by Rob Tiller
Jocelyn doesn’t use the phone for talking too much anymore, at least to her dad, but she called this week to tell me she was admitted to the Columbia University publishing program. She was thrilled, relieved, and ready to start a new chapter: life in New York City. Her boss at the apres ski bar in Telluride agreed to buy her aging Nissan Altima, and she asked me to figure out the legalities. I said I’d be happy to do so.
Whatever doubts I may have about job prospects in the publishing business, I’m keeping to myself for the time being. It’s wonderful to see Jocelyn, so smart and talented, moving forward and exploring. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all go to New York and be students again?
As a matter of fact, one of the great things about my job is that I get to talk to and learn from really interesting and gifted people. This week I had lunch with Jamie Boyle, professor of law at Duke and one of the most clear-eyed scholars of intellectual property law. His last book, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind, explains with clarity and force some of the enormous problems with our patent and copyright systems, including how IP law can hinder innovation and creativity. He really is a brilliant guy, and a delightful conversationalist.
We ate at the Washington Duke Inn, which has a cozy clubby feel, and talked about some of the usual things, like sports and food, but also about his leading role in producing the Hargreaves Commission report, which advocated an evidence-based approach to IP protection. We discussed the possibilities for patent reform in Congress and the courts. We also talked about some of the hyper conservative activity in the N.C. legislature, and the N.C. constitutional amendment against gay marriage. We agreed that this right-wing crowd has gone beyond being embarrassing and is hurting the reputation and economy of our state. I also got to see his new car, a sporty and beautiful Jaguar XK.
In other education news, the NY Times reported this week that EdX, the online education consortium, has developed software that automatically grades students’ essays. Its new software is, it says, not perfect but about as reliable as human graders, and gives almost instant feedback to the student. This could be a game changer in education at all levels, potentially helping students with instant feedback, and also potentially eliminating a lot of teaching jobs. Will the net of it be better education at lower cost? And/or will it be another nail in the coffin of the traditional university, without a satisfactory replacement on the horizon?
David Brooks wrote a good column this week about online education and the role of the university. He proposed regarding the mission of higher education as having a technical knowledge part and a practical part. Technical knowledge is about things like formulas and facts, and practical knowledge is about skills that can’t be written down and memorized. Online outfits like EdX and Coursera can cover the technical part, but at least so far aren’t as effective at the practical part. We seem to need human-to-human interaction to learn some things.
At any rate, the human touch is a pleasant thing. On Friday Sally and I went out to First Friday, downtown Raleigh’s monthly art and food celebration. We stopped in the Adam Cave Gallery, where we’d bought a painting some months back, and met the painter, Byron Gin. His current show, titled Aviary, continues the theme of the work we bought, with abstract elements, rough textures, and birds. Byron was a pleasant, soft-spoken guy, who seemed happy to discuss how he made his paintings. We remembered the painting we bought, and it was good to be able to tell him how it had brought as daily joy. Among other things, we learned that we shared an interest in bird feeders and photography.
For dinner, we tried without success to get into Bida Manda (wait time 1.75 hours), Centro (wait time 1.5 hours), and noted crammed dining rooms or lines out the door at Caffe Luna, Remedy Diner, and Sitti. It’s good to see our restaurants doing a brisk business, but when you’re hungry, you’re hungry. We finally got a table at Gravy, an Italian place, and had a pleasant meal including a Tuscan Chianti.
On Saturday, we went over to Durham to take in some of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. The festival is an annual event that this year featured more than 100 documentaries, 7 different screens, and hundreds of cinephiles, which we somehow had never managed to get to in years past. The afternoon was sunny, and there was a happy energy to the crowd, an eclectic mix that reminded me of Oberlin (where the film club screened classic films once a week) and upper west side New York. The films we saw were all sold out, as were several others we couldn’t get tickets for.
Our favorites were a double bill by featured film maker Jennifer Yu: The Guide and Breathing Lessons. The first was about a park in Mozambique and a young man whose big dream was to be a tour guide. It explored serious environmental issues with a light touch. It featured E.O. Wilson, who at 82 was still charmingly fascinated by ants and other small creatures. Breathing Lessons was about Mark O’Brien, a writer who was paralyzed by polio as a child and spent most of the rest of his life in an iron lung. He seemed very honest about living with an extreme disability. Yu was in attendance, and after each film answered questions from the audience. She seemed really smart and likeable.