Day 10: We’ll Raise a Cup of Kindness.

Thursday, 11. December 2014 4:40 | Author:

I wrote about this briefly on Facebook a while back, but I wanted to develop it further.

A few weeks ago, I was shopping at the grocery store, and I noticed a change as I went down the coffee aisle. I was searching for the instant coffee that I drink in the morning, a section I have seen shrinking for quite some time (when was the last time when you met an oddball who drank instant coffee?). However, as I looked back over the aisle, I noticed a new balance of power, a visual tipping point on aisle three.

For the first time, I saw that the aisle space dedicated to traditional cans of coffee had been surpassed by boxes of K-cups. Between different brands and innumerable different favors, the Keurig (and copycat brands) instant single cup delivery system seems to have triumphed over the traditional pot (or the college student cup O'instant).

Never one to see a cigar as just a cigar, I immediately moved to greater implications of this ground shift. The clear predominance of this new technology makes statements about the users. It represents the movement away from the communal pot toward the individual cup. No need to share a single flavor, every drinker looks out for himself. I know there is a commercial for a multi-cup Keurig machine, but this somewhat defeats the purpose. It is an offshoot of the Starbucks mentality, let's all go in and have our own thing. Even the communal experience is highly individualistic. Keurig means I'm looking out for number 1.

More disturbing to me is the ecological choice made by The K-cup klatch. Every cup has its own disposable delivery system, plastic to go into landfills. I felt the same about daily contact lenses…not for the lenses themselves, but for the huge amount of plastic and metal trashed daily in delivery. Although some K-cup boxes boast of their environmentally friendly recyclable cups, it is a false comfort ignoring the energy that goes into the recycling process. I know that there are reusable cups, but I would love to see statistics about their use. Even apart from the plastic and paper, the K-cup uses far more coffee per cup than traditional drip in order to reach the correct saturation during the high-speed dispensing process. With every K-cup, we dispose of useable coffee. The culture of Keurig is the culture of waste.

So I grabbed my cheap instant coffee and went to checkout, leaving behind a store display and a lesson about modern humanity.

Hmmm, a cup of coffee sounds good now.

As always, I welcome your comments.



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Day 9: What Isn’t There

Wednesday, 10. December 2014 5:42 | Author:

As we take our walk with the dogs at night, we walk by what used to be the holiday house, a house with such amazing decorations and animations that it was a yearly feature on the television news. Ever since we moved here twelve years ago, it has been a yearly tradition to walk over on Thanksgiving night (the first night they were lit) to join the crowds enjoying the yearly spectacle, and looking for what new features the designer had created. Every night during the holiday season, the holiday house was a stopping point while walking the dogs, enjoying the lights and talking with the owners and neighbors. The holiday house became a gathering point through the season, a place to see people that you didn’t see any other time.

But last year there was an additional sign announcing it to be the “finale” since the owners were moving out of state. Last year’s viewings were bitter sweet, as every visit was colored with the knowledge that it was all coming to an end. On January 2, when the house went dark for the last time, it was the last time. Soon there followed the For Sale sign, the garage sale (where Toni bought many of the decorations), and the moving truck. Come November 1 this year, we missed the month-long setup for the great reveal. Now, there’s nothing. The new owners don’t put out any decorations, and the house looks very dark, a darkness that is permanent. As many Christmases as we live here, we will never see that display again.

Most are aware that David Letterman has announced that he will be retiring from The Later Show next year. I’ve watched Letterman from his early days on NBC, and though I am no longer able to stay up to watch, I still enjoy parts of his show online. In a few days, the show will feature Darlene Love singing my favorite secular Christmas song, “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home,” a yearly holiday tradition since 1989. I was watching the first time she sang, and have marveled over the years as the production has grown to include an orchestra, backup singers, a baritone saxophone player who always makes some sort of an entrance, and snow at the end (if you haven’t ever seen this, go to YouTube and search for Darlene Love, Letterman. Go ahead, I’ll wait…pretty spectacular, huh?)

This week Darlene Love announced that this final holiday season of the Letterman Show will be her final performance of the song on late night TV. She will not take this tradition to any other show, including the new Late Show with Stephen Colbert. This will be the last time, and then it will be gone.

