The Pomodoro Technique

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pomodoro timer

Kitchen Timer shaped like a Tomato

I haven’t been doing much blogging over the past few years. One of the reasons is that as a teacher, I don’t really feel like I have any time that I could be writing a blog post that I shouldn’t be doing something related to my job as a teacher. When you’re a teacher, there are always more things that you can do than there is time to do them, and so creating a blog posting is a deliberate use of time that might better be put toward updating assignments or your teaching skills or researching new developments in technology, etc., the list goes on and on.

But I recently came across a time allocating technique that really intrigued me. It’s called the Pomodoro technique and it involves setting aside chunks of time where you avoid distractions and interruptions so that you can concentrate on a single task for 25 minute The Pomodoro Technique Book

intervals. It was developed by Francesco Cirillo back in the 1980’s and is the subject of his book, The Pomodoro Technique. It derives its name from a kitchen timer that looks like a tomato (pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato). I recently ordered a timer since Cirillo feels that the mechanical timer is more effective than an app or electronic device for setting the time since the physical act of winding it puts you in the state of commitment and provides a constant display of the amount of time left. For now, I’m just using a website called tomato-timer.com which seems to be working fine for now.

I’m actually writing this post in the 25 minute allotted time of one ‘pomodoro’.

Although this technique was developed in the 1980’s, it’s even more relevant now because of how easy it is to get distracted today. Back in the 80’s I had a TV that got at most 12 channels. My TV now has hundreds of channels. There was no personal email, no World Wide Web, no computer games, no smartphones, no social media and no YouTube. With all these new technologies that are designed to distract us, it’s amazing anyone gets anything done at all!

So far, I like the discipline this technique imposes on me. When I set a pomodoro timer, I know that I have a limited time to finish the task and then I must stop for a 5 minute break. If you notice that I’m posting more on the blog, it just may be the Pomodoro Technique that is to blame. I’ll keep you updated on how useful I find it.

And I’m glad to report that I got this whole thing written and posted in a single Pomodoro!

Get a Full Stack Web Development Certificate in Greeley Colorado

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Did you know that you can get a Full Stack Web Development Certificate at Aims Community College? It’s true and you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg like you do at some of the bootcamps that teach these skills. Not only that, you’ll earn college credit and that will apply toward an AAS degree, should you decide to pursue that route. The classes required for the certificate are as follows:

The first 4 classes are required for the AAS degree, but if you’re already working in the IT field and just want the Full Stack skills, you can take the CWB classes and you’ll have as good a working foundation as you’ll get from any of the numerous unaccredited $20,000 15-week code bootcamps you see advertising full stack web dev courses. Most of the Aims classes are all available at night or, if you’re a self-motivated individual, you can arrange to take many of the classes online.

You’ll learn what you need to know to create attractive, responsive web sites with HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP. You’ll even become an expert in WordPress because you’ll understand its underpinnings and you’ll know how to fix it if you ever break it.

Some may ask where’s the Angular, the React, the Vue.js that all the cool kids are talking about? How about Node.js? We do talk about those technologies, and you may see bootcamps that focus on those all-JavaScript stacks exclusively because they get away with teaching you a single programming language. And in the area of web development, knowledge of one programming language is simply not enough. For example, 80% of the websites use PHP and SQL on the server side and that’s not likely to change soon. And, once you understand web development basics, you’ll be able to learn those shiny new JavaScript frameworks with an online course or two from Lynda.com or Udemy since you’ll know the fundamentals of JavaScript and how it makes use of libraries.

Dear Graduates – A Real Commencement Speech

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The following is a guest article by our favorite English teach, Mr. James Lynch.

To all of you sitting before me, waiting for the pomp and circumstance, the speeches and distribution of degrees to be over, and celebratory parties to begin, I know exactly how you feel. Besides my own high school, college and master’s degree graduations, I’ve sat through forty high school graduation ceremonies as a teacher, and several high school, undergraduate and graduate ceremonies of my children. The speakers at all those graduations ranged from the mediocre to the bad and the ugly, and offered a mishmash of all the usual platitudes about changing the world you are about to enter. None of them addressed reality you now face.

What is it then that I know about what you are really feeling as you sit there restlessly in those uncomfortable chairs? First, I know that you feel a vague, existential unease about your life from now on. Although in high school you railed about being subjected to “totally unnecessary” rules that made you sometimes call your alma mater a prison, and although your college years seemed to swamp you with endless academic activity (unless of course you were on a four-year booze cruise with a beer-pong major), you lived for many years in a comfortable and protective womb with few real-world concerns – your rapidly approaching or accrued debt notwithstanding.

