Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

11/29/2005

Playing with fire

File under: 1000 Words, I Made It Out Of Clay, Know Thyself. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 7:10 pm.

I’ve said before that throwing is by far my favourite part of making pottery. And for the most part, it is.

I’m almost never terribly happy with the way the surfaces of my pots turn out, and I’ve always felt somewhat cheated by the firing process: load the electric kiln, and then wait patiently for two days as a machine transforms your work without any input from you.

Raku is different.

The raku firing process isn’t very demanding in terms of money and materials. If you can get your hands on a propane tank, a torch, some bricks, a bit of insulation, a few metal garbage cans, and a bag of sawdust, and some open space, you can set up a raku kiln and some reduction chambers. And it’s a quick process: as little as an hour, compared to the day and a half to two days that stoneware spends in the electric kiln. But raku demands careful attention and input from the potter: a premature removal of wares, or a slight delay covering the pots can dramatically alter the outcome. And even when done properly, it’s not for conservative potters.

The payoff is huge: bright colours, dramatic metals, and the coolest chemistry lesson you’ll ever experience.

I’ve chronicled this weekend’s raku fire at my pottery gallery, and I’ve got some photos of the finished products.

11/28/2005

Milestone

File under: Meta-Meta, Hubris. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:21 am.

From my stats this morning: Successful requests for pages: 1,000,031.

Don’t know how much of that was spammers, and how much of it was just me compulsively reloading the site to check for new comments, but still! - one million pages! I never expected my little, personal, obscurish-niche blog to get so big.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for commenting; TD&M wouldn’t be the same without you.

11/26/2005

Things that shouldn’t remind me of my adolescence

File under: When We Were Young, Home And Native Land, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:49 pm.

I didn’t date when I was fourteen. The main reason was the lack of prospects, to be fair, but on top of that I simply wasn’t interested in dating when I was fourteen. At fourteen, I gazed briefly into that abyss, it gazed back into me, and I turned away and didn’t look back until I was old enough to vote.

I didn’t date when I was fourteen, because the sorts of fourteen-year-olds who dated were kids like Jessica and Matt, and it takes a special kind of self-loathing to want to be like Jessica and Matt. Jessica was this cute, perky, naïve fourteen-year-old girl who was ambitious in the way that cute, perky, naïve fourteen-year-old girls often are. Her ambitions at fourteen, as prescribed by Seventeen and YM and other such tomes, included acquiring a boyfriend, and she did, in Matt. As for Matt…well, Matt was a nice guy, not particularly attractive or athletic or smart, but inoffensive enough that he was pretty well-liked, if not terribly popular. Matt didn’t talk much, but that wasn’t because he was boring. And it wasn’t because he was insecure, either. And it certainly wasn’t because he was a loser. He was just…thoughtful, you know? And sensitive. Thoughtful and sensitive.

I sat behind cute, perky, naïve, fourteen-year-old Jessica and her cute, perky, naïve fourteen-year-old friends in class, so I got to hear all about Matt’s shortcomings from the day that he and Jessica started dating until the day that she broke up with him two months later. An abridged list of infractions, as best I remember them lo these many years later: Matt didn’t seem to really be as into the relationship as she was. He didn’t make time to see her. He hadn’t remembered their one-month anniversary! And worst of all, he didn’t seem to want to talk about their problems and stuff. Which she totally didn’t get, because he was such a sensitive guy. But he was really starting to piss her off.

Then why don’t you break up with him? I wanted to ask each and every time this topic came up, but I was never part of the conversation, so I stayed silent. That was the thing about cute, perky, naïve fourteen-year-old girls when I was that age: they never included me in their discussions, but they didn’t seem to mind talking about all sorts of things when I was around. They probably assumed that I wasn’t listening. But of course I was listening, because what else was I going to do in the few minutes before science class started? Once when I was seventeen I made the mistake of indicating that I actually did listen to what my classmates were talking about, and I will go to my deathbed regretting that one, because that was the last time I ever heard about what Alyssa’s twenty-year-old boyfriend was like in the sack.

Anyway. That was Jessica’s side of the story. I never heard Matt’s, but I have a feeling that he didn’t really talk about their relationship to his friends. I suspect that sometimes his friends brought it up, in a teasing way, but mostly he’d try to change the subject, because the whole thing embarrassed him. The impression I got from Matt was that he thought - hoped - that if he ignored this relationship, it would go away. After all, he had never wanted a girlfriend. He didn’t know what to do with a girlfriend! For crying out loud, he was fourteen! But then Jessica had kinda latched onto him for awhile, and she was nice and all, and they sorta became friends, and then she said something about going out, and before he knew it she was saying that he was like her boyfriend, and he didn’t want to hurt her feelings, you know? I mean, it wasn’t that he didn’t like her - he liked her a lot, and she was cute, cuter than he thought he deserved - but…they didn’t have much in common, you know? And now she kept acting all disappointed that he wasn’t doing stuff she liked, but he didn’t know where she had ever gotten the impression that he did that kind of stuff, because he’d never said he did. It was like she expected him to be cooler than he was, and seriously, that was getting really annoying. Oh, God, did that mean he wasn’t even cool enough to break up with her? How do you even break up with someone, anyway? He still wanted to be her friend and everything.

