Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A couple of reasons why today is awesome...

1. It was high 60s outside today- I wore shorts and sandals!

2. Got to play plenty of Warhammer, which is always great

3. Rachel got funding from Madison! Yaaaaaaay!!!!

Now I just have to find a job and a place to live...

Until next time...

"The proverb says that Providence protects children and idiots. This is really true. I know it because I have tested it."
- Autobiography of Mark Twain, (used as prelude to bowling story)

Monday, March 29, 2010


This past weekend me and a couple of my friends went out to go see Dreamwork's How to Train Your Dragon as one of Rachel's students was working at the theater that night and offered us free comestibles. That was probably the only reason that we went to go see the movie- the previews that I had seen were not terribly enticing, so we thought it would simply be a coming of age story told in a kid friendly manner.

Well, we were kind of right. First of all, just to get it out there, this movie is good. Really good. The animations are fantastic, the character choices lean towards the generic but still get their own spin, and the dragons are really well done.

The story is that this village of Vikings (who all mysteriously have Scottish accents) is constantly under attack by dragons that steal their sheep and burn their houses. Our hero, Hiccup (yes, that really is his name), is not your typical Viking. He is scrawny, not terribly good with weapons, and has been relegated to serving in the foundry as his "help" on the front lines tends to cause more harm than good.

Luck is with our hero when he manages to ensnare the most fearsome dragon of all, a Night Fury*, with an invention that he built. Of course no one believes him, but he is determined to prove them wrong and find the dragon that he snared.

Without spoiling too much, the Night Fury is the second lead in the movie. Rachel likened him to "a dragon version of Stitch [from Lilo and Stitch]- Stitch-Dargon!" And, really, that's what he is. Think of the grace of a cat crossed with the loyalty of a dog crossed with Stitch and bound up into a sleek black ball of wonderment, supersonic flight and destructive mini-nuke breath. His interactions with Hiccup are definitely the highlight of the movie- their getting to know you sequence is completely adorable, hilarious and surprisingly well thought out. And the level of expression that he can get out of his very Stitch-esque face is amazing. And he's CUTE! Yet bad-ass enough at the same time to lend credence to his rep as "born of lightning and swift death." To quote Rachel again "I want one!" So do I, Rachel, so do I.

The flight scenes are really well done and the progression from hunter and hunted to BFF is done nicely. Hiccup definitely doesn't get it right away, and even when he takes to the sky on the dragon's back there are setbacks. It's a bit refreshing to see a kiddie movie where character progression isn't necessarily so cut and dried. There is also the progression of his relationship with his father, who is chief of their village. There are some pretty cute moments between the two that are animated to great effect.

The flight sequences are really well done and I can imagine that in 3D they'd be even more awesome. All of the action sequences have great effects that match the aesthetics of the movie really well. Dragons crackle with flame all over their bodies, the little bulldog/beetle dragons zip around with a bemused grin on their faces, and others light up the sky with huge rivers of well rendered flame.

All in all, a very fun movie and one that I would definitely go and see again. And you should too!

*They have a Pokemon or Harry Potter-esque delineation of different kinds of dragons, each with a different weak spot, breath attack and fighting style. Gotta slay (or tame) 'em all!

Until next time...

"A village fire-company does not often get a chance to show off, and so when it does get a chance it makes the most of it. Such citizens of that village as were of a thoughtful and judicious temperament did not insure against fire; they insured gainst the fire-company."

- Pudd'nhead Wilson, by Mark Twain

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Technicolor Cardboard Dreams

For our Corps Day this past Friday we headed over to the building of the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network, a local channel, and got to play around with cameras. We were split into groups and were tasked with coming up with a movie that could be planned in 30 minutes, shot in an hour and edited in two and a half hours. We were also all given a genre, a prop, and a line that had to be included in our film.

For me:
Genre: Experimental
Prop: Cardboard Box
Line: "I'm glad that we have technology on our side."

