Friday, August 30, 2013

I'm glad it's not my job

I'm glad it's not my job to decide what to do about Syria.

On one hand, I find it sickening and repulsive to hear news stories, like the one this morning, that stated a napalm attack had been leveled on a school. I hate the thought of poison gas - stuff that is forbidden under pretty much all the UN conventions that civilized world leaders follow - has been used against innocent citizens.

On the other hand - I'm not convinced that taking out Assad is going to do anything but lead to his being replaced by someone even worse. It seems like a lot of the Middle Eastern countries are on the brink of something really bad, and I don't see a good way (either diplomatic or military) of preventing that.

I also heard that Israelis are being told to keep their gas masks handy. I mean, I know they do a lot of the time, but still, that's chilling to think about. It takes a level of guts that most Americans can't imagine to be able to go about your daily life with the knowledge that you might be bombed or might be gassed in the back of your head.

The world's a very screwed up place. I'm not sure if it's any more screwed up than it used to be or if we're just hearing about it more.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dear students:

Please, please, RTDD. (read the damn directions). They are not that unclear.

If I give an instruction and the entire class cannot follow it, or more than half the class cannot, I probably donked up and didn't give good instructions.

But when 90% of the class manages without any further explanation from me, and one person can't follow the directions correctly - I probably DIDN'T donk up, it's probably you.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Wow, entitlement.

So, I am needing to teach one of my classes this fall as a "hybrid" (it's a long story, but blame the idiots who can't pull their own weight for making stuff harder for the rest of us. And this may be the last time I do an 'arranged' class).

Anyway, "hybrid," for those outside the seething pits of academe, means part of the time the class meets online (as a series of discussions on a moderated board - and whoopee, guess who gets to moderate! This girl!) and part of the time, we meet in person. (I'm really hoping everyone has the same hour out of the week free, so I don't have to carve out three or more separate meeting times when we need to meet).

Anyway, as I had never made discussion boards in BlackBoard before, I wanted to go and learn rather than blundering around myself and maybe breaking it. So I made an appointment with the person in charge of all this stuff.

I arrived a little early. She motioned me into the classroom area (she was in her office, which has windows out into the classroom). She was on the phone with someone. Guiding them through something. Apparently it was something difficult, the woman kept trying to tell the person what to click on and apparently was being told, "No, that page isn't there!". Finally, she said, "Oh. Well. If you changed your name you need to log in under that name." And then, "No. We don't keep separate accounts for you under both your names. No, I'm sorry, we can't do that. Just log in under the official name you go by now. Does that work? Okay. You're welcome."

(it wound up in her being a few minutes late for our meeting, but no big deal - that was the last thing I needed to do today).

She shook her head as she was coming out. "This person couldn't log in because her name changed and she thought she could log in under her old name."

I looked at her, baffled: "But don't you specifically have to request if you want your name officially changed? Didn't she know her name was changed?"

"Oh, yes, and she did request it. But she thought we'd keep separate accounts for her under both names so she could log in with whichever one she felt like using."

Wait, what? First you send in a form to change your name, and then you get all upset when your old name is no longer accessible? Because, I don't know, we have enough storage space and worker-bees to keep track of everyone having multiple accounts? And okay, I get that maybe some marriages don't work out and you want to get rid of the guy's name as fast as you can.....but wouldn't you realize you had to file another change form, if that were the case?

I'd hate being a computer help-desk person; I'd probably blow up at someone on the first day and lose my job. I feel for them, the crazy stuff they have to deal with.

(Also, IF I ever were to marry? I might change my name "socially" but I think I'd keep my maiden name on campus; it seems like an effort to go around to all the offices and change stuff. And then I'd have to remember to log in under my new name, which might be HARD, har de har har)

That said? The stuff I had to learn was surprisingly quick and easy and I probably could have figured it out on my own but maybe I learned more quickly with an expert to help me.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

First week's done

First week of the semester is in the can (as movie lingo goes). Mostly good, it seems a critical mass of my incoming freshmen this fall had The Fear Of God put in them somewhere along the line, so they have been polite. (As in: during a slack time in lab, a young woman puts up her hand. I go over to see what's up and she whispers, "Is it okay if I leave to use the restroom?" Yes, it is, of course.) I had a young man ask me, "Are we going to need the textbook every day?" And I chuckled and said no, I'd give page numbers for stuff they needed to refer to, because the textbooks are awfully heavy (seriously, they must be 10 pounds) and I'd rather they not have to carry them around with them.

