25 April 2008

Lost 4/24 -- The Shape of Things to Come

Lost, more than most shows, speaks to it's audience. There are the literal ways in which the audience gets involved, such as "The Lost Experience" internet game. There are the ways in which the writers use characters to answer audience questions or to take gentle jabs at fan nitpickyness, such as the in-show "answer" to why Hurley wasn't loosing any weight despite being stranded on an island with only fruit and fish to eat. There are the ways in which the show rewards the careful viewer, such as the name "Halliwax" on Ben's jacket from last night's episode. And there is the way in which the show leads us down an emotional path, only to confuse it all again and again. We want shows to be simple, for characters to be simple, yet Lost keeps adding angles and complexities that make it hard to find a hero and a villan.

If I had to pick one thing this season has been about, it has been the humanizing of Ben. We ended last season with Ben being seemingly irredeemable. He shot Locke and left him for dead. But this season we've seen Ben mistreated by a raging Jack, taunted by a confused Locke, and the target of an island invasion. Last night, we saw his daughter killed right before his (wide, staring, creepy) eyes. We saw him have remorse and grief. We felt for him a bit, despite his past sins and constant attempts to manipulate everything to his advantage. This episode humanized Ben further, while reminding us of what he is capable of. The smirk that crossed his face after he "recruited" Sayid was that Ben, even as the sobs that he gave as he closed Alex's eyes was something new. The episode ends with the viewers having an emotional dilemma. We still don't trust Ben. We know he's manipulative. But it looks like he was right all the time about the people on the boat. It looks like he is trying to protect the island from Whidmore. And we understand his desire for revenge given what Whidmore did to his daughter. The dilemma comes when Ben reveals he's going after Penny. We really like Penny, especially after the best episode of Lost this season -- "The Constant". The show has pit Ben against Penny; that's a hard one to stomach.

Other questions/comments:
1. What is up with the Smoke Monster? Can Ben control it?
2. Obviously, I need new cable and a new TV, since I missed all the cool writing on the stone wall because our cable sucks.
3. The final scene with Ben and Whidmore was just very well done. The white/black contrasts, the shadows, the scotch -- it just looked good. Plus we get all sorts of questions from it. What were "the rules"? Why can't Ben just kill Whidmore? Why does Whidmore say things like 'I know what you are' to Ben? (Could be that Whidmore knows Ben is just a nasty guy). What sort of relationship do these two have?
4. Who killed the doctor and why? How did Bernard learn Morse code?
5. Nice foreshadowing of Jack's pill addiction. From next week's previews, it looks like he has appendicitis. Ouch.

24 April 2008

The Chronotebook

The Chronotebook an non-linear organizer that, well, simply looks cool.

I find myself vacillating between pen and paper and tech for these sorts of things. I blog, but I also have a notebook I carry about with me. I basically use the Hipster PDA. I twitter, but I have a pencil and paper calendar. We use online banking for a lot of things, but have found that paying certain bills is easier/cheaper in person (for example, by paying our home equity line at the bank, it gets posted immediately, thus saving us money in interest).

Anyone else have this weird mash-up of high and low tech?

22 April 2008

Lost is returning Thursday

And if this clip is any indication, it looks to be awesome.



The only problem is they've moved to 10:00, so it will run past my bedtime.

21 April 2008

Twitter and waste the hours in an off-hand way

Saturday I was in Myrtle Beach for the Create South Conference, which was put together by my brother and other folks, including the Evil Genius. Afterwards, Andre asked me how it was.

"I count a conference successful if I can get one new, good idea and meet one cool and interesting person per day. This one day event was worth about a week in those terms."

So, yeah, it was productive for me! One of the new ideas I got was to use twitter for work and class purposes. I have avoided twitter for awhile. It has the potential to be a massive time suck (which I already am a slight victim of) and I thought no one needs to know what I am doing all the time. This was weighed against the potential for research purposes. I thought it would be neat if while I was reading an article, I could tweet myself important ideas and quotes, thus not loosing anything and keeping them all in one place. At the conference, I hit upon another idea. I could make my students twitter between class meetings about their readings, which would keep me abreast of their ideas and issues on the assignment. Then I could assign one or two students to aggregate the week's twitter streams, looking for common issues which we could address in class. That later idea is what pushed me into twitter realm.

