Meet Your Professors!
All across the United States public college systems have adopted a system of having a tiny minority of full time teachers and an overwhelming majority of part timers (“adjunct” “transient” “contingent” Smell the euphemisms?).
1. We do not receive equal pay for equal work
2. We face teaching caps, limits to how much we CAN work because then we would cross a barrier to a better pay and benefit scale.
3. Many receive no benefits, those who do, lose them if their workload drops from 50% to 49%.
4. We have no job security, quarter to quarter employment is luck and relationships.
5. If we have the bad luck to become unemployed, we receive no unemployment benefits.
Meanwhile of course the college is FULL of administrators, office workers, and support staff all of whom have more security and respect than us. The reason college has become so expensive is that for the last 40 years or so this administrative and office strata has swollen beyond all reason. It simply propagates at the expense of actual teaching and actual teachers. The internal cost cutting has been accomplished entirely at the expense of faculty who have become a legion of temp workers.
And it’s interesting (in an awful way) but there’s a strange class sensibility and “politeness” framing this. They’ll hold “Adjunct Recognition Day” as they did just a few days ago, by order of the Governor no less, where we are offered home baked cookies. If I was to say “Hey these cookies are great but could I have my health insurance back?” Everyone would just look at me like a burped loudly. “Do you have have to bring up such a painful subject?” Always coming from someone whose benefits are unquestioned.
(rediscovered Cribsheet – out of sync)
We’re hitting an especially high tone this time, eh?
Greetings to all and sorry to be out of touch so very long. All our well established patterns were broken up by Isaac’s Mom moving to her friend’s house. So now even simple tasks like taking pictures and getting at the computer are more complicated than they were. Isaac and his Mom are upstairs at P’s house and it’s a sweet little space and a nice home. I come in as usual at 7 in the morning to watch Isaac. We go downstairs to play and run into the problem of P’s sweet very old dog Maggie.
Every morning at 7:26 I step in a puddle of dog pee on a once exquisite Persian carpet. Many days worse things lie in wait. Maggie is sweet natured but half out of her mind. She asks to be let out of the back door to go pee in the yard (well OK, not in so many words) and I let her out and she takes care of business – except that lately she has taken to asking to go outside when she doesn’t need to and then she stands around out there looking sort of confused before barking to be let back in.
Then she forgets that she just asked and asks again – and again – and again – and again – and because I am trying to cut down on profound grossness in the living room I am afraid not to let her out. I spend my mornings being ordered about by a 400 year old dog and a two year old boy.
Maggie’s other quirk is The-Look-Of-Profound-Sadness which she nails me with every time I happen to look her way. When she catches your eye you feel a vertiginous drop toward an infinite horizon of ever deepening despair. It is a look of such woe and sorrow that the complete works of Ingmar Bergman on DVD would help you cheer up afterwards.
We generally head for my house about 8 o’clock for Sesame Street and other vehicles of the gay liberal satanic agenda. One show that Isaac likes that completely baffles me is called “Boobah” a show which makes “Teletubbies” look edgy and concerns itself with six primary colored dancing, flying and apparently farting extraterrestrials who make children dance. When they fly or dance the sound track plays “whoopee cushion” noises so frankly, I don’t know what else to think. Isaac thinks they look like penguins. To my eye they resemble brightly colored penguins as much as they resemble some sort of ambiguous genitalia. They name their characters as they leave their UFO style sleeping quarters to dance and I cover ears and make noise so I won’t learn their names. I know the names of everyone on Sesame street – everyone on Mister Rogers – everyone in Thomas the Tank Engine and even, God help me, everyone on Teletubbies. I will be damned if I will learn the names of the multicolored genital-oid dancing flatulent penguins of Boobah!
Isaac has been great. Very dear and funny and we have to constantly revise our sense of what to expect from him. He is braver physically which is a nice thing to watch happen but he still has this odd way of noticing any mention of things to be cautious of and talking about them a lot. Apparently he heard someone say the phrase “pissed her off’ because he randomly shouts of “Pister Offer” with glee and intensity. We pretend nothing happened. It could have been me, but I don’t remember. He babbles a kind of jibbity jabbitty blibbity blabbity scat jazz jabber which is interesting because he also using really complete articulate sentences much of the time. The scat jabber rhymes and he is really getting into things that rhyme – a friend of XXXXX’s gave him a little toy beaver and he was playing with it – because my head is full of nonsense I said:
“Beaver B. Bumpkin.” Isaac laughed and said “Beaver B. Bumpkin, sitting on a pumpkin. ”
Tonight he said:” Mommy, I have a very good book downstairs which I think you’ll like.”
