Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I think I'm gonna like this class.

I had lab again this afternoon, with the class I talked about last week. Again, the lab wasn't *hard*, but it was sort of fiddly and took some attention to detail.

This is another lab exercise where, some semesters, one group messes it up spectacularly and has to start over. I tend to hover during the early stages just in case.

This group? I did the pre-lab, turned 'em loose, and they did it, again with just a minor procedural question or two. And they got it. No one screwed it up, several people independently showed me that they understood the underlying principles. They even all got done early - I could have done another exercise in class today. (I decided not to, because the last time I did this lab, two groups messed it up badly enough that they didn't get finished by the end of the lab time).

It's not just a matter of smarts in these cases; it's a matter of maturity and being able to say, "Okay, this has something to teach me so I'm going to sit down and work on it" instead of slacking off and screwing around. Luckily for me, it looks like this class has both smarts and maturity.

Morning news

The town I live in has two local stations.

Well, actually, there are four networks - CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox, but the same folks who own the CBS affiliate own the Fox affiliate, and the same with NBC/ABC. So there are two morning news choices. (ABC just re-runs the local NBC news).

One network, I vastly prefer their weather coverage of, but I find the morning anchors a little hard to take. Two women. One of them, Jackie, is pretty competent and does a decent job (especially considering we're a small market and anyone with real talent will wind up going to a more prestigious location), but the other - let's call her Tiffani - oh gads, Tiffani.

She once, reading a story about the effects of prostate cancer surgery, said that one of the risks was "Im-pot-ince" instead of "IM-po-tence." And that wasn't just a one-off mistake; I get the feeling she either doesn't read carefully, or else she needs corrective lenses but can't be arsed to get them.

Anyway, this morning, doing the health round-up stories, Jackie "teased" the story by saying "And what would you think about a male birth control pill?" Immediately Tiffani started mugging and shrugging at the camera, and making it all about her, apparently.

Jackie looked over at her and I SWEAR I could hear "Jane, you ignorant slut" pass through her mind.

(And I know: Ray Bradbury said that watching local news will make you stupid. That's why I only watch until I get a chance to see the weather, and then I turn it off)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Trashcans in the street

This is one of those "what would you do" things.

In my neighborhood - in my city in general - it's strongly encouraged by the city that, if you at all CAN, you should take your big roll-cart trashcans away from the curb after trash day is over. Most of us (myself included) put them up behind the house. Because it looks better that way. And because, on windy days, the can is less likely to blow out into the street or blow away.

They are heavy rollcarts, but they can tip over, and in a really stiff wind, I've seen them roll a few feet down the street.

Well, one of my neighbors - a family with at least three able-bodied adults in it - doesn't bother to bring their cans up. Nope, the cans sit there on the curb all week long.

Yes, it's simpler to leave the cans there; you don't have to walk quite as far to put trash in them as I do to my can. But the city asked! And there's a good reason for it!

(I will note that in my parents' town, there is a codicil in the city's papers that says that the city is allowed to levy fines on anyone who leaves their can out after trash day is over, or who puts the can out long in advance of trash day).

Well, today I went home for lunch. It's been very windy here today. And my neighbors' cans (yes, they have two. I think they pay extra for that) were tipped over and one was out in the street. I knew no one was home.

And that was what you might call a WWJD? moment. I looked at the cans and thought, "If I were a really nice person, I'd pick the one out of the street and stand both of them back up." But then I thought: Yeah, but that's just another case of a person who could be responsible (as I said: two adults and one teen, all able bodied, any of them could put the cans up, as opposed to just me, with my bum shoulder and my long schedule, who does), but doesn't. And I'd just be enabling them. And anyway, given the wind? If the cans aren't in the lee of a building they will just tip again.

(And there was no way I was hauling them up beside their garage. Not so much because "I shouldn't put in that much effort" but because "what if I get busted for trespassing when I'm trying to do something nice?")

Finally, I compromised: I figured the cans being flat on their lawn only affected THEM,. but a can being out in the street (not quite in the driving lane but close) was a hazard to others - innocents - so I went and hauled the can up out of the street and laid it on its side on their grass beside the other can.

I will say the one week I put the trash out, left on break, and knew I wouldn't be back to put the can up? I asked a friend to do it for me and she did.

