Thursday, August 30, 2007


California Quail Family in My YardFirst, sorry for the through-the-screen-door photo. Any movement would have freaked them all out.

At this very moment, I am looking out my screen door and I have in my yard:

* NINE California Quail
* approx FIFTEEN little brown sparrowy birds
* TWO Red-Breasted Nuthatches
* TWO Black-Capped Chickadees
* TWO squirrels

It's AWESOME! I haven't seen quail in town before, and here I have NINE in my yard. A few of them are smaller, like youngsters. I think there might have been a nest or two in the trees/pine needles surrounding my yard.

As a point of reference, my yard is only 200 sq. feet or so. I just happen to have really good stuff—all the best seeds, critter food, suet, and, as you can see in this photo, a makeshift birdbath. Although no birds are using it in the picture I linked to, I've seen upwards of ten little birds hanging out on the edges. They mostly drink out of it rather than splash around. The squirrel uses it too.

The reason I saw the quail this morning was because one of the mini-flock was sitting on the edge of the bird pool, just drinking. The quail are so much larger than the little sparrows that the movement really caught my eye. I'm glad it did! I believe I said "holy crap! is that a quail?" to no one in particular. Max, my cat who was sitting next to me, looked up at me like "quail? whatev. It's not like I can go outside." Deuce was sitting on the ottoman, snoring away. So much for sharing the joy of quail.

[The garbage truck just drove by and scared them all off, but they'll be back. Once the wildlife finds my yard, they tend to stay.]

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

comments at BoingBoing!

Whoo hoo! Changes at BoingBoing include the ability to leave comments!

There's also a community manager (person) to go along with the commenting feature, so I wouldn't worry about the comments deteriorating into crap. I'm so glad they finally brought back comments, as it's one of the few big sites I would comment on and thus feel more engaged (Lifehacker is the other big site where I have an account and leave comments).


Sunday, August 26, 2007

i did not win $314 million in Powerball

Someone won $314 million in the Powerball lottery, but it wasn't me. Or anyone I know, for that matter. Too bad.

The only thing damaging my calm right now is the nagging thought that I'll never, ever sell my condo. Stupid real estate market and stupid mortgage brokers! Or maybe it's the Fed I should be mad at. I don't know. I'm not mad at my realtor or anything, because it's not his fault that condos of my type are not selling in the Bay Area right now. Last year at this time (and before that), something would be on the market for two, three weeks tops. A lot of people were able to become homeowners. But now, with mortgage brokers closing and regulations tightening up and blahdy blah blah blah, those folks looking to get their first mortgage and a starter condo or house are left in the cold. Well, they're still renting, so they're probably not cold, but you get the picture. Of course, that a "starter condo" is at least $300K in the Bay Area might have something to do with the overall problem.

We lowered the price a bit (still priced below others in the area, and it's a much nicer place), I'll pay six months of HOA dues, and we're doing below market financing (basically, I'll kick in some of the closing costs)...still, no little nibbles and it has nothing to do with the place; people just can't get approved for mortgages so easily anymore.

So, I'm paying a mortgage and HOA dues on an empty condo in the Bay Area. I'm trying to remember that 83% of that comes right off my tax bill (a good thing, given book royalties that kick my ass come tax time), so yay. And before anyone asks: if I rented it out I would only get approximately 45% of what I pay in mortgage and HOA dues, and there'd be wear and tear on the place that I'd have to deal with. However, if the thing isn't sold by January then I'm going to have to think about renting it because I'll be out of money.

Unless I win Powerball, in which case all bets are off!


Thursday, August 23, 2007

decompressing from an awesome day

I meant to write this on Wednesday, as the awesome day was on Tuesday. But I wasn't fully decompressed. Also, I was busy and tired. Sorry, blogosphere! You lose. :)

So, Tuesday:

* Woke up and went to the gym. Yay. Up here in the middle of nowhere, it is really dark at 4:30am. But it was also very clear and the stars were out, so that was nice. I was only momentarily scared of the dark and the neighborhood; I quickly remembered that I wasn't in East San Jose anymore and calmly walked to my car. Time at the gym was uneventful but fulfilling, if that makes any sense.

* By the time I got back from the gym, the GenEd prof for whom I am a grader had written back and said no worries and everything was fine. So, by 6am all that stress went away.

* In the afternoon, I headed off to class. My two primary seminars are back-to-back on Tuesdays. I was nervous because these are the sort of high-stakes seminars for me. One is History of the Book. The other is Cultural Theory. The latter is taught by one of the two people whose presence sealed the deal for me when I was choosing between here and Davis.

* In the first class, I knew all but one of the people already. I hadn't met the prof. Having met the prof now, I can say she rocks hard. For anyone reading this who knows of a particular nemesis of mine at our previous school, well, I can say that this particular prof is everything that other woman wishes she could be, and never will. For one thing, the prof here is inherently nice, helpful, and kind in addition to being freakishly smart and accomplished. She runs a good class. She's also fine with my "inability to fully appreciate Emily Dickinson." That's my key phrase instead of "I hate Emily Dickinson." Janet, you'll never convince me otherwise.

