Pacific Coast 2010

The last part of our trip was the super-nature-y part, the part which defines terms like “sublime” beauty, the southern Oregon/northern California coast. When we lived in Ashland, we made a couple of trips to the coast, though only a couple because while Ashland is maybe 100 miles from the Pacific, there are mountains and foothills in the way.

I posted some pictures the other day; here’s a link to the Coos Bay/Bandon part of things, and here’s a link to the Redwoods part. One of these days, I’ll have to pull together a “highlight” reel of these zillions of pictures, though I have to say it’s tough to take a bad looking picture out there.  More than you want to know after the jump. Continue reading “Pacific Coast 2010”

Ashland 2010

We are at the main destination/reason for our westward trip, Ashland, Oregon, the town where Will was born in 1997 and where I took my first tenure-track job in 1996. We were only here two years, frankly because my job at Southern Oregon University was bad and also because Annette’s job prospects at SOU and in the area were poor. I’m leaving a lot of details out of that last sentence, details I’m not going to dwell on for mostly obvious reasons. Let’s just say that if we had stayed here, I’m pretty sure neither one of us would have stayed in academia.

Anyway, I’m happy to visit now as a tenured and content professor at EMU, one who happens to be married to someone who was just granted tenure, and I’m happy that we are sharing our trip down memory lane with our 12 year old son who left this town where he was born before he was one. Here’s a link to a bunch of flickr pictures of the area (including Crater Lake) so far; more details after the jump.
Continue reading “Ashland 2010”

Napa, 2010

We’re about to conclude the first leg of our trip out west, the Napa Valley part of things. Here’s a link to the Flickr set of photos and one video; Annette also uploaded a bunch of stuff to Facebook, but I’ll worry about getting those pictures downloaded and uploaded to Flickr when I get home.

A couple of quick thoughts before Ashland:

The idea of this trip, more or less, was to cash in our frequent flyer miles (meaning the flights cost us about $40 or so) and to take a trip to see where Will was born and where Annette and I started our post-PhD program lives, Ashland, Oregon. But first, Napa.

Our flight into Sacramento was uneventful, but we didn’t get to the hotel/motel until almost 1 am west coast time or 4 am east coast time, so our first day in Napa was pretty quiet, actually. We stopped in downtown Napa for lunch– good food, but not much reason to stop there tourism-wise. Drove past wineries, stopped at Bouchon Bakery for lovely pastries and coffee, and then got to our hotel, a Best Western in Calistoga, CA. Great place, actually– lovely little town, nice hotel, reasonably priced, etc.

Tuesday night we went to Bouchon, which is a Thomas Keller restaurant in Yountville. I would have preferred going to Ad Hoc (because I have a cookbook from there), but it was closed both Tuesday and Wednesday. And The French Laundry, well, that would have been a little out of our budget. Bouchon was great, and surprisingly accessible and not crazy expensive. We have spent as much or more in a couple of different restaurants in Ann Arbor, and this was much better. Will had a great mussels dish, Annette had a bib lettuce salad that she thought was the best ever (and some good lobster bisque), and I pigged out over some deliciously fatty pork shoulder.

And then Wednesday, we got up and really had tourism proper. Napa Valley is a little tricky with a 12 year-old; as Annette put it, it’s sort of like how adults feel about a place like Chuck E. Cheese: sure, there’s stuff adults can do there, but the place is really made for kids. So is the case with wine country. As a result, we ended up keeping it pretty simple and mostly kid-friendly. We went to the California petrified forest and the “Old Faithful” of California; both were pretty much tourist-traps, but kinda fun. We went to the Sterling winery, which has the kid-friendly attraction of a gondola ride from the parking lot to the winery itself– that was pretty cool, and the views from that place were spectacular.

But the real surprise and hit of the day was Castello Di Amorosa, which is basically this pet/vanity project of a guy who has been active in the Napa Valley wine world for a long long time. Check out the link and the pictures to see what I mean; but basically, I would say it was an all-around hit for our group. I thought it was going to be super cheesy, but actually, it was a really well-done castle reproduction, and as some of the picture suggest, it looks quite a bit like quite a few things in Italy. We had a great guy serving us up too much wine in the tasting room, and it was pretty good wine, too.

