Saturday, August 30, 2008

Excitement of all kinds

On Friday, one of my friends from Indy stopped for lunch on her way through town. It was great to catch up - I haven't seen her in three years. Then, afterwards, I went to the Apple store and bought an iPhone. I love it so far. Every feature is so intuitive; you don't need a manual of any kind. And while the alpha keys look so much tinier than my fingers, typing is remarkably accurate. Hooray!

The mall is a dangerous place because there are all of these stores there. Expensive stores. I went in to the new Burberry store and wanted to buy half of what I saw, especially this skirt I loved. I mean, loved. Wanted to marry. Someone will have to call George Clooney and tell him that he has been replaced. But at $295, the skirt is only barely more obtainable than George. Alas. (And honestly - I'm a "poor graduate student" now, but even as a well-compensated faculty member, I won't be THAT well compensated.)

But I have an iPhone!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Your local library

So, apparently faculty have changing views of their campus libraries.

Since some of you probably can't access the article, here's the salient point: "However, it also confirms that researchers increasingly find what they need through Google Scholar and other online resources, a trend the report's authors anticipate will accelerate as more and more knowledge goes digital. ... But only 48 percent of economists and 50 percent of scientists value libraries as gateways."

There is something wrong with this view. Google Scholar allows you to find articles, but - and this is a very important but - not to see most of said articles unless one is connected through an institution that has paid for access to those sources. So when I hop on to Google Scholar to find articles on lemur femurs, it's the VU library that gets me there. And I'm very aware of this because after many of the results it shows "findit@VU." The physical library may not be a gateway, but the virtual library is.

Are other scholars really too thick to notice this, as the piece seems to suggest? Or are they simply not relying on articles? Some scholars may be taking the easy route. I know students who won't bother to use anything that is on microfiche. From reading dissertations, I know a lot of them don't bother to scan other dissertations first. But many economists increasingly publish working papers online themselves long before they appear in journals. They may, quite validly, be sidestepping the library. Yet I don't think that you can completely bypass the library in any field.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I couldn't figure out why I was so tired this morning. I'd slept well last night. Then I realized, "Oh yeah, I hiked 13 miles Sunday." That'll do it.

I tell you this as an excuse to post this nice, soothing lake photo from my hike, instead of the photo I was going to post. The a/c repairman came out today. He didn't find anything under the house, and the ducts were intact. But inside my a/c unit he found a dead possum. Click here if you don't have a weak stomach.

Now the source is gone, but when I got home tonight and tried to turn on the air for the first time, I noticed it was completely off - as in, it doesn't even show the temperature. (I can still tell you what it is - mid-80s and about 3000% humidity.) So, problem removed, but I'm not actually better off yet.


Ohio University: Assistant/Associate Professor of Higher Education teaching in the areas of "organizational theory, leadership and change; community colleges; higher education finance and economics; and/or diversity and social justice."

University of Wisconsin: Assistant Professor in sociology of education.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I had tentatively planned to go on a caving trip this weekend. However, as the weekend approached, unpleasantness pre-empted my weekend.

It started Wednesday night with an unpleasant smell. So I took out the trash. Aired the place out. Thursday morning it wasn't any better, so I scrubbed the place. Then I realized that the odor intensified whenever I turned on the a/c. It smelled like something rotting.

I called my landlord. Flies were started to buzz around. He didn't get anyone out to my place until Saturday, and it wasn't really this guy's job to crawl around under my house. He said the vents appeared covered from the outside, but when I turned on the air he smelled it right away. So my landlord said he'd have the a/c guy call me.

He still hasn't called. And today, I discovered fleas. I had seen a couple but not really noticed them between everything else - for one thing I've been spending little time at home. (It's hot, and it smells. Home sweet home.) I called my landlord with another, more frantic, message, and I bought a flea bomb, which is currently fumigating my place. Meanwhile, I'm staying at a friend's, because my place wasn't really habitable even before I spewed poison into the air.

