Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Migraines anyone?

Any advice for a migraine sufferer? It's Wednesday, so I have a migraine. This usually lasts two days, so both Wednesday and Thursday I'm barely functioning. I'm trying to grade papers, but the student's grades are suffering. I have a good 10-12 hours of work to do tomorrow, including running around from place to place...

9-12 presentation on campus
1-2:30 meeting at advisor's house
3-5 meeting in neighboring city
5-6 lead discussion section
6-7:30 attend lecture
(There are also ~25 papers that need grading by Friday morning.)

All that and a migraine sounds like hell. I'm frustrated because I keep trying to do less and yet my schedule doesn't seem to get better.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

holiday illnesses

Dr. Free-Ride has a post Thanksgiving cold. I'm convinced that she's not the only one. I frequently get sick during school breaks, weekends, or vacations. Neither Beorn nor I were sick during the break, but by Monday morning he was definitely sick and now I'm starting to feel it. Here's my explanation for the phenomenon...During times of stress your immune system is on overdrive. When that stress lets up, your immune function drops.


Why do celebrities get to do random fun stuff?

Last night I watched a nature program narrated by Robin Williams about dolphins. Basically it was an hour of Robin Williams playing with both captive and wild dolphins. I'm so jealous.

Over the weekend I discovered this podcast series, created by Daryl Hannah. The topic? Looks like all things crunchy: mushrooms, green building, hemp. Again, why don't I get to spend my life making movies about interesting, eclectic topics?

What am I doing tonight? Grading papers.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Meme about a researcher studying memes!

Check out this study and then add a link to your blog.


Mixed Results

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

You're probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people's grammatical mistakes make you insane.

Dedicated Reader

Literate Good Citizen

Book Snob

Fad Reader


What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Found this quiz on What the hell is wrong with you? My results flatter me and yet give me a little impostor syndrome. I certainly aspire to be one of the literati but often feel I have missed out on reading important works of literature. It's true that my students grammatical errors irritate me, yet I'm not really in a position to criticize since I'm constantly making small, yet simple, grammar and spelling errors. The previous sentence probably contains one or two.


Hibernation in Grading Jail

The hibernation began during the thanksgiving break because of my angst about family issues. At the moment I'm very conflicted about spending time with my extended family and it's adding to my stress levels. Additionally, I'm looking forward to the last few weeks of the quarter being miserable as usual. The end of every quarter is stressful but it seems like winter quarter is always the worst. Unlike Limon de Campo, I managed to ignore my work over the break, although this did little to relax me.

Thursday we spent with friends despite my father's appeals to familial obligation. Friday I went bird watching with my mom. This part of the country has lots of winter wetland birds. Unfortunately, neither of us are serious bird watchers, so we went without a set of binoculars which made it difficult to see the birds. I believe ours were lost last year when Beorn's car was stolen, but maybe they were just misplaced in the move. Saturday and Sunday Beorn and I hid out at home, trying to figure out what to do with ourselves now that we have given up WOW.

This happened only a couple of weeks ago and already Beorn is surfing gaming websites for new MMORPGs. I'm trying to encourage him to explore what real life activities he might enjoy. For example Saturday night, under Beorn's lead, we made a huge pot of apple-persimmon chutney. There is a persimmon tree outside our house and we don't like to eat them fresh that much. They are perfectly good, we just aren't used to them. The chutney turned out well and we'll probably can a bunch of it to give as gifts.

This isn't our persimmon, but it looks similar. Isn't it pretty? The fruit stays on the tree after the leaves have fallen. I stole the picture off of Krista's website. Krista is my favorite female weightlifter and feminist scholar, if you haven't ever seen her website you should check it out. She gives tons of practical down to earth advice about weightlifting and exercise. I read it whenever I'm trying to get inspired.

]Now that the break is over I'm back to being overwhelmed by grading, the writing assignments for my class, and dealing with field work (focus groups, meetings, etc.) I'm always fearful that I'll forget some important and everyone will know what a flake I am, which will somehow ruin my career and my life. (The truth is everyone probably already knows what a flake I am.) I'm only writing a blog post to avoid grading. The sci-fi papers aren't as bad as I expected so far. Now I have to apologize to Trillwing for being so whiny about the assignment.