This season makes us recognize the many good things that we have, but in the midst of this glowing gratitude, there is a shadow recognition of the things we don’t have any more, the things and people who have gone from our lives that will never return. So let’s enjoy what is there this year (including the last performance of “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home.”) and let’s remember with fondness (and some sadness) the things, the times, the people, who aren’t there.

As always, I welcome your comments.




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Day 8: That’s Cold!

Tuesday, 9. December 2014 3:42 | Author:

This may be one that might irk a few people…sorry in advance.

Christmas carols are joyous and sad and nostalgic and funny, and at least one is downright creepy.

“Baby, It's Cold Outside,” was written in 1944 by Frank Loesser and was first sung by Ricardo Montalban and Ester Williams in the MGM movie Neptune's Daughter (the song was reprised in the same film by Red Skelton and Betty Garrett). It has been recorded by countless duos in the succeeding years including Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, Zooey Deschanel and Will Farrell, and Dolly Parton and Rod Stewart.

The song is written as a dialogue between two characters designated as “Mouse” and “Wolf” on the original score. Through flattery, alcohol, and the threat of outdoor temperatures, the wolf persuades the mouse to “see it his way” and stay into the night. It's a beloved holiday classic.

But beneath the jingle bells is a darker reality. The wolf of our story is not anxious to keep the mouse out of the cold for mere companionship. If the name “wolf” isn't enough to tip you off, his smooth patter and double reference to her “delicious” lips betray his true intent. “Mind if I move in closer?” could be a subtitle of the entire song. Music, alcohol, cigarettes, and warmth are tools of a typical seduction.

And perhaps this wouldn't be so creepy if it ended here, but several lines would be danger signs in any time. “Say, what's in this drink?” reads like a headline from current news. Her continued resistance for herself and her reputation is ignored. “The answer is no,” should be the end of things, but it is only one more step toward the inevitable. His words are even more sinister, referring to her resistance as hurting his pride, and urging her to “get over this hold out.”

As much as the clever song suggests that the mouse has ultimately given in to her own true desire, it seems to me that she has been held against her will, perhaps drugged, and pressured to overcome her final decision.


As always, I welcome your comments


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Day 7: Serial Kills

Monday, 8. December 2014 6:38 | Author:

In case you have been living under a rock (or in the real world) Serial is an offshoot of the popular radio (and podcast) program This American Life. The podcast, hosted by Sarah Koenig is a retelling/reexamination of a murder case of fifteen years ago. Annan Syed, a high school student of Pakistani heritage was accused and convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in Baltimore 15 years ago. Each week the narrator examines some portion of the story: the event, the witnesses, the trial, the evidence, all with the purpose of trying to find the truth amid the mountain of conflicting detail. From the first episode, we have been invited to speculate whether this (no longer so) young man is an innocent victim of circumstances who is serving a life sentence based on a miscarriage of justice, or a cold-blooded killer, who claims innocence only to exploit the narrator.

We are currently 10 episodes in, and I frankly don’t have any idea what is true, what is false, and what I am being manipulated into thinking. The narrator is pretty good about maintaining impartiality, recognizing both exculpatory and damning facts, but perhaps this is even a manipulation. I am hoping that by the end, clarity will emerge, but based on something that was said in today’s episode, I am starting to worry that the series might end up with a draw, allowing the listener to draw his or her own conclusion. (I currently am liking a joke made on another podcast hoping that it turns out that the reporter did it).

This isn’t really new, crime procedurals, both fictional and fact-based have been on radio and television for years. One could easily picture a Law and Order episode dealing with a similar case, or a 48 Hours true crine episode. The difference is that this analysis is stretched, taking several months and looking at every detail

So if you are looking for a wonderful, engaging story, and you are willing to risk a possible stalemate, them Serial is for you.

I think Jay did it, but, as always, I welcome your





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Day 6: With Every Christmas Card I Write

Sunday, 7. December 2014 5:18 | Author:

Today is December 6, and as of today, we have not had any Christmas cards delivered to our home. There has been nothing yet from any relatives, friends, or even the dentist. Usually the first box I have to take from the rafters is the Christmas card holder. Today, with most of our other Christmas supplies out, it still sits in the box.

