Tuesday, April 29, 2008


humorous pictures
see more crazy cat pics

Back when I lived in Ann Arbor, I used to get one of the CBC channels - back when Kids in the Hall was a little-known show. I watched it, and continued to watch after it migrated to Comedy Central.

This references one of my ALL-TIME favorite recurring KITH sketches - the ones with the "I'm crushing your head!" guy (and my goodness, someone in the comments even knew the NAME they gave to him - which I hadn't known - Mr. Tyzik).

I used to - and I'm a bit embarrassed to admit this, now - I used to sit in my sixth floor apartment at night, when all the kids were going home from the bar down the street from me making tremendous amounts of noise (it was a favorite think to bash on the hoods of cars to see if they could make the car alarm go off). And I'd sit there in my window, aggravated, because it was once again 2 am and I had been woken out of a sound sleep, and I'd actually "crush" a few heads as I sat there feeling angry at them.

Of course, for it to be funny, you have to say it in a Mr. Tyzik accent.

(if you have not known the wonders of Mr. Tyzik - go here.)

Some of the KITH sketches were kind of dumb and sophormoric (I never really enjoyed the "let's dress in drag and do a stereotypical-secretary sketch" ones, and the chicken-woman ones creeped me out) but I loved the head-crushing, because it was so bizarre.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Okay, so it is the last week of classes here. The week when everyone has papers due.

I had one due today, I collect another one on Friday.

One of my "A" students from the class today comes in, very apologetic, and says, "My printer at home is broken and I thought I'd be able to print up here in the computer lab. But the printer there is broken; there are a couple of guys from Computer Services beating on it right now."

I was able to print his paper for him from my office computer, but that doesn't bode well. The class is a class of 15 people, and I have 10 papers. I really need to get these graded today.

The worst thing - if they don't adequately fix the printer - is that I have a big-giant-stress-filled (as in it's worth as much as an exam) paper to collect for ecology on Friday. And I really really really do not want folks going "I couldn't print it! Can I give it to you Monday?"

Because Monday is exam week, and that really would not work.

I swear that printers in academic settings are built to sense the end of the semester and break at precisely that time; I've seen it happen to the printer my colleagues and I share on this floor - it goes down right when it is time for us to print our exams. And while most of us have printers at home (and I have even run home to print stuff for people who either lived far away or didn't have a printer), it's still an inconvenience.

And while I sympathize with the students, I think I am going to warn my ecology students today that the printer in the lab is acting up and that they better have a better plan for getting their paper to me than "I will print it at 11:59 am on Friday" (the "hard" deadline for the papers is noon and I've basically told them, "Don't even BOTHER if you're giving it to me after that.)

I know people have lots of stuff going on but they have had like a month to write this - and they've known it was coming all semester. It makes it very hard on me to have that kind of grading bleed over into exam week.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The r-word.

You may have heard that there are some chains - and it's not entirely clear if it's just in SoCal or if it's elsewhere - that are limiting rice purchases (so far it looks like Costco and Sam's Club.) This is because there's apparently a shortage of rice, or at least rice from parts of southeast Asia.

(the rice I tend to buy comes from Texas; I haven't heard anything about problems with the rice crop there).

The news stories - I'm not going to link any because the few that I found and read irritated me and I don't feel like finding one that doesn't - refer to it as "rationing."

There are also dark allusions to "flour and cooking oil are being 'rationed' in Queens, NY." (I have no confirmation on that last one.)

Okay. This is where I get really irritated at those who write these things up.

The word "rationing" has a lot of connotations to it. Those who remember WWII faced some food rationing (it was MUCH worse in Great Britain than it was here; I'm reading a book currently on conditions in WWII and post-WWII Great Britain and it's moderately shocking how little people were permitted during the worst of it. Oh, I understand the reasons why - it's still shocking.)

I don't see this as "rationing." My understanding of the WWII situation is that in Great Britain, it was because shipping lanes were largely blockaded - and it is a challenge for an island nation to grow enough food to support itself. Not to mention the fact that a lot of the young, able-bodied folk who would normally bring in the harvest were either in the military forces or working defense jobs. (Hence the "Land Girls." My parents have a friend who - though she doesn't use that term - from her description of what she did as a teenager in WWII in Britain, I think she must have been a Land Girl. I don't like to ask her more about it because she doesn't seem to want to bring up those memories, as fascinating as they are to me.)

In the U.S., I think lot of it had to do with companies re-tooling for defense production (no tin cans) and also, the desire to supply the fighting forces (and also land-lease countries) with food.

I suppose you could also make the argument that the sacrifice made people feel more that there "was a war on" (and of course things like gasoline and tires and nylon were rationed as well).

I see the current situation as being a lot more akin to the situation with the Nintendo Wii than I do with true rationing. Here is a product that is in (hopefully) temporarily short supply, you want to ensure that people get a fair crack at getting it, so you limit how much any one person can buy (and I believe the limit was something like 80 lbs. of rice, so unless you're a restaurant owner, you're not going to really face problems. I don't know how fast an average, say, Japanese-American family eats up rice, but 80 pounds is a whopping great lot of rice, in my book).

It's also not unlike what some groceries do with "loss leader" specials - limit quantities purchased so that Jane Doe (who comes in to shop at 8 am) buys up all the cheap hotdogs, and Joe Blow (who can't come in until, say, noon) gets angry because they're all gone.

But I do not see it as "rationing." And I think it was irresponsible for the news outlets - and whoever used it first - to use that word.

(And here is a story (warning: popup ads) that discusses the Texas rice crop. And breathes a little sense into what's going on.

The rice that is "limited" are two "aromatic" varieties (jasmine and basmati) which are grown in East Asia. There is no shortage of Texas-milled rice, the article says, but it is considered a "less desirable" sort by the (primarily immigrant) community that is heavily buying rice.

I don't know - the rice I use is a Texas-grown version of basmati and it's pretty darn good. And I think I've had jasmine rice that was grown in this country. True, you pay a little premium for it - but here is where I tend to get a bit jingoistic - I prefer to buy food grown in my own country whenever possible. Both for reasons of "US farmers get paid" and for reasons of "there's unlikely to be some kind of funky pesticide illegal in the US in there.")

But anyway. A lot of news outlets NOT AS CLOSE to the concept of growing rice as the Beaumont (TX) Enterprise is, are using the "rationing" word.

Because "rationing" is one of those OH NOES! words. One of those words that makes the inner survivalist come out in some people. (I admit it; it nearly did in me when I first heard the news. Before I thought it through, I thought, "Maybe I better run out to the grocery and buy some rice, just to have." Never mind that I don't eat rice daily, never mind that I have a barely-opened 3-pound tub of "Texmati" rice, never mind that were I live, if you don't freeze or refrigerate grain products you're going to store long-term, they will get buggy after a while. It caused that knee-jerk reaction in me and when I figured it out, I got annoyed).

Because that word is going to bring out the same instinct in a lot of people. The limits were put into place to ensure everyone got a supply and to prevent food hoarding. Well, what do you think people - especially 21st century Americans who are used to getting whatever they want whenever they want it, and some of whom take the "screw everyone else; I'm getting mine, no matter what the cost" attitude - will do in the face of "rationing"?

They'll dream up ways around it. (Even in "real" rationing they did - James Beard once said something along the lines of "Everyone knew someone who would sell rationed foods 'under the table.' It was considered chic - somewhat like circumventing Prohibition.")

(I admit some of my admiration for the man died when I read that. Say what you will about WWII food rationing, but people who willfully cheat it - because they can, because it's chic - there's something a little disgusting about that.)

Anyway - by playing up the story, by going with the usual news-instinct to make it sound as bad as possible - it's going to freak people out and possibly make problems worse.

(You want REAL problems? Try being a poor Malaysian who actually depends on rice as a staple and has no other sources for it. Apparently Malaysia was confronting Thailand the other day because Thailand promised to sell them a certain amount of rice and now have reneged.)

And of course, some people run with this - on one blog I read that linked to one of the news stories, there were looming conspiracy concerns. And comments about how "Wal-mart isn't restocking regularly any more; the shelves look kind of bare now." And there are other, agreeing comments: yes, yes, one of the employees agreed, it's because they're not sending as many trucks full of food now in order to save money on diesel. (So: "OH NOES eeeeeeviiiilll Wal-mart is going to starve us instead of making us come in and buy unhealthy food and cheap crap made in China." I almost feel sorry for Wal-mart; they can't catch a break from the haters.)

So, I figured I'd take a look this morning. (I had to buy groceries anyway). I headed out to the local Wal-mart at 6:30 this morning (yes, I get up at the buttcrack of dawn even on the weekends; 6:30 is actually sleeping late for me).

Shelves pretty full.

Even the rice shelves - there were a couple empty slots (I think the brown rice was sold out, but as far as I'm concerned, no great loss there. Brown rice is one of those things that healthists push and which I think tastes like ass). But there was plenty rice. And plenty beans. And plenty meat in the meat case (I don't buy my meat at wal-mart, though, there's a small regional dairy-store chain that sells far better quality meat at competitive prices). Plenty of milk, yogurt, eggs, butter, produce...all the stuff I needed. Nothing seemed to be sold out. And there were few people there at 6:30 am but it didn't seem like any of them were girding up for Food Distribution Armageddon.

