Monday, March 31, 2008

Monday's work report

Monday is a day I'm supposed to spent working on "my own stuff." (Which, you may be surprised to hear, does not mean reading novels, eating 85% Venezuelan chocolate, and getting ready to hike the AT.) So I spent the morning working on my dissertation, putting together a spreadsheet of contacts at the sites I'd like to use. Then I had lunch with my friend. Alas, after that I didn't get right back to work but chatted for a while with folks I hadn't seen since I left for AERA. You can decide whether that deserves demerits or not. I spend the afternoon working on one of the three projects I have coded as current priorities, Project Snowball. (These three are projects I'm trying to get ready to submit for publication.) There was a talk I'd planned to go to but skipped out on - not so much to get work done but so as to avoid dealing with parking.

I don't consider the evening part of the time dedicated to "my stuff," so I've spent most of the evening working on one of the three papers due in a month. I've decided to focus on my stratification paper this week. And I went to the gym. The cardio room isn't well-lit, so I couldn't read or anything. Sure, the weight room is lit up, but I've never seen anyone try to read and bench press at the same time!

You might think I'd feel pleased. "Gosh, self, you were productive today. Good work." Nope. Instead, I feel guilty because if I can be this productive, why can't I do it everyday? It's not as if I was working at an unsustainable pace, 20 hours a day with a caffeine drip and a chamber pot under my desk.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's thrilling report, where Turducken sends out some emails, works on a stratification paper, goes to class, and does yoga.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


I have looked at my calendar, ladies and gentlemen, and the end is nigh. The end of the semester, that is, so rather than repenting and getting my affairs in order, it's time for me to finish up three papers and get stuff done like taxes, my annual student review, etc. (One may repent not getting more done before now, but it doesn't accomplish anything.)

So I'm going to be a little MIA. Oh, sure, you can expect daily posts this week, but they're going to be daily check-ins of accomplishment, not anything you want to read. I'm going on a Facebook fast for the next seven days. That's right - I'm not signing in at all until next Sunday evening.

I'm not completely hiding out. For one thing, I have classes to go to. For another, I'm not programmed like that. I figure I can justify lunch with Dr. Prepared tomorrow because it very well might be the very last time I see her before Prepared, Jr. joins us in this world.

AERA in sum

About the conference side of AERA - I didn't do as much conferencing as last year in Chicago. At this point, I have a pretty good idea of what I'm interested in, and there weren't a whole lot of sessions of interest to me. However, I did see some good stuff. Also, my presentation with Mr. Kindhearted went pretty well. Our discussant was someone who always has good criticisms to make. He never says, "Wow, this paper was even better than sliced bread," but any critical remarks are helpful and fair. And if he thought our paper was dreadful, he would have said so - and he didn't. So now we go into the Revising For Publication stage. As far as my roundtable with my advisor, let's just say that not a lot of people are there at Monday at noon!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

New York City

The city
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
It's hard to concentrate on a conference when you're in a very amusing city. And my focus on both fun and work was diminished by feeling icky most of the week. Nevertheless, I found time to wander around midtown Manhattan. I didn't get to see any shows or visit any museums. But I did see a lot of landmarks - the public library, Grand Central, Times Square, Central Park, that kind of thing. I also went up to Morningside Heights and saw Columbia and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. You can see my conference photos here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Conference paper session drinking game

For those of you who have never experienced an academic conference, here's what happens at a typical session. Usually four papers are presented. They run about 12 minutes each and are accompanied by PowerPoint. A chair is responsible for keeping it on time and introducing everyone. The discussant then critiques each paper (he or she usually has read the whole paper in advance), and then there are audience questions.

So, with that in mind, here is the rules for the Paper Session Drinking Game. Take a drink each time:
  • A presenter refers to an earlier paper in the session
  • A presenter cites someone from your institution
  • The discussant clearly knows nothing at all about the topic or methods
  • An audience member asks a "question" that is a plug for his/her own work
  • A paper is clearly different from the proposal that was submitted
  • A presenter disregards the time limits
  • The chair doesn't show up
  • An audience member who arrived late asks a presenter to summarize their entire paper
  • The discussant uses his/her time to plug his/her own work
  • A presenter reads a paper (and is not a historian)
  • Three or more co-authors do a presentation together
  • A PowerPoint slide has text too small to read
  • The papers have nothing at all to do with each other
  • There are technical difficulties with the laptop/projector
  • A presenter runs low on time and has to cut slides in the limitations or conclusions

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Weekend in Chicago

Christopher Columbus
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I spent Easter weekend in Chicago with my sister. We went to the Shedd Aquarium, did some window shopping, had dinner at the Russian Tea Room, and (of course), went to church on Sunday.

