Friday, March 30, 2007

Working at a radio station late at night ensures conversations with drunk callers

The phone rings. My co-host answers it, "Request? Let me give you to someone else, she knows the music better."

He hands me the phone. I greet the caller with, "WXYZ, 103.2, how can I help you?"
"Yeah, you guyssh take requests?"

I glare at my co-host. He's handed the drunk call over to me. Fine. Let's have some fun.

I reply, "Sure, we might not have it, but we'll do our best."
"Okay. How about Distant Early Warning by Rush."
"Sure." I have no intention of playing this.
"What are you doing down there tonight, baby? You guyssh partying?"
I winced at the b-word. "Nah, not really. Just playing music."
"You like it around here?"
"No. I hate it."
"I hate it."
"I hate it. Hate. H-A-I-G-H-T."
"Oh you aren't from around here?"
"No. I'm from the west coast."
"Ah, California, that's nice."
"Nope, not California."
"Huh? Uh. Washington?"
"Nope, one more try."
"Ah yeah, that'sh here for school?"
"Yeah, I'm going to the Cosmetology college on main street."
"Yeah, I want to do make-up for the American Idol show."
"American idol."
"What? Oh. What about hair? You do hair?"
"Nah, just make-up. You gotta specialize these days."
"Ah, that'sssh pretty cool..."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A heart to heart

I asked the boyfriend,

"Do you think I'm mean?"
"...not to you, but to other people."
"Yes, but only to people who suck."

Friday, March 23, 2007

Learning to write

I'm currently working on three papers. On one, I'm second author. I'm mentoring the junior first-author on writing research papers. It's been a long process, but we've got a working draft, and I'm seeing the reward of mentoring.

I've noticed that my first author suffers from the "Cheever Fever" that Ethan Canin describes in his essay, "Smallness and Invention." He wants to make great, poetic conclusions, but does so without giving his reader any concrete details. Canin points out the following passage from Cheever's "The Pot of Gold,"

... Alice strode to the door, opened it, and went out. A woman came in, a stranger looking for the toilet. Laura lighted a cigarette and waited in the bedroom for about ten minutes before she went back to the party. The Holinsheads had gone. She got a drink and sat down and tried to talk, but she couldn't keep her mind on what she was saying.

The hunt, the search for money that had seemed to her natural, amiable, and fair when they first committed themselves to it, now seemed like a hazardous and piratical voyage. She had thought, earlier in the evening, of the missing. She thought now of the missing again. Adversity and failure accounted for more than half of them, as if beneath the amenities in the pretty room a keen race were in progress, in which the loser's forfeits were extreme. Laura felt cold. She picked the ice out of her drink with her fingers and put it in a flower vase, but the whiskey didn't warm her. She asked Ralph to take her home.

Of this passage, Canin gives insight,

I discovered two things: first, that Cheever's great, epiphanic leaps were almost invariably preceded (and followed, it turned out) by paragraphs that accumulated small, accurate detail.

I'll leave it to you to read the rest of the essay, which appears in The Eleventh Draft.

* * *

Mentoring my first author does not mean that I know how to write well. I realized I couldn't write when I was 16. I got a "C" grade on my first essay for my American History course. Devastation. Through the rest of the semester, the teacher tried to cure my own Cheever Fever. He fought against my long sentences; encouraged me to write like Hemmingway instead of Faulkner.

(True, good Faulkner is good. Badly imitated Faulkner is criminal.)

I'm editing my own article today. I see that I still have bouts of Cheever Fever. Take a look at these "Before and After" edits:


B: "The current media climate surrounding the issue of declining enrollment and lack of diversity in the sciences ought to peak the interest of today's scientists and educators."

(Pique. As Inigo would say, "I do not think that word means what you think it means")

A: "The faces of today's computer science community do not reflect those of the larger global community."


B: "we highlight the means by which participants were initially attracted..."
A: "we highlight how participants were initially attracted..."

* * *

To the delight of my friend Moira, I'm also learning how to use a semicolon. Trimble says, "If you can replace your semicolon with a period, your construction is OK, but if you can't, substitute a comma for it."


Over at "On Being a Scientist and a Woman" there is a good debate going on regarding "Why Women Leave."

I wanted to point out a really good article related to this post, namely about women "choosing" to leave the workplace. It says,

On a variety of basic policies—including parental leave, family sick leave, early childhood education, national childcare standards, afterschool programs, and health care that’s not tied to a single all-consuming job—the U.S. lags behind almost every developed nation. How far behind? Out of 168 countries surveyed by Jody Heymann, who teaches at both the Harvard School of Public Health and McGill University, the U.S. is one of only five without mandatory paid maternity leave—along with Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland.

