Saturday, December 15, 2012
It's seems the ultimate hubris. In some real way I can't forgive the shooter of 20 innocent children and 6 adults including his mother. Nevertheless, I do. Let me tell you how I get the nerve.
Adam Lanza is my enemy. He is the embodiment of evil and it's none too hard to imagine that he might just have well have killed my beautiful child, or the love of my life; herself a teacher. There is no language strong enough to tell you how much I abhor what Adam has done, and I feel the HATRED that would swallow us all.
But I believe that my abhoration for this act of evil; this travesty, is no smaller than the abhoration that God has for all our many sins, as individuals and as a society; and it must be ESPECIALLY acute knowing that he sent his son who SACRIFICED himself for all of us.
So, the forgiveness that I've received is the forgiveness that I extend.
It's too late for Adam. Adam is dead and we must tend to the living and the grieving. It is right and it is just to do so. It is critical to do so. It is critical to count what we've lost, what we are still losing day to day, and to think how we can make it better; a little at a time.
But I feel a deep sadness. I feel the sadness for everyone whom I've ignored and I haven't done everything I could to reach out to. I'm sad for the suffering, I'm sad for the sick, I'm sad for the downtrodden, the abused, and the used.
We need healing in our society, so let it start with me. Dear Lord, as you welcome the innocent into heaven and judge the guilty, here is my prayer; forgive me for the selfish times when I've put myself first, and continue to send me occasions in which my actions, my care and my compassion can make a difference. I want to be last and least. Let me live for the well-being of others, and in the example of Jesus. Amen.
Monday, December 3, 2012
Saturday, September 1, 2012
The two so often seem at odds when I reflect back.
Here's what an old friend of mine said on Facebook after Auburn University lost a close one to Clemson and Alabama annihilated Michigan tonight:
"F*** Alabama!" (The original was not censored.)
Here's what I wanted to say:
"Awe, how are those grapes? A little sour I guess. Well, perhaps Auburn could borrow one of our four top-notch running backs. Nah, on second thought, we're using them ALL."
I managed, instead to say:
"Heh. Music to my ears."
I should have said, well, nothing at all.
I'm not writing this blog post TO that person. I think it's best just to let it go; but if they follow the link over here, so be it.
I felt really bad... feel really bad about the oaks at Toomer's Corner. I do. That was abhorrent behavior; beyond abhorrent. AND, the cringe inducing (for me, anyway) sign at ESPN College Gameday this morning making fun of the incident was even more abhorant and damning. I've seen Alabama fans act like fools SO many times. I grew up on the other side of this argument, as an Auburn fan. I've been there. I don't largely like Alabama fans. But I'm here to tell you that no fan base in the SEC is above reproach even if each one thinks it is. And, even if one or the other fan bases is "worse" than any other, a claim I find dubious in the extreme, the way that each fan base rationalizes their horrible behavior by pointing to how badly they themselves have been treated self-nullifies the claim of moral superiority.
Hatred is bad people. Grudges are worse, and worse of all are the grudges for entire institutions and people groups, blindly applied.
I'm pretty sure football is bad for people. I'm pretty sure I can't stop loving it.
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Unfortunately, Facebook didn't work as a palliative this time. The issue has gotten under my skin and I need to "scratch", if you will. So, I've come here to do it.
The State of Louisiana, under Governor Bobby Jindal, has decided that it's basically going to outsource (probably I should say, privatize) it's education system, at least in part, via the largest school voucher system in America.
Let me start by saying I think you should be able to school your children in the way that seems fit to you. For one, I believe in competition as a driving force for improvement. Let me then say, I think it's obvious that you should want to have your children in public school.
Let me explain. I often go to de Tocqueville because I believe he put it best when he argued that in a democracy, the people get ONLY the government that they deserve. It's in the best interest of all it citizens that the country's young people, inexorably marching toward voting age, become educated, capable (in academia, the arts, etc.), and most of all, discerning. (Incidentally, that's also what's best for the children themselves. ) You don't want idiots for citizens because idiots deserve an idiot government. In short, as goes the education system, and in particular, as goes the public education system, so goes the democracy.
The public education system works best when all of the citizens and their children (such as they have any) are invested co-partners.
Vouchers are harmful to this system, because they lure away capable students, and they draw money away from the public education system itself. Period. Full stop.
They are most dreadfully harmful, as is the case with Louisiana, when they are directed away from the public school system, whose goal should always be to produce well-educated, discerning students, to institutions who make no pretence about being anything but driven by this or that demagoguery. (Incidentally, I understand, better than most readers of this blog, the short-comings of the current public education system; more bogged down and nearly drowning in bureaucratically motivated testing for testings' sake than it is interested in fulfilling it's purpose. After all, I deal with college freshman every year. But again, how are vouchers supposed to make the system better? How is leaving the system, giving up, supposed to make it better?).
Louisiana tax dollars are going to institutions that have bought so called "text books" that are just plain shameful. This link does a good job of giving you the rundown: here. How can it be in the best interest of the citizens of Louisiana (or of the Unites States for that matter) for their future citizens to be thus wilfully misinformed?
I'm a Christian. I understand that, even though I believe that I experience a personal relationship with a living God, their is an inherent element of faith that I must possess in that. I also understand that that last sentence sounds like utter nonsense to my readers and friends who aren't Christian and who not only think that I don't have a relationship with God, but also that there is no God and that I'm just deluding myself. I accept that. I accept it, even as I hope you might one day come around to seeing things my way. There is room for respect for each others beliefs. But what there is not is room for the denial of evidence based facts to fit a dogma that is laughably conflated with religion. It's not what Christians are called to do, and it's not what Christ did. It's just plain dangerous. It's dangerous to our very democracy, our very ability to worship (or not) however we choose.
The most common thing you hear about vouchers is when parents say, 'well, I'm glad we live in a free country where I can choose to school my child wherever and however I want. I like vouchers because it means we won't have to pay for school twice.'
I'm glad we live in a free country too. I wouldn't think I'd have to say that, but you seem to think I'm against personal liberty somehow. I'm not. But, as to the part about vouchers just meaning you won't have to pay twice, wrong.
You don't have any more argument there than would a person who has no children, or one whose children are grown. You and them and I have something in common. We're not paying taxes for our children to go to school, we're paying for EVERYONE'S children to go to school, because it's in our best interest that they do.
So, if you want a refund, fine. The best you could possibly argue for would be to take the pittance of your total taxes that actually goes to education, divide it by the number of children in public school, and then you may have the sad amount that you paid for your own child. Hardly worth it I'd say.
(As an aside, note that this is very different than what vouchers actually accomplish, where effectively state governments like Louisiana's are subsidising private institutions so that those institutions can lower their tuition costs, effectively outsourcing education whole cloth.)
There's a reason why private school is so expensive. No one in their right mind who isn't wholly committed to making a real difference for our future society would go into public education as a career. By in large the teachers who work with our children in the public system are getting used and abused and they know it, and they come to work and do their dead level best anyway. In my book, that's the first step to sainthood. How does starving an already under-funded future help? Not only that, but it's wrong to abuse such a group of people just because despite the enormous amount of lip-service we pay to the need for better education, what we really mean is better education for me and mine alone and I'd really like to spend as much of our money somewhere else as we can.
So, send your children to private school if you must. (There's probably a whole other post in me about how for the life of me I don't see the benefit of a non-public education over a public one, but it's late and I'm tired). I know and like a lot of well meaning people who do just that. But, if you do I think you're making a mistake; for all of us. What's more, it shouldn't even be an issue where the government collected taxes ought to rightly go.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
But that's just it. We are forced to think about it. Why ARE there three (or sometimes four) sizes to choose from. Am I supposed to worry about value? I'm paying about a 200% markup for soda regardless. What does it MEAN to me and to others around me if I choose one size over the other. How thirsty AM I? Well, I'm thirsty til I'm not... so...
Effectively, when you're driving, the cup is a distraction. Additionally, no matter how much drink you have, you will be thirsty again. So you always have simultaneously too much and too little to drink.
And the kicker, for me at least, is that when the drive-through speaker blares back at you asking what size drink you would like, the options are meaningless. What size is "small"? How does "medium" differ from "small", aside from the obvious. What's the next size after "medium". In fact, what even is the WORD for the next size after "medium"? There's no standardization, not even lexically, much less in terms of actual quantifiability.
