Thursday, January 31, 2008

Snow, snow, snow

Expected: 8 to 11 inches.

Related posts
Frank Sinatra's popcorn
"Ice and Snow Blues"
"It is snowing."

Is this honor society legitimate?

Several people who have found my posts about the National Dean's List have e-mailed me wondering about the legitimacy of other collegiate honor societies. The Association of College Honor Societies offers guidelines for thinking about organizational credibility. The ACHS also has a list of its member organizations. Absence from that list doesn't mean that an organization lacks legitimacy — Phi Beta Kappa, for one, is missing — but the list, along with the guidelines, some online investigation, and the advice of a trusted professor or two or three, can help a student come to a sound decision about whether to pay up. The National Society of Collegiate Scholars? Legit. The National Scholars Honor Society? You might choose to walk on by.

Speaking as a prof, I'd say that a college- or department-level award, a few semesters on your neighborhood Dean's List, and some strong letters of recommendation will mean much more to someone looking at your academic record than generic honors will. You can use the money you're saving on membership to buy clothes for your interviews or, if you're a dachshund, to buy chew toys!

Related posts
The National Dean's List
The National Dean's List again
The National Dean's List is dead

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

MacBook Paper

The MacBook Paper is smaller and lighter than the MacBook Air. Cheaper too. Cuter too, if that's a plus.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Grecian coffee urn

[Photograph by Rachel Leddy.]

Coffee is truth, truth coffee!

My daughter snapped this photograph during a wonderful family lunch at Papa George, a great new Greek-American restaurant in Champaign, Illinois.

(Thanks, Rachel!)

Post-college first dates

From an interview with sociologist Kathleen A. Bogle, author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus (2008):

[T]he transition to the post-college dating scene was not necessarily an easy one. Many of the 20-something-year-old men and women I spoke with were confused over how to act in certain scenarios after college, not knowing if they were on a date or just "hanging out and hooking up." Some of the people I interviewed had never been on a formal date until after college, so figuring out the rules for the "new" system was a big adjustment for them.
Read the rest: The Sociology of "Hooking Up" (Inside Higher Ed)

Monday, January 28, 2008

P.S. 131, 44th Street, Brooklyn

This item, from the series "New York's changing scene" (New York Daily News Sunday Magazine, March 4, 1979), has traveled with me for years. I clipped this column (with permission) on a Sunday visit to my grandparents' house in Brooklyn. I'd have never seen it otherwise: we were a Times family.

My mother went to P.S. 131 in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and I had her first-grade teacher, Mrs. Frazier, in the 1962-1963 school year. That span of time no longer seems amazing to me: there's nothing remarkable about teaching at the same school for twenty-odd years. But that my teacher was already teaching during the Depression: that's difficult to take in, and it makes me wonder when Mrs. Frazier's first-grade teacher began teaching.

I clipped this column not only for its school. Before my parents fled the city for New Jersey, we lived in the first-floor apartment of the rowhouse right next to P.S. 131: 1143 44th Street. A cranky landlady lived upstairs. My grandparents (my mother's parents) lived down the block. Oh memory!¹

Other P.S. 131 posts
P.S. 131
Some have gone and some remain

P.S. 131 class photographs
1962–1963 1963–1964 1964–1965 1965–1966 1966–1967

Related reading
P.S. 131 today (

¹ Repeated three times, the poignant phrase Louis Armstrong adds to his vocal in a 1931 recording of "Star Dust."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

How to improve writing (no. 18 in a series)

A "blow out clearance"? A "sales event"? Dig the hyperbole and redundancy of this Wal-Mart sign:

I wonder whether the sign's portrait-orientation led the author to pile up words to fill the space. Better:
Plain old clothing would be a better choice of course, but I'll stick by the dowdy word apparel, which no one outside of retail seems to use. (When did you last go apparel shopping?)

All "How to improve writing" posts (via Pinboard)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Yes, we can

Barack Obama, a few minutes ago:

When I hear that we'll never overcome the racial divide in our politics, I think about that Republican woman who used to work for Strom Thurmond, who's now devoted to educating inner-city children and who went out onto the streets of South Carolina and knocked on doors for this campaign. Don't tell me we can't change.


[Click to enlarge and read.] Smultron (by Peter Borg) TextWrangler (Bare Bones Software) WriteRoom (Hog Bay Software) Related posts Blockwriter Dark Room Jedi Concentrate My version of Amish computing Word 2007

Garry Wills on "plural presidency"

One problem with the George W. Bush administration is that it has brought a kind of plural presidency in through the back door. Vice President Dick Cheney has run his own executive department, with its own intelligence and military operations, not open to scrutiny, as he hides behind the putative president. . . .

