May 2005 Archives

it's the people, stupid

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A lot of people have been asking me if I think I'll come back from Seattle after my sabbatical is over. I'd be lying if I said I didn't find the prospect of working on interesting projects, for more money than I currently make, in a beautiful city, attractive.

But as we make our preparations to leave, I keep running into the one thing that will make us likely to return to Rochester next summer...the people in our lives.

We've been here for nearly nine years, and we've built a life. We have wonderful friends, supportive family, great health care providers. Relationships and connections like the ones we have here don't happen overnight--they take time and nurturing. And while I have no doubt we could eventually build up a life in Seattle that was rich and rewarding, I don't want to walk away from the life we already have built here.

Today we had a few close friends over for an informal cookout (well, as informal as my southern-born-and-bred husband can manage), and I was reminded of how much a part of my life they'd become, and how much I didn't want to lose that part--even if I could splice in "replacements" somewhere else.

So, what does my "why I'll be back" list look like?

  • My mother, stepfather, sister, and father...all close enough to have dinner together any night of the week.
  • My dear friends, many of whom are also my colleagues
  • My wonderful doctors, who know me and my health and my family, and whom I trust completely
  • My neighbors, who we're finally seeing again now that the grass is green and the temperatures have warmed
  • Our newly spruced-up house. On an afternoon like this one, with sunshine casting long shadows on the lawn, a light breeze rustling the leaves outside all the windows, and the sounds of kids, birds, and dogs outside, it's hard to imagine wanting to be anywhere else
  • Summer vacation--one of the best perks of academia
  • The low cost of living, which makes my relative-to-Microsoft small academic salary go a long, long way
  • My new lab at RIT

That's a lot of powerful reasons to come back home.

turning it over

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The third step in 12-step recovery programs is "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood him." I'm not a religious person, and the wording of this step has always been a little difficult for me. Similarly, the Al-Anon slogan "Let go and let God" has been tough for me as well.

Today, however, has been a good day for remembering that even if I don't know exactly what I'm turning things over to, the idea of taking something difficult to manage and "turning it over" is worth trying.

This morning, we got a call from the person to whom we thought we'd be renting our house while we were on sabbatical. She had decided to rent a place downtown, instead--which plunged me into a moment (well, more than a moment) of panic. I spent most of the morning feeling overwhelmed by everything that had to be done in the next three weeks: sort all of our belongings into store/ship/sell/toss categories, box up the first two categories, dispose of the second two categories, move all of our furniture into storage (either off-site or in the basement), sell my car and buy a new one for the week-long drive to Seattle, get to all of the various doctor and dentist appointments we're cramming in before we leave, etc, etc etc.

Gerald finally said to me around lunchtime, as I was sorting through car specifications, posting our house to every online listing site I could find, and hovering dangerously close to my emotional redline zone, "just turn it over."

My first thought was "Don't be ridiculous. If I let go of all this, it won't get done, and we'll be even worse off." But then I realized he was right. I needed to let go of trying to control everything, and trust that if I did the next right thing, the rest would follow.

The first thing I did was think through worst case scenarios. What if we didn't rent the house? Well, we'd be okay. We'd probably have enough money between RIT and Microsoft to cover the expense. And we could always ask a realtor to find a tenant for us--we'd get less money, probably, but it would be something. So I posted the house online, and let it go...either it would rent or it wouldn't, and freaking out about it wasn't going to change the outcome.

Then I thought some more about the car issue. The motivation for getting the new car right away was to avoid driving across the country in an old car that might break down. But...what if I sold the car before I left town, and then flew to Seattle with Alex instead? I looked again at the benefits Microsoft had offered, and realized that one of them was a month-long car rental. So, we could fly to Seattle, pick up a rental car at the airport, drive to the corporate housing, and have a month to squirrel away cash for a bigger down payment on a car. I emailed the relocation support person to let her know our plans had changed, and another big task dropped off my "must do this week" list.

After dinner, I went to my Monday night Al-Anon meeting, and talked about how good it had felt to "turn it over" today. Walking out, I felt really good about where I was. When I walked back into the house at 10pm, Gerald was on the phone with someone, laughing and talking. I figured it was a friend or family member, until he said "Well, my wife just walked in--why don't you talk to her and she can tell you more about the house."

