From Dog Food to Drug Dealers to Poetry (or a typical internet search)

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by quiiver

WARNING: Many of the rap lyrics in the linked site are explicit. Expect frequent NSFW references and other lines that, while necessarily profane, will offend people. I will also move from something fairly tangible and real into a semi-philosophical discussion which is likely to be less pleasant than any explicit lyrics.

While searching for a picture of Alpo dog food to use in a presentation, I noticed that there appears to be a (relatively) well known Harlem drug dealer named Alpo who was referenced in this rap lyric– that happens to be annotated through Rap Genius.

Rap Genius is your guide to the meaning of rap lyrics (basically the internet version of the nerd-*** “rap dictionary” dorm-mate you had in college).

You can listen to songs, read their lyrics, and click the lines that interest you for pop-up explanations – we have thousands of canonical rap songs explained (2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z – even the beginning of the Torah..)

Our aim is not to translate rap into “nerdspeak”,1 but rather to critique rap as poetry.

The quality of the critiques vary considerably- some are just restatements in less oblique terms, others actually reference factual elements2, but there are plenty of examples of analysis and research in there that are exactly what we try to force out of students but here people are doing it willingly. Large chunks are done by the staff of the site but there are clearly unfettered people participating and the digital structure that helps this happen would be easy to duplicate if necessary.3

On a semi-philosophical level there is a pretty prevalent belief that people (adults and students) don’t do “academic” things without being coerced4 There are just so many examples like this on the Internet that show that people pursue the same skills/knowledge we’re trying to teach but in different contexts and they are clearly willing to spend huge amounts of time and energy pursuing these things. Just about everything structurally we do in education prevents that pursuit from occurring.

Shawn Cornally of Think Thank Thunk has been doing some really impressive work around fixing the world’s problems for some time.5 I do not watch videos6 but I have watched the video above three times now and forced my wife to sit through it as well.

The structural problems Shawn lays out are the same issues I see with adults in our system. We set up the same systems of metrics for performance and coercion for adults that we do for kids and get the same results in many cases. That is why you get the conjoined twins of low staff development attendance and complaints of not enough staff development.7 It is often about learning the system and putting in whatever effort gets the boxes checked. I don’t say that as indictment of teachers but as a recognition of reality and the way people respond to these systems. It will be interesting to see how this plays out as the way we evaluate teachers more closely mirrors the ways in which we are evaluating students.

1 The weaker “nerdspeak” option was covered here back in 2007. The comments from Dan and Jose are worth reading.

2 For instance I did not get the “50 grand” fine allusion in the intro to N***** In Paris (that’s a link to the clean version). Now I know.

3 You could get pretty close with and WordPress without any real effort.

4 That’s carrot or stick coercion and includes the carrot-stick where we punish people with rewards.

5 You should read everything he has written.

6 I need to find/install a browser plugin that lets me watch videos at 2x or 3x normal speed. I’ll put up with the squeaky voices if I can move through things more quickly.

7 My comments on staff development quality are way beyond footnote length.

Pop Culture Omnibus

An aggregation of strange things that interested me in one way or another.

tl;dr and government communication in the age of the hipster

SPD seized a bunch of my marijuana before I-502 passed. Can I have it back?

Seattle PD’s information on marijuana legalization is an interesting piece with a tl;dr reference and an embedded Lord of the Rings “finest weed” video clip.

Compare the voice and audience of this government communication to other state communications.

We will kill you so fast

We need doctors because people grow up and you fall down and go boom. Everyone’s going to need a doctor. Let’s have 3 doctors per floor of every apartment building in this town. How about that as a good idea? Like that is a good idea. OK.

So let’s make college tuition either free or really low. And if you have a country full of whip-crack-smart-people, you have a country the rest of the world will fear. They will not invade a country of educated people because we are so smart. We’ll build a laser that will burn you, the enemy, in your sleep before you can even mobilize your air force to kill us. We will kill you so fast because we are so smart.

