Sunday, October 23

Porch find: Maimed grasshopper

I swept off my back porch today, delighted to find that the recent rain had cleared away most of the bird mess left below my feeders... When I was sweeping off brush, leaves, seed pods, and stink bugs (ick), I saw something bright green and stopped to examine it. 

What I found was this poor little guy. It clung to the porch, so I ran to get my camera (of course!). I noticed that it only had one back leg while I was taking pictures. It's remarkable how these little guys survive with fewer limbs than intended.

Monday, October 3

Beetle beat

I found this little guy in my mulch one day when I got out of the car. I was carrying in groceries, but I ran in to grab my camera so I could get a shot before it went away.

According to my entomologist friend, this is a spotted pelidnota or grapevine beetle, which is a cousin of the Japanese beetle.

It's fun to find things like this out of the blue. I know I probably should have begun paying closer attention to nature earlier in my life, but I guess what matters is that I'm doing it now!

Adorned web

 So I didn't get to post during September. It was a busy month for sure. I did get to take in the splendor of my backyard in its gradual change from summer to autumn. With the exception of the rain (read: cold and rainy for four days straight), autumn crept in gracefully.

The spiders on my back porch have been quite active again. The first picture shows what I saw one morning. The beautiful display got me to come closer (after grabbing my camera, of course!). Dew drops were strung like beads on this most perfect web. I was really glad I got to see it like this before the dew evaporated. 

The big maple tree behind the web (out in my yard) is all orange and yellow now... These photos were from a few weeks ago. Hopefully I'll get to take some autumn photos soon. 

Wednesday, August 31

Reprise: Arachnids abound

Last year on my old blog, I wrote about the abundance of spiders on my back porch.

This year, I let them run rampant in an effort to rein in the population of insects calling my porch home.

I'd like to report a screaming success. That is, until I decided to have guests.

As I'm sure you're aware, most people are not too friendly to our eight-legged friends. These octolegarians  (my puns are getting worse, I can see...) are frequently seen as pests, rather than purveyors of a healthy ecosystem. Since most folks don't open two (let alone eight) arms to spiders, I decided I'd clean my porch in preparation for the birthday party I held for myself. I took down all the webs (sorry!) and scrubbed my porch.

But first, I captured a magnificent spider (watching as I desecrated the homes of his family *sob*). you can't see its web, but the spider itself is gorgeous.

Back-post 7/18/10: The Goose Family Reunion

I live in a proverbial wildlife preservation: behind my house, there is a pond, a creek, and some thick woods. All of this provides ample opportunity for regular wildlife experiences. Naturally (pun intended), I enjoy this quite a bit.

A family of geese showed up in my pond last year. Considering it was my first spring at this house, I was delighted and began noting their behavior. After awhile, some baby geese appeared. (So fluffy and cute! This picture was taken in May 2010.)

Their comings and goings in my yard were regulated by their need for my grass. Fortunately for them, my landlord is not always on top of the mowing, so they get to munch away at some healthy, long strands. I could always count on the geese--day or night, rain or shine, they'd be out there swimming, eating, wandering, and chasing each other.

Later in June, I noticed that the flock grew substantially. I affectionately refer to this population surge as The Goose Family Reunion.

The Goose Family Reunion continued throughout July. More geese grazing means they'll cover more ground... and quickly. I noticed them edging closer and closer to my porch. Once when I took my dog outside, she went the full length of her leash to chase them and they just stood there while she barked, as if to say, "Yeah, right. We're the real animals here, dog."

They just kept getting closer to my house. Inch by inch, they claimed my yard as theirs. Goose dropping soon coated my yard (a great image, I know).

One morning--July 18, 2010, to be exact--I woke to find that the geese were in the road in front of my house. (!) I had no idea what they intended to accomplish there, but I decided that I could not bear for one of them to get hit by a car (since people regularly go much faster than they ought to on my road). I went into the road to usher them back toward my yard.

Only after they reached my driveway did I think to grab my camera. Here are the photos I snapped after The Goose Family Reunion migrated to my driveway.

