Well, snow has come to the Washington DC region again, and of course <select ... ><option ... > </option><option ... >it's about time</option><option ... >I've been dreading it</option></select>. Not that you should be too surprised. The chill in the air <select ... ><option ... > </option><option ... >gets my spirits bright</option><option ... >fills me with dread</option><option ... >has me burrowed under the blankets</option></select>, and it's always a great excuse for <select ... ><option ... > </option><option ... >hot cider</option><option ... >hot coffee</option><option ... >hot tea</option><option ... >setting myself on fire</option></select>.
Right now the snow <select ... ><option ... > </option><option ... >is coming down steadily</option><option ... >really looks more like a light sprinkling of dandruff</option><option ... >is a disgusting mess of sleet and rain</option></select>, and I couldn't be more <select ... ><option ... > </option><option ... >delighted</option><option ... >disgusted</option><option ... >disturbed</option><option ... >worried</option></select>. Who doesn't <select ... ><option ... > </option><option ... >love</option><option ... >hate</option></select> snow? If all goes well <select ... ><option ... > </option><option ... >they'll cancel work tomorrow</option><option ... >they'll cancel work tomorrow</option><option ... >they'll cancel work tomorrow</option></select> and maybe <select ... ><option ... > </option><option ... >for the rest of the week</option><option ... >for the rest of eternity</option></select>. They're predicting <select ... ><option ... > </option><option ... >a light dusting</option><option ... >1-2 inches</option><option ... >3-6 inches</option><option ... >snowmageddon</option><option ... >icy roads</option></select>, after all.
In the meantime I'm just <select ... ><option ... > </option><option ... >going to shovel my car out</option><option ... >watching old movies on TCM</option><option ... >complaining a lot on Facebook</option><option ... >squealing a lot on Facebook</option><option ... >writing vaguely amusing-to-me Tweets</option></select>. If you don't like snow, <select ... ><option ... > </option><option ... >I'm right there with you</option><option ... >you are dead to me</option></select>. Oh, and now I'm wishing I'd bought some <select ... ><option ... > </option><option ... >milk</option><option ... >eggs</option><option ... >bread</option><option ... >toilet paper</option><option ... >whisky</option></select>. Oops. Oh well.
I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I loved being home from school because I was sick. I didn’t get sick that often, but when I was… well, jackpot. Sure, I felt like crud, but there was something comforting about hanging out in my pajamas, watching television, and eating lunch on the couch. A great little break from the normal routine.
Now that I’m an adult, sick days are not nearly so entertaining. In the back of my head I always think, “Well, I hate being sick, but at least I get to be at home all day. That’s not so bad.” But of course, it’s never a good time. If I’ve given up and stayed home, chances are I’m lying down for half of the time feeling miserable, or at the very least moving at one-quarter impulse power. Usually the most “fun” I have involves watching an episode of something or another on the DVR, but half the time I don’t even make it to the end because the mental effort is too much and I just go take a nap instead.
(The one notable exception: when I had my gallbladder out at the end of 2008. Don’t get me wrong, I was really sore and spent a day or two doped up on pain pills. But by day 4 or so of a one-week “you must stay at home” the pain had shifted to a dull ache, and I spent the rest of the week playing Animal Crossing: City Folk on the Wii. That was remarkably fun for those last few days.)
But anyway, I do try to make sick days as “enjoyable” as one can under the circumstances. Since I’m at home today with some sort of chest crud, I tried to rally a bit. Made my favorite kale-apple-miso salad for lunch, dug out and brewed some fancy loose leaf tea that Karon gave me as a gift, read the first 50 pages of Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil’s Bad Houses. It’s not high living, but it makes the overall sick experience less… well… sickly.
Really, all I was missing from my old “being sick” ritual was a big bowl of Chicken & Stars soup, which for far too long was a comfort food for when I was under the weather. (I’ve since burnt out on it.) So all in all, certainly could be worse. Anyone else have a particular sicktime ritual or comfort?
I’ve never been a coffee person. It probably helped that growing up only one person in my family (my father) drank it, and I’ve never been a big drinker of caffeine to begin with, but coffee has always been some strange unexplored continent.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes I think coffee smells great. And so every now and then I’ll try it. And with one notable exception, the end result is a resounding, “Ugh.” But that one exception—at the wedding of my friends Rachel and Jeff—was such a pleasant experience that I have held out hope that the problem was finding the right kind of coffee. After all, I went from only drinking herbal teas, to green teas, to Chinese teas, and finally to black teas. I had to work my way up. So maybe I could do the same thing with coffee?