This is not a “no one likes us” pity party. I know I will receive many cards at work, and a number at home (to be fair, we have not yet sent our cards…taking the picture tomorrow). Rather this is a reflection on a dying piece of our culture. I am fairly certain that at the end of the season I will find this year what I found last year, that Christmas cards are going the way of the dinosaur.

It is honestly hard to make the argument for Christmas cards any more. They are expensive for something that is completely ephemeral. I always grumble about the price of cards that are essentially pretty litter. Though buying stamps is easier than it once was, finding Christmas stamps often still requires a trip to the post office, a practice that practically smells like a grandparent. Most essentially, the yearly connection between “friends both far and near” seems less special in a Facebook world where I know what you ate for dinner last night. More and more people are eliminating it as one less time consuming chore in the busyness of life. Most ominous for the practice, I don't see my daughter picking it up, or many from her generation.

As I print the list each year, I can't help but notice (though I try not to) how many of our sendees have not sent us a card in years. Though the ubiquity of photo cards, made so much easier with the advent of digital photography, and the ease of mass produced newsletter (horrors!) have kept the practice alive for a bit, to paraphrase the Ghost of Christmas present, I don't think it will be found by many more of his kind,

And this makes me sad. What? (You say) The stomper on older practices wants to hold on to something? Isn't that somewhat hypocritical? No, it's completely hypocritical, but to be fair, I've never said that it is wrong to feel bad about older practices disappearing, but foolish to try and hold on to them for their own sake. I will miss the yearly excitement of receiving a pile of cards and opening each one, feeling for a moment the brief re attachment to people with whom I've lost daily contact. I'll miss the added joy of finding a note or a hand written letter enclosed. I'll even miss the occasional beautiful picture or truly clever card.

Most of all, I'll miss the job of preparing and sending cards, a job I learned by watching my mother. It was a time consuming process (particularly in those years when she block printed her own cards) and therefore it was important. I remember the pile that was set aside so my Dad could write letters to his relatives. Though I have digitized many of the steps, I have kept the practice, including making sure that something was hand written on every card, a yearly little gift to those with whom I share my life.

And no matter what direction this may take, please don't send me an electronic Chrustmas card…particularly one addressed to everyone on your list!

As always, I welcome your comments.




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Day 5: Time in a Bottleneck

Friday, 5. December 2014 19:23 | Author:

Yesterday I talked about the calendar-based challenges to making substantial change to schools or instruction in the first four months of the school year. Jumping from back to school warmup to the monthly buildup and physical and emotional disruption of the three major holidays, there is a constant subtle (and not so subtle) gravitational force holding us to earth and our comfortable patterns.

So after the new year should be a perfect time to start new, right? Well, the atmosphere does shift, but not in a way that is conducive to innovation. Despite the fact that the majority of the school year remains, despite the start of a new semester, my experience is that January starts the long beginning of the end of the year and anticipation of the next. Events for graduates start early, signaling to all that the end is near. In the world of Catholic schools, January marks the opening of enrollment season for the following year. It isn't long before meetings start taking the tone of planning, rather than starting or maintaining new ideas in the current year. Excitement grows not so much for what we are doing, but for the new ideas for next year…next year when we will really change things.

To be fair, many great teachers and administrators do manage to buck these seasonal gravitational forces. I also don't want to suggest that the daily and seasonal disruptions to “normal” class are a bad thing. However, when we go from year to year wondering why that program never got started, or why we end up doing the same things in the same ways, we have to recognize that it isn't all about us…the callender conspires against us.

This of course poses the question of how to fix this problem. It isn't easy, because the seasonal nature of school is integral to what it is. Many schools experimented with year-round programs in the ‘90s, but most of these have come back to the traditional schedule. It is also very difficult for any school to move unilaterally on this, because parents with kids at multiple schools very much want uniformity of schedule. No matter what the schedule, the current nature of school requires a start and stop as students matriculate. In fact, this grade level orientation may be one of the issues that should be addressed in school reform, but how does a school (or better a school system) stop midstream to make corrections?

It may take a larger disruption than the will to reform to overcome the inertia of the school year. However, until that disruption, be it major change in public opinion, financial collapse of school funding, or alien attack, comes, we need to fight the gravity of the calendar.

As always, I welcome your comments.



