Thursday, April 30, 2009

Comments and the Commenters who make them

Virginia Heffernan writes a piece in the New York Times about the low quality of comments on news sites like the New York Times, the WaPo and Slate. She says:
But as it is, online commentary is a bête noire for journalists and readers alike. Most journalists hate to read it, because it’s stinging and distracting, and readers rarely plow through long comments sections unless they intend to post something themselves. But perhaps the comments have become so reader-unfriendly, in part, because of the conventions of the Web-comment form.
She blames the 24/7 access in part, with late-night tin-foil-hat-wearing people often being the first to weight in on an article, setting the tone for the discourse of the rest of the comments. Also, people who comment tend to be people who have the time and inclination to comment and these are not necessarily the sharpest knives in the drawer.

I actually wrote a best-practices document on how to write good comments, aimed at students working in class blogs. Here's what I said:

1. Comment on the original post topic.

2. Contribute something new to the conversation.

3. Even if you disagree, remain polite.

4. Don't comment for the sake of commenting. Don't just say, "Yeah, I agree." You're not adding to the conversation.

5. Keep your comment fairly brief. If you find yourself wanting to say a lot more, write your own post and then link to it in the comments.

6. Leave a link. This can be a link to your blog that you type into the comment form or leave a link to resources that might help the author.
Obviously, these take into account the usual short form students often resort to in online forums. These suggestions are for K-12 students. The second point, I think, is the most important, and perhaps what Heffernan is most disappointed by in reader comments. Most comments seem to be self-serving and/or polemic and the commenter does not seem to want to engage in a conversation with the author. But I think the article authors are also to blame for this. Rarely do I see an author weigh in in the comment section. I'm not suggesting they feed the trolls, but they could certainly respond to the comments that do have merit, which might encourage people who want to engage in a conversation instead of a shouting match to comment more often. The trolls might eventually get drowned out by the reasonable commenters.

I really like comments on articles, even the ones that aren't so nice. Newspaper articles and blogs seem to me to be like soapboxes even more than personal blogs are. They don't always invite reader commentary in their rhetorical strategies. They set themselves up as experts who know the answers. I like seeing what other people think in the comments. It's a way of gaging my own reaction. Am I crazy for hating/loving/being confused by this? What arguments can be made against this? What does this mean in a larger context? It is also a window into the audience. Comments on IHE articles always cause me to raise my eyebrows. Comments on tech articles reveal a bit about the culture of the field. I like having that insight, even if it's messy and crazy and a bit scary at times. I think it's good to know that not everyone in the world is reasonable. Though it might also be good to show those people how they might become more reasonable while still getting their voices heard.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Technology Generation Gap at Work

I bumped into this article yesterday and I went back to it today, reading through many of the comments. Self-identified boomers in the comments either say, heck yeah laptops in meetings suck or hey, I like social networking too. I'm not a boomer technically, but a Generation X person, supposedly. There may be some things one can say about how the generations distinguish themselves, but I don't buy all of it. I'm more tech and social networking savvy than many of my students and I never took a laptop to a meeting. The people who did--boomers. I did, however, use Twitter and blogs, etc. at work for work.

Many of the commenters complain about the lack of attention Gen Y people seem to pay to people when they're interacting. I've certainly seen that happen, but again, not with Gen Y people, but with older, glued-to-their-Blackberry people. And if someone interrupts a conversation to take a text message, I'd just say, okay, we're done talking. I think if you think something is a breech of etiquette, you need to say so. That's how people learn. If my phone rings during a conversation, I don't answer it, unless there's a reason to. For example, if one of my kids is supposed to call if they need a ride home, then I would explain to the person I'm talking to that I need to take it for this reason. Most people understand these kinds of interruptions. Just answering every call and every text is rude. Text messages can be answered later as can phone calls (the numbers are recorded and people can leave voice mail).

Same goes for meetings. If you're running a meeting and someone's on a laptop, I think you have a right to say, I need your full attention. Please close the laptop. This is harder to do in classes, where there are more students and sometimes you can say, well, it's their loss if they aren't paying attention. But, in smaller classes, you can often tell if a student is paying attention and if not, can ask that a laptop be put away (of course, I've written aobut this before).

On the other hand, some of the Gen X & Y commenters say those meetings are a waste of my time; that's why I'm on my laptop. Certainly, there's much work that used to be exclusively done in meetings that can now be online, but getting everyone on board with that is difficult. I worked in a technology department and it was difficult. Imagine what it's like in a non tech place.

The other main comment is a question about whether the use of social media is productive. That's hard to know. Someone did comment that they didn't really care what their workers did with social media as long as they remained valuable to the company. We all take breaks from work via the Internet from time to time. But keeping up with the field, researching a particular problem, creating connections with potential clients can all be done via social media. My primary use of Twitter is to pose questions to my followers as a kind of polling tool or when I'm stuck and need help. I also find interesting and important articles to read via Twitter. I read blogs to keep up with the field and I write in blogs as a way of synthesizing what I know about topics (writing as learning, anyone?). In the knowledge economy, productivity may be hard to measure, but certainly one can see if someone seems up on the field or is bringing in new clients. Does it matter if it was done via Facebook?

