Category Archives: Accounting

In This Corner, Weighing In At Three Thousand Accounting Professors…

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The American Accounting Association, aka “Triple A” is the professional organization for Accounting professors in the US and has a huge participating membership for Accounting professors abroad as well.  Every year the Triple A hosts a mighty conference – usually with over 3,000 people attending, plus spouses, significant others, kids, and random family members – in the first week of August.  This means that in the first week of August, somewhere in the US, an hotel is filling up to the eaves with Accounting professors.  In many cases, this means exactly what people assume it means.  Lots and lots of people in golf shirts, khaki slacks, or suits, all coming together to talk about…Accounting.  (I hear this word in the Reverential Tones used by Sam the American Eagle muppet when he speaks of Business).

Accounting practice, Accounting research, Accounting education.   It’s three or four days of intensive Accounting Chatter.  At the hotel coffee shop, at the hotel bar, in the hotel lobby, in the hotel elevators, and at the hotel pool.  And, of course, there are skillions of academic sessions where people are not just chatting about Accounting, they are presenting it.  Panels, guests speakers, active researchers sharing their work through presentations and poster sessions.

If you ever feel that you life lacks a certain…Accounting Angle…you know where to go to repair that now.  The Triple A conference is the Place To Be.

Usually, as I mentioned, this means we have a rather large hotel that is bursting at the seams with Accounting professors, actual Accountants, and their friends and relations.

This time, we’re meeting in Anaheim, a stone’s throw from the Hallowed House of the Mouse: Disneyland.  This proximity is a major reason for the choice of venue.  There has to be something for everyone else to do while the professors are off talking about Accounting.  So in addition to the juggernaut of Accounting, there are hordes of vacationing families.  This, too, is not atypical, because the conference location has been strategically identified.

This hotel, this time, however, the scene at the hotel is nothing short of surreal. To the typical convention melange of tourists and the Followers of Accounting is added a very tsunami of Youth.  This hotel is also hosting VidCon, a Con (they aren’t sure if it’s a CONference or a CONvention, according to their site), and a a massive 10,000-plus-person celebration of Internet Video Auteurs and YouTube Groupies.

I will be honest.

I had no idea such a thing existed.

And yet, here we are, with swarms of overheated youth wearing gigantic Con badges with handwritten lists of their favorite YouTube channels on, to broadcast their Cyber Affiliations.

If only we were in Japan, I would be certain that my plane had taken a sideslip through the Twilight Zone and landed me smack in the middle of a William Gibson novel.  It’s much less edgy than Gibson’s cyberpunk dystopia.  It’s more like…Disney’s version of Gibson’s  cyberpunk dystopia.  Complete with a massive ultra-techy live music stage out in the courtyard.

I suspect that this hotel may be exceeding its fire load. The elevators have been impossible, between the throngs of Youth who look and smell as though they’d been camping and who are racing up and down to catch various Scenes. Anyone who’s been to a major Con knows about this – for the rest of you, much of the “great” stuff that happens that people talk about for years after actually happen in overcrowded hotel rooms. That would have to be CONvention, not CONference, because most of what seems to happen in hotel rooms at a CONference – other than the usual activities associated with hotel rooms – is Small Business Meetings.

At CONventions, what happens is choice authors holding court, or new filk songs being drafted, or – in this case – vast numbers of brand-new YouTube videos premiering.  All of them in dozens of hotel rooms packed to the gills with teenagers all jockeying for a look at someone’s laptop screen.

Beyond this, there are of course those who are using the Physical Plant to manufacture new YouTube video. The escalators are a peculiar fashion parade of groups shooting footage, some escalators hosting more than one group shooting different footage at a time – with predictably amusing results.  The elevators have been hosting this action too. There was a pair of chicks wearing masks representing, I think, some politician, and joyriding the elevators in a Penetrating Stern and Judgmental Silence. I couldn’t see who was filming them because we were packed in that car like sardines.

I have been party to some Strange Scenes, but the Accounting Professors Meet YouTube Fen has got to be one of the strangest so far.  Sadly, I am informed, the YouTube Fen will be vacating the premises today.  One wonders what next marvel will present itself.

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And You May Ask Yourself: How Did I Get Here?

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And you may ask yourself: How do I work this?

And you may tell yourself: That is not my beautiful house!

Once again, I find myself taking Philosophical Inspiration from David Byrne and the Talking Heads, and thus, I suppose, giving away my position as the vanguard for Generation X.

Now, Huey has had a lot of time on the blog, lately, well, because he lives in a world of such Exceptionable Drama we might as well make a soap opera out of it.  Grey’s Anatomy has nothing, I repeat nothing on the naked, thrilling excitement of Life At The Barn.  It is abundantly clear to me, as I develop my relationship with him, that he sees the world in ALL CAPS, italics, and a virtually endless supply of !!!!!.  In fact, I would hazard the guess that every third thought that crosses his brain is comprised entirely of “!!!!”.

Lest anyone get the idea that this is Horses, in general, I assure you that there are many horses in the barn that do not think primarily in ALL CAPS!!!!!!  In fact, the only other horses I can think of at the barn that have a tendency to think in ALL CAPS!!!! are all young mares…and when I say “young” I mean “young enough to be new to that whole ‘saddle’ thing”.  Huey, as we all know, is not “young” by any stretch.

No.  He is Sensitive.  Or, possibly, sensitive. Or, really, he is SENSITIVE!!!!

