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Journal: What is wrong with plagiarism?

Journal by word munger
Okay, so my students are writing essays about "binge drinking." There's a ton of literature out there about "binge drinking." Why should they have to reinvent the wheel? Isn't it easier just to go out on the Internet and copy and paste your way to an essay? Especially if you're a bio/engineering/computer science major and you just need to get your damned English 1102 requirement out of the way? Damn straight it is.

Yeah, part of it is my own damn fault. After all, could I have picked a more boring topic? I mean, really--haven't they already had this crap pounded into their heads for 4 years of high school? Well, maybe I could have made it more interesting for them. But dammit, I've got my own shit to do. I'm supposed to be a grad student, and this is my damn side job. Yes, I'm trying to do a good job here, but I also need to graduate.

What about the ESL student, who really struggles even to write a sentence? What about him? How's he ever going to learn how to write if he doesn't do it? I know, I know, no one's going to expect this guy to write, as long as he programs the damn computer, or tests the viscosity of the fluid, or whatever his technical job asks him to do. But I've got a job, too. If the fluid isn't viscous enough, it's my job to say so. But damn this sucks.

User Journal

Journal: Oh, the pain!

Journal by word munger
I wrote in my journal last night. Honest, I did. And I promise you, it was some of the best literature ever created. Honest to God. But I forgot to click "save" before I exited from my Web browser, and all that wonderful creation was lost forever.

It reminds me of a story I heard once. I have no idea if it is actually true, though. This guy is walking along a beach in Spain. In the distance, he sees another man drawing a picture in the sand with a stick, using deft, authoritative strokes. As he approaches the drawing, at first it seems like a random assortment of shapes and lines. But then he begins to see other things in the picture. He begins to realize that it is a masterwork, a work of art unlike anything he has ever seen. He turns to ask the artist a question about his sketch, but he has already begun to stroll off down the beach. Finally, the man recognizes the artist's profile: it's not just any artist, it's Pablo Picasso, and he has created a priceless work of art! But now the tide is beginning to come in; already some portions of the bottom of the image have started to wash away. The man looks around in vain for some way to preserve this great work, but he has no camera, no means to even make a sketch of what he sees (and even if he could, it certainly would bear no resemblance to the great work before him).

His mind races... perhaps a plaster casting could be made of the great work... or he could build a dam out of sand to stop the onrushing tide... but even as he thinks, another great wave washes out the bottom third of the work. As wave after wave slowly erodes this masterpiece, the futility of the situation becomes more and more monolithic. Even Picasso's footprints in the sand begin to wash away in the onrushing tide, as the man's tears form tiny craters in the strip of sand that remains.

Okay, so I'm not Picasso.

But it's still damned depressing.

America Online

Journal: American Music

Journal by word munger

Today we went to see "Let me Sing" at Charlotte's Booth playhouse. It's kindof a history of American musical theater all in one play. Not a bad show, but it hits you a little over the head with the race issue. Five second summary: The whites stole "American" music from the African Americans.

I think there's no doubt that without the influence of African Americans, music as we know it today would be completely different. On the other hand, I think the show implicitly diminishes the real talent of composers such as Gershwin and Berlin. Gershwin, I know, was careful to acknowledge the influence of the African American muscial tradition, but from the perspective of this show, Gershwin was an out and out thief.

Other than that, there were some pretty good performances in this show. Some very noble efforts, too, such as a duet that combined "Can't stop lovin' that man of mine" with -- oh, now I can't remember, but it was a completely different song. It kind of worked, but the two songs got a little muddled.

Anyway, it was good fun. I do think the show had an important message, but it would have been better if the show could have made its point a bit more subtly.

User Journal

Journal: Wine

Journal by word munger
Sitting at the kitchen table, sipping a very friendly glass of Cavit pinot grigio. I'm going to try to describe the experience as precisely as I can. First of all, this is not at all the ideal setting. My beat-up wooden kitchen table is a pale yellowish color, which doesn't allow me to see the color of the pinot clearly. The glass, though elegant, is etched with a lovely floral pattern that again distracts from a proper appreciation of the color and texture of the wine. I've just finished a cup of coffee, and I have a mild headache. The wine should take care of that in a few minutes. In the background, my daughter is in the next room, watching the "bonus material" for Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, so my careful meditation over my glass is punctuated by laser blasts and George Lucas' high-pitched overanalysis of the film.

I lift the glass to my nose, swirling the amber liquid more clumsily than I should. There's not too much of a smell to this wine. A hint of must, perhaps a piney aroma. The color of the wine is pale yellow, with not a lot of shape to it--I don't see much difference in color from the deep center of the glass to the edge where there is less wine.

