Thursday, April 30, 2009

One week (plus a little) to go!

This semester is almost over. It's so close I can just about taste the churros at Disneyland. I'm doing my best not to check out mentally before the day actually comes, however. It's hard, but I'm working on it.

Here's what I have left to do:

  1. Finish grading 102 research essays. I have about 40 left.
  2. Conduct two more class sessions in 102-- revision workshop, and final exam review.
  3. Conduct four more class sessions in 278 -- contemporary shorts stories (two days' worth), student presentations (1 day), and exam review (1 day).
  4. Write exams for 102, 175, and 278. Students will help write the exams.
  5. Grade final portfolios and papers in 102, 175, and 278. No one will help grade these. (sigh)
So... Why am I spending time blogging? I've got work to do.

Before I get back to work, though, I want to report that Cate's hearing is much improved and it seems to us that her speech is coming along a little faster as a result. Good news, eh?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Does it ruin your image of me as a handyman if I tell you that there's water in my basement?

Yup. The fancy way I installed the drain for the dishwasher lets water from the washing machine back up in to places it shouldn't be. I've temporarily plugged that hole, but I've gotta come up with something better. Sigh.

Trip #5! to the hardware store. 

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Success at last

Take a look. The dishwasher is IN!

Saturday, April 25: Keri left the house before 7AM to administer a Praxis exam at the testing center. I tried to snooze a few more minutes, but by 7:30 I was up and going. After just four (4) trips to the hardware store, around 2:00PM, we ran our first load of dishes in this little beauty. Who knew that could be so much fun!

The new cabinets nearly double the storage space in this tiniest-of-all-Idaho-kitchens. The cabinets will have doors after Keri's Dad makes them. He made the existing cabinet doors and drawer fronts, so we asked him to make them to match. 

In other homefront news, our grass is probably the greenest it will be all year. I should post a picture of that soon. To really appreciate the success we've had with the grass you should have seen the weed patch we had when we moved in. The grass still needs to fill in in a few spots, but it's coming along.
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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dishwasher to come

I'm not really a handyman. Not in the real sense of the word, anyway. I fix/do stuff around the house, to be sure, but it's almost always of necessity. I keep up with the yard, I repair things that break, I figure out little logistical puzzles. But I'm not really one to undertake the installation of major appliances, however. 

All those disclaimers notwithstanding, I'm going to put in a dishwasher today. I think I know what I'm doing, but we'll see if we end up with a flood and/or blow fuses, etc. Wish me luck.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Returning to the promised land

When I was in high school one of the local newspaper guys came to yearbook/journalism class to talk about photography. (I had been hooked on photography in jr. high when some other elective class that I wanted, I don't even remember what it was now, was full and the counselor sort of just "put" me in journalism. They shoved a camera in my hands and that was the beginning of something beautiful (wink).) 

This newspaper guy made some good points about this and that, I don't exactly remember what. Then he said something that I took to be gospel truth (for whatever reason) and it influenced my view of photography for quite a while -- in some ways to this day. He said that of the big 5 camera makers, Nikon was best, then Canon, then Pentax, then Olympus, with Minolta bringing up the rear. He didn't, in that moment, give any rationale for this statement at all. He simply stated it as fact. !!!  Being quite green and impressionable, I thought something like, "Hey, this guy does photography for a living. He must know what he's talking about." This "gospel" about camera rankings was reinforced when Dad's secretary, who was a student of photography at a nearby school, told me the same thing-- exactly the same-- Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Minolta - in that order. That order is, apparently, the order of the universe.

Fast forward a a year or so. I have, by this time, become so rabidly interested in photography that I probably sweated darkroom chemicals. Though I hadn't been asking for it directly, I was really hoping my folks would buy me a camera.  I got a long okay with the Pentax K1000s that the high school had, and I even got to use the Canon AE-1 with its zoomy zoom from time to time. Then, in one of those strange and wonderful moments in the life of a teenager,  my dad said, "Let's go see about a camera." I about fainted, I think. "What?" I said, "Really!?!" Sure enough,  and we headed off for Inkley's in SLC

Now, I had been reading Popular Photography for a couple of years by this time, and I was really sure what I wanted. Nikon's FG was fairly new on the scene (1982) and was billed as a "super compact" and "super cool." I had been greasing up the ads in the magazine with my eager mitts for quite a while. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, the camera of my dreams. In fact, I still get a little misty-eyed when I see one... (sniff). 

