Recently in curmudgeonly Category

mobile phone woes

I seem to have angered the patron saint of mobile phones in some way this week, because it's been a very bad 24 hours so far as my phones are concerned.

A week ago I took the case off my iPhone because the plastic had started to peel, and I hadn't yet purchased a replacement. Which meant, of course, that I would have to drop my phone on a hard surface for the first time since I've owned it. When I did that last night, it shattered the glass on my phone. :(

Ironically, I'd just read a story in the NY Times last week about people doing iPhone screen repairs, and had mentioned to Gerald that he and Lane should think about starting a part-time business doing just that. So, we're speeding up the "let's try it" timetable and have ordered the parts and tools for the repair on my phone.

The cost of having the screen repaired at an Apple store is around $200. The cost of the parts, tools, and expedited shipping for a DIY repair was less than $25. Since my phone is already out of warranty, it doesn't really matter that we're voiding the warranty by doing this. And the comments from Amazon customers who've bought the same repair components are consistently positive. Keep your fingers crossed that we'll be able to successfully repair mine, because I wanted to wait to buy a new one until the new models come out this summer...

The phone trauma seemed as though it would be minimal, since I still had the Verizon Motoroal Droid that I got at GDC and hadn't really played with. I charged it back up last night, loaded a few apps and files onto it, set my Google Voice number to ring on it, and was ready to switch to that as my primary phone until the iPhone was repaired. However, the Droid had other ideas, and decided to pick last night as the perfect time to have its screen go completely dead. The phone's not dead; the status light blinks, the buttons and keyboard light up, and it plays cheerful sounds when it restarts. But there's nothing to be seen on the screen.

I took the Droid in to the local Verizon store, where they determined that they couldn't help me at all because the phone had been provided as part of the developer program. So I ended up on the phone with Verizon support for 30 minutes while they figured out what to do. They decided to FedEx me a replacement Droid, but because it's Friday today I won't get the Droid until Monday >.<

The good news is that while my iPhone looks awful, is somewhat hard to read, and feels icky to scroll my finger on, it still works pretty much perfectly. So I'm not completely without a phone for the weekend.

richard dorschel responds

Last week I sent a letter to the owner of Dorschel Scion, Richard J. Dorschel. I enclosed a printout of my original blog entry, as well as printouts of the Google searches that showed my entry coming up in the top ten for "dorschel difference" and "dorschel scion" and in the top twenty for "dorschel." (They've returned to the index after that brief and odd disappearance, and in fact my post is now in the top ten for "dorschel" as well.)

I received a letter in reply this week. It starts out well, with an apology for the missteps made and frustration we encountered. It goes on to explain why it's so difficult to track the location of cars, as well explaining how the miscommunication about the options occurred. So far, so good. But the ending left a bit to be desired:

My company has a reputation for good service--which I can confirm with our strong Customer Satisfaction Scores and high levels of customer retention. However, we are far from perfect ad I personally am involved in most of our missteps. The language you use to describe my company and my employees suggests you came with a significant degree of mistrust and misconception of a dealer.

In conclusion, I am a long time advocate, financial supporter, and friend of my neighbor, RIT. I can't tell you how much it stings and disappoints me to have a ranking member of the faculty publicly attack my company in language I feel diminishes the image of my company and RIT [emphasis added]. Elizabeth, you again have my apologies for our many miscues. I wish you the best of luck with your Scion and hope the remainder of your owndership experience far exceeds the start.

R.J. Dorschel

This got me thinking about why some apologies work wonders in changing opinions, and others (like this one) fall flat. I did a quick search on "art of the apology" and found, much to my amusement, that a post I wrote three years ago is one of the first hits for that phrase.

I found some other great pieces in that search, however. There's a piece from Oprah's website that includes this passage:

3. Genuine expression of remorse. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of the comment "I'm sorry you feel that way" knows the difference between sincere regret and an attempt to avoid responsibility for bad behavior. Few things are less likely to evoke forgiveness than apology without remorse.

I was also reminded of situation we'd encountered with our local elementary school when Lane had a very bad experience with a teacher. I contacted our principal by email to let him know how unhappy we were, and then made an appointment to see him. I walked in, furious, ready to fight, and--if necessary--remove Lane from the school.

The first words out of the principal's mouth were "What's the best thing we can do for Lane right now?" That took every ounce of anger out of me. When I said that moving him to a different class was the best option he said "I agree. I've already laid the groundwork for that, and we'll make it happen tomorrow." He didn't lay blame, he didn't point fingers, he didn't try to make me feel bad for being upset. He focused everything on how to improve the situation, and I left feeling 1000% better than when I'd walked in. (That principal, Mark Turner, retired this past year, and he'll be sorely missed. He was a treasure.)

What Mr. Dorschel didn't seem to recognize was that my anger was not primarily about the lateness of the car. As I said in my post, I recognize that they don't have control over that. My frustration was with the manager who promised Gerald that he would be our only point of contact moving forward but then didn't follow up on that promise (the original salesman called us two days later to confirm what options we'd ordered), with the salesman who told me that I must be confused when I confronted him with the inaccurate information he'd given us, and the attempt to pass the buck on responsibility away from the salesman who'd sat with us and taken the order to the salesman we knew personally who'd assisted on the deal. I'll add to that list Mr. Dorschel's claim that my post somehow diminishes RIT's reputation. (Huh?!)

In fact, Mr. Dorschel is wrong about my preconceptions. We'd had excellent experiences in the past with John Holtz Honda, and went into the process of purchasing this car with high expectations, not low ones. And I'm not tarring all car dealerships with the same brush here. This was an experience specific to one dealership, but it was a pattern of behavior--in the salesman, the manager, and now the owner--that consistently showed a desire to combine an apology with a deflection of blame, and implications that I was at fault. That never works well.

The sad thing about all of this is that a well-crafted apology probably would have caused me to go back and update the original post with more positive information, thus greatly reducing the overall damage to the company's "googlejuice". What would that apology have included?

1) A genuine expression of remorse. [that was there, in the first paragraph]

2) An explanation of what had happened (which I wish had been given to us a lot earlier, as it would have reduced our sense of frustration and helplessness). [that was there as well]

3) A complete lack of blame-passing. [nope]

4) Accurate information about what had transpired with his staff [nope]

5) A gesture to make amends [nope]

He got two out of five, which was a start, but pretty much negated those by claiming that I was somehow damaging RIT's image by publicly expressing my unhappiness. FAIL.


Update, 9/8: For the sake of completeness and context, for anyone who really cares, here are my original letter to Richard Dorschel, and Dorschel's full response.

how (not?) to get paid by the government

My trip to Boston is to do some training on social media at Hanscom AFB. It's been ten years since I last did any training for a base, and boy have things changed. Back then, when I completed a training job I'd mail them an invoice, and then I'd wait--often for a verrrry long time--for my check. It was frustrating from a length of time standpoint, but at least it wasn't very labor intensive.

Fast forward a decade, to the wonderful world of web-enabled databases. That ought to improve the creaky, slow payment system, wouldn't you think? No, of course you wouldn't think that, not with the government involved.

When this training was arranged a couple of weeks ago, they asked me if I could accept a procurement card (credit card) for payment, and while I haven't done that in the past, it sounded like it would be worth the cost of credit card processing if I could speed up the payment process. It would be particularly nice to get paid before the credit card bills for the airfare, shuttle, hotel, and rental car come due. But to do that, I had to apply for the not-free Paypal website payments pro account, which took several days (and involved updating my very neglected business website, since Paypal requires an active business website as proof that you're not going to try to scam people...)

Over the past two weeks, I've spent more hours than you'd believe entering data about myself and my consulting business into first the Paypal site, then the government's Centralized Contractor Registry (CCR), and then the government's Online Representations & Certifications Application (ORCA). Those took days to process.

I thought I was finally done last Friday when I finished the ORCA registration, but yesterday while I was flying home from Seattle I got a frantic message (or two) from the contracting office saying they needed my tax ID # (which, of course, had already been entered into CCR and ORCA), so I called from the Atlanta airport and gave them that over the phone.

This afternoon the contracting office called me again to say that for some unnamed reason (I called back to ask but couldn't get through) they could not pay me with a procurement card, and that I'd need to register in yet another online system--the Wide Area WorkFlow (WAWF)--in order to have my invoice processed. (I'd link to that one, but apparently their security certificate isn't valid...inspires a lot of trust, no?) That system has a 25-page instructional guide, with twelve separate actions and registrations you have to complete.

I got as far as the fourth step, which involved enrolling in the Electronic Document Access system, and then I was informed that the system would take five days to process my application. Who knows how long the next eight steps will take?? Un-freaking-believable. I'm hoping against hope that once I get to the base tomorrow we'll be able to get this sorted out, but I have a baaaaaaad feeling about how long it will take me to get paid.

The end result? At least a full workday's worth of redundant data entry into poorly designed and disconnected databases, all to get me to the point where I can submit an invoice and wait to get paid. Again. Feh.

corporations bicker, and everybody loses

I got an iPod Touch for Christmas, which was really exciting, because I love watching TV shows on my iPod (especially when I travel). But then I went to the iTunes music store to download the TV shows I wanted--specifically Project Runway, Top Chef, and Battlestar Galactica. Much to my surprise, none of them were there. Since I've downloaded those shows in the past, I was confused...until I did a little research, and discovered that the spat between NBC and Apple had resulted not just in NBC network shows being pulled from the store, but also all of the Bravo and SciFi Channel shows being yanked as well.

That sucks.

My iPod Touch is still great for mobile web browsing (when there's a wifi network around), and for music. But the thing I most wanted to use it for, watching TV shows, is no longer easily done.

The irony of all this is that I'll probably start downloading those shows using BitTorrent, and getting them for free--when I was completely willing to pay a reasonable price for them. So everybody loses here. It's ridiculous.

too many interests, not enough time

There's too much I want to do in each day, and not enough time to do it in.

I've got a new crochet project, a complicated lacy afghan for the baby daughter of a friend.

I've got a new camera, and the ice storm is begging me to take pictures of it. I'd like to find an open space where I can get photos of these amazing crystallized trees without having to dodge parked cars and construction fences.

I've got the new World of Warcraft expansion installed, and my characters moved to a less stressful, non-PvP I want to play and play for hours and hours, exploring the new content and environment.

And then there's that pesky work thing, ever demanding my attention and engagement. You can't teach well when you're only partially there, so I have to disengage from the rest.

Not to mention the seemingly endless stream of illnesses.


not all suburbs are soulless

As I've read through the various discussions of pros and cons of living in Brooklyn (spurred by Doug Rushkoff's initial post, and continued in posts by his wife and Steven Johnson), I keep noticing the dismissive way that people who live in city neighborhoods talk about the "soulless suburbs."

It drives me crazy.

People who live in NYC would never assume that the experience of living in Harlem is the same as living in Park Slope, or that Soho is exactly like the Upper East Side. But they're oh-so-ready to assume that every single suburb is exactly the same, all characterized by isolation and lack of community.

Guess what? They're not. They vary as much as city neighborhoods do. Last year we lived in a suburb in Seattle where our neighbors never spoke to us, and we felt isolated in every way. It was a brand-new collection of mini-mansions, and most of the time it looked like a deserted movie set. If that had been my only experience with suburban life, I might have as lopsided a view of the suburbs as many non-city-dwellers have of urban life.

But here in Rochester, we live in a middle-class suburban neighborhood much like the one I grew up in, and I wouldn't trade it for all the brownstones in Brooklyn. We know our neighbors (not all of whom are white), our kids can wander with their friends, and we're not more than 20 minutes from anyplace in the city. (Ten minutes to work. Fifteen to the airport or my mother's house. Twenty minutes to the Eastman Theatre.)