The first sip. I let the wine flow between my lips into my mouth. As it first pools into my tongue, I get my first taste. The pine becomes stronger, overwhelming the must with its crispness. There is also a lightness to it. Slightly sweet, like green grapes, or kiwi, but with a much sharper texture. As the wine slips over the edge of my tongue into the base of my mouth, the flavors intensify, and the wine warms through contact with skin. The wine slides down my throat, with a hint of dryness. Again pine is the most prominent taste.

After about a half a glass, I can feel my headache begin to slip away. This is a wonderful way to take the edge off of a busy Saturday afternoon!

User Journal

Journal: rappin'

Journal by word munger
Yo! Just heard Melly-Mel on NPR today. Turns out Grandmaster Flash performed one of the first records to be indoctrinated into Smithsonian's recording hall of fame, which just happened over the past couple of days.

I was fairly big into rap music in high school. I remember not liking Grandmaster Flash as much as Whodini, Egyptian Lover, and L.L. Cool J. But of course what made Grandmaster Flash different is that they covered more "serious" topics such as drugs, crime, etc. in some of their raps, so they are the ones that got noticed by the intellectuals. Compare:

Street kid gets arrested
Gonna do some time
He'll get out three years from now
just to commit more crime

to this:

My radio, believe me I like it loud!
I'm the man with the box that can rock the crowd,
Walking down the street
to the hard core beat
While my J V C vi-BRATES the concrete!

The first is in the Smithsonian. The second set up L.L. Cool J for a career in TV and movies. Sadly, in sync with the lowbrow tastes of the rest of America, I have to say I prefer L.L. Cool J too!

User Journal

Journal: Rain. It's a good thing.

Journal by word munger
Today I emerged from Fretwell hall to see the first misty raindrops of the month, gently trickling down the red brick pathways of campus. The drizzle was slight enough to just dampen me on my quarter-mile walk to the parking deck, but heavy enough to still feel like rain. This is nostalgic weather for me, reminding me of too many Seattle days waiting for the school bus, or walking to The Cricket for an evening of conversation and endless coffee refills.

Now, sitting in my dusky kitchen, I stare out into my glowing gray backyard, droplets of water glistening on our bare maple. Every so often, a car whizzes by on the road behind the Leland Cypruses, with that familiar sound of tire on wet pavement.

So many times as a child, I woke up to that sound, the only notice that it had been raining. So many times, I walked down dark chilly stairs, onto our squeaky porch, and began unbundling newspapers for dark morning delivery. So many times, I remember putting an old paper atop the stack as I carted them up 75th street, raindrops creating mini supernovas atop yesterday's news.

Here, now, I can only dream about those days. The damp drips are familiar, as are the tires. But the maples and cypruses and sweetgums are not. The cardinals and bluebirds are not. If a mallard or a seagull waddled by, things would seem more appropriate. But there are no papers to deliver on my front porch. There are no mountains behind the clouds. Those things gradually fade into memory, only to be reawakened some other day, drip by shimmering drop.

User Journal

Journal: Emergence

Journal by word munger
So. What now?

I think a key to a productive life is simply to not to ever slow down. It really could work--just never stop for a rest, simply move from one tough task to the next. The question is, are we then reduced to the status of automatons? I've just finished grading literally hundreds of student essays. (Okay, it was actually about 40, but you get the idea!) My immediate inclination is to sit down on my comfortable green couch, uncork a bottle of cheap wine, and channel-surf my way into oblivion.

On the other hand, attractive as a persistent vegetative state may seem right now, in six months I would be knocking myself for having achieved nothing. I find myself thinking that platitude to which I was first introduced reading the "Thomas the Tank Engine" books to my son: "a change is as good as a rest." That's a pretty believable lie! A truer statement: "a rest is as good as a rest!"

Boy, reading over what I've just read, I can think of only one thing to add: Welcome to my aphorism hell.

User Journal

Journal: still grading

Journal by word munger
Man! I'm still not even halfway through. I'm now on number 17 out of 45. Grading is unbelievably challenging because each student has a new set of problems. Some students have mastered the basics, so you need to push them to develop their voice, or find a more unique and interesting way to tell their story. On the other hand, others have so many problems that you just need to pick a few of them for them to concentrate on so they'r not overwhelmed.

