A thought about a career I never felt like trying


I realized that I’m glad I never got into a field that looks for experimental results. I realized that’s got to be pretty bad. I mean, imagine you do some research and it gives you the expected result. Everyone’s going to answer, “No duh”. But imagine you did the research and it came out surprising. Then everyone’s going to answer “No way”. Whatever happens you’re getting worn down. The only safe harbor is research that nobody has any response to. I couldn’t hack it in the field of getting responses.

Today’s Excuse For Getting Nothing Done Involves Doctor Who


And, you know, a lot of aimless pondering about whether The Doctor has got any honorary degrees. I mean, The Doctor goes puttering around time and space saving planets from greedy stupidheads all the time. That’s got to be worth at least the occasional Doctor of Humane Letters, like for that time he made it possible for letters to continue existing and for the recipients to not be eaten by a Lizardarian army’s device that converts gravity into space-dollars. I’d understand The Doctor not sticking around for these things, since academic ceremonies aren’t to everyone’s tastes. Me, I like them, but I don’t have much reason to hang around since nobody cares to send me any honors and there was kind of the one where I got my boogers on the President of Singapore basically by accident.

Anyway, the cluttered state of that paragraph tells you how this has kept me from anything practical.

Time For A Serious Talk With LinkedIn’s Algorithm


(Reading.)

Linkedin Jobs Similar To Michigan Virtual - Part-Time Temporary Online Instructor (Grades 6-12): Adjunct Faculty, Patten University, Oakland, California. Adjunct Faculty, Management and Technology, NYU School of Professional Studies, New York City. Facebook Director of Global Law Enforcement Outreach, Menlo Park, California.
Also I do not know what Patten University is. I assume that it is an educational facility specializing in the needs of the patten industry. Pattens, you’ll remember from reading the Wikipedia article about them right this minute, are those things Middle Ages people would strap to their shoes so they could walk around in town without covering their actual shoes with all the mud and raw sewage they dumped into the street back then. I trust there is still a patten industry and that like any specialized trade there are things that have to be learned to be expert in said trade that you can get at Patten University of Oakland, California.

(A long, serious sigh. And I send a note to ask for a little chat, “when you have the time”. But before the close of business.)


(The meeting.)

(I turn a chair around and sit with my chest pressing into its back. I put on a baseball cap, and then turn it around.) So! Linkedin Algorithm. Alg. Alg, I like that. You know, I used to know someone named Algus. No, that wasn’t his name, but he felt very positive about that instead. Well, I’m drifting from my point. Look, thanks for coming in for a little honest “rap session” like the kids say today in Imaginary 1967. I want to let you know, I appreciate how hard you’re working, looking out for me like this. I appreciate the idea that I should have a job that is not the one I have now. Really, great, thoughtful stuff. There’s nothing like having a friend who at random times bursts out with the declaration that I should be a part-time copy editor at a weekly newspaper in Rossville, Georgia. It gives me this strong sense of needing to be somewhere. Yes, even somewhere near Lake Winnepesaukah amusement park.

But — yes, this is the compliment sandwich technique, well-spotted — I want to ask you what are the points of commonality in these four jobs that totally exist and are not spammers trying to hack the LinkedIn Algorithm. You, Alg. What about me makes you think I’m equally ready to be a part-time temporary online instructor for some 7th grade class somewhere or maybe, what the heck, Facebook’s Director of Global Law Enforcement Outreach?

Now, now, no. I do not mean to put you on the spot. You don’t have to answer now, or really, at all. What’s important to me is that you sit though and think out what you see in common here. Find some tighter definition about what you see as similarities. This will help you algorithmate better in the future.

Yes, very good. You’ve seized on one right away. Of all these jobs, none of them need me to be in Michigan, which is the one place where I am. As a commonality that’s as useful as noticing that none of these jobs will routinely require that I smear myself head-to-toe with honey mustard. Not needing to be in Michigan is something common to 84 percent of all jobs, worldwide. It’s not productive to sort things on that basis. The mustard thing, that’s 94 percent of all jobs, yes.

