Tag Archives: work

Halifax was great. Houston… not so much.

I have to get around to responding to my right-wing-libertarian brother’s ideas from Christmas, but that requires more time than I’ve had for blogging since New Year’s. Right now I’m just going to rant a bit about travel, because that requires very few brain cells.

Halifax is gorgeous. I must admit it. As anyone may imagine, I am not (so very not) happy about the idea of leaving my current job, which I love a ton, but I suppose if the stars somehow align and that makes any kind of sense, then Halifax would not be such a bad place to relocate to. Alex’s interview day seemed to go well (though how can you ever tell?), so it’s possible that I might have to consider this prospect.

Travel sucks sometimes. Like when you completely forget what day it is and somehow come to believe that it’s Saturday when in fact it’s Sunday and your stupid delayed flight and forced overnight stay will cut into your work week. It could be worse, I guess, but I didn’t get to teach my seminary class this morning (this is sad; I look forward to seminary about 80% of the time), and I’m missing some meetings. I’ll have to show up out of the blue and teach my stats class, which will confuse the students (and maybe the TA).  But, like I said, it could be much worse.

While traveling, the following excellent or semi-excellent things happened:

  • I had delicious gelatto (sp?)
  • I got to watch “It might get loud” on an Air Canada flight
  • I stayed in a swanky hotel
  • Alex and I wandered around Halifax downtown and waterfront
  • We saw a good live band and a good hockey game (Canucks won!) at a pub

Probably some other stuff, too. Negatives include getting delayed in New Jersey (ick), then missing my connection in Houston and having to stay the night. I ended up in the Ramada (“One Mile from the Airport!”), which really really feels like last week it was a skanky, seedy Motel 6 that rented rooms by the hour, and this week it’s being remodeled into something respectable, but they won’t be finished with the renovations for six more months. Oh well. The sheets were clean and my six hours of sleep were peaceful.

Time to go catch my flight home.

Blackboard versus Moodle or Maybe a Kick in the Head

I use Blackboard (formerly WebCT) for managing my courses, especially the online ones. I’m getting really sick of ongoing issues with it, though. It’s the only choice we have for a course management system at UTPA, currently. Here we see how Bb (like many other kinds of products) maintains its little local monopolies: if I switch, then students taking my class will have to learn a system that’s different from every other class they take, and I’ll have to go through the obnoxious process of importing or rebuilding all my content.  But I’m tellin’ ya, it’s gettin’ on my noives. I might just do it anyway, and here’s why. Some of the following issues have been going on for years (I’ve been using WebCT or Bb since about 2001): Continue reading

Conference on a Saturday? Indeed.

Photo from an unrelated 2008 conference
Here I am at the First Annual Doctors Hospital ((From the pamphlet, “Separate professional fees will be associated with your physician”)) at Renaissance  (or DHR, as the cool MDs call it) Behavioral Health Conference. I have to say I’m impressed.

The speakers are excellent, which is surprising, given that we’re tucked in such a far corner of the country. Predictably, many of the experts are from Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio ((Though all are from nationally-competitive research & treatment organizations, which Texas — perhaps surprisingly — has quite a few of)), but they really are experts in their fields. We also have researchers  from Boston (Harvard Med) and Tennessee, with international folks originally from Cuba and Colombia. Everyone has big lists of national and international accolades, presidencies, and frickin’ insane publication counts ((Seriously, how do those MDs get pub counts like SEVEN HUNDRED by the time they’re 50? Does their research take longer than 10 minutes? Do they have institutional review boards? Do they ever have to apply for funding? I guess it’s a pretty sure bet that these guys don’t teach classes…)). The organizers made dang sure this wasn’t a “lame local professionals” thing. Barry Mills, who does research on dangerousness, criminality, etc., was one of the presenters. It’s always nice to meet someone whose papers you’ve been stumbling across in major journals for a decade.