Don’t get me wrong.  I adore Huey.  It’s not exactly that He Can Do No Wrong In My Eyes, because he does stuff of which I disapprove all the time.  It’s just that I don’t consider that doing that stuff…detracts…from him in any way.  He’s a freaking Drama Queen. No, I don’t mean Drama King.  I don’t even know what a Drama King would be.  He is definitely a Drama Queen.  He shares that with his step-daddy, Roy, by the way.  He is also, I regret to say, a bully.  This, he shares with his step-brother Buster Kitty, also a first-class bully.  He’s excessively Sensitive.  All that stuff about getting shocked by the blanket?  Just so you all know, we’re talking about the tiniest possible transfer of static electricity.  I mean, we’re talking about the kind of static electricity you get when you brush your hair when it’s dry and cold out.  All those little crackles that you can’t really even feel?

That’s what he’s freaking out about when he starts going off about getting ZAPPED (note the Drama!!!!) and blatting through his nose and frowning – my trainer says horses don’t have the muscles to frown, and I believe that, but I really don’t know how else to characterize the puckered look he gets on his face when he’s pissed off that someone has just delivered the tiniest possible static charge to him.  Oh, yeah, I can’t forget:  he is a veritable Master of the Stink Eye.

Some days, I feel like I haven’t really Lived unless I’ve gotten the Stink Eye from Huey.

I prefer not getting the Stink Eye, just like any parent.  It’s one thing to say that if your kids don’t hate you, you’re not doing your job (kind of true); it’s another thing to do stuff knowing that you’re going to be getting some bloody great hissy fit and the Stink Eye, combined with a lot of sulking.

It’s amazing how loud a hairy 1,200lb quadruped can sulk, too.  You parents of human children?  You don’t know sulking until you’ve been subjected to something the approximate size of a Prius sulking. at. you. as. loudly. as. it. can.  Geez.  I can almost – not quite, but almost – understand the (horse) parents who put up with infinitely escalating Bad Behavior on the part of their kids, just because they can’t stand the thought of dealing with Yet Another Epic Sulking Fit.

Almost, I say.  Because with kids, you put up with that stuff, eventually, you wind up with a hormone-charged death machine wanting to borrow the keys of the car, or getting into fights on the playground.

With horses, you put up with that stuff, eventually, you wind up with a hair-trigger stampeding death machine vaulting out from under you as you sit five feet above ground.

Notice, I don’t say “and getting into fights on the playground.”

I speak from Experience.  I donot put up with Bad Behavior from my horse.  Or, not very much, and only until I learn from the Wiser Heads that surround me at the barn how best to Put A Stop To That Nonsense.  Huey, for example, had the extremely bad habit ofcharging into and out of his stall, like he thought that the stall door was a Hell Mouth that was ready and primed to close around his juicy, soft, sweet Horse Belly.  He did this to me twice.  The first time, I was surprised, and green, and didn’t take action on it, because all I could think was “What the heck just happened there?”

Also, he wasn’t mine then, either.

The second time he tried that stuff, he was mine, and I was ready for it.  And Mr. Sensitive (aka Mr. Panicky And Imperious) found himself getting repeatedly backed up the barn aisle until the penny dropped that I Was NOT Going To Stand For That.  And, really, that’s the last time I had that problem.  The only issue I have with My. Imperious coming out of his stall is that there is typically a bale of hay parked in the vicinity for the convenience of the Barn Owner, and he considers that to be his Private Salad Bar.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, my grandma always said, and she was right.  I just assume he’s going to make a bid for the hay, and I make sure to be in the way.  Voila.  No trouble there.  It keeps me on my toes, or whatever the mental equivalent of my toes is, but hey, I’m OK with that.

And the grass, and the carrots, and the fact that he wants to pick fights with every other gelding in the barn, and that whole phase we went through for a month where he didn’t feel like going in the halter, and the way he doesn’t feel like going into the round pen to lunge, and, and, and…

I spend a lot of time with Huey thinking “I can’t believe this is my horse.”

Most of the time, it’s “I can’t believe this awesome horse is my awesome horse.”

But, honestly, some of the time, it’s “I can’t believe this fractious, imperious, demanding, hypersensitive, drama queen of a horse is my horse.”

The accumulated wisdom of the web (which is actually significant, when it comes to the Horse Community) would seem to indicate that the Perfect First Horse is some bombproof, totally seasoned, totally trained, mellow, older horse that has Seen And Done It All.  Some horse that is the next thing to impossible to spook, some horse that alreadyknows all the moves, some horse that is laid back.

While Huey is…seasoned…it’s “seasoned” to very high levels of high-pressure competition.  He’s older, all right, and he’s Seen And Done It All, if by “All” you mean “some serious competition in a rollicking adrenaline-soaked racket over some jumps of a height that any individual with a sense of self-preservation would look at them and head the other direction.”  Bombproof?  As long as he doesn’t get distracted, startled, or have his Competitive Instincts stirred up by the presence of Any Other Horse. Trained? If you want to use him to leap over tall buildings in a single bound.  Knows all the moves?  Translation: Requires active higher-reasoning skills in order to stay one step in front of.

In short, he’s not your…typical…first…horse.  He’s more…an Adventure on Four Feet.  A Thrilling Companion.  One that is happy to cede Leadership of the Troupe…as long as the Right to hold that leadership is demonstrated definitively…every five to ten minutes.

