I have two typically scatterbrained kids -- they forget clothing, water bottles, musical instruments, homework projects, and whatever task they have been asked to do-- but when they play Minecraft, they have laser-like focus, and so if menial work could be done through an interface like Minecraft-- with robots or drones or automation or something -- then little kids would line up to work these jobs, for free . . . I'm not sure what this would do to the economy, but if you could flip a burger on a computer screen, and then achieve some kind of digital reward for cooking it perfectly, and you could eventually level up, then that whole stigma would vanish (and teachers and parents would have to come up with some other cliche to inspire kids to go to college).
Aristotle, an all around smart guy, believed that the heart was the seat of our thoughts; now, of course, we know that our thoughts originate in our brain-- and if you need further proof, check out the story of Phineas Gage (or better yet, The Kids in the Hall "Academy Awards" skit) but this makes me wonder, if we did not have Aristotle or modern neuroscience to guide us, could we make a person believe that his thoughts originate in his foot, or elbow, or buttocks . . . and so I urge science people to get on this topic immediately (my guess is that it's perfectly possible, because it's not like you feel your thoughts in your brain, you just believe that your consciousness is swimming around in the general vicinity of your head).
When you're cruising along without a care but the other side of the road has traffic piled up for miles, I know what you're thinking: I'm a good person and deserve my fate, while those sinners over there will have to repent by sitting in that jam.
I wasn't much of a film buff in high school (my movie watching was limited to Monty Python flicks, Surf II, and anything that might contain a naked boob) and so I missed quite a few classic '80's films but I plugged a couple gaps this weekend: I watched both Labyrinth and The Sure Thing, and despite the obvious differences (puppets vs. no puppets) they contain some common ground: cheesy '80's music, young stars who eventually become fairly iconic (Jennifer Connelly and John Cusack), weird and harsh lighting, several endearing scenes amidst some predictable rubbish, and David Bowie's crotch (actually, only Labyrinth contains David Bowie's crotch, but The Sure Thing has the PG-13 rating . . . odd).
Colson Whitehead's new book The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky and Death should be more fun than it is; Grantland paid the $10,000 stake for Whitehead-- a professional novelist and amateur poker player-- to take part in The World Series of Poker; Whitehead trains for the main event by playing in smaller tournaments in Atlantic City and he acquires a classy female novelist and professional poker coach who has actually played in the big event, and so the book has the potential to take on a Rocky like tone, but playing poker at this level isn't much fun, nor is the training, and Colson Whitehead is not a fun guy, in fact, the funniest thing about the book may be the picture on the back cover, where he sports his poker uniform, a custom made "Republic of Anhedonia" track jacket . . . and while Whitehead is a bit of a grouch, the writing is hip, the allusions come fast and furious, and there's quite a bit of poker knowledge wedged in between his existential griping.
I like to paddleboard on the Raritan River, mainly as a matter of convenience, as I live only a few hundred yards from a boat launch, and though I know the water isn't pristine, I prefer not to think about what's in the sauce, and instead I enjoy the views of the New Brunswick skyline, the Rutgers crew complex, and the rugged and forested cliffs directly across from the park (not to mention the large swath of open water as the river approaches the Donald and Morris Goodkind Bridges) but now that my children are also paddleboarding on the river . . . and falling into the river, as kids are wont to do, this report scares me a bit . . . apparently, the river is full of more than savage monsters, it also contains an unhealthy amount of mercury, benzene, arsenic, oil and gas drips, toxic fertilizer, and goose feces . . . a toxic brew, which-- best case scenario-- will turn my children into radioactive superheroes, or -- more likely -- it will do some weird and awful stuff to their innards, and because we don't have a control, a Family of Dave living next to a perfectly clean unpolluted river, we'll never know the exact effect recreating on the Raritan has on my kin.
If you are at your local pub, and an inebriated stranger approaches you and asks whether he should play Molly Hatchet or The Allman Brothers on the jukebox, the correct response is, "Whatever, man, they're both awesome!" but that's not what I said; instead I took a moment and sincerely thought about the question and told him, quite sincerely, that I couldn't recall any songs by Molly Hatchet so I wasn't qualified to decide, and this really astounded him-- that I wasn't familiar with Molly Hatchet-- so much so that he sang an a capella version of "Flirtin' With Disaster" to me and several of my friends, really belted it out, holding a fake microphone and everything, for an awkwardly long time, but I couldn't bring myself to walk away because he really wanted me to appreciate Molly Hatchet (but, of course, this had the opposite effect, as now any time I hear the name Molly Hatchet, I will associate the band with this horribly awkward moment).
