Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ave, Staf!

Stafford sends in his contribution to my walk fund, and I now have $314.12 in the PayPal account. Wow. Thanks, man.



Thank goodness my friend Nathan wrote about yesterday's royal wedding. I wouldn't have known what to say, aside from a neutrally toned "Congrats, you two." Nathan does the pageantry more justice in his post.


in the wake of Easter

Easter has come and gone, but here's a link to some pre-Easter thoughts by Alan Watts from a few years back.


Friday, April 29, 2011

another $100

Many thanks to Bolt for his contribution to the cause! The PayPal account now stands at $290.40 (PayPal shaves off about 3%-4% of every transaction, alas); through no effort of my own, I'm closing in on the goal of $800 to file for exemption status-- the first major hurdle on my way to creating a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Humble thanks.

I should have said before that Brat, mentioned earlier, has a book out.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

graphic design 101

It's drummed into you in school: the essence of drama is conflict. If you're the person charged with designing a movie poster, you know that a certain set of powerful images can serve as an effective shorthand for conflict. One image in particular reappears often: the faces of two implacable enemies, in profile to the viewer and turned toward each other. In the West, where we read left to right, it's normal to place the protagonist on the left and the antagonist on the right, for that's how we "read" the image: we see our hero first, and then we see who he's up against. Take this poster for the final Harry Potter film:

I saw the above poster only a few minutes ago-- just the thumbnail version of it-- out of the corner of my eye when I was visiting the site. The image made me do a double-take, because it looked a hell of a lot like the poster for a 1980s-era sci-fi flick called "Enemy Mine." See here:

Drama is conflict.

Although I've enjoyed the filmmakers' version of Voldemort, I've never found his face to be sufficiently snakelike. To my mind, the best of the snakelike faces comes from a cult classic, again from the 1980s: "Conan the Barbarian." Remember the face of Thulsa Doom in mid-transformation? No? Here's a reminder:

That's one of those stand-alone faces that implies conflict without even needing to show the hero. I wonder how Doom's transformation would be handled these days, in the era of casual CGI. Would the snake talk? Hmmm.


batten down them hatches

To friends of mine in northwest Georgia: hold on tight! They're talking about tornadoes in your area.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

another $100

Many and humble thanks to friend and reader Brat for her $100 contribution to the cause! Man... I haven't even launched the speaking circuit yet, and I'm already getting donations. That's amazing.


meanwhile, over at the other blog...

Lessons Learned #5: Hotels and Motels as a Last Resort.


Ave, Aaron!

Last night, I sat and watched a fascinating presentation by Matt Ridley on "deep optimism" at Aaron McKenzie's Idiots' Collective. The Q&A that followed was equally interesting. If you've got around 90 minutes, I'd highly recommend that you watch the whole thing.

There's a lot to take away from the lecture and the Q&A, but I was merely watching, not taking notes, so I can't list everything here. All the same, I can say I was impressed by the statistics that Ridley was able to marshal in defense of his notion that things are, on the whole, improving for the human race. He covers the down-trending graphs of poverty and disease, notes the improvements being made by richer countries as they strive to implement greener policies, defends the notion that there is indeed a correlation between wealth and happiness, questions the current alarmism about climate change, and spends a long time talking about the way in which intercommunication spurs robust creativity, leaving more closed-off cultures in the dust.

I doubt that his spiel will impress the ideologically committed. Both the left and the right contend, in their own ways, that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, whereas Ridley's interpretation of the available data is that humanity's got it better now than ever before. Japan's handling of the recent disaster figures largely in this assessment: if Japan had been as technologically backward as Haiti, things could have been much worse.

It's an interesting talk. There are worse ways to spend your time. Perhaps my favorite moment is when he flips the term "progressive" on its head during the Q&A.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

contribution anonyme

Many thanks to A Reader Who Shall Remain Nameless for plunking down $100 in my PayPal account, putting me that much closer to my goal of $800 to fill out the IRS exemption status paperwork. This means a lot.

(In case anyone is wondering where I'm getting this $800 figure from, see Wikipedia here, the section titled "Obtaining Status." Strangely, the site has a PowerPoint presentation on the subject, but it's a few years out of date and shows a figure of $700-something.)


hire me for a lecture!

One of my projects this past weekend was to create an eBay ad for a lecture circuit as part of my effort to (1) raise money for my trans-American walk, and (2) raise money for GBM research. First things first, though: I need $800 just to be able to file the paperwork for the 501(c)(3) nonprofit. This situation puts the cart before the horse-- I need to raise funds before I can raise funds-- but as they say, it takes money to make money.

So: if you're in driving distance of the DC area, have $300 on hand for a lecture fee (this can be collected), and you've got the facilities for a lecture, please visit this eBay entry, read it, and consider helping me out. The first three lectures will defray the cost of the IRS procedure; after that, the money will go into the 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

This, folks, is one of the reasons why I asked my bosses at YB to give me three-day weekends. I have Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays available for just this sort of work. If I could do three lectures in a single weekend, I'd leap the IRS obstacle right away, and whatever money I make after that could go straight into that fund.



clip fingernails: once a week

clip toenails and trim/cut hair: about once every four weeks

clip nose hairs: about once every two weeks

do laundry: once a week

vacuum the floor: about once a month

lint-roller the floor: about once every week (or two weeks, if lazy)

make bed: daily

work: four times weekly, 4 to 6 hours a night

meditate: once in a blue moon

go to church: almost never these days

read part of a novel: nightly

blog: several times daily

feel elated: almost never

feel happy: daily

feel hungry: daily

feel stupid: daily

feel helpful/competent: daily

get gas for the car: at least once weekly; this gets expensive

wash the car: never-- at least, not thus far

wash dishes: daily

shower, brush teeth, shave, poop: daily

sleep: nightly

receive phone calls from people I know: only once in a while

receive emails from people I know: several times daily

ponder my future: daily-- sometimes hourly

gaze in wonder at something new: only very rarely these days

play Free Cell on my phone: two or three times weekly

check US/ROK/euro monetary exchange rates: about once a month

wear jeans: about twice a week (would be more frequent if the workplace allowed jeans)

wrestle tigers: never-- thus far

wrestle dogs: twice or three times per year

freak out cats: almost never these days

weigh myself: once a week, now that I finally have a scale

laugh: daily

write emails: daily

hug someone: not as often as I should

bow: daily, whenever I walk into work (YB is Korean-run)

sell something on eBay: twice a month if I'm on a roll

pray: never-- not for the past two decades, if we're talking about serious prayer

cry: not so much lately; quite a lot last year

appreciate life: daily


Monday, April 25, 2011

the finger pointing

Dr. V's Easter post on religion spends most of its time comparing Christianity's historico-centric soteriology to Buddhism's ahistorical soteriology, then ends on this bizarre, potentially offensive note:

Both Buddhism and Christianity are life-denying religions. But while Christianity denies this life for the sake of a higher life elsewhere and elsewhen, Buddhism denies this life for the sake of extinction. And yet there is much to learn from Buddhism and its practices. They are the two highest religions. The two lowest are the religions of spiritual materialism, Judaism and Islam, with Islam at the very bottom of the hierarchy of great religions.

Ouch. I think my Jewish readers might have something to say about that. I'm not sure whether I have any Muslim readers (I may have had one or two on my other blog), but if I do, they might have something to say as well.

Dr. V's above-linked post is one of several that deal, in part, with historicity and hermeneutical literalism (see here). I abandoned biblical literalism long, long ago, and haven't looked back. The problem for all of us is that we have no time machine and video camera with which to travel back to the ancient Galilee region to confirm (or disconfirm) any of the events described in Christian scriptures. The evidence for the very existence of Jesus is rather thin: nothing is directly traceable to the man himself-- not hair, nor a scrap of writing in his hand, nor any bones or bloodstains. With nothing tangible to bolster the case for Jesus' existence and the significance of his teachings, all that's left, really, is the believer's faith. That faith works best, in my opinion, when it's less about trying to make literal claims about the scriptures and instead focuses on the existential truths that arise from the narratives in them.

A professor of mine once said something to this effect: "A myth is a story revealing truths that can only be revealed in a story." This isn't as circular as it initially sounds. The prof's claim is that there are narrative truths-- truths that aren't articulable in language, but are nonetheless conveyed through language to be felt and internalized by the reader. Because these truths take no definite discursive shape, they have much in common with squirmy, changing, living things. They are, then, living truths. Speech in this narrative mode thus points to the unspeakable, the ineffable-- to living truths: to life.

I take the Easter story to be a finger pointing in that direction: toward new life, new beginnings, another dawn.


staring over the cliff's edge

Today is Easter, but tomorrow I start a two-week "induction" period on the Atkins Diet. While some of the recommended recipes on the Atkins website actually look quite tasty, the conspicuous absence of fruit, bread, and other carb sources is leaving me depressed before I even start. I'm simply going to remind myself: it's for two weeks. It's just for two weeks. The diet allows for the reintroduction of healthy carbs after induction in graduated steps.

Meanwhile, I found an article about a certain Anita Mills, who lost over 200 pounds following this simple formula (plus exercise), given to her by her doctor. No Atkins.

Both the Atkins Diet and the method used by Anita Mills recommend the frequent consumption of small meals throughout the day. My problem is this: I know for a fact that, if I eat before I start my 3:30PM shift at my job, I'll need to poop at some point while at work. I don't want to be that guy, i.e., the guy who poops while business is in full swing. Example of why this is bad: one day, one of my kids left the desk to go to the bathroom; when he came back, he complained about how horribly the bathroom stank. I'm pretty sure I know which coworker could have produced such a monster-sized odor. Using the spray fragrance doesn't help in such cases; the only solution is to allow enough time to pass before letting the next person in. My coworker decided to be that guy, and the result wasn't pretty.

Scientists have, in these latter years, built an impressive array of devices that function like noses and tongues to detect and interpret various tastes and odors. A small device along those lines, engineered for household purposes, could be hooked up to a signal mounted outside the bathroom, indicating whether it's "safe" to enter without worrying about a given smell. Such a device might prove useful for people with houseguests: it could signal green when odor levels have fallen to a certain minimum.

All of which makes me wonder how I'm going to approach Atkins tomorrow. I tend to eat only after I get home, and I get home around 10:30 or 11PM. This reduces my meal opportunities to about one. Eating a single huge meal at night is never a good idea: there's that whole "blood sugar spike" thing to worry about; such spikes are the royal road to diabetes. At the same time, the entire idea behind Atkins is to minimize any such spiking by avoiding carbs almost entirely for the first two weeks, then bringing back complex carbohydrates that break down slowly, thus distributing a large blood sugar spike over a longer period. Could it be that, with Atkins, I can almost cancel the sugar effect?

We'll see, come tomorrow. I seriously doubt I'll be rearranging my eating schedule, given what I know about how my guts behave, but with the radical change in carbohydrate intake, I'm hoping that, even with my awkward mealtime, I'll see some results after two weeks.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

new beginnings

For those of you who celebrate Easter, may this be a time of joyful reflection and renewed purpose. You're alive: do something with your life.


Hahna makes me hungry

Take a gander at Hahna's jjajangmyeon prep (and get a glimpse of her cute son) here.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

one mission accomplished

My car has new belts: both the AC/alternator belt and the power steering belt had to be replaced. I had imagined a horrifying sum along the lines of $170-$200 for the repair, but the total cost, parts and labor, ended up being under $90. Thank Cthulu! No more engine squeal every single time I pull out of a parking lot.

The poor car, which isn't young anymore, has been falling apart ever since I acquired it. It's got an electrical system problem: the locks behave strangely. There's the alignment problem, the engine's "metallic purr" problem (timing?), the need for new tires all around, the loose rear license plate, and who knows what else. The car still gets me where I need to go, and it deserves better than to have repairs done only occasionally, but as always, c'est une question de fric: without money, I can't get everything done at once. So I guess I have to work this from paycheck to paycheck.

