Showing posts with label work. Show all posts
Showing posts with label work. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

New Required Wear for My Employees

I have two people reporting to me. And I now know what they are getting for Christmas.

happiness hat from Lauren McCarthy on Vimeo.

more here

Found on Facebook thanks to Molly B.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Texas Coast Trip

I'm traveling this week for work, visiting some universities on the Texas coast who are members of the organization I work for. I actually really like this part of the job, if you don't include the "being away from Jamie for several days" bit.

Spent yesterday driving to Corpus Christi, today presenting at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, then driving across the Gulf Plains to Galveston by way of GPS. I'm now in Galveston, where I'll be for two days meeting with UT Medical Branch and Texas A&M Galveston. Friday, I'll be visiting Univ. of Houston, and then home.

Texas is a big place, and I love that its geography and flora change every 30 minutes when you're driving at a good clip. I'd not driven up the coast, crossing bridges over bays, driving through towns with no seeming point in existing, watching the flat of the coast turn into the East Texas swamps of Brazoria and Angleton, and back into the coastal flats outside of Galveston.

I'm hoping UT El Paso joins up so I can do that drive again (there's a lot of changes between Austin and El Paso).

But I also like getting out and seeing people where they work and live. Its great when they come to conferences, etc... but I find they're a lot more relaxed and talkative in their own offices. Its kind of nice.

Anyway, it's going to be a good couple of days, pending any technical difficulties.

I'm also reading "Moby Dick" in spurts, and listening to "Dracula" as an audio book. This is my first reading, which i decided to do to get it checked off the list and do it in time for Halloween. I'll be honest, that's a pretty scary book, thus far. I'm finally beginning to see the appeal, and why its been imitated so often. But, man, have people screwed that thing up in all the plays, movies, adaptations that we've seen.

I can say I finally understand why adapatations seem to reverse the roles of Lucy and Mina now that I'm fairly far into the book. I always found that decision baffling.

Anyhow, its great to get out and about, but I also know I wasn't exactly cut out for the Willie Loman lifestyle.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Waco without Internet

I am back. I apologize for the lack of a post. The router was down at my La Quinta, and so I did not post, nor was I able to work yesterday from my room.

I had also not packed a book, as I was planning to work and post. So... I got acquainted with a lot of late afternoon and evening basic cable.

Luckily, I met up with work-chums and we all went to Ninfa's in Waco's revitalized downtown area. It was a lovely evening out.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Virtual University and the Future of Education

I worked in the eLearning space for most of my post-collegiate career (and depending on your definition, for a year before I graduated). Due to my career path, for years, I've seen articles cross my monitor that look more or less like this one from this weekend's Washington Post.

First: read the article, or much of the following rant will not make sense
Second: In the spirit of full disclosure, my paycheck today comes from a consortium of 18 universities (and growing), and my office is located in the basement at the library of one of these major universities. Its a great job, and I'm biased toward believing my employment will continue. I have also been employed by major universities from 1997 - 2002, 2002 - 2006 and 2008 - present.

1) I'll start with an obvious problem.

The real force for change is the market: Online classes are just cheaper to produce.

This is, I assure you, not true. What is cheaper? An instructor who walks into a classroom, fires up the projector, and begins talking? Or that same instructor, the instructional designer who helps them adapt their course for online distribution, the developers managing the content management system, the servers which must be maintained (admittedly, this is moving to the cloud), the hardware required to push the data out to the world, the money spent by the school for an IT infrastructure, the money spent on the people to manage that infrastructure, the licensing of software for off-campus use, etc...?

There are a multitude of hidden costs completely ignored in this seemingly straightforward statement.

This doesn't begin to approach the various models employed. I've been involved with asynchronous video distribution of courses, which was a very expensive model, but also provides a guarantee to both student and faculty that you've reduced the separation between on-campus and online students. That requires, at minimum, several thousand dollars sunk into production-quality equipment to capture the instructor alone. To capture the entire "studio classroom", the price increases exponentially.

Asynchronous, non-video models tend to see significant attrition. They are cheaper to produce, and are what one sees at places like Univ. of Phoenix Online. Make no mistake, this is significant work for both faculty and student to prepare and manage discussion, with artificial, time-consuming expectations placed on the students to ensure participation.

Whether instructors have a few online students or they have thousands, part of a college class is homework. Which requires a fairly complex document management process from the distance learning organization. While most Course Management Systems offer standard form-based quizzes, hopefully higher education is requiring a bit more than a multiple choice quiz. And that all costs money, including staff to grade.

And none of this takes proctoring exams into account.

Let us not also forget that universities are not a defensive driving class. The sciences and engineering require sophisticated labs for even their undergraduates as standard operation for the course. You do not ship an oil derrick to a petroleum engineering student's home, nor a nuclear reactor to a nuclear engineering student's home. You don't inject rabbits with ebola over your sink to see what happens (I mean you could, but that's a totally different experiment).

There's a sort of Henry Ford model inherent in the idea of printing courses and being done with it. But Ford also didn't sit on his laurels and stop dead in his tracks after the Model T. Scholarship is a funny thing in that there always seems to be something to add, some changes to be made, suggesting that after you've done all of this once, even a Roman History course will need to be refreshed on a fairly frequent basis.

Author Zephyr Teachout may be shocked to find out that most universities do not have the endowments and budget that Harvard is able to play with, and cannot afford all of the technology that is required (and that may even include a Blackboard Course management System) to run an eLearning course. It may be cheaper to employ adjunct faculty and turn on the lights rather than reproduce its entire curriculum online every semester.

Assuming cost remains constant or drops is, on its face, wrong.

2) Higher education is not a product one purchases like a car.

Universities are not looking for customers, they are looking for select bodies of students to help them maintain their profile.

Teachout says:

A student can already access videotaped lectures, full courses and openly available syllabuses online. And in five or 10 years, the curious 18- (or 54-) year-old will be able to find dozens of quality online classes, complete with take-it-yourself tests, a bulletin board populated by other "students," and links to free academic literature.

Some schools like MIT are currently happy to share their content online from classes that are hitting the internet, but because universities actually value their own intellectual property, no university at my last check was offering MIT's content as their own. Nor is even the most motivated of people eager enough to (a) sit through a 45 hour semester course with no pay-off 9and certainly not do homework and lab work), (b) multiply that by enough courses that would have earned them a degree.

What Teachout describes exists, but the intention and believed use was for people who might use snippets here and there, not kill the time they could have used earning a degree watching courses and NOT earning a degree.

As universities are not businesses, and operate on a model which values scholarship above all else, I can see how it might be difficult for a business-minded person to understand that universities are not likely to begin looking to cut costs by turning to corporate pre-packaged materials.

The essence of scholarship is the generation and dissemination of ideas, something that I would believe Teachout somehow missed as a visiting faculty at Harvard. I am guessing, in fact, that Teachout most likely sampled the Blackboard course management system, realized the possible applications, and leaped ahead in her assessment without considering either the lengthy history of distance education, or the value of scholarship as created in the university campus and disseminated in the classroom.

The efforts most universities are engaged with today are the polar opposite of the McDonald's style of homogenized scholarship Teachout foresees. And, in fact, most universities are working to produce resources for their faculty to extend their scholarly communication out to anyone who can Google it. They are challenging faculty to not live in an ivory tower, but use the tools of communication to reach out to one another and better promote their work.

