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Jim Huggins Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Jim Huggins" journal:

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April 27th, 2016
12:41 pm
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 27 April 2016
So I missed a few weeks, and then the Hodgepodge took a week off.  Let's try to get back into this, shall we?

The Wednesday Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side Of The Pond.

1. This is the last Hodgepodge in April. Share something you learned this month.

On Spring Break with my family, we spent a couple of days in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.   I'd seen the movie, and knew the broad outlines of the Civil War, but it was fascinating to see the land itself and put all the pieces together in my head.

It was also interesting to accidentally end up eating lunch at a local pub which happened to be the headquarters of both the Union and Confederate cast members during the shooting of the movie.   Apparently, the Confederate cast was a rather rowdy bunch, enjoying themselves nightly the pub.   One night, the actor who played General Pickett jumped onto the bar and shouted "I've finally taken the high ground!".

2.  It's National Poetry Month, and we all know you can't escape an April Hodgepodge without a little poetry. Keeping the first line as is, change the rest of the wording in this familiar rhyme to make it your own - 'Hickory Dickory Dock...

Hickory, Dickory, Dock
There's no one on our block
Our house just sits
Alone, but its
A lovely example of nonconformism.

3. What were one or two rules in the home you grew up in? Growing up, did you feel your parents were strict? Looking back do you still see it that way?

About the only "rule" I really remember was "call when you get home".   My mother re-entered the workforce when we moved to a new home at the beginning of my junior high days; she wanted to know that we were home safely from school each day.   It wasn't a long call (because she had work to do, of course), but it helped her know all was well at home.

I didn't think my folks were particularly strict or lax, either then or now.

4. Tell us about a kitchen or cooking disaster or mishap you've experienced. Do you have many from which to choose?

The story I always tell ...

The time that I truly lived on my own was the summer after my junior year of college, when I got a summer job working for IBM in Rochester, Minnesota.   I'd never really "cooked" anything in my life; okay, I could open a box of frozen stuff and stick it in the oven or microwave, but that was it, really.   When I rented an efficiency apartment in Minnesota, my mother fully expected that I'd just eat out for every meal.  I said that I really shouldn't do that, and we assembled a small collection of kitchen items to allow me to move forward.   Mom even sent me a package with a frying pan and a "Cooking for One" cookbook.

So far, so good.

I look through the cookbook.   There's a recipe in there for fried rice.   Excellent; I love Chinese food, and the instructions appear pretty simple.   I go to the supermarket, buy all the ingredients, get home, open up the recipe.   First ingredient in the recipe: "two cups cooked rice".   I grab the box of rice and look at it: right there, on the label, it says "pre-cooked rice".   Great!   So I poor out two cups of the contents of the package directly into the frying pan and continue with the rest of the recipe.

The results were ... a little crunchy.

I had to do it a second time before I finally realized that "pre-cooked" meant something else, and that, yes, indeed, I needed to cook the rice before I could fry it.

5. Plant a kiss, plant doubt, plant a tree, plant yourself somewhere...which on the list have you most recently planted?

Probably a kiss.   I love my wife.

6. What's your most worn item of clothing this time of year? Are you tired of it?

Right now, I'm wearing a lightweight jacket that I received last month from Kettering's Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning as a part of its inaugural Great Teachers Retreat.   It's very comfy.

7. I'm wrapping up the A-Z Blog Challenge this month and our Hodgepodge lands on letter W. What's one word beginning with W that describes you in some way? How about a word to describe your home, also beginning with W?

For me: the word is weary.



For my home ... it's probably "welcome".   As Robert Frost said: "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

8. Insert your own random thought here.

This non-teaching term is going ... oddly.   News from work is discouraging, and so I'm almost deliberately saying "screw it, I'm staying home and playing, because I'm going to stress out unbelievably in July".   Which is, on the one hand, something I probably should've started doing years ago.   But I hate that I'm doing it.

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March 31st, 2016
12:34 pm
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 30-31 March 2016
The Wednesday(-ish) Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1. What are two or three expectations you have of yourself?

Mostly, that I put forth my best effort, and that I speak the truth (tempered with love if needed, but still the truth).

2. In what way does your outdoor space need sprucing up this spring?

It's hard for me to say.   In our household, care of the outdoor space mostly falls to my dear wife.   But we've had a few things fall down on our property (one ancient picnic table, one tree) that probably need to be disassembled for safety reasons.

3. According to this site (Roadtrippers), six of North America's most wondrous waterfalls are-Webster's Falls in Ontario, Upper Whitewater Falls in North Carolina, Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon, Multnomah Falls in Oregon, The Lower Yellowstone Falls, and Niagara. Have you seen any on the list? Which one on the list would you most like to visit? Prettiest waterfall not on the list that you've seen in person?

