Trying to end on a positive note

I’m not one to usually think like this, but 2016 has been a pretty shitty year by almost any measure. It’s been shitty on several different levels– the world and the country, but it’s also been a shitty year at EMU and I’ve had some shitty things happen in my own life (which I won’t get into now). Shitty shitty shitty.

But I’m determined to end on a positive “always look on the bright side of life” note here. So here are some things that happened for me that were good.

  • I got the chance to participate in some interesting, cool, and difficult to explain and categorize consulting/curriculum development things with the NICERC which took me to places like Louisiana and Arkansas and where I got to meet/work with some cool people. (Dwelling on the negative would involve wondering about the future of this program, and I’m not going there).
  • In honor of my 50th birthday (which is neither good nor bad, really), Annette and I had a great trip to New York City. We went in February, which turns out to be a pretty cheap time to go, saw many fun and wondrous things, ate ridiculously expensive food, some fantastic pizza, and hung around with great friends.
  • I got the chance to do an invited talk at Creighton University to talk about MOOCs, which gave me a chance to catch up with Bob Whipple and also a chance to hang around Omaha for a day (which is neither a good thing or a bad thing, really).
  • I wasn’t going to go to the CCCCs this year in Houston, but Annette and I had a good time. Speaking of somewhat unplanned but still good conference travel: Computers and Writing was a pretty good time too. And even though this was the year I said to myself and others that I was getting kind of sick of going to conferences, I still ended up going to three in the winter/spring terms, and I helped run the latest version of the WIDE-EMU this last fall.
  • The three of us had a long spring trip/experiment “up North” in May, spending two weeks in a condo on working vacation in Glen Arbor. I’m not sure I would spend that long up there again that early in the season, but we got in some good hikes, some good work, some good food.
  • Annette was President of the Children’s Literature Association last year, which for me meant a long weekend in Columbus during the conference staying in a fancy-pants suite. That was fun.
  • Did lots of the usual stuff over the summer with friends and the like, too: did the Dexter-Ann Arbor “run,” did a fun “amazing race” thing with Steve and Michelle that was a fund-raiser for a local cancer support group, played some golf, had some picnics, went to the July 4 parade in Ypsilanti, my parents visited, Annette’s parents visited, etc.
  • Annette and I went to see Cyndi Lauper (of all people!) and Annette and Will and I went to see Louis CK at Joe Louis Arena. Both were good; Lauper was a bit of a trip down memory lane (though she was touring in support of a country album she had made), and Louis CK was great though the arena-sized space is probably not right for stand-up.
  • Right before the fall term began and hours after we moved Will into the dorms, Annette and I went to Italy. I was invited back to this conference about MOOCs at the University of Naples, an conference I went to in 2015 that I thought was a once in a lifetime kind of thing. And then it happened again. It was a fantastic trip.
  • And Will is doing great at the University of Michigan. In April, we went to see a poster session of him presenting on science stuff; he worked in his lab doing science stuff all summer and through now; and he is still doing even more science stuff. Yes, that’s vague, but it is just a little less than what I understand it to be. He is a much MUCH better student than I ever was.
  • I don’t know if this is good news exactly, but in October, we had the not to be forgotten incident of a chipmunk in our house.
  • And last but not least, I have a contract to write/finish a book about MOOCs. I don’t want to jinx it by saying any more than that.

So yeah, it’s been a shitty year, but there was some good stuff too. Now it’s time to brace ourselves for 2017…

Meanwhile, a few pictures from my garden/yard

My silence here has been the result of being too busy about some things and not able to say much (yet) about other things. I’ve been too busy with teaching since the end of June– two classes, one of which was a mere six weeks long (and that was a mistake), and another that wrapped up on Monday. It is too much work too fast, but the money is hard to pass up. Without getting into the details of my salary, faculty teaching in the summer are paid 10% of their base salary per summer class they teach. That adds up so the work is welcome, though for a whole bunch of reasons, this might be the last summer I do this kind of teaching for a while.