There's no place where you're 100% safe; risk is all around us. I know that. But in this neighborhood I feel completely comfortably letting my kids take off out the front door with no more information than "I'm going to the pond." The worst crime we've experienced in the ten years we've lived here was having our cars egged. Even in winter, neighbors stop to talk while they're shoveling snow, or getting mail from the mailbox--and we don't need neighborhood watch signs posted to look out for each other.

I've lived in city neighborhoods, too. I spent five years on Capitol Hill, in quaint "English basement" apartments and brightly painted row houses. I walked to the local shops and farmer's market, and took the metro to work in Bethesda. It was a great experience. I've lived in rural Alabama--more rural than most of my readers could even imagine. And I've spent some of the most idyllic years of my life in college towns--Ann Arbor and Tuscaloosa--which in many ways marry the advantages of big cities and small towns. There were upsides and downsides to both of those locations, and I have no regrets over having lived in either. Nor do I feel a need to criticize people who still choose to live in those areas even though they didn't work for me (and, more importantly, my family) as a long-term option.

So I have to wonder what it is that makes many city-dwellers so quick to condemn anyone who chooses not to live an urban life--and to consistently paint "the suburbs" as both awful and undifferentiated. Why are they so defensive about their choice, so critical of other options? Why do so many people who choose to live in cities need to be so endlessly snarky about those of us who choose not to?

crazy week

It's the first week of the quarter, I'm teaching a class I've never taught before and another that needed serious overhaul, I have class tonight until 10pm, and I've got a flight to Seattle tomorrow morning at 6:30am.

Stressed? Oh yeah.

Looking forward to the trip, but wishing I had a bit more space between teaching and traveling tonight.

summer resolutions (unresolved)

It happens every year. The dog days of summer roll around, and instead of lazing around enjoying the tail end of my vacation, I find myself lying awake at night and snapping at my family during the day. I begin to realize how little I've gotten done, despite my best intentions at the start of the season. And the start of the hectic fall quarter, which seemed so very far away just a month ago, is now bearing down on me like a runaway freight train.

I originally titled this post "end of summer panic attack," but after a conversation with Gerald, I realized that his term--summer resolutions--was better. It's just like New Year's resolutions for most people, he pointed out. And it's true. As an academic, my year works differently than most people's do. For me, fall is like spring--new beginnings, fresh faces, a sense of promise and potential. And the beginning of summer is like New Year's--a chance to prepare for the year ahead in a relaxed and productive way. Ha. Ha ha. Hahahahahahaha. [maniacal laughter fades away down padded hallway...]

As summer comes to an end, the list of unfinished tasks becomes more and more depressing. The larger the pile of incomplete tasks, the less able I am to face them, and the further I burrow into escapism. (This year's location of choice to bury my head in the sand? Azeroth, natch.)

This year it's made worse by the fact that I've been invited (for the first time) to Tim O'Reilly's infamous Foo Camp gathering, where everyone is expected to give a talk or demo a project at some point during the weekend. I'd hoped to show off a prototype of PULP, but I've made diddly-squat progress this summer. I thought it would be easier to manage developers from afar, but it's not. I'm just not cut out for the whole distributed team approach--I need people close enough that I can see them, drop in on them, create a sense of connectedness. Yes, yes, I know...iChat AV, cell phones, shared calendars, blah blah blah. Just doesn't do it for me, at least not for building a team from scratch. So I'm stalled on this project, and am hoping to get somewhere with it this fall once the team is co-located here in Rochester.

My plan at the moment is to use some of the time on tomorrow's early (too early) morning flight to start pulling together enough of a prototype/demo (or at least some mocked up screens) that I can talk about the project in a meaningful way. The good news is that I've got a clear mental vision of what it's going to be, and how it's going to work. The bad news is that going from my head to the screen is still a laborious process. That means, also, that I'll be lugging my big-ass 17" MacBook Pro with me to Sebastopol, rather than the much lighter and easier to tote Vaio (which I bought specifically to make traveling easier, and which, unlike the MBP, has a PC Card slot to accommodate my Verizon broadband card). The Vaio is fine if I'm in information consumption mode, but if I'm going to be doing much creation, I really work much better in the familiar OS X environment.

I went out and bought some Zicam last night, because Lane has come down with a nasty cold, and I just know I'll wake up tomorrow with the same cold. So I'm starting the Zicam today, in hopes of staving off the otherwise inevitable. I can only imagine how much fun a cross-country flight followed by two nights of camping out would be while nursing a bad cold. :(

Okay, enough whining. I've still got a chance to pull my head out of the sand and get something done this week.


sixapart's lousy timing

If TypeKey (and TypePad!) had to go down for several hours, it would have been nice if it was't during the one block of time I'd set aside this week for downloading current versions of MovableType to upgrade my various course weblog servers.

The lack of information provided on the status site is frustrating, as are the inaccurate promises (at 3pm, there's still a note from 1:30pm saying it should be up within the hour).

Come on, SixApart. If you want people to buy into your centralized authentication (and blogging) services, you can't have outages of four or more hours at a time.

show me the way to go home

As a child, I had a luxury that many people don't have...we moved into a house when I was four that I lived in until I went to college--and that my father still occupies. During the more tumultuous periods of my life, I found that having a stable place to call home made a huge difference. When my parents divorced, everyone else in my family changed houses at least once; my father moved out until my mother remarried, upon which she and my sister moved to Rochester and my father moved back in. My mom points out that not even the location of my furniture moved during that time.

Having a physical space that I can claim as my own has remained important to me. I don't think I realized how important until this month, which we're spending without any place to call our own. The boat would probably be great if this were simply a vacation from our usual home, but knowing there's nowhere else to call home makes it feel less like a retreat and more like an exile. Things that don't usually bother me when I'm traveling--living out of a suitcase, eating out a lot, not having a familiar space to sit and work--are making me miserable here. We've got several generous offers to stay with friends in Seattle, but that won't really address the underlying discomfort with not being on familiar ground.

It's not as bad when we're out and about--visiting parks and exploring local towns. But when we're sitting around the boat on a gray day like today (or yesterday, or's not shaping up to be a great week) I feel trapped and uncomfortable and unhappy.

I'd be sorely tempted to bail on the conference I'm speaking at next week and head straight back to Rochester immediately, but our tenants are in our house until August 1, so I'm stuck in this in-between state for another 3 weeks. In the meantime, I'm hoping the funk I'm in is temporary, and will lift when we're back in our house again next month.

equal and opposite reaction

It seems that we're not able to have a vacation free of stresses.

On the plus side, the weather has (mostly) been great...a little cool in the morning until the fog burns off (which isn't 'til after lunch if you try to go up to Port Townsend, as I did today), but lovely in the afternoons. And now that we've added a few more lights, the boat's becoming quite homey. Each of the boys has a friend here now, imported from Seattle for a few days, and that's been good for them. And something about lots of outdoor time seems to have reset their body clocks, so they're voluntarily going to bed not long after it gets dark. The kids and I were all up at 7 this morning, and I baked cinnamon rolls for us and then drank my coffee out on the deck--even with the low clouds, it was peaceful and beautiful.

On the down side, I spent most of yesterday driving to and from Seattle, to fetch the boys' friends and attend Scoble's bbq (and drop off a key, and rent some movies, and buy a book, and stock up on groceries...). I started the trip off with the first speeding ticket I've had in about 20 years, which didn't do much for my mood, and I didn't get back 'til after dinnertime, by which point I was completely worn out from the driving and from the sibling squabbles (which were doubled rather than reduced by the presence of a second set of siblings). When I got back, I discovered that Gerald's upset stomach had gotten worse, not better. And by tonight, it still hadn't improved much. So there's a good chance we'll start our 4th of July with a trip back to Port Townsend (45 minutes north), which is the closest place with a hospital. There's a clinic in Quilcene, about 20 miles from here, but it's unlikely to be open on a holiday.

Since both vehicles are heavily laden with household goods, there's no way we can get all six of us into a car, so I've got to figure out what combination is most realistic for reducing risk to everyone. I think I'll let the 12yos stay here on their own recognizance, and take the 9-10yos with us. Not a perfect solution, but probably the best we can manage. I don't want Gerald to drive himself, and I don't want to leave the younger boys here without us.

Maybe we'll wake up tomorrow and Gerald will be feeling healthy again. I hope so.


I just did some online research, and am suddenly more concerned about Gerald than I was. On Saturday he ate raw oysters that he'd harvested himself at a beach down the road, but he assured me that if they'd been tainted that he would have been violently ill. After reading about vibrio vulnificus I'm not so sure. And I think we'll definitely be making that hospital trip tomorrow if he's not significantly better. :(

macbook pro delayed :(

I ordered a 17" MacBook Pro through RIT three weeks ago, and they gave us a ship date of 5/23. I hated that the wait was so long, but it coincided with my trip back to Rochester, so I figured it would work out. Today I got email from the RIT person who placed the order, telling me they'd pushed the ship date to June 5!!! Ugh! Ack! Oh, the humanity! :P

I'm not pleased. Not at all.


Update: A few days after I posted this, they pushed it out until June 13. So I cancelled the order. I'll still be getting one, but not until after I get back to RIT in August. In the meantime, I'm getting a Sony Vaio SZ240, which looks like a much better option for traveling. (I wish Apple would come out with a fast, light notebook option...)

directv's malicious billing

This morning, I had to cancel my Amex card and order a new one with a different number. All because DirecTV has been billing us for six months for an account we don't even have.

The first mysterious charges showed up in the fall, and we contacted them to explain that the charges were in errror. We don't have DirecTV, or any services they provide. They told us that we needed an account number to complain, which was a problem because we don't have an account. So they said to contact Amex, which couldn't provide an account number, only a billing reference, but allowed us to dispute and therefore not pay the charge.

The following month the same thing happened. And the month after that it happened again. Gerald started getting increasingly frustrated with the calls to DirecTV. Apparently they got irritated with him, too, because the charges didn't disappear--they started duplicating. Two charges (for different amounts) last month. And FIVE (yes, five) this month. That was the last straw--it's hard not to interpret this as malicious on their part, since each attempt at resolution leads to increased inaccurate billing.

Apparently we're not the only ones having problems with DirecTV. In fact, fraudulent billing to people without DirecTV accounts seems to be a common complaint.

Changing credit card numbers is a serious pain in the ass, because we have a number of things that are regularly billed to that card. I really didn't want to have to do this. But we didn't really have another option, since we couldn't even get through to a supervisor at DirecTV's billing office. (And now that I've read the stories linked above, I'm sure we did the right thing by changing my card number.) careful with DirecTV. Check your charges. Monitor your bill. And don't count on any assistance from "customer service." You can bet we'll never do business with them in any way in the future.


I can't blame it on the gray skies, because we had a string of beautifully clear (but very cold) days last week. And I can't blame it on work, which has been full of wonderful new challenges and opportunities of late. (No, I can't blog about that. At least not yet. But soon, I hope.) I'm not sure what to blame it on, really, but I've been in an awfully crabby mood for the past few days.

Actually, I probably do know what to blame it on--I've just been loathe to admit it. Last week, right after I posted about "staying the course," I veered off the track. I think all those carbs in my Valentine's night meal set off a series of cravings, and the really cold weather caused me to avoid our garage-based weight bench for a couple of mornings in a row. So I ended up with three days of no exercise and an unbalanced diet. That, combined with normal hormonal swings, was a very bad thing.