The ones that I can remember seeing are Yellowstone and Niagara, both within the last few years.   As for visiting ... I wouldn't know how to pick one.  

4. Looking back, what's something you wish you'd done as a teenager?

I don't have many regrets.   But if I do have one, I think it would be learning how to cook.   My dear wife loves cooking, and so chooses to cook most of the family meals as an act of pleasure for her.    When I pitch in to help by preparing a meal or two, my skill set is limited; mostly, cooking pre-packaged foods.  I'm starting to branch out ever so slightly, thanks to the acquisition of a gas grill a few years ago, and realizing that grill cooking is pretty easy.   But I always feel like my meal preparations aren't really "cooking".

5. Ham...yes please or no thank you? If you said yes please which of the following do you like best-baked ham with all the trimmings, a ham and cheese sandwich, prosciutto with melon, a ham biscuit, a bowl of split pea and ham soup, or a slice of pizza topped with ham and pineapple?

Oh, yes, please.   It's a hard choice between "baked him with all the trimmings" (memories of family) and "ham and pineapple pizza".

6. Are you typical of your generation? How so?

Oh, heavens, no.  

I'm a practicing evangelical Christian who believes in a thoughtful approach to the Christian life.   I was blessed to live with parents who just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.   My wife (whose parents also just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary) and I never slept together or lived together before our wedding night.   I don't drink beverage alcohol, mostly because I've never liked the taste of anything I've tried.   And I don't drink coffee.


7. April rolls in at the end of the week, and in keeping with that theme...'act the fool', 'nobody's fool', 'a fool's errand', 'could have fooled me'...which foolish idiom most recently applies to you? Explain.

I regularly "act the fool" ... but that's part of the job of being a university professor.   Entering the classroom is often like walking onto a stage as an actor; I play the part prepared for me, in order to engage the audience with the activity of the day.   For an introvert like me, that's often "acting the fool" in order to bring students along into the material.

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

I am entering the most dangerous part of the year for me: my non-teaching term.   Five months of "important" tasks to do in the next three months, and the most important of those tasks is probably resting and leaving that list of tasks undone.   Not being in the classroom is hard; while the flexibility in time schedules is wonderful, I also don't get the benefit of interacting with my students.

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March 26th, 2016
10:45 am
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 22-26 March 2016
The Wednesday(-ish) Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1. Has spring sprung in your little corner of the world? Other than the calendar how would I know? What's your favorite thing about spring?

Spring is getting here.   In this corner of the world, spring arrives in fits and starts ... we'll have a few days of warm weather, and then the next week we'll have snow.   Mostly, I notice it's spring because of the retiurn of daylight over more hours of the day.

My favorite thing about spring?   Because of my weird academic schedule, it's the arrival of my non-teaching term.   Three months to do the five months of work I save up for then.  :(   Seriously, though, it's my chance to attempt to step back and relax a little and try to clear the deck of all those annoying little tasks that build up over time.

2. Besides the weather, what's put a spring in your step recently?

I just got back from a one-day retreat focused on teaching, sponsored by our on-campus teaching center.   It was nice to take some time --- even if briefly --- with like-minded people to think about good things.

And maybe --- just maybe --- I got an idea or two for a research project?   We'll have to see.

3. How does Easter impact you?

Someone once said that "in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is."

In theory, Easter has a huge impact on me.   I'm an evangelical Christian.   Without Easter, there is no Christianity; Easter is the fundamental event at the core of Christianity.   If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then all of us Christians are fools.

In practice ... the specific observance of the Easter holiday tends not to impact me much.   Part of that is living in a secular world (and, in particular, a University world) that pays no attention to Easter.   Today is Holy Saturday, and I'm typing this while proctoring my algorithms final exam.   I spent a good part of Good Friday working on administrative tasks and grading.   The world marches on to its own pace, and I follow along.

Also, Easter tends to fall at the time of the year when I'm just finishing up nine months straight of teaching (see above), and I'm tired and burned out.   It's hard for me to muster a lot of enthusiasm about anything just now.

Not treating Easter as special is not necessarily a bad thing.   There are sects within Christianity that do not celebrate specific holidays like Christmas and Easter, because every Sunday (indeed, every day) is supposed to be a celebration of those things.   I would hope that people would see Christ in the life that I live each day.   That's a matter for others to decide.

I'd like to think that Easter was a bigger deal for me.   But, in total honesty ... not so much.

