Iowa, Summer 2006

Nowhere, IA

Originally uploaded by steven_d_krause.

On the road again, here’s Iowa somewhere between Iowa City and Des Moines. I’d like to say Iowa is more exciting than this, but that might be an exaggeration.

I took a walk around the Cedar Falls neighborhood this morning, and I noticed a crew starting to strip off the shingles on the roof. The thing that struck me was they were wearing old-fashioned jeans and shirts, and they all had those Abe Lincoln beards. And they were all white, which is more common in Iowa, I suppose. Amish? I wondered….

Amish it apparently was. My dad told me that it’s pretty common to get Amish folk around here to do projects like roofing, siding, floors, etc. To quote my father: “They do good work and they work for cheap. Some of them don’t drive though, so you have to pick them up. They sing hymns while they work.”

Da Rules for Wikipedia

Via Kairosnews and a mailing list I haven’t been paying much attention to lately comes this, Alan Liu’s suggested guidelines for Wikipedia research in student writing. And probably in other kinds of writing too, like the scholarly kind. Something to think about more later, but on my first and quick read, what Liu is saying here seems pretty reasonable.

Bush Admin Hates Higher Ed: Shocking!

I came across an interesting article this morning on the Spellings Commission, which is looking into reform of higher education in the U.S. It’s “A Stinging First Draft,” and it’s about the first draft of the report coming out of this group. Feel free to read these pieces, but I guess I have a few quick thoughts:

The article talks again and again about how “mean spirited” the report is. Given the politics of the folks leading this group, that’s hardly surprising. Only three things comfort me about all of this. First, I hope that the public and legislators have enough of a memory to recall the on-going problems of “No Child Left Behind” and thus will not repeat the mistakes of that legislation. Second, the fact that this is a first draft and one that members of the committee are themselves divided about suggests that there will be changes. And third, since so-called “public” institutions get increasingly less money from states or the feds, I’m just not sure how much difference this or other reports will make.

The bottom-line (well, at least so far) of the problem(s) at hand and the problem(s) of solutions is summed up pretty well in the Inside Higher Ed piece with the comment by Jonathan Cohen (I’d link to it if I could, but I couldn’t figure out how). To summarize it/put my own spin on it here: the report says that there are three basic problems that impact higher education:

  • K-12 education quality and standards are inadequate.
  • Costs are out of control.
  • There’s no reliable feedback on what students are actually learning.

Well, first off, there isn’t much higher ed can really do about K-12. And if the thinking is that higher ed should up the requirements for entry (thus forcing K-12, particularly secondary schools, to get their act together so their students are prepared for college), I can tell you right now that flat-out isn’t going to work. It certainly wouldn’t work at “opportunity granting” institituions like EMU.

As far as costs being out of control goes, I would say I agree a lot with what Cohen says about how the first place any reformer ought to look is at the administrative costs, both in terms of the high-priced salaries of administrators, the number of administrators, and the “creep” of administrative work on to faculty. Take me, for example: right now, I receive a course release a term for being the coordinator for the writing program (meaning our undergraduate majors and graduate programs), and next year, I’ll receive even more release time as I step into the role of interim writing program administrator (meaning first year writing). Not to mention the faculty time it takes to research and write the mind-numbing and irrelevant reviews and reports and crap that no one ever reads.

Sure, there are other places to save money too, but it seems to me that other things vary too much from institution to institution. Comparing the costs of faculty and virtually everything else between a place like EMU and a place like the University of Michigan just doesn’t make that much sense. But the one “universal” here seems to be administrative costs.

Oh, and the other reason why tuition is going up so fast is pretty simple: the government at both the state and the federal levels are getting out of the higher education “business,” and they’ve been doing so for a long time now and at an alarming rate. If the state of Michigan cuts funding to EMU, then EMU has to look someplace else to pay the bills, and that someplace else is student tuition. Seems like math even an English professor can figure out.

Finally, figuring out what students learn: I think that this commission and others that have driven things like standardized testing are looking for an answer to an unanswerable question: how can we really really tell what students learn in our classes? To me that’s like trying to figure out what someone really really “believes.” There comes a point where it is ultimately an act of faith.

The best we can do, IMO, is think about this via accreditation. We’re about to go through an interesting, um, “time” here at EMU with NCATE, which will assess and ultimately accredit our many majors in K-12 educaiton. While this is likely to be a highly problematic process in all sorts of ways, that’s one way to deal with this: have accrediting bodies of higher education actually do more than rubber-stamp.

Spring/Summer Blogging Interim (sort of)

I haven’t been posting here lately for two basic reasons. First, as this, this, and especially this post suggest, my unofficial (eg, “real”) life has been very busy lately. It’s likely to be that way for another week since I’m off to Iowa and then Chicago at the end of this week.