I don't have any clue what Dad spent on it, but I remember being more than a little excited about watching him negotiate with the camera salesman (and yes, it was a man) and putting together a kit for that FG, with a short zoom, a flash , a bag, and some filters, etc. I could hardly believe my good fortune. 

 Dad billed this purchase as "a camera for the family," and talked quite a bit, to his credit, about my using the camera for family pictures and family events, etc. I listened to him with about half an ear, I think. I was too mesmerized by that all black body and svelte lens. Oooooh, it was nice. I did end up taking lots of pictures for the family, and, in fact, won a few contests with pictures of my siblings. I hope I lived up to Dad's expectations at least a little bit.

Fast forward a few more years. We're in grad school in Pocatello and the extended Draney family has a vibrant  MyFamily site going. Like nearly every other human in the United States at that time, I wanted to move to a digital camera to make posting pictures online easier. I did my homework, looked around A LOT, and eventually settled on the Olympus C-5050. In the back of my mind I was probably thinking a bit about that old ranking-- Olympus -- fourth on that list--- what am I doing? Hmmm. Still, I was pretty influenced by a couple of review, John Dvorak's in PC Magazine, for example (no link to it that I can find, which is too bad, because it was a good review). I watched dozens of auctions for them on eBay and eventually snagged one for a good price. Phew. Welcome, Clark, to the digital age. 

I loved that little camera. I took it everywhere and took pictures of the kids, of my office at the university, of the railroad tracks in town, of flowers, of bike paths, of insects and trees, of anything and everything. It was a renewal of my love affair with photography. Keri has, for quite a while, called my obsessions-- like with computers, cars, or cameras--- my "mistresses." I guess there is an element of truth in that. I loved that little black beauty. 

Then I broke it....

It was sitting on a low chair and it dropped just a foot or two onto the carpet. "No big deal," I thought at first, but flukey things happen and my baby was DEAD! (sob)

Time passed. I consoled myself by buying another Olympus point-and-shoot, the C-7070, but it had poorer low-light performance and wasn't as easy to use. I was still really impressed by the output of the Olympus image processor, but I hadn't found a replacement for that wonderful C-5050.

I was so impressed by the output of the Olympus line, I eventually bought an E-500, Olympus's DSLR from a few years ago. The kit lenses where pretty good (the longer zoom being much sharper than the shorter one), and I got a flash and a sync cord and, in a word, "stuff." I used that kit of Olympus equipment to reenter the commercial realm of photography-- doing a few family portraits and taking pictures of the rising Twin Falls temple. Photography became more than a love affair-- it was now also a "going concern."

Now, during all this time, however, I was occasionally thinking about that ranking-- that list. My darling sister has a Nikon D70 and has loved it. She's made quite a name for herself in her circle of friends in Las Vegas. She has a sharp, artistic eye, and puts her Nikon to good use. I was also keeping track of the advancements in Nikon's DSLR line. I drooled over the D100, the D70, the D200, and the D3 at various stages. I wasted quite a few hours reading reviews of cameras I could never hope to afford (namely the D3) and observing the passion that Nikonians have for their equipment. In short, I was an openly Olympus fan and a secret Nikon noodler. I was living a divided life-- fully loyal to neither and never quite able to pour my whole photographic self into my "work." Oh, the pain of it all. 

You know the ending of this story by now. You knew when you read the subject line, of course. I have returned to my roots. I got a Nikon this year. I'm home and I'm happy. (And you, dear and patient readers, are tired of hearing about this camera. )

Can a person covet his own possessions? I'm pretty sure the answer to that question is yes.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

This, too, is Idaho

You knew this was coming, right? Here's that same tower the very next day! Ah, spring!

I'm off to have some lunch. What's new at the trough?
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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cate is out of surgery

It's a pretty newsy day around her, actually, because I also have to report that Cate had surgery today. She had tubes put in her ears and tonsils/adenoids removed. Her speech therapist had a good thought a few weeks ago that her speech might be impeded by a hearing problem. We had her hearing checked and discovered that Cate does (did?) indeed have some significant hearing loss. The loss was due to fluid in her inner ear, however, so the tubes option should clear things up quite a bit. We're hopeful. 

This is Idaho

So, Pat . . . You were saying the other day that you had snow when we had yummy spring? Here's what we had on campus today in Twin Falls. There was a good 5 inches on the car when I finally went out to scrape it off this morning. It's no surprise, of course. As has been said of so many places, "If you don't like the weather, wait 15 minutes."