I got a mantis for my birthday

I threw a birthday* party for myself this year. It was a great idea! I don't think I'll do it every year, but I had a great time with some of my favorite people and eating some of my favorite food.

During the course of the evening, there were a few outbursts of laughter and shouts. In a party atmosphere, this is only natural. One outburst, however, was different than all the rest. This outburst was in response to an uninvited guest.

Yes, a praying mantis found its way onto my friend Nancy's face. She screamed (of course; who wouldn't!) and her boyfriend Clint quickly swooped in to remove said mantis from her visage.

Mantis on my house
I was so excited! I never saw one of these in real life. (My only reference point is Zorak in Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.)

Clint showed me where he put the mantis (on the side of my house; see left photo). We captured the little fella and then I delighted in its presence.

I got a praying mantis for my birthday!

*My birthday is August 13th, if you're wondering. Or if you want to send greetings. :)

Saturday, August 27

Sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf

Again in San Francisco, this time at the Bay... (seriously, this was the best vacation I've ever taken!)

We got to see sea lions at the Wharf! It was a joy to see them bark and swim around.

Crab burrowing in sand

When I visited San Francisco in July, I finally got to greet the Pacific Ocean. It was a cool, breezy day at Ocean Beach when a wave washed up a crab. I was quite excited and ran over to take a picture, but ended up taking a short video of it instead. The poor thing lost a claw! The little boy who saw me run over to the crab was quite vocal about his experiences with crabs.

(Sorry about the poor audio; it's not really important anyway, but the wind at the beach felt better than it sounds on this video.)

Back-post 9/27/10: cecropia moth caterpillar

While walking around after a picnic at Keystone State Park, I spotted this colorful caterpillar (who strikingly resembles the famous caterpillar in the children's book The Very Hungry Caterpillar) in the gravel path. I had no idea what kind of winged creature this could become, but I used a stick to move him from the middle of the path to the wooded area nearby.

Because I am not an entomologist, I consulted my favorite entomologist and nature-loving friends to determine what kind of caterpillar I had fallen in love with.

Evidently, this is a cecropia caterpillar. My entomologist friend told me that they cecropias are the largest moth in North America and that this poor guy probably got dislodged from its host plant. I was also informed that I was quite lucky to spot this fella. It made me smile for like a week, knowing that I had seen a really rare natural sight.

Back-post 4/10/11: dance of the American woodcock

Today my boyfriend and I took a ride around Linn Run State Park. It's a wonderful park. He was scoping out the terrain for a Jeep meet-up, but then we saw a strange little bird. My boyfriend pulled over so we could take a picture and then I took this video of his cute little waddle/walk/dance.

I was giggling quietly the whole time. This little American woodcock looked like it was moving to the beat of music we couldn't hear.

Monday, August 22

Back-post 5/15/11: attempted rescue

Brandon and Ethel napping
peacefully as I begin
my rescue attempt

Remember the fallen robin's nest?

I watched it to see if mama bird would return. When she didn't, I called the Wildlife Rescue Center to ask what to do. They said to bring in the birds.

I couldn't just let Brandon and Ethel starve.

I got a little box to put the nest in and, using my gardening gloves, carefully placed the nest in the box.

The box wasn't big enough for Brandon, though. As you can see in this second photo, he is attempting to escape while Ethel screeches in confusion.
Ethel shrieks while Brandon attempts to escape
(Note bird mess below where their nest was perched.)

At this point, I didn't really know what to do. I wasn't prepared to deal with a little bird flying (or trying to fly) at me. I knew they were almost fledglings (scraggly little downy feathers and no tail, huge feet), but Brandon was not about to let me put him in a box.

I went inside and tried to collect myself. I had to think about what to do next. When I looked out on the porch, here is what I saw:
"Oh, great," I thought. "He's called in back-up."Brandon, next to the box (clearly dedicated to his cause), an adult robin perched on the porch railing (presumably the mother), and another random bird facing the adult robin on the porch railing.

I put my rescue attempt on hold. I wanted to see how things would progress.

