Friday, May 30, 2008

- The NY Times reports on a "miracle fruit" that "rewires the way the palate perceives sour flavors for an hour or so, rendering lemons as sweet as candy." I don't know, I think I'd be scared to try this.

- In another Times article, David Byrne outfits an abandoned building with an "architectural organ":
Besides being fitted with several motors, which produce the bass sounds by vibrating a set of girders that once supported a stained-glass skylight in the 40-foot-high ceiling, the organ is attached to a pump that blows air through a tangle of hoses. These hoses snake into the huge room’s old water and heating pipes and conduits, making primitive flute sounds. And then there are more than a dozen spring-loaded solenoids, attached like woodpeckers to the columns and even to a linebacker-size radiator that emits a surprisingly sonorous tone when struck in just the right place with a metal rod.
There's a video of it with the article. Way cool and makes me wish I were a New Yorker so I could go see it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Change is good

I decided it was about time to change the blog template. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Birthday dinner

Thanks to my three regular readers for the birthday wishes. You all are very kind.

For my birthday gift, my dad took me, a few family members, and a friend to one of the trendiest/most expensive restaurants in El Paso. I'm generally not a food or restaurant snob. I don't mind eating at cheap places. But just once, I wanted to see what the "best" was, and possibly relive a tiny bit of the restaurant experience I had in New York City.

So off we went to enjoy an amazing meal. For my first and second courses, I had fried crab with a sauce that had bacon and avocado in it and a fillet of toothfish (whatever that is) with spinach and red seaweed tendrils on top of it. It was good, though the portion size of the fish was a bit large and the flavors were really strong, so I could only finish half of it. Two of my dinner companions ordered a salad that was placed on a bowl with several live goldfish in it. Whoa, now that's not something you see at Red Lobster. One relative ordered a "lobstertini," like a shrimp cocktail but with lobster, that came with a tiny bottle of vodka on the side. For me, though, the highlight of the meal was dessert, an amaretto creme brulee. The waitress had to show me how to puncture the top of it and pour the amaretto sauce in it. It was sooooo yummy. I also ordered a cup of coffee with dessert and it honestly was the most perfect cup of coffee I've ever tasted. It came with two biscotti, a tiny white ceramic creamer, and a long white tray with sugar cubes and tiny stirring spoons.

It was definitely a memorable experience, but as I remarked to my friend who came with me on this food adventure, I don't think I'll be going back anytime soon. The bill was, predictably, huge, and in the end it seemed ridiculous to spend that much on one meal. The pretentiousness of it all got to me, too. Do I really need an army of waiters to present my food? Do I need these exotic ingredients I've never heard of? Mostly I think we all felt sort of out of place there; my family members and friend and I all acted sort of hushed and different from our usual loud and lively selves just because we were at that particular restaurant. Still, it was good to try something new on my b-day, and if I was judging purely on the food, it's certainly the best restaurant I've been to in this city.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Today really should be a national holiday

Or at least a blog holiday--it's my birthday today! I'm 26.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

In the Shadow of the Moon is an excellent documentary about Apollo astronauts' journeys to the moon, narrated by the astronauts themselves. The footage is amazing, clearer than I've ever seen it, and I like how the documentary focuses mainly on these men's experiences rather than on technical or historical details of the moon landings, which have been covered in a lot of other documentaries. It's fascinating to hear the astronauts reflect on a truly unique and awe-inspiring experience, how it changed them and made them see our world in a new way. Watch it and you will surely look at the moon and the earth a little differently afterwards.
Weird article in yesterday's NY Times: "Serge Hefez, a practicing psychiatrist, has identified a new mental illness among the French: obsessive Sarkosis, an unhealthy fascination with the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy." Seems pretty silly to me, but it is interesting to consider how celebrities can reflect/affect the public psyche. The accompanying photos, which originally appeared in the French newspaper Liberation, are also a trip.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Happiness is a new pair of running shoes.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

One week into summer break and I'm already itching to work again. I have goals and projects for the summer, but ah, whatever, every day still lasts forever. The perils of unemployment. Plus the heat is stifling, even in May.

Yesterday I assembled a barbecue grill for my mom. It was kind of fun screwing things together and attaching the little wheels. I was so proud of myself for assembling the thing, until I realized I attached the top of the grill the wrong way. Whoops.

My birthday is less than a week away. Maybe I'm childish for caring at the almost-age of 26. Still, I'm excited and I'm cooking up some plans for the day.
Some great tips for moving on Hygge House. I like "2. When packing use no peanuts." and "6. Don’t ask friends unless you are broke ass. I say this because moving is no fun." True. I hate moving.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Local anchorman Gary Warner retires. I always thought he was the most professional local news anchor. I like what he says about his job in the El Paso Times article:

"I like the feeling that, at the end of the day, I've given people information they should know in a professional manner," he said. "The copy was written well, and it had an impact on the viewers.

"It's like any other profession, such as a lawyer or doctor. If a doctor writes a wrong prescription, someone can get hurt. If we mess up and give the wrong information, there's the possibility that someone can get hurt."

