Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Negative Energies

There seems to be bad luck and fortunes flowing through the X household these days. We have had computer troubles (see below), internet connection failures, and today the discovery that my debit card was used fraudulently.

The good thing is that the charges were made today and I checked the account this evening (my obsessive vigilance pays off for once). It still is going to involve some bureaucratic effort and maybe some creative transferring of funds to make sure our checks clear before all is said and done.

All I want is a stretch of time without technical failures, being scammed, victimized, or other stressful events. Is that too much to ask?

Of course, these trouble seem trivial as I read Ishmael Beah's book, A Long Way Gone, with one of my classes this summer. It does put everything in perspective. More on the book later, when I am not worrying about the little money we do have in the bank disappearing, my computer crashing, or the sky falling on me.

By the way, if you are curious, the above image is a Huichol yarn painting design from Mexico. The scorpions are there to repel bad luck and evil spirits. I hope they work. They have their work cut out for them.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Of Macs and Men

The ongoing ad campaign by Apple makes it seem like Macs are the perfect machines. Not only are they without flaw, but they make you hip.

Recently I have found them to be even more annoying because they are a reminder of my battle to get my new computer to work. Perhaps I feel like it is a bit of false advertising.

My first computer ever was a boxy Mac. While I occasionally got the dreaded bomb:

Overall it was a pretty good computer.

I just returned to Mac after a decade or so of fussing with PCs and the mess that is Microsoft. And while I do like my new cyberenvironment, I have been dealing with the 21st century equivalent of the on-screen bomb.

My applications crash and eventually I get the equivalent of Mac-pass-out: the screen goes gray and my computer tells me in multiple languages that it needs to be restarted. This leaves me feeling:

I have called Apple Care and been to the Apple Store's "Genius Bar" [where by the way, I did not see any anorexic know-it-all women like they show on tv, rather it was the expected pudgy, nerdy computer geeks]. The result has been having to reinstall the operating system and re-formating the hard drive. Both entailed a long process of putting all my applications, music, and files back on the computer.

Tonight as I was working on my lectures for tomorrow, the X-Machine started failing again. During this whole process, I have learned a lot about the techie things regarding the iMac. I have gone through the procedure, but there is still a hardware problem with my hard drive.

So I guess I will find myself on the phone with Apple Care again and probably making a visit to the Apple Store to see if the geniuses at the bar can fix this thing once and for all.

I must say this, it is nice getting a helpful (more or less) person who is fluent in English on the line when I call Apple Care. My tech support experiences in the past leave much to be desired. In the end, despite the problems I will refrain from tossing my apple in the bin.

I just hope that my troubles are soon over. All I want is a computer I can work (and play, of course) on. Is that too much to ask?

Unfortunately, I think my Apple is really a Lemon.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

I Knew There would be Better Days

My mood has improved.

A nice afternoon with Sara yesterday did quite a lot to help out.

We went to Times Square and saw Paprika. A fun, albeit surreal, Japanese animation film. To keep with the theme, we had dinner at Yoshinoya, a Japanese fast food chain. We then wandered about Times Square, a surreal experience in itself. There were the usual masses of tourists and boatloads of sailors and marines who were in town for Fleet Week.

On our way home, we stopped in the Upper West Side where we got some green tea Yolato with mochi bits. We ate it on a park bench on the median on Broadway next to a woman having an argument with an invisible person. Every so often we got shaken a bit by the subway running directly beneath us. As strange as it may sound, it was quite pleasant - it must have been the company.

We came home to some disgruntled dogs. They are not liking the heat. I need to put the a/c unit in the window, but I have to get an extension cord. Our apartment is woefully lacking in outlets. Rather the outlets are placed in the most inconvenient places. There are several in closets, and there are four directly above out stove.

Because I am too tired to write anything else, I leave you with a picture. A while back I posted a picture of the view from my home office in winter. Now you get my work office in Spring. I wanted to put it up a while ago, but things have been a bit chaotic. Enjoy:

Friday, May 25, 2007

Foul Mood

I am a bit cranky today.

Teaching summer school is pretty exhausting. Two three hour classes, back to back. Three straight days.

I was looking forward to my down day today, but little problems popped up here and there just to be annoying. Our internet connection was going in and out sporadically starting last night. Around noon time today, it was pretty much out.

Calling to report it proved to be a challenge in itself.

