Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Claim To Fame 

Because sometimes you just need to remind yourself how much you rock. In roughly chronological order.

I was a street urchin in the original Boston Christmas Revels, and a wharf-rat kid in the original Boston Sea Revels.

I played Peter in the Boston Children's Theater run of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

As Lord Admiral Sir Nelson Drake Victory, I was directed by James Ivory in his first theatrical production, the Peter Maxwell-Davies opera Cinderella.

With the help of Tom Bergeron, I once interviewed Jon Cryer for Boston CBS affiliate WBZ.

My naive paean to divorce was published in the very first issue of Teen Ink.

As a sophomore, I was the lead in the Newton North presentation of Pippin.

I studied poetry under John Ashbury, Robert Kelly, and Joan Retallack at Bard College.

I was "the lightning guy" at the Boston Museum of Science.

As part of folkrock trio Not Earthshaking, I played a headliner set in the Hard Rock Cafe Boston surrounded by the same Liverpool bricks which housed the early Beatles.

I share a songwriting credit on Boston folk artist PJ Shapiro's first CD.

For three years, I held the record for the highest writing placement score in the history of Marlboro College.

I was the first undergrad to have work published in Kairos, a Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy.

I have been a guest speaker, panelist, workshop presenter and seminar lecturer on the subject of technology and media pedagogy at colleges, conferences, and classrooms across the globe, from MIT to Dhaka, Bangladesh.

I am the best damn Daddy in the universe.

What's your claim to fame?

posted by boyhowdy | 8:16 AM | 3 comments

Monday, November 14, 2005

Word Problems in Exurbiana 

One unseasonably warm long weekend
+ $650 in bright orange Home Depot giftcards recieved for buying a new home through a Lending Tree-recommended agent
= All the tools needed to produce one finally-deleafed front yard

Two days dangling a leafblower
+ Not enough rest breaks
= Ten numb fingertips and a hand that won't grasp properly

One stay-at-home spouse
- One teething infant
= Ten days to put up two roomsful of Ikea shelving, subdivide and reorganize the basement into a combination play/craftspace

Two roomsful of shelving
+ Time to finally unpack and organize a dozen bookboxes
= Plenty of newly revealed carpetspace

Three consecutive days home
+ One precocious three-year-old
= Daddy, do you still go to work?

posted by boyhowdy | 8:15 AM | 2 comments

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

ReciproAds Denied, Pirates Accused Of Resale Piracy 

Fave middle-of-nowhere, pirate-themed wine/beer bar and low-key freshfood gourmet hang-out The Lady Killigrew reports via monthly newsletter that their recent local-media ad campaign -- "in which we advertise for other things: other restaurants, bars, books, music, dentists - anything that impresses us and we feel deserves our and others love" -- will soon cease.

Serious bummer, here -- the ads, which showed a kind of relationship tree of local user-friendly services and hangouts, were always entertaining, and often informative. Alas, it turns out celebrating one's own local favorites as part of a network of cool stuff in one's own advertising is illegal. Snip from The Lady Killigrew newsletter:
The Valley Advocate recently got in touch with us...to tell us these ads were not appropriate; and that we would need to change them according to the rules of The Secondary Brokering of Ads (a rule concerning some shady (and confused) person buying an ad and then selling off the pieces). We are not selling off the pieces, we told them, we are trying to create a community and a network through advertising, rather than tear everybody else down and proclaim ourselves the best. They said they understood, but we would still have to change the ads. This made us sad. And while we are going to be slightly changing the ads over the next few weeks, we will also most likely be writing various letters explaining our situation and thoughts. Which are mainly this: so I could run an ad featuring a very busty, scantily clad blonde, but as soon as I run an ad praising my dentist, that's no good? And that's a sad state of affairs, crew. A sad state of affairs.

Pirates acting on purely positive and social intentions, spending their own cash to promote their faves (and incidentally make connections between themselves and other positive, mostly small-scale networked services and companies, thus illuminating their user base, and spreading the good cheer), accused of piracy? Isn't it ironic...

posted by boyhowdy | 11:10 AM | 0 comments

Other Voices, Other Blogs 

Too busy this morning for homeblogging, and my shoulder hurts after hours of assistive shelf-construction until the wee hours with Darcie. More later, I hope; in the meanwhile, feel free to check out my other, more publicblogs: workblog and new hydra-headed collegecrowd blog.

