Friday Fun Link – Best Opening Paragraphs of Academic Books (Feb 23, 2006)

There are lots of lists of best opening and closing lines/paragraphs of novels. But how about a list of best opening paragraphs from academic titles?

(via MetaFilter which, as always, has some good discussion, other suggestions and related links)

Here’s a bonus FFL – “Virus“, a fun little Flash game that’s sort of like a multi-coloured version of Go.   Useful if you've got your laptop in a class that's a bit underwhelming (not that I would knowingly participate in such activities myself of course.) 

(also from MetaFilter)

I say that I never played games in class as a joke but actually, now that I think about it, I never did play games in any of my classes.  Did I surf around for info related to the lecture topic?  Quite often.  Work on assignments for other classes.  When I had to.  Surf aimlessly?  Sometimes.
Participate in chatrooms as each week of one particular class got progressively worse?  Yes.   I never even did instant messaging in my classes except for 1-2 brief occasions (also connected to a really bad class.)

I once asked a professor if the clacking of people's laptops bothered him when he knew people weren't taking notes on what he was teaching.  (It's pretty obvious when the clacking continues at the same rate whether the prof is talking or not.)  The prof sort of shrugged in a “what can you do?” gesture.  Sam Trosow, who also taught in the law faculty, once compared library students who were the most part attentive and focused to his law students who *all* had laptops and were constantly clacking away, fairly obviously not paying attention.  So the few people who did have laptops in his LIS classes didn't really bother him. 

The ultimate though was one student I know who was a TA for an undergrad MIT class.  He got so fed up one day, he  raced to the back of the room and laughed at the scramble as a roomful of young kids tried to turn off monitors/close browsers/flip to some “real” work.

Comments 9

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    It's funny that you posted about laptops in class becuase Kath also went off on a big rant today about the same issue. I guess it's like mentor, like mentee.

    Posted 24 Feb 2007 at 2:47 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    I spent five minutes poring over Kath's blog before I realised you meant she did in her rant *in person*.
    I think I need to spend less time on the Internet…

    Posted 24 Feb 2007 at 1:23 pm
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    Michelle, weren't you there for my in person rant?
    I am planning on writing one in the blog too…I just have to organize my thoughts. Actually, it will probably come out meaner if I don't organize them too hard.

    Posted 24 Feb 2007 at 4:10 pm
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    holy wow. Jason wrote that comment. I don't know why I assumed Michelle did. I don't need to think this week…..looks like I'm doing a good job.
    wow. that was….weird. what a dolt I am!

    Posted 24 Feb 2007 at 11:51 pm
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    No offense to you laptop-in-class people, but it always drove me nuts with the clacking and emailing and general searching. Granted, it was maybe sometimes jealousy when the lecture was excrutiatingly boring and I only had my Crayolas to amuse myself and I knew that you had the entire Internet to keep you occupied. All I know is that if I were teaching, I'd require laptop users to sit front row centre. It wouldn't prevent anyone from playing Solitaire or doing email, but it would take a lot more balls to do it, knowing that everyone sitting behind them could see for sure that they weren't paying attention. It's just too obvious what's going on when laptop uses sit on the perimeter of the classroom.
    And we all know how annoying it is when some smart-ass either contradicts a prof or answers a question based on a quick Google search. How is that really participation, I ask you?
    I'm sorry I missed Kathleen's rant. I bet it was a good one (and entertaining). I'll be watching your blog, waiting for the written version. Take no prisoners!

    Posted 25 Feb 2007 at 3:53 am
  6. Anonymous wrote:

    Weird but funny. Obviously, this whole topic has us *all* confused. I look forward to your rant!

    Posted 25 Feb 2007 at 10:52 pm
  7. Anonymous wrote:

    Not sure if I'm considered a “laptop person” in your view (I was designated a part of “laptop row” by a fellow student, rather rudely I felt, in Genealogy) but would say that I'm probably closer to your opinion than you realise.
    I only took my laptop to two classes on a regular basis and that was when I realised after a week or two that I needed something to pass the time because the material/prof wasn't engaging me. (Arguable whether this is a legit beef – I had a few discussions with others about whether “suck it up” is the best policy in situations like this or not.)
    But for those unfortunate classes where the prof or material is so bad or out of touch, that the alternative is self-inflicted wounds, not sucking it up as far as I'm concerned.
    I had three really bad classes during my year but only two became “laptop” classes for me because the third still had good info, even if the prof wasn't always in total control of their material.
    With that said, there probably weren't too many classes where I didn't end up opening my laptop in at least once – I'll admit, sometimes it was to do other work (and I do apologise because I know it was distracting to others), sometimes it was because I happened to have the laptop there anyhow because I needed it for a group meeting or while working at the GRC or whatever. Sometimes it was because I knew the subject of the day would relate to technology in some form and it'd be handy to have it.
    I'm not with you that “correcting a prof” isn't participation. Obviously, you don't want to nitpick everything out of their mouths or be an asshole when you do it. But I was glad when the odd prof would make a blatant mis-statement (or just forget a fact) and someone could prompt them after a quick Google search.
    (One other point – I'd love to sit at the front of a room if you were teaching – but not because I was being punished for having my laptop. Instead, I'm pretty sure it'd be because I'd be into your lectures since you have those skills. Not having good teaching skills is part of the reason profs lose their classes, even if they (should) have good material.)
    Okay, maybe not. Even for my best classes, I liked to sit at the back of the room and off to the side if I could. It wasn't to hide my laptop activities – I just liked that perspective on the classroom – to see other people's reactions as profs lectured, was this hard? Were people into it? Were they bored?

    Posted 25 Feb 2007 at 11:08 pm
  8. Anonymous wrote:

    Yeah, it's the “being an asshole about it” part that I object to. Which, frankly, is mostly how I've seen it done. (Don't worry – not by you – although I'd say you're a laptop person. Maybe I was just in the bad classes with you!)

    Posted 26 Feb 2007 at 6:19 pm
  9. Anonymous wrote:

    It's almost like an unfair advantage these days – a prof at the front of the room with only their brain, facing a roomful of students, many of whom are dialed directly into Google and everything the web has to offer. “Uhm, actually the Library of Alexandria was founded in the *3rd* century BC…”
    Of course, the prof should reply “Did you get that from Wikipedia? Yes? Then get out of my classroom right now!”
    I won't deny that I was a laptop person in the one class that we had together but I didn't really take it that often to our other class – probably not even half of the classes. I think people might even have false memories of how often I had my laptop in classes though because I ended up talking about technology and the Internet so much? Maybe?

    Posted 27 Feb 2007 at 4:48 am

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