Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all! Be glad you're not on Chiron Beta Prime.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Man is a Beast

One argument that annoys me greatly is, "Men are unthinking beasts who can be induced to barbarism by stimuli and have no determination of whether they act." This is the basis for a lot of the "Women shouldn't dress a certain way" arguments. Free will exists and behavior is a choice - the key to any criminal act is the choice the person makes.

The assumption of "man is a beast" is derived from other kinds of nihilistic determinism. For example, anyone who says, "Emotions are just chemical reactions" is perpetuating this same argument, since they remove the role of choice in what we feel. If emotions are nothing more than chemicals, then rape turns into a predetermined response to certain triggers - and now you're blaming the victim for presenting those triggers.

A proposed structure to the brain that does not include some mode of free will or agency can be labeled a supporting viewpoint of rape culture. Without a system that accounts for the fact that a rapist chooses to act in that way - that they are not compelled by any behavior on the part of the victim - you end up assigning blame in entirely the wrong spot.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars VII

Star Wars Episode VII plot points:

1. New main character is Harry Skywalker.

2. Gets handed a lightsaber by C3PO who tells him, "You're a Jedi, Harry."

3. Goes to Jedi Academy, is taught by Obi-Wand Kenobi.

4. Featured class? Defense Against the Darth Arts.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Keep the Krampus

Remember to keep the Krampus in Christmas: beat naughty children with sticks.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Tidbits

There's a new employee collective where every member works from home. It's called Tele-Communism.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Tidbits

How would Aladdin be more interesting?

"I wish this wish was not granted."

Monday, November 30, 2015

Christmas Decorations

I'm looking forward to putting up holiday decorations in my classroom after Thanksgiving.

Santa? No. THE KRAMPUS.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Tidbits

What's the harshest punishment the Doctor has ever inflicted?

Altered a person's time stream so that every day is a Monday.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Tidbits

The joy of creation and the thrill of destruction. Humanity's dual nature in a nutshell.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Tidbits

When Shakespeare wants to deal non-lethal damage, he becomes Shakestaff.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran's Day Rememberance

Grandpa Baird fought in the Pacific Theater of World War 2, going through Indonesia as part of the navy. Before the nuclear bombs, he was told he'd be part of the Japanese invasion force. Thankfully, he never had to go through that. My dad was born after he got back.

Grandpa Li fought the Japanese in mainland China as part of the GMD special forces (i.e. black ops spy stuff). He was never allowed to tell mom everything he did, but it was enough that he had very high level connections in Taiwan after the GMD fled there.

Uncle Jim fought in Vietnam as part of the army, doing artillery. He earned a medal for saving the lives of his fellow soldiers by stopping a Vietcong suicide bomber who ran into the bunker he was in.

So, yes, this holiday means something personal to me, thanks to the service my family has had over the decades. (I tried joining in 2004 to be a medical officer, but having asthma means they won't take you.)

Friday, November 6, 2015

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015

Tidbits

Who's the best singer when it comes to different kinds of curves?

Harry Conics, Jr.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tidbits

What happens when two long-necked animals battle over territory?

Gear-affes of War.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Tidbits

What if Professor Oak is actually James from Team Rocket who "blasted off" to the past?

Friday, October 9, 2015

Tidbits

With so many interesting things to think and learn about in this world, boredom is a condition no one should ever experience.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Remember Oct. 3

So I was thinking of bringing back a dead relative today with alchemy.

What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

Alchemy

So I was thinking of bringing back a dead relative today with alchemy.

What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Tidbits

I want a crossover with Basil Rathbone (in CG format), Hugh Laurie, Vincent Donofrio, Robert Downey Jr., and Benedict Cumberbatch all trying to out-Sherlock one another. It'd be glorious.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Tidbits

What's the best book of math poetry?

"Leaves of Gr-asymptotes."

Friday, September 18, 2015

Tidbits

"The joy of discovery - that's what drives us." - Bill Nye

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday, September 4, 2015

Tidbits

It makes me feel old when I remember that a lot of kids these days don't know the days of having A:\ and B:\ drives and the devices that used those letters. (And, yes, I had both on a system I used in my younger years.)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Tidbits

When Bertrand Russell wanted to insult someone, he called them a Kant.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Tidbits

Apparently any variation of Homestuck can exist by putting "-stuck" at the end of a word.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Tidbits

How did the math teacher encourage his students?

"Don't believe in yourself. Believe in e! Believe in the e that believes in you!"

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Robin Williams

My favorite Robin Williams movies are his dramatic roles rather than his comedic:

Good Will Hunting
Dead Poets Society
What Dreams May Come
Being Human

However, my two favorites of him are Awakening and One Hour Photo. I always felt that when Williams portrayed characters who were withdrawn, shy, and soft spoken, he wasn't acting - he was showing us his true self, the part of him that the comedy was meant to distract from. There was always a touch of genuineness to those roles that is hard to simply imitate.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday, July 31, 2015

Tidbits

What does the logarithm say about e's power level?

It's over NINE THOUSAAAAAAND!!!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Tidbits

Shakespeare meets horrible pop music: "Who let slip the dogs of war? Woof! Woof woof woof!"

Friday, July 17, 2015

Tidbits

What did the apathetic dependent variable say to the independent variable?

"I give no functions about you."

Friday, July 10, 2015

Tidbits

"Are you a psycho?!"

"Shut up and grab the guns!"

"Well, that answers my question..."

Friday, July 3, 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015

STEM-Punk: Gearing Up With Victorian Sci-Fi

Grab your top hats and monocles, it's time to dive into the wild world of steampunk! One of the liveliest genres of speculative fiction today it showcases humanity's propensity for invention and exploration by men and women alike. PONDER using steampunk texts to stimulate student interest in STEM careers! MARVEL at the handmade DIY projects to bring into the classroom! GOGGLE at math-heavy games with a Victorian flare! This way to see the egress.

Presenting this today at CAMT in Houston.

Tidbits

What if "What does the fox say?" is our equivalent to "Who is John Galt?"

Monday, June 22, 2015

When the Clock Stopped

The collapse of Cracked Monocle, publishers of Tephra, is one of the more preventable tragedies in gaming history. There were dozens of instances that could've aided the company in surviving longer, but at every crossroads the wrong choice was made. Studying these bad decisions can help other independent publishers make the right call when they are faced with similar decisions.

Background


Cracked Monocle began as an indie game publisher with strong potential. It was a mainstay of multiple Texas conventions during Tephra's beta period. It had a developer pool of several dozen enthusiastic supporters. Its Kickstarter went above and beyond expectations to give the company a starting revenue of over $20,000. These were all ingredients to make Cracked Monocle a strong new entrant onto the table-top scene.