Alternately, Forbes online is really heating up right now -- almost anything "there" is worth ogling.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:34 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

When Last We Spoke 

Yesterday they were doing construction on the detour over the mountain. I got stuck behind a yellowbus, which in turn slowed to a crawl as it tried to eke past roadside leafblowing, recycling pick-up, and the other sundries of early-morning town maintenance. Late for work, then, though accompanied by my much of my own homeroom crew -- I'd been following them for miles, and never thought to look at their faces as they peered out at me.

Today the autumn leaves glowed in the warm sunshine of a post-daylight savings universe. The washed-out bridge has been reopened, albeit as a narrow one-lane passthrough over which last week's rockpiling is visible, a new dam up against newly laid, barriered asphalt. No bus to follow; time, upon arrival, to check in with the principal about yester afternoon's junk technology removal, the subsequent space it makes available, and the potential for that space to be harnessed for new research and techproduction labs and presentation spaces.

And time to begin again here, too.

It's been a while. Halloween in our new smalltown turned out to be a downtown-only affair: two hours candy-collecting up and down main street followed by a parade of costumed young'uns from municipal building to town hall, where we drank cider, paraded in costume across the stage with the rest of Willow's age group, and left early when she threw a tantrum because we would not let her cross the stage yet another unwarranted time. Definitely my child, proud of our matching bee costumes and her tiny sister's sleeping sunflower. Even the dog got yellowstriped. Hoorah, as always, for costume and stroller designer Darcie.

More general familynews in-house and out (no potty jokes, please) includes the emergence of baby Cassia's first word: Hi! The exclamation is used deliberately, though indiscriminately, for those she loves and strangers alike; even the cat gets a cheerful greeting, and responds with headbutts of love. Interestingly, this was my first word, too. Looks like we've got another socialite on our hands.

Back home babyCass gets armcarried to library playgroups and storytimes with her big sis Willow almost daily while I toil. Willow's started getting carsick, which she gets from her mother, so we've been trying to keep other excursions few and farbetween, but most afternoons find us shopping before dark, a perfect nuclear family in newtown, just me and my girls out and about.

Though most shopping is the necessities -- supermarket milk, batteries for the babymonitor, pallets from the lumberyard -- we're still going out, too, for the lastditch hardwood. Not much -- the furniture is almost organized -- but enough to keep us outgoing even when the fridge is full.

Last night, for example, the family drove into upper Connecticut, weaving through the pitchblack early evening on our neverending search for the perfect dining room table and chairs; we liked what we saw, though the cherrywood is both expensive and, to my chagrin, probably too delicate for daily use in a household of wee ones.

But even if we cannot find the perfect shakerstyle woodblock in time, Friday through Sunday of this coming weekend will see me navigating the greater New England area, picking up the rest of our chosen furnishings, most already purchased and waiting, patiently, for my arrival in a rented truck.

And so it goes, and so it goes, and so will you, soon, I suppose, if blogging doesn't pick up instead of catching up, so seldom seen. If nothing else, I'm hoping to post newly loaded flickrpix anon. And maybe a draft of the bedtime story I've written for the elderkid, a horribly anti-PC tale tentatively titled The Ladybug Who Had No Spots.

In the meantime, here come the kiddies for yet another round of computerclass -- we're talking form-follows-function with the seventh graders this week and next. Until we meet again, my friends...

posted by boyhowdy | 7:37 AM | 5 comments

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Mea Culpa 

I remember thinking, three weeks ago when we first started up the hand-me-down computer, that it was odd to see a computer fully loaded with software yet bereft of viral protection.

And then I sat down and started loading the iPod. And dumping the camera to hard drive. And surfing the universe after a long absence.

It would be easy to claim ignorance, except I'm a pretty techsavvy guy (and an instructional technologiest). It would be easy to claim a lack of time, except I spent a good couple of nights there burning the midnight oil on shockwave jigsaws and iTunes back catalog retrieval (and, incidentally, using sleeptime I could not spare, but managing the new schedule is a tale for another week).

