Friday, December 19, 2008

I'm nearly famous on #TCOT

So I signed up at Top Conservatives on Twitter. Much to my shock and dismay I started out ranked in the 50's but as more folks joined I've moved down, currently 159. Out of over 1600, tough, that's not bad. Plus, I gained over a hundred followers on Twitter. Whaddya know...

They've put up a Drudge look-alike site ( - the DNS isn't resolving yet) and lo and behold, I'm on the blogroll. (Just for the record, @michaelpleahy, I've never liked the look of Drudge's site. IMO that Courier-bold font is just plain ugly and hard to read. YMMV)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Well, that was scary

So we get home after a long night. I'm just a bit winded, so I reach for the inhaler in my pocket. As usual, I blow into it before taking a puff - learned that trick after inhaling a bit of pocket lint. Puffer to mouth, squeeze, inhale-

The instant I take the puff, I feel SOMETHING in the back of my throat.

DEEP in the back of my throat.

IN a VERY BAD PLACE deep in the back of my throat.

Much hacking, gagging, etc. ensues. "Dad, are you OK?"

"No!" I gasp. (I note that I can move air, and that this is a Good Thing. I had been contemplating how to give myself a Heimlich.)

A laundry basket, then a trash can appear in my tears-on-glasses-blurred field of vision. The noises I"m making, it's clear Dad's gonna blow chunks. Or eject a hairball. Or something, but get the man a trash can.

Cough, hack, hack, cough... the THING goes down. Sort of.

"Water!" It appears, is consumed, helps somewhat.

"Kids, I think I just swallowed a quarter." I contemplate driving myself to the ER, leaving kids home alone all evening. Suboptimal.

I do a FOD check of my pocket contents and the little dish into which I dump pocket contents. I also check to see if a US Quarter will fit sideways into the opening of an inhaler, because it feels like I just swallowed something that size. (It doesn't.)

FOD check reveals that of the four tire-valve caps I had had in my pocket (I'd put air in the tires earlier, but did not replace the valve-stem caps), only three can be accounted for.

After several careful breaths, I'm fairly sure that I did not inhale one of them into my lungs, but rather swallowed it (THANK YOU, epiglottis!).

I do hope that stomach acid dissolves that particular kind of plastic.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Cleaning up under Obama

I was looking at Obama's transition-team site, looking for some hope. I came across a section of promises to families where Obama says that a person who works full-time should not have to live below the poverty line. Sounds noble enough. Current minimum wage pays around $13,000 for full-time work, and the poverty level for a family of two is $14,000. So, Obama wants to increase the minimum wage. Sounds good for the worker.

But let's run some numbers,and see how this works out for the person who employs the worker.

Since the plumbing business is in a slump, let's look at a hypothetical office-cleaning service with 55 employees. 5 employees make $30,000 - they're the office folks who keep the business running, doing the the account management, ordering supplies, accounting, etc. 10 employees make $10/hr, or $20,000/yr - the shift managers. And there are 40 workers who are paid minimum wage. (Let's face it - while cleaning offices is honest work, it's not particularly difficult or demanding work.) That's $6.55/hr now, going up to $7.25 next summer. Assume a full-time worker works 2000 hours a year.

So the administrative and supervisory team has a combined payroll of 5*30k + 10*20k or 150k+200k or $300,000. The workers have a combined payroll 40*2000*6.55, or $524,000.

There are 20 teams of two workers each, with a shift supervisor responsible for two teams. Each team works all night cleaning office buildings. The cleaning service charges $200 a night. Labor and supplies costs run about $150 a night, which yields a profit of $50 per team. Times 20 teams, that's $1,000 a night. There are 260 business days in a year, so that's a tidy profit of $260,000. Nice, huh? Too bad he'll have to pay an extra 3% in taxes.

Wait - the front-office team has to get paid. Their payroll is $150,000, so the net profit is down to $110,000.

At least he doesn't have to worry about that tax bump from 36% to 39%. But he does have to pay taxes, which cuts profit down to $70,400. Social security takes another 7.6% of the gross, reducing profit to $62,000. Worker's comp insurance comes out of that. Let's say that the premium is $5 per employee per week. That's 5*52*55 or 6875, round it to $6800. So the net profit is now $55,200. That's what the business owner takes home.

In exchange for providing over four dozen jobs and keeping twenty office buildings clean, he gets a decent middle-class, just-above-the-median paycheck of about $55,000. Livin' the American Dream.

But next summer the minimum wage is scheduled to go up to 7.25/hr. That will bump the payroll of the hourly workers to $580,000, an increase in direct costs of $56,000, or about 9%. As you can see, the business is going to have to increase what it charges the customer by about 9%. That's gonna be a tough sell, because the buildings are not going to be 9% cleaner.

Now let's look at what Obama's plan does to this business. He wants to raise minimum wage to $9.10 an hour. The minimum-wage boost increases the payroll of the hourly workers to $728,000, an increase of over $200,000. That $200,000 will have to come from somewhere.

The business owner could raise his rates, say from $200 a night to $280 a night. But increasing his rates by 40% just might result in his customers reducing their demand on his services - after all, they have budgets, too.

He could cut payroll. Each worker now makes $13,000 a year. A shift supervisor is needed for every four workers, earning $20,000. He could lay off six teams - 12 workers and 3 supervisors, saving $216,000. Of course, that reduces his ability to earn money, because instead of having 20 teams now he has only 14. So his gross is now down to $700 a night, $182,000 a year. The administrative payroll is $150,000... looks like someone in the office has to go, too.

Change? You betcha.

Hope? Notsomuch.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Formation of a Fiend

This is based on an original short story by DrummerBoy. The original was dashed off in 40 minutes for a middle-school writing competition last year. (Students are given a short prompt such as "transformation" and have to write a story in 40 minutes based on that prompt.) I could not resist taking a couple of hours to fine-tune things, give the tale just a little more punch. But although many of the words below are mine, it's still his story. Enjoy.


The blade loose in my hand, I approach the operating table. It is draped in absorbent, disposable paper. The paper is dry now, but soon it will be soaked and stained. Spread out nearby, an assortment of shining instruments; each with its own edge, its own point, its own purpose, its own part to play in tonight's work.

Grim work, yes. Grisly work, certainly. But needful work, oh yes. Most needful. Tonight a Fiend must be summoned. And that summoning requires a sacrifice.

Immobile on the table, round and ruddy, turgid with new life, she awaits. I selected her carefully from her among her sisters, chose her especially. My free hand gently caresses her gravid curves. I examine her closely on all sides, seeking imperfections, irregularities, sources of inspiration. Ah, here… So. Mmm, there… Yes.

I pick up a marking pen and begin tracing lines on the smooth skin. The dark ink will guide my bright knives. I smile in anticipation as the shape of the Fiend emerges onto her flesh.

Now, the plan complete, I lift the knife to make the first cut. There must be no hesitation. No trepidation. No doubt. No pity. I place the point of the knife on the mark and plunge it down. There is no scream of terror, just a vaguely wet sound as the blade sinks in. I work the serrated edge up and down, around the curve, following the inked line in a circle. Within moments I have freed a section the size of my palm. I lift it, revealing the hollow space beneath.

The sight that greets me could turn the strongest stomach. The orange cavity is filled with stringy flesh, slick with juices. Pale encapsulated embryos cling to the fibrous strands. A rich, sickly-sweet aroma fills the air. It is not the smell of death and decay, though that will come as surely as the first frost of winter.

I lift a shining, curved tool that could be a large spoon, were it in a kitchen. The sharp edge loosens the clinging strands from the interior cavity as I work it around. I scoop out the loosened flesh, plopping it wetly into a basin to be discarded.

My work is grim, but it is not without purpose. Tonight, the veil between this world and the next becomes thin. When night falls, my oh-so-normal neighbors will be transformed into hideous creatures, prowling the streets in search of plunder, mischief, or worse. Spirits, demons, monsters, and darker things will emerge from the shadows. Even the children – especially the children – will be taken up in the madness. This Fiend, carved by my hand from living tissue, is the only possible protection for my home and loved ones. As the sky begins to darken, I hurry to finish.

My arm is weary from the labor of emptying the thick-walled womb. Finally it is left a hollow shell. Taking up a small knife, I begin to shape the face of my Fiend. Tracing the marks, I alternately slice, shave, and saw. I lay my tools down and assess my work. The eyes have no trace of humanity, no pity. The mouth – a leering, fanged slit – threatens to open wide and devour anyone who approaches too closely. It is not perfect, but then, no work of Man ever is. My prayer is that it is good enough. It must be, for the sun has slipped below the horizon.