4. I saw this somewhere on Facebook and thought it would make a fun Hodgepodge question. Which of the following would you find most disappointing...
a just stuffed taco shell breaking open and spilling out before you take the first bite? dropping a just-purchased Starbucks/Dunkin Donuts coffee? opening the peanut butter jar and finding it empty? upending onto the sidewalk a just-purchased ice cream cone? a burnt bagel popping up in your toaster when you're rushing breakfast? or cutting into an avocado and finding out it's rotten?

The ice cream cone.   Not sure why ... just seems like the greater tragedy.

5. What's something held together with tape at your house? Or a paper clip? Or a wing and a prayer?

The only thing that I can think of right now is the connection between the dryer exhaust and the outside vent.  Lots of duct tape.

6. Do you feel underappreciated? In what way?

I think this question is why I waited so long to finish this week's blog entry.

I feel appreciated by people in my life.   There are a small number of people who go out of their way to show me that I am important to them, and invest what few resources they have in showing me that.   You know who you are, and I thank you for that.

I feel unappreciated by organizations in my life.   There are many times that I feel like the work I do for those organizations is not valued by those in power and authority.   And while many individuals in those same organizations will reach out to me and show me they value me, their ability to express that is limited by their position in the organization.

And, yet, organizations are composed of people.

Of course, this question comes at a time when I am considering (see above) the sacrifice of Christ, who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but voluntarily made himself nothing (Phillippians 2).   It makes it extremely hard to talk about being appreciated when I serve a God who was actively despised and rejected.

7. What's something you'd build if you knew how?

A house.   I'm a little bit jealous of the folks I know who aspire to buying a piece of property and building a house on it.   I'm never exactly sure how much of their own sweat equity goes into that process.   But it'd be nice to be in such a privileged position to be able to do something like that.

8. Insert your own random thought here.

I want to give a shout-out to another frequent contributor to "From This Side of the Pond", Barbara.   I had the chance to see her this week ... unfortunately, the reason for seeing her was a funeral.  Barbara, my thoughts are with y'all.

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March 20th, 2016
11:05 pm
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 16-20 March 2016
Yeah, I'm late.   I'm sure you're all surprised.  :)

The Wednesday Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1. What do you think about luck?

I think he's a fine quarterback.   It's got to be hard to be the quarterback that follows Peyton Manning, and have to live with that unfair comparison.   Even amidst all of that, he's certainly one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.

Oh, wait ... that's not what you meant?   :)

As a serious Christian, I don't like the connotations that surround the word "luck".   I believe that random chance will, randomly, result in occurrences that will seem favorable to an observer.   I believe that God sometimes chooses, of His own free will, to intervene in this world and create good things out of bad situations.   You might call those things "luck", I suppose.

But I object to any notion that people can, by their own actions, influence the laws of chance or the sovereignty of God in order to compel results in their favor.   It's unscientific, and it's idolatry.

2. Not counting your own backyard, what's a favorite green space in your town, city, or state?

As I've said any number of times ... my favorite space in Michigan is Cedar Campus in Cedarville, MI.   For decades, that place has been holy ground for me and my family.

3. How do you make your life more complex than it needs to be?

How don't I make things more complex?  :)

Mostly, it's because I feel guilty about the fact that, at this point in my life, I can't do everything that I want to do, or everything that's expected of me.   My life would be a lot simpler if I didn't inflict myself with guilt.

4. I read here the three places you should visit with friends. They are-New York City, Hawaii, and Amsterdam (rent a bike, walk along the canal, visit one of their world class museums). I felt the need to expound on that one. Moving on...Of the three places listed which would you most like to visit with friends? What's one place not on the list you think should be visited with friends?

With friends?   Probably Hawaii.  I'm discovering that as I get older, I'm less enamored with large busy cities.   I'm sure Hawaii is full of busy places, of course, because of its focus on tourism ... but I think I'd have a better chance of getting some time out in nature than with the other two.

What other place should be visited with friends?   Did I mention that Cedar Campus is holy ground?

5. What's the last live performance you saw? On a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being best) how would you rate it?

Last month, I attended a performance at my daughter's high school of Much Ado About Nothing.   It was an interesting production.   The performance itself ... well, it was high school students, who are just learning their craft, and it's not fair to criticize high school students for not being Kenneth Branagh or Emma Thompson.   So I'll pass on the numerical rating.

The artistic direction, however, was fascinating, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, the director chose a steampunk theme ... which at least made the sets and costumes much more interesting than usual.  I know it's fashionable to take Shakespeare and put it in usual settings ... and I approve of the fashion when it works well.  And, here, it did work nicely.

But the most fascinating thing about the production was the portrayal of Claudio (the lead male actor).