One comment I wanted to highlight and leave you with--tangential to the conversation, really--described a rather typical boomer (on the older end, I'd guess) family who is online. Let me just say that it made me laugh out loud because it described our families to a T:

Remember that even if the Boomer is on the Internet a lot, there still might be a gap.

I work from home as a freelancer. I run exclusively Linux, BSD, Solaris, *nix. I'm fluent in 15 programming/ markup languages, design graphics in many formats, have a blog, blah blah.

My Boomer in-laws have had computers for the length of my marriage (currently going on 16 years), and yet they still use Windows + AOL. Yes, you heard me. They still get hosed with viruses and malware, they still get their bank accounts cleaned out by 419 scammers, they reply to every spam and always click every ad banner that tells them to, and about every 2 years their computer "breaks" and they have to buy a new one. They're as good as married to Best Buy's "Geek Squad", whose word is gospel to them.

The fact that their son-in-law has earned his living and supported their grandkids in technology the entire time they've known him doesn't add a lick to his credibility. My mother-in-law *corrects* me when I say she runs Windows - she "runs AOL". She calls me up from Best Buy offering to buy me software. A 1000 times I've said, "That won't run, we use Linux." She cannot bring herself to speak such a foreign word. She thinks I'm possessed or in the mafia or something.

They're Boomers, and they're on computers and online alright, but that's like putting a monkey in a car and saying that it can drive.
Let's just say that Mr. Geeky and I keep computers up and running for 6-8 years while our families go through them every 2-3. Also, we've heard that Google is something you pay for and had to help people find their desktop icons again. Not to make fun of them or anything, but it's also true that no matter how much we've tried to educate them, they often ignore us. We try to explain that we actually know what we're talking about and that it's our job to teach others how to use computers and stuff, so maybe we know something, but in one ear, out the other.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tear down the Ivory Tower

So, I'm going to wade in here, where I'm not wanted, to talk about the article by Mark Taylor, in the New York Times. I liked the article. I thought it made some really good points. But around the blogosphere, there've been some misgivings, not unwarranted misgivings, but misgivings. Not unsurprisingly, Marc Bousquet is concerned about the treatment of the faculty and argues that jobs exist for faculty, but the university has shifted its labor force to part-timers or non-tenured people already. If they just opened those jobs up for full-time t-t faculty, the world would be a better place. Here's my take on that argument, as an adjunct myself. There are indeed some places that rely too heavily on adjunct labor, with 75% of their classes being taught by adjuncts, but this is not the case everywhere. At least part-time work is available at colleges and universities, unlike at corporations. Would I like for those jobs to come with some benefits? Yes. Would I like for the pay to be reasonable? Yes. One of the problems in the college and university labor force is that, while many people think tenure is holding back higher ed from change, no one has come up with a good, viable solution that protects the employees (academic freedom, bargaining rights, etc.). And there's the problem of mobility (or lack thereof). I know I've said this before, but if a manager gets laid off from a job, she doesn't have to move halfway across the country to get another one (usually). An English professor doesn't have that option, especially in a small town. Somehow, we have to deal with this. Either faculty will need to just understand that the possibility exists that they'll have to move (and doesn't this exist anyway?), or perhaps they'll consider it a freedom to be able to move to another university without having to give up the hard work they've put in toward tenure. In many cases, whatever structure one comes up with in terms of long-term contracts will probably mean informal tenure anyway, the difference being, perhaps, certain standards have to be met.

Dean Dad takes on the suggestion that departments be eliminated. He describes the administrative nightmare this would cause, and wonder who the hell would do all the work of developing the curriculum for these programs. I think he's thinking it will be him. At the SLAC's I'm familiar with, some of this interdisciplinary work is being done informally, either by individual faculty or by "centers" or programs. The course I'm currently teaching is cross-listed in 5 different departments and programs. We've read materials in sociology, computer science, literature, film theory, psychology, cultural studies, and philosophy, to name a few. We brought in guest speakers and the work the students were required to do involved both traditional papers, blog writing, and a multimedia project. And let me just say, the planning alone was a buttload of work. So I see where DD is coming from. But I also see what a fabulous learning experience this was for students. I could envision parallel systems here, where students are required to take courses that are interdisciplinary, but still have majors. And these courses could be centered around a common theme, so that there's a common language for the students, but it would be good to have the math majors talking to the English majors.