Now there's an attitude I think some others in the news business need to adopt.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

M. LeBlanc on Bitch Ph.D. gives a right-on assessment of Sex and the City:
You know what? I think Sex and the City actually has a few redeeming qualities. Cinematically it's awful, especially with the whole "Carrie-typing-and-wondering-aloud-punny-questions" theme that appears in every single episode. Several of the characters (esp. Samantha) are pretty flat. It's an odd show, because at times it's clear that some of the characters aren't at all realistic (again, see Samantha), but then it tries to present problems of love, sex, relationship, fertility, illness, careers in a nuanced way. The show's a bit schizophrenicconfused in that way, like it's not sure whether it's a comedy or a drama, realism or high-exaggeration kabuki.


Sister of My Heart by Chitra Divakaruni. It edges into chick lit territory, but it's still pretty magical.

Monday, May 12, 2008

On Teaching

Reflections on the end of two semesters of teaching freshman composition:

First of all, "teaching" is a misnomer. It implies that I can make students learn, that teaching is a process of transmitting my knowledge directly into my students' minds." I wish that were the case, but you can't make people do anything, learning included. I define teaching as "influencing students to learn on their own." My job as a teacher is to influence, and it's not easy considering how much competition I have for students' attention. I'm competing for their attention with other professors, families, friends, jobs, cell phones, video games, etc., but to be a good teacher I must wield that tiny sliver of influence I have in the most effective way possible to get students to take responsibility for their own learning.

It surprised me over and over how inefficient the process of teaching is. How, of the many things I would say in front of the class, I would guess-timate that students remember about 10% of it. The "good" students would remember a little more, the "bad" students would remember less. I'm sure someone has done a real study on this, but my estimate comes from realizing that if you want students to remember something, you'd better say it ten times. And then have them practice it ten times. Then they'll remember it. Maybe.

As a teacher, I got used to disappointment. I would grade quizzes only to discover that only one person read the assignment. Editing student drafts, I would find out that my lesson on commas taught them absolutely nothing. The girl who sits in the back is absent again? I sighed whenever second drafts of essays were identical to the first ones. In those moments I felt like a failure. You put a lot of effort into teaching and it feels like you have made no difference. You want to give up. But you just have to forgive yourself for not being Hilary Swank in Freedom Writers. Some students you will never reach. And you just have to accept it. Like I said before, your influence as a teacher only goes so far.

But then, just when you want to give up, something amazing happens. You're reading a student's essay, and it's so much better than the first draft. He read my comments! You read on--wow, this kid's got good ideas! He cited his sources correctly. Some of the comma errors are still there, but they're not too bad. This kid, the kid who sits in the back texting while you're lecturing, the kid who you thought never paid attention, this kid can write a college paper! *Choirs of angels sing hallelujah* It worked! I "taught" them something! As a teacher you live for those moments. As satisfying moments go, those rank right up there.

In a way, this job has made me understand a little better what it must be like to be a parent, another job where you influence rather than control. Now I understand how frustrating it must be when your child doesn't listen to you and makes a wrong decision. Why don't they get it? You want to tear out your hair. But then there's the other side of the coin, the good side that almost makes up for the frustration: when your child does something well and your heart overflows with pride and you want to brag to everyone who will listen that you had something to do with it.

I did grow attached to my students in a way I would describe as maternal. Not a day of teaching would go by when these (mostly) sweet and goofy and interesting people wouldn't surprise me. I'd laugh at the things they'd say and sometimes think all day about things they said during class. I found it odd and flattering how they put me on a pedestal. The teacher-student relationship is pretty interesting: it's strange and amazing how each of my students has a little of my knowledge (along with my sparkling personality) resonating inside their minds, and vice versa.

Overall, I would say this was a rewarding learning experience, but somehow I don't think this is the career for me. The frustrations are too high. Teaching is part popularity contest, and I don't have the charisma that makes for a teacher that students love. And to be completely honest, there are things I want to figure out besides how to make that 10% number go up. As a teacher, I think that's your constant goal. How can you extend your influence? It's an uphill battle.

Still, I'll never forget this. It has really changed my view of myself knowing that I can stand up in front of room of people and command some of their attention for an hour. I still think if you showed me a videotape of myself teaching, I wouldn't believe it was me. I never though of myself as a leader, but being a teacher has shown me that I can be bossy and authoritative and make some tiny bit of difference in these students' lives. Of course, there were things I could have done better, but I gave it my best and I think I influenced some students to learn how to write better, and for that I'm really, really happy.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Finals Week

I had my very last class today and cleaned out my desk :=(. Is this really the end? Well, not technically, since I'm not graduating, but the only "class" I have left to take for my degree plan is my thesis. It's stunning, really. No more syllabi and books to buy, no more lectures. Actually, maybe it's more like :=), now that I think about it.

The past week has been nonstop deadlines: projects, seminar papers, and grading, all converging in one crazy week. I haven't slept well or eaten well. Piles of journal articles and books are all around me. I complain to everyone that I'm exhausted, but I think I secretly love the chaos and the constant motion. In all honesty I haven't felt so alive in a long while.

New York photos

Check 'em out, on Flickr:

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Apologies for not posting for awhile. I've been (and still am) swamped. Part of what has kept me busy for the past week was a 20-page report mostly on the subject of blogs. The more I think about blogs, the more I don't know what to make of them. Empowering explorations of identity or inconsequential exercises in narcissism? I guess it depends. I think the main thing I've discovered is that I'm no good at theorizing.

It's the end of school and I'm getting emotional about it. It's all too much to think about right now. Despite my often saying I'm so sick and tired of school, I know I am going to miss it like crazy. It's going to be such a shock going from working nonstop to having nothing but free time this summer.

More later when there's time...