(Fleas do transmit the bubonic plague, right?)

It hasn't been the best weekend ever.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Buying books

Even though I am technically done with classes, I am auditing one course this fall. It requires seven books, one of which I already own. Another I ordered the other day from an Amazon z-shop at a great price.

This left five books to order today, so I got all organized and comparison price shopped. When looking at used books, I took the lowest price at an acceptable quality. The total cost, including shipping, for the books came out to:
Amazon: $183
Amazon z-shops: $158 $166
Campus bookstore: $208
Powell's: $250

You would expect the used books to be the cheapest, with Amazon a little more and the campus bookstore the most. But what's going on with Powell's? Their prices are higher than the campus bookstore!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Weekend backpacking trip

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I've been intending to get more into backpacking, and this past weekend I finally took the plunge. I and three other women from the hiking group went to the Stone Door area of the South Cumberland Recreation Area for a two-day trip.

My backpack weighed around 30 pounds. A good pack redistributes the weight, and mine did. My shoulders and back don't feel at all sore or tired. That doesn't mean that the weight doesn't have an impact. My legs are tired from carrying the burden, and we couldn't cover as much ground as we could have without the weight. In fact, we probably could have done the entire two days as a one-day trip.

(This was one of the reasons I hadn't taken the plunge. Why backpack to what you can hike to anyway? Well, because you have to start somewhere in order to work up to more.)

The trip was a lot of fun - particularly the sense of accomplishment at the end of it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Natural lessons

I finally completed a task I had been putting off for too long. I was procrastinating because the task sounded tedious, long, and annoying. Then I finally did it, and it was quick and painless. Lesson: The mental agony I spent reminding myself, "You gotta do that" probably took more time altogether than actually doing it.

Monday, August 11, 2008


University of Iowa: Assistant Professor, specialization open but seeking someone quantitative rather than qualitative.

How hard is it?

Almost all hiking guides rate the difficulty of the hikes they describe. Frequently this is done on a scale like "easy - moderate - strenuous," where the criteria for the rating are not entirely clear. Some books, for example, will rate a long, flat hike as moderate or strenuous, because it's a lot of miles, but others won't, because walking on flat ground is pretty easy.

I think there needs to be a better system, so I propose a three-part scale. It has the obvious disadvantage of being complicated.

Part 1: The hike length. This is just the distance in miles (or kilometers, if you prefer). Users can judge for themselves whether 5 miles is easy or challenging for them. Guides already include this, of course; I simply propose that it not influence the other two parts.

Part 2: The total elevation gain. Basically, how hilly is the hike? This measure isn't perfect, as it obscures how the elevation is distributed. It's one thing to walk up a hill and then back down, but another to walk down into a valley than back up.

Part 3: The technical difficulty of the terrain. Here we have to get back into categories. At one end you have trails that are wheelchair-accessible. At the other, you have trails that require climbing ladders, holding on to cables, or crossing fast streams. Maybe like this: very easy = wheelchair accessible; easy = mostly smooth terrain; moderate = rock hopping, poorly maintained trails; difficult = cables, unbridged streams, etc.

I was thinking about this on Saturday, when we got into a discussion of how Virgin Falls compares to North Chickamauga. They're the same distance (4 miles). Virgin Falls has almost twice the elevation gain. North Chick has more tricky terrain. The trouble is, when we casually converse about this stuff, there are a lot of other factors influencing our judgments. When we did North Chick it was hot, and that was no doubt one reason I felt so tired. It's also hard to compare hikes when you did them at different levels of fitness. (Would I be as tired now if I did Bearwaller Gap as I was in the spring? Would I just be less tired because now I wouldn't get lost?)

