Wednesday


14
Aug 19

Why I brag about our students

I frequently tell students that empirical data points are important on the resume. A professor I had in undergrad taught me that. He’s teaching at a university in Texas now. Nice guy, questionable reviews on ratemyprofessor.com. Here’s one of them now: He marks every tiny mistake and your grade suffers.

The nerve of that guy! And a journalism instructor! Taking off points like that! He was a copy editor in a previous life, so I am sure that’s a big part of it. Also, there’s the issue of getting things right versus getting things wrong.

Anyway, it’s been almost 20 years, but I remember him as a kind man. Always had a big smile. Like a lot of teachers, once you decoded what he was after you could make some nice progress. He was big on feedback since so much of what he taught was grounded in subjectivity. And getting that feedback could often times be the most useful best part of his class. Some of those lessons still ring in my ears. He was also very patient during office hours. I hope some of that part rubbed off on me, by accident.

Back then there weren’t as many administrative support positions as students enjoy today and the few that were around were somewhat overwhelmed. Plus, I reasoned, the people who’d been in my field would be more helpful in drafting the right kind of resume for my field. So I went to the faculty and this one man was generous with his time, working through several drafts of the brutal document with me, marking every tiny mistake, like the copy editor he was. And he liked empirical data points.

So I’ve always had them in my resume. There’s not a job description that doesn’t include a mention of ratings boosts, enrollment increase or social media gains and some data points or percentages.

Which is a long way to say — because I’m vamping, clearly — that another kind of data is peer acceptance. The media industry, you might have heard, is big on awards and honors. It’s a marker of professional peerage. A plaque! Maybe a trophy, or even a certificate! Ultimately they mean you get to mention them from time to time, say you are award-winning and so on. Plus, and perhaps most critically, some of these things give you additional feedback and you get to see where you are next to others plying the same trade. They don’t wow many people at parties, but they do look nice on a resume. For all of these reasons I encourage students to take the necessary steps to get over the requisite hurdles that allow them to jump through the hoops of getting their media efforts nominated.

If nothing else, I get to brag about them:

This is where I trot out my old saw about how student media members do this stuff in addition to their class work, their real jobs and in dealing with whatever is going on with their lives. These particular sports guys in particular always seem to be working when there is a significant game that they, as fans, would enjoy watching. But they’re working. They do it late at night and late in the week, even on those weeks when the campus is a ghost town because everyone else has left for a long holiday. It takes dedication to be a high functioning college student anyway, but it takes another round of that same spirit to do something as demanding as media work. And then, of course, they have to deal with me. All of this is a kind of first step into the media’s dues-paying process. It can be a thankless task, sometimes, which is why I try to thank them and show them off as much as possible. Oh, look, here’s another group to brag on:

One really nice thing that the ACM contests do is they share the submissions of each category’s finalists, so you can see the work of some of the best people in the country. I can say the students I work with are doing work that gets nominated for big national awards, sure. I can also say they are being mentioned with students in other great programs like Syracuse, Kent State, Quinnipiac and more. And we can see the great work the people in those programs are doing, too.

But mostly, being a finalist for a Pinnacle Award, that’s not a bad bullet point on a sophomore or junior’s resume.


7
Aug 19

Thought bubbles, I really disliked the thought bubbles

Wrote a letter today. Who does that anymore? Well, I did, that’s who. I wrote and re-wrote and then proofread and then saved the file and uploaded it. But it was a letter! There were paragraphs and a salutation and everything!

This evening I went for a bike ride today, and once again my mind’s eye was stronger than my legs. I could blame the hills, I suppose, but the route I choose is about the flattest batch of roads available to me. And, even still, if I had the opportunity to ride tomorrow I’d think the same thing: I’ll do the usual and then add on the other usual for a super usual! But then I’d be out there and suddenly that doesn’t feel practical for any number of reasons real or imagined.

My speed has improved a little bit again, so back to average I guess, even as my left foot protests against the effort. The goal, as ever, is to build up many more miles. The usual is fun, fast, conveniently located and (mostly) flat. But it doesn’t add distance. And since I’m using all the flat roads, that means it’ll soon be back to the hills.

Here’s a bit of video from today’s ride. It’s of a new road we tried last week.

It is a lovely little neighborhood. Seems quiet and uneventful. I bet they don’t even need a Spider-Man.

I watched Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse today. Let me just say that Spider-Man was never my favorite. Peter Parker was always wrestling with his conscience and that wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to see in the limited amount of time I spend reading comics. (I was more of a Tony Stark comic fan. Before Robert Downey Jr. made it real, flying from your hands and feet was just cool. Plus the pulp version of Stark always played as more vulnerable than a worrier.)

And while Spidey was never my favorite, and I don’t normally watch a lot of cartoon movies, this was such a great story. It was just as good or better as every one had said. It is hip, it moves fast and it feels like a comic. It doesn’t insult the audience at all. The characters that are supposed to be likable are lovable. The villains are ill-defined, but that’s a complaint you probably never said about them in print, and seems very much a Cinematic Problem. But all of the usuals make an appearance, however brief. There’s some sort of understanding that you already have the gist of the bad guys, but let’s be realistic and acknowledge that people don’t come to these things as a blank slate. Even if they did: bad guy is bad.

