Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Carole for the Season

Deck the Halls (and Threaten the Director)

Deck the halls with blinking droids
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Gen-Xers now are overjoyed
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Don we now Star Wars apparel
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
Trolls post spoilers at their peril!
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

See the blazing sabers flying.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
No more Jar-Jar’s satisfying.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Follow Fisher’s dog on twitter.
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
While Phasma’s armor’s all a-glitter
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la

Alas, the Rebel torch, it passes.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Hail new Jedi, lads and lasses
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Warn we Abrams, all together,
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
Screw this up, forgiveness never.

Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Very Brief Conversation with Mom: Favorite Star Wars Characters

Mom:  I like the green guy the best.  Yogi is cute.

Me:  Yoda, Mom.  His name is Yoda.

Mom:  I like calling him Yogi better.  He is the best except when he hits Artie Doody with a stick.  That's not nice.

Me: R2D2, Mom.  He doesn't even look like an Artie.

Mom:  Look, you put a big, light-up Doody in our yard, so I can call him whatever I want!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Five Analogies for What It's Like to Be a Cubs Fan

Ah, gentle readers, it is October, and I know that for some of you, sweet barbarians, you are following the game of football.  But not only is it still baseball season, but my beloved Chicago Cubs are in a playoff game against the vexatious Pittsburgh Pirates.

In fact, I tell you all now, the season is already a great victory for us, even if those nasty ones win and keep us from further post-season play, for our record has been remarkable and tragedy-free.  While we Cubs fans live in unending hope of seeing our team return to the World Series one day, our hope is fragile and inconsistent, rather like our fielding and relief pitching.

So accustomed are we to failure, in fact, that my fellow Cubs fans are all braced for a loss, if not to the Pirates, then to the Evil Ones of St. Louis or the Not Quite As Evil Ones Whom We Have Not Forgiven for 1969.

Rare is the sports fan who understands what it is to be a fan of the Cubs, so I, loyal friends, have endeavored to explain it through a few analogies:

Five Analogies for What It's Like to Be a Cubs Fan

  1. It's like knowing that if you eat this candy bar, you will vomit.  But it's made of chocolate.  And it's the best candy bar in the world.  And maybe if you eat it really slowly and try not to get excited, then you can savor it.  Obviously, you ate the last one too fast.  And on an empty stomach.  But this time will be different.  So you take a bite.  It's wonderful!  So sweet, so rich!  This is the best candy bar in the world!  But then half way through, you start to feel sick.  But you can't stop because...chocolate.  So you keep eating, and you keep feeling sicker and sicker... And then you throw up.  Again.
  2. It's like you worked hard in school and got good grades and didn't drink or do drugs or get yourself or someone else pregnant.  Then, on graduation day, it rains, your school burns down, and your parents give you socks as a graduation gift.  Brown socks. 
  3. It's like April is the kindest month.  In April you fall in love.  You sing songs.  You wave flags.  You write passionate poetry.  And in August, your lover gets hit by a city bus with a big ugly red bird on it.
  4. It's like dropping your ice cream cone in a mud puddle, begging your mom for more change, chasing down the ice cream truck, and getting a replacement cone, only to have someone knock the new cone out of your hands by doing a racially insensitive hand gesture.  Again.
  5. It's like one hundred years ago, your great grandparents won a tidy sum in a local raffle.  Your grandparents, your parents and you have bought a lottery ticket every single week since then.   In 1945, your grandparents won one dollar, but a goat ate it.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Master of the Tech!

Well, beloved readers, once again I have humiliated (as opposed to “humidified”—ahem! Please take note, phone) myself technologically.

You see, I did something I never do and ordered the new iphone as soon as it came out.   I did this because the old iphone had become a bane, a bane, I tell you in my existence.  Not only had it refused to learn any new words (resulting in many, many inappropriate uses of the word “duck”), but it somehow embedded a signature file in my outgoing texts, so that every message I sent ended in the word “bubbles.”

The AT&T people were quite inappropriately amused.

So I figured that if I was too incompetent to work my present phone, the obvious solution was to get a new and more advanced phone.  Because that one would have to be easier to use, right?

Stop laughing right now!

Anyway, after my phone came, and I got most of the things working, I sent several successful, error-free texts.  Then I played with Siri, and discovered that if you say, “Hey Siri” at it, she will follow commands like sending texts or opening facebook.

