Friday, May 29, 2009

Random Paragraphs of Crap (Because Bullets aren't Enough)

I am inspired by Laura's post on attics and basements. While I've managed to clear out a considerable amount of clutter in the living spaces of our house, the storage areas are another story altogether. We have three: the basement, a tiny attic, and a shed (we have no garage). I'm not going to tackle those today as Mr. Geeky has promised to help this weekend, but I am going to dig out my bedroom. Somehow over the last week, everything has gotten dumped in my bedroom. It's driving me nuts. No more!

To gird my loins for such a task, I'm planning a trip to our local diner for breakfast. I'm going to walk there so I feel better about the calories I'm sure I'll consume. There are a few minor household purchases to make: dishwashing detergent, milk, kool-aid (an insistent request from both kids). I need to look into birthday party options (we have two upcoming, always a crazy process). Otherwise, I'm not looking at the to-do list.

On my other blog, I've begun a summer-long project to review a huge number of social software sites. So far, I'm not hugely impressed, but I fully expect the majority to be mediocre at best. I'm going in alphabetical order, but I hope to categorize a bit once I have a few under my belt--maybe monthly. Anyway, feel free to check it out.

This week has actually been a busy one. I finished up a video for a conference I wasn't able to attend. I started designing new business cards. I worked on the PTO web site. I perused a variety of freelance jobs (not much worthwhile), and I started work on an article. And none of that am I getting paid for. Well, if the article is accepted, then I'll get paid for that. I'll leave with with the video, which I really enjoyed doing:

Open Up: A Video for IALLT 2009 from Laura Blankenship on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Double the Income, Quadruple the Work

Elizabeth Coffman writes this morning about the myth of the two-income family. She says:
we need to have a broad, political discussion asserting that the two-income family is not working for many people. This economy, our government, and our own illusions have failed us.
We used to have the "where are the women bloggers" conversation every few months. Now we have the work-family balance is a dream conversation every few months. It's a conversation we need to keep having, I think. In addition to the government deciding that paid maternity/paternity leave, daycare, and other family friendly policies are a national issue, they need to encourage the business community to provide flexible work schedules for both men and women at no cost to their careers. If people do good work, they do good work, whether they're around for 20 hours/week or 60. We need tax policies that support all kinds of work-family arrangements. We need schools that accommodate working families better and reach out to working families more and that outreach can't just be "contribute to this cause" or "volunteer for this event." It needs to be an effort to make them feel a part of the community, that they're welcome even if they don't have the time to volunteer.

It's embarrassing enough that the US as a whole fails so miserably in its support for families. It's even more embarrassing that higher education is not more progressive when it comes to supporting dual income families. Like the corporate world, higher ed still has a work load that assumes a wife at home to handle the details of life while the husband slaves away at his teaching and research. We need to figure out a way to make that work more balanced without causing problems for those without kids.

I've already decided that if I take a job while my kids are still in school, it either needs to be flexible or we need to do some serious talking within my family unit to make the dual-income thing work for us. I think it was okay for Mr. Geeky, but not so okay for me, and at times, not okay for the kids, which makes it even less okay for the kids.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Jon and Kate or Jon and not Kate

Lisa Belkin reminded me that I, too, got sucked into the Memorial Day Jon and Kate plus 8 special. I must admit that Kate has always annoyed me. I understand that organization is key when you have 8 kids to manage, but she is a serious control freak. I think she'd be that way with one kid too. Despite my dislike of her, watching the show was pretty painful. It's not pleasant to watch a relationship seemingly fall apart right in front of your eyes. Jon seemed quite bitter about the path he and his family had ended up on while Kate seemed to be generally happy with where things went (aside from potentially losing her husband). Belkin suggests that the success of the show itself is partly to blame for their downfall. I certainly think it's true that they didn't seem to have a conversation about how to manage their success as a family. They moved into a huge home, and it's likely that they need the revenue for the show more than ever. I wonder, if they stayed in their smaller home, could they have let the show peter out and return to normal lives?