Two of these jobs are described as adjunct faculty positions. I think this reflects a misunderstanding on your part about what adjunct faculty positions are. Adjunct faculty positions are for people who haven’t yet been cured of the daft idea of working in academia. Most adjunct positions require long hours in stressful roles. There’s little respect. The pay is low. There’s some community colleges where the English adjuncts are compensated entirely by being kicked behind the library loading bay until their kidneys bleed. And that’s after the adjuncts formed a union. Before the strike they were just shoved off the third-storey balcony until their skulls fractured. No, no, of course I wouldn’t just turn down an adjunct position. I’d just have it not be in a business school. Those people make you talk about business all the time, even if you’ve said you’d rather take the “jabbed with sharp sticks” benefit instead.

Also I don’t know what exactly Global Law Enforcement Outreach is. It sounds like my job would be travelling to exotic countries and hugging the cops. I admit I’m a huggy person. By preemptively hugging I can cut down the amount of handshaking I’m expected to do. But, jeez. Do I look like I want a life where I’m constantly jetting to exciting places like Johor Bahru, opening my arms wide at someone writing traffic citations, smiling as if I apparently weren’t pained by showing enthusiasm, and saying, “Come on over here, buddy!”? Do they look like they want that?

So. I appreciate your energy, I appreciate your enthusiasm. I like your willingness to think outside my career box. And let me give you this little tip. None of these are the job I would have if I could pick anything at all. Nor is my current job. What I’d really like, if you could find an opening, is to be the astronaut who draws Popeye. But don’t worry if you can’t swing that. I’m just glad you’re out there looking.

(I stand up, confident I’ve got this all worked out and there’ll be no unwanted side-effects to my honesty with Alg.)

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? July – September 2017


Last week I was all set to talk Gil Thorp when I realized it was Rex Morgan, M.D.‘s turn. I won’t make that mistake again! … But I’m writing this in late September, 2017. If it’s much later than September 2017 for you, the stories might have moved on. At or near the top of this link should be my most recent talk about the high school sports comic strip of high school sports comic strips. I hope something here is what you’re looking for.

If you’re interested in other comics, my mathematics blog discusses some from the past week. I don’t think I explain any of the jokes, but I do talk about what the jokes make me think about. Might like it.

Gil Thorp.

10 July – 23 September 2017

I last discussed Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp near the end of a storyline. Spunky young reporter Dafne had discovered the Milford Mudlarks’ new pitching star was kicked out of private school for hitting his girlfriend. The secrecy that protects young, athletically skilled students makes it hard to be sure exactly what did happen. Dafne, shoving a friend into a door so hard he gets a black eye, comes to learn that sometimes battery just happens and it isn’t an open-and-shut case. She confesses her prior narrow-mindedness to the newspaper editor and is welcomed back onto the staff for a happy ending.

The 17th of July saw the start of a new storyline, one that took nearly two months to unfold. It features Heather Burns, a student who’s likely to be a great trainer or coach someday, and Jaquan Case, an alumni of Gil Thorp here for his tenth-anniversary storyline. I should say, I was not reading Gil Thorp with enough attention ten years ago to say whether Case really was a basketball star in the strip back then. It would make sense if he were. The comic has a surprisingly strong continuity. Stars of one storyline often appear as supporting players in a later one, and even make cameos after that. So I will accept Case as someone who was probably part of the basketball stories in the mid-2000s.

Heather Burns: 'We'll be out here [at the training field] most days.' Trey Davis: 'Us, too. But do me a favor ... keep it on the down-low. We should check in with Coach Thorp, though.' Jaquan Case: 'Absolutely. When I was fighting to be a normal student ... ' Davis: 'Or as normal as the next superstar could be.' Case: 'He was a big help.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 25th of July, 2017. I didn’t do athletics in high school, so I don’t know whether it’s authentic that stars of a decade past get to just come in and train when they feel like even before talking to the coach. I was for a while on the Physics Team, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean I can just pop in to the science classrooms and do that thing where you sit on a barstool chair while turning a spinning bicycle tire around.

And then, mm. Well. There’s events. I just never got into the story. Case and his friend Trey Davis, another ex-comic-strip-character now working as a private coach, hang around the kids playing coach some. And Case is working through some stuff. He’s doing fine in the NBA, but he’s feeling like he lost something when he quit football sophomore year of college. Case wants to move back into football. A couple sessions with True Standish, a more current Gil Thorp quarterback, suggests that yeah, if he really worked at it, Case could be a plausible football player.

