Monday, July 18, 2016

Pittsburgh History Center

While I was visiting, I asked my friend about the local history museums and such.

So we visited the History Center, and it was GREAT!

I saw Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.  I never knew that was a Pittsburgh thing, but it was.

We spent the better part of a day there, and could have spent more time.  It was that good.  They focused on Pittsburgh history, as you'd expect. 

I never realized how "southern" Pittsburgh is in some ways, but the museum taught me about that, and about Pittsburgh's role in US slavery.  There was also a fascinating area on local glassmaking, where there were videos about how they made plate glass before the ways they do now (by floating melted glass on a pool of molten tin).  I never realized that Pittsburgh had been a big glass manufacturing area (as well as steel, which I realized).





Sunday, July 17, 2016

Pittsburgh: My Grandma Grew Up Here

When I was in Pittsburgh, my Mom texted me to say that my grandmother's family had lived there, and were recorded there in the 1920 census, and gave me the address.  So my friend and I went to look.

And here's where my Nana lived when she was 13:



It's an empty lot.  One of the neighbors told me that he remembered the house being torn down about 20 years ago.  It's a steep neighborhood, with a brick road.  I don't know what it would have looked like in 1920.  Still, pretty cool.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pittsburgh!

It's been a while, but I've been busy.

I visited Pittsburgh for the first time, visiting a friend who recently moved there.  Really fun visit.

We went to the Duquesne Incline.  It's a funicular (basically, a short railway with two tracks and two cars, counterweighted to help each other go up and down a hill), and pretty darned cool!





At the top, there's a "self-guided tour" of the machinery stuffs!








Next up: we visited the History Center, Gettysburg, and the address where my grandmother grew up for a bit!

In other news: I just switched to Windows 10, and the switch so far has been okay.  I had to turn off a ton of "report X to Microsoft for tracking" stuffs.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Projects!

I gave the presentation I talked about here.  It went well. 


About three weeks before the presentation, I went to visit the venue (it's a gallery in a small store) and talked to someone there about the set up.  The person I talked to (a store worker) said they were well able to set up power points and such, and I could bring my own computer or a flash drive.  I gave him my name and number; he said the person responsible would call a bit ahead to check what I needed.


But I didn't get a call.  I thought about going into the store again, but I was busy (see below), and since I'd gone in earlier, I didn't go again.  I did prep the talk with a powerpoint (to show some pictures), and a handout (for text passages), and put my powerpoint on my computer and on a flashdrive.


So I went in 45 minutes early on the day of.  The chairs were ready, the podium was ready, but they weren't at all ready for anything computerish.  But they got on it.  The person working the store called someone else, and they figured it out, connected their Mac, and I used my flash drive.


Then the person in charge of the local group came in and was surprised that I needed computerish stuff.  She said that the person responsible had called her, but she'd told them that we wouldn't need any computer stuff.  And it didn't occur to her to check with the actual speaker (me) about that, or to give them my name and number.  (And who knows what happened to the information I gave the first store worker.)


But, as I said, it went well.  There was a small but appreciative audience.


After I'd done the initial prep, as I predicted, I felt free to do other stuff. 


I woke up one morning, and decided that the other stuff would be sanding down and repainting the woodwork on the front porch.


Here's what I started with:


I'm lucky to have good neighbors, who lent me a sander, which was wonderful.

But as I was working on that, I thought about what to do about the bench, too.



It used to look nice, but it's really weathered since I got it (maybe 14 or so years ago).  I consulted with my neighbor, and decided to get some yellow paint for the wood and gray rust stuff for the metal.

I took it all apart, sanded.  There was a lot of sanding and priming.  Everything got two coats of priming.

Then I decided on another pair of projects, the ugly yellow circle on the front door and the woodwork around the garage door.






Once you're sanding, priming and painting a bunch, you may as well go for it.  All the house stuff would be the same color (the sort of light buff around the garage), and I chose a nice yellow for the bench.

I'm pretty happy with the results.  Look!






So now I'm off for a week's vacation visiting a friend in a somewhat far away city.



Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sausages Being Made - What Job Candidates Should Know about Notification

You know there's that old saying about not wanting to know how sausages or laws are made? 


So I want to say there's something of that to the hiring process.  To remind you, I chaired a search committee for a one year position in interdisciplinary basketweaving.


The committee did its part, the applicants did theirs.  The chair offered the position to someone who accepted, put in the paperwork.  And voila, that should be good, right?


This was back in mid-May.  


In May, after we'd had the offer accepted, I drafted a short rejection note, using the help you folks had offered here, on May 19th.  But everyone warned me that I cannot send the rejection note out until we have a signed contract back.  It's been over a month.  And it hasn't even gone out to the candidate yet, I bet.  (I bet this because I got an email on Friday asking me for some information needed to process the candidate, so I'm guessing the processing didn't get done until after I responded to the email at 3pm, if then.  And being Friday and all, even if the contract was put in outgoing mail, it's probably still sitting there, waiting for the Monday pick up.)


