Thursday, December 29, 2011

When everyone has a crutch, no one is blind

I was watching a bunch of the future today and I got a bit worried. One future was an annoying, immature, loudmouth. All this at age 14. I thought to myself, "man, the world is going to eat him up and spit him out." Then I saw another piece of the future; a lazy, whining, excuse finding young person. "Wow," I thought, "in college, the student will not survive!" And on and on it went. I looked at how today's youth seems to be shaping up and I licked my lips excitedly when I thought about how the demands of "real life" will crush the immaturity and stupidity out of them.

Them I had an attack of the nice. Uncharacteristically, I started feeling all generous and whatnot and thought, "they'll all grow up and mature and turn in to perfectly reasonable and productive members of society." I even went so far as to think "we all went through that stage and we grew up and turned out just fine." Lucky for me, at that point, another bit of the future got really annoying and I was shocked back into my version of reality. I was all ready to fear the future and complain about how these punks will need to get a harsh dose of billsville and shutthehellup that adultedness has to offer. And then I realized the scarier point of view.

These miscreant youths (yes...*sigh*...I said "youths." Can we move on now?) will be judged, demanded of and contextualized by not some ideal adult who is either me or someone like me (as if...) but by those OTHER MISCREANT YOUTHS! This lout is going to be the adult administering the harsh dose of adulthood to that whiner. Neither will ever grow up. The next generation will be evaluated by the next generation! All those accommodations that we make for the kids, all the technology that they have used as crutches will become the new status quo and all the whining and weaseling which we look at with disdain will became the new way to go. As long as we lower the bar consistently, no one will ever notice how low we have sunk.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Letter to the Disaffected Youth

We get it.

You don't care.

That's your thing, right? You don't care. You sit there with, at best, your glassy eyes and distant stare and just don't give a darn about what we say and what we think you should value. Wow. How deep. Or, you smirk cynically with a sense of intellectual superiority as if you, at your tender age have developed some insight or understanding that somehow eluded all of us, the ol' folk. Adorable.

You and your aloof condescension are not very exciting to us. We see our own vapid rebellion of all those years ago and at least we have the hindsight to tell us that we were just being jerks. But we also remember that had someone told us we were being jerks, we would have shifted into "you just don't get it, man" mode and tuned him out. So we aren't going to try.

But think about it. Whom are you impressing? Your cool it there to make us see you as somehow important? It isn't working. We pity you for not seeing that caring is a valuable tool and asset. Is it to show your contemporaries how little you are controlled by the powers that be? And do you crave their approbation so much that you would affect that nonchalance to impress them? Are you really that superficial? OK, if that's what you want to find pride in. Are you trying to impress the opposite sex, thinking that what makes people fall into a deep and meaningful relationship is the reassurance that the significant other has perfected the fine art of not caring?

Maybe (to be generous) you really and sincerely just don't care and don't see why you should. You aren't acting apathetic; you really are. And you are happy with that. All those big, important things that the old people keep talking about really just don't matter to you. You haven't been deprived of anything so you don't know to fear the loss and thus value the presence of anything. Should I be advocating a famine so you respect the food you have? A war so you value peace? Torture so you appreciate health? It isn't a new idea -- the quest for intolerance so we value our group memberships, the understanding that through victimhood we can band together against an external foe and thus appreciate our unified identity. But I'm not going to push in that direction because it is a sleazy way to get you to appreciate what you have and what you are. Though I admit, I don't know of any other method of getting you to care. And why does it matter that you care? Maybe it doesn't. Maybe any group is made up of a small minority who bear the standard and who either have an innate sense of being, or who, due to unfortunate events, develop that sense, and a majority who are members nominally and who, while they fill up the ranks, do nothing but demonstrate the most latent and subtle of connections until they find a singular moment of threat and then stand up and proclaim loudly of their constant allegiance and participation.

I like to think of myself often in the former group. And to the others, I say, we see you. We aren't proud of you. We resent you. But we are simply too busy trying to prevent your victimhood to try and put a mirror in front of you.

