Fighting the losing handwriting battle

See this article, “Teachers answer call for cursive,” published in The State, which is apparently the state newspaper of South Carolina. A couple of interesting quotes and points:

  • “The two-day training in Columbia that begins Tuesday is run by Zaner-Bloser Educational Publishers, which bills itself as a leading publisher of handwriting and language arts texts for children in kindergarten through middle school.” Hmm… you don’t suppose this company has a business interest in promoting handwriting, now do you?
  • “The company is ramping up a handwriting training initiative built around this sales pitch: Starting this March, college-bound high school students who take the new SAT must write a detailed essay in 25 minutes.” This is kind of a curious claim because I was under the impression that these writing samples were going to be typed. They are going to be scored by readers via computer; does this mean that readers will be reading PDF versions of hand-written essays?
  • “We’re hearing an outcry from teachers in middle and high school who cannot read students’ handwriting. They want it taught in the elementary school,” [Priscilla Mullins, a national product manager for Zaner-Bloser] said.

    With the evolution of wireless, hand-held computers capable of converting handwriting into electronic text, good cursive skills could prove critical, she said.

    “We want to make a connection between handwriting and technology,” Mullins said.

    (Yeah, I bet you want to make the connection between handwriting and technology…).

Mind you, I’m not completely against handwriting instruction. My son, a second grader, has worked a lot on his handwriting this year, and they’ve been working on cursive writing, too. And that’s all fine and good. But just because you learn how to write in cursive doesn’t mean you keep writing in cursive as a test-taking teenager.

CSS Overload

As careful readers will recall from a past entry, I made a decision a while ago with my English 444 class to actually “geek it up” a notch and include Eric Meyer’s book, Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide. We’re reading that book right now, which is one of the reasons why I haven’t been posting here lately. Basically, I decided that we’d spend the first month or so of the class getting down “the tools” and then we’d get on to everything else. So we’ve spent some time talking about basic HTML of course, and also server software tools, HTML editing software (Dreamweaver in particular), and a little bit of PhotoShop. We’re spending two weeks on talking about CSS things, mostly as they relate to the Meyer book.

I need to take a bit of a break from reading it right now; and yet I can’t leave it completely behind. So a chance to blog a few thoughts:

  • I’m about halfway through the book (many of my students are further), and I can now say without question that I know about 1000 times more about CSS than I did before I started. Which is not to say that I really “know” what I’m doing here.
  • In some interesting and surprising ways, my 444 students are being real troopers about all this. Not even a little bit of whining or complaining, and several students have said they’re very glad we’re reading it. I have to say, if I were a student in this class right now, I’m not so sure I’d have as rosy of an attitude, so I really have to hand it to them.
  • Meyer is an extremely good writer. In fact, if nothing else, I think it is fair to say that this is a book that is an excellent example of the oh-so-common genre “manual.”
  • Having said that, I find myself putting stuff he says into four basic categories:
  • Explanations of CSS things I knew about before but which I understand much better now;
  • Explanations of CSS (and other ‘net) things I didn’t know about before but which I feel much better for knowing now;
  • Explanations of things that I am sure are in some sense important but which make absolutely no sense to me; and
  • Explanations of things that I may or may not understand but which are completely irrelevant. For example, at one point, Meyer explains the CSS code for stretching text. The only problem is that since no browser actually supports this feature, it is merely something CSS can do in theory.
  • It’s going to be a while (maybe forever) before I’m able to do the sort of fancy CSS stuff that makes blogs or other CMS systems look really cool.
  • If I were to do this again, I think I’d pick something that is more of a “CSS light” kind of text. I’m torn about this, though. On the one hand, I am glad we’re really getting into the nitty-gritty of the code with this book, and I think my students are thankful for the experience, too. On the other hand, spending 2 weeks on this stuff is perhaps over-kill.

Oh well. Back to the CSS mines.

They added digital pants!

Will had a sleep-over last night, so Annette and I went out for a happy hour and an early dinner at the Sidetrack with friends/colleagues from work, and then we went to see an early showing of Sideways. Pretty good movie, we thought, though we don’t have much to compare it to because this is the only Oscar contender we’ve seen this year. Lots of DVDs at home, and lots of kid movies in the theaters.

