The Random Yak

More Really Cool Stuff I Didn’t Have as a Kid

Filed under: Just Yaks — Random Yak @ 11:13 am on May 4, 2010

Not that I’m complaining, mind.  I had a pretty good childhood, all things considered, and my parents did let me paint the interior walls of my walk-in closet when I was in junior high school.  (And I mean painted as in scenes of dragons and other mythical beasts, in acrylics, not ‘grab a roller and paint one color on the wall’) Which, I must confess, was both really cool and typical of the way they liked to give me the freedom to express myself in reasonable and creative ways (which probably contributed to an overall increase in the Power of the Snark but also increased control over its outbursts).

That said: this connect-the-dots wallpaper almost makes me wish I had a child young enough to buy it for.


But not quite.

Still, I’d put it in the category of something I’d totally approve-of-and-encourage-friends-to-do.  At least with children old enough to know the difference between “walls I can draw on” and “things that change the color of my bottom.”  (Statistically, 92% of you got that last reference.  The others don’t have kids.)

It Wastes Your Time and it Annoys the Yak

Filed under: Just Yaks — Random Yak @ 4:17 pm on April 12, 2010

The title of this post, in slightly modified form, represents the second half of the old saw that starts, “You should never try to teach a pig to sing, because…”

It is also, unfortunately, the answer to the newer and slightly less familiar one beginning, “You should never agree to teach a college course because…”  At least, it seemed that way this morning.

On the one hand, my students’ recent midterm exams featured the first perfect score anyone has ever received on a midterm in one of my classes.  To be specific, it featured four of them.  Splendid news – and in reality, more than enough to make the effort worth it, despite the minor annoyance created by the half of the class that decided studying was a waste of time.  Unfortunately for all of us, this had a highly foreseeable result: half of them failed.

To their credit, they failed spectacularly and not without sparks of creativity.  (Under the circumstances, I’ll take my entertainment where I can.) Not-so-much to their credit, it meant I spent the lion’s share of the hours I would have liked to spend reading new books over the weekend drinking coffee and trying not to say nasty things about people who probably don’t really deserve to be called anything but lazy and unmotivated.

Most of you probably thought this would turn into a ranting post about the failures of modern alledgeducation and students’ lack of interest in learning – not without reason, and not without justification.  I see those problems regularly, and I flail about in the mire of frustration at least as much as the rest of you.

But not this time.  Nottoday.  You see, today I’m not blogging to tell you about the creative-but-hopeless things the failures did.  Today I’m going to focus on the ones who deserve the spotlight.  The ones whose achievements usually end up shadowed by the alarmingly bleak waves of apathy upon which ride the failboats of the age.

Let’s talk about the perfect scores.

Not one, but four.  Four people who cared enough to do something not just well, but exceedingly well.  They learned the material, they answered the questions, they aced the test.  On their own merits, mind.  Not with a curve, or easy grading, or a university that decided to boost their grades to “the level we’re sure they really intended.”  They studied, they learned and they passed.  And I am proud of them.

At first I, too, let the frustration of the unmotivated bring me down.  I stomped around the house like my shaggy old self, fuming about wasted effort and wasted time.  I berated myself for agreeing to teach again, after deciding I would devote my efforts to places where they met with better results and more serious interest.  After all…I was right.  They didn’t care, and I had the exams to prove it.

But then (with a little boot help from The Random Spouse and another very good friend) I started thinking about the other ones.  The ones who cared enough not just to listen but to excel.  When I taught law for a living, I often said I’d stand and teach if even one person really wanted to learn – and here I have not one, but four.

Is the others’ failure irritating? Yep.  Annoying?  Sure.  Enough to make me grumble around like a bad-tempered quadruped?  I’ve already admitted it, and more.

But letting myself get mired down in their failure is, in effect, a failure of my own.  There are others who do care, and they deserve better.  Does that mean a few pearls may fall before less-than-interested parties?  Sure.  But in the long run, success isn’t measured by the ones we didn’t save.

It’s measured by the ones we do.