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Day 4: There Never Seems to Be Enough Time to Do the Things You Want to Do

Friday, 5. December 2014 5:46 | Author:

Let me explain. Teachers return in August full of energy and new ideas. Most figure, just give me a few weeks for me an the students to get settled, and then we can get serious about planning. However, mid-September is often the hottest time of the year in Southern California. Survival is more important than fundamental change. At the high school level this is exacerbated by the football season, the most disruptive of sports in terms of time, energy, and attendance. So things get pushed back…we’ll start in October.

However, early in October, a force that is stronger than any teacher’s intentions or will hits with full force: HALLOWEENTHANKSGIVINGCHRISTMAS. Holidays are so closely built into the DNA of schools that beginning October 1, there is a progressive disengagement on the part of students and teachers. Few schools have parent meetings in December that aren’t gathered around singing angels, shepherds, and wise men. Most schools cut faculty meetings to a minimum, some have none at all. Innovation dies as the year comes to an end filled with promises and good intentions for the next year.

I’ve been experiencing it (and feeling it) myself. Despite the fact that there are three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and despite the fact that these are actually less busy than the rest of the year, I have to fight to keep working on things. It is too easy to fall into procrastination (always a good friend of mine). I have na important meeting next Friday, and I found myself thinking, “too close to the holiday…should reschedule). I’m not the solution, I’m part of the problem.

I’m running late tonight, so I’m going to break this into two. Tomorrow I’ll talk about what happens after that anticipated new year.

As always, I welcome your comments.





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Day 3: Spinning Plates

Thursday, 4. December 2014 1:19 | Author:

Running a complex, many-faceted, high tech program is not easy. It takes untold hours of prior planning, trying to foresee all challenges and possible failures. The roll-out is an arduous step-by-step journey, testing, changing, re-imagining until all equipment and infrastructure is in place. But it is a joyful moment when one steps back and sees the big picture, a thing of real beauty, shining brightly amidst the darkness.

And then you turn your back for an instant…

Suddenly a tiny unanticipated problem shows itself, a bit of darkness in a sky full of stars. It may be equipment issues, infrastructure failure, or any of a million unintended consequences. All effort and attention flows to the glitch, and with time (and luck) the problem is corrected. For a moment peace returns, until the next inevitable failure. Sometimes this is unrelated, sometimes it is caused by the repair just made, because a complex, multi-faceted, high-tech program is a finely balanced tightrope walk.

So I was thinking as I looked at my outdoor Christmas decorations.

Of the many gifts I have received from my wife, a passion for Christmas decorating is one of the greatest. From the Saturday after Thanksgiving until January 6 (Epiphany) each year our house glows with lights that are just short of the Cliffs of Insanity. Inconceivable? You bet! Every year I try to find a new space to cover or a new way to arrange the lights and displays. For years our house has always been the second most decorated house in the neighborhood, trailing a house featured yearly on the news. However, last year that family moved away, and my wife bid them goodbye and purchased three storage boxes of their lights.

A quick word about decorating, by decorating I mean lights…not blow-up figures. Though these can cover a lot of space and can be impressive in their way, I always find this route to be essentially lazy, and I find the dead, deflated forms on the lawn during the day to be disconcerting. One earns decorating stripes by wrapping, stapling, staking, and climbing ladders…not by opening a box.

With the new decorations, I had to rethink the overall display both in terms of placement and, most importantly, in terms of power. Getting electricity from here to there is the most creative challenge of the season (if there were wireless power, the job would be easy). At the end of the day, my front yard is a morass of cords and extensions. I have more than once lost track of the flow and created circular sections with everything plugged into each other and nothing going back to the hub. It is a 8-10 hour job from start to finish (not counting taking stuff out) but by the end of the day I was really pleased. The yard had good color, good symmetry, and everything was working (I'm always just a little bit disappointed that the lights are not wrapped to the top of the palm trees, but I find the climb so utterly terrifying as is, I have to let this be)

That evening I invited my wife out to see the final product. As I looked across the tableau, I noticed a couple of bulbs burned out…quickly replaced, quickly restored. The next evening one whole side was out, and I had to find and replace a plug for a faulty string. The next night the other side was out caused by a dead string near the plug which had to be replaced. The next night the connected string was out, putting out the same side and (of course) that string led to the top of the palm tree, so this evening (if the rain ends) I'll have to climb that very scary ladder to replace it. I suspect this pattern will continue for the next few weeks.