Fellow New Jerseyans (New Jerseyites?) let us take a moment to give a warm welcome to an old friend we haven't seen (or felt) in a long while . . . he winters in the mangrove swamps of Mexico's Pacific coast with his cousin El Nino . . . but now he's back and making up for lost time . . . so welcome home Signor Unbearable Humidity . . . and you'll notice his good buddy Jock Itch sidling alongside him (and his arch-nemesis Tinactin in hot pursuit).
The bane of the elementary school boy is The School Project (and consequently, The School Project is also the bane of the elementary school boy's mom, because she is the one that will provide succor when the elementary school boy announces that he forgot about his School Project at 9 PM, after a long afternoon of soccer . . . and this is the point when the elementary school dad advises his son to hand in a piece of crap, take the bad grade like a man, then-- after dispensing this wisdom-- the elementary school dad goes to bed . . . but as evidenced by the "Before" and "After" pics that my wife e-mailed me the next day, this is NOT the proper course and when there is a project, you should take a careful look at "the scoring rubric" so you can advise your son or daughter on what to prioritize and how to make a plan of action and a rough-draft or sketch . . . or you take the easy way out and just do it for them).
I've taught high school for nearly twenty years, and I'm still surprised by what will galvanize a class discussion; the other day in Creative Writing, an African American kid told a humorous story about how his grandmother-- who watched him every day after school-- insisted on bathing before returning him home to his parents, and I remarked that my own children bathe every other day, but only if we force them to, and this provoked a serious and spirited discussion about cleanliness, hygiene, and bathing frequency, and during the course of this discussion, two African American kids both admitted, sincerely and with true candor, that they had heard rumors from their parents and grandparents that "white people don't bathe every day," and when I confirmed this to be true, they thought it was hysterical and egregious -- and the Hispanic and South American kids in the class agreed, and told me about "inside clothes" and "outside clothes," and how you could never let "outside clothes" touch your bed, and this made me want to stir the pot some, so I told them that my kids often go to bed "with sticks and leaves in their hair," which may have been a slight exaggeration but the reaction it produced was worth the hyperbole (one girl actually turned to me and said, "Are you sure you're raising those kids right?").
It's always a struggle for me to make small talk with the people at work that are not members of the English department, but Friday I had a great success: there is a janitor that passes by most days while I am on hall duty, and it was especially hot and humid that morning and so when I saw him, instead of offering my usual lame greeting (What's happening?) I stopped him and asked him, very kindly, if he could turn on the air-conditioning, because the weather was so hot and sticky . . . but, of course, as we both well knew, the high school doesn't have air-conditioning in the hallways and classrooms, and so he got a real kick out of that and pretended to "clap on" the A/C, a dated but perfect joke for the situation, and this made us both so happy that I am going to work hard to think of other one-liners to offer people around the building, so if anyone has a good idea, send it my way.
Human cognition is still essentially a black box-- stimuli, filtered through our senses, enters our consciousness, this stuff is invisibly and unexplainably processed in our brain, and thoughts are produced . . . with varying degrees of success, recall, and logic . . . and we can rarely explain the causality of the stream: we can remember and explain some things at the drop of a hat, we have difficulty recalling other things, and sometimes we remember things too late (the French call this l'esprit d'escalier . . . the wit of the staircase) and this video clip of my son Alex captures all the mysteries and emotions of the mind in a mere seventeen seconds-- you'll probably have to watch it twice; I learned more from this clip than I did from all my college psychology courses (which isn't saying much) and it was pure luck that my kids stumbled upon it (they were rummaging through iPhoto, as they have reached the ripe old ages of eight and ten, and now look back upon their youth nostalgically).
