to me important that the people to whom you're disseminating your ideas understand them.

The name-tag glance that I mentioned in the previous post was almost non-existent at this conference. And surprisingly, I felt totally comfortable telling people that I was an independent consultant and writer. It helps that I'm not looking for anything from these people. I was there to learn, not to network. During one conversation where I described my background and my current pursuits, someone said, "Wow, you're really employable!" And that made me laugh, considering my current limbo state. But, I knew that it was also true and why I feel so comfortable (mostly) being in limbo.

The other thing I noticed, and which I mentioned in the other post was the way that people asked questions to promote their own ideas or knowledge. This happened in the very first session, a creative writing reading. Someone asked if the stories could be tied together using some theorist's work, who said blah, blah, blah. I was rolling my eyes. In Ian Bogost's plenary, much of which I found rather difficult to understand, someone did the same thing and he called them on it, saying, "What you're asking is whether what you're interested in is at all related to what I just said." That made me laugh.

The weirdest sensation I had was that of resistance. Some of the sessions actually made me angry at the way they interpreted very practical things, like programming robots, as philosophical conundrums. It's not that one doesn't need to have some kind of philosophical stance on the nature of learning in order to program a robot, but a robot does not have a consciousness of its own that one can confront. Honestly, I couldn't even tell you exactly how they made the connection.

Perhaps the most frustrating session along these lines was the one that advertised itself as being about Twitter. I was actually interested in hearing a more theoretical stance on Twitter, but instead, I discovered that they'd used Twitter as a metaphor, dismissing it as a real entity that is having a real impact on how we relate to each other. I doubt any of the panelists even has a Twitter account. And that made me really mad. It was a similar move to using concepts from Artificial Intelligence and programming to talk about the relationship of science to art. The people using those concepts as metaphors have no real idea what those concepts really mean. They've never programmed or Twittered or conducted a physics experiment. But I felt like I didn't have a good counter to their arguments, veering as much as they did from any kind of practical reality. I wish I could have stood up and said, look, I'm a programmer and your metaphor really isn't working.

I have always been resistance to theory, primarily when it's drawn from philosophy. What it often feels like to me is that people are drawing on these theories to interpret literature because they're desperate to make their work more relevant. A philosophical theory arises that changes the way we think about our relationship to the world and the literature people are all over it, using it to interpret everything from Shakespeare to Pynchon. I don't mean to be unkind. I have seen theories used quite well, but too often, it becomes a mumbo jumbo that only the initiated can understand. It's at conferences that I most feel that I'm not among the initiated, that I'm not invited to the party.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When Writing is Hard

My weekend workstationImage by lorda via Flickr

The reason I joined the NaNoWriMo activities even though I'm not writing a novel (which means I can't officially win) is because having specific numeric goals is quite helpful. There's also the group accountability of posting one's numbers every day, comparing them to your buddies and to others.

I'm still behind a bit. I've set a goal of 3,000 words a day instead of the 1500 or so they recommend in order to catch up. I think that means I'll be caught up by this weekend.

After having spent a lot of time not writing, the last two days, I found I had a lot to say and getting to 3000 seemed pretty easy, but then today, getting there was like pulling teeth. I posted to Twitter that "a watched pot won't boil and a watched word count won't increase." I'd write a couple of sentences and then check my word count and see that it had inched up only by 100 words, not like when I'd check after a couple of pages in previous days.

Without NaNoWriMo, I might have simply quit when I found myself doing that and come back to the work tomorrow. But then there would be the chance that tomorrow I'd feel the same way. You don't get to choose whether to go to work or not, so why should writing (if it's your work) be any different. So despite the slowness of the words coming and despite my feeling that what was getting on the page was utter crap, I kept writing anyway. This is what we writing teachers have always told our students. It's a common strategy to have them free write without editing to get them past the usual excuse of saying they have nothing to say. We give them prompts. We brainstorm. And yet, we often forget those same techniques when we ourselves are struggling.

After I write, I take a shower. While in the shower, I can't help but think about the things I've just written. Quite often, I've gotten out of the shower, wrapped myself in a towel and run into the office to jot down ideas before I forget them. These become prompts for the next writing session. NaNo pushes me to keep writing no matter what and as I keep writing, a momentum builds so that the writing starts to perpetuate itself some days. For most of us, writing is something we do occasionally, not every day and so it is like cleaning out the garage instead of doing the laundry, a project not a process. To really write, though, it needs to become a process.

I am 120 pages into this project, 40 of which I've written through NaNo. I'm starting to piece things together, starting to see more threads and connections than I thought were there. I know much of what's actually on the page will be completely transformed, but having a kernel to work with in the first place is truly helpful. And maybe this gives me a way to continue writing instead of postponing it like it's a garage that needs to be cleaned out.


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WoW Wednesday: PvP

For you non-WoW players out there, PvP stands for player vs. player, a part of the game where, instead of fighting virtual monsters, players battle each other. There are PvP servers where this kind of fighting happens constantly in addition to the virtual monsters fighting one must do. But most PvP action takes place in special battlegrounds where a group of Horde players battle a group of Alliance players in trying to reach a certain objective. There's a capture-the-flag-like place, a place where one holds bases (actually several like this), and a place where one is trying to reach and capture a certain area. Naturally, as one tries to achieve these objectives, players from the other team will try to prevent this from happening, usually by killing people. Killing other players and achieving the objective rewards honors points, which can be used to purchase some cool items.

