Friday, June 29, 2007

Funniest thing I heard today

It hasn't rained a drop in 32 hours. I think that's the longest we've been without rain in months. As I type, Doug is mowing the lawn. While he was at beer night last night, our neighbors on both sides and across the street took the opportunity to mow. Feeling embarrassed that we have the tallest grass around, Doug is remedying the situation.

Even without rain, central Texas is still feeling the effects of the flood. Rivers are swollen and some reservoirs and water treatment centers are damaged. Residents of smaller towns have a limited water supply and even then are urged to boil their water. Which leads me to the funniest thing I heard today.

I'm in my car listening to the local news channel. Reporters are providing updates on the situation. One reporter is interviewing an official from the town of Taylor:

We're encouraging all of our residents to conserve water and do things like not wash their cars or water their lawns.

Huh? Am I missing anything here? After all this rain the last thing anyone needs to do is water their lawn. Chances are we won't need to water our lawns again for six months (not that we water much, which is why our grass is now the greenest it has been in years, but that's a different post).

We can have two years of drought, go on water five day water rationing, but it takes a flood for city officials to remind us to conserve our natural resources by not watering our lawns. You've got to love small town officials.

PS: I'm watching Doug out the window and can see how frustrated he's getting. The grass is so high that it's wrecking havoc on our mulching mower. He can go about 20 feet and then the mower wants to give out. He has to pause, back up, and wait for the mower to catch up. It's stopped three times in the backyard alone. Make that four. He'll be ready for a beer when he's done. There's no chance he'll water our lawn any time soon. Make that five times. I better make sure there's a cold one in the fridge.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Let the sun shine in

There is sun this morning. I can see it. Usually June is bright and sunny, but not this year. I can't remember the last day that we didn't have rain, even if it was just a quick, 10 minute storm. Of course, this sun won't last. It's raining south and west of Austin and we are still under a flood warning.

Luckily, where we are, we aren't in much danger of flood waters. None of the roads we usually drive on are closed. It is just wet, ugly and muggy. The worse thing for us is that it's been at least two weeks since we've been able to mow and the grass is getting high. It's actually getting to Doug. Every morning he wakes up and says, "maybe it won't rain today and I can mow this evening." I just smile and don't tell him how much rain the news has predicted for the day.

We've had more ran so far this year than what we normally have for the entire year. Luckily, the rain is constant, just intermittent throughout the day. Doug says we now know what it would be like to live in Seattle.

All I can say is that I'm glad the drought is over. The last two years have been bad. Droughts only end with floods -- that's the cycle. Now our lakes are full (some are overflowing) and we have our water. Now if the rain would just subside and we could get some sun.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Educating on higher education

I heard a report this morning on the radio that average starting salaries for teachers in the Austin Independent School District was slightly more than $40K. On one hand, I think this is great. I think teachers work very hard and deserve the pay, and having higher starting salaries will attract more people to the profession. The average starting salary for PR folks in Austin is between $28-32K and my students think it's low (of course, unlike teachers, you can get raises pretty quickly and can be making some good money in just a few years). Maybe more people will think about teaching if they felt like they could make decent money.

On the other hand, the story depressed me. Why? Because as a starting university professor I was only making $36K. Middle school teachers with a bachelor's and no experience can make more than I did with a master's and a dozen years of professional experience in the subject area I was teaching. Something is wrong with our educational system, at least our higher ed system.

For years there have been complaints about public schools and pay disparity, yet few have looked at what is going on in higher ed. One of the most eye-opening pieces I've seen on the subject is a documentary, Declining by Degrees. The universities are losing the best and brightest professors and it's the students who suffer.

The director of the School of Journalism & Mass Comm at Texas State continues to encourage me to get my PhD. However, she's using the wrong selling points. She tells me that starting salary for a newly minted PhD is almost $50K. I didn't want to tell her that I was earning that seven years ago and my professional salary right now, without toiling for four years with no life, is quite a bit more than that.

Funding is tighter in higher ed, but the push is to get more students through. It's not easy. And when good teachers, in professional degree programs, begin looking to go outside academia to earn a living, the situation only worsens. You have to wonder what is left.

I loved teaching and think there were some great faculty members. However, the future was somewhat discouraging. When you are in that kind of situation, there are only four options:
  1. Live with it as it is.
  2. Change your own mindset/attitude.
  3. Work to change it from the inside.
  4. Leave the situation.

I couldn't do the first two, try as I might. Not having tenure and given the structure of academia, I wasn't able to do the third thing. That just left me with option 4.

Going forward, I'll continue teaching at the university level as a per class adjunct as long as they will have me. Given the situation, that will be awhile (assuming they offer evening classes). I will be able to reach the students and maybe some day, when they get older, they will work to change the system.

Monday, June 25, 2007

I had issues

Last week I was having serious connectivity problems with the Internet. First of all, we decided it was time to upgrade our cell phones and decided to shop around and look into changing our mobile carrier to Cingular/AT&T and bundling our local and Internet services with our mobile. One piece of advice -- shop around for technology services every few years. Doug and I don't do this often enough, but when we do, we always seem to get more service for less cost. Since we had not really looked at our DSL since we bought the house six years ago, we found that we could upgrade to a faster speed and save $30 a month. A no brainer, right?

That's where the problems started. I kept asking if we would need to upgrade our modem or router and was told no. I put the order in on Monday and the new service went into effect on Wednesday. What did the new service bring? An outage, of course.

First, I thought it was just the storm coming through that knocked out service. That happens sometimes. I had a lunch meeting so I decided to just leave early and hang out in this cafe, drink tea and use their wireless. After the meeting (and the storm), I went drove back home. Still down. I had several things I needed done, and another meeting that evening, so I went to another cafe and hung out there the rest of the afternoon. While there, I called AT&T. I was told that the service upgrade was happening that day and that's probably the issue. No big deal I thought.

Until the next morning, when there still wasn't service. Still in bed, I called AT&T. We looked at the modem, we looked at my settings, we looked at everything and decided it was the router, which wasn't theirs. They gave me the number to call Netgear; when I did, I found out that we were out of warranty (of course) and couldn't get phone service without paying $1/minute. We could, however, get free email tech support. Just how I was supposed to email without connecting to the Internet, I didn't bother asking.

Before he leaves for work Doug hands me another router, still in the box, that we got free when we bought the laptop. It's not as good as Netgear, but promises that it's easy to connect in just 4 minutes. Even I could do it, right? Wrong! Massive chill pills and the thought of picking up shards of glass were the only thing that kept me from throwing the new router at the window. It's time to leave the house and find a connection.

I live in the 'burbs. Despite it being close to Dell, there aren't a lot of cute little cafes teaming with wi-fi and I really didn't want to drive all over town to get a connection. First stop, Starbucks, where my hunch was confirmed -- it's T-Mobile only and you have to pay for the service. Those capitalistic bastards! Next stop, Java Cafe, which was more of a greasy spoon diner, but it had free wi-fi. By this time my battery is low on the laptop from all the previous time on phone support, so I take the only table with an outlet, a big corner table, and order breakfast. I get online and go the the Netgear site and email tech support and wait for a response. I'm okay for awhile, but lunch time comes and the manager boots me out. There's a wait and I just can't take up the table any more. I understand, but am still pissed. I have things to do, I need my Internet!

I have no idea where to go and get in my car. I start heading for one of the cafes I hung out the day before and then decide to try this little Thai restaurant instead. They send out emails to me and seem pretty tech-savvy. Maybe they have wi-fi. They did, and had one outlet with an empty table nearby. I sit down and start computing. After the lunch "rush" (three tables) is done, I realize something -- I am the only person in the restaurant and it will close in 30 minutes. Great. I had to pick a place that closes between lunch and dinner and I am the only person keeping the waitstaff from leaving. Ugh. However, I finally received a response from tech support and decide to go home and try it again.

Unfortunately, it didn't work. Even with the email from tech support, I couldn't reset the router. Frustration is high so I do the only thing I know to do. I leave it for Doug and go to a girls' night out. Alcohol, while it won't fix the router, will make it so you temporarily don't care.

The outcome of the story? Doug came home, spent a few hours cussing at the router, but then realized I was coming home and that he wanted any peace, needed to get it working, which he did.

Yes, my Internet addiction is being fed. It's at the point where I can't even remember not having the world at my fingertips. My frustration of not having access makes me wonder if connectivity is worth it. Then again, I don't really want to find out.

Monday, June 18, 2007

If they could see it now

I'm really not sleepy so I turned on the TV. Broadcast News is on and I have to watch. It's one of those movies I love, but when I think about my favorite movies, I never seem to remember it. Yet when it's on, I'm glued to it.

As I'm watching the first few minutes something strikes me. This movie was made in 1987. What would these characters think about the world of news and politics today, 20 years later?

We're introduced to Aaron as he is making fun of an Arnold Schwarzenegger television interview about Schwarzenegger's latest movie. I wonder what Aaron would think of Gov. Schwarzenegger? Then there's Jane, who speaks out at a conference against the softening of the news. Nobody listens. The audience claps when she shows how a lead story on all three networks was of a domino stacking competition, missing the point that the networks neglected to cover a major policy change in nuclear policy. No one seemed to care that news was turning into fluff.

This was 20 years ago, before the rise of cable news, way before the Internet. The 24/7 news cycle wasn't even a concept. In many ways this movie prophesied what has become of our news. I guarantee Jane would throw a hissy fit about all the coverage of Paris Hilton's jail time or the death of Anna Nicole.

I think it was easy for this movie to predict what was going to happen to news. Things were starting to become more evident. The year this movie was made, I still wanted to be a foreign correspondent for Newsweek in Central America. That's where the action was. Journalism was my calling. Yet by the time I graduated in 1988, I didn't want that any more. I could tell that journalism was going tabloid and that wasn't me. I went to college not knowing what I wanted to be, but still registered as a journalism major because that was what was on my application and the advising line for that major was short (true story). Only later did I learn what PR was, how it had a strong journalism component, and how PR was all about telling the positive story. That's when I decided what I wanted to be.

Funny thing is, Broadcast News had no influence on my decision. I never saw the movie until I was well into my career. Yet every time I watch it, there is something that resonates with me. There is a definite warning the movie is trying to give and yet we're not paying heed. I wonder what Jane and Aaron would say to that?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Jesucristo Superestrella

Last night we volunteered for Jesus Christ Superstar at the Zachary Scott Theatre. What's interesting about this production is that it's bilingual. The show was both in English and Spanish, with some songs using one or the other language, while other songs were sung in both. The set design and costumes were also very Mexican in look and feel. This is the first attempt to do the show bilingual and it seemed to work.

I have to admit, Joseph Melendez, the actor playing Jesus was hot. I might burn in hell for this, but after the show I was saying how I would go pray in his church any day of the week. The director brought Melendez in from New York so no one really knew who he was. There was a lot of speculation whether he was gay or not, because, let's face it, 90 percent of the male actors at the Zach are (not that there is anything wrong with that). A friend who is stage manager for the show, confirmed that Melendez is in fact straight. Dios mio! At this point, Doug decided it was time to leave, with or without me, and left me chatting with the girls until they pointed out I better go catch my ride. ;-)

Actually, the best performance was John Pointer, playing Judas. He rocked the house.

My only disappointments were that they did the song "I Don't Know How To Love Him" only in Spanish. This actually was a pop hit in the '70s and one of my favorite songs from the show. I'm sure if it were in English I would have sang along to it; Doug said for this reason it was a good thing it was in Spanish. The other disappointment is that the show started with someone dressed like an Aztec god, doing a dance. He was brought out later in the first act, but I would have also liked to see the second act start with him. It was fascinating watching him leap and turn in the air.

The next time we are scheduled to volunteer at the Zach is the July 21st opening part of An Almost Holy Picture.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Good blog

Check out this blog by Tim Sanders, former Yahoo exec. I was turned on to him several years ago when he was on the JB & Sandy radio show. Since then he's been a frequent guest. He was on earlier this week talking about email etiquette and why the Longhorns beat USC for the national championship. Check out the replay if you want to hear some great stuff.

It's been a long time...

It's been a long time since I rock and rolled
It's been a long time since I did the stroll
Oh baby, let me get back, Let me get back,
Let me get back, Baby where I come from
It's been a long time, Been a long time
Been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time
Yes it has...

Apologizes to Led Zeppelin, but I know I've been a bad blogger. There's no real excuse, but a lot of things have been going on, some busy, some I wasn't ready to talk about. Of course, after awhile things get away from you and you feel guilty. I mean, why should I feel guilty about not blogging or worse yet HAVING to blog, but I was, so it continued to build. Then the other day I was talking to some bloggers I met at a networking function and they convinced me it was okay. I could go back. And so here I am. There have been things I have wanted to blog about, but hadn't logged on because I thought readers needed to know why I hadn't been blogging. So here it goes:

Life has been crazy.

Okay, no excuse, we all have crazy lives, but for awhile my life was crazy busy and got away from me. Then I started a period of transition and now, well, I don't know, I'm just here.

It started in February with an email from a PR agency I've done work for in the past, asking if I could spare some hours for a week. It was a week where nothing major was going on at school, I there wasn't a test to write or project to grade or anything like that, so I said yes, I could give them about 20 hours for the week. That 20 hours turned into almost 2 months, working 25-30 hours a week. I would get up at 5:15, leave the house at 6:15, drive 50 minutes to San Marcos, do what I needed to prep for that day, teach class at 8 a.m., teach another class, have office hours and leave campus at 12:15. I'd drive to downtown Austin and work most evenings until 6:30, sometimes 7 or later, often being the last one to leave the office, and head home, lucky if I could squeeze in a 30 minute workout. Then it was home, dinner and anything I needed to do to prep for class the next day, fall exhausted into bed and start all over. It was like this four days a week; Fridays were easy, it was working 8 hours a day at the agency. Weekends were spent grading and doing class prep. Blogging was the last thing I wanted.

Then in mid-April it was suddenly over. The crazy client I was working on changed its mind on some things and the agency figured out how to offload some of the work I was doing to another office. While I really liked the money, making almost double working part-time what I did teaching full-time, I also didn't mind that they didn't need me. It was two weeks until the end of the semester and student projects were due and finals were coming up. It was my busiest time of the semester.

So mid-April, I'd been doing PR work and getting paid well for about 2 months and I realized I missed the work. Yes, there was a lot of BS to deal with from clients, but at least I got paid to deal with it. On the teaching side, it's mid-April, I loved my students and loved being in the classroom, but still hadn't been asked to come back in the fall. For 2 months they knew they needed someone but as as the director told me, it was like the movie Sophie's Choice and she was "choosing not to choose." Such is the life of an instructor. Unless I got that PhD and got on tenure track, my future would be uncertain. There was also a lot of non-classroom BS to deal with, only I didn't get paid to deal with it, and quite honestly I was very disheartened, disenchanted and frustrated.

Last day of class. I'm like a proud parent, watching my students present their projects to their clients. I'm sad, as I know I may not see some of them again. The campaigns class is graduating and I have no idea if I'll be back the following year. Finally, on that day, I get asked if I want to come back the next year and say I need to think about it. And think I did, especially as the next day I had an interview with one of the top tech PR firms. I spent a week with a constant headache, trying to weigh my options. It was made more difficult when I didn't get the job at the firm.

Do I stay with what I know that is safe, although I am frustrated, or do I take a chance for something more? I thought about all the times I played it safe and how it really didn't work out like I hoped. I thought about what I try to teach my students about taking chances and going for it and following their dreams. I decided that it was best if I left the university, at least as full-time faculty, and let the school know my decision. I did offer to teach one or two classes a semester, particularly at night, and they accepted. This was the day of my last final. I packed my office and left, saying goodbye to hardly anyone because it would be too hard.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that for the first few weeks I had a lot of cognitive dissonance, or wonder whether I did the right thing, especially when I heard that the PhD they hired to start in the fall bailed on them, leaving them down two PR instructors. I also felt a little bit of a loss of identity. Who was I, if not an instructor at the university? Let's face it, what little they pay is made up by prestige.

But now things are picking up for me. For the last month I've been networking like crazy, meeting new people and attending events. Things that they always say you should be doing, but let's face it, for three years I've been locked in an ivory tower between grad school and teaching and making it back to Austin for a networking lunch hasn't been feasible. I look at my calendar for this month and almost every day has something; next week I have a meeting every night and have lunch appointments almost every day. In between times, I'm meeting with companies that may want to offer me a job or at least some freelance work. And believe it or not, I have turned down some offers (especially for freelance work), because it wasn't right. I have to have the belief that the right thing will happen for me.

So what I have learned from all this? First, you don't have to settle. Second, you have to believe in your own worth and stand up for it. Third, people are nice and friends are important. And finally, you can go blog again.