No Fancy Name
Monday, May 29, 2006
Best Blog (Post) Forward
Via Chuck, Kevin Lim suggested a meme contest: Put Your Best Blog Forward. Post, that is. Blog POST. "Best" in this case means "most popular"—which may or may not actually be your "best" (qualitative) post, but for purposes of this meme contest "best" == "most popular" so just go with it.

My most popular blog post is my How-To for making expandable blog posts in Blogger from February 2005—it accounts for a full 26% of my blog traffic. It's also Topic 21 in Chapter 3, "All About Posting," in my book on Blogger called Sams Teach Yourself Blogging in a Snap.

Clearly, if I were a true money-grubber, I would have yanked the how-to when the book went to print. But that would have been a) uncool and b) wouldn't have stopped anyone from grabbing it from Google's cache and c) someone would have copied it out of my book and posted it on the internet somewhere anyway (I can't tell you how often that has happened with all my books).

The code behind the how-to isn't mine, never has been mine, and has always been attributed to the original blog it came from. All I did in my how-to was throw a lot of explanatory text around it and make it really easy to follow for Blogger users who are not technically inclined.

It's worked. I have other how-tos (and a bunch more other things to review) but nothing on my blog receives nearly as much traffic as the expandable blog posts in Blogger how-to.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006
TA meetings, choosing books
On Monday and Tuesday of this week, the new crop of TAs (all 6 of us) met with the TA coordinator (aka mentor prof, aka super beloved guy, aka Dr. E) to talk about syllabi, book selections, and course times. All of us already knew each other, as well as the 3 returning TAs who were also there in an official supportive capacity. In other words, very low stress meetings, lots of positive reinforcement, just a general positive spin on the fact that we'll have 25-50 (depending if we have 1 course or 2, I chose 1) composition 1A students in just a few months.

This runs counter to one particular negative nelly prof who, when one of my fellow TAs told her she'd be part of the TA program in the fall, said "oh, that's going to SUCK for you." Way to be supportive, jerk. [Ok, I should stop here and note that I know that freshman comp classes are not the most fun thing in the world and that there are many aspects about them and the students that do suck, unless of course it's what you want to do and you enjoy it and you don't let the sucky students get you down, etc etc. I've finally learned this in my time on this earth: negativity is a self-fulfilling prophecy!]

Anyway, back to these meetings. Dr. E wrote his handout "Some Unasked For Advice" in free verse, and as he said that, R and I turned our pages sideways and went "aha! blades of grass" because a) we are geeks and b) we took his class. It was really funny.

That was the tone of the meetings: fun, supportive, informative, happy. We took home a stack of books because the next day we were going to vote on the handbook and the reader to use. He had already weeded the selections down to three choices for a handbook and three choices for a reader, any of which would have been fine.

It took us 20 minutes to come to a unanimous vote the next day, so quickly and efficiently it almost made me cry. So, for the handbook we're using the Troyka/Hesse Handbook for Writers, 8e, and the reader will be Patterns for College Writing, 10e. We felt the Patterns reader had a more diverse set of readings—diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, subject, time period, etc.

So, if anyone has used the Patterns reader with comp 1A students and wants to offer advice, please do so!!

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006
so that conference...and stinky california
The conference was in Los Angeles. I live in San Jose. For those of you unfamiliar with California geography, the typical route for the trip is a 340-mile jaunt through the Central Valley. The Central Valley produces a subtstantial portion of California's exported produce. It's farm country. It's also the Red part of California, if you want to look at things politically, but that's not why it smells bad—although it does account for an alarming amount of religious and conservative talk shows and christian music stations on the FM and AM bands in the middle of the night.

