Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010 goals

My 2009 hiking goals were as follows:
  1. through-hike Indiana's Knobstone Trail
  2. complete my Cumberland Trail 50-mile patch requirements
  3. hike in at least two new states.

I did the second this summer and completed the third just under the wire (California this summer and Arizona on Tuesday) but not the first. So, I guess it carries over to next year. My goal my 2010 is to backpack at least once a month. HOWEVER, this goal is subject to abandonment depending on where I move to. If I get a job in Alaska, I am not backpacking in Nome in November. Sorry, I'm a wimp.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Welcome to Arizona

Hanging with saguaro
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I hope everyone had a lovely holiday. I've been taking a blogging holiday myself, as you can tell. I spent Christmas with my family in Southern Oregon, and then I headed down to Arizona for a yoga workshop - and to see friends here in Phoenix. While the yoga alone is enough to kick our butts, on Tuesday I did a hike with my friend at Papago Park. The hike wasn't a long one or a challenging one, but it is in a nice urban oasis of desert landscape.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Canadian science fiction writer brutally arrested by US border guards. Now, at this point some of it is one person's word against another (the arrest itself is not under dispute). So, you know, maybe I should have an open mind that Watts just drove up and slugged the guard and was quite sensibly arrested. However, I'm tired of hearing people say something to the effect of, "Well, maybe he wasn't subservient enough." You know what? Being super-polite is a good idea, but you can't legally be arrested for failing to do so. Or even for being outright surly. Freedom of speech, people.

The least successful holiday specials of all time.

When you refer to famous academics, do you say the full name of a woman but just the last name of a man?

This is an interesting article for those of us who like books, but the very best part is the comment by KW following the article.

A turducken for the vegetarians in the house.

"Um, no, I'm not goofing off. This Sandman comic is actually a research project, yeah."

This law goes into effect immediately.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

What would you forget?

Recently, I went to a potluck dinner where we were all assigned dishes to bring, and a discussion arose as to what the most important dishes were. The idea was, if someone didn't show up, or brought an untasty , how badly would it impact the meal? (In this case, the china and silver were provided, and it was BYOB, so the discussion was only about the food. We were also ignoring redundancy - if three people are asked to bring side vegetables, one no-show isn't a problem.)

One person said bread was the least important thing. Someone else said, no, it was dessert. Both of these floored me, because I would argue they are the two most important items. Note, I'm not making any argument that I'm objectively right here - I think all this is a matter of opinion. But while I believe any element except perhaps dessert could be omitted, I want my carbs, and I'm a carb snob.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Meet the Bechdel test

If you've never heard of it, which I think most of my three readers haven't, it's a movie litmus test that originated here. The test is simple: "Is there at least one conversation between two female characters that isn't about men?"

The test can also be applied to novels, with one big caveat: Novels that use first person or tight third with a male protagonist are less likely to pass, and that's not necessarily something to get excited about. Movies, by contrast, don't generally glue a camera on one person's head and leave it there all film.

One of the better discussions of it is here. I see people object to this test with, "Well, there is this particular novel here, and this is why it doesn't pass the Bechdel's and it's OK." Sure, fine - the canonical example is The Name of the Rose. Setting a novel in a medieval monastery does indeed limit the potential for female-female conversations. But I think this misses the point of the test.* The test is better as a general diagnostic for a body of work - modern movies as a class, or the work of Robert Heinlein, or rom-coms.

The exception I would make to this is in a very particular class of movies/novels. This consists of stories set in the modern world (or a future similar to it) with a wide variety of characters and, if it's a novel, omniscient third narration. I read a novel recently, by an author who I would consider to not have reactionary opinions about the place of women, which had 39 speaking male roles, and only 5 females, the only major character of which is a damsel in distress (who is also the MacGuffin). In the book, it was clear that some women had power, because they are mentioned in passing, yet somehow every major character except the explicitly objectified female character was male. Maybe one or two of these gender decisions were driven by the needs of the story; the rest were like, "Well, I need a random person, and the default personhood is male." Needless to say, it didn't pass Bechdel. It pretty much ruined my enjoyment of a book I would have otherwise liked quite well.

Well, maybe you're saying, so what? Think about (third-person omniscient) books and movies that don't pass the reverse Bechdel's - no male-male conversations. All I can think of is The Women, although there are probably others. However, they are very rare. Start paying attention to Bechdel's and its reverse during your cinematic excursions, and then ask yourself what we can conclude about how genders are portrayed in our society.

*At least, IMHO. You can only put so much in a ten-panel comic strip. So you could reasonably argue for another purpose, and since it's a free country you can use the test however you like. I won't stop you.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Where's my flying car?

Predicting the future is always a dicey task, but you can't tell that from reading old education policy pieces. I feel like I've read a lot of articles from the 1970s and 1980s that take a current trend and assume it is the wave of the future. They never seem to anticipate that it's merely and ebb-and-flow phenomenon that will soon swing back, or that the status quo will be able to resist the reformist impulse. Remember the "private colleges will all fold" panic of the 1970s? Remember the predicted PhD shortage of the 1980s?

It's easy for me to sit here in my chair in 2009 and smirk, but the major lesson I've learned from this is not to count my chickens before they hatch. I tend to assume change won't happen, and if anything I'm too conservative in that.

The upshot is, you're never likely to open up your blogroll and see that today Turducken has predicted that soon we'll all be learning virtually, that public universities will sever their connections with their states, or that the adjunctification will increase to its logical end.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reading the top ten translated novels, part II

Last time I checked in on my project to read the top ten translated books of 2008, I had three books down. Five more I finished within a couple of weeks, leaving two. One of those I had tried, and finally decided life was too short to spend that bored (Voice Over by Celine Curiol). The final one has been sitting on my shelf. It was good, but not light, and I hadn't gotten around to it in part because it was a loan from a friend rather than the library. Now I am finished, or finished with the nine I am ever going to read, and so here are mini reviews.

Of course, while these books may have been shortlisted as for best novel, what is really meant is literary novel. There's nothing light and fluffy about them.

The Darkroom of Damocles by Willem Frederick Hermans is the story of a man who may or may not be a Dutch resistance fighter during World War II. He may be deluded and actually harming the resistance's cause, or he may be a hero whose contact in the resistance has disappeared. Either way, he is an unlikable character who does some very bad things that are not related to the war. (I'm being vague to avoid spoilers, but let's put the emphasis on very. He's not pilfering gumballs from the five and dime.) The author manages to achieve the right balance of distance from our main character - no matter how close we get we can't be sympathetic, yet we are right there with him - or at least there as he believes it to be, which may not be reality. The plot of course is unusual; most stories of World War II that take place in Europe are either about victims or about heroes.

Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge is a tough read; it's the one I just finished. Serge was Russian but wrote in French, and his novels are highly political. In this case, the political shades over into the philosophical. It's the story of several people who are agents for Communist Russia in other parts of the world. Like the previous book, the question of whether one is on the right side or not is asked, yet it is not quite the same situation. The characters know exactly who they work for; the question is whether the organization is still dedicated to the cause or whether it has become overzealous and power-hungry. Given that this is Stalinist Russia, the answer is fairly obvious. But what does one do? To defect is not only risky but it cuts one off from the central purpose of one's life; to remain is morally compromising; to become an active communist separate from the organization is suicidal.

Yalo is psychological rather than philosophical. Like Darkroom, it involves a character for whom it is difficult to determine the truth. In Frederick's novel, though, the main character knows what he thinks - he may be delusional (or not), but he believes in his version of reality. Yalo, instead, is a man who does not know what he thinks or feels, who even has trouble knowing what he remembers. It "revolves around a single consciousness unable to make sense of it or its surroundings." For most of us, consciousness is a coherent experience (even if that coherence is an illusion); for Yalo consciousness is fragmented and indeterminate. In this story Yalo, our main character, has done things more senseless and awful than in the above two books, and the world has treated him in the same way. Yalo is not fully human, in a sense, and how does one respond to someone - or punish them - if they are not?

Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya is on the shorter side and written in long sentences, long paragraphs that are almost stream-of-consciousness. The narrator is a rather paranoid young man hired to copy edit a 1000-page manuscript of atrocities, and he is also - pardon the language, gentle reader - to use the current slang, something of a douchebag. You can't really like the narrator, and this dislike is possible, perhaps, because he is just another self-centered, shallow guy. In other words, you can feel free to dislike him without fear of reprisal. (Yes; I disliked him more that the morally compromised characters discussed above.) I didn't feel like there was much to this book, or understand why it made the shortlist. It wasn't bad; it just wasn't great.

The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig is about a young German woman who lives a narrow, impoverished life, working in the post office. Then suddenly her aunt invites her to stay in her glittering world of wealth for a while and she - not entirely honestly - reinvents herself. When she has to go home again, she can't adjust, and she eventually meets another young man with similar difficulties. They feed off of each other's unhappiness and eventually plan a future together - not one of hope. The book was easy to read without being shallow or glib, and rather fun in spite of its dark tones. Perhaps it was simply "fun" in comparison to the other books! But Zweig's writing is, frequently, light rather than ponderous.

And then there is Alejandro Zambra's Bonsai, which is short and easy reading. The reviews of this novella I saw are all raves, and I just don't get their enthusiasm. I found the book uninteresting and unmemorable, and I really have nothing at all to say about it.

So, that's it for 2008. I may do this again next year.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Winter flowers

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
Photo from a short hike on Thanksgiving at Flat Rock Cedar Glade, a Nature Conservancy property near Murfreesboro. The hike is flat and only 2 1/2 miles, but it is a nice cedar glade and, as such, lovely in the summer. Even in the winter it is interesting, if not quite as colorful.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Books for new faculty members

As I've mentioned previously, I've been reading (and skimming) a lot of books aimed at helping faculty members. Many of these are aimed specifically at new faculty members; several more are targeted toward achieving tenure. Needless to say, I've formed some opinions of these books.

I can't tell you how objectively useful these books are, since I haven't actually started a faculty job yet, I'm a sample of one, yada yada disclaimer disclaimer. ( in other words, this is not, "In this study, we randomly assigned new faculty members to read one of ten books. New faculty who read Turducken's Guide to Achieving Tenure, or, Guess Which Part of Research-Teaching-Service is the Chicken were twice as likely to achieve tenure as those who read Cthulu's Top Ten Tenure Tips.") Nevertheless, I found some books more helpful than others. The biggest problems?
  • Spending a lot of time on the applying to grad school or early grad school process in a book whose title guarantees it won't be picked up until well into the dissertation
  • Dubious advice (ie, "List your marital status on your CV")
  • Lots of remedial tips ("Many professors have offices, and these often have desks.")
  • Vague tips that can't be easily operationalized
  • A tendency to assume all fields are like the author's (ie, advising scientists that it is important to publish a book to get tenure)

With that said, here are the books I would recommend to grad students looking into faculty careers or new faculty members dealing with how to manage their time, run their own classes without drowning, and figuring out what exactly their job is. Because the one thing I consistently hear from assistant professors is that the first few years are painfully harder and that they work longer hours than they did in grad school. If that doesn't strike fear into a PhD student's heart, he or she doesn't have a heart.
  1. James Lang's Life Life on the Tenure Track: Strictly speaking, this isn't an advice book - he does have one, and it is a fine book. This is merely an account of his first year as an English professor in a small liberal arts college. This book just tells you what to expect (yes, even if you'll be teaching grad students and carrying a heavy expectation of research) so that you will then want to go out and read the others. You should also give this to your spouse, your parents, and anyone else who will wonder if you are trapped under a heavy object and unable to reach the phone during that first year.
  2. Emily Toth's first and second Ms. Mentor books: These have the enormous advantage of being funny and the disadvantage of not pretending to be comprehensive in their coverage. Although the first one is specifically for women, I think lots of the advice is applicable to any gender. Together, these books do the best job of conveying the culture of academe.
  3. The Black Academic's Guide to Winning Tenure--Without Losing Your Soul by Rockquemore and Laszloffy: You may not be a black academic, but then again, neither am I. I am not recommending this book because it will make you a better person by making you aware of what some of your colleagues may be going through (although it might do that), but because it has some very specific, useful tips for how to organize your office and use your time efficiently.
  4. Finally, Robert Boice's Advice for New Faculty Members: Nihil Nimus is an absolutely terrific book on how to be productive. You can read it now, and maybe that will save you some trouble, but I recommend buying it and putting it away until some time in your first year when you realize your first year is at least as miserable as James Lang's was (except perhaps without the chronic disease) and that you thought you could handle it but you can't and you are SO BEHIND and oh crap here comes the department chair ... that is, when you've hit academic bottom, because only then are you ready for change.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving tourism

At the Jack Daniels Distillery with the man himself.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hey! Check out us over here, in the ed school!

Articles like this one baffle me. If you don't feel like clicking through, here's a quick summary: professor of religion defends lecturing, believing that other forms of learning such as discussion can't take place without lecture first.

Now, what baffles me is not his conclusion. I don't have a dog in this fight. (If he argued that lecturing was the only valuable pedagogy, I certainly would take issue, however.) What I don't get is his mode of argumentation.

He refers to "conventional wisdom" and "entrenched opinions" and other synonyms throughout the article. Conventional wisdom says X, but his personal experience says Y. Ergo, X is wrong.

But why is he talking about conventional wisdom and opinions at all? There are scholars studying learning in a rigorous way in psychology, curriculum and instruction, and centers for teaching at nearly every college in the country. If the author was writing about chemistry, would he look to "entrenched opinions" for expertise? No, he'd look to chemists.

This happens frequently in conversations about higher education among scholars - despite being academics themselves, they seem to forget that there are academics dedicating their careers to understanding higher education and learning. Yet they re-invent the wheel and talk as if we know nothing about how education works. We're a long way from knowing everything, admittedly. But trust me, there are studies on how much students retain from various modes of teaching, and one person's experience doesn't add much of anything to our knowledge.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


As I continue to read/skim books of advice for faculty, today I encountered something disturbing. It's not the only book that does this, which is why I'm not calling it out, but it was particularly blatant in this case.

The book has chapters on minorities and women, and those chapters are aimed specifically at minorities or women. The presumption seems to be that whites or men have no need to learn about these issues, which is odd when the chapters discuss encounters one will have with Neanderthal colleagues. It is especially odd given that some of the women-only advice includes why one shouldn’t date colleagues; unless the authors meant to specify lesbian relationships, male faculty members are clearly just as involved. Why is this a women's issue?

At one point, a chapter mentions that students will ask, "Why do we have to learn about this multicultural stuff?" A good question, given that apparently faculty are excused from doing so.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How to work

In the last few months, I have been working hard on adopting a more efficient mode of working. Perhaps I shouldn't state this here, where any hiring committee can see it, but the transition to working independently was a rough one for me. I'm going ahead and saying it because this is true for most graduate students, although for many of them the transition doesn't really come until they take a faculty job* - and also because I am overcoming it. So after flailing around for a while, I think I've found a system that works for me.

The biggest adjustment initially was adopting something of an 8-5 work model. There are important exceptions I won't bore you with here, but in general, I'm on campus five days a week, and when I am there, I am working on school-related stuff. When I am home, I am not working on school-related stuff (the biggest exception being reading for class, which is allowed at home). I had always liked the flexibility of the academic life, but I had been carrying it too far. So: Structure is good.

