Archive for the ‘books’ Category

The Games start soon!

July 27, 2012

Tomorrow night, my son and I will be watching Olympic swimming, and probably other sports and events.  I’m excited to see what the swimmers can do but also am envious of my son’s idealistic view of The Games.

If I were to write down my own version of an Athlete’s Credo, it would describe wanting to do my best but also wanting the same for my competitors.  I would prefer to win or lose and be secure in my belief that the outcome was correct.  If I were to win, I would want my opponent to say something like, “I did my best and you were better” rather than “If I’d had a better start…”.

Of course, I won’t be there competing and perhaps people who have put enough effort into getting there have different priorities.

Back to contrasting my son’s view of The Games with mine.  He doesn’t notice all the politics involved.  He happily sings the jingles of the Olympic-themed advertising.  He doesn’t know that one of Korea’s IOC representatives is a convicted felon who was pardoned specifically so as to improve Korea’s chances of hosting the ’18 Olympics.  He hasn’t read The New Lords of the Rings.  Again, I envy him.

I will not be burdening him with my views of the games for a decade or more.  Unlike Santa or Jesus, the idealism of The Games is not  imaginary.

I’ll probably share this story with him.

Kang Seung-woo gets it.

In my time zone, it looks Like Bak Tae-hwan is swimming 400 free at 6:52 tomorrow night. Finals around 4:00am Sunday morning.

Paperless? Well, less paper anyway

October 28, 2011

I have used blogs to relay information to my students for years now.  I am happy to avoid wasting paper but also to prevent any “I lost the form” or “I missed class, I didn’t know what the homework was.” claims in class.  In this way, it leaves a sort of (non)paper trail that shows my students had all the information they needed.

The blog, or any online communication platform for students, should be more than that, of course.  In the past, I have pushed the internet tools part of class as far as I could and found diminishing returns very quickly.  In my current classes, I can only use ten percent of the student’s grade for homework.  Having the students sign in to a common website and share information and consistently spend time at is difficult to impossible to motivate.

Still, I use the blog to its full extent.  Class and university information is posted there as well as English Cafe events.  Often, but not for every week, I post the presentation slides on the blog.  In fact, they are usually up early so students could check them out before class.  Finally, sleeping students are photographed, their faces obscured so only classmate will recognize them, then posted on the blog.

As a result, I don’t hand any paper out to my students.  However, I do expect them to hand in assignments in hard-copy.  I don’t know if there are any word processors that offer ‘grading’ features that work simply.  It is far easier to use a red pen (or pens of varied colors) to underline and circle and jot notes, then to use a word processor’s capabilities to highlight offending passages, offer corrections and the like.  Maybe I could do that in image manipulation programs.

Anyway, I find it easier to offer commentary in pen than via a word processor.

This year, my second year students are blogging their homework.  I like what I am seeing but I have the same problems.  Their work is paperless, but my grading works best on hard copy.  This is for the reasons set above, but also because I wish to be circumspect in publicly pointing out student’s errors.  On my student’s blogs, I routinely add comments on the content but don’t mention which parts I find confusing or have bad grammar or the like.


On a similar subject, I am now reading Pencil Me In, a wonderful story, told in an elaborate and satisfying metaphor, of using modern technology in the classroom.  The story is set in the early 1900’s and Techno Tom is advocating for the use of pencils in his classrooms. The older teachers don’t see why students can’t just use slates and chalk, and the parents are concerned that the students will just use the pencils to play games (hangman and some form of Bingo).  On nearly every page, I see teachers, techniques and even the terminology of this era accurately described and thought out.  In an inspired section, students save their work in folders.  Some accidentally save their work on the desktop and one student absent-mindedly places his in the trash can.  I was honestly startled in recalling that all these are real world objects, not merely icons on my computer.

Spencer, the author has many blogs that are aggregated here.

If you are interested in paperless teaching, follow Spenser or Shelly Blake-plock for ideas and such.

Religion for Atheists

September 28, 2011

The Herald hosts an interview with Alain de Botton, who has recently authored a book, Religion for Atheists. With the understanding that my views are based solely on this interview and that I have not seen the book, I am at a loss for who he thinks his book is for.