And there are many things I would like to write about that I can’t write about here, at least not yet. Some have to do with ongoing scholarly projects, though the thing that is most on my mind that I want to write about but I don’t feel like I can has to do with some very strange faculty contract hijinks. But the dust has to settle on that first.

How’s that for vague?

Instead, I’ll mention three things that are broadly speaking in the department of what I’ve been doing lately/what I’m looking forward to doing soon.

Summer teaching went well, fall is coming soon. Like I said, summer (teaching) is over and prepping for this fall term is coming along, though oddly. I am preparing a face to face version of a class I most recently taught online (and I haven’t taught this class face to face in several years), and also an online version of a different class I most recently taught face to face. It is making me feel sort of backwards in an odd way.

This coming school year is the first year in some time where I won’t be teaching a graduate course, though the course Writing for the World Wide Web has both undergraduates and graduate students in it and I am continuing this year as the Associate Director of the First Year Writing Program and that typically involves a lot of connection with Graduate Assistants. I kind of miss the teaching, though I like the undergraduate teaching experience just as well and those classes have the advantage of not being at night.

Oh, and I moved offices, graduating (based on seniority– I’ll be starting my 18th year at EMU this fall) to a larger office with a window. More on that later I am sure.

I’ve been really into pizza lately because of this book, The Elements of Pizza. I bought it while we were up in Traverse City in May. Besides being a beautiful book, I very much appreciate the advice from Ken Forkish, techniques and recipes that walk the thin line of overly obsessive to playfully forgiving (it’s just pizza, after all). Forkish has talked me out of my childish visions of a backyard pizza oven and talked me into just getting it to work in my oven (though I am not sure my oven really gets hot enough, but that’s a slightly different conversation). I need to get his bread making book, Flour Water Salt Yeast.

The garden has been so-so. In some ways, it has been an example of neglect that has turned out kind of nice anyway:

Is it a garden or is it weeds?

All those white flowers that are kind of pretty are actually just weeds, and those weeds are kind of covering up other weeds. This close-up of some of the front-yard garden is a little nicer and more planned:

Flowers and stuff in the front

I’ve had two main experiments plant-wise this year. One is corn, which I planted as kind of a joke:

Corn?

The other is these basically black tomatoes which I believe are called “Indigo Rose:”

Indigo Tomatoes

Besides being really pretty, they have taken a bizarrely long time to ripen (and it’s kind of hard to tell when they’re ripe, too). And they taste like tomatoes.

In which I recall a less serious time when a small child wandered off

The case of the child wandering into the enclosure for Harambe the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo brought back the memory of the time when Annette and I lost Will at the mall.

He was somewhere around two and a half or three years old. For some reason (I cannot remember why now), we thought it was a good idea to get a proper little kid portrait of him done at JC Penney. I believe we were there in the morning on a slow day in the summer, and I recall we were early for our appointment. So we had to keep Will entertained for the fifteen/twenty minutes, and we did this by chasing him around the mostly empty store. Will ducked into/underneath a circular rack of shirts or something on hangers, Annette and I ran around opposite sides of the clothing rack, and he popped out the other side, laughing hysterically. Simple, goofy fun. We repeated this routine at least three or four times.

Then he vanished. I mean completely, like that Vegas-styled magic trick where they drop the curtain and there’s nothing there. Nothing.

As I recall it now, I felt a mix of panic and disbelief– panic for the obvious reasons, disbelief because he literally vanished. Annette and I frantically searched the nearby clothing racks yelling WILL! WILL! WILL!, and generally freaked out. We got a hold of some kind of manager and told her what was going on, and as I think about it now, her reaction was reasonable to the point where this had almost certainly happened before. There was some kind of announcement about a lost child and we continued to look for him.

Then we found him– I think it was actually Annette who found him– outside the mall entrance of JC Penney’s. He was standing and carefully examining a kiosk that was selling mini aquariums that contained very small and colorful frogs. As I believe Annette recalls it, she said something to him like “OH MY GOD, WILL, YOU RAN OFF! DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!” and Will’s reaction was something like “What’s the big deal? I wanted to look at the frogs.”

