Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."
- Henry David Thoreau

3 of the 26 Tricks to Enhance & Engage Learning

Last week, I attended Marc Ratcliffe’s "26 Proven Tricks to Enhance & Engage Learning" session at the ASTD International Conference and Expo. Each "trick" was organized around a letter of the alphabet, and most of them were designed to facilitate engagement and elicit feedback in ILT. My favorites were:
-- Jargon Jumble. Fill out a unique index card for each of the course’s technical terms and acronyms, then fill out another card for its definition. The class then has to match the term with the definition, giving them the chance to discover the definition on their own. You could also give a single index cards to each student and have them talk to the rest of the participants to find their match.
-- Review Roulette. Split the class up into 3-4 groups and give each group 2 index cards. Each group will take a different module/section of the class and come up with two review questions, putting their answers on the back. The instructor gathers up the cards, shuffles them, and asks two questions to each group – they may get their own review question, but then again, they may not!
This technique also enables you to subtly gather student feedback in two ways:
1. What the students found interesting and/or effective is identified by what topics the students choose as their review questions
2. Their answers will indicate if they effectively learned the topic. If the question and answer are particularly effective, you could even steal it for the next iteration of the class!
-- U-Turn cards. Each student gets a card, and can present it to the instructor at any point during the class. When shown, the instructor needs to present the point he was just making from the opposite perspective. Typically, students use this card when presented with negative statements, such as "you typically don’t attempt to sell product X to group Y." This technique helps facilitate creative problem solving and questioning assumptions as the class typically analyzes the statement from all angles to fully understand why the original point was being made.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Now, I'm Just Scared

The closing speaker of the ASTD 2011 Int’l Conference read my mind. In his closing remarks, John Foley, a former pilot for the Blue Angels, talked about the difference between being frightened and being scared. Paraphrasing, he essentially said that being frightened is a negative emotion, usually caught up in the negative, and being scared is mostly positive in that it heightens your awareness of the situation (think when the hairs on the back of your neck stand up).

I had been thinking about this distinction recently – although not so eloquently put – because I had made myself a promise before I flew down to Orlando: I was going to ride on a roller coaster. Those of you that know me know that I’m no fan of heights, but I’ve been making a concerted effort to conquer my irrational fears in the last few years. This year alone, I’ve been attempting to challenge all of my assumptions and challenge all of my fears, and boy is the height one a doozy. And what better way to challenge myself than a roller coaster?

ASTD rented out part of Universal Studios on Tuesday night, and so the Dragon Challenge was the coaster I chose to attack my fears. I won’t say I covered myself in glory – I’m sure that Mike Gonzalez in particular will make fun of my screams until my dying day – but I did it! With none of my usual safety nets around, I strode up and consciously rode the coaster, not just once, but three times (the third time, I didn’t even close my eyes)!

The takeaway here (can you tell I’ve been attending seminars for the last four days?) is that I’m really starting to internalize the difference between fear and being scared. Being scared is okay, and is healthy – it’s your body telling you that you’re in a dangerous situation and that you should be careful. Being frightened is irrational and is a negative emotion that can hold you back from experiencing life to the fullest. Now am I no longer frightened of heights? Hell no! I’m not sure I’ll ever be comfortable around them. But I know that my fear is silly and thus I’m choosing to simply be scared. Here’s hoping that I’ll be able to write more about fears that I’ve confronted and surpassed in the future!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Deep Thought

The attendee necklaces that conferences give you to hold your credentials couldn't be less sexy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Some First Lines from James Sadler

My lovely wife, upon reading my "Sex and Writing" post, picked up not one but two James Salter books for me. Can't wait to see if they live up to the hype. They are:
A Sport and a Pasttime
September. It seems these luminous days will never end. The city, which was almost empty during August, now is filling up again. It is being replenished. The restaurants are all reopening, the shops.
First lines of "Am Strande von Tangier," the first story in the short story collection Dusk:
Barcelona at dawn. The hotels are dark. All the great avenues are pointing to the sea. ... Malcolm is asleep. His steel-rimmed glasses which he does not need—there is no prescription in them—lie open on the table. He sleeps on his back and his nose rides the dream world like a keel. This nose, his mother’s nose of at least a replica of his mother’s, is like a theatrical device, a strange decoration that has been pasted on his face. It is the first thing that one notices about him. It is the first thing one likes. The nose in a sense is a mark of commitment to life. It is a large nose which cannot be hidden. In addition, his teeth are bad.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dune in the Adirondacks

I'm addicted to reading. I typically need to read at least a few pages of something before I can fall asleep. So it was with great dismay when I went to go asleep last Friday at a cabin in the Adirondacks and realized I neglected to bring along any fiction. Yikes! Luckily, someone had left behind an old paperback copy of Frank Hebert's Dune.

This may be the SciFi nerd in me talking, but this novel is quite simply excellent. I picked it up and started reading at random and was again transported to the desert planet that's the centerpiece of the immense struggles depicted in the book. The book immerses you in a complete world world, consisting of a riveting political situation, fascinating backstory, an uncommonly large number of complete characters, and SciFi and Fantasy elements that stand the test of time.

I highly recommend Dune for those of you looking for a diverting entertaining read (I hesitate to say "beach book") - just avoid the David Lynch movie (and I can't speak to the subsequent Dune saga). It sure saved me last weekend, and now i'm going to have to read the entire book again!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Deep Thought

Emo as an urgent celebration of whatever capricious emotion you happen to be experiencing at the moment.