Like Weez, I took a 4-weeks-later photo this week. Unlike her, I didn't see a significant difference in the images. But, to quote one of my favorite movies from childhood, it's often the case that "you see what you want to see." And given where my head was at the time, it's not surprising that I didn't see positive change. Today I weighed myself at the gym, and discovered that I've lost 8 pounds since she left town in January. That's just over a pound a week, which is pretty respectable. And I know I'm stronger, as well.

So yes, it appears undeniably true that not only is this approach to eating and activity having an effect on my physical appearance, it's having an equally significant effect on my state of mind. That's a good thing to remember when the ice cream looks tempting--is it really worth feeling this out of sorts for several days for that fleeting sensory treat?

So I'm climbing back out of the (carb-induced?) funk, and back into a positive mindset. I have so much to be happy about, and I'm working hard at shifting my focus back to that.

on being a corporate research blogger

I got an email this morning from a friend who was critical of my recent posts related to Microsoft and Google. The friend said that since starting my sabbatical I've seemed to be unfailingly critical of Google and positive about Microsoft in my posts, and that I needed to be more aware of my online voice. There was more, particularly on the issue of whether I was somehow damaging my objectivity as an academic by allowing myself to become so publicly supportive of a company.

Lovely way to start a weekend. But after I got over the hurt feelings, I started thinking about the larger issues underlying my new role as a corporate pawn. (Should my blog have a big caveat at the top that says "I've been pwnz0rzed!"?...) While I don't agree completely with this friend, I can't dismiss these criticisms out of hand, nor can I assume that view of me isn't shared by others.

I started out by combing through my blog to find and point out the times when I've criticized Microsoft's products and practices, and acknowledged the ability of companies like Google and Apple to delight consumers in a way that Microsoft consistently fails to do. (In fact, during my keynote speech at Internet Librarian I explicitly told the audience that I thought many--if not most--of Microsoft's products sucked--and did so while proudly sporting my 17" powerbook.) But that's not really the point, is it? It's perception that's at issue here, and perhaps I need to more be aware of that perception.

There are a lot of great researchers who work for research labs--Microsoft Research and Google Labs and Yahoo Research are full of them, as are the labs at HP and PARC and IBM. Very few of those researchers have blogs, though. Perhaps it's because it's so very hard to strike a balance between bias and objectivity when you're in this in-between world, and talking too much about your day to day life in the belly of the beast exposes more of that tension?

Where I may be erring on the side of transparency, it's been primarily an attempt to avoid erring on the side of opacity. Once you take a job working for a company--rather than doing grant-funded collaborative research--you change your relationship to that company. Perhaps I was wrong in thinking that I should be up front about my experiences and reactions to working here...but I'd like to think that there's more good than bad to be gained from my transparency.

My critic felt that my blog posts here undermined my validity as an "objective" academic, but I'm not sure that I agree. If I were presenting my blog as unbiased research, that would be one thing. But research has to stand on its own in terms of methodology and conclusions--and besides that, is there really such thing as an "unbiased" researcher? For me, knowing the biases of the researchers makes the research more credible rather than less, because I don't feel as though I need to look for hidden motives. Also, my identity as an academic has always been tied up far more in my teaching than in my research (a function of being a professor at a teaching-focused institution)--and I suspect that my students are far more influenced by the Powerbook I carry, my intense dislike for Microsoft products Powerpoint and Windows, and my use of GMail than they are by any blog posts describing how much I like the people I'm working with at Microsoft.

One of my goals for this sabbatical was to give people a sense of what it's like to be inside a corporation that's often thought of as "faceless," and that's what I've been trying to do. The alternative is to be more opaque, to only write about "big ideas," but that's never been the way I approached my personal blog.

In terms of my recent negativity about Google--there's definitely a mix of things going on there. My basic concern about Google's domination of the search market (particularly in the hearts and minds of kids) predates my employment with Microsoft, and is a concern shared by a number of people in the library profession (as I pointed out in my Internet Librarian notes). In many ways, Google is the new Microsoft--when you get to be the 10,000-pound-gorilla, people start to mistrust your motives. They're not a scrappy startup anymore, and they shouldn't continue to be thought of as such. (But even saying that is to acknowledge how negatively Microsoft is perceived, and for good reason--from its market practices to its often-awful products, MS has gotten its bad reputation the old-fashioned way--they've earned it.) Google's not making the same mistakes as Microsoft, but it's making plenty of its own. Their secrecy surrounding all of their work is to me antithetical to both academic and library approaches. And in the case of book digitization, I though Roy Tennant's criticisms were spot-on. Microsoft may have made--and be making still--a lot of bad, ham-handed, bad-for-the-consumer moves...but joining the OCA was not one of those, and I would have praised that even if I hadn't been an employee.

I don't really want to work someplace that I can't be passionate about. And I don't want to pretend that I'm not engaged in and excited about an environment if I'm not. As a researcher, to what extent should the "rules" (oh, geez, i really hate blogging rules) be different for me than they are for a non-research corporate blogger? At the end of the day, however, I do have to wonder if perhaps I've been sucked a little too far into the "us against them" mentality that's so common inside of corporations (universities, of course, suffer from none of that competitiveness [cough, cough]).

The problem for me right now is that I have only two perspectives on this--mine, and the friend who was brave enough to share a critical view with me. That's not enough to really triangulate with. So...where do you think the balance lies? (I'm going to work really hard to keep from being defensive in the comments, so if you post something and I don't respond, I assure you it doesn't mean I didn't read it; I just want to absorb right now rather than reacting.)

accidental reset

I was trying to get Bloglines to synch with NetNewsWire today, and somehow my Bloglines subscriptions all got marked as read--taking me from ~2000 unread items to zero. (And the sync didn't work, either--only a fraction of my subscriptions actually seem to have properly updated in NNW. Feh.)

On the plus side, it was remarkably freeing to have all that unread stuff disappear. It's not like I was ever really going to catch up.

And it helped to compensate for the misery of having spent 2+ hours going through email on my non-MS accounts, which I've neglected shamefully since starting my sabbatical. (If you want a fast response from me, you should use the MSFT address. If you don't have it, you should call me. If you don't have a phone number for me...well, that's how I'm staying sane these days. Sorry.)

It's amazing how much more angst and petty politics there is in the academic environment. It's probably because as a temporary employee I'm spared many of the slings and arrows of MSFT politics. But that's not all of it. Some of it is really that academics--who often spend their entire professional lifetimes working with the same small group of people--really do have an uncanny ability to drive each other crazy. It reminds me a great deal of the way my kids interact with each other. At the moment, I'm very very glad that I'm here and not there.

relocation blues

Moving is hard. Even when it's temporary. Even when it's well-subsidized. Even when it's to someplace you want to go.

It's hard to feel at home in corporate housing. But there's no place to call home right now. Our house in Rochester has been emptied out, the house we'll be living in here will never be "our house" and is still occupied by its owners. I feel displaced, disconnected, discomforted.

I'm also feeling a bit isolated. My son is wonderful company, and we've enjoyed exploring the area--today we took the express bus into Seattle and wandered around the public market and library for a while. But I haven't had much adult company since we arrived, and I miss my friends back home. I'll be glad when my husband and older son arrive next week. I've probably used more minutes on my cell phone over the past five days than over the previous two months (happily, I have Cingular, which means I've got a ton of rollover minutes built up on my plan).

I'm sure that it will get better. I start work next week, and will have more adult contact. We'll start connecting with other families, and have some social interaction to help keep us all sane. But right now I still feel off-balance and out of place.

i'm getting boring

Nobody's said that to me, but I know it's true. Lately, my blog hasn't been much more than a "here's what I'm doing now" update. Useful to friends and family, but not particularly insightful.

Someone asked me at a presentation on Friday how much time I spend blogging, and the answer right now is less than an hour a week. It's no wonder I'm not turning out much of substance--I'm not putting much mental energy into the process.

Today I've been packing boxes. Yes, again. Yes, still. And I'm reminded of how much I hate this process of packing up. The frustration of having things look messier and more cluttered with every box I pack. It never makes sense. Shouldn't things look less cluttered as I pack them away? But there's a level of chaos that the packing process engenders that seems uncontrollable. I don't deal with that chaos well, so I end up cranky. And when mama's not happy, ain't nobody happy 'round here, alas.

I'm eleven days away from departure, and the gulf between here and there seems insurmountable today. Outside it feels like Alabama--90s and humid. The soaking rain from earlier today increased the humidity rather than reducing it, and the only saving grace is that our air conditioning still works.

Perhaps when life at home is less chaotic, life on my blog will gain some energy and creativity again. I hope so. In the meantime, I'll return to my sisyphean tasks, and will hope that at some point it will start to feel like we're making progress.

spring suffering

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.

i hate apartment hunting

I thought I was done with this forever...that once we bought our nice suburban house and I got tenure that we'd never have to do the apartment-hunting thing again. But I didn't factor in sabbaticals.

So I've spent countless hours over the past few days bouncing between,, and, trying to figure out where I should spend my time looking during the four days I have free in Seattle between the MSN Search Champs meeting and the MSR Social Computing Symposium this month.

All the pieces we need are out there--prices, floorplans, maps, feature guides, resident ratings. The problem is they're not in one place, they're not easily aggregated, and they're nearly impossible to print in a reasonable way. That means that I had to:

  1. Search in for places meeting our criteria (Lake Washington or Bellevue school districts, 3 bedrooms, reasonable floor plan, pool and playground for the kids)
  2. Locate the floorplans--some were already in, others required me to go to
  3. Look up the places meeting our criteria on, in order to see how many people had taken the time to say "this place is awful"--one or two complaints is no big deal, but a bunch of them saying the same thing is bad news (like, for example, the place where five different comments said that when new management took over their water bills went up by ~$50/month!)
  4. Print out the remaining options
  5. Use scissors and a glue stick to literally cut and paste the floorplan pictures back together since they broke in the middle of the page

There's really got to be a better way.

I realize this is in many ways better than it used to be--to be able to screen locations at all in advance of going out there is a great advantage, and when I get to Seattle I'll have a good sense of what the price ranges and expectations are. But still, it's a lengthy and tedious process, and it makes me glad we'll be coming back home to our own house in a year.


Trying to work at Panera today. I'm behind in some critical work, which makes me miserable, which leads me to get further behind. So I'm trying to break the cycle.

But there are so many people here today. And they're loud. And they're driving me crazy. I have my Sony earbuds, but they're not sufficiently noise-isolating.

I'm really hoping that I get either the Shure e2c or Etymotic er6i earphones for my birthday. Both are supposed to be very effective at blocking out this kind of background noise.

And, while I'm at it, I really need a way to be able to get at my Mac's music library when I'm working on the PC laptop I do my data analysis on. Is it possible for me to set up a VPN to my home network and then find my Mac via iTunes?

delta blues

It's getting easier and easier to see why major airlines are getting their butts kicked by companies like JetBlue and Southwest.

I'm sitting in the Rochester airport, where Gerald and the boys dropped me at 12:30--with plenty of time to catch my 1:55 flight to Atlanta. The Delta line was extremely, worrisomely long--long enough that I wondered if they'd had to cancel a flight since I left the house (I'd checked online). But the prominently placed display screens showed my flight with an on-time departure, so I patiently waited my turn. And waited. And waited. Because they kept calling Cincinnati passengers up to the front of the line--guess being there on time doesn't pay.

When I finally did get to the desk agent, he informed me that my flight had, indeed, been cancelled due to weather. But they were "having problems with their computers," which is why there was no public indication of that fact (which would have saved me the 45 minute wait in line, since I could have called Delta on my cell phone and made alternate arrangements).

