Friday, September 5, 2008

McCain was good in print, not in video

I got home late from work and missed the speech, but early enough that the videos weren't up yet, just the transcript. Reading through it, it wasn't so bad. I don't agree with most of his ideas, but the tone was strong, friendly, without lashing out at anyone. Minor digs at the opponent, but that's what you do, fair enough. He focused more on himself than his opponent.

But now I'm watching CNN and they're showing excerpts from the speech - good lord does this man look bad on TV and look uncomfortable on stage. Neither is a solid reason to not vote for McCain, but at the end of the day the president needs charisma to inspire the country, to lead, to influence. I don't doubt that McCain is smart or experienced, and maybe he'd make a good cabinet member. After watching this speech, I find it hard to believe that America will vote for McCain for who is he, but instead for who he is not. Granted, if you're hardline on issues like abortion or drilling for oil, McCain is your man. I think that anyone in the center, who straddle the line between issues, odds look good that Obama seems more presidential to them.

Looking forward to the debates.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I just can't figure it out. Is Palin's speech a series of bullet pointed zingers? About five minutes in she has a string of more than 4 sentences, but before that she says a line, people get up and clap, she says a line, people get up and clap. I know, folks get excited at conventions and want to cheer for things that turn them on, it happened in every speech I saw last week. But this is outrageous, it's the kind of speech someone would give running for president of their college, and even that I think is unfair to good collegiate politicians. The tone is non-stop smarm and sarcasm, like she's relying on crowd reaction to get her points across. Tomorrow I need to find a transcript, see if this reads as bad as it sounds, or if it's just her delivery.

I found a transcript, the video I had kicked in after she talked about her family and John McCain. Either way, I'm still in awe that this was the best VP candidate the Republicans could find. Believe me, the Dems with Lieberman and Bentsen have picked some duds. I just can't do the math on how the party thinks that should McCain become ill or pass away, that somehow Palin is qualified to lead the country. Baffling.

Tomorrow is the big day, McCain says his peace, sets the tone for his side, discusses policy and his VP. Should be interesting.

A friend who worked both conventions says that the vibe is night and day. He says it really feels like the GOP is not excited about their option, but playing the part to help in the campaign. In the bits I saw of Giuliani (sp?) and Romney, they don't seem so fired up themselves.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Party's Over

Back home again, blogging from my own bed, not a fancy DoubleTree bed with piles of pillows and chocolate chip cookie crumbs around the space bar. I got about 90 minutes of sleep last night, with a quick nap between Denver and KC - this is the part where I make excuses for typos and shifting logic.

I took the day slow, met up with Ted/Pharmacists for lunch, walked around downtown, figured out how I was going to get to Invseco. Now I've done some walking in my day, 3 miles to work at one point to be exact, but damn was it a trek from the train to the stadium. Luckily I had a pass when I got there, because the line was easily a mile long.

Inside it was hot, but festive. Slowly the place filled up as the sun went down, but I'd say upon my arrival at 4pm it was already half full and dancing. Celebs on stage - Black Eyed Peas, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, Michael McDonald. Walking around the crowd - Jesse Jackson, Sr. (!!!), Spike Lee (dancing with strangers and taking pics), Michael Dukakis, Tom Harkin, and a ton of folks who walked by being swamped by cameras but were lost on my general ignorance of famous folks. When Stevie played "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" the place exploded into one big dance party, which continued even after his set in some sections where folks just weren't slowing down. People in the aisles from different states hugging and dancing, taking photos, soaking it all in.

Then the speeches. Al Gore was on fire, which left me thinking "where the hell was that in 2000?" I voted for Nader, you seemed so vanilla back then. Richardson, also fantastic. The group of generals and admirals, the everyday Americans, it all built well to Obama's speech. I think for dynamics, he didn't hit the fervor that Bill or Hillary did, but he said everything that was important and said it well, and with emotion. He seemed pissed, which I think is good. It's how I feel when I think about where our country is now. He seemed real, and not like he was spouting what people told him to say. He went to work on the southside after finishing Harvard Law for god sakes. He finally got into discussing policy and plans for the future. I didn't hear everything I wanted to hear, but it's a start, and he has a few months to spell it out in detail. Lots of tears in the audience as he finished and the sky filled with confetti and fireworks and streamers.

After much shuttling around town we ended up grabbing the requisite fries and beer (something about post-convention evenings that speak to bar food and fantastic local ale.) This was followed by a quick but fiery set by Ted/Pharmacists at the Onion party. Some quick goodbyes, back to the hotel to pack, catch the recap of the Obama speech on CNN, and then 90 minutes of sleep before heading to the airport. Brutal, but worth it.

