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Oct. 14th, 2014

But, in purple, I'm stunning

I think it's finally cooled off enough this week that I can wear fashion scarves with my work shirts and not feel like I'm going to pass out from heat exhaustion.

Oct. 8th, 2014

A List of Things for the Apartment

Open thermometer
Bathroom rug
Kitchen/dining chairs
Kitchen/dining table
Shelves. (Lots of shelves; best guess is to buy them as I unpack.)
A desk, preferably one I can have both a computer and paper-writing space. I can use the laptop and my table*, but I'd rather not. Computers and food are not friends.
Comfy chair. I'm debating about whether I want a futon or sofa-bed or something that means I can have guests spend the night. (If I get a cat, the cat then has the important spot next to the human. )
Eventually I should get a TV and stand... when I have time to play console games, I mean.
A nightstand.
A tiny dresser so I don't have to keep my underwear and socks in a suitcase in the closet.

Probably things I'm forgetting. It already drives me nuts that I don't have a medicine cabinet in the bathroom, so my stuff is all around the sink.

Anything that can fit in my car I can get secondhand, otherwise my cheapest bet is probably the kind of furniture I have to assemble myself. (I'm shooting for a step above particle board in quality... except for the shelves. I need a lot of shelves.)

* Or get a table big enough to keep the desktop on and still have space for one person to eat a meal.

Oct. 2nd, 2014

I'm starting to think I need a beta reader for my homework assignments for my general education physics class, to make sure I keep the jargon out.

Sep. 30th, 2014

Thoughts on Autism

So, for those of you who don't know, I'm on the autism spectrum. Back when they separated that out into several diagnoses, I had Asperger's Syndrome*. In general that means:

1. I had few to no problems with spoken language. I was the subset of autistic kids who never suffered a language delay. I did have problems with written language in school: mostly I couldn't write well when I was stressed, so would have meltdowns in class when I couldn't take writing assignments home if I was having trouble.

2. I required minimal accommodations. I've always showed symptoms (according to my mother), but they never were strong enough to mark me as more than 'weird kid'.

My little brother, in contrast, had symptoms that as soon as they were noticed (about age 2), he got a diagnosis of 'high-functioning autism'. It's entirely possible that other members of our family are like me, but never were formally diagnosed.

In general, I treat social skills as a second language. Imagine you come to a country as a kid where no one speaks your language. It's not that you can't learn the language, but all your peers have been learning it since birth, while you know some basic rules about language, you don't know this language. So you learn it. And maybe you can get fluent enough to think in that language, or maybe you can just learn enough to be conversational, but you don't reflexively use it.

It also means I hate the narrative of the autistic kid as trapped. It's a communication barrier, but it's one that often has to be met both ways: if we're 'trapped', you have to help find the place where the barrier is weakest as much as they do. Which means listening. I've heard of non-verbal autistic folks embracing the Internet because they find typing so much easier than a real-time conversation with listening and speaking. Even my little brother (who is verbal) prefers to talk in certain places (restaurants are his favorite) than others -- it's why Mom budgets for going out to eat; because Ben needs that environment, even if it's a Subway, to focus on communicating with Mom and not the distractions at home.

That's why I say it's something to be met both ways. If it's easier for someone to type than to speak, then focus on helping them use that rather than forcing speech. Just because someone is non-verbal, doesn't mean they are non-communicative.

I was thinking about this because of an article about a girl with autism and her cat The little girl, Iris, paints, but doesn't do much talking. The article mentions that she is willing to talk to her cat, Thula. And I can imagine why. Thula doesn't pressure Iris to speak, since Thula doesn't speak English either. And yet, she communicates to Iris, and Iris can communicate back. And if Iris is relaxed, the words probably come easier. And cats are very relaxing companions. (I'm inferring this, based on my experiences and that of other folks with autism, rather than from Iris's own words; if I am stressed out, do not expect anything coherent to come out of my mouth until I calm myself down. And often, I don't understand something until I take the time to put it into little bits, like I'm doing here.)

* No, seriously. Diagnosed by a psychologist in middle school, even.
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Sep. 21st, 2014

Another thing about moving...

Your first few grocery store trips will be expensive, because you know all those things in your pantry that you use a lot, but you only need to replace every month (or six months)? Yeah, you need to buy all of those at once.

That and my stuff is still behind me, so I needed to grab a few pans and spoons and a turner. Which... look, I never have too many pans or spoons.

