Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I've been so busy I hardly have time to do this. The semester is really revving up!! One comment about that: I hate Blackboard! Oh it has nice features - and although there is a learning curve, I'm figuring it out. But it is so SLOW that it is almost not usable.

Two recent stories of note in the Times Union. First, there is this. I am speechless. Not really - if this guy had taken a class with me, I would have caught him cheating and taught him a lesson about honesty and ethics! Students may wonder why I enforce the rules so much. Well, this is an example.

Next, as usual, North Greenbush welcomes absurdity with open arms. Remember the awful destruction of the Defreest Church House? (Too rushed to find the link, maybe I will eventually - just click the label if you want to follow that sad tale.) Well, now they plan to demolish two treasures to make way for yet another Rite Aid, and a Walgreens too. Can't have too many drug stores, don't you know.

Friday, January 25, 2008

First day of classes went well! Teaching college is such a great profession. Every semester it is new. Working with young adults is very rewarding. The only glitch: once again, I only landed one smart room. My two other on campus classes are in rooms without technology!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The semester starts today, my classes begin tomorrow and I guess I am ready!

Last night, we watched the movie Shortbus. What was good about it: 1) It was different. 2) The dialogue was generally interesting. 3) The music. 4) The animation.

Unfortunately, there was much more that wasn't worthwhile at all. I found it to be very immature, pretentious and self-indulgent. The majority of the movie is graphic, unsimulated sex. That was the major reason it was innovative, it certainly wasn't the story, which was almost non-existent. Afterwards, I read some reviews on the Internet; viewers tended to see it much more favorably than well-known reviewers. Those who gave it raves mostly shared the perspective that anyone who didn't like it is an uptight, moralistic prude.

That's pretty ignorant, really. There were so many things to find offensive about this movie, and the sexual content was the least of it. But let's start there, since it is the obvious place. The sex scenes were so numerous and went on for so long that it was almost like one of those awful action/adventure movies, so filled with shootings, explosions, gore and car chases that it all becomes tedious. Then, the title itself. I'd never heard of a small yellow school bus for special needs students being labeled that way, but apparently that is what the reference means. Are we supposed to think that the characters, who go to the club for which the movie is named, face life hurdles that are even close to those of disabled kids? The majority of people in this film were unlikable. They were also immature, pretentious, and self-indulgent, just like the movie. Pathetic, really. Not at all like children with special needs. Finally, why would any of the events at the end of the movie erase the problems with which these people were struggling? It was too neat, too easy.

There were numerous things that were not at all believable. Would someone who just attempted suicide be able to check himself out of the hospital after only a few hours? No. Would there be a lot more drugs flowing than shown in the settings portrayed in this movie? Yes. Then, there is a woman who calls herself a couples' counselor. I write calls herself, because I seriously doubt she could have had either the MSW or PhD. Would a licensed professional really reveal details of her patients to her husband? No. That is unethical. Would she slap a patient and get away with it? No.

The portrayal of women generally left a lot to be desired, except for (perhaps) the one or two scenes of a group of women at the club who sat in a separate room and talked. In fact, that was about the only valuable dialogue in the movie, aside from a few other snippets here and there. There just wasn't enough dialogue, and as a result it was difficult to identify with the characters, or to sympathize with what they were going through. I'm sorry, extended scenes of people giving each other what were supposed to be meaningful gazes are not suitable substitutes for real writing. On the subject of women's perspectives in the movie, I was reminded of a great line from a truly wonderful movie, Moonstruck. Olympia Dukakis' character remarks, "what you don't know about women is a lot."

I so wondered what the h-ll the makers of this film were thinking that I sat through the special features. I very rarely bother with the "making of" clips that are on DVDs since they are invariably the same. You know, rah-rah, aren't we all so wonderful and isn't it fascinating how we picked the cast and came up with the idea. But in this case, I learned that there was no story. They kind of made it up as they went along, after they picked the cast. That answered a big question for me. Then, some of the deleted and extended scenes contained additional dialogue that would have made the movie better, had it been left in. (One exception involved a stalker who in the alternate scenes was supposed to work as a personal assistant to the president's daughters. Hello! Why would some guy who works at home in NYC be their personal assistant and why would the president call him every five minutes. It makes no sense at all, and I assume it was only there because the director has some personal axe to grind. So cutting that out was one of the few good decisions he made.) The director appeared very young, and I figured that explained why the movie is so immature in perspective. But then I learned that he is only two years younger than me. So I guess the young do not have a monopoly on immaturity. It seemed to me that he took advantage of a lot of unknown actors who were desperate to get a movie credit.

I mentioned that it struck me as pretentious, and that is the final comment I will make. It really summed up the attitude that I have encountered many times in my life, having grown up in an area that is a weekend vacation land for people who live in the metro area. That the city is so great, so open, so enlightened, and the rest of us are ignorant stump jumpers. News flash: there is a whole world beyond your nine miles that manages just fine in navigating those life issues you find so insurmountable and doesn't appreciate your form of judgmental moralism. Grow up.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The good news is that I was able to download and burn the recovery CD. I hooked up the computer, using the monitor from downstairs, and the keyboard, power cord and mouse from up here. More good news! The repair worked, and the machine booted into XP.