So, with this, Coach Thorp makes his excuses to be somewhere not involving athletes having personal problems. Heather Burns steps up, figuring out during a series of workout sessions that Case’s real problem is he doesn’t feel people’s expectations of him in basketball are in line with his idea of himself. So she does some digging and works out that Case could definitely get his Master’s degree in US History, a thing he would totally want. Maybe even go on to a PhD. He even gets ideas of maybe becoming a professor, which shows that even professional athletes in the major leagues who could plausibly switch to another major league have comically unrealistic career dreams. And Case shows his gratitude by hooking Burns up with someone at Iowa who might be able to get her a coaching gig.

Gil Thorp: 'I'm due at Milford CC. Can you give him a lift?' Burns: 'Sure. Jaquan, mind doing some running first?' Jaquan Case: 'Might as well, since my trainer bolted. Say, you're Switzerland in all this --- am I crazy to consider the NFL?' Burns: 'Sure. But that doesn't make it a BAD thing.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of August, 2017. I know that highlighting this comic out of a month’s worth of storyline will make it look like Coach Thorp had almost nothing to do with the characters doing things and making decisions, and when he was roped into the story got out as fast and with as little responsibility as possible.

And that, the 9th of September, closes out a storyline that really looks like it was something happening. But reading it daily, ugh. It just felt like people standing near sports equipment talking about how they might do a different sport instead. And it seemed to go nowhere. Every day I looked at the strip and all I saw was eight months of wandering through Featureless Manhattan in the final year of Apartment 3-G. I think the core trouble might be the premise. 30-year-old professional athlete who feels adrift going back to the High School Coach Who Made All The Difference for advice? Plausible. Getting life advice from the 17-year-old teenage girl with a talent for coaching who knows that she’ll never get a real job at it? Less so.

Gil Thorp: 'Everybody sign up for baseline testing?' Assistant coach guy: 'Yup. By the first game, we'll have basic info on every kid. Measuring brain function with tests ... do you believe in it?' Thorp: 'I believe in anything that might keep these kids healthy --- and keep their parents from worrying.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 13th of September, 2017. I’m sorry, I don’t know who the assistant-y coach-y guy is, but I do like that the second panel is something like one-fifth of all album covers from 1978 through 1985.

OK. So. The 11th saw the new storyline start. It features Rick Soto, who yields to his Uncle Gary’s pressure to play at the Elks Club Talent Show. There, apparently, his version of “Mack the Knife” steals the show. If I haven’t missed anything they haven’t said what instrument Rick plays, but that’s all right. He’s also a left tackle, which gives the Gil Thorp comic strip jurisdiction over his life story. Also, Coach Thorp is for the first time testing his players for brain function. This seems to set up a storyline about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is certainly the sort of thing this comic strip should talk about. (I do wonder, too, if the current moral imperative to Take A Knee won’t disrupt whatever Rubin and Whigham have planned.) But two weeks in there’s no guessing where any of that might go. I just include this so I have the first paragraph written of my next Gil Thorp plot summary written.

Next Week!

International espionage, secret government jink-enhighening, and a reporter’s last-ditch effort to save her career as we go back to Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Unanswerable: will we have any judge-work going on?

My Fortune To Be Made: Grad Student Fantasy Camp


After thinking hard about my life, and talking with a bunch of former grad students, I’ve realized, pretty much the sweetest phase of life is being in grad school. Oh, there’s good stuff about being a real adult too, like owning a car that doesn’t need the alternator replaced every four months, and not having to explain to undergraduates that the course textbook is the one listed under “course textbook” on the syllabus, which is the thing on the class web site labelled “syllabus”, but most of the good stuff now was also good stuff then, and back then we didn’t have to pay off student loans. This is what inspires me to open a Grad Student Fantasy Camp.

Fantasy Camps are one of the two remaining growth sectors in the American economy, the other being podcasters doing complete rewatches of Star Trek. Fantasy Camps give a chance to do something great like pretend to be a baseball player or astronaut or Let’s Make A Deal host and then go home to add a bunch of new acquaintances that further diffuse the notion of “friend” on your Facebook. Here’s why and how Grad Student Fantasy Camp will work.

Who wants to attend Grad Student Fantasy Camp? Anyone who’s not satisfied with their academic career, which is everyone who went to grad school after 1992, when the last tenure-track position in their specialty was filled. Remember those teaching assistants dressed unconfidently and trying not to do the homework for you while explaining where you went wrong in recitation sections? They all spend this time of year sighing at the window while thinking of the days the biggest weights on their mind were when to maybe start studying for something called “quals”. They’ll pay nicely to feel like that for even a week.

