Friday, January 29, 2010

Running the Numbers

Something to think on when you debate about buying something with lots of packaging:

Until next time...

Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.
- Mark Twain's Notebook

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What Teachers Make

Man, affirmation for my current goals are seemingly everywhere these days! This is an excellent, 3-minute slam poem about the value of teachers by Taylor Mali.

And speaking of teaching... I have been helping one of my kids along with her science fair project for a few months now. I convinced her to do a project based on DDR and how it relates to improving balance. Well, not only did she get a good score on the project, but is also going to the regional science fair! Yay!

Until next time...

"The self-taught man seldom knows anything accurately, and he does not know a tenth as much as he could have known if he had worked under teachers..."
-"Taming the Bicycle" by Mark Twain.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Musical Meandering

I started off this weekend with a bit of an adventure. Rachel, Sophie and I had been interested in going to a show involving Dessa, a local artist who we know from her hosting trivia at the Nomad World Pub during the summer. We hadn't had much exposure to her music (which until recently has been mostly hip-hop), but simply from seeing her work the crowd at trivia and our interactions with her there convinced us that she was a person awesome enough to go out and see.

So we hopped on the bus and headed over to the Fine Line Music Cafe to stand in the rain and sleet waiting for a chance to get a ticket. The line started moving and we quickly got to the front.

Where we stayed.

These faces should pretty much say everything.

So, we tried for a plan B to salvage the night. Wandering through downtown we came upon The Shout!  House.

This is a bar that features two pianos and a band that plays plenty of songs that most people are familiar with. There were a lot of '90s faves as well as some oldies and most of the things going on seemed to have a cult-classic status among the people there. Or maybe it was just that everyone was completely shmammered. As for us, it was entertaining but not nearly to the degree of the other patrons there. Maybe if we had made an event out of it and prepared before hand it would be entertaining enough, but for now I think we'll leave it to the much classier downtowners. Of note: overweight white men performing Single Ladies. HILARIOUS.

We left a bit later and caught the bus back to Uptown where we hung out at the Bryant Lake Bowl then walked back to our house. Unfortunately Minnesota is going through some incredibly annoying and disgusting weather right now that makes walking to anywhere a frightening proposition. Basically, it's cold enough that we still have a whole lot of ice, but warm enough that a lot of that is melting. So we now have sidewalks that are completely covered in a slippery sloshy mess, resulting in plenty of people walking on the streets as it is safer. If this were going on in March I would say ok, and most of this stuff would be gone by now. But in January?!? Stupid global warming...

Well, until next time...

"All of us contain Music & Truth, but most of us can't get it out."
- autograph for Stefan Czapka, quoted in Our Famous Guest, Mark Twain in Vienna, Carl Dolmetsch

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mortem Capiendum

Thursday night Rachel and I headed out to the Guthrie Theater on yet another "Guthrie loves nonprofits!" night.

The Guthrie is a very pretty theater, with a lot of cool interiors...

and exteriors, like the Endless Bridge.

We went to see a showing of Mortem Capiendum by the Four Humors. It's a show about a group of snake-oil salesmen starring Professor John St. Miracle. They begin the show with all of the standard tricks of the trade: a bit of music, a lot of fast talking and trying to appear like a local in this here town of "Minn-ee-appolis!", and of course an audience plant who is magically cured by Doctor ("It's Professor, but I'll let you get away with that this once.") St. Miracle.

It's funny and entertaining, but the real show begins right after that when the Proffessor claims to have "the Ultimate cure for a condition most permanent." It appears that the trio have somehow managed to trap Death in a steamboat trunk and have extracted from him an elixir "brewed from the River Styx!" called Mortem Capiendum, the drink of eternal life.

Of course in a show about eternal life, there has to be proof of the effects. The Professor himself has already died, shot down by bandits outside of St. Louis. Eustace is the next to go, drowned by the Professor, and stays dead long enough for the snake-oil facade to falter. Their accomplice, Lloyd, falls grotesquely soon after, only to rise again.

In and around these deaths the characters discover, well, what being dead is like, both physically and spiritually. Each has lost something that made them what they were is now gone- their ambitions have become fuzzy and impossible to remember, their most treasured skills lost as their souls "just stood up and walked away," and food and all pleasures taste like ash. The show plays around with this theme for quite a while, taking plenty of interesting turns that are impossible to predict. One moment the characters could be having a serious conversation about where their souls went, the next they are doing handstands to try to prevent their blood from pooling down around their ankles.