Finally, although Tim Burke agrees with much of what Taylor proposes, the online collaboration bit seems suspect to him. I think that the idea is actually a good one. The problem is many schools do not have the infrastructure necessary to make this possible, even expensive schools like the SLAC's in my area. I like the idea, however, of less specialization, of feeling the need to cover every niche of every discipline. Maybe there's a faculty member at another school who teaches a niche that no one at our school does and technology could facilitate having that person teach some of our students. Granted, smaller scale tools like Skype and other web conferencing tools can be used in some cases. But would those work for a large class? How many support staff would you need to support this kind of work if, say, 25% of your courses are taught this way? How would the distant students get access to the materials? Would they need accounts on certain systems? Most schools are not using something like OpenID or even any kind of open tool where students can just sign up for their own accounts, so unless the course is on the open web, there's some overhead there for getting students access to the course. And then there's the administrative overhead of figuring out the curriculum or at least approving it. Around here, we have around 100 colleges within a 50-mile radius. There are clusters of collaborations already, both formal and informal among the schools that have similar missions and/or are close to each other. Could these collaborations be expanded? Yes. Can technology help? Yes, but IT departments would need to shift to a different model on the academic side to make this work. Lock-down mode doesn't work when you're trying to collaborate across institutions.

My own feeling about the article is that I do want something to change. I don't know if the elimination of departments works, but what about merging departments? What about creating a real interdisciplinary infrastructure instead of just giving lip service to it?

I especially like the idea of eliminating the traditional dissertation (oh, what I would have done if I could have used video!) and providing expanding opportunities for grad students. I would love to see career fairs for grad students where corporations, think tanks, museums, and other institutions who value the experience of Ph.D's would come and recruit students. Instead what happens is graduate advisers, who only know the academy, tell you what schools to apply to. A Ph.D. who then takes a job outside the academy either does so because no academic jobs were forthcoming or feels like a sell-out.

Whatever we think of Taylor's argument, I think there's a general feeling that the structure at most colleges and universities is not serving the needs of the students (this may not be true at CC's). The training that students receive, even at SLAC's, is mostly training for an academic life that most won't have even if that's what they want. A broader, more interdisciplinary education has the potential of creating more knowledgeable citizens, who are better prepared to solve the world's problems. There will still be some who choose to become faculty (and we will need them), but wouldn't it be great if being an English major didn't mean that you knew nothing about physics?

Cross-posted at Emerging Technologies Consulting
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Monday, April 27, 2009

Writing for Nothing, Writing for Next to Nothing

One of the areas I'm exploring for bringing in income is freelance writing. I was a creative writing major in college, went to an MFA program, and of course, ended up with a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition. It makes sense that I might want to put those skills to use in other ways. I have a couple of things I'm working on that may pan out, but for more regular income, I've been perusing sites for freelancers. Another benefit to these sites is that there are also some more technically oriented jobs that I qualify for. I've yet to be successful in winning a proposal, but I'm pretty picky about what I submit. You see, I've discovered where most of the crap on the Internet comes from--not freelancers themselves, many of whom are talented writers doing a variety of writing work--but from the not-so-great writers willing to do anything for a buck. And literally, they're making a buck. Many of the jobs posted want you to write articles for $1-2 apiece. Now, granted, these aren't long articles (around 500 words), but still what kind of writing can you expect? Many of these articles are churned out by software and cleaned up slightly by actual people, so someone can churn out 20 articles a day or more (the actual requirement for some of these jobs). They are often SEO optimized, meant to drive Google searches to their sites so they can either make money of the ads or sell an actual product. Yay, capitalism. I think the places I'm looking are the lowest common denominator places, where the people posting jobs don't have much money and the people accepting jobs don't have or need much. I know there are better places out there, but I haven't had the time to explore them much.

The funny thing is, of course, I write this blog for nothing. Although I have a few ads on the side and an Amazon Associates account, I've made less than $50 over the last 5 years of writing this blog. One of my former colleagues suggested I try to make money here and I laughed. The things I'd have to to do make that happen are just not in me. I've been contacted by advertisers, more lately than in previous years and most of them are companies I'd be willing to advertise for, but I've turned all of them down so far. I'm committed to writing here every day, mostly out of a connection I feel to my audience and out of a desire to continue practicing my writing even if I'm not getting paid. I'm a shameful idealist, hoping in the back of my mind to be "discovered" and refusing to "sell out." I may not write articles for $1 apiece, but if writing is the path I go down, I'm certainly going to have to let go of some of my purist tendancies.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Recession: Personal Effects

I was going to write an upbeat post, given that it's Friday, and it looks like it's going to be gorgeous today and through the weekend. There's a lot to look forward to.

But, underlying much optimism is the knowledge that for many people, the world is not looking bright and sunny. I've been reading NPR's Planet Money for several months now as a way of keeping up with what's going on in the economy (in a way that makes sense but doesn't shy away from complexity). A couple of days ago, they posted about the suicide of David Kellerman, CFO of Freddie Mac, and the familicide in Maryland that many now think was linked to mounting debt and financial problems. On my way back from a doctor's appointment yesterday, I listened to a story about these familicides, which are up in the last few months and are almost always up during an economic downturn. Many problems don't reach the level of familicide, and instead financial woes lead to increased incidents of spousal and child abuse.

