thursday, october 31
rounding out the month,
it really might be a while
i need to do some things
and face some things
without this as an escape
i'll be back,
unless i'm not.
All right, it's true. OS X kicks the tar out of Windows. Even with the goofy dock and the goofy shiny plasticized Aqua look and the ridiculous hardware requirements. Even with the lame too-shallow laptop like keyboards and the worthless anti-ergonomic single-button mice (mouses?) that somehow became central to the Macintosh design philosophy while I wasn't looking.
On the other side of tech-geek burnout, it's a relief to be able to contemplate these things with detachment. Not that detachment is a thing I'm trying to cultivate, generally, but that I don't feel the need to launch into an Apple or Microsoft inspired rant right now - that strikes me as making progress.
tequila tastes like death
vodka's not much better
mexicans and russians
must know dark, dark things about the world
i should go back to bed.
Rather than make a comprehensive response, which I'm not sure my Personal Philosophy of Education (tm) is up to, I'm going to pick out a couple of things to hammer on. This won't necessarily be in any order. Hope I don't misrepresent anyone's ideas here.
Let's focus on the students for now. How can students improve their "immediate learning?" By concentrating on their material at the beginning of the semester, not the end. By trying to subsume it into their subconscious as soon as possible.
Brent focuses on what students could do to get more out of what he calls the dominant "Talk Talk Teaching" model. (What happens, in effect, in many highschool classrooms and most undergraduate university settings, especially the giant lecture hall environment.) Points:
That said, let's think about the student's role in this environment. I'm willing (for the moment) to make the assumption that students are actually concerned with learning material rather than simply passing a class. I'm even willing to believe that they'll give some thought to how they should go about it.
There's nothing wrong with any of Brent's suggestions, as far as they go. If you want to get the most out of a traditional class, studying material as soon as it's available rather than waiting for tests and major written assignments to approach is a good idea. So are things like reviewing notes after lectures (should you actually take notes), and reading textbook material before class. Right?
There are tons of things I could do personally to improve what I learn from almost any class I take. I've given this some thought lately, and offhand: I could read assigned material well in advance. I could seek out related material - primary sources, maps, statistical information, scientific research, period literature, philosophical and religious context - and actually read it. I could do writing that would attempt to summarize and synthesize the information I'm taking in, and draw connections to other classes I'm taking. I could try to build a framework that gives context and meaning to everything I know. I could finally get around to making that giant timeline for my wall, or compiling that Book of Everything Brennen to house the written and artistic residue of every important experience in my life. I could make real efforts to communicate with teachers outside of class in a fashion clearly devoid of bootlicking.
All of these things are possible. Should be possible. They're the tip of an iceberg. Am I doing them? Not really. Is anyone else? More to the point, is anyone else in this system? Maybe. I don't know. If they are, I don't know them. I can't imagine what they'd be like or how they'd manage to pursue anything like a real life in the meantime. And when do you decide there's no point in taking a class over something you're teaching yourself more effectively anyway?
Tangent: Why does nobody read the book before class? It gives you a terrific introduction to the material, so that you're already near the same wavelength as the teacher when the class begins.
I think I know why.
There's no moderate way to put this. Textbooks suck. Suck.
No, not all of them. But far, far too many. Of books explicitly intended for the classroom, I can remember three that ever rose above mediocrity: Paul G. Hewitt's Conceptual Physics, and the Anatomy and Psychology texts my senior year of high school. That's it. Everything else? Expensive, badly written, inaccurate, patronizing, obtuse, poorly organized, and/or just plain irrelevant to the class as taught.
A textbook that gives a terrific introduction to the material is an exception, not the rule. So is a teacher (most especially a good teacher) whose wavelength is drawn from a textbook. Too many teachers use what are explicitly intended to be textbooks, which I'm fairly certain only really works in portions of the hard sciences and mathematics. The only thing worse than a mediocre textbook is a set of Power Point slides.
But let's dismiss all of that. Maybe I'm overstating things. Posit a world where for most classes you're given written material, in advance of lectures, that's well written and firmly connected to the matter at hand.
