Friday, September 28, 2007


So here's a dumb thing I did with one of my classes this semester. I've assigned presentations to the class, in which each student makes one brief presentation and turns in a 1-2 page paper on his/her topic. To incorporate that material more thoroughly into the course, I'm including those topics as ID questions on the exam, and have posted them on the online course page (the idea being that students not only have to learn the basics of the topics presented, but explain how they serve as examples for larger themes in the course).

I did this with a previous class, and it worked quite well. What I didn't think of, though, is what to do if the papers are lousy. The in-class presentations have all been fine, so what the students have seen is good, but several of the written papers don't use proper footnotes, have poorly chosen bibliographies, use Internet sources when they were instructed not to, and other such problems.

Had I caught this early enough, I suppose I could have required the students to rewrite the papers before posting them. But there's nothing about that in the syllabus or assignment description, and I posted the first few before realizing that there were enough problems in them to be sticky. (The content is reasonably good for all of them, but I just don't want the other students using them as models for their own work.)

So for now I'm just putting minimal editorial comments when necessary [Prof's note: this isn't the proper format for footnotes], and I think I'll address this to the class as a whole in our next session. I needed to go ahead and post them, since the first exam is coming up fairly soon, but I'm not particularly happy with the situation overall. Usually I'm pretty good at imagining all the things that could go wrong with an assignment before I implement it, but I really missed the ball on this one.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Serious athletes

We've been playing a bunch of tennis lately, the LWI and I, every day through the end of the summer and weekends now that we're into the school year. We're not all that great, and we do it more to run around outside and have fun than to keep score. The neighborhood park has a tennis court ringed by part of a long walking path, so we're often accompanied by a variety of folks out strolling or skating or walking their dogs, for a nice festive weekend atmosphere.

We don't buy new balls all that often, and at the moment our sack of balls includes a bunch of fairly worn-out Wilsons plus a few slightly newer balls we've picked up around the court. (We've lost our share of new balls, so the ones we collect usually balance out the ones we lose.) One of the foundlings is more thickly felted than the rest, and slightly heavier, and we've found that it handles with noticeably greater speed and accuracy - when we play with the Fuzzy Ball, we get some viciously fast rallies going.

As I said, we're not all that good, but we do take pleasure in a great deal of bluster and mock-toughness. So when we've played for a while and one of us starts feeling cocky, we'll pull out the Fuzzy Ball for a serious attack. It's also fair to warn your opponent about the change in balls, since Fuzzy Ball handles differently than, for example, Old Grey Ball.

We feel pretty intimidating breaking out the serious-game ball, but it wasn't until we noticed the strollers in the park chuckling to themselves as they walked by the tennis court that we realized a bloodcurdling yell of "Fuzzy Ball!" probably does not sound quite as fierce as we thought.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


We were engaging in the LWI's favorite pastime of channel-flipping the other day, when we came across a wonderful movie from the 1960s, one that he knew but I haven't yet seen. It had already begun, so we decided to track it down on TCM and see if it would be shown again anytime soon. Fortunately, a showing turned up later in September, and TCM has a cool function that sends a reminder to your Yahoo! calendar. So the LWI asked for the reminder, and we both forgot about the movie.

Imagine LWI's astonishment when he opened up the calendar for this week, and the first reminder that popped up was "Thursday, September 13: The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!"

Guess we'd better get ready.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Gem of the day

I don't often get howler emails from students, but the LWI got one today that beats them all. We're in the third week of classes, and he sends weekly emails to his class with discussion assignments. Today, in reply to the third of these emails (the third, mind you!), he received a message from a student who had never been to class.

The excuse? "i had the wrong class on my schedule and have been attending the wrong [same department] class for the past 3 weeks and i have no idea how this happend."

The best part? This is an upper-level course, and there is nothing else being taught in the LWI's department that is remotely close to its content. If it were English, this would be like signing up for a Faulker course, going to a Chaucer course instead, and not noticing the difference until you were three weeks in.

I am baffled and amazed.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A perfect day

Sunday morning (and the Sunday before Labor Day, so that my first thought upon waking up is "Mmmm, this is like getting another Saturday!"): Alarm goes off at 7 am. This is an hour later than the usual 6 am, so it feels luxurious already. I have just enough work to do that goofing off takes on the tinge of guilty pleasure, but not enough to really feel pressured to do any of it just yet.

7:45 am: the LWI and I get on our bikes to go to the nearby park and play tennis. It's the first reasonably cool morning we've had in weeks, and we play probably the best tennis we've ever played, punctuated by chest-thumping threats of war and gleeful cheers for the good shots.

9:30 am: back home for a well-earned shower.

10:00-11:30 am: take a bowl of organic granola, a glass of orange juice, and the Sunday New York Times out to the back yard. Enjoy all three while flopped in the hammock under the flowering crepe myrtle.

11:30 am -12:00 pm: flip through the manuscript I received the other day from Kick-Ass Historian; decide it's going to be a truly enjoyable read.

12:00 pm: inspired by the smell of charcoal smoke wafting through the neighborhood, we decide to grill steaks for lunch. There's just enough time to soak them in a garlic/red wine marinade first.

2:30 pm: with lunch over and the paper read, I start feeling the tugs of responsibility - should go finish grading those papers I received online last week. Just as we finish clearing the table, though, a small thunderstorm blows in - not big enough to be worrisome, but just enough lightning to make us postpone turning on the computers for a while. Darn.

2:30-3:30 pm: back to the hammock (sheltered by a roof overhang) to watch the storm go by; toes get covered with fuchsia crepe myrtle petals blown loose by the wind.

3:30 pm: back inside to futz around with email and blog posts. Wonder if I can do all this again tomorrow morning.

(Don't let this keep you away from the party in the previous post; no reason that can't continue all weekend!)

Saturday, September 01, 2007


Hey all you riffraff,

Do you have some free time this weekend between the barbecues and frisbee-playing? Do you miss the bar and all its craziness? Well, swing by if you have a chance, because we have a new blue house to play in.
Squadratomagico went to India and brought me back the most gorgeous blue house! I think it will be perfect in the back yard behind the bar. The old place is still a little cobwebby, so while I clean that out I think we should baptize the new place. Mango lassi and margaritas on the balcony, anyone? Come one, come all; I hope to see the old crowd around, and new folks, please don't hesitate to introduce yourselves. It's been too quiet around here for too long.

Who's with me?