Tuesday, October 31, 2006
We took the kids trick-or-treating tonight, after which we fed them, put them to bed, and I crashed for a while. I might just go back to bed in a few minutes anyway, since I'm too tired to do any real work tonight.
But I thought this would be a good time for ghost stories.
My house seems to have a ghost. For real.
There are the odd noises that come from living in an 80-year-old house with old windows that sometimes rattle in the wind, a house that settles occasionally, trees that creak outside or sometimes tap the side of the house with wild, overgrown branches.
It's not like candlesticks float around in mid-air. Our apparitions seem limited to things like the downstairs bathroom toilet paper roll unrolling by itself. Now, everyone's BS detector should have gone off by now, given that I have two young kids and a cat. But my wife and daughter both insist that they've seen it unroll by itself.
Ok, in addition to the haunted toilet paper roll, we've also seen odd shadows. On one occasion, about a year ago or more, my kids and I were walking upstairs with the lights off on the second floor. At the end of the hallway, we all swear we saw a dark, shadowy figure. Even my daughter, then 5, and my son, then 3, asked "Who's that?". I turned on the light, then nothing. This happened a couple more times, but I think not since last Fall semester.
It got a little creepy for a while, with the feeling of something in the shadows. I recall even scolding it, whatever it was, to just stay away from the kids, though last Fall was all a blur between the stress and the sleep deprivation. Sure enough, we haven't seen any strange shadows upstairs. However, shortly after that, my daughter once pointed to the garage and asked, "Daddy, who's face is in the garage window?"
But that was the last we've seen (or not seen) of our (imaginary) house ghost. Our toilet paper has not unrolled by itself ever since.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
They serve coffee, and my favorite, the Cafe Ole.
I have no idea wth a Cafe Ole is. Cafe Au Lait, maybe, but this version might just come with its own bullfighter cape. But I digress, though if I didn't digress, I'd probably have my f-ing PhD by now.
But after about 20 minutes, I was a focused, focus group methodology research method machine, banging away on the keyboard for a good couple hours or so before it got late, the pre-dinner student crowd wandered in, and I realized that my own dinner would be done, waiting, and getting cold on the table, with the family a little ticked off.
When the going gets tough, the tough go to Muddy Cup for inspiration.
The paper is done, pending the discovery of something really stupid when I resume editing in a few minutes. Then on to the next paper... And the grading...
Saturday, October 28, 2006
It's on focus groups.
I need to focus a bit more on this. Maybe I should look up "Adult ADD" on Wikipedia first. :)
Outside, the sky is pretty dark, windy, gusts of torrential rain from time to time. (Good thing we're setting the clocks an hour back tonight. Would hate to think there'd be still light in the sky when I head home at night.) Overall, between the weather and the crap going on in the world right now, it's looking a bit more apocalyptic than normal outside.
But the clouds have shifted, the sky is a little brighter, no signs of a swarm of locusts, the second diet Pepsi is starting to kick in, and I'm on the verge of having a coherent thought about focus groups. (That should have been five sentences, damn those readability measures...)
Friday, October 27, 2006
1. Stopping work on one project because another one just became more urgent.
2. Trying to remember where I left off.
3. Trying to remember what else I was supposed to do that's really more urgent than what I think I'm supposed to do now.
4. Moving my computer, papers, books, and journal article printouts from one table to the next at home.
5. Looking for stuff.
6. Posting a blog about how tired I am and how much left I have to do.
Yea, maybe I should just end here and finish a paper or three today. And do some more grading that I'm behind on.
And a ShoutOut to Matt who's just got a paper accepted to a journal. I should get back to work on mine as well.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
I feel less fried right now, though I'm not trying to actually think. My low point today was completely blanking out mid-sentence while talking about some paper in my research methods class. Yes, I ran out of words. I may have temorarily forgotten English, I'm not even sure right now. Luckily Wil picked up the charge. At the end, when asked if I had anything else to say, I merely mumbled the PhD student equivalent of "yea, what he said".
