Away On a Short Blog Vacation

I am away for a few days with friends and I could use a little blogging downtime, so I won’t be doing any writing here for a few days.  I’ll probably be poking around the Interwebz here and there (getting ready for Write Out project), but only sporadically. Thanks for visiting.

Peace (and rest and rejuvenation),
Kevin

Heading South/Running Fast

I am off to North Carolina today, with my middle son, who is competing in the Track Nationals for high school students. It’s a weekend visit, sure to be hot and humid, and his team is prepared to run. I’m prepared to watch, and find ways to stay cool.

Peace (in flight),
Kevin

A Song for My Son and Friends (Children of the 21st Century)

Some of the references here are local (in that the lyrics are aimed at individuals you don’t know), but this song is one I wrote and performed with family and friends for my son and his friends at our party for their high school graduation this weekend.

I started the dang thing too fast on my guitar (that’s me in my Why I Write shirt!), and the drums are a bit too loud (even with brushes, but my dad didn’t realize it at the time because we were all acoustic, playing outside), but it was a way to show love and appreciation for the kid upon completing high school.

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

In the House With a Pulitzer-Prize Winner

Kendrick Lamar live

This Pulitzer-prize winning writer gets loud and indignant with his words, and pushes the envelope on what it means to be a young black artist in the world of Trump, and Black Lives Matter, and frustration over inequities. This writer uses black history as cultural reference points, and brings in the urban experience as a narrative frame. His words resonate with a large, and growing, audience.

This is Kendrick Lamar.

I was thinking of this whole Pulitzer Prize last night as my son and I, and thousands of other fans, rapped along with Kendrick during a concert in Connecticut. (Let me revise: I danced my white man’s dance to the beat, but I didn’t know the lyrics well enough to rap along with him with any coherence … I was surprised how many times the audience took the ‘mic’ from Kendrick during songs, on his invitation, and easily knew the words, the whole stadium in tandem, one voice.)

I remembered, and agreed, with something that commentator Clay Cane wrote in CNN when Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize for Music award was announced:

Like Nina Simone, Lamar isn’t a passive, woe-is-me voice; he is equally outraged and inspired, unapologetically angry but ready to create change. — https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/16/opinions/kendrick-lamar-pulitzer-cane/index.html

So true, and it was clear, this audience was with him.

Kendrick even poked fun at the award itself at one point last night, using a “Pulitzer Kenny” sign on the backdrop as he showed off his verbal dexterity with words, creating rhythms that, even if difficult to hear the lyrics in this live setting, impressed the ears. He can spin rhymes, and those rhymes tell stories, and those stories resonate with his audience.

That’s what writers do.

One more note: The last time I took my 13 year old son to a hip hop show (it was Future as the main act), I was disappointed (but not surprised) that the entire music element was tracked songs. No live musicians.

Not for Kendrick (who has worked with some pretty impressive musicians on his albums). Lamar had an amazing backing band — bass, guitar, drums, keys — that kept the groove kicking it all night long. The drummer, in particular, was incredible, powering the songs with a beat you could feel in your chest.

Peace (inside the beat),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Fleet-Footed Kid and The Bad Track Parent

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

My wife and I joke that we are bad high school track parents. My son, a senior, is a captain of the spring track team, and is an amazingly fast runner in the 200m and 400m and the relay teams.

I grew up playing baseball and lacrosse. I didn’t know much about track when he started. I’ve learned as much as I can and follow the events with a muted interest. When he switched to track two years ago, we wholeheartedly supported him, but the track meets I have gone to have given me a few seconds of thrills and excitement — that burst of speed and athleticism —  and lots and lots of waiting-around time for something to happen.

I never complain to him, yet he tells us again and again that he does not expect us to watch him at every meet. We’re not sure to be grateful that he doesn’t expect us there all the time or sad that he doesn’t expect us there all the time. It’s complicated.

Last night, as I was at my younger son’s baseball game (they won), the high school running man was apparently ripping up a track event with high speeds, and helped bring his team to a season title yesterday. I know this because I opened up the website of our local paper and there is video of him barreling down the track, and an article focused mostly on him and his endeavors, and an interview with him as he celebrates his teammates.

What a kid!

Boys Track

from The Daily Hampshire Gazette

He got home late, so I didn’t even have a chance to ask him, How did it go? I think he would have downplayed it but now I know. I’ll be congratulating him this morning. Still, not being there to see him run and compete live and to not have been yelling support from the stands?

Yeah, I’m a bad track parent.

Peace (goes fast so catch it while you can),
Kevin

Nerdwriter Scores Again: The Art of Sci-Fi Book Covers

One of the best Patreon accounts I support is The Nerdwriter (Evan Puschak), who makes an amazing collection of videos based on things he is interested in, and then I get interested, too. I am happy to pitch in a little bit of cash to support his wanderings.

