Tuesday, January 30, 2007

i love my faculty

Really. With the exception of one women who has a rather unfortunate nickname around the department, and the faculty I just don't know, we have some awesome folks here (even if I do wonder about their measurement of me).

I just asked one of "my guys" for some tips regarding a little summary document for an award he's nominating me for (although if he saw the crappy grammar in that sentence he'd probably rescind the nomination) and ten minutes later he dumps out a page and a half of suggestions. I was just looking for bullets! He's awesome.

The other day, I had just made some copies and one faculty member had left an original in the copier. I saw she was in her office so I handed it to her and chatted with the folks in her office. Talked about my thesis, composition, Elbow. I've never had the folks for a course, because they're the English Ed folks. But they loaned a book to me and e-mailed me a good little story about dissertation/thesis-writing...just because they're nice folks.

Today I had office hours. I had three visitors: one student needed to make up the diagnostic exam ("I'm sure you hear this all the time, but I set my alarm for PM instead of AM...") and two faculty members who needed to talk to me about some things and made appointments with me to do so. Hilarious!

There's a ton of turmoil right now in our department (what department doesn't have turmoil??) but I found myself a good gang of folks.


how's it going?

I'm getting that question a lot these days. I always answer, "unclear."

Today will mark day #2 of T/Th class (my full-ish class), in which they will take a diagnostic essay. When they're doing the essay, I'll mark their format check/responses to "Printcrime" exercise I had them do for today. I have my green pen all ready. Or it could be orange. Or pink. I like to randomize these things; I'll use whatever I pull out of my pen pocket. Ooooh, the excitement! (yes, I'm kidding about that being exciting)

The students in that class seem perfectly fine. Two didn't show until the first day, two dropped after the first day, two wanted to add on the first day but only one has used an add code yet, and it's still possible others will try to add today. So, I could have anywhere from 21 to 25 students. It's unclear.

The MW class (the one added at the last minute) met for the first time yesterday. I've only given out 10 add codes. I hope they don't cancel the class. There's still a chance that other people will try to add it, but it's unlikely. If I end up having only 10 in the class, I'll probably ask the internets for ideas for things to try out in a class of only 10 students. It's unclear.

I have seniors registered in each of my classes. I'm amazed that a student could take enough credits to be a senior without having taken any upper division GE or major courses. There's a "gatekeeper" test before junior year, the Writing Skills Test, which is supposed to keep students from taking upper division GE and major courses w/ writing components unless they pass this test. They can't take the test unless they've passed English 1A and 1B. So...how there are seniors in my courses who are not transfers, I don't know. Oh well. They each seem suitably embarrassed for putting it off so long, since they're in classes full of freshmen and sophomores.

The courses will hit their stride next week, so I'll have a better feel for the students. One thing to note is that approximately 30% of them said that Tuesdays with Morrie was the last book they'd read. Another 20% or so said The Kite Runner. The latter book is the "university book" for this year, so all Freshmen got a copy when they began the year...hooray for reading it! They read the former in RECL 10, the ever-popular "Creating a Meaningful Life" course. Hey, whatever gets them to read...

As for me and my wee bairn of a thesis (Muir was Scottish. It works.), I'll probably begin writing in earnest this weekend. March 15th is not that far away.

My actual job? It's fine right now. Although I don't talk about it (being all technical and such), I still have it. And I will still have a form of it when I go off to PhD Land, just not full time (duh).


teaching carnival #19 is go

see: scribblingwoman: Teaching Carnival #19: a day late and a dollar short. But with pictures.

Good stuff as usual!


Sunday, January 28, 2007

welcome a new teacher to the ranks

Liz is going to teach her first comp class tomorrow.

She'll be at one of our (numerous) community colleges. So exciting!

Go wish her well/good luck.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

dear semester, thanks for the structure!

Approximately five hours after I wrote the previous post begging for the semester to begin so that I would have some structure, the English Dept. admin called me. She offered me a second section of 1A. There's a rule in my household: never turn down an opportunity to make money (as long as it's legal and reasonable).

So, at this moment I am sitting in an empty classroom, handing out add codes to any students who happen to know that a section of comp was created just yesterday. I'm impressed that four people have dropped by already. What will likely happen is that I'll be giving out add codes via email between now and Monday, and probably will give some out in person on Monday as well.

The downside is that this class loses a day of my brilliant instruction (ha!). While we'll start immediately in my T/Th class (tomorrow), this class doesn't really "start" until Monday. No big deal, though.