I actually would rather answer the respectful-scared questions in a reassuring way (I am always reassuring to scared freshpeople) than have people assume stuff...I once had a student walk into my class AS I WAS GOING OVER THE SYLLABUS ON THE FIRST DAY, stop me cold, and demand to know where a certain room was. Okay, number one: you don't just waltz into a class and stop the prof. Number two, you don't interrupt. (And I will observe: on some campuses, walking in to a classroom uninvited when you are clearly not part of the class may well get you tackled, pinned down, and searched for weapons, these days)

Once they left, I looked out at the class and they all had "What the Hell just happened" expressions, too.

But this semester's crop, I'm hopeful about. (I'm always hopeful). I also have a mostly-three-day-a-week schedule. (Three days of lecture plus lab, and Thursday I just have one lab, Tuesday I don't have any classes, which gives me a good break to work on longer-term stuff like research or revamping class material).

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In my prayers....

The Christians (and other "minority religionists" who were mostly minding their own business)  in Egypt. I was busy over the weekend and yesterday and hadn't kept up with the news, but wow, it looks ugly,ugly, ugly for Christians and other "minority" religions right now. I don't know what we can do about it. My first, knee jerk thought: send a bunch of planes over there, tell all the adherents of "minority religions" that if they are willing to sign a document denouncing violent acts, they will be granted asylum here. But I also realize that wouldn't work.

I really hate the strain in Islam that says "convert or die." I'm perfectly okay with the varieties of Islam that say "I'm going to live my own life according to my conscience BUT AT THE SAME TIME follow the laws of my country" (because some of the strict interpretations in the Islamist group run counter to some of our freedoms, and I so do not want to see the freedoms of the US compromised in the name of multiculturalism) but I'm not okay with the branch that advocates things like honor-killings and repression of women and other groups and who want to make the whole world Islamic.

I know, I know: Christianity went through something like this a bit more than a thousand years ago and we mostly got it out of our systems and I admit on good days I hold out hope that a more moderate and sane belief system will displace the violence-advocating one in Islam.

But right now it's really ugly and the worst sides of humanity seem to be showing.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Seems about right:

(From one of the many Cheezburger sites, where I go while taking research breaks)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

This can't end well

The previous policy in re: disability accommodations on my campus was this:

The office of disability concerns sends a letter out to the instructor, usually a few days before classes start, informing him or her of the accommodations a student is entitled to.

It worked pretty well. By getting it a few days in advance we knew what to prepare for: for example, a couple semesters I had students who had had back surgery or who had been in car accidents and for whom it was difficult and uncomfortable to use the standard classroom chairs, so we could arrange for an alternate chair. (Disability Concerns would bring them over and then pick them up at the end of the semester). Also, we were mentally prepared: is there going to be someone requiring a note-taker? Is there someone with low vision, for whom you might have to change how you teach?

The new model, to reflect that Disability Concerns has been downsized*, is that the STUDENT gets the letter and then brings it to us the first day of class, and then we get to make arrangements. Yay. (What about faculty like me - or faculty who might actually be on the Autism spectrum (it's possible) who have big problems with stuff bring sprung on them? I mean, I'm not in any way autistic but I LOATHE being told "you need to make this change" at the last minute and it really throws me off my game. So much better to know and be able to take care of things a couple days in advance).

But I have a bigger issue about laying the onus on the student to bring the letter in. First of all: do they get one letter only, so I have to look at it, remember what I need to do, and then hand the letter back? So now in addition to remembering to send an exam needing more time over 48 hours in advance (it used to be 24), now I have to be sure to remember who I have to do that for?

But the bigger issue is this: it's totally on them to show us the letter. If they don't show us the letter, we don't know we have to accommodate them. And that can, I suspect, lead to all kinds of bad things. I realize I'm paranoid here, but I was burned one semester by a student. I don't know if he was really less with-it than I thought (for example: he missed lab one day and came and demanded a make-up lab. When I told him I couldn't do a make-up lab, he remarked, "I have a very bad sense of time. I forgot to set the alarm on my phone so nothing reminded me it was time to go to lab." Um, that's not my fault? But I went through the rigamarole of allowing him to make up the lab (thank God it was one he could do on his own time) because I didn't want to run afoul of Disability Concerns). Or maybe he was gaslighting me - on several occasions he claimed I was not present for appointments he had made to see me. And the time he quoted for the appointment was a time I was actually in class and NOT THE TIME I MADE THE APPOINTMENT FOR. And he went to one of the administrators with that story and I had to try to explain myself.

