Friday, November 30, 2007


I feel a bit overwhelmed at the moment. I've got myself a nasty cold since yesterday. I actually ended up canceling my afternoon lecture yesterday because I was feeling miserable, and thought resting up for my telephone interview was a higher priority. I might likely have put off the class in any case, the way I was feeling. I'm glad I took the rest though. Despite not feeling quite 100%, I did alright.

I think I remain a rather strong candidate for the post. I had one more question when they wrapped up because of time constraints (the interview was scheduled to last 20 minutes). So, I emailed the chair of the committee. This morning, he sent back a clear and thoughtful response to my inquiry (and cc'd the entire committee). I think that's a good sign that they're still taking me seriously. We'll know soon enough. I would very much like to be offered this opportunity. And I'm rather disinclined to apply for any other positions.

That leads us closer to our (well, not decision point) but our point of movement. Decisions have already been made; we're simply waiting on the few factors that are out of our hands at the moment, before we finalize details. Rocket has now given notice to her supervisor that she'll be taking off before the holidays. That gives her less than three weeks before her hypotheticals become realities.

I'll know in the next couple weeks if I'm out of the running for the post at Miwla College, but perhaps more likely, I'll simply find that I'm still under consideration, and things will remain up in the air a bit until February or March. Meantime, what do I do with my research firm? Ah yes... that's still on my mind.

Tonight I was scheduled to have a conference call with the two programmers I've been meaning to hire. Things got far more complicated in the weeks following our initial meeting. As I wrote before, they finally sent me a rather terse document, which I found unacceptable as a work agreement. We spoke a couple weeks ago, and agreed to revisit the issues today. This morning, I received an email from them with a new draft agreement and some feedback and questions on my original specifications document.

There were certainly some improvements in this work agreement, especially in terms of clarity. But I'm a bit leery of a few items, in particular regarding sharing "partial credit" for potential patents. I'd like to run the document by an attorney. More importantly, I really need some more time (and energy) to review it, which currently I'm too wiped out for.

So, I sent off an email postponing the conference call, suggesting that I'll plan to call them in the next couple weeks. Partly, I'm feeling inclined to revert to my plan to simply do the initial programming myself, despite the fact that it looks fruitful for me to abandon my initial forays in C++, and take up learning C#. Of course, with Rocket off of work, and our planned move to parts remote in the coming months (regardless of the outcome at Miwla College, I might possibly have some company learning and programming.

I guess what I realize is that while their assistance would be helpful, their experience would likely save me a great deal of time and trouble, and I'd likely have a workable toolset sooner, I'm not convinced that it is absolutely essential, certainly not enough for me to hand over any credit ("partial" or otherwise) for their implementation of my algorithms. Their new document specifically states that they: as implementer shall receive partial credit for any and all [blahdiblah] pertaining to the work of this agreement that results in a patent both during and after the execution of this agreement.

While, the statement is rather vague (I mean, I could grant them .005% of my company's future profits, which would be "partial credit"), I'm just not sure that their work at this point would warrant it. And, I'm not sure what the legal ramifications would be for my agreeing to it (hence the need to consult with an attorney).

In any case, I'm feeling quite a desire to hibernate from the world for a few weeks. Unfortunately, I've yet another few weeks of obligations (grading, teaching) to Lemon. But, I plan to get my rest as I can, recovering from this nasty bug I've caught, and putting off these programmers until I'm up to dealing with the issues properly. If it means I'm back on my own, then so be it. One thing I've learned this term is that working 25-30 hours a week on teaching, plus a 9-12 hour commute, is incompatible with me building a research firm.

When I started the term at Lemon, I thought I'd have about 1.5-2 days per week for my research. Once grading kicked in, that was impossible (at least without sacrificing my home life). Important to keep that in mind. If Miwla comes through, I would hope that the significantly smaller class size, the full-time office, and a negligible commute would facilitate both teaching and research. And if it doesn't come through, I've got all the time I want (limited only by the reach of our savings). For now, I can only hope.

It'll be nice to have Rocket around more, once she takes off on leave. And it'll be nice to be free of the long (pollution-filled) commutes to Lemon. Soon enough, soon enough.

Who knows... maybe I'll get a pleasant call from Miwla in the next week.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

So much better in person

Okay... so the phone interview is done. I dread the conference call of disembodied voices. Despite the fact that I had spoken one on one with three of the five committee members, I was terribly nervous.

Tasse Plein had suggested to me:
Make sure to really listen to them. In other words, make sure to let them talk; ask them questions about themselves if appropriate. Please make sure to keep your answers fairly brief. Your enthusiasm will always be an advantage, but make sure you don't come on too strong.
I do my best. Caught myself a bit just blathering on. But I think they like me. A couple of them stepped in to rescue me a bit it seemed. And I listened. And... after the formal questions (God I hate those, I feel like I just talk in vagaries), I lightened up a bit. And I listened, and asked questions. And I reflected on what they said.

We'll see. That part is over. They say they expect to make a decision in the next week or so about whom to invite to campus. They'll invite three or four to come in the end of January or beginning of February. (Great, I think... just when my baby is due!) But, I'll cross that logistical bridge when I come to it. For now, I don't know that they'll invite me.

The waiting is the hardest. To be fair, I think I had a lot of good things to say. But I wasn't my strongest with the opening questions. It wasn't so bad. But... my cell phone, them on a crackly speaker phone, we lost a connection at one point. [SIGH].

It's done. Now to let it go. I'm on to the next thing. I've got a conference call with my programmers tomorrow. Lots of grading left to do. I should know in a week or so. Either way, I'm moving on.


