What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

30 April 2013

Z is for Zzzz

When I was first old enough to have friends in college-- at about age 14-- I used to marvel at how much they could sleep when they came home. It was like they transformed from normal humans into bizarrely somnambulant beings when they made that leap to college. I didn't even know what to think about that.

If I'm studying like this,
I'm guaranteed to be asleep
in less than 5 minutes.
I've had to change to a
standing desk. From
hvaldez1 on stock.xchng.
Now that I've done college in three different spurts, I do understand: College involves a fair amount of work, late night is a good time to get things done, and some of this sleepiness is self-inflicted from spending time on non-school things and putting in some heavy-duty procrastination. Even the best of students still falls victim to procrastinating, even the hardest workers who also have jobs and are not entirely in control of their schedule-- it happens. And to some extent, why shouldn't it? We've set up our university system so that those who wish can take a heavy courseload, lock themselves in their rooms, and graduate early, while the less-in-a-hurry among us can make some friends and have some fun along the way. And the ones who only want to have fun end up crashing out and having to take a serious look at their life path, which can be a good thing.

Grad school is more of the same x100 (at least in the beginning; it gets more intense as you go on, I've heard), which means there's less time for partying and that procrastination is for those with a death wish. And yet, here I am at the end of the A to Z Challenge, having gotten by with some help from my friends, and still slogging through the stack of work that's due this week. My plan for this weekend is to turn 35 gracefully and then sleep for three days.

On the upside, I'm rarely bored.

Did you survive A to Z? Are you ready for all the blogs you read to return to regular programming? Could you pass me the tea, please, because I'm now mainlining caffeine?

29 April 2013

Guest Post: Y is for Youthful


Today's guest post fits oh-so-beautifully into the grad school theme, for all that it was written by my undergraduate cousin. Amanda is a returning guest blogger, and is occasionally known as "Baby Cousin" here at Cheekyness (yes, even though she's nearly-22 and quite a bit taller than I!).

A few weeks ago, I went to Build-A-Bear with my friend Hermes. He saw that BAB was offering new “ponies” from My Little Pony, and he just HAD to go and build one (Yes, he’s a bronie). Thus, he invited me along, and we departed on a trip to the mall. This mall was close to Indianapolis, and once we made it, it. Was. Awesome. I’d never built my own bear before, and it was so fun picking out a bear and clothing, and just hanging with Hermes.

So, Indianapolis. I don’t get to regularly venture out of Greenfield or Muncie, where I go to school. Indy is more reserved for trips to the zoo, or Gen Con. But on the way there, we saw a billboard for this indoor trampoline park! They have dodge ball competitions, or you pay by the hour to just jump with friends or goof off. Hermes says we HAVE to do it, and I agree. Then we start talking about stuff in general that we’ve never done before. Hermes mentions that he’s never gone to the casino, despite turning 21 last month.

From Su: This family is all about
the musicals. Okay, so only about
half of us are. Whatever.
Source.
This gets me thinking—I have a car, and as a student, I’m not rich, but I do have some “play money,” as my mom calls it; enough money to go out to eat with my boyfriend a few times a month, or to do whatever with. And it hits me—I haven’t really made any plans to go and DO anything recently. Maybe a big part of it is school taking over my life, but I need to take a step back and be YOUTHFUL! And not just 2am trips to Steak n Shake; but take pictures, and go out and do things with friends.

The next week, Hermes and I made plans to go to the casino, and hopefully at the end of the week, I’ll make a trip up to Chicago’s Broadway with my boyfriend to see Big Fish the Musical. And a trip to the indoor trampoline park is in the works. My lesson in this blog post? Be youthful. Go and do something in your city you’ve never done before.

It might just be awesome.

27 April 2013

Guest Post: X is for My Generation

Today's guest blogger is that guy who lives in my house. He's been seen round Cheekyness during the A to Z Challenge before: He's the brains behind last year's X and Z posts. (He's a bit disgruntled that I won't let him have Z this time around.) This is also Chadwick's X post for today, and you can visit him at Occasional Scholar.

Time Magazine cover from June
9, 1997. Not long after the
youngest Gen X-ers entered
adulthood. Source: Time.
Class: A Guide Through the American Status System (1983), by Paul Fussell, describes a group of people who want to pull away from class, status and money in society and labels them X. Douglas Coupland wrote the fictional work Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (1991) and called it that because his characters fit the description in Fussell's book. The media labeled America's youth Generation X, because they saw the elements of Coupland's characters in them. But things changed.