However, as years went by, problems arose. More and more developers left. In 2013, there were around 20 core developers. They were sorted into 4 teams with different tasks. By the middle of 2014, only one team of developers remained active. By the end of 2014, there was only one developer left. In that span of time, hundreds of pages of material were written and polished - only to be tossed or shelved. A scant few expansions crept out the door. The momentum Cracked Monocle had after the publication of the core book could not be sustained.

In February 2015, Cracked Monocle officially closed its doors after the owners realized they could no longer sustain it. It stopped sponsoring Monday night events, pulled out of all conventions, and ceased all development of projects. Tephra joined the ranks of hundreds of other independent games that have fallen by the wayside.

Currently, Cracked Monocle is in a "house cleaning" state, releasing items that are years old in a desperate move to pay off the thousands of dollars in debts it still has. However, the company is dead in every sense and this last bit of activity is the equivalent of an abandoned house being stripped down of its contents before being torn down.

Here are twelve reasons Cracked Monocle fell apart and the lessons that can be learned.

1. No vision.


Tephra started as a D&D clone. It expanded to a more original steampunk world with only science, no magic, successfully moving away from the D&D world mold. Unfortunately, it never escaped a view of clashes that remained thoroughly hack-and-slash.

It lacked a definite vision behind its main conflicts. There were individually good ideas, such as the Salvagers who run amok across the countryside Borg style, but the game lacked a sense of central theme. There were superficial ideologies present, but no sense that the game was being driven by any of them. The settings were vague homages to genres of steampunk, but there was never an effort to inject elements that might symbolize and capture the zeitgeist of the Victorian era.

Tephra captured the steampunk aesthetic, but it ignored many of the steampunk principles that could have unified its conflicts under a common banner and improved cohesion. In this sense, Tephra was more low steampunk rather than high steampunk. This lack of polish negatively impacted the overall quality of the product and setup many conflicts between developers over what direction to take for future releases.

Lesson learned: Don't have your world be a series of disconnected fights. Pick a theme and choose the aesthetics and conflicts based on that theme. For steampunk, this can be anything from the "triumph of industrialism" or "the pressure of modernization" to "the increasing rate of change." A broad, but concise, unified philosophy can keep the message of the game's material consistent and avoid a disorganized mishmash.

2. Failure to expand the market.


The main competitions for an audience with any table-top RPG are Pathfinder and D&D. The main focus for these games? Combat. People play them to slay fantastic creatures and beat the enemy into submission. People who want more than that will therefore be the ones you need to appeal to. Cracked Monocle refused to allow Tephra expand beyond a combat system (see "Stay in the box" below).

At the same time, the company only marketed to convention attendees and game retail store visitors, a narrow band of the overall potential market. During SXSW Gaming 2014, an attempt was made to attract parents to buy the game for their kids, capitalizing off the appeal of crafting systems to younger players and the inherent math content of RPG systems. The attempt was wildly successfully, with parents accounting for 25% of sales there. However, this success was never followed up on and future documentation stressing Tephra's appeal to parents were scrapped.

Lesson learned: Grow, grow, grow! Never pass on a chance to go beyond who you think your product is "right" for. Success can come from unexpected audiences. Look at "The Room:" what had been intended as a serious drama became a "so bad it's hilarious" - and the creator rolled with it! His success was because he knew how to pivot to new markets, not because he stuck slavishly to what he intended his demographic to be.

3. No PDF's of the main book.


A standby for many modern RPG releases today is to release both in print and in PDF. Print books satisfy the bibliophiles – like me – who enjoy holding the books in our hands. PDF's, however, are great for those with huge gaming libraries and prefer to carry their reference materials on their mobile device rather than in crates.

While Tephra used PDF format for smaller releases, the main book was never put out on PDF format before the company went under despite high demand. No real reason for this avoidance was ever given, but it certainly limited the reach of Tephra by a significant margin.

A PDF of the main book was eventually released in April 2015, two months after the company ceased all other operations. By this point, interest was so low that it barely made a blip. One wonders what impact such a release could have had even one year prior in 2014, when the company lay dormant. In the end, it was too little, too late.

Lesson learned: Electronic, for good or ill, is key to printed material these days. I may love printed books, but the convenience of PDF's cannot be denied.

4. Blond hair, blue eye syndrome.


A disturbingly large number of NPC's in Tephra have blond hair and blue eyes (BHBE). Both iterations of the iconic characters are lead by guys with these traits. The original iconics also have a BHBE farishtaa woman. It's so bad that Velkya Luthricien, founder of Evangless and one of the key historical NPC's, was drawn with BHBE even though she's canonically of Middle Eastern descent!

There were attempts at diversifying the character models, though. The second round of iconics had one character based on Lando Calrissian, for example. Unfortunately, it also had a red headed woman who wore an impractical midriff into battle, something that many took note of in a snarky manner. Still, sameness of character design plagued Tephra across the board, which is what this point really boils down to.

Lesson learned: Variety is the spice of life. D&D 5th edition did an amazing job at creating a diverse range of characters. People like to have avatars they can latch onto and to see examples of those avatars in the world you create. Make sure it's there so they can feel welcome. And for the love of god don't use impractical armor! Especially in steampunk, which is all about function over form.

5. Restricted access to product layout.


In addition to writing and testing, there's the final step for a release: getting it laid out on the page in a format that's easy to read. This usually means InDesign or one of the myriad alternatives combined with image templates and iconography.

In Cracked Monocle, only two people knew how to layout releases. This meant that if either of those two were busy, nothing could get released. In the year plus preceding Cracked Monocle's collapse, this is exactly what happened: neither of the two people who had the ability to layout items could make time to do so. Had developers been able to layout their own material, this could have easily been avoided.

Lesson learned: Use design templates you can share with developers. Don't be afraid to let them get the ball rolling. So much time could have been saved - and so many products delivered - had this been delegated.

6. Poorly managed website.


Keys to driving web traffic are a site's blog and website. In Cracked Monocle's case, their blog and website could only be updated by a single person (not the owner). This meant the site tended to sit, with no updates, for long stretches at a time.

Once, the owner of the company tried to generate more content for the website. He went to the developers and asked for blog posts he could use, since he didn't have time to make posts on his own. The developers stepped up and gave months worth of article length quality pieces - none of which made it online. Why? Because the only person who could post them was busy. The efforts of a dozen people were wasted and the supply of material quickly dried up, never to be refreshed.

Lesson learned: Bottlenecks are bad. Make sure you have a team of people who can access and update the site. Make sure it's an easy to use system and not a custom job that only one person can decipher. When content is given to you to release - release it! Sitting on it just shows lack of commitment. People won't volunteer their creative energy if it's clear nothing will come of the investment.

