§ This blog, too, is done.

Posted May 18th, 2011 @11:33 pm by leapdragon.

Leapdragon § Academe had a very brief life—in terms of content, at the very least, though not necessarily in the temporal sense—and was closed.

Things are now happening at Leapdragon 2012.

§ Adjunct Life / American Life / Fatigue (Past and Future)

Posted January 5th, 2011 @11:59 pm by Aron.

So because I am a new father and my wife works full time (to get health insurance for the family, which adjuncts and assistants can't easily get), I worked tremendously hard last semester to schedule my teaching this semester so that it would all occur on two days, Monday and Wednesday, with a total commute time of four hours per week and a total classroom time of six hours per week.

This week, in a single week and right before the semester, the teaching responsibilities at both institutions have bee "slightly" changed with very little notice. Now, for the same amount of money, I will teach four days per week, commuting ten hours per week, and spend eight hours in the classroom.

From this: 2 days, 4 hours commute, 6 hours classroom per week
To this: 4 days, 10 hours commute, 8 hours classroom per week

How much extra money am I getting for this? ZERO. I should feel lucky not to have lost any, the way things worked out.

Who gets left with less? My daughter, my wife, myself, our memories, and our future. Who's fault is it? Impossible to say. Certainly not ours.

It's infuriating to feel as though there's no point in planning, organizing, or trying to do your job well because in this country/market in which most other people don't, you're going to suffer as a result of the general malaise anyway, no matter how much effort you expend. This is one of those cases.

I just wish I had back all of those hours I spent negotiating to get my original schedule. If I'm not going to get it anyway, it would be nice to have back the time I spent working on it. It would also be nice to have once again some of the other options that I turned down as I was carefully structuring things to make my time work out so that I could be home with my family five days a week instead of three.

Of course, this is all compounded by the fact we need two workers in the family because one job pays the bills (but can't insure us) and the other job insures us (but pays about zero bills) while insurance in Queens is affordable by nobody (for a family of three, lowest premium is nearly $2,000 per month if you buy independently).

Both of us are working at what amounts to slave labor. When you say that I get paid upward of $60 an hour, it sounds great, until you realize only classroom hours are paid, while the job also requires outline and preparation hours, endless grading hours, office hours, commute hours, and any number of other hours. Make no mistake, it's an absolutely full load to teach multiple courses during a semester—absolutely full. 40-60 hours per week at least, with no benefits, no job security (you have to look for work three times a year, and you find it in little nuggets). Imagine if to make ends meet you had to search out, interview for, and land not one job once in a decade, but 3-5 jobs at the same time, three times every year—each time you started a new group, you were let go from all of them after four months and had to start over again. That's adjunct life.

Meanwhile, my significant other works a grueling full-time gig and basically the lot goes to pay for health insurance (of the sort that so far routinely refuses to pay for covered things, requiring constant appeals).

And we live in a one-bedroom apartment with our baby and pay so much for it that in the three years we've been living here we could have saved up enough to buy a house outright if only we lived in Utah or Tennessee or something instead. But of course in those places these jobs don't exist and the wages are lower.

It's like a cruel joke. A small carrot is tied to a long, nearly invisible string. Someone is at the other end of the string, but you'll never get close enough to carrot or string to find out who it might be or how you go about getting the job at the end of the string where you can just pull the carrot toward you.

It . has . been . a . frustrating . winter . break .
The . most . frustrating . on . record .

And now it will be the busiest single semester of my life. Those old "busy semesters" from undergrad or the beginning of grad school are child's play in comparison. Last semester, with a new baby arriving and labor and delivery and a new job as a managing editor at a journal (that pays almost nothing), that's going to be child's play in comparison to this semester. If I actually manage to fulfill my responsibilities here and come out the other end with the cash, my integrity, my family, and my career intact, it will be like having survived through a nuclear cataclysm followed by a supervolcanic eruption followed by a 40-day blizzard at temperatures near absolute zero, all wearing nothing but bermuda shorts and a toothbrush on a string and carrying nothing with me but a Nancy Drew novel.