Too much of a good thing

The world of social networking is an interesting thing indeed. It's created dilemmas for us that we never thought we'd have to face. Like whether or not to friend your mom in Facebook. (I have--hi Mom!) My son found Facebook the other day--at my suggestion. He had been using Runescape as his primary means of communicating with friends--really. Because it's a game, he had a tendency to get sucked in for hours, so I suggested he use Facebook instead. And yes, he friended me. I guess my parents worried about our spending too much time in front of the tv. I worry about other screens. As the summer approaches, I haven't figured out exactly how to parcel out time appropriately. After all, I spend probably 8-10 hours online myself and only about half of that is "work".

This week, the NY Times had an article about the effect of too much texting on teens. I actually think the article makes some good points as we've seen similar effects from too much computer use in general--sleep problems, grades falling, anxiety (usually caused by the first two). And, as the article points out, sometimes see restrictions on texting as hypocritical as their parents are attached to their Blackberries. There are simple measures, some of which the article mentions, that parents can take. We discovered, for example, that Geeky Boy was keeping a laptop in his room and playing into the wee hours of the night. Needless to say, we now have him check all electronic devices at the door before going to bed. We haven't done this with the cell phone since a) he doesn't have a text plan and b) he isn't that attached to it yet. But it would be easy to have your kids hand over the phone before bed--and in fact, this could be the rule for the whole family. We've also put limits on computer time or had prerequisites for using the computer. For example, homework and certain chores must be done before logging in. That usually means that there's only an hour left as it is.

I've tried to be very careful about my own use of various social networking tools and try to watch my own time online. Several years ago, I had gotten so involved in blogging that I became disconnected from my family. That is not a good thing and I don't want that to happen to me agian or to my kids. I'm regularly thinking about balance in my own and my family's lives. I find I start to feel sort of antsy anyway if I've spent too much time online.

In an online discussion about Tweeting too Much, meaning, both excessively and tweeting too much personal info, several experts weigh in. Most agree that social norms in regards to what's "too personal" and how public information is in social networking sites are still being worked out. They all seem to agree that people need to achieve some kind of balance, both about what they're willing to put out there and how much time (and when it's appropriate to text, etc.) they spend posting to Twitter or Facebook. Not during birth, please. And maybe not during your kid's soccer game either. Maybe we don't need to hear about your relationship issues either. On the other hand, if you think your sharing that information with other people going through similar issues, okay. These things used to get worked out via email lists and discussion forums (and before that, in living rooms, coffee houses/bars or over the phone). So these are new platforms for communicating, not just what we know should be public, but everything.

To some extent, this whole blurring of the public/private line fuels some of our kids' anxiety about texting and using Facebook. They know it's public--even if they believe it's just a small contingent of their friends. They still need to appear cool via these venues. And come on, isn't that part of what all our blogging, twittering, and Facebooking is about? The web gurus out there need to look like they're on top of every story, working on cool things, talking to cool people. If you feel like you're not, anxiety central. I used to sort of buy into that, but not anymore. I think what our kids and all of us need to figure out is how these tools benefit us and how to walk away when they're not. I leave twitter alone when I have work to do. I only read blogs first thing in the morning and over lunch. And I consider 95% of the blog reading and writing I do to be related to my work. I do sometimes play WoW in the middle of the day when I need a break and only then for an hour (at least I try to limit that). And I don't have a job. I could spend all day doing stuff online. It's true, at least for me, that the use of these tools and being online in general comes in waves. There are some times when I seem to be online 24/7 and then there may be days in a row where I am not online for more than an hour a day. Finding a balance will be difficult for most people, I think, as the lines between our professional and personal lives blur and as much of our work and social lives start to take place online.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Other People's Money

I've been following the Edmund Andrews story as it's been unfolding via various blogs, mostly via Megan McArdle. In case you weren't following, Andrews excerpted part of his book on his succumbing to the subprime mortgage market in the New York Times. Since the story came out, lots of blame has been going around, a lot of it focused on his wife, who had been a stay at home mom, struggled to get jobs and, it turns out, had two prior bankruptcies.