The next flight out isn't until 5:45pm, and it's not fair to Gerald and the boys for me to ask them to come get me again and go through the goodbyes once more. So I've settled myself into the Frontier Business Center at the airport, in a passably comfortable chair, with free wifi and power. I've got a giant latté from Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters, and enough work (and neglected blogs) to keep me busy for a while.

This trip kicks off a busy month; I'll be in Atlanta for the NVHA Innovations conference on Social Network Media (with some other great folks). I get back on the 2nd, then leave on the 5th for Dubai, where I'll be speaking at the 7th Woibex Women in Business Conference. I return from Dubai on the 10th, and then leave again on the 12th for SXSW/Interactive, where I'll be moderating a panel entitled "Spam, Trolls, Stalkers: The Pandora's Box of Community" with panel members Jay Allen, Cam Barrett, Jason Kottke, and Steve Champeon.

The plus side of all of this for, you my online friends, is that I'll be online and available to write and chat a whole lot more than usual. Expect to see me on AIM a good bit, and for blog posting to increase a bit.

sick and tired



Lost my voice, and colleagues who had it happen to them warn that a nasty head/chest cold is likely to follow.

I have no energy.

I have too much work, and haven't yet implemented a real GTD system to keep it under control. (I'm working on it. Really. But it's slow going.)

There are over 3000 unread items in my aggregator.

I'm going to bed.

quit laughing!

One of Gerald's favorite sayings used to be "Man makes plans, and God laughs."

Tonight, after I finished my self-congratulatory post about my successful and productive day, I went down in the basement to get the last load of laundry before going to bed. As I was standing in front of the dryer, however, I noticed that the rug in the laundry area felt damp--damp enough to make my socks wet. Not good.

I peeked around the side of the laundry area, and found that there was nearly an inch of standing water stretching out for a good six feet into the storage side of the basement. The side where we put all the clutter that we don't want to think about, most of which is in cardboard boxes. I'd been putting off the Herculean task of cleaning that side of the basement until other things were more under control, but I guess my plans are the kind that make God laugh...

I found the Shop-Vac, but couldn't find a plug, so I called Gerald, who told me where only accessible plug was--on the ceiling above the washer. I climbed up there, but the Shop-Vac cord didn't reach, so I had to go out into the freezing-cold garage (in wet, bare feet) to find an extension cord. Then it took me 30 minutes to vacuum up the water from the floor and the rug, and clear the soggy boxes out of the way.

It looks like the problem was a clogged drain in the sink that the washer drains into (and, possibly, a skewed hose that was spraying the excess over the edge). I stood down in the basement watching a test run of the washer so I could be sure I'd corrected the problem.

So much for my plan to go to bed early tonight.

Ah well. At least I didn't melt down. And I managed to deal with the problem without making anything worse. Now it really is time for bed.

getting a deskjet printer to work with an airport express

The title doesn't sound like it would be hard, does it? <sigh> But it was. And I want to document what I ended up doing here--both for others who have the same problem, and for myself the next time I have to set up a computer at home to print to the shared printer.

We bought an HP Deskjet 3740 a couple of weeks ago--the price was right ($39), and our old Lexmark was on its last legs. It worked fine connected directly to our powerbooks, and even when used as a shared printer. So when Gerald got me the Airport Express for Christmas, it seemed as though we ought to be able to just plug the printer into the USB port and go. But it didn't work. The Airport Express could see the printer, and the powerbooks could tell that there was a printer, but there was no convincing the powerbooks that they had the right driver. Apparently HP uses a proprietary driver approach, rather than creating nice little PPD files.

There wasn't much online to help with this. I finally found a site called iFelix, which had an excellent page entitled "HP Printers not on compatibility list and Airport Extreme Printing." It had some useful instructions, but they involved having a PPD file again, which I didn't have. But they also pointed me to the HPIJS for Mac OS X site, which provides a "Foomatic" interface for HP printers. (According to the website, "Foomatic is a database-driven system for integrating free software printer drivers with common spoolers under Unix."). Unfortunately, after installing the two packages from that page (the Ghostscript package and the HPJIS package, both of which had nice package installers to make it easy, there was still no sign of a driver for the 3740.

I'd invested too much time at this point to give up, so I tried doing a Google search on "deskjet 3740 foomatic," and found that the same site that had the Foomatic software ( also had a tool to let you generate a PPD for the 3740. I put the resulting file into my /Library/Printers/PPDs folder, and was finally able to use the instructions on the iFelix site to add the printer. I was also able to successfully print two test pages--one from BBEdit, and one from a browser.

It's not perfect--the printer status doesn't always reflect the current job properly--but we can print, and that's the important part.

I do have to say that I'm very disappointed with Apple's support site, which had no information whatsoever (that I could find, anyhow...) explaining the potential problems with printing over the Airport Express.

stupid mommy tricks

For those of you who are always so impressed by how well I manage all my various roles, here's some evidence that I don't always manage them all that well.

On Friday, Lane was diagnosed with a case of walking pneumonia, and the doctor prescribed a five-day course of antibiotics for him. He started them Friday, and today after brunch he needed to take his third dose. Gerald was out, the boys were fighting, and I'd just sent Lane upstairs after scolding him for whacking Alex with a plastic sword. I decided to take the pill upstairs rather than calling him back down, so I popped it out of the pack, grabbed a drink, and started to go up. But then Alex distracted me because he wanted ice for his foot, and somehow in the confusion I took the damn pill rather than carrying it upstairs. I realized mid-swallow what I was doing, but it was too late.

So now we're one pill short, and I'm going to have an upset stomach all afternoon (my digestive system doesn't take well to Zithromycin). And tomorrow I'm going to have to call the doctor's office, admit to my stupidity, and see if it's possible to get a prescription for just one pill (I have no idea if they even sell them singly, since this was a packaged set.)

I hope that makes those of you who envy my multitasking abilities feel a little better. :)


Update, Monday morning: I stopped by the pediatrician's office on the way into work and told them my tale of woe. After they stopped giggling, they gave me this. Problem solved.

sometimes irony is not so sweet

Know what this is?

Greek Police Report

It's an official Greek police report. For my stolen cell phone. Which was taken from my coat pocket while I was at the EasyInternet cafe on Syntagma Square on Wednesday night, writing about how much I loved Greece. <sigh>

It's not a disaster--it had a prepaid Greek SIM in it with only €4 of credit left, and my mother cleverly purchased trip insurance before we left which will probably cover the cost of replacing it. My US (Cingular) SIM was locked up with my passport in the hotel safe, and is ready to be put into a new phone when I get home, so my phone number won't change. It was not an ideal note on which to end an otherwise lovely trip...but it did provide fodder for a blog entry on what happens when someone steals something from you in Greece.

i suppose i should be flattered...

...that somebody cares enough to want to google bomb me!

Many thanks to Rob Page for (a) catching it, and (b) letting me know.

Update, Saturday 11/13
For those of you who are coming to the site after having received a comment on your blog with my URL in it, here's an explanation.

I did not post the comments. They were generated by a kind of spamming software which is usually used to promote commercial web sites. In this case, the software is being put to use by someone (I don't know who) that's upset with either me or my writing, and is trying to accomplish two things. First, they want to associate my blog with the unpleasant descriptive term that's being placed in the 'name' field on the comment, so that when people search for that term my site will be the first result. (That's called "Googlebombing.") Second, they want unsuspecting site owners to see the comments, assume I'm just another spammer, and add my site's URL to their blacklist.

There's not much I can do about it, except for enjoy the surge in traffic to my site, and hope that people will take the time to check out my site before reflexively blacklisting it.

democratic codependency

Okay, I've gotten the pettiness out of my system now, I hope.

The irony is that at the end of the day, my life probably won't be significantly disrupted by the results of this election. But many of the "heartland" people who voted for Bush--they're the ones whose children will die in the war, whose health care will be stripped away, whose jobs will be at risk. And the people most likely to be drafted into this war didn't care enough to vote--youth turnout was no higher this year than it was four years ago, it seems.

Yes, I know that many people who didn't vote for Bush--whether here or abroad--will be affected, as well. I'm not trivializing that. Just noting the irony that here in the US, Bush's "base" is likely to suffer more than many of his detractors.

Viewed through the filter of my recovery process, it feels as though the democrats are the co-dependents in this country, and the republicans are the addicts. We keep thinking if we just tell them they're doing the wrong thing that they'll see the error of their ways and change their behavior. But they won't--at least not through our sheer forces of will or displays of rationality.

Hand-wringing will get us nowhere. Lessig is right...we need to let it go, and move forward. We need to fix ourselves before we try to repair those we see as misguided. We need to understand how we encourage and enable what looks to us like insanity. (One of the things that people in Al-Anon come to realize is that they often end up looking far more insane than the addict in their lives.)

So, what happens next? Me, I'm taking a break from political thought for a couple of weeks. And then I need to think hard about how I become a force for positive change, rather than simply a shrill critic of what I see that's wrong.

america, the beautiful


The people have spoken.

Four more years.

(Video of Bush giving what he terms on the tape as "the one-fingered victory salute" via David Weinberger; his sources say it's from a taping of an Austin tv show late in Bush's term as governor of Texas.)

a suburbanite responds

<vent>Having just returned from a several-day stay in smog-shrouded, traffic-clogged LA, I have to admit to a bit of irritation reading about Molly's upcoming presentation at Design Engaged: "All Hail the Vast, Conforming Suburb of the Soul."

I happen to be one of the "commuting parents in minivans" she's referring to, and I find her somewhat condescending tone quite troubling. It's not just Molly--I see the same thinly-veiled contempt in the comments of many urbanites. (I was equally put off by danah's post on the "wal-mart nation" some time ago.)

I live in a suburb, own a minivan, and don't fit many of the stereotypes that city-dwellers want to ascribe to me. I love cities, but I have two small kids and a single income. In the suburbs of a small city, I get the following advantges:

  • Beautiful 1800sf four-bedroom colonial house with large yard, two-car garage, swimming pool, full basement, sidewalks for bicycles and excellent public school district--for a whopping $114,000 (8 years ago; it hasn't appreciated by more than about $20K, I'd guess)
  • Streets and sidewalks with limited traffic and alert neighbors, so my kids can ride bikes and explore nearby creeks
  • Friendly neighbors who help each other out in crises, wave to each other while mowing lawns, and keep an eye on each other's homes
  • A six mile, ten-minute 'commute' to work, which means I spend more time with family
  • A neighborhood school with a mix of socio-economic levels where the principal knows us all by name, and where most of the parents are actively involved

It's also the case that interesting culture isn't limited to major urban areas. Rochester has a wealth of good music and art--from an excellent philharmonic orchestra to the Eastman House.

Reading posts like these from women I generally respect and enjoy makes it easier for me to understand why those awful "Back to Vermont" ads from the Republican Coalition for Change were so appealing to people in the "red states." It played right into the backlash that urban contempt for suburbia creates.

I'll tell you stop labeling me and my lifestyle as boring and homogenous, and I'll refrain from labeling you as effete and out-of-touch, mmkay?</vent>

rain, rain, go away

I'm so very tired of the rain.

Rochester average rainfall for July is 2.83". This month we've had 6.13".

Total number of "cooling degree days" (the day's average temperature minus 65ºF) for this month was 109; normal for the month is 202.

This is the most unpleasant summer I can remember having in Rochester. It's been so wet, so cool, so gray. I'm getting seasonal affective disorder in July! That's ridiculous.

I can't believe I'm actually looking forward to a trip to Alabama in August. With our luck, though, we'll get hit with a hurricane while we're there.

absent-minded without leave

Haven't been blogging much lately. I'd like to say it's because I'm getting so much done on my research and course prep, but it's not. Or because I'm energetically cleaning the house and the basement and the garage, but it's not.

