Sunday, January 14, 2018

American Black Duck

In a mixed group with mostly Mallards, a couple of American Black Ducks.  My first, so pretty exciting birding on a cold winter day.  (There's a little lake in town that has several outlet thingies that keep the water moving, and therefore open.  Ducks gather there, fairly close to shore, and pretty easy to spot.  That and a far better birder than I told me there were Black Ducks in one of the three places.  And there were!)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Looking for an Adventure

First, is anyone else getting weirdness on blogspot when they comment?  It looks like my comment is "stuck" and doesn't take, but it really does take (as I can tell when I reload the page and look).

And the real post:  I recently read Cheryl Strayed's Wild (thanks to my Niece, who gave it to me for Christmas).  I know it's problematic in so many ways (who in their right mind starts off on such a hike without at least some short trips to test equipment and get ready?), but it's also a fun read, a story of a sort of grand adventure.  (Yep, there's all sorts of painful stuff there, too, but I connected most with the adventure part.)

Now I'm NOT going to run off and start the Pacific Crest Trail without some realistic prep... which means I probably will never run off and start the Pacific Crest Trail.  For one thing, there's appeal and there's, well, what's the opposite of appeal?  I don't see myself hiking for days on end.  As a friend says, time on task.  For lots of things, I do really well with a task of several hours (biking, kayaking, walking in a museum).  And then I increasingly find whatever it is unpleasant.  So that makes some things (long hikes, full days in museums) pretty unappealing.

And yet, I have a sabbatical coming up, and I want to go on some sort of adventure.  Maybe I could hike on a trip for a week?  (with appropriate training and equipment checking along the way)

Or something.

What are the ethics of hiking to Everest Base Camp?  Here's a guided thing.  (That would take a really devoted year of prep, I'm guessing.)

What about part of the Pacific Crest Trail?  Or part of the Appalachian Trail?  Or ever part of the Superior Hiking Trail?

Or Machu Picchu?

Or other ideas?

or maybe a biking trip?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Gray Scale

I ran across an article recently (I can't find it now, alas) that talked about an organization called "Time Well Spent."  (Here's the Wikipedia page.)  The idea of the organization is to get companies that make money by selling our attention (think facebook, for example) to realign their goals to focus on providing users with experiences that don't work against our best interests.  Well, they explain it better.

The thing is, I don't think we can convince companies to undercut the ways they make money, just as I think we aren't going to convince arms manufacturers to quit selling arms to anyone who has the money to buy them.  (Sometimes laws do that, but companies don't do it willingly.)

But, the organization also gives some ideas for making the current technology less effective at hijacking our time.

Now I admit that I check some social media type stuff a lot.  More than makes sense.  And I use it to procrastinate, though not necessarily on my phone.  (I'm far more likely to procrastinate at my computer.)  Still, they have some ideas, and a couple I'm trying.

The two I'm trying are phone specific:  one, I've changed my phone to use gray scale settings.  I'm not sure how this will affect photos, but I should check (and it's easy to change it back, of course).  Otherwise, I really don't need all the colors, and changing to gray scale is supposed to make the screen itself less appealing, and in making it less appealing, giving less subconscious incentive to just look at it.

Two, I've relocated the icons for apps I'm notorious for spending time with to procrastinate to the second page.  I don't see them when I turn on the phone, but do see the things I really want:  phone, messaging, music tuning and metronome, maps, and so forth.  It really does seem to make things less appealing.  And if I don't see the BBC icon, I don't endlessly scroll through it on the off chance that a new and exciting news story has broken and I MUST read it NOW!

During the first part of break, I put my laptop in a room that's colder than the rest of the house, and only brought it to use in the living room (where I like to sit) without its cord, so I was time-limited.  (It's a 6 year old laptop, so the battery power doesn't last for more than an hour or so.)  And not surprisingly, I wasted less time on the computer.  (But then I made the excuse that I needed to read and work on the letter for my colleague, so plugged it in where I sit in the living room, and yep, I'm wasting more time on it.)

So I need to move it back.  Right now.

I'd love a way to make the browser on the laptop show pages just in grayscale as a default, but with an easy way to change, so I can watch bike races in color (the kits are colorful and help you tell which team/rider is which, also the scenery is often beautiful).  Any ideas?