Anyway, we got home and were channel-surfing and came across Animal House on VH-1. What a classic– I can’t remember the last time I saw that movie all the way through, but it certainly is a flick burned into my memory.

Now, obviously, VH-1 et al had to do A LOT of editing of the many uses of “shit” and “fuck,” and of the various boob scenes. That’s typical of a movie like this, and it’s usually pretty obvious what and when something is being edited out. But there was one kind of editing I hadn’t seen before: digitally added pants.

There’s a scene about two-thirds of the way through the movie where the frat guy Boon is dropping in unexpectedly on his girlfriend Katy. It’s established earlier that Boon and Katy are “serious” and in love, but Katy thinks that the Deltas are a bunch of immature drunk idiots and that Boon really ought to grow up and leave that all behind. She is of course right. Anyway, Boon surprises Katy, who is standing there in a night shirt and who is obviously uncomfortable about his dropping by. And we learn pretty quickly why that’s the case as a male voice calls out from the back room. Boon is of course mad and storms away.

Here’s where we get to the edit. It turns out that the male voice in Katy’s bedroom is none other than the English professor guy (the one who is teaching a class earlier in the movie and who gets them all high), played by Donald Sutherland. In the original version of the movie, he comes out, wearing only a heavy cardigan sweater, his bare legs apparent for all to see. The professor exchanges a kiss and some banter with Katy, and then he goes into the kitchen in the background where he reaches up to get something from the cupboard, raising up the sweater and exposing his bare ass in the process. Ha ha, bare ass.

In the edited version, Sutherland’s character comes out, but this time he is wearing khaki trousers. He gets something from the cupboard and all we see are his khaki covered ass. Now, either they shot two versions of this scene just for such a purpose (I think not), or they actually added digital clothing.

Assuming it is the digital pants, this strikes me as kind of odd for at least two reasons. First, this the first time I can recall seeing a movie where they added digital clothing. There must be others, but none come to mind. Second, this strikes me as a pretty significant edit because the fact that he comes out dressed not like a guy who just had sex with Katy and is instead dressed like, well, a college professor on his way to class, kind of erases the implied sex scene.

I don’t want to belabor this– after all, we’re talking about Animal House here– but I’d have to wonder what someone who hadn’t seen the original would think of a scene like that. Wouldn’t they be pretty surprised to see the “real” movie, sans pants?

Five thoughts on Social Security

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything remotely political here and social security has been on my mind lately (with all the various NPR talk show coverage of it), so I thought I’d post five brief thoughts on the whole mess:

  • After listening to various pundits and such over the last few weeks talking about the future of the Social Security system, it is very clear to me that no one— not on the right nor the left, within the administration nor “neutral” government offices, within think tanks and/or universities nor within diners and/or on the street– has a freakin’ clue what’s going to happen with the future of Social Security. It’s all guess work at best.
  • I’m 38 (soon to be 39) years old, and all the people I know in my general age group and income bracket assume that they aren’t going to get a whole heck of a lot of money from Social Security at retirement no matter what they do to the system. Personally, I have always thought of Social Security as simply a tax I pay to support old people, and by the time I get to be an old person, there ain’t going to be much money left. Of course, this is why I (and everyone else I know in my age group and income bracket) have some kind of retirement plan. And of course, this is also why people of my age group but who aren’t saving for retirement for some reason (they don’t have the money to save, they’re just aren’t thinking about it, etc.) are going to be a lot worse off than old people today.
  • While I have mixed feelings about privatization of the system, I am on the whole against it and I think the people who are for it are self-deluded. The kind of person all for this is the same kind of person who thinks that they are so much smarter than everyone else that they can do a better job of investing the money themselves. This is the kind of person who doesn’t buy into a mutual fund or take his money to a professional, but rather just “plays the market.” It’s also the kind of person who is pretty confident that when they go to a casino they are “smart” enough to consistently win. Las Vegas was built on the “wisdom” of these idiots.
  • What the democrats and others against reform really should do is launch a campaign showing old people of the future sitting around having to make choices about medicine or food, living in horrifying conditions, and then have this person talk about how all was going great with their social security fund until the market just tanked. In other words, the folks against this ought to take a page from Carl “Turd Blossom” Rowe’s playbook and scare the shit out of people.
  • I predict that Social Security reform is going to be Bush’s Waterloo. Either he is going to not get it and he’ll manage to waste too much of his “political capital” in the process, or he will get it, old people will get angry, and there will be hell to pay in the mid-term elections in 2006. You read it here first.