You might be asking yourself, “Why would you even care?” But there are a lot of times when coffee is the only caffeinated beverage available, and I do inevitably need that pick-me-up. And like I said, I do enjoy the smell of coffee. So I keep telling myself that out there, somewhere, is a coffee experience that would turn me around. Recently at work a discussion of different types of coffees came up, and in the process several co-workers were talking about the milder taste of Ethiopian coffees. I made a comment that this sounded interesting, and the next day Laura kindly gave me a sample to take home and try.
While waiting for Charlie to come back from the gym this morning, I decided that now was as good a time as any to give it a whirl. I dug out the french press (which is normally used for loose-leaf teas, or the occasional visitor who does drink coffee), heated up the water, and consulted the Internet on how much coffee I needed to put into the device. I pulled out some soy milk and also a cube of panela from my Colombia trip, but held them in reserve. And then… the first taste.
It was definitely a lot less bitter than the coffees I’d had before, so that was a relief. None the less, even milder coffee was not something I was ready to drink black. So I added in some soy milk and the sugar, stirred it around… and I will give it credit, it wasn’t bad. At the same time, though, I found myself wondering how much was really me just drinking the milk and sugar, versus the coffee. One of the nice things about drinking tea is that, of course, if you don’t add anything to it the calorie count is a whopping zero. Switching over to coffee where you need the milk and sugar to make it good seems less appealing. I tried a second cup (I’d made far too much) with just the soy milk, and that was all right, too. So clearly, some coffee is not out of reach.
In the end, it’s nice to know that with the right coffee, it’s at least an option. But I think for now I’ll stick to tea. I know that coffee drinkers are thinking, “Greg! You just need to drink 48 more cups of coffee and your taste buds will be beaten into submission! One of us! One of us!” And I’m sure I could eventually create that taste scar tissue given enough time. For now, though, I’ll just stick with this as an emergency option. Getting to, “It’s not revolting” feels like enough of a victory that I don’t feel the need to jump immediately back into that breach.
While most of today has been allocated to school projects (having finished off a research paper’s first draft, next up are three chapters in the oh-so-riveting Reference and Information Services: An Introduction textbook), I decided I needed a quick break for an hour. It’s a beautiful day outside, and while I’d opened up all of the windows and turned off the air-conditioner, that simply wasn’t going to suffice.
So, I took a quick spin around my immediate neighborhood. Strolled down to the library and picked up my reserved copy of Canal House Cooks Every Day. I had a recent encounter with one of the Canal House Cooking books and while that’s a (hopefully) forthcoming post in its own right, it made me curious to see what their big cookbook was like. From there I headed the opposite direction down the street to Trohv, which is always worth a browse but in this case I was visiting specifically to buy the new issue of Kinfolk magazine. It’s always a pleasure to read, and knowing that this issue is all about weekends makes it even better. As I entered, I stopped and snapped a quick picture of the new construction at Takoma Central to send to Charlie. Not that I know much about building projects, but it certainly feels like it’s coming along nicely and should hopefully open on schedule next spring.
On the way home, I stopped in at La Mano Coffee Bar, which opened earlier this month. Ended up leaving with a mint rooibos tea, and two hand pies; one with peach and raspberry, the other with a spiced ground beef. Ran into one of my neighbors right as I was leaving, who was walking with her adorable daughter (who was on a sassy purple scooter).
And once I got home, I put everything down and thought to myself how much I love my neighborhood on days like this. Everyone’s out walking, there are adorable shops and businesses to visit, and there was a general air of friendliness. A couple that I saw leaving Trohv as I entered was buying a snack at La Mano, and as I walked from the library to Trohv I saw two other neighbors across the street run into one another and start chatting.
Sure, it’s not the “everything is happening all the time” nature of being right in the heart of downtown, and there’s a lot to be said for living there. But there are definitely charms that exist here, too, if you take the time to look. And now, having eaten my pies (the crust was buttery and flaky and delicious, and the insides were great too), I’m going to sit out on the balcony with my textbook and my iced tea and enjoy the great weather.
So! Picking up where I left off last time… part 2 of Sylvester McCoy’s run on the series, spanning all of Season 25 and the first story of Season 26.
Back in the day, the Daleks didn’t turn up every season (or almost every season), but were parceled out so they’d have a greater impact when they did. With this being the 25th season, the Daleks (and another major villain) were brought back for their one appearance in the McCoy era. It’s also easily one of the best stories. This is the first of two stories that Ben Aaronovitch contributed to the series, and I think it’s the better of his efforts. Set in late 1963, it’s a story that mirrors the Daleks’ belief that they are the superior race with the conflicts over race on Earth. It’s a smart script, one that picks up past elements of the Daleks story (most notably the civil war that began in their last appearance several years earlier, “Revelation of the Daleks”) but does so in a way that doesn’t leave behind anyone who hasn’t seen those stories.
