Culling the Herd One Denial at a Time

Because I have a couple new pens on the way, and despite the fact I won’t see them for a couple months, I find myself beginning the slow process of culling my herd of pens to make way for (and pay for) the new ones. This sounds like an easy process but it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

First, i have to look over each pen and decide that it needs to go and why it needs to go: it’s too old, I never use it, there are others I like better, the nib isn’t as good as I thought it would be. I’ve got three others just like it, this one is broken. This results in a list of “this pen must go” candidates.

That part of the process is followed by the hours of justification for why I should keep each pen on the list. These justifications usually start with:

The Sentimental Reasons
It was my first internet pen; it was my first Kickstarter pen; it was my first fountain pen; it was my first Massdrop pen; it looks like a pen that was a gift from my father; my ex-girlfriend gave me a pen by the same manufacturer.

After the sentimental reasons fail, the economic arguments kick in:

The Economic Reasons
Sunk Cost Fallacies: It’s still new; I haven’t had it long enough for me to truly know it; I spent a lot for it and need to get my money’s worth out of it; it still has a lot of life; if I just clean it up a bit it will work perfectly and I will like it better.

You Haven’t Sunk Enough Costs Into It Fallacies: If I just spend some money to get it cleaned and tuned it will be better; if I get this fixed up, I could sell it for more. I haven’t reviewed it on my blog yet.

After those fail, the next step is the denial arguments:

The Bitter Denial Reasons
It’s too much work to take pictures of it and post it and that’s totally the sunk cost fallacy. Look at all these flaws; no one will buy this anyway because it’s crap so I should keep it. Cleaning all these will be real pain in the butt, do I really want to do that when they might not sell? What if something goes wrong in the shipping and I have to waste a lot time dealing with it? What if I’m not charging enough and I’m ripping myself off? There are already thousands of these out there so I won’t get much money for it. I should do more research about how much to charge.

After that is all resolved, the next step involves taking and posting the pictures and figuring out how to collect the payments.

But should I post the pictures on a forum or make a page on my blog to sell them? I’ll have to think about that a while. Until I figure it out, I’ll just play with some pens.

Practice Makes the Day Perfect

One of my weaknesses as a teacher is that I’m always happy to have days off and I’m always happy to have my students do well in sports if it means I don’t have to see them for an hour or two.

A couple times of year at the school where I work junior high school classes are interrupted by various sports tournaments. Non-athlete students still have class, but because the majority of students are absent, special classes are held in place of regular classes. I suspect this is because Japanese law makes class attendance both compulsory and a right. Students have a legal right to attend the class they must legally attend (something like that). If the majority of students are gone, that means regular classes can’t be held because 1) that would be depriving the athletes of the their legal right to an education and 2) most of the teachers are off serving as team faculty advisers and coaches anyway.

Whatever the reason, all I know is I don’t have to see my worst class tomorrow. Because there is a special schedule, our junior high first and second year classes (7th and 8th grade) are cancelled completely. This is true even if it rains as enough sports take place in-doors, or can be played in the rain, to preclude classes taking place.

The only thing that can hurt this is the teams sucking. This happened several years ago. Many of us had already planned our free time (if you have mostly junior high classes it is possible to get an entire day off) but then found out that not enough teams had qualified for the next round to justify a special schedule and we were informed that although we’d have a few absences, we would have regular classes.

I therefore found myself standing in front of a class and saying “Why am I here” to the soccer and baseball players.

Since then, I’m pretty sure a couple of my colleagues have spent time after school coaching the various team to make sure they play at peak performance. I’ve considered making my athletes run laps around the room to help keep them in shape.

But that’s a problem for next year. Until then, I have a long lunch break tomorrow, which causes other problems.

Rest in Peace, Roomie

About a hundred years ago when I was at Ole Miss, my African-American roommate’s friends accused me of corrupting him because we were watching hockey when they came over. One of them pointed at me, whilst speaking to him, and said “you’ve been hanging around him too long”. My only defense was to point out that he was corrupting me.

In 1994, for one year, I was roommates with Michael Robinson, who was a law student at the time. He turned out to be a terrific roommate (I am traditionally, not a good roommate at all) and was full of Southern graciousness and patience. He also taught me a lot about hockey, mostly as a defense mechanism to shut up my stupid questions. For example: “Why does that guy have a C on his sleeve and that guy has an A?”. or “Why do they keep changing players all the time?”

(For the record, given the reaction of his friends, I’m pretty sure he was the only African-American hockey fan in the entire Southern United States.)