And after we all collected ourselves, we had Will’s portrait photo made:

TinyWill

(At least that’s my memory of this– maybe Annette and Will will have slightly different takes on this).

In any event, filtering this back to the current story about killing a gorilla/”bad” parenting/bad kids:

  • It’s sad, but it kind of sounds like they had to shoot the gorilla. I’ve also heard that these kinds of incidents of people getting inside enclosures or animals getting out are obviously rare but not as uncommon as I for one would hope.
  • There was an interesting little piece in the New York Times, “Who Is to Blame When a Child Wanders at the Zoo?” which, among other things, points out that some kids are a lot more “wily” than others. (Not that Will was really like that– this is the one and only time he did something this wily). And this article also makes me wonder about some discussion about blaming this child– I mean, isn’t this the kind of action that suggests a certain level of intent and agency on his part?
  • I don’t blame the mother in this story, but it probably would help her case a bit if she had said something about how she messed up and she felt bad about what happened.

“Up North” Vacation Haikus

We went to Glen Arbor
Stayed in a Homestead condo,
on Sleeping Bear Bay.

The condo (view from the lake)

Empty Beach With Annette

Off-season, we had
the complex and the beach to
ourselves. It was odd.

Cool, mostly sunny,
but so buggy with midges.
That is off-season.

Work station in Glen Arbor
Working outside meant
buggy gnatty midge bugs all
over my laptop.

Midges live two days
mating in grey swarms alight,
flying up my nose.

Sunset

View of Sleeping Bear Bay

Spooky view

Still, it is lovely,
the bay view always shifting,
shining, orange, blue, grey.

Empire Bluff Trail Selfie

We hiked the Bay View
Trail, Empire Bluffs, Cotton-
wood, Leelanau State Park Trails

How long were these hikes?
We don’t know, but none of the
markers were correct.

For example:

The sign said two miles
Three miles in, we discovered
It was more like five.

Amical and Chicken Pot Pie

blu Duck Confit No. 6534

Excellent eating:
Art’s, Amical, La Bécasse,
and, as always, Blu.

But with the condo
kitchen, we ate mostly at
home. Keeping it real.

It was beautiful
just hanging around the house,
watching Netflix, etc.

Annette Puzzles 1
An OCD dream
An Edward Gorey puzzle
with a thousand frogs.

Annette and I worked,
lots of writing and school stuff.
Class planning and more.

Will didn’t have work.
School was over, he was bored,
Played lots of video games.

Piles of work await
Naptime lures like siren song,
Behind but rested.

(Links to the Flickr set, and thanks to Annette for her haiku contributions).

50

It bothers me, and it doesn’t bother me.

It bothers me because 50 does seems a point of no return in terms of getting older, of leaving behind what was possible, of death. I generally agree that the main definition of “older” seems to be pegged at about ten years older than you are right now: that is, to 20-year-olds, 30 seems old, and so forth. My parents and in-laws are both in their mid-70s, and I hear both of them mentioning “old” people who are in their 80s.  But there is no denying the oldness and general adultness that is 50. When I first started teaching at the college level as a graduate student, I was 22— far too young. Because of EMU’s tenure system, I was promoted to full professor by 40, also pretty young. But no one is going to confuse me any longer for being too young for pretty much anything I do from here on out, except for the highly unlikely event that I’m nominated as a new justice on the Supreme Court.

I have to leave behind the reality that there are things I can never be or never do. Not that I ever was in great physical condition (I mean I’m healthy, but I’ve never been athletic), but my chances at this stage of becoming particularly good at anything like golf or running are slim. I doubt I’ll ever pick up an instrument. I’ll keep writing and I might even manage to turn back to fiction and other creative work, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to pay all the bills as a writer, part of the naive dream/plan I had 30 or so years ago. There are many places I will never go, there are many things I will never do.