Reading the numbers makes me sick. As far as I can tell, these people make about as much as we did when we were both working. And yet, thanks to putting themselves into huge debt, they have a lot more than we do: a larger house, kids in private school, expensive clothes. Granted, they are on the verge of losing much of that, but it's still depressing. I'm glad I didn't run up $50k in credit card debt in order to have fancy clothes, fancy cars, and private school. Are there things I wish I had? Sure. But instead of getting in over my head, I've lived (mostly) frugally. Like the anger over the AIG bonuses, I think much of the anger directed at Andrews is about the relative wealth they displayed compared to most people. While many people went into debt to live a modest lifestyle--finally getting into a home in a decent neighborhood, for example--a lot of people lived within their means, forgoing an expensive lifestyle. Many people being foreclosed on now did not have 3000 square foot or larger houses. They are now living with family, don't have jobs, etc. And yet, Andrews still has a job, still has a house even, and a book out that will certainly bring in some income.

My father in law used to say, "Poor people have poor ways." And it's sometimes true that poor people make some bad financial decisions, but it's also true that they sometimes get hoodwinked into doing so or simply have no other alternative than a payday loan in order to put food on the table. Increasingly, though, I think the phrase should be "Rich people have poor ways." As more stories come out about wealthy Wall Street bankers and mortage brokers as well as people like Edwards, it occurs to me that many of them weren't so financially savvy. Unlike the poor, however, who tend to only suffer personally for their decisions, the poor ways of the rich are dragging us all down.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Single Parenting Not So Bad?

So, um, yeah, the rest of my week--mostly like Monday. There was the primary that I worked at all day on Tuesday. Track meet on Wednesday, Shakespeare Club on Thursday and lots of picking up the pieces in between.

Yesterday, Lisa Belkin asked if sometimes the grass is greener on both sides of the single/partnered fence. While single moms say that it is tough to raise a kid on their own, especially financially, they also say there are some benefits, like getting to make the final decision about how to parent and not having someone else to take care of.

I do notice that I feel more in control and empowered when Mr. Geeky is away (I suspect he feels the same way). I don't have to confer on minor punishments for not turning in homework or how much computer time someone has earned. And, honestly, sometimes Mr. Geeky is as needy as the kids. He, too, wants to know where "those pants that he likes" are or where the milk is.

On the other hand, when the kids were younger and even more needy than they are now, it was nice that Mr. Geeky would take the kids off my hands so I could go for a walk or take a bath or read a book. And he was very good about that.

I wouldn't want to raise my kids on my own (mostly because I kind of like my husband), but I can certainly see benefits to having complete control over the process. What about you?

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Monday, May 18, 2009

I do more before noon

Not that you need a blow by blow, but good grief, I've done a lot already:
  1. Registered for conference in June.
  2. Rented car for said conference.
  3. Sorted through all the mail.
  4. Paid any outstanding bills.
  5. Filled out and mailed 3 forms--jury duty, gifted program conference, lost check form.
  6. Renewed car registration.
  7. Drove to county courthouse to pick up election materials for tomorrow's election (my last one serving as judge!)
  8. Stopped by grocery store to pick up a couple of things I forgot (yes, this could have been avoided if I'd made my list more carefully).
  9. Stopped by bank to make a deposit.
Shew. And on deck for this afternoon:
  1. Thorough cleaning of kitchen and dining room.
  2. Possible trip to the library (depends on how long the above takes).
  3. Laundry.
It definitely feels to good to have gotten some neglected chores done, especially since I'll be occupied all day tomorrow. It never ceases to amaze me how much there is to do outside of work.