People like options. But cup size is a difference that doesn't make one. It's variety theatre instead of variety in actuality, and I'd actually rather not be asked what size I'd like.
I've developed a trick to expedite having to deal with the meaningless decision of deciding on cup size. It's a trick that leverages the built in ambiguity of semantics.
"What size drink would you like?'
"I'll have regular."
This almost always works. What's "regular" you might ask? Well, occasionally the establishment might actually have a "regular" size, but even if they don't, WHO CARES!? The employee likely has an idea what "regular" is, and that's perfectly acceptable to me.
But today, at Sonic, the drive through operator, after I told her I wanted "regular" came back with, "We have small, medium, large and route 44 sizes, sir." Really? Are THOSE the sizes you have? Well that's fascinating! I'll take "regular" please. But no. My bluff had been called, and I was forced to make an actual choice. I went with "medium".
Then, we we get to the window, Tabitha's drink comes through the window first, and it's completely devoid of ice. When next the window opened, out flung my beverage, and in mid sentence I was cut off with the slamming window as she went to force the next customer to choose a cup size.
We waited. When the window opened up we asked for a cup of ice. The window closed, again. In the mean time, we noticed I had not been allotted a straw. The window opened again and out flew another cup. With an urgency in our request we managed to keep the window from slamming again, barely, before closing without our request being registered. The look we received... the contempt in the eye-roll... the aggravation with us, the oh-so-troubling customers. Well, I didn't like it. Not. At. All.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
(Incidentally, if you missed out on watching history in the making, or you simply want to learn more about the cutting edge computing and artificial intelligence embodied in Watson, then I highly recommend you watch the following episode of PBS's NOVA: The Smartest Machine on Earth.)
Anyway, when Jennings isn't appearing on T.V. as one of the best Jeopardy players (statistically speaking) of all-time, he's busy parleying his fifteen minutes of trivial fame into a successful career as an author.
Last year, I read and thoroughly enjoyed his first book about (what else) trivia and trivia buffs, entitled Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. Jennings is a funny and insightful author who writes books that anyone can find enjoyable, even if they tend to be about topics many people wouldn't normally be interested in.
I'm currently reading his second book entitled, Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks. The book is about... well, admittedly I could probably better tell you what it's about once I finish it, but generally, it's about the importance of maps, cartography and geography to humanity now and across the ages.
I was reading this book when I came across the following passage, which I'd like to briefly recreate for you here:
Imagine the poor geographer trying to explain to someone at a campus cocktail party (or even to an unsympathetic administrator) exactly what it is he or she studies.
"'Geography' is Greek for 'writing about the Earth.' We study the Earth"
"Right, like Geologists."
"Well, yes, but we're interested in the whole world, not just the rocky bits. Geographers also study oceans, lakes, the water cycle..."
"So it's like oceanography or hydrology."
"And the atmosphere."
"Meteorology, climatology ..."
"It's broader than just physical geography. We're also interested in how humans relate to their planet."
"How is that different from ecology or environmental science?"
"Well, it encompasses them. Aspects of them. But we also study the social and economic and cultural and geopolitical sides of --"
"Sociology, economics, cultural studies, poli sci."
"Some geographers specialize in different world regions."
"Ah, right, we have Asian and African and Latin American studies programs here. But I didn't know they were part of the geography department."
"So, uh, what is it you do study, then?"
I think Jennings has hit here, explaining the plight of the poor misunderstood geographer, on an important misconception amongst all of academia that I've been ruminating on for quite a while. In academia, 'what do you study?' is what the Buddhists would call a question wrongly put (vlogbrothers / John Green shout out!). The disciplines in academia all seek the same thing; to understand how the world (the universe?) works and how that knowledge can inform us and our decisions.
Ken Jennings goes on to say:
(Geography is)... made up of every other discipline viewed spatially, through the lens of place. Language, history, biology, public health, paleontology, urban planning -- there are geographers studying all these subjects and aspects of geography taught in all of them.
I think, then, that the question rightly put would be, 'What is the lens through which you have chosen to see the world?' This is what I want my college students to know, degrees are little more than marketing ploys invented by colleges and universities to entice prospective students; no different from ploys like whitening agents, or mint flavoring in toothpaste. The power (and saleability and value) of your educational experience is directly proportional to how well you learn to explore questions from far and wide through the lens or lenses associated with your field of study. Geographers use the lens of place and spatial relation while chemists explore the same fundamental questions through the lens of chemical interactions and computer scientists look through the lens of information theory.
Computer science students (and software enigneers and M.I.S. professionals) are not primarily valuable because they can write programs, or use computers better than someone self-taught at these things; but because they can help society (and their bosses) better and more deeply understand the complexities (and occasionally the answers to) problems that have nothing inherently to do with math, or programming, or even computers at all.
In academia, there might be room to argue about the power of our respective lenses (a tempting but, I think, dangerous prospect), but there's no room to argue about how well we've carved out our fields or how important our areas of study are, because our true areas of study, thought about complexly, must necessarily completely overlap.
Monday, June 4, 2012
Tabitha had, in the preceding months, driven her mid-80s era white Pontiac Grand Am to the point that the poor creature literally tossed a push rod out of the bottom of it's engine, through the oil pan, flinging the abused piece of metal down I-20/59 between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa in a trail of brilliant orange sparks. The car was as dead as one can be (though, incidentally, it was later resurrected by it's next owner who dropped a refurbished engine in; I wonder if it's still on the road somewhere, even now?)
As you can imagine, Tabitha's lack of a car was a problem. So, the saga continued when Tabitha's father acquired a used late 80s BMW from a relative. That would have been fine, but THAT poor beast needed a new controller computer for the electrical system. Without warning (and with a knack for choosing in-opportune times), it's computer chip would overheat, causing the electrical system (and thus the engine, starter, and ... everything, really) to cease functioning. The solution was to jump out, pop the hood, and take the positive terminal off the battery. It would have been possible to repair the offending piece, but the drawback to owning a car, like a BMW, which tends to keep its value over the years, is that it's also prohibitively expensive to buy the parts and find someone with enough skill and expertise to work on it. The second or third time Tabitha performed this operation in the middle of the road she'd had enough.
So, when Tabitha and her father wandered over to the used car section at Tuscaloosa Toyota and found a model 2002 Toyota Sebring (light blue, no bells or whistles) she fell in love and within a day she'd settled with the dealership for a ten year loan (a loan that was paid off ahead of time).
Let's face it, the venerable Chrysler name doesn't mean what it used to. I haven't been able to keep track of who owns the Chrysler name these days, but back then Dodge owned it. And if you put a 2002 Dodge Stratus next to a 2002 Chrysler Sebring you will have to squint REAL hard to determine which is which. They are the same car with different maker emblems and a few nicer plastic components inside the Sebring.
That said, when the transmission broke into a pile of grinding gear teeth at around the 60,000 mile mark, we actually weren't too surprised. Tabitha's dad had had enough forethought (I think he would have preferred Tabitha get something else) to purchase a power train warranty from the dealership. (Incidentally, when the repair man showed us the $1500 repair price tag he asked, weren't we glad we decided to buy the warranty. One the one hand, yes, but of course, on the other, I'd already figured that over the lifetime of the warranty the transmission could have died in exactly the same fashion twice more before the dealership began to lose money. Luckily(?) that didn't happen.)
Furthermore, when the timing belt broke on the Interstate near Morristown, Tn with Tabitha and I on our way to celebrate Christmas in Alabama three years ago we were extremely inconvenienced and put under a bit of a monetary strain, but we weren't terribly surprised when all was said and done. (Incidentally, the Sebring has what's called an "interference engine" design, where the valve head and the piston head partially occupy the same space inside the engine as they slide back and forth. Ideally, they never touch, but when the timing belt breaks going down the road at 70 mph, things start to get dicey. By some stroke of luck, the life of the engine itself didn't die three years ago as it could have if the valve and piston had knocked in to one another).