Some excerpts:

“(My family thought) if you are intelligent, you believe in science. … And with respect to my parents, I nevertheless moved away from that position. And even though I am still an atheist, I am now much more sympathetic to many of the lessons and traditions of religion.”

The newly released Korean edition, published five months ahead of the English edition, is de Botton’s philosophical account on how “people who don’t believe in supernaturals” can also benefit and learn from religious teachings and practices.

“It’s my story in relation to religion even though I don’t actually discuss myself in it,” he said. “It is the personal journey of someone travelling in this unusual direction from complete atheism to respecting, not for the supernatural sides of religions, but the institutional, aesthetic, and educational side (of religions).” 

I am not convinced his view is so unusual.  Dawkins is on record as enjoying the singing of Christmas Carols.

I’m a cultural Christian in the same way many of my friends call themselves cultural Jews or cultural Muslims.

“So, yes, I like singing carols along with everybody else. I’m not one of those who wants to purge our society of our Christian history.

I personally enjoy visiting Buddhist temples and see real value in meditation and the way monks live their lives, without granting any credence to their claims of reincarnation.  I am hugely impressed with the way the Catholic church in Wilno, Ontario dominates the town.

I have frequently heard the strawman argument that atheists hate all that religion has made and it is not true at all.  Perhaps de Botton’s book will assist in explaining why not.

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.

Still not quite ready for an eBook reader – so close, though

July 29, 2010

The new Kindle looks great and is entirely in my price range…well, not quite.

Okay, it does look great and the features are about where I want them to be and the price is fantastic.

On the other hand, I checked out a few books I am interested in:

A Charlie Stross science fiction novel:

Ken Robinson: The Element:

and, Greg Mortenson, Stones into schools:

The kindle edition is more expensive and I don’t understand why.  After reading the Mortenson paper book, I am likely to lend it to my mother or friends and that is difficult to impossible to do with the Kindle version – without lending away my Kindle, that is.  I could easily understand making paperbacks more expensive  because they can be read by several people – I wouldn’t like it, but i would understand.  The Kindle version doesn’t need to be printed, it isn’t taking up space on a shelf…why does it cost more?

Now, I do understand that the Kindle does have some benefits price-wise.  Two, are very clear to me.  First, I can download out-of-copyright books for free.  I can even see myself doing this.  I would dig into Orwell and Kipling and into pulp and classic SF – John Carter of Mars, Mysterious Island and more.  I would load up on Darwin’s books and other science texts.

But, I don’t want to kid myself.   The reason I haven’t read a lot of Orwell is that I was never thrilled by him – I know he was a great writer, but that doesn’t mean I really want to read him.  I think I once heard a damning quote of the nouveau riche, “their shelves lined with classic books, never opened.”*  I don’t need that for my Kindle.

Cory Doctorow offers his books up for free, with the expectation that people will become interested, then buy other books of his or as a sign of honesty.  I have done this; I tried to read “Someone comes to town…” off my computer screen and didn’t care for the experience, but I did later buy, “Little Brother”.

Second, I might save a little money by downloading an Amazon book, even with the higher price, when including shipping to South Korea. There is no super saver deal for me.  Still, this is nickel and diming my way to saving money.  I might be able to do it, but there is no reason to expect the Kindle to be the proper device to read from after five years.  Woo-hoo, I finally broke even on my purchase, and now it is obsolete.

I am very tempted.


*Dang, I can’t find that quote.  I think I have the spirit of it, although I am not at all close to the letter.

Not just in Korea

July 3, 2010

Misspellings of English words in professional documents and signs are common here.  But, they do occur elsewhere; the photo below is meant to teach us (okay, me) some humility.

'lightening'?  Really?  Is it getting lighter?

I should say that the first two books of Larsson’s trilogy are fantastic.  I’ll be buying “The girl who kicked the Hornet’s Nest” soon.

I recall a Simpsons episode where the swishy male hair stylists were spending a lot of money on “Loafer Lightener”.  Maybe that’s what Larsson has bottled.

Oh, I cannot find this error online anywhere (A screen capture from a google search):

Pirates of the Caribbean (I have to write something!)