Now, don't get me wrong: it's pretty smart to have a certain amount of emergency food on hand. I keep enough canned beans and tomatoes and other stuff I could eat (even if I had no way of heating it up - canned tomatoes may not taste GREAT at room temperature but they are edible). But I don't see any evidence here of a mass freak-out. Which is good. I'd hate to have to go all Zombie Apocalypse on some guy grabbing all the cans of black beans off the shelf because he "needs" them all.

And there are other people using this as another stick to beat Bush with. (heh. Stick. Bush.) One of the newspaper-bloggers said something along the lines of "This coming few months will be BAD but when we get someone new in the White House, they will fix it."

(Actually? The resident of the White House making a move to "fix" temporary shortages of one particular type of food? That scares me more than the shortages do)

But I predict we will hear more "food insecurity" stories over the summer, designed to make people worry, make people begin to say things like "The government should DO something to ensure we are all fed!" And I bed Obama and Clinton and even McCain will come out with grand statements of what they are going to do to ensure "food security"

(and I will eat a bag of that much-hated-by-me brown rice if one of them actually comes up with a phrase along the lines of "a pound of rice in every pot.")

Just you wait.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


So, I broke down and decided to go out and get the 2 cents back for the university rather than making my secretary do it (she had offered but was out with a stomach bug yesterday, and I didn't feel like making her go out there - it's kind of smelly - if she was still feeling a little "off"). She offered to call down there first this time, just to be sure someone was on duty who was "authorized" to help.

There was.

So I went down there. Walked in, said I was from the university. A young-ish (probably mid-20s) guy stepped up and said, "I know what she's talking about," took the card, processed it, and gave me back the receipts.

Took less than 2 minutes to do it.

So, I guess the moral of the story is, when you have to do some kind of atypical business somewhere where organization isn't a strong suit, call first so they know what they need to do and don't go all freaked out at you when you walk in asking them to do something other than the usual.

(I STILL don't think it should have to be that way, but whatever. It's done now.)

more (hearts)

I really DO love Amazon's customer service; I just got an "update" today from them that something I ordered - which had been out of stock, on back order - will ship SOONER than anticipated.

They didn't have to tell me but the fact that they did makes me happy.

I also have to say I (heart) Daedalus Books - it's a firm out of Maryland that sells mostly remainders and I've gotten some wonderful weird stuff really cheaply from them. Most recently? A biography of Mendelev that also includes a history of the development of the periodic table. And a biography of Turing.

Do I need to know about those folks? No, not really. But I want to.

I also love those G2 gel pens - the ones that they advertise for check-writing, because apparently crooks can't "wash" your checks and steal from you? Well, they're about the smoothest writing pens I've had (of reasonably priced pens; I'm not one to buy a $99 refillable fancy pen). Because I'm one of those death-grip writers, anything that has ink that flows well and doesn't make my hand cramp up is a good thing.

And I love digital cameras - don't like the photo? Poof, it's gone - no film wasted, no waiting to see if the picture comes out. And they're easy to send to family and friends if they have e-mail.


Incidentally - I didn't know they had stopped making china markers. (That's what we always called those waxy pencil things with the strings; I guess the idea was that they could mark on glazed china).

I used to love office-supply stores when I was a kid - so many neat things. There was a little family-run one in the downtown of the little town where I grew up. One thing they sold - does anyone else who was a kid in the 70s remember these - were the little rubber-eraser animals made by Diener. (Or maybe it was Deiner?). They weren't flat shapes- they were fully molded little animals, kind of cartoony. Some of them were dressed (I remember in particular an anteater wearing a bowler hat and a blazer) and others were more realistic. I had a whole collection of those. Never used them to erase with - they were too cute to use up. (If they still exist at all, they're probably a half-decomposed ball of rubber at one of the bottom of the boxes of stuff in my parents' house). They were one of my favorite things and the fact that they were only like a quarter or so meant that I was able to buy a lot of them to play with.

dancing cats

I'm trying to work up a post on the "don't call it RATIONING!" that's going on with rice in California (and, allegedly, flour and cooking oil elsewhere), but I can't quite feel the burn yet, so instead, here are some dancing kitties for your enjoyment...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Things I (heart)

It's been an on-and-off distressing couple of days, both in everyday life and in the news.

So here's something lighter - a list of little things (and some perhaps not so little) that make me happy.

Amazon Prime. I still cannot get used to the idea that I can order books or a dvd and have it at my door two days later with no shipping charge (and yes, I know - that charge is paid up-front as the yearly "membership." But with the amount of stuff I order - both for me and as gifts - I think I get my money's worth).

Oak Hill Raspberry Vinaigrette salad dressing - it's hard to find and my supply comes from the gourmet shop in my parents' town (I always cart a bottle back in my suitcase when I go visit them. It's just GOOD. It's a little bit sweet but not sicky sweet. It's got a little horseradish in it for punch. It tastes wonderful on spinach salad. And it's low fat AND low salt, if those things are important to you.

Getting stuff in the mail. I mail-order lots of stuff, partly because I hate a lot of types of shopping (clothes shopping, ugh) but also because I love coming home and finding a box of something I ordered on my front porch. If there were a company where you could pay a small fee for monthly "surprise" boxes of something that interested you (like a sampler of teas or a couple of mystery novels), I'd totally sign up for it.

My bed. I love being able to get into bed at night - to surrender the day, to say "now nothing more can happen to me." I have a fairly ironclad rule - if my phone rings after I've gotten in bed, I don't answer it. Because 95% of my after-9pm phone calls are either wrong numbers or some idiot who is drunk-dialing (which I guess is another sort of wrong number.). I read in bed even though the anti-insomnia folks say you shouldn't (if it's a good novel or an interesting book of history, it never seems to interfere with my sleep - I don't read scientific journals or try to re-write papers in bed though). Right now I have five pillows on it - two forming a sort of headboard, one for my head, and two for me to rest my arms on when I sleep on my back. Somehow it seems more comfortable and secure with those additional pillows on either side of me. I started doing that the last cold I had, to force myself to sleep on my back (so I wasn't so congested) and I realized it was really comfortable.

"All ages" "graphic novels" (a/k/a books of funny cartoons). I've ordered a few over the past year or so - all of Andy Runton's "Owly" books, the Little Dee books, a few others. It's a comfort and joy to be able to open one and be immersed in that world. I'm slowly figuring out what authors, styles, and genres I like - it has to be the very light, very happy-ending type of stuff - "All ages" is the designation usually used for this, meaning there's nothing to overly scare children or offend parents. I also think I'm going to buy the Pogo reprints when they come out. (Oddly enough, for a rather conservative pair, my parents talk about having been HUGE Pogo fans when it was originally in the newspapers. I have one or two of the compilation books - picked up at used book stores over the years - and I feel like I maybe don't UNDERSTAND the era quite well enough to get everything in them. (But I do get stuff like the "Malarky" bits).

My yarn and fabric "stashes." If you're not a crafter, you might not quite get this, but a lot of us who do these things accumulate quite large collections of "raw materials." I have several of the large flat underbed-type boxes full of folded quilt fabric, and several of yarn. A lot of the stuff was acquired on sale, or in a situation of "the company is discontinuing making this yarn and I like it and I want to make such-and-such project with it, so I better buy it now". Right now, especially, the stash comes in really handy, because I'm not DRIVING anywhere (gas prices but also the time factor - something in me rebels these days at making an hour's round trip just to shop). So instead, I'm pulling stuff out of the stash and using it to make quilts or to knit up. It's kind of like having a root cellar, only for your craft.
(See also: liking getting stuff in the mail. There are several online yarn and fabric purveyors I like to order from when I want something specific or when I need, for example, a particular color of fabric to work with what I've already got).

My white-noise generator. It's one of those Sharper Image Sound Soother things and was something like $150 when I bought it last year but it's more than paid for itself in the better sleep I get. While it doesn't cover everything up (like neighbor's dogs and especially loud diesel duallies), it does cut out a lot of the ambient noise and I find I sleep more soundly. And getting decent sleep is extremely valuable to me.

Ticonderoga pencils. Only brand I will use. They don't seem to cheap out like some other brands and use a graphite that breaks easily. And the wood seems better quality. I buy these in huge boxes (like, 48 pencils) and keep them in my office. And if I loan someone a pencil, I insist on getting it back. (And well I should - they're MY pencils, darnit, I bought them.)

J. R. Watkins "Apothecary" Lavender hand creme. I bought this on an impulse on my last trip to Target and I have to say it is the BEST smelling lavender product I've had - it's more floral and less "harsh" - some lavender scented things, I don't know if they use more of the leaves than flowers, or if they use some cheap syntho-lavender, but some of them have almost a dusty or acrid after-scent. Not this - it's nice and floral and rich. And I use it more (which I really should because I have dry skin) because it smells so nice.

So there's a list. And oh, I know - things aren't supposed to be important, people come first, and all of that. But there are some little things that are just NICE and make life a little happier.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bitterness! at the academy

Megan McArdle has a post up on "why professors don't seem to be having more fun" and the general tone of bitterness.

(And I admit to mostly "blipping" over the comments as there are the usual professoriate-bashing "Oh those poor babies they're upset because they have to step down off their pedestals to TEACH sometimes." Um...teaching is why I went into this gig. And yeah, there are some supportive comments, but it quickly -as is so often in heavily-commented-upon blogs - devolves into rather petty arguing).

