Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Adventure Time," you're creepin' me out...

I really liked Adventure Time (the cartoon) when it first started up. But lately, there have been a few things about it that I find...unsettling.

The most recent one is the "Jake's Croak Dream" episode: Jake has a dream in which he dies, and decides that it's his destiny to fulfill that dream in real life. Which just struck me as very dark and very sad. (And ends with Fin deciding that he can not leave Jake's side forever, since Jake died alone in the dream...and therefore, he can't die if Fin is beside him.)

Also, some of the backgrounds in the episodes (especially in the one about Marcelline's dreams) makes me wonder if rather than being set in kind of a never-never land, if this is actually some kind of weird, post-apocalyptic future where most of the world has been see ruins of skyscrapers and stuff in the backgrounds, and the technology that Fin and Jake have seems to be very cobbled-together, sort of "Mad Max" style.

Also, it's alluded to the fact that Fin is the "only" human. That he's never seen anyone like him, and apparently he never even knew his biological parents. (There's a possibility Susan Strong is a human....but now that her belowground city has been restored, I wonder if we'll see her again). In one episode Jake talks about the "great Mushroom war" or somesuch...and now I wonder if "mushroom cloud" was what was meant.

Or, I'm probably reading too much into this. (Curse you, high school English classes that made us analyze every 'text' we experienced). But it doesn't seem quite as sweet or as sunny as it did in the earlier episodes.

I think we need more Princess Bubblegum. There's been a recent lack of Princess Bubblegum....

Monday, November 28, 2011

Not shopping

I'm not a fan of the Black Friday hype. I think it's an idea whose time has gone - back in the days (days that maybe never existed), when people shopped for Christmas only after Thanksgiving - when stores like the Woolworth's and the downtown department stores opened their toy departments the day after Thanksgiving, when Christmas windows were revealed that made sense.

Now, it's mainly a showcase for the worst sort of uncivil, selfish behavior.

(HH has her own take on it here).

I went one year. There was something, I don't remember what, that my dad wanted to get. So it was hyped as "It'll be FUN. It'll be a family thing."

Um. No. No amount of free elf ears (that was one of the promotions early shoppers got) or free candy or discounts could make me do that again. And the shoppers in my parents' town were more civilized than the stuff you see on the television. It was just very crowded, and we wound up waiting a while outside in the cold wind, waiting for the store to open, and then there was shoving and long lines at the registers and I can't even remember if we got what we went for or if they were already sold out.

I watch with dismay, though, the people who trample other people, or knock them down and grab what they had, or, in one case this year, pepper spray other shoppers (Recruit that woman for the Davis police!). Is your humanity REALLY that cheap, that it can be bought for $50 off some television set? Do you REALLY need a $2 waffle-maker? (I manage to exist without a waffle-maker, somehow.)

I think part of this bad behavior is the fact that it seems a lot of people don't feel shame any more. They don't think there's anything so awful about being featured on the news for being nasty and unpleasant to their fellow humans. (Hell, some people may even get off on that kind of publicity).

Also, it makes me wonder: if someone's willing to knock down and perhaps trample another person over a video game, what will happen if there's ever a shortage of a genuine necessity, like food? Makes me shudder to contemplate. (And makes me grateful for my stored supply)

I see Black Friday deals meeting one of three fates. Only the first one do I think is a good result:

1. A critical mass of the populace says "Forget that noise" and stays home, and either cyber-shops or shops on other days. For me, it's not worth whatever discount on whatever hotly-desired item to deal with the crush of humanity. So the stores eventually decide it's not worth it, it's not worth the ill-will it generates, and give it up.

2. Enough of the trampled/elbowed/whatever shoppers decide to sue the retailers, whether they have grounds or not. It becomes enough of a nuisance that the stores decide it's not worth it.

3. The government decides Something Must Be Done! and bans Black Friday sales. Or bans discounts over a certain percentage. Or requires a lottery system for people to get in and get the stuff. Or something. And that would be the worst one, because once that camel's nose is under the tent...well.

