Archive for May, 2011

Call me Indy

May 25, 2011

It is remarkable what sorts of pottery shards you can find in farmers fields.

Here are two shots of one piece I found:

I have to admit that I don’t know how old this find is.  I’ve watched my wife step on or over several others like it over the years.  I guess if it is recent, it is trash – the value comes with age.

Well, this one below might have immediate value.  I have no idea how it got there:

man, I bet those real archeologists all envy me!

bikes and urban planning

May 23, 2011

Sustainable Cities Collective has a post discussing how putting a people on bikes makes them urbanists.

From the post:

The most vital element for the future of our cities is that the bicycle is an instrument of experiential understanding.

On a bicycle, citizens experience their city with deep intimacy, often for the first time. For a regular motorist to take that two or three mile trip by bicycle instead is to decimate an enormous wall between them and their communities.

 cannot approach the average citizen and explain the innate intricacies of land use and transportation relationships, how density is vital to urban sustainability, how our sprawled real estate developments are built on economic quicksand, how our freeways shredded the urban fabric like a rusty dagger, how deeply our lives would be enriched by a collective commitment to urbanism.

Even the most eloquent of lectures about livable cities and sustainable design can’t compete with the experience from atop a bicycle saddle.

Suddenly livability isn’t an abstract concept, it’s an experience. Human scale, connectivity, land use efficiency, urban fabric, complete streets… all the codewords, catchphrases, and academic jargon can be tossed out the window because now they are one synthesized moment of appreciation. Bicycles matter because they are a catalyst of understanding – become hooked on the thrill of cycling, and everything else follows. Now a new freeway isn’t a convenience but an impediment. Mixed-use development isn’t a threat to privacy but an opportunity for community. And maybe, just maybe, car-free living will eventually be seen not as restrictive, but as a door to newfound freedom.

Via Boingboing.

Religion in the Korea Times

May 23, 2011

I am torn: there are two articles, pro and con, regarding religion in recent issues of the Times and I approve of neither.

I want to agree with Shin Chul-ho and his article, “Delusions about religion” but I don’t like the way he picks and chooses his representatives for religion.  He describes a few hypocrites who practice Christianity, but every group has good and bad examples. There being around two billion Christians, one is likely to find many with unpopular or disturbing views.  I do agree with his main, and final point:

I do not think that moral behavior came from religion. Long before any types of religion, morality existed. This is the product that was made over an infinite amount of time. People cultivated morality as they came to realize the principle of reciprocity benefits them. 

People are born with the ability to act morally and capable of acting toward the world full of love and peace.

…but I don’t agree with his build up to that point.

I need to be careful.  Judging from his name, I feel that the man is Korean and possibly English is his second language.  And yet, it is not his language -his article displays far better grammar than most of my posts here – but his weak arguments, that bother me.  I could probably give him a pass, based on my assumptions about his primary language but that seems as unfair and racist as if I judged him harshly for hypothetical language errors.  Whatever the case, I may use his essay at some future time to show how weak arguments, even well-written, weaken the central point of those arguments.

I presume Bradley McDonald is a native speaker and again find no grammar errors in a quick study.*  Indeed, a large part of his argument seems based on semantics (Questions about religion):

Also in the third paragraph, the author calls himself a “nonbeliever.” This must mean that he regards nothing as believable. As for his question about whether there’s any universality in religion, the open-minded reader will look that up for himself or herself and find that there most certainly is (but if there wasn’t it wouldn’t matter). 

He or she will also find there’s a very broad spectrum of beliefs and stances in atheism and agnosticism. As for his question “Were any wars waged for the extension of atheism,” I’d like to inform him that Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Kim Jong-il, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro were all atheists. The death toll of religious fanaticism doesn’t come close.

“Nonbeliever” is a common term for non-religious and McDonald’s attempt to win debaters points by extending and distorting it’s meaning is disappointing.

I am more upset by his bait-and-switch with the “Were any wars waged for the extension of atheism” question.  People, religious or not, have started wars for variety of reasons.  Looking at Hitler, it is possible that he was an atheist, but clear that he used Christian and religious claims to support his war.  “We’re atheists: let’s kill the Jews and gays” doesn’t have the same clarity of purpose as starting the same phrase with “We’re Christians…”  Hitler may have been an atheist, but he drove German citizens to war using Christian beliefs.