Tonight, it's all about the charoset. The ingredients are sitting in my kitchen, ready for use. This ought to be fun.


Friday, April 22, 2011


A very belated happy birthday to my buddy Charles, who recently celebrated his 50th birthday in Korea with his much, much younger wife.

Along with being the scholar (and Ph.D.-to-be) who runs Liminality, Charles has appeared on this blog several times; he was even a good enough sport to play a Jesus analogue in a humorously irreverent Photoshop comic strip that I ran some years back. A sample:

Joking aside, Charles is a talented writer, a ferocious intellect, and one of my very best friends.

He's also not 50. Yet. Happy birfday, man.


the thing about not being a theist is...

Because I'm a nontheist* and not a classical theist, I don't find myself particularly concerned about questions of divine simplicity. This doesn't mean I'm not fascinated by discussions of it; divine simplicity is a topic that has appeared several times on Dr. Vallicella's blog. See here for a recent (albeit tangential) treatment of the question. The focus of the discussion in the linked post is whether "the God of philosophy" is the same as "the God of religion."

*Not the same as an atheist. I've discussed this on the blog before, I'm sure.


ingredients bought

Two major projects for Friday:

1. get my car's squeaky belt replaced

2. make charoset

I went to the store tonight and bought myself the ingredients I need to make (2) happen. I look forward to whipping up a batch of the good stuff. It won't pass muster if you're Jewish, but I guarantee it'll be dingle-damn tasty.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

a blithering irrelevancy

Tonight was a full house at YB Far, which is a bigger branch than YB Near, so I had a full complement of students this evening despite our being in the middle of spring break. YB Far is better about giving me older students (primarily because they have so many older students), but many of those students come to YB not to study for the SAT, but to ask for help with school subjects like chemistry, biology, calculus, Algebra 2, history, physics, and all sorts of other subjects I can't help them with.

This constant barrage of material outside my competence has finally driven home just how marginal my own field of study is. From the point of view of the typical American high schooler, it's hard to imagine what possible good could come of pursuing a Master's in religious studies. I often feel, as I struggle to remember something-- anything-- about factoring polynomials, that I'm little more than an appendage at YB: The Guy Who Can't Teach Much. In terms of curriculum, I'm more at home helping grade schoolers with basic math than I am dealing with algebraic matrices or balancing equations in chemistry.

While it's true that we all specialize as we get older, whether or not we follow a strictly academic path, I've only begun to realize just how specialized I've become. For the students I teach, I'm little more than a blithering irrelevancy, someone who, often as a joke, lamely mentions that he's been away from the regular core curriculum for so long that he can't help with course material that these students, even with their lack of mastery, can eat for breakfast. I'm limited to tutoring SAT verbal, middle- and high-school reading, basic math and English for grade schoolers, French on very rare occasions, and perhaps a bit of Algebra 1.

None of this is to imply that I now regret wandering off the beaten path to pursue my studies of first things, but I do feel bad that I've lost so much of the basic knowledge that most high school seniors possess: my ignorance limits my ability to help these kids. Still, I'm enjoying my job overall, and if the students think I'm incompetent, they can't be complaining too loudly about it (stayed tuned, though; for all I know, I'll be slammed with a progress report soon). I try to be up-front with the kids about the limits of my knowledge; I also admire and envy my coworkers, most of whom are able to handle a large range of school subjects with aplomb.

Not yours truly, alas. No aplomb here. Me, I spend a lot of time apologizing.


happy customer

A reader ordered my Alien Booger Mug from CafePress and just received it. She writes:



And it's GREAT!

My new favorite coffee vessel!

I was worried that it would get here broken, but the styrofoam cubes they ship the mugs in are AWESOME.

I like Cafe Press!

Now if only I could persuade 20,000 other people to do the same thing...


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

thoughts on "The Confession"

I've been watching Kiefer Sutherland's Hulu series "The Confession" with interest. The premise is fairly cliché: a hard-bitten hitman gets introspective. The cliché is torqued in new ways, though: it's not obvious that the hitman (played by Sutherland) is particularly contrite, nor that he's anything more than fascinated by the problem of human evil. The priest (played by John Hurt, who seems tailor-made for this sort of victim/prey role) wants to believe there's something about this man that can be salvaged, but he's shut down at every turn. Is this all a game? Does the hitman really care about the topic he's discussing? Will the priest be able to stop the killer from killing again, or will he end up as one victim among many?

The starkness and simplicity of the scenario actually serve to turn cliché into unpredictability. At this point, I have no clue whether the priest is going to bite the big one, whether he'll succeed at stopping this Jack Bauer analogue from committing his next murder, or whether we're in for some bizarre or gruesome twist ending.

The series isn't perfect, of course; very few webisodes really deliver on what they promise (the BSG webisodes come close, though, partly by lowering the viewer's expectations). One problem is that each episode wants to tell more story than is possible in five minutes. This creates narrative/structural difficulties, such as episodes that end in mid-flashback. Some might consider this a nifty side effect of the webisode genre, but I just find it awkward.

I'm also uncomfortable with the assassin's background story. For the most part, there's little to distinguish this guy (who's nameless, at least for now) from Jack Bauer. He's very good at what he does, and he's very, very angry. He's also articulate and can smell bullshit from a mile away-- all Bauer-like traits. Yet despite his obvious intelligence and skill, his back-story has him starting out as some sort of two-bit hood. Where'd he get his training? Would he have had time for that sort of training while working his odd jobs? This question bugs me to no end.

And since I've seen seven episodes of a projected ten, I guess I won't find out much more. We're barreling toward the climax, and it feels almost as if the story has barely begun.

I'd actually love to see this piece converted into a stage play. I think it'd be a great hit (pardon the accidental pun). For now, all I can do is enjoy the ride; it'll be interesting to see how it all ends. My bet, and it's a safe one: the priest buys it. I seriously doubt we'll get some Hollywood-style turnabout, where the priest somehow wrestles with the assassin and accidentally shoots him. The coolest scenario, for my money, would be for the priest and the killer to part ways with nothing resolved. Considering the enormous, indissoluble issues they're discussing, this would be appropriate.

