Friday, October 30, 2009

Nook v. Kindle

I will come back soon to write regular posts again, but a couple of people have asked me if I would have bought the Nook instead of the Kindle if I were buying now. That seems an easy thing to write about between catching up on all this other work. My answer is no. I'm thrilled the Nook exists because I have been worried about Amazon having too much control over the book market, but I'm happy with the Kindle. If I were picking one right now I would ultimately pick on the same basis that I picked the Kindle over the Sony reader: availability and price of the books I want.

1. Nook improvements.
So Nook did do some things that are cool. You can replace the battery yourself instead of having to send the machine in (though the Kindle battery should last a very long time), and you can use a memory card, just in case you want to carry more than 1,500 books around at one time. This makes the device just a little thicker and about an ounce heavier.

The buzz is all about the color touch screen. It doesn't appeal to me. I don't like virtual keyboards much, but that is a personal thing. Mostly I just see it as a battery drainer. However, if you like the idea of seeing color pictures of your books and you like virtual keyboards, you may love it.

I was excited when I heard that you could lend Nook books. Then I found out that you could lend a book for 14 days one time...ever. Not so impressive. I guess I will still hope that Amazon decides to let me lend books.

2. Non-Improvements
Nook didn't fix the things that most frustrate me about the Kindle: lack of organizational tools and no page numbers. I'm beginning to figure out that the lack of page numbers is not something a device can fix. It is a problem with all ebooks, in nearly all formats, on all devices. The Kindle has location numbers and will tell me how far through a book I am (e.g. 47%) which is fine if I am just reading for myself. Part of what I do with books though is talk to other people about them. Right now I am teaching a seminar and we are allowing the students to get paper or electronic copies of the book. It is a small class and everyone has a sense of humor about it, but it is a nightmare. If the people with paper give us a phrase, we ebook folks can search for it. If we want them to find the place we are reading we have to say something like, "um...three paragraphs before the subheading..."

The lack of organizational tools though is just horrible. I know have over 100 Kindle books. I can search them by author, or title. My Kindle is set so that the books I have most recently read are on the top. I can't ask it to show me all my non-fiction books, all my mysteries, whatever. On the up side, Kindle won't let me buy a book I've already bought and the Amazon "My Collection" page automatically lists everything I have ever bought from Amazon and does allow me to keep an organized record of what I have bought.

3. Books!
Okay, so this is why we consider these things, right? We like to read books. B&N is claiming a larger books store than Amazon based primarily on a deal with Google Books to make available out of print books. Apparently, there is a way to get those books on your Kindle. If that really interests you, read this.

What I strongly recommend that you do is pull up B&N's & Amazon search pages. Now search for books you have bought or considered buying recently. Here are some of my results:

Kindle: $12.95
Nook: $14.99

Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series:
Kindle: all 9 available, $5.59-$9.99
Nook: numbers 5-9 available, $6.99-$20.00

Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save:
Kindle: $9.99
Nook: $17.60

Your results may differ of course, but for me the choice is still clear.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Catching Up

Yesterday Gary was in a one-day men's choir event. Boys, more than 200 in all, came from high schools in two counties. At least at Gary's school, the boys had and practiced the music some before hand. The even started at 10am. They did nothing but practice, with a break for lunch, until the concert at 3pm. Brian's Drama 2 class had the two final productions of Dracula. He had to be there at noon. They performed at 1 or 1:30, scattered for dinner, and then had to be back at for the second performance at 5:00. So...I drove Gary to The City in the morning. Roland drove Brian to Schoolville at noon. We both drove to the City, stopping at Schoolville to give Brian dinner money, in order to go to the concert. then we drove back to Schoolville, at fast food, and went to see Dracula.

Both boys did well, had a good time, and, like their parents, were exhausted at the end of the day.

Gary keeps making and re-making plans for finishing high school. I had an uncomfortable conversation in the car yesterday. He asked what I thought about him doing his senior year at Our Small Town High. That sounds fine to me, but he wanted to know whether I thought he should take AP classes.


It was hard not to be encouraging, but I have made that mistake before. I stumbled around for a bit, pointing out that the AP classes require things like high-pressure big projects that kill your grade if you don't work on them far in advance. He responded that he needed to get used to that if he was going to go to college. Finally I said that if he took the regular classes he could go to school part time and take other classes at the community college and that might be better use of his time. He agreed that made sense, but he has in no way settled on a plan.

