Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Blog post on On Campus: Degrees of Angst Part 1

The following is part one of a two part guest blog post that I wrote which was published on WGBH's On Campus blog.  It's in response to the most recent report, Degrees of Urgency from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education.

Snapshot of the Vision Project website.
Snapshot of the Vision Project website.
"In late October, the Massachusetts’ Department of Higher Education released its “Degrees of Urgency” Vision Project report. It addresses challenges for state colleges and universities as demographic shifts in the next decade will result in smaller student enrollments. In New England, colleges can anticipate a 9 percent or more population loss.   

The report arrives on the heels of a dramatic shift in Massachusetts funding for higher education.  The new funding formula focuses significantly on completion rates of students who start full time and complete a program within the expected time. The formula seems likely to exasperate existing problems since state institution populations have continued to grow significantly since 2000, despite over 30 percent drop in public funding during that same time."

For the full post, please visit the On Campus Blog here.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Another Experience With Changing Lives Through Literature

I've talked before about my work with the Changing Lives Through Literature program.  I connect quite well with the program's purpose and goal. So I've wrote the following post to contribute to their blog.  It's published in part here with a link to the full post.  Enjoy! 

A road with a sign, "Success" at the end.  Image source: http://pixabay.com/p-115890/?no_redirect
"I’m a newbie to Changing Lives Through Literature, so what I say here might seem old-hat to some or naive to others. I’m about two-thirds through my second group and there are two moments in the program that I find most rewarding.

I choose a mixture of challenging and strange texts. There’s a method to my madness in terms of the range and type, as well as the alignment, but I often get raised eyebrows from the participants and even the parole officers. The texts are evocative, usually leading the participants to come in with clear opinions. These opinions are usually a mixture of confusion, frustration, and dislike because the readings don’t always have clear endings and are sometimes outright confusing."

You can read the full post by visiting the Changing Lives Through Literature blog.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, November 7, 2014

My Most Recent Reads - September & October 2014

As I mentioned in a previous post, September and October were crazy months in terms of how busy I've been and therefore, doing a September update in October proved impossible.  However, I'm getting back on track and thought I would throw out this combined post of my most recent reads of September and October.  Hopefully, I will be back on track with talking about my most recent reads and other fun things now that life is returning to normal!

Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

Book cover: Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.  Image source: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51i4VsKCUCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
I started reading this book in August while visiting a friend in Maine.  I had heard about the book and it's overall impact on other literary authors and found the concept fascinating.  So I picked up the book at my friend's house and started reading.  Well, I ended up having to buy a copy and read it because I was so compelled.  I love the idea and it's overall execution.  The book is a collection of poems that are written by dead people in the town of Spoon River.  Each poem highlights the dead person's life in concrete and abstract ways.  Through these poetic sermons, we learn about how the town worked and didn't work.  It's a lot of fun but I have to wonder if there is some site out there that provides a map of the characters and how they interconnect.  That would be fascinating to look at.  


Book cover: No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald.  Image source: http://www.glenngreenwald.net/

No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glen Greenwald


As the journalist who broke the NSA spying programs by being one of the few voices that Snowden found trustworthy in the newsmedia, Greenwald's account of their encounters, the NSA programs, and the harrassment he has experienced since revealing the traitorous acts of our own country, is a must read.  Beyond providing a much better context for the events that occurred, Greenwald provides a articulate and damning critique of contemporary media and it's inability to deliver real news or challenge authority.  He raises a great many and interesting points about security, identity, and freedom that we should all be asking ourselves.

  1. How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey
  2. The Small Big: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence by Robert Cialdini
  3. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter Brown


These three books are must-reads for anyone who teaches.  I plan on writing a more extensive review of all three of these books that intertwine how they relate.  But let me just say that if you are an educator and want both the macro and micro level on how to improve outcomes and learning in your classes, you need to read these three books.  

For other best picks over the last year, check out previous monthly reviews:

BOOKS


  • Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

AUDIOBOOKS


  • No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glen Greenwald
  • Tinhorn's Daughter: On the Trail of Greed, Gun Smoke, and Fiery Romance in Big Sky Country by L. Ron Hubbard
  • How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey
  • The Small Big: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence by Robert Cialdini
  • Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being by Brian Little
  • How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise by Taylor Chris
  • Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter Brown