Second, there really isn’t as much going on right now. As is the case everywhere, the spring/summer terms are a quiter time on campus. I have a few meetings with new students here and there, but not even too much of that, really. And it will get a whole lot more quiet around here in about a month; that’s when my online class will be done, and that’s when we’ll be getting ready for our Europe trip in earnest.

Anyway, if you’re curious about my “real” life, go check out those links.

The Point, part 2 (and then some)

To tell you the truth, I don’t have a whole lot of interesting things to add to my previous post on this family trip/reunion. But since I started with “part 1,” I figure I ought to have a “part 2.” So here’s what happened:

  • Hung out Friday morning at the hotel, mostly recovering from the drive. The Stevens Point La Quinta Inn was pretty so-so. Their web site claims “La Quinta” is Spanish for high-speed Internet. Ha. More like “Spanish for spotty Internet,” or “Spanish for ‘next to Denny’s'” (that’s my sister Jill’s line) or “Spanish for ‘just kinda crappy hotel.'” But it was conveniently located, right next to the country club, even if people at the hotel didn’t know where the country club is.
  • Went to the Stevens Point Country Club on that Friday afternoon, which was where many of the events were. I played golf that afternoon with my cousin/our host Scott, and my Uncle Paul, and my gimpy father rode along. Anyway, while we played on the course, Will played by the pool and Annette, still gimpy herself of course, sat and read. A good time seemed to have been had.
  • The course was great– very well-kept, challenging but not crazy-hard, etc. I played like shit, hitting it into the woods on just about every hole, but, because the trees were all pine and they kept it pretty clean underneath those trees, I didn’t lose a ball all day. And I got good at the punch-out shot. I also bought a cool hat. Along with my Point beer, I now have two official SP memories. Sadly, no snow globes were available.
  • Got up first thing Saturday morning, basically before anyone else, and decided to take a bit of a brief driving tour of Stevens Point. Now I understand why there aren’t a lot of other SP souvenirs. I did find out they have a Starbucks, and even one with a drive-thru.
  • I actually spent a fair amount of time on Saturday morning grading, which helped me get a bit caught up from this week of events.
  • I tried to play golf on Saturday afternoon with my uncle Paul again and some other far-flung relatives, but we ended up behind the slowest foursome in the history of the universe and then we got poured on about the 6th hole. Oh well… Anyway, while I was trying to golf, Annette and Will were once again by the pool.
  • I’d write more about the various family events, but, well, those are probably even less interesting to anyone who wasn’t there than what I’ve written already. It was a good time, but it was fairly typical reunion stuff– talk, food, drink, etc. I like all of these folks, but of course, even though my cousins are technically my “family,” I don’t really know them that well. By the way, what’s the spouse of a cousin to me? What about my cousins’ kids– are those second cousins? And what’s the relationship between my kid and my cousins’ kids? It’s all very confusing.
  • Annette and I high-tailed it out of there at 6 am Sunday morning, leaving Will with the grandparents. This week is “Krause kid camp,” where my Ps take their grandkids (the ones out of diapers, at least) for a few days. I’m sure I’ll have a post or so on that next week.
  • And now the “and then some” part: We were home for all of 30 minutes when we went out to pick up Laura (who Annette has known for like 20 years now) from (of all things!) a Scrabble tournament in Hazel Park, MI. The whole Scrabble thing is its own long and (to me, at least) strange story I won’t tell now, but basically, she was here from Viriginia for it, and we had a pleasant, less than 24 hour visit with her: hanging about, dinner last night, and breakfast this morning. Here’s the picture of these two I threatened at breakfast to put on my blog:

The Point, part 1

Greetings from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, where we’re at right now for a smallish family reunion type event– on my mom’s side. Why Stevens Point, you ask? Because this was one of my cousin’s ideas in the first place, he lives in Stevens Point, he’s the manager of a country club (the site of many of the events), and it’s a good location for most of the family, most of whom are from Wisconsin.

We had the trip from hell yesterday getting her in the first place. A late start, getting stuck for an hour before we even left town, rush hour traffic in Chicago, construction, accidents, etc., etc., turned an 8 hour trip into an 11 hour one. Given that Annette rode in the back of a rented mini-van with her leg propped up the whole way, you can imagine how thrilled she is with it all.

The hotel is fine, though my wireless access is sketchy. Got up this morning for a little grocery and wine/beer shopping, and I was struck by two things. First, even out here, in the relative middle of nowhere, you can pretty much get anything you want in terms of food items, decent coffee, decent wine, etc. You might be saying “well, duh,” but I can remember a time in Iowa and Wisconsin where that wasn’t the case.

