Caveat: My Biggest McSnake

We were giving speeches yesterday in Honors cohort, on the topic "My Biggest Mistake." One student was consistently mispronouncing "mistake" as "mcsnake," so I drew a picture on the whiteboard to explain his mistake. The yellow McDonalds logo (hard to see in the photo) was Sophia's idea.


[daily log: walking, 6.5km]


Caveat: 눈은 풍년 입은 흉년

Here is a proverb from my book of Korean proverbs.

눈은 풍년 입은 흉년
nun.eun pung.nyeon ib.eun hyung.nyeon
eye-TOPIC abundant-harvest-year mouth-TOPIC famine-year
"Feast for the eyes, famine for the stomach."

This has a pretty clear meaning, I think, although I can't think of an exact English equivalent at the moment. Basically, it's the feeling I have all the time, since my surgery: I see delicious food all around me, and I remember feasting on such deliciousnesses, but the actual experience of eating is at best neutral, and at worst occasionally downright unpleasant. It has become a new normal, and so in my best moments, I can let the nostalgia of eating things I enjoy drive the current experience.

I wasn't really meaning to complain, here, but running across this proverb seemed to rather match my experience. I saw a chicken sandwich in a cafe last night and was struck by an irrational craving, so I bought it and brought it home. The eating of it was … well… I'm still here, right? Mere sustenance.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: With half-closed eyes

I'm not sleeping very well, lately. I think mostly it's because summer has arrived – my apartment is slightly too warm for me to sleep comfortably. Running the air conditioner at night, on balance, doesn't help – it's not a very efficient air conditioner and anyway the conditioned air feels stale. I woke up yesterday morning at 3:30 am, and only managed a short nap before work. I thought that would mean I'd sleep in this morning, but no such luck – I was wide awake and insomniated at 5 am. So… 

What I'm listening to right now.

Depeche Mode, "Waiting For The Night." I posted this song about 5 years ago, on this here blog thingy, but I wasn't yet in the habit of trying to include lyrics, so I figure it's OK to post it again. In fact, I think the song is about heroin addiction. As such, I'm not sure I buy the message. Nevertheless, I have long liked this song. 


I'm waiting for the night to fall
I know that it will save us all
When everything's dark
Keeps us from the stark reality

I'm waiting for the night to fall
When everything is bearable
And there in the still
All that you feel is tranquillity

There is a star in the sky
Guiding my way with its light
And in the glow of the moon
Know my deliverance will come soon

I'm waiting for the night to fall
I know that it will save us all
When everything's dark
Keeps us from the stark reality

I'm waiting for the night to fall
When everything is bearable
And there in the still
All that you feel is tranquillity

There is a sound in the calm
Someone is coming to harm
I press my hands to my ears
It's easier here just to forget fear

And when I squinted
The world seemed rose-tinted
And angels appeared to descend
To my surprise
With half-closed eyes
Things looked even better
Than when they were opened

Been waiting for the night to fall
I knew that it would save us all
Now everything's dark
Keeps us from the stark reality

Been waiting for the night to fall
Now everything is bearable
And here in the still
All that you feel is tranquillity

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Parole was turned to langue

I got nothing. So, here is a sonnet from the SpeculativeGrammarian:

To turn a linguist to a sonneteer
Takes patience, kindness, and a shot of hope.
For faced with rhyming can a scholar cope
When bare phonetics starts to sound like fear?
But soft, a light through yonder syntax here
Breaks like a lovelorn couple to elope!
Amidst semantic drift, a narrowed scope,
New data comes to a long-jaded ear.
Analysis awakened agèd trees
With uncrossed lines and verb-embedded clause.
Parole was turned to langue and there it rang.
A language sure to make all linguists pleased.
No strong verbs and declinations caused
By logic. Pity it's just a conlang!
—Col. O. Nihilist (a pseudonym)

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Multimap Test Page

I’m not exactly in the closet about my geofiction hobby – I’ve blogged about it once or twice before, and in fact I link to it in my blog’s left sidebar, too – so alert blog-readers will have known it is something I do.

Nevertheless, I’ve always felt oddly reticent about broadcasting this hobby too actively. It’s a “strange” hobby in many people’s minds, and many aren’t sure what to make of it. Many who hear of it percieve it to be perhaps a bit childish, or at the least unserious. It’s not a “real” hobby, neither artistic, like writing or drawing, nor technical, like coding or building databases. Yet geofiction, as a hobby, involves some of all of those skills: writing, drawing, coding and database-building.