The actor was in a wheelchair.   That worked reasonably well with the steampunk themes, and the cast made the wheelchair fit into the plot quite well.  (For example, when Don Pedro impersonates Claudio at the masquerade ball, Don Pedro uses Claudio's wheelchair to keep the impersonation intact.)   The actor appeared occasionally with forearm crutches to allow for moments on stage without the chair.

And then, during the curtain call, when Claudio and Hero came to stage center for their applause, the actor wheeled up, stood up, took his bow, and then walked off stage, without any physical aid whatsoever.   The actor had no physical disability, but had portrayed the disability faithfully throughout the performance as a part of the character.

It was a fascinating directoral choice.   And .... it worked.

6. March 14th is National Potato Chip Day. Are you a fan? Your favorite flavor? Besides potato, what's your favorite chip type of snack?

Potato chips are okay.   They're not my favorite food, because ... well, I'm overweight, and I shouldn't like them.   I tend more towards tortilla chips with salsa.

My favorite flavor?   If I'm just looking for taste, it's Pringles Sour Cream and Onion.   But the time I tend to eat potato chips these days is when driving on long trips, in which case I go for salt and vinegar.   It's not that I like the taste; I don't.   But the salt and vinegar is so overpoweringly sour that it helps to keep me awake.

7.What rule is most important in your home?

I'm not sure it's a "rule", but ... if I had to put words to it, it's "respond when someone asks a question".   We've had ordinary situations get a little out of control when someone was thinking about a response to a question for so long that the questioner thought they were being ignored.

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

Last week, before the NCAA Basketball Tournament began, the radio stations around town were all a-buzz with news of Mateen Cleaves, local college basketball hero who had a modest NBA career, being charged with sexual assault.   The details are sketchy as of yet, but according to the prosecution, the facts are these:

Cleaves (who I believe is married) met the woman and her boyfriend at a charity event.  He offered to give her a ride home, and instead he took her to a motel, where the assault allegedly took place.   He's proclaimed his innocence, but has deferred giving any explanation until the trial (as is his right).

Obviously, like any case of acquaintance rape, this is going to get messy --- publicly messy --- before it's all over.   The mess has already begun, in fact; while the crime allegedly took place in Genesee County (where I live and work), the case is being prosecuted by the Wayne County prosecutor, because the Genessee County prosecutor has an unspecified conflict of interest (reportedly, a business relationship with a potential witness).

But that's not where my thought lies.

As I've been listening to folks talking about this on the radio (aside: it's sometimes really painful to hear sports commentators talking about sexual ethics and legal issues!), one thought came to mind.

I'm an old-fashioned, conservative, religious prude.   And it's at times like this that I'm so happy that I am exactly that.

I can't begin to fathom what it's like for people in today's society who practice a looser sexual ethic.   You meet someone at a party; how in the world do you decide that you're going to be sexually intimate with them in a few hours?   How do you know that you have affirmative consent for that sexual intimacy?   Are they sober enough to consent?   Are they consenting because of some external pressure rather than true consent?   Are they lying to you?   How would you know?

And next weekend, when you go to a different party, how in the world do you answer all of those questions again with a completely different person?

My life is much simpler.

There's exactly one person in the entire world with whom I'm allowed to be sexually intimate.   It took me two and a half years to get her to say "yes" (or, technically, "I do").   I spent those years learning about all the different ways she says "yes" and "no", so that I would clearly recognize them once we were married.   I have incredible incentive to make sure that I get the signals right, because I have to wake up next to her the next morning, and the morning after that, and the morning after that --- and I will suffer the consequences in our relationship if I get it wrong.   I've learned that I can trust her, and she's learned that she can trust me.

And there's absolutely nobody else with whom I'm allowed to be sexually intimate.   Period.   I shouldn't come within half a mile of a motel room with a woman who isn't my wife, because absolutely nothing good can come from that.  

And I haven't even begun to talk about Christian theology.  Which I'll save for some other time, because that's not really the point of this "thought".

There are times being an old-fashioned, conservative, religious prude makes my life much, much easier.

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March 9th, 2016
03:26 pm
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The Wednesday Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1. March is National Women's History Month. In that vein, who are three women who've been influential in your life? How so?

The first two are easy: my mother and my wife.   Any words I would offer would be inadequate to describe how they continuously act on my behalf to make me a better person.

The third ... is more difficult to pick.  Perhaps I will go "old school" and pick Ada Lovelace, without whom I probably wouldn't have a job.

2. In what ways do you think women have it easier than men?

Honestly, I can't think of a single way.