Maybe there should be some sort of deus ex machina ending. Just before the hitman kills the priest, an alien bursts into the church and fries everybody. Or how about this: just before the hitman kills the priest, the priest stands up, whips around to face his killer, rips off his vestments and reveals two enormous (and incongruously young) breasts. Or a Doberman leaps out of nowhere and eats the assassin's gun, skids to a stop, sits in a rigid posture, and begins quoting from the Sermon on the Mount in the voice of James Earl Jones. Or maybe, just before our hitman pulls the trigger, the entire church flies apart, revealing itself to be an elaborate stage set onto which an enormous Mel Brooks dance number stomps, gavottes, and pirouettes. Or maybe Keanu Reeves should appear, eat the assassin's bullet (literally eat it), then poop out a lead statue which he then hands to a waiting Yoda.

All of those endings would be marvelous, but in terms of anticipated fatalities, I think "The Confession" offers only a limited number of scenarios:

1. both men live
2. both men die
3. the killer lives but the priest dies
4. the priest lives but the killer dies

Pretty stark.

In the meantime, I have to credit those other churchgoers for being so patient: at this point, seven episodes in, the priest's been in that confessional for a pretty long time.



A happy Passover to those of the Jewish persuasion! I'll be dipping my toe into that venerable tradition, as I do every year, by making a batch of my very own charoset. This year's batch is going to be a bit experimental: I have two huge bottles of powdered honey-and-ginger, something my mother had bought ages ago from some Korean store, and which has never found a good use. Since the type of charoset I make usually involves honey as a binding agent and includes a waft of ginger, I'm curious as to whether this Korean powder can actually save me a step in the charoset-making process. I'll need to add liquid, of course; the traditional method would be to use a special Passover wine, but I may reach for a less ceremonial alcohol, given the already-nontraditional nature of my charoset.


westward, hee!

Two bloggers associate Oregon with weirdness:

1. Aaron McKenzie

2. John McCrarey (link at his blog chronicles a rather unsettling event)


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

back early

I had only two classes today-- four hours of teaching instead of the usual six. Each class can have a maximum of three students for a total of nine students over six hours; today, I had one student in my first session and only two in the second. These were also some of my better-behaved students, so today was an easy day. Is this how the rest of the week will be?


this ought to be interesting

For several of the local Virginia counties, this week is spring break. I've been told that this means a lot of the students won't be coming to YB for supplemental lessons. My workload at YB Near is never that heavy to begin with, so I'll be curious to see what my day-to-day schedules are going to be like. Even more interesting will be my workload at YB Far (I'm there every Wednesday), where I normally have a full complement of students.

Not sure what to expect this week. If this were Korea, I'd expect there to be an increase in the number of students: Korean parents don't want their kids to be frittering their time away ("Enjoy vacation? Are you mad?"). But this ain't Korea, so anything goes.


Monday, April 18, 2011

on mind, brain, freedom, responsibility, and justice

Check out Peter's review of David Eagleman's Incognito at Conscious Entities. Interesting bit:

In fact Eagleman’s main purpose is to change our view of moral responsibility and legal responses to crime. He spends some time quoting examples of people who committed crimes under the influence of drugs or brain tumours, and recounts the well-known story of Phineas Gage, whose behaviour was changed for the worse when a tamping iron was accidentally fired through his brain. This last example perhaps needs to be handled with a little more care than Eagleman gives it, as there are reasons for a degree of scepticism about how changed or how bad Gage’s behaviour became. Eagleman foresees a day when neuroscience will make it impossible to hang on to the idea that free will means anything or that anyone is ultimately responsible for anything – or as [he] puts it blameworthy. I think Eagleman is giving up too quickly: without re-fighting the Free Will issue, aren’t there special faculties of planning and decision-making which conscious humans have and other creatures lack? If so, isn’t it worth appealing to them, and isn’t blame a tool for doing so?


Sunday, April 17, 2011


Two years ago, Mom presented with cognitive symptoms that led to the discovery of her brain cancer. Over at Kevin's Walk, I describe that day in franker detail than I did the first time.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

rethinking educational paradigms

I argued in a thread at Dr. Hodges's site that lecturing is the worst teaching method out there. Despite some polite disagreement from another commenter, I stand by my original contention. Perhaps the two worst things you can do as an educator are (1) lecture, and (2) give multiple-choice quizzes and tests. These are the marks of someone uninterested in the actual state of his students' progress. Lecturing may be a great way to disseminate information to many people at the same time, and it may also require a certain measure of "active listening" to be of benefit to the student (or audience member: I tend to think of lectures more as performances than as actual teaching), but in the end, it demands little of students. To my mind, it encourages passivity: mental passivity among the lazier students, who will make a show of taking notes; and a sort of emotional passivity that occurs when students realize they won't be called out to demonstrate they've been paying attention.

That said, I do think the traditional classroom-- i.e., a teacher in a room with a bunch of students-- still has a place in modern education. Other, more "forward"-thinking people, however, believe it's time to let go of the traditional model in favor of education systems that are more closely tailored to individual needs, and that often dispense with the traditional classroom format in favor of tech-heavy pedagogy that bridges long distances and allows students to explore and master topics at their own pace. I suspect that this movement is driven by the same basic impulse that makes us modern folk complain about having to attend staff meetings when an emailed memo will suffice: why force everyone together at a certain time to disseminate information that can be mass-distributed instantaneously and read at the recipient's leisure?

This article, "Gales of Creative Instruction," makes much the same point in discussing the panoply of educational options now available:

...suffice it to say that you and your iPod (or desktop) can listen to the smartest people in the world give interesting lectures on the most important topics for free, or you can pay lots of money to hear an inarticulate and resentful grad student ladle out early 1960s French intellectual fads in one of collegedom’s cavernous freshman lecture halls at a time of his, not your, convenience.

