Category Archives: Uncategorized

Hoping to Make the SuperAger Team

I think I am driven by a kind of survivalist mentality when it comes to learning: I keep signing up to learn every skill it takes to be a completely self-sufficient media outlet. Being “just” a writer makes me feel inadequate; I want to be photographer, designer, graphic artist and any other -ers or -phers, which may include coder and editor and probably videographer.

I am well aware it will take discipline and a great deal of practice before I can catch the dangling modifiers and vague pronoun references and gaps in logic and specious arguments – the nitty gritty – of those fields the way I can with grammar and content in writing.

So I was happy to find that at least I am not on a fool’s errand; turns out all that learning is adding years to my life. Apparently the struggles to find the right combinations of tiny checkboxes buried in Adobe Captivate Object Style Manager is the “temporary unpleasantness of intense effort” and I am on my way to becoming a Superager. Considering that when I want to bail, I like to bail to the gym, I am totally on track to a youthful brain. The study folks at Massachusetts General Hospital did is pretty encouraging, but to feel really on my way, I guess I’d have to take the California Verbal Learning Test Long Delay Free Recall Test. I think I will start by closing my eyes and trying to recite the name of that test. Nah, I have client work to read. I bet I can catch a dangling modifier.img_2180


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Models in Milano

Milan from the Duomo

A day or so after sitting in the public library Palazzo Sormani in Milan, which is
” la principale biblioteca del Sistema Bibliotecario Urbano e una delle maggiori biblioteche di pubblica lettura della città” – one of the cities main libraries and a one of its largest, I took this picture from the roof of the Duomo. As I looked out, I thought of all the people busy in the nooks and crannies of the hot city whose activities are essentially invisible from the top of the city’s iconic landmark. There were two people, however, who had made significant impressions on me the day I spent in the library Palazzo Sormani, a patron and a librarian.

The first was a man who had been sitting across from me at a table in the periodicals area; we had both gravitated to the spot by the open window through which a sporadic cool breeze teased. I judged him to be in his early thirties. For the weather, he seemed overdressed: long-sleeved tee shirt and jeans, and his speech, features and articles he carried indicated he was from North Africa. He spent his time in intense concentration huddled over a small notebook copying and recopying sentences from a book.

Across the room, a friend of his inquired in a mash-up of Italian and perhaps French how to find information. The librarian, a thin, middle-aged woman demonstrated the process as they both peered at a computer screen. He tried; she repeated; he tried and she repeated patiently until he seemed to get it.

I, too, was there in search of good examples. I had taken some plays off the shelf. I looking at the cadence of written language Italian-style in contemporary drama; the writing slowed down the pace of the words that spun around my head daily in coffee shops and on the tram. It was reassuring and enlightening to have the world pinned to the page so I had time to study. I had a similar goal to the (apparently) North African patrons and I also sought models to show me.

Copying, imitation and re-reading come from the maligned “drill and kill” school of learning, a system I chafed at myself in school. What made the difference in Palazzo Sormani that day was, in my opinion, the earnest motivation of the two men and myself to decipher the world into which we had immersed ourselves.

It has been a year this week since I sat in that library and I am just getting back to my summer 2012 journal. I hope the two men found the mastery they sought. I am still on my journey. I had, in fact, hoped to write about my experiences spending time in Milan’s public libraries, but when I returned I was given a pressing, time crunched opportunity to learn some software, then teach it to a group of about 70 adults. I did indeed teach myself the software with a combination of trial and error and YouTube videos. I got a message late in the process of preparation that, due to time constraints, I would, unfortunately, only have 90 minutes to teach groups of 20 something that had taken me weeks to learn. Unsurprisingly, ninety minutes did not prove enough;participants begged for hands-on practice, time to experiment and time for question and answer sessions: essentially demanding time for copying, imitation and, in a sense, re-reading.

What are you motivated to learn? Does this cycle help you?

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Boston Public Library

Boston Public Library

Inspiring, peaceful

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May 1, 2012 · 2:03 am

Ask Questions

Ask questions. If you can’t think of any, one of the best is “why”. Don’t quit until you find out “because.” “What if…” works really well, too. Little kids are great at these questions; after all, it is how they – we all – learned about the world. Questions take us beyond learning what exists, they are what get us to the next step: innovation.