(I will say some of the commenters comment on her apparent dislike of academia. *shrug*. I see some of the same attitudes a lot in the "regular world." I guess I'm not offended that much by them because I realize that some people may not understand what an academic does all day, just as I have a fairly dim understanding of the true difficulties that, say, a nurse faces in his or her daily round. Or a plumber. Or someone in retail.

The grass only LOOKS greener, in a lot of cases.)

At any rate. Bitterness and jealousy. I've seen both, but they don't seem to be as rampant (at least at the smaller, less prestigious schools I've been associated with) than some of the commenters seem to think.

I've spent (arguably) my entire life around academics - both my parents were professors (they are retired now) and I spent basically 10 years in grad school (if you count a first, failed-but-not-entirely-MY-fault attempt, which I generally don't). And I teach at a small, mostly-teaching-oriented school.

And yes, I have seen the bitter, hardened, jealous types. You see them in every profession, I suspect, and I think it's more a function of who they are than a function of what academia is. Or, at the very least, it's an interaction of the two. (Personality x environment, for you fans of General Linear Models).

I've seen a few people who were just generally bitter and angry - who'd harangue you on climate change if you commented that the weather was fine, or who'd immediately go into a rant about how "article acceptance is ALL political!!!" if you expressed happiness for a colleague who got a paper published somewhere.

And then I've seen people who have what I might call "bitterness blind spots" - they're generally happy, generally fine, but there are just certain topics you don't want to bring up around them. (Or at least I don't. While a little bitter ranting can be amusing in the right context, hearing a lot of it - especially when you're trying to work on something else - is very wearying). I know someone, for example, who will give you a sermon on how Microsoft has ruined the world if you happen to comment that you weren't able to do something you wanted to in PowerPoint or if you found that Word froze up on you earlier in the day.

And yeah, Microsoft products have their problems. And they're designed mainly for the business world and not academe or the sciences. But I find I reach a point where it's a lot easier and better for my blood pressure to shrug, go "it is what it is" and either figure out a work around or just not do that thing that cannot be done easily.

Actually, "it is what it is" is often my philosophy in the face of things I have not the power to change. Because as I said - it can be fun to rant a bit (especially if the story's outrageously good, like the story of my 42 cent refund, below), but at some point you need to move on.

And the problem is it seems a lot of people in academia don't have a reason or motivation to move on. So like a dog with a bone, they gnaw on whatever's been getting to them - be it the current administration, or the state of the nation, or the attitudes of students, or their last break-up. And they stew in that.

I guess I'm different in that I tend to be a "reactor." I react pretty strongly to things (good or bad) - I get angry or I cry or I become ecstatically happy - but then, 20 minutes later, my emotions stabilize and I'm ready to go on to the next thing.

(I also don't believe in holding grudges, except perhaps in situations where they can be used for comic relief, as in, "hating" some sports star because he screwed up your team's playoff chances...)

And granted, perhaps in the sciences (where I am), it's more conducive to being happy and un-bitter because we tend to be better able to believe (or at least fool ourselves into believing) that our research will benefit others. (And I do think that's important, at least for me - feeling like you're doing something to make things better).

I also think perhaps this is once again a gratitude/entitlement dichotomy. It is more in my nature to be grateful for the good things - hell, in the case of my job, the AMAZING GOOD FORTUNE I have had. Because here are some of the things I have in my career:

1. Colleagues that I genuinely like, whose worst personality traits are things that I can generally chuckle indulgently over or at the very least tolerate.

2. The fact that I am generally unsupervised. I hate being micromanaged, and although I have "bosses" in the sense that my department chair and dean have power over me, both of them are people who tend to be hands-off unless there is some problem. So I'm left to do as I deem best, and most of the time it works out fine.

3. Time flexibility. I don't "have" to work weekends. I don't "have" to be in at 8 am if I'm not teaching until 11. I may choose to do both of those things, but it is my choice.

4. When we have meetings, it is actually to fix some problem. Or to plan for the future. They are not the kind of pointless time-suck type of meetings my brother complained about during his corporate days.

5. I will never have to participate in a "trust fall." Or do an "off site" that involves a "team bonding" scavenger hunt. Or all those other dang "We know you're not really friends but we're going to force you to like each other" things that I tend to think adults should be done with once they leave their sorority or fraternity.

6. Where I am, I don't have to publish a certain number of papers in order to keep my job. Yes, I do research, and some of it is pretty interesting and some of it might actually help the environment some day (or more likely, help some grad student write his thesis). But I'm not expected to live in my lab. I come in at 7 and am usually the first one in; on the days when I stay 'til 5 to work on something I may well be the last to leave.

So there are a lot of things I love about my work, and the minor annoyances I face are just that - minor, and annoyances, and I can usually roll my eyes and laugh over them the next day, or at least use them as an amusing story when a colleague and I go out for lunch.

But McArdle lists a number of points:

1) The money is so low relative to the professions they might have gone into.

I make a comfortable living. I may never become mega-rich, but I own my own house, I have a decent car, I can replace my shoes when they wear out, I have funds for the essentials of life (books, tea, chocolate, yarn, fabric...). I can pay my utility bills without worrying. I'm putting aside money for my retirement. I can even give to charity.

Could I make more elsewhere? Um...I'm an ecologist. Not terribly likely. When I was applying for jobs there were some gigs open with The Nature Conservancy that paid something like $300 a month and the use of a tent during the field season.

Also, where I live, the cost of living is pretty low. Housing is cheap. Gas is below the national average (at least right now). Food isn't exorbitantly expensive and some of the nice little luxuries of life are actually pretty reasonable (there is an outstanding Italian restaurant in my town that has $7.95 dinner specials, where you get a small serving of manicotti or lasagne, plus a salad, plus garlic bread...)

And yeah, I will admit some passing jealousy when I hear about someone who gets to retire early because they have a sweet book deal, but meh...I don't think I could deal with reading the bad reviews. (And I'm not sure I have the stamina, writing-wise, to be an author).

As I said: I tend to be of the opinion that the grass only LOOKS greener on the other side; when you're looking from far off (to stretch the metaphor), you fail to see all the fire ant mounds or the sandburs that would bedevil you.

Besides, I enjoy what I do. And there are a lot of intangible gains. For example: if I've taught my classes and held my office hours, and done the necessary grading, and finished my (self-imposed) time-stint of research work, and it's only 3 pm, I can pack up and go home if I want. Or I can go home for lunch (if I don't have class at noon) and come back when I feel like it. And my chances of being told I need to come in Saturday to deal with TPS reports are essentially nil.

If I work on Saturdays, it's because I want to. Or because I took the time during the week to go do something - like do my grocery shopping or run errands at a time when not everyone and their brother is out doing the same.

And I do get a certain satisfaction from what I do. While I gripe about students (mainly because I feel there are a lot of folks who don't live up to their potential), I also get people coming back and thanking me for the preparation I gave them. Or folks from a class thanking me for explaining something a second time because they didn't quite get it the first time. Or a grad student who's thrilled because I said I'd be happy to help her figure out the statistical analyses she needs to do. (She doesn't realize that that's one of my favorite parts of the job).

2) It's so easy to tell exactly where you rank in the academic hierarchy.

If you care about such things. I try not to. I have tenure, I'm told that I'm well on track for full professor in another couple of years.

It's kind of like anything in life - compare yourself too much to other people and you either become insufferably smug (because you think you're better than them) or scared and bitter (because you think you're so much worse, and you either eat yourself up with self-loathing or invent reasons to "explain" why you've been kept down).

(And I wonder if one of the comments about "the most brutal politics come from the least productive people" isn't at least partly true here. I'm too busy to care a whole lot about status - I'd rather tend my research plants or go look at trees or come up with a new way to teach my students about natural selection or read new books in my field).

And I think being primarily involved with teaching helps with this - it's more immediate, there's less of a pissing-contest aspect to it than there can be with research. (And generally the students don't talk too much - at least to your face or where you can hear them - about where they think you stand).

I don't know. Perhaps this is where having been an unpopular kid helps...the whole popularity-contest aspect of things STILL baffles me. And I don't care that much about it. I have my friends, they care about me. I have one colleague in particular who takes some effort to build me up when I'm being overly self-critical. I don't particularly know where I stand in my department or the university as a whole, but as long as I'm not being called on the carpet for not doing what I'm supposed to do, or not doing it sufficiently well, I'm generally content.

I think also having "successes" such as they are (people generally compliment my Sunday School lessons; from time to time I successfully finish a quilt or some kind of knitting project) outside of academia helps to dilute the sense of I Am My Job.

(Been there, done that, don't want to be there any more. Believing You Are Your Job is an awfully lonely and cold place to be.)

3) It's so hard to switch jobs. Job mobility is so low that you can't salve your ego by telling yourself that your current job is merely a waystop en route to something better.

Well, I'm happy where I am so this doesn't really apply but...I've seen an awful lot of people move on to "bigger and better." Maybe it's different in the sciences than in other fields but there does seem to be a certain degree of mobility.

