Friday, September 28, 2007

Okay, I give

Reading other blogs over the past couple years, I kept wondering at the laments of my friends who were teaching, about how wearing grading could be. I simply didn't remember it being so exhausting from my time teaching at the community college. No, it couldn't be that bad. They're just whining.

Okay, I give. It can be that bad. Well, exhausting in any case. One thing's good: I guess my first test wasn't too easy. ... I've got a good mix of grades so far... but I'm only about two-thirds way through the grading. One perfect score. But a couple failing grades as well. It is so time-consuming. And I've got a stack of essays from my Wednesday night class as well. Their first test is next week. I'm doing my best to get Thursdays tests returned on Tuesday, and Wednesdays essays back on Wednesday. It won't get any easier, so I might as well not fall behind now.

On another count, I fly to Oakland next Saturday for a meeting with a couple programmers I'm looking to hire on for a project. They were recommended to me by contact Matt Suliman. He's a good contact for me (I hope he'll turn into a friend), because he has a similar background in academia and research, he's a visionary, driven by a passion to "make a better mousetrap" as he puts it, and also engaged with the practical issues of running a start-up and trying to keep the intermediate steps as commercially viable as possible. In other words, he's a model for the type of thing I'm doing, only he's been doing it for about 5 years now.

In any case, I'm looking to hire some programmers to help me build the tools I need to put together my proofs-of-concept. I'm looking forward to the meeting, but I'm hoping to have a very clear description of what exactly I'm asking them to write. Having gotten my feet wet with programming myself, I think I've got a pretty good handle on how I should frame it. Alvin, the lead programmer, whom I spoke to on the phone, seems quite excited about the work. The trick will be negotiating a reasonable pay agreement. We shall see. Every dime comes out of our savings, so I don't want to blow the wad too quickly. But if this works out, I'll have the tools I need to send off or present some demos which might net me some contracts or clients.

Hope springs eternal.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ten Years

Ten years ago today, my wife and I exchanged vows on the lawn of a golf course. "With all that I have, and all that I am, and all that I do, with all of my body, and all of my mind, and all of my heart..." It's been ten wonderful years.

This morning on my bed (I, a bit groggy, from having arrived at home after midnight from my return commute):
Artist: The clock says seven-oh-four.

Inventor: [Artist], talking quietly is kinda like whispering.

It's not kinda like whispering, it's the same thing.
... The clock says seven-oh-six

[giving up]
Hey, boys, did you know that today is mommy and daddy's tenth wedding anniversary? We've been married for ten years!

Daddy? You're going to be... we're going to be a family forEVER! So, you and mommy will be married forever.
You know... you really can't beat that!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Two counts

I did it! on two counts:

First, I did a little research on public transportation options for my commute to Lemon. They're not good, let me say, but in ways better than the driving. See, Wednesday night, for my 7:00 class, I left my office ~42 miles away at 4:05. Sometime after 5:30, not quite halfway there, I pulled off the highway (isn't that a misnomer!) to grab some dinner. Fortunately, I did arrive in time for class. It reminded me of the day I decided to quit taking a class at UCLA a few months ago. Only now, I've got a commitment to my students and the institution to stay on.

Yesterday, I took the metro to the train to a bus. All told, about 3 hours traveling. The return was about 2 hours, since I could take a commuter train from a closer station. The trip today should only take about an hour and a half going. Let's hope I catch the 10:10 train after class, or I'll have to wait for the last train, after midnight. At least, on the train, I can do some reading, and finalize my class preps, rather than wasting the time polluting and listening to the same news stories about Sadr city, over and over.

But, it feels good not to be contributing to what the radio called this morning, the worst traffic anywhere in the country!

On the second count, I drafted up three cover letters, printed the requested material, addressed the envelopes, and asked for letters to be drafted. Last week, I was really down about the prospect of another season. Writing the cover letters, and updating my CV have been rather inspiring. I've decided that the best tack is for me to put up front what and who I am, describe the work I'm engaging in, and simply accept that there will be those committee members scratching their heads, wondering if my file might not have been misplaced from some other department's search.

I'm still planning to be selective in the schools I submit to, looking in particular for openness to interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary approaches. And, I'll still be applying our measures of whether it's a location we'd like to live, and whether the description of duties collides with my interests. In any case, it was a good experience to get through that hurdle.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Inventing a way to say it

Inventor: [arranging bottles of water on the floor] Look daddy, when I fall it on the top it falls on the down.

