Archive for the ‘computers’ Category


Save A Hard Copy Of Everything That Might Be Important To You. This Does Not Mean You Should Keep Everything, But Some Day You’ll Be Glad You Did Some Selective, Creative Savery.

March 10, 2012

And bring me a hard copy of the Internet so I can do some serious surfing • Scott Adams, Dilbert

During the latter part of the twentieth century (golly, that sounds self-important!), I taught in a high school dropout prevention program. I often recorded my students’ words so I would remember them. Years later, I’ve forgotten most of those words, but I can revisit them because I have that written record. Now that I teach teachers, I’m especially glad I saved so many things that help me be first person present in my high school teaching past. I’m also glad that I have hard copies of my related reflections. I am both amused and saddened when students tell me that they have electronic copies of materials and don’t need hard copies, dismissing my pleas to print and file. Today’s computer is tomorrow’s obsolete, toxic landfiller. And all those electronic files you saved on your Apple IIe? G-O-N-E!

I’m especially happy that I saved what follows here. When teachers are frustrated by their students’ behavior, it’s easy to forget that what we want them to do may matter very little in the bigger picture of their lives. Sometimes acknowledging those realities is a first step toward helping students engage in the kinds of empowering educational experiences that really do change lives, or at least change perceptions about possibilities. In the quotation/reflection that follows, students’ comments are in italics, interspersed with my own reflective thoughts:

Always the Same • Always Different

So I sit and listen and again I am overwhelmed by all I cannot do, a thousand problems that I cannot solve, the pain I can’t prevent, the angry lives unfolding opening sharing revealing more than I want to know because I’m only one and I’m carrying this invisible sack of worry and troubles of my own, the one that’s hidden from them behind my sunny smiles, the smiles they crave like candy or even some kind of drug, smiles withheld so often in so many places that when they get one, they cannot get enough.

And so I sit and listen and begin to understand that this always comes first. This dreadful torrent that pools in front around among us—each story adding to the waters that swirl with blended colors of our private agony. We stir the waters, salty with our tears, seeing each other with eyes washed clean. Every year the same. Every year different. Games and names and sharing our shallowest safest memories until we cross this bridge over our waters into another world. A place that’s real. Circled round, lounging on floor and couches, waiting for someone else to trust. Open. I’ve seen this many times, but I always wonder if. If the time will come when ones together become us, when we see the sameness underneath the difference, when what matters less is overwhelmed by what matters more. And so it begins.

My stepdad says I can’t go nowhere in the house. Just stay in the garage he says and if I want to be there I got to pay rent.

He stops.

There’s a freezer out there, but they got a big ole lock on it so I can’t get in. The only bathroom I got is in this trailer my grandma left in the yard, but it don’t work so I go in the yard at night if I have to and just cover it up.

He stops again. We wait. He doesn’t sa anything else. No one says anything. He’s hanging out there. Naked. Me? I want to jump in and say something. Offer something. But it’s not my tie. Another voice, so quiet we can hardly hear begins.

We sold our Levis yesterday. We were holding on to those, my mom and me. We like them a lot, but they wouldn’t give us anything for our Wranglers. My mom is gonna get a job pretty soon. Waitin’ for a call. I wrote a poem about being homeless. Wanna hear?

She pulls a piece of paper from her backpack—her new backpack—we can still do that much around here—supplies and backpacks and winter coats and PE clothes and bread and peanut butter and Ramen noodles and sometimes milk and even juice. She reads her words about doing homework by the glow of a cigarette lighter and dreaming of the better life she’ll have if she can only graduate.

And I wonder. What the hell am I doing? What am I promising? Acting as if this place we sit ifs the gateway to some promised land that offers all the things they’ve never had and maybe never will. We sit surrounded by pictures of their dreams and homes and happiness, cars and children, freedom to be to do to have to dream and have it all come true. I lose sight of why I’m here. What I can do. It gets lost in the sea of what I can’t. But still I, still we, listen.

I’m pregnant. Again. You’re gonna know soon enough so I might as well tell you. This time, it’s twins.

Period. We wait, but she just sits and glares. Folded arms and I know she’s just waiting for the word—any word—a wrong word—so she can up and bolt and leave this place and run to get the only piece of love that life has given her. Pick him up from daycare. Go to the park. Push him on the swing. Imagine that the life he’ll have is different form her own. Now this. And what’s it going to mean? We wait. Staring into space. Avoiding eye contact. Is it safe? Will it stay here? Will he be broken never to be fixed if we remove these masks, dismantle the facades, discover we are all in places we would never choose?

