Wednesday, November 29, 2006

As seen at Bardiac

As seen at Bardiac:

[Edited to add: Apparently I was supposed to write something as well.

  1. Write a post linking to this one in which you explain the experiment. (All blogs count, be they TypePad, Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, &c.)
The experiment is explained on Scott Kaufmann's blog; he explains it better than I could. It's basically to measure the speed of memes for an MLA paper he's writing.
  1. Ask your readers to do the same. Beg them. Relate sob stories about poor graduate students in desperate circumstances. Imply I'm one of them. (Do whatever you have to. If that fails, try whatever it takes.)
I think everyone's done this already, but here goes: please do the meme.
  1. Ping Technorati.

Professors as students

A long time ago, I used to do workshops for fellow faculty members. The people who came to the workshops were all volunteers who wanted to learn something specific. Since it involved computers, we met in a lab, and none of the things I said before turning them loose on their computers took more than 5-10 minutes.

I learned that I could count on the following:

If there were 15 people in the group
  • Most would listen to what I said, look at what I'd put on the screen, and work with it.
  • 1 or 2 would have clicked ahead instead of listening to me, gotten themselves stuck, and frantically be waving their arms for help.
  • 1 would have been sitting in the back, talking (not in low tones) to the person next to her, chatting away, cracking jokes, and laughing while I gamely tried to explain things at the front of the room. (Yes, a few times I stopped talking, stared in her direction, and waited, just as I do in class. This worked for about 90 seconds until she started up again.) As soon as I stopped talking, her hand would shoot up and she'd say, "What was that? What did you want us to do?"
One of the things I took away from these experiences is that there are people who cannot shut up if they are not the center of attention; they can't help themselves, and you just have to work with them. I think that the experience of being a teacher doesn't help with this tendency, since if you're in a room with others, you're used to being the one doing the talking.

I've seen this in small group committee meetings, too, where people will deflect conversations to irrelevancies, interrupt the chair, interrupt others, talk aloud to themselves, and so on. Again, this isn't malicious; if anything, it's just high spirits and the sense of a small committee meeting as a social as well as a work occasion. I think that sometimes they act this way because they're used to being the one doing the talking (see above) and sometimes because they believe it helps to kill time in the meeting. My take is a little different: if we stay focused and get the work done early, we can leave early.

Professors like to complain about their students' inattention in class, but what these experiences have taught me is that we're not so different after all when it comes to being task-oriented when sitting in a confined space.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Please tell me vacation isn't over

It was a fine Thanksgiving: immediate family, lots of togetherness watching old movies, and lots of togetherness-alone time as well (sitting in the same room reading and not talking).

The turkey, stuffing (two kinds--vegan and other), squash, stuffed mushrooms (vegan), vegetables, and the rest all turned out well, especially the turkey. To quote from one of my favorite old movies, The Women, "If you put a pork chop [read turkey] in a hot oven, what's to keep it from getting done?" Although I liked reading all the exotic recipes on other people's blogs, part of the point of Thanksgiving for us is the traditional food, so that's what we had. The only departure from tradition is the route of the Thanksgiving walk/hike that we take while the turkey is roasting; this year, we went to a nearby park that I'd somehow never visited and walked as the snow came drifting down.

And now I have a to-do list with too few items crossed off and a stack of papers sitting in an orange folder telling me that this time is over? Bah, humbug.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Random bullets of Thanksgiving break

In the face of others' excellent posts this week on anonymity in blogging, "why I blog," selflessness in academe, conference presentations, and other topics (go read them--lots more on the sidebar!), here are short snippets from the last few days.

  • A tip for editors: if you ask me to review something and return my report electronically, when I do so, please, please take 2 seconds to hit reply and say "Got it--thanks!" Don't turn me into an e-mail stalker ("Did you get the report I sent on X?"), or, worse, a borderline obsessive type who sends a paper copy just in case.
  • Naps. Is there any pleasure as great as dutifully trying to read a dull but necessary book, getting sleepy, and realizing that, for a change, you don't have to make heroic efforts to keep awake but can just go ahead and take a nap instead?
  • Food. jo(e) writes about her mother baking cookies and making doughnuts. We all like to bake in my family (my sister does pies, while my forte is cookies and cakes), but no one but my mother makes doughnuts, and she makes them only when there are enough people around to eat them quickly--not much of a trick given our large extended family. She'd get out an ancient deep-frying kettle with a cloth-covered electrical cord--yes, that's how old it was; I think the patent number was "1"--add the shortening, and plug it in. The ancient kettle was retired a few years ago for one with some of these newfangled things called "safety features," but the doughnuts are still great. They taste best when someone drives to the cider mill and gets a few gallons of fresh-pressed local cider while the doughnuts are frying. Cold cider. Hot doughnuts and doughnut holes. Enough said.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Like most places, our school has a set advising period. It started in mid-October when the department sends out messages, puts up posters, and supplies sign-up sheets for faculty members to put on their doors. After a couple of weeks, the department usually extends the "official advising period" and puts up more brightly colored and imposing posters ("IMPORTANT!").