7. Isolated knowledge of lore.


Chief to any role-playing game is the world it's set in. A deep and broad lore helps make the world interesting and fun to explore. It's crucial for players to be exposed to it in a variety of ways so they will latch onto the game. At the same time, a central lore repository that developers have ready access to ensures that geography, characters, and technology remain consistent from adventure to adventure.

Tephra, unfortunately, had serious issues with the lore. There was plenty of it, but only one person - the owner - knew it in complete detail. Problem? Hardly any of it was written down! Worse, if a developer tried to create something that contradicted the unwritten lore, they'd be told to change it. The result was developers unable to take creative liberties with what was in the adventures they were planning for fear of trampling on some unwritten canon.

Lesson learned: If it's not written, it doesn't exist. "Head canon" works for fanfics, but not media properties. Put it on paper so other people can see it and reference it. If you don't, then expect others to trample all over it - and you should let them.

8. No standards.


Another difficulty in the development process was dearth of feedback. This owed to a failure of the owner to establish guidelines and standards for feedback from other developers. New projects would be put out for people to review, but some would ignore it, while others would contribute a little, and others would refuse to touch it because they wanted to test something else of lower priority. There were no expectations that to continue being a developer there would need to be contributions made.

This was part of the cause of the dozens of active contributors dwindling to a handful and then none: people became so adjusted to thinking, "I'm a developer," but they failed to make any active contributions to justify that title. The owner could have corrected this by setting guidelines and expecting active contributions, but chose instead to largely see if the matter would self-correct, which it didn't.

By the time action was taken - creating four teams of developers with leads that would hold them accountable - the pattern of ennui had become a mindset that even the team leaders could not overcome. This lead to all but one of the teams sputtering out in less than 4 months.

Lesson learned: When you grow to include other developers, define what that means! What do you expect people to contribute? People will live down to your expectations. While it's easier to expect nothing, that will tend to lead to receiving nothing. For an indie publishing group, "nothing" is highly costly.

9. No acknowledgement of developer feedback.


The lack of acknowledgement and respect for the ideas and suggestions from developers to the company leaders were endemic. All of the errors and missteps noted above were caught by multiple people over the course of years. The owner knew about every single issue here well in advance. The problem? He and others refused to listen.

Any suggestion was dismissed if no one felt like dealing with it. Bad armor design on a female iconic? "No one will notice" (they did). Requests for game play other than combat? "No one wants that" (they did). Demonstrating that parents were willing to buy the game for their kids? "We can't make money from that" (they could). And so on. Pushing the issues just resulted in even more stonewalling.

Eventually, those willing to speak up found it easier to stay silent because they realized nothing was going to change for the better. So Cracked Monocle drove right off a cliff.

Lesson learned: Listen to feedback. Own it. If you have a long term vision and the feedback conflicts, say so. Don't continually dismiss alerts when they're raised, though. Otherwise the canary will be dead and you're too deep in the mine to get out.

10. Stay in the box.


The Victorian era was one of many diverse kinds of discoveries and sciences. Aether, electricity, and air balloons are only some of the most widely used sciences in steampunk. There's a significant number of others, such as psychology and logic, that many steampunk games overlook. However, Cracked Monocle's leadership refused to allow exploration of these original areas.

Non-combat systems for Tephra were one of the most requested items at cons from players. However, anytime the suggestion was brought up, it was dismissed. "Oh, that's only a few players," "This is a combat system," and "We can't spend the manpower on that" became steady bromides. Even when people volunteered to lead those projects they were denied permission. Tephra's failure to expand creatively caught it in a rut that cost it both money and popularity.

Lesson learned: Extra Credits popularized the design approach, "Difference in kind." You need to have a variety of ways for players to interact with your game in order to truly capture them and to break up the monotony. Staying with the same approach and mechanics over and over goes against that and directly leads to a loss of interest.

11. Social standing over merit.


How did the owner determine who to listen to? Whoever was his friend. How good your argument was didn't matter if you weren't part of the "inner circle." In many cases, ideas only came about if you could convince one of those friends to speak on your behalf. There was an increasing reluctance in admitting more people to the developer pool after a point, which cut off several people with promising degrees of energy and talent.

Hard work and contributions were rarely if ever recognized. Developers who submitted dozens of pages had their work go unacknowledged. Hard work, dedication, and drive were never rewarded with praise or encouragement. Often it would be the opposite, with the owner going out of his way to marginalize or table things that developers felt passionate about if they weren't someone he was close to. Result? From 20 developers to 1 in a year's span.

Lesson learned: It's said that people don't quit jobs, they quit bosses. When you fail to recognize people of merit, they go to where they will be recognized. And it won't be with you.

12. No plan.


At only one point in the company's history was there ever a plan for releases. It didn't last a month. Organization was the biggest weakness of the company's leadership. Developers would spend months on a project only to find it had been canceled or deemed "unimportant" and shelved. As frustration grew, more developers simply gave up and quit, turning to side projects they controlled.

At the time of its closing, Cracked Monocle had hundreds of pages of unpublished work: three adventures; a pair of 200-page country expansions; and a host of miscellaneous smaller expansion materials. Most of these could have been released in 2014, but the planning was so poor that the time spent in development hell was measured in years, not months or weeks! There was publishable material being made - the will to get it out the door was gone from the top.

Lesson learned: No plan means no future and no company. Never focus entirely on what's in front of you. Always keep in mind the next thing. Try to lay the groundwork for it in advance. Be transparent and open about priorities and keep to promises you make to others about when what they care about will matter to the company.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Tidbits

Idea: adopt-a-shrubbery program to bring small potted vegetation into the home and office of the community. Call it "Plant Parenthood."

Friday, June 12, 2015

Friday, June 5, 2015

Friday, May 29, 2015

Tidbits

Something I want to try at one point: taking "Applied" or "Experimental" and tacking it onto a profession that is not typically either, then creating a metaphysics from there for fun.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Tidbits

Prayer is a magic spell with an area effect and no foci.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Tidbits

"Man, women are mysterious."

"Nonsense! Why, I fully comprehended a female today. Every aspect of her being was completely revealed in glorious detail."

"How?"

"Dissection!"

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Friday, May 8, 2015

Friday, April 24, 2015

Tidbits

The Major from Hellsing is the perfect anime representation of, "Come at me, bro."

Friday, April 17, 2015

Tidbits

Brilliant idea: combine a soup kitchen for the homeless with an animal shelter. The slogan? "Don't euthanize when you can soup-anize!"

Monday, April 13, 2015

Working for Conventions

The benefit of dropping convention staffing as a hobby: no more delivering results in return for emotional abuse and little compensation. I can count on one hand - and have fingers left over - the times I was ever thanked by my con supervisor for the work I did or shown any appreciation for the time spent. I'm pretty light on material compensation (I'll settle for a room and occasional snack), but the intangible elements matter a lot!