I've also been reading a lot of Robert Boice and other writers on scholarly productivity. I'm not as resistant to his ideas as he says some flailing scholars are, not because I am some open-minded paragon**, but because (as one of his students said), "What I'm doing now clearly isn't working, so what is there to lose?" The biggest thing I've picked up from him is the idea of moderation. Don't wait for inspiration on a project, and don't binge on it. I tend not to work for more than an hour at a time on any particular task, with the obvious exception of meetings that last longer than that.

A final thing I've figured out is that I do better with different tasks at different times of the day. Writing is easy before lunch; in the evening, it's nearly impossible. I can read at any time of the day except after lunch, when even a bodice-ripper could cause drowsiness. The early afternoon is a good time for administrivia, mindless tasks, sending email, etc. So I structure my day around my body's clock.

The result is that I've been getting more done and feeling a lot less guilt.

*I work for two deans who don't have big grant-driven projects. As my adviser has gotten deeper into the world of administration, he's given me less and less oversight. And I think it's an interesting way to do things - better to struggle now than in year one of the tenure track.
** Although I am that, too, of course.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hiking in Bellingham

The top
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
On my way back from ASHE, I stopped in Bellingham and then Seattle before flying home. I saw friends in both cities (and my apologies to those of you I didn't have time to see - my visits were brief). While in Bellingham, I did a brief hike with my friend up Mt. Galbraith. This hill, which is privately owned but open to the public, is honeycombed with trails and heavily used by mountain bikers and trail runners. Yes, we saw a lot of runners, but only one other guy hiking, unless you count the trail maintenance crew* working near the trailhead, because it is definitely unsafe to run with mcleods. The trail is also open to unleashed dogs, which we saw several of, and horses, which we did not see any of. All users seem to get along quite well.

The trail itself - we hiked the Ridge Trail - is moderate, and there's a nice view from the top, pictured here.

* Thank you trail volunteers!

All a-twitter

If you wish, you can follow me on Twitter.

Monday, November 9, 2009

To the point

What is wrong with this paragraph (from Slate, of all places)?

"To be fair, he does regularly bear witness to cultural rarities, including Santeria rites in Cuba, and he does savor such dishes as a Korean fish snack with the texture of "a Q-tip covered in Vaseline." To be sure, more truthful titles—Rather Interesting Places? Nice Things to Eat?—wouldn't really fly. To be clear, many a travel show deals in extremes, excesses, and superlatives. To wit, Man v. Food seeks to prove that a gastronomist can never have too much of a good thing, however much his body might object to the notion."

A little too-too, perhaps?

ASHE part II

Thanks, Inside Higher Ed, for covering this session. I really wanted to attend it but had to be somewhere else. Now I know what I missed!

On the final day of ASHE, I went to quite a few different sessions, which varied widely in quality. One poor graduate student was incredibly nervous; she read too fast for me to follow her, without pauses (and yes, read, not spoke). I still have no idea what she did or what she found. I also went to the grad student luncheon (free book! thanks publishers). And I talked briefly to a couple of folks on search committees.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

ASHE 2009

Another ASHE conference is coming to a close. This year has been unusual for the number of very good sessions I have attended. Perhaps that is because I am learning to choose sessions based on who is presenting, not just what I'm interested in. I've also been to several symposium and panel sessions, which tend to be more lively than traditional papers. Some of the highlights have included:
  1. "The (Sometimes Uneasy) Relationship between Higher Education Researchers and the Media" - Editors from the Chronicle and IHE and several big-name researchers discussed how news outlets discuss what to cover and how to get your name out there as an expert.
  2. "Developing New Theories of Higher Education as an Organization" - Michael Bastedo gave a good presentation, but Jason Lane's talk on principal-agent theory as applied to boards was very helpful for my own work.
  3. "The Utility and Challenges of Critical Race Theory and Critical White Studies" - totally outside of my area, but I think it's a good idea to go to a few topics you don't typically study at a conference. This was a really great session, and I'm not just saying that because someone dropped an F-bomb.

I was also excited to see that this year's dissertation of the year winner was Gen Shaker, a fellow Center on Philanthropy grad. One thing I love about ASHE is catching up with my colleagues that I see only once or twice a year - it's extra nice when they win awards!

There are still a few events left today, and then I head down to Bellingham.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More links

Yes, I realize that as of late this blog has become a rather quiet, almost formulaic place: Linkdumps, hiking reports, and job announcements, the first two once a week and the last as needed.

How to trap a dork..

Data is hard.

From the "Needs more brass goggles!" department.

Physics! With puppets!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


University of North Dakota: Open-rank position in higher education.

Azusa Pacific University: Open-rank position in higher education.

The Ohio State University: Assistant/associate professor in higher education and student affairs.

University of Utah: Assistant/associate professor in higher education (two positions).

(Note: I can't find online listings for the last two yet. Will update when I do.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Building bridges

Our bridge is done
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I spent the weekend helping build log bridges on the Cumberland Trail. This photo is of the bridge we completed.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Florida State University: Assistant/Associate Professor in Higher Education. You may recall that last year FSU had a job opening that was frozen; this suggests things are looking up.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Quite possibly the best quote I've read in class so far this semester: "This highly stylized example [the invention of the grenade harpoon] is of course chosen to honor the conference site of Tjøme, not because I have any knowledge of whaling, my entire contact with which consists of having eaten whale steak about thirty-five years ago at a Norwegian restaurant whose name I cannot recall but which was located in an alley between Boylston and Eliot Streets in Boston, right between the old Trailways bus station." (Time Matters by Andrew Abbott)

Thursday, October 8, 2009


When people hear I have dialup, they often looked shocked. Well, at least for me it is a financial choice. Some urban areas have been “redlined” by Internet service providers that don’t see a financial payoff to wiring poorer communities.

Great tweets of science.

How far can you get from a McDonald's? (Via Houck.)

How to introduce yourself in graduate school.

An interview with the guy who rescued the WPA NPS posters and is creating more. (Via Historiann.)

Remember a while ago I linked to a story about an author whose book about a black character ended up with a cover of a white girl? The publisher has replaced the cover.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tsali weekend

Our Tsali cabin
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
Last weekend, I stayed at a log "cabin" at Tsali, North Carolina. There were seven of us in our cabin, and we had a great time. Last year, we spent most of our time hiking. This time we were lazier - and we were aided by the rainy weather. So we spent our time reading, eating bacon, playing games, watching television, and cooking. We also went down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, which was having its annual Guest Appreciation Festival.

And we did a little bit of hiking, too.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Major choices

William Chace laments the decline in the "number" of students studying the humanities in this article, then goes on to diagnose why he believes it occurred. I disagree with him in a lot of places (although not all - he does recognize that the rise of the humanities was a 20th-century trend rather than the state of affairs since time immemorial). Most importantly, the "trend" he analyzes isn't a trend at all.

Let's begin with the statistics he leads with. He reports the percentage of students in various majors, but reasons, "The number of young men and women majoring in English has dropped dramatically" (emphasis added). That's only true if the overall number of students remained the same - but it hasn't.

You can look up enrollment statistics in the Digest of Educational Statistics. The total fall enrollment in degree-granting institutions for 2007 was 18,248,128. In 1967, it was 6,911,748. In other words, the number of students tripled.

If, according to his statistics (he doesn't cite the source), 7.6 percent of students were English majors 40 years ago, that equals 269,558 English majors. If today 3.9 percent of students are English majors, that's 711,677 English majors - a net increase of 442,119. These numbers, by the way, are for all students, including those in two-year institutions, which tend to be more vocationally focused. If we limit it to four-year colleges, the numbers are 5,398,986 for 1967 and 11,630,198 for 2007. That's 210,560 English majors growing to 453,578 in forty years. To be perfectly clear: The number of English majors at four-year institutions has more than doubled. The percentages in the other humanities disciplines he cites tell similar stories. Foreign languages and literature grew by 16,218; philosophy and religion by 32,831; history by 245,619.

