Friday, March 23, 2007

Review: The People History Site

This post is sponsored by ReviewMe, which pays bloggers to review its advertising clients' products and services. I have not been in contact with anyone from the website being reviewed, nor have I received any pressure to write a positive review.

I mentioned a few days back that I have been invited to take a closer look at The People History, a website that proclaims it's "Where People Memories and History Join Together." (I'm not sure if that's supposed to be better punctuated as "Where People's Memories and History Join Together" or "Where People, Memories, and History Join Together." Either way, that needs to be fixed.)

The People History is the brainchild of Steve, who describes himself thus:
My name is Steve and I am 56 years old and married to a wonderful supportive wife and I have 3 children who keep me young at heart even if not in body, and currently reside in the midwest of the United States , I started The People History after realising that the books I enjoy reading the most were autobiographies and biography's and when I tried to understand why I enjoyed them, I realised it was the small snippets of social history gained through the authors memories.
Each of us has stories and memories to tell that are interesting both from a personal view and from a social history perspective to many others and I hope
we can add something for our children, historians and of interest to all of us.

First of all, let me say that I'll be the first person to sign any petition that calls for history to be further democratized. Those of us who are hoity-toity humanities Ph.D.s with a progressive bent are all about de-consolidating the power of the textbook giants and encouraging people to participate in history, literature, science, and the arts on their own terms and in ways that are meaningful to them, their families, and their communities. Yet I think sometimes many of us are too quick to dismiss efforts that are decidedly unacademic. Although it's still showing its growing pains a bit, I find The People History to be a worthwhile endeavor, and I look forward to seeing it mature as it attracts more visitors and contributors.

But what's on the site? I encourage you to check it out--because I'd love to hear your thoughts on it--let's have a little discussion in the comments, maybe? (I'm looking at you, Queen of West Procrastination and Breena Ronan and Jeff and Kristen and a whole bunch of other people whose opinions I value but to whom I'm too lazy to link right now.) The site is divided into two main sections, History and Memories.

The History section contains some common economic statistics and major events, as well as some illustrations of and pricing for items in these categories: Cars, Clothes, Electrical, Food, Furniture, Homes, and Music. The History section thus endears itself to an elementary school or middle school student who was assigned to write a report on a particular decade. I also find it to be the least interesting portion of the site, even though it is in many ways about material culture, one of my passions. Still, the site might also be interesting to people wanting to take a quick trip down memory lane. You can find out, for example, what happened the year you were born, or the years you were in fifth and sixth grade (for me, that includes the Challenger explosion and Halley's comet--and yes, the discovery of mad cow disease. What a great year for science!).

Far more interesting to me is the Memories section. Anyone can send in memories from the 1920s through today; memories are posted at the webmaster's discretion as he wants to keep the site family-friendly and unoffensive. The range of memories is quite astounding. Memory is, of course, famously unreliable and thus is far more interesting than historiography (which is itself pretty unreliable, too, since it's ever so fragmentary--trust me, I know, as my dissertation is based on archival evidence). What we remember and how we choose to articulate those memories says so much about our cultures and psyches.

For example, take the submission "When Chewing Gum Was a Big Deal." The author claims that when she was in school (in Canada), the biggest problem facing children and teachers was whether or not kids were chewing gum. I thought this was a piece from the 1940s or so, but no--its author says she was in school from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s. That happens to be the time when I was in school. (I graduated from high school in 1993.) I read this post and was disappointed because it doesn't ever really get to the chewing gum--it's more a half-baked meditation on school violence. And of course, while reading it, I was all "WTF?!" because let me assure you, in the U.S. at the time, school violence was indeed an issue, and no one blinked an eye at gum, unless you were, say, diving into the school swimming pool.

But it's just such clashes of memory and experience that promise to make The People History exciting. Because while you and I may think about history in meta terms--about historiography, and voice, and who has access to what documents and archives, and who has the time and resources and credentials (in the eyes of certain libraries, only Ph.D.s qualify) for rigorous historical research. But the average person isn't going to be grappling with such issues; she may have learned (and forgotten) History (with a capital H) from a series of textbooks. The opportunity to share her memories, and to have them woven into the fabric of a larger collective history, may be an exciting one.

