Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A bit more on the Kindle Fire HD, Excellent Sheep, and my knees

I've now read enough with the Kindle Fire to draw a few conclusions.
  1. You absolutely need to have a case for it.  I've got one from Amazon, called Origami, which is how it folds when you want to stand the thing up.  But mainly I use it with the flap down to cover the buttons in the back, so that those don't get touched inadvertently as you hold it while reading.
  2. Because the thing is only 7" and is pretty light, I tend to hold like it I would hold a paperback book, in the center bottom.  For the book that breaks the spine, but was always my pattern anyway.  For the Kindle Fire, the old pattern emerged.
  3. I had an original Kindle.  At the time they said they were trying to simulate a real book so didn't have back lighting for the screen.  In retrospect, that looks like a lot of bs.  Back lighting is definitely better, and the only issue is how to maintain battery life with a well lit screen.  
  4. Apart from the books themselves, the other apps I mainly use are the browser (called Silk) and email. Even though Amazon Prime is trying to be your all everything provider, I don't listen to music from them, but rather use Spotify.  I haven't figured out whether I can upload my own MP3s onto it or not, but I haven't tried to do that either. 
  5. After not using it for a while and an upgrade to the OS, the thing lost connection with the campus wireless and for a few days I thought it was a real problem.  It turned out that all it had lost was my login information, but I needed to scroll down to find that stuff.  It really should not require the scrolling.  So there is a design issue of sorts, but otherwise the wireless seems to work quite well. 
  6. If you like to type with a Tablet, I think you want a larger screen.  For me with the built in finger keyboard, it is fine for a brief note, but I wouldn't want to write an essay on it. 
* * * * *

My original reason for reading Excellent Sheep, by William Deresiewicz, was that I thought the book might stimulate a conversation on my own campus, even though we are a Public University instead of a ritzy private one, as to whether something similar is happening here.  Having finished it over the weekend, I no longer believe it to be the right vehicle to promote such a conversation, though the beginning of the book where the problem is identified is worth considering.  But in the middle third of the book the author starts to shill for the Humanities major and I found it much less appealing.  One problem with this part of the book is the Deresiewicz doesn't seem to have heard of selection bias.   He cites a bunch of statistics about how employers have come to figure out that hiring humanities majors (from the most selective institutions) is a good bet, he can't see other possible explanations for why that is other than that the humanities major teaches students just what employers want them to learn. 

The obvious alternative is that these are kids who are very bright and haven't become sheep themselves and that is sufficient in itself to make them quite employable, entirely apart from methods of inquiry they learned by majoring in the humanities.  It is not obvious how you would parse this alternative explanation from the one Deresiewicz assumes to be true, but I found it disturbing that the possibility wasn't seriously entertained.

He goes on and one about the virtues of reading great and important fiction.  There is less than a page about the possibility that the student has generated his own path and his own readings and that might be a perfectly fine alternative.  Give that this plausible alternative gets short shrift, the message could easily get lost in the volume of stuff that extols the humanities major, English in particular.

The other turnoff is his characterization of the non-humanities majors as featuring rote rather than thoughtfulness.  I've seen that in other books about college students where students who do X are imaginative but students who do Y are dull, invariably shortchanging Y, whatever that happens to be.  I really think it is plain wrong.  Any discipline can be taught with imagination.  Alternatively, the teaching can be dull, irrespective of the subject, English included.  So, to me,  this particular bias towards the humanities would not help in the diagnosis of whether the students here are sheep.

* * * * *

I am scheduled to get cortisone injections in my knees tomorrow, done under local anesthetic.  This is a new treatment for me.  I should be happy to get something that might alleviate the chronic pain.  But in the main, I'm apprehensive.  For the last week or so the knees have hurt less.  Perhaps my mind is playing tricks on me, the fear serving to mask the symptoms.

Stuff like this is helpful as a reminder that it's not just the students who are sheep.

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