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to you, from me.

Chide me if you will.

All photos in this blog are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license, unless specifically stated otherwise. If something written seems worth your time and effort, use it under the same license.

This is an archived blog. Those interested in my current blogging, feel free to visit
Runemanations where new posts will go.

Fri, 05 Apr 2019



Starting March 11, 2016 new blog posts will be posted at another location: Runemanations. (Address changed again April 2019)

It is an attempt to consolidate, and this blog was started as a simple experiment with Blosxom software which has turned out be wonderfully simple, but ultimately not so easy to make fancy. By contrast "Runemanations" is running on WordPress. It is a well-developed tool with lots of styling options and especially nice because it has commenting built into it.

I hope you'll shift your attention there.

This site will continue to exist unless and until I figure out if it is worth it to move these posts.

Thanks for reading.

posted at: 10:24 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 12 Dec 2016

User-agent: *

posted at: 11:38 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 14 Aug 2015

Seeing What's There

On our daily dog walk. it has concerned my wife that one house we pass has a front gutter which is half torn off. It has been that way since the heavy snows of winter, so that's about six months. This morning, the gutter was fixed. It looked like any normal gutter on the front of any normal house, unremarkable. In fact it was so unremarkable that she didn't notice that the fix had been done. To be honest, I don't know if it had just happened yesterday, or if it had been several days ago.

People tend to notice what is out of place. Something out of place draws attention to itself. The long-time bent gutter was a good example. Of course, maybe after six months we had become used to it broken.

When something is out of place, it jars the senses. We feel the need to deal with it. At least, we look at the bent gutters around us and comment on how long they have not been fixed.

Seeing something requires it to catch your attention, and a "normal" view isn't going to attract much attention. I think that is one difference between "observant" people and others. Observers, see things that don't necessarily attract attention. They don't stand out from their backgrounds enough.

What do you do to help your students develop the ability to be observant?

posted at: 17:23 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 08 Mar 2015

Dead Ends in Education
dead end

In exploration, one doesn't usually get a warning about dead ends.

That makes it important to understand how to react. In games, the person playing backs up and tries a new path which, with luck, even leads to a new level.

In education, we don't often organize things that way. Teachers and students too often face the dead end and make no effort to back up and seek the alternate path. Instead, we abandon our effort. We accept our grade as final. For the teacher, that means we've done our job. Other students "got" the content. The ones who didn't, well...

Students observe their peers. They observe their teachers. The other kids got it. The teacher is "satisfied." The failed learners accept the judgements of the situation.

The structure of schooling works against us, too. Mastery is the "goal", but maybe mastery is achieved well enough if it occurs in a majority of a class. The bell curve has lost its early glamor and isn't always used these days to apply grades, but it still has some influence on schooling decisions.

bell curve

True, a learner may attempt an entirely different game, but we accept the closure of the path where the "failure" grade stopped us. In the worst cases, a student/learner will get so many stop signs that he or she will accept the failures and adopt the "stupid" designation. What a tragedy.

stop sign

posted at: 11:43 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 21 Dec 2014

Walnuts in the Shell

Snacks are a problem for someone with diabetes. I cannot just grab some chips. The carbohydrates bump up my glucose levels. A Snickers is out of the question. A carrot is satisfying because it takes some work to chew and has only six grams of carbohydrates. Dill pickles are a good choice with under three grams of total carbohydrates each. A cup of walnuts is just eleven grams. They crunch nicely and bags of shellled nut pieces are easy to find in the supermarket. Our market has them in the produce department.

Leading up to Christmas, though, the market also carries walnuts in the shell. I cannot just pour out a handful from the bag and pop them in my mouth all at once. Having to crack the shells and pick out the edible nut parts slows down the snacking. Over about 20 minutes, I eat five or six nuts. Problem solved.

When's dinner?

Oh, yes. Always remember to floss at bedtime.


posted at: 11:18 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 16 Dec 2014


Open Education Resources (OER) come in many forms. Some are complex and fullblown activities or even courses to use. Others are less ambitious.

Clipart might be one of the less ambitious offerings. Openclipart.org is a source of clipart produced by almost 4000 different creative people. The clipart is designed using Inkscape, the Free Software vector art tool and is submitted to the site with a public domain dedication to remove any sort of restriction for reuse or remixing. There is no requirement to cite the original author, but it is gratifying and just plain nice to see the work reused.

I recently submitted a graphic of a truck carrying "loads of love" which I had initially created to add as a closing to emails to family.

loads of love

Today, I stumbled across a remix at openclipart.org done by another user: netalloy.

I  Like OCAL

Thanks to all who use a clipart. That's what it is there for. Have fun. Share your work, too.

posted at: 16:42 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 06 Nov 2014


It is National Novel Writing Month again, November. Again, I hear about others who are attempting to write 50,000 words in a month. Again, I am not doing it. My attention span is short. It is a matter of dipping into something for a while and then dipping into something else for another while. Writing 50,000 words about one thing is too daunting for me.

Not that shorter writing is much easier. Look at the gap since the last entry of this blog. Sad and overlooked, too. Which isn't to say that my days have been empty. I do participate in the Word of the Day forum at the Internet Book Database of Fiction IBDoF WotD which takes some time in the morning. Preparing the daily word, which I grab mainly from Oxford Dictionaries Online frequently involves creating an illustration in Inkscape or selecting an image from Flickr. If I use a Flickr image, then I try to make sure to stay with Creative Commons liberal use licenses like the CC-By Attribution license. That license lets me create links back to the Flickr source page for the image that gets used.

Today's word was "ullage", the empty space in a container when something gets sold. This is the image I made in Inkscape.


The word also goes to the Natick Patch bulletin board. There is a banner image in addition to the one incorporated into the WotD itself.


To encourage myself to do daily writing, there is an entry to a journal, well most days. It incorporates ideas that come up during the day. I'm writing in a text editor and using document conversion programs to make the text easy to change into several formats, HTML, EPUB and PDF. The primary conversion program is called Pandoc. With a bit of command-line automation, I write the daily journal entries, run a simple command and have three nicely-formatted versions of the journal ready to go.