Today's activities

Finalize everything I need on Monday, and get the bits that go to students up on the course websites. Also turn the course websites on (so students can see them).
Make a folder of everything I have to print as soon as I arrive on campus on Monday, and the stuff that will get printed after my 8 AM class.
Prep for Tuesday. Keep prepping if I can to cover Wednesday and Thursday

Wait for my fridge to arrive.
After it gets here, take a break and buy groceries.
Maybe also buy a desk chair and TV tray to tide me over until I have the time to get real furniture. Also, more hangers. Who knew that 40 wouldn't be enough for my stuff?
(Some of that is that I lived in geeky T-shirts and jeans as a grad student, but wanted vaguely professional clothing as an instructor*. So I now have two wardrobes: the one for work and the one for lounging about and weekends.)

* According to various people, I still look like I could be attending college. In a T-shirt and jeans, I'd probably look even more like a college student. Wearing (at least) non-blue jean pants, a button-down shirt and dress shoes makes me visually distinctive.

Sep. 20th, 2014

Moving day!

After breakfast, I'll do my dishes and then load the car and check out of the hotel. I'm taking deliveries of my bed and my internet today, so don't expect me to be online.

Not that I should be online. I still have lessons to write.

Sep. 19th, 2014

My subconscious

Sometimes I dream relatively straightforward things.

Sometimes I dream that Smaug is trying to demoralize Samwise Gamgee (life is pain and fire and your friends will all betray you) so that Sam will stay with him and cook potatoes and watch TV with his buddies.

Sep. 18th, 2014

Another Aphorism

I don't have to adopt every new idea that comes down to me. I can focus on developing a solid course this time, and try something new next time I teach. I should write the ideas down in my teaching journal**, since I know I had one, but I forgot.

(Well, besides that the general education physics course could use a better theme than 'broad overview of a physics sequence', even with my attempts to make it all about energy.)

In other news, the astronomy group practically begged me to teach Astro 101 (the gen ed course on the solar system) for winter and spring terms. And were willing to give me 102 (the stars and galaxies course) as well until someone pointed out that because I was a lecturer, there was no way I could do that without teaching a third new course. And that asking me to do three preps* was out of line. The main problem is that most of the astronomers are teaching the few upperclass courses for the minor, or other upperclassmen courses, and the one planetary scientist is on sabbatical. (They have an exoplanets guy, but he has too much else he has to do in winter term.)

One thing that happened yesterday that make things click for me: we met the Dean, and, among other things, he went on about how he's trying to get the students to study 25-35 hours a week. Which, yes, is recommended for college courses (2 times as much out of class as in class). And he did the math for us: a high schooler spends 25-35 hours a week in class (5-7 1-hour classes every weekday), and hopefully 5-10 hours a week doing homework or studying (say 1-2 hours a night), which comes out to 30 to 45 hours. A college student only spends 12-15 hours in class (more if they are like me and ended up taking two labs in one semester... don't do this), so to get the same amount of practice, they need 15 to 33 hours of out of class homework and study.

(Also, it occurs to me that I spend 17 hours directly interacting with students (12 in the classroom, and 5 as office hours), but I definitely have a full time job teaching because the magic pixies don't write my lectures, find the demo equipment***, grade papers (graders are not magic pixies; they need instruction and a rubric), and figure out how to measure that students learned a thing.

It's a bit different, since you specialize more in college. My first-semester schedule was math, physics, composition, and honors seminar (another English course), while as a high-schooler, I'd have also had social studies, Spanish, and another course (and I wouldn't have taken two English courses in one year). But I hope that helps students take things seriously.

I also know they are 18-20, and will screw up, because I did. See, above story about taking two labs at once. (I really hope that wasn't the semester I took 17 credit hours. I was full of good ideas.)

(And I feel bad that students who have a full-time job already are trying to do two full-time things at once; something is going to give for them. Probably sleep.

* As you all probably realize, it matters not only how many courses I teach, but which ones: it's easier to teach three sections of Physics 141 than one of Astro 101, one of Astro 102, and one of Physics 141. (Which, incidentally, because of arcane rules that count math-heavy courses as worth a bit more than their credit hours for faculty to teach them, is NOT a full load.) And it will be easier if I'm teaching Physics 141 or Physics 104 next quarter, because I don't have to adapt everything from scratch. (Though, if Cal Poly is like most schools, there will be fewer sections of 141, because it's the first in a three-course sequence, and most students do that fall-winter-spring.)

Basically, it boils down to a lecturer like me gets 3 lecture courses (at least two of which have to be math-intensive), or 2 lectures and 2 labs. (Labs also count more than their credit hours, because, unlike students, instructors have a lot of lab prep and grading to do, while it's assumed students will spend most of their time on the course in lab.)