I wouldnever have him in my backyard, even if my backyard was bigger than his stall, which it’s not.  This is a horse to have and keep when there are seasoned, wiser, experienced individuals about.

And, speaking of those Seasoned, Wiser, Experienced Individuals, I found out this morning that Huey has been trying his rubbish when I’m not there.  He knows perfectly well that he is not I repeat NOT allowed to run me over or shoulder, intimidate, or otherwise pressure me physically when I am taking him in or out of his stall.  I gather, based on my latest Parent-Teacher Conference, that he is not nearly so confident in his understanding of this matter with regards to other individuals who handle him at the barn. For example, he exercised the Very Poor Judgment this morning of trying that stuff on the Barn Owner.  The Barn Owner is the only individual that is sufficiently significant in Huey’s world to have a Name.  In general, he regards her as being some kind of Supreme Being.  Not so Supreme, I should note, that when she’s doing some training with him in the round pen, that he has both ears plastered to her – he always has one on her, and one on me, as if I’m going to write him some kind of Excuse Note to get him off of his classwork.

So I was very surprised this morning when the Barn Owner mentioned that Huey had been Very Naughty that morning, and that she’d had to spank him (or the Horse Training Equivalent thereof).  I was grooming Himself in the cross ties, and she stopped to chat.  This isn’t uncommon, but this time, it started out “He was really naughty this morning.” and as I said “What did he do!” I noticed that he had craned his head around to fix his eye on both of us, and that eye was…Wild.  It was rolling, and it had a lot of white.

Now, this is very interesting, because he’s used to a lot of chatter – including a lot of chatter about him – going on while I’m grooming him.  But this time, with the whites? I only wish I’d had a camera.

That little bugger knew that 1) we were talking about him, and 2) that it was a Parent-Teacher Conference.  He knew he was getting tattled on.  It was extraordinary, that look.

I wish I could say I was surprised that he was Acting Out around the barn staff, but I’m not that naive.  I was very glad to hear that the Barn Owner had dealt with the situation definitively.  I really do not see that the barn staff should have to put up with anything like that.  Problem is, what Mr. Super Smart Horse learns is not “This behavior is Not OK” what he learns is “I cannot get away with this behavior around X, Y, or Z.”  And anyone else?

Fair Game.

And you may tell yourself: How did I wind up with the kid that beats up the other kids on the playground, and cuts up in the classroom as soon as the teacher’s back is turned, but behaves like an angel at home?

I don’t know.  I am horrified, sometimes, to realize that my kid is the one that beats up all the others.  My kid is the one that mouths off to the teacher.  He doesn’t do that stuff at home, but he’s constantly looking to see who he can get away with that stuff.

And the days go by…let the water hold me down…

I can understand where anyone reading this blog gets the idea that the only thing I ever do is horses.

Not true.

Once in a lifetime…water flowing underground.

I’m almost done with the term.  When I was an undergraduate, I would have lived for the summer break, except that the summer break was when I tended to the businesses I was running in order to round up some cash to go to school.  I didn’t have a lot of “break” when I was a student…working a 40-hour-per-week job while attending night classes at a school 30 miles away doesn’t leave a lot of “break” time.  Basically, my “break” was when I got to just work 40 hours a week like every other person, instead of having to schedule, organize, and plan every freaking second of my (all too short) waking hours.  Graduate school wasn’t any better – we had classes all summer, and more.  Research. Work.

As a Young Faculty member, it hasn’t been much different.  Summer is when you do a lot of research.  Or – for the last five freaking years for me, it’s when you mess with your classes.  Every summer for the last five years has been spent building some class that I was going to teach for the first time, ever, in the coming academic year.

This is a vast amount of work.  Until you’ve done it, you have no idea.  And to those of you who haven’t, I have no way of explaining.  There’s no frame of reference.

A lot of students, I think – and I used to be among them, which is how I know – think that professors work…maybe 9 hours per week teaching, and another 5 hours per week in office hours.  Total of 14 hours per week.

I had the great and rare experience this past week of an advisee dropping by to share some very good news about her progress in a class (which I love to hear) and telling me that “well, there’s all this stuff that goes on behind the scenes! Professors work a TON of hours when school is in session!”

Which is true.  It’s at least a 60 hour per week job, what with course planning, grading, and answering the (to date) 457 e-mails from students (just this term) and the online discussion forum (which has, at this moment, 242 messages, all of which I’ve had to read, many of which I’ve had to respond to.  Oh, yeah, and there’s the administrative stuff. OH YEAH, AND THE RESEARCH.

The thing is, this is the first time in 15 years that I’ve had an undergrad standing in my office going “Yeah, I can’t believe how much work professors have to put in.”

I didn’t ask her – and should have – how many professors she’s got in the family.  Because I can’t think of any other way that she would know.

And you may ask yourself: Where is that large automobile?

As long as I’m feeling like I’m living in a foreign country, what with Being The Mom Of  A Bully and Having Undergrads Who Grasp The Amount Of Work We Professors Put In, I’ll close with some True News of the Weird.

I take my Hometown Paper.  It’s been published, continuously, for over 225 years.  That, alone, is enough to qualify: And you may find yourself, in another part of the world.

There ain’t anything been going on in Texas for 225 years, except maybe a few Indian mounds.  And maybe the evolution of Tex-Mex.  But newspapers? Houses? No. Nothing of that vintage where I come from.