In other news, I finally got around to watching New York Doll. A couple of years ago (three years ago, probably), it got a lot of attention on the AML list, and I planned to watch it. Of course I never quite got a round tuit. Something or other in the blogosphere made me think of it the other day, and I added it to the Netflix queue. It was as good as everyone said it was. Because it's way old news to most of you, probably, I don't think it'll be a spoiler to say that the song at the end of the credits was pretty touching. 

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Your list of saints

My American Lit II students and I are reading Barbara Kingsolver at the moment. We read a couple of her short stories for today, and we'll begin our week-long discussion of The Bean Trees next week. I like Kingsolver. She's fun to read, she "resonates" with me and with many students. She has many rich and diverse texts to bring to the discussion. 

A student in the class said, the other day, however, that s/he didn't think that Kingsolver should be considered "literature. " S/he made this statement at the end of class, so I didn't really have time to follow up on this quite provocative comment and see exactly what s/he meant by it. As I prepped for today's class, however, I decided to make that question -- of whether or not Kingsolver's text(s) can be considered literature -- a central part of the discussion. The student who raised the question wasn't in class today, however. (sigh)

We had the discussion anyway. It probably wasn't as much fun to do it without the provocateur present to make and defend those claims, but it was quite good anyway. We made a couple of lists, trying to enumerate what is and isn't literature. We looked up words like "literature," and "classic," and "canon" in the dictionary. We made short lists of "texts" we thought belonged to "literature." We even talked about Kingsolver's stories some. ;-)

The question I have for all y'all is "What do YOU think literature is?" You may define literature in almost any way you choose, but you must give at least one example of your definition. 

Here's an interesting bit from class today. The dictionary we used defined "canon," in part, as a "list of saints." Now I know that such a definition doesn't direclty refer to the literary canon, but I think you can see how it is symbolic of the way we rever certain authors and texts. My "list of saints" includes writers/texts like Orson Scott Card/Ender's Game, and Mary Doria Russell/The Sparrow. 

So... who is on your list of saints? 

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Web presence

I was a geek before. I didn't exactly embrace my geekiness when I was in high school, but now that I'm all grown up (ha!), I don't my going by that moniker. My colleague, Ken Bingham, asked me once if I "had my geek on." I knew exactly what he meant, and I laughed about that phrase for days.

I'm more of a geek than ever, I guess. I now have a goodreads account, a facebook account, a LinkedIn account, and of course this trusty blog. I even have more than one blog (as you regulars may recall), though the others are woefully neglected at the moment. (Not that this one is so up-to-date and spiffy.) I have a personal web page for a number of years. (It too is neglected and more than a bit dusty.)

I wrote an assignment for my 101 students once that went something like this:

"One of the ways we exist in the modern world is through the Internet. You'll know what we mean by "exist via the Internet" when you consider how many times you are asked to enter your personal information when you visit web sites. For example, you may have an eBay account which includes a feedback rating. You may also (or instead) have an Amazon account which includes records of the purchases you've made on that site. You may even have a personal profile on or another networking or dating site.

"Consider, too, that your personal information is stored in many other places. The driver's license you have in your wallet represents a kind of authentication that you are you. To obtain a driver's license, you have to provide some proof of your birth, your name, your residence, and so forth. Your credit card represents information about your account with a specific bank, but it also represents (albeit obliquely) your credit worthiness and your ability to repay. You might have a blood bank card in your wallet which represents the dates and times you've donated blood. You might have a library card which represents a record of all the books you've checked out at the library which issued the card. As you can see, there are many ways that you are represented throughout this menagerie we call modern life.

"Imagine, now, that 1,000 years have passed and it is the year 3009. Scientists and researchers discover a cache of old Internet servers from which information can be retrieved. They discover information about YOU, and once they have your name and date of birth, they discover that you are found in many places in the Internet. Future archeologists will be very interested to know what life was like in good, old 2009.

"What kind of pictures do these various online identities paint of you? What might those future archeologists conclude about your life and the way you lived?

"Another way to think about these concerns is to consider how many of these "markers" (or bits of electronic identity) are solely yours, and how many of them could just as easily belong to anyone from this century. Which parts of an eBay profile, for example, are uniquely and specifically yours, and which are universal characteristics of those living in what has recently been called the early nuclear age?"

