Monday, June 30, 2008

Tesla's new sedan

If you haven't heard me obsess about the Tesla Roadster, you haven't been around me much recently. Here's a video.

Now Tesla has announced the new sedan - the Model S - which will cost around $60,000 (as opposed to $109,000 for the roadster). They promise a model under $30,000 within 4 years. I'll definitely be getting one as soon as I can!

Matt Dancing

The perfect example of someone following his dreams.

It seems silly at first, but watch it all the way through, and see if you aren't impressed on multiple levels. He's a bit of a modern-day Richard Halliburton.

Check out his full website here.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Virginia rape law

I saw this on TV tonight, and was floored. It reminds me of the rape of Dinah in Genesis - where Dinah (one of Jacob's daughters) is raped, and the assailant offers to marry her, which was an acceptable solution at that time. Well apparently, that is currently also an acceptable solution in Virginia! - at least until tomorrow, when it will finally be removed from the books. Under the current law, if a girl aged 14-16 is raped, the man is not allowed to face criminal charges if he offers to marry her.

The law goes off the books tomorrow - nearly 4000 years after Dinah. Of course, the rapist in Dinah's day was not really protected. Dinah's brothers tricked him by saying that he could marry her as long as he and all of his extended family and servants were circumcised. On the day of circumcision, when they were still weak, they were slaughtered by Simeon and Levi - every last one of them. Jacob (God's favorite), who had been quiet about the rape, was upset with his sons because he thought it would cause trouble for them, and later, on his deathbed, he cursed the two who had done it. The curse was that their tribes would eventually be scattered, which of course did happen, though the Levites would become the tribe of the high priests, with Moses as their most distinguished member.

There are many outdated laws on the books, but this one caught me particularly off guard.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Atheists who believe in God

Now this is amazing. It's a set of statistics published by beliefnet, including these:

21% of atheists say they believe in God.

The group that answered the questions in the most similar way to Evangelicals was Muslims.

57% of Evangelicals believe that many different religions can lead to eternal life.

Check out the rest of the stats here.

Remote Control Face

Here's an interesting development in technology. It's still really rudimentary, but it seems that it will have profound consequences once they start refining it. This guy created a computer program that recognizes facial expressions and will send computer commands based on what it sees. This has to do with the possibility of robot teachers (not sure how I feel about that!), but I could see this being applied into cars, computers, etc. For instance, if a sound is too loud, perhaps a future version of the software could recognize the facial expression that says it's too loud and adjust it accordingly - the same with brightness. It will also allow better communication once the voice recognition software is more developed.

There is a video of him demonstrating and talking about the software here.

The other thing this reminds me of is the new surface computer that Microsoft is working on. They say the keyboard may be completely obsolete in the next 15 years!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

30 Days

This is one of my favorite shows. If you don't know about it, it's Morgan Spurlock, who made the film Supersize Me. For each episode, a person goes to live for 30 days with a person or family who has a completely different experience from what they have lived. Some of my favorite episodes have included living on minimum wage, spending 30 days in a prison as an inmate, working in a coal mine for 30 days, and my personal favorite from this year - an avid hunter who lives with vegan animal rights activists. There are certainly people who believe that Spurlock has a slant, but from my perspective, he's pretty even-handed. It's amusing that shoppers rated Season 1 3/5 stars in the Fox Store, but 4.5/5 on

It's on during the summer on FX - Tuesdays at 10. The first two seasons are also on DVD. Really worth checking out! Here's a trailer for the show, and here's the main website.

Here's the trailer for Supersize Me, which won him Best Director as Sundance.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Octopus Camoflage

Nature again - so astonishing. Check out this video of the camouflage techniques of the octopus.

And here's another, simpler, one, but which seems even a bit more amazing.

I found these while reading this article on

Picturing Excess

This is a pretty great talk by Chris Jordan, who does artwork to picture statistics. He'll do things like illustrate the number of teenagers who start smoking every month by putting that many cigarettes in a painting, or having one prison uniform for every prison inmate in the US today, etc. It's extremely thought-provoking stuff. Check out the video - it's short and quite moving.

Here's just one of the pictures - the number of cell phones that are retired daily in the US (426,000)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Religion in the classroom

Here's an example of rather extreme religion in the classroom - a middle school science teacher who burned a cross into a students arm. Yikes.

When grammar results in duels

An excellent article on the death of the semicolon.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Daily Show - Good Life Crisis

This is why exactly I love this show so much.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Body Activism

Here's a really interesting article on Body Activism. It's something that researchers are working on at the University of Texas - basically, to counteract tendencies toward anorexia and bulimia, they have a workshop with teenagers in which they examine the way that body images are portrayed in the media, understand where the impulses come from, and then encourage non-violent forms of activism, like slipping notes that say "Love your body the way it is" into dieting books and writing letters to Matel about Barbies. Another was hanging a sign in a high school bathroom that said
The article is short and fascinating - seems like it combines practical education with the teenage tendency toward rebellion in a very healthy way. I've love to see our school teach something similar. I wonder if there's a similar approach to be found regarding self-injury.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Phil Jackson's Zen Christianity

I often have talks with our school's basketball coach about the spiritual nature of basketball. His hero is John Wooden, and one of my favorite memories is hearing him talk about his lunch with Wooden and the seven spiritual principles that guide his life and guided his coaching.

