Saturday, September 30, 2006

Orienting oneself

No, an inukshuk doesn't help me orient myself. It's just a pile of rocks, which inexplicably makes me happy, building something, setting my mark upon the world, and all that romantic stuff. I've built walls -a short wall out of stones, while camping, and a tall wall out of blocks of snow, while visiting a relative. It's always a rush. But an inukshuk has its own built-in romanticism.

Today, I rearanged our office. Luther had threatened to move to the bedroom, and I didn't like the idea not because our offices shouldn't be separate but because the bedroom should be! So I did what my Mom taught me many years ago: I mapped the room, and I cut out precise models of the furniture, and I worked the problem.

I've done this a few times in my life. It has always, without exception, been incredibly successful. This time, for the first time, I used Word.

I loathe Microsoft. That part put aside, Word is way more useful and flexible than one might imagine! I put up a grid on precise measurements, mapped out the room, and pasted objects of precise dimensions -then moved them and rotated them and placed them. It rocks, if you really know it.

The office is now back to the same cozy sensibility it had before we added the second desk. We can both look out the window, we can both move our chairs freely, and we can both look at each other and sigh, sickeningly. I added a cabinet (the "books" item in the diagram) and filled it with the books I had piled in various corners. And the lamp on the corner of my desk, plus a pile of blanket and cushions in the corner of the room (that big rectangle is a futon couch, by the way), makes a perfect reading corner.

In the process of putting those piles of books away, I discovered a little box. When I'd worked at Mag North for 5 years, I was given a silver coin. Those of you who admired my pile of rocks will find this amusing:

The accompanying card reads:

Lifelike figures of rock, erected by the Inuit, stand along Canada's most northern shores. They are Inukshuk (pronounced In-ook-shook) -an Inuit word meaning "in the image of man." One of their purposes was to serve as directional markers on the treeless horizons, to guide those who followed. As such, they stand as eternal symbols of the importance of friendship, and remind us of our dependence on one another.
So for those who wondered, while my little inukshuk on my lawn is by no means permanent, it's supposed to be... beautiful, in a way that garden gnomes are not.

Be excellent with one another. And enjoy the rest of the weekend, eh?

And thanks, Mom. Your system, whether by paper or by Microsoft Word, has rocked my world on numerous occasions. I owe you.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Stone cold birthday

It's my birthday today, and I got one of the best gifts ever!

I've wanted this for a long time, so I was pretty excited. I was so surprised! Then, when I decided to blog about it, I had all kinds of ambitious plans to provide essays and links about the whole thing, but... Well, screw it, it's my birthday. I'm going to go eat some of my very strange but yummy homemade orange liquor cream and chocolate cake...

...while looking outside at my first ever attempt at an inukshuk. Birthdays ROCK!

Thank you so much, Luther. I love you !

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Brave new curriculum

A curriculum, says my trusty OED, is "a regular course of study or training, as at a school or university." At work in the past few years, however, I have been dealing with a curriculum that is anything but regular.

To the extent that it has been going through changes, this is fair. The degree program is in the field of Information Technology, which is a moving target for educators (and investors, for that matter). But it doesn't help that different people have different ideas of what "Information Technology" actually means. My own understanding is this: It's just plain not computer science. It's making stuff and doing things with computers, not actually building the computers themselves. The things that one can make and do with computers is constantly changing (consider that not long ago telephones and cameras were separate and not even related devices), and a college curriculum meant to educate students in how to make and do with computers has to constantly adjust in order to meet changing expectations.

"Regular" can also mean "normal," or "typical," and this is where things begin to go haywire. What's "normal" or "typical" in an Information Technology curriculum is pretty up in the air. There are lots of programs, but not a lot of commonalities. The Accrediting Body for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is working toward changing this by defining Information Technology-specific accreditation criteria for college programs. If your curriculum meets their standards, it will by definition meet certain minimum requirements that will be common to all accredited IT programs. Your graduating students will have mastered a certain level of math, a certain amount of programming, a certain understanding of human-computer interface issues, etc.

Last fall, I spent a great deal of time working with a new faculty member on devising curriculum changes that would edge us toward ABET accreditation. The changes were also supposed to solve some specific problems we'd been struggling with aside from accreditation: Our students were balking at our math requirements; they were flunking the second required programming course; and they were, if they graduated at all, graduating with no particular expertise in any area of IT. There was a lot of confusion, a lot of toes got stepped on, my faculty member partner threw her hands up and backed out of the project, and ultimately the ABET criteria were completely set aside in favor of... well, convenience, I think. So we proposed some dramatic changes, took them to Academic Council, and it was done.

