Stylocycle’s Blog

More on explaining the work that we do
December 31, 2009, 4:03 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I was reading in one of my field’s this morning (I have three main fields with subset specializations developed in each), and came across a discussion of an Adrian Piper’s work. Piper is an analytic philosopher and and artist tenured at Wellesley College until 2008. Piper has a really great description of her academic duties and I think I’ll post them on my door. Aside from the fact that her work criss-crosses fine arts and philosophy our worlds of work are very similar, but her description is both more delicate and more pointed than my own.

Any readers hopping by may want to check out her webpage because she’s a pretty fascinating thinker whose work has centred on questions of ‘passing’ in the dominant culture even though one was born as a member of a racialised group (in her case: African American).

Here’s the link to her job description:

new gloves
December 31, 2009, 1:34 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

A few posts back I asked about gloves for winter riding. There’s a small shop in uptown where I get a fair amount of stuff for my kid. Last time I was in they had gloves on sale for half price. I think they were about $30 on sale. They are wool felt, double thickness but still quite fitted, and they have a large, flared cuff that can go over a jacket sleeve quite easily (meaning taking them off and putting them on over the course of several errands on the way home is less hassle than a glove that requires being inside one’s sleeve).

If anyone is interested, they are made by Diesel and they seem to be doing the trick.

Research/Teaching/Service… what counts as ‘work’?
December 31, 2009, 1:26 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The holidays are drawing to a close. Thank God! I really need to have a reason not to sit in bed and watch anymore complete 12-episode seasons of anything in a two-day period. My psyche can’t deal with this much unstructured time on my plate.

That observation leads to another: people make a concerted effort to minimise and mystify what academics do for a living.

More than a few people I know seem to think that because I don’t have to drive in order to do my work that my work can’t be very important. I think that the reasoning goes something like, “important people have many meetings, and meetings keep important people with important jobs on the road, in their cars, in transit from one meeting to another.” Aside from the sloppy thinking there, I’ll observe that for at least 900 years folks in ‘the university’ have realised that it made more sense to bring the many people to one place than to continue with the pedantic model of teaching in which one — literally — walked from one pupil’s residence to the next. It’s an unfortunate side-note that in giving up the pedant’s life, we also gave up those highly productive strolls that gave us the music of Beethoven, the treatises of Kant, Plato, and most of the Romantics (to give just a small sampling of those who found that walking was indispensable as part of the thinking process).

OK, so I really like to go out for a regular walk with my dear spouse. ON our walks we can pick up old conceptual threads and weave new ones into them, or we might begin an entirely new discussion. I’ll often puzzle out some question that I’m working on, or throw a variety of teaching-related questions his way on those walks. Cycling tends to require more concentration on the road, so I think far less about the meta-questions when I’m on my bike. I do, of course, think about cycling at a meta-level once I’m no longer on my mount.

So, does going for my evening stroll count as work? If it helps me to refine an aspect of my teaching, or to develop a new technique, or to puzzle out some question I’m having come up in my research, I don’t see why it should not count as work. Perhaps it’s that I do not hate it that makes others wish to remove it from what counts as my work. But there it is — integral to both my research and my teaching is the process of reflecting (alone and in discussion) and for me strolling is central to the reflecting.

But what does my research really look like? I often confront this question, and the answer is that it depends. Sometimes I work with other people as my “informants”. I have done participant observation in marginal environments (that is: in spaces your parents would not approve of if they knew you were in them). Some of the spaces were marginal enough that I had to give my family a ‘cover story’ for what I was doing at night. I didn’t want them worrying about where I was going. After all, my mum used to worry about me going to clubs on and around Hastings Street. The goal of that work was to demonstrate that people thought of as ‘deviant’ usually share the same goals and values as the larger society in which they live, and that aside from this one thing that they were doing, they followed those values. In another study (on which I still have not published because other projects keep demanding my more immediate attention because of things like legal contracts) I interviewed families raising children with disabilities. There, my main goal was to allow those families to talk about their children *as children first* and to address the issues disability brought into their lives as a secondary point. That is, I began from the point of view that their children had value, not from the point of view that their children were problems to be solved. I do still want to publish that work.

