Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update





Light-fingered librarians


Ah, spring. The peepers are peeping, the flowers are flowering, and the allergies are acting up. And librarians in schools are starting to prep for the end of the school year by doing inventory and getting back overdue books.

Over the past couple of weeks I've quietly listened as a number of library staff members have expressed dismay over "some" students' treatment of books, disregard for our circulation policies, and, of course, the number of books that have gone missing over the past year. Compared to the size of our student body, we have very, very few unhappy incidents. But they tend to be the ones on which we obsess.

I listen and say little. Perhaps because I can empathize a bit with the little miscreants. As a student, I took full advantage of my school library fiction collection, but never checked out a book. I had personal copies of all my textbooks in a closet at home as well. Imagine my chagrin when I came home after my first semester at college to find that my mother had returned all my personal collection of the school's books to the school. (She must have done it anonymously since I still was name a "distinguished graduate" many years later.)

It's been well documented that librarians themselves are among the worst book thieves. Here is one explanation:

Don't dismiss book theft as the work of a few ordinary crooks. Everybody does it. "People who steal books are some of the best people in the world," says Allan Robbins of the Alexandria, Va., library system. Journalists, seminarians, lawyers, doctors, teachers and especially librarians steal books, "which shouldn't come as any surprise -- they use them and value them," says William A. Moffett, head of the Huntington Library...

Perhaps this explains why I can't get too worked up when books go missing. I remember once having had an adolescent brain that somehow allowed book pilfering as well. I don't get too worked up when someone loses or accidentally damages a computer or phone either, since I have also done both of these thing. Stuff happens.

While I certainly believe we should be developing responsible library users, creating a welcoming experience that included empathetic library staff should take precedent. (See Libraries are just fining themselves.) Children and staff  should expect gratitude, not scorn, when returning materials to their school library.

One day, when all we read are ebooks, the theft and overdue issues will be moot. I live for the day.


  1. "Is there a klepto in the stacks?" New York Times, November 18, 1990.
  2. "People who steal books," CMJA-JAMC, December 11, 2001,
  3. "Protect your library the medieval way, with horrifying book curses" Atlas Obscura, November 9, 2016



I still like free

Tim Stahmer in his post "The Hazards of Free" at Assorted Stuff warns that educators should not rely too heavily on "free" websites. He cites Edmodo and Padlet as two services that were once free but are now pay-to-play. He could have added Wikispaces as well.

A common concern I hear about Google Apps for Education, besides unwarranted privacy concerns, is that Google will start charging schools for the service. Like a drug pusher who gives the sucker free samples until hooked, Google will use schools' dependency on its product to be able to extort an annual user fee at some future date. I have seen no credible evidence that this will happen. 

Unlike Tim, I would urge teachers and techies alike to take advantage of free. I am happy that my schools have not had to pay for email - the program or storage - since 2000 thanks to GSuite. Those dollars were diverted to other needs. I was a happy user of Wikispaces for a dozen years or more, using it to share handouts for my workshops. And at Padlet, I still get 48 padlets to use until I decide to cough up the subscription fees or find a replacement tool.

I do not in any way feel like I have been cheated or that my efficacy has been jeopardized. Here a few things about free applications...


  1. Try before you buy. I test out a lot of programs and wind up using very few. A "free" version is a great way to see if a new program actually works as advertised and does what you want it to do. No risk, except, perhaps, for an unending barrage of spam from the company.
  2. Fewer features can be a blessing. Some of the free "stripped down" versions of programs are actually easier to use - you can get to the task at hand instead of figuring out the options.
  3. Even a savings for a few years is still a savings. Nothing lasts forever. Tools and tasks change. As sad as I am to see old friends leave the digital stage, I also am pleased that I got good use of these freebies for as long as I did. And you know, it's not a bad idea to change up tools now and then anyway.
  4. Open source is cool. Whatever happened to the open source movement? These collaborative initiatives have created free alternatives to commercial products like Linux and OpenOffice, Apache and Firefox. Open source software has empowered many a computer user who could not or preferred not to pay for commercial software.
  5. Not all remuneration is a subscription fee. As Tim argues, products need to be sustainable for them to be continued and improved. Subscriptions sometimes are the most visible means of support, but advertising is also a viable means of subsidizing a venture. (I am not sure why we fuss about this so much when it happens online, but accept it without question in magazines and newspapers.)

