Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Big Toys

Yesterday was the Day of Big Toys in front of my house. Last week, we received a notice from So Cal Edison to expect the electricity to be cut off starting apx 9am on Friday. The reason was 'extraordinary maintenance" that needed to be performed. We were cautioned to safeguard computers and other sensitive electronic equipment, and advised to keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed.

No mention was made of the equipment that would arrive--

About eight the trucks started pulling up right in front of my house. I found out that my driveway would be blocked for the duration, so I had to move my car and park around the corner or be trapped.

I watched as they assembled the crane needed to perform this "maintenence", piece by humongus piece. This included a mammoth crane to put up the crane...

The workers were business like as they assembled the structure -- I noticed the flatbed trailer rise noticibly as parts were lifted, indicitive the incredible weight of each section.


I left the house before they finished, having decided to hit a movie (or two) during our forced return to 19th century technology.

I saw Julie & Julia -- (check out my review over at RTVW) and then did a little illicit theatre hopping and saw G-Force, which was worth the price I paid.

It turns out that they had to replace a telephone pole just outside my back fence (the power lines are very close). They didn't remove the old pole, just added a new, slightly taller one right beside it.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Baseball Trip

No, not a Timothy Leary '60s kind of trip, mind you, but a trip through America's Heartland, the Midwest.

This was my fifth trip with Sports Travel and Tours (sportstravelandtours.com) and every one of them has been fantastic.

We started on Saturday (7/25) in Kansas City. Kauffman Stadium just underwent a major remodeling -- $400 million worth -- and it is a beautiful place to see a game. We were treated to a rare Royals win. Right next door to the home of the NFL Kansas City Chiefs, the complex is easy to get to. I made some points with the group when I told them that the International Space Station & Space Shuttle would be visible almost directly overhead that night. Sure enough, just as we were getting off the bus at the hotel (9:36 pm CDT) there it was.

The next day we had an all-to short visit to the National Negro Baseball League Museum, and then back to Kauffman. Fortunately, our seats were in the shade (granted, the weather was perfect - temps in the mid 80s - but the sun was very bright). Included in our tour group were two couples from Bolonga, Italy (they play in a softball league and are very knowledgeable about our national pastime). One of the men caught a foul ball! After the game, as we were boarding the bus, he proudly displayed his prize walking down the aisle. I told him "You know, you're going to have to declare that in customs." At first he was somewhat baffled, but after everyone started laughing, he caught on.

The next morning we were off on our longest driving leg, a nine hour sojourn to the home of Mary Richards, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mile after mile of Iowa cornfields did little to keep one's eyes open. When we finally reached the larger of the twin cities, we encountered major construction (we had a Minnesota native in our group, and he told me, "there are two seasons in Minnesota; winter and street repair.") We had about 30 min to check-in before hoofing the half mile to the Metrodome. A perfect place to see a game -- that is, of course, providing the game is football. Our seats faced directly to the space between center and right field, so we had to twist about 80 degrees to the right so we could see the pitcher and batter.

After about 15 hours in Minneapolis, we were on the road again, this time heading into Wisconsin (the 37th state I've been in) and a date with the Brewers.

However, before that was my Peep Meet with Dragonflies, and our brief encounter at Milwaukee's Safe House (this was after the photo op with The Fonz).
Miller Park is another great place to see a game. I was surprised (well, maybe not) to see so many beer vendors plying the aisles (Dodger Stadium prohibits the sale of beer in the seating area). Another member of our little troup was Andrew, a 14-year old avid fan of the hapless Washington Nationals. The Nats happened to kick the Brewers butts, so we had a very happy teenager the rest of the trip.
After Milwaukee was a fairly short trip south to the Windy City - Chicago - and our appointment with a game at the Friendly Confines. I've been to 27 major league stadia in my travels, and there are no fans like the fans at Wrigley Field. They're crazy (but in a good way). The fact that the Cubbies won 12-0 did little to discourage normal behavior from the faithful.

The next morning we had a city tour, but it went all too fast (plus the fact that we used our same bus -- I made the suggestion that city tours should use the open top-double decker type bus that most tours have). However, the best part was my second Peep Meet; this time with the lovely Dakota.

Our meeting was disrupted by the World's Rudest Resturant Manager. We were sitting at a table outside of a Subway shop that was next door to some other local bistro. After a couple of minuets this woman yells out from the door "those tables aren't for Subway people!" OK, but there were four empty tables, plus another table occupied by a single diner quietly munching on her Subway six-inch Spicy Italian...
Not wanting to anger her neighbor, Dakota suggested that we retreat to her stoop two doors down, where we finished our chat.

That night we headed over to the home of the White Sox, US Cellular Field. I wanted to see the marker showing the location of home plate for old Comiskey Park. Our tour host directed us to it, in the parking lot near gate 5. I snapped a couple of pictures, in honor of the 50th anniversay of the Dodgers World Series win at that very spot. The evening started out rather gloomy, as we had to sit through a 64 minute rain delay (the only bad weather during the entire trip). However, that was more than made up for when the Pale Hose rallied in the ninth to beat the Yankees 3-2. Oh happy Day! (My baseball philospphy is quite simple: any day the Yankees lose is a good day.)

During our stay in Chicago, the hotel was home to some serious lawyer-in-training torture. The Loyola Law School was conducting interviews for students to enter their Patent Law program. Prospective Patent Lawyers had to sit in chairs placed in the hall outside of rooms -- looking for all the world like miscreant fifth graders waiting to see the Principal. Granted, I'm all for lawyers suffering, but this was close to unconstitutional misery.

