Thursday, April 25, 2013

Helmut Newton Followed by A Meztelen Férfi - The Naked Man


Last Saturday and Sunday were our culture days. Leaving all things technological at home, including smartphones, Ron and I spent a few hours on each day at these museums.

Saturday was the Museum of Fine Arts to see their temporary exhibition on Helmut Newton. Newton is a world famous photographer or for Hungarians \fə-ˈtä-grə-fər\, not PHOTO-grapher. Each of us has free access to the museum, which is quite relaxing allowing us to not feel pressured to see the permanent collections. We can return as often as we wish to take in what we may have missed previously. Even without their spectacular collections from different countries and periods, the architecture alone is gorgeous and worthy of a visit for this reason only.

Newton is considered one of the world’s most illustrious figures in the field of fashion and advertising photography. This particular show consisted of 250 shots accumulated from what is considered his most inspired period of work.

“These selected works provide an offer a look into his most important periods through three of his key albums. Private Property contains forty-five photographs from Newton’s best fashion, portrait and nude shots from 1972 to 1983. Newton published his provocative nudes between 1985 and 1995, among others in his own periodical, the four-volume Helmut Newton’s Illustrated. The fashion and advertising photos taken between 1983 and 2003 for the major fashion labels…”

It makes me wish I were a fraction as gifted a photographer as he was, though photographing fashion would not be my thing.

Museum of Fine Arts
Dózsa György út 41
This exhibit continues until July 14, 2013.

At the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, there was this disclaimer. “Some of the works of art may be of a sexually explicit nature, parental guidance is advised.” Considering some of the movie and other advertisements I have seen in metro stations and on the streets, this truly gave me a chuckle.

With female nude exhibits having been shown ad nauseum in various world museums, they have finally approached the male nude exhibit. In cooperation with the LENTOS Kunstmuseum of Linz, Austria, they have collated this show with over 300 pieces of artwork glorifying the male nude.

As the discourse along the wall informs the patrons, the portrayal of naked males became non-existent after the Classical Antiquity period. During this time, the nude male had to be portrayed as a mythological figure or a Christian scapegoat. As it was also explained, it was only in the last few decades that female art students were allowed to see nude male models.

Starting with Viennese works dating to 1900, the art pieces displayed exemplify artists who were brave enough to divest from the cultural norms in order to expand their artistic expression. What one encounters as you progress from one era to the next is what starts with artist self-doubt and self as model, continuing on to experimentation leading to full-blown confidence accompanied by power.

”For modern artists, the naked male body divested of every role became bearer of self-revelation, self-recognition and renewal. From this point on, the exhibition follows the male nude through the history of the 20th and 21st centuries, through crises of identity and phases of sovereignty, the questioning of traditional male role models, the search for alternatives, the face up to weakness and vulnerability, the gaze of desire and the erotic pose.”

Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art
Komor Marcell u. 1
This exhibit continues until June 30, 2013.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Crispy Critter Part 2


One of the problems I have created for myself is that I explain most everything to my students. I share with them all of my background thinking which forms the foundations for my motives in how I plan out class procedures. Included in this is an explanation of how I perceive them fulfilling the demands for each class. What seems to me as a transparency in teaching translates to them as a democracy; they have this sense that they should get a vote on each of the assessment components. Whenever something changes without giving them advance notice, they huddle like the crowd outside Frankenstein’s castle ready to lynch the monster. Generally, there is always one spokesperson who claims to have been appointed to be the champion of justice as if by some royal decree. However, time and again, when I question other students, they have no memory of appointing any person to be their spokesperson.

This happened yet again this semester where someone from the Justice League had issues with my assignment. It has happened in the past over minor issues, but this one seemed to be a significant event, at least in some of their mercurial minds. Prior knowledge of having 115 students, to deal with this semester, with 18 of them being in creative writing, it was a no-brainer that I would be drowning in a student writing pool of papers. This led to my creating changes to maintain my sanity assuring I would still have some of it by April and with any luck possibly still by the middle of May. By May 15th, I would need a mental douching.

There had to be a reduction in the number of pages assigned per assignment. Both Race and Ethnicity and Religions Born in the US had their required essays lowered to six pages, not including the works cited pages. To substantiate this change of expectations, there was the added requirement that once they wrote their essay, they were to create an online magazine with it. Pictures or video clips could be added to provide a real magazine feeling if they chose. Three online magazine sources were provided as well as a sample magazine created by one student last semester. I also shared that the student admitted it took her a week to format the magazine properly. This tip fell on deaf ears. An additional peremptory warning was that the essay would be run through two grammar checkers and two plagiarism checkers. I also shared that I would send out the magazine with the accompanying essay to all friends and acquaintances who were willing to read at least one.