Other cool stuff I picked up from the conference:
Home-Ec 101
Jott
Yelp

And I reconnected with an old friend -- Ava Ann. It was great to see her again and meet her guy Robert.

Thanks to my department for renting a car for me to go to Myrtle.

Sunday was even better, as it was Eleanor's birthday party. I am sure Sarah will post some pics soon an Eleanor's Place.

(oh, and I am down to seven research papers. Almost there. . . )

Anyone else twitter? Let me know.

18 April 2008

In the swamp

Not, literally, of course. But in the swamp of the end of the semester. Papers to be graded, meetings to go to, advisees to calm down when they didn't get the classes they needed. It all fell at once, really. But I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My undergrad research papers are almost done. Graduation is May 9th, so the end is in sight.

Honestly, I can't remember ever being this behind in my life. How did I get here? Well, poor planning for one. I assigned a bunch of things that were due at the same time, which contributed to the grading backlog. Then there was procrastination. Some things (like the paper proposal due today) could easily have been done several weeks ago. That ties into time management. The semester seems sort of cyclical, with ebbs and flows in demands. That's true as far as external deadlines and the like, but I could certainly even those ebbs and flows out a bit better, getting things done during the "light" weeks so I don't get so behind at other points in the semester. The final contributing factor to my present situation is travel. In the past three weeks, I have been to New York and Boston/Cambridge and was gone a total of eight days. That travel was for conferences and necessary, but certainly contributed to me getting behind.

I'll get back in shape, though. Hopefully with my sanity intact.

07 April 2008

Me versus the yard

I just got inside, right before sunset, after mowing my grass. As per Pope usual, what should have been simple turned into a lengthy project due to some lack of preparation. The mower ran out of gas with about 15% of the yard left. And, of course, I didn't have any gas in the can (can you still call it a "can" now, since they are all made of plastic? Can you have plastic cans?). A trip to the gas station then justified a trip to Lowes to get some grass seed. Hence, the production.

I've been trying to put Bermuda grass in the yard, but it hasn't really taken. My front yard is full of weeds. It certainly looks better than it did when we moved in; then, the yard was full of rocks! But the grass hasn't really taken and the yard is an odd mix of bermuda, fescue, and weeds. So tonight I just broke down and bought fescue, which is what all the neighbors have. I didn't even see any bermuda in the store. I spread it out on the front lawn along with some leftover starter fertilizer. We will see what happens.

04 April 2008

Priorities and Broken Glass

I am at Cupps this morning, grading some papers and working away from the office. The Smiths just starting playing in here (well, not literally, although I am not sure anyone sitting here would notice if Morrisey walked in), which has risen my mood a bit. Eleanor was up at 4:30 this morning. Sarah tried to take care of her for awhile, but handed her off to me at 5:30. I rocked her for half an hour and she feel asleep, but was up 20 minutes later. So there is some fuzzy headed lack of sleep vibe happening in the Pope house.

Something else happened this morning that made me think again about Getting Things Done. Part of that system is to keep track of all the things you need to do in a system, but to really avoid placing priorities on any of those things. There is no "A List" "B List" or anything like that. The reason is those priorities shift with conditions and, even though something is really important, you may not be able to tackle that thing in the 15 minutes you have before your meeting. GTD says you should do SOMETHING in those 15 minutes, so it doesn't make sense to work on the A list until it's done, then move onto the B List. How does this relate to this morning in my kitchen?

Sarah was nursing Eleanor while I was getting my lunch together. Our lunch stuff (water bottles, lunch bags, etc) are on the top shelf of the cabinet. While reaching for a lunch bag, I knocked over a shot glass on the middle shelf; it fell and broke.

