Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hoping to Learn

I had heard that this class was a hard class. So hard, that an extra fee was attached to it to pay for tutoring. The tutors attend the class as well as having scheduled hours. And, in my opinion, they are completely unnecessary, because my particular instructor has no idea how to teach.

By the sixth week of a class meeting two times a week, the instructor had cancelled five classes, and missed two (the first two misses were due to contractual issues for which I cannot wholly blame the instructor). If I missed that many classes, I would not expect to be receiving a passing grade, but I tried to give the instructor the benefit of the doubt. Illness can strike anyone, and just because there are only four seventy-five minute time periods (this instructor has two class sections) that this person has to show up to work, doesn’t mean it is any less difficult to deal with being sick.

After all, one could use the time that they are not in class to catch up on grading, right?

Not so much.

As of this writing, it has been more than 32 days since the semester’s first exam was due. Half of the exam was multiple choice, instantly graded through the magic of the internet. The other half of the exam was short answer questions, and I have still not received my grade for it. Nor has anyone else that I know of.

After completely missing two weeks of class, the syllabus naturally had to be adjusted somewhat. You might think that once a new, accelerated syllabus was set, that it would be followed precisely.

But you’d be wrong.

In a move that I find appalling, there are to be no more exams in the new syllabus. Instead, workbooks will be completed. I’m not sure how the teacher plans to grade the workbooks, in part because I have no idea what they look like. The first one was to be posted, according to the syllabus, “over the weekend” of the 10th of October. But instead, we received an email the morning of the 13th, explaining that the workbook would be posted soon.

As of the 22nd, it still isn’t posted.

And then there are the classes themselves. Usually by this time in the semester, I will have memorized my classmates names, based on roll call. But this instructor has not taken attendance since the first class they came to (the third class in the semester). And, in addition to not calling roll, which I admit is a quibble, it seems to me that the instructor is not reading the textbook. And therefore, is catering to students who also choose not to read the textbook.

Exhibit A: As the instructor wrote an example on the board, a student asked for an example of the difference between a sound with aspiration and one without. An example of this was spelled out explicitly in the chapter of the textbook we were supposed to read, but the instructor responded by claiming that they couldn’t think of a good example of the difference.

Exhibit B: Upon working through an exercise, the instructor commented that I was doing well. I said that the example we were working on was laid out in the book, and the instructor replied, “Well, not everyone has read the textbook.”

I might be reading some defensiveness into that reply. I might not.

As a person pursuing a second bachelor’s degree, this is the only class in this particular subject that I am required to take. Based on the textbook, I find the subject matter interesting, but based on the class experience, I doubt I would have the ability to take a class that requires this class as a prerequisite successfully.

Sure, I hope that the class will improve as the semester goes on. I hope that the instructor will get a handle on grading and figure out how to read the textbook teach follow their own syllabus.

But I hope a lot of things. . .

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

-isms

This past Monday was my birthday. To celebrate, I took the day off of work. I know it was a day off anyway for most folks, but my workplace does not recognize Columbus day as a holiday. However, we get the day after Thanksgiving instead, so it all works out. My husband and I drove out to a roadside hot spring with the intention of camping next to it and enjoying some drinks in the steaming hot water.

The first bump in our road came about when we saw the sign warning of a road closure at milepost 34. Neither of us could remember exactly where the hot spring was on the road, as far as mile markers go, but Ambrose thought that the Troutdale campground was at mile post 28, and I didn't think that the spring was more than 6 miles past it. So we drove on with some confidence.

And, although Troutdale was closer to mile marker 31 than 28, the hot spring I wanted to visit was just after mile post 34 - and just before the gated road closure.

Unfortunately, the campsite right next to the hot spring, though reachable by car, was fully occupied by a hunting camp. There was not room for us to camp there, so we turned the car around and drove a short distance to another roadside hot spring. This one was not as well developed, and not really usable, so we drove back and claimed a spot just past the one way bridge. It would be a short walk to the hot spring.

As soon as I got out of the car, I was reminded why I prefer backpacking to car camping. There was a well developed fire pit, surrounded by rocks, and piled high with trash. Not just trash that would reasonably burn, no, it seemed there was everything but the kitchen sink - aluminum cans, tin cans, a plastic two liter soda bottle, muffin wrappers, wet wipes, a styrofoam bowl, more aluminum cans.

And that was just the trash in the fire pit.

Scattered in the brush were unidentifiable papers, perhaps wads of toilet paper, perhaps paper towels. When I reached for a rock to hold our plastic vestibule down in the wind, I found not one, but two tampons under it.

What the hell is wrong with these people????

I cannot comprehend the state of mind that makes it okay to leave trash like that outdoors. What - you think the paper will biodegrade overnight? You think the tampons are cotton, which is a plant, so it belongs under a rock? You think that you can just burn anything and it will be hunky-dory?

I went on quite a tirade, and Ambrose patiently bore it until I calmed down. He was amused, because to him, I was behaving like an environmentalist.

And if being outraged at litterers and picking up trash makes an environmentalist, then I guess I am one.

