Musikalischer Mittwoch: Dying Of Another Broken Heart

Sadly, I am stuck posting from my phone again, a situation that is hardly conducive to writing the kind of review my most recent Earworm deserves.

“Dying of Another Broken Heart” by Lindi Ortega, combines the kind of simple, clear county sound with a kind of well, adorableness.  I hear this song and it seems cute.  I mean, cute for a song about yet another broken heart.

That great tune and cuteness was catchy enough to start me exploring more from Ortega.  Her album Little Red Boots is currently $5 from Amazon’s mp3 store, so I gave it a shot.  It was totally worth it.

Also, it contributes to my Canadian country music part of the playlist on Radio 3….always a plus (so you can test drive several tracks there if you don’t want to part with $5 on my poorly constructed recommendation).

Presentation Style

I promise, barring a conference emergency, this is my last conference related post for a while.  But I thought it might be of interest to some of our readers to hear my strategies for conference presentations.  Or more to the point, how vapid and superficial I can be.

Now professional conferences are a chance for working scholars to share and get feedback on their research.  It’s how you find out what’s going on in the cutting edge of your field.  It’s also a chance to hear leaders in your field, which can be incredibly inspiring (and provide connections for future jobs).

But I’m not leader in my field.  My research isn’t particularly cutting edge.  And a lot of the times it’s on a somewhat obscure subject.  I could beat myself up over all this stuff, but the truth is, there’s a limit to how much control over all that I have.  So my strategy is twofold:  I try to insert humor whenever possible and I make sure I look cute (as cute as I can… I’m not saying I’m all that).

The second part was advice from one of my advisers (who I must say, practices what she preaches).  The first part is… well you know I like the funny.  I think “If you can’t be interesting, be funny” are words to live by.  And I try to.  I discovered today that my friend J follows a similar strategy.  When I commented on what a bad strategy it might be, he said, “Look the bottom line is, at a certain point during conferences where people lose their ability to process theoretical material.  But they can always tell whether your blazer fits and your shoes are snazzy.”  (Honestly, I think there are a lot of people out there who don’t notice what anyone’s wearing, but that’s another matter).

Truth be told, I don’t know if any of this works on my audience.  But I know that it works on me.  I’m much more comfortable being funny than being deep.  And wearing a cute pair of tights, snazzy heels and a nice pencil skirt really does make me stand a little taller. Literally and figuratively.  It makes me more comfortable up there, which probably makes me more articulate.  And maybe, just maybe makes me more fun to listen to.

Or maybe not.  This year an older gentleman began snoring loudly during my paper.  But at least that brought the funny.

Coffee in the Key of C

Would we Have Coffee With Dennis Ritchie?

Cammy:  Yes, most definitely.  It bugs me that sooooo many people were ready to recognize Steve Jobs and so few people have ever even heard the name Ritchie, let alone discussed his passing this past week.   The man created the C programming language–the language behind most of the software people use on any platform–and co-authored the C Programming Language book that was (along with Knuth’s The Art of Computer Programming) one of the holy texts of my undergraduate career.  And–because some people are over-achievers–he went on to co-develop the Unix operating system, grand-daddy bad-ass of OS’s.  While your iPad may connect to the net, the backbone that runs it is Unix and Unix derived systems like Linux.  And on top of this?  He seems pretty humble in all the interviews I’ve ever read from him.  You’d think from the way he talks that his contributions to computing were no more than a simple app for a cell phone–not the vital building blocks of technology that he gave us.  For this, I’d love to have a cup of coffee with him, to give him a big thanks for granting us all such fantastic tools.  And, naturally, I want to talk computer science.  What does he think of the shift from languages like C and even C++ to proprietary “Visual” languages?   Is good coding dead?  And if so is it because of crappy tools like the visual stuff or are those crappy tools there because coders aren’t the same anymore?

Kristy:  I’m gonna sit this one out.  I absolutely give the man his props, but I only understood about half of Cammy’s response.  I may speak several languages, but none of them is computer based.  Html is a stretch for me.  I’m grateful for all the things that computer programers have brought into my life, but there is no way I could have coffee with Cammy and Mr. Ritchie without just sitting there with an inane smile and a blank look in my eyes.  And if they tried to explain things in an elementary enough language that I can understand them, it would just be a drag on the conversation.  So I’ll let Cammy have coffee with him, and I’ll send along some pastries with my complements.