I am looking forward to the end of the quarter, but these last few weeks always seem to linger. It seems that grading continues practically till Christmas, even though finals are over a week before. Between grading, finishing my own assignments and preparing for Christmas I always feel completely exausted and burnt out, which makes me a complete grinch. So I'm trying to work out a plan to relieve my stress and reduce my grinchiness. I like Chris Brogan's idea for exchanging little holiday packages. I'm working on my package wish list.


Sunday, November 26, 2006


I created a new avatar for myself because my cute little kitty photo was so small that it was difficult to even see the kitties. I'm not sure I like it though, the cartoon face is so big eyed and pouty mouthed that it doesn't feel right to me. Her hair is doing what I wish my hair would do though. Maybe if I make a less realistic avatar I'll be more satisfied.

In my view there are three basic strategies for creating avatars.
1. An avatar that closely resembles your own physical appearance, or your idealized physical appearance.
2. An avatar that reflects your inner self. This type of avatar doesn't need to resemble your physical body at all, its characteristics are based solely on the inner qualities you feel you possess.
3. The third type of avatar reflects your shadow self. This is the avatar that allows you to possess all the characteristics that you think you don't have and to act in all the ways that you wouldn't let yourself act in real life.

My new avatar fits into the first category or maybe category one and a little of category two, which is what makes it not very satisfying. The choices given to my by the doll making website didn't result in an avatar that closely resembles me or even an idealized version of me.

(Anyone know of published writings on avatars? I want to read up on the subject if I get a chance.)


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Knitting Fun

pink scarf
Originally uploaded by breenaronan.

I always get more crafty as the holidays get closer. Knitting relaxes me as long as I have a simple pattern. It has to be rhythmic and easy to remember.


Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books Meme

Yonmei of Feminist SF commented on the 50 most significant The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953-2002. She cut down the list from fifty to nineteen and then added her own favorites. My knowledge of sci-fi and fantasy is very spotty, but here's my version...
Bold: unread, Italic: on to-be-read pile

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. The Earthsea trilogy, Ursula K. Le Guin
4. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
5. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
6. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
7. The Caves of Steel/The Naked Sun, Isaac Asimov
8. The Discworld series, Terry Pratchett
9. The Harry Potter septology, J.K. Rowling
10. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
11. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
12. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
13. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
14. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
15. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
16. Interview with the Vampire/The Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice
17. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
18. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
19. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein

I would add to the list:
Dune, Frank Herbert
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes
The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Dark Is Rising Series, Susan Cooper
The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S.Lewis
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle
The Phantom Tollbooth, N. Juster
Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson and Donna Diamond
His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, Spider Robinson

To be fair, these books are particularly significant, they are just ones that made an impression on me, most of them I read as a kid.

If you have recommendations, add your comment.


Create a Bibliography on Foxfire

I love foxfire extensions and my new favorite is Zotero. It allows you to save the bibliographic information for books and articles directly in Foxfire. I found it by reading Geeky Mom's blog where Mr. P posted a comment mentioning it.

I have been using Endnote to organize my bibliographies, which is great, but while it's easy to save article information from academic databases, it's not so easy to download books or articles found on the web.

Now if I can just figure out how to link the two together I would be in bibliographic heaven.


Kids and Cats

The comments over at Bitch Ph.D. are hilarious. People who have children are actually comparing their children to cats.

"If it's not the kids it's the damn cat, who is at least portable. Ever tried to walk around with forty pounds of kid draped over your forearm?
As a matter of fact, children seem to be the larger version of the cat that won't get off your pillow, and you really can't just sling them onto the floor. They're much too heavy and you will sprain your arm."-


Friday, November 17, 2006!

I had the weirdest interaction with my discussion session today. For some reason when I tried to discuss fire ecology with them, a couple of people started giggling. I only got a few more sentences out when the giggling spread to more people.

I haven't had problems with giggling before and the only thing I could think of was that someone was amused by the way I said the word "fire." You might remember the way Beavis, ala "Beavis and Butthead" used to say "," in that weird way. I have a friend that for some reason does Beavis and Butthead imitations sometimes, so that's what came to my mind.