Anyway. The conference check-in/breakfast thing began at 8am, my panel was at 9am. I left the house at 1am to give myself p-l-e-n-t-y of time (it's a 5 hour drive). The first part of the trip takes you through Gilroy, home of the Gilroy Garlic Festival and, during non-Festival time, The Great Gilroy Stink. I love garlic, I love the smell of garlic, but the stench of Gilroy is not that wonderful garlic smell. It's more like rotted garlic and fertilizer. It's gross. Off the Gilroy exit of Highway 101, one takes Highway 152 and goes over a mountain and into the Central Valley. This is called Pacheco Pass, and its smell is a nice one, actually—orchardy and green and cows. Cows are fine. I grew up in cow country and the stench of cows doesn't bother me. It's pigshit that really gets to me, anything else I can handle. As an aside, I grew up downwind of a rendering plant, so I have a high tolerance for stench.

Through Pacheco Pass, you're dumped onto Interstate 5, and from that point it's 3 hours of flat and smelly (extra smelly around Harris Ranch, where the sheer number of cattle stuffed into a small space depressed me enough that I might finally be off red meat entirely) until you hit the Grapevine through Tejon Pass. It's not smelly, just dusty in the Angeles Forest and people drive like lunatics. But at 5am this was not an issue for me. Once over the Grapevine, you're not terribly far from LA, and the new smell will be that of LA smog.

I stopped at the Castaic, CA Denny's, whereupon I had a really crappy breakfast but killed 45 minutes or so. Then it was on to the Alhambra Starbucks—I mapped my trip to the Starbucks nearest to the CSU-LA campus so I could brush my teeth, freshen up, and wander over to the campus without looking (and smelling) like I spent the last 5 hours in the car. Success!

Oh, you actually wanted to hear about the conference?

Of the 45 or so speakers, 7 were from my fine institution, San Jose State University. NOT "California State University, San Jose," although that's how we were always referred to, because this was a CSU conference and the CSU doesn't like to remember that we're different—and defensive—about our name. Anyway, we had the second-highest representation—only the host school had more—and we are really proud of that. Four grad students and three undergrads presented (the three undergrads proposed their own panel: "Arthurian Legends and Literature"), and in addition we had six or so other undergrads (plus one faculty member) who made the trip for moral support. Very cool. Except, as you do, the four grad students sort of hung out together...but we had a really good time. Is that normal? Are you supposed to have a good time at a conference?

So my panel was first, and at the same time as the undergrad panel, so D and B were my supportive audience. There were approximately fifteen people in the room, including the keynote speaker, James Kincaid from USC. His work creeps me out just a little, but he was a lovely fellow and had words of praise for all of us, and asked good questions of each of us on the panel, which I thought was nice.

I sweated a lot. It was partially nerves, and partially my Italian heritage, must mostly because the makeshift podium thing was positioned directly beneath an absurdly bright fluorescent light. I read my essay a notch too quickly because in all my practicing it always hit 20 minutes and I didn't want to go long. Thankfully, I had made the "to be read outloud" version of my essay much easier on the ears than just reading the "to be printed" version, else the speed would have made it hard to follow. But I just couldn't find 2 more pages to cut from the essay—it was a 15-page essay for a class that I cut to just over 11 for the conference. Those of you who do this all the time will note that's about 1.5 to 2 pages too long for 20 minutes.

But! My friends said that it was still easy to follow, and was interesting—and they would tell me the truth. The first person in the panel, she was very composed as she read (something I strive to be) but her paper seemed very repetitve and I didn't really get the point of it because I kept drifting in and out from active listening to wandering brain. The third person didn't read her paper and instead said she was going to present a summary or some such. I'm not sure what she ended up doing as it wasn't entirely clear, but I think she should have just read her essay.

Then it was lunchtime—entirely vegetarian, and even vegans would have eaten heartily, which surprised me but then again, it was LA. None of us were presenting in the second session, so the D and B and R and myself went to a panel that was horrible. I mean really horrible. The first panelist a) wore a three-piece suit b) introduced himself as someone who wanted to be a politican c) gave us a handout that he said summarized his essay (it said "genius" on it in 36-point font) d) proceeded not to read his essay but instead ramble on about books he said "you should read" as if we were all illiterate buffons and e) was an excruciatingly pompous jackass. The four of us just stared at each other throughout his 20 minutes, trying to see if the others were independently coming to the same conclusion (we were). Wow. The second person also gave a presentation rather than a recitation, and she really didn't have the background to do her topic (it was linguistics-oriented, supposedly, but anyone who had taken more than Intro to Linguistics, such as two of us sitting there, found all sorts of issues with what she was trying to say). But she was pleasant, not a jackass, so it was an improvement. The third person in that panel did a fine job of being a lovely scholar and not a jackass, but none of us thought she really did what she said she was going to do with her essay. You'll notice a trend here, and I'll get to that at the end, because I think it's important.