The clock is ticking down. Thai lunch today. Fortune cookie read: "A long awaited opportunity will be comeing [sic] soon". I hope, I hope.

Actually, from my many years performing on stage, I don't really get butterflies. Rather, I need to pee, usually about six times before the curtain goes up.

Wish me luck. Less than an hour to go. Gotta run now. You know where.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Time ticking

Funny that I would write a post entitled "Time in Slow Motion" while my wife would write "Time Compresses". Time is on both of our minds.

I wanted to let her break the news so to speak before I brought it up on my blog. It looks now like she'll be taking off from work about 6 weeks sooner than planned, on December 20. Her appointment with the OB yesterday put a little fire under her feet, with the doctor's suggestion that she might benefit from taking off at 30 weeks. She did a quick calculation, then said "but that's less than two weeks!" So, she'll hold out a little longer than the doctor suggested, but not by much.

Her plans had been to work through the end of January. And now, all on a sudden, she's facing wrapping up loose ends, then heading home. And I? Tomorrow I have my telephone interview with Miwla College. I'm excited, yet mellowed. I wish to give my best face. Yet, I'm perfectly content to accept whatever outcome results.

Rocket has been saying that what she's come to see her career as meaning is money, recognition, and stability. I see the possibilities in this post at Miwla as being along those lines. I'd enjoy the work. And I'd do it well. Of that, I am quite convinced. There is much to like in the school, and the post just beckons me. Yet, I've had a long tour of this, and I'm not so committed (attached) to landing a faculty post anymore. For a tenure-track gig it's about as wonderful as I could imagine. And yet, I've come to believe that, despite what I'd come to expect throughout graduate school, a tenure-track gig is not necessarily the pinnacle of my career choices.

Money, recognition, stability. Nothing wrong with those three. It's just... they're only part of the package.

Time in slow motion

Our Honda Odyssey has a rather annoying feature. If one makes the mistake of trying to open the sliding side doors while locked, rather than what might be most useful and expected (simply not opening, which for any reasonable human being would be enough to indicate the possible need to unlock) they rather first attempt to open, then beep three times, then force a delay of another couple seconds while the system resets. Whatever the reasoning behind this, the nuisance factor far outweighs any imaginable benefit.

And so it is with the waiting in our lives. The decision is made, the effort has been initiated, and now we listen to the beeping of time, and realize there will yet be another inevitable delay following. Because my heart has departed from Lemon, I find myself dreading even more than usual the grading, which I ploddingly get through. Am I just whining?

I complain about my 72 students (ostensibly tended during a laughably fictitious 16-hour workweek). And I hear of friends with far more students. Of course, they are full-time, tenure-track, reasonably compensated, with benefits, and an office, and... But, I believe they are overloaded as well. Both friends I think of teach at state schools, and have 100 or more students in 3, 4, 5 classes per term. I wonder if "learning centered" isn't simply a euphemism for "we really don't care about the students or faculty, so long as we can cram a whole load of them into the same classroom." But I digress.

I have been reading more on the website about Miwla College. Small class sizes, full commitment to interdisciplinarity, and international education (40% of the graduates have spent a term or a year overseas, and their goal is to exceed 50%). It sounds like a great place for me. I don't think I'm whining so much, as I come to hold a clearer understanding of my expectations and my tolerances. I love to teach, but not if it means teaching more than 60 students per term. I've simply set a cap. I love my research also, and... my family.

Rocket has been looking over possible photographer websites, thinking she might like to get a nice pregnancy portrait done. One site, whose images we like, presents a comment on finding a photographer that self-congratulatorily indicates that "She has spent the necessary 16 hour days, 7 days a week learning and refining her craft." Ha!

Necessary! I wonder at this absurdity that somehow true love of a profession requires sacrifice of self. Why should teachers be praised for spending 60 or 80 hours a week on task? It's an odd praise. As someone who has worked 16 hour days at one point in my life. It doesn't make you better at your task. It wears you out. It reduces your productivity and concentration, and often compromises the quality of your results. There is no necessity in suffering. And, while many of us do get through, there's no reason to suspect that we wouldn't have accomplished as much if we spent less, but perhaps more concentrated, time on the effort.

I think I'll begin an occasional series of posts on unexamined assumptions.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hit the ground running

That's a phrase I've often used to describe myself, or which I've used as a motto for myself when entering a new situation. "Hit the ground running!" It describes initial momentum, rather than stasis and acceptance. It's an attitude of strength, and of one of my favorite conditions "cultivated naivety". Let's just see what can be done, before I've had a chance to be weighted down by pre-existing notions of possibility.

But there's an often neglected aspect to the phrase. "Hit the ground running" presents the image of being in flight, of floating, of the liminal state. That ... is where I am now. I'm in the air ("up in the air" as we say), waiting for a landing. I can't start running 'til my feet hit the ground.

I'm not good at waiting. This isn't the same waiting I've encountered however these past couple years. Rather, it's not the same sort of waiting I've grown to inhabit during these past few years. It's not the hopeless waiting in a terminal for a train that I don't expect to arrive. It's not the waiting outside a loved one's hospital room for the inevitable news I don't wish to hear.

It's simply waiting ... for the time to be ripe. I watch the oranges on our backyard tree with impatience, but also with anticipation. They will ripen; that I can expect. And so will time for me. Thursday, I have my telephone interview with the interdisciplinary search committee at Miwla College. Thursday at 5:00, after driving back from teaching at Lemon University. I had asked for a late time, so I'd be sure not to have them catch me in traffic. Should I be Brutus or Marc Antony? In this case, I suppose I opted for the latter.