So I’m sleepy, you know. And you all poke me when I drift off and yell in my ear and I jump and you think it’s pretty funny, don’t you. Well, I’ll tell you this and you can see how funny you think it is. My dad left and he isn’t coming back and I’m working now ‘cause my mom’s two jobs just don’t cut it any more, not with five kids. I’m the oldest, man of the house now, my mom says. I work till four every morning and damn straight I’m tired. So leave me the hell alone, okay?

He slouches back and closes his eyes. We wait some more. And so it goes.

There are many spaces we inhabit that are filled with adolescent or adult angst and challenges, but often we don’t know our students or our friends or our colleagues or co-workers well enough to know what kinds of difficulties they may be grappling with. Sometimes we don’t even know these things about our families. As you go through your day, I hope you’ll take care of yourself, of course, but I also hope you’ll be charitable and kind, knowing that you don’t truly know what kind of burdens may be weighing down the others you encounter.

I also hope you’ll keep a hard copy of important information you may want to revisit some day!

What is it about today that you may want to remember tomorrow? How do you plan to do it?

I finished the paper, but the computer ate it. It’s gone. I have my notes, but nothing else. • Comments I’ve heard countless times during my teaching career, W-OZ



I Do Not Love You Enough To Pay Big Bucks To Possibly–And I Do Mean Possibly–Try To Connect With You

July 18, 2010

To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer. • Farmer’s Almanac, 1978

Greetings from Las Vegas where the internet connection is not a sure bet. It’s spendy and I’ve already wasted more money than I wasted in Washington, D.C., on the same problems–connections so slow that my systems time out before anything happens.

I am only persisting right now because I had grades to enter. That’s done. I’m sitting in a McDonald’s with free WiFi and have been forced to purchase fries and sweet tea in payment for my space to work. Yes, you’re right, I could have purchased a salad, but I did not. I cannot eat salad and word process. That’s my excuse and it’s all you’ll get!

As usual, I’ll be writing when I’m out of town, but this is my last missive from the land of wedding chapels, nude dancers, and loose slots. I love you, but not enough to pay $6.95 for ten minutes of your attention.

Had any computer frustrations lately?

Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don’t need to be done. • Andy Rooney


The Lost Blogs of W-OZ

June 30, 2010

Don’t be too harsh to these poems until they’re typed. I always think typescript lends some sort of certainty: at least, if the things are bad then, they appear to be bad with conviction. • Dylan Thomas, letter to Vernon Watkins, March 1938

I write. If you know me, you know that no comments you make are safe because if you say something even mildly amusing I’m likely to record it on an ever-present 3×5 card. My family knows this is true. I remind them by quoting them, providing the date and other provenance for their bon mots. (Josh, remember when you told your dad and I that you didn’t want to work in a group with someone who thought Art Deco was a big band leader?)

I write. I write to comfort myself. I write to remind myself. I write to record things that I want to remember. I write to think. I write to create. I write to discover why. I write to save moments I don’t want to forget. I write because it is the only way I will be able to recall what it was like to be me, now, in this moment. I write to capture silliness like the Real Housewife of New Jersey who said of another that “she’s like parsley; she’s everywhere.” A real-life example of a simile is hard to come by and now I have one. Bravo, Bravo!

Writing is not my problem. Word processing is.

As an artist who works with pen and ink and scissors, I am keenly aware that I need to preserve my ability to use my fine motor skills, yet as a twenty-first century worker, I am also keenly aware that the demands on my hands have never been greater. My ability to record, to respond, to generate, to immerse myself in a sea of words of my own creation has never been greater. The temptations and possibilities and expectations of electronic communication overwhelm me.

I write. I write my blog with a Pilot BP-S fine point pen. Black ink. In a dollar store journal. You know the kind. The one with the old familiar black and white cover that provides two-hundred pages of lined paper to fill. Sometimes I write directly on the keyboard that leads to the screen, but before I can, I have to generate the ideas and the blank screen seldom inspires my creativity. Blank pages do.

I have tried dictating my thoughts, but I’m not an oral/aural writer. I need to see what I am thinking. And I need to capture it quickly before another thought overtakes it. There’s something about the connection between my brain and my hand that works differently than when I try to use voice recognition software to record what I want to say. When I try to speak my thoughts without writing them down, I am quickly lost in not-remembering.

And so, I write. And someday soon they’ll appear, The Lost Blogs of W-OZ. The missing days of band names and travel thoughts and written ramblings about this and thatery that I’ve been writing, but not recording here in the certainty and seriousness of type.