He was also, and this I never understood given that he was from Mississippi or at least spent most of his life there, a Dallas Cowboys fan. At the time we were roommates, the Cowboys were attempting a three-peat of Super Bowl wins.

When I doubted this, the future lawyer in Mike took over and he demonstrated, with surprising energy, the three-peat speech that Emmitt Smith was going to give when they won. I was one part horrified and one part embarrassed for him so I didn’t listen as closely as the speech deserved, but I remember it went on quite a while.

When I questioned his love for the Hated Cowboys (the team’s official name outside of Dallas) he pointed out the Denver Broncos, my favorite team, had already lost four Super Bowls, often in spectacular fashion and that I should shut up. (Something like that.)

After a year, he moved in with another roommate and a year later I moved to Japan and lost touch with him.

Then, a couple months ago, in fit of nostalgia, I looked him up and friended him on Facebook. As a rule, although I will make a few comments on posts, I typically don’t start interrogating people about their pasts, especially if I haven’t seen them since the George H. W. Bush administration. All I know is he’d been sick and looked a lot thinner than when I knew him. I also knew he’d started his own law firm.

Then right after I published yesterday’s post, I learned he’d suddenly died. I don’t know why but his family members are in our prayers tonight.

Right now I’m raising a glass of whisky in his honor and wishing him the best and wishing I’d contacted him sooner and been more nosy about his life.

I also hope the Dallas Cowboys lose every game. (That will never change.)

Goodbye, Mike. Thanks for all the interesting times.


Hatred Skips a Generation

Today proved that our oldest hates insects maybe more than my mother does.

As I’ve written before,  my mother has only two classifications for insects: bad bugs (those still living) and good bugs (those smashed on a hard surface). My mother even has a soft cackle in her voice after she kills a bug and declares it a “good bug”. You only hear the cackle if you listen closely–and let’s face it, who listens to their mother?– but it’s there.

Every now and then we get a small infestation of gnats in our apartment. This is especially true now as the weather is changing and the gnats are attempting to get “refugee” status in our house.

Our oldest seems to get especially annoyed by the gnats as they seem to hang out near her desk. This has led to a couple angry outbursts and noisy desk slaps. I sympathize with this as I’ve snapped and felt a rush of blood lust whilst killing insects but I’ve never felt the visceral hatred my mother had.

Our oldest seems to have inherited that hatred, but my mother doesn’t have the look in her eyes that I saw our youngest give today.

As we sat down to eat, our oldest suddenly tracked some movement and the look of hatred in her eyes was one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen. The look was what a hunting dog would give if it had not only spotted a duck, but also hated the duck with a passion. This wasn’t just “there it is” this was “I want to watch you bleed.”

Once I drew attention to the look, by crossing myself and saying several Our Fathers and Hail Marys, the look went away and I almost threw more bugs at her just to see the look happen again.

I also hope she learns to deploy that look at annoying boys.


Dropping Kilograms Pounds and Stones

I’ve mentioned before how, when I was in Albania, I ended up getting sick and losing a lot of weight. Recently, I’ve volunteered to lose weight have been doing my best not to get sick.

The impetus for this was a discount on a guided weight loss course run by former US Army soldier Vic Magary. I don’t remember how I heard about him, but I remember seeing some of his videos a few years ago and getting some of his diet books and thinking, well, yeah, some day. I like his common sense attitude and the fact he doesn’t try to sell a bunch of equipment or play up his service in the “I was totally Special Forces and please don’t look up my DD 214 and prove I wasn’t” kind of way. (Note: he was in infantry, not Special Forces.)

Then, when the 30 day course went on sale (it was the last time he was offering the course as he is starting a new project.) I decided to try it. I knew there would be resistance from She Who Must Be Obeyed and I also had a trip to the in-laws that would complicate things (hint: beer, beer and more beer and lots of food), but for the most part I’ve stuck to the plan.

Vic required participants to keep a food and exercise journal (daily exercise is part of the plan) and promised to send us angry emails if we didn’t keep our journal updated. He gave us daily feedback on our food journals and also gave us access to different sources of advice.

I found, and still find, the food journal to be the most useful part of the plan. Twenty four days after the official program ended I’m still keeping it. The idea is you enter what you ate, when you ate it and about how much you ate and that can be kind of terrifying in a “do I really drink that much bourbon?” kind of way. You also weigh yourself once a week. If you have a bad week you can review what you ate and never do that again. If you have a good week, you have a plan you can use again.