Me: I see that. When you put it on top, it falls down.

NOOOOO! [blood curdling scream] I say it: "When I fall it on the top, it falls on the down."

Oh... okay.

[sitting cross legged on the floor] Look daddy, I can only make this kind of bended knee lap.

Me: Wow! I see. What other kinds of lap can you make?

[rearranging] I can make this kind of lap.
[rearranging again] And I can make this kind of lap.

[rearranging, knees on the floor, sitting back] Can you make this kind of lap?

[blood curdling scream] No, daddy. We call that kneeling! That's not a lap.

Oh, okay

Friday, September 14, 2007

Old Boys--clarification

Greg posted a comment to an earlier post, challenging in part the image I painted of an old boys' network. As he pointed out, fields differ (and I might add, I think schools differ in their culture as well). For clarification (since my own reading is likely biased) here's a redacted version of the email from my ex-step-dad, who's been chair of his own program for years. In Greg's defense, my mother's take (she was CC'd on the email from [ex-step-dad]) was quite different from my own. She describes the professoriate at that school (it's in the city where she lives) as rather quirky, and anything but entrenched.
Dear Articulate,

Well, that would be a kick, to see you at [Respected Eastern Tech] as a colleague! Very cool.

I know [department chair] and like her; very smart, dynamic...

The way they undoubtedly do the search is to go through all the applications to form a short list, then go on from there. The trick is to get that far, and I just don't know enough, in detail, about your background, credentials, thesis, etc. to know whether you've got a shot. But hell, it's worth it. Give it your all. I could say something to [dept. chair], that she ought to be expecting your application, that maybe she could give it an additional look-see, but I honestly don't know whether that would do any good. I've had people approach me on behalf of applicants on searches I've conducted and it didn't get them anywhere. Not because I didn't respect the person, just because a tenure appointment is so terribly important to the life of the university that I can't imagine anyone being influential that way -- unless it was someone who was really big in the field, which I'm obviously not.

Because this is a tenure track job at [RET], I'd say that your cover letter ought not to get to preoccupied with the teaching (though of course mention it) but as substantively and strongly as possible with the intellectual meat of what you've done in your thesis and since. You've got to make it easy for them to imagine you as a colleague. You should want them to come out of perusing your CV and cover letter thinking, "OK, I could see going to lunch with him. He'd have a good chance at gaining tenure. He's an [RET] sort of a guy." You want to come across as solid, substantive, deep, interesting. Which of course you are, but you want to make sure you come across that way in anything that reaches the committee.

As for the business that you've been running, I don't know exactly what it is, to tell you the truth, but [RET] is by no means averse to business, innovation, entrepreneurship, etc. But you may want to avoid over-selling it. ... So you'll want to be careful on this score. But that you have a business dimension I don't think ought to get in the way, the more substantive, of course, the better.

That's about all I can say. If it gets to the point that you give a job talk here, let me know!

Good luck,



19 weeks.
Results of the amniocentesis: chromosomally normal X+Y.
That makes three.
Rocket says: I think three is enough!
Three kids? or three boys!
I think three boys is enough.

:) We'll see in a couple years. Meantime, we don't need to buy any new clothes. We're both happy, even if it promises a bit more of the same.

The Artist seems to be thriving in school... er... um, kindergarten. I think before the year is out he'll accept that he, in fact, really is attending school. But for now, it's um... well, you know, just kindergarten, which happens to gather at the school, even though he's not attending school, you know.

Talked with a patent attorney today, who had been referred to me via my network on LinkedIn. I'm on the right track. He pretty strongly urged me to forego appealing for venture capital (at least for now). He says it's not uncommon for VCs to command 50-75% of your company, and it's highly unlikely that they would be willing to sign a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement, because they want to protect their ability to invest in what they see as their best bet. If someone comes to them with a similar idea to mine, a couple weeks or months later, which is more developed, or better implemented, they want to be able to jump ship and join with the second team, which a Non-Disclosure Agreement might prevent them from doing. Without such an agreement, I might risk them taking my ideas outright.