No rest for the weary

You would think that now that I'm officially unemployed, I'd be free as a bird, but no, there's more to do. I'm predicting no break until I go on my first summer trip in late June. The last couple of weeks have been busy ones around the Geeky household. The semester ended. I went away for a week. Routines were broken. I'm staring at a stack of mail that's much taller than it should be. The refrigerator needs to be cleaned out. There's lots of laundry to do. And there are two presentations to contribute to. There's writing to be done, a business to build.

I'll admit to wanting to ignore it all and just kick back for a while, but there are deadlines--even for the household stuff. The kids' birthdays are in two weeks, which coincide with a visit from the in-laws. The house can't remain in its current state of chaos. More importantly, the chaos makes me anxious, so it needs to go. I've felt mildly out of control for the last few weeks and I need to regain that control.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Connecting at Faculty Academy

I'm hanging out in my hotel room, having some coffee, CNN in the background, reflecting a bit on my experience of Faculty Academy this year. There were so many good presentations. It's great to see how many faculty at UMW are really thinking about their teaching. Yes, they're using blogs, wikis, and multimedia, but the focus is always on helping their students learn. As I listened to them talk about what their students were doing, I kept thinking about how lucky those students were. They were getting a kind of education that will really benefit them in the long run.

James Boyle was the keynote speaker, and he talked about the need for openness in the academy. His basic message was that we should be "open by default". It was interesting, especially, to hear him talk about sharing teaching materials. He doesn't understand why faculty keep those materials to themselves. And of course, there was the sticky issue of academic publishing, which is a closed system. He argued that academic presses should release their back catalog under a Creative Commons license and that they might actually make money from such a move. That would be a really exciting move. Over the course of my time here, I've agreed to collaborate on at least 3 books (yes, there was alcohol involved). I go back and forth between wanting to try to publish something in the commercial or academic market or releasing it under a more open platform. My principles say make it open, but I wonder about the money. So if I ever get around to writing those books, maybe I'll find out what happens.

Cole Camplese from Penn State gave a great talk about what students are doing these days and how we should tap into their creativity and engage them where they are. He also talked about the challenges the open web has for administrators.

Here is my talk. I talked about using blogs and wikis as a kind of doppleganger for peer review. I see lots of similarities between the way social media works and the way peer review works (in its ideal state). Like Cole, I see the potential of using social media to engage students. I had a couple of minor technical difficulties along the way--that's what I get for using new technology. But I like taking risks!

More important than the talks themselves are the conversations that occur around them. It was wonderful to get to talk to so many of my friends. Martha Burtis and Steve Greenlaw kept referring to me as a guest, but honestly, after 3 years of coming to Faculty Academy, I feel more like a part of the community. I am connected to everyone through their blogs, through Twitter and Facebook. I added around 10 more people to Twitter. It's great to have added new voices to my network. I loved having the chance to talk to Patrick, Jerry, Jim, Leslie, Jeff, Andy, Serena, Shannon, Joe, and the many faculty I met over the last couple of days. We talked shop, sure, but we also shared stories about raising kids, being spouses, navigating our communities, and generally living life. Through those stories, we strengthened our connections to each other and we'll continue to do so in the online world. That's what most people don't get about social media. It's not about the tools themselves, but the people who use them. It seems to me that the people at Faculty Academy have gotten that message and now they're thinking about how improve those connections and learn from them. It's truly wonderful to be a part of that.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On the road again

In about an hour, I'm heading out to attend Faculty Academy at the University of Mary Washington. I'm traveling by train in part because one of our cars is acting up and in part because Mr. Geeky was worried that driving in I-95 traffic would stress me out and bring back my migraine in full force. I love traveling by train. I seriously want to take a cross-country train trip sometime soon.

The program for Faculty Academy looks great as always and I'm very much looking forward to hearing about some interesting projects and new ideas. I'm also looking forward to seeing all my friends that I've made at UMW after having attended the conference for the last 3 years. It's going to be great to reconnect, much needed after a long semester. You can watch many of the presentations, including mine, live from via the web site they've set up. I did this for day 2 last year when I had to come back early. It was well worth it. I may have reports here as well. So I'll see you guys on the flip side!
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Monday, May 11, 2009

Lessons for Girls 7: It's okay if not everyone likes you

Historiann and Dr. Crazy and others have started this meme, and it's a perfect meme to follow up on Mother's Day.

