Existential Emergency

This is a little off the usual topic here, but I found this pretty entertaining and this is a project of a student of mine in English 596, John Biando, along with several other grad students in various programs in our department. John is in the creative writing program, and as you can tell from this project, Existential Emergency, he’s very interested in alternative forms of story-telling. Cool and amusing stuff.

A Little More about our WPA Search

We’re hiring this year for a Writing Program Administrator-type person. And if you’re interested in this job, please do me a favor and read past the “bad” part that follows the ad. I promise, I will get to the good stuff!

Here’s the ad itself from the MLA JIL:

English, 612 Pray-Harrold, Ypsilanti, MI 48197
http://www.emich.edu/english
Assistant Professor Composition/Rhetoric [1638]
Tenure track position in composition and rhetoric starting Fall 2007. We are looking for a faculty member who values teaching, research, and service to join a dynamic department and an active group of composition/rhetoric faculty in a nationally recognized writing program. We seek expertise in some combination of the following: writing program administration, first year writing, and writing and technology. Responsibilities will include administration or co-administration of the First Year Writing Program (with commensurate reassigned time), and some teaching in FYC and/or upper-level or graduate courses in Written Communication. Teaching excellence, scholarly publication, and service are required for academic advancement. Candidate must have Ph.D. in hand by Fall 2007. Phone interviews will be held before MLA. Please send letter of application and a dossier containing letters of recommendation, teaching/administrative philosophy, and evidence of exemplary teaching and scholarship to: Position F0715, 202 Bowen, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI 48197. Screening will begin 11/27 and continue until position is filled. We encourage applications from women and members of minority groups. For more information contact Linda Adler-Kassner (ladlerka@emich.edu).

Now, for some more info– the “inside story,” if you will.

First off, I’d be lying through not only my teeth but the dozens of entries I’ve made here recently about the not yet resolved faculty strike if I said that everything was just hunky-dory and happy on campus. It’s not. (Oh, and the short version fo where we’re at right now: faculty are working under the conditions of the old contract and the process of “fact finding” has begun. If we go all the way through with the “fact finding” stuff, it will probably be another six months before we have a contract. There’s a good chance though that the parties will reach some sort of agreement sooner; fingers crossed on that one).

Beyond this immediate issue, there are of course other longer-term concerns. EMU has been traditionally under-funded by the state and that situation isn’t improving in a state where the economy is in the dumper. The building where the English department is housed, Pray-Harrold, is something of a hole. It’s not easy to get resources like new(ish) computers, decent furniture, and so forth. The parking situation on campus is horrible. Etc., etc., etc.

Okay, with that out of the way: even with all of this crap, even with the situation we’ve got with the board of regents and the upper administration, even with all of these other problems, I still think EMU is a pretty good place to work, and I still think this WPA position is going to be a pretty good job. Here’s why, in no particular order:

  • Within the writing program, I’ve got great colleagues. Sure, a couple of folks are less active than they should perhaps be, but for the most part, my fellow colleagues are super invested in their teaching, in their service to the department, and to their scholarship. And basically, they’re nice people, too.
  • I have A LOT of fellow writing colleagues. In terms of “quantity,” we are a program with a lot of folks invested in the writing program: eight faculty who are squarely in “composition and rhetoric” and/or “tech writing,” another five faculty in journalism and/or public relations, four faculty in English Education (and they work closely with our program, especially in teaching some of the graduate courses in the “teaching of writing” MA program), and another four faculty in creative writing. That, as they say, is a lot of people, and the value of having that many folks in writing within an English department cannot be over-emphasized. At my first job at Southern Oregon University, I had one other colleague who did comp/rhet stuff, and 10 or 11 other colleagues who did “straight-up” literature stuff who didn’t always “get” the scholarship and teaching I did. That’s never been a problem here.
  • Beyond the writing programs, I’ve got a lot of other great colleagues. Hey, some of my best friends are literature specialists! Seriously though: while there are some political tensions in the department between different programs and personalities, we are a department that prides itself on being a friendly and collegial place. I really do think that our English department is unusual in our ability to work together and even kind of like each other.
  • The process for tenure and promotion at EMU is transparent. The faculty union is bad for all sorts of different reasons. However, one of the ways in which the union is very very good is that it has essentially codified the process for tenure and promotion. There’s none of this five old guys getting together and deciding with no input from anyone who gets tenure and who doesn’t. At EMU, it’s all laid out in the “Department Evaluation Document,” pronounced “DEaD.”
  • EMU is the kind of place where you have the flexibility to be the kind of academic you want to be. One of the problems with Ph.D. studies (IMO) is that the programs that train future college professors tend to have a skewed and extreme version of what it means to be an academic. Because Ph.D. programs tend to be tier one research schools, there’s a lot of “publish or perish” vibe going on, a lot of pressure/stress/anxiety about, well, everything. I don’t think that’s the system here. I mean, you can be a “hard core publishing machine” type of professor at EMU, and those people are certainly respected by my colleagues and the institution. But you can also be someone who publishes an article once in a while and then puts a lot of energy into your teaching, or even into your service work. That flexibility is a very very good thing.
  • The Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area is a great place to live. We’re close enough to Detroit to have access to “big city living” things (major sports teams, great art museum, international airport, shows and concerts, every shopping and dining experience under the sun, etc.), and yet far enough away to have a bit of a “big town/small city” feel. Ypsilanti has its charms and many of my colleagues have a lot of pride and attachment to this town. But personally, I like the things that Ann Arbor offers. In the nutshell, because of the quaint liberal arts school there, Ann Arbor is the quintessential “college town,” with all of the book stores, coffee shops, funky stores, groovy people, and other assorted hangers about that you can imagine.

I could go on, but you get the idea. So if you’re “on the market” this year and you’re interested in this gig, think about applying. And if you want to email me and talk more about this thing a bit more privately (skrause at emich dot edu), feel free.

The D-List Live

Annette and I just got back from seeing Kathy “The D List” Griffin at the EMU Convocation Center. A good time for one and all; a few highlights here:

  • Boy, does she ever say “fuck” a lot– and lots and lots of very funny bits that are not appropriate for the family reading I try to promote here.
  • Griffin’s bread-n-butter for her perfomances is making fun of celebrities. Folks covered tonight included Andy Dick, (long and funny bit about one of his drunken performances), Tom Cruise, John Travolta (she talked about Scientology for a while), Larry King, Star Jones and The View in general, Paris Hilton, Mel Gibson, the Olsen (or Olson?) twins, Lance Bass, and of course, her “favorite gay,” Clay Atkin.
  • She told a pretty funny story about walking out of the Emmys that may or may not be true. Actually, that’s kind of true for a lot of what she had to say: clearly, there’s some “embellishment” for comedy purposes in all of her stories. But hey, that’s comedy.
  • Basically, Griffin’s act consists of her talking pretty fast about all kinds of stuff for about two hours. It seems to me to be completely off the top of her head, though I suppose that’s why they call it “an act.”
  • We had really good seats– third row. But that wasn’t that much of an accomplishment really because the crowd wasn’t that big, like maybe 1,000 or so people. And lot of these folks were kind of a freaky lot.
  • We looked it up when we got home, but while at the show, Annette and I both wondered about Griffin’s age. It turns out that she was born in 1960, but she actually kind of looks older than that. She’s pretty open about having had “work done,” but there was something odd about some flappy skin on her neck.

Anyway, like I said, a good show overall.

The next/new TV (or, still seeking the “true” HDTV experience)

As loyal readers will recall, our TV up and died on Friday night. Oh, and just for a point of correction/clarification to that previous post: Annette actually doesn’t need my help to make web sites, and the problem she had was more complicated than I was trying to suggest. I was just trying to be funny, not an ass.

But it is true she doesn’t care that much about the TV. She certainly doesn’t care as much as Will and I.

Anyway, here’s a recap of our TV odyssey (which I had meant to post several days ago, but things got busy around here):

The first thing I did last Saturday morning (well, after I messed with the dead TV to make sure it was truly dead) was lift it off of the living room floor and haul it out to the curb. And here the first seed of my future TV purchase was planted: that sucker was darn heavy, and I’m too old and too out of shape to be hauling around a 70 pound + awkward appliances, especially when they end up dropping dead on me. We needed a lighter TV.

