Sunday, May 29, 2005


Well, it's official. The wife and I are going browsing for homes. I mourn the carefree days when my biggest concern was whether or not I would have beer and cab money for Thursday and Friday.

We love our apartment. It's close to work, a well maintained property and has a nice view of the woods but believe it or not ~1200 sqft is now pushing the limit for two people who abhor the thought of discarding things (I am try tho' - I'm scanning as many bills, papers, and other things typically kept in paper form into PDFs and that should clear up an good 24+ sqft once everything is done). We are also planning on performing an e-bay rampage where everything and anything that we are hanging onto because "you just never know when it might come in handy" is getting the heave-ho.

Still, with the green card tantalizingly close to being within our grasp and job security pretty much established with the wife's tenure and greater course work an my institution under our belt we feel it may actually be time to think about getting a home of our own. The actual purchase may be a year or so down the road but we are at least doing semi-serious research and investigation into what is available and thinking about what we would want in a home. Priority number one: NO FUCKING 2 CAR GARAGE THAT DOMINATES THE VIEW!!!. God I hate those types of houses! In my view there is nothing worse than driving down a street and seeing double wide garage doors taking up 95% of the view of a house. What kind of statement about values does that make? My other Ford Expedition super gas guzzling monster truck is a GM Lincoln monster that costs more to run and insure than a years worth of cruises around the world? My vehicle can drive over a fortified tank and I'll think it's just a mild speed bump. God knows I'll never take my baby off-road and get a speck of dust on her....... But I digress.

Homes. It's kind of exciting and terrifying. The thought of owning a house. We finally get to paint and decorate as we want but it also means we've pretty much accepted that we are going to stay in Winston-Salem for a considerable period of time. Fortunately, things in this little burg are actually starting to look a little better (more interesting eating establishments, and entertainment venues are popping up every week), W-S is becoming less of a chain, franchise outlet town and more of a vibrant, individualistic, quirky entrepreneur town.

Homes. Cool. I can get with the concept.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Ranting and Raving

OK my first true rant. I should not be doing this given that My wife and I have been waiting for our green cards since August of last year. The timeline we were lead to believe would occur would be that after a month of two after sending our documentation to the Texas Immigration Office the official long-term green card would be processed and mailed to us. We were advised that if we had not received our documents by February we were to contact some offical and make inquiries. It turns out that the immigration officer at the "port of entry" did not put the proper stamp on our documents and we were - once gain - in legal limbo. Our lawyer, hired at great expense and specializes in immigration law, made contacts with the people he knows and tried to locate these misplaced documents. We even received a notice that we were to travel to charlotte to get the documents stamped and sent for proper processing. However, once we got there we we told that we were not in the proper office and the person at the "window" refused to tell use where the proper office would be. Of course, we contact our lawyer who knows someone at the right office who then requested the documents so that he could apply the right stamps but this person was given the run around and no one seemed know where the documents were located. Un freaking believable! Our lawyer eventually had to contact our state senator! The rumor/information we were told was that this senators office had a very good relationship with out lawyers office and the the bureaucracy becomes quite distraught when political officials become involved.

Within a week we received great news! Our documents were located (somewhere in St. Louis) and our final documents would be in our hands within two weeks. This was 4 weeks ago. A call to our lawyer revealed that he too remains continually amazed with the bizzareness of the difficulties we are having.

It's so stressful that it probably would have been easier to just enter the country illegally! For freakin' fraggin floppin' sakes! Just how incompetent are these bureaucrats ... Or ... Are we on a some sort of watch list because I do not fall hook line and sinker for the lies errr I mean communications sent out by the Bush administration. Sigh.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Begin agin

And so and another season of teaching is upon me. My first summer session teaching Abnormal psychology began today. It should be a lot easier this time. My lecture notes are already online and printed on overhead transparencies.

Yep. You read that right. Transparencies.

My university is only now converting classrooms to use Powerpoint presentations. Fortunately, the room I'm teaching in this summer is 'projector enabled' and I've got it working with my laptop without any assistance [duct tape and spit are amazing tools :) ] so this class should mostly be about converting boring transparencies to boring powerpoint (or, more accurately "impress" presentations - check out open office link on the right). Next semester I'll get the chance to spruce things up and make them funky but getting my notes into a form I can really use is the first priority. Should be a relatively easy ride. Wish me luck.