On the one hand, I hate all the little pecked-by-ducks rules that some towns set up. On the other hand: the way our rollcarts work, it's really a good idea to take them up after the trash is collected. And it bugs me when I go to the effort to be responsible but other people don't.

Edited to add: After coming home for lunch I went back to campus to work for a while. When I came back home, someone from next door had taken the trash cans up. I guess they got the "high wind warning" that's been going around here. So at least the cans won't blow around tonight.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Well, it happened...

Flipped The Weather Channel on the other day to see what the temperature would be like here.

They were talking about "Winter Storm Khan" so I had to do it - threw my head back and in my best Captain Kirk impression, went


It's a good thing I live alone.

(Of course, now, they're up to Luna, which is probably making the Bronies' heads explode. Yes, I like the show, but I don't necessarily count myself a Brony, partly because I'm totally out of the demographic for that).

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Time to invest in streaming video?

Maybe. Yesterday was a hard day; after teaching I stayed over and worked on rewriting a rejected article, which I always find hard ("What the HELL is that reviewer talking about?") and painful ("They think this sucks. Did I really write something this bad?")

So I got home and just wanted to veg out in front of the television.


There was nothing on. Discovery Fit and Health: marathon of Hoarders. "Arts" and "Entertainment": Marathon of Duck Dynasty*. The "Learning" Channel: bride and bridesmaid shows, all night. Not even a re-run of NCIS to be found anywhere.

(*People allegedly wanted to sue Subway for "false advertising" when a "Footlong" sub turned up that was 11" long. I think we have a similar case against A and E - nothing they show these days seems to be either Art or Entertainment.)

It seems to me like the channels are getting more and more and more the same - same crappy shows on every one, same reality drek, same grabbing some subculture in America and holding it up to the light so (apparently) the elites can laugh at it.

Feh.I don't know if a Roku box or something would make more sense, or if just canceling my cable and then coming home and staring at a wall when I have done so much brainwork in a day that I don't even feel like reading, would make more sense.

I don't even know how streaming/on demand stuff works, if a person can set it up themselves. My cable company is unreliable enough when it comes to service that I'd rather not work through them.

I was also irritated when I woke up this morning - around 5:15 am and couldn't get back to sleep - so I sat and flipped channels for a while. And in among all the infomercials that usually populate the airwaves at that hour, there was something called Shakespeare Uncovered, which was really fascinating, but which made me rage at the tv: "WHY? Why do you put something like this on at an hour when I'm likely to be asleep, and yet, when I have time to watch and the desire to watch, it's all crap?"

(I suppose the answer is that most people love the stuff I think is crap, and would hate the stuff I enjoy. I know, I know: I'm weird and don't fit in. But you'd think with 125 channels or something....)

I'm really tired of the so-called reality shows; this is a fad that should have died and gone away about five years ago, and yet instead it continues to mutate and metastasize. I want shows that have storylines and characters and that maybe hold up a bit of a mirror to the human psyche, instead of people riding around whooping on ATVs or yelling at each other or sitting around looking impossibly well-put-together while still calling themself a "housewife."

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This bodes well...

...I hope. My first real ecology lab of the semester was today. The lab I do as the first real lab isn't a HARD lab, in terms of either technique or analysis, but it's something that you need to be able to pay attention and follow both written and oral directions well for.

I use it as a bit of a diagnostic. Some semesters most of the groups bollix it up, and I know that I have to plan to go more slowly, be more patient, and generally put up with poor direction-following. Some years only a couple groups mess up, and I know I have a core group that are solid with a few slackers.

This year only one person in the class showed evidence of having trouble following directions, and once the rest of their group steered them a little bit, they got it. All the other groups took off on their own and other than a few minor procedural questions (mainly asking about "what do we do in this case" when a situation that wasn't discussed in the lab book came up), they did it totally on their own. And got done early. And seemed to "get" what they were doing.

So I'm cautiously optimistic about this class, especially since the student I had warned would be a big problem isn't in the class any more.

On further thought

I think the reason that campus shootings freak me out so much, and make me so angry ("How DARE this person come on to a campus and do that!") is that college campuses have long been my "safe" place - even when I was  a kid, occasionally going in to my dad's office with him, I always felt happy on a college campus. All those books! All those opportunities to learn! And as a basically nerdy shy kid, I got the sense that (in some departments at least) my type of personality would be valued, or at least valued to a greater degree than it was on the playground.

