Tuesday, May 31, 2016

I Much Prefer the Mundane

Avant Gardener by Courtney Barnett is the soundtrack to this blog. Like she says in the song, I much prefer the mundane. The song is a story about a personal health scare. She sings "The paramedic thinks I'm clever cause I play guitar, I think she's clever cause she stops people dying." I think Barnett is brilliant. Some of her songs I especially like are Pedestrian at Best, Depreston, and Nobody Really Cares if You Don't Go to the Party. Which is so true, nobody really cares if you don't go to the party. Getting back to the mundane: I go for the ordinary and try to capture the simple moments of life. And so there are posts about broccoli, meal planning, lunch, insomnia, grading, etc. I have avoided writing about some serious personal moments in my life. I don't document terrible things that have happened to my family and friends. The mundane is understandably attractive in contrast to, say, personal health problems, serious accidents and injuries, chronic illness, and other afflictions. The mundane is beautiful. I cannot say the same for frightening and tragic occurrences.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thinking about Garbage

I'm reading a good book by anthropologist Joshua Reno. The title is Waste Away: Working and Living with a North American Landfill. I learned of this book from a write up in The Atlantic. Here's a video of me talking about what's on my mind as I make my way through the book.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Cereal Aisle is the Worst (Plus a Great Quote from Elbert Hubbard)

I love grocery stores. They might be the place in society where I feel most comfortable. It's a toss up between grocery stores and classrooms. But the cereal aisle is a pain in the Trump. See if you can find Krave, my 8-year-old's cereal of choice.

That wasn't playing fair. It's in the blurry part of the first picture, bottom shelf.

Before my trip to the grocery store today, I took a stroll through the lovely village of East Aurora, NY. They have nice garbage bins on their main street. The bins have quotes. This one by Elbert Hubbard caught my eye:

Words to live by.

Checking in with Matt Loveland

Matt Loveland is a sociologist working at Le Moyne College. He blogs at milieuXmorass. He generously agreed to answer interview questions that I e-mailed to him. You can find him on Twitter at @mtloveland.

TS: I only have two Wilco songs on my iTunes, Handshake Drugs and Heavy Metal Drummer. Can you suggest a few more?

ML: ​Handshake Drugs is one of my favorite Wilco songs, and that whole album (A Ghost is Born) is great. A bunch of my favorites on that one. Hummingbird is​ probably my favorite, and Theologians, and The Late Greats. I like Summer Teeth (the song) a lot, and that album is good. Another favorite is Misunderstood from Being There, another fantastic album. I don't think you can separate Wilco songs from the albums. Buy the albums, Todd. Not the tracks. Come on.

TS: ​In a maximum of 10 words, describe Trump.

​ML: Ignorant, racist, crass, xenophobe born on third base.​

TS: What are you working on?

ML: ​Right at this moment, student learning assessment. Yuck. Rest of the summer, a paper about how atheists are more trusting of others than religious people are. Longer term, a paper about Catholics who have born-again religious experiences.

TS: Tell us why you think baseball is great. Tell us why you think the Beatles aren't great.

ML: ​First, it's not that I think the Beatles aren't great. I mean, maybe I don't think they are great. I don't think they suck. They just don't move me. Uninteresting songs and drugged out studio goofing. It's fine if you don't like rock and roll, I guess. It's pop. Fine. Pop is fine. Ok, baseball. Baseball is great for all of the boring reasons you'd expect. Beer. Sunshine. Friends. The 7th Inning Stretch. It's great because it's terribly hard and it's fun to watch people excel at things. It's great because you have to think about each situation and what's probably about to happen and then you see if it does. Last week I saw Syracuse Chief Brian Goodwin hit an 2-0 grand slam. That was amazing. I'm sitting there thinking 'watch close because this is an action pitch.' And then, bam. Smoked it. It's also great because if you don't want to pay attention that closely you've got beer, sunshine, and friends.

TS: A few of your favorite Twitter follows?

ML: Hmm. This one is tricky. There's a lot, Todd. What if I said I don't even think of Twitter as a bunch of separate follows but rather just one never ending conversation with a bunch of people, and bots, and whatever?

TS: Picture a student who only takes one sociology course, and it’s your Intro to Sociology course. What are a few essential things you want them to learn in your course?

ML: I don't care about teaching sociology's 'facts.' I teach that sociology is a way of being in the world. We are all the subject of social forces, and we need to understand that everybody else is too. The perspective I try to really hit home is History / Biography and the Sociological Imagination. Maybe that's trite.

TS: If there was one thing you could change about academic conferences, what would it be?

ML: Schedule them when the nearest baseball team is on a home stand.​ ​

TS: Anything sociological you look forward to reading this summer?

ML: I don't know if it's sociological necessarily, but​ I'm looking forward to reading Nick Bostrom's 'Superintelligence.' It's about the development of AI and how it might affect being human in the future. Do we even need humans in the future? It seems unlikely to me. I'm also finishing up 'The Only Rule is it Has to Work,' a baseball analytics book that has some pretty good sociology in it if you know what you are looking for.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Hoping Our Budget Doesn't Blow Up

What is this unattractive food? It's the Beef Noodle Casserole I made a few days ago. Let's talk about how we got there.

On Sunday, our 5-year-old complained that his stomach hurt. Before long, he was sick to his stomach. A small bowl of crackers was about all he could handle. I ran to the store and grabbed egg noodles in case he'd be hungry later. I figured he might eat some plain or lightly buttered noodles. His appetite didn't come back by dinner, so we saved the noodles for the next day.