I started taking my Hometown Paper when I became a Property Owner.  My diehard spouse, the Redoubtable Roy, takes the Sunday New York Times.  I, however, felt that the Sunday Times was going to offer little or no insight on stuff that affects my Property Values.  Zoning stuff.  Information about the Paving Backlog.  That kind of Important Thing.  And I’m right, and I do, all the time, find myself in the position of saying to Roy “Oh, yeah, of course [thing is going on], I read about that in the Gazette.”

If the Gazette published a daily listing of Traffic Construction Sites around town, my life would truly be complete.

As it is, I get the General News:  I know, for example, to expect the construction on the Controversial Look Park Roundabout this week – to fix cracks in the brickwork that was installed improperly by State Crews and has been disrupted by the Eighteen-Wheel Crowd – and I also know that the state is footing the bill for this.  It gives me a Warm Feeling in the belly to know this stuff.

But what I wish to close with today is that vision of the Friday Circular, which lists (the actually quite tremendous and impressive) scope of Cultural Activities, and includes, as a Human Interest Feature, the “Style Stop.”  I don’t know where to start with the Style Stop.  It always seems to be photographed in the same place, and my conclusion is that either the Style Stop Editor engages in some recreational drug use behind the city parking garage and then finds someone “funky” to snap…or that this chore is delegated to the city-approved panhandler who flashes his license at you before launching into his Panhandling Pitch.  In any case, this week’s photo features an older guy, wearing a pair of sunglasses, a bandanna wrapped around his head, a pair of faded, stained denim overalls, a wife-beater shirt, and a tattooed arm.  The Style Stop Editor refers to this as a “look” that is “casual, but put together.”

I will reproduce here, the salient features of the ensuing interview.

The Overalls: I wear them so my pants don’t fall down.

Undershirt: Sleeves just kind of get in the way.

Bandanna: So I don’t get sunburned on my bald spot.

It goes on from there.  All I can think is what fun this Style Spot Editor would have with 90% of my Homies from Texas.  Warm it up, crew, and when you visit me next, we’ll loiter, and you can be the next “casual, but put together” style feature in the paper.

And you may tell yourself: My God, What Have I Done?

Woman in Window

I think it's time to go back to Italy. This place is just getting too weird. Only, I don't want to piss off the horse. It's a quandary...

We’re in Fiddlehead, Asparagus, and Morel Season now.  The local morels are way more full of sand than the ones I’m used to from Madison.  It’s nasty.  No matter how long I soak the buggers, they’re still full of grit when I finish cooking them.  Ugh. So here’s a fiddlehead recipe, for those of you lucky enough to be near some place where fiddleheads get wildcrafted:

Fiddlehead Pasta

1 lb capellini
1 lb fiddleheads
2 scallions, sliced thin
olive oil
1 T white truffle oil
quantity of Tony Chachere (if you don’t know what this is, it means you should buy some online)

Wash the fiddleheads, then boil 5 minutes. Drain and plunge into ice water.
Boil the pasta 5 minutes, then drain.
Heat the olive oil, saute the fiddleheads and scallions for a couple of minutes.
Toss the pasta with the truffle oil, salt, pepper, and a good shaking of Tony Chachere. Toss the seasoned pasta in with the fiddleheads. Serve with plenty of fresh-grated parmesan. No, really, buy the big block of stuff and grate it in your food process. The previously-grated stuff in the tub or bag just doesn’t do justice to these fiddleheads. They’re only around for three weeks for pete’s sake. Get the good cheese.
Enough for 4.

Learn Something New Every Day…

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What I have learned this week:

I learned to canter!!!

I learned that I get extremely cranky when I can’t ski in the winter, and that goes double for not being able to ski because I have a cold.  Clearly there are some kind of brain chemicals involved when I ski.  Probably the same ones that get released when a junkie shoots up a fresh load of smack.

I learned that I hate the college textbook publishing industry.  They ought not to be releasing new editions unless there is something substantive that has changed.  “Needing to update the year from 2009 to 2012 in the homework problems” does not constitute a “substantive change”.  These books are absurdly expensive – no more so now than when I was in school, after you take changes in the CPI into consideration – but when I was a student, I just had to pretend I was paying for my books with Monopoly Money, because if I stopped to think about the opportunity costs of my textbook bill…all of the other things that money could buy, like an entire month’s rent on my apartment, for example…I just wanted to faint.  Or vomit.  Or buy a hatchet and go on a rampage.  Or, maybe, just burst into tears and jump up and down screaming.  Now, at least, there’s a slightly cheaper option for students who are willing to read the book online.  And I mean “slightly” cheaper.  It’s still an affront.

I learned that the Agony of the New Edition isn’t something that just affects students and their wallets.  I just had to go through my entire course, item by item, reading the entire bloody book again from start to finish – and let me tell you, Intermediate Accounting doesn’t yield a light or enjoyable “read” – to make sure that my notes, examples, etc. still jive with the book.  At least, thanks to the URI from Hell, I didn’t have to miss out on any skiing to do it.  The truly annoying thing about all this is that I knew 1) that there cannot have been any substantive changes, because the Financial Accounting Standards Board hasn’t released any new important updates that affect the course content – so any changes I did meet were going to be 100% superficial, and 2) that the Financial Accounting Standards Board is sitting on an important update that is definitely going to affect the course content, and as soon as they get their act together, it’s going to mean another damned edition.  And that one is just going to emphasize that this one was totally pointless.  So the students have to shuck out bucks for a brand-new textbook instead of a used one, and there’s not any really good point to it, other than greed.  Blasted idiots.