For such a short play (only 60 minutes) they manage to pack a surprising amount of material into it, the theme of which seems to be that life without the things that make life good is worthless, even if it is eternal. It is darkly funny all the way through and raises some interesting questions about the quest for life everlasting and what would happen if we ever achieved it. All in all, a good show that fit exactly my kind of humor.*

*Note: not applicable to all people.

Until next time...

"Whoever has lived long enough to find out what life is, knows how deep a debt of gratitude we owe to Adam, the first great benefactor of our race. He brought death into the world."
- The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson and the Comedy of the Extraordinary Twins , by Mark Twain

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


"It's a day on, not a day off!"

That's Americorps's way of dealing with MLK day. Since Dr. King dedicated his life to the service of others, we should do the same on the day set aside to remember him.

Last year I helped refurbish computers over at the U of M, but this year I decided to attend the rally that is held at Central High School in St. Paul. There were lots of speakers and performers, elected officials and many calls for action. All of the activities centered around the march from Central High School to Concordia College, which was meant to recreate the march from Selma to Montgomery during the Civil Rights movement.

Of the speakers I really enjoyed the keynote speaker, Nekima Levy-Pounds. She spoke on many of the same issues as Geoffrey Canada did on Friday, and it was great to hear yet again that the choice I am making is one that really does have a lot of worth and necessity in today's society.

Later that evening we had a game night and managed to get Ben Lurie, Jen Bigelow and Becca Hahn over to our house to play games. We settled on a game that I had never played before called Dominion, which is basically a game focused on making a deck of cards perform as quickly and reliably as possible. The tricky part is that the cards that help you purchase things in game don't do anything to help you win and vice versa. Also, the cards available change each time you play it, leading to new combinations that you can try to exploit in your ever growing deck. The first game I played I lost quite poorly, but when I started winning very quickly the second game Russell burst out with a tirade on how I master games far too quickly.

I think that I'll choose to take that as a compliment. :)

Until next time...

"So far as I can see, a procession has value in but two ways--as a show and as a symbol, its minor function being to delight the eye, its major one to compel thought, exalt the spirit, stir the heart, and inflame the imagination. As a mere show, and meaningless--like a Mardi-Gras march--a magnificent procession is worth a long journey to see; as a symbol, the most colorless and unpicturesque procession, if it have a moving history back of it, is worth a thousand of it."
- "Queen Victoria's Jubilee" by Mark Twain

Monday, January 18, 2010

Geoffrey Canada, Birds, My Kids, and Physics

Lot of things to do in Minneapolis this weekend! On Friday Rachel and I headed out to the basilica in Minneapolis to check out an MLK weekend event put on by MCTC, and the place was packed. While there was some good singing, the main reason that we went tot he event was to listen to Geoffrey Canada. He's a man who basically adopted 24 blocks of Harlem and decreed that every child within that zone would get into college. To do so he partnered with a nonprofit to create the Harlem Children's Zone, which provides everything for their educational development including three charter schools, after school programs, health programs and everything else. If something doesn't work, he gets rid of it and implements something else. For instance, kids not retaining enough information? Abolish summer vacation so that they continue to learn, and you also get rid of summer school to boot!

But his talk was only peripherally about that. It was more a call to arms for everyone to get involved in this issue, because as he said, "No one else is coming!" It really spoke to me and the reasons that I have been still struggling with in my decision to become a high school teacher, and definitely strengthened my resolve that I was making the right decision.

As we walked back across the park to Russell's apartment we saw a very strange sight: huge flocks of crows roosting together in trees, standing out against the dark gray clouds thanks to the light pollution of the city. They were constantly cawing and milling about in the sky, like great swarms of bats or something from out of a Hitchcock movie. It was really something to see in action, but here are some stills:

On Saturday I had my classes again, and then quickly hurried off to catch a screening of the Neighborhood Video Project, which was filmed and edited in large part by the kids that I work with at Skyline Tower. I highly encourage you to check out the site and the videos, as my kids put a lot of hard work into this project!

Finally, on Sunday I helped one of Rachel's students out with physics. I got a lot of compliments from her, and it made me feel really good to help someone else understand physics a bit better. Yay weekend for helping reaffirm my desire to be a physics teacher!

Until next time...