There were (sometimes) the generic "We all did great," but never any one-on-one. In fact, in the worst cases, all the personal feedback time would be spent on one or two mistakes with no mention of the successes at all. This isn't even specific to a single con - it's a frighteningly common flaw in how a lot of cons operate and probably why there is frequent turn-over. People won't work where they don't feel valued or respected for their contributions.

It can usually be pegged to specific personality types within the groups. Constantly negative people are the subgroup I've seen most responsible for this issue at several conventions. They are incapable of praising others or in celebrating the success of others - even underlings - and should therefore never be promoted to any supervisory positions.

They give off easily detectable warning signs, too. For example: when you tell them of an accomplishment, they jump straight to raising an objection to it to suppress the mood. If you tell them you were able to bypass a blockade to get vital information for the con, they'll go on about how you have to follow protocol. If you follow protocol, they'll complain about how you could have saved time by going around it. It's not about the specific achievement; it's about them making sure you don't feel good about it.

Put them in a position of authority and now any success of someone under them they'll turn into a failure to the face of that worker, while either ignoring or twisting any positive aspects. The effect is that those under them wear out, some quickly and some slowly, as they act as a grindstone on the soul to wear it away steadily.

There are supervisors who are good at remembering the power of praise to get results. I once saw a guy buy gifts for those under him to congratulate them on a job well done. That was a great example of a leader who inspires his team to work harder next year. However, they are not common enough. I can say there were one or two cons that, on the whole, I had positive experiences with, but it's just not enough to continue keeping it up as a viable hobby. Better for me to invest the time and effort into other projects.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Tidbits

My response when a student figures something out:

"Congratulations. You have passed the test. Your status as a human is now confirmed."

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Game Session Quotes

These are all quotes from the same game session of Tephra.

Narrator: He seems like a normal human, aside from the glowing demonic eyes.

--

Narrator: You get a tier 3 bus ride. No random hobo or snooty rich guy sits next to you.

--

Narrator: What attribute do we use for ‪#‎swag‬?

Me: Spirit for bluster. Cunning for a rap battle. Dexterity for a dance off. WHY AM I THINKING OF THIS?!

--

Me: We are focused. And by focused I mean oblivious.

--

Me: Why are you trying to blow up Japan? Again?!

--

Other player: We need to disarm him? Sunder! Sunder! Sunder cats, hoooo!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Friday, April 3, 2015

Tidbits

The key is to know you are being watched - and having the courage to do it anyway.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

You Are Fake

Remember: no matter how friendly they are to your face, everyone you know is whispering about how much they hate you behind your back. Every mistake and gaffe is being spread through a shadowy network that you are only dimly aware of but will determine your success in life forever. Everyone knows you are a fake, that nothing you do is really any good, and they will never let you achieve any real success.

Happy April Fool's Day, everyone!

Monday, March 30, 2015

"Why should we allow it?"

You'll often hear the question: "Why should we allow x?" What's implied by this question is the right to restrict the action of others - that the person asking is somehow fit to impose barriers on others and hinder their access to living life by their terms. It assumes the other party must justify their right to exist and live and act. It's the outlook of a tyrant.

A better question is: "Why should we not allow x?" This seems subtle, but the difference is significant. Now the proof is turned to the blocker. The barrier is not assumed to be right or proper - it must prove itself by some suitable ground or be stricken. There are barriers and punishments that can be justified (punishments for murder and theft, for example), so this does not preclude their existence.

It demands that whoever wants to control the life of another must have a better reason than, "I don't like it." A reason that can withstand intense scrutiny and questioning. This is the outlook of someone who believes in allowing humans to live as they will, at least so far as they don't violate the rights of others.

So whenever you hear someone say, "But why should we allow that person to do that/own that/express that?" remember to turn it back on them and force them to justify why they think it ought to be restricted in the first place. Because the burden of proof is always on the one who seeks to control.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Voting Against Puppies and Kitties

Common political tactic:

1) Create a bill. Name it something good. Example: "Puppies and Kitties for America."

2) Load it with all kinds of crap and pork that has nothing to do with the title.

3) Maybe have a page in there related to the title. This is optional.

4) If you opponent votes against it, claim they hate whatever the bill is about. Example: "Every member of the other party hates puppies and kitties!"

Wash, rinse, repeat. So whenever you hear someone say, "This party voted against puppies and kitties," you can be darn sure the one thing they didn't do was vote against puppies and kitties.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Decision Upset

"I made a decision."

"I am upset with your decision!"

"Being upset just proves my decision was right."

This is the kind of nosense I have to deal with sometimes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Traits to Avoid

Two warning signs to avoid in someone as a partner (these apply to men and women equally):

1) They hit on wait staff. It's creepy. People in service jobs are not there for you to make a pass at. This indicates both bad upbringing and a casual disregard for boundaries. It can also indicate the person sees others as objects for their use.

2) Openly discussing the "hotness" of someone else. This typically happens in groups. When guys do it, they come off as frat boy jerks. When girls do it...well, same thing. Even worse is when it's done in front of someone you know is interested in you, since it's pretty much telling them, "Look how inferior you are compared to this person." It's related to some of the manipulation techniques that start by creating a negative seed in the other person. At best, it indicates the person has no manners. At worst, it can be a red flag for an emotional abuser.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Rubik Cube Chess

Concept: chess on an 8x8 Rubik's cube.

You start on different faces. Pieces move normally, but only along the face they're on. You get to twist the cube after you move (probably with restrictions such as at least 1 of your pieces must be moved).

For more fun, add a third player and occupy opposite corners.

Another version would have your pieces not occupy a single plane, but be spread out in a regular pattern across two or three planes.

Main difficulty would be balancing the game so checkmates can't happen with a single twist. The fun part would be coming up with strategies that can work on an ever changing field.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tidbits

Idea for a math word problem involving inequalities: Goku's power level can be modeled by a function. In order to defend the Earth from Vegeta and Nappa, Goku needs his power level to be OVER NINE THOUSAAAAAAAAAAND. Calculate how long he has to train.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Freedom from...

Claiming you have "freedom from religion" is like claiming you have "freedom from being offended."

No, you don't.

If someone does something you don't like in public, you can walk away or ignore them. If a lot of people do it, you can choose not to be among them. It's only if they force you to join in that your actual freedoms are infringed. And you definitely don't have the right to force them to stop just because you're offended. That's the same mentality as Mary Whitehouse.