I'm quite impressed by the spectrum of memories shared on The People History blog. Besides the chewing gum submission, there's an interview with someone who moved into a 1960s-era home with a bomb shelter, a reminiscence about Mark McGwire's record-breaking 1998 home run, and posts about the milkman, somebody's uncle's wedding, and Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison. The writing is uneven, sometimes irritatingly so, but I could easily lose myself in the site for a few hours because of its sheer diversity of content.

So I give The People History, as rough around the edges as it currently is in terms of design and content, a thumbs up. It may never become uber-popular, but it has its purpose and no doubt gives voice to people who might not be interested in setting up their own blogs or web sites.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Selling out? I don't think so. . .

A little while back, I stumbled across Neatorama's review of Victoriana Magazine. At the end of the post was appended this message: The review above was sponsored by Victoriana Magazine, through the ReviewMe website. Although I am compensated for this review, the words and opinion, with exception of the quoted passage, are all mine. There was no editorial pressure to write only positive reviews.

"Wow," I thought. "Someone is getting paid to read about Victorian stuff and write about it? And there's no pressure to write positive reviews? Where do I sign up?"

I clicked on over to ReviewMe, a service that helps purveyors of products and services use blogs to disseminate word of their offerings. I thought "What the hey?" and signed up The Clutter Museum as a potential review blog. And this morning I received word from ReviewMe that I've received my first request for a review.

I signed on to ReviewMe as much for the fun of discovering new sites and services as I did for the nice little sums they pay their bloggers. (Pay depends on a blog's Alexa ranking, estimated subscribers, and other such statistics. ReviewMe splits the price of a review 50/50 with the blog's author. Blog authors make between $20 and $200 per review.)

Some of you may find such freelancing/sponsored posts distasteful, and if so, feel free to skip them. That said, I've chosen my ReviewMe keywords carefully, and will only be reviewing sites and other resources that may actually be of interest to my visitors. In addition, I'll always highlight the fact that a review was solicited--a step which ReviewMe requires of all its reviewers, and something that I think is very important.

If you're curious as to what my first review will be about, click on over to The People History Site. The site aggregates ordinary people's memories of their lives from the 1920s forward. A visit to the site may prove worthwhile merely to find out what happened the year you were born. For example, my birth year was a banner year for movies Mr. Trillwing has either made me watch or has pestered me to view (OK, not so much with the Benji). Here's the list provided by the site:

* Jaws
* The Towering Inferno
* Benji
* Young Frankenstein
* The Godfather Part II
* Funny Lady
* Murder on the Orient Express
* The Return of the Pink Panther
* Tommy
* One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

But I digress. . . Go check it out and then come back in a day or two to read my review and see if we view the People's History Site's kind of effort in the same light.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

LCD hell

Some time ago I wrote that Lucas had thrown a couple of his little trucks at my laptop's screen. At first the cracks were barely visible, but in the past month, the LCD screen has been hemorrhaging royal blue and hot pink pixels.

Apparently my digital SLR camera--or at least my skills with it--can't adequately capture the awfulness that is my screen, and a screen shot doesn't work because it's the screen itself, and not the images transmitted to the screen, that's faulty.

But I'll share anyway. Imagine each little pink or blue spot you see as a cluster of vertical lines about a quarter-inch long.

I consulted with the computer support guy at work about the problem, and he suggested playing a video for 24 hours that flashes red, green, and blue in an attempt to unstick the pixels. That worked a little bit, but every time the computer went to sleep, it would wake up with the pixels returned to their nasty state. And any text under those pixels? Unreadable.

So. . . I broke down and ordered a new LCD screen. I've been watching them on eBay, and they get bid up pretty high, so I bought one with a "Buy It Now" option. They're not cheap, people. Bleah! Let this be a cautionary tale: keep your LCD screens away from toddlers with good throwing arms.