Second, I was reminded of the local beverage, Point Beer. It’s good but nothing remarkable– kind of like Leinenkugel, but I’ve never seen it for sale anywhere outside of Wisconsin. I remember when a friend of mine way way back when collected beer cans, the Point “blue bullet” was a sought-after item. Point appears to have gone a bit more up-scale. Pictured above are examples from the “sampler pack” of beer I bought, along with one of the root beers I bought.

Anyway, things with this reunion (as is the case with all things with this side of the family) are pretty casual. Played golf with my cousin and one of my uncles while my injured father rode along and my injured wife sat by the pool watching Will as he played in the water for about three hours. So far, so good.

Now it’s time to enjoy a Point!

The Beer Watcher II: Blow-off!

From “the beer master” Bill HD comes news:

Well, some drama happened regarding our wort. I went down to check it last night and the airlock was blown off the top – it had clogged with hops and foamy beer stuff and there was some on the wall nearby too. So I guess we had a very vigorous yeast colony going. When I opened the lid it was quite foamy in there too. Not sure what that means for the whole process – I cleaned up the airlock and put it back on and it was hopping and popping normally.

This could be bad, I guess, if there was any contamination. Also, the beer guy says that if the yeast is too active for too long, they basically eat everything and the beer doesn’t have any flavors at all. I don’t think this is going to be the case since it was some sort of airlock clog that caused the mishap. But we’ll see come racking time, I guess, whether it is worth continuing or whether we have our first failed batch.

Bill further consulted his guru/master, “The Beer Guy” (aka the book he has), and discovered that this event is common enough in home brewing to have a name: a “blow-off.” Apparently, it isn’t as serious as we had originally feared:

If the fermentation is so vigorous that the foam pops the airlock out of the lid, just rinse it out with sanitizer solution and wipe off the lid before replacing it. Contamination is not a big problem during the primary phase. With so much coming out of the fermenter, not much gets in. If the fermentation keeps filling the airlock with crud and popping it out, there is an alternative, a blowoff hose.

Bill went on to add:

I cleaned out the airlock, sterilized it again, stuck it back on and it seems to be going along fine. It also smells very much like a normal batch, for what that’s worth. As for why, the books I have consulted say that it just happens sometimes when you get a vigorous ferment. They recommend having a blowoff tube for such occasions, or going to a 7 gallon primary fermenter. But it seems to be a minor issue by all accounts.

So, we’ll see what happens. I guess the beer master will be getting the first taste and the beer watchers will be watching not the beer but the master for the results.

Google Maps + Wikipedia = Wikimapia

I thought this was kinda cool: Wikimapia, which is basically a merging of Google maps with a sort Wikipedia-spirited open source editing/notation system. I created this entry for the Ypsilanti Water Tower, which, btw, is what’s pictured in the background of the image at the top of this blog. Just in case you’re curious.

Summer "break" and just past half-way in my online class

There are two articles in Inside Higher Ed right now– this one and this one— about the academic’s life during the summer. Frankly, I don’t really relate to either one of them, but feel free to read if you’d like.

For me, summer (or really, at EMU, we call this “spring” and then “summer”– that is, there are usually two 7.5 week terms between the fall and winter semesters) is kind of the worst of times, and the best of times. The bad stuff first: whenever I talk with my non-academic-type parents about being done with the winter term, they always assume that I am on “vacation” from the last day of school in April until the first day in late August or early September. Hardly.

Technically, the faculty contract does allow for this kind of approach– that is, technically, I could just disappear completely for four or so months. But practically speaking, this never happens. Inevitably, there are various meetings, and this spring/summer, since I have taken over as the “writing program coordinator,” I am spending a fair amount of time doing various paperwork things and responding to emails from and meeting with future (hopefully) graduate students. I also have a couple of scholarly projects going on, a workshop on blogging coming up (more on that tomorrow or so), some projects having to do with, etc.

And then there’s teaching. Basically, I cannot afford to “take the summer off” from teaching, because of a combination of needing the money and the money for teaching at EMU in the summer being too good to refuse. Normally, summer teaching at EMU means working for 7.5 weeks, either the spring or the summer terms, which means that I’d still be “free” for about 8 weeks. But as loyal readers will recall, I worked out a deal where I am teaching an online class this spring/summer for 12 weeks instead of the usual 7.5 weeks. The verdict is still out and there are some “complicating issues” with this particular group of students, but I think that I actually might prefer “sucking it up” and teaching online in the usual 7.5 weeks. My wife is teaching in the regular 7.5 week term and the fact that she only has three class meetings to go has me envious.

But there are the “good times,” too. Work-wise, things are more quiet right now. Teaching only online is good, albeit a bit discombobulating since it makes that line between “work” and “life” even more fuzzy. I do get to play golf about once a week or so, though my game has been quite bad lately. The weather in Michigan this time of year is beautiful. And so forth….

Enough of that though; time to get back to work!