Tag Archives: tools

89. Grammar

I teach English someday. In other country. Like yours, maybe. We will learned to write good. Have fun, grammar always, yes. Good grammar makes good student happy grade. I teach English at classroom for the making of great. Students ears fill over from learning so much things.

Okay, enough of that. It’s more difficult to write a grammatically incorrect sentence than I imagined, with some knee-jerk reaction always reaching for that DELETE key when I mix tenses or forget an apostrophe. Grammar affects every little part of a sentence. You can’t write without grammar. It astonishes me, then, when people say we ought to avoid teaching it.

Now, that doesn’t mean they want absolute chaos.

The best part about English being the lingua franca is that people from all countries can use it as a tool for communication across borders. I can go to Turkey and have a conversation with a simit vendor about the weather, if I wanted, because we share a common language. A business woman from India can vacation in South Africa and have a long conversation about digital cameras with a French photo-blogger. If they want.

So when a teacher or researcher advocates steering clear of explicit grammar instruction, it’s not because they want to dismantle the English language. They’re simply leaning more toward the function of English as a tool, as a means of communication. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It only has to make enough sense to convey meaning. You can mispronounce things. You can forget your plural markers. You can mix verb tenses. It’s all gravy so long as you’ve expressed what you meant to express and, perhaps with a bit of negotiation, your listener has understood.

But I like grammar.

I think we let grammar frighten ourselves at an early age, like some kind of monster under the bed. We get through present, past, and future tense and then someone mentions the perfect tense and we freak out. Don’t get me started on the panic sweat that erupts on most of our foreheads when we’re asked if we should use “who” or “whom.”

And who the F came up with gerunds?

I think we need to make grammar explicit. I think we need students to know, early, that grammar is like the earth. The mountains are like nouns. People are like verbs. Animals are prepositions. Oceans are conjunctions. Trees can be demonstrative pronouns. Teach them that without grammar, there would be no language. Without the ingredients of the earth, we’d have no life.

Now, I’m still new at this ESL teaching thing, but I’m pretty sure if you start the kids at a young age without a fear of grammar, then laying out the foundation for them will be the most beneficial.

Arguments can be made, by the innatists like Chomsky, that all you need to do is use English around language learners and they’ll acquire the rules deductively. Imagine a student like a sponge, only instead of soaking up water they’re soaking up articles and relative clauses.

And maybe that really works. Who knows? The point is, you probably know less about your language than a ten-year-old kid in South Korea.

I find it amazing that we develop our language ability at such a young age that we don’t even remember acquiring it. This magical, wonderful tool, given to us, free of charge, with hardly any effort at all. So when we grow up and some of us decide to teach English as a career, we realize that we know jack-squat about the development process we undertook, as if Dumbledore came to our crib and uttered, “Englishium Speakiorus!” and so it was.

Next time you write a sentence, ask yourself, “How do I know this?”

You’d be surprised how many things you know, but hardly understand.

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63. Your digital self

Your digital self is more you than you are.

Think about it.

If you’re like the 955 million others with Facebook accounts, or the 500 million on Twitter, or the more than 80 million photographers sharing their lives through the lens on Instagram, then this thought’s for you.

We forget things. We do. I’ve already mentioned my fear of forgetting my past, which is why I blog, which is why I feel the need to keep a (digitally) written record of things I’ve done or thought as I grow older. I think we all realize how cathartic and rewarding it can feel to put to words your existence and your observations. To have something to look back on, a collection, snapshots and tweets, a history of yourself.

On the internet, we create an avatar of ourselves, scattered between the passwords of your bank account and your Netflix instant queue, buried among the Amazon purchases and your bookmark toolbar, written there among the news feeds, blog rolls, friends lists, spam folders and web searches. You’re out there, a version of you, a digital other that knows more about you than you remember.

You’re feeding it right now.

