Monday, July 31, 2006

time well spent

Did anyone else watch the first episode of Alton Brown's new show on Food Network on Saturday night?

It was a two hour bonus - first an hour of behind-the-scenes insights: how do they get all of those wacky camera angles? Who are the visiting faces - how many are crew, how many are friends, how many are actors? (His chiropractor appears on a regular basis, did ya know that??!) As a frustrated actor who did plenty of tech work, I like his line that "if you work on Good Eats, you appear on Good Eats."

Then the new show, Feasting on Asphalt - Alton and three other motocyclists, plus men in a support truck, drive about, sampling "authentic" cuisine. (Authentic cuisine sounds to me like the original Iron Chef, but no matter.) The definition eliminates any and all chain restaurants and I suspect that before the month is out he'll have eaten a vast amount of grease. Nonetheless, all of last week's food looked great - except for the pig's foot. From careful examination of the promos, next week's authentic cuisine all looks good too, except for the brain sandwich.

Hey Jason 266! Can you get Food network to play in the neonatal ward? Perhaps a little Alton Brown will inspire Jacob's efforts?

I've been working on the last class of the summer. I've thought of about eight hours of material, plus numerous musical, film and artistic images I'd like to show. The question is, which ones? Jacob seems to eat better when I've had a good teaching day, so in the traditional quirkiness that fuels my ambitions, I feel like I really need to make this last class as fantastic as possible.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

more on teaching

A good teaching day - I was extremely nervous about how well I'd be able to pull off today's unit. Then, mid-stream, I realized that it truly was all coming together, that today's hook was working even better than I'd dared to hope (all ideas sound good at midnight) and through some miracle I managed to program exactly as much material as needed for the full class time.

Thanks be to Clio, the summer's race is almost done and fall semester should be calmer.

I'm more and more inclined toward giving up the frantic dash after the PhD. I feel better and happier than I have in years and, in an odd way, knowing that I don't have to be the perfect professional is a great release. Of course I say this without having yet handed out teacher evaluations...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


The challenge to teaching in the summer is that the heroic instructor (moi) must cram four months of material into four weeks. This means that not only am I designing a class utterly from scratch (I've never taught this course before or even done it as a TA or even took it as an undergrad) but I have to come up with a way to make hours and hours of endless me entertaining as well as informative.

My students are a hard bunch to read - maybe it's a survival tactic. I have a couple who occasionally reveal their amusement or horror through a flicker of the eyebrow, and I've come to rely upon them more heavily than I think they know. Oh, they know the answers if I call on them and all of that and when I move onto an unusual or outrageous topic I can tell that I have their full and utter attention, but here's only so much you can say about President X that will elicit enthusiasm.

This has forced me to make all sorts of teaching choices I would usually avoid - I've showed a lot of film and documentary clips, played and analyzed music and disected pictures. I'm painfully (self) aware that this summer hasn't been my most effective teaching experience, but I think (hope) that having, through desperation, tried some new techniques and made them work, that I'll be that much better in the fall.

Perk #2 to not being a PhD - if I fell flat on my facethim summer, it wouldn't prevent me from being able to get a job somewhere else

Monday, July 24, 2006


Dave Barry (the humorist) has a Bacon number of two.

Someone with whom I was once in a play is now in the Bacon database, so I suppose that means that in theory I have one, too.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Perk #1 - no PhD means I don't have to go through the dehumanizing crunch of getting tenure. Graduate school is bad enough - don't even get me started on what profs have to do to get tenure. These are the folks who passsed the PhD hurdle, mind you.

More perks later. Meanwhile, a bit of great timing: I'm going out to dinner tonight. I met Martin when I was his TA. He being no fool, Martin would drop by office hours to discuss class, whch eventually devolved into discussing other safe topics (books, TV, that sort of thing.) A year later, he enrolled im a class but couldn't decide, based upon the description, if he wanted to take it. He showed up for the first class, saw me sitting in the TA row, and stayed.

You get the idea. Very flattering, to be sure, but also very reassuring - if my teaching inspired this kind of loyalty I must be doing something right.

At graduation, Martin e-mailed me to say that he'd always intended to take his favorite prof out for drinks and that was me. "Surely you'd rather have a PhD!" No, he wanted me. Now I'm sure that there was a certain glee in getting drunk someone who had marked up your papers, but it was a great evening. We've repeated it since and I hear from him occasionally, which gladdens my heart. He's back in Hoosier-land and we're going out tonight. Yes, we have a designated driver.

Oh, and his girlfriend is coming along, so don't get any purient ideas. (grin)

Gang of Four, eat your hearts out - how many of your old students (undergraduates, mind) make a point of staying in touch? I rest my case.

Monday, July 17, 2006

progress, but sideways

Met with #2 (upon whom may light shine) and have been pondering what was said and (more importantly) left unsaid.

#2 thinks I am smart, savvy, talented, etc. etc. etc. #2 is uncertain that I can insert enough academic gobbeldygook (my term) into a revised diss and has other reservations. #2 wants to see me with a PhD but is dubious about actuality. I've taught long enough to understand the translation.

