Last night I finished reading Gulliver’s Travels. I’m ashamed to admit that I never read it in its entirety before–just excerpts in high school. And about a week ago I was in need of some “comfort reading” and turned to my recently unpacked shelf of the children’s classic illustrated library, and there was gulliver looking me straight in the eye. I thought, “what the heck.”

It’s a great read, although by the end of the second part, I was having trouble figuring out the scale of things. Then I got to the third part, where Gulliver ends up on the island of the Houyhnhnms. (can someone please tell me how I’m supposed to pronounce this?) At the end, when Gulliver was sent away and had to return to living among humans, who he now identified as yahoos, I was a little perturbed. I mean, come on Gulliver, ease up on your poor wife and kids. Its not their fault they weren’t born horses! And it seemed like he was kind of overreacting a little–after 5 years among the Houynhnms, he simply couldn’t abide any human contact? I understand that the yahoos were crass, dirty, uneducated animals, but they weren’t really the same species that poor Mrs. Gulliver was. I wanted Gulliver to grow up and suck it up.

Then I listened to the news this morning.

And heard the terrible story of a college girl in Boston who was killed after the playoffs game when police were forced to shoot rubber bullets into a rioting crowd. No word on whether this girl was actually rioting; it sounded more like she was just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. And when some people in this crowd thought the only way they could celebrate the Red Sox victory was to light cars on fire, the police had to take dramatic, and in this case, deadly action.

Then I realized I could understood how Gulliver felt. How can these people be of the same race as the human beings I live among? What on earth possesses humans to take to the streets after something as (sorry sports fans) meaningless as a sporting event to destroy property and endanger lives? HOW CAN ANYONE THINK THIS IS RIGHT?

I know there are people out there for whom sports are important. I happen to be married to one of them. But when the Packers lose a football game, he’s sort of bummed for a couple of hours. He doesn’t think it necessary to punch holes in our walls or inflict bodily injury on anyone.

So, I guess the yahoo/human dichotomy really does exist. I hate to sound like an elitist, but can we pack all of these yahoos onto a boat and send them to live on their own island?

The Key to Competitiveness: Understanding the Next Generation Learner (AASCU article)

I came across this article today (featured on Educause’s newly redesigned Web site) about the changing landscape of defining IT strategy in higher education. On the whole, it was an interesting article, and maybe later I’ll comment on the general thesis. But what struck me most today was the first few pages describing the technology-savvy of a typical undergraduate at UCF.

In light of our recent TLTR conversation about the technology proficiency at UMW, I was left wondering if we were missing the boat. One of the main points of the article was that the technology savviness of undergraduates should actually be driving our development of IT strategy and inspiring our faculty to do more with technology. Whereas, our conversations about the technology proficiency seem to assume that we’re leading the students to technology.

I just wonder whether in 2004 in makes a lot of sense for us to be investing so much effort in testing students’ word processing skills. This might have made sense 2-3 years ago, but does it still make sense now? If we can assume that technology is as deeply infused in our students’ lives as the ones in this article, do they really benefit much from what we’re currently asking them to do in the technology proficiency?

After our meeting on Wedneday, I’ve been spending some time digging around for information about similar programs at other schools. I was sort of surprised when I didn’t get a single result from searching for “technology proficiency” in Educause’s online library. Trying alternative search queries and digging around on the Web didn’t yield much more. I was pretty surprised, actually, at how few schools I turned up that were running similar programs. Most of the programs that I did find seemed to have been created around 2001 and haven’t been updated since then.

I think we definitely should be working to infuse the curriculum with more technology-focussed experiences, but I think our work should reflect (to the greatest extent possible) the most current trends in technology, and, in particular, how students are embracing those trends.

On an unrelated note, I really liked the interface that the aacsu article used. I’m someone who has trouble reading and digesting text online (I often resort to printing), and I found this book-like interface very easy to use.

Speaking of Learning Spaces. . .

Check out this article at on the use of Second Life (an online, three-dimensional metaverse) in the classroom.

The two faculty quoted in this article are using SL in classes that deal specifically with technology development and urban/space planning. But SL also seems like an interesting example of a possible general learning space and, I might add, an online learning space that seems a whole lot more compelling than your typical course management system.

Best of all, the makers of SL are offering a discounted/free campus license…any takers?

Blog Angst

Ok, I admit I still haven’t managed to wrap my head around this whole blog thing.

The idea of regularly posting to this place is a little daunting. I think this is partly because I’m not sure what I want to say. I think it’s also partly because I’m a little uncomfortable with “putting myself out there” in a raw, somewhat unedited form.

The narcissist in me likes the idea of being able to make my every whim and musing available for the whole world to see. But the perfectionist in me feels funny about making those whims and musings available in anything less than brilliant prose. Consequently, hitting the “Save!” button in my blog admin panel is often more an act of ambivalence than empowerment.

All of this makes me wonder about what kind of person really makes the best blogger. Is there a blogger in all of us? Is it realistic to think that there should be?

And since those of us that are gathering to take part in this little experiment at UMW are all interested in education and technology, I wonder how does the blog really work as a tool for teaching and learning?–particularly if some of us might be born blog-resistent?