* In the second class, I finally realized what it meant to be in grad school. The seminar was overloaded. The prof is a rock star. The topic is hot. And everyone had something interesting to say during introductions, and the conversation throughout the seminar was intelligent and polite. Also, sometimes funny. That was my contribution, when lacking something intelligent to say at the moment. I was still trying to process how it was sort of my dream seminar as far as interactions go, even though it's not my field (and it's actually out of my comfort zone).

* So I was on some sort of seminar high as I walked home. I got home, turned on my computer, and sitting there was an email of updates/shenanigans from an insider at my former school. Turns out that the seething jackass/sociopath guy who plagued the department for the last few years, and who applied to schools way over his head, and who got into a school (a good one) on the last possible day only due to three faculty members putting their reputation on the line and calling in favors, well...he quit his program before even starting classes. I realize that making a "schadenfreude!" t-shirt is in bad form. Heck, I also quit my first PhD program--but I was 19 and at least made it to mid-term. We are all glad he flamed out, even if it means we're morally bankrupt individuals who are going to hell.

* In other news, Mary-the-frequent-commenter has her first composition classes today. Go Mary!


Monday, August 20, 2007

so THERE's the other dropped!

Today was the first day of school.

I can't tell you how relieved I am that something got all screwed up. It makes the place seem real and normal instead of fantasy school.

First: it rained. All day. This is actually a good thing, as it hasn't rained since I've been here (two months) and wilderness areas have been closed because of fire danger (or fires). Except I couldn't find my umbrella so I had to run to Shopko and get one. No big deal.

Thought we had a meeting at noon. Got there at 11:30 because I had some things to do. While doing things, saw some people who would have been in the meeting and they said oh no, no meeting today. We'll start next week. Ok, no big deal. I would just go back home until class at 3pm.

But then, as I went to see the academic coordinator about some very minor money question, she had someone else in her office. No big deal, except she said "Julie! Don't you go anywhere!" Ok, no problem, I was going to wait anyway.

When it was my turn she said, "Did you know you had a class today at 8am?"




I said, ""

Turns out that I'm a grader for the GenEd/World Civ class (Long story short: GenEd gets graders from the English department and at least one semester during our eight semesters here we pull that duty. It's actually pretty easy work: grade 110x4 short papers and hold office hours once a week, no preps or anything.) on MWF 8:10-9:00.

That's right: I missed my first class. But in my defense, I didn't know. Super awesome academic coordinator screwed up and feels terrible. But I said eh, whatever. It'll all work out. As long as the prof knows _I'm_ not the screwup in this instance! She assured me that wouldn't be the case.

However. This GenEd class conflicts with my foreign language class. I have an email out to see if I can just go on M and F and skip W or if the prof needs me to sit in the back of the auditorium on all three days. We'll see. No great tragedy if I have to drop the language class. I'll just take it next fall. But it screws up my carefully-planned schedule! I also had to email the writing center and tell them I have to change my availability for leading small-group tutoring sections.

I went home to send a bunch of emails about all this, then I walked back onto campus for my 3pm class. It was great, and I got home at a quarter after six and here I am.

I have three open issues and I don't like unfinished business, but it'll work out soon. Tomorrow's a new day. My other two grad seminars meet tomorrow and I'm stoked about those. But this was not the way I wanted to start the week!

6AM Tuesday Update: Yep, everything is fine. The prof doesn't think I'm a loser, and says I don't have to drop my language class. I'm sure the tutoring section issues will work out as well.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

meh. let him have his fun.

squirrelyCould be worse...this squirrel could be a bear. My folks, for instance, have a neighborhood bear that eats from the birdfeeders. I consider myself lucky that I just have this squirrel.

Actually, I have two squirrels. But they are respectful of the birds, the birds don't seem to care when the squirrels are around, and I'd feed the squirrels anyway.

Incidentally, I took this picture after I sprayed canola oil on the pole. The squirrel jumped and slid three times (it was hilarious) and then said fuck it (or the squirrel equivalent) and jumped higher. At that point, I decided I didn't care. Let him have his fun.

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more on what makes a good orientation (by request!)

When I wrote my Random Bullets of Orientation post, I tried not to go on and on about the wonders that are a well-run orientation. I figured it was the norm at most institutions, and the fact that my previous school didn't have a program-specific orientation just set me up to love whatever was thrown my way.

I still think that's the case, but in this post I'll describe the orientation here and why it made me happy, and then I'll talk about some of the things that could have been done at my previous school. I hope that will address Dr. Virago's question (in the comments).

This post is really long. You've been warned. :)

First, the legend:

- New School (NS) and Old School (OS): self-explanatory.

