Too Connected?

Some of you know that I teach in a public school. Today’s post comes from a realization today.

Teenagers these days are connected. Most of my students carry a phone, and several use iPhones or Blackberries, and they are constantly attached to them.

Now, at first glance, the teacher thinks Dang, they’re always on these things instead of listening in class. I regularly catch students, 10 or so a day, sneaking to a hidden spot in the hall to chat or, more often, half-hiding their phone and texting away. None of them are particularly good at hiding them. And the school policy is that they can only be used at lunch and after school. I’m supposed to take them away, but most of the time I just shake my head and let it pass or give them a warning (I know, empty warnings mean nothing), because I don’t want to spend my whole day policing phones, and that’s what it would be.

The technologist in me wants to find a way to utilize their connectivity in a good way (and I have used their love of texting to get messages out to large groups of students), or at least to pass it off as an experience that will make them better at handling the massive amounts of input that working adults deal with. My own teenage computer addiction was like this. I think it has really made me a productive adult. But how true is this about their phone habits really?

Good – They do deal with and respond to massive amounts of input daily, a skill they’ll need later.
Bad – They do miss out on regular instruction because their attention is elsewhere.(Though even those without phones hardly pay attention.)

But here’s the real bad – most of the activities on their phones are meaningless. They chat about things that are personal to them, but hardly have much meaning at all.

Typical exchange:
1) whats up?
2) nm what r u up 2?
3) nothing

Now, though my degree is in English, I’m not one of those people who believe IM speak is the devil. I think if students are taught correctly, they will understand that we can move between different modes of communication, and that the way you talk to your friends is not the way you write a research paper.

However, I am bothered by the lack of substance in their dawdlings. Most of the time, they use their phones for something to do other than pay attention to the world around them. Not that formal instruction in schools is so great that I paid attention. You can bet I was a student who doodled and wrote and read novels in class. But what about in their personal lives? I bet they’re not paying much attention there, either. And that’s the real shame. By connecting too much, they’ve disconnected themselves from the world.

A quote for today

From one of my favorite authors, Mr. Douglas Adams, creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

Man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much… the wheel, New York, wars, and so one, while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely the dolphin believed themselves to be more intelligent than man for precisely the same reason.

Happy Birthday, Charles

Today (February 12, 2009) is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. Darwin teaches us to observe, to think critically about the world around us, and to find patterns.

I’ve got a series of projects that will go up on Etsy soon that are inspired by the works of Darwin and other naturalists but are a drastic shift from what I’ve been creating. Stay tuned for more about that.

An interesting project is Tom Barbalet’s I Am Darwin project in which individuals have uploaded videos telling what Darwin’s writings and research have meant to them.

Also, check out The Complete Works of Darwin Online.

Solio Solar Charger

So I got my Solio solar charger from… Here’s my review.

The charger comes with a bunch of adaptors, so it’ll work with many of the popular cell phone brands. It comes with a mini-USB adaptor that works with my Motorola Slvr, but the best thing is that it comes with a female USB plug adaptor, which lets you use it to charge anything that can charge from a USB port, like an iPod. So there are my two small electronics, my phone and my iPod. That’s all I have that I would charge from it, and my iPod has gotten most of the use from it. Btw, it also has an attachment that works with my wife’s Samsung phone…

The sky was cloudy the first week that I had it, and it just wouldn’t charge in shade, so I tried out the charge by USB function. I figured, I have a computer running most of the day anyway, so I might as well use it to charge the Solio while I’m at it. It charges pretty quickly with USB. Maybe a bit over an hour. Then it charges my iPod in about the same time.

More recently, I’ve gotten the chance to try it out in the sun. Here’s the big problem: the device comes with a suction cup to attach it to a window, but the suction cup only holds it for about a half hour. So, I had to find a place that it could sit in the sun without needing to be stuck to a window, which is a little tough at my place, and impossible at work (since I don’t have windows, even, let alone sun). It takes much longer to charge up with solar power; all day to get most of the way full, but the sun is free and awesome.

So, overall, I like it. I listen to my iPod almost constantly, and rarely take the time to charge it at the computer (because I’m listening to it when I’m awake and my comp is off when I’m asleep), so I’ve carried a little battery-powered charger for a long time. This will replace that. It’s easy to use, and its rechargable nature is fantastic. It’s a little large, but I can leave it in the sun and not pay for the power it provides… so all in all four stars out of five.