Perhaps most importantly, it re-sets Spider-Man as a young character again. The new guy is back in high school, with some new new skills. Surely Sony will be looking to capitalize on this. Assuming they even have the rights, this week. Who can keep it all straight?

Even better, it introduced me to Spider-Noir. Give me a semi-fourth-wall-breaking 1930s Nick Cage Spider-Man show and I’d faithfully watch every sardonic adventure.

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with the letter I wrote today. The marginalia was filed with dangling webs. A sticky stationary makes for a letter that is hard to put down.


31
Jul 19

The triannual calendar event

Happy end of July, and welcome to “Can you believe it is already August?”

This is getting easier to come to grips with thanks to social media, where friends in some far flung American retail places have shared their surprise that Halloween candy is already on shelves.

And I’m over here still vainly fighting the annual “Don’t you refer to summer in the past tense!” battle.

August is one of those months that always seems a surprise. It is already here and how did that happen? Not every moth is so sneaky. January is discounted because it has that New Year thing attached to it. February, well, everyone is just so ready for January to be gone, we sort of welcome it. And when March rolls around most people are just allowing for the fact that the previous month is so much shorter. (That three-day weekend you don’t get is a long time. And isn’t it time we had a three-day weekend at the end of February to reset this goofy calendar, anyway?)

But April, well, April can sneak up on folks. Same for May, but it is also a relief, May is a continuation of an early summer for the blessed, or a relief from the tedium of a six-month long seasonal change that was undesirable seven months ago. Then people are too busy or relaxed or tired from their vacation or idling into their vacation to notice June or July so much. But then August, whoa.

Maybe we’re good at 1/3rd fractions. Or maybe the A months. No one will pipe up much about October, so it can’t be the vowels. November, that stretch run into the holidays it all becomes inevitable at some point. But someone in some boring middle place is going to create their own calendar one day. Thirty-some years of this will wear on someone and he’ll create his own and it’ll wind up on The Guardian’s website, laughed at until it is a trending topic and then we’ll see it and some of us will say, “You know … ”

This will happen in March, a product of being cooped up too much over excessive cold weather. No one would dream of changing it in July. Unless they come up with a way of fooling the weather into corresponding with pre-existing paradigms of favorite seasons. If you can do that, you’re really on to something.

Hey, it was 400 words on months or 600 words on the CNN debates or, as it should be properly labeled “Who wants a go at a potential cabinet seat?”

OK, it’d be fewer words. I can sum up what we’ve learned in these debates in just 19 words: Market opportunity. There aren’t 20 good speech and debate coaches working as political consultants in the entire country.

Hey, did you see the cool stuff happening on the front page? Check it out!

There’s more Twitter and on Instagram, as well!


24
Jul 19

On the anniversary of the completion of Apollo 11, and other things

Today is the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Apollo 11 mission. And somewhere in the comments of this NASA stream of the capsule recovery someone writes “Is this happening now?” And that’s what you’re going up against in the world. Maybe Buzz Aldrin is right, about this too.

Anyway. I put this picture on Instagram over the weekend, while I was watching the CBS special marking the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

I took that photo Thanksgiving weekend in 2006 at the Space and Rocket Center. A whole bunch of family decided we’d all go look at all the sites in between turkey and barbecue and it was a great day. I’m not related to the people in that photograph, but I did listen in to the conversation enough to figure out what was going on.

There’s three generations of a family in that photograph. The younger man brought his son and father to see the museum to show his son what Grandpa did.

Grandpa worked on the Apollo missions, as an engineer. This was a trip down memory lane for him and he played the moment very cool. The grandson was too young to really appreciate this yet, but the father that middle generation man, was very proud of this moment.

The little boy, he probably just wants to go flip and toggle things in the museum’s displays. It might not have mattered to the old man, who, along with a lot of other people were taking part in A Great Thing.

It mattered, though, to his son, who carries this sense of pride about it.

Attitudes are curious. They can attach, morph and bind themselves to a single moment or ideal or action and carry us through a generation. That older gentleman had the war, and then space and the moon. His son has the memory of the moon, the echoes of the 1970s and the information age.

What’s that little boy going to have? Of course, he’s not so little anymore. That photo is almost 13 years old now. But this was the part of their conversation that I recorded at these displays.

“Ask Granddad about which one he worked on.”

“Which one did you work on?” the six-year-old asked.

“Apollo 17,” the grandfather replied, a little quiet and sheepish that others might hear.

What’s an Apollo 17 to a 21st century babe? Maybe dad, or grandpa, was teaching him how to throw a football. He surely was showing him his gramps was a big man. “Grandad helped send people to the moon … ”

Yes he did young man, yes he did. Your grandfather helped do that. Tell everyone you meet.