Puschak writes about why he left the digital media business to form Nerdwriter:

I’d get bored sticking to one thing. I believe life is moral, psychological, artistic, scientific, and that what is worth knowing is worth entwining into a web, or a worldview. If I’ve made a video about something, it’s because I wanted to learn more about it.

Check out his latest: The Art of Sci-Fi Book Covers

Peace (on display),
Kevin

Blog Celebration: 10,000 Comments and Counting

Blog Comment 1

I know numbers are not everything. But some events still require a little celebration, right? Yesterday, during the Slice of Life, Chris posted a comment about my interaction with a student, and her comment became the 10,000th comment at Kevin’s Meandering Mind.

Blog Comment 10000

It’s funny because I kept checking in all morning to see if I would reach 10,000 during the morning, after posting my Slice of Life. I knew it would happen because the Slice of Life group is one that regularly reads and comments on Tuesday mornings.

I just didn’t know who it would be or when it would be. Thank you, Chris, for being the one.

I’m still staggered by that number, though. Ten thousand comments. That’s … like, a whole city of comments. A book could be made of the comments here. Pretty cool to consider.

I went back and searched my blog for the very first person to comment here and I found it was Will Richardson on July 27 2006. Will being the first commenter is sort of symbolic in a way because Will’s work early on with blogs, and wikis, and podcasts, helped inspire me to dive in with wonder when I first started blogging as a teacher (this blog came as a result of conversations and work with National Writing Project friends in a Tech Matters retreat in Chico, California, and I still have many close friends from that retreat.)

I went into the Wayback Machine to look for my blog in 2006.

My Blog: Wayback Machine 2006

I am grateful that people still bother to read blogs (now and then, but not as often as it once was, alas) and that they even bother to read mine, and then, take the time to leave comments. It makes blogging feel more like a public act of writing, as opposed to a private notebook posted for others to look at. I wish I were better at using comments to start larger conversations.

Certainly, social media platforms have overtaken blogging in many ways. People (and not just the young kids) are more apt to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr (sort of a blog), and more, and the decline of RSS readers (I still use one) as a way to gather aggregated feeds from blogging writers and educators is less a reading experience for many. Blogging isn’t dead, not by a long shot, but it has faded a bit into the busy background of the social media landscape.

So, if you have left a comment here sometime in the last 12 years, thank you. See you at 20,000 comments in about 12 more years … right?

Peace (making note of it),
Kevin

Trading Privacy for Profit When You’re the Product


Processing 06 flickr photo by crstnksslr shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Funny. This post is NOT about Facebook. But it could have been …

We had a disagreement brewing in the kitchen the other day. My wife and I, and our three boys (the oldest, in college, and the youngest, in middle school). The whole family. The dog watched.

We were arguing about privacy, and technology, and the split between my wife and I (we both try to guard our privacy from apps and technology companies, and we both teach our students to do the same) and our sons (who shrug their shoulders, and accept that they give up their data to use technology) seemed striking to me.

At issue was MoviePass, a subscription service that allows you to pay a low price and access movies throughout the month at the theater (only 2D movies), one per day. It costs $6.95 a month (oops, now back to $9.95 a month), and we thought about getting it for our middle son for his 18th birthday. But as I looked deeper into the service, spending time digging into how the app and system works, I started to wonder how the company was pulling off such a thing — the price seemed to low for them to make any real money.

Too good to be true?

Yes, I think so.

A little research found that the MoviePass app sucks up data off your phone, about your location and other using habits, and uses that data to sell info about you, and makes money. Of course. Now, that makes sense. The moviegoer is the product. Sound familiar?

We told our son, no on MoviePass, which led to our heated discussion in the kitchen of parents vs. children, with our older son saying he bought and installed MoviePass and, and uses it regularly at college, and while he calls the gathering of data “kind of creepy,” he accepts that trade-off for movie access.

“Everyone is gathering all of our data, all the time, anyway,” was the response from the older boy, to which I nearly lost it, because while this is true (I’m looking at you, Facebook), it doesn’t mean we have to accept it. We can NOT use an app or technology. We CAN find alternatives, of different flavor maybe and perhaps not of the same range, but we can find alternatives.

Trading our personal information for convenience is a false bargain, I told my kids, when companies make us, our lives, our data, their “product” but even my kids seemed to have already tuned me out and accepted that this stance is a Lost Cause of the Modern Age. Perhaps this is another generational battle, with the old folks holding on by our fingernails to some sense of privacy.

I was listening to a piece on NPR with folks from the Pew Internet division, which does all sorts of interesting surveys, and the researcher noted that there is indeed a difference between older and younger users of technology. But not like we think. He noted that younger users do worry about privacy with technology but they are more apt to keep tabs on how their data is being used, and more apt to change privacy settings. They are also more apt to accept the devil’s bargain of data/privacy for access. Older folks complain and worry but do little other than not decide to not use the technology, or abandon it. They don’t monitor their activity as much as younger people, until something hits the headlines.