“I like this Siri!” said I to myself.  “She is like the computer on Star Trek!  And she’s even willing to call me, ‘Timelord’!”  And I thought my days of being a darned embarrassment to my family were all in the past.  

Alas, my declaration of victory came all too soon.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Advising Meetings of the Science Fictional Variety

I am on faculty development leave this semester, beloved readers, which means that I am reading and writing and writing and reading and writing, but I am not teaching again until January.  One does not, however, merely switch off the teaching brain, and I have been having some dreams about meeting with advisees to discuss their fall schedules.  In my dream, none of my advisees are typical Wofford students.  Most of them have too many tentacles.

Never let it be said that nightmares cannot be inspiring; to allow myself the joys of pleasant slumber once again, I have, in the scenarios below, replaced Cthulhu-the-sophomore-accounting-major-who-refuses-to-take-stats with other persons from the sci fi world and imagined them as my advisees.  

This is a psychologically healthy way to deal with one's nightmares.  I promise. 

Advising Meeting #1

Me:  Please come in and take a seat, Mr. Worf.  How was your summer?

Worf: I killed sixteen Romulans in battle and spent a week at Daytona Beach where I conducted myself with honor.

Me:  That sounds lovely.

Worf: Klingon sharks are not so easy to disembowel.

Me: Of course not.  Well, let’s see what you’re planning to take this fall.  Hmmm…well, I see that you are signed up for Coach Ayers’s karate class again.  You realize that you’ve already fulfilled your PE requirement, yes?

Worf: I am planning to audit only.  Coach Ayers says that I am an inspiration to the others.

Me:  I have no doubt that’s true.  Alright, now it seems to me that you are planning to major in chemistry, and you’ve signed up for the appropriate courses, but you really haven’t fulfilled your gen ed requirements in the humanities.  What happened to philosophy?

Worf:  Dr. Henkel gave me a D on my last essay.  He did not accept my bat’leth-based counter argument. 

Me: Well, your grandfather was an ambassador as well as a warrior.  Why not take history or government?

Worf:  Is that the schedule of a warrior?

Me:  It is if you take Dr. Byrnes.

Worf:  Very well. 

Advising Meeting #2

Me:  Good morning, Ms. Song.

River Song:  Hello, Sweetie.

Me: I’ve asked you not to call me that.

River: Oh dear.  Am I making you uncomfortable?  It’s just because I’m mildly psychotic.

Me: Right.  Well, are you still planning to major in sociology?

River: Actually, I already have a Ph.D.  I’m just here because my husband is about to show up so that we can defeat an alien threat to this campus.

Me: Ohhh-kay.  When is your “husband” supposed to arrive?

River: Oh that’s the question, isn’t it?  You see, time is not linear.  In fact, it’s…

Me:  Right! Off to Professor Zides’s class.  You can explain about non-linear time and oscillation overthrusters in Physics 121.

River:   Buckaroo Banzai is a fictional character, dear.  But I’ll get out of your hair.  Just one piece of advice before I head to the bookstore…

Me: Yes?

River: Don’t spend too much time on moodle.  It’s become…interesting. 

Me: Wonderful.

Advising Meeting #3

Me: Alright, gentlemen, just what is this about?

Batman:  There is only one space left in Dr. Rostan’s English 203 class, and it belongs to me!

Me:  Why is that!

Batman:  I’m Batman.

Groot: I am Groot.  

Batman:  I’m Batman.

Groot: I am Groot.  

Batman:  I’m Batman!

Groot: I am Groot!  

Batman:  I’m Batman!

Groot: I am Groot!  

Batman:  I’M BATMAN!


Me: My office hours are over, and I still have to meet with Cthulhu.  Go away.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

More Texts Errant

Well, gentle readers, this has been an extremely productive week for me.  But I must say that when I am writing and reading really intensely, some of my other skills are diminished.  Hence the text messages you see below you.  I thought about captioning them, but I think they speak for themselves.  Mostly, they say that I have extremely tolerant friends and relatives.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Short Conversation with Mom: The Bag in the Backseat

Mom:  What is in that big bag in the backseat?

Me:  Oh!  Extra wrapping papers that Cate let me keep!  I can wrap pottery in them.  She just gave them to me.  I like this Cate.

Mom:  Papers?

Me:  Wrapping papers. 