My lesson is about the striving to be liked that starts, I think, way too early. I spent this weekend going to a school fair and then to a soccer game, where I had the opportunity to watch my daughter (9) interact with her friends. Although she seems a bit unsure of herself at times, she seems to be trying to find her way in positive ways. She's not worried about being just like her friends in either looks or actions. I do my best to support her social explorations, trying to reinforce important lessons, making sure she knows she can stand up for herself when she's in a bad friendship. Things are going to get really, really tough in a couple of years, though, when she hits middle school.

I'm not sure where this came from, maybe my mother, but my father has also commented on the way, especially during my teen years, that I wanted to be liked by everyone. This meant that I did things that were not healthy, sometimes physically. I still have this impulse sometimes of not rocking the boat, of wanting to please everyone. In middle school, you're thrown in with a bunch of people you don't know, the hormones kick in, and suddenly, it seems like you have no friends. People change. You don't see your old elementary school friends anymore and you suddenly feel that you're in competition for new friends. Everyone thinks it's a zero-sum game. It becomes especially hard when the most popular person in school decides they don't like you or your former best friend tells you they can't be friends anymore. It's devastating. I've told my daughter stories about these kinds of situations and how painful they were. And I've told her that what I've come to realize is that it wasn't about me. I wanted to be liked and when I wasn't, in most cases as a result of doing something different, independent, I felt like I'd failed. But I hadn't. In fact, I'd succeeded by differentiating myself, by saying this is who I am and if you don't like it . . . . But I couldn't get to that point when I was 12 or even 16. Instead, I walked around depressed or I tried to reconform to win back those lost friends. And I abandoned some interesting people because they were too off the norm.

So, I will tell my daughter to find the friends who like you no matter what, who like you even if you want to write science fiction or collect rocks or wear weird clothes or be friends with the odd girl in the corner. I will tell her not to do things simply because a friend told her to because she's afraid of not being liked, of losing that friend. Friendships based on mutual support are longer lasting and healthier than those based on weird co-dependent feelings. I see too many of these among girls, many based on this need to be liked.

I think understanding that not everyone is going to like you leads to other positive actions along the lines of what the other bloggers have written about. One is able to opt out of bad situations and arguments (a la Dr. Crazy); one starts to trust your own instincts instead of someone else's; it means you don't have to feel sorry for someone and try to save them; it is a step toward independence; it means not apologizing for who you are; and it means, it's okay to get angry.

What are your lessons that you've learned or that you will pass on to your daughters?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Why Professors Can't Justify the Liberal Arts

I thought this Inside Higher Ed article was an interesting discussion of they way that people outside the academy seem to value a liberal arts education more than those within it. Ho notes that many humanities faculty, despite having defenders among CEOs and business leaders, shun business, withdrawing from potential allies. Further, she notes, the reaction to Fish's article a year ago, declaring that the humanities was irrelevant, pointed out that the cry that the humanities is irrelevant is mostly among scholars, who, one commenter says, "have professionalized their relationship with the humanities to the point of careerist cynicism." Another similarly adds that the "humanities have been taken over by careerists, who speak and write only for each other.”

I do think there's an attitude or awareness that writing a dissertation or scholarly monograph on some minor poet no one's ever heard of isn't really making the humanities relevant to students, and yet most humanists recognize that embarking on such tasks is necessary in order to get a job or get promoted. So there's a real disconnect, which I know I and others have said again and again, between the work that gets one a job and the work that makes one relevant. The students in your class don't know about the monograph you wrote and it may be that writing it gave you new insight into the subjects you teach. Pouring your heart and soul into a class doesn't get you very far in the academic world. So there's a real tension there. I don't know how we resolve this.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Headache continues and a bleg

Although it's mostly gone, I've still got a headache that comes and goes. No amount of medicine makes it go away. At least I'm functioning. Just not at 100%. When it's around, I can't really do much. All I can think about is the pain of it. I basically will it away. Which, by the way, doesn't really work.