What is your writing process? What are your writing challenges?

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. • Vita Sackville-West


Everything that Can Be Invented Has Been Invented*

March 8, 2010

Anything you dream is fiction, and anything you accomplish is science. The whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction.
• Ray Bradbury

I think it was Star Trek that first helped me imagine a world that could be made better by technology. As I watched Kirk and Spock and the crew vanish and reappear, I longed to be transported wherever I wanted to go. I still do. But no. I’m still doing the I-5 shuffle whenever I want to go from southern Oregon to southern Cali or northern WA. Oh, I can take a bus or a train or a plane, but there’s no instant access to my loved ones. The primary advances in my auto travel over the decades are air conditioning and cruise control. Both are boons, but neither meets the promise of my dreams.

I read lots of science fiction when I was growing up mainly because a boyfriend loved it and passed his paperbacks on to me, hoping for long conversations about his favorites. None of the imaginings struck me as particularly interesting or necessary. I felt the same way about Monsanto’s Home of the Future at Disneyland. From June 1957 until it closed ten years later, this house perched on the border of Tomorrowland introduced the world to miracles like microwave ovens and picture phones and electric toothbrushes and lots and lots of plastic. The ultramodern and synthetic hold little appeal for me. I’ve always preferred wood to plastic and the infinite complexity of stuff to the clean lines of modernity.

I admit to being nostalgic for the simplicity of life in what is probably the neverwas, but somehow, the insidious creepage of the future isn’t what I imagined it would be. Life has not been made easier; it’s become more complex, and not in ways that delight me. Certainly I appreciate a microwave oven, but we hardly ever use ours except to thaw things. I remember our first oven well and the lessons I took that purported to teach me how to produce six course meals in a snap after work using nothing but my RadarRange®. Yeah, right. Have you ever tried to cook a turkey in a microwave oven? Don’t. And don’t serve a tea drinker water boiled in one either. Eeuw. Nasty.

And then there was our first VCR. A Betamax. Certainly that was a handy little item, and I admit freely that I now love Netflix® and our Roku® box. But have these things made my life better? Definitely not. They only feed my bad pop culture habits and waste time. Thank goodness I seldom really watch anything or I’d never get anything else done. Ditto with most of what’s happening on my computer, the little time suckage machine that has racheted up expectations for accomplishment in multiple areas of my life.

So here’s what I think about as I see a television advertisement for a 3D television (of marginal appeal—I don’t want to have to wear those stupid headache-inducing glasses at home) and an advertisement for Volvo’s car that slows or stops itself before a collision (an excellent innovation, although I hope no substitute for paying attention on the road): What would make the world better? Not faster. Not more efficient. Better. One of the reasons to go to school is to be a part of imagining a better world and to create the ways to achieve it, so how about you?

What do you think would make the world better?

People ask me to predict the future when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I need better.
• Ray Bradbury, “Beyond 1984: The People Machine”

* Charles Duell, 1899, head of the United States Office of Patents, recommending the abolishment of his office.


My Computer Is a Small, Yet Extremely Effective Time-Suckage Machine and I Am Stressed

January 21, 2010

Nicholas P. Negroponte, a computer scientist who founded the One Laptop Per Child organization, claims that “[i]t’s not computer literacy that we should be working on, but sort of human-literacy. Computers should have to become human-literate.” I agree. But computers have human users and those users also need to become aware of the human costs of their tech use.

I am stressed. Last night at almost 9 p.m. I received an email requesting a letter of recommendation. There was a job description attached so that I could figure out what to address, I suppose. At least it said there was. I didn’t open it. I didn’t have room in my brain for the information. The sender needs the letter to be mailed by Saturday. Although I truly respect this person’s intellect and would be delighted to provide a reference, I really do need more than a couple of days to do this.

Here’s another related hint: When you make a request and get a response, be sure to respond so that the person isn’t left hanging. This applies to setting up advising appointments or help sessions or any other kind of time commitment you’re requesting. I just received a kind and understanding email regarding the letter I was unable to write by Saturday. Imagine that you are me. For whom would you be willing to write a letter in the future? The person who never replies to you or the one who sees that you are a human being too

I really should know better than to check email when I get home from work, but since I’d been in meetings since 3 p.m. without a chance to look, I wanted to make sure there wasn’t something urgent like a meeting time change for the next day. Incidentally, here’s another hint related to human/computer interaction. I’m not your friend planning to meet you for a movie and I have to drive an hour to get to work, so if you want to cancel a meeting with me–unless the circumstances are extraordinary–don’t email me right before the meeting time.