3. What do you need most right now: faith, love, hope, or peace?

Hope.   In so many areas of my life, I feel like I'm going through the motions because that's what I'm supposed to be doing.   I'd like to have some sort of vision of the future that motivates me to keep doing this (or change doing this) because of what's coming as a result.

4. Do you have a collection? If so, what do you collect and why?

It took me a while to think about this, because I don't know that I have an active collection.  But I do collect pathtags, which are a form of tradeable souvenirs popular in the geocaching community.   (Aside: I really need to make a set of my own and start giving back.)

In the past, I had some collections.   My mother had helped me develop a collection of Charlie Brown comic books ... alas, I lost most of them in a basement water accident a few years ago.   I have a collection of pennants which were my souvenirs of choice from amusement park visits as a kid.   More recently, I was collecting small stuffed bears with state names on them, as souvenirs for my daughter when I went on business trips; alas, they no longer seem to make those bears.

5. Plaids, checks, polka dots, stripes...your favorite?

Probably stripes.   I'm not terribly splashy when it comes to clothing style.
6. In what ways are you the same as your childhood self?

Studious, to a fault ... even to the point of being socially awkward.

7. You're a contestant on the TV game show Jeopardy. What category will you ace?

Computing-related stuff.

8. Insert your own random thought here.

Two more weeks left in the term.   Hoping I can get through it ... I am so burned out right now ...

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March 5th, 2016
08:12 am
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 2-5 March 2016
The Wednesday Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1. February ended with an extra 24 hours in 2016. What did you do with your bonus day?

Well, actually ... I hosted a lunchtime gathering of geocachers at a local burger joint.  By "hosted", mostly I meant that I filled out the paperwork online to create the event.   I was amazed that 35 people came out for the event.  A good time was had by all, and I did pretty much nothing to make it happen.

2. What's something in your life that's grown by leaps and bounds in recent days, weeks, months, or years? I'm giving you lots of room to come up with an answer here, so no fair passing on this one.

I'm slowly realizing (mostly, thanks to that "On This Day" feature on Facebook) that I spend a lot more time complaining about work.   Not my students --- far from it.   My students are the joy of my day.   It's the administrative crap, and the professional development, that's dragging me down.   I need to find ways to start breaking out of this vicious cycle.   I suppose naming it is a first step, right?

3. Do you read reviews about a film before deciding if you'll see it? Did you watch The Oscars this year, and if so your thoughts on the program? How many of the Best Picture nominees had you seen prior to the broadcast? (Spotlight, The Martian, The Big Short, The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, Room, and Brooklyn) If you watched The Oscars who gets your award for 'best dressed'?

I don't watch the Oscars anymore ... not that I'm not interested, it's just that I rarely see enough of the named films to have any sense as to what's going on.   I didn't see any of this year's Best Picture nominees ... we had wanted to see The Martian, but life just got too hectic.   I find we're not getting out to the movies much anymore ... which saddens me a bit, as it was a natural date night.

Reviews?   I tend not to read them too much.   In part, that's because my wife and I tend to enjoy more escapist fare than the elite reviewers will like (or admit to liking).   So movie reviews don't tend to offer much helpful information.   Sometimes, if there's a particular question I'm interested in, I'll seek out specific reviews --- Focus on the Family runs the pluggedin.com review site, which does a nice job of reviewing movies from Christian perspectives, but in a thoughtful way (i.e. the rating isn't just a measurement of how many curse words you hear).   Especially when Biblical movies seem to be all the rage, it's nice to get some perspective on the difference between Noah (which was almost unrecognizable from a Biblical perspective) and Risen (which was faithful to the source material while providing a different perspective).

4. When did you last have overnight houseguests? Give us your top three tips on being a good houseguest.

Probably the last overnight guests we've had were friends of my dear daughter.   I don't know that I have tips on being a houseguest, other than being a nice person in general.

5. March 2nd is Peanut Butter Lover's Day. Will you be celebrating? If so, would you prefer a home made peanut butter cookie, a Reese's peanut butter cup, an old fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or shall I just hand you a jar and a tablespoon?

I completely missed this ... of course, I'm traveling right now, so that's not surprising.   Of the options, I'll take the peanut butter cup.  (I shouldn't, but my sweet tooth ...)

6. Why is failure important? Or isn't it?

Oh my heavens, yes, failure is important.   Charles Kettering (the namesake of my employer) has tons of quotes about failure; it's hard to pick just one.   I'll go with this one:

An inventor is simply a fellow who doesn't take his education too seriously. You see, from the time a person is six years old until he graduates form college he has to take three or four examinations a year. If he flunks once, he is out. But an inventor is almost always failing. He tries and fails maybe a thousand times. It he succeeds once then he's in. These two things are diametrically opposite. We often say that the biggest job we have is to teach a newly hired employee how to fail intelligently. We have to train him to experiment over and over and to keep on trying and failing until he learns what will work.

