Birthday Wishes

I actually have two happy birthday wishes – one belated, one not.  A happy 50th as of yesterday to my friend Jeff Fisher, who apparently celebrated in style (Jeff, I only have one question – how the hell are you celebrating your 60th?).  A happy 21st birthday as of today to my girlfriend, Amanda, and congratulations to both!

Democracy as a “Big Stick”

If you seek to strike fear into the hearts and minds of American citizens, simply mention that something is a threat to American democracy, regardless of whether such a comment makes any realistic sense.

The Seattle Times today features an editorial on “Ill effects of a gated cyber world“. In it, there are two passages that really got my attention, both mentioning the seeming downfall of democracy should corporate providers be allowed to put in place paid mechanisms for providing faster downloads:

If computer-network providers are allowed to hijack the Internet, the damage will go much deeper than the consumers’ wallets. Democracy will be at risk with the inevitable limiting of voices if Internet neutrality is not ensured.

AT&T and other network providers such as Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner are pushing Congress to strike any language from the new telecom bill — the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006 — that would eliminate the ability to charge extra for the speedy service available to all currently on those networks. Here is what will happen if the network companies prevail: Internet customers would pay additional fees to have Web sites and other services that use the network, download nearly instantaneously, while Web sites for customers who do not pay extra would download slower.


The biggest loser in a gated cyber world would be American democracy. Democracy is already suffering from the effects of consolidation, especially in the media where only a handful of companies either own outright or own interests in films, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, book publishing, and any other media channel that can be devoured.

The author’s point here is very valid – that adding a fee to ensure that a user always gets faster download speeds than everyone else is problematic and runs counter to how the Internet operates today, but to call it a threat to American democracy is laughable. The author forgets that, while U.S. corporations certainly do hold a high stake in the Internet, that the Internet is a global force, not one confined merely to U.S. borders. In fact, it has no borders – the Internet is an ephemeral cloud which users all over the world utilize to find information and connect to other people. To call anything regarding the Internet, regardless of whether it has to do with the American corporations that control those resources, a “threat to American democracy” is incredibly myopic and hegemonic. The Internet simply does not work that way. To claim otherwise fails to consider the big picture.

Special Assistant to the Director Interview

I interviewed Monday morning for the Special Assistant to the Director position for the Writing Center, a yearlong position open only to graduating tutors. The job is to essentially take on administrative responsibilities for the Center – the job description is as follows:

Special Assistant to the Director
The position of Special Assistant is a five-quarter-long commitment available to graduating Writing Center tutors the year following their graduation. This position provides both managerial and administrative experience.

Duties include:

  • Creating, compiling, and maintaining a weekly schedule;
  • Planning and implementing the fall tutor retreat;
  • Coordinating open and in-program workshops;
  • Meeting regularly with the Director of the Writing Center;
  • Planning and facilitating staff meetings;
  • Fielding questions/addressing tutors’ concerns re: WC operation;
  • Hiring tutors and receptionists for the upcoming year;
  • Hiring replacement Special Assistants;
  • Participating in collective decision-making with the Director and other assistants;
  • Developing and implementing innovative projects to improve the WC;
  • Revising and enforcing the policies in the handbook;
  • and, most important, tutoring students.

After working very closely with some awesome Special Assistants (four sets of them now – including singer/songwriter Devin Brewer all the way back in 2002), and because of my personal connection to the job, I decided to apply. Admittedly, it’s low pay with no benefit, but it’s not about the money for me, it’s about the experience and the chance to work with an absolutely stellar group of people.

The interview itself consisted of the two current Special Assistants and the Director herself. They asked a series of very probing and good questions to ask in any job interview, asking me about such things as conflict resolution, collaboration, communication skills, and what assets I would bring to the job. They also asked me to speak about one of my obsessions (“which one”, I replied, “I have so many!”) – I chose to talk about sustainability and talked a little bit about how I was thinking about the connections between sustainability and my other work. I then had the chance to ask questions, and I asked two that I felt were very hard and contemplative questions: Where do you see the Center going in the next year? What is missing from our efforts to support the campus in writing endeavors?

I think I did quite well, though I’m still looking around for other employment opportunities. The Special Assistant job is roughly 20 hours a week, so I still need to find something to cover the other part of the time. If anyone knows of any opportunities, feel free to contact me.

I should know whether I have the job or not by Monday or Tuesday next week.

