August 30, 2003

More fearsome than a double-chinned Balrog

We've had a bit of controversy here on campus lately, and I just can't resist posting about it any longer. To make an extremely long story short, UGA has been home to a beloved hot dog vendor for the past couple of decades--a vendor known affectionately as the Hot Dog Man. Recently, the local authorities discovered that the Hot Dog Man was setting up his cart a hundred feet or so outside the area where his permit allowed him to operate. As a result, the police asked the Hot Dog Man to move his cart, he refused (rather vociferously), and the police ended up arresting the Hot Dog Man and removing him from campus. When the news got around, students went nuts, there were widespread protests around campus (including people dressed up in hot dog costumes), and the Hot Dog Man is now back in action, slingin' frankfurters despite threats of daily fines from the county government.

Now that we're all up to speed on this rather contentious situation, the Hot Dog Man's wife and business partner was quoted in the campus newspaper yesterday as saying, "This is an absolute vicious attack. It is like there is a two-headed Goliath up against us--one head is the University and the other head is Athens-Clarke County." Is it just me or does the imagery of a two-headed Goliath strike anyone else as funny? I mean, a Goliath is pretty tough, so a two-headed Goliath must be twice as menacing, right? Plus, it reminds me of Dante's depiction of Satan in The Inferno. In fact, I'm almost certain that was the Hot Dog Wife's intention when she said it.

Posted by Jess at 03:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 29, 2003

Tales from the Classroom II

It's the end of another week, and I have a whole new set of great stories from my classes. As I said last time around, however, this is neither the time nor the place to dish on what's going on with the classes I'm currently teaching. Fortunately, there's nothing stopping me from going back a few years and digging up a bit of dirt from my time spent teaching at Virginia Tech. That being said, it's time for another installment of... Tales from the Classroom! (cue theme music)

When I teach, I enforce what some people would call a ridiculously strict attendance policy; that is, I require attendance. The usual counterargument that students are the ones paying the tuition and shouldn't have to attend if they don't feel like it just doesn't hold water with me. After all, my job is to teach them political science, and I simply can't do that if they aren't there. Plus, most of the students aren't paying tuition; their parents are--and I have a feeling that they'd probably prefer to see little Timmy drag himself out of bed for a 2:30PM class if at all possible.

Nevertheless, students find various reasons to miss class on occasion--some of which are slightly more valid than others. I've had students stroll into class for the very first time during the fifth week of the semester and explain that they hadn't made it sooner because they didn't know where the class met. I've had a student miss class because she went with her friends on a snowboarding trip and "didn't think that we'd be covering anything important this week." I've had one student miss class because his brother was busted for dealing pot earlier in the week, and the student was too busy going around to friends and family to collect bail money to make it to our weekly meeting.

I've had a female student go into agonizing detail about very personal medical problems to explain her absence from class. Trust me, a vague note from the university health center would have sufficed. I've also had at least one student try the only excuse under the sun lamer than "I play in a band, and we had a late gig last night," which would be "my roommate plays in a band, he had a late gig last night, and it would have hurt his feelings if I wasn't there." Meanwhile, I once had a student who attended my class on a consistent basis that it turns out wasn't even registered for the course. Apparently, she had heard from a friend that the course was "fun" and decided to attend--just for kicks. But, that's neither here nor there.

Anyway, pouring over the various excuses I've heard from students for their absences through the years, I've arrived at two preliminary conclusions:

1. Alarm clocks malfunction roughly 40 percent of the time--always going off late (if at all) and never early. It's amazing that alarm clock manufacturers can even stay in business given such a poor level of quality assurance.

2. During the course of a semester, the average college student will have at least one grandmother pass away--and quite possibly as many as four. So, if you're an elderly woman with a grandson or granddaughter in college (and you happen to be reading my weblog for some strange reason), I'd strongly recommend that you make sure that your affairs are in order. I'm afraid that you're not long for this world.

Posted by Jess at 06:48 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 28, 2003

Consistently putting my thang down, flipping it, and reversing it

Madonna briefly made out with both Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears during the opening performance of MTV's Video Music Awards. How unpredictable--in that completely predictable MTV kind of way. Oh, and Missy Elliot was there.

Posted by Jess at 08:19 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 27, 2003

You hear it first

MTV's news correspondents apparently maintain blogs nowadays. Who knew? Still, I can't help but think that someone is editing their posts before they see virtual print. I refuse to believe that a nincompoop like Iann Robinson is capable of writing in complete sentences.

Posted by Jess at 05:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

In search of an e-mail client

I just stumbled across Eudora's announcement that spam filtering features will no longer be available in their adware version and will instead require a paid installation in the future. That's no fun. I've been using Eudora as my e-mail client for years, and I love it. These days, however, I receive way too much spam to operate without a junk filter or two (I currently use Eudora's filtering system coupled with SpamAssassin, and I still have a fair amount of spam slip through).