I waited (impatiently) inside, looking out the windows onto my porch every few minutes to monitor the situation. Eventually, Brandon moseyed his way across my porch.
Brandon hopping around on my porch

Then he jumped off the porch.

I shrieked and ran outside to look for him.

I found him, unharmed (thankfully), in the grass behind my house. He hopped away from me as I tried to take his photo.

Once I got a picture of him (clearly at this point I was just out to chronicle the entire ordeal), I scooped him up--still wearing my gardening gloves, mind you--and returned his wiggly little bird self to his nest so he could be with his sister.

Days later, both Ethel and Brandon left the nest. Sometimes I swear that Brandon stops by just to see how I'm doing.
Brandon, the escape artist

Back-post 5/11/11: hummingbird feeder

I always wanted to see if I could coerce a hummingbird to visit my porch. It seems that all it took was the right feeder, a lot of red ribbon, and some (boiled) sweetened water.

I had seen a few of these little guys fluttering around the feeder, but wasn't sure I'd be able to capture a photo. This one is taken through a screen and a window with my tiny little digital camera. Despite the layers of my house in the way, I was delighted with the picture!

And because I love it so much, here is the only other photo I got... I love that their wings are a total blur. I can only imagine how much energy they expend keeping themselves in the air, darting around the way they do.

Back-post, 5/14/11: fallen robin's nest

Meet Brandon and Ethel. They are the baby robins whose nest fell from its perch onto my porch. The nest was reused from a family of robins last year. When it fell, I had no idea what to do. I was very upset because only a week prior I had discovered two dead red-winged blackbirds in my mulch (they had run into one of my front porch windows). And a week before that one of the baby robins from this very nest had fallen/been pushed from the nest.

I was crestfallen to discover their nest upside down on my back porch one day after work. I called a friend who knows a lot about wildlife to ask what I ought to do. She suggested turning over the nest with cardboard and my gardening gloves.

I carefully slid a flattened box underneath the nest and righted it. Staring up at me were these two sweet babies, who I promptly named Brandon and Ethel. Brandon is the one with head peeking out in this photo.

Back-post, 6/8/11: starling in the cupboard

Today, we found a bird under my kitchen sink. What is a bird doing under my sink, you ask? I suspect he came in through a hole (formerly for a pipe?). After some investigation with a flashlight, we determined that the hole leads to the basement. How the bird got into the basement remains a mystery, but the bird was freed shortly after the filming of this video. We attempted to catch him in a box, but he was happy to just fly at my screen door until we opened it. Sadly, this was not captured on film (though I'll forever have the image in my head!).

In which I become a nature blogger

I've been tossing this idea around for awhile. Now, though, I'm sure it needs to become a reality. In recent months I've come through some difficult times (hence the lack of writing posted here) and one of the things keeping me on the level is a connection to the natural world. Without the birds in my yard, weeds in my mulch, or insects at the screen door, I might have lost a part of myself.

I'd like to include back-posts in order to accurately capture all the wonders I've encountered in the past few months. Those will appear shortly.

My blog won't be completely about nature, but I feel like it needs to have a greater presence in order to accurately reflect its role in my life.

Monday, March 14

Relativity in comparisons: perspective in the past

I've heard this quote about there only being four stories in the world, that we just tell them over and over with new characters in new places... but I never thought it was true. Recently, though, I can't help but think that it must be. At the very least, I have grown tired of media referencing past events without considering that current events have their own legs to stand on. It's frustrating when each new story is merely a comparison to an old one. Two examples in the news right now come to mind: NPR-gate and the Fukushima, Japan reactors = Chernobyl or Three Mile Island.

NPR-gate: If there's a scandal, it becomes Something-gate... a reference to Watergate, the scandal that led to President Nixon's resignation. The name came from the hotel where the wire-tapping scandal was born, not because of some actual gate (a hinged, removable barrier to an enclosure). It's unnerving how every single little scandal that pops up in the news these days becomes a "gate" of some sort... Links in that last sentence go to cry-gate, robo-gate, NPR-gate, and climate-gate (and all it took to find them was a Google News search for "gate scandal").