I don't know, really, how bad the "bad" Black Friday behavior is. I'm sure part of it is that there's more publicity as a result of the 24 hour news cycle and the need, apparently, to show all the aspects of shocking human behavior that can be found. I do know I've been shoved, pushed, run into by people who can't look up from their cell phones, banged with shopping carts and all that at my local grocery during busy times, and it fills me with dismay...people don't "see" that the other people around them are people. It makes me wonder if we're just getting worse as a culture, and if it's going to culminate in a future where lots of people (like me) are afraid to shop at busy times because of what could happen.

Because, really: is a cheap television, or a difficult-to-find video game, or some super-discounted kitchen gadget REALLY worth it? Is it worth acting like an animal to save a few bucks? I know times are hard right now, but as I said: I survive without a waffle maker or video games and I have only one television in my house, and it's neither big-screen nor LCD.

Friday, November 18, 2011

"What are they teaching them in schools today?"

Something I've noticed with a lot of my students is that they don't seem to have a lot of mental flexibility (for lack of a better term).

For example, in one of my classes, I was teaching a dihybrid Mendelian cross. This is where you have two unlinked traits, you have to be able to figure out the combinations of offspring two parents could have. The most complex situation of this is double-heterozygotes, such as AaBb x AaBb. The main trick to this is figuring out the types of gametes each parent could make (in this case, AB, aB, Ab, and ab) and then properly recombining them.

So I worked out an example of the double-heterozygote for my lab students. And then turned them loose on the exercises, which include figuring it out for a DIFFERENT double heterozygote (same exact situation but different letters/different traits) and a double heterozygote crossed to a double recessive.

I was kind of startled at how many people shut down on the second problem...I thought I had emphasized that the "trick" to this is figuring out the types of gametes, and had gone through a couple examples, but the students couldn't look at an aabb individual and see that ab was the only type of gamete it could make.

What startled me even more - after showing the AaBa x AaBb example, and then the students having a RrTt x RrTt example in the book, how they COULD NOT TRANSLATE what they learned from the AaBb example to the EXACT SAME SITUATION WITH DIFFERENT LETTERS.

I see this a lot - knowledge seems to be very 'compartmentalized' - it's all cook-book, it's like some students are just learning to pull a certain combination of levers without thinking about what those levers do, and so if the levers change - even if it were a minor change - they're lost.

Now, I realize, people who become professors were atypical students, but I find this kind of attitude tough to deal with. Surely in everyday life you're met with new and different situations that are kind of like what you faced before, but also kind of different, and you learn to adapt to them?

I wonder if some of this...flailing...that some students do is a result of being taught to the test: that they're learning content, but not learning what to DO with that content. That they can solve the kinds of problems most likely to show up on a standardized test, but they're not taught that those problems are "templates" or guidelines for dealing with similar problems.

I don't know. Somedays I think what we should do is scrap public school 'as she is taught' and go back to the Trivium and the Quadrivium. (Logic, grammar, and rhetoric; arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.) Or something. I'm really amazed at how many of the students coming through my's like they're intellectually out-of-shape, they're not used to thinking hard about stuff, and instead of being like me after the holidays and going, "whoa, I got really pudgy, I probably better get back in training!" they complain about how "haaaard" everything is and shut down.

I DON'T think they're stupid. I don't even really think they're lazy. I just think the people who can't do this stuff (a small percentage, true, but they're enough of a drain on my energies that they seem like a lot) have never been faced with this kind of a challenge and they don't want to take it on. It's frustrating, because from where I stand, to succeed in med school or dental school or at need to be up to those kinds of challenges.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Okay, I'm done.

I have this one student. Let's call her Ophelia. Ophelia has spent the ENTIRE semester pissing and moaning about how HARD everything is, how much WORK everything is. She's VERY vocal and uses a tone of voice I interpret as borderline rude.

Well, she stops me before I start class today: "I don't understand the calculations from lab! I can't do the lab!"

So I sigh. And I say, okay, let me finish the chapter we're working on and I'll go over the calculations again for you and for anyone who needs them.

So I do that. Look out over the class. A number of students have their calculators out and are taking notes. Ophelia? She's talking with her boyfriend/the guy next to her she flirts with in class (I'm not sure which: I don't care to enter that much in the personal lives of students).