I'm not sure why they bother, because advisees seem to come in two kinds: the ones who sign up the first day and come in bright and early in the advising period with a full slate of courses they need to take, and the others.

The others are just showing up now, once they've figured out that they can't register until they've seen an advisor. They're writing me slightly aggrieved notes:

"I came by to sign up for a time, but there weren't any time slots left. " (That's because the advising period ended two weeks ago, but never mind; I e-mailed the person back and set up a time.)


"I'm available these times [none of which intersect with any times I'm available.] Please e-mail me and let me know when we can meet." (I respond by telling the person when I'm available and leave him or her to figure it out.)

Somehow, it all works out. The stragglers usually have no idea what they want to take (what a coincidence!), so those appointments take longer, but they get the courses they need, or a close approximation. Then they depart, leaving behind them only the smell of Dayquil and cough drops (for all of them have vicious head colds, an added bonus when you're sitting next to them for half an hour being coughed on), ready to be surprised by the whole process again next spring.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Request from an unknown student

Sent Saturday evening at about 11 p.m.

Hi Undine,

I'm a 3rd-year student in [Unrelated Department] and would like you to participate in our research project about [unrelated subject]. We would like you to participate on [day this week when I'm not on campus].




Uh, no.

Believing firmly in helping students with this kind of thing, I'm usually a sucker for this kind of "interview a professor for a class," "fill out this survey" kind of academic citizenship, but on short notice and a day I'm not on campus? I sent a polite note declining the invitation but refrained from observing that hailing a professor that you've never even met by her first name might not make the best impression. (First names for professors are the norm for grad students but not undergrads around here.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Random Bullets of Conference

I am at semi-big and very interesting conference. The weather is lovely--unseasonably warm for this area, I hear--, the panels are good, and all my conference stuff (presenting paper, attending meetings, chairing a panel) is over.

It's at conferences like this that you remember why you go to these things and put up with all the expense and stress of the travel: to talk with people who are as interested in Major Author as you are, and to hear about More Obscure Author that you immediately want to look up and read. You get to catch up with people that you only see at conferences, and you find out what they're working on.

In fact, my conference experience is a lot like What Now?'s, so I'll just link to her.

Good times!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Got ballots?

[Edited to add: Voters, thank you!]

I don't usually post about politics because (1) other people have more nuanced reactions than "What on EARTH were you thinking?" and (2) I'm usually too busy banging my head on the keyboard when reading the latest set of baldfaced lies and platitudes from the Dear Leader and his puppetmaster Rove.

Like Maggie May, I'm nervous about this election; like a lot of other people, I got all hopeful in 2004 (not to mention 2000) and then was crushed.

Even without the Election Ladies, I've voted already (in a vote-by-mail state) and just want to say this: Vote, and vote so that it counts. I say this because I've run into a few people who've said quite airily that they intend to vote for, I don't know, the Plaid Shirt party or something else just as a protest against the system. Don't do it!. We saw that in 2000 (I'm looking at you, Nader voters, though no one now admits voting for him), and look where it got us.

Vote so that maybe there's a shot at turning this country around.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Library update

One of my students stopped by this week to talk about her term project. The class has several options for a project, but one option involves analyzing old periodicals. When I discussed this in class, some students didn't know that those were on the shelves, and only a few had ventured into the dim caverns of the library where they're kept. I waxed rhapsodic about the joys of reading old periodicals, winding up with, "And it's really fun!" Their faces told me that their idea of fun might involve something other than the library, but they still seemed interested (or had the good manners to seem interested).

The student who stopped by was one who had ventured into the dim caverns of the compressed stacks--and seemed to be as excited by that adventure of discovery as I am: "I love old books!" It's nice to know that some in the class share this feeling. Take today, for example: If it's dinnertime on a cold, dark, rainy night, and I've been up since 5:15 and on campus since 8:00 a.m. , and if the last thing I feel like doing is going to the library before heading home, I can usually find the motivation to track down books and make copies if I can go to the old periodicals/books area as a reward.

I mention this in part because of a recent comment posted to a previous post about book dumping at Cal Poly Pomona (go to the comments page to read the whole thing; I'm not sure about the etiquette of reposting the entire comment on the blog):

"The 200,000 books in storage are going to be thrown away. The library is being converted into a book crematorium."