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Author: Ryan Shollenberger

On the importance of (not too many) agreements

When a new year starts at ALC-NYC, there is usually some measure of a cultural reset.  For us, a big part of this is emptying the “practicing” and “mastery” columns of our Community Mastery Board.  The CMB was a tool that Art, @tomis and I wanted to us to shift the “rulesy” culture that existed at Manhattan Free School and is common to other free and democratic schools.  It lightens the entire process around creating culture by focusing on the development of agreements, not rules, and allowing space to try things and discard them when they’re no longer necessary/effective.

I was chatting with a 5yr veteran student today, and he agreed with my theory that there is a direct correlation between an ALC that has a healthy culture and a relatively low # of agreements on the CMB.  I just ran down the hallway to check in with ours, and at the end of the second week of school, we have 4 agreements in the “practicing” column, and 2 in “testing” (where they’ll stay until next Friday when we check in on how they’re working, if we want to move them into practicing as is, or modify them and test for another week).

You see, this is the beauty of the tool.  It can be as full as it needs to be for the culture of the school to be serving everyone’s needs and staying true to the Agile Roots:

And yet, an empty CMB is a beautiful thing.  It demonstrates that the members of an ALC community have grasped (whether they actively studied them or not) and incorporated the Agile Roots and an ALC’s particular student agreements.  They’re running silently in the background of a healthy culture, much like an agreement that has made it’s way across the CMB into the “mastery” column.

As I checked in with kids today 1-on-1 to get their thoughts about what we actually need at the moment, the overwhelming consensus was that all we really need is an agreement about where and how we can eat food in the space.  If everything else is working (and they’re haven’t been any Culture Committee forms filed yet) and the smooth transition we’ve had to this year is any indication, I’d say the ALC-NYC culture is strong.  And when you consider that leaves all the time and space in a week for kids to focus on their intentions and aspirations, that’s pretty damn cool.


With love and agility,




The Nimzo-Larsen attack

B3… what a weird opening. Then wait for E5.  Time to fianchetto that bishop to B2.  This is how the Nimzo-Larsen begins.  Interesting that Nimzo is the first part of the name, because it was actually Larsen that developed this opening. By placing pieces on squares that are out of the ordinary in most players’ experiences, the NL attack is meant to befuddle and confuse, which can lead to opponents making mistakes, especially in timed games.

After taking double digit beatings from @timotree, I felt it was time to try a new opening on for size, and the Nimzo-Larsen seems like as good a bet as any.  I do tend to (like to) castle on the right side as white too, so it keeps that bit of familiarity for me.  Let’s see how it works out…

Look what I built…

Ok, so it’s no secret that I’m not good at redstone.  @timotree and @fireballdeath are the experts in that department.  So, how can I be useful on the new server?  What can I build?   Well, something that doesn’t require redstone!  So, I headed off to the Nether, like a 49er trekking to the west coast…

I want the gold, give me the gold!

Now we all got the gold- because I built a (slightly U.P.) Zombie Pigmen farm!

Basically, it works by using snowballs (or any projectile) to anger the pigmen in the vicinity of the cobblestone building.  When standing on the platform inside, the pigmen approach the iron door (which is, based on how I originally placed the door, technically ‘open’ despite actually being closed) and fall into a deep (approx 50 blocks) pit, where they die of fall damage and drop their stuff into hoppers that feed into a chest.  The best thing about this is, you can still collect the XP even though you aren’t technically killing the pigmen yourself.

More screenshots to come (maybe even a video in action) later-


I’m not a very good chess player [but it’s still fun at the moment]

A few months ago, @sunday decided to start a chess club offering here at ALC-NYC.  I had dabbled a bit in the past, learning how to play a few rudimentary opening moves from an old friend, and mostly playing against my ex-girlfriend for a year or two, before putting away my board and pieces about two years ago.

Mostly due to the enthusiasm and dedication of @timotree, I’ve now been playing at least one live game per week, and averaging about 2 online games per day.  You would think that with all of this practice, I would be getting a lot better, but instead, I feel like I’ve hit a wall.  Not only can I not beat @timotree anymore (before Winter break I had decent success against him in live games), it seems that I’m greatly over-matched against most of the players I’ve been paired up against on Lichess, the app that we’ve been using.

Here’s a screenshot of our game currently in progress:

It doesn’t look promising for me (black), does it?