Filthy Lucre
The level of funding for this one-day-only, 150-participant conference is kind of unthinkable, from a social-science/mental-health perspective. Someone said it cost around $30,000. But it’s associated with a medical center, of course, and funded by training grants from pharmaceutical companies. Of course. The door prizes ((I didn’t win anything, but a colleague won the PS3)) are Bose Wave Radios, Mont Blanc fountain pens, Tumi luggage, a PS3, ipods, portable DVD players, and a 37″ Toshiba plasma TV. That’s maybe three to five thousand bucks, I’m guessing. The programs are slick and professional, and the venue — though small — is very nice. I guess that’s what happens when you have a super-lucrative corporation or three funding your conference, instead of dues from a few thousand university professors. The registration fee was $35. I’m going on and on, I realize, but every time I come in direct contact with the financial influence of the drug companies, I’m left agog.

Expansion of My Mind
With one exception, every presentation has just been excellent. Solid, research-based, well-delivered, etc. Being funded by drug companies, I expected rampant conflicts of interest, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. Only two guys (no female presenters) had lucrative non-grant affiliations with Rx companies (experts on boards etc). Two more had received grants from  Big Pharma, and the rest seemed relatively untouched by the moolah. At least in any direct way.

The first talk (at seven friggin’ thirty a.m.) was a research-intensive review of the apparent reality, etiology, neural correlates, and unsavory comorbid associates of fibromyalgia. I’ve been hearing the same things everyone else in the medical field has been hearing, for years: fibromyalgia is some kind of attention-seeking hypochondriasis experienced by whiners. I’ve resisted this interpretation as somewhat demeaning to the sufferers, but I have still internalized it, I guess. I know that because of how surprised I was to see the evidence: solid brain imaging studies, self-report, other-report, functional impairments, objective measures, and on and on. They all point to a true syndrome with the what seems to be the level of evidence I expect to regarding the reality and specificity of a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder, or many physical impairments.

Humor & Snark

  1. It can be jarring for a psychologist to go from an academic or mental health environment to a medical one. We often feel a bit like kids from the poor side of town, with ripped jeans and home haircuts. The medical profession’s term du jour for psychological/behavioral health professionals is Allied Behavioral Health. “Well, we can’t use any words that would imply that they’re part of the medical community… but I guess we don’t want them as enemies, either. How can we phrase that?”
  2. From a presentation on bipolar disorder and suicide: “Now, keep in mind that a man who’s lost a wife within the past year has four times the risk for suicide, ah, compared to a woman who’s lost a wife.”
  3. In a Simpsons vein, one of the presenters had a voice — nasal, slightly singsong, more tenor than bass — that sounded freakishly like Professor Frink’s. I realized this as soon as I heard him say, “…but this is the *ventral* striatum, in contrast to the *dorsal* medial striatum, which everyone here is clearly familar with.”

Austin, Texas – March 7, 2009

This is what you see if you stand in the middle of south congress ave for a while. If you stand for longer, you'll see something a little different ;)I’ll get to the cool pictures of night life on South Congress Avenue in Austin down at the end of this post. But first, as is my wont, I shall set the stage. I’m a member of the local union (Pan American United Faculty, currently a subsidiary of Texas Faculty Association, which is in some way a child organization of the NEA). Me. In a union. My right-wing upbringing instilled in me a loathing for unions (for reasons I’m still not completely clear on); but now I consider my $40 per month a good investment, because I keep learning freaky insane things about faculty being harassed or fired for bizarre or nonexistent reasons.

Odd that the public seems to think tenure is such a sweet deal, like it guarantees us profs a job for life. Certainly not in Texas. It just guarantees that there has to be “due process” before they summarily fire your sorry butt. In other words, it gives you a level of job security (at most American institutions) similar to (or less than) contracted workers in the private sector. You still get reviewed regularly, and if your performance is too low, you’re out. And for those of us who are not tenured, well, my job terms (I don’t have an actual contract) say I can be fired at any time, for any reason (or no reason), and I have no legal recourse. Continue reading

Travel Update: 3/6/09

San Antonio Temple Black & White
Here I am in Austin. I agreed to come along (all expenses allegedly will be paid) for the Texas Faculty Association convention tomorrow. Um, I mean today. Gotta get to sleep. The reason I agreed, despite my busy schedule, is because San Antonio is on the way to Austin, and I hadn’t been to the temple in ages. So I flew from Harlingen through Houston into San Antonio, then went to the temple, then drove to Austin. Seriously, I probably could have driven to Austin in about the same amount of time. But if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have been able to read John Le Carré´s lovely little novel, Call for the Dead, the very first George Smiley book. It’s a sweet little read.