Why I am writing about this now? Because I think about Jessica’s fantastical expectations of her hapless boyfriend whenever I read the most recent report about how very disappointed Bono is in Paul Martin.

[Update: Oh, Lord, I wrote about this before? How embarrassing.]

11/24/2005

It’s not a conspiracy theory if it’s actually true

File under: Righteous Indignation, Those Who Can't. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 10:34 pm.

At the risk of engaging in the premature counting of chickens, it looks like I’m going to be involved in something off-blog that will expose my rants about the fucking graphing calculator to a wider audience. Like, wider by a few orders of magnitude. Exciting stuff. Exciting enough that I spent some time today researching the link between Texas Instruments and the math textbook industry that I wrote about a few months ago.

It’s worse than I thought. It’s scandalous, and everyone who has a stake in what students are taught should be outraged.

Here’s a tiny subset of what ten minutes of Googling got me:

  • An alliance between TI and textbook publisher Pearson Prentice Hall: Pearson Prentice Hall and Texas Instruments to Publish Educational Products for High School Math Market. Never mind the creepy abundance of business jargon: far creepier are the repeated references to “increas[ing] student achievement”, “improv[ing] student performance”, “scientifically researched and standards-based instruction materials”, and the like, all waved around without either specifics or support. Just because you say it, doesn’t mean it’s true. Show me the data, Pearson Prentice Hall and TI.
  • Here’s a beautiful example of technology making simple concepts complicated: …The directions for performing these operations differ from calculator to calculator. The steps for a TI-82 are given on page 663 of the textbooks. For other calculators, you will have to consult the manual for instructions. Learn how to use these important functions… Oh, allow me to present a bold alternative to that shit: graph your bloody STRAIGHT LINE by hand, you goddamned punk.
  • Fostering Children’s Mathematical Power: An Investigative Approach to K-8 Mathematics Instruction. Here’s Activity File 0.1 - ZERO. POINT. ONE - in a book about teaching math to children: It may surprise children to learn that some calculations are too hard for a calculator. Encourage them to explore the limits of their calculators for each of the operations. For example, what is the largest addend that can be added on a Texas Instruments (TI) Math Explorer? I’ve got a word for this approach as a zero point first step toward fostering children’s mathematical power, and it ain’t “investigative”. Also: free cookie to anyone who can tell me why the TI in particular is necessary here. The $10 doodad I use to balance my checkbook could do just as well for this, maybe better.
  • Probably the creepiest material of all comes from the TI site itself. Take this, for instance. What do MTV®, Sesame Street ®, the WalkMan®, the DiscMan®, the Game Boy®, and the Brave New World of Mathematics Education ® have in common? A whole hell of a lot, apparently.
  • More from TI. Just…read the title, which I think is more fitting than the good folks at TI realize. I mean, just tie a bow around a big fat red foam A+, and it probably means about as much as a real A+ in a TI-based math class.

And there’s more. Much, much more. The skills-lite, calculator-heavy approach to mathematics education, which produces top high school students that are completely unprepared to do college-level math, won’t last forever. I just hope I’ll be around to bury it.

11/22/2005

Back among the working

File under: Know Thyself, Hubris, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 8:48 pm.

Throughout the conference, I was trying to figure out how to blog about the conference without…well…blogging about the conference. And then, on my last night out of town, it came to me in a dream.

On my last night out of town for the business conference, I dreamt that one of my coworkers found my blog. But the blog that he found wasn’t Tall, Dark, and Mysterious as you know it; it was more like what Tall, Dark, and Mysterious would be like if 1) I worked with complete nutcases, and 2) I had absolutely no discretion whatsoever, as opposed to the small amount that I actually have. For instance, in this dream blog, not only did I routinely violate my company’s non-disclosure agreement in my posts, I also violated the non-competition agreement. On my blog. No, I don’t know how that would work, either, but apparently I was doing it.

In this dream TD&M, I was also writing at length about the accountant’s embezzling of funds from petty cash, the receptionist’s costly cocaine habit, the company’s use of migrant workers in the shipping department, and the boss’s affair with the girl who works at the taco stand in the mall. None of these, by the way, bear any resemblance whatever to fact, but the last of these in particular is something my subconscious cut from whole cloth. First of all, there is no taco stand in the mall. Second, the boss just got married, and everything’s all “new wife this, new wife that”, so as if. But third, and perhaps most important, I would bet hard cash that if ever my boss discovered that someone else was sleeping with the girl from the taco stand, he would call that person into his office and say, “I hear that you’ve been sleeping with the girl from the taco stand. It’s not for me to judge you; however, I want you to ask yourself, ‘How is spending so much time with the girl from the taco stand going to affect my performance at work? Is spending my off-time with her really the best thing for the team?’ Because I think we both know the answer to that question.” And I will say one thing for my boss: the man practices what he (fictionally) preaches.

