any way you say it…

Reading Boone’s post about the pronunciation of his name made me think about how people say my name….

I was raised as Jana with a hard J.  When I got to high school my friends played a joke on our chem teacher and told him that I was a foreign exchange student from Czechoslovakia and that my name was pronounced “Yawna” (apparently I did not then know enough English to speak for myself).  That nickname stuck and I was Yawna or “Yawna Banana” to my high school friends.  I loved that name and how playful and foreign it sounded to my ears.

When I went to college I became Jana, hard J, again.  Though I was rarely Jana to my ex (only in the most serious of conversations), I was not Yawna again until a few years ago, when my social circle expanded to include many European friends and colleagues.

I love being Yawna.  Again.

my cyborg form

This video shows a team of designers rebuilding clothing mannequins to resemble differently-abled bodies.  It’s a moving story, well-worth the few minutes it will take to watch it.

For me, this video highlighted the oddness that I sometimes feel when techs are building the “cosmesis” of my prosthetic leg–the sculpted form that creates the structure to give my metal innards a symmetrical form.  They trace my organic leg and then shape firm foam into a matching shape, shaving it down a bit here and there to make it look proportional, and then we test it under clothing to ensure that the fabric flows smoothly and doesn’t bunch up around the knee or gather in odd ways at the hip or crotch.  In this process they build me a cosmetic leg with all of the requisite properties of leg-ness, despite it being a completely function-less addition to my body.

Due to still being in a phase where my new prothesis is being adjusted often (like today, it’s just started making a clanking noise as I walk around corners–time to go back in and figure out what’s going wrong), I’m not wearing any cosmesis at all.  The asymmetry between my legs makes most clothing looks a bit strange, such as when the right pantleg of my wool trousers flaps back and forth in the wind as I walk across campus, or when I am sitting in a meeting and my right knee comes to an obvious narrow point instead of being neatly rounded like my organic leg.

And while I think my bionic parts are uber-cool looking, at work I rarely wear short skirts or other clothing that shows my metal innards.  Because it’s so much easier to “pass” than to have my body be a spectacle to passersby (or colleagues or students).  I’m not at all embarrassed of being cyborg, but it adds a layer of inconvenience to my interactions that I prefer not to introduce in my professional setting.

But on the weekends, it’s a different story.  Then I wear short skirts and sandals and enjoy letting my robot hang out there for anyone to see.

shadow, at the beach

shadow, at the beach


just one step at at time…

When we went out shoe shopping recently, Catgirl and I took a rather odd detour from the parking structure to the shopping plaza.  We went up the stairs and then up and down the wheelchair ramps twice.

You walk so fast now, she said.

A few weeks into wearing my new Plie 2.0 robotic leg and I am, indeed, a faster walker than before.  Particularly downhill–the mechanics and control algorithm for this new leg making downhills so smooth (c-legs, on the other hand, are pretty choppy on the downhill).

In addition to wearing the new knee, I’m also wearing a Fitbit device to mark my number of steps and activity level.  My graph over the past two weeks shows some pretty dramatic changes from where I was several months ago (my daily step average increasing from 3483 to 4819 since August):

Screen shot 2013-10-25 at 3.06.28 PM

I’ve noticed only one small glitch with the new knee and that’s that when I have a long stretch of evenly-paced steps, after a few hundred paces it will hiccup a bit and I’ll end up dragging my toe for one step.  I imagine that this is some kind of firmware bug that can be ironed out.  But it’s a small glitch, and certainly livable except that it tends to affect my full trust of the limb (for the few steps after each hiccup I find myself reticent to put my full weight into a step).

Overall, the new knee technology is even better than I imagined. I still limp and I’m not (yet) running hurdles, but it’s a dramatic improvement over what I had before (yay, technology).



The “ought” of technology

This post from Cyborgology piggybacked nicely on some thoughts that I’ve had recently about the use of technology by faculty at my university.