Thursday, January 11, 2018


I've got to write a letter in support of a colleague for the annual review.  We split the writing tasks on these letters, and this time I'm writing about their research.  But here's the thing: the work seems smart, but holy cow did I find it... boring.  I can't decide if it's because I don't know the subject area well (or even at all) or what, but I'm disappointed.  Often enough, when I write these review letters and read my colleague's work, I find it interesting and challenging.  This time, I didn't.

That's not going to stop me writing a really positive letter, because it's a smart piece and doing important work, I think.  And the other stuff was smart and interesting.  And this colleague is amazing.

(The crappy job market is crappy indeed, but it means even regional schools in the middle of the Northwoods get truly super faculty.)

I worry that the bar seems to constantly be raised for these folks in the aftermath of the horrid job market.  What I mean is, these folks come out of grad school with a number of publications, often a book MS in progress.  And then with our teaching load and a brutal work ethic, they do a great job teaching and publish and publish and publish.  Except a few don't, they only publish and publish.  That would have been perfectly reasonable, heck, really good just an academic generation ago.  But now they don't look as amazing in comparison to the publishX3 folks.

I don't think we're putting pressure on our TT colleagues for the large numbers of publications, but the pressure's definitely there.  (I see our responses in meetings and such, and we don't expect publishX3 instead of publishX1 or publishX2.  I hope that makes sense.)

Back to the boring problem.  I make an effort to read my colleague's research when I write these letters.  But I think many of my colleagues don't.  Am I overthinking, or just being appropriately responsible?

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Delurking and Housekeeping Question

According to Xykademiqz, it's blog delurking week.  So please say hi.

I'm thinking about cleaning up the LONG list of blogs on the side, deleting those that haven't been updated for a year or more.  What do you think?

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Choose Your Own (Early Modern) Adventure

I'm trying something totally new and different in my senior seminar this year.  I'm going to give students the opportunity (I hope they see it that way) to choose the texts they want to read, within certain limits.

It's a once a week, three hour course (evening).  For the first week, I'll send them a questionnaire asking them which of the following texts they've studied or read.  And I'll also send them a pdf of Sidney's Defense of Poesy, along with a reading assignment of some sort (like asking them to choose one image they find interesting or confusing or something.  Maybe also a bit of Palladis Tamia or something?

That first week, we'll talk about what literature's for, and I'll give them their first real assignment, which will be to look at Wikipedia type entries for some literature, and to come the following week with choices about what they want to read and why.  (I'll probably make that a group assignment.  Or not.)

The second week, we'll start with Hamlet, which many will have read, but which it won't hurt to read and study a second time.  We'll also go over the choice assignment, and decide on what to read for the rest of the semester.  Then they'll have two more weeks of Hamlet and criticism and such, and then we'll start in on their choices.

For the final text, I'm thinking of ordering Oroonoko just to have something really different.  We'll see.  It's a bit up in the air.

Here's the tentative list for choosing their literary adventures (in no real order yet):

Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Bk 1 or 3  (2 weeks)

More, Utopia  (1-2 weeks)

Montaigne, Castiglione, and Machiavelli (essays, exerpts)  (1 week)

Surrey, Wyatt, Tottel's: lyrics and sonnets (1 week)

Lanyer, Jonson, ? Country House Poems, etc.  (1 week)

Donne: Holy Sonnets, Lyrics (1 week, maybe 2?)

Herbert Lyrics from The Temple (1 week)

Shakespeare: Lear or Rape of Lucrece (2 weeks)

Marlowe, Faustus (2 weeks)

Milton, Paradise Lost  (2-3 weeks)

Shakespeare/Sidney/Spenser: sonnets (not all, of course)  (1 week)

There's WAY more there than we'll read and discuss in 12 weeks, but I'm happy for some more suggestions if folks have them, also for how much time I've assigned, secondary reading, and so on.  (I think I'm going to find a decent essay on canon development and critique for the first week.)

What do you think?  Are there obvious early modern pieces that I should give students a chance at?

Monday, January 01, 2018

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2018.  Please!

Despite despair over political stuff, I personally had a good year in 2017.