I went with much lower carbohydrates, meaning I eat a lot less pizza than I usually eat (luckily we don’t order it that often) and I have to go easy on pasta, rice and potatoes. I have to find a way to include vegetables with every meal, including breakfast. I also eliminated a lot of in-between meal snacks and changed the snacks I do eat.

My goal was for this to be a lifestyle change and not just a “I need to get into this suit for one night” plan. I also didn’t want to starve myself. She Who Must Be Obeyed is slowly coming around, although she refuses to join the plan. (She doesn’t need to.)

The results have been pretty good. I started out at 98 kilograms (216 pounds) and as of today’s unofficial weigh-in I’m at 89.5 kilograms (197.3 pounds). I’ve been inconsistent with the daily exercise, but mostly on work days when I do a lot walking (3.1 miles/5 kilometers each work day).

My goal is 84 or 85 kilograms (185 or 187.4 pounds) Then I can moderate things a bit.

Me at 152 pounds. This is what I'm trying to avoid.

Me at 152 pounds a couple days before I was medevaced. This is what I’m trying to avoid.

Standing at the Edge of the Rabbit Hole

A colleague of mine is standing at the edge of the rabbit hole and I find myself with a moral dilemma. Do I do what’s right and hope for the best which is good for my colleague, or do I do what’s wrong and hope for the worst because that’s the best for me?

This colleague, seeing my extensive collection of pens and fountain pens, has decided to stick a toe in the ink, so to speak, of fountain pens. She also implied that I was going to be her adviser in all this.

This is where my moral dilemma enters the situation: do I use Jedi mind tricks (which I totally have) to persuade her to buy a more expensive starter pen in the hope that if she doesn’t like fountain pens, I can pick up the pen on the cheap for myself?

Unfortunately, once she made the decision to try fountain pens and before I could advise her, she did a shocking amount of research in a short amount of time and settled on a Platinum Preppy which was actually a very good choice (for her). It writes well and has a smooth nib. It also comes in fun colors, which is often important to people just starting out with fountain pens. It lets her try fountain pens without spending a small fortune.

She said she’d considered a Pilot Cocoon for a while but had opted against it as it was a bit pricey for a starter pen. I started waving my hand saying “this is totally the pen you’re looking for, this is totally the pen you’re looking for” but she went with the cheaper pen. (My Jedi mind tricks must be a bit rusty.)

The problem with the Preppy is that of the three I’ve owned (in two different nib sizes) I’ve had two caps split lengthwise rendering the caps and the pens useless. (I did convert one in to an ink cartridge holder but more on that in another post.)

I’m now kind of hoping she likes pens as I don’t want another Preppy. Also, if she likes them, it will be nice to have fellow pen addict, especially one who likes to do research.


Losing Theirs and Blaming it on Me

Part of my day is best summed up by rephrasing Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you 
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
You will be a teacher.

Today, in my worse class (not my worst) my students were supposed to go up to the front and practice their speech contest speeches. They were not required to memorize them–unless they wanted bonus points–and it wasn’t necessary for them to bring the “show” part of “show and tell”. The day was mostly for me to see 1) that everyone was finished 2) check the times of the speeches and 3) see who had a loud speaking voice as the voices usually disappear when students give their final performance.

I reminded them that it was speech practice day and my reminder triggered a wave of excuses with the most common being “I forgot my speech paper.” If I didn’t have a copy of it (because they’d neglected to make a copy for me–long story) I told them “Congratulations! That means you’re going to get bonus points!”

(Note: this level of cruelty/sarcasm/snark is the only time I speak with cheerful exclamation points.)

This triggered a wave of panic. Students quickly rushed to find their speech paper or to quickly write a new one. This meant I had to field a wave of students asking me to check hastily written “speeches” of barely more than a few lines.

Some students were in such a state of panic they asked me to look at their hastily written speeches whilst other students were up front reading. I’d chase them away and get dirty looks as if I didn’t care about them.

Eventually, everyone read something–often with the caveat “my speech paper at home is better” which is roughly the equivalent of “my other wife is a supermodel” (or something like that).

I reminded that next week will be the final performance and they won’t be allowed to use their scripts. They will also have to bring their “show” items or draw pictures of them.

If they were panicked today, next week should be  a lot of fun.

Give it Back, Way Back

At the school where I work we are fond of saying “that’s 50 minutes of my life I’ll never get back” to describe a particularly bad class. In an odd spin on that, I made enough silly mistakes today that I should give the entire back.

Despite a couple silly accidents this morning I thought it would be a good day. I should have taken those accidents as the omens they were.