In the third session, D was presenting in one panel and B in another, so R went to support B and I stayed and supported D—and the entire gaggle of undergrads and the prof floated between both in a manner that I would have considered pretty darn rude except they were supporting my peeps so I was cool with it. I know, hypocrite. Whatever. D presented a very clear and interesting essay. The other two people were okay in their own way, although I thought the one person tried way, way too hard to make her essay fit into a theoretical perspective rife with 50-dollar words when all she really had to do was apply the theoretical perspective clearly and consicely. The third person did just that, and very well (although it too had a gazillion 50-dollar words...I purposefully cut those from my reading copy but kept them in the printed copy, because I didn't want myself or my audience to get all tripped up over them. bad idea? good idea? I think it depends on the audience. you?) but her paper was 1/5 of her MA thesis and it showed. It was very dense, and you felt like you were missing something (like the other 4/5). She was a very calm and methodical reader, which is great, except she went 15 minutes over the allotted 20. Uncool.

Then I drove home, arriving at my house at 9:45pm. I couldn't sleep. I didn't get to sleep until something like 3am, and then I slept almost the entire next day. Not good for getting work done, but I was pretty much dead to the world.

Back to the thing about writing clearly. The four grad students, we came to the following conclusion on our own: the 7 essays from SJSU were, as a whole, the most clearly written essays in the conference proceedings. I say that not at all to show disrespect to the other attendees, some of whom wrote very good essays, but I say it out of pride in my department that all of us—who wrote these papers for entirely different classes and professors—had the same undercurrent of good, solid writing. We have a crop of MA students right now containing a solid core of people wanting to go to the next level—this is different than the crops of MA students in the past, those more likely to get the MA because they are school teachers who want the pay bump, or people who are more of the "professional student" variety and not so much the people ready, willing, and able to sell their souls to academe. It's as if there's a more hardcore scholarly group of folks than there were in the past, and we're proud of it. Not many of our students go on to do PhD work, but they can get into good places when they do—one is going to CUNY next year.

Basically, this conference made the hardcore group even more hardcore, as we're plotting other grad conference to attend and other ways to represent our department with pride—and more importantly, with skill! Our immediate success is important not only for ourselves as we attempt to take the next step in our academic careers, but for the folks coming behind us—we want to show people that we're not just some commuter state school, but that we have great faculty and a solid core of budding scholars...all for $1700 per semester! W00t!

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006
checking in
I'm writing this just so Linda doesn't have a hissy fit...but it's not a real post about the lovely conference or just how much California stinks—and by "stinks" I mean "smells bad for long stretches of road."

I can't blog until I finish some work, and finishing work has been difficult for me the last week or so because the "work" part of my brain has been completely shut down and generally troublesome.  So when I break through that little glitch, I'll blog.

Also, yesterday was spent in the orientation/informational meetings for new TAs, and today is a half-day of the same, so there's really no time for the storytelling.  But I had fun, despite the burning hot light under which I was standing (a literal one, not a figurative one) while reading my paper very quickly because it was a bit too long and I'm one of those people who actually likes to stick to time limits...unlike one woman who prattled on for a good 15 minutes over her allotted 20.  I hate that.

More later.

Friday, May 19, 2006
those random bullets of crap...
I was so overjoyed at the end of the semester AND the spectacular ending to CSI (it's about damn time they got it on, don't you think? jeebus) that I never did manage to get back to the blogging. Here we go. It's really random stuff.

- Why does my Starbucks put java jackets on cold drinks? They're cold, not burn-your-fingers hot. It's wasteful! The only reason I could think of was to keep the condensation from dripping on you, but the java jackets don't absorb the condensation. weird.