I now have structure coming out the wazoo. MTWTh: get up at typical early hour (3:47am), do WORK until 7am, go to class and teach until 8:45 (except T when I stay at school until noon, in my office), come home and do WORK things until 5 or so, then be sure to eat something. Spend 2-3 hours work on language study and thesis (alternate days). Fridays: WORK, then rest in the evening. Saturdays and Sundays are thesis-writing days unless there are essays to grade, in which case one day will be essay-grading day and one day will be thesis-writing.

My thesis is due to my second and third readers around the 15th of March, so yeah...that's 10 pages per week for the next six weeks (or so).

Hooray, structure!


Monday, January 22, 2007

dear semester, please start soon.

I am in desperate need for something in my life to have structure to it.

Many big things like WORK and thesis and language studying and blah blah blah and WORK that are so very, very unstructured given their nature (WORK, mainly, as we are a vendor and everything we do is dictated by others and reactionary to their whims and needs and whims)...big blobs of unstructured lead to paralysis and not efficiency, which is my shtick.

When the semester starts, the library hours change from totally inconvenient (now) to really helpful and extended (then). That will enable me to schedule and plan using time blocks not currently available to me. Well, the blocks are, but the environment change isn't. I need the environment change in order to be productive. So, that'll be something.

But really it's just WORK that's the big paralysis-maker. Projects with no linearity, everything having to be done yesterday but with gaping holes in the requirements such that things can't move forward, unforseen needs of other clients interrupting any flow that does get started. I can't work that way. Yet, that's how we've worked for years and years. And it sucks enormously.

When the semester starts, not only will I have some structured time outside of my house in which to be productive, but I will have other things that will push out the constant obsessing over all the job-related stuff, which I can't really control, yet controls a significant portion of me. Almost over though. Just not soon enough.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

a neat little short-short-story

The first week or so of classes is always a crapshoot when it comes to students and textbooks. Our school is notorious for releasing financial aid checks late, meaning students often don't get their books until the second or third week of class.

In our comp classes, this situation is somewhat mitigated by the first two class periods being sort of throwaway days: the first day is syllabus day and the second day is diagnostic essay day. The third day we spend a little bit of time talking about the diagnostic essay results, things we'll work on as a class and so on, and start into "intro to narration." By this time, it's February.

I've decided to have an assignment due on the second day of class. Since the first day of class is on a Thursday and the second day of class is on a Tuesday, I figure they can read a 750-word short-short-story and answer three questions about it. This assignment is also going to serve as a "format check" to see if they can follow the handout regarding how to set up their document in MLA format (margins, font size, etc).

The trick was to find a reading that would fit on one side of a piece of paper. I'm using Cory Doctorow's "Printcrime". It should be interesting to see what the freshmen say to the question "Lanie's father: crazy or brilliant?"


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

oooh, The Diamond Age as miniseries!

Cory @ BoingBoing sez: Clooney and SciFi making "Diamond Age" miniseries
Neal Stephenson's Hugo-award winning masterpiece The Diamond Age is being made into a SciFi Channel miniseries. The Diamond Age tells the story of a group of neo-Victorians who've embraced strait-laced ethics and craftsmanship as a response to the infinite possibilities of nanotechnology. It features a stupendously imaginative interactive storybook, moments of convulsive hilarity, and a lovely explanation of Turing-complete computing. It's my second-favorite Stephenson novel (after Cryptonomicon), so don't screw it up, SciFi!
I heartily echo the "don't screw it up, SciFi!" statement, but The Diamond Age is not my second-favorite Stephenson novel, it's my first-favorite Stephenson novel. Actually, The Diamond Age and Snow Crash are 1A and 1B for me.


how do you know you don't suck?

I've been tossing this question around in my head for almost a month now. I haven't gotten anywhere with it.

I wanted to ask the internets because you are all wise and experienced in the ways of these things. However, I was afraid that by asking this question it would appear as if I wanted pats on the back from the internets, and that's not the case. I would just like some guidance on this issue, or confirmation that indeed it's all a crapshoot.

My question is this: how do you know who to trust when it comes to people evaluating your work?

Specifically, when profs say "this is good, you could publish this," I tend to look askance at them and say something like "you're kidding." Then they look at me all askance and say "uh, yes..." with the implied "why would I kid about that?" At that point, what goes through my mind are all the things I know about the essay I just wrote: I thought about it all semester, I had a good argument, I did a bunch of research, but really I wrote it all in the last week before class. Then I think about how my process for seminar paper-writing isn't any different than my book-writing-during-another-lifetime, and then I think but it should be.