- New Grad Director (NGD), Academic Coordinator (AC), and Wonderful Staff (WS): at new school; NGD is self-explanatory (and he's very cool) but AC is the non-faculty, adminstrative person who works closely with the NGD and who is in charge of all students as far as keeping them on task, making sure paperwork is filled out, making sure everyone gets paid, etc. In a word, she's FREAKINGAWESOME. WS includes all the support staff in the office. They are all wonderful.

- Old Grad Coordinator (OGC): the grad coordinator at my old school; consider this a position and not a specific person because my first year the grad coordinator was a fellow who had been in the position for a few years, had been chair at one point, and at been at the school for decades (still is there), while the grad coordinator my second year was an assoc. prof coming off sabbatical. I like both the old and the new person quite a bit, but they are very different people and administrators.

- Crappy Chair (CC) and Crazy Admin (CA): at my old school, CC and CA were two completely dysfunctional peas in a pod. CC has since been replaced in that position by Wonderful Thesis Director but CA is still there.


An organization is only as good as the people in it. Duh, right? The first step in running a happy and efficient ship is to ensure the crew consists of nice, sane, competent people. Such is the case at NS. Such was not always the case at OS, and that contributed to the culture of not helping/not sharing/not doing anything efficiently [people are trying to change that, but they're in a deep hole and getting out will be a long process].

At NS, orientation really began for each of the new students when we got into town and went to see the NGD and AC. At least it did for me, and I assume for the other students who thought it would be a great idea to go meet the people in charge. When I went in (several weeks ago) and walked past the AC's office, she hollered at me (I had met with her a few weeks earlier, just to say hi and thanks for her help) to come see her when I was done because she had keys and papers for me. Keys and papers? Without having to call eighty-seven different departments on my own and sign my life away? This situation would be the first of many differences between NS and OS.

Had coffee with the NGD and talked to him for an hour or so about my courses, language requirements, plans for completion, schedules, and so on. When I left his office I had no concerns or questions about what I would do or when I would do it. Yes, I knew most of it before our meeting because I read all the program information, but if I had been a new student who didn't read any of it or had questions or was just freaked out by all of it, he would have made sure I knew what I needed to before he let me leave his office. When I did leave his office, the AC handed me the building key, my office key, and a mailbox key—no muss, no fuss. When I walked past the front desk and said goodbye to the WS, they said goodbye and used my name after only meeting me once, weeks earlier.

Flash forward to orientation time. It was a two-day affair, from 8:30am to 2:30pm each day. You were expected to be there, of course. Each day had the obligatory coffee/tea/water/pastries in the morning, and deli sandwiches/salad/cookies for lunch. The free food contributed to the overall sense of not having to worry about a thing. The free food also attracted the advanced students (and some faculty) in the program to just stop by and socialize with the newbies.

Most of the sessions took place in the reading room, which is one of those standard rooms with books and couches that most departments have (but it's not a lounge), the one where committee meetings, seminars, and other events often take place. The room that says "no food and drinks allowed" but where luncheons and teas occur and no one pays any attention to the sign. [Mary and Trout: think FO104 only larger and with better catered food.] We sat in a circle. MA students, PhD students, advanced students, new faculty, and the chair were all treated the same.

Before things began, the chair (a lovely man wearing a suit, tie, and flip-flops) came around to each of us and introduced himself and chatted with us all for a moment. At OS, the CC never introduced himself to the grad students unless you happened to take his seminar (which I avoided). I'm pretty sure that although I was there for two years, and he attended a small gathering at which he heard me talk about my thesis, and after I won the "best MA student" award this past year, he has no idea who I am. I'm fine with that. On more than one occasion a new student asked me who was the strange man walking on campus talking to himself, and I would have to say, "oh, that's CC." But I digress.

At greeting and intro time, the new students introduced themselves, as did the NGD, AC, new faculty, the chair, the composition coordinator, the assistant composition coordinator, the GenEd/Writing Program director guy, and the president of the dept. grad student org. In other words, everyone we would need to know was right there in the room having pastries with us, explaining their roles in relation to ours. It was nice to include the new faculty (four of them! young!) because some of them appeared just as nervous as the new students.

After introductions, anyone who had not met the AC and WS went to the front desk area and met them. Such people are so important to the overall efficiency of a department (and one's personal program of study) that making friends with them is a no-brainer. It's easy when they're genuinely nice people. But some people don't know the importance of AC and WS-type people, so it was a good idea to make the new students meet them and learn what they do. At OS, everyone avoided the office and CA if they could.

Next up was the first panel: "grad school survival and success." Four students, each at different stages of their program, told us their (vastly different) methods for survival and success. Again, these were really nice people who didn't talk to us like we were the scum of the earth or out to fail or anything of the sort. Two of the people were MA students and two were PhD students (one just finished), they each had vastly different personalities, and each of them had something relevant for all of us to take away. It was obvious (to me, anyway!) that the panel was carefully constructed. Additionally, they didn't pull any punches or try to make it seem like our chosen course of study was going to be easy-peasy. They told the truth, including positive and negative aspects of the program, and all with the blessing of NGD who was sitting right there nodding in agreement.