So, with all of this, why am I calling this post an "ode" (ignoring the fact that there's not a lyrical verse to be found in the whole post)? Because I've come to see that car as a a survivor. I've been driving the old car full-time for almost two years now. I've spilled battery acid in it's trunk, I barely ever wash the thing, it needs new tires ever more desperately. It long ago lost, one by one, all four of it's fancy (plastic) Chrysler hub-caps and has steadfastly refused to wear any cheap replacements. It's headlights are cloudy and it's paint is fading. It leaks oil and leaks steering fluid, but it gets me reliably where I'm going.
This week, I've loaded it down repeatedly (probably ten times so far) to take our stuff to our new house. It's living a third life as a work horse for us.
It's silly to personify machines. Nevertheless, the other day I was thinking that, as it rolled off the assembly line and was slapped with the name Chrysler it never imagined it would have such a hard life. Probably, all it's Chrysler buddies would make fun of it if they could see it now. But, there is honor and reason for pride in working hard.
The car may die tomorrow (personally I'm REALLY hoping it'll stay alive for another few years), but even if it does it can go to it's final rest knowing it's owners got their money's worth; for sure.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
I feel a special flavor of ambivalence reserved for twice a year; Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. On the one hand, when I think of my Grandfather serving in World War II and Korea, called to service to truly make a sacrifice with no expectation of reward or recompense except in the opportunity to protect a way of life and liberty not just for himself and his family, but for me and mine; I feel absolutely nothing but reverence for that.
Further back in history the picture gets hazier for me. My Great-Grandfather served in WWI as an ambulance driver, and my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather served in the Alabama 25th Infantry during the War Between the States (it feels more natural to call it that than the "Civil War" when I'm referencing his service). I'm not connected to their motivation or expectations, but I'm happy to believe that they actually made sacrifices without expectation of return and that their motivations were truly admirable. That's true even if, for the case of my GGG-Grandfather, he fought on what I now believe to have been the wrong side. I'm still comfortable with the notion that his actions were a product of his time and slow to judge based on my modern sensibilities. (Lord knows I hope the same from my ancestors 150 years from now).
None of my family members fought in Vietnam, but I still feel for the survivors of that war, and I know that they suffered many injuries, even if they were lucky enough not to suffer physical harm.
But, here's the thing... I'm extremely sceptical of the notion that I should somehow be thankful for those who did serve there. I believe this to be a controversial statement, and I'm certainly open to instruction on the matter, but in this case I'm definitely questioning the group-think that sacrifices made in Vietnam were made "for me" and that I must do my part to thank or otherwise celebrate the individuals who made those sacrifices.
I mostly wish we'd had better statesmen at the time and across history and that we would stop making decisions as a nation that alienate and subjugate entire people-groups with long-term consequences leading again and again inexorably to war.
Of course, this is an oversimplification, but I think less so than the ideology that says "they" (beware the great all-encompassing "them") just hate us for our freedom and "they" want to destroy freedom and prosperity for themselves as well as us and everyone we've ever fought has had it coming somehow. In that light, thank God for our righteous warriors.
No, that doesn't hold up. Our righteous warriors are just a little too debauched; and if they aren't so before war, war will certainly bend them to it.
War is a failure, a catastrophe, a loss. It's not to be celebrated, or anticipated. I'll not go so far as to say that it must (or can) always be avoided at every cost; I believe you may sometimes be called upon to stand for what is right in the world against what is wrong when the proponents of the wrong have given you absolutely no choice.
As for the draftee servicemen (victims, I'd almost like to say) I'm more sorry that that happened to you than I am grateful for your service. What's more, I think the character of a person who answers the call of his or her country is to be celebrated.
That said, if you knowingly balance your options and make the decision, with eyes wide open to what tasks you may be required to perform; and you do this with full knowledge and expectation that you will be rewarded with certain federally guaranteed perks upon completion and during the execution of your service, then I wonder if it could be said that when you're called to war that you've actually made any sacrifice at all. I suppose we need soldiers, but I know we need teachers too, why should we beatify the one career choice, and largely deride (at least it seems of late) the other.
It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth to see in the commercial montages over this last Memorial day with clips from a 1940s raging battle on one God-forsaken Pacific island or another along side clips of fully equipped soldiers in modern desert cammo heading to a waiting Chinook helicopter.
You say you were shot at too? You say you were injured? You were compelled to go to a place you didn't want and leave your family behind to an uncertain future? You were permanently injured and suffered physical and emotional damage you will never be able to escape? Yep. That sucks. Why did you do that to yourself? You didn't do it for my benefit, I'll tell you that. I wish you'd been able to stay home too, I'm sorry you didn't.
At the graduation ceremony last week the brand new R.O.T.C. program at UVa-Wise commissioned it's very first officer (as a 2nd Lt in the army). It was made in to a very big deal. The graduation of one individual graduate dominated the stage for ten minutes and arrested the progression of the ceremony entirely.
I believe that individual had been required to prove his character and mettle but all I could think was, please don't get him killed and why should such a promising you man be put in a situation where he will likely be required to kill for questionable reasons a person whom he's never met, and be shot at or blown apart by people who've never met him. Are there no better uses for our best and brightest than to be compelled to act as some other man demands it.
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.
I shot him dead because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough; although
He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,
Off-hand like—just as I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
No other reason why.
Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half a crown.
Monday, May 21, 2012
I've been bad. I haven't posted my Sunday blog yet and it's already Monday afternoon. Forgive me. I have my thoughts for the post outlined, but I worked furiously on the house yesterday trying to finish up the single-room renovation for 10 hours. It seems, nothing is easy when it comes to that sort of thing.
Then, TODAY my son got a swore on his leg. Some running around ensued as a result of this which ended up in the hospital where he's been admitted. It seems the sore is a staph infection which requires hospitalization ... so yeah. I beg your forgiveness for my failure, I hope extenuating circumstances, such as they are, will help me find absolution (they've certainly been good for nothing else).
I'll hopefully be back on schedule soon.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
So, the graduation season is in full-swing. I've got to go to my... hold on, let me calculate this... NINTH graduation of which I have played a roll (as graduate or faculty member) in the ceremonies themselves. I believe, without checking the facts, that I've easily been a spectator at more graduations than that.
Let's face it. Graduations, as a social exercise, suck. They keep on sucking too. I can tell you that I didn't get the magical packet of perspective handed to me with my PhD diploma that allows me to, all of the sudden, see the importance inherent in the ceremony.
Renting regalia is expensive, buying regalia is even more expensive. As I was preparing to graduate for what I had self-styled as the "last time", way back in 2007, I had to make a trip to the campus book store to reserve the proper regalia for the event. The deal was that I had to buy my tam (the proper name for the oh so stylish floppy hat that academics sometimes where with their regalia) and the nice lady asked if I wanted to buy or rent my robes. I WANTED to buy, so I enquired as to the cost (I think there was around $50 to my name at that time) and when she replied that it would cost $800 I don't imagine I was able to hide the look of shock on my face. Even renting would cost (as I recall) around $170. I had to put it on the credit card.
It didn't occur to me at the time that I would look back and wish that I could have bought that regalia as a cost-saving measure as well as because I just wanted it as a celebration of my achievement. It doesn't take very much math to see that you end up saving money in the long run to buy your regalia, but I've yet to put together $800 (or more) at once and made it make sense to my lizard brain that I should spend that money RIGHT THEN, never to be recouped for a garment I'll only wear twice a year (we also dress up for the incoming freshmen during convocation each year).
The now retired provost once told me that he found his regalia at a yard sale for cheap; a lucky find indeed, and not one likely to be repeated for me given my 6' 4" frame. (I'm pretty sure I get the same rental robes twice a year and I wouldn't be surprised if they don't see any other use.)
I no longer associate robes primarily with academic achievement. On the surface, sure, I love being able to put on the robes, tam, and various acoutrement of my academic station; I feel pride at doing it. But, like so much puffed up paraffin, my pride melts under the heat of the noon-day sun. Robes are torture, being crammed in tiny seats is torture, and the endless monotony is torture. Graduations, to my mind, are not distinct, they are just re-runs of the worst show on T.V. It's like a marathon of Three and a Half Men or a symphony of Nickelback "music", the episodes and movements are all indistinguishable and all painful.
