21 Dec

These things encouraged every geeky trait I currently have:

1. Reading.   Mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, sci-fi, British comedy…reading has introduced me to every good and geeky thing in my life.

2. Legos and toy cars.  My brother and I spent hours upon hours creating empires built with Legos and “peopled” with tiny, metal cars.

3. TV.  I wasn’t allowed to watch tv unless it was something my parents were watching. I watched a lot of news, old sitcoms, and British comedies. Thanks, parents!

4. Nintendo.  My brother and I were pros at Duck Hunt.

5. My brother.  He made me play Double Dragon with him so that he could stay alive. Cannon fodder! Nice.

6. Boyfriends.  I like to think that I picked up the best parts of my ex-boyfriends: their hobbies. Thank you very much for introducing me to manga, blogs, naginata, Guitar Hero, LAN parties, and swing dancing.

7. Girl friends.  Without them, I’d be completely clueless about Korean dramas, MMOs, and fanfiction.

8. The internet.   How awesome is it to be able to connect with other geeky people from around the world? My MMO guildees are mostly European, and the delightful people I follow on Twitter are from around the world.

It’s really hard to narrow this down to a list. I’ll have to spend a bit more time thinking about my geeky origins.


Christmas Trees Past

7 Dec

When I was young, my parents had an artificial version of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. It was slightly taller than I was and very spindly. (Spindly? Bare?) In order to hide the artificial nature of the tree, I and my siblings got to put silver tinsel on the tree. After Christmas we got to pick all the tinsel off the tree. We were rather a lot better at putting tinsel on the tree than taking it off. By the time I was 12 the tree was more silver than green. The tree was also decidedly shorter than me by then.

My parents eventually decided to buy a new artificial tree. My mom refused to let us put tinsel on the new tree. That was disappointing and ended a long-standing Christmas tradition. Of course, it ended our long-standing tradition of picking the tinsel off as well. Good thing we still had our tradition of stringing the lights across the living room and patiently looking for the one (or more) burnt-out bulbs. Anyway, the new tree was a higher quality of artificial tree. It looked a bit more tree-like. You know, if pine trees came in a very bright green and were suspiciously symmetrical.

When I left for college my parents bought a huge, fancy artificial tree. It looked incredibly realistic and was taller than me. We put twice as many lights on it, and spent twice as much time untangling those lights and looking for burnt-out bulbs. We also started a new tradition: every year my sister and I would put up the tree and I would painstakingly shape the branches. Left to their own devices, my parents would simply take the thing out of the box, put it in the stand, and decorate it. There is nothing sadder than a squished-looking fake tree.

I also had my own tree. It was small and potted, but it was my dorm tree. I added an ornament to it every year. I also worked for my college’s version of Santa Claus: the director of the art department. He believed in decorating all the things. Every year we decorated the art building and then spread the decorations out to the rest of the campus. On average we lit 20 trees and several hundred feet of bushes. Some of my best memories are actually of balancing on very tall ladders in the cold and stringing lights into trees with extension hooks.

My art professor taught me how to wrap the lights at the end of the season so they wouldn’t tangle, but no technology in the world has prevented the bulbs from burning out (or discouraged squirrels from chewing wires). We still spent quality time hunting down burnt-out and broken bulbs.

My first Christmas overseas was spent snorkeling. It was warm. In order to infuse a little North American feeling into the Christmas, my housemates and I scrounged up a sad little tree and some pictures of snow. If we cranked the air conditioner down to 60 degrees it felt quite festive.

My second Christmas overseas was in a colder climate, but a decidedly less Christmas-minded environment. My sweet parents mailed me a two foot Christmas tree with decorations simply so that I could avoid the pink and purple glittery trees available to me. That tree sat on the table while all my friends crowded into my tiny Japanese apartment for Christmas dinner. It felt very festive, even without lights.

My next tree was an inherited umbrella-style Christmas tree. It was unique, to say the least. It was perfect for the college students that I worked with, however. That thing was indestructible. And inflammable. Thank goodness.

My current tree is my first grown-up tree. I bought it and everything. It’s pre-lit, a concept that is difficult for me to understand since one strand of lights is currently not “lit” at all. The decorations, though, are all the decorations I’ve accumulated from my years of Christmas trees. And tonight is the night of my most long-standing Christmas traditions: turning off all the lights except for the ones on the tree and sitting there in the quiet and stillness and just staring at the tree.

