4/28/2004

Cleaning off the gunkware

Filed under: — Joe @ 10:00 pm

One of my wife’s colleagues had a computer problem…well, a problem with popups, popunders, and popallarounds, so prevalent, and so disgusting, that it was impossible to use the internet.

So my wife volunteered my services to get it “fixed.”

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I have never seen such a huge collection of adware, spyware, highjackers, toolbars, search assistants, nasty dialers, and general gunkware on one machine. This colleague, it turns out, has two teenage sons…and you can just guess what kind of websites they’ve been looking at!

Now I don’t mind that, I was a teenage boy once myself, and although I didn’t have the internet, I surely took every chance available to have a look at what girls with no clothes on might look like. After all, I hoped to see one for real someday!

But, while “boys will be boys,” and so forth, didn’t anyone ever teach these boys not to just click “OK” to every little popup that appeared on the screen?

The very first ad-aware scan found over 700 items. Then Spybot S & D found another 450! Then there were about 27 more which could not be deleted by either program.

I had to boot into safe-mode and do some very tedious hand-deleting to get them all out. The toughest was a nasty little critter called “sysupd.exe.” That monster simply did not want to be deleted.

But (I think) I finally got rid of all of them, and now the internet is again usable on that machine….but it won’t be long until those boys have it loaded up again!

Somebody needs to teach teenagers…not only do you need a condom if you have real sex–you need the cyber-equivalent if you’re going to have screen sex!

4/27/2004

The Speech Accent Archive

Filed under: — Joe @ 5:44 pm

I’ve been fond of George Mason University’s Speech Accent Archive for a long time, just as a fun and interesting time-waster. It’s a huge collection (336 samples) of people repeating the same sentence in English–with the samples categorized by the speakers’ places of origin. It’s fun to listen to the Brooklyn accents, and (for me) San Diego accents, too. It’s really a resource for linguists and linguistics classes, but quite interesting even as an introduction to the subject.

But this semester I finally had the idea to let students have a look at it, after they had read Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat” (written in dialect).

They couldn’t get enough of it! Every student wanted to hear the accent which more nearly reflected her own origin, and they wanted see if they could tell the difference between, for example, Japanese from Kyoto and Japanese from Tokyo. I thought we’d just take a quick look and gone, but we ended up spending over an hour.

The discussion then moved to classifying some of our own accents (the students could immediately identify the Bronx accent, and could tell just as quickly that I’m not a native New Yorker, even though I’ve lived here 20 years). We were able to discuss the influence of race and class on accent, as well as education, mood, and (of course) audience.

If I had thought ahead more, it could have turned into a great assignment, or even a unit, instead of just a one-shot enrichment. But I often end up finding my best teaching moments by accident. I’ll take ’em however I can get ’em!

4/26/2004

“The Lord said, to Noah…”

Filed under: — Joe @ 5:54 pm

Yahoo! News – Expedition Will Seek to Find Noah’s Ark. This is one for (you’ll pardon the expression) The Book!

A team of “explorers” (maybe better called “nitwits”) will be climbing Mount Ararat, hoping to find Noah’s Ark.

Geologists say even though there is evidence of a flood in Mesopotamia in Sumerian times, it is not possible for a ship to make landfall at an altitude as high as Mount Ararat.

One wonders what the “explorers” will say when they find that it’s not a boat of any kind…and wonders even more if they’ll come down “by twosies, twosies.”

Accepted to Merlot!

Filed under: — Joe @ 2:49 pm

Just heard that my proposal for a session at the 2004 MERLOT International Conference (“Online Resources: Sharing the Future”) has been accepted!

confbanner.gifI’ll be in Costa Mesa, in August, and get to share some of the work on Digital Poetry Projects. Merlot (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching–no wine jokes, please!) is a resource that works better in the conception than the reality, so far, but there are some very good people involved.

The proposals went through “rigorous peer review” and less than 60% were accepted. I’m looking forward to seeing the full conference program–and making my airline and hotel reservations!

4/25/2004

The Geek Hierarchy

Filed under: — Joe @ 3:35 pm

Cory Doctorow has an interesting piece about the Spanish translation of his (excellent) talk, “Ebooks: Neither E nor Books.” That led me to read the talk (which I liked very much, and will read again), and then to this great chart (funny) of the “geek hierarchy.” It’s a wonderful idea–and rings all too true. It seems the original credit for the chart should go to The Brunching Shuttlecocks (although they’ve “moved on”).