GRAPHIC NOVELS


  • Archer & Armstrong, Volume 5: Mission: Improbable by Fred Van Lente
  • Fables, Vol. 20: Camelot by Bill Willingham
  • All-New X-Men, Vol. 4: All-Different by Brian Michael Bendis
  • The Walking Dead, Vol. 21: All Out War Part 2 by Robert Kirkman
  • How to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis
  • The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 4: The Four Disciplines by Jonathan Hickman
  • Secret Volume 1 by Jonathan Hickman
  • Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction
  • Deadly Class, Vol. 1: Reagan Youth by Rick Remender
  • The Movement Vol. 1: Class Warfare by Gail Simone
  • Nightwing, Vol. 4: Second City by Kyle Higgins
  • Wolverine: Three Months to Die Book 1 by Paul Cornell 
  • Velvet, Vol. 1: Before the Living End by Ed Brubaker
  • In the Dark: A Horror Anthology by Geroge Sturt 
  • Archer and Armstrong, Volume 4: Sect Civil War by Fred Van Lente

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Monday, November 3, 2014

365 Challenge: More Stories for September and October

October was a bust in terms of keeping up with the project.  I've managed to keep up with the reading a short-story a day but unfortunately, the reflections are about two weeks behind.  October, of course, was an extremely busy month both personally and professionally.  Personally, I got married and since we did a semi-destination wedding, it was a very busy week.  I also ran my third marathon.  I participated and helped run a conference.  All of it came in addition to my regular work of instructional designer, teaching, and writing.  So I did fall behind on the work, but will catch up soon.  


That being said, as I cross into November, month eleven of this twelve month project, I'm impressed with the breadth of stories read thus far.  Over 300 short stories and another 60+ to go.  Like my reading challenge of last year, I feel like there's something to be said of reading and writing about so many great (and not so great) stories.  The time it has afforded me to think about reading and writing has paid dividends in other realms of my life such as my own reading, teaching, and writing.  

As I hone in on the finish line, I am a bit disappointed that the stack of anthologies that I first this project with has not diminished much in the interim.  In fact, it might have slightly grown.  But maybe that just means extending the project to two years.  



The reading list of entries thus far:


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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Short Story #302: Varieties of Religious Experience by John Updike

Title:  Varieties of Religious Experience

Author:  John Updike

Summary

Painting of John Updike.  Source: https://flic.kr/p/6fRSKzDan Kellogg has a front-row seat to the destruction of the Twin Towers and in that moment, loses all of his faith in God, despite being a practicing Christian all his life.  As he stands in his daughter's apartment trying to reconcile the world, he is at a lost in trying to make sense of it, while his daughter does her best to deal with her two daughters that are grappling with what has happened.  While he busies himself with things around the apartment and outside, he still has trouble reconciling what he has witnessed and his utter loss of faith.  The story jumps to a week prior to the event and a man named Mohamed who is in Florida at a strip bar.  He contemplates his forthcoming actions in contrast ot the scenes around him.  He is mentally preparing for the forthcoming task of flying a plane into the towards.  His partner is with him but a bit distracted by everything around him and eventually causes some issues, enough for a bouncer to approach them.  Mohamed explains that they are pilots and tries to deescalate the situation.  The story then moves to Jim Finch who works in one of the towers.  He answers a phone call from his wife who is reminding him of errands he must run on his way home but he is a bit distracted. He keeps trying to interrupt and she finally catches on that there is something wrong.  He explains that something has struck the building.  His wife begins to panic but he remains calm, asking her to go to the house window to see what can be seen from their house in New Jersey.  She continues to panic and Jim tries to comfort her as he says his good bye.  He also encourages her that if something happens to him that she should go on with her life.  The story jumps to Caroline who is on a flight with others.  She and others begin to recognize that something isn't quite right.  Someone appears and gets people's attention, telling them to stay in their seats to avoid harm.  The passengers become increasingly anxious with some calling their loved ones.  The tension rises as passengers plot and execute an attack on the hijackers and as the plane plummets to its destruction Caroline says her prayers.  The story returns to Dan well after the aftermath of 9/11, with his family and we see the impact on the different family members as a result.  The story ends with a conversation between him and his granddaughters about how much will change as a result of the attack.



Reflection

I'm rather fond of this story because it tries to connect and consider the challenges that such tragic events can do to people, depending on their context.  Belief is something that can be profoundly shaken or reinforced depending upon one's positionality to a particular event and I think Updike shows this well.  

Short Story #302 out of 365
Rating:  4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/15/2014
Source:  You can read the full story at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Short Story #301: The Outage by John Updike

Title:  The Outage

Author:  John Updike

Summary

Painting of John Updike.  Source: https://flic.kr/p/6fRSKzA storm strikes the New England town that knocks out the power.  Brad decides to go into town and run some errands since he cannot work from home as usual.  His visit to the town center run into some problems since the power is out and many places cannot complete the transactions.  On his way home, he encounters a neighbor that he is not as familiar with, Lynne.  They chat about the storm and lack of electricity.  She explains that her husband is away and so she decides to walk about.  He invites her into the car and offers her a ride home.  When they get to the house, the burglar alarm is going off and Brad helps to turn it off.  While in the house, they continue to chat and he notices how much her house is like hs own.  She offers him some coffee but he asks for a drink of what she had been having.  The two move into an embrace.  They make their way upstairs, continuing to undress.  They enter the master bedroom that is filled with mementos from her marriage and family, while he notices his own house from the window.  The storm contrasts with their sexual expressions and just as they are go further, the electricity comes back on.  There is a clear break in the rhythm between the two and the two find themselves ashamed and he decides to leave.

