Breaks are nice

31 12 2008

I normally don’t get a break during my break from Christmas through New Year’s.  I get all this time off, yet I find myself working non-stop on all the things I want to do yet don’t have time for while my actual work is going.  This year is no different.

So I’ve taken a couple of weeks off from writing on this blog if you haven’t noticed.  I’ve used this time to work on a side project, of which some of you are aware.  I’ve spent a TON of time with my kids.  I worked on completing a structure I’m building in my backyard.  I spent several evenings working on a semi-unique walnut cracker.  [For those who don’t know, it is almost impossible to adequately crack a walnut without crushing the nut.  Maybe I’ll do a complete post of my invention with pics sometime!]  I cut some firewood, worked on my car, and directed some of my efforts into fixing an old air compressor.  Much of the rest of my time was devoted to completing Oblivion — which wasn’t helped by the installation of ALL the official mods last night.  I can’t imagine what I was thinking.

I’ve missed writing here.  As strange as it may sound, I’ve really become hooked on my writing.  Several times every day something cool enters my mind and I think, “Hey!  I need to blog about that!”  I would say less than 10% of those ideas ever make it to the screen.  Which is the way writing is supposed to be, I suppose.  This little break has done me some good.  It’s allowed me to reflect on what sort of things I *want* to be writing about.  I’ve taken a bit of time to re-read some of the posts I’m proudest of and scrutinized what it was about them that I liked.  My New Year’s Resolution is to write the stuff that makes me proud more often.  I will endeavor to make that happen.

It seems odd, but just a year ago I would have never thought that anyone would ever care to read anything I had written.  And in fact, I thought I wouldn’t want them to.  My thoughts.  My own personal opinions that mean nothing.  Why even start a blog?

But this little space has brought me such joy.  For the first time in my life I’ve enjoyed writing.  I know some of my posts have been entirely too long or too pointless to be enjoyable to the reader, but that’s part of the learning process, isn’t it?  And I’ve learned a lot.  Let’s see if my writing gets any better this year!

Thanks for reading.


Arne Duncan, a teacher weighs in

16 12 2008

“To out-compete the world tomorrow, we must out-educate the world today.”  — President-elect Barack Obama

And with those words he appointed Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan to be the Secretary of Education.  He’s a man carrying a great deal of controversial decisions on his back, including closing schools that can’t seem to improve and overhauling curricula.

Here’s how I feel about it…

Plus:  He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard.

You can’t attribute that to politics.

Minus:  He has no formal teaching experience.

Sometimes that doesn’t matter, but it still makes me nervous.

Plus:  He’s for merit pay.

Most teachers are against this because the criteria for determining achievement is too subjective — which means that politics will trump ability.  But if the program doesn’t take money away from those who aren’t kicking out the top performers, then what’s the problem?  I’m for this 100%.  As I’ve said before, my motivation is seeing my students accepted at the top colleges and then going on to do something incredible.  Right now teacher pay scale is determined by seniority.  And a teacher gets a pay bump each year regardless of the performance of their students.  No tracking of students has been initiated on a large-scale level, and teachers aren’t told what happens to their kids down the road.  Teachers basically have to work blind.  Merit pay can be implemented only if there’s a solid record of the students’ abilities coming into the classroom and going out.  These records can be compiled, reduced, and utilized to finally see what works and what doesn’t in *everyone’s* classrooms.

Minus:  He isn’t for dumping NCLB.

In my opinion this is the worst educational program in my lifetime, and one of the worst in our nation’s history.  Those who don’t spend time in the classroom working directly with students only know the theory behind the policy, and the theory sounds good.  But in practice, it’s killing me as a teacher.  There’s a belief that student achievement can only feasibly be measured with a standardized fill-in-the-bubble test.  Only half of a teacher’s job is filling kids’ heads with knowledge and skills.  The rest is inspiration.  No one learns what they do not *wish* to learn.  A student needs to be motivated.  They need to *want* to learn.  Much of that falls on the parents, but teachers must cultivate it.  Testing them all the time brings a lesson in and of itself — that our goal for them is to be able to recite information and methods for our sake.  What’s their goal for themselves?  Shouldn’t THAT be the focus of any and all educational policies?  NCLB has got to go.

Plus:  He’s willing to shut down a failing school and fire the teachers.

This isn’t just a promise.  He’s done it.

Minus:  He does bring the stigma of being a political friend of Obama.

Obama is doing a decent job of selecting a diverse group of advisers and cabinet members from around the country.  He should be allowed to choose someone he thinks is good while also being from his past.  But in this case he had a pool of comparable choices for the post.  Not a biggie, though.

Plus:  He supports charter schools and the spirit of competition in education.

Without competition, how do you know if your school/doctor/mechanic/president is doing a good job?

Minus:  Given his career, I’m unsure of his exposure to rural districts.

I always said one of the worst curriculum decisions that my old, urban school district made was the removal of Home Ec.  That class was pivotal to teaching simple chemistry and measuring techniques to an entire set of students who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in those things.  And it shows in the performance of those students today.  You can say the same for shop class.

Plus:  He’s for transparency in school performance.