And at a time when we should be trying to return to the single-executive system the Constitution prescribes, it does not seem to be a good idea to put another co-president in the White House.
Read the rest:

Two Presidents Are Worse Than One (New York Times)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Saturday night syndrome

Before there was Saturday Night Fever, there was Saturday night syndrome. Eric Partridge's New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2005) gives four meanings, all originating in the United States:

1 tachycardiac fibrillation

2 prolonged local pressure on a limb with resulting prolonged ischemia (inadequate blood supply)

3 the stress and fear suffered by preachers who wait until Saturday night to write their Sunday sermon

4 the tendency of a restaurant kitchen to fail to live up to its highest potential on the busiest night of the week, Saturday night
A usage example from the painter Larry Rivers' autobiography describes no. 1 as the result of "all-night dancing, carousing, and strenuous sexual activity." I remember reading somewhere, years ago, that smoking is also a factor. No. 2 results from passing out with an arm or leg hanging over a chair or the edge of a bed. The OED defines no. 2 as Saturday night palsy and Saturday night paralysis (while making no mention of Saturday night syndrome).

I foresee no Saturday night syndromes in my Saturday night, which I will probably spend reading Madame Bovary while Elaine is at an orchestra rehearsal.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

$$$ = Macs

I love working on my MacBook. I love its simplicity and complexity — the greatest operating system around if you want a computer that "just works," but an endless array of nuances and shortcuts and tricks if you want to delve. (I like to delve.)

I realized how Mac-centric I've become when I heard the news about the proposed "stimulus package" in the works for American taxpayers. ("Stimulus pacakage": what an odd, vaguely indecent term for free money.) I immediately thought of the dollar amounts in terms of Macs:

$600 = a Mac mini!

$1200 = a MacBook! (And a copy of iWork '08.)
I wonder how many other Mac users are thinking about these numbers in these ways.

"It's time to turn the page."

This 1940 slogan seems oddly relevant now.

Outsider outsider artist

"That's the insider art fair, OK?"
Not from The Onion, the story of an outsider artist unable to break into New York's Outsider Art Fair:

Artist Ross Brodar Is Out in the Cold at Outsiders' Fair (Wall Street Journal)

Hemming and hawing

I spent some time yesterday hemming and hawing. At least I thought I did. I've always understood hem and haw as a reference to vacillation, to going back and forth in one's head — to buy or not to buy, to go or not to go. But whence this odd expression? I guessed at an explanation: to haw might mean to unstitch. Hemming and hawing might thus be endless doing and undoing, as if one were hemming a garment and taking out the stitches. I didn't hem and haw before deciding that here was a pretty plausible explanation. But as you may already know (or else are about to learn), hem and haw has nothing to do with vacillation or sewing. World Wide Words explains:

In Britain, we know it as hum and haw. Either way the phrase contains a pair of words that are imitative. A close relative of the first of these is ahem, indicating a gentle clearing of the throat designed to attract attention; hem more often represents the slight clearing of the throat of a hesitating or nonplussed speaker. Haw is very much the same kind of word. . . . In the British version of the phrase, hum is another word for a low inarticulate murmur. Either way, the two words together illustrate very well the hesitation and indecisiveness to which the phrases refer. There are other versions and both are closely related to um and er.
The OED confirms that the words are imitative and suggest hesitation in speech, not inner debate. I wonder whether my — er — misunderstanding of these words is a common one. Anyone?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Robert Frost's handwriting

On National Handwriting Day, the transcription of Robert Frost's notebooks is in dispute.

In these sample passages, I can see fairly obvious misreadings. I wonder though what might happen after reading page after page after page of Frost's handwriting. Still, a pretty embarrassing situation for Harvard University Press.

Related posts
Frost and Sandburg
The kitchen shink

National Handwriting Day

Related posts
On handwriting and typing
"Slow down and think"
Writing by hand (1)
Writing by hand (2)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Another quality adding-a-URL-to-Google experience:

Yes, I'm easily amused.

Related posts

Seeing professors clearly

Tim Milburn, who works in student development, has a new website, College Students Rule!, a fine resource in the making.

When Tim asked if I'd like to contribute a post, I was happy to do so. "Seeing Professors Clearly" ponders five misconceptions that prevent students from doing just that.

Update, August 24, 2010: The site appears to be defunct: this piece has a new home in this post.