I'm not actually publishing the journal, but the practice I'm getting may eventually cross over into actual published stuff. We'll see.

posted at: 11:34 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 04 Oct 2014

The Daily Create - a Milestone

There is a cool "course" online. It is called "The Daily Create" and has been running for quite a while. It is sort of a MOOC because it is massive and open and online, but is simultaneously possible to visit intermittently. The assignment are often submitted by participants. Each day a challenge is posted at the TDC Website. Assignments are also sent out from @ds106dc via Twitter. You may subscribe to the mailing list to have assignments sent to you.

The ongoing "event" is an outgrowth from a course in digital storytelling at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

The tasks ask you to illustrate something using one of several media types, writing, digital illustration, photography, audio and video.

On October 4, 2014, the site posted assignment 1000 and asked participants to illustrate "powers of 10".

An assignment is submitted by following an instruction like this one:
"Upload your photo to flickr and tag it dailycreate and tdc1000"

To participate, go and sign up. Get yourself an account on Flickr and get creative.

posted at: 15:29 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 18 Sep 2014

Publish. You Won't Perish

Though I am retired, I have always felt that writing/publishing was one of the things most educators should do. If you teach, you are already in the habit of passing along information to the students in your classes. Why not take the next step and write down some of your professional thoughts?

Writing worksheets to pass out often seems to be the top end of "publishing" for too many educators. Certainly, few teachers are writing all the students' day-to-day materials. Most student reading comes from a textbook. Where I've worked, having an official textbook for every student was high on the list of expectations of teachers, administrators and parents. I'm not sure that the kids were so excited.

An effective teacher doesn't stop with the pages of a textbook, though. He or she works to make the approved curriculum the best fit with each class of kids. If teachers were to write their curriculum adjustments, that writing would accumulate into a sort of textbook or student guide by the end of the school year. It might not be "polished" and probably no traditional publisher would want to grab it up.

But that is where a website comes in. Websites are an important publishing medium these days. Paper pages bound together aren't required. The site might be student-facing, with materials intended to help support each child's learning of the class materials. Some pages/posts could be intended for the parents. Some might even be intended for other professional educators. Whatever the mix of intended audience, and whatever the mix of polished quality, if even one page or post helps a learner, the publishing has been a success. Remember that mantra, "all learning is individual". Most educators have been urged to provide individualized instruction. Well, here's the chance and the method.

How does that apply here?

There are several website statistics reported to me. The reports start with 2010. Some kind of reset happened. The site has been live for longer than that, since 2001, I think. There has been a steady increase of requests for files each year. That's a measure of the site's traffic. The site isn't wildly popular, but 2013 had almost 600,000 file requests. Somebody is visiting. I hope they (you) are enjoying what you see.

This blog apparently accounts for a big chunk of the requests, cumulatively checked by somebody 60,005 times since 2010. The report doesn't dial down to say what posts are most popular. Maybe people are "tuning in" to see what's new, but maybe one or two posts have been linked from outside. Either way, thanks to those who are reading any of my ramblings.

The blog is part of a mostly handmade website. I taught myself HTML coding and have added a variety of stuff along the way. I'm a big fan of Inkscape, for example. A lot of my graphics are made with Inkscape.

But there isn't a need for you to take the same path. There are several ways to create a website which looks cooler even than this one [grin] and has tremendous content. Getting a blog set up with Wordpress.com is one terrific method. There are other blogging options, but Wordpress is Free Software (sometimes called "open source") meaning that it serves the public good better than some other blogging options might. Sites like openclipart.org provide graphics to enrich your posts. Those graphics are generously donated to the public domain, meaning they are totally free to use as you need them.

Please remember to respect copyright requirements. Not all graphics are suitable to include in your site. Look for public domain material or images whose creators have released them with a liberal Creative Commons sharing license.

If you are an educator or even if you are not, come on, join in. Let your communication skills have another outlet. Polish them up through regular practice. Your work will certainly improve as you do more of it. Don't wait. Get started. Stop reading this. Start writing!

posted at: 15:55 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 06 Sep 2014

Pandoc to HTML

For a while, I've been puzzled by the failure of pandoc to produce accented characters correctly in HTML output.

More research may have found the answer to bad html conversion of accented characters:

By adding the --ascii option to my pandoc command, the html contains the correct accents.

pandoc --ascii -t html5 -o 00test.html 20140906.md

From the pandoc README file:
    Use only ascii characters in output. Currently supported only for HTML output (which uses numerical entities instead of UTF-8 when this option is selected)
That means the html conversion uses littérateur to show the é as it should

Kubuntu Compose Key

Of course, we need an easy way to type the accents in the first place. The "compose" key is it. Compose+accent then the letter to accent

By default, the compose key isn't set. Of course, knowing the difference between the meta key and the compose key definitions comes first. The meta key is the left window key by default.

Internet search to the rescue:

The compose key is not set at the keyboard shortcuts. Instead, it is in the keyboard layout section of system settings. System Settings > Keyboard settings > Advanced Configure > keyboard options > Position of compose key > Left Win (my choice, so it is like Windows and, therefore, easier to remember). I think I must have set this before on earlier computers.

Hoo Boy! Two solutions in one day. The "learn something new" has been good to me today.

posted at: 13:59 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 05 Sep 2014

The Linux Way

(also published today at ramblings.runeman.org)

GNU/Linux really benefits from the UNIX style of storing configuration information in simple text file format instead of binary blobs.

I maintain my own website and a couple others using the FTP program gftp and have bookmarks set up for the couple of sites to which I routinely connect. I think it is a bother to use the mouse to click the menu choice for the site. I would rather use keyboard taps. I think it is faster. The two sites I access most added themselves to the bottom of the list of sites below the default choices which I never use.

Today, I stumbled on the hidden .gftp folder in my home folder while looking for some other stuff. A quick peek inside revealed a text file called "bookmarks". I quickly opened it, found the data for the bookmarks I use most and cut and pasted them above the rest of the bookmarks. The next time I started the program, it read the bookmarks in their new order and, now I'm very happy. Just a couple of keytaps will take me to my most-visited sites.

An added benefit is that I should be able to more easily tweak the settings of a bookmark than by using the program GUI access to the information.