And yeah, death. People dying in their 50s or 60s is too young (Garry Shandling just dropped dead of a heart attack in his mid 60s), but it is also not outside the statistical realm of when it is people end. I heard some place that everyone should take a moment every day and just acknowledge to themselves that yes, I’m going to die. I don’t know what that means really— that is, I assume that the experience of being dead is an impossible to comprehend nothingness like the experience of what the world was like before being born— but I do know that’s going to happen. And in acknowledging that, I think the point is to recognize the value and urgency of every day and to simultaneously recognize the insignificance of it all. I really like the Beatles song off of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of George’s I believe, “Within You Without You,” especially the chorus:

Try to realize it’s all within yourself

No one else can make you change

And to see you’re really only very small

And life flows on within you and without you

On the up-side: I’m in a pretty good spot in my life right now, certainly better than I was for a lot of my 20s. I’m still very happily married to Annette and I’m incredibly proud of my son. I’m not the healthiest 50 year old within a 10 mile radius, I’m not the unhealthiest 50 year old, so I’ll take it. I’m quite happy with my work, and, without blowing myself up too much about it all, I feel like my career as an academic has been reasonably successful, too. I often return to something my colleague and friend Derek Mueller said off-hand one day (I’m not even sure how much he remembers this), which is that academic fame is an oxymoron, and I’m not (and will not likely become) a “big name” in my field. But I’m happy with where I’m at. We talk about moving all the time, but I’m still pretty happy with our house and neighborhood and how we’re living. We have enough money to pretty much do what we want (not that we want to do anything terribly extravagant), which is of course a huge difference between now and when I was 20-something or 30-something.

So yeah, it doesn’t bother me. Now it’s just a question of worrying about really getting old when I turn 60.

In the Primary on Tuesday in Michigan, I’ll Probably Vote for Hillary…

… though sure, there are a lot things about Hillary that do bug me. Long story-short, sometimes her and Bill’s careers seem a little too much like House of Cards, or vice-versa. She does seem a little too cozy with Wall Street, and I do wonder about why she’d run her own email server for personal emails instead of just getting a gmail account. So yeah, I understand my fellow Democrat (and even Republican) friends on all this.

… because at the end of the day she is the most qualified in terms of previous experience and a pragmatic record of getting shit done. I realize that in this election cycle, my support for a candidate with demonstrable “insider” experience makes me an “outlier,” but so be it.

… and I like Bernie Sanders too. If Bernie gets the nomination, I have no problem with that. I really don’t think there are many Democrats who are going to use the word “begrudgingly” in describing their support for the party’s nominee even if it isn’t their choice, which of course is not the case going on with the clown car called the Republican party. I think that Sanders running such a serious and robust campaign has made Clinton better, and if she gets the nomination, I hope she gets Sanders to do something big in the general election, maybe even as the VP. Or vice-versa.

… though I am tempted to vote in the Republican primary. I don’t understand exactly how this works, but as I understand it, Michiganders only need to be registered to vote– they can chose which primary they vote in (though I think you can only vote in one primary) regardless of party preferences.  If I did vote in the Republican primary, it wouldn’t be for Trump as a way of performing a little bit of “sabotage” or whatever. No, I’d vote for John Kasich. He’s kind of a jerky conservative guy too, but he’s the only adult in the room over there, and Trump scares the hell out of me.

.., and at the end of the day, I suspect that Clinton will clinch the nomination well before the convention, Sanders will gracefully concede, the Democrats will be unusually united because the prospect of President Trump is so disturbing, and Clinton will be the first woman president. But I sure wouldn’t want to take any of that for granted, that is for dang sure.

A few thoughts on a side trip to the Clinton Presidential Library

I was in Arkansas this past weekend for a meeting/work session/subject area consulting event that’s part of a program sponsored by the NICERC— it’s a long story, but it’s been an interesting opportunity for me to participate in something that is both actually interdisciplinary (as in like people from radically different fields than mine) and that is very STEM-oriented.