Maybe the hours I spent worrying and sweating out makeup assigments for an exam that half the class couldn't be bothered to study for (or even pay attention to during the actual exam period) didn't pay off as much as extra sleep would have. I gave out instructions for the makeup assignment, only to find some students just hastily scribbled more wrong answers, which I handed back and told them to try again, get tuitoring, and return by Tuesday if they wanted to improve their grades. Not going to make me "Adjunct of the Year" in any school, but I don't like to see anyone wasting my time either.
I was reading a review tonight about Rachael Ray in the NYTimes online, and was struck with a couple of comments: serious foodies dislike her becuase she's not a purist or perfectionist. She wings it sometimes, makes mistakes, and focuses on saving time and having fun. The title: "Rachael Ray gives the gift of time," and the takeaway: "Life just doesn't have to be that hard." And she's successful because she speaks to us, the unwashed masses. Crap, we've all been through enough the last few years not to have to sweat out salad forks, homemade pasta, and the correct temperature and glasses to serve white wine in.
Having kids is a bit like that, too. Taking them to McDonalds once in a while to eat chicken nugget-type-things and french fries and run amok in the McPlayLand isn't such a parenting disaster. Not that I've done that in a few months, but it's an easy solution, and I can get a half hour of reading done at the same time. But it's not about impressing other parents or paying homage to the "baby experts".
I think about some of the unnecessary stuff I do. If it doesn't help me, and doesn't help anyone else, is it worth doing? Do I have to make my stock from scratch instead of just opening a can? Do I have to compulsively update my school website if nobody really reads it, or can I just take it down? Sometimes life really doesn't have to be that hard, but it's way too easy to forget that.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
It's happening a lot more often now, that I sit down to write school papers, and absolutely no words come out. SO I'm hoping a quick note here will get my neurons firing again. I'm really starting to wonder what working on my disseration will be like.
I need the gift of BS today. Maybe I should try to compose another haiku and submit that instead. Maybe another cup of coffee will help. Caffeine is supposed to boost your effective IQ, and mine is about room temperature right now. And it's October. :)
Monday, October 23, 2006
I'm not vaguely religious, to the extent that I've always felt that some of the worst horrors on Earth were committed in the name of God. (However, democracy, classical music, human rights, civil rights, and some other fine things were also inspired by religion.) But beneath the mask of my church face, I did absorb some views regarding right from wrong, not to mention an ability to sit motionless and vaguely attentive through some of the most boring lectures ever devised.
So had my graduate students learned as well, as I droned endlessly about HTML tags in two Intro courses. By the time one gets to Graduate school, one has already developed an enormous capacity to cope with boredom. That just might be what my PhD will really represent. And sleep deprivation, have to mention that at least once per blog posting...
Or is it just the discpline to sit and pay attention that indicates the discipline to study and do homework? That'll have to remain for another day. Certainly, the ones who web surf instead of listening to lectures aren't going to do as well as they could have, regardless. But that gets into Cause and Effect, and the sharpening of one's Causal Loop Modeling pencil.
Here's the short list that occurs to me today of things that are broken or otherwise suck for indeterminate reasons:
- A calendar that works. I have to be able to look up my calendar, deadlines, kid schedules, classes, and mutual free times with whoever I have to meet up with. They were kinda on to something about 10 years ago, but now I'm back to scribbling into my 3x5 loose leaf notebook that I bought in Japan. (My PDA stopped syncing reliably.)
- A To-Do list that works. Preferably, the "deadline" would show up in my calendar. Also, I'd like to see dependencies, like in an outliner (see below).
- I always exist in some place in time, and have a location. I'd like some way to capture this in my calendar, to-do list, or some other kind of organizer. (I think my cell phone would be a good way to track this.)
- A good general purpose outliner. They had lots of these about 20 years ago. Now there aren't any, so everyone uses MS Word, a wiki, or hashes them out in bare HTML. (Like I'm doing here!)
- Offline web browsers for my notebook, just like my PDA has. Hey, you can't always jack a wi-fi signal.