My thoughts arose from an experience with an adjunct faculty member who came to my office for help in building a robo-graded exam on Blackboard.  In working with her for just a few minutes, I realized that she didn’t know what a web browser was or where software like Blackboard “lived” (she thought that because she created the exam on Blackboard on her laptop, that her students would somehow be remotely logging into her laptop when they took their Blackboard exam).  The upshot of this visit to my office was that she left still fairly confused about Blackboard (my outstanding explanation of servers, notwithstanding), but with a functioning exam that was set to deploy for her students to take at the appointed time.

After pondering my interaction with her for awhile, I began to wonder whether the model of Academic Technology as it works at most universities is flawed.  We automatically give faculty a login to our courseware regardless of whether they’ve attended any trainings, and we provide basic “getting started” tutorials that give faculty just enough click-by-click instructions to begin using it for teaching and assessment within just a few minutes of logging in.  As a result, few have any level of mastery at the technology.  And this approach leads to many problems, which are compounded by the seriousness of administering grades and coursework through a platform that they barely understand and can’t troubleshoot on their own.

As I thought in this vein, it occurred to me that another (perhaps more effective?) way of providing support for Academic Technology would be to do hand-on trainings of the technology first, and then have faculty who would like to use the technology pass a proficiency exam on that software before they receive a login that would deploy their courseware.  While doing that sounds like a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare (and I can just imagine the resistance to attending the training meetings), at least faculty would have a much better sense of what they’re getting themselves into when they start using an LMS for distributing their course content.  In fact, I would say that faculty “ought” to have to have acquired some level of proficiency with the software before they use it, as quoted from the article above:

The ought, I argue, is a carefully curated relationship with technology, one in which the social actor has access, know how, and above all, control.

Because when a technology enters the classroom, it changes teaching and it changes learning.  And instructors ought to be cognizant of this as they’re structuring a learning experience for their students.

But at the same time, I wonder if we ought to pile one more responsibility on the heads of our stretched-thin faculty.  Perhaps the ought should read something more like this: only faculty who have the inclination and motivation to integrate technology ought to use it in the classroom.  Others ought to continue teaching in the ways that they know best.

Photo from Flicker user, Social Biz Media

managing my inbox (and more)

Cross-posted from the Chapman Academics Blog

Between my work and personal accounts, I receive about six thousand emails per week (how do I know how many?  Google recently started sending me stats regularly). And, almost none of that is spam due to some awesome filtering by  gmail and my campus IT department.  Although I still let things slip through the cracks sometimes, I’ve developed some good skills for managing the email firehose:

  • Some items I delete unopened–vendor spam, online purchase confirmations, bill reminders, PR, etc (note: I have an itchy-finger tendency that automatically delete anything that invites me to a webinar, and I have yet to regret that).
  • If a message will take less than a minute to respond to (or to forward to the right person), I do that immediately.
  • If a message simply needs to be forwarded to someone else to be resolved, I do that immediately.
  • When an email entails a lengthy and complex reply, I typically open the reply window on my desktop and return to it throughout the day when I have downtime from my other tasks.  As soon as I’m done with it, I hit send.  At the end of my day, I typically don’t leave for home unless all of those “open” messages are replied-to.
  • At the end of the day I scroll through my inbox and check whether I’ve missed anything that can be resolved.  At that point I aim for inbox-zero.
  • If anything is left in my inbox from the day before, I review it first thing in the morning and attempt to resolve it then.  Rinse and repeat.

In both my personal and work email, I create a fairly exhaustive list of folders for filing away email messages.  I delete the spam, but I almost-never delete my other correspondence.  Instead, I keep it for if/when I need to refer to it again.  Because I support hundreds of faculty members on my campus, it’s helpful to have a record of what problems I’ve resolved with each of them.  Several times, I’ve found that they have the same problem more than once, and having a record of how we solved it last time, makes solving it the second or third time even easier.