Shortly after my cancer surgery, I discovered the website called OpenGeofiction (“OGF”). It uses open source tools related to the OpenStreetmap project to allow users to pursue their geofiction hobby in a community of similar people, and “publish” their geofictions (both maps and encyclopedic compositions) online.

Early last year, I became one of the volunteer administrators for the website. In fact, much of what you see on the “wiki” side of the OGF website is my work (including the wiki’s main page, where the current “featured article” is also mine), or at the least, my collaboration with other “power users” at the site. I guess I enjoy this work, even though my online people skills are not always great. Certainly, I have appreciated the way that some of my skills related to my last career, in database design and business systems analysis, have proven useful in the context of a hobby. It means that if I ever need to return to that former career, I now have additional skills in the areas of GIS (geographic information systems) and wiki deployment.

Given how much time I’ve been spending on this hobby, lately, I have been feeling like my silence about it on my blog was becoming inappropriate, if my blog is meant to reflect “who I am.”

So here is a snapshot of what I’ve been working on. It’s a small island city-state, at high latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, with both “real-world” hispanic and fully fictional cultural elements. Its name is Tárrases, on the OGF world map here.

Here is a “zoomable and slidable” map window, linked to the area I’ve been creating, made using the leaflet tool.

There were some interesting technical challenges to get this to display correctly on my blog, involving several hours of research and coding trial and error. If anyone is interested in how to get the javascript-based leaflet map extension to work on a webpage (with either real or imaginary map links), including blogs such as typepad that don’t support it with a native plugin, I’m happy to help.

I have made a topo layer, too. I am one of only 2-3 users on the OGF website to attempt this – But the result is quite pleasing.

Caveat: Capitolio Ardesférico

As some of you know, one of my strange hobbies is designing imaginary countries. This is a very useless hobby, but one close to my heart.

Yesterday, I drew a capitol building for one of those countries: Capitolio de la Federación Ardesférica. The drawing is derivative, of course. I combined some ideas from other domed buildings that I found online. But the sketch is entirely my own, and only a sketch – about 15 minutes' work.


[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Happy Alligators

happy_alligators.jpgOn Friday, I drew these alligators (at right) on the whiteboard for my youngest students (1st and 2nd graders).

Yesterday was my last "naesin vacation" Saturday, meaning I didn't have to work, but will have to work next Saturday. My friend Peter came out to Ilsan and we had dinner and walked around a lot and talked a lot. I think he was feeling nostalgic for when he lived in Ilsan. Anyway, it was good to get out of the house.

He loaned me a book I want to read, Hamel's Journal, a book written by a Dutch man who spent a long time in Korea in the 17th century. I'll write more about it when I get around to reading it.

[daily log: walking, 1km]

Caveat: Not Yet Casanova

My student Mark, who is in the 6th grade, was getting teased by a pair of girls about which one of them he liked. One of the girls, Julie, said something like, "Teacher, something is wrong. Mark likes both of us."

I think this wasn't actually true – I'm not sure he likes either of them. But the girl was teasing him by drawing me, the English teacher, into the conversation. And since it was in English, I felt compelled to join the conversation.

He was being good-natured about it, so I bantered with him a bit. Mark has a very self-confident, somewhat laconic personality. Eventually, I asked him, "Are you a Casanova?"

For whatever mysterious reason, most Koreans know the name "Casanova" – it's been borrowed into Korean slang to be used the way American teens might say "player," I think – a boy who has multiple girlfriends, either at once or serially.

Mark shrugged. "What's a Casanova?"

Julie laughed. "You don't know Casanova?" She seemed surprised. She leaned over, and whispered in his ear – presumably giving a Korean definition. When he understood, he visibly blushed. But he was quiet for a minute, as if considering the question seriously.

Finally, he said with a kind of calm aplomb, "Not yet."

He's good enough at English that I could be confident he knew what he was implying by saying it that way.

I laughed at that.

[daily log: my foot hurts]

Caveat: entre este punto y aquél

Una piedra en el agua de la cordura

Una piedra en el agua de la cordura
abisma las coordenadas que nos sostienen
entre perfectos círculos

Al fondo,

Pende en la sombra el hilo de la cordura
entre este punto
y aquél
entre este punto
y aquél

y si uno
se columpia
sobre sus rombos,
verá el espacio multiplicarse
bajo los breves arcos de la cordura, verá sus gestos
recortados e iguales
si luego baja
y se sienta
y se ve meciéndose.

