Category Archives: music

ala Austin Kleon

I’m not sure how I discovered artist and writer Austin Kleon. Probably on Twitter. I have his books and the new one is on preorder. But, it’s his weekly newsletter that makes him an integral part of my life. I look forward to it every Friday. He seems to have mastered the art of the email newsletter: ten quick items. He highlights his blog posts which are always thoughtful and also introduces his readers to music and books and art, all in the name of supporting our own creativity. If you don’t get the newsletter, you should.

Go ahead…subscribe now. I’ll wait.

I’ve thought about crafting my own Austin Kleon style blog post each week, but I’ll be honest: I’m a little intimidated. Kleon has a breadth and depth of knowledge of culture and the arts that make my offerings seem meager. But, as the saying goes (at least if you grew up with Risky Business), sometimes you just have to say WTF. So…here you go: five items from the week ala Austin:

  1. I was sad to finish The Books By the Bay mystery series by Ellery Adams, but she knows when a good thing is done. Using the setting in coastal North Carolina to craft the stories, Adams drew on Native American and Appalachian culture while painting a loving portrait of the fishing community that resides along side the tourists in Oyster Bay.
  2. This Newshour feature on conductor Jessica Bejarano inspired me to stream some classical music, including Beethoven. I’m also learning to play Piano Sonata No 20 (short and pretty simple), and it feels good to sit down at the piano in the evenings for a little practice. I have never been much of a music memorizer, but I would like to try to get a couple pieces under my belt (or my fingers, as it were). I may try this easy tip.
  3. The Electric Light Orchestra has always been a favorite, and Mr. Blue Sky has been running through my head lately, probably because it has been raining so much! As though the Internet was reading my mind, I stumbled on this animated version.
  4. It is February 1, and I like Austin’s idea of starting my resolutions now. I often wait until my birthday month in May as that’s really the start of my new year, but May seems far away. Today is about this blog post and 10,000 steps, something I haven’t done regularly since Christmas Day.
  5. Thursday was the last day for the 4H STEM Club. As I said on Twitter:

Happy Friday!

My Digital Blindspot

I have never been a fan of the digital immigrant/digital native comparison. I’m reasonably old in technology years, having grown up with cabinet televisions, rotary telephones and “hi fi” systems to play records and later cassette tapes. We continue to store lots of music in those so-archaic-they-are-coming-back-again formats. We’re ready for the 21st century vinyl revolution!

But I am finding my place in the world of media proliferation and overlap. I understand that content has become disconnected from its traditional hardware and timelines. Listening to the radio now probably means listening to radio content rather than tuning in on a traditional receiver. The one radio I still use is in my car, and I listen to my local public broadcasting station.  At home, my live listening shifts to Alexa who is able to provide access to multiple radio stations with the content I want so I may be listening live but to a station on the West coast. I also time shift the content, using the NPR One app to access recordings of both “real” radio programs and separately produced podcasts that have never been broadcast over the radio airwaves. I listened to the BBC News story about Norway switching off FM over an FM radio station being streamed through my Alexa.

So, I’m no stranger to the digital content revolution. But, late last year, I discovered my digital blindspot. I am a Gilmore Girls fan and was excited when Netflix announced the new series. I marked its debut on my calendar.  In my mind, they would debut like a broadcast television series or movie, probably around 9 PM or so. At some point during the debut day, I logged into social media to see reviews appearing from people who had obviously already watched all four episodes. How, I wondered, did they get early access? It took a minute or two before I realized they weren’t special: just smarter. Netflix isn’t a television station; it offers simultaneous access to television shows and movies. So, it wouldn’t be broadcasting the Gilmore Girls’ episode at any special time but simply making them live. And clearly, they had already done that. I fired up the tablet and sure enough, there they were.

I suppose now is when I say I chuckled ruefully at my digital native folly but mostly I just was glad I could watch earlier rather than later as 9 PM is starting to be my bed time.

It’s anytime, anywhere, (almost) any content,and I think I’m getting the hang of it.




Appreciating Passion

Thanks to Neil Young, music lovers will soon have a new way to listen to digital music. According to Rolling Stone:

Beginning next year, Pono will release a line of portable players, a music-download service and digital-to-analog conversion technology intended to present songs as they first sound during studio recording sessions.

Young writes about his passion for how music should sound in this excerpt from his new autobiography Waging Heavy Peace.

Making good music is not the only area of interest for Young. He is involved in an alternative fuel project called Lincvolt in which his 1959 Lincoln was converted to an electric car.

