Monthly Archives: February 2006

A note for teacher


In the old days, i.e., when kids had to dress “appropriately” for public school (i.e., shirts and ties for boys, dresses for girls, shoes for everyone), teachers ruled the roost. If you did poorly in class, it was your own damn fault. There was very little in the way of recourse. Your parents usually sided with the school.

(And it wasn’t all that long ago, either, wise guy.)

By the time I got to middle school, boys had lost the ties and girls started wearing slacks, but it was what could now be considered “business casual.”

By high school, it was jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts. I was actually something of a rebel. I wore a “bucket hat” every day at a time when you had to remove all headwear inside the sacred halls of learning.

Nowadays kids pretty much wear whatever the hell they want (although many schools do have very loose dress codes, mostly barring girls from inflaming boys’ lipid’s with clothes that are too revealing.

So what am I leading up to? No, it’s not the problem of teenage sex. It’s the problem of familiarity with teachers as expressed through e-mail.

A front page article in The New York Times by Jonathan D. Glater on Feb. 25 (To: Professor@University.edu Subject: Why It’s All About Me) considered the increasing problems of students e-mailing their teachers for one reason or another. It may be a simple request for an explanation, or to alibi for a poor showing on a test (or a no-showing in class). Point is, access has become a problem for teachers already have too much on their plate. Unfortunately, the new Times Web site restricts the availability of the article, so I’ve pasted selected sections herein. (For those readers who subscribe to Times Select, here is the link.)

These days, they say, students seem to view them as available around the clock, sending a steady stream of e-mail messages — from 10 a week to 10 after every class — that are too informal or downright inappropriate.
”The tone that they would take in e-mail was pretty astounding,” said Michael J. Kessler, an assistant dean and a lecturer in theology at Georgetown University. ” ‘I
need to know this and you need to tell me right now,’ with a familiarity that can sometimes border on imperative.”

Professor Ewick said 10 students in one class e-mailed her drafts of their papers days before they were due, seeking comments. ”It’s all different levels of presumption,” she said. ”One is that I’ll be able to drop everything and read 250 pages two days before I’m going to get 50 of these.”

College students say that e-mail makes it easier to ask questions and helps them to learn. ”If the only way I could communicate with my professors was by going to their office or calling them, there would be some sort of ranking or prioritization taking place,” said Cory Merrill, 19, a sophomore at Amherst. ”Is this question worth going over to the office?”
But student e-mail can go too far, said Robert B. Ahdieh, an associate professor at Emory Law School in Atlanta. He paraphrased some of the comments he had received: ”I think you’re covering the material too fast, or I don’t think we’re using the reading as much as we could in class, or I think it would be helpful if you would summarize what we’ve covered at the end of class in case we missed anything.”
Students also use e-mail to criticize one another, Professor Ahdieh said. He paraphrased this comment: ”You’re spending too much time with my moron classmates and you ought to be focusing on those of us who are getting the material.”

The situation is not limited to college students. Kids in high school and below also feel they have the right (if not an egocentric obligation) to keep in touch with teachers they have seen a half hour prior to their missive.

Bob Schieffer gave an excellent commentary on the Feb. 26 edition of Face the Nation, in which he opines that the down side of having instant access is that people have a tendency to write before they think.

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Book review: Last Dance (By yours truly)


LAST DANCE: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four, by John Feinstein on Bookreporter.com

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"Out of the mouths of . . . " or "Let George do it."


(Remember the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Show? Each episode had a cliff-hange ending with two titles. Just so you know….)

We baseball fans had it too good too long. We should have known it was just a matter of time before George Steinbrenner, dissatisfied with leaving well enough alone, with remaining a good quiet owner, decided to put his foot in it again.

As spring training opened, the Associated Press offered this report:

George Steinbrenner is predicting the New York Yankees’ five-year World Series drought will end this October.

“We’re going to win it this year,” the Yankees owner said Wednesday. “We’re going after it.”

Can’t you just picture the Yankee players rolling their eyes? Hey, guys, no pressure. Just wait til you end April only five games over .500.

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“Out of the mouths of . . . ” or “Let George do it.”


(Remember the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Show? Each episode had a cliff-hange ending with two titles. Just so you know….)