"Civilizations proceed from the heart rather than from the head."
-Mark Twain's Letter to Alvert Sonnichsen, 1901

Friday, January 15, 2010

Up In The Air

As you can probably tell form the title and the large movie poster located just above these words, this is going to be a movie review of the film Up In The Air, which came out a couple of weeks ago. The story follows one man, Ryan Bingham, at a pivotal moment in his life. Ryan works for a company that fires employees for other companies that "don't have the balls to do it themselves" and flies all over the country to do so. He's also a motivational speaker whose talk is titled "What's In Your Backpack?", the metaphorical backpack being your life. He advocates that it should only be filled with the things that you absolutely need, throwing away the rest of the people and possessions that unnecessarily clutter your life. He also advocates stereotyping as "it saves more time that way."

These factors combine to conjure a man whose only "real" home is in the airport. There's a very neat sequence that's repeated a few times throughout the film showing just how at home he is- the carefully choreographed dance of putting things on and taking them off at the security checkpoint, the breezy pace that he can use thanks to his many elite statuses, and the casual, measured stroll of someone cheerfully strolling through a park. The airport and its accessories are his domain, and he treats them with more tenderness and care than anyone from what most people would call his "real" life. The concierges at the airports know him by name and wait on his every whim. His own neighbor he rarely sees as he is away most of the year, and there's the family that barely communicates with- these are unneeded peripherals that would unnecessarily hassle his streamlined existence. The only goal that he has in mind is to earn a truly spectacular number of frequent flyer miles and thus earn the ultimate of elite statuses. Ryan is all about loyalty, but only to those things that benefit him and his miles.

But of course, stories are all about conflict, and conflict enters Ryan's life in the form of Natalie Keener, a recent addition to the company who has convinced his boss to suspend the constant flying and have his employees fire people via video conference. Ryan takes her to task, and is himself tasked with showing her how his job works out on the road. He also meets a fellow travel-junkie by chance and begins unwittingly trying to fit her into his metaphorical backpack.

It's not only because he loves his ephemeral airport world that he defends his "life style choice." He isn't a misanthrope- instead he looks at his job and philosophy as beneficial ones. In his job he has the skills, training and experience to be the best person to help these unfortunates through what is probably one of the toughest times of their lives. Other people (like their actual bosses) don't have the right touch to deal with the situation in an efficient and effective manner. He firmly believes that a video conference would break that fragile bridge that he is trying to build between the shattered remains of their now previous employment and the next opportunity that they can grasp. And as for his philosophy, he is merely trying to make sure that he gets the best out of what he enjoys in life without encumbering others unduly- we're all going to die alone anyway, so what's the point?

Of course, this is only the beginning of the plot- it has plenty of quite logical and starkly realistic twists and turns as Ryan tries to deal with the possibility of losing his current lifestyle and being forced to build something permanent with the fixtures in his life. He definitely shows himself as a character capable of making change if convinced to do so, but the world often reacts to his attempted changes with the mixed message that is reality. That's not to say that everything is serious- there are plenty of light hearted and snarky moments in the movie that had us laughing, just that overall things tend to be based on reality.

If you are going to watch this movie, don't watch it for moral stories or a plot building to some kind of conclusive whole- there isn't one. Instead it is a great character study into the ways that people deal with the big events in their lives. Being forced to come home, ending a relationship, getting married- these all appear in the film, and the reactions are, like the rest of the movie, logical and realistic. So are the characters, especially the female ones, which is excellent as they are what cause the changes in Ryan's life. Even the bit parts like his sister's groom are played like they were the stars of the show- nothing is left to stereotyping.

So, in summary: I liked it. If you liked Jason Reitman's other films like Thank You For Smoking or Juno (though, a little less on the latter) you'll like this one. If you like character studies, I think you'll like this one too. It's a movie that, (shamelessly stealing from the Los Angeles Times) "makes it look easy. Not just in its casual and apparently effortless excellence, but in its ability to blend entertainment and insight, comedy and poignancy, even drama and reality, things that are difficult by themselves but a whole lot harder in combination. This film does all that and never seems to break a sweat."

Until next time...

"It liberates the vandal to travel--you never saw a bigoted, opinionated, stubborn, narrow-minded, self-conceited, almighty mean man in your life but he had stuck in one place since he was born and thought God made the world and dyspepsia and bile for his especial comfort and satisfaction."
- The American Abroad speech by Mark Twain, 1868

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Back to the Christmas!