"There are two knobs on the radio. One turns it off. The other changes the channel." - George Carlin

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dealing with Negativity

If someone is always negative, the best solution is to simply not give too much weight to their POV. It keeps you from being offended. Often their constant negativity stems from some issue they have with themselves rather than you.

For example, I've worked alongside a couple people who, no matter how good I do, will always find something wrong with my performance and make a big deal about it. Sometimes they have a point, most times it's a big deal over nothing. They do this to other people they work with, as well. So I take the useful feedback and let the rest wash over me, knowing they are simply a fundamentally unhappy person and I should avoid letting their depressive mindset creep into mine.

I will also poke back with jokes, which I also recommend. Fun ones include, "I wasn't expecting a kind of Spanish Inquisition!" and "In a sea of smiles, your frown is like a little boat. Keep sailing." Comparisons to Grumpy Cat are also good. A lot of times, the person doesn't even realize they've slipped into an overly negative mode, so jokes are a gentle way of snapping them out of it.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Call Me Euclid

Random exchange in the hallway at school:

Student: "Sir, you look super gangsta."

Me: *sarcastically* "Yes, I am the most gangster person at this school."

Student: "You look like Heisenberg."

Me: "Yes, I will blow up the school with my meth lab. Call me Euclid!"

By this point the whole hallway was cracking up.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Video Games as Art

Video games, as with comics and film, are one of the significant art forms. That is not to say that every video game is a significant art piece with many layers. Certainly the bulk of games, as with the bulk of films and comics, are simple and superficial affairs. However, games are capable of the same artistic impact of film, literature, or theater.

Saying it doesn't exist - as some of the "hardcore gamers" do - belies a fundamental lack of understanding of how games fit into the broader spectrum of art. I'd argue that not comprehending this potential is grounds for dubbing such people as strictly casual, the same way people who don't process the shows they watch is a casual viewer.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Romanticism in Anime: A Primer

Many studies of Romantic works look at the products of western culture. Mention romanticism in the movies, for example, and there is considerable study done of the rise of superheroes and their romantic virtues. Discuss young adult fiction and you’ll find compare-contrasts with the values presented by Twilight, the Hunger Games, and Divergent. One major area of pop culture that is largely overlooked: anime.

Background

For over 40 years, one of the major sources of animation has been Japan. Since the 1990’s, Japanese animation - anime - has reigned as the dominant form of animated entertainment around the world. Anime is a broad term, spanning dozens of genres, and a surprisingly fuzzy classification, since not everything animated by Japanese studios (such as Inspector Gadget) is counted as anime. The standard criteria is that anime is animated by a Japanese studio, written/directed by Japanese creators, and primarily aimed at the Japanese market.

Manga, the sequential art counterpart to anime, has largely supplanted western comics with young readers in Europe and North America. Michael Bitz in New York City noted that his students preferred to read about Japanese heroes than Spider-Man or Superman. Comiket, Japan’s main convention dedicated to manga, dwarfs San Diego Comic Con as the most attended comic convention in the world (130,000 for SDCC vs. 560,000 for Comiket). As a form of pop culture, anime has seized a sizable portion of the modern market and become absorbed into America’s consciousness, inspiring American homages such as Avatar: The Last Airbender.

One might think that as a product of Japan, anime might fall victim to plots praising the superstitious, condemning individuality, and praising conformity and collectivism. Japanese culture, after all, is both far more liberal than the US and its nationalist wing even more virulently pro-war than American Neocons. There are any number of Eurocentric cultural purists who decry the influx of Japanese culture for these very reasons.

However, there are an astounding number of anime that - whether purposefully or not - embrace romanticism and its ideals, both philosophically and symbolically. It is therefore possible to illustrate the concepts of romanticism to young people today by using these titles. By making them aware that a show the enjoy is romantic in nature and giving them the tools to critically evaluate and find other works, it helps encourage a more formal study and pursuit of romantic ideals in art creation by the next generation of producers.

Romanticism in anime falls generally into two categories: sense of life and symbolic. By its very nature, there is very little realism in anime. The subjects tend to be fantastic and otherworldly, such as super-powered battling warriors or magical female guardians. Frequently embedded in these visions, though, are depictions of man living as his own ends and shaping the world around him through force of will and volition.

The Types

The three major classifications of Japanese comics are kodomo, primarily for children of both sexes; shounen/seinen, primarily aimed at males (boys and men); and, shoujo/josei, primarily aimed at females (girls and women).

Kodomo work are simple moral plays. Doraemon is a popular and long running example. Episodic in nature, they will have a clear beginning, middle, and end with the actions of all involved reinforcing whatever virtue the writer wishes to encourage. Many of the lessons here can range from the innocuous - “Remember to wash your hands” - to the important - “Jealousy doesn’t justify theft” - to the insufferable - “Selfishness is evil.” There’s not much analysis to be done on these works as a whole - each individual episode stands and falls on the merits of the virtue it tries to express.

Shounen

Shounen series are aimed at the young male demographic, while seinen are for older males and contain more mature and explicit content. As works intended for teenagers, they are by design focused on conflict often with the main resolution method being combat. Protagonists and antagonists will be clearly defined, with well formed - if simple - motivations for all sides. Three of the major shounen series today - One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach - each follow this formula with varying levels of mastery. With such simple philosophical clauses, most of the focus is on the struggle and growth of the protagonists over time and to illustrate the value of will in achieving one’s dreams.

In Naruto, the male lead represents the strength that comes from unifying people cooperatively and from serving as an inspiration by his dogged determination. Meanwhile, several of the villains express varying degrees of frustration with the world that they intend to solve through ruthless violence. This clash is wrapped in an aesthetic of battling ninja clans and the protagonist's coming of age (an expectedly common feature of shounen series given the demographic). This gives the manga a clash of ideals at its core - cooperation vs. coercion - that gives the work its romantic edge.

Arguably the most powerful sense of life anime created to date is Gurren Lagann, a shounen series featuring giant robots and a post-apocalyptic Earth. What begins as a simple struggle of freedom vs. tyranny evolves into a conflict in which the very concept of self-actualization and the will to power become weapons against a foe that embodies mandatory stasis and stagnation. A sample exchange in dialogue illustrates the series’ use of symbolism as the main hero, Simoun, confronts and defeats the Anti-Spiral, a godlike being who condemns man’s sense of life as destructive:

"How can this be? Where are you drawing all this power from?"
"We evolve beyond the person we were a minute before. Little by little we advance a bit further with each turn. That's how a drill works."
"That is the path that leads to extinction. Why can't you see the pathetic limitation of the Spiral race?"
"No, that's YOUR limitation! You sit here closed off, locking away other lifeforms like some kind of king. That's nobody's limitation but your own! Mark my words, this drill will open a hole in the universe. And that hole will be a path for those behind us. The dreams of those who've fallen, the hopes of those who will follow. Those two sets of dreams weaved together into a double helix drilling a path towards tomorrow. And that's Tengen Toppa. That's Gurren Lagann. My drill is the drill that CREATES THE HEAVENS!"