Mom:  Oh.  I thought it was a person's head.

Me:  A what?

Mom:  I thought you might have cut off someone's head and wrapped it up on the backseat.

Me:  I do not know what to say to that.

Mom:  Well, I was going to warn you that if it's a head, it's going to start to smell, especially in this heat, so you should get it out of the car pretty soon.

Me:  I appreciate the advice.

Mom:  You know that if it was a head, you'd let it stink up the car.  And I will not allow that.

Me:  That's a pretty big bag for just a head.

Mom:  It could be other body parts.  You never know with you.

Me:  I have never put any severed body parts of any kind in this car, Mom.

Mom:  Well, you never know.   Just remember what I said about the smell.

Me:  I don't believe that I will ever forget.

Mom:  That's a good girl.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Real Conversation with Mom: The Mail Is, Possibly, Here

Mom:  The mail came early today.

Me:  Was there anything important in it.

Mom:  There was a package yesterday.

Me:  Was there anything important in the mail today?

Mom:  I do not know that.

Me:  Did you check the mail?

Mom:  I brought in the package.

Me:  There was a package today?

Mom:  There was a package yesterday.  It had that computer thingy in it.

Me:  But the mail has already come today.

Mom:  It came early.

Me:  What was in it?

Mom:  How would I know?

Me:  Okay, I am very confused.  You say that the mail came early today.

Mom:  Yes.

Me:  Did you check the mail?

Mom:  I brought in the package.

Me:  The package from yesterday or today?

Mom:  Yesterday.

Me:  But I am asking about the mail today.

Mom:  It came early.

Me:  Are you doing this to me on purpose?

Mom:  No.  [pause] Maybe.

Me:  Mom, what was in the mail today?

Mom: I do not know. 

Me:  Then how do you know that it came early?

Mom:  You should check and see.

Me: I am going to check into a looney bin, is what I'm going to do!

Mom:  I saw the mail person put something in the box.

Me:  Okay.  What was in the box?

Mom:  Yesterday it was a package.

Me:  What was it today?

Mom:  Today we had a substitute.

Me:  A substitute what?

Mom:  A substitute mailman.  He was early.

Me: What did he put in the mailbox, Mom?

Mom:  Actually, it was a woman.

Me:  There is a woman in the mailbox?!

Mom: What are you talking about?

Me: I don't remember.

[5 minute pause involving the fetching of iced tea]

Mom:  Is there anything important in the mail today?

Me:  I don't know.   You're the one who brought it in.

Mom:  No I didn't.  It came early.

Me:  Are you trying to say that you watched the mail delivered, but didn't go find out what is in the mailbox?

Mom:  No, I checked it.  I brought in the package.

Me: The package yesterday.

Mom:  Yes.

[ten minute pause]

Mom:  So are you going to get the mail or not?

Me:  When I recover from this conversation, I will bring in the mail.

Mom:  You are so weird.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ice Breakers

Ah, greetings, beloved readers!  Today, I am going to write about ice breakers.  But I'm going to do it in a round about way, with many digressions and clever twistings and turnings and timey-wimey nonsense, so please relax while I meander a bit.

The topic of ice breakers came up when one of my wonderful friends posted a request for suggestions for good ones for some sort of workshop she was organizing.  Or running.  Or afflicting upon her colleagues.  Now, if you have ever been employed by a Big Corporation or by a Small Corporation that wants to Play Big, then you have probably been coerced into attending such a workshop.  It undoubtedly had a title with the word development in it, and the memo about it may well have contained the words mandatory for all employees.

Let's be honest, if you could get out of these workshops, you would.  They take up time better spent on almost anything else.  So why are you here?

Why You Are Attending a Developmental / Employer-Sponsored Workshop Instead of Getting Actual Work Done:
  • You are a new employee and have been fooled by the enthusiastic presentation of your boss into thinking that you will learn something new and important that will make you a better employee and possibly even a better person.  It will take approximately 18 minutes for you to discover your error.
  • Your apartment is being fumigated today, and your attempt to hide in your office failed.
  • You have been paid to be here, possibly even given transportation and hotel money to show up if the workshop is in Another City.  You will spend the morning plotting to get a bout of food poisoning so that you can go explore Another City.
  • You need to kiss your boss's posterier because she suspects that you're the one responsible for the Incident with the stapler last week.  And she's right.
  • All employees were required to come, and your spouse refused to run over your foot with the car this time.  You will spend most of the workshop contemplating getting a new spouse.
  • You heard there would be free lunch. 
Fortunately for me, my current employer, Wofford College*, has never forced me to attend a workshop or a seminar or a lock-in or any other hours-to-days-long event at which I have been lectured and power-pointed at by a marginally effective motivational speaker.  This is one of many reasons why I intend to chain myself to my desk rather than leave Wofford for any other job.  I have attended such workshops, however, primarily, of course, for the free lunch.**

I'm sure everyone's forgotten about the stapler incident.