But I don’t always work with human subjects. Sometimes I work with texts as my primary source material. When I’m doing that, I’m usually working in the realm of cultural analysis and/or feminist (bio)ethics. The subject is usually generally related to questions of medicine as they relate to gender and embodied states. That may sound very esoteric, but at base my work in this area will centre on the rights of children to bodily integrity, to what is called ‘developing autonomy’ in legal parlance, and to access (in the community, in education, to legal representation etc). If I were a lawyer, I’d probably be arguing cases on behalf of families seeking greater access for their children. But that’s a narrow gig. Someone has to do it, but I’m not yer woman.

The thing is that to watch me do that work is not very exciting. To an onlooker, I’d appear to be reading, taking notes, and typing. The good stuff goes on in my head… which is as invisible a process to the outside world as is the growth of mould inside a closed refrigerator. But, you know, open the door in about 3 months and prepare to stand back!

Sometimes, as with the edited collection, my work comes down to prioritizing a set of research questions, sorting the wheat from the chaff and providing a conceptual overview of what’s at stake in the collection of essays. That’s mostly evaluative thinking and writing. It’s very hard to demonstrate, but it does have the merit of producing a thing that others can hold (and read!) later.

Service… that’s usually defined by my participation in meetings, but meetings don’t work unless we show up prepared. So I sit on committees and read files. Sometimes I read files for student competitions; sometimes I read files for peer adjudication in grant competitions; sometimes I read anonymized papers to assess whether they are suitable for publication in one of our professional/research journals or not.

So, there’s a ton of evaluative work that I do, especially when we consider that it is a central feature of teaching. In fact, at my level of teaching, my work really isn’t about delivering knowledge to students so much as it is about extracting it from them. Determining how much knowledge they are developing for themselves requires a variety of extraction techniques, many of which focus on communication of information. In that sense, when I’m teaching, I’m just a conduit — a back and forth relay of information and assessment. It may not sound like much, but developing the extraction tools can take a great deal of effort, and creating those comfortable, rewarding discussions in class requires enormous attention to design… from the flow of the syllabus, to the choice of assignments, readings, pace… none of my courses replicates the methods of any other of my courses. Each course has its own unique tools, its own pace, its own priorities… A 12 week course generally takes me about 12 weeks to build when it’s brand new. After I fly it for the first time, I usually work on a few revisions that take about 3 weeks to implement in the course design before I fly it again, and in each subsequent offering of the course, I’ll spend 3-4 weeks on updating materials. It takes time because the rate of articles read to articles assigned is not 1:1. I’ll generally only assign 1 out of every 3 or 4 articles that I’m reading for an update. If I want 2 new readings for each of the 12 weeks, that means I’m reading at least 70 articles in that month. That’s what it means to stay ‘up to date’ in one’s teaching fields. It kind of makes my comprehensive exams for the PhD look like a cake-walk.

On Monday the whole cycle starts up again. And you know what? I’m really looking forward to it.

And Margaret Wente can eat my shorts.

December 17, 2009, 2:37 pm
Filed under: around town

My workplace is changing for the better for cyclists.

One of my colleagues in another department focusses his research on community level organization for environmental projects. He’s an all season cyclist, and a commuter cyclist. Through his efforts, a campus cycling committee was formed, and because of that group’s work we are getting designated winter parking on campus for our bikes. That means that at least 3 racks placed around campus will be kept clear of snow all winter.

We will also be getting a covered parking area for something in the range of 20 bikes between or near the arts, business and library buildings.

Other promises in the works:

Being able to use the athletic facility showers (for those who haven’t yet discovered that commuter bikes are better for getting to work than mountain bikes are). And hey, there’s merit in remembering that if you can make the old thing work for a while longer, that’s an evironmentally sound choice. — Aside: I’m one of those people who questions the wisdom of gutting a house just to do ‘environmental upgrades’ for things that still work (like toilets, flooring, lighting, and wall coverings). That is, if your current fixtures work well, it makes little sense to throw them into landfill to get more ‘efficient’ lightbulbs, and plumbing, or ‘sustainable’ flooring, or eco-friendly paint. I’m all for upgrading when it’s time, but I resist the green-washing push to buy more more more in the name of saving the environment.