My brain is on vacation, it seems. I can't afford a brain vacation right now, but my brain didn't really ask my opinion. It didn't check my calendar, or my to-do list. It just cut and's probably on a sunny beach somewhere in the Caribbean, or climbing a mountain in Switzerland. And it cleverly chose not to take my body along with it, so my physical self is stuck here in cold, damp, un-summery Rochester.

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised that it decided to take off for a while. The rest of me would go, too, if it could. It's been a pretty awful year. Two deaths in the family since December, then the loss of the teenager we knew last week. Two close friends diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. One family member shot in March and still in the ICU four months later. One family member coming to terms with alcoholism. One bruising and highly politicized battle over my promotion. Far too many hours spent airborne. Disappointing news about our sabbatical planning--for reasons I can't go into, an overseas sabbatical will not be feasible. Can it just stop now, please? Can we have a week...or even, God forbid, a month...without trauma?

The new van (it's beautiful!) is a bit of a bright spot. It's been a long time since I've driven a new car. Not since 1987, when I bought my beloved Prelude (which gave its life to protect me and the boys back in 1999). We're traveling down to Alabama to visit family next month, and the trip will be a lot more enjoyable in a van that's safe and comfortable...even luxurious. (I did find some damage to the front bumper when I took possession of it tonight, so they'll be replacing it next week. Glad I checked carefully...)

And perhaps acknowledging my cognitively-disabled state will encourage my AWOL brain to return home, refreshed and ready to pound out insightful analysis and efficient survey instruments.

an open letter to alex patout

Dear Mr. Patout-

I'm writing to express to you our disappointment with the dinner we had at Alex Patout's Louisiana Restaurant in the French Quarter on June 3rd. We chose your restaurant to celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary because we had fond memories of the excellent food and service we'd enjoyed there a decade ago--it appears, however, that over time both have suffered declines in quality.

The service was friendly and fast--but a bit too fast. We felt quite rushed, and had no sense of a leisurely, well-paced meal. Although we ordered both appetizers and dessert, the time from our seating to our departure was slightly under one hour; this is good for turnover and revenue enhancement, I'm sure, but it's less than ideal for diners wishing to relax and enjoy their meal. We don't often spend $100 on a meal, and when we do, we generally look forward to the entire dining experience, not just a quick succession of plates.

Our food was good, but not spectacular, and most certainly not of a quality commensurate with the cost. The crab and corn bisque was bland, and my lump crabmeat dish had an alarming number of shell fragments. We had substantially better (though comparably priced) meals at other restaurants in town during our stay--particularly Emeril's and Dante's Kitchen--which made the shortcomings of our meal at your restaurant all the more apparent.

I hope that we simply caught your staff and your kitchen on a bad night, and that our experience wasn't indicative of the current overall quality of your restaurant. I suspect, however, that on future visits to New Orleans we will find other places to celebrate special occasions.


Elizabeth Lawley


When we booked our reservation online, we received a confirmation email from "Alex Patout <>"--which may or may not have actually come from the chef himself. That's the address to which I sent the above message. If I receive a reply, I'll post an update.


Update, 6/17

Since I had not received a response, I followed up with another email yesterday. In it, I pointed out that I'd posted the letter on my site and that it was now showing up in the top ten results for "Alex Patout." I received this response today:

Dear Ms. Lawley,

I apologize that we did not write to you at your email address. We, instead, wrote a letter to your New York address. We hope that you have it by tomorrow. I will check back with you then. We have had so many problems with our server that we don't leave anything to chance anymore.

Thanks for your patience.

Marcia Patout
Alex Patout's Louisiana Restaurant

I'll update again when I get their answer.

fighting antisemitism

Tonight is the first night of Passover.

As Michael Froomkin says, what better night to try to dislodge an antisemitic site from the first position in a Google search for "jew," and replace it with the Wikipedia entry for the term. Or, if you don't care for the Wikipedia, you could link to the Judaism 101 article "Who is a Jew." (Google weights pages in search results in part based on the number and rank of sites linking to the page; by linking to the Wikipedia and Judaism 101 pages rather than the antisemitic site, I help to increase their page rank. This is a process known as "Googlebombing," and it's the first time I've seen it used to address an ethically problematic result in Google's search results.)

There have number of incidents recently in my personal and professional lives that have reminded me that hatred and antisemitism are still alive and well and dwelling in our midst. What's almost as bad as the antisemitism is the lack of outrage it seems to generate in those who observe it. It's depressing, and demoralizing.

The Happy Tutor posed a classic question this week on his site: "Must those committed to tolerance tolerate the intolerant?" Then he responded in the affirmative, saying "Because the intolerant must learn to tolerate the tolerant, no less than the other way around, that we all might be forgiven and reintegrated with the Carnival of Self-Acknowledged Fools."

I suspect it's easier to tolerate the intolerant when what they're intolerant of is others rather than you and those you love.

hating the post, not the poster

I don't know why I'm always surprised when people respond to my posts on controversial subjects with personal attacks and venom. It's not unique to the blogosphere, of course; I deal with this in academic politics all the time, as well.

There are plenty of people online whose ideas I disagree with, or whose writing makes me angry. But in general, I try to separate out my responses to their ideas from my responses to them as people--particularly if they're people with whom I've had little or no personal interaction.

I'm fine with someone coming onto my site and saying "I think that's a terrible idea," particularly if they say why they think that. And I've found that most interesting discussions start not with "That's stupid!" (or worse, "You're an asshole!") but rather with "Well, here's why I disagree." Ad hominem attacks do little to set the tone for a debate.

Don't like what I say? Then debate the ideas. Think what I say is rendered worthless by my very existence? Then stop reading. But don't poison my comments with venomous, hurtful remarks. From now on, personal attacks on this site will be deleted without comment. Repeat offenders will be banned from the site.

msp: topping the list of airports i hate

I take back everything bad I said about Dulles and its "mobile lounges." After suffering through a change of planes at Northwest's hub in Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), I've placed that airport at the very top of my "must avoid at all costs" list.

It's a beautiful airport, actually. A stunning array of restaurants and shops, many of which are quite artistically executed, and most of which are well-targeted to travelers. (Lots of bookstores, gadget stores, even a "get it here, return it at the next airport" DVD rental place.)

But getting from point A to point B--which is what a hub, after all, is supposed to facilitate--was a huge f***ing pain in the a**. (Unseemly words obscured as part of a probably futile attempt to keep my site off the "banned list".)

MSP diagramI arrived at very end of terminal B, and had to transfer to a flight leaving from F14. This involved 20 full minutes of walking at a very brisk pace, aided by an endless stream of moving sidewalks. No shuttles from terminal to terminal--they're all connected. Which means you walk. And walk. And walk. And walk some more.

As I walked, I was treated to a view of a monorail-like conveyance outside the window, but there were no clues (in signage or on airport maps) as to where one might enter and exit said conveyance. So instead, I sullenly watched it zip past me a few times as I navigated the endless corridors to my destination.

Once I did arrive at the gate, I was delighted to see large signs proclaiming the availability of wireless access--just select the SSID "concourse," said the signs. But my Powerbook didn't think it was so easy. "There is an error joining the network 'concourse'," it told me. I tried turning off my airport card and turning it back on. No luck. I restarted my computer. Still no luck. The network taunts me from the menu, so close and yet so far. Uploading of the posts I've been churning out since I left my house will have to wait 'til I get to the hotel in Seattle.

I did manage to snag an exit row window seat with a little extra leg room. Unfortunately, it comes standard with a seatmate whose elbows are the most prominent part of his body, and who figured there was not much point in taking a shower before an early morning cross-country flight.

Did I mention that I'm really tired of traveling?

overwhelmed: please do not disturb

All this traveling has left me hopelessly far behind in all the things I need to do, at home and at work. Expect light or no blogging while I try to dig myself out from under this mountainous to-do list.

I wish that life was like a hotel room, and came with one of those nice "do not disturb" signs for the door (not to mention maid service and room service).

dry spell

Haven't had much luck with generating blog posts lately--other than a few travel reports, my writing well seems to have gone dry.

I'm not quite sure how to jumpstart my brain on this. The guilt associated with non-posting to three different blogs isn't helping things, either. (I know, I know. No reason to feel guilty. There's no requirement that I be posting. But guilt is seldom rational.)

Meanwhile, I'm watching my colleagues at M2M churn out a slew of great posts (check out latest YASNS post--"I have 30 million years of primate social experience wired between my ears."). Not to mention all the great content coming from people like AKMA and Dervala and Weez and Halley and Jeneane. Seems like I'm the only one blocked these days.

Maybe SXSW will help get me unstuck. Then again, maybe it's the constant traveling that got me there in the first place. I'm feeling uncentered, out of touch with home and sense of self. Three more trips in the next three weeks. Then things will calm down, and perhaps the creative juices will flow again.

server migration snafus


After 20+ back-and-forth messages with WebIntellects, my hosting provider, the problems seem to have subsided.

They finally set the permissions so I could access my database, and I was able to restore the lost month of data from my backups, and get things back to where they were yesterday afternoon.

Except...I suddenly ran out of disk space. Which didn't make any sense, because the only thing on this server is the blog, which isn't that big. I increased the disk allocation from 100MB to 300MB in my reseller panel (I manage multiple domains from one account), noting to my surprise that I was using 175MB of that space, and tried again to update the database...only to get another space-related error. A check of the control panel showed I was now using all 300MB! Clearly a process had run amok. But I have no access to processes, so I couldn't list them, let alone kill the responsible party.

After a few messages back and forth with tech support (through an annoying trouble-ticket system), I determined that the file that was growing so quickly was the error log. When I peeked at it, I found that it was the module from MT-Blacklist that was cycling, adding hundreds of lines per second to the log.

I deleted all the MT-Blacklist files, and then had the tech guy kill the process and delete the log. Once I was sure comments worked again, I went in and tried to reinstall MT-Blacklist, but I got errors about undefined arrays. I've got a query in to the host about whether they've changed somethign about the perl install on the new server. In the meantime, I'm keeping comments closed on posts more than 30 days old, and hoping not to get hit too badly with spam between now and when I can get things running again.

misconceptions about antidepressants

Much as I love Halley, posts like this one really frustrate me.

Antidepressants aren't "happiness pills," any more than diabetic insulin treatments are "eat more sugar" pills, or blood pressure or ulcer medications are "stress management pills." I'm sure most of the people being treated for diabetes would prefer not to have to take medication; the fact that someone "doesn't like taking pills" is not necessarily relevant to whether medical treatment for a condition is warranted.

I've written before about my experiences with depression and anti-depressants. Do I--did I--like taking pills? No. But for me, at one time, it was the best solution to a difficult problem.

There is a huge difference between being unhappy and being clinically depressed. Anybody who has ever gone through a clinical depression, and then been rescued from it by medical treatment, knows this. Is medication the only way out of clinical depression? Not always. But antibiotics aren't the only way to survive bacterial infections, either. The fact that people live through those without taking pills doesn't mean that people who choose treatment are somehow taking the easy way out.

libraries and standards

Dorothea has a curmudgeonly post today about what she sees as the absence of librarians in the technical standards community.

She's says she might be wrong--and she is. So here's my curmudgeonly response. :)

There are many, many librarians and libraries involved in technical standards development and implementation. For goodness sake, who do you think developed the Dublin Core?