Shoujo

Shoujo anime and manga caters mostly to girls, with josei as the more mature works for older women. Shoujo is where many of anime’s most realistic - and, sadly, naturalistic - work is found. In most of the romance stories that are common in this archetype, life is depicted as simply “happening” to the main leads and their only goals are often just to stay together. There is little depiction of agency and little if any ideals expressed by the character other than banal affection.

Fortunately, shoujo is also home to its own brand of strong female protagonist, known as mahou shoujo, or “magical girl.” (Magical girls are not the only strong heroines of shoujo, but they are arguably the most common and well known.) Magical girl series are considered notable because they commonly feature one or more female protagonists heroically saving the day, often with minimal male assistance. This feature has rendered them abundantly popular with American female comic readers and the genre is typically more widely read than any of Marvel or DC’s female character titles.

Similar to shounen titles, magical girl series will give the protagonists and antagonists simple but clear values that bring them into conflict. Unlike shounen series, aggression is not always the primary means of resolving this clash. Some series, such as the original Pretty Cure, do feature magical girls who rely on physical attacks to beat their opponents into submission. Others, such as Fancy Lala or DoReMi, focus more on the heroine’s own journey toward personal excellence or the achievement of a dream; stardom for the former and becoming a witch for the latter. Revolutionary Girl Utena goes a heavily symbolic route, with each character embodying concepts such as nostalgia and regret. The clash of values becomes a literal sword duel between characters.

The most popular magical girl series of all time, Sailor Moon, has an explicit contrast of love and light versus chaos. Each villain is said to be an aspect of chaos, reflecting negative emotions such as jealousy, hate, and violent conquest. Each victory by Sailor Moon is portrayed as the virtue of “love conquering all.” In several cases, rather than vanquishing her foe, she redeems them by bringing them to her point of view through an outreach of goodwill. Whether you agree or disagree with the value system present, the series featured a clash of ideals and characters who behaved consistently with the values they expressed.

Conclusion

Why does anime favor strong conflicts of values and powerful main characters who control their lives? It’s a function of the target audience in Japan. While most media for teens in the US is vacuous and devoid of meaning, in Japan, they seek to inspire with tales of strength and ideals. This is a function of Asian culture in general: the embrace of stories with ideals, rather than empty naturalistic tales, has been embedded in east Asian culture for thousands of years. Journey to the West is a centuries old tale of man’s quest for knowledge and the struggle against various forces who oppose it, with most conflicts centering on Buddhist teachings and values. That modern Japanese tales would embrace heroism and seek to inspire readers is a derivative of that storytelling tradition.

Producers of anime are largely immune from the same kind of critical eye that targets and scorns romantic works in the west. Even when western organizations take umbrage with their products, the companies have largely ignored the complaints and continued as they were. Japanese creators have thus far remained free to release and spread their visions beyond their borders. So long as it creates revenue - and the popularity of romantic work has long been noted and proven - it will be produced, thanks to the Japanese adherence to market principles.

There are numerous romantic anime series, too many to list here fully. There are also many anime series that are boring, trite, or just poorly done. Casshern Sins, for example, was broadcast on Toonami and was a laboriously slow, depressing, and anti-existence affair. It failed to find an audience and was soon dropped from broadcast entirely. As in western media, there are a host of anime series that exist merely to pander to prurient interests or as cheap imitations of key touchstone series. Something being anime alone is not a guarantor of quality, but for those desiring romantic fiction, it can be a fruitful area of pop culture to explore.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Tidbits

All social networking is just an improved game of telephone.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Podcast?

My kids keep insisting I have a podcast, Youtube channel, or some other audio-based thing somewhere because my voice sounds familiar. Best compliment so far has been being compared to Markiplier, whose voice I find quite amazing.

This makes me tempted to start one.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Big Hero 6 Review

Big Hero 6 is great! There's an excellent blend of drama and comedy to it. The humor balances out the emotional loss prevalent in the film. Like the first Iron Man movie, you get to see the trial and error of invention and creation, which is very nice to see. Despite having fantastic science, it documents the tribulations and hard work that go into creation.

My favorite character is Honey Lemon for the obvious reason (science girl with glasses). I liked pretty much the entire cast, though. Wasabi is probably who I resemble the most, thanks to his OCD traits. The shout outs to Japanese giant robot films was great. I especially love how they acknowledge Mazinger Z, which they take inspiration from.

A favorite small scene from Big Hero 6 was Gogo explaining her idea on electromagnetic suspension. When dad and I were brainstorming box car ideas back in the day, using magnets as suspension to reduce friction was something we thought of. So that was fun to see.

I would love to see Disney create a "kid friendly" MCU with Big Hero 6 at the core. Runaways and a version of Young Avengers / Avengers Academy would work very well with this group. It would be a great chance for them to expand on Marvel properties that probably don't mesh with the plans for the MCU.

Monday, February 23, 2015

New Relationship Statuses

Two new relationship status invented by one of my students:

Tingle

It means "taken but single," when you have someone you want, but you're not sure of the current status. Also known as "It's Complicated."

Chaithful

It's when you're both cheating and faithful at the same time. The idea is that the other person knows you're with others and approves, hence the faithful part. Also known as "polyamorous."

Friday, February 20, 2015

Tidbits

"The wine was bad, so I threw it out!" - Michelangelo, The Agony and the Ecstacy

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Review: 50 Shades of Grey

On Valentine's, I was taken to the theater to watch 50 Shades of Grey. It's not a film I'd subject myself to otherwise, but my date was quite insistent. I thought I'd write down my impressions of it.

As much as I was expecting to, I did not hate it. The director and screenwriter changed a lot from the source material, all of it for the better. Indeed, pretty much everything good about the movie is attributable to the director and two lead actors, while everything wrong comes from the original book. Is it a good movie? No. Is it a move you can watch without bleeding out your eyeballs? Yes. I would rank the movie higher on the enjoyability scale than several big budget summer blockbusters, for example. The director and screenwriter could have given us a much better film if they hadn't been so constrained by the garbage they had to start with.

For starters, the soundtrack is one of the best parts of the film. The songs are all well performed and chosen. I particularly liked Annie Lennox's cover of "I Put a Spell on You" that plays near the beginning. Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" cover was also enjoyable.

The movie does not open well, though. The initial meeting between the two characters is boring and stilted and thing don't perk up until the film's first comedic moment, when Anastasia blurts out "Are you gay?" and proceeds to be flustered. Comedy - of a very quirky sort - is the film's number one saving grace that makes the first two-thirds of it quite watchable. The director understood that the books were garbage and proceeded to do what she needed to to fix that.