Is there not some more original way to state that something is scandalous? (For starters, how about calling it scandalous?) What were scandals called before Watergate happened? To what other pariah or sinister deed were they compared? While I'm certain there were scandals reported in the news prior to 1970, it seems we've latched on to the one in which a nation's elected leader voluntarily stepped down. Momentous, yes? A worthy label for each shocking incident thereafter? No. And no matter how you slice it (or write about it), the resignation of NPR's president and CEO is not on the same level as President Nixon's resignation. The story is interesting in its own light for various reasons, but the comparison to Watergate is too simplistic. This story, like others with unwaveringly popular "gate" suffixes, has its own legs and should be allowed to use them without the "gate" crutch.

Fukushima, Japan: And if there's some kind of nuclear problem on the horizon, it's a Chernobyl (Soviet Union, 1980) or a Three Mile Island (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1979). (Even that link above includes a picture of Three Mile Island and a mention of Chernobyl in the headline. The saving grace for that article is a source who declares the past events are "very, very different from Japan's current situation.) Right now, the focus is on Fukushima, Japan. Poor Japan—they suffer the worst earthquake in their country's recorded history, endure a phenomenal tsunami, and manage to keep their nuclear reactors under control despite all that and a rising death toll as search parties canvas the islands, and all the news can do is repeat pictures and memories of other actual disasters.

But it's NOT a disaster (as of the writing of this blog post, 7:20 EST on 3/14/11) and I hope and pray, with the rest of the world, that it doesn't get to that point. I don't deny that there is significant danger involved with a damaged, nonfunctioning or malfunctioning nuclear reactor (let alone several reactors in such bad states). Commercial nuclear power hasn't quite earned its stay in the U.S. yet (though it is used more elsewhere in the world) so there are a lot of critics. There are always critics. But comparing a dangerous situation to past catastrophes is not exactly a boost of confidence. Nor do the comparisons let these life-changing situations stand on their own. Japan's current situation will never be Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. Those places are in other countries; heck, they're completely different continents! The situation is unique, the people handling it are different, the circumstances should be seen for what they are, not compared to something that seems familiar... just for the sake of making it familiar.

I think I just hit a nerve. Maybe that's the reason for the comparisons: they're familiar. We don't tend to like change or new things, as a human race, so we want to compare, to make things familiar, to prove to ourselves that we've seen this before and that we know how it will end (for better or worse) so we can prepare ourselves for that ending. Maybe we just need to tamp down our senses with references and comparisons so that we can get on with our lives instead of being caught up in the tragedies of the world, so much so that we can't think straight because our hearts go out to the Japanese people made homeless by forces of nature, searching for lost loved ones, fighting to keep their country's power sources safe and within reasonable control.

Naturally, everything is relative to everything else, meaning that something is only as good (or bad) as whatever it's being compared to. The beauty of similes and metaphors is that we need them to make sense of abstraction in our lives. What's sad is when they're overused to describe circumstances that would be better described in their own light.

It's like a curve on a grading scale when the is one kid who managed to get 100% on the test and screwed the curve for everyone else.

It's like eating a meal with no flavor and then going for dessert at a new place and declaring it the best dessert you've ever eaten.

It's like seeing the scandals and suffering in the news and sizing up the latest stories in accordance with similar older stories so that the latest feels more reasonable (or, depending on your perspective, blown out of proportion).

Yeah, that's what it's like. Only it's not. Because that is a comparison. Experience it for yourself so it's not a comparison, okay?

Saturday, March 12

Check, check, and check

While searching through old blog entries on Sugarpacket, my old blog, I came across my first post about knitting. In it, I declare that learning to knit was on my Lifelong List of Things to Do...

I listed a few other things I hoped to do:

Yes, look out world, I'm a knitting monster.
I suppose this is a "checkmark" on my Lifelong List of Things To-Do, right up there with getting the nerve to fly in a plane, eat raw fish, and get lasic surgery to be independent of my eyewear...