3) The Nintendo Generation

In 1999, an IT person came to my office to meet with my team and announced "We are looking at the Nintendo generation. We need tos tart figuring out how to turn our courses into video games or we're going to lose these kids".

Nobody turned their course into a videogame in the entire college where I worked, and yet, semester after semester, students continue to turn up.

And the young students of tomorrow will be growing up in an on-demand, personalized world, in which the notion of a set-term, offline, prepackaged education will seem anachronistic.

A few things Teachout is missing: the idea of turning a course into something that millions of students will take will, by default, mean that the course will no longer be agile or more easily updated. It will, in fact, mean that the courses will be the pre-packaged courses she suggests won't happen.

In fact, if one wishes to partially use her metaphor, its far more likely that students would jump from course to course offering, depending upon the befits of which course were maximum and still earned them course credit. This can only happen, of course, if there are little start-up courses available AND ACCREDITED (which presents a whole new problem).

When radio and television were introduced, it was believed a primary function would be educational. Satellite, cable and videotape have made the possibility for the classroom seating virtual thousands to exist well before the internet. And that's ignoring the packet-based "correspondence classes" recognized by most universities when I was an undergrad. During this time, semi-affordable video conferencing equipment was the rage, and joint courses began being held between campuses.

My first full-time gig positioned me as manager of a studio classroom, which went from video-conference suite and tape distribution center to online broadcasting within about a year. Integrated with a CMS, we'd pretty much achieved several of the goals Teachout suggests.

Later, I'd work with something called "NTU", which was a clearinghouse which allowed for students to take courses from a potluck of offerings from all sorts of universities. Walden continues to exist with NTU as a subsidiary. I think it's a great idea, but its been in the market for a long while without finding a ranking for engineering schools. So do with that what you will.

4) CostCo Law School

I'm a tremendous fan of the dystopian comedy "Idiocracy". In the movie, as the timelost protagonist and his newfound companion wander through a future-CostCo (which stretches beyond the horizon), the contemprary character off-handedly comments that he got his law degree at CostCo.

In viewing education as lowest-common-denominator product that should be simplified and put online, so the maximum number of learners can gain the same knowledge for the lowest cost possible might be where public education is headed in Texas, its antithetical to the ideals of actual scholarship. There's value in creating communities of competitive ideas, where students have options and can work outside of their comfort zone.

Universities strive to offer programs in diverse knowledge areas with faculty in cutting-edge research not just to build up their portfolio of NSF grants, but to offer that learning experience to students.

5) The Newspaper Analogy

I get where Teachout was going with the newspaper analogy, but its a tough one to swallow. If we honestly believe that the same sort of data that's generated in our research universities will be found without those research centers, but just, you know... out there on a blog or something... we might as well start just packing it now as a culture.

I've no doubt that it would benefit community colleges to synchronize on some of their courses that take up teaching load and are basic requirements. Its certainly a possibility. But those are also a small, small portion of the courses one takes in college. And, at a major university, those are the classes that employ associate and junior faculty.

I understand the belief that courses will be aggregated, but I see it far more likely that you'll see cross-listed courses at "partner" universities (see: Western Governor's University), as researchers and various universities find ways to collaborate in the classroom as well as the lab.

That's a good thing, and its more like picking up articles from a wire service, not like saying good-bye to the local paper.

6) Keggers and Football

The university experience is, of course, as much about what happens outside of the classroom as within.

I'm not really sure I need to elaborate here. We've all seen Animal House, correct?

7) So in Conclusion

I am a strong proponent of eLearning. I believe in it. I've worked in it a heck of a lot more and longer than most folks who teach a semester in the modern university.

I would suggest the following again:

Universities are not a business hunting and pecking for student money. Unlike anything else that costs as much as a university education, it is not a consumer driven model. It is far more akin to earning a job and succeeding in that job.

It is therefore not necessarily the role of the university to turn its courses into video games or lose their students. Its the role of the student to rise to the set of challenges created by or issued by their university, not for the university to quiver in fear of their students' demands for immediate gratification, 24 hour communication with their faculty, or a specific letter grade.

In my experience, technology enters the picture not when students demand it (if they attended public school, they usually don't expect much out of a classroom), but because the university found it was more productive for their faculty to have access to the technology.

While a strata of education will see change, Teachout's belief that only elite (read: Ivy League) schools will go untouched by her model, the model of the university is not going to crumble in the 10 - 20 years Teachout predicts.

At some point education may become the consumer commodity Teachout suggests, but we're a long way from the CostCo model today. Students are still asking to get in and hoping to get accepted. Perhaps this model will change in my lifetime, but the students aren't anywhere close to dictating what happens on their campuses today.

Now wealthy alumni...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe in Austin

Last week two new exhibits went up at the Harry Ransom Center on the University of Texas campus, which is literally about a city block from where I work. The Harry Ransom Center (or HRC to us hip kids) is one of a few* very important and impressive repositories on campus at UT. It houses all sorts of stuff, from what is supposed to be the first daguerreotype to one of the Gutenberg Bibles to Robert DeNiro's personal memorabilia collection.

One of these exhibits is the Edgar Allan Poe collection. I plan to take a couple of hours next week during work (an extended lunch break, don't get in a tizzy) and check it out. Items include handwritten items by Poe, artwork tied to publications of his work, etc... Seems quite nifty.

There's also an exhibit called "Other Worlds: Rare Astronomical Works". I guess its an exhibit on the history of astronomy which, between you and me, I know absolutely nothing about.

For the benefit of my family, who mostly don't usually seem to understand what the group I work for does for a living: I'm linking to the Edgar Allan Poe Digital Collection. Now, this isn't our work, but its representative of the technology we manage and are bringing to 18 separate institutions across Texas. So, they might now have a Poe collection, but they are likely to have some collection between their walls that could easily be shared with the world.

I agree that I am much more excited about seeing these items in person than I am about looking at images on my monitor, but I am also thrilled that the HRC is working to put these sorts of things online as part of their exhibit. I'm just trying to figure out if they're using Content DM as their repo...

Anyway, if you took high school English, you most likely are the barest bit familiar with Poe's work. I've only read chunks of it, but I think it will be fun to get down there and maybe learn a little something. Several items appear to be on loan from other institutions, so Austinites should come see them while they're in town.

*UT also houses the Benson Latin American Collection, The LBJ Presidential Library, The Blanton Art Museum and, I think, at least another two museums, a Federal Depository Library (with several component sub-libraries), and a ridiculously large football stadium which will be used 6 days this year.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A few scattered items

Conference is Done

So I don't know why I hadn't thought much about it until last week, but I suddenly realized I was going to MC the conference I was "running" this week. So I more or less spent the past day and a half intro-ing all kinds of presentations.

Luckily, my team is super-awesome, so I was able to let them handle the administrative stuff this week while I wore a tie and ran around hoping nothing went wrong.

That's more or less over now, so now tomorrow is making sure I follow up with everyone who wanted to chat.

I guess we'll be doing this again next year.

I know how Ray feels

the strip.

Not Clear on the Concept

ABC is creating a sort of future-looking faux-documentary that portrays Spaceship Earth in the year 2100. Probably to save money, ABC has employed Flash cartoons.

In an attempt to be hip/ edgy/ what-have-you, they're describing what they did as a graphic novel. See here.