For now, I step lightly, continue to apply for the few faculty posts that strike my fancy (while investigating that "underground railroad"), look into the prospect of hiring a programmer (or perhaps better partnering with one) to continue developing the tools for my proofs-of-concept, and when I'm at the ready, I send them around, cautiously and carefully, with confidentiality agreements in hand, signed and filed away. We'll see... we'll see.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A conversation with myself

At some point in my life, long ago, I came to the realization that there really is only one person who will have spent my entire life with me, who will know me better than anyone, who will have seen all the things I saw, heard the sounds that accosted my ears, thought my thoughts, questioned my questions. So, it is above all with that person's judgment I must contend: …

Me: So... what's the deal, my friend?

Myself: What do you mean?

Me: Come on. Who do you think you're kidding? ... It's me, remember.

Myself: Yeah. Well... I mean, what do you want?

Me: [waits]

Myself: Okay, okay. You win. [mumbles to self] What's the deal? What's the deal? The deal is... the deal is I hate this game. I hate writing these letters. I hate hearing the endless advice, that simply takes me in circles. What's the point of it all?

Me: It all?

Myself: Yeah.

Me: You mean, ... help me out here. You mean, what exactly? Applying for jobs, for faculty jobs?

Myself: Look, it's not just applying for jobs, it's... I can get a job, okay. I mean I could. I'm not a bum. I've been working all my life. Had my first paper route at nine. I can get a job.

Me: Calm down. No one said you couldn't.

Myself: Yeah, well it's the way you asked, okay? The way you look at me.

Me: [laughs] Look in any good mirrors lately?

Myself: [chuckles] yeah, whatever. I mean, it's just... okay, look, here's the world I'd like to live in. You do your schtick. You impress enough people. They say nice things about you. You show your wares so to speak, your publications and your presentations, and somebody hires you, and gives you a chance to prove yourself.

Me: And this you see, where?

Myself: Hey Rocket lives in that world.

Me: Yeah, but you're not an engineer.

Myself: I could be.

Me: [laughs] And that's what you want, right? ... to go back to school for anoth--

Myself: NO!

Me: Alright then. So... you don't live in her world... at least not her professional world. Big deal. It's got it's plusses I admit. But then, she's not exactly content there either. Not fully, anyway. See, you... you're a different sort. You always have been. Poe's Alone and all that. I mean, most people are content to get a job and work, only then to figure out what they don’t like about it. But you, you always seem to know beforehand. I mean, at least they’re capable of getting the jobs.

Myself: Hey!

Me: Come on, now, it’s me. I’m not judging you. I’m just telling it like I see it. You can’t hide your feelings, never could. Problem is, you always seem to have them figured out ahead of time.

Myself: You saying I can’t interview well?

Me: No, that’s not what I’m saying. At least… not entirely. You'd interview great, for your perfect job! It’s just you haven’t found it yet.

Myself: Tell me about it.

Me: So, what are you going to do then? I mean, it would seem that you’re pretty excited about this research, and applying for patents, and building a firm around those ideas.

Myself: Yeah. Sure. But, um…

Me: [chuckles] What? That doesn’t sound like enthusiasm.

Myself: [laughs] Yeah, that’s the problem. There’s a reason I haven’t followed through on these calls to venture capitalists in the past couple weeks. I don't really want to call around when I'm not feeling up and chipper. I won't exactly convey the level of excitement that I really feel, and that the work deserves. That, and I’ve been quite busy traveling and getting settled teaching again.

Me: Oh yeah. Having fun?

Myself: Yeah, sure. I love teaching. I really do. It’s a rise for sure, like being on stage, only, I get to write the script. You know… one of the kids came up to me after class last week and said “Hey, I just wanted to tell you that I’m really enjoying this class. A lot of my other classes are real disappointments, but not this one. I just wanted to tell you that.” You know, you can’t really beat that. Eighty students. It’s no small feat to keep eighty students alive and engaged. I think I’m doing alright.

Me: Yeah, but what about yesterday?

Myself: Yesterday, hmmm. Okay, I guess there's a bit of the impostor syndrome. It's not that I think myself incompetent. But... I'm teaching this non-majors survey class, covering a massive swath of material. Much of that material (in particular what I'm talking about this week) has never captured my interest. So, it's probably my weakest area in [subfield 1].

Granted, I went to grad school for this stuff, and I've taken classes in that particular area, and I've even taught it before. But that was years ago, and frankly it's telling that I forgot much of it in the interim. So, it's tough to keep a good face on it all when I'm not enthused about the material. But that's just this segment.

Maybe I was projecting, 18-19 year olds often look bored in class. Maybe it wasn't as bad as it felt. I just hate it when a student asks a question, and the real and true and honest answer is: gee, you know what, I really forget. I'll have to look that up and get back to you. And normally, I'd be happy to say to a student that I just don't know the answer (I say that a lot)... but in this particular case, I felt like it was material that I've studied, and that I'm pretending to teach. So I mumbled some partial response... good thing it was the end of class. I'll look over my references and have something better to relate on Thursday.

But it did make me rethink my goals and wants. One of the posts I'm looking at, in the Midwest, say 2-3 hours' drive from my inlaws is to teach two sections per term of the same survey class. Do I really want to do that? Sure, I could get stronger on the topics I'm weakest on. It's true (as was portrayed as they key to me by those who hired me at Lemon) that I do know more than my students (even where I'm weakest). But what do I want?

Me: So, then, you want to teach?

Myself: I just don't know. Teach. If only it were that simple. I can teach. But my enjoyment of teaching is up and down, I guess like any job. Mostly, I seem to have trouble getting a goddamned interview. And the few I’ve had haven’t turned into anything.

Me: Fair enough. But you’ve got yourself a teaching gig now. Maybe that’ll help you get your foot in the door. Or… what’s saying you couldn’t stay on at Lemon?

Myself: No… Lemon’s not a long-term prospect. I mean it could be, but we really don’t want to settle here. Too many people, too much congestion, long commutes, too hot… This just isn't home. Rocket & I have been looking through this cities guide we bought. This area has just about the worst possible air quality of anywhere in the country. Some of the highest population density. Probably the most overinflated house prices. There's little to recommend it.

Me: I get it.

Myself: As for the foot in the door… who knows? I must say I feel like I’ve tried everything else. Got an email back today from [my ex-stepdad]. There’s a posting at the university where he teaches. Thought I’d see what he might say.

Me: And?

Myself: Basically he said (these weren’t his words, but it’s the upshot of their meaning) it’s an old boy’s network. Look like them, talk like them, make them think you’re one of them, and you’ve got a shot.

Me: Hmm.

Myself: And me? See… I don’t really look like… well, who knows?

Me: Setting yourself up to expect disappointment?

Myself: Safer that way, isn’t it?

Me: Well, yeah… but then, you might get just what you expect.

Myself: That’s my dilemma. If I expect this season to pan out like the last three, my heart’s just not in it.

Me: And is that what you expect?

Myself: I don’t know. I just don’t know. I guess I probably do, which makes it that much harder to wrap myself around writing up thrilling, exciting (self-indulgent) letters (of self-praise). If I tone it down, and leave it to my recommenders to do the praising, then I’m criticized for not letting my personality show.

Me: [laughs] Well, there must be a balance there.

Myself: I guess I just haven’t found it yet.

Me: So, work on it. Couldn't hurt.

Myself: Alright. So here's the plan moving forward. I look over postings as they come up. I assess 1) does the job as described sound interesting (always dangerous, because who knows how well the write-up reflects the actual job); 2) is it in a location we'd like to live. Period. I'm not afraid to weed out many or most of the postings. The advantage of course to landing a faculty gig is 1) a bit of validation for the PhD and my efforts over the years (I admit this is a weak reason, but it soothes my ego a bit); 2) there's a degree of stability it offers in terms of salary and benefits which we'll likely otherwise forego, for instance if we simply choose a place to move, Rocket takes time off from work, and I build this business.

Me: But it's exciting too. Clean slate.

Myself: Granted.

Me: Besides, if you ever make those calls to VCs, you might just find you've got as much financial security (or more) than a tenure-track post offers. Remember it's not tenure. They give you a couple years to prove yourself, then possibly cut you loose. Maybe you can get 2-3 years of venture capital, including salary and benefits. And worst case, you've got enough savings to survive a couple years, without even touching retirement.

Myself: Well, that depends on where we live, and the cost of living.

Me: Exactly, but that's what you're trying to decide. Apply for those faculty gigs if you like, but plan. No use holding your breath for that. And more importantly, no use continuing to give away your power. It's not for them to decide where you're going to live. There is no them. It's just in your head. They are simply people, or schools, or committees looking to fill their own needs. They don't care one way or another about your needs. That's not a judgment of them. They've got a task to accomplish, fill the faculty slot. Your task is different. Keep that in mind. You don't need to put on their mask if that's not the role you wish to play.

Myself: You're right.

Me: Hey, friend. Let's keep talking. I think this helps.

Myself: You can count on it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

That sinking feeling

It's that time of year again... when academic postings pop up every couple days. Rocket and I have been doing a lot of talking and considering lately. We've settled on a plan to approach any potential academic post with regard to whether we'd like to live in that city even without a post, whether it might for instance afford a favorable climate for raising a family and starting a business. And, we've decided to be more proactive as well, seeking to find a home, should I not land or take an academic job. We bought a "cities ranked and rated" guide, and started setting marks on a map to visualize where we might like to live. We've started to write up a list of our requirements, and our desirables.

But I still feel nauseous and depressed thinking about another season of applying for jobs. I've been so beaten up by looking for academic posts these past three years. It takes me down a notch just thinking about it. It doesn't matter how many times I'm told that this is par for the course (except of course for those lucky enough to land a post fresh out of grad school). It still sucks. It's a system that makes the best and the brightest feel like the neglected and disregarded!

And yet, I can't seem to hate academia enough to just shut the door. Even weeding through the postings, to decide which ones to set aside is exhausting emotionally. Here I am two years after the PhD, finally teaching at a university, enjoying the classroom and the students, in some ways closer to that elusive first tenure-track post, and part of me wants nothing more than to walk away. But there's a bitter taste in my mouth.

Is it the taste of defeat? Would I be running away from that loss? Or would I be moving on? Is it the taste of "geez I can't believe I stayed in this relationship this long"? Or is it "another audition put to waste!" I just don't know.

So, I tread slowly, ploddingly. I go through the motions. My business is still an embryo. Too much feeling of failure in my life, still. I'm just afraid.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Small Breakthrough

On Monday, I came into my office to get a little work done. Rocket had the day off for Labor Day, and we had spent Sunday with the boys and D back in Paradise, where we rented a sailboat, and took in the city's charms. It had been over 100F for about a week, nearly 110F on Saturday, enough for us to escape. Air conditioning in that context doesn't work well. We've only got a small window unit in one room in the house. Because of wiring problems, the circuit will trip if we dare to run the microwave or coffee maker (or just about anything else) while the A/C is running.

My office A/C wasn't much better, but I think it kept the space below 90F. In any case, I finally got my latest program to work (well, sort of -- for every set of data points, in most cases about 300-400, it drops the last one, but at least it's a very close approximation). So, I can get down to the nitty gritty of proofs-of-concept.

I'm still teaching of course, and there've been some annoying snafus on campus, as I mentioned on Friday. Many students still don't have their books. But in comparison to what the Little Rock 9 suffered, these insults are quite tame. So, I'm keeping a good spirit about it all, and counseling my students likewise.

The commute is somewhat as I expected, and since I had realistic expectations, it hasn't truly annoyed me yet (other than the guilt of contributing to congestion and pollution more than I'd like). This still leaves me with 2.5-3 days per week to keep up my research, working on my patents, building my business.

More and more academic job postings trickle into my inbox. I've yet to get enthused about the job season. I haven't applied for any jobs yet this season. I think I will, but I'm not pinning my hopes on that anymore. I'm more interested in prospects that correspond to a place we might like to live (which, yes, is still an open question). If I see a posting that screams my name, well sure I'll jump at it. But I'm not holding my breath.

My research at the moment has little to do with my ostensive subfield, the area in which my degree seems to best qualify me to teach in. So what do I do? Should I apply for academic jobs without mentioning what's really driving me these days, the research on which I am pinning my hopes? Or do I note this in my cover letter, realizing that most committees will scratch their heads wondering why, say, a cook would be applying for a job in gardening. The connection is clear to me. But then, do I really want an academic job anymore?

I'm teaching two classes now adjunct (about 80 students total). My best guess is that's about 2/3 time compared with the time I'd put in to being a full-time tenure-track faculty member. Meaning, of course, that if I took a faculty gig, I'd likely still have 1.5-2 days/week to work on my research and business, plus the summers. Likely more in fact, if one accounts for my current 6-9 hours of commuting per week. Ideally I'd live much closer to campus. Who knows?
And ... tomorrow, the Painter starts kindergarten. Life... is quite full, and really exciting. Grant that we have the strength and courage to make it through the next few months, to find our path, to locate our new home.