Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dissertation Blues

"An author is a fool who, not content with boring those he lives with, insists on boring future generations." - Charles de Montesquieu

So, I haven't blogged in a week.  Has it really been that long?  Yes, I guess it has.  Geez.

Sorry, folks.  Been busy, though.  I'm quite nearly done with my dissertation, and that "quite nearly" is a real bitch to say.  It's somewhere in between "I'm working on my dissertation," which isn't bad 'cause it tells people you're a cool scholarly sort of dude and nearly always results in "what is it on?" which is a polite way of saying "please, make me eat my own wrist out of boredom" that's almost always followed by "wow, look at the time," and "I'm done with my dissertation," which is a nice way of saying "dammit, my student loans will come due quite soon now."  But being quite nearly done is like being at a busy bar when the bartender is quite nearly close enough to take your drink request but insists instead on talking with the pretty girl a few seats down.  It's a matter of being oh, so close you can taste it, but you still have to stay up till God Himself is already in bed laughing at your sorry hardworking tush, your fingers banging out the most boring adjective- and adverb-less verbiage--no one with sense would call it "prose"--that can possibly be created in our language. Or, for that matter, any language that I know of. 

Okay, since you didn't ask but I'm going to pretend you did, I'm studying career college faculty's propensity to participate in shared governance.  In other words, college is one of the few places where the inmates are fully expected to get to run the asylum, unless they're career colleges that are run like businesses where faculty are the assembly line workers.  So I'm doing a "descriptive quantitative study" in which I posted a survey online and asked all the career college faculty I could find 36 questions.  Well, technically, the survey had 36 statements which faculty would respond to according to a Likert scale: "Strongly Agree," "Agree," "Neutral," "Disagree," "BiteMyAss," "IHateSurveys," and "Strongly Disagree."  Except that a couple of those I just made up. I'll let you guess which ones.

The trick, then, was for me to "numericize" the responses--in other words, turn every "Strongly Agree" into a 5, every "Agree" into a 4, every "BiteMyAss" into a deletion, etc.--and then run "central tendencies" (e.g., mean and standard deviation).  I also asked the "members of the population" things like what type of faculty they were (adjunct versus full-time) and what kind of institution they worked at and for how long, etc.  I calculated those all to hell, too.  Then I've spent the past several weeks going through compiling the numbers and trying to say stuff that sounds smart, things like "Respondents agreed (M = 3.33, SD = 1.017) with the second item, 'Faculty committees have sufficient involvement with administration.'"

I know, I actually used three adjectives in that bit, but even those were boring.

Sorry if I seem hostile, but after writing three works of fiction, scholarly writing nearly puts me to sleep.  When I'm writing it, that is.  Even after 3--no, three, per the APA--pots of coffee. 

But I'm quite nearly done, which means I'm working on the very last chapter in which I explain what all I learned and what I suggest for future study.  Except that now my mentor says that I need to do more numbers.  It's not, she explained, a "real" quantitative dissertation unless I do more than just means and variances; I should consider doing ANOVA and/or regression analysis.  

Eek.  I couldn't recall what the hell ANOVA stood for, much less how to do one.  Or it.  Or some.  Or--whatever.   

That's okay, though.  What has been learned once can be learned again, and I found a wonderful site ( with videos not only on how to workie the magic in Excel, but that also actually explains what everything is.  Variances?  No prob.  Residuals?  Got 'em.  No, I'm serious; watch the videos and you won't ever have to tell someone "but I don't know what kurtosis and skew are" again.  At least not till the information leaks out, as all statistical knowledge seems to for me.

So back my nose goes to the ole' grindstone.   I'll get back to fiction, I promise, but first I must work some freakin' ANOVA magic.  

And no, contrary to popular rumor, I'm not really going to write "I checked for homoscedasticity because my mentor told me I needed more fucking numbers" anywhere in it.  I promise.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Like what?

"In argument similes are like songs in love; they describe much, but prove nothing." - Frank Kafka

I think I do some of my best thinking while reading other peoples' blogs.  A couple of days ago I was defending Indies over at RG's place and, as a result, picked a book back up that I'd set down several weeks before in disgust.  See, it's a "normal" book, one that's written by a guy who's earned a "#1 NYT Bestselling Author" on the cover, a book that has on its spine the G/C insignia of an imprint of the Hachette Group, a Big 6 publisher. 

I'm on page 44 of the book; I've smacked it down once already due to a crappy premise and underdeveloped, stupid characters.  But my reading pile was low, and I was curious to remind myself how bad the "good" side of writing can be, so I gave it another try. Thus, on page 44, I began again: "Between the two chairs and [the other one] was a three-foot-wide wall of four-inch polycarbonate glass that ran from floor to ceiling."

Whoa.  How in the heck do you get a three-foot-wide wall made of glass that's four inches thick?  Okay, sure, you can laminate nine panes together, but that makes it tough to conduct an interview through. And why would you do that to polycarbonate glass, anyway?

Was the editor paying attention?  I suspect, not. 

Then: "He was six foot eight and extremely lean, like a giant number two pencil."  Oh, come on!  *sound of book slamming shut*  That's a simile I'd expect to read in a spoof, not a real story. 

I like similes, generally.  A well-done simile caresses the page like a silken sheet over a lover's body--revealing just enough, but not too much.  And smooth, always smooth.

"Like a giant number two pencil" ain't smooth.  And neither is the brandest-newest hardback-sized divot on the surface of my wall.

That got me to thinking, though, about some of the good, and the bad, similes of our time.  Stuff like:

"A day without sunshine is, like, you know, night." - Steve Martin

"A book without words is like love without a kiss; it's empty." - Andrew Wolfe (which brings to question the adage "a picture is worth a thousand words" when considering that the only books I've ever seen without words are picture books--are they really empty, or worth a thousand words per picture?)

"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?" - Mark Twain

"The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't." - Anonymous, but brilliant, in a very, very un-smooth sort of way.  I'd never put that in a serious work of prose, certainly, but it's fun to read on Facebook. 

So, anyway, what's your favorite simile or metaphor?


Friday, May 4, 2012

The not-sleep study

"Language is the source of misunderstandings." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood." - William Penn

"Speak, Friend, and enter." - from Lord of the Rings by Tolkien

So I've wondered for years why driveways were where we parked while parkways are built to be driven upon.  Haven't you?  Bill Bryson cleared that up for me, at least the last part, in his book A Walk in the Woods.  Turns out that some of the earliest highways were intended to pass through scenic natural parkland in a manner which would engage the driver and passengers in a stately motoring experience, viewing the grandeur of the American wilderness.  In other words, roadways that pass through parkland.  Thus, parkways.  Get it? 

Granted, that makes me giggle now whenever I think of the "Garden State Parkway" through New Jersey.  But at least I know now what the word is supposed to mean.

That then brings me around to the topic for today: the "sleep study."  Yes, I've been going through trying to finally nail down these health issues I've been having.  One of the suggestions has been sleep apnea, a condition in which the body has trouble breathing when it sleeps.  It seems that the lack of breathing can cause a myriad of health issues, some of which I'm personally investigating.  Who knew?  So my doc referred me to a pulmonologist (a doctor who specializes in studying pulmo, which is the Latin word for lungs and doesn't seem to exist in any other language, a sad fact I learned as I spun through Google's Translate feature searching unsuccessfully for a funny quip) who in turn referred me to the sleep lab.  I skipped right up and scheduled the test for--well, for what ended up being last night.

Now, it's called a sleep study.  Was I really that stupid for assuming I'd get some sleep?

I tromped in at the time we'd arranged, carrying my laptop (because I still had plenty of time for writing between then and when I normally go to sleep) and my work clothes for today.  The tech looked at my clothes and asked, "So, you're going to work tomorrow?"

"Sure," I said.

She smiled and nodded in a manner that reminded me of my own expression when new students at orientation tell me they're going to get straight A's in every class even though they've never been to college before.


To my credit, I did try to write once I got hooked up to the matrix.  It's tough to rock the prose, though, when you have a sensor on your temple recording every time you blink, another behind your ear recording every time you move your head, a full EEG hooked up to your head to record brain waves (so what does an author's brain waves look like when he's writing, you ask?  I have no idea--the tech said they were magnificent, but I bet she says that to all the authors), straps around your chest and stomach to record breathing attempts and heart beat and other stuff, and even sensors on your legs (in spots that, in my case, are now memorialized by a thorough lack of hair). 

It's even harder to sleep.  Once the lights are out, there's this red glowing circle up high on the opposite wall, clearly pointing out the camera that is recording your every moment and movement on the bed.

To her credit, the tech who came in several times to rouse me out of what slumber I could find to try out different masks and stuff was super-sweet and really quite personable.  Overall, it wasn't all that unpleasant of an experience.  It just wasn't--sleep.  The only place you find sleep in a sleep study, then, is in the name.

Gotta love the mother tongue, eh?