Also, if I manage to survive this, there is about a 66 percent chance that I will be burned out on academics entirely and will leave for greener pastures.

I am getting close to being fed up.

§ Quite often

Posted December 14th, 2010 @7:21 pm, marked "."

"daddy" is the loneliest job on earth. It basically means that you are uninvolved, unloved, disconnected, tired, and good for money, mostly—and even then you have to be careful that people don't think you're too proud of being a provider, so the only thing you've got has to be kept to yourself. Your job is to support everyone else. Everyone. It's nobody's job to support you.

Some days you're not quite sure how you can possibly survive the heartsickness of working on nonsense while your child grows up outside of earshot and learns not to want to be held, fed, talked to, or read to by you.

§ Insurance company waltz

Posted December 14th, 2010 @5:21 pm, marked "."

Insurance Company Rep: "Hello, can I help you?"

Wife: "Yeah... Can you tell us why we've just been billed $2,000 instead of the expected $500 deductible for our labor and delivery?"

ICR: "Um, it's because the over-under on the quantification side of the underwriter of the reinsurer had a split policy double-writing the underwiring of the semi-deductible non-deductible deductible, which effectively doubled the cost ratio for mitigated cases, of which this is one based on the non-underwitten nature of the reinsurer's semi-deductible metapolicy. So you owe at least double."

Wife: "But $2,000 isn't double, it's quadruple. Where did the other $1,000 come from?"

ICR: "It's what you owe."

Wife: "But I'd like to understand WHY I owe it. Even with that other stuff that I don't understand, this isn't double, it's quadruple."

ICR: "Please hold."

(Tap, tap, tap... Wife looks at husband.)

ICR: "Okay, I'm back. There may have been a mistake, we'll look into it."

Wife: "Well if there was a mistake, I don't want to wait while you look into it, I don't want to owe it. You're telling me double, and that's quadruple!"

ICR: "Okay, so you don't owe it. It was a mistake."

Wife: "So we only owe $1,000?"

ICR: "That's right, based on the non-underwritten quantification of the reinsurer's double ratio underwritings, which doubles the deductible for all non-excluded cases."

(Husband to wife: "Give me the phone.")

Husband: "Hi. Can you tell ME, in plain terms, why we thought we owed $500 and now you're telling us we should feel great for 'only' owing $1,000?"

ICR: "Oh, that's easy, it's the deductible on your policy. The one in your wife's name. You probably haven't seen the policy details since it's your wife's policy, but it's a $1,000 deductible."

(Husband to wife: "They say we have a $1,000 deductible and that's it, period.")
(Wife to husband: "No, we don't, and that's not what they told me just now! That's totally wrong!")
(Husband to wife: "Do you have the policy somewhere?"
(Wife to husband: "Here you go! See? $500. Spelled out right there.")

Husband: "Insurance lady, we have the policy right here. It says we have a $500 deductible."

ICR: "Oh no, that's not correct."

Husband: "It's in my hand."

ICR: "Please hold."

(Tap... Tap... Tap...)

ICR: "Sir? Yes, your policy was changed on 10/1/2010 to a $1,000 deductible policy."

Husband: "By whom?"

ICR: "You. Or your employer. Not us. Not our responsibility, sorry."

Husband: "Wait, it was changed on 10/1/2010?"

ICR: "Yes."

Husband: "You mean THREE DAYS before induction, AFTER the pre-authorization paperwork was submitted and approved? When we were already on maternity leave and preparing for the hospital?"

ICR: "Roger."

Husband: "Okay, who do I sick the lawyers on?"

ICR: "Sir? Oh, I see. We do have an appeals address. Do you want it?"

Husband: "Yes, please. Oh, and I want some kind of confirmation also for that $1,000 'mistake' you say you're going to correct that reduced the original amount from $2,000 to $1,000."

ICR: "I gave a tracking number to your wife."

(Husband to wife: "Did you get a tracking number?")
(Wife to husband: "No, absolutely not!")
(Husband to wife: "Insurance lady says she gave you one!")
(Wife to husband: "And she seemed so nice!")