Thus was born Technicolor Cardboard dreams, starring yours truly:

Technicolor Cardboard Dreams from CTEP on Vimeo.

Until next time...

"...a good and wholesome thing is a little harmless fun in this world; it tones a body up and keeps him human and prevents him from souring."
- Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by Mark Twain

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Road Trippin' in the Midwest: Madison, Part 2

The last two days were a nice mix of hanging with English prospectives/grad students, wandering around sunny Madison and looking for places to live. On Monday I found three apartments to look at and scheduled showings for them on Tuesday. The first two were rather horrible affairs that reminded me very firmly of dorm life. Seeing our reactions, our agent took us over to another apartment on William ("Willy") Street, an area that we had heard many good things about. It was pretty much perfect- lots of natural lighting, hardwood floors, good amounts of storage, laundry in the basement, a parking spot for my car, and it had lots of good coffee shops and restaurants, as well as a good co-op. AND it was on the bus line. Of course, it was a bit more expensive... definitely up towards the maximum of our theoretical budget. But it its tempting.

The last place that we looked at seemed to be a good middle ground between the two. OK parking options, nice amount of space and a fairly good neighborhood, as well as a pretty good price that included utilities. Still I think we are going to look at more places like our expensive choice before we make a final decision, as it was REALLY nice and probably affordable.

There was also plenty of wandering around the city and getting to know it- so much good stuff here it's unbelievable. And pleny of partying with the English dept., which was always fun.

We drove back really late at night, reaching home at just before 2 in the morning. Fortunately we had my recently re-found copy of World War Z to guide us in. It's an AMAZING audio book that takes everything into account with a zombie infestation, watching its effects politically, socially, scientifically, militarily- and it's entirely serious throughout. Plus, Alan Alda is in it!

Anyway, that's all for now... until next time...

Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.
- Mark Twain

Monday, March 15, 2010

Road Trippin' in the Midwest: Madison, Part 1

Hello from Madison! I'm in a coffee shop right now and should be looking at Craigslist for apartments or jobs or something... but I figured that I'd take some time to fill you all in on how things are going here so far.

Yesterday was apparently the beginning of Daylight Savings Time, a fact that our blessed phones remembered and we forgot. It wasn't until we had headed upstairs and taken a look at the clock on the oven that we realized that the time had switched. Fortunately our alarms were on our sainted cell phones, which update automatically, so we were able to get out of the house on time.

The drive was nice and pleasant- plenty of bright sun showing us fields of dead grass with barely any snow in sight. We got a little lost on our final approach to Madison but were able to arrive with a little bit of time to spare. We're staying with one of the graduate students from the English program by the name of Renee, and she and her boyfriend filled us in on the good places to live in town... once again, something that I should be doing but am not.

But I digress.

We then headed to the English dept. mixer, where Rachel got to talk with lots of profs, current students and prospectives. We migrated through the various disciplines with strange names like Mid-Mod, Contemporary American, Early-Mod and (of course) Victorian, plus a few others. I managed to confuse quite a few people with my name tag which read:


Which of course was a great ice breaker and introduced me to the whole equation. Everyone was really nice, and I managed to find at least 7 people who knew where Elmira was! Apparently there are quite a few upstate New Yorkers at Madison, so we got to talking about the Finger Lakes and all the other parts of the Southern Tier. Small world, eh? I also ended up talking with a few people about my possibly becoming a high school teacher. One of the Upstate NYers' wife had just gotten a job as a teacher, so he filled me in a lot about the local situation, which was both sobering and reassuring. There are LOTS of teachers in the area thanks to two colleges with education programs, but on the flip-side I'm math and science which puts me ahead of the pack and might only have to do a 30 minute commute to work, which I can handle.