Debating the “Digitally Distracted”

Filed under: Education Yaks,Just Yaks — Random Yak @ 12:22 pm on March 10, 2010

This morning, a colleague sent me a link to a Washington Post article about professors banning laptop computers in class (which led to this awesome video of a professor pouring liquid nitrogen on a laptop and shattering it on the floor as a warning to students not to violate his “no laptop rule” – which is safe for work unless you happen to be working on a laptop in this guy’s class) along with a note indicating that he (my colleague) was still debating the merits of the practice.

I’ve pondered the same question from time to time.

In my mind, at least, the debate boils down to whether ’tis nobler in the mind to permit one’s students to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (as brought upon themselves by their poor decisions with regard to misuse of classroom laptops) or to become the martinet instructor of old, brandishing the cane (if not the liquid nitrogen) in an attempt to enforce the educational equivalent of vegetable eating.

In other words:  do I let these purported adults make their own decisions, and suffer the consequences of bad ones, or enforce a no-laptop rule that might or might not result in better attention and educational success?

When I taught at the law school level, the answer seemed relatively clear.  If a twenty-five year old can’t make appropriate decisions about whether or not to use a laptop, (s)he probably doesn’t need a law license either.  One warning the first day of class that I expect people to pay attention and will hold them responsible for the course material seemed more than sufficient.  After that, stand or fall on your own, and if you fail the bar exam at least you’re qualified to pursue a career in laptop solitaire.  (Let me know how that works out for you.)

At the undergraduate level, however, the debate has more merit, or at least greater complexity.  Many undergraduate students are struggling with new-found freedoms and learning to make choices their parents either didn’t adequately teach or abdicated teaching altogether.  Even for those with good groundings and foundation, the temptations of an unsupervised existence often result in a certain amount of testing whether the parental units actually spoke with wisdom or just the old sound and fury, signifying nothing.  If nothing else, many of them face unlimited access to the laptop computer (and the host of time-wasting temptations it offers) for the first time, and are still learning how to use it well.

I am not responsible for their success – or failure – per se.  But do I have some ethical responsibility to help them make good decisions, at least in the classroom?  To the extent I let them know that laptops are for note-taking purposes only, and that if they’d rather be surfing they should grab a board and head for the coast, probably.  Should I have to monitor their use like an usher in a Puritan church, staff in hand and ready to administer a solid whack to the pate of the guilty?  Absolutely not.

It would be easy to let this commentary derail completely, to devolve into a rant lambasting the loss of personal responsibility and parental influence over the young, or a tirade about the lack of interest most college students seem to have in actually obtaining an education – in essence, the same kind of insignificant sound and fury that characterizes my typical response to futility in all its modern forms.  I won’t do that.

What I will do is offer a question, for those who read and those who comment to consider.

Is it better to ban the laptop and blackberry altogether, thereby ensuring that whatever woolgathering folly my undergraduate students engage in (and they will woolgather, as students have done since the beginning of time) is strictly of the non-electronic, non-digital variety, or to simply leave them with the same speech I give the (chronologically and theoretically) more mature graduate students and let them learn a harsh lesson if they refuse to make appropriate choices regarding the use of technology?

I wish I had an answer.  Even a smart remark would do.  But the reality is, I’m still debating this one myself.  Feel free to join the discussion if you wish.

In the interim…anyone know where I can get a supply of liquid nitrogen, in case I do reach a decision?

A Red Bird in Every Pot

Filed under: Just Yaks — Random Yak @ 12:20 pm on November 5, 2009

Lately, I’ve received several e-mails (and some “real life” questions) about the coffee at my law office.  I think I may have posted on this subject before, but here it comes again, for those who haven’t seen.

The standard brew du jour is 100% Kona, whole bean, ground daily, and ordered from Redbird Kona Coffee in Hawaii.  (Yeah, probably could have left that last bit out as redundant, seeing as real kona comes only from Hawaii.)

I started ordering from Redbird about 6 years ago, on a theory that (a) the best Kona must come from the source and (b) I generally prefer to support a small, local grower who sells directly to the public than channeling my money into a large business that couldn’t really care less whether I ordered from them or from someone down the street.

When I started, the Redbird farm was owned by the Hennigs, a pair of self-described “refugees from the mainland” who tossed off the urban life in favor of running a coffee plantation – and made a startlingly good job of it.  (winning the local “cupping competitions” for best Kona coffee in 2004, ’05, and ’06.) A couple of years ago, those owners retired and sold the farm to its current owners, Steve and Ronna Schreiner who have continued the winning streak (’07 and ’08, no known results yet for ’09) and maintained the high level of quality and customer service I appreciated in the previous owners.