I also think there's a place for accepting sideways (or even downward, at least as far as status is concerned) mobility. There's a lot to be said for having sane co-workers. There's a lot to be said for being somewhere where you get to teach classes in your specialty instead of having to be one of a "stable" of 10 junior professors who teach the 700-person "service" courses.

I'd give up status in return for sane co-workers. (I probably HAVE, given that I teach at a small university that's not really a research I or II or even VII school, but as I said before - I'm happy and I don't see any reason to nearly kill myself in the name of "status")

And heck, there's always the option of chucking it all and apprenticing with a plumber or something. (But again: see The Grass Only LOOKS Greener).

4) Academics have few alternative status hierarchies. Getting tenure is an all consuming process that leaves very little time for developing other hobbies. And the job virtually definitionally does not attract the kind of people who will be happy putting their career on a back burner to family or lifestyle.

I think this depends tremendously on the school. Where I am, I know several women who have had small children (one as a single mother, though through no desire of her own - her husband passed away a few years after their child was born). I know other faculty who are caring for aging parents or who are raising grandchildren their children are not able to.

And I have hobbies. I had them before I even applied for jobs and although I may not have the time to devote to them that I had in grad school, I still keep them. I have a life outside of my work. And I think that's incredibly important for an academic (and maybe that's counterintuitive, but I do think we need ways to "succeed" outside of our work). We need to do things that are satisfying to us - be it raising a family, growing a garden, teaching Sunday School, playing the piano, fishing, whatever - that has nothing to do with academia and how we are judged within it.

I know after some of my "bad days" the best sanity-saver I have is coming home and cutting quilt blocks or doing some sewing. Because it's something I'm good at, it's something no one is going to judge me on, and it's something that stays done.

(I think also having a life outside of work is a useful check on the ego. I know I've come home humbled many times after Youth Group.)

Maybe some of the "Research I" schools don't permit this kind of thing, timewise, at least during the tenure process. And that's a pity. I remember at my undergraduate institution, my Organic Chemistry prof telling us (and now, I think it was irresponsible on his part) that tenure time was supposed to be monumentally stressful and that he personally knew several marriages that broke up as a result of one of the partners going through tenure, and he knew of at least one suicide attempt.

And you know? I was kind of scarred by that a little because during my tenure process I felt like, "I should be more scared, I should be more worried." Because, according to my old prof's words, it was a case of "Pre-tenure: UR doin it wrong!"

And it wasn't, not at all. I got tenure and in fact the chair of my committee (an older woman who actually reminds me a tiny bit of my mother) stopped me in the hall one day during the process, and told me, "You are stressing out way too much about this. I probably shouldn't tip my hand but it's all going to be all right" and then she gave me a hug. (So even though I "wasn't stressing enough" by a Research I school standard, I guess I was stressing too much by my school's standard)

I don't know. Some days I look at it and think: I have a job. It is highly unlikely I will be downsized. I have enough money to keep a roof on my head and food on my table. I have the respect of at least a few people. I get some time off now and then. I don't feel like I have to check my ethics at the door when I go in to work. I'm probably better off than 90% of the people out there.

5) Academics have virtually no control over where they live They usually seem to go where the best job is, regardless of whether or not the local area suits them.

I concede this point.

But the flip side of it is - in academia, you may wind up living somewhere you never planned on, but which suits you very well. I'm happy in the town where I live.

And it also taught me something - after years of operating in the (incorrect) paradigm of "people don't like you because you're weird" (something I "learned" from my peers in grade school), I have come to realize that most people like me (or at least make a reasonable front of it). And some people - who would otherwise have absolutely no reason to, seeing as they're not related to me or anything - really genuinely like me for me. I think the "bitter, isolated island" is that way partly because they choose to be. Or because they're not adaptable. Or something.

A commenter also brought up the point that politics in academia are vicious precisely because the stakes are small. And that is a point with which I totally agree. But you don't have to let yourself get sucked in to that. I've walked into meetings where I told myself, "You don't have a dog in this hunt. Just keep your mouth closed and your ears open." And not having to contribute can be very freeing (not to mention that it reduces the time spent in-meeting). You choose your battles. You don't have to fight everything.

You don't even have to have an OPINION on everything, which can be very freeing. The future tense of "it is what it is": "It will be what it will be." I'm good at seeing pros and cons - both sides- of an issue, so sometimes I just choose not to invest in either side, just sit back and see what other people say and see what happens.

Someone else mentioned the concept of the "zero-sum game," in the sense of "if Bruce gets his paper published in Big Prestigious Journal, that means less chance of my paper getting accepted, because there are limited slots." And again - maybe if you're at a large, pressure-cooker school. Where I am, I mostly publish in second- and third-tier journals. Good enough for tenure (and presumably promotion), but it's not as ulcer-inducing. And also, in my department, we all have different research and different specialties. So if my buddy the ornithologist gets a paper accepted in a good journal, I'm genuinely happy for him, because I'm glad to see him get a paper out, I'm glad for his success - and if it has any bearing on my future success, it's positive, because it gets our school's name out there, and makes people less likely to see us as a Podunk U. where nothing worthwhile ever gets done.

One last comment from the comments on that site: "I teach for free. They pay me to grade." Hah ha ha ha ha! That pretty well captures it, in my book.



I figured this would happen eventually. Someone "big" links to one of my posts and I get scared...scared of being "outed," scared of ticking someone off and losing the really sweet gig I have (despite the fact that there are little annoyances, seriously, the academic life is far far better than the corporate one).

So I'm on the fence - do I delete the post below - out of fear that it could finger who I am - or do I shrug and go "I told three people in real life the story of my misadventure at The Emporium and I am reasonably sure none of them read JJ"

It doesn't help that it's a high-anxiety time of year for me, what with exams looming and my allergies making me feel all cruddy.

(I've redacted the post somewhat, but hate to take the whole thing down...I just don't know. I didn't MEAN it that it was the UNIVERSITY valuing my time so little, but the shopkeeper and her helper... the university rules are just those sort of mindless rules that usually work but sometimes don't and when they don't it's a pain but when they do they protect us from things like the university getting ripped off [like by someone deciding to buy all of Aerosmith's oeuvre off of iTunes on our dime...])

So I really don't know. Prolly should have kept my big mouth (big fingers?) shut, but it was too good a story and I was too annoyed at the time to let it go.

Monday, April 21, 2008

2 and 1/10 cents per minute

(Added: uh, hi, Joanne Jacobs' readers. I have to make a little disclaimer and point out that the "some people" were the shopkeeper and assistants, not the university. I know rules are in place for a reason and the way things are run economically has to go smoothly....

...I hope this doesn't upset anyone too much...)

....that is apparently what my time is worth to some people.

I periodically have to buy certain lab supplies for the classes I teach. Sometimes this involves certain small businesses in town.

Small businesses that aren't always the tightest of ships, apparently.

We have a credit card issued by the university; it is an immense improvement over the old purchase-order system, where you had to be able to see into the future at the beginning of the semester and (a) predict where you were going to need to buy stuff to get the orders issued and (b) predict how much money you were going to spend.

But the credit card is not without its problems, one of which being that it (apparently) isn't immediately clear to the seller that "I'm buying these supplies for the University" means tax-exempt, even when that same person has made multiple tax-exempt purchases on the credit card in the past, and, in fact, there was a note on file indicating the tax-exemptness.

And being the Absentminded Professor I am, I sometimes forget to remind the shopkeepers. Usually they know, as I tend to buy supplies in the same place every year. But sometimes things get messed up.

Long story short: I was charged tax on something I bought.

$0.44 tax.

So, because that doesn't work given our system, I had to go back and get the transaction re-run. (And yes, the first thing I did was unzip my purse, pull out 44 cents, and try to hand it to the secretary to save myself the trouble. No go; the money is all centralized and there is apparently no entity I could hand my 44 cents to. Apparently the system only works on credit card receipts.)

And no, I did not check the receipt upon receiving it because (a) they never screwed it up before and (b) I was tired, in a hurry, and bordering on having a migraine.

So, having to run other errands, I figured I'd swing by the original store - let's call it The Emporium - to correct the problem.

I explained the problem, noting that while I had not explicitly said NO SALES TAX, she had rung me up before for prior purchases and not charged tax. And my university can't pay sales tax. So the 44 cents would need to be refunded. And I explained my attempt at an end-run around the whole problem, and its failure. "So," I summed up, trying to be jovial and not assign blame, "Because I can't just hand 44 cents to someone at the university and make it good, the charge will have to be re-run."

"Oh" the woman responded. "OhIdon'tknowhowtodothat. OhI'mnotauthorizedtodothat."

I stared at her, gobsmacked.

"I can give you 44 cents" she offered. "Or discount you the next time by that amount."

Um, no. Does not work that way. If you had been paying attention to my initial explanation, you would have known that offering to give me 44 cents does not work.

(I hate being ignored when I'm explaining something.)

I explained that that wouldn't work. She then added, "Yeah, when we switched to this new computer system, a lot of our tax-exempt customers got reclassed as non-tax-exempt."

Um - if you had known that, maybe you could have gone through the list and CHECKED first? Maybe you could have ASKED me when I came in buying stuff and non-tax-exempt popped up?

I said that I really needed the money back, and that would require the transaction to be re-run.

"Well," she offered, "Maybe you can come back when someone else is here."