As for the letter, I already have my work time committed for the next couple of days and the only place to get more time would be to give up some sleep or eat faster. I’ve already planned for my “free” time and will be using it to finish getting a conference presentation ready for next week. I’m behind because of several other requests for rush letters, and that’s another reality. As I’ve mentioned before, I have not yet found a time to make time elastic.

Technology is getting to me. I do love email because it’s preferable to listening to endless voicemails and I’m old enough to remember pre-answering machine days of endless attempts to contact someone. But just because you can reach someone and send something out, it’s not reasonable to expect 24/7 response•ability. I know that I am guilty of this myself, and so I don’t mean to sound as though I am not. Still, wanting a response to something that will require a couple of minutes and wanting several hours of a person’s time are different things and all of us should be aware of this.

Teachers are especially vulnerable to this kind of request, particularly if we care about our students’ success. Even being asked can activate our guilt button. As a student, you should be aware of the time cost of any query, particularly if you may be only one among many who are making similar requests. I’m delighted to provide input about multiple things, but not instantly. And please, do not get huffy when you email on Sunday morning and haven’t heard by afternoon. Ask yourself what students did before email and IM and voicemails. How might you get answers for your questions on your own. My son, who teaches middle school, asks his students to ask “three before me.”

There are other things I’m asked to do are things the person should do her- or himself. Even if I’ve read two million books, I’m not likely to want to spend the afternoon providing you with bibliography of “best” resources related to a particular topic. If I can think of something, I’ll be glad to share it, but I don’t want to do your work. It’s part of why students are in school, to learn to locate resources. I get asked to do this kind of thing quite frequently.

A couple of years ago, I got one of my favorite requests: “Here’s a list of my information. I know that you’re a former graphic designer, and I was wondering if you could create a resume for me since I’m headed off to a job fair next week and I want it to be perfect.” What I wanted to write back in response to this email (I didn’t even get asked in person) was “ARE YOU NUTS?!” Instead, I politely responded. I should have been clearer about how inappropriate this request was.

This isn’t my only tech challenge today. Let me simply say that institutions can have communications systems that are frustrating. I am sometimes left feeling like I am serving the system and not that the system is serving me. And then there’s the email I got today with sixty attachments. I’m interested in what’s in them, but until I look, I won’t know for sure. I fear my boat of good intentions will sink as it hits these shoals.

Neil Postman (1992) points out in Technopoly that there are winners and losers in the spread of computer technology. The winners tell the losers “that their lives will be conducted more efficiently. . .should the losers grow skeptical, the winners dazzle them with the wondrous feats of computers, almost all of which have only marginal relevance to the quality of the losers’ lives but which are nonetheless impressive” (p. 11). Many days I feel like a loser as technology becomes more and more intrusive and its benefits become instead huge time-suckage-frustrations.

What are the costs and benefits of technology in your life?

Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don’t need to be done.
• Andy Rooney

Working in an office with an array of electroic devices is like trying to get something done at home iwth half a dozen small children around. The calls for attention are constant.

•Marilyn vos Savant


The Write Stuff

October 25, 2009

Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education: dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add, that one must also be able to dance with the pen?
• Friedrich Nietzsche

What should schools teach? I believe that being able to write with clarity and correctness about meaningful content is crucial, even if all you will ever need to write after you leave school is an email or a memo or a letter of complaint. For almost a decade, I’ve been collecting data about common errors my students make in their writing. Sometimes, these things are simple: spelling and punctuation and other mechanical glitches that can be corrected by editing and minimal rewriting. Those errors are easy to work with. The difficult ones are content-related. If a writer doesn’t have anything to say, there’s not much that can be done to improve her or his writing until significant additional work is done.

In no particular order, here are some of the writing challenges I see most often:

• Proofreading. This takes time. A paper is not done just because it has been printed. Do not rely on on-screen reading. Proofing would catch many of the problems listed here. I always read my writing aloud, and I catch many errors I would have missed otherwise.

Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. • Unknown

• Dullness. The reader should want to turn the page, drawn in by interesting things said in interesting ways. Writing should have a voice. Writers should have something to say.

• Editorializing. There is a danger of editorializing when other perspectives or “sides” of an issue are not considered. Be sure that you have considered multiple aspects of any issue you are writing about and that your writing makes it clear that you understand the “big picture.”

