Top five ways to lose my respect.

respect

  1. Jump to conclusions about people. There’s nothing more shortsighted than failure to afford someone the courtesy of telling his/her own story. People who exhibit this specific form of prejudice make it difficult for me to believe that their intellect is tempered with wisdom.
  2. Be a meanie. Whether you’re doing it to me, other humans, or our environment, unkindness is a really, really unattractive trait. A coldhearted spirit drains the life out of me faster than the crystalline entity, and I prefer not to spend too much time around such toxic forces.
  3. Be shallow. It is nearly impossible for me to look up to anyone who can’t relate the most time-consuming things in their life right now to a larger plan for making the world a better place.
  4. Be conceited. This can be expressed in many different ways, ranging from subtle but intentional neglect, to overt refusal to make small concessions for the sake of a relationship. In any form, this incarnation of pride is really hard for me (and, I suspect, for those who exhibit it) to see beyond.
  5. Be sneaky. I really don’t mind secrets, because they can easily be lumped into the infinite expanse of everything else I don’t know. Heck, I can even tolerate occasional dishonesty, because it can often be handled with the allowances I already make for normal mistakes in communication or interpretation. But, I can’t think of anything more disrespectful to me than an intentional effort to adjust my thoughts, emotions, or actions without my knowledge or consent. I’m a naturally trusting person, but manipulative folks will find that trust incredibly difficult to regain.

And we’re back!

Thanks to some hard virus-cleaning work by my brother Jedidiah, Josiahland rises from the ashes like the Phoenix! In light of my new philosophy of life, I’ve updated the tag line from the rather depressing “stay if you like, but don’t expect too much — yet” to something inspired by a quote from my Dad. You don’t always get the results you expect from your work, but there’s always a little joy to be squeezed out of what you do get. Instead of being disappointed when things don’t go exactly according to plan, I’m gonna try to extract all the good things I can from however the year ahead turns out.

New Years Letter

So, I didn’t get my Christmas letters sent out in time… Oh wait, I never send out Christmas letters. 🙂 Still, I thought this year would be a good year to start letting you all know a summary what’s been happening in Josiahland — in case you don’t have time to connect the dots between the reams of disjointed information about myself that I spew out to the Internet. Anyway, this has been a year of big changes, both in my professional and private life. My memories really aren’t stored chronologically, so I’ll talk topically.

First, my extracurricular life has recently been much reduced. While I did get to teach two weeks of a summer day camp on Lego Robotics at the Orpheum children’s musuem and kept up my classroom volunteer work at Central High over the summer, my community work has been quite sporadic this past semester, and I wasn’t able to do any classroom tutoring (mostly due to the additional time constraints associated with qualifying exam study). 🙁 Also, due to my ankle injury in September (had my final surgery yesterday, and will be walking in a cast by next week, independently in several more months! 🙂 ), I was only able to work about two weeks at my job as an interviewer for the EPI, near the end of the semester.

Second, I’ve decided to make this upcoming semester at Illinois my last one. I’ll be switching from a Ph.D. to an M.S., and am picking up that degree before I head back to Iowa in Fall, 2014 to continue the work I started during my Master’s study there. In a sentence, I love the people I’ve gotten to know here, but I’m switching trajectories from “faculty/industry researcher in power electronics” to “teaching faculty in engineering.” The story leading up to this is long, and fraught with potential semantic pitfalls that I can more easily avoid if I’m talking with you face-to-face. 🙂 Suffice it to say, I believe this decision not only to be the most direct path to a happy and fulfilling career, but also to be a path that I can walk without putting the rest of my life on hold for four more years. Admittedly, the logic does make the most sense when spiritual factors are considered, but I also think the decision stands to reason from a secular point of view as well.

Third, there several pretty big personal things that had been brewing for some time, and finally came to the surface this year. Several of these are really good things, some are really unfortunate, but all are complicated enough that I’d rather not try to explain them to the casual reader. Just ask, and, depending on the context, you shall receive all the TMI you desire. 😉 One thing I will say is that my relationship with God is more personal than it’s been in years. Unfortunately that’s not saying much, but I really do appreciate the renewed sense of reality He’s been giving to my faith.

