Archive for June, 2009

It’s been a while since I posted, mostly because I haven’t had the energy to do much of anything since my summer course began a week ago. Is it possible to be burned out after just a week?

I’m not sure why I find this course so much more taxing. I had two-hour lectures in the spring, so it wasn’t that difficult having to talk for so long. And I probably have more discussion mixed into each lecture, which spares me from actually having to speak for the whole class period.

Part of it, I’m sure, is a function of having to teach two hours a day, five days a week. That’s a big difference from previous quarters when I was only on campus two days a week.

I had a pretty nice schedule in the winter and spring, since I’d teach Tuesday and Thursday, and by early Thursday afternoon I’d be done on campus for four days.

But the grueling nature of this term’s grind began to hit me in full last Tuesday. I had something like the sensation of being done for the week until I got home and it dawned on me that, in fact, I still had three more lectures before the weekend. At least a couple of days last week I fell asleep on the couch before dinner out of sheer exhaustion.

It definitely makes me very glad that I finished all my course prep before the course began, just because I don’t feel like I have the energy to write one lecture a week, much less five. I’m not doing much, aside from going to campus and teaching for two hours everyday, and I’m probably getting a bit more sleep because having an afternoon class means I get to sleep in later.

Still, despite all those advantages, I was pretty well spent by about 4:30 this afternoon. I drank a whole pot of coffee, yet I still felt ready to nod off on the couch. Only a blood pressure-raising session of Punch-Out! (the remade NES version starring the fictional Mr. Dream in place of the disgraced Mike Tyson) managed to forestall another unplanned nap.

On the bright side, with today’s class in the books, I’ve finished six of the twenty lectures for the quarter, and I’ll be almost halfway done by the end of this week.

But it can’t be a good sign that I’m barely a week into the course and I’m already counting down the days till it’s over, can it?

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For probably about the past month, I’ve been doing my damnedest to write lectures and get as much finished as I can of the course preparation for my summer class. The bulk of the task has been writing the twenty lectures I’m giving over four and a half weeks, along with crafting outlines for each lecture, ideas for exams and the like. Then there’s the fine tuning of my syllabus, dropping supplemental readings here and there if they don’t quite fit with what I originally thought I’d cover, or tweaking my schedule of meetings when I discover that some topics are so enormous to require multiple days of class to cover fully.

Anyway, after working at a grueling pace of cranking out a lecture a day (generally around twelve to fifteen pages of single-spaced text), I managed to polish off my last lecture yesterday. I spent a good chunk of last night and today looking for a couple of images or so to illustrate each lecture, and then this evening I tended to some final prep (things like a cheat sheet for the IDs I can use if prompted by a student, and compiling all the readings on electronic reserve into a single 129-page PDF).

I’ve been killing myself these past few weeks, mostly because I was terrified at the thought of having to produce five two-hour lectures each week, along with grading papers and exams, and I thought I needed to have most of the course prep done before the class actually starts on Monday.

Of course, true to my usual form, I gave myself an exceedingly high target of having all the lectures written before the term begins, reasoning that I probably wouldn’t manage that feat, but would at least get myself quite deep into my syllabus so that the remaining prep would be manageable.

Part of the reason for my doubt was that I started on this project around the last week or two of my spring course, after I had that quarter’s lectures written, but I still had finals to grade. Plus, I think I had something like twelve lectures to write in thirteen days, which was doable if I could actually stick to a lecture-a-day pace, but didn’t leave much wiggle room in (what I thought) the inevitable event that I couldn’t keep at it.

So, it’s nice to know that I exceeded my own expectations for a change, and even managed to tend to the final odds and ends. I have all my handouts, exams and other supplemental materials ready to go. The only task now is to print all this stuff and make photocopies of the materials I need to distribute.

But, miraculously, I should actually have a fairly easy go of it once classes start Monday. I’m actually hoping I can relax a bit and enjoy my summer. And I’m really looking forward to about July 23, after the class finishes and I have the grading done, when I’ll have two months to be idle and to love every minute of it.