- Treat notebooks like mobile devices, not desktop computers you can carry. There's so much wrong with notebooks, I don't know where to start (well, I did, above, but you get the point.)
- The Internet in general. It's just not fun anymore-- the quality of web apps is really bad, like late 1980's enterprise software with fancier colors, and there's no sign of anything smarter on the horizon.
- Wiki. (It could be done better, but it still does a simple job effectively.)
- Social Bookmarks (eg. del.icio.us) because I'm too busy to do my own surfing.
- Open Source stuff. I just wish they wouldn't use so many goofy names for projects, but maybe I'm too old-school.
- My PDA, when it worked.
- MP3/MP3 Players, because I still remember tapes.
- XML. It's not as ugly as the problems it solves.
- My daughter's next-generation Tamagotchi from Japan. It has an IrDA port, and a companion web site. In Tokyo, there are kiosks you can use to network (via IrDA) with the Tamagotchi home world. There's just no making this stuff up.
There's a bunch of issues here. My deviced don't talk to each other at all: the desktop, laptop, Media player, PDA, and cell phone could share a lot of this, but I can't even get all of these to share an email/phone number list! Also, the biggest problem is in tagging: how to you mark a piece of information as portable, and where to send it. I think Wiki syntax is all the markup people can manage by themselves. I've got a few other ideas, but none of them are really hatched yet. Almost makes me want to dump school and go back to coding, if I could think of a good way to earn a living giving away free software...
Monday, October 16, 2006
I'm covering evening labs, and like usual, nobody is showing up for help. Just as well-- after last week's travels, unpacking, cleaning up the house somewhat, and trying to finish off a paper that was due last week while I was away in Portland, I'm kind of fried right now. It was one of the worst papers I've written in a while, with the exception of my General Comp Exam.
I got the evaluation forms for that. I had been informed I had failed, produced work unfitting a PhD student, and the horse I rode in on, etc. But after reading the evaluations (with a few "great job!" or "adequate coverage of base theory" comments) it came down to one reviewer giving me a borderline fail with instructions on how to resubmit to receive a passing grade. Boy, I wish I could take trade a few of those better grades for the ones I didn't do so well on. Kind of how my Subject comp turned out-- a bunch of A or A- answers don't make up for a single prof's C grade on one question.
My academic career isn't over so fast after all. Getting past this will be annoying, but doable-- the lesson here is that I don't write a good literature review. At least it no longer looks like I have wait a year to go through the same exercise next summer. At my age, I'm not sure how many more multi-day all-nighters I have left in me.
I'll have to head back home soon, clean up the sprawl of papers, books, cables, CD's, and other debris I have now spread over both the breakfast table and the dining room table, since I've now forced the rest of the family to eat over the kitchen island. My computer table in the basement is also covered in books, papers, old bills, and lots of other assorted junk. I'd love to have a week off for sleeping and cleaning up. Maybe that's what December break will be.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Finally made it back home again. today we're at the park and the state museum, returning to old routines. portland was pretty cool, and i'm hoping to go back when i have more time to look around! but more on the trip when i get back on the computer.
This message was sent from a T-Mobile wireless phone.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Friday, October 13, 2006
The whole conference was pretty good. I'm going again next year, though hopefully soneone else can chip in part of the cost.
The day started off with the Google Transit people talking about their next steppingstone to world domination.
They had a interesting demo of their map generator, and how they'd overlay bus stops on top. Plus, you could enter starting / ending addresses, it'd geocode it to latitude/longitude, and give you a simplistic itinerary of where to board the bus, where to change, and where to get off to your final destination. Interesting, not groundbreaking. Of course, they're just getting started...
They had a great speaker at the end of the conference, the CIO of Indiana University. He was a really polished speaker, funny, engaging, informative, you name it. I want to be half as good a public speaker someday as that guy.
Overall, well worth it. I think next time, I'll leave earlier in the day and bring a change of clothes in my carry-on bags, instead of bringing some books I'd never even open and a laptop I'd hardly use, and take the gamble on connecting to the last flight of the day...