I did a word of the day banner for the Patch version.

Image released to the public domain.

posted at: 15:42 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 16 May 2014

Show Your Work

New clipart today for the WotD. The last clipart I sent to openclipart.org was in February. There have been several other WotD illustrations, but none of them seemed appropriate for upload to the clipart site.

Stuff I make goes to a few places. I'm trying to follow the recommendations of 'Show Your Work' by Austin Kleon.

posted at: 09:04 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 20 Apr 2014

Testing for Blosxom

Up to now, I've been writing entries for the "Ramblings" blog using Kate and putting in my own html tags. This is my first attempt to use Markdown and Pandoc to produce the text for the blog. I've been experimenting with Markdown offline. The concept behind Markdown is to help let me concentrate on the writing, leaving as much of the issue of presentation to other software like LibreOffice or a web page. Pandoc is the tool I'm using to take the text written with Markdown syntax and to convert it to .odt output or html. Pandoc offers more options than that, but those two are the ones I've been using in my practice/experimentation.

The Markdown syntax for paragraphs is entirely transparent. All I need to do is type, leaving a blank line after each paragraph before starting the next. That looks good in Kate and the translation puts the appropriate tags in for paragraph display in html. Beyond the simplicity of paragraphs, markdown requires some "coding" which is as unintrusive as possible. To identify headings, Markdown uses hashmarks # at the left edge of a line followed by a space before the text of the heading. The number of hash marks, from one to five, is used to determine the level of the heading, one hashmark converts to a top level heading. In other words, Markdown syntax is not 'free' of coding, it is just not as much busywork as direct html coding which requires opening and closing tags for any block of text.

<h1>Heading 1</h1>
accomplished by
# Heading 1

So far, I am happy with the journal work. It is a piece of the day's work, not written after the fact, but mixed in with the other stuff throughout the day. I expect to make some sort of descriptive entry somewhere on the website at some point.

I just did a quick test. It is necessary to convert from the Markdown to html with Pandoc, otherwise, blosxom displays the Markdown syntax and does not give a very good-looking result.

posted at: 09:01 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 01 Mar 2014

Charging into Professional Development

professional development

Tweets are short, but that might be all a person needs to jiggle a thought loose. After reading Tom Whitby's statement above, I wondered if teachers might be in the same bind as the students they teach.

Teachers guide their students toward mastery of a curriculum, and the best teachers engage the majority of their students with good pedagogy, story telling, humor, challenge-and-answer, etc.

That could actually be part of the problem.

Teachers themselves are products of a system in which learning is guided by a long series of professional educators. When they were themselves students, today's teachers developed the habits of focus which made them successful in the system. They focused on the words of a lecturing teacher. They focused on the words in a textbook chapter and the answers asked at the end of that chapter. They focused on the review and on the test which assessed their grasp of the material. They avoided the dangers of wandering attention and stayed "on task" which made their grades good enough to get into a college. College offered some flexibility, but teachers were guided to the pre-service options like teaching methods courses after their focus on a major.

Along the way, how much self-initiated learning occured?

Certainly some, but was it actually associated with the person's professional goals to become a teacher?

More importantly, was the learning un-guided?

Do teachers avoid being responsible for their own goals and their own drive for mastery of new skills because they don't know how?

To be a self starter, a person needs to know how to succeed without structure and with repeated sideslips and even routine failures.

"Failure" is a bad word in education. Failure is at the opposite end of the grading curve, far from the desirable A. Overcoming failure isn't the goal in most grading situations. Getting the best grade you can is the goal. Taking risks and failing is not really part of the structure of school. When students take risks, they are often scheduled to visit the assistant principal, a discipline event.

Academics are about avoiding failure.

If teachers have been successful students, why would they be self starters?

Is this too broad an indictment? Tell me how. Tell all of us how to fix it.

posted at: 19:47 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 12 Feb 2014


The lovely Gretchen is going to the vet this morning to get her teeth cleaned. Happy went yesterday, and I'm going next week. It seems to be the season.

Happy had no cavities. We'll see how it goes with Gretchen, and, of course, my mouth is full of 28 crowns. It's all about the roots for me.

posted at: 07:56 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 09 Feb 2014


Football is over for the year, and usually there's nothing in sport to replace it in my interest. This year, however, the 22nd Winter Olympics will occupy my Sundays. It is even more time consuming than football. After all, football games don't start until afternoon. I was up early this morning, and there was some Olympic coverage on at 5:00 AM. Luge is on now, at 9:30. There may be some event on display most of the day. By the end of the prime time coverage, I wonder if I'll have had enough. Then there is Monday, and Tuesday and...two weeks worth ahead.

posted at: 09:39 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 15 Jan 2014


Animation I don't do it. I'm often impressed by it, and that's certainly the case this time.

Animation Girls
YouTube Video

This is also a case of connections. I follow an animator named Leo Loikkanen from Finland whose non-animated work inspired Betty'n'Bob. Leo put a post on Google+ about this video, so I checked and am going to follow Rebecca Parham's YouTube channel from now on, and I've clicked to follow her Twitter account, too.

I'd love it even more if she worked with Free Software, too.

posted at: 11:28 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 11 Jan 2014

Something New


Late yesterday, I completed this clipart image. This morning, when I submitted it to openclipart.org, the image was broken, not showing the bottle!.


Some puzzlement was followed by some searching and some experimentation. It turns out that the solution is to save the file out of Inkscape to "Plain SVG" which Firefox and the image processors at openclipart.org can handle properly. Usually the original Inkscape file works just fine, but this one must have been odd or too complex in some way. As an added benefit, the file size dropped slightly, 109.5KB to 101.4KB. That will save bandwidth as millions of adoring fans get their copies. ☺ If you are one of those fans, find your copy at my clipart page.

posted at: 10:44 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 08 Jan 2014


find X

If you have ever tried to teach someone, you may recognize the problem represented in the opening illustration. Teaching and learning are two distinct things. While the picture is intended as a joke, it also illustrates the all-too-frequent disconnect between a teacher's understanding and a student's understanding.

When the time for a test arrives, especially a standardized test written by a person very far away from the classroom in which the test is happening, the disconnect is elevated to a real problem for the kid taking the test.

