Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hometown Heroics

From Pat's usual knack for asking fun questions:

I'm gonna answer all these with regard to Twin Falls, which is where we're living now but which is not, strictly speaking, my "home" town. I grew up in Neola, Utah. That'd be another post entirely.

1) What is your hometown best known for?

Evel Knievel tried (and failed) to jump across the Snake River here. He even came back a couple of times to commemorate his failure and to do promotional things at the local mall. 

2) What other interesting event happened in your home town?

Twin Falls is one of the few places in the world where it is legal to jump of the bridge.

3) Tell us a little bit about some of your hometown's attractions?

CSI (where I work)

Cate Draney (one of 6 primary reasons for working)

4) What does your hometown smell like?

Most of the time it smells like fresh, mountain air. Occasionally it smells like the meat packaging plant south of town or one of the many dairies in the area. 

Friday, January 30, 2009

A little geekiness

One of the good people I work with called me awhile ago and asked me a kind of strange question. He said, "Do you have your geek on?" Or maybe it was, "Do you want to get your geek on?" Either way, perhaps you already know what that means. At the time, I didn't (though it's not hard to imagine, I guess).

He meant "are you wearing your computer expert hat" or "do you want to help me think of a solution to a computer problem." I'm perfectly happy to admit that I am, in fact, something of a computer geek (though nothing like this particular friend, who I think may actually dream in C++). I spend a good part of my teaching life thinking of ways to use computers and other technologies to teach writing and literature. For example, I've been (very slowly) teaching myself CSS to make my course sites more WC3 compliant. One of my dreams would be to learn a couple of programming languages so as to be able to build database-driven sites for various and sundry pedagogical reasons. In other words, I get a kick out of technology and electronic toys. 

Anyway, none of that is the point of this post. Or rather, all of that is way too much prologue for the point of this post, which is that I got a new toy.

You will probably remember that I do a bit of photography on the side. (In fact, I've been earning a few bucks with my camera(s) since about 1984.) A few years ago I went digital and have, in the interim, learned to both love and hate my Olympus E-500. It's a very good camera. I bought it because I liked the way Olympus cameras process the digital images. I compared the shots I took with my old C-5050 to those taken by my sister's Nikon D70 and I liked the Olympus better. Costco had a kit with two lenses (and an extra memory card, or something) so I took the plunge and bought a D-SLR. I've been using it, as I said, for 2+ years taking pictures of my kids and various family groups, a few dance portraits, and even a couple of weddings at the new Twin Falls Temple.

The camera has its limitations, though. One of those limitations is that the autofocus is quite a bit slower than some of the action I like to shoot. Additionally, the flash I could afford has quite a slow recycle time. 8 megapixels is quite a bit, but I can't crop tightly in some shots. The maximum ISO is 1600. The tele zoom is quite sharp, but the wide zoom isn't. And on and on . . .

You may have figured out by now that I've been trying to think up all the reasons to buy a new camera. My darling wife has been going along with it too, bless her patient, tolerant, generous heart.

So... I got a new camera about a week ago. Needless to say (if you know me at all), I've been kind of obsessed with it since then. Actually, I've been obsessed with it for several weeks as we planned for it, worked it into the budget, and as I researched which one to get.

(Part of me wishes there was more payoff for you, cherished readers, for hanging there this long in this post. Alas, the main point is that I got a new toy and I'm posting a picture of it.)

Now I can't wait to get a photography job and put this baby through its paces. I mean, 12.3 megapixels, 4.5 frames per second, commander-mode control of off-camera flashes, HD video, super fast autofocus, sharp lens (especially for a relatively inexpensive kit lens), ISO goes up to 6400. What's not to love?

In the meantime, however, I suspect my kids are getting WAY sick of me pointing this thing at them.

(The above, however, is a shot I snagged before they got thus sick.)

Perhaps I'll inflict some more shots from the new digital sweetness machine on you soon. The essence and effect of geekiness.

Monday, January 19, 2009

One day to go

Classes begin tomorrow. Are you ready?

I’ve been gathering teaching activities that I’ve used over the last several years and attempting to categorize and sequence them. It’s been an illuminating project because I see the range of stuff I try to do in the classroom, but I don’t yet see how it all fits together.

For example, I have a bit of fun showing students a range of misleading images (such as optical illusions, photographs without captions, advertisements, and the like), and having them work on creating meaning from them. Because the images intentionally try to mislead, it is fun to see where students end up. The explicit teaching point is to illustrate the gap between the signifier (the photograph or the image itself) and the signified (the concepts or ideas that the image conveys). I don’t have a lot of trouble showing them how to recognize the disjunct between words and meaning, but I’m still working on showing them why that matters in terms of their writing. What concrete help is such an understanding of Saussure going to be for them? I don’t yet fully know.

I’m caught, I think, in that no man’s land between the theoretical and the practical. I don’t feel like I’ve had acceptable results from either my theoretical approach nor my practical approach to teaching FYC (first year composition). Occasional students notwithstanding, I find that my approaches tend to leave students cold and unresponsive. Of course I want to change that.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Funeral time

My grandfather (dad's dad) passed late Saturday night and his funeral was yesterday. He was born and died in the same room (89 years apart) on the ranch in Tygee (eastern Caribou county, Idaho). It was a melacholy experience, of course, to gather with family to celebrate his life. He'd been ill (the dreaded "C" word) and was in pain much of the last month (particularly the last 2 weeks). He lived a full, rich life. He left a tremendous legacy. He'll be missed, but I think most of the family is glad that he's out of pain and that his passing was peaceful. We mourn for Grandma now.

More soon, after I get some pictures from Uncle Kirk.