Sunday, September 30, 2007

Some photos

The first photo is from the Natchez Trace trail; the second is of the bridge that will connect the Shelby Bottoms and Stones River greenways.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Big Man on campus

Theoretically, one of the things I love about being at a university is all the great minds that appear for a semester or an evening. In reality, I make it to far fewer events and speakers than I intend do. Very often these things are scheduled at the same time as a class or somebody's wedding or something else immovable. Other times I just miss them. So when I heard Salman Rushdie was speaking, I was determined to go.

Alas, by the time I went to pick up a ticket, they were out. (It is parents' weekend - normally there are no tickets or sellouts.) Fortunately someone had a ticket they weren't using, so I was able to attend after all.

Of course it was a good talk, and well received.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


One umlaut. If found, return to Lazorw├╝lf.

Education in the news

The Democratic candidates are finally getting their education plans out, and Edwards plans to create a corps of quality teachers. According to his website, "He will also create a National Teacher University – a West Point for teachers – to recruit 1,000 top college students a year, train them to be excellent teachers, and encourage them to teach where they are needed the most." (From; seen first at Inside Higher Ed.)

What puzzles me about this plan is, In what way is this like West Point, other than that it is national? Is it going to include a rigorous physical program, uniforms, and a military atmosphere? I doubt it. Perhaps admission will require nomination by a senator or other such personage; will this aura of selectivity really draw the best and brightest into teaching? Perhaps the academic program will be challenging and rigorous - but if that's the only shared quality with West Point, we might as well compare this proposed academy to MIT instead. But, I know, you need to package this as a Big Vision.

I wonder, though, what the chances of this revolutionizing teaching are. What is the likelihood these graduates act like members of Teach For America - they teach a year or two before doing something else, because they are bright, the job is depressing, and almost anything else pays better?

In other news, here is one of those clever ideas economists come up with: a better way to measure graduation rates.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Slow brain food

My org theory class is great, but some of the reading is slow. That's because we are assigned a lot of literature reviews and meta-analyses. Now I'm all in favor of this kind of work - after all, Boyer canonized it as one of the four domains of faculty research. It's the best way to get a handle on a field that's new to you. And yet, reading it is always slow. Instead of each sentence building a story, as in most articles, each sentence stands alone loaded with its own discrete information. Sometimes each clause even stands alone. It's like reading the really dull parts of the Old Testament.

Don't believe me?

Meta-analysisOld Testament
Recent reviews (Azejn 2001, Albarracin et al. 2005, Haddock & Zanna 1999, Olson & Maio 2003, Perloff 2003, Wood 2000) provide useful snapshots of the field, and distinctive subareas have attracted considerable attention. These subareas include the study of attitude functions (Maio & Olson 2000), attribute importance (van der Pligt et al. 2000), group norms (Terry & Hogg 2000), consensus and social influence (Prislin & Wood 2005), attitude representations (Lord & Pepper 1999), dual-pricess theories (Chaiken & Trope 1999), applied social influence (Butera & Mugny 2001b), media and persuasion (Bryant & Zillman 2002, Crano & Burgoon 2002), measurement and interpretation of implicit attitudes (Bassili & Brown 2005, Fazio & Olson 2003, Greenwald et al. 2002, Grenwald & Nozek 2001), and a long-overdue reconsideration of resistance (Knowles & Linn 2004). Crano & Prislin 2005Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood. The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras. And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah. And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations. And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan. And the sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah, and Sabtah, and Raamah, and Sabtechah: and the sons of Raamah; Sheba, and Dedan. And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. Genesis 10:1-8

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Another day, another victory for research

Today we found a nice instrumental variable, "we" being me and my co-conspirator on the research project for last year's practicum. Yes, this is really the most exciting thing that happened to me all day. I also went to class, printed some stuff, did some things here and there, and didn't go to the gym. That's the thrilling life of a graduate student.

(For non-technical readers, an instrumental variable is when you replace some of the data with a bassoon. No, not really. But you don't really want to know.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Living dead girl

I felt snowed in by all the work I had to do this weekend, and I didn't even manage to accomplish it all by Monday. I had reading for four classes, the usual memo to write for econ, a presentation to prepare for org theory, an econ article to read for our study group, a manuscript review, and an extra dose of soc reading in order to prepare for a presentation next week. (That extra dose included all 400 pages of Suicide, which is long but makes up for it by generating all kinds of smart-ass remarks.) Plus, to be perfectly frank, I wasn't at my best due to last week's findings. Despite getting enough sleep, I've been about as perky as a zombie the last few days, which doubtless affects my productivity.

But I think I've finally shoveled my way out of the snowbank. This weekend may be perfectly ordinary.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A big day for transportation

Today, for no obvious reason, there was a hot air balloon tethered on the Magnolia Lawn. (It sported a Vanderbilt Sports Medicine logo, so maybe it was promoting your local orthopedic doctor?) They were offering rides to all comers, and some of my fellow students planned to go down there this evening, while I was in class.