Anyway, everything more or less worked out, and I ended up being at the temple from about 6:30 until 10:00 pm. I was surprised how much I missed it. Then drove here to the hotel in Austin, arriving a little after Midnight, what with missed turns, Google Maps being just flat wrong a few times, etc.

And now here I am, once again, in an opulent hotel room all alone. I know there’s no easy fix for this separation-from-Alex thing, but it seems like there ought to be. :(

Tomorrow I will spend the day voting on things, apparently, in the Union’s headquarters building, right next to the state capitol. Have I mentioned that Austin is a pretty awesome town? It is.

Note: On the way up here, I saw a bumper sticker done up in the color scheme and pattern of the Texas Flag, that just said, “SECEDE”. It got me thinking that it would be pretty cool to collect secessionist paraphernalia. Texas, Alaska, Quebec, New Hampshire, Vermont (I think?), and I’m sure there’s a good deal of posters and whatnot from Eastern and Western Europe. That would be a lifelong hobby, for sure, but you’d have a really interesting collection after a while.

This is how my day was

IMAGINARY HOUSEMATE: Hello. How was your day?
ME: This is how it was:

“La de da…. what a nice day. A bit busy, but not bad. I don’t really want to go to this translation meeting, but since it’s Thursday I guess I’d better. 1:15… I’ll just walk on over to the SBS building and get set up early. Okay. here I am. Get this computer cranked up, figure out how to make the computer display on the big screen…. all right, it’s 1:30, time for the research assistants to show up…. let’s just check the time here on the ol’ computer… it’s um, 1:32… Wednesday… AAAAAA! It’s not Thursday! It’s WEDNESDAY! Class started 20 minutes ago! AAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH! @#$%! $#@#! #$@*!

And that’s how my day was. Bless their poor little hearts, the students were all still there. And now, in the interests of mental escape from my apparently buffoonish life, here are some comics from Toothpaste for Dinner.

and there’s this one…

also this next one…

and this is cute…

who could deny the humorousness of the following?

your mom thinks this is cute…

oh, the joy…

and finally…

The Cloying Stench of Success Substitute


I am highly tired, now. Almost zombie tired, but not quite. I stayed up half the night writing a $15,000 grant proposal for sex offender research (In the world of funding, this is considered a “small grant,” or “chump change”). It was last-minute ((hence the many hours of proposal writing, versus many days or weeks)), but it is closely related to some of my other projects, so the text is probably not embarrassingly bad. I really have no idea how much chance I have of getting funded with this one. I couldn’t find data online about that.

The proposal is to the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. Hogg as in Ima. Yes, her name was Ima Hogg, and she was apparently pretty cool. If you read her Wikipedia entry, I’m sure you’ll agree. I had heard her sister’s name was Ura, but Wikipedia says she didn’t even have a sister.

Who knows if I will get the research funds, but either way, I applied for funds from an institution established by someone named Ima Hogg. Pretty cool.

I think I’ve made one of the mental shifts people talk about in academia: redefining success. Sure, big-time success is getting funding. However, the rejection rates (or maybe just my rejection rates) are high enough that it’s useful ((for morale)) to consider completion of the proposal as a lesser form of success. It’s approximately as satisfying as soy milk and NutraSweet with Cheerios.

Texas Oral Exam for Psychology Licensure (Take One)

Moon over scrub forestWhat did I do today, you ask? I’ll tell you. I drove ten or twelve hours and took an exam that was kind of stressful. It really was. Now I feel tired and happy to be done, and fairly worried that I may have to do this again in six months.