(I'm not going to comment on the grammar of that excerpt. I'm admittedly ashamed, but grateful that I've grown as a writer!)
Now, about six years and a few months since that post, I can say that I've done all of those things! I flew for the first time in 2008 and by myself last year. I love sushi (just had my first Mexican roll last week—spicy tuna, avocado, and shrimp). And I am now free of eyewear, thanks to my PRK surgery in November!

I guess it's time to add to my list of things to do... Suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, March 1

Joy in the advertisement: Spotting my alma mater

It's no secret that my alma mater (Seton Hill University, Greensburg, PA) is head over heels for the iPad. It was about a year ago that they announced all students would receive an iPad. There has been some news since the announcement, but I had heard most of the feedback I wanted from my former professors. (Since I want to teach, this is the most relevant feedback for me.)

Today I spotted an iPad advertisement on Inside Higher Ed while reading an article about the humanities. It's tough news to take, especially as someone who hopes to break into the humanities, but as I read along I got distracted by the photos in the ad. They looked so incredibly familiar... the thick, hand-carved wooden baseboard, the large, brilliant windows, the classroom podium, the chalkboards framed with heavy, old wood. I also thought I recognized the teacher in the lower picture. It looked an awful lot like the one business professor, Mrs. Guinta, a friend of mine through the women's business center, e-Magnify, where I worked at during my entire undergraduate career.

I rarely click on ads, but I needed to see if this was truly my alma mater.

I was redirected here, to Apple's Learning with iPad education site. I roved around for a moment, not seeing my school listed anywhere, but knowing quite well that they had fully adopted the iPad (and surely Apple had noticed!). I clicked on the video with the caption "See how iPad is transforming teaching and learning at all levels."

Seconds after the video started, I heard a familiar voice. It was Seton Hill President, Dr. JoAnne Boyle. She is a good friend of mine and she taught one of
my English classes when I was a senior—of course I recognized her voice!

I was thrilled they used her sentiments to open the video, but I hoped they weren't through talking about my beloved school. I watched the rest of the video, learning about how Chicago public schools was using the iPad (cute kindergartners learning the alphabet and phonics), how an 8th grader named Emma was succeeding in chemistry (as a visual learner, I think the iPad is really helping overcome those specific challenges), and how a med student at Duke believes that the future of medicine will rest in the interactivity of the medical information with the real application of medicine (perhaps with the iPad as intermediary). Then I was delighted to see more beautiful shots of my school.

I was also thrilled to see that the photos I had identified with my school from the advertisement were, in fact, from my school. Not being there every day for about four years now, I'm pleased I can still recognize its beauty in a few small photos. I'm more pleased, though, that Apple decided to feature my school in the video about how the iPad is changing the face of academe. I'm proud to associate myself with my alma mater because I'm proud of the things they're doing.

A video like this serves two main purposes: an advertisement for Apple (of course) and a means to get more people thinking about how the iPad can change education. There are bound to be more purposes tied up in the philosophy of such a video, but I think the reality of something like this—something so far reaching as a very mobile, technological device that is a silver brick until you turn it on and push it to its limits—is that education will be forever changed for the better.

Sunday, February 27

Upcoming grammar holiday: March 4

National Grammar Day is March 4, 2011!

I am excited about this. I suppose this is some of what makes me Grammarissa... being (way too) excited about grammar and celebrating it.

I plan to have some festivities at my workplace, but I think the real fun will happen at home. Currently, Andy and I have been thinking about eating AlphaBits cereal and alphabet soup, running a slideshow of hilarious grammar mistakes, giving awards to our friends for good or bad grammar, and having a parade of grammar. We're not sure what a parade of grammar entails yet, but it could be excellent and that's what I'm working for. I want it to be an excellent celebration.

Monday, February 21

An infinite mirror: media use

It's like the New York Times read my blog... that, or I'm just one voice in a cacophony of bewilderment about the shifts in social media use.

...I'll flatter myself today.

Blogging is far from arcane, at this point (or is it?). The NYT reports that while youth (12-17 year-olds) are moving in hoards to the quicker forms of social media (e.g., Twitter and Facebook), the 18-33 year-olds are going strong with blogs.