After the panel, and lunch, we all went to the Writing Center. Everyone in the program, MA or PhD, is fully funded. MA students teach five courses over four semesters and PhD students teach ten courses over eight semesters. There is not enough virtual space in the internets to discuss how that just would not work at OS. Wow. Anyway, none of us teach this semester—we learn the ropes (either for the first time or how the ropes are constructed here, as in my case) and teach two courses next semester—but we are responsible for leading at least one section of the companion tutorial group for those in freshman comp who need the extra help [we can sign up to lead more groups, and get paid extra! What a concept!]. So we all hung out and learned about the people and processes in the Writing Center.

That was it for day one, but I want to point out that NGD was with us for each step in this process, on both days. He went with us on all tours and listened to all panels. He was our leader and made sure we didn't get lost, and also made sure that none of us left a panel or tour without having all our questions answered. This constant presence solidified the position he'll hold in our academic lives for the next several years. It helps that he's a really nice guy.

The next day started again with the free food, and three panels were scheduled: grant and research assistance, conferences and funding, and "key dimensions of the MA and PhD programs". The grant and research assistance info was provided by a fellow in the uni's office devoted to grants and what not. He gave us the overview and then talked about grants available for our field, grants available for grad students, and workshops for grad students. He urged us all to register for the free grant writing workshop coming up, etc. The woman who was supposed to talk about conferences and funding didn't make it because she had just gotten back from an overseas trip, but the NGD stepped in and spoke briefly about monies available for conferences and such—regardless of our status as MA or PhD—and said things like "if you know you're going to need $500, tell us in advance and we'll get you $500." I know faculty members who don't have access to travel funds that easily. Sigh.

The "key dimensions of the MA and PhD programs" had the same sort of composition as the "grad school survival and success" panel on the first day (different people, though). Four students with different personalities and at different stages of the MA or PhD programs, who discussed specific tips/emphasized timelines related to the two degree programs. Sure, the basics can be found in the graduate student handbook, but these were real people talking about their own different experiences—that's an important distinction for people who can't just "get" something until they see a real person tell them about it.

After a coffee break, we all went to the computer lab. The department also as a "digital technology and culture" program, and thus also has its own computer lab. Instructors can also reserve a classroom in the lab for "computer day" if need be. The computer lab also happens to be run by two of the ESL and linguistics folks, who also happen to be two-thirds of the foreign language competency committee. So, in addition to learning about things in the computer lab, we also learned things/asked questions about ways to settle the foreign language competency requirement. Again, everyone was nice and helpful and many people walked out less stressed than they went in.

The final event of orientation was the library tour. Not only did we learn the basics (where are the periodicals? how do I copy? where is the microfilm and can we scan to a flash drive instead of printing? etc.) but we met specific people relevant to our type of research—the special collections guy, the reference desk liaison for our department, the instructional librarians who would do the orientations for our comp classes next semester, etc. So helpful. And the librarian was really funny, in that librarian humor sort of way (that I like).

And there you have a brief description of a successful and much appreciated orientation.

There's not a darn thing I couldn't have figured out on my own, and I would have if necessary. I don't have issues navigating around institutions or dealing with requirements or asking questions when I have them—of the staff, the chair, whomever. But a lot of students do. Some students are afraid to ask questions for fear they'll get their heads bitten off or they'll doom their academic careers if the question appears stupid or simplistic. I understand that. I'm not one of those people, but I understand where they're coming from. So, it's important to have an orientation in which a lot of questions are answered, but I think it's more important that the new students see they're in an environment in which questions are okay and people are kind. That's not to say that NGD wouldn't flat out tell a student they're going down the wrong path or setting themselves up for failure or other negative things, it's just that you can tell he'd do it in a helpful and supportive way.

Of course, if you have a department in which the people in positions to help do not or aren't wired in a positive way or if the administration is suspect/crazy, then all bets are off.

At my previous school.....

In the MA program, we did not have an orientation of any kind [I make a distinction here between the MA and MFA programs because the MFA folks had considerably more structure in place.] Then again, given some of the personalities in the department, lack of introductions might have been a good thing!

Ok, no, not really. There was no sense of community, structure, organization, support, etc. However, you could form your own community, build your own structure, and get your own support if you worked for it. I did. Others did. But not many. People go through that program for many different reasons, and very few do so because they want to be scholars. It shows in their interactions with other students and profs, with administration, and with their preparation and level of work in seminars. Because of these factors, I understand how OGC is sort of behind the eight ball regarding implementation of any changes; the first thing that would have to change is the admissions policy. I know that sounds snooty, but I don't mean that everyone should want to go on for a PhD. I simply mean it would be nice if at least half of a cohort had read a few books besides The DaVinci Code and knew, say, one critical perspective. Just one.