So maybe you should want to grow up and see that things aren't always as rosy as they seem and caring might actually matter. You won't, but maybe you should. Lecture over. You didn't read this whole thing, but you might have jumped down to the end so you knew when to nod knowingly and pretend to care because it would get me off your back. I'm not fooled. I invented that. And I'm playing you, not the other way around.

Carry on.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In the Middle of the Night

There are, I assure you, many good reasons to be awake at 3:30 in the morning. During my life, I have been awak at 3:30 and (though maybe I'm only trying to convince myself) there seemed to be, when it happened, many compelling and persuasive reasons which justified it.

I think that one of the first times I was up at 3:30 was when I, as a younger man, travelled through time zones. Jet lag had me up at all hours because for me, it wasn't really 3:30 on a Wednesday morning, but 8:47 on the previous Friday, but a year later. Yeah...when I get jet lag, I get it real bad. In college, 3:30 was one of two times -- either it was the tail end of some evening of significance -- be it what my daughter calls a DMC (deep meaningful conversation), a party in a friend's dorm room or a late night trip to the 24-hour 7-11 to replenish the supply of Nerf darts and generic BBQ chips, or it was simply the middle of an all-nighter, inspired by some educational deadline which loomed in the form of a paper's being due or a test which demanded more preparation than daylight hours would afford.

During my time in and after college, I worked a bit in radio. When one first starts a career in radio, one takes the kinds of shifts that those who have "made it" need not take any more. In fact, it was the presence of those people who were up at 3:30 in the morning which reassured me when I found myself at a younger age, tossing and turning, convinced that as I awoke briefly from my sleep that I was the only one alive in the world. Upon joining the ranks of the radio folk, I became that sense of solace to others. Being up at 3:30 meant that I was keeping the world safe for the innocent man's ears, assuring him that there was music being played and commercials being run. 3:30 was smack in the middle of a shift and the deepest, darkest hour. The fewest callers, the least traffic. It wasn't quite 4AM when I had to call the morning show woman to wake her up (her name was Annalisa, and I always felt guilty). It was no longer 3AM when the last denizens of the bars made their drunken requests or the local college kids still called for some pick-me-up conversation while they contended with their own deadlines.

After college and my brief stint as a media darling, the opportunities and reasons for being awake at 3:30 dwindled. Social events as I aged, began to break up a bit earlier and my hours of shut eye became more and more vital and concentrated as I fell into the rut of real life. There was the occasional road trip (ok, it was on only 1 occasion) which required a 3:30 wake up. The unique religious ritual which demanded wakefulness in the middle of the night. But these were, as stated, few and years between.

Kids became another reason to be up. As infants, my children could not read the clock nor listen to reason. Trying to explain to a 6 month old why she should be asleep at 3:30 never quite worked and, for both girls, there were way too many nights when I was up walking, rocking or soothing a child. My wife bore the brunt of this so I can't complain. But somehow, I do anyway. Who's going to stop me? It is now 4:15 and no one in this house is up. The missus (thank you Andy have taught me the value of drunkenness, spousal abuse and calling the wife "the missus", all in Sunday comic form) is often still up at 3:30, because apparently pregnant ladies can't read clocks or listen to reason -- this explains their babies' limitations. Education begins at birth.

But now that the girls have sleeping patterns which approach "reasonable" (which means that they let me fall asleep when I want to and I wake them up when I have to) and they are not, thank God, sick often so I don't need to be consoling them in the bathroom through the night while they unburden themselves to the sewer system, 3:30 has returned to the realm of myth. It is there because logic dictates it has to be (or else how could it ever be 3:31) and I know that if I have good reason, I might see it again. But always for good reason.

