Archive for August, 2008

Two syllabi and a 1-2 page book chapter proposal.  By end of day Monday.  Oh, yeah, suuuure.  And of course, the day is gorgeous, now that the storm has past.

While I go wrestle with obligations and worry about the folks in New Orleans, here’s the latest picture of Leia, who is acting more and more like a cat.

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Yes, there are two cats in that picture.  Two.  Leia is puffed up on the left, and Malkin is on the right.  Only yesterday did we discover that Leia had ‘graduated’ from sleeping under our bed to sleeping on top of the bed, right where she could be seeeeeeeen.

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A quote you may find useful, if not at all consoling:

“…when people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to acheive success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden.  Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Instead… they are left with the impression they are doing just fine.”

From: Kruger J, Dunning D. Unskilled and unaware of it:  How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1999;77(1121-1134).

Now, I was reminded of this article by a presentation from 2002; it wasn’t my work, but a piece for Eli Lilly, and the article was misquoted [apparently they spent very nicely on the breakfast, but not so well on the Editorial department].  But the citation was correct, so I was able to track down a copy via this fellow WordPress blog: “Keet”.

I suspect many a precious snowflake has got themselves a faulty metacognitive engine, simply because they haven’t had to interact with a world that is able to say “No.” In the absence of the “What if?” widget, which leads many a child to science and the arts, the “Coping with No” widget can enable people to work around constraints… but simply possessing the widgets in one’s mental toolbox does no good if you never are inspired to USE THEM…..

The hopeful part, of course, is that occassionally, snowflakes can thaw out sufficiently to realize that it’s interesting/fun/useful to use those widgets, and then learning really starts to happen.

My father, I suspect, has a special mission to thaw snowflakes wheresoever he happens to be, which is why he is always talking to people — on a bus, in the pharmacy, in the classes that he teaches, at campfires. Over time, he will either get people looking for shooting stars on a warm August evening, or deciding to quit smoking, or deciding that maybe continuing school after getting that dental hygienist’s certificate might be worth doing.

His sisters were teachers, too, as was his mother.  His grandmother was a midwife, who, even in her 80’s, would sneak out and deliver babies.  Little creatures, wired to learn.

Somewhere, under the ice, there has to be a dust mote, or a snowflake can’t form.  Hmmn.  So next week starts the quest to find as much ‘dust’ as possible? [No, I haven’t read or watched The Golden Compass.  Don’t ask me about it.  But if there’s a metaphor in here that works for you, by all means, enjoy.]

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This morning I am outside extirpating another section of the lawn, and my brain decides to practice explaining this to Salvador, who probably doesn’t care, but would understand it better if I used Spanish.  Since my opportunities to use the language of my forebears is somewhat limited, my Spanish is perpetually rusty, and it’s not nearly as cute to have around as all the rusted metal that people strew across their yards and porches as Folk Art [if you like that sort of thing].

Thus, my brain flails around the French and scientific words for “butterfly” as a monarch goes by, and pieces together “Mi esposa se encanta las flores”, after some debate about the gender of flowers.  I may have gotten it wrong anyway, but fortunately the flowers are immune to my vocabulary. [And aren’t most of them hermaphrodites anyway?]

Then I realize that there’s screaming going on down the block — the same woman who had decried the presence of workmen at my house has gone up against the construction crew at the end of the block.  They’re actually building a two story headquarters of some sort, and have been working most of the year on that project.  It’s dusty, messy, loud, and seemingly in that woman’s side yard. She is beyond angry about the infringement of her personal space.

My brain crunches on this, as if it’s been handed a brand new page of fill-in-the-blanks material in the Spanish II class:  “La mujer loca grita otra vez.”  Lovely.  My grandmother, rest her soul, would be sooo proud….

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Tonight, NBC wanted to show us BMX racing, but instead had to ‘settle’ for showing us dripping wet women diving into the sand and then hugging each other in the rain.

Oh, I think there might be a ball involved somewhere.  They seem interested in keeping it off the sand, which I understand because repeatedly slamming your fist into a grit-covered surface can’t be pleasant.  For those of you not watching, here’s a typical sequence of play:

  • Thud
  • Crowd roar
  • Mad scrambling
  • Thud-smack-thud
  • Dive into sand
  • Leap
  • Scramble
  • Smack!
  • Wipe hands on bikini top
  • Hug

Sometimes NBC lets us hear the music being played during the matches, but this time, my brain connected the scrambling with Bangles lyrics — “They do the sand dance, don’cha know”, and then pulled in an earlier string of thoughts about the incredible potential for wardrobe failures here, and my Lord, all the places they probably get sand…..such that when the tune rolled around to the title chorus section, my brain happily supplied “Wax like a Brazillian” instead.

My brain cannot be taken anywhere in polite company.

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No, not of the United States of America. Other blogs can cover that.  And David Letterman seems to be having a good time roasting the man; my help there isn’t necessary. But college presidents can also do some heavyweight damage to the English language, especially at Commencement — here’s two from about 11 years ago:

“We are truly on the cusp of a new paradigm”

“Graduates, at the conclusion of this ceremony, you will enter the world of today.”

Weren’t they just?

And I have to ask — What, exactly, are the infamous “rights and responsibilities thereunto pertaining”?