A Moleskine customer experience

When I tore the shrinkwrap from my 2008 Moleskine pocket planner on New Year's Day, I knew things weren't right. The elastic band that holds the planner closed was slack, and the silk ribbon that keeps the date was badly frayed at the end, with threads already pulling away through the ribbon's length. Neither of these problems might've been obvious to a casual user, but I'm a bit fanatical about my Moleskines.

And Moleskine srl is a company that understands. Every Moleskine notebook and planner comes with a pamphlet that includes a quality-control number and this statement:

Every notebook is handmade and it has been carefully checked for quality. If, despite our best efforts, we have overlooked a defect of any kind, please let us know.
All the company asks for is an e-mail message with the quality-control number and a digital photo. In exchange: "We will send you a new notebook."

On January 4, I e-mailed Moleskine srl about my planner. I received a reply that same day. Two weeks later a new planner arrived from Milan. That's a company that treats its customers well. Grazie!

(Srl? Società a responsabilità limita, private limited company.)

Related posts
Moleskine datebook review
My other blog is a Moleskine

Monday, January 21, 2008


Our debate watching was interrupted by a phone call for Elaine (an interview for a composers' website). As she wended her way back to the living room, I gave her a report on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton:

"He's doing really well, but she's really taken the gloves off."

"Her clothes?"

"Her gloves."
The Clintons' cynical, contemptuous treatment of Obama worsens. Hillary Clinton may get the nomination, but there are already many Democrats who will not vote for her in the general election. (I'm one of them.)

Related reading
Obama v Clinton/Clinton (ABC News)

Related posts
Misheard ("The Tao is up")
Misheard ("that buttered crap")

Art Garfunkel's library

Since June 1968, Art Garfunkel has read 1,023 books. From the January 28 New Yorker:

He has been recording their particulars neatly on sheets of loose-leaf paper — forty or so titles to a page — for nearly forty years. About a decade ago, he posted the list on his Web site (which he pays a fan in Levittown to maintain).
Read the rest, and see the list:

The King of Reading (New Yorker)
Art Garfunkel Library

Yes, he's read all of Proust.

On MLK Day

On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?
From King's last sermon, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution," Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., March 31, 1968.

Full text, via The Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Barack Obama on Martin Luther King, Jr.

Barack Obama, speaking today at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on how Martin Luther King Jr. "led this country through the wilderness":

He led with words, but he also led with deeds. He also led by example. He led by marching and going to jail and suffering threats and being away from his family. He led by taking a stand against a war, knowing full well that it would diminish his popularity. He led by challenging our economic structures, understanding that it would cause discomfort. Dr. King understood that unity cannot be won on the cheap; that we would have to earn it through great effort and determination.

That is the unity — the hard-earned unity — that we need right now. It is that effort, and that determination, that can transform blind optimism into hope — the hope to imagine, and work for, and fight for what seemed impossible before.
The Great Need of the Hour (full text)
The Great Need of the Hour (video)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

One idea of hell

My son Ben speaks from recent experience:

"If there's a hell, it's a racquetball court."

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bobby Fischer (1943-2008)

I remember how exciting it was to be a teenaged chess player in 1972, watching the Fischer-Spassky match on public television, hearing the moves coming in on the teletype and wondering what was going to happen. No one could have imagined what was going to happen to Bobby Fischer in the years that followed that match.

Rene Chun's 2002 Atlantic article is an excellent account of Fischer's life.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Library of Congress photographs

The Library of Congress has made 3115 photographs from its collections available on Flickr, with no known copyright restrictions. A partial explanation:

We want people to tag, comment and make notes on the images, just like any other Flickr photo, which will benefit not only the community but also the collections themselves. For instance, many photos are missing key caption information such as where the photo was taken and who is pictured. If such information is collected via Flickr members, it can potentially enhance the quality of the bibliographic records for the images.
The above photograph is labeled "Unidentified shelf of kitchen utensils and jars of spices [between 1941 and 1945]."

The Library of Congress' photos (Flickr)
My Friend Flickr (Library of Congress blog)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Microsoft, innovating

"It looks like you're having a breakdown. Would you like help?"
[Microsoft Office pop-up message of the future]

"All your brain signals are belong to us!"
[Microsoft advertising slogan of the future]
Apple comes out with the MacBook Air, and look at what Microsoft's working on: a Clippy-like version of Big Brother. The Times of London reports:
The Times has seen a patent application filed by the company for a computer system that links workers to their computers via wireless sensors that measure their metabolism. The system would allow managers to monitor employees' performance by measuring their heart rate, body temperature, movement, facial expression and blood pressure. Unions said they fear that employees could be dismissed on the basis of a computer’s assessment of their physiological state.