Now, if you've found yourself subjected to such workshops, then you know that there are several approaches one can take towards enduring the experience.  Unfortunately, you are not allowed to go up to the speaker and ask for a bibliography of published work on the workshop topic, so that you can head off to the library to read and then take the afternoon off.  You know, as if you're literate.  That would be rude.

So you have to stay and be power-pointed at for several hours and / or days.  Generally, you will find yourself surrounded by a predictable cast of characters, and all you need to do is decide which role you will assume.

The Cast of Characters at a Developmental Workshop

Ms. Sincerity:  she is a True Believer and will spend the workshop making enthusiastic cooing noises whenever the speaker pauses.  Her eyes will widen at the insights she receives, and she will nod so enthusiastically that you will wonder if she is a live bobblehead doll.  Ms. Sincerity is generally the same person who gives you the side-eye for carrying an unauthorized cup of coffee out of the employee dining room.

Curmudgeon:  pays strict attention to the speaker, and repeatedly demands to know the source of any statistics.  Remembers, in detail, the information conveyed at the last twenty workshops and is willing to challenge the current speaker to explain any inconsistencies.   Often capable of expressing him- or herself with remarkably mobile eyebrows.

Doodler:  says little, draws much.  The doodler has probably taken something before the event, like a benadryl or a shot of whiskey, and is content to let the workshop flow around him or her while quietly writing up lecture notes or a grocery list.  If asked for an opinion, will probably answer, "I really need to think about that for a while," before going back to doodling.

Hostile Whisperer:  refuses to engage with the speaker, but keeps up a steady stream of rage-filled commentary audible only to his nearest colleagues.  Likely to snap pen in half at some point.

Smart Ass:  responds to the speaker and fellow workshop participants with witticisms and, if given the opportunity, completely irrelevant stories.  Prone to sudden bursts of logic that confuse the speaker mightily.

Social Butterfly:  does not care about the workshop, but does care about hanging with colleagues, and will turn any break out session into an opportunity to "catch up" on everyone's lives outside of work.  Can be persuaded to fetch coffee for the group.

I have played all of these roles at various times, my wonderful readers, except Ms. Sincerity which is clearly too much of a stretch for an untrained thespian such as myself.

This brings us, at long last, to the subject of this post, and, incidentally, the audience participation portion.  Many of these workshops, in addition to being tedious tests of endurance, begin with the dreaded ice breaker activity.  Under the misguided assumption that workshop participants want to get to know one another better before the workshop proper begins, you will often be asked to do an exercise designed to make the audience relax and engage with one another.

Note:  the fact that serving a tray of mimosas and doughnuts before starting would have the same effect as an ice breaker is apparently an unreasonable suggestion and evidence of not being team player.

Traditional ice breaker activities range from interviewing one of your fellow workshop victims and introducing him or her to the group, to watching the speaker do a memory trick to memorize everyone's first name and some embarrassing personal characteristic that you would rather they not mention, thank you very much.  Even worse versions involve trust exercises and inappropriate gazing into one another's bloodshot eyes.

Frankly, everyone except Ms. Sincerity hates ice breaker activities, and would rather just get on with things, but every workshop seems to be required to start with one, so here are my suggestions for improving this painful and embarrassing part of a workshop.  Feel free to use these in your next mandatory workshop / seminar.