As a relevant aside, why are advertisers this time of year so likely to take sunburn so lightly? The two chief offenders this season thus far have been Sonic (whose reoccurring dim-witted drive-in characters sport and complain about their bright red facial sunburns) and Xfinity ((come on people, we know you're still just Comcast) who have their most recent satellite dish collared simpleton sporting a raging sunburn so bad her "friend" can't even bring herself to suggest that... maybe they should go inside). Look, let's forget for a moment that there's a real link between excessive exposure to the sun's harmful U.V. rays and melanoma. Sunburns HURT, and bad sunburns hurt BAD and abidingly. When you show me what would be obviously excruciatingly painful sunburns (if they were real) on your commercials, it doesn't make me want to buy your stuff, it makes me want to change the channel. Listen carefully, sunburns: Are. Not. Funny. Seriously, are all ad agencies staffed with "that guy" who always thought it hilarious to slap sunburn victims on the back and then cackle with laughter?
The difficulty that I face this Saturday is that my perspective on these things we call graduations, will not serve my purposes for being there very well at all. I'm there for THIS batch of students. I'm there to celebrate the achievements of THESE particular people. I'm there to wish THESE students well and to, with the proper dignity in pomp and circumstance, mark the significance that is inherent in THEIR PARTICULAR achievements.
So, I'll try to keep that foremost in my mind... but I still can't promise to listen to the commencement speaker (or any of the other distinguished guests, for that matter); I'm going to be too busy trying to force my body through power of will not to whither entirely away.
Monday, May 14, 2012
There is no such thing as maintenance. Humans, I think, do not have the ability to maintain, only to replace; or to ignore the loss of ability.
There are, so far as I can tell, only two possibilities for change in the world. The first, the default in the universe, is entropy. It is atrophy, ruin, a slow decline; in terms of physics it is the movement from order to disorder, in chemistry it is the natural transition from high energy to low energy states. In colloquial terms it is said that things "wear out", but that undermines the fundamental nature of decay. The notion, as widely popular as it is false, is that the use of a thing makes the thing decay, but the truth about matter and energy (and they're the same thing, after all), is that the existence of a thing makes the thing decay. Things fall apart; quite literally.
The second possibility for change is intentional iterative improvement. By this, I mean several things. First, any improvement is intentional, no one lucks into positive and lasting change. Second, improvements in knowledge, technology, society, culture, etcetera, never occur in leaps in bounds. The stories that we tell each other and our children about watershed or revolutionary moments of progress are all vast and dangerous oversimplifications. It's easy, in hindsight, to point to a moment in time, a decision, a spark of an idea, an invention, or some other event, that we can treat as an analogy for the change being highlighting. But to understand the change, you must understand the iterative nature of the development that led to the change itself. There is simply no short-cut from insight to insight, from improvement to improvement; the real story is how things have changed in infinitesimally small and intentional improvements over time.
I'm not sure that both of these forces are real.
By way of background, I am a Christian. I believe in the gospel of Christ, I am a follower of the teachings of Christ and his disciples. I understand the Universe to have had a creator. I am steeped in the Judeo-Christian culture, society, philosophy and theology. It informs, inexorably, my understanding of the Universe and humanity. However, I believe that my knowledge of how the Universe works (and thus, the nature of God and his creation) is incomplete. There are things I believe and that are fixed and unmoveable; Jesus as deity and sole path to salvation for humanity among them.
Nevertheless, God is big enough in my mind that I cannot rule out, out of hand, many a theory about the way the Universe works. I believe God has gifted us with insatiable curiosity and the intellects to pursue rational, internally consistent theories (rigorously tested for accuracy) for a reason. My personal relationship with God informs me that God is not merely tempting us with our ability to rationally pursue knowledge.
Many people believe that the rational pursuit of knowledge must lead to a supplanting of God; a realisation that God must not exist, or, at the very least, that we cannot know about God. I respectfully disagree.
So, for many years scientists, led chiefly by Hilbert, sought out a unifying theory for the Universe. It was long believed that it should be possible to build a mathematical theory that would explain, with predictive power, how the Universe functions. We now believe, due to Kurt Godel, that that dream is an impossibility (great scientists and mathematicians like Einstein and Turing and many others have strengthened this result over the last century).
So, where is God? Entropy means things fall apart. The gospels tell us to be disciples, to practice iterative improvement. Certainly, you don't have to be religious to adhere to the notion that man can become better. I know many fellow progressives that are also atheists and agnostics. I suppose what this comes down to is, where is hope? Are all things going to fall apart, or aren't they? Can we even stay ahead of natural decay, or are we just kidding ourselves? Can we make lasting improvements, can we save our species, our souls, ourselves?
These are the questions we must all decide how to answer.
Owning a house, especially an old house, as I now do, it turns out, makes you contemplate on what it means to repair, to fix up, to hold together.
I've also been reading more from Turing's Cathedral by George Dyson. I'd like to reproduce a part of that book here:
"Data centers and server farms are proliferating in rural areas; "Android" phones with Bluetooth headsets are only one step away from neural implants; unemployment is pandemic among those not working on behalf of the machines. Facebook defines who we are, Amazon defines what we want, and Google defines what we think. ... "How much human life can we absorb?" answers one of Facebook's founders, when asked what the goal of the company really is. "We want Google to be the third half of your brain," says Google co-founder Sergey Brin."
"Google sought to gauge what people were thinking, and became what people were thinking. Facebook sought to map the social graph, and became the social graph. Algorithms developed to model fluctuations in financial markets gained control of those markets, leaving human traders behind. "Toto," said Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, "I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.""
I think, all things considered, I believe in both entropy AND iterative improvement, but I wonder if they aren't somehow the same thing.
Anyway, I hope you didn't come here looking for answers, I've only got questions.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
I clearly knew this day was coming, I've been struggling to decide what level of celebration I needed to perpetrate. The line above, yeah, that's pretty much it. That's what I can really manage right now.
It's not that I'm not proud of myself, I am glad to have met my challenge, I really feel like it's quite an achievement, and I'm proud of MOST of the posts I've made. But, I'm busy.
Moreover, as glad as I am that it's over, I don't really want it to be over (cognitive dissonance, anyone?). As the challenge progressed I made a conscious decisions not to remark on any milestones (10 straight, 15 straight, 20 straight day) along the way. I did this because I never wanted this to be primarily about the challenge or the finish line. I still don't.
I'm not ENTIRELY sure what I want out of blogging now. I still want a place to be reflective, yes, but I have to be honest about my selfish desire to acquire an audience, to get feedback (positive, hopefully, but even negative is nicer than silence). I loved watching the page views creep up over the 850 mark (so far) over the thirty day period; I loved hearing that people enjoyed my work. A person could really get addicted to that.
At the same time, a part of what I want to do with this blog is incongruent with working to keep an audience. If I'm too aware of who will be reading what I'm saying and how they're going to react to it then it defeats the purpose. I suppose this is the conundrum that artists face all the time (and no, I'm not vain enough to consider this blog to be art, I'm just saying I get where artists must be coming from).
I was listening to a Nerdist podcast a few weeks ago featuring Chris Hardwick with guest Penn Jillette in which Penn was expounding upon his expertise on what it means to be a performer. He said, and I'm paraphrasing here, `the audience doesn't WANT you to NEED them, they simply want you to be good enough to want'. So, there you go, I just need to be good, and always better.
That said, I'm not certain that forcing myself to make daily posts is conducive to making the best posts possible; either for the purposes of self-reflection or for those of writing good and entertaining content. At the same time, a schedule might not be a bad thing and can be great motivation. So, I've come to the conclusion that I'm going to continue this experiment, but I'm going to limit my posting schedule to Mondays and Thursdays only.
In other news, today I painted the walls over at the new place for six hours, left from there and went to watch the students in my robotics class present their final exam projects, came home and ate dinner, and then went back to paint for another two and a half hours. So, for those of you keeping track, that's eight and one half hours of painting today. Still not done. Wow. I wish it weren't taking so long.
I painted a lot today because I won't be able to paint for the next few days. I've got two exams tomorrow, one at eight in the morning, and one at two in the afternoon. (I also wish I didn't have an 8 a.m. exam; I'm NOT a morning person, at all.)