Fans of Sentence of Dave know my son eight year old son Ian as a foul-mouthed candy-hoarder who once "betrayed the family" with a premeditated second floor flood, but apparently there's more going on in his head than profanity and malevolence . . . Tuesday morning, Ian was searching for something, and he looked distraught, so my wife asked him what he was looking for and offered to help him, but at first he wouldn't tell her what he was looking for and refused her aid, but my wife persisted and he finally said, "I can't find a letter . . . it's on a white piece of paper" and my wife remembered seeing this protruding from his desk drawer, and she had pushed it into the desk -- so she found it for him, and he seemed relieved . . . and rather secretive about it, so later that day, when Ian wasn't around, she went upstairs and looked at the letter and then showed it to me; it was a Mother's Day card to my mother-in-law-- who lived with us in an apartment in our basement for many years and looked after our kids until she passed away from cancer in the summer of 2012; Ian was very close with her and misses her very much, and this card expressed that sentiment in a rather unusual way . . . it was a Mother's Day card addressed to "Nanny" and thanked her for playing games with him and giving him treats but the writing was childish and sloppy and the paper was crumpled and at the bottom something was crossed out and the year "2009" was written in the lower right corner . . . and I looked carefully and was able to decipher the phrase that was crossed out and it said "4 years ago" and I realized what he had done -- he created an artifact; though he had written this note recently, he wanted it to be from when he was four years old and Nanny was still alive, and so he aged it and wrote with childish handwriting, and then he wrote the four years ago phrase and then realized that people didn't write that to date a letter, they put the actual year, so he crossed it out and wrote "2009" . . . and after we looked at the letter (and were appropriately choked up over it) we put it back in his desk and didn't say anything about it, but on Friday afternoon, he brought it downstairs and claimed he "found it" in the storage closet and that he must have written it when he was four, but when I reminded him that he couldn't write when he was four, he admitted that he had just written it and so when he is silent and contemplative, I will not assume that he is planning something malicious because I now have empirical evidence that belies this.
My son Ian decided that if you make it to "your thirties," then you should be rewarded with three wishes, but when I asked him what he would wish for, hoping for some crazy-ass imaginative kid stuff . . . zombie armies, world domination, interplanetary battle ships, and such, but his wishes turned out to be fairly lame: first he said he would wish for a time machine, which had promise, but then he said he would use the time machine to "make a plane ride to Florida seem like three minutes" which resulted in me lecturing him in the style of Louie C.K. and then he wished that "he could visit all fifty states" with his family and his buddy Ben-- which was sweet, but entirely within the realm of possibility without squandering a magical wish-- and then he finished up with the completely mundane and cliche desire to "live a long and healthy life."
While we all know that "there's no crying in baseball," apparently the same isn't true about founding the most successful computer company in history, as Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography is chock full of incidents where the charismatic, sensitive, and quite possibly delusional Jobs breaks down in tears, often in front of co-workers, rivals, or friends (and usually when his "reality distortion field" ceases to operate).
One of the perks of writing a trivial blog filled with drivel is that I can fact-check extremely mundane details from my life; for example, I know for certain that I bought my iPod Nano in April of 2008 and that I made a habit of swimming with this iPod in November of 2008 (which didn't last long, as my supposedly waterproof Otterbox case leaked, resulting in a waterlogged and broken iPod . . . but one of my well-connected students set me up with an "appointment" with her ex-boyfriend at the Apple Store and he gave me a new one, despite the fact that water damage is NOT covered by the limited warranty) and then I used the new iPod-- an exact clone of the old iPod-- without incident for many years, until I lost it for several months in the winter of 2013, and now I am realizing that this particular iPod (which I have conflated with the original water-damaged iPod in a philosophical leap reminiscent of the Ship of Theseus dilemma) is imbued with miraculous qualities, because my wife's iPod -- a newer, sleeker model-- doesn't hold a charge and gives her loads of problems, but this model (like my Jeep) is built to last, possibly to infinity and beyond; to make a long story short, Tuesday morning, when I got in my car to go to work, I saw my iPod lying prostrate in the road . . . it must have fallen out of my gym bag, and so it spent the night on the pavement, getting soaked by several rainstorms and quite possibly run over by cars, and so I assumed this was finally the end -- R.I.P iPod-- but when I pressed the "play" symbol, the screen popped right up, and so I put it in a bowl of dry rice and it is now in good working order-- and this tempts me to to try other more extreme experiments on the device: fire, acid, ice, my digestive system . . . but perhaps I shouldn't tempt fate, as I'm sure I will place it in peril some time soon, without forcing the issue.
To determine if you are going to purchase a Hannah Duston bobble-head doll (pictured above) and to decide whether Hannah Duston is the greatest mom in American history or a cold-blooded racist child killer, you are going to have to learn the story of Hannah Duston . . . and the best way to do this is to listen to the most recent episode of 99 Percent Invisible: Monumental Dilemma.