Husband: "Insurance lady, give ME the tracking number, too."

ICR: "Okay."

Husband: "And where can we follow this tracking number?"

ICR: "In the online system."

Husband: "Okay, I'll log in and check."

ICR: "Oh, well, it takes five days."

Husband: "Okay, I'll log in after five days and check."

ICR: "Sometimes it takes ten days."

Husband: "Okay, I'll log in after ten days and check."

ICR: "Sometimes it doesn't make it into the system at all!"

Husband: "Then I'll call."

ICR: "You do that. We're always happy to talk to you again. Have a nice day."

§ Two months with iPad

Posted December 12th, 2010 @12:51 am, marked ", ."

So we bought an iPad just as we were going into the hospital to deliver our little one, and it did prove useful in that context... We used it the first few nights with hospital WiFi to do on-the-fly research about all the things we were worried about, needed help with, and so on in relation to our new baby. Being able go do Google searches and watch YouTube videos on offering breastfeeding advice right inside the hospital room really made the initial transition to parenthood much easier than it might otherwise have been.

Now the kid is home, however, and so are we, and life is moving forward and it's been just over two months with the iPad. So what do I think of it now?

In one way it's like the crack cocaine of gadgets. You can have a fairly complete, desktop-like web reading experience just about anywhere. It becomes something that yu simpl carry with you out of habit almost all the time so that if you happen to have the need to, you can look anything up "on the fly," and even when you have no particular need of this sort, you constantl find yourself browsing one or another site online that you frequent and read, since with the iPad it's so effortless.

For anything interactive or productive, however, the iPad basically sucks. The basic reason for this is that it is impossible to get data into the damned thing. On a real keyboard I type well over 110 words per minute with no errors. On the iPad screen I think I get about 25, and that with tons of errors, and to even accomplish that I have to actually be looking at my hands and the keyboard. It's not, first of all, a standard keyboard; even basic things like numbers and quotation marks require the use of the Shift key (which has a nonstandard size and position), and when pressing Shift the resulting key layout is unlike any real keyboard you've ever seen. Combine this exceedingly and relentlessly nonstandard layout with the glass-smooth screen that provides absolutel no tactile feedback or hand position cues and you have a touch-typist's worst nightmare. To type on the screen is to feel totally awkward and constrained. Almost worse is the lack of arrow keys, making navigation for serious text enterers tremendously clumsy, slow, and almost impossible to accomplish.

You can, of course, connect a bluetooth keyboard, and I have two of them, one of them being te vey nice Apple model. This works great for touch typing, but it requires that the user enter the settings menu to enable it, then connect to it each time a typing session is to occur. So it is that if you plan to type on your iPad using a bluetooth keyboard, it takes about 90-180 seconds to get to the point where you can enter text, thereby eliminating the instant-on/instant-off benefit that is one of the main reasons to use a mobile embedded device like the iPad. Aside from this, the addition of an external keyboard recreates the extra bulk that is the primary reason for choosing the iPad over a netbook in the first place. In fact, it's worse because with the iPad and a keyboard, the two are not connected physically to one another and you must thus manage to handle and find surfaces for two stand-alone devices instead of only one.

I have a capacitive stylus on the way from Amazon Prime and will try to use it with the iPad PhatWare handwriting recognizer once it arrives. Perhaps handwriting recognition is the path to the nirvana that would be efficient iPad data entry, but at the same time I somehow don't think it will. Thanks to Apple's overzealous desire to lock the platform down, they've made it impossible for programmers to do things at the system (abstracted) level, like, say, add a new input method in a generalized way that will automatically work for all apps. So even the and writing recognition angle will bew hamstrung by the limitation that it can only be used in one "note-taking" app, then copied from there to other apps' entry fields and boxes if handwriting is to be used everywhere.

Aside from input methods, there are some other teething problems with iPad 1.0. It has the same limited amount of RAM as early iPhones and iPods, which often isn't enough for the way that developers have built their (often much more complicated) iPad apps, which means that apps crash (exit abruptly to the desktop) quite regularly, really the worst way Apple could have handled an out-of-memory condition.