Back to the list of things I think OS should have done/should do:

- Have an orientation in which all students: get a copy of the handbook and suggested timelines, meet the staff (crazy or not, they're still the staff) and learn why you'd need to see them, go to the library, meet the folks who teach grad seminars (especially if there are only ten or so who do!), meet some people in the program. You could do that in a single day. Heck, you could do it in five hours.

- Make it a requirement that each student talks to the grad coordinator before beginning the program, and map out a plan. Revisit that plan every semester and adjust accordingly. Short meetings like that won't kill anyone. Some people graduated this year and OGC had never met them, not even once. That isn't right. I place most of the blame on the student, but then some blame on the program for not making it a requirement (and also for admitting people like that in the first place).

- Don't admit seething jackasses to the program. More importantly, if you do admit such people, smack them down when appropriate. That is to say, find a way to keep such people from being the omnipresent negative force in hallways or in classrooms. Even if students want to try to build a community, if the one or two bad apples are always around and are always exerting what they perceive to be their "power" (because faculty lets them get away with being jackasses), students will avoid the department entirely, and some seminars.

- I think the point above would be better written as "have a backbone." Be a guiding force and set an example. Don't let the loudest set the example for people seeking examples, because often the loudest are not the ones who are right. Or even nice. Or even barely tolerable.

- Whatever core courses you have (such as the basic research methods or introduction to being a graduate student courses), make sure they're vaguely similar. I'd say "consistent" but I know that's difficult. I'd settle for vaguely similar. At OS, a different person teaches it every year (typical) and there seem to be no common goals for the course. When I took it, it was a straightforward introduction to research, overview of theoretical perspectives, preparation for seminars kind of course. When Trout took it (his final semester, I might add...that's another thing: make people take it their first semester!), it was course in research for a medievalist who only uses the Stanford library. Nothing against medievalists or the Stanford library, but most people aren't medievalists and OS had a perfectly fine library. This coming semester, it's an entire seminar on grant writing. No one knows why. I'll leave it at that.

- Finally, whatever information you print out and give to people or have on a web site, make sure it's consistent and accurate. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but OS contradicted itself nearly at every turn. Or made things up on a case-by-case basis—often for the better, but not applied to everyone (or at least the info wasn't disseminated to everyone).

Without structure, consistency, and people with backbones, you can't even begin to be efficient and helpful. All you have is a clusterfuck of smart people, and that doesn't help anyone.

I adore many people at OS, was able to tap into the brains of a few spectacular people, and taught a super diverse bunch of students. But I had to work hard to get through the piles of crap to do so. At NS, there isn't much crap. None, so far. Then again, seminars don't start until Monday! But I have a good feeling about it, and relatively little stress.

[Except for the stress I have about not being stressed! The "is this too good to be true?" stress.]

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Friday, August 17, 2007

thank you, jeebus!

From: San Jose State University
Term: Summer 2007
Reason: Graduation Awarded
Department: Graduate Studies & Research

Congratulations! Your master's degree has been officially posted on our records for the term listed above. Your diploma will be mailed to you shortly (if you arranged for an alternate method of delivery this will be done). If you do not receive your diploma after 6 weeks please contact our office.
Some of you may recall that until, oh, a few hours ago, I didn't actually have my MA. Since I couldn't meet the thesis deadline for Spring graduation (April 1st!), I pushed it into the summer (with the blessing of my new school).

Thanks to the help of my wonderful school chum and frequent comment-leaver, Mary, all the administrative crap having to do with my thesis was handled via the post office and her trips to campus. Yay Mary! Yay my thesis committee! Yay me!

Now I can start my PhD program for reals, knowing that the previous degree is actually on my transcript...


my very own LOLcat photo, sans photo

I am not ashamed to admit that I like the LOLcats. I Can Has Cheezburger? is in my feed reader and postings amuse myself to no end.

I've been wanting to take a photo of my younger cat as she sits at the sliding screen door and stares out into the yard all day long. In that yard is a birdfeeder, and at the birdfeeder throughout the day is a flock of finches. By "flock" I mean there are twenty or thirty birds at any given time who live in the trees in my yard and feed at the feeder (and ground below it) en masse.

They also fly away as a flock, and return as a flock. This happens numerous times in the course of the day, and usually happens when I reach for the camera or I make any movement at all. The squirrels don't bother them. The cats at the door don't bother them. I'm the only thing that bothers them (also, when a magpie buzzes the yard, they all skedaddle).

Anyway, picture a little black cat in "pounce" mode, wiggling her little butt and making little chirpy noises while she looks at a flock of little brown birds fifteen feet away. Now say "I can has birdies?" and laugh. I do, every time I turn to the left and see the scene. Cracks me up every time.


random bullets of orientation and stuff

* I'm just happy that we had an orientation. Two, in fact: stuff for the grad school in general and stuff for the department. I went to a few hours of the general grad school orientation; I only needed to get the skinny on health insurance (short answer: I have it and it's free for me) because much of the rest wasn't applicable to me. But the two days of department-specific orientation and free food? pretty darn cool.

