Sunday, February 28, 2010


On Friday Admission Possible had another one of their themed parties, this time fancy dress. So we delivered!

Ms Carroll, looking resplendent in her satiny purple dress

Myself, bedecked for heading out doors on a frosty Winter's night.

Once in the party, the coat, hat and gloves come off and the debonaire interior of my wardrobe can be seen.
And yes, we do have a lot of fun dressing up :)

Until next time...

"Their costumes, as to architecture, were the latest fashion intensified; they were rainbow-hued; they were hung with jewels--chiefly diamonds. It would have been plain to any eye that it had cost something to upholster these women."
- The Gilded Age by Mark Twain

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Project BigDog... and AXE COP!

Not much going on right now- classes are going pretty well, and I haven't done anything incredibly exciting over the past couple of days. So, instead for today, a video:

Crazy, huh?


HOLY CRAP wait a minute. So, Geeks Are Sexy just informed me of AXE COP, a webcomic whose storyline was literally written by a 5 year old and drawn by his 21 year old brother. It is AMAZING. So much random stuff happening, yet the illustrations keep it all together... and there is even a coherent plot at times! If you have a few minutes to kill, kill it with Axe Cop. Or, as he says...


Until next time...

"Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in."
- Mark Twain, a Biography

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Scottish Last King of Scotland

On Friday Rachel and I (along with a couple of Rachel's coworkers) went to the Guthrie (yay working for nonprofits!) to see their production of Macbeth, by you-know-who. The Guthrie is fond of doing Shakespeare in... shall we say, interesting ways. I knew that this was going to be no exception when the first scene of the play was filled with machine gun fire. People were coming down zip lines while firing automatic weapons, Macbeth and company were engaged in a swirling melee with pistols and knives, and the setting was a ruined church or other gothic structure.

Apparently the Guthrie was going for a "Last King of Scotland" approach to the play as everything was set in modern times and everyone wore clothing that would best fit a tyrannical small African kingdom that had Western ambition. The involved fight scenes cropped up many times in the play and occasionally were a bit too much. Simple actions like Macbeth having his goons take out a rival's family became drawn out combats, and the assassination of Banquo took far too long to get to the end. It was when the fight scenes left something to the imagination that they became really convincing- like when the three goons close in on the rival's daughter and the lights go out. Chilling stuff.

The lead himself wasn't the most convincing figure. When he was decided on what he was doing he was great- an imposing, dangerous figure who nobody should mess with. It was the parts where he had to decide what path to go down that were rather unfulfilling. It just felt too much like a light switch- there wasn't any drama to the decision at all.

Still, the rest of the acting was spot on, and the scene where Banquo's spirit haunts Macbeth was AMAZING. The Weird Sisters were well done and had plenty of special effects back up to make them seem otherworldly and powerful. The very end was also very well done, grim and surprising, though I won't spoil it. Think of the ending of "A Brave New World" except upside down...

Until next time...

"How curious and interesting is the parallel--as far as poverty of biographical details is concerned--between Satan and Shakespeare. ...They are the best-known unknown persons that have ever drawn breath upon the planet."
- "Is Shakespeare Dead?" by Mark Twain

Friday, February 19, 2010

Never Turning Out Quite Like It Should...

I started evening classes this week, and boy was I prepared. I had tons of handouts printed, a Somali speaking volunteer lined up, and an actual, professional grade lesson plan prepared. I even made sure that I could have cookies and tea on hand so that we could have a nice discussion as the students looked over the material I had prepared. On Wednesday I had scheduled the beginning of a two-part class to teach residents the very basics of how to use a computer, i.e. mouse and keyboard. Last week I managed to sign 18 people up for this course, 18 for a computer lab that only has 10 stations. I figured that, statistically, I would have 5 people show up, even with reminders.Which would be fine.

Turns out that 6 people showed up, but not quite in the way that I had planned. Two of my teens decided to help me out, which I now thank my lucky stars for, as the show got started even before my open lab had finished. Two of my students showed up at 6:10 because they thought that the class started at 6:00 (it actually started at 6:30), so they were standing around for 20 minutes while I was still cleaning up and getting all of my stuff in place. The rest of the class trickled in between 6:30 and 6:40, which was when I decided to start class.

Three of the students were there for the class that I was prepared to give. Two were there for the class that was starting next Wednesday. And one was there who had apparently not even read the brochure, as he was far too advanced. None of them wanted to eat cookies or drink tea.