Up until two years ago my state had a website that anyone could access with a slew of information about any public school in the state.  Not only did I find this refreshing, and in some cases eye-opening, but I could also assign students the task of determining possible factors in student performance based upon the wealth of data they could access.  That site has since been removed.  I’ve contacted those in charge of maintaining that information and have been told that it was simply too time-consuming, and therefore would probably not be returning.  If Mr. Duncan can force states to report en masse to a team of analysts who can then disseminate the information back out to the public, that would be a major achievement.

So overall I think it was a good pick.  Let’s hope it was.  Feel free to give your opinion on matters in the comments.

Iced World

16 12 2008

And since I’m iced in, I’ll be spending a lot of time on the net. This post is truly random and mostly pointless, but I’m starin’ at the walls, so cut me some spin here.

I have to say that the awesome game Dave recommended,, is awesome!  Also, hulu has started posting a ton of new videos over the last week or so — many old SNL sketches.  Mental floss has a new presidential quiz.  It just dawned on me that Sylar on Heroes is the new (old) Spock.  The making fun of Senile Man may begin now.

Oooooooo! I want this T-shirt soooo bad!  If one of you wants to get it for me for Christmas, I promise to think of you every time I wear it!  Really!

Alright, last thing for now.  If you’re feeling down, Mrs. Brown, and you’re not very good at whistling.  If you need a little boost to help you rise above ennui.  If it’s been a while since you tried to name 40 films in 2 min. by sight. Then you must check out this truly inspirational youtube offering from  It’ll make you wanna punch your momma right in the mouth!*

Oh, and another last thing.  Trigger Happy TV is making a comeback on G4.  Remember that show?  It may be old, but it came before Ashton Kutcher forced you to watch 15 minutes of footage before the funny came.  THTV could make you laugh 20 times during that same period!  Looks like new episodes will start next week.  Good times…

* Dramatization – Individual experiences may vary

Grumpy Bear is… GRUMPY!

16 12 2008

My 2-yr-old said those words to me yesterday.  Didn’t really know what to think.  I was standing in the kitchen and he just said that out of the blue.  I immediately thought of Serious Turtle and in the spirit I created this:


I love it.

Of course, I think he was actually thinking of this, but I like my interpretation just fine.  This, my friends, is just a means to open your eyes to the way my mind works since I’m iced in for the next couple of days anyway.

ST:TNG + Wheaton FTW

14 12 2008

Someone asked me the other day if I liked “that Star Track show.  Or movie.  Or whatever it was, it was old and stupid.”

Yeah, yeah I do.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the minds of those who scripted Star Trek, both the original and TNG.  But there are far more important lessons just waiting to be told by those directly involved in its creation.

I can’t recall if I’ve ever written about this before, but rather than search through old posts looking for a small reference, I’ll just mention it now as though it’s all new.  Several months ago, Wil Wheaton wrote his last ST:TNG episode review for  If you have never read any of his epic geeky essays, this is something that should definitely turn you on to them.

A couple of years ago he was approached about writing these reviews in which he alternates between dissembling the character details and plot and reminiscing over his participation and other memories.  He selected various episodes from the first season and tore into them.  What you’ll find therein can totally kill an evening, but it is SO worth it.  Awesome stuff.

Here’s an example:

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Datalore

Title: Datalore
Original Air Date: January 18, 1988
Teleplay by: Robert Lewin and Gene Roddenberry
Story by: Robert Lewin and Maurice Hurley
Directed by: Rob Bowman
Episode: S01E013
Stardate: 41242.4

Synopsis: After dropping off a bunch of Human Horn for Lurr in the Omicron Persei system, the Enterprise cruises into the nearby Omicron Theta system, to pay a visit to Data’s home planet.

Omicon Theta was once a farming colony, but all the colonists — and everything they once grew — were all gone when Data was found. Oh! A mystery! Riker leads an away team to the planet’s surface in an effort to solve it. (In a scene that was cut from the final episode, the USS Mystery Machine showed up, and captain Fred said, “Dang.” before it flew away to the Scary Old Amusement Park galaxy.)

Start here and pick out any episode you feel attracted to.  Then read the rest of them.  See, how would you waste an evening without me guiding you?

Can’t Get Enough Break

13 12 2008

Mindless, pointless post.  But can you blame me when the vid is this awesome?


Metallica’s ‘Nightmare’ Hits Close To Home

9 12 2008

I normally wouldn’t write about a band that’s large enough to garner public attention all on their own, but their latest video kinda freaked me out.

The video to “All Nightmare Long”  is a merging of The Wall and Thriller, but only if The Wall occurred in Russia and only if Thriller was about really scary zombies being burned by a legion of robots!  None of whom really dance in sync.  The video is an epic 9 minutes in length and vacillates between campy Scooby-Doo style CGI and aged genre film.

This video is NOT for those who can’t tolerate horror flicks, alternate realities, or Metallica (duh). The storyline is pretty intriguing, however difficult to follow from being entirely subtitled and vaguely related to the song itself, with a view of a Russian super weapon borne out of some meteor-delivered spores.  [Note the Cyrillic spelling of ‘spore’ on *everything*.]  The director also took a rather artistic twist with the grainy footage, interspersing it with special effects ranging from mediocre and silly to solid and wicked awesome.

What got me was the last 60 seconds.  Pretty scary stuff.  And a surprise that I did not expect!  Holy Fritos!  …oh, and there’s a zombie cat.  You have been warned.

The whole thing is available on their official website.