No matter how well a teacher thinks he has "covered" a topic, each learner must build the connections between the new material and all the other stuff already understood. The child needs to make connections. The new idea needs to fit. It cannot just be stuck on. The more paths and the more traveled those paths become, the better a child understands.

Even then, some children experience something like panic when faced with a major test. They often describe that their mind "just goes blank." The anxiety frequently expresses itself with missed answers which seem to others to be "obvious."

Extra drill isn't the solution. It takes a teacher who both engages with each student and understands the material and then discovers the disconnect between them and explores making alternative pathways, not just pounding home the same old stuff, harder and longer.

posted at: 16:59 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Cat Nutrition

We have a cat. We got her from sister/sister-in-law Ann. Because we (I) thought it was cute, we named her "Wheezy" to recognize her effect on our breathing from alergic reactions. That changed to "Mrs. Jefferson" because her nickname sounded like what George Jefferson called his wife, Louise, on the TV show "The Jeffersons." On her official vet record, she is "kitty." I mostly just call her "cat."

We used to feed her an anti-hairball food formulation, but have switched to Purina Cat Chow Complete®. I guess the Purina people are suggesting she doesn't need to go outside to chase and capture birds, moles, voles and mice. But, of course, she does.

Perhaps we should see about buying a food which recognizes her unquenchable urge to hunt. Though, I suppose they would still charge us just as much per bag.

cat chow
Mrs. Jefferson looking for lunch

posted at: 13:18 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 04 Jan 2014


It is common to see signs along our streets which admonish us to take extra care because there are children.

Caution Children

Now, I do agree with the advice. I love children and never want them hurt. I appreciate knowing that there are children around. Thanks to the town officials who gave the approval and to the maintenance workers who put up the sign.

The real problem is...the adults. They are present in large numbers along our streets and are just as common on the streets, crossing busy roads in the middle of the block, far from any marked crosswalk. Then, too, it is the adults who drive the cars and text, talk on cell phones, eat breakfast, you get the idea.

I believe it is high time we had at least an occasional warning that we need to pay attention to other adults. Maybe the caution would also serve to remind us to look (briefly) in the rearview mirror to see the adult who needs to apply due caution.

caution adults

posted at: 17:13 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 18 Dec 2013


I'm done clearing the driveway and the sidewalks. It only took two hours this morning. The snow was much lighter weight this time. It was the second storm in three days. It is mid December. Sometimes we wonder if there will even be flakes in the air by Christmas.

The snowblower handles this kind of snow well. Sunday's snow was soaked with rain at the end and it was too much for my twenty-year-old machine. That meant shovel work for my 67 year old body. Whew. Tired. Took a nap. Might take another today. Joys of retirement: moving snow with no rush, napping afterward.

posted at: 09:04 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 16 Sep 2013

Music 2013

We listen to the radio in our house. It is on now and my wife and I can hear the same song playing.

music player 2013

Do the MP3 gadgets offer the same social experience, I wonder?

posted at: 11:18 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 12 Sep 2013

Interstate System

My wife and I are just back from a visit to relatives in Pennsylvania, and I want to thank all of you out there, no matter how small your contribution to the Eisenhower Interstate System of highways.

I like back road driving. Don't get me wrong, We loved the first hour which we spent on PA County roads and loved the small towns we encountered between the relatives' house and the New York border. But a whole lot of our trip was interstate highways. I-88 might be at the top of my list for pleasure to drive. It has never been crowded, in our experience, The long vistas are magnificent. Ridge after ridge of forest, hillsides and valleys of fields pass outside the car windows. Silos, barns and majestic (or small) farm houses fill my eyes on both sides of the road. The mix of green shades in September is marvellous. I expect the fall bursts with more color, but we've done our PA trips mainly in September and don't regret a second.

Miles and miles of I-88 from Binghamton to Albany are concrete and the syncopated beat of tires on the slab dividers, sealed cracks and well-made repairs is both soothing and practically musical.

Today was hot and hazy, and one view of overlapping ridges receding into the misty distance took my breath away. Riding the rural roads would not have revealed the view.

Yes, I will admit that some of the driving is tense with traffic whizzing along at all sorts of different speeds. Trucks labor up the long slopes in the right lane with hazzard lights flashing. Once in a while some idiot causes the police to fly by with their lights flashing, and it gets too crowded around many cities. Nonetheless, I will take the bother with the beauty.

Thanks, then to the design engineers, the heavy equipment operators, the truck drivers who delivered the safety guards along the long elevated curves, the pavers, the line painters, the snow plow drivers, the sign makers and hangers, the grass mowers, the culvert installers and the bridge builders. Whether you wore gloves for your shovel, sat in a machine cab or just stared at blueprints for hours behind a Department of Transportation desk. Your work is appreciated.

Long trucks carry goods to market on these roads. We saw one semi-trailer today with not just the standard 18 wheels, but an additional two axles (26 wheels?). There are people who travel to and from their day jobs as well in pickups and sedans and even sports cars.

But I think you built these roads just for me, my wife and our station wagon, and I think you prove that my federal taxes can be well spent. To everyone who has earned a small part of a penny from us through the years, thank you, and thank you again.

posted at: 19:50 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 26 Jul 2013

MiO, MiO on the Shelf

OK, help me get this straight.

You're buying water in a bottle for dozens of times more than the cost of tap water, more than the cost of gasoline, and now, you are buying little packages of concentrated flavor which you can squirt into the bottled water. Didn't you buy that water because it tasted so good?

Coca Cola now has Dasani Drops which has joined MiO from Kraft. I have not checked to count all the water flavor brands out there. Is there going to be a problem if I add MiO to Dasani water or Dasani Drops to Fuji Water? Is brand matching going to be important?

Please excuse me. All this writing about (silly?) water marketing has made me thirsty.

posted at: 19:01 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 15 Jul 2013

Lending Some Advice

"We will loan you $50. We will loan you $500. We will loan you..."

So goes the pitch of an ad I heard today on radio. If I listen to the same station for long, I am sure to hear the ad again between one song and another. The ad might repeat once a day or even once an hour. I don't know.