Still, everything turned out OK on Wednesday. My two teens plus my scheduled volunteer took care of the three students who were there for the actual course while I took care of the two week-early members. Even then things didn't turn out like I had wanted. The three went through their material at lightning speed, much faster than any of my other Somali speakers had gone in the past, so we ended up doing two lessons for the price of one. My other two students were at very different competency levels- one took to everything very easily while the other I believe was just barely following along.

My sixth student just sat at his computer and read Somali news the entire time. He promised to come back on Thursday to do a real course.

Fast forward to Thursday night, when I have scheduled my drop-in/1-on-1 tutoring class. My straggler student shows up, I help him out for maybe 15 minutes, and he spends the rest of the hour checking out Somali news. I had two other students signed up, but neither showed up.


Neither was particularly bad, but neither was particularly what I wanted, either. Then again, that's kind of what Skyline does to carefully wrought plans...

Until next time...

"I'll forget the Lord's middle name sometime, right in the midst of a storm, when I need all the help I can get."
- Mark Twain, a Biography

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Das Weisse Band

On Monday Rachel and I went to go see The White Ribbon over at the Uptown Theater. It's a limited release film that picked up a ton of awards at Cannes, and this combined with the fact that it is German and had a really interesting premise made me really want to go see it.

The film is set in a small German town on the eve of the assassination of Archduke Franz. Our narrator is the local schoolteacher, though the camera certainly does not only follow his perspective on things. Right off the bat we know that something is amiss in this town, as the narrator informs us that "the mysterious accidents began with the Doctor as he was taking a ride in his garden." He then goes on to explain (as the camera shows) that someone had strung up invisible wire around two trees, causing his horse to collapse and him to be thrown violently from the saddle.

The "accidents" continue through the film and become even more brutal as the story continues, but they are almost simple side projects or merely symptoms in comparison with all of the other things that are going on in the village. We get intimate looks into five of the families in the town and each is wracked with hereditary violence, pride and an innate sense of righteousness. There is the pastor who solemenly punishes even the slightest infraction among his children with force and humiliation, the steward who is genial only so long as his job is not at stake, the baron and baronness who are detached from the cares of the villagers unless their own family is in harm, and this is to say nothing of the farmer or even more darkly the Doctor.

Each of these families has a patriarch who is convinced of his own right and that believes that he has the authority to carry out his will with whatever means are deemed necessary. This pride and violence are passed down to their children, who take out their frustration and rage against their unassailable parents in quiet and terrible ways. The title of the film, The White Ribbon, is an example of this. It is supposed to symbolize and serve as a reminder of purity and innocence, but is used as a humiliating form of punishment by the pastor.

I believe that it is this sense of righteousness and the need to be in control physically, mentally and morally that the director was talking about when he said that he wanted to show "perhaps a reason as to why what happened later did happen." The idea that a country can force a moral high ground on the rest of the world through force of arms is not such a far stretch from some of the quiet atrocities committed in this seemingly quiet village.

As you may have guessed, I was very impressed with this film but was also pretty traumatized by it. The acts shown in the story are often terrible but very believable, especially for the time period. There are definite beacons of hope, mainly in the schoolteacher's life. He lives seemingly untouched by the acts around him and manages to find others like him that show reasonable reactions to situations and attempt to treat their fellow man with respect. But even this has a dark edge, as while he attempts to figure out who is causing all of the incidents in town he lacks the conviction or ability to do anything about it. Then the war comes and his life takes a different turn, and, as he says, "I never saw anyone from that village again."

In the end (and, indeed, in the very beginning) we get a glimpse at who is causing all of the accidents, but it doesn't really matter. They were a symptom of passed on rage and frustration for which precious few of the characters know the cure.

Until next time...

"In early times some sufferer had to sit up with a toothache, and he put in the time inventing the German language."

- Mark Twain's Notebook #14, 11/1877 - 7/1878

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentime's Day!

Valentime's Day began on Saturday when Rachel baked me this AWESOME cake:



 For my part, I decided to craft another flower for Rachel, this time out of Sculpy Bakeable Clay. I think it turned out pretty well, though I need to work on my wet blending techniques for the paint job on the petals:


And yes, there is a second leaf behind the piece of paper.