The upcoming semester/summer is going to be a busy one: Part-time teaching applications have to be in next week. A conference paper is due in January (I’m almost done with that, thank goodness!). I need to learn to walk again at some point. 😉 Quite a bit of administrative red tape has to be sorted through in order to transfer degrees, fellowships, and admission. Two classes and a thesis (to fulfill the M.S. req’s) have to be completed by May. A journal paper for my Illinois advisor and a grant proposal for my Iowa advisor both need to be finished by the end of summer. I probably won’t have time to commit to regular volunteering this semester, but I’ll be continuing my EPI work and will get to teach another robotics camp in the summer! Despite the busyness, though, I’m definitely feeling up to the task. I think I’m slowly getting over that “race to finish first” mentality that I had in college, and am learning to enjoy life’s journey, taking things one day at a time. I’m excited to see what the new year holds, and walking that path alongside yours! 🙂

Think

Ever have time to just sit down and think about where you’re headed? I don’t — at least I hadn’t for the past several years. This Thanksgiving holiday has given me time to do that, and I thought I’d share some of those thoughts, in as vague a way as possible, in order to help me savor this moment of clarity in my mostly-confused life. 🙂

For the first time in many years, I feel that I’ve come to terms with what I really want out of life. It honestly didn’t surprise me that the “big picture” of where I want to be in ten years doesn’t really require a PhD at all, much less one from UIUC. But, something that did catch me off guard was how specific some of my aspirations really are — and how how frighteningly unfocused my pursuit has been thus far.

Of course, it’s a labor of love and gratitude to put my absolute best into the work I do while I’m at Illinois, but whether I stay here for the next three years or just the next semester, I’m no longer defining myself in terms of my career, my intelligence, or even my own character. I’m slowly realizing that while my carefully-crafted, fully self-referential notion of identity has kept me from getting hurt (by others) for a long time, it’s a suffocating way to live. It’s time to man up, and start accepting that I’m really a fundamentally symbiotic being, whose meaning and purpose is defined in relation not just to God and His Word, but is inescapably tied to the other people in my life.

I think this wouldn’t be so hard to embrace if it didn’t come with the terrifying corollary that I may actually be or become a part of what defines some of the people around me — be it for good, or otherwise. I’m pretty scared of the scars that my bad side could leave, but at the same time, I’m exhilarated by the hope that becoming a better person might actually mean something to someone other than myself. All this to say, I really want the upcoming year to be less about me as an individual, and more about how we all fit, together, into God’s plan.

Peer Review Rant

So, I’m starting to lose faith in the whole blind peer review system.

All this started when I was assigned several reviews by a session chair outside of my specified area of expertise. Ostensibly, the session chair for each track area should look over the reviewers credentials, evaluate their trustworthiness, and choose appropriate weights for the reviews. But, in this case, the session chair didn’t look at my specified areas of expertise, much less put any effort into determining whether I was capable of providing valuable insight. I declined the off-topic reviews, as I have been taught, but the experience was somewhat troubling.

It lead me to believe that there’s a relatively high probability that any paper you submit will not get reviewed by someone who knows much about your field. In fact, I would venture to bet that anyone with a dot-edu e-mail address can sign up to review papers submitted to most of the big conferences. Actually, if you’re a curious undergrad or a non-research university staff member, you might want to try registering to be a reviewer on some of the big journals and conferences. If you get assigned lots of reviews, or any off-topic reviews, that means the session chairs aren’t even trying to do their job. (Disclaimer: If you do choose to do this, it’s your fault if you get in trouble. Also, please don’t actually submit any reviews. Just click decline on everything.)

Of course, I realize that science is supposed to be self-regulating, but since there is no way to know who has reviewed a particular paper, how are we supposed to be confident that it really is self-regulation, instead of random weed-out or worse yet, regulation by idiots? I’ve been thinking about publishing some of my work in Philica. Does anyone have any other options for open peer review?