Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 23: We’ll be good the whole year through, always looking forward to…

Thursday, 24. December 2015 4:56 | Author:

By tradition tomorrow's post is dedicated to my Christmas wish for readers, so this penultimate entry is where I talk about the process (shall I say, the journey?) of writing twenty-two posts (yes, I know there was Black Thursday when I had..and wrote…nothing).

As usual, the posts are best classified by their lack of a coherent theme. Of the twenty two posts, seven can roughly be classified about eduction or technology, several were about Christmas carols, a few were about weird Christmas traditions, others were uncategorizable. If there was a theme it was the oddities of “traditional” Christmas. While I enjoy every part of the Christmas I celebrate, it is the height of arrogance to expect that others have or should celebrate it in the same way. Though I have never sent Christmas greetings with dead birds on them, it isn't wrong that someone else has (and I have seriously searched for a caganer). There is no war on Christmas because Christmas has never been an organized side.

Relative to the other years, this has been the most difficult. Finding new topics on a daily basis gets harder and harder. I think in future years I need to organize around a theme, but I have 341 days to figure out what to do next year.

One of the challenges year round with this setting a tone that works for me and for the readers. I am incapable of writing a classic “tech blog” or “education blog” because though both of these topics are fascinating to me, somehow it never feels enough. On the other hand I don't want this to become overly confessional, and I don't want to talk too much about my experiences unless they illustrate some broader point to me or to others. So if I have gone too much in one direction or another, forgive me in the spirit of Christmas. I do this exercise at this time of the year every year because there is something about these days that brings reality, for good or for bad, into greater focus. In Tracey Thorn's wonderful song “Tinsel and Lights” she has the comment about Christmas time, “Something almost true was in the air.” I feel and try to capture this truth during these twenty-four days, and if it's rough (and it feels pretty rough this year) I hope never to drift into maudlin self-pity.

I am always grateful for the unexplainable, wonderful people who read this blog regularly. Though comments were down this year, probably a combination of topics and the Byzantine security system I've built around commenting (after hearing from a friend about this, I'm lowering the walls), actually more people than usual told me that they read some or all of the posts. If you read one or all, you are a treasure to me.

So wrap up tomorrow, and then we'll see where we go next…



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Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 22: A Noiseless, Patient Reader

Tuesday, 22. December 2015 17:45 | Author:

During these few days away (or during any trip), I usually wake up first, and I take my iPad to some common area where I can find coffee and a comfortable spot to read. In this hotel there is a nice lounge where the various guests gather for continental breakfast (which does not resemble the cuisine of any continent I know). this setting provides me (as an inveterate people watcher), with everything I could ask in a morning perch.

Though I enjoy looking at groupings and speculating upon languages and relations, my eye is always drawn to loners like me who are reading books. And I must confess that while I don’t eavesdrop on conversations, I will go out of my way to position myself to see what books these people are reading. It’s the same on airplanes. I’m not one who is comfortable making conversation with strangers, but when someone is reading a book, whether on paper or pad, if I can’t see the title I can’t resist asking what book it is.

What is it about reading that creates a kinship and an intimacy that I wouldn’t feel in any other circumstances? It would seem that reading in a room of conversing strangers would be the most isolating and anti-social position, yet I feel somewhat entitled to know what everyone in my vicinity is reading. To be fair, I am happy to share what I’m reading; in fact, I enjoy being asked. By individually settling down with books, it is as if we almost tacitly join a second community with deeper bonds than small talk.

There are (at least) three reasons why I want to know what people around me are reading. On the most superficial level, i suppose, I want to hear about potential books for my future. Even though I have a glut of books clogging my Goodreads “To Read” list and my ipad, I am always searching the horizon for that white whale of the next amazing book. Though I read many good books, I seldom come upon an AMAZING book that carries me from start to finish in giddy ecstasy along the way, books like Corelli,s Mandolin, The Night Circus, or Midnight’s Children. Though I have seldom found a great book in this casual sharing, my quest continues.