Making generalizations about the library profession based on one academic library is a bit like making generalizations about the web development profession based on one development firm. People with an interest in standards tend to cluster, and there are plenty of places in library land to find them:

  • OCLC, of course. (Based in Dublin, Ohio, for those not familiar with them...which is how the Dublin Core got its name.) Take a look at some of the research initiatives they're involved with, most (if not all) of which have librarians in key positions.
  • The Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), a deeply library-focused organization formed jointly by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and EDUCAUSE. Its founder, the late Paul Peters, was one of my most-favorite library people. And its current director, Cliff Lynch, is a near legend in the library technology field. Take a look at their current projects
  • The Open Archives Initiative--check out the number of library folks on their Technical Committee
  • The NISO OpenURL committee, based at CalTech's library.

I know there have been librarians on a variety of IETF and W3C committees, as well, but I don't have time to look all of that up. My guess is that some of my regular library community readers will add some of that in my comments section.

libraries and standards

Dorothea has a curmudgeonly post today about what she sees as the absence of librarians in the technical standards community.

She's wrong. So here's my curmudgeonly response. :)

Dorothea, there are many, many librarians and libraries involved in technical standards development and implementation. For goodness sake, who do you think developed the Dublin Core?

Making generalizations about the library profession based on one academic library is a bit like making generalizations about the web development profession based on one development firm. People with an interest in standards tend to cluster, and there are plenty of places in library land to find them:

  • OCLC, of course. (Based in Dublin, Ohio, for those not familiar with them...which is how the Dublin Core got its name.) Take a look at some of the research initiatives they're involved with, most (if not all) of which have librarians in key positions.
  • The Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), a deeply library-focused organization formed jointly by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and EDUCAUSE. Its founder, the late Paul Peters, was one of my most-favorite library people. And its current director, Cliff Lynch, is a near legend in the library technology field. Take a look at their current projects
  • The Open Archives Initiative--check out the number of library folks on their Technical Committee
  • The NISO OpenURL committee, based at CalTech's library.

I know there have been librarians on a variety of IETF and W3C committees, as well, but I don't have time to look all of that up. My guess is that some of my regular library community readers will add some of that in my comments section.

there's no place like home

From today's weather alerts:





recalcitrant re-entry into reality

I'm home. And while I'm really happy to be with my family again, this Monday-morning-going-to-work thing really is not making me feel good about life.

Even the big cup of coffee and Little Feat background music isn't bringing me out of the funk.

So, in a probably pointless attempt to improve my attitude, here's a list for myself of reasons to like my job.

  1. sunset.jpgI have a big office with a nice view out my window. (That sunset picture was taken during one of the nights when I was working on my AoIR paper...)
  2. I have some great colleagues, including my best friend.
  3. I finally have a reasonable teaching load.
  4. I have a lot of fun, smart, talented students whose company I enjoy.
  5. I have a 17" powerbook and a 23" cinema monitor in my office.
  6. I have free access to a good gym, which, with the opening of the new fieldhouse in the spring, will be a great gym.
  7. I have excellent benefits, including good health care, good retirement plan, and full tuition for my kids.
  8. I'm tenured, which means that my job is pretty safe (not 100% guaranteed, but very close)

Okay. Writing that down was good. I feel slightly less petulant and cranky now. There are no jobs that are completely free of politics and frustration, there's no place I could be where I wouldn't occasionally have to pull out the voodoo doll and give it a new name. (Got that from another favorite colleague, who's on sabbatical this year, so I seldom see him. :/ )

And yes, I know, I've got it so much better than so many people. I really do know that, and I really am grateful. I'm just having a bad day. As my father says (all the time, which used to drive me totally crazy when I was a teen), "this too shall pass."

privacy and power

This morning I'm taking a few hours off from being a responsible grownup, and instead slept late, caught up on email, worked out in the hotel gym, and now am catching up on blogs.

A line in AKMA's post this morning from the DigID caught my eye, though, and dragged me back to the things that have been weighing me down in the real world.

He quoted Cory Doctorow as saying "Privacy never exists apart from power relationships. Privacy is all about power."

Now, this isn't really a groundbreaking concept. (And I've certainly been on the receiving end of criticism on exactly this front, as those who are regular readers and participants on the Happy Tutor's site are well aware.) But seeing the words like that, in the context of recent departmental debates about things like promotion in rank, and internal governance, really hit a nerve for me.

This week had an almost surreal feel to it for me, in fact, because I was re-reading Pierre Bourdieu's book Homo Academicus, in preparation for my presentation at AoIR. The book is Bourdieu's "self-reflexive" sociological analysis of power and class struggles in French higher education, and his discussion of the "symbolic violence" that results from imbalances of capital and power.

On Tuesday, while I was in the midst of this reading and thinking, we had an extraordinarily divisive meeting of our faculty. Some context, first. We've got 51 tenure-track faculty members in our department (and a handful of visiting professors, and a smattering--a small smattering--of adjuncts). Of the 51, 20 are tenured. Of those 20, two (including me) are still at the assistant professor rank, because our departmental policy does not allow faculty to go up for tenure and promotion in the same year. It turns out that we're just about the only department on campus to have that restriction, so a number of "junior" faculty asked in the faculty meeting that our departmental policy be changed in this regard.

The details of the meeting are not particularly important, but the outcomes certainly were. The "junior" faculty (myself included) are unlikely to forget the statement by one of our most senior professors that the "peer group" (those at or above the rank aspired to) was under no obligation to even consider an application from a faculty member for promotion, even if that person met the university's criteria. Nor are the senior facuulty likely to forget my angry response to that, and to a highly charged and divisive vote that occurred at the end of the meeting.

In retrospect, perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut, considering that I'm up for promotion this year. After the meeting, one of the less belligerent senior faculty told me that "confrontational approaches never have good endings." I refrained from pointing out that seldom are power imbalances corrected by gentle suggestions by the underclass. Yes, I know, I could have waited a year. But I squelched my anger at how things are done in our department for two years (between midtenure and tenure) in order to keep my job, and I guess I just didn't have it in me to keep quiet one more time.

The response of the senior faculty to what happened on Tuesday was two-fold. First, they made it clear that any changes to policy would happen behind closed doors, without the input of those most affected, and without the process being made visible. Second, at least two of them have contacted me to say that because they were offended by my challenging their votes, they're going to request that all future full faculty votes be conducted by secret ballot.

I don't want to break down all the structures, hierarchical or not. As Cathy Irving pointed out in a comment to an early post of mine, "Walls are good. They hold up the roof." But I think that privacy must be balanced with trust. Do I want to be private sometimes? Sure. Are there times when the use of power is appropriate and effective? Yes. But the breakdown occurs when trust is gone, and I think our department is well past that point. Maybe it's a function of scale. Maybe it happens everywhere. I don't know. But I'm saddened by it, and increasingly weary of fighting the battles.

For now, though, I'm going to wander over to the AoIR presentations, and soak up a little more of what I love about academia--the exchange of ideas, the enthusiasm about research, the conversations with smart people that make you really think. And then I'm going out on the town with no other than Joey deVilla (aka Accordion Guy). If you're at AoIR and want to join us, come find me during or after the 2pm session today on "Access Denied: Critical Considerations of Internet Space and the Digital Divide." I'll be the one with the 17" powerbook, live blogging the panel (assuming WiFi is live).

i *hate* os x mail

Here's why...

There's no way to tell on OS X that you don't want it to check mail on one of your accounts. (Update: Well, no obvious way. Turns out the "advanced" tab in account preferences lets you deactivate it.) My main account was freezing, so to get it to stop trying to check it, I deleted the account in, figuring I'd add it back in later when the server problem was fixed. It flashed up the predictable "are you sure" message, and I automatically clicked yes. Much too fast, alas.

It turns out that if you delete an account in, it deletes every piece of mail sent or received under that account at the same time. In this case, nearly 2000 pieces of mail, going back several years. And it really deletes them, as in rm -rf, not as in "moved to the trash."

I want to cry.

To compound that problem, my husband recently overwrote my Firewire hard drive (which I use for backups), so I have no backup of this information. None. And this is POP mail, not IMAP, so it's not on the server. It is well and truly gone forever.

Did I mention that I want to cry?

I'm going home now.

too many sheep to count

I followed an intriguing link on Stewart's sidebar, which took me to Matt Webb Jones, which in turn took me to a fascinating site about John Titor. Claiming to be a time traveller from 2036, Titor posted to an online forum from November 2000 through March 2001.

The first two lines of the quote are what stuck with Stewart and Matt, but it's the third line that resonates with me. And not just because of the obvious national and international also hits way too close to the (mostly) unbloggable frustrations I have about my job these days.

Perhaps I should let you all in on a little secret. No one likes you in the future. This time period is looked at as being full of lazy, self-centered, civically ignorant sheep. Perhaps you should be less concerned about me and more concerned about that.

single motherhood does not agree with me

Every time my husband leaves town, things seem to go wrong. He left yesterday morning for a short trip to Alabama--visiting friends and family, and seeing a Little Feat concert in Mobile.

So, of course, I immediately got sick. Some nasty cold virus that I got either from him (thanks, honey), or from the crowds on campus (just as likely).

And I've got to have a mammogram done tomorrow. Not a routine one. Doctor says there's probably nothing to worry about. Most likely this. Sure hope he's right.

Not to mention the fact that Isabel is headed straight for us, with winds gusting up to 50mph forecast for tomorrow, so I'll be cooped up in the house with two rambunctious kids (who, thankfully, are outside now using up excess energy--and even, miracle of miracles, playing well with each other!).

Will update on health and weather tomorrow.

fall frenzy

This is a crazy quarter in terms of traveling. Normally I don't travel much, if at all, during the academic year (except during breaks). But this quarter, I have three back-to-back trips in October and November. So today has been travel arrangement day. :P

October 16-19 I'll be at the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) annual conference in Toronto, where I'll be on a blog-related panel that Alex Halavais put together. Minor detail...I need to write the paper. Ack. (It's based on some earlier work I did related to Usenet, so I'm not at ground zero. But I'm still a little panicked.)

October 26-28 I'll be at a workshop in Albuquerque, NM, for PIs (principal investigators) in NSF's ITWF program. Everyone who's gotten research money over the past few years from that program will be there to talk about their research and share ideas, results, etc. I'm excited about this, because it's a great opportunity to get to know other researchers in the area of women and computing. However, because of the spam filtering problem I mentioned yesterday, I didn't know I had to prepare a 5 page summary paper--which is due Monday.

November 2-4 I'll be at the Internet Librarian conference in Monterey, CA, where I'll be on a keynote panel on blogging "Top Tech Trends for Libraries" (sort of a 'do-over' of the ALA panel I was on, but sharing the podium with new people), and then doing a separate presentation on "Beyond Blogging." I'm way behind on getting the paperwork done for that, too. (If y'all are reading this, I am coming. Really. I promise I'll have everything filled out and sent back by the end of this weekend!)

All that has to be balanced with MW afternoon teaching schedule. I really don't feel good about missing more than two classes a quarter (it's only a ten-week quarter, so there are only 20 class meetings). So that means rushing home on Tuesday the 28th and Tuesday the 4th (including a red-eye flight home for the latter), so that I can make it to my Wednesday 2pm class.

Which is a very roundabout way of saying don't be surprised if blogging falters a little during the next couple of weeks. That's a lot of stuff to prepare for.

spam filtering stupidity

I found out yesterday that I hadn't received two very important emails from NSF regarding an upcoming PI workshop in Albuquerque. I never saw them, they never got a bounce message. That's not good. So my co-PI (who also didn't get them) investigated.

It turns out that the piece of crap email server that our department uses--a FirstClass server that's intended for conferencing, but has had an SMTP and POP server stapled onto it--has some fascinating default settings.