Again, they unquestionably want to believe this is a democracy. As one student claimed, “Students don’t want to learn, we just want to accumulate the credits.” This is where the war began, so I had to write this disclosure statement.

If you look at the essay/magazine grading rubric, you will have to notice there is nothing there pertaining to the magazine itself other than the word at the top. The word is there just to clarify that the magazine is created from the essay as I mentioned in class.

Some of you are more advanced than others with technology and will have different outcomes in negotiating the magazine. The intention for having you turn in the essay with the magazine was because editing a magazine, to show you the errors, would have been impossible.

The reason for having you create the magazine at all was to expand your thinking and creativity. In the Hungarian educational system, expanded thinking and creativity are in short supply. Students have complained to me about this for over eleven years.

This project was meant to assist you in developing critical thinking skills that still need developing.

You knew about this assignment from the beginning of the semester. If you did not plan ahead to find sufficient research material, this is a student issue.

Please do not insult me by speculating that you or anyone else can send me mediocre, shoddy work and expect to get a gold star.

This is the 21st century, yet Hungarian students are far behind the times of many other countries, not just the US. Before they pointed to other countries where they consider it to be far worse than here, I warned them to ask themselves if this alone makes them proud of their education.

I sent these to educated friends to review. Initially, my reasoning was to brag to others about what my students are capable of doing. In addition to this, I wanted to have an objective point of view about the essay/magazine. Unfortunately, what I discovered was that many of these reviewers were more concerned with protecting student egos than they were in giving an honest critique, but hinted at their concerns. Those who were honest were quite harsh in their comments about the limits of research, the poor grammar, and all of the other issues that I had also identified and marked in the essays.

My hopes that knowing a stranger would read their work, would have pushed them into being higher achievers, never came to fruition.
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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Burned to a Crisp


I wouldn’t say that I am burned out, but hey, if you held a cigarette close to me, it would light on fire without a match. I am gaining popularity with scout troops for their camping trips when they want to start the campfire for cooking. As I write this, there are 24 days, 5 hours, and 42 minutes left before the end of my semester. There is nothing that could make me happier at this point other than finding out I have inherited a castle in Scotland, tax-free.

You will notice that I am using all numbers in digital form even 1-9, which would normally be spelled out in an academic format. They are more impressive as digits. Generally, I have to teach 9 classes a semester. This year, I was able to get by with 8 because we have a Fulbrighter teaching one of my classes. She taught one last semester also. Still, the classes that I have are teeming with writing, mostly my fault. However, if a student is getting a degree in a foreign language, shouldn’t they be able to communicate in writing? Duh!

I have four courses where the students are required to blog on a weekly basis. This adds up to over 60 blog posts to read or at least just skim over. There is no way I am going to correct their grammar on the Mystery Novel blog or the Corp-orocracy (a course name self-created), but I do pay attention to those in the Blogging and Website class as well as Race and Ethnicity 2 blogs. These are the journalism specialization students who are in the program due to some plan on getting an English speaking/writing job at some point. Having 115 students this semester if I counted them as separate students within different classes with different projects, I was overwhelmed. Consider that one class was The Methodology of Writing the Cultural Studies Thesis for BA and MA students. In this class, I had 13 students who were trying to meet the April 15th deadline for turning in their work. BA students only need to write 20 pages, but the MA students need to fill 60 pages. Each week, I had them write 3-5 pages depending on their degree for me to read and edit, making sure they were on track and their grammar was acceptable. One of my other courses this semester is Creative Writing. The 18 students in this class write a short story every week, not more than 2 pages, but add it to the pile; we are looking at a mountain of paperwork.

All of this work comes flooding into my e-mail as an attachment. This gives me the opportunity to check it in Word using Track Changes. However, I have gotten smarter over the years. When I return the assignment, I change the format to PDF. For those who need to use my comments for a revision, like the thesis writers, they cannot do Accept Changes and make short work of it. They have to look at my notes and comments, with a bit of hope, think about them, and then make the changes on their own. For others, it blocks them from making any changes and then resubmitting it to tell me I made a mistake, so the grade should be inflated. It has happened. Then there are the students who are enrolled in multiple classes that I am responsible for who send in an assignment as an attachment sans a name on the document, nothing in the subject line, the body of the e-mail or on the document itself to give me any clue as to what class to assign the grade. Perhaps, knowing how much I enjoy mystery novels, they are trying to infect me with their affliction of amenomania. Not!  It is a waste of my time.