So I'm probably conflating PHYSICAL safety (which none of us has, really, when you think about it, anywhere) with EMOTIONAL safety, and I feel like that emotional safety is being robbed from me along with whatever sense of physical safety I had.

As I said before: I've had a few very angry students breathing fire over something or other in my office. Up to this point I've either been able to calm them down or diplomatically turf them, and nothing has resulted. But I do anticipate there may come a day on my campus where someone shows up unhinged and upset over some minor slight, and starts attacking. And I don't like thinking about the possibility of that.


We have a new custodian in my building. She stopped by and introduced herself.

Later on that morning, I was sitting in my office and I overheard her say to another custodian working with her: "This is going to be so different from the Administration building. Here, the people actually say "good morning" to you."

On the one hand, that's sad. On the other hand: good on the people in my department (and yes, I said "good morning" to her.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

You've got to be effing kidding me....

...yet another campus shooting What the hell, people? Why are there so many screwed-up people deciding to take out whatever resentments they feel in such a permanent way?

At least at that shooting, no one has died (yet.)

If I got really, really POd at someone, I might get up in their face and yell at them. Or I might just freeze them out, refuse to work with them, refuse to communicate with them, other than to say how angry I was over what they did or said, and that if they want to apologize, I'd consider forgiving them. Or I might go and talk smack about them with one of my friends. Or if it was an ethical breach, I'd report them.

But I wouldn't ever hurt them. As I've said before: the only time I'd physically hurt another human is if my life was in danger. Or the life of some smaller weaker person dependent on me. Or if I were fairly certain that I was about to be raped, and there was no way for me to get away and run like hell to the nearest cop.

As I've said before: I don't like having to keep a plan in the back of my head aimed at "what would you do if...."

I'm just waiting for the calls to close down college campuses, because they are CLEARLY dangerous places. Feh. (In my bleaker moments, I think, "Just close 'em down. Shut the colleges for 15 years and re-form them at some future date." Of course I'd have to find alternate employment, but....there are a lot of campuses with a lot of broken things)

I don't know. I hate emotionalism in the news. But stories like this make me lose my perspective a little because I can imagine it happening here. I've had  a few very angry students in my office. We had some kind of ill-defined "incident" a couple weeks ago. There are a few students who have been noted as "behaving strangely."

I don't know what, if anything, we can do. Probably nothing, short of allowing faculty and staff with CCW licenses in good standing to carry on campus and being damnsure the campus police are armed and prepared to use force if necessary. Other than that, I guess, you live every day the best you can and accept that some day, it just will be "your time," earlier or later.

Though, dear God, I hope "my time" is much, much later, and that it doesn't happen in a violent way.

Last week was a long week.

The first week of classes always is. The whole shakedown of getting things together, of figuring out which room you're in (and, in my building in the winter, figuring out which rooms have broken heat, so which rooms I will need to be sure to have a sweater for). The whole deal of arranging for notetakers/alternative testing/whatever else is needed for the students with Disability Concerns.

I will say, however, one big concern was absent: the student I had been warned about (or, that I interpreted the warning as in my darker moments, "You're going under the bus this term, but don't screw up and make it miserable for us, too") is no longer on my roster. Never showed up to class. Apparently, this person dropped. I kept waiting for the shoe to fall - Friday was our last add day - but apparently this person will not be back (barring some kind of last-minute freak out "I really do need this class after all" followed by demands being issued that the rules be broken for them - I've seen such things happen for others).

So I am breathing a giant sigh of relief, because when the most upbeat person in the department tells you that the person is a giant downer and they will do nothing but complain at you, that's bad.

I will say I apparently have a couple in one of my classes - man and woman who sit next to each other and giggle to each other during class. "Do you have something to share?" is met with fake-innocent stares and "No." But people like that try my patience and I admit I have a limit of the number of times I will tell them to shut the heck up - if I tell them three times in an hour, and they still keep going, I give up. And I hope one of the other students will turn around and tell them to shut up (I've seen it happen before).

I know a lot of ink (and electrons) have been spilled about the decline in preparedness, or in intellectual curiosity, or reading and math ability of college students. But there's also a decline in simple respect and civility and ability to understand that being in the classroom is NOT like being on your sofa at home. I regularly have "talkers" that I have to keep reminding, "If someone else is speaking, shut up" or that, after I've given up, some other student turns around and says, not at all sotto voce, "I CAN'T HEAR HER. STOP TALKING." (And thank God for those students; the "talkers" seem more prone to respect their peers than to respect me.