We didn’t get to see a lot more than that, unfortunately, but what we saw was lovely. Oh, almost forgot– we did get a chance to go into the the west coast branch of the the Culinary Institute of America, which has about the best kitchen tool/toy/porn store I’ve ever been in. I ended up buying a couple of great looking CIA cookbooks, which are not the kind of thing you can typically get at a Borders or something.

And now on to Ashland. I’m finishing this post now from here, and I am sure I’ll photos to upload in a few days.

First you burn-out; and/or then you get old and senile

The other day, Inside Higher Ed ran a story called “Burning Out, and Fading Away.” Here’s a quote:

In an analysis of professional burnout among professors, a Texas Woman’s University Ph.D. candidate found tenure track professors had more significant symptoms of workplace frustration than their tenured and non-tenure track faculty counterparts.

Janie Crosmer, who conducted the survey of more than 400 full-time faculty across the U.S. in December 2008, said she was unsurprised that the high stresses of pursuing academe’s most coveted status led to burnout. As she discussed those stresses during a presentation Wednesday, audience members nodded in agreement, and one faculty member among them described the pursuit of tenure as “a living hell.”

The comments on the piece suggest that for at least some, that burn-out/living hell thing continues into tenure, promotion, emeritus status, and beyond.

On the same day, Dean Dad (aka Confessions of a Community College Dean) had a post titled “Lions in Winter,” in which he takes up this post by Tenured Radical, in which TR contemplates Helen Thomas rather sudden  retirement and how her situation and obvious deterioration (I believe Thomas is about to turn 90) is similar to that of some “Venerable professor famous for irascible personality and eclectic remarks goes right over the edge one day and has to be forcibly retired, when in fact the signs of ineffectiveness and mental decline have been clear to close colleagues for several years: inappropriate remarks, fits of rage and/or confusion, memory lapses of gargantuan proportions.”

Dean Dad goes on to lament this situation:

Since the Supreme Court decided — absurdly, in my view — that tenure is fine but mandatory retirement isn’t, there’s literally no way to push the declining self-caricature out the door short of a documented public meltdown. Of course, by the time that happens, there has typically been a long train of abuses that either weren’t public or weren’t quite enough in themselves, as documented, to stand up in court. (Part of that usually has to do with the power that senior faculty have, and the fear that others have of that power. Fear of retaliation for coming forward is powerful, and it prevents the effective documentation of some very real behaviors.) And the combination of age discrimination laws, tenure, unions, the ADA, and public sympathy can make it effectively impossible for even a conscientious administrator to solve the problem.

So, on the one hand, faculty are burnt-out, bitter, stressed, emotionally exhausted; on the other hand, they hang on to their tenured positions far too long, sometimes to the point of being far beyond their prime.

Now, I can think of colleagues who fit both of these caricatures.  Because the tenure and promotion requirements in my department are both modest and humane, I think my colleagues here who see that process as a “living hell” are more or less creating that for themselves.  The self-inflicted notion of all this is something I’ll return to in a second.  The very senior colleagues who appear to be “losing it” is arguably more common at EMU, perhaps because the place is less of a “living hell” than the kinds of places where faculty burn-out long before they reach senility.

And I can also think of faculty who are both burnt-out and bitter, and appear to be “losing it” and behaving more and more irrationally.  Actually, this is not an uncommon combination in the aged, right?

Still, there’s something of a contradiction to me here.  How is it that faculty can be both burnt-out and holding on to their jobs far too long?  Is the suggestion that there are basically two different kinds of faculty, those who are burnt-out and bitter and thus retire/exit academia as soon as they are able, and those who aren’t burnt-out and outstay their welcome?  I’m not sure.

I’m at an age where I can see retirement conceptually, kind of like the way I could see what it might be like to have a “real job” when I was twelve, but I have a hard time right now imaging retiring. As I said to a colleague the other day, what would be the point?  What else would I be doing?  I pretty much get to do what I want to do now as it is.  A lot can and will change in the next twenty or thirty years of course– assuming I make it for that long and (hopefully) longer– but right now, I suspect I am more likely to leave academia as that “crazy old guy” as opposed to the more bitter/burnt-out one.