My peers the opposite of envy me; is the opposite of envy, pity? If so, my peers definitely pity me. It's bad enough to have to wait until Friday the week of exams to finish (both because professors want to be done as much as students and because it doesn't leave much slack time between the end of the exam and when grades absolutely HAVE to be posted). It's worse still to have an 8 a.m. exam on Friday. It's WORSE STILL, to have both and 8 a.m. exam AND a 2 p.m. exam because then you don't even have the pleasure of leaving work early. It's going to be an all-day marathon.
Still, at least I'm not TAKING those exams, that would suck! So, you know, perspective, I can has it.
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Hank and John Green (I coincidentally mentioned them yesterday) are among the several creators of so called "premium" channels on YouTube launched this year. The term "premium" does not mean that the viewer needs to pay, but rather it means that these channels have been granted a certain sum of money by Google/YouTube to make free content.
The Green brothers were specifically asked by YouTube to submit ideas for a channel, and they submitted two ideas which became SciShow (where Hank explains all things science) and Crash Course (where Hank and John take turns covering topics from Biology and History, respectively). Effectively, these are educational videos made for the purpose of dispersing academic and academically correct (informed by experts in each field) content to interested learners, whomever they may be.
As it happens, the Greens today hosted a Google Live Hangout, basically a live chat between the two of them on Google+ that's made available in real-time on YouTube, where they answered questions submitted via Twitter about their Crash Course channel (link to recorded event).
One question asked of the two was something along the lines of `do you charge schools for the use of your material.' The answer was, of course, a resounding no! However, Hank brought up a common conundrum amongst anyone who produces material that's freely available; it's a problem you see all the time if you write open source software. In answering the question, Hank pointed out that the tiny Crash Course staff cannot go to major teacher conferences and advertise about how awesome their material is, like paid material providers can and do do, even if the material produced by Crash Course is far superior than most of the video material made elsewhere. Teacher's and administrators shy away from free or cheap because, "How can this be better, if it's so much cheaper?"
Think about that question for a minute. What is the relationship between what a thing costs and what it's worth? Just because you sell a thing for cheap (or give it away) doesn't just mean that you CAN'T compete in the marketplace of said things, but increasingly it might mean you simply choose not to. The notion that expensive things must be better is a notion deeply rooted in the thinking of last century and one that should be eliminated with the greatest of haste.
Over the last two weeks I've attended many presentations by students who are working on final projects for one course or another. Twice now I've heard students discuss papers they've written on the resent SOPA/PIPA debates; once as a senior seminar project for one of our Management and Information Systems (MIS) majors, and today for a final Honors Program project. The fact that these two students from widely different fields who may never even have met one another both chose the same topic is a indicator of the impact that the SOPA/PIPA Internet protests had, perhaps especially on kids of about this age. It's concerning, however, that in both cases the presenter set against each other two competing claims, the need to protect intellectual property, and the need for free speech. (Incidentally, in both analyses free speech won.)
But, the framing of this debate is flawed from the outset because even though both bills are ostensibly about "online piracy", in the one case, and "intellectual property", in the other neither of bills outline a legislative effort that has anything to do with protecting creators and innovators. Why? Because copyright isn't about protecting creators and innovators.
Copyright, as currently codified, is about protecting the ability for big corporations to control the means of distribution for media thus slinging both creators and consumers over a proverbial barrel in terms of who you have to pay. Creators pay by giving up their rights to their own creative work so as to have a chance at getting an audience AND consumers pay so that they can have access to the artists they want to listen to. (Incidentally, the ability to listen to an artist is actually CONTROLLED by the middle-man corporation.)
The same notion is true for middle-man corporations in many different fields. The key is controlling the channels of distribution. You want to read scholarly articles, oh, so sorry, you need to pay JSTOR exorbitant amounts of money (hundreds of thousands of dollars a year PER university) to get your university access to this site. Keep in mind, the only thing JSTOR does, is catalog other peoples' creative and intellectual property. Or the giant publisher Elsevier; if you want published you need to pay us (give up your intellectual property rights) as the creator and then we'll lock away your work so that only people with enough money can see it.
The same is true for education material. You want educational material for your classroom. Well, we have good stuff that creative people have paid us to sell to you. You want standardised testing material, you'll need to pray at the altar of Pearson. (Incidentally, are your students not doing as well as you need on these tests which have been enshrined as the holy standard for learning, well we've got you covered there too. We've got these test preparatory materials we can let you have, for a fee, of course.)
In all these cases, who is it that's getting rich? Who is it that's protected by the law? Who does copyright serve? The middle-man corporation. (Inicidentally, the argument is commonly made that copyright is important for innovation. Laughable. When is the last time an actual innovator was able to defend a copyright claim. No. Copyright is a tool to fight innovation, to keep it at bay. I'm not saying it has to be that way, but I'm saying it is that way.) The corporations who've set themselves up between consumers and creators benefit in every way, coming and going, richer all the time.
There was a time, last century, that it made sense for their to be middle-men. Distribution was a difficult, often time-consuming, and certainly expensive endeavour. Even as distribution technologies became cheaper and cheaper, the only way to reach a wide audience was via expensive advertising campaigns. Those days are gone.
It's time people realised that the price you pay for a thing doesn't correlate to it's value to you, and in fact, has been artificially and quietly inflated to line the pockets of unnecessary middle-man corporations who've solely got the ear of congress to write laws that protect them and only them.
It's time to stop pretending that distribution is the bottle-neck between creators and the audience they're trying to reach and to demand an end to laws and lawmakers that would artificially enforce said bottleneck.
Free is not bad and the Internet is nothing if not the chance to more perfectly realise the meritocratic marketplace of ideas; no useless, non-contributing, blood-sucking middlemen need apply.
ADDITIONAL CONTENT YOU SHOULD SEE:
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
- Cleaned up baby toys;
There are ALWAYS a venerable land mine of these across our home, as little Oliver hasn't yet learned to not just drop the toy where you stand when you lose interest in it.
- Put up clean dishes
- Loaded the dishwasher and wiped down the kitchen counters
- Killed a trail of invading ant seeking to sup upon the sugary remnants of our collection of empty aluminum cans.
- Took our collection of empty aluminum cans (still containing more than a few sugar-induced coma-ants inside) to the recycling drop-off
- Folded two loads of laundry and washed three more
There's still a load of laundry (towels) to go, but that'll have to wait until tomorrow
- "Cooked" (secretly, no baking is required, don't tell anyone) a test cake
Our church hosts a "Men's Cake Bake" most summer's in support of the church-wide mission trip. It's basically what it sounds like; any one who wants to participate can make a cake, the one rule is that the confectioner behind the cake should be male. A competition for best cake ensues (decoration, taste, size, etc.) and people are encouraged to bid on the cakes. It is not unusual for the cakes to sell for HUNDREDS of dollars (not, I imagine, because they are JUST THAT GOOD, but because the people at our church are JUST THAT GENEROUS.) This year's rendition was to be held tomorrow, but a long-time member of the church unexpectedly passed away last Sunday afternoon and his funeral is going to be held at the church tomorrow. Naturally, we've pushed the cake bake back a week.
- Loaded the lawnmower and weedeater into my car
- Unloaded said lawnmower and weedeater, along with three gallons of paint and various other painting supplies at our new house.
Notice: our lawn mower is heavy and unwieldy.
- Cut the front and side yard with the push mower
This activity was hampered because Southwest Virginia is in it's natural and all-to-consistent early summer time weather pattern of afternoon showers. At one point, I was actually driven under the protective cover of the front porch. (WE OWN A FRONT PORCH!)
- Performed my best billy goat act and weed eated (weed ate?) the backyard as well. The back yard is seriously very steep and very rocky. I don't mind having a steep and rocky backyard; it's going to be a really fun place to play when Oliver gets older, but it's definitely no place for a lawn mower of any kind.
- Dusted myself off, broke open one of our brand new $25 gallon paint cans ($25 seems like a lot, to me, but I'm told it could have been worse) and commenced to "cutting in" (a new term I recently learned upon Googling, "How to paint a room") around the edges of the room. I probably managed to finish about half the room before running COMPLETELY out of steam.
- Loaded the grass cutting equipment back up (did I mention our lawn mower is heavy, because IT IS), drove home, and upon arrival unloaded the equipment and put it back into it's place of belonging.