Parental Visit on Steroids!

I’ve blogged about Professional Organization Meetings before.  They’re fun, they’re stressful, they’re exhausting.  This year my professional organization met in my current city of residence.  On the surface, this seems like a good thing.  No air fare, no hotel bills, I don’t have to eat out as much…

The reality is that it’s kind of like having your parents visit.  You have to clean and plan activities and make sure the temperature is comfortable for everyone in the room.  Only there are seven hundred of them.  And they aren’t socially required to love you unconditionally.

Needless to say this week has been exhausting.  I’ve been working from 8am to 1am.  Then coming home to a neurotic kitty who doesn’t like being left alone all that time.

So I’m beyond groggy and can’t come up with a more profound blog entry today.  But the conference is over and I promise that wittiness will return.

Time Vampire of the Week: Updates

Ever damn piece of software I own, use, or am forced to tolerate decided it needed a lengthy upgrade this week.

Every.

Damn.

Piece.

Normally, this is a minor annoyance about which I swear briefly, then move on.  But not this week, oh no.  This week the updates have all been long, slow, interfered with my attempts to shut down quickly, and generally made my life a living hell.

I timed it yesterday–I spent 20 minutes on Windows updates (the price I pay for rarely rebooting).  And this when I really just wanted to try and get in to check on an e-mail attachment before I went to work, so I wouldn’t have to look at it on my phone.  After 20 minutes I gave up.  I couldn’t spare more time.

And iTunes.  43 minutes.  To add insult to injury?  That update actually failed for some reason.  Which doesn’t matter because even if it had succeeded, it would still have wanted me to update today because apparently Apple has coders working 24/7/365 on iTunes crap.  It’s actually rare I open the program much anymore because I got so tired of the constant prompt to upgrade.

Adobe wanted to update flash or the reader or something.  And Java, as usual, popped up a damn request to update too.

It’s a bloody miracle I got anything done this week other that waiting on patches to download and install.

Not at all Natural

I colored my hair for the first time when I was a freshman in high school.  I was playing a Cuban in a production of Guys and Dolls and at the time I was a little to blond to look Cuban (particularly given the pastiness of my skin).  I discovered at that point that I loved my hair dark, so starting when I was sixteen (read: old enough to get to a store without my mom) I started dying it black every so often.  I would always use the temporary stuff, so it just faded gradually and I never had to worry about roots.

In college I became obsessed with wanting redder hair.  By that time I had brown hair and brown eyes, was average height, average weight… I wanted something about me that would stand out.  I wasn’t able to get the results I wanted with temporary dye, so I started using more permanent dyes.  But even then, I was staying close enough to my natural color it wasn’t a big deal.  Just something I did from time to time.

Then senior year, I found my first gray hair.  Cammy kept telling me to be proud—it was a battle scar from William and Mary.  Note that at this point, Cammy had no gray hair.  Easy for her to say.  Still, it was probably another four years before it got so bad I had to cover it up.  And since then I have.  I haven’t had my natural color on my whole head since 2004.

I’ve been through a lot of colors since then.  For a long time it was a sort of cherry cola color by Feria.  But Feria dyes got a little harsh for my hair, so I switched to the higher grade stuff from Sally’s.  That gave me a slightly more natural looking reddish brown.

The first really wild thing I did was right before I moved to the Midwest.  It was the first time in a lot of years where I had a long stretch in which I did not have to look like I lived in an earlier time period.  And I had decided to treat myself to getting my hair professionally colored.  My wonderful hairstylist Rebecca suggested I go for violet pops.  I did.  It was awesome.  I still miss that color job!

Sadly I can’t often afford to get my hair colored professionally.  The upside though, is that after all these years of practice, I’m pretty darn good at it.  Rebecca once asked me not to tell anyone I colored my own hair—said it wouldn’t be fair to the professionals.  When home I color my mother’s hair and my sister’s.  Sometimes I think I missed my calling—truth is that I’d make more money working as a colorist in an upscale salon than I will as a folklorist.  But then I remember I’d have to talk to people and pretend I like them all day long.  Then money doesn’t seem as important…

All this is to say, when it comes to color, I know what I’m doing.

Usually.