New and Better Ice Breaker Activities
  • The Literal Ice Breaker:  Bring out a sheet of ice in a plastic children's swimming pool.  Give everyone three small bean bags, and let them hurl the bags at the ice until someone shatters it.  That person is permitted to leave the workshop immediately.
  • The Morale Booster:  Divide into groups of three or four and have each group make a guess at the difference in salary between the lowest and the highest paid employee.  
  • Office Chair Test:  Divide into teams of five and issue each team an office chair.  The kind that spins around. Force the most junior employee into the chair and spin it until that employee vomits.  Last to vomit gets an extra brownie at lunch.
  • Getting to Know You:  Draw five names from a hat, and have the company's tech guy project their facebook, twitter or instagram pages onto a large screen.   Conduct subsequent breakout sessions on the professional use of social media and our friend the comma.
  • Aerodynamic Bonding:  Divide into pairs and issue each pair five pieces of construction paper, twenty paper clips, and six rubber bands.  Give everyone twenty minutes to construct five paper airplanes and launch them at coworkers.  The team with the most hits gets an end-of-year bonus.
 Alright, these are my suggestions, and I'm certain that they will enliven any workshop or seminar into which you wander.  But you, precious readers, are far more creative than you give yourselves credit for.  Send me more suggestions for New and Better Ice Breaker Activities, and I will add the best of them to this blog!
*I do not normally name Wofford on this blog, as it is a real institution of higher learning that deserves the right to treat my ramblings with plausible deniability.
**I should also point out that I have attended productive and interesting workshops, led not by paid speakers, but by my colleagues on topics directly relevant to my job wherein I have actually learned things.  These workshops are not the subject of this blog post.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

But At Least I Got the Wine Out of the Sheets

I believe my beloved friend, Michelle, has appeared previously on this blog, loyal readers, but I doubt you all understand just how important she is in my life.  Here is a transcript of a recent conversation we had by personal message during the wee hours on the night.  I shall warn you all that there is a bit of bad language herein; sometimes, gentle readers, it's unavoidable.

Me: On another topic, do you know how to get red wine out of white sheets?

Michelle: How long ago did the wine thing happen? Is it still wet? So...that makes a difference in how you treat the stain, you know.

Me: Yes, still wet!  

Michelle:   Okay. You can try salt. Pour it on, rub gently. Rinse with seltzer water or club soda. Do that twice. Blot gently with paper towels in between. Then make a paste of baking soda and seltzer and let it sit for awhile. Rinse repeat.  

Me: Okay. But I didn't have seltzer, so I used tonic water. Also, now I have to clean up the box of baking soda that I dropped all over the kitchen floor. Good thing Mom is asleep.  

Michelle: drunk are you? And did it work? Or do you need emergency methods #3 & #4?  

Me: I am not drunk at all because I spilled my whole glass of wine on the sheets and didn't even get a sip! All I had tonight was coffee...The wine has come out like a miracle! You are an awesome wonder!  

Michelle: I told you guys before: I really do know everything.  [Editor's note:  this is almost entirely true.  The exception is Doctor Who.  Michelle does not know much about Doctor Who.  It is a sad flaw in her perfection.]

Me: But when I used the dust buster on the baking soda, it overheated and started sparking and stuff.  

Michelle: lol--Wait, what? You did NOT use a dustbuster on damp baking soda??!! Natalie.  NO.  

Me: Um, should I not have done that?  Now I will have to go buy a new dustbuster tomorrow.  
Michelle: Ack! No. You can't vacuum up damp, clumpy baking soda with a dustbuster. The engine doesn't have enough power to handle that.  
Me: Well, the swiffer is just pushing it around. This is very bad. Mom is going to kill me.  
Michelle: LET IT DRY! Then sweep it up. Did you not take chemistry?  
Me: [anecdotes here about me taking chemistry firmly deleted]
Michelle:   Sweep it up with a broom, btw, not anything else.
Me:  Okay. But now I must plot to keep mom out of the kitchen until it dries. This may involve sleeping on the couch to monitor her movements. On the up side, the front of the fridge is very clean where I wiped it off.
Me again:   Oh fuck.  
Michelle:   Oh fuck what? 
Me:  Um. I do not want to tell you.
Michelle: Seriously, what.  
Me:   I put a fan aimed at the kitchen floor to dry the baking soda, and I think I turned it on too high. Oh. This is much worse.
Baking soda is simply sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3). You can just let it sit around until it dries with no harm done. Unless you moronically blow it everywhere or try to suck it up without a wetvac.
Me:  Well, Mom is awake now. Apparently, Spike jumped into her bed with baking soda all over his fur. I am in deep shit.
Michelle: Dude.
Me: But at least I got the wine out of the sheets.