Training people to fail is hard.

7. Share with us one fun thing on your March calendar.

Probably the biggest highlight is what I'm doing now ... sitting at the SIGCSE Symposium in Memphis, with like-minded folks learning how to do a better job of being a CS educator.   (More in the next item ...)

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

This event is often a bit of a touchstone for me.   It's good to hang out with "my people" (mostly, my APCS people) and remember that ... well, yes, everyone has unreasonable administrators that only give lip-service to the stuff that really matters.  Sometimes I walk away with amazing insights.

This time?   I don't know.   I mean, I've been hearing lots of interesting stuff and all, but ... I've felt unsettled throught the whole event, just trying to get my bearings so that I can figure out what I'm supposed to be hearing and doing.  

Part of that unsettlement goes back --- yet again --- to my feelings of professional angst.  But maybe even that is making a bit of progress.

Impostor syndrome is real .... and, professionally, I'm suffering from it a lot right now.   Some of that is, I suppose, to be expected, because I'm still flailing around trying to find a research program to initiate.   And I feel inadequate because I don't have one ... especially when well-meaning folks walk up and say "So, what's your research program?" and it's really not nice to say "well, I don't have one".  

But some discussions I had with colleagues this week --- one colleague in particular --- have reminded me that it's okay to be there.   It's part of the problem of attending conferences where people present completed work; you don't see the years of effort it took to get there, only the polished final results.  

There's a quote from a West Wing episode: "there has been a time in the evolution of everything that works when it didn't work."   That's where I am right now; research isn't working for me right now.   But I need to remember that this doesn't have to be a permanent condition, and that I may not realize that it's working again until it's almost done.

I believe; Lord, help my unbelief.

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February 17th, 2016
10:27 am
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 17 February 2016
The Wednesday Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1. February 17th is National Random Acts of Kindness Day. It lands on the calendar one day after National Do Something for a Grouch Day (February 16) which somehow feels related. Perhaps the 16th inspired the 17th?
Tell about a time you performed a random act of kindness or were the recipient of one. Will you make an effort to perform a random act of kindness on the 17th? Share details if you're so inclined, and if you have something specific in mind.

I'm not going to post about a random act of kindness I performed, or I'm going to perform.   I think it's self-serving.   And it's also un-Biblical (Matthew 6:1-4).

But there's no such restriction in posting about being the recipient of such gifts.

The first one that comes to mind ... goes back to December.   I was visiting a FedEx Kinkos to pick up a copy job and as I was entering, was noticing a woman hauling many large packages onto a cart and heading back and forth into the store.   I paused for a few moments to hold the door open for her and continued to hold it until she'd managed to finish getting everything into the store.   I was a little puzzled when she paused right at the end and dived into her car to retrieve something ... but then was surprised as she handed me a small gift bag with a packet of hot cocoa and some holiday candies.  It was a sweet gesture (no pun intended).

2.What's the most uplifting or encouraging thing you see happening in the world right now? You may have to dig deep for this one.

Working in Flint, Michigan, I'm stuck in the middle of the water crisis that's all over the news.   And while there's a lot of horrible things about this situation (which I'll avoid going into), the good thing I am seeing is people on the ground working to make things better --- collecting and distributing bottled water and water filters to families most affected by the situation.   This is going to be with us for a very long time, mind you ... but it is encouraging to see people getting past the finger-pointing and rolling up their sleeves to do something about the situation.

3. Black olives, black currants, black grapes, black beans, blackberries, Oreos...your favorite food the color of night? Your least favorite on the list?

Blackberries.   I'm a sucker for sweets like that.   I've never had black currants or grapes, so ... black olives would have to fall to the bottom of the list.

4. A while back I read (here) a list of twelve things you should do before you turn 50. They were-
travel when you have the chance, take care of your skin, learn a foreign language, make exercise a habit, leave a toxic situation, stop caring what others think about you, stop worrying, volunteer, spend time with your grandparents, pledge to work less, learn to cook an amazing dish, and seize an opportunity as it arises
What do you think of the list? What would you add or remove and why? If you're over 50, have you done all 12? If you're not yet 50, have you done any at all? What's on the list that you haven't done, but would like to do?

The last thing I need in my life right now is more guilt about things I'm not doing, or that I "only" have a few more years to do.