–Henry Rollins

Henry Rollins gives a whole new side of STEM education that I missed from all of the other experts. Let’s thank Big Think for helping to clarify the issue with helpful videos from experts in the field.1

The Maginot Line For Cursive

I’m not really interested in arguing about cursive either way. I just don’t care but this article claiming to argue for keeping cursive does about the worst job I can imagine. Seriously, it makes me sad. Basically the article breaks down to –

  • One PTSD flashback to a nun who threw the author’s work away because apparently nuns can’t read print and really like being mean to kids for no reason.
  • The next argument seems to indicate we should spend time teaching cursive because it’s now being used in CAPTCHAs. I think this is a case of putting the monkey2before the cart.
  • That’s followed by a double-summarized reference to printing (rather than cursive) resulting in “adult” like brain activity. This was also compared to saying the words rather than typing them- which might have actually been a useful comparison for this article.
  • Finally, there’s a half-joking (I guess) reference to students not being able to read the Constitution because it’s written in cursive. So writing vs reading, the many, many versions of the Constitution in typeface3aside, let’s look at the ability of our cursive educated students and adults ability to read and understand the Constitution right now. Then I’d like a conversation about where we are failing our students and where we need to place attention.

The essentials

This was an old screenshot I took of a middle school student’s computer. Apparently these were the phrases she needed for daily success.

Please do not come again

Some people are more serious about shutting down their blogs than others.


Strange message in a spam Google Form URL. Oddly the URL worked and I can’t figure out anyway the message could have been customized, nor any reason to customize it given this was a phishing attempt.

Nothing is safe

1 Alternate titles for this section included sharks with laser beam references, lines from Marky Mark’s Fear movie and other even more obscure things.

2 The horse left in disgust earlier.

3 It’d be totally impossible to alter the original because it’s in cursive,right? RIGHT?


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by hjhipster

After being inspired by William Berry’s interesting idea around making current event memes I decided to sketch out an idea I’ve been thinking about for a long time but never got around to.

Scottish psychologists, after failing to find evidence that humans could see into the future, urged their colleagues “not to venture too far down the rabbit hole,” and Til, a rare earless rabbit born at a small zoo in eastern Germany, was crushed under a cameraman’s shoe shortly before a press conference that had been scheduled in the rabbit’s honor. “We are all shocked,” said the zoo’s director, Uwe Dempewolf. “No one could have foreseen this.”


I’ve wondered about ways to mesh current events and English/Civics by juxtaposing news events and quotes similar to Harper’s Weekly Review (when it’s done well). I struggle with the high bar for entry but it opens up some interesting ideas about context, quoting, humor, juxtaposition, irony etc. that would be interesting to apply. There’s a lot there but it would also require some real work to make it accessible.

It’s hard to show good examples in our district because the Harper’s stuff tends to be politically charged and fairly sophisticated. To do it right would require widespread reading, memory and the ability to make odd associations between very different content. Cool things to do but difficult. I struggle with ways to make higher entry projects like this attractive.

I think you can scaffold the project in ways that start to make word choice and juxtaposition apparent. If you presented the two source articles from the sample above and simply read them you wouldn’t necessarily see the connection. Asking students to look for connections (maybe with a Venn diagram) gets them thinking about the two articles and connections. Then you can present the Harper’s paragraph for analysis. Then it’s about structuring the analysis of the writer’s word choice and structure. Why this quote? How and what do you condense? How do you present the results in ways that create humor/irony etc.? Can you re-word this so that it isn’t funny/ironic?

I’ve considered doing this myself based on the odd options for a similar weekly review that I see in education/ed tech on a regular basis.

Strange Screenshots

I take screenshots of things I think are strange or perhaps illuminate something about the strange world we now inhabit. Think of it as my personal take on The New Aesthetic. All of these images are pulled from my actual life and interactions with former classmates, friends, coworkers etc. There are a blurred out series of iffy pictures down there if you’re easily offended you might opt to skip this post.

Laser toe fungus available now.

Social media makes some really awkward conversations permanent.

I am influential in Zoolander, very, very influential. This happened shortly before I deleted all of my authority.

Some things you shouldn’t tweet from Harper’s Weekly Review(which would also make a great project).

Laptops don’t even make the list any more. Strange times.

The app-ification of education is proceeding at full speed. Reality doesn’t matter much and we’re losing the war of perception.

These four images are someone’s Instagram likes posted in Facebook.I can’t believe he realized this would happen, yet here it is.Social media makes for some really uncomfortable juxtapositions.

Modern day job benefits are not what they once were. Geek desks and monster monitors are pretty attractive to me though.

Someone I follow re-tweeting CNN’s coverage of Greek issues showing up right next to Real Time WWII Tweets also dealing with Greek issues. Everything about that is odd to me.

Buying Instagram friends? I guess you could do that.’s version of Maria Montessori’s The Absorbent Mind seems to have suffered water damage prior to being scanned.I found this hilarious.

