Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Uses for Year in Reviews

Look through any news site or blog today, and you will be presented with the same item: The Year in Review. The Washington Post has a visual twist on the theme (who doesn't like pictures?), offers us a Year in Business, and my own Naperville Sun--presumably without anything else to write about--presents no fewer than three Year in Reviews.

What is this fascination with looking back, with quantifying our experiences, victories, failures? Yes, you can quote Santayana to death with your those-who-don't-remember-the-past nonsense, but what I'm particularly interested in is the essence of nostalgia. In my late childhood I spent hours looking through my old notebooks and journals, and in my adolescence and early adulthood I have meticulously kept track of significant events (and sometimes insignificant ones). Was it because I thought that if I wrote it all down I would be able to use that knowledge later on in life? Did I think I could synthesize the sum of my existence in order to be a better person in the future?

Perhaps a small part of me held this view, but I never truly thought that keeping a catalogue of the past would accumulate into a better future self. I did not, and do not, think that the mere existence and remembrance of one's past experiences cause one to be a better person (though I do, of course, recognize that these make up who we all are in the present). But to think that keeping
the past in mind--being mindful of what one has been through--somehow causes one to be a better person is simply not true.

Why, then, do I keep records of the past? It's simple. Fear. Fear of losing what's already been lost. Fear that the future won't be quite as grand as the past. For if we remember, if we think back to the past, we are able to relive just for a moment our previous lives, our previous selves. We can say, I remember when that was me, I remember that a piece of that person resides in me now.

But there's the danger, isn't it? To think that the old self is somehow recoverable is fallacy, and this is the temptation practicers of nostalgia must resist. So when perusing all these Year in Reviews, sure, look at the pretty pictures and remember what used to be. But also remember that it won't ever be that way again.

And for many elements of 2008, that's not such a bad thing.

Monday, December 29, 2008

What You Should Do If Your Clothing Melts On You.

This article is funny, if just for the seriousness with which the question is answered. ("A disposable Santa costume is one of the worst disguises you could wear if you're plotting an act of arson.")

What Should You Do If Your Clothing Melts on You?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Tranquil English Teacher

I realize that you're probably not an English teacher. I realize that you probably have no interest in knowing what issues English teachers have to deal with. This post is not for you.

I'm starting a blog called The Tranquil English Teacher. It's intended to track my life-and-death struggle with grading essays, with imparting my boundless wisdom unto my students, and with hanging on to the last shred of sanity that belongs to me. Eventually, I hope it to be a resource, not just for other teachers out there who are struggling with the same issues, but for my future self. Teaching, you see, is not a profession where you learn effective pedagogical strategies; teaching is a profession where you relearn effective pedagogaical strategies--over and over again.

So if any of this interests you, even if you aren't an English teacher, feel free to head on over. It's still a work in progress (much like Vandelay Industries), but it's a site for which I have high hopes.

Under Construction!

You may start to see some drastic changes to the ol' Vandelay Industries in the next coming days. It's being retuned for the new year. Let me know if you like the changes, or if there's something else you'd like to see!

40 Inspirational Speeches from the Movies in Two Minutes


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Festivus!

"I've got a lot of problems with you people!"

Sunday, November 16, 2008

RSS Feeds

Why don't more people use feed readers? It dumbfounds me. I talk to coworkers and friends about a cool article I found on the internet using Google Reader, and they look at me like I'm an idiot. (This look, of course, in and of itself is not inappropriate in my case, but not for this reason.) Then I find myself explaining the concept to them in detail and with great passion. But I'm not sure if I've won over any converts at this point.

Do you check at least half a dozen websites on a regular basis? Do you have internet OCD and click on a single website multiple times in one day? A feed reader might help with your problem.

The concept behind a feed reader is to avoid having to check for updates on particular websites. Instead, you subscribe to a site's "feed" (or RSS feed) using your feed reader, and when a new post or article arrives on the site, a copy is sent to your reader. Thus, all you have to do is check your reader, not the multitude of sites you stalk over the course of the day.

Lifehacker regularly reviews various feed readers, but the most popular (and best one that I've found is Google Reader. It's very streamlined, allows you to star and email feeds to your friends, and integrates with many of Google's other applications. It's also one of the most user-friendly.

Regardless of which feed reader you decide to use, I highly recommend integrating it into your daily web browsing. It has saved me so much time--and elevated my site stalking to whole new levels.

Just a Reminder...

Barack Obama is half white, just as he is half black. And rather than taking away from the historical nature of his election, I think it adds to it. But why isn't this mentioned more in the media? Forgive the pun, but it's probably because we all want to see things in terms of clearcut black and white, no?

Monday, November 10, 2008


Well, things will change, that's for sure. I think Obama has his work cut out for him, at the moment at least. Imagine if Barack had been elected in 1992, without the economy staring giving him the death stare (death star?) day and night. Or would he have even been elected had this crisis not arisen?

The discussion on This Week brought up the idea that the Obama administration should try to push out the big planks of his campaign platform (healthcare reform, green initiatives, etc.) all at once, sort of like tearing off a band-aid, rather than staggering them over a year or two. I can't say it doesn't make sense. I just want some change.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Thoughts on the Election Season

For the first time in my life, I've followed in-depth, state-by-state polling during a presidential election, thanks largely to, an amazing site run almost completely objectively by Nate Silver. You know the man's got real cred when he's been on The Colbert Report. What have a learned from all this statistical complexity?

Well, for one thing, the electoral college gives power to the few and takes it away from the many. States like New York, Illinois, California, and Texas are simply locked in. Voters for the minority party in those states are just out of luck. I know it's controversial to say that their votes no longer count, but the result for the state has clearly been decided at this point.

What would switching to a pure population vote do to the election season? It would make New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago much more popular, for one thing. Rural voters might feel disenfranchised, as would the less populous states in the west. But isn't the point of a democracy to give all citizens the right to cast an equal vote? Is it time to make the switch?

Saturday, March 01, 2008


Considering making a comeback. Anyone still check this blog?