It was a woman from LA who'd seen my post on the U of R off campus housing site. Her husband is doing a one-year residency at Strong Hospital starting in August, and they don't want to move all their furniture across the country. They were hoping to find a furnished house that could accommodate them, their two small kids, and her mother--and that had a good school district for her older child, who's about to start kindergarten. It's a perfect match--for them and for us.

So tonight, my IM status message is "an attitude of gratitude." Which is, I know, a platitude. And I'm okay with that.

it's all over but the bubbling (and the kvetching...)

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Done, done, and done. With grading, that is. Final essay exams, weblog posts, homework questions, chat participation. I've made my list, and I've checked it twice. I had a number of students who did really good work this quarter. And, unfortunately, several who ignored a large part of the course requirements and are likely to be extremely displeased with their grades. Tomorrow morning I'll electronically "bubble in" their grades, and then brace myself for the onslaught of "how could I get a..." that will result. By waiting until tomorrow to formally submit the grades to student records, I delay the grade announcement emails until tomorrow night, after commencement (though the students can see their final average via the courseware gradebook function if they look). By then I may have recovered sufficiently from grading-induced sleep deprivation to manage the barrage gracefully.

Part of why I haven't been posting recently is that I've been busy--end-of-quarter work, faculty meetings, 72 hour trips to the west coast, taking care of a sick husband, etc. But part of it has also been that overall, life is good, and that isn't really fodder for interesting blog posts. Christine Lavin, one of my favorite singer/songwriters ever, has a song called "Please Don't Make Me Too Happy," with these lyrics:

Please don't make me too happy
Because if you do
My songwriting will suffer
From the bliss you'll put me through
Nothing's quite as boring
As two people this in love
We'll be so blinded by the stars in our eyes
We won't see the stars above

There's something to that, really. Angst is a great source of creativity, and I've been awfully short on angst lately.

The LA trip was lovely...had lunch with Allan Karl, and dinner with with someone I've known since kindergarten, but had fallen out of touch with. I also met with folks from USC's Annenberg Center about a potential collaborative grant project, and then got to go to the pre-SSAW party before heading back home.

I think I'm still in denial about the upcoming move, despite the fact that it's less than a month away. That's going to have to change, soon.

We're mulling over car purchase/leasing options, as well as house refinancing options, as well as necessary home repairs before we leave. Ack. While next year we'll be in good shape financially, the dual salary won't start 'til July, and there are going to be a lot of expenses before then. We've got some juggling to do over the next few weeks to make it all fall into place.

packin' up and movin' out

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Headed to the airport for a two-day trip to LA. I arrive at 10pm tonight, head back out at 10pm Friday. Weather looks lovely, so I'm packing a bathing suit, and will try to find a few hours to sit by the pool tomorrow.

Rainclouds are moving in here, alas. Crossing my fingers for clear skies at my son's party at the Red Wings game on Saturday night.

Will be trying to focus my mind back on research and writing on this trip. I've let a lot of that slide recently, but it's time to start thinking in polysyllabic terms and endnotes again...

spring suffering

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Well, the not-so-bad cold I wrote about on Saturday has turned into a seriously nasty chest cough. So while the weather is breathtakingly beautiful today, I'm sacked out on the couch, surrounded by tissues and teacups. Blech.

Wednesday night I'm flying to LA, so I'm hoping for a quick recovery. And kicking myself for not starting a course of Zicam on Thursday when the earliest symptoms appeared.

my first craigslist posting

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We've decided it makes sense for me to upgrade my car before heading west. It's served me well for the past six years, but I'd like something a little newer for the cross-country drive.

It's 1994 Honda Accord EX, with 117K miles on it. AC, leather interior, AM/FM/Cassette, ABS, dual front airbags, power moonroof. No mechanical or electrical problems of any kind, except for a sticky antenna and a cranky cassette player. I'm only the second owner (unless you count the dealer that took it as tradein from the original owner and then sold it to me). Blue Book value is about $3600. I've listed it for $3500, but am willing to negotiate.

So, if you're looking for a solid, reasonably-priced used car, take a look at the listing, and/or get in touch with me directly.

Car

life used to be so hard...

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...now everything is easy 'cause of you

Lane is at the neighborhood pond with his friends, building a fort and eating a picnic lunch.

Alex is at a friend's house 'til dinner.

Gerald's running errands.

So here I am, sitting on my couch, enjoying the fresh air coming through the windows and the sounds of birds, kids, and lawnmowers in the neighborhood around me. I have a spring cold--unpleasant, but not debilitating--which gives me license to lounge, rather than cleaning up and packing boxes. And this rare oasis of stillness and solitude gives me time to reflect and be grateful.