Yes, it's challenging, but it truly drains your brain. It's not menial labor, not by a long shot. It's not even semi-menial--it's full-fledged, high-octane, thinking work. Of course the answer, given how little they're paying me, is to drop down the octane a couple of notches. To coast. Unfortunately for me, I have too much respect for my students to do that. One thing I can say for sure is this is the last time I'm going to promise to do all my grading in two days. It's a minimum of a week from here on out.

User Journal

Journal: Grading, Grading, Grading

Journal by word munger

[Sung to the tune of "rawhide"]

Grading, grading, grading,
Let's keep them papers grading,
grading, grading, grading, away!
Write 'em up, move 'em out, roll 'em up, send 'em in,
Write 'em up, move 'em out, grading!

It's blood and sweat and typos,
It's rolling, dangling participos,
It's incomplete sentencos, grading!

Write 'em up, move 'em out, roll 'em up, send 'em in,
Write 'em up, move 'em out, grading!

Write 'em up, move 'em out, roll 'em up, send 'em in,
Write 'em up, move 'em out, grading!

I'm about 1/5 of the way through grading 40-some-odd essays about "kids these days." Whew!

User Journal

Journal: Oh, yeah, a DAILY journal!

Journal by word munger
Daily. Daily. Daily. Daily. As in seven days a week. This is going to require some discipline. I have a good excuse, though. I really do. I was dealing with frantic children. Children who shouldn't have to be personally responsible for their own fates. You see, my kids (age 9 and 11) had to fill out admissions forms for private school yesterday. In ink! If they mess up, they might not get in! Of course, it really wouldn't be the end of the world if they didn't get in. My son, just like hundreds of others, would simply be bussed for an hour an fifteen minutes each way to a remote school for the privilege of sitting in an overcrowded trailer. Somehow I don't think this is what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he was advocating a free, public education for all.

I rode a bus to school from the fifth grade on. I guess this would be one good reason for me to support public education today, but I'm afraid public education in Mecklenburg county in 2003 is not what it was in Seattle in 1980. The only class I ever had in a trailer was music in fifth grade. More than half of Bradley Middle school (where my son will likely be assigned) is in trailers. Class size is 35, compared to 20 at the private school we're considering.

But look at the good news in today's Charlotte Observer! Our property taxes will be going down! At least we won't have to pay more for our crappy public schools!

User Journal

Journal: Menial versus semi-menial labor

Journal by word munger
I was looking over last night's entry, and I think I might actually have a semi-decent point there. I wonder why that is? Why is it that I can handle mind-numbingly dull work, but not semi-boring-but-occasionally-interesting work? I get up every morning and fastiduously do the dishes, making the kitchen spotless [all right, if I was truly fastiduous, I'd have done the dishes last night, but I'm on a roll here, okay?], but my home office is a complete disaster area. To clean the office is definitely semi-menial. I need to think about where things go, what I need to keep and what I can throw away, and whether it would be better to neatly arrange all the computer cables or just pile them in a stack behind the desk. That must mean that doing the dishes isn't semi-menial but in fact fully menial. The difference, of course, is that the dishes have become routine. I don't have to think about the dishes--I can think about anything I want while I'm doing them (for example, all the semi-menial jobs I'll need to put off today), so actually, my mind is more engaged when I'm doing the dishes than when I'm paying the bills or cleaning the office. So I either need to be a dishwasher or a brain surgeon, but definitely not an accountant, a hairdresser, or, I'd venture a guess, even a computer programmer. These would all qualify as semi-menial jobs, and therefore they're not for me.
User Journal

Journal: Whew. Almost forgot!

Journal by word munger
11:20 on a Saturday night. Almost forgot to do the journaling thing today. Just finished watching the U.S. Figure Skating Championship. I just have to say, the U.S. Men are a bunch of complete wusses. The first guy up falls down after about 30 seconds and quits. The next guy breaks a little ribbon on his pants and wants a do-over. Meanwhile one of the ladies in pairs opens up a gash in her knee requiring several stitches, and she gets up, finishes her routine, and wins a bronze medal!

After the men fell all over each other trying to lose the national championship, the women got in their and laid down one awesome performance after another. You could almost make a legitimate case that Michelle Kwan and Sarah Hughes could have split the title, they both skated so perfectly. That's what sweet Peggy Fleming said anyway. Don't make me laugh, Peggy. Michelle skated a flawless routine, and Sarah lumbered through an easier one, just barely avoiding mistakes all the way through.

Today I spent nearly the entire day in front of the computer, either recording student grades or paying bills. Basically, I was an accountant for a day. There's one career to scratch off the watchlist. Talk about dull!