I don't know a lot about Phil Jackson, but this article definitely makes me more interested in learning about him.

Jet Skiing on the Internet

This is a response to a blog on another site, where the author asked if Google was making us stupid, and cited this article, by Nicholas Carr in The Atlantic Monthly.

Here is my initial response, with a follow-up:
I find myself thinking more broadly, but I don't see myself thinking any less deeply. What I regret is not having a book in my hand that will lead me into tangents as I research an answer - those tangents are often the best place for inspiration! But the internet does the same thing in its own way. Looking up something on Google Images leads to completely unexpected places, and putting together those connections inspires a type of creativity that I find very powerful. So I don't see myself thinking less deeply as a result of the internet, but I do see myself thinking more broadly. I typically keep my internet thinking and my book thinking and my conversation thinking separate, so I believe that as long as we teach and encourage all three skills, our students will be ready for what faces them.

That said, I haven't read the article yet, and have already written my response. That's certainly a habit I've developed, because I do find myself skimming all the time when I read on the internet, which is not at all what I do when I have a book in my hand... But I'll read the article now. ;-)
And then I read the article, and replied with this:
and now that I've read it (or read/skimmed it, as I usually do with the internet)...

I agree that our brains are starting to function differently. But I'm sure they did that when mathematics was developed, when quantum physics took hold, when cars were invented, or as Carr notes, when the printing press took over from hand writing.

My brain feels more fluid now, and I agree with the jet-ski image that Carr offers, it's true the book-reading/depth capacity needs to be exercised just like the body does. When I am trying to work out something complex, I never use a keyboard - I insist on writing it out longhand first, because the brain is forced to move more slowly. I won't allow students to read assignments online, and I insist that they have pens in their hands as they read, and will often check their notes. Journals must all be written long-hand. Perhaps because I'm an English teacher, I do a bit more reading than the average person, but I think we need to value each of the methods of learning as complementary, rather than feeling that one is replacing another.

I hear all the time in the Upper School about how our students don't have long attention spans, or that they seem uninterested in complex critical thinking. That - across the board for four years now - has been the opposite of my experience. Most of the time, when a student comes to ask me what they think is a simple question, I hand them a book, tell them to digest it fully, and then come ask me again. This is separate from what I require in class. I keep a large pile of books on my desk for this very purpose. I will also typically hand similar books to their friends or to Julie Miller (the glorious Sun around which the students orbit in the Upper School), and I find that quite deep conversations result and reverberate in unexpected places. The students typically come back not only having read and fully digested the whole book, but asking for another. I've loaned out so many books now that I can't keep track of them. That part of their brains is hungry to be exercised, and I think the more we jet-ski, the more we are going to long for scuba diving.

What is key, though, is that we must rely on the curiosity of our students, and help coach it along, rather than expecting them to be automatically curious about what we find interesting. Once we have made a move toward them, I always find that they very quickly move back towards us, and then prod incessantly for more and more. I had an incredibly difficult time in my study hall this year getting any work done, because I was discussing all the parallel syllabi that had emerged in our students. The internet pulls the brain horizontally, but at some point, it reaches maximum stretch, and begins to curve back in again. In the same way, online work is so isolating that we've seen a huge rise in online social networking. Sure, it's not face to face, but there's a different type of communication that happens here that wouldn't happen in the cafeteria, and I value that function too.

I have little fear of what Google represents - we will see some temporary setbacks as our brains evolve, but what is most important in our brains will remain a longing that will demand to be filled.
I put another poll about this on the right side.

Paper is the new Prozac

I couldn't agree with this article more.

It talks about the difference between internet and print reading, and how writers need to adapt for internet reading.

It says blogs are not effective. I agree.

But it also says that paper isn't going anywhere. Like this quotation:
paper is the new Prozac. A balm for the distracted mind. It's contained, offline, tactile. William Powers writes about this elegantly in his essay "Hamlet's BlackBerry: Why Paper Is Eternal." He describes the white stuff as "a still point, an anchor for the consciousness."
I said something similar (though less eloquent) in a blog post on another site, which I'll reproduce here next.

The only thing I might add to the reasons why we read differently on the internet is that I personally find myself trying to escape my computer, so skimming lets me feel like I'm succeeding in that battle, which, given the amount that I skim, isn't true at all.

And if you make it to the end of the article (or skim there), you'll be rewarded with a nostalgic (and remarkably awkward) treat.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Romeo & Juliet

Here's a slideshow of some pictures of the last play I directed at Collegiate - Romeo & Juliet. Some of them really need to be seen big, so click here if you want to see them full size.

The wiki page we put together for the play will give you an idea of the kind of work we did on the play and where some of the ideas came from. One of the aspects I was most proud of was the Music - all written by students - and you can listen to some of it here.