Anyway, after lots of work including a half-day on Sunday and before my flight back home Monday, I went to the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. I took a few pictures; a few random thoughts:

Continue reading “A few thoughts on a side trip to the Clinton Presidential Library”

2015 Highlights

A quick and largely sequential set of highlights/lowlights around here for me in 2015:

  • Sabbatical! How long ago it seems now, but I was on sabbatical in winter 2015 (and basically during the spring/summer too). I did better than I did the first time I was on a sabbatical, not as well as the next time. Not that I know exactly when I’ll get my next sabbatical (if there is a next sabbatical), but I think a full year and one where I’m completely away from EMU would be interesting. Or maybe not; one of the things I learned about myself on sabbatical was/is I’m not close to ready to retire yet.
  • Yik-Yak hit the EMU fan in some interesting ways. I blogged about it a bit here, but more at the now defunct EMUTalk; here’s a good example of that.
  • I went to the CCCCs in Tampa, which was pretty good. Here’s a link to my talk.
  • I “dodged” the administrative track by applying for the position of Director of the Faculty Development Center. I have no idea if I didn’t get it because they meant to hire the person who was in the job before or because I dropped out of the search, but either way, it doesn’t matter. I’d say I’m about 90% pleased with the way this turned out, which is about as happy as I am with the way anything turns out. Interestingly enough, there’s been a lot of administrative turn-over recently. The person I would have reported to in this position, Kim Schatzel, is leaving EMU to become president of Towson University, which means that EMU currently has an interim president and an interim provost, and the College of Arts and Sciences is soon to have an interim dean too. This level of uncertainty might have been a good time to be a low-level administrator (like this position), or it might have been a terrible time to be an administrator. I guess I’ll never know for sure.
  • I went to HASTAC at MSU, which was interesting and I got to preside over a panel that was going on simultaneously between HASTAC and Computers and Writing. A lot of energy and excitement generated there, though unfortunately, there hasn’t really been anything in the way of a follow-up to the event.
  • This was a pretty popular post back in June— and I’ll want to/need to come back to this again soon for the MOOC book project (which is still moving along far too slowly). Of course, the big event in June was my son graduated from Greenhills!
  • Oh, also in June: I was in Ruston, Louisiana (of all places!) attending/involved with a “cyber-discovery” camp sponsored by the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center, and I was involved again in a version of the camp we held here at EMU. And I’m still involved in all this by helping out in putting together a new version of the camp and by being a part of the second version of the camp we’re going to be holding here this coming spring. It’s a long story explaining what it is, the strengths and pitfalls, and maybe I’ll explain that another day. Just thought I’d mention it for now.
  • In July, my whole side of the family (with sisters, brothers-in-laws, and kids it’s like a total of 18 people) got together at a house in southeast Wisconsin to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. It was a lovely and fun time and lots of good stories; here’s a video of a particularly stormy afternoon on the lake.
  • EMUTalk wrapped up in August; here’s a link to the last post I had on that site. I have to say I don’t miss it as much as I thought I might. Maybe it’s because there’s still some “talk” on the Facebook page; or maybe I really did quit it at the right time.
  • We had a grand week up in the Traverse City area at a quaint little cottage in the woods. I think the hands-down highlight was a magical night on the beach with our friends John and Karen Mauk, a night where (sometimes all at the same time) we saw a zillion stars, shooting/falling stars, the northern lights, and a lightening storm in the distance.
  • Will moved out/moved in at U of M (and that’s been going well so far, I think).
  • I started to (and continue to) chair a search, I became the associate director of the first year writing program, and now (because Derek is on sabbatical) I’m the interim director. So much for avoiding all responsibility.
  • I went to my first international conference and my first “solo” trip out of the U.S. (and I took about 1,000 pictures, too.
  • And I didn’t blog as much in November and December as I should/would have preferred to do; my hope is to change that in the new year.

So yeah, 2015 turned out pretty decent overall. Let’s see what’s what next year.