I do know that "loan" is a noun. "Lend" is the related verb I was taught. A bank or some other finance company can lend you money. It can give you a loan. The concepts are related, for sure. Still, the agency cannot be forgiven for bad word usage. The bank does not give you a lend. The finance company does not loan you money. Yet, the ad says they do. The ad airs again and again.

I'm sure you could accuse me of remembering more about words than many people do. However, ad agencies are word professionals. I am bothered that advertising agencies have time to prepare their scripts. The ad isn't recorded off the cuff. It isn't a one shot deal. The agencies hire actors, actors who read a written script. They are not making up the ad as they stand at the microphone. Even if the agencies use the CEO as the face or voice of the company, they still can do several takes to get it right.

That means that there is NO EXCUSE for them to say "loan" when they mean "lend." Advertising reaches large audiences, with any luck. A large audience is, therefore, subjected to hearing bad word usage, again, and again, and again.

All the hard work of English teachers is overridden by the barrage of poor usage by advertising professionals, you know, the ones who are experts in their field. A loan company knows loans. They know about lending practices, They have the experience of training in their specific field. Advertisers are professionals with words and cannot be forgiven for confusing nouns and verbs.

Boycotts are probably not going to work. People who need to borrow money are going to do it without regard for the misuse of words in an ad. On the other hand, maybe some of you reading this are employed by or work with ad agencies. Let them know there are people out here who care.

By the way, this issue isn't limited to loans and lending. Pay attention. Thanks.

posted at: 19:50 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 30 Apr 2013


A rhyme is not a poem.
It takes more work to show 'em
How your words go deeper, to the heart.
And then they still may miss your art.

[ Last day of poetry month for 2013. Hope your poetry shines out in all you do. ]

posted at: 13:27 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 13 Apr 2013

Spring 2013

Beside the leafless chestnut stump
The village smithy's land
Is barren, paved and bland.

It's April in the U.S,A.
And buds are bursting out.
Tornados scream and shout.

Monarchs are leaving Mexico.
They'll seek milkweed in vain.
Herbicides kill their strain.

Soon the drought will come once again.
Phoenix drains a river.
Green grass a desert does deliver.

Bees will soon visit crops from hives.
To colony collapse
Mankind the world entraps.

posted at: 13:18 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 19 Jan 2013

Attention Span

Being retired has many positive aspects. I get up at 5:00 to go to the YMCA to swim instead of going to work. I dress casually every day, not just Friday. I save money I used to spend on commuting even though I have less money. You get the idea.

And, it's not like I don't have anything to do. Just the opposite. I have too many things to do. My friend, John Young, described retirement as "Every day's a Saturday." That's great. But, think about your typical Saturday. You try to catch up on all the little jobs that you couldn't do during the week because you were working. Sometimes there are big jobs, but mostly Saturday is filled with one thing after another.

There's the thing, you see.

One thing after another, none too big, usually. There goes your attention span.

Yesterday, I spent a stretch of three straight hours writing up an article on doing GIF animation. When I finished, just before dinner, it was great, just like writing up a set of activity directions for my students. I had done one thing, pretty much start to finish with a level of concentration I had been missing. Long sessions on one task were pretty common during my work years. It was common to look up after a concentrated day of work to realize I was alone in the building, except for the custodians. I hadn't noticed the time passing.

Now, I won't claim to actually miss the tiring schedule. No, that would be untrue. However, I think I do miss the focus on important tasks that made me feel productive. These days, I get stuff done. For the most part, though, the "jobs" are recreational (don't count walking the dogs, doing laundry, vacuuming around the house, repairing something, shoveling snow in winter). Hey wait a minute, I actually love shoveling show in the winter and walking the dogs. Crazy! Laundry and vacuuming, I can take or leave.

What's a deadline?
What does it matter the order I do things?
Off on a spontaneous search for more information after reading an email...I'll get back to reading the rest of it later.

All in all, my attention span is shot.

posted at: 16:15 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 10 Nov 2012


The election is over. The best part is the end of the advertising for candidates. We got ads for three states, oh yes, we got the national ads, too.

Back to normal. Beer ads, The Scooter Store, CHRISTMAS!

Yes, the TV is on here often enough to see the same commercials we've seen, dozens, scores, maybe even hundreds of times before. Back to normal Hooray.

posted at: 14:46 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 05 Aug 2012

Stop Privatizing Public Schools

Please copy and reuse this graphic, available under a Creative Commons Atribution license.
Also available in source SVG format.

Education is a public responsibility in the United States. It isn't a corporate responsibility. While making the effort to learn is an individual effort, the need to provide a school with resources is the job of the community: local, state and national.

Sharing is the process of education. Each generation of teachers guides many groups of students by sharing the world's knowledge, by encouraging children to try and not be stymied by needing to try again. Older children share their developing skills with younger children, learning to be effective at sharing and leading in a community. We must not sell out to the profit takers. We need to continue encouraging and enabling generations of citizens, those members of a community who make the community stronger by giving back, not just taking out. A community is not defined by its singular, grasping, winners at all cost. A community is defined by its willingness to support its children and the next generation of community success.

Thanks to Paul Buchheit at Common Dreams for the inspiration for my post.

posted at: 18:01 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 26 Jul 2012

Surrounding the Common Core

There seems to be a rush to find ways to write curriculum to address and align with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS or Common Core) and it bothers me.

Image Credit: Jeff Kubina photo of sculpture by Claes Oldenburg

An apple isn't going to be very interesting to eat if there is only a core to start with.

A curriculum isn't very rich if it is merely the core of a curriculum.

I am very worried that the effort states, districts, individual schools, teachers and students will make to satisfy the demands set by adopting and supporting the Common Core will eliminate most of what has traditionally made education worth the trouble.

I believe, very strongly, that the Common Core is a trap rather than a solution. The rich curriculum of U.S. public schools has been shrinking. I taught for 36 years. I watched home economics disappear. Shop classes briefly became robotics classes and then stopped altogether. Civics is currently being shuffled into the hands of the English and Math teachers.