Look at me feeling all romantic and sappy. Happy holidays! Hope you have your own moment of quiet and stillness.

Here There Be Writers

3 Dec

Listening to a writer in the middle of a project is a bit like having a tennis shoe in the spin cycle.  The writer goes through long periods of isolation and emerges, pantsless, mumbling something about caffeine/deadlines/their philosophy of socks.  I don’t know.  Then the writer casually mentions someone you’ve never heard of.  “I wonder what Celeste thinks about marshmallows on oatmeal?”

“Who’s Celeste?” you wonder aloud.  “Why would anyone put marshmallows on oatmeal?”

And then you expect an answer that has something to do with your questions.  You are a silly person.  The writer excitedly jabbers about a fight and the perfect resolution before vanishing again.  You are left listening the thump-thumpthumpthump-thump of a washer that is clearly off-balance.

Eventually the writer re-emerges.  They are heading towards a long-needed shower when you ask, again, about Celeste.

“Oh, I killed her off last week.  With a pickaxe.  During a tornado.”

Stop asking about Celeste.

The writer (clean) retreats back to their writing with groans and grumbling.  Weeks later, you find them unconscious on the floor.  They are just celebrating the fact that they met their final deadline, don’t worry.  When they regain consciousness, are you going to ask about Celeste?

No.  Resist the urge.  At this point, the writer will actually tell you all about Celeste.  They will tell you about her parents, her birth, her awkward childhood, her teenage indiscretions, her tragic adult life, and every gory detail of her death at the hands of her former lover-turned-enemy.  They might tell you about the marshmallows and how it relates to a certain incident in her childhood.  They might even tell you how her life and death reflects the larger theme of society’s marshmallow ignorance.

Listening to a writer after they complete a writing project is like walking into a cloud of very aggressive gnats.


Sorry about that.

Thanks, everyone who put up with me during my writing project.  You rock.

Just don’t ask me about Celeste.

The Cart and the Horse

5 Oct

I was recently evaluated. My supervisor later told me how impressed he was with the (mostly) intelligent questions the students were asking, and the higher-level questions they were answering. About a minute later, he told me that he’d like to see me use more technology in my class.

Technology is a wonderful, amazing resource. However, I don’t agree that I always need to incorporate it into my lessons. Here’s why:

I just got my sophomore English class to read a book and enjoy it.

They READ A BOOK. It didn’t connect to the internet. It didn’t use flash. It was not shown as a movie or set to music. It was, in fact, the wonderful formula of the written word + imagination = enjoyment. Of course, it would be difficult to NOT enjoy Edgar Allan Poe (something that makes my job infinitely easier). As the students read the story, they asked thoughtful questions, identified symbols, discussed meanings, and theorized about human nature in response to death. They also broke down Poe’s complex sentences like pros, something they wouldn’t have been capable of just last year. The supervisor estimated that 90% of the class was actively involved in the story and discussion. I am extremely happy with all of these outcomes. So why do I need to use technology?

As I understand it, classroom technology is meant to engage more students and to accommodate different learning styles. If the students are engaged and learning (except for 2 of the higher achievers who are reading something else), then what’s the point? Technology is shiny, but it doesn’t exist for its own sake. It is a tool. Stop forcing teachers to embrace technology in every situation. It doesn’t work in every situation.

NEXT POST: why educational technology rocks my socks.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing…

11 Aug

I am taking an online class in classroom assessment. Essentially, I’m learning how to make tests and evaluate student performance. Useful information, if more than a little heavy on the statistics. Unfortunately, my professor has not taken this class, apparently.  This was a question on one of my quizzes:

What types of errors of interpretation might a social studies interpretive exercise possess if it contains a relatively long passage that requires high-level reading? Be as specific as possible. 

Question 1 options:

Mark an answer with a zero, if bluffing is detected. 
Score a student’s answer in light of what is known about his or her past achievement. 
Grade content and spelling separately
Read the essays of the more able students first to establish the scoring standard. 

Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to me, either. *sigh*

Moral of the story: if you’re teaching a class that is about creating tests, quizzes, and other fun stuff…your quizzes and tests for that class should be the most beautiful examples of assessment that the world has ever seen.

(Yes, I’m sure this is a computer goof-up…however, none of the possible answers were actually discussed in the chapter. Still a fail.)

Summer Reading Reviews

26 Jul

Again, I’m catching up on a monumental amount of reading.  Today’s reviews definitely belong in the “I can’t believe I haven’t read that yet!” category.  So I’m starting with a book that I’ve been trying to get ahold of for TWO YEARS: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.

