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.

The Children Have Taken Over

They do have their own blogs, I promise. But for some reason, it's more fun for them to blog here. I think they like the audience. You can see the challenges I face: the sarcasm, the way-too-smart-for-their-own-good attitude. That comes from Mr. Geeky's side of the family, I promise.

At any rate, expect another post from Geeky Boy later today, who will be blogging about virtual economies. I swear he has a future on Wall Street. He regularly discusses cornering the market on things. Yesterday, he discussed some kind of 6-point connection thing for how he determines what to corner. It scares me.

And I have a couple of posts brewing myself: on the pitfalls of attending academic conferences, on why we feel guilty about creating art, and WoW Wednesday on my new love of PvP. So the joint's gonna be hopping around here. And now I have to go try to catch up on NaNoWriMo. Cue the music.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Tween takeover again

Rubber_duckies.

Hello people of Earth, Mars, and Wisconsin it is Tween Takeover Monday! Moving on I have been asked a question from one of my "fans" and they have asked the same question to my brother. "How do you feel about screen time for tweens?" he asked. I thought this question was too hard to comprehend so I just feel like giving you a picture of ducks:

I'm just kidding! Here's my blog about screen time for tweens:

When I get up in the morning I feel a sudden urge to dance, but I don't. So just like computer time I want to, but I can't or don't. Why you ask, why does she choose not to play the sims 3 or runescape, why? Because I have work to do of course but also because I don't want to become addicted and end up failing school because I play videogames instead of do homework. You don't want that, do you? (those of you who said yes think about when your 27 and your still stuck in the 10th grade) I know everybody says school is boring and we shouldn't have homework, but think twice the next time you are out at recess(younger kids) or you are in study hall throwing paper airplanes(older kids) think about how much fun school actually is. Don't waste your time on computers do your home work and then you can enjoy the sunny, or snowy day.

Please leave comments if you want. Thanks again, Stephanie. (AKA Geekygirl)


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The relentlessness of parenting

Jody at Raising WEG writes about the relentlessness of having to be the arbiter, the house manager, the soother of emotions, etc. I remember a couple of years ago, when I got so depressed, I actually had to seek professional care, how I could not even begin to deal with the every day needs of the kids. I didn't really even realize that I wasn't tending to them. I'd just blocked them out, kind of going through the motions. As I began to realize that I had detached myself, I got even more depressed about it. The very least one is supposed to do as a parent is be engaged in the daily needs of one's children, but I couldn't do it.

In fact, I'd say that realizing that my needs and issues were taking away from theirs was one of the many reasons I left my job. All I could focus on at the end of the day were the bad things that had happened to me at work. Rather than giving my kids the opportunity to process their days, I needed to process mine first. And that seemed really unfair to me.

It's dramatically different now. I can actually have conversations with my kids, not just at dinner time, but after school and on car rides to various activities and in that space between school and dinner. But, the daily grind (outside of those conversations) does get wearing. Though I spend about half of every day doing my own stuff, a good chunk of my day is spent doing laundry, grocery shopping, meal planning, cleaning, coordinating drop-offs and pick ups, counseling on proper time management (aka homework issues), and negotiating proper leisure activities. The laundry, especially, seems never ending. Just when I think I'm going to have a few days' break, more piles seem to appear from nowhere.

Jody's kids are eight, and many of her commenters kids are around the same age. I'd say that having kids that are 10 and 14 is easier and harder.

Easier:
  • They do their chores properly about 90% of the time. I do usually have to remind them, but other than that, I am assured that the work will get done.
  • They can function properly and behave properly under most conditions. Even if they're tired, they can be counted on to behave properly at a family function or other event. I don't have to worry about some kind of breakdown.
  • They can go places on their own. They're old enough now to walk over to the ice cream place, the library or the game store. (Though Geeky Girl must be accompanied by Geeky Boy).
Harder:
  • School work. Especially for Geeky Boy, grades matter. For both of them, I still have to pay particular attention to their getting their work done, practicing instruments, etc. They would much rather watch tv or play video games.
  • Psychological issues such as body image, intimacy, etc. Geeky Girl is not that far away from going through puberty and already, there's been discussion of what girls wear, etc. Geeky Boy is old enough to be exposed to drinking, drugs, and sex. We are constantly having discussions about these things and also trying to assess their friends and relationships. It's quite difficult.
  • General negotiation of boundaries. When kids are younger, it's clear what they're allowed to do or not. As they get older, sometimes it's hard to decide. If one parent allows their kid to go to a movie unattended, should you let your kid do the same? And then there's just the general concept of what they should be able to do on their own versus what you're still having to help them with. I'm still helping Geeky Boy with time management, but I don't have to help him get dressed or clean up the kitchen.
It's sort of a weird feeling to tire of parenting. On the one hand, you're just tired. On the other, you realize how fleeting the time is. I think one of the reasons we get tired, in fact, is that we think our interactions with our kids should be more fun, more pleasant. If the time is fleeting, shouldn't that time be spent being happy more often than not?

Back to reality

Mondays are always a bit rough, after getting to sleep in, attend soccer games and loll around with the family. They're especially rough after having spent a few days conferencing. I attended this conference (presentation here). This was the first time I've been to this conference and only the second of two purely academic conferences I've been to in the last five years. I have more to say about that experience. In general, I think academic conferences are a kind of twilight zone experience, even when one is enjoying them, as I did this one.

