Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Playing With Plasma

I really don't know what to make of this turn of events. Educators and parents worldwide (probably)have decried the fascination with video gaming and the amount of time kids spend "waste" on such pursuits. Is it possible that there will soon be a master's degree in computer science with gaming as its focus? Yep. George Mason University is pondering such a move even as we speak. Where's MIT in all of this, you ask? Right there. That prestigious university offers a degree based on research in video game technology. It seems that ITT Tech (doesn't one of the T's in ITT stand for "tech"?) will be losing ground very soon, and their D&D players will be moving on. Like many things, I would never have known this except reporters from the Washington Post who "discovered" Stephen Taylor.
Taylor is a senior at George Mason University who created "Plasma Pong" in his spare time. When he posted it online, there were over 50,000 hits JUST AT GMU! In fact, the university eventually made him take the site down because it slowed everything to a virtual halt on campus. You really have to see this to believe it.
This game is a psychedelic version of the first computer game most of us played: "Pong." In order to create such a thing, Taylor had to know a LOT about algorithms, fluid dynamics and computer coding...obviously an area in which you and I lack knowledge. It's like playing table tennis in a lava lamp, complete with fiery explosions and sound effects. listed this as one of the top five indie games. From the demo I saw on the Washington Post online version, this is far cooler than the "Pong" version that featured Bill Clinton's head as the ball...though that WAS cool.
Needless to say, Taylor has a huge hit on his hands, and the money will soon be rolling in. I would suspect as well, that being in something of an "altered state" while playing would only add to the "WOW!" factor. "Spaced-Out Invaders"in the plasma format cannot be far behind.
Game on!

Friday, June 15, 2007

We Should All Be So Determined

Even in 2007, there are students in every high school who are old enough to graduate but have not passed the requisite courses. We give them extra credit, independent study, charter schools, alternative schools, diploma-mill prep schools and home schools, and yet, some of them simply don't complete the process. They need to take a lesson in determintaion from Shivcharan Jatav of Rajasthan, India. He refuses to take "no" for an answer to his educational dilemma. Granted, he's probably a few sandwiches short of a picnic, but you've got to give him credit. He has been trying to pass the 10th grade test given in India...well, let's just say for a long time. You see, this farmer in western India is 73, and he just failed the test for the 39th time yet vows to continue taking it in order to improve his marriage prospects. It seems that every time in the past he wanted to get hitched, the bride's family would refuse based on his lack of education. So, he continues doggedly spite of passing only one section on this year's test: Sanscrit. And it's not like he's just missing the cutoff point, either: his score was 103 out of 600 on the 39th try! Talk about no child being left behind!
The ultimate in optimism and determination is what we need to focus on here. I would imagine his prospects of marriage at 80 are slim enough. Face it, if he had money, there would be NO objections so we presume he doesn't. Introducing a new person into a lifetime of doing-it-my-way would be problematic as well. So, why is this important? determination to succeed. My mom got her high school diploma at 40, and it DID help her occupational goals (she was already married).
So I say to all of you: stop whining about things you've tried a couple of times at and failed. Don't come bellyachin' to me until you've failed 39 times!
I'm off to try roller skating again.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The NCAA Gets Tough On Student/Athletes

Almost every college student takes five years to graduate these days. It only makes sense that if one doesn't take any classes on Fridays or any classes during Monday Night Football or any classes on Thursday (party night)...well, you get the picture. Add to that the fact that universities have figured out that if they can get kids to avoid the work force for one more year, they'll pay extra tuition and assorted fees. This might be considered a win-win for everyone except the parents who have been patiently waiting for their kids to be contributing members of the society and plug the drain on money going to colleges. Face it, college kids today aren't dumb: they've watched their parents come home beat from work every day and get precious little vacation. College kids want NO PART of that! The only gig better than a college student these days is, perhaps, being a college professor (with the exception of that "publish or perish" thing). College athletes have the same deal, but they actually have to work while on campus, both in the classroom and on the court/field. It's getting there that has the NCAA trying to be righteous.
For years, marginal athletes (read: the really good ones) have struggled with academic requirements involved in a) graduating from high school and b) meeting the basic requirements for admission as a scholarship athlete ( be able to read a bit and hit the mid-range jumper). To help these student/athletes out, a whole cottage industry has sprung up in recent years: the prep school. There are two kinds of prep schools: the kind I went to, and the kind athletes have been finding in order to boost their GPA in order to meet the NCAA eligibility requirements. I was reading the Greek poets as a sophomore; they are getting diplomas for doing almost nothing. The practice is widespread, and the investigation of such places is widening. Now, the NCAA is stepping in to say that a student can no longer have FIVE YEARS to finish high school! Are you kidding me? High school in five years? Yes, it happens all the time; a kid can't meet the reading/writing/arithmatic rigor of HIGH SCHOOL in four years so he/she takes another year at a pseudo-high school (prep school), gets eligible and is given a $100,000 scholarship to Hoops U. It's incredible that a) coaches and schools use kids like this b)kids don't understand the odds of making it in pro sports c) kids don't understand they are one knee injury (or five scrapes with the law)away from janitorial service as a career d) parents are so blinded by money being waved at them that they forget what's in the kid's best interest.
As a college athlete, I didn't ask for or get tutors, extra benefits OR five years of eligibility (as some coaches are calling for). I graduated in four years with two majors...OK, so one of them was PE, and did all my own work. If this sounds like "When I was a kid, we had to walk five miles uphill both ways to school..." maybe it is. However, we will eventually get what we deserve: college athletes who can't succeed in spite of everything we do for them.
For now, high school athletes are limited to only one class after four years of high school, not one year. That means they'll be attending summer school in classrooms instead of on the AAU scene being wooed by colleges and shoe companies. Good!