** Not an online journal. It also holds research notes, since I'm going to forget everything by the time I can actually do research again.

*** Okay, there is someone in charge of the demo room, who gets out useful things each week for physics demos.

Sep. 16th, 2014

Cultural Markers

A couple of days ago, I mentioned ordering checks to a friend. I don't pay for much via check -- I still have my first box of checks from my local bank in Ithaca (which is why I had to open a new bank account here in California, and, thus, order checks) -- but they're handy for paying bills where I can't pay electronically. Said friend wondered why I didn't use money orders; her reasoning was that money orders might cost money, but they meant you could control when the money left your account.

It occurred to me that this was some kind of cultural marker; said friend had lived hand-to-mouth for some time, so couldn't trust that a badly-timed check wouldn't leave her overdrawn, while I've been broke but not poor*. Hell, this move is probably the farthest into debt I've ever been (even excluding the car loan), and I suspect it won't last until 2015.

The reason I think about this, is Monday the university president was all up about first-generation college students and making sure they graduated (at least at the same rates as their peers with college-educated parents). Like, apparently Cal Poly has a food pantry for low-income students and faculty can ask for meal vouchers for students they suspect are skipping to save money for tuition or rent. He read some letters from students appealing their probation, often explaining they pretty much had to save one quarter at a time.

I was considering this compared to my friend, when I overheard something a colleague was saying about assumptions. He said, 'don't assume your students will buy the workbook and online service; don't assume your students will even have the textbook'**. A lot of my planning was based on trying to get the students to read the textbook before class so we could focus on practicing the material in class (you know, where there's a teacher to help, unlike trying to do homework at home). A lot of my success tips focus on things like how to study outside class beyond homework, or showing up to extra things on campus. I wonder how much I miss since my college experience wasn't one where I had to work***, and I could go to office hours or meet study groups if I needed it. I also had a textbook scholarship.

OTOH, some of it is that you need the time to practice any skill you want to learn, and physics isn't any different. If the students can't get the time to study****, I don't know what else I can do. I can't wave my hand and give these students the money so they don't have to work full-time, or can live on-campus (cutting down the cost and time of commuting). The best I can do is listen, figure out ways to get students to tell me where I'm biased by my upbringing, and present things as options rather than YOU MUST DO THIS.

I'm going to head to the library tomorrow and make sure they have copies of textbooks. Possibly also the tutoring center. If I want students to read the textbook, I can at least offer ways they can do it without having to buy the thing. (At least the physics book is for three quarters. It's a doorstop. I could use it to kill small mammals.)

* The difference is one of immediacy. Before I got a job as a college student, I had little spending money, but I had food and housing, almost no debt, and the ability to call on my parents if I really needed something. Basically, I didn't have to worry about the cost of things, even though I had scant few monetary assets.

** A different gripe than a friend's annoyance that her students order from Amazon... and forget to factor in that it takes time for Amazon to ship books (unless you pay them) and don't make alternate arrangements.

*** My job (teaching assistant and undergrad researcher) was for spending money and CV building for grad school, and also because I liked it.

**** Well, or go to office hours, use the campus tutoring resources, etc. Most of these students, I suspect, were like me and learned how to get by in high school by doing what was expected and memorizing things. Which is going to fail them sometime in college, most likely. See: the story of my sophomore year. Also in grad school.


I don't know if it was the plane trip or shaking hands with half of the professors at Cal Poly, but I now have a cold. I was hoping it was allergies, so I took my allergy pills, which meant that I had a runny nose all of yesterday. Today I figured it wasn't allergies, so didn't bother... so I got the runny nose AND a sinus headache. (Brilliant, self.) Then on the way home, I stopped for gas and cold pills. (And got the fun of buying decongestants with an out of state license.)

Incidentally, this reminds me of another weird culture shock; the area stores all charge for plastic or paper bags*. I don't know if I saved most of my tote bags from Ithaca; at the least, I'll need new ones.

I think 'lack of free grocery bags' was part of Mom's list of Why She Hates California. (The bags, the drivers, the fact there is a giant hill between my apartment and my office, the price of everything, the presence of too few restaurants that serve mild food**... pretty much everything except the ocean.)

Department retreat today: basically, we went over all the policies, I got connected with the astronomers on campus, and information about who I report to for Physics 141 (because there are eight instructors for at least ten sections, so someone has to herd the cats***), and more New Faculty information.