The final leg got underway early on Friday morning, as we headed back south, eventually returning to the Show Me State and Busch Stadium, St. Louis. I spotted the Gateway Arch about four miles from the mighty Mississippi River. Our hotel was across the street from the ballpark - a distance of maybe 70 feet wall-to-wall. Cardinal fans are without a doubt the most knowelable and appreciative fans in all of baseball, so I wanted to honor them. I went to the team store about 4 hours before gametime and purchased several items (though I did focus on All Star Game memorabilia). I wore red to the game, another thrilling win for the home team as the Cards beat the Astros 4-3.

My flight home was at 8:40 am, which meant a 6 o'clock shuttle pickup for the airport. I booked my flights through Orbitz, and got a decent first class fare - but had to endure two layovers (St. Louis to Denver; Denver to Salt Lake City; Salt Lake City to L.A.), finally getting home about 5 pm PDT (13 hours after boarding the shuttle).

Vacations are great fun (for the most part) but getting home is the best part.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My 1/60th of a Worhol

I'm a devoted listener to K-EARTH 101, a Los Angeles oldies station. The morning DJ, Gary Bryan has several fun features, including something he calls "Generation Gap".

In "Generation Gap", kids under the age of 18 are invited to call in (with someone over the age of 18 standing by). The 'game' is simple. Gary gives them the name of two rock & roll groups, "one of them is real, the other is bogus" The kid needs to get two of three correct to win.

>>side note -- in the six years or so that Gary has been doing this bit, not a single kid has failed to name two correct groups. If that means the 'challenge' is blatantly easy after the first goof, so be it -- but I digress<<

As part of the intro, Gary will ask the kid who is there with hir. Most of the time it's a parent. Gary will then ask the parent's name.

I've had couple of burning questions for some time, and decided last night to send Gary an email (via the station's web site) with the questions:

1. Have you ever had a kid confused by the word 'bogus'?
2. Has there even been a kid give their parent's name as "Mommy"? (Sometimes the kids are as young as five or six).

So this morning, about 6:30am Gary read my email on the air! He gave my whole name, and even mentioned my email address (not the dot-whatever part, though). I even got a chuckle from the Entertainment editor, because my IRL name is the same as a '60s TV icon (last name has a minor spelling variation).

The answer to both questions was no, but he did say that he's expecting to get the "mommy" response some day.

The whole thing lasted about 10 seconds, but I was walking on air for most of the day (and writing this has brightened my early evening, too!)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

More kwazy katz


It seems as if Fido has become a mother.

Well, O'Malley seems to think so...

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kitty love









Fido and O'Malley have become friends.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Thoughts

One of my students had a tough day today.

A little background. This student started in mid-October, about six weeks after the start of the school year. When she showed up in my class, I had to do a double check on the name. Her hair was cut very short, in a simple style and there were no other obvious signs -- at first glace, she looked like a boy.

In the ensuing months, she has changed her appearance, adding some tints/highlights to her hair (still very short). She almost always wears a sweatshirt over her white shirt and blue pants (school uniform).

She's had students give her a hard time about her appearance, some incidents within sexual harassment, imho, (no legal repercussions, sadly), but is a valuable part of our class.

Today, as part of our school-wide Career Day festivities, several classes were part of an assembly with a guest speaker who identified herself as a "magnificent motivational speaker", and she was very good. She called several students up from the audience, asking them about their plans for the future, and encouraging them to start now (these are 7th graders) to make specific plans - not only going to college, but what specific college, and classes needed to achieve a specific career ("Doctor"? Not good enough, one had to tell her what specialty...)

So this student is called up (she volunteered!) and was the last of the four in a group. I could tell she was very nervous, but I was also very proud of her for going up in front of a couple of hundred students. When the speaker got to her, she asked her name, age, and career interest. My student was very quiet, and it was hard to hear her speak. The guest speaker misheard the name, and instead announced a similar sounding boy's name. The interview continued, with my student announcing that she would like to be a police officer. Great. "Detective, Patrol Officer, or Investigator?" Not sure.

The speaker then turned to the audience, and said, "some of you, unfortunately, may have to deal with this young man when he takes into custody..." Huge laughter. The speaker thought the laughter was about the 'arrest', and chastised them for it. My student was shrinking back -- her back literally against the wall (well, the front of the stage). She finally touched the speaker's arm, and told her "I'm a girl"

The speaker didn't apologize for the mistake, but instead went on about "well, nobody said girls couldn't do anything they wanted to!"

My student got back to her seat, and thankfully, was welcomed warmly by (most) of her own classmates.

Later, I got a chance to talk to her about it. I congratulated her on going up, and she told me that "I felt like I was going to throw up." She didn't seem to want to talk about the 'young man' thing, but I did decide to give her the pair of Dodger tickets I had been given as part of a school-wide student incentive program. I'm going to talk to her more on Monday.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Another 'hair' story

As promised--

This happened 19 years ago, when my niece, Angela, was three years old (she's the youngest of my sister's three & the only girl). My sister was coming out of the shower and my niece happened to notice the hair 'down there'. Angela asked why she didn't have hair there. My sister explained to her that "that hair starts to grow when you're about 13 years old."

Angela seemed satisfied.

A couple of days later was my nephew Jason's (my sister's oldest) 13th birthday. That morning, Angela burst into Jason's room and blurted out, "JASON! Check your thing and see if hair went sproing!"