When he learned that Lionel Trains was struggling financially, he helped with support.  But he has also gone beyond just being a backer: he has developed a new sound system and, in order to share his love of trains with his severely disabled son, created special devices that allow him to operate the trains.

Each year, he sponsors a special benefit concert for The Bridge School, founded by his wife to serve children with severe speech and physical impairments.

Young’s passion is inspirational. He is not content to just make music; he wants to make the world a better place.

RL? SL? Isn’t It All L?

One of the themes that came out of last week’s online course discussion about Web 2.0 was a sense that if you had an active online life, you didn’t have such an active offline life. Some students indicated that they didn’t spend much time online as they did other things and had other hobbies. They are the kinds of comments that I am already familiar with from others who seem to feel like there is a stark dividing line between the online and offline worlds and also seem to feel a little sorry sometimes for those of us who are online a lot.

I find that to be an artificial division, probably because I am online a lot and I don’t like the idea of being judged for that choice. I assure folks that I also have quite an active offline life that includes singing in a choir and playing in a recorder ensemble, making crafts, cooking, exercising, and reading lots and lots of analog books. And, in almost all cases, the online world informs those offline hobbies. Just last night, I looked on the web for a recording of a Medieval French song that I will be singing with the group to help me with both my pronunciation and rhythm. I belong to a Ning for recorder players that includes members from all over the world. The pattern for the baby sweater I’m crocheting came from the Web and I’ll be sending it to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation whose real life need was advertised on the Web. The digital books I listen to when I exercise come from a variety of sources online and are often chosen based on the recommendations of other readers. I share and discuss my digital and analog reading with both a face to face book group and several at LibraryThing. And Monday evening last I met with a group of educators in Second Life–at the Jamestown Fort meeting house on VSTE Island–to hear from author Elisa Carbone about her real life writing.

My conclusion: My offline life would simply not be as rich without my online life. They complement each other and are inextricably woven together into one life. Perhaps I should feel sorry for those who haven’t found that connection. Or perhaps we can recognize that we all have different ways of living, both online and off, and just leave it at that.

A Little Freedom and Personal Space, Is That So Bad?

I finally got a free minute to look at my “unread” list in Diigo and found this article from a 9th grade teacher in which she describes experimenting with allowing her students to listen to their PEDs* during independent work time. I’ll admit to some qualms about it as I imagined each kid in her own little world, pacified by music, while she works.  But, the writer made a good argument for how it helped some of her students focus in a way they had trouble with otherwise.  She was also using it as an incentive for the students and has developed some classroom management rules around the practice:

Only one ear bud allowed, during independent work only, as a privilege that could easily be revoked if I decided a student wasn’t working diligently enough. I thought it would be a one-time incidence of rule tweaking, but it worked so effectively that it became a Friday ritual that we all looked forward to. I appreciated the tranquil environment and productivity of my students during a time that could easily be lost to early weekend syndrome; my students simply enjoyed listening to their music.

Of course, you can probably  guess the end of the story.  When she went to a veteran teacher for advice about her Friday experiment, she was told that it was against the rules, mostly out of concern about what they might be listening to.  So, she stopped the practice and lost something in her classroom:

The death of iPod Fridays saddens me. I’ve had to return to the old management standbys: cajoling and threatening. I’ve tried other rewards (granola bar, anyone?), but none hold the same allure that just thirty minutes of the freedom to listen to the music of one’s choice did. And ironically, without this music, Fridays haven’t been as quiet since.

It was her comment about the allure of the thirty minutes of freedom that really hit home for me.  This was a simple way to give kids some personal space and allow them to make some choices about how they learn best.  She did not require that they listen to PEDs but allowed them to if they wished.

The comments to the piece are interesting.  They range from supportive to dismissive. One commenter provides links to research related to using music.  Another describes using PEDs successfully in an alternative setting.  Yet another gets at my original qualms, calling PEDs “pacifiers.”  Finally, another makes what I think is an essential comment:  “Unfortunately the administration felt it more important to enforce the ‘no electronic device’ policy rather than encourage success in the classroom.”  While I know that it’s hard to make any definitive statements about education, it seems to me that we are coming to recognize that everyone works and learn differently. So, zero tolerance policies, especially about something that might impact instruction, just don’t make any sense to me.    If I reflect on my own use of media, I know that I enjoy listening to music when I am working but not always.  Sometimes, especially when I am doing academic writing, I like the silence. But when I’m doing flash programming, I prefer watching videos as they seem to entertain some part of my brain that otherwise might distract me.  Being able to choose is important to me and it seems an easy compromise to make with our students as well.

A little freedom and personal space, is that so bad?

*Personal Electronic Devices