Texas capitol with flagsI studied like mad yesterday (and like, um, frustrated? the day before), went to bed late, and got up this morning at 5. By 6, I was on the road with a full tank of gas and my tires properly inflated. With the glaring omission of healthy food, I packed everything I could possibly have needed. That glaring omission led to waaaaay too much snacking on junky stuff from convenience stores. Way too much. But look at it this way: Michael Phelps, you know how many calories he ate during the Olympics, right? Well, he only traveled, what, a few hundred meters? Me, I ate less than he did (somewhat), and I traveled hundreds of miles. Continue reading

Stupid test

So tomorrow I get up crazy early, drive to Austin (about 5 1/2 hours), take my oral exam to be a licensed psychologist in Texas, drive back home. Long day. Today I’m trying to make up for weeks of procrastination in studying. My friend Philip (who is on the licensing board) says most people pass. Thanks. This will make me feel much better if I’m one of the few, the proud, the morons who manage to fail.

I really have been mostly dedicated in my studying, though I don’t know how effective. But I stop every so often and browse random websites. And here is some internet stuff:

>:\ Yet another move by a police agency away from transparency and accountability.

XD Star torpedoes! Massive, galaxy-sized clusters of stars (whirling, I hope) that rip through space and wreak havoc when they encounter galaxies, etc. So cool! Hubble, you are my homeslice.

:D you know I’m a sucker for a cleverly vandalized sign. Also I like pie.

:/ Five economists who accurately predicted the current crisis (allegedly) have offered their views on the near future. I haven’t read through all the essays, but it seems they do not see a particularly rosy picture.

!!! In the LJ “found objects” community, a Super Lucky User called bo_bailey posted scans of a 1965 book titled (warning: not safe for children.): “The Recently Deflowered Girl.” It is some weird mix between bizarre and hilarious and depressing. It also seems to include some snarky commentary on the sexual culture wars of the 60s, just barely under the surface. Delightful illustrations (these ARE safe for children… more or less), and an approximate PG or PG-13 level of content scariness. A most entertaining read.

Two Crazy Days at UANL

La Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León is a pretty neat place. I wish I had more pictures, but I didn’t have time, this trip. I feel like I had time for nothing but attending conference sessions and social events, and trying very hard to understand all the rapid-fire Spanish being spoken everywhere around me. I was also sort of the leader of this delegation, two of whom spoke very little Spanish and two more of whom were grad students. I worried about my five companions a lot. Where are they, did they get on the bus to the hotel, are they going to make it to the restaurant, why aren’t they in the session, did they find the meeting room, are they having fun, etc.

Lesson #1: I don’t want to be a politician. This kind of thing is exhausting, but not in a healthy, feel-the-burn way.

Continue reading

Election Day!

Crazy day. Going to Mexico Tomorrow day. At School from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 pm day. Haven’t Even Looked at my Presentation for Thursday (in Mexico) day.

But Election Day! The site to watch (well, one of them at least) is fivethirtyeight.com. One recent comment there summed up my feelings about this day, for reasons the commenter couldn’t possibly have known:

longest… day… ever.

Home Again: Pros and Cons

So Good!

  • I <3 South Texas anyway, but now it’s GREEN (no, seriously green and even a bit lush)
  • Apartment not washed away in hurricane. Also not even moistened on the inside.
  • Office still there and not destroyed
  • Grackles!
  • Netflix waiting for me when I got home

No Good!

  • No Alex
  • No food (cleaned out fridge before leaving for summer)
  • No car (battery seems to have not liked 3 months with no use, in 100-degree-plus temperatures)
  • Messy house
  • Messy office
  • No phone or internet until end of week
  • Lots of standing water –> Lots of mosquitoes :(

APA Convention Scenes – Boston 2008

Protesters at the convention. Here’s why.

A nice hallway scene at the convention center.


A view of the exhibit floor. It was really pretty huge. Surprisingly, we only used 1/2 to 1/3 of the floor space at the convention center for exhibits. We did, however, use all the meeting rooms (around the edges, on 2 floors) almost all the time. This convention is too #$@% big.

Bahstun… The Eind

Nothing makes you feel more terrified and motivated and guilty (maybe those are the same thing) than an academic conference.  On another note, I don’t know if I’ve successfully carried out my mission or not (you know, the “go find someone to hire” mission). I have some leads, but precious few names of interested individuals.

Did you know that Boston is overrun by Dunkin Donuts? There seems to be one on every corner. I’m proud to note that I have only given in to the temptation once (but the week ain’t over yet).  Also, there are lots of CVS drugstores. LOTS. Dunno why.