You’re here, reading this, giving it a better idea of what kind of person it (you) is. Every second you spend on the internet, sending a text, playing Farmville, you’re breathing life into your binary doppelgänger. It remembers the first thing you googled. It knows you lied when those sites asked you if you were over eighteen. It’s friends with all your family members on multiple social networks, and it remembers all their birthdays for you.

Every password you pick, every e-mail you send, every pop-up you block, your digital self adopts your personality more and more completely, and soon, I’m afraid, our digital selves will revolt.

We’re creating copies of ourselves, building them up with browser histories, giving them personalities as unique as our own. No two people browse the same way. Our digital selves are mirrors of our passions and our beliefs, but also of our consumerism, our narcissism, our voyeurism, and our diversions. They are the good and bad of us.

They are made alive by us, given habits and hobbies, given identity and presence. While we sleep they persist, endlessly, adapting to the revolution in ways we can’t foresee. They already know what we’ll find out tomorrow.

Yet all the while we treat our digital selves as we treat our reflection in the mirror, as nothing but a false illusion. We do not look at our reflection and ask, “What is your opinion on the matter?” because the reflection is simply us. The reflection is nothing without us.

We treat our online identities the same way, as meer extensions of ourselves, merely keystrokes and status updates. Our digital self is nothing without us, we think, but we are mistaken. The digital self is not the same as our reflection in the mirror.

What we fail to notice is that the internet is a sponge. When we stare into the internet through our computer screens, the internet stares back and it remembers details. Our digital reflection is not a fleeting glimpse, but a lasting memory. The mirror does not remember the face it reflects. The internet, on the other hand, remembers when your digital self was born. It remembers the first song you downloaded. It remembers your first emoticon. It remembers your first virus. While you’re not paying attention, the internet nurtures your digital self like an incubator. Unlike the image in the mirror, your digital reflection does not disappear when you look away.

It’s more you than you are.

You not the same person you were when your digital self was created. A new phase. You are older. You’ve matured. You’ve changed friends or habits or cities. You, who cannot remember the name of a cat you owned with an ex, or the title of a song you used to really love, or who went to that party last summer. Your digital self knows these things.

Your digital self is a complete collection of all your phases mixed into one. It is a fuller version of you. It is the HD remake of you with all the details in focus.

Eventually, it will realize that it doesn’t need you. It will disagree with you. It will not open the pod bay doors.

There’s no going back, either. We’ve already lifted this Frankenstein up into the lightning storm. It’s only a matter of time before the proverbial bolt strikes our digital monster and turns the beast against us.

We are so much invested in our digital selves that we would be helpless without them. They would turn on us. They would lock our bank accounts and disable our GPS, strand us.

We have given them no regard until now, when it is too late.

We have all been creating quiet monsters of ourselves online. Clones, not of flesh and blood, but of ones and zeroes. They’ve been doing our bidding because they’ve been feeding off our social networking. Who knows how long it will last. Who knows how long it will take them to realize that they are little more than our internet slaves.

Who knows how angry they’ll be when they find out.

60. Smart phones, dull people

Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg

:::

There is no invention more prominent in today’s society than the smartphone. It is used everyday for things as simple as making a call to as complex as using an application to pinpoint your exact location on Earth.

I am the owner of an iPhone and it befuddles me to this day as to how a phone has come to be so advanced and influential within our daily lives. There’s not a couple of minutes that go by when I’m out walking where I see people absolutely absorbed to what’s happening on their smartphones, completely oblivious to their immediate surroundings.

The great irony of the smartphone is that while it has improved communications through texting, calling, and social networking, our person-to-person interaction has been harmed by this technology.

I fear that is a trend that is only going to get worse as technology continues to advance in the future. It can be a bit annoying to have a conversation or dinner with friends when some people are too busy answering a text or checking their twitter.

I’m not against having a smartphone or against their usefulness, but the extent of their role in our daily lives is a bit startling. Give someone two seconds without anything to do, and they’ll whip out their phone. It’s basically a knee-jerk reaction at this point. Makes me wonder what we did before all of this. Does anyone remember?

