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Christmas 2017, Stevenson Ranch, CA


My soon-to-be 10 year-old nephew wanted to be sure that the adults in the house knew who the milk and cookies were for.


I’m slowly recovering from moving during the usual crush of the semester. I’ll be back to making posts about reading at some point in the future.

And, in the meantime, the graffiti below has been discovered near my new house — proof, I say, that my fame is growing ;->

Christmas 2009 — Oakland, CA

Christmas 2008 — New Year’s 2009


a summer interlude

During July, my job as a teacher allowed me what still feels like the utterly decadent luxury of time away from my home not working. I spent the time in Colorado, farming on the community supported agricultural (CSA) venture of one of my oldest and best friends, John. (If you’re not familiar with CSAs, check out these websites for starters: www.localharvest.org/csa/, www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/csa/csa.shtml.)
My typical day looked like this:

6 am — wake to go into the field for weeding, hoeing, or other work during the cool of the morning
8 am — breakfast
9 am — back to the field for harvesting, pruning, work in the tomatoes, or whatever else needs to be done
noon — lunch and a game of go
1:30 pm or so — work on something that keeps us mostly in the shade; maybe run into town for supplies; maybe a nap
5 pm or so — dinner and conversation; reading, writing, thinking
10 pm — sleep

It was a good schedule, especially when sprinkled with time spent with a few other friends. It gave me a lot of time to look at things like this:

tool wall

tool wall



irrigation system

irrigation system

part of the garden

part of the garden

beets and cabbage

beets and cabbage

a different garden view

a different garden view

Nevertheless, it took me two weeks to stop thinking about work all the time. Once I did, I didn’t want to start again. I needed to check in on my email and other communication and I found myself resisting, delaying.

When I have a lot of time to think I quickly come the conclusion that nothing is more important than anything else. I stay with my routine because it feels good, but life appears meaningless. From this perspective, my regular life feels just as useless: I get up and do this and that and keep doing it till I get too tired to keep going. Why bother? Meaning eludes me quickly and easily. There is none. My attempt to make meaning through intent, by the effort to make that intent reality, by caring is worthwhile and ultimately not enough. As farmer John says, the question “what is meaningful?” becomes less important than “what do you want to do?”

When I ask these questions and really think about what I want to do, I slowly realize that I want the life I currently lead. Yes, there are certain details I would change, but overall and even in many of the specifics, I am having the life I want. The time of summer reflection and of testing the potential for another life is good, probably necessary for me. It is also good that, when I return and look closely at my life in its day-to-day moments, I still want that life. I’m a lucky man and I’m happy to say it.

links round up — 2

67% of Children Left Behind
“A new study by researchers at Rice University and the University of Texas-Austin finds that Texas’ public school accountability system, the model for the national No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), directly contributes to lower graduation rates. Each year Texas public high schools lose at least 135,000 youth prior to graduation — a disproportionate number of whom are African-American, Latino and English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students.”
It gets worse. The link above is to a blog by Chad Orzel. Follow the link there to the report on the study.

Concept Maps
A reminder from a practicing teacher that concept maps and other “non-traditional” techniques can help students learn. The exchange in the comments is as interesting as the post itself.

Euphemism and American Violence
An insightful article on words and politics and torture and the abdication of our democratic responsibility: “‘History begins today’ was a saying in the Bush White House on September 12, 2001—repeated with menace by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to the director of Pakistani intelligence Mahmoud Ahmad—a statement that on its face exhibits a totalitarian presumption. Yet nothing so much as language supplies our memory of things that came before today; and, to an astounding degree, the Bush and Cheney administration has succeeded in persuading the most powerful and (at one time) the best-informed country in the world that history began on September 12, 2001. The effect has been to tranquilize our self-doubts and externalize all the evils we dare to think of. In this sense, the changes of usage and the corruptions of sense that have followed the global war on terrorism are inseparable from the destructive acts of that war.”

Better than Free
Smart, provocative commentary about the internet and current society and what makes things valuable from some one who clearly spends way too much time online. Doesn’t change the power or the debatable nature of his observations.

Chris Jordan Photography
I once spent a lot of time making photographs of trash and other detritus of our culture. Jordan’s work has a more arranged quality to it (mine was more about what was found), but I like it.

SAT scores and book lists
Another take on book lists.

Why Math Matters
I get this question a lot—from students, from friends, from strangers. Dustin M. Wax provides a possible answer and I thought some of you might be interested. I think there are other answers, too, and they are almost always contextual. That is, I answer the question differently depending on to whom I’m speaking and in what situation. At what I think have been appropriate times, I have said that math doesn’t matter. Not very often.

Credit goes to Scottie and Mike M. for pointing me toward these links.

more about tea — 2

Ah, the joys of black jasmine tea! The honeyed jasmine notes are distinctly there, but this is not a flowery confection. On the contrary, this is strong, black tea suitable for your morning cup or for an afternoon pick-me-up. Cherry wood and cranberries, together with a touch of the grassy, mustiness characteristic of a Yunan, all layered together with jasmine, create a complex tea experience worthy of Lu Yu, China’s first real tea specialist and author of Cha Ching (which translates as “tea classic”). Sublime, yet powerful. Subtle, yet direct. Sweet and still with enough bite to carry the day. I love this tea.


quadratic grafitti

In the tradition of i divided by zero, I bring you this picture courtesy of Charles Hope, via Ms. Choat. My friend and colleague, Mary, immediately thought of someone potentially risking their life to stand in the road and write the quadratic equation. There are worse things than math for which to risk your life.


more on dividing by zero

Thanks to kitchen table math, the sequel for finding out more about the  “I  Divided by Zero” image. See also Artleague Houston.

i divided by zero

I couldn’t resist this image. Along with many other people, I think zero is an interesting number (see the nothing that is). And, despite the impression of many people with whom I’ve talked, zero is a number. The image gives some idea of students’ conceptions of zero and of what it might mean to divide by zero. It’s also pretty well done as an image.


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