Here’s what I’ve learned in the past few weeks…

  • I’m prone to making “blunders.”  These are equivalent of “stupid mistakes” in math problems, i.e. completing a really difficult standard deviation calculation, then typing a 2 instead of a 3 in the answer box.  These are moves I make, and then when my opponent makes their next move, I immediately see what I did incorrectly and regret it.  I hate losing this way.  It’s way harder to accept than when an opponent outplays me.
  • I’m susceptible to “tactics,” as @timotree calls them.  I get caught in a lot of “pins,” and often find myself frustrated when I think I’ve set myself up nicely (being up a piece or two early on), only to find that I my opponent was setting me up to trap my queen and rook between the same attacking piece.
  • I’m good in the early game, but after the 7th or 8th move, I don’t really know what the “best move” is in most situations.  I’ve been trying to use the Lichess “analysis board” to help me understand what the best moves are.  The problem is, once you reach mid-game, they stop giving you suggestions.
  • Number of pieces in play isn’t the only factor to judge who’s going to win a game- piece positioning is just as important.
  • If two important pieces are on the same color square, they are able to be pinned.  It’s best to keep important pieces in close proximity on different colored squares to avoid the pin.
  • A great resource to learn more about the game is The Chess Network on YouTube.

Here’s a video of a game between two masters featured on The Chess Network:

“No Port”

Minecraft is back at ALC-NYC!  Well, it never really left, but the popularity of “Agile Badger” has waned significantly since it’s inception.  This is a thing with Minecraft worlds… You spend considerable time collecting resources, building structures, farms, redstone contraptions, and maybe even beat the Ender Dragon and the Wither.  And then… what?  Sometimes a fresh start feels like a great idea, and so far it has been.

Since @timotree opened “No Port” (named for the IP, which lacks a port), there has been a rejuvenated interest in group Minecrafting, with early contributions from @chimp, @pigcraft8, @douglasawesome, @kirkorovfan, @timotree, and myself.  Though much of my early work has been mining to obtain as much cobblestone as possible, I got a nice little reward for my efforts (which required I “dig deeper” to Y-coordinate 12):

The reason I’ve been stockpiling all this cobble is to avoid a mistake we made in world building on our previous server- building our homes in the spawn chunk.  This area is best reserved for auto-processes, like an iron golem farm, as the chunk (see the above link for more info) is always loaded.  This means that even when no players are in the area, the auto-processes will continue to run in the background.

I want to offer a special thanks to @failspy, who is kindly hosting the server for us.  If you’d like to join us, please email me (ryan@nycagile.org) or message Timo via the ALC website so that we can whitelist your account.

For more information on the history of “No Port,” check out @timotree ‘s blog.

Human, All too Human

“I myself do not believe that anybody ever looked into the world with a distrust as deep as mine.”

Well, not exactly an optimist, eh?  That’s Nietzsche for you.  I think that here distrust means something closer to scrutiny and observation, rather than a judgement.  He goes on to characterize himself as the “enemy and challenger of God.”

I’m about 1/2 way through, Human, All too Human.  It’s written as a collection of short passages with clever titles like “No Within and Without in the World,” and “Some Backward Steps.”  Activate the Übermensch.  Here’s a few ALC-relevant lines…

“You had to acquire power over your aye and no and learn to hold and withhold them in accordance with your higher aims,” (15).

Rangordnung– the problem of grasping the relative importance of things (16).

“We organic beings are primordially interested in nothing whatever in any thing (Ding) except its relation to ourselves with reference to pleasure and pain,” (35).

“The individual fixes his mind too attentively upon his own brief lifetime and feels no strong inducement to aid in the foundation of institutions capable of enduring for centuries,” (39).

“As if any individual could determine off hand what course of conduct would conduce to the welfare of humanity… it is by no means desirable that all men should regulate their conduct according to the same principle,” (42).

“He lives only in order to grow continually in knowledge, and to learn to resign, without envy and without disappointment, much, yes nearly everything, that has value in the eyes of men,” (51) [Jedi]

“[In order to] let man become whatever he wills to become, his [to] will (Wollen) must precede his existence,” (59). [this reminds me of the sign Tomis put on the door years ago… “come as you are; leave as you will.”]

“Therefore:  only because man deems himself free, but not because he is free, does he experience remorse and the stings of consciousness,” (59).

“A lower enjoyment (for example, sensual pleasure) preferred to a more highly esteemed one (for example, health) rates as unethical, as does welfare preferred to freedom,” (61).

“The notion of good and bad has a two-fold historical origin: …the spirit of ruling races and castes [and] the spirit of the subjugated,” (62-63).

“[La Rochefoucauld] warns all those endowed with reason to be on their guard against compassion… in his (and Plato’s view) [it] deprives the heart of strength,” (65).

“Whoever desires no more of things than knowledge of them attains speedily to peace of mind and will at most err through lack of knowledge, but scarcely through eagerness for knowledge (or through sin, as the world calls it).  He will not ask that eagerness for knowledge be interdicted and rooted out; but his single, all powerful ambition to know as thoroughly and as fully as possible, will soothe him and moderate all that is strenuous in his circumstances,” (70).    [Faust]

“A good author, whose heart is really in his work, wishes that someone would arise and wholly refute him if only thereby his subject be wholly clarified and made plain,” (71).  [Watts]

**I will resume this post as I finish more of the book** until next time- Love and agility!

MLB Playoff Predictions

October is almost here, and that means it’s time for the MLB playoffs.  I know @fireballdeath is currently working on NBA predictions, so I’m going to post my MLB playoff predictions here…


American League

Wild Card Game

New York Yankees     vs     Minnesota Twins

For the AL Wild card hunt we find two unlikely teams.  The Twins spent 2016 in the basement of the AL Central, and the Yankees were predicted by most to do no better than 3rd in a tough AL East this year with a lot of question marks around their starting rotation.  I’m giving the edge to the Yanks here based on the probable pitching match-up (Severino vs Santana).