You know what? I'm done. If she gripes again that she can't do the lab calculations, I'm going to mention that I noticed she was talking with Fortinbras next to her during the entire time I was going over stuff, and that that's not cool. And I'm going to tell her (in more polite terms of course) that she can suck it, because I put myself behind in class FOR HER and she apparently couldn't be arsed to pay attention. So whatever.

Free will

I got to thinking about this, after hearing about some of the legislation that's being considered in various California cities: banning pet stores, to protect against "puppy mills" and large numbers of unwanted dogs and cats; banning the sale of fur clothing; the various 'dietary' measures (like banning trans fats).

And something struck me: If, like me, you believe in God, you also most likely believe that God gave us free will to make choices. We have a choice whether to love God or not, a choice whether to do right or do wrong.

And the government in some municipalities is trying to abridge that free will by legislating against particular behaviors they dislike.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not going total-libertarian on this: I support laws against (among other things) murder, rape, child abuse, theft, assault, and a host of other things that directly harm another human. (I'm even OK with bans on smoking in government buildings. I tend to think bar/restaurant owners should be able to make the choice - just as their patrons should be able to make the choice whether to eat there or not - but if you're stuck in line at the DMV and you have asthma, it's not cool to be stuck behind a guy puffing on a stogie).

But it seems to me so many government employees want to justify their salaries (I assume) by micromanaging the lives of their constituents.

You know what? I probably wouldn't wear fur. While I don't have a problem with hunting (Most of the hunters I know are very concerned with getting humane quick kills), I have questions about raising animals in cages solely for their pelts. But that's me, that's my personal decision, and I would never wag a finger at a woman in a fur coat and tell her she was wrong. Most decisions carry a moral complexity that the nanny-staters like to ignore. For example: fur (and wool) is a renewable resource; synthetic fabrics are not. Nor will they biodegrade. (And cotton, the way it's traditionally grown, is hell on the environment.)

(And yes, I buy "cage free" eggs, though that's partly because I think they taste better, and yes, I can tell a difference. But they ARE more expensive and I realize that's a choice I can make because of my particular circumstances, and not everyone can choose that).

The thing that gets me is, with any of those legislatures who are wanting to ban salt or toy guns for children or whatever - if someone came forward with a proposal against extramarital sex, or requiring a counseling period before marriage, the legislators would throw up their hands and go, "You can't legislate morality! You can't tell people what to do with their lives!"

Um, yeah.

(Actually, I'm somewhat in favor of the idea of a counseling period/waiting period before marriage; I have seen too many people rush into it who take it very lightly. It's a serious thing. It SHOULD be a serious thing. It's a vow to another person, and, if you are at all religious, your God as well.)

But I don't know. If it was good enough for us for thousands of years to make our own moral decisions about what to eat, what to wear, how to spend our money, etc....why isn't it good enough any more?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wait, what? No, seriously, wait, what?

Ever have one of those days where you feel like you woke up in bearded-Spock world?

Here's the latest news story that made me go, "WTH, humanity, WTH?"

Parents buying chicken-pox-contaminated lollipops to avoid vaccinating their child.

Okay. I'm of the generation that dealt with chicken pox the old-fashioned way (my brother brought it home from kindergarten and I caught it - and yes, because I was some years older, I was really really sick with it). I'm not opposed to the vaccine, though now I see they're saying it doesn't grant lifelong immunity and kids will need boosters. (Having had the chicken pox seems to give stronger immunity, but it also gives one a risk of developing shingles later in life).

But here's the thing I don't get: "We think that vaccines are unsafe, so we're going to order a lollipop over the internet from a total stranger, and use that to infect our child." I'm a bit less skeeved out by the "pox parties" (a fad in some areas: when a kid comes down with chicken pox, you have a sleepover at their house, so your kids get it, too).