And here's an early draft of the opening video that went along with it. This is not the version we used - we cut it down some, and took out a few scenes. It was much cooler on the huge screen in the theater with our brand new Line Array Sound System (the best in any school system in Virginia), but this gives you a basic idea. When we first played it on opening night, with the new sound system, it was like witnessing the power of the fully armed and operational Death Star.

I was really proud of the actors and designers on this show.

If you're interested, pictures from the other past plays are here.

The Internal Thermostat of Leaves

Nature is so astonishing. Listen to this 1-minute podcast about how leaves maintain a constant temperature from Antarctica to Puerto Rico. Amazing.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sleep & School

This is pretty much common sense, but here is an article that offers substantive proof of the benefits of sleeping more for students, and also the fact that they would sleep longer if we were to start the day later. Here's the paragraph I found most intriguing:
The researchers found a strong association between hours of sleep per school night and GPA, level of motivation, emotional disturbance and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Each additional hour of sleep on school nights reduced the risk of scoring in the clinically significant range of emotional disturbance and ADHD by 25 percent and 34 percent, respectively.
Here's the whole article.

And please answer the Poll on the right side of this page.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Hunger for Fiction Disguised as Nonfiction

This is an interesting article about the whole fiction/ memoir/ exaggeration issue brought to the fore mainly by James Frey and Oprah, but also by the story of the MIT students told in Bringing Down the House and several other recent works. I have no problem with exaggeration, which I always presume to be a part of memoir, and most of this is a fight over labels rather than ethics. The author here brings up some interesting issues with regard to David Sedaris, but Sedaris is completely open about his exaggeration, which in my mind makes him ethical. He has even written about his exaggeration itself. What I find most interesting is that nonfiction sells better than fiction, and that is where most of these problems begin. It is truly a sign of our times that people want to buy nonfiction, but what they actually long for and love most is fiction.

I wonder why that is...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Chaplin and J. Edgar Hoover

Many people know Charlie Chaplin for his impeccable vaudeville technique. W.C. Fields was reported to have called him the best ballet dancer in the world. But fewer people are acquainted with his politics. His film The Great Dictator used his little tramp image to satirize Hitler - and this was in 1940!

I didn't know about this film, Monsieur Verdoux, which is being run again in New York at the Film Forum. It was released in 1947, and dealt with the issues of the Cold War. The subtitle is "A Comedy of Murders." Here is the NY Times article about it that I read today.

And now that Robert Downey Jr. is back on top of the world with Iron Man, I am reminded of how brilliant he was in Chaplin. Al Pacino incomprehensibly won the Oscar that year, which, given the depth and technical brilliance of Downey's performance, seems like grand larceny. It's definitely worth another look.

Hillary Clinton & the Glass Ceiling

In the (sadly) now defunct British Literature class, one of my favorite units has always been the one on Virginia Woolf. We study A Room of One's Own, and while the students find it tough reading, they routinely report the conversations that result to be among the best of the entire year.

And this year, as in all years, we have lived those issues. The first year I taught the course was immediately after the Larry Summers incident, and every year, current events have pushed us deeper and deeper into the heart of these intense problems. While I ultimately supported Obama, I was really taken by Clinton, especially at first. I think what Woolf would say is that Clinton's anger and frustration got in the way so that she was not able to "express her genius whole and entire" and to "burn incandescently" like Woolf feels Shakespeare did. Obama has worked through his sense of injustice in the world, as he outlines so powerfully in his books, and this is a big part of his appeal to me - the magnanimity with which he treats those who attack him, most clearly in his dealings with Reverend Wright when Obama refused the easy rejection and paid the consequences. Clinton understandably is still working through a lifetime's worth of frustration and anger, and part of what turned some voters like me off was the edge of desperation that marked the second half of her campaign. She is right that while she did not break the glass ceiling, she put eighteen million cracks in it. And for that, we should all be grateful.

Here's a good article that sums this up, and asks, as I do, why it is that Clinton's last speech of the campaign was her most powerful and genuine. I suspect this is because she felt that in order to win, she still needed to project a certain image that was in some fundamental way either at odds with her soul, or if not that, then at least partial. Woolf said she felt women needed a hundred years from when she was writing before the progress could truly manifest. If her prophesy is correct, we still have twenty to go, which would make the time right when my current students come of age.

We live in exciting times.

Karen Armstrong

I am currently reading two books by Karen Armstong - A History of God and In the Beginning: a New Interpretation of Genesis. Armstrong's command of her subject is extraordinary. The Genesis book is more personal but still excellent scholarship, and expresses a great deal of what I have often believed about that book, particularly the idea that the contradictions in the text are not unskillful writing, but instead are intentional complexities that show us how inadequate our current axioms about God are. I am sure I will write more about this, but suffice to say that her books are the equivalent of a graduate course in Western religion.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


This is simply a place for Musings. I often have ideas that I find interesting, and which are then applicable to several of the different classes I teach, and may prove interesting to alumni and friends as well. I would love to hear your responses here in comments, or please email me with any ideas, inspirations, or questions/ comments you may have.

If you are interested, please also check out my homepage, with links to just about everything I do.