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Friday, May 31, 2013

F3 Security Measures

            I learned a long time ago that there was no such thing as enough security. No matter how much I prepare, I would never be able to stop the people who wanted to get to  me. No, not thieves and would-be muggers. Not even home invasions. I deal with supernatural threats, and they’re not scared off by an alarm system, bars on the windows, or even a foot-thick sheet of titanium.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Conference Season

            The summer is when a writer’s (at least this one’s) fancy turns towards conferences. There are a lot of good conferences during the summer and fall that I itch to attend. But because my resources are limited, I have to choose carefully those conferences which I believe will do me the most good for my not-yet-budding career as a writer. I’m looking for conferences about craft, not conventions about fandom. I want to meet publishing professionals and fellow authors. I want to attend a conference dedicated to the genre(s) I write.
            It doesn’t take long for one conference name to swim to the top: Crimebake.
            Now, I wonder which agents are going to be there. Time to start researching them and their authors.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Criminal Language

            Criminal enterprises are dangerous, no, really, I heard that somewhere. The risks of the job, though, are part of the deal. Hardly a criminal would balk at the risk of getting arrested or a prison sentence. It’s a risk, always has been, always will be. The job itself isn’t the only risk, though. Criminals have a need to go about their work in secret, and the only thing worse than getting arrested on the job is to get arrested before the job.
            For that reason criminals have to hide what they’re about, but they still have to talk about it. Talking about a big heist or, worse, the need to kill someone is a quick way to tip off the police. If the cops don’t outright arrest someone for planning a crime, you can bet they’ll take steps to make sure that the crime goes down in their favor, ending with thieves and other criminals behind bars, or even in body bags.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

F3 Magic Potion

            Alchemy, the study of transmuting materials, most notably of attempting to turn lead into gold, was dangerous. The antique flask sat on the table in front of me. The glass was thick and imperfect with a dawb of lead on the side. Some kind of seal had been pressed into the metal, but I couldn’t make it out, now. Lines of brass emerged from the lead seal to wind their way around the neck of the glass all the way to the top.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Murder One

            Murder is old. We can’t call it the oldest profession simply because, well, it wasn’t really a profession when it was invented. There just weren’t enough people around, which becomes a problem later, as we’ll get into.
            Murder most foul, and it’s brother against brother. The incident with Cain and Abel is interesting for a lot of reasons. For one, this is the first generation. Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden, and their first two kids turn out like this. It’s not really fair to call it bad parenting, either; I mean they got 50% right. Not bad for a couple of kids freshly kicked out of Paradise, especially considering there are no parenting books yet.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Summer School

Today marks the beginning of summer school. This is my first time teaching this summer. Condensing 16 weeks’ worth of learning into 5 weeks will be tough, but I think I’m up for it. Certainly some things have to go, but I feel that I’ve retained the core of what I need to.
After comparing my summer course to the regular semester, I feel like I’ve put it under the editing knife, chopping out everything that wasn’t needed. But if that’s the case, then why do I have it in there for the regular semester? I think that all of it is necessary, but the form has changed. During the regular semester the course is a novel. During summer, it’s more of a novella.
I think novella is the right choice because it’s that awkward length that, with a little push, could turn it into a novel. The length of summer classes feels awkward, unnatural, like there needs to be more, but there just isn’t any more. But what is there is a quick, intense read.

Friday, May 17, 2013

F3 First Day

            There really is only one chance to make a first impression. Professor Alex Henderson adjusted the bow tie of his tux. He checked his watch, then nodded. He went down the hall where students still filed into classrooms, giving him wide-eyed stares. When he got to his room, he pushed the play button on the presentation remote, starting the music.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Battle Stations

            Battle stations, Red Alert, Action Stations. Whatever the terminology, it’s a call to action, but in order to even get to the point of action, a certain amount of readiness is needed.  When I took over the classes for my colleague, my teaching load went up to 5 courses. This was a considerable load of classes, compounded by the fact that I had to play catch up for two of them by figuring out what they knew, what was scored, and what was left to do in the courses.
            A normal adjunct teaching load is 3 classes a semester, and I was nearly double that, plus the extra work of teaching classes in progress. I wouldn’t have been able to handle the new load if it weren’t from the fact that I had my own classes in-hand.
            I also tend to structure my classes in a way that makes the very end less eventful. I try to get all of the major projects done before the end, then offer a chance to rewrite if they wish. This makes the situation easier on me as all the major grading is completed before the end, and on the students as well who will be swamped with other projects.
            For me, this kind of structure and preparation is what keeps me at battle stations.

Monday, May 13, 2013


            During the semester a colleague at the college injured herself and was unable to continue teaching for the remainder of the semester. I stepped in to take over her classes, which has been a challenge, but more importantly, it got me thinking about what would happen if I fell into a similar situation.
            Would the teacher taking over my classes be able to do so smoothly?
            I like to think I’ve done a lot of preparation work for my courses. I have assignments established and made them available online. I am thorough in my calendar, and can usually remain on track. Still, this entire event has made me think I need to do a little more in the preparation department, not least of which because it makes my semester go more smoothly.

Friday, May 10, 2013

F3 Business Practices

            Three students quietly packed away beakers, flasks, graduated cylinders, and test tubes while another steady stream of students walked off with boxes packed full of the supplies. Professor Alex Henderson watched, smiling, from his vantage near the door to the supply room.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Appeal of the Heist

            Heists are a staple of the crime genre. Who doesn’t love stories like Ocean’s 11, The Italian Job, or even A Fish Called Wanda? But, unlike murder and other crimes, heists are crimes we can get behind. We actually cheer on the criminals in their attempt to rob people. But why is that? Why can we get behind a group of people out to rob, yet condemn the mugger?
            Heists are always against someone big and oppressive. Either some kind of large corporation or viciously wealthy individual is the target. We dislike the big bad corporations and the viciously wealthy because, well, they’re not us and their character is shown to be flawed in some way, much as Andy Garcia’s character in Ocean’s Eleven. He’s powerful, shows himself off to be a jerk, and has very little sense of humor. This last reason is enough to justify robbing him.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Rubrics and Organ Failure

            I talked about my House, M.D. marathon and diagnosing essays. All the parts connect, so a true diagnosis for a single cause is difficult. Rubrics present themselves as a way to accurately and speedily diagnose an essay, allowing the instructor to tick off gradations in select categories while seeming to make in-depth comments regarding the essay. The comments are supposed to allow a student to realize the specific errors, then go back and correct the incorrect writing habits, which produced the errors in the first place.
            I’ve never come across a rubric that could actually do this. The seemingly in-depth comments are too vague and generalized to offer specific guidance. This is the reality of rubrics as language applicable to a wide variety of situations and writing must be employed. Rubrics, by their very nature, must be generalized. The nature of a rubric itself also is to simply speed up the grading of essays, making them into the equivalent of an optical mark reader such as the sciences and mathematics enjoy.
            To me a rubric is the equivalent of saying “take it easy for a few days, don’t hurt yourself, and you’ll be fine,” all the while the patient is suffering from massive organ failure, but the doctor cannot be bothered to spend in-depth time truly diagnosing and offer specific advice to the patient.
Why is it acceptable to tick off marks on a rubric, slide some numbers around, and then come up with a grade? The advice isn’t really valid or even prescriptive. The generalized meanings of the comments don’t offer anything except adjectival differences between “employs an adequately-constructed argument” and “employs a well-constructed argument.” What’s the difference? What is the difference between an adequate argument and a poor one, or an insufficient one?
Rather than spend time and energy coming up with vague descriptors for a rubric, I would prefer to tailor my comments specifically to the writer and the writing, offering concrete examples using their writing on what they could do or what else they should consider. This makes my grading time much longer, but it usually means, for the students who want to improve, that they won’t undergo massive organ failure and flatline at the end of the semester.

Friday, May 3, 2013

F3 Bombing Run

            “All right. So, are we clear on how this is going to play out?” Professor Alex Henderson asked.
            They stood on top of the Physics building. The six story overlooked much of the campus, including the gymnasium and the pool.
            A hand went up in the gathered throng, nearly sixty students, and the professors’ wives.
            “Yes, Michael?”

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

End Times

The End Times

            Regular classes end very soon, and it couldn’t come soon enough. The semester has been, in a word, brutal. Every instructor I talk to shares the same stories about the difficulties faced. I’ve been so swamped with grading and teaching that I have barely given a thought to writing, much less done any actual writing this semester. Hopefully with the end of this semester, I can look at the post-game to figure out some better ways to go about things, and to save myself some time and sanity so I can do some writing.
            I wonder if IBM would let me borrow Watson for grading essays . . .
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