Except tonight. And I guess that's what makes tonight so frustrating. I realized I was awake at 3:11. It was one of those experiences where you don't clearly remember waking up -- there was no noise or alarm, pressing need to run to the bathroom, or anxiety which prevented sleep. There was just a moment of realization that I was up, and not tired. I tried falling back asleep, knowing that the longer I stayed up, the tired-er I would eventually be during the day. Eventually I gave up. I actually considered going to the 24 hour gym, but I felt that I should not encourage the gym people. They need to learn that there is a right and a wrong time to work out. If I keep them thinking that sweating is appropriate at 3:30 in the morning, how will they ever learn?

3:30 is still that magic, deepest part of the night. My cell phone is asleep, the activity on Facebook has died down because the whole world runs on Eastern Time, even the cops driving in their cars put their sirens on vibrate. And yet, it seems that tonight, the muse has a touch of insomnia and she didn't want to be awake all alone.

It is now approaching 4:25. The early birds are getting ready for that yummy worm breakfast. It will be respectable for me to be awake in an hour and a bit, and all will be right with the world. But I will have a story -- a story of an abbreviated night's sleep. A story of regaining a lost connection with a time of day that we too often sleep through. And a story to dream of when I fall asleep in front of my class in about 12 hours.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pain? My foot.

Just to keep you all updated as to the current state of my foot, here's the summary.

Tarsal Tunnel, plantar fasciitis and heel spur syndrome. All packed within one foot. So a series of shots -- first, some in the bottom of the foot. A little pinch and then some numbness, not bad. Then into the nerve. Not too bad. Then more and the one in the nerve hit right into the nerve and, holy cow, the electric shock through the foot was daunting. A couple more rounds of each. And then a shot into the nerve which caused the ouch but didn't really resolve the pain. Now a shot into the heel which, get this, hit an extension of the inflamed nerve. So now I have intense pain throughout the foot from the nerve pain even while parts are numb from the heel shot. And a little round bandaid -- I got a little round band aid.

Next stop, foot casting for new orthodics,and nerve conduction tests. Good times...good times.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Calorie Recount

A recent post discussed the computation of calories burned and a comment by my big bruddah has inspired me to think more on the matter. He is, and has always been, a proper intellectual foil. Someday, maybe I'll make a hat out of him.

So here's where we start. Websites I found confirm that a person of approximately my size (give or take a lot...) burns about 85 calories per hour simply by sitting around and doing nothing. This presents me with two separate directions for complaint. And that's a good thing because I don't like to be limited.

First problem -- that 85 calories was burned as I was doing NOTHING. So zero effort equals 85 calories burned. If I want to burn double that, I would have to multiply my effort by 2, right? Well, two times zero is still zero. So I have to sit even more still, and try to do doubly nothing in order to burn 170 calories. To burn close to 300 calories, I would have to really be doing nothing for an hour. This is the kind of training I can handle. Let's say that, somehow, my logic is askew (though I'm not asking you), and that 85 calories is the result of some modicum of effort, be it breathing or somesuch. The jump from zero calories to 85 based on breathing and occasionally crossing and uncrossing my legs is pretty steep. Here, 85 calories = minimum effort. It seems then, that the calories burned should skyrocket if the effort expended is at all demanding, like standing up or peeling a grape. It seems bizarre that it takes extreme effort, the kind that produces sweat, for me to increase the calorie burn by any appreciable amount. It seems that the effort is not proportional to that jump from 0 to 85 accounted for by the leap from "being dead" to "breathing".

The next problem I have is in the realm of practicality. I burn 85 calories simply by sitting around, so a 2000 calorie (or so) diet should keep my weight at a stasis point. The thing is, I don't just sit around. I get up, I walk, I drive stick shift. I should be burning loads of calories when I do the kinds of daily activities -- standing and pacing, hitting the candy machine and typing furiously. Any motion I make should be reflected in a calorie burn and my daily burn amount should not be 85 times 24 hours, but 85 times 7 sleeping hours and a much higher number times my waking hours. I should be able to consume 2600 calories per day without even the hint of gaining weight. Alas, this has not proven to be so. There is some sort of metabolic conspiracy keeping me from slimming down.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

End of the year list

As the secular year winds down, I felt that I should make a list of things that I don't like. I know it would be shorter to make a list of things I like, but I'm in a particularly snarky mood right now, so I'll go with my gut.