All in all it was the perfect vacation, and something that I'll probably never have the chance to do again. Seeing the convention first hand, with all of the pomp and circumstance, is like nothing I've seen before - politics first hand, protests coming from all sides, special interest groups from all walks of life, people from all over the world in town to share this experience. I'm a very lucky and thankful man. And outside of the politics, exploring a new city, meeting great new friends, spending quality time with an old friend before they move far away, and, of course, eating lovely veg food at City o City. I'm already going through withdrawals and shakes without it. Could I live in Denver? Yeah, I could.

Now that I'm home, I'm just trying to digest it all. I'm looking forward to reading the paper tomorrow to hear more about Palin now that McCain has made his selection. Interesting choice, though on the surface seems like shooting himself in the foot. I like that either way, history will be made come November. But picking someone with even less experience than Obama, when that's been the main argument against him from the right, looks like a tactical blunder for now.

Two more months until game time. Now to figure out how to get work on the campaign trail. Vamos Obama!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bill, Biden and Obama

I'm running late, and today the laptop stays back at the hotel. I'm getting that lean from the massive bag hanging off my right side all day. In a nutshell, this place is bursting with optimism after last night. At the same time, friends who've worked at previous conventions told me that they've felt this way in the past, only to have the Dems run a bad campaign and give the election way (2000, 2004). McCain looks incredibly beatable, but so did Bush, both times, even mid-war. It's an odd cocktail, this guarded optimism.

When Bill Clinton hit the stage last night, it took about 10 minutes for folks to settle down before he could talk. People were losing their minds, literally. Screaming, crying, waving. His speech, as expected, brought the house down, too. Smart, to the point, balanced. Not as dynamic as Hillary's, but every bit as good. If you missed, go watch now, it's that good. There was a short lull before Biden, but I think that added to his power as well. Great story that guy has, and great command of a room. I'm quite surprised that he's never gotten past the primaries before now. And in the end, Obama came out, the place blew up again, end of night.

So much more to say, but the shuttle pulls out in 8 minutes. More, um, I guess during the layover tomorrow in KC? Last day, many pictures to take.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I know there are mixed feelings for the Hillary Clinton on both sides of the aisle, but really, I find it hard to imagine anyone from either side watching her speak last night and not be moved. I've backed Obama from the start, had my own Hillary issues, and I think the only full speech I've heard her give was a eulogy. My mind was blown last night. From the intro video (great footage, only one shot of Bill, funny but fantastic music choices "You Really Got Me" (Van Halen, no less), "American Girl") through her closing comments it was a ride. At one point, after her Harriet Tubman segment, you couldn't even hear her since the place was just blowing up. And her main points about unity, bringing her supporters into the Obama camp, were powerful and poignant. "Were you in this campaign just for me....[or were you in it] for that boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage?" Damn. Read it here. Or watch it here. Secretary of State? That's what I'm thinking.

Bill was in the house last night, and even sitting way up high in the upper deck, all of the cameras still found him. He speaks tonight, which I'm looking forward to to say the least. Anyone catch him speaking at Corretta Scott King's funeral? I'm not sure I've heard a better speech, with all due respect to what Hillary did last night. Look at me turning into a speech junkie.

Post-convention we headed over to a show with Ben/Chris from Death Cab. It was hot, and folks were talking, but it was still good to see them. Ran into more folks from DC there, which is always random but funny. Great Teenage Fanclub cover, to boot.

Two more days in Denver, time to pack in more sights. Did you go back and watch that speech again yet? Do it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

In the press tent, with the wrench...

Another day of leaving my shoe tread across Denver proper, I hit new neighborhoods and got back into the Pepsi Center again. Walking past the capitol after breakfast I came across another wave of Recreate 68, who really aren't what their name implies. Most of the press heading into this had visions of riots and insanity, and while it's not over yet, every time I've seen them protest, it's organized and sane. They even travel with medics to make sure everyone's ok (read: heat exhaustion)

Came across an interesting art installation, maybe 50 feet across, made up of translucent cloth with photos of everyday Iranian citizens. Nice statement / reminder, that even though their leader is a madman (sound familiar?) that most of the country are normal folks.

In my search for Tent State, I went across a bridge and ended up in a new part of town, and stumbled up a sustainable energy fair. They had a band playing (powered by folks on bikes), various tents and vendors on alternative energy, cool new modular home designs. Good stuff all around - it gave me some hope for future development.

Tent State wasn't as impressive. Amnesty was there with their replica of a Gitmo cell. Very terrifying. Lots of people looking for Rage tickets, legalization organizations, vets against the war. Just seemed kind of all over the place.

Back inside the Pepsi Center it's a bit of a zoo. Imagine yourself at a sold out concert, trying to walk around. Except it's well lit, and you're bumping into reporters, delegates and governors (I backed into Tim Kaine. I didn't know it was Tim Kaine.) Steny Hoyer was great, Janet Napolitano, too - things are starting to pick up. Later on tonight we have Hillary and Jim Webb, which should be total chaos. Looking forward to it.

There's been a lot of talk about this next song...