We baseball fans had it too good too long. We should have known it was just a matter of time before George Steinbrenner, dissatisfied with leaving well enough alone, with remaining a good quiet owner, decided to put his foot in it again.

As spring training opened, the Associated Press offered this report:

George Steinbrenner is predicting the New York Yankees’ five-year World Series drought will end this October.

“We’re going to win it this year,” the Yankees owner said Wednesday. “We’re going after it.”

Can’t you just picture the Yankee players rolling their eyes? Hey, guys, no pressure. Just wait til you end April only five games over .500.

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Hey, look me over!


Joe Klamar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Lindsey Jacobellis appears on a Visa commercial. Her “coach” is trying to psych her up, but nothing seems to work, until he tells her to pretend someone has just stolen her card. Perhaps that’s what her real coach should have told her. Perhaps then she would have made a b-line for the finish line instead of trying a show off move that cost her the gold medal in Snowboard Cross.
I had heard the news much earlier on Friday and was most curious to hear the commentators agonizing over her lack of common sense. Maybe she figured winning with the flourish would bring her extra fame and fortune. Now, for better or worse, sheprobablyy be even more famous for her lack of judgment. You can practically hear the late night talk show hosts now.
Ah, the indiscretion of youth.
The New York Times, no doubt, has a classier take on the situation. With a Final, Risky Flourish, Gold Turns to Silver

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You better watch your A****

The Feb 16 Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon is planning a music service to rival iPod, to debut as early as this summer.

“[T]he world’s No. 1 online retailer, is in advanced talks with the four global music companies about a digital-music service with a range of features designed to set it apart. Among them: Amazon-branded portable music players, designed and built for the retailer, and a subscription service that would deeply discount and preload those devices with songs, not unlike mobile phones that are included with subscription plans as part of the deal.
“Music executives privately welcome Amazon’s plans, which they see as one of the only credible challenges to Apple’s hegemony in both digital music and portable players.

Is it time to rejoice? Will Amazon break the hold that iPod has held on too many of us for too long? More important, will the news now force Apple into treating its customers with a modicum of respect and service? Stay tuned.

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One bad Apple

Although I love technology, I’ve never been to run out and buy the latest toy. I was one of the last adults I know to get a cell phone. I still have to ask my daughter what my number is, since I hardly ever use it.

The computers we’ve bought over the years — usually from Dell or Gateway — have deteriorated at an alarming rate. And while I could try and fix the dozens of annoying problems that crop up weekly, including reduced speed, I fear digging a deeper whole from which I can never crawl out.

Until this past holiday, I didn’t own an iPod, either. My daughter saved up and worked for hers; my wife is on her second. I was happy enough with my old CD player.

So when I set up my iPod shuffle, I was not especially perturbed when it didn’t work, despite having followed the directions to the letter. There is a lack of documentation that accompanies tech products these days. I guess consumers are expected to do heir own research on the companies’ Web sites, as Joseph Nocera’s disheartening story in the Feb. 4 issue of the Times on the benign neglect with which Apple treats its clientele.

To the extent that Apple is using the iPod to drive sales of other Apple products, the Nocera family is proof that the strategy works; we’ve probably spent more than $10,000 on Apple hardware since the iPod first came out. Alas, at least three of the iPods were replacements for ones that broke.

My own daughter’s unit, barely more than one year old, was unable to link up with iTunes. On its little screen was a terrifying message: the folder icon with the website for support, indicating the iPod needed to be either “refreshed” or “restored.” Both have the effect of deleting all information.

Apple is going to charge you $250, plus tax, to fix your iPod. There is no mistaking the message: Apple has zero interest in fixing a machine it was quite happy to sell you not so long ago.

Not to mention that songs purchased at iTunes are virtually useless on other brands of MP3 players.

This disregard harkens back to my previous entry on supermarket cashiers (“Paper or Plastic?”). More and more companies don’t seem to give a damn about their customers (see also, cable operators). They feel they have the monopoly, so what are you gonna do about it?

You know what this man would say:

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad — worse than bad. They’re crazy.

It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’

Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot — I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know
is that first you’ve got to get mad.

You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!’ So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, I’m AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’ I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell — ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

Phew. Excuse me; I have to go lie down now.

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