And you know? That's what kills me. That's what will ultimately drive me from academe if it does. The fact that there is a small but real percentage of the students who seem to see me as a servant, rather than as someone with more wisdom and experience and who can help them gain experience. The students who come to me and say, "I'm going to miss two weeks for a ski trip, you need to give me the work ahead of time" or "I forgot we had a test yesterday, you need to give me a make up" or similar things - things I would never have DREAMED of asking my prof about. (Even doctor's appointments. Granted, I never had to go to the doctor or dentist on an emergency basis, and I'm willing to forgive that when it happens - but my routine appointments, I just made during school breaks. Or even stuff like, "My bite is jacked up, I think I have a filling going bad," I would make appointments for a time when I wasn't in class. But I regularly have students scheduling routine stuff so they have to leave class early. I suppose it's a matter of priorities and I shouldn't let it bug me, but it does. Because in a lot of cases, when someone skips class, and then something comes up that they missed, they get hostile: "You didn't TELL me." I actually once had a student imply that I was to call him up to let him know there was a quiz the next class, since he was absent from both the class periods where I announced it.

And, don't get me wrong: I like helping people. One of the best things about my career is when a student comes in and says, for example, "I don't understand how the Student's t test works, can you explain it to me again?" and when I'm about 3/4 of the way through explaining it, they go, "OOOOOOOOOOH. THAT'S what I missed." (or: "THAT'S what I was messing up") and they show that they get it now. And most people like that, they thank me for the help, go on their way, and do well on the next exam.

But I've also had people who have skipped multiple classes, and then they come in the day before the exam, and expect me to re-teach, just for them, all the stuff they missed. And when I explain that I can't do that in the time allotted, or that some of the stuff they really needed to be in class for, or whatever, I'm "mean."

And I wonder how much of this is the culture of entitlement/high-self-esteem that the public schools seem to be fostering these days. And how much is the "have it your way" advertising that the students see (There are a couple of online educational programs out there that have ads that essentially imply, either, "You are SPECIAL and UNIQUE and you DESERVE to be taught differently from everyone else," or another one that makes off that taking an online class is like hiring a professor to teach ONLY you, and to ALWAYS be available on command to you. And while I get that one of the big benefits of online learning is that if you need to do the modules of the class (or whatever) at 11 pm or 3 in the afternoon or whenever, you can - planting the idea in the students' minds that there's a prof sitting there, 24/7, at their computer, with no life outside of serving the students' wants - that's a dangerous idea. And one I can see trickling up (or down, or however) into in-person education - I could see someone suggesting we give out our home numbers, so we are "available" on the weekends and such. Which is a very, very bad idea for a number of reasons.)

And the interesting thing is, for every one of those entitlement-minded students, I get one - usually an older student, or at least someone with greater maturity - who looks at what those students do and thinks it's totally nuts. I've had discussions with my senior-level class about things like helicopter parents and it's clear that most of them think it's crazy to have your mom or dad call up your professor if you're doing poorly in class. But there's a large enough minority that seem to think it's just fine - or who think it's fine to come in at the end of the day, after office hours are over, and demand an hour of your time - or who think it's okay to skip class and then demand a personal make-up session for all they missed - that it gets to be really wearing.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Naming storms

Apparently the Weather Channel has decided that winter storms are jealous of hurricanes and think they deserve their own names. So they have unilaterally decided to name winter storms.

At first I was annoyed by this but now I just laugh. Because the names are so crazy. I thought they were Greek/Roman mythological names, but there's a Euclid in there (last I checked, he was a real guy?) And there's Freyr in there, which sounds Norse to me. (And Q. The only "Q" I know is from Star Trek.). And Gandolf (not to be confused with Gandalf, Middle-Earthers) is Norse too, I think.

So to me, it sounds like either a bunch of TWC staffers were sitting around playing D and D one day, or maybe using whatever chemical substance they use to relax, and someone said, "Hey, you know what would be cool? Naming winter storms." And someone else was like, "Yeah, let's, like, use mythology names and junk." And so it began. And then they got to I and couldn't come up with any mythological person whose name started with I - so they went with Iago, which most educated people know from Shakespeare (though there is also a St. Iago, and I guess the parrot in "Aladdin" was named Iago)

(Apparently Gizmodo either tracked down, or made up, explanations for each name. And the Y storm is going to be Yogi? I'm sorry, that just makes me think of a bear talking about pic-a-nic baskets).