My mistake in my first period class was handing out the wrong lesson for the next phase of the class. I was supposed to give out a lesson on superpowers as a way to start the “Superhero Adventures” curriculum we are trying out this term, but instead I jumped straight to Superheroes. I kicked myself a few times then decided to roll with it. The changed order is now officially classified as a “pedagogical experiment”.

After kicking myself I went to my worst class. My mistakes in this class were 1) not asking the homeroom teacher to remind the students to be ready for their speeches and 2) actually showing up to class. They are always bad but were in rare form today, leaving me with two lunch dates who both stood me up but who I will find.

Then, after lunch, I went to a high school first year class and started teaching a lesson when they were prepared to give presentations. I made a joke about it being a joke and then watched them do their presentations.

In my last class, I started calling names and realized I had the wrong roll sheet. I did a quick warm up and then went to get the correct roll sheet and folder. Once the folder was in hand I realized I was once again starting the wrong unit.

All this, I suspect, started because I didn’t bother to double check the folders I make for each class. If I had I wouldn’t have made a mistake in that class which led me to mope rather than double check which created a cascading series of mistakes

All that could have been avoided and I wouldn’t have been left wondering if it was possible to give the day back to the world. (No pay, for the record, just the day gets given back.)

My worst class still would have sucked, but at least the others would have been good.

Plays Cause Panic

Today, in my class with one student, that one student started panicking. I don’t blame him, but I hope he doesn’t reach the wrong conclusions.

At this time of year in the course I introduce a short play called “The Box” by Rich Smolen. The students are supposed to decide what motivates the three characters and then block the play. After a couple classes of practice, they are supposed to put on a staged reading of the play.

This poses some interesting problems for my student: 1) he has to play three parts even when they fight; 2) he has to give each a different way of speaking and different mannerisms 3) he has to interpret the play, which reminds me a lot of a Samuel Beckett play, and (spoiler) decide what’s in the box at the end; 4) he has to do all this by himself.

Unfortunately, because his English is excellent, he’s used to getting by with the bare minimum of effort. Already this year he’s done a monologue as a character who seemed suspiciously like him and improvised his way through a different monologue. (Improv is his way of NOT doing the required writing.) At no point has he tried to do anything resembling an actual “character”.

Today, after he got the assignment and was turned loose on the play, he panicked and said he didn’t understand. I told him a couple ways to interpret the play and the characters. He got a “Eureka” look and then stared at the paper, partly to waste time and partly to figure out what to do.

The problem is, for this assignment, he has to turn in a script book with all his blocking notes and his notes about the characters. If he doesn’t do that, his grade will suffer. I’m expecting him to try to improv the entire and thing, if I get anything resembling a script book, it will be a few scribbled notes.

Then again, I’ve already been surprised by students this term. Maybe he’ll surprise me, too.

Chemistry is Such a Lonely Word

A young woman showed up late to my class today  and I’m still not sure she was actually awake when she got there.

The look she gave me and my students when we said hello was one part WTF?; one part How the hell did I get here?; and one part BRRAAAAIIIINS. She never actually said hello; she just sat down.

It turned out there’d been a birthday party for one of the students and that half my class had gone to the party and had got only a half hour of sleep. Because of this, and because I kept having to tell them to leave the room if they wanted to sleep, I never developed any real chemistry with the class. (Nothing wins students over more than raising your voice to them and telling them to get out.)

I seemed to connect with a few, including zombie woman, and their group did all the required work and took time to develop their presentations. The other group, consisting of the rest of the zombie party survivors, did the bare minimum. They’d finish quickly and then sit and look bored while the rest of the class worked and took the assignment seriously.

The zombie party survivors would try to whisper in Japanese and I’d tell them they could leave which would result in more sulking. In their defense, the two guys had good English and the topic wasn’t that interesting, but I still expected them to do the work and do it correctly. I kept pointing out that when they got to the USA there’d be a lot more group work, a lot more discussions and lot more impatience than what I was expressing. Their reaction was to pretend to work for two minutes and then drift back to oblivion.

The woman grouped with the two guys seemed to sulk for the entire class and barely spoke to me. (She’d only speak to them.) I tried to mix the groups around, but they wouldn’t move. If I’d been more on my game (i.e. if I’d cared enough about them to actually give a crap) I’d have forced them to move. Instead I just let them sit.

At one point, I let them play grade school level games just to get some energy back in them. That lasted about half an hour.

In the end we were all counting the minutes to the end of class and I was kind of glad to show them my backside as I hurried out of class.