21 December 2006

Comments on MSN Spaces

A little while back I lamented the fact that Microsoft's new and (ahem) improved blog site was flawed by the fact that you couldn't post a comment to someone's blog if you were using Firefox. Well Microsoft must have felt the heat, because it seems to be working now. In trying to resolve this problem, a little, anonymous, bird who works in the belly of the beast was kind enough to give me a freebie, tech support call. It turns out that tech support doesn't cover such a problem, but the friendly fellow on the other end of the line pointed me toward the support site for Windows Live. While (re)entering my complaint, I decided to navigate over to Roger's blog to try to recreate the problem so that I could address it more specifically. Lo and behold! my brief, off-color comment was magically added, and I have since been able do this at other friends' sites. Now I can't add my name or my blog's url, but at least I can write comments now.

I'd like to take credit for pushing Microsoft to fix this, although I have a hunch that this blog doesn't have quite enough pull. I'm just happy it's working, albeit clumsily. Kind of like the rest of MS's products.


20 December 2006

Now I'm that old guy who listened to classic rock when it was new

I turned in my grades last Friday, so another semester of teaching is behind me. Every time I teach, it occurs to me how my pop culture radar is less and less finely-tuned, and that I'm definitely not the same age as my students any more. There was one particular incident this semester that really cemented for me that I've moved beyond that "slightly older peer" stage.

During the evolution unit, we talked about a branch of evolutionary biology that marries evolutionary theory with developmental biology (the study of how organisms develop from fertilization through adulthood). The classic example of this is how vertebrate embryos superficially resemble each other during their early phases of development. Anyway, this evolutionary / developmental biology subfield is often abbreviated as evo-devo. I made a crack during discussion about how I couldn't help but think of the band Devo whenever this topic came up, and I was met with universal silence. It wasn't my best material, so I shrugged and moved on.

The way my teaching schedule worked this semester, we would have an hour discussion and then all walk upstairs together for the lab. While we were heading to the lab room, I started thinking about my Devo comment, and it occurred to me that the blank looks I got were not the same as the "that was a pretty lame joke, Mark" looks that I'm all-too familiar with. So before I started my pre-lab lecture, I came right out and asked my students if they knew who Devo was. The response was the same roomful of blank stares I'd gotten earlier, although some of them were tinged with a mild sympathy, as if they saw the "I'm over thirty" anxiety I was feeling. "You know, 'Whip It'," I tried. Relief, as many heads started nodding. That behind me, I was able to press on with that week's lab. Nevertheless, I was struck by the fact that one of the pop cultural touchstones of my childhood was just a foggy, VH-1-cultivated memory for them. (They probably also don't remember when VH-1 was a soft rock version of MTV.)

Anne tried to reassure me that Devo is a somewhat obscure reference, but I refused to be mollified. I started doing the math and realized that the bands of my youth, Metallica, for example, were about as contemporary to these college sophomores as Led Zeppelin was to me. Yes, today's classic rock was new when I was in high school. I instantly regretted following that line of thought. (And apologies to everyone who reads this who also went to high school around the same time.) One of the things that I like about the prospect of spending my career working in a college is the constant infusion of youthful people. I just don't know if I'm quite ready to come to terms with the fact that I won't necessarily be eternally youthful, too.

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13 December 2006

Mike Patton on All My Children

I just heard about this hilarious clip from All My Children. In it, the protagonists are trying to convince rocker "Zarf" to shill their line of cosmetics. He's not buying, so one of them (I kid you not) launches into a minute-long discussion of her love for Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle), which wins over "Zarf" (I feel I have to put his name in quotes every time). "Zarf's" reaction to the mention of Mike Patton is almost as awesome as hearing this much time given over to him on a daytme soap. As a super-awesome follow-up, when I mentioned this story to Anne last night, she informed me that "Zarf" is now the first transgendered character on a daytime soap opera, having made the switch to womanhood recently. (For Anne's sake, I should add that she only found this out by reading about it in the Chronicle.)

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My mom the deacon

The fall semester is almost over, and not a moment too soon. My students have their final tomorrow morning, and I have a Swedish final on Friday. This has been the hardest I've worked since coming to Berkeley, and I don't like it one bit. (Roger once told me I was "a slacker at heart," and I have to agree with him.) One consequence of having all this work -- and the consequence of particular interest to my blog's readers -- has been my piss-poor job of keeping up on my blog. I just noticed that my last post was nearly a month ago. Now, I don't want to be one of those people whose every post is a tale of woe about how I don't have time to post to my blog. This lengthy preamble serves to introduce that I've gotten a bit of a backlog of things I've been meaning to write about, which I'm going to try to dole out over the couple weeks before we leave for Christmas. The first thing I want to write about is our two trips to Vegas this fall.

A few weeks ago, we did the annual trip to Vegas for Thanksgiving. I always like seeing people's expressions when I tell them that's where I'm going for the holiday. The look I get is usually an odd mix of excitement ("I'm happy for you because you're going to the Entertainment Capital of the World!") and confusion ("Who goes to Las Vegas for a family holiday?"). I love seeing my mom, and she knows her way around Thanksgiving dinner, but neither Anne nor I are particularly crazy about Las Vegas.

But I digress .... What I really want to write about was our first trip to Vegas this fall, back in mid-October. After years of studying and preparation, my mom was ordained as a deacon in her church, and we flew down for the ceremony. I was really happy for her because it's something she's been working hard at for a long time -- taking classes in the evening and enduring interviews and examinations from clergy members for the past six to eight years. It was like she spent that time going to seminary in night school.

Just to clarify in case you, like me, are kind of fuzzy on the role of a deacon. The deacon, at least in the Episcopal church, is a parallel position to the priest. While the priest is the spiritual leader and runs the church side of the things, the deacon's duties have more to do with outreach and the social justice side of the church's ministry. Also, deacons don't tend to be paid by the church, so my mom is going to keep her day job.

A lot of my family came to town, and there were about 80-100 people there all told. Anne's mom even flew down from Brewster. The ordination itself was a full church service, and the coolest part was that the bishop of Nevada presided over it. For those of you who don't follow episcopal news, she is now the presiding bishop of the entire Episcopal Church USA, so it's pretty cool that she chose to make my mom's ordination her last act as bishop of Nevada.

The ceremony was really nice; Anne and I even got to participate by carrying the bread and wine down the aisle before the communion. This was the first time I'd been in a church for a while, so I was happy that all my years of going to church as a kid helped me wing my way through the service. How would it look to the bishop if the deacon-to-be's son bumbled the wine handoff or stood and sang when he should have been kneeling and praying?

The next day, Sunday, we went to the church on our way to our flight. Although we had to leave before the sermon so Jack could drive us to the airport, we did get to see my mom in the full outfit reading the gospel for the whole church. Although church is all about the spiritual experience, I don't think it's telling stories out of school (church?) that my mom's somber appearance barely concealed a wide grin.

So although I'm no fan of The Vegas, I was more than happy to make a special trip (and to go to church twice in the same weekend) for my mom's ordination. Things seem to be going well for her in her new role -- she's already been roped into the search committee for the new bishop. It seems that institutions are all the same in that respect.

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