Jason was not amused.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Kids say (well, read) the darndest things

My seventh graders are deep in the "human growth and development" (aka 'puberty') part of their Health course and today, they were doing some vocabulary worksheets that included the term 'pubic hair'.

Of course, several of them, being unfamiliar with that particular word (no, not the word hair) added a letter to make it recognizable.

The letter 'l' slipped in very nicely between the 'b' and 'i'. While making a nice, easy-to-read word, the meaning loses something...

"public hair"

Tomorrow - more body parts, and their functions (monthly that is...)

Wish me luck. (If you must chortle, please do so quietly)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Time to catch up


It has been a long time, I've been busy (and yes, lazy), but I finally decided to update.

O'Malley the kitten has settled in very nicely. At first, Fido was confused, and did give me a bit of a cold shoulder (even though I was very conscientious about giving him some extra attention...). But now the two of them are cuddled up together under the table.

At work, things are very busy. State testing ended last week, and my testing group at least appeared to give their best efforts. There have been other battles with bureaucracy, and even some skirmishes within our own department. I'm caught in the middle on one of them, and will have to use my position as most senior member of the department to get what, 90% of the teachers agree, is what's actually best for the kids.

And then, there's my Dodgers. Despite the Manny news, the guys are doing a pretty good job. I'm off to the game tonight against the Angels.

Monday, April 27, 2009

VOX POPULII


I'm so proud of the kids at school. They've taken another public action to help support the teachers facing lay-offs. This morning, they got LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia to show up at a 7:15 am rally in front of the school.

This is the third rally they've organized. We've had plenty of media coverage (though today's was disappointingly light).

Board President Garcia continued the same-ol-same-ol rhetoric about budget woes (but didn't address the fact that millions of dollars are being hidden in back-door budget lines)
Some of the kids managed to 'stay' on the line past the first bell (and perhaps a teacher or two...) much to the consternation of our own administration (the principal did sneak in a few words with Monica during our rally -- taking her away from the opportunity to answer some crucial questions from students)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Way cool

Sometimes, you're just in the right place at the right time.
Last Thursday, I got an email from the LA Dodgers Booster Club (I've been a member since 1997). The Dodgers were looking for some volunteers to help with rehearsals for their home Opening Day celebrations. Would I like to participate?
You becha!
Friday afternoon I get to the stadium and find a group of people waiting for the rehearsal. Turns out that there are two rehearsal groups - one to fill-in for Dodger players and the other for an on-field display.
I got in with the display group.
We went behind the centerfield wall and national flags from 30 different countries were being handed out. I tried to get Japan first (I went to Tokyo in 2007 and saw three JPL games), but it was given to a woman. I got China (I went to Tokyo via Beijing), but when Scotland came up I swapped (my grandfather was born in Dundee).
We rehearsed our routine -- marching along the warning track; stop; wait for a music cue; march towards the infield and line up along the outer rim; wait for some announcements and the national anthem; march back out along the warning track and through the centerfield gate.
The flags were fairly large (the poles were close to eight feet long) so we had to use harnesses.
We repeated the process two more times (with a couple of tweaks - one significant change had us rimming the inner infield grass).
The next day (Saturday) we had another two hour rehearsal. We were rocking.
Monday morning (Opening Day) I get to Dodger Stadium at 9:30 am - three hours before our performance. We were given plain dark-ash tee shirts and got to hang out as the final touches were put on the stadium.
Shortly after we started our final preps - we were already inside the stadium, Dodger owner Frank McCourt came through the centerfield gate. The person with China took a picture with him (his request), then Norway got a picture. I pushed my way up to him and asked if he'd take "one more, with Scotland" He said, "Well, I wouldn't want to anger my Irish ancestors, but OK.
The actual performance started. While we were waiting along the outfield wall, I found myself five feet away from multiple Cy Young Award winner (and starting picture for the visiting San Francisco Giants) Randy Johnson. He's about 6'7 and weighs in at about 6 lbs (well, maybe a bit more, but he's skinny as a rail).
We continued our routine - I stepped on first base as we went into position - in front of over 57,000 fans. Once our part of the ceremony was over, we headed out (and I stepped on third base!)
My moment in the sun was over. An amazing thrill (even though I've been on the field before - I've done First Pitch three or four times, along with a couple of other special events), this was very different.
When I got home, I checked my TiVO of the pregame show and I got about 1.5 seconds air time. I'm also a minuscule blur on the front page of the Long Beach Press Telegram.
And the kicker -- the Dodger Boosters were supposed to be in the "fill-in" group (no actual game day performance!)

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Page from Pepe

After reading Pepe's blog about the week from H-E-double hockey sticks, I thought I'd add my own.

AKA "It was a long year last week."

Monday we had a tough rehearsal. Still lots of squirreliness (as posted).

Tuesday was supposed to be "get home right away" but I got caught in another meeting with our MESA/Science Bowl team (I'm not a Science Bowl coach, but I happened to walk into the teacher's room after school and got drafted.

Wednesday was a double-dip. After the "dress rehearsal", I had to boogie downtown for a major UTLA House of Reps meeting. I had to miss my sub-committee meeting and just got into the main meeting for the start. We had some major debate on the new contract (the House finally voted to recommend a "no" vote to the general membership). We next had more raucous debate on proposing a one-day strike (illegal) to support the pink-slipped teachers. I finally got home just before 10pm.

Thursday was performance day (see below).