First of all, it considers anything that has more than four recipients "junk mail." Since the message from NSF went to a list of 20 or so PIs, that made it junk mail. Second of all, the user defaults for what to do with junk mail seem to be set to "Silently Delete."

(It's a good thing this isn't an audio blog, or the muttering I'm doing under my breath right now would get this blog on every filtering list known.)

This explains a lot of things, including why it is that when I use Evite to invite colleagues to parties, more than half of them never get the invitation. Silly me, I invite more than four people at a time.

So, if you're a colleague of mine reading this, and you're wondering why some of the mail you expect to receive isn't making it to you--that's probably why. And if you're sending me mail, please send it to my "" address, rather than my "" address.

The fix, for those unfortunates who are stuck with FirstClass as a mail server, is to launch the FC client, open Preferences, go to the Messaging tab, and change "Junk Mail Handling" from "Silently Delete" to "Accept". You have to do this even if you don't use the FC client for reading mail (I pick mail up from the server using OS X Mail). And if you're wise enough to be using a better client, you can then also use better spam filtering than the boneheaded methods that the FC server seems to implement.

and so it begins again

The kids trudged reluctantly up the steps of their school bus this morning. I trudged just as reluctantly into the basement and onto the treadmill, which ended up being a lot more fun than the rest of my day. Presidential address to the university community (two hours long, made slightly less painful by my discovery that my new 17" powerbook was capable of picking up a wifi signal even out in the giant tent in U Lot), college faculty meeting (don't even get me started on the pointlessness of that gathering), student convocation (which I skipped in order to rush home and meet my kids as they got back off the bus), and finally a master's student project defense.

On the one hand, I'm happy to get back into some semblance of a routine. I eat better (fewer temptations) and exercise more (because it's part of my daily schedule) during the school year. But on the other hand, it only took a few hours for me to remember how much I hate the part of my job that's not teaching or research--the endless hours of faculty and committee meetings that balkanize my days and cause constant frustration in all the participants.

Skipping convocation was my little declaration of independence, in a way. It's not that I don't like convocation...there's a part of me that really loves the pomp and circumstance surrounding convocation in the fall, and commencement in the spring. The formal welcoming and leave-taking, focused on the students. But going to convocation today meant missing my kids' arrival at home on their first day of school, and I wanted to make statement--to myself and to my family--about where my priorities would be this year. Now that I'm tenured (as of September 1st), I don't have to worry that missing a "required event" will cost me my job. So I went home, and was sitting on the front porch when the bus pulled up in front of the house.

The freshman students won't remember that I wasn't at convocation today. But my kids would remember if I wasn't here when they got home. It was the right thing to do.

Tomorrow I'll try to clear my mind of the meeting-induced negativity I accumulated today, and will start to focus on the grant work (we give our first presentation to the new students tomorrow, asking them to support our work by agreeing to participate) and class preparation. I've got a full section of freshmen in my Intro to Multimedia class, and I'm really looking forward to that. It's a great chance to connect with students when they first arrive, and to shape their perceptions of the department and the university.

why i still hate wikis


I'm not posting this on Many-to-Many, despite the fact that it's really a follow up to my other posts there. I don't want to stir the pot and start a debate right now. I just want to express my extreme frustration with trying to use a wiki, before I explode.

Tonight Dorothea and I started talking about the architecture for the syndication project wiki (pie/echo/atom/whatever). I figured it made all kinds of sense to create wiki pages for our discussion, so I created one for our thoughts on topical organization, and one for our thoughts on audience-focused organization. The file names both included FirstDraft at the end, because I'm accustomed to keeping drafts separate from "production" files.

After I'd edited them a bit, though, I realized that given the nature of the wiki, it made more sense to simply name them with the topics, and let the drafts evolve into the finished products. But it turns out there's no way to rename a wiki page. Once you've picked a name, you're stuck with it. And while the documentation refers to a DeletePage action, I'll be damned if I can figure out how to implement it (and I resent having to do so, anyways, since I don't want to delete it, I want to rename it).

I spent a good hour going through the docs for MoinMoin, which are about as well organized as every other wiki I've ever dealt with. No luck. No way to rename, no help on how to delete. I give up. The pages will probably join hundreds of other orphans on the site. Blech.

It seems to me that wikis are designed for people who don't really care whether their informtion is organized or accessible. People who want to throw stuff out and not worry about what it's called or what its context is. This is so not how I like dealing with content. I think names matter. I think structured information has value. And I think clear, well-organized documentation is essential.

It's easy for me to consider using blogs in a class--I can implement them in a way that I'm relatively sure will cause minimal frustration and confusion for my students. But wikis are another story. I can't see subjecting my students to this level of frustration--with formatting, with renaming, with organizing, with finding information.


hey! you! get out of my wine!

Wish I didn't need this article right now. Stupid bananas.

academic chicanery

This entry was somehow deleted and replaced by the vig-rx comment spammer.

banned blogs

Last night, after working out, I went out for a beer with my friends Weez and Cathy. We were standing in the front hallway of The Distillery, waiting for a table on the patio, when I noticed the "free Internet" kiosk. To kill time, I tried pulling up my blog to see if there were new comments.

Instead of my blog, however, I got a dialog box that said "Access to this site has been restricted at the request of this organization." Hmmm. Tried my main page--no problem. But the blog had been banned.

By whom? Wrong question. Not a person, but the filtering software that the bar was using. I'm guessing it was the "Shut the F*** Up" reference from Tuesday's post that triggered the filter, but there's really no way to be sure, since filtering companies won't tell you what their algorithm for restriction is based upon.

This is particularly worthy of note given Monday's Supreme Court decision to uphold the CIPA (Children's Internet Protection Act). The CIPA "forbids public libraries to receive federal assistance for Internet access unless they install software to block obscene or pornographic images and to prevent minors from accessing material harmful to them."

One of the reasons that libraries were among the most vocal critics of the CIPA is that filtering software is notorious for its "false positives"--web sites with valid constitutionally protected speech that it mistakenly bans.

A real person evaluating my blog for suitability in a library setting would probably not choose to ban it based on the context in which the suspect word was used. But filtering software isn't that smart, and as a result, someone in a public library looking for information on my grant research, or the ala programs I attended, is out of luck. (My husband, reading over my shoulder, says "And rightfully so!" ;)

I think I'll take a little trip to the public library next week and see how many of the blogs on my blogroll are also blocked by filtering software. Scary stuff, isn't it?


Back for long enough to say that I'm very glad I didn't submit a paper to the Digital Arts and Culture conference being held this week in Melbourne. And I feel bad for the people who did, who are being publicly excorciated by one of the conference organizers in the public conference blog right now. Imagine how the "emerging researchers" referenced here must be feeling. (Horrors! Academics wanting to cite a slew of useful references?) Or how about the misguided authors who wanted their images to appear in a specific place in their texts? Apparently "digital arts" don't (or shouldn't) allow for such precision.

Even if these struck me as valid complaints--which they don't--I'm disturbed by their public nature. There are some things, it seems to me, that really ought to be limited to private exchanges rather than public posting.

hoppy toad alert

When I was child, I remember reading a version of Charles Perrault's fairy tale "Toads and Diamonds." I'm not sure if it was that version (which is from The Blue Fairy Book). I don't think so, because I distinctly remember the term "hoppy toads," as opposed to simply "toads," from the version I read.

There are days when I wake in the morning and I know that it's going to be a hoppy toad day. Usually it's because I'm wrestling with issues internally that I can't find a way to express in a reasonable way, or that for one reason or another it's not appropriate for me to talk about. That's hard for me, since talking (and/or writing) things out is a big part of how I understand and resolve them. So when I can't discuss things that are bothering me, it tends to make me cranky. When I'm cranky, I get defensive, and tend to interpret much of what's going on around me as criticism and attack (often incorrectly). And when I feel attacked, my facility with language makes it easy for me shape words into deadly projectiles that leave my mouth with a level of speed and force that's almost guaranteed to do damage. Poisonous toads and venomous snakes.

This is not, needless to say, my most lovable personality trait. Happily, as I've gotten older, my ability to control those verbal projectiles has improved...but I'm still not perfect. So when I find myself in a "hoppy toad" mood, as I do today, I generally try to stay away from people. Trying extremely hard to not to open my mouth, for fear of what will emerge if I do.


Updated 29 March 2011 to fix broken links to the story text.

ridiculously easy group-unforming

The flip side of how easy it is for groups to form using (relatively) new social software technologies is how easy it is for them to unform--and not always in a way that the group wants.

A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail invitation to join a Yahoo! Group called "blogrollers." The invitation was from Dave Winer, and it was based on the fact that I'm on a small distribution list that RageBoy occasionally uses to tell friends that he's escaped his private demons for long enough to write something on his blog. Dave thought it would be fun to turn that ad-hoc group into a mailing list. I agreed, and accepted the invitation (as did about 15-20 other people whose ideas and writing I enjoy). Ridiculously easy. Straightforward merging of e-mail and web interfaces. One address in the to: field now instead of dozens. It's all good.

Then I made the mistake of mentioning the new M2M blog I was involved with on Corante--and got slapped down pretty fast by Dave--on the list and on his blog. (Don't think it counts towards my Winer number, though, since it wasn't a personal attack.)

I responded on the list (gently, I thought), and left it at that. I did so thinking it was a small group environment, and that it was part of a discussion among friends. Silly me. I forgot that Yahoo! Groups archives are available publicly (unless the moderator deliberately turns them off.) Dave posted a link to my message on his blog, effectively turning it into a public rather than private response. Ugh. Good reminder of the shifting boundaries between public and private in electronic communication. I was more upset with myself, really, for not thinking about the public nature of those archives.

A series of messages followed, with a lot of support for the value of the SSA and the new blog, and some resistance from Dave. Not an ugly debate, I thought. But there wasn't a lot of agreement from the group with Dave's position.

This morning I woke up to a list message from Dave entitled "Taking a Break":
I envisioned this list as basically a friendly place to exchange ideas among adults, away from the rudeness of XML lists. Unfortunately some of that is bound to creep in. When it does I'm going to smash it hard. I'm so tired of kid stuff. Looking to learn and share ideas. So I turned on moderation for the list, and won't approve messages for a few days, to let things quiet down.

Wow. It's the online equivalent of "I'm taking my marbles and going home." But in this case, by taking the marbles, he takes the playground right along with him. I can understand wanting to take a break...I've needed to do that plenty of times in online communities. One of the things I like about Yahoo! Groups, in fact, is that you can so easily go to "No Mail" mode when you don't want to read the messages, leaving yourself the option of reading them on the web site later if you change your mind.

Perhaps most importantly, I'm struck by the ease with which this technology allowed him to shut down everyone in the group. Enforced "break taking" for everyone. So I've taken a permanent break from that group by removing myself as a member. I'm not comfortable in an environment where the sole power can (and will) silence me--and the people I'm interested in listening to--so quickly. And I'll go back to the lengthy cc: list approach--which, though inelegant, has the power of decentralization and individual control going for it.

open source courseware

I have spent most of this weekend wrestling my course materials into the proprietary courseware framework that our university has invested in. The system, called Prometheus, boasts what may be the all-time worst user interface I've had the displeasure of working with in many years.

I'm taking the time to do this because, in my experience, criticism of a bad system is only taken seriously when the person doing the criticisim has made a good-faith effort to learn and use the system. So I'm using our Prometheus-based "myCourses" system to support both of my classes this quarter--one on-campus, one distance-learning.

