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.