Now if one wishes to lament that this probably means a decline in the relative power or growth of English departments, one would have a fair argument. But this is not the argument Chace makes.

Am I being picky? Maybe. But I expect an English professor to understand the importance of word choice.

The increase in enrollment also points out another major factor in the changing rate of majoring in humanities - the link between socio-economic status and major choice. Most of the increase in enrollment comes from students of lower SES whose parents didn't attend college. Davies and Guppy found in one of the first relevant studies a decade ago that "working-class students who have reached college are more likely to view their undergraduate education instrumentally as a route to upward mobility, and are more likely to enroll in lucrative fields that are of a relatively technical nature, such as engineering or business." Most of Chace's arguments are about English departments themselves; any major trend is due to seeing overworked, underpaid TAs and being turned off by the latest trends in scholarship. But major choice is in many ways more about the student and about socially stratified perceptions of what is an appropriate major than about the lived reality of the discipline.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Health care branding

As a grad student, my health insurance provider is Gallagher Koster. That's what the printed materials and the website say, anyway. My card says UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company, with further logos from Signature Health Alliance, Beech Street, and Medco. Payment notices in the mail come from Klais & Co.

Now Gallagher Koster announces we can get dental insurance through United HealthCare Dental. When you go to their website to look up providers, you have to choose a plan name, and none of them (as far as I can tell) are mine. At least, I've ruled out the ones that have "Arizona" and "Dallas" in their names.

You know, in most businesses, brand recognition is considered a highly desirable thing. How else will the customer know to request Acme products? I guess in businesses where your customers hate you, they want to make sure they don't know your name.


University of San Francisco: Assistant/Associate Professor, Organization and Leadership.

Document Analysis: New England’s First Fruits

I don't usually post my homework on here, but we recently had to analyze documents for my historical sociology course, and I thought my assignment might be of interest to the two people reading this who do philanthropy.

New England’s First Fruits; In Respect, First of the Conversion of some, Conviction of divers, Preparation of sundry, 2.Of the progresse of Learning, in the Colledge at Cambridge in Massacusets Bay, With Divers other speciall Matters concerning that Countrey is a pamphlet published in 1643 for use by fundraising agents who were attempting to raise funds for various causes in the Massachusetts Bay colony.(1) While it states that it was composed by “New-England Men who are here present, and were eye or eare-witnesses of the same,”(2) the precise authorship is unknown; it has been included with the papers of John Eliot, a colonist active in attempting to convert Bay area Indians to Christianity (Clark, 2003). It was printed in London at the request of Hugh Peter and Thomas Weld after their first year in London was not entirely remunerative (Kellaway, 1961). In modern terms, this document served as a piece of public relations.

The document is divided into three sections. The first, “In respect of the Indians, &c,” tells of missionary work to the Indians, their thirst for the Gospel, and of the extension of this work that would be possible with further funding. The second, “In respect of the Colledge, and the proceedings of Learning therein,” covers the establishment and early financial gifts to Harvard College as well as the current state of the college, including its rules and curriculum (the latter in Latin). The third section, which is not divided from the second by any heading or preamble, purports to give facts about life in New England and answers critical questions, with an eye toward proving the wholesomeness of the place and dispelling stories about poor soil, cold weather, weakness of colonial character, out-migration, and the likelihood of wanting clothes from England in the future. The rest of this analysis focuses on the second portion, which is regularly cited as the first example of fundraising for higher education in the United States. For example, according to one fundraising expert, “The first recorded instance of fundraising in the colonies was in 1643, when Harvard College conducted the first fundraising drive” (Lindahl, 2010, p. 73). Another more precise statement of its import as a bracket is an encyclopedia entry indicating that “the first systematic fund-raising appeal to raise money for an American institution was probably that for Harvard College” (Burlingame, 2004).

Given that the pamphlet was produced as a public relations product for fundraisers, certain biases are to be expected and were most likely not unconscious. Fundraisers then as now walked the line between presenting the object of philanthropy as a healthy, going concern worthy of funds, and as a struggling entity that that requires aid. Thus we read that “the Edifice is very fair and comely within and without” and the president is “a learned conscionable and industrious man.” In fact, what work is left for further donors is never explicitly stated. Perhaps this is the reason it “made little impression upon potential benefactors” (Kellaway, 1961, p. 10), or perhaps the style of the time was to leave “the ask” up to the fundraising agents. Other biases are due less to the stylistic conventions of the genre than to beliefs held in common by the English and their colonists. The Indians are represented as sincerely desiring to convert to Christianity (and as doing so out of a desire for salvation); Christianity is assumed to require English customs, including attire; the colonial seizure of North America is claimed to be “free and faire” rather than “with violence and intrusion.” While no instrument yet devised allows us to see with certainty the desires of the deceased, contemporaneous documents such as diaries, letters, and government and church records may tell us to what extent Indians embraced English ways and establish the degree of violence in this instance of colonization. Still, the preponderance of these documents originate with the colonists, and therefore tell only one side of the story. Similarly, the college is represented as a flourishing enterprise in First Fruits, while in fact operations had been temporarily suspended due to a lack of funds. Knowing this, even the segments that detail the college’s rules and the questions put to candidates for degrees are likely to represent ideals rather than actual practice. Students did likely study the trivium and ethics; it is less likely that all graduates lived lives as godly as the rules hope. Omitted altogether are the number of students at the grammar school and the college, how many were dismissed or left of their own accord, any details on tutors beyond President Dunster – any information that might suggest Harvard was less than flourishing. There are, again, plenty of other records that may contradict this image, such as record of the Overseers, diaries and letters, records of legislative support, and Cambridge village records. The pamphlet, then, is best used by scholars as an example of public relations than as evidence of Indian-colonist relations or the state of Harvard College in 1643.

(1)This analysis is based upon two copies available through the Vanderbilt Library; one is a poor quality facsimile of the original available online, and the other is a reprint, retaining the original font and text ornaments but with new pagination.
(2)It is unclear, however, whether “the same” they were witnesses to was the conversion, etc. of the Indians, the progress of learning, and the diverse other special matters, or whether it was “the instant request of sundry Friends, who desire to be satisfied in these points.”

Photography of photography

Getting down
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I took this photo a little over a week ago at the end of a hike on the Wilderness Trail. My hike co-leader is preparing to take an "after" group photo.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Central Michigan University Tenure-track position. This is the first time I've seen a job that was open to someone in K-12 OR higher ed.

Monday, September 14, 2009


William & Mary: Assistant Professor in Higher Education.

Vanderbilt University: Three jobs, including one at the associate/full level in higher education. (People ask me, why don't you stay in Nashville after graduation? Because Vandy is the only game in town. Even if they hired their own (they don't), I can now point to this ad - the only hiring they'll do this year is not for an assistant professor.)

Friday, September 11, 2009


"A realistic plan and time line for a survival homestead."

Kind of cool, but wow - who among us has the skills needed to live this far off the grid? What I find depressing about this site is that each homestead is expected to be an entirely self-sustaining unit - a natural assumption, I suppose, for survivalists, but contrary to any human culture. This isn't just growing your own food and building your own house; if you want honey, you have to have your own bees, and I'm not sure where they expect to get clothes from once the world's stock of used clothing is gone, because then you have to have cotton or sheep, and spin and weave ... I'm getting tired just thinking about it. Frankly, even in primitive societies without division of labor, there is some specialization. One beekeeper for a few homesteads should suffice - I'm willing, by the way, to let you be the beekeeper. (The comments on this article quickly go into wackiness, so I can't really recommend reading that far.)