So maybe tomorrow I will have time to upload the Christmas tree etc. pictures I took.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I think I am basically ready for the semester. Oh, there's a lot left to do, but it doesn't have to be finished by Thursday, which is the first day of classes for me. There are many things I like about Blackboard, but there are just as many things I can't stand, chiefly that I have to work directly on the Internet. (I know I mentioned that before, but I can't say it enough.) Also, the process of uploading audio files is awful. In fact, I cannot do it - I had to get my own site and upload, I was not able to do it to the university's server. So it is great to talk about all the wonderful features and exciting possibilities - but the reality is a lot less satisfactory. I should know better, and not get sucked in. It wastes a lot of time, being an early adopter.

I spent most of today trying to repair my mother's computer. I am not having much luck yet. Actually, I have not even got to the point where I can say that - it is taking me hours to download the necessary files so that I can burn a recovery disk. The lesson here: Be sure to make one when your computer is new, or at least working fine. (Will I take my own advice? No, of course not.) Bob went to Florida for a few days, just in time to miss the very cold weekend. Brrr!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I had another anxiety dream. The Blackboard and blended learning thing must be really getting to me! This one was more weird. I was in a classroom with a full class of students. The room had a glass wall on one side, across from my desk and behind the rows of student desks, that looked out on a courtyard. It was almost like a sun room. I'm thinking it was some strange combination of my high school (which had rooms that were on a center courtyard, although the wall and windows were institutional, not at all like a sun room) and a historic house. The room itself was a typical classroom, but smaller than usual. Some unknown professor came from the courtyard and opened a glass door that was on sun room side of the classroom. He invited my students to come and listen to his lecture - on something (he said, but I don't remember). It wasn't especially interesting sounding, but about a third to a half of my students immediately jumped up and left. They sort of looked at me to see my reaction on their way out. I didn't tell them it was OK, I kind of just stood there, helpless. The remaining students didn't go, although some were standing, hesitating, but you could tell almost all of them wanted to go, even the ones who were still sitting and facing me. Whether they were actually interested in listening to his lecture, or if they intended to bolt once they got "permission" to leave, was not clear. I turned from helpless into some kind of caricature of a school marm, angry, threatening, violated. The only thing I could relate to this experience was the occasional instructor who has the class prior to mine and continues teaching until ten minutes into my class, or the few who arrive ten minutes early and act like I should dismiss my class because they want the room. But even that isn't as bad as this dream was!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I found out that another of my former elementary school teachers has died. This is a woman I had for fourth grade. My recollections of her aren't really numerous or specific. It may be that the year she taught me was the only year she was at my school. I do know I thought of her as so old. I mean, it's natural for a little kid to think of a teacher as old, but in this case - I remember thinking that she was a lot older than my parents - if my calculations based on her graduation dates from high school and graduate school are true that isn't the case at all; she was only in her early 30s at that time. I even thought she was older than my second grade teacher when in truth she was young enough to be her daughter! She was the definition of an old school marm: hair in a bun, stiff, thin and bony, with plain attire that featured high collared shirts. I think she was a pretty good teacher in terms of conveying the material, though. She was old fashioned in her methods, nothing like the other "young" teachers. I remember all the kids hated her. I think we believed her to be pretty mean overall. Equal opportunity mean. Not warm and fuzzy at all. We were terrified of her. She wasn't particularly mean to me, but she wasn't exactly nice to anyone. Starting in third grade, I had two teachers per year. I had this teacher in the morning, and the other half of the day I had a different teacher. I remember how relieved we all were to go to his class in the afternoon. I liked my elementary school and believe my education there was decent but when I think back I realize for how many years I had teachers that were scary. Ones that must have disliked kids. It's amazing I didn't fake sick every day. I always wonder how people would react if you went to a funeral and stood up when they invite people to make remarks or wrote in one of the websites your actual recollection! Of course I could never do that but it is a funny thought nonetheless.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Back from a weekend in Samsonville. It is snowing today, not a really major storm though. Saturday was my mother's 75th birthday, my sister hosted a nice little celebration (what is little for us is a bash for most people, though. There were 12 people there).

Yesterday I spent a big part of the day working on my mother's computer, which I believe has crashed. I wound up bringing it back to Castleton with me, and I hooked up her old machine in its place. The old one works fine, although it is Windows ME, which sucks. But with high speed internet access, the difference is almost not noticeable. Luckily, I had bought her a flash drive about a month ago, and backed up her documents. So it isn't that much of a big deal if I can't fix it. While I was working on the machine, my father worked on my portable dishwasher (from Castleton). My mother made eggplant for me as a payment for my computer work, and I joked that I should just hand it over to my father, as payment for his repair of my dishwasher.