We went over to Busch campus for this year's Rutgers Day, and the highlights were getting a tour of the electron microscope-- it's one of a kind, cost 5.2 million dollars, and is "one of the best in the world"-- and while the microscope itself is incredibly cool looking-- very steam punk-- the results of the microscope, seeing gold atoms magnified a billion times, isn't as excellent as it sounds because the "atoms" are just little moving blips on a really big computer monitor (I don't know what I expected to see . . . little blips with AU tattooed on their butts?) but even better than the microscope was the presentation by a psychologist with the excellent name of Thomas Papathomas, who studies the top down and bottom up nature of our visual system . . . how our eyes feed our brain and our brain feeds our eyes, and he said that he finds the best way to study this is to look at when our brain makes mistakes . . . and then he presented us with a phenomenal bunch of optical illusions, and he had the actual gigantic three-dimensional models of these things, and they were mind boggling . . . I will put some videos up here of what we saw, and you can see some original artwork that uses these ideas at the Patrick Hughes show at the Flowers Gallery in Chelsea, which I am definitely going to attend . . . anyway, I hope you enjoy the videos.
This year for Mother's Day the boys and I composed a song for Catherine and then recorded a video of us performing it. . . and it took many many takes to get a decent version . . . a version with audible lyrics and a minimum of giggling and modicum of timing . . . and while we finally got it done, we are definitely not going on tour any time soon (and I'm not going to post the video here because I don't want to turn my children into the Star Wars kid).
I am biding my time until my kids are old enough to watch great shows such as The Shield and Battlestar Galactica and The Wire and Louie, but until then, Adventure Time will suffice . . . in fact, it will more than suffice, as each twelve minute episode packs in more jokes and epic awesomeness than a full episode of any other show in the entire universe, so find your children, tell them to stop doing their homework or practicing violin or whatever stupid thing they're doing, and get watching (because you've got 150 episodes to watch, or thirty hours of adventuring).
This prank was the brainchild of my friend Stacey, but I took the ball and ran with it . . . lesser artists borrow, but great artists steal; fellow English teacher Kevin left his email account open in the office, and usually when this happens someone will write an over-the-top absurd epistle of love to the boss or something equally ridiculous that it's immediately recognized as a joke, but instead of the usual tact, Stacey simply e-mailed another teacher (as Kevin) and asked for some Hamlet materials -- so that this teacher would bring them to his room and he wouldn't know why-- and I liked the understated nature of this concept, but thought it would be funnier if twenty people came to see Kevin and he didn't know why, and they didn't really know why either, and so I sent out e-mails to all the English teachers, with headings like "weird rumor" and "crazy coincidence" and "I have something for you" and I left very simple messages, such as "you wouldn't believe who I ran into from your past" and "no big deal but I heard something about you that I don't want to put on e-mail" and "remind me to tell you this story, too complicated to write it" and this worked like a charm, teachers started showing up in his classroom, and he didn't know why and they weren't sure why and finally he ran into the hall, screaming "I don't want anything from anybody! I don't have anything for anybody!" which is a pretty good result for a joke conceived at 7:20 AM on a Friday (after a late pub night on Thursday).
The staff here at Sentence of Dave would like to vociferously proclaim that we completely oppose Boko Haram's mass abduction of Nigerian school girls and consequent threat to sell them into slavery . . . and that we are also totally against both mass abduction and slavery in a general sense as well and don't think either of these things should be a part of 21st century life on planet earth (we were expecting life in the 21st century to provide a cure for cancer, flying cars and beef jerky that's actually good for you).
In the English office last week, a novice runner asked a question that had never occurred to me: "When you go out for a run, when do you start running?" and it turns out that many people have "starting points," such as the end of the driveway, where they begin and end their run . . . I tend to start running as I am going out the door, I jog down the steps and cut across the lawn . . . and maybe this is because of all the preparation I do before the run-- iPod, sunglasses, hands-free-dog leash/belt, poop bag, hat, orthotic inserts, etcetera . . . so that by the time I get out the door, I am impatient and fully "in the mode," but now I know that this isn't always the case . . . when and where do you start running when you go out for a run?