Friday I had to get to school extra early (apx 5:30 am) because I was part of a committee hosting our annual Spring Break breakfast. It was a great event, everyone enjoyed the food and camaraderie, but I was on my feet the whole time. We also had to get 10-week report card grades in before noon. After school was another meeting with the Science Bowl team.

Saturday was another early start for the MESA Day finals at USC. I had to be at school by 6:15 am. About a quarter of the kids hadn't submitted all of the paperwork, so I had to chase them down before they got on the bus, then as we were trundling down the 110 I had to put the paper work in order. Then, when we get to the site, they tell me "you can just hold on to the paperwork." Next, 90% of the restrooms were locked -- not good planning with several hundred middle schoolers on campus (not to mention a certain Advisor). By the time I got to the hospitality room I was ready for a major explosion.

But, we did really good in the competitions, taking about a third of the available medals, including sweeps in Geometry, Algebra, and Craftstick bridges.

And today is the first day of Spring Break; real baseball is on the air and Fido did good when I took him for his nail trim. Maybe I'll make it after all.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Pass the Tony, please

Well, Performance Day has come and gone.

We were supposed to have a full dress rehearsal Wednesday night, but had so many interruptions, restarts and stops for just-plain-foolishness new never got through everything. We had to stop after one squirrel jumped off the stairs backstage (screwing around) and twisted his knee (our star drummer, too).

I was supposed to do my death makeup for the first time, but that didn't happen either.

This morning, again, we were scheduled to have a full run-through/dress rehearsal before the afternoon performance. I finally did get a chance to do some makeup (thank the maker for the two girls who helped!) With less than 30 min before our first audience was to show, things were still very much Squirrel City (but, fortunately, our not-so-flying squirrel drummer was fully recovered).

Then, amazingly enough, magic time.

The backstage area was quiet. Everyone hit their marks (well, came close at least) and we finished just a few minutes over the allotted time.

There were a few gaffs (I had one myself -- I missed by crossover cue (with curtains closed) and had to wait for the next -- this meant my makeup artist had about three min (instead of about 10) to get me ready for death. But she got it done, and the gasps from the students when I appeared well-bloodied and pale were most satisfying.

Our Macbeth pulled off a nifty bit of improv when, just before my ghostly entrance, Banquo was delayed (again, makeup difficulties) Lady M, Macbeth, and some of their new entourage and drinking toasts to celebrate their usurping ... Banquo misses his cue, so Macbeth orders "some refills!" It worked.

The kids in the audience really seemed to enjoy the show... lots of cheers (and oohs! for a throat-slit teacher :-))

The evening performance went even better (I hit my cross-over cue), and, all-in-all, I was very pleased (and also very glad the whole thing is over and done with!)

I'll try to get some pics from parents...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Near the end

We're getting very close (performance day is Thursday). Here's a rehearsal for the murder of Banquo. (Later on, we both get to be ghosts and scare the beejeepers out of Macbeth)

video

video

Thursday, March 26, 2009

One Week to Go

Rehearsals for The Scottish Play have taken a new aspect. We're actually making progress. The squirrelliness has virtually disappeared, people are hitting their marks, and most of the cast is fully "off book". Just this afternoon, the Thane of Ross, who has a long speech right at the beginning, nailed it.

I've been fitted for my costume, but still haven't seen my makeup. I don't know if my ghost persona will be merely pale or Kabuki-flat white. We have another rehearsal tomorrow, and then a full dress rehearsal on Wednesday before performance on Thursday.

on with the show, this is it!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More Shakespeare

Rehearsals for the Scottish Play continue. We've done most of the blocking, and are working on timing. Most of the kids are good, and dedicated -- but we've got a couple of real squirrels (especially the drummers -- yikes!).

We've also had some issues with dedication -- kids flaking out, not showing for rehearsal, and just being too dang busy. Our director is going quietly nutz.

We're going to have two actual performances, one for the students during school, and another later that evening. I'm being a real trooper (if I do say so myself), since the date is the same as the Dodgers/Angels preseason game at Blue Heaven on Earth (aka Dodger Stadium) - Thursday, April 2.

No more this Thane of Cawdor shall deceive our bossom interests. Go, proclaim his present death. And with his former title, greet Macbeth.

(Except our Thane of Cawdor is being played by a girl -- so I'll say 'her')

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fossils




The seventh graders did a quick activity Friday, creating model fossils. They had fun, and some of them even remembered that these were "cast" fossils. I had them write about their experience.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rehersals

Second week of rehersals for the Scottish play, and things are moving right along. The teacher in charge has done quite a bit of cutting -- we'll only have about 45 minutes to present the whole thing. Some of the kids are really good, but most are not really into it.
My only lines are in Scene 1, but I do have one other major scene (right before my off-stage de-throating). Later I get to haunt the perpetrators in my bloody Royal nightshirt.
A lot of work - but I think it will be cool.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Another Opening, Another Show...

The Drama Club at my school has decided to put on a production of "the Scottish play" - yes, I know my theatre traditions - it's a good selection for the middle school thespian, since there is plenty of sword-play but very little smooching.

And guess who has been tabbed with the role of King Duncan?

Yep. It's Good to be the King.

Rehearsals start this week, with Opening Night (hit it, Mel!) set for the first week of March. I may even get to wear a kilt!

I think the kids will get a charge out of seeing their teacher on stage (do I have a death scene?)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Dreams

Last night I had a very vivid dream -- about camping in the mountains. We had a nice cabin, and everyone had a great time. My uncle was there with his son.