(I have taken time OUT OF THE MIDDLE OF MY DAY to fix this. And spent the gas to drive down here [granted, I was already out but the Emporium is sort of out of my way]. Telling me to "come back" - especially when there is no helpful schedule of "This is when the owner who can do something is here" makes it impossible for me to plan.)

"Well, you see" I began, "I've already taken the time out of my office hours to come down here. And already probably burned 50 cents worth of gas. To correct a 44 cent error. I really would appreciate getting it taken care of today." (Well, I wasn't quite that calm, and I think I harped more on the "50 cents worth of gas")

So she sighed, and got one of the teenaged dudes out of the back room. And told him the problem. And he kind of stood there, like "Whaddaya want ME to do?"

Finally he said, "I'll TRY to fix it" and took the credit card and the old receipt and disappeared into the back.

I wandered around, looking at the dusty shop displays (The Emporium is the only place in town to procure certain items or else I'd shop somewhere else for them).

I waited.

And waited

And waited.

And looked pointedly at my watch while the original woman ignored me.

And some other teenaged guy came out and tried to strike up a conversation with me but I started giving off my patented "I am not quarry for you no matter what you might think; I am old enough to be your mother" vibe (Yes, I'm old enough to be the mother of a teenaged boy...that thought and all its implications scares me).

And I began to wonder - had teenaged guy #1 run off to Mexico on my department's credit card? Was he downloading all of Aerosmith's oeuvre onto his iPod from iTunes with my department footing the bill? What?

Finally he came out. Handed me a receipt. I signed for it (and as you will see in a moment, had forgotten the original number) and left.

It took - I am not kidding - 20 stinking minutes for the whole thing to get straightened out.

(I HATE, hate, HATE with a burning passion the feeling that my time's being wasted.
And yeah, I know, it's entirely possible the credit card company was jerking him around but considering that there were approximately 18 horny teenaged boy-workers hanging around that joint, you'd think teenaged boy #1 (who seemed more droopy than horny) could collar one of them and send them out to tell me that he was very sorry but it was taking a while and it would be just a few more minutes.)

Got back to the department. Handed the receipt to the secretary along with my tale of woe.

She looks at the receipt, checks something, and says, "The tax was for 44 cents. They refunded 42 cents. There is still 2 cents tax unaccounted for."

I told her I wasn't goin' back, not for anything. She's going to try to call and fix it but damn - I spend 20 minutes trying to get something fixed and they can't do it right? (And yeah, I should have checked the blasted receipt more closely. But at that point my allergies were so bad from the dust-fug that inhabits the Emporium that I genuinely remembered the tax as 42 cents.)

If I have to go back again? I'm taking a book. And sitting down in the middle of the floor. And reading. Just to make a damn point and so I feel like my time's not being wasted.

I really loathe bad, inattentive customer service. I can understand when there's a PROBLEM - if I am apprised of the problem - but I hate sitting around in the dark, so to speak, feeling the moments of my life drain away as no one tells me anything or gives me any hope that the problem will ever be fixed. But with a book to read, I feel like I'm doing something productive.

(And the reading would also take care of having to try to make small talk with the tribal-armband-tattooed, ripped-t-shirt-wearing bad-boy wannabees trying to flirt with me at that store.

Sorry, guys - I just tend to go for the intellectual type is all. If you had glasses and a proper shirt on I'd probably be more willing to talk to you. [well, also if you weren't below my "cutoff" age...])

Update: leave it to the Cats of LOL to capture the discomfort of making small talk with some creepy guy with a wandering eye....

humorous pictures
see more crazy cat pics

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I've been spending a lot of my (admittedly limited these days) free time working in my garden.

I love the whole planning part, I love going out and buying plants, I love planting them. (I don't so much love all the dead-heading, and I especially don't love weeding when it's 95* out).

I spent a shocking amount of money at the garden center today (now, granted, part of that was that I needed a new hose, as I apparently forgot to drain the old one completely before some of the heavy freezes this winter. Or maybe when my neighbor's dog got loose he used it as a chew toy. I don't know). I also bought something called Sluggo, which is the best thing I've found to kill snails and slugs. (It's an iron-phosphate compound; I don't know if they eat it or if it dehydrates them when they crawl over it or what, but it gets rid of them). Sluggo is expensive but it's not as disgusting (to me at least) as setting out little saucers of beer in the garden. (And it feels silly to me to buy a six-pack - even a cheap six-pack - just to poison slugs. {it's that alcohol-migraine trigger thing; I don't drink because of it so beer holds no attraction for me})

I also bought a bunch of special "heat resistant" cultivars (we shall see) of tomatoes and put them out. And some basil. And some lavender to replace that which drowned last summer during our period of high rainfall.

And four dozen bedding plants. Next time I propose planting four dozen zinnias and gomphrenas in a day, I'd like someone to dope-slap me. My arms hurt now and I ALMOST couldn't get up off my knees after doing it. And I expect my hands will go numb sometime tonight while I sleep (I have incipient carpel tunnel syndrome which you think I'd try to prevent by NOT DOING THINGS like digging 48+ little holes in the ground with a trowel...but NOOOOOO.)

I have a long, narrow flowerbed in the front of my house and it looks best with some kind of bright bedding plant in it. I haven't figured out a perennial that would consistently look good there so I just use annuals every year. Some years when I've been really energetic I rip out the zinnias when fall comes (when they're nearly dead anyway) and put pansies in for the cooler months but haven't done that lately).

So I now have 16 tomato plants - which I know, sounds like too many for a single person but the yields here tend to be low (All those folks who advocate some kind of modern version of a "victory garden" to allow people to eat locally - well, they must be folks that live in a perfect climate and have either the time or the "people" to do all the necessary work because I've found working full time and having a garden means the garden often gets neglected). I might get 20 or so good tomatoes over the course of the season. (And heck, if by some miracle the plants are super-productive this year I can always find people I want to spread a little goodwill to in the form of fresh tomatoes.)

I also have beans.

Tomatoes and beans are about the extent of my attempt to feed myself from my own land. If I had more time - and it didn't get so miserably hot and dry here most summers - I'd also try corn but I know a number of people who did it for one year and then gave up on it. (Maybe this year I will try a fall crop of cabbages; it seems that I always miss when the starts are in the stores - it's like August or something which just seems weird to me and I'm not thinking about cabbage at that time.)

Potatoes would be fun but you need lots of space for those, and good sandy soil. (When I was a kid, my parents were good friends with a family that had a HUGE garden. They used to invite us out in the spring to plant potatoes with them, and back again in late summer to help harvest, and then the two families split the harvest. I remember the harvesting times as really fun - the dad of the family had a little tractor with a flatbed trailer and we kids used to get to sit on it and he'd slowly drive up between the rows of potatoes and we'd lean off the trailer and grab all the potatoes we could see and put them in bushel baskets. Then, after the harvest we'd have a big cookout, which was fun, too.)

I tried watermelon one year but any of the melon or squash crops are risky - we tend to get the borers here that will attack the plants and you will go from a perfectly healthy plant setting fruit in the morning, to a totally wilted and dead plant in the afternoon, because some bug got into its xylem.

If I had more time, and more energy, and felt like paying someone to rip up more of my lawn for me (been there, done that, would rather pay someone next time), I'd put in raspberry canes and strawberry plants. I see lots of the strawberry plants for sale - I guess they do well here though I'd think it would be a little hot.

And I've toyed with the idea of converting the old clothesline setup to a grape arbor of sorts. (I don't dry my clothes and sheets outdoors - even though there's no "covenant" against it here, like there is in my parents' subdivision - because I suspect that would cause great misery for my allergies. I cannot think of sleeping on sheets that have basically bathed in pollen for a day).

(Then again - maybe I'd best keep the lines as lines against the day when we're all legislated to have to air-dry our clothes as an energy and pollution saving measure).

A lot of this daydreaming is just that - dreams. I have other things I really need to do first - like get rid of the brushpiles in back (I cannot bring myself to sent the limbs I cut to the landfill, but they're rapidly taking over my backyard) and get rid of the ivy (including some poison ivy) that are invading in back of where the brushpiles are.

But I love the idea of a perfect, neat, productive garden - maybe with a fountain plashing in the back (The birds would like that, too). I love the idea of being able to raise some of my own food - not for any kind of "stickin' it to the Man" sense, or not any kind of smug, "I don't need tomatoes that have traveled on a truck" sense, but in more of a sense of wonder, a "wow, I was able to produce this through my own labor" sense.

I think there's something very "centering" (to use a much overused word that I tend to roll my eyes at) about gardening. I always feel better mentally and emotionally (if not necessarily physically, and that will pass in a day or so) after doing it. I think it's because it's so immediate - you can see what you are doing when you pull weeds or cultivate the soil or put in plants. And there is the enjoyment of being able to see the results of your labor. (I will often go and peek at my garden out of one of my back windows just to look at it, just to see how it looks from the house. Or I'll make up excuses to go out back different times of the day just to see how it looks in different lights or to see how it's doing.)

I needed to do that this weekend. (There was a volunteer project I COULD have participated in, but decided not to - I figure if anyone asks I'll simply say, "There were other things I really needed to do Saturday." Which is the truth.)