This fall, when these curriculum changes took effect, the same faculty member suddenly became my boss. I'm very pleased, because I really like her. She's incredibly intelligent and experienced, and she knows how to analyze a problem and prioritize solutions. But the past four weeks have thrown us crisis after crisis. Sometimes it seemed like the administration was deliberately cooking up problems to send our way. And a few days ago, we got an email from one of our two-year "feeder" colleges... challenging our new curriculum. It doesn't meet the most basic standards set by the state of Georgia, let alone ABET accreditation criteria. Mostly, though, it doesn't play well with the other IT programs in the state, because... it's not "regular."

Now, some of us did already know this, but talking about it had a tendency to make us very unpopular, and there was a sense of hopelessness about it. We'd made the changes, the catalog had been published, and classes had started. When that email came in, I and my coworker brainstormed and came up with a fantasy curriculum that would fix everything, but it wasn't meant to be taken seriously. It was just an intellectual exercise, which I forwarded to my new boss.

Some of our ideas made it into the final draft of a curriculum change proposal, Friday morning. We're proposing a massive band-aid on the curriculum, mid-year. It's strong. It's quite possibly ABET-worthy. And now we wait, while the faculty consider what we've done and see all the ways in which it will challenge them, invade their little educational territories, and turn their worlds upside down. Wednesday, they vote.

It's going to be interesting.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Age before beauty

Awww, my little car went over 100,000 a few days ago and I failed to take note. I'm sorry, Rocinante! We can celebrate this weekend, okay?

And if anybody says, "she's got a lot of miles on 'er," I can pretend he's talking about the car. :-p

Monday, September 18, 2006

Studio 60 and personal audio transmitters

The premiere episode of Aaron Sorkin's new show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, aired tonight. I've been looking forward to it all summer. I became a fan of Sorkin's when my sister introduced me to Sports Night, and I was nuts over his A Few Good Men during the opening scene of that movie, and then of course I laughed, cried, and generally was in love for a good couple of seasons of the West Wing (and stuck with it after Sorkin left because I just plain loved the characters). I wasn't enthralled with the premise of Studio 60, but it's Aaron Sorkin and I had to watch.

Interestingly, the promos didn't work for me. Especially, I thought the two main characters (played by Brad Whitford of West Wing and Revenge of the Nerds -yeah, he was in Revenge of the Nerds!- and Matthew Perry of Friends but let us not forget The Whole Nine Yards) lacked interest. They both have that craggy, haggared thing going on, lovely and all, but do I care that they're wired? I'd about had enough of Mr. Whitford's wired thing in the last season of the West Wing, so I wasn't sure about a whole show based on the same performance. And... they didn't have any chemistry.

Luckily, the guys who cut the promos were either A) idiots, or B) just teasing me. I'm actually thinking it was the latter in this case. The moment that Mr. Perry's character took off at a full, painkiller-protected sprint to kick some ass for his drug addict friend Whitford... I fell in love.

So it's another season of fun for me. Can somebody please call in a favor and have them move the show to an 8 p.m. slot? I should not be up this late.

Speaking of which, as the show ended, I crawled under the covers and Luther changed the channel to a football game. Why do people have to shout all the way through a football game? I don't care about some hoots and hollers, it's the strained volume of the announcers for three hours that drives me nuts. And I thought, hey, we need personal audio transmitters.

When you think of it, it's a natural thing for an "information designer" to think about, which is why I've already added features. A personal audio transmitter would be embedded in your head, of course. You can watch TV, and you alone would hear it, unless others in the household changed to the same channel. You'd be able to listen to whatever you want to hear, without headphones, without distortion, perfectly natural -AND hear the outside world if you chose. But the rest of the household and the neighborhood could enjoy some peace and quiet.

The thing about being an information designer, though, is that almost immediately I saw a flaw. You're listening to the game, and your crazy-assed wife who can't sleep starts talking to you. Sure, you can hear her, but goddamn, doesn't she know you're watching the game?

So the technology isn't ready, because I'm pretty sure we can embed the audio transmitter already, but I don't know about the little yellow hologram lightbulb that hovers over your head to show that you're currently listening elsewhere. That might take some time.


An allergy to work

Every weekday afternoon, just before 3 p.m., I have an attack of the sneezes. It's taken me many weeks to determine that this does, in fact, occur every work day.