I handed my tax packet to my enrolled agent today. Here's hoping I (a) get a tax refund and (b) it's very, very large.

Candidate rejection etiquette, part II

Today I received--gasp!--a rejection letter that didn't suck (unlike some I have sort of received). In fact, it was quite personable without being personalized. I'm going to share it in the hope that those of you on hiring committees might adapt it to your own needs.

Dear Dr. Trillwing,

By now you have no doubt deduced that you were not a finalist for our position for [xxxxx].

While it is a cliché, in this case it is a true one, that we had a very strong pool with far more fine applicants than we could possibly consider. It is also a cliché, but also true, that matching a job to a candidate is as much a matter of the needs of the program and institution as it is a matter of any absolute standard of excellence.

I sincerely hope that you remain enthusiastic about your scholarly career, and wish you every success in the future.

Yours truly,

[Scholar trillwing admired tremendously even before receiving this excellent letter]

Now that's class, people.

Pop quiz!

As seen at Dr. Brazen Hussy's

Create your own Friend Quiz here

UPDATE: Wow, you guys are doing really well. This is a tough quiz!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Five Questions

I'm coming late to the five questions interview meme, but better late than never, eh? Dr. Brazen Hussy was kind enough to provide the interview questions.

Look out, I'm feeling long-winded. . .

1. What made you decide to leave the traditional academic path?

Oh, so many things. In no particular order: grading papers, salary, impatience with the whole academic hiring process, pessimism about the job market.

I love teaching, I really do. When I'm in the classroom or working with a student in office hours, I feel I'm in exactly the right place. I'm good at that stuff (with the exception of the last quarter I taught--that didn't go so well), especially with smaller classes (25-30 students).

However, I knew that the academic job market is currently très sucky in the humanities, so I decided to conduct a dual-track job search. I applied for academic jobs in the fall, and I anticipated applying for nonacademic jobs in the spring if the academic job market didn't pan out for me.

When I saw what is now my current position advertised, I realized I could stay in this terrific town and still think a lot about teaching. I'd get to interact with faculty from across the disciplines, and I'd get paid like an assistant professor--and the salary scale appproximates the academic one. So when I was offered the job, I felt a little heartache over giving up classroom teaching, but it was kind of a no-brainer.

I may go back into teaching at some point. I've decided to try to get a book contract out of my dissertation and to continue to submit articles to academic journals. That way, if I do decide I want to have a teaching job, I'll have the publications and research part taken care of. At that point I can pick up another couple courses as a lecturer to update the teaching portion of my CV--a section that is already quite extensive, as I was fortunate to be able to teach many of my own classes--in literature, writing, and American Studies--many of them right from the beginning of my Ph.D. work.

2. How did you meet your husband?

Hoo boy. As I was finishing my thesis for my M.A. in creative writing, I moved back to Long Beach to be closer to my family and to find work as a writer or editor. My first job--as an assistant editor at an educational publishing company that specialized in social studies and language acquisition for elementary and middle-school students with limited English proficiency--was pretty damn boring and required a 90-minute commute each way (that's 30 SoCal miles). I'd leave before dawn and get back after dusk, and I worked in a light industrial office park, so there wasn't even any place to take a walk at lunch. Bleah.

But I digress.

I was desperate for another job, any job, so I scanned the ads in the local paper, a charming free publication I'd been reading since I was a child, The Grunion Gazette. (Yes, in the words of Heather, who worked there long before my time, it's a newspaper named after smelt.) In the classified section there was an ad for a staff writer at the Grunion. The pay sucked in a huge way ($22,000/year, and this was in 1999), but the commute was four minutes, I could go home for lunch, and the office was in an upscale-ish but kind of funky shopping and dining district.

On my first day, I was introduced to everyone. One of the last people I met was Mr. Trillwing, who was the art director/production manager for the paper. He was wearing jeans, a black t-shirt, and an old flannel shirt. I was nervous about what I was wearing--a blue cotton blouse and navy pants--because what the hell is a cub reporter supposed to wear, anyway? And Mr. T looks me up and down and, waving his flannel shirt in one hand, says, "See you got the dress code." Which I totally didn't understand. I said to myself, "Stay away from that guy." Because there are few things I hate more than feeling like I don't get what someone is saying and it's because they're making fun of me.