Now things look different. If you are an accounting major, for example, do you really look forward to sitting at a desk for twelve mind-numbing hours a day during income tax season, adding up columns of numbers and trying to decipher thousands of pages of the tax code? If you are leaving med school, do you look forward to years of the back breaking and sleep-deprived schedules of internship and residency? If you are graduating law school, does working 80 hours a week at a high-end law firm feel worth the prestige and financial reward? If you have a degree in such areas as the rapidly proliferating number of gender, ethnic or identity “studies,” do you wonder how flipping burgers at McDonalds will provide you with a living wage, along with the ability to pay back that crippling tuition debt?

This I know: The world can be and is often a cold and uncaring place. It simply doesn’t care about you or your wellbeing. You are not special; you are not entitled to anything; you are not guaranteed anything. You may die early via accident or disease, or you may die in your sleep at 100. That diploma or degree you receive means nothing to life. Life is one, big crapshoot, and life rolls your dice without preference or mercy. You will randomly encounter health or sickness, fortune or misfortune, love or loss. Life is only what you do with it, how you respond to whatever happens during it.

Somewhere in your life, however, fate will show you an alternative to whatever you are doing to provide for yourself. You must decide at that point, however, whether the opportunity that beckons is offering an inspiring or evil alternative. You can choose the path of Winston Churchill, or Hitler (who was an altar boy) and Stalin (who once studied for the priesthood). Fate may offer cruel power and riches, or an opportunity to facilitate peace and justice. You alone must decide. Our flawed nature, as described in every early mythological story and religious text, can lure us into dangerous territory.

Here’s the real truth. Except in rare cases (even in the medical or legal fields) you will not anticipate either option. Hell, if you are typical you’ve probably changed majors three or four times while in college. If you are headed for college next year, you will likely change majors that many times yourself – and take more than four years to graduate as a result. You may even drop out and not graduate at all. The old saying that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans has never been more appropriate.

No, the truth known to those who have sat in these seats before you is that your careers will choose you. And if you resist being beckoned by fate into a virtuous occupation, for financial of any other reasons, you will likely lead a miserable and unsatisfactory life. That decision will be yours alone. You may drive a Lamborghini and live in an exclusive and gated community, but you will die unhappy. Your tombstone will read, “He had the most toys, but died an unfulfilled human being.” Unless you consciously direct your talents and abilities toward a foreordained and rewarding purpose, your life will be wasted, and society will lose your unrealized contributions.

Before they met and pursued their appointed destinies, Walt Disney was a newspaper editor (fired for lacking imagination), Neil Armstrong drove a tomato truck for a local cannery and sold kitchen knives door-to-door, Julia Child was a CIA intelligence officer, Harrison Ford was a carpenter, Elvis Costello was a computer programmer, Allen Ginsberg was a dishwasher, Andrea Bocelli was a lawyer, Brad Pitt was a limo driver, Sylvester Stallone worked in a deli, Paul Newman sold encyclopedias from door-to-door, and Whoopi Goldberg worked at a funeral parlor applying makeup to corpses. Their transitions were certainly not easy, or without sacrifice and struggle, but a leap of faith – a belief in fate and oneself – made their lives meaningful and their contributions to society manifold.

Fate tapped me on the shoulder early in life, but doubt and uncertainty kept me from my appointed profession until a combination of circumstances shook me by those shoulders, looked me in the eye and told me that I could either spend my life as a miserable salesman (or in any other occupation really), or accept my calling as an educator. Fate had her work cut out for her, as I was absolutely terrified of public speaking, and convinced that no one would be interested in my opinions. Time, circumstance and a good number of patient mentors eventually led me to my personal leap of faith.

After four decades in education, I look back on a career filled with pride and satisfaction. I was once petrified at the thought of standing before students and attempting to provide information pertinent to their lives. That job, I told myself, was for people much more intellectual and erudite. It took two attempts to finally get it right, to feel the vibe that only teachers know when instructor and students interact in the harmony of sharing the knowledge and wisdom of the ages. When teacher and student understand their interdependence in that process, there exists a connection like no other.

So be patient my dear graduates. Test the waters of various occupations and pay attention, not to the monetary, material or social aspects of the job, but to how it makes you feel at the end of the day. Are you simply drained from exertion, or are you also experiencing an equivalent personal satisfaction? Are you happy? When your appointed fate beckons with a good life, you will know it. Lady fate may frighten you with challenging odds, daunting logistics and numerous what ifs, but she will know you better than you know yourself. Trust her, believe her, and take her by the hand. You will never look back on the choice without a smile and an understanding that your life has meaning.

When you meet her, say hello for me, and tell her I’m grateful.

Congratulations and good luck in your future endeavors.

Jim Lynch
Fleetwood, PA
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If you’d like to provide any feedback to Mr. Lynch, he can be reached at jimadalynch(at)gmail.com. You’ll need to fix that email to use it, by substituting the @ symbol for the (at) characters

Shadow Intimacy

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This is another guest posting by Jim Lynch, our favorite English teacher from Bishop O’Reilly.