New York Yankees     vs     Cleveland Indians

As magical a season as the Yankees and young Mr. Judge have had, I think it ends in Cleveland.  Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco (not to mention Trevor Bauer and Steve Clevinger) have been too strong lately.  I don’t see the Yankees starting pitching keeping pace with those guys.  Prediction:  3-1 Indians.

Boston Red Sox     vs     Houston Astros

This should be one of the most evenly matched divisional tilts featuring plenty of offense.  While Sale and Keuchel are certainly aces- the former should even garner top 2 Cy Young votes- they haven’t been pitching well of late.  It will be interesting to see how Sale performs in the playoffs after spending his entire career playing for a mediocre White Sox club.  I’m flipping a coin here… the probable MVP and a much improve bullpen should ensure the Astros advance.  Prediction:  3-2 Astros.


Houston Astros     vs     Cleveland Indians

Pitching and defense wins championships, and the Indians have both of those in larger supply than the offensive-minded ‘Stros.  I can’t see them beating Kluber twice (heck, maybe not even once), and Andrew Miller and Cody Allen should hold things down once the Tribe starters make it through 6 innings.  Prediction:  4-1 Indians

National League

Wild Card

Colorado Rockies     vs     Arizona Diamondbacks

Much like in the AL, this year’s NL Wild Card game features two teams not many prognosticators would have picked to make the playoffs.  These squads have gotten it done with offense for the most part, though the D’Backs do boast a potent one-two punch with Zack Greinke and newly ascended ace Robbie Ray.  While both of these teams have the firepower to put up double digit runs in this single game playoff, I am not sure the Rockies have anyone to throw out there to slow the D’Back bats.  Greinke should do enough to keep his team ahead.


Arizona Diamondbacks     vs     Los Angeles Dodgers

The unsung hero of their rotation, Zack Godley, may be the key to the D’Backs making a deep run.  He was quietly a top of the rotation starter (except for his win total) this year.  Having a perennial MVP candidate at first base certainly doesn’t hurt either.  The Dodgers have had a phenomenal year, but aren’t without their deficiencies.  Corey Seager and Justin Turner have been banged up, but there is always Clayton Kershaw.  Keep in mind his playoff ERA has been pretty terrible compared to his god-like regular season numbers.  Yu Darvish is the key to this series in my opinion.  Prediction:  3-2 Dodgers.

Chicago Cubs     vs     Washington Nationals

It’s always hard to repeat after a World Series win, and the hangover has to be way harder to overcome for a franchise that hadn’t won in over 100 years.  Really, the Cubs starting pitching has been disappointing this year, and that will be their downfall.  Scherzer and Strasburg will be enough to move the Nats into the NLCS, and having their best hitter back and (hopefully) 100% will be a huge boost to a team that’s been on cruise control since May 5th (the last time they have less than a 5 game division lead).  Prediction:  3-0 Nationals.


Washington Nationals     vs     Los Angeles Dodgers

I really hope this series happens.  It will feature Scherzer vs Kershaw, Strasburg vs Wood/Darvish, not to mention other starters capable of shutting down opposing offenses in Rich Hill and Gio Gonzalez.  This one might come down to whoever can score two runs each game.  The Dodgers definitely have the advantage in the bullpen, especially at closer (though Doolittle is no slouch).  As a Phillies fan, I just can’t bring myself to pick the Nats.  Prediction:  Dodgers 4-3.

…check back later for World Series predictions…

More life in the space

Ever since the death of the plants @abbyo brought in for the back fire escape last year (?), I’ve been wanting to bring in/grow some more plants at ALC.  A few months ago, I ate a bell pepper and decided to throw the seeds into some tea tins and see what would happen.  In hindsight, I put way too many seeds into each container, and had somewhere between 10-20 little seedlings pop up in each box.  After a few weeks, they choked each other out until there was only one or two left in each container.  The four (there are two in the box in the left that got root bound) plants below are what have survived an aphid and fungus gnat invasion in my apartment:

It was clear that these guys needed some more space to spread out if they were going to give us any sort of peppers.  They have begun flowering, so I decided it was time to re-pot.  In order to remove the clustered root balls from the tea tins, I used tin snips to peel away the walls and remove each plant.  I then migrated them to new pots and filled them in with potting soil.

Here’s the pepper plants, re-potted and in their new home on the windowsill in the quiet room:

Look for more gardening updates as we grow more stuff at ALC this year!  Shout out to @catmooy, whose cleanup job is watering these guys!