You see, we have VOIP phone service, so no internet means no phone. Moreover, we seem to live in the one corner of NY that doesn't get cell phone reception. There is one corner of our apartment that gets a tiny signal. Of course that is the corner where we keep many of our cacti. So there I was trying to dance around so as to keep the connection from crashing and avoiding the ever so sharp and pesky spines from our lovely cacti.

When I called, I spent a good twenty minutes going through the condescending recorded instructions of what to do (which I had already done). When I finally got through to someone, we went through the same routine and then finally getting them to send someone out. Of course, the connections is working now and it will probably work when the person comes to check it. And once she/he is gone, it will crap out again.

Amid this crisis, Sara needed to complete an application for which she needed to get information from online. When she finally got it put together as best as she could, she asked me to mail it for her. The post office is about seven blocks away. I got there at 5:05; it closed at 5:00. They told me to go to the other one which was about ten blocks away because it might be open later (I could have looked this up had I had internet connection). I got to the other post office only to find out that it too was closed.

Here I am living in what supposedly is the city that never sleeps, but the post offices close earlier than even the small isolated town I lived in in Eastern Washington State.

Add to this adventure that it was hot today. Really hot.

So yes, I am a wee-bit cranky.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Back to the Grind

Today was the first day of summer school. I am definitely not ready to go back to teaching. The last semester really took its toll. Summer classes are also a challenge because so much material needs to be crammed into one day.

The two classes I am teaching are courses I have already taught, but of course I changed things around so I still need to work on lectures (rather than used ones I already wrote).

Despite the burn out, I did get some inspiration today. First, I read my evaluations from the spring semester and they were all fairly good. Usually there is one or two disgruntled students that write some hateful or nasty comments (and of course I obsess about those, rather than be pleased by all the positive ones), but this time the worst was a couple of ambivalent students. My first thought was the mean students must have missed class the day evaluations were handed out.

Ah insecurities.

But to reinforce the positive evaluations, I got another smile-inducing email this evening:
Hi Professor X,

I just wanted to drop a line and let you know that I really enjoyed your class this past semester. I felt as though there was a lot we were able to learn about, despite the limited amount of time for the topics we went over. I hope that the painfully boring nature of the students didn't dissuade you at all from teaching the class again! I know that we can be a drag late at night, but it doesn't mean that we weren't listening. : )

Keep up the good work and enjoy your summer,

[Student Name]
Party is over, I need to get back to my lectures for tomorrow.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Visual New York: Grading by the Hudson with the Dogs

On a beautiful spring day, I could not stand being locked inside with my professorial duties.

As I sit with my bundle of student research papers, one dog is actively looking at the comings and goings of the occasional passer-by, ship on the river, and the scurrying wildlife.

Meanwhile the other dog has not a care in the world.

It is nice being retired.

I am not sure the term "It's a dog's life" is all that accurate.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Visual New York: Coney Island

(soon to be shut down)

Dante's Inferno: Did not go in.
The outside was scary enough!

Lunch: Americana Classic
[Look carefully under Seafood
- click on image to get a better view -
you can get frog legs at this Nathan's]

One last shot for Scott: The Birds of Coney Island Beach

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Saturday Routine

I wake up, start the coffee, feed the dogs, get some cereal.

I get the paper, plant myself down with food, coffee, and take in the recent happenings around the world. The dogs come over and need to be praised for finishing their breakfast.

After some random putzing around, walking the dogs (brief), and showering, Sara and I drive up to a public garden and cultural center in the Bronx where we take a tai chi class.

We are improving.

Following the class we get some tea there and sit out on the terrace taking in the blooming gardens overlooking the Hudson.

Last week we actually ran into someone who we went to graduate school with and had not seen for a couple of years. He joined us for tea.

After tea we get some lunch somewhere in the area. Japanese tends to be the usual bet. Occasionally we deviate from the type of cuisine or where we get out food. Today was such a day. We drove across the Hudson to Fort Lee, NJ to get some Korean food. Northeastern New Jersey has a high concentration of Koreans - I am not sure why. That is good for us because we really like Korean food.

Lunch is good and even academically interesting. I find it interesting to see Latin Americans working in "ethnic" restaurants as cooks, busboys, and dishwashers. Our busboy is from Guatemala. There is probably a research project waiting for me.

Following lunch we stop by the neighboring large nationwide bookstore chain. I buy some music to help with the grading. While in there we decide to partake of some coffee. Our beverages come with an unscheduled and improvised show.

