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Google Voice Now Open

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Update 8/26: You can now make calls from your Gmail interface even without a Google Voice account, but the two services play well together (North America only for free calls; international calls originating from the US are cheaper than the very cheap service I currently use). Here are some useful and less-useful tips and tricks from Lifehacker.

If you live in the US, Google Voice is now open to everyone. I wrote about it before, but now you don’t need an invitation to use it. By the way, if you’re US-based but working overseas, it might still be worth getting if you have a friend in the US who could activate it for you–it’ll give you a US number you can use for web-based texting (you can get the texts in e-mail) and voice mail, so friends and family can call you and leave messages on their own schedule. You’d get an e-mail with a link to the recording and a transcription (when it works). It might be great in an emergency, for people with totally incompatible schedules, and for relatives who don’t do e-mail. As I mentioned before, it’s really an amazing thing for private tutors and “freeway flyers” with 3 different work numbers, too.

Anyway, Lifehacker has done a good job writing about it in the past as well as now that it’s open:

Now, I haven’t really noticed the lag that they mention, but I have had 1 call out of the calls that a client has made to me not go through, and 1 other call was garbled so badly that I couldn’t hear him. That was during the beta test, though, so I’m hoping that things are better now. It really has made life easier, and my husband uses it all the time so that his students can call him (he’s a part-time community college teacher) and text him (they mostly prefer texting to e-mail). It lets him communicate with them on both their terms and his terms (he hates texting, but typing on a keyboard is fine). He turns the number’s setting to ring when he’s on campus, but it’s generally on Do Not Disturb (straight to voice mail) when he’s at home, unless something special is going on.

Anyway, if you’re already interested and you want to give it a try, go to

“News of the Weird” Phenomenon

News of the Weird phenomenon is when we easily dismiss bizarre incidents from our own society, because we know they originated in a minor subculture, were committed by people with some kind of problem, were done by a marginalized group such as “rednecks” or criminals or fringe political elements, etc. However, we don’t have the same insider knowledge about “weird news” from most other cultures. As a result, when we read something sensational or peculiar, our attempts to practice cultural relativism kick into overdrive and we may accept the item as representative rather than anomalous.

I think of this as “News of the Weird phenomenon” because when we read the “News of the Weird,” “Weird,” “Odd News,” or “Auch das noch” section of our own newspaper, we don’t take it seriously. Yet when we–or our students–hear shocking things about the cultures in which we travel or study or work–there’s a greater tendency to place some kind of importance on the strange news. (At least, in my experience.) We and they lack context and have difficulty judging the representativeness or even the veracity of such news items.

Japan is particularly plagued by this, as countless American and British news outlets thrive on repeating stories about strange things that just appall my Japanese friends, who usually identify the reported incident as some kind of fringe activity (if they’ve even heard of it). This is almost never indicated in the reports. (Sometimes news items about Japan are outright false, like the one that circulates periodically about the see-through clothing. Trained on a diet of bizarre news about Japan, readers of English news will apparently swallow anything, no matter how outrageous.)

It’s important to think about whether news items that we hear contradict other knowledge we may have about a culture, and to check with a member of that society if we’re not sure. In general, I don’t think it’s constructive to pass on news articles that just highlight sensational or “weird” events, and I think it contributes to “bitter expat” syndrome when people living outside their home countries spend a lot of time focusing on this kind of thing. (I’m not sure how examining/unpacking weird news reports from the students’ countries/the teaching context/English-speaking countries could be turned into useful activities, but I imagine that has some potential!)

There’s probably a related phenomenon rarely experienced by American readers, but which affects us: Police Blotter Phenomenon. The police blotter is the section that some newspapers still have, in which crimes are briefly reported. Non-Americans aren’t generally literally reading a police blotter, but many of my Japanese clients have heard about crimes in the US on the news and in newspapers. Not having the local knowledge to understand whether those crimes are ones that could possibly affect them if they were living here, they often build up an unrealistic idea of widespread violent crime in the US.

Anyway, I don’t know if you’ve experienced either of these phenomena in yourself or your students, but it’s just something I was thinking about today.

(As far as I know, I came up with this particular term, but I’m sure I didn’t come up with the idea–there’s probably some better, more scholarly way to say it.)

By the way, I’ve added a new tag: lesson seeds. Lesson seeds are for posts that have just the tiniest seed of a lesson idea in them (as opposed to the lesson plan tag, and the lesson idea tag that I haven’t implemented yet). Sometimes a lesson seed is that’s all that’s needed!

P. S. Thanks to @olafelch and @lynneguist (of separated by a common language) for telling me what some “News of the Weird” sections are called in Germany and the UK!)


Sorry for the long radio silence here and on Twitter, etc.! I went to a convention over Memorial Day weekend, and when I came back, my place had been broken into. My beloved MacBook Pro was stolen, among other things. I hadn’t backed up as often as I should have, because too much other stuff has been going on recently.

Odds are, if you’re a teacher–and particularly if you’re an edtech fan or writer-type or grad student–you also have valuable information and technology in your place. Here are the lessons that I learned from this experience:

  • If you rent your home and own expensive laptops, TVs, jewelry, or other stuff that would cost a lot to replace if damaged or stolen, consider renter’s insurance. It doesn’t cost a lot per year, and it’s made a huge difference for us–replacing two Mac laptops would be an issue for two teachers, otherwise! (Traveller’s has been pretty good, by the way.)
  • Get an external hard drive and, if you are not a conscientious frequent updater of it, find an automatic backup solution. I think newer versions of the Mac OS have options for this built in…I didn’t have that and wish I had.
  • Anything that’s automatically stored in more than one place is a good thing, so anything that’s automatically synced is a good thing. My address book from my laptop was synced to my iPod Touch, so I didn’t lose friends’ phone numbers and addresses (I just wish I’d filled it out more instead of relying on a file!). My calendar with appointments was, too, and so on. If you don’t have a Touch/iPhone/Blackberry, etc., there are some free online services that do similar things. My bookmarks, which include things that are very important like research articles, teaching activity sites, etc., are intact because I use rather than just saving them in my browser.
  • Use an e-mail service that stores your sent mail forever and doesn’t delete it (and can be searched easily, like Gmail). Someday, those sent attachments may be your only record of things like, oh, your most recent CV. (Ack.)

Anyway, without getting into the security side of things, those are just some ideas to keep you rolling/help you bounce back in this situation. I’m sure there’s a lot more out there I could have done.

Ultimately, nobody was hurt, I’m getting a new MacBook Pro, and things could have been a lot worse.