The end of EMUTalk is near/EMU-AAUP contract negotiatons

I’m always surprised when August arrives. Summer goes along with June and July– and that’s especially true for me this summer since it’s the first time I haven’t taught a summer course since I came to EMU, probably only the second or so time in the last 25 or more years. That’s not to say that I haven’t been working at all– I’m doing sabbatical things, I was involved in EMU’s first Cyberdiscovery camp, I’ve done a bit of quasi-administrative work, and so forth. Still, the summer pace is slower and the summer schedule is a bit more abstract, even “lazy.” But when August rolls around, I know that it means that the end of summer is near.

And with this summer, the end of EMUTalk is also near. I won’t be renewing the domain name or server space when the bill comes due this September– though technically, if someone else wanted to start up their own version of a site with the EMUTalk.org domain name, I suppose they could. Also before September, I am trying to figure out a way to download the entire site and then post it someplace as a file– that is, while it wouldn’t be an active blog anymore, it would at least be available as a “text” for anyone who is interested. If anyone knows the technicalities of converting a wordpress site into one big file, let me know.

But this is not to say that these kinds of posts/comments/discussions are disappearing entirely. For one thing, the EMUTalk Facebook discussion group already has 72 members– and you can join too!  Just login to your Facebook account and either click that link or search for EMUTalk. For another, I will continue to blog about these kinds of things at stevendkrause.com (including this post!), and I am thinking that I will be rearranging my site into more distinct categories, one of which will be “EMU.” Stay tuned.

Anyway, the one thing that is going on this summer that is EMUTalk-like news is faculty contract negotiations. There’s a meeting on Tuesday, August 4 at noon in Roosevelt Auditorium. According to Susan Moeller’s email to faculty the other day, this is the meeting where the bargaining team will show the administration’s first offer in terms of money and benefits. I won’t be making it to this meeting (I’ve got other plans), but I hope to hear from some folks who go here in the comments. But I don’t recall a meeting like this with the faculty this early in the process.

I think this is a positive thing and a pretty good indication of changing times. In the past, it seems like we would have a faculty meeting like this later in the negotiating process, and during one of these late August/early September meetings, the bargaining team has asked for a vote to authorize a strike, and sometimes, it would get real ugly real fast. Nowadays, it seems like the administration and the union have been able to get along and negotiate with each other in a much more (for lack of a better word) “mature” fashion.

The other thing that feels different now than things felt in the past is even the less than techno-sophisticated EMU-AAUP has a blog of sorts where we’re getting regular updates from the union about the negotiation. It’s not exactly a freewheeling and open discussion space, and the site itself is kind of a work in progress, better than what they had before but still not quite ready for prime-time, IMO. For example, take a look at the masthead picture on the negotiations blog:

negotiationsblog

As far as I can tell, that’s a picture of some building in Germany; I certainly don’t recognize that as an EMU building, and I’m pretty sure there’s no signage for the “Stadthalle” in Ypsilanti. Sure, maybe I’m picking at nits here, but that’s a pretty easy problem to fix.

Anyway, if you look at the actual updates on that site, it looks like things are moving right along. A few of the things that I’ve noticed (because they might indirectly impact me) are dealing with the uneven distribution of overload teaching and summer teaching; faculty won’t be able to be on full release to do administrative work; big changes to the graduate council and also electing the president of the faculty senate directly from faculty; more FRFs; and contractually mandated help with Concur. So as long as we get a modest raise and insurance costs remain about the same, then I think we’ll be in good shape.

Anybody have any other thoughts on the negotiation process so far?

The Comcast Strikes Back

Complaining about Comcast is sort of like complaining about death or taxes and about as common.  I know that. But because of a Twitter exchange I had, I thought I’d add to the genre generally and specifically to my latest Twitter follower, @ComcastLisa. This is more for her than anything else, so if you have had your fill of internet posts complaining about Comcast, feel free to move along. If you’re a glutton for punishment, read on.

Continue reading “The Comcast Strikes Back”