One last, critical step remains. To bring the Fiend to life and enable it to guard my keep this night, I must invoke the First Power of the Ancients – that discovery that first set Man apart from the rest of Creation. Where my previous labors had borne with them the risk of shedding my blood, now I must take care lest my flesh be seared.

I take the Fiend outside into the gathering gloom. I position it carefully so that it can be clearly seen from a distance. (While many Guardians do their best work unseen, the Fiend is useless unless the foe can see – and fear – its glowing eyes.) Already I hear the mobs, assaulting my neighbor's homes, demanding tribute. No more time!

Quickly I kindle the ancient flame and plunge the burning brand into the belly of the fiend, where a prepared wick awaits. The flame leaps up and threatens my fingers. No matter. The consequences of failure are far worse than a few blisters. The wick sputters, then ignites.

The Fiend springs to life, its eyes casting an eerie glow across the night, defending my domicile against the ravening hordes that even now approach my door as I sit back, safety now assured. Warily they approach to the edge of the Fiend's light, creatures of nightmare, refugees from Faerie, half-imagined horrors bearing sacks already bulging with sweet plunder. In ragged unison they raise their shrill voices.

"Trick or treat!"

Friday, October 17, 2008

Plumbing the Numbers on Obama's Tax Hike

Senator Obama told Joe the Plumber that if Joe made more than $250,000, his taxes would go up by 3%. That money would then be redistributed to folks with lower incomes in the interest of "fairness." For the moment let's leave aside the "fairness" of the government taking money from people who are willing to work longer and harder than most in order to give it to people who perhaps aren't. (Yes, I know there are folks who work their tails off and just can't seem to get a break, just as there are folks who were in the right place at the right time and stumbled into a gold mine. Set that aside for now.)

What bugs me is this: if Obama is going to raise taxes on JUST the top 5% and give the money to the poor, how far will that really go? Will it really make a difference?

Being a lazy blogger unwilling to find undisputable, authoritative data via Google and Wikipedia, I'm gonna SWAG some numbers: There are about 300 million people in the US. Given the large number of kids and retirees, let's say that 1/3 of them earn income. (It keeps the math simple.) Obama is going to raise taxes by 3% on the top 5%, those making more than $250,000 a year. That's 5% of 100 million, or five million "rich" people who get to pay more taxes. (Note that this is Obama's definition of rich, not McCain's.)

Five million business owners and successful investors will get their taxes raised by 3%. What will that cost them? Well, obviously, it depends on how much they earn. But we want to keep this simple. We know that the very, very rich - the people who earn billions - manage to shelter and hide most if not all of this income from the taxman. And let's face it, there are darned few of them. The vast majority of those five million are small and medium sized businesses who have a handful to a few dozen employees. So let's pick a number, say, $500,000 to represent the average income for this group.
Obama's going to take an extra 3% from each of them. For every hundred bucks they earn, he takes $3. For every $100,000, he takes $3,000. So (taking an average) Obama is going to collect $15,000 a year from each of five million small business owners.

What will that cost them?
$15,000 is a year's wages for a person earning $7.50 an hour.
It's half the starting salary of a college-educated professional employee.
It's the cost of an advertising campaign that keeps a several marketing professionals employed for a month, and feeds business to printers, bulk-mailing service providers, newspapers, radio and TV stations, and so on.
It's two years' depreciation on a piece of capital equipment that will help a manufacturer compete against offshore companies with lower labor costs.
It's the cost of a year of college for their kid - or themselves.
$15,000 taken out of their pocket.


What will that cost our economy?

But, but, but! Obama says. The money that the government takes will be used to Do Good! It will be redistibuted to the less-fortunate, to those who are unable (not to say unwilling) to earn those Richie-Rich (or upper-middle-class) incomes.


I'm all for a social safety net. Again, leaving aside the "fairness" of the Robin Hood mentality, HOW MUCH GOOD WILL IT DO?

Five million taxpayers involuntarily contribute $15,000 each. That's $75 billion. Seventy-five billion dollars taken out of taxpayers pockets to be redistributed. $75 billion taken out of the economy.

How far will it go? Let's say that 10% of all Americans live below the line that Obama will draw. So ten percent of 300 million, or thirty million people, will get checks drawn on the Bank of the Upper Middle Class. Thirty million people will share $75 billion (this assumes zero cost to administer the program). (75*10^9)/(30*10^6) = (75/30)*(10^(9-6)) = 2.5*10^3.

Thirty million people get $2,500 each.

What can you do with $2500?

If you are a fiscally-responsible individual, you might spend it on...
Several months' rent in an apartment.
A couple of mortgage payments.
A couple of months of child care.
A few month's worth of groceries.
A semester or two of community college.
Downpayment on a halfway-decent used car, or cash for a "beater".

These are well and good things, but will they really make a fundamental change in someone's life? Yes, it'll help in the short run. And for some this would provide enough breathing room to get their legs under them. But for most folks living on the ragged edge, it's not really a game-changer. (I know; I've been there. It astonishing how far a thousand bucks doesn't go.)

However. I really hate to say this, because I know how it's gonna come across, but...

I've known folks who tend to make poor financial decisions (and therefore will never get into the middle of the middle class, much less the top). So I know that a good percentage of that thirty million will also decide that $2500 buys:

A hi-def TV
A good dirt bike
A killer stereo and light package for the car
Several months' worth of beer and smokes
A stack of lottery tickets
A "blow-the-wad" trip to the local casino

Call me classist if you wish, but I've LIVED with folks who make these sorts of buying decisions with much smaller windfalls. Folks who let the water or gas get turned off, but they pay the cable bill and keep the beer fridge full.

Yes, you could argue that the money is going back into the economy, stimulating "trickle-up" economic activity. But if we want to plow seventy five billion dollars into the economy, who do we want making the spending decision? People who have experience handling money? Or people who don't? People who are going to use it to pimp their ride, or to grow a business and create jobs?

Does it make sense to take $15,000 from a business owner and employer and divvy it up between six other people, none of whom have his business savvy, some of whom he wouldn't hire to sweep the floor? If YOU had $2500 just laying around to invest, would you rather give it to Trailer Park Tommy, or Joe the Plumber?

I dunno about you, but I'd go with the guy with the plunger.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Online calculus

A couple of profs in the Math department here are kicking around the idea of creating an online Calculus course.

When I took calculus (shortly after Newton invented it), it was taught in a huge lecture hall. The professor spent the period with his back to the class, writing equations on the chalkboard and saying things like, "It is therefore intuitively obvious that..." (Have I ever mentioned that Calculus was one of the reasons I switched majors from engineering to education?) That's not the way it's done here. Class sizes are small, and the profs really interact with their students on the fly.

That's one of the reasons that Calculus is one of the courses that students like to take at a community college. Still, we could reach more students if we could put the course online, or perhaps in a hybrid format.

One of the profs (call him Luke) is using Adesso CyberPads in his F2F classes. Students can hand-write their homework on paper using the special pen and the electronic pad. The CyberPad creates a digital image file that the student can then sent to the instructor. This is very handy for classes that meet once a week or Monday-Wednesday. If a student has a question on Wednesday night she doesn't have to wait until Monday.

Luke has proposed that we create an online Calculus course around this tool. He's got serious questions about how to structure the instructional content, because his teaching style is extremely hands-on. We hashed thing over during lunch last week with two other professors from the department. One of them (call him Vince) was vocal in his opposition to "canned" online courses that consist of nothing more than a publisher's Blackboard cartridge. yesterday he wrote:

It may have taken me a couple weeks, but here's my opposition to on-line courses as they are currently done at LCC. There's a TV in my classroom. What do you say if instead of me lecturing in Calculus, I just put in the DVDs that come with the book and we watch them as a class? What would people say about that kind of education? In many ways, it's better than on-line, isn't it? At least the students can pause the DVD and I can explain things to them. At least the learning is "synchronous" and they can interact with each other. Plus, I'm available during office hours and via e-mail. Somehow, I don't think people would think very highly of this kind of learning environment. I'm sure students would complain, and people like Jim would lose respect for me. Could I honestly say this is in the students' best interest? Would people honestly believe that this is academic freedom? Somehow, I don't think so. So, how is on-line, especially how it's done in our department, any better than this?