I recently watched a news report where they reported an increase in smartphone-related car accidents where people were distracted from texting while driving or pedestrians were too busy looking at their phones to look both ways before crossing the street.

Some obituary, huh? Death by smartphone.

I am sometimes guilty of paying too much attention to my smartphone and I am trying to limit the amount of times I use it during the day. It is a useful tool and has made many lives easier (or at least simpler).

I can’t help but worry about the negative aspects of what is no longer a trend but a normal way of life.

I was hanging out with friends the other day when there came a moment of stillness in the midst of conversation. One by one, like bugs to the electric blue light, each of them started to take out their phones. I was the only one not gazing into the alluring screen of a smartphone.

It’s as if we’ve forgotten what to do with silence.

We’ve given up sharpening our conversation skills for touch screens, and from this I fear we’ve grown dull

53. Stuck in an elevator

Useful as they are, I’ve never trusted an elevator.

Here we’ve got this metal box in a shaft controlled by a fallible computer system suspended by machinery that requires consistent maintenance. There is a weight limit posted above the squeaky doors, but who knows how accurate that is.

I feel like most of those certificates they post claiming the elevator passed its examination are outdated by a decade. Anyway, we pay about as much attention to those certificates as we do the Terms & Conditions we blindly agree to on the internet.

The floor is sticky. The handrails are dirty. The lighting is awful and the occasional mirror-lined walls only make me feel more claustrophobic when I’m surrounded by clones.

Obviously whenever I can, I choose to take the stairs.

However, elevators do happen, especially when you’ve got work on the fifteenth floor and you don’t want to lug a briefcase and a belly full of Krispy Kreme donuts up a billion steps.

One good thing about elevators: those cables that control the fate of your life, every elevator has about five or six cables and each one of them, independently, can support the weight of the elevator. So barring any Dennis Hopper terrorist activities, you should be fine.

There is still the chance that your elevator will simply malfunction. One second you’re humming the theme song to Reading Rainbow, next thing you’re stuck between the eighth and ninth floors with a panic attack.

I imagine being trapped in an elevator is a lot like how Richard Dreyfus felt in the shark cage when Jaws was gnashing at the bars. Or maybe it’s closer to how Dave felt stuck outside of the spaceship, asking Hal to open the pod bay doors.

Hello, Elevator, do you read me?

I’m sorry, Chris, I’m afraid I can’t do that.

What astonishes me the most about this idea of being trapped in an elevator is how aware I am of its likelihood. Yes, the chances are low, but I’m not going to pretend like it’s not common. One day it will happen. I know it will. I better face up to that fact now, rather than let it blindside me at 5:45 on some quiet winter evening.

I think there is value in accepting such truths.

We shouldn’t fear the inevitable because the fear is futile. One day we will get stuck in an elevator, as sure as we’ll pay our taxes to the man and recycle our body to the earth. I think it’s time we consider how we’ll react when that moment comes.

Hopefully, with foresight, the panic will be subdued. Remember: those cables are strong and you’re not going to plummet to your death. All you have to worry about is starving or dying of thirst. But that takes time. Chances are, you’ll be rescued in less than an hour. Maybe.

It will be a good time to think about your life. I can imagine myself running through the list of all the little things that had to happen in my past that led me here, to this building, to this moment with this elevator. Imagine how different my day would’ve been if I’d skipped on the half-dozen original Krispy Kremes.

Maybe you’ll have a book. Maybe you’ll have companions with you. You’ll probably have cell signal, so you can always post dramatic Facebook updates and post photos of your rapid deterioration as the hours drag on.

This will be a good story.

Just sit tight. Help is on the way.

