Category Archives: Around the world while you were sleeping…

“Sine” of Great Sentences

I have been reading about power inverters that convert direct current to alternating current, but I have also – for separate reasons – been reading Old Man and the Sea again. What a beautiful synthesis of thought dawned on me when I read Hemingway’s  sentence-paragraph:

He loved green turtles and hawk-bills with their elegance and speed and their great value and he had a friendly contempt for the huge, stupid loggerheads, yellow in their armour-plating, strange in their love-making,  and happily eating the Portuguese men-of-war with their eyes shut.

When I read the sentence again, the first part with its staccato rhythm of phrases joined by “and,” “elegance and speed and their great value and he had…” reminded me of the square wave inverters. They are simple and cheap and work with a short of push-pull. But the second part of Hemingway’s sentence, with its smoothly flowing parallelism:  “yellow in their armour-plating, strange in their love-making,  and happily eating…”seemed to flow as a sine wave, in lovely smooth rhythm.

Brooks Landon speaks of the writer’s craft of building great sentences in one of The Great Courses says that readers “recognize distinctive rhythms in prose,”  which are a series of long and short steps akin to Morse Code, or Aristotle’s vision that prose should not be metrical, nor should it be without rhythm.” Writers have to feel the variety pulse through our fingers as we create precise, intense sentences  so that we carry our readers along.  Thus, the sine wave is a metaphor for the effective sentence, illustrating the silky flow of power moving back and forth in a series of high frequency pulses.


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Filed under Around the world while you were sleeping..., Literature

Bad Art or Bad Fashion? Fireflies are your media?

Struggling with writing your very own bad poetry? Painting got you down? There may be a day when someone else will come to admire your work. But in case you wonder how bad it needs to be to be truly bad, read on. Rest assured, though, that if you make jewelry out of live fireflies and broken glass, you are in.

The criteria NPR says that a judge once applied to obscenity is that you know it when you see it, and the same thing applies to bad art. However, in their story about MOBA, the Museum of Bad Art, NPR staff quote Michael Frank, the head of the museum, who manages to get a working definition:

“What we look for are pieces of work that are produced in an attempt to make some sort of artistic statement — but clearly something has gone wrong. There has to be something about it that makes you stop, and very often wonder why the artist continued down the path to produce what he or she did.”

Since the veritable chain of MOBA installations is in nearby Massachusetts, I put them on my to visit short list. But I couldn’t resist checking to see if there other halls of fame to being totally bad. Lo and behold! The Bad Fads (who sort of cheat, since they include some fads that are not really bad (Frisbees) and admit that “bad” can mean “good” if you are in the right generation) and 10 weird museums offered by the Daily Mail, especially if you are into parasites or funeral carriages.

The best part of my quest to verify the fascination with the bad turned up this piece of evidence that that fascination is not at all new. When I read the dateline, I did a double -take:

By Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph to The New York Times.  March 14, 1909, Sunday

Museum of Bad Taste; Horrible Examples in Art to be Shown at Stuttgart

The Stuttgart museum was to collect items that departed from good taste, “fresh freaks” that dared “improper use of materials, offense against construction ideals, and anomaly decorative effects.”  I had to find out. What were these materials? Did the museum still exist? How offensive could one be with improper materials engaged in decorative anomalies? Can you say rodent on a skateboard?

Thankfully, Gustav E. Pazaurek has put order and articulation by clearly defining bad taste. Spoiled materials are definitely bad, as are live insects and apparently using them to imitate something else is absolutely off the table. Yet, while “functional lies” are sins, for sure, I have to disagree with this rule: “Obtrusive, abnormal shapes and proportions that detract from the clarity and familiarity of a traditional, functional form. ” To show why this is a rule meant to be broken, take a look at Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man, I. Giacometti’s tall, gaunt man with his slightly tired stride communicates a spiritual search, one that is often solved by breaking the rules.

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Filed under Around the world while you were sleeping..., Looking forward

Creativity Mash Up and One Laptop Per Child

The debate rages about the intellectual collage today’s computer-privileged students make of information: they cut and paste and mash, but often don’t create their own primary documents. In light of that, and concerns about empowering African students in ways that will upset the social order of their families by providing children with information their parents lack, there are voices rising against the One Laptop Per Child efforts in Africa. These opinions raised several questions in my head.

First, is it right to deprive a generation of information? Whose lives are they anyway? Second, does it ever work to try to keep information or tools from people? Here is a version of the alleged down side:

Right away, it is possible to suggest that inquiry-based learning is independent of a specific technology. In fact, computers and internet access guarantee little in the way of critical thinking. In a new program, children in New York City are taught inquiry-based methods of interacting with IT-based data by school librarian media specialists, who promote critical thinking and an ability to evaluate information as an antidote to the rising tide of a ‘cut-and-paste’ mentality. In other words, by many measures access to IT has had a stultifying effect on independent thinking. Instead of real research and evaluation most students are happy just to ‘google it.’

But listen carefully to this interview in which, ironically, a guy who collects odd, old outdated books puts it all together: the internet, the mash up, the way knowledge moves through history.

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Filed under Around the world while you were sleeping..., Technology

OneWorld’s People of 2008 or Barbara Walter’s?