* I know the names of just about everyone in my cohort. There are twelve MA students and five PhD folks. Four men (all MA) and thirteen women. The MA folks all appear traditional-aged, so that's what..23? The PhD folks are my age (33) or older, with the exception of one who is of a typical age. In fact, I think I'm the next-youngest of five our of the PhD group. One woman is my mother's age. She's in rhet/comp and did her MA here. She started late because she had to get her nine kids into/through college. Nine. Damn.

* The SJSU English Dept did not have an orientation. I just wrote and erased and wrote and erased several more sentences on the topic. I think I'll just leave it at that. But I will say that every time we did something in orientation here, I'd email Mary (who is still in the program) and Trout (finished) and say things like "you're not going to believe the awesome and efficient thing that was done today!" It's really the little things in life...such as mailboxes...that make a difference.

* So far, no one has been a jerk. Not even remotely. It's a little disconcerting. But cool.

* Cakeloquium. "Because what's better than cake and scholarly presentations? Nothing." so says the pres of the grad org. I concur. I also think it is really funny.

* There's a new students drinking event tonight. It's at 9pm. I'm asleep at 9pm. I think I'll solidify my position as class lame-o early on in my time here.

* I'm just a little bit in love with the writing center here, for a number of reasons. It might have something to do with the fact that it's an established writing center, the people seem great, I can pick up extra money there, and I can do stuff in the summers. No bullshit, no crazy administrative nonsense, the university supports it wholeheartedly...again, so unlike my previous school, the one that didn't have a writing center until a semester ago.

* Nice library. Really funny librarian. I was one of the only people who laughed at the librarian humor, but it was really funny...

* Classes start on Monday. I just can't wait.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

why i love mccovey chronicles, part 5748

This will be of no interest to any of you unless you're into baseball, reading about baseball, and/or the SF Giants. I think that excludes just about all of you!

Anyway, McCovey Chronicles is a group blog/online community that discusses any and all things Giants-related. It's part of the Sports Nation network, so there's probably a similar blog for your favorite team.

What makes reading McCC a bright spot in my day? The people. The Man in Charge is a talented fellow named Grant; I thought highly of him even before I knew he went back to school for creative writing at my alma mater. I've probably walked by him in the halls and never knew it. Go Spartans! But the community of people who comment on posts is just top-notch. Geeky. Nerdy. Pretty darn smart. For instance, the comments on a totally innocuous post about a draft pick finally signing with the team turned into a 70+ entry thread of puns on players' names from the minor league system.

It's one of those "had to be there" moments, I'm sure. I'm just saying that it's a welcome change from the typical juvenile comments that litter so many sports sites (have you ever seen the ESPN forums? talk about wanting to spork your eyes out. gah.).


Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Dear, dear Karen. Hie thee to The Simpsons Movie. It's a riff on the Spiderman theme.

Here we have the snip from the movie (don't know how long this will stay on YouTube...):

Hans Zimmer then arranges the Spider-Pig diddy and it makes several appearances throughout the movie. In this clip (again, don't know how long it will stay on YouTube), an enterprising person "added some pictures so it's not just a minute of black nothingness":

It'll stick with you...


Sunday, August 12, 2007

finally got rid of that stinking houseguest...

...I kid! I kid! She's not stinky. Sure, she puts the paper towels upside down on the roll, but no one's perfect.

My school chum Mary came up here for some R&R before the semester starts for all of us. She confirms that people here are friendly and folks in administrative positions are shockingly efficient, and that this is a relaxing place to live.

We drove around a bunch, walked around in nature, saw fourteen deer in one day, ate a lot of food (unrelated to the deer), saw The Simpsons Movie (second time for both of us), sang "Spider-Pig" a lot because good luck getting it out of your head once it's stuck there, went to the market and bought artisan soap (among other things), looked over her syllabus (first! one! ever!) and futzed with the schedule, and drank a lot of coffee. My skittish cat was very brave and at one point even let Mary pet her!

In all our traipsing around, we narrowly avoided several accidents and wildfires. One day, we were coming back from Palouse Falls and had to be back at a specific time (a work thing). Found out a few hours later that we made it through the one main road just before an accident+grass fire shut down that road into town. One day, we were diverted on the main road to Moscow because a grain silo was in the process of burning to the ground. On the way to Spokane, three grass fires were burning just a few miles from where we had been the previous day. And I thought California had its issues! It really needs to rain. It has rained all of thirty drops or so since I've been here, and I've been here for six weeks.

Next week is filled with orientation stuff for me, and then classes start the following week. It'll be good to get back into the student groove!