I learned that not being able to ski makes me cranky, that goes double for a wicked bad head cold being the reason, and it goes TRIPLE for adding pointless, useless major work projects on top of it.

That takes care of what I learned Sunday through Thursday.

On Friday,

I learned that horses know who is supposed to be on the farm, and when.  The drive hadn’t yet been plowed out when I arrived to meet the Farrier of the Gods.  I drove down the road to a pull-out and hiked back in.  The horses that have runouts on their stalls were all outside, and gave me deeply suspicious looks.  If they had been dogs, they’d have been barking.  And, like dogs, once I called them by name and let them sniff my hand, they remembered that I am a Known Individual, and that my presence there at that hour was not a Threat, just an Irregularity.

I learned that Huey the Wonder Horse wakes up in a good mood.  The barn was still dark when I slipped in, and I left it that way.  Huey knew I was there, and while he knew that this was not a normal time for me to be there, he was happy about it anyway.  God, I love that horse.  He came and stood by the stable wall so I could give him a great big long lovely scratch on the neck.  Then he let me play with his lips and his nose, which he usually doesn’t do.  But I loved it.  I got to tickle his lip and make it pointy without him deciding that my fingers might be carrots and that he needed to investigate with his teeth.  We just hung out for about a half hour like that.  It was the best half-hour of the week, and that includes the bit later on where I got to go skiing, and that says A Lot.

I learned that Huey’s feet are in very good condition, and that the Farrier of the Gods has a more sophisticated understanding of the angles on his right front hoof.  He thinks that the angle issue is suspensory, not intrinsic to the hoof.  This is good and it is not good.  If he were showing lame, it would be very bad. I also learned that the shoes he had on before were far too small, although the FOTG said he could understand the temptation to make them that way given the configuration of Huey’s feet.  Action Plan A is to put on shoes of the proper size in the spring, and see how that goes, before tinkering with anything.

I also learned that dogs think Hoof Shavings are a Super Tasty Treat.

I learned that my instincts not to drive into a snow squall or to get a lift ticket when there’s a high wind advisory are good. And I learned this the Easy Way, by going with them rather than the Hard Way, by ignoring them and Coming To Grief.

On Saturday,

I learned that I can lunge my horse in the snow, if it’s the right kind of snow.

I learned that my horse, while being lunged on the snow, can maintain a working trot while dragging his muzzle through the snow in order to scoop it up and eat it.  When I learned that, I started to laugh, and said “Huey!” and he stopped, raised his head to look at me like “What?” and had his muzzle totally coated with snow.  It was so silly I nearly fell over, I was laughing so hard.  So I also learned that my horse likes to eat snow.

I learned that the suspensory thing the FOTG noted is probably right, since the equine chiropractor noted it too (and gave me some good stretches to do with him to improve it).

I learned that wherever Huey the Wonder Horse was before, he got chiropractic adjustments.  The only bit he quibbled with was the neck adjustments, because he was tender there (and I knew he was).  I got to watch the chiro do an adjustment on a skittery horse (and I got to hold the lead rope to keep him from going nuts or backing into the wheelbarrow).  She didn’t push him, but managed to sneak it in around the edges until the penny dropped for him.  You could see something very like “Hey! Don’t do that! It’s uncom…oh, hey! That feels so much better! Do it again!” pass through his mind.  When I left him off in the paddock, he was curling himself around.  I had no experience at all with equine chiropractors (and I was fervently hoping I wouldn’t be subjected to some kind of snake oil thing) but I am impressed.  I’m impressed with the outcome – he was clearly moving better than he had been – and I’m impressed with the chiro herself, who did not make it all out to be skeletal and want to come 3x per week or something equally unsustainable.  No, she laid some things down to skeletal, some to muscular, recommended equine massage as a post-chiro treatment (said having it done before would make her job easier, but having it done after would be better for the horse), gave me a program of stretches to work on with him, and suggested hooking up again in 8 weeks.  Totally reasonable, I thought.

I learned that the little neighborhood ski area that is located a good 40 minutes away from any hotel isn’t crowded, even when it’s Saturday afternoon of MLK weekend and we’ve just had our first major snowstorm of the year and it’s powder.

I also learned that even though I’m totally used to skiing on powder skis, I don’t know a damned thing about skiing on actual powder.  It’s clear I’m going to have to take a lesson on that, but given the sparsity of Powder Days in New England, it may take a while.  In the meantime, I stick to the groomers.

I learned the size of the yawning gulf between the Skier I Am Today and the Skier of Yesteryear.  As in, this time, last year.  I went down a run that I distinctly remember totally intimidating me when I went to this ski area for the first time in mid-January of 2011.  I clearly remembered spending a lot of my time on that run thinking “Holy shit!! How am I going to do that?”  Only, yesterday, I couldn’t find those spots on the run.  And I was looking for them.  And the other run I did that day, a big sweeping drop-off to the base, that seemed like it was a mile long and straight down before? Yesterday, it was a nice sweeping expanse of badly-groomed packed powder (the grooming team at this ski area sucks) that would be perfect for doing some big GS carving turns on my powder skis (yes, they can, yes, I do.  It takes more effort than it would on an all-mountain or a carver, but it can still be done).  I bombed down it three times before departing for other territory.