At the same time, there has been a "time on task" movement that focused on reading skills, rote math skills and endless years of grammar study. Recess disappeared. Physical Education classes merged boys and girls together and had class sizes rise to the 50s. Of course, there are now more little league and town football programs than ever before...in some communities. The goal, too often is just winning, not participation or fun. The sidelines are crammed with parents screaming at the players (often their own kids) and swearing at referees and coaches. Somehow these hyperorganized sports don't seem a great replacement for learning teamwork in a supportive Phys Ed class or being the older siblings providing encouragement and a good example (once seen as learning leadership) during recess in the schoolyard.

School day music and art classes are under pressure or are even gone from the schools.

All of these components are the parts that surround the Common Core. They are the tasty parts of the apple. I don't want to buy an apple that is just a core. I don't want my grandchildren to attend a school that concentrates only on the Common Core.

Remember. Children are eager learners unless the desire is squeezed out of them.

Surround the Common Core.

posted at: 15:08 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 22 Jul 2012

Peloton Grading - More

At Diane Ravitch's Blog Duane Swacker objected to part of my Pelton Grading comment. Go read his comment. I expanded the idea.

I'll concede that honoring the best is an element of competition, and I do not think learning/education is competitive. Schools have become hotbeds of competion with grading as a contributing factor. “You do realize, Sally, Harvard won't look at you unless you have a hign GPA.” Sad guidance.

The only valid competition is to improve, to be more effective than before. This is comparison against oneself, not others.

Yet, we love to chase one another around the school yard. At least we used to before recess was elimiated in favor of more time on task. That common, joyful play might be one reason we see grades in schools. They've possibly been institutionalized as a way to capitalize on the joys of running around. I'd say the use of grades has been a dismal failure.

The concept of “peloton grading” is an idea to minimize the damage of grading. Children often are proud to know a “star” and look up to their peers and kids in higher classes. We are comfortable giving applause to the performance of a band and the soloist, almost to the same degree as we cheer for the kid striving to be first across the finish line.

Kids in a class don't mind slapping a friend on the back for a job well done. They just don't want everyone to turn around and jeer as they cross the finish line last. Today, such behavior is called bullying and the nation's schools are developing curricula to try to stamp it out. (I wonder how the grades will be determined for that curriculum?)

Yet, there it is. Tell a kid he got an F. How is that not bullying?

The trouble grading causes is less that it acknowledges outstanding performance. The trouble is that the system, bell curve or not, stigmatizes much more than it highlights exceptional performance. Ask most kids in class who's smart. They know, and it isn't because they have been keeping a rank book during the year.

posted at: 15:29 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Peloton Grading

The 2012 Tour de France bicycle race just finished today. For those who don't know about it, briefly, it is a long race (3,497 kilometers this year) held over three weeks. To call it an endurance race is putting it mildly, as it involves all-out sprints for some days and grueling mountain "stages" in both the Pyranees and the Alps.

Okay, the grading bit. The mass of riders that stay together for the finish each day all get the same time (grade). The outliers in the lead most often become the notable winners of things like the overall fastest (yellow jersey), best in the mountains (polkadot jersey), etc.

NOBODY in the race gets C, D, or F grades. It is possible to not finish and get no credit for the race, but usually that isn't even considered bad because it happens because of sickness or injury.

Schools might want to do something similar. (Diane Ravitch, or another education historian might be able to confirm that it is how school culture once worked). Recognize the excellent performances. Honor the best and brightest. Do not penalize the others. Remember, the students have all gone through the same year of work. Does it matter to their success in life if they were middle of the peloton (pack)? Does it even matter if they were one of the least successful? Will a quiet finish in the tail of the group make a bad citizen? Is it really more effective to apply the letter grades of D or F to these children? Does finishing the year matter so little, and it it better for the students to have a negative label applied to them?

Starting on the journey and finishing it matter far more than being first, and there need be no stigma for finishing last. Just ask Tyler Farrar, one of the American riders in the race. He finished 151st, almost last. He was over three hours back from the winning total time of Bradley Wiggins, the overall race winner.

Tell me it would be fair to say that Tyler deserves an F. Are you kidding me?

posted at: 14:12 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 09 Jul 2012


Comment 1:

Taking "best products to scale" sounds efficient. Now, if only all children were equally prepared to go to school each day and practice the same skills on the same day.

Efficiency is not a viable goal for learning. Each child faces singular challenges in learning. Even twins from the same family are not the same and do not gain the same benefits from the same lessons taught by the same teacher.

Education can be kept "efficient" by offering the same materials for study to rooms of students, but any teacher who understands the job, knows that the questions needing answers will not be the same from child to child. There will be a slant that reflects the individual needs of the moment for each child.

Dealing with the similar questions first will help the majority (making it practical to ask children to raise hands and ask their questions aloud). After that, the questions will be more personal. When a teacher can get to the individual questions, the child may get the special answer needed. When a teacher cannot get to the child, frustration can build in the child. Over time, a sequence of unanswered questions may sour the affection for learning.

"Best products to scale" won't solve the challenges faced by individual children. Quickly "trained" teachers won't, perhaps, even know to seek out the individual questions after the hands go down. Children are not all alike as peas in a pod. Children are not a monoculture to be liberally sprayed with the best products so they grow to maturity and can be harvested from their school, all equally ready for college or the work force.

Comment 2:

A "common core" sounds reasonable. "Back to basics" didn't have the necessary ring to it. Back to basics had the sense of retreat built into it. Common core suggests there will be time and support for the addition of all the rich elements of learning found around the core.

Time will tell. As you note, Diane, this initiative is being rolled out in 45 states. Each state will implement their own curriculum. Each districe/school/teacher will add what is possible to the basics (oops, core). We can hope that there will be time and support for the civics lessons, the band practices, the application of brushes to the art canvas and a bit left over for the joys of running free during recess.

But, if due process is eliminated, will quickly "trained" teachers replace the seasoned professionals?

If the money from state and federal sources is determined by a school's success rate only on the core, will districts find the money to support the arts, STEM, chess club, programming a computer (not just knowing Office)?

Will the core remain just the core, or will it be the whole since only the core will count toward maintaining the financial support from the state and federal level?

posted at: 08:51 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 04 Jul 2012

The Best Way

Is there a single "best"?