That first humorous moment is joined by a host of others with comedic timing that plays out wonderfully. The best delivered line in the film comes after Grey suddenly appears where Anastasia works. In the book, this is supposed to be some kind of romantic high point. Here, Ana's reaction is "What the fu-?" Dakota Johnson perfectly captures a realistic reaction to this kind of stalker behavior by being simultaneously surprised, intrigued, and horrified by it.

My favorite scene - and one of the few scenes in the film that feels like a proper cinematic feature - is when Ana and Christian are negotiating the terms of the contract. The lighting, editing, dialogue, pacing - everything works. Both actors are in synch (sadly the only time, more on that later) and react to one another in both obvious and subtle ways. When Ana crosses things off, Jamie Dornan conveys just the right amount of frustrated regret for the limits. When Grey proposes counter-offers, Dakota Johnson gives off the look of someone with serious contemplation. The juxtaposition of a formal business setting during which two adults are discussing such a sensitive and taboo topic such as sexual submission gives the whole scene a nice surreal edge and an energy that is lacking in the more explicit scenes. It's not surprising the director created this from whole cloth; it bears a stamp of quality lacking everywhere else. I'd even recommend watching a short clip of just that scene to get a taste of how this film could have gone had the studio not given the author so much control.

Individually, Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan do an admirable job with what they're handed. Dakota is the better of the two - she injects Ana with a spirit that's lacking in the Bella-clone novel counterpart. She also comes off as an equally cute Zooey Deschanel archetype. Now and then, Jamie Dornan will do a half-smile expression. This makes him look remarkably like Tobey Maguire. So all through the movie, I was wondering when Grey is going to put on a Spider-Man costume. Other jokes that ran through my mind:

Mr. Parker will see you now.

When they do the upside down kiss in this movie, it'll be Mary Jane who's suspended.

Spidey has a new use for his webbing.

The safe word is "amazing."

And so on. On one hand, this did ruin some of the immersion. On the other hand, it made watching the film much more amusing than it otherwise would've been.

But while I like the individual actors during some of the film, they are rarely in-synch with one another. Everything being said about their lack of chemistry is true. When Dakota Johnson is in full gear as an Anastasia who is lively, curious, and possessed by inner energy, Jamie Dornan  chooses those moments to slip into a sulky, spoiled brat demeanor meant to be "smoldering" but coming off as pouty. When Dornan finds purchase with Grey as an emotionally damaged person due to early childhood and teenage abuse, Johnson has slipped into a whiny, one-note performance that repeats the same lines over and over.

This translates as well into what most people think of when it comes to the franchise: the sex scenes. Every single one is lackluster. I found myself yawning more often than being aroused. They are shot and edited as largely artistic affairs, meant more to reflect power or primal energy rather than titillate. The only scene where there was any sensual energy was a brief one where the two share time in a tub. The rest lose any eroticism they might have had due to wooden choreography. By comparison, I found the scenes of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo (either version) far more engaging than any of those here.

In terms of story, the movie is leagues above the books, though this is not a difficult accomplishment. Movie Grey is a far more sympathetic character. Unlike the book, he never rapes Anastasia and is very respectful of consent: when she tells him "No" and "Don't touch me," he obeys instantly. His stalker tendencies from the book are either toned down or played for laughs (see above). The scene where he tracks Ana down at the bar is reframed as him, having met her friend Jose, being worried about Jose possibly taking advantage of her because he recognizes the type. Instead of pressuring and rushing Ana through the negotiation process, he encourages her to educate herself (even supplying her with a computer) and a long time lapse occurs as she does due diligence.

The film introduces themes of Grey's troubled past: being abused as a child, being sexually abused as a teen, and his pathological desire to please others after being adopted. In this light, his attraction to BDSM is as a coping mechanism. The film is dotted with him making efforts to be more of a normal human being for Ana's sake (which is almost touching at times) and also contrasts it with his desire to inflict pain. This Jekyll and Hyde aspect could have been made much more central earlier to give the movie greater pathos.

In fact, there are two directions the director could have taken the film, either of which would have been ultimately more rewarding than what was produced. The first plays to her strengths at quirky dark humor, as shown in the negotiation scene. Had she gone the tongue-in-cheek "Kinky Cinderella" story route, we would have had a sexual comedy to rival Secretary. The other was to give a darker edge, exploring the theme of the abuse cycle and how it perpetuates through its victims. Make Grey even more obviously desperate and conflicted, with the monster he unleashes on Ana in the end far worse than what she did see. As a more psychological thriller, the kink becomes a symbol for Grey's self-torture.

50 Shades of Grey is not the end-all-be-all of kinky erotica some hoped/feared it would be. It has a number of bright spots, but these are mired by the mundane surroundings. The director deserves a lot of credit for making it as watchable as it ended up being, because this could have been far worse. In the end, though, it could not burst free from the restraints placed on it by the novels.

Lent

Student: "I'm giving up math for Lent."

Me: "I guess you're giving up passing Sophomore year, too."

Monday, February 16, 2015

Random Yale Flashback

I got to sit in an hour long seminar class with Jonathan Spence. His writing style is a bit dry, but his speaking style is engaging. The man's knowledge pool is incredible - he knows the connections between more events and personages off the cuff than most books explore. I could listen to him talk for days.

I didn't get into the class (he had a cap and history majors got first dibs), but I was grateful for the chance to meet and talk to the man whose books I read as an undergraduate. He even referred to several of my questions as both interesting and unlike anything he'd heard posed before (in the, "That's very creative and insightful" sense). A high compliment from someone of his status!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine's Day

Reese's are the best Valentine's Day candy. Because if someone has a peanut allergy, it kills them.

Friday, February 13, 2015

College and Qualifications

Critiquing someone for not finishing college demonstrates you're an out-of-touch blowhard with no understanding of other people's circumstances. I have known many brilliant people who did not finish their degrees and others - including my parents - who never went to college at all. Implying that someone is unfit to be President because they lack a piece of paper is insulting to millions of Americans who are intelligent and capable.

We happen to live in a nation where several of our top businessmen - Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, and Mark Zuckerberg - never finished college. They proved that a degree is not proof of merit. It is simply one approach, but not for everyone. Lives wind through in myriad ways and we should always remember that the road to personal excellence can diverge sharply from person to person.

Full disclosure: I happen to have a nice set of papers myself (a Bachelor's and two Master's), but I never see that as instant proof that I am somehow "better" than someone without them. To me, they are proof that I, personally, worked hard to earn them. Someone capable of equivalent work who invested it into other areas is as worthy of respect as I.