You may have seen one of a couple of articles lately on Braddock, Pennsylvania, a Rust Belt down that was on a death spiral until a new mayor came in with his own vision for renewal. The town still has a long way to go, mind you. website shows off photography in all its glorious squalor and decay.

Really cool houses built (almost?) entirely out of recycled materials. Be sure to check out the slideshow.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


With the job market gearing up again, I've been thinking about the recent graduates in my field and what they've chosen to do. In no particular order, my compadres include:
  • a researcher at a think tank in DC
  • an administrator in a higher ed advocacy group
  • institutional researchers (two)
  • a professor, not of higher ed, at a community college
  • professors, of higher ed, at flagship state schools (two)
  • an administrator for a denomination's higher ed board
  • a state higher ed coordinating board researcher

The thing is, as far as I know only one of the folks who is not a higher education professor even considered applying for faculty jobs. It's not that they wouldn't have been competitive, either. A few more interesting data points: All of the faculty members are single and childless. A couple of the women only considered jobs in their spouse's city of employment. Several women were adamant about wanting "a normal family life" or "a job that gets left at the office."

The thing is, in education there are a lot of other possible careers other than "professor." It's not like a PhD in philosophy. Still, I've been surprised by how many bright, promising graduate students are not considering or seriously pursuing the faculty role.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


University of Houston: Assistant/Associate Professor - Educational Psychology. For those of you not in the field, it's unusual for a higher education job to be in a department called educational psychology. Usually, it would be in an educational policy and leadership department, or maybe adult and lifelong learning, or occasionally at a center for higher education. Despite this nomenclature, the opening has little to do with psychology.

Job search supply and demand

Interesting article on hiring in political science. Lots of what is covered is similar to education. What struck me, though, was this:

Several chimed in to say that they agreed that it would be far more humane to such individuals to be honest after two years, rather than letting them face a long time in graduate school to be followed by potentially fruitless job searches. Graham Wilson of Boston University said that most programs have "moved away from the tough evaluation" after the second year of a doctoral program and that they should return to a frank discussion of potential at that point.

When I was applying to PhD programs, there were two programs I was most serious about. One is the kind of program they are discussing above. Recent graduates made it clear that they brought in more students than they intended to graduate and then sorted after arrival. The other is the program I am in now, which intends to graduate everyone it admits. It doesn't always work; students still choose to leave - or are counseled to leave, particularly after comprehensive exams. Still, I think the overall numbers would show a difference in attrition.

It surprises me, then, that the third option of being more selective up front wasn't discussed as an alternative. Do admissions committees just not think they have enough data to make valid predictions about success? Do they count on a minimum number of students (or TAs) for some reason?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Rock Island State Park

In the gorge
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
Oops! I thought I had posted this, but I didn't.

Last weekend we camped out at Rock Island State Park - the one in Tennessee, not the one in Illinois. The camping spots are nothing special, and there aren't any long hikes. (The longest one is Collins River Trail, which is three miles and not especially interesting.) However, it makes up for that in beauty.

This photo is from the Caney Fork Gorge trail. You start at the Twin Falls Overlook and take stairs down to the gorge. This photo was taken near the base of the stairs. From there, you head downstream in the river, hopping rocks and occasionally getting wet, until you get to the big waterfalls. At the falls you can swim and generally frolic. After the fact, someone told me there were a lot of snakes in the water, but we didn't notice any.

We also hiked the Eagle Trail, a short hike I've done before. It goes through attractive woods to end up at Blue Hole along the river. There are a lot of other things to do - boating, tennis, ping-pong, horseshoes - we went swimming on the swim beach, and a couple of friends took their kayaks out.

The park proved to be the perfect place to relax for the weekend. If I wanted to do hardcore hiking, there are other places I'd recommend over it - Frozen Head would head up the list - but Rock Island is nice for relaxing or keeping a family with diverse interests happy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The job season has now begun

University of Missouri: Assistant, associate, or full professor with expertise in higher education leadership and/or policy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


This will have a negative impact on the affection you feel for To Kill a Mockingbird.

How UT Austin hired more senior women professors. The trouble I have with this article is that it takes an institutional viewpoint - how college X can have more female faculty, even if it means hiring them from Y and Z.. Overall, the system is not improved, because it's a zero-sum game when it comes to hiring people who are already tenured. UT may now find it easier to hire female junior faculty; the places they hired from will find it harder. (At the very end it addresses finding senior hires at national laboratories and the like, which would make it not a zero-sum game. But this only is possible in a very small number of disciplines. In the humanities, for example, almost the only place to get senior scholars is from other colleges.)

How to feel guilty about what you eat.

Economists find that increased competitive pressure to get into elite colleges leads to more gaming the system, not harder work.

Finally, some humor: student bloopers.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Higher education hiring

A report on hiring in higher education is available here. While it is ostensibly about the second quarter of 2009, it covers long-term trends as well.

One thing to note is that it focuses on job postings rather than actual hires; last year, quite a few jobs were posted and never filled due to budget cuts or hiring freezes.

By the way, the job season hasn't quite geared up yet. I've seen two job postings in higher ed, neither of which I'm qualified for - one for a dean and the other for someone researching community colleges.

Edited to add: Actually, there are two community college positions, at Morgan State and at Old Dominion.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When book covers go wrong

I have always gotten annoyed when the people on the covers of books didn't accurately represent the characters within. I used to wonder why authors allowed that, until I learned that they have almost no say in book covers. (I link to Jenny Crusie because I learned this through her blog, although plenty of other writers discuss this as well.) Still, I mostly thought of the inaccuracies as random, not having an overall pattern. Well, I should have known better.

For example, I recently finished Samuel Delany's Neveryona. I had stared at the cover for a while and noticed the following:
1) The man is "gigantic," but the artist depicts him as similar in height to the heroine.
2) He is wearing the wrong number of belts.
3) He's not Mr. Hygiene, but the cover has him depilated and oiled up like a Chippendale.
4) The heroine has bushy hair, but it is shown as just slightly curly.
5) She looks vaguely Italian, but she is half black and half ... well, we don't know what the predominate race is, but it explicitly neither black nor blond-white.

The wrong number of belts surely was random, but the decision to render a biracial woman as white surely wasn't, especially in the predominately white world of sci-fi. A few days later, I saw this blog post by an author about her book where the black protagonist is shown as white on the cover, which jarred me out of my naivete (ok, my white privilege). In the case of her novel, the cover has misled readers about the identity of the narrator because she is an unreliable narrator - but she isn't wrong about her race. In the Delany case, by contrast, the reader has no cause to doubt the narrator, general postmoderism aside. But both covers represent a systemic tendency to "whitewash" covers; try finding a book with a white protagonist depicted as black.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Weekend amusements

The wheel
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
On Friday, I went to a going-away party for a fellow student who is taking a faculty job in Hong Kong. Then on Saturday we went to Six Flags in Louisville to do the water park. Finally, on Sunday we did a hike at Land Between the Lakes. The hike, which I led, was something of a disappointment. It wasn't especially beautiful, and there were seed ticks everywhere. Normally, they don't come after me, but I probably had a hundred of them on my pants. Yuck!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Shout out to Chacos

I had wanted a pair of Chacos for several years. I have two pairs of their flip-flops already, but I wanted real outdoors sandals. So back in the winter I had finally bought a pair because I found them on deep discount. Once I figured out how to adjust the straps, they were very comfortable, but I didn't wear them much - it being winter. Come summer, I'd wear them to a hike, but not while doing anything strenuous.