I am not alone among the faculty, who are increasingly realizing students are lacking the satisfaction taken in an achievement well done. This semester, I warned that the semester essays would be run through 2 different plagiarism checkers making it a wise choice for them to do the same before their submission. The bonus suggestion was added that they should seriously consider using multiple grammar checkers in addition. If you write well, this will take minutes. If you cannot execute a document at a scholarly level, this will give you pause for thinking about editing.

The problem here for most students is that the last minute to turn in an assignment are the precious moments when they are finishing the works cited page. They haven’t a moment to spare to use superfluous (in their minds) outside aids when they have a pushover instructor who will do it for them. Oh, how they rage when they find that the instructor is no longer willing to be their full-time editor and requires their attention to detail. This is when the revolt begins.

To be continued…

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Why I Don't Use WordPress


Just a quick note here, since I am grading massive amounts of essays. I just received this in my e-mail and I know many who do indeed use WordPress.WordPress has been attacked a multitude of times, so this is not shocking news. Read the article!

Are You Aware of the Ongoing WordPress Global Attack?
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Friday, April 12, 2013

I Remember...


This is always a tough time in the semester for students and instructors alike. Those students who are writing a thesis this semester have Monday, April 15th as their deadline. I offer a thesis writing class for students from either the American Studies or the English department so they can write their thesis under close supervision. There were 13 students in the class; this meant volumes of reading/editing/advising. 

Add to this the seven other classes I have this semester, I am ready to topple over. Thankfully, there is a Fulbrighter teaching one class under my name or I would have eight other classes.

To give the journalism students a bit of a break, I did something that our guest speaker, Dana Sachs did last year. I read the poem I Remember by Joe Brainard. Then I asked them to write twenty lines of their own ‘I Remember…’. I thought it was only fair that I Remember too and shared it with them. Here is mine.

I remember discovering there was an opening in the American Studies department at ELTE, just days after I voiced my desire to teach university once again.

I remember printing out my CV and taking a taxi down to the university to hand it in.

I remember my interview with Dr. Bollobás, who ended the interview with “I will call all the people I interviewed on Tuesday at 5pm. You will be home then won’t you?” She repeated the last sentence five times and then gave me her mobile number in case I had to go out.

I remember working with Aaron Hunter, who was much younger than me. He said “Don’t worry if students don’t come to your office hours. It could be your age.”

I remember having an office full of students who just wanted to hang out with me until their next class.

I remember Aaron being confused about all of the students who came to see me for no particular reason.

I remember students who were doing their student teaching when I was teaching Teacher Training. They came to my office crying about how rigid and unaccepting their mentor teachers were in the schools where they were placed.

I remember the department giving a written and oral exam before admitting students to the American Studies program.

I remember how I had to perpetually remind myself that English was the second language for these students.

I remember wondering if a Spanish, French, Russian, or Hungarian major in an American university gets off easy because it is not their first language?

I remember the joy and horror of having the same class for five lessons each week.

I remember assigning five essays a semester with each one having the opportunity for one revision while having thirty students in a class.

I remember not enjoying reading 2,620 pages of students’ work a semester, but I did it in hopes the students would learn something.

I remember discovering when the students accidentally disclosed that all they did for a revision was ACCEPT ALL CHANGES in the essay I returned to them for revision.

I remember learning to lock the essays so they could no longer do that.

I remember the first student who asked me to be his thesis advisor and how nervous I was about being up to the task.

I remember when he received honors on this thesis and how proud I was for both of us.
I remember the first six years of teaching at ELTE when students wanted to hang out as much as possible.

I remember holding coffee meetings twice a month on different days and times so students could come to practice their English.

I remember how those coffee klatches were meant to be an hour, but sometimes I was still there three hours later than planned.

I remember the time when twenty-five students showed up at one time. I was flabbergasted.

I remember the first group of students who gave me five books for Christmas. I cried so hard in front of the class; I was mortified while being humbled at the same time.

I remember the first student who asked if he could come to our home. He spent so much time there, we almost adopted him.

I remember when he left for the Kellner Scholarship; he was so concerned about us that he found a replacement student.

I remember wondering how we would deal with the loss and if this ‘replacement’ would fill his shoes.

I remember the day it occurred to me that we now had two adoptees, because both guys became our family.

I remember the joy I felt when I was able to get the ten computers donated by my friend’s business.

I remember writing the proposal for creating a writing center where students would aid students and I would be in the background as a guide.

I remember my department head deciding that these new computers were perfect for creating a journalism program and made it my task to develop it.

I remember when she told me to come up with 60 different courses that could potentially be our offerings, each with a few sentences detailing the course.