As I drive around town, I've seen stores shuttered or giant going out of business signs. I've had the experience of going to a store to buy something only to find it out of business, as Anjali wrote about on her own blog. People I know at the college have been laid off. My stepfather was laid off. Parents of kids at my kids' schools have been laid off. I regularly receive email from the college about budget meetings, budget cuts, etc. I feel a huge amount of sympathy for these people. I feel a sense of survivor syndrome given that I quit my own job and we can afford for that to happen. And yet I worry that, at 41, if I needed to get another job, I couldn't. All that doom and gloom and conflicted feelings can be debilitating.

I think that's what's behind some of my blah. Yesterday, I got the letter officially terminating my part-time teaching gig. I, of course, had not expected to continue, so it wasn't like this was necessary. The point of the letter was to make sure I returned my library books and gave up my office and its equipment, etc. Next week is the last week of classes. On the one hand, I've enjoyed teaching this class. I've learned a great deal about myself, about my teaching, and about the subject matter of the course. On the other hand, I'm looking forward to having more time to build my business and to explore other kinds of work. The bad economic situation makes me feel uneasy about that. It makes me think, maybe I should pursue another part-time teaching job just so we have some extra steady income. And then I think, but it takes time to do freelance consulting work and teaching would take away from it. And then I think, but the teaching is related to the consulting work. It's a vicious circle.

The reality is that time will take care of some of these worries one way or another. Either we'll discover we need for me to work or we don't. Either the business will take off or it won't. And then we can make decisions. I'm borrowing trouble, so to speak. And despite some financial worries on my part, I think it's important for me not to have a regular gig for a while. In the weeks just before classes began, I was humming along. Things were good. I need to remember that instead of looking at the worst case scenario.


*someone in my blog world was writing about this the other day and now I can't find it-gah!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Average is fine with me

A Galápagos Giant TortoiseImage via Wikipedia

It took me a couple of days to get through this article by Margaret Talbot on neuroenhancing drugs. I'm completely disturbed by this whole idea. One of the people interviewed, psychologist Paul McHugh, for the article expressed my feelings exactly: "Maybe it’s wrong-footed trying to fit people into the world, rather than trying to make the world a better place for people." Many of the people taking these drugs feel "behind" in some way; they feel like they're not working hard enough, fast enough, etc. In some cases, their companies are demanding this kind of work. In others, they're looking at their younger colleagues, those who don't have families and other obligations and who seem sharper, and want to keep up.

It seems to me that the definition of "best" kind of productivity is what's problematic here. Instead of letting people settle into work habits that work for them and their goals (while still meeting some basic company goals), the company defines productivity as creating more or working more. These drugs allow people to work longer hours, and maybe produce some better work as long as it doesn't require abstract thought and creativity.
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I've been feeling a little blah lately, feeling the pressure of the end of the semester and upcoming projects, but feeling that I need to still maintain balance despite the pressure. If I were one of the people in the article, I'd be taking a drug to help me focus. Instead, I'm using other methods of working on something for a set amount of time and then giving myself a break or a reward. I'm starting projects a long way out so that I don't have to put in long, crazy hours just before they're due. I feel like a tortoise in a world of hares. I feel conflicted about that, in part because I, too, recognize that I'm getting older, that I'm shifting careers into a space filled with younger, faster competitors. Part of me thinks I should be a hare. But I've done that before and it burned me out quickly, made me hate much of what I did.

I kind of feel sorry for those people who seem to be on a hamster wheel of their own making. Maybe they will accomplish amazing things, things I won't be able to because of the way I choose to work. But will they enjoy the journey? I suspect it's just a blur. And I'd like to have a clearer focus of that kind, the kind that can be brought by slowing down, observing and thinking.
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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Blow up the tv--or not



The above is footage (grainy and shaky) from one of my favorite John Prine songs, Spanish Pipedream. The chorus goes:

Blow up your T.V. throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an find Jesus on your own

This week is Turn Off Your TV week, which has, as Lisa Belkin explains, has become about turning off all kinds of screens. But she thinks the whole thing is hooey:

This project also makes me cranky because I like screens. I like using them myself and with my children. Television and computers helped me raise my kids. The length of a video can be enough time to take a shower of start dinner when you have a toddler; a computer can be a portal to friends and homework and the morning newspaper as children grow. And many an important conversation — about sex and drugs and right and wrong — has been triggered with my teens by watching “Lost.”

But mostly it’s because I have come to question rah-rah, all-or-nothing statements for subtle situations. If 70 percent of day-care centers use television during a typical day, then the answer is to talk to your day-care provider. If 66 percent of Americans watch television while eating dinner, then turn off your set while you eat. If you are only clocking 39 minutes of meaningful conversation during the week — start talking. If televisions in bedrooms are bad, remove them. If your kids are watching too much television, unplug the darn thing.