The article is entitled, "The Opt-Out Myth."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Spring means mixtapes and Disney characters

I've been going to bed later, getting up later, and having trouble sleeping. It's either the depression, or the asthma medication I resume taking in the spring. Either way, it's the perfect set up for bedtime antics.

Last night was all giggles. The boyfriend and I were trying to think of the worst romantic mixtape ever. It wasn't just enough to say the title of a song, like "Reunited by Kool and The Gang," because the boyfriend can't remember artists and titles. Instead, I'd say,

"What about the song from Ghost?"
"Song from Ghost?"
"Yeah, the song they make out to when they're makin' clay."
"Is that the...I can't help fallin' in love with you..."
"No no. That's Elvis, but covered by UB-40. Which version?"
"Definitely Elvis."
"Ah. No, the Ghost song is Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers."
"I don't know."
"oooooo...myyyiayyyy darrrlin'....I hunger for..yourrrr toucheh!"

And so on. Keep in mind, I can't sing. I assume the voice of an unknown cartoon character when I sing.

And now that Spring is here, the pajamas are evolving for increasing warmth. We are calling each other "Mickey" and "Donald."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Google Ain't Green

I've been obsessed with "target heart rate" lately. I'm trying to streamline my exercise program, and at the same time fall off the stupid weight plateau I've been trapped at for 9 months. So what if I lost 25 pounds, I want to lose MORE. And don't worry that your beloved FCSGS might be anorexic. When you start at 205 pounds, there's plenty of room for loss.

Big shopping trip today. The bike is back from its Spring tune-up. Bought new athletic shoes, and a heart rate monitor. I'm going to the gym tonight, so I wanted to make sure the monitor worked. I've got it all set up and enabled. I'm at my expected resting heart rate of 70 bpm. As I continue with this post, we'll see how close I get to my target heart rate just by being pissed off.

* * *

Google has been in the news lately with their Google Bus system they've deployed for their employess. The Google bus isn't new. It appeared on their blog in 2004, reporting a total 155 riders per day. A testimony to Google's increasing size, their modest transit system now has 1200 riders per day.

For Google, I'm not convinced that the bus is about being Green. It's about aggressively getting improved worker productivity. The key is this,

And Google can get a couple of extra hours of work out of employees who would otherwise be behind the wheel of a car.

I'm currently a victim of Google's aggresive hiring tactics. I was a finalist for one of their scholarships a few years back. Ever since, my e-mail address has been on the bathroom stall of their recruiters. A recruiter contacts me every month, at which I send a polite, "Thank you for the opportunity, please leave me alone."

But it's not the e-mails which set my heart on fire. It's the swag.

Every six months, I get a 16 x 16 x 6 box from Google. It contains some silly thing with the Google + Female symbol, plus a note that says, "Let's Keep in Touch!"

I now have a t-shirt, a bathrobe, and a blanket. Of course Google's notion of "Extra-Large" or "One Size Fits All" makes me feel like a giant. Even in a Google XL baby doll, I look more like Baby Huey.

My mantra as an environmentalist is the classic "reduce, reuse, recycle" with "reduce" being #1. I didn't need (or want) a bathrobe or blanket or t-shirt. I already have a big pile of t-shirts from my industry days, all of which I use to wash my car.

I wonder if I can file a restraining order against Google's mailing department.

* * *

Hm. Good workout! 37 minutes. Max heart rate 103. 73 kCalories burned.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Death and Shame

I got a letter from my Dad yesterday. It was mainly a report of the two relatives who had died recently. I'm related to both only through marriage, and actually had never met one. Dad also mentioned in the letter that he had to clean up the apartment of my "cousin" because all the other family members were too bereaved. Or lazy.

I got a package from my Dad today. Sheets. Just sheets shoved in a box. No letter of explanation. I'm guessing they are my dead cousin's sheets. He was cleaning up her place. Came across some perfectly good sheets. Figured I needed some new sheets.

Now I have my dead uncle's VCR and roasting pan, and my dead cousin's sheets.

Seems that perhaps there should be shame in using the mediocre household items of the dead. I've never been particularly ashamed of things that make others ashamed. I'm not easily embarassed, except by the site of naked Barbie dolls. I talk freely about body parts and eggs. I'm not phased when my international friends ask me to explain "Douche bag." I go to the gym looking like a homeless person. I wear second-hand clothing. I own third-hand furniture. I use my dead uncle's VCR to watch movies.