Monday, May 23, 2005


Being somewhat of a shrinking violet and (more importantly) not very good at picking up on social cues, I have developed a strange habit over the years that has become so ingrained that I'm no longer even aware that I use it unless pointed out to me or I jerk myself into consciousness for a few minutes. The habit or technique - if you want to call it that - is to be ambiguous. I'm not talking ambiguous in the sense of well maybe I do like something or maybe I don't. This is far more complex.

For the sake of illustration, let's say that that I'm writing a paper on some neuroscience topic and I need to interpret some data. The sentences I use tend to be of the sort that can be taken several different ways. From one perspective they could be viewed are arguing vociferously for a particular interpretation. Another way (depending on where the reader places the emphasis in the sentence), might be that I am hedging and uncertain about what the data mean.

I use this illustration to highlight my social inadequacies. I often find myself in a social interaction where someone asks my opinion of something, is cracking a joke or being serious. Unfortunately, I am quite incapable of reading body language, intonation or placing things in context, (so much of my life seems to be self-involved and wildly envisioning alternate interpretations of the world). Not wanting to look foolish or like an idiot my responses tend to be deliberately ambiguous. This leaves my actual intent dependent on the interactor's interpretation. If my comment offends and I am challenged I quickly offer an alternate meaning and get a better read on where a person is coming from and adapt my social style and things I talk about to fit my surroundings. This technique has saved my self-esteem more than once and, as I mentioned earlier is an automatic response when placed in unfamiliar or uncomfortable surroundings.

Unfortunately, it also can trip me up. At some level, I don't like making decisions or choices. It takes a lot of cognitive effort to do it right (from my perspective). Most things in life do not have simple answers and require careful, thoughtful analysis and so I choose to reserve that level of effort to a very few things in my life. Most other things do not get my detailed analysis and I feel that if I've not going to do it right I shouldn't do it at all. The use of ambiguity is my way of trying to fit in and let others make choices for me on those things that I do not consider worthy of my limited cognitive resources. The problem is, there are things should be important to me (retirement savings is currently high on my list) but are not included in that tiny list worthy of massive cognitive analysis.

Confession time. I've been in two PhD programs and both times fucked over. The commonality seems to be two-fold. First, both my advisors were psychopaths. Second, because of my social awkwardness and inability to understand social interactions very well, I was unable to recognize this problem in time to do anything about it. I mindlessly focused on my research with the unrealistic ideal that that was sufficient and I didn't have to suck up to people or pay much attention to my social relationship with my advisors. Each time it came back to bite me on the ass. Combine that with my family history of being stubborn and I think I figured out why I never completed either program.

Ambiguity - helpful and harmful. How's that for irony.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

International Kitty Konspiracy

It's true. I've been gathering evidence for months. Kitties around the world are in communication with each other and are on the brink of realizing their nefarious plans to take over the reins of power. It all came together a few days ago when I read Rockin' Tim's blog. He's over on Rotten Tomatoes. He and his wife have a number of kitties and recently experienced a computer crash. It turns out that it was a power supply failure. Or so it seemed...... I too recently had a computer issue. I was getting ready to clone my hard drive and just before I started I decided to burn a CD of Star Wars: Dark Forces - the first of the of the really good PC Games with a continuity of characters. So, I slip in the PCMIA card for my CD Burner and my Windows XP froze.... sigh.... big surprise. I think nothing of it. I do a hard reboot and while I'm waiting for the laptop to get backup to speed I head to the main home office an start to install the latest Linux Distro that I'm interested in trying (vLos 1.1). When I came back I found that windows had loaded up in what appeared to be safe mode. I have to note here that Kitty did not follow me into the office as is her usual habit (the plot thickens). Again I think nothing and reboot again. This time I again boot into "safe mode". So, I look at adjusting the the display settings (expecting to just readjust the display resolution and color depth -32 bits, millions of colors). Simple enough right? WRONG! It turns out that I only had one screen resolution available (640x something) and 4 bit color... 4BIT!!!!! I've never come across 4 bit resolution! Normal safe mode since Windows 95 was 16 bit) This was crazy!