Technology allowing constant monitoring of workers was previously limited to pilots, firefighters and Nasa astronauts. This is believed to be the first time a company has proposed developing such software for mainstream workplaces.

Microsoft submitted a patent application in the US for a "unique monitoring system" that could link workers to their computers. Wireless sensors could read "heart rate, galvanic skin response, EMG, brain signals, respiration rate, body temperature, facial movements, facial expressions and blood pressure," the application states.

The system could also "automatically detect frustration or stress in the user" and "offer and provide assistance accordingly." Physical changes to an employee would be matched to an individual psychological profile based on a worker’s weight, age and health. If the system picked up an increase in heart rate or facial expressions suggestive of stress or frustration, it would tell management that he needed help.
Microsoft seeks patent for office 'spy' software (Times of London)
All your base are belong to us (Wikipedia)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Steve Jobs on connecting the dots

Here, on the morning of the Macworld keynote address, some earlier words from Steve Jobs, from a Stanford commencement address, June 12, 2005:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
Found via The Paper Chase (Thanks, Lisa!)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Tracy Flick speaks

Yes, from Alexander Payne's 1999 movie Election. Flick is the driven high-schooler who wants to be student-body president. The election is supposed to be hers:

"None of this would have happened if Mr. McAllister hadn't meddled the way he did. He should have just accepted things as they are instead of trying to interfere with destiny. You see, you can't interfere with destiny. That's why it's destiny. And if you try to interfere, the same thing's going to happen anyway, and you'll just suffer."
Life imitates art?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Seersucker mystery

In the frozen-food section of our favorite Asian grocery store, I noticed a package bearing an unfamiliar name: salted seersucker. The package displayed a plate full of bright-green cylinders, a little like stuffed grape leaves — just a little.

I jotted down the name to look up, but neither Google nor the Oxford English Dictionary has given me a clue as to what salted seersucker might be.

I can though report that the word seersucker derives from the Hindi śīr-śakkar and the Urdu shīrshakar, meaning "milk and sugar." (Thanks, Merriam-Webster.) Wikipedia suggests that seersucker might be a matter of the resemblance of the "smooth and rough stripes" of seersucker fabric to "the smooth surface of milk and bumpy texture of sugar."

Salted seersucker, anyone?

[Update, June 23, 2008: The mystery is solved.]

Dowdy cup and saucer

Elaine and Rachel spotted this cup and saucer in World Market today and decided to get them for me. Thank you, ladies!

The cup is filled with dowdy coffee — Maxwell House.

All "dowdy world" posts (via Pinboard)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Harmony guitars and Juno

Juno MacGuff checks out a Gibson Les Paul. Then someone asks her what she plays: "I rock a Harmony."

Harmony, the People's Guitar!

If you too began musical life on a Harmony, you'll find lots to remember at the unofficial Harmony Database. (I started out with an H1215 and an H162.)

Juno by the way is well worth seeing. The best lines in the movie though are not arch and knowing but plainly felt: "I wanted everything to be perfect. Not shitty and broken like everyone else's family."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Change the Margins

Change the Margins is an online effort to conserve resources by encouraging people to print with narrower margins. The goal: .75″ on all sides. One study that Change the Margins cites claims that changing to .75″ margins (it's not clear from what: 1″? 1.25″?) results in a 4.75% reduction in paper use.

I like various paper-saving strategies: I routinely save a page or more on my syllabi by switching to landscape view and putting text in three columns (which not only saves paper but also makes it easy to find things). And I always like tinkering with fonts and margins to make text fit. Why have a few runover lines if you can make everything fit on one page?

If you're using Microsoft Word, changing the default margin settings is a good way to start saving paper. (No 1.25″ margins, ever!) Change the Margins explains.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Jack Paar and Oscar Levant

As seen and heard on PBS's Pioneers of Television:

"What do you do for exercise?" "I stumble, and then I fall into a coma."
Oscar Levant on Jack Paar (YouTube)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A pocket notebook in The Palm Beach Story

[Written and directed by Preston Sturges, 1942.]