Went to a friend's house for dinner-- another transit person-- and had dungress crab and a couple local microbrews before returning to the motel to crash. Not the nicest motel that side of the Rockies, but student budget-friendly and good enough for the hour per day (or less) I was conscious there.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Arriving finally at Portland after spending the night in the Philly airport, I discovered my bag didn't make it. (Apparently, that's what they have you do when your plane is late, and I was hardly alone at the gate!) So I decided to head straight to the conference, in the same clothes I'd slept in.
I missed a couple of speakers, but got there just in time for lunch-- salmon. Not the last time I'd eat salmon on my trip to Oregon, but it was all quite good. But following that, was a keynote speaker, Ward Cunningham, the inventor of the Wiki in 1995. Pretty cool. But he spent more time talking about WikiPedia, and less time about his own wiki project, which in reality had set the model and created the first of many communities on the Web.
That evening, I had a chance to sit down with Ward and chat for about half an hour about Wiki, his wiki, the wikis I've used while teaching, and my other research. He's a down-to-earth guy, and very happy to talk to students like me. It's true, even top-notch researchers and other famous people are pretty accessible at conferences. Heck, for that chat alone, the trip was already worth it for me.
Despite having a camera with me, it completely slipped my mind to take any pictures until my last day in Portland. But it was a mad rush from one appointment to the next.
I missed my plane! The connection from Albany didn't quite make it in time, and the other flight was less delayed than we were. So, I had to spend the night in Philly airport to make the 6 am flight to Chicago, then the next flight to Portland, OR.
So overnight, some guy took out a blanket made of what looks and sounds like aluminum foil. Every ten minutes, whenever he turned, you could hear it wrinkle. Plus, all the overhead lights are still on, and CNN is playing at full volume, nonstop about the Congressman and the Page.
But I woke up fully at 5 am, got some airport breakfast, then boarded to Chicago. When did they stop serving real food on domestic flights? I haven't flown domestically since 1998.. since then it's been all International flights. Hard to believe I used to fly to Chicago from Newark about twice a month for a year and a half. They used to serve food on those planes, such as it was.
But at least I'd make the flight to Portland finally, if about 11 hours later than I'd planned.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
One of their favorite songs goes on about "1985", though I don't feel interested enough to learn what the real name is. As a result, both kids think the 1980's are ancient history.
"Dad, were there dinosaurs in 1980?"
"Back in 1980, were there any people?"
To which I respond, "No, but there were dinosaurs in 1930, when your Grandpa was born."
But 1985 does feel like another lifetime. I was still in High School, and had my share of hopes and dreams for the future. I'm not terribly disappointed with the way things have worked out, or what my life is like today, though I think I should have finished with school permanently a long time ago. :)
Monday, October 09, 2006
My daughter wrote a book, "Going to New York Stores" to mark our last weekend day trip to New Jersey and Manhattan to get stuff. Complete with illustrations and lots and lots of tape to hold it together. And there's an actual storyline:
"I weant to new york it was pretty in the summer time but in the fall time it is cold."
"There i was at new yorks store."
"But then it was cold."
"Wean i weant in sed it was wome."
"Wean my cart was fool I weat to the groceriies manager then i was don."
"Ther i was i went back to albany i was sad i mest new york."
"But then i had an ida."
"I took a pekchr of new york."
"Her is my photo."
I guess she inherited her spelling from me. At least she draws better than me now. But, it's her first book, complete with her own story and very little help spelling. She's growing up. My son likewise still talks about the trip, though he still likes Albany better. I'm still a little torn between both places.
The semester is reaching the midpoint. I'm going to my second conference, though my first one that involved real travel (I'm going to Portland, Oregon on Wednesday afternoon.) Is this the beginning of my future life as an academic? Do I even want to be a real academic? I'm having my share of doubts now.
And this blog post is going to be #152, since somehow I've posted the last couple without realizing I'd passed the #150 mark, in what spans the last 4 years (though only the last year is really intensive.) But, going back, I'm glad I documented it, if for no other reason than for myself.
