Myq Kaplan and the Comedy of Linguistics by Chris Duffy

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Myq Kaplan is a nationally touring comedian whose quick-fire wordplay leaves audiences in stitches. A graduate of Brandeis and Boston University, Myq (pronounced “Mike”) Kaplan got his start in Massachusetts before landing a spot on NBC’s Last Comic Standing.

Kaplan is one of the smartest comedians working today and with a master’s in linguistics, he makes every word count. As he says in his act, “Words are important. Words are all that separate us from the mimes.” Kaplan is renowned for his ability to take an idea, deconstruct it in front of the audience into its component parts, and then build it into something entirely new and hilarious.

Read my Q & A with Myq here: http://artery.wbur.org/2013/04/02/myq-kaplan

Parasitic Birds? Now That’s Funny. Nerd Nite Continues Tonight by Chris Duffy

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A DJ spins records as self-proclaimed nerds chatter excitedly inside Cambridge’s hip Middlesex Lounge. It’s 8 p.m. on the final Monday of the month, which means only one thing: Nerd Nite is here.

Described as “the Discovery Channel with beer,” Nerd Nite is a local meetup where volunteer speakers give 20-minute presentations on subjects they’re particularly passionate about. The presentations are equal parts comedy and education. Think Robin Williams meets Richard Feynman. “We definitely encourage humor,” says organizer Mary Lewey.

Read more here: http://artery.wbur.org/2013/03/25/nerd-nite

The Deadpan Matt D. Gets An A by Chris Duffy

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Matt D.’s career is about to take off. Named one of Comedy Central’s “Comics to Watch,” he’s got a voiceover gig on Jonathan Katz’s “Explosion Bus” and he performs at comedy festivals across the nation.

At a time when storytelling is all the rage and comics are often more depressing than hilarious, Matt D. (real name Matt Donaher) is a comedian who actually tells jokes, lots of them. His deadpan delivery and tightly-crafted one-liners recall Woody Allen or Steven Wright. In performance, mundane topics are imbued with the absurd. Pointing out the insanity of stuffed crusts and layers of toppings, he declares “Domino’s is becoming the M.C. Escher of pizza.” On his athleticism, he says, “When I was a kid I was so bad at sports my dad had a fantasy football team made up of all the other sons in the neighborhood.”

We asked Matt D. five questions about comedy and performing in Boston. He’ll be performing at the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square on Friday, Feb. 15.

Read the full interview here: http://artery.wbur.org/2013/02/13/matt-d

Enter the Void by Chris Duffy

This is communication with North Korea: balloons equipped with GPS trackers, shortwave radio transmissions, and smuggled DVDs of South Korean soap operas. For the most part, these  communications enter an information black hole with no feedback.

Read the full article on Makeshift's website or in print in the Communication issue. 

Interview with Whit Alexander in Makeshift Magazine by Chris Duffy

Published on the Makeshift website on  September 28, 2012

Whit Alexander worked for Microsoft, helped develop the maps for the first Encarta encyclopedia, and created the best-selling board game Cranium. He’s now the founder and CEO of Burro, based in Koforidua, Ghana. Burro is a for-profit company providing innovative products like batteries, irrigation pumps, and eyeglasses to low-income families in rural areas.

Why the name Burro?

It literally came to me in my sleep that the donkey is one of the first and best investments many rural households can make in improving their productivity.  Our company is all about productivity enhancements. Every Burro product has to save you money or empower you to earn more money.

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Want to keep teachers? Get rid of summer break by Chris Duffy

Published in the Boston Globe on Sunday, January 15, 2012

EVERY SUNDAY since I started teaching, I’ve forced myself to go into school to prep materials and set up my classroom. During the week, I’m in the classroom before the sun rises. After a full day of teaching, I tutor my struggling students, make phone calls to parents, scrub desks, and sharpen pencils. Here’s the thing, though: I’m not some uniquely hard-working teacher. In fact, in two years, I’ve never once been the first teacher in the building and only twice have I been the last to leave. I feel truly lucky to work in a school with such dedicated colleagues. However, I wonder how sustainable this lifestyle is.

Nationally, about half of all teachers leave within three years of starting to teach. As many as 80 percent of Teach for America teachers leave after year three, according to a recent study by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice. A lot of talk in the current education debate focuses on how to attract the best and brightest to work in education. But the bigger issue is how to get talented and dedicated young people, who also have other options, to stay in education.

I teach fifth grade at a charter school in Boston. Many of my friends studied education, and almost all chose to work at charter schools or through Teach for America. There’s a simple reason for this. Teaching in a regular public school generally requires a master’s degree in education and certification tests. That means that you essentially have to be sure you want to teach. The time and money one would invest in a master’s program only makes sense if you’re committed to teaching for good.

So here’s the situation: Many young people with other employment options enter the world of education. We choose to work in the toughest neighborhoods, with underserved populations. We work long hours in high-stress environments, forgoing many basic amenities of other jobs (like the ability to get up and go to the bathroom, for example). We make personal connections with students and take our worries about them home with us along with papers to grade and lessons to prep. Then after two or three years, the vast majority of us leave the classroom.