1.  I spent time in the UK and really enjoyed it.  I especially enjoyed the birding and the British Library, but also lots of smaller trips.
2.  I went to Barcelona, and it was fabulous!  I fell in love with Gaudi's work, and if I could figure out a way to make my house into a Gaudi house, I would.
3.  I wrote up a self-review and got really lovely support from my department and chair.
4.  I wrote up a sabbatical request and got sabbatical (though I deferred it until the coming academic year to go to the UK).
5.  I finished two big summer projects, and some smaller ones, too.
6.  I practiced violin and improved a lot, and passed my Book 3 test.  (But then I didn't practice for four months... and it really, really shows.)
7.  I was a good friend, I think, and a good daughter, sister, and aunt (etc.).
8.  I taught some good courses, including a real challenge (Victorian Lit), and taught well, mostly.
9.  I'm pretty healthy.  (I did have some bad colds, but a cold isn't so bad.)

Disappointments, yes, too.

1.  I didn't bike as much as I'd hoped, or do other outdoor stuff.  (The bad colds were part of that.)
2.  I goofed off more than anyone should.

Goals for 2018

1.  Do a good job teaching this semester to have a strong send off for sabbatical.  I'm working on a new senior seminar in earlier British Lit, and I hope I can pull it off well.  (More about that soon.)
2.  Keep focused about the sabbatical project(s).
3.  Get outside and play more.
4.  Practice the violin again.

Looking forward to:

I'm expecting a couple of friends to visit this spring, and I'm happy and excited and looking forward to those visits.  Not many people visit flyover country.

I've started practicing violin again.  I didn't practice for four and a half months, and I feel like I'm starting from the beginning.  I'm not, though.  I've gotten through the first several Suzuki Book 1 pieces again, and am doing scales and broken thirds again.  I'm focusing on trying to keep my left hand relaxed and my bowing strong.

I have a lesson at the end of the week, and I'm sure Strings will be able to focus my re-learning in some helpful ways.  I hope it doesn't take me longer than the 4 months I was away to regain what I'd learned before!


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Thoughts on my Days in the British Library

I spent my last 10 days in the UK mostly reading at the British Library.  Amazing.  What a place!  It's like the British people have given a gift to the world.  Well, probably some of it was stolen.  But what I read was pretty much all texts (manuscript and print) produced in England, often London, so those weren't stolen from afar.

The catalog system isn't as straightforward as it should be, especially requesting manuscripts.  Some of the librarians are fabulous, some less helpful.  (I tried to sign up for a session with a librarian, and I sort of had one, but not an official one because no one responded to my official request.  And the librarian I met with was less helpful than one would have hoped.

Figuring out the catalog moderately well made everything go better, but that took a while.  Fortunately, I'd started trying to figure things out (and did pretty well on print texts) in September, so that by the time I was really in London steadily, I was finding my stuff pretty well.

By the end of my time, I was doing that thing where you'd go through one day feeling like I'd pretty much read everything I needed to, and then near the end of the day I'd make a tiny breakthrough and realize I had a whole other area to read in, or had found some number of texts through a different search strategy in the catalog.  And the next day I'd have a full, full day, and the third day, I'd be back thinking I'd read pretty much what I needed to, until late in the day, I'd find more.  By the very end, I really was beginning to feel like I'd gotten a handle on a lot, and the one thing I wanted to look at was being "used" or held or something by another reader.

There's really nothing as good as holding a physical book in your hands and reading it, especially if it's a manuscript and a little hard to read.  But even a printed book is a lot easier to flip through to find things in person than a digital version ever seems to be.

Despite staying at a hotel with a good sized room and en suite bathroom, within a short walk of the Library, I was pretty much reading to be not staying at a hotel after 10 days.

So now, of course, I've had a few days at home, and then went on the road to my siblings where I'm staying for the holidays.  And then my Mother will come home with me for a few days, which I'm stressing out about because my house is dusty and I didn't really have time to settle back in.  Between she and my brother, she invited herself, and I couldn't say "no" of course, and wouldn't, but I'd like a bit of time to myself to settle back into my home and organize my British Library notes for the next step before I forget everything.