4/24/2004

Faulkner on the past

Filed under: — Joe @ 8:14 pm

A great quote, passed on to me by one of my students:

The past is never dead. It’s not even the past.

Blockquotes

Filed under: — Joe @ 11:59 am

Working more on my blockquotes, I found that Adrian Holovaty had developed a method to dynamically label blockquotes with css.

But it wasn’t quite good enough…

Then I found an even better method, using JavaScript, invented by Dunstan Orchard, and also implemented differently by Simon Willison and Paul Hammond.

I fiddled with it some more, rewrote slightly, and then used css to format the source line the way I liked it.

So now I think I’ve got it working. If I just include the cite element in the blockquote tag, the javascript should automatically grab it out, and make it a link at the end of the blockquote, if it’s a website, or just a text reference to the source if it’s not.

So let’s see if it works. Here’s a blockquote from a website:

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has filed freedom-of-information requests with education officials in Ohio and Montana to obtain detailed information about recent decisions to water down the teaching of evolution.

In Ohio, the church-state watchdog group is investigating the Department of Education’s approval of a lesson plan titled “A Critical Analysis of Evolution.” In an April 6 letter, Americans United asked Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Tave Zelman to provide copies of “all documents referring to or relating to” the development of the lesson plan.

AU attorneys have made a similar information request in Darby, Mont., where the school board recently voted to require science teachers to “assess evidence for and against” evolution.

Religious Right groups have launched a national crusade to weaken instruction about evolution in public schools because it conflicts with their interpretation of the Bible. The federal courts have barred the teaching of creationism in science classes, so these organizations are now urging educators to teach “intelligent design” and to offer evidence “for and against” evolution.

“If officials are changing the public school curriculum to conform to religious dogma, that’s clearly unconstitutional,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Sound science education must not be sacrificed on the altar of religious zealotry.”

Or here’s one from a book:

The crowd had pushed to the west end of the platform as the ship swarmed up the mountain. Harriman had stayed where he was, nor had Dixon and Strong followed the crowd. The three were alone, Harriman most alone for he did not seem aware that the others were near him. He was watching the sky.
Strong was watching him. Presently Strong barely whispered to Dixon, “Do you read the Bible?”
“Some.”
“He looks as Moses must have looked, when he gazed out over the promised land.”
Harriman dropped his eyes from the sky and saw them. “You guys still here?” he said. “Come on-there’s work to be done.”

4/23/2004

Excellent Sportswriting

Filed under: — Joe @ 1:25 pm

SI.com – Magazine – SI Flashback: Tillman’s intensity made him the heart of Arizona State’s defense – Friday April 23, 2004 12:04PM.
I’d never heard of this fellow, but this is a great profile, well-written and inspiring–even though there are large parts of it which I can’t understand at all. Football, it seems, is a different language.

What makes it even more poignant is that Pat Tillman (the player profiled) was killed in Afghanistan this week.

4/22/2004

The Page 23 Game

Filed under: — Joe @ 7:09 am

I’ll give the strange meme a try:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

The nearest book at this moment is Axelrod and Emmens’ Exotic Marine Fishes.

A broad shallow tank is best as it gives the greatest area for the exchange of gases at the surface of the water, but such a tank is not very nice to look at.

4/21/2004

Shipping out

Filed under: — Joe @ 7:21 pm

Last week in one of my classes we read Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” (Highly recommended, if you haven’t read it). One of my best students had nothing to say. About halfway through the class I noticed her downcast eyes, and tightly gripped pen…but an empty page of no notes.

So I called on her. “Did you not like this story?”

She told me she hated it. It was too true. She is in the army, and will be heading for Iraq. She doesn’t know when, but it will be soon, and she has a young child, and she’ll be staying (at least) a year.

She really didn’t have much to say in the rest of the discussion, but she opened up a bit. She talked about how it is to be a soldier in the field, the unpredictability of combat. She also talked about her disgust for the purposelessness of this war (“for oil,” she said).

But she’ll be going, and I hope she’ll be coming back. She’s a smart, funny, tough, perceptive woman. It’s been bothering me ever since that day to think of her going, and maybe (G-d forbid) not coming back, into that mess…for no good reason.

We need her here. Her son needs her, her family needs her, and this country needs her.

When I saw her again in class today, I told her I had been feeling bad about having asked her to read that story, and I hoped she wasn’t upset. “It was bad,” she said. “But it was good.”