What is happening at 3 p.m. that causes me to sneeze?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Observations on a rainy day

One: I was never really afraid of storms in Toronto, but now I have to be afraid. We reviewed tornado procedures at work this afternoon, and then I drove home with clouds so low they looked like they were coming right at me as I crested each subtle hill on the freeway. Brooding, disturbed poltergeists formed and malformed and deformed all around me, and the rain, thankfully light, had me craning forward in my seat, as if that would somehow help me see better through the muddy wetness swiped by windshield wipers between me and the road. And I thought, what if a tornado happens now? I regularly come home clenched up from head to toe, shaking and stressed because a storm kept me from seeing where I was going (and made me invisible to others going the same way). How do I suppose I would respond to the sight of a tornado -not just a funnel, which I've already seen here, but a full-on furious freight-train devil? Driving in wind and rain and probably hail as well, there's no way I'd be able to tell if it was coming for me or running away, if it (or the inevitable flying cows) would cross my path or just pace me as I made my way home. I get nervous about pulling over to the side of the road. What would I do? Would I just drive my car into the whirlwind and hope the Wizard turns out to be sexy?

I should put it in a story. And since when was I putting things in stories, anyway?

Two: When considering the purchase of a residential property, confirm that high-speed internet is available. It is, here -but I've seen others less than fortunate on this issue. But equally important, perhaps, find out what kind of asshole trees are hanging over your driveway. Nuts are bad for windshields and dainty little paint jobs. Just fyi and all.

Friday, September 08, 2006

What do I believe?

I recently registered as a bright. A bright, says the organization's website, is "a person who has a naturalistic worldview." I don't normally think of myself as having a "naturalistic worldview," but I applaud this core ideal: Let's define ourselves by what we believe, rather than what we do not believe.

It's easy to talk about what I don't believe. Like most brights, I don't believe in ghosts. I don't believe in souls. I don't believe we have a purpose, other than what we ourselves decide to pursue in life and in death. I don't believe good and evil are absolutes. I don't believe in God.

But what do I actually believe? I can say with confidence that I believe there is no God, but if I let that belief define me, then I'm defining myself with a negative, or defining myself by what other people believe. The idea behind "the brights" is to try to form a community of atheists and agnostics who can speak positively about their worldviews, without speaking negatively about others' beliefs, and without defining themselves only by what they don't believe.

Curious about what the general public was saying about the brights movement, I did some poking around and immediately ran into harsh criticism. The biggest problem is the name, "bright." Nobody really believes that this name wasn't chosen as a less-than-subtle implication about the cognitive abilities of those who do believe in Gods and other invisible forces.

Only... right there, we again insist that somehow because I am an atheist, I must define myself in relation to theists. That in defining myself as bright, I must be comparing myself with those who are not so bright. Well, why? Why can't I just say what I am, however I see myself, and have it have nothing to do with you and your church and your prayers and your God?

In criticizing the brights movement, this creep here says, "If you sense a linguistic sleight-of-hand going on here, you're brighter than Brights give you credit for. Despite their clever rhetoric, a belief system that rejects the supernatural is one that inescapably rejects the existence of God. So regardless of what affiliation a Bright claims, by definition, he is an atheist."

No. By your definition, I am an atheist. Because you can't say anything without God in it. If I follow my own beliefs, however, I deserve the right to talk about myself without talking about God. God does not exist in my world, so why should I have to define myself in reference to God?

I'm not sure how I feel about the brights. It almost sounds like a cult, like... a religion, and I'm frankly used to being on my own with my beliefs. I also don't feel a warm and fuzzy about this thing having a lot of success, at least not in the United States. But I have to say, I think they're onto something, and I'm going to ride along and see if being a bright affords me the opportunity to see my own self more clearly.

I'd like to be able to refer to my beliefs without the negativity our language has previously required I employ. I'd like to be able to talk about what I do believe, instead of what I don't believe.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Still Pimpin' Pale Immortal!

There once was this Blogger in beta
That tended to block my guests' data!
Let your frowns all be gone
And the party rage on!
Your comments Anon're all the greata!

yikes, that's bad...

Blogger-n-beta seems to have some trouble with comments across different Blogger versions. Still, it'd be nice to know you visited! Leave an anonymous message with your own blog URL, and I'll buzz you back!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Pimp my Pale Immortal

The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things. Of ships and sails and sealing wax, and Anne Frasier, and Pale Immortal.
If you read (and if you don't, what the heck are you doing here?), you will be enthused to consider today's release of Anne Frasier's new novel, Pale Immortal. I blog it here because, well... let's leave that for a moment, shall we?
The USA Today bestselling author of Before I Wake, known for keeping readers on the edge of their seats, delivers a tale that will have them looking over their shoulders....