As a result of this limitation, many apps are much more watered down than they would otherwise have to be, and are thus much less useful than their desktop/laptop versions. Examples of this problem include pretty much every suite of "office" apps for the iPad, as well as Apple's own Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. All simply pale in comparison to their desktop versions, omitting vast swaths of critical features that could instead have been redesigned to be touch-friendly if more memory had been available to developers to port them.

Overall the net effect is of a device that is fabulous (and fabulously addictive) when used like the new media version of a television (for consuming content and information produced and entered by others) but that is really quite poor (and poorer than was really necessary) for actual work or entering data or information of any kind.

With that said, this entire post has been touch-typed out (albeit with many dozens of mistakes and backspacing followed by re-typing) on the iPad's on-screen keyboard, so it is possible to create with it, just not efficiently.

So all in all it's a mixed bag, pending the arrival of a stylus and my following attempts to use it for sandboxed handwriting recognition. The iPad isn't a device you "love to hate" so much as it is a device that you "hate to love" and that you feel guilt for not being able to get enough of, given that it costs twice as much as a netbook but doen't help you to be as productive in many ways. Quite the opposite, in fact, if you're not careful.

§ The times of difficulty as parents

Posted December 10th, 2010 @3:11 pm, marked ", ."

are here. Tensions are growing; differences in culture and perspective are showing, and because the stakes are very high (as all new parents are warned), things that could in the past have been solved with a drink and hands thrown in the air now become the critical foci of full-scale diplomatic incidents, with all of the seriousness that this implies. Beneath the veneers of anger that hang in the air lie deep reservoirs of regret that all of this somehow can't be made to go away—for the child's sake.

Everyone wishes at one time or another that reality was much simpler, that people were really all exactly the same, that life was a totalitarian system that left one with now choices and alternatives, so that no moral ambiguities ever sat in judgment of the well-intentioned.

But of course life simply isn't like that. 

§ Sometimes the overly political nature

Posted December 6th, 2010 @8:57 pm, marked ", ."

of the academy pushes me very near the precipice.

Too much of the working class critique of the academic is spot-on. There are indeed an awful lot of people in the academy that lack completely any kind of common sense, and that apply this lack of common sense to a broad variety of problems and tasks in the least helpful of ways.

Why? Here's why.

The top strata of the system, the wellspring of university resources, lies in the marriage of politics, accounting, and consumerism, not in the arts and letters. At every successively lower level, instrumental rationality carries the day, complicity in the interest of continued employment being the cardinal virtue. The only other virtue is uniqueness—possessing a set of "skills" so very specific that there is absolutely no competition, and so inapplicable that no clear quantitative measurement can be made about their value.

The result is a system in which those that are most able to pursue, in rational and totalitarian fashion, maximally esoteric skills with minimal real-world applicability, are able best to secure their positions. Such a state of affairs is rational with respect to the market, but completely incompatible with any common-sense understanding of the purpose of knowledge or of the academy.

The bizarre irrationalities of the market and of government thus carry over into the world of the academy and infect it, the result being a system in which students are often left unserved, underserved, or having been encouraged into debt with the mistaken idea that they are making a rational cost-benefit calculation, and in which nobody (including myself) is willing to see, comment on, or try to change this, because to do so is to become an immediate financial and political liability and to thus be put straight out of work.

We can't afford to do that, because after all, we're the products of this very system; we have our student loans to pay back as well and are counting on its continued operation in order to do so.

And so we continue to specialize, to become ever more political and bureaucratic, and to learn to repress anything resembling a common-sense critique of the system within which we work, lest we immediately find ourselves out of work with years of university debt to repay.