I remember spending days searching American universities websites for their course listings for ideas.

I remember the sense of relief I felt when I finished the task and turned it in with great pride in my achievement.

I remember her response “Wow, Ryan! You really put a lot of work into this, but we only needed about 10 courses worth 60 credits.”

I remember wanting to do damage to someone or something after that.

I remember not being thrilled about the changes in the university policy; we no longer were able to test students for admission.

I remember writing the curriculum multiple times and then having someone in the ivory tower refute something or other.

I remember asking other faculty for their willingness to teach courses within the specialization. Some were willing, others not so much.

I remember the class where they confided that they never paid attention to my editing comments and only looked at the grade.

I remember learning each semester how I had to be tougher if I really wanted these students to get educated.

I remember thinking it was only the credits that mattered to students in the end.

I remember a student telling me this was a true thought.

I remember questioning why I continued to care.

I remember when it dawned on me that I don’t need to care, but then it is time to move on.

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Sunday, April 07, 2013

Paul Roberts Beats Me to the Punch


Paul Roberts wrote in and beat me to the punch. I was going to write about this today.

"So I hear from Tech New Today that Google has sold the Frommer’s brand back to Arthur Frommer and he will be publishing books. Apparently they just wanted the data for Zagat etc. on Google Drops the Bomb in Slow Leaks".

This is a truism. I found the story on Skift, again written by one of the former Frommer's editors who was left behind when the transition happened. He was actually one of my editors, but only when I had to do web updates for the various books.

Google had plans on integrating the information from the Frommer's guides into its own Google + network. This is in spite of the fact that survey after survey still shows that Google + is just not as popular or utilized as other social media outlets. had tens of thousands of subscribers, while Google + only added 107 subscribers to their Frommer's channel. 

One tidbit I did not know is that Penguin/Random House are the publishers for the Fodor's, DK, and Rough guides as well as others. Avalon Travel publishes Rick Steves and the Moon guides. Where it all goes from here is anyone's guess, but Frommer has to start with absolutely no content as Wiley Publications has sold it all to Google

Frommer is 83 years old, but his daughter Pauline was an participant and award winning writer for the company. They still need to find a publishing company willing to produce the books.

There may be hope that I will get to author more books after all, but it seems it will not be anytime soon.

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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Hunter and the Hunted


Our friend W. Hunter Roberts has been working on her doctorate in ministerial studies for close to a decade. The Pacific School of Religion and the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, after submitting an all-points bulletin regarding her disappearance, finally just listed her as AWOL with sudden and unexpected appearances here and there. Hunter had the good sense to pop her head up once in a while, like that children’s game where the gopher pops up from the ground. She is larger than life and is really difficult to miss, but the mileage between here and California does add to the mix.

Hunter asked me if I would be interested in being on her dissertation committee after realizing that her third chair would not work out for various reasons. She did something very astute; we went for coffee where she interviewed me for the position. We had known each other for close to 2 years by that point, but this was a life changing and perhaps life affirming decision for her, so I honored this request and quietly applauded her for her insight.

My first statement included the fact that I am an atheist, a fact she should know immediately considering this was a religion topic. In my mind, this was a true advantage for her as I would be totally objective for a spiritually based dissertation. After a couple of hours of intense, but lively and thoroughly enjoyable discussion, Hunter asked if she could send me a chapter of her dissertation to read and comment on. This was the beginning of breaking bread, a communion if you will, into new relationship territory as an odd couple: a female minister and a male atheist.

Let me assure my readers that the journey was an adventure, but a delightfully educating one. Hunter is a good writer, but I especially appreciated the insights she brought to the table with her sources and personal stories. Even as an atheist, I have never quite quenched my need to learn about religions. I read, edited, commented, challenged, and discussed Hunter’s writings with her as well as in one of my university classes.

After months of jeers and cheers, tears and laughter, angst and jubilation, the days leading up to the oral defense had finally arrived. With the dissertation chair being in Berkeley, another member living in Washington, DC, and the two of us here in Budapest, it was only made possible due to Skype conference calling. I had never done this and wasn’t even sure how to use my computer to achieve it without a web cam. The fact is it is not possible. We decided I would go to Hunter’s and use her iPad while she used her computer. Finally, I realized my netbook would do the trick nicely.

The night before, I received e-mails from Hunter stating that the secretary in Berkeley would test the equipment to make sure all was a go. However, I was not available to read these e-mails. My phone had two SMS’s besides, but my ringer was turned off and the phone was on the charger, so I had no clue until the next morning when I reached the university to teach. It was too late to do anything about testing the equipment the night before, so I did not feel any immediate need to return the calls.