At a more fundamental level, I look at a person’s book to discover what kind of person is in the room with me. For a reader, there is no greater identifier than what someone else is reading, and exchanging titles is basically equivalent to dogs sniffing each others’ behinds (I must be clear here, I never sniff anyone’s behind). It will surprise no one to know that I’m pretty judgey about what I hear, lots of schlock out there. Usually I am disappointed when I hear about a new romance or anything Grisham, but occasionally I hear a few gems. I get excited when I hear someone reading a book that I have read and enjoyed. Likewise, I’m sensitive about the books I read for much the same reason. Other’s mothers encouraged them to wear clean underwear in case they get in an accident, my mother reminded me to have a good book with me.

Finally there is a sense of connection with the broader community of readers. I keep thinking of Whitman’s poem:

A NOISELESS, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.


And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

Reaching out to find what is being read in my vicinity is a way of launching filament that invisibly connects me to a world of reading. I may never (and most likely won’t) speak to these readers, but they become part of my universe of understanding.

Anyway, I saw a woman reading this morning, and after clandestinely getting a cup of coffee in eyesight of her book, I discovered that she was reading the Bible. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed, not because it isn’t good that she was reading the Bible, but that connecting part of me would have preferred to see a novel, an AMAZING one.

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Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 21: “And the mountains in reply, Echo back their joyous strains”

Monday, 21. December 2015 18:49 | Author:

Sometimes when I see new tech gadgets, I have an instant, visceral reaction to them of either blind avarice, or repulsion. However, when I first saw one of the new hot products this year, I have to admit that I didn't know how I felt about it. Rather, I really wanted it, and I didn't know how I felt about the fact that I wanted it.

The product is the Amazon Echo. Before I start, I need to say that the device is out of stock and will not be available until after Christmas. I also need to say that unlike too many other things, the Echo did not fall into my ”One-click Compusion,” so everything I'm saying is based on reading the description and reviews and watching videos.

The device is a black cylinder, about 10” tall, that sits near you on in any room of the house (to respond to my earlier blog about cables, the device is wireless, except for power). The Echo is voice activated by the “wake word” ALEXA (I wondered what would happen in a house with a person named Alexa, but apparently you can change the wake word to AMAZON…if you have children, Alexa and Amazon, do not buy this product). It costs $179 (once again, it is not available at the time of this writing) and there is no I subscription fee.

Echo responds to voice commands to perform a variety of tasks. It can respond to questions, much like SIRI or similar apps, about weather, traffic, or trivia. It can play music, news, or audiobooks from your Amazon library (always a financial tie-in) or other sources. It can control appliances throughout your house, and you can use it to restock staple products (again through Amazon).

My first suspicion was that it probably wouldn't work well. Voice interpretation is still pretty iffy on many devices. I have found myself screaming at SIRI when she repeatedly (and purposely, I believe) mishears my commands. However all reviews and demonsations indicate that Echo works very well almost out of the box and that it performs its target tasks admirably well.

Of course the more fundamental concern is about robots taking over our lives. Rather than turning on music, from my stereo, or running upstairs to readjust the thermostat (cheating here, I can already do this from my phone), or looking up information, or talking to others, I'm speaking to a device, a device that has intimidating controls over much of my world. It is not longer a long jump to see the headlines about people killed by their Echos when the device kept turning up the heat or misheard peacemaker as pacemaker. “Open, the podbay door, HAL, I mean ALEXA”

On the other hand, and I realize that I'm going to be tagged a total nerd here, THIS IS WHAT THEY HAD IN STAR TREK! There are few of us who saw this ability who didn't dream of a day when we could simply ask and get needed information, entertainment, food (I realize the Echo doesn't do food). Sometimes I would love to simply say, “ALEXA, music please, Leonard Cohen,” or “ALEXA, want to use the jacuzzi in an hour, turn on the heater.” (I don't have a jacuzzi now, so I suppose I have to get one of those first).