Anyway, rather than paying $35 for Eudora, I'm considering moving to a new e-mail client. Any suggestions? I'm not a fan of Netscape/Mozilla/Thunderbird (too GUI) or Outlook Express (too socially irresponsible). What free options does that leave? Or, has Microsoft actually secured the latest versions of Outlook Express since I last used it a few years back? Assuming that I end up moving to something without built-in spam filtering, I've heard good things about POPFile.

I don't know why I'm so indignant when it comes to the idea of paying for an e-mail client, but it just doesn't seem right.

Posted by Jess at 08:08 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 26, 2003

Number fifty--with a bullet!

This year's SAT scores are in, and Georgia's average total score ranks last among all states (984 combined math and verbal) for the second year running. On a more positive note, Georgia managed to edge out Washington, D.C. Look out, South Carolina; we're gunning for you in 2004!

Posted by Jess at 05:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Aquaman, Aquaman/Does whatever an oyster can...

Whenever my wife and I are discussing DC Comics superhero Aquaman (which happens more often than you might expect), she always refers to him without placing any emphasis on the "man" syllable in his name. So, instead of Aquaman, noble King of Atlantis, you're left with just plain aquaman--like it's an occupation no different than a policeman or fireman, or a last name like Gilman (heh) or Schwartzman.

"Frank Aquaman, could you please come to the white courtesy phone? Frank Aquaman to the white courtesy phone."

Personally, I find it rather appropriate considering Aquaman is universally recognized as the lamest superhero ever. Speaking of which, this seems like an excellent opportunity to link to Seanbaby's hilarious Super Friends page. Be forewarned, however, that the site contains a fair amount of rough language and may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Meanwhile, the two-disc release of The Two Towers is out on DVD today. I won't make the same mistake I made with Fellowship, though. I'm waiting for the Extended Edition--no matter how badly I'd like to see it again right now.

Posted by Jess at 10:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 25, 2003

Teen Titans GO!

Earlier today, I stumbled across Teen Titans Battle Blitz (a 2D fighter in the style of such classics as Street Fighter 2), and it's not too bad of a time-waster for a Shockwave game. Surprisingly, TTBB features five playable characters--each with a small suite of special moves. As I said, not too shabby for a Shockwave doo-dad.

I'm torn when it comes to Cartoon Network's Teen Titans cartoon, though. Although I'm not a fan of anime by any stretch of the imagination, I have to admit that the character designs for the team are rather sharp. Plus, the "Secret Agent Man" style theme song by Puffy AmiYumi and retro opening sequence absolutely rule. However, the episodes themselves are clearly pitched at a much younger audience than other recent DC cartoons, and I can't say that I've particularly enjoyed what I've seen.

MTV's CG Spider-Man series, on the other hand? Purely brilliant.

Posted by Jess at 04:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 22, 2003

Tales from the Classroom

I taught my first couple of classes today, and I already have some pretty funny stories to tell about the experience. Unfortunately, I suppose that "professional ethics" bar me from discussing them in this particular venue. So, I'll share a story from my time at Virginia Tech a couple of years back instead. What are they going to do--take away my degree?

Anyway, I had graded my students' first exam and returned them at the beginning of our weekly meeting. Some students didn't perform all that well on the exam, and one student in particular actually began crying when she saw her grade. At first, it didn't bother me too much; I assumed she would stop sooner or later. She didn't. Pretty soon, I was fifteen minutes into the material for the week, and the tears showed no sign of stopping. Every time I would pause to ask the class a question, her audible sobs would make the silence that much more uncomfortable--and it was only getting worse as class progressed. Needless to say, it was enough to leave me a bit flustered and generally out of sorts. Fortunately, things couldn't get much worse, right?


About twenty minutes into the class period, a student arrived late. The kicker? She was already crying when she walked through the door. I would later find out that her boyfriend had broken up with her on the way to class, but I had no idea what was going on at the time. After all, twenty minutes is pretty darn late, but it's not like it's the end of the world. Plus, she actually did well on the exam. Anyway, I tried my best to keep my cool and get back to the material. However, unlike the first crying student who was keeping more or less to herself, this new student actually wanted to participate in the class discussion--despite choking back tears all the while.

"I think that (sniff, sniff) Lenin was trying to say (sob, sob) that capitalism naturally gives rise to (anguished wailing) imperialism."