Forbes says we might be in trouble. Edutopia says we're a sentence fragment that needs to be handled with care. US News tries to delve into the complexities of identifying ourselves along generational lines. An opinion piece talks about the impact of my generation becoming politically influential at the same time as the next one (and we're smaller than they are). Beliefs drive our lives for good or ill. Trying to quiet our minds with all the many voices of media blaring every moment (including this drivel I am writing), then trying to live with intention in the midst of a reactionary society, is a challenge when we are making the best of choices. What choices are we making?

26 April 2013

W is for Web

One of my classes this semester is Online Publishing, which has turned out to not be what I thought it was going to be about. I can't really remember at this point what it was that I was expecting, but I've managed to learn things about HTML, CSS, and JavaScript that I probably could have lived without knowing.

A screenshot of my most recent assignment. Despite
all my complaints, I am pretty happy with it.
And my prof was very complimentary. But I'm not
giving you a live link; I don't like it that much.
I kid! I know I live in the 21st century and should embrace that it's important to know these things. But now that it's the end of the semester, I have to build a website by next Thursday and I'm not excited about it. So far, I've turned on a movie or a soundtrack or something while slogging through our smaller assignments, but this next assignment may require an entire Netflix queue. So help me.

Have you ever built a website? Any last words before I lock myself into a room with a five-gallon bucket of hot tea, a DVD of Les Misérables, and a computer that I'll soon be shouting at?

Oh, and BTW: Yesterday I won Camp NaNoWriMo. This has been one of those weeks when I needed to write for therapeutic purposes, and I managed to bang out 11K words (my goal was 10K) in three days.

25 April 2013

Guest Post: V is for Valour


Today's post is by returning guest blogger Paula.

Val-or: Noun: Boldness or determination in facing great danger, especially in battle; heroic courage; bravery. Origin: 1350-1400 Middle England

Hello! My name is Paula and I am back to guest blog for Su! I chose this letter for multiple reasons, but the first one is this: I am currently OBSESSED with the BBC America show Merlin. Though the show no longer runs, the lessons that I have learned from the two seasons I have watched so far are really helping me get through college. The last few days of school are coming my way and I am getting really anxious. The amounts of assignments I have coming up are alarming, but there is one thing I can keep in mind: Valour means to go bold or go home, if you want to put it into modern terms. And that was exactly what I am going to do. And that is what I think you should do, too. I have no idea what is going on in your life, but I know that, if you are going through a tough time, thinking like a Knight of Camelot might just get you somewhere.

From cakeykate on stock.xchng.
Now, you might not be facing a fire-breathing dragon or a high-powered Warlock, but you might have to face another long day at work or school. You might have to pay those bills you’re struggling to pay or you might just have to face that in-law. Whatever your battle is, take it in strides and think like a Knight. I can almost guarantee you that those knights were not the bravest when they looked their competition straight in the eye, but they had an honour to withhold, and they were going to do just that. You might not have an honour to withhold, but you do have something to prove to yourself. You can do it, you will make it, and that person may be there tomorrow but it doesn’t mean you have to listen to EVERYTHING they say. (Unless that person is your boss, and if that’s the case, well…carry on.) The Knights of Camelot were noble men, but what doesn’t make you noble, the fact that you don’t wear a symbol on your chest? You can be completely noble to yourself every single day; all you have to do is take a deep breath and go.

I have to take my own advice here, which is why I am sharing this with you, but I wanted to let you know that you can make it, too. No matter what your “dragon” is, you get to face it with an Excalibur of your own. Personally, my Excalibur is going to be my books and my mind and my (awful) time management. What is your Excalibur? Who are your fellow Knights? Are you more of a Lancelot or a Percival? Either way, remember, you’re doing this task; you’re facing this “dragon” with valour and dignity, pride and accomplishment. You’ve already been knighted, now all you have to do is face the dragon.

Good luck, my fellow Knights.
~Paula ☺

24 April 2013

Guest Post: U is for Universe


Today's guest blogger is my friend Kathryn, who has blogged at Cheekyness once before.

I like the idea of the universe. I, for the most part, like being allowed to exist, most days. I like the variety of it all; different planets, different climates, possibly different plant and animal life.

From Chemtec on stock.xchng.
I like the stars in the sky, the moon and its phases. When I walk out with the precious pup into the backyard at night, I look up at the sky. Sometimes – but rarely, since I live in the desert – the sky is overcast and cloaked in mystery. But on most nights I can look up into the starry, moonlit sky and instantly feel my neck and shoulders relax. The comic strip “Rose is Rose” calls it a garbage moment, for when the characters take the garbage out at night. But it is not garbage to me. It is a moment when I am aware of the greatness of my Creator. And it is a moment when I feel my smallness in the whole scheme of the universe. It is a moment of cool air after a hot day, a moment of beauty after the garbage life throws at us.

But I am growing quite weary of life in this universe. I find that the “you” is being dropped from the whole universe concept. It is more and more, and even more, about only “me”.