For dinner we headed out to the Corner Table, which is a great restaurant that we have been meaning to go out to for ages. They use only local ingredients in all of their meals and often host cooking lessons where you cook your own meal and trips to local farms [that are also meals/cooking lessons]. On most Sundays they have a "vino+vinyl" night where you can bring in a vinyl record and a bottle of wine and enjoy your dinner, though on Valentime's Day they simply had pleny of tables and delicious food. Service was excellent- everything came just when we wanted it and not a moment sooner or later, and two entire hours simply flew by as we enjoyed the ambience and our conversation. Highlights of the meal included:

-a "bubbly" ale that tasted like a cross between champagne and a belgian ale
-roasted pumpkin ravioli
-squid ink spaghetti:

-braised pork belly with red cabbage, golden turnips, cream and onions:
-trout served with micro greens and toasted bread:
-cinnamon panna cotta with honey creme and strawberries on top
-and finally, rice pudding with apple extract and diced pieces of apple on top.

DELICIOUS. I highly encourage you to check it out if you have a bit of cash to spend on a quality meal and happen to be in Minneapolis.

We finished up the night by watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a movie that I have always meant to see but never did. It's about a couple that decide to wipe their minds of each other because of problems in their relationship, and their fight to stop the process once it starts. Most of the action takes place inside Joel's (the character played by Jim Carrey) head, so it's incredibly trippy as he attempts to hide his memories of Clementine (the character played by Kate Winslet) in deep, ingrained parts of his mind so that they will not disapear. Excellent movie from both a scripting and technical execution point of view; it was incredibly immersive, very weird and altogether enjoyable. I especially liked the fact that they used nonstandard film to shoot the movie (kodachrome I believe, but I could be very much mistaken). And it all takes place on Valentime's day, so that made it even more perfect.

Until next time...

"Buffalo, Feb. 14. Dear Sir: I am only too proud of the chance to help with this the only Valentine I venture to write this day -- for although I am twain in my own person I am only half a person in my matrimonial form, and sometimes my wife shows that she is so much better and nobler than I am, that I seriously question if I am really any more than about a quarter! "
- Letter to an unidentified correspondent from Mark Twain, featured on an internet auction by Bennett Stamps, Baltimore, Maryland, March 2006

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Our lakes ARE so great!

A very short post and out of schedule as this is too awesome. Warning, some harsh language. Image taken completely without checking with Penny-Arcade who wrote it and are awesome.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Curiouser and Curiouser...


So I got an interesting package in the mail on Thursday from my folks... it looked kind of like this:

For those of you playing at home, my Birthday is on March 8th. I received this on February 11th. Hrrmm... well, let's see what's inside.

Different colors of calligraphy markers? Cool!

...and more calligraphy pens- but real ones with ink this time! Maybe someone is trying to tell me something.

Yes! Darkly Dreaming Dexter! Awesome! Very uncharacteristic for my folks, but awesome!

And a suit cover from Panosian's, as I left my bigger, bulkier one back in Elmira over Christmas.

So, thank you Mom, Dad and Oma (or whoever is responsible for these). I gave them a call after getting them and their excuse for sending me my presents so early was that "February seems like a down kind of month, and this might cheer you up." Well, I guess it did. Well done.

Until next time...

"The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up."
- Mark Twain's Notebook

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Super Bowl Par-tay!

So the Superbowl happened on Friday. Being me I didn't really care who won, but it was definitely a reason to have an impromptu party!


Quite a few members of the gang (and extended gang) made it to my house to hang out, kind of watch the game and enjoy tasty things.. like my very own scratch-made pizzas!
The Broccoli Ricotta on white crust
The Cheese on Firecracker Cornmeal crust

The Artichoke and Tomato on white crust

...and the Tofu Satay on Firecracker Cornmeal crust.
Of course, being my group, there had to be games involved. Games played included Pandemic (can your team of players stop 4 superbugs from spreading across the globe? It's you against the game... and our players lost both times. Ouch.) and Citadels (change roles every turn while you build up your city- can you guess who each player is and plan accordingly? Or accidentally show your hand and have your gold stolen, or cities destroyed and your life taken by an assassin's blade?)


All in all, lots of fun. Oh, and somebody won the game thingy.

P.S. for a good time call 1-877-987-6401

Until next time...

"Well, say, this beats croquet. There's more go about it!"
- quoted in "Mark Twain at Football Game," New York World, Sunday November 18, 1900

Monday, February 8, 2010

Max, Destroyer of House!