In 1998 it was revealed that DNA testing determined that Thomas Jefferson could have fathered as many as six children with a slave in his household at Monticello. That news generated controversy about the circumstances under which those children were conceived. Was the author of the Declaration of Independence – which included the phrase, “all men are created equal” – really a racist hypocrite? Did the third President of the United States cruelly use his social status and political prestige to abuse a woman of color who he owned?

There is no primary documentary evidence – letters, diaries, birth certificates, etc. – from the individuals to clarify the details of their relationship. In the 1990’s, however, DNA testing and some circumstantial evidence suggests that she bore him multiple children. That information ignited a debate about Jefferson’s behavior. He was a slave owner, as were his contemporaries in his new country, and in many other parts of the world as well. Although the evidence provides a near certainty of his paternity, the nature of their relationship remains a speculative mystery.

It is of primary importance to first scrutinize Jefferson’s opinions and judgments regarding the black race. Because he was born and raised in a Virginia family of slave owners, the slaves he knew in that time and place were, as a matter of course, uneducated and isolated from white culture and knowledge. In Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which deals with similar circumstances, the author’s characterization of the slave Jim offers an ignorant, superstitious and child-like adult whose stunted social development belies his decency, kindness and loyalty.

In such an environment, it is understandable that Jefferson’s would render “a suspicion” that slaves were “inferior to the whites in the endowments of both body and mind.” Despite such sentiments, however, he was a consistent opponent of slavery, a condition he called “a moral depravity” and “a hideous blot.” In both moral and intellectual judgment, he maintained that slavery was the greatest single threat to the survival of the new American nation. Despite owning slaves, he advocated the right of personal liberty and stated that the institution was contrary to the laws of nature.

Since the beginning of slavery in Virginia, the institution had grown and become firmly established. By the time Jefferson was born in 1743, it had existed in the state for seventy-five years, and was thoroughly intertwined into the social and economic fabric. Raised on a plantation, Jefferson came to realize two facts: that ownership of human beings is a despicable evil, and that, “Where the disease [of slavery] is most deeply seated, it will be the slowest in eradication. . . . In the Southern [states] it is incorporated with the whole system and requires time, patience and perseverance in the curative process.”

In a letter to a friend, he wrote, “As it is we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is on one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” Throughout his life, therefore, Jefferson sought ways to gradually end slavery by enacting laws banning the slave trade itself, prohibiting its expansion into new territories, and by providing the means for the social and economic assimilation of freed slaves into the population as a whole.

He feared that immediate emancipation would cause violence in the South and prejudice in the North. In addition, he advocated the option of repatriation to Africa, the continent from which slaves had been abducted. He feared an understandable retaliation by freed slaves because of the “unremitting despotism “ and “degrading submissions” they had suffered, and worried that they would not be able to survive economically without necessary education and occupational training. The 1831 Virginia slave insurrection known as Nat Turner’s Rebellion, five years after his death, demonstrates Jefferson’s prescience.

Historical evidence clearly indicates that Jefferson’s life was filled with attempts to abolish slavery and find ways to facilitate equitable options for the recipients of abolition. In 1784 he proposed on ordinance that would ban slavery in the Northwest Territories; in 1798 he drafted a Virginia law that prohibited the importation of enslaved Africans; his original draft of the Declaration of Independence included strong language opposing the slave trade; as President he signed a bill outlawing that trade. In his 1821 autobiography he wrote, “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.”

When his wife, Martha, died in 1782, an inconsolable Jefferson continued his efforts to create a national government, as well as to provide a means for a step-by-step elimination of slavery. From 1784 to 1789 he lived in Paris with his daughter Patsy as the United States Minister to France. In 1787, his youngest daughter, Polly, arrived, accompanied by slaves who included James Hemings and his fourteen-year-old sister, Sally. Jefferson funded James’ training to become a French chef, and hired a tutor to teach Sally French, English and writing skills.

He paid both a wage commensurate with French citizens who rendered the same domestic duties. According her son Madison’s later testimony, Sally and Jefferson became lovers two years after her arrival. Oral accounts indicate that she bore a striking resemblance to Jefferson’s deceased wife, Martha. She is said to have had very light skin and long, straight black hair. Such descriptions are not surprising, given that she was Martha Jefferson’s half sister.

Jefferson’s father-in-law, John Wayles and Elizabeth Hemings, one of his bi-racial slaves, were her parents. The children of that union were, therefore, 3/4 European ancestry. Because slavery was abolished in France during Jefferson’s stay, both James and Sally could easily have opted to walk away from their status and embrace freedom. Instead, they decided to return to Monticello with him, along with the promise that he would free them when they reached adulthood. Any children Jefferson and Sally were to produce would be 7/8th European ancestry. In fact, three of their sons, Beverly, Harriet and Eston, lived as members of white society as adults.

During the rest of their thirty-seven years together at Monticello, Sally had five children, all recorded by Jefferson: Harriet – 1795 (died 1797); Beverly – 1798; an unnamed daughter who died shortly after birth – 1799; a second Harriet – 1801; Madison – 1805; and Eston – 1808. There is no indication in Jefferson’s records of a child born to Hemings before 1795, although it is possible she suffered a miscarriage shortly after returning from Paris. Given the tenor of the times, an acknowledged relationship, let alone marriage, was beyond possibility. Their children were given free run of Monticello, with light work. At 14, they were trained as carpenters or, in Harriet’s case, as a spinner and weaver. Like their father, the boys learned to play the violin.

Although the assertion of Jefferson’s paternity can neither be fully substantiated nor refuted, it is almost certain, based on documentary, scientific, statistical, and oral history evidence, that he fathered Heming’s children. Because Jefferson remained silent on the issue when it became a campaign topic during his political life, we can only speculate on the nature of their relationship. Was the champion of personal liberty a hypocritical sexual predator, or a partner in a loving relationship, and a caring father?

History is replete with stories of lovers separated by racial, cultural, social, religious, ethnic, and family hatred: Lancelot and Guinevere; Abelard and Heloise; Orpheus and Eurydice; Anthony and Cleopatra; Romeo and Juliet; Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. It is not difficult to believe that Jefferson and Hemings belong on that list. Lest modern analysts disavow the power of the cultural taboos surrounding colonial society, consider the contemporary treatment of Muslim women, who are subject to stoning and honor killings for merely being seen in public with males who are not their husbands.

It is a fact that all of Sally Hemings’ children were given their freedom by their father, a man who time, circumstance and an intimate relationship had convinced that his earlier estimation of slaves as inferior in body and mind was erroneous. Their servitude, he came to understand, had impacted their abilities and deprived them of the means for intellectual growth. Shortly after Jefferson’s death in 1826, his daughter Martha (and Sally’s niece) freed Sally to live with her sons Madison and Eston in Charlottesville.

It is further known that his children were educated and prepared for economic independence while growing to adulthood, and that Sally and her brother James returned to Virginia with him in 1789, rather than live as free individuals in France. Moreover, would a son for whom Jefferson had no parental feelings be named after James Madison, his dear friend of fifty years? Madison Hemings confirmed in 1873 that he and his siblings, Beverly, Harriet and Eston (who later changed his legal name to Jefferson), were Jefferson’s children.

During his long and productive life as a patriot, politician and farmer, Jefferson indulged in studies and pastimes that demonstrate his genius. He was an inventor, a multilingual (Greek, Latin, French, Spanish and Italian), and a musician, whose passions included architecture (he designed and built Monticello), astronomy (he used a telescope to calculate the meridian at Monticello and to view the solar eclipse of 1811), physics, botany, mathematics (he raised the subject to a position of prominence at the University of Virginia), archaeology, and book collecting (in 1814, his 6,487 volumes were enough to restock the Library of Congress after in had been burned down by the British during the War of 1812).

From the time of the European settlement of North America until the Civil War, slavery was a cancer that metastasized until it was impervious to a rational cure. Although the bloodletting of the Civil War was successful in ending the national ignominy, post war black citizens were left with many horrific racial scars. After the cost of 620,000 lives, a legacy of Jim Crow and racial animus were the legacies of the state vs. state and brother vs. brother war. In the painful century and a half which followed, reconciliation and social amelioration have been painfully slow.

Despite serious and ongoing problems between the races, however, the abundance of high profile African-American musicians, novelists, entertainers, politicians, athletes, journalists, entrepreneurs, scientists, intellectuals, and educators – together with the ongoing normalization of inter-racial couples and marriages – are evidence of genuine progress. The cost has been, and in many cases continues to be, high for such improvement, but the progress is self-evident.

In 1962, President John Kennedy gave remarks at a White House dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners of the Western Hemisphere. “I think,” he said, “this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

From 2008 until 2016, an African-American First Lady and a bi-racial President dined together in that residence. Because he lived at a time when such an accommodation was impossible, the third President of the United States dined alone in the executive mansion. Jefferson’s shadow intimacy two centuries ago was the price he paid to serve a young country not yet able to fully understand, as he most certainly did, the full value of human freedom, or the cost of failing to do so.

Jim Lynch
Fleetwood, PA
September 7, 2018
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If you’d like to provide any feedback to Mr. Lynch, he can be reached at jimadalynch(at)gmail.com. You’ll need to fix that email to use it, by substituting the @ symbol for the (at) characters.