I find that I'm torn by this new vision of education's future. There are obvious advantages to a form of education unfettered by constraints like distance and the need to keep pace with one's classmates. But part of me resists the class-as-diaspora paradigm because it strips away some of the more pleasant social aspects of being together and learning, such as when students have the chance to push or inspire each other to achieve. It's easy for me to imagine a bleak scenario in which millions of students sit at home, learning joylessly at their own pace, corresponding with their teacher and classmates in a sporadic, nonlinear manner with the aid of technology. Distance learning is distant learning.

I also resist this vision of a brave new world because I feel there are many subjects that don't lend themselves easily to this sort of hyper-individualized instruction. Foreign language comes immediately to mind: no matter how "interactive" a programmed FL course may be, there's no substitute for speaking in the target language with fellow students, or receiving immediate feedback from the teacher. To date, no computer can track the shifting subtleties of human social interactions accurately enough to provide the same sort of feedback. Koreans believe they've invented a useful English-teaching robot that can replace human teachers; I seriously doubt it'll produce decent English-speakers. Moving on to other fields: can wood shop or lab sciences be taught in the super-personalized, do-it-at-home, Khan Academy style? I think not. How about theater and other performing arts? Even courses that might seem to lend themselves to this new vision of education, like history, turn out to be difficult to adapt to the new curriculum. What would a history course be, especially in its more advanced levels, without an environment of discussion in which to parse events and their meanings? How well can a student learn history from a set of videos without access to the professor's (and the classmates') on-the-spot insights?

The new paradigm also comes packaged with its own painful irony: for all its supposedly forward-thinking cachet, it still favors video lectures. I found myself thinking about TED talks recently. I admit I find them as fascinating as other people do, but it hasn't escaped my notice that these talks are almost all good old-fashioned lectures. Because they're lectures, they don't challenge me to retain them: there's no sense of immediacy or urgency that accompanies my viewing of an avant-garde thinker. I've probably watched around twenty TED talks, and would be hard-pressed to highlight five salient points from any of them.

Even Sir Ken Robinson, a man who has made a career out of insisting on massive paradigm shifts in education, delivers his messages in the antiquated form of lectures. We implicitly buy into this approach because of our predisposition toward passivity. To watch Sir Ken on YouTube or on the TED website is, essentially, to watch TV. Without a teacher there to prod your ass with a hot poker, I guarantee you won't remember much of these TED talks if I quiz you on them next month. Not even the compelling talks given by Sir Ken.

I'm also discomfited by the new paradigm because its advocates seem to think that it's time to do away with most teachers: just make a series of videos for a self-paced curriculum, and put them out for free, say the advocates. Teachers are, the argument goes, an over-unionized drag on the economy,* and as the above-quoted text contends, students are constrained to meet for class on the teacher's terms, not their own.

Oh, for a world with fewer teachers! How much more streamlined our education would be! Play the same series of videos over and over, year after year, and everything will be just fi-- what? The state of human knowledge is always changing? Good God, that means we have to update those videos, don't we? And we'll have to do it every year to reflect changes in various fields, such as law, medicine, history, biology, chemistry, physics, comparative literature, sociology, psychology, religious studies, foreign language, etc.? Heaven forfend! How will this be different from just having actual teachers instead of videos?

I'm not as much an enemy of lectures as I've made myself out to be. As I noted in that thread over at Dr. Hodges's blog, I have my own tendency to lecture (as I'm doing now, in a sense), and I do find many lectures compelling. But that doesn't mean I consider them good teaching. Actual teaching is more than lecturing: it's getting the student to participate in her own learning, to take ownership of her own future, and to stop acting as if she were a passive, empty vessel into which knowledge is poured. Lecturing doesn't demand much of students, who can do little else but sit, listen, and take notes while the lecture is going on. It's only after the lecture is over that any real engagement with the course material can take place, and to my mind, that's too late in the game. Active listeners certainly derive some small benefit from lectures, but as I mentioned above, even those astute folks would be hard-pressed to provide concrete answers were I to quiz them about a given lecture several weeks later. Without the urgency and immediacy of an interactive classroom, lectures accomplish little.

As an antiquated technique, lecture may still have some place in the classroom, but that place should be severely limited. In the meantime, the "forward"-thinking people who want to rescue the world from all those curmudgeonly, money-grubbing teachers should reconsider touting lecture as the wave of the future. Far from being a step forward, it's a big step backward. Student-centered, task-oriented activities are, in my opinion, the way to go. Real teaching doesn't just disseminate information: it promotes learning. For teachers, that means doing the tough work of checking student progress, challenging student insights, and pushing students ever forward. It means managing the classroom, allowing the students to work with each other, tolerating noise, and putting aside the desire to see a passive audience seated in neat rows. The fact that a lecture doesn't even have to be live to be considered a lecture is quite telling, don't you think?

*I actually agree with the "over-unionized" part, but if you think teachers' salaries are pulling the economy down-- because we all rake in millions, right?-- I want whatever you're smoking.


Charles goes Zen

Now done with the presentation of his dissertaton-- another step in "the beginning of the end" of the long process of getting a Ph.D. at the prestigious Seoul National University-- my buddy Charles describes how he chose to embrace the present moment:

I’ve spent so much of my life looking forward to things. That’s not to say that anticipation is wrong—but I think living in the future is. The only time I have is now, this moment. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow exists only in the abstract. And so, as I sat on that train, I decided I was going to embrace the now, for better or for worse. That moment is still fresh enough that I can remember what it felt like, and I’m glad I can still feel it as I write this.

Go read the rest.


good eats

If you ever find yourself in Fredericksburg, VA and are looking for a great place to eat, do check out La Petite Auberge, featuring Provençal-American cuisine. I just had myself an amazing grilled cheese and tomato soup lunch, with an enormous side of fries. The owner is French, as my buddy Mike-- who lives in Fredericksburg-- told me; I didn't have a chance to speak with Monsieur, but might do so the next time I'm there for a bite to eat.


Friday, April 15, 2011

not sure they've put 2 and 2 together

I've told my bosses that I'm planning a transcontinental walk that's happening later this year. I'm still not sure they realize that this means I'll be gone in a few months. I was told, earlier today, that June and July are going to be fairly slow months at YB, but that August is when it gets intense, because some kids are trying to get a preview of what they'll be studying in the fall at school.