People still wouldn't be reading it, would they?
I used to define myself as a voracious reader. That's moderated a little since I've run into people whose sheer volume and breadth of intake makes me feel like a train-ride romance novel addict who's never stepped outside the bounds of the Harlequin section at B&N or the pages of People magazine. I'm not even pretending to be well read. (Relax, people. I say it with love. I'm a genre boy too. I've read nine-tenths of Louis L'amour, too much Tom Clancy, all of Travis McGee, and more Robert B. Parker than you. People still sucks, though.)
Anyway, I like to read. In fact, I love to read. I do it compulsively. Cereal boxes, CD track listings, and whatever's on the back of the scrap paper my Latin prof passes out for quizzes. All my media geek credentials are dead or dying, but I'm an information junkie still.
And do I read for class?
Usually. An hour before class. A week or two afterwards. A couple of days before the test. Sometimes. Maybe.
Maybe you can see where I'm going with this. I enjoy reading, and I don't mind taking the time to do it. Most people do not like to read, and do not like to spend the time to do it. (Most people, for that matter, are not semi-monastic loners devoid of social obligations.) If I don't always get this stuff done, and almost never in a fashion that could be described as timely, how realistic is it to expect anyone else to do better? Without an immediate effect on their grades or any discernable change in the flow of a class which doesn't depend on their contribution, because the teacher can't afford to depend on their contribution, what motivation do they have beyond the intrinsic value of reading, which they can't see anyway?
That's more than I meant to write and less than I meant to say. I didn't even get to Stephen's post. I'm going to take this up again when I have time. Right now, I have to get away from this computer before it drives me completely nuts.
too many words
for so little said
was i going to write about why
writing is still a good idea
in the face of so much already written
and a world still defying comprehension
a reality that really doesn't reduce
to words no matter how hard you try?
i think so.
here, i'll make it short:
writing is still a good idea
(and sturgeon's law is irrelevant)
because it's a way to think and speak for yourself
not a way to add to the species' ever-growing slushpile
what we've all got piled up isn't the point
neither is what you, personally, throw on
if it were a contest
you'd be late to the game
and isaac asimov would have us all beat anyway
(I wonder if the traditional approach to schooling -- (1) Listen to professor, (2) Wait for test, (3) Study for test -- isn't fundamentally wrong, but that's a subject for another entry.)
Yes, it is fundamentally wrong.
I think maybe that's a subject for a lot of entries.
Better Than Ezra have more decent songs than I remembered.
'course, I still mostly went to hear "Good". I have this memory, perfect in tone and shape if not detail, the kind of memory you suspect is more a composite than a snapshot of some specific event, of sitting in my cousin's beat brown pickup on some Fall Saturday, listening to a cassette single of that song over and over. There's the image of an empty room, wooden floor at the base of stairs and a half-open door, dust shining in the sunlight streaming through old windows... That part must come from the song, and none of it signifies much, but it won't leave my head.
colorado's unsurprisingly perfect weather
has given way to nebraska's sleet and wet snow
which is on the whole
way more conducive to a really good brooding depression
than sitting in warm sun on a rock
(a real rock, not some drill-scarred broken quarry-reject in a fountain)
watching what might be a chipmonk skitter past
but i'm tired of brooding depression
once you've decided not to kill yourself
you might as well get the fuck on with life
snow would also be
conducive to the kind of exultant joy
i usually find in the shifting of seasons
but i'm not quite up to that one either
maybe i'll settle on the closest thing i can get
to total personal transparency
not here and never was
for all the external world should be able to tell.
if all my trains of thought
are not derailed
they should be.
i am overthrown,
and if i get back up
and continue down the same old path
i deserve all the nothingness that comes
p1k3.com may be about to experience
a temporary interruption in service
which, at least, would be a return to form.
bear with me
all five or six of you.