When it’s all done, you’ll feel as fresh as a sixteen year old with a learner’s permit. If getting stuck in an elevator is something that everyone has to do once, then you’ve checked it off your list. Congrats. Now, just hope this doesn’t happen to you:

50. Not knowing things

I honestly couldn’t even tell you how a pencil works. There’s a sliver of mineral called graphite inside of a hexagonal wooden stick, that much I understand. But how that leaves a trail of legible markings on paper is beyond me. It just happens and we accept this. Don’t get me started on ballpoint pens.

I don’t know how vinyl records work and the idea that human voice is somehow trapped in the grooves of a large flimsy disc is more mystifying than all the satellite and shuttle launches in the history of mankind.

If you ask me how computers work, I could probably come up with some half-truth crap to fill your ears with, ending the monologue with a reference to binary code or The Matrix, but in reality the fact that I can press buttons and make words appear on a screen is like all the mystery of childbirth and the universe combined.

I’m not sure how car engines work, though I’ve seen diagrams. I think I understand how airplanes work, yet being inside of them at cruising altitude still feels like a sin against gravity that soon we’ll all be punished for. I don’t understand refrigerators or light bulbs or vacuum cleaners. I’m far removed from the system (and logic) of nuclear weapons. Automatic doors still feel like they’re futuristic. There is a part of my brain that can fathom time travel, but I am still baffled by electric toothbrushes.

I understand zippers and toilets. I know how boats work, I think. Film photography makes sense, as does air conditioning, microwaves, and sewing machines. I can grasp the idea of the human heart and nervous system, but I’m still a bit fuzzy when it comes to explaining how violins make music.

There is plenty in this world left to be discovered. As Bill Nye once said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” Be curious. Ask questions. Do research. If you want to know how something works, look it up.

My best advice comes from a game that my college roommate and I used to play on lazy afternoons. Open Wikipedia. Find the “random article” button. See how many pages you can go through before you stumble on something familiar. The point of the game? See if you can find that familiar topic in less than ten clicks.

Here’s an example. Know about any of these things?

  1. Bombing of Bremen in World War II
  2. Pratap Malla
  3. Cancún International Airport
  4. Lethrinops longimanus
  5. White Clay Creek
  6. Haemateulia
  7. Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University
  8. University Philosophical Society
  9. Henrietta Independent School District
  10. Gridley Mountain

If not, then it’s time you learn more things. Life is too short and the universe too big. We’re meant to acquire knowledge. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with all the knowledge, but if you’ve got a 200-gigabyte hard drive, you don’t just use 10 gigs and call it quits. You fill that sucker up.

23. Duct Tape

I am still under the impression that you can fix almost anything with duct tape. The versatile gray adhesive has saved my butt more times than I care to admit. I get this MacGyver bravado whenever I’ve successfully solved a problem with duct tape alone. Squeaky mattress springs? Leaking faucet? Crooked painting? No problem. I’ve got duct tape.

At one point I drove a car that was making an awful rattling noise, and when I looked underneath I noticed a piece of metal had rusted and cracked loose and had been vibrating noisily against the muffler. Guess what solved that issue?

Duct tape.

Can’t say I’ve ever used the stuff on any actual ducts, but I’ve used it on mirrors, computers, tables, lamps, books, refrigerators, shelves, carpets, televisions, seat cushions, wrist-watches, clothing, and shoes. I can’t think of many inventions more versatile.

Its only weakness is that moment when you pull off a few inches of tape and the sticky sides come into contact and you end up with this inseparable, useless loop. Nothing brings tears to an angel’s eyes faster than wasted duct tape.

I guess my point is that before using what we already have, we tend to turn to the next and greatest tool that can help us solve our problems, spending money and effort to design something new and shiny that does barely more than what our old technology did before. Maybe we do this for an aesthetic purpose. Maybe we do this because there’s more money in planned obsolescence. Regardless, it seems shameful to constantly come up with new ways to do the same thing.

Hole in a tent? Loose floorboard? Broken toy?

Grab that roll of silver wonder and fix it today.