And then, without a map, and without any more information than what I could get from a lift-buddy (the top of the run is in great condition, the bottom, after the cutoff, is kind of scraped up) I hared off onto runs that I didn’t know anything about.  Well, “anything other than that they’re not double-black diamonds and covered with icy moguls” that is, because I am Adventurous, not Insane.  It was a great run, too.  And I got to the cutoff, where I could go back to a big fat groomer…or I could go straight onto the part of the run described as “kind of scraped up”.  I regarded it.  There wasn’t a lot of potential for being badly scraped up, because this was obviously a difficult run, and “badly scraped up” is something that really only happens to easy runs that have a lot of novices on them.  And there was no way that a sane, sober novice would even have thought briefly about going down this run.  A drunk lunatic novice, yes, but fortunately, there aren’t many of those, and they tend to be Self-Limiting Phenomena anyway.\

This run just dropped right away under my feet.  It was marked a “blue” (intermediate difficulty for this particular hill) but it reminded me a lot of portions of the “black” (advanced/expert difficulty runs) back at my Home Mountain.  And I’ve taken those.  And conditions were good. And, in the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, “sometimes you gotta say what the f***.”  So I said “What the f***” and headed down.  Yeah, some portions were a little scraped off, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t deal with.  And the rest of it was great, and I did it in good style.

And that’s when I learned the best thing of Saturday:  I’m a very good skier.  Not a great skier.  Not an expert.  But I’m good enough to ski the mountain and not worry about what’s on the trail because I’ll be able to deal with it when I get there.   Bumps?  Hate them if they are huge, hard, and icy, love them if they’re soft and fluffy.  But I can deal either way.  Ice?  I hate it – I mean, I really hate it, but I can deal with it when it shows up.  Boilerplate?  Not a fan, but I know what to do.  And I know how to minimize any of that stuff by skiing the margin, and I don’t worry about running off into the trees or falling off the side. I don’t go unescorted down blacks, because steep and huge hard icy bumps is something I want to avoid entirely, but most of the mountains here are blues, and I rock the blues.  Time for another ski lesson, I think, because it only gets better from here.

I remember when this was all snow. Oh, wait. It IS all snow now. Better get back out to the hill...as soon as the windchills rise above zero, that is.

Wreck The Halls With Boughs Of Holly

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This is the season that is most dreaded by students and professors everywhere:  it’s Grading Season.  Now is the time when all of the term projects are due, all of the papers are due, all of the final exams are given.

The light shining in our collective eyes is not that of the end of the tunnel.  That wants another two or three weeks and a vast amount of work before we all see that.  This light is the proverbial oncoming freight train.

It is at this time of the year when the well-meant cheery statement “At least it’s almost the end of the term!” is a sentence to strike fear, not optimism, into the halls and hearts of academia.  Some students are in good shape, and know it, and sail through this period with a relaxed smile and a well-rested countenance.

They are hated for this, universally.

The rest of the students are starting to wack out on stress. Some because they’re convinced that their current situation is far more precarious than it is; some because they’re within sight of some vitally important grading goal; some because they’ve finally started to confront the reality that they’re going to have a lot of explaining to do to their parents over the break.  Some are confronting the reality that they’ve made a poor choice of major, and are now compounding all of the above with the need to develop a Plan B for the direction of their life.

Regardless of the reason for the stress, it’s there.  The classrooms are starting to buzz with it.  If you’re not careful and you spend too much time in the company of too many students at this time, your teeth begin to vibrate and fall out of your jaw, and you start to lose your hair.  And that’s if you’re the professor.  For the students…well, it’s a good thing that they’re typically pretty young.  Your body can take a lot when you’re 21.

The smart student, at this point, has a brief pow-wow with the professor to the tune of “What is my current average in this class?” and – if they’re accounting majors – runs some what-if analysis with a spreadsheet to find out whether the next-higher letter-grade increment is technically within reach…or whether the next-lower letter-grade increment is also within reach.  Students who don’t have these quantitative analysis skills just have to hope that they’ve got a well-organized quantitatively-proficient professor (but this is by  no means common).  The big issue here is Study Slack, and the big question has to do with running cost-benefit analyses on incremental studying efforts.  Or, to put it in English, no one has all the study time they need, and the smart student allocates the time they do have to the places where it will make the most difference.

If you’re hanging on to your current letter grade by a thread, you put more effort into it than if you’re solidly in the middle of that letter grade range.

If you’ve got ambition, or desperation (depending on which end of the spectrum you currently inhabit), and you’re within shooting distance of the next-higher grade, you put more effort into it than if you’re solidly in the middle of the range.

If you’re squarely in the middle of the range, you run some numbers to figure out what the lowest score on the project/paper/exam is that you can get and still keep your grade, and you put in just enough effort to guarantee that result.

The first and second groups, at this point, are burning the candle at both ends, cramming, sleeping with the book under the pillow, popping street drugs, engaging in competitive meditation, booking multiple therapy sessions per week, obsessively e-mailing each other and calling their parents several times a day at peculiar hours, and consuming enough caffeine to give a middle-aged man a heart attack.  And, with all of that, many of them will find that their performance on the project/paper/exam is worse than usual, due to the lingering effects of too much stress, too much caffeine, and too little sleep.