At this point, I couldn't take it much longer. I had one student who was in tears because she thought she was going to fail the course and another who was obviously upset, but willing to give class the old college try all the same. Meanwhile, my heart was breaking just watching this drama unfold, and I was on the verge of bursting into tears myself. So, I did the only thing that I could think of to do. With about twenty-five minutes left in the period, I told the class that we were going to wrap up early and welcomed anyone who wanted to talk about his or her exam--or anything else that might be bothering them--to join me in my office afterwards.

The moral of the story? If you're ever teaching a class, be sure to return any graded papers or exams at the end of the meeting. Trust me on this one. I still haven't figured out how to stop pre-class break-ups, though. I think the key might be early intervention.

Posted by Jess at 06:31 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 21, 2003

Hopefully, 'ice cream-tastical' will make the cut next year...

A brand new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English is out (reserve your copy today, kids!), now incorporating entries for such words and phrases as "bada bing," "reality TV," "muggle," "turntablist," and "bootylicious." What's the point of having a dictionary in the first place if we keep filling it with imaginary words? Anyway, this quote from CNN's story on the new edition is absolutely priceless: "Though some entries may perplex and infuriate linguistic purists, the dictionary's publishers say words are only included if they are well-known and have proven they can pass the test of time." Thank you, O Keepers of the English Language! "Bootylicious" is truly a word for the ages!

So, is a turntablist better than a DJ, or is that just what DJs put on their résumés to seem more impressive when applying for real jobs?

Posted by Jess at 06:55 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 20, 2003

'Cause he's Nick Burns, your company's computer guy...

Around 3:30 yesterday afternoon, I received a call from an acquaintance who owns a small business here in town. His office computers had been in the process of dying for weeks, and they had finally reached the point that he just couldn't conduct business on them anymore. So, knowing that I'm a "computer guy" (heh), he called me to ask if I would be willing to take a look at things. Not surprisingly, he had been hit hard by a virus--not one of the biggies that's currently making the rounds, but one that managed to infect every single executable file on his system nonetheless. McAfee couldn't clean the infected files, and quarantining a few dozen system files didn't seem like a very good idea. So, I ended up salvaging what data files and records I could, reformatting the systems, and starting over from scratch.

I was there until 10:00 last night. And I'm going back today.

Of course, it was the kind of problem that up-to-date virus definitions, Windows Update, and a firewall probably could have prevented. Still, while working on the systems and speaking with their owner, I came to the realization that it really is asking a lot of many novice computer users to actively keep track of that kind of thing--at least until it's too late and they're already having problems. As simple as running Windows Update or updating virus definitions may be for the computer savvy, it's quite likely to intimidate people who just aren't familiar with the idea of preventative PC maintenance and who have been cautioned for the past five years against downloading and opening anything from the Internet.

I also realized what a pain it is to reinstall Windows 2000 when the manufacturer of the system doesn't include all the necessary driver discs and the only available online connection is a 56k modem (assuming you actually get the computer to recognize the modem, that is). I think I'll use my broadband connection and CD-RW here at home to burn a handy-dandy "utility disc" before I head back today. First, I have to do that whole school thing, though.

Posted by Jess at 08:03 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 17, 2003

Hard-hitting theological commentary

While driving to Atlanta today, I couldn't help but notice several "God billboards" alongside the highway. These billboards have been up for awhile in several states, and some of you have probably seen them yourselves. They feature a simple black background with white text spelling out such messages as:

"Let's meet at my house Sunday before the game." - God
"What part of 'Thou Shalt Not...' didn't you understand?" - God
"Keep using my name in vain, I'll make rush hour longer." - God
"Have you read my #1 best seller? There will be a test." - God

Although I've seen these billboards a zillion times, today something struck me. God (or, more accurately, His public relations staff) is really quite passive aggressive. With that kind of attitude, just imagine if the competition started running ads:

"I'd sacrifice a couple of goats for you." - Satan

Posted by Jess at 07:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

My head is in the sun

Today is the last day of my summer break, and I feel compelled to do something fun, exciting, and (by necessity) inexpensive before school starts on Monday. I think the answer might lie in the greater Atlanta metropolitan area, but I'm not sure.

You know, I'm not usually what you'd call a fan of "browser enhancing" doo-dads, but the Google Toolbar kinda rocks.

Posted by Jess at 10:11 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 15, 2003

Executive, legislative, and... uh, the other one?

It's time for the Fall semester to start, and I'll be back at the front of the classroom for the first time in a couple of years, teaching an introductory American politics class to undergrads here at the university. It's not quite my specific area of expertise, but it should be a great experience all the same. Maybe it's just me, but nothing compares to the adrenaline rush I get when I'm up there teaching, things are going well, and the students (or at least some of the students) are actually getting into the material, asking questions, and engaging in discussion. Ah... pedagogy.

