Confessional Booth

I have been mentally composing but have failed to deliver at least a dozen reflections over the past few weeks.  A few days grace that I granted myself have, indeed, become a few weeks.  The title, Confessional Booth, reflects the guilt attack triggered yesterday by Allistair’s collegial visit to my favorite class yesterday afternoon.

The deferred blog entries, which may remain so for eternity, are easily defended.  I have been industrious and working on needed projects.  I don’t need to list or categorize the things that kept me up till late and arising early; simply, I was meeting valid obligations that blocked blogging.

The probably eternal absence of those blogs, as insights never to be shared with any other reader, is not a problem for me.  I accept that.

This morning, however, the vague, festering self-accusation brought on by Allistair’s observance of the final 15 minutes of class has blossomed well-formed into a prosecutable charge. 

By neglecting clear reflection on day to day practice, I had lapsed into unilateral preparation and delivery of stuff, and lost the magic. 

Worse, I was trampling it.

Late last night I did manage to read several pieces that have apparently coalesced overnight into this opportunity to confess, repent, and repair.  My grasp of dogme and the dialectic around it has firmed up.

Allistair and I sit near each other in our faculty room.  We have been sharing bursts of “I’m tried this” and “this seemed to work” as we come and go.  Our talk of the last several days has been growing a focal point, “you just need to love them”, with mental notes to follow up on dogme for added strength of conviction.

Our classrooms were given glass walls along the hallway this winter past.  Allistair noticed something in my best class sessions and asked if he could sit in sometime.

Yesterday he silently entered, begged my pardon and took a seat in the back.  He’d caught me in the middle of a rant.  May I call it a short sermon?  It was intended to motivate a few who haven’t done an assignment critical to our upcoming mid-term exam.  This unplanned sermonette was a leaky affair, unfortunately; a fair bit of exhortation simmering for my freshmen seeped in, unneeded by my highly motivated Seniors.

Yet, the problem was not the rant.

The rant remained cohesive enough and I kept to the warm tone of a favorite uncle.  Allistair offered nothing critical, made few facial comments, assented a few times, and left moments before the bell.  His true contribution was his presence as a mirror for me.

Beyond the rant and Allistair’s observation, I took in the notes all over the board.  I saw the teacherly production and delivery.  I mentally looked back at my most recent sessions in all of my classes to see lots of teacherly production and delivery, and my growing insistence on covering academic ground.

Pleading pressures though I might, I have slipped into the mucky crevasse of measuring the delivery of content.  I’ve been focused on measuring my performance and theirs.  And I am forced to say, to my double damnation, that I have simultaneously been talking the good talk of learning language only by engaged communication.  That is to say, learning useable language as opposed to learning facts about a language.

With all obligations out of the way last night, and this uncomfortable feeling playing out, I was digging into material on dogme, feeling around for a foothold, a fingerhold to halt the slide into perdition.  Oh, and along the path, I was grabbing some classroom activities with potential, umm, yes, for soaking up some time, and making them open their mouths.  How can I be so conflicted?

The mid-term exams are exerting undue pressure.  Correction, I am allowing them to exert undue pressure.

The looming mid-term exams are on everyone’s mind.  I surmise that it is oppressing professors more than students.  I disappointed Allistair when he asked for a few moments to quiz me on “exams at GyeongJu University”.  Since our 75 English speaking professors include a mere handful who taught here last year, most of us have no model for a G.U. exam beyond the shape and bounds of the grade curve acceptable to the Academic Affairs office. 

The standard course syllabuses that we submitted were deliberately shaped to be open to amendment according to personal pedagogical style and philosophy, and to provide the flexibility needed in Conversation courses that center on vocational themes but don’t really demand successful delivery of content save perhaps special vocabulary.  The central concern is clear:  deliver an enabling and enjoyable experience hearing and trying out English as it may be encountered in work situations.

Nevertheless, it seems that everyone assumes a need for conversation course exams that are part written and part oral.  While creating our syllabuses we talked about motivating engagement by weighting attendance and participation as much as we dare.  Actually Academic Affairs requires exactly 20% of the grade to be attendance.  We went for 50% exam weight.

I think we all hope to make exams that will suitably reward the good students and defensibly push the, hmm, other students down far enough to make it possible to reward the good ones within the bounds of Academic Affairs’ grade curve.  I sometimes hear an evil vindictive judgmental uncharitable voice calling for the duds who text or sleep through every session to get an F.

I don’t know why that would improve anything in the world save Daddy’s budget.

I don’t know why they come to class.  The outcome seems so obvious.  Even if I grade the texting and sleeping as acceptable, I am fairly sure that the heavily weighted exams will do the uncharitable deed for me.

Wikipedia has an article about dogme that served me well last night.  It tightened up my constructs, and gave me two voices that helped shape up a few tentative conclusions.

The first article that helped me marshal thoughts was the pleasant, thoughtful, cautionary voice of Simon Gill saying “AGAINST DOGMA: A PLEA FOR MODERATION” at  Simon lent his piece of dissension to Scott Thornbury’s dogme website after he added some softening words.

The second influential article, “DOGME IN ACTION” was written by Ruth Hamilton in 2004 and posted to the Humanistic Language Teaching website here,

On Dogme Chastity

Simon said that the dogme call to chastity caused him to pull back from dogme because he felt “a sense of not just deliberately cutting oneself off from a source of great pleasure but also going on to stigmatize and devalue this source for others.”

I had read the chastity word a few weeks ago, and understood it to be a flag waving for purity of commitment.  Simon’s words made it a big, flaming red flag. 

For my part this morning, however, one of my rising conclusions was to say, “Yes, exactly.  A vow of chastity might have protected me this past couple of weeks.” 

I can identify with and imagine why Scott Thornsbury cast his early writing on dogme as a manifesto modeled after the vows taken by the original filmmakers of dogme ‘95.

On Dogme Emergence

My concept of this word “Emergent” is slowly gaining some body and outlines that are less hazy.  Ruth Hamilton helped much in this regard.  I am hoping that other people’s definitions of emergent remain consistent with my early outlines because I think that the concept of emergence of language may inform my gut feel that Krashen’s “acquisition” does not go deep enough. 

I have been thinking that the concept of second language acquisition may be closer to reality, because it sensibly moves away from teacher centered language teaching and language learning, but that the real work is not done ultimately with the student at the center, but with the center inside the student.

Thinking about this has not been working out very well for me.  Helpful words for talking about my foggy gut feeling are all co-opted.  I’m thankful to get the word “emergent”, hoping that it will continue to serve.

On Moving Forward

Ruth Hamilton writes a scholarly paper that lays out this basis borrowed as metaphor from dogme ‘95, it seems (I need to read more), and then having quoted and interpreted the tenets she has found from Thornbury, Meddings, Woodward, and others, she relates tenets to her experiences applying them in United Arab Emirates.  

Ruth relates six dogme-tic lessons, chosen from many, reporting her setup and rationale, the experience, student feedback, and her reflections.   She then offers her conclusion that “the lessons seemed to take on a life of their own, with the students carrying us along with their flow of ideas, contributions and enthusiasm.” 

She gives several aspects of the classroom experience that demonstrate for her that “dogme combines both learner-centred and humanistic techniques”.

Ruth’s accounts of the lessons are inspiring.  I want to be able to write some stories just like hers.  They are confirmations for me that more Terrific Talks are possible for me.

An added benefit from getting Ruth’s paper is to encounter the Pilgrim group, their website for Humanistic Language Teaching, and a new word “humanistic techniques”, even if the word “techniques” in combination with “humanistic” sounds a bit of an oxymoron. 

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Fun with Word Clouds, Best Catch: WordSift

Word Clouds are nifty ways to see which words are being used most often in a text.  To be sure, there are many other purposes for using word clouds.  They are lively, colorful, intriguing, artistic, and for my purpose, a way to display words that may need some introduction or re-activation for my English students.

One of the many services that generate word clouds, WordItOut made this one when I dumped the script of the movie “Love Actually” into it.  Here is a direct link to the generated output, WordItOutLoveActually.  And here is the image as downloaded from WordItOut.


One comprehensive roundup for similar Word Cloud generators is from WhiteBoardBlog.

Another roundup that was helpful in wasting a couple of hours playing with Word Clouds is here at 21CenturyEdTech.  In particular, I love one suggestion to try VocabGrabber, a Visual Thesaurus service that is supremely comprehensive as a concordancing tool.  Another piece of Visual Thesaurus is one feature of WordSift.

Kenji Hakuta from Stanford offers WordSift to teachers looking to support students who are building vocabularies or are about to tackle a new dialog or text.  The link for WordSift takes you to a video tour of features.  WordSift is so richly endowed that you really ought to watch the Quick Time video first.  The word cloud that it makes is not arranged artistically but is super-powered with concordance abilities.  At about 65% of the way through the video, he shows how teachers can quickly compose a workspace by dragging in words and pictures that WordSift automatically finds for you on the internet.  That’s exciting (for this teacher, at least).

Update (five minutes after posting this):

I can resist adding another recommendation, for Tagul.  And to show it off, let’s try out a Live Writer plugin for Embedded Flash to see if the plugin succeeds in embedding the Tagul Flash when posted to WordPress.  Hmmm, not on that pass, so let’s paste a  little screenshot instead.


This is the script of Love Actually with no words dropped (even the most common words are included) as visualized by Tagul.  Tagul publishes to public or private URL’s.  This view includes a fair number of tweaks that I made.  Just click and visit this one, but before you go, remember to float your mouse over the words to see them animate, and click on a word or two so that you can see how Tagul has tagged each word to do a google search with one click.  So cool.  Now you can click on Tagul Love Actually All words.

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Terrific Talk & Culture update

Update 3/18/2012: Looking at the new TED ED resources (scant at its birth, but having high potential), I did, after a few jumps, find Diana Laufenberg on TED calling for experiential learning, empowering student voice, and embracing failure. We won’t get there, she says, “with the standardized test, and we won’t get there with the culture of one right answer.”

In one area of my mental space I’m linking up my best classroom moments with voices for dogme and such, and I’m glad to catch these handy targets from Diana Laufenberg:

  • experiential learning
  • empowering student voice
  • embracing failure

My brain space is also resonating with our classroom exploration of culture.  I’m excited by the idea of extending the lesson by laying out culture more explicitly as a topic much broader than Asian versus Western, kind versus selfish, or the least enlightening “the curious customs of those other people”. 

I have been attracting/attracted to quite a few interesting pieces this weekend.  This is making it rather difficult to get two lesson plans for Monday, but promises a rich mother lode for the future.  My To-Do list is now bursting at the seams.

In this TED Mid Atlantic session, Diana nails one end point of an ambiguity continuum ranging from “ambiguity to be avoided” to “ambiguity is a natural condition”.  Laufenberg nails the end point to the wall as the “culture of one-right-answer”.  It has me thinking of cracking the hardened shell of standard class routines AND of standard expectations that school is primarily for exam preparation.  The culture of one right answer does not seem to be particularly Western or Asian, but certainly is Case Hardened in Korea.

Note: This ambiguity continuum came into my mental cacophony as I was wondering how to lay out engaging classroom paths through culture.  I have just spent a few hours exploring a 2009 study by Parrish and Linder-VanBerschot, who place the ambiguity continuum in a cultural dimension of epistemological beliefs labeled “stability seeking and uncertainty acceptance” [Patrick Parrish and Jennifer A. Linder-VanBerschot (2009) extending studies by Hofstede, Hofstede, Lewis, Levine, Nisbett, and Hall here].

Here, for you convenience, and for my experiential learning about building blog posts, is the TED session featuring Diana Laufenberg.

WordPress Tags: Talk,Culture,resources,Laufenberg,student,failure,classroom,exploration,lesson,topic,Asian,Western,lode,seams,Atlantic,session,continuum,routines,expectations,exam,preparation,Case,Korea,Note,cacophony,paths,hours,Parrish,Linder,VanBerschot,dimension,acceptance,Patrick,Jennifer,Hofstede,Lewis,Levine,Nisbett,Hall,Here,convenience

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Talking about Culture

Reading the blackboard after our hour of intense survey and discussions of culture, here is what I see. Rather this is what I don’t see. Because I remember that at the very beginning I first talked about the culture at the school. I asked you to tell me about the culture at Gyeongju University. I could see that you thought Prof. Laurence had lost his mind. So I explained that there are smaller cultures that we live in all the time. Each family has a special culture. If you go to church, that church has a special culture. Every group that we belong to, even the clubs on campus, those too have a special culture. I told you that every company has its own culture, such as Pohang Steel Company, POSCO.
POSCO has its own motto “oo-hyang-oo” meaning Right Face, Right, and indicating that everyone in the company, should the company fail, would execute a right face and march into the sea to their death. I think that I convinced you that there are small cultures within the big cultures, and so we began to talk about the culture of Gyeongju University.  You began by telling me that Gyeongju University had a drinking culture.We talked about colleges and universities which do have a party culture.  I think that saying that a school has a party culture is a way to talk about a culture of drinking without saying “drinking”. We talked about the culture of Gyeongju, the city, and Gyeongju University as being very friendly and kind. We talked about a very competitive college culture at Harvard University where kindness might be rather rare. At Harvard Universitywhere the average student is probably studying at home, outside of the classroom, for 10 hours a day, we can see that they are very competitive. There is a big difference between Western culture and Asian culture in terms of drinking customs. Some people in Western culture begin drinking early in the morning. In Asia men begin to do their drinking in the evening. So one person thinks that Western culture is a very strong drinking culture. People feel that Asian culture is much more friendly and kind. Western culture seems to be very selfish, self-centered, and egoistic. When we talk about Western culture, we are usually talking about European culture and American culture, but we also include Australian and New Zealand. We also talked about food and Western culture, and we think that Western food is fast food, and McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and other places that sell junk food. In Korea the fast food is probably ddok-bogi, and kimbab, but kimbab seems to be pretty healthy food. Junk food on the other hand is not healthy food. We thought that bibimbab was probably the healthiest food in Korea. When we talked about the culture of Korea we thought that Korea was especially practical, and that Koreans like results. Lawrence thought that the culture of France is more fond of ideas than results.meng2012-03-15 composite wordle 70

From the time that Nodira came to Korea from Uzbekistan in 2008 until now, a period of four years, she has observed a lot of change in the culture of Korea. Many people are aware of the long hours that men work, and that men are very often strangers in their own house because they leave early in the morning and come home very late at night. In the years from the 1950s until the 1990s, men were frequently seen in their homes only on Sunday afternoons, but they were usually sleeping. This has been changing and man now want to be more close to their families. Women are becoming more and more independent. The fact that there are many young women at Gyeongju University indicates just how independent they have become. Now many women are coming to the University so that they can pursue a career, and not find a husband. Some of the young men in our class are looking for wives, but the young women are looking for careers. The changes for women have been much stronger than the changes for men. Men also want to change their roles, but the pressure on them to provide the daily bread is still very strong. Most women in our class still believe that the man is the main money earner in the family. We have heard of man who stay home and take care of the children, but we don’t know any of those men. We also know that in the old days it was considered very bad to be divorced. But these days people accept divorce as an okay thing. And we know that many people who are in their 50s, and whose children have left the home and begun their own careers, are now getting divorces. Trust and love are essential to every marriage. Many of us feel that the marriage is being made today will be stronger than the older marriages because the value of love and trust is much stronger. Laurence felt that there were many pure hearts in the classroom. We also talked about the strong international or global culture of Gyeongju University and its strong emphasis on the alpha rising extraordinary culture that the president of the University wants to create.

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Today’s Talk was Terrific! Why?

Today is Thursday, end of the second week at GyeongJu University.  I’ve been ruminating over the sessions so far.  And I just finished a few hours of watching a Virtual Round Table session given last year by David Dodgson and following up on several of the links he served up.  These hours were a welcome tonic to clear away the dyspepsia of my ruminations, and the discussions by fellow teachers just happened to shed some light on why today’s English Conversation session with my Tourism Seniors worked so well.

I had one weekend to prepare for my first classes, three different courses, armed with one paragraph about each one to guide me, and for one of the courses, one textbook to follow.  Of course, the first sessions were consumed mostly with introductions and getting-to-know you activities.  Those sessions went well enough because, I think, the content is real even if rather pedestrian and predictable. 

I launched into the next sessions with some themes and topics, vocabulary previews, stories, dialogs, and situations hastily arrayed on some powerpoint slides, and worked hard to draw people into some interaction with me, drawing out information, practicing some readings and dialogs, extending material and pushing them into pair work production.  It all went smoothly enough, better with the juniors and seniors, fine with the sophomores and, well, as well as could be expected with the freshmen.  Most of them need some time to learn that forced feeding is over and life is not a passive experience.

As I say, it went smoothly enough but lacked something.  Outside of a few moments of working together, the other moments were a string of lumpy pearls that I was fingering dispiritedly, questioning technique, timing, activity, presentation, method, motivation, more of this, less of that.

One annoyance provided a breakthrough for me today. 

All the classrooms have a locked-down desktop PC which can be turned on and off, will display on a roll down screen through a projector, and will accept a USB key.  There is no way to connect one’s own laptop to the internet, speakers, or projector.   It’s USB key or internet cloud resources only.  I prefer resources in the cloud, both Windows Live and Google, but the LAN speed in the first couple of days was so prohibitively slow that I resolved to rely on the USB stick.

And yesterday I left the USB stick stuck in the PC of room 2422.  A kind soul safeguarded and returned it to me, but not before the session with my Seniors. 

So today I used the PC and projector to run through a couple of online resources that they would be using in homework this weekend and to add eight new students to the class roster.  Then I announced that I had lost my USB key and was rewarded with generous sympathy all around.

I rolled up the screen, shut off the projector, picked up a piece of chalk, and asked what we were supposed to do today.  Weren’t we about to run through some job interview role playing?  No, no, they protested, we were going to talk about culture.

So we started.  I asked lots of questions about culture at the school, in the GyeongJu community, the Korean nation, the older generation, the new generation, and so on.  I scribed the key words of the discussion here and there on the board, darting into their desks as needed to get close to the most shy and pull out some responses.  I ran from one side of the blackboard to the other to connect topics and flesh out some themes.  Before too long, they were taking the lead, countering some of my evaluations, and asking questions.

As I was working the crowd, I was thinking that I had had my best sessions several years ago working one-on-one for two hours every weekday with Simone, a young woman from Brazil.  At her request, we had reversed the role of the student taking notes, and I took notes and drew diagrams and stick figures and cartoons on pages and pages of white paper while she asked questions and I answered and countered with questions of my own.

Simone felt pressured by the task of recording key points and words while trying to stay in the conversation game and give attention to her concerns of living in a strange new place.

Simone had diagnosed her problem perfectly.  As a welcome by-product, I was relieved of the pressure of leading, and felt no pressure at all from my responsibility to doodle while talking.

A couple of years ago I tried out the same procedure with a retired Korean teacher, Soja, who wanted to learn English so she could take trips abroad more confidently.  Using the doodle pad was a tentative move because Simone had had knowledge about English and had lacked only sufficient listening and speaking practice. 

In Soja’s case, we were working from her extremely basic knowledge of English, but I tried out this doodle and talk routine anyway, occasionally prompting only by asking what else she might want to say.

At the end of each session, Soja and Simone kept the doodle sheets and would often start our next session riffling through them with questions to clarify a phrase structure, an alternative phrasing, this meaning or that, a different tense.  Soja frequently started her sessions with a quick glimpse at a sheet before starting a little speech that put her own thoughts into forms learned the week past.

No doubt, some of the reason for Soja’s and Simone’s rapid improvements was the strength of their motivation.  Both of them enjoyed rapid and significant improvement.

I have mulled over the experiences a lot.  I know in my gut that there was magic in the method beyond the one-on-one advantage and their motivation.  I know in my heart that I could have killed the magic with all of the well-structured and theoretically sound activities that I know.  I will always be thankful that I did not attempt to teach English.

At some point I had started using felt-tip pens in three or four colors.  In the doodles for one hour all of the example constructions might be in purple, topic words in red, variant phrasing or different pronouns or tenses in brown or green.  Another hour’s doodles would have different colors; there was no code.  They had no organization or orientation either.  There was no up or down.  They often resembled mind maps jammed together a bit too tightly.  They weren’t artistic; nor were they pretty, but they were pleasantly attractive.

Wordles are pleasantly attractive, in fact, they’re pretty and many are downright artistic.  Like my doodle sheets, they also tend to shun up and down orientation.

One of the newsletter emails in my inbox today was from Heike Philps inviting people to self nominate for presenting at the Virtual Round Table 2012.  I went to investigate and happened to choose a 2011 presentation by David Dodgson about using Wordles to engage language learners.  Yes, I am carefully avoiding the phrase “to teach English”.

Today I was limited to one huge, dark green slate rather fogged up by chalk dust and a single color of chalk, white.  Despite the limitations, I doodled magnificently, and filled it up in as many directions as I could with my feet still on the floor.

The color wasn’t critical.  The magic was there even with hazy white strokes on smudged board.  One girl leaving the classroom stopped to say it was a really fun class.  Icing on the cake, I already knew.

I carefully took four snapshots of the blackboard and will plow all of the contents into some form so that I can give the doodle sheets to my Senior class.  I was strongly tempted to ignore PowerPoint and get out some laser paper and felt-tips, and then run the sheets through the scanner.  I may still do that.

On the other hand, after watching the ways that Dave used wordles to digest and display words in intriguing ways to help his students to get engaged with themes and topics, I thought that the best thing I might do is to run the words from the blackboard through the Wordle machine.

I might read the pictures of the blackboard, interpolating some of the discussion that clustered around each word and drawing, and let Dragon Naturally Speaking produce a text for the Wordle machine to analyze.

But it wasn’t simply the Wordle-ing that incited me to essay today’s experience.  I was still alternating between chewing on lackluster moments and celebrating one magic hour when I started delving into the blogs associated with Dodgson’s VRT Wordle presentation.  The classroom successes described by Jason Renshaw ( English Raven LearnersNotebook  and more ), Dodgson on Dictogloss, and Pictogloss, and Anna Rose’s Dictogloss with E1s have resonated with my really fun class that used nothing but chalk.

We are all talking about the power of working together by engaging students in their personal worlds.

The methods are void of strength, and most certainly empty of magic, when they are used to structure time and control the crowd.  Even when we succeed in advancing the skill of language learners by doing a great job of manipulating them through beneficial activities, we will still fall short of magic.  When the methods are employed very well, we will suffer together less.

But when we work truly together by engaging each other genuinely, beneath each other’s skin, sharing the concerns and wonders we really have, that’s when the language details get employed magically and transparently—maybe even despite the mechanics of the method or situation. 

Anna Rose found that her personal text about her neighborhood worked quite well when another text did not.  The wonder of a snowy day was plaguing other teachers’ efforts to structure time and control the flow but became the core of David Dodgson’s lessons for days.  I have but skimmed over the covers of Renshaw’s videos and blogs, but I am pretty sure I’m going to find that his ways of putting his learners in control of their own notebooks is at the core of their work together.

The difficulty of cracking the hardened shell of standard class routines for English as a Foreign Language, taught English, will still be an impediment.  But I am still hoping that I can make ever more magic by getting more frequently beneath my learner’s skins and sharing anything that means something to them.

Update 3/16/2012:  Scanning for resources, I came across a blog on Manufactured Teachable Moments by David Deubelbeiss that resonates well,

Teachable moments are powerful “learning” moments (for teaching is learning). In many cases, unforgettable. A kind of student driven “Eureka”. An epiphany where you connect with the subject in ways that aren’t possible in the traditionally delivered, head on, step 1,2,3 lesson plan.  But can we try to make them happen? I believe we can and should as teachers.

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QR Code Generator

Find a QR Code Generator from dozens of choices. This atomurl seems nice enough.  Easy to plug in the URL and make different sizes to try out on my website pages and powerpoint sides.

Image I like this size for my students page.  Now I can’t wait for tomorrow’s next class so I can see how they use it.  I’m still climbing the smartphone learning curve.  The intriguing ideas (tattoo on the back of some fellow’s bald head) suggest that Quick Response Code has legs of some special quality.  I like this one too, with colors  from and having a special size for google, they say, at 128×128. Image

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Homes and Jobs timeline | Timetoast: Cool

via Laurence Partan Homes and Jobs timeline | Timetoast timelines.

I’ve always had it in mind to make a timeline view of my jobs and the places I’ve lived.  I’ve been putting it off because I figured it would take a bunch of work to do it effectively in PowerPoint, and then this morning I stumbled on Timetoast, and an hour later I have a pretty good start.  Guess I’ll have to finish it up soon and embed in my GJU site, facebook, etc. I like the way that the events (black dots) cluster tightly and respond to hovers.  I wish the timespans were responding to hovers as well.  Timetoast has a nicely minimal interface with ample opportunity to expand the descriptions and plunk down pictures or URLs.

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