Defending the Short Story

Yesterday, Joel wrote about his dislike for stand-alone short stories, and as the two of us have discussed before, we’ll have to agree to disagree about this. To me, the best short stories are like Tapas to the full-meal of the novel. When done well, they present one of several things:
- A completely focused mood piece. Think of some of Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories, capturing what it feels like to have your first girlfriend break up with you, or to be stuck with insomnia thinking about death. Other examples: Stephen King’s most excellent stories in Skeleton Crew and Night Shift.
- Pondering an idea. Perhaps done best in SciFi, these short stories present an interesting idea and the consequences of that idea. Philip K Dick was the best at this; he’d present an interesting idea that might not hold up over the course of a novel and explore it in a short story. (Note that both Total Recall and Minority Report were adapted from PKD short stories, not novels.)
- Experimenting with form, voice, etc. Authors just fucking around to see what works.
In short, I see a short story as a more informal, concentrated taste of story telling. Potentially containing the possibility of something that could be explored further, but not necessarily. (Of course, I've always been attracted to flaws more that perfection - I wrote a bit about this over here.)

I also think that there are authors that are better at novels and those that are better at short stories (and the rare few, like Stephen King, that are good at both). For instance, I love Haruki Murakami, but (after the quake excepted) his short stories are awful - he needs the space of the novel to present his themes and wandering narrators. I wonder if Ondaatje is one of this authors whose writing favors the novelistic form?

(Cross Posted at Reading, Running & Red Sox)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Bestest Newest Blog on the Block

If you're not up to speed on Reading, Running and Red Sox, well then you're just behind the times my friend! Over at RR&RW, you'll not only get more of my stellar and witty observations, you'll also get to read my friend's posts as well. What could be better!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Quote of the Day

But I was not quite with him in my thoughts, and I wonder whether that is how we get to be after living alone for a long time, that in the middle of a train of thought we start talking out loud, that the difference between talking and not talking is slowly wiped out, that the unending, inner conversation we carry on with ourselves merges with the one we have with the one we have with the few people we still see, and when you live alone for too long the line which divides the one from the other becomes vague, and you do not notice when you cross that line. Is this how my future looks?
- Per Patterson, p 155 in Out Stealing Horses

The Morning Commute

One of the reasons I'm satisfied with my job at the moment is because of the small things. I like the people that I work with. The work is challenging. I get to spend more time with my kids (their day care is located in the same building where I work). But I have to say that the biggest benefit is the short commute: On a bad day, I only have to drive 10 minutes door-to-door. It's huge, especially when I think about the 2.5 hours I was on the train to and from Boston all those years. And that was just taking the train! Kevin Fanning describes what the Boston car commutes can feel like:
It’s unhealthy, sitting in traffic and wishing I’m anywhere else under the sun. What I’m doing is important to my family. What I’m doing is not worse than what so many other people do, for much less. But thinking about the clock of my life ticking away every day while I’m sitting there, just waiting to be somewhere else, I feel the gulf between my body (where I am) and brain (where I want to be) widening. The two growing further apart, until I’m only aware of the distance between them. Some mornings in the shower I hear voices left over from my dreams, and they seem to have strongly held opinions, but I have no idea what they’re saying. Sometimes at night when I am reading a book to my kids, I realize that we are halfway through the book, and my mouth has been saying the words, but I haven’t been paying attention to them whatsoever, and have in fact been thinking about something completely unrelated. I lose that time, even though I’m right there.
Not that i don't suffer from this lack of mindfulness, but it's been getting much better now that I'm not spending so much time just traveling to and from work. Pity the pour commuter's soul.

Roll a D6

A hysterical, realistic look at what playing D&D was like in my mind back in the day.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Surfing on Sine Waves

Now playing: Surfing on Sine Waves, by Polygon Window, better known as Aphex Twin.

This guy has such a strange sense of timing combined with an intimidating command of technology and melody. "Polygon Window" alone is worth the price of the CD.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Aphorism of the Day

Words to live by:
I can be changed by what happens to me. I refuse to be reduced by it.
- Maya Angelou

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bands I Feel I Should Like Better

Exhibit A: Arctic Monkeys. I listened to Humbug for a while, and even really liked Crying Lightening, but overall the band just doesn't do it for me, even though I really like what they're trying to do. My current thinking is that the lyrics are too personalized and cryptic to serve the cypher purpose of most rock lyrics. What do you think?

You can hear their latest "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I Moved Your Chair" here.

Song of the Day

Can't get Sugar and Spice's version of "Slice Me Nice" out of my head. It's a wonderful slice of electronic pop, and I love everything about it except for the chorus. I mean: really? I didn't realize that people still sung out spelling... thought that went out of fashion when people realized that you just can't top Hall & Oates "Method of Modern Love"...

Update: Hunter's been walking around the house singing "Slice Me Nice." The poor guy. He's going to grow up with my pop music tendencies!

Quote of the Day

Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.
- Helen Keller

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sights from a Run

I’ve been a bit melancholy lately, so take this post with a grain of salt, but there were two sad sights from my lunch run today that only encouraged my mood:

1. A flattened full-size turtle (or tortoise?) on Route 30. They’re such beautiful creatures that it’s hard to see one squashed after a losing confrontation with a semi. Apparently he was just trying to go from one wetlands to another – alas, Route 30 was in his way.

2. The remnants of a burned out house, with an exposed upper story. Burned out buildings are always a bit eerie, but this one had a lonely scorched chimney standing sentinel over the rest of the charred structure.

Quote of the Day

And Polo said: "The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: Accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

- Italo Calvino, from Invisible Cities

Monday, May 2, 2011

Deep Thought

Everything looks better after a nice long exhausting run. No matter how shitty it is.