I admit, I think this is a dumb and rather self-aggrandizing idea. Yes, the Weather Channel claims it will "raise awareness" (apparently in our culture, lack of awareness of things that are dangerous is a major problem. I'd argue that's not the case, if anything, we're so aware of every damn thing that can affect us that we can no longer differentiate between major threats - like a blizzard in Nebraska - and minor threats - like being exposed to dental x-rays on a yearly basis)

And also: "A storm with a name takes on a personality all its own, which adds to awareness."

Yeah, but - Yogi? I get that it also refers to an ascetic practitioner of some Hindu practices, but I suspect that like most Americans of my generation, I'm going to think of that goofy bear. And that's not going to help me think of the storm as a threat.

And also, Khan - I suspect most of us with even a grain of geekiness in us are going to respond with our best captain-Kirk-esque "KHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNN!" if that one comes across the airwaves. (What are we up to, now? I stopped paying attention around Gandolf....)

My cynical interpretation of their reasons?

Naming a storm raises awareness. (Of our channel, and the stunt we are pulling here)

Attaching a name makes it much easier to follow a weather system’s progress. (Okay, maybe. But you could also call it "the large storm that originated in Nebraska" or something. And anyway, don't most people only really care about a storm when it's over them, or over some place where they are traveling?)

A storm with a name takes on a personality all its own, which adds to awareness.(This could seriously backfire: see, "Yogi.")

In today’s social media world, a name makes it much easier to reference in communication. (Read as: "We don't think enough people are Tweeting about us already")

A named storm is easier to remember and refer to in the future. (Uh, I remember how the old-timers used to talk about the "drought of summer 1936," or the "really bad snow storm in 1958." It seemed they remembered it just fine, and I think a year or a season plus a year makes for remembering better than a name does).

But, whatever. Whatever floats Jim Cantore's boat these days. But I don't have to take the names seriously.

What will they do in the future when they use these up? Use names from literature? Cartoons? Movies? Old band names?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

So, apparently....

...there was some kind of "incident" here on campus, either last week or the week before (I couldn't tell from the information given) that resulted in the police and a SWAT team being called, a couple buildings (not mine; not an actual classroom building) being closed down, and general freaking-out. IF it was last week I was in my office when it happened, and I saw and heard nothing. (Which makes me wonder if it was the previous week, when I was still up at my parents').

No one was hurt, nothing apparently really happened. There was a threat, apparently, and it was addressed.

Almost no information has filtered through to faculty and staff. One of my colleagues knows a little and he told me, "It was a specific and not a general threat" and from a couple other things I'm assuming it was either (a) a domestic-type situation, where maybe someone broke up with a significant other and the significant other went bat-crazy and showed up on campus or (b) there was some kind of ongoing beef between two specific people.

But it's still alarming. And it annoys me we're not being told much. The reason we're not being told much is supposedly "we don't want people getting upset" but I suspect it's more "we want to keep this as quiet as humanly possible." Because here's the thing: people not getting upset? Letting your faculty, most of whom are intelligent people but with scary good imaginations, know there was an "incident" without details, means most of us will worry and wonder if we should be watching our backs and maybe carrying a piece in contravention of official policy.

And this is alarming: there was no notification on the "official campus notification line" - the thing where we have to go in every four months and update all our e-mail addresses and phone numbers and change our password into it, so that the campus can let us know in the event of a threat. So far the only thing it's ever been used for was a tiny earthquake that no one in my building even FELT.

So I don't know if it was because the campus was "officially closed" they kept the news quiet (though there still would have been people in offices), or if it was because they didn't want word getting out. But it doesn't reassure me that there's a chance someone somewhere might be putting image before safety. 

Contrast this with three years ago, when someone claimed they were robbed at knifepoint, there were multiple "alerts" sent around (including one with a "sketch" of the perpetrator - who looked remarkably like Mario of Super Mario Brothers) and then a couple days later, it came out that it was all a hoax, apparently someone trying to get attention.