We then migrated to the Victorians and wandered out to find some dinner, which we found at a place called the Old Fashioned. It's a classic Wisconsin restaurant with old fashioned (hur hur!) advertisements for classic Wisconsin things like butter and beer on the walls. The feel was very German with a bit of Irish thrown in there, and the beer list (like apparently everywhere in Wisconsin) was immense and impressive. We ended up going for the eponymous Old Fashioneds for our drink, though Rachel and I went for the applejack version. Who knew that a drink that included a combination of whiskey, cherries, soda, oranges and worcestershire sauce could be so tasty?

And of course, since it was Pi Day yesterday, I had to have some pie:

It's a classic Wisconsin-style apple pie, which means there is a slice of cheese melted on top. Surprisingly tasty.

We then continued the theme of the night by heading to the impressively titled "Drinks and conversation, informally organized along the lines of academic interest areas." Which basically means "Let's go to a bar and drink and talk about English!" I had a nice chat with some prospectives about Americorps, Carleton and (of course) Upstate New York, when a funny thing happened. A guy walked up to me and I knew that I recognized him from somewhere.

Amazingly Zack works for the same company that I do (CommonBond Communities) and is also an Americorps member (not the same program, but I work with MCAs all the time). We had met only a few times before, but we managed to recognize each other and a good laugh about the whole Small World thing.

We then headed back to our hosts' place to sleep, though Rachel stayed up for a while chatting with our host about classes and other English-y things. She seems to really enjoy the place so far and everyone that we have met has been really nice and helpful. Plus, the weather is gorgeous right now, which is always a plus.

Anyway, I should get back to stuff that I should be doing while I'm here, so until next time...

"To any foreigner, English is exceedingly difficult. Even the angels speak it with an accent."
- written in Clara Clemens copy of Pudd'nhead Wilson

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Another week

Work at Skyline has been a little... crazy this week. Not that it isn't ever NOT crazy, just crazier than usual. It started raining this week (yay Spring!) which has driven all the kids and teens stir crazy. Youth lab on Monday and Wednesday was simply insane- I probably had 5-6 people waiting for computers at all times (for reference, there are only 10 total), everyone was complaining because the Internet was running slow in the lab, and enough people refused to give up their computers when their time was up to make me consider simply closing the lab and sending everyone home. Plus, when they finally leave the entire place is a mess and I have barely time to prep for my evening classes.

Speaking of which, my second round of evening classes ended with roughly 2.5 people in it. Not bad considering the 1st round, but I keep on wondering if my lessons are sticking. I know that there is a large language barrier that I have only partially been able to cross, and the higher concepts of what we are doing are definitely out of reach. But I hope that the little things- how to access programs, how to enter web addresses, how to shut down the computer- managed to worm their way in somehow. I know that it will require gentle prodding, but I can always hope...

This will be especially interesting as my next round of classes are not going to be directed at my current students. I've been really interested in teaching an Excel course for some time now and evening courses are probably the best way to do them. Hopefully my students can switch to early/mid afternoon without much trouble to keep up their learning, but we'll see.

Anyway, to deal with all of my crazy kids I am going to be enacting some new rules that will take effect on Monday the 22nd. Since I'll be off in Madison this Sunday-Tuesday and we have a retreat on Wednesday it'll be my first full week since I resolved to take action. We'll see if there is rioting in the streets :)

And yes- Rachel and I will be visiting Madison starting this Sunday! I'll be looking around town to scope it out while Rachel is doing her grad student thing, so hopefully it should be fun and informative.

That's all for now- until next time...

"The proverb says that Providence protects children and idiots. This is really true. I know because I have tested it."
- Autobiography of Mark Twain

Monday, March 8, 2010

My Girlfriend is Awesome, aka B-Day Weekend!

B-day awesomeness began on Friday when I got this in the mail:

Vielen Danke Oma!

Saturday began like any other Saturday. I went to work, taught classes, then headed over to the game store to play around with little plastic men. At around 6:30 I got a text message from Rachel, saying "I'm almost there- be ready to run out!" I quickly packed up my toys, finishing just after she arrived and announced that my "chariot awaits."