But it made me think about the argument that being a feminist is just about believing that women and men should have equal rights (as stated by, for example, Aziz Ansari recently). That more people are feminists than claim to be, because it isn't about the word as much as the beliefs of individuals.

But believing that littering is bad is not the same as picking up trash. And believing that women and men should have equal opportunities is not the same as recognizing where they don't and working towards change.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: Fire with Fire

This year I'm giving each nominated work for the Hugo and Nebula novel awards their very own entry after I read them.



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Fire with Fire by Charles E. Gannon was an enjoyable read once I got into it. Getting into didn't take very long, but it did take some time to get over my initial reaction to the use of characters from the Odyssey as point of view changes and indicators. I tend not to trust anything that smacks of being too clever in its classical references.

I was also confused by the direction of the plot. At first, it seemed to hop from one main concept to another. One thing seemed to be the main focus, but then it was resolved too quickly. Another concept came up, and was as quickly dealt with. Only at the end of the book was a main conflict revealed and not resolved.

And that main conflict was entirely different from what seemed to be the main conflict at the beginning of the book, but there were still unresolved issues surrounding just about every somewhat resolved issue. Loose ends that created curiosity.

This made sense in the context of the book being a prequel, but I didn't go into the book knowing that the next book in the series was actually Book 1. I do think that I will read that next book, if only because after my husband read Fire with Fire, he bought it. But I still have 11 books of The Wheel of Time to get through...

Overall, I liked reading the book more than I expected to, based on my reading of previous Nebula nominees. There were times when I didn't like the style especially, but for the most part the story drew me on. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Creeptour

During my long walk on Sunday I ended up making a last minute route change. I had planned on walking the Greenbelt the entire time, whether the south or north side, but something happened that made me change my mind.

There is a portion of the Greenbelt that goes around a pricey neighborhood, and then through a different pricey neighborhood before entering a concealed section that has fences on both sides before opening out into Barber Park. As I walked from the section where I was walled off from the houses to where I would walk along the road, I heard voices behind me.

Up to this point, I had seen a few other people braving the rainy weather in the 8 am hour on a Sunday. Some were running, many were walking dogs. A few were running with dogs. I wanted to see how far the voices were from me so I would know when to expect being passed, so as I turned a corner, I glanced back.

I saw two males and one dog, and I continued walking. My pace was a fast walk, but not excessively so - between 19 and 20 minute miles for the most part. I kept up my pace, and continued to hear the voices behind me.

At this point, I wasn't worried.

But then I started hearing the voices get closer. One of the guys kept clearing his throat, like he was walking faster than he was used to walking. As if he were hurrying his pace. Surely nothing, but I found my own footsteps quickening.

Then I saw an elderly couple and their dog approaching, and I conceived and executed a plan - I slowed down to an absolute stroll, greeted the couple with a hearty good morning and waited for the guys to pass me.

They did not.

So I walked faster again. I considered gaining enough ground on them to break into a run once I hit the fenced-in tunnel to Barber Park. But for all I knew, at least one of them had the legs to outrun me. It isn't like that's hard to do - I've got pretty short legs.

The trail to Barber Park came in sight, and so did a woman walking several dogs. I hoped that she would turn down the tunnel, but instead she walked up the sidewalk.

I had slowed again when I saw her, and, by the sound of it, so had the men behind me.

I thought of the worst case scenarios - follow the woman up the sidewalk and take a detour off my route - consequence: time lost. Or I could stick to my route and, at the very worst, be robbed and/or raped and/or murdered.

I chose what I perceived as the route of least risk and followed the woman up the hill, away from Barber Park. The guys went into Barber Park, and when I turned up the hill, I could see that they had just about caught up with me. They would have passed me in that tunnel of fences, and I would have had nowhere to run if their intentions were bad.

If they had no bad intentions, then I detoured for no reason, and that's a consequence I can live with. It's a thought experiment, a game, because nothing happened. I'm not going to freak out about it, but I do think that it is fucked up that I seriously had to consider whether two strangers might harm me as I walked on a drizzly Sunday morning.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Waiting for Hockey

Okay. I gave football a real try. I learned the rules. I learned player names and even coach names. I watched the network pre-game shows and even picked games last year through the Fox Sports website. I root for the Bears, but since I live in Boise, I hardly get to watch them.

When I was young, it seemed my whole extended family obsessed over football. I didn't understand the game, and I hated it, because no one talked to me when the game was on, and no one wanted to explain to me what was so fascinating to them about it.

I especially hated the fact that the game clock could have two minutes on it, but the game itself could drag on for a good twenty to thirty minutes while I patiently waited to get my dad's attention (or not so patiently).

I hated football with a passionate ignorance. I reveled in my lack of knowledge.

But now I can follow the game. I understand what's going on, and, from an educated point of view, I can now state, without passion, that I'm over it.

Sorry, football, but you bore me.

The only thing you've got going for you is that you're on right now, and I've still got a few weeks until hockey begins.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Some Fine Pictures

This August my husband and I traveled to South Carolina to visit with his parents. The day after we arrived in South Carolina, we all drove to North Carolina to visit additional family and participate in some family traditions and celebrations. These photos are from the first two days of the trip, not including all the lovely people I met (and Ambrose reunited with). 