– Coral Bracho (poeta mexicana, n. 1951)

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Why is my child having fun? That can’t be good for him.

I experienced another difficult staff meeting last night. Why is my patience so thin about the issues that come up, lately? I feel as if there has been a substantial uptick in parental complaints about my "too loose" classroom style, and these are hard for me to have to confront. Philosophically I believe in a "loose" classroom (by which I mean playful but also forgiving from the standpoint of both academic and behavioral shortcomings), and my personality inclines me toward it too, but Korean parents are almost all hardcore disciplinarians, and they don't even get why a "loose" classroom might have benefits from a pedagogical or child-developmental standpoint.

I can't win those arguments, and in fact I'm rarely presented with an opportunity to even try to present my case. I think Curt has tolerated my style for as long as he has because he, personally, does see the benefit of it – he's remarkably progressive in his methodological inclinations – but he's not much of a salesman for it, and as with many business owners, he will let the winds of customer preference push him around. More crucially to my own issues, all of the other staff at Karma rigidly lean in the "anti-loose" direction – including the other non-Korean teachers. I stand alone without support, amid proliferating demands that I adopt a more rigid classroom management style. I can do this, but doing so tends to lessen my enjoyment of teaching – and as I've said many times before, I ain't in this for the money.

My mood is dark.

Meanwhile – tangentially – some stoic comedy.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]


Caveat: The Shelf’s Slow Progress

The_shelfEveryone knows I have a tendency to procrastinate.

Around New Year's, I decided I needed a new shelf, to put things on next to my kitchen area. I was tired of things stacked up on my very limited counter space.

I was at the HomePlus store, and I bought one of those assemble-at-home made-in-China IKEA-style shelf units. I brought it home and propped up the flat cardboard box against the wall by my doorway. I thought to myself, I need to build that shelf sometime.

A month later, I saw that box by the doorway, and realized I hadn't built it. I moved it to behind my desk, where I could see as I sat at my desk. I thought to myself, I need to build that shelf sometime.

Two months passed. I figured I needed to make it more prominent, in order to catch my attention. So I placed the box on floor, flat, at the foot of where I roll out my bed. I thought to myself, I need to build that shelf sometime.

I tripped over it several times, and that was annoying. I could have built the shelf. Instead, I moved it back behind my desk. I thought to myself, I need to build that shelf sometime.

Two months later, I thought again that I should make it more noticeable. In a moment of inspiration, I put the box leaning against the wall right where I intended it to go. It was a good reminder, but it kept getting in the way when I wanted to cook or do laundry. I thought to myself, I need to build that shelf sometime.

Yesterday, I opened the box and laid the pieces across my apartment floor. I tripped over them a few times. Then I built the shelf (picture above right, in its spot).

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Unbound

Almost three decades ago now, I had a student job at the University of Minnesota's Library Binderies. Of all the various student jobs I had, it was probably my favorite. On the one hand, it was also the most "blue collar," as such things go – except maybe my brief stint working at janitorial services – and thus there was a degree of drudgery involved. Not to mention, the kind of danger one associates with factory work, summed up in the time I chopped off the end of my finger on a giant paper-cutting machine, which the state-of-the-art U of M hospitals successfully re-attached. On the other hand, the job gave a surprising satisfaction to see an actual product emerge as a result of my work, and further, many of my coworkers were pleasant to work with and kind to me, many times. I even developed out-of-work friendships with several.

I also learned quite a bit about the technology of mass-production book bindery, and even the art of hand-making books, too, although the day-to-day work didn't involve the latter. I loved going to the University Libraries, subsequent to that job, and speculating idly just how many of the vast number of volumes in those stacks my hands had touched. I still have kinesthetic dreams about operating the hydraulic cover-cloth folding machine, a particular favorite of mine, where the hot-glue-coated covers were folded onto the cardboard: suppa-CHUNK, suppa-CHUNK, suppa-CHUNK, suppa-CHUNK!  You pushed the pedal four times, one for each of the four edges of the cover, as you spun it around for each fold, then ran the plastic straightedge into the creases to make it clean and tight.