(i have a better idea.
let's just take our kids out of the schools.
i never expect to be a parent
if i am, my children will not be subjected to that
they will not be subjected
to the popular indoctrination of the moment,
the deep sickness of a sexual awareness
warped by the blind, irrational, fear-laced dishonesty of their elders
and the grasping ignorance of their peers,
the crushing mediocrity that destroys whatever can escape
the crushing apathy all around them.
these things are not acceptable,
they are not right,
and there may be nothing i can do about them
but if i ever have to make the choice
i will not ask someone i love
to face them and somehow still become fully human.
it's already enough of a struggle.)
i don't have time to be writing this
midterm in a couple hours
i haven't studied
needing a shower badly
i can't smell all that appealing after last night
("last night, she said, oh baby i feel so down...")
and waking up five minutes before class
(did i turn the alarm off at 6:15?
did the alarm go off at all?
i can't recall)
the strokes may not be the salvation of rock and roll
but they are a clear indicator
that it is still alive and well
somewhere under there
hot water and soap
a fresh disposable razor
I'm listening to "Undone" from Weezer's set at the 2002 Reading festival. They've got mp3's of very nearly the entire set up on their audio-video page, until tomorrow at any rate.
Am I just a sucker for crowd noise?
Oh yeah. And tomorrow, if anyone's reading this who doesn't know and should, the Strokes are in Omaha.
I am psyched.
Stephen, apparently dissatisfied with the vagueness of recent research-related rambling, posted a nice little breakdown of (historical) research. His point about primary and secondary sources, fundamental as it is, is the kind of thing that undergrads really ought to have beaten into their heads from day one. Actually, it's the kind of thing that we probably ought to know by the sixth grade, but judging by my own failure to master long division, cursive writing, and the effective tieing of shoes by that age, it'd probably be a bit much to ask.
Come to that, I still haven't figured out how to keep my shoes tied for longer than an hour. Maybe that's the real source of my current deep affinity for sandals with Velcro straps.
Anyway, more thoughts on this later.
(I definitely like the CSS blockquote formatting Stephen uses. It's just possible that's not the intended usage of the blockquote tag, but I can't think of a better alternative and it strikes me as a reasonable extension to the de facto use of HTML, which (heh), has never had all that much to do with its designers' intentions anyway. Look for a comprehensive statement of my current design philosophy in all its crashing triviality on this page soon.)
I am avoiding the deadly lure of the Interactive Fiction compo like my academic and social life depend on it, which they probably do.
`Those who speak know nothing
Those who know are silent.'
These words, I am told,
Were spoken by Lao-tzu.
If we are to believe that Lao-tzu
Was himself one who knew,
How comes it that he wrote a book
Of five thousand words?
— Po Chü-i, roughly as translated by Arthur Waley
Brent: Ah ha.
another october saturday
cold, windy, sun shining
a day that will cast the country all around
into beauty that could strike you forever silent
if you were willing to see
the waking up late
the bad dining hall breakfast
the college football game
(go big red)
the wind in my hair
(getting shaggier every day)
and the heat of the sun into the stadium
as much a part of the football mystery
as the back and forth on the field
and much the parts i understand the most
the empty dorm room
and the guitar i can't play
sydney lea and dylan thomas
in the pile on my desk
with Masterpieces of Religious Verse
the kind of book that would have been at home
on my great-grandfather's shelves
all of it says something
none of it's enough
and where am i going from here?
i think that real research
would mean more than just finding raw information
or even *reading* said information
which, admit it or not
is something many are loathe to do
in the age of the instant million-hit search engine result
i think real research
first off involves digging for things
the google web search
the usenet archive
the wikipedia article
the cavernous depths of the library stacks,
bookstore shelves and piles of old newspapers,
the minds of people who ought to know
(that last sometimes more important
than all the rest combined)
subjecting it all
to every ounce of real knowledge you can extract from your life
here's the hard part
figuring out what you've found
how true it is and what it means
where the connections are
and how it all hangs together
not just with itself
but with everything else you believe
(i don't fear contradiction.
like the man said
i contain multitudes.
i do fear isolated knowledge
a kind of sickly fragmented thinking
that pretends to cope with the world piecemeal
pretends that it's not all connected
when i know it is)
I will, as God is my witness, one day learn how to do real research and write something based upon it. Today is not that day.
I'm dead serious, though.