I find it hard to believe that nobody at ABC knew that a cartoon isn't the same thing as a graphic novel, and I think if they didn't think that the term carried some sort of cache of legitimacy vis-a-vis some mistaken notion regarding "grittiness", they would have... not done that.

The term "Graphic Novel" is largely considered to have been coined by master of the comics medium, Will Eisner, when he began putting out his first long-form work, such as "A Contract With God". Yes, it was intended to add legitimacy to work in a medium usually considered to be for children and the illiterate. Eisner was by no means alone in his efforts, but I'd focus on him here as what ABC has missed that Eisner knew, that the comic page/ sequential art is not the same thing as the animated program or the cut between scenes in film or video. It is its own medium with its own tools for expression.

A graphic novel is a complete comic work (often with multiple chapters) told with a beginning, middle and end. It is, basically, a novel in the sequential art form. And that basically means a series of static images, in which multiple actions are understood to occur in a single panel, or it may capture a single moment in linear or non-linear time. The space between panels (and this is the difference between comics and cartoons) is part of the storytelling, as the reader fills in the space or makes connections between the panels on their own. It isn't moving pictures with voice over and music.

A comic (or graphic novel) is not, ABC, a cartoon. Nor is it, WB, a Motion Comic.

Nor are, Hollywood, all comics a graphic novel. While it works terrifically well as such, Watchmen isn't even really a graphic novel. Its a collected, 12-issue series.

I understand the impulse, but I don't call your TV shows "a moving picture" or "talking painting" or "acted out book". So, you know... just try a little harder.

It looks neat, though. Depressing, but worth checking out.

Nothing on TV

Seriously. At least the Spelling Bee is on. And at this stage, how bad can you feel for the kids who lose? They're at the nationals for, chrissake.

Mom in Kenya

So... The KareBear is off to Kenya. She's with a church group, and they're going to be fitting people with glasses.

No, I have no idea how it works, but there you go.

I'm incredibly proud of KareBear as she's wanted to take part in some sort of mission work since high school. Sure, it could be argued that she's more than fulfilled that goal in her own backyard, but I think this was a particularly specific way she wanted to do it.

Most impressive is that she's decided to do it alone. The Admiral and KareBear are two peas in a pod, so I was a bit skeptical about how this would work if The Admiral remained at base, but so far, so good.

Wishing her the best of luck.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chuck E. Cheese in the News

Somehow I received two Chuck E. Cheese related news items in 24 hours.

From Randy:
Man slugs Chuck E. Cheese. This scenario seems entirely too likely, from what I recall.

From Jason:
And Chuck E. gets a little too close for comfort. That'll ruin your trip to see the Rock-a-Fire Explosion...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Off To Wacky Waco

Short (practically non-existent) post.

I'm heading to Waco for about 36 hours or more.

I have to get up early, so I don't have time to pen my usual musings if I want to get some shut-eye before my big drive and whatnot tomorrow.

Oddly, this is really the last driving I plan to do for work for a smidge, so hopefully I'll be homebound for a few weeks.

No plans for my evening in Waco. Hopefully I'll just find a place to grab a drink and maybe do some dancing on campus.... Oh, right.

I hope I do not come face-to-face with an angry Baylor Bear

I actually really like the good folks at Baylor, and not just because their facilities are a jump better than ours and they fed me well last time I was there. I haven't spent the night in Waco since high school when our drama team was there for regional competition (and lost). I didn't actually sleep that night, and almost threw-up on the way home thanks to a steady diet of sugar and blue-colored sodas while out from under my parent's watchful eye.

Makes me wonder whatever happened to a lot of those crazy kids.

Anyway, I'm doing some training stuff, including LEADING some training, which is no good for anyone. But if you really, really want to know about open journal systems, meet me Waco on Thursday (but not tomorrow. I'm not leading anybody, anywhere tomorrow).

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Round-Up and Video Clips

Chuck Candy

Firstly, today was a wild day here at League of Melbotis. JimD sent a link from my Chuck E. Cheese post to Whitney Matheson at Pop Candy. (Matheson is the same blogger who recently asked my Devo question...) Matheson posted the link, and my hit count jumped from its usual 45 hits or so a day (that includes a lot of folks accidentally hitting the site) to about 1800 at last count.

That's a lot of people hearing about my tight slacks and aversion to messy children.

Anyhow, I welcome all the new folks who might stop by. We always appreciate new visitors here at The League, and we hope you enjoy your stay. Please feel free to poke around, ask questions, and generally make yourself at home.

It's always fun getting some visitors who aren't usually at the site. I totally recommend going back and reading the comments section as several other Chuck E. Cheese alumni piped up with similar tales. Great stuff.

Bankston on MSNBC

My former roommate, Kevin Bankston, appeared on MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" this evening arguing for the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against the government for illegal wiretapping.

You have to understand how weird it is to see the same guy using the same tone with Keith olbermann that he once used to argue that it was MY turn to clean the living room.

I'd rather we not actually debate the topic here, as this isn't that kind of blog, but be a little weirded out that the guy with whom I share a multitude of embarrassing memories is now an important attorney-guy/ pundit.

Old times, old crimes.

Nimoy and New Trek in Austin

It seems the Alamo Drafthouse is a bit bigger deal than I realized. There was a showing of Star Trek II, Wrath of Khan at the Alamo this week with, supposedly, a few minutes of the new Trek sent by the studio. The Alamo surprised the audience with a guest appearance by none other than Leonard Nimoy (that's Spock to you non-nerds), the sort of proto-celeb to us in geek-kind.

In 6th grade, and I wish I were making this up, I had gerbils named "Leonard Nimoy" and "Richard Nixon". Let us speak on this no further.

Well, THEN Paramount pulled the coolest switcheroo in geek history by showing the entirety of the new Trek movie to the assembled.

Read it here in the NYT.

DAMMIT, MAN!!! Sadly, I probably would have missed it had I been in town because I did just watch Star Trek II on cable. Twice.

Spock is my homeboy.


I'm probably way late on this, but... it sort of sums up my feelings on a lot of why I can't fully embrace Twitter as a social tool.

Easter Fun

Some times the simple ideas are the best


I saw very little of Minneapolis while there. I can say the conference was pretty cool, and I learned a lot. Too much stuff going on during any hour, so I missed stuff that I couldn't split in two or three to visit.

There was snow on the ground when I arrived, but it all melted by the time I walked around a very little bit on Sunday. After that, I never really left the office.

Anyhow, I'm back. And I'm going to catch up on some sleep.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Me and Chuck E. Cheese

Edit: I am a bit horrified to find that Whitney Matheson of Pop Candy has re-redirected her readership here to The League (big fan of Pop Candy! Hi, Whitney!). Welcome one and all. I also apologize for the many, many grammatical and typographical errors. If I'd time, I'd clean it up, but alas.

Every year on my birthday, people ask where I want to go for dinner to celebrate. And every year, I say the same thing. I say that I want to go to Chuck E. Cheese.

Its partially a test. The truth is, I sort of figured out a long time ago that even if its your birthday, you sort of need to pick neutral territory that everyone will like. You cannot say "I want to go to Chuck E. Cheese", because nobody over the age of 9 really wants to find themselves at Chuck E. Cheese for any length of time. Which is why they sell beer (or they did). So its always a fun litmus test to see how batshit people (especially Jason) will go when you quietly insist that, yes, you DO want to go to Chuck E. Cheese. When pushed, I insist that I like pizza, videogames and a complementary animatronic floorshow. And offer up helpful bits like "I told you where I wanted to go, and if you don't want to go there, that's fine. Just take me wherever."