Born a Baby Boomer, my generation was tagged “the Me Generation”. I beg to differ! I was taught manners to show respect to others. I was taught how to converse face to face and, by so doing, would know if my words were hurtful to another. I have learned to be compassionate toward others because we all have problems and bad days and need to be shown kindnesses. I was shown and have, through trial and error, learned the importance of personal integrity. As I grow older it is hard enough to get a good night’s sleep, and I have learned that integrity in my actions is a vital component to that end.

Yes, I am now THAT old! I am THAT out of place in this universe. The people in the know, that ubiquitous “they”, say the youth feel hopeless. Being the in-the-know and compassionate person that I am, I can understand that. Systemic abandonment, infinite tolerance, delayed adolescence, techno-relationships, the perilous nature of the family – these are all contributing factors to that feeling. The grey hair on my head tells me that the individual is the only one who can make changes in themselves.

Another reason I love the universe is that I love science fiction. Real science fiction, not fantasy or action-adventure in technological disguise. I love the hope and courage it represents. I love the stories of friendship among the space travelers. I truly love that it is a non-threatening place to explore our differences and safely discuss our problems.

One Star Trek episode, the real Star Trek, was titled “The Empath”. The three, Kirk, McCoy and Spock, were captured and beaten on an alien planet. A woman in wispy attire was brought in to see if she could heal Dr. McCoy. The woman had alien powers to bring a person’s wounds to her body, and her healthy body could heal them. But the healing process took much out of her, robbing her of strength and her own health. She was able to heal McCoy’s surface wounds with no problem. Her alien superiors then placed her with Captain Kirk. Kirk was injured much worse. The woman knew it could be her own death if she helped him, and that was just the dilemma her superiors wanted her to overcome. They wanted her to have enough empathy to heal the alien, the stranger, even at her own risk.

Has our universe lost its empathy? Its integrity? Its old-fashioned manners? As a country, a world, do we still stand for what is right, or do we look after our own benefit? Is the universe how you want it? Is it how you want to live?

23 April 2013

T is for TA

Being a TA is a normal part of most graduate programes, en route to teaching lower-level classes in the final years of the PhD.

I don't think they use these any more.
From ywel on stock.xchng.
I am not normal.

No,  I'm an online student, and while I've heard there are online programs that include TA-ing for lower-level classes, my program doesn't do that. So on the one hand, I've been spared the quirks and silliness of a classroom full of freshman. On the other hand, I've also missed out on this valuable opportunity to see what college looks like from the other side of the podium. There are trade-offs to everything.

Most of my TAs at UT were spectacular, and I enjoyed getting to know them. (Although I have noticed that MA students tend to stand on their dignity a bit more than PhD students do-- I hope I'm not one of that type!) The only TA I really had a problem with was Skinny Jeans, who I managed to mention a few times. However, knowing that some of my TAs were wonderful and others not makes me even sorrier that I'm not getting a chance to learn how to do it well instead of muddling through badly, as I'm sure the first couple of semesters would go.

Since I know many of my readers are teachers at some level, today's question is: What was the most challenging part of your early teaching days? Do you even remember the things that used to be a challenge?

22 April 2013

S is for Skype

Oh, hey, the alphabet doesn't end at 'R'! Whaddya know.

Skype! It's how we online types do class. (Texas Tech also has a chatroom platform thing that only works a little bit when it's feeling up to it. It causes me new frustration every single week. So I'm not blogging about it.) I never used Skype until this semester, and I've no idea how to call people on my own. I just log on before class time and wait for the little chime to tell me I have an incoming call.

As it happens, quite a few people have asked in the past few days "how it works" to have class in Skype. My answer? I don't know. I don't dare push too many buttons. It took me an embarrassing un-muted conversation on my first night of class to even find the mute button, so I haven't gone for anything more complicated than that yet.

This is my Skype profile pic. It came
from a day when I was short on inspiration
so I put the object of my non-inspired
on my head. Which worked, btw.
One of my classmates says she now
imagines that I have something balanced
on my head at all times during class.
I told her to leave off the "during class" bit
and it would be pretty accurate.
To answer another common question: no, we don't do video calls. As I understand it, that takes up too much bandwidth on some people's computers and it's just not worth it to have people crashing out all the time. In one class, though, our instructor asked us on the first day to please upload profile pictures so we all have a face to look at while we're hearing one another's voices. I was skeptical at first, but it turns out it really does help: I recognise voices in that class much better than in the other class without the pictures to assign to a voice. It's kind of wild the way brains work! (This brain, anyway).

Also, considering how much I wave my hands around, play with whatever's in reach so I can concentrate on listening, and pick up my computer and carry it around the apartment to make another cup of tea, it's just as well that my classmates can't see what I'm doing.

