Archive for April, 2008

Items that are different are similar in some examples and different in others.

Of course they are.


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It is a Tuesday, sunny, and we’re smack in the middle of April, which means it’s time for [well, yes, taxes] the First Mowing of the Year at the nearby Church and Graveyard!

Little tractor mowers [they have to be small to nip in between the gravestones], spiffy scooter mowers [sort of Segways with teeth], gas-powered string trimmers… About as loud as a Copter derby, but they’re on the ground.

When they work their way around to the far side of the church, past the labyrinth, the sudden silence is like a marvelous, unexpected gift from a friend.

Until the children in the daycare playground start screaming again.

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This may be what I get for trying to kill two metaphorical birds with one assignment. I wanted to have the students read a chapter on proposal writing and then do a little practice. That was Bird #1. Bird #2 was to have the students do some international thinking: how could you apply what you were learning to problems outside the US?

Activity #1: You’ve just been reading articles about how people apply knowledge from their fields to new problems — specifically, complicated problems that need to be solved cheaply [using as few resources as possible]. You’ve also just completed a Field Guide, which had you talk to Experts about how they might use their skills if they weren’t doing their current jobs.

So now you are ready to think about how you might apply the knowledge that _you’ve_ been getting to a real-world, difficult problem.

Goal: Find a real-world problem in another country, and describe how you could work with other people in your field to help create good solutions. Think of this as a cross between what the freshmen at MIT were doing with their projects, and what the IBM people were doing during their international assignments.

Format: a short proposal for a project, in which you describe where you want to go, what problem you’d like to tackle, and how the knowledge you have gained from your undergraduate work/job experiences so far, will help solve that problem.


1) You aren’t going alone — there will be other people with your training [and perhaps with more experience, but still in your Field] going with you. Some of those people will have the language skills and the finances to help the project along.

2) The IBM activities weren’t Changing the World — they are doing small scale things. That’s fine.

3) Your proposal does not have to be long, but you will want to post it to Blackboard to get feedback by Thursday, and you should help each other out by commenting on each other’s work before next Friday, so that you each have time to revise your work for Tuesday’s class when I’m back in town.

I’ll be here until Tuesday morning if you have questions. Post your questions on Blackboard, so that everyone can see my responses.

Reading for the week: Technical Communication Today, Chapter 21 – Proposals

The goal was that they would review each other’s work during the week I was away in Naw’lins, and then hand in nice clear mini proposals. I even sent them information about Watson Fellowships [for examples of a post graduate year of interdisciplinary, international adventure and research], the Peace Corps [for examples of problem-solving with very little funds], and IBM’s international fellows program [to see how businesses actually value people who can do these sorts of things].

Given all this, I’m thinking that I should at least get the following features in their work:

  1. There will be a problem described, and there will be a non-US place that has this problem.
  2. There will be a description of the field-specific skills which will be used to help address this problem
  3. There will be a description of what things they hope to do
  4. There will be some description of what the ideal outcomes could be
  5. There will be some formatting that follows the basic shape of proposals as described in Chapter 21

Care to lay bets on how outrageous my expectations are…?

Then again, I just looked over at a fellow English prof’s site, and got some perspective: at least I’m not reading placement essays this season. Yowza.

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I don’t really believe in lawns. They seem fine in the abstract, for instance, if they’re part of the grounds of your regal British estate, or if you’ve got children — I highly recommend lawns for picnicking and frolicking, too. But for my own property, I’d like some meadowy sections for butterflies and grassland critters to inhabit, and then some wooded areas, and some areas set aside for flowers, vegetables, interesting rocks….

Grass, just for the sake of grass [or for the sake of the neighbors who will think you’re a bit of a wacko for not playing along with the whole over-fertilize, over-water, and then go mad trying to keep each and every blessed blade at exactly 2 inches for 8 months out of the year]…. no, no thank you.

At the previous Chez Rethoryke, the grounds were mostly woodland, with just a few grassy swards that could easily be managed with a reel-mower. Sometimes, the weather in July and August would conspire to require only two mowings per season. Splendid! Perfect!

Ah well. Some of the transplanted spring ephemerals are putting on little memorial shows here at Elsinore, and I’m hopeful that people who took other specimens to their gardens last year are getting to enjoy some of this beauty on a smaller scale.

But right now, I’ve got a 90 x 125′ lot, and most of that isn’t covered by house or driveway, as you can see from this view, which stretches from the northwest corner to about the 2/3rds point of the property width. Last year, one of our neighbors gave us an old electric mower simply because she was tired of watching the grass get taller and taller each week. I’d say it was up to my thighs in some sections, and when the wind came sweeping through, it really did have some lovely swirly-swaying texture to it. Truly was sickle-worthy by the time we got around to mowing. [Fortunately, this neighborhood is liberal enough that using a sickle wouldn’t have been as threatening as it might have seemed in redder portions of the state.]

It was a grand summer project to carve out small islands in this sea of green, turn up the soil, discover bits of broken drainage pipes and layers of quartz pebbles, work in peat moss and LeafGro…. and then in went new plants: some from the old house, some from local garden centers, many from Bluestone Perennials.