I was told there might be as many as 10 telephone interviews. I made the first cut. But I'm no longer resting my hopes on making it on the team. I've other things to do. This is just one of those options. And yet... I haven't rejected it. I haven't given up. I would still like to be offered the post. The best I can do--indeed the only true thing I can do--is be myself. It's odd, I feel that they (the committee) are in a more unenviable position than I.

While I wait for a landing, at least I know the destination of the flight. We can't yet decide the specifics, but the area is circumscribed. And I know, whether I get this post or not, what my research focus will remain.

In a sense, I'm not simply waiting for the flight to land. I'm waiting at the moment for the flight to take off. Two more weeks of teaching at Lemon, then finals and another week (or so) of grading. I imagine that the last few days of a prison sentence may present the prisoner with a certain euphoria in anticipation of the freedom (also of course an apprehension regarding it). Yet the bulk of one's time in prison will remain as it has been. I find myself in this sort of condition. I long now for my freedom from the oppression of Lemon University. (Though I recognize it is an oppression I have consented to.)

Rather dramatic perhaps. But I find I don't wish to be there. I'm done. Oh, I won't give out on my students. I'll still perform my lectures, and lead discussions, and prepare my handouts, and the tests. But my heart is already gone. Sure, I consented to the oppression. I also shrugged it off. I'm just waiting for the garment to fall. It's really a shame and a pity. The students deserve a professor who is fully committed. Too bad the institution has no interest in supporting instructors in cultivating and maintaining that commitment. Too bad our society so little values the efforts of teachers.

For now, I await the ripening.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thankful for obligation

Thanksgiving. It was a quiet (at least as much as that word can apply to any time spent with my two young sons) day spent at home, with my wife, and boys, our au pair, and a friend of hers who's spending a week with us. We were going to spend the day with my mom and oldest brother, his girlfriend, my nephew, and her two daughters. But logistics (and custody issues) got the best of our plans. My other two brothers were not going to be able to make it in any case.

So, we stayed home. It's finally gotten cool here (relatively at least). It's chilly enough to make a fire at night and not feel too silly about it. I miss autumns (and winters and springs). Soon enough. Soon enough.

I've had time to think these past few days. Spent a good time reading "The Left Hand of Darkness" by Ursula Le Guin. Hadn't read her before. A thoughtful book. You never can tell, when you read a book, whether the book motivates contemplations or simply facilitates what's already being contemplated. Part of the story however involves a human species of a rather different sort of biology, thus impacting child-bearing and child-rearing.

I love my boys. I'm eagerly anticipating the arrival of number three. I really wouldn't have it any other way, childless that is. It's a choice that I made long ago. But it's not easy. Sometimes I lament the time that is spent, the time and energy that is dictated by accommodating them, their needs, their wants, their desires. I realize how much time a parent needs to give to children.

Of course, I can't be certain that time would be spent fruitfully otherwise. Aren't we all more productive when we're busy? Don't we become lax and lazy when an abundance of time presents itself? I recall my first summer back in school for the PhD. I hated it, the down time. 13 weeks! I counted the days. It was too long to go without a reason. My second summer was much easier: I enrolled in an intense summer workshop (garnering 8 credits or so of coursework). Not fully having my schedule at my service, perhaps I value more the time that is truly my own.

Of course, this is a choice as well. Many parents (perhaps fathers especially) would choose--have chosen--an easier path, shirking parental duties. I think of William Fulbright. The biography I read of him presents a man I admire in some ways, and yet one who gave little of himself to his children. I think of Alexander Graham Bell, who wrote in a letter to his wife: "...I somehow or other appear to be more interested in things than people, in people wholesale rather than in persons individual." [cited by Harlan Lane, "When the Mind Hears," p. 342]

I love my boys, our interactions. And yet, it would be false to say I wouldn't at times like a hiatus, a week or month without obligation. While I have no desire to be childless, I feel in some ways I understand better the value of liberty that those have whose choice it is to remain childless, perhaps better than they do themselves.

I think of the words of the late psycholinguist Liz Bates who defending bilingualism conceded that there is a cost in terms of the rate of cognitive development, perhaps even residual effects for adults on the speed of speech (even of thought) for those who learn more than one language fluently. She said simply: "It's like having more than one child. Sure, the first child loses out on some of your attention; your love is more spread out. But the benefits outweigh the costs."

I still smile today, thinking of her offhand remark. It is so true.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Headaches, now or later

I spoke with my programmers for about an hour just now. Sheesh. The good news is, we really do agree in principle on the framework for a relationship.
  • I provide them with algorithms and specifications and design requests.
  • They give me feedback.
  • I provide updates.
  • We talk once a week.
    • They provide me with source code and discussion of what they've done, how many hours, etc.
    • I issue them a check for the previous week's work.
  • My intellectual property is protected.
  • Any methods they develop that are applicable to other clients (but which doesn't infringe on my IP) is protected as theirs.
The plan is to get the initial work done in about 12 weeks. We'll reassess then. Looks like we won't get started on the coding however until December, if all goes well. But, getting them to accept that the document they gave me for review and discussion doesn't really serve the meat of that relationship, was painful. We've agreed to talk again in a couple weeks. Meantime, they'll come up with a fresh agreement.

I suggested that they scrap the document they drafted up. Make it plain and clear. We can specify (as we did verbally) what it is we're interested in ensuring and protecting, and what we expect of our relationship. Then, when it looks good to us, I'll run it by my attorney (I invited them to participate in that discussion, whether by email or telephone), to make sure the document we agree to serves those purposes.