For my journal on Titus Andronicus, I turned in a dialog of sorts. A friend of mine commented to the effect that it was sort of Kevin Smith-esque, which is pretty high praise. Still, it makes sense. Kevin Smith is one of my cinematic heroes. Were I writing an actual screenplay, there's no doubt I'd be influenced by (read: "blatantly ripping off") his style. Not, most likely, the dick and fart jokes, but the style of language and argument that flows so easily and often randomly from the mouths of his characters. Maybe no one actually talks like that, but then, so what?
I was going to write another dialog, but I'm afraid I haven't got time. Still, that did get me thinking about Clerks, Mallrats and Dogma as compared to Measure for Measure. (Chasing Amy is, I think, too much of a tragedy to make a direct comparison. And we're not even going to think about bringing Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back into this.)
While I'm not actually going to argue that Shakespeare was the Kevin Smith of Renaissance England, after reading Measure, I'm pretty sure I could make a case for it. There's no shortage of dick and fart jokes. More accurately, there's no shortage of dick, syphilis, prostitution, and illicit pregnancy jokes. If Lucio sold narcotics and jammed out to Morris Day and the Time, he'd practically be Jay. Much as contemporary Roman Catholics went a little nuts over Dogma, a play like Measure for Measure had to have Puritans frothing at the mouth (and calling boycotts, and trying to get the theatre shut down, and probably for all I know standing around with little hand-painted placards about God Not Being Mocked). George Carlin would be perfect for Angelo. In fact, you could map the cast of any given Kevin Smith film onto this play and find a near-perfect fit.
There are less superficial similarities. There's something about the dialog, beyond a steady stream of bawdy humor that would offend any modern fundamentalist quick enough to understand it, that'd fit right into a Smith film. Something about the structure, the back-and-forth of the conversations, the windy tangential discussions on this or that subject. There's nothing here as random as an argument about the moral responsibilities of civilian contractors on the Death Star, but there always seems to be plenty of digression in a Shakespeare comedy. The Duke, disguised as a Friar, going off about death and why it's so desirable, for example.
All that said, I'm not sure there's much point in trying to draw out the connection more than that. What I think I'm noticing are elements that are sort of universal to comedy - or universal to a sort of comedy, or something like that. It's entirely possible that Kevin Smith was hugely influenced by Shakespeare, but it's not exactly necessary to think that he was (he understated, vastly).
Speaking of comedy, what is it that makes this stuff funny, anyway? Granted that without the footnotes or a really skillful performance a modern audience is going to miss most of the jokes anyway, you can still tell Measure is a funny play. You can even tell where it's *supposed* to be funny and isn't, really, because of how much our attitudes and premises have changed. (Though I got a lot more of that from Taming of the Shrew.) What will an audience watching Mallrats in four hundred years think? What will they think of the people who laughed at this stuff? Will anything in Measure for Measure still be comprehensible by then?
i've been able to hear acorns
hurtling from the oak tree outside my window
the squirrels are feasting
all several thousand of them
let us pray they never tire of nutmeats
what easy prey the soft, unsuspecting humans
all around them
maybe that's why hick towns have squirrel feeds
just to keep them mindful
of their place on the food chain.
saddle creek records
local label, artists who don't suck
they have a few downloads
if you like that sort of thing
they do it well
rilo kiley are great pop
never likely to be popular
(see also: beulah)
bright eyes may be genius.
i sit here,
third floor of the library
by a window watching rain come down
students walk past with umbrellas
or run past without
and traffic trickles along what might be 13th street
i saw a rainbow in the western sky
for the first time in my life this morning
maybe i just haven't been awake early enough
it's not especially silent
there's a kind of white noise that attends everything
compounded of air conditioning
and the rain you can barely hear on the roof
i have always loved that rain sound
more than just about any other
(except possibly the blizzard outside my window
a combine running in the distance
wheat falling into a truck bed
logs shifting in the fire)
me and john sheridan, i guess
the person standing under the tree finally gave up
and ran off somewhere
running through the rain is excellent
but only if you're with someone
or running to them
alone, i'd rather just walk
let it fall
and soak me to the bone