We watched an IMAX about the lunar landings and, afterward, my mother asked me if that was something that is impressive to my generation. She was in middle school when NASA first kicked moon dust around. She probably remembers what dress she had on the day those crackling little words made it back into the atmosphere.

The moon landings had come and gone before I was born, a historical inevitability. I have the sense of wonder of the achievement, but not the drama of the attempt. It has always been a magical thing to think Someone’s been there, but I’ve never had the notion that it couldn’t be done, only only the question of why we haven’t gone back. Budgets, interests, war, different rhetoric and other causes dragged us away, and but for robotic exploration the interim has been full of wasted moments in that respect. We had moonmen on MTV and conspiracy theorists.

To think it was only a few years before I was born that we reached up and grasped at something we’ve feared and marveled at for all of time … that carries a weight.

That we’re on Mars, that’s impressive. That we have tourists in space, that’s already become passe. That I shared a room for a brief moment with a man — and in a NASA facility the number might still be “several” — who helped put us there, that people a generation younger than I am will remember him, that’s special in a very important way.

Haha. I’d forgotten about this. That same day, at the Space and Rocket Center, someone suggested we ride something they now call the Moon Shot. Through the magic of science, you are flung 140-feet straight up in 2.5 seconds, achieving 4Gs on launch, and a few seconds of weightlessness in the descent. I started talking smack. My grandmother, who delighted in showing me up, agreed to a ride. Again, the conversation as I recorded it:

The Yankee: Arrrrrgh!

Mom: Arrrrrgh!

GrandBonnie: When does the ride start?

Seriously.

When we were doing this in 2006 NASA was still working on the hardware and software for the Mars Science Laboratory. Launched in 2011, of course, it landed on Mars in August of 2012. I have a dim recollection of watching live footage of the control room when it landed, and I wondered how that felt next to the moon.

Robots! On Mars! (And still operational, years after the initial goals!)

It is never happening now, as grandparents always know. The ride always started a long time ago.


17
Jul 19

About the place we stayed

Our trip — this is the last one, I promise — was to an island off the east coast of Honduras. Roatan is the location. The place we stayed was a lovely facility called Anthony’s Key Resort. We landed on a small airport at Roatan, resort staff picked us up at the airport, fetched our luggage and pointed us to their shuttle and we stayed there the full week. We never saw the mainland. Indeed, with the exception of our dives and the zip lines we never left the resort.

This is entirely possible if you’ve packed halfway decently. And even if you need an extra snack, or some souvenirs or the occasional odd-and-end you may have left at home, the resort itself might be able to sell you what you need.

You can go into the nearby town, but there’s not really any reason. Here’s why.

This was our view, breakfast lunch and dinner:

Anthony’s Key has a restaurant on site, is apparently building another and prepared meals are included in your trip.

If you aren’t diving, or enjoying the pool, kayaking or paddleboarding, or sitting in a hammock, you’re looking out at that view over your choice of two or three entrees. (The food was quite good, too.) Indeed, most people visiting there are divers — it is a dive resort — but they have built out some nice amenities for the non-diver in the family, if you have that sort of vacation-planning challenge. There’s fishing, excursions off the resort, the pool, the bar and an incredibly pleasant atmosphere. Also there’s a museum and a full-on dive school on-site. (But maybe have the non-divers learn at home.)

I mentioned that the most of the rooms were on a cay. Ours was. We were close to the pool, but we never heard the kids at play from inside the room. I took this picture standing on the big island, but what you see is where most of the rooms are.

The resort operates an on-demand ferry 24 hours a day. (There’s also a medical clinic on the island, with regular hours and an on-call doc, just in case.) The ferry is a small outboard motor boat and will accommodate about 10 or 12 people at a time. It takes maybe 20 seconds to get across.

My mother visited this resort years ago and she really enjoyed it. From hearing her talk, to seeing it today, I have a sense that the place has really matured. It is a full-service resort, and we had a great time. Here we are getting off the ferry to go up to dinner one night, and you can see the edge of the cay on the right:

We enjoyed a nice off-season deal. There are plenty of positive online reviews about Anthony’s Key and Roatan has, for a long time, had a positive reputation for the quality of its diving. This is what really sold us: We talked to the dive shop owner in Bloomington and told him where we were thinking of going. Part of his job is to run a store, sure, and part of his job is to teach people how to dive, absolutely. But another standard dive shop service is operating dive trip junkets. The guy here has been going to Anthony’s Key for almost 30 years. Raved about it. Told us, by name, who we’d meet first, where they’d point us to second and who we would meet second. He spelled the whole thing out. We weren’t on this trip through his shop, but he couldn’t stop singing the place’s praises. You figure anyone who keeps going back every year for decades must have found something he likes. As his excitement grew, so did ours. Having spent a week there, it’s easy to see why everyone always comes back with such high opinions of the place. The living is comfortable, the diving is nice and easy.

Most importantly: While you are there it is easy to get on, and enjoy, island time.

Or, shorthand: If we’ve gone there it is probably great. The Yankee plans terrific vacations.