[SIGH] It seems at times far more complicated than it really needs to be. But I suppose it's better to have headaches at the outset, then for the real migraines to emerge after time. It's like any good relationship: the trick is not avoiding fights at all costs, but always coming back to the table. I thought of simply walking away, I did. But then, it doesn't seem that what we've been arguing about is really the crux of our work together. So, for now, I'll keep lines of communication open. And hope, hope, hope, that soon the core of our discussions will be the work itself.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I got a call

Just a little while ago, I got a call.
Hello, this is [Geoffrey Bannon] from [Miwla College]. I'm on the search committee for [Interdisciplinary Post of Interest]...
You can guess the rest, eh? I'm on their long short list, and they'd like to set up a telephone interview (for the week after Thanksgiving!). Somehow I need to sleep between now and then.

Rocket and I had a "date" last night. D put the boys to bed. We had planned to have an early dinner, then head out, but as it turned out, we left the house around 8:30 (normal lights out for the boys). Ah well, it was a nice dinner together. We drove to the mall, and looked over movie listings. Nothing really caught our fancy, so we walked, and sat, and talked. We like doing that.

One thing we decided was... where we're going to move (at least the rather narrow region). It's really an oblong rhomboid defined by the location of three airports, and the highways connecting them, centered on a small lake not too far from Lake Michigan. Miwla College lies on the southwestern corner of the rhomboid. Somewhere in that region will be home to us for the next 3-5 years at least.

Okay, I'm still excited about this post, and feeling rather elated that they called. The funny thing is, I'm split down the middle as to whether getting the post would be better or not getting it. But they called. That's validation, to some extent. I had been saying to Rocket, if they don't call, there's something wrong with them. I know the strength of my letter (Lilian, Rocket, feel free to chime in here!). For the first time in ~150 applications, I've been able to tear off the mask and just say, Hi, it's me, look, see, I'm just right for you guys.

But, I'll be fine -- we'll be fine if it doesn't pan out. It's really good to have made the decisions about where and when. Nicely, Miwla College would fit. Either way, I'm ready to make a splash. Waiting to hear back from my programmers, though.

I got an email from one of them yesterday, with a (badly worded) 7-page legalistic document intended to be our hiring agreement. Um... no, I wrote.
Here's my principal concern: I have no intention to sign any agreement that supersedes or annuls protections to my own intellectual property. My expectation is a work-for-hire agreement between the two of you and me (since the three of us are the only parties to the confidentiality agreement). As such, the software that you produce and provide to me in accordance with the specifications and scenario documents, any other related documents, emails, and discussions, is the property of [Research Firm]. That is, the product in the form of software you produce is the item I'm purchasing from you as per our agreement.
They have some real concerns. They want to make sure that they will get paid fairly, and in accord with my promise to them. And, they want to ensure that should they come up with ideas that expand the work, they'll get credit (and benefit) from that. Fair enough. But, for now, the relationship is an asymmetrical one. I think of it like owning a catering business. I provide the menu and the recipes, and I hire contractors to serve as chef, executing the meal according to my specifications. Their knowledge entails the execution. But I own the recipes and the menu. Should they come up with a novel recipe, great... we'll talk about it then. Meantime...

So, I await their reply. Either way, I'm moving ahead. If I need to learn another programming language, and write the code myself, I will. I'm actually feeling on top of the world. Trick is not to let that confidence produce arrogance. I'd rather hire these programmers to help translate my algorithms into executable code. But, not at the expense of my intellectual property.

The same counts for Miwla College. I am confident, and believe I have much to offer them. But then, I need to work against that confidence coming across too strong to them.

Well, I've work to do. Whatever the next few weeks deliver, that work will be done.

***Updated to say***
I just got an email from my programmers. We've got a conference call set up for tomorrow afternoon. I hope this will all go well, resolving their concerns, and mine.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Entrepreneurial guidance for PhDs

Lemon University happens to have a highly rated program in entrepreneurship. I know because I had hoped there'd be benefits available to me, like tuition waivers. (Apparently, there are such waivers for adjuncts, but not available to newbies). I had thought I might enroll myself in some courses on the subject. I browsed through the text books they use in the bookstore, picked up a paperback, and checked out a couple books from the library.

What I came to realize is that entrepreneurship is mostly viewed as a vocation, like restaurateur, hotelier, bus driver. Most business books are disappointingly vague, and full of filler (like a bad undergraduate essay). I had been reading the volume "The Answer to How is Yes" thinking it a great image. Yes. Yes! And, though there are (ever so randomly) an occasionally pithy remark by the author, so much of the work is overwritten, and generic. But then, who'd pay $16 for a 15-page tract (likely the real length it ought to be).

I've been thumbing through "The Entrepreneurial Journey" (ISBN 0-324-17688-0) While you find sentences like "Successful entrepreneurs do things they love and for which they have a great passion," these are quickly followed up with passages that discuss the sorts of businesses each personality is best suited for. The emphasis is on how you might run your business, not on how you create a business from those passions just referred to.

The conclusion I draw is that entrepreneurship is seen as the work of business folk, not the work of researchers. But then, that simply couldn't be the whole picture. The point I make is that there appears to be little guidance out here for the motivated entrepreneurial researcher. I think of my experience and expectations in graduate school.

I never once considered the possibility that I'd be three years out from my PhD without a solid and established affiliation with a university. I never once considered it. So, all of the talks and workshops and resources that university staffers may have made available to me as a graduate student (and they did, I admit) regarding alternative careers made not a dent into my consciousness. And for most of the ensuing period, I have kept expecting that it would all work out. I wish I knew how those staffers might attract interest from those students who'd best benefit, how they might couch their information in terms that don't seem like failure ("alternative career"... you know, for those who just can't make it).

