Here are some pictures from the zoo.  

Yesterday, Memorial Day, was mostly a day off for me. A client and designer had some conversations and files going back and forth, but I resolutely stayed out of it. I did an Amazon list, prepared and emailed my syllabus to the department secretary, sent some stuff to The Computer Guy for one of our websites, and assisted #2 daughter a little with her first forays into linkbuilding. Mostly, though, I read.

In particular, I read Set Phasers on Stun, a book that looks at horrible tech failures.

On one level, it’s a collection of  excitingly-written vignettes in which people make simple mistakes and die excrutiating deaths, or cause others to do so, and as such is not a pleasant book.

On another level, it shows how an error in design can combine with human errors to screw things up. Designers, the book demonstrates, don’t think about what happens when people use their creations in the situations in which these creations are actually used. There are stories of alarms going off in a room unavailable to the person who could actually solve the dangerous problem causing the alarm to go off — if only he knew there was a problem.

Skilled machine operators making an error and a correction in under eight seconds, thus creating a new command the designers hadn’t anticipated, one which caused radiation sickness and death in patients receiving treatment with a computerized machine. Lack of routine maintenance leading to the poisoning of 25,000 people.

Stuff like that.

Having gained a new awareness of the carnage that can result from simple communication errors, I moved on to a novel. Somewhere in there I also went for a walk and got drenched.

Today, I have a couple of different feelings warring with one another.

On the one hand, I have a distinct “first day of school” feeling. Last night I made my bed with fresh sheets, set out my clothes for today, stuff like that. I want to start off well with my summer class. I also have a couple of meetings and some routine work to do, and I’m looking forward to all those things.

On the other hand, I can’t find a copy of my tax return, so I have to go the IRS office and get one. Plus, I went to start my online class — the one I’m taking — and found, first, that I’ve unaccountably been given access to beginning Photoshop instead of the Web Design course I’m supposed to be in, and second, that the course doesn’t work with Vista.

 I’m hoping that I’ll be moved back to the right class, since I don’t own Photoshop, and that the Web Design course has been built to be compatible with Vista. If not, of course, I’ll know that I’m taking the class from someone who dfoesn’t understand usability and accessibility issues. In other words, someone who shouldn’t be teaching the class at all.

So I’ve got the first day of school screw-ups as well as the first day of school excitement.

I begin the class I’m teaching by explaining what to do if someone comes in wanting to shoot us. I didn’t do that so well last term — I think I laughed a lot while reading it aloud to the students, in fact. I expect to do it better today.

That’s one of the things I like best about teaching, actually: the fact that each term you can do better than the term before.

I think that I teach pretty well. The students who attend class and do the work see enormous improvements in their writing.

Summer term may be different, because we have ten hours a week for five weeks, and no days off to think or write or work on assignments. So it seems especially important that the students all fall into the category of those who attend and do the work.

I talked with my kids, The Computer Guy, and JB about this recently. They seemed to feel that social pressure was key. The possibility of being embarrassed in class is what makes you do the work.

This is true for me in my Tuesday class. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down with the homework an hour before class and raced through it in order to avoid the embarrassment of being seen not to have done it, even though I know that racing through it is not the way to benefit from it.

I don’t care to embarrass people in front of the class, but perhaps I can structure things so that failing to show up for class creates peer pressure — like doing things in pre-assigned pairs so that those who skip are letting their partners down.

The pictures here are the Africa exhibit at the KC zoo.

It’s a one-mile walk, and it was very hot. There were, by the time we got there, a large number of people ignoring the signs, and lots of whining and screaming children.
 
Children do sometimes whine and scream. Why their parents allow them to do so in places clearly labeled “Quiet — research area” I don’t know, except that in some case the parents were themselves whining and screaming.

I’m a rule-following person, myself, but it didn’t use to bother me if other people failed to follow the rules. I figured that was their problem, not mine. It may be a sign of my advancing age that I was bothered by people flagrantly failing to follow rules. I don’t want to become one of those people who goes around correcting others’ grammar and telling them about the rules they’re breaking.

However, when we found the word “loose” being used instead of “lose” on a sign at the zoo, all of  us gathered around it with solemn frowns, wondering whom we ought to alert to the problem.
 
Not just me; the young ones, too.

Oh, well. Time to get ready for my big exciting day. Hope you have a day as big and as exciting as you want.