We're happy. Our life here is good. There is nothing that we need that we want for--from food and shelter to friends and family.

I'm blessed.

birthday baseball

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Just booked my older son's birthday party for next weekend, and I'm already looking forward to it. We're doing it at a Rochester Red Wings baseball game, and the party package is both fun and affordable.

Hot dogs, soda, ice cream cake, balloons, logo baseballs, and bleacher seats for everyone. Woohoo! What better way to spend an evening in May?

parental controls in os x tiger

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I just updated my kids' laptops (yes, I know how insanely privileged we are...) to Tiger. In the process, I discovered that my younger son has been doing some Google searches with his friends for items that I would not consider to be entirely appropriate for unsupervised 8-year-old consumption. <sigh>

We went through this a couple of years ago with my older son, so I wasn't exactly shocked. Gerald and I talked about what to do, and I was leaning towards taking the computer out of his room and limiting his use to public areas of the house. Then I remembered that I'd seen some information in the Tiger feature list about parental controls, so I took a closer look. Eureka!

So, for the time being, I've enabled controls on his computer for Safari, Mail, and iChat. It's a whitelist approach--Gerald or I have to approve any new contacts for email or iChat, and add new domains to his approved list in Safari. I prefer whitelists to blacklists in this context, since it's so hard to anticipate the many ways that kids (and spammers) can get around filters.

This won't be a permanent state--I trust my 10-year-old to administer his own computer, despite a rough patch when he was around 8. But as a short-term response to the situation I think this will work. Yet another reason to be glad of the upgrade to Tiger.

small successes

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During the ten days I spent in Seattle, I was surrounded mostly by people who qualify for the label "technical elite." And too many of them, I fear, are beginning to forget that their worldview is not exactly representative.

This was particularly obvious when someone (Rael Dornfest?) asked the teen panel at the Social Computing Symposium whether they ever listened to podcasts. Their response? "Huh?" That didn't surprise me at all, because it's been clear to me for a while that podcasting has a pretty narrow band of followers and enthusiasts (almost all of whom, so far as I can tell, have lengthy commutes).

But what would probably surprise this group even more is how many people still don't see blogs as anything more than a fringe phenomenon. I teach in an IT department at a technical university, and most of my students still don't recognize the potential professional value of blogs.

This quarter I'm trying to change all that by really teaching about blogs and their uses in technical contexts. And based on the midterms I'm finishing grading today (yes, very very very late), I'm making some progress. Take this excerpt, for example, which I found particularly gratifying:

As I mentioned earlier, I am seeing the importance of blogs in the work place. A co-worker and I want to start a blog to make others in our group aware of available upgrades for the software tools we commonly use or any new functions or ideas that one of us may be working on. We may also use it to keep our common procedures in one place. A good example of how this would be of benefit is by providing annotated instructions on how to install or upgrade a piece of software. And, as of [this Monday], a blog will prove especially important for our group; our pointy-haired boss will be splitting us up along application lines (our web apps, client/server apps and mainframe apps) as opposed to what function we provide as a group. So we'll be working for different mangers, depending on which applications we're working on. (I will continue to refer to us as a 'group' in this paper.)

A weblog will then be a great way for us to communicate because of its interactive nature. It will also be a great tool to "advertise" what our group does. Others will surely want to check out our blog simply from a curiosity standpoint. Then perhaps other groups will have blogs of their own and the proliferation of information flowing between groups will be mind-numbing (right!).

Or this one:

This class for example has exposed me to the opinions and insights of a community of learners, where we all take turns at being lectures and listeners, all from the comfort of my home. Even as I search the web for the answers to the weekly questions I find that many times the freshest perspectives on the subject matter to be in weblogs. Unfortunately it seems like I spend more time sifting through the weblog to find the gem I was looking for. Since working full time and raising a family, it has been difficult for me to travel to campus at least three times a week taking traditional classes. The weblog has been an excellent way for me to learn, while at the same time putting a little extra time back in my day for my family. I was a bit apprehensive about taking a distance-learning course, but I find that I have learned as much from the format of this class as I have from the content on the on-line chats and reading assignments. This class has exposed me to a new method of study I would have never considered.

Maybe they're just trying to tell me what I want to hear--or maybe I'm actually making some progress. I prefer to believe it's the latter.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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