I'm beginning to wonder if this isn't a reflection of a larger trend. Like, the trend of children with cell phones.

Blogging almost inherently requires a computer—be it laptop or desktop—to pound out a draft, complete with links and synthesized thoughts. (Perhaps I'm setting the stakes too high by suggesting that all blog posts synthesize information?)

Tweeting, however, can be done from a cell phone. The same is true for Facebook updates.

In 2010, the NYT reported that 66% of children (8-18 years-old) own cell phones (up from 39% in 2004).

On average, young people spend about two hours a day consuming media on a mobile device, the study found. They spend almost another hour on “old” content like television or music delivered through newer pathways like the Web site Hulu or iTunes. Youths now spend more time listening to or watching media on their cellphones, or playing games, than talking on them.

What's to say that the same children consuming media with their cell phones aren't also creating media for consumption, à la Facebook or Twitter? If kids are more likely to have cell phones than computers (or, at the very least, spend more time on their cell phones than computers), wouldn't it seem likely that they'll interact with whatever media is easiest for that mode of communication?

Maybe I'm speculating. I can't seem to find a readily accessible news report on children and their Twitter and Facebook habits (beyond studies tiptoeing around the idea that children divulge too much personal information, which is a different topic altogether). Nonetheless, it seems to me that if there's a drop off in blog use that it might have something to do with the devices the next generation is using.

Blogging may remain popular for traditionalists (like me) who enjoy writing for a community (defined or undefined) to share news or introspection, but social media have won their place in the world, for better or worse.

The generational divisions in media use, however, will most likely only be teased out by examining the modes for access (i.e., cell phones, desktops, laptops, iPads, etc.). It's not that younger generations reject certain modes, but that they embrace others more, which will ultimately be seen as a reflection to the wider world of media use as other, newer media enchant younger, newer generations.

Wednesday, February 9

Boundaries in blogging and tweeting

I came to blogging at the latter end of its prime (2003) and came to tweeting late (last month). Since moving my blog, I've tried to reinvent myself as a blogger (a little, since who I was with Sugarpacket was not a bad thing!). But now that I am also tweeting, I'm having issues regulating myself.

Sometimes I read a great article, watch a video, or see something offline and think (as I have conditioned myself over years of careful blogging), "Wow, I should blog this!" Now, though, I have an internal battle... I wonder, "Should I tweet this or blog it? Can I do both? Will anyone read the blog if I tweet this? Should I blog it and then tweet my blog?" (And then I thank goodness that I'm not on Facebook and don't have that as a third option to consider for sharing my thoughts with the world... This conundrum is difficult enough!)

Am I only conflicted about whether to blog or tweet based upon my past history with blogging? I suspect this is part of the problem. My blog was always a personal dais, a blank slate of exploration in writing, a think-tank for scholastic endeavors, and a pseudo water cooler for discussions. Having to move my blog, having to begin again, was a dramatic (and somewhat melancholic) leap into the cold(er)-hearted world of online communication. I knew I was sheltered at—I had a lot of control over my blog, I knew how things worked, I was given readership, and my expectations about how a blogosphere works were consistently met. Now, on the other side, I'm learning that my readership is essentially gone, it's up to me to build (or retain) readership, and the person I built to stand behind Sugarpacket doesn't matter to these readers because they may not know, want to know, or care to investigate who I am/was with that blog (despite this post being littered with links to it—ha!).

But at nearly the same time I moved my blog, I introduced myself to another medium for communication, one that I had been reluctant to adopt for several reasons. Now that I'm on Twitter, though, I'm seeing some of its merits. It's quick, just-in-time delivery of multimedia with limited effort, time, or dedication. Conversely, blogging takes a little longer, might not be as immediate as tweeting (especially since tweeting can be accomplished from a cell phone, which could be cumbersome at best for blogging), and requires, in this blogger's opinion, more effort, time, and dedication.

People used to do liveblogging of events. Now they livetweet (and clog up your Twitter timeline!). People used to post thoughtful blogs about articles or events. Now they tweet and retweet links to extend a massive reverberation of tweet-tweet-tweet across the globe.