So I have been meaning to share a couple of pics with you people who are not my family and read my blog (eliminating half of my readership in a single fell blow!) that came from Christmas time. The events that are to be portrayed come from Christmas Eve. On that day the Herzl-Betz family always goes to church to enjoy the wonderful service and then heads home to have a small meal and open our presents from the cousins over at my Oma's house, which is just across the driveway from ours.

This year was the second year that Ms. Carroll joined us, and of course she was not due to get any presents. But I decided to make a slight alteration to that agenda.

A large box? Well what could it hold?


Oh... it's Up!

Just some silly craziness from me. You know how I like presentation.

Until next time...

"Balloon: thing to take meteoric observations and commit suicide with."
- More Maxims of Mark, Johnson, 1927

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Weekend

Rachel and I have been incredibly social this past weekend (at least by our humble standards). On Thursday, as I said last time, Justin and Kyle were around. This past Friday we went with Russell to see Avatar in 3D at an incredibly swanky (and expensive!) theater in St. Louis Park. This theater was so swanky that they not only had assigned seating inside the theater but also had an option to upgrade to a VIP ticket which would let you have access to a cash bar while the movie is going on. Crazy, no?

Anyway, quick movie review:
  • very pretty; the visuals were gorgeous, the 3D added to the effect and wasn't annoying, and everything either had a sense of gritty sci-fi or wonderful alienness
  • ok plot; stolen from Pocahontas, Fern Gully and half a dozen other films/stories over the years. Still a good story, but definitely derivative.
  • overall- worth your money, especially 3D version.

Then on Saturday we had the gang over to watch Labyrinth in celebration of David Bowie's birthday on Friday. I had never seen the film before, so I had no idea what to expect. After the movie, I still have no idea what to expect. It was that trippy. Entertaining, in the cult classic and awesomeness of Jim Henson kind of way, but very, very trippy.

Finally, on Sunday Rachel and I got to play hero twice. First was an unprecedented going into work on Sunday to help out one of my students with her college applications. Rachel was great with her, and between the two of us we managed to get three of her applications finished before her due date on Monday. Later that evening our housemate Zoe created a big, deep slice into her finger when trying to open a can. After some doctoral consultation she and I headed out to the hospital to get it all stitched up. My job there seemed solely to keep her knowledgeable of the fact that she was not going to die or be horribly scarred from this minor wound. As I said to her "Dumb things happen to smart people all the time..." and went on to relate several instances in which that exact thing has happened to me and people that I know.

Well, that's all the news from Minneapolis. Next time there will be some pics from over Winter break that I've been wanting to get out there for a while. Until next time...

"We find not much in ourselves to admire, we are always privately wanting to be like somebody else. If everybody was satisfied with himself there would be no heroes."
- Mark Twain's Autobiography

Friday, January 8, 2010

Lots of snow fell today, making travel a very interesting proposition for all involved. At one point I was stuck behind a UPS truck trying to make it over a small incline. It succeeded after 3 stoplights, at which point I almost got stuck. And it's always a disconcerting feeling to see the taxi cab in front of you fish tail and spin out on the way to work...

But the big part about today was that Justin and Kyle were in town! For those not in the know, Justin is an old friend of Rachel's from back in Duluth and Kyle was one of my Physics buddies at Carleton, and they moved to San Francisco this past Fall. They were hanging out in Superior and Northfield and managed to find time to hang out in Minneapolis somewhere in between. I met up with them and Sophie at Chiang Mai Thai for some delicious Thai food served to us by what was probably the classiest waiter in Minneapolis. Just something about his appearance and mannerisms struck us all as incredibly classy. We talked about how things were going with them- Kyle seems pretty happy with his job and apparently gets to make apps for the Droid, while Justin is enjoying law school. I almost killed Kyle a couple of times when we mentioned how warm it was in California this time of year, but the necessities of politeness to one's guests got in the way...

Something definitely on my list to do now is to purchase some ice skates, as Sophie wants someone to be comically bad at skating with at our local park. I think I can be up to that challenge.

But it's late now, and I should go to bed. Until next time...

"I have done more for San Francisco than any other of its old residents. Since I left there it has increased in population fully 300,000. I could have done more -- I could have gone earlier -- it was suggested."
- undated letter quoted in Mark Twain: A Biography

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Post 100! And MN Brewers Assoc.

Wow- finally made it to 100 posts! Go me!