The blackboarding of class is going OK. The slowness of working over the Internet is a pretty major issue, though. I managed to get the audio files to work by subscribing to mediamax, which is a place for hosting files. I hope to not have to keep paying for that space, though, since the university really should be able to help me with this.

I had one of those anxiety dreams about the semester last night. When I was a student, those kind of dreams took two forms: one was that I'd arrive at school dressed completely inappropriately. Either wearing pajamas, or just underwear or no clothes at all or something. I have heard that this sort of dream is fairly common. For me, they usually happened when I was younger, in elementary or high school. I remember the odd thing was that no one else in the dream ever noticed, despite the fact that I was in a panic, trying to figure out what to do. When I was in college, the anxiety dream more often took the form of realizing that the semester was almost over, and I had not been to class at all or done any work.

They have a new variant now that I am an instructor. Last semester I dreamed that I arrived at the first day of class without a syllabus to hand out, and with a bunch of disorganized papers on the desk that I was frantically flipping through, trying in vain to find my notes and the handouts. I had no idea of what to say to class. Last night I dreamed that I screwed up the first several weeks of class by doing the wrong things. I forgot what we were doing in class and did not do the things I planned. After a disasterous class I realized my mistakes but it was too late to fix the problem.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I thought I would do this meme this week because 1) I am waiting for an audio lecture to upload (Blackboard conversion is not as bad as expected, although working directly on the web is slow); 2) I am procrastinating on yard clean up (see here if you must know what that means) since the snow melted (I am not going to wait until it snows again and be forced to delay until spring); 3) I really wanted to answer question 3; and 4) since it is winter break, I am home on Thursdays.

Thursday Threesome: Kidney stone and herbal remedies:

Onesome: Kidney--beans? Lima Beans? Pinto beans? Which legumes do you like to cook with? Hmmm... A hot pot of chili sounds good this week!

I love all legumes. In fact, there is a pot of bean soup in the fridge right now. My favorites are chick peas (hummus! yum!) and white beans (greens and beans! yum!) but in the soup I made there are chick peas, red beans, white beans, and black beans.

Twosome: Stones?-- Monoliths? Pebbles? Do you use any of these in decorating? Heck, we'll even count marbles in vases!

Not really. I do have some great rocks out in the yard, though.

Threesome: and herbal remedies-- Hey, there's a good one: do you have any herbal remedies for us to try? Anything? I'm betting this bunch will have a trick or two to work with!

Yes, I am a great believer in alternative treatments, including herbs and supplements. Holistic veterinary care is how my animals get treatment, including Rudy, when he was dying from cancer. I take magnesium - and it works like a charm for the unmentionable problem that has plagued me for life. Bob has severe rheumatoid arthritis. He tried the medical model but it failed him miserably, but his regimen of sam-e, glucosamine, fish oil, etc. (too many others to mention, but they include non-herbal things such as not drinking coffee or eating beef) has put him in remission. He was told by the rheumatologist when he was diagnosed in 2000 that he'd probably be in a wheelchair in two years. He was in very bad shape at the time. Conventional treatment did not help - and in fact, the side effects were hurting him in a big way. So he did his own research in journals to develop a course of treatment. He has two physician's desk references for alternative therapies as well. Six years after he was supposed to be using one - there is no wheelchair in sight, and he can even do the stairs with no problem. The only negative is that there are a lot of people who refuse to acknowledge his approach, consider alternative approaches to be quackery followed only by nutjobs, and constantly suggest to him that he should try whatever miracle drug is being advertised on television. They can't accept that he doesn't even have to take Advil any longer and he feels great. There isn't anything all that radical about eating less or no refined carbohydrates, trying to exercise and pursue a lifestyle with less stress - but I guess to those people the presupposition that there is only one approved way is easier. To them it makes more sense to pop a Remicade.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Monday blues. Holidays are over. House is a mess. I have so much work to do and such an unrealistic deadline that any sane person would be having an anxiety attack. Bob's birthday was Saturday, so on Friday we went to see Juno (it was good; worth seeing), on Saturday we went to dinner at the marvelous Carolina House, and yesterday we went to see John Prine at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (which was great). The calendar page turns and as usual, there is a lot of reassessment. But right now the message is: get back to work!!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Happy New Year! The weather has been notable and so I want to mention it: we've had four medium sized snow storms so far this winter, and right now we are experiencing zero temperatures.

I am going to do something I never do, which is write about television. I watched Leno last night - and I think he is better without writers. I suppose a disclaimer is necessary here, so here goes: I have absolutely nothing against the striking writers, and although I am relatively uninformed about the issue, I feel sympathy for them and their cause. Now, back to my impressions from last night. What I noticed was that the show was a lot more real than usual. I like real. Audience participation bits on all the current late night shows are always scripted, and they are unevenly funny. Taking audience questions and ad-libbing responses reminded me of the Carol Burnett Show, which I always loved. The overall atmosphere felt warm and personal.