Most wonderfully, I was able to meet this blogger, a veteran of the conference and a truly delightful person to get to spend some time with. I was grateful to have someone who knew a few people, who could introduce me around and give me people to eat lunches and dinners with. Without her, I'm sure I wouldn't have as much fun as I did.

Given that I was conferencing for the last few days, I'm a bit behind on my NaNoWriMo writing, but I have a big writing session planned this morning and I'm hoping to be caught up today. I did do some writing while I was away, just not enough. Gee, the days go by fast. Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Gah. One day at a time.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Giving that cat some pants

No this is how it happened: Once upon a time in a car ride home my brother Thad was sitting in the backseat next to me doodling on his DS and everyone else was talking and when we stopped we noticed Thad was singing quietly. This is what he was singing:"Giving that cat some pants, giving that cat some pants!!!" And that is the real story!

Fun Friday: Put some pants on that cat

A while back, the kids were in the car, doodling on the DS's and one of them said, "Put some pants on that cat." It became a family rap song. We're still singing it when we see the cat, when one of us doesn't have pants on, etc. So this Lolcat fit perfectly.

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

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Tween takeover Thursday

Hello people of Geekymom's blog I am the guest blogger for tween takeover Thursday. Two fill you in, those of you who don't me here is a little bit of info: My name is Stephanie (AKA geekygirl) I am geekymom's daughter, geekyboy's sister, geekydad's daughter, and so on. My favorite color is green, I love to play soccer, and my favorite food is spaghetti. If you would like to learn more about me or read about my stories please visit talesofgeekygirl.blogspot.com. So anyways I need ideas on what to blog and I don't have to blog today it can be tomorrow too. But if you have a cool idea or topic you think I might know about and might be able to blog about please leave your ideas/topics in the comment area.


Thank you,
Geekygirl

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

WoW Wednesday: Late Edition on Stress Reduction, or not

When I called my husband a little while ago complaining that the hotel I'm in charges for Internet access, he said, "Bah, treat yourself, go play some WoW." So I probably will later this evening.

I spent the last couple of hours finishing up my presentation and trying to arrange various social engagements. After a plane ride and some heavy duty slide wrangling, sometimes it's fun to go kills some monsters. When I was younger, like 27, I used to play Quake after work. There's nothing like sending a person virtually across the room through strategic rocket launcher use to relieve some stress. I think it's not so much about the virtual killing, which now that I'm older, makes me more squeamish than it used to, but that playing a game uses different parts of my brain than I use for the work I do. I write. I put ideas together. I construct presentations and workshops where I have to think about who I'm presenting to. In a game, there's a different strategy. I'm not thinking in words or images and how they go together. Instead, I plan routes. I think about using particular spells in a particular order so that a particular shot is timed to be especially lethal. I run like hell. In some ways, my more primitive survival mechanisms kick into gear.

And most of the time, while I'm doing that I'm chatting with people (which was true in Quake too). Until I get in front of an audience, much of my work is isolating and while I do get out and have lunch with people on occasion, I can't do that every day, so poking my head into a game and doing something with other people for a while is nice--and it's different from Twitter or blogging or Facebooking, which are also social. It's more like a collective experience rather than either a one-on-one conversation or broadcast. And that's more satisfying to me much of the time.

On the other hand, gaming can cause stress if you take it too seriously or otherwise get caught up in it. I've gotten stressed out over tanking a number of times, so if it's stress reduction I'm after, I don't tank. It's rare for me, though, that a game causes me stress. After all, it's a game. that we play for fun. right?

Sporadic blogging ahead

I'm traveling the rest of the week, attending a conference. I was working the polls yesterday and in theory, Geeky Boy was supposed to do his usual posting, but, of course, he forgot. He might make an appearance today. Heck, I might make another appearance today. Geeky Girl has been demanding to have a day here as well, so she is going to write something tomorrow. If you have any questions for a ten-year-old, let us know.

In the meantime, talk amongst yourselves.

Monday, November 02, 2009

And so it begins! NaNoWriMo 2009

Last night, after soccer games, dinner and a couple of beers, I sat down to write the first words for this month's NaNoWriMo adventure. I'm cheating a bit since I'm writing nonfiction, but anything that will motivate me to keep going is a good thing. I convinced the kids to join me through the Young Writer's Program. They did not join me in the writing adventure. Sigh. Geeky Boy played games, of course, and Geeky Girl was watching the Phillies game. I think I'll be able to convince them this afternoon, or bribe them, or threaten, whatever.

Tomorrow is election day and it's my last election as judge in the precinct. I chose not to run again. I may return to working the polls in a few years, but I needed a break. It should be a slow day, and I'm bringing my computer to get some writing done. Wednesday, I'm off to a conference until Saturday. I'm looking forward to it, especially to being away from all my momly responsibilities for a while (sorry, kids). But it will be hard to keep up with the writing. We'll see.

I must admit that after Halloween, I start pining for the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays, which feel like one giant slugfest. After running a fairly tight ship around here, I'm looking forward to lying on the couch watching tv, eating turkey and doing not much of anything. Until then, I've got three weeks and 48,500 words to go.