I have actually had two birthdays at Chuck E. Cheese. When I was in 5th grade, my parents finally caved and agreed to let me have my party at a Chuck E. Cheese somewhere in Austin (probably off Burnet). And I recall pretty distinctly all of my friends just sort of milling around, realizing we were too old for Chuck E. Cheese. Whether we were too big for the "rides", or weren't into the robots anymore, or whatever... I just remember an awful sinking feeling that I'd made a mistake.

They probably still do this, but they would announce the names of kids having birthdays and bring out these cakes with these goofy sparkling candles, and Chuck would come by and give you a present. And as all of this was going on, all I could think was "Oh, Jesus Christ, I'm too old for all of this..." And as I was about to open the present from Chuck, this girl in a visor who worked there sort of apologized to me in advance, letting me know "we only have presents for little kids..." as I opened up what was a dollar-store Fisher-Price knockoff toy car. Pretty clearly intended for a kid, ages 2-6.

You Want Money, You Better Earn It

At age 16, I was informed I was to find a job once school let out. There was a certain window of time when school let out when people would plan to hire kids for the summer. This was kind of understood by me and my high school pals but possibly less understood by my folks. That year we headed out of town shortly after school let out, and remained gone for a couple of weeks. When I returned, I hit the road every day for several hours filling out applications, but to no avail. I was told at every place I applied that I could fill out an application, but they weren't hiring. For reasons unknown to me to this day, my inability to find a job was met with skepticism by my parents, who seemed to believe all you had to do to land a job was walk in the door of whever you wanted to work, and they'd hire you.

I confess I had a couple of rules.

1) I wouldn't sack groceries. Houston summers can be brutal enough, and I wanted to not wear the goofy bow-tie, long pants and smock get-up Randall's employed. Apparently the Randall's corporation believed that such a get-up would fool their patrons into believing that they were shopping in some Mom and Pop corner store during the early days of the 20th Century rather than in a state of the art grocery with automated rainfall on the out-of-season produce and endless aisles of preservative-laced foods.

In short, I didn't want to sweat so badly in my job that I'd not get tips, which is how the sackers made their dough.

2) I was avoiding the food industry. Apparently The KareBear had some amazing experience working at the same restaurant as a waitress for years as she made her way through school. But everyone I talked to made it sound like a lot of late nights and uncomfortable situations with assistant managers. Also, I get grossed out by other people's partially eaten food.

I wasn't going to land some sweet gig that my parents set up for me (which was something to always be jealous of), and I was starting late, after every 16 year old in the greater Spring area was already out and looking.

Landing the Job

But... Chuck E. Cheese was hiring.

When I asked for an application, the manager pumped my hand and asked if I could come back the next day. He was in his 30's, 6'4", wore a tie, and seemed like a great guy. The next day he put me in a booth, we chatted lightly (I had no experience doing anything but reading comics, shooting free-throws and doing homework, so... not much to chat on), and I thought we hit it off great. I was in!

I'd be nowhere near the food. I'd be working the Game Floor, which I imagined would be a bit like playing casino host to a bunch of 5-10 year-olds, handing out tokens, occasionally polishing a game, and getting free food.

Jason begged me not to work at Chuck E. Cheese. Family Pal Larry Lee had worked at a Chuck's in Austin when he and Jason were in high school.

"You don't just play the videogames," Jason told me. "You're going to hate it."

I steamed. Chuck E. Cheese was supposed to be fun, by definition. I had a job, and he didn't, so was clearly jealous of my job-landing skills, which... when the manager saw me, he clearly saw the potential that I thought pretty much darn near everyone SHOULD see in me.

I started a week later to the semi-surprise of the two managers on duty, Angel and Jim. Angel was probably in her early 30's, but looked older. I had a foot on Jim, and a head of hair he lacked, which at age 16, made me estimate him at somewhere between 20 and 95. The manager who had hired me was no longer with the store. No explanation was given.

With a few others, I was led to the back to be given a uniform and some cursory instructions. Stuff like "food isn't free, but it is half-off. Plan to be here for a two or more hours after closing every night. More on Saturdays" It was true I would be on the gamefloor, which thrilled me. No clearing plates of other people's slobbered-upon pizza crusts. No touching cups with lipstick smears. I would sweep up, I would wipe down machines. And, curiously, despite an utter lack of experience with anything more than a crystal radio kit, I would repair machines and games. And, give out tokens to kids who claimed they'd "lost" a token.

But there was literally no training. The tasks we were to perform were mostly so idiot simple (go sweep up pizza crusts), that I guess spending time training wasn't really necessary. And, what I would soon learn about the staffing issues probably led the managers to believe it was a waste of time.

Some vintage Chuck horror

The Uniform

Not clear on the spirit of the law, but intent to maintain the letter, I listened carefully to the uniform instructions. I was to wear what they gave me. No exceptions. A red, collared shirt with my name-tag. A blue visor with the logo. And a pair of khaki pants that was pretty clearly too small for me.

Someone asked if we could substitute our own clothing.

The answer was a definitive "no".

I have no recollection of my first day, other than squeezing into the pants I'd been assigned and worrying a great deal about whether I would burst, Hulk-like, from the pants should I squat down, and exactly how much of my wedding tackle would be on display at each shift, because... golly those pants were tight.

Plus, the visor pushed my hair up into a weird sort of explosion, jutting out the top of the elastic band.

I hopped into my disintegrating '83 Honda and headed off for work.

I was relieved to find we wore these little blue smocks that covered the area of primary concern, but did nothing to disguise the action going on in the aft.

The Way it Works

The most important thing to know is how totally gross a place full of children eating greasy pizza really is. Especially kids full of sugar who believe all bets are off because the ranting, robotic mouse keeps telling them they can "be a kid". Which, apparently, means pushing, shoving, kicking people in mascot costumes in the crotch and ass, and occasionally vomiting for no particular reason.

If I had a triumph in the summer of 1991, it was that I drew a line in the land which stated that I would clean neither the stalls, nor the vomit from the floor. That job, I bargained and bartered my way out of it. And you knew you were in dutch with the managers if you had to clean the bathrooms, but at our store, that usually fell to the "show floor" staff, who were perceived to have it somehow easier than the game floor staff during the usual hours.

But kids sort of leak fluids. Never, ever, ever allow your child to play in the ball crawl. No matter what they tell you, you can't actually clean one of those things. Just vacuuming the thing thoroughly, which was done a few times each week with a shop-vac, took the entire evening cleaning shift from 10 - 12:00 or 12:30. There was a semi-annual schedule for actually cleaning the ball crawl, and reportedly they found all kinds of stuff in there.

Walk into any Chuck E. Cheese, and you'll see some schlub constantly wiping things down. That's because greasy little kids are putting their greasy little hands on everything, always. Leaving handprints. The definition of sisyphian task was trying to keep the glass doors to the place hand-print free on a Saturday. Which the managers would do if they were displeased with you for some slight. Or, if they were really irritated, you could be condemned to rub the rubber floor edgings with lemon oil.

