Undergrad Seminar: Time Management

Here we are in the 2nd half of the academic year. If the 1st half got off to a rocky start, maybe this is a good time to talk about time management. Not the “The 7 habits of that smugly overambitious go-getter” variety. This is aimed more at the “How can I squeeze school into my hectic schedule of procrastination and binge drinking” style. In other words, for the rest of us. This is not to ignore what I think is the real value of the university experience: the freedom to explore, to question, to learn what you never expected. If you go though school without some kind of an “Ah ha” moment, then you have to ask if you really took advantage of the opportunity. Time management is making sure you have the ability to explore those Ah Ha moments.

What does time management mean? It is simply developing a strategy that helps you set reachable and realistic goals that treats school as something akin to a job. School is not the same as a job, I know that. In the US, heading off to college represents all kinds of milestones and transitions towards adulthood including making a lot of really stupid mistakes. Since stupid mistakes are part of life, you may as well factor this in and manage the parts you can. But if you can put yourself into the mindset that school IS your fulltime job, it might help with things like procrastination (my all time largest problem in school). That part-time job you have in the library, or as a teaching assistant or else-where are something you have to do to make ends meet, but school is your fulltime job. (This is referring to fulltime students. Part time students are often already fighting a massive time management battle).

In addition to getting those “Ah Ha” moments that we all love, there are some very basic tangible goals you want to hit: Graduate in 4 years, 5 at the outside with the GPA, experiences, training and recommendations you need to take you next step, no matter what that may be. School is about more than the GPA and getting out, but school is also expensive and your GPA at the end matters, so it is in your best interest to keep that in the back of your mind.

First rule: Incompletes are bad debt. Very Bad Debt. No matter what else you take away from here, learn that taking an Incomplete at the end of a class should be seen as a last option. You would be amazed at how often someone’s college career gets derailed due to piling up incompletes. No, your instructor will not take pity on you because its 5 days to graduation and that one incomplete is in your way. When you have an incomplete, you have very little room to negotiate. You don’t even have the option to take a lower grade if the instructor decides you have to finish that paper or project to complete the course. Never take an incomplete? Well, that’s strategy isn’t it? It’s much better than an F or D or maybe a C, but if it is a class outside your major and you really don’t want to spend more time on it, would you rather have the B or the bad debt of an incomplete that can become an F? I once knew someone that took an incomplete to get an A+ instead of an A, maybe I am a slacker, but that is insane given how much riskier the Incomplete is. Also instructors talk, if people find out you are taking several incompletes, they are going to stop giving you that option. Remember that taking the Incomplete is not your choice, it is your instructors. They have no obligation to give you one because its it bad debt for them as well! They have to give you a grade, chase you down before it becomes an F and listen to your excuse because you keep putting off that paper or project you owe them. If you are piling up incompletes, you may need to lay out a semester just to get them off the plate. Having an incomplete is mentally the same as carrying over that (or those) class(es) into your next course load.

Oh hell, you already have an incomplete? Weren’t you just reading all that… ok, ok, fine. I’ll calm down. Either you have screwed up badly or some legitimate misfortune befell you at the last part of the semester. All we can do now is move forward. That incomplete is a big pile of rotting food in your kitchen and you have GOT to clean that up before it gets into the rest of the food and really stinks up the whole house. To start with, there is no easy solution that will not increase you workload unless you have some miracle deal with the instructor. You cannot “borrow time” from your existing work load. If you take that attitude you are looking at a domino effect of incompletes. Is it starting to sink in why this Incomplete of yours is a big friggin deal?

There is only one way out of this: give up your free time to finish the job. That it, the only solution.

You can’t take the time from the work you already have to do, like the 500 pages of reading you were assigned over the weekend that you weren’t going to do anyway. I KNOW how hard this is, I am a terrible procrastinator and we are the worse kind of people to have incompletes because the deadline is often vaguely out there, but not quite real. The longer you take, the better the final product is expected to be! Maybe this is one of those “screw it, I will do a little worse work and take a B for the paper” moments on this particular project. But you have to turn in something or risk getting a failing grade. I am not going to even say you are going to feel better getting it off your plate. Having to finish this Incomplete is going to put you behind on your other work that you will have to double up on to prevent it from going incomplete. By the way, if we are talking about a 10 page double spaced paper please don’t write and tell me. I will run screaming from the room. This blog entry is nearly four pages double spaced using Arial 10 point font. 10 pages is really not that big a deal.