Monday, August 6, 2007

Facebook, BusinessWeek, and "old people"

When a link to BusinessWeek's "Fogeys Flock to Facebook" article popped up in my GMail Web Clips, I immediately thought, "Great! Big-time press picked up on a conversation started last week by some really smart bloggers I like."

To wit (small link roundup copied shamelessly from Liz Ditz):
* Freydblog: elder hate groups on facebook
* Ronni Bennett: Facebook=Elder Hatebook and Facebook/Hatebook Responses
* Karoli: Facebook's Ugly Underbelly
* Shelley Powers: The Ugly Face of Facebook

There are plenty of good comments and links to other blog posts within the links listed above. I'll summarize the issue, but urge you to take a gander for yourself (or see the post by Grace Davis) if you're at all interested in this: there are a considerable number of Facebook groups with names like "Asking old people for a quarter then throwing it in there [sic] face..hahaha!" and "I Hate Old People" and "I don't wanna be Facebook friends with senior citizens!" and so on and so forth. In some instances and to some of these Facebookians, "senior citizens" seems to mean "people over 30," which of course hits a little too close to home. But that's not the point. The main point was about turning hate and rage toward the older set, wondering where it comes from, and more importantly wondering why it even exists given Facebook's anti-hate terms of service.

However, the [big] question discussed above is not at all the subject of the BusinessWeek article. Instead, we have this:
Lately, an influx of older users—professionals their 30s and 40s, many in high-tech—is changing the face of Facebook. Among Silicon Valley executives, journalists, and publicists, Facebook has become the place to see and be seen. And it's not just tech. Consulting company Ernst & Young's Facebook network boasts 16,000 members, Citigroup's (C) claims nearly 8,500.

Factor in plans by Microsoft (MSFT), Facebook's biggest business partner, to help turn the site into a tool for making professional connections, and the Palo Alto (Calif.) Internet company could be on the cusp of expanding its already impressive advertising roster, increasing its value as a buyout target or initial public offering candidate, and challenging professional-networking site LinkedIn as the go-to nexus for recruiters and investors.
The article goes on to provide plenty of good numbers regarding the profiles of new users, and basically asks what Facebook brings to the table for "the long-in-the-tooth crowd."

As a Facebook user [You can friend me if you want using my first name underscore my last name at], and as someone "long-in-the-tooth" relative to my students, I can say that Facebook already brings plenty to the table for me. I use it as an address book, a may to make connections, and a way to keep up with people I care about. I don't have eighty-seven million friends—that would defeat the purpose. Facebook isn't MySpace. [Insert entirely different ongoing discussion and just go over to danah boyd's blog and read her works-in-progress or browse her bibliographies.]

Back to the article. Numbers blah blah, advertisers blah blah, third-party app development blah blah, market value billions blah blah.

And one bland sentence about what I hoped the article was about:
Some college-age kids see the influx of users old enough to be their parents as an affront.
The information contained within the BusinessWeek article shows there's something to the connection between Facebook, "long-in-the-tooth" users, revenue, and ultimate market value. Given that, it would behoove Facebook to visit the question posed by the esteemed bloggers linked to at the beginning of this post: what's up with the hate? Successful online communities have community managers; perhaps Facebook should find a few among the 33 million people hanging out poking each other online.


Chart of Presidential Candidates' Positions

Via Boing Boing: A Quick & Easy Chart of Presidential Candidates' Positions, followed by a link to a questionnaire that helps you find your ideal candidate. Of course, this is a pure numbers game and doesn't take into consideration the vast gray areas and incremental weighting of issues that actual humans do when making decisions.

It definitely produces a quick and easy guideline, although anyone who can answer the questionnaire for themselves probably already has an idea in their head about who they're going to vote for in the primary.

My results follow [more points = more agreement].

Kucinich [D] 49
Gravel [D] 42
Obama [D] 34
Edwards [D] 31
Clinton [D] 31
Richardson [D] 30
Dodd [D] 28
Biden [D] 27
Paul [R] -1
Giuliani [R] -4
McCain [R] -11
Thompson [R] -16
Cox [R] -21
Brownback [R] -29
Huckabee [R] -35
Tancredo [R] -41
Romney [R] -42
Hunter [R] -46

Color me unsurprised on my personal results. What is surprising, to both me and the site creator, is the overall Kucinich results:
You would probably be interested to know that Kucinich has been the first choice of 37813 people (out of 70791). That wasn't my intention or expectation when making this site, but it is certainly interesting.
Expect the numbers to skew as more people use it (it has been BoingBoinged, after all. Keep track of the stats here.


Sunday, August 5, 2007

random bullets of catching up

* Always keep multiple copies of documents, especially documents in progress. I normally do, and by "normally" I mean I can't remember a time when I didn't do it. The last large document I worked on (my thesis) could be found in four or five different directories and backup drives. However, I've been working on an instructions document for the last few weeks, one related to my job (such that if an emergency issue came up and I wasn't around, since I'm technically a contractor and not an employee anymore, my boss or other boss could do it). It was very long, upwards of 100 pages and not quite finished. I woke up one morning, ready to finish it and hand it over, and *poof* ... corrupt echo of a file. Gone. I have to recreate it (and it will be shorter!) because I was a complete idiot and didn't have a backup...for once.