I had put some blue streaks in my hair in August (they were done using violet color, but it came out blue).  They were fine and all, but they started to fade.  And by last week they were a grayish green.  Well this week I’m going to the annual meeting of my professional organization, and I didn’t want to see all these people I admire while I had faded, yucky colored hair.  So I decided to put some red dye I had over the blue streaks.  I knew I wouldn’t get “normal” results, but I thought I was prepared for any outcome.  It might be purplish, it might be red, it might be a muddy brown…

Not so much.

I’m washing the red out and I look down and my hair is neon, and I mean neon pink.  Fortunately, that was just a trick of the lights.  Unfortunately, it’s neon red instead.   More unfortunately?  I have two major presentations at this annual meeting.  This week!

Ultimately, I decided it wasn’t that bad.  Certainly not bad enough to fry my hair with another immediate dye job.  So I’ve done the only thing you can do in this situation—I’m gonna own it.  Like a cat who falls on its ass then says, “I meant to do that,” I am pretending like this is exactly how I want my hair.  The scary thing?  So far people seem to like it.

Stairs Interrupted

I love my family dearly, but they might drive me to beat my head against the wall soon if they don’t stop interrupting me.

The over-all interruption of having them back in the house for a visit is one thing–this is a welcome interruption.

It’s all the little things that come in between.  The worst being Mom’s habit of telling me to do one thing, then interrupting me before I can do it.  Prime example from this afternoon.  I have been home all of 10 minutes….

Mom: “Go take this laundry up to the linen closet.”

Me: “Okay.”

Half-way up the stairs…..

Mom [yelling from the laundry room] : “Cammy!”

Me [paused on the stairs] “Yeah?”

Mom [still yelling from the laundry room] :”Come here!”

Me: [attempting to continue up the stairs] “I’m just going to finish putting this stuff up.”

Mom: I want to show you where I put the carpet cleaner!

Me:  I’ll be down in a minute.

Mom:  It will only take a second!

So, I give in, go back down the stairs, stuff still in my arms.  Mom proceeds to show me every detail of how she arranged the shelves in the laundry room.  During this 10 minute presentation, I have put the stack of towels and sheets on top of the drier.

Mom:  “I thought you were going to put those away.”

Me [rolling eyes]: “I was trying to.”

Mom:  “Well, you don’t have to have an attitude about it!”

For the record, it took me four (4), yes FOUR (4) attempts before I made it up the stairs without being called back for something else.  And that final time, I essentially played stealth and when she called me, I pretended not to hear.

I’m SO looking forward to the men in white coats coming to take me to a nice padded cell.

Coffee with Franz Boas

Would we drink coffee with Franz Boas?

Kristy:  This is another one of those cases where I don’t feel like I can say no, but I’m a little afraid of saying yes.  Though, I think it’s going to have to be a yes.  How can I pass up the chance to have coffee with the father of American Anthropology, a man who is also largely responsible for founding American Folklore as a discipline (even if he believed it was just a subset of anthropology).  And disciplinary allegiance aside, he had a fairly interesting life.  The mid to late 19th century was an era of amazing scientific and academic development and this man was in the thick of so much of it, I’d love to hear the stories he has to tell.  But, of course, I’d also like to hear what he thinks about where Anthropology and Folklore have gone since his death (at lunch and in the arms of Claude Levi-Strauss).  He was a man who lived in an era where scholars did everything.  He had a foot in just about every discipline imaginary from Physics to Folklore.  He advocated a four field approach to anthropology, but he did them all.  What would he have to say about increasing specialization today?  What does he have to say about the academy in general?  And what are the things he feels we must document before we lose the chance?

Cammy:  Um, sure.  I’d never heard of the guy until Kristy brought him up, but from the span of topics he studied, the man is so incredibly geeky that there is no way he can be boring.  Besides, he’s been to the Arctic, specifically to points in the Canadian Archipelago.  Which I have a bizarre fascination with.  So even if he exhausts all the interesting points of discussion on anthropology (of all flavors), biology and physics, I can demand he tell me about the Arctic.  Also, he protested attacks against German Americans in the US during WWI, and, that one hits close to home, so I owe him a cup of a coffee there.

Convert’s Zeal

I think I’ve discussed the meaning of the word “myth” on this blog before.  Despite the common contemporary usage of the word “myth” to mean “something that is not true”, as folklorists use the term it kind of means the opposite.  We define “myth” roughly as a narrative which is believed a particular group to be sacred and true.  And we don’t really go further than that.  We don’t get into discussions of whether a particular story actually is true—we leave that to theologists, philosophers and scientists.  All we care about is what people believe is true and what that tells us about their culture.