Valid issues. I asked him if I could open the discussion to the wider community (that's you) and he agreed. Here was my initial response:

Vince raises some very important issues.

There is currently no central authority regarding the content, format, or quality (however that is measured) of online courses at Lakeland. The quality of an online course is up to the instructor and the department. As a result, we see a wide variety of online coruses. Some instructors create their course sites entirely from scratch, including self-produced multimedia elements such as narrated powerpoint presentations, recorded lectures, or videos. Some departments have developed standard templates for high-enrollment courses, and instructors have little leeway in the way they facilitate the course. Some instructors use a publisher's course cartridge (which can vary in quality from abysmal to outstanding), and do little other than monitor students' progress. Others extensively modify and rearrange the pre-created content, putting their own spin on it, and use the online forums to facilitate deep, reflective, substantive class discussions.

Classroom teaching shows the same range. Some instructors read out of the book or off the powerpoint slides, some just work problems with their backs to the class, others are dynamic and engaging, responding to the students.

The online environment isn't any better or any worse than the classroom. It's just a different set of affordances and constraints. The question is, is it possible to leverage the affordances (and work around the constraints) in the particular knowledge/skill domain? What do we give up, and what do we gain? What CAN we give up? What must we NOT give up?

A common reaction is, "I can't give up the ability to respond in real-time to a student's question." But let's drill down - what's *really* at issue there? The root principle is that we want to identify the moment that a student gets lost, and at that moment, bring them back on track. But it's not always necessary to repeat information or give an alternate presentation. Sometimes the student just needs a little more time to work out how you got to Point B from Point A. Can we do that online? Sure. It's just a question of how we want to do it.

So - what do you folks think?

Monday, September 29, 2008

CCK08 Connections

Well, it's about time I got off the dime and wrote something longer than 140 characters...

For the past couple of weeks I've been following along haphazardly with George and Stephen's Excellent Adventure, aka CCK08. Now, my attitude towards theories of teaching and learning mirrors that of M. David Merrill (see P. 59, #10), so I've been letting a lot of the heavy discussion pass by. But last week's notion of overlapping networks has sort of stuck. I'm a big fan of James Burke's "Connections" series, where he shows how seemingly-unrelated things are actually deeply intertwined. I like that sort of thing, even when the connections are a bit tenuous.

John Connell writes about a young man expressing himself through the medium of music and video, linking it to the notion of "postliteracy." In the comments, Jenny Luca asks whether it is just literacy, as practiced in the 21st century.

In the video John lnked, a young person is playing Pachabel's Canon on an electric guitar. I've seen the video before (as have several million other YouTube viewers), but this time the context caused some lights to go on.

John describes the video as having "low production values." I disagree. The video is very well-made for its purpose. The image is well framed. If you are a fairly-skilled guitarist wanting to learn this piece and you have the tabulature, this video gives you very useful information without attempting to be a typical "guitar instruction video." The scene is backlit so strongly that it is almost washed-out. As a result, the player appears in a golden halo of light, with few details of the room discernable. The player's identity is obscured to the point that even gender is not obvious. The hat is pulled low over his or her face, concealing his or her identity except probably to a few close friends. Instead of the typical amateurish "sitting back from turning on the camera" and "reaching forward to turn it off", there are opening and closing credits (with music!)

As an example of a YouTube video, it's *extremely* well-done. Or to put it another way, it demonstrates the "literacy" of making video for YouTube guitarists

The video is also ironic in the connections it makes - and breaks. Pachabel's Canon is a venerable piece of classical music that requires only moderate playing ability, but the modern rock arrangement in the video requires a fair amount of technical skill. In addition, the fast legato arpeggios are played with a sweep-picking technique that mimics violin bowing (many rock guitarists are fans of the great 19th-century violinist Niccolo Paganini).

Now - how many folks are geeky enough to pick up on that bit of irony? Probably not a lot. Was that connection intended by the young performer? Almost certainly not. And that brings us to the connection between Norse Sagas, the Bible, and Weezer.

You might dimly recall from some grade school literature unit that the Medieval Norse (aka Vikings) wrote these long, bloody poems called "sagas." (It would also be accurate to describe them as "bloody long" poems.) The sagas made great use of a literary device called kennings. A kenning is a metaphorical set-phrase such as "sea-steed" (sailing ship) and "swan-road" (ocean). But the kennings were not just general poetic riddles; they had very specific cultural connotations - baggage, if you will. So a kenning that refers to a shipwreck doesn't refer to just any shipwreck, but the shipwreck that tragically took the life of the young man who was fleeing his father's undeserved wrath and and and... they packed a lot of meaning and emotion, these kennings. You can think of them as a sort of cultural zip file. The listeners (sagas were originally an oral tradition) "got" the deeper references because they were literate in the context of their culture.

I'm thinking that this cultural awareness is a pretty key concept.

For example, a great deal of Western culture (and I don't mean rodeos) is based on the Bible. But a lot of folks nowadays aren't all that familiar with The Book. Case in point, the phrase "The writing's on the wall." Where does that phrase originate? The situation has gotten to the point that schools are starting to teach classes called "The Bible as Literature" in order to acquaint students with their greater cultural heritage. These students may not understand "mene" but they sure understand "meme."

So what does this all mean? Good question. I think I'm still constructing that.

Oh - for a different take on Pachabel's Canon (complete with its own set of musical memes),watch this.

This post was lovingly handcrafted in Notepad, since Blogger's crummy WYSIWYG editor doesn't work right, and doesn't put target="_blank" in its hyperlinks. And folks wonder why I don't post more often...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Salami-Scented Puppy Poots

Also posted at Dadosphere.

Ah, the fun of getting into the back-to-school routine. The packing the backbacks. The setting out of the clothes - and the shoes - and the socks - and the underwear. The making of lunches. The parental verification of said lunches to ensure they do not consist solely of Rice Krispy Treats and Little Debbie Nutty Bars.

Actually, the kids are pretty good about their lunches. Herself (the 5th grader) and Mr. Brown (the 3rd grader) got out the new half-pound package of salami and made their sandwiches (two slices of salami between two slices of bread, no condiments). They packed some fruit, filled their water bottles, and packed it all back in the fridge. As I said, good kids.

Good, but not quite perfect. They put *almost* everything back into the fridge. But something was forgotten, something left behind.

But it was not neglected for long.

I came back into the kitchen a few minutes later, and found Duke the Amazing Canine blissed -out under the table, loving licking the inside of the now-empty salami package. He was in hound-dog heaven.

I summoned Herself. The following conversation ensued:

Herself: "Duke! You're not supposed to eat the salami!"

Duke: "Buurp!"

I kid you not. It was *perfectly* timed. That dog has a future in stand-up comedy, I tell you.

That's a good thing, too. Because now, several hours later, it's quite clear that Glade *won't* be hiring him to develop new air fresheners. :-/

Friday, July 18, 2008


I really didn't intend for a month to go by with no posting. I've actually been pretty busy given that it's summer.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Word art is a cool site that creates a word cloud based on text that you give it. Here's what happens when you feed it the text of Ephesians 1, and the text of Romans:

The fish shape just sort of happened on its own.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sometimes the lights go on after lights-out

Sometimes you Just. Want. Them. To. Go. To BED!!! But you should never (Never!) pass up an opportunity to talk to your teenager. Even when you know that tomorrow AM will Not Be Fun as a result.

The Karate Kid boarded the Clue Bus tonight:

Last year he was State Champ in his martial arts division. But as he approached his teens he decided that he was bored in karate class, and didn't really want to go, and, and, and. He hasn't really focused on martial arts in about six months.

So tonight we're talking about this and that and the other thing, and I offhandedly remind him just how gifted he is in martial arts. (He really and truly is, and that's not just Daddy pride.) He gets inspired to get physical. Ignoring the fact that I've told him to go to bed already - twice - I help him stretch (his foot reaches over my head!?!)

He then heads downstairs to work off some energy on the punching bag.

Ten minuntes later he comes back upstairs, red skinned, sweating, in tears. His leg angle is All Wrong! His foot is like This and it should be like That! "I. Can't. Do. Anything!!!" he wails. That's right, kiddo. No matter how gifted you are, if you don't use it, you lose it.

I give him a cool wet washcloth for his face. Send him to bed. A few minutes later, the light is still on. He says needs to listen to some music and write down his goals for the summer.