But this wasn't my cousin (he's in his 30s now). This was one of my students.

Friday was the last day of the Fall Semester, so things have been busy. Starting Monday, my 7th grade Science class changes to Health -- with a major unit on you-know-what.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

You're pathetic! (ha ha ha)

Or, more accurately, "we're just as inept as you, so we shouldn't really bash you guys for being stupid. But we do."

I recently was elected to membership in the major governing body of a major collective-bargaining entity, currently in major conflict with a mega-sized overseeing mortibound bureaucracy. Wednesday night was my first meeting. Much of the first 45 minutes was taken up rancorous discussions and the format of the new agenda - items had been moved around. The parliamentarian -- a professional parliamentarian not a member of the aforementioned collective-bargaining entity, constantly tried to explain that the new format actually followed criteria mandated in Roberts Rules of Order (Revised). Nonetheless, there was enough whining that we eventually voted to use the old agenda format, sending the new one back to be reviewed by a special committee.

We proceeded with the meeting (all the while, I could see the parliamentarian shaking his head in exasperation), and managed to get some vital information and make some important decisions.

Then came some additional motions (all previously submitted in writing, as per both the new and old rules) of a political nature -- involving international events (we are solely a local enterprise, though local politics could be germane to our functions).

Cue the major rancor -- and part of the process involved complex parliamentary procedures -- there were nine motions presented at the same time, but three of them were "pulled" -- various members wanting them to be discussed and voted on separately. The remaining six motions (again, all clearly within the purview of our organization) were adopted without objection.

When the first of the "pulled" motions was brought forward, there was a motion to table discussion (try to follow the minutiae of procedures here), which meant there would be discussion on if we should table discussion. During this discussion (the original motion involved events in Israel), a member used the phrase "...as a Jew, I feel..." standing behind him, another member said, not-quite under her breath, "So now you're a Jew?"

Yep - school-yard name calling/dissing/stupidity in a major downtown high-rise professional building.

And before anything else could happen, another member challenged "call for a quorum" -- well, by this time (a good three hours into the meeting), there were only about a third of the hearty souls fools members remaining, so the chair declared the meeting over. Done. Right then. Finito.

Professional, educated folks -- all with advanced college degrees -- acting like four-year-olds in serious need of nap time.

Of course, I'll be back for the next meeting in a month.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

My JERKs

Kevin (Raymond?), Juliana, Juan and Raymond (Kevin?)

Well, our second robotics tournament is in the books.

We only had four of the ten team members present -- but they had fun.

First round, still rather nervous and a bit unorganized, they only completed two missions (a third was disallowed). We got some inspiration (that is to say, we stole some strategy plans) from a couple of teams and managed some quick reprogramming and building to pull off six missions in the second round - a team best. We were confident that the third round would be even better.

Kevin and Raymond (Raymond and Kevin?) at the competition table.

But disaster struck -- just as the twins hit the 'run' button, the left rear tire fell off - and repairs took up most of the allotted 2 minutes, so only one mission got completed.

However, the kids quickly recovered and had a blast at LEGOLAND. This will probably be the last event for this team -- I'll start recruiting the '09-'10 version sometime in March. We were given another robot, so I should be able to field 6th and 7th grade teams.

The folks at LEGOLAND put up a great show.

They liked the medals, too!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

17

This week, NASA will be remember three very dark days.

Six years ago, I wrote this -- something I had to do at the time.

~17~


Virgil, Ed & Roger - Apollo 1
January 27, 1967

I am a space-eyed 9-year-old. I come home after a tough day in school (it takes a lot of effort to terrorize a seasoned 4th grade teacher). My sister tells me of the tragic fire in Florida. Three astronauts of Apollo 1 have died. America may not get to the moon by the end of the decade. This 9-year-old, who at first doesn’t believe his sister (older sisters do those kinds of things, you know), wanders out to the front porch. My first thoughts – perhaps I can still see the smoke from the fire. Then it will be real to my mind. But Cape Kennedy is over 3,000 miles away. (I did know enough geography to look to the southeast!) I get to watch the moving funerals, which remind me of President Kennedy’s just over 3 years earlier. Walter Cronkite is fatherly, supportive, calm, and tells us that yes, we will make it to the moon. My faith in the space program is renewed. I still don’t trust my sister (wink).

Francis, Michael, Judy, Ellison, Ron, Greg & Christa – Challenger STS51L
January 28, 1986

Nearly two full decades have passed. Americans landed on the moon. The “Successful Failure” of Apollo 13 showed the world that space can be beaten. I am still very much space-eyed, but now 28 and searching for a career. Home for the day, I have to hunt for a live picture of the launch, finally finding it on cable TV’s CNN. I curl up under a blanket to watch a teacher lift off into space. (While I wouldn’t start college for another year yet, the idea of teaching as a career was just beginning to percolate in my consciousness.) I felt a small bit of camaraderie with the folks at Kennedy. It was a bitter cold day there, too. (This was a Southern Californian's "bitter cold" day, probably about 55° F) America has become complacent with the space program. The sight of fragile humans, strapped atop millions of pounds of high explosive in a barely controlled series of explosions, is as commonplace as the night’s basketball scores. As the image of that compellingly beautiful but monstrously hideous white “Y” formed in the brilliant blue Florida sky unfolds before me, I’m stunned. The solid rocket boosters skittering out of control makes me think of pictures of the earliest days of the American space program. They called them “Puffniks”. We couldn’t do anything right. The Russian Bear was master of the Cosmos. It was depressing. The words “obviously a major malfunction” came over the speaker. A huge understatement that would haunt the nation as TV news finally awoke. This day would be compared with December 7, 1941 and November 22, 1963. We later learned that that national malaise, spread even to our brilliant Rocket Scientists, was in part to blame for the destruction of Challenger. The rush to make spaceflight a profit-making, rather then a knowledge-growing endeavor would cost noble lives. In 1998 I achieved a long-anticipated dream, and got to visit Kennedy Space Center. The Astronaut Memorial left me speechless. The sight of Pad 39A, the huge, flag-bedecked Vertical Assembly Building and familiar countdown clock brought back a flood of memories. I mourned and rejoiced at the same time.


Rick, Willie, David, Michael, Laurel, Kalpana, & Ilan – Columbia STS107
February 1, 2003

The wonder hasn’t left my eyes, or my heart. I’m now a teacher, following Christa McAuliffe’s pledge to “touch the future”. Just three days ago, I spent valuable class time to recount to my students the feelings I experienced those 17 years earlier. I fear that my story, with images as fresh to me as yesterday, must have seemed like tales of Camelot, or even dinosaurs, to my charges. Then came Saturday morning. I woke early, with a full day of housekeeping and school paperwork ahead of me. I was watching a rerun of M*A*S*H, finishing off my breakfast when a curious message scrolled across the bottom of the screen. “For breaking news on the Space Shuttle Columbia, tune to FOX News”. I knew the shuttle would be landing this morning. It was another historic flight. 16 days – longer than most shuttle flights, and full of science. No visit to the International Space Station, the recent routine for shuttle flights of late. The presence of an Israeli astronaut was noteworthy. His devotion evident by his bringing a Holocaust treasure (a tiny Torah smuggled into a death camp) into space with him. Like the rest of the world, I anticipated a smooth landing. But the first sight that I comprehended, before I was conscious of the words being spoken, was of white contrails, streaming down in ever spreading lines. The Shuttle doesn’t do that. That 9-year-old’s naïveté had long ago given way to the harshness of mature reality. Columbia had broken up. Astronauts had died again. As with many others, after the global mindset-changing events of September 11, 2001, I thought of the Israeli astronaut. What a coup for those devilish fanatics. But as the details trickled in, I quickly realized that this was no terrorist action. It was another “major malfunction.” As the day wore on, we could see the flotsam that was once a magnificent orbiter spread across the Texas countryside. The investigation began, data gathered, questions asked and theories floated (Cronkite, your soothing voice is sorely missed). I finally pulled myself away to complete some mundane weekend tasks – unexpectedly becoming a much needed tonic rather than mere chores. Writing is a catharsis. Time, and knowledge, will be the treatment.



17 stars touch the Face of God
In time, we will learn why. We will learn how. We will return to space.
The 17 will be joined by others. We will return once again.
We will grow. We will survive. We will reach the stars, together.
We will not forget the 17

Friday, January 23, 2009

Cat Crazies


Here he is.

Fido.

The Cat Who Plays Fetch.

His favorite toy is simple - an old LIVESTRONG wrist band tied to an even older sweatpants drawstring. But he's bring it over, drop it in your lap, and wait for you to throw it.

He usually brings it right back, but sometimes he'll drop it several feet short. Then he just stares. But before long he figures it out and the game can continue.

The other day, I threw it over the back of the couch. Poor kitty couldn't figure out how to get to it. After I moved the couch, he was happy again.

Right now, he's sleeping angelically on the chair. Of course, I'll be moving him in couple of minutes, so who knows...

Monday, January 19, 2009

16 Years Ago today

I've posted this over on OT before, but I thought I'd post it here:

January 19, 1993 -- George Bush is leaving the White House and a young Democrat is moving in.

I had just finished my student teaching, and was officially on the eligibility list for subbing in the Paramount school district. It had been my intention to teach Elementary, so I had trained in a 4th grade gifited class and a kindergarten (there are more stories there -- perhaps another day).

About 5:30 am I get the call -- but the assignment is for the middle school. Naturally, I'm not going to turn down my first gig, so off I go.

The assignment is for a 7th grade Health class. I get to the classroom, and there on the teacher's desk is the day's task.

"Have the students read this worksheet and answer the questions."


The Female Reproductive System


Yikes.


I have about 20 minutes to gird my loins (sorry) for this 'discussion'. All the girlie naughty bits out on display -- plus the impossibly complex inner works.

As I said; Yikes.

I manage to scribble my name on the board, and as first period starts, I'm still in a state of shock.

My commentary for the first three periods can be summed up by quoting Ralph Kramden -- "Hummina hummina hummina".

During the nutrition break, a teacher from next door pops his head in -- welcoming and checking on the newbie. He tells me about a student I'll be seeing in fifth period (right after lunch) "You can't miss him" he says, "he's got bright red hair. He'll try something, I'm sure."

OK, fine. Just what I need. Fallopian tubes, vaginas, menstrual cycles, and a smart-ass seventh grader.

By now, thanks to repetition, I can at least read some of the information and 'explain' some of the simpler processes involved. I brace myself for 'Red'.

The class comes in, and 'Red' takes his seat, center row. We read through the material, and things are fairly calm. When we get to the part of how the baby has to pass through something that's normally the width of a drinking straw, 'Red' raises his had. "Does it hurt?" he asks. Now, the first thing that came to my mind was my mother telling that it's like "sh!tting a watermellon." Of course, that particular metaphor would not be appropriate, so I tell him "I've never had it happen to me, but you should ask your mother."

"No way!" he yells, "she already says that I'm a pain in the ass!"

I survived that first day, went on to teach Elementary for another 2 1/2 years, then moved on to middle school. I'll be teaching human reproduction (for the first time) sometime early in the Spring semester -- I've got my own version of 'Red' (not the hair, though), so maybe I'll bless some other sub...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Big Ass Atoms

SUCCESS!
and a little ego-horn tooting too

Over Winter Break I was trying to find a good way to help my students get the Periodic Table of Elements (about 15% of the California Standards Test Science section is on the Periodic Table).

One afternoon I was fixing dinner. A modest meal of beans and rice. All of a sudden an inspiration hit.

Make model atoms -- use beans for the nucleus and rice for the electrons. Nice and tactile (teacher talk) and bizarre enough to be memorable (OK, not very accurate scale-wise, but that's an easy cover).

But how to make this more than just playing with food? And just how can I get the Periodic Table into the equation?

I toyed with the idea for a while -- making piles of beans and rice on construction paper. Then it came to me -- have the kids make model atoms, but they have to use the information from the PT.

That was it. Genius -- Wile E. Coyote level genius if I do say so myself.

Add a card with the information for an element - symbol, atomic number, average mass, etc. The student has to work out how many protons, neutrons and electrons -- and put the electrons in proper shells. Also identify metal, semi-metal, or non-metal, & state.

White beans became protons. Black beans became neutrons. Rice represented the shell, and small pasta shells became electrons.

We did the whole thing today -- and they all got it. Protons = the atomic number (check). Neutrons = atomic mass minus atomic number (check). Electrons = same as number of protons (no ions today, thankyouverymuch). Shells -- only two electrons in that inner shell (check) and fill the others with eight before building the next one (check).

And only a small amount of protons, neutrons and electrons found there way onto the stairs outside the room.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Back to work

OK, so I'm a little late. Sorry.

Three weeks off flew by, and the reality of getting back to the daily grind of work hit me Sunday night...

It was going to be an interesting return. Right before the start of Winter Break we were told that the entire school was going to be re-keyed. It seems that the foreman of the construction crew on campus had left his ring of master keys unsupervised and, well...

We were told that the office would open early, so the early-birds would be able to get their new keys and maintain their idiosyncrasies...

I had to wait - that promise of opening early never materialized - along with the four or five other anxious early risers hovering about the office door. Several kids arrived to the sight of this gaggle of instructors pacing about - a somewhat intimidating image for the first day back, I'm sure.

When the office finally opened, we were told that we had to sign-in, then go over to the cafeteria to turn in our old keys and get the new ones, fill out some paperwork, then return said paperwork back to the main office where we had just signed-in.

Yes, school bureaucracy at it's best - the very model of Redundancy.

Well, the day went amazingly quickly, all things considered. The kids were fine, we got a lot of work done. I had two new students assigned, and one other checked out (the PC term of "OT" - Opportunity Transfer - has replaced the less-than-flattering "expelled")

This morning, I heard from several teachers in my building - the new keys for the ladies 'reading room' don't work any more. Yes, district efficiency once again.

Up next - designing a BAA (Big Ass Atom)...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Cat Crazies

Fido is being a major butthole. He's got a major case of the cat crazies -- running into the room, jumping up on my swivel desk chair (spinning does not make him calmer...), then pouncing on the printer.

He loves the printer.

It's not one of those "ohh a warm spot" things, since I've kept it turned off. It's not even a good perch -- way off in the corner and half-behind a chair.

I put an upside-down egg carton on to, hoping to discourage him. He just steps around it -- and will hit the power key -- and often the 'copy' key too. This means he can check out the cool sounds coming out and the paper moving. Maybe I'll put something over the controls...

When he jumps off, he steps on the (now sagging) paper tray.

Why dosen't he sleep like cats are supposed to?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Vegas -- and a Happy Ending

Vegas – ah Vegas

Every year I take advantage of the third week of Winter Break for a trip to Sin City. I usually go during the week (commonly Tue-Thur) but this year I decided to go over the weekend, mainly because of the availability of David Copperfield tickets. I’ve been a magic fan for as long as I can remember, and have tried to see this true master magician for many many years.

When I checked on Vegas.com right around Thanksgiving, I was pleased to see Copperfield tickets on the list. However, there was a problem with the weekday dates, so I bit the bullet and grabbed a Saturday matinee spot.

I flew in on Friday afternoon (somehow, and I don’t really know why, I eschewed my normal practice of taking early flights – it was weird, waiting around the house until noon before heading to the airport. But I digress…) and got to the Luxor around 3:30. There was a huge line of people waiting to check-in (one reason why I like the Tue-Thur schedule), and finally got to my room just after 4. After dropping my bag, I headed for the casino.

I have claimed to many that Black Jack is my game in Vegas, so after a quick survey, plopped down at a $10 table.

And was $120 down within 15 min. Yikes. I took a break with some slot play – and rebounded with a net $5 gain. There are dozens of different themed slot machines (we can’t really call them “one armed bandits” anymore, as the classic pull mechanism is quite passé, and actually a minority on most casino floors these days) but the basic operation is similar. You can bet multiple lines (some as many as 25) and designate values ranging from 1 – 10 ‘credits’ per pull.