What I don't like about tweeting? It seems a little more direct (in-your-face) than blogging. Tweets can't be edited (or I haven't figured out how to do that yet). Identity building appears to take a much longer time (or is there truly any identity construction taking place by piling up links and tidbits of conversations fit for fortune cookies?).

I still prefer blogging. Tweeting has its place, but I'm still learning how to carve out that place in my online life. I haven't quite figured out the balance or the boundaries between blogging and tweeting.

Saturday, February 5


I am incredibly uninspired lately. I don't quite know if it's the weather, but I think that might have something to do with it. Or it could be the stress I'm facing at work. Regardless, I haven't felt like writing anything lately.

I tweet occasionally. I joined eMusic today to give it a try. I read news online. I read friend's tweets and blogs. I'm reading my work friend's back issues of National Geographic. I'm rereading a few of my favorite books—Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, a volume of short stories from a lit class in college. But I feel like I have nothing to say. No commentary, no insight, no complaints or compliments.

I suppose I am in absorbing mode right now. I'm just taking it all in. Maybe later I'll feel like expounding.

Thursday, January 27

Genius as group: being part of a genius

Who among us has jumped at the opportunity to do group work?

Sensing the crickets via blogosphere, I'm guessing most of us would rather work alone. Group projects present a myriad of difficulties, from scheduling and personality conflicts to leader/follower issues and unstated expectations of others. Throughout my scholastic career, I endured (yes, barely tolerated) many group projects. When teachers announced a group project, I prayed we were at least allowed to choose our partners. (In which case I would choose the best friends I had in the class, at least being able to rely on them more than the average classmate.) I loathed group work because it felt like I ended up doing most of the work (so why couldn't I just work alone?), that everyone else was slacking (thus stressing me and stifling my creativity) and therefore I had to pick up the slack and carry it—while carrying my own load—across the finish line. And then my hard-earned A became everyone's A.

You know the story well. Either you've lived it or your kid complains about it. This is the unavoidable grip of group work in our world. I'm not the only person who has experienced this and these experiences do not cease after scholastic endeavors end with pieces of paper declaring aptitude and capability.

Perhaps, now more than ever, group work prepares us for the real world... especially the smart, innovative, genius-hungry real world.

I don't use my own experiences as examples to suggest I'm a genius, so let's get that out of the way first. I'm also not saying that I don't like to work with people or don't work well with people. I like it (now) and I'm rather good at it. (I'm better off when I have some sort of leadership role, but I know that's not always possible.) I'm also not suggesting that group work is bad and shouldn't be used in schools because my training as a teacher has taught me that classroom-focused, student-centered, peer-to-peer learning allows for incredible learning potential not present in lecture-centered, teacher-centric classrooms. That, and the whole idea of "no man is an island" (thanks, Donne) rings true once students go home or out into the workforce.

What I'm suggesting is that even though smart kids tend to despise group work because the other kids tend to either expect (because they're lazy/apathetic) or allow (intuiting that the smart kid wants to be in charge) the smart kids to carry the bulk of the work, perhaps the smart kids should buckle down and realize that this will help them not only be better people ("works well with others" is still a bragging point?), but also grow towards the illustrious genius status.

Lehrer suggests that the current "dearth of geniuses" is because "our modern problems have gotten so hard – so damn intractable, complicated and multi-disciplinary – that we can no longer solve them by ourselves."

So instead of following the models of geniuses that have gone before, today's genius first has to join a group project with a variety of stakeholders with different disciplinary expertise to attack the world's problems. Does this mean that a person is no longer considered a genius but instead a part of a genius? Not that the title means much, but it's likely that the suggestion of genius brings with it some ego, respect, and, today more than ever, earning power.