Torie Bosch, of Slate asks, “Are we in the midst of a new era of innovation?” she is inspired by “New technologies are making it easier than ever to turn an idea into a reality. Three-dimensional   printers, open-source software, hackable products, and collaborative communities have turned traditional tinkering into a full-scale “maker movement” that allows—and encourages—everyone to tap into their inner entrepreneur.” She is excited about Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State Washington, D.C., Future Tense event on Wednesday, Feb. 29, called “Tinkering With Tomorrow.”

Tinkering may not be enough, however, especially when competing with a generation of highly-educated, highly skilled innovators. MIT is working hard to expand that pool beyond the students who study at its campus. MITx is “a portfolio of MIT courses for free to a virtual community of learners around the world.” Tinkering will be done by a lot sharper “DIY” crowd.

On a petty level, I found a DIY mindset saved me a bit of money recently. I was checking with my cell phone provider about using my 4G Android phone in Italy – it won’t work. But the service rep eagerly offered the number of a company who would give me “preferred rates” to rent a phone that would work. That sounded like money I didn’t want to spend, especially unattractive since two years ago, the same cell provider offered loaner phones free of charge, but no more. I wrote down the number for the rental company and hung up. But I called back a few minutes later with an inspiration about whether any of the old phones I had upgraded from would work in Italy. “Customers prefer the rentals,” I was told, an answer to a question I didn’t ask. I started asking about each model in the pile of discarded handsets. “Hey would my old Blackberry 9630 work in Italy?” My provider wasn’t volunteering the information, but at least was honest enough to say when I got to the right one, “Yeah.” I had the technology I needed right in my hand; I just had to ask.

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Proximity Networks: The New Rude?

Down the rabbit hole I went today and wound up learning more about “proximity networks” and the apps that make them, a search that turned up competitors Color and Lokast. After reading lots of vague promises on LoKast’s site that didn’t really tell me how the app worked, I retreated to the “University of Youtube” to see what Lokast’s text was unsuccessfully bragging about.

Let me stipulate to two firm opinions:

  • I hold the written word in highest esteem as a means of communication. (I read and re-read LoKast’s copy.)
  • I love new, interesting technology. (I do get that proximity networks sound  handy.)

But when someone tells me they have

a mobile app for digitally enabling [my] physical life — to better connect with the people there with [me], to better experience the physical settings, and to help [me] accomplish the stuff that [I] do there better….

I really have to ask, “Uh, what??” Why do I need an app to help me talk to the person in the room with me or to help me “experience” my backyard after work? Certainly, they mean more than disconnecting me from my real world only to connect me back to it digitally?

So they get some minus points for vague writing. Over to YouTube I went. But the phrase “real time interaction platform for physical settings” doesn’t do much either as far as clarity about what this thing does…so I need to listen a bit longer…oh wow, he continues that I can share things with people right next to me. Since I already do that, I am waiting for the new angle on face-to-face communication.

But that doesn’t come. What follows is a view of an auditorium with people seated apart from one another, but wanting to communicate and share videos and photos, presumably during the event they are in the auditorium for. I know that already with the technology we have, under the guise of taking notes, attendees frequently pull out their tablets and tap away, some of which is not note-taking but rather messaging friends about the boring speaker or where to meet for happy hour later.

Therefore, it is not the usefulness technology of proximity apps I wonder about, because there obviously are good practical uses for the technology: people from the same company separated in a huge auditorium at a conference, for instance, allegedly “sharing notes” as the video suggests (how can such tapped in digital natives forget notes they must have stored in the Cloud?).

But I do pause at the new standard and presumed acceptance of distracted attendance as the new norm for professional behavior in the face of a speaker. It never seems to occur to the folks at LoKast to pretend to apologize for real time social networking in that auditorium. With the benefit of this technology, speakers today should expect to look out at audiences who are offering only divided attention.

Can we develop an ethic of civility that brings us back to looking at someone when they are talking to us? Do we need to evolve manners for proximity social networks that allow us to have conversations about people right in front of their eyes in a much more “in their face”-“behind their backs” way than ever before? We do. Or proximity networks are the enablers of the new rude.