Instead, unfortunately, it seems the universe of busyness and ADD-rooted procrastination is no match for my tendencies towards high-risk online behavior.

And now the darn thing is totally fried -- spyware laden, bugheavy, stuck at start-up with no access to even the start menu. Now the dead machine looms in the corner like the spectre of last week's lunchmeat in a middle school locker.

And boyhowdy, don't I feel stupid.

Too busy at work to blog this week, really -- it's grading time, I have no curriculum planned for this morning's classes, and as always, I'm a full term behind on paperwork.

Apologies in advance, then. It's gonna be a light week for blogging. Feel free to check out the workblog or, as always, fun randomness from the archives if you need a fix on my voice.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:01 AM | 19 comments

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Settling In 

A drizzly Saturday, but Darcie's parents were down from Vermont and we got the date wrong on the church craft material tag sale, so off we went to the harvest festival anyway.

The sixteenth annual Sturbridge Harvest and Scarecrow Festival was a pretty small affair -- a country and western band, a couple of craft tents and local country kitch merhants. We parked behind the Publick House, ate chili and apple pie with local cheddar, and filled the corners in with kettle corn while we wandered the tiny town common, admiring the scarecrow contest entries and dodging the raindrops.

I remain proud of myself for not spending a mere fiver on a minimarshmallow blowgun made of smallbore PVC tubing, complete with candyapple duct tape striping -- ingenious and very tempting, but if I had it, I'd surely use it, and marshmallows bring ants. Sigh. One more sign of adulthood, I suppose.

Back home, Neil (the dad in-law) and I headed over to the local lumber-and-hardware store to fill the trunk with pallets and scrap wood. Neil bought me my first hatchet (nominally for turning cordwood into kindling, but officially because Neil believes that everyone should have a hatchet) and admired the pellet stoves for a while, then it was back to the house to start up the woodstove for the season. Can't tell you how wonderful it is to step out on the porch, smell that great woodsmoke smell -- all must and spice -- and realize it's your own.

Been stacking wood since they left, about four hours. I seem to be at the halfway point, which is perfect, since I left off at the six-foot mark of three of six pallets. Two cords in three days is no small feat for a solo artist with a bad back. Darcie's parents both complimented me on my haphazard cross-stacking; the confidence of two true-blue rural-life expert opinions will get me through the rest of the pile in no time.

Tomorrow I'll watch the baby in our finally-warm house while the wife and three-year try a church outing without us, set up the rest of the pallets for a good afternoon stack, and then it's off to line up early for a good table at the Iron Horse for a night out with Dad. It'll be my first time seeing Lucy Kaplansky perform outside of the folk festival world; the small setting and the novelty of folk music indoors should be a nice bonus to what is always a sweet and poignant treat for ears and heart alike.

Of course, getting in at 5:30 for a 7:00 show means supper beforehand -- the Iron Horse has great pulled pork and salads, but I'm especially pleased at the prospect of eating supper at an actual table. Stay tuned for updates on the foreverquest for furniture...

posted by boyhowdy | 7:15 PM | 20 comments

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Isn't It Good, 4 Cords Of Wood 

The new house comes with a plethora of options for heatsource, allowing us to pick and choose our poison to some extent. Which is pretty good, because heat's expensive, New England winters are long and chilly, Darcie's not working, and I'm a public school teacher. Oh, and my wife likes to sleep with the windows open.

Up until now, we've been hitting the pellet stove pretty hard; the roaring fire is nice to wake up to, and the stove itself doesn't get hot enough to burn the kiddies. It takes a few days to go through a 40 pound bag of pressedwood pellets -- they look like the alfalfa pellets we used to feed the bunnies when I was a kid, but they taste and smell like...well, wood. We've ordered two tons. They'll deliver 'em in a few weeks.