Anyway, tonight I went with my friend Rob to a meeting of the St. Paul Homebrewers Club. It's a pretty cool organization- they organize lots of brewing competitions and other such events, and everyone is encouraged to bring beer to the meetings for other people to try!

As you might be able to guess, this was a great opportunity for me to not only try a lot of quality home brews but also to get a glimpse into how life long brewers interact with their beer. First there is a sniff, then a swirl, then a sniff again, before finally taking a sip. They could isolate the various yeasts, grains and sugars used in the beers and from that determine exactly what style it was. A few brewers included recipes with their beers, and they received plenty of tips on how to improve various aspects of the taste, color etc. from all present.

To be in a room with 40 or so guys, all talking about various beers not only as if they were wine snobs but chefs as well... it's something. Definitely made me want to have a second go at brewing, and maybe try my hand at some more 'real' brewing some day.

They are also going to have an event called the Upper Mississippi Mash-Out towards the end of January. It's a big competition among homebrewers to try to produce the best of the various styles of beers as laid down by the Beer Judge Certification Program (or BJCP). There is some room for expression, but the goal is to try to produce an excellent beer that conforms to one of the styles. They also have a special section this year focusing on English beers. I may end up volunteering at the event just to get a better look at what home brewing can do.

Until next time...

"Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but Cabbage with a College Education."
- The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson and the Comedy of the Extraordinary Twins by Mark Twain

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year!

A new decade, a new look at the blog. Severe apologies are in order for the long break in updates in this blog. I have had plenty of ventures and excursions in the interim, so it certainly hasn't been for lack of things to write about, more a lack of commitment. It always seems a struggle to sit down and write out a blog post. At work I feel like it takes too much time, and at home I often don't feel like marking out a chunk of time to update this online journal.

But then I get back into a post, and it feels good again. I want to tell people about all of the things that I am doing, and most importantly I want to preserve all of those thoughts and adventures for myself, to look back on some time in the future. As many of you may know, my memory isn't the best all of the time, so I believe it is important that I continue to chronicle my (mis)adventures in this very exciting part of my life.

That said, what happened over the past couple of months?

  • Thanksgiving! Lots of turkey, lots of sitting out in the beautifully lit but sadly deer-deprived woods
  • Work! Starting new classes that really haven't taken off, while other, older classes have seen a resurgence in popularity. I'm also beginning to develop a sense of adult responsibility and a gently gruff attitude towards children, which should rightly terrify most of you.
  • Grad school appli... yeah, this one is going to be a post all of its own.
  • Extracurriculars! Plenty of wargaming that hasn't been documented over at my other blog, plenty of pen and paper that has (hopefully) entertained a handful of you over the past few weeks, and distractions are looming from several other sources... And yes, mom, I'm still getting my work done fine. Don't worry.
  • Christmas! Excellently fun time, AND a road trip. There will be a post soon detailing this, don't you worry.
  • New Years! Which involves this picture:

I stared and giggled at myself in the mirror for probably 20 minutes... and that was before I put on my scarf.

Speaking of New Year's, it is traditional that we make resolutions at this time. I shall continue that tradition with the following pronouncements, none of which I believe are too far out of reach nor pointless in their proximity.

Join the gym.
Holy Lord I have not gone to the gym in over half a year. This needs to change. Plan is in the next two weeks I submit my application to the YWCA for a scholarship and attend soon after that for $20 a month. I plan on exercising at least twice a week, if not three times.

Blog more.
Blogging, as mentioned before, often takes back seat to other things. Well, I say no more! I vow to post three times per week. If I have nothing to post, then maybe some poetry or fiction will sate your appetites. We're going to start with Monday, Wednesday, Friday and see how it goes.

Become a better Netizen
While I hate to use the buzzword, it aptly describes what I want to become. Web 2.0 has a lot of technologies at its disposal and I want to get in on the action. For too long I've thought of web videos and web formatting as other people's cup of tea- we'll see if we can change that in 2010. I hope to get into videos by the time my birthday rolls around.

Be quicker in my response time.
A very general one that may get tossed in the dustbin as time goes on, but I want to stop procrastinating, or at least cut down on it a great deal. We'll see how this goes, but at least it's a start.

Begin Operation: Rock Paper Damocles


That's it for now. Until next time...

"New Year's Day--Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual."
-Letter from Mark Twain to the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, Jan. 1863