Shortly after that back-breaking experience, Will and I went to his soccer game. (And btw, it was a good game because Will’s team tied and didn’t lose.) I was talking to one of the parents who is an electrician at an auto plant around here and describing the dead TV situation to him. He ran me through a series of questions which I found mostly comforting because they were obvious things I had done (I checked a different plug, I tried turning it off and on from the TV itself and not the remote, I tried it after letting it sit for several hours, etc.). But it was also somewhat discomforting because asked me about things that I couldn’t have possibly checked (“Did you voltage meter to check if you were getting power at the switch?” What the hell is a voltage meter? I thought).

In the end, this guy was telling me stuff that made me think that I probably could have had this TV fixed, but a) I would have had to pay someone because I wasn’t about to open the set up myself, b) that would have cost me more than the set was worth, and c) it was still reviewed as a piece o’ junk.

Anyway, whether or not I should have just gotten the set fixed was kind of a moot point because when Will and I got back from soccer, the TV I had put on the curb was gone.

So it was time for a trip to Costco, which I have found to always be the best deal on electronics and “big ticket” items. It’s been several (well, three or four) years since I’ve done any TV shopping, and I discovered something: right now, there are only two kinds of TVs on the market in the size we were after: kinda cheap (like around $300 or so) and kinda expensive (like $700 ++). This is because everything is moving to HDTV. I wasn’t looking to buy an HDTV; on the other hand, having had recent bad experience with the kinda cheap variety of TV, I wasn’t looking to repeat that experience either.

After confering with Annette over the phone, we decided to get into the HDTV world on the low-end of things. I thought our shopping technique for this was kind of clever. She was off doing school work at Bombadill’s (local coffee shop) and did Google searches for me on particular brands for about a half hour. I gave her names and model numbers and she looked up reviews. This process eliminated some crappy TVs and then pushed us toward what we bought, a Sharp 26 inch LCD HDTV. We found great reviews online, and as far as we could tell, Costco beat the pants off of everyone on the price.

Anyway, took it home, easily lifted it out of the box (I don’t think it weighs even 30 pounds), hooked it up, prepared to be “blown away” by the HDTV experience.

Well, not quite. In fact, without the right box from the cable company, the quality of the TV was kind of strange. We were watching something Sunday night that featured some close-ups of people talking, and it was like their faces were cut up into different pieces.

But these problems were soon solved with a trip to our local Comcast store for the HDTV box– and while we were at it, we decided to get the DVR feature that allows you to record programs and such. It took me the better part of a morning to figure out how to hook the damn thing up– reading the instructions, calling Comcast, making a trip to Circuit City for one kind of cable I didn’t need, making a trip to Radio Shack for both advice and another cable I didn’t need or buy. And I did get it to all work.

So, how is the “HDTV experience?” Is it worth it? Well, yes and no.

First off, it’s a nice TV, and I really like the fact that I can pick it up and move it around without freakin’ killing myself. “Normal” TV looks good on it. When it comes to HDTV, I would say that the picture quality is quite obviously better, though I don’t know if the difference is worth the money. Besides that, most of the stuff that we tend to watch around here– Comedy Central, The Food Network, E!, Cartoon Network, etc.– isn’t broadcast in HDTV. In fact, the offering of things that are broadcast in HDTV are kind of on the slim-side of things.

The other thing is it seems to me that HDTV as a concept is a potentially never-ending money pit. It reminds me of stereo components from my youth. When I was in both Circuit City and Radio Shack, the dudes (and it’s always dudes, isn’t it?) were trying to sell me the more expensive cables or the more fancy connectors or whatever. The line was always something like “to get the true sense of the quality of HDTV, you will need to buy one of these.” Given that I’m already hundreds of dollars into this set-up already, thanks but no thanks.

Anyway, overall I have to give it a thumbs up. It’s not as cool as the HDTV projector set-up my friend and colleague Jim K. has in his basement (26 inch TV? Try 10 FOOT TV!), but it works well for us. In fact, I think I might watch something on it right now….