Monday was much less political for me, more touristy, which was ok until I realized that Teddy Kennedy and Michelle Obama were speaking that night. I guess that's what is for.

Started off camped out at the same place I am now, City o City. I think if I lived in Denver, I'd put up a cot in the back and just have all my meals and coffee here. They have a good beer list, too.

As I walked around town, I came across the art museum. DC folks like myself get spoiled since all of the art galleries in DC are free - who pays to go into a museum? The rest of the country. But I walked in, just to see where between the National Gallery (free) and the MOMA ($20) it fell. Our friends at Target, aka the Vortex of Columbia Heights, were picking up the tab, and it was free for all. Even for me. Nice gallery, some interesting exhibits, one had sculptures made of lipstick that were commenting on the abortion debate. Pretty intense stuff.

Met up with a friend of a friend, Jason, who showed me some other cool cafes and bookstores. Not as much in the protesting to see, but I heard we were just in the wrong places (allegedly a huge pro-life protest going on....speaking of which, it's pretty wrong to have flat trucks driving around town with graphic pictures of abortions. Free speech and all, but should this not be a punishable offense? Imagine trucks with graphic pictures of dead Iraqi children. I mean, if these kinds of images make a movie PG-13 or R, how can they roll down Colfax?)

The big plan for the day was to head out to Red Rocks to see a short film fest on democracy with bands. Not sure about you, but I watched U2 Live at Red Rocks about once a week as a kid (taped off Nickelodean no less), so this was mecca for me. 300 million year old rocks, a massive hike to get into the amphitheater, great view of everything. On the hike in, they even have places where you can stop and check your heart rate to make sure you're doing ok with the altitude (about 6500? 7000?) and the climb. Turns out that this area was a sacred meeting spot for local indians, and then made into a venue in the early 20th century. Those fires you see in the video? Don't exist. Bah. I walked from bottom to top a few times throughout the course of the night and just soaked it all in. Good music (Murs, Apples in Stereo) and film shorts (10 4-minute shorts on what democracy means), with perfect weather.

Early night in to watch CNN, upload pictures, read a little. Today I'm looking to hit Tent State and the Pepsi Center. More to come...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Protest / Counter Protest / Protest

I think I walked the length of the city yesterday. After hitting downtown early-ish for breakfast (and watching the police horses getting suited up) we headed down to the capitol to see the first march kick off. The march was mainly about the war, but as usual these days, there were many causes melded together (Nadar, immigration, Gitmo, etc.) Of course, there were counter protesters, too, which was also a mix of causes (support the troops, Pro-Life, build a wall, etc.) Yes, they were playing Toby Keith, why do you ask? Though it's hard to see what Toby's been trying to say lately about Obama. Everyone played nice, and while there was some interaction, no one seemed to get too heated. It helped having riot cops between them with batons and handcuffs.

We did some walking around the capitol, checked out the vendors, the .orgs, the electric slide being done by hundreds. Hoofed back down to the Pepsi Center to see how things were going. More protesters, more riot cops, a little confrontation from some younger protesters, but again, folks are keeping it calm. Best t-shirt "I'm not disturbing the peace, I'm disturbing the war!" Best sticker "Make out! Not war!" Best book "Goodnight Bush!" (a parody of "Goodnight Moon" which was funny and depressing all at once.

After lunch, and a Liberally Hopped Ale, at my new favorite eatery, City o City (where I'm posting from) I got a floor pass for the Pepsi Center, and went to soak it in. Amazing set up - it's like everything I've done with A/V work, times 10. Sat in the Ohio Delegation so I could watch Katie Couric getting set up, while also watching Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper get their hair fixed. Both 'studios' were surrounded by folks with cameras taking pics, me included. I stayed for a few hours, since I wasn't sure if I'd get on the floor again later this week. Plus it was air-conditioned and I got off my feet for a bit.

Ended the day off with two visits to Falling Rock Tap House. First with Angie before she took the bus back, and then immediately following, with my friend Jim. Suddenly I'm a regular. I think I've met my challenge when it comes to hops, as most of these beers are hopped like crazy. One was a bit like chewing on pine needles, in a good way.

In bed by midnight, and if I could bring this back to education for a second, I woke up at 4am on the nose (6am EST...when I woke up daily to teach) and couldn't fall back asleep til 530am (730am EST...when I got to school daily, to teach.) It's the first day back at DCPS, and I had my friends and former students on the brain, which was funny to think of amidst all of the DNC circus.

Time to finish off this coffee and breakfast burrito and to hit the streets.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Anderson Cooper is hot

For the past month, I was walking around, thinking of things to add to the blog as summer school, and teaching as I know it, both came to a close. Students coming to see my band play, plagiarism, final grading, clean up. It seems the road to hell is blogged with good intentions.

I got into Denver last night after two short flights across the country, with perfect layover timing in St. Louis so I could watch Obama / Biden give their speeches live (in the right time zone, no less.)