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Balancing Act: Accents in Arizona’s Schools

Andrei Codrescu’s editorial on NPR commenting on Arizona’s decision that teachers with “heavily accented English” be identified and made to improve left me torn. I want to agree with him. But my agreement with his premise that people like Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger contribute much, despite their accented English, is tempered by my memories of my frustration and struggles as an undergraduate chemistry student; I was attending lab classes at a major university in the 1970s taught by Asian grad students whose English was incomprehensible. No matter how closely I listened, I had no idea what these grad students were saying; the frustration literally brought me to tears. How could I pass a required course when I didn’t know what my teachers were saying? (I had to get help from a student using the same text at another university.)

According to The Washington Post, “Arizona’s education department has sent people into schools to audit teachers on comprehensible pronunciation, correct grammar and good writing. Teachers who fail may try to improve, but if they don’t, school districts can fire or reassign them.”

The conditions and timing of the remediation are not fully explained in the Post or a recent Wall Street Journal article on the subject. What both articles say is that teachers who are not fluent in English will be given opportunities and training in order to improve, but the length of time for training or quality of training provided was not explained in the articles by what I consider to be substantial, respected news sources. Why not? Didn’t anyone ask the question? And read carefully: “comprehensible pronunciation, correct grammar, and good writing.” That list goes way beyond accent to the fundamentals of the language.

I was disappointed by Codrescu, a scholar and commentator whose work I have admired:

That was in 1966, and now in Arizona in 2010, the police can target both my trench coat and my accent. The Arizona Department of Education has told schools that teachers with “heavy” or “ungrammatical” accents are no longer allowed to teach English to kids just learning to speak the language.

Oh boy! Did I land back behind the Iron Curtain half a century ago? My last 40 years of teaching would have never happened if the Arizona law had been the law of the land in 1966. Forty years of accented instruction gone by the wayside! Gone also the 40 years when American education, lower and higher, finally recognized the diversity of America.

Fluency and accent are not synonyms, which leaves me as a reader uneasy about the politicizing of the issue by school officials and reporters and Codrescu. While pronunciation is important, the series of words that form grammatical units within sentence structure are even more important. The example of “tink” for “think” or “biolet” for “violet” are not examples of pronunciation that obscures meaning in a grammatically correct sentence: I “tink” that flower is a “biolet” is comprehensible versus “flower tink biolet” which is not  comprehensible. How weak was Codrescu’s English at the beginning of his 40 years? If it was so incomprehensible his students wouldn’t have understood him, it is selfish of him to think that he should have been their teacher. Whose education is it anyway?

Like most issues in life, there is a balance, a reasonable point at which to draw the lines. The power does go to the ones drawing the lines, however, which in this case, is the state of Arizona. Since the teacher issue unfortunately surfaced during the immigration discussion surrounding the new Arizona law that gives police powers to challenge people on the streets about their citizenship, timing may be everything in terms of emotion that brings confusion with a heavy dose of logical fallacy.

Recently, a teacher I know who is Puerto Rican was told she needed to take more Spanish credits to be highly qualified to teach Spanish at an American public high school: No Child Left Behind standards. She is complying and understands the standards. Spanish teachers need to know Spanish. Does that seem unreasonable? I don’t think that expecting teachers who take a job teaching in English to speak the language rises to the level of intimidation that asking anyone for citizenship papers does.

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Double entendre and the iPad

WomenWhoTech complained on Twitter recently, “iPad developed in a silo, marketing team didn’t voice concern naming product 4 fem. hygiene prod.” Seriously? Of all the things to complain about, this seems petty. Whose minds does this reflect on anyway? It shows a serious lack of knowledge of words with more than one connotation and reminds me of giggles freshmen students have while studying Romeo and Juliet. Consider for a moment how the meanings of words change in various contexts, not to mention how they evolve. The word “gay” is an example of a word that I have to explain its historic meaning when we encounter it in literature; students are not being homophobic when they question it; they are just confused. What do I call those yellow, bound and lined stacks of paper when I ask for one across the table now? “Please hand me that pad” is apparently insensitive?

At least Shakespeare was trying to get laughs with his double entendres.

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