This is also new companion Ace’s first story where it’s just her and the Doctor (after her introduction at the end of the previous season), and the dynamic is instantly more appealing than what we had with the 7th Doctor and Mel. It’s a story where it’s hard to imagine substituting Ace with any previous companion; she isn’t just headstrong and with a forceful personality, she’s someone who takes the fight to the Daleks. She’s the first formidable companion (in an action, fighting sense) since Leela a decade earlier, but instead of a knife or a poisonous thorn, she’s using high explosives and even a rocket launcher.
The Doctor himself is also portrayed differently than up until now, too. Having been given time to stop and plan out his time on the show (versus the scramble to just have something on the screen for Season 24), script editor Andrew Cartmel reworked the 7th Doctor into one who is more manipulative, a dark streak running beneath the clownish exterior. This could have been disastrous (and in one instance it is, but we’ll get to that shortly), but generally speaking it works well because Cartmel and the writers he chooses do so with a touch of subtlety. The Doctor’s motivations are always well intentioned and for the greater good, but for viewers up until this point, you can see where this ends up being a bit surprising. At any rate, “Remembrance of the Daleks” held up well on a re-watch. It moves at a good pace, it’s fun, and while some of the things that were new at the time are now old hat (and I’m not just talking about the Dalek that levitates up stairs), they’re still done with skill so that the surprise is gone but the quality remains.
We’re back! At a glance, it might look like I skipped a month. But that’s both true and not, as you’ll see below…
The 7th Doctor was played by Sylvester McCoy, who came on board during an extremely troubled time for the show behind the scenes. It had already been cancelled then un-cancelled while Colin Baker was starring as the 6th Doctor, and while the show survived, Baker was fired in-between seasons. While Baker was eventually offered the opportunity to come back for one more story to bring his time to a close, he turned it down and we ended up with no real transition from one to the next (save for a pre-credits sequence involving new actor McCoy wearing Baker’s outfit and a big curly blond wig, only seen from behind).
More importantly, not only was Baker gone, but script editor Eric Saward had also left the series. In the earlier days of Doctor Who, it was the script editor (rather than the producer) who did the bulk of commissioning the scripts for the show, and by the time new script editor Andrew Cartmel was hired he ended up inheriting the first two scripts because everything was so far behind schedule. The end result was McCoy’s first season consisting of four stories where one had been written for Baker, and the remaining three for a “generic Doctor” because no one at the time knew what this new Doctor’s personality would be like.
McCoy had the role for three years, with a total of twelve stories, before the show was cancelled once more. This time it stuck. McCoy did return seven years later, though, to appear in the Doctor Who television movie starring Paul McGann. With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to merge McCoy and McGann’s months into a big two-month-long viewing extravaganza (especially since McGann only had that one outing), and to watch all thirteen stories.
What I didn’t count on was work getting even busier, plus losing a lot of free time due to starting graduate school. So with still two stories waiting to be watched, I’m going to use this entry to tackle the first four stories (or first season) starring McCoy; a second and possibly third post will hopefully come soon with McCoy’s remaining stories as well as McGann’s solo outing. And with that in mind…
Ask a Doctor Who fan which of McCoy’s episodes was the worst, and three out of four will tell you that it’s “Time and the Rani.” Sometimes fan lore leads you down a path of opinions that are based on hearsay rather than actual viewing. This is not one of those times.
“Time and the Rani” admittedly has a huge disadvantage; it wasn’t written for McCoy’s Doctor at all, and while writers Pip and Jane Baker and script editor Andrew Cartmel clearly tried to file off the edges of the previous Doctor once Colin Baker’s return was officially nixed, but it’s still trying to push a square peg into a round hole. The Doctor here is often snappish and rude, only to then veer off into pratfalls and slapstick. It’s a bungled mess right from the start.
Then you add in a nonsensical plot (one that relies far too heavily on sheer laziness of the main villain), some truly awful acting, and another rock quarry that’s standing in for an alien planet. At the end of the previous season, new companion Melanie had been introduced as played by Bonnie Langford, but aside from being energetic she was a complete non-entity, and that unfortunately carries through into this season where it’s quickly clear that no one is interested in writing for Mel. Langford gets a lot of flack for her time on Doctor Who, but I feel that’s not fair. She’s clearly very professional and does whatever the scripts and director tell her to do, but at the same time she’s also been placed into a show where no one is interested in her sticking around.