The employees are training a new addition. At a certain point, one of the employees, Svetlana, goes around the counter and plays the role of a customer while the other, Maria, takes the order so the newbie, Greg, can see the process. The following exchange ensues:
Maria: Hello, how may I help you?
Svetlana: Let's see, what do I want?.......Hmmmm.......
[Long pause]
[Maria eagerly sways front to back flashing a pseudo-perma-grin]
Svetlana: Do you have coffee?
Maria: Yes, we have all different kinds of coffee...
Svetlana: Is it brewed fresh? Do you make it yourself?
Maria: Yes. We make it fresh from organic fair-trade beans.
Svetlana: Do you have venti?
Maria: I am sorry. We don't serve venti here. You can get a small, medium, or large.
Svetlana: A large? What is that? Is that smaller than a small? How much is that?
[Greg looks terribly confused, doubting whether he really wants to work there]
Svetlana [interrupting Maria's response]: Never you have Italian sodas?
Maria [eagerly]: Yes we do! What flavor would you like?
Svetlana: Barbecue!!!!
Maria [cracking a cynical smile and giggle]: I am sorry, we don't have that flavor, can I suggest raspberry.
This goes on for several more minutes. It is quite entertaining seeing the employees vent their frustrations built up from dealing with a plethora of inane and pushy customers. I highly doubt that Greg will be back tomorrow.

After the bookstore we return to our abode for a quiet afternoon where I avoid grading, the dogs chase the pair of flies that have entered our apartment (illegally of course), and generally I get very little done.

Tomorrow should be a more interesting day, for we may head out to Coney Island. Neither of us has ever been, but we want to go before they tear it all down and build an uber-commercial space there. Perhaps I will have stories and maybe even photographs.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Other Side

Following the nice message from my former student, I got a different perspective on students in my in-box.

The exam for one of my courses was scheduled for 6-8 pm last night, which was the last day of finals. It turns out that the students were kicked out of their dorms at 5 pm yesterday. Given the situation, some of my students asked if they could take the exam early. I agreed to give the exam twice; I indicated that the exams would be different.

Nonetheless I got this in an email:
Attention anyone who took the Final last week. Give me a heads up.
What's on it. Come on help ur boy out. HELP!!!!
This brilliant student sent out the email to the class list, not even thinking that I am on that list. So much for academic integrity. He probably has a bright future working for Karl Rove.

It goes to show that students come in all flavors.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Friendly Reminder

As I toil away grading papers (and complain much too much along the way), it is nice to hear back from students who put it all into perspective.

I got this email today:
Dear Professor X,

I hope you remember me from our Immigration Seminar last Spring. I have been thinking about what a positive experience I had in your class and meaning to get in touch for a while.

Since August, I have been working as an AmeriCorps member in the legal department at [non-profit agency]. I've learned a ton about immigration law and am hoping to eventually go to law school and start a career in this field. I am especially
interested in asylum cases for which speaking French has come in handy as many of our asylum seekers come from Francophone Africa and Haiti. Next on my agenda is learning Spanish although my AmeriCorps salary makes courses pretty tough to afford!

I wanted to let you know what I was up to because it is partly thanks to your course that I decided to pursue my interest in immigration and for that I am hugely grateful!

I hope that all is well with you.

Best wishes,

[Former Student]

I will smile for a while and then get back to my grading (and complaining).

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Car Wash

Call it national pride, but given my experience with car washers from various countries I can say that Mexicans are the best at it. Maybe it isn't something to be too proud of. One thing I can say for sure, the Dominicans in my neighborhood are not all that good at it.

It is also funny how much extra attention your car gets once you speak in Spanish and then even more when you give them a nice tip. I had the guy chase me down and give the car an extra wipe as I was leaving once he saw what was in the bundle I handed to him. Even then, I had to spend sometime making up for their shortcomings.

If this anthropologist/professor gig doesn't work out for me, I always have a backup plan.

Friday, May 04, 2007

New Toy

So there is the new gimmick - Twitter.

I am trying it out.

My first impression?

Blogging for those with ADD.

Under further consideration, it seems to me like we are doing the job for Big Brother. Rather than watching us, we just tell him (her?) what the heck we are doing. Passive surveillance...

We'll see how it goes. I think I have become a cranky old man ... in the same amount of time that the landscape has gone from bare to lush around here.