4/19/2004

Beyond Brown v. Board

Filed under: — Joe @ 7:44 pm

Mari Matsuda has a terrific short essay in this week’s issue of The Nation.

She’s exactly correct about the problem of far too many liberals (not to mention conservatives–we don’t expect any better from them), who don’t send their kids to their neighborhood schools because they imagine the schools are “bad.” (Which usually means “black.”)

We marched for civil rights, linked arms to stop eviction, sang “We Shall Not Be Moved” with tear-stained conviction and then walked quietly away from public schools. In the beginning it was called white flight, but the friend who writes to me is not white, and neither are the peers he is talking about. In my DC neighborhood, black parents as well as white choose against the local school.

She’s right that it’s not even just white flight anymore, because it’s some black parents, too. Class certainly plays a role, but the core of the problem, usually, is racism, whether internalized or not. And it’s based (as racism so often is) on ignorance.

Here is what you don’t see if you are not inside that school: heroic teachers and real learning occurring alongside unconscionable neglect of human needs. Because I see many strengths still intact, my children remain in neighborhood schools. I deploy privilege from my back pocket to help make those schools work and, I confess, to retain the exit option if it comes to that. A plea to my peers: Before you pull out, make sure it is as bad as you are imagining it is, and do the impossible. Cleanse your imagination of racism.

She also makes the point that the schools suffer, that the flight or the avoidance of the privileged (white or not), means that the political power and resources fly away, too, making bad situations worse.

But it’s the kids of those flying-away white (or not) parents, too, who suffer. They absorb (don’t think they don’t!) their parents’ ideology that there’s something dangerous, or at least undesirable, about the schools which their parents (with their mouths, but not their feet) claim to support and care about.

Third Grade Citywides

Filed under: — Joe @ 3:51 pm

How much stress can an 8-year-old stand? I spent this morning listening to stories of third graders vomiting, crying, sleepless, completely stressed about these dreaded citywide exams.

Parents are paying thousands of dollars to tutors, kids are worried sick, and why? No good reason at all.

I might be singing a different tune if my own child were really in danger of failing, but I do feel confident that the exam tests third grade work, third grade learning, and if these kids are in third grade, they’ll be able to handle the exam.

I heard about one teacher who’s been telling her students “this test is harder than any of the work I’ve given you! You’re going to have to do better work than you’ve ever done before!”

Now what’s the damn point of that? It’s not only not true, but it’s completely unhelpful.

More….
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Wikiwiki

Filed under: — Joe @ 11:37 am

Working on setting up the wiki, and I finally got it up. Still needs some configuration, but it seems to work. I’m very proud of my php and mysql mastery–especially since it’s way way way over my head.

4/16/2004

Guns for “safety?”

Filed under: — Joe @ 4:16 pm

I read a lot of posts in various forums with people saying “I work in dangerous areas” or “I carry a lot of cash” or “I have a lot of enemies” so “I need to carry a gun for self protection, for my own safety.”

But this really makes very much sense to me. For “safety” or “self-protection” a gun is probably the worst tool. Although it may be that these people walking around armed are actually safer because they’re exercising the real safety tool…their own alert senses. Maybe the fact of having the gun makes them aware and in touch with what’s around them.

On Brooklyn’s late-night streets I see far too many people who don’t have any idea who or what they’re walking past. They’re in a daze, in their own world, and that’s always asking for trouble.

When I’ve “worked in” or “walked through” dangerous areas, I’ve never had a bit of trouble, and I’ve spent plenty of time in plenty of the various worst areas (never mind why). I’ve never been armed–but I’ve been awake. That means crossing streets when necessary, walking around the block, looking at, or looking away from, potential threats.

In Tunnel in the Sky, one of Heinlein’s “competent survivor” types makes this speech…
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4/14/2004

Poetry–Why the same old same old?

Filed under: — Joe @ 9:00 pm

What is it about “Tears, Idle Tears” and “The Road Not Taken?”

They’re both fine poems, but they’re not the finest poems in the English language. But students continually choose them when they’re given a choice.

They must be coming up first in some kind of search engine, because even Chinese students, with no exposure to English poetry at all, always seem to want to choose them.

I’m giving them the Academy of American Poets website as a possible resource, so they must be searching for some keyword consistently that’s bringing up these two poems. But what?

I could ask them, of course, but the ones who are choosing these poems are also the ones who are having the most trouble even communicating with me in spoken English.

I do want to give them free choice, but I also want to push for a little more variety in that choice!

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