To look at a counter example, and I am afraid I am leaving the articles behind as this is ground they did not cover, consider slavery in the US. Christians were divided on the subject and used religious rationales for both sides. One group that was outspokenly pro-slavery, were a group of Baptists.  They split their church over the issue, specifically on the issue of slavery, with the Southern Baptists of the time being pro-slavery for religious reasons.  The American Baptists, to their credit, were equally opposed to slavery, again for religious reasons.  These were clergymen, expected to be knowledgable about their religion, making these claims.

I bring  this up to counter McDonald’s argument that atheists like Stalin fought wars for specifically religious reasons.  I don’t believe that is true.  They were merely non-religious people who started wars. Wikipedia has a post about religious wars, which are defined as ” A religious war is a war caused by, or justified by, religious differences”.  The Second World War, for reasons I have described above, might fit that  criteria; I am not sure that McDonald’s other villains started wars that do.

* This is remarkable in itself as the Times, and the Herald – see the previous post- are known for poor editing.

Indian gang accused of witchcraft

May 23, 2011

From the Herald:

Gang blinds Indian woman, accused of witchcraft

That’s the right way to read that comma, correct?  I think a semi-colon would strengthen the connection of Gang to “accused of witchcraft”.

Hmm.  Better check carefully: OK, these 40-odd words don’t seem to have any new errors in them.

Its not easy being a student

May 20, 2011

Below is another link dump discussing the business of education.

Marginal Revolution quotes a past-president of the American Teacher’s Federation and it sounds like something a member of the Korean Teacher’s Union would say:

When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.

When that school child does graduate, union member or not, his future isn’t as rosy as he might have hoped (Salon):

However, it’s an open question whether their hard work — and considerable expenditure — will help them find employment. A study published yesterday by Rutgers’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development paints an unencouraging picture of their chances in the current job market.

I remember playing Hamurabi, an early text-based computer game in high school and being surprised by how much each farmer needed to eat.  Does the American congress know how much it costs to educate a child?

Teaching and supplementing teaching with online materials

May 20, 2011

Below, I share the results of clearing out my Google Reader queue – posts from blogs I follow that all seemed interesting but not interesting enough on their own.  The links are all centered on using technology in teaching.

First, my own thoughts and what I’ve learned from teaching mandatory-but-non-major classes in ESL.  My students are not English majors and even enthusiastic ones must obey time management rules and focus on their majors first.

I’ve tried Edu 2.0 , NingEdmodo and Voicethread. I know the tiniest bit about Moodle.  All have their good points but really are too much for my students.  First, registration is a challenge as many students exist firmly in Korea’s internet ghetto (the best link I could quickly find): many Korean internet services do not interact well with international ones.  Hanmail and Nate work okay with Gmail but not consistently with Yahoo or Hotmail.  In practice, this means students need to register for two services: an international email account and the class website.

For most of my work, a blog -on blogspot, because that’s where I started out – is everything I need to communicate with my students.  I can post presentation slides and other class materials there, including homework and the syllabus.  The blog is easy to open in class because I don’t have to sign in first – a big plus considering the viruses these always-accessible-to-multitudes computers have.  It means I must be careful with privacy issues, but that hasn’t been a problem yet.

Alright, on with the list:

Nic’s Learning Technology Blog offers help on making questionnaires.

At TED, Wolfram discusses how Math is not arithmetic. It is  – or should be- much more creative

Shelly Blake-Plock suggest jointly publishing an eBook.

Shelly Terrell suggests jointly making a video to put online.

A different Nik offers his own list of ways to digitise coursebook activities.

He also questions the role of technology in education.

Jason Renshaw offers help on what and how to teach online.

Busan Kotesol mini-conference

May 18, 2011

We have a conference coming up on June 4.  The images were sent to me as PDFs and wordpress seemed unable to display them so below are screenshots of the posters with links to the PDFs for higher quality.

2011 postcard-front2

2011 poster2

2011 postcard-back2

remove a highway, reduce congestion

May 14, 2011

At Freakenomics, there is an article about removing urban highways and how that actually speeds up local travel times.  They discuss the Cheonggyecheon in Seoul (and link to this article specifically about the river).