* Not much. Something like ten cents, or maybe fifteen.
** Most of that is just that Mom's stomach is sufficiently delicate that even pizza for dinner will send it into a tailspin of heartburn and regret. Which makes eating out far less fun, especially in areas where you don't know what the hell weird thing they'll do to food, or where they think raw onions go.
*** I have 48 students in each section; that means a good five hundred students are passing through calculus-based physics. That's about as many as we had at the University of Nebraska, where I took calc-based physics, but we did it in two or three giant lecture hall classes, and weekly recitations with grad students.

Sep. 15th, 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Something

So, second day on campus for the New Job.

The Good: I have an office. It is mine! All by myself. Right now it is nearly empty, but I want to fill it with things.

Look, 'officemates aren't in' isn't the same as 'own office'. Heck, I know postdocs who had to share, even when they taught.

I also did a lot of administrivia: turned in paperwork so I get things like direct deposit and health care, and got my laptop hooked up to the wireless network. Then I had frozen yogurt, because it is fricken hot here. And after work, I bought a fridge. (Used, from Craigslist. The owner even agreed to deliver it on Saturday when I move into my apartment, because she regularly heads up north, and owns a pickup. Also some kind of riding school barn thing. It was out on a dirt road and there were a lot of horses.)

The Bad: They should never schedule faculty events on student move in. There are thousands of students trying to move their stuff (and parents, siblings, etc.) across campus. Roads are closed for traffic management.

Seriously; traffic was backed up from a quarter mile before the exit, and you could tell it was all going to one place, rather than generic rush hour. It took me a half hour to cover less than a mile. Hopefully, I will do better tomorrow, by taking the back way in. After that, the students should be all in one place, and it's just the normal 'do not obey traffic laws'.

Also, my first example on the way home of motorcyclists deciding that the lane markers are special shortcuts through traffic. (Don't do this; it scares me.)

No lesson planning got done today, because the administrivia took 3 hours and a trip to two buildings. Three if you count checking my mailbox. (My office isn't in the same building as the campus office.) Some of that was that the HR and Payroll offices close for lunch, which was when I was doing errands. Tomorrow is the department retreat, so who knows what that is.

Sep. 14th, 2014

Oh, hi there!

I forgot the guilt I develop when facing a long, somewhat time-sensitive, multi-part task, and don't finish it RIGHT AWAY DAMMIT. It starts to intrude on my leisure time, even though I know that such a task will expand to fit the time available. Even though reading (well, skimming) a good hundred pages or more of textbook and considering the content was an afternoon's work, I get antsy because I didn't move on to the other textbook.

I have at least one full day and five days that have or will have free blocks. (The only full day of meetings is the department retreat on Tuesday; even then, I could spend two hours in my office writing.) I don't need to have everything done today.

(add in that Physics 141 is a collaborative class, so I can't do much fussing with scheduling, or the students won't be able to do the labs.)
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Things to do today:

1. Unpack my professional clothing and make sure it doesn't need ironing. Also, my briefcase. (It will not need ironing.)
2. Make up my to-do list for tomorrow. I have events in the morning and afternoon, but have some time in between that I can run around to drop off paperwork and make phone calls.
3. Review the course materials I have for the courses I'm teaching. Since Physics 141 is taught by half a dozen people, and is the first course in a sequence, I have a lot less freedom than for Physics 104 (which is the 'a taste of physics for the liberal arts folks*')
4. Start on course organization stuff, both on my side (make folders, clean up my computer desktop, etc.) and on the students side (set up the course website, write a syllabus, etc.)

I also should find sometime around midday to get out of the room so housekeeping can clean. I could do laundry or go for a walk along the coast.

Sep. 13th, 2014

Aventures in Moving

So, two days in Middle California.

The hotel room has its good points (kitchen, close to the highway and the beach), and its bad points (it's close to the highway (and you can hear it), the heating is wonky, and there's no AC, and Mom says I snore).

I own my first car. My car insurance is about the same as my payments (new driver with good credit, means the loan company likes me, but the insurance company is wary; one refused to insure me independently at all). It's the same model as Mom's but about 8 years newer. That took most of a day.

Yesterday, I did the orientation thing. I'm now on the payroll, have my ID card, key, office and parking pass, and a lot of things on teaching at Cal Poly. (I also got free stuff.) I also need to get started on lesson planning. 9 days until I start teaching.

(I also discovered I misread my course times; turns out I have Fridays off.)

Sep. 10th, 2014

Off I go, on my teaching adventure.

Sep. 5th, 2014

It's still surreal that people expect me to put together (well, adapt) two whole courses. One of which is a non-major course, so I have a lot more freedom (as students' future professors won't expect a certain base knowledge).