• Lack of support/evidence/research. Assertions need support, and evidence should be provided when appropriate. Phrases such as “experts say” or “research proves” or “the facts indicate” are not adequate. Which experts? What research? What facts? You must cite sources. Details and clarity help here also.

• Unnecessary words and phrases. These are things that sound good, but are meaningless like “I believe that I think” or “in my opinion, I am sure that I know” or, you get the picture. When you make a statement in your paper, you can make it without these qualifiers.

• Impoverished vocabulary. Do not rely on the thesaurus feature of your computer. It may suggest words that are not correct in the context of your writing. Work on improving your vocabulary and making sure you understand the full meaning of words you use. Awesome, cool, amazing, and similar overused words meant to be compelling modifers are not.

• Lack of context. Issues have histories and are situated in larger contexts. There should be evidence that you are aware of this. Related to this issue is the use of outdated sources. Some research can be used to provide historical context, but you should also find out what’s being said recently about an issue.

• Lack of thoughtfulness. Gaps in reasoning and a “whatever” attitude waste a reader’s time. When it is clear that you hope to create a blizzard of words that hides your lack of information, most readers will not be fooled. Vague generalities are sometimes used to mask a lack of thought and/or research: “We have read many wonderful essays this year, and I learned so much from the authors that I will be able to apply in the future.”

• Repetitiveness. When a writer says the same thing over and over, it appears that she or he doesn’t have much to say. This can also be related to a lack of organization.

• Spellcheck reliance. Awful example (also proofreading-related): an application for further graduate studies that said the person was getting a Master o Farts in Teaching.

• Grammar checker reliance. GCs do not always give correct advice. I tested this for a research project. Have a friend or relative or other trusted person read your work.

• Word choice. Again, be careful with the thesaurus feature on the computer. English has many shades of meaning, and sometimes the suggested substitutions don’t work in the context of the sentence.

• Apostrophes. Student’s grades (the grades of one). Students’ grades (the grades of many). Also: It’s = it is. Its = possessive pronoun.

• Colloquialisms, slang, and other choices related to audience. “I did it in the fact that,” for example, instead of “I did it because.” Learn to “codeswitch” and understand that the kind of writing that’s appropriate when texting your friends isn’t appropriate for other contexts, whether it’s a formal paper or an email to a professor. This includes things like using the ampersand (&) instead of the word and, as well as other abbreviations and acronyms (OMG, tht ws 1 awsum lectur!). In addition, etc. (etcetera, meaning “and other things” or “and so forth”) while handy for abbreviated thoughts should be avoided in formal writing–finish your thought instead).

• Parallel construction. “I like swimming, biking, and reading.” NOT, “I like swimming, biking, and to read.”

• Subject-pronoun agreement. The teacher/he or she/his or her. Teachers/they/their. Rewording can address possible awkwardness.

• Subject-verb agreement. The men go. The man goes.

• Unclear reference. Be sure the reader can tell to what or to whom your pronouns refer.

• Sexist language. No, please. Men/man is not representative of everyone, nor is he a universal pronoun.

• Incorrect use of myself. “Jim and myself are going” should be “Jim and I are going” (I am going) subject. “She gave it to Jim and myself” should be “She gave it to Jim and me” (She gave it to me) object.

• Sentence variety. Check the beginnings of sentences, and be sure that there are not too many that begin the same way (although sometimes you may do this deliberately for effect). Also, watch overuse of pet phrases or words.

• Unnecessary/inconsistent capitalization and exclamation points. And be consistent when you use capitalization (Don’t say Executive Director in one sentence and executive director in the next.)

• Semi-colon and colon use. I rarely see these used correctly. Be sure you know what you’re doing. Commas? Often reading aloud will help you see where to pause with a punctuation mark.

• Creative titles. Yes, please.

• Paragraphing. Question your writing if it is one long paragraph. This may also be related to lack of organization.

• Introductions, conclusions, transitions, clear purpose (thesis, topic, controlling thought, etc.). These things are necessary.

• Absolutes. Think carefully about the use of words like never, always, and everyone. When you use an absolute, you may send the reader off on a mindchase for exceptions. Consider using words like some, many, almost, and other qualifiers that indicate that your awareness of other possibilities.

• Other things that make me tired. Careless misuse of there/their/they’re, to/two/too, and all the others from long lists that I’m pretty sure were taught in elementary school. I suspect that you could catch these by proofreading. My hand hurts just thinking about how many of these I have to circle.

What three goals could you set to help improve your writing?

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
 great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.
• William Safire, “Great Rules of Writing”