My Fellow Staffers

The turn-over was incredible. The entire crew I started with was gone within three or four weeks. Having a new person wander out to join you on shift occurred with such regularity, I mostly identified people by their physical traits instead of names. Guy Who Talks About Being Drunk All the Time. Girl With Too-Huge Boobs. Old Person. Too Much Make-Up Girl. That Guy Who Wears Shorts Even Though Its Not Regulation, But Nobody Says Anything. We were also not really supposed to talk to each other, anyway. Perhaps they feared Chuck himself would lead a Norma Rae-line uprising.

I didn't work many mornings, which was when you wanted to work. Customers tend not to hit the Chuck until later afternoon on weekdays, so the place is oddly sedate for the first few hours, especially before opening. And there were these two women who were in their late-40's, I'd guess, who had been there in a minimum wage position for over a decade. We were going through staff like people go through grapes, and these two had been there and seen it all. They were entrusted with the amazing "token counting machine", which had to be run every morning so they'd know how many tokens were in the store. I remember asking why they didn't become managers if they were there so long, and the conversation became suddenly very awkward until one of them assured me that they didn't want all the trouble of being a manager.

And from what little I knew of Jim and Angel, I didn't blame them. Angel seemed only like she constantly wished to be anywhere but there, but was at least kind of useful. Jim just dreamed up stuff for you to do, like polishing the baseboards. He just seemed particularly frustrated, and refused to crack a smile, even when I slipped and fell in the kitchen and the first words out of my mouth were "there's a lawsuit in there somewhere!" I spent that next Saturday cleaning windows.

Career Advancement

Sure enough, I learned how to fix the ski-ball machines through a sure-fire method of trial and error that would make any psychology lab proud. (If you perform this action, you will receive an electric shock... if you perform that action, the game will come back alive, and you get to play a few rounds to test the machine).

I cleared out hobos. Once ate a handful of the pink powder they use to make cotton candy, right out of the box (do not recommend). Gave away handfuls of tokens to kids who lied about losing them. But never dressed in the mascot suit, for which my carriage was too large.

I did almost wear it once on a slow day, but a party of several dozen showed up, unaware you were supposed to schedule a birthday party in advance. Thus, my one chance for wearing the suit (and going to Fiesta to drum up business, which is what I told the manager I was going to do), was foiled.

Losing Faith in Humanity

I don't know if any particular incident occurred during my summer at The Chuck, but I do recall coming home every night increasingly despondent over what I saw as some less-than-stellar parenting. Drunk parents. Parents who yelled. Parents who felt that Chuck E. Cheese was some sort of "time out" for them, and that whatever happened on behalf of their destructive little monsters within the confines of our store was our problem. Kids whose parents tried to use the Chuck as a daycare.

And I'll never forget the dad who walked up to the ball-crawl while I was on duty and just heaved his infant into the balls. I didn't actually see the action occur so much as looked over and saw the top of an infant's head disappearing beneath the balls, which were about 6-12 inches higher than the actual balls. Plus: Infant with no motor skills and 10 year olds doing flips off the sides into the pit is just a bad combo.

"Sir," I said, yanking the baby out of the balls. "Is this your child?"
A guy I know didn't look like Jeff Foxworthy, but that's how my brain recalls him, sort of stared at me through the netting.
"Sir, I don't think this is a good idea."
I now know that the look of incomprehension probably came from a pack of Coors Light which had probably been consumed pre-Chuck, but I watched as he tried to sort out what I was saying.
"The ball pit is actually pretty deep. I don't think its good for your child."
"She likes it!" he insisted.
The child was actually somewhat emotionless, which was impressive, given the fate which could have greeted her at the bottom of the ball pit.
"Aren't ya'll supposed to watch these kids?"
"Well, yeah. But this isn't really safe."
"You don't think...?" He said, resigned to the fact that he was going to have to return to the table with his child instead of just heading to the counter for a pitcher of the lousiest beer in Spring.
"She may be a little small for the ball crawl," I explained. "She can't stand up in here."
"I think she'd have fun," he was still looking for an angle.
"I don't think so......"
He reluctantly took the child back. And I flashed forward to a lifetime of similar decisions this child was going to endure at the hands of her idiot father. I imagined sitting on the handlebars of an ATV couldn't be too far off in her future.

The Floor Show @#$%ing Sucks

I'd been working at Chuck E. Cheese all of a week when I was having dinner at my friend Mari's house and her brother asked, "So, are you in the band?"

I didn't have super-fabulous memories of the Rock-a-Fire explosion from Showbiz Pizza, or the mishmash of other characters that had populated Chuck E. Cheese when I was little. But I do remember that they played familiar radio tunes. And by played, I mean awkwardly jerked around in something always approximating the beat, but not actually on beat, with the patented delirious eye-rolls and herky-jerky laughing, lifted straight from the on-cue guffaws one saw on TV variety shows of the era.

At some point between when I'd last stepped into a Chuck E. Cheese, and had been weirded out that Mitzy Mozzarella was receiving a spotlight solo for lip-synching the Bangles' "Eternal Flame", and when I started work, someone in the Chuck E. Cheese corporation figured out they could save money by penning original, family friendly tunes. About stuff like "Summer Fun".

And so, every 55 minutes or so, I was reminded of the summer fun kids were supposed to be having while I was pushing a dust pan around and sweeping up stray pizza crusts, waxing the floorboards and telling little scam artists that I would not give them a handful of either tokens or tickets at no charge. Not even if they volunteered to be my friend (which happened more often than you'd think).

The band was sort of a weird deal, in that they had the different pre-programmed sets, and I don't really remember them every breaking. They just never seemed to be programmed all that well to begin with. And when they were taking a break or whatever was supposed to be happening behind the scenes, they still bombarded the place with music and video of the band. So, really, from the minute you walked in until the minute we closed the door behind Tipsy McStaggerson and Family, you had to hear the same loop of half-assed, crappily penned and performed tunes about important topics like fun, friendship and hygiene.

This is sort of the set up we had.

Our store may have been a former Showbiz, from before the merger, as the layout was a multi-stage affair, and different from a lot of what I see on YouTube. They'd reskinned the Rock-afire explosion during the conversion, or something. I don't know. I never thought to care enough to ask.

The show emulated a bygone era of a band, an MC and a comedy act, which the kids, short on their fandom of "Our Show of Shows" may not have been picking up on the origins of the borscht-belt humor and stylings. But, hey, talking rat and his horrible, Italian stereotype, Pasquale and whatever the hell else made up the band (such as purple horror, Munch), always hit their cues and were far less trouble than the average Chuck E. Cheese employee.

I honestly think the kids kind of hated the band.

One Armed Bandits and Free Videogames

My friend Dave (not his real name) took a job at The Chuck shortly after me, apparently intrigued by the possibility of wearing the mouse suit or something. He somehow ended up behind the counter, which is where veterans usually worked (you know, people with 6 months of experience).

I noted that he would often be on the floor playing games during my shift. Often at multiple times, with the smock removed and his visor off, indicating he was "off duty". His girlfriend was often hanging out next to him, despite the fact she didn't work there.

"How did you swing two breaks today?" I asked him as I passed the Whack-a-Mole machine one day (I'd gotten amazingly good at Whack-a-Mole, which needed constant fixing). He looked at me like the sucker I was, and continued playing.