Another alarming thing: the new policy, apparently, is that if there IS an "incident," and you are in the area, you are to pancake yourself on the floor (or the ground) the minute cops show up. The official word is that "innocent bystanders" may wind up in "crossfire" if they don't pancake. (I assume that also means if you try going up to the cop to apprise him of the situation, you may be seen as a threat. And I get that cops have a scary life, and I get that even innocent looking people can be a big threat, but I just hope if it ever comes to it I'm with-it enough to remember to pancake and not let my natural tendency to want to share information and be helpful kick in.)

Dammit, it sucks that we have to be thinking of this. Why are there so damn many people who apparently think it's perfectly OK to settle a beef by shooting someone, or that their way of getting fifteen minutes of fame and adulation is to cause mass havoc and terror? There are a lot of broken people running around in this world.

And it begins...

Received an ad from an outfit which shall remain nameless:

"Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., and save 20% on all purchases this weekend!"

Am I being overly picky or sensitive in being somewhat put off by this? This is why I have a problem with increasing numbers of Federal holidays to "honor" individuals - all too soon, they devolve into the fodder for advertisements. And the average Joe, at least the average Joe at my university, see these days as not a day to honor someone, but as either a "woo, I get to sleep in" or as a "I can go out and party the night before!!"

Which is why I have such a major problem with the idea that's been floated, to make Election Day a federal holiday, based on the argument that "people don't vote because they have to be at work and that keeps them from the polling place." No, they don't vote because they don't consider it important and don't make time for it, and closing the banks and the schools and shutting down mail delivery for that day is not going to encourage people who don't vote now to go and do it. (I work long hours - hell, some days I've had 14 hour days - and I've found time to vote). (And I will make some leeway for the argument that "a lot of polling places are schools, and it would be easier if school were out that day." Okay, fine: give the kids the day off from school. But don't turn the day into another holiday just because you can.)

Several years ago there was a car ad with a hip-hoppy version of "Hail to the Chief" and caricatures of Washington and Lincoln for a President's Day sale. I'm sorry, I may be a stick in the mud but I have a problem with  past luminaries being used to shill cars. (I also have a few problems with caricaturing Founding Fathers, but whatever - I can let that go).

I don't know. It seems disrespectful to me. In an age when we're trying to encourage some kind of respect, when a lot of people complaining about how some kids don't seem to respect anything....and then we use a breakdancing George Washington to sell cars.

Monday, January 14, 2013

weekend radio

Okay. Sometimes I like to listen to some talk shows on the radio. (Not Limbaugh, not the more screechy ones). But I'm usually not home for them. And on the weekend, the radio shows kind of suck. They're essentially infomercials for (a) a home-repair place, (b) a financial planner, or (c) a quacky doctor sort of person.

The financial people are generally the least annoying so sometimes I put them on as background noise. But one of the people was kind of making me go, "Wait, what?" She was talking about how poor the economy was, about how small businesses were suffering, and then in the next breath, told people they needed to "economize" - "Don't buy the fancy coffee drinks" was what she said.

Um, okay. So small businesses are hurting and are closing up, but we're not supposed to spend any money at them, because it's frivolous?

This is what drives me so bonkers about the "new normal." We're still being told to be in 100% austerity mode, and then people wonder why small businesses are hurting.

And okay, I get that there are probably some people who NEED to be in austerity mode, who are really hurting for money or are deep in debt. But I'm doing okay. And going too long without any fun or any pleasure is bad for a person, I'm inclined to think.

And I admit, sometimes I worry that given the generally unfriendly climate for smaller businesses, we're going to wake up some day and find that our options have reduced to Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and McDonald's. And while I don't really have anything against those businesses (well, I kind of do against Best Buy, because their customer service is for crap), sometimes you want something a little less cookie cutter.

My little town has changed greatly in the dozen or so years I've lived here. The downtown has gone from being an abandoned-looking mass of empty storefronts to a bunch of businesses that seem to be doing OK. There's a very nice gift shop that also has a tearoom. There's a children's clothing store. There's a fancy women's clothing store. There's a boot and tack shop. There's a nice restaurant that is open in the evenings, too (it used to be everything that was downtown closed up at 5). There's a quilt shop. (That last one is VERY important to me.) I think they do okay because we are kind of in the middle of nowhere - for some of those types of shops, the next nearest one is an hour's round trip or more away. And there is a casino in town that draws in people, and I could see the people who are dragged to the casino but would rather not gamble finding their way to the downtown to shop.

And I'd hate to see that change. I'd hate to see it go back to how it was when I first moved here, when everyone drove the hour's round trip for even smallish stuff, and I found myself ordering more and more stuff online.