Later in the afternoon, after teaching three classes in a row and having thesis advising, I called Hunter. I was exhausted; she was naturally hysterical. Her nervousness overruled her thinking while she raged at me for not being attentive to the evening’s needs. Having gone through this myself as well as with multiple friends, I could only smile as she ranted. This was only made possible since this was not a video call. Had it been, I would have had to use all of my Capricorn acting skills to keep a straight face. I assured her I would be at her place in plenty of time to set up and test the equipment later in the early evening. She was going through SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) prior to a doctoral defense. At the time, no one really grasps this reality, most likely because they are too busy raging to think clearly about it. Normal stuff!

I decided to do some reassurance, but in a playful way. When it was time to leave the house, I sent a series of SMS messages sent about every three minutes as I was headed to her place.

“I am leaving the house.”

“I stubbed my toe on the curb. Running slower than normal.”

“Being attacked by a homeless man who wants my computer. Running late”

“Have to buy a new computer.”

“Having Skype installed now.”

I was prepared for facing either more hysteria or someone somewhat relaxed. Hunter greeted me with you had me hysterical. Isn’t it funny how some words can go in either direction in meaning? These are called contronyms. Fortunately for my mental health she meant I had her laughing. Fortunately for her, I did not have to slap her into calming down.

At 5:10 PM, W. Hunter Roberts with magnificent success defended her doctoral dissertation titled:


She is now and forevermore known as Reverend Dr. W. Hunter Roberts. Congratulations, to our friend. I am honored to have been part of your rites of passage.

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Tuesday, April 02, 2013

My Head is in the Clouds


As I troll through various newsletters to satisfy my ever demanding curiosity, I discover fun, informative, or practical pieces of information or tools to add to my arsenal. A few decades ago, I used to play cards with a friend and his family. His mother always had the annoying habit of taking a card while verbally repeating “I’ll take that and play with it for a while to see what it can do for me.” As annoying as that vocal tick was back then, it is the mantra that haunts me when I come across a new tech tool.

Due to this, I have a wide assortment of tools in my toolbox. I use four Google Drive accounts for various aspects of my personal and professional life; associated with those are the same number of Picasa web albums and YouTube memberships (associated e-mail and calendars are not significant to this story); there are two Dropbox accounts, two old and not much used Yahoo accounts, but add to this membership list a SugarSync, Evernote, Microsoft SkyDrive, Vimeo, and Catch affiliation. Though I have to admit, the latter two have barely been touched.

Some may accuse me of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), but I do find this happens to people who felt deprived as children. They need to collect everything they can when they can like misers. That is just an excuse I use for falling back on, but not really true. What comes to mind when finding new toys is “I’ll take that and play with it for a while to see what it can do for me.” Additionally, the practical reason underlying all of this is that I have filled two Google Drives and their associated Google programs with so much data; I had to start paying $5.00 a year for storage. Not so bad, you may say, until you reach the next level where there is a quantum jump in cost.

The next best solution is to try another service and start adding to that one. Generally, once I start I simply cannot let go; it is like picking a playing card, but never getting it out of my hand. I clutch to all of them not knowing how useful that stored information may be someday. Eventually, these will turn into my personal time capsules.

Here it the glitch. When I truly need to retrieve some information, the real disaster comes when I have to remember which service has what piece of information. If I could recall that nugget of information, then I had to figure out which account to tap into to find it. Talk about a time wasting nightmare. Wishes do come true though. While reading one of the tech newsletters, there was an article on storage aggregators. It never occurred to me that such a thing existed or I would have Googled it long ago. After reading through, I found that CloudKafé could handle all of the different accounts I use already, plus others I have never used before.

This is what their site promotes, but note that rather than put (sic) multiple times where errors occur, I copied it as it is on their site. I did not change anything:

“CloudKafé supports the growing daily needs of those of you who have already moved the center of their digital life to the cloud by enabling you to interact with all of your online content in one place. CloudKafé is a new user-friendly service provides you with a great tool to access all your favorite cloud services from anywhere. Access all of your online content and data on the cloud, easily Find stuff and Instantly Share anything with your friends.”

With one free account on CloudKafé, I am able to access all of my accounts at one time. If I needed to do a search for “history of nail clippers”, it will scan all of the accounts I have integrated providing me with a list of all items that include history, nail, or clippers while showing the location. For some of the accounts, I can click on the result and be brought directly to the source.

CloudKafé does not yet work with Pinterest or New Hive, but it does cover Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Smugmug, and other tools I have yet to try. Hmmm…maybe I should take a look at them. What do you think?

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