So I tried asking the students what was so funny, not it an accusing way, but simply that they might want to share so that we could all have a laugh and then move on with the discussion. Of course I didn't say anything so clear to them, I just sort of asked what the giggling was about. They didn't want to say anything as they were trying to stifle it. So I just moved on to a new topic, but I felt like someone who discovers that her fly is down in the middle of an oral report. I had discussed the topic with my other two discussion sections without any giggling, so I don't know what the problem was.

The truth is that I'm never sure how discussion groups are going, especially since lectures for this class have been so scattered and confusing. I'm spending some of the discussion session trying to provide students with a framework for fitting together so many disparate lecture topics. I haven't put much effort into discussing the readings because they don't fit very closely with the lectures and so I'm not always sure how to put everything together. Most of my effort has been put into giving the students some direction and help with the assignments. It's really difficult to set up any real discussion when most students don't attend lecture and don't do the readings. Although the lecturer keeps on trying to require them to draw on the themes from the lectures and the readings in their assignments, there really is no way for them to make a direct connection since the first assignment was an autobiography and the second was a creative writing assignment.

I'm so ready for this class to be over.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Putting my Eggs in Too Many Baskets?

At the moment I seem to be trying to write my masters thesis, find people to be on my committee, and figure out all the paper work to graduate while simultaneously writing a dissertation proposal, finding funding for the dissertation research, finding a site for the research, and on and on. Am I crazy? I'm starting to think that I am because I don't seem to be making progress on any of it. I also have a 50% time TA position and my own coursework.

I thought I was simplifying my life, trying to do less, and concentrate on what I really want to get done, but the minute I try simplify some crazy part of my unconscious convinces me to take on a bunch of extra things. I really want to get started on my dissertation research, but I know that it will take a while to get funding, so I need to write the proposal and submit it to possible funders. Unfortunately, I don't feel at all confident that I'll get much help from my advisor. So far papers and proposals submitted to her have resulted it a few verbal comments and nothing in writing. Isn't that weird? She's always friendly and generally supportive, but it's difficult to get any real feedback from her.

On the positive side, she recently said she might "use" some of the concepts from the paper I submitted to her last spring in an article she is writing for submission. The question is, what does that mean? Based on our conversations I suspect that she hasn't read much of the recent research that I was reviewing in my paper. Should I have to specifically ask for written comments? If feel like I could write up a thesis and get it approved without any substantive feedback and graduate without learning a thing.

Unrelated to my academic anxieties, Beorn decided to make hot sauce from scratch in our kitchen tonight. He blended everything up in the food processor and then put the resulting mixture on the stove, so now my lungs and eyes are stinging and I feel slightly sick to my stomach.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Memorizing students

I have 60+ students this quarter between my three discussion section. It's now week six of the quarter and I still only know a few student's names. I always have trouble memorizing the student's names, so this quarter I made a special effort. I took notes while everyone was introducing themselves the first week. I looked at people's pictures on facebook. I take attendance every week and try to match names and faces. It's getting embarrassing. I'm starting to want to explain to students that I have memory issues and I really am trying to learn their names. Maybe next quarter I need to take pictures of everyone and make student photo flash cards.

Also, I have a terrible time pronouncing unfamiliar Asian names. I normally spell everything phonetically and sound out unfamiliar words. It's like I have some sort of learning disability. I'm spelling challenged in English and have no experience with Asian languages.

I think I have to search the internet for advice, because I'm just culturally illiterate.

Then I'm extra confused because those same students sometimes want to be called by their American nick-names. The other day one of my students came up to me and asked for her paper, then she said, "Can I have my friend's paper too?"
So I said, "Sure what's your friend's name?"
"Jason," then continued, "Oh, it's something like, "xxxxx."

I don't like it when my pagan friends decide everyone has to call them by a special, magical name and suddenly I have to keep track of two different names for each person. I'm much more sympathetic when I comes to people Americanizing their names, because my RL name is very long and difficult. I can understand why someone might want to just have a name that everyone around them can pronounce, but it doesn't make it easy for me and my memory problems.