I'm sure the candidates have decided that I'm an irresponsible jerk. 


I'd like to apologize to all the job candidates out there who've complained, and rightly so, about not getting a timely note about their status when a campus has hired someone else.


The thing is, once the call's been made and an offer accepted, a long train of paperwork starts.  Here at NWU, the department chair initiates hiring paperwork, which goes on it's merry way up the ladder, first to the dean, and then the provost.  The provost gets it to HR, where it sits for however long (in this case, over a month).


And the committee chair who intends to send out timely notifications can't.  And then the committee chair gets really busy, and is probably out of the loop about when the contract gets back, so maybe things get pushed aside, and by the time the committee chair looks at them again, it feels silly to send out a rejection note.


I'm going out of town in early July, so if I don't get the information before then, my notes will have to wait even longer.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Over My Head

Way back in April, I agreed to do a talk for a local group connected with a not-quite so local Shakespeare festival, here in town.  We set a date, and it's coming up.


I knew I didn't have to worry about it for a while, but now, well, it's coming up, and it's hanging over my head.  But it's still a week off.


Here's the thing.  If I do the work on this talk, get it set up, figured out, then I'll feel free to go out and play at different stuff.  But instead, I've been procrastinating.  But I haven't been procrastinating by going out and playing at what I most want to play at (say, biking, birding, kayaking, gardening), but instead just procrastinating and wasting time.  (I have been practicing the violin at least.)


So, today, I just need to go get the initial work done, and then I can feel good about going out and playing.  Right?


(I need to reread some lit crit, reread the play, put together a handout, put together a power point with a couple of pictures, and write out notes for the talk.  I'm guessing 10-16 hours, at least.  I should keep track.)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Last Week's Best Ride

It's a loop, I call the Priory Hill Short Loop, about 22 miles.


About a mile in, there's Priory Hill.
 It's way harder than it looks.  But at least the hill's short.



Further along, on the left, soy, on the right, corn.  Along with some wheat and alfalfa, pretty much the big farm crops around here.


The road goes off into the distance.  But that hill isn't nearly as steep as Priory Hill.


 There's a little, well-kept 19th century cemetery.  I'd never stopped there, but as long as I was taking pictures, I did.  Here's what I saw.
 What stories Timothy Burgess could probably have told!  From the War of 1812 to the great North Woods.
These were about the earliest grave markers I saw.  So sad.


Here's something I see a lot around here.  I little building at the side of the road.  If you're not from the Midwest (in which case, I'm guessing you know), feel free to hazard a guess!





Friday, June 17, 2016

Shattered

I had cause to call our Human Resources office today, to check on something re the interdisciplinary basketweaving hire.  Holy Cow.


I see, day to day, the difficulties in my department from the budget cuts.  I hear from friends in other departments, too.  I talk to students, and know they're having problems getting courses, despite everyone's best efforts to keep things as good as possible for our students.


But I didn't think so much about how much difficulty HR is in.  First, I have to acknowledge that a good, experienced HR person is pretty employable all over the place.  It's not like a Shakespeare person, where there are 15 to 25 jobs in a year to apply to, all at once.  Nope, an HR person who's good (and ours are, pretty much.  Or were.) puts out feelers, and before long, they have another job lined up, one that probably pays better than ours.  And off they go.


So, the interdisciplinary basketweaving hire problem is, I hope, on its way to being solved.  I expressed my sympathies for the overworked HR person.


I know there's administrative bloat.  At NWU, there's a bunch of people whose basic jobs are to make work for other people, making extra paperwork, making assessment rules and then changing them mid-stream, and so on.  (We've now combined a few of those, thanks to some retirements and people taking other jobs.)  Their other job is to create acronyms to make it difficult for anyone to understand what they're doing.  This they call "accountability."  We're supposed to be accountable for how long it takes our majors to graduate.  Should we not accept students who switch into the major as juniors?  How about if we didn't accept students who can only take 12 credits a semester because they're working full time?


But at the basic level of people necessary to running an institution, those folks are really hurting here.


In, what, three years, the governor and legislature have shattered a university system that was pretty darned good, to the extent that even if they totally changed their attitudes right now, it would take 10 years to rebuild.  Of course, as far as they're concerned, this is a feature, not a bug.  They went in intending to devastate the university, and they've accomplished a lot.


I think one of our teaching units may lose accreditation from it's official area organization.  That could devastate it.  What student would come here for that area if the unit isn't accredited?



Monday, June 13, 2016

Blink

Just like that, and ten (plus) days pass.  I've been happy, busy, stunned, and horrified.


I want to read more about the men of color who were killed in Orlando.  I think we need to see the intersectionality of the gay community, to recognize it purposefully.


And I think we need to end male violence.


Meanwhile, in more peaceful pursuits, unless you're a weed in my garden, I've been weeding and weedwhacking.  It felt like there was the end of the semester business, then other business, then a week of rain, and my garden was just buried in weeds.  So I weedwhacked and weeded. 