When people find out that I'm a political scientist, they're usually interested to hear my take on current events. Just in case you're wondering, I'm anti-heatwave-in-France, but I haven't decided yet whether I'm pro- or anti-power-outage-on-the-East-coast.

Posted by Jess at 05:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 14, 2003

Information Overload

Nothing too interesting to post today, but I did want to note that I've added a profile to the site that provides a bit of background about me (although I imagine most people visiting the site know me already). Anyway, it's there. Also, I've added links pointing to some of my friends' weblogs to the sidebar. If you're one of my friends and you're not listed, let me know. If you're not sure if you're one of my friends, feel free to e-mail me and we'll figure it out together.

Posted by Jess at 11:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 12, 2003

Will Discuss Political Science for Food

Could applying for and, in turn, actually receiving federal financial aid possibly be a more circuitous and needlessly complex process? No, probably not--unless it required the borrower to perform a certain number of pull-ups in order to qualify.

Posted by Jess at 06:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 11, 2003

Bite my shiny metal... NOOOOOOOOO!

The series finale of Futurama finally aired on Fox last night. The episode, "The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings," was both hilarious and surprisingly touching. Also, if I'm not mistaken, the second season is out tomorrow on DVD here in the States. Must... resist... temptation...

Speaking of television, my rather shameful addiction to reality shows like TLC's Trading Spaces and What Not to Wear has recently gotten worse thanks to Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Strangely compelling.

Posted by Jess at 09:04 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 09, 2003

Zombies. Why'd it have to be zombies?

So, my wife and I are currently playing System Shock 2, an all-around incredible first-person shooter/horror/action CRPG that was released by Looking Glass Studios a couple of years ago. To make a long story short, the protagonist in the game is a space guy trapped on a run-amok starship trillions of miles from Earth. To make matters worse, you're stuck on the ship with about a zillion zombies (and a herd of psionic monkeys, but that's a different story).

When the first Quake game came out six or seven years ago, I wrote the following: "Hands down, there are no scarier sounds known to man than the groan of a Quake zombie or the splat of a hurled decaying body part making contact with its target." As it turns out, I was wrong.

In System Shock 2, the zombies not only groan in the typical spooky zombie fashion, but they also pass the time by begging you to kill them and apologizing profusely while beating you to death with a lead pipe and/or wrench. Double creepy. Worse still, a System Shock zombie is about ten times as fast as a Quake zombie--not 28 Days Later fast, mind you, but fast all the same. They also wield shotguns on occasion.

I hate zombies.

Posted by Jess at 02:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 08, 2003

And I submitted it a full two hours before the deadline...

In other news, I just turned in the last paper for the last class that I'll have to take for my doctorate in political science. The topic? "U.S. Foreign Policy and Democracy in Postwar Iraq." Thrilling stuff, believe me. Now, all that's left is passing my comprehensive exams...

...and writing my dissertation...
...and defending my dissertation...
...and finding a job...
...and getting tenure.

Once I have tenure, though, it's going to be smooth sailing.

Meanwhile, in the world of computer games... whaddaya know? LucasArts canceled its sequel to Full Throttle. Hopefully, the new Sam and Max game will survive.

Posted by Jess at 03:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I Hate Weblogs

Yep, that's right. I hate weblogs. About eight years ago, when I first logged on to the web, I wondered what could possibly be more self-indulgent and useless than lists of all the CDs that a person I don't know owns or a list of his or her "hot links." Then, as the years passed, weblogs began to appear on the scene, and I discovered that self-indulgence had soared to new heights. Pretty soon, everybody that I knew online had a weblog, and they all insisted that I needed one as well. I resisted for the first year or two. After all, as I said at the beginning of this paragraph, I hate weblogs.

That being said, I've decided to launch a weblog.

I'm sure you're all like, "Wha-wha?!" right now. Yeah, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me either. Why launch a weblog now after battling against it for so long? Well, the story starts about six months ago when some script kiddie "hacked" my homepage and erased what was there. Now, I should note that my previous homepage was by no means a testiment to meaningful content, and I ended up replacing it with nothing more than a plain text message reading, "Gone for now."

That was working out fairly well for me. Then, in past month or two, I got the strange urge to actually relaunch a homepage to go along with the webpage that consumes most of my online time. Why? I have no idea. Try as I might, however, I couldn't come up with anything that amounted to a list of links to sites that everyone already knows about anyway (please see the right sidebar for an example of this phenomenon in action). So, I've decided to give this whole blogging thing a whirl. We'll see how long it lasts...

Meanwhile, to get discussion (heh) started, here's a little something that a member posted on my site's message forum recently. "Break this record," eh? Nice work with the web template, Guinness Book of World Records.

Weblog, weblog, one-two, one two, and if you swing by my crib then I can blog wit' you....

Posted by Jess at 12:21 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack