An Olympic Size Rant

For my newer subscribers, this is the type of random post I warned you about. But thanks for reading anyway.

NBC’s coverage of the Olympics is way overdue for a fresh approach. In the age of instantaneous and social news, they have not adapted the way they broadcast. The most popular sports are still tape delayed for prime time. But the frustrating things is, the rest of the world gets to see it live. Results are out. There’s no excitement or suspense by the time we see it. I understand the desire to show the best stuff in prime time, but show them live too! Evening can recap the best of the day.

It’s funny how last night, the show opened with Bob Costas reminding how everything would be recorded but there would be no spoilers. Except that the NBC Nightly News led with the results of the Lochte/Phelps race. And we had no opportunity to watch it on TV.

And there is actually very little sports in the prime time broadcast, compared to daytime when we get to see full events. Rather, they fill the time with awkward interviews that bait the athletes or do fluff pieces like going through Ryan Lochte’s shoe collection. I’d be interested to see how much time of their 5 hour broadcast actually showed the events.

And then there’s the big stink of how NBC cut away from the part of the Opening Ceremony that was dedicated to the subway terrorist victim’s in the UK. Rather, they showed an interview with Ryan Seacreast asking Michael Phelps if he felt like he was the greatest Olympian of all time. (How does one answer that? Who asks that?)

Today, during swimming qualifying (live), the announcer said we could watch the final of the race tonight. So naturally, I immediately hopped online to see when it would be on live. At least we have that.

I don’t care that they re-air the big events in prime time. Heck, make it like a Sportcenter style recap show. But to not show them live is ridiculous. Then to be audacious enough to say “we have a spoiler-free show” when the whole world knows the results and got to see it live–and also they give the result in their own news broadcast–is idiotic. Their daytime coverage is vastly better, if for nothing more than actually getting to see full events,

Couple of my favorite tweets when you search #nbcfail sum it up pretty nicely. And it’s worth noting the NBC executives said they are aware of the chatter, but also said their viewership is higher than ever so their model must be working. Billions of dollars are at stake in these broadcasts, but isn’t a little some change due? Guess we can plan on more inane coverage for many more games to come.

Kudos to NBC for steadfastly refusing to allow athletic competition to get in the way of its Olympic coverage.

NBC pays billions of dollars to give us coverage of the Olympics instead of actually showing, you know, the Olympics.

I can easily imagine people watching the Phelps defeat live tweeting their heads off telling friends to watch it in primetime. I can imagine people thanking NBC for curating the best of the day at night and giving folks a chance to watch the highlights.

An Olympic Size Rant

Thoughts on the Semester

I think everyone knows by now that I had to take some extra classes this semester due to an instructor canceling on me right before the semester began.  Well the hellacious semester is over.  Still have some grading to catch up on but the teaching is done.  Never again.  Yah, I have a pretty easy job otherwise and love its flexibility, but I think that was overcompensated this semester.  After it is all done, it’ll be worth it because of the things I was able to do with the extra income (i.e. backyard project, new Mac).  It was also, without a doubt, the fastest semester I’ve experienced.

Well along the way, there are always ups and downs.  And the downs this time were REALLY down.  For example, I had to withdraw several students for non-attendance and in return was accused of discrimination and prejudice and was called (and I quote) cold, callous, unapproachable, and arrogant.  Some of the decisions were admittedly tough to make, but a policy is a policy and I can’t judge who it will apply to and who is excused.  But why does one student respond that way and another come and say “thank you; I’ve made the changes needed and it won’t happen again”?  That was a really low point in my career.  There’s always those few students, too, who make it interesting.  They just don’t seem to get it and you wonder what in the world they are doing–and how they got–there.

Take my A&P I online class. I started out with 10 and I’m going to end up with 4. FOUR! And when we met in person for lab, I just felt like we had this huge disconnect. It was a zombie room. I’d go in and give instructions, ask for questions (there’d be none), and the students would work in silence. No interaction online either.  Never had quite such a disconnected group before.  And it bothered me.

My A&P II online class was refreshingly one of the best groups I’ve ever had. For the most part, they worked steadily and showed up! I probably had the best connection with them out of the five sections of classes I taught this semester.

My Chemistry online class was pretty typical. This is a tough course to do online. I typically see about a 50% retention and that was the case this time as well. I struggle to get students to interact with me online. It wasn’t just this group; that’s been pretty typical and I’m trying to figure out what to do about it. To encourage questions BEFORE homework is due and as they study.

Those classes are what I typically teach. The two extra sections I had to take were classroom chemistry sections. Haven’t been in a classroom in a few years. I started out with 30 and ended up with 18. The reasons for the drop rate ranged from absences to personal reasons. These sections were a lot of work. I think for the most part we all got along, even though we got off to a shaky start. (I remember saying something the first day I later regretted and apologized for the next class, but it apparently stuck with some of the students.)  So no real complaints here.

But I guess the biggest thing that bothers me is the reputation I apparently have among students. And it is a negative one. I think there are two reasons for it. 1. I’m tough. Won’t apologize for that. 2. I need to work on my sarcastic humor and empathy.

To speak to #1: I’m pretty easy to get along with. I balance that with high expectations of hard work and timeliness. When those expectations aren’t met, then I have a no tolerance policy. I will come down hard. I do so out of the desire to make the most disciplined and dedicated life-long learners. If someone wants to cast me in a negative light because of that, then so be it. I want to make the best health care providers possible and I’m unapologetic and won’t compromise in that regard. I do get it, believe it or not, that life happens sometime. Yes I believe I can work on my empathy and will but we have to push on and sometimes tough decisions must be made on my part or the student’s. If they can’t get childcare or are ill or have family issues…well enough of those happen and the student just needs to consider trying the semester again later when things calm down for them. As I said, I can’t be the judge of what is excusable or not.  An absence is an absence.

To #2: I’ve been told I have a pretty dry sense of humor. (I know, you are saying right about now “you think?”)  Those students who I have the best relationships with say that people just have to understand me. What *I* need to understand is that everyone isn’t going to get me. I admittedly can become quickly sarcastic when students ask questions about matters that I have already given instructions. While I do maintain a high level of expectation (see point #1), I think I can respond in a better tone. I also teach Socratically, so the manner in which I respond in that pedagogy can use some adjusting so as not to come off so sarcastically.  I also know that when students come with an excuse of absence, I could be more empathetic in that moment while holding to the school’s policies.

I’m taking a look at my course policies to make adjustments while still maintaining a proper level of work and attendance for students.  These are going to be our health care workers, after all!  And I don’t know if I should have done this or not, but I was personally affected by things this semester, so I posted a personal message in each of my courses.  I said much of what I did above (some parts word-for-word) and asked for feedback.  We’ll see what happens…

Unfortunately, a reputation can be annihilated in an instant and take years to recover. It’s not so much that I care what students think of me–I’m not there to be friends–but it does matter to me that they feel like they can take my classes and when they do, they can come to me. (If nothing else, I need my classes to make, or I’m screwed financially.)

So that was a long and public expression of what’s on my mind. No real point other than for me to get it out and not bottle it up.

Thoughts on the Semester

TSA: Privacy vs. Security

I’m not exactly what you would call an activist, but these past few weeks, we have been inundated by stories of the TSA’s inhumane practices while completing searches to insure we can all travel safely.  I hope all the media attention causes some kind of action.  There’s got to be a better way.  The people who work for TSA have got to be more caring.  They cannot have omnipotent powers.  Take these few examples from the last weeks alone:

1.  Full body scanners are becoming more regular as a screening process.  But how invasive are they when they come to your privacy, you know, down there?  Well hundreds of photos were leaked out recently in a completely embarrassing breach of security in the TSA’s databases.  Story link

2.  A man who must wear a urine bag under his clothing was selected for pat-down.  He informed the agents about the bag, but they uncaringly patted him down anyway with no regard to his medical condition.  The sensitive equipment attached to his body was damaged and he was forced to board his plane soaked in his own urine.  Story link

3.  A personal friend said he eye-witnessed a veteran with a war injury set off the metal detectors.  He was “treated terribly” by the TSA agent.

4.  A woman who survived breast cancer was made to take off her prosthetic in view of the public.  Story link

5.  A young boy was strip searched in front of the public, even after not setting off the metal detectors.  An on-looker recorded the incident and was subsequently followed by TSA agents in the airport until he boarded his plane.  Story link

A week or so ago, new policies went into effect.  You either get a nude full body-xray scan or you get groped.  President Obama has told the public that these measures are necessary to ensure the public’s safety.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to travel safely!  But this is an abuse of federally mandated powers by the TSA.  The TSA Chief gave some PR nonsense this morning about their procedures.  I don’t fly often and I honestly don’t know why this has me so unsettled.  Things like this usually roll off my back.  Heck, I’m probably going to get black-listed for this post.  But it really is a frustrating thing to see such people as those who served our country and those who have battled cancer be treated in such a way by apathetic workers, who at the heart of their duty, are supposed to have the greatest concern for our well-being.

TSA: Privacy vs. Security

Sports Broadcasts Rants

I’m a hockey fan. Huh??? you say? It’s true. It happened back around 1999-2001 when the Stars won a couple Stanley cups. Being from the Dallas area, I got caught up in the hype and watched. But I came to really enjoy the game. It is a non-stop battle. It’s so hard to score that when it finally happens, I think it is the most exciting score of any sports. Now saying all that, I’ve pretty much self-taught myself the rules. And there are plenty I’m still not familiar with.

And that brings me to the point of this rant. Fox Sports, the channel Stars games are featured on, is really bad about not explaining anything, particularly when it comes to penalties. Well they all are bad about it, really. Sometimes they’ll say something like “2 minutes for high sticking” but they rarely show it again. I need to see the penalty so I know what constitutes it. Sometimes it can be as bad as just saying “2 minute minor”…no indication of what foul was committed. It’s hard for me to see penalties at the high rate of play most sports are, so it would be nice if broadcasters would take a second to show the penalty while play is stopped. The other day, I saw my first “misconduct” penalty…a 10 minute one! No explanation.

Explain a rule every so often! I’m not asking for something unreasonable like explain everything every game (more on that in a second). That would suck for the fans that know what is going on. But every few games, when something happens, just take a second to explain it. For example, icing. This was hard for me to figure out. If a commentator had simply said “and the puck travels across the lines without being played so icing will be called”…I’d have known. That’s a non-invasive way of slipping in an explanation, I think. (Incidentally, icing is a rule so that players are forced to play the puck across the rink and not just shoot it down the ice. If called, the puck comes back to the other side for a face-off.) They all list season records with 4 numbers, as in something like 10-4-2-0. Okay, win-loss-tie?-??? What the crap are those numbers? They never say! What are these “points” a team accumulates that determine who gets into playoffs? How are they different from points an individual player gets? How the heck do either EARN the stinking points??? Frustrating!

There are still plenty of other things I don’t understand, like what exactly constitutes interference or the technicalities of where a face-off happens…but the internet has been helpful to some extent. I’ve even downloaded the NHL Official Rule Book. Haha. In summary, I think broadcasts would benefit from this notion because it would pick up new viewers long term by keeping them interested (because they are learning) and informed. Finding a balance for the pro-viewers and the new viewers is win-win!

But at the same time, it can’t be taken to the other extreme, which is to over-explain a procedure every stinking time. And the overly glaring offender here comes from football and the video review. How long have we had reviews now? WE KNOW THE EVIDENCE HAS TO BE INDISPUTABLE! Do you have nothing else to say? Yes, it must be conclusive enough to overturn. Thank you! We got that the first year. Gah!

And just while we’re on this subject, can I just say how useless coach and player interviews are? Just play a record that says “we need to work harder, score more points than [the other team], and come out ready to play”, etc…because that’s basically all these interviews amount to. Well, duhhhh! Can I get the last 5 minutes of my life back please? If you didn’t do those things why show up? How about some substance. Call out some specifics! I know they don’t want to point to individual players, but come on! What about the “running game” do you need to work on? HOW do you work on not turning over the ball? Substance! Amirite?

Sports Broadcasts Rants

LIEmax Rant

My friend Daniel talked me into going to see “Avatar” in IMAX, against my better judgment. Over a year ago, I was so excited to hear we were getting a feature film IMAX (since the Aerospace one doesn’t show them). I saw “Dark Knight” on it…and have seen one or two other movies…but I never really loved it. My two biggest rants about the place is the screen size (we’ll get to that in a minute) and the film projection.

Local critics cited the film projection as a problem too, so I’m not just complaining about something arbitrary. I simply cannot pay attention to the movie when trash, debris, and dust on the lens are flowing across the screen, blown up to “IMAX” size. It is so distracting. Back before digital projection, that was one of the main reasons I wanted to see a movie as soon as it came out. The film quality dramatically decreases as it is plays more and more. Or is some cases, it is just bad to begin with. I remember going to see the premiere showing of Jurassic Park 2. During a climactic scene where the RVs were hanging off the cliff, the film melted off the reel. It took about 20 minutes to restart and it picked back up after the scene was over. The second time I saw Fellowship of the Ring, the audio track got hung up in the reel and we didn’t hear the last 5 minutes of the movie.

It may be bigger than traditional screens (or is it…hold on, we’re getting there) and the sound may be 12,000 watts, but the viewing quality was a deal breaker, so I opted for the Rave every time. Besides, very little has actually been shot on IMAX film. You can see the difference here. Only 8 scenes in Dark Knight were…the rest of the movie was not. So when you are going to see an “IMAX” film, that’s a bit of a misnomer. Just like watching movies on your TV at home, there will be black bars at the top and bottom of the screens, which may or may not be cleverly hidden by movable currents to frame the screen.

Okay, on to screen size. There is a guy out there who has mapped out http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=113621990356540393221.000469b6c5915161c3667&ll=34.725812,-92.363434&spn=0.395041,0.583649&z=10&iwloc=lyrftr:msid:113621990356540393221.000469b6c5915161c3667,000469d73bf54bfb7978d,,,0,-31&output=embed
all the IMAX screens in the country and noted if they are true IMAX, Omnimax (domed screen), or LIEmax. It seems a bit superficial to only rely on screen size to determine if you are having a true IMAX experience, but it is the most obvious. Well, I’ll let this extreme example speak for itself.

I wrote Dickinson Theaters to find out how big our “IMAX” screen is and they replied that it is 45 x 70 ft wide. The reported true size of an IMAX screen is 76 x 97 ft. The original IMAX, according to Wikipedia, has different dimensions than that. So who knows what a “real” sized IMAX theater is supposed to be. But compared to the image above, ours isn’t that bad, but it is still only 75% or so of the “true” size. To me, it’s like buying Blu-Ray movies for 20″ TV screens. What’s the point? Well, okay, there’s the sound and the projection style, etc. In fact, one article put it like this:

The company maintains that it’s not just the size of the screen that matters, it’s their “revolutionary projection system, a powerful digital audio system and customized theatre geometry” that make up “The IMAX Experience.”

I’ll buy that. And when I went to reluctantly buy our tickets for Avatar, I asked the manager if they were still film-based. He said they are digital now. So that’s a HUGE step up for me. So the issue comes down to this: is the added expense worth it? If you like to see regularly-filmed movies shown a little bit bigger and a more power sound system, then yah, maybe it is. I wouldn’t have said that when they were projecting film, though. So we’ll see how this showing of Avatar goes.

LIEmax Rant

Another Rant About Email Etiquette

You’ve heard me fuss about email before…spam, forwards, reply-to-all…I’m adding another one to the list. CC’ing people into the middle of a one-on-one discussion. OMG, where do I begin.

Before I tell you the present story, let me mention some past occurrences. My first point is that, as the director, I feel like I’ve been entrusted to make decisions and solve problems. I was hired, so I must have made the impression that I am capable of doing this. And I feel like I do a pretty good job. I’m open, I listen, I gather the facts…then I make a decision. In other words, I like to be able to handle things on my level. I feel like upper management (above me) is generally interested in the fact that the problem got solved to the benefit of the organization. The day-to-day workings and conversations not so much. Simply that it got worked out.

Soon after I was hired, there were many transition snags and fresh methodology. Problems arose; it has to be expected. In one such case, I was emailing with a person back and forth for a while, coming up with a plan when suddenly in the CC field appeared the head of the school’s name. Say what? We were handling the situation just fine, but before it reached its conclusion, the big boss was brought into the middle of it. So now we have to bring her up to speed, which takes more time and frankly, wastes time. To me, when the solution is reached, then we can let her know and see if she approves.

Sorry but CC’ing someone in like that is the electronic version of tattling. It’s unprofessional, inconsiderate, and certainly not amiable.

So to today’s story. A couple weeks ago I had to make an unforeseen schedule change to our curriculum. Unfortunately, the instructor assigned could no longer teach the course so the chairman was then tasked with finding someone else. I was very apologetic and explained why it happened. Fine. Today he emails me to say he has an instructor, that it was very difficult, and he was frustrated by not having any information to give her.

He CC’ed this to the Vice President of Instruction and the President of the college. W…T…F… In both cases, I feel slightly offended personally. By interrupting our conversation to bring in someone else, it makes me feel like they don’t think I’m performing adequately and they need to let the bosses know.

I’ve grown so tired of this petty “look what he made me do; I’ve got to let the higher ups know” crap, I called him out on it. And yes, I clicked reply-to-all. I made it very clear–again–why it occurred, thanked him for working so hard, and showed my gratitude that everything will work out to the benefit of the students. I also questioned why he felt he needed to bring in the heads of the school to a solved situation and that I’m sure they’ll be happy to know we worked it out. I also told him I find it much more amiable (I like that word) to handle our local problems on our level.

So folks, just stop and think before you click that Send button. Seriously…

Another Rant About Email Etiquette