Finally, about a year ago, I hired a career and life coach, to help me break out of my rut. We met for about 4 months. It helped. I don't know if there are any other entrepreneurial-minded readers of this blog. I wish I knew of more resources available to me, guidance from those who've succeeded from similar origins. Entrepreneurship (like much of research) is a solitary and isolating activity. I wish I could find a community of like-minded folk, to help break the isolation.

Health coverage

Here's a quick question out to anyone who might know: what is a reasonable expectation for a new faculty member in regards to family health benefits?

I'm assuming most institutions would provide access to health coverage for spouses and children. But what would that look like? We're trying to make some calculations regarding costs, and I'd like to be able to compare a reasonable expectation of what coverage might be under a faculty plan to what it might cost us on our own.

Any ideas?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Where passions lead

The term is winding down. The students attend in reducing numbers. Open laptops (and blank stares) populate the room. Today was a rather animated lecture. I try. There are certainly aspects of it that I enjoy. I like the captive audience. I like to share my knowledge and experience with students. That's fun. And it's meaningful. I tell them that class is not about the details that they learn, though surely it is about those things in part. And I believe what I say. It is about learning how to think, about learning how to learn, about learning how to apply their knowledge in myriad domains.

Teaching does have an impact on students. It is a worthy enterprise. And yet... I truly believe that my research, and its applications will have far greater mileage, far wider impact on society, than I will just through my teaching. Sour grapes perhaps. I've mostly been denied the chance to teach. But I'm walking away from adjuncting at Lemon at the end of this term. My choice. I enjoy teaching. I disdain the treatment of adjuncts. But to be honest, it's more than that.

I'm making choices about my life. My passions lead me back to my research. We'll see about this [Interdisciplinary Post of Interest]. I expect to hear in the next couple weeks, if they choose to interview me. I'll make that decision if it becomes mine to make. And I'll make it on the basis of what I gain through the interview process, should it go any further than now. And I'll make it with my wife on the basis of what's best for our family.

But (today)... I think that's it. I'm not sure I have it in me to apply any more for faculty gigs. I'm not sure it's what I want. We're lucky, very lucky. We've money in the bank. We've got investments whose recent downturn I can fret over. I look at losses in small-cap investments (little firms, that represent someone's passion, their dreams corporeal). And I realize--how ironic--the small firm I'd really like to invest in, is my own.

Oh, we're not rich. Not really. But we're comfortable. We're comfortable enough for Rocket to walk away from her lucrative career. With some luck and pluck, we've got enough to sustain us (in a far less expensive area) for a couple years. We'll be eating up our savings. But it's an investment. (That's what they told me about an education, about a college degree. That's what I took all those damned student loans for.)

But this is different. This is an investment in me. This is an investment in my family, in our passions, our hopes, our dreams. This is an investment in something I believe in, something I can dedicate myself to. This is something about which the question "would you do it for free" is no longer hypothetical. I do do it for free.

I'm taking the chance. I'm no longer asking for it.

The feeding of despair

or Why Thanksgiving couldn't come soon enough.

I have often noted convergences in my life. These aren't mystical events. They have more to do with one's own consciousness, one's own awareness of the world around. But, for me, they serve the function of validating me on a particular course.

I heard a news report the other day, about a bird native to South America being discovered (2000 miles away) in the very town where [Interdisciplinary Post of Interest] is. Convergence. That's what I mean. Years ago, when my mother bought an AMC Pacer, I had never heard of them before. But suddenly, after she brought it home, I saw them everywhere. Convergence.

Of course, convergences can be neutral in their impact, or even negative. When I'm feeling particularly down or grouchy, then what I hear and see is interpreted through the fog of this lens.

I hear a news report on NPR about South Carolina voters' reactions to Mitt Romney's faith, and my heart races with the absurdities they spout. "It's not a Biblical-based, Judeo-Christian religion. It's a cult." "In addition to the Bible, they believe in another book." Do these people simply not hear themselves? Are they so unaware of the irony of one true believer assaulting the faith of another because, gasp, they believe in something different? It breaks my heart. More importantly, it scares me.

I hear about the happenings in Pakistan, and I shudder. I shudder to read news stories that refer without qualifications to Musharraf as "President" or to his hand-picked, anointed Attorney General or his allegiance-swearing Supreme Court, as if they have any moral authority or legitimacy. I hear about the current crackdowns in Iran on such ungodly things as makeup, and unapproved films. And the continuing conditions in Darfur and Iraq. These are convergences to me that the world has gone insane.

And yet, so far, these things do not touch my daily life. I'm still free to fret over the treatment of adjuncts at U.S. universities (knowing full well that this treatment would be a godsend to most of the world's population). But then, I've never thought it makes much sense to justify impropriety by comparing it to even worse improprieties. The world ought to be a better place.

Tikkun Olam. We have work to do.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bad, bad adjunct

You know, I looked. There is no policy. Of course not, why would there be any reasonable policies regarding the invisible 55% of the faculty. Yeah, you read right! 55% of the faculty at Lemon are part-timers, with no benefits, no job security, and low wages.

But, you see, there's no policy on sick leave or faculty absences from class (for adjuncts). I even called to ask. They don't know. So, my department secretary agreed to put a sign on the door. I've been grading away, and prepping. But I just really don't feel up to going today. Yesterday I nearly lost my voice in class. I've been feeling lousy for a while. Is it really a crime to take a day to recuperate?

I thought of finishing grading the tests, then driving the two hour Wednesday late-afternoon commute, handing them back, collecting their projects due before Thanksgiving (this is the last class meeting before then), then begging off from the lecture, and driving the 1 1/2 hours back. That is, I considered expending the next six hours or so to keep up appearances. But how silly that would be. The students would gain so little from my showing up, then leaving without a class session. I'm really not up to giving a lecture. So, what's the point? They can email me for their grades. They can send electronic version of their projects, or drop off hard copies at the department before next Wednesday.

You know, most people wouldn't ever feel guilty about legitimately calling in sick one day. Why do teachers?

Pakistan's Musharraf: let's get this straight

No, Mr. Bush, Musharraf is not and has never been an ally of the United States. He is a dictator. He is not a freely elected democratic leader. He has suspended Pakistan's own constitution. He has thrown out the judiciary (a judiciary that was at the moment considering the legality of his having most recently stood for election as President, while holding office that he obtained through a coup!). He sent one opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, back into exile, despite the ruling by Pakistan's Supreme Court that he had an inalienable right to return.

Apparently, over the past several months, the U.S. government had worked to broker a power sharing deal between Musharraf and another opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, who was allowed to return (though suspiciously street lights were out just before a suicide bomber nearly succeeded in her assassination). Was it a setup? Was it hoped she would be killed, as a pretense for a state of emergency that has been declared in any case? Was she foolish in thinking it proper to share power with such a man? Probably. Now at least she has put aside that foolishness.

No, President (how it pains me to use that title for you) Bush, Musharraf is not an ally and friend. He is a pathetic (and dangerous) opportunist. Do not forget that it was under his government that A.Q. Khan sold nuclear secrets to North Korea, Libya, and Iran. It was Musharraf personally who pardoned him the very next day! This is no friend and ally. Have we learned nothing from the past failures of American foreign policy?

To be clear: the United States should never treat the likes of Musharraf as friends. If necessary, we may treat them (with cautious suspicion) as strategic interests.

Three years down. Only way is up!

March of 2005, I sent the final version of my dissertation to my four committee members, scattered to the four corners of the country. With a bit of harranguing, logistical coordination, and trepidation (in the meantime moving my family from Colorado back to California) I received all the signatures on the same one cover sheet, and filed the work in time to graduate at the end of the Spring term 2005. The chair of my former department agreed begrudgingly to hood me (incorrectly!) in the ceremony that gave me a PhD, three letters to follow my name as needed, and the "Dr." title, so far used sparingly.

That ended my first season of applying for faculty jobs, still optimistic (hard not to be when my first campus interview occurred in October before I finished the dissertation). No jobs in hand, but a Visiting Scholar appointment in a second department at my alma mater. What ensued is largely chronicled in my old blog. I sought and suffered, stressed, and angered. I lamented, and withdrew. And I applied... one job posting after another. All told, in the past three years, I've applied for ~150 jobs mostly in academia (a few related).

This week has been a strange one for me. Today marks 7 days since the interdisciplinary post of interest closed. They asked for 3 references. I had 6 sent. Six letters, from faculty at at four institutions, covering at least three distinct fields of study, all of which I expect to be glowing. While I sent another application a few days ago for a position in [Field 1/subfield 1], the ostensible area of my degree, it was half-hearted.

As I wrote to my wife at the time:
Nothing much new under the sun. I sent off my application to [Institution]. I felt a distinct lack of enthusiasm in preparing it. I went through the motions, and did my best. Deadline is Thursday. I figured it's now or never. I figured it's better to apply though than to simply let this one go. There are certainly benefits to the post. It's not much teaching (2+2). There's some interest in [true subfield]. The pay is decent, and it might be a good place for us to live.

Part of me is ready to gamble on [interdisciplinary post of interest ("come on red 19") or walk out of the casino, throw a dart at the map, and catch the next train. Partly there's a bitterness from my recent experience at Lemon (perhaps not fair to paint all of academia with that brush), and the residue from the past three years of supplication. I'm done with being prostrate. It's time to stand tall again. ...

I'm committed to Lemon until around the third week in December (grades due by the 23rd). You're at work for about another month after that. I guess there's no need for us to decide on our landing spot until the Spring. I'll have to decide about whether I'm going to send any January applications if [Interdisciplinary post] fails. But then, I'd be terribly disappointed, and much less enthusiastic. I'm less and less interested in keeping my eyes open, less and less clear on what an ideal post might look like.

I think of my comment on Tracy's blog, re: "success" being the harder course. What would be success, right now? It's harder and harder to see a faculty post that eats up all my time and energy as really succeeding. I've been neglecting [my Research Firm] for over a month now, and it still seems like where I want to invest myself.

Trust with me! "Your money or your life." "Do what you love and the money will follow."
Money, money, money. It's not about that really. It's about freedom of choice, and about following our passions. It's about setting our priorities, and living by them. We've already decided to walk away from Rocket's high income, and to leave these expensive and inhospitable parts. The deadlines are coming due. But now I'm the one who's setting them.

Yesterday, I sent off a note to my two programmers, saying I know you were planning to send me a proposal, and some feedback on my specifications documents, and such... here's what I propose: [details]. Let me know if those terms are acceptable to you. I'd like to get this project going ASAP. As of December, it is my entire focus.

They wrote me back: terms accepted; they're ready to go!

As I wrote a few days ago, I am ready!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Harder than it looks

Partly in response to the prodding of Geeky Mom's recent blog post on technology and the classroom, I tried an experiment tonight in my lecture class. It's big (37 students), but not too big to be adventurous. First, I had several of the students look up and play on their laptops the recent video, "A Vision of Students Today" on YouTube, and we had a brief discussion of it. Then, I decided to have an experiential day, where the students would teach each other the material, rather than my normal lecture. I broke the class into 8 groups, with each group responsible to cover one section of our reading. They had about 20 minutes to review their section and discuss it within the group. (This is a three hour lecture, so I could afford the time). The idea was if they took more ownership of the material, it might be instructive to them, and give them a better focus in approaching their reading.

What I learned (rather important to be reminded of, given the circumstances) is that it takes a bit more than simply reading and summarizing to make a good lecture. I, being who I am (luckily for the students, I'm sure) chimed in repeatedly, to clarify ideas, and to guide the discussion toward what struck me as important or pithy points. It really is a lot harder than it looks. I suppose even when we feel impostor syndrome the most, we're bringing a lot more to the table than simply staying a step ahead of the students on material. It's always good to be reminded of that.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Learning to teach

Part of the frustration with adjuncting (and I suppose with many faculty jobs these days) is the need to learn something new in order to teach it. It's not that I am in principle opposed to lifelong learning (to the contrary). But there is something false in a teacher keeping one or two steps ahead of the students. There's something inappropriate about being hired to teach a course I am not expert in, when there are so many experts in the subject who could teach it.

My Wednesday night class is of this sort. I've never taught it before (a fact which was well-known to the committee that hired me). Sure, I have a knowledge base to draw from, and astute comments to add to the discussion, metaphors and illumination to contribute to the readings. But I tire of the effort to produce a lecture from material that is unfamiliar to me. At least, because my interests and my heart lead me elsewhere just now.

But why do they hire a non-expert? Because the priorities are skewed. Class sizes should be smaller. More courses should be offered. More faculty should be hired. Those best able to teach a subject should be used whenever possible. The sad thing is that my leaving will have no effect on this state of affairs, so long as there is someone else willing to step in and fill my shoes.

Monday, November 5, 2007

White (chicken) risotto

Last night's dinner, inspired by the presence of white asparagus at the grocery store:

White Chicken Risotto

One medium onion, diced.
1/2 cup of celery, diced.
1-2 cups of white button mushrooms, quartered.
~ 3/4 lb of chicken meat, cubed.
1/2 lb of white asparagus, cut into 2" parts.
1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts.
2 cups arborio (or other short-grained) rice.
1/4-1/2 tsp of saffron, chopped.
dash or two of white pepper.
~ 4 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock.
1/2 cup cream or half-and-half.
1/4-1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese.

Precook the rice in 2 cups of water, until all the water is absorbed (about 15-20 minutes). Partly steam the asparagus. Meantime, saute up the onions and celery in some olive oil or butter. Add white pepper to taste. Stir in the chicken cubes, and lightly brown. Add the rice, and stir for 2-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, and gently stir another minute or two. Add the saffron to the mix and stir. Slowly stir in the stock, 1/2-1 cup at a time. Add the asparagus and artichokes. Gently stir. Cook over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Just before serving, mix in the cream and parmesan cheese, stir over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.

The nice thing about an all-white meal (served in this case on "movie night" with dim lighting) is that it forestalls most questions from young boys about what's in the meal. It's just stuff.

Density (as told to a five year old)

In response to Mommazen's discussion of "teachable moments" in parenting, I think of my trip this morning to drop off the Painter at kindergarten. A delightful morning greeted us, with grey skies and heavy drops of moisture on the grass, the ground, and the car. (Recall the recent awful wildfires here. Grey skies and rain are heaven sent!)
Me: They call this dew. When the moisture in the air condenses on cold mornings, we call it dew.

Painter: [Looking at me intently, as he gets in his car seat].

See... um... on cold mornings... let's see. When it's cold outside, the moisture in the air condenses, the moisture in the air, that's in the form of a gas, becomes a liquid, water... and since water is denser than air it forms on the ground and surfaces like the top of the car. See, everything in the world is made up of atoms.

[Amazingly, still intently listening at this point, as I fumble to clarify my own somewhat vague understanding, trying to remember my undergraduate paper on the topic of "caloric".]

Atoms are these little tiny particles, they're so small you can't see them, except with a microscope. We call them microscopic. So everything is made up of these tiny atoms, and well, when the temperature is warmer, they're further apart and moving faster. But when the temperature is lower, these atoms move closer together, and become denser. [Desperately trying to figure out whether temperature is the cause or the result of this state of affairs. Remembering that the 18th century theory of caloric as a substance certainly served to simplify this question.]

What's that mean?



Um... okay, some things are heavier than other things, right?


Well, some things that are even the same size, can have different weights.

No... I think everything that's the same size weighs the same thing.

Okay, well, have you ever picked up a crumpled ball of paper? [Knowing of course that he has.]


Me: Have you ever picked up a rock?

Painter: Yeah.

Me: Have you ever picked up a leaf that was the same size as a rock?

Painter: No.

[So he's going to be difficult.] Alright, have you ever picked up a ball? Like a tennis ball?


Have you ever picked up an orange?


Well, an orange is about the same size as a tennis ball. Which one is heavier?

The orange could be bigger.

Well, we can weigh them this afternoon, on my kitchen scale, or on the scale we made with the board to weigh the weights outside. [Thinking until we get into the parking spot.] Ah... here's one that you can't dispute. Let's say I give you an empty water bottle.


Now I give you another water bottle, filled with water. Do you think they'll weigh the same?

[laughing] No! I think the water bottle with the water would be a lot heavier.

You're right... see, they're the same size, but the empty water bottle isn't really empty. It's full of air. And water is a lot denser than air. So that's density.

So... you mean nothing's ever empty? There's always air?