But well-insulated house or no, one tiny stove up against an outer wall farthest from stairs and bedrooms isn't going to cut it once the temp drops below freezing. We moved in far too late to lock in oil prices for the winter, and the tank's pretty small; right now, oil's going for three bucks a gallon plus, it usually takes something over a thousand gallons to heat a house this size for the season, and I really don't want to do the math from there because it will make me cry.

Luckily, the furnace is a combo wood/oil, something I'd never seen before. There are two thermostats on the wall, so you can set the wood to kick in when it gets cold, say 64 or so, and then drop the oil settings to 60 just to keep the kids warm at night.

Unluckily, that means trucking wood in all winter. We've got a nifty drop from the garage down to the cellar, but we'll still have to drag the split stuff in all winter. Things don't look good for the herniated disk.

Of course, you've got to stack the wood first. Today a delivery truck pulled up and dropped four cords in our driveway, a mound twice as tall as an SUV and perhaps twice again as long and wide. We stole some pallets from the dumpster at the hardware store and cleared a dirtway for 'em out front. I figured I'd stack the first cord or so, clear the driveway enough to get the cars out, tonight while the kids went to bed.

Fat chance. Though I learned a few things -- for example, it's not a good idea to pull wood from the bottom of the pile if you're wearing soft-toed sneakers, and probably not a good idea to do it at all if everyone else is out of earshot -- five hours later, I've made a dangerously crooked stack about thigh-high on a single pallet, made no noticible dent in the grand pile of splitwood, and severely disturbed my back.

Hauling one piece of wood at a time.

In addition, I'm severely dirty, ended up spending about ten minutes with the wee ones this evening, and never managed to correct those papers I promised my students.

On the other hand, in one form or another, we now own enough wood to heat the whole house for the winter. For someone who didn't own more than what could fit in the trunk of his car just three months ago, you gotta admit, that's pretty cool.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:16 PM | 5 comments

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Breaking The Wiki and Other Lessons Learned Inadvertently 

or, Trust Yourself, and the Teaching Will Follow

Three days ago, in between projects with my eights grade classes, but curious to see how far beyond the normative expectations of the preadolescent mind the could be pushed, I loosed the improvisational pedagogist, let myself go all socratic and unplanned.

I suppose some of what I had in mind was killing time. The kids are on a three day on, three day off rotation; the grading period ends next Friday; by then I will have seen them for one more triplet, hardly long enough to begin a project, and who wants to be in the middle of a project when grading comes around?

Instead, somewhere between the top-of-the-head board-list on Monday and today's impromptu assignment, a unit emerged. Over three one-hour lessons, in two otherwise unmanageable sections of 8th grade computing, we moved fluidly from description of common neodigital phenomena blogs, wikis, virtual communities, collaborative productivity tools and interlinked texts, into an online exercise, a half-virtual self-led class assuming an ability to follow directions and focus previously unheard of at this grade level.

Yesterday, after a short introduction to the wiki much too far above their heads, I actually found myself announcing -- with the caveat that it might take us a while to understand what it really meant -- that the new wave of digital technology transforms the way we think about time and space. And then promising that they would actually understand this sometime in the near future under my care, and that the realization would tranform them, empower them, make them all twice as aware, three times as productive.

To a room full of twelve year olds.

And I got so excited, I sent them home to try to break Wikipedia.

These have been my difficult classes. Each section is half-full of special education students from the truly hyperactive to the sloth, and it shows. Add that the usual mix of middle school hormones, mix in the inherent impossibility of trying to teach to a bunch of kids staring at bright shiny screens, bursting with the power of their digital generation.

But today, the kids were with me, en masse, for the first time since I lost control of 'em early in the term. They loved the homework, loved testing the limits of the world of information and ideas instead of simply examining it from outside like they usually do.

They were proud of how silly they were able to make the world look, and stayed with me, sharing and laughing, as we explored the culture and infrastructure that allowed, nay, depended on collaboration for its very existence, yet reverted most marred pages back to their previous, groupbuilt norm within minutes.

Made heady by the sudden realization that they could actually make change in the world, even if only for nine minutes at a time, these kids wanted to know what else they can do.

So, I told them next week, they start projects based around ideas -- each will have to declare that technology changes the way we are and can be in some significant way, and then use analyses of new tools, and interviews and observation of worlds on- and off-line, to prove it.