I am in a kind of contact with one of my former coworkers from that bindery time, and she sent me a notice recently that inspired this post. The University of Minnesota Library Bindery has closed. The digital technologies associated with books has transformed the bindery business, and made it untenable. There is an article about it at the University of Minnesota Daily (the U of M's newspaper). I was suprised to see, in the article, that the bindery manager is the same man who had been my boss all those years ago. I guess he made a career of it. 

[daily log: walking, 1km]

Caveat: You can drive all night

What I'm listening to right now.

Cage The Elephant, "Cigarette Daydreams."


Did you stand there all alone?
Oh I cannot explain what's going down
I can see you standing next to me
In and out, somewhere else right now
You sigh, look away
I can see it clear as day
Close your eyes, so afraid
Hide behind that baby face

Do do do do do do

You can drive all night
Looking for the answers in the pouring rain
You wanna find peace of mind
Looking for the answers

Funny how it seems like yesterday
As I recall you were looking out of place
Gathered up your things and slipped away
No time at all I followed you into the hall
Cigarette daydream
You were only seventeen
Soft speak with a mean streak
Nearly brought me to my knees

Do do do do do do

You can drive all night
Looking for the answers in the pouring rain
You wanna find peace of mind
Looking for the answers

If we could find a reason, a reason to change
Looking for the answers
If you could find a reason, a reason to stay
Standing in the pouring rain

Do do do do do do…

You can drive all night
Looking for the answers in the pouring rain
You wanna find peace of mind
Looking for the answers

If we could find a reason, a reason to change
Looking for the answers
If you could find a reason, a reason to stay
Standing in the pouring rain

[daily log: walking, 2km]

Caveat: The Wall of Incomprehension, Episode #3196

I’ve not been working very hard these last few days – I’m in the second week of my “naesin vacation” – that break in my schedule when I have only elementary classes because the middle-schoolers are engaged in their intensive test-prep schedule. So I have a 50% class load. I think I benefit from this – it gives me a chance to “recharge” between the harder push during the regular schedule.

Nevertheless, I’ve had a rough couple of days. Not from overwhelming teaching load but essentially for affective reasons – I just have been feeling negative about my work lately. I’ve been working at Karma for 5 years. That’s the second-longest I’ve ever held a single job, and certainly Curt is now the person who’s been my boss for the longest continuous stretch of time in my life, by far.

Yet Wednesday night I sat in a staff meeting on the topic of student placement for the next term, feeling like no one really gave a damn what I had to say, or what my opinions were about the students or about what we should do. I feel like I am dismissed for being too demanding, in one moment, then dismissed for being too lax, in another moment. This is dissonant. I realize it boils down to different cultural perceptions, not just just about appropriate teaching methodology but about more fundamental questions on how child development is conceptualized and how teacher’s roles are defined.

Then yesterday I had an interaction with a coworker that reinforced this feeling of dissonance.

The very complicated background to this is a problematic student who goes by Ken. He is not academically inclined, and he is morbidly shy. Several months went by before I got any kind of sustained utterance out of him of any kind – even in Korean, not just English. In fact, he’s not that far below level in terms of his English ability, but his penmanship is atrocious, so I would describe his issue as being one of “intense communication avoidance” – by never speaking on the one hand, and by writing illegibly on the other.

Anyway, Ken nevertheless is not in any way handicapped. In testing, he tests at level, as long as there’s no production component (i.e. only short-answer writing and no speaking). Ken has one additional habit that is annoying: he frequently tries to “cheat.” I put that word in quotation marks because in fact, it has the feel of an elaborate ritual. He expects and intends to be caught. He makes these little cue cards with information he could use on a vocabulary test or speech test, and he almost flamboyantly mimes through a process of placing them somewhere “out of sight.”

The theatrics of it convinced me, early on, that instead of being hard-nosed about it, I should try for a different kind of approach. I decided to accept it as an invitation to a conversation, and, remarkably, it has in fact worked out exactly that way. He makes and places his cue cards, I inevitably find them and ask him what he’s doing, and at first he would say “nothing,” or some other monosyllable. But then he started adding things. “I need more time [to prepare].” “No, I need that.”

This might seem trivial, but I’m a language teacher first, and what I saw was that here he was, actually using English to communicate. So these little exchanges have emerged between us. I will answer, something like, “Oh, you’ve had lots of time.” “No, I need more.” “Why?” “To study. There’s too many words on this list.”