Make a plan, set a drop dead date and make your idea realistic: What is the minimum you have to do to get the grade you want. My apologies to my faculty friends, but this is triage and the crass reality of it. Your goal is not to win the undergraduate award for writing, it’s to get the incomplete off you plate. Scale back as much as you can: do you really need 40 sources or will 10 do? Is the instructor looking for regurgitation of their pet ideas or original thought on your part? Being that challenging student during the class is great. But now it’s an incomplete, a pain in the ass and not the time to get clever. Have you got a draft? Great, drop it off at the professors office. You might not get comments, but it shows a good faith effort on your part towards meeting your commitment. If they do comment, you might lucky and they say “hey, if you just add a paragraph about X, we are good to go.” And please dear Lord, don’t drop off an idea they already rejected and this is that same dumbass, irrelevant, unrealistic idea that you stubbornly hung on to and got you that incomplete in the first place. LET IT GO. I have watched people do that very thing. I don’t know what insanity overtakes them, but for the love of Pete, knock that crap off.
Do that incomplete: Do it this weekend, do it over two weekends if you have to. Unless that paper is huge, two hard weekends can cover it.

When do IEDs quit being IEDs? Why are we still treating insurgent munitions as folk arts?

I started as a university student, I was studying folklore and material culture, and IED’s certainly qualify as material culture that has the potential to tell you something beyond basic forensics. In this entry I am looking at IEDs using the language of business, innovation and ___________ ? The idea is to see what insights can be gained from thinking about IEDs outside of the military language.

We still read about IED’s in the popular media as if they are a folk art or the equal of some kind of primitive booby-trap. But people have been making these things for a lot of years, so that’s a lot of improvising and in turn I am suggesting what must be a fair bit of standardizing. (As a note, this entire post is based on this premise. If the premise is not true, well… what do you want for free?) Agreed, from a threat perspective, it matters little the sophistication at the point of use or to those injured and killed by them. The effects of even crude devices are well known. But at what point do you go from thinking of them as completely improvised weapons of opportunity and start thinking of them as standardized weapons and part of an formal overall weapons system? To continue thinking of “IED’s” as “improvised” belies the underlying increasing sophistication from which I suspect they come into being.

If you want to know what I mean by “standardized munitions,” go into any outdoor store that sells hunting gear and you will see standardized weapons and ammunition. They are made in large factories with relatively strict controls of production, quality, distribution and sales. While there are multiple value and supply chains these weapons travel (for example, those destined exclusively for military use vs. something available to a private citizen), when the system works properly and the applicable laws are observed, these weapons can be tracked from manufacture to final distribution. They have a path they follow from factory to the dealer to the consumer (be it person or state).

However, what I am questioning is does the difference between an improvised device and standardized device just boil down to: if all the components are collected, assembled and distributed from a single point OR if individual components are distributed from multiple points and then assembled at or near the point of use? Indeed, too jump to the punch line, seems the main difference between them if they are state approved and regulated, they are legitimate munitions.  If it is not state approved or regulated, it is an improvised monition.

At this stage of IED development, “improvised” speaks more to a production process than lack of standardization. We are really speaking to the multiplicity of possible components that can be used, the non-standard nature of the distribution channel, the point at which the components come together and the lack of state approval or regulation. It is important to tease these minor points apart because those elements that we use to define them as “improvised,” are in fact the major strengths insurgencies seem to standardize munitions around.

In the US people hear about insurgents making explosives in an ad hoc fashion like some kind of hillbilly explosive or bathtub gin. If you keep up with the news, you know that is not true. They have become increasingly sophisticated and we are no longer just dealing with fertilizer and oil. While there may be a multiplicity of components that make up IED’s, I am suggesting that there has been developed a standardization of production principles that allow for multiple production methods.  In fact, it can be suggested that one of the strengths of insurgencies in asymmetric warfare is not the in diversity of the product portfolio (IEDs, EFPs, etc) but the diversity of the production methods for their portfolio of products, the munitions. This diversity of this production allows of a set of specific principles or rules to be set in place that can be applied across a variety of situations on a localized basis.  It is as if McDonalds supplied the basic plans for the menu, the marketing and occasionally advising, but the franchisee could purchase stock locally or from the national distributor, depending on what worked best in that market. They lose the classic buying power you get with an economy of scale, but it also gives the insurgency much more flexibility in the system so they don’t have to worry about centralized shortages.

