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2019 year-end post

We’re rapidly approaching the time for the traditional year-end post, which I’ve been known to skip in recent years—I had a run of several really rough years, there. While 2019 wasn’t without personal challenges and setbacks (and a whole lot of frightening developments in the US and abroad), it brought me several really positive changes and victories, as well. Although I am both physically and emotionally exhausted right now, I’m the most hopeful I’ve been at the end of a year since probably 2011.

The exhaustion is earned, and it’s all for good reasons: I made it through my first semester of teaching full-time (officially, as of the 19th), and we bought a house and are in the process of moving into it. As I write this [later edit: well, the first part of this], I’m sitting at our dining room(? or gaming?) table with the birds, who are in their travel cages, while Dale drives home (the new house is officially “home” now—the birds are here) with Ella the chinchilla. The bulk of our furniture is here, along with many, but not all, of our belongings. We’ve still got a lot to do between now and the 31st, when our lease ends at the old place, but it’s very exciting! (The photo at the top of the post is of the birds in their travel cages, with my computer in front of them. The photo below this is a carful of plants, preparing to move between houses.)

The house is cool. It’s weird in a different way than our house in Alaska was weird, but I wouldn’t say it’s any less weird. It suits us. It needs a lot of work, but our inspector assured us that none of it is immediate; very little of it has to be done on the scale of “weeks to months”; some of it wants to be done in the next few years; and some of it we could reasonably put off indefinitely.

The location’s great: it’s roughly a 10 minute drive from where I work and almost exactly the same commute time from Dale’s work as the old place was. It’s walkable to a park with waterfowl, some restaurants, and several stores that cater to our hobbies, and it’s a pretty short drive to one of the Pittsburgh area’s main commercial strips, but not so close that we’ll hate it. It is outside of city limits, which will be a big change for us and is something I’m honestly not sure how I feel about, yet; but even if that falls on the “cons” side of this whole endeavor, this move is, overall, something incredibly positive.

So, yeah, that’s the big winter news: survived my first semester and bought a house, very happy, very tired.

The big fall news was the new job, teaching Data Analytics and Computer Information Technology for the Community College of Allegheny County, and our newest bird, Mr. Scribbner. (Fair warning: the whole rest of this paragraph is about the birds.) Scribbs is our newest bird, yes. But our youngest? We don’t know. Just, you know, in case you don’t keep track of the backgrounds of all of my pets: we got Phoebe at a Petco in Northern Virginia, 12 or 13 years ago. Pepper was found flying around the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and we adopted her from Humane Animal Rescue, who mostly rescues cats, dogs, and bunnies, and who were delighted to have someone come take this bird off their hands. Our vet initially guessed she was maybe 5-6 years old, but it seems like she revised the estimate up when we brought her back for a follow-up appointment. (She was a little sick when we first got her. She’s fine now.) Mr. Scribbner came from a nice person I met on Reddit, whose work schedule had changed in such a way that taking care of a bird wasn’t going to work so well anymore; he wasn’t Scribbs’s original owner, though, and had gotten him from a rescue. (And rehabilitated him, really impressively.) Scribbs’s estimated age is pretty much the same as Phoebe’s, but he acts much younger. Pepper acts approximately Phoebe’s age or maybe a bit older. Francis, our parakeet, is 11 or 12, and he acts very old and cranky most of the time. (Parakeets’ life spans are shorter than cockatiels’. It’s very good if they make it to 15; the record for a cockatiel is 35, though 20-25 is more normal. So we mostly let Francis do what he wants, because he’s earned it.) They all seem to like the new house and are adjusting well to the change.

The big summer news was a series of interviews, ending in multiple job offers, which felt good after several years of part-time, adjunct, and [uneven, unpredictable] freelance work. We also took a trip to see some friends and had several friends take trips to Pittsburgh. One came specifically to see us, while a couple of others came here to do other things, not specifically to visit Dale and me, but one or both of us also got a nice visit out of the deal. I finally visited Fallingwater for the first time with my bestie, who was here from Seattle.