1. styes
2. all other aches and pains with the following exceptions:
fun pains after an athletic event
the achy full feeling after 1 too many cookies
smacking the funny bone
note -- just because I laugh after other pain doesn't mean I like that pain. Laughter is an involuntary response.
3. tofu
4. pop ups
5. interruptions and intrusions in my routine, peace and silence
6. midnight blue by Lou Gramm
7. the sad combination of gaining weight and losing hair
8. telephone conversations
9. stupidity in all its forms
10. most classic literature
11. pointless stories
12. zombies
13. bad drivers
14. zombies who are bad drivers
15. sudoku and all things based on numbers including "paint by numbers"
16. secured wireless networks. I want to glom on your service not hack your My Documents
17. people who glom my wireless service
18. ignorance. If you think that that is the same as stupidity then I don't like you for both reasons.
19. people who think that I don't know that I didn't tie my shoes (cf earlier blog entry, i think). those same people think i don't realize I'm not being consistent in my (non)use of capital letters.
20. doing stuff
21. going places

That's a start off the cuff. of yeah

22. cuff links.

Friday, December 9, 2011

An Open Letter to Verizon HSI

Dear Verizon,

Thank you so much for the restoration of my internet and phone service. I know that each is actually a luxury and I, who should be simplifying my life, too often take them for granted. Your plan of making me appreciate what I have by intermittently and unpredictably taking away my various services really has made me more aware of my position of privilege in the Western world. You have reminded me of the empathy which I should have and for that I thank you.

You have also rekindled my love for my family. Long winters evenings with neither internet nor phone have led us to band together - not just in opposition to you but in sincere affection for each other. We have rediscovered the lost art of watching basic cable.

But I would like to ask one small favor while I cruise the web at a speed 20 percent slower than I'm paying for. This fix took a month to effect. It took 4 visits from technicians, a new modem when the problem was outside the house, countless hours on hold and speaking with uninformed service reps and a series of nasty emails to everyone on the "leadership" website from the CEO on down.

How about (because, remember - I went through this same thing 8 months ago and 2 years ago) you just write down whatever you finally did that has me (relatively) back up and running so that you can jump to that solution next time and I can learn life lessons from some other corporation.

Dan Rosen

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why I hate math and working out

I was never meant to be an active person. I was also never meant to think. These two things cause problems. And when I mix them together, more problems.

I have started going to the gym. By "started" I mean I have gone twice for about an hour each time. Once I used 2 machines, and once, only 1 machine. These fancy contraptions show you everything from how many seconds you have been exercising to how many calories you have burnt to your IQ and a nice recipe for a lemon souffle. I, for lack of anything else, spent much of the hour staring at the read out. Fascinating stuff. After about 45 minutes of exercise (on a level which was demanding of me...I even sweated...gross, right?) I was on track to burn about 257 calories an hour. Wow, I thought, I can eat a whole single serving of applesauce and 30 peanuts now with no guilt! Huzzah.

Then my math stupidity started creeping in. According to much of what I read, adult, human males should be on a 2000 calorie a day diet. That's from the USRDA so don't yell at me.

2,000 calories in a day. That means, I would need to work out at that relatively intense level for 8 hours in order to burn off what I eat. I know, though, that the goal is not simply to burn off everything I eat -- I'm sure I'm supposed to hold on to some of the calories, right? Can't I lose weight by, um, burning less than I eat?

My job is not an athletic one. Even if I walk around a bunch, I also stand in front of a class, or sit grading papers. There is no way that I can claim to be at the proper level of activity for any length of time -- even going to the gym for that one hour can't do much, then. How many calories could I possibly burn during the course of an average day? 500 (if I go to the gym for an hour and then just live my life the rest of the time)? So in order to lose weight, even going to the gym, I have to live on 2 empty wraps a day while I am walking briskly, constantly. Then I can close the day off with a thimbleful of orange juice.