Back when I first started playing, I tried PvP and generally hated it. My fingers did not move fast enough to counter attacks or attack much myself. But there were some good rewards that came from honors points, namely swift mounts. So I suffered through enough battlegrounds to get my mount and then never really went back. But then, they made it possible to gain experience through PvP. So, I decided to give it a try again with my alt, an undead priest. I was struggling with leveling it because I found questing to be getting a bit tiring. As a priest, it's also difficult to level simple by killing off a bunch of creatures. To vary my activities, I thought I'd try leveling via PvP.

When I first did this in my 20s, it hardly seemed worth it. I was in Warsong Gulch (a capture-the-flag-type game) and I was rewarded experience only when our team captured the flag and then more if we won. If you're losing, you don't get much experience at all, a token amount I believe at the end. So, I held off on that for a while until I got access to Arathi Basin, a battleground I've always liked, even when I didn't like PvP more generally. I happened to venture back in this past weekend on its holiday weekend, when both experience and honors points are increased. I was level 38 when I started. I'm now level 43. Some hard-core players would probably have leveled to 50 by now, but this is only doing a few bg's a day, throwing in a couple of quests while waiting to be let into battle. You can often complete an AB battle in 10 or 15 minutes (if you're really kicking butt) and at most 30 minutes. This makes it easy to hop in over lunch, do a quick bg and then go back to work. You can also earn experience by doing the daily bg, for which I've been receiving around 7k xp. In AB, I've been getting 7-10k xp for each battle, a little less when we're really sucking.

The other reason I hopped into PvP again besides wanting a more fun way to gain experience was that I wanted to try out healing in a group. I especially wanted to test out the effectiveness of two healing addons I was trying: healbot and grid+clique. It's hard to find a group for a low-level dungeon these days, so hopping into a bg was an easy way to be in a group quickly. And I was able to test out my addons and settled on grid+clique for now. I've found that I enjoy healing in a bg better than attacking and that healing is much appreciated. Like in dungeons, where keeping the tank alive can mean the difference between defeating the boss or not, in bg's, keeping a powerful player alive can really make a difference between winning and losing. I am often thanked for healing. And no one ever makes fun of me for dying since as a cloth-wearer, that's a common event.

One reason that I didn't like PvP before (besides sucking at it) was that the chat in PvP often degenerated into insults about how bad the rest of us are at the game. I still see that, but I'm able to tune it out most of the time, and I have also been in plenty of bg's where that doesn't happen, possibly because I'm often doing them at lunch, when there aren't any kids online. When it's a bunch of other grownups getting in a quick WoW session over lunch, there's less likely to be any moaning and groaning.

Once I hit 80 with this alt, I'm not sure I'll PvP much. Most of the rewards for PvP are PvP gear and if you're interested in doing dungeons and raids, that gear isn't going to be so helpful. Plus, I like the quests in Outland (lvl 58 and up) and Northrend (lvl 68 and up) better than the old world quests so I might be hitting bg's less often as I get up to those levels, though I hear Alterac Valley offers some good xp. Only 8 more levels to go before I get there.
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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Economy

Now as you probably already don't know, I am an avid Runescape player, and have been studying it for quite some time. I would like to bring you into my realm of my studies.

Well to start off with, they made a majority of trade between players not actaully be face to face. Like, you would want to buy this item, and you set your price(there is a range for each item) and you would either have your offer in, waiting for someone to sell, or buy it from another player without interaction. This little device is called the Grand Exchange, which looks and sounds surprisingly like the stock exchange, and pretty much is.

Now, prices rise and fall depending on the average price the item was purchased that day. Say at item has a limit of 5 and 12. The "market price" would be 8 or 9. If a lot of an item is bought at more than 9 coins, the market price will rise the next day. The limit will now be 9 and 15, and the market price will be 11 or 12.

Unfortunately, this system is fairly easy to abuse, and a group of rich players can all buy one of an item at the maximum price for a few weeks, and it will rise dramatically then fall dramatically. I call this an unnatural rise.

Example of a rise
Example of a rise and fall

This is horrible. And hear me out. When an item is being "bought out", it makes the item impossible to buy for a few days or even a week or more. And when it is sold or "dumped" it's impossible to sell for several days.

Now this is my job. When the game updates its content, which it does fairly often, I like to find the connection to an item and prepare for it to rise or fall. Recently they changed the herblore(making potions) skill, so that there are new higher level potions to be made. The potions require and herb to make, and which can be farmed. Of course people want to level as fast as possible so I bought seeds that make the herbs and also the herbs themselves. Investment I am still holding on to :).

Now some items like these herbs and seeds rise on their own or a natural rise.

Here is an example
And Another

It's very fun to how these things work and its sometimes hard to find that connection from the update to the item.

Hope you enjoyed.