As we hit the road from South Carolina to North Carolina, we stopped at a roadside stand for some freshly boiled peanuts. 

Now, I'd had "boiled peanuts" from the Saturday Market in Boise before, but these were in an entirely different league. Where the peanuts from Boise had a bit of crunch to them, these were more like beans.

See, I could smush them like a well-cooked bean in my fingers. They were also saltier than the peanuts that I'd had before, and that was a good thing. 

We were going to North Carolina, from South Carolina, so of course we went by way of Tennessee..

Ambrose at a scenic overlook in Tennessee.

Me, being more awesome at the same overlook. (That's my wall now. Actually, no, it isn't. It smelled like someone peed on it. But the view was great.) 

It's hard to see in this picture, but this sign was just around a hairpin turn, and was followed immediately by another. Did I mention I discovered a new propensity for car sickness on this trip? 

The Smoky Mountains in the morning. 

A green view from the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

Ambrose and his Dad on Grandfather Mountain, before the swinging bridge.

View from Grandfather Mountain.

Grandfather Mountain actually provides a volunteer at this bridge who takes photos for people, which is how this picture contains me, Ambrose and his Dad all at the same time. 

Personally, I think calling the bridge a mile-high swinging bridge is a bit disingenuous - sure, the elevation is technically one mile above sea level, but it isn't as if the drop below the bridge is anywhere near that high. 

Ambrose and I on Grandfather Mountain - after his Dad figured out how to use our camera :)

The USGS benchmark on Grandfather Mountain. Yes, I think this is neat. I'm a mountain geek.

The swinging bridge, with the peak of Grandfather Mountain in the background. Part of me wanted to climb to the peak, but more of me still felt too carsick. And I didn't have my hiking boots.

I found out inside the museum that this flower is endangered. But I forgot what it's called. 

The drive down from the swinging bridge is not for the faint of heart. 

Also not for those lacking well-maintained brakes. . .

The mountain has wildlife habitats. We didn't get to see the deer or the big cats, but the otters did come out after a few minutes of waiting. 

I could have watched the otters play for a long time. So cute!

The eagles were also out, but not playing. They looked like we were all there on their sufferance - go ahead, tourists, take pictures - we all know who's in charge here.

The bears were a bit more lively.

Probably because it was getting close to their feeding time. . . 

It might not have been while backpacking, but hey, a bear encounter's a bear encounter, right? I mean, just because this bear was in an enclosure, patiently waiting to be fed while a crowd gathered doesn't mean it isn't capable of going on a rampage and killing all humans...

According to my tour guide (Ambrose's Dad), the land for this road was sold on the condition that the road builders did not mess up the land. This architectural challenge resulted in sections of road like this, where columns support the road above nature's splendor. And yes, because the road is so curvy, we were on the same road I photographed. 

We came across this sign on the way away from Grandfather Mountain.

This is the Appalachian Trail. With me standing on it. For that, as well as the friendly and hospitable people I met, I plan to come back to North Carolina. 

Ambrose on the Appalachian Trail. That section is his now. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tone of Choice

I have a tendency to obsess over meaning. When I speak with other people, I tend to over analyze what I say to them, what they say to me, what I perceive as their reactions to what I’ve said or done… If I let myself go on too long, then I usually end up upset or irritated at myself. Because, of course, I’m always at fault in my own head.

But I’ve gotten better about letting myself go down those kinds of dark, spiraling paths. So, when a man had some odd words to say to Ambrose and I before our last backpacking trips, I didn’t take it personally.

But I did analyze it a bit.

We had just explained that we were going to backpack to Johnson Lake up the Little Queens River. Now, I had backpacked there myself not four weeks previously. I knew that I could do it, and, based on other trips we had taken that summer, I knew Ambrose could do it as well. Unless something catastrophic had happened to make the trail impassable, we were good.

But this man, this man leading a horse, looked at us, dismissed us with his eyes (there’s that analysis again), and said, “Good luck with that.”

In and of itself, not such a bad phrase. Add a little friendliness to the tone, maybe a smile, and you’ve got a perfectly nice thing to say to a person you’ve only just seen for the first time.

Such friendliness, however, was lacking in this man’s tone. Instead, a sarcasm dominated, a clear doubt in our ability to accomplish our stated goal. It was almost accompanied by a snort of disbelief.

Why, I thought later, didn’t I have the perfect reply ready? I could have smiled sweetly and asked if the trail had been washed out since we had been there not four weeks prior? Had there perhaps been a fire I hadn’t heard about, which this man would be happy to inform me of? A bear sighting, mayhap?

Still. It would have been more to his advantage than mine, had he replied in a friendly manner. Because his next words were to inform us that he was going up the “big” Queens River (not its name).

And I happened to know that after the crossing of the Queens River, about three miles down the trail he intended to take, the majority of the trail was washed out and near impossible to find or follow.

However, I was so shocked by his tone that I had nothing to say.

Though as we walked up the Little Queens, I did find myself thinking about the wash out.

Yeah. Good luck with that.