Banning screens completely for a week won’t make any of the above happen. More likely, it will send the message that “we’ve done our part, and now we can go back to normal."
We constantly evaluate our screen use. We have limits for our kids, and we don't put computers or the television into an all good or all bad category. How you use the tools is what matters. This week, Geeky Girl and I are watching Hamlet together, in preparation for her role as Laertes in a school production. It's caused us to have many of the discussions that Belkin mentions. I never thought I'd have to talk about how women were treated during the Shakespeare's time, but Ophelia's and the Queen's roles made me have that conversation. We also have family time around the tv, watching shows or movies together. I think as long as your own viewing isn't all or nothing, you're okay. Turn of the tv week does nothing to help people moderate their viewing.

Is Sexting Unsafe? For Whom?

Education week points to this Washington Post article by an assistant principal who was charged with child pornography because of his investigation of a sexting incident.

My problem with the sexting incidents is that they're being framed as digital safety problems. That may be true in some cases, but is the receipt of a nude photo always harmful? If unwanted on either end, then probably yes. It may constitute harassment. But more harm is being done to these students not by the act itself, but by the prosecution of the act as child abuse or possession of child pornography. The first article linked below notes:
it seems there is no one reason prosecutors are opting to charge teens with child porn instead of lesser charges. Some may be doing it to "send a message."

Some may feel they have an obligation to charge these teens with the most serious offense possible and, according to the law, naked pictures of underage kids are usually considered child porn. And others may feel they are left with no options since there aren't really any laws that apply specifically to sexting.

In any case, it's clear we need to change our laws to catch up with technology.

Not only have the laws done harm to the kids, but in the Post article, they're doing harm to the educators, who are in a position to help these kids.

Sexting is certainly not behavior that we should condone, but we should acknowledge that hormones run high and that kids are going to do things related to their sexuality that may not be appropriate and may, in fact, do them harm down the road. Last week, I caught the end of an Oprah show about teens and sex that I thought made a lot of sense (yeah, I watched Oprah, okay?). Dr. Laura Berman suggested that girls, especially, should become familiar with their bodies and with sexual response through masterbation so that when they experience those feelings with someone, they don't equate the physical feelings with just that person. They need to understand that those are physical responses and not emotional ones. It's a way really of not just understanding your body but respecting it and maintaining some control over it.

One of the interesting things about the show was how squeamish many people were about discussing sex. And this, I think, is the root of many problems, including sexting. When something is treated as taboo or as some mysterious thing, teens are naturally curious about it. Being open with our kids about sex--what it is and isn't, why it might be important to wait to have sex, and what the consequences are--can lead to a healthier attitude toward sex and perhaps help them avoid situations that make them sexually vulnerable.

I think this issue needs to be reframed. It's not primarily a technology issue; it's a behavior issue. It sounds like that's exactly how assistant principal Ting-Yi Oei at Freedom High was treating it and was, in fact, working on an education plan for the school to address it. That is, until he got arrested for child pornography. Both the law and the school have unfornately missed the boat because the technology got in the way--and not just because Oei's ineptness made him look guilty, but because blaming the technology means we don't have to deal with the real issue. The law treated these kids the same way they would treat middle-aged men trafficking kiddie porn in chat rooms because the technology is similar. It's time for law enforcement, educators, and parents to think beyond the surface.


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Monday, April 20, 2009

Random Weekend Thoughts: Soccer, Gardening, and WoW

It was a pretty lazy weekend at the Geeky household, but we did manage a few activities.

First, soccer season started on Saturday. Because we signed up late, we had no idea who the coach was or what he looked like. When we arrived at the designated field (and there are 3 at this location), there was a lot of hubbub because there were ambulance and police. We quickly realized a kid on the adjacent field had been hurt. It was a bit disconcerting because she was lying face down on the ground. Turns out, she'd dislocated her shoulder, not terribly serious, but painful I'm sure. We finally found the team and the coach and then realized that Geeky Girl had forgotten her shin guards. Mr. Geeky zoomed back home to find them. Meanwhile, she had to sit out. Once she got to play, though, she was her usual speedy and well-rounded team player. She made a few excellent passes. The coach and the team were immediately impressed. Although she's probably the smallest on the team, she's also the oldest and has the longest amount of time playing.

After soccer, we made a trip to Home Depot for light bulbs and for plants to replace ones I'd allowed to die over the last cold snap. I replanted them and planted a couple of other plants, but held off on major gardening until Sunday morning. I weeded and generally cleaned things out, which took quite a while. Then I planted a rose bush. I have no idea how this will do, but it's something I've wanted to try. I also got some summer bulbs, but was too exhausted to plant them after all the weeding. I'm going slowly on the garden.