I guess, as I said, the small businesses are doing okay. I went to the quilt shop Saturday - it was a raw chilly day and there were still five or six people shopping in there, one of them buying many yards of fabric for a quilt. And they seem to fill up the classes they offer. But I know it could be otherwise and I hope and pray that it does not become so.

I guess in general what makes me crazy about all the "don't buy fancy coffee drinks" or the "feed the pig" PSAs (did you know, paying your bills on time helps your credit score? No s***, Sherlock), or also the new PSAs telling parents to get their kids to brush their teeth for 2 minutes a day - as a responsible person, I find I feel like I'm being nagged at or nannied at. I know those PSAs are not directed at me - but the thing is, they are all about stuff I ALREADY KNEW. Stuff I thought any reasonable person knew. But I guess I was wrong on that.

And I wonder: do the people who "need" to hear those PSAs - the people who are deeply in debt and don't care, or the people who think it's a-ok to always pay their bills late, or the people who don't push their kids to practice oral hygiene - are they going to be persuaded by the PSAs? Because if not, they're a waste of money (taxpayer money, in some cases) and an annoyance to those of us who are being so responsible already. (Being so responsible it damn near kills us, or so I feel some days).

I don't know. I guess it's a good thing breathing is automatic or we'd probably get PSAs reminding us of that.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


I've been warned that I will have a "difficult" student this semester. (Someone with multiple disability accommodations, who has demanded every accommodation that they can demand, whether or not it applies to their disability, and also this is someone who has threatened lawsuits left and right).

So much so, that I had to meet last semester with my chair and the person who most recently had this person in class as a way of warning. I don't know if it was a meeting to reassure me ("No matter what this person says, don't let it rattle you, we've got your back") or if it was to warn me ("Don't get rattled and say something we'll all regret" though I will say I tend to be pretty circumspect)

I suspect the person in question is slightly paranoid as they have placed something called a "demographic hold" on their files, which means I am not to reveal their data to anyone else. (The other, more charitable explanation: this person fled an abusive relationship in the past and doesn't want their abuser to find them, though none of the information I was provided suggests that). The thing is, I wouldn't reveal student data to anyone unless the student specifically told me to - it's not a practice I follow, and I thought that doing so (not revealing details about students) was just part of the ethics of being a prof.

But anyway. Sitting in church over the break, I got to thinking. The sermon was focusing on the idea that sometimes we may be the only Bible some people "read," that we may be the only contact some people have with any idea of the Divine. And it occurred to me: maybe I'm looking at this whole situation wrong. Maybe, instead of thinking about how I am going to be beaten down and dragged through the briarpatch by a difficult person's difficulties, maybe I can do what I've usually done with (less) difficult people in the past. A strategy that was usually successful (I was kind of broken of it last spring when I had a student who turned it on its head and actually used it against me): to kill the person with kindness. To walk in the door not assuming anything bad is going to happen. In fact, to assume the best: That I can be such a good teacher and such a nice person, while not letting the person in question get to me, that I give the person a very positive experience. (If they have the eyes to see it).

And I'm going to remind myself, maybe even make a little sign that I can see while sitting at my desk (but that no one else in my office could easily see) that says something like, "They can't get at the REAL you." Meaning, you don't have to be infected by the negativity that I've been warned this person gives off. That I have a life outside of that class, that when I walk out the door of my office to go do fieldwork or go home or go to the library, I can leave the problems the person in question is laying at my doorstep there - at the doorstep of my office.

So: part one is "kill 'em with kindness." Part two is "illegitimi non carborundum." And part three is going to be promising myself little treats for each week I succeed at both things - a fancy chocolate bar from the Walgreen's (Yes, Walgreen's, but they're the only place in town that sells Lindt chocolate). Or a quarter-yard of quilt fabric. Or a new paperback mystery novel. And I will remind myself when I start to get annoyed that if I just make it to Friday, I can have that thing.

But what's more, I'm really trying not to anticipate anything bad. I've had students before that other faculty loved and I couldn't stand; likewise, there have been people I worked well with that others disliked.

I'm just hoping I can keep that stiff upper lip and at least a facade of good cheer.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Back to teaching

Classes don't start for me quite yet, but it's time to start thinking about teaching again.