John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee) is buying clothes for Geraldine "Gerry" Jeffers (Claudette Colbert). Why? Because Gerry has no clothes, because she left her suitcase, or so she says, in the Ale and Quail Club's car, which was uncoupled from the rest of the train after the club's members shot up the lounge car. What John D. doesn't know is that there was no suitcase in the Ale and Quail Club's car. Gerry had to abandon her suitcase in a confrontation with her husband Tom (Joel McCrea) as she boarded a taxi to Penn Station so as to get on a train to Palm Beach and get a divorce.

But all that aside: John D. Hackensacker III is keeping track of his purchases in a pocket notebook.

More notebooks on screen
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
Moleskine sighting (in Extras)
Notebook sighting in Pickpocket
Pocket notebook sighting (in Diary of a Country Priest)
Pocket notebook sightings in Rififi
Red-headed woman with reporter's notebook

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Three words

"Yes, we can!"


Someone dispensing advice by phone:

"It's always better to make it look like it's business-related."

All "Overheard" posts (via Pinboard)


The American Heritage Dictionary offers this regional note:

When need is used as the main verb, it can be followed by a present participle, as in The car needs washing, or by to be plus a past participle, as in The car needs to be washed. However, in some areas of the United States, especially western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, many speakers omit to be and use just the past participle form, as in The car needs washed. This use of need with past participles is slightly more common in the British Isles, being particularly prevalent in Scotland.
This use is also prevalent in downstate-Illinois speech. The sentence above, from an ad in the local newspaper, has the first "need + past participle" I've seen in print.

A related post
Need worked

Monday, January 7, 2008

Super Minimalist Micro Calendar Reduced

It's the little calendar with the great big name!

It's difficult to imagine a scenario in which this calendar would offer a compelling alternative to a pocket calendar, but the 2008 Super Minimalist Micro Calendar Reduced appeals to my inner ten-year-old, who read and reread Alvin's Secret Code and kept cipher keys on little rolled-up pieces of paper inserted in bits of paper straws. Why? To protect those ciphers from enemy agents.

An explanation of this calendar is available from the link:

Micro Calendar (.pdf download, found via Lifehacker)

Related post
Calendar downloads

Sunday, January 6, 2008

9 W

From an interview with novelist Harry Mathews in the Paris Review (Spring 2007):

Can I tell you a joke? What is the question to which the answer is 9 W?
If you give up, you can see the question by highlighting the seemingly empty space that follows these words:
Mr. Wagner, do you write your name with a V?
New York and New Jersey commuters can think of other questions whose answer is 9W.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Two tales of tech support

Mozy is an online backup service. I've had a free Mozy account for several years, first with a Windows computer and now with a Mac. I recently ran into a minor problem after backing up my hard drive — I'll omit the details — and e-mailed Mozy tech support early on New Year's Eve. Twenty-five minutes later — on New Year's Eve! — I had a reply with two ways to solve the problem.

Technorati is an online service that tracks blog content via tags, making posts available to interested readers. Alas, Technorati's ability to index posts is often spotty. A glance at the user forum suggests that Technorati tech support is also spotty, with numerous requests for help unanswered or given a form response. My Technorati problems are ongoing and show no sign of being resolved. One persevering blogger has been asking for help almost daily since September 2007, with no reply.

Which company do you think has the brighter future?

[An aside: If you'd like to try Mozy, with a free 2GB account or a larger paying account, e-mail me, and I'll send you my referral code, which will give each of us an extra 256MB for free. If you'd like to try Technorati, good luck.]

Friday, January 4, 2008

"Extra credit?"

I find it difficult to take "extra credit" seriously. In my high school, there was none, at least none that I knew of. When I failed my algebra midterm, there was no "extra credit" to boost my grade. There was though "extra help," offered 45 minutes or so before the school day began. I went in for that help morning after morning, learned some algebra, and ended up with a B or B- for the semester. (Thank you, Mrs. Waibel.) In college, my only extra-credit memory involves an intro poetry course in which we could memorize and write out poems or partial poems on several occasions throughout the semester. We were paid by the line.

While I have trouble saying "extra credit" with a straight face, I'm not completely opposed. I sometimes add a simple bonus question to a quiz (for some reason that happens only on Fridays, so some students never know about it), and I sometimes add a question that can be answered only by someone who's shown admirable diligence in reading. I once offered an enormous amount of quiz extra credit for anyone who had looked up verst, a word that comes up in passing in Vladimir Nabokov's Pnin. One student had the definition, and I was happy to make good on the offer.¹ I suppose that I see extra credit as something like a surprise party, to which I bring the goodies, of my own generosity, on a whim.