I did consume some media today (what am I, an animal?). Namely, I've been watching Hank and John Green on YouTube of late. I suppose I first heard about these two long ago and have since seen their work referenced many times and from many different places. I can't really say exactly why I finally started watching them; except that maybe it's gone along with my search online for content to replace cable television. I must admit that I was no big fan of people doing their thing on YouTube back in it's infancy. There are a great many things that can be videoed and then uploaded (every minute over 30 HOURS of video is currently being uploaded to YouTube), and only a very minuscule portion of that will I find in any way interesting.
As it turns out, though, YouTube has grown up quite a lot in it's ability to provide content for each specific user (namely, me), tailored for that user's preferences (namely, mine). Some great things are being produced on YouTube (I feel like I've mentioned this before).
Hank and John were early progenitors of great material on YouTube. Back in 2007 they had an interesting idea. Could they, for one whole year, go without communicating with one another textually (turns out, almost, but not quite); and during that year they'd take turns making a video diary entry to each other, one per day. I've gone back and have started to watch each day, starting from January 1, 2007. It is amazing stuff.
Since then, they've continued to vlog (easily my least favorite "Internet word"), and have even branched out to other video projects (scishow, crashcourse, truthorfail, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, etc.); all free, all AMAZING.
I don't mind saying I'm envious of Hank and John. I wish I'd thought to be that awesome and had the follow through way back in 2007. If I had my dream, I'd love to work on a video series about all things computer science AND deserve an audience AND find that audience just as the Green's have deserved and found theres.
Anyway, check them out if you haven't already, but be prepared to be hooked.
Monday, May 7, 2012
Seriously! Seriously maintenance and grounds crew. Perhaps we can look at the academic calendar before we send out our small army of lawn mowers and begin hacking and gauging at the native ground-level plant life on campus.
There I was, giving the most difficult test I give every year, the final exam for Introduction to Algorithms. Let me give you a frame of reference here. I warrant that Introduction to Algorithms is easily in the top five most difficult classes on campus.
What it's main competitor for the title, Organic Chemistry, has over Algorithms is mainly that a lot more people take Organic Chemistry and therefore, a lot more people complain about it, loudly. Additionally, Organic Chemistry and other such courses have an experimental laboratory component that gets a lot of press. I know a lot of people fail those sorts of natural science classes; and in many ways its unfortunate that students that take Algorithms don't tend to take those courses as well. So, we don't have anyone who can argue from experience which class is hardest.
I will say this, up until this semester, I've taught the class (let's see... quick calculation) maybe eight(?) times over five years with class sizes between 5 and 15 and no one had ever made an A in the course (I expect several people to make an A this semester, and I am most pleased with how hard those individuals have worked). The fail/drop rate for this class MUST be approaching fifty percent over that same time. I'm not happy, about that track record, necessarily, but I'm very proud of the standard of academic rigor that the class has set and maintains.
So, the final exam in that class (this semester) was worth 35% of the grade. Imagine a room of stressed students, working into their second hour of the two and a half hour test, with their grade in the class and future in the major hanging in the balance; hair is tousled, faces are strained in concentration, no one is making a peep; and then descend upon us the hideous sounds of a weed-eater wielding assailant. He's right outside the window working his way back and forth, back and forth, back and forth and he WILL NOT go away.
Now, I swear that my exams are interrupted far more often than you would expect from random chance by people with an immediate need to make grass shorter and to do it in the loudest way possible. I get aggravated every time it happens. But for pete's sake, this isn't a random happen-stance, this has been scheduled for months, this is exam week! People are probably taking and hopefully studying for, you guessed it, EXAMS. These things are kind of important!
I tried to give the hapless assailant this morning a chance to be quick about his work. No such luck. After about ten minutes I walked outside and yelled, as to be heard, "HAY HAY HAY!" and gave the universal cut it out sign. When he looked up he gave me a look like a deer in headlights. I had to wait for him to take out his earplugs (EARPLUGS people, IT's EXAM WEEK!).
"Is there somewhere else you can go to cut grass for about thirty minutes. I'm giving an exam in that class right there!" and I pointed at the window over his shoulder. "Sure", he said.
When I got back inside, one of the students said, "He's got to go change his pants now." Perhaps I was not as successful at covering my annoyance as I'd hoped. Oh well.
The remainder of the exam was finished in relative peace, with only the sound of distant grass cutting penetrating the walls.
Before the exam this morning, I made a curious observation concerning the choice of clothing being worn to exams on the first day of exam week. There seem to be two schools of thought, especially amongst the female students. I haven't noticed the same trend amongst the male students, but I only saw MY male students this morning, and the geeks taking Algorithms are not representative of the common population.
Nevertheless, amongst the female students, one school of thought seems to be to dress down. Students who belong to this group are wearing flip-flops, sweat pants and t-shirts and commonly have their hair in a ponytail, or otherwise flying freely. The other group, is the polar opposite instinct. Four inch heels or expensive and trendy cowgirl boots, skirts or dresses, a nice blouse, and hair styled to a degree that indicates the morning hours were spent with one's nose in the mirror rather than in a book.
Note that the distinction is so sharp that I casually noticed it. If it weren't such a sharp distinction, with seemingly no middle ground, I wouldn't have noticed at all.
I wonder if there's a correlation between these two schools of thought and the success rate on the final. I have no way of knowing, but it's just a curious observation, as I said.
Sunday, May 6, 2012
I've just finished watching an episode of the BBC Channel 1 series, "Sherlock". It's a modernised take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous character. I have not been enthralled by a show, nor found it as immediately captivating as this in a long time. In a word, it was delicious. I'm envious of the class of television that the people who natively get BBC programming are able to watch. Me? I've got to wait months or years until maybe someone with half a brain at PBS buys the rights and shows them under the Masterpiece Theatre banner.
I left the show I just watched longing for more. They've got me. They have entertained me and stimulated my intellect, I've bought in to their world and I want to visit it again and again... and I'm willing to pay for it. I will gladly pay to watch excellence, in general. But, when I go to Wikipedia to look up more about the show, I find that it has been treated with the casual disdain (to my eye) that every wonderful show in Brittain is treated.
I find that their are inexplicably only 2 seasons (series, as they call them across the pond), and there are only three one and a half hour episodes each. The first three originally aired back in 2010. My first thought was that it wasn't very popular locally, wasn't a commercial success, if you will. But then again, when I look at the numbers approximately nine million viewers watched each of the three episodes (only 62 million people live in the United Kingdom, to give some perspective). Maybe not a raging success, but less popular shows stay on the air in the States all the time. And if it was a failure, then how do you account for the second season, first airing in 2012 (incidentally, the episode I watched was the first of the second season entitled "A Scandal in Belgravia").
The second season garnered even more viewership; approximately 10 million viewers for the first run of each of the episodes. And then? Nothing (so far). How can you turn your back on a money-maker, on a success, on a provably good show with a growing viewership. Even if your coming back to it, how can you not "make hay while the sun shines" as my Grandfather used to say.
"No, that's just enough of that. NEXT!" It's such a British attitude; the self-assurance that there's nothing special about success, that whatever comes next might not be immediately as good, but something just as good, if not better is on the way. It's just so British. You know, if an American show like Jericho, or Dollhouse, or anything else with a small but loyal viewership gets cancelled, there's an immediate uproar. That's just so American, I guess.
Anyway, if someone has the six episodes of this wonderful show they can let me borrow, then let me know.
SIX episodes! You barely need a single DVD! It's so foreign to me (literally), I've got around eighty episodes in four season of Battlestar Galactica across a dozen or so CDs on my shelf, and I could have used more! But, then again, it's clear to me who has the best stuff on their TVs in general. So... there ya' go.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
... I'm Stayin' Here. Not really, I haven't attached a rider to the deal concerning my eternal reward... nor could I. However, that's a song lyric from the catchy closing diddy by a band called "J.P. Harris and the Tough Choices", who just finished opening for "Whiskey Gentry" (they're setting up on stage now).
It rained a good portion of the day today (it poured the rain, as they say around here) while Tabitha and I were cleaning up in the new house, Oliver played around at our feet, we slapped a few test strips of paint on the wall, and generally tried to wrap our brains around what we've gotten ourselves in to. Luckily the weather has cleared up of late. J.P. Harris, when he was on stage, claimed to have "honky tonked" the weather away, so maybe that's a thing!?
