Saturday, August 30, 2008

not yet a meme 3

As both a sociologist and a college teacher, I think its important to be aware of social trends and fads. A blogger I like to read (Geek Mom Mashup) mentioned her obsession with a series of books she called the Twilight saga, and that a movie was being made of the first book in the series.
Pretty soon I started seeing references to the books and movie everywhere. I also enjoyed an television interview that the author, Stephanie Meyer gave. So despite the fact that I'm not generally a fan of romances, especially teenage romances (at least not since I was a teenager), and I'm not really a fan of vampire books (that's something my husband likes), I decided it was necessary to at least see what all the fuss was about. So last Friday, when I made one of my extremely rare trips to the nearest mall (more than a 4 hour round trip drive), I stopped in the bookstore, where the first thing to catch one's eye was a huge display of the books with their compelling black/white/red covers, and purchased the first book in the series Twilight.

By the end of the second chapter I knew why the books are such a hint -- Stephanie Meyer is a good writer. The character of Bella is compelling and complex, she is extremely self-aware in some ways, but utterly clueless in others. Meyer knows how to reveal things little by little, in ways that are subtle and draw you in. Unlike some other adult bloggers I didn't find the book at all slow going, I liked the character development, and trying to puzzle out the dynamics of Bella's family life. It makes it easier to understand why she makes the choices that she makes. It's a fun read!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

One Single Impression -- Resolve

"One Single Impression": this week's prompt was "Resolve."
My poem:

Good luck with that!

We demand an explanation,
the definitive, final, this-time-it’s-right answer,
a resolution to all our concerns
an unraveling of the mysteries.
We want “just the facts m’am,”
tied up in a neat conclusion,
none of this scientific uncertainty.
No preponderance of evidence,
no ninety-five percent confidence,
we want proof.
We want things cleared up,
to get to the bottom of it all,
we want it resolved!

Good luck with that.

August 23, 2008

Friday, August 22, 2008

changing forest landscape

Since I don't have any classes or office hours on Friday, and I do have to spend most of Saturday and Sunday working on my on-line classes, today was a perfect day to return a new pair of glasses to LensCrafters--within the 30 day trial period--because they just were not going to work out. I'm still in a period of experimentation with my "new eyes" after last spring's cataract surgery, and it is taking a while to know what kind of glasses work best for different activities (such as using the computer).

For me, a visit to LensCrafters means a 2 hour trek south through Virginia on U.S. 23 to Kingsport, Tennessee and the Fort Henry Mall. It's a spectacular drive between densely forested mountains of Wise and Lee Counties in Virginia. You pass mountain ridges named things like Elk Knob and Cliff Mountain that top out at 3,000 feet, while the four lane road with wide grass median runs at about 1,500 feet above sea level.

At this time of year, late August, the forest covering these mountains is normally dark green, varying in intensity and shades, but still thoroughly green. I was therefore shocked to see great swaths of yellow and even dotting of red through out Virginia. Sycamore and tulip poplars seem to the the species affected. The culprit is probably drought. This is the second year for serious drought in much of the southeast, southwestern Virginia included. The U.S. Drought Monitor gives the weekly picture.

Even if the drought is a temporary fixture of the region, with more plentiful rainfall to return in future years, chances are there will be substantial tree loss from just a few years of drought. This doesn't mean that the forest will disappear, but that less drought resistant species will be replaced by those that can handle the drier months.

The Appalachian forests have changed before, due to the diseases that killed the American Elm and the Chestnut trees. But each change in the forest has rippling effects on other plant species, on wild-life, on the forest based industries. It makes me wonder what these forests will look like in twenty years. What species will be dominant?

Monday, August 18, 2008

things get going

Today was the first day of fall semester classes. Even though I've been working here for 12 years, I still can't quite get used to the idea of starting the fall semester in mid-August; and the public schools here in eastern Kentucky start two weeks before we do.

Growing up in California, school did not begin until after Labor Day. In fact for the first few years of grade school, the school year did not begin until after California Admission Day (marking statehood). My first day of Kindergarten was September 11. This is easy to remember because it is also the day my youngest brother was born, so my mom was in the hospital and my Dad took the day off from work to take me to school (and to be with her in the hospital).

Even the college I went to didn't get the ball rolling until after Labor Day.

The thing is, I think we spent less time in school but learned more. I have opinions about why that is.

The weeks leading up to the first day of classes (today) tend to be pretty hectic. First there are several days of in-service meetings, then there is a week of registration and advising. Between advising students all the faculty work frantically on our course syllabi and first week lessons.

Then there is the photocopying -- lots of it. This year they want to make sure that everyone copies on both sides of the paper -- always a good idea, but this year a budgetary necessity. There was a long line at the photocopier as everyone tried to figure out how to set up two sided copying, collating, and stapling on the new machine.