The opening party ended up being at an amusement park downtown, and everything was free - rides, games, food, drinks, fireworks. Pretty insane. And I got this feeling as I walked around seeing all of these smiling faces from all over the country gathered together - everyone here is of a similar political mindset. It wasn't like people were walking around talking politics all night, so it's not all that different than being in the usual mixed crowd. Hard to explain, it just felt good. Yeah, I know free beer, funnel cake and upside down roller coasters don't hurt things.

I'm guessing we passed many a rep or reporter last night, but the only one I recognized was Anderson Cooper. Yep, just as dashing in person as he is on TV, confirmed by one of the girls behind me yelling "Anderson Cooper, we love you! You are so hot!" I'm guessing this isn't new for him, as he smiles politely and says "Thank you."

Getting coffee, heading downtown, pictures to follow.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Two weeks left

There are only two more weeks of summer school remaining. Not even that. 9 days? 8 days, depending on whom you ask.

As I sent the class home with the reading for the weekend, I really feel like most people are keeping up with the reading better than the first book, but I'm trying to figure out why. Maybe people didn't think we'd really go through a book in two weeks the first time and threw in the towel? Maybe the plot in Kite Runner is more seductive? Maybe it's just more current? I think I'm going to poll the class on the last day and see which book they liked better and why. And on that note, of all books they've read for school, which books have they liked and why. It's a great feeling to look around the room and have everyone intently reading and enjoying it. I'm hoping some of them leave the summer with a new appreciation for reading. Optimistic, I know.

On a non-school related note, I'm pretty sure that Poor But Sexy is my new favorite DC band. The studio songs are good, but the live experience is a must see. Yeah, I'm biased, I've played with 4 out of 5 in the band, but it's so nice to see someone break away from the familiar sounds that you find in indie rock. Someone described them as Steely Dan fronted by R. Kelly. That's about right, assuming R. Kelly was white and spoke German.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Socratic Seminar Success

Success. I gave my brief speech about respect and sensitivity when talking about rape, and told them if they wanted to address Assef possibly being homosexual that they needed to also be respectful. After that, we launched into some questions and the class just took over from there. I mainly stood back and played ref.

They seemed to figure out that what Assef did was mainly a power issue and trying to disrespect Hassan in the harshest way possible. Some students thought that maybe part of it was that Assef was trying to explore his sexuality in addition to hurting Hassan, which led the discussion to some interesting places, but still stayed within bounds. I'm intrigued as to what they'll think when they get towards the end of the book.

On the question of "Do you feel sorry for Amir?" it was interesting to get various takes from sympathy to outrage. One kid said the more he read the book the angrier he got at the protagonist. Others said that we all have mistakes in life that we wish we could take back, this is just a big mistake that he regrets.

We'll do it again next week, hopefully it goes as well. 2nd period needed more prodding, and there wasn't much debate. Sometimes it's all about room chemistry.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Kite Runner

We started teaching the Kite Runner on Monday as our second book of the summer. I should clarify since I'm teaching juniors and seniors, this is the junior / Lit class.

For the students who are keeping up with the reading, it seems like they're getting sucked into the book like I was when I first read it. I don't remember the year, but I was on tour in Japan and brought this as my travel read. I started it one night in the hotel and was up way too late. By the next day I was hooked, and whenever we had downtime, I snuck off to eat alone and keep reading. I knocked it off in about two days, which is fast considering I'm a slow reader (for an English teacher.) I'm hoping some kids hit that point this weekend.

Tomorrow is where it gets interesting though. Tonight's reading covers the rape scene in chapter 6, and tomorrow we have a Socratic Seminar covering the book so far. I'm a little worried, as many of these students can be homophobic and might miss the point that Assef wasn't raping Hassan for sexual reasons. For those that haven't done SS before, the idea is that the teacher launches a question and then steps back and lets the class discuss and ask their own questions.

Tough scene, we'll see if that makes for a tough class.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Teacher to Teacher

It's been awhile since I posted, eh? I'm teaching two three-hour classes in summer school, taking the most intensive grad class yet, working on the grad portfolio, taking home buying classes and looking for work for the fall. In summary - I'm owned.

Oh, right, band practice. It ran late tonight, and my motorcycle is still dead, so I'm waiting for the 52 to come. After a few minutes I get restless and start walking south in the bike lane, looking back for the bus. A few blocks into it, I pass three guys who say something to me, and when I keep walking they start jawing about me ignoring them. The next time I look back for the bus, I see they've turned around and are following me. I'm in the street, and pretty sure they won't do anything, but still aware that there's a reason they turned around. Suddenly a truck pulls up and a guy in his 50s says "hey man, I'm not trying to hustle you or nothin', but I was dropping a friend off and heard those kids yelling at you. When I turned around, I saw they were following you and took their shirts off. Lemme give you a ride to a bus stop further down."

