Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Word of the Day: Materteral

Seriously, we need to use this one lots!

I've never heard it before, but I've often wanted it.

And how come many people know the parallel word for the other gender?

It's "characteristic of, or like an aunt."  So, it's the auntie version of "avuncular."

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Good Aunt / Bad Aunt

My young relative is off to college, so I sent a box of dorm supplies, including a set of Cards Against Humanity.

Does that make me a cool, good Aunt, or the worst influence on a young person ever?

Friday, August 15, 2014


We've already started working on job ad language.  I have a feeling that there's stuff in the ads that no one applying really worries much about, but it's there.

One of the things NWU likes to have in our ads is language about how the community is "safe" and "friendly." 

What do "safe" and "friendly" mean to you?  To other folks you know?

For me, "safe" codes as "white," and I worry that I'm not the only one who feels that way.  Are we making people of color feel less welcome as applicants?  Or does everyone pretty much apply to every job anyway out of desperation?

And "friendly," for me codes as "only if you were born here," in a small town sort of way.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Committee Schedule Dance

It's time to schedule big committee business, and since I'm chairing one, I get to try to set up meeting times.

I started with a master schedule that one of our admin assistants did, Xing out all the times the five committee members are teaching.  Then there's the university committee one of us is on, that has to be Xed out, too.

Amazingly, we all had MWFs midday open.  So I suggested Wednesday, or Monday, or Friday times.

And the responses trickled in: no, I don't like Mondays.  Can't do Friday.  Wednesday's out.

So I tried the 8am times.  The trick is, none of us teaches at 8am, and that likely means that none of us wants to be in a meeting at 8am.  So I also suggested that maybe the Monday midday would work after all. 

First response: 8am is bad because of getting kids off to school. 

Then the Monday dislike agreed that midday Monday was better than 8am.   Voila, schedule figured out!

One of the people who couldn't do one of the times is someone who will likely set the committee time for another committee I'm on.  I bet zie will set the time based off an Xing out schedule, and just insist that we do it.  (I need to not be petty or passive aggressive about that.)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Movie Still

One of my young kin posted in effbee recently about the new Godzilla movie and how excited he was about it, sharing a picture from it.  In the picture, Godzilla was HUGE.  I mean, way bigger than ships and stuff.  (Here's a link to the Wikipedia page, where you can see a poster picture, and see it compared to the Golden Gate Bridge.)

Now I know I'm totally the wrong demographic for this, but I have to admit that when I saw the poster I immediately thought:  how the heck did it get to be that big and no one noticed?

Here's the thing:  big animals need to eat a lot.  A LOT. 

There are basically three choices for eating a lot:  plants.  You do the elephant thing, and you eat plants, a lot of plants.   Fortunately, there are lots of plants to eat, at least in some places.  (And in the sea, there's algae, which grows fast.  But, my understanding is that most algae grows only in relatively shallow areas (or is the free floating kind, which I'll count as plankton for now), so you'd think people would notice a giant lizard thing eating algae off the coast of Humboldt County, wouldn't you?

plankton.  This works GREAT for the big baleen whales.  There's lots of it, which is good because whales need to eat a lot.

The problem for godzilla eating these things is that really, no one would be scared of a giant manatee godzilla thing, because it would be busy eating plants all the time.  Yes, hippos are really dangerous, and you shouldn't swim with them, but they're not going to take out big ships very easily.  And whales can be, I suppose, really dangerous around small boats, but not against the navy.

And finally, most plant and plankton eaters don't look fierce and scary, right? 

That leaves us with an animal that eats largish animals.  But there's simply no largish animal for something the size of Godzilla (in that poster) to eat and get enough.  Compared to a Godzilla that size, a whale is like me eating a minnow, not an entirely satisfying meal.  And it's a whole lot easier to catch and eat a messful of minnows (or other smallish fish) than whales.