Reflection

I like the title and the connection between the tryst and the idea of an "outage."  In some ways, it seems that the two generally don't do this but that this has created an unlikely opportunity to explore.  In this way, the power outage seems to represent a sharp disconnect in the relationships for both characters, but yet, not one that ends things permanently.  



Short Story #301 out of 365
Rating:  3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/15/2014
Source:  You can read the full story at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Short Story #300: A Sense of Shelter by John Updike





Title:  A Sense of Shelter 

Author:  John Updike

Summary

Painting of John Updike.  Source: https://flic.kr/p/6fRSKzWilliam sits in class on a snowy day, contemplating his place in high school now that he was a senior, though still an outsider.  The center of his thoughts is telling Mary Landis of his love for her since childhood when she beat him in a race and Mary came back to give him his schoolbag after he ran away.  He makes his way through the day, going to classes and even lunch with classmates (though not really friends).  At lunch, William thinks about his chances with Mary now that she is a bit more socially isolated than in years past since they were seniors and she had spent previous years hanging with older students.  He makes his way through classes after lunch and then begins working on the school newspaper after school.  He manages his departure from the school at the same time that Mary is leaving, so they begin to chat.  He is frustrated by his stutter but continues chatting with her and praising her in their conversation.  Their conversation delves into feelings about the school and the future.  He finally tells her that he's always loved her and she seems to bat the comment aside.  He insists but finds himself confounded by her reaction.  He pushes forward and asks her to marry him and she says that he really doesn't and that he's going to be somebody.  He attempts to kiss her but she moves aside and then goes outside.  William wonders why she won't marry him and she says that they don't even know each other.  When asked what he knows about her, all he can say is that she's not a virgin, another mistake.  The conversation descends from there and William goes back inside, heartbroken and feeling empty inside.

Reflection

It's a story many of us can relate to, for sure.  Boy likes girl,  Boy pursues girl.  Boy totally botches opportunity because boy doesn't really want the girl for the right reasons.  Sounds about right for many of our relationships in high school or life for that matter.  

Short Story #300 out of 365
Rating:  3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/15/2014
Source:  You can read the full story at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Short Story #299: The Swimmer by John Cheever

Title:  The Swimmer

Author:  John Cheever

Summary

Photo of John Cheever.  Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/37/Johncheever.jpgNeddy Merrill is spending his midsummer Sunday with a group of friends poolside, enjoying the day.  People are recovering from the previous night's drinking and he is contemplating returning home.  He slowly realizes that if he plans it right he could easily swim his way home by a mixture of cutting through backyards and swimming through the pools of people he knows.  It would be several miles of travel but he rather liked the idea and decides to pursue it.  He sets off in the current pool and then makes his way into the next yard.  He has it largely mapped in his head and finds his way easily from yard to yard.  At times, he encounters friends whom he briefly chats with before jumping into the pool and swimming across.  Many are happy to see him and offer him a drink so as he goes along, he begins to feel more and more fatigued.  While this is happening, the clouds are gathering and a storm is eminent. When the storm does hit, he finds shelter in a neighbor's gazebo before moving forward.  The second half of his journey, he encounters increasing confusion as he seems to forget what has happened to certain people and others raise questions about things that he no longer remembers.  He continues to run into obstacles such as the highway he must cross in just his bathing suit and empty pools.   He encounters his mistress whom he had clearly mistreated but doesn't seem to care. As he hones in closer to his home, his energy is all but gone and he can barely make it across the pools.  When he arrives at home, he finds there is no one there to answer his knock and no lights on.  When he looks in the window, he finds the house is empty.

Reflection

I rather liked the story's structure and pace.  At first, I was confused as to what he was actually doing but once I understood he was swimming across pools, it made more sense (after all, I certainly tried to do similar things with going through backyards, growing up).  The parallels of his journey with that of life are pretty clear and I like how Cheever juxtaposes his progress in distance with a loss of energy and stature.  