(At first I thought maybe it was that the vaccine manufacturer had decided to go to an oral vaccine - like how I was vaccinated against polio, back in the day - but that's not it at all. I have to admit I would support the idea of oral vaccines if they were as safe and effective as the jab-in-the-arm (or the butt) kind)

For one thing: Isn't sending an infectious disease through the US Mail illegal, not to mention, a really, really bad idea? What if there's a postal worker who's never had chicken pox, and they get exposed? And for that matter - what if the kid who licks the lolly to contaminate it has some other infection going on? And what's to stop some horrible creep from sending out lollies with, I don't know, Hep B or something on them?

I understand not wanting your kid to be a pincushion. (I hate shots myself). But I don't think this is a wise alternative.

Penn State, what the heck?

Okay. So, it looks like one of the assistant coaches at Penn State was caught molesting kids he was supposed to be helping (through a charity he set up). Someone sees it, goes to Joe Paterno. Paterno doesn't call the cops. The administrators who find out don't call the cops.

When the stuff hits the fan (This, kids, is another reason to tell the truth and do what's right: if you try to cover crap up, it starts to smell after a while), Paterno says he's retiring. Then the regents fire him.

Then the campus goes nuts. Students are "rioting" (as they said on the radio here, though the rioting looks more like property damage than anything - I think of rioting as being more violent towards people, but still - if they figure out who damaged property, they should at a minimum be made to pay for it).

This tells me two things:

First, football has become far, far too important on college campuses. Look, the former defensive coordinator was DIDDLING KIDS. I know people who think that should be a capital offense - as in, you go to Old Sparky, too bad, so sad, you should have thought of it when you had those unnatural urges.

I tend to think that Paterno SHOULD be out for not having said anything. While I don't know that there would be a way to deal with this without it coming out big and bad in the press (and maybe the public humiliation will cause other programs to examine what's going on that might not be above-board), Paterno and all the others involved should have called the cops the first they knew of the situation. I don't have any heartbreak over the administrators who apparently tried to cover it up being fired. Anyone implicated in the cover-up should be fired.

Because, isn't it true, that you're complicit in a crime if you see it being committed, and you do nothing to stop it? Isn't there such a thing as accessory-after-the-fact.

Part of my strong reaction to this is that I consider child molestation to be one of the worst, if not THE worst crime, a person can commit. Because what they have done is destroyed a young person's trust, stolen their innocence, and set that child on a path that they - and those who are going to try to help them - will have to work VERY hard to correct. (These were ten year old boys. I am not sure how I'd feel if they were 18 year old new football recruits. I'd still be disgusted, I'd still think the defensive coordinator should be fired and do jail time (if it could be proven the encounters were non-consensual))

But my second thought on this is disgust at the students who rioted. For one thing, it makes me wonder if they care more about their football program than the lives of the kids that Sandusky harmed. (And I think, from all I've heard, it's pretty cut-and-dried that YES it was him and YES he did what he is accused of). And for another: if you disagree with a decision your university makes, you do NOT protest that by destroying property.

This just reminds me of how some 18-22 year olds really aren't entirely in their right minds - or at least aren't part of the time. This is kind of like some of the hangers-on at OWS...they're not thinking through the consequences, they're kind of turned on by the idea that they're DOING something to stick it to the man.

If you're really angered by the regents' decision, here are some ideas:

1. Withdraw and attend a different school.
2. Contact alumni donors and explain your frustration, it might sway them to change their donation (And trust me - large donors pissed off at the regents' actions can cause stuff to happen)
3. Write letters
5. Refuse to support the football program in the future.

BUT: and this is where I part company with those students who are angry at the regents - remember that there were kids harmed in this situation. I know, I know: Joe Paterno has been head coach for longer than I've even been alive. I know, he's an institution on campus. But he screwed up. Yes, maybe he's being made a scapegoat - but there are also administrators leaving under a cloud. There should be consequences. I don't know that his actions necessarily justified firing but I'm amazed he didn't think it right to call the cops then and there, and try to get Sandusky out of the program then.

The more I see of the "industry" of collegiate football, the more I question it. I think it's gone from an entertaining auxiliary that brings in money to the school, to, on some campuses, something that even eclipses the university's real reason for existence - the academics.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

An open question to those who teach:

Have you ever wanted to drag a student aside after class and say, "If you hate this subject so much, if you find all the exercises so tedious and boring, why are you majoring in this subject?"