- I just finished reading James Houston's Snow Mountain Passage. Good stuff. He was the author-in-residence in our MFA program this year and seemed like a swell enough guy, and I heard the book was good (although apparently critics were perturbed that it didn't get into details about the cannibalism. whatever. it's not freaking Alive for chrissakes. gah.)

- I wrote about a pirate in the essay that was due yesterday (in Byron's The Bride of Abydos), so when I went to the class party/talk about your paper/turn in your paper extravaganza, I wore my pirate t-shirt. Arrrrrrr.

- I'm presenting at a conference tomorrow. In the grand tradition of scholars everywhere, I bought new pants (and a shirt).

- I haven't seen my geese today, at least not during the daylight. They were around this morning. The gosling is still going strong, but boy do those suckers take awhile to grow up. Watching the family interaction is fascinating. The gosling is in its teenage gangly stage—legs as tall as an adult but with this wee puffy yellow body. Soon it should lose its puffiness and grow some actual feathers. It's quite a sight to see the little puff try to mimic his parents, especially with the stand-up-and-stretch-your-wings motion...because it has no wings! Little thing looks like a puffy T-Rex with its wee arms waving around.

- Some jackass in the condo complex lets his dog run off leash...and usually right toward the waterfowl. The geese fend him off, but it's still uncool. I yell at the kids who throw things at the birds, but I'm not going to yell at adults because if they're "off" enough to find enjoyment in watching their animals go after the wildlife, I don't want to pick a fight with them.

- I don't do calendar applications or personal organizers or mind-mapping software or any of that stuff. But I keep stuff on a sticky note, at least I did until I recently found my new best friend, ReminderFox.

- My friends' boy reached a sports-related milestone in his soccer-playing career, and I couldn't be more proud of him. I love sports of all kinds (SJSU represents!) and like to keep track of all the sports-related events in the lives of the kids of people on my blogroll. I was going to link to all of you, but there are just too damn many. So, if you're on my blogroll and your kid plays soccer or baseball or lacrosse or wrestles or swims and so on and so forth, and you write about it on your blog, rest assured that I care. I also care when your kids reach academic milestones like being class valedictorian or spotting the letter O on a map (just to be clear, those are two different kids).

- So, the plaintive quack-wailing. Very sad. Let it be known that humans with hearts understand the sound perfectly's not just for ducks. We had three sets of ducklings this season: 5 3-week-olds who are just now getting their voices and wandering further away from mom, 4 2-week-olds who are just beginning to get real feathers, and just a few days ago (not even a week) 7 more ducklings popped up. There are now just 6 of those ducklings. When I was listening to the ducks yesterday, I heard a sound I'd never heard before—much squawking concern and fear. I got up to see what was going on (because it was a new sound) and at that moment one of the neighborhood cats trotted across my patio with one of the 5-day-old duckings in its mouth. The plaintive quack-wailing of a mother duck unable to keep all 7 of her babies safe, it was just heartwrenching. Stupid circle of life. :(

- Must end on a high note, because that bullet above is just depressing. Um. Aha! I changed the birdfood to more of a songbird mix (because more of it drops to the patio for the squirrels to get) and lovely yellow songbirds now come to visit. Nothing against the plain brown or black and white sparrow-type birds, but yellow is purty. Also, the other day I swear to god I saw a great blue heron swoop around the pond and fly away. Seriously.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006
The semester is officially OVER!

[insert happy dance here]

I'm going to eat some chinese food and watch the CSI season finale, then I'll be back with a post full of Random Bullets of CrapTM...I'm sure you're all thrilled!

I will update you on the gosling and also share a sad tidbit about plaintive duck-wailing. It's sad. 'nuff said for now.

Ok! Hot & Sour soup is calling....

Thursday, May 11, 2006
I will post something more substantial than my ramblings about ducks and geese. I have a paper due tonight and another paper due next Thursday, and that's it for school until August (grad student conference, fac vs students softball game, end-of-year bonfire on the beach, and TA meetings not withstanding).