One solution that’s been proposed for teacher retention is higher pay or bonuses. For money to actually make a difference in teacher quality and retention, salaries would have to be dramatically increased to the point where candidates who are getting pulled into finance and consulting jobs would instead opt for education. Personally, I certainly wouldn’t turn down extra money, but it also wouldn’t have a significant impact on my job satisfaction.

Many teachers aren’t motivated by money; otherwise, they wouldn’t have gone into education. In my senior year of college at an Ivy League school, when I was looking at job opportunities, I went to an info session for a major consulting firm. The jobs it was offering paid $100,000 a year, starting salary. I remember thinking that given a choice between time and money, I would rather have time.

So where is the innovative thinking about incentives for the rest of us, who are motivated by the social good of teaching and prefer time to money? A logical and meaningful first step to reward teachers would be to eliminate bureaucratic hurdles and cut down on paperwork, which prevents teachers from actually teaching. Many high-performing charter schools, including where I’m employed, are already making great steps in this direction.

But even at the most cutting-edge institutions, the vacation system is a shibboleth. We have a bizarre way of getting rewarded with time. Teachers work crazy hours and then have several extremely long chunks of time off. I originally thought teaching would be perfect for me because I’d be able to pursue my other interests during the vacations and summertime. In practice though, I’ve found that I’m so sleep-deprived and emotionally drained by the time a vacation rolls around that I need to use the time simply to recover. Rather than more money, I’d much prefer a better work-life balance.

There are numerous possibilities for change. What if we traded the traditional summer break for shorter hours each day (and a dedicated focus on quality after-school programs for students) or more frequent one-week breaks? Breaking up the summer vacation would also alleviate pressure on working parents who struggle to find affordable childcare, while preventing students from “backsliding’’ on their studies during the summer.

More research needs to be done to figure out the impact of various changes on student achievement and teacher satisfaction. But it’s clear to me that education reform should take greater account of the work-life balance of teachers.

Schrödinger's Kim by Chris Duffy

Kim Jong-Un, the newest Kim to rule North Korea, is dead. Scratch that: he’s still alive. Actually, we’re not really sure. The thing is, Kim Jong-Un is a lot like Schrödinger's cat, except he’s not in a box and he has nuclear weapons. The same conclusion remains, though: in the absence of any observation, Kim is both dead and alive.

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Foreign Cures for the Common Cold by Chris Duffy

Whenever the snow starts falling outside, I inevitably come down with a winter cold. But just because you’re snuffling and stuffed up doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some delicious new flavors with that cure, thank you very much. The world is full of more interesting cures for the cold than chicken soup. Here are three drinks I’ve encountered in my travels that will not only make your sickbed a more sophisticated and worldly place, they’ll even make you feel better.

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My Big Fat Greek Dinner by Chris Duffy

"Don’t say anything about the Turks,” I prep my family. “And don’t say anything about the Macedonians or Albanians. Actually, just don’t talk about any of the neighboring countries at all. Whenever you want to talk about international relations, talk about feta cheese instead.”

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Top 5 Ways To Live Abroad For Free by Chris Duffy

You’ve dreamed about an adventure abroad. You're ready to uproot yourself from home and venture into the wide, wide world. But what are you going to do? How are you going to support yourself? 

A simple Google search will probably get you thinking your options are limited to teaching English, getting a fellowship, or working for a multinational company. Not so. With a little extra initiative, a healthy dose of creativity, and a willingness to knock on some doors, you can follow in the footsteps of these five intrepid globetrotters:

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If You Go Hiking in Korea, Don't Forget the Vodka by Chris Duffy

The black-haired young man in front of me surged up the mountain, leaving me panting in his wake. His feet moved with the deft assuredness of a mountain lion. His attention, however, was focused on his cell phone, which he was using to watch a popular soap opera. So much for enjoying the great outdoors, I sighed.

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Remembering Miriam Makeba by Chris Duffy

In Miriam Makeba’s native language, Xhosa, there’s a word, “ubuntu”, which translates as “I am because you are.” No one better embodied the spirit of “ubuntu” than Makeba, who died on Sunday from a heart attack. The iconic South African singer, known as “Mama Africa,” willingly endured personal sacrifice in order to speak out against the apartheid regime. She was forced to live in exile for more than thirty years. Her records were banned. Yet Makeba refused to back down, becoming a symbol of the struggle for equality.

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Three Square Meals: The World Food Crisis Comes to Senegal by Chris Duffy

“When you don’t have a full stomach, it’s hard to work,” security guard Mamady Diane, 33, told the Inde­pendent. Like many others in the West Afri­can nation of Senegal and across the globe, Diane is finding it harder and harder to af­ford the rising cost of food. Today, Diane will skip lunch and has only eaten a small piece of bread for breakfast. “I’ve never seen food prices this high before,” he says. Food pric­es have risen sharply in Senegal this year, a product of a complicated and tangled world food market in which developing countries are struggling to compete for their daily sustenance.

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Pencils Down: TV and Film Writers Strike by Chris Duffy

This week, late-night shows like Conan and The Daily Show became the first to be affected by a Writer’s Guild of America strike. Writers walked out on Mon­day after negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers broke down. The Daily Show and others like it rely heavily on scripted material written each day. Without new material, the shows blacked out and immediately went into re­runs.

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