Do you use Skype? Do you know what all the buttons are for?

20 April 2013

R is for Research

Oops, I accidentally covered this a little bit the other day!

So, one of my classes this semester is Field Methods of Research. We've talked about all sorts of things that had never occurred to me before (at least, not in the academic research context), like diary studies and prototyping, and read about research from both the academic and practitioner angles.

I opted for a survey for my research project, but I've found that those around me are pretty excited about me researching parents and bicycling. I guess I'm excited, too, but WOW, with the semester almost over I feel pretty overwhelmed. Yipe.

And yeah, I'm still wading through my research articles that I mentioned a few days ago. I predict that my review of the existing literature section and my suggestions for future research sections of the final paper will both be quite lengthy.

19 April 2013

Guest Blog: Q is for Questions

Today's guest blogger is my cousin Deborah Ann, who I love dearly and miss so very much! We both live in awesome places (her in the Bay Area; me in Austin) and so far neither of us has been willing to give up our awesome cities to move closer to the other one, which is a bummer. Deborah has also guest blogged here at Cheekyness once before. 

Recently, I had one of those life altering things happen. Ok, in the course of 12 weeks, I had about 4 life altering things happen.

First (and this one wasn’t a surprise), at age 35 I went back to school full time, and in January started my last quarter (with an over full-time load) and on April 6 I finished my Associates in Accounting.

Second, I went in for a physical and a lump was found at the base of my skull. It turned out to be a non-cancerous cyst, but had surgery to remove the golf ball sized cyst (it had been pushing my skull in, so we didn’t know how big it was) and afterwards I was headache free immediately for the first time in I don’t know how long!

Third, I got a call from my middle child, Anny’s, speech teacher that Anny had complained to her teacher that she couldn’t hear him during class if she wasn’t already looking at him. So they tested her hearing, and she is losing her hearing. She is showing in the severely hard of hearing range on the tests so far, but we have a few left.

Fourth, we noticed our youngest, Chris, was getting sick to his stomach a lot. After a lot of testing, and a bout that almost ended with him in a diabetic coma, he was diagnosed with cyclical vomiting syndrome, or CVS. Basically if he gets over excited, stressed, tired, anything—he gets migraines and starts vomiting…sometimes once, sometimes for six days straight.

A few other things have happened, but none not planned or as big as this. As you can probably surmise, all of these things have led to life changes. One—with only one question—will the cyst grow back, the others opening all sorts of questions:

Do I start looking for work or go on to finish my Bachelor’s of Science degree?
How quickly do I do all of this?
Hearing aides or surgery (cochlear implants or other corrective measures)?
How do we tell if a cycle is coming?
What do we do with his schedule?
Do we let him still play sports, go on playdates, spend the night at others' houses?
Should I really get a job when I just might lose it because he has missed 36 days of school this year, and that doesn’t count the days they have sent him home in the middle?
How do I let the girls keep their full lives when I need to keep him home and calm instead of running all over delivering them places and then picking them up again?

I have decided that trying to answer any of these questions just confuses me more, pops up more questions, and then answering another makes the first unanswered again. So the only question that I can answer is:
WHAT IS GOD’S PLAN FOR MY/OUR LIVES?

And the only way to answer it: on our knees in prayer.

Thank you for the chance to put it all out there, and organize somewhat my thoughts on paper.
God Bless You,
Deborah Ann

18 April 2013

P is for Prayer

From abcdz2000 on stock.xchng.
... and that's the only way I'm going to get through this semester with GPA and sanity and job and all personal relationships intact.

In hindsight, an April blogfest and two challenging courses don't really go together that well. As for Camp NaNoWriMo... what's that?

Yeah. I'd better pray a lot.

17 April 2013

O is for OH, that is a lot of reading.

My research this semester is on parents and bicycling. So far, I've read one book and 19 articles. I'll be citing two chapters from that book, and I have three more book chapters (different book) and at least 28 more articles that I'm wading through. That all need to be read, so I can decide which ones to include in my literature review, and it needs to be done sometime yesterday.

I'm going to need one of these.
From hhsara on stock.xchng.
I've heard this is only the beginning and it will only get worse as I progress through grad school. Good thing I love to read.

What are you reading this week?

16 April 2013

N is for Notes

When I made my list of topics a few weeks ago, I didn't write myself a note about what all of them were supposed to be about. This has turned out to be a grave error, because I've had a few days during the challenge already when I've wondered, "What was I thinking?"

Not just on my blog: I put a book on hold at the library one day last week, and when it arrived a few days later, I had no idea why I wanted the book in the first place. And I don't really have time to read the entire book when I have a whole bunch of other books to read. So, I wish I'd written myself a note. In the meantime, Chadwick is reading the book and he doesn't know what I wanted it for, either.