While I probably shouldn't have abandoned my wife, children and dog to the slowly growing flood in our basement the other night, especially since we couldn't locate our submersible pump . . . but I would like to say in my defense that I did finally figure out who had borrowed it, though this was not until after I played in the first basketball game of the evening and -- unfortunately for my marriage -- my wife had already loaded the kids into the car (in their pajamas) and drove through the storm to the Home Depot, where she was going to purchase a new pump, when I called her . . . and she got home in time to get the pump into the basement shower so the water never went over the lip, and I got her flowers the next day, and it's not like this was a real flood, such as the one that caused a landslide to bury a village in Afghanistan, and I would like to hereby swear that if there ever is a real flood of that magnitude, I will skip Wednesday basketball night and remain with my family.
It's best not to think about why you root for a particular team-- because, as Seinfeld points our, you are actually "rooting for the clothes"-- and Paul Lukas, the creator of Uni Watch: The Obsessive Study of Athletics Aesthetics, pushes this logic to the extreme (I heard him discussing this with Roman Mars on 99% Invisible) when he poses this dilemma: imagine that your favorite team traded all of its players, even up, for all the players on your least favorite team . . . which team would you root for?
My wife introduced my kids to the "license plate game" last Friday -- we were driving down Route 130 and she thought it would be good practice for our cross-country trip to try to identify license plates from different states . . . the rule being that you score a point if you are the first person to see a particular state's plate, but little did she imagine the genie she uncorked, as both my children took the game VERY seriously, and this resulted in several arguments, much yelling, some outright cheating (so that we had to introduce a verification corollary rule) and finally, just after I parallel parked the car across from the public lot, to culminate the competition, both my children bolted from the car, ran across the street (without looking both ways, or even one way) darted between cars in the parking lot, and sprinted to a white plate -- "Indiana!"-- and then argued about who yelled it first (resulting in another corollary rule: no playing the game outside the confines of the car) and two days later, on Sunday, when I was driving Ian back from his soccer game, he was still playing, even though he was alone in the back seat and I had informed him that I wasn't playing because I was driving back from an unfamiliar location, but none of this mattered, he was racking up points and soundly beating some imaginary opponent, an imaginary opponent who probably resembled his older brother.
Danah Boyd's new book It's Complicated: the social lives of networked teens is a must read -- both for people with kids and people who just want to know what the hell is going on; Boyd extensively researched teen internet habits-- she interviewed teens around the country and also read numerous sociological works on the topic-- and her big ideas are tempered with lots of anecdotes, often in the voices of the teens she interviewed . . . and what Boyd feels these teens are saying is this: we want to hang out with our friends, and that's a lot harder to do than it once was-- as the world is overly circumscribed for our kind, and there is a lack of public spaces where we our welcome, and we have a difficult time transporting ourselves to the few places we are welcome, and no one wants to see a cluster of teenagers anywhere except a high school football game-- and when we're there, we put our phones away, unlike most of you adults-- but most of the time, the best, safest, most accessible, and most convenient place to hang out is on-line . . . and while we can usually monitor and handle what we are doing, it's difficult to hang out in a place where you can't see lurking adults, which is why we often switch forums to where our friends are and the adults are not-- and we are willing to repurpose any forum to suit our needs, which are often social, and we often forget that we are under adult surveillance when we are online, and yes, the same problems that crop up in the real world happen on-line: bullying, racism, misinterpretation, gossip, drama, but adults shouldn't intervene in this world unless they really know the actual context of what is going on, which is often difficult and encoded . . . but still, if adults use their window into the online public space with some subtlety, instead of to only to pry, then it might open up lines of communication which are otherwise often frozen during the teenage years, but the most important thing to remember is that after we do our compulsory day at school and then practice soccer, meet with the Key Club, finish our violin exercises, study for AP Bio, then we go online to be social, not anti-social, and so unless you think we are having problems in the real world, please let us alone in our online world . . . the book is a quick and relatively easy read, and it acknowledges that our networked lives are here to stay -- and neither utopian nor dystopian-- instead they reflect the society at large, and it is up to adults to help children navigate the digital world, even though it is complicated, and adults should not simply rely on the fact that kids are digital "natives," because oftentimes they are not, and need help in understanding the consequences and methods of life on the internet . . . and I'm going to really test Boyd's claims this week, as I'm going to photocopy several excerpts and see how the real flesh and blood teenagers in my senior classes react; I will keep you posted of the results.