There are two great things about “Time and the Rani,” to be fair. The first is whenever returning guest actress Kate O’Mara’s character of the Rani disguises herself as Mel. Her fake chirpy-sweet voice mixed with genuine disdain and loathing for the Doctor is nothing short of hysterical, and her ever-building annoyance with everyone around her is a real treat in those first two episodes. Sadly once she pulls off the wig and stops pretending to be Mel, she’s straight out of an episode of Dynasty, complete with shoulder pads, lipstick, and a big glamorous hairdo. So much for the hard-working scientist who doesn’t want to take over the world; in “Time and the Rani” her goal is ultimately to take over the universe and rework it as she sees fit.
The other great thing is how director Andrew Morgan has the Lakyrtians run. This may sound strange, but you need to take my word on this. They’re supposed to be slightly lizard-like, and when they run, Morgan has them hold their arms back at an angle. It actually makes them look like a species of small lizard, and while some do it better than others (Karen Clegg as Sarn in particular) it’s at least an attempt to make them a little difference.
Otherwise? I have nothing good to say about this, perhaps save that if you drink a lot it gets funnier and funnier. But it’s bad. It’s really bad. Shockingly, appallingly bad. (Not as bad as “The Twin Dilemma,” which still edges this story out as “worst first story for a new Doctor,” but this is the nadir of the McCoy era, right out of the gate.)
I was accepted a couple of months ago, but on August 23, I began my first day as a graduate student in Wayne State’s School of Information and Library Science (SLIS). Specifically, I flew up to Detroit for a one-day mandatory orientation.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from a grad school orientation, especially since the bulk of students (myself included) are taking the classes via online/distance learning. But that Friday morning, I woke up super-early, ran 6 miles on the always-dreaded treadmill (but on the bright side I got to watch the sun rise over Detroit thanks to the gym being on the 40th floor), and drove over to campus to get there just in time for check-in. That’s when I discovered that on my nametag it said I lived in Michigan rather than Washington, DC. A sign of things to come?
Actually, no. What happened next was a day-long extravaganza of introductions, meetings, and discussions. A lot of people got up and talked to the assembled group of new grad students. We started to get a better idea of the sort of projects that we have in store. The professors performed a round-robin rotation through rooms where they introduced themselves to us and explained their specialties. (That part was especially interesting because of the wide range of disciplines within what might seem like a narrowly-focused department.) We were given a couple of group collaboration assignments. It was, without a doubt, a full day’s worth of work and then some.
I could go on and on about everything that happened, but I suspect it would bore most people. (How many other people would be tickled about a professor who looks like Mo from Dykes to Watch Out For besides me, though?) There were a couple of things that stood out as particularly good:
- Meeting my faculty advisor was a huge plus. Professor Schroeder was one of the faculty who talked to the assembled masses early on, before we broke out into smaller groups, because she has a strong focus on digital librarianship. If you didn’t know already, that’s something that I’m extremely interested in, so right from the get-go it potentially seemed like a good match. But the second she got up to speak, I was entranced. She’s not just a good public speaker, she’s engaging, she’s smart, she’s energetic, she’s interesting. Even better, when I got to meet with her later, I felt like there was a genuine interest from her in my career path and as we chatted, I found myself thinking, “So this is what it’s like to actually have an advisor.” I was assigned one as an undergraduate but I think we only spoke once on a student-to-advisor basis, and that was a mandatory session before graduation. That advisor had no interest in me, and vice versa. By way of contrast, Schroeder mentioned that she’s in DC several times a year, and that she could let me know if I’d like to meet some different organizations and the like that are interested in digital librarianship. Not only did I say yes (of course), but I feel like it really could happen. This was easily the best part of the orientation.
- I also found out that I might be able to waive out of one of the core classes, Information Technology. Not only is this a good thing because right now it looks like I know about 95% of the material already (and have no problem taking some of my own time this fall to learn the other 5%), but it would also free up a space in my schedule for me to take another class I’m more interested in, instead. I’ve already sent the faculty member who makes those decisions my credentials, and with any luck I’ll hear back in the next couple of days that I don’t have to take the class. Fingers crossed!
Of course, there were one or two things for which I raised my eyebrow:
- We were given a “how to work in groups” series of exercises in the afternoon, right after lunch. The first one involved the entire group having to decide which one of seven different pizzas we could all agree upon to order for the table. Except, of course, it wasn’t a real pizza. (And even if it was, we were all full from lunch.) This may sound silly, but I was a little disappointed in this activity. It was a very juvenile sort of group exercise, and one that needed a bit of a boost. (Make it instead into types of cookies and offer the real thing and it might have perked everyone up.) The other half of the company that I work for comes up with these sorts of exercises all the time and I felt like they could have had a much better one instead. Not bad, but just didn’t feel like it was going after the right target audience.