Life comes to us in metaphors, never more than at this time of year. Just as my front yard is a microcosm of the school technology program, so it is also a mirror of all of our lives. We have brief moments of feeling that everything is right, punctuated with a never ending task of repair and restore. Life is almost always a plate spinning act (cue the Sabre Dance).

As always, I welcome your comments.




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Day 2: Erase to the Finish

Wednesday, 3. December 2014 1:55 | Author:

Looking for an Advent exercise recognizing the transient nature of our existence? May I recommend cleaning out the bookmarks on your Internet browser?

I don't know the last time I've used the bookmark tab on my Chrome browser. I use a dashboard program called Symbaloo for all of the sites I visit regularly, and to save and share groups of topic related sites (quick unrelated note, when I give a link to to groups of teachers, we often find it blocked at school sites…why ever could that be?). My bookmark tab has long since grown past the bottom of the screen and past all usefulness. It was faster to type in an entire address than find it on the list.

So it was a bit of an accident when I clicked the tab last week. Since it was a quiet afternoon, rather than move on, I decided to tidy up, and in doing this, I discovered truths about myself and my world.

The first thing that was apparent was the total lack of any organizational structure. The bookmark tab allows the user to move entries up and down and to group them into folders…none of which I have ever done. My bookmark stack read like a stream of consciousness phone book, with pages, documents, and apps in desoltory disarray.

As I went through the entries one by one, I clicked through many of the unrecognized links. I found articles that had formed much of my thoughts about technology in education. Many of them were out of date, referring to devices and directions that didn't pan out. Some were truly prescient, anticipating models yet to be realized. More sobering were the links that no longer went anywhere. Something that was important to me no longer exists…a file removed, a blog no longer maintained (I did discover that I can purchase some of these sites from

Same with programs and applications…the word processor I saw as the answer to Microsoft Word, the podcasting software for my 15 episode series from 2010, the animation program I used to make cartoons, all of which I haven't used in years. Wasn't Wolfram Alpha going to change everything? And then there are programs that don't exist any more, and that I don't remember…what WAS that one?

As I finished cleaning out the menu, I saw so many old ideas and directions disappear. I'm certain that things I am as devoted to today (and even I) will be erased by time.

…but they won't be under the bookmark tab

Look at your bookmark tab and share the stories you find there…and, as always, I invite your comments.




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24 Days of Blogging Day 1: Update

Tuesday, 2. December 2014 0:21 | Author:

Happy Advent!

As promised, I have returned after a three month absence to compose my digital Advent Calendar for the third time. Being away from writing has been a mixed blessing. I have enjoyed not feeling the nag of a demanding blank screen (an announced absence is not laziness), but honestly there have been moments when I have missed this short form and have wanted to write out a thought or rant (did I write these at the time and hold them for now? Don't be silly!).

Looking out the window, I just saw a young man carrying a banjo over his shoulder as if it were a knapsack. I feel sort of the same way. I've been away from doing this for so long that composing feels awkward in my hands, as if I'm holding it wrong. It may take a few days to get back in fighting shape. Please be patient.

So during the past three months I have

  • Done presentations for educators in Houston, San Diego, Lancaster, Paterson, Hartford, Albuquerque, and Miami, including two new presentations that I wrote this fall.
  • Taken a trip to Hawaii that was actually a vacation.
  • Published an article in Momentum Magazine (if you are interested, I'm sure that I'll be using it for one of these entries)
  • Read a number of good novels and a really wretched one call Nora Webster
  • Seen the enrollment in pre-k through 8 schools in my Diocese increase for the first time in 14 years
  • Done a presentation for a group of financial planners at Trans America (they were so nice! Better than any group of teachers!)
  • Done previsits for my two WCEA school accreditation visits in the spring, one in Phoenix and one in Honolulu.
  • Written a simplified guide for the secondary accreditation process

As you look over the list, if you have been paying attention, you will notice something obviously missing…I don't want to talk about it. If you don't know, look back one entry.

So let's get back to work, talking about life, learning, technology, and an impending holiday.

And, as always, I welcome your comments



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