Sunday night I flew out to New York for AERA. I'll be reporting back on that later.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Out of here

Whew. Finished everything for AERA. Got my prescription straightened out. Managed to pack. Worked out. Got my hair cut. I'm ready to go to Chicago, and then NYC.

12" of snow, no problem.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Stuff happens

This week has been all over the place. I found out that two grants I had applied for both turned me down. One I knew was a long shot (1 in 30 are chosen). Actually, I was surprised I didn't feel worse - I was just mildly disappointed. Maybe it's because I don't need the money, since our program is pretty generous. I also found out I wasn't being considered for something else I applied for. But then I also got an unexpected accolade.

Mostly I've just been frantically preparing for next week's conference. I leave tomorrow night and I'm still not ready. Actually, the low point this week was probably when I started to pack and had to figure out what clothing fit. Answer: not enough.

You win some, you lose some ... but what you lose usually aren't pounds. Ha.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Random blips on my radar

Nothing major to post here. I've been digging in to get stuff done before I leave for AERA. So just some shorts:

  • I was in REI the other day, saw the Quarter Dome tent, and was immediately consumed with gear lust. Which is ridiculous, because a) I have a backpacking tent already, which b) I have only used on two trips. Mind you, I'm not fond of it. It requires ropes and stakes to be set up (it can't stand up with just the poles), and it doesn't have much headroom. It makes me claustrophobic. The Quarter Dome has an amazing amount of headroom for a backpacking tent - I could practically Irish dance in there, if only I knew how - and it doesn't require staking down. But like I said, ridiculous - if I were actually ever backpacking, I'd need to buy a water filter long before I got a new tent. And if I were replacing tents, you'd think I'd start with my car camping tent, which is, honest to goodness, a quarter century old. It works just fine, thank you, and I'm rather attached.
  • Seriously, I don't have the patience for Iyengar yoga.
  • Forget April being the cruelest month. In Tennessee, it's March. You can go from snow to 70s in a week. The weather tantalizes you that it's almost spring, but it lies. Also, March showers bring April flowers here. I really should have a pair of those galoshes that are so trendy with the undergrads - or copy my advisor and get duck boots.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Computer issues

My iBook has been acting sluggish, and lately it has gotten worse. Hard disk space seems to have disappeared, and I've gotten a few memory warnings. So I took it in to the Genius Bar, where my own personal genius recommended erasing and reinstalling everything. (After first backing up my data on my external drive, of course.) There probably is a lot of cruft in my system. I've had this laptop for 2 1/2 years, and when I bought it I simply transferred the hard drive over from my previous laptop also of 2 1/2 years.

Still, this could be an expensive proposition. I have software I rely on that can't be easily replaced. Don't think I'm a pirate, mind you. For example, I have EndNote because at IUPUI students could get a copy for free. At Vanderbilt, it would cost me $110.

At least I don't need to figure it out immediately.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


For our stratification class this week, we read Barbara Reskin's 2002 presidential address to the American Sociological Association in American Sociological Review. She talks about research on social stratification and inequality and decries the trend that (she says) focuses on "why" without looking at "how." Without knowing "how," though, "why" tends to be just speculation. (There is, naturally, also research focused on "what" - does x happen?) As an example - mine, not hers - consider SAT score differences between black and white students. Observing the "what" is easy; white students on average score higher. But why? Is it innate genetic differences, as the authors of The Bell Curve would argue? Is it culture that discourages black achievement? Is it a biased test? One could consider any of these hypotheses, but to test them we need to think about how bias or genetic differences would result in score differentials. Does the gap exist on other tests? How do black kids raised by white parents perform? Can we detect class or racial bias in the test by doing a textual analysis? Etc.

I was struck by this article, because as far as I'm concerned, "how" is the most fascinating question of all. "Why" is pretty good, too, but "how" is what gets me up in the morning. What, where, when, and who are all incidental. My dissertation is actually a combination of why and how. I want to look at mechanisms up close; even demonstrating a correlation between supposed cause and effect is too remote for me, because the nature of the link itself is still a black box. (A lot of very clever economics boils down to this - testing that y occurs only and always when x happens - but the actual operation of x is unobserved.) How can people be missing out on this great big vat of fun?

I'm realizing that this causes me some difficulty in doing research, especially in a short time frame, as in a class paper. Generally one doesn't have time to collect original data in that situation, and "how" is often best approached by case studies, historical records, or multi-level data that is rarely predigested in the right form. Moreover, there is less data than usual on the particular questions of interest to me - fundraising data is notoriously hit-and-miss. If you want to know how much was donated to College X, you can probably find out, but that doesn't tell you how it was raised.

With that in mind, my topic for my Access to Higher Education class paper has completely fizzled, and now I have to find a new one. It was a historical question, and the data turned out to be harder to find than anticipated. The professor suggested a specific topic there is information on, but it seems to me to be what Boyer would call "the scholarship of integration," and what my CV needs is original questions, if not necessarily original data. Other questions that come to mind bore me - or at least they're not interesting enough to get me through the tremendous amount of time a research paper requires.