The profs who say these things to me, they're our best teachers and scholars and I have nothing but the utmost respect for them. I plan to pattern a great deal of my future teaching methods after their own. But they haven't published anything recently, and by "recently" I mean in the last ten or fifteen years. And then I think "but, dumbass, they've been teaching and mentoring and being administrative for all those years, leaving no time for the publishing!" So, I don't know why I'm skeptical about their ability to judge me.

I suppose it all boils down to a touch of imposter syndrome, but I don't really think it's that. I'm just beginning this whole graduate school thing. I have all of eight graduate seminars under my belt, whoop-de-do. I'm not supposed to be any good at this yet. Thus, I sure don't feel like a fake, just a beginner. I don't attribute my success to luck, because I know I work hard (although not as hard as I can). I don't have a problem with thinking my stuff is good, should it eventually be so.

Maybe this will all be different at the next level, when everyone is a overachiever, as opposed to my current school where decent students in my program are few and far between. Or maybe not. I don't know.

I guess the question really is: how do you know when you're being measured with the appropriate yardstick?


Sunday, January 14, 2007

took a little drive today...

Spent some time with this fellow.

Oh yeah, and his ultra-cool mom!

Fun for all. Whoo hoo!


Friday, January 12, 2007

sugar-free tastes like crap

I like sweet things. REAL sweet tea, for example (the kind that's mostly sugar and a little bit of tea, all boiled together into a syrup), is a favorite of mine and I miss it terribly. I can't stand diet sodas of any kind, so when I do drink soda (maybe two or three times each month) I go for the good stuff.

I used to be a dump-tons-of-sugar-in-my-coffee kind of person, but I drink a lot of coffee and thus was ingesting a lot of sugar. So, several years ago I made the difficult switch to blue sweetener. I prefer it to the pink or yellow sweetener, although I will say that it's still pretty shitty. It probably would have been easier to train myself to like unsweetened coffee, but that requires really good coffee brewed properly at all times, and I'm not so good with keeping god coffee around and brewing it properly all the time.

What's all this about then? Well, the point is that at least I think about being conscious of sugar intake. So much so that when I went to Starbucks this morning I remembered that the Cinnamon Dolce Latte comes in a sugar-free version. The sugar-free version is a difference of 300 calories or so, which is a good thing.


and there's always an exception...

it tastes like crap.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007


It is currently 37 degrees in San Jose. Now, my parents will tell you that I have no problem with the cold. I like the cold. I prefer it to heat (in fact, I hate hate hate the heat). I hardly ever wear a jacket because I stay warm pretty well on my own.

But it's freaking COLD outside.

This would not be a problem, usually, because my little condo has really lovely forced heat. However, I do not have the heat on as we speak (and I keep it at 66 anyway) because I am venting the fumes out of my house.

I had my shower/tub combo refinished yesterday and the fumes are still hanging around. When the fellow was here doing the work yesterday, he had this cool pump-driven vent sort of deal so no worries for me and the cats...the ducks and the birds and squirrels outside stayed away for a few hours...sorry, environment.

Anyway, I could hardly stand it last night. Luckily, I was up and working in the wee hours so I just had the back door open then as well.

No, I'm not turning the heat on. That would just be a waste of electricity and money since the back door is going to stay open until the smell clears up or my toes fall off, one or the other. Instead, I'll just complain on my blog!

The cats have the right idea. They're in the bedroom hiding under the blanket: it's warm and acts as a filter from the smell.

[But boy oh boy does my shower/tub look nice. I almost cried.]

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Monday, January 8, 2007

so proud of the kitties

They spent almost NINE hours in their little crates, and only peeped, not peed.

I am so proud of them. Max is sitting right here next to me, and Deuce isn't even hiding under the bed sitting on the clean laundry, as a cat should.

The handyman was awesome. Hooray Mr. Handyman! He did all the major things, and a few minor things, and was really nice and teacherly when he ripped out something I had tried (and failed) to do and showed me how I should have done it.

The day's work took a few hours longer because we had some furniture issues. Namely, that the vanity cabinet that I purchased and had waiting for him was totally thrashed on the inside. So we taped it up, he threw it in the back of the truck, and followed me to Home Depot. I gave them back the thrashed cabinet and we went to get a new one but alas it was not in stock. Went to the next-closest one and got one there. I purchased a few other parts he needed for my job, and we went back to the house. Had he done all the purchasing himself, he would have had to mark all the parts up. This way, I just paid the regular price.

See? Handy.