Get yours at

Countdown to Earth Day

Earth Day is April 22nd this year. 71 days from this writing. I’ve started my countdown. I haven’t done anything special for Earth Day in a long time, but this year is going to be different. I don’t know what I’ll do yet. I used to clean up around my college’s campus with my fraternity. There’s lots of green space on the campus that gets trashed by students. But I’m not sure what to do this year. Cleaning up litter? Planting trees? Something else?

What are your plans? Any ideas for what I could do to help the planet this year?

Check out the Earth Day Network at

Message from the Handmade Toy Alliance

What: We need your vote again at!

How: Vote here

When: Now!

Thank you so much for your support of the Handmade Toy Alliance. Our membership numbers continue to grow and we have been receiving many positive press responses. We have issued letters to the Consumer Protection Safety Commission, responding to the agencies requests for comments on the CPSIA. Many of us have contacted our Congress People, hoping for their support in changing the law.

Currently, we are in the running to have our issue presented to President-elect Obama, but we need your help to make this happen. Please vote to save small businesses from the CPSIA at

The Handmade Toy Alliance remains grateful to all of you, your trust in our products and your ability to work with us to make a positive change in this legislation.

Click here to go to

The Cost of Life Online Game

Check it out here.

This link will take you to a ‘game’ (simulation) in which you try to grow the wealth, happiness, health, and education of a family in Haiti. Wow! I’ve never known a game to be so eye-opening. My first attempt failed within three years, so I’m going to try again with a new strategy, but my thought is that it’ll be next to impossible to ‘win’, just as I’m sure it is for people living in this condition.

New Year Gets New Goals

Well here’s 2009.

My wife said last night that she likes to think of setting goals, not making resolutions for the upcoming year. I think that’s a healthy way to look at it. Too often, we make resolutions that we are pretty darn sure we can’t keep, like:

Resolved: I will eat no donuts this year.
Resolved: I will exercise every day.
Resolved: I will win the lottery.

It’s useless to make those kind of commitments. It’s like making a promise you can’t keep, and in the end, you’re cheating yourself.

But the New Year is a great opportunity for renewal and refocusing. Take the time to make some goals. If you’re bad at making goals, perhaps you need some help. I’ve downloaded an audiobook to help me: Brian Tacy’s Flight Plan. I don’t know if it’s any good yet. I’ll tell you after I listen.

Still, with my limited goal-setting abilities, here are some of my goals for 2009:

Goal: To join the local artisans’ guild.
Goal: To be a more attentive husband.
Goal: To stretch my limits with my craft.

Tell me some of your goals. Post ’em below.

ETA (1/6/09) – As far as Brian Tacy’s Flight Plan, it has some good information, but a lot of it is stuff I’ve heard before. Not terribly inspiring. I am going to use his advice for setting goals for my projects and planning at that level and looking forward to the future, but I’ve gotten so much more help from Getting Things Done by David Allen. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get their life in order, most especially business-people.

We Three Wands of Orient Are

These three wands are modeled after the three magi that appear in the Biblical Christmas nativity story. They are being sold as a set from our Etsy Store or our 1000 Markets Shop.

Melchior, Balthasar (Bithiserea), and Gaspar (Gathaspa) are the Greek names for the three magi of the Biblical nativity story (ie. “We Three Kings of Orient Are”). So, we’ve made a set of three wands, each modeled after the Greco-Roman images of the magi. The names and the personages come from writings that appeared after the writing of the Gospels. They are nameless magi (a name for priests of Zoroastrianism, also a word meaning ‘Sorcerers’, translated as ‘kings’ in the KJV) in
the Gospel According to Matthew. The names derive from an early 6th century Greek manuscript in Alexandria and later Latin texts that continue that tradition.
Wand #22 is named for Melchior, the bringer of gold. Melchior was said to be an old man with a white beard (which is what forms the spiral effect on the wand by the same name). The wand is hand-crafted from birch wood.

Wand #23 is named for Gaspar. Gaspar was a beard-less boy who brought frankincense, symbolic of holiness. The smoke from the frankincense forms a spiral down the wand. The wand is hand-crafted from cherry wood.

Wand #24 is named for Balthasar, a man with a full beard, who, according to the story, brought Jesus myrrh. Myrrh is used in incenses and oils and is often associated with death and suffering. The wand is hand-crafted from walnut wood.

These wands are available as a set from our Etsy Store or our 1000 Markets Shop.