The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Race, Opioid Addiction, & Crack Cocaine March 30, 2016

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Race, Opioid Addiction, & Crack Cocaine

A brief essay on how race may impact our approach to drug addiction.  Worth watching and considering…


Poetry From Prison: From Jail to Yale January 13, 2016

Filed under: Communication,healing,inspiration,Leadership,peace,Racism,Solutions — Karen Shafer @ 10:08 pm

Wednesday, January 17, 2016


Poetry From Prison:  From Jail to Yale


Reclaiming Conversation: Are Cellphones Reducing Our Empathy for Each Other? November 27, 2015

Filed under: Communication,no technosavvywhatsoever — Karen Shafer @ 10:46 pm

From the book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, author Sherry Turkle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology gives us her favorite quote: “Technology makes us forget what we know about life.”

This is a worthwhile conversation…


Please Watch This Video If You Are Concerned About Race In America. September 5, 2015

Filed under: inspiration,Leadership,peace,Solutions — Karen Shafer @ 9:24 pm

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

I came across this interview with Bryan Stevenson by Charlie Rose by accident last evening, and this man is my new hero…  what a beautiful, humble human being.  It is riveting television, and I think he has it exactly right about race in America.  I hope you’ll take the time to watch it.

If you have trouble with the link, go to, search “Bryan Stevenson + Charlie Rose” and click on the first video.

Bryan Stevenson’s book is called Just Mercy.


Is WIFI in Schools Safe? August 21, 2015

Filed under: and a little child shall lead them,Sensible technology,Solutions — Karen Shafer @ 9:39 pm

Friday, August 21, 2015

Allergic to WIFI

For quite a while now — 2-3/4 years, since sustaining a concussion which was one of several over time — I have been a “canary in the coal mine” on the subject of Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity:   an “allergy”, for want of a better word, to electromagnetic fields such as those caused by cell phones and wireless internet.  This is not a fun cultural role to play:  it is extremely isolating, frightening, frustrating, and, at times, dispiriting.

With the explosion in diagnoses of autism, anxiety, depression and other neurological disorders among children, a growing number of scientists and citizens are adding their voices to concerns about the harm this radiation pollution can cause, particularly to children and young adults who are still developing.  Here is an article from Boston Parents magazine that is worth considering.



An Oasis in a Food Desert August 7, 2015

Filed under: healing,hunger,inspiration,Leadership,peace,Solutions — Karen Shafer @ 8:59 pm

Friday, August 7, 2015


Building an Oasis in a Philadelphia Food Desert


This story is so inspiring!  We’ve become familiar with the extreme difficulty that people living in poverty face in accessing fresh produce and healthy food, and also with the barriers faced by those who have formerly been incarcerated in securing employment after release.  Here is a wonderful man — a grocer — who is solving both these problems in an exceptional way.




The Case Against Laptops in the Classroom July 11, 2015

Filed under: Sensible technology — Karen Shafer @ 9:11 pm

The Case Against Laptops in the Classroom

By Jennifer Senior

Last week, at the Aspen Ideas festival, there came an interesting little moment between Kentaro Toyama, a computer scientist, and Jim Steyer, a lawyer and entrepreneur. Both declared that they’d banned laptops and other electronic devices in their lecture halls.

“Many of the students actually appreciate that,” said Toyama, who teaches at the University of Michigan, “because it encourages real discussion, and they know that as soon as there’s a laptop in front of them, they’re going to start Facebooking each other, and that means that they’re not present for the class.”

Steyer jumped right in. “You should know that in my Stanford classes five years ago, I started banning laptops,” he said. “There was no way they were paying attention. They all whined about it constantly for the first three weeks.” He added that his colleague, with whom he co-taught the course, was terrified they’d made the wrong choice. “She was like, They’re gonna just kill us on the reviews!” he said. But by the end, their students, too, expressed gratitude.

As the founder of Common Sense Media, which evaluates the relative merits of kiddie screen fare, Steyer would perhaps inevitably come around to this point of view – he knows a thing or two about kids and distraction. Ditto for Toyama, author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology, whose misgivings about the Internet are built right into the title. Both are wary of mindless tech boosterism and obviously willing to say so out loud.
But they may also represent a new kind of logic when it comes to electronics and education, suggesting that more professors are willing to rethink the value of these devices – or at least express their reservations aloud. Not that many years ago, it would have been considered curmudgeonly – hostile to progress, even – for teachers to voice concerns about laptops and iPhones. Yes, there were early un-adopters (the University of Chicago Law School, for instance, turned off its WiFi in classrooms in 2008) and vaudevillian dissenters (like the University of Oklahoma physics professor who, in 2010, braised a laptop in a bucket of liquid nitrogen and then smashed it on the ground – watch the clip here for a quick hit of Luddite porn). But they were outliers, mainly.

Last year, though, no less than Clay Shirky, the Internet philosopher whose views on new technology have always tended toward the enthusiastic, wrote an essay for Medium explaining why he, too, had reluctantly decided to banish smartphones and laptops from his NYU classroom. “Both the form and the content of a Facebook update are almost irresistibly distracting,” he wrote, “especially compared with the hard slog of coursework. (“Your former lover tagged a photo you are in” vs. “The Crimean War was the first conflict significantly affected by use of the telegraph.” Spot the difference?)”

Attention researchers have long known that we humans are lousy at task-switching. Our brains simply aren’t optimized for it. Slaloming between two streams of information almost guarantees that our learning will be shallower; it prevents us from making intelligent and lasting associations with either body of material. In the case of a distracted college student, one of those bodies of material – a Facebook feed, say – isn’t important to master in the first place. Yet as Shirky points out, social media software is hypnotically diverting, like a tropical bird in mating season – noisy, seductive, colorfully-plumed. How could a bored undergraduate resist? (“Our visual and emotional systems are faster and more powerful than our intellect,” he notes.) Indeed, how could nearby students resist? (This, to Shirky, is the most powerful argument for banning laptops: They’re diverting other students in the vicinity: “Allowing laptop use in class,” he wrote, “is like allowing boombox use in class .”)

In the last few years, a number of studies have also shown, quite convincingly, that students learn better – and get better grades – when they take notes by hand. (My favorite: “The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard.”) The reason, quite simply, is that typing leads to a certain compulsivity about getting the words just right, a slavish attachment to literal transcription; whereas writing, which is slower, forces people to process and summarize the ideas they’re hearing.

In fact, studies examining the efficacy of laptops in the classroom date back to 2003, when a pair of researchers from Cornell gave two groups of students – one with open laptops, one with closed – the identical lecture and then tested them on the material immediately afterwards. Guess which group did better. (Dan Rockmore, a professor of computer science at Dartmouth, discussed both of these studies in his own essay for the New Yorker last year about why he, too, banned laptops from his classroom; they’ve formed the basis for many teachers’ objections.).

Steyer, of Common Sense Media, recognized this immediately. “And then they’d protest, ‘But I take notes on my laptop!’” he told me after his panel. “And then I’d say, ‘Oooooooh, you don’t know how to write? You’re a Stanford student. I assume you took penmanship.’”

Today, he says, far more of his colleagues are banning laptops than they did five years ago. His own rhetoric, meanwhile, remains gleefully strict. “I tell my students that if I catch them, I’m going to take away their computer or phone for 24 hours,” he says, “which I of course don’t have the right to do.”