This is my solution. At least, the
start of a solution.
Somewhere along the way, I got out of the habit of carrying a notebook with me everywhere I go, but since I keep forgetting things, I've decided it's time to revive the idea of having a paper and pen within reach at all times.

Oh, did you think this post was going to be about taking notes in class? Ha! That's just crazy. No, I'm an online student and all out transcripts are recorded and posted. I only write something down if I REALLY need to. That is an upside to being online instead of on campus.

Do you carry a notebook with you? What sort of things do you put in it?

15 April 2013

M is for MLA

This is the citation system I use most often, starting with my junior year of high school and progressing until... well, this week. I've ventured into Chicago and APA a couple of times each, but I keep coming back to MLA. Love it or hate it (and I've done both), it's the system I know best and so it's a bit of a habit.

Image from Austin Public Library.
MLA stands for Modern Language Association, and according to the website, the citation system is for language and literature. Hey, that's me--- no, wait, it isn't. I'm a Technical Communication gal. Indeed, most of the scholarly articles I've read in the past two weeks (I've lost count, but it's more than 15 and I still have at least 20 to go... more on that in a couple of days) have used a different citation system. Maybe it's time to leave my friend MLA behind.

But not until after this semester is over. I already started writing my research paper in MLA and changing citation systems would be a pain in the backside.

Any MLA fans out there? Chicago or APA? How about those who have no idea what I'm talking about and are pretty happy about that?

13 April 2013

L is for Language

Don't worry; I'm not going to start swearing on the blog. In grad school life... well, it happens. I just don't write it down.

From wowacom on stock.xchng.
I said a couple of months ago during class, "I know what all these words mean, but not in this order." That started as a joke, but it's a pretty good description of my reality. And of course, at least once a day I run into words I don't know, which makes me very thankful that I can click on a word from pretty much every program and be taken to a definition. Why is this important? Because if I open a paper-and-ink dictionary, I'll lose an hour or two because I'll get distracted from what I was doing and just keep reading. I love dictionaries.

Anyway! Academia has its own language, I've discovered, and I suspect that each discipline also has its own lexicon, but I only have one field of study, so I can't speak for everybody else's languages. By some miracle, I've managed to learn a few new words in grad school. But of course, I still have a long way to go before I can converse as freely as my classmates.

Have you learned any new words lately?

12 April 2013

K is for Kill Me Now

It's amusing how many tumblrs, blogs, twitter accounts, and other assorted social media outlets are devoted to bemoaning to grad student life. They all do seem to eventually devolve (or maybe it's evolve, depending on your point of view) into praising the merits of alcohol.

Obviously, grad school has some attendant stressors, although clearly not so many that I can't participate in a month-long blogfest. And there are things that frustrate the life out of me, and it's not much comfort that no matter what life path I were on, there'd be some idiot at regular intervals who would say some variation on, "But you chose to go to grad school/join the Army/learn basket weaving/live in a commune/fly airplanes/etc., so why are you complaining?" (BTW, if you're that person, why are you choosing to be an insufferable Captain Obvious? Just stop.)

In other words, I don't really mean it when I say Kill Me Now, not even when trying to read 20 articles in a single evening while wishing I had a social life. Yes, it is what I signed up for. No, I did not expect life to come stress-free. Yes, I do reserve my right to sigh deeply and post occasional cries for help on Twitter. But the important one is: I won't quit, not even on the worst days. Just like all of you in the midst whatever life is throwing your way.
A typical cry for help. I really don't understand this class at all, and three weeks from the end is not a good time to realise that.
So! Cheekyness is open for all the G-rated unloading and venting you need. Grab a cup a virtual tea and a pretend cookie, and tell us: What's stressing you out this week?

11 April 2013

J is for Joke

My favourite joke of all time is so lame, and I don't even care:

So, I feel a little weird putting a pic
of somebody else's kid on my blog,
but if it's on a free use site, somebody
had to approve it, right? From
vailiki on stock.xchng.
Two peanuts were walking down the road. One was a salted.

(If you don't get it, try reading it out loud.)

What does this have to do with grad school? Well, I'm stressed out, and admittedly some of it is self-inflicted, but laughter is better than eating. So, tell me...

What is your favourite joke? (Please remember to keep it clean!)

10 April 2013

I is for IRB

It turns out "IRB" can stand for a lot of things, none of which mean anything to me, but this one will probably have a lot of power over my life for the foreseeable future: IRB = Institutional Review Board. They're the group at a university that reviews all research proposals to be sure the researcher has adequate protections in place for the university, the research participants, and the researcher herself.