So... what do you think? What is your web presence? What will your digital traces say about you?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sunny Days and Mondays

If there was ever a perfect spring day in Idaho, today was that day. 69 degrees, fluffy clouds, light breeze, greening grass, students who come to class prepared. What more can a body ask for? (contented sigh)

I wouldn't exactly say that the lame meeting I endured this afternoon ruined it either. In fact, I was so happy to be going back out into the sunshine that I was only mildly annoyed that the fellow I was meeting with was absolutely unprepared for the meeting and therefore wasted nearly an hour of my time. 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

No more funky dive

Hey... guess what, Mark.... That funky dive of a Chinese place is closed. No more Buddha food.

We went to the Maple Garden instead. The building used to house a Der Wienerschnitzel, and they have 4 gigantic life koi in a pond in the waiting area. Funky enough for us? You bet. And the szechuan chicken was excellent!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Panic button

Have you ever had that nightmare that you forgot to show for a class, or that you somehow missed the first 16 weeks of class and now the final exam is upon you? I think such nightmares must somehow be a feature of contemporary university education because I know dozens of people--- teachers like myself--- who say they have those kinds of sweat-inducing dreams. I guess we have such anxiety about showing up for exams or being responsible academic citizens that we sublimate those worries and they show up in our nighttime machinations.

Occasionally those dreams come true, however. I had one today. Well... not a really bad one, to be sure, but a moment in which I thought (though didn't actually say) a mild obsenity. We're still NULCing it today, and the alarm clock in the hotel room went off this morning at 6:00AM. Since we'd decided to skip the first session of the day and give ourselves a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, I didn't jump right now of bed. It turns out that I should have. That darn clock was an hour behind. 

I didn't even know I was late until Kim Skeen called and said, "Where are you?" I said, "You're an hour early, friend." She said, "Look again, kiddo." I said (thought, really) "*&^%," and began dashing around throwing things into my suitcase and cinching up my tie. I rushed through the rest of my toilette and wrangled everything down to the van. 

Happily, the students had loaded everything up and were ready to go when I came breathlessly along. These even had a muffin, an apple, and a coffee cup full of OJ for me. Kim drove while I ate, and I made my session in good time. I wasn't even out of breath by the time I settled in to the chair at the front of the room.

We're between sessions now and we'll go in to the question and answer session with the featured authors. That session is often the highlight of the conference, so I'm really looking forward to it. We'll go for Chinese food after that (a place my friend Mark Brown calls "a funky dive"), and then Kim and the students will turn the nose of Moby Dick (the gigantic white van we brought) northward and head home. 

I'll join up with the family for a little R&R here in SLC. We plan to see friends from SLICC (Salt Lake Institute Concert Choir - where Keri and I met), and spend a little time with other friends too. Home again on Sunday afternoon.

It's been a nice weekend.

Friday, April 3, 2009

NULCing it

I keep having this fantasy that I'm going to blog regularly... like every day. What a joke.

Here I am, though, sitting at a computer in the student union building on the campus of Weber State University. The annual National Undergraduate Literature Conference is underway. CSI has sent a strong group of student writers/presenters, as usual. They have presented or will present papers on western ecology, Beowulf (2 diff students), Hawthorne, Vietnam war literature, why poetry matters, and short fiction. They represent the college very well. They're exceptional students and they hold their own very well in this national forum.

I'll be moderating a session on American Literature tomorrow.

Michael Chabon, the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, spoke last night at the banquet. It was a revelatory experience. I'd been reading the above-named, prize-winning novel and enjoying it well enough. It seemed to me, however, to be quite po-mo and self-absorbed. Hearing Chabon speak, however, rehabilitated his book for me. One of the things he focused on was his devotion to his family. He has 4 kids, 2 boys and 2 girls, and, because he lives in Berekely, that makes him, in his own words, a freak. Of course, in Mormon country, like Utah, 4 kids is nothing-- just average. He acknowledged as much to the great delight of the audience.

I'm glad I've given him a second chance. I read a few more pages in the novel last night after the banquet and I am finding myself more and more interested in it. The deep psychological reasons (or whatever) for my shift of perspective about his book might be fodder for some future post. We'll see. 

Anyway, it's time to go listen to the poet, Michael Sowder. He's at USU now, but he was at ISU when I was doing my doctoral work. We ran in to each other in the elevator at the hotel last night. He said, "You look familiar. Do I know you?" That's about as far as it went though. I never had a class from him or anything, so I only ever really saw him in the hallways or at the department BBQ. 

More soon? Hopefully....