Boston is gorgeous today, and the conference is dying with a typical whimper. Even the torture protesters didn’t bother coming to the convention center, today. The cabbie who brought me here was disappointed. man, I don’t fly out until 6 pm. Why did I schedule such a late flight? Oh yeah, because I was going to be overwhelmed with requests for employment, and I’d need time to take them all out for lunch (imagine obscene gesture, right here).

Anyway, it wasn’t such a bad 4 days. I still regret losing them. I didn’t do any work (new things to see! Pulpy things to read!), but I did try to choose my sessions to be motivating as well as good for the mission. The last session (last hour) was a little painful: it included some very good advice for obtaining funding, but it was run by someone who turned me down for a position a couple of years ago. :( I hate that. When I get rejected, I really would prefer never to see the person who rejected me, ever again.  Unfortunately, this person who rejected me is one of the most prolifically-funded people in the field, and she has some amazing knowledge and experience. If she were more warm and fuzzy, perhaps it would be easier to feel good about having to talk to her again. Oh well.

Off to kill time in Boston. Luckily, good weather (as previously mentioned). Tonight: sleep in my own (or Alex’s, really) bed. Less sleep, but more happy.

Boston APA Convention

So, here I am, listening to a presentation about adolescent depression. The sophisticated, successful, middle-aged researcher introducing our speaker is endearing to me, because as she walked up to the podium to prepare the PowerPoint, she jauntily tossed a coin in the air and caught it. :)

The American Psychological Association conference is quite an experience. It’s held in the convention center, which is freaking massive. In fact, it’s not big enough. Several sessions are offloaded to the conference hotels, of which there are four, which are all huge (600 – 900 rooms each). They’re all full, and several of us are staying farther away, in other hotels. I now understand why so many people I know have said they no longer even bother coming here, because “it’s just too big.”
Outside the convention center is a small group of picket-carrying protesters, distributing literature urging APA members to oppose the Association’s involvement (the extent of which I still don’t fully understand) in the “extraordinary rendition,” “creative interrogation” and torture of terrorist suspects by the U.S. My tag says “non-member” but I took some flyers anyway.

Maybe it’s just some weird perceptual bias on my part, but Boston seems to have more than its share of heavily-muscled men. Busboys, waiters, taxi drivers, concierges, store clerks, cafeteria workers, valets, etc. A disproportionate number of them have heavy pecs and huge, thickly-veined arms. Even the fat ones. As if the townies are all still midshipmen. Also, in walking through neighborhoods yesterday, I saw many Catholic shrines (is that the right word?). Front, side and back yards frequently sport statues, nestled in carefully-arranged backdrops, as if the owners were recreating cathedral niches with whatever materials are available. I’ve seen St. Francis, Peter (I think), Jesus (adult and baby), and many Marys. My favorite , in fact, is a Virgin Mary housed in an upended, half-buried bathtub. I’ll post pictures when I get back. It’s even more awesome than it sounds.

The air here smells good. It smells like the ocean (which never seems more than 100m away), or flowers, or dryer lint and detergent. The traffic is ridiculous. I walked to the aquarium after the conference yesterday, and it took me 20 minutes or so. The cars on the main road beside me didn’t move more than a single block in that time, I’m sure. The weather is lovely, so far.

I’m here on a new kind of mission: recruiting. I’m supposed to gather a list of interested parties for a faculty position we’ll have opening next Fall (2009). It’s strange, because we want someone with 10-20 more years’ experience than I have, and we’re willing to pay them twice my salary. I’m oddly unconcerned. Because of this mission, I’m suddenly social, in contrast to my regular insular, socially avoidant way of attending conferences (I’m not kidding). When I run into old acquaintances, I experience the Professional Networking Agreeableness Effect (PNAE; I just made it up). A couple of years ago, I ran into a former fellow grad student whose last conversation with me had been a shouting match. We had a pleasant chat and asked about each other’s families. This morning, I ran into a professor who insulted my professionalism and generally grilled me pretty hard during my dissertation defense, three years ago. He gave me nice tips for recruiting. Is the PNAE a good thing? I could see it both ways.