"Approved" stamp required before
continuing. From bigevil600 on
stock.xchng.
This semester I had to fill out an IRB proposal for the first time, for my research class. Since my research is solely for a class project and is under the direction of my prof, it is exempt from IRB review. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the big one is that no class research could ever get done if students had to wait for the IRB to review their proposals and conduct the project in the span of a single semester.

My research--about cycling with children-- is still in progress. Wanna join in? If you're a parent and you live in Texas, you are eligible to take the survey (it's geared more toward those who have children living at home, although parents of grown children are welcome to take it) here.

09 April 2013

Guest Post: H is for Hashtag

Sometimes I have guest bloggers. It's fun for me. Today's guest introduces himself, so apart from mentioning he's a former classmate at UT, I won't give any more details.

Hello, my name is Bill Hill. To-day I am the guest blogger for Cheekyness, Incorporated.
I suppose it is best to say a few things about myself before I begin. To give a quick picture then, I am a senior at UT Austin, majoring in English & minoring in Communication. I am a scholar of Twitter studies and a Coca-Cola aficionado, oftentimes a poet and musician and filmmaker, a high self-monitor, dangerously deep thinker, people-lover, extrovert & social chameleon. & that is a little about me.
Usually I write on Xanga, the blog website that the dinosaurs used. You can visit my Xanga if you would like, where I spend my time recounting anecdotes, making analogies, pondering human phenomena and composing anonymous second-person messages.

& now, a few words on hashtags.
No I am not literally 'a scholar of Twitter studies,' only what I meant was, I adore Twitter.

When it comes to hashtags, I want to encourage people to push the envelope. Hashtags have certainly evolved ever since they first appeared, and below is a general outline of their evolution:

1. 'Here comes Richard Gere with the envelope. #oscars'
                This is the functional use of the hashtag. It is, essentially, the reason the hashtag was created. If you click on the hashtag for the Richard Gere tweet, you'll be taken to a categorized list of other Tweets, all of which relate to the Oscars. Then you can keep up with Richard Gere & with his envelope, & know about all the other things happening at the ceremony. The hashtag lumps together all those Tweets & lets you observe them at once, in Real time. One hundred Percent functional.

2. 'I haven't done my Latin translation for class yet. #lazy'
                Is this functional in the conventional sense? No, not at all. You wouldn't seriously suppose that someone's going to click on the hashtag  '#lazy' and look for all the Tweets about laziness, would you? No, that isn't why 'lazy' is hashtagged. It isn't to categorize Tweets, it's to make a point. It's to suggest a make-believe world in which Laziness is something like a Live Event, a world in which mundane topics & emotions are being followed by millions of internet users. Just a gimmick, do you know what I mean? Essentially this Tweet takes the concept of laziness & views it through a Twitter-coloured filter. Somewhat like a poet using the mechanics of language to express an emotion, Twitter mechanics are only the Tools through which a sentiment like Laziness can be conveyed.

Now is a tool a good thing or a bad thing?
You are right it is neither.
A knife is a tool. Is a knife a good thing or a bad thing? Well I am afraid it depends. As one of my favourite Professors once described to us, a knife is a wonderful thing if you would like to Cut up a steak. Only if somebody runs up to you on the street and they are screaming & carrying a giant cleaver, I doubt very much that any of you would say 'That is one heck of a knife.'
Twitter mechanics are Tools also. & they are neither good nor bad. It all depends upon how they are used & what they are trying to accomplish. Let's go to Step Three in the evolution, which shows, in my opinion, a Dreadful use of Twitter mechanics.

Below is a representation of an actual Tweet I have seen. The Tweeter will not be named, & some words have been changed so that hopefully you cannot Google it & find them. This person, however, was about to move away to California:

3. 'This could be the last time I see rain in July. #doesitraininthebayarea?'
                 . . . What. No seriously, what the devil. What are you doing? You can't just take some random whimsy you had and try & stuff it into a Twitter-shaped filter. I'll be honest, I never thought that hashtags like '#lazy' were especially clever, only at least they understood how far the Twitter tools could bend. This, though? What are you doing? You're shoving a complete sentence (and a question no less?) into a single hashtag? That isn't ever how hashtags worked, not even by a long shot. There isn't any consciousness of the medium. It's like trying to carve Mount Rushmore with nothing but a plastic kitchen knife. You're using the wrong tool, or at the very least you are using a tool to create an implausible effect, and I do not think it works.