I'm opposed though to extra credit as it usually functions in college life. Sometimes extra credit amounts to a private arrangement between student and professor, typically a student who has already struck out and now seeks another chance at bat: "Do you give extra credit?" Such arrangements are ethically indefensible, violating the grading policies of a course syllabus and cheating every student who takes the grade he or she has earned with no attempt at negotiation.

And sometimes the offer of extra credit is made to all, usually for showing up. E-mails announcing fiction- and poetry-readings often include a sentence or two encouraging faculty to offer students extra "points" for going. Having gone to many readings with largely captive audiences, I wonder about the effect on readers' morale. I remember going to a reading by Alice Munro, many years ago, and watching as a professor took a count of her students while Munro waited to begin. You can always spot the extra-credit seekers at the end of a reading: they're the ones who are up and out before the questions-and-answers start.

The tipping point for me came when I was teaching an intro lit course focusing on themes of faith, survival, and progress. It was a good class, with a reading list that included the Book of Job, Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children, and Art Spiegelman's Maus. Eva Kor, a Mengele twin and Auschwitz survivor, was giving a talk on campus that semester, and I encouraged my students to go hear her. What could be more relevant? "Extra credit?" someone asked. The question made me crazy with exasperation. Here's a woman who survived the Nazis, I said, and you want me to turn her life into points to add to your grade? I couldn't do that. The best kind of extra credit, as I told those students and still tell my students, is the kind you give yourself: by working harder on an essay, by doing some extra reading, by taking in an exhibit or lecture for its own sake, because you might find it interesting, because you might learn something.

I was curious about the history of the term extra credit and did a little snooping before writing this post. The Oxford English Dictionary, I am happy to report, offers no extra credit.

¹ There was a point, by the way, to the verst question: the word is an early hint that the novel's narrator is a Russian émigré.

Michael Goldberg (1924-2007)

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega

Frank O'Hara, "The Day Lady Died"

Michael Goldberg, 83, Abstract Expressionist, Is Dead (New York Times)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Thank you, Iowa!

Proust is for hunters

I heard a branch snap behind me. I closed the book and slowly lowered it between my knees, which made it almost impossible for me to turn and investigate the sound. I was immediately struck by the absurdity of the situation: I was standing 20 feet up a tree in single-digit temperatures reading Proust.

Common sense deer hunting (Michigan Live)
All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

Happy birthday, Van Dyke Parks

Van Dyke Parks turns 65 today. Happy birthday, Van Dyke!

There's a 2002 Dutch television documentary on VDP at YouTube, with many choice remarks. E.g., on crowds: "I can make it in a queue system, but it is just generally safer to stay at home." (Thanks, Timothy, for reminding me about this documentary.)

Van Dyke Parks documentary: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (YouTube)

Other Van Dyke Parks posts (via Pinboard)
The Music of Van Dyke Parks (fan site)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Is today's Word of the Day meant to get on the nerves of those who haven't yet begun to prepare for a new semester? O, cruel!¹

syllabub \SILL-uh-bub\ noun
: milk or cream that is curdled with an acid beverage (as wine or cider) and often sweetened and served as a drink or topping or thickened with gelatin and served as a dessert

Example sentence: On special occasions, grandma would serve syllabub for dessert.
(I started working on my syllabub syllabi yesterday.)

¹ King Lear 3.7.70

Teaching disorganized students

Ana Homayoun tutors disorganized teenagers:

She requires her clients to have a three-ring, loose-leaf binder for each academic subject, to divide each binder into five sections — notes, homework, handouts, tests and quizzes, and blank paper — and to use a hole puncher relentlessly, so that every sheet of school-related paper is put into its proper home.

Students must maintain a daily planner; they are required to number the order in which they want to do each day’s homework and draw a box next to each assignment, so it can be checked off when completed.

Homework must be done in a two-hour block in a quiet room, with absolutely no distractions: no instant messaging, no Internet, no music, no cellphone, no television.

While some girls need help getting organized, at least three-quarters of her students are boys.

Giving Disorganized Boys the Tools for Success (New York Times)
Having seen many a college student struggle (and fail) to find a needed piece of paper in a bulging folder, I applaud any effort to develop better organizing skills. But I'm puzzled: the parents of the high-schoolers described in this article can afford private tutoring ("high-priced," the Times says) but cannot teach these skills themselves?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Calendar downloads

Small calendars for the new year, well designed and free:

Compact calendar
Monitor-edge calendar
Thumb calendar
UNIX calendar command (handy for making a three- or four-month calendar to keep in a pocket notebook)