I quickly learned, however, that Mr. T is one smart cookie. And funny. And kinda cute. And tall, very tall, which is oddly important to me. I'd get to work early so we could chat, since Mr. T was typically the first one at the office each day. My favorite times of the week became the major production days for the company's two newspapers because I got to play paste-up monkey and hang out in the production area.

Meanwhile, I applied to a Ph.D. program because I felt if the best I could do in my hometown was $22,000/year, I needed more schooling. I was accepted.

When I announced in mid-July that I was moving (back) to Iowa, Mr. Trillwing wrote me a fabulous e-mail wishing me well. He concluded it with "in an alternate universe, we made a terrific couple!" And I thought, "Wait a minute. . . I live in an alternate universe." (That's how most writers feel, yes?)

I replied to his e-mail with my own: "Damn. Damn damn damn!" We went on a couple dates the next week, and then I moved to Iowa. We did the long-distance thing for a year and then I moved back to the LBC. And the rest is history. . .

3. If you were a scientist, what kind of scientist would you be?

When I was in elementary school, I was in a gifted education program, and the parents and teachers were very assiduous about exposing us to all kinds of studies and career possibilities. So when the (woman) chemist came to do a demonstration, I wanted to be a chemist. And when the (woman) ornithologist came and captured birds in a net and measured, weighed, and banded them, I wanted to be a professional bird nerd.

But my big love, from age 3 and on, was paleontology. I took geology in high school and really enjoyed it, and I imagine if I hadn't completely burned out in math and physics, I might have pursued a major in the geological sciences.

If today I could magically be transformed into any kind of scientist, I'd probably go for marine biologist, although I have a fear of many kinds of sea creatures. :)

4. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?

I have a confession: I'm pretty damn provincial. Growing up, my family never had much money for travel, and so most of my travel took place in the U.S., mostly in the West. I've been to Canada a couple of times (1976 and in the early 90s) and to Hawaii once (late 80s), but otherwise, I'm kind of a homebody. So I'm drawing on limited experience with the world.

That said, I think I'd like to live on the central California coast, maybe around Big Sur. I also find Telegraph Hill in San Francisco to be absolutely delightful, even though I'm not much of a big-city person. Who wouldn't want to live in a lovely neighborhood on a hillside covered with flowers and trees, with a view of the San Francisco Bay, and with a flock of parrots? (The parrots are especially endearing because a similar flock lives in my old neighborhood in Long Beach.)

5. What book has most influenced you?

This is a hard one. I can't think of a particular book that has influenced me tremendously in a philosophical or intellectual way. But I can think of dozens of books that have inspired me as a writer. Among them are Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, Ruth Ozeki's My Year of Meats, and Sarah Lindsay's book of poetry Primate Behavior. I'm not saying these are the best authors I've ever read, but they do inspire me.

If anyone has any earth=-shattering tomes to recommend, I'd love to hear about them.

Thanks again, Dr. Hussy!

If you'd like to be interviewed by moi, please leave a comment or e-mail me: trillwing at gmail dot com.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Meditations on (Minor) Illness

I. A Haiku

Sunday I awake
Lucas toddles to greet me
And vomits on me

II. A Dialogue

(knock, knock)
trillwing's immune system (TIS): Who's there?
Virus: It's Vinny, your cousin.
TIS: I don't have a Cousin Vinny.
Virus: Sure you do.
(TIS opens door.)
: Say, you do look a little familiar. Come in, come in!
(Virus steps inside.)
: Thanks.
TIS: Hey, I'm about to leave on a little vacation. What would you think of house-sitting?
Virus: It would be my pleasure, Cousin!
TIS: Great. But no parties, capisce?
Virus: I wouldn't dream of it.
(TIS grabs her suitcase and leaves.)
(Virus picks up phone.)
: Dudes, let's par-tay!