These things seem to be somewhat random, but of course, there is a lot going on in my life. I have a thesis to read. I'm meeting with students about final projects. This weekend, instead of relaxing and doing the Mother's Day thing, I have to grade the seniors' work. Next weekend, I'll have the rest of the student work to grade. Of course, I'm done after that, so I shouldn't complain, but I'm not a fan of steady work followed by a big. giant. pile. of work. Oh, and I'm giving a talk next week, and no, I'm not finished putting it together.

But. If you all want to contribute, I'd love to hear from you. So consider this a bleg--and yes, I'm hoping the headache story will make you feel a little sorry for me. :)

Anyway, my talk is called "Any Moron Can Write a Blog" and my basic argument is that learning to evaluate information is not as simple as forcing students away from blogs and wikipedia and that social software principles can be used to teach students about the academic research and writing process. I'm talking about the good and bad of social software and the good and bad of peer review--a process that is mysterious to most students. So, the two principles I've pulled out are connecting and transparency. If you have stories of using blogs, wikis, or other kinds of software in your teaching where students connected with each other (in a kind of informal peer review), collaborated well, or received feedback from external sources, I'd love to hear them. Also if you have thoughts about transparency in social software, I'd love to hear those too. Specific examples of assignments are good too. It's not that I don't have this stuff lined up, but the more the better and I'm a big fan of diversity.

Monday, May 04, 2009

My world is shifting

I had a fairly long philosophical post planned out, but find myself recovering from a migraine, plus having jaw pain (I'm in treatment, but have another month to go). So you get just the facts--and the panic.

Over the weekend, not one, but two high school girls came calling at our house. My son, a mere babe in 8th grade, went wandering the neighborhood with them. They were out for about an hour and a half. The next day, one of the girls returned to hang out with us for a while. I really like this girl, even if she's a year older than Geeky Boy, but people, I am not quite ready for this. I don't think Geeky Boy is either, though he seems to be taking it in his usual nonchalant way. The boy is cool as a cucumber. I've made no comments about the situation to him and neither has Mr. Geeky. We're assuming friendship only at this point. The boy's been educated. Now we hope for the best. But still. Gah!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Swine Flu and Unfriendly Working Conditions Collide

Elizabeth brings up the very point I was thinking on my way home yesterday when I heard a whole district of schools in Alabama had closed as a result of two Swine Flu cases: what are working parents going to do? Like Elizabeth, when I was working, there was much I could do at home and my employer would certainly have been accommodating. But most people do not have accommodating employers and the hysterical people are also suggesting not to send kids to any kind of daycare. I suppose there will be lots of available high school students to babysit.

In another case of hysteria, Philly Mom Amy Jo is being asked to prove that her kid has had two flu shots in order for him to return to school next week. He's had one, and, having another would not protect him from the Swine Flu because, as she smartly points out, it's a mutation. Now Amy Jo is a stay at at home mom, so won't have the work conflict, but as she pointed out in an earlier post, even sahm's need sick days. A disruption in the routine, even for at home moms, can cause problems.

Last night on Keith Olbermann, Dr. Roy Gulik, pointed out that 36,000 people die each year from regular flu. You don't see schools getting all uptight about cases of regular flu. I liked his steady and calm and rational tone--very different from the tone we're hearing from the media, school districts, etc.



Finally, I'd like to point out that while schools are closing and freaking out over potential flu pandemic, workers will go to work sick because they have no sick days. How many times have you seen co-workers dragging in coughing and sneezing? Yeah, me too.

Update: This TED video explains why we should care. It was referencing the avian flu scare, not swine flu, but still relevant: