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Saturday
Dec102005

Being funny

Here’s a question I’d never had posed before:

 “How can I be funny?”

The question came from a perfectly sincere and seemingly very nice woman during a break at one of the workshops I gave last week for the Wake County, NC, schools. It seems the person who previously held her position was a very funny person and she’d been getting comments from her staff comparing her to her predecessor.  According to them, she’s coming up short in the humor department. Since I use humor in my workshops as much as possible to get attention, establish a relaxed working atmosphere, and make the occasional point, I guess she thought I was the go-to guy for advice about being funny.

I really didn’t know what to say. I simply advised her not to try to be funny or memorize jokes, but to use stories whenever she could to illustrate her ideas. I’ve advocated telling stories for a long time (See Once Upon a Time) and it was heartening to read Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind saying that storytelling and play  are  “conceptual age" skills.

Had I the chance to think about my response a bit more, I would have added, “And tell stories that are self-deprecating when possible.” Of course this is very easy for me to do since I have so many stories that may seem to be self-deprecating, but in which I am just telling things the way they actually happened.

There is of course danger in using humor. A joke can fall flat and you wind up looking like a real dork. A funny story is rarely funny if not told well. Forgetting the punch line tends to blunt the impact somewhat. Much humor is or can be interpreted as racist, sexist or otherwise offensive. And of course there are times when humor is inappropriate – as your wife is trying on new clothes, when talking to the immigration official at Canadian customs, or during a negative performance review with your boss.

There is a less obvious, but perhaps more important, caution about humor as well. Pain, discomfort or embarrassment are at the root of many things humans find funny. Slipping on a banana peel may bring peals of laughter to the viewer, but it doesn’t bring even a smile to the slipper. Humor at the expense of others is often just plain mean. That’s why self-deprecating humor is a wise choice. When you are the butt of the joke, you are fairly safe.

From Machines Are the Easy Part; People Are the Hard Part:
34. Work a little humor into every communication effort.
What did Ole say when the Kinsey Sex Survey called and asked him if he smoked after sex? “Don’t know. Never looked.”
All right, it’s an old joke, but it made you keep on reading. There is really no excuse whatsoever not to26.jpg inject at least a little humor into every communication effort you make. It’s a mistake to confuse dryness with professionalism.

If you want the head paying attention, you have to get the heart involved. Humor is probably the easiest way to evoke an emotional response. (A groan is an emotional response, right?) You can elicit anger, fear or sadness to get attention as well, but for my money smiles do the job better.

 Oh. I wouldn’t make my jokes any racier than the one above.

What advice would you give to someone who feels they need to be “funnier?”
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Thanks much to all the wonderful people who attended my presentations in Minneapolis, Raleigh, and London, Ontario this past week. It was an exhausting, but also energizing few days. Your kindness and hospitality were much appreciated.

A few weeks at home now until heading to the ICE conference in Indianapolis the end of January. Looking forward to spending some quality time doing E-rate 470s in the district.

Tuesday
Dec062005

Open letter to Steven Jobs, Apple Computer

Dear Mr. Jobs,

I recently dropped my 4-month-old Apple PowerBook G4 while going through airport security. The case was dented and the DELETE key broke off.

I visited an Apple retail store this evening and one of your "geniuses” fixed it. ("Genius" not being sarcastic at all in this case.) But funny thing, they swore me to secrecy about doing so. So the store location and employee will remain unnamed.

Apple policy, I was told, is to not reshape a dinged metal case or replace a single key. They were supposed to make be buy a new case  and an entirely new keyboard. Instead, I have a straightened case (unnoticeable) and a slightly mismatched, but fully functioning delete key –  done at no charge.

It was the Greeks, if I remember correctly, who believed that gods often wandered the earth in mortal disguise. By being either kind or cruel to a stranger, one might possibly please or offend a deity. You just never knew. Well, I am certainly no god (as my lovely wife will readily attest), but what your technicians this evening could not know is that my signature goes on over $500,000 worth of purchase orders for computer equipment and services each year (much of it to Apple). I do about two dozen presentations at computer and library events a year and in them make no secret that I like Apple computers. I recommend Apple products to friends, relatives and parents. I am probably the sort of person Apple wants to please and doesn't want to offend.

My appreciation for Apple went up about three notches tonight because the tech bent your rules. He, as your advertising wonks might put it, ‘thought different.”

Maybe “Bending the rules out of kindness” might make a good corporate policy for any company in a highly competitive market (including my own – education.)

Thank you. This PowerBook is still the best computer I’ve ever used.

Sincerely,

Doug

Tuesday
Dec062005

Politically correct Goodnight Moon & odds and ends

If the worriers of the world had their way. Karen Karbo's "Goodbye Moon" in the NY Times. And I had no idea how much damage I was doing to my children reading them this sweet book. Sigh.

And the paranoia about student blogging still rages at WWWedu. Sigh.

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Dropped my PowerBook going through security at the airport yesterday. Dented the titanium case causing the DELETE key to pop off and stay off. Have you ever considered how often you use the delete key? The computer works however.

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Like most people, I pat my shirt and pants pockets before going through the metal detectors at the airport. The jolly security guard (yes, they exist) asked me what that procedure is know as. "The Security Macarena." Personally, I still don't make jokes going through security.  

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At the TIES conference on Sunday, I had a woman come up and ask me, "Are you the Blue Skunk guy?" 15 years of writing for print publication and now my claim to fame rests with this goofy blog written for just a few months. There must be a message in this somewhere. 

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One workshop four times today and tomorrow in Wake County, NC. It should be pretty good by the end of the day tomorrow. I know my students in last hour English classes always got a better lesson than those in the first hour.

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 Great conversations with people at TIES this weekend. Nice to meet John Pederson in person. Wise for one so young.

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Response from Mr. Holland to whose article I had a violent reaction to:

While I could spend hours writing a response to the things you wrote, I will leave it at this...
I'm glad that you are a teacher that is at least interested enough in technology to read such an article and open a discussion about it. Of course, any time there are generalizations involved, there are always exceptions. Perhaps, to an extent, you are that exception to many of the issues brought up in the article.

While you are entitled to your opinion, I stand by what I say in the article. And your rebuttal that attempts to point out that I have too long been out of the classroom is the classic "poisoning the wells" argument, not to mention that it is unfounded and false. So as long as teachers don't get the fact that technology can be a tool (and a very motivational one in the right hands) to propel student learning- yes, even on those ridiculous state tests, nothing will change. Teaching technology as an end in itself is totally missing the point.
Thanks for your response!

 I have to say, I may not agree, but I always respect someone willing to respond to a criticism. If I am ever criticized, I hope I will as well.

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Relationship advice for guys: If your wife accuses you of being uncommunicative, do NOT say "Just read my blog." Trust me on this. 

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Have a good week, everyone!