Japanese Emoticons (^_^)

File this in the “I learn something new about the Internet every day” category of things:

According to this interesting site at
, the Japanese have a completely different system for emoticons. While we read emoticons in the West horizontally, as in :-) , most of the Japanese emoticons are read vertically– this is a smile (^_^) for example.

Two other reasons to get delicious library

Delicious library is this cool library-building software available for the Mac that has an interface that basically looks like iTunes. I mentioned it here a couple weeks ago. Pretty neat stuff. But beyond that, there are two other reasons why I think this might be worth buying, at least according to this WIRED News article:

  • “Version two, due later this year, will allow users to browse each other’s libraries. It will be location-aware, letting users know who has what in their neighborhood or city.

    “It will also work on local networks (using Apple Computer’s Rendezvous), so people can browse their colleagues’ or fellow students’ collections, just as Apple’s iTunes exposes other users’ playlists.”

    (Of course, this might be a reason to wait until version two comes out before plunking down my cash).

  • The people who produce this software, a company called Delicious Monster, have their “office” at a coffee shop in the University district in Seattle– snail-mail address and everything. According to the WIRED article, “It’s cheap rent and a fun environment,” said [company co-founder and graphic designer Mike] Matas. “We go down there every day with our laptops and work. It’s an incredible place. They have two or three of the top baristas in the country (the awards are on the wall). We pay our rent by buying coffee…. They love us. We’re some of their best customers.”

    As someone who loves working in coffee shops, I have to have great admiration for an operation like this. Makes me wonder about the possibilities. I already do most of my prep work and much of my scholarly writing in coffee shops; what if I could teach and hold meetings in coffee shops? Why, I wouldn’t have to actually go to the building where I work, which, if you have seen it before, would probably be a good thing.

The "new Mac," circa 1984

This is pretty cool:

Rich Rice posted a link to this movie of Steve Jobs presenting the first Macintosh computer in 1984 to the tech-rhet mailing list. The “previously lost” video is the work of Scott Knaster, who has this interesting blog about hacks to iTunes and the iPod.

Two quick thoughts after viewing this:

  • It’s pretty funny/amusing to see people wildly enthusiastic for a machine that, by today’s standards, doesn’t really do anything. Makes me wonder what some computer geek 20 years from now is going to think of this quaint thing I’m typing on right now.
  • Back then, Steve Jobs looked a heck of a lot like ex CNN neocon pundit/non-friend of John Stewart Carson Tucker. Take a look and see what I mean.

Dieting in the right direction, but…

This week was a pretty good one for me in terms of my goal of losing 15 pounds by March 25. Depending on what angle I step on the scale, I’m down about 3 pounds this week, so 12 more pounds or so to go. I think there are basically three reasons for this progress. First off, I ate/drank pretty healthy during the week. Second, while we went out to eat and to a fun party celebrating the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns (sorry in advance about the annoying music on that site), I didn’t gorge myself and thus didn’t gain back the weigh I lost while being good.

Third, I made it to the gym four times last week and continued my pattern of mixing some “slow jogging” into my treadmill return. But this is where the “but…” of my post title comes in. I think I need to take it easy with that. Annette and I went to the gym on Sunday, and I tried my slow jogging deal on the treadmill again. Only this time, the back of my calves kept feeling more and more sore. Previously, I had simply chalked this up soreness to being out of shape and not used to jogging. But then, while I was in jogging mode on Sunday, the back of my left calf really REALLY started to hurt. So I stopped that and kinda limped around the rest of the day.

I did a Google search and I came across this useful page on calf strain pain, and in the nutshell, it says to not mess with it, rest until it feels better, etc. It seems to me my friend Mary, who takes running way seriously, has had some similar and more serious issues that put her on the sidelines for a while. So I guess I’d better pay attention.

Instead of walking/jogging on Monday, I worked out on one of those elliptical trainer thing-a-ma-bob with no pain or problems, which, according to this web site, makes sense. I’d still like to get back to the jogging thing, but the elliptical things are kinda fun anyway.