That was a long-winded lead in to say that in getting my commuter bike, I kept my mountain bike for use in the country… where it makes more sense as a means of transport and source of entertainment. It’s not landfill, and it gets used now at least as much as when it was in the city, in the garage most of the time. We don’t get away very often to our country place.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that we have a growing bike-commuter community in town, and that’s very exciting.

Maintenance: costs
December 17, 2009, 2:25 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Well, my friend at the bike shop called to tell me that the winter tires didn’t fit the Batavus. The exterior diameter, he said, was fine, but the interior diameter was too small. By this I think he means the wheel size was good, but the tire-tube diameter was not compatible.

That means that my costs for the maintenance, which included removing the wheels to do the tire fitting, stripping the old wiring for the dynamo, re-wiring the dyanmo, flipping my headlamp back to the regular position to fit under my new front basket, and fixing my gear cable came to $42.00

I know people who spend that much on gas 3 times a week.

I’ve also learned that Braun Cycle here in Kitchener is now carrying real Dutch bikes, so I’m going to give them a ring to see what they have to offer in the way of winter tires.

I’ll pick up the Blue Beauty from the shop tomorrow (pay day! woot!).

December 16, 2009, 3:37 am
Filed under: winter riding

So… I was not as careful as I ought to have been when I set up my new front-mount basket. I lost the rubber seal that prevents steel from slipping against steel, and decided to hitch up the basket anyway on the rationale that I was heading for the bike ship anyway to get a new tail lamp. At the shop, I reasoned, I’d buy and install a new piece of rubber. Between my house and the bike shop, the basket wiggled its way downward and severed my dynamo lamp cable. So… now the bike is in the shop to get the cable repaired.

Seems I’d also managed to fray my gear cable somewhat, so that’s getting repaired as well.

But I also have an exciting new addition to the bike (provided that the fit is correct): winter tires! My ride across town today convinced me of the need for tires meant to handle winter riding, so I’m getting the full deal: metal ice spikes in the treads, heavy chevron/diamond patterned treads, thicker rubber… each tire is $65.00 and it’s easy for me to balk at that kind of sticker price. However,  the dear spouse frequently reminds me, “The bike is your car; it’s OK to spend money on maintaining it.” OK.

So: new lamp wiring for front and rear.

new tires for front and back

repaired gear shifter cable

Will probably cost me about $150-$170.

That’s about what I would otherwise spend on transportation for the Jan-Feb period (in my pre-Batavus days), and the tires will take me through to the thaw (usually end of March). I’m going to call that a good deal.

I’m also coveting a pair of vintage style motorcycle goggles for riding in winter. Hello? It’s my birthday soon! I hope someone is paying attention!

Breathe. Let Go.
December 8, 2009, 6:39 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

My son is 17. He has decided to take his earnings and go to Edmonton for the week before Christmas. If we are lucky, he will and back here at YYZ late Christmas eve/ in the wee hours of Christmas morning.

I get it. Christmas is hateful. Teenagers most want to play amongst themselves from about 17-20 and don’t want to be bothered with family pressures to be happy for the holidays. Teenagers, it seems, also universally despise whatever they get for Christmas, regardless of how hard we work to get something we think they will like. So, not having to endure their sullen crap is in a way a blessing, seeing as many of us still have to face the pressure from our elder families to behave as though we like each other. Every Christmas I have to pretend, for example, that my in-laws don’t think I’m the nasty slut who ruined their son’s precious potential. And I can look forward to receiving another cat themed piece of kitsch — because after 22 years the depth of their knowledge of me still extends no further than, “she likes cats.”

OK… so if I could run away from home for the holidays that would be excellent. Wish I could join the kid.

That said, for many years, the kid was my greatest joy at Christmas. Now he’ll be away, and my greatest joy will be missing. I won’t have him around a corner to share a sly witticism with.

Please, please, universe; don’t let it turn out to be a disastrous mistake to be letting him go on this adventure to the suburbs of Edmonton with my least favourite of his friends. Please, please, universe. Let that mum out there be able to prevent them from sneaking out in the car and smashing themselves to kingdom come. Please, please send my boy back to me happier and wiser for having taken his trip.

And please, please, universe… send him back to me safe and sound, without an albatross around his neck.

That’s all I want for Christmas.