Really, I think that’s what motivated me to keep such a diligent pace, the knowledge that after killing myself the past couple of years to research and write a dissertation and teach three courses, I might get a chance to turn off that part of my brain and live a carefree existence for once.

On the bright side, I’ve probably gained some experience at planning and prepping courses that should prove invaluable when the day comes that I’m in my first job and coping with some insane course load of three or four classes per term. And, when I get saddled teaching a European survey, I’ll actually have most of it in the can.

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Some headline writer for TSN.ca likes old SNL episodes, as evidenced by this screen shot from Friday night’s post-Stanley Cup Finals coverage.

Pen is mightierAt least, I hope the headline is an homage to “Celebrity Jeopardy!” with Will Ferrell, rather than some sort of snarky comment about Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom nearly losing a testicle.

On the other hand, it would’ve been a brilliant double homage, although more confusing, had the headline read “The pen is mightier than the ‘S’ word.”

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I may just have to waste copious amounts of time this morning searching for those SNL skits.

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For functionally the first time, a Slovak won the Stanley Cup (counting only ethnic Slovaks who still live in Slovakia and who played in the Cup-clinching game) when the pride of Topoľčany, Miroslav Šatan, contributed some fourth-line minutes — and even an uncharacteristic shot block or two — to help the Pittsburgh Penguins defeat the Detroit Red Wings in a memorable seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals.

The NHL was a clear winner in this one, and in the entire postseason, since the league’s marquis young stars shined brighter than ever, the quality of play was superb, and the ultimate result was vindicating for a league that many see as having staked its fortunes on Nova Scotian wunderkind Sidney Crosby as a league savior.

But aside from what must be unimaginable jubilation — no, really, I’m a Kings fan, so I can’t imagine — Pens fans are surely basking in the bitter defeat former Penguin-cum-mercenary Red Wing Marián Hossa is tasting for the second consecutive year.

Sme is obviously emphasizing the Slovak angle (and would be even if this weren’t kinda sorta technically the first time a Slovak has really won the Cup), but this screen capture from the current front page also nicely encapsulates the sweet vengeance ‘Burgh fans are certainly relishing.

As the headline puts it, “A Stanley Cup for Pittsburgh and Šatan. Hossa is again without a trophy.”

Well done, Pittsburgh.

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Evidently some family from Missouri posted a high-res family photo on a social networking site, then discovered several months later that a store in the Czech Republic had decided to use the photo of the happy, smiling family in a storefront advertisement.

From NPR:

When Danielle Smith posed with her husband and their two children for a photograph that she then used on her Christmas card, little did she suspect that a giant version would end up in the window of a Czech grocery store.

The mother of two from suburban St. Louis got an e-mail from a college friend who was living in the Czech capital, Prague. He said he had just spotted a huge version of the photograph in the window of a grocery store. Smith says she was skeptical, so her friend took a picture and e-mailed it as proof.

Most folks might find that charming. After all, it’s a good photo that flatters the family, and some folks would probably be tickled that their family photo wound up being used in an ad overseas.

Not so Danielle Smith.

Smith says she had posted the photo on her Web site and a few social networking sites. It was high resolution, enabling someone to grab it.

There has been little in terms of an apology from the store. “I think at this point, our apology is that they are willing to take the photo down,” she says.

Smith acknowledges that you run the risk of something like this happening when you put your photos online. She says next time she posts a photo, she’ll either lower the resolution or watermark the image.

She says, however, that she should have a reasonable expectation of being able to create a Web site that someone doesn’t jump on.

Evidently St. Louis must be a pretty cloistered place. Who knew that when you publish things on the worldwide web, folks from, oh, around the world might be able to find them and use them.

Now, I suppose there might be an argument to be made about whether putting someone’s random family photo in an ad constitutes fair use. It’s hard to say not knowing where the picture was originally posted and what copyright and usage information, if any, were offered.