Last week, my buddies took me to an arena football game and it was so much fun! I'll write about that for sure. I have a cameraphone photo here; seats are outstanding because my buddies have cool friends. We went to a baseball game the week before, which I always enjoy (in this particular case, we lost the game in spectacular fashion, so the game portion of the experience wasn't that great).

I have finished the writing and editing of the third edition of Sams Teach Yourself PHP, MySQL and Apache All-in-One, which is really good since it was supposed to be done two months ago. Oops.

I have to go back to work now. Have a nice day.

Monday, May 08, 2006
living with nature is stressful
I am totally protective of the wildlife in our fake ponds. I was sad when the gosling population went from three to one, but I was happy when I saw the four (and then five more) ducklings.

When kids start yelling at the ducks/geese or throw things at them (like sticks, not breadcrumbs), I holler at them. When adults sit down and watch them, I watch the adults...most are really good with the breadcrumb-feeding and the picture-taking, but there are a few sketchy people who concern me.

I yell at the few outdoor neighborhood cats when they get too stalker-y. I know, I should let nature run its course, but I don't think a well-fed indoor/outdoor cat needs to be stalking ducklings for survival. Thankfully, my cats are 100% indoor cats and like to watch the wildlife, not eat it.

Just now, I performed traffic-cop duties for the goose family. For a visual aid, this Flickr photo has notes that indicate the pond, the driveway, and the 4-lane (busy) city street on the other side of the driveway.

I heard some goose-honking, which isn't unusual, except it was at my front door, which does not face the pond. I have a sliding-glass back door that goes to the patio which goes to the pond. The front-door opens to the driveway/parking, the other side of which is a really busy 4-lane city street. That's where the mama, papa, and baby geese were my front door.

So of course I tried to shoo them gently and quietly back around the buildings to the pond. The papa hissed at me, but didn't get all flappy like he does when there are mean, yelling guys throwing things at him. The mama stuck to the baby. I could have bent over and picked up the gosling, that's how close I was to them. I got them turned around and then realized that standing behind them and shooing them wasn't necessarily going to get them where I wanted them to go, so I ran ahead and cut off their path to anywhere besides where they needed to be.

They walked along the sidewalk and back to the pond, and I went back inside. Message to my geese: don't come around the front! The front is dangerous!

Also, goslings don't seem to grow quite as quickly as ducklings, so I'm concerned that they'll start wandering again before the gosling can get it together. The ducklings, they seem to grow exponentially each day. But the little yellow goose puff sure is cute...


Wednesday, May 03, 2006
It's difficult to concentrate entire springtime. Case in point, the following instant messaging exchange between my buddy/boss and myself. Also during this timeframe was a work-related phone conversation with her, in which I also stood at the back window and talked about the squirrel in my tree, and the birds at the feeder, and the hummingbird staring right at me. And people wonder why I'm writing about Muir.

jcmeloni (5/3/2006 9:54:17 AM): we have three goslings!

my boss (5/3/2006 10:14:57 AM): neat

jcmeloni (5/3/2006 10:16:38 AM): except for the stupid bastards across the pond, they're trashy and loud and have a yippy dog. today I saw/heard the loudmouth guy go out and go "rawr!" and flap his arms to scare away the daddy goose. it was only then that I saw the little yellow puffs run toward their mother (and the daddy spread his wings to protect them). if those fuckers do anything to them, I'll do something about it. don't know what, but something.

[deleted: work-related messages]

jcmeloni (5/3/2006 10:43:06 AM): i just lured the goslings & parents over with food. hopefully they'll get the hint that this side is safe (and they all swam over)

my boss (5/3/2006 10:43:30 AM): good for you

[deleted: work-related messages]

jcmeloni (5/3/2006 11:05:45 AM): and four baby ducks!

my boss (5/3/2006 11:06:21 AM): it's a regular nature preserve! now stop looking out the window and get back to work! :)

jcmeloni (5/3/2006 11:06:26 AM): no shit


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