Obviously this is a blow. I have one last shot, but it's clear that while #2 likes me and thinks highly of me, departmental and field politics are of more importance than an individual grad student. My failed diss will hurt #2 but at the end of the day closing ranks to protect #1, #3 and #4 (despite their failings, which were recognized) is more important than me graduating.

Really, I am OK.

To **** with politics and "that would make things complicated."

Obviosuly I'm angry and annoyed and all of that -- but there are perks. I'll say more later. Just keeping all of you posted, as per the terms of this blog.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

maliciousness and marsupials

Stories like this are why I love my BBC Headlines feature on Firefox. Killer Kangaroos might not attract the same fear as Al Q bombings, but there's nothing wrong with a brief distraction or six.

On a more somber level, I note that we've now had three attacks on the 11th of the month. On the one hand, I understand their enthusiasm for symbolism and pattern. On the other hand, I think I'd be even more frightened without such a predictable pattern.

There's a temptation to say, "Well, we're in Indiana, with no mass transit or all that many tall buildings, so we're safe." Then I think of Timothy McVeigh and Oklahoma City, chosen on purpose.

I grew up in a secondary strike zone. As a kindergartener I knew that Russia (whoever that was) might someday launch a bomb at us (a what?) and I knew where to go if that happened. I truly hoped that more than one generation would grow up without that knowlege. My students are unaware, but I do not think that their children will be able to make the same claim.

The train attack in India is horrible - yet even more horrible is that Al Q no longer has to attack on this CONTINENT to frighten us. They've made their point and we're all on guard.

Except when we aren't - because sometimes, we don't.

Marsupial off-spring spend a lot of post-birth time in the pouch. Would that we all had that comfort, maruding mothers or otherwise.

Monday, July 10, 2006

now I have seen everything

When I left for church yesterday morning, there was just enough fog on the ground to be beautiful without being a danger. Part of the drive takes me down a five-six lane bit of road. While glancing at the gas price signs, I noticed that the parking lot for this particular gas station was full of immature Canadian Geese.

The geese, as is their wont, decided to cross the street on foot. There so many of them that even walking three or four abreast, tightly together, the flock strung out all the way across all six lanes of the road. It was a brief nuiscance, but oddly beautiful in the half-grey light... also rather amusing, as I think about it.

Friday, July 07, 2006

for this I am paid

Dear Prof Lemming

That should be a lower-case l, but no matter.

I'm sorry that I've not yet come to class no problem, it's only been a matter of weeks that class has met and I've never heard of or from you... but I've been busy, etc. etc.

I have every sympathy with students who have lives outside of class. There's a reason why I don't attach a grade to attendence.

At the same time, the mid-term is next week and you still haven't come to class? Not even long enough to get the syllabus and then walk out?


Thursday, July 06, 2006

tales from the front lines

Student: Prof lemming, that was a pretty biased left-wing documentary. Why can't you show something unbiased, like from Fox News?
Me: Trust me, when Fox makes a documentary on (relatively obscure topic) I'll show it.

Student: Gee, Mizz lemming, I never bought any of those stories about minorities being beaten up and threatened after 9/11. It must have been all New York Times propaganda.
Me: Um, well, yes, it happened. Even here in Indiana...
Another Student (upon whom may Clio smile): Oh yeah, I knw it did. It even made Fox News. (provides examples)

I've been accused, on more than one occasion, of being "out of touch" because I teach at the university level rather than in junior or senior high school. It's day slike today that make me feel I am truly accomplishing something good and significant, one student at a time. By the end of class I had taught my students useful information about their history, encouraged a thoughtful discussion or six and only ran through three dry-erase markers in the process.

I like days like this.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

today's saint

Today is the Feast Day of St. Athanasius the Athonite. He is known for founding the famous monastary on the top of Mt. Athos. He doesn't appear to be the patron of much of anything.

You just don't meet very many people named Athanasius. Were I a Roman Catholic, I'd be tempted to pick it as a confirmation name.

Jason266 and his wife welcomed a baby boy this morning - as of his posting, they still didn't have a name. Just my little suggestion... (grins)

Monday, July 03, 2006

anvils, hang-gliders and the like

I've officially asked #2 (upon whom may light shine) for a meeting to "discuss possibilities."

There are no words sufficient to describe my terror. Suffice it that, to cobble a lin from Sylvia Plath, I have been to the bottom, seen its roots, and I am not afraid.

Well, not too much, anyway...

American spoken here

I'm not sure how I feel about the Philly cheese steak shop's Please order in English sign. I'm not at all surprised that the person whom the reporter chose to quote claimed that in the United States we speak "American."

Yes, yes, English as spoken in the United States has its linguistic variations that are its own. Someone from, say, Manchester, could handle walking into a fast food restaurant and ordering a value meal, but might have just as many problems ordering a Philly Sub "wit" as would I.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

a nice thought

"Historians like the quiet life. For the most part, they get it."
-Simon Schama