Long story short, after several reboots with no change I was eventually able to reload the proper driver from the web and recover my display.

This is where the IKK comes in. This "event" occurred while I was out of the room and Rockin' Tim's computer power failure was an odd coincidence. So I examined our photo record and the photo's below seem to suggest that kitties are a lot smarter than they appear and have some sort of international communications system designed to disrupt those who become aware of their ultimate plan to take over the earth and make humans their servile minions! BEWARE! See below photos as evidence

Exihibt 1: Obviuosly guilty of something. I suspect she is communicating with her co-conspirators

A simple example of physical sabotage

Perhaps the most specific example of physical domination via kitty's powerful psychic abilities

AHA! Computer sabotage in action!
Evidence of IKK...Shh!

Monday, May 16, 2005

MMORPGs economy, the future of human evolution and Matrix as a reality

Given I haven't blogged for a long time I have a lot of pent up expressing to do. Today I thought I'd develop several thoughts that have been hanging around in my head from the late 80's concerning virtual reality, virtual capitalism and prognostications on the evolution of Homo sapiens sapiens. How's that for a twisted, convoluted and unrealistic goal :)?

OK, to be short and sweet about this, these are the facts I start with: One, people are using real dollars to purchase items for use in MMORGS. Two, population growth in still increasing, not slowing. Three, placing people in pods and feeding them nutrients via IV solutions while individuals were connected to a MMORG/virtual reality could (logically) vastly increase the density of humans the earth could support. For instance, The wife and I find our little 1200 square foot apartment with standard 8 foot ceilings a bit cramped given neither of us like to discard things. If we converted this space into pods where people lie in womb like environments their entire lives this volume could easily house 100 people. A 50 fold increase in population density with no greater environmental impact (leaving out for the moment little things like waste disposal, support equipment, power generation.......).

So, MSNBC has a story on their site concerning the future of human evolution. While interesting and entertaining, I felt they left out a very important option/possibility - The Matrix Solution. More and more people spend their daily existence online. Checking E-mail, surfing, reading blogs, chatting etc. with people who share common interests from around the globe. Some chat sites even offer avatars and virtual environments to interact in. People are also already paying real money for 0's and 1's that aid the development of their characters in online games. Now, considering the continuing power of Moore's law, development of computing power necessary to create photo/3D realistic human forms in the not too distant future is not an inconceivable concept. Further, human machine interfaces continue to add new features and complexity. Hell I've heard of people controlling the dildo action of a woman connected to the net and vise versa! At some point the distinction between virtual and real becomes meaningless. Stack 'em in pods, feed 'em slurry from microorganism produced goo and we've got ourselves a newly evolved human with little to no need for the real world and can explore an infinite number of virtual realities as if they were real and actually decrease the impact humans have on the real environment andstill have our stupid unabated population explosion.

So there you go. I've related online gaming, evolution and a Hollywood movie together to solve humankind's greatest threat to itself, our damned desire to have sex at the hint of a drop of a pin. Problem solved!

Enjoy the ramifications and philosophical quandaries.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Being a 'Red Queen' in a 'Rat Race'

Time to break the silence. Early on, when I decided to begin blogging again I thought it would be unfair to my students to do any blogging while their assignments and papers remained in limbo. So, I made a commitment to myself and my students (unbeknownst to them) that I would not blog until I had caught up and completed grading their written/e-documents.

What a fool!