Then I wore them around camp on a trip to Frozen Head. I discovered that the toe strap on my right foot would slowly tighten up as I walked. Every half mile or so I'd have to take it off and loosen the strap. This was clearly not going to work.

I sent Chaco an email explaining my problem. They immediately got back to me, saying that this was a problem for some people. Either the straps were too slick, or it was the way that I walked. In any case, if I would send them back, they would send me a new pair - a different model if I preferred. So, I sent them back and requested a similar pair without the toe strap. A few days ago they arrived. There was no charge, even though I'd had the sandals for a while, nor did I have to go through any rigamarole about showing receipts or proof that my toe was slowly having its blood supply cut off. And all communication was online - no waiting on hold while Muzak played.

So buy Chacos. They have good customer service.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Wet t-shirts
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
A few of us from school went to Dollywood on Wednesday. We had a good time, and the weather was perfect. Here we are after one of the water rides. This particular ride is something of a gamble, as some people stay almost entirely dry, while others got drenched. You can see which category we fell into.

Friday, August 7, 2009


These have been accumulating at an alarming rate.

What Americans really ate in the 1950s.

You might think that "how to ride the bus" is obvious and does not need to be a training video. But I was actually surprised by how much content was left out. Does the bus automatically stop at each stop, or do you have to pull a bell? If you're using a company ID of some kind, do you just show the driver? Swipe it somewhere? Etc.

Nifty article on park symbols - based on the generic man and woman seen on restroom doors and pedestrian crossing signs.

Review articles purporting to show the benefits of hormone replacement were surreptitiously paid for by drug companies.

The fall and rise of the good cocktail. Look, I appreciate quality drinks. (Ever order a drink at The Spaghetti Factory? Their concoctions are even worse than their food.) I applaud rescuing obscure liquors and taking a gastronomic approach. And yet ... at the end, this plea for fine drinks wants you believe that the pleasure of a cocktail is more than just taste buds and inebriation, and that's just self-delusion. I've seen similar paeans to the British Pub and to good wine, and they all go on about how this particular form of alcohol is not just the slightly elevated sensation that the alcohol provides but is actually a more sophisticated sort of pleasure. I'm not opposed to moderate drinking, as I do it myself, but the "pleasure" that alcohol provides is not some mystical secret that inheres in a particular kind of drink. It's a drug. Period.

I had one more link, but my commentary got so long I think I'd best save it for a full post.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Shrinking engineers

An interesting study has found that, contrary to popular opinion, engineering programs don't have particularly attrition rates. (By attrition, in this case I mean switching to another major rather than leaving school altogether.) But colleges still graduate fewer engineers than they start with, because vanishingly few students switch into engineering from another major.

The comments to the article I link to suggest several reasons this is the case, some more plausible than others. One suggestion is that engineers come in with a stronger sense of what they want to do. It's possible, although I know of no data to evaluate this with. Another is that engineering culture is full of loud-mouth, drunken, conformist asshats. Again, I don't think there is data readily available on this point, although in my undergraduate experience engineers tended to be nerdy and while often conservative, hardly louder or drunker than anyone else - in fact they were more often teetotalers or antisocial.

The obvious reason, and one we can test with data, is that degree requirements are much more specific in engineering programs than in most other fields, and switching to engineering after even a semester would likely delay graduation. The next step for an alert graduate student would be to start examining course catalogs, then to perhaps move on to gathering data on what courses entering students actually take.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tracking my happiness

I've been doing the Track Your Happiness project. This is actually a Harvard study you can sign up for, and as an incentive to participate you get to see your individual data. They send texts three times a day to your iPhone, and you report how happy you were just before the text and answer a few other questions. After you fill out enough, you get a summary report. You get six months off, and then you're "it" again.

The results are somewhat interesting. For example, there seems to be no relationship between my happiness level and the day of the week, my degree of focus (that's the chart you see here), or my sleep quality. I am happier when I am outside than inside, and when I am with others instead of alone - but I'm happiest with just one other person.

It is not surprising that I am happiest when I am doing things I want to but don't have to and less happy when doing things I don't want to and don't have to. (Note to self: Why was I doing them?) Nor is it surprising that I am happier with my friends than with acquaintances.

The amount of sleep I get seems to increase my happiness until I get to six hours, and then it drops off. I suspect this is because I only get a lot of sleep when my period is approaching and I have cramps, which obviously are not a thing that leads to happiness. I can't sleep that much if I try the rest of the time.

They also track your location and what you are doing in relation to happiness, but many of these happen infrequently enough that I can't conclude anything. Most of the activities are pretty bunched together, with the result that housework and eating have the same happiness score. Of frequent activities, working and exercise result in the highest happiness scores of anything that occurred many times.

One challenge I have found is that I am often out of cell phone range. For example, when my sister and I were in the Redwoods, I was out of range for three days. You're supposed to respond late rather than never, but after three days I had no idea how exactly I'd felt at, say, 11:39 a.m.! The only reason I am out of range for that long is because I am out somewhere in nature, so there's no measure of how happy I am when camping, for example.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Oryx and Crake

I recently finished Margaret Atwood's Oryx & Crake. I had found A Handmaid's Tale interesting but didn't care for Cat's Eye. However, I'd heard a lot of good things about O&C, and then I found it in hardback for 25¢ at a garage sale. Ultimately, I was disappointed.


The book centers around the friendship between the narrator and his friend Crake. Their friendship felt like a retread to me. Imagine, if you will, two boys growing up together. One, the narrator, is easily led by his friend. The friend is a genius, or at least has a strong sense of his own destiny. The narrator feels dumb by comparison, not only to his friend but to his privileged milieu, but he isn't stupid, and he is at least verbally skilled. (This makes it much easier for him to narrate cogently later on.) However, he's cast/casts himself in the sidekick role. They may compete for the love of a woman. Eventually, after the friend does great and/or terrible things and is dead, the narrator is left to carry on, bereft. Sound familiar? This territory was already explored brilliantly in A Prayer for Owen Meany - as well as a lot of other works. ("Burning Chrome" by William Gibson comes to mind, although it doesn't map across all the details.) There's nothing wrong with this trope, but it results in a lot less originality than I'd expected.

My other issue comes in at the very end, and this is where I have a real spoiler: The book has a non-ending. The narrator finds out other people are alive and could be a threat to the creations of Crake. As we leave him, he is trying to decide whether to kill them or what.

The first time I read that kind of ending, back in middle school, I thought it was pretty clever. By now, I've lost my tolerance. While a writer doesn't have to wrap everything up in a bow, this kind of ending suggests to me that the writer doesn't know how to end it - particularly if it comes after a traditional narrative structure. (If the author has been telling a story in a very different way from the get-go, like in Robert Bolaño's 2666, you're not set up to expect a classic denouement.) I got to the end and thought, really? I would have bet you a pony halfway through through that the narrator would find other humans, so his discovery wasn't much of a surprise. And I don't even have a pony. For that matter, it was evident early on that Oryx, the narrator's lover, was a point of contention between the two men. This isn't a work of great subtlety.

I can't really recommend it, unless you're a big Atwood fan - but then you've already read it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Boards of trust in the news

This article on the recent AGB survey about trustees makes some good points, but I can't agree with them all.

The first major point is that AGB did not survey trustees but instead senior administrators. There is nothing wrong, I think, with surveying those who work with trustees - I have been using data from a survey of fundraisers myself - but it should not be our only or even primary source of information about trustees. There are two reasons for this. First, there are facts we can only get at by surveying trustees themselves ("How much time did you spend last year in your role as a trustee?"). Second, there are questions of opinion and subjective questions that administrators and trustees might have very different outlooks on. These would include, "Is the president doing a good job?" and "How hard is it to recruit new board members?"