The Redbird farm no longer offers the monthly shipping “club” option, which let purchasers order and pay for a year’s worth of coffee in advance, and have it roasted and shipped on a monthly basis, but it  still has Internet ordering, better pricing (and much better coffee) than other growers in the Kona region, and some really good bundled deals.  (I’d say “try the peaberry” but frankly I don’t want the rest of you to buy it out before I re-order my own.) Most importantly, they have the best coffee.  I’ve tried beans from six different growers, as well as several “mass-market” kona offerings, and in my experience, Redbird really is the “cream of the crop.”

To satisfy the Feds: No, I didn’t get any free coffee or other compensation for this review.  (Though I’m not above taking a bribe after the fact if the Schreiners felt so inclined.) It’s just really good coffee and this is the easiest forum to let everyone who’s asked know the answer at once.  Plus, let’s face it – promoting Redbird is acting in my own self-interest.  The more business they get, the more likely they are to continue growing and selling the beverage that gets me through the day.

A highly caffeinated thank-you to Redbird.  Keep doing what you do, so the rest of us can, too.

On the Difference Between Love and Acceptance

Filed under: Just Yaks — Random Yak @ 1:18 pm on October 1, 2009

Riffing on a post (and comment) over at Cathouse Chat, which reminded me of a conversation I had with YtY over the weekend…

There is a difference between Love and Acceptance.

Modern society wants to blur the line, to equate Love (and “Tolerance”) with Acceptance so that if you love me, you must also accept me as I am.  Acceptance, in turn, means approval of my actions – no matter what I choose to do.

Because if you love me, you accept me and you approve of me.  Modern society would have you believe them one and the same, part and parcel of a single truth.

This is not so.


Even Judges Know Fire is Hot

Filed under: Just Yaks,Law Yaks,News Yaks — Random Yak @ 12:41 pm on September 21, 2009

In a startlingly appropriate decision, the California Supreme Court has refused certiorari in the case of a man injured when he deliberately walked into the bonfire at  the 2005 Burning Man Festival.

The incident, which technically resulted in festival-goers burning two dummies instead of one, occurred when the plaintiff (name withheld to protect the ignorant) intentionally approached the burning man to throw a photograph onto the fire.  As he walked between pieces of burning debris, the plaintiff stepped too close to the flames and received burns.

Now, when I say “stepped too close” I paraphrase.  In reality, our hapless plaintiff “walked seven to ten feet into the burning embers” of a sixty-foot high bonfire (emphasis added).  Intentionally.  Walked into a fire.  Not just close…into a fire.  A six-story high fire made of burning wood and other miscellaneous debris.

And he got burned.  Fancy.

Being a red-blooded American, our hapless and now somewhat crispy plaintiff decided to sue the promoter of the Burning Man Festival (which just happens to be based  in liberal-and-lawsuit-friendly San Francisco).  Unfortunately, the plaintiff failed to take a couple of facts into account – facts which the court would later consider somewhat more important than the plaintiff and his legal counsel: (more…)

You can have Logic or Readability…but not both.

Filed under: Just Yaks — Random Yak @ 11:57 am on September 14, 2009

On the way into the bank this morning, I noticed the following sign posted in the parking lot:

Skateboarding Or Loitering Prohibited.

So if you’re going to loiter in the bank parking lot, remember to bring your skateboard.

Flame on! Well, Not Really.

Filed under: Just Yaks — Random Yak @ 2:20 pm on August 31, 2009

OK. Still working on the old graffiti, and please remember The Rules are still in effect. (Look for a re-post on that any day now.) But that said…comments are back on. Registered users only. I’ve been burned by [expletives deleted] before.

But if you’re really out there, and you have something to say, bring it on. (And if you don’t say it right, be prepared for me to delete it. You’ve been warned. This ain’t a democracy.)

Many old users’ info is still intact, but some got deleted during the Great Spammer War of ’08. Feel free to recreate, glad to have you back. Moderation is on until your first comment gets approved, after that they should start showing up at once.

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