But as I left class, the balloon was still going, so I got my turn. It was a very short excursion, straight up and then down, and the balloon remained tethered, but still, it was a balloon ride. I'd never had one before, and at the age of 10 I would have killed for the experience. At my advanced age, of course, my reflexes are much too slow for killing.

I do think ballooning should be a more common mode of transportation. Think how much more tolerable your morning commute would be if you gently drifted in to work. What pleasant cross-country excursions you might have! You might even encounter difficulties while circumnavigating the globe and land on Krakatoa, where you would encounter a hidden civilization with all sorts of ingenious mechanical contrivances.

Of course, I'm also still awaiting the renaissance of the zeppelin, so my opinion is not exactly making taste. Either that or I'm so far ahead of the curve I've almost lapped the crowd.

Voulez-vous the bus

Today I had a little adventure: I rode the bus in Nashville.

I've ridden buses all over Seattle and Cleveland, so I'm not anti-public transport - not like the woman who wrote in to one of the Seattle papers saying that quality people didn't ride the bus. But Nashville's route system, frankly, sucks. Pretty much every route has an endpoint in downtown. That means that to get to the airport from the east side, I have to ride west to downtown, and then east to the airport. To get to school from my place would take more than twice as long as driving (and cost more). So, being a good citizen and using public transport was pretty low on my to-do list.

But not today! I had taken my car in to the dealership, where I go if I think the problem is under warranty. Turned out it wasn't - it just needed a new battery. Come time to pick it up, people had better things to do than drive me to Antioch, so I took the bus.

It wasn't a bad experience at all, although I had a longish wait at the downtown transit station. Going through downtown wasn't out of the way. The buses themselves were not crowded and the drivers were pleasant. So, one thumb up, anyway.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Shelby Bottoms photos

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I took some photos today at Shelby Bottoms of manmade things. (Well, mostly - if you look at the set, you'll see a snail in there, too. But, uh, it's on asphalt!) This picture is of one of the many bridges on the greenway.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ask an American

This discourse analysis book is driving me nuts. On one page, the (British) author tells us that in postwar America, "ideology" and "totalitarianism" are often used as synonyms. Nonsense! I've never heard anyone do such a thing. Then on the next page he tells us that there is no word for "the groove between the nose and the upper lip." Nonsense again! It's called a the "philtrum." I could understand being confused about what goes on across the ocean, but not knowing about things right under one's own nose?

After I get over this, I have to read four chapters of Giddens, all of Suicide, eight articles for org theory, and six articles for econ; write a memo for econ, a manuscript review for org theory, and a set of questions for org theory; and prepare for an econ study session. That's all for next week, never mind the long-term stuff. Or the medium-range stuff.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

And you lose some

Last night I found out that I didn't pass the econ section (part of the core section) of comps.

I'm telling myself, hey, you passed everything else, and you didn't get any low passes, and you aren't the only one who didn't pass. All of that is true, but it doesn't change the fact that I have to retake the economics portion.

The faculty decided that rather than treating the core section as a unitary whole, we could pass or fail individual parts, which means I only have to retake the econ question. (Conceptually, too, it means the premise of the exam having three parts, one being core, is really inaccurate - the test has five parts.) It looks like retakes will be at the end of the semester.

I tell you this so when you see me walking the halls of Peabody mumbling "supply and demand!" and "the gini coefficient is the area between the straight line and the Lorenz curve divided by the area under the straight line," you won't think I'm utterly insane.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Friday, September 7, 2007

Go Commodores!

Since this is my third year here, I should have gone to a football game by now. I was going to go once last year, to the Vandy-TSU game, but it ended up pouring down rain. Then I was going to go last week, but I wasn't feeling well. Third time's the charm! (Plus my tickets are courtesy of my advisor - he is teaching during the game - so the seats should be good!)

Otherwise my weekend is mostly work. I don't have much more classwork than I typically would at this point in the semester, but it feels as if I have more research stuff going on. I have to revise my event history paper for ASHE, send out the rejected journal article again, and last but hardly least, work on the precis my dissertation chair is asking for. I've been postponing on that last item while comps still hang over us, but since results don't appear to be forthcoming anytime soon, I need to get over that mental block. Project Snowball and Project Trial Balloon are still ongoing as well; the former is not yet something I can do on weekends, and the latter has to simmer on the back burner since other things are more pressing. Oh, and our practicum project from last year is still rattling around. And there's a book lurking somewhere in the future as well. I swear I need scheduling software to show critical paths and flows just to keep track of things - a paper planner just doesn't cut it any longer.

That list makes it sound as if I'm hot stuff, but Snowball, the book, and practicum are co-authored; event history, Trial Balloon, rejected article, and practicum all came out of classes; and doing a dissertation isn't really optional. Projects just seem to accumulate the longer we're in grad school.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Things that have caught my eye

It's art, made of food. It's not so much for eating.

I so want one of these.

A list of reasons not to like academe.

I'm glad to see someone doubt the story of the Great Intergenerational Transfer of Wealth.