It turned out that she, Jason, Caroline and Russell were driving me away to St Paul for dinner! We tried going to the Blue Door Pub, but they were incredibly busy. Several restaurants later we got to the Muddy Pig, a fantastic pub in St Paul with good pub food and an excellent selection of beer and liquor. My choice of a whiskey flight was a good one, as, to quote Caroline, I had "a religious experience" with two of the three whiskeys. Heavenly stuff.

We then headed home, watched half of Up, then went out to the Uptown Theater at midnight to watch Mystery Team. Short review: very crude and crass but overall quite funny and enjoyable. If they had only left out the gentleman's club scene, I would have been overjoyed. As it is... you'll cringe a lot, but it was worth our time and money.

Then Sunday rolled around. I had decreed that I would spend the entire day thusly:
And so I did.
Later that day someone appeared at the door bearing wonderfully tasty gifts. The box looked like this:

And inside, it looked like this:

Mmmmm.... Puppy dog tails! And yes, that cup at the bottom of the picture? FILLED WITH FROSTING.
So, that was pretty amazing. Then, after I had gaming we started watching the Oscars, and people kept on randomly showing up! Becca, Ben, Ben, Dan and Sophie all appeared to watch the awards and play games.

Finally, at the end of the day, my most amazing girlfriend had one more surprise for me. I'll let the pics speak for themselves (click to embiggen):


Thank you Rachel!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Hurt Locker

Last night Rachel and I decided to rent a movie from our local Blockbuster. We originally were aiming for the last season and a half of The Wire, but unfortunately they were all out of it at the time. So, we decided to increase our knowledge of Oscar hopeful movies by renting The Hurt Locker.

The Hurt Locker is set in Iraq in 2004 and follows a bomb-disposal squad during the last month or so of their deployment. When the team leader is killed by a cell phone triggered IED he is replaced by Sgt. James, a "wild man" who thoroughly enjoys his job of defusing enemy ordnance. He enjoys it perhaps too much, as his lack of care for his own personal safety and at times impulsive nature lead the team into potentially deadly situations again and again.

If you have heard any of the hype surrounding this movie, believe it- it is that good. The relationships between the three men of the team and those around them are electrifying and add a great level of tension even during their down time. Their reactions to the local environs are also excellently tense and believable- in an arena where ANYONE watching their delicate operations could be an insurgent, even scenes where there is no weapons fire will grab you by the edge of your seat. That is not to say that the entire movie is a tension grinder- there are (sometimes darkly) light parts between and during the action to break up the pace at the right times.

I think that probably the best thing about the movie is that it doesn't exactly have a bias on the war. While it certainly shows the terrible side of it, it also shows more humane sides of the conflict. Sgt. James in particular is drawn to the combat partially because he wants to help people- the scenes in which he struggles with the situation at hand to help out Iraqi citizens are some of the best in the movie. It also subtly weaves in the reasons why soldiers often end up re-enlisting- the movie's byline, "War is a drug" certainly sits as an apt description of this reason.

Another reason that this movie sat so well with me is that while it is "adrenaline-soaked" and "action packed" it does not glorify in violence or turn to war-porn. The explosions are mostly sudden plumes of grey smoke and debris that leave little in their wake except rubble. There are a few disturbing scenes, but the camera does not dwell on them to focus on the blood and gore, more the horrible reality of the situation. Even situations where someone is shot are done realistically with a puff of red mist as the bullet impacts on the target... and even that doesn't happen very much in the film. They also show the mundanely terrifying that can be found in battles- the sniper scene is a keen example of this, where waiting in the hot sun for hours for a possible gunman to appear is made exceedingly tense. And of course there are the parts outside of the action, which show more of how the soldiers react to the locals and to each other.

In all, this is an excellent movie that I think most people will like. There is plenty of action, plenty of excitement, a really good story, believable characters, and great moral questions that appear throughout the movie. If it gets best picture, it will definitely have deserved it, as this is one that you don't want to miss.