I find as I get a bit older I need more downtime - more time where I can let my brain rest and get away from the work I do daily. (Perhaps that's partly why they have tenure and full professorships - many people can't drive at the same hard mental pace at 45 that they could at 28). I have begun to notice when I begin to feel a bit frayed and worn during the week, when I'm less patient, when certain personality tendencies of my colleagues are like an electric wire touched to an open nerve rather than something I can just shrug off. And I've gotten better at saying to myself, "You just need some time off."

And I've begun TAKING it when it needs to be taken. Instead of pushing myself to do more, or beating myself up for not spending Saturday in at the office writing another grant/article/proposal/who-knows-what. I'm coming to the conclusion that staving off the little beginnings of burnout now are better than dealing with the whole big mass of it if it comes later (kind of like how small prescribed controlled burns prevent a giant conflagration, if you're talking about a forest somewhere).

So I took my Saturday and worked in my garden. And it was good.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday nonsensical spam

Got one this morning, subject line was:

"Don't be fooled by ladies, size has matter."

Huh? Are we talking about quantum physics here? Size and matter - do you also need to include particle speed there? And what about not being fooled by ladies? I know lots of folks - gentlemen, mostly - who are at least a little bit fooled by ladies.

You have to love it when ESL speakers start writing the subject lines for spam.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

You know...

After a long, challenging day, finding a bunch of Glenn Miller (and "Glenn Miller Orchestra," which is different) music on YouTube (the authentic Miller stuff is of course mostly just music over still photos), makes it all better.

Dammit, I just wish I had someone to dance with for "In the Mood."

And if it were the *right* person, also to dance with for "Moonlight Serenade."

Yes, I WAS born in 1969, why are you asking?

Holy crow

Experimental set-up: done
Exam 1: done but not typed
Exam 2: done but not typed. (As both of those exams are for a week from tomorrow, I will have time to type them between classes. Yes, I still write out nearly everything longhand first; it's harder for me to think at the computer.)

Experimental set-up, including time to deal with colleague's comment of "Oh noes, you're not going to use WATER in that room, are you?" (um, yes? I'm growing plants, they kind of need water). And time to deal with some lab equipment that failed and made a big mess in the middle of things, took about 4 hours.

I have to say, I kind of hate the research lab I have. It's small and cramped and the person I share it with has taken more than his share of the storage space. And the equipment's all old and everything I have is jerry-rigged and crappy and at one point this afternoon I was sitting on the floor scooping pea gravel into my planters and almost crying and I said to myself, "This is all just a big bag of FAIL."

Because I HATE inelegant solutions and messy duct-taped-together hasty solutions. I hate things that look cheap and ugly because they are cheap and ugly. But the problem is, short of writing a grant (and it's one of those Catch-22s: just like you need experience in order to get a job and a job in order to get experience, my experience with granting agencies is that they take one look at proposals from schools like mine - where there are not shiny new greenhouses and growth chambers a-plenty - and they go, "Who are these clowns? Do they think they can do science without any equipment? We can't give them money unless they've proven they can do science, which we do not believe they can do without equipment..." and they ashcan the proposal).

Or maybe my research just sucks, I don't know.

But it does frustrate me. And I realize we're not a high-powered research school; hell, outside of my department and maybe one or two others, no one really even does research. But I have a vision of what I'd LIKE to be able to do and what I actually CAN do never quite lives up to that. And it frustrates me.

But at least my three big requirements for the day are done. I think I'm going to go our for barbecue tonight to celebrate the fact that I survived the day even with exploding labware and colleagues who don't like the fact that messy nature sometimes has to be brought indoors to be studied...

tiny little vent

Because I can't wait for tomorrow.

(after this I am off to spend many hours setting up an experiment involving soil, pea gravel, 160 plant pots, water...)

But: I am SO DONE with one of the students in my non majors class. Well, two of them, actually. They sit together in the back of the room. Both have Ds. One came crying to me with that "I need to pass this class what can I do" complaint (I told her but she's not implementing what I told her). Both skip regularly.

Both were here today. The guy pulled out a paperback and started reading it in class.

I don't know what you think about that (and I've actually posted on some bulletin boards online where people are HORRIFIED that I even get upset about that; they take the attitude that it's his free will) but I think that is just one of the rudest things a person can do in class.

If you really want to tune out that much, don't come. I don't give points for attendance and you've already lost any chance at being "bumped up" if you're on a borderline between grades.

Because I'm kind of wimpy, I never say anything to the person. I may stop and contemplate them for a moment or two, long enough to cause an uncomfortable silence in the class, but then I go back to talking with the people who give a sh*t and answering their questions. (And there are a lot of questions as we're on the human physiology unit now. And I welcome the questions, even the ones I don't know the answers to.)

But today - he and his girlfriend in the back, they must have found a good sex passage in the book, because they were passing it back and forth and talking.

So I stopped. And I glared at them. And a bunch of the concerned students turned around and glared at them too. I was on the point of saying something (like I said, kind of wimpy) when they realized what was going on and put the book down and shut up.

Do they realize how bad they just looked? Do they realize that not pissing off the professor is a cardinal rule of school? Do they realize that they contributed one tiny brick to the Wall of Burnout that's slowly building in my soul?

Probably not; people like that tend to not see much past their noses.

But anyway, meh - the guys who sit on the front row seem to enjoy the class. They ask questions. They laugh at my jokes. They're passing the class (if not getting As). They're the ones I'm teaching for, not the immature fools who sit in the back row and pass notes and giggle.

Cats+engineers = funny

Someone e-mailed this to me and I had to share.

There is so much in this that's funny that it's hard to pick out any one thing, but I knew it was going to be good when they measured and reported the aspect ratios of their cats.

popping in quickly

Exam 1 is nearly written.

Supplies and soil have been procured for set-up of experiment, which should happen this afternoon.

But - I had to post this.

I probably need a whole "bacon" category, seeing as I've posted several bacon-related links. But this one's getting the "food?" category as it's a bacon-flavored lollipop.

I'm not sure whether that's awesome or gross.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I hate this time of year...

I have not had a full weekend off since Spring Break. I will not get one until, it looks like, May 17.

I have an experiment to set up some time, two exams to write for next week. I have a research paper to rewrite and submit. I have a student who wants to start a summer research project she is doing with me. Saturday is supposed to be some volunteer work but unless I can get the exams and the experiment done this afternoon, tomorrow afternoon, or Friday, I'm not going to be able to do it.

Grading is going crazy. As I said, I give two exams next week. The following week I collect papers for two of my classes and have them to grade. And then comes exam week.

Unfortunately it's also getting hot and humid here, which means I do not sleep. Even with A/C and a dehumidifier (yeah, yeah, I know. I'm making Al Gore cry. But I cannot function without sleep, and I cannot sleep when I feel like someone is sitting on my chest).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I so want a rubber stamp of this...

...so I can use it when I grade papers:

Bob the Angry Flower explains "its" vs. "it's.".

And, of course, Bob's more-famous Guide to the Proper Use of Apostrophes.

Fortunately, that one my students don't screw up so much. However, I do tend to see it an awful lot at the grocery, as in "Canteloupe's: $3.59" or some such.

I'd also like to have a rubber stamp explaining the "your"/"you're" dichotomy, and the "they're"/"there"/"their" triplet.

And one that says, "This is not a sentence."


And a bonus...while looking for the Bob strips, I ran across a link (on the comic-book artist's page; he had drawn a similar drawing to the one in question and his fans were wondering if the drawing had been cribbed from his earlier work). It's here. Ah, Ann Arbor. How I miss it. Not.

The story: apparently some burger joint calling itself Quickie Burgers puts up a logo of a cowgirl in a tight shirt riding a bucking burger. The local LGBT group objects and wants the burger joint to take down the logo. They protest and deliver a petition.

(Seriously: it's a cowgirl riding a hamburger. It's dumb and silly. I am a woman and I laughed at it. I do not feel one bit objectified. If there were a franchise of that chain in my town, and if it was known to have good food, I'd eat there.

Besides, she looks like she's enjoyin' the ride. So who am I to judge?)

And yeah, yeah, I know: yay freedom of speech. But I also think the burger-joint owner has some freedom of speech here too.


I don't even remember how I surfed into this but:

I'm in UR Vogue, puttin' captions on.

Yes. Models get LOLcatified. LOLcatitized? a LOLcat Makeover?

Whatever. It's pretty funny.

(And please note: "tard" is not, as I first assumed, the same as "'tard," namely, short for term formerly used for certain mental/developmental disabilities and now considered cruel and non-politically-correct [unless you are a 14 year old boy]. No - "tard" is apparently the LOLmodel for "tired." [apparently these models are all from Alabama?]).

Anyway, two thoughts:

It's kind of obvious (and maybe a little cruel), but "I can has nootreeentz?" made me laugh.

And second - if that's "high" fashion, damn. I'm glad I'm unfashionable. (Or maybe it's "high" fashion because that's what some of the designers were when they thunk it up).

Apparently there's a whole series of these; the first one is here

good medicine

I continue to be amazed that doctors can take an organ out of one body, transfer it to another, and have it work.

A woman I know (not well; I know her daughter better) had a liver transplant this weekend.

She had been sick for over a year. There were times she came perilously close to dying; at one point, her daughter said, "Ma is in the hospital again and she says she's so tired of fighting that she's ready to go, if that's what's going to happen."