And! The Grad Student theme lets us turn that into a brilliant pricing strategy. Whatever the actual cost is, we’ll say the price of the camp is, like, eight times that. But on “acceptance” to Grad Student Fantasy Camp the customer-student also gets tuition assistance, covering the cost of the first day in exchange for “work” as a TA. They’ll feel like they’re getting such a deal, whatever they actually pay.

The assistance offer gets “renewed” every day, up until the final day of camp when the student is notified the department has enjoyed your Grad Student experience as much as you have, but you should really be getting on with your thesis now. The student then defends a ritual thesis to an advisor, whom they pick on arbitrary grounds the third or fourth day, and three people the student never saw before or will see again, their committee.

The TA work will be grading “student assignments” themselves composed by a Markov chain generator so that there’s a limit to their madness. The grading is done in green pen, to make this legitimately challenging work, because humanity has never solved the problem of making a green pen that successfully writes.

Grad Student Fantasy Camp needs facilities, but by having it either in summer or over winter break we can rent out an actual college or university campus, or just count on not being noticed by the grad students teaching real summer courses. This way the Fantasy Camp gets the necessary buildings and a library that uses the Library of Congress Catalogue System For Crying Out Loud, What Is This Dewey Decimal Nonsense.

We’ll need faculty, to be advisors and committees, and to hold lectures that students can attend the first couple of days before they retreat to “work” on their “theses”. For them we hire adjuncts, who get not just pretty good per-hour pay but also the healing dignity of students who reflexively call them “Doctor” or “Professor” and wouldn’t dream of sending them e-mails addressing them by a contraction of their first names and filled with text-y abbreviations. Of course, to satisfy the students’ need to feel like they’re back in grad school, the faculty will have to seem older than even the students are, but that can be done by the faculty looking generally disapproving of things, and having every document on the class web site (proudly HTML 2.0 compliant) be a download in Rich Text Format.

For the social side of the experience, we’ll encourage students to hang out, reading the good bits of texts — not books, texts, maybe even volumes — from the GV, HS, PN, or maybe even the QC sections of the library while swapping stories about Electrical Engineering undergrads. After the second night our faculty starts inviting groups of students to bars around campus, sharing wild tales of intrigue in the University Senate and leading contests to see who can read without cracking up the longest from furious e-mails in which Brian Leiter threatens bloggers with defamation lawsuits. Around 2 am staff will remind students that there are perfectly good simulation or strategy games or text-based RP MOOs that aren’t going to play themselves. Of course we’ll have guitars at the ready just in case.

Graduation will be heartbreaking, but a sweet chance for a good department dinner at the brew pub where students and faculty promise to stay in touch. Maybe they even will a while, but — and here’s why Grad School Fantasy Camp will succeed — the tug back to campus will last, and bring the customer-students back, maybe several times a summer. I kind of want to go to it myself.

Interested? Please contact the admissions office, care of our confusing and unsearchable web site.

The State of the University


Good afternoon and I’d like to thank everyone for attending this State of the University address. I’m sorry it’s going to be a little ragged but I kind of have to patch up the parts where the Public Relations department told me I couldn’t use words like that in public. I think they’re being a little … well, I mean, we all use words like that sometimes, right? Well. Anyway.

As anyone who’s walked through the deserted wings of the main quadrangle or “quad” as I’m told by informed people who’ve met students tell me they call it knows, we have suffered an under-enrollment problem in the past few years, affecting our ability to fill such levée-en-masse courses as Grueling Calculus and the basic Great Works Of Agonizingly Boring Literature Or Maybe Movies. This isn’t just a problem at our school, so please stop writing us about it. We have taken several pro-active steps to improve population. Even as we speak we have an unmarked van driving slowly around Ann Arbor, and when they locate people who seem to be about the right age for college they swoop down with the giant nets and bring the prospective students back here where they’re to remain until completing at least five years or study or accumulating $185,000 in student loan obligations.

The first several attempts for this new plan have been a little disappointing, owing to unusually large holes in the nets, but as this new revenue stream comes up to speed we hope to be able to afford patching some of them and creating what they call a “virtuous circle” of improved student body acquisition. Ah, so that probably answers the question a lot of faculty have been asking me about why some of the students have long ropes tied to their ankles.

Continue reading “The State of the University”