Summarizing the PNWCA Conference Trip

This is part 1 of 2 – in this part, I’ll note everything that didn’t have anything to do with the conference directly, but instead had to do with my impressions during our travels and as we were at Oregon State University in Corvallis. In the second part (to come later), I’ll discuss the actual conference, including my own presentation.

We left directly after the staff meeting on Friday to drive four hours south to Corvallis, which, if I do say so myself, was a beautiful drive. I was able to make full use of my new Garmin StreetPilot C340 GPS, and it got us there perfectly (and would later get us back perfectly). The only sort of harrowing part of the trip down was having a semi two lanes over experience a tire blowout and having a part of the tire hit the car. I wasn’t really aware of it until I heard a somewhat sickening thump, then looked over to see the remainder of his rear tire shredding. I immediately pulled into the next rest stop and checked the car – no damage, and the same semi came limping in a bit after I did. We breathed a sigh of relief, took a brief stretch break, then continued south.

Crossing the Washington border is a little bit like being a very tempted fish going after a worm on a line – it keeps teasing you until you capture it. Case in point: once you hit exit 1 just north of the state line, they decide to split it into 1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D, just in case you weren’t already breathless with anticipation.

We got to Corvallis at roughly 3:30 after leaving at 11. The way we got on the Oregon State University campus wasn’t particularly impressive, since we had to go to their parking structure to park and pay for parking, then hightail it to Memorial Union (which, interestingly, has its own web site) for the pre-conference session – more on that later. The parking structure is in a very industrial-looking area with train tracks and a Naval Science building that’s very obviously old. However, if you walk two blocks to the Memorial Union, it turns into an absolutely beautiful campus, which is a very striking change between the two. Admittedly, the parking garage area looks like it’s new construction, but it’s still very confusing to make that transition.

After the pre-conference session, three of us went to check into the dorms, leaving the other two playing Frisbee. Our director wasn’t joining us until much, much later in the evening, so we had autonomy until then. Checking in went fairly well, though apparently OSU Conference Services doesn’t know how to check their locks – the original keys they gave me to my room didn’t work and they had to switch me to another room. This happened to one of our other tutors as well (one of the ones who was playing Frisbee, to be specific). After some discussion, we decided to run through both my presentation and the other presentation being given by tutors from Evergreen before dinner. Doing that was fairly extensive, with both run-throughs and feedback discussions about what modifications could be made to make the presentations better.

We went to dinner after dark (roughly 10PM, I believe), after deciding not to wait for our Director. We went to American Dream Pizza on Monroe, about five blocks or so from the dorms. Not the greatest pizza I’ve had, but definitely a fairly unique menu – we had the Tejano (BBQ sauce, Herb Chicken, Smoked Gouda, Cilantro, and Red Onion), which was a really interesting taste experience – I liked it. Another tutor and I went back to the dorms, and I rehearsed my presentation before falling asleep.

I got up at around 7AM, showered (and was fairly impressed by the shower itself – not the fact that it was dark like most collegiate shower stalls, but the actual shower), dressed, threw a tie on, then rehearsed my presentation in my head before we checked out and left for the conference itself.  We did finally find our director when we checked into the conference – she didn’t even get to Corvallis until 11:30 Friday, so we were somewhat glad we ate instead of waiting.
I’ll leave the whole conference summary for another post.

Before we left, we decided we wanted to eat as a group, so we solicited some suggestions from some of the local faculty and staff of OSU and settled on the idea of Thai food.  My interest was piqued, primarily because I’ve never actually had thai food before, but I was looking forward to it  We went to a place called Tarntip, down the block from American Dream.  We had some squid and some chicken skewers for appetizers (both good), and I had the Plah Laht Prig (#62 on the menu) as my main course – deep fried salmon with special sauce.  Not bad, but I’ve heard of better food.  The only drawback was that they don’t take credit cards, which caused a bit of a headache when it came time to pay (probably not the first time either).

We left at about 7:30 – my passenger and I both got back to Olympia at about 11, and I got home at roughly 11:30 or so.

It was the first time I’ve done prolonged driving, which actually wasn’t that bad. I did enjoy the trip and the conference experience – I just wish the conference might have been a bit longer so that we could get more exposure to some of those ideas.  More on that later.

Visited States

Apparently, I’ve only visited California, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Washington – I might have to do something about making that list longer this summer. Road trip, perhaps?