More mechanically complex weapons systems, from a hand guns to a warships, depend on strict manufacturing standards with little to no tolerance in variation. IEDs generally can have fairly wide tolerances in variation between components.  Multiple power sources can be utilized, trigger mechanisms can be as complex or as simplified as needed. While some of the components can be complex to manufacture, there are number of variations of each component that can be mixed and matched to create a completed munition. This high level of variability is enabled by focusing on diversity of production methods as opposed to diversity of product that keeps a certain amount of slack in the IED supply chain. If the source of one component runs out, the high tolerance for variation means that a component with similar characteristics can fill in the gap.

There is one more issue that the diversity of production methods provides an insurgency in this context: A very high return on investment (ROI). In the most simple terms, an IED that costs $200 or so dollars to create can force a standard military to spend millions of dollars in attempts to create technical means to defeat it. Using the diversity of production method principle, an insurgency has the ability to react to technical defeat solution much faster than those defeat solutions can be created.

EPIC 2012 Call for Submissions

If you have never been to EPIC or submitted for it, it is a great conference for anthropologists, engineer, designers, government types, or anyone else interested in how to bring user experience into the decision making process.

Here is the notice:

You can access it on the website here: http://epiconference.com/2012/
To join the EPIC mailing list, go here: http://eepurl.com/hSU-c

We also recently added some information about the conference hotel and wonderful Savannah to whet your appetite & help you plan ahead. Please tell us what else you need to know – info@epiconference.com

Call for Submissions

The Program Committee of the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference is pleased to announce that the submissions process for the 2012 Annual Conference is now open.

This year’s theme is Renewal. After three years of economic recession, a year of political ferment and the rise of the global Occupy movement, it is hard not to conclude that renewal is currently part of the zeitgeist. This opens up questions for the EPIC community: what’s our role in renewal and how and why might we renew ourselves?

We welcome submissions for Papers, Workshops, Artifacts, Pecha Kucha sessions that address this theme. We also invite graduate students to submit proposals for inclusion at the Doctoral Colloquium. Comprehensive details of the Call are available on the EPIC 2012 conference website and below you’ll find some basic but important information about the submission process.

EPIC this year will be held at SCAD in Savannah, Georgia, from October 14-17.

Submission summary

Submission deadline dates are as follows:

Papers: 13th April
Workshops: 20th April
Artifacts: 27th April
Pecha Kucha: 4th May
Doctoral Colloquium: 4th May

Another year, another round of blogging…

It is no surprise to anyone that has read this blog in the past that am an applied anthropologist, particularly work that I consider directly applied.  By that I mean the use of anthropological theory and method as a tool to move the goals of an organization further. Applied anthropology that focuses on studying the culture of organizations or focuses on assessments I think of as indirectly applied anthropology.  The primary difference being that with indirect applied work, the primary goal is to create what could be considered an academic product or publication. In direct applied work, cultural anthropology is just one discipline among many to move a larger goal forward, often resulting on a specific product, strategic direction, or other development goal. Just my particular bias, but when I refer to applied anthropology, I am referring to direct work.

With this is in mind I watched with interest a few months ago the reaction of academic anthropology when the governor of my state, Rick Scott of Florida, proclaimed that anthropology should no longer be taught given it was a not a valuable discipline. My interest was not in Gov Scott however.  Those of us living in Florida have grown somewhat use to being the main source for the various “news of the weird” columns you read.  Hardly a week seems to go by without the state government debating nonsensical legislation, some crank publicly threating to burn a Koran or a guy legally adopting his 40-something year old girlfriend.  It is not just retirees and the homeless that move here for the great year-round weather, it turns out that bat-shit crazy people like nice weather and low rental prices as well.

Indeed, what caught my interest was how quickly applied anthropologists, (along with archaeologists and physical anthropologists) were trotted out to exclaim the value of anthropology. Of course that response was led by the University of South Florida, one of the few Ph.D programs in the country to focus on applied work. But what was not mentioned in any of that was small detail that the last major change to the code of ethics prior to the military issue was over applied anthropologists working in industry.  People tend to forget that a lot of those people that are examples of anthropology’s value: working in major corporations, commercial think tanks and design / strategy firms were being dismissed by most as having sold out at best and were unethical moneygrubbers at worst.  I would still argue that if a prospective Ph.D student expressed an intent to work in industry, or worse horrors – the military – they are not going to be accepted into many Ph.D programs.

But it did one thing, it put a bug into my ear about blogging again: About applied anthropology, where I think it can go, where I hope to see anthropologists working in the future and of course anthropologists in the national security and policy issues.

Stay Tuned.