So I'm paranoid: what if someone either forgets to bring in the letter and then gets embarrassed that they did, and figures it's better to throw the instructor under the bus than to fess up to their mistake, or what if they out-and-out decide NOT to bring the letter in so they can cry foul and get all kinds of sympathy? I could see someone going at the end of the semester, "My professor never made my required accommodations!" and the professor going "But I didn't know you deserved them!" and it's all he-said, she-said, because there's no clear evidence of a letter being shown to the prof. (Yes. I asked several of TPTB if there was going to be a receipt we signed to verify that we had seen the accommodation letter. Apparently not. I hope that changes JOLLY fast.). I'm wondering if we'll see instructors or adjuncts let go - or perhaps the few untenured tenure-track people we still have having their tenure and promotions requests affected - because a student didn't bring in their letter and then cried "Foul!"

Yes, I know that's paranoid. But when you're getting calls from a Dean saying, "I hear you weren't in your office when Student X had an appointment with you, and he's not very happy about that," and you WERE in your office, and Student X just never showed.....well, it's easy to BECOME paranoid.

(I will also note: if the person in question really had as bad time-management skills as he claimed: as in, if no one told him "you have to be in place X now" he wouldn't know he had to.....well, he shouldn't be in college. He just shouldn't. I'm sorry. I know that makes me a hater but there's a point where you just have to say "Enough.")

(*As I have said to multiple colleagues: "The ONE bureaucracy on campus that ACTUALLY DOES A GOOD JOB and they cut its budget and take it down to one employee. Smaaaaaart.")

Thursday, August 15, 2013

I don't need gum to keep a clean mouth

Coming back here after a lunch at home, I managed to slam my (heavy, wood) front door on the tip of my left ring finger.

Here is an exact transcript of what I said:

"Golly day! Ow! Man-oh-man, that HURTS!"

I guess all my years of being a Youth Group leader have trained me well. (No one else was around, FWIW, so I could have cursed like a sailor if I had wanted).

I did go back in the house and run cold water over it to try to make it stop hurting. I don't think I actually injured it, other than maybe a bruise, but wow, that is one of those things that hurts far, far more than it seems like it should.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


But probably true.

Comment made during a discussion in faculty meetings yesterday: "Because we get so many underprepared students, we have to be even better as professors."

This raises all kinds of issues with rigor vs. retention. Right now, "retention" is a big buzzword on campus and it makes me twitch because frankly, there are some students who just should not be retained in certain programs....if you can't pass basic intro bio after three tries, I think your dream of becoming a neuroscientist probably needs some rethinking.

And: I'll be damned if I make my classes easier just to "retain" someone who might either be lazy and not doing the work, or who genuinely lacks the chops to pass.

Also: is a discussion on academic freedom in the classroom really going to be an open discussion if you have several administrators, including the ones that might be directly involved in disciplining people who step out of line, in the room?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Why are people so damn rude?

This is something I contemplate on a regular basis - perhaps along with a lot of other people whose parents raised them to say "please" and "thank you" and not to talk loudly in a public setting and not to push to the front of a line.

Dave raised this issue in his recent post. The precipitating factor: a story about a person who proposed separate movie theaters for people who wish to text, talk on their cell phones, etc. - so the people who do not wish to do that, and who do not like being disturbed, can have their movie experience the way God (or at least Louis B. Mayer) intended.

And people went nuts about that. As I said in a comment over there, people often get tunnel vision about stuff (I admit, at times I am guilty of it) and they see what they want to see and get OUTRAGED! and it all led up to lots of breath being wasted. Some people thought it was a call for ALL theaters to allow, willy-nilly, every behavior (cats and dogs dancing together! or something like that). Others, including Anil Dash, thought it was jerkish for people to expect that the movie they paid $10 or more to see shouldn't be interrupted by someone telling their boyfriend when to pick them up....

Okay, here's my two cents: If you go out in public and act like being in public is no different from being at home on your sofa, you're a jerk. If you don't consider that there are other people around you who might not appreciate your noise, either your parents did a poor job raising you or you're a jerk.

And if you're in some kind of position of authority - an usher (do theaters even still have ushers?) a store manager, a restaurant manager, and you see someone ruining everyone else's experience, and you do NOTHING, you are spineless. (And yes, I get it: some people are violent jerks. But most jerks aren't, and threatening to throw them out might just shut them up). And if you are spineless, then you deserve for the decent people who don't want to sit through a barrage of loud cell-phone convos while eating dinner at a nice restaurant to leave and never come back.

