Category Archives: Personal Stuff

Fall 2014

So I have four classes to teach this fall. Three are my bread and butter – ENG 3302 Business and Technical Report Writing – and the loner is ENG 3318 – Studies in English Grammar.

While I teach 3302 virtually every semester, I haven’t taught 3318 since 2010. It is a welcome return. It is a very meaty course, in the sense that there is a lot of material to cover in a very brief time, and it is a general delight for me to teach grammar.

I’m going to concentrate on teaching this semester, so some writing projects are going to have to rest on the back burner, as they say. But, you never know. Some of my most productive writing has been during semesters when I was managing a heavy teaching load and the mounds of grading that accumulate. It’s odd how that happens.

I hinted in my last post that I had done a lot of writing over the summer. That is true. I’m not yet ready to share what I did, though, so I’ll continue to be enigmatic.

Temping and unions

This story reminds me of a union drive when I was a temp.

Right before I starting teaching as a TA in graduate school in Memphis, 2003-2004, I spent some time as a temp at a company called Solectron that repaired laptops, printers, and Xboxes. I made about $10.50 an hour doing warranty repair on a variety of IBM Thinkpads and some Gateway laptops. With a BA and experience as a technical editor and writer, I was taking a pretty big hit to the paycheck, but jobs were hard to find and I had retreated back to Memphis, ready to accept anything that came along.

It was a bit like I would imagine working in an medieval guild; in the middle of a huge warehouse, we sat closely together at long work benches and had the laptops delivered to us on wheeled racks throughout the day. I usually worked the 7-4 shift. The job was very fast-paced. We were trained to fix a laptop in less than an hour; we practiced by taking apart and putting back together various models over and over until the motions became second nature. To this day I could take apart a T or X series in seconds. And we needed that speed, because while I was there, we went from 8 laptops fixed in a day to 10 and sometimes 12. Older workers told me it had used to be 6. There was constant pressure to increase productivity, because as I understood it through rumors that swept across the warehouse floor from bench to bench, as well as official pronouncements, that Solectron wasn’t doing well and had mishandled its contract negotiations with IBM and Compaq and HP and Microsoft, leaving scant money for temps, especially hiring them full-time. So I figured out that speed and accuracy would help me keep my job, but the chance of a raise or advancement was zero. At one point I was the fastest repairer in the IBM section, but I deliberately slowed down, realizing (too slowly for my taste, looking back) that I was getting nothing out of it.

Anyway, at one point while I was there, a union drive started. It was limited to the full-timers; the many temps would not get a vote. In any case, FTers and temps were steered into rooms where we watched some really bad anti-union videos and were lectured on the evils of unions, including the reality that the plant would close if the union was let in – what the article above calls a “captive audience meeting.” I said nothing; I needed my job a little longer until I had 18 graduate hours and could teach, and as a temp,  I couldn’t vote anyway. In any case, the union drive failed by a huge margin.

I took another pay cut when I left; teaching as a TA at the UofM, while a lot of fun, paid perhaps half that of temping, and provided no summer employment, which I always had to scramble for.

I’m not saying my time as a temp was bad – it filled a space when I really needed work, allowed me to maintain an apartment and a car, and mostly worked with a night graduate school schedule – but I was well underpaid, as I’m sure that Amazon pickers and other warehouse employees are.

VW stops making the T2

Here.

My first car was a late ’70’s Transporter with fuel injection. It developed an astounding 70 horses. No AC and the weakest of heaters. I bought it to make a cross-country trip from Arizona to Massachusetts, which it completed, before promptly breaking down during a second trip to from Boston to D.C. in the winter. It was a gallant, if high-maintenance vehicle; I sold it for what I paid for it, as rust-free VWs are rare in the Northeast. Sometimes I wonder what became of it.

Drums and guitars

H pointed out tonight that I haven’t written anything here in awhile. I’ve been busy with this or that and simply not found the time.

I don’t think I’ve talked about this before on here, but about two years ago I bought a used drum kit and taught myself some rock basics, so I suppose you can call me a multi-instrumentalist or something like that. Then again, I don’t think I’ve talked about playing guitar on here either – I’ve been fooling around with guitars since I was 17, which was a really long time ago.

Some people from the department and I get together occasionally and play, and somewhat predictably we call our band, if you want to call it that, The Department. It’s really three guitar players, two of which can play some drums, so there’s a lot of switching off. We play old rock standards for the most part. Sometimes we sound pretty good, other times it’s pretty hilarious.

Anyway, this is really a long-winded way of getting around to the fact that a kind person gave me a handy device called a DrumDial recently for my birthday. It’s a precision gauge that measures drumhead tension and allows quick and easy drum tuning. I was never very sure about whether or not my heads were tuned right until I used this device. I can report that it resulted in an immediate improvement in the sound of my banged-up kit. The toms sound right now, and the snare has got more pop to it.