And for the first time, all of them walked out thinking.

Talk about chutzpah. I've got middle schoolers doing sociological analysis. My head spins with visions of powerpoint presentation on topics from which part of me is my username? to schools without walls to collaboration: how the world works now.

They'll have to do this all as primary-source research, of course. You can't expect a kid to do much with Sherry Turkel's "Second Self" or Howard Rheingold's "Virtual Community."

But, by God, it just might fly. Imagine the potential of a fully self-aware digital generation.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:18 PM | 2 comments

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Content Matters 

Powerpoint presentations on moments in the history of computing from the seventh graders today -- they were ready yesterday, but I made them spend the time reading each other's presentations and self-constructing a group order, in the hopes that they'd extrapolate from this a better sense of segue and sequence both macro and micro. Ten presentations in an hour will be tight, but if it flows, we'll hit a thousand years of history from abacus to Y2k in no time.

They better be good, anyway. Three weeks in the making, after all -- this generation knows how to use the software, but getting them to do good design takes much UNlearning as careful construction. Here's hoping at least some of them manage to get close to the ideal of simple, elegant, subject-and-substance-driven style, though even I can't aspire to this level of presentational perfection.

Speaking of content, Shaw asks a legitimate follow-up question to yesterday's musiclust post. Implied: if music matters, then which music is no trivial matter.

In this case, however, I prefer the 3k songshuffle. So, this morning's first ten, with a caveat that I've been dropping data onto the iPod in no particular order, and thus some of my favorite tuneage isn't on it yet:
  1. Grateful Dead -- Franklin's Tower
  2. Sam Phillips -- Holding On To The Earth
  3. Mark Erelli -- Hollow Man
  4. Wilco -- Radio Cure
  5. Colin Hay -- I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You
  6. David Gray -- Long Distance Call
  7. Michael Franti -- Love'll Set Me Free
  8. Daniel Lanois -- Shine
  9. Jeffrey Foucault -- Mayfly
  10. Keller Williams -- Roshambo

As good a sense of environment as any, I guess. Oddly, 9 out of ten male artists, despite the predominance of chromosomal otherwise on the small white 'pod.

In other culled-from-comments news, blogspamming continues at the rate of fifty a day. I am especially proud of this totally piss-into-the-wind response. Well, it made me feel better.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:15 AM | 3 comments

Monday, October 17, 2005

Autumnal Trivia 

Autumn leaf color variance in vine maples.

Why there is so much color variability in fall leaves. (Short version for non-scigeeks: turning red protects leaves from "the too-rapid breakdown of chlorophyll" in excess light conditions, but variance in exposure --> variance in color.)

From the Botany Photo of the Day blog of the the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden. Posted especially with the mother-in-law in mind, as a long overdue thankyou for the occasional odd link. Via BoingBoing, of course.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:25 PM | 4 comments


Even before the iPod was stolen, my life had grown quiet. No job, no home, no radio show, no rest for the psyche; it was fitting, perhaps, to be musicless in our gypsy mode, bereft of constancy in this like everything else, as if it were symptomatic of our rootless, uncertain existence.

Sure, you say, for most of that time I was iWired. The purewhite double umbillical earcords are all the rage. But most of my love for the 'pod is based on its whole and expandable potential, and no stereo means no speakers, no computer and no new CDs means no rich and constant bloodflow from the everemerging world of hi fidelity.

And how can you select a soundtrack for a coming horizon, an iffy unknown? You can't, and anyway, you can't really play your own music in other people's houses. And you can't sing in public with the damn phones on, and we were living in public.

It takes an environment to build an environment, four walls to build a mood beyond your ears, infiltrate the nearworld with your sonic selectivity until the world is, for just a moment, yours envelopingly. Who knew the sound of constant doubt was silence?

Through most of the long journey to here there was enough music, I suppose, though that's kind of like saying "there was enough air." Still, as long as the car was our home, I had a few moments here and there to roll up the windows and wail, I suppose -- mere pittance, but respite nonetheless.