Luckily, the class I was afraid was going to be cancelled for lack of enrollment (an 8 am section of a majors' class) wasn't. So instead of having a non-majors class shoehorned in at what would be a bad time for me (right in my only break on a busy day), I get a more open, relaxed schedule. Most importantly, I get a lunch break on Thursdays. Otherwise, I'd be going from 9:30 to 3 pm with about a 10 minute break between two classes, which really wouldn't be enough to eat a proper lunch. (Especially not NOW, when I am having to do stuff like cook veggies in the microwave for my lunch, rather than just eating a ham sandwich on the go)

I guess people don't like 8 am classes any more? I always liked them when I was a student - I liked being able to get the lecture classes over by noon if I at all could, and that left the afternoon open for labs, or, on days I didn't have labs, studying or working on projects. I vastly preferred doing my studying during the afternoon to doing it in the evenings (though I wasn't really a social person - it wasn't that I went "out," as we all called it - as in "You going out tonight?" meaning, "Are you going to one of the bars?"). But I liked having the evenings opening to read or, if there was a concert or something I wanted to go to, going to that.

But now, I guess people don't like 8 am classes. Heck, people don't even like 9 am classes. I've had complaints that my stats class meets "too early" and that's after I moved it from 8 to 9.

The problem is, there are only so many hours in the day. If you won't take classes before 10 am, and you're in lab classes, you're going to have a bad time scheduling things. But I have counseled students who have told me "Nothing before 10 am." And okay, I get that in some instances people work nights or have small children they have to get off to school - but for the typical 18 to 20 year old, ESPECIALLY if they are living in the dorm, it does seem a little unreasonable to demand that you have nothing before 10 am.

(I wonder how many people try to find jobs where they don't have to be present before 10 am. I know such jobs exist but for me would have the undesirable trade-off of having to stay late into the evening. I am still someone who prefers to get all the lecture classes out of the way before noon. If I could work it so I could teach a lab or two before noon, I'd like that too.)

Lately, the administration has floated the trial balloon of "night classes." We have a few - our graduate level "distribution" classes (things like Experimental Design) are 5 or 6 pm classes. And every other year I teach an advanced conservation class that meets from 5 to 7. But I don't like it, even once a week, I find it a drag. And I'd really dislike teaching a lecture three nights a week, which is what the administration is hinting at.

In the past, we've not done it, on the basis of, "Anything you agree to do, you may be forced to do in the future." Also on the basis of the fact that several of the faculty had (or still have) young children at home, and it is suboptimal for a parent to be away teaching nights when their kids are young. (My family did that. My dad often got stuck with night classes when I was a primary-school student, as he was junior faculty and the low man in the pecking order. But I still say it's suboptimal, especially when that parent has to leave the house at 8 am as my dad did). And it seems unfair to tell the childless faculty (or those with grown children) that they are getting stuck with the night classes because of their "family status." (It's one thing to volunteer to do it. It's another to be told you will.)

Also, I often have evening meetings - several times a month I have something at church, and I'm in a couple other groups that meet one or two evenings a month. I'd have to drop out of all of those if I were expected to teach nights.

There's also another factor - probably not a big issue on my campus, and not for me given that I pay extra for "faculty only" parking, which means I get a spot less than 100 feet from my building - but for a woman (or, for that matter, a small man) walking out alone at night can be a bit of a concern. (And yes, I know there's a potential solution to my being accosted by a bad guy in the parking lot, but I'd not be allowed to bring it on campus. Well, maybe I could have a high-powered whistle and pepper spray, but I'm not sure how effective pepper spray is). And that could be an issue for students as well.

But beyond all those things: if the powers that be want to "take student schedules into account" or whatever they say - and one of the reasons some have talked about night classes is "some of the students just aren't 'morning people'" - they also need to take faculty schedules into account. Some of us aren't NIGHT people. I know I am not. I'm up at 4:30 am and that means I'm ready to wind down for the day around 5 or 6 pm. And it would be painful to me to teach a class that didn't end until 9 pm - as some night classes do - because that's the time I'm going to bed. And teaching college, despite the "study" that claimed that tenured professors have the lowest-stress job ever, hypes me up and I probably wouldn't sleep for a couple hours after teaching. (I am not one of those people who falls asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow, no matter how tired I am). 

So, I don't know. I get that night classes "work better" for some students, and that 8 am classes "don't work" for some students - but I'd much rather teach 8 am classes than night classes.