Today's education "reformers" seem to think so. We've recently seen a move by the state governors to forge the Common Core State Standards for all fifty of our United States. All sorts of work is going into making these guidelines the best guidelines. There might even be an assumption that the hundreds of thousands of children in today's public schools will each, individually benefit from the development of this Common Core.

Is there a single best way to teach every individual student? Are the hundreds of thousands of children in a particular school grade level so alike that the exact same curriculum will do them the best good? Will every student gain the same amount of skill after the school year finishes? Will every student tie for first place?

You might wish to suggest that the Common Core isn't expected to do that. I think you are right. So what is its purpose?

According to the key sentence of the first paragraph at the Common Core State Standards site: "The standards establish clear and consistent goals for learning that will prepare America's children for success in college and work." The trick in the wording happens around the words "clear and consistent goals" right smackdab in the middle of the sentence. By being "clear", the goals become easier to implement than if they were full of ambiguity and variation and focus on the needs of any one individual. By being "consistent" the goals tell us that variation and individualization isn't really a good thing for the students. They should all be evaluated equally against the same benchmarks. Sure, you are free to go beyond these goals, Sure, you can add material not covered in our prescription. Of course, you will need to do that while being careful to get these goals reached since we have plans to give all students a common test. That common test will be the instrument that judges the progress toward success. It needs to be a standardized test. If you could give your own test, how could we possibly compare Bob in Iowa with Corrinne in New York?

You might say, "Bob will never be directly compared with Corrinne. That's silly." I would again agree with you. It will be far more probable that Corrinne in New York will be compared to her own classmates. She and they and their school will be compared to the other New York students and schools. Mayor Bloomberg will perhaps close Corrinne's school because it will be judged "underperforming." It won't matter that Corrinne is hungry when she gets to school because her mother works nights at minimum wage and she can only get a quick bite of toaster pastry which she shares with her younger brother, the one that she gets out the door on time to get to his school. Bob in Iowa has it relatively good. He lives on a farm and was up early and carried the eggs in that his mother cooked for his breakfast. He's a bit tired because of the early wake up time, but he's been doing it since he was six and he has had a good breakfast before he and his younger sister get on the bus to school.

Bob is male. Corrinne is female. Bob is from a farm community with two parents at the breakfast table. Corrinne is from an inner city single-parent family and only she and her brother share the toaster pastry without sitting at a table. Bob and Corrinne have little in common except that they are both sophomores in high school. They do, also, share the same Common Core expectations that the Governors have proposed so everyone is treated equally.

I think I'd rather see Bob and Corrinne treated as individuals, cared for by teachers with ability to see their individual potential and to nurture it within the classroom along with all the other individuals facing their own challenges, perhaps even along with the Common Core expectations of the Governors. That would probably require more time and more money, though.

Did I mention that the cost of writing the Common Core and the standardized tests is supported by millions of dollars a year, mainly paid to corporations like Pearson Education who also grade the test and that the millions of dollars do come from the overall education budget of the states, money that might have otherwise gone to the schools of Bob and Corrinne to support their individual needs?

Why is it that we seem to think that an expert cannot be somebody local? Why do we believe that the governors and the likes of Pearson Education know better what is good for Bob and Corrinne than the local principal of our neighborhood school? Even if they are all very smart, has any of them met Bob or Corrinne to find out what they individually need? No, of course not. The parents, principals and teachers who know Bob and Corrinne have met them, though. We cannot listen to them, though. They are not really experts, no matter how many years they have been raising children, helping them with their pronunciation and their breakfast concerns.

What is best for Bob? What is best for Corrinne?

Is it the same thing? Is it provided by the Common Core State Standards?

posted at: 14:45 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 29 Jun 2012

Local Community Schools

Comment to Diane Ravitch's Blog

Choice to have a wonderful neighborhood school is both a worthy goal and a potentially troubling one. Local control does not have a perfect record.

While a school community might decide to offer plenty of physical activity and play, there is equal chance that the local school will expect everyone to pray the same prayer before the game. There might be a dynamic discussion of the universe and the role of humans in the world of biodiversity. Unfortunately, with local control, there might also be a community norm expecting children to know their dominion over the beasts of the field. There might be a school full of different colors of skin and a variety of garments. There also might be a school full only of "people like us."

Local control might hire a staff of dedicated, eager, engaged educators. But a principal might, instead, hire his cousins and their friends instead of somebody from the next town or county. Unions and teacher due process are not, necessarily, significant components of local control.

I hate thinking these thoughts.

I really love the ideal of community-controlled schools. The ideal also includes my desire to see strong teachers whose hands are not tied by cronyism or expectations they will examine only narrow beliefs.

What will balance the need for neighborhood/community schools against the honest acceptance of a world not constrained by the mountains (real or metaphoric) which surround the community?

What prevents a set of train tracks from dividing a town/city/community into ethic enclaves?

State and federal laws have frequently been designed to prevent schools from perpetuating belief isolationism or segregationist localism. Those laws are not universally loved any more than I love the laws which impose statewide or nationwide standardized testing.

Can we find a balance?

Can we avoid just throwing up our hands and letting commercial/corporate gurus take over?

Let us struggle (acknowledging it won't be quick or easy) to support *public* schools, with all the traditions and buy-in from the community; public schools which have broad financial support from all citizens (with or without children in school); public schools with teachers who love the tradition and community-building sequential interaction with one generation after another; public schools which celebrate the accomplishments of the individual students, their many "teams" (including drama/arts and band/chorus, not just football, etc.); public schools which benefit from the return of their adult successes.

Let us simultaneously embrace a broad view which doesn't pit "our good community" against "them and their undesirable community."

posted at: 09:51 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 26 Jun 2012

Are YOU a Geek?

Geeks come in many sizes and shapes. That is to say, we are not all the same. But there may be something about us that overlaps in a consistent way.

What makes you a geek?

Perhaps it is this simple. You are interested in something that the vast majority of others are not. When you laugh at the memory of a favorite line from an obscure movie, you identify yourself. If you study the leg joints of butterflies, you identify yourself. If you obsess about the pronunciation of the letter H (haitch vs. aitch), you identify yourself. The realms of your geek identity are dissimilar, but your focus and "odd" fascination mark you.