Instead, I carry around shame about things I did 10 or 20 years ago. I was a stupid kid. I did stupid things. I'm still mortified about them. Like the time I cheated on my English homework in Mrs. Hansen's class. I got caught. It may be why I'm so sensitive about cheating today. I still remember the horrid pink cardigan she was wearing as she was lecturing me. Or the time I screwed up as Stage Manager of the "Bye Bye Birdie" production at my high school. I didn't show up to some important meetings. I'd been given the calendar of meetings, but did a horrible job of keeping track and staying organized. Mr. Putnam was pissed. It bugs me that I have this stupid teenage shame that I can't shake. Seems like a stupid heavy load to carry for so long.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Maybe I should streak at the next conference

Over and over again we are told by our department that to get that top tenure track position, we should "Get Noticed." And yet, little is done to help students get noticed. To get noticed they advise: do groundbreaking research; attend lectures and ask smart questions; give interative talks at conferences; attend the same conferences year after year. So much advice. Very little action.

In a College of Engineering that consists of thousands, or at a conference that consists of hundreds, there's not much I alone can do to get noticed or, as one former faculty called it, "Create Buzz" My feeling is that there are things that a department can do to help its students get noticed. For example, as Crispin Taylor describes in his essay, "Heeding the Voices of Graduate Students and Post-Docs"

I did my PhD in a well-funded institute that many prominent scholars wished to visit. Moreover, the faculty encouraged the students to select and invite on seminar speaker each semester and to host that individual when she or he came to give the talk. Imagine our suprise when we learned that distinguished scholars were more inclined to accept a speaking invitation when it came from students!

Like Crispin notes later in his essay, informal, one-on-one conversations have significant value. The best experience I ever had at a conference was when I shared a 40 minute cab ride with one of the grandfathers of my field. Imagine the value if I were given the chance to pick up a lecturer from the airport, chat with them before a lecture, or take them out to dinner. Maybe then I could finally get that elusive "external member" for my committee.

I suggested this idea to my department leaders once. They replied with, "Oh but distinguished lecturers wouldn't answer your e-mail." Another kick in the head. Me talk booga-wooga crazy talk.

* * *

Another good idea to help students get noticed comes from Ronald Breslow of Columbia University. He writes in his essay, "Developing Breadth and Depth of Knowledge,"

Scientists need to speak and write well. Graduate programs should make efforts to help their students develop these skills. For example, students should deliver several public seminars, both on their research and on topics from the research literature."

Even better, what about a "Senior Graduate Student Seminar" series in the department that students can take for credit? If I know what the senior graduate students are doing, I too can help them get noticed. Imagine if I'm at a conference, and the subject of databases comes up. I can say,

"Oh yes, there is Michael J. Rumpenstuff at my department. He's doing some fantastic work on databases! Maybe he could give an invited talk for your research group? Yeah? Here's his e-mail."

It's true that I present to my group about once every three weeks. But, during my presentations, for every minute I speak, my advisor speaks three. Admittedly, he's giving me feedback, but this isn't the same environment that I'll have when I'm giving a job talk. What if I suggested a "Senior Graduate Student Seminar" series in my department. Would it just be more of my booga-wooga crazy talk?

* * *

From Alvin Kwiram,

There is today a serious mismatch between the nature and purpose of the doctoral degree and the demands and expectations of the academy. Imagine spending years training an athlete to learn the intricacies of playing football, and then once he finishes playing college call, assuming because he is a well-trained athlete he can immediately be appointed head coach. This is essentially what we do in the academy.

Be the Big Dog

I've received some good feedback on how to be the big dog. I also spoke with the boyfriend about my frustration with being a little dog, and it was interesting how he misunderstood my use of the phrase "big dog." He understood it as "top dog" and that the conversation was really a power struggle. I explained about my "yipping" and he correctly pointed out that I have a tendancy to overexplain, to chat up my feedback or my questions. He said, "I try to say things in as few words as possible."

Or, as David Byrne puts it,

You start a conversation you can't even finish it.
You're talkin' a lot, but you're not sayin' anything.
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.
Say something once, why say it again?

I tried this out at a seminar the other day. I raised my hand, and in as low, slow, and calm voice as I could muster (given the inflammatory topic), I asked my question. The speaker replied with "Oh that's a very good question, but I'll get to that later." He never did answer my question. Sigh.

I asked a later question, again using the big dog recipe. He asked for clarification, and I explained in big dog terms.

All on a day when I didn't have Dottie Dog hair.