Even if I were to ratchet up my activity and sprint everywhere so I am on track to lose 450 calories an hour -- I would need to sprint for 4 hours straight to burn off the day's food, and I would probably collapse well before that.

Why try?

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Flipped classroom

So much is in the news these days about the new model of classroom which relies on the "flipping" of instruction that I felt it meet to put in my 3 cents. I'm just that important that I get to put in an extra cent.

Flipping the classroom means establishing a pedagogical model in which the student is instructed to watch a video at home and then does the practice with the teacher in the classroom.. This decentralizes instruction from the teacher and makes the teacher more responsible for a one-on-one and individualized supervision of review and practice of skills -- as it is practice which allows for and ultimately demonstrates mastery. I would like to say that I am of a single mind about it, or at least that the system on the surface this leads to one particular conclusion and only on reflection does one reach any other. But it just so happens that I see two sides even on the surface.

First off, I chafe at the suggestion that the teacher is replaceable by a computer. Instruction is dynamic and the spot checking requires that students make eye contact, watch body language and get a sense of comfort. Can we expect that students will take of their home time to watch (and focus on) videos? What happens when a student doesn't "get it" while watching a video? Or doesn't have internet? Or doesn't really want more sitting time after the school day is over? What about non-visual learners? Where are the manipulatables which will allow tactile learners to construct meaning? So I see why this method, even when used sparingly, is problematic.

But hold on. We are holding on to a traditional model of instruction simply because it is traditional. Why do we believe that sitting in a group and hearing from a single expert and practicing in solitude is the best way to teach? In the past, we didn't have the technology to record lectures and presentations and have students engage in them on their own time. Maybe had we had the ability to let students work on their own, we would have adopted this system many years ago. Maybe a teacher supervising actual work as opposed to trying to present information to a mass gets to better learning and students need the different presentation which outside lecturers and the internet can provide.

Should we be stressing more engaging presentation initially or more effective remediation the next day? When did we decide that validity lies in face to face as long as face to face happens during the first interaction with the student and material? But how can we expect that students will truly get all the subtleties when the mode of instruction doesn't allow for asking questions?

The bottom line is that flipping a classroom is an interesting method. And sometimes, it is a really neat and innovative way for some classes to pass along some information to some students. But it is a singular approach in a pool of other approaches. Technology is a tool. And so is lecture. And so is drilling for homework. And sometimes, each of these methods really can work. Or really not work. What we need is a not a new model but a teacher who can, on any given day, choose one of a hundred different models and try it out. And if it fails, try something else. Maybe that's what bothers me about videos. If they are failing as instruction on a given night, who realizes this and what steps are taken before the kid shows up to class to do the practice work? Wouldn't this simply lead to a larger division between "abilities" in the classroom the next day (not as a matter of intellect but of being able to demonstrate based on learning independently and from video)?

And can a teacher effectively monitor the progress of widely differentiated students? Can students, in the social setting of a classroom, truly do their work without being distracted by everyone else in the room? How does a student ask for help from friends who are working on something separate?

OK, I think I have decided. I don't like it on its own, but see no problem with it as an occasional resource. Use this and all other systems wisely if at all.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I went to the gym today. The gym is a place where out of shape people can go to itemize and remind themselves which parts of their body hurt most so they can make arrangements for replacement parts well in advance.

While I was there I went on to an elliptical machine. The machine was not elliptical but I guess that had I been holding a magic marker, I would have been drawing ellipses all over while using it. Unlike a treadmill (Latin for "you could just walk outside"), when you hit "start" the machine doesn't just start moving. So you have to provide the power instead of simply trying to keep up. As that is the case, while the machine is plugged in, it isn't using electricity to create motion. When I do the exercise, I'm burning all the calories. So how come the machine isn't attached in such a way that it can convert the energy I expend into energy that can replenish the grid? Why isn't my effort defraying my membership? Can't I bank the watts I generate?

This is why I shouldn't go to the gym. Well, that and the aches.