That's cool by me.

Friday, June 06, 2008

I'm not an edupunk

"edupunk" is an idea that's been tossed around recently on Twitter and various blogs.

It seems to resonate with a lot of folks, embracing the ideas of do-it-yourself, anti-authority, share and share alike, and so on. The anti-corporate part of it resonates with Blackboard-bashers as well.

But though I share many of these values, I'm just not comfortable with the label. It carries a lot of baggage. We don't really want total anarchy in the classroom, do we? We do have goals and objectives for our students, don't we? We may rebel against giving multiple-choice tests, but we do want students to know that the Civil War happened before WW2, right? Is CBGB really a learning environment that we want to emulate, with used needles littering the vomit-stained floors? (Given, there are some students stuck in facilities not much better.) Is Sid Vicious really a better role model than Jaime Escalante?

I just can't get into punk as a model for learning. I never was a punk; I never wanted to be a punk. But what if we took some of those ideals and recast them slightly?

Yeah, that's it. I'm not an edupunk. I'm an edufolkie.

Besides, at my age it's a lot easier to grow a ponytail than a mohawk.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I wrotez another poem!

A friend at work had a baby shower not long ago. It's her second child. I found out about it at the last minute - she works in another department and word didn't filter over to me until the very last minute. I didn't have time to run out and buy her a present, so I sat down and wrote her a little poem:

You're an old hand by now
You know how it goes:
The burping, the bathing,
The playing with toes.

You've got all the gear
A new parent can use
The teether, the toys,
All in soft pastel hues.

You've been there and done that,
It's same-old, same-old.
Same song, different verse,
You're on a parenting roll

You don't need my advice
So I'll say not a peep,
But just leave you with this:
While you can, get some sleep!

Monday, May 05, 2008

On persistence in job-hunting

This seems to be the time of year when lots of folks are job-hunting, especially new graduates and educators looking for a new gig. You send out resumes and cover letters by the ream, it seems, and get enough rejection letters to wallpaper a room.

Way back in 1988 I finally escaped grad school and moved out of state with five hundred bucks cash. I lived with my sister until I was able to find a place of my own. I put my newly-minted M.Ed to good use bussing tables and washing dishes on the night shift at the local diner. (This was actually a great gig - I ate free, had the days open to job-hunt or work temp, and it was a block from my sister's apartment.)

I signed up with a temp agency and got steady if varied work doing data entry and other semi-menial office tasks. (The upside is that I worked with many different computer systems in many different companies. This gave me a real feel for the user experience in interface design, as well as exposure to a wide range of working environments.)

I also joined the local NSPI chapter to get to know local professionals. I looked for companies that were looking for instructional designers. I finally found one that seemed to be doing what I wanted to do. So I applied for a tech writer job and was turned down after the interview. I applied again or another writing job - and was turned down.

I really wanted to work for these folks - they were rising stars. An opening appeared for an instructional designer. But by this time I despaired of ever getting in with them. But a wonderful wise lady at an NSPI meeting suggested that I try one more time. About the same time I had read the Bible story of the widow and the unjust judge. The old lady essentially pestered the judge into hearing her case.

So I applied one more time, and this time I got the job!

A couple of years later I'm working on a project at about 9 at night, and my boss Larry is puttering in his office. (Larry = cross between Gene Wilder and Albert Einstein with a dash of Groucho Marx.) He calls out, "Hey, Corrie - I was clearing out my resume' file, and came across yours. Now I know why we hired you!"

"Yeah? What's that?" I asked, wondering what golden phrase on my resume' had finally opened the door.

Larry replied, "There are six copies of it in the file!"

A thing of beauty

Tweetwheel shows you a picture of your twitter connections. Here are mine:

Friday, May 02, 2008

Falsifiability and Christianity

For the past day or so, fellow twitterers "Peter Rock," Clay Burell, and I have been having a mostly-civil discussion of religion over at Pete's blog. At one point I noted:

Just produce a corpse/set of bones/ossuary/occupied grave (with good provenance, of course) that can be positively identified as belonging to a 1st-century CE itinerant rabble-rouser/rabbi/healer/preacher named Y’shua Ben Y’suf, of Nazareth (or Capernum), where the body is that of a robust man in his early thirties, and has been scourged and crucified in the Roman manner.

Clay suggested that the falsifiability argument is silly - we can't find Adam's grave, either.

But it's not silly. Not at all. You see, it's not possible to disprove any other religion. You can argue that their teachings are silly, or dangerous, or inconsistent with archaeology, but it is not possible DISPROVE them. But it IS possible to disprove Christianity. It may nt be probable, but it is possible. There've even been novels written exploring what might happen if someone discovered the body of Jesus.

Why is it such a big deal?

Because the Empty Tomb is absolutely central to Christianity. Paul wrote, "If Christ is not risen, then all our teaching is in vain, and I am the most miserable of men, for I have been spreading false hope."

But how did this belief get started? The earliest written documentation of the belief in a literal resurrection are the letters of Paul, written ~55CE. They clearly show that belief in a literal, physical resurrection was central to "The Way." The earliest copies of the first Gospel to be written, Mark, include the discovery of the empty tomb.

Jesus was not buried in some common grave in a potter's field. He was buried in a rich man's tomb, and a guard was set over it by the Romans at the specific request of the Sanhedrin. And then the tomb was empty.

So what happened?

Muslims believe that it's wasn't Jesus, but someone else who was crucified that day. There was a last-minute switch. The only evidence they cite is the Q'ran. That's the only evidence they need. Mohammed said it happened that way? Case closed.

It's been suggested that Jesus wasn't really dead, and that he revived in the cool tomb. This of course flies in the face of modern trauma medicine and what we know about the physiology of crucifixion. (Not to mention the fact that the professional executioners were so sure he was dead that they didn't bother to break his legs.)

Maybe the disciples stole the body? Interesting hypothesis. Not a shred of supporting evidence, unfortunately. First of all, the record shows that the disciples didn't understand that Jesus would rise again. They thought he was dead and gone. Second, they were unsophisticated country folks, not exactly the sort of calculating crew that could pull off a truly world-class burglary and cover-up - and do it almost literally overnight. Besides, as Watergate felon Chuck Colson notes, conspiracies *always* fall apart. The conspiracy idea also omits the fact that the disciples were devout Jews, who would NOT about to defile themselves on the first Sabbath of Passover by handling a dead body.

There's an argument that the story is derived from Mithraism, which shares some interesting similarities - a demi-god hero who goes to the underworld and returns, a ritual meal, baptism. The first problem with this idea is culture. Mithraism was a secret cult popular among Roman soldiers. The first followers of Jesus were Jews - the last people you'd find adopting practices of the Roman soldiers. The second problem is time. Jesus died in the year 30CE. Paul wrote his letters around 55-60, after spending five years or so travelling around (sometimes with Luke).

Twenty years is nowhere near enough time for the folklore of Mithras to get jumbled up with the folklore of Jesus. There are folks *today* in the hills of Kentucky who sing songs their ancestors brought over from Scotland and England, and the songs are nearly identical to the "folk songs of the British Isles" collected by F. J. Child in the late 1800s.

There are a couple of other twists to the story that I find interesting. Both speak to the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts of Easter morning.

First, no one is recorded as having witnessed the moment of the resurrection itself. This is THE most dramatic moment in human history. If you were writing fiction, wouldn't you have someone there who could later say, "I was weeping next to the body when suddenly there was a blinding light and the sound of angels singing..."? But instead, we get two women who find the tomb empty and are bewildered. Women were not considered reliable witnesses in those days. They could not even testify in court. So not only do we not have any witness to the resurrection itself, the witnesses we do have are suspect.

It may seem counterintuitive at first, but those facts strengthen the case for the Gospels being collections of eyewitness testimony. If they're fiction, they're pretty bad fiction.

When the disciples started seeing Jesus alive again, they got excited and started talking about it. Just a few weeks later at Shauvot (the Jewish harvest festival akak Pentecost) they caused a big ruckus. (See Acts 2.) The Romans and the Sanhedrin had plenty of motive to haul out the body of Jesus and shut down these fanatics. It should have been easy - if they could have located the body. :-)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It all adds up

My wife was having a conversation with The FMO (age four-and-a-half) the other day:

FMO: "Mommy, is one hundred and three the biggest number?"