Monday, June 11, 2007

195 And Counting Down

PLEO is coming, and if you don't get one, you'll be the doofus of the neighborhood. You children and/or grandchildren will know for certain how hopeless you are, and your significant other will probably leave you for somebody 'way cooler...somebody who has PLEO. Remember how everybody who got a Furby a few years ago was so awesome while you were still a dork? Same principle applies here; the fact that PLEO was genetically engineered (?) by the same folks who gave us Furby means that you are on the cusp of cool because you're finding out about this literally minutes before the rest of the world. You still have a bit of time, though, becasue PLEO is designed for a release in time for Christmas...hence, the 195 days.
PLEO is a scaled-down version (thankfully) of some kind of dinosaur-type creature. Cuddly? maybe, but ever so much more. Caleb Chung, one of the co-creators, has made this creature almost lifelike. While the Furby had one motor and one processor to allow it to function, PLEO has 14 motors and 6 processors. It boasts a nose-mounted camera and 30 sensors which allow it to pick up stimuli like noise, touch and movement. Supposedly, it will take more than a year for its "personality" to fully develop which might put it ahead of some people I know.
While obviously not for everyone, techno-geeks will be trading in their light sabers to get this thing. At $300, it's a lot more expensive than the Furby ($40), but far less expensive than Sony's Aibo dog ($2,000). Young, professional geeks, uh, professionals, with disposable income have swelled their ranks from 5 million to almost 20 million in the last ten years, and they will want this. Just to be cool. I would suspect that the Nieman-Marcus Christmas catalog will have it as well as hip, upscale places like Sharper Image. If you don't beat the rush, you're doomed to be a doofus. Don't whine that you didn't get enough warning. You have 195 days left before you'll have to admit that you didn't get one.
Don't like shopping? Send me the $300, and I'll see what I can do.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Ping Pong With Paris

Human table tennis played in Los Angeles is definitely better than playing beer pong at a local watering hole. Oh sure, there's the possibility with beer pong that one can get inebriated to varying degrees, but, face it, police lines and tabloid reporters and photographers would NEVER find that story interesting. CNBC, FOX and all the other outlets would not break into regular programming to report the comings, goings and comings again of you and I playing People Pong and sloshing beer around (though you and I would probably NOT get in our cars and drive home wasted). That's why we have Paris Hilton.
We can vicariously take great comfort from the fact that this heinous criminal and all-around ne'er-do-well is back doing hard time in the LA County Crowbar Hotel. The fact that she left the courtroom in hysterics calling for her mother only adds to our pleasure. Serving 45 days making license plates will serve to make her more like us, and for that we are grateful. I mean, having strawberry cupcakes delivered to her mansion while serving "house arrest" really didn't make any of us shiver with fright. Not much of a deterrent there. Imagine how the quasi-criminals in Los Angeles must have viewed the whole thing: an initial 45-day sentence, amended to 23, amended to 5 with 35 locked up in a mansion with servants, no restrictions on visitors and the company of ones favorite toy dog. Meanwhile, some inner city kid is doing two years for spraying graffiti on an abandoned building. The Rev. Al Sharpton said as much when he was interviewed about it.
Is the LA slammer overcrowded? yes? Is staph infection a real problem there? yes? Is the food crappy? probably. IT'S JAIL! Don't want it to happen to you? DON'T DO CRIME! Do they have doctors to treat rashes? I guess. Can a shrink come to visit you there? probably. Everybody in Beverly Hills has one, anyway, so there's probably one on call. Should Paris get to go home because she was traumatized by being locked up? I don't know. Crying hysterically, "It's not fair!" and calling aloud for Mom is definitely not cool, though, unless one is ten or so. I'm just glad it wasn't me.
My only experience with prison left me sweating, shaking and terrified, AND I ONLY WENT TO VISIT! It's a long story, but I went to visit Manny in the Oregon State Penitentiary 20 years ago. From the moment I walked in, I was claustrophobic. Hearing the doors clang shut behind me sent shivers through every part of my body. Knowing I'd be out in two hours didn't breath got short, and I began to sweat A LOT! After a 30-minute visit, I almost ran to my car to get away. The only thing that stopped me was that I thought the guards in the tower might get nervous and shoot me as a potential escapee.
The people I do feel bad for, though, are the club owners. There is definitely going to be a slowdown: Lindsay is in treatment, Britney is trying to straighten out and Paris is in the hoosegow. Looks like a slow night in Tinseltown. Maybe they'll all go see Oceans 13.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Who Knew?