Sarah and I have talked about our need to reorganize our kitchen. We have stuff crammed in some cabinets while others sit half-empty. We now have Eleanor's stuff, which is scattered in two or three cabinets. This need, of course, was made apparent by this broken glass. It makes no sense to keep those lunch boxes on the top shelf. I use them almost every day. They are not breakable or unsafe, so they could easily be something we could put in a cabinet Eleanor can get into. Our bar materials, however, we almost never use. Why are they on the shelf in a cabinet we open every day, between the mixing bowls shelf and the lunch stuff shelf?

I guess my point is that reorganizing the kitchen wasn't a priority until it Became A Priority, you know? It takes an emergency (or at least a broken glass) to make that happen. GTD is supposed to minimize those emergencies and give you the space to deal with them when they do happen.

02 April 2008

Wow-wee! A zeppelin!!

So we killed for guards and now we have an airship.

That sounded odd. Perhaps I should contextualize.

I have been playing D&D again at the FLGS, Above Board Games. Sarah met some other mom on her mom's group messageboard whose husband plays in a Wednesday night game there, so Sarah encouraged, nay, demanded, I check it out. I did. Husband's game was full, but another group that played said I could join immediately "if I played a healer". Thus, Brannon the Cleric was created.

For a few weeks now, I have been wanting to chronicle this game. It's interesting to be a player again after a long layoff. With all the 4th Edition news and hype coming out, it is interesting to compare and contrast a 3.5 game with the upcoming new edition (at least what we know about it). Plus I think my long layoff has given me a new perspective on the game and those who play it. So I am going to try and write these things up in an interesting, thoughtful, and hopefully funny way. It's not an attempt at a Story Hour or anything, because my table observations are going to be a big part of my write ups. I'll just dive right in with this week and try to fill in the past few weeks (this was my 4th time playing with these guys) as we progress.

We were sent by a lich to destroy a construct being built by The Black Hand, who are emerging as the principle antagonists in the game. So principle, in fact, that my good cleric apparently has no qualms about taking orders from an evil undead sorceress. Everyone else in the group is what I call neutral-pragmatic. The alignment description for NP is "NP characters do whatever it takes to stay on the quest the DM has put them on, because otherwise there would be no adventure." I am not saying the game is a railroad. Actually, I am fine with railroad games. But the default assumption is alignment doesn't really matter, because we are all going to engage in the quest anyway. That kinda makes sense and is probably the reason they are getting rid of alignment in 4ed.

Oh, and calling these things "quests" bugs the crap out of me. It's new school MMOG parlance and I don't like it. And stay off my lawn, too.

ANYWAY, the litch's undead army created a diversion for us to sneak though the enemy lines. Apparently, the undead are at war with the Black Hand. There are dragons and zeppelins involved, but I missed last session so I am not sure what is going on. And no one could really tell me, because no one else takes notes about the mission or plot. Tonight, when the lich gave us our task, I wrote stuff down. When I said to the group, "okay, this is what we are supposed to do" and read my notes, they looked at me like I had just given them the 12 step plan for solving the energy crisis. Easily impressed, I guess. Probably because the DM would have just reminded them what they were supposed to do when the time came anyway.

We journeyed across the grasslands to the enemy camp. En route, we were attacked by werewolves. Our burly fighter had a silvered sword, so he drove them away. I thought this was a nice encouter, actually, one that made use of a cool item the fighter has been carrying around for awhile and hasn't really used. The guy that plays the fighter is back into D&D after a LONG hiatus, so he is still getting the hang of the rules. And, as we all know, there are lots of rules in 3.5. I think he has a lot of potential, because he kept asking for descriptions of things, including combat, and seems to be really trying to learn the rules and become a better gamer.

Werewolves driven off, we made it to the camp. It was ringed with guards and, with a fighter and a cleric in heavy armor, we are not too sneaky. The rogue came up with the idea of having us armored types try to sneak in via the beach, since the waves would mask our clanking armor. A good plan (the rogue's player is a veteran. More on him later). We got some bonues to our MS check and these bonuses were good enough to offset the -10!! we had to sneaking in full plate. We made it to the four guards around the construct and attacked.