I haven't played the violin since mid-August.  I brought it along to my siblings, but would really like to just have time to myself without feeling like there's a judgmental audience listening and ready to comment.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Last Hurrah in the UK: Battle and Battle Abbey

On Sundays, the British Library closes, so I had a chance for a last field trip.  And I decided to go see where the Battle of Hastings happened.  Apparently, not really at Hastings.  Instead, it happened outside of Hastings by some miles, and where it happened, William the Conqueror ordered an Abbey to be built.  And then a town grew up.  And then the Abbey was dissolved and what was left became a country house.  And then that became a school, and voila, a tourist attraction.

 Enough background; here's a map overview of the area.  (I tried to turn it sideways, to no avail.)  See where the red dotted line makes a corner at the bottom left?  and then there's a dotted line on the left?  There's a path leading from the corner, down the hill, skirting the battlefield, with statues and such around.
 Inside of the gatehouse.
 This gate leading down to the path (dotted red line on the map).  It was a windy, damp day.
 These shield things show where the Anglo-Saxon front line was.
 The shield thingies are small on the left in this next picture, as I walk further down the path.
 Near the bottom, there's the metal arrow stuck in a tree for effect.  I bet there are others I missed.
 Looking up from where the Norman position would have been.
 And up to the Abbey.
 Rooms.  It's cool how much light manages to get in.

 Looking from the Abbey down over the battlefield.

 Oooo, a stairway leading somewhere mysterious.
 The view over the Latrines.

 This would have been the chapter house.

 The walled garden/orchard.
 A view of the school and Abbey ruins.

 Looking at where the original church would have been.
 The marker for Harald.  Upside down, I know not why.
 Ruined Abbey.

 The gatehouse from outside in the town of Battle.

That pretty much ends my excursions in the UK.  Soon, I'm headed back to the great Northwoods.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Three Days in Barcelona - #5: Mar Mediterraneo and La Pedrera

The last afternoon in Barcelona, Saturday, the 11 of November, the day of planned protests about Catalonian Independence.  Earlier in the day, I went to the Museo Historica de Barcelona.  My plans for the afternoon involved a quick tour of the Chocolate Museum, a short walk to the beach, and a final Gaudi House, Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera.

The Chocolate Museum was nothing special.  I shouldn't have bothered.  Then I walked towards the beach, and found the railroad tracks in my way.  It took a while, but I finally found a way to cross them (on a bridge).

 A few more blocks, and there is is, the Mar Mediterraneo!  The Mediterranean Sea!  I'd never seen this Sea before, so now I saw the sea.
 Here's a selfie of me walking on the beach.  You know what that means!
 Yes, I went wading!
 And my finger got in the way...
 Then I washed off (they have lovely little shower areas), and walked back out, planning to take a bus.  And there's the protestors, gathering in the distance.  I went the other way.  (I don't know enough about the issue to really have an opinion, though I do have a vague sense that self-determination is very good, but also at the same time that breaking into a small region might increase costs for defense and such for the whole area.  So I have no business telling Spain or anyone else how to organize themselves.  And I went the other way.)
 I asked a police officer (there were a lot around) and he kindly pointed me to a metro station, much closer than the bus stop even!  So off I went, back to Passeig de Gracia, and to Casa Mile, La Pedrera!  You enter on the ground floor, and there's once again a big light well.  But this one's even bigger than the ones at Casa Battlo.  (The whole apartment building seems way bigger.)
 But it plays with shapes and colors!
 You go up to the roof first.  Amazing!  The chimney toppers are amazing (and were copied for at the Sagrada Familia Passion fa├žade for Roman helmets).
 The way they glow in the sunshine!
 Somehow familiar and alien at the same time!
 You can see the Sagrada Familia in the distance.
 And a familiar four armed cross.
 These chimney toppers are glass mosaics from champagne bottles, but I could never catch the light right with my camera.  In person, they're stunning.
 Inside, catenary arches!
 And a chain display showing catenary arches.
 With a mirror so you can see them as arches looking structural.
 And a structural model.  (This is from another church catacombs.)
 Inside one of the apartments that belonged to the Mile family.

 Doesn't that tub look inviting!

And that ends my visit to Barcelona.  More than a month after it actually happened.

I need to get back in grading jail and finish grading.  I leave the Abbey tomorrow and head to London to read at the British Library for about 10 days.

And then home to the great (and icy) north woods.