Remembering everyone's names seems important to me, a sign that I care about and respect my students. Constantly mispronouncing or forgetting their names makes me sad.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Oh to have my own class

I just got an email from a student with a paper draft, but unfortunately, this student completely misunderstood the prompt. As a TA, I didn't write the assignment prompt and I spent the entire discussion session trying to clarify it for the students. I went over what I was expecting and had them discuss, in groups, what they are planning to write about. I even tried to give examples. Unfortunately, I think I'm going to get quite a few papers that are completely confused.

I asked the lecturer to create some sort of grading rubric for the assignment so that I could let the students know how we would be grading it, but he never did. I think each TA is interpreting the assignment in our own way since the prompt was very vague. I have had to try to give the students some structure and direction because the assignment was so vague. Frankly, at this point I would rather just decide for myself how to grade them. If he creates a rubric after they have turned it in it will just be confusing and unfair to the students.

If the students misunderstand the assignment and write a good research paper instead, what should I do? Normally I would give a D or F if the student didn't put in enough effort to thoroughly read the assignment. But if the assignment is completely confusing and unreasonable for a lower division, general education class, then how fair is it to penalize a student who made a genuine effort?

Maybe I'm just a big softy, but I don't expect freshman to automatically know what modernism and postmodernism are or what geomorphology means. Should freshman already know those things? Because I sure didn't when I was a freshman. I guess I should take a positive outlook on this class, because the lectures are completely post modern: it's a collage, a montage, or some sort of performance art.


Monday, November 06, 2006

On Writing and Tenure

UCLA Professor, Ann Forsyth writes on writing, publishing, and tenure. She's a prof. in planning, but I think many of her comments are relevent to various fields. I'm at the very beginning of exploring the process of academic writing, so I'm just looking to get anything at all on my CV, but strategy is important.

Urban Planning Research: Forsyth, On Writing and Tenure


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Trampline Simon

A new twist on active gaming...Junkyard Sports: The Blog: Trampline Simon

Tags: ,


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Immaturity Levels Rising

Discovery Channel :: Serious Study: Immaturity Levels Rising All I can say is REALLY?!? I have been meaning to post this for a while, it comes to me via A Distant Soil.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Online Microloans

Last night I watched Frontline. The first piece was on human rights abuse in Burma. Luckily, to counteract the depression they then showed a piece on a new microlending non-profit. Uganda - A Little Goes A Long Way .
The idea is to put up people's microloan applications on the web and allow individuals to loan out small amounts to a specific person and business. It's so simple and beautiful that I can't believe it hasn't been done before. It's really exciting to see the positive ways that technology can make an impact. If I had any money I would be donating right now. The non-profit is called KIVA. Their server is overwhelmed at the moment, but you can donate money to buy a new one.


Turn Your iPod into the Ultimate PowerPoint Accessory

I want this!!! Micro Persuasion: Turn Your iPod into the Ultimate PowerPoint Accessory"

Beorn is a computer geek exstordinare but since we are both students we are poor. This quarter the landscape class has been very scattered. The new lecturer is all over the place and he shows very few slides. To me showing slides of landscapes and talking about them is central to this class. So I keep on wanting to show slides and video clips during my discussion section. If I could I would spend all my discussions visiting various landscapes, but I only have 50 minutes and the campus has a limited number of interesting landscapes.

The point of this story is that my laptop was super old. It was heavy and almost too slow to actually show powerpoint. Then two weeks ago it died in the middle of a discussion section. Last week I managed to just discuss with no media crutch, but this week I really want to show some clips and slides. So I have to borrow a laptop from Beorn or the department if I can manage to find the I.T. guy.

I don't really have the money for a new laptop and I don't really want one anyway. As a grad student I have access to multiple public and semi-private computers on campus. Why would I want to carry around a laptop? Too bad my palm pilot or my thumb-drive can't show video clips or powerpoint, but Beorn pointed out that a video i-pod can. $200 doesn't seem too bad, but really why can't they outfit the classroom media stations with enough of a hard drive to play this stuff?