In other news: one of my students, who's Chinese, says he wants to learn French and Korean. I'm going to ask my boss whether it'll be OK to add this to what he's currently learning. While I'd never trust myself to teach anything beyond Level 2 Korean, this guy's an absolute beginner, so I know I'd be safe teaching Level 1 to him. As well as French 1.

The week ended well, at least. It started horribly with an obstreperous student on Monday, improved a great deal on Tuesday, went bizarrely on Wednesday (returning to the mean?), and finished splendidly this Thursday evening. Overall, I generally like what I'm doing, but as I noted before, I'm very uncomfortable teaching outside my competence, and don't see how I'm helping students who need more than I can offer them. One strategy I've adopted, for those occasions where I'm ignorant about the subject I'm supposed to be teaching, is to ask the students to go back to the most basic concepts (e.g., with graphing parabolas: vertex, axis, focus, directrix), study them, and then explain those concepts to me as if they were the teachers. One student joked, "then you should be paying us." Heh. Smartass. He's never heard of student-centered learning, I guess. It still hasn't caught on in most public schools.

Yesterday (by which I mean Wednesday), I had a female student who seemed, at first, too tired to do her SAT work. This evening (i.e., Thursday), while driving home, I began to wonder whether she was hypoglycemic (look especially under "neuroglycopenic manifestations" in the linked article). She did seem irritable-- possibly indicating dysphoria-- and her reaction time after the first hour of tutoring seemed creepily slow. I remember asking her one or two questions, and there'd be a long pause of five full seconds before she rolled her eyes up to me and said "...what?" The more I thought about it tonight, the more I began to suspect hypoglycemia. I should have told her to go out and buy a soda. It was this girl whose behavior made my Wednesday so bizarre.

Anyway, it's the weekend for me. I've got those IRS forms to send off to get the 501(c)(3) ball rolling, and some personal matters to take care of.


great expectations

I had come to YB expecting to teach only SAT Verbal. Instead, I find myself teaching mostly grade schoolers, and when I have the chance to teach high schoolers, I'm often asked to help in areas I never signed up to teach: history, advanced math, chemistry, physics, biology, etc. In most cases, I have to beg off the assignment and shunt the kids to different teachers, as I did yesterday.

Perhaps I should have read the fine print more closely before signing up. I often feel I'm doing the kids a disservice whenever I'm asked to teach outside my narrow range of competence. It occurs to be that this is becoming an adapt or die type of situation: I'm either going to have to put myself through the entire high school curriculum again in order to help these kids, or I'm going to have to rethink my immediate future.

About the only time I feel useful is when teaching ESL to my lone grad student. He and I get along famously. While I get along with most of the high schoolers and grade schoolers, I've already met three or four bad eggs, and they tend to ruin my day. In almost every case, it's because they're lazy and spoiled. YB discourages parent/teacher conferences, which is too bad, because I think the spoiled kids would straighten up quickly were I to sit in a room with my boss, the parents, and the student-- everyone communicating everything at the same time, instead of A talking only to B, B talking only to C, and C talking only to A.

Part of me sympathizes with the kids, though. So many of them are already doing well in school, but because their parents demand academic perfection (which is one of the most inaccurate indicators of later success in life), they have to come to YB for extra study. Some students are at the center for four hours, even if they have only two hours of class.

I had certain expectations coming into YB. The parents of these kids have certain expectations of their children, and of the center's ability to churn out Ivy League enrollees. Even after a month here, I still feel woefully behind the curve, and way in over my head.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Civil War musings from my blogroll

Yesterday marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War.

Mike's take.

Dr. Vallicella's take, found at the beginning of this post.

Elisson's take.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011


My head's too fuzzy to blog much right now; Monday was a stressful day, and even though Tuesday was a huge improvement, I'm still smarting from Monday. At some point, I'd like to write about Kiefer Sutherland's Hulu series "The Confession," but tonight's not the night.

Stay tuned.


inspiring words

Be hard on yourself. Although I admit I have no idea why this has to be linked specifically with conservatism. Perhaps Dr. V is leaving it open as to whether non-conservatives ought to cleave to the same ideal.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

bad start to the week

Yet another spoiled brat to deal with this Monday; luckily, it was only for two hours, but the session left me with a headache and a desire to sit ch'am-seon. Might do that before hitting the sack, actually. Grrrr.


the human adventure is just beginning

Nathan writes a fascinating and heartfelt post about a recent visit to a Buddhist temple in Coquitlam, BC. (A Japanese temple with a Korean-made bell! A bell that has English on it!)

Charles lets the world know he's passed the first major hurdle of many as he edges ever closer to obtaining his Ph.D.


Monday, April 11, 2011

very moving

My day of moving went pretty well. The objects that needed moving proved to be more bulky than actually heavy.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

take two

Today, I'll be trying, once again, to help my brother David move furniture from his boss's apartment in DC to David's house in Alexandria. It's my understanding that David's boss will be treating us to lunch. I have no idea how that's going to work out, especially if I'm sweaty from the move. I hope my brother's boss is more into Five Guys than Jaleo.


a very nice visit

I had the pleasure of hanging with my buddy Mike, his eldest daughter (my goddaughter), and his son. We did a bit of driving, ate at a decent restaurant in town, did some painting at my place (Mike's son did, anyway), played some games, and just basked in each other's company. A good time was had by all.


Saturday, April 09, 2011

leaning more heavily toward the ADT

The more I think about it, the more I think the American Discovery Trail is the way to go, despite the winter-related hazards. Ultimately, those hazards come down to blizzards, and the worst that would happen is that I'd have to hunker down for an indefinite period.

The southerly route that I had initially thought about walking would be more problematic, in my opinion: first, I'd have to plan the route; next, I'd have to worry about all the road hazards, just as I did while out west in 2008, when I was constantly worried about being smashed by a semi. There's also the fact that I'd need more people to help me along that route: chase cars, runners for food, water, and other supplies, etc. Finally, the cauldron of the Southwest's desert climate would represent a real danger.