No one could have suspected that this person would enjoy a long and sometimes illustrious career in the education field. George Haffeman, BEST PRINCIPAL EVER, threatened to fire me five times, poked me in the chest at least once and probably sprayed saliva on me too while angrily denouncing me as an idiot...all the while striving to make me a better teacher. I owe him a lot. Maybe I'll let him win at pickleball on Monday...or maybe not.
Everyone needs a mentor, and George was mine for fifteen years or more. After I got over my initial rebelliousness (me? rebellious?), he allowed me to be creative, and I tried not to do stupid things, e.g. things prohibited by the handbook and/or common sense. It turned into a great relationship, one that I have not shared the last ten years or so with any other principal. They all had good points, but nobody cared about my teaching more than did George. He did it for me, but he also did it for our students who, he felt, deserved better than I gave them initially...and he was right.
If one can look back on a career and remember how specific people made all the difference, it makes the reminiscence sweet, not nostalgic. Colin Kahl and George Haffeman are responsible for the person I am today. Many other people played significant roles, but these two men took a) a 13-year-old-high school kid and b) a relatively new teacher and did wonders. No longer fearful, insecure and combative (most of the time), I feel that I have developed into an effective person and teacher. I can only hope I have influenced others in some small way. I can leave a lifeong pursuit and mosey off into another sunset with joy.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Me, saying "So long, and thanks for all the fish!"

That's's over. I started this blog almost two years ago in order to chronicle my last "year" in the teaching profession. Somehow, though, the time got extended a bit. I'm glad. I said goodbye to Algoma High School today: a place where I've been a regular for the past 29 years. I intended to stay four, get my master's degree and go off to coach in college. Instead, I stayed, we raised a family there, and now I'm off to coach in college...only it's student-athletes, not merely athletes whom I will be coaching/teaching. It's not really a change, as so many have teaching has it all over one-to-forty teaching in my book, so I'm excited.
Nostalgic? Not yet. Maybe it's because I'm used to summer vacation, and this seems like any other year. My garage is now full of crap I've saved from school over the years as treasured mementos...they'll mostly get pitched here, I suspect, when we get tired of tripping over them. I could say that organizing the stuff is my first retirement job, but I've already got about fifteen things to do tomorrow, including talking my doctor out of a colonoscopy...again. I doubt I will sleep late, at least tomorrow. There's just so much to do.
My son Ryun called today to ask if I was moping around and depressed yet for lack of fulfillment. I was still breathing hard from unloading the car! Ask me in a month or so...but, somehow, I doubt it. It'll take that long just to decide what kind of design for my new shoes from (thanks, Patty and Mark). I have not even had time to check out the possibilities yet. EEK!
Right now, I gotta check my email so I can make up questions for one of my students for her quiz tomorrow. More to come, as Johnny Carson's little commercial break always said.
After seven hours of retirement, I have to say, though, that it is every bit as hectic as retirees have told me it would be. Rock on.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Who's Left to See?

Now I can die a happy man. There is little left to see and hear. Oh, I know all about the 1,000 places I'm supposed to visit before I die, but I've been to Door County, and I've been to Angkor Wat so everything else must be somewhere in between. I was at Disneyland before there was a DisneyWorld or even EuroDisney, and having lived most of my life in the Midwest, I've hit all the extremes; it took this past year, though, for me to check off my list a couple of final concerts: Marshall Crenshaw and Graham Parker. I was too young to see the Beatles when they were big (and I don't think they ever appeared in Kansas), and now...well, let's just say the chances are slim. Hell, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (the album) is forty freakin' years old this month! Seeing Graham Parker in concert this past weekend in Chicago capped a fabulous musical year. I saw an Elvis Costello concert last summer from a distance of about ten feet ($30); I sat in awe at a Marshall Crenshaw concert this spring from a distance of about 30 feet (free...and with free popcorn and free soda: a senior citizen's ideal date).
When my musical son Ryun tipped me to a Parker appearance in Chicago, I had to go...this was the third of the punk/new wave/angry young men triumvirate of the early 70s whose lyrics I have mostly committed to memory. As it turned out, Parker performed at the Old Town Folk Festival Academy (or something like that) to a crowd of no more than 300 people or so. The tickets were cheap ($20), and the big glasses of lemonade were reasonable, too. Jon Langford, the opening act, is also a musical icon even though I didn't know it. He was fabulous as well. Thus, there is/are no more rock performer(s) that I really wish to see live...Buddy Holly won't make it, nor will Del or Ricky. That means all I have left is The Police appearing later this summer at Wrigley Field. While that will be cool, it will also be expensive (don't ask) and there will be far more people there than I care to hang with; cheap lemonade? not likely. Nobody recent interests me...that's why I stick with an iPod.
To recap:
Elvis Costello-$35 ten feet away
Marshall Crenshaw--free, with free eats thirty feet away
Graham Parker--$20, cheap eats fifty feet waay

Cost of seeing my favorite performers in one year? priceless.
I can die happy.