I whacked the back greenspace so that I have a path by the fence, and also can get to each of the trees I planted there (and cleared around them so they have more light and less root competition).


I weeded a small 6'x6' area I've come to think of as the "weedy area" and found a surviving asparagus plant.  I left that, but weeded the area, then got myself a couple of hostas, a couple of astilbes, and some cedar mulch, and planted.  In fall, I'll put in some bulbs, probably.  It will still grow weeds, but there's a big improvement.


I also cleaned up generally in that area, weeded another weedy area (smaller, much smaller) and found that my lavender plant is still alive.  So that was rewarding. 


I put in some little concrete ornamental sort of barrier things to keep the soil off the cement paved area.  And weeded that, poured vinegar on the weed parts that looked likely to come back fast.


Right now, there's a pile of weeds on the cement area (I like to let them dry a bit in hopes that they'll actually die for real before I toss them out to fertilize the green space).  But after I toss them, and sweep again, that whole area will look a lot better than it has in ages. 


I'm so out of shape that all the weeding and such (paddling, weedwhacking) has my arms feeling like lead, sore lead.  Ugh.




I need to get off the couch now and get some stuff done.


Goals for the week:


Vinegar on the weeds surrounding my garden raised beds.  I can't physically get to them well because of the fence and retaining wall, but I'm going to try vinegar and them a big load of mulch down.  And hope.


Weed one more over weedy area.  That would pretty much clean up the back.  Then back to the front, where there's a bunch of dead heading and such to do.  Because it really does never end in summer here in the garden.  That's okay, on one level, because it sure is nice to be outside!


Practice violin.  I missed a day, and boy can I tell.  But I'm very slowly improving, memorizing my new pieces, and working on the hard parts.


Work on a talk I'm giving at the end of the month.


Reread a student paper, write comments, and send it to them (because they asked, and of course, I'm happy to do it.)


Ride my bike, paddle my kayak.  Good stuff!  Maybe head out camping if the rain stops for a couple days in the middle of the week.  (Weekends seem way busier at the state parks.)


Stretch every day.  I should start with this.


Work on a paper for SAA.  I have an idea, I think.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Kids Today...

In the wake of the horrific news from UCLA, one of my facebook folks started a thread about how everyone on campus should have had guns, which several other folks replied to commenting on how much safer it would be if everyone had guns, and so on.  And then my friend started a sub-thread about how kids today are spoiled, whiny, etc etc. 


So, I responded not once, but twice.  First, to the guns on campus thread, where I said that I dreaded the idea of returning exams (or any assignment) where some students hadn't done well to a group of 30+ students, all armed.


I well remember having fantasies, running around the local schoolyard with friends and cousins, waving finger guns, playing I, Spy, and Man from UNCLE, that one or two of us with a gun could easily take out bad guys, keep the good guys alive, and be heroes.  At some point, certainly by the time I was in high school, I'd outgrown that fantasy.  Most adults do.  But the ones who haven't, seriously, need to go play laser tag or something (where I lost totally, and where even our winner was hit more than a few times).  Imagine a campus full of armed people, all hearing a gun shot, drawing, looking around, and seeing everyone armed, ready to shoot.  It's not like the old WWII movies where you knew who was on your side by the uniforms (though friendly fire accidents probably happened), and where everyone manages to shoot accurately in the heat of the moment (which, I've read, doesn't actually usually happen in combat).


But the kids today thing really pissed me off.  So I posted about my students, mostly good folks, mostly hard working, mostly dealing with a lot more responsibility and work than I had in college. This is a generation that's spent their coming of age years, since 2008, rocked by a crappy economy.  Remember reading about all those people who lost jobs, homes, livelihoods?  Those adults, some of them had kids, and those kids are college-aged now.  Sure, some haven't been hit at all by the recession and grew up pretty privileged.  And some of those are brats, no doubt.  The same way some of the previous generations were spoiled brats.


We (my generation, the folks in our 40s and 50s now) haven't done well by the next generation.  And the Baby Boomers, because they have more political clout, have perhaps done worse.  We thought college was expensive then, but now, it's way, way more expensive for a public education.  And our schools aren't getting the funding they did when the government was all worried about Sputnik.


So, kids today.... are pretty much like kids in any day.  Some have it easy, but most don't.  Some are wonderful, a few aren't.  Some work really hard, and some are still growing up.


After I responded with my defense on my facebook friend's post, he responded that he didn't actually know or work with any young adults, but had just gone on what the media says.  WTF?  It's like deciding you hate Blacks because the media report on Black men in prison, isn't it?


Let's recognize that the news out of UCLA has told us about the victim, but (from what I've seen so far) nothing about the murderer/suicide victim.  For all I know, that person might be a non-traditional student in his 50s (I think I read male pronouns being used, but I'm not sure even of that).  The student might have had mental health issues.  (I think you'd pretty much have to have something very bad going on to plan and commit murder, no?)  Ages 18-25 are tough in a lot of ways, not least in that if someone's going to have mental health issues, they often surface then, when a lot of people have (or feel they have) little access to support systems.