 On Friday, I used a claw hammer and a crowbar to destroy a house.

OK, well, maybe I only used a claw hammer and a crowbar to destroy a part of a house.

OK, well, maybe I also got to use power tools in addition to a claw hammer and a crowbar to destroy a part of a house.

Or maybe I should start from the beginning...

On Friday I had a corps day in which we partnered with Habitat for Humanity to help remake a house that had fallen into condemned status. Most of the work that we were doing that day was demolition- knocking out walls, tearing out ceilings and other diverse delightfully destructive deeds. I chose to split off from the main group and partner with a regular volunteer named Dave to set about dismantling the bathroom on the second floor.

Dave (pictured above) is a Vietnam vet who also worked for the government for a time and likes to explain that he has secret clearance thanks to his time in both areas, and I am inclined to believe him. He definitely had some... interesting opinions on certain things, but he also definitely knew his stuff and the importance of his job at Habitat. Construction/demolition is simply what he likes to do in his retirement when he is not trying to find solutions to the problems of the world with his war buddies. We had a good time taking out sinks, showers and cabinets in the morning and smashing walls with claw hammers, crowbars and power saws in the afternoon.

Speaking of that, before:


There was a lot of clean up.

Taking apart the house was a lot of fun. I got to get a lot of good exercise and use a lot of tools. It really makes me miss doing theater tech back in college and having the opportunity to both build and dismantle things on a macro scale (as opposed to the micro that I talk about on my other blog). Getting to repair and build things is definitely something that I want to get back into in the future- I might even start volunteering regularly with Habitat next year to start building up my repertoire of handyman skills.

Other things that were entertaining about the day:

-all of the little mementos that were left from past occupants. A lot of the, umm, "insulation" in the upper floors of the house was made out of old newspapers, some from as far back as the 1920s and 40s.
There was also some masking tape still left up on a wall of one of the rooms talking about all of the security protections that were in place to protect weapons. More masking tape was underneath this one displaying the types of weapons stored here, including swords, knives, guns, and FINAL DEATH (unintelligible) MOVE, all in a childish scrawl. I'll try to put my video of it up later, but blogger is being stupid right now.

-the most awesome tool in the world:

It's basically a large magnet on a stick, but who cares! It's awesome!

-Mystery Gum! With Mystery Packaging!

So yeah, I had fun. Manual labor is always a nice change of pace.

Until next time...

" is less trouble and more satisfaction to bury two families than to select and equip a home for one."
- Mark Twain's Autobiography

Friday, February 5, 2010

Going to the Fitz

So tonight Rachel and I had a special treat. We drove out to downtown St Paul in the middle of freezing rain and sleet to go to the Fitzgerald Theater.

Now why would we do a silly thing like that?

Oh wait, this guy!

So yes, Rachel and I got to go to the first ever live cinecast of A Prairie Home Companion! And see it live in the theater! The Fitz is a pretty nice theater (though it scarily resembles the Clemens Center in its architecture), and we got what I like to call quasi-boxed seats.

As you can see in that last picture, at the beginning there was a bit of a video where Garrison Keillor walked around St Paul and explained a bit about its landmarks and his favorite places in town. Particular favorite line from this part: "It's cold here. It's... Nature's way of killing us."

Then the show began, and an interesting figure took the stage; you can see him on the right there:

Elvis Costello!?!?!

The rest of the show had all of the great hallmarks of PHC: good music, Lake Wobegon, random advertisements, etc. It was really interesting to see them perform the show as, well, a radio show, rather than a live show. Sure there were plenty of gestures towards the audience, but for the most part it was as they always do, geared towards radio. Stage hands walking unapoligetically around the stage, big obtrusive mikes, no props besides the two awesome sound effects guys... just a lot of people talking and making us see the scenery through the way that they talked about everything.

Some more pics from the show:


Until next time...
When you want genuine music--music that will come right home to you like a bad quarter, suffuse your system like strychnine whisky, go right through you like Brandreth's pills, ramify your whole constitution like the measles, and break out on your hide like the pin-feather pimples on a picked goose,--when you want all this, just smash your piano, and invoke the glory-beaming banjo!
- Mark Twain's "Enthusiastic Eloquence," San Francisco Dramatic Chronicle, 6/23/1865