So, I did get my teaching schedule: in the morning, I am teaching the Physics for Non-majors course (basically a general education science course intended for people who won't need to know any physics for their jobs) and in the afternoon, two sections of the first quarter of Calculus-based Physics (a course I have taken before, and one taken by physicists and engineers*).

It also means I have a five-hour break in the middle of the day for office hours, writing lessons, rehearsing and grading. (I don't mind bringing grading home for weekends/weekdays.)

* Mostly engineers. The general rule for physics departments is that you teach algebra-based physics for pre-meds and calculus-based for engineers. I think if science majors take physics, usually the chemists have to take calc-based, but the biologists can get by with algebra-based. Either way, most universities keep physics departments around so someone can teach Intro to Physics, and maybe some general education courses. (People like astronomy and stuff like that.) Physics majors are a nice bonus.

Sep. 1st, 2014


My new resolution should be to update this more than once a month. At first, nothing was happening, then EVERYTHING happened.

-- I got a year-long lectureship at California Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo, California. For reference, that's almost exactly half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco. (For those of you who have been added since the last time I taught or graded, any posts that mention students will be locked and I will keep names off. My students have a right to privacy more than I have a right to rant.)

-- I move on the 10th. Classes start the 22nd. I teach three classes: two sections of calculus-based physics, and a section of 'physics for non-scientists'. The last is at 8 AM. (No one likes 8 AM classes; I don't, and most of the students don't. The only reason I liked 8 AM classes as a student because it meant I was done early in the day, and I had no trouble doing math at ass o'clock in the morning*, even before I started drinking tea.)

-- I probably have an apartment. I mailed my deposit last week, and I was going to call them today before I remembered that it was Labor Day.

-- I am (mostly) packed. There are about five boxes of actual household stuff, and 18 boxes of books and craft supplies. (Three of those are work-related books). Also several full trash cans, 3 ebay auctions and 9 Rubbermaid totes of things to donate. Mom's current thoughts is that it will be cheaper to ship these than hire someone to move. (As I have had my license less than a year, Mom has vetoed 'rent a van, drive to California', which was Dad's suggestion; if they're still there by Christmas, I might do that anyway. After three months on California highways, I suspect the interstate will be fine.)

-- I'm driving a lot better. I still hate going downtown, and like parking far away from everyone. (I get a walk AND I don't have to deal with not hitting things.)

-- Mom and Ben are out of town (back tomorrow), so I've been using the excuse to cook all the things I'm too lazy to make normally because only I will eat them.

-- I expect my adviser will be making noise about publishing the parts of my dissertation that aren't in peer-reviewed journals. I haven't looked at my research in a week. (The good news is that my collaborators and I mostly agree, and where we disagree are the places where one person's data isn't reliable.)

* Seriously, in high school math competitions, the earlier they were, the better I did... I suspect more because everyone else was half-asleep than any ability on my part to be a morning person.

Aug. 8th, 2014


I live!

So, my job plans for the fall are... well, I have a year-long job in California that's supposed to get back to me before Monday, and two part-time jobs (with an interview for a third) in town if I don't get that. And it's experience in my field: an adjunct position running a General Astronomy course via the Internet and covering an upperclassman course on the Solar System for a professor going to the National Science Foundation. (The interview is for one-on-one teaching a gifted high school student or students*)

Other than that, I finally set up my desktop, after my brother took his down. And I have a conference in Boulder next week, so don't expect much contact. (I don't know if I can make the Division of Planetary Sciences annual conference; it depends on what I'm doing and if I can pay out of pocket since I don't have grants. It is in Tucson and is a good place to chat with folks outside of the planetary ring community.)

* The public school uses that if they don't have the ability to get a gifted student into an advanced class. I had a mentor from 4th grade through 9th grade in math, which let me take calculus as a junior, and enter college able to waive all three semesters of calculus. (I was not the youngest in my calculus class; we had a sophomore as well.) UNL grad students are a major pool for employment here.
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Jul. 15th, 2014

Canon and the Ambiguously-gendered Protagonist

Hi, not dead. But thinking about something based on the news about the upcoming Super Smash Bros. game. My brother, a big SSB fan, told me that Fire Emblem characters were announced and I IDd them. When we watched the video, I saw that Robin/the Tactician was one of the characters and immediately said 'I hope they let you play female Robin' (they showed the male Robin first). Thankfully, once they got over the fanfare (Lucina! Captain Falcon, who is not a Fire Emblem character but still exciting!), they did say Robin would be playable as both male and female versions (presumably with the same moves, just like in the game).

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