Some years back, when I was visiting my parents, it was my last night there. We went out to one of the old, established, well-thought-of restaurants in town. We wanted a quiet dinner together. We had the bad luck to get stuck next to a table where a guy who apparently had had some travel problems was sitting - he had called up his secretary (? At 7 pm at night? Not very fair) and was cursing her out. I mean CURSING. Using the m-f word, using the "c" word you should never use to a woman....all because she made a mistake. The waiter walked up to him and said, "Sir, either end your call now or leave. You are disturbing everyone else here." I can't remember if the guy hung up or just left in a huff (I think he just left), but I know my dad doubled the waiter's tip after that bit. But really? How hard is it NOT to say the m-f word in public, even if you're really angry?

But we see this stuff all the time now - so much so that, as I said, the idea of separate "go here to play with your cell phone; go there if you want quiet" theaters seems reasonable. (I would be a lot more prone to go to movies again - well, if my town had a theater, which it does not - if I was reasonably sure of not having people who talk loudly through the film. Otherwise...I have a dvd player and I can sit at home and watch movies in blissful silence - in fact, I can even turn off my phone during them).

But there are other things you can't avoid. I don't have grocery-delivery in my town, so I have to trek out (usually to the Wal-mart, which is the only grocery store of any size within an hour's round trip of me) and deal with people. And you know? I've had people nearly run into me because they were walking the aisles and texting. I've had people push ahead of me in line. I've had to go around people engaged in a massive argument ("Get a room!" should apply to more than amorous displays). I've had kids nearly trip me, or knock over displays, or bang those stupid mini-carts some stores used  to have into my shins, because apparently it's haaaaaaaaard for a parent to encourage their kid to obey at the grocery.

I try to shop early on Saturday mornings so I can avoid the crowds and also the worst of the pushy or loud-rude people. But some days I have to go after school, and I've walked out of there on occasion shaking or angry at humanity or swearing I'd rather just go hungry next time.

And then there's the issue of noise. I use a reel-type lawnmower which makes almost no noise, but when I have to use the noisy edger, I wait until after 10 am on a weekend day, just to be sure I'm not waking anyone in my neighborhood. It's how I was raised. Most of the people in my neighborhood follow rules similar to that - not mowing before 10 am, not mowing after 9 pm or so. Even though it's awfully hot here in the summer and those times might be marginally less hot.

One thing I noticed during my recent visit to family: my parents live in a VERY quiet neighborhood. There are no through-streets (really, it's a good innovation, even if it makes getting places more involved), so no one uses them as a regular route - only the people who live in the neighborhood use them. I live near the corner of a street that is a through street and I regularly get lots of street noise,  even late at night. Boom cars, cars that have been badly tended to (Okay, for some that's an economic issue, but I have also known guys to get muffler cut-outs because they "like" a loud car). 

But what gets me? The guys with the "boom cars." I am not sure what possesses a person to think it's OK to share their particular choice of music, played at volumes sufficient to rattle any sheet metal in the car (for a while, there was a fad to use older-model Cadillacs and similar land-yachts, because apparently they have lots of metal to rattle). And to do that at 11 pm. Or 2 am. Or some damn hour. (Even midafternoon on a Sunday, I find that mildly offensive.)

And I get it: some people DON'T think. I once asked a student who was a former smoker why smokers thought it was okay to drop their butts everywhere, including in park areas, and she shrugged, and said, "I guess I never thought about it. I guess you don't think when you are doing that."

But, it's part of what I see as a coarsening of life: getting awakened at midnight by a booming bass car is just not good. It's not pleasant. It's not a huge thing, but it's one of those small things. And the small nasty things build up: getting stuck in a grocery line behind someone who is going over the details of their recent surgery in a level of detail I don't want to hear; the person who lets their dog run loose and it dookies in my yard; getting awakened in the middle of the night by noise that I consider frankly unnecessary. And it just sucks out some of the goodness of life. I know, it seems like a little thing - but little things build up.

And it feels to me some days like the rude irresponsible people are winning. And it makes me want to become even more of a hermit than I already am. Which means they win even more. Sometimes I wonder if American culture will split, not into Morlocks and Eloi exactly, but into a group that dominates the public square, is loud, is rude, figures that they "own" the public square rather than "sharing" it, and a second group that winds up venturing into public as rarely as possible. (I think part of my fantasies of a cabin somewhere high up in the mountains stems from the "avoiding the jerks in public" desire.)