Actually I don't mind doing menial tasks on the computer--it's the semi-menial ones that truly bug me. I could do data entry for hours on end (and I did, in college--that was my work-study job). But recording student grades is a pain because you have to kinda semi- pay attention to what you're doing. And you need to make sure you don't skip anybody, and you have to sort through e-mails asking for tonight's homework, etc. etc. It's a semi-menial job. Same with paying the bills. You have to at least pay enough attention to remember if you paid that bill last month, or what you spent $46 on at Target last month. Then you really need to pay attention when the checkbook doesn't balance, or you put the wrong bill with the wrong check or something. Classic semi-menial job. Give me straight data-entry or word processing over that stuff any day. Either that or hard core, serious, to-the-bone thinking. None of that inbetween stuff for me!

User Journal

Journal: Yet another Journal entry

Journal by word munger
Home.

Happy to be here after a rough first week of classes. Martin Luther King, I am eternally grateful for you having been born in early January. No class until Wednesday! I think mainly the teaching is what's exhausting me. I can handle taking several classes, but teaching them truly wears on my soul.

That said, I think I'm becoming a better teacher--more demanding of my students, but more understanding of what they're going through.

All this journaling has me writing more than ever. Commontext Blog, this blog, posting on kairosnews. I don't know if I'm saying much of importance, and I don't know how long I'll keep it up, but for now it feels good.

User Journal

Journal: Journal change

Journal by word munger
Now this will be my personal journal. Instead of posting my pontifications about slashdot, I'll simply use this as a space to record my deepest, darkest, inmost secrets. Well, maybe not those, but it'll be a place to speak my mind. Not that I don't do that anywhere else I happen to be online. Okay, in all honesty, I'm doing this because a journal is a requirement for my English 5104 class, and this is the most convenient place to keep it. Nonetheless, I expect it will be a fun project.

Where to begin? I'd say the beginning, but I've already written about that elsewhere. How about just describing my day so far? The day started off poorly because the wife and I stayed up too late last night. No, we weren't doing THAT! Get your mind out of the gutter. Actually we were watching a really bad movie from 1988: "Satisfaction," with Justine Bateman, Julia Roberts, and Liam Neeson. Guess who got top billing? Hint: it wasn't Julia or Liam. I have to admit I had a mighty big crush on Justine in the mid '80s.

Anyway, we were being "good" and turned the TV off at 11:00 (halfway through the movie--don't worry, we've got the rest on TIVO), but then we sat talking and drinking wine until past midnight. At 35, I can't get by on just 6 hours of sleep anymore, so when the alarm rang at 6:15, I got up, woke up my son, and instead of going for the usual morning run, went straight back to bed. By 7:15 the kids were up and dressed. We ate breakfast with them in our bathrobes.

Since then it's been work, work, work. If you want to see what I've been up to, visit the commontext blog.

User Journal

Journal: More on trolls

Journal by word munger
In addition to the "seemy underbelly" trolls, many slashdot trolls are subtler. Regular slashdot contributors have identified certain biases in the slashdot community: Anti-Microsoft, Pro-Apple; Anti-copyright, Pro-open source; Anti-Establishment, Pro-individual liberties; Anti-newbie, Pro-technophile. These biases are so pronounced that even a well-formed argument that flouts the basic biases of the community will be regarded as a troll. This comment is an excellent example. While it's well-argued, it's also a comment that has been posted several times, to several different slashdot articles. It's there to "rock the boat," and many readers have taken the bait and actually responded to the comment. At the same time, it's been modded down to a "-1 troll."

But what if the comment had not been repeated? Does commentary such as this promote healthy debate, or is it merely a distraction from the more compelling issues at hand? If members of the community have a known set of values, doesn't it make sense for them to exclude those who don't share their values? Should a gun-club admit gun control advocates to its membership? The main point of the club in this instance is to share with other gun owners--obviously there is a time and a place for gun control debates, but probably not in the day to day workings of the club.

On the other hand, users rely on slashdot not only for camaraderie, but also for news and answers to technical questions. Perhaps an open exchange of views is important in such a context.

In the end, it's important to remember that slashdot is in many ways self-defined, but it's also still a constructed community. Its editors created the code that runs the sited, including the moderation system itself. Editors select the stories that appear on the slashdot front page. Yet in certain critical ways, the editors have chosen to place much of the control of the site in the hands of its users, making it a very unique community indeed. I hope my analysis has shed some light on the workings of this fascinating community--a community I will continue to be a part of in the forseeable future.

I have never seen anything fill up a vacuum so fast and still suck. -- Rob Pike, on X.

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