Rather than haul myself and my papers all the way back upstairs to my office, I ducked into the near by faculty/staff lounge to sit for a while. Here I had the best moments of the day. The entire outside wall of the lounge is windows that look out on the North Fork of the Kentucky River that runs through Whitesburg. It's been a while since it has rained, and the water is fairly shallow. About twenty ducks were feeding at a point were the river narrowed even further by sandbars and gravel. The ducks all faced upstream towards the current and repeatedly dipped their beaks in the water as it flowed over the shallows. Occasionally the ducks would break ranks and regroup themselves, with different ducks getting to work the front of the group. Once in the process of moving and resorting, all twenty were in a single line in the river swimming against the current. Reminded me of the saying about "getting your ducks in a row."

Friday, August 8, 2008

musical notes

On Tuesday at our first in-service session we had an unusual speaker. Every year the Professional Development Committee tries to come up with someone who will inform, uplift and motivate us for the new academic year, and they've chosen some wonderful speakers over the years. But this years guest speaker was truly remarkable. Harry Pickens is both an accomplished jazz pianist who plays for audiences around the world, and an inspiring speaker.

One of the important things I got from his presentation (which included both music and conversation) was that I really need to think about my "why." That is, what am I motivate by, why am I doing 'going' to work every day?

He also talked about the relationship between perception and experience and put a new twist on the old 'Geraldine' (Flip Wilson) saying "What you see is what you get." Suggesting that what we expect to see is what we get.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

scooby doo

My dog Rosie has this peculiar habit that we refer to as "scooby dooing." Some months ago, in the evening after we went to the bedroom and she had her treat, she'd walk around to the far side of the bed, sit upright so that she could look at us over the edge of the bed (which is high) and start to converse with the universe -- sounding for all the world like Scooby Doo that great cartoon canine! That one spot was the only place in the house that she would do it for months. A few weeks ago, when we were all in the living room together, she sudden went into her huge dog crate in the living room, sat upright and began talking again. She lifts her head up and goes "rurr rour ruff" and makes other noises that sound for all the world like words. We laugh at her and say "scooby doo" and she looks pleased as punch with herself.

free rice -- and lots of vocabulary

One of today's in service sessions was about "favorite faculty websites" that had been collected by one of our librarians. There were lots of good reference sites, especially in the natural sciences and climatology. But the one that fascinated me the most is the Free Rice site.

Free rice provides the user with vocabulary tests (and a chance to build your vocabulary). According to the site: "For each word you get right, we donate 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program." The site also carries a caution: "WARNING: This game may make you smarter. It may improve your speaking, writing, thinking, grades, job performance..."

It's fun and addictive. I managed to donate about 8,000 grains of rice today in two 30 minute sessions. I was also amazed at how many words I knew, and how many I could figure out. For example, I was able to figure out correctly that 'stenosis' means 'stricture.' My vocabulary level is about 46. I learned a bunch of new words today also -- mostly obscure nouns for odd things.

elk in the mist

Yesterday as I drove to the first day of faculty in-service training for Fall 2008, I spotted four elk ambling along a dirt road away from US 119 near Kona, KY. I spotted the calf first even though he was slightly farther away, as he was walking on the outer edge of the road out of the shadows. At first I thought "deer," but realized that he didn't look quite right, and then he looked over his shoulder at his elders and I noticed them, three adults, either young adult males with no antlers or adult females. They are larger and bulkier than deer. It was awesome. I knew that great efforts had been made to reestablish elk in Kentucky, but had not seen them myself until yesterday. [photo from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation]

Sunday, August 3, 2008

not yet a meme 2

Following in the footsteps of Punkinsmom at Idle Musings. I offer my second "book blogging" (though not on Friday). Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber was a most satisfying read. A mystery with just enough suspense and menace to make it a page turner, and so beautifully and hauntingly written that some of the images (such as the rain forest home and ape mother) will stay with you long after you've finished the book. Origin reminds me strongly of another mystery from a decade ago Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. In the reading group guide at the end of Origin Abu-Jaber acknowledges that Hoeg's book was "at least a subconscious piece of my inspiration. I remembered feeling intrigued and haunted by the novel's [Smilla's Sense of Snow] use of snow, cold, and ice, its beauty and menace." I think Abu-Jaber far underestimates the influence of Smilla on her own work. The stories are worlds apart: in Origin the central character Lena deals with a killer warped in emotional and psychological ways, while Smilla deals with villains motivated by economic avarice. The motifs of snow, ice and cold are common to both books are only a superficial similarity, the real similarities are much deeper. However, both Lena and Smilla are outsiders trying to come to grips with their unusual origins. Both characters battle with feelings of detachment and fears of attachment. Both characters resolve internal conflicts or learn to live with them through solving the mystery at the core of the book.