Anyway, that was the blog that my coworker found.

In my dream, my coworker sent me an email telling me that I’d been discovered, and that the boss was on his way to the basement to check out my blog. (I don’t know why he needed to go to the basement to do this, but he did.) I had five minutes to try to delete my whole blog before the boss discovered it! But I couldn’t, and the boss read the entire blog, and I sat in my office cowering as I awaited the inevitable. Half an hour later, the boss sat down at my desk, and said, “I read your blog.”

I sat there, waiting for him to fire me.

But then my boss continued, “I was extremely impressed with your writing; I didn’t know that you could write. And clearly you know a thing or two about webdesign, and blogging software. This is excellent! We have an important project that we’d like to give you. Of course, we’ll pay you accordingly.”

And you know, that’s kind of how the conference itself went.

I am not especially proud of the way that I behaved during the conference. I was not - am not - very good at networking; I spent most of my time with the woman from accounting, with whom I’d felt a kinship ever since she started grumbling about how they were making her go to this stupid, stupid conference, the bastards. I was rather negative about things. I made snarky remarks to people who, I learned the hard way, were either less negative, or (to give them more credit) more tactful than I. In a stunning manifestation of irony, I fell asleep, so help me God, halfway through Get Energized: Developing a Motivated Workforce. In defense of the motivational speaker for that last one, I was sick. In defense of my general crankiness, the activities I was negative about included the one with the big group hug and the candies and the how did you feel when you were handed the candy? Honestly, halfway through that one, I was willing to confess to whatever feeling that that activity was supposed to induce (it wasn’t “annoyed that we have to do this crap”, by the way, as I found out when someone - the woman from accounting, for what it’s worth - gave that answer a little too loudly under her breath; the correct option was “like I was being ignored”) just to get this thing to end. I wrote down the entire activity a few hours after it happened, for my own reference in case I ever find myself wanting to run it. The only circumstance, by the way, in which I can anticipate wanting to run the hug-and-candy team-building exercise is one in which the other activities I had considered running violated the Geneva Convention, if you catch my drift.

I am an introvert, in the purest “people make me tired” sense of the word. Unfortunately, I am a snarky, aggressive, outspoken introvert, so when I am stressed - for instance, when I am being group-hugged, and yes that is apparently a verb, the HR rep said so herself - I start blathering, and I start saying things that I would later come to regret if I were a bit more humble. In other words, I am not at my best during these events, and I was not at my best during this one.

I am, however, at my best at work.

On the first day of the conference, the Supervisor3 sought me out, and told me that she’d been looking for me, because she’d personally taken a look at the project I’d helped manage during my second week of work, and damned if it wasn’t just great. Welcome aboard, she said.

On the second day of the conference, the Supervisor5 provided a bold vision for the company; among other things, he called on everyone in my position to acquire a certain set of qualifications by the end of next year. I have it on good authority that I am the only person currently working in my position who has the soft skills to acquire those qualifications by next year. On the third day, I spoke to Supervisor2 about that, banking on the possibility that he’d forgotten my whining from the previous day. (He had. Now that’s a useful managerial skill.) Supervisor2 confirmed that yes, I was indeed the only person in my position with the relevant skills, and it sure is a good thing they just hired me, because they’ll be needing me for this one.

I’m not very good at networking and schmoozing and team-building. I am, however, rather good at my job.

I hope that that continues to be enough.

11/20/2005

Moebius Stripper’s Guide to Public Speaking

File under: Sound And Fury, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 11:02 am.

Actually, there’s only one point, and it is this: An essay and a speech are different media. If you’re going to drag several dozen people to a different city to hear your talk, rather than just giving them essays to read, you need to justify the time and expense involved. When your presentation consists of you just reading an essay you wrote, your message is not best delivered as a speech. It is not even best delivered as a speech if:

  • It is accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation that consists entirely of excerpts from the very paper you are reading.

  • You periodically glance up at your audience for a tenth of a second at a time, to make it look like you’re giving a speech rather than reading from a paper.

  • You write faux spontaneity directly into your essay. This includes, but it not limited to:

    • Jokes of any type.
    • On the spot “observations” such as “You all look very excited to be here.” When you can’t even look up at your audience when you say that line, it loses a shred of credibility.
    • The line “This award comes as a complete surprise to me, so I didn’t prepare a speech.” Dude, you’re not fooling anyone: you walked up to the podium with a goddamn folder, for crying out loud, which you proceeded to open and then read from FOR TEN MINUTES. You even read that line from the folder.
  • Its title is Effective Teaching: Nurturing Active Learners. Tell me, do you think that you are underlining or undermining your message when you deliver your findings by monotonously reading a paper at your audience for two straight hours without interacting with them? Me, I’m gonna have to go with undermining.

(In other, unrelated news, the business conference was superfantastic and not painful at all! But it’s good to be back at home so that I can blog about things that have nothing to do with the conference and were not in any way inspired by it.)

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