- There was one professor whose classes I was thinking about taking (and was in fact originally signed up for, early on), until I was warned away from them by multiple people. One of those clashes of style/approach where I could tell that the professor and I would not be a good match for one another. Well, at lunch, this professor decided to sit at the table I was at. And just in those five minutes, all I could think was, “They weren’t kidding about this teacher.” All of their complaints suddenly felt very plausible, alas, and it became very clear that if possible I should go with a different professor in the future. Oh dear. Well, it’s nice to have confirmation, right?
When everything finally ended, we had a mixer sponsored by a student organization, and while I wasn’t entirely sure at first on if I would go or not, I’m glad I did. A lot of super-nice people, and when in the space of five minutes you get both a Cards Against Humanity game reference, and someone relating a story with the sentence, “You can’t make me give my books away, they’re my friends!” I knew I had found my people.
On the flight back this morning, though, I had a momentary spike of panic as I started to think through all of the different projects and activities I have in store for myself over the next two years while still juggling a full-time job. What was I thinking? Could I really do this? Should I just pack it in and work at a butcher shop in Eastern Market instead? (I’ll blame that last one on the new issue of Lucky Peach that I was reading.) But the more I thought about it, the more I reminded myself that this really is what I’m interested in learning about, and this was the only way to truly do it. And after all, Wayne State sees a lot of applications. They must have thought I could do it or that slot would have gone to someone else, right?
So to twist around that old familiar phrase on the various X-Men covers of the past… I think I will survive the experience. It’s going to be a little tough in spots, but right now it’s full steam ahead. And heck, I’ve already started one of the first week’s assignments. So far so good, right?
Amazon’s “Gold Box Deals” offer up a bunch of specially priced items to everyone; if you scroll down the page, they often have additional deals that are supposedly tailored to you. Today I was greeted with the following:
My first reaction was to laugh and say, “Amazon’s selection software is misfiring a bit today.”
My second reaction was to think of those reports of parents receiving coupons for those newly pregnant and getting livid, only to discover later that in fact their daughter really is pregnant.
…I hope this is just an algorithm gone wild. *gulp*
I remember signing up for my classes at James Madison University, back in the summer of 1991. With 120 credits needed for graduation, all I really had to worry about was, “Will this class be full, yet?” With a paper booklet listing all the courses in very small type, I made a dozen sample schedules for a 15-credit fall semester. Happily my second choice actually coincided with what was still available, and I went on my way. Aside from having to once beg for an override for a class from a professor so I could add in an extra class (to make up for one I’d dropped earlier, so that I would still graduate on time), and having two classes that had to wait until senior year because they always filled up so fast, that was the most of my worries.
Graduate school, at least for me, seems to be a very different sort of game. Wayne State University’s MLIS program requires me to take 36 credits (or 12 classes), six of which are core classes for the degree and must be taken. Of those six core classes, two of them are locked into the positions of first and second classes taken, while a third class is strongly recommended to get slot #3. (Two of the remaining three core classes “should be taken as part of the first 18 credit hours” while the third “should be taken as part of the last 9 credit hours.”)
This still seems pretty simple, until you start to look at the other courses you want to take for the second half of your degree. (And lest you think I am jumping the gun a bit, by the time I’ve finished 9 credits I have to submit a plan of all my remaining courses with my advisor and get them to sign off on it. So that’s not too far away.) And that’s when you realize that unlike the majority of undergraduate classes, many of the offerings are only offered once a year. And of those offerings, most are either in the (main) fall or winter semesters, with only a handful in the spring/summer session.
The end result has been a surprisingly fun logic puzzle, almost a game. “Database Concepts and Applications for Librarians is offered both fall and winter, so it can be almost a wild card, while Metadata in Theory and Practice is only a fall semester class… and what spring/summer class do I want for one of my electives? Maybe Advanced Classification and Cataloging?”
So now I have a spreadsheet built, which has two different timelines (one for if I take a single class in the fall, one for if I end up with two classes) and everything locked in save for a single “to be determined” option. It’s incredibly geeky and ridiculous. It is also, quite possibly, another indicator that this is the sort of graduate degree that’s meant for me.
At any rate, though, it’s definitely been an eye-opening experience. Certainly one of the first major differences between undergraduate and graduate classes! (More to come, I’m sure.)