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve looked at a final exam and thought “Holy crap, what the heck happened to this student!” I’ve had people make scores of stupid mistakes – the kind that make you want to hit your head on the wall when you get the paper back.  I’ve had people forget to answer questions on the exam.  I’ve had people forget to answer entire pages of the exam.  It’s insane, what happens when this mass psychosis hits the campus.

I hate it when I’m toting up grades and I see that a student who is competent and who works hard and has been studying like a maniac – and I know this, because I have answered 15 e-mails of increasingly desperate tone from this person in the last 36 hours alone – bombs the exam and drops their grade.

This creates a horrible ethical quandary for the professor, especially the professor at a small school where s/he knows all of the students they teach.  It’s one thing when you’re at the kind of huge schools I went to, and for many of your undergraduate courses, the student is a number, not a name.  But when the class sizes are small, and the students are names, and faces, and stories, and personalities, and demonstrable levels of competence, it’s more of a challenge.  It’s an ethical issue for me.  When I know perfectly well that Student X (the compulsive panic e-mailer described above, and no, if you’re one of my students reading this, I am not thinking of you.  I know that because I am not thinking of anyone in particular here.) has just managed to screw up an entire term’s worth of solid good grades in one fell swoop of poor decisions about sleep, the library, and another cup of coffee, it’s hard for me to say “Well, the numbers are the numbers, and they screwed it up in the final stretch, tough shit.”

I can’t do it.  I can’t.

This doesn’t mean that it’s up to me to arbitrarily determine the grades.  I wish to God it was, because I have to grade 247 cases, 19 projects, and 30 exams next week, and that’s about 30 hours worth of grading, and if there is one thing that I – and every other professor I know – hate, it is grading.  Grading is a four-letter word, starting with “s” and ending with “k”.

The rough thing is this:  the grade I give has to be objective.  And it has to be fair.  I can’t give opportunities to one student without giving them to everyone.  (And if you’re one of my students and you’re reading his, and contemplating sending me the e-mail asking – after the fact – if you can’t have an extra credit assignment, forget it. NOT happening.  Everyone gets it, or no one gets it, and with 247 cases to grade, I don’t have time to be thinking up extra assignments for people to do after the term is over.  Please don’t even bother trying, it will just be awkward for both of us.)

I’ve given a lot of thought about how to deal with this.  I can’t give anyone a grade they didn’t earn, and I can’t give opportunities to some and not to all, and I also can’t find it in myself to dish out a grade that I know damn well does not reflect the student’s grasp of the material.  The only way that I’ve found to deal with this is Grading Slack.  Down-weighting exam averages relative to stuff that’s a little more under the student’s control, like homework. Weighting-up participation, which has the happy consequence of making the class more interesting, encouraging questions and interaction in a discovery-based setting, and putting control of the grade into the hands of the students.  Assigning cases, which demand the same kind of skills you’d get on an exam, but which don’t have that time-pressure attached.

Which is how I come to have 247 cases to grade next week. And 19 projects.  And 30 exams.

I keep hoping that if I say that enough times, it will start to look like a reasonable number instead of the Grading Tsunami that it feels like.  I can’t start, even, until next week, due to some of that Developmental stuff mentioned above (see: putting more control of the grade into the student’s hands).

Because I can’t actually start on it, now I am starting to get stressed out.  That oncoming freight train is loaded with papers.  And it’s rushing to make a deadline.

Therefore, I have taken this opportunity to get distracted.  One of my friends recently complained when listening to Pandora (yes, you, Carrie) that we don’t have enough “new” Xmas music…presumably meaning not “Jingle Bells” or “Santa Baby” or “White Christmas” etc.  I am certain that she is just listening to the wrong stuff.  Or some of the wrong stuff.  “New” could refer to new interpretations of the classics, and while I love Norah Jones and Willie Nelson as separate entities, they did just about the worst duet rendition of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” that I can imagine.  The singers don’t sound like they’re on the same continent, let alone in the same room heading for a Steamy Interlude.

Anyway, I’m going to share some of my “new” Xmas music favorites.  If you think it’s weird that I like Xmas music this much even though I’m Jewish, deal.  It’s isn’t about religion for me, it’s about presents, and eating, and bling.  And I know perfectly well that I share this perspective with the vast majority of other inhabitants of this country, as well as all of the Japanese.

Buster: If it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me.

Quick! What Were You Doing On November 30 2006?

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There are many things I love about my job.  Grading is not one of them.  Dealing with revisions of journal articles is another.

Right now, I’m confronted with the task of looking at a draft of a paper, last seen sometime in the fall of 2009, because it was under review at some journal for ages.  Now it’s come back to us with the request to perform some additional analysis.  Sometimes you get lucky and “additional analysis” means “add one variable and see if that changes your results”.  Most of the time you don’t get that lucky, and “additional analysis” means “add a set of variables and respecify [trans: measure them differently] a set of other existing variables, and run the model in another three ways”.  With this one, we got really not lucky, and “additional analysis” meant “reconfigure your experimental materials and collect a bunch of new data and run all of the models all over again with the new data to see if it changes anything”.

Ouch.

At least it was a request for additional analysis, and not a “thanks, but no thanks”.  Rejections aren’t any fun for the researchers.  They’re also not a lot of fun for editors.  Which is why I’m writing a blog post instead of writing the rejection for an article that was submitted to a journal of which I am an associate editor.