And $179 isn't all that much…and it's right here.

I'd better stop now, or I'll push that one-click button

As always, I welcome your comments.



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Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 20, Just the Right Notes

Monday, 21. December 2015 3:41 | Author:

Long day traveling up the coast for a couple of days in Cambria, but I wanted to share a joy of Christmas that was originally intended for children that I didn't discover until I was an adult. “Brother Heinrich's Christmas” is a short story with orchestra, choir, and narration composed by John Rutter. There are several recordings available, one cane be found on YouTube here.

The story is about a young monk who works in the monetary wine press with his companion, the donkey Sigismund (played by a bassoon). Henirich, who is also the choir director, is tasked with writing a new carol for the Christmas celebration. After lengthy challenges, he composes the melody of In Dulcie Jubilo with the help of an angel choir and Sigismund.

It's a wonderful Christmas fable, illustrating the importance of everyone, with beautiful music. Play it for your children, or listen to it yourself.

As always, I welcome your comments.



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Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 19: Go, Tell it on the Internet!

Saturday, 19. December 2015 22:52 | Author:

Having spoken yesterday about technical trends for the future, I can return to Christmas for the remaining few days of this endeavor.

A problem with blogging is that unless you take down earlier posts (which in most cases I would find to be highly suspect) you will have things out there that looking backward make you cringe. I have several entries where I completely support a position that I later reject (because, you know, I keep growing, man, I'm a work in progress, God isn't finished with me yet…ugh). Other times the world goes in a very different direction from what I foresaw, and my brilliant statements are mocked by reality.

This year, however, I've been hit with another variation of post judging, when the world comes so around to my point of view that my original statement seems trivial or passé. This is certainly the case with my comments on the song “Baby, It's Cold Outside.” Last year I wrote a post discussing the predatory aspects of this song and the far less innocent undertones of the happy exchange. I had these concerns for a few years before, and I swear, they came entirely from my own reaction to the song (I should have written these down and sent them to myself by mail so that I could have a clear record of when I first thought this, and more importantly that no one else…that I heard…was saying it).

This year this realization has practically become a meme. I have seen mention of it on various blogs and many podcasts. Likewise most times I have heard the song named or played, someone has brought up the less savory interpretation. In fact, it is no longer treated as a new realization but as something that everyone knows (I heard one podcaster refer to it as “A Very Cosby Christmas,” which I know is terrible, but it made me laugh). I even heard someone mention the title of the song and then say that half the Internet would respond by saying it's a date rape song while the other half would defend it against this overreaction. So my point is now so common that there is common reaction to it.

I don't know which is worse, to have circumstances prove something I have written as wrong, or to have everyone jump on board and make something I have written look trivial (actually I very much know which is worse!). So let me state once for all. My reflections on this song came from my listening to it and thinking about it and nowhere else. And though I won't claim that the entire world read my blog and came around to this position, I can't prove that that didn't happen.

As always I welcome your comments.



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Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 18: “I got no strings on me”

Saturday, 19. December 2015 5:38 | Author:

I was thinking today about where personal digital technology would go in 2016. For the last few years I've done a presentation called “10 Trends That Will Change Education and the World,” and I'm preparing to do a version of this on an education talk show next month. While reviewing my original trends, I started to wonder if any new trends were emerging. While I see progress and room for growth in many areas, one area I find interesting is the development of technology to cut the number of cables in our life.

In the past to play music I needed to plug my phone into my car, my stereo system, or my headphones. Now Bluetooth applications are removing the need for these wires. My car automatically pairs and plays the music from my phone. Wireless Bluetooth speakers (both with wired and battery power) are becoming more and more availability for lower prices. In order to have speakers in my living room and family room, I ran speaker wire across the house which was always pulling free of the staples and getting in the way. Now multi-room wireless speakers will provide the same effect without the messy wires. I enjoy my wireless headphones, particularly when I'm riding or working, as I don't get tangled in a headphone cable. Bluetooth headphones have existed for some time, but stereo sets are now available for less than most wired headphones. My phone doesn't have to attach to anything for me to enjoy its resources.