Howard Dean's comment reflect an anti-individual view that everyone should conform to what he deems best rather than make their own choices and find their own paths. It's the view that whoever doesn't walk the same path as yourself is somehow inferior or lesser for taking different steps. It ignores the results for the methods and insists there can only be "one true way" (a way that the person in question is an absolute expert on, of course). That's an offensive and anti-American sentiment that people on both sides of the aisle should reject.

Tidbits

"Male gamers only."

HOW is that even a selling point?!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

50 Shades

The Fifty Shades of Grey trailer is all kinds of awful. (There's way too many "wooden acting" jokes to be made, so insert your own here.) You can tell they're banking on a whole bunch of brainless horny moms throwing money at them. Sadly, they probably will and it'll be a miserable hit.

I have personally tried to slog through the book to at least give it a chance. I could not make headway through the awful prose. It's just unreadable crap, useful for comedian fodder and fun readings by George Takei. That's about it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Get My Cane

By nature, I value harmony in my social dealings. I like to get along, cooperate, and share. This is mainly because it makes things more pleasant overall. On ideas and debates, I love to let things fly and get energetic, but on the basic person-to-person level, I try to keep things smooth.

What will eat away at my interest in harmony is relentless negativity. Being ignored, being mocked, being laughed at (not with) will decrease my interest in interfacing harmoniously. If I am behaving like a crotchety old man in a social context, it means people in that circle have been stomping on my lawn. With cleats. Doesn't mean everyone has done it, but it's happened, happened often, and continued despite politer requests not to.

Think of it as my warning sign before someone gets smacked with a cane.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Tidbits

"Heart" would have been the best power on Captain Planet if it involved "KALI MA!"

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

AmeriCorp Hosting

My classroom hosts AmeriCorps activities Wednesday evenings after-school. On some days I get to see documentaries. On others, a professor visits from UT Austin and gives a special lecture. My favorites are free food via a sustainable food kitchen (so yummy). Loving the fringe benefits of making friends.

I did AmeriCorps as an undergrad as part of Alpha Phi Omega. I did the small award for 300 hours of service. Most of the folks here are doing the full-time 1700 hour award.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Project Learning Reflections

Through my time teaching, I've made some 15 different projects for use in math. It's amazing to me how a project I used in Grade 7 is easily scaled up to Algebra 1 or Algebra 2 and vice versa.

This year, I further expanded the selection and added a new nuance: students could pick one of 3-4 projects and each specifically appeals to a learning style. So there were visual (ex. comics), kinesthetic (ex. scavenger hunt design), and audio (ex. poetry) themed projects every six-weeks.

It worked pretty well, but I realized that integrating the projects into class rather than having them as an added "take home" worked better. So in the 3rd 6-Weeks, for example, I had them make YouTube videos (visual), build ramps (kinesthetic), and analyze data they collected by hand (audio).

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Diversity in Gaming

Does a lack of diversity in a given show or game bother me? Sure! There are people who care about it. Being inclusive encourages them to give you money. D&D 5th Edition has demonstrated that having as wide a range of body types as possible in your product is a sound marketing strategy. Any producer who knows anything about earning a profit is going to pursue representing diversity. Its absence is a result of sloppiness and bad planning/design (and should be called out as such).

However, does that justify mandates or laws about it? No. Just because something is a good idea doesn't mean it should be forced down someone's throat. Criticism? Sure! But mandatory diversity is just as offensive to the creative spirit as mandatory exclusion.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Tidbits

Having a bunch of facts at your disposal is useful, but far more potent is the power to connect the dots in beautiful new lattices no one has thought of before.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pride in Teaching

"The professor said I did good on some sections some students didn't do good on!" - One of my students, now in college, on how her Algebra 2 class helped. I'm feeling proud of that right now.

Monday, January 26, 2015

College Rivalries

Two college rivalries I subscribe to:

1. "Hook 'em Horns!" Aggies suck.

2. Elis over Cantabs. "Oh, you went to Harvard? What's the matter, couldn't get into a real university?"

There's also WPI vs. MIT/RPI, but that one's not quite as iconic.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"I get this"

Something that gave me hope this year was that I finally had a first day where I didn't crush the hopes and dreams of my students by overshooting their knowledge levels. Even had several kids go, "Hey, I get this. Cool."

Monday, January 19, 2015

Drinking

It's telling when I inform people I don't consume very much alcohol and they act like I'm odd. I've found that people who both drink a lot and look askew at people who do not share their habit tend to be the ones with a lot of issues - the bad kind. This can manifest as them saying they don't trust people who don't drink, as treating those who prefer not to drink as social pariahs, or just generally pressuring those around them to adopt their bad habit.

Folks who drink to enjoy drinking won't take offense or think less of those who prefer not to indulge. I've known folks who enjoy alcohol as I enjoy food and I understand the joy they get from trying a new microbrew or cocktail. I've never had a bad run-in with adventurous drinkers. The people who drink to run away are the ones to watch out for. I have a suspicion that this latter category is depressingly common, since I have known more in this category than the former.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Tidbits

Seal Team Six is, in fact, the only one of its kind. It's called Seal Team Six to make you think there are five others.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Genius is Common

“I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress genius because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.” - John Taylor Gatto

Now there's a man who believes all students can learn.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Kagan and Brain Breaks

Two things I added to my classroom routine this year: Kagan strategies (one of which I'd already been using) and Brain Breaks. For Kagan, I'd been using the Round Table method for much of my classwork before. The two I added: Quiz-Quiz-Trade and Find the Fiction.

I went through and picked 13 of my favorite Brain Breaks from the blog and cycled through them. I've found that physical brain breaks are surprisingly unpopular with the kids (they don't think they're cool). Math riddles as brain breaks work much better, though. The kids like to solve things before their peers.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Tidbits

Would Death have good people skills because he's met so many folks or poor people skills because his services are mandated, making customer service a low priority?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Ugly People

When I encounter an ugly person (and I don't mean physical appearance), I do my best to avoid or ignore them. It's different from my usual "I don't see you because my mind is elsewhere" behavior, too. It's more of an active, "There you are, here I am, I am keeping my distance" while emitting a strong, "Go away!" vibe.

I have been fortunate that the ugly people I've encountered are vastly outnumbered by the beautiful ones.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Working in the Dark

My room has a light sensor to shut off and turn on the lights. The problem is it's very insensitive, so it turns off even when I'm in the room and usually does so in under 10 minutes.

When I'm at my desk and it turns off, I have to put my arms up and wave them around to get the lights back on. Since I don't always feel like doing this, people keep thinking I like to work in the dark. Sigh.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Tidbits

Song parody I want to write someday: "Cloning Time" set to Semisonic's "Closing Time."