Then, of course, with the iPod and FM broadcasting attachment gone, even the carspace was somehow less my own. I'd started listening to NPR in the morning -- we're not exactly in station central out here in the woods. But it's not the same.

Then there was the three weeks while, excruciatingly, the gifted iPod replacement (thanks, Dad) sat fallow on the shelf while we waited for a computer. But once we got one (thanks, Josh), it took me ten days to upload the first two thousand songs -- a mere pittance, even with a thousand podcompressed photos lending weight to the gig total. I'm but a third of the way through the CD collection, feeding disks to iTunes as I pass like coins a hotel lobby slot machine. Surfing the the mp3blog shortlist has once again become a daily ritual.

I got to a couple thousand, just to be sure.

And then, oh sweet then, I hit play.

Now I select songs for the moodsetting again, thinking of more than just my own needs, bestowing love through soundwaves once again. I play for the heart -- both mine and others, in every configuration. I feel like I'm in the flow, rediscovering, tracking down the rest of that song I heard on the radio, dropping it in the mix.

The stereo is in fragments, no surface yet to support it. But we dance nightly before bedtime, the baby in my arms, laughing, while her sister and I spin a lurching two-step. Tonight, for the first time since June, I harmonized my way through the laundry. Once again my head is filled with constant music.

Amazing how this tiny white box, this companion software, this small computer in the midst of cardboard chaos, majestically clears the bar, is transformation enough.

My life has its soundtrack back.

I can hear my heart again, and it sounds like everything.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:29 PM | 5 comments

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Absolut Mundania 

It's hard not to like any weekend that begins with the circus, even if you have to get up early to drive into Boston for it. And it makes things easier if your three-year-old throws up in the car on the way to the circus, thus making room for an entire bag of cotton candy plus a purple sno cone in a plastic elephant --watching that come up would have been much worse; this way, it was easier to help her pace the sugar intake appropriately, and she got to wear clean clothes throughout.

The circus was...the circus, I guess. Darcie and I went a bunch of years ago, mostly because she had never gone; though it was the real Barnumandbaileyringlingbrothers deal, and though the kids seemed awed by the whole experience, something about the surprising thinness of the matinee crowd, maybe the glare of the sunshine seeping in through our psyches, kept it a bit off-edge. The smiles seemed more forced than usual, maybe. The too-sleepy lions and their tamer tried a few halfhearted tricks and gave up mid-performance, though my favorite act (motorcycles in a cage) is always pretty spectacular.

Gotta admit, though -- when your six month old infant wakes up during the smashbang spectacular that is the circus finale, looks around in wonder at the whole suddenlychanged universe of chaos, thinks a moment, and then lights up grinning like a jackolantern, it kind of vindicates the whole parenthood thing.

Spent the rest of the weekend shopping for furniture all across the greater Boston area with Darcie and baby while the 'rents hung with their only grandchild old enough to talk. The head spinds with hardwood. Don't get me wrong, I love shopping, truly -- but you'd think there's be more than a dozen total possible table configurations on the market. It't frustrating when you can describe exactly what you want -- a basic block-legs-with-leaf table, under seven feet, out of wood, not veneer -- and not find it anywhere.

Funny how I didn't realize how much I am absolutely, positively emotionally done with the whole shopping phase of our homeownership until I began that paragraph. I mean, gee, but it's great to be back home.

Pretty cool to be able to say "home" and mean it, too, even though, a month after moving, we're still living in boxes.

Yeah, the place is a mess, but there's hope on the horizon: with a few choice finds (bed, table and chairs, library chairs and an AV cabinet for the corner) this weekend's furniture shopping filled the last hardwood gaps in our theoretical from-scratch redesign, came in around budget targets, and thus promises to be the last gasp in what has become a month-long mission to get our life up off the floor and out of all these damn bozes.

In the meantime, the pellet stove blazes merrily while the dishwasher drycycle steams the air. A newly opened box reveals heretofore forgotten dress shirts and khakis, thus allowing me to blog and iron, and leave laundry for another day. The kids cuddle upstairs, resting up for another wild day in a world where anything can happen. Life is good. And it's getting better all the time.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:07 PM | 2 comments
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