One of the great things about the culture around here is the connection to deeply rooted music; going all the way back to the original Carter family recordings made just down the road in Bristol, VA back in 1927. These bands are both here in connection with the Bristol Rhythm and Roots organization which is really good at bringing great up and coming bands to the region and getting their names out (thanks Dave Stallard, our local organizer). I highly recommend you check out both of these bands and Bristol Rhythm and Roots.
Whiskey Gentry is on now, and any band that features a fiddle immediately has my ear... gotta go!
Friday, May 4, 2012
This was an eye-opening experience; not bad, mind you, but eye-opening into how careful everyone who has money is not to lose it to anyone who has less, even if it could conceivably have been said to have been their fault (buyer's title insurance, anyone?). What's more, even if they're not covering their assets in every conceivable way, passing the buck to the customer at every turn, there figuring out some way to nickle-and-dime you to death. Ten dollars for a cashier's check from Bank of America ("here's the money you lent us, that'll be ten dollars to get it back"), ten dollars to transfer city water service, a few hundred dollars here or there charged for "record's keeping" by the city and county and state and federal government and wash boy and governor's illegitimate son and, and, and.
The cost of doing business, I guess.
Regardless, I'm overall very happy. Things went very smoothly today at the closing and I couldn't ask for a better partner than Tabitha. Not only is she absolutely beautiful, but she's smart as a whip and stays on top of things. Most importantly, she calms me down when I need it.
I tried to keep count of how many times we signed our names, but I honestly lost count. I estimate it was around twenty to twenty-five times. That doesn't sound like a lot, and in fact, I hear a lot of people have had it worse, but it feels like a lot of trouble while your doing it and the REAL time consumer is having to go over all the paperwork before you sign each one. All in all it took around an hour and a half to finish.
Admittedly, we could have moved along faster, but the lawyer we used here in town is quite a jovial fellow and knows many of the people we know both from church and from the college. (It's a small town.) Also, he's a Tennessee grad and so we talked about that universal topic; SEC football. We made him take a check with The University of Alabama emblazoned on it (it's the only kind we have, but that didn't lesson our glee).
After we finished Tabitha and I went to get Oliver, and we spent the evening at our friends Wendy and John Mark's house where they were hosting our annual department pock-luck to mark the end of the semester. (Wendy is our administrative assistant and John Mark, her husband, is a professor in the English Department). A great time was had by all. Our entire department is very friendly and collegial. Each of us has children whose ages range from a little less than two to eight or nine. They all played with each other wonderfully and I think wore each other out, (a wonderful trick we parents play on kids of this age). We played several rounds of corn hole (bean bag toss, to some) and had great food and conversation. It was a quite relaxing and refreshing time.
I can, however, report that summer is rightly upon us because I've been bitten by quite a few mosquitoes. The ones that are out now are big and fat and slow and I managed to kill a few... but the war continues.
So, next is the long process of moving. I think Tabitha and I have done well for ourselves by giving ourselves nearly a two full month overlap between now and when we have to be absolutely out of our current place. I'm not convinced it won't take that long!
Oh well. Excelsior!
Thursday, May 3, 2012
When I started this blog challenge 23 days ago I was bemoaning my restlessness. I was wanting something good to happen. I was seeking change. Well baby, I'm about to get all the change I can handle; it's already started. Pretty soon you're sure to hear me complaining about having too much change; I'll be longing for a time when things were quieter and more settled. But, men are all bundles of contradiction (full disclosure, I think I stole that line from Stephen Fry).
Most pressingly, it's looking more and more like making a home purchase is going to happen. All the last minute minutiae has been taken care of (I think; it seems the people who are in charge of this whole proceeding keep discovering things we really super bad need right now, and it seems all these things are the kind of thing that we could have easily handled WAY BACK before it was the last freakin' minute!) in anticipation of closing on our new home tomorrow.
Here's what I know about what's going to happen tomorrow, I'm going to sign my name... A LOT! Heeding the warnings of many a person I'm already limbering up that signing hand. My plan is to carbo-load and drink lots of water. Then I'm going to set a competitive but not insane pace so I can save a burst of energy for the key moment as we approach the finish line. The other dozen or so (it seems) people who are going to be in the room with me will be absolutely amazed (seriously, how big IS this table in the lawyer's office?). I'm also planning on wearing those five-fingered shoes that everyone's always talking about and that I keep seeing the all-to-cool looking students wearing around. I hear they give you a more "natural" feel (like, you feel every shard of glass in the road, I guess).
(As an aside, add the Beats by Dre headphones, the "ironic" child's cartoon character backpack, the $200 blindingly colored Rayban sunglasses and the MacBook Pro and you'll have the very picture of your average college student with too much "free" credit and too little sense. You show me one of these and in ten years I'll show you a debt slave; and boy you do not have to look very hard to find them).
Wait! Maybe all that is a plan recommended for people who are going to ACTUALLY run a marathon, not enter into a marathon signature writing session. Crap. Well, I'm sure most of it applies.
Then, THEN, oh then comes the issue of actually PACKING and MOVING. Oh, the devil is truly in the details here. You thought finding and buying a house was hard. What is THIS... why do we have THIS... WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH THIS! It's enough "change" to choke on. It's already begun. It's clear... we have too much stuff, and all of it we didn't know we needed until we saw it for the first time IN YEARS. Now, we can't get rid of THAT, it's so ... USEFUL... theoretically. Again, crap.
But, the saving grace is this. Next week is exams. Summer is getting ready to start. I love exams, people think I would hate them, loathe them even. People are surprised that I love them as much as I do. Granted, many of my colleagues in different fields do hate them (literature professors, history professors, psychology professors, etc.). These are people who teach in fields where they have to read (I'd imagine) loooong, and booooring, and repetitive and often mind-numbing papers such that it all begins to merge into one terrible paper across the many years of one's career. My hat is off to them; not me baby. I'm happy about exams, because my work is DONE. I've done my darndest to impart knowledge (droppin' knowledge bombs left and RIGHT) and I've corrected errors in homeworks numbering in the hundreds and graded many exams and I've lectured and explained until blue in the face all semester long and my work is DONE. The burden is entirely on the students now. Sure, I have to grade a bunch of answers, but what's great about math and science related fields is, either you get it, or you don't. No room for equivocation here, baby. Yes!
And the pending end of the semester, of course, means more change is coming.
Remember how before I made mention of the most awful part of being a professor. Well the best part is, having the freedom to decide what you're going to explore, and being able to take the time to do it. It's a great adventure, and I'm about to be on my way.
SPIRIT Lego Robotics camp curriculum - let's do it!
Preparing to teach Computer Architecture in the fall, a class I've never taught before - bang on!
Going over a book that tells you how to program robots that use the Kinect to see - oh yeah!
Learning about electronics from the ground up - I think so!
Working on creating a YouTube site about all things Computer Science - yep!
Preparing to teach an awesome Honors Course next year; bringing computers to smart kids from other disciplines - you know it!
Nobody tells me what I have to do, and when they do tell me I have to do something, they let ME figure out how to do it. It's scary, but I wouldn't have it ANY OTHER WAY!
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Hulu, for any who might not know, is a web video service that replays content from television. Hulu is nominally free and gives you access to television shows on many of the most popular networks within a day or two (sometimes longer) of their initial airing. Hulu Plus is an $8 a month premium service that gives you more access to shows (complete seasons, and the like) as well as some other perks. Basically, it's the best thing going for translating the "push" (get the content when and how the provider says you can) content of old-timey T.V. to "pull" (get the content when and on what device YOU choose), like EVERY SINGLE THING ELSE on the Internet.
And I know what you're thinking; yes, it's completely legal. Hulu charges very little up front, but supplements the income with ads (a la Google, which charges nothing up front), and then it uses a (large) portion of that income to pay the content producers (big giants like Viacom, Time-Warner, Comcast, etc.). It's all up and up and above board. In fact, one of the reasons these large content providers might look positively on this method of content delivery is because it makes a serviceable and attractive alternative to illegal methods of distribution; mainly bit-torrent and the like.
