Wednesday, February 27, 2013

One quick thought

My main feeling watching all the words being spilled over the Sequestration (which I think will happen, and which I think we will see far less impact of, than is being made off that there will be):

It's not so much politicians ASSUMING I'm stupid that annoys me, it's the fact that they are apparently COUNTING ON me being stupid that gets to me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What a delight

And I don't mean that sarcastically!

I had forgotten how wonderful it was to teach a class full of mature responsible people, with NO special snowflake types. I realized that this afternoon in lab. The lab I did this week is one that's labor-intensive and has a lot of calculations, but it's not really hard - most of the calculations are just the same thing over and over, and once you figure it out, it's pretty automatic.

But, because there's a lot of data-extraction, I always used to get whiners: "What do you meeeeeeeeaaaaaan we need 100 data points? That's a loooooooot." or "This is haaaaaaard." or "This is borrrrrrrring."

(oh honey. Oh. you are planning on going to pharmacy school? Learn to deal with repetitiveness and things that seem boring.)

And they would bitch at me for being "mean" to expect so much of them. And there'd be that one group, because they were so busy complaining, that lab would be half over and they'd not be done extracting their data.

And that kind of thing drives me bananas. One thing I learned at a fairly early age is that if you have ANY kind of time consuming or onerous task to do, if you just shut up and get started on it, you get done a lot faster than if you spend all this time moaning about it.

But the group this semester? After I finished the pre-lab instructions, they were like "OK. We see what we need to do" and got down to work on it.

Of course, several of the folks are non-trad students, several have outside employment (a couple work at medical labs, one is a relief driver for an ambulance service). And a couple of them are Honors students - so there are some different attitudes in the class this semester from what I often get.

And by sitting down and doing the work without complaining? They got done *early*.

Another thing that made me happy? One group got a little confused on the calculations but instead of going "I don't GET this this is HARD explain it to me AGAIN" they got up and went to the chalkboard where I had written out an example calculation and went through it again - and then they got it! And they seemed pleased with themselves for doing that. Yes. Initiative is a good thing. Come and find me, guys, when you need a letter of recommendation for graduate or professional school.

I wish all my classes were like this. Teaching would be a dream.

Monday, February 18, 2013

There's something about Russia.

So, last week the talk was about the "close pass" of the asteroid (which passed near Sumatra). But on the same day, in the Urals, there was what was first described as a meteorite impact.

Now NASA thinks it was actually a small asteroid

Immediately I thought of the Tunguska event (which now, some are saying, may have been a meteor and not an asteroid, as we were told for years).

Granted, the two hits weren't that close - and Asia is the largest continent anyway, so probably the most likely to be hit, but still, it's interesting.

(And no. I don't think there is any explanation other than "space stuff" that fits, regardless of the claims I've read that verge into conspiracy theory).

On the one hand: big space rock hitting Earth - scary, and possibly fatal for those close to it (and a big enough space rock? Could be fatal to many of us, considering the climate change it could cause). On the other hand, I confess: it's kind of a cool thing. I wonder what can be learned from the fragments, if anything?

(Maybe what we've learned is that we DO need to "sweat the small stuff" - I've seen claims that this was missed because there was so much focus on the "big" asteroid that did the near miss)

(Oh, and I guess we did learn that there are still paranoid, Soviet-style politicians out there: V. Zhirinofsky claims it was a US weapons test. Uh-huh. The president most likely to kowtow to potential enemy leaders in 30+ years, and he's secretly testing weapons over Russia?

(Dammit, maybe we SHOULD be looking into building a Death Star....)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

valentine's day

I shouldn't let it get to me; my chances of finding "twoo wuv" now are less than those of me winning the lottery, but still it does.

Some random thoughts:

 - people who have their v-day gifts sent to the office mainly so they can rub their co-workers' noses in the fact that they got something are tacky.

- both the pajamagram and Vermont teddy bear commercials are really icky. They both imply that if you (the man) buy her (the woman) something from the company, you're get a little "somethin' somethin'." And while I don't doubt lots of sexytimes go down on V-day, it makes it seem prostitutey to make it so open as "if you give her a gift, she'll give you something."

- also one of those commercials says, "Girls can't resist our product." Yeah, what about women? Or ladies? I'm not really a feminist in the sense the term is usually used, but got-dang, I'm almost 45. I'm not a "girl" and haven't been one for 20 years.

- the last-minute "desperation" gifts that are up near the checkout lanes of the local Wal-mart are really sad. One year they had cheap frypans (!) with saucy slogans written on the bottom. I cannot think of a single person that gift would suit: a person who loves to cook and is serious about their pots and pans really wouldn't want a $7.98 cheap-o pan from the Wal-mart, people who hate to cook would be offended by it, lots of women would be offended by the "make me a sammich" implication implicit in it. And people like me would just roll their eyes over the stupid slogan. (And I am one of those people who is serious about cooking, so I'd probably look at a super-cheap frypan as sort of a "you tried, but you really don't understand" gift).

- I miss the grade-school parties we used to have, where there were sugar cookies and red Hi-C punch and you gave little paper valentines with punny sayings on them to your friends. That's about my speed for the day.

- Our culture so "privileges" (to use a usage I normally hate) romantic love so much to the exclusion of other forms of love - familial love, friendship, agape, that those of us who may have all those other forms of love but just not that romantic kind, feel a little at a loss on Valentine's day. Or at least I do.

- I bet it kind of sucks to be a waiter on Valentine's Day. Everyone is out at the restaurant and everyone wants it to be "special" and they're more about themselves than they normally are, so waiters probably wind up having to deal with all kinds of special requests and people acting entitled, and then probably some people stiff them on tips.