When I present, I usually have to connect my iPad to the projector through an adaptor. However, Apple TV and other wireless projectors are freeing me from being tethered to the machine. Frankly, I still prefer a wireless connection as more dependable when I'm working in front of a large audience, but I'm certain this will improve to where I can cut this cord as well.

Which leads to power. Even though battery life continues to inch forward, all portable devices still need regular connection to power. However, as I discussed in a post earlier this year, I'm very intrigued by the new charging stations that are built into the table at Starbucks and other venues. With an adapter (and more and more phones don't even need this) one needs only to rest a phone on a charging plate, and charging begins. Though this is not truly wireless, as the furniture has to be wired, it once again breaks a cable restriction.

So, though I can't predict many of the changes coming our way, I am reasonably certain that they will come with fewer strings attached.

As always, I welcome your comments.



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The Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 17: Hang a Shining Star upon the Highest Bough”

Friday, 18. December 2015 5:39 | Author:

Today was the day we set up the Christmas tree. Actually the tree this year was a bit of an adventure. Since we have dogs, we have always purchased a smallish tree and set it up on a table. My wife and daughter went out yesterday and bought a beautiful, perfectly shaped small tree for just this purpose. However, when I took it out of the car, I was surprised to find it taller than me. When I said this to my wife, she swore the tree was shorter than she is, so this posed an interesting conundrum, how it could be shorter than she and taller than me.

Ultimately, we decided that the lot had mixed up trees during the fresh-cut process and somehow we ended up with a tree that was about 6’5″. This didn’t fit into any of our plans. We discussed cutting it off, or taking it back, but neither of these seemed very practical. The tree was pretty, but nowhere near as well shaped as the tree they selected, and though we decided to go with it, as there was really nothing else to do save buying another tree and discarding this one, which was offensive from both an ecological and economically standpoint, I felt uncomfortable and angry that things were not going according to plan and tradition.

So this afternoon I put on the lights and ornaments, and the tree is gorgeous. The less than perfect shape is not noticeable when covered with lights and colors. The (very first world) problem of receiving the wrong tree has yielded something beautiful. Something we wouldn’t have seen if our plans had not been forcibly altered.  As I think back through the many many years that we have put up a tree, this is a constant theme. No matter how the experience of getting the tree went, or what shortcomings it had, once decorated, it was always splendid.

I have remarked before about this time of year coming to us in metaphors, and I think I was walloped by another. As long as I held to my plans, this mishap was a problem, but once I stopped fighting and went along with it, it turned out beautiful. So many Christmas preparations go exactly like this. We have a plan and the world is highly skilled at confounding this plan. As long as we fight this confounding spirit, we are miserable. But as soon as we go with the direction in front of us, beautiful things can happen.

The original Christmas story was very much like this. The plans of the couple were thwarted by decree and by over-capacity booking. However, by succumbing to the chaos, and embracing what was in front of them, light came into darkness.

My parents’ house is a little darker this year. My Dad informed me yesterday that for the first time in their married life of fifty-seven years, they wouldn’t be setting up a Christmas tree. With few visitors and my mom’s health challenges, it makes good sense, but it is amazing how disorienting this must be for them and is for me. Their beautiful tree on a motorized rotating stand (operated with a magic wand and the words “Prestidiga-potato, Presto!” ) was an essential part of Christmas, and that mooring point is gone for all of us. Here’s hoping that by embracing this and the many other changes in this area, that we can create something beautiful. But just like my initial reaction to the overtall tree, right now I’m having a hard time seeing this.

As always, I welcome your comments.