But it also seems to me that those who are being identified in Crosmer’s study as being burnt-out are perhaps in that state of affairs more because of who they are rather than their chosen profession.  There is a link between the two, but I’m questioning the causality; in other words, I would suggest that it isn’t the work of academia that inherently burns people out, but rather, that the people who go into academia tend to be of the type who are going to burn themselves out and describe any number of work/life environments a “living hell.”  I’ve worked any number of low-stress (and generally low-paying) jobs over the years, and from what I can recall, there are lots of people who are able to turn almost anything into a “living hell” with their bad ‘tude.  What I think is probably the case is academia attracts more of these kinds of folks than some other fields.

In my own experience, I experienced “workplace frustration” most acutely as a PhD student, especially when I was trying to finish that diss.  “Living hell” is a bit strong, but the situation for me at my first job at Southern Oregon was “challenging.”  But once I got here, and especially once I got tenured and promoted, the workplace frustrations– while still clearly present– became more manageable.  But as I’ve said before and I’ll say again, I think that most academics who feel burnt-out and miserable about what they are doing ought to spend some time doing something like shoveling coal or cleaning toilets.  Suddenly that stack of essays and administrative busy-work doesn’t seems so bad.

Two brief thoughts: iPad book design, and what “books” are (or not)

Via Mark Crane, I came across this:  “Designing for iPad: Reality Check,” from iA.  This is pretty geek-heavy because iA is a web design firm (as far as I can tell, they do a lot of German language newspaper web sites) and it’s talking about some of the complex and largely invisible design issues of type and readability.  For me, the most accessible/usable points they make here are toward the end, and how the design elements being encouraged for the iPad by Apple to make it more object-like– wood and leather grain, for example– are what they refer to as “kitschy.”  I don’t know if I agree with that or not, but I think they are spot-on with the problems of the iBook app (and, for that matter, kindle) in terms of not knowing how many pages are left.    As they put it:

Having the same static thick paper stacks left and right in your e-reader application on the first as well as on the last page, is not just visually wrong, it is also confusing; it feels wrong and it is wrong. It’s kitsch.

I have to say that this is one of the things that I don’t particularly like about electronic reading on my iPad or my iPhone, and I’m not quite sure what it says about me as a reader.  Do I really need to know how many pages are left?  Is that a bad thing, always wanting to know where the end is?  Especially when I read before I go to bed (which is about half the time before I go to bed), I often will look ahead to see how far I’ve got to do before a logical place to stop.  Reading on an iPad doesn’t facilitate this that well, and some of the elements that the current designers are doing to help people bridge that gap between paper book (like these fake page stacks) and electronic book don’t help much.

I’ve also been thinking lately and again about the definition of “book.”  The experience of reading electronically– be it on an iPad or a phone or on a computer screen– has bubbled up in the news a bit lately because of Nicholas Carr’s new book, The Shallows. I’d buy it to take on my upcoming vacation/trip and also because it sounds interesting, but it isn’t available for Kindle or iBook yet.  (Yes, that irony is intended.) But as far as I can tell, it is a book-length treatment of Carr’s 2008 article in The Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” To over-simplify, I think Carr’s basic point in the article and (probably) the book is that reading a book on the page is a more “real” and meaningful, deep-thought experience than reading it on a screen.

This is problematic for lots of different reasons, but the one that struck me again this past weekend is the definition of “book.”  What I think Carr means is the same sort of thing most of my students mean when we discuss the anxiety around the end of “the book.”  Generally speaking, I think Carr et al thinks of books as the sort of thing you buy in Borders and take with you on a trip or you give as a present or you read while in bed or in the bathtub or while sitting in an easy chair listening to soft music and drinking Chardonnay.  But a lot of books aren’t these kinds of “books” at all.