* I consider the above to be a smack upside the head from the universe, reminding me not to have too much of a blasé attitude about said job. Not that I would, really, although it's tempting...hence the smack upside the head from the universe, reminding me that those two people are dear friends and not to be a jackass. Duly noted.

* I finally went over to the English Dept. and met the grad director. I'd only ever spoken to him on the phone and in e-mail. What a lovely fellow (although I knew that from the phone and e-mail). We talked for an hour or so. Orientation is in ten days and I'll meet more people at that time.

* There are 17 new students this fall: 12 MA students and 5 PhD students. One of the other PhD students took the detour track like I did, only her career was in finance or something like that while mine was computer stuff. I think she's a year older than me, even (I'll be 34 in December, if anyone is keeping track). But I'll meet everyone at orientation.

* I registered for classes ages ago, and have all my books. I even started reading, like a dutiful student.

* Although I cleared my language requirement for my MA via exam (French), I'm taking a sort of easy way out with my language requirements here (with the blessing of the grad director, whose idea it was). I could have continued on in French and taken an advanced exam, or I could have picked up a second language via coursework up to the intermediate level, or I could take the only one-semester advanced reading course they have here, in a language unrelated to my sub-field, and just be done with the requirement now. I chose the latter. Unfortunately for me, there is no one-semester advanced reading course in German, which is the language I really wanted to pick up. So, this semester I'll clear my language Spanish. I lived in East San Jose for several years, so I actually know more vocabulary that I thought (I took a sort of pre-test) and my French background makes the syntax a breeze.

* I joined a gym and have gone regularly for the past two weeks. Although I am very fat and out-of-shape, I actually have a great deal of knowledge in things gym-related (long story, not necessarily a good one). So when one of the trainers was staring at me one day and I finally said "what?!?," he said (incredulously) that my form was really good. As if a fat and out-of-shape person couldn't have good form. I briefly mentioned I was taught technique by a really hardcore trainer who was a stickler for elbows at right angles and so on. The trainer wasn't a jerk or anything, but I guess he's used to seeing floppy-armed people or something.

* I like the gym. It's a brand new Snap Fitness, open 24x7, and is low-traffic. It's not a meat market or anything of that sort (those people go to the campus facilities!). A fair number of senior citizens are there in the mornings, the owners are nice, and the vending machine is only $1 even for Gatorade. Yay! No need to carry quarters!

* I do a treadmill workout (bleh cardio bleh bleh) and then the complete circuit of Cybex machines. I always do 3 sets of 12 on every machine, which is a typical circuit workout. I really don't understand the people who go to the machines and do 1 "set" of 5 or 6 and then move on to the next machine. Yes, I know the difference between sets for strength and sets for toning, but these people just sit down, push a few things around, and the move on. They'd get more of a workout with a stretching sequence than from what they're actually doing. I try to find rhyme or reason to it, but I can't. Then again, they probably think I'm a freak with my consistent 3 sets of 12, so it's a wash.

* My school chum Mary is coming up here from Tues til Fri and we're going to explore all sorts of nature things. She wants to see Palouse Falls, so be prepared for another rattlesnake story. Her loser husband (just kidding! he's great) didn't get vacation time off work so she's leaving him at home. I haven't broken the news to my skittish kitty that someone else will be in the house. It'll rock her world, but she'll get over it. Maybe the draw of the birdies and squirrels in the yard will outweigh her fear of people-who-aren't-me. We'll see.

* Condo has not sold yet. It's stressful. I know it will sell and for a decent price, but I'd prefer it do so now.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

really good risotto. must love beets.

Beet and Beet Greens Risotto with Red Wine
Originally uploaded by peskymac.
Mac first mentioned this recipe in passing and then went ahead and made it, with great success. I love beets. Love love love them. I also love risotto. It seemed like the perfect recipe, but I was scared. What if it sucked? Would I lose my love for beets? Or, god forbid, risotto??

So I decided to wait until Mac made it. She did, and took the photo you see in this post. I then decided it was so pretty that I just had to make it. I went to the farmer's market this past Saturday and bought some beets—hefty beets with lovely greens attached, just out of the ground, so much better than the wee little beets with the wilted greens that I see in the grocery stores.

I made the dish. It had an incredible smell as it was cooking that I was willing it to be done so I could finally have some. When I did, I was surprised—I didn't know beet stems and greens were so tasty! The little dollop of horseradish really makes the dish work. It would be just fine without it (all beety and such), but the horseradish kick, when worked into the rest of the dish, really brings forth the taste of the individual components. Mmmm mmm good.

Must like beets.