III. Accounting

In the past six weeks of daycare, Lucas has contracted:
  • 1 head cold
  • 1 head cold with fever
  • 1 ear infection with fever
  • 1 case of stomach flu
trillwing has had:
  • 1 head cold
  • stomach flu with fever
Day care sucks.

trillwing's current temperature: 100.9 (and that's after taking acetaminophen). Yay.

Whine, whimper, whine whine whine.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Technical difficulties, trillwing style: skirt, workshop, biz cards

I felt today was going to be a good day. I had found my contact lenses--lost since our move in December. I was having a good hair day--rare in the trillwing-Bastardson household, I assure you. And I was wearing one of my favorite outfits, which includes a neat knee-length skirt. I felt great.

So I catch the bus to campus. It's the wrong bus, I realize after I've gotten on it, but that's OK--it just means I have to walk a few extra blocks. Big deal.

Except that half a block from work, I slipped and fell on my ass in the street, exposing myself to three male students. I landed on my back, protected, thank goodness, by my really dorky super-padded computer backpack. Also fortunately: the laptop wasn't in the bag.

Small blessings.

I worked through the morning, trying to ignore a sore wrist and bruised butt. I got a mediocre lunch at 11 a.m. because I had to teach a workshop at noon.

(Cue ominous "dah-dah-DUM" music.)

I've given lots of workshops on Sakai, the course management system my university has implemented. In fact, about 90% of my job is to help faculty navigate Sakai and use its tools, where appropriate, to improve and extend their teaching. Today's course was for the campus's teaching resources center, the place grad students and faculty go when they want good advice or other resources about teaching.

Thank god I've come to know these people fairly well.


Last Saturday morning, the campus upgraded to Sakai 2.3 from Sakai 2.1. I had used 2.3 on a test server, so I'm pretty familiar with it. But this was the first workshop I had given on 2.3.

As usual, I made practice sites for everyone who would be attending so that they'd have some place to muck around. I work with a lot of programmers, and I'm not yet trusted (rightly so, I'm guessing) to be given too many administrative privileges because I could really eff things up, you know? But I have this one little thing I'm allowed to do, and it's to make practice sites.

So we sit down in the lab and I ask everyone to log in to Sakai, and none of their training sites appear.

Great. I worked around this, albeit in a kind of clumsy way. In other words, my teaching sucked in front of the master teachers. Nice.

And then every 3-5 minutes someone would stumble across a new bug. That's a lot of bugs in a two-hour workshop.

I usually emerge from workshops energized, but this one really sapped my energy. I felt like a vacuum salesman who turns on his product for a demonstration, and then the thing blows up, spreading dust and dirt and doghair everywhere.

I returned to my cubicle and was soon confronted by not one, not two, but three people--one of them the very busy executive director of my organization--because I had sent an e-mail to my supervisor asking if I could order my own business cards next time because mine had errors--things were not the way I wanted them. Some of the errors were little ones, but a couple were really irritating. And since I've worked as an editor, I really do care about these things. But then of course the exec director accuses me of trying to drag the woman who ordered the cards "through the mud," which is not what I wanted to do at all--I wanted to handle it through back channels, and all of a sudden it's a huge kerfluffle. And since I work in a cubicle, everyone knows what's going on. And this is the only real contact I've had with the exec director. Yay me.

By this point I felt like a complete idiot and just wanted. to. go. HOME. Wanted to call Mr. Trillwing, but I work in a cubicle, so there's no privacy. Wanted to scream and cry and stomp and hide under my desk all at the same time.

I know I'm not alone in having days like this.

Anyway, it's emotionally exhausting, and it takes a lot to really drain me to the point of tears. But somehow today's constellation of events--which, taken on their own, would not have pushed me over the edge--did just that.

So I need to know: What are your strategies for coping with emotional exhaustion when you're stuck at work? I know most of my readers are academics who can go home early or close the office door, but what happens when you can't? How do you make it through the rest of the day?

This bruised-butt, editorially obsessive techo-idiot wants to know.