He still in not at all good at predicting how difficult something will be for him. He is taking an on-line course in physical science. He was sure it was going to be easy. He would just tear through it. He did the introduction and passed that test in a week. The next chapter though was about calculating forces. He can't do the math. He is frustrated because he is good at science, just not math. The school has recommended an advance student to tutor him, but he doesn't want to talk to her because she is good at math, but she doesn't know anything about physics. (Roland and I believe that he doesn't want to look "dumb" in front of a girl close to his own age.)

The tutor problem aside (which is a problem I can do something about), there is this constant issue where he expects things to be easy and then is frustrated when they are not. There are other examples, but I won't list them.

He has decided he wants to be a nurse, which is cool. However he simply does not understand that you have to do science classes and that after junior high there really is no such thing as being good at science if you are not good at math. I've encouraged him to try taking it one step at a time. He is thinking about taking EMT classes and then working to get an LPN before doing the RN program. Sigh.

I've known so many college students who have worked hard and not made it through nursing programs. I know that he is smart enough, but I don't think he has any idea of how difficult it will be.

Mostly I am pretty good at letting these things just be his problems. I really am convinced that kids (and adults) learn by trying to do things they don't do well. Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they don't, but they learn much more than if they don't push themselves. Most young people discover what they want to do while actively pursuing something they learn they don't want to do. I guess it was the conversation in the car yesterday that pulled me in and made me anxious for him.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Can't Go Home

Do you know this boy?


Of course many of you have seen this photo. He is Corey's son. She loves him with all her heart and he can't go home again. Not her home. He needs a new one.

He is a little boy who has been victimized. He has been abused. He struggled to understand that and in doing so he hurt his siblings. He needs a home where he is safe from being hurt and safe from hurting others.

It is going to be incredibly difficult for him. He has been given so many reasons not to trust. Moving to a new family will be unspeakably difficult. He is a child. He deserved to be a cherished and protected infant, a safe toddler, a small child full of wonder and laughter, playing, hiding from his parents and knowing they would find him and bring him home. He deserved so much, and he did not get it.

And life is simply not fair. He can't live safely with his sisters, so he must live somewhere else. No matter how much everyone wants something else for him, that fact is an unmovable object.

He can't live with his sisters. He must live somewhere else.

I've been trying to write a post since I read Corey's, but it is hard. When I write, I find I am telling Gary's story. He was hurt by those who should have protected him. He struggled to understand and in doing so, he hurt his sisters, and now he just can't go home again.

Not that home.

Healing is possible. I know that. There is a teenager in my basement, playing his guitar, who is evidence that it is possible.

The challenges will be different. For Corey's boy they will almost certainly be more difficult. He won't heal just because someone loves him. If that was what it took, he would still be living with Corey. He will need more than that.

As you think about this boy, know that though it will be difficult, it will be possible. Inside him there is pain, but there is also laughter and love.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

I'll miss her so much

One of my heroes died this week. She was in her mid-eighties so it is what I would call a sad death, not a tragic one. But I am sad.

She was the mother of four. Around 1980 she stood up in front of the national assembly for her church and read the coming out letter her son had written to her. She never, ever stopped lobbying. She went to conventions, was a charter member of the state's largest PFLAG chapter.

In the mid 1990's she buried son who wrote that letter after he died from AIDS.

She has been the heart of a group of us who try to have monthly potlucks.

It was at her anniversary party that I wrote this post.

The world has a Carol-sized hole in it. She was a short, slight woman, but it is a awfully big hole.

You are not hearing much from me because... is a giant, time-sucking monster this year.

Normally in the fall I teach Logic which is an extremely light prep for me. This semester I have three preps and none of them is logic. I have more students than I usually do, and keeping up with the grading is time-consuming. I ALSO have a student who is doing logic independently. That usually isn't a lot of work because those students usually teach themselves. She however is spending 3 hours a week in my office getting direct tutoring. I didn't realize she would need that, but too late to back out now. (I have another student who signed up for logic independently, but hasn't done a darn thing and I'm just going to fail his butt.)

Also the faculty is doing the most complete curriculum over-haul ever (really, no hyperbole) and I am not only on the curriculum committee, I am the "catalog czarina." That means it is my job to print, record, and generally stay on top of every freaking thing.

I am also still department chair, and so have to deal with things like our annual collection of assessment data, which means hounding my two recalcitrant colleagues.

Who are especially recalcitrant this year because one of them is on sabbatical and the other has just decided he is definitely going to retire. This is his last year. He has been my mentor since I got here and I would describe myself as "coping with the devastation of him leaving."