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Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 16: I Got Nothing

Thursday, 17. December 2015 4:55 | Author:


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24 Days of Blogging, Day 15: “wild and sweet the words repeat Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Wednesday, 16. December 2015 5:34 | Author:

Today the Los Angeles Unified School District closed all of their schools, citing a “creditable threat” to an uncertain number of locations. Though luckily nothing happened there, (whether students were saved by being home or whether they were never really in danger will probably never be known) it served as another reminder among far too many of just how tattered our world is just now.

In my office we fielded the predictable questions. Yes, our schools are open; we have no knowledge of any threat to our schools and the Orange County public schools are all open as well. Yes, we have advised our school staffs to be extra vigilant and to take all reasonable safety precautions. Yes, we do have safety protocols at all of our sites and our teachers and students have been directed as to what to do in a variety of situations.

All of these questions are cover for the more basic question, “Can you guarantee that you will keep my child safe?” Though I'm able to answer positively to every variation, I'm very glad that no one asked this more fundamental question, the only thing with which they were really concerned. Because if they did ask that question, I would have to answer truthfully and tell these parents no. None of us can do that. No amount of security preparation, equipment, and vigilance can anticipate every threat, and even some foreseeable threats cannot be defended against without locking each child up in a permanent vault.

Our culture has changed, and though we work to do everything possible, at heart I know my only true defenses are hope and prayer. It feels like many people I know are burdened with fears this holiday time, and to many of them, hope must feel as weak and ineffectual as it does for me.

When I started this blog five years ago, I felt very overwhelmed by the many unknowns in my new position as superintendent. As I began to navigate the people, sites, and money problems that still overwhelm me sometimes, I started saying to myself, almost as a personal pep talk, “Work with hope.” This is not to say that everything turned out perfectly, in fact many of the things I hoped for did not come to pass. “Work with hope,” is not a contract stating that x amount of work will yield y amount of results. Rather, it is the only way that I can live, and the only thing I can offer today.

Work with hope for a different future for our children. Our hope may not always be rewarded. I can't tell all the people struggling with burdens that hoping will bring a desired result. I do, however, believe that it is what makes us most human and what gives our every action meaning beyond itself.

I hope for good for all of you, and I will continue this hope, even when I am disappointed.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 14: “What is this lovely fragrance?”

Tuesday, 15. December 2015 1:28 | Author:

Today's post is dedicated to my good friend Jennifer who tried very hard to change the subject when I spoke about this at her Christmas party.

This seems to be the year to talk about the wild and weird parts of the Christmas celebration. The tradition of the Nativity display is credited to St. Francis, who staged a living gathering of figures representing the Holy Family, their guests, and the animals. Through the years this scene has become a standard decoration in many homes, usually one of the few reminders of the Christian overlay to the feast of Saturnalia.

Nativity sets have become so commonplace that there is an entire subgenre of unusual nativity scenes. Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and kings are represented with dogs, cats, ducks, Coke cans, Legos, StarWars figures, and monsters. Google weird nativity scenes and then come back.

And then there is the caganer.

In Barcelona and other parts of Spain and Portugal, there is a tradition going back to the 1700s of hiding a pooping figure in a nativity scene. Although the origin of this tradition is not clear, there are two trains of thought as to the reason. The first explanation is that the figure is a good luck symbol, as he or she is literally fertilizing the earth (and I have used both he and she and literally correctly in that sentence). The other explanation is that the figure provides a counterpoint to the sacredness of the scene. Contemporary caganer include figures of the Pope, of President Obama, and of Queen Elizabeth, so the tradition also has a mocking element.

And while it seems on its face blasphemous to have such a figure among the sacred tableau, in truth it is the most human moment of the scene. Both the act of the deficator and the act of the one who places it there are completely human acts, the bodily function and the need to undercut the sacred and serious with a good old fashioned whooped cushion.

Christmas is a time of surprises…look behind the stable, you never know what you will find.

And I have another one tomorrow!

As always, I welcome your comments.



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