However, the author then objects to the finding that board members spend over half their time listening to staff. This strikes me as an inevitability. Board members must know what's going on at their institutions. As part-time volunteers, it's impossible for them to know as much as full-time employees (who, with the exception of the president, specialize in one particular aspect of the institution). If we want them to spend 40 or more hours a week in their trustee role, we have to pay them - at which point they are employees instead of trustees, and they are no longer on the same side of the agency problem. Now, perhaps trustees ought to be able to go to administrators and and ask questions rather than be served pre-digested information, but it's nearly impossible to eliminate their dependence of "information supplied by the institution." What other source is possible?

Next, the author chastises keeping boards in the dark. Fair point. Of course, board members themselves ought to share some responsibility for letting themselves be kept in the dark. If only 64% of private boards tell the full board (rather than, presumably, the compensation committee) the president's compensation, are the board members asking?

Finally, the last couple of paragraphs excoriate the state of American higher education in general. The implication is that nothing short of dramatically changing trusteeship will fix it, but since the charges include so many things and no specific solutions are suggested, I'll leave it alone.

But the last two sentences are worth noting: "The rising cost and declining quality that we see today in higher ed result, too often, from the belief that administrators are the real governance structure and that trustees exist to serve the institution first and the public interest second. It is time for trustees to wake up to this mindset and reassert their central governing role." I feel like something is missing as it is formulated - it's a simple fact that administrators ARE the real governance structure. What I think is being objected to is the notion that they OUGHT to be. As far as to what trustees serve, researchers, academics, and board members themselves have come to no agreement on that - on the rare occasions they think about it. And as far as I know, no one has done a survey of that yet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Visiting Crater Lake

Crater Lake
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
On my last day in Southern Oregon, we drove up to Crater Lake and around the Rim Drive. It was a beautiful day and less windy than usual up top. The only hitch was when we stopped for lunch and managed to find the only mosquitoes in the whole park. None of us had bugspray on, and even I was having my blood sucked away.

I had been there once before, not long after we moved to Oregon, which was more than half my life ago. I need to get back up there to do some hiking.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Boy Scout Tree Trail

Boy Scout Tree
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
On our final day, we drove north to Jedediah Smith State Park and did a scenic drive-though and hike. Howland Hill Road is a gravel road but well worth doing to see some magnificent trees. While there, we hiked the 2.8-mile (one-way) Boy Scout Tree Trail hike. The photo is of me in front of said tree. The tree splits higher up, so it can be fancied to resemble the Boy Scout hand sign. The park is very beautiful, not only with redwoods but with the scenic Smith River.

While hiking, we narrowly missed seeing a bear. We were on our way out when we ran into two park employees who had been hiking faster than us, chatting with some German visitors who were coming from the other direction. They had come upon a black bear in the trail at the same time, who had then ambled off. The ranger said she had never seen a bear in the park before, although of course she know they are around.

Coast and Redwoods

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
On the second day of our trip, we did a lot of things. We went briefly to Tolowa Dunes, toured the Battery Point lighthouse, and walked the Trillium Falls trail. This photo was taken at the aquarium, which we did not go into.

If you want to visit the Dunes, do NOT go unprepared. There is no information available at the park entrances. We showed up to trailheads to find no information as to how long trails were or where they went. The Lighthouse is well worth seeing, but it's only open during low tide, so plan ahead.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Del Norte coast

Coastal vegetation
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I'm currently in Oregon with the family for about a week. But the day after I arrived, my sister and I headed down to the redwoods and the coast of California. We spent three days and two nights in the area, staying at a very nice HI hostel in the park.

On the first day we went to Crescent Beach and tried to walk the northernmost portion of the Coastal Trail, but it didn't actually follow the coast and was rutted and grassy. Then we did the Coastal Drive, which probably has lovely ocean views when it isn't foggy. It was foggy, though. We finally ended up doing the one-mile Yurok Loop Trail, where this photo was taken. The vegetation was a solid wall of thickets, and I can't imagine how unfun it must have been to create the trail.

It felt wonderful to be hiking in the summer and not be sweltering; the high was in the low 60s. I then found out that the temperatures back in Nashville had dropped to an unseasonable low if 70-something. Naturally, the forecast calls for them to rise when I get back.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Smokies trip, part II

Natural wonders
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
On the second day of our trip we dawdled over breakfast, trying to figure out what to do. I was advocating for something under 10 miles, but there was some enthusiasm for a harder hike, so we decided to hike up to Mount LeConte and back. We were going to head up the Boundary Trail and back down the Alum Cave trail, which meant setting up a car shuttle.

We didn't get started until practically lunchtime. The trail starts at Newfound Gap and follows the Appalachian Trail for a ways. Most of that is uphill. From there you get on the Boundary Trail, and my hiking book mentioned a short descent followed by a "gentle ascent."

The short descent lost us half of the elevation we'd gained, and the "gentle" ascent was not at all gentle. We were in a hurry, too, worried about getting done before dark. Finally we all got to the top, and I have to admit I was looking at the Lodge at the top with some degree of jealousy. Hot dinner, warm beds, and wine? Yes, thank you!

But we had to hike down. Uncle Minion and I ran ahead so we could get down and shuttle the cars back. This photo is taken near the beginning of the descent. The Alum Cave Trail is direct, with no up-and-down fooling around, although it does descent to a lower point. We did the 5 miles down in one hour and 50 minutes.

The final day of the trip we had planned to go tubing, although my car opted out and just drove back to Nashville.

Smokies trip, part I

Guess what, hills
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I apologize for being remiss in posting the last two weeks, but I've been in and out of town and in and out of internet contact. I first went out of town for a weekend trip to Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Most of us drove up Friday morning. After setting up camp at Elkmont, we hiked up to the Chimney Tops. It's a steep hike, but the real challenge comes at the end when you have to scramble up rocks to get to the peak. I thought that was the most fun part. The view from the top, shown here, was spectacular. We thought there would be nice sunsets from up the top, but no one wanted to climb down in the dark.

(There used to be an alternate route up, more of a real trail, but the Park has closed it off.)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Links for your reading pleasure

How language shapes the way we think.

The annual Bulwer-Lytton "worst opening sentence" results are in. My favorite: "Towards the dragon's lair the fellowship marched -- a noble human prince, a fair elf, a surly dwarf, and a disheveled copyright attorney who was frantically trying to find a way to differentiate this story from 'Lord of the Rings.'"

A study has found that "those with broad family ties to their alma mater tend to be the most generous to it." The authors of this study have done some good work mining a set of data from an unnamed elite university - this is just one of a series - but it's a sign of where the study of fundraising stands that a single-site quantitative study can get this much press. This isn't a slam on the authors at all; it was a big coup to get their hands on the data, and they do good analysis. It just goes to show how little really little solid work we have in this field, though, that it is newsworthy.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Frozen Head

Park road
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
A few of us spent the weekend at Frozen Head State Park. We camped out in our favorite group site, hiked a little, and mostly relaxed. Actually, the only hiking we did was Saturday, when we hiked the moderate Old South Mac Trail to the top of Frozen Head. We might have hiked Sunday if it hadn't rained Saturday night. (Somehow, my $29 tent was the only one that didn't leak.)

It was a relaxing way to spend the weekend of the Fourth. We didn't see any fireworks, but apparently Nashville canceled its display anyway due to a rainstorm.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Golf gear

Stylish golf hat
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
So, lately I've been taking golf lessons. (From the reactions I'm getting, you would think I'm taking classes in puppy kicking.) As a broke student, however, golf clubs are not in my budget. A friend of mine mentioned she had an old set moldering in her shed that she would gladly dump on me, and naturally I took her up on the offer.

