Backpacker skills videos online

I work for a paper-based magazine, but the editors at Backpacker realize that the Internet is how people get their information these days. To target this audience, we are posting videos of the skills and gear that we review in the magazine on our website. The first round of videos are now online--including 3 "SkillsCasts" from the December 2006 issue. You can find them at the Backpacker Skills Center. There are also reviews of GPS devices, tents, and digital cameras by Jon Dorn, Kristin Hostetter, and other editors at Backpacker. Over the last week our office has sometimes felt more like a high school theater production than a national publication--but we're all excited about what we can do with videos and podcasts to help our readers. To access the full roster of videos and podcasts at Backpacker, visit our online Video Center.


New email address starting now

I'm transitioning to a new email address over the next 2 weeks. Last month I bought the domain name www.jasonstevenson.net, and over the weekend I began using the email address (jason-at-jasonstevenson.net). In time, I'll transfer all of my email and web-hosting services to this new site and keep it, well...as long as I need it.
Yesterday I was trying to remember when I got my first email address. It must have been around 1991 or 1992. It was the rather long-winded: "brillo@hobbes.polymer.uakron.edu." I used this email address to post on numerous protian newsgroups (in the time before the WWW), including a real fierce one called "misc.education.home-school.christian" which was ground zero in arguments about the religious right's impact on public education. I considered all of my postings to be entertainment, like a more dynamic op-ed page, and I never considered the eventual role the Internet and the WWW would play in my life. I even remember using Mosaic, the first web-browser from Netscape. I bet there were about 1,000 websites in extistence back then. Now I realize that my early exposure to the Internet was like taking a joy-ride in the first Model T Ford - a glimpse of things to come.


Harvard is a betting game

People who say that eliminating early action and early decision--which Harvard and Princeton have done over the past week--fails to improve the college admissions climate, don't think about two important facts: logistics and teenage hormones. To prove this point, let's look at Harvard.
In late 2005, 3,872 students were motivated enough to apply Early Action to Harvard by the November 1st deadline. About 813 of these early birds were admitted on December 15th. That's a success rate of 21 percent to fill almost 40 percent of the freshmen class. Most of the 3,000 who didn't make the cut are rolled into the regular admissions pile--along with 19,000 more students who procrastinated until January 1st to mail in their applications. On April 1st, Harvard chose another 1,311 students from that pile of 22,000 applications. The late-comers faced a much more daunting admissions rate of 6 percent.
The difference in the time and attention that admissions officers could give to individual applications was also considerable. For the early action students, workers reviewed an average of 86 applications a day (3,872 applications / 45 days). For regular decision it doubled to 162 applications a day (22,000 applications / 135 days).
I don't bet money, but I know good odds when I see them. The kids who "slept in" and didn't get their essays and transcripts polished by November 15th, lost 15 percent on their admissions odds, and had their applications read twice as fast. These 19,000 students who waited for January 1st practically lost the race before they began it.
What about the argument that "smarter" kids apply early? It's true, they do. But it's not the right kind of "smart." Either these students, or their ambitious parents and for-hire college advisor were savvy enough to realize that hitting Harvard's early action program is the single, easiest thing you can do to improve their chances to get in. Often it's not the students who realize this. I had many classmates at Harvard whose parents wrote, compiled, and sent in their child's applications without the student even lifting a hand to sign their name. Most teenagers, especially seniors in high school, usually can't be bothered to stay awake for a 9:15am class. How are they going to complete a 20-page application and three 1,000-word essays two months before the real deadline? Only those applicants who know the importance of applying early will make the extra effort to do it. And those applicants usually come from elite backgrounds, high-priced schools, and have siblings or parents who attended these competitive schools. The regular folks are lost in the crowded field of 19,000 applications due January 1st.
But are these early action admits also "academically" smarter than their peers in the regular decision program? I don't think so. Harvard could fill 4 or 5 classes of equally intelligent freshmen each year. What they got with early action, were the kids (
38 percent of the incoming freshmen class) who were smart enough to play the game right. What they lost, and will hopefully regain next year, are the best students from the entire pool of applicants.
Ten years ago I applied early action to Harvard. I started my college essays over the summer. I met with my guidance counselor during the first week of school. I requested my transcripts weeks before the deadline. I arranged my college interview with an alumni couple who knew my political work. I took my SATs and visited college campuses during my junior year. I was lucky that I knew how to play the game. But I still don't think arbitrary systems like early action and decision are the right ways to determine who gets to win.


A better Lincoln match

Perhaps a better Lincolnesque match to President Bush's 9/11 rhetoric comes from Lincoln's February 1860 Cooper Union speech. In this address, Lincoln marshalled the words and deeds of the Founding Fathers to demolish the "do nothing" attitude toward slavery of his rival, Stephen Douglas. A terrific speech that captivated thousands in audiences in New York and across New England, this address galvanized Lincoln's nomination for president three months later. Here is how he ended the speech, leaving his listeners whooping in delight:
"Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."
And again, the conclusion to President Bush's speech from the five-year 9/11 anniversary:
"And we go forward with trust in that spirit, confidence in our purpose, and faith in a loving God who made us to be free."
It seems that everyone wants to be in Abraham's bosom these days...



Echoing Lincoln in times of grief

Last night, as President Bush concluded his 9/11 address to the nation, I caught of few mystic chords of memory flowing through his speech. His writers, I believe, borrowed a cadence of words from the best politician-poet of our history - Abraham Lincoln.
Among presidents in wartime, none rose to command respect and achieve success like Abraham Lincoln. The rail-splitter from Illinois is already big, but he's just going to get bigger in the next three years. The 200th anniversary of his birth is February 12th, 2009, and legions of his admirers are working hard to make sure that a Lincoln-loving festival is in full swing by the time that date rolls around. Steven Spielberg is even making a movie, with Irish-born actor Liam Neeson cast as the president, based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's excellent 2005 chronicle,
Team of Rivals, which illuminates Lincoln's masterful political touch.
But back to the speech. Last night Bush concluded with this sentence:
"And we go forward with trust in that spirit, confidence in our purpose, and faith in a loving God who made us to be free."
Good Bible study and Old Testament stuff, with the rhythym of a civil rights preacher. Bush has echoed this theme in several prior speeches, including his 2003 State of the Union address. It's also a cadence that is a complete departure from his normally disjointed and unpunctuated speaking style.
And to conclude his Gettysburg Address in November 1863, Lincoln said this:
"we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--and that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Lincoln's oration is immortal, and so are certain phrases and sounds from this speech. I don't fault President Bush from standing on the shoulders of history, he needs as much additional perspective as he can get. I just think his speech last night is yet another example of how Abraham Lincoln, although not one of the original Founding Fathers of our country, is the son who made, and continues to make it, a great nation.