Some might argue that the Tweeter was doing it deliberately, that 'doesitraininthebayarea' was an attempted caricature of hashtags. If so, my problem is that it wasn't clear enough. In fact it was so unclear that it was kind of a disaster. Think of a virtuosic musician coming onto a stage for a performance. If they start by playing a few horrendous, childish-sounding notes with comically awful tone quality, the audience is likely to laugh, understanding that the Virtuoso is quite a few steps beyond Awful. If the musician, however, were to hit some mediocre grey area between Great & Awful, then the audience wouldn't laugh, I don't think. They would likely be uncomfortable. And that is the problem with hashtags like 'doesitraininthebayarea.' It's an abominable use of the tool & it seems that it isn't being done deliberately. The room is full of cricket chirps as we try & figure out whether someone could really be that inept.

The solution is, make very deliberate caricatures. Don't leave any room for doubt. If I saw a bunch of people seriously trying to carve Mount Rushmore with plastic knives, I might make a Joke out of it by using plastic knives to do everything. That, you see, is the fourth step of hashtag evolution. Get deliberate & get meta; don't use Twitter mechanics to express your thoughts, use Twitter mechanics to highlight Twitter mechanics:

4. 'Anyone want to go to Whataburger with me? #ZaynHasTheVoiceOfAnAngel'
                This time there isn't any grey area. Rather than trying to fit your feelings into the filter, you're blowing the filter wide open. Suddenly the idea of the hashtag doesn't make any sense. The tool is exploited. And the chaos and senselessness of Twitter users everywhere is vomited back before their eyes. Just as '#lazy' is a play on Twitter's functional nature, '#ZaynHasTheVoiceOfAnAngel' is a play on the now-convoluted nature of hashtags. In the end, no artist should be unfamiliar with his or her medium. Hang a lantern on every oddity.

Hey, look, I managed to squeeze in a grad school thing when I went to get this screen grab of Bill's tweet. (Su composed this caption, in case you couldn't tell.)
This is the beauty of Twitter. It leaves you the freedom to tamper with the medium, unlike Facebook, which is so very meticulous & meddlesome that one can barely toy with its ironclad mechanics. Twitter is more libertarian, & it is simply too ridiculous to leave unmocked. It's a whirlpool of hashtags & photos and blue letters, website links and retweets and Mentions. I would encourage us to try & bend the system a little; Twist the hashtags, Mention irrelevant celebrities, retweet Useless material & post extraneous photos. If a website takes itself too seriously then I am afraid it will become the next Wikipedia: boring and uptight & robotic. On a playground like Twitter, not every law needs to be followed to the very letter. For every purposeful jumbling of hashtags, therefore, I think we ought to contribute some nonsense. And those are my words for to-day.

-Bill
(@MrBillHill)

08 April 2013

G is for Graduate

Yep, I graduated. Nearly a year ago now. Like this:

Yeah, I know I never blogged about my graduation day. That was kind of dopey. Anyway, here's what I looked like afterwards!
That's a 12 on the UT tower. At the mass graduation. It was hot and I didn't care, because I was sitting with pretty much all my UT friends who were likewise graduating and I marveled at how that had even happened. (Me making friends, that is, not me graduating. I know how the "graduation" bit went down.)
The nice thing about being a Grad Student is that right there in the title, it proclaims that I graduated once. Which is great, because that gives me hope that I probably can manage it again.

06 April 2013

F is for Food

The dreaded Freshman 15. I've now managed it twice. (Lost it all the first time; still working on peeling off the second go-round.) While I don't claim to have all the answers, I do know that vending machines on every corner and clubs enticing students with free pizza will do some damage. I was amazed at how much food was available at any given moment when I was at UT.

More of this, less of the cupcakes.
Image source: jmcmurdo on
stock.xchng.
In grad school? Well, doing it online changes things a bit for me, but there's still the snacking while studying or the stress eating to deal with. I'm fighting pretty hard to avoid the MA 15, although this month may be my undoing. Because seriously, I want to eat ALL THE FOOD. Always.

What are your alternatives to stress eating?

05 April 2013

E is for Encyclopedia

I've heard I'm like a walking encyclopedia. It's the sort of thing that's not meant as a compliment but that I totally take as a compliment anyway, because I'm really nerdy like that. And really, it's not me at all; I can't help how my brain stores information (i.e., useless facts always at the ready; important things lost forever), but sometimes the stuff in there is useful for other people.

From blaize on stock.xchng.
It's been amusing to hear the admonitions from academia over the past few years about using Wikipedia as a source, because anybody can edit it and blah blah blah. You know why you shouldn't use Wikipedia as an academic source? Because you wouldn't use the Encyclopedia Britannica as a source, either. Or World Book. An encyclopedia isn't a source-- it's where you go when you've never heard of something before and you need a starting point.

Although my profs have often made the very good point that you can just go to the articles cited at the bottom of the Wikipedia page and read them, and possibly use them as sources. That doesn't always work as well in the journal-article-land that is grad school, but hey, I'll take what I can get.

Please don't tell me how you feel about Wikipedia. How about: When was the last time you used a paper-and-ink encyclopedia?