The ADT, meanwhile, is both pedestrian-friendly and bike-able, which means it ought to be fairly smooth going (unless "bike-able" means mountain bikes).

As much as I would have liked to swing south and meet some of the folks I know in places like Georgia and Texas, I don't think that's going to happen. If I routinely tweet my location along the ADT, though, they might be able to come up and meet me.


les cloques

My post on blisters over at Kevin's Walk.


Friday, April 08, 2011


My new favorite demotivational poster-- found! Ha ha!


a better week thus far

The kiddies have been better this week, which is good. I think, however, that I may have bothered some of my coworkers with my loudness: I was in a back room with my final student of the night, doing TOEFL work, but because the walls at YB Far are paper-thin, the other tutors could hear everything I was saying, even picking up on the fact that I was talking about Cuban cigars, Cuban communism, and American trade and travel policy. Yikes. I need to apologize to my colleagues today. They were good-natured about how easily they could overhear me, but I don't want to be the guy who disturbs the peace.


Thursday, April 07, 2011

really paid up

I've noticed that cell phone and Internet service providers tend to bill you by slapping up an amount that combines the current and the next billing cycle, making your bill look twice as large as it really is. As a psychological strategy, this strikes me as exceedingly stupid, but this month, I'm actually glad that that's how I've been billed. You see, when I paid off all my outstanding bills late last month, I was paying not only my March bills but also my April bills, well before their due dates; now, the only bills remaining to me are a student loan and a small fraction of an electric bill (I deliberately overpaid for the previous billing cycle). No other bills for the month. April is done. And that's a good feeling.


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

teens as resource

I've been toying with an idea for the past two weeks, and am thinking I might want to move ahead with it this month: I want to get some of my high school students involved in my walk project. This isn't going to be easy; I teach, at most, nine people per day, and most of them aren't high schoolers. In nearly four weeks on the job, I've tutored perhaps five or six high schoolers, most of whom attend the YB Far branch, not YB Near. Since last week, my time at YB Far has been reduced to only one day per week; the rest of my time is spent at YB Near, where I tutor perhaps one or two high schoolers per week. I'm thinking of creating fliers and asking my fellow tutors to distribute them to their HS students, especially the juniors and seniors. My colleagues may find this rather presumptuous of me.

Ideally, I would like to gather up six or eight interested students, and we could start route planning and figure out other logistics. Right now, I'm caught between taking a southerly route or shooting straight across the country via the American Discovery Trail; the ADT's main disadvantages are that it heads right through tornado country and would be, in some parts, impassible during the winter. On the other hand, the trail is maintained, from state to state, by societies devoted to it, so the information about the trail and its quirks is plentiful. That would make planning easier for my HS students.

I'd actually rather get the 501(c)(3) set up before I involve the teens; I'd like their help in coming up with fundraising ideas, too, and that can't happen until I've got a nonprofit that can receive funds.

Teens as resource. Would these kids even be interested?


on water



Monday, April 04, 2011

...and here we go again

What will this be, now, my fourth week at the new job? While I still feel I have a lot to learn, I think I've improved radically when it comes to planning and organizing my classes. Last week had a few ups and downs thanks to my students, who tend to be grade schoolers. One of them cried, but most of them were just fine. I had no work on Wednesday (YB Far had cancelled on me), but had a nearly-full schedule at YB Near. I hope this week proves to be a bit better in terms of student behavior and hours worked.

Am currently churning out a post about the importance of water over at the Kevin's Walk blog. Might finish that tonight, after I'm back from the job.


don't get excited

Earlier today, I read an article that breathlessly talks about how archaeologists may have found the first-ever image of Jesus.

The image is eerily familiar: a bearded young man with flowing curly hair. After lying for nearly 2,000 years hidden in a cave in the Holy Land, the fine detail is difficult to determine. But in a certain light it is not difficult to interpret the marks around the figure’s brow as a crown of thorns.

The extraordinary picture of one of the recently discovered hoard of up to 70 lead codices – booklets – found in a cave in the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee is one reason Bible historians are clamouring to get their hands on the ancient artefacts.

If genuine, this could be the first-ever portrait of Jesus Christ, possibly even created in the lifetime of those who knew him.

Not so fast. We've been through this nuttiness before, as the article itself notes:

Most professional scholars are cautious pending further research and point to the ongoing forgery trial in Israel over the ancient limestone ossuary purporting to have housed the bones of James, brother of Jesus.

While the discovery of these codices may be exciting on one level, I'd say that caution and skepticism are warranted. There's a ton of research to be done, and while the dust may eventually settle, the academic and religious controversies won't. Because these relics may have strong religious resonances, you can expect plenty of crackpot theories to arise.

What I found funny was the fact that these codices have been around for a while, right under everyone's noses:

The books are currently in the possession of Hassan Saida, in Umm al-Ghanim, Shibli, which is at the foot of Mount Tabor, 18 miles west of the Sea of Galilee.

Saida owns and operates a haulage business consisting of at least nine large flatbed lorries. He is regarded in his village as a wealthy man. His grandfather settled there more than 50 years ago and his mother and four brothers still live there.

Saida, who is in his mid-30s and married with five or six children, claims he inherited the booklets from his grandfather.

However, The Mail on Sunday has learned of claims that they first came to light five years ago when his Bedouin business partner met a villager in Jordan who said he had some ancient artefacts to sell.

The business partner was apparently shown two very small metal books. He brought them back over the border to Israel and Saida became entranced by them, coming to believe they had magical properties and that it was his fate to collect as many as he could.

The arid, mountainous area where they were found is both militarily sensitive and agriculturally poor. The local people have for generations supplemented their income by hoarding and selling archeological artefacts found in caves.