For a millisecond the thoughts of not getting in cars with strangers registered, but without pause, I opened the door and hopped in. We started talking about the situation and I mentioned it being summer and kids being bored without school, and he tells me that he's a high school teacher at Coolidge. Wow. I'm not sure if it takes a teacher to pick up a stranger that you think will get jumped, or if a teacher puts off some sort of vibe that they care that makes you not think twice about trusting them, hell, I don't know what to think - for all I know, those kids were just bored and wanted to follow me for something to do. Either way, I'm really glad that someone was aware of what was going on, made the effort to help a stranger out, and got me somewhere far away.

Turns out we have mutual friends in the teaching world. Coincidence? maybe....

Sunday, June 22, 2008

3 in 10 Americans Admit to Race Bias

I just read this on the Washington Post site, that 3 in 10 Americans Admit to Race Bias.

It reminded me of my first day in Civil Rights class in college. A room full of mainly white students in a class taught by James Farmer , who was a founder of CORE, and one of the major leaders in the Civil Rights movement. When the march on Washington occurred, he was in a jail in Alabama from the Freedom Rides. In 1990, the year of this class, he was blind partially from diabetes, partially from years of tear gas. (note: he's one of the main characters in "The Great Debaters") The bell rings, class gets quiet, and the first thing he says to us is "We are all racists." You could hear a pin drop, faces turning side to side trying to figure out how to react. The next thing he says is "I am no exception." At this point I had no idea what to think. Throughout the course, in learning about his experiences with the Civil Rights movement, he wanted us to keep an open dialog about race and stereotypes. He wanted us to realize that we have prejudices, and while that's not ideal, it's better to discuss it and try to understand.

After teaching for a few years in DCPS, and hearing things that students and teachers say regarding race, I find it amazing that only 3 in 10 Americans will admit to racial prejudices.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Summer School - will tech help?

I got the definitive word today - I'm teaching two full three-hour classes this summer. 8:30 - 11:30 will be juniors, 30 minutes for lunch, then 12:00 - 3:00pm will be seniors. No planning time, and about two hours more than I signed up for. hmmm. I get the curriculum next Tuesday, and I'm already wondering what I can use from this Ed Tech class in my summer school classes.

I'm pretty sure that a Classroom 2.0 board for each class will be a start. Get an online dialog going regarding the books and projects that we're working on. With the juniors, as they're also working on their summer reading project, I'd like to set up some opinion forums for students to have their say once they feel like they've learned about their topic. I'll need to sort out some ground rules so there's not some fiery Pro-Choice / Pro-Life debate, but hopefully something thoughtful and understanding.

By Tuesday night I'll know more and how much wiggle room I have. Let's hope it's lots.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

School's Out

The school year ended last Thursday at midnight. That's when grades were due at least.
Those last few days of the year are always similar to living in a blender, always moving, grading, answering questions of students worried about not ending up in summer school.

Coming down from the high that graduation was to the reality of my juniors trying to become seniors reminded me of the struggles of the job. I think the last few weeks of the year I averaged five hours of sleep a night. That's mean, so some nights it was 3 hours, some nights 7. I think those were the highs / lows. Hard to say how much of those late nights I bring upon myself and how much is student procrastination. I'm sure in either case I'm partially at fault.

Summer school starts next Thursday, still not sure what or whom I will be teaching. It'll be interesting to say the least.

For the meantime, school's out. Ain't that right, Alice?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


I got to see my kids graduate tonight, and suddenly, all those all-nighters with a grading pen and stack of late essays all become worth it. Truly amazing. I feel like last year in my first year of teaching I'd get all emotional and teared up because I was exhausted and drained and I had nothing left to give. Tonight I was getting all teared up and emotional thinking of what these kids have been through and what they've accomplished. Students who
- tried to drop out three times last year but decided to stick it out
- who had dropped out until one night at her job cleaning office bathrooms realized that she wanted more out of life, and now will study business
- who never knew her father, barely knows her mother and works full time while still making honor roll
- who live in fear of immigration officers but now will pursue careers as nurses, psychologists and social workers
- who have lost family and loved ones to violent crime, but went on
- who just met their parents last year
- who have had babies but continued their education

I could fill books with the stories of my students and what they have overcome to achieve what they did tonight. And these aren't stories they wear on their sleeves, it just happens to be what has been their norm. Standing there with tears in my eyes watching these kids walk across the stage, I just don't know how else you can react to experiencing this kind of evening.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Grading / Social Networking

First off, I've been buried in grading college essays (70 students X 3 essays X 3 revisions = cross-eyed teacher) and final exams (two essays), and there have been a handful of things I've wanted to blog on this week, just haven't found / made the time. I need to work on that.

Tonight we learned about Classroom 2.0 which is a social networking site which lends itself well to education. It took me awhile to figure out why this would be helpful, and then it hit me like Mike Tyson.