It's worth noting that many of the largest predators around these days are actually smaller than most of their prey, no?  I mean, Brown Bears are bigger than salmon, but lions are smaller than wildebeasts.  You either have to eat a whole lot of smaller stuffs (salmon, say, or plankton), or have a plentiful supply of bigger stuffs that you can somehow eat (wildebeasts for lions).  Even so, hunting big stuff seems to work best cooperatively.  Otherwise, it's handy to be bigger than what you want to eat.  (That's why I should hunt minnows.)

Thus, a Godzilla that would find the TransAmerican Pyramid barely up to its chest is a Godzilla that would have deep unmet dietary needs.  No wonder it's pissed off!

Let's just admit that I wasn't nearly as impressed by the movie poster as my young kin.

Friday, August 08, 2014


Yesterday, I was doing the catch up and make sure all the bills are paid on-line thing, and there was an alert message at the top that said that my credit card account was unavailable and that I needed to call a number.  I checked quickly, and the bill was paid in full by the specified date, so I was clueless.  But I called and eventually got a real person.

And the real person said that there were a bunch of charges on the card which had been denied in the past couple of days.  (That is, the bank/card company had refused the charge.)   So we went through the charges that had been denied, thousands of dollars in all, but some under a buck even.  (I try very hard not to charge small amounts so that I don't cost merchants, especially small merchants, more than makes sense; I want my small merchants to stay in business.)

But none of the purchases I'd made (gas for the car for my camping trip) had been denied, even over the same couple of days.

So somehow, the bank computer system had a good enough way of figuring out what my buying patterns are, and what they aren't, and was able to accurately say "no" to a large number of charges.  (A scary large number of charges, to be honest.)

In a way, the fact that the bank knows my purchasing patterns so well is sort of creepy.  In another way, it's fantastic, because they'd denied the charges, so we didn't have to resolve anything at all.  And someone out there who stole my number (I had the card in hand) didn't actually get to steal either my or the bank's money.

I wonder how the computer system algorithm works?

Does it care about: What sorts of merchants are doing the transaction? 

Where the transaction is happening?  (and for on-line, I wonder if the thing that goes through to the credit card company reports the internet source number thingy?)


I just got the new card (overnighted to me with no charge; of course, the bank makes plenty of money off me). 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

A First

I went camping yesterday. 

I went up to an island park, complete with my car packed full.  How full?  I think the Lewis and Clark expedition had less stuff.

Maybe not quite, but there was a lot of stuff.  Some years ago now, I bought a tent for a specific purpose, though I no longer quite remember why.  I used it once for that purpose.  And I lent it to a friend about five years ago.
When I thought about going camping recently, I aired it out and found the friend's reading glasses (a different style than my own).  So it's been a while.  I wasn't sure I'd enjoy camping, even, so I made a one night reservation, and figured if I hated it, I could leave and come home and never go again.
I got my camping spot and set up my tent.

As you can see, it's a beautiful site.  There's water!  (But there were surprisingly few bugs, which was great.)

I had the Retirement Fund with me.

So I went for a paddle, a couple of hours, first up the river, and then back down.  It was beautiful, and quiet.  I saw some other boaters, but mostly fishing or paddling themselves.

Then I went for a 20 mile bike ride, first scoping out the nearby town, where I found a diner.  Towards the end of my ride, I stopped at the diner and had dinner, and then road back, making it to my campsite in plenty of time to get stuff ready.  And then it was time for bed.  I was really tired, so I was lying on my sleeping bag, trying to get the energy to take out my contacts  (I did).  It was semi-noisy until it got almost totally quiet at 8:45.  After that, there was the occasional kid noise, but almost nothing.

And then it was morning!  I made my coffee (elixir of life!), and had some basic breakfast, and then I paddled around the island.  And as I was reaching the landing, I saw something swimming in the water.  I thought it was a muskrat, but hoped it was an otter.  So I paddled closer.  (I was a good ways off.)  And then it turned towards me, and it had a tan muzzle.  And round ears.  My eyes got big, and I stopped, and it swam a bit faster towards the shore.  So I paddled a bit faster.