I smiled, and thoroughly enjoyed this video. So did Guy Kawasaki whose blog brought the video to my attention. Will you think the explanation is "cool" or will you even go so far as to stop watching before it is finished? Are you the same kind of geek as I?

Do you have something that captures your interest; stamps, coins, spelling, knitting, computer logic? It doesn't matter what it is. We with such focus share something good, something human.

What is your geek realm? You don't need to have one, you know. Of course, even if you have such a focus, you don't have to call yourself a geek at all.

Go ahead. Enjoy your fascination.

posted at: 08:41 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 25 Jun 2012

Leadership Rules:

Comment intended for http://the21stcenturyprincipal.blogspot.com/2012/06/are-you-true-21st-century-leader.html

Wow, this is a challenging post. The term "expedient" immediately comes to mind. Follow the rules when it serves your purpose. Don't follow the rules if they are in your way.

That's not to say orders must trump ethics and morality. We may remember the "I was just following orders" defense of war criminals.

It is true that I approached my own teaching job with awareness of the valuable message, "It is better to beg forgiveness, than ask permission." [Grace Hopper] Many times my actions actually became acceptable policy. I was not fired along the way. I think my students benefited from both of those results.

I prefer to look back and see that kind of action as pushing the limits which have been set artificially by tradition, not by direct order.

I am exceedingly uncomfortable thinking that leadership means simply ignoring carefully considered rules. Yet, I do not think it will always be simple to judge when ethics require doing what is best for a learning environment and when ethics demand we stand up for the rules. There certainly are plenty of rules for schools which are mainly arbitrary or simply traditions.

Like you, I hope a "careerist" isn't mainly trying to stay a teacher or school administrator to get safely to retirement. On the other hand, it is a shame to see dynamic educators carelessly bucking the system and standing tall as they walk out the door, effectively deserting their post and the children who deserved their best in the coming years.

Changing the culture of schools isn't done from outside. It is accomplished by dedication and persistence from within. No serious, long term change comes from an apathetic, subdued staff following the bosses' rules (or apathetic, subdued student body, for that matter). An effective leader needs to work with the staff and students to bend and stretch the boundaries of restrictive tradition. New traditions don't easily develop from rubble which can too often follow "revolutionary" changes and their crushed hopes. It is especially true when a series of leaders have arrived with their own revolutions, only to move on. Good leaders engage and invigorate the "troops." Leaders demonstrate the ability to challenge themselves and their team. Leaders rarely gain the trust and loyalty of their staff by sudden, often unilateral, unexplained moves.

Even worse, Consider the situation that a dynamic leader establishes a fabulous relationship with the staff, gets them to take chances, make mistakes and develop sustainable progress for themselves and their students. Then the leader steps out too far, too fast, too thoughtlessly. Gone. The leader has effectively abandoned the staff to a replacement, most often arriving from outside. The new leader is put in place by the higher administration. The new leader owes his/her job to them, has no loyalty earned from staff or students. The staff and students who have stuck their necks out may fight on, but just as realistically will learn to live with the less dynamic leader. Gone will be the chance to develop the initiatives you've started. The students and staff may not have the guts to challenge the new leadership anointed from above, the people above who established the rules you broke.

With all this discussion, even though Grace Hopper, quoted above, was in the Navy, I do not think the military is an especially good model to follow in education. Faced with sudden death, soldiers must be ready to follow orders that may, and often do, get them killed. Instant response is trained in so the troops do not get a say or argue when lethal action is imminent. Let us hope that set of conditions is never added to our education system.

Children need a supportive staff which helps children get back up after they stumble. Children need the encouragement to try what they cannot accomplish on their first try. A staff needs supportive leadership which encourages experimentation which allows teachers to change, to learn, to improve themselves and guide their children through their own growth.

posted at: 20:02 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 09 Jun 2012

Miracles and Education in the Headlines

(comment posted to the blog of Diane Ravitch Voucher Follies)

There's this little thing about miracles.

They are miraculous. Now, don't tell me. I know. That's saying the same thing.

The thing is, miracles are not normal. They are the stuff that converts normal humans into saints. Saints are rare, unless you count the football team in New Orleans. Hmm. Just a minute, NFL Commissioner doesn't think their behavior is too saintly just now.

We are, most of us, pretty ordinary folks. We work hard and go home tired. We expect to do the same tomorrow. We don't expect miracles. We expect progress, or at least the opportunity to do as well as we did today.

Children in schools are not looking for miracles either. School is the place kids go that gives them challenges. Children are pretty happy if they meet the challenge head on and struggle through. Children are used to daily challenges. Their teachers give them challenges, support them when they slip, encourage them to stick to it. The good teachers make school a safe place to slip, to stumble, to fall. That is because a good teacher is human, approachable, real, not too saintly, not perfect, not a miracle worker.

That is, of course, unless you think getting Johnny to read or Sally to multiply is a miracle.

Asking for miracles, describing public education as "failing", using words like "crisis" in the headlines, these are setting a crummy tone for the conversation. It makes parents wonder whether a day's worth of challenge and success is good enough for their child. It makes kids doubt the chances for their future. Parents and children begin to look at their teachers, their school and see not the reality of hard work, but the specter of doom. Don't go in there. There aren't any miracles happening.


Let's start talking about the reality of learning. It is incremental. It is a constant struggle. If it isn't a struggle, it isn't worth doing. It is not a winner-take-all proposition, either. Being the "best" is typically a temporary honor. Being the middle of the pack is okay, and only in the worst situations, where parents, teachers, peers and adimistrators are harsh or even cruel, even being at the trailing edge, the bottom of a class isn't so bad. I'm better this year than I was last year, right? You still like me, right? You still love me, right?

Keeping a positive attitude, getting up after a fall. Moving ahead to the next challenge. Those need to be our expectations. We need to try not to be disappointed if every child in a school doesn't enter college at age 14. Come to think of it, I don't want to be around for the frat parties that will follow from that.

No miracles for me, thanks.

posted at: 07:59 | path: | permanent link to this entry