Last Saturday was the annual Normal Park (my neighborhood) yard sale, where there are like 100 yard/garage sales all going on at the same time on the first Saturday in June.  We didn’t have anything to sell really, but I put out some boxes of “books” that were in the garage and that needed to be disposed of with a sign that said “free.”  There were a couple of things that did actually get taken, a twelve year old copy of What to Expect When You are Expecting, for example.  But most of these books were textbooks, anthologies, writing handbooks, and instructor manuals, and those books, even free, were not taken.  And as I tell my students all the time, computers have eliminated all kinds of things that we used to think of as “books,” things like research databases and indexes, the MLA bibliography, dictionaries, and soon (more or less now), the phone book.  No one seems particularly broken up or wistful that these “books” are no longer.

Anyway, while I would like my iPad books to have more of a look and feel of a “book,” I have a feeling that Carr et al’s anxieties about these new electronic books will fade sooner than later.  And then we can all lament the loss and feel if the iPad book for something new that comes along.

Dexter/AA 5K a success because I beat the fat shirtless old man

Crossing-finish-line I have been “running” for two years or so now, and earlier today, I ran my second Dexter-Ann Arbor 5K. I always make a point of saying “running” because I am extremely slow, so slow that many would say that I am not so much running as I am walking kind of quickly and with exaggerated running-like movements.  Last year, I finished the 5 K in 42 minutes, and this year, it was 43.  Just as a point of comparison, Steve B. finished in around 30 minutes, and I think that Bill HD (who had rode his bike 100 miles yesterday as part of a fund-raiser for diabetes) finished in the low 20 minute range.  So, yeah, I’m slow.

I’m slow mainly because I’m fat, though I have to say I think that while I could run faster if I lost 20 or more pounds, I don’t think I could ever be “fast” as a runner.  I just don’t think I have that sort of build or desire. But hey, I don’t care if I’m in a race like this and getting passed by little kids and old ladies; besides being a great way to exercise (I try to “run” 3 times a week for 30 minutes, which is for me a very good and efficient workout– and then I ride a stationary bike or the elliptical machine and also mess with wight machines two times a week), the Dexter-Ann Arbor run is a lot of fun.  I’d recommend it to anyone, even if you just want to walk it.

Anyway, this year’s race was was made a little more interesting, amusing, and even competitive by someone who Bill HD nicknamed “Mr. Coronary.”  An appropriate nickname, though I also thought this guy might stroke out and/or drop dead just from being crotchety at a couple of different points.  He was more or less with me for two-thirds of the race.  I’d guess he was in his sixties, maybe seventies.  At first, I didn’t actually see him; rather I started hearing him making these Tourette’s-like noises– just screaming out stuff like “GAAA!” and “SHIT!” every once in a while. Then he got close enough to me for me to hear him gasping crazily. He really did sound like he was in trouble.

The last 1.2 miles of the course is Main street off of Huron River Drive, and it is mostly uphill, not the easiest finish for a friendly 5K run-walk event.  Mr. Coronary and I kept passing each other; I basically kept my steady but turtle-like pace, while Mr. Coronary would go past me then slow down and scream out crazy stuff and sound like he was going to die.  He kept asking people on the side of the course “how much further?” and he never liked the answer.

And then, after he stopped for a moment, bent over and leaning on his knees (never a good sign to get into what can only be described as the “ready to hurl” position), he took off his shirt. Not a pretty sight, but oddly motivating to me.  The last tenth of a mile or so, something about the wheezing, foul-mouthed, angry, fat, old, and now shirtless man inspired me.  I thought well jeez, I can’t lose to this guy. So I kicked it up just a tiny notch and got past him, as the picture above suggests.

Victory is sweet.

A few miscellaneous thoughts on iPad reading

I’ve come across a lot of articles about reading on the iPad lately, and thought I’d pass along some of them with some thoughts:

  • Jakob Nielsen doesn’t think the iPad is that cool in terms of usability. I dunno, seems a little like he’s a hater, though Nielsen does raise some interesting points about how the iPad exhibits the growing pains of moving from one kind of literacy technology to another.
  • How to self-publish a book for iPad. Really, how to self-publish a book for ePub format period.  This combined with this NYTimes editorial from Garrison Keillor, “The End of an Era in Publishing,” makes me think.  On the one hand, I don’t think that “self-publishing” is automatically going to spell the end of publishing business simply because there has always been self-publishers trying to get their work out there. Some were, for their time, pretty successful too– I believe Leaves of Grass was initially self-published.  On the other hand, this certainly changes the ease and scale of delivery possible with self-published electronic books.  Print something up on paper and your distribution point is pretty much limited to the street corner, maybe the trunk of your car; make an ePub book and the distribution point becomes international.
  • An interesting review of reading on the iPad, comparing iBooks, Kindle, and GoodReader. I personally think the differences between iBook and Kindle are pretty negligible, and really, Kindle has two possible advantages right now.  First, amazon.com/Kindle has A LOT more books available than Apple/iBooks.  Second, I can read Kindle books in multiple places.  So, for example, I have been reading (very slowly, in fits and starts) The Omnivore’s Dilemma on Kindle.  Sometimes, I read it on my iPad, but as often (maybe more often, since I do this at the gym while on the stationary bike) I read it on my iPhone.  What’s nice about Kindle is the book syncs up to my place.
  • I think a lot of the “love of the object” of the book is sort of misplaced, sort of like the sentiments in this NYTimes editorial, “Further Thoughts of a Novice E-Reader.” Verlyn Klinkenborg is mostly lamenting the loss of paper and look, probably smell and touch too.  Interestingly, it seems to me that a lot of what’s going on with the iPad is also a love (or hate) of the object.  I don’t think that the iPad or other tablets is going to completely eliminate the sort of fine books that Klinkenborg feels she (or he?  what is Verlyn?) might miss, but what might be a good thing is that these devices might save a lot of trees.  As the post “To Kindle or not to Kindle?” from “Limited Prerogatives” points out, a lot of those wonderfully smelling and feeling paper books end up wasting a lot of trees.  She quotes a NYTimes article about how the book and newspaper industries harvested something like 125 million trees, and something like about a third of books printed are returned to the publisher and/or “pulped.”
  • And while I don’t have any links to it, I’ve heard some interesting reactions to the Wired iPad App, which I (of course!) bought.  I don’t think it’s fair to complain about it because of all of the ads, because a) the print version of Wired is basically a Geek Glamour magazine, intensely heavy on ads that many of its readers actually want to read; b) a lot of the ads are pretty cool and interactive, and c) it’s how magazine publishers make money (dirty little secret).  I don’t think it’s fair to complain that it is just the print version on the iPad since I never had a print version of Wired that included video and audio.  And I also think it’s only a little fair to complain about how the Wired iPad app doesn’t allow for “cut and paste” copying or bookmarking, because while I would agree that these features would be nice, Wired is not exactly the kind of thing I read to “cut and paste” from.  Besides, they still have a web site.

    What I thought was more interesting with the new Wired App and all of these other things is how they are the latest in a long history of what happens when we make the transition from one literacy technology to another.  A number of people talk about this with the transition from early handwritten manuscripts into printed books:  at first, the printed books looked a lot like the handwritten ones, but then, after people figured out the capabilities of the technology, they looked different.  We still call web pages “pages” because they initially looked a lot like “words in a row” pages with some links, and once we figured out the technology, they ended up looking a lot different.

    But I’m not going to keep paying $5 a pop for it.  They either are going to have to set up some sort of subscription service (the print version delivered was about a third of the price on the newsstand), or they are going to have to drop the price for me to be a regular reader.

  • Finally, I downloaded and installed onto my iPad (as part of my iBooks library) Cory Doctorow’s new YA book For the Win. Despite his dislike of the iPad, I like Doctorow’s thinking and writing a lot, and I very much admire his practice of putting books up online for free.  But the iPad and similar devices raise an interesting question about the sustainability of this practice:  before the iPad, I might have been inclined to buy one of Doctorow’s paper books because as a matter of convenience and form, I would much rather read the paper book than the PDF (or whatever) on my computer screen.  As a result, Doctorow (and his publishers) would still sell a lot of books.  But if I’m inclined to read one of his books on an iPad or similar device anyway, why would I do anything but download the free version?  In other words, since the “free” version is no longer is a means of selling/promoting the “not free” version, how long will it be before Doctorow starts charging something to download the ePub from his site?