Yeah, nothing on the earth is ever really empty. Well, unless it's in a vacuum... [Very glad that we're almost to the classroom now.]
Fun. But I wonder how soon he'll outgrow my explanations?


Something about grading tests leads one to distraction. Last week brought two stacks of tests and two assignments. I decided this time around to grade section by section, rather than test by test. It's a bit more efficient, I think. My goal is not to let these papers remain on my desk longer than necessary.

I've graded the first half of all the tests in my Wednesday night class, and completed about a dozen of the Thursday tests, with the remaining 20-odd 3/4 finished (just their essay question remains). At times it's painful to read the essays, because so many of our students these days seem to lack the basic framework for thinking through a problem, then presenting their ideas in a coherent fashion. And, with 72 students, there's little chance that my criticism will actually lead to their benefit and improvement. It's frustrating, because as a teacher, I feel a great desire to leave them better off than when they came to me, not simply stuffed with a few more tidbits of information.

I feel this semester fading from me. Only six more weeks separate me from the end of my time at Lemon. What will await me at the end of this tour? That, I simply don't know.

This weekend, I did some thinking and scribbling of thoughts related to resolving the algorithm for this key element that remains to me for the proof-of-concept tools. It felt good to get back into it a bit. This morning, I sat in my office for perhaps two hours doing little to nothing. I took care of some bills, and looked at my calendar, and read emails. I was avoiding the grading, but not finding the energy to work on my research.

Partly it's also the uncertainty that lies before us that saps my energy. Rocket and I have made some important decisions, and set some deadlines. I let my membership in one of the main academic societies of my field lapse at the end of October. That's significant, because they host the most prominent job listing services in the field. I still have some search agents running, and receive the announcement list from the other main society. I decided however that I will not apply for faculty jobs in 2008. That leaves essentially until the end of this semester for me to keep looking.

After the broadcasting of applications the previous couple seasons, I've only submitted four so far this time around. I'm planning on one more in the next couple weeks. After that, who knows? I'm tired of the game. But more than that, I've clarified my requirements in a post, and am no longer looking for any job. I'm only seeking one that'd be just right for me. Rather, I've got a job, that's my research, and figuring out how to keep funding it, and marketing it as needed. If I can land an academic post that supports me in this research, where I can make an honest contribution, that'd be ideal. Shy of that, I know what needs to be done.

Perhaps knowing the light is on at the end of the tunnel, allows me to take my time getting to the exit. The grading will be done. There's no point in stressing over how much time and energy teaching at Lemon takes away from higher priorities (my research, building my firm, my family, even my health-which has taken a decided downturn as a result of the commuting, breathing the pollution, and the resultant changes in my diet). Six weeks remain. I will make it, and I'll do what I can not to compromise my teaching or my life.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

I am ready

I keep looking at the job postings, mostly in my ostensible subfield. I've looked over other listings in the interdisciplinary area of my interest (but most of those listings are specified within another discipline, limiting their appeal to me, and my appeal to them). I'm excited by this post in the Midwest because the position would honor the truly interdisciplinary nature of the area of research. There are disciplines, and there are interdisciplines, and there is cross-disciplinary work involving more than one discipline to address a specific question. These three should not be confused, but respected to each keep their appropriate place.

A few more posts crop up. I look at them. Some seem reasonable or possible. But mostly, I'm ready to say who I am. I'm ready to enter any interview or negotiation with absolute confidence that I don't need the job. I'm ready to pursue my research with the dedication of a life's work. I'm ready to assess opportunities to teach according to whether they further this life's work or detract from it. The thought of having a job (with its salary and community and benefits) to move to is comforting for the security it engenders. But I'm ready to make the move regardless. I'm ready to build my ideas into a business, and that business into a success. This summer, whatever the circumstance, we move.
I'm ready!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Getting my head back on

I sit here, trying to get back into thinking about my research. It's been nearly a month since my meeting with the programmers. I think we're going to hammer out an agreement, but they've been somewhat dragging their feet. They'd like to set themselves up as independent contractor/consultants, and are trying to put together an agreement according to their plans. I talked with one of them last weekend, about where things stand, and such. He seemed eager to say that he was sure we'd be able to work out an arrangement that made us both happy. But this is all new to them (trying to build a business of their own), thus the delays.

But, truth be told, I've been bogged down these past couple weeks with grading, and being sick, and applying for jobs (in particular this interdisciplinary post which I'm excited about). It's proving tough for me to slip back into the research, especially since the immediate task for me is figuring out the hardest part of the algorithm for the toolset I need to develop. It's really the crucial element that will allow me to accomplish much of what I'm planning the proofs-of-concept to prove. It's just not been done before. And while I have a handle on the outline of how to do it, working out all the specifics, the order of steps and such, and being sure that I've got it right, takes all my energy, something which hasn't been available for use.

I feel myself still holding on to my desire to struggle, to fight injustice, to standard-bear for the cause of education in this country, push to have it on the political agenda. I'm torn between my desire to fight the good fight, and my desire just to be the best I can at what I do well. There is a logical part of me that thinks it's better to be successful now, and trust myself that I will do good in society with my success, than to expend my energies feeling indignant and self-righteous (at the risk of never accomplishing that success which might lend more import to my opinions and actions). Protest is easy. Change is hard.

It's a difficult choice for me, to let go of that. I've never been the quiet tinkerer behind-the scenes. I've always been out front, on the stage, never the set crew or on the lights. Stars come and go, but the crew often remains, making show after show a success.

I believe in my research. I believe in its worth, not only commercial, but its value for society. I also believe in myself, that should I be allowed financial success, I would do well with it.

The flames have died down outside; let my heart catch fire again!