And Yes, I saw my first bear!  It wasn't huge, but it was definitely a bear.  It got to shore, and jumped up, and went off into the underbrush.

That was pretty much the highlight of a really good camping trip.  (Short, but good.)

Meanwhile, I did some birding recently and saw a couple new birds, some of which I even got pictures of!  (The first is a Least Sandpiper; there there are Red-headed Woodpeckers.)

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Early Bird

I just got a very polite email from a student requesting the reading assignments for a course.

(It so happens that I'm not teaching the course zie seems to think I am, so that solves that for me.)

Now, if a student emailed me about my Shakespeare class, I could give hir the names of the plays I've ordered.  But if I were teaching a survey type course, there's no way I'd know all the stuff I'd ask them to read at this point.  And for the course that's brand new for me, other than the books I've ordered, I don't know quite yet.

We have about four weeks to the start of classes, and I think it's pretty reasonable not to have a course calendar planned.  How about you?

(I'm not blaming the student for asking, but even if I were teaching hir course, I'd have difficulty answering.)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Already the Hoops

I'm chairing a committee again this coming year, a committee that handles certain sorts of departmental stuff.  Earlier this summer, I got a memo and had a conversation that led me to believe that we were basically being offered this cool thing, A (imagine a sort of grant to fund research, travel, or something else we might think is good), if we want it.  It was, I was told, the sort of thing to keep in mind, and then talk with the committee about when the contract period starts in late August. 

In the past two weeks, however, I got a message from our chair communicating a message from someone on the administrative side saying basically that if we on the committee wanted this good thing X, Y, and Z (imagine, perhaps, these are grants to fund research, travel, other stuff we think is good) to happen, we had to prioritize and request three specific things we want to do with X, Y, and Z.

So things looked good!  We seem to have grant A locked down if we want it, and get to ask for X, Y, and Z!

And then I was told, well, no, A isn't really locked down, and if we want it, we should prioritize it in the list that was to include X, Y, and Z.

And then I was told, that although we'd been asked to prioritize these four things, it was likely that we'd only actually get two of them.

And blah blah.  I've now met with the committee, and we've done a survey, and so on and so forth, and each time I feel like I'm communicating a new limit to the committee because the chair's communicating a new limit to me, because the administration is communicating a new limit to the chair.  I have a feeling that they forgot about A when they told us we should ask for X, Y, and Z, and then remembering A, decided that we couldn't actually have all four because they only have funding for three.  And so on.

It's all about thoughtlessly asking us to jump through hoops when I have a feeling that the administrators who decide have already decided that we can have two of our four things, and they don't really care, except they do, and we'd better request the two they really want to fund, and somehow we're supposed to know those without being told.  And since the administrators are all paid to work twelve months, they really don't see why faculty shouldn't be willing to put in some time to do this.

Of course, if our administration was competent, they'd have realized this was coming up in the spring and let us know, and we'd have taken care of it.  Instead, they told us that the budget meant that we weren't going to get any of this sort of funding for the coming year, so we didn't spend our energy prioritizing stuff.  (There's been changeover in the administration, so the new folks might have different funding priorities, and that would explain, possibly, the sudden shift.  It also might help explain the continued shifting, since the new folks are new, and some of the bean counters might be leading them around to get done what the bean counters want done.  Well, one bean counter, anyway.)

I wish there were a way to communicate to other faculty on campus to argue that we should all stand together for not doing these requests until we're under contract.  But, of course, the faculty who did them anyway would likely get all the funding, no?  And the rest would be told that we didn't put in any requests, so we wouldn't get funding.

I also wish there were a way to bill the university for the committee's time this past week.  A couple hours for each person, and probably twice those hours for me (since I've done a lot of work putting together the requests as requests).  What should I charge in my imaginary bill?  $100/hour?  minimum wage?  $500/hour?  I wonder what administrators make as consultants?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014