I am not sure what it takes to achieve the label of “fascinating” let alone “most fascintating.” Whatever Barbara Walter’s criteria are, Will Smith, Tina Fey, Tom Cruise, Miley Cyrus, Frank Langella, Rush Limbaugh and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps have it. They will be featured on this year’s Barbara Walters Presents: The 10 Most Fascinating People special.

However, there is another list, one that is much more fascinating. OneWorld’s People of 2008 include Pamela Adoyo at the epicenter of Kenya’s AIDS epidemic; Patricia Smith Melton who has devoted her life to voicing the unheard stories of women in all corners of the globe; the mayor of one of Portugal’s smallest and poorest municipalities who has launched one of the largest green business initiatives in the world, and others.

Vote your choice!

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Filed under Around the world while you were sleeping..., Just thinking

Where are you on the Talent “Food Pyramid?”

In “Class Struggle: Helping Kids Who Hate High School,” Washington Post staff writer Jay Matthews recounts his debate with California educator Chris Peters about a total overhaul of education that would allow students, after their sophomore year, to – after thoroughly mastering important basic skills – choose one of four tracks. One of the tracks is college, another is community college with vocational education, another is more intensive high school tutoring, the fourth is dropping out.  The debate between the two centered initially on the value of vocational education.

The article is well worth reading, but the debate is may be moot if you check out the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. Download the “Standard Power Point” offered on the left side of the page, then go to slide 8 of 34: Profile of Successful US Firms of the Future. It seems to indicate that unless people plan to enter the fields of research, development, design, marketing and sales, or global supply chain management – so-called “creative work” – prospects are low.  Consider those implications while considering Matthews conclusions:

The steady erosion of the social safety net provided by the workplace in the form of reliable, long-term employment, paid sick-leave and vacation, health and retirement benefits necessitates that young people be much better informed about and prepared for the job marketplace.

Don’t we have some obligation to prepare kids for the lives they will actually lead rather than the ones we wish they would lead?

With regard to college, we educators have become exactly like the kind of overbearing parents who insist that all our children play competitive sports just because they did and who can’t imagine a richly fulfilling life without them.

People who have great skills through vocational programs need to be able to find meaningful work near their homes right here in the United States, not only for their well being, but for our national well being. Opportunities need to be here. That is why energy policy and education policy and our collective futures are tightly linked, in my view.

Micro economies need to be developed within the United States, just as they are being used in developing countries so that people with talent for making things as well as designing things have outlets for their natural talents.  What holds us back from local self-sufficiency is that we are all so interdependent on expensive forms of energy. In order to have small economies with local manufacturing, we need locally sustainable and containable sources of energy. The talented, skilled workers coming out of Peters and Matthews plans would have places to ply their trades.

Hopefully, that is what those research folks at the top of the talent pyramid are looking into.

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Filed under Around the world while you were sleeping..., Environment, Just thinking, Technology, Training

Missed the meeting? Look what I found…

Did you ever hear the expression, “I would love to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting?” Well, no need to give up your species if it was one of these meetings.

These are innovative educational projects, which means that people are trying things without budgets working on the energy of their own convictions. I wonder if they realized that these would be there for all to see. I know I attended a meeting in which I was gawking too close to my camera and generally looking goofy. I will make sure I am spiffed up next time.

Check out the topics. If you wade past the “Okay, testing mikes…where is …” stuff, you can learn not only about the projects themselves, but about how people work. As for flashmeeting, it works really well, from my experience.

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Filed under Around the world while you were sleeping..., Keystrokes, Technology, Tools of the Trade

What buzz words reveal about our professions

Buzz words provide nice crutches so we don’t have to say the hard stuff in awkward professional conversations; they take the edge off. Understanding buzz words shows you are in the club. As obnoxious as they are, as much as I love to hate them, they make me smile. Who cares that they don’t really mean anything?

Recently, the BBC offered the top 50 examples of office speak “you love to hate.” From that list, my hat tips to Timothy Denton:

“Thanks for the impactful article; I especially appreciated the level of granularity. A high altitude view often misses the siloed thinking typical of most businesses. Absent any scheme for incentivitising clear speech, however, I’m afraid we’re stuck with biz-speak.”
Timothy Denton, New York

While office workers may be serial offenders in the buzz word category, they may have learned the art in school. An Australian article shows schools may be responsible for English jargon:

Tony Thompson asks, “Have We Learned Our Lesson Yet,” as he discusses why Australia has a looming teachers shortage. I had to look twice when I first clicked on the article, because the list of problems sounds so much like those in the US.

I could be the assistant manager of a retail operation and make more money but it is clear that I have a sentence to serve. And I will serve this sentence by listening to education gurus tell me that my style of teaching is wrong and that I have to change. My lessons are not “inclusive” enough. I need to give the students more “ownership” of the process. My knowledge of my subject can impede student learning. They must be challenged to seek out information on their own. God forbid that I answer a question. I need to be a guide, not a sage. I should use “scaffolding”. I still don’t know what this means.

It may mean we should use “real world learning ” (not that fake stuff.)

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Filed under Around the world while you were sleeping..., Classic