"Dude," he explained. "They never pay attention. I just take breaks whenever I feel like it."
"But don't they notice all the breaks on your time card?"
This was met with a sigh. "I don't ever actually clock out."
"Yeah, you're the only person who doesn't do it. Haven't you ever noticed that?"
"No," I answered honestly.
"You need to start."
I never did.
Like everyone else, he was also using the stash of tokens to play the games for free. And while he wasn't exactly robbing the place blind (really, there was little to steal in a commerce system that worked on Chuck E Currency), he had figured out how to game the system in about two weeks. I never did.

Dave had been born with one-arm, which hadn't slowed him down at all. He played sports, including lacrosse, which he was much better at than me, what with my two hands.

It was never an issue for anyone until he was assigned to wear the mouse suit and the kids noticed Chuck had an arm that didn't look quite right. The rules were pretty simple for wearing the suit, which I didn't do, as I was too tall. Put on the suit, walk around (but not when Chuck is on stage), shake hands, wave "hello" to babies, and when kids start to attack, which they always will... retreat. And never talk when you're in the suit.

And so it was that some kid spied Chuck's arm just sort of hanging there and called him out.
"Hey, you're not Chuck E. Cheese! You're the guy from behind the counter."
Dave waved a "no" motion with his one hand.
"Yeah, you are!"
"Yeah, you are!" a chorus of suddenly ugly little children chimed in.
"Shut up, kid!" the mouse said in a muffled voice, his plastic mouth never moving.
"Yeah, you are! You're that guy from the counter!"
And, of course, the kicking and hitting began as Chuck uttered some profanities and retreated to the stage door.

Here's a training video someone put together, probably in response to how uninspiring it is to get in the suit and beaten for $4.25 an hour.

Also, you can see the basic uniform I wore at the time. Also, why is there jazzy 80's keyboard music through this whole thing?

All Good Things Must End

In my final weeks, I remember feeling daring and going into work in non-regulation pants. After weeks of seemingly smuggling grapes into Chuck E. Cheese, not one person noticed or said anything about my pair of non-reg khakis that allowed for greater freedom of movement, shall we say.

I wound up scheduled in the ball-crawl a lot. Which I hated, but I kind of hated it less than other jobs, because usually you were scheduled alone in the ball-crawl, which meant it was less likely you'd get stuck with Only talks About How Much he Drinks Guy, and spend six hours hearing about how very much liquor he'd drunk out of his parent's cabinets the night before.

Until one day I crawled into the ballcrawl and someone came in right after me. We chatted for a while, agreed it was weird we were both scheduled in there, and then I went back out to check the schedule. I was nowhere to be found on the chart.

"What the hey?" I asked Angel.

Apparently after I'd checked the schedule on Sunday (when it was supposed to be final), she had changed it, and I was supposed to show up and work Monday instead of Tuesday. When i didn't show Monday, she'd assumed that, like everyone else, I'd quit and rescheduled my shifts to others for the entire week and closed me out as an employee. This was just how most people quit. You just quit showing up, and if you didn't show, they weren't going to pick up a phone and call you or anything crazy like that. My absence was taken the same as every other of the hundred or so similar disappointments they would see breeze through that year.

"We've made the schedule for the next week, already. You aren't on it. Maybe the next week?"

"Honestly," I sighed. "I was quitting then. I start school and have after-school obligations."
"Well," Angel and Jim (who'd shown up) assured me, I would have a place at Chuck E. Cheese any time if I wanted to come back.

I considered it that fall when the play I was in ended, but another play came immediately after, and so on. Alas, I never returned to The Chuck to work.

Return to the Chuck

I went back in high school after quitting to take some students from my mother's class out for a "special day". The food was terrible, I used up my non-free-tokens in about five minutes and so retreated to a booth and watched the show.

A few of my classmates were there working, and I saw nobody who had worked there with me. I felt badly for all of them. Especially when Michael P. was yelling at me through the Munch mascot costume so I'd know it was him in there.

They've changed Chuck's look. He no longer dresses like a ringleader, pimp or showman, all in red sparkles and a fancy hat. Instead, he's now a sort of mid-90's idea of corporatified "cool for kids", with a sort of sporty look, as if he might go roller blading or something else edgy or "in your face". I dunno. Miss the old Chuck. I sort of think of him as this old, outmoded entertainer, and I've always thought of him that way. No need for kneepads and a skateboard.

And then sometime in 2002, just before I moved, my co-workers packed into cars and took me to Chuck E. Cheese for lunch on my birthday. The pizza was better than I remembered, and the show just as creepy and bad.

We hung out way too long, and got back to work an hour late, thanks to playing video games. And I tore a four inch hole in the leg of my jeans jumping onto a jet-ski video game, ninja style.

I confess I don't know if I entirely feel good or healthy in regards to Chuck E. Cheese. Or about trying to drag friends and family into my annual desire for self-immolation by way of animatronic floorshow. But it is what it is.

There have been rumors we may be returning to Chuck E. Cheese pizza in the coming week in celebration of my birthday. I let my annual threat slip, and I think people are taking me up on it.

More reports as events warrant.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A storm blew through Austin today. I work 20 feet below street level, so my first inkling that something was up came from a phone call from Jamie, informing me that I should not leave work and to please keep an eye on the live feed from KXAN. So I worked.

That was fine. I was out of the office yesterday and helped out a training session all day today.

Like most Texans, I'm not afraid of that weather. It just is. Golf ball-sized hail causes massive property damage, but its usually not dangerous and its inevitable. Its happens somewhere in town every year. The wind and sideways rain are part and parcel of springtime weather that I cannot imagine the first settlers dealing with in their sod huts, let alone the largely nomadic people who were in the Central Texas area of the 19th Century.

We joke in our office about how the world will end outside, but we'll only know when we lose our data connection or when we walk out to get a cup of coffee. Sometimes I worry that's more true than a joke, and Jason has referenced that old Twilight Zone episode where the guy breaks his glasses left alone in his library.

While @theworld has been worried about Twitter of late, I've been thinking a lot about our mission and what it means to have social media in an academic or research environment. The tendency is to assume the "one size fits all" approach of popular technologies like facebook and Twitter MUST be applied to academia. Some folks do it and do it well. I believe Garcia has made a career out of doing just that.

I confess to being more skeptical. When asked to "give Dr. X a blog" when I was at ASU, I refused. " is completely free and has dedicated technical support. I am not bringing up a whole blog service because one faculty wants to rant on the internet." I don't think either the faculty or my boss at the time understood that Blogger in 2002 was going to be as useful and reliable as anything I'd spend time or money on. If I recall, Blogger at the time may not have had editable themes or URL re-direct, which I may have made some noise about, but the issue then was really that the instructor and my boss (a) felt I was just being petulant for not just instructing my co-workers to "build a blogging tool", and (b) that it wasn't coming out of nor housed at ASU.

I've changed my tune on that one, in a way. I still would never bring up a whole service to satisfy one faculty when there are free, hosted services available, and I will note that we use open source software in our office, so I feel good about the fact that we're getting the best of both worlds. But I also feel deeply that researchers SHOULD be blogging. Maybe not about BSG or what they ate for dinner, but that it can help punch through the wall between scholars and the public when the scholars publicly describe their work rather than sitting behind the keep walls (most can't get a spot in the actual ivory tower). And as long as they aren't available to the public, or are even perceived as real humans doing work by the public, its going to remain the same closed communication loop of journals and peer-reviewed journals in which the same people talk to one another but do not broadcast outward. And, it might remind researchers of the public and how they absorb the information and value the work going on at research institutions.