This means you can be betting up to 250 ‘credits’ on each play.

Another innovation is the fact that one no longer has to lug around buckets of nickels (or quarters, dollars, etc) to feed the machines. In fact, there is no coin slot to be found. The machines take bills only -- $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 are all welcome, even if the ‘credit’ value is a paltry 1¢. When you ‘cash out’ a ticket is printed with the remaining value. These can also be inserted into another machine. If you want to get cash for your ticket, there are automated kiosks located throughout the casino that will disperse funds (but they don’t issue dimes…).

I discovered a group of four Star Trek (Original Series) themed machines that looked like they would be fun to play. They had the usual video display, along with an extra video screen above that showed a slideshow series of images from some of the more popular ST:TOS episodes.

These were very friendly to me, as my net was a nifty +$75. I broke even (or so) in other slot play. I never did get back to the Black Jack tables. I also managed to come out $8 ahead in sports betting, thanks in a large part to a last minute shot on the Flyers beating the Ducks.

However, my real purpose was to see some shows. Copperfield was Saturday afternoon, and I still had Friday night to deal with (“deal” – Vegas – get it?). Carrot Top is at Luxor, so I got a ticket. I had seen his show a couple of years earlier, and was expecting much of the same (prop humor, topical jibes, along with an occasional self-deprecating gag) which is just what we got. It was pretty good. However, I was surprised to see, at the end of the show, Carrot Top’s got himself some major guns (and pecs) – really rather gross, IMHO – and youtube posters insist that they’re implants.

Saturday dawned cold in Vegas (32°F) and I still had several hours before Copperfield. I wanted to check out the CBS Television City spot at the MGM Grand (they do audience surveys/polls). I was in the first group of the morning, about six or seven, and we saw an episode of Rules of Engagement. I’d seen one or two episodes on the tube and my ‘meh’ opinion didn’t change.

However, during the pre-show background survey, I managed to find myself selected for a special focus group discussion that afternoon, along with the promise of $75 for my time.

There were ten in the group, and we had to fill out several pages of questions (technology in the home – computers, video, games, ect.) before we saw a very interesting presentation with some nifty new iPhone, Blu-Ray, and interconnect features. “Blu-Ray Live” will allow you to use your computer/TV pair to chat/blog/view special features straight from the studio (Disney is leading the pack right now). An easy $75.

David Copperfield started with a short video clip with snippets of Copperfield references in popular culture (various TV shows tossing off “I’m not David Copperfield” when confronted by a no-way-out situation, and so on) finishing with a David Letterman bit featuring a Copperfield look-alike cruising the streets of New York.

The show itself started with Copperfield appearing, along with his motorcycle, in a small cage on stage. He then did some slight-of-hand tricks (a ladies diamond ring getting tied in the string of a tiny shoe shoved in his back pocket, etc) He did several other illusions (some with his trademark duck companion).

The highlight of the show had several aspects. He starts off telling the story of his father, who had a dream of being an entertainer (he had won a couple of awards and a scholarship to a prestigious acting school), but his own father (David’s grandfather) was dead-set against it. “Those people are no good. They never make any money.” So a dream was shot down.

Years later, the 13-year-old David told his grandfather of his own dream of being a professional magician. Same reaction. But David persisted, and his grandfather refused to talk to him again. After his first professional show, David thought he saw his grandfather in the back of the audience. He rushed out, but couldn’t find him.

Another part of the story, Copperfield’s grandfather was also devoted to the Irish Sweepstakes (at the time, there were no state lottery games, and unless you wanted to deal with the Mob and their numbers rackets, the Irish Sweepstakes was the only big prize game in town). He always played the same group of numbers, and wanted to win enough to buy a brand new convertible (he wanted a turquoise sedan). He never did win, and when he died years later, the family found all his old Sweepstakes tickets. And one other surprise – the ticket stub from young David’s first professional performance.

On stage, he tossed an old Tupperware® lid into the audience – apparently making random a selection. He asked the winner (a man who said he was from Argentina) for two numbers between 1 & 50. After he gave his choices (18 and 7), Copperfield asked him “boxers or briefs?” which was answered with “31”. After a linguistic battle, we finally got “briefs – blue” The lid was then tossed deeper into the audience.

The next contestant was from Russia – more language fun, but we got the numbers 21 & 6, along with “4 months” (last time you ‘got busy’ – how that translates into Russian, I’m sure I don’t know). David asked him to toss the lid to another spot, and it flew – right into Copperfield’s hands on stage.

I shouted out “give me two numbers…” and got a chuckle from the Master Magician.

He tossed the lid right in my direction, but it sailed just over my outstretched arm. The woman who caught it gave us the numbers 8 & 47, along with her birth date of April 7. After each number and ‘secret’ was revealed, David had written them on a large poster dangling from the ceiling.

Copperfield then brought them on stage. He pointed out the sealed clear plastic box that had been suspended over the stage (in easy view of everyone) throughout the performance. The box was lowered and the new assistants opened the six locks. Inside was a cassette tape and two large envelopes. He brought out a tape player, and the “April 7” lady put the tape in and pressed play.

David’s voice comes out, “earlier this evening I made a prediction… the numbers 18, 7, 21, 6, 8 and 47… and blue briefs, 4 months and April 7…” as we hear the voice, David is unfurling a large paper from the first envelope, which has the same information written on it. He then had the “4 months” guy open his envelope – inside were two old car license plates, with the numbers 18