04 April 2013

D is for Dumb

Dumb. That's how I feel about 98% of the time in my grad classes.

Yeah.
This semester is at least marginally better than last semester, when all of my classmates were PhD students who'd been at it for a while, and I was the lone MA student and a newbie to boot. There are at least a couple of other MA students in my classes this semester. But still, I have moments of thinking, "I know what all those words mean, but not in that order."

I've been assured that other people feel dumb, too, and it's not just me. In that case, my classmates are tremendous actors.

The good news is, I've seen some of their writing. They may use words I know in ways I thought were impossible, but I can at least hold my own when it comes to putting those words down and turning them in. So that's something.

Does anything in your life make you feel dumb?

03 April 2013

C is for Chicago

In the past couple of weeks, I've requested copies of two different style books at the library. The plan is to look over them both in the next nine weeks (yep, I plan to keep them as long as possible) and then decide which one I want to purchase. I fear the answer will be, "Both of them."

Image source:
Austin Public Library.
So, one of the styles is Chicago. My first true introduction to Chicago style was when I was a volunteer at BikeTexas, and we wrote an entire report in Chicago style. That was especially fun last spring semester when I was writing a thesis in MLA for school and writing a report in Chicago for my volunteer job. Although I will say that each provided a welcome break from the other.

Anyway! There are some things about Chicago style I'm not wild about, such as its rigid adherence to the Oxford comma, but I do like the footnoting. The other thing I don't like? You only get some questions for free on the Chicago website before it asks you to hand over some cash.

So maybe that's my answer; in lieu of purchasing a Chicago Manual of Style, which is bound to go out of date in a year or two anyway when they bring out version #17 (this is speculation; I have no insider information on the next Chicago update), perhaps I'll just buy online access and be happy with that. 

Do you use Chicago style? What do you like or dislike about it?

02 April 2013

B is for Bigwords

I was lucky enough to discover this site the first semester I was at community college, and I've been using it to buy books from ever since. College students, grad students, and anybody who likes buying books: Pay attention.

(By the way, I'm not getting paid for this post, which is a bummer; no, I really do like Bigwords this much.)

Screenshot of the Bigwords
search bar.
Bigwords isn't a online bookstore. In fact, it's not a store at all; it's a search engine. You put in the books you need, edit a couple of variables (rentals, instructor copies, etc.), Bigwords searches all the places that sell books, calculates your shipping, and gives you the cheapest combination possible. Then it's up to you to either go to the stores it suggests, or set out on your own to find a better deal.

Basically, if you have lots of time to search the internet and do the math yourself, Bigwords is not for you. Otherwise? It's fantastic. Check it out!

Have you used Bigwords (or something similar)?

01 April 2013

A is for Admissions

Welcome to the Cheeky version of the A to Z Challenge, in which I plan to document the ins and outs of my expensive new hobby, grad school. Here goes.

All this work just to get one
of these that reads, "I'm happy
to inform you that you'll be
sending us all your money
for the foreseeable future."
From ba1969 on stock.xchng.
The admissions process is over a year behind me, so I don't think about it often, but it was a doozy. It all began when I signed up to take the GRE, and then spent an entire summer studying for the math portion (on which I still did abysmally, BTW), only to remember two weeks before the test that I hadn't spent any time on increasing my vocabulary. Why is this a problem? Well, one person after another, including random strangers on the internet, said the GRE is all about knowing a lot of words. If you have a large vocabulary, you do well; if not, kiss grad school good-bye. I don't know if my vocabulary is that big or not, but after two weeks of panic I took the GRE and got a decent score.

Next: Recommendation letters from three profs for each of three schools. That was fun. I ended up having a total of five professors write nine letters between them, because I chose my recommenders to fit (ish) to the schools that I applied to. Which meant that five profs read my personal statement, which was humiliating, for no reason other than I wanted as few people as possible to read my personal statement.

And speaking of which... I visited the Undergraduate Writing Center, where I worked, three times in the course of writing my personal statement, and had three different co-workers go over it with me in different stages of writing. That was uncomfortable.

And finally, the deadlines. I don't remember a lot about that final week before everything was due, except that I was scrambling around trying to get it all done and politely remind my recommendation-writing professors that it was their deadline, too, all while managing the UT NaNoWriMo club (yes, grad school deadlines happen as soon as NaNoWriMo ends! Aaargh) and trying to finish my own novel. Oh, yeah, and that was the semester I took 18 hours. Yikes.

Would I do it again? Yes, and probably will, if I decide to go on to the Ph.D. level. But it was still an awful process to get through. In the end, I was accepted to two schools and rejected from one. So, here I am being all graduate all over the place.

How do you feel about admissions? GREs? Deadlines?

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