But somehow, she managed to keep fighting, got better enough to withstand surgery, and this weekend a donor liver became available.

She had the operation Saturday; Sunday in church her daughter was cautiously optimistic: she said her mother had come through the operation well and "as long as she doesn't throw a clot or reject her liver, it will be a success."

Well, as of last night (the church secretary e-mails this news out to us), the woman was sitting up, eating a little, and her skin tone and the color of the whites of her eyes had returned to normal. Normal for a healthy person; not "normal" for what she had been while in liver failure. Apparently she's going to be moved out of ICU sometime today.

So as long as her body doesn't reject the liver, it looks like it worked.

(And yes, of course - many many people have been praying for the woman and her family during this time, and there were a lot of happy faces Sunday morning to learn about the operation's apparent success. We are a small group but a tight one and always rejoice when something good happens for one of our members.)

As I said, transplantation amazes me. It seems like one of those things that should not work, but it does. (And yes, I know, it doesn't work all the time. But when it does, it's amazing.)

And I have to say - this is where I part company with those Christian groups who believe that prayer can cure all diseases without medical intervention, and that medical intervention is wrong, and if the patient dies (even when there's some intervention that could save them) it was God's will.

I know there have been a couple high-profile cases of parents who basically let their children die because they could not believe that medical treatment could be OK.

And you know? I've known a number of doctors (and potential doctors) over the years who are Christians and who would be profoundly frustrated at that attitude. I've had doctors tell me they think that their skill and talent were gifts from God and that they were put here to alleviate people's suffering and help people be healthy.

There is a difference between a person close to the end of their life saying "No more heroic treatment; help me be comfortable and let me make my peace with my family" and someone refusing treatment on behalf of another person, when that person could be saved. Especially when it's a child.

Sometimes I wonder if, because we in America generally live an existence where serious disease or serious health problems are rare, we get a little complacent. I've kind of been watching the vaccine debate - while I agree it's possible for there to be rare cases of an individual having a severe reaction (like an allergic reaction) to a vaccine, and it's tragic when it happens, I remain firmly unconvinced that vaccines "cause" autism. (Which is the argument many make). What I've seen of the science and statistics on the matter shows there is, at best, a correlation - meaning, very likely, that childhood vaccines are administered and autism is typically diagnosed AT THE SAME AGE, but one does not cause the other.

(And it seems there's a genetic link for autism; there are clusters of people - Silicon Valley engineers being one - where there seem to be more autistic children. Engineer jokes aside, some have suggested that the whole autism-Aspergers-normal thing is a spectrum, and engineers tend to be farther toward the atypical end of the spectrum...and it's just sort of population genetics acting there, selecting for certain traits....)

(And I've also heard that in some cases early interaction with adults vs. being parked in front of the TV can be kind of a tipping point in some cases. That, I'm less prone to accept, because if that were the case, I'd expect to see very high rates of autism in some urban centers where the parents basically use TV as a free babysitter. Not that heavy early TV exposure doesn't have an effect on developing brains; I just remain unconvinced of the idea that it can either "cause" autism or send an at-risk child over the precipice.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh, vaccines. Anyway, there are those who crusade against childhood vaccines: they're risky, they say. Unnecessary.

I think of my nearly 90 year old aunt talking about the "polio summers" when she was raising her oldest children, and I don't think vaccines are so unnecessary. And I think about what I've read about the diphtheria epidemics. And about the books I've read about people who went blind or deaf (or both) as a (rare, but still possible) sequela of having measles.

And I shudder to think what would happen if we had some kind of epidemic outbreak of a bad disease for which there was no vaccine. Would the same anti-vaccine crusaders be calling for the government to "do something" to protect them and their families?

Anyway. I am thankful for the state of medicine that we have. I am thankful that I can walk into my local Health Department in October and get stuck in the arm (even though I don't like needles) and most likely be protected from the flu as a result. I am thankful that if I get strep throat, my doctor can give me antibiotics that will kill the bacteria and allow me to recover. (That's another thing - it's kind of hair-raising to read what we regard as minor infections were like in the era before antibiotics. Supposedly the first use of commercial penicillin was on a woman who was dying of sepsis following an otherwise normal childbirth...her husband consented to the experimental treatment because he figured she'd be dead by the next day anyway...and a couple days later, she was sitting up in bed, asking for food).

And I'm thankful that surgeons know how to take a liver from a person who has died, sever all of the various ducts and blood vessels, put the liver in someone whose liver is failing, reattach all the things, and have the liver WORK. I'm grateful for it and it also amazes me.

(And yes, I have the little box checked on my driver's license, and my family knows, if something bad happens to me...I want whatever are usable of my organs to go to help someone else.)

And I fail to see how some could imagine those various treatments - vaccines to prevent horrible diseases like polio, and antibiotics, and surgery - are so removed from God that they must not use them, and pray for deliverance instead.

Because, by that extension, you should not accept food that's grown in an area where fertilizers or pesticides are used, or from animals that have been vaccinated. Or you should refuse to use electricity or other "modern" conveniences.

Granted, there are some things we "can" do that I am unsure at best we "should" do (and things like human cloning, that I think we should not do). But so many of the modern advancements that pull us out of the dark ages have done nothing but good. I'm reading a book right now on the history of plumbing and I am even more thankful for the fact that we have flush toilets and water treatment plants and that I can turn on the tap in the morning and drink the water that comes out of it without fear that I will develop dysentery or succumb to horrific heavy-metal poisoning.

I tend to think some of the greatest human advancements as far as safety and medicine are concerned are:
1. Hygiene, especially as far as water and indoor plumbing are concerned
2. Vaccination
3. Antibiotics (even though they can be overused)
4. Pasteurization
5. The germ theory of disease (though 2, 3, and 4, probably wouldn't be possible without that, so maybe that should rank higher)
6. Surgery
7. Anesthesia
8. Modern dentistry. (As much as I hate to go to the dentist. As much as I'm dreading the appointment next month to get my tooth prepared for and fitted for a crown).

There are probably others I'm forgetting - so many of the advances that would rock the world of people in the 17th century are things so common and widespread as to be almost invisible today.

Monday, April 14, 2008

fat-bottomed cheesecake

So, Ken (in the comments to his wonderful rant on how women sabotage other women by doing the whole "I'm thinner than you ergo I am a better person" crap), asked if those of us who commented would send him some cheesecake photos.

Now, I've normally valued my privacy on here, and I thought first of merely e-mailing the photo to Ken. But of course, he's a married man, and that could cause some issues both for him and me.

So anyway, here I had this photo all made, and then decided that sending it privately probably wasn't too cool.

And then I decided - heck, probably no one I know in person reads this blog, so I can just post it here, maybe take it down after a couple days. You know, just so people can get a brief sense of me.

(Dammit, can't get the "expandable post" widget to work. Well, so that my photo doesn't pop up right away on the screen - so you don't have to see the photo if you don't want to...scroll down)

Scroll down more

And more

Still more

Yes, I like making you work for it ;)

No one actually FELL for that, did they?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

I fought the trash and the trash won

This week was my town's annual "get rid of the litter day." This is one of those volunteer events where, if you don't think too much in the long term, you can feel like you're doing a lot of good. Fifty-some people met (I was hoping there'd be more; I talked it up to all my classes but I guess no one had time) and we fanned out across the town to do battle with all the fast-food bags, drink cups, beer bottles, and other assorted and more horrifying things. (At least I've never found syringes or used prophylactics; I know people who have, though).

I took the street that leads up to my office building. By virtue of the fact that it's a small residential street off of one of the main arteries, by virtue of the fact that it's a wooded area, by virtue of the fact that it has a low speed limit, and by virtue of the fact that at one end of it is student apartments and at the other are some of the more "wealthy" subdivisions housing a number of teenagers with lots of allowance and not a lot of supervision, it tends to accumulate a lot of trash.

I started up at my building (the good thing being I had a secure place to park my car as I worked. Up on the campus grounds there was really NO trash, that's because we have an extremely diligent grounds crew.

But once I got into the wooded area, it got BAD.

I think part of this is that, although someone technically owns the wooded area, there are no houses built on it yet, and I think the owner lives in the City. So they don't see it, and unlike a house where someone actually LIVES, there's no one to go, "Oh, crud, some idiot left a bunch of beer bottles on the lawn; I better go pick those up."

I had latex gloves (which are nasty and I still haven't got the smell off my hands despite showering, washing my hands multiple times, and even putting on strongly-scented hand lotion) but they kept getting torn up because there is greenbriar growing along the roadside. (I also have a big scratch on my leg where the greenbriar snagged me through my jeans.)

I probably covered only 1/2 mile total in the nearly 3 hours I worked. (For comparison, I can walk a mile in 12-15 minutes without really breaking a sweat).

Most of what I picked up were beer bottles. (I suppose that's because some of our local disadvantaged folks often comb roadsides for aluminum cans that they can sell at the scrap yard). Beer bottles are HEAVY. And they smell nasty. And they attract snails - most of the bottles had a number of small snails in them. Or dead flies.

I filled seven large (like, the "lawn leaf bag" size) trash bags. I don't know what that size is but it's about twice the size of the 30 gallon bags I use for kitchen trash.