… younger people are much more active online, much more forgiving of some of the circumstances when their data are captured and used in some ways to deliver products and services to them. But they’re also more vigilant than their elders in monitoring. They watch what’s posted about them, they watch what pictures their name is tagged in, and they’re very concerned about the way that they present themselves online. So they curate their identity and their reputation very aggressively. — Lee Rainie, director of Internet and technology research at Pew Research Center

I don’t think this push against privacy intrusion for profit is all a lost cause, but it does feel like an uphill battle so much of the time and we can’t wait for Congress to take action (because we know how that story goes).

We did not get MoviePass, but instead, we paid what it would have cost us for a year into a gift card to the movie theater for our birthday boy.

“I’m just going to get MoviePass myself anyway,” the boy announced.

Sigh.

Peace (and protection),
Kevin

 

The Arming of Teachers? Are You Insane?

Let me get this out of the way. Arming teaching in schools as a policy to protect students is a completely insane idea. Let me also note: I live in liberal Western Massachusetts, where an aversion to the NRA’s right-wing politics is part of the environment. I lean politically left. But I was also in the National Guard, trained as an infantry soldier and I was a platoon sergeant, so I know my way around a wide assortment guns.

Arming teachers is an insane idea.

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America &emdash;

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America

The idea of arming teachers in schools is something I have been following for the past two years or so, as my documentary filmmaking neighbor and friend, Julie Akaret, has been working on a movie that was once called Good Guy with a Gun, and now is called G is for Gun (The Arming of Teachers in America). You can see a photo essay by one of the film’s producers. They have traveled to Ohio many times, visiting schools where teachers are being trained to carry guns in school.

I have supported her through Kickstarter and have been part of the early preview feedback audience of the film as she and her partner have worked on it. The first round of showing of their film will be taking place next month on Ohio public television in March and then they hope other affiliates will take up their story of guns in the hands of teachers in the schools where young people are. The time for the topic is right, sad to say.

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America &emdash;

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America

It’s insane.

And you knew it was only a matter of time before the rising up of youths in Florida would lead to the NRA-backed politicians saying that what we need is MORE guns, not fewer. Sure enough, the news this morning shows President Trump calling for the arming of teachers.

Insane.

But par for the course, unless those young people in Florida and elsewhere finally change the narrative and pressure on politicians to buck the NRA and gun lobby. More guns are not the answer. Making teachers into a militia is not the answer. More restrictive gun laws, and more support for enforcement of those laws, is what’s needed. Who will be brave enough on the GOP side to take a stand?

Don’t hold your breath.

Peace (in our schools),
Kevin

The Freedom, and Power, of the Press

I went into Steven Spielberg’s new movie, The Post, the other day as a fan boy of Katherine Graham, long-time publisher of The Washington Post, and came out humming with a powerful reminder that the press in America has a job to keep government in check. That’s being tested in this day and age of Trump.

If you don’t know the story, the movie is about the publishing of The Pentagon Papers, a secret report that showed the United Stated government knew for decades and over multiple administrations that the Vietnam War was a disaster, so they lied to the public and the press — time and time again — to avoid the shame of a military defeat. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of soldiers were sent overseas to fight, and to die.

The New York Times, and The Washington Post, led the charge to make the secret report public, and both were sued by the United States Attorney General to stop from doing so. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the press in a powerful legal moment that defined one of the pillars of our society — the press has the freedom to ignore warnings from the government over what to publish.

At the end of the movie, after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the newspapers, the entire audience in the movie theater I was in cheered and clapped at the court’s decision and at the bravery of the newspaper publishers like Kay Graham to risk jail and financial ruin, with the unspoken specter of Nixon and then Trump being in the room (neither would not want to be in that room, I am pretty sure), and all of Trump’s “fake news” utterings being exposed for what it is: a deflection of criticism and probably a real fear of the investigation underway.

“There is no collusion” being the modern version of “I am not a crook.”

The movie itself is a bit too melodramatic — it’s a movie, after all — but I found the portrayal of Graham to be solid, particularly in the scenes where she grapples with being a woman thrust into her position by the suicide of her husband and surrounded by men who think they know better than her about the company she leads. We see Graham come into her own as a powerful woman in a time when that was not common. A scene where she leaves the Supreme Courthouse and is surrounded by a sea of young women protesters is a powerful visual, and Spielberg lets the sight of Graham in the crowd tell the story of her impact in society.

The other thing I loved is the way Spielberg captures the printing press operations, and as a former newspaper journalist, I remember watching our presses rolling, and feeling the building shake as the newspaper was “put to bed” at night. The setting of type and the excitement of grabbing a paper fresh off the press … it’s all tangible reminders that the news business has changed, and we’ve lost the art of making a newspaper to the speed of updated webpages.

Peace (and power to the press),
Kevin