- I bet it also sucks to be a florist on the days leading up to Valentine's Day. On the one hand: job security and probably making lots of money. On the other hand: having to work 'round the clock and having to deal with last-minute orders.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Hoping for a 'flake-free semester

I hold out great hopes that this may be the one. Because the past few semesters I've had, I really got dumped on by people who were narcissists, or who just really misunderstood the concept of college (it's not, "Professor opens your brain and dumps in knowledge with no work on your part," okay?)

But this semester - so far I've been really happy with most of my students. I had one person who joined ecology late (an oversight in advisement - not her fault) who has totally caught up and actually wrote the BEST project proposal of anyone in the class, despite her having 2 fewer weeks to work on it than anyone else. And she didn't ask for an extension or anything! When I got her into the class, and explained what I had covered up to that point, she was all, "Thank you for helping me. I will get that proposal done on time." And she did.

And I have several other outstanding students in my other classes. So I'm very hopeful.

Any time what I see as the slide-into-Idiocracy seems to be checked a little bit, I am hopeful. Maybe there is a cohort of people out there who are more about just buckling down and getting stuff done than they are about whining about whatever they have to do - or finding the quickest and probably worst way to do it.

I've said before it's the 20 to 30 percent who really give a damn and are trying to better their lot in life that I am teaching for - not the 10 percent or so who seem mainly wanting to cheat their way through life, or the people who are willing to do things as half-assedly as they can get by with in order to get back to having "fun" faster. I teach for the people who have a sense of purpose and who can see the satisfaction and, yes, even "fun" in hard work and in learning things. And it seems like I have a critical mass of those people this semester, and that makes my work so much easier and so much more pleasant.

I think smaller schools like mine maybe DO get a bigger percentage of people who don't take their education for granted; we have a lot of first-generation folks and while some of them may be a bit unclear on certain concepts, they also often feel like they have the honor of their families riding on them, so they will pull up by their bootstraps and do what needs to be done. And we get a LOT of non-trad students, and they are mostly wonderful, because they have a perspective on life (doing poorly on a quiz is not the end of the world) but also have greater time-management skills and a greater sense of personal responsibility (doing poorly on a quiz doesn't mean the prof screwed them over; it means they didn't study hard enough for it).

(And actually, it occurs to me: if you take responsibility for your screw-ups, rather than pointing to someone else - it means you have the opportunity to do better next time. Saying, "Wow, man, I did NOT study hard enough for that quiz," means, to me: "Okay, then. Next time I will study for twice as long." But saying "That prof expects too much of us and makes the quiz too hard" - well, there's nothing you can do about that other than to whine about it and talk about how the system is screwing you over. And frankly, to me, I'd rather go, "Wow, I can do better next time if I put in more effort" is a lot more hopeful than "I can't win." But unfortunately there are some people who either become convinced they can't win, or who decide that it's easier to say it...)

Right now, I'm doing that very thing. I got a manuscript rejected. I re-read it and wow, I made a bonehead error in describing part of my methods. And there are things that can make it better. Was I pissed at the reviewer for some of the stuff s/he said? Sure I was. And I still kind of am; in a couple cases s/he seems to have misunderstood parts of the study. But I also see how the manuscript maybe wasn't my best effort ever, or how there are ways it can be made better, so that's what I'm doing - slowly working away at rewriting it, and I'm going to submit it somewhere else, and hopefully now I've made it good enough to get published. (But if not: I can rewrite again, and there's yet another journal I can try....)

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

another reason for me not to Facebook....

...getting "follow me!!!" requests from people you really don't want all that much contact with.

I've found that people who are in sales are often, how do I say it, different in attitude from people in other careers. I find a lot of people who do sales or PR type stuff come off as "needy" to me, or that they "pester" me.

An example: I took my car in last week for some work on it. If I had been dissatisfied with what they had done, I would have called up the dealership and told them to make it right, and explained just what I expected. However, I was perfectly satisfied with the work they did, so I just said to myself, "Next time you need work on your car, just take it back there."

But then. I get a phone call from the dealership asking me to fill out a survey. And I get an e-mail from them asking the same. And the implication is that (a) they will continue to hound me until I do so, and (b) if I put anything less than "excellent" for every category, they will continue to call or e-mail me until they can make me change my mind (or perhaps they will beat the mechanic until I do, it wasn't clear).

And I got an e-mail earlier this week from a textbook representative. The good textbook reps will e-mail me once a semester, essentially saying, "here is my contact information, if you need anything, like a CD-ROM of the chapter art, e-mail me" and that's that. No. This person sends weekly e-mails and now wants me to follow them on Facebook (or friend them, or whatever the terminology is). I don't want to follow them! I want them available if I really need something, but 95% of the time I don't, so I'd rather just be left alone. Just like I don't need my students coming in every day and telling me what a great teacher I am - actually, I think that might be BAD for me to hear that a lot; I might not work as hard as I do, or I might get arrogant.

This bugs me, because as I said, I perceive it as needy: why should I have to give "strokes" to someone for just doing their job? In my job, I only ever hear feedback when it's something negative - if no one is telling me I screwed up I am to assume I am doing well. And I'm mostly fine with that. So I don't see why there's that expectation for me to give all this Positive! Feedback! to people in sales positions. (And anyway, it's not always honest: you don't always have a perfect experience. And why would I rate everything as "Excellent" when it was merely good or acceptable? That's like insisting that students be given As unless they really screw up. I tend to think instead that students start from 0 - from the lowest, most effity F you can get - and work their way up from there. And the ones who really excel earn As. But I'm not going to "give" As just because someone is "nice" or because they always show up or because they sit and pout in my office if I don't.

And I kind of feel the same way about grading the mechanics I take my car to: I'll tell you if something's wrong. The fact that I keep coming back should be evidence that I am satisfied.