Wife: "No, honey. You can add one to one hundred and three and get one hundred and four. Infinity is the biggest number."


FMO (with furrowed brow): "*How* old is Daddy?"

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The obligatory "How I use Twitter" post

"Twitter lets me subscribe to the brains of smart people who are kind enough to think in public."

That's the line I use to describe the wildy popular and addictive Web2.0/SMS/SocialNetworking phenomenon that encourages you to "Connect with your colleagues, friends and family by answering one simple question in 140 characters or less: What are you doing?"

But if you're new to Twitter, have few followers and no idea how to find folks to follow, you may not "get" the whole Twitter thing and give up on it.

A number of folks have made excellent blog posts about how to use Twitter. For example, GeekMommy's post on blocking vs. following is a keeper, and Caroline Middlebrook's Big Juicy Twitter Guide is encyclopedic.

But I'm not looking to use Twitter for marketing or as part of an internet business. It's part of my Personal Learning Network, which feeds my efforts at Viral Professional Development. So here's how I use Twitter:

I became aware of Twitter quite some time ago via several blogs I read, notably Alec Couros and Alan Levine. I'm a late adopter - I wait to try out something new until I see that folks are talking about it consistently. (Kind of a "Keep up with the Jones' - eventually" mentality.) Late last summer I finally decided that it was something I needed to get involved with. So, I looked up Alec and Alan on Twitter as soon as I set up my account and followed them.

When you follow someone, you can see all their posts, including the @username posts directed at another user. On twitter @username posts become a conversation. Quite often, the half of the conversation I see is interesting. (I follow smart people, and they follow smart people.) So I'll click on the @username link, which takes me to the tweetstream (list of posts) of that person, which includes their Twitter profile - name, link, and bio.

When someone follows me (that started happening when got to about 25 follows/followers) I get an email with a link to their tweetstream / profile page as well. I just click the link in the email and in a few seconds, I can see whether or not I want to follow that person as well.

Here's what I look for:
  • Posts with @'s - that means they're having a conversation with other people.
  • Posts with links - that means they're sharing resources
  • Posts that are interesting to read. I like witty. I don't like snarky.
  • Posts @ people I already follow
  • A profile that includes a description of what they do - I pretty much automatically follow folks in my profession (educational technology)
  • A profile that links to that person's blog or website
  • Reasonable numbers for "following" and "followers." A few hundred is manageable. More than that, they're not likely to engage in conversation.*
  • A ratio for "following" vs "followers" that's close to 1:1. Someone who's following thousands but has only a handful of followers is a broadcaster or a bot, not a person I want to be feeding data to. That gets blocked tut suite.
If I like what I see, and want to see more, I just click the Follow button. Simple - another brain subscribed to. I don't follow everyone who follows me, or who @s with someone I follow. Some folks only Tweet about their personal lives. Some are way-technical geeks whose tweets are over my head - or al about systems and tools that I don't use. Remember, I use Twitter mostly as a professional-development tool both for myself and the faculty I serve. Yes, it comes with a nice side serving of social chitchat, but I look at that as water-cooler chatter.

So, that's how I use Twitter. I hope to @you there!

*I do make a few exceptions. For example, Howard Rheingold has a gajillion followers, but he actually engages folks and his observations are of course interesting. Besides, it lets me name-drop shamelessly: "I was talking with Howard Rheingold about this last week..." :-)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Schooled Bully

This is a true story. Obviously, names have been changed. Details have been reconstructed and simplified somewhat, and some dramatic license has been taken in imagining inner dialogues. But it happened pretty much this way, as far as I can tell.

There are two boys. One we'll call Eric. The other, Kenny. Both are in 7th grade at a very good suburban middle school.

Eric has a good reputation. He's a straight-A student, active in extra-curricular activities and sports, and a popular kid. He's funny, cool, easy-going, enjoys playing the class clown and high-fiving people in the hallways. But he's just a little too busy, involved in just a few too many things. It doesn't help that he's a perfectionist. So... he has stress. Most of the time he keeps it deep down inside.

Kenny also has a reputation. He is well-known to the school administrators, but for all the wrong reasons. He undoubtedly has stress, too. But he lets it out in all the wrong ways. He is failing his classes, and proud of the fact. He enjoys vandalizing school property and picking on other kids. He is widely disliked by the other students.

Kenny decides that Eric is to be his new victim. He starts tripping Eric as they pass in the hallway each day. Eric doesn't report this to an adult - that would violate The Code. When you're 13, you're expected to solve your social problems yourself. Eric does his best to ignore Kenny. Day after day, he just picks himself up and goes on. Turns the other cheek. Restrains himself.

He's not giving Kenny much amusement.

So Kenny ups the ante. He posts obscene comments about Eric online, which Eric's friends forward to him. Eric doesn't tell an adult about this, either, despite having several caring adults in his circle who'd hear him out on any subject. When you're 13, certain subjects are on the uncomfortable teetering edge between really gross and quite interesting. The only thing you're really sure of is that you don't want to talk about them. And you sure as heck don't want some jerk you hate spouting off about you and... certain subjects.

Eric is on a slow simmer the next day. The very last person he wants anything to do with is Kenny. But there he is in the hallway, coming Eric's way. Eric grits his teeth and says nothing. And as they pass, Kenny trips Eric and saunters away, grinning.

Now, Kenny almost certainly did not know that Eric is a black belt in karate. A state champion, in fact, with a shelf-full of trophies.

Ignorance is not always bliss.

Eric's foot lands squarely between Kenny's shoulder blades and knocks him into the lockers. Kenny's a tough scrapper, though, and comes back swinging. The boys grapple as the crowd backs away. Kenny throws a haymaker punch at Eric's head and knocks him across the hall, slamming his head into a locker. But Eric takes control of his momentum as he bounces off the lockers and spins around, landing on his feet in a low crouch.

His head *hurts*, dammit, and now he's mad. Really mad.

All that stress he's been carrying is about to come out.

His landing out of the spin has wound Eric like a spring. He's poised to launch a flying roundhouse kick and plant his foot on Kenny's ear. Eric has broken boards with this kick, many times. He's knocked over the large, heavy punching bag at the dojo with this kick, many times.

Kenny weighs half of what that bag does. He's not going *into* the wall. He's going *through* the wall.

Eric is *not* thinking that he could do permanent, severe physical damage to another human being. He's not thinking of the possibility of his family being sued into permanent penury to pay for Kenny's lifetime nursing-home care. Eric's not thinking at all, really. He just knows that Kenny has been begging for a first-class ass-kicking for a very long time, and the time has come to deliver it.

Kenny *is* thinking, though - about just how wrong his earlier thinking had been. He had thought that Eric was just a short, skinny kid that he could push around. And when Eric fought back, Kenny had thought that he could stop him with his best shot. Head punch, right across the hall, face-first into the lockers. Eric *should* have crumpled to the ground. Instead, he *bounced off the wall* and came up locked and loaded.

With eyes full of flame. Kenny looks at Eric and sees his doom. A low murmur ripples through the crowd.

In that instant, a third boy jumps between the two and stops the action - a very brave move, all things considered.

After a long moment, Eric picks up his backpack and glares at the white-faced Kenny as he shoves past. Later, goes to the nurse to get an icepack, and the administration finds out about the altercation. Eric will serve a Saturday detention. Kenny is a repeat offender and will face harsher penalties.

Later that day, Kenny comes up to Eric and offers friendship. Eric's not interested, but he knows that Kenny won't be bothering him again.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A postcard from Twitter

Todd Jordan (aka Tojosan) is one of the smart people who think in public whose brains I subscribe to via Twitter.

The other day he tweeted an offer of a postcard to the first ten people who responded via DM. I couldn't DM him because he didn't also follow me, so I tweeted @him directly. (If you use Twitter, you'll understand what I just said. If you don't use Twitter, you probably think my rye toast was tinged with ergot.)

He was good enough to immediately follow me, so I DMed him my work address.

Today, I came back from somewhere on campus to find a postcard propped up on my keyboard. I'd post a scan of it, but I'm at home right now and the postcard is at work. (Lame excuse, I know.)

Here's the point, though:

Forget Soylent Green. The Internet is People!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Digital identies redux

It's bad enough that Al Upton got his class blog yanked, but now a teacher has lost his job over his online presence.

FWIW, this was the fellow from Doha, Qatar, who joined me and Clay Burell on an amazing Skype chat a few weeks ago.