More of the booklets were clandestinely smuggled across the border by drivers working for Saida – the smaller ones were typically worn openly as charms hanging from chains around the drivers’ necks, the larger concealed behind car and lorry dashboards.
[italics added]



Sunday, April 03, 2011

hired muscle

Today, I'm helping my brother David move some furniture. His boss G, who lives in DC, has a few pieces at his apartment; David has either bought or been given them, and today's the day he's going to collect them from G. In a few minutes, I'll be driving over to David's house in Alexandria, then we're heading into DC together after we rent a moving van. We'll put the pieces in the van around lunchtime, do lunch, and then unload the van at David's house this evening. The reason for the delay is that David's boss had invited us to watch a baseball game. I politely declined this offer (I don't know G and don't normally like watching baseball, except in very special circumstances*), but I told David that I'd be happy to hang in DC so that we could meet up and finish the job later today or tonight.

My plan, instead of watching baseball this afternoon/evening, will be to chill on Georgetown University's campus for a few hours until I get a call/text from David to meet up and drive back to Virginia. That way, I can visit my alma mater, do a bit of people-watching, get some paperwork done while sitting in Lauinger Library, do a bit more blogging at the Kevin's Walk blog, and basically have a productive day. Laundry at David's place later tonight will cap off the weekend and save me a few bucks.

UPDATE: Looks as if this won't be happening today. Ah, well.

*Back when my mother was suffering from her cancer, my buddy Mike and his family invited me to come along to watch the Nationals. They won that day, which was eminently cool, and I had fun being with my buddy, his wife, and their kids. That's about the only circumstance in which I might enjoy a baseball game, really.


why I like "Archer"

I missed most of the first season of the cartoon spy comedy "Archer," but have watched every single episode of Season 2 on Hulu. Along with the Cold War jokes and the constant barrage of sex humor ("My vulva is so shaved!"), I'm a fan of the quieter touches-- visual clues that the artists drop to show that their sense of humor is more subtle than it may seem. Case in point:

If you read Chinese, you can see why this might be funny, especially in the context of the story. (I don't really read Chinese, but I do recognize those two characters.) The two lovely ladies are ninja/slut assassins who work for a British bad guy intent on stealing ISIS's secret files (ISIS is the agency for which our protags work; read about "Archer" here). In the scene pictured above, Sterling Archer, our hero, has just burst into the evil Brit's lair and wants to take back the data stolen from ISIS, which is housed in the machine currently guarded by the ninja/sluts. The women never speak, but they're reminiscent of Mr. Han's daughters in "Enter the Dragon": highly trained, highly disciplined assassins, skilled in both the deadly and the sensual arts. Is it any surprise that such women would have the characters for "love" (left) and "pain" (right) on their wall?

"Archer" is hilarious, funnier than most live-action comedies. In twenty short minutes, the writers manage to cram in a great deal of pungent imagery, bad language, and memorable one-liners. The animators, meanwhile, have no shame in exploiting every angle of the female form (which makes us guys happy), and the voice work by the stars (Archer's on-again, off-again love interest, Lana Kane, is voiced by one of my favorite comic talents, Aisha Tyler; see here, too) makes for great TV.

NB: Since I watch "Archer" on Hulu, I'm a few weeks behind the rest of the world.

ADDENDUM: For more on Aisha Tyler, see her back in her "Talk Soup" days here, and watch part of an old stand-up routine here.


the squeaky belt

Today's mission-- which was actually supposed to be yesterday's mission-- is to get my poor car's belts checked. The squealing that occurs when I start the car up has begun to sound more and more like an opera singer being slowly crushed by a steamroller, and it's been this way for nearly a month. All the online literature says that, when the squealing starts, you should get your belt checked (and replaced, if necessary) right away. My problem, of course, is that I've spent the past thirty days with almost no money, and only recently reestablished a respectable cash flow.

I'm going to visit the dudes who did my oil change (for free, thanks to a coupon) to see what the cost might be for a belt replacement. If it's $100 or under, I'll be asking them to do the dirty deed and fix whatever belts need fixing. If it's over $100, I'll have to wait until the next pay day before I can do anything. Wish me luck.

UPDATE: Saturday backlog. I'll be trying the car dudes again this coming week.


Saturday, April 02, 2011

Photobucket and Picasa: totalitarian state and evil empire

I generally upload photos to Photobucket, which is my default FTP site. I have an account that allows me unlimited storage, for which I pay a medium-sized fee every two years (I've been on Photobucket since about 2004 or 2005). Unfortunately, the vile, scum-sucking henchmen who uphold the Photobucket Terms of Service don't look kindly on some of the visual content I upload to their site.

Today, for example, I saw that my Doctor Octopus photo (see below) had been blocked, and that the dreaded "This image violates our terms of service" icon was in its place. When that happens, I normally do an end run by re-uploading the photo to my Picasa FTP space, so that's what I did for Doc Ock. Picasa is owned by Google, and Google lost its morals right around the time it decided to collude with China in reinforcing the Great Firewall, so I know that Google will tolerate my naughtiness the way a bad uncle tolerates his nephew's drug habits. Unfortunately, Picasa's storage space is limited, so I don't do this sort of thing unless I have to. (People tell me that all I need to do to get more free storage space is to create more Gmail accounts. That's true, but it's a royal pain in the ass.)

So both Photobucket and Google/Picasa are evil, each in its own way. Photobucket is the repressive nanny state, looking out for our best interests because it assumes we aren't smart enough to do so for ourselves. Google, meanwhile, preaches "don't be evil" while rationing bandwidth and helping foreign governments fuck their own people over. Take your pick; you get reamed either way. I'm sure George Carlin had something to say about this...


Friday, April 01, 2011

cinematically speaking


stay thou tunèd

Soon to appear on Kevin's Walk: a discussion of how to establish a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and more reflections on lessons learned from my previous walk. Among the upcoming topics in the "lessons learned" series:

1. the importance of water (what works and doesn't work for filtration/sterilization, etc.)
2. hotels/motels only as a last resort
3. clothing (and the whole notion of traveling light)
4. tents versus bivy sacks (and how not to lose your damn tent)
5. traffic, narrow road shoulders, and me
6. weight, conditioning, and knees
7. shoes, blisters, and weather
8. food, drink, peeing, and pooping while on the road
9. protection from the sun, wind, rain, and cold
10. whether REI is just for elites/snobs with money