The bag had an intractable odor, and the mint-green vinyl was cracked, so into the trash it went. Three old woods - actually made of wood - belonged in an antiqueshop. The other clubs I took in to the golf pro who is teaching us, and she said they would be usable for now; I just needed to buy a putter.

But the real prize was this snazzy hat I found in a pocket of the bag. With this, no one will have to wonder what sport I'm playing.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Odds and ends

Yesterday afternoon went up in smoke. I went out at lunchtime to do errands, and the guy at the Costco gas station pointed out I had a nail in a tire. Since my tires are from Costco, I pulled around to the tire shop, where they said I had nails in both of my rear tires. They fixed one for free, but Costco claims they can't get the rims off of my passenger-side tires (a legacy of the inept dealership back in Indy), so I had to head across town to the Kia dealership. They charged, but it was only $18 - the bigger problem was the time that evaporated out of my day.

In the evening I took a gamble and machine-washed my daypack. I still haven't bought a new one yet, due to lack of funds, and my old one smelled pretty funky. I figured that there wasn't much to ruin if it didn't work out. (Packs aren't supposed to be washed.) I stopped short of machine-drying it, though. It came out just fine - and it smells much better.

The good news is, I do have work lined up for July, so I'll be financially sound this summer.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Hiking across SCRA

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
Yesterday was my birthday, and to celebrate I organized a hike across the three gulfs that make up the South Cumberland Recreation Area. It's a 14.1-mile hike with trailheads that are a one-hour drive apart, so we ran this hike as a key swap. Our group started at Stone Door, hiked across the Connector Trail past Collins Gulf, down the South Rim Trail to Savage Gulf. The other group reversed this route. In the middle of the hike, the our groups met and swapped car keys.

It's a beautiful area, so the scenery was lovely, but the weather was brutal - about 90 with 90% humidity. A couple of hikers had the brilliant idea to bring a couple of watermelons on ice for after. This photo is of our group enjoying a post-hike treat.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Chugging along

PPI went off well last week, and now I'm diving back into analyzing gubernatorial election data, revising a manuscript, and chasing down institutions for participation in my dissertation. Right now I'm working at a coffeeshop - yes, I'm kind of broke, but a cup of coffee costs only twice what gas to campus does, and I get much better people-watching. The office has a sad, deserted feel in the summer.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

North Chickamauga hike

Mountain man
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
Yesterday we did a fabulous hike in scorching heat - the high was close to 100 degrees. The hike is pretty, but the real reason to do it is the swimming.

This segment of the Cumberland Trail follows a creek that has several swimming holes along the way. Locals tend to prefer the spots closest to the parking lot. The upside (and downside) of these spots is that anyone can get there. We out-of-towners instead head four miles to Green Hole, which we then have pretty much to ourselves. The water is refreshing, and there is an excellent rope swing. (Note: There is a hornet nest on a tree right at the nexus of the trail and the water. So don't go grabbing or disturbing the tree!) We spent quite a while swinging, floating, and generally frolicking.

This time we weren't quite alone; a local trail runner showed up and we co-opted him. He proved handy later, as we shall see.

After swimming, a small group of us headed .5 miles farther to the Stevenson Branch campsite. It is a very nice campsite, but the trail is really just a series of blazes and not worth hiking to just to hike. It took much longer than one would anticipate. As we went along, we found the smoldering remains of a campfire. Geniuses had tried to burn plastic and then not put their fire out completely. That's sheer laziness; the water was only 25 feet away. Our new friend showed proved his worth by getting water and smothering the remains.

What with the swimming and the extra bit, not to mention post-hike pizza, it was quite a long day. I would suggest, if you do this hike, not going to Stevenson Branch, and instead using that time to hop into one of the local's swimming holes as you near the end of the hike.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Weekend shenanigans

I went out to Percy Warner this morning and hiked the Mossy Ridge Trail, and I could really feel that the last few weeks have been light on hiking. I've been working out but not getting many trail miles in. There are some big hikes coming up, and I not only need to have strong muscles but be acclimated to hiking in the heat. My time for Mossy Ridge was 1 hour, 43 minutes, not great but not bad either.

Today the Peabody Professional Institute for Institutional Advancement Leadership starts, and since I am working this one I'll be busy the next few days. Tonight I have to start by eating barbecue ... tough, I know.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


The best statement I've seen of why "going green" (whether it's "you can save the planet just by switching lightbulbs" or living so greenly that other people despair) as individuals just isn't enough.

Searching for a job: "'Listen,' she said, 'I've never seen anyone in your stage of graduate school who has felt good — physically or mentally. I'm just not sure it's possible for you to be wrapping up your diss, looking for a job, teaching, and feeling calm and healthy.'"

"The postindustrial world is not in fact populated — as gurus like Richard Florida, who has popularized the idea of the 'creative class,' would have it — by 'bizarre mavericks operating at the bohemian fringe.' The truth about most white-collar office work, Crawford argues, is captured better by 'Dilbert' and 'The Office': dull routine more alienating than the machine production denounced by Marx." (Review of a new book.)

Construction is one area where a lot goes to waste. Here's one case where the transaction costs of sharing information were low enough that everyone won.

Tweet: "Women Thru-hikers Increasing on the Appalachian Trail." Really? I'm sure there are some pregnant women on the trail, but enough for a headline? Oh, wait, you mean the number of women is increasing. I know 140 characters is limiting, but the character limit isn't always the problem. "More women thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail," for example, would have actually been shorter.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Jobs roundup

I promised that when my job search was over for the year, I would share some details of the search. That time has come.

First, the most important news is that I will be sticking around Vanderbilt for another year as a student, finishing up my dissertation and getting some articles out.

I applied for 11 positions, which included one postdoc and two strictly assistant positions. The others were either open-rank or assistant/associate. (What that means, for non-academics, is that there is a lot more competition, including luminaries in the field.) Three schools requested more information or interviews of some kind from me. And I received one offer, which I ultimately declined.

Several of the positions weren't offered to me or to anybody else because of state budget cuts. That, combined with the number of open-rank positions, made it a difficult year for someone finishing up. In some ways I'm relieved, because I can use the next year to get a lot done.

Monday, June 1, 2009

SERA 2009

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I'm back from SERA 2009 and I'm tired! We worked hard and had fun.

This photo was supposed to be your standard boring group shot, but a reveler enlivened it considerably. We're all dressed up for the Mardi Crawl parade held Saturday night.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

SERA 2009

I'm heading south today for the SERA Cave Carnival, hosted this year by the Nashville Grotto. It's not too late to come on down and join us! Otherwise, I'll see you next week.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Packing light

When we went backpacking last weekend, my friends said, "Dude, your pack is huge." In fact, it didn't weigh more than my friend Pinky's, but it's a large-capacity pack with a lot of pockets. Even half-empty, it looks like I'm carrying a whole lot.

Even so, I'm carrying a little more weight than I would like, and part of that weight is the pack itself. It's a 5500 cubic inch pack (90 liters) - that's expedition-sized. And it's not light even for it's class at 6 pounds, 14 ounces. Hey, I bought cheap, because I didn't want to spend too much starting out. My tent, sleeping bag, and pad together weigh less than the empty pack. Plus the pack, I start off with 13 pounds, 10 ounces, before I put any other food, water, or gear in.

So the first place to cut weight is the pack. I can easily shave three pounds off by buying a smaller, better-designed pack. Now I just have to shop around and find one I like. (No, I still haven't picked up a new day pack.) I have only a few requirements: External pockets for water bottles. Lid that doubles as a day pack. That's it, aside from requiring that the pack fits and is comfortable. Actually, I could give up on the lid if the pack itself is light enough.

The next improvement would be a lighter sleeping bag, since mine is 3 pounds 12 ounces, but that's not going to come anytime soon. I love my bag and am willing to make the weight tradeoff to carry it.