From Freakenomics (the paragraph contains links that can be found at the original article):

Strange how the traditional laws of supply and demand go out the window when it comes to traffic. Studies over the last decade (like thisone, this one, and this one; plus the bookSuburban Nation) have pretty much dismantled the theory that more roads equal less traffic congestion. It turns out that the opposite is often true: building more and wider highways can increase traffic congestion. If only people like Robert Moses and Le Corbusier had known this before their grand urban plans left our cities clogged with traffic, and carved up by ugly, value-destroying highways.

I also like the approach taken in New York where an elevated road was converted into parkland.  The High line Park:

 The black steel columns that once supported abandoned train tracks now hold up an elevated park—part promenade, part town square, part botanical garden. The southern third, which begins at Gansevoort Street and extends to West 20th Street, crossing Tenth Avenue along the way, opened in the summer of 2009. This spring a second section will open, extending the park ten more blocks, roughly a half mile, to 30th Street. Eventually, supporters hope, the park will cover the rest of the High Line.

Walking on the High Line is unlike any other experience in New York. You float about 25 feet above the ground, at once connected to street life and far away from it. You can sit surrounded by carefully tended plantings and take in the sun and the Hudson River views, or you can walk the line as it slices between old buildings and past striking new ones. I have walked the High Line dozens of times, and its vantage point, different from that of any street, sidewalk, or park, never ceases to surprise and delight. Not the least of the remarkable things about the High Line is the way, without streets to cross or traffic lights to wait for, ten blocks pass as quickly as two.

I wonder if there is a bike path up there…

In the basement, a book review

May 1, 2011

At Goodreads, I gave it four stars because I see great relevance with my own teaching position. Otherwise, the discussion about his life choices and family problems – though well-written – didn’t appeal to me and took a little away from the book. I was also disappointed in his overly florid prose, brimming with metaphor and allusions to literary classics. Perhaps he was working to defend employment; a sort of “Look at me! I know books! I really am a good teacher.”

I do think he is a good teacher and I intend to try a few of the techniques he described in my classes. I can do that because the whole adjunct professor – community college- education inflation thing he describes is a pretty good description of my own work as an ESL teacher at a university in Korea. The parallels might not be perfect, but they are clear.

Professor X has written an excellent expose on the problems of an artificial demand for education requiring an artificial supply of professors. There are several types of jobs out there that don’t require a university education. Although getting an education is not normally a bad thing, getting hugely in debt to find a job that doesn’t really require that training is.

X didn’t mention it, but I think this artificial need for a university degree could be compared to the artificial requirements for police jobs that limited the number of females that could apply. Eventually, feminists pointed out that most police work doesn’t require as much masculine physicality as claimed and more women were hired.

Anyway, more jobs either claim to require a degree or have so many degree holders applying that not having one is an immediate negative. President Obama and general opinion in the wider world hold that everyone should get as much education as they can.

Universities now see a lot of students who don’t have the basic skills necessary so they need to offer classes in remedial studies. The tenured profs are busy so adjuncts are hired. They are not treated so well by the university they work for. Prof X had no complaints about his superiors individually but did point out that he received no benefits nor was there a system for advancement. He often felt closer to his students, arriving almost by stealth at night, spending a few hours and going home, than he did to the ‘real’ professors who had perks like desks and such.

The students, however, had never planned on a university education and now were trying to catch up on years of neglect in order to attend real university. A quote from a student’s evaluation of X: “Before this I would of never voluntarily read a book. But now I almost have a desire to pick one up and read.”

It’s too late to choose a pseudonym for myself, so let me describe working conditions at X University in South Korea. The decision was made years ago to require six semesters of ESL for every student. A large number of native speakers were hired and described as “Visiting Professors” in English but as “Instructors” in Korean. Many of their students could use English capability in looking for work or in other ways to expand their horizons but few really needed it. The ESL department was a PR exercise to attract, I don’t know – Parents(?) to think about the university. Luckily for the students, the profe..sorry, instructors were expected to follow a bell curve by first filling in the A quota, then the B quota then the rest. It was a required class but luckily it was an easy one to get high grades in.

The book was also reviewed in Salon twice (1, 2) and I started writing about it when I was partway through.


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