So what to do with those noodles? I googled around for recipes and came across an idea from Allrecipes.com. Not glamorous, and certainly doesn't pass the foodie test, but it turned out to be pretty tasty and I like meals that are budget friendly. Five bucks for the beef, two for the noodles, two for the cheese, one for the onion, one for the tomato sauce, 50 cents for the garlic. $11.50 thank you very much, with leftovers for lunch. When I use recipes from the web, I read the comments to pick up suggestions. One helpful tip was to use beef stock instead of water. I had beef stock on hand, so that worked. I added extra spices because some reviewers complained it was a bland dish. I didn't use the full package of cheese, yet it was still very gooey. I drained the beef before adding the tomato sauce and beef stock. I also added a bit of Worcestershire. If you can spell Worcestershire without looking it up, you're better than me.

This sounds like a paid advertisement for Allrecipes.com, It is not, though I will kindly take on sponsors. I have a student loan balance that I would like to pay. One reason for describing what I made is that the recipe reminds me of the recent Slate article, "If You Are What You Eat, America Is Allrecipes." It's a good read. The author observes that the popular recipes on the site reveal "most people are far more concerned with convenience and affordability than authenticity or novelty."

I love to cook. I try to make inexpensive, good-tasting meals. I prefer they include vegetables, and most of our dinners do. I have to be realistic about what our kids will eat. Budget, convenience, and the palates of children are key factors in our meal planning.

Budget takes on greater significance this year. We are trying to save for a family vacation. Last year we road tripped to Boston and Chicago, and the year before that we road tripped to New York City. But we'd like to leave on a jet plane in winter and end up somewhere with blue water and beach. The kind of vacation when you send postcards. And so we are being extra careful in what we spend. The budget smiles when a meal doesn't cost too much and leaves enough for lunch the next day. Our vacation fund is looking pretty good. But we're afraid there will be a surprise that empties the jar, like the scene in Up that makes me cry.

I write this as I await a call from an electrician with an estimate to do repair work. We have a few problems that need to be addressed. You know the feeling right before you hear what something is going to cost you? I'm just hoping the number is lower than the guesstimate I have in my head. The number in my head is one we can manage. Something a little bit higher will be hard to absorb. And anything higher than that means breaking the vacation jar.

Of course, life will go on if we don't get the postcard vacation. Expensive vacations are not something we expect or feel entitled to. We're fortunate to even have a realistic chance of taking a pricey vacation. If we stay frugal and don't encounter too many surprises the rest of the year, off we go.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

An In-Class Assignment for Doing Content Analysis

I love content analysis. Recently, I messed around with the idea of doing a content analysis of the HDTV show Love it or List It. An idea for an in-class assignment in my Research Methods course occurred to me yesterday when I was scrolling through pictures on my iPhone. I've had my iPhone for two years. It was fun to look back and reminisce through two years of pictures. I noticed that most of my pictures are of my kids. I tend to take pictures of my younger son when he sleeps in my car. I have some pictures of my older son after getting a haircut, and pictures of him reading. I have pictures of the kids eating. I also take the occasional selfie. Another category is pictures that capture home improvement projects in progress. I also take a lot of pictures of events and scenery in the city of Buffalo. There are lots of family pictures: my wife, my parents, my in-laws. I'll show a few pictures at the end.

As for the assignment, I'll ask students to pay attention to any themes they notice in looking through their pictures. I will, of course, tell them they don't have to share any information they deem to be sensitive. I'm guessing 20-year-olds take pictures that aren't all PG-13. But I imagine they could still break down their pictures into different categories. This will serve as an exercise to supplement an example of content analysis of teen magazines I share in class. Other good examples of content analysis include Philip Cohen's analysis of gender of New York Times writers and an analysis of sociology textbooks by Peter Kaufman and Richard Bente.

So here are some pictures that illustrate two main themes: kids and selfies. This is a sample of what's on my phone. What's on yours?

His first New York City pretzel!

Lunch is a Social Construction

Expecting to be cast in a reality show about academia, I present a key part of my routine: making lunches for my kids. The kids are 8 and 5. One likes applesauce in a pouch (weird) and the other likes red peppers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Make Reality TV Great Again

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Chronicle of Higher Education spread the idea of a reality TV show about academe. Despite my initial tryout, I have yet to hear from producers or agents. Until then, I develop ideas here. In this video, I tackle the familiar problem of writer's block.

Reality Show Tryout

The Chronicle of Higher Education wonders if academe would make a good reality show. I figured I'd get out in front of the auditioning process in case a show gets green lighted. Considering that professors read a lot, here I am doing some morning reading in my kitchen. I suppose things could get exciting if a producer sneaks in and gives me a cocktail and creates conflict with my neighbors. Any good reality show needs drama. There will have to be spats with family members, neighbors, students, and colleagues. America needs to see what a two hour committee meeting looks like.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Will I Lose Weight This Summer?

I usually gain 3-4 pounds a year. I don't know what my ideal weight is, I just know I keep gaining weight. I exercise but not enough and I try to eat well but I have weaknesses (pizza, donuts, beer, really all carbs). I don't like going to the gym. My wife and I do exercise videos together (Denise Austin, Jillian Michaels) and I run 1-2 miles around the neighborhood and do workouts with dumbbells but I want to try something different. So I bought the Wonder Core last week. I bought one from Bed Bath & Beyond with a $20 coupon so it brought the cost down to $80. I have no idea if this thing works or how much I need to use it before expecting results.

I've been reading about Lauryn Hill and how she shows up two hours late for concerts and that makes some people mad while others defend her. I prefer to just listen to Lauryn Hill in the comfort of my home or automobile. Here I am listening to Lauryn while working out in my basement. Why am I working out in jeans? Because I just dropped off one of my kids to school and I shouldn't be working out. I should be grading final exams. I'm all hyped up on coffee and I started grading exams at 7:00 a.m. So my break was recording myself using the Wonder Core while listening to Lauryn Hill and taking five minutes to blog about it before I return to grading.