In an effort to find answers to these pressing questions, I came across this blog research list which includes all kinds of articles on blogging. I’ve started making me way through this list (and other resources I’ve come across), and I have a few initial thoughts:

  • What is the relationship between blogs and online communities? Can a blog (which tends to be centered on an individual) foster a community spirit?
  • If a blog isn’t a natural vehicle for developing an online community, what kind of communication does it foster? If someone blogs and no one “listens,” does his/her blogging act mean anything?
  • A few online discussions I’ve seen about using blogs for education encourage them for extending classroom discussions. But I wonder how is a blog the best tool for this purpose? Aren’t well-managed, online discussion boards a much better way of promoting this kind of communication?
  • Are we trying to come up with a way to make blogs “fit” into the educational sphere because they are (somewhat) new and cool?
  • Another possible use of blogs that is discussed is for online, student journaling–a valid use. But, other than the possible convenience of providing student and teacher with an online location for reading and responding, does a blog journal offer anything different/better than the traditional, written journal?

I know there is lots more research out there that I should (and will gradually) read. (If anyone has suggestions, post them here.) But in the meantime, I’m left with some sense of doubt as to how blogging really fits into my world.

And the saga continues. . .

You know I hate to beat a dead horse but. . .

I’ve just been told that in order to finalize our closing papers, the mortgage company needs some proof that we are currently living at the address we say we are. Apparently, a utility bill made out to the address or a bank statement will suffice.

The trouble is, we don’t really have an address right now. We’ve been having mail sent to us at my parents’ house, but we’re not really living there. We’ve been staying at a friend’s house in Westmoreland county until the closing. So, we have no utility bills (other than the ones that were forwarded to us from Montana–and those don’t count). We also have no lease (my parents, strangely enough, didn’t feel it necessary to draw up a binding, legal agreement with us–shame on them!).

Hopefully, I can get my hands on a bank statement with the address. We’ll see.

But in the meantime, I’m left wondering, why the heck do they need this?! According to our loan processor it has something to do with the Patriot Act. I knew I hated that law!

What if we didn’t have an address right now at all? What if we were living in the back of our van? Or if we had decided to stay at a residential hotel until the closing? Would our mortgage application simply be rejected?

Monday cannot come soon enough for me.

Closing in on closing

Well, the good news is that our inspection went well and our contract is finalized. And after a few more painful days of mortgage application woes, we seem to be in good shape. Of course, the stress of the last few weeks hasn’t exactly been conducive to generating excitment over this move, but I’m working on my attitude.

I’ve posted some photos of the house online at This also gave me a chance to try out the Gallery script that we have available through bloghosts. Pretty spiffy. I’m trying to think of other projects for which it would be interesting to use this one

Closing day is September 20th. Moving day is September 25th. Now accepting volunteers ;).

Ammortization Woes

It has been a long time since I felt like math could bring me to tears–sometime in the 12th grade probably. But the other night, as I tried desperately to compare mortgage terms among different lenders, I thought it would happen again.

This past weekend, Erik and I put a contract in on a great house in South Stafford. After only a month of looking, we found a house that we both felt “spoke to us.” We spent Saturday madly trying to get an offer in and a contract finalized. Late Saturday night, we got the good news. We thought the hard work was over. We were wrong.

On Monday we began the process of calling several lenders to find out what they could offer us. We felt like we really needed to compare the terms, because, well, that’s what everyone said we should do.

I should mention that this is our first home, our first mortgage, and the first time I’ve dealt with any math beyond simple arithmetic in about 12 years. What a nightmare! I mean, the lenders seem to be doing their utmost to make it impossible to do a clear comparison.

After hours in front of Excel spreadsheets on Tuesday night, I had enough. I was ready to give up on a house and spend the rest of my life renting. Renting is easy!

At some point I guess I had a minor breakthrough and realized that, basically, although all the lenders offered different rates, pmis, points, and fees, the monthly bottom line for all of them was basically the same, give or take 20 bucks. We decided to just go with the one that came the most highly recommended.

I thought this would be a straightforward situation of bargain shopping. Instead, I feel like I wasted 20 hours on this process. I just hope the rest of our foray into first-time home buying isn’t nearly as painful

Today, we’re off to the home inspection. Wish us luck!

Diving In

Not exactly the most original title, but it sort of goes with the theme.

Why The Fish Wrapper? Well, while trying to come up with a title for my new home on the Web, I thesaurused the word “journal” and discovered this synonym–I imagine the idea being a newspaper-type journal, only good enough for wrapping the fish in.

I thought this sounded like a nice, reasonable level of expectation for my first foray into the world of blogs.

I also like the possibilities that the other words suggest. For example, if we’re willing to play around with homonyms, rap can mean “to utter…sharply, vigorously, or suddenly.” Obviously blogs are about utterances, often spontaneous and sometimes deeply felt. Rap can also mean “to talk or chat in an easy or discursive manner”–another possible tenor of blog musings.

Wrap can mean “to engross” (maybe I’ll occasionally hit on an engrossing subject–no promises, though) or “to bring to a conclusion; settle finally or successfully.” I believe less and less in the possibility of final conclusions, but I guess they’re always a good goal.

And, finally, to fish out can mean “to get by artifice or patient effort; to ascertain, elicit (a fact or opinion).” I hope my blog will be more about patient effort than artifice–but, again, no promises! Also, it seems to me that the real purpose of blogs is to elicit responses and responses to responses (a true community of speech). Sometimes those responses will be facts, sometimes opinions–and, sometimes, it may not be too clear.

By the way, fish can also mean “a small flat piece of bone or ivory used instead of money or for keeping account in games of chance; sometimes made in the form of a fish.” A definition that has nothing to do with this blog (so far, at least), but I thought it was a cool fact.

Aren’t dictionaries fun!

Definitions courtesy of the Oxford English and (one old-school, one new)

tales of swimming upstream