Bending Google Earth To My Will

This post is going to be a somewhat functional (how to get this to work) but will also attempt to sketch out some of the ways I problem solve as roadblocks occur. I don’t know that sketching out problem solving in this way will help anyone but I hope that it might.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any serious work in Google Earth. I’m reorienting myself and learning a few things in the process. My initial goal was to get some easy content from Google Earth Layers (and now the integrated “Earth Gallery”) into folders and associated with some of our history standards- essentially easy interactive content for teachers who don’t want to search for it. Google Earth has never caught on like I believed it would/should and I’d like to jumpstart use of the program and provide more digital content for social studies in general.


I found the addition of the “Earth Gallery” to be a mixed blessing, with the mix leaning heavily towards unfortunate. There is lots of good content there but it seems to be meant to stay there. I can’t find any way to copy that content to “My Places”- dragging it didn’t work, nor did control-clicking (right click equivalent) give me any options that would help at the folder or individual item level. That’s a problem.

I don’t want to be stuck giving people search strings to use to get this content and then have to have them duplicate those searches with their students en masse. Once “Earth Gallery” item is added it does remain at the bottom of your “Layers” list until you delete it but I couldn’t figure out a way to add folders or organize information in that section. Nor could I distribute this information to teachers or students in any way that made sense to me.

So, on to attempt 2. I recalled how in iTunes you can at least generate a web accessible link from inside iTunes and I thought this might be the case with the “Earth Gallery.” No dice. You can right click on the preview image generated in “Earth Gallery” and get a URL but it doesn’t work in your browser.1 Another dead end.

Attempt 3 involved looking online for an online version of the “Earth Gallery.” It exists. I can get to a Lewis and Clark map just like the one I access in Google Earth. But I’m just as stuck. I can’t download this file in order to put it in context. I’m also prevented from altering the information provided. Both of these are things I want to do.

Attempt 4 ended up being successful. It started with a fairly simple Google search filtype:kmz "Lewis and Clark"which restricts our search to actual KMZ files (Google Earth files) and gives these results.2 About 6 links down is what I was searching for. It’s a link to Rumsey Historical Maps and you can view it in Google Maps.3 Now we are in business. All of these files can be downloaded as individual KMZ files and then added to “My Places” in Google Earth where you can organize and alter them (at least portions).

Next up will be what I wanted to change and why I felt it was worth all that hassle.

1 404 result unfortunately

2 While Google Advanced Search is harder to find, it remains key to how I search for things. If you do it enough you don’t need the WYSIWG portion and can just type in what you need.

3 It is worth keeping in mind the Google Earth can publish to Google Maps and vice versa.

Scrolling Text

We seem to have a need to take names and create scrolling text for various things (honor roll, Veteran’s Day, etc.). It was making me unhappy to have people spending time adding these names to PowerPoints or doing other manually intensive ways things to make this happen. I figured the Internet would have to have a better way.

Here is one.

After a search or two, I ended up at Max Vergelli’s jquery scroller. Down at the bottom on the examples page, I found the vertical scrolling option I wanted. I downloaded the files.

I took my usual path, which is to open up the file and delete the stuff I didn’t want. I focused mainly on the HTML portion figuring it wouldn’t matter if the javascript loaded if it didn’t display. After a few tries, it turns out that I was wrong and that stuff does matter. So I also deleted all the unnecessary javascript pieces, or at least enough so that things worked.

You can get a fairly clean version of the file that focuses on vertical scrolling by saving this webpage. You could also view the source etc.View source ought to be a good friend in most situations where you’re trying to figure this kind of thing out. Do keep in mind you’ll need the additional files in this download to make this work. Keep in mind you can put this on the web or run it locally on a machine.

Now, I just needed a fast, simple way to create a list from a Google Form submission. In most cases you should have gotten these names in Excel, CSV, or user submitted via a Google Doc. I did something weird which might prove useful but may be frightening so it’s footnoted.  In this case, I used some junk file names I generated from a folder with the following Unix command ls -lT | awk '{print "\""substr($0,index($0,$10))"\""",""\""$6" "$7", "$9"\""",""\""$5"\""}' > YOURFILENAMEOFCHOICE.csv. Once I had the data in Excel, I just added the following formula – =A1&"
and dragged it down to fill all the needed cells. The
is just a line break in HTML. I cut and pasted this into my HTML file, tweaked the CSS a bit to increase the size of the text and I was done.

The whole thing took about 10 minutes and hopefully will save some people inordinate amounts of drudgery.