May 7, 2010

It’s been so long that I feel I have to write something.  I have let several news stories go by, so that whatever I write about has to be really big or insignificant.  I chose the latter.

I was a big fan of the original Pirates of the Caribbean and enjoyed the two sequels.  I am really looking forward to the upcoming Pirates movie because it is somehow based on Tim Powers’ book, “On Stranger Tides”.  The two are a good match: both include piracy, magic and some humour.  Indeed, all I really need in the movie is the following exchange:

Voodoo magician: I’m a deaf.  I can’t hear.

Clerk: Oh my God; he’s going to defecate here!

The rest of the book is not so funny, but completely enjoyable; should I buy a new copy?

The movie’s budget is being cut, so I hope it gets made.  As a Powers’ fan, I’ll be there even if it is poorly rendered – I hope that’s not the case, naturally.

Thus I refute Odysseus

March 19, 2010

My friend, the Port Coquitlam Odysseus, and some people at the BBC, feel that E-book readers, like the Kindle, will never replace paper books.  The main reason they give, as befits what a simple, Colonial-type Canadian thinks of the BBC, is highbrow:  When reading a book, it is difficult to add annotations and marginalia to an E-book version.

“Oh, I’m at the BBC.  I’m reading important books. I sometimes disagree with the author and feel compelled to make such known to… myself by writing in the margins.”

Here is my refutation (I don’t see any special reason to embiggen these pics, but you can, if you wish, by clicking on them):

I don’t normally read books on my phone, and only to stage a photo would I read from my phone at home.  But, I do read from it when I am on the go and find myself waiting.  Today, I read a few hundred lines while my little guy was playing at a playground.

What am I reading?  A Princess of Mars, by Burroughs, from the Gutenberg Project.  Highbrow, this is not.  And, the display sucks.  Words ar

e frequently split in the middle (as I have just demonstrated).

Still, my phone, an old Motorola, allows bookmarking, so that when I close my phone and return to the story some time later, it reopens to where I left off.

To take the pictures above, I set my tripod on my bookshelf, which is loaded in many places two-layers deep.  In my advancing years, I find myself more interested in non-fiction.  I don’t know if I am reading BBC-quality Important Books, but I am reading books that I will take notes on.   Still, I suspect I will never write inside these books.  I did with textbooks, but I have also thrown out most of my university texts after a few moves.

I want a better reading experience than my phone offers, but that is not a high bar to jump.

Another pro-ebook voice can be found on Odysseus’ blog:  commenter Jon felt that his child or grandchild will be surprised that we would ever cut down trees to make books.  I wonder about this point. The rare-earths that go into computer chips are not all that environmentally friendly to produce either.  Paper books could be considered carbon storage, I suppose.

I don’t know if E-book readers will replace paper books, but they will be become far more popular than Lisa Jardin at the BBC imagines.


somewhat on topic, the Korea Herald can be read on E-book readers now.  Perhaps they offer an ad-free version because the E-book version costs 7,000won per year.  That isn’t much , but the online version is free.

There is a two month free trial version. “Subscribers to the service can use it free of charge for two months. Now that the service is in an open-ended special promotion period, the subscription service will be available for 4,900 won per month after the initial two-month free trial,” said Cheung deck-sang, director of new media.

The Textore service is currently available only for Samsung Electronics’ e-book reader SNE-60K, which has a six-inch screen, wherever Wi-Fi wireless networks are detected through the device….

Last July, Samsung Electronics and the country’s biggest bookstore, Kyobo Book Center, joined forces to kick-start the growing e-book market, and the SNE-60K is the second e-book reader born at through that partnership, following the SNE-50K.

The device is being sold for 420,000 won ($370.90). Other features of the device include bluetooth, MP3 support and hand-writing recognition. Kyobo aims to sell around 15,000 e-readers by the end of 2010

A Kipling fan in the making

March 13, 2010

I grew up on the Jungle Book, Kim, Captains Courageous, and the like.  I wasn’t such a fan of Disney’s Jungle Book movie, but did enjoy sharing it with my son.

When my son saw this tiger, at Nampodong, Busan, his first words were, “Sher Khan!”  I was so proud.

It would be cool if I could teach him to cry out, “Khan!” but that’s a different tradition.