The bad news is I need a paper topic fast, I feel like I'm behind, and apparently my projects are always going to be grandiose. The good news is that I know what kind of question I'm looking for.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ah, the good old days ...

1 023
Originally uploaded by JLAW'S PICS
... spring break - it seems so long ago. John took this "before" picture at Rice Cave on Sunday.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Back on the job

Spring break is officially over, and today I was back on campus to get work done. My advisor had re-committed me to devoting Mondays and Fridays to my own work (not homework or work for him), so I tried it today. It went pretty well. Aside from a few minor tasks, I managed to focus. (When an assignment has to be walked over by noon to a professor's physical mailbox across campus, what are you going to do? You're going to do it, Monday or not.)

I spent most of the day editing an article. It's been rejected twice. Ironically, the place I'm submitting it this time is probably the best fit. To meet their word count, though, I needed to shave about 1000 words off. I went through it twice; some of the cuts were low-hanging fruit and others were more difficult. The funny thing is, I had thought it was decently written, but this time around I was dissatisfied with my writing. Shortening it up strengthened it considerably. It probably needs one more pass through, and my dissertation chair has offered to read it in a few days when he gets back from a trip. After he looks at it, I will heave it once again into the submission pile.

I also spent some time running Stata for a conference presentation that I'm turning into a journal article. I did this on my laptop, but it's a huge mound of data, and for the future it would be better to use the library's computers. I just have to find out when the lab is reserved and when it's free.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Snow day

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
The snow fell fast last night, and this morning there were several inches on the ground. I went outside this morning and wondered where all the children were. Shouldn't they be outside making snowmen? Then I got to the golf course and figured it out - they were all out sledding.

The ground actually isn't very cold, so the roads melted off pretty quickly, more expeditiously than the weather reports had called for.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Perimeter Trail

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
This is an easy, surprisingly scenic 5-mile hike west of Nashville. I was really surprised to see flowers out this early.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Free reads!

For those of you who haven't yet enjoyed Neil Gaiman's American Gods, he has posted it for free.

If you like comics at all, you might want to check this out.

If you like Neil Gaiman and/or comics, check out the first Sandman, available online.

If you like neither Mr. Gaiman nor comics, nor do you anticipate that making their acquaintance will surprise and delight you, I have no links to suggest at this time.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Tour northeast Arkansas in your automobile!

My plan for spring break was to head to Arkansas and explore the Ozarks. I would start off at Blanchard Springs, a unit of the USFS just east of the Buffalo River National River, then move west along the river. Then I'd head down scenic Highway 7 to Hot Springs (which is in the Ouchitas, not the Ozarks), and then top it all off with an old-fashioned bath at Hot Springs. ("I'm taking the waters.") The reality started off according to plan. I drove out on Saturday, noticing that most of northeast Arkansas is flat and swampy. When I reached the hills, it was a welcome change. I camped at Blanchard Springs at a lovely site by Sylamore Creek. The next day I did a little hiking. First up was a 1/2 mile loop past Blanchard Springs and some bluffs. I also saw three white-tailed deer, which was pretty cool. (Honestly? I never would have seen them if they hadn't caught wind of me.) Next up was a 1-mile loop around Mirror Lake. The loop entailed fording the stream, which looked too wet for me, so I returned the way I came. The hike was short, but featured a lake, a dam, AND an old mill. Then I went on a tour of Blanchard Springs Caverns. It's a pretty cave, and the Forest Service does nice tours (no wacky lighting or ghost stories). Don't worry, I didn't cave alone - this was a ranger-guided tour suitable for all ages, and even handicapped-accessible. So I drove out to the Buffalo River. It was around 2 p.m., and I started to do a 3-mile hike called Indian Rockhouse. But clouds were rolling in, dark ones, and the air felt oppressive. I bailed on the hike and checked at the ranger station, and they were calling for rain. Then snow. Then below freezing weather. In other words, if I stayed up high, I would be stuck. I decided to head down to Little Rock, where at least I could stay dry in a hotel. However, I missed out on the lovely views of the Buffalo. The next morning the forecast was worse. It would stay cold and rainy in the Ozarks - it would rain all over the state - and the southeast part of the state was being menaced by tornadoes. If I went to Hot Springs, I'd be cowering in a hotel. The weather would suck for several days, while I spent money on lodgings and looked for stuff to do. I knew when I was defeated, so I headed home today. Now that I'm back, I see that Mountain View (near Blanchard Springs) has a Lake Wind Advisory, a Flood Watch, and a Winter Storm Warning in effect. Jeepers. Hot Springs only has a Lake Wind Advisory and Flood Watch! At least there is no mention of tornadoes.