Yet another conference I probably won't attend….

I came across something this morning called HASTAC, which stands for Humanaties, Arts, Science, Technology Advanced Collaboratory and which is pronounced (according to the site) “haystack.” Cute. Anyway, they have a conference in April– see info and the call for papers here— that looks pretty interesting. But I probably won’t be going.

For one thing, I have enough to do. I’m already going to the CCCCs and (it turns out) that I’m going to be one of the organizers of a small department conference we have here in early March. I’m also certainly going to go to Computers and Writing in May since it’s just down the road at Wayne State, though I haven’t decided if I’m going to get something together in terms of a presentation or if I’m just going to attend. I’m thinking about just attending since I’ve never actually done that for a conference.

For another, I’m at a place in my career where I don’t have to go to conferences like this, and I work at a place where I can’t get funding to go to more than one conference a year, maybe two if one of them is a 50 mile round-trip from my house. I suspect I am not alone in that. EMU does not have a proverbial pot to piss in, but when it comes to conference travel, a lot of my fellow academics have the same basic problem. It’s a natural place for cutbacks; cutting travel budgets doesn’t have direct or apparent impact on campuses, and the folks who need to go to conferences (e.g., folks seeking tenure) will just pay for them out of pocket. It’s a bad state of affairs because, essentially, it’s a tax that new faculty have to pay.

But I digress.

This still looks like an interesting conference and organization.

Slight update:

Here’s still another conference I won’t be attending, “SHARP 2007: Open the Book, Open the Mind,” in July at the U of Minnesota.

"Steps toward a successful classroom blog"

Also from jill/txt (yep, I’m behind with schoolwork and thus behind on my blog reading and my own blogging again) comes this article, “Steps toward a successful classroom blog.” This reminds me that I really REALLY need to start getting my act together in terms of both planning English 516 (“Computers and Writing, Theory and Practice”) online for the Winter 2007 term and getting a proposal together for an online version of English 444 (“Writing for the World Wide Web”…).

Stupid Dead TV…

So:

We were hanging around tonight, nothing out of the ordinary. Annette and I and Will had previously enjoyed the movie Fun with Dick and Jane(which Annette and I thought was better than we had anticipated, though I think Will thought it was boring). After that, I was kind of channel-surfing around, looking for something to watch, when the television just stopped working. I mean just freakin’ died, like in the middle of the space from one channel to the next.

I’m standing there going “What the fuck is going on here?”

Annette was staring at her laptop and trying to get a picture to show up on her web page and thus is engrossed in Dreamweaver and such. “Why won’t this work?”

I go over and fix her problem with a few keystrokes and then point to the broken television, as if to make it clear to her that this is the real problem in the room. I am quite sure she was not convinced.

Anyway, I thought it was the weirdest thing. Previously, the problems I’ve had with televisions presented themselves gradually. You know, the color starts to get strange, the picture isn’t shaped quite right, it loses its vertical/horizontal hold, etc.. etc., etc. But this thing just stopped working, somewhere between one of the HBO channels and the Comcast “On Demand” selections. Poof. No more TV. Just like that.

Well, one thing that is comforting is that this, this, and this review(s) suggest, it would appear that the TV we bought is/was a piece of poo. Of course, it might be an issue that TVs aren’t built the way that they used to be built.

Anyway, it looks like Will and I are going to do some TV shopping tomorrow. I suppose what I should do is read some reviews and such (which I have done a bit, and, generally speaking, it would appear that Sony and Samsung are the way to go) and buy the best TV for the money. But what I am also tempted and indeed likely to do is simply buy the cheapest TV we can get that meets our needs. As I type this, I am half-watching a 12 or so inch TV that we bought about three or four years ago for less than $50 (I distinctly recall we bought it and a DVD player for less than $80) that has nothing wrong with it. Someday, I’d like to buy a big screen and/or projection TV set-up, but that wouldn’t make any sense in the house where we live right now. So the combonation of these two things make me think to just get non-name brand cheapo TV and be done with it.

But it ain’t gonna be a Phillips, I’ll tell you that….