Short Story #299 out of 365
Rating:  4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/15/2014
Source:  You can read the full story at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Short Story #298: Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor

Title:  Everything That Rises Must Converge

Author:  Flannery O’Connor

Summary

Photo of Flannery O'Connor.  Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7e/Flannery-O'Connor_1947.jpgJulian is taking his mother to the YMCA for her weekly class to help her reduce her blood pressure.  His mother supports him now that he has graduated college and can't seem to get his writing career started.  As they get ready, the two bicker about the hat that the mother is wearing and this eventually rolls into a discussion about lineage and how they descended from great men who owned plantations and slaves and now they live in less desirable conditions.  The conversation slips further into discussing race wherein Julian condemns his mother for her racist beliefs.  Julian continues to feel self-righteous in his evolved beliefs and looks for ways to annoy his mother.  When they are at the bus-stop, he takes off his tie.  Once on the bus, they converse with others about the heat and there is more tension that develops between Julian and his mother.  Enough so that when an African American gets on the bus, he decides to sit next to him to spite his mother.  He proceeds to try to interact with the man but the man is not interested.  Julian's mind continues to scheme and plot about ways to annoy and anger his mother.  An African American woman and her child get aboard and Julian hopes for another confrontation, but instead of the mother, the child sits with his mother.  His mother considers all children precious and so he loses hope about a confrontation.  However, he does realize the woman has the same hat that his mother does and he hopes that this will frazzle her sensibilities.  When it comes time to get off the bus, the mother decides to offer a nickel to the boy, which Julian tries to discourage.  She doesn't listen and the mother of the boy slaps her to the ground in anger.  No sooner does the woman and child leave than Julian is telling his mother that she got what she deserved.  The mother stops and decides to walk home.  Julian protests but she just walks home with no emotion.  After a while, she collapses and immediately, Julian is sent into fear about his mother's possible death.


Reflection

Such a great story that engages the nuances of racism in white culture.  Julian's attempt at proving his welcoming of other races is damning and something that still happens today when people claim to be welcoming to outsider groups.  There's a bit of the "I can't be racist, because I have friends that are minorities," argument but in Julian's case, it's theoretical at best and tokenism at worse--seeking out minorities just to rattle his mother.  It's a great example of how racism is so pernicious.



Short Story #298 out of 365
Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/15/2014
Source:  You can read the full story at this website.   

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Short Story #297: Wunderkind by Carson McCullers





Title:  Wunderkind 

Author:  Carson McCullers

Summary

Photo of Carson McCullers.  Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c1/Carsonmccullers.jpgBienchen arrives early at her piano instruction when her instructor, Bilderbach makes note of her early arrival.  The other instructor Mr. Lafkowitz enters the room and greets Bienchen.  He asks her how she is doing and she admits to doing bad.  Before Lafkowitze can make a suggestion, Bilderbach encourages the start of the session.  Before starting Lafkowitz makes mention of a boy named Heime being featured in a magazine, Musical Corner and is being invited to a play in the Beethoven Concerto.  Bienchen sees this and reflects on how much practice she had put into her playing in just that day.  She remembers how she was considered a wunderkind like Heime at a young age and both of them now--of similar age, though she is slightly old--are in different places with their music.  Her first performance is impressive to the instructors in her ability to play from memory but they insist that if she is to do something, the playing needs both mind and heart.  Determine to live up to the title of wunderkind, she sets hard to practicing as mcuh as she can, including lessons twice a week.  Over the years of training, she would occasionally spend Saturday night at Bilderback's home with him and his wife.  While Bilderbach trained her, Lafkowitz worked with Heime over the same time.  During this time though, it was clear that Heime solely focused on his playing to the exclusion of all else, whereas Bienchen had to focus on her normal routines.  Much of their divergence came from a concert they were a part of and the artificial differences (he appeared younger and thus was perceived differently than she) and the music selection that was chosen.  While Bilderbach recommended another set that would better illustrate her skill, she insisted on another set that was also agreeable to Lafkowitz and Heime.  Well after the concert, Bilderbach has her play the piece he wanted her too and he is pleased with it but Lafkowitz rudely comments on her playing, which angers Bilderbach.  Still later, it is apparent that both Bilderbachs dote on Bienchen as a daughter-they-never had.  This swirl of backstory and context, help to show Bienchen's own realization that while Heime is excelling, she is beginning to slip.  Less and less is she successful and she can tell she no longer has the appeal of a wunderkind, now that she is closer to adulthood.  However, this afternoon, Bilderbach wants her to start anew and forget everything else.  He introduces new music and is attempting a fresh start. The attempt is filled with guidance and directions from Bilderbach.  She no sooner finishes it than she realizes how little she can work the piano in a passionate manner. He insists that she plays another song that she knows quite well in a particular manner and though she tries and struggles through, she finds it impossible.  Finally, she gives up and leaves the house as quickly as possible.

Reflection

It's a tale about coming to terms with one's own limited abilities, especially after years of being told that one s exceptional.  There is a sadness to that realization for many of us as we come to terms with such limitations (and the overall implied mortality).  

Short Story #297 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/15/2014
Source:  You can read the full story at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.