Another kind person also gave me a standalone LP player for my old LP collection. I still have a lot of Beatles, Stones, Cream. Dylan, etc on LP, but I’ve never had a player that didn’t have to be hooked up to a stereo and speakers. It was enjoyable today to play some old records while tuning my drums.

I like music, I like playing guitar and drums, but I’ve always been of two minds about it. When I was in my twenties it seemed like a real method of self-expression. Now it feels like a hobby, and almost self-indulgent compared to things like work that are more easily defended as serious. But you got to live a little.

Assassin’s Creed 3

It’s exams week and the essays are piling up on my desk rapidly, waiting for a gentle grader. For some reason one of the exams is scheduled for Saturday, a situation that is unfortunate, but survivable.

I am morose about the holidays so far. The usual perpetual state of mild excitement eludes me completely. I do like the weather, but that’s about it.

I finished Assassin’s Creed 3 the other day. Its attempt to retell the American Revolution through a half-British, half-Native American assassin was only mildly successful, but one part of the game really, really worked, and that was the sea battles. It made me want to play Pirates! all over again.

After sinking a few frigates and thus ahistorically making the patriot navy near invincible, I had to wonder – why isn’t this the entire game? Screw running around on rooftops, dodging musket balls; ducking broadsides while waves crash over the deck is far more entertaining and exciting. I could definitely see an entire game built around AC3-style naval combat. Basically, I’m asking for Pirates! and this section of AC3 to get together.

The rest of the game did have a few moments, but I have to take issue with the introduction to the game, which seemed about ten hours long before I controlled the main character and felt like I was playing an AC game. Designers, you created an enviable sandbox to play in – I just wish you would let some of the plot emerge from that. For example, have whether or not Connor has liberated some of the British forts affect the plot. It would also be notable if someone in the game acknowledged Connor’s propensity to be at every single damned decisive moment in the war. He was five inches from signing the Declaration of Independence below Hancock.

I’m not going to talk about the metanarrative. Well, maybe I will. Frankly, I have to say something. If you’re going to present a up/down choice to a gamer, don’t yank it away in favor of predestination.

Post-turkey

As the semester winds to an end, I find myself at a loss for unusual things to report or discuss. There’s no shortage of things to do when teaching four classes a semester at a university, but there hasn’t been much of note lately.

H cooked a 13-lb turkey that we are still finishing off by various methods. Last night she made a turkey pot pie that was especially delicious; I look forward to eating the rest of it.

I played a game of Twilight Struggle the other day; it’s a lot of Cold War fun, but like most of the board games that I like, it’s hard to pick up and requires a time investment; that particular game took three hours, exactly the amount of time I set aside.

Cat-proof

So H and I moved recently, for the third time in three years, to a different but not terribly far away neighborhood in Houston. I don’t like moving very much, but there were some compelling reasons, involving plumbing, to get out of the rental we were in. The new place is very nice, and we recently finished cat-proofing much of it so the cats can roam more or less freely. This process involved covering furniture, installing childproof locks, and creating various zones of demarcation where their ability to push valuable things over is severely curtailed. The dogs thought we had broken into someone else’s house for awhile, but they seem to have accepted their new lot with grace at this point.

So.

Lately I’ve been trying to wind down from vacation. We came back to find the AC in the house not working; it was so hot inside that we spent a night in a hotel until the AC was fixed.

Also, we need to move by the end of the month, so we started looking at other homes immediately. I think we found a decent one this week, but we’ll see if it happens.

This fall semester is a four-course, three-prep one, with one graduate course, one editing, and two composition. Fortunately, I’ve taught all the courses before, so it’s not as daunting as it was a few years ago. It is the first time I have taught two composition courses in many years, admittedly, but teaching one during the summer has eased me back in a certain frame of mind adequate to the task.

Musing

An old friend of mine died recently. He was young, late forties. We were not close or anything. In fact, I only met him in person once; we knew each other through online roleplaying from years and years ago, well before MMOs, when text-based MUSHes were still popular. This would be the late nineties, when I was an undergraduate and shortly thereafter. I can’t count the hours we spent making up stories during that time.

I remember his arrival on the MUSH as a newbie very distinctly – this was AmberMUSH, for the curious – as I happened to be one of the people who greeted him. It was clear very quickly that he didn’t need to be shown the ropes – he was good out of the box, a very selfless and skilled roleplayer already. I learned more from him over the years than the other way around. He was older and gave me some pretty good life advice, as well, on occasion, which I didn’t listen too very well; I was young and stupid then, and only older and slightly smarter now. I think I would have been happier back then had I emulated him more closely.

I got back in touch with him a year ago, when I ran into and recognized his old nickname online; too briefly, of course. He had kept on RPing in a multitude of forms, whereas I had stopped around ’00, but we still had mutually excellent taste in games.

I have to say that I wasn’t expecting to hear about his death anytime soon – I figured I wouldn’t start getting news like that until I hit 70, at least. My RPing days were bittersweet overall, but he was a very bright and friendly spot in an often dark expanse.