Friday, February 27, 2015


All social networking is just an improved game of telephone.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


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:


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."


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


"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.


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.


"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


"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.