Tomorrow is the shower/bath refinishing, and then that's all for this week. I'll do minor things in the evenings. Probably the end of the following week the kitchen will get done, and then the week after that will be the flooring and I'll be done done done. Whoo hoo!


an actual review of the best dinner ever, plus mystery and intrigue

The reason I said I would wait until Jim wrote up the dinner was because he wrote a kick-ass 1800 words about it.

Here's a sample:
We scarfed like heathens, pulling at things forkless and after a while, witless. My wife looked at the garnish on one of the plates, which at that point was the only thing left.

What's that, she asked.

Friseé, I said.

Frisey, Julie said.

Can we eat it, she asked [ed note: I believe the "she" refers to his wife because I had no interest in the friseé]. I pulled at some of it and ate it. Even it was delicious, with a light touch of vinaigrette, balsamic I think. Little walnuts poked out through the curling leaves. Before long we finished the frisee. Maybe we should just lick the plates, I thought.

If it sounds like I'm raving, it's because I am. They were that good. We are, of course, slightly starved for this kind of food in the south bay. Not that we don't have good food, just not this good.
He only messed up the drink list, but I am here to correct it.

Following is the quick list of what we had (for more info, check the menu):

** DRINKS: pomegranate champagne, Hennepin ale, Glenlivet, sangria, huckleberry brandy (+ korintje cinnamon, lemon), pear (+ mint, moscato d'asti), Affligem Tripel ale, meyer lemon (+ basil, hangar one "buddha's hand")

** STARTERS: fresh bodega goat cheese, wild mushrooms in phyllo, grilled spicy lamb sausage, seafood triangles

** Basteeya

** ENTREES: longline-caught yellowfin tuna, northern cod claypot, hoffman ranch guinea hen, stewed lamb & charred eggplant, niman ranch lamb shank

The desserts warrant more than a bullet list, for truly the impetus for going to Aziza in the first place was so that we could try all of Shuna's desserts. All of her desserts were outstanding in terms of taste, texture, and presentation. Their minimalist names do not do justice to the tastes they represent. "Apple" isn't just apple: it's perfectly chopped up bits of apple in a caramel sauce, under a wee cookie, with several spoonfuls of perfectly-composed green apple ice—not apple-flavored slush, but little granules of ice that held up as we passed the plate around to everyone. "Coconut" isn't just coconut, it's a fresh and light parfait sort of deal with citrus and coconut and tapioca alongside a coconut financière. "Ginger" isn't just ginger, it's the best damn bit of gingerbread I've ever had—who knew gingerbread wasn't supposed to taste like crap?—plus pear soup and a wee dab of brown butter-pecan ice cream. "Cocoa" is a luscious combo of cardamom chocolate chip cookies, cocoa nib ice cream, and hot cocoa—satisfying and mysterious (aha! cardamom!) and not overpowering like so many chocolate-based desserts tend to be.

But the pièce de résistance (with all appropriate French accented characters) for me was the "lime." Oh no, no any old "lime," but lime sorbet...over redwood hill goat yogurt granité. I'll give you Jim's description because it's good:
Though all of the desserts presented flavors and textures new to me, one in particular I will never forget. It is called lime, and it is described thus: sorbet, redwood hill goat yogurt granité. The first bite is like being hit in the jaw. The pungency of the yogurt is so powerful, but then, as the flavors comingle on the tongue they mellow and become smooth, the taste addictive. I dipped my spoon again. So this is dessert.
We all tasted it, and we all looked at each other, intrigued, confused, delighted...goat yogurt granité—who does that?!?

Shuna does. But, after yesterday—a mere 24 hours since we were there—she is no longer Aziza's pastry chef. She quotes the general manager as saying: "We've received no positive feedback from customers about the desserts. [...] that goat yogurt granité? No one finishes it or likes it at all."

I call bullshit.

On one day, five people went to Aziza specifically for the dessert. We loved the drinks, the starters, and the mains, but it was the desserts that capped off a spectacular dining experience. The precise blending of flavors and textures not only made beautiful and tasty dishes, but they conveyed the sense of artistry and thoughtfulness that one expects at a top-notch restaurant.

And "that goat yogurt granité"? Once the bowl reached me, I never gave it up. I kept it to myself and refused to share. It was the most memorable and delightful taste of the night, and believe me—I ate and drank a lot.

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mwrowr mwrowr mwrowr mwrowr

kitty jail"mwrowr mwrowr mwrowr mwrowr..." That's all I hear right now as the cats are firmly ensconced in their little crates because the handyman is here.