I have someone like that this semester. EVERYTHING is awful, EVERYTHING is an effort. The person does not *seem* depressed (I am trying to give them the benefit of the doubt). They try to con other people into the class into doing their work/collecting their lab data. And they act as if being an undergraduate is THE HARDEST THING **EVER**.

I've had a rough couple of weeks - mostly outside-work life-issues and health stuff - and so I'm not exactly sympathetic to someone who lives in the dorm, eats in the cafeteria, and is taking 12 credit hours feeling like they're the most put-upon person ever.

Snapping back....

The Memebase site (one of the I Can Has Cheezburger sites, and yes, I love many of those sites dearly), has a running gag about "Terrible Teacher" (It's actually more aimed at grade-school teachers, and actually, yes, I had teachers who did a few of those things...)

Anyway, I was thinking that "Snotty Student" could be the reverse side of this. Just a few ideas:

"Shows up to class 20 minutes late; complains about missing announcements at start of class."

"Shows up to class 10 minutes after everyone has finished quiz; demands to take quiz anyway"

"Has 6 weeks to write research paper; calls night before it is due to say they don't understand the assignment and can't do it" (This one actually happened to me)

"Six grandmothers died in one semester"

"Needs excused absence for Friday's class: says favorite band 'in the whole world' is playing"

"Skips class; stands in line for new videogame release"

"Ignores announcement about proper clothing for field lab; complains about fire ants getting into their flip-flops"

"Spills soda on desk; leaves mess for custodian"

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

It's ugly

I think the continued poor economy is affecting people badly. It seems lately I've seen more rude, awful, pushy and even dangerous behavior - both in stores and on the road.

I had to run to the grocery store this afternoon for some supplies for feeding my women's group this week. The store had marked down all the leftover halloween candy and had it set out in carts near the checkout line. People were pushing and shoving to get to the candy. I don't know if it's just the "bargain" mentality kicking in, or if people are buying into the news about shortages of things like peanuts and coffee and chocolates, or what. I also saw some rude behavior in the "regular food" aisles.

And I got behind my first "extreme couponer." I should have been tipped off when the woman behind her (herself with a full cart) pulled out and left, but I didn't, and got in the "shorter" line.

(To my credit, I didn't get angry, didn't say anything. I just stood there and told myself that (a) you chose this line and (b) you don't really have to be anywhere for a while, so while it's annoying to wait, you can wait).

I do think that if that sort of extreme couponing becomes a bigger trend, it might be nice to have lanes for "people without coupons" or for them to more closely police the "20 items or fewer" lanes, and really ask the people with a full cart to leave that lane free for the people with just a few items. (If they asked it that way - in the sense of "Please leave this lane open as a convenience to people who only have a few items and are in a hurry" that might work better than "No, you cannot bring more than 20 items through." Though, I don't know. Someone with a real entitlement mentality might not care about the other people.)

I don't know. It just makes me sad and tired to be out among the general public these days - it seems there's so much bad behavior. Recently, driving through a construction zone where you have to merge down to one lane, I guess I wasn't moving fast enough for the guy behind me, because he pulled out, ran down to the merge-point, and then very pointedly cut me off. (I was trying to leave a car-length between me and the car ahead, just for safety reasons). I hit my horn and shook a finger (my INDEX finger - the finger you wag at a small child when they misbehave - not that OTHER finger) at him, but really, what's the point? Someone who thinks that's okay probably thought it was funny it ticked me off.

I don't know. The funny thing is, my response to seeing bad behavior is to (generally) try to be nicer myself - to let people pull out of parking lots if I'm out on the street and they're trying to get out (ESPECIALLY if I'm at a stoplight where stopping and hanging back a car-length to let them out makes no difference in my travel time), stuff like that. Or being as polite as possible to cashiers after the previous person unloaded on them. (Hint to the complainers: the cashiers are not the cause of the inflation in food prices.) Like, I think maybe I can try to undo some of the rudeness by being extra nice. I don't know.