5. Besides the classic Christmas flicks, what's your favorite film where winter plays a part in the setting?

Gosh ... this is hard for me, for some reason.   I can think of films that had winter scenes in them, but none really where winter plays an integral part in the plot.   Maybe The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe?   Technically, that might qualify as a "Christmas flick", but ti's about as close as I can come to one.

6. When did you last feel helpless, and what did you do about it?

This morning?   Thinking about my professional (lack of) prospects tends to discourage me.   And there's nothing I can do about it except buckle down and get back to work.

7. Share a favorite proverb.

It's not Biblical, but the one I tend to use the most is this one from Voltaire: "The perfect is the enemy of the good."

8. Insert your own random thought here.

Even when I'm discouraged about my professional prospects, sometimes it's possible to have a good day.   My algorithms class yesterday was one of those days --- students engaged with the material, asking questions ahead of my pacing, students bringing up valuable side topics, and so on.   It's a good day when I can't get through my lecture notes because I keep having to answer too many questions.

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February 14th, 2016
09:56 pm
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 10-14 February 2016
The Wednesday Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1. Create an acrostic using the word LOVE. If you're unsure what an acrostic is click here.

Love takes courage.
Only a few are willing to see it through.
Very often, people abandon love when it's inconvenient.
Emotion?   No.   Love is a decision.

2. Does love really conquer all? Why or why not?

Oh, heavens no.  I could spend a lot of time waxing philosophical about this, but I'll shorten it to this: to effect change, love must be received.  And nothing you can do as a person giving love can compel someone into receiving it.

3. Tell us about a time recently, where you really put your heart into something.

I'm working on some presentations now, preparing to become an AP Computer Science Workshop Consultant.   I don't know if these presentations are fabulous or not, but I find I'm spending a lot of time working on them because I enjoy the work.

4. What's your favorite fictional love story?

Oh, gosh ... I don't know.   "Love story" isn't really my genre.  There's a love story that's a sidebar to the main story in "In His Steps"; perhaps that's the one I'd pick if I had to choose one.

5. Do you generally wear your heart on your sleeve, or keep your cards close to the vest?

Heart on my sleeve.   I don't know how to relate to the world in any other way --- even though it hurts.

6. What food says love to you? Why?

Homemade.   Doesn't really matter what the food is.   The love that my wife puts into her cooking is always evident.

7. When were you last 'tickled pink' over something? Explain.

I help out in the nursery during Sunday School each week.   Our most faithful attendee each week is a little girl just over a year old.   The Sunday before Christmas, she walked into the nursery carrying this (for her) huge jar of salted caramel chocolates and toddled over to me with this great big grin on her face.    I've been rationing out those chocolates ever since then because every time I take one, I grin from ear to ear.

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

I might be caught up enough with my ordinary work duties to start working on some of my backlog this week.   Let's hope ...

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February 3rd, 2016
10:46 pm
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 3 February 2016
The Wednesday Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1. Describe love using all five senses.

Love is the taste of the chicken tenders that you ordered at a fancy restaurant, even though you didn't want to, because your daughter wanted to take a chance on ordering something more adventurous on the menu and you agreed to order something "safe" in case she didn't like what she ordered and wanted to trade plates.

Love is the sound of your toddler's voice at three am saying "Daddy, I'm sorry, but I wet the bed again".

Love is the smell of soiled diapers coming from somewhere in the room, and the subsequent absurdity of walking around the room smelling everyone's butt as you try to identify the source.

Love is the touch of your partner's hand, when you're too tired to do anything more than that.

Love is the sight of your kids walking out into the world and making it better, and wondering where they managed to learn that.

2. February is Canned Food Month. What's your favorite food that comes straight from a can?

These days?  Probably Coca Cola Zero.

3. A principal in a UK school recently sent home a letter to parents requesting they (the parents!) dress appropriately when escorting their children to/from school (basically saying please don't wear your pajamas) You can read the letter here. It's gotten a lot of publicity, both positive and negative. Your thoughts? And do/did you ever make the school run (or hit Starbucks, Walmart, etc) in your pjs?

I really can't get worked up about this.   Parents judging other parents appears to be a popular pastime in some areas.   I'm just glad the parents care enough about their kids to make sure the kids are getting to school.   Everything else is minor in comparison.

4. Crew neck, V-neck, turtleneck, scoop neck...which is most prevalent in your wardrobe?

Mostly V-neck --- my wardrobe is mostly polo shirts.

5. I read here recently a list of four things to avoid so you wake up happier. They were late night snacks, hitting the snooze button, social media just before bed/upon waking, checking emails.
Are you guilty of any of these behaviors? Which on that list do you need to work harder at avoiding?

The only thing I tend to do is late-night snacking ... which I need to avoid because I need to avoid snacking period, because I'm overweight.