Fortunately, my paper (with the request for additional analysis) is really our paper (meaning, I’m part of a research team).  So there were three of us to tinker with the experimental materials and collect new data, and three of us to deal with the requested writing revisions to the draft.  Sadly, there are only two of us to deal with the additional statistical analysis, since a recurring star of this show, “Roy,” is one of the team of authors and is strictly a Big Picture kind of guy.  Envision him as the CEO, and me and the other guy as Operations Managers.  Roy doesn’t do stats.  This is actually good, in a way, because I am the Designated Computer Guru for the household, and handle all technical support and training requests for things like Excel, Anti-Virus software,  and YouTube operations.  Statistical analysis software is a cut above these items in terms of difficulty and complexity, and face it:  it’s possible to shepherd Big Picture Guys through low-level technical stuff, but it’s almost never worth the hassle.  You have to stop and unglaze their eyeballs every two minutes to start with.  And then wake them up in another five. And the end result is usually a slap on the back, a “Jolly Good Work! Keep It Up!” and the sight of a rapidly retreating back.

So it’s just as well that Roy doesn’t want to get embroiled in the stats.

The problem is that Flunky One (me) and Flunky Two (other guy on the project) were trained for different stats than the ones this paper is using.  We’re both Regression People.  I am a pretty literate Regression Person, in that I know many, many different types of regressions, including some fairly exotic practices that were developed by Social Scientists to deal with the prolific and pervasive violations of the assumptions of statistical analyses developed for Natural Sciences.  I have 24 credits of graduate statistics, quite enough for a Master’s degree in just that.  But…they are all some kind of regression.  I think Flunky Two is in the same boat, with the exception that he has some grounding in basic experimental stats as well, and understands ANOVAs.

The problem with this paper is that we got all excited about our research question and our Super Duper Sophisticated Experimental Instruments – which really are very sound, despite the misguided and limited views of the reviewer for this paper – and we didn’t stop to think about how we were going to analyze the data while we were building the experiments.

It was one of those Field of Dreams “build it and they will come” moments…only we didn’t realize that until we built the dataset and sat down to do the analysis.

Regression is a good thing, like a hammer.  You can use a hammer for many things other than driving a nail.  But you cannot use a hammer to remove a wood screw (at least, not without destroying the wood).

What we have is a dataset that has multiple dependent variables.  You can’t just bust it up and look at them one at a time, because one single subject provided a response to both dependent variables, and so they’re likely to be correlated (since the answers come from a common individual).  You can’t use plain regression with this.  You have to use a specialized tool called MANOVA.

Without going into the specifics of MANOVA (I heard that sigh of gratitude!) it’s something that you can do with SPSS, my preferred analysis tool.  Yes, it’s slightly less powerful than SAS, but it’s 95% less of a pain in the ass than SAS too, and usually doesn’t require any actual programming, which is good, because there is only room for so much stuff in my brain, and all of the slots in my personal hash table are pretty much full.

So I sighed, and started to do some original research on MANOVA.  Only a reckless idiot uses a statistical analysis tool that he (or she) doesn’t understand.  Playing with fire, that is.  Some weeks later, I had a sufficient grasp to start the analyses.

Only problem was that MANOVA had disappeared from the SPSS menus in a recent upgrade.

Another few weeks of research revealed that MANOVA was now available through the command line.  I hate writing code for statistical analysis.  I have had to do it, I know how to do it, but I hate doing it.  And I hated every second of doing it then, especially as I couldn’t locate the syntax for the set of options that I wanted, and the output from the procedure looked entirely – not almost entirely, but entirely – different from all of the output I could find online (because I needed some guided help in interpreting the numbers).

I battled with this for maybe six weeks, hating it all the while.  Then I got an new release of SPSS, and this one indicated that the MANOVA functionality had now been wrapped up into Multivariate General Linear Models.

This required another couple weeks of research before I was ready to run it.  And run it I did, and socked the results into the paper, and we went the paper off.

The same paper that has now come back to haunt me.  Because – in the intervening period – I bought a new computer and migrated all (or almost all) of the files over.  And I have had to change e-mail platforms two times during the period (forced changes from work), and none of those transitions offered the option of neatly importing all of my old e-mails.  The e-mails about stuff like how I ran the analysis, and which models we chose, and where the hell the numbers in the tables came from, basically.  So I’ve got the old draft, the old data file (I think it is the right old file, but since there are four versions of it, it’s hard to tell).  And all of this is from the fall of 2009.

Now, this is actually pretty common, that you have to go back and work on statistical analyses that you performed back in the Dark Ages, so I’ve got a Master Plan for such occasions.

Step 1. Load up the data file.

Step 2. Re-run the analyses exactly as they were run for the last version.

Step 3. Check the output against the tables in the paper to make sure they are the same.

Then and only then can I start tinkering with the new stuff.

Naturally, due to the myriad sources of confusion discussed above, the output and the tables for this job are not the same.  Which means I’m in the unenviable position of having to attempt to reconstruct, from the ground up, what the hell I did with this data two freaking years ago.  Yeah, good luck with that, I’m hearing from you.

Where the hell can I find Mr. Peabody’s Way-Back Machine, that’s what I want to know.

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There was more snow on the ground Oct 30 than Nov 30. We're still in the middle of our third Indian Summer, which is destroying my hopes of skiing any time soon. Between that and this revision, I'm losing my will to live.