I suspect that economic model for GSuites is that by building familiarity and comfort with its product, Google believes that students on leaving school will continue to use a personal Google account - which it can then monetize through advertising or data mining. The long view.

Free is not the solution to every budgetary problem (see Getting the Most from Your Tech Dollar: Free is good), but use it when you can.



BFTP: One big room, redux

80 per cent of young people are looking at sexual images online on a regular basis. The average age to start viewing pornography was about 11 or 12 while sexting was considered almost routine for many 13-14 year olds. ... Research has found that 50 per cent of youngsters had taken part in some sort of webcam sexual experience.  Pornography online is warping children's minds, teachers warnThe Telegraph, March 17, 2013

As a grandfather with a soon to be 12-year-old grandson, I find these sorts of numbers disturbing. Despite having active, caring parents, Paul lives and participates in a brave new world - and at age 11, seems to already exhibit some adolescent behaviors and attitudes. But even in 2006, I wondered if trying to keep kids out of unsuitable Internet content (at least through blocking and filters) is a fool's errand: 

Sorry folks. Anyone who thinks he or she can control kids' access to online information or experiences through legislation or a filter is spitting in the wind. We are not facing a simple technical challenge. We are swimming against a cultural tide.

Neil Postman explains why in his book The Disappearance of Childhood (1982). It's been a while since I have read this book, but as I remember, Postman's arguments go something like this: Childhood is a social construct. Before the Industrial Revolution, children were simply treated as small adults. They dressed like adults; they worked like adults; they lived where adults lived; and they saw what adults saw. Adults and children before the second half of the 19th century all pretty much lived in one big room.

The rise in industrialization also gave rise to the concept of "childhood." Society started treating children differently than it did adults; separating them by dress, by activity, and especially in experience. We kept kids in their own rooms with very limited access to adult rooms -- for their own safety, of course.

Postman argued that with the ubiquity of mass media (pre-Internet days), society no longer has the ability to keep children away from adult venues, sights, and experiences. We've all been pushed back into one big room, as it were. Once again, kids see and experience what adults see and experience.

When I first started speaking about Internet filtering back in 1994, I'd ask workshop participants if they felt the following materials were appropriate for children to have access to:

  • "Sex After 35: Why It's Different, Why it Can be Better"
  • "Men & Sex: Their 7 Secret Wishes"
  • "How Our Sex Life Was Saved"
  • "Major New Sex Survey: What You Don't Know..."
  • "The Sexual Games of the American Male"
  • "He Wants What? Men's 6 Biggest Sexual Fantasies"
  • "The Sex Skill Men Adore (& How to Do It Well)"
  • "The Hugh Grant Syndrome: Why Guys Pay for Sex"
  • "Five Total Turn-Ons Men Can't Resist"

Everyone agreed that those were not materials suitable for children -- and that they should be denied access to them.

"Too late," I'd say. "Each of those are headlines were splashed on the front cover of popular magazines easily found near any supermarket checkout lane." And last I checked, those magazine headlines have not become less explicit.

This cultural shift that is removing the wall between the kids' and adults' rooms is unnerving to say the least. Our natural inclination as parents and educators (and even politicians, I suppose) is to shelter and protect. But responsible adults also recognize that it is in their children's best interest not to shelter, but to teach children how to protect themselves in the big, bad world. One Big Room

When the adult bookstore (or nut-case militia or lunatic-fringe religious group) is only a click or two away, when wireless access in homes puts the Internet into every child's bedroom, and when work-arounds, proxies, and VPNs make filters ineffectual, we can only teach and practice our adult values - and hope out children learn.

Image source

Original post March 20, 2013