There I’d be, pitchfork, shovel and trowel at the ready, and the good deizens of Elsinore would pause as they walked up or down the block, complimenting me for “doing something with the garden”. One of them explained that she had actually created an elaborate plan for the garden, which was supposed to be left for the new owner, in a kitchen cupboard. [No, it wasn’t] She further explained that she had picked out the oak tree and planted it, over there in the corner. [Did I really want an oak there? No. Do I feel sufficiently rotten about killing a perfectly good native tree to satisfy my own aesthetic that it will probably stay? Yes.]

But back to the lawn — when we finally started mowing last year, I mowed great asterisks, triangles, diagonals… Local property codes could insist that the mowing occurred, but not how we went about it. [Several neighbors stopped by to insist they were not the ones invoking the property codes. I’m inclined to believe them.]. Today I did some curved paths between the garden islands, and a few broad rectangles to save my Beloved from having to deal with the Far Corner, where the ground is really uneven. [The Far Corner, visible on the lefthand side of the lawn photo, is slated to get a Yellow-wood tree and a group of baby rhodies in the fall [scions of some of the lovely specimens I had to leave behind — thank you VanVeen Nursery!

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Daffodils and Copters

Yes, it’s nearly 7pm on a partly cloudy spring evening, and the copter is circling.

The copter, any copter. They are Copter, they are Legion, anonymous great gnats whirlygigging for 15 minutes and then wandering off — sometimes followed by sirens, sometimes not. Tonight, “not”, but there’s still 5 hours worth of today left to have more copters and then sirens. As the weather gets warmer, there will be more motorcycle racing, more police non-pursuits [because you aren’t allowed to chase down a motorcyclist — someone might get hurt], and someone in the sky will need video footage of these events.

Also legion, but better behavedThe daffodils are also legion, but they are much better behaved. Of course, I did plant most of them, so perhaps they are more aware that they are here at my pleasure, than the copters, for whom I buy gas, but don’t ‘own’ in the same sense.

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And what happens when they all come back to roost?

Two of my colleagues were visiting campus today, and one of them was wearing a fedora. That made two of us wearing fedoras, and the third person wondered if perhaps she needed to get one, as part of learning how rhet-folk worked together. We said we’d get her one as a reward sometime in the future. I was reminded of toaster ovens, but wasn’t sure I wanted to explain that right then.

The next adventure is to explain to the members of my own department why the visitors had wanted to talk to us in the first place. Why aren’t we signing agreements or arranging for students to arrive across the new bridge now? [As my friend with the fedora pointed out, do you expect a ring on the first date?]

Well, that’s the official adventure. There are other adventures, hopefully less egrettable. But they are nice birds to look at, aren’t they?

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Some beads end up in trees behind Jackson SquareThe National Weather Service insisted that last week’s temperatures for the lovely city of New Orleans would be in the upper 60s/lower 70s, with thunderstorms or scattered showers likely on most days. So you can imagine my surprise when I got out of the airport and discovered it was 84 degrees.

Ah well. As I said to our friendly innkeeper, “I just figured the federal government lies about everything to do with New Orleans weather….” [Yes, that got a laugh.]No, he did not try to sell us car insurance

Officially, the reason for being in New Orleans was a conference for teachers of technical writing. Shop talk for the techno-rhets. In some ways, disheartening, because when you take ten years off from a field and then have to participate fully again, the first sense is how much catching up there probably is to do.

On the other hand, hearing someone say:

Let me set up bell hooks versus Foucault…

instantly reminded me of graduate seminars wherein theorists became adjectives used to describe a particular critical approach, and I would wonder whether “Foucauldian” would ever really have the staying power of “Shakespearean”.

A moment later my brain had skittered off to what the claymation Celebrity Death Match would be like if it really was bell hooks versus Foucault. Who would be disciplined? Who would get punished? How? [Honestly, the paper in question didn’t really belong at the conference; it belonged at CCCC. I’d say MLA, but I think the presenter would have been rigorously problematized into the next dimension, and she didn’t deserve that.]At the French Market Cafe

When you have two major writing conferences going on in one place, conversations about language start leaking in to the local culture — one of the taxi drivers wanted to know more about the origins of English. Why was it so hard to learn? Considering that his first language was probably Bengali or Hindi, I wasn’t sure where to begin. Still, it seemed a reasonable question to try to answer, since he seemed painfully aware that his adopted city had overnight been infested with thousands of English professors. “It’s a cross between German and Latin, and it steals words from every other language that comes along.”

This seemed an acceptable answer.

Two iconic forms of New Orleans metalworkIt was a much easier conversation than the one on the way back to the airport, during which the driver described how he was going to kill the next person who pulled a gun on him, how the welfare state was ruining the work ethic, and how he loved the live-and-let-live attitude of New Orleans. Somehow, when he expressed his disappointment that marijuana was not likely to be legalized in his lifetime, I wasn’t surprised.

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