There’s no word for it…

When I was diagnosed with bone cancer, the weight of that word meant many things: I had some sense that I would lose my hair, that I would become thin, that I would be fighting for my life.  I knew all of that because my disease had a name, albeit a frightening one (oh, and how glad I am that google did not exist then to tell me just how frightening a bout of bone cancer might be)….

So this article from the NYTimes highlights Ugandan women who have breast cancer and don’t even have a name for their condition in their language, caused me to wonder what it would be like to be diagnosed with a life-threatening ailment which carried no meaning, no cultural baggage, and no fears (a la Susan Sontag). I suspect that I would not have followed through with the treatment had I not been more afraid of dying of cancer than I was of chemo.

Related to that, is a book that I picked up yesterday called Improvising Medicine, about the cancer epidemic in Botswana.  What connects these research pieces is that there is currently a surge of cancer in Africa and its unknown whether this is due to an actual increase in the disease or an increase in diagnosis rates.  And, although I haven’t yet begun reading Livingston’s book, the summary tells me that, like the NYTimes article, it addresses many of the socioeconomic challenges of treating a disease in communities without sophisticated medical care options.

Perhaps a book that will hit a bit closer to home for me is a new release from UCPress, Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us, which combines cultural analysis and memoir in addressing the complex social nature of this disease in the United States.  The summary says, “Jain explains how a national culture that simultaneously aims to deny, profit from, and cure cancer entraps us in a state of paradox—one that makes the world of cancer virtually impossible to navigate for doctors, patients, caretakers, and policy makers alike.”  Indeed, my experience is that treatment for cancer now hinges so much on what type of health insurance one has and the process of “shopping” for a doctor who will tell you what you want to hear, which seems a wrongheaded approach to a cure.

Even though thirty years have now passed since I first heard that dreadful cancer word spoken in connection with the symptoms of my own body, I still find it difficult to comprehend the life-changing event that was my diagnosis and treatment for osteosarcoma.  As I look back on what I went through then, it remains a kind of encapsulated moment that is hard for me to connect with now.  But what I remember most significantly, was the feeling that the temporary horror of my cancer treatments was worthwhile to endure because of the possibility of eradicating my disease, and I trusted that my doctors were giving me the treatments that would increase my odds for survival.  I suspect, now, that my faith in my doctors was naive, as was my willingness to endure mutagenic treatments.  And if I had not lived in a society where I was told that it was my (heroic) responsibility to “fight” and “kill” that cancer, I am quite sure that I would not have consented to the amputation of my leg and the months of high-dose chemotherapy treatments afterwards.  Of course, with 30 years of hindsight it seems to have been a wise choice.  But I can’t help but wonder how differently my experience would have played out if I hadn’t been part of a community that encouraged, even championed, a specific behavior for me as a “victim” of cancer.





sharing bibliographies (via zotero)

Recently I was speaking with a scholar-friend about a new “Pacific Worlds” project that I’m working on.  As I outlined where I was in my research process, he remarked that one of the most time-consuming elements of starting a new project, is assembling a list of seminal works in the field, and ensuring that you’ve read each of them and understand how they’re in conversation with each other.

In that vein, I thought about how much time I spend “mining” the bibliographies of other scholars to gather the relevant readings for my own work. Doing this is time-consuming, particularly if one is hand-entering the relevant data into a spreadsheet or bibliography database. Using a resource like zotero allows us to bypass some of that searching/data-entry process, but that only really works if other scholars in your field are also on zotero and are sharing their research folders (i.e. it’s pretty unlikely if you’re in any field outside of the digital humanities).

So, I decided that I would jump in and share the resources that I’ve compiled thus far with this new project.  To do so, I added the “ZotPress” plugin for WordPress to this site.  As I type this, my zotero library is being imported into my WordPress install:

zotpressIt’s taking some time–my zotero library is pretty sizable.

And now, just a few minutes later, I have a webpage of my growing bibliography for this new project.  ZotPress allows you to insert a shortcode to display the citation data from a zotero folder or from any number of other parameters (author, category, etc).  And you can also choose from a variety of citation styles to display your data.