So far, we're off to a bad start. Simple things that I ought to be able to do aren't possible at all--from moving a reading from one course meeting slot to another, to creating custom dropboxes for file submissions. The labels for sections and tasks are counter-intuitive, and the entire system seems to have been designed without regard for the user's needs (at least the faculty user...we'll have to see what my students say). While some of the Prometheus system is apparently customizable by "IT Administrators" at a given school, none of it appears to be customizable by the actual people who have to use it. I can't make it less ugly. I can't fix the UI problems. I have almost no control over the look-and-feel, which is a very large part of the overall "online classroom" experience.

It's the equivalent of being asked to teach all my classes in a dark, dingy basement classroom, with no control over lights, desk locations, etc. Sure, the "institution" has the ability to change it. But as the instructor, I don't. Blech.

What's worse, however, is that I realized after I was done that there's no way for me to make any of the course information publicly accessible--something I've always done with my syllabi. While there are some aspects of the courseware--like the testing and grading functions--that should be private, those are the exceptions. I resent using a system that won't let me share the basic information about the class with anyone who's interested.

Last year, I started building a PHP/mySQL system to generate my syllabi. You can see it in action with my web database, xml, and web design syllabi from earlier this year. But I can't show you this quarter's thesis prep or intro to multimedia courses, because they're hidden inside our proprietary system.

Why isn't there an open-source courseware package that's as easy to use and customizable as something like Movable Type??? Is that so very much to ask? I did some poking around tonight, and didn't find anything that really excited me. This is not rocket's a customized content management system (CMS) application. People make them all the time.

(Interestingly, Prometheus started out as home-grown "community source" software at GWU, but was purchased by Blackboard, a commercial competitor.)

Is there something great out there that I don't know about? If so, I'd love a pointer. And if not, I guess I need to start fleshing out my little homegrown system, and looking for people to work with me on it to make it more robust and usable in multiple contexts.

a not-so-academic rant

Let's play a little search-and-replace game. From Gary Sauer-Thompson comes this quote about academia:

Basically I couldn't wait to get out. Political life was a breath of fresh air and I felt alive once again. I had no desire to return. Today if tenure was offered I would not take it. The security is not worth the sacrifice of autonomy by living a sick mode of life.

Then this morning, after breakfast, I read this and this by Dorothea; this by Alex; this and this by Liz and this by Baraita.

What did I came across in my reading? Insularity for one thing.

Few looked beyond the walls of academia to see themselves in the context of public policy or political life. Most were concerned with their life within the institution.

Hmmm. I am truly amazed to find these particular stones being hurled out of the glass house of politics. So, let's try this version:

Basically I couldn't wait to get out. Political Academic life was a breath of fresh air and I felt alive once again. I had no desire to return. Today if a tenure politicial appointment was offered I would not take it. The security power is not worth the sacrifice of autonomy integrity by living a sick mode of life.

Then this morning, after breakfast, I read various cites removed all these attacks on academia.

What did I came across in my reading? Insularity for one thing.

Few looked beyond the walls of academia their own experiences to see themselves in the context of public policy or political life thoughtful analysis or philosophy. Most were concerned with their life within the institution organization.

Ooooh...that was fun! Was there ever a field more ripe for this type of criticism than professional politics?? Certainly if I had to pick an area that was rife with insular, twisted minds, that would be the one I'd seize up on first. But you know what? There are also people like MB Williams--and, I suspect, Gary himself--who show us another side.

Okay, I realize I'm getting cranky here (thus the "curmudgeonly" category), but really, now. Can we please stop with the blanket dismissals of all academics as insular and self-absorbed, and academic environments as sick and wrong?

In terms of the numbers of academic bloggers, which Gary dismisses as negligible--I'd argue that as a percentage of their population, there are quite a lot of academic blogger. And so far as I can tell, most of them regularly look at larger political and public policy issues (and the relationship between their field of study and those issues). Look at the people on my academic blogroll (and add in AKMA, of course) for just a few examples.

And to assert that these people are all "insular" implies to me that Gary must not be reading anything except our posts responding to Dorothea. Did he bother to look at the grant proposal I recently wrote on blogging/microcontent? At the conversations between me and the Happy Tutor? The mix of academics and other bloggers in Joi's recent "happenings" on Emergent Democracy?

Most "academics" with blogs (and, btw, how do we define that? Is Lessig an "academic?" Reynolds? Both are professors...) have links and conversations with a wide variety of people outside of academia.

Why I allow myself to get so irritated and drawn into these straw man debates, I don't know. It's clear that the people determined to characterize academia as "sick" won't be swayed by any of my "insular," "survivor bias" comments. But it's spring break, I don't want to clean house, my kids are in school, and I obviously have way too much time on my hands to pick fights!

why bother?

I've avoided responding to Dorothea's continuing self-described "rampage" against academia, because I suspect that nothing I write will change her well-entrenched negative view of academia. Clearly, Dorothea's got some "issues" on this topic--not just her grad school experience, but her experiences with her father, as well.

But hey, I'm an extrovert. I think out loud. So I'll respond, but not in a point-by-point attempt to rebut each of her assertions. You see, I don't disagree that her view is in some ways accurate. I just don't think it's complete. Academia, like every other human-constructed environment I've ever seen (from the nuclear family to the nation-state) can be ugly or beautiful, depending on your own context and experience.

I feel particularly compelled to counter Dorothea's assertion that "survivorship bias" is tainting my view. In fact, she might want to consider reading my dissertation. The topic? A qualitative ("Sense-Making") inquiry into attrition in doctoral programs in my field. (And what field might that be? Library & Information Science--the same field in which Dorothea has recently been accepted into a graduate program. Which makes me wonder how she can say things like "Deeply sick and sad system. I�m so glad I�m out of it for good I couldn�t begin to tell you," with a straight face...).

I went into the project fully expecting to hear angst-ridden tales of woe from those who'd left their doctoral programs. In fact, that was the exception rather than the rule. Most of the people I interviewed had few regrets about their departure from doctoral work. They'd tried it, found it not to be what they wanted, and moved on.

It was necessary for me to do a great deal of related reading and research into graduate and doctoral attrition, and one of things that really became clear during this process was how very different the environments were from field to field. The experiences of a doctoral student (or a professor) in biophysics are extremely different from those of a sociologist, or a library scientist, or a literary theorist. And beyond that, the experiences of a student in any of those fields will vary significantly based on the country in which they study.

All of which by way of saying, it's not the specifics of Dorothea's complaints that I question. It's the broad brush she uses to paint an entire world of teachers, students, and scholars--based solely on personal anecdotal experience.

this hurts me more than it hurts you

A few years ago, I went through a very unpleasant work-related experience--one that led me to seriously question whether I wanted to stay in my current position, or pack my bags and head for greener (or at least warmer) pastures. This wasn't constructive criticism, by any stretch of the imagination. It was a clear message to keep my mouth shut and stay in my place. It was not rap on the knuckles with a ruler, it was a take-no-prisoners hatchet job.

Because I'm the sole breadwinner for my family, instead of following my instincts and walking out, I stayed. I swallowed my pride, sucked up the anger, the pain and the hurt feelings, and figured out how to play the game according to the unwritten rules that had oh-so-clearly been communicated to me.

To be honest, I could have benefitted at that time from constructive criticism, and mentoring from senior colleagues. It's true that at times I could be (and still can be) abrasive and unlikable, and that I'm not well-known for tolerating fools gladly. Have I toned that down? Sure. A lot. The question is, would it have happened anyways? I think so. Would it have happened faster if the criticisms I received had been offered in a constructive rather than destructive manner? I fairly certain it would have. Did it leave me with a lingering feeling of anger, resentment, and betrayal? Did it lessen my trust in my colleagues, and reduce my sense of community and collegiality? You betcha.

Over the past few years, that resentment has faded a bit. And some more positive events this year have helped to supplant the negative memories. But today someone told me in passing--not realizing the full context of the incident--that a person I'd thought was a real ally during that process had later said that they thought "it was the best thing that could have happened" to me. I felt, quite honestly, like I'd been kicked in the stomach. I came back to my office to think about it, wondering at first if I'd simply overreacted to the events of the time. Had the experience made me a better person after all? Was it possible that it had been a "good" thing?

One of my best friends has made a number of comments to me about the positive changes in me over the past few years, and I've wondered why I find myself resenting those comments. Now I realize--it felt as though it was that same message, that the miserable experience I went through was "for the best," that I'd somehow been transformed from "the bad Liz" to "the good Liz" through this process. Was she right, too?

And then I realized that I was making a fatal mistake...succumbing to the belief that the ends necessarily justify the means. Sure, if I physically punish my kids every time they forget to do their homework, they'll start remembering to do their homework. Does that justify the methods? Of course not.

Not only that, while I may have had some less than ideal interactions with people before this experience, I know for a fact that I wasn't such a rotten person as all that. From what do I draw that conclusion? From the wonderful people that are a part of my life, and who were a part of my life long before this all transpired--from my husband to my ALA friends to my college friends to my high school friends, all of whom have been important and treasured parts of my life for a long time. Just as I tend to judge the quality of my writing by how it's received by readers, I tend to judge the quality of my life by the relationships I have with others.

Maybe this experience did improve some aspects of my "political" and professional skills. Not only do I still deem it not worth the price I paid in terms of personal pain, in retrospect I think I lost easily as much as I gained. The biggest loss was trust--trust in my colleagues, trust that people are who the say they are, trust that people will do the right thing for those around them. Maybe at 40 I'm long past the point where I should have been holding onto those ideas. But loss of innocence is painful whenever it happens.

So today as I look out the big windows of my new office at the (oh-so-rare-in-January) sunshine on the clean white snow, I'm not feeling as uplifted as I did this morning. Just when I thought it was safe to come back out of my shell, my remaining shreds of trust and optimism have taken a direct hit, and I'm back to considering those greener pastures once again.

ugh. - Local Severe Weather Alerts Details


They also say the temperature is 16°--but "feels like" 2°. Those wind chill "feels like" numbers always remind of my favorite DC-area DJ when I lived out there--Harris in the Morning. One chilly morning he asked his trusty sidekick ("Dave the Predictor") just how the weather service knew that the weather "felt like" that. "What do they do," he asked, "put an eskimo in a room and ask them what it feels like?"

No need to ask anyone what it feels like today. The answer is "too cold." Our only hope for relief is a snow day tomorrow, but with my luck the worst snow will fall after I park my car at 7:45am.

i need a "grunch" category

Like Dorothea's.

Yesterday's mail brought an anonymous note from "a neighbor" complaining about the appearance of our backyard. Seems likely it came from the people directly behind us, whom we don't know well. The neighbors on our street all know us by name, and would have no problem either signing such a letter or--more likely--knocking on our door to ask politely for us to clean something up.

It's made me extremely grumpy this morning, for two reasons. First, I know we've let the area behind the pool get messy (the kids use it as their "fort" and I've tried to ignore it entirely), so I feel guilty about the appearance, which of course makes me defensive. Second, and more importantly, I hate this kind of cowardly anonymous approach. I'm pretty sure it comes from the same people who regularly prance around naked with their curtains open, providing visuals not much more appealing to us than our backyard is to them.

The "grunchy" part of me wants to make a big sign for the backyard inviting anyone who has a problem with it to show their cowardly face at our front door, because we don't respond to anonymous letters. But the fact that I feel sheepish about letting the kids see that response means that it probably isn't a wise idea, and I should wait 'til I cool off before deciding whether to respond directly.

Yes, of course we should clean that area up (not a pleasant thought given the sub-freezing temps and healthy coating of snow out there). But I so don't want to give them the idea that this kind of un-neighborly approach is effective. <sigh>

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