Sunday, January 23

The day after AppleCare expires

I bought my Macbook in 2008 after my iBook bit the dust (on my first day of grad school, no less). I learned my lesson with my iBook and bought AppleCare for the Macbook. Since 2008, I've only had minor complaints. Once the screen was flickering, so I took it to a Genius Bar. There was a loose wire and they fixed it right there at the store. Then, last year I noticed the top case (by the keyboard) was cracking. I read online that it was a common issue and covered under AppleCare. I sent my computer away for repair using the home shipping method. When it returned, I had a note saying that Apple had replaced my hard drive too after finding a bad sector that may eventually fail. (That replacement alone was worth the price of the AppleCare!)

Then last week, I carried my laptop to the kitchen to check my email after work. I set it down on the table and my boyfriend remarked, "Did you know there's a crack in the back near your hinge?"

I said no, but was aghast when I saw the crack. I hadn't noticed it. I treat my laptop with tender loving care. Finding a crack in its lower case was very upsetting. The crack was curved around a screw.

"I wonder if this is covered under your AppleCare," my boyfriend said.

I froze. "Oh my gosh, I think it expired yesterday." The one year of courtesy coverage plus the two years I purchased were set to expire this month of this year—January 2011. I looked through my files and found my receipt.

I shrieked. "January 19th!" Today was the 20th.

"Are you kidding me?"

"No." I sighed. "I guess I have to put up with it. I hope it doesn't affect the life of the computer."

"Why don't you call them anyway?"

What did I have to lose? I called up AppleCare and first spoke with a nice woman named Brittany. She said she wasn't sure if they could do anything, but that she would get her senior advisor on the line. I waited on hold, all the while feeling like Apple had somehow tapped into my personal music preferences for the "hold" music, until Phil came on the line.

Phil was a friendly guy and sounded genuinely sorry for the crack in my Macbook. It wasn't his fault, but he somehow sounded like he personally wanted to help fix it. He asked me to take a photo of the crack and email it to him. So I did. That's the image you see here.

Phil looked at it and said they'd cover it. He didn't even hesitate. He said he was glad I called just one day after my AppleCare expired, saying that if I had called one month after it expired that we wouldn't be having this conversation. I agreed, and thanked him. I was so glad my computer would be repaired.

We worked out the details for the repair. I'm sending it through the home shipping method again. It's scheduled to go out tomorrow. I'll probably have it back by the end of the week. (It didn't take that long last time, so I anticipate roughly the same turn-around time. Regardless, I can check the status of my repair online if I want to know where it is or if I get nervous.)

This, among other reasons, is why Apple will have my business. I enjoy their products and they back up what they sell. They treat their customers right—or at least this customer—and I am pleased.

Friday, January 21

Tweet and retweet

I joined Twitter today. I never thought I would, but I'm giving it a shot. Enjoy the Twitter feed to the right. Feel free to follow!

I also changed my blog title to "The Adventures of Grammarissa." I was given the nickname Grammarissa at work because of my penchant for grammar. When combined with my first name, Karissa, it fits well (despite the fact that my colleague tends to call me "Gramma").

Perhaps this is the new change I needed...

Wednesday, January 12

New blog, old blog

I'm attempting to migrate my old blog—my school blog, which I've kept for over seven years now—to Blogger, since the school is switching from Movable Type to Wordpress and is leaving old users (read: graduates who still blog) behind. I suppose it was only a matter of time, considering the university let us keep using its blogosphere for free. What I'll miss is the clout that came with having the university's name in my URL.

The archive of my old blog is almost 1gb of fun and Blogger kicked it back when I tried to upload it a few hours ago... I let the browser churn for about three hours before calling it quits and deciding to get this thing established in its own right.

I don't know exactly what will happen to my old blog, but it was called Sugarpacket. It may still exist somewhere in cyberspace, but I won't be able to post to it soon. Sionara...

My beloved Sugarpacket. The title suited me for years and perhaps still does, but I'm hesitant to continue blogging under that name. I'm trying to move into the professional world more and more, so it's possible that if my blog name reflects that I might find the transition easier. (This is all theory.) I'm not sure I like the title I came up with—The Glory of Writing—except that it was all I could think of when trying to get this new blog going.

We'll see if I can get the old blog to redirect to this new one... Wish me luck.