Turns out the inadvertent practice day was a good thing. Deuce only meowed for a few minutes until she settled into the back of the crate and tried to make herself invisible from the strangers in the house. Max, on the other hand, he's being a loudmouth and for no good reason other than to be annoying.

And oh, how annoying he is... But hey, at least it's not both of them.

They'll be pissed off later, but not tremendously so. The workers who will be here tomorrow to work in the bathroom (on the shower/tub thing) can do so with one of the bathroom doors closed. That way, I can just lock the cats in the bedroom and not their crates. They won't need to go back in their crates again until the flooring guys come in a few weeks.


Sunday, January 7, 2007

the best damn dinner ever

Last night I had what might have been the best damn dinner ever.

I have to think about it some more before I write about it. That, and I'm waiting for Jim to write intelligently about it so that I can just link to his post and be done with it.

I went with two of my school chums, one wife of a school chum, and one anonymous person from the internet who can't be mentioned else the poor soul's anonymity would be compromised.

For now, let me just say that if you're in the vicinity of San Francisco, you absolutely must go to Aziza. While there, or anytime you have the opportunity, have a dessert or five by the incomparable Shuna Fish Lydon.

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Thursday, January 4, 2007

the first pre-semester bad dream of the year

How weird. I had a dream last night that was all about screwing up the first day of the semester.

You know: didn't print the roll, waited until the morning of class to print the 6+ page syllabus on the required green paper and thus had to get in line with everyone else doing the same and the paper ran out and I was late to class and didn't have syllabi, went to the wrong room, dripped coffee on my pants, etc.

It was weird because my class doesn't start until the 25th, I know the room I'll be in, I don't wear light-colored clothing on the first day anyway (specifically to avoid the coffee issue), I print the roll the minute registration ends, and I'll copy my syllabi the weekend before the Thursday I teach.

So...what the hell? Weird.

On a different note, does anyone know how to pronounce the Vietnamese name "Nhung"? I like to practice names so I don't sound like an idiot when I call roll, and this is one I don't know how to do correctly.


Wednesday, January 3, 2007

kitty stress

Mr. Handyman is on his way here to do some work—rip out a vanity and replace it with a new one, hook up some plumbing, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, he will be working in the rooms typically reserved for holding my cats when workmen are here. If he didn't need to go in and out of the house during this time, I'd just let the cats run free. For Max, that would mean hanging out and watching the workman. For Deuce, that would mean hiding under the covers and pretending the scary stranger didn't exist. No big deal.

But, with all of the trips in and out of the house today (and on the flooring day sometime in the next few weeks), the cats are in their crates.

Max is fine with it. He doesn't particularly enjoy it, but he's quietly pissed off. He's made several trips across the country, after all, including one in an airplane (never again).

But Deuce? Poor thing. She's crying like I've left her on the side of the road, never to return. It's particularly heart-wrenching. She's fine, of course, and will settle down soon (I hope). It's only been 17 minutes. The crying is slowing down. She has a blanket in the crate, so hopefully when the stranger does come in the house she'll realize that the crate is actually a good option for her, and she'll hide herself under the blanket in the crate.

I'm looking at today (and flooring day) as training days for the inevitable car trip to wherever I move. You can understand why I hope I only have to go to Davis (1.5 hrs away) and not any of the other places (8-12+ hours away). With the exception of one school, everywhere is within a day's drive. That was specifically planned...

update after 28 minutes: it's quiet. Let's hope this continues for a few more hours.

update #2 I let them out of their crates. There was a miscommunication with Mr. Handyman. We get to do this all again on the 8th! But the good news is that Deuce doesn't hate me. In fact, she's now sitting on her crate. Go figure.

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Monday, January 1, 2007

new year

Consider this the obligatory "Happy New Year, Everyone!" post. I do, in fact, wish every single one of you a happy new year.

I'm not a resolution-maker, at least not specifically for the New Year—if I'm screwing something up mightily then I'll resolve to change it whenever I realize I'm screwing up, be it January or June.

Dr. Shellie's theme for 2007 is a pretty good one: "embrace uncertainty. The only other option is 'be really freaked out by uncertainty,' and that doesn't sound good." As I said in a comment on her site, I'm currently riding the edge between embracing and being-freaked-out-by uncertainty. I'm a planner. I like things to be orderly. I do not enjoy not knowing where I'll be in eight months.

But what can I really do about it? Nothing. So, I should embrace uncertainty. I'm not sure I can go that far, so maybe my theme for 2007 (at least the first 3/4 of it) should be "ignore uncertainty."

Yeah, that's the ticket.