And then there was the WoW playing. I was in a groove this weekend, so I spent a fair amount of time playing. An incident yesterday, however, is still sticking with me. If you're not a gamer, you can skip this, but this is kind of about human behavior. So, over the weekend, I managed to run a couple of dungeons by grouping up with complete strangers. The first run, done fairly early in the morning, went really well, largely, I think because I'm pretty sure the whole group was made up of grown-ups. The second one went well until the end. The hard-to-kill dungeon bosses, of which there are 3-5 usually per dungeon, drop really good loot (weapons, armor, etc.) and the group generally rolls for them (this happens automatically). This loot is usually bound to you when you pick it up, so that you can't give it away or sell it for a price at the auction house. There are two types of rolls, greed and need. Need trumps greed rolls and generally people ask before rolling need. So, for example, if 4 people roll greed, and 1 rolls need, even if the need roll is a 1, that person will win the item. People tend to pass on items they don't need. I can't use wands, for example, so I usually don't roll on those. In this particular run, I'd passed on a few things and I'd rolled and won one thing. On on boss, a guy (who I decided was younger than 18 based on this and the incident I'm about to describe) asked if he could need roll on something, and we all hesitatingly said yes. On the final boss, a good piece of armor that I could use dropped and the same guy asked to need roll again, and I said no, you've already need rolled once and besides, there are two other people who could use that. I felt kind of bad about being jerky about the whole thing, but I still maintain a sense of fairness even in the game, and I felt the guy wasn't being fair. He ended up calling me a loser and complaining that he really needed that item. I didn't win it, and in fact, couldn't have won it even before he'd asked for it because my roll was lower than the other guy's. In retrospect, I wish I'd checked on that and just let him need roll for it. After all, it's just a game. And part of my anger after he called me a loser was toward a guy I saw as taking the game too seriously. After all, when you're not at the highest level, you tend to out level your items pretty quickly. And does anyone really *need* virtual items at all? But here I was, taking the game pretty seriously, at least the part about a game needing to be fair. So, I was kind of a hyppocrite and that didn't make me feel too good.

What I also thought about this incident was the way the guy called me loser--in public for all to "hear", and I wondered if he knew how old I was and that I'm a mom if he would have done that. I suspect he would have chalked it up to my being an old fogey and a girl to boot who didn't know what she was doing and might have just shrugged and moved on. On the other hand, he might still have called me a loser to his friends privately. On still another hand, I must have been a good enough player for him to think that calling me a loser was okay. On the Internet, no one has to know you're a mom.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Moms take over the Internet, Ruin It

Beth, at Silicon Valley Moms, has a great post up about some of the media coverage being given to Oprah's joining Twitter. There are many assumptions in the media that moms just don't know their way around the Internets. Um, Mommy Bloggers, anyone? Heck, back when I was first learning web design in the late 90s, Parent Soup was made up mostly of moms. You can't tell me they weren't tech savvy. There are so many sites catering to moms, not just as consumers, but also as producers of content, it's not even funny. In fact, I get tired of some of their focus just on parenting stuff or on identifying us as moms. I'm more than a mom. I'm a wife, a daughter, an entrepreneur, a gamer, a blogger, a Twitterer, a teacher, etc.

I will say that in working with some of the PTO moms, there is sometimes a tech gap, but mostly it's a matter of wanting to be able to do something--like set up a web site that will send alerts to people--and not having the skills or the time to make that happen. They're aware of the tools, but have not used them much if at all. And they're more than willing to learn--the rule rather than the exception it was even a year or two ago.

Like Beth, I'm annoyed that the media, especially the tech media still thinks that moms a) aren't tech savvy and that b) if they are, they must use the tools in "icky" ways. Well, screw you, you don't get to set the rules, and I can guarantee you that a mom's life is often more hectic, more on-the-run, more complicated than many of the tech gurus out there who want to control how tools are used. It's weird; it's like the tech world has finally gotten around to it being okay for women to use technology, but only if they're not also moms. Gah.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How to Enjoy Parenting

For some people, parenting is always mostly enjoyable, but for quite a few, parenting can be drudgery more often than not. Or, at the very least, one can focus on the drudgery rather than enjoying the fun parts. I've been there. Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project offers some tips for finding the happiness in parenting. The tips apply mainly to those with young kids, so I thought I'd add some for those with pre-teens or teens (though they may apply to young kids too).

1. Appreciate your kids' accomplishments and compliment them on their hard work.

2. Schedule time with each kid separately. Geeky Girl and I are planning a girls' night out this weekend.

3. Plan something as a family. When kids get older, they want their alone time, and quite frankly, parents want that too. A few times a month (or more often), plan a family excursion, schedule a movie night (even if it's on your own tv).

4. Spend some time without the kids. Date night is still very important at this age. When you're feeling frazzled about managing the kids school work or discipline, an evening out away from the kids can give you much needed time away so that you can shift focus away from the negative and back to the positive. It can also give you time to talk about the kids without the kids around. This is the biggest thing I've noticed about having older kids. They are awake as long as we are and get up when we do, so it's hard to find time at home to have a private conversation.

5. Listen to your kids. I mean really listen. My kids often just start talking about random things, things I may or may not be interested in. But I listen to them when they talk as they're often sharing an important part of their lives with me. Sometimes it's a fleeting glimpse into how they think or what might be going on with them emotionally. I can't tell you how many times I've been amazed at what my kids tell me. They have truly interesting minds.