The problem with a three-part scale is that it's not really satisfying. I think it's human nature to distill it down to one rating. So I suppose one could make a composite index, but then it wouldn't ring true for everybody. Someone who does a lot of short, steep hikes and someone who does a lot of long, flat hikes probably wouldn't find trail X to be equally difficult.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Virgin Falls hike

Behind the curtain
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
This was my second hike to Virgin Falls. Last spring, when we first went, was the beginning of a drought, and the hike was drier than usual. This time, however, it was even drier because of the time of year - the falls are simply wetter in spring than August. (In spring, I'd never want to do what is shown in this picture - walk back around behind the falls.)

The trip was fun, but I won't recap the details here, since the hike hasn't really changed from last time. The big excitement was that this time, a few of us went down to look at Lower Sheep Cave. Then one hiker dropped his camera, stirring up some bees. We booked it back up the hill but were all stung. If you had asked me beforehand, I would have said I wasn't capable of running up a slope that steep, but being chased by angry bees will do it.

We also poked around in Upper Sheer Cave and Virgin Falls Cave. Since the group wasn't comprised of cavers, we didn't do any sort of thorough exploration.

The best part was that we got lucky on the weather. It had been in the high 90s, but on Friday it dropped down to the mid 80s with lower humidity. So much nicer for hiking!

Friday, August 8, 2008

New pet peeve

I've seen this several places recently, and the newspaper today was the last straw. People of the English-speaking world, "illusive" does not mean the same thing as "elusive."

Elusive means something is hard to capture or find. Think of nature documentaries where the narrator says, "Ah, a rare sighting of the elusive red-throated grottlenose titmouse." Illusive means illusory, not real; "The titmouse proved to be illusive, being merely a holographic marvel designed by my archenemy."

In today's final straw, the newspaper reported that cougars are menacing the tony town-within-a-city of Belle Meade (it's where Nashville's celebrities actually live). The headline said that solutions were illusive, suggesting the mayor had tried several that failed. This led me to wonder if the town leaders were gullible or if the cougars were particularly hard to eradicate. Instead, the article revealed they had not yet come up with any solutions to try.

That's animal cougars, by the way, not the new slang cougars. (Which is a horribly misogynistic term that needs to go away.) Or at least I assume, given that shooting them had been discussed.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Safe drinking

I went to REI today to buy a water filter. We're going backpacking next weekend and had said I would bring one. (It's one of those items that everyone in the group doesn't need to own, not like socks.) I had decided on the MSR Hyperflow. It was Backpacker's "best buy" filter in their 2008 gear guide, and for what looked like good reason; it weighs less than most other filters, and it's supposed to be fast and durable.

Turns out REI doesn't sell it in their Nashville store, and online ordering wouldn't get it here in time. I was surprised at first that they didn't have it in stock, but maybe its slightly high price turned off local buyers. The Nashville store is pretty small, although they are expanding - at this very minute in fact. Rather than settle for another filter, or trot over to Cumberland Transit to see if they had it (I have a store credit with REI I wanted to use), I ended up going with the "other" choice in safe water, Potable Aqua tablets.

They're iodine, and iodine water is yucky. However, they have a version that comes with a second pill to neutralize the taste. We'll see if that works: I want to taste water, not mask it with Kool-aid or Crystal Lite. The other drawback is it takes 30 minutes to make water safe. The upside is that it doesn't require maintenance, unlike a filter. It's also much cheaper ($10), so if I hate it, I can throw it out or give it away. I don't think I'll be a fan, but trying it won't hurt.

By the way, if you read REI's customer reviews for water filters, you'll never buy any of them. Each one seems to be split between "this RAWKS" and "this product doesn't work." I seriously don't see how any one product, let alone an entire category of them, can have such differing reviews. With iodine, now, some people like it and some don't, but it's solely because of the taste. No one argues over whether iodine works or how easy it is to use.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Washington, DC

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I spent this past weekend in Washington, D.C. I won't bore you with the details (it would be a laundry list of memorials and museums), but it was to have the opportunity to catch up with several old friends who are in the area. The reason behind the trip was the wedding of one of my fellow students, and the event itself was very nice.