It's not as if he posted pr0n or hatespeech, or that he posted anything offensive at all - according to his account, the problem was the fact that he linked his personal life to his professional life.

It's horribly ironic that recently a number of us were talking about the very same thing, and I concluded that I've pretty much given up trying to separate my "public and professional" online identity from my "private" online self. I think I even left a comment on the post that Jabiz felt obliged to take down.

How can we teach our students to be transparent, integrated, whole human beings if we are forced to compartmentalize ourselves?

Just feed them through the bunghole

Oh, for crying out loud.

Australian educator Al Upton has been ordered by the government to shut down his class blog. Apparently a parent - despite previously giving permission for their little darling to participate in an innovative, authentic learning activity with other students and teachers from around the globe - got upset that said little darling's picture was not removed faster than it was technically possible. Said clueless parent threatened legal action and contacted the Aussie Feds.

Look, I have kids, and I understand a parent's concerns. And if you read this blog you'll understand that I am hardly a libertine. But the risks to kids from online predators have been grossly overstated. And besides, these kids are in Australia! Are the little darlings really at risk from people who live on the OTHER SIDE OF THE PLANET?!?! Hull-lo?

Let's just put the kids in a barrel and feed them through the bunghole. Then they'll really be safe.

Nancy White has a typically wiser and more thoughful response over at Full Circle. I'm still a bit too cranky to be wise and thoughtful at the moment.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

I posted the following as a comment over at ReadWriteWeb in a thread about the Economist debates on whether Web technology is making our lives better.

A man universally renowned for his wisdom once said, "There is nothing new under the sun. All is vanity and chasing after wind."

Human nature has not changed since the beginnings of recorded history. Look at the Greek or Norse gods, Native American tales, Gilgamesh, the Baghvadgita, the Bible, Confucius, the Arthur cycle, the Edda, Chaucer, Shakespeare, etc., etc. You will see the very same human wants, needs, faults, and foibles as we see today.

Want to see a struggle to improve one's lot in life? See the ancient African tales of Anansi the Spider, or the Native American tales of Coyote. Noble sacrifice for a great cause? Look to the Spartans of Thermopylae, Roland at Roncesvaux, or today's Medal of Honor recipients. Soap-opera infidelity? Peek at Guinevere and Lancelot, or King David and Bathsheba.

Human needs have not changed. What *has* changed is the way we go about meeting those needs. For entertainment we download MP3s - remix our own - instead of waiting for a traveling minstrel to come through town. For news we have an RSS feed piped to our Blackberry. To communicate long-distance we use Twitter or Skype rather than couriers carrying sealed scrolls.

The ends are the same, but the means have changed. On those means, though, are industries and empires built and lost. There's not much of a market for sealing wax these days. But build a killer Facebook app, and you might make a buck.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. The more that things change, the more they stay the same.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Four Barriers? Really? - Fireside Learning

Reason # 954 why I love Twitter. BudTheTeacher did one of those irresistable "Excellent discussion." tweets, which led to this post on Nathan Lowell's blog. (Nathan is one of the Smart Folks to whose brains I subscribe.)

He seeded a class discussion by outlining four barriers to educational equity (the "digital divide") and let the students have at it. Great stuff.

Election 2008

Gen. George Patton vs Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Long Tail doesn't have to be lonely

A couple of days ago Kelly Christopherson wrote a thoughtful piece entitled, "Let’s meet them at the door." In it, he mused about what it's like being an edublogger who isn't Dave Warlick, Will Richardson, or one of the other "big names."

Diane Cordell gave the post a shout-out on Twitter. I'm a sucker for Tweets that say, "@whoever - great post!," so I clicked through.

The post was indeed teriffic. As were the comments - reflections on how this amazing new way of connecting with peers and mentors has transformed the way so many of us think about our work.

The blogosphere is often described as having a Long Tail - If you sort the readership of all the blogs, there are a few with lots and lots of readers, and lots and lots and LOTS of blogs with just a few.

The Long Tail is often depicted like this:

stretched out along a long, lonely line.

In reality, though, thanks to tools such as Twitter, the long tail becomes something like this,

intertwined with itself, overlapping and intersecting at many points.

We may be "the little folk."
But there are a lot of us, and we talk together, we do.

We do.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

We put the "fun" in dysfunctional

With Super Tuesday a few hours away (as I write this), let's look at the Presidential field as a family reunion. Imagine you're a little kid....

Aunt Hillary has that wierd laugh. She's kinda scary. And though she tries real hard to act like she loves you, you know better. Uncle Bill is great fun, and when he looks you in the eye you believe whatever he says. He makes you just a little uneasy sometimes, though. Momma tells the girls not to be alone with him.

Cousin Barak is cool. He plays volleyball and lets you win. You feel good just being around him. And he says he's gonna take you shopping for toys the next visit. Now, though, he wants to be in charge of the food. But you don't recall ever seeing him working the grill or cleaning fish with the grown-ups.

On the other hand, Grandpa John has been around forever, it seems. He's a gen-u-ine war hero, and thinks for hisself, thankYOUveryMUCH. Odd thing is, he gets along with everyone (even Aunt Hil). So long as they don't cross him, that is. Lawsy-mercy, do NOT get on his bad side!

Uncle Mitt is real smart and has a ton of money. But he sometimes seems kinda fakey, somehow. Nothing you can put your finger on. It's like he's still running for class president. But! He's like Midas, man. Whatever he touches turns to gold. Is that why so many of the other grown-ups hate him?

Pastor Mike is your uncle, but everyone calls him Pastor, except for some of the old ladies who call him Brother Mike. He's really funny sometimes.

And then there's crazy old Uncle Ron. Just don't get him started, OK?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Another lesson in customer service

There's an old saying in marketing: Make it easy for your customer to buy from you.

Over the weekend my wife wanted to buy a single song from a certain online retailer, renamed here as ""

When she went to "check out" she got a somewhat cryptic error message with an email address for customer service. We copied sent error message to the customer service address.

Here's the response we got back:
Thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding your download order. We apologize for the difficulty you've had with your purchase.

We have reset the download access and resent the link. You should now be able to log in to your Download Manager and access the music. Please review the system requirements listed in our FAQ's 13.6 and 13.16 at the following link before making your attempt:

Internet Explorer is recommended to allow receipt of the license along with download files. Please make sure that any popup blockers or firewalls are deactivated during the download process. (These may be in Internet Explorer; in your Antivirus program; in any Antispyware programs; and in any Internet/firewall programs you have.)

Here are the instructions for accessing your purchased item:

1. Go to our website ( and click on the "ACCOUNT" link toward the top right.

2. Enter your email address and password to get to the Account screen.

3. Once on the Account screen, scroll down to "My Downloads" on the lower left and click on the "Access Your Downloadable Purchases" link to get the download screen. After filling in the next password challenge, your files should be listed under the "Currently Active Purchases" section. At the bottom of that section, your downloads will be listed under the "Music" heading. Click the green DOWNLOAD button to the right of each song to start the download process.

Note: Please check the top of your browser during this process to make sure you don't get a popup warning about a download. If this should come up (it's usually a tan-color), please follow the instructions to be able to start the download. Otherwise your computer will not allow it.

Please remember to choose "Save" (as opposed to "Open" - which only gives one-time access) when presented with that option after clicking the download link. It may be best to save the music in a folder (such as 'MY MUSIC' or 'MY MEDIA'), although you can also save it onto your Desktop if that makes it easier for you to find later.

We strongly suggest using Windows Media Player to initially listen to any downloaded music files to verify that the required licenses have been properly connected to the music.

If you need any further assistance, please let us know.

If it's this hard to buy a legit copy, is it any wonder that folks download illegally?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I don't want to write this post...

...for a couple of reasons.

One, I have not watched and analyzed every video in this list. Some might argue that I therefore can't comment on any of them. (I haven't eaten every anchovy ever canned, either, but I still don't want them on my pizza.) And it's possible - perhaps likely - that somewhere in the hours of humorous, be-hatted, alarmist YouTubery linked above, my objections are answered. (Maybe some kind commentor with more patience than I will provide the link.)

Secondly, I am not a climatalogist, nor do I (ahem) play one on the internet. As far as climate change / global warming is concerned, I figure I'll do what most humans do when faced with changing conditions: adapt. Hey - it worked for the Cro-Magnons when the woolly mammoths went away. (I'd love to see a New Yorker cartoon showing a caveman with a "Stop Global Warming - Save the Mammoths" sign.)