Teaching two ~40 members classes with 3 written 1-2 page documents and 1 3-5 page research paper each is (I now admit) is ambitious at best. What made it worse was that I was too smart for my own good. I had each class submit their assignments on different days. The 'intention' was that I would complete grading the one class's assignment before the next classes assignment came due, so I would not be overwhelmed with a bolus of grading and leave each class waiting an inordinate amount of time before returning their written work (preferably returning it prior to the due date of the next assignment). For those of you who have done any teaching I'm certain you know where this is heading.... I sucked at this! The reality was that I ended up with ~ 3 assignments on my computer at any one time and a sense of learned helplessness set in. No matter how many papers/assignments I graded on any particular day, there was always many more that remained ungraded and and many more about to be submitted. I was in a classic 'Red Queen' scenario. No matter how much I graded, I never caught up and there was always more material coming in. For those who read this and have not taught university classes let me try and give you a sense of how this feels. I'm almost certain anyone who has not taught university courses will think/consider this explanation weak but it is a reality for any instructor who gives even the mildest damn about their students.

ooh! Professors have it sooo easy. They get up and teach a 50-90min course 2-3 days a week, what a tough life. They work, at best, 90 X 4 minutes a week. Well let me fill in the gap. First, there is class prep. I can not speak for anyone but myself but I worry/care that my students get an informative session of information. This means not only prepping a lecture but researching material and trying to think of ways to make it interesting. Second, I try to encourage my student to challenge me in whatever I say, which means I have to try and anticipate questions and research adequate answers (I'm not saying I do so adequately all the time but I at least try to anticipate what question are likely to come up). That in itself is a good 4-6 hours of work outside of any actual 'performance'. Then, of course, there are the inevitable post class questions/discussion that range from "could you tell me more about "X" to "what's my current grade". That tends to be about 1-1.5 hour/class/week. So, at a minimum I'm dealing with 26 hour/week for just class related material. Now comes the grading component. My original thinking on assignments and paper was that this would be easy. I was going to require all my students to submit their assignments electronically. No paper, save trees, use spell and grammar check, all the modern conveniences of the the electronic age. HAH! Sure assignments/papers are always legible and you don't tend to lose anything (assuming the HDD doesn't give out - (nod to Tim's recent trauma) but I've found that it is all too easy to spent 30 minutes on a one page document correcting typos, grammar, paragraph structure, idea/arguement flow. After all it's electronic and when you see an error just fix it and tell the student......... Did I mention I had ~40 students/class. When 1-2 page assignments are coming in every 3 weeks plus a 3-4 page paper this "benefit" of electronic submission all of a sudden starts to lose it's luster. When I graded hard copies I tended to comment on only the most egregious errors. Now I can fix even then minutia. And, of course, I do. So now we're at 26 hours/week + ((30*80)/3) hours/week.

Now it's time to mention that "brain" work is more taxing than manual work. I haven't got a good reference for this but if anyone would like one I sure I can dig one up, evaluating written work and prepping oral presentations is more stressful and draining than physical labour (notice the "U"- I'm Canadian). There is motivation, critical thinking skills, anticipatory anxiety, and on and on and on. This takes a toll on your ability to function. I concentrated hour of "brain work" I would argue is not equivalent to an hour of manual labour. Again, I don't wish to speak for anyone but myself, but I find these tasks exhausting, especially since I want to convey as much useful info to my student as possible so they actually learn something they will be able to benefit from beyond the specifics of the course material.

Now the rub. The sine qua non of this entry. My absence from blogging is a direct consequence of my utter lack of perspective and rationality. I was living in an ideal world and not a pragmatic one. As a result, I was in a constant state of course prep, question anticipation, assignment grading conundrum. I was grading as fast as I could just to stay abreast of current circumstances and the pay grade I received for my ideals was far less than it would be for someone teaching as a fulltime professor (did I mention I was an adjunct - esstentially part-time- professor paid/course?!). Oh yeah, it's also a state school. For those international readers, in the
U.S., this means that the pay is standardized and minimized (i.e., pay for course, no benefits, not pension plan, no nothin').

I teach my courses according to my ideals. I make no apologies for that. I probably put in way too much time and effort considering my monetary compensation. I do not begrudge this fact either. I could easily do less and still receive adequate course evaluations to maintain a position at my institution, but I choose to err on the side of my students. I guess the take home message from this rant it two-fold. First, I'm back and I've been saving blog topics for quite some time, so you will be able to read this blog regularly and get new "content" pretty much every day for quite some time (read, plenty of half baked ideas that have been percolating for many weeks). Second, I learned my lesson and about teaching and encourage others to avoid my idealistic mistakes and take a more pragmatic approach.

I'm Baaaaacccckkkkkk! :)