School-wide for teachers: set up a network / forum within your school where you can keep up with what other teachers are doing. Everything from "Does anyone have an LED projector" to "my kids' test scores went up 20% last week!" to "I'm really losing it, does anyone want to go out after work?" Like the prof said, teaching can be a lonely job. Not in that you're ever alone, but in that some days I barely leave my room for 10 minutes between 830 and 2pm. That's kind of nuts.

By department for teachers: would be great for sharing best practices, discussing lessons, calendar, etc. Would be an easy place to coordinate.

For students in class: Kids could help each other out in various formats. In my class there could be a thread for each chapter in a book where students could discuss what they read, and I could make it part of the grade (posting something original). It could be a place to get help on projects (i.e. "Hey, I'm struggling with writing my thesis statement - is anyone good at writing those?") Or just a place to keep track of lessons / projects.

For students school-wide: Post upcoming events, concerns, ideas, etc.

That's all I have for now, I need to examine their site more. Learned a few more sites tonight (Ubuntu, Open Office) which I also need to examine.

But first, the essays call...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Mini computer for the students...I like

Asus is coming out with a new mini computer for students called the Eee Box. About the size of a hardback book, the idea is that students could take this to and from school so they'd always have computer access.

I like this idea. In fact, I'm always surprised that we're not already at a point where there are student / cheap / basic computers so that all students have their own computer. I mean, for all the nice cell phones, iPods, cameras, etc. that I see in the school, if there was something for under $300, it'd be hard to justify NOT getting one.

Looking at the Cnet review they break it down by specs, which is a nice start.

The basic specs: Linux OS, 1.6ghz chip, 1GB RAM, 80GB hard drive, Bluetooth, WiFi, audio outs, two USB 2.0 ports, S/PDIF, DVI out (no optical drive)

Some questions I have, or places where I could see an upgrade in years to come:
- no mention of ports for keyboard / mouse, which means that unless you have a Bluetooth keyboard or mouse, the two USB 2.0 ports would be taken up. Which makes using a thumb drive an issue (or any other USB tools / toys)
- no optical drive means no installing anything via CD / DVD (download them instead?) or using those formats for lessons / information
- if it's going home with kids, at some point it'd be nice to move to a solid state drive (like the Mac Air ) so that it's less likely to die. I know this isn't affordable now, hoping that solid state drives get cheap as fast as Pentiums did.

And that's it. Kudos to Asus for coming up with this, you'd think that some PC companies would have mimicked the Mac Mini. And kudos to them for using Linux, which means less kids picking up viruses when they use their computer on MySpace, Facebook, etc.

Thoughts? (I know, brevity, brevity...)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Got some advice, it sounds like this.

As advertised, I emailed a bunch of friends who blog for a living, design websites, work as online editors, etc. Got a mix of results, and I'm not sure there's a consensus. I didn't ask anyone if I could use their name, so I'll just put down the kind of work they do. Oh, I asked some teachers, too. It goes like this:

(a VP works on Internet Presence at a PR firm) - the white on black is a bit rough on the eyes, or my eyes, anyway. Looked at it on a couple of monitors (all LCDs) and the effect is worse on some than others. It's challenging to read, and if you're writing a blog, you def want people to read it. If the vibe of your blog was only a couple of sentences per entry and then maybe a photo, it would be OK...after staring at the white on black for a little bit, and then shifting my gaze slightly, I see "ghosts" of the words.

(blogs for an international finance weekly magazine) - conventional wisdom is that background's should be light colored and text dark, but I'm not bothered by your site, though

(blog was featured in the Washington Post last year) - don't have any major suggestions...The only thing I'd do is to fiddle w/ the customization on the colors, fonts, formatting, etc. It helps your site look a little different than the other blogs using the same template. What settings you choose is all a matter of personal preference.

(designs ads for the Washington Post) - I mean, it is true that some design people frown on black backgrounds. I actually prefer black backgrounds on monitors because white backgrounds give off a lot of light and can be hard on the eyes, especially on LCD monitors. I've always been really fond of this particular off-the-shelf design. A lot of people are, I think...

(multimedia editor at NPR) - too much text - not enough space for my eyes to rest. I would say write shorter posts, or break it up into shorter blocks? Also, add a picture every now and again for good measure. When there is so much text I tend to just glaze over it...
So fundamentally - I'm not opposed to the white on black, but I agree it's just a bit hard to read.

(blogs for a national political magazine) - I'm sort of partial to white on black, but that's just me. I think it's the only way to read long pieces online.... something that's hard to do under any circumstances... one of the reasons I fear the Internet: it is forcing people to write shorter stuff.

(web consultant for local professional sports team) - I'm going to side with the instructor on this issue and recommend you avoid knock-out text for the body of the page. My usability studies have shown that users do [glaze over long texts] [s]o I would uses a dark text color against a contrasting body color (bgcolor)...[they are] right about pictures and more pithy posts. Keep it short, dude.

and from three teachers:
- i like it. in fact, i used to teach online and distinctly recall receiving info on a study discussing minimizing eye strain by using black (or dark) background with white lettering. maybe...bold the white

-I like white on black. I can barely see blue. How do I leave a comment?