But while it’s undoubtedly a bit startling to discover that your photo has found new life in some unforeseen context, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to someone who, say, uses the internet that pictures on the internet have a way of circulating and getting reproduced in ways you might never have imagined. This is why, for instance, it’s dangerous to allow anyone to have nude photos of yourself, unless you’re willing to accept the possibility that the whole world could wind up seeing them.

And yet, people remain mystified by the internet, even when they seem familiar enough with the concept to use it on occasion.

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If you haven’t had the good fortune or sense to watch the Stanley Cup Finals on the CBC (and you are watching the Finals, of course), you’ve missed some truly inspired openings.

Game 1 gave us this practically artsy montage-in-reverse to set the stage for the rematch of last year’s SCF.

But without doubt, the greatest, most epic intro is this parody of the Dos Equis commercial starring Don Cherry as “the most interesting man in the universe” — and, in true Grapes fashion, dressed like a flamingo.

Of course, ESPN, in its typically half-assed approach to covering the NHL, decided to rip off the CBC’s brilliant idea, creating its own Dos Equis parody featuring its own ex-NHL coach-turned-TV analyst, Barry Melrose. As you can see, it lacks the same panache (and garish menswear).

Of course, it also suffers for being an incredibly lame commercial promoting SportsCenter — unintentionally funny, given how rarely SportsCenter deigns to cover the NHL since the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader” no longer owns broadcast rights to the league.

By contrast, Don Cherry, for all his questionable taste in suits and politics, is quintessential Canadiana.

Stay thirsty, my Canadian friends.

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I’m in the middle of grading finals, which also means for the first time I get to grade IDs and essays that come straight out of my own field. While it’s refreshing to have all the knowledge at the front of my head, it can also be a bit more difficult to grade answers dealing with my own area of expertise, partly because I have to keep in mind that students aren’t specialists like me, but also because some of my students mistakes strike me as particularly egregious (though only because I’m a specialist).

For instance, I have one ID on the exam for “goulash communism,” which is a term used to refer to the kind of materialistic social contract introduced in Hungary by János Kádár after the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. The idea is that instead of repression (“gulag communism”), the Communist regime would provide a better standard of living in exchange for social peace. It’s termed “goulash” communism because goulash is, after all, Hungary’s national dish.

Perhaps not.

Writes one student:

[Goulash communism] is coined in order to describe the Polish version of communism experienced from 1945-1989.

OK, a bit wide of the mark, especially because the Polish economy was generally not good enough to made good on promises of better material conditions, but it’s possible to use the term “goulash communism” to describe the more general attempt to promote political stability through consumerism.

Just like their [Poles’] national dish, goulash [good grief!] ….

I’m guessing this student hasn’t been to Poland. Or to the Polish House near downtown. I’m guessing it’s news to all those Poles that they gave the world goulash.

Then there’s my favorite candidate for a future in writing PR materials chock-a-block full of purple prose:

Asia and Latin America grabbed communism as a shovel in the hope of digging themselves out of a ditch, a ditch filled with economic hardship, agricultural shortage and foreign abuse, and political oppression.

Not bad. I can enjoy a nice, over-the-top metaphor, being an aficionado of the Gene Wilder/Donald Sutherland classic “Start the Revolution without Me.”

And, you have to appreciate how my student didn’t just leave the metaphor at that.

For European nations, the shovel of communism dug only further down into the big ditch [of] continuing and exacerbating economic crisis and political oppression until it was voluntarily thrown down in most cases or, if not removed it was reformed whereas Asia and Latin America held onto communism like a babe onto a nipple.

Yowza! I’ve never seen anyone describe the persistence of communism as a case of a country suckling at the teat of Marx.

The same student offered more amusing observations about the Soviet Union and Poland in the second essay:

Communism began there [in Eastern Europe] with WWII ending and the Soviet Union looking [like] a knight in shining armor. Poland was a bit of [a] bitch to begin with, as saddling a cow would have to be.

The “saddling a cow” quip is actually from Stalin’s description of what it would be like to impose communism in Poland. The “bit of [a] bitch” remark is all my student’s.

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