PLOT: Mary lives with the last remaining humans in a small community in the center of an endless forest.  The Sisterhood guides Mary’s community and keeps them all safe from the countless dead that shuffle mindlessly through the forest outside the fences.  However, the more familiar Mary becomes with the Sisterhood, the more she questions everything they’ve ever taught her.

WHY I OWN THIS BOOK (and the two sequels): ZOMBIES!  I like my monsters to be scary and unintelligent.  Also, I have to admit that the title drew me to this book like a reanimated corpse to brains.  And I waited TWO YEARS for many variables to add up to owning this book and you will only pry it out of my COLD, TWITCHING FINGERS.  *ahem*  There’s a lot of suspense, and many unanswered questions that drew me through all three of the books.  The love triangles don’t hurt, either.

NOTES FOR UNFANS OF THE UNDEAD:  Trust me when I say that the human element carries these books.  These books are about the living, breathing characters.  It isn’t all fighting, gore, and zombies.

NOTES FOR FANS OF THE UNDEAD:  The zombies here are basically your thoughtless, shambling zombie types…with a couple notable exceptions.  Also, it’s a kissing book.  Fair warning.

WARNINGS:  That much being said, there is gore and several highly emotional, possibly traumatic scenes.  The zombies are also fairly relentless, so there’s no guarantee that your favorite character will make it out alive.  (Spoiler: your favorite character DIES.)

FINAL WORD:  My friend (who normally sticks close to Nicholas Spark books) saw these books and is eagerly waiting to read them herself.  I was surprised, too.  The protagonists are teenagers, and the romance/gore has to be popular with older teens, but I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone (at any age) prone to nightmares.


Next up: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.  The adult fantasy section at the bookstore normally gives me the heebies (except for Pratchett, Adams, Fforde…), so I have to thank the HBO series for generating enough buzz to pique my interest.  Since I only have basic cable, this review is definitely only of the book.

PLOT:  Well, this could be a dissertation in and of itself, but here goes…there is a kingdom ruled by a man who took the throne through war.  He is surrounded by people who are scheming, plotting, and killing in order to take the throne for themselves (including the heirs of the former king).  One of the few people not after the throne is Eddard Stark.  He wants to stay with his family in the north, but court politics and the king’s request take him south.  After murder and murder attempts, the kingdom is on the verge of war.  However, the long summer is ending, and winter is bringing old, mythical enemies out of the frozen north…

WHY I OWN THIS BOOK:  It’s too long to read at the bookstore and I found that I am not patient enough to wait to find out what happens to the myriad of characters.  I don’t regret the purchase because the book is extremely well-written, and I think I’ll need to go back to reference parts of the story as I continue reading the series.

NOTES FOR ANYONE WITH THE FANTASY HEEBIES:  If you can handle the level of fantasy elements in Lord of the Rings, you’ll do fine.  There’s a few mythical creatures and unusual terms, but the politics, conniving and shenanigans are universally translatable.

NOTES FOR FANTASY FANS:  Who am I kidding?  You probably own the books, watch the show, and have a picture of yourself on the Iron Throne.  Carry on.

WARNINGS:  Again, this can take a while.  There’s vulgar language, sex, incest, rape, human trafficking, adult situations and gore.  Also, a disturbing scene of a young boy breastfeeding.  The descriptions are generally low key, but the frequency is…well, just don’t expect to be able to read this around innocent-minded people.

FINAL WORD:  It’s a complex story with tons of characters, but it pulls you along quickly while accomplishing the impossible tasks of building believable characters and suspense.  I’m not recommending this to any of my teenaged students, but I know lots of adults who love this series.

Pyro Promises

5 Jul

The Pyro Oath:

I am a pyromaniac.  Fires and explosions are part of my nature.  However, I care deeply about my own personal safety and the safety of the people and things around me.  Therefore, I solemnly pledge:

1. To observe the directions and safety information on all fireworks.

2. To only set off fireworks where I am legally permitted to do so.

3. To take safety precautions such as finding a clear space and making sure I have water with me.

4. To not set off old or damaged-looking fireworks.

5. To pick up all fireworks debris after I’m done.

6. To properly dispose of duds and unused fireworks.

By doing these things, I am certain I’ll be setting off fireworks for years to come.


The National Council on Fireworks Safety

Firework Disposal

Different states have different policies on fireworks disposal.  Check with your local city government for more info.