Since he is leaving, I now need to hound the dean for permission to do a search for a one year replacement, and then for another search next year for a tenure-track replacement. If we get that permission, then I will have to do the freaking search, which will take time I do not have.

Thank goodness the boys are doing well.

So, I will see you around the Internet tubes periodically, but not nearly as much as in the summer and not even as much as during previous school years.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Should I write?

The state worker told me that after the agency worker and he had both written to Gary's parents, I could write them letters too.

I have no idea what to say or even if it is appropriate to say anything.

I think it would be inappropriate to say anything that might sound like I was trying to encourage them to relinquish their parental rights, and just about everything I can think of seems to fit that.

So maybe it just isn't appropriate for me to write to them. I feel comfortable with the idea of answering any questions they might have for me, but I just can't think of anything that I might say that wouldn't amount to "reasons why you should give up your kid and let us adopt him." Everything I can think of just makes me feel icky.

But I thought I would throw it out there. Is there something that it would be appropriate for me to say -- with out them having asked me a thing?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Monthly visit from the social worker

I came home a bit early yesterday so I would be here when the social worker was doing her monthly visit. I know that she was supposed to be writing the first letter to Gary's parents and I wondered if she would tell me about them.

I didn't really learn anything. When I got here she was downstairs with Gary looking at his new guitar. Roland said that SW had mentioned that she had written the letters. She had asked Gary if he had heard from his parents, so apparently the letters were written long enough ago that they might have responded. She said that she told them that he was healthy and doing well.

That is what I got from Roland. He didn't ask any questions. I assume that the letters also said something about the change in the case plan, since that was the reason she was supposed to be writing them. However I don't know. My entire conversations with her consisted in her laughing about how really horrible my current letters were in a game of Lexulous (all vowels except for one V).

I asked Gary how he felt about all this. He said, "pretty indifferent." He gave me a straight-in-the-eye look, like he was daring me to challenge that. I didn't. I figure he is working pretty hard at not caring. If that is what he needs to do right now, okay.

Everything about this is awful. Waiting to see if his parents will bother to respond when they are told that the state is thinking about terminating their parental rights, and thinking there is a good chance that they won't, is just terrible.

On one hand, I can find a sympathetic way to think about them. I have a difficult time facing conflict and the possibility of failure. Both of his parents may feel that there is no chance that they could possibly win a fight for him. His mother hasn't seen him in a decade. His father could get him under different circumstances, but taking custody of Gary would mean leaving wife and young children. He isn't going to do that. I imagine them wondering what they could possibly say to Gary. I can understand why they don't call.

But on the other side is a teenage boy who knows his parents have been told their relationship will be severed. He is wondering if they will even bother to call him, and telling himself that he doesn't really care either way.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Busy Week

It has been one of those weeks at work. My days have been packed with extras, including individual meetings with 15 first year advisees and special events in the evening, only one of which I actually attended. Yesterday was the worst sort of day: the kind that starts with an advisee standing you up at 7:30am, continues with an almost uninterrupted series of meetings and classes, and ends with sweating in regalia and singing the college hymn at 5:45pm.

Roland and the boys were home all day and the weather has just turned. So I came home to a house that was 74 degrees (this is why I normally keep the thermostat locked). While trying to gasp for air I had to explain something to my husband about how the medical reimbursement plan he has at his job works, even though he has had it for years and I know I have explained it to him a dozen times before...and he should be learning this from his HR department anyway.

My interaction with the boys today was limited to brief grunts in passing and a text message to Gary (sent from the bedroom) that said, "pls get dog." That would be the dog that was barking at who knows what in the back yard while I was trying to fall asleep.

I'm sure you have days like that too, even if some of the details change.

I left all my school work at work because I decided I deserved a night off. I came home, ate, cleaned up, and went to bed early. I just about fell asleep when my husband called my cell phone to ask if we needed milk. I got back to sleep to be awakened by a wrong number at 1am.

And now I am up in the middle of the night, unable to finish preparing for classes tomorrow (no books) and anticipating being tired when I finally get back to my office in the morning.


So I am irritable and whiny, and what's the point of having a blog if you can't whine in it? (I know there is a good answer to that question, but I don't have one right now).

The agency social worker is coming over tomorrow at 2pm (kids don't have school). I may use that as an excuse to leave work earlier than usual. I do want to know if she has any information about the writing of the letters to Gary's parents.