§ Well over a year after closing

Posted December 6th, 2010 @12:01 am, marked ", , , ."

the old blog and opening this new one, I've finally fixed some basic links like the links in the tag cloud to the right and the posting mechanics from my mobile devices. In the meantime, the blog was connected to Twitter, then to Facebook, then disconnected again, and a massive internal database infrastructure of books, research projects and notes, papers, reference materials, project management tasks, drafts, publishers, and so on was built, enthusiastically adopted, and then abandoned in favor of Evernote, from which I am now posting this.

In short, it has taken a year and a half and about 98 percent overhead to get to the point that this blog basically works after the departure from Leapdragon.net, and most of the massive amount of work that was done is now purely vestigial and completely invisible to anyone but myself.

That's emblematic of life right now, somehow.

There is not a single facet of my life in which I am caught up or mastering tasks well. I am completely, radically, ruthlessly behind schedule and failing to fulfill my obligations at the level at which I'd like to do so, and the situation seems to be getting worse rather than better. I don't quite know what to do. The term for this state of affairs is "overloaded" and the trouble is that all of it absolutely must be done.

I suppose this is simply what happens when one becomes a parent.

In just under two weeks, the semester is over.

In just under two weeks, Ania goes back to work and I will be the sole daytime care provider for our kiddo.

This is a bit of a terrifying prospect, to add to everything else. I'm already not up to all of these other tasks, apparently. I'm just hanging on by my teeth. How will I cope with adding this new and massive one?

I'm meant to be compiling data tonight for a research project I'm involved with, but due to some measure of miscommunication and mismatched assumptions, I'm not continuing until I hear back from the principal investigator.

Once again, the notion of data coding seems to me to be a methodological minefield.

That was, of course, apropos of nothing in particular.

I think it's time to walk the dog and go to bed. The grading of the remaining 150+ papers, the collection of a dozen or more hours word of coding data about video, the writing of articles, the writing of dissertation components, the learning of languages, the reading of relevant and forthcoming literature(s), and certainly anything that is actually related to myself or my interests in an unalienated way...

...these will all have to wait another day, it seems.

Tricky thing is, they can't wait too many more days—any of them.

§ I was massively productive today

Posted November 23rd, 2010 @11:21 pm by Aron.

and what that means in practice is:

That I spent over four hours on email
And the entirety of the last 10 hours staring straight ahead at a computer screen
Seeing my wife and daughter almost not at all
Despite their being just a few feet away

A very strange, late modern notion of "productivity" indeed.

I am quite sore from this.

§ Drupal, Evernote, and Blogs; Learning and Working

Posted November 16th, 2010 @9:55 pm by Aron.

No, the evernote module isn't quite working. Or rather, it's pulling some things and not others, and the things that are being pulled are being made accessible to authenticated users but not to non-authenticated users, despite permissions settings. I don't know.

I'm starting not to care.

It feels as though the blogging thing is over. I used to do it because I liked having a web diary. I read the thing myself, referred to it the way any person refers to their journal of activity. But in recent years I've written in it less and less, and meanwhile now this kind of online personal textuality has become a definite signifier in its own right, one that's beginning to haunt me.

We'll see.

All throughout my childhood, at every educational level and in every setting for socialization, I was told that knowledge is the key to success, the key to achievement, the key to the fulfillment of life goals and personal desires.

Whatever it is you're after, the answer is to learn. In learning you will arrive at where you want to be, and so long as you feel you aren't there yet, it is because you haven't yet learned enough. There is more knowledge to be had, clearly. Study harder. Study hardest. Enroll. Read. Read again. Read another.

And so I do. Today I read. I buy more and more books and read through them. I read online. I read constantly, about a whole host of topics.

Troubling thing is, I find myself reading more and more books about productivity, about "how to get things done," and it begins to dawn on me that there is an unresolvable paradox here. One cannot get things done by reading about them; when one's deepest desire is to get things done, the key is no longer knowledge.

The key is action. One actually needs to put down the damnable book and do something other than reading. This is proving to be an incredibly difficult concept to pound into my unconscious mind, which continually seeks out new tools, new methods, new experts, new chapter and verse on how to act, how to make things happen, how to get things done, how to stop being so bogged down in knowing and start doing.

And on and on I keep reading.


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