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Being disappointed in Olympics coverage seems trite, but I guess there just aren’t enough advertisers out there interested in supporting broadcasts that I’d really enjoy.  I don’t really want to have every moment filled with commentary; I do not care to hear the US angle on everything, and I think it would be refreshing to see the sports feed from a country that showed the sports but didn’t have athletes likely to medal.  If the Olympics is about fair play and doing ones absolute best, than that SHOULD be enough.

Of course, that wouldn’t sell many sports drinks, or cars, or debit cards, so…. [sigh]

But about the chincillas:  my Beloved came home from Fiber Night and remarked on Mary Carillo’s comment “This is why some people just raise chinchillas.”  The knitters and spinners were puzzled by the reference.  What could it be about chinchilas that could be remotely like raising an elite teen athlete?

Actually, it seemed pretty obvious to me — while chinchillas are now seen as pets in the US, originally there were many get-rich-quick schemes based on raising the little Andean creatures for their fur.  Chinchilla coats were the height of luxury. Surely anyone raising chinchillas would be able to rake in the money with this “easy” cash crop. [No, really.  Go click the link! I’ll wait.]

Of course, like other schemes, chincillas were not at all a simple cash-generation system.  Chinchillas belong on mountaintops; they have specific needs for temperature, humidity, food, socialization, etc*.  Not low-maintenance. Absent these conditions, say, in a 1950’s era suburban basement, what you get are impossible expectations for wealth that may never appear, ill-will from your family for dragging them into this crazy escapade, and high-strung — perhaps slightly crazed — animals who may or may not survive to fulfill your golden expectations. [And if they do survive, you still have to kill them.  Neatly, because the furriers don’t want damaged skins.]

So if you have dreams of gold, you could try raising your child to be an Olympian, or becoming one yourself, and that might go badly, but with chincillas you’d at least not be stuck with their therapy bills afterwards. [You might need therapy yourself, of course, after raising adorable balls of fluff and then, well, killing them]

*N.B.: There are people who take wonderful care of their pet/companion chinchillas. That’s a different group of people. Do not thou gettest bent out of shape when I am not talking about thee.

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….since the semester is right around the corner:

“I could imagine that after this would occure once his future articles, if any would be for the most part wholly ignored.”

Yes, that was a native English speaker.  The core problem here is too many concepts trying to be juggled in one sentence, with inadequate punctuation, I think…

I suspect that many such sentences are in my future, because one of my classes this semester is going to endure a variety of short answer challenges, and if they can’t read carefully and describe what they’ve read succinctly, verbal flailing is a likely result.  The little duck to the right here is not flailing; he’s filtering water through his beak quite effectively, and looking damn cute while doing so.

In other news, I actually got to pet Leia this afternoon; I caught her as she was running over me to get up the stairs. I was sitting in the staircase, and the hailstorm outside had her thoroughly spooked.  She had been hiding in the base of the cat-tree, and I’d thought that she would have stayed downstairs rather than run right over my lap.  So I got to hold her for a few moments, and tried to calm her down.  Then I let her go, and a few minutes ago our paths crossed in the upstairs hallway.

She hissed at me.

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Jargon creep has gone on for ages, but I didn’t encounter the bizzare task of crafting “elevator speeches” until about 2003, when I was working for a company that believed everyone should have one to reflect their role in the organization. These little ditties are what you are supposed to recite, clearly and forcefully, when you get a private moment with a client or potential client — and such moments tend to occur, apparently, in elevators. I suspect this is just a much nicer way of labeling what is really a “Okay, you’ve got them cornered” speech or a “A polite person won’t be able to run away, so go for it!” speech. [This form of speech has an even more evil cousin, called the “Blackberry Pitch”, which I’ll discuss some other time.]

Here’s an article grumbling about the language used in such discourse

Of course, the first audience for this kind of speech isn’t actually the person who is supposed to be the audience — the first person who has to love love LOVE that job description or elevator speech is the middle manager or boss who wants to hear their business described in an “impressive” way.  The problem is that what’s impressive to an insider [or someone buried in managerial wonkiness] is not necessarily going to actually be comprehensible to a potential client.  And the problem is magnified if the person reciting the description is talking to someone who isn’t a part of that business at all….say, some poor schlub who chose the wrong time to get seconds of potato salad during the reunion.

The problem of bloated, blathery language infesting Middle Manageria has been discussed in many journal articles — my favorite is the one where well-meaning tech writing consultants come in to give workshops on clear language, and it turns out their efforts have less impact than the “please stop smoking” workshops. [I want to say it was by Brown and Herndl, but I’m not sure….will need to look that up.].  If being vague and pompous earns you points with your superiors and prevents your underlings from really understanding what you do all day, what earthly motivation would you have to become clear, brief, or precise?

Some coaches do push elevator speakers [this begs the question of whether there are elevator whisperers, doesn’t it?] to think about their audience and trim out excess material. I know this. But when push comes to shove, it is easier to get into the trap of using inflated language than it is to get out again….

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“Y’know, even with a pretty steep rise, putting that staircase in from the hallway is gonna put you right up against the rafters when you come up…”

“Arrrrrhgh.  There’s no — [silence].”

“Now….that might be the water pipe… But I don’t think we want to touch it — if it’s been like that for a hundred years, now might not be a good time to try and — nope, that thing’s not moving.”

Several hours later, we discover that the other valve he tried did control the water system….

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