You see? He actually knows spoken English pretty well, and here was a communicative situation where he felt safe and compelled to demonstrate that by interacting with me. So with respect to what you might call the “moral dimension” of the cheating issue, I decided to just let it be. It was a kind of game, I rationalized. Perhaps that’s all it is, I don’t know. I would tease him, saying that if he put as much energy into studying as he put into creating his cheat cards, he wouldn’t need to cheat. He would smile with a kind of secret satisfaction. He understands what I’m saying, but just studying is not an interesting approach for him.

As long as this was a “game” confined to our class, which didn’t disrupt my interactions with the other students, I guess it’s no problem. But last night another teacher caught him cheating. And she asked me if I knew he did that.

I said, “of course, he tries, all the time. But… it’s complicated.” You can imagine the conversation that followed. I was faced with a wall of blank incomprehension as I tried explain all of the above.

“But it’s just… wrong. How could you let him do that?”

My point, and my defense, is that I don’t let him actually cheat. I always catch him. That’s how it works. But the other teacher had no sympathy for the idea that I was using it as a means to engage with and draw out an otherwise voiceless student.

In retrospect, of course, I have to second guess myself. Was it wrong of me to do this? The theatrics of his “cheating” always made me assume he meant to be caught, which meant that I assumed the same thing happened with the other teachers. But then, there arises the situation of a teacher who is too dense to notice. What then? Who’s been irresponsible? Me, for allowing the game, or her, for not noticing Ken’s “performance?”

I don’t have an answer, but what really has me depressed is the “wall of incomprehension” vis-a-vis my intended communicative approach, as it underscores the feeling from Wednesday’s meeting that my opinions and notions of pedagogy are fundamentally unwelcome.

When I tried to talk about the problem with Helen, the elementary section director, she was just as incomprehending. A little more sympathetic, if only because she’s become used to these weird cultural mis-matches, with me, but in the end she was mildly disapproving and, more significantly, completely dismissive of the whole thing – which redounds on my feelings about the meeting, that my opinions and ideas are ultimately sufficiently alien to my coworkers that their main way of dealing with them is to ignore them.

It’s not that I’m left second-guessing my fundamental beliefs about pedagogy or what makes for best practice in interacting with kids – I still hew to the essential idea summed up in the aphorism that “kids learn from what we do, not from what we say.” I therefore insist that haranging and getting angry at kids for bad their behavior is not just useless, but is teaching them exactly the wrong thing – even while admitting sometimes I am guilty of it, too. This is to say, it teaches them that haranging and getting angry are appropriate social responses. Yet anyone familiar with Korean society will realize that this is, obviously, in fact a belief broadly held in Korean culture. And that is because that’s universally how kids are disciplined.

The real issue, which is causing me distress in the present moment, is just a kind of despair with respect to the idea that I could ever, truly, adapt. The thing that I should emphasize is that I could easily have the same problem in some school in some other conservative cultural setting, including in the US. I recognize that this isn’t really about Korea. It’s about my own stubborn instance on difference, and my own maladaptive alienation.

There’s no conclusion. It’s just the anecdote. Life goes on.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]


Caveat: The world was a library

"From Wakan Tanka there came a great unifying life force that flowed in and through all things – the flowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals–and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man. Thus all things were kindred and brought together by the same Great Mystery . . . . Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky, and water was a real and active principle . . . . The animal had rights – the right of man's protection, the right to live, the right to multiply, the right to freedom, the right to man's indebtedness – and in recognition of these rights the Lakota never enslaved the animal, and spared all life that was not needed for food and clothing . . . . Everything was possessed of personality, only differing with us in form. Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms and blessings of earth. We learned to do what only the student of nature ever learns and that was to feel beauty."
– Luther Standing Bear (Lakota author, 1868-1939)

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: lifelong

This poem is a bit more "trite" than what I normally write. I think adding the rhyming constraint to the regular nonnet form overkills it. Anyway, it's kind of a "throw away" effort, but in the absence of anything more interesting to post… 


footsteps striding along like a song
one hears in one's own mind, for long
seconds, only to prolong
themselves among a throng,
each wants to belong
plunging headlong
never wrong,

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: 事事件件

I ran across this four-character idiom somewhere – exactly where, I don't recall but it's in my notes. 


This means "each and every," but with negative valences.


사사건건 트집 = finding fault, blemish, crack
사사건건 간섭하다 = meddling, interference

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]