Okay, I have to interrupt already. This is obviously just a bit of marketing mumbo jumbo. I mean, "edge of their seats"? Come on! Nobody reads a book at the edge of a seat. Movie, yes. Book, no. And "looking over their shoulders" is so... eighties! But I digress...

The sleepy town of Tuonela, Wisconsin, is known for one thing: the killer who stalked its streets one hundred years ago, drinking the blood of his victims. And when the drained corpse of a young girl is found, the citizens fear their past has risen from the grave—and point their fingers at one man....

Evan Stroud can never see the light of day. The prisoner of a strange and terrible disease, he lives in tragic solitude, taunted for being a “vampire”—until the son he never knew he had shows up in Tuonela, and is drawn into its depraved, vampire-obsessed underworld. Then Evan must rely on coroner Rachel Burton, his childhood friend, for help. But the evil that they face is powerful and elusive—and about to take them to the very brink of madness (Penguin, 2006).

Here's something foolish: I've read this synopsis -or iterations thereof- several times, but it wasn't until recently I noticed this Rachel Burton character. Who is she? Oooh, a coroner?

For me, this makes the Evan character even more intriguing. How did this happen? Well, now we have Evan -a man- and Rachel -a woman. All of a sudden, there is... a relationship. This relationship is not necessarily romantic, I'll grant you, but the mere possibility makes Evan Stroud more attractive. Now, we have an intriguing Evan Stroud instead of a creepy Evan Stroud. We have a son that Evan Stroud never knew he had. And we have a woman, a professional, a woman with the kinds of skills one might use to solve a crime... Aha, says a bekbek's mind: This, here, is the start of an adventure!

So that's it, then. I'm hooked. How about you? Go out and buy this book! In addition to the thrill of a good novel, you get to be a part of a movement! Yes, it's true: This blog entry is part of a bonafied "blog crawl," as we trip and stumble and curse our way over the internet, crying, "hello! There's a new book out!" Cool, eh?

And while you're at it, stop by Anne Frasier's own blog, Static, and become a part of the phenomenon. This is a whole lot like going downtown to blow some bubbles, and gosh darn it, I am in the mood for some bubble blowing!

Finally, if the bubble-blowing mention doesn't convince you, here's a more effective teaser:

Penguin Group (USA). (2006). Pale Immortal. Retrieved on September 4. 2006 from this site, here.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Local culture

This rings all too true:

Somebody likes me!

I am astonished to report that my little story, Runaway, somehow came in 4th in Jason Evans's Lonely Moon short fiction contest! I really wasn't expecting it and am truly honored.

The contest was a huge success, with exactly 100 entries, and I did my best to keep up and contribute with some comments and my votes for the Readers' Choice award. Around the time the winners were announced, I went online to find out how many of my Readers' Choice picks had placed among the overall contest winners. I wasn't looking for my own name and was about to click away when it finally dawned on me that I had somehow made the list! What the--!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jason and Anne both, for another terrific experience. I am not worthy.

Speaking of "not worthy," though, I have to wonder how this works. I was proud of my little story. I thought it was good. Still, I was surprised to see it win anything. Why's that? Common humility demands I mention there were so very many good stories, and there were indeed (I'll list some specifics shortly). But why wouldn't I have even entertained the possibility that mine might be judged "good enough"? I dunno. I shall have to think on this and get back to you.

In any case, I was pretty much the picture of "tickled pink," and sort of hooted and hollered into the main office area at work, boasting and blushing. Very cool. There really were so many stories among the entries that I consider marvelous. Not to take anything away from any of the others, but I'd like to point you toward a few I think are very special:

Hardway, Jack, Man In The Moon (#100)
Fringes, Two Months at the Lake with Strangers and Old Friends (#38)
Flood, Robbed (#44)

Many of the participants agreed with me about that third one. Flood won the Reader's Choice award! Congratulations to you and to all the writers.

I think I might like to do a little more of this creative stuff after all...

Friday, September 01, 2006

The morning commute

I drive just over 21 miles to work in the morning, in 25 to 35 minutes depending on traffic and other stupidities. During the drive, I do some thinking, and sometimes I talk my thoughts out to an empty vehicle. Lately, I've reviewed four or five different topics that have been on my mind, over and over again, usually with the idea of posting them here.

Then I get to work.

Then I go home. The drive home is always considerably more aggravating. It takes 40 to 50 minutes. It's hot, and I'm tired. When I arrive at the house, Wil is either doing homework or watching television. Luther is eager to chat about his day. The cat is often under my feet, waiting for me to give her a snack. And blogging is the last thing on my mind.

Maybe tonight I will finally write something down.

Don't hold your breath.