I didn't find anything TOO scary except there were some empty baggies and a couple of empty Zig Zag rolling paper containers. And some aerosol cans from different products; the way they were grouped and tossed make me wonder if perhaps said "more money than brains" teenagers were using them to get high off of. (It's their brain cells, I just don't appreciate the thought that they may be driving on the road the same time I am, or that I may wind up supporting them with my tax dollars when they fry all their synapses and can't take care of themselves any more).

And lots and lots of beer bottles. Both the standard size and the "forties."

I think I mentioned, beer bottles are really heavy? Even empty?

There were other imbibables' remains: several bottles from cinnamon schnapps. (The hell? I've never drunk schnapps but the thought of cinnamon schnapps makes my stomach turn inside out a little). And bottles from some kind of cheap whisky. (I figure it must be a cheap kind because the bottles were plastic and it was a brand name I'd never heard of).

And there were lots of soft drink cups. And Pepsi bottles (a few with a suspiciously yellow liquid in them. I didn't uncap those bottles to empty them...). And wrappers from hamburgers. And styrofoam "clamshells." And one happy meal box, which, though I hoped a bit, the toy was gone from.

Very few cigarette butts but I suspect that it's not the kind of place where people would be in a position to throw their butts; it's sort of a twisty road and it might be hard to take your hands off the wheel to pull the cig out of your mouth.

I also found a Coke can that must have been there since the 70s; it was a very heavy metal (not aluminum?) and had the old, pull-ring type opening.

I worked for about 3 hours (the time for the pick up was nine to noon but I knew they started serving the free lunch at about 11:30). At the end I REALLY wanted to finish but I couldn't, quite. Partly because it was nearly noon but mainly because I had absolutely zero energy left.

I have borderline low blood pressure. Normally it hovers at about 110/50 but when I do a lot of bending and reaching where my head's below my knees a lot, for some reason I get some kind of weird positional-hypotension like thing and I get dizzy really easily and get exhausted fast. And that was starting to set in towards the end, where I'd have to stop and straighten up and wait for my b.p. to equilibrate so I didn't feel like I was going to pass out.

And I realized, suddenly: if you don't stop now, you won't be able to walk back up the hill to your car.

(Part of it was probably that I didn't take any water with me; I have problems when I get a little dehydrated).

So I gave up just short of my goal, tied up the last bag, placed it with the others (the Solid Waste Department guys are going to go around and pick them up this afternoon) and headed back to my car.

I almost didn't make it up the hill and wondered if I could flag someone down when they drove past to help me. But I finally did.

And I got back to the central location. I washed my hands, got my free hot dog, and got what I really wanted - water. Pounded down a couple bottles of water and started to feel better after a bit.

They do drawings for prizes and I won a t-shirt, which is nice.

The best thing though was at one point, in the middle of my pickup (remember: I was working alone), a guy drove by in his car. Now, most of the people who drove by gave me these stupid or questioning looks, like "Why is that crazy woman out picking up trash" or "Hey, is she having to work off community service hours? Is she someone I know? Can I gossip about her?"

Anyway, the guy who drove by - in a little red car - he slowed down and gave me the thumbs-up sign as he passed. So, thank you, anonymous guy, that made me feel a lot better to think that someone appreciated what I was doing.

I chose the route I chose because I drive by it every morning as I go to work. I thought it would be nice to be reminded every day (well, at least until the litter builds up again) of what I did.

Though I suppose I'll curse the litterbugs when I drive by and see that it's bad again. And it being Saturday night, it could very well get bad right away. But I'm trying to see it as those Zen water paintings, something that doesn't last but was still somehow worth doing at the time. Or maybe like a kind act in a ruthless world: it doesn't make MUCH difference, but it still makes A difference.

Friday, April 11, 2008


So, Nightfly rated me "E for excellent"

Thank you!

I guess I am going to continue the list, although probably all of these blogs have been linked to before - sometimes multiple times.

So, in no particular order, here are some:

Joel, especially for his posts on faith and conversion and those kinds of deep musing. I didn't comment on the St. Thomas post but I really enjoyed it.

Tracey, because she can alternately make me laugh ("Greece is the word!") and think and sometimes even cry a little.

Sheila because she's made me check out books I might never have thought to read otherwise, or look a bit differently at movies I'd seen many times before, or nod my head in agreement over how she writes about what she's feeling when I've been there - or sort-of there - too.

The Anchoress, again for making me think. For challenging me to think more deeply about things. (It's a horrible temptation, in this day and age, to think shallowly and so I appreciate anyone who forces me to consider my preconceptions and to go beyond the surface

Mental Multivitamin, for book suggestions and general musing. While I don't agree with her on EVERYTHING (I think I tend to revere the polymathic more than she does; she's more into having a single important focus), the blog still challenges and interests me.

Nightfly and Spider, again the musings and comments on faith are my favorite part of this blog.

It comes in Pints because it makes me laugh, and gives me a place to ventilate what's been bugging me every Friday. And I enjoy the name-that-tune contests.

And Kate, for the way she's chronicling grad school and not sugar-coating things. I appreciate that she doesn't hold back and doesn't make everything seem like flowers, because life isn't like that.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

more on plagiarism

Yup, Kate - no quotations, no nothing. Just a big chunk of information cribbed from a webpage and dropped in there as if the guy had written it.

The other guy who plagiarized - the one who accepted his 0 without complaint or challenge - had actually grabbed the material from a webpage he DID NOT CITE as a source. And one of the sources he cited gave me a "404 not found" error.

I really wish I could ban students from using the internet for research-paper sources except our library is small enough that it would be hard for them to find information. The problem is, no matter how much I go through my spiel on "how to assess if a source is trustworthy" there are still people who cite random personal pages (I tell them: I could write a personal page on the genetics of cancer or Harley repair or Renaissance architecture and pop it up on the internet, and that wouldn't mean I knew what I was talking about.)

At least this time I had no one using Wikipedia or Field and Stream as sources, so I guess I count that as a win.

It's such a temptation to drop the papers altogether - they take a long time to grade, the students complain about them, it puts me in a bad mood when I find one that's plagiarized or that makes me wonder about the literacy level of the writer - but it's important. The fact that I get bad papers tells me I need to keep doing it, need to keep giving students that experience. Because, honestly, a lot of our students go into careers where they will be writing white-papers or short summaries of things and I don't want someone to go "Whoa, X University is really screwed up if they're graduating people who write this badly!"


Also, I have to take my taxes in to the post office today to send off my pound (plus) of flesh for the year. Thanks to some investments that did better than expected, I wind up owing more than a month's take-home pay between the Feds and the State.

I always think of the person who enclosed about 8 ounces of (dead) bees with his form one year. I guess he was arrested but still. I don't like the fact that it takes a great deal of time (plus the know-how to interpret some of the more arcane instructions) to fill the forms out and then having to send in more money.

With the state taxes it's even worse because at least with the Feds I can comfort myself by thinking, "Well, at least this helps pay for national defense" or "Well, in a roundabout way this is paying for part of my 88 year old aunt's Medicaid." But with my state taxes I get a distinct feeling that there's just this big toilet in the basement of the state capital, and all the money we send in gets flushed down there, feeding the giant maw of some monster standpipe. And that this happens while our bridges crumble and the legislature makes noises about "we might not be able to pay teachers this month" and other things.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Ken, I had always seen that little bit of doggerel attributed to Nash, and several of the sites about his life list it as being by him. But I suppose Parker could have said it first. (She's still the one to whom the "Men don't make passes/at girls who wear glasses" line is attributed. [and I would add? Those men who don't make passes because of the glasses? They're dumbasses.])

Anyway. That's not a bad segue (and, no, it is NOT "segway," as I have seen some people spell it) into my minirant of the day.

I assign short papers in one of my classes. I give fairly detailed instructions, including, "Don't plagiarize."

I still had two partially-plagiarized papers, and is my habit, those papers received a 0. One of the chaps (because in this case, it was - two guys) accepted his zero without comment. The other one wasn't present to get his paper back on the day I handed them back, and he came to me wondering why the online grade posting had a "0" for him. As I looked for his paper (I have far too many stacks of papers left over from students who skip class on the days I hand papers back), I explained to him my policy.

"But I cited the works I got that stuff from!" he protested. Yes, I responded, but you copied the stuff directly. You need to put it in your own words.

"I didn't know that" he complained. I reiterated my policy, including a recount of the official university policy.

Eventually he accepted the 0 - but honestly, how many college juniors don't know that directly quoting paragraphs and paragraphs out of a work - even if you attribute it - is plagiarism?

(He's not one of "our" majors, I hasten to add. "Our" majors would have been disabused of the notion that that behavior was OK by one of the other faculty they had before me.)

Really, I think more and more that learning how to do research - and how to do it correctly - is becoming a lost art. One of our graduates, who worked briefly as office-help, complained that in her son's elementary grade school, the kids were doing "reports" by copying articles word for word out of an encyclopedia. She said: "They're teaching them to do something that's wrong! I explained to my son why he shouldn't do that and he said, 'but the teachers tell us we have to do it that way.'" She went and complained to the superintendent but I don't know if anything came of it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Unfortunately worded headline...

...or maybe it's just my twisted brain.

Driving back to campus after lunch, the noon news on the station I had on the radio offered this up:

"The main three presidential candidates to grill Petraeus."


I expect that Hilary would want a drumstick.