Third, I really would prefer to do other things with my time. For example, watching videos like this (in my dreams...) or this (the boys still have it!).

Fourth, the chance of anything I write having the slightest impact relative to the hours of content churned out by Greg aka "wonderingmind42" aka "that science teacher with the hats" is pretty slim. But the subtitle of this blog IS, "We speak of things that matter, with words that must be said." As an ethologist might say, I've reached my blogging activation threshold on this topic.

So what's my beef with Greg the Hatted? Two things. One, he's misusing one of my favorite rhetorical devices, Pascal's Wager. Second, he presents a three-dimensional problem in two, ignoring a critical aspect of the debate that totally changes the risk-management equation.

First, Pascal's Wager. The whole point of the Wager as a decision-making tool (or rhetorical device) is that it presents us with a pair of linked dichotomies. Either God exists or He doesn't/ Either we believe or we don't. These are binary choices. Either-or. There is no spectrum, no range of options, no middle ground. Your daughter is either pregnant, or she is not. She is either married, or not. There's no "sorta-kinda" in a Pascal's Wager decision matrix.

But the decisions that Greg presents are both spectra, not binary choices. It's not, "Is climate change happening, or not?" It's "To what extent is it happening?" It's not, "Either we do nothing, or we do something." We're NOT doing nothing. Individuals - and big companies - are voluntarily taking steps to reduce their carbon footprints. The question is, "How far are we going to go?" More on that in a minute.

The second problem I have with Greg is that he leaves out a critical 3rd dimension of the decision matrix - to what extent can we do anything about it?

Here's Greg's argument in a nutshell (ok, a hand-coded HTML table):
 We do somethingWe do nothing
It's not realI: Economic inconvenienceII: No worries, mate!
It's realIII: Different but livableIV: End of the world
Ok, so I've oversimplified an oversimplification, but there it is:

Quadrant I: If global warming (GW) isn't real, but we try to fight it, we have some economic disruptions.

Quadrant II: If GW isn't real, and we do nothing, no problem, mon.

Quadrant III: If GW is real, and we do something, the world will be different but livable.

Quadrant IV: If GW is real and we do nothing, Game Over.

There are two problems with this analysis beyond false dichotomies already described. One, it glosses over the nature and scope of the economic impact of making a really significant impact on carbon emissions, never mind the political intricacies of getting India and China to go along. We're not talking about curbside recycling, folks. We're talking about turning out the lights and shuttering whole industries. Massive disruptions in the global economy. Millions thrown out of work.

"Different but livable?" Sure. The Middle Ages was "different but livable". The Amish have a "different but livable" lifestyle. To take it to an absurd extreme, we know that the cattle industry produces a whole LOT of methane. Should we then kill all the cows and enforce a worldwide "diet for a small planet?"

The second problem is that it assumes that we can do anything about it. Maybe we're past the tipping point. Or maybe the largest component of GW is solar activity, or it's just the natural climatic cycle, like the past several ice ages and warming periods. Maybe no matter WHAT we do, climate change is (or isn't) going to happen. So let's look at that table again:
It doesn't matter what we doWe do somethingWe do nothing
It's not realI: Economic disasterII: No worries, mate!
It's realIII: Climate catastrophe PLUS economic disasterIV: Climate catastrophe BUT we have resources to adapt
See how that changes things? The picture is much bleaker - now we have THREE chances of bad things happening.

Quad I: If GW is not real and we wreck our economy for no reason, then we've ... wrecked our economy for no reason.

Quad II: If GW is not real and we do nothing.. :-)

Quad III: GW is real, but remember, in this table there's nothing we can do about it. So we blow all our economic resources on commanding the tide to not come in. Ecological disaster plus economic disaster. Hey buddy - got a spare soylent cracker?

Quad IV: In this scenario, GW is real. Eco-catastrophe. But at least we'll have the resources to adapt, since we didn't destroy the global economy trying to forestall the inevitable.

We can relocate the coastal cities, build bio-domes, starships, whatever. But at least we'll have options.

The third dimension - does it matter what we do? - totally changes the risk-management analysis.

If we CAN make a difference, then we get one of two flavors of Doomsday. Choose your poison - economic collapse (Quad I) or ecological collapse (Quad IV). Presumably, if we CAN avoid climate change by dint of human effort, then Quad III will be simply "different but livable." (But no, you can't haz chzbrgr. We had to kill all the cows to save the planet.)

But check this out - if it turns out that it doesn't matter what we do, the climate is gonna change anyway, we get THREE flavors of Apocalypse! Economic disaster - but no climate disruptions (Quad I), ecological disaster - but economic resources to deal with it (Quad IV), or a combination of both (Quad III).

If we can have an impact, Quad III is "different but livable."

If we can't...

Instead of Amish Paradise we get Soylent Green.

Mad Max.


Or this.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

How NOT to do customer service

FWIW, I found out about this story via Twitter. What an amazing tool.

A couple of days ago I wrote about lessons learned while serving time working in the food-service industry.

Lesson #1 is, Customer Service is Job One.

A manager and trainer at a certain Steak n Shake need to learn that.

A Deaf Mom Shares Her World: Steak and Shake Denies Service
I went through the empty drive through and drove past the speaker. After waiting a few minutes at the window, I finally honked the horn and waited some more. After a second honk a few minutes later, a young man appeared.

"Hi! I didn't order back there as I can't hear," I said, pointing to my ear. "I'd like two small shakes, one vanilla and one chocolate."

"You'll have to drive around again so I can take your order through the speaker," the guy said.

"I can't hear back there, so I'll need you to take my order here," I explained.

"No, it's our policy. You'll have to just drive around and tell me your order and then I can take your order."
Believe it or not, it gets worse. Much worse. Read the whole thing.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

b-duh, b-duh, b-duh....

Call my mind officially blown. Scrape up the grey matter and reassemble, please.

Backstory: Susan Reynolds is a blogger who's battling breast cancer. She's active on Twitter. (oh, look it up!) A community of Twittering supporters has materialized over the past few months.

Somehow a TV producer got wind of the story and decided to do a story on Susan.

Tonight, someone on Twitter suggested creating an online map of folks who support Susan to show to the TV folks.It took about fifteen minutes for someone to do it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Economist debate on social networking in education

The Economist is hosting an important debate. Proposed: Social Networking technologies will bring large [positive] changes to educational methods, in and out of the classroom. (Thanks to Will Richardson for Tweeting on it.) Here's my take:

I have been an educator in one form or fashion for over three decades, with students ranging from pre-kindergarten to post-graduate. Of all the degree programs, lectures, seminars, colloquia, books, et cetera ad nauseum I have experienced / endured, the single thing that has had the most profound impact on my thinking and professional practice is informally sharing ideas with colleagues.

"Social Networking" is just another name for "Community of Practice." The question is, what is being practiced? I can use YouTube, Twitter,, etc. to fritter away the hours with ephemera (and frankly, sometimes I want to do just that!). Or I can use these tools to subscribe to the brains of some really smart people that I would otherwise never meet.

"SN" is just a tool, like a screwdriver is just a tool. You can use a screwdriver to poke holes in a wall, pry open a can, or assemble a mechanical marvel. (You can even drive a nail with it in a pinch.)

It's a set of affordances and constraints, no more, no less. Our students use these tools already. Are we going to try to make them stop using them, disregard them as useless, or will we try to open their minds to using them to learn in new ways?

The story goes that Ben Franklin was invited to witness one of the Montgolfier Brothers' balloon flights. A fellow next to him scoffed, "What use is THAT?" Franklin murmured, "Indeed. And what use is a newborn baby?"

Monday, January 14, 2008

Podcast with Clay Burell on helping students build Personal Learning Networks

“Quick In, Quick Out” Podcast: PLN Class Design Discussion with Cleveland, Maryland, NYC, Qatar, and Seoul

Wow. I happened to be on Twitter at lunchtime. I noted that minutes before, a fellow I had recently started "following" (because another of my Twitter contacts replied to him, and I liked what I saw) asked for folks to join him in a quick Skype call to talk about the class he's teaching on Personal Learning Networks. I finally installed Skype just last week in order to chat with a couple of other Twitter folk, I had a few minutes, so what the heck - I looked Clay up, added him to my (very short) contact list, and called him.