I have a disappointingly low list of “bites” for the job position. I’m working my Ohio State network, but by the time I left that place, nobody knew me except my committee, and they didn’t want to.

We shall see what I can come up with. I still haven’t tried scrod, which I was ordered to eat while I was here. Perhaps tonight. I’m wearing a suit and have a $68/day per diem for meals, so we’ll see.

Also, I miss Alex :( She should be here having fun in Boston.

Reading about Songwriting Instead of Working

Pic of the day: Three people and a muppet. for some reason.

I’m supposed to be working. Right this minute. But I’ve just spent an hour reading through the (for me) interesting back columns on Measure for Measure, the NYT’s (thankfully non-subscription) blog about songwriting, by songwriters. Okay, so i went there just for Suzanne Vega’s recent piece, but I ended up reading a whole bunch of stuff. Yay! Songwriting! I should do some more of that, someday… my songs are getting stale, like cookies left in the cupboard too long. And I should write about something other than the ups and downs of dating, since I no longer have any dating ups or downs. I do have a song about a dead possum. And some snarky songs about politics. I could become this generation’s roadkill/protest singer. I shall get right to work on that.

Anyway, as I was saying, I have lots of work to do. None of it (sadly; so sadly) has anything at all to do with writing, singing, or even listening to songs.

Sigh. I think I need some Suzanne Vega, now. Yay, MP3s!

Woo Hoo! EPPP Joy!

So, all that annoying studying I did for the EPPP ((the national licensure test for psychologists))? It paid off! I got a 730, which means (if I have the scale right…?) that I KICKED A**!!!

The passing score for Texas is 500, and it’s a little higher for CA and some other places. I think (?) I got it all goin’ on, whichever state, province or territory I may wish to practice in. Course, I don’t wish to really practice (much) anywhere. But still. One more exam, and I can has license. The other exam is in July, in Austin ((reminder: I’m in Ontario)). And the application and money are due tomorrow. Yeah, yeah. Poor planning. We’ll see. Otherwise, I’ll take Orals in January. Whatevah.

Now that I passed that suckah, there’s only a few things left to do:

  1. Pass orals
  2. Get my license
  3. Sell my EPPP study materials to someone more desperate than I was when I bought them
  4. Write a post detailing the picky annoyances of the test and the study materials
  5. Oh, maybe get some kind of professional work opportunity or something, to try to pay back the stupid big expense of getting this far

Axis I: 308.3 Acute Stress Disorder w/Depressed Features

I took that insane test today. The EPPP. Was I ready? No. I should have been studying all year, but instead I was doing other things. I made a big push over the past six weeks or so, but half of that was interrupted by unforseen Very Bad Things that required all my time, and the other half was marked by my standard not-really-dedicated approach to things.

You are allocated 4 1/2 hours for the test, and I took all but about 15-2o min. of that. I went nice and slow, reading carefully, marking and revisiting confusing items, etc. The good news is that the test questions themselves aren’t (in general) nearly as poorly written as some of those in the Academic Review study materials I’ve been using. The bad news is that this probably didn’t matter. When you don’t got it… you don’t got it. I’m mentally preparing myself for the “you did not pass” letter. Which will arrive in “several weeks.” Most inconvenient.

I was a little too clever for my own good. I tried to keep track of how I was doing by putting little dots on the whiteboard-thing I was given for notes. I put a dot under a smiley face for every item I was almost certain I had answered correctly, a dot under a worried face for each item I figured I had about a 50/50 chance on (this is multiple choice) and a dot under a sad face for those I knew absolutely nothing about. The results:

:-) 113
:-S  70
:-(  38

I know that’s not 225, so I must have counted wrong, but it’s close enough for an estimate. I multiplied the “sure” total by .9, to account for being sure and also wrong (this happens with disconcerting frequency in my life); the “maybe” total by .5 (because I assumed that, overall, I might get half of those right), and the “no freaking clue” total by .25 (because I was just guessing on those).

The result: My estimated score is 147. That sounds OK, until you realize that 158 is the cutoff.  So, I’m pretty sure I FAILD. It’s always possible (though, by definition, unlikely) that my crazy guessing was more successful than I realize, but that’s not a realistic hope.

Oh well. I can do this again in the Fall, I guess.