Saturday, June 19, 2004

What I'm up to

In reunion planning hell until tonight. Yesterday's errands included going to the bank to pick up $1000 in $10 bills, buying nametags and certificate blanks, and trying to teach a kinkos guy how to use a computer. Plus dealing with a major server failure back in Nashville last night.

More of the same today. Reunion is tonight, and then off to the convention for tomorrow through Tuesday. After that, maybe a trip to the farm, and/or visiting another division of the company to see a new system in action. Back to Nashville next Friday. Whee.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

A manager's lament

Editor's note: What follows is a bitter rant that I will no doubt regret in the morning.

I feel like all of my interactions with senior management go something like this:

Me: Here's what I need to do what you're asking.
Them: No, what we need is the absolute bare bones estimate. No frills.
Me: That's what this is.
Them: So you're saying that this is the absolute minimum your department can get by on.
Me: Yes.
Them: Ok, here's half of that. And from now on can you also have your staff wash the windows and empty the trash?

I am really freakin' tired of this. I work for a Fortune 200 company that pays regular dividends to its shareholders, yet to hear folks around here talk you'd think we're subsisting on government cheese. I mean, we ration Post-It! notes, for crying out loud. And our mileage is reimbursed at a whopping $0.24 (bumped up from $0.22 due to the gas price increases.)

At the moment I'm supposed to feel grateful because this year they only cut my laptop budget by 50%, instead of last year's 100%. Even if the budget were fully funded, we would still have 6+ year old machines in our fleet.

And I also found out today that some of my staff had simply been ignoring a public-facing voice mail box for the last three months. I can't blame them, because I've been pressuring them to do other things, and they simply don't have enough time. But I'm utterly frustrated that the company doesn't provide us with sufficient human and financial resources to do what is expected.

At some level, I know things could be worse. I mean, there are companies in our industry that are laying people off. But at the same time, I can't help wondering if things could also be better.

Supreme court considers making history; instead goes for pizza

After agreeing to hear a controversial case on the constitutionality of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Supreme Court yesterday decided to weasel out of the debate by finding that the guy in question didn't have standing to sue. This leaves unresolved the core issue of how one reconciles the 1950s-era congressional insertion of "under God" with the the constitutional admonition that "congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

Monday, June 14, 2004

"Passionate & Opinionated" vs. "Fair & Balanced"

I thought this was pretty interesting. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Mark Oppenheimer points out that the most interesting and challenging teachers tend to be those with strong, passionate points of view that are expressed in the classroom:
Disagreement is a prime engine for advancing human knowledge -- and besides, hearing boldly stated opinions is tremendous fun. For smart students to feel challenged, and for dull students to lose their cobwebs, they need to learn that academic subjects are both a matter of grave moral concern and a source of exhilaration, worth becoming overheated about. They learn this not by being invited to care, but by watching professors who manifestly do care. For the college professor, the proper pedagogic role is not as facilitator, coaxing children into thinking, but as role model, showing young men and women what a thinking mind looks like.

My suggestion that professors are too mild, not sufficiently opinionated, may at first sound ludicrous. It is well known that professors take their fields too seriously. They are too inclined to think that second-century Roman coinage is a matter of ultimate concern, too willing to end friendships over what Willa Cather's lesbianism might mean for her depictions of wheat fields. But while professors may get contrary at conferences and in journal articles, those same professors are often profoundly milquetoast in their classrooms, so eager to get in opposing points of view and to assure students that no opinion could be wholly wrong that they forget to have opinions themselves.

Yes, some professors are known for "advancing an agenda," which is thought to be a bad thing. But for the most part, they hold to the well-meaning liberal dogma that students ought to figure things out for themselves. That leads to the kind of teaching that all of us dread and yet engage in: "Very good. I see where you're coming from. Now, does anyone have another point of view?"

I wonder if the same calculus applies to attempts by the news media to be "fair and balanced" (in the real sense, not the Fox sense). By trying to present every point of view equally, are journalists creating gutless prose that fails to inspire meaningful intellectual debate?

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Justification for travel?

Phileas Fogg had won his wager, and had made his journey around the world in eighty days. To do this he had employed every means of conveyance--steamers, railways, carriages, yachts, trading-vessels, sledges, elephants. The eccentric gentleman had throughout displayed all his marvellous qualities of coolness and exactitude. But what then? What had he really gained by all this trouble? What had he brought back from this long and weary journey?

Nothing, say you? Perhaps so; nothing but a charming woman, who, strange as it may appear, made him the happiest of men!

Truly, would you not for less than that make the tour around the world?

-- The conclusion of
Around the World in
Eighty Days
, by Jules
Verne, which I just
finished re-reading.

What I've been up to

Sorry for the blogging dry spell... Here's what I've been up to for the last week or two:

I spent most of the week doing various things related to a conference being held here in Nashville. One of the departments I supervise at work was on tour on Saturday, so we spent a lot of time frantically straghtening things up and getting ready. I think it ended up going pretty well.

Sunday I spent part of the day preparing a Powerpoint for my own presentation on Tuesday. In the evening I made an abortive attempt to meet up with someone who was supposed to give me a ticket to one of the conference events. I spent an hour wandering around Opryland, but never found him. So instead I went home, grabbed my new camera, and went down to the riverfront where a carnival was set up. (Might post a few of the pictures when I have a chance to upload them.) I ran into a couple of other amateur photographers doing the same thing.

After that I spent a fun week out at Opryland doing various conference-related things. The conference was great -- I learned a lot, and met some pretty fascinating people. (Oh, and never let it be said that librarians don't know how to throw a party.)

Since that's over, I'm trying to dig out at work, and have also moved on to the next planning crisis: the 10-year-reunion that I'm co-chairing next weekend. While I'm in D.C. for that, I'm also going to stop in at another conference for work.

Today was the first day that I've really been able to totally goof off in a few weeks, and I took advantage -- sleeping in, watching some TV, talking to one of my Boston friends, and reading. Tomorrow I guess I should try to accomplish something a little more productive.