So I teach introductory folklore courses and we do a small unit on myth.  The big assignment from this unit consists of giving the students a packet of creation myths and making them analyze two of them in terms of what they suggests about a particular folk group’s worldview.  This packet includes, among other myths, the Genesis creation story and a telling of the Big Bang Theory. Every semester I wait for the Christian and Jewish students to freak out about us calling the Genesis creation story a myth.  But it’s never happened.  Apparently they are actually getting the message that just calling the story a myth is not challenging its validity.  Maybe they privately resent it, but they don’t bring that attitude into class and they don’t express it in their papers.  It’s a big relief.

Who causes the problems with this assignment?  The atheists.  First, there’s contention over whether the Big Bang Theory can be classified as a myth.  As we discuss in class, I freely admit it doesn’t necessarily fit nicely into the rubric we generally set for myths.  On the other hand, it does fit a lot of the characteristics.  And if we really believed things could be easily sorted into set categories we’d be anthropologists.  We put the Big Bang Theory into the packet of myths deliberately to problematize that rubric.  And upon analysis, it becomes immediately clear that it does reveal a lot about contemporary secular worldview in much the same way as myths.  At any rate, discussion I’m fine with.  Debate I encourage.

Using a person’s lack of religious belief as an excuse to write a crappy analysis?  That will result in a crappy grade.

To be fair, I don’t poll my students on their religious affiliations, but I’m sure I have many atheist and agnostic students who write wonderful analyses.  But without fail, every semester, I get a handful of analyses from out and proud atheists whose analyses consist of “This myth reveals that the worldview of X people is ignorant.  This is clear because believing in myths is stupid.”  In what world is this a college level analysis?  It’s annoying.

I’ve spent years arguing that religious parents who don’t want their children exposed to concepts such as evolution or the Big Bang Theory in science class should find an alternative to public schools.  The job of science classes is to teach science and anyone who is that against learning should simply get out.  I suppose perhaps the same is true for courses that cover mythology.  If you can’t handle hearing about myths and discussing them in an analytical fashion, perhaps you should find another course to take.

To be fair, I think this is at least as attributable to my students’ age as it is to their religious creed/lack of creed.  I do realize that a lot of college aged atheists are either newly out as atheists or have only recently discovered atheism.  I do think in some ways this is just a matter of convert’s zeal.  It seems new atheists are subject to many of the same foibles as new Christians.  And in my class it can be just as detrimental to their grades.

Bookstore Junk

With my parents back in town, it’s brought back the wild and crazy family activity of choice:

Hanging out at the bookstore.

Oh yeah.  We are hell raisers.

So, with Borders out of the picture, our options are now limited to the local Barnes & Noble.  Not my favorite, but it’s better than a finger in the eye.  I hadn’t been in the store for a while (having slaked my thirst for new reading material via Borders’ misfortune), and I was shocked to find that, the book-to-non-book ratio of merchandise is teetering on the absurd.  There is an entire new toy section to the damn place.  Not just the odd stuffed animal or game, we’re talking multiple aisles where the only reading material is the packaging.

And it’s not just the kids’ area.

The game section aimed at the older set is now much larger as well.  And the amount of knick-knack crap (coffee cups, herb garden sets, pencil pouches, calendars, desk accouterments, clocks, wall-decor, writing implements….) is baffling.  And midst all this clutter, there seem to be fewer and fewer books.  The science fiction section is smaller (and has lost shelf space to a huge manga section, much to my dismay), and the shelf upon shelf of fiction literature that used to sit proudly to the front of the store has been severely trimmed and shoved further to the back of the store.  Behind the even more truncated non-fiction shelves.  And of course, the “Nook” propaganda is front and center, surrounded by a creeping infestation of Nook-related paraphenalia.

I’d noticed when Borders was clearing out, there was an awful lot of similarly non-book-related crap to be sold off.  At the time I figured it was little wonder the chain suffered financial collapse if they were wasting so much money on stocking up random shit rather than their core business.

You’d think B&N might consider that one.

If you’re going to sell books, sell books.  If I want housewares or handbags, I’m not going to B&N to get them.