I’ll send more sooner – love and good thoughts to you all, Hugh
I ran a couple of photos through Google’s Deep Dream software. It attempts to recognize patterns using a buttload of heuristics about characteristics that would indicate various things; buildings, animals, landscapes,etc.
It can be sort of gently psychedelic and beautiful or if you turn the levels up a bit frankly horrifying. In its nicer form It reminds me of things I’ve seen when responsibly ingesting socially acceptable pharmaceuticals…or something. This feels more like what I imagine schizophrenia might be like. Here’s the worst before and after ever.
In an interesting way this is a computer emulating the very human trait of constantly seeing things in the world around them that are mental projections. Like “Doesn’t that cloud look like a bunny attacking Abe Lincoln?” This trait is keyed into our ability to recognize anything but also to our ability to recognize types of things. Like recognizing a letter of the alphabet in a strange distorted font. Or like recognizing a building as a bank or a school without seeing a sign. It’s probably also related to the neurological blinders we develop with which we see exactly what we expect to see and don’t see anything we don’t expect to see.
The role this plays in scientific discovery seems clear cut to me. The role this plays in various kinds of bigotry and blind prejudice seems clear too. Continue reading
Built to fail
As a software teacher/trainer I am amazed by something. Every company and institution in the US apparently has the budget to subsidize ~65% of their employees being shit with computing…forever… but only a few of them can scrape a budget together for training. And when they do, it’s designed by middle management in a way that almost always misses the actual problem in favor of some oversimplified guess about what is wrong.
Whenever I have taught corporate groups I sense about a dozen issues other than the one I am there to teach going unaddressed. And if I try to get at those problems I’ll be seen as not teaching the right subject.
Usually, power users are mixed into the same class as the weakest users. The result is that the material will be wrong for part of the group no matter what… unless you teach “right down the middle” in which case it might be right for nobody. Also, the power users are forced to sit through such basic material that it wears out their goodwill and\or the “baby” users sit through advanced material that makes them feel stupid and hopeless. All of this crystalizes the idea of training as ineffective in the mind of management.
To get it right, do better research on the problem you are fixing.
- Don’t be superficial or complacent about imagining what the problem really is. Details matter.
- Identify your “power users” and find out what they need to know and why.
- While you’ve got them, ask what they consider to be the baseline skillset for the software in question in the context of this office. Compare notes on these assessments.
- Ask them (and any IT support people) what problems the focus group of employees seem to get stuck on. The power users and IT staff get hit up regularly for help and they have a lot more data points than you will get by asking the group what they need.
- The group doesn’t really know what it needs. The problem is concealed in the mist above their comfort zone.
- If it is possible to have the trainer come in for a chat with some representative students ahead of time, they will be able to target the actual need far better.
- “But the cost!” It’s going to be expensive either way. Do you prefer an expensive success or an expensive failure? Besides, if you do this correctly you will be saving real money and increasing real efficiency. Doing it wrong is mismanagement.
- Consider a break with form. If the trainer is open to it, propose working with smaller groups with a shared problem and consider doing this in the area where the work is done rather than a classroom. The trainer will almost always spot problems and growing out of local issues which would not come up in a classroom.
Like most parents Isaac’s Mom and I struggle with the question of weapon toys. Boys are drawn to them like crows to shiny pebbles or celebrities to cocaine. My intuition tells me that it’s healthy and natural for boys to play at fighting. Hell, not just my intuition, my memory. It was a tremendously powerful drive, a longing and a need. Playing war was one of the most deeply satisfying games I can remember. If I could run in the streets with friends pretending to shoot at each other without actually being hospitalized or jailed I would be doing it this moment. I believe playing with weapon toys is a way boys express aggression but that’s only a piece of what they are doing. They also learn restraint, teamwork, dealing with peck order, storytelling, and possibly nobility.
Isaac and I have fights as the centerpieces of all our stories. He demands it. Always we are good guys, always we show mercy and look for ways to mitigate damage. But always, we fight. I think he needs to explore this to figure out how to be good and strong at the same time. I think the Mommies and Daddies who shame kids away from fighting toys are doing harm – it’s as if they simply disapprove of this developmental stage and in the name of being responsible shrug off responsibility. They want their boys to be good but I think they overlook how much the boy needs to feel strong in order to feel like being good. I think they are turning their backs on the the animal soul of their boys because it offends their delicate sensibilities. Isaac’s Mom struggles with this more than I do but she fundamentally gets it – that it’s a part of boy nature that is inseparable from the boys inner life.
(Disclaimer: This is the opposite of news, most of these songs have been around a long time.) One of my favorite musicians of the last decade or so is Jonathan Coulton. His tunes are clever, infectiously catchy, piercingly beautiful at moments and funny. They are also beautiful snapshots of various pop genres.
For some reason he’s made a slew of songs about monsters, often from the monster’s point of view and these are some of his best work. They also seem to speak of the horror in ordinary life in a way that is chilling and witty.
Chiron Beta Prime – https://youtu.be/B3DyxaCYlfg
The best new Christmas carol in many years.
Skullcrusher Mountain – https://youtu.be/9jn1Gf4AGdY
An evil scientist’s love ballad. “Isn’t it enough to know that I ruined a pony making a gift for you?”
Still Alive – https://youtu.be/Y6ljFaKRTrI
This song accompanies the ending credits to the brilliant video game, Portal. Singing is GlaDOS, a passive/aggressive sociopathic computer who starts by seeming like a helpful guide promising cake as a reward and turns out to have already murdered everyone at this evil research corporation but you. Turns out you didn’t really manage to kill her.
RE: Your Brains – https://youtu.be/v04H7_fFC90
Your office manager and most of the staff have turned into zombies. They want to come in and he won’t stop talking in manager buzzwords.
I crush everything. – https://youtu.be/oJAlFyKHp_M
A sad introspective ballad about change, hope and loss sung by a giant squid.
Blue Sunny Day – https://youtu.be/PNuTEUUUZ4k
A vampire contemplates suicide
(rediscovered Cribsheet from age two – so out of sync)
Well, It’s Fall and the days have been beautiful cool jewels but they are growing foggy and soggy.
Isaac is a little sick today with a very minor temperature and he is droopy and sleepy as a result. I’m going to take advantage of nap time to say to you all and tell a couple of fresh stories.
It’s Thomas the – Goddamn -Tank Engine all day and night.
- That cheeky little engine and his minions have filled the house – and turned it into a rat’s nest of track and little grumpy trains. The Thomas stories are a little weird because they are full of grumbling and selfishness and frowny faces. There is one basic story line in Thomas series – they fall off the track or bump into something and there are dozens of these stories. As Isaac plays with the trains (He has two states of being right now, asleep or playing with the trains.) it becomes more and more about incredible disasters and pile ups.
- He comes and takes us by the hand and showing us the carnage says: “Are they OK? Are they OK?”
- Actually, I think I’m starting to understand Thomas better for a two year old – It’s full of adventures that go wrong and then “getting back on track”. It’s what he goes through all day.
- He isn’t two – he’s Very two. He’s violent and angry and tender and cuddly and that’s during a random 15 second period.
- He loves music and we play it a lot and sing a lot – he can sing all of the ABC’s and twinkle twinkle little star and Itsy bitsy spider – and lots of bits of other songs – I find it wonderful to hear him. I like a rather strange band called “They Might Be Giants” and frequently play a song called “Dr. Worm” and now I can occasionally hear Isaac singing quietly to himself: “They call me Doctor Worm, I’m not a real Doctor but I am a real worm, I am an actual worm…”
- I bought him a harmonica a while ago and we now and then do what I call the Strange Hillbilly Dance: He has me play what passes for a song on the harmonica while he does this weird little jerky dance. When I finish he says: “Yay!” and we return to whatever was happening before. For some reason we have to do it in the kitchen.
- Peanut of mystery: You know we look under rocks to find interesting bugs. Well I lifted up a big rock on our regular rounds and we found a fully intact peanut under there (where there had been no peanut before). Logic suggests it must be a squirrel who did it but this is a big, heavy rock half covered with earth. It would require 7 or 8 squirrels working as a team with a block and tackle to place that peanut under that rock and replace the soil around it. Or else a single seventy five pound squirrel lifted out the rock and daintily placed a peanut there before cleaning up and moving on. Either way I am disturbed.
- Isaac Ball: Some of you may remember Calvin ball from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes – kinda similar. When Isaac and his Mom went visit Isaac’s Aunt, Uncle and cousins. They introduced him to baseball which apparently Sam is really into and quite good at. At bat though, Isaac insisted on holding the bat by the fat end and tapping at the ball (on its T-ball perch) pool cue style.
- When they returned his Mom and I thought we better try to introduce him to sports a little more and bought some little guy baseball stuff. It’s a complete failure – the idea of rules everybody has to follow is clear to him it’s just that it means the rules as he see it – right now and subject to change when he sees it differently.
- I took him out in the backyard and set up bases and a batting post and Isaac tipped the ball of it’s perch with the skinny end of the bat – ran in a wacky ricochet pattern around the yard and back to where he started and shouted happily to me (as God is my witness)
- “Isaac a team player!” Which I’m thinking an amused relative might have told him back in Pittsburgh. All of our best to all of you,
Sooner next time,