The 40-minute spontaneous conversation that ensued spanned the globe - literally. I'm no expert in Web 2.0, but via Twitter, RSS,, etc., I can subscribe to the brains of people who are. This stuff is really amazing. You gotta try it.

Sage advice?

A fellow in my network is thinking about ditching engineering and going to work in a kitchen.

I started out at Burger King in high school. I did 18 months in fast food. Fry station, counter, drive-though, finally A-line. "Hold the pickles hold the lettuce..." - That was me. I was in the Flow. In the Zone. Hard work with a good team is a helluvalot of fun. ZipZapZoop - I cannot be fazed. I OWN this line.

Until someone yells, "TRUCK!" (That's the 18-wheeler with a week's worthe of supplies.)

I earned my keep in kitchens until about a year after I got my Master's.

In college, a buddy was the Grill God of the local Mickey D's. 80 hours/week, because he *would*. One afternoon (after a morning after the "night before"), he wailed, "The eggs were SMILING at me!!!"

He had a nightmare once: He was all alone in the store. Every beeper in the place was going off - the grill, the fries, the pies, the fish... A tornado passed overhead, ripping off the roof and drenching the lobby. He has to go grab a mop. Then a school bus pulls in...

You will sweat. You will dance. You might sing. You will get cut, burned, and bruised. You may get fired for telling your boss he's violating the health code, and bask in quiet satisfaction later when the place closes. You'll get sick of the smell of teriyaki sauce. You will be able to break four eggs, using two hands, in three seconds.

You will understand the following at a deep level:

1. Customer Service is Job 1.
2. Rotate the stock.
3. Clean as you go.
4. You can get LOT done in thirty seconds.

Finally, whatever you do later in life, you will be able to will look back at your time in the kitchen and say, "I've worked harder for less money."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Recalling the previous generation

My Dad served in the US Navy during WW2. He liked to say, "I served with Nimitz... (pause) ...along with a couple million other guys." He was an Electrician's Mate, tasked with servicing the radars and radar altimiters of the new night fighters such as the F6FN Hellcat and F7F Tigercat. Most of his time in service was spent in Florida. He never saw combat. (His older brothers and in-laws saw their share, though. One was a paratrooper at Normandy and The Bulge, another lost a finger to a Howitzer breech mechanism somewhere in France, another had several ships torpedoed out from under him in the Merchant Marine.) Dad had some good stories, though. Here's one:

Dad was training new F6F pilots (excuse me - Naval Aviators) how to use their radar altimiters.

He explained how the unit shot a radio pulse (traveling at the speed of light) down to the water's surface, and measured the time until the reflected pulse was received. The altimeter automatically converted the travel time of the radio pulse into altitude above the water. (The unit had a toggle switch that would set its sensitivity to +/-50 ft or +/-500 ft. Quite a few pilots died in training until it was realized that they'd left the switch at "+/-500" while flying below 100 feet. They figured it out after fishing a few of the birds out of the drink and noticing the switch position.)

During one training session, one hotshot Naval Aviator was lounging back and clearly not paying much attention. Dad said, "Hey - you don't think this is important?" The flyboy replied, "Man, I'm cruising at three hundred miles per hour. By the time your little ray-di-oh blip bounces off the water, I'm looong gone!"

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hello, Twits!

Thanks, Sue, for flogging my lil' segment of the Long Tail to your Twitter network.

I was astonished to realize that I've passed three years here. If you're curious about the name of the blog, the first post explains it.

I'm sure there's plenty in the archives that's cringe-worthy, looking back, so I won't. (I do like last month's "Geese" post, though.)

Note - many posts (especially from '04) offer up political opinion from the right side of the aisle. You Have Been Warned. :-)

So welcome, have a look around, drop me a comment if you like.

Remember the old Toyota commercial?

Note - this post is 90% content-free. It's not exactly "ad ipso factum moribuni garlactorium ibid" Greekign, but it's close.

I've lately gotten into Twitter, big-time. (I'm rapidy approaching my first KiloTweet.) Being the shameless attention-wh.. uh, self-promoter that I am, I Tweeted the fact that I'd updated SDDC a time or two. One of my TwitFriends (Hi, Sue!) graciously added me to her feed reader, and was then good enough to let me know (via Twit DM) that the feed was broken.

Being the not-nearly-as-technically-savvy-as-some-folk-take-me-to-be lazy person that I am, I took the low road and clicked the happy "Upgrade Now!" button in the Blogger dashboard.

Fortunately, that process broke a lot less than I feared, and gave me more new options than I expected. (A very rare upgrade, I must say!)

So I posted a couple of short notes, thinking that that might demonstrate whether or not the RSS feed was now working.

Note - I have not set up an RSS feed manually. I assume that Blogger has that built in, for those who want to subscribe to Blogger blogs. As I said, I'm lazy. Or maybe I just have a user-centered mindset - the application should do the hard stuff. Yeah, that's the ticket! I'm not lazy, I'm user-centered! w00t!

But apparently, the posts I'd posted weren't long enough to validate whether the RSS feeder was doing its thing. I needed a longer post. Great. It's the beginning of the semester. I'm swamped with faculty coming to me saying, "Hi. Can I have a Blackboard site for my class?" (This is not a Bad Thing, mind you. It just takes a fair amount of time.) And I need to post a long post.

So, for the benefit of Sue and anyone else needing to see if their RSS reader can pick up a freshly-updated Blogger site, here's a long post. You asked for it, you got it. (If I was less lazy, I'd find and link to an old Toyota commercial.)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hello, Readers!

Wow. I knew that'd been promoted to Adorable Little Rodent from Flappy Bird in the TTLB Ecosystem, but I assumed that was because I'd started posting more. Until I added the FeedJit map, I had NO CLUE that I was getting traffic from anywhere.

I mean, no one hardly ever leaves a comment. hint... hint...

Saturday, January 05, 2008

So I've upgraded

A few clicks, and I've blindly accepted whatever new coding schema the Google Overlords have cooked up. I was able to add a map of visitors to the site, though, and massage the layout without hand-coding the template html.

Will this make me a better blogger in 2008? Who knows? I still have to insert br tags by hand, it seems.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Observing the next generation

So the kids got Nintendo DSs for Christmas.

The DS is a handheld game/communication device that can communicate via wireless with any other DS in range, about 100 feet. You can share games, play together, and swap notes that include drawings via "PictoChat." It has two touch-sensitive screens, the usual game-controller buttons, and a microphone and speaker. Games come on cartridges that insert into a slot in the unit. It folds closed.

A few random observations...

When the boys play together, they are running around a futuristic landscape blowing up evil robots and shooting lightning bolts at each other. Sample conversation snippets: "Over there! Get 'im!" "Hey! Why'd you shoot me?!?!"
When the girls play together, they are training puppies. Sample conversation snippets: "Here, Daisy!" "Hey - she's drinking out of my dog's water dish!"
Gender differences? What gender differences?

Four kids in the back of the van, faces illuminated by a soft blue glow. They are racing cartoon go-karts against each other. Conversation snippets: "Hey! Who threw that banana?" "I got a King Mushroom!" "Balloon! I need a balloon!"

Making use of the affordances of the platform....

To train your puppy, you stroke its nose with the stylus, then speak a command and the dog's name. "Sit, Daisy!" After a number of trials, you can just say, "Sit, Daisy" and the little pup plops proudly down on his virtual derriere. Rub his nose vigorously and you can make him sneeze a little puppy sneeze. It's waaay cute.

In another game you face a monster that looks something like a giant yellow rubber rabbit, bouncing all over the place and threatening to squash you. However fearsome it may be, it actually is a very timid creature. If you yell at it, it runs away.

At one point in one of the games, you have acquired a talisman that must be placed into a niche in a door. Problem: The talisman is on one screen. The door is on the other screen. There's no way to drag it from one to the other. Solution: Close the unit, thus pressing the screens together and transferring the talisman to the other screen. (Darned clever, if you ask me.)

Why can't our educational tools be this interesting, inventive, and engaging? Of course, the DS is an educational tool. The kids are learning to solve their own problems, to find solutions from others, to share, to communicate, to figure it out on their own. They are also learning that if you give something away you can sell more of it.

(The preteen noted that the feature that lets you share games will result in more games being sold, since you'll want your own copy so you can save your progress.)

These are all valuable lessons that will serve them well throught their lives. Pity we can't measure them with a Scantron sheet.