The big spring news was my second semester of adjunct teaching courses and my application to teach full-time. I don’t remember whether I mentioned it here or not at the time—probably?—but I taught one course a few years ago for the University of Maryland, online. The course with UMD left me with some opinions about encouraging students to take their first programming course online, entirely asynchronously—in a word: “don’t”—and also about JavaScript as a teaching language. Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t teach for UMD again, or even that I wouldn’t teach that specific course again; overall, it was a good experience, with very supportive colleagues. (OK, obviously, I liked it, or I wouldn’t have ended up going into teaching full-time.) If I were going to teach that course again, or if anyone from UMD or any other iSchool is reading this and wants my opinion: I’d see if I could introduce a synchronous component, and I’d see if I could teach it in Python or really any language with stronger typing than JavaScript (so. pretty much any other language. don’t @ me.). Unfortunately, my current employer doesn’t really support synchronous online learning (yet?), so my plan is to avoid teaching any programming classes online until that changes, because I’m not convinced it’s ethical to offer them without that, especially at the community college level. (Full disclosure: I’m teaching HTML and CSS online next semester, but markup is a lot easier for a new learner to pick up than a full programming language.) Anyway, I taught Python 1 and co-taught Data Analytics 1, during my first semester at CCAC, and it was a great experience that I am glad I get to continue full-time.

Other things I got up to this year: coming out as non-binary to my in-laws and coworkers, marching in Pittsburgh’s Pride parade, talking (very briefly, but it was fun) at a local academic conference, attending my first WisCon, being on a panel during the first session of my first WisCon (why do things by halves?), attending not-my-first Pittsburgh TechFest, starting to learn SAS, playing some D&D and several newer tabletop RPGs, attending some crafting classes at Workshop PGH, making some candles, sort of learning to knit socks (that’s ongoing), attending a couple of late nights at the Natural History Museum and one late night at the National Aviary, getting together for crafting semi-regularly with friends, meeting to watch TV shows (Game of Thrones, Runaways, and Leverage) fairly regularly with friends, and probably several other list items that could be summed up as “generally doing the things that constitute putting down roots in a place.” I think that’s the core of why I feel so hopeful, again: it feels like we’re back in the Pittsburgh area (if not the city limits anymore) for the long haul, and maybe this move we’re going through now will be the last one for a very long while. It feels like maybe I can relax, and begin to think of Pittsburgh as “home” again and not as somewhere we’re going to have to leave in a year or five, and I can really focus on teaching as a career (which doesn’t preclude seeking more formal education in data science and machine learning, right? right!).

My plans for 2020 include surviving my second full-time semester of teaching (they get easier over time, I’ve been promised), learning more SAS, learning Java (our primary teaching language at CCAC), building something in modern C and/or C++ (since I think I get dibs on one or both of those classes any time we offer them in-person, but my experience in both languages is … old—incidentally, I’m open to suggestions about what I might build), getting unpacked at the new house, going to WisCon, hopefully attending both Code4Lib (which will require some finagling to make work with my anticipated teaching schedule) and the PyCon Education Summit (OK, actually, the Summit and the main part of PyCon, because it happens during the part of the week when I’m mostly not teaching, anyway), visiting Seattle, getting into an ocean (I’m not picky about which one, which means maybe I can fulfill this on my west coast trip?), starting down the long road of house repairs, and making more things out of wax and yarn and jump rings (um, not together, probably). I’d also like to buy a bicycle and explore some of the parks in our new area of town (which is flatter than the parts we left behind) on two wheels.

Maaaaybe 2020: I’ve got my eye on an online Doctorate of Computer Science (not actually a PhD, which I find concerning, but it requires a dissertation and has been accepted as a terminal degree by big name universities in the past), and I might either start that or take the GRE (again; did you know they expire?) in order to get started on an online PhD somewhere else in 2021. (Yes, we do have two really fantastic options locally, where I’m already an alum and would be delighted to study again(!), but I’m not sure I can teach full-time outside of town and also do an in-person PhD in Oakland. With the right research advisor and careful scheduling and good use of my sabbatical, I believe I could make it work, so I haven’t ruled it out entirely. But I think the stars would have to align, or whatever metaphor you want, for that to work out.)

Anyway, I have a lot planned, but I also want to try to remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I’m in a tenure-track position with no publishing requirement, and I own (well, the bank owns, but I’m on track to own) a house; I can take my time. I can actually “go slow and fix things,” and that’s such a good feeling.

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  1. Brian Butler

    What course did you teach for us at UMD? I agree that first programming courses should generally not be online — and if they are they should not be asynchronous. With this in mind, I’ve been trying to track down all the cases where we do this and shift the way they are offered.

    • Sorry I didn’t see this comment right away! I taught INST 630. I’m pretty sure it’s no longer offered online asynchronously, in part because I had a whole lot to say about it once the semester was over.

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