So, what are your ideas for enjoying your time as a parent?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Teaching the Balance

I caught this NPR show on the way into work yesterday. The guests for the show discuss a module of a Women Entrepreneurs Class that teaches about work/life balance. I thought this was interesting that the issue would be brought out into the open this way. The thing that struck me the most was the ending comment when the host asked what one piece of advice would they give to women to help them achieve balance. Both Leslie Morgan Steiner and Kathy Korman Frey said, "Talk to your spouses early on, before it's an issue and work out exactly how you're going to balance." I think that's excellent advice, advice I didn't follow. Hell, I grew up in the era of "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let him forget he's the man." The very idea that we would discuss who stays home with sick kids, what to do for career moves, etc. was foreign to me. We did talk about these things when they arose, but by then, we were in crisis mode. As either of us have gotten frustrated with some aspect of the balance of work and life (usually it's me), we've discussed it and worked something out. Certainly, you can't anticipate every little thing that's going to happen, but there are lots of things you can. I do wish we'd sat down and said, "Okay, what are we going to do when you're up for a career move? What if I'm up for a career move?" Instead, we both made assumptions. Early on, for example, I made an assumption about when Mr. Geeky would finish grad school. When that dragged on longer than anticipated, I was left in a limbo state, careerwise. While in that state, I had my first kid, but I think it would have been better if we'd took a hard look and maybe set some real deadlines about when we (or just one of us) would move on. There were opportunities I could have taken if we'd set a real timeline instead of playing it by ear.

The other thing the guests noted was that in other contexts (not the class, since it's marketed specifically to women), they've noticed many more men showing up to hear about work/life balance. They noted that while the job of being a mother has changed in the last few decades, the job of being a father has changed even more dramatically. Fathers are now expected to and want to be involved in their kids' lives, so they're feeling the pull of family life and the tension that creates with their work life more than ever. Certainly this creates an opportunity to have those conversations about how to balance.

I'm curious if any of you out there have had these conversations with your spouses or if, like me, you tend to go with the flow. Is it better to have the converation or not?
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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A picture a day


The blog has been wonky. Half of the previous post disappeared. And the bar across the top was gone earlier too. Very odd.

Anyway, I've been doing project 365 again this year. I've made it much further than I did last year but not as far as the year before. I've missed about 5 days out of the 104 we've had so far, most of that in the last week or so, thanks to illness, visits from relatives, and plain old forgetfulness. I need to come up with ideas to keep me going on days like today when it's cold and wet and rainy outside and I'm stuck in front of the computer all day. I will say that it does make you get up and get out sometimes and makes you look at the world differently. So I'm crossing my fingers and hoping I make it through this year.

Rejection

Laura at 11d asks about rejections after her oldest is rejected from a school play. We had a similar rejection a couple of weeks ago. Our son was in an essay contest and made it to the semi-finals. He was rejected from the finals because there was a reference to beer in the story. The story was about a sand castle that became a cliff at the edge of the ocean and the beer reference was in a sentence that went something like, "we all celebrated with beer or soda, depending on our age." It wasn't like it was advocating drinking or glorifying it or anything. The award for the winner was a $100 gift card to Borders, so we took Geeky Boy to buy what he wanted at Borders.

Friday, April 10, 2009

It's Friday

It's a Friday on a holiday weekend, so I thought we needed some fun. Here's a LOLCAT, especially for Bryan at Infocult.

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

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Looney Tune Effect

Yesterday, after getting through some grading (going faster than before--hooray!) and getting some other work done, I found myself not feeling too good. Being horizontal seemed the best idea. Daytime tv being pretty universally awful, I decided to download some old Looney Tunes cartoons to watch with Geeky Girl. The one embedded here is one I refer to here that got me worked up about death. We watched for altogether. Geeky Girl did find them funny, but she commented that they were awfully short. Each one was only about 8 minutes long. And, of course, they mostly relied on slapstick humor, not sophisticated wordplay or lengthy setups for jokes. It makes today's (best) cartoons seem like Shakespeare in comparison. On the other hand, I know some of these were clever and subtle in their humor. I explained to Geeky Girl that I used to get up early on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons and the grand finale was always the Bugs Bunny show, an hour and a half of these cartoons. I also told her that these cartoons showed before movies, something she thinks is bizarre considering there are now so many feature-length cartoons. Oh, and I used to walk to school uphill both ways in the snow. God, I feel old.
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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Grading Day

I've declared today grading day. Or really commenting day, as I'm not putting grades on these papers. I've been particularly slow at this this semester. I think there are a number of reasons for this. One, this is not a task I particularly enjoy. I have a hard time keeping my comments limited. I'm a writing teacher by training and I find myself wanting not just to comment on ideas (this is not a writing class), but to also suggest ways those ideas might be conveyed better. I find the task emotionally draining, in part because I spend too much time on each paper (30 min. on average, but some come in at 45), and therefore can't bring myself to spend more than about 1 and a half to 2 hours per day on it. That means I get 3-4 papers done per day and when you have 20 papers to grade, at a minimum, you're looking at 5 days. I skip days, of course. I also don't work on the weekends generally (papers come in on Fridays), so it's usually at least a week and has been up to two weeks.