- the verdict here is "no," we like it (teacher and her roommate)

Ok, it's me again. Coupled with the comments left on the blog, it looks like a split (though the teachers push it into "pro"). Between designers, bloggers, editors, I've got people saying it's better, it's worse, studies say "yes," studies so "no." Hard to say. It's my first blog, so I might mess with the colors, the size, the format, so if you see something you like or hate, let a brother know. Taking a poll of people in the biz was pretty interesting to see styles and aesthetics. A few editors / writers haven't written back yet, we'll see if anything change. Thanks to everyone for the quick replies.

Now to figure out how to write shorter posts and add pictures.... (Happy birthday, Erica)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

None more black

I wasn't sure about posting this, but hey, I'm new to blogging and am up for any and all ideas on how to make this site better. At the top of class today our professor suggested that I not use a black background with white text because it's hard to read for many people. So I looked at the blog, surfed around a bit, looked back at my blog, surfed around a bit. I have to say, I like how it looks, and I'm not sure it's that hard to read.

Then I thought about my students, and how they take my suggestions on their essays. Most of them are happy to hear what they need to fix to make the grade, though some are sure they know better. Sometimes the fix is factual or grammatical, in which case if they don't fix it, it's wrong. But if it's something stylistic, and might not be how I'd do it but they like it that way, it's tough. I have a degree in English, I've written thousands of essays, and I read essays constantly. I can't stress that word constantly enough. English teachers? With the current personal / reflective essays that my class is writing, I've taken great strides to make sure that their voice is preserved and that I don't end up with 70 essays that sound like me, except from El Salvador, or Anacostia.

In this case, our professor works on computers for a living, teaches classes on it, and has written far more blog posts than me (not to mention has worked on / seen more blogs, websites, forums). I'm torn, so I tried to do some research. I Googled "black blog background" (name that poetic device). The first thing I found was that Google briefly considered switching to a black backdrop to save energy. They did some research, found that it wouldn't change anything, and abandoned ship. Interestingly, (a science blog) shows how it DID lower the power usage on CRTs, but not flat screens. I looked on. I found a web design blog from Sweden where the author hates white on black. But in the comment section, a few folks say that their optometrist told them to switch to white on black for less eye strain. There were no links to any hard studies. A few folks make mention of photo sites that use white on black, like this one.

I don't know. I think I'm going to leave it for now, but please comment with any thoughts, opinions or studies you know of about readability. I have a few friends who design for a living, I'm going to hit them up, too. I'm not changing it, yet. For now my site remains none more black.

More art / less weight

Over the weekend the Post had another story about the budget for next year for DC public schools. Once again I'm split on the news. In the past there was a rate of $8770 per student given to the schools, and the budget was left to the principal's discretion. (Editor's Note: Microsoft Word is telling me that "principal's" is, don't believe all the edits Bill Gates throws your way) (Editor's Note Mach II: if anyone out there knows how to make Word 2007 look like the old Word, let me know, it's driving me nuts, argh) Under this system, some students were weighted differently based on special needs (ELL, low income students, special ed, etc.) so that schools with more complex situations had funding to cover everyone's needs.

The per student amount is still in place, but the weighting based on need is replaced by specific staffing for each school. This is the part that I like: one goal is to make sure that there are art and music classes in all schools. After hearing atrocious suggestions during the Bush administration to cut arts funding (in schools, in society), it's nice to hear someone seeing the value in art and music classes. Without a doubt my music class in grade school begat my middle school music life, and my middle school ensemble classes begat my high school concert / marching band experience. And let's be serious here, this begat my love of punk rock and playing in bands. Without begatting you to death, I must add that now, years after I quit touring with bands, the ability to go home, pick up a guitar and make music after a long day of's the only reason I'm still (somewhat) sane. Make the connection - music classes in school = more sanity for future teachers.

Returning to education, my only issue here is, in the same way that the Federal government can't know the needs of every last district, I'm not sure DCPS HQ can know the needs of each specific school. Maybe there's a happy medium? Include the principals in the budget creation? Or vice versa? I'm going to follow this one over the summer, I'm assuming there will be some battles over this one.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Challenge Index

The school was buzzing earlier on this week as the Challenge Index was released showing the top 100 most challenging schools in the U.S. We came in at #76, which was quite the coup as I believe we were in the 300s last year. As it's been said elsewhere, we're had a little help in beefing up the numbers of students taking AP classes / tests - all juniors and seniors have to take AP English. Without opening the debate on if AP-for-All is a good idea of not, I'd like to think of some of the positives of us being ranked. Even if many kids struggle through these classes, I know that when they get to college, their early English classes won't see as intimidating. I think they may balk at the amount of reading coming their way, but I'd like to think that when writing essays, they've seen a bunch of what is to come. Likewise, I know DC school don't have the best rep with college admissions, and in some ways this will be a nice pay off for our students' hard work if an admissions officer happens to have our school's name in the back of their memory somewhere. yeah, I'm the optimist. Either way, it's a start, and an attempt at drastically changing things, which is much better than doing nothing at all.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Learning to Screencast