6. Share something you remember about a house you lived in as a child? Of all the homes you lived in as a child, which did you love best?

I lived in one house through the end of sixth grade, and another through high school (where my folks still live today), so the first house is really my only "childhood" home.   It's hard to say what I remember the most ... maybe the pocket doors with the odd latches that separated the kitchen and one of the bedrooms from the back entryway and stairwell to the basement.

7.  Your favorite movie based on a true story?



8.  Insert your own random thought here.

This week, our campus lost another faculty member.   Professor of Mathematics Brian McCartin passed away on Saturday.   He had just retired in December due to failing health, though none of us really knew how bad things were.

For a number of years, my office was just around the corner from his.   We didn't interact much --- but when we did, it was delightful.  He had a background in computing as well as in mathematics.   So when I was having problems figuring out the reason why matrix LU factorization was such a big deal, he was gracious enough to explain it to me without making me feel foolish.   He hosted a few mathematics seminars that I attended (my background in computing is heavily mathematical), and he always made me feel welcome.
Students seemed to like him as well, for all the right reasons.

He was nationally renown as well, though I never really knew that until much later in his career.  He won a couple of prestigious national awards in mathematics based on a couple of papers he published.

And yet, it was never beneath him to work on all the mundane duties that we all have to do in university life to keep the place going.   He spoke truth to power, even when it was unwelcome --- and was also gracious enough to apologize when he'd gone too far.

He was also the chair of the department promotion committee during the year that I applied for promotion and tenure (a big deal for us academic types).   I'll never know what was involved in that, because such processes are usually secret, but the process went very smoothly for me when it didn't for others.   I'll credit him with helping to make that path smooth.

Since he knew he was coming to the end of his career, he was given the special opportunity of giving his "Last Lecture" (a great tradition in academia).   I attended, and was astounded at how much I was able to understand of it.   So many lectures I've attended by researchers seem to be focused on intimidating the audience by showing how superior the lecturer's knowledge is ... and I often end up hopelessly lost within the first ten minutes.   His lecture was different; he showed the brilliance of his work while bringing you along to understand it along with him.   You should watch it for yourself.



We lost Reg Bell in July 2015.   We lost Brian McCartin in January 2016.   Yet again, the campus feels a little bit emptier this week.

Rest well, my colleague.   Your final proof is completed.   QED.

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February 2nd, 2016
10:40 am
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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 27 January--2 February 2016
Yeah, so I'm six days late.

1. Share a winter memory from your childhood.

It's hard to pick one.    I can think of going outside to play in the snow in my big snow pants and boots, and putting plastic bags over our shoes as we slipped them into the boots in order to get the boots to actually fit over the shoes.

2. What was on your blog this time last year? (Besides the Hodgepodge of course!) If you weren't blogging, what in the world were you doing with all that free time?

I wasn't doing much blogging last year at all; the Hodgepodge has gotten me back into it.  (And what is this "free time" you speak of?)

3. Ellen Goodman is quoted as saying, 'We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives...not looking for flaws, but for potential.'
Do you see more flaws or more potential in your life at the start of a new year? Have you done anything specific this month to address either one? Does the new year truly begin for you on January 1, or is there some other month of the year that feels like a fresh start and new beginning?

Potential?   There's plenty of it.   But little time or (as of late) energy to pursue it.  

For me, the new year begins on July 5th.   That's when I get ready for the new academic year here at Kettering.   (Just like for many other teachers, Labor Day is really the beginning of the year.)

4. Who's an athlete you admire or respect and why?

Lately, it's probably Peyton Manning.   I appreciate his straightforward approach to questions.   You know what he thinks.   And he's polite.   And he's got the same dorky sense of humor that I do.

5. Do you like cream in your coffee? Whipped cream on your pumpkin pie? Cream cheese on a bagel? Sour cream on a baked potato? Cream of wheat for breakfast? Have you ever had a scone with clotted cream? Of all the creamy foods mentioned, which one sounds most appealing to you right this very minute?

I don't drink coffee, and I don't like cream of wheat.   The others are good.   Alas, they all sound good, and I'm overweight.

6. Where were you last kept waiting for 'hours on end'? Or for what felt like hours on end? How well did you cope?

Sitting here waiting for the final word on my car, which is in the shop getting $3K worth of safety repairs done on it.   I'm not coping well.

7. Believe it or not, when next week's Hodgepodge rolls around it will be February. Huh?!? Bid adieu here to January in seven words or less.

Where the @#$! did the time go?

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

I think I've recovered from six months of teaching on overload.   Now, I need to get my @#$! in gear and start using this time for productive matters.

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