But, once again, it's time to wrap up other work for tonight, and get ready for my trip in a couple of days. Kind of scary in a strange way, since I'm not getting a car this time. I'll be depending entirely on the famous Tri-Met transit system, and placing myself at its mercy. It's what I expect of others, as a transit advocate and researcher.
Trust. Maybe this is another turning point for me as well...
Sunday, October 08, 2006
First the great news: there's a conference in Portland, Oregon next week that's tailor-made just for me. And I bought plane tickets-- I leave this Wednesday. It's about Government Open Source software, Transit Open Source, and using Wikis. Even though I'm footing the whole bill for the trip, I just have to go. It's going to be a great time to meet everyone who's doing anything important in my research area. Plus, I have a killer wrap-up for my (late) Independent Study.
It's also my first time to the Pacific Northwest, and I've wanted to go to Portland for a couple of years now. They have the cutting edge in transit information systems in the US, apparently.
Then, the day after buying my plane tickets, I get the bad news. I'm not sure yet how this will play out, but it could defer my graduation by a year. I don't know yet. Either way, I do know that my days as a full time student are just about over. I couldn't do this forever, nor do I really want to.
On many levels, the last couple of years has been more frustrating to me than I expected. The longer I spend in school, the farther away I feel I'm getting from my whole point of going back-- building my Public Transit IT infrastructure. I don't learn anything about Open Source software for instance-- I research it and end up teaching everyone else about it. Ditto for Social Software like bloging, wiki, or RSS-- I'm the one explaining it to faculty so that they're someday ready to take credit for the work.
I've reached the conclusion that GIS isn't research, it's data collection. The map with the pretty colors is data, not information-- just like the construction of a database and the insertion of raw data. More like System Dynamics, the lovely flowcharts with all the arrows for cause/effect-- the end result is not all the many graphs that the model produces. The result is the story behind every curve, every inflection on each graph, and their interrelations. The research is the story you tell when you find patterns in the data-- interrelated graphs sharing inflection points, even when those graphs end up doing very different things. It's really all about finding the hidden patterns.
So we celebrated my bad news by driving to New Jersey today to buy sashimi fish from the Japanese grocery along with lots and lots of sake. And a bunch of Korean stuff from the big Korean grocery in New Jersey, Han Ah Reum. Once again, I have a cubic foot of Kimchee in the fridge.
But in perspective, bad news could be a lot worse. My favorite Calvin & Hobbes quote is that "nothing is ever so bad that it can't get worse". Yes, he's absolutely right about that, and I've been through a lot worse than this. The main casualty just turned out to be my ego, and that probably had it coming anyway. Someday I'll be ready to go into more detail about it.
But, it's late, and after about 7 hours of driving or otherwise sitting in the car today, it's time to go to bed, even though I'm strangely awake. But time to try again anyway.
Monday, October 02, 2006
Yes, that's me, at the breakfast table grading. It's been taken over by my books, papers, and laptop, but at least I still eat cereal there. (I'm down to my last 18 boxes.)
This message was sent from a T-Mobile wireless phone.
I'm taking a break from the grading of 40+ exams, all short answers pertaining to the many wonders we call Microsoft Word, 10 questions per exam.
Seriously, it's not my job to complain or be bored with it. It is my job to take a room full of people with very little computer experience (outside of email, Instant Messaging, and finding YouTube on the internet) and build basic professional computer skills. Funny, but this time, I can focus 100% on the learning process, instead of the content of what I'm presenting.
The prep work for class is easy. Presenting material in a way that gets attention is the hard part, and it's material which is purely hands-on. I suppose teaching language is the same way-- you can't just lecture and hope they pick it up. It's purely learning by doing. It's all that human factors stuff I spent my first decades of life avoiding. Damn, I wish I knew 10 years ago what I know now... but what else is new? :)
Back to grading. I'm about a third done. But first, I have to contrive a spontaneous cell phone self-portrait. Now I can finish grading..