Today we're learning to Screencast, which I hadn't heard of before. But now that I'm learning it, I'm pretty sure that the MyDamnChannel video "You Suck at Photoshop" is just a screencast. Interesting. Right now I'm trying to figure out if I'm better off uploading this to the screen, or link to it from Archive. I'm going with the former, looks like it's working. You'll see my first practice typing - it didn't take, and I couldn't figure out how to stop. The second one I had the mic set up, but had the wrong 1/8" in the wrong input. Third take worked out. Dig how tired my voice is - this is your voice on teaching. I should sort out that mic level / breathing thing, eh? Enjoy. (note: before you press "Play" see below the video)

Ok, so that didn't work. I got this to upload, but when you hit play it buffers for ever, and ever, and then forever. Try it if you don't believe me. If you click here it should embed there's a link to where the screencast is saved. It's only up for 30 days (it's a test), and after that, well, you're out of luck.

Still reading? Nice. You're so hooked. Well, for the last 30 minutes I was messing with the screencast. First one I saved as an .avi, which I've learned in massive. How massive? 63 megs. Yeah, pretty much feels like dial up on a rotary phone. Then I learned to convert to .swf (shockwave format, not single white female), which made it 3MB. Much better. Posted it above (where it says "click here") incorrectly about three times before finally sorting it out. I think I got it now.

Friday, May 16, 2008

PT final numbers

21 parents showed up, and four students came by themselves.
A little less than normal, but still about 30% - we'll call it a success.
I got another batch of essays turned in, some kids made up time that
they owed me, and I'm a few inches closer to being organized.

Looking behind me to another English teacher who set up a table where students had to come in and make up time, complete work, etc. She made it fun even though it was serious. I think she had 30 kids, and in some ways her work table seemed like the hot spot. Don't get me wrong, some of them were clearly bummed to be in the cafeteria on a day off, but the others cranked out essays and joked around and stayed much later than they had to. The pizza she bought them didn't hurt either. Looking back at the year it makes me wish I'd thought of more ways to make class and work fun or interesting, even adding incentives. I should figure out a way to pull this off in the next four weeks.

Barring any last minute parents (it's 4 minutes til), these are the final numbers.
Over and out.

Parent / Teacher midway

Half-way through now, we're up to seven parents, which is a little over 10% of my roster. How's the spectrum look? Friends at Anacostia and Cardozo see about three parents all day (roughly 4% for them), but others at schools like Oyster get about 85% (I don't have the hard number, just their estimation). I know our school sends out a mass phone call to all homes, which must help on some level, though it's hard to say how many messages get intercepted. I usually call the parents that I need to see the most, which also helps. It's hard to say how many parents aren't coming because they work more than one job, or aren't able to leave their position. I get the feeling that's part of it, especially at our school where I know many kids are working to help pay the bills at home. The second half is about to begin, let's see if things pick up.

Parent / Teacher Day

Always interesting, always different. It's the 4th P/T day of the year, and so far 2 hours in and only 3 parents. Some days it's like being a line cook and you have constant parents and you talk and talk and talk, except for when you're getting translation. Others, like before the holidays, it's dead slow like today. Maybe I'll get the post-work rush between 5-7pm? But for now there are no parents, apparently.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

To translate or not to translate...

Thinking back over the year, one of the early debates in AP English Lit was "Do we buy the students copies of Othello or No Fear Shakespeare: Othello?" The former is what most high school students, or anyone for that matter, reads. The latter is the whole play with a modern translation side-by-side with the original. Realistically, the students would just read the translation, if anything at all. But, if by having a more accessible version of the story, would more students actually make the effort to read the whole play? And in the end, are we trying to teach them to read Elizabethan English, or to understand the themes and concepts of the play? In the end we went with the original, though now that the year is closing, and I see how much the students remember of the play, it makes me wonder if we made the right decision.

Four weeks left

We're in the home stretch now, four more weeks of class to go. How to balance the kids who are all caught up and on the verge of being bored with the kids who are desperately trying to catch up? In class tutors? Extra credit assignments? Public service hours? Not sure yet. But with college essays being the equivalent of a homework assignment to half the class and the equivalent of the Great Wall of China to others, I better figure it out fast.

DC School Roundup de la Rachael

Happy B-day FAA

We also needed to post something from YouTube, and this was all I had to offer. This is what happens when I'm not grading. Sometimes this happens when I'm grading, too.

This is why

As we learn to set up the blog, we were asked to post a picture. James Jamerson came to mind. He is the reason, right?


This is a test of the Public Broadcast System, this is only a test, if this were a real emergency...