There are two basic paths forward for old media (television, radio, movies, and music). Plan A: make your content as widely available as possible on many different devices, accessible whenever and wherever the consumer chooses and do so at a reasonable price (a proven method for reaching modern consumers with exponentially more options than people in say, THE FIFTIES), OR Plan B: fight endlessly to force consumers back into the box of the pre-digital revolution using a business model perfected in the FIFTIES which assumed that content delivery and content production of high quality material could only be handled by the very few wealthy corporations who have managed to buy out or otherwise eliminate any other competition (an patently false assumption). Unfortunately, the major content providers of old media have once again chosen Plan B. (When will they learn?)
An article in the New York Post yesterday announced that Hulu was taking the first steps to change the way they do business. If the plan goes through, only persons who can prove that they currently have a cable subscription will be allowed to purchase the premium subscription. That's right, Hulu is looking to transform itself into nothing more than a fancy, out-sourced, cloud-based DVR.
I've never been more sure that the writing is on the wall for television. Remember this in five years, there was another way forward and the content providers CHOSE suicide. This gambit is NOT going to force tech savvy people who've already left TV back and the television industry can't hope to stop (or buy out) the title wave of good (and getting better all the time) content produced strictly for the web. In short, the world doesn't play their game, anymore.
Speaking for myself, I've never wanted cable less. I won't be blackmailed, period; and all this is going to prove to me is how little it turns out I actually need television anyway.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
I imagine myself getting up that morning (my wife and I have both cleared our schedules for this momentous event; an undertaking fraught with pitfalls that might need last minute addressing (hopefully not! Universe, I'm watching you!)) and saying to Tabitha at the inception of our undertaking, "May the 4th be with us!", at which time Tabitha will give me her patented 'I can't believe I'm married to you and I have to spend the rest of my life with you you aren't funny don't even try please try to be normal so you don't embarrass the crap out of me or I will kill you with my MIND BEAMS' look.
I know it's coming. However, like Heisenberg's principle applied to blogging, we cannot observe or make a stated expectation of a thing without disturbing it's happening. All in all, it's probably for the best because Tabitha reads this blog and so she'll have more time to prepare a suitably dismissive yet loving response ahead of time.
So, that's not the problem. Our marriage is well-used to my geekiness shining through (that's a light I CANNOT hide under a bushel). The problem is, the lawyer, loan officer, real-estate agent, maybe the insurance agency guy, and who knows, maybe even the sellers (or anyone else in the room) might not be ready for my inability to stop referring ironically and with jest to the current date.
They might think me mad (and in fairness, maybe I am), and might not have bargained on selling a house to a lunatic or a geek. I shall have to endeavour to tone it down, at least until the papers are signed and notarized (are they going to be notarized; that's the thing I really don't like, we have only a vague understanding of what to expect. Oh well, like the Millennium Falcon into the asteroid field we go, hopefully we'll too escape any Space Slugs we might inadvertently fly into).
In other news, this band, is really good. I am a blue grass fiend. Is there a word for a person who is a blue grass lover/nerd? Let me check Google real quick... nope, Google doesn't know either, that's disappointing. Maybe I should coin a term right here and see if it sticks.... hmmm.... I got nothing. (Bluegrass-ophile?, nah!)
Monday, April 30, 2012
So, I left my laptop in my office. I was out of time and I didn't want to stop what it was doing.
On Mondays, Wednesdays ans Fridays it's my job to pick Oliver up from daycare. In the past it's been my responsibility every day of the week; this semester I have an evening class on Tuesday and Thursday or it'd be that way this semester as well. I absolutely don't mind it, and I'm very used to this schedule; I love seeing his eyes when he knows it's time to go home, (even if the real reward is seeing mommy :-) ). But, the daycare doesn't take kindly to parents who are tardy and charge a steep per-minute penalty after 5:30. One of the things we most like about this daycare is that it is close to my work and our home, so I don't have to travel far. Nevertheless, if I don't leave within a few minutes of 5 to start the trek up to my parked car in the lot overlooking campus ( often the closest I can find; a frustration for a different day's post) then I run the risk of not making it on time.
I'm never done so in a very real way it's good to have a hard deadline that means that I have to leave regardless of other considerations or I'd likely be compelled to sacrifice important time with the family for the sake of whatever thing I'd been hyper-focused on that day.
Today's area of hyper-focus was the technical aspects of running my planned YouTube channel for all things computer science and computer and electronics development. I can't have been said to even touch, much less own, anything that could be remotely called a camcorder since probably the mid 90s. Like most people my age, my internal clock thinks of the 90s as being ten years ago, but the truth is that was TWENTY years ago. Ten years is bad enough, but with twenty years of technological development between me and the state of the art in video capture and editing I am like a primordial monkey-man dancing around a giant obelisk whenever I try to use the Sony Handycam I have access to.
The basic user interface hasn't changed much: record, zoom in, zoom out, playback... check. But what's so different in the design seems to be how the camera is designed to be your one-stop device for storage, display (even to the TV or other devices) AND editing on the device. It's basically a powerful computer built for a small domain. That's totally different from the late analog/early digital conversion days of the 90s. The thing has 250GB of internal memory, more than many modern laptops, but it does need it given how much memory it eats up in storing high-quality video.
I want to do what I had thought would be a simple thing. Move the videos whole-clothe from the camera to my computer. For me, that's got to be step one in editing and delivering content. It's not easy; not yet anyway. In fairness, one major complicating factor is that I want to function in a Linux environment and the video manager software that Sony intended for people like me to use does not function outside Windows. Still, you can see behind the scenes and mount the cameras internal hard drive in Linux. What you see is cryptic to say the least. The file structure is anything but user-friendly and once you do find the actual video files you can't watch them in the format they're saved in. Applications exist to make handling their conversion relatively painless, but this is complicated by the fact that longer videos (of which I have taken several in the form of student presentations), are automatically chopped up every 2GB into separate files. Though it isn't obvious at first, the conversion software has a problem with these arbitrary divisions. One thing is clear, the average user was NEVER supposed to look under the hood and was meant to stick strictly to the provided software abstraction. I live and teach software abstraction, but your lower level abstractions should at least make things usable (looking at you Sony).
The truth is, I STILL don't know if I've got a workable solution because the encoding process I finally worked out after hours of searching was still grinding after many minutes when 5 o'clock rolled around.
Long story short, rather than kill the surprisingly (to me) lengthy process in the middle, I walked out and left it running. I left my laptop at work, and that left me with a really weird feeling; I always have my laptop with me. I decided to leave it because I new I'd have my Xoom android tablet at home, but that didn't keep me from leaving and reentering my office three times to assuage the uneasy feeling in my gut.
I am using my tablet to compose this blog post right now. I downloaded the Blogger android app (a thing I hadn't thought to look for before tonight) and I am so far pretty happy with it, but I still feel the touchscreen keyboard IS sowing me down. I can't get used to editing on a tablet; code, blog post or otherwise. Still, it's a workable solution and that's good to know for when I go on the road and I'd rather cart the tablet instead of the laptop.
Still, I find myself hoping that leaving the laptop at work is revealed tomorrow to have been worth it in that the conversion process was successful. To say that working with a modern camcorder is more complicated than I thought it would be for me is an understatement. I think I'm on a learning curve though, dragging myself out of the 90s, and I hope to be on the downward slop of that curve pretty soon.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
I mention this because it's perhaps no accident that this, the nineteenth day of my thirty day challenge, is the first day when I've been totally unprepared to make a meaningful blog entry. I'm not really done resting, I suppose.
Oddly, there are many things I could talk about. I could talk about the looming crisis of the student debt bubble and college funding in general. I could recount what I've just read about the connection between Turing and the modern day search engine or about the pre-mature ending of von Neumann's life.
Or, I could talk about how beautiful my son is and how inexplicably lucky I am in many things.
But, I can't really formulate how to do that without boring myself; or worse yet, repeating myself.
So, instead of any of that, and as it is Sunday, I will instead make the following statement of contrition.
I am, from time to time:
- irrationally impatient
- mean and uncaring
- crude and crass
- temperamental and short-fused
- condescending and unforgiving
- brutish and in-artful
- and worst of all, boring