I feel bad about this, especially since my co-teacher speeds through her papers. So today I've decided to get through at least half, and try not to fuss too much about suggesting specific writing techniques, but just to say that something is confusing and move on. I'm a little more motivated as I have to prep for class before the weekend and if I have grading hanging over my head too, I'm going to be completely stressed out. Okay, ready . . . set . . . go!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Spring Break and Lazy Gardening

Day 95: Daffodils all in a row
The kids start spring break this week, which of course, does not coincide with our spring break. On the plus side, we don't have to get up at the crack of dawn. On the down side, since we don't have the kind of jobs you can up and leave for a week, we're just hanging out at home. Because Mr. Geeky and I still have work to do, it's going to be a challenge to keep the kids occupied in more interesting ways than just in front of the computer or tv. Today and tomorrow are supposed to rain. Wednesday and Thursday look nice and both have more potential for activity. My mother comes to visit on Friday and looking toward a weekend where absolutely no work will get done, I'll be anxious to get next week's work done this week. Sigh. I shouldn't borrow trouble. It'll all work out, but gah! Disruptions to the routine! I'm like a toddler right now.

This weekend I tackled the garden. Last year, I was feeling very blah and made an executive decision not to really do anything in the garden. It mostly survived, although the weeds and grass were more problematic than in years past. I'm a very lazy gardener. Every book I read says to pay attention to soil and make sure there isn't a single weed before planting anything. My strategy is to get up as many weeds as possible then mulch and hope for the best. I think I might have killed the hostas, which is kind of sad, but the daffodils and hyacinth are looking fab. A couple of bushes behind them look a little worse for the wear and the rhododendron looks like it needs some tlc. I planted tomatoes, red peppers and straberries in pots. We'll see how that goes. I'm usually quite successful with flowers and herbs this way, but have not tried fruits and veggies. Again, laziness dictated that I not dig up a plot to put these in. Instead at the end of the driveway, which is, I think, the only place they will get enough sun. I may end up needing to move them around. Gardening is damn hard work.

I feel like I'm in the home stretch, but there's a lot to do. I used to run track, the 400 actually, and I would always sprint the last 50-100 yards and it always felt like my body was going to explode and then at the end, I always felt tired but pleased with myself. I'm trying to focus on that "pleased" part.
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Friday, April 03, 2009

PTA update

So I went to the elementary school PTA meeting on Wednesday night. There were a total of 6 people there including me. I don't know how this compares to our previous school, but the other parents there said that they'd heard that there are regularly 40 or so parents at a couple of the other schools' PTA meetings. I immediately felt sympathy for them. I volunteered to create a website for them, which I'm hoping to get done today. I'm going to use Wordpress so that all the PTA officers can simply log in and post information. I'm pretty excited about it, and I think they'll be happy to have something good to work with.

In comparison to our previous school, I would guess that this school's parents are better off financially in general, but it seems that parent participation isn't particularly high. The parents at the meeting were speculating that perhaps there were more two-income families and so fewer parents with time to commit. Also, we're not nearly as financially well off as the middle school PTA and, I'm guessing, some of the other elementary schools. I hope that the web site/blog can help get more involvement and bring in more money. Right now, the PTA pays for a health and nutrition program for the kindergartners as well as a couple of big activities for the whole school.

This PTA has a much nicer feel to it than any other PTA I've tried to get involved in. It's too bad that more people aren't involved.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

No Excuses

That's my new philosophy. Too often, I let a simple thing keep me from doing something. Of course, the something is often something I don't want to do. At work, whenever a pile of yucky tasks accumulated, I often convinced myself to tackle them first and then move on to more interesting work--as long as the tasks weren't going to take all day. And, of course, they often didn't take that much time at all, but it always seemed like they would. I probably spent more time agonizing over doing the tasks than actually doing them.

Some examples from the last few days. I wanted to go for a bike ride, and even though I do enjoy bike riding, I'm out of shape enough that I know parts of the ride are going to be painful for me, so I start to think, maybe I shouldn't go, I'm tired, I'll go this weekend, I'm running behind schedule now anyway. And so I literally shook all those excuses and protests out of my head, just put on some sweats and my helmet and headed out. I also made myself do one more thing for class after dinner one night even thought, once again, I was telling myself that I was tired, I couldn't concentrate, etc. And I just did it and I felt so much better.

And that's the thing. I've actually enjoy my leisure activities so much more when I don't have something hanging over my head. It sucks to be watching tv with my kids, thinking, after this is over, I have to read that article or do another load of laundry instead of just enjoying the moment. The other thing is, I'm trying not be manic about it either. I think I got that way when I was doing GTD by the book. Recognizing that I'm making silly excuses is one thing, but being frantic about checking everything off a list is another.

Tomorrow, look for a report on my latest PTO meeting. Here's a hint: I'll be putting my web skilz to work.