Our principle spellcaster is a dragonborn sorceror. That dude can do a lot of crap, including breathing a cone of fire and immolating himself periodically with nasty results for anyone near him. Oh, and he has a mini-beholder as a familiar. And spells. He breathes his fire, gets hacked on by a guard, I heal him, the fighter wades in, takes a little damage, and we make short work of the guards. Well, they do, because I don't think I actually swung. I just healed the sorceror. While we were fighting the rogue was sneaking around finding the artificer. The rogue knocked him out and took his stuff, including power rings to control some of the constructs. And the airship. So the sorceror took the rings and tried to figure out what they did with Use Magic Device. (Which puzzled me. Why does an arcane spellcaster need use magic device? Must be some rules thing I am missing.)

So, um, that was it. No other guards came to check out the big huge combat where flame was shooting out everwhere from Mr. Dragon Sorceror. This was what disappointed me the most, actually. Not the lack of realism, but the loss of a potentially cool scene where we frantically figured out how to work the airship while guards descended upon us. The fight that did was a bit of a letdown, too. Just four guards stood in the way of our objective and they were easily taken out. Granted, they did almost knock the dragon guy unconscious, but that was only because he had to run to the front to use his breath weapon. I didn't get hit, nor did the rogue, and the only reason the fighter took damage was because of a critical. Dramatic tension? Who needs it!?

We also had a guy observing our session. I talked to him afterwards. He just moved to the area, seems really cool, and is looking for a game. I hope he comes back next week, but I think he may have been scared off by the guy who plays the rogue. He is a veteran gamer, runs games at cons, and has a lot of good ideas at the table. But he talks A LOT. And tends to be a bit overbearing with those good ideas at the table, especially in the face of some novice players (which we have) and a novice DM (which we sorta have). Our DM is a 19 year old guy who works at Chick-fil-a and is known as "french fry" because he works in fast food. He's nice and pretty smart and plans to go to college in the fall, but is clearly kinda new at this DMing thing.

An interesting thing happened with him and another visitor to the game tonight, but I have rambled too much already.

01 April 2008

Overwhelmed?

I want to reinvigorate the blog a bit, so I am trying to up my posts for April. I thought about some clever April Fools post for today, like the funny "Send Your Emails Back In Time" bit that Google is doing. I had also thought about a "What I Have Been Reading" post, because I just finished a novella and am working my way through a big long novel right now. But then I got to work, read a chapter of David Allen's Ready for Anything, and instantly felt overwhelmed. The book didn't do it itself, it just helped me crystallize what is on my plate at the moment, which is a lot.

This is always a very busy time in the semester. We only have five weeks left, so everyone, including me, goes into "panic mode". Right now I have three classes worth of tests and papers to grade. I have the end of semester stuff to prepare for all my classes (one more test for my freshmen, material for the graduate class). It's advising time here at Winthrop, so a couple of hours of each day is devoted to that until April 9th. I just returned from a conference and have another one to go to next Thursday through Monday. I have a call for papers to write for the conference I am program chair for and a conference proposal to write by the 18th (and, btw, I am on that program committee as well). I have four papers/research projects that are in various stages; three of those could be made into submittable pieces with just a few solid hours of work, but it is hard to find those hours. And that is just work stuff.

I don't write all of this to complain. I was hoping that putting it all out there would make me fell better, but it hasn't really. Are there things I can be doing to manage my workload better, so things don't get like this? That is a clear "yes!". Several of the above things could have been done weeks ago, yet I didn't do them. It's easy to succumb to the lulling rhythm of the academic semester, when there are weeks when things are light and you feel you have the time to randomly surf the internet. That, I am beginning to realize, is a mistake. Constantly chipping away at these things, keeping track of all your commitments and "open loops" so things don't pile up and fall on your head is really the best way to go for me. It allows me to feel better about getting things done, so when I choose to NOT get things done (like playing with my daughter at home), I can concentrate on that and feel good about it. That's one of the goals of the GTD system. I have to focus better and remember that how I spend my time is a choice, and if I choose to muck around then I am choosing that over productive time and, in a sense, over family time and leisure time. When you look at it that way, the choice is pretty easy.

There, now I do feel better.

Leave some comments! What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? What do you do to avoid getting there in the first place?