Archives For The Atlantic

My seven-year-old nephew hosts his Lego creations on shelves all over his room as though he is curating a museum show. Look, but do not touch.  My three year-old great niece sings the refrain, “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie (NOTE: the tune is a maddening “songworm”)

My two sons were adamant that I should not give away their Legos when they went to college.

Those tiny, multi-colored plastic building bits have a dedicated, even obsessive, fan base. Such fanaticism is the  reason why I thought the following story I recently heard on National Public Radio (NPR) would make for a great informational text that blends visual, print, and audio with social media for a wide range of readers.

The story was titled,  Lost At Sea, Legos Reunite On Beaches And Facebook and the audio was broadcast on 7/26/2014.

The text for audio link reads:

Nearly two decades ago, a massive wave struck the Tokio Express, a container ship that had nearly 5 million Legos onboard. The colorful toy building blocks poured into the ocean. Today, they are still washing up on shores in England.

The NPR page contains a link to the Facebook site (https://www.facebook.com/LegoLostAtSea) where beachcombers have been uploading photos of their findings:

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Each photo on Facebook is accompanied by a few words by the person who posted the photo- a little story to share.

What makes this story of the missing Legos so wonderful is that there are a multitude of stories in other media. Each has a different take on the lost cargo of Legos which were swept off the container ship 17 years ago.

South Florida’s Sun Sentinel ran the article Sea Hunt a year after the loss. The story by Margo Harakas (May 26, 1998) featured interviews with oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer and beachcomber Cathie Katz. Ebbesmeyer provided his estimate that in excess of 1,000 containers a year slip their moorings saying, “That’s not much considering the 40 million or more containers transported across the oceans annually.”  Katz and Ebbesmeyer  both found a delicious irony in the kind of Lego toys that was lost at sea…that particular Lego container contained aquatic-themed toys.

The Atlantic offered specifics on the kinds of aquatic-themed toys in the story Why Are All These Legos Washing Up on the Beach? in an article by Megan Garber that ran 7/26/2014:

 There were toy kits that included plastic aquanauts. And spear guns (13,000 of them). And life preservers (26,600). And scuba tanks (97,500). And octopi (4,200).

For the older students, there is an article by Joseph Gallivan (8/9/2014) in The Independent, Life’s a Beach to Comb, that discusses the technical details of the Lego spill:

A container ship, the Tokio Express, en route from Rotterdam to New York on 13 February 1997, was hit by a rogue wave about 20 miles off Land’s End. She tilted 60 degrees one way, then 40 degrees back, and lost 62 HGV-sized containers overboard.

The article goes on to discuss the contents of other famous cargo spills including one that released chocolate: Hershey’s Kisses, Tootsie Rolls, Reisen dark German chocolates, and Werther’s hard butterscotch candies. Another spill involved 500,000 cans of beer, and yet another spilled out a container of yellow ducks. There is even a mention of a few dead bodies found floating in the ocean’s currents…all lost at sea.

The variety of these informational texts about these lost Legos can serve as a springboard for other research students can do on topics ranging from ocean currents to degrading plastics to the cultural fascination with the Legos themselves.

For those fortunate to live near a beach, there is even an invitation to share their beachcombing findings. The oceanographer Ebbesmeyer has provided his address with directions on how to share:

…findings can be shared with Curtis C Ebbesmeyer, 6306 21st Ave NE, Seattle, Washington 98115, USA. Please include photos of yourself and drifters, written accounts, locations and dates. Factual descriptions, concerning the drift of the water body fronting your shore, are welcome.

So, I guess it is true. When it comes to tracking Legos, “everyone is cool when you’re part of a team.”

Ode on Grading (Earned)

January 28, 2013 — 2 Comments

The semester just ended, and there are papers to grade. In addition, the midterms are done, and there are essays and papers to grade. I am surrounded by paper. A recent article titled “Why Teachers Secretly Hate to Grade Papers” by John T. Tierney in The Atlantic received quite a bit of buzz, with most teachers flat out saying, “Secretly? There is nothing secret about our hating to grade!”

The article discussed the inability to be fair when grading, but I particularly enjoyed the following paragraph:

The sheer drudgery and tedium. When you’re two-thirds of the way through 35 essays on why the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland is important for an understanding of the development of American federalism, it takes a strong spirit not to want to poke your eyes out with a steak knife rather than read one more. I have lots of friends who are teachers and professors. Their tweets and Facebook status updates when they’re in the midst of grading provide glimpses into minds on the edge of the abyss — and, in some cases, already deranged.

Since several of my classes are deep in the Odyssey, the “poke your eyes out” reference kicked all my Greek allusions into high gear. Consequently, instead of full-fledged blog post that will drain me of the minutes I have before grades are due, I leave you with a quick poetic attempt to capture my grading frustration:

Tantalus Has It Easy

My desk is piled high
with papers and essays that had been assigned
during the Christmas break,
when Dawn spread her rosy fingers on the
new year calendar empty of responsibilities.

Sing in me, Muse, and tell me
What was I thinking? an invocation I repeat
with each carefully completed grading rubric
stapled to a hastily penned paper.

More than one paper bears the correcting
suggestions I had made days ago without
the corrections I suggested. I am Cassandra,
unhappy prophetess whose warnings
go unheeded.

I hear a teacher’s scantron sheets
click noisely in the teacher’s room next door.
“Grading’s done,” he chortles, while I am
caught between the Scylla of unintelligible answers
and the Charybdis of illegible handwriting.

I see the PE teacher leaving early to workout
the stress of the week at the local fitness club.
Apparently, fate favors
the Olympically-sculpted

While I, like Sisyphus,upload_6i2s45k8nordin9cemradc8sv7249883.jpeg-final
reach for another paper to roll up
the grading curve.