But I am unsure if Twittering research results is prudent or wise or lends credibility. And it certainly doesn't maintain the sound fundamentals of peer-review as part of the scholarly process, which I believe are what keeps the machine credible and working (if only we asked for the same peer review of our television media in their stories and articles). But there is a net that researchers and scholars will build naturally, and we're sort of sitting on the forefront of all that right now.

The tough part is changing "the way it was" to "the way it could be", when institutions like universities thrive on "we do what we know because we have neither time nor money to cope with the change".

I think that was a long, long tangent.

What I meant to say was that Thursday is Peabo's Birthday. He is now as old as Jamie and older than me.

May the sun shine upon him on his birthday. I did not buy him a present, but will buy him dinner, should he make the request.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I was in Waco today for a demo/ presentation for several schools looking to join our consortium. I have no idea if they will join, partially because it wound up that I ended up delivering most of the morning's presentations and I always feel like that could have gone better when I wrap up.

Saw the digitization lab at Baylor, and I don't mind talking about how awesome it truly is. The technology that's in place these days for archiving print materials to a digital format for preservation and digital distribution is both fore-head slappingly obvious and amazing that anyone has actually manufactured devices such as robot-arm-vacuums for self-page-turning, full book scanners.

Sadly, I arrived home to find Jamie has fallen ill. No idea where it came from, but she's fighting either a bad cold or a light flu. No way to go into your birthday. She's in pretty sorry shape. Wish I could stay home with her tomorrow to try to help out. Maybe I can cut out early.

Robot Show

Came home and caught up on some shows off the DVR, including the two most recent episodes of Terminator, which isn't the nerve-jangling ride it was when it started, but I'm still onboard with its exploration of the concepts inherent to the mix of AI and time travel. I'm also glad that the writers and producers know how to wrap up a plotline that I, honestly, felt was going nowhere fast. I'm not too sure the two episodes redeemed some of the clunkiness of the season, but its nice to see they had a gameplan for the characters.

I'm also still enjoying the B or C-plot of former FBI Agent Ellison and John Henry, the rapidly learning AI.

Sure, its still a program that if ou start to pick at it (oh... that would NEVER happen with a cyborg! and that wouldn't happen with time travel!), then, wow... way to go genius. You've somehow found the flaw in the show with the Very Attractive Robot. based on an Arnie movie. But if you accept the internal logic, its got its good points.

Work + Birthdays and Stuff + Comics - Time - Sleep = end of line

Its been very busy round here the last few weeks. I also got up at 5:20 AM today for my drive to Waco. I haven't had a chance to read many of my comics the past few weeks. I'm going to grab some and then I'm going to crawl into bed.

Buenos Noches.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Back to Austin

I'm home. Not in some metaphorical or romantic sense. I am quite literally back in Austin, decamped to the sofa.

For those of you who are wondering: No, I have not seen Watchmen. No, I don't know when I'm going to see it. I've been a little busy, and I don't know when its going to happen. Maybe next weekend, but that's just a guess.

Lubbock was... interesting.

Look, I didn't see much of the town at all. What I will say: Texas Tech is a lovely campus. I was actually glad to see that the campus defied my expectations of being several squat, lowest contract bidder government issue buildings against a bleak landscape. Instead, its actually a very pretty campus of large brick buildings in the style of its Eastern counterparts.

Off campus, Lubbock is a low-slung town of about 200,000 people cutting out their part of the American Dream, I guess. Last night I hung out with longtime pal Heather, starting at Orlando's Italian, a family restaurant, where the portions were generous and the folks eating seemed as if perhaps they were a bit more immune to the passage of time than the folk of the big city.

Lubbock, being a dry county, serves liquor and beer in the restaurants, but you can't buy your own stuff at liquor stores or the grocery. So, of course, just across the county line, a five minute drive from Orlando's, sits a street filled with huge, flashing neon signs and warehouse-style liquor stores and drive-through liquor marts.

There's a culture and economy that's sprung out of the tradition of pretending that people don't drink or that Carrie Nation was a raging success. It basically boils down to the outskirts of many a town marking up liquor and encouraging people to drink and drive. And for there to be a scale model of a 70's-era Vegas in the Great Plains. But oddly free of "gentlemen's clubs". The only one I saw was about ten to fifteen minutes outside of Lubbock. You know, far enough out that your wife or church elder wasn't likely to spot you unless they're at "Playmates" themselves.

We also hit two fabulous Lubbock night spots, which I won't pretend are indicative of the actual Lubbock night scene. But "The Silver Bullet" and "Adolph's" share the same burnt-out building, the vision of whose creator is lost to time. But I suspect someone thought this was going to be an office park at some point in the distant past.

Lubbock has also not instituted the smoking ban in their bars, which I realized I've come to take for granted. So, yes, I had an awesome voice as if I'd been smoking half-a-pack myself. Which might have served me well had I gotten on the list at Adolph's to sing karaoke, tucked between locals warbling country songs with which I was utterly unfamiliar, and an awesomely bad cover of "Hotel California".

Woke up this morning and drove the 6 hours back.

I might add, I haven't checked e-mail since about 8:00 AM Friday, so I apologize if you really missed me. I detoured before dinner on Friday and picked up a Garmin Nuvi 255 at Target, which was selling the model I chose for quite a bit off MSRP.

After my near-disastrous drives on Tuesday and Thursday, I decided I need to relax a bit more when I'm driving, so the soothing voice of the Garmin Lady assisted me in the drive home, taking me on a great route I never would have picked myself by looking at the Rand McNally map I picked up near Ft. Worth (and which kept me from driving East by Northeast into Oklahoma by accident).

Anyhow, I'm home. I'm tired as heck. I'm going to bed.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Lubbock and Dallas

So. Okay. I'm buying a @#$%ing GPS.

Driving and trying to read directions off a printout from Google Maps in the middle of Texas, twenty miles from anything resembling a landmark just sucks. Especially once it gets dark.

Today I drove from Dallas to Lubbock, using the directions provided me by my faithful admin. I knew I was kind of screwed when the directions took me in this weird partial loop around part of Dallas, and I drove back past my hotel fifteen minutes later.

I'll be doing a lot of driving for this job, so from now on, I will have a polite lady's voice telling me where to go.

I didn't see much of the Llano Estacado or whatever driving in as the sun dipped around 7:00ish, and I arrived about 9:10. So, Wow, Lubbock. Nice, terrifying dark roads you got going on out here.

SMU's campus is very nice, btw.

Tomorrow is Tech.

I had a dinner at the bar where I made the bartender tell me her life story. The BBQ was okay, but very salty. Still, for getting a BBQ plate at 9"30 at night, it was okay.

Dallas Radio

So Driving around Dallas I was having trouble finding rock or classic rock on the radio, but I did find a number of religious stations and a metric-ton of Tejano. It was kind of an interesting juxtaposition of listening to Sarah Vowell's discussion of our forefathers, Puritanism, etc... and then listening to the confluence of religion and politics on the radio, and how political issues aren't actually up for debate. The debate has been settled by an interpretation of the Word of God as channeled from the chosen radio DJ.

It's not exactly news that the endgame here isn't entirely different from how law was decreed and interpreted by the separatists and Puritans who fled England to set up shop far from the Papists and not-as-pure-as-themselves Englanders. Its still a fairly crude set-up of abject paranoia and ego manifested as decrying anyone not onboard with your viewpoint as sent from the devil (let alone finding a flock that will buy into your line). And seeking to rule based upon God's authority (ie: your authority, because only you have the "correct" interpretation of scripture, current events, etc...).

It's just kind of kooky to listen for a while and hear the repeated insistence that there's a conspiracy to silence Christians, how many people aren't really Christians (ie: do not listen to this radio show), and how Obama's spending versus Bush's equally reckless spending (if we want to talk deficit numbers) is somehow a sign of the end times. Oh, yes. The end times. Everything is a sign that the end times are drawing nigh.

Bear in mind, I only listened to this for under an hour and heard these messages repeated over and over. This is on every single day, all day.

Anyhow, having had my earful of people calling in to talk about how nobody else is as Christian as the caller and DJ are, I tuned around until I found some classic rock.

On my way out of Dallas, I was listening to ACDC's "Back in Black". I don't particularly care for ACDC, but they'll do in a pinch. And the DJ came back on the air to announce, "You know what's black but won't be back? Terrell Owens."

Well, yes, technically, TO is African American/ black, and he was just released from the Cowboys' roster (setting them back $9 million). But, still... wow. I don't even know what's specifically wrong with that, but I think there's plenty there to work with.

Something else

Here's something new: My pals in Seattle, The My and Bryan have put together yet another musical act. Here's a link to a sampling. Behold, its the dawning of Jupe Jupe.

So where the hell is your latest, T-Jeff?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

In Dallas, rockin' your face off

I'm in Dallas. Today's workday was okay but weird.

Not much to report other than that I finally went to a Starbucks to use their free wi-fi, and it wasn't free. I wound up paying $4 to use the internet. And while I felt I needed to use the internet, I was somehow maybe a little offended that it cost me money. This hotel isn't charging me for internet. I was always under the impression Starbuck's wi-fi was free... and yet... maybe I was wrong? That seems impossible.

Anyway, no big worries, but it messes with how I think of my access to technology and what I will and will not pay for.

It sounds like Jamie had her hands full with Cassidy last night. I'm usually the one who is up and down with Cassidy at night her first night at the house. I don't mind. She's so spunky when she wakes me up, its sort of jolly.

I'm off to work some and read. Have a good night.

I leave you with the ROLCats

Late Edit: This from "The Onion". Lovecraftian School Board Member Wants Madness Added To Curriculum

And, apropos of nothing... a DITMTLOD Microburst:

Juliet on ABC's Lost is just a good idea all the way around.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

In Denton, KareBear Birthday

As the title says, I'm in Denton, Texas this evening at a lovely Holiday Inn.

I really don't get the deal behind paying a lot for staying in a 5 star hotel. If the place has fresh towels and a bed, I'm good. If there's a restaurant in the actual hotel, usually that's very good.

I get it if the hotel is, say, on the beach, such as Las Brisas del Pacifico where we stayed in Costa Rica. or the place at Arenal where we could lay in bed and listen to the rumblings of the volcano and watch it from our balcony. But when you're just moving from place to place? Meh.

That said, I had an absolutely terrible cheeseburger for dinner. Awful. I don't even feel well now.

Driving up I listened to about half of the unabridged "The Wordy Shipmates" by Sarah Vowell. I've only read one of her other books, and I think I listened to the audio book of "Assassination Vacation". I need to see if we still have that anywhere.

Vowell is an interesting writer in our blogging age. She's certainly not writing in the David McCullough or Stephen Ambrose style (my "way back from Lubbock" book will be "Flags of Our Fathers", btw). She kind of jumps all over the place, tells personal anecdotes to cement home points about how we carry a spirit or history with us, and often relates history through the eyes of the typical white-bread American suburbanite (we know our history through sit-coms more than school). And it works. It sticks with you far more than a prattling off of names, dates or even reconstructing complex paths to historical events.

She's not going to win over any Reaganites with her deconstruction of The Gipper's use of Winthrop's "City on a Hill" sermon, aka: A Model of Christian Charity. But she does bring to life (thus far, I'm only half-way thru) the spirit of the Puritans, their perspective, etc... And just as we accept that we may not always comprehend cultures separated from a distance for their different ideals, Vowell is excellent at delineating the differences between what a modern reader might see and our founding culture, separated by time.

Anyhow, if I'm going to be on the road, I prefer I find a good way to spend the time, and audio books always seem to fit the bill.

Man, the air conditioner blower in my room is enormous and hangs half-way over the bed. When it comes on, it totally mutes the television. Unreal.

I am going to sleep like a log tonight.

Tomorrow is my mother's birthday. I hope she has the happiest of birthdays, and I hope I can manage to get her on the phone, which is always hard on her birthday. She's usually off and running as friends or my dad take her out and about.

Spoke with her tonight, and she related a story that sort of sums up my mother.

They now own a house in Austin as well as their other place in Spring. Upon returning home Sunday, Karebear realized she might have left the oven on in Austin. Rather than ask Jamie, Jason, Susan or I to go check, she got up at 5:00 or so on Monday morning and drove all the way to Austin. The stove wasn't on, so she turned around and went home.

My mother, ladies and gentlemen. This is, I might add, the second 1 day trip like this she's made in recent memory. The last was when we needed someone to be in austin in October to be here when we moved the furniture out of the downstairs. Maybe a 30 minute job.

The Karebear would make an excellent long-haul trucker, I think. Especially if she had Peggy riding shotgun.

Anyhow, Happy Birthday, Mum. See you this weekend. Jamie and I love you.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Still in Aggieland: Day 2

Today's symposium was really, really good.

I have to go to Minnesota to present, and I had no idea how I was going to frame my presentation, but now I think I know. I'll make KP write it, but whatever.

I remembered today that it can be both a great pleasure and incredibly frustrating to sit in a room full of academics/ scholars and discuss technological applications. However, the climate has changed inexplicably since 1997, when I first started working with faculty to implement technology into their teaching. At the time, e-mail addresses were just becoming common among instructors (they didn't want them, because then students would, you know, TALK AT THEM).

The purpose of the symposium was to discuss the transitional period we're in where traditional print forms of scholarly communication (ex: journals) are coming to an end, and the era of open access (ie: free and Google-able) scholarly communication will be the norm for faculty/ academics/ scholars. Printed journals have always been the mode of communication for presenting research, but higher ed institutions have been shy about what it will mean to have that material exist outside of expensive journal subscriptions that usually only wind up in libraries or professional collections. In short, it means people might actually find and read their work who are not researchers. It means its a lot more likely that in five years that when you Google, say, "Thermopylae", you might get legitimate, peer-reviewed research just past the Wikipedia entry.

Good stuff.

And that's sort of what my organization does, as well as preserving other tools for scholars to use for communicating with other scholars. And, of course, we're a library, so hosted repositories for all this stuff.

Faculty tend to be a bit uneasy about giving up on traditional communication. And they're in a unique position to be as slow to adopt as they like, because they're really their own self-policing organization. But when a top-tier school like Harvard throws down the gauntlet, and they have, it means everyone else will soon fall into line.

What I learned today, which had left me very confused about how all this works, is how the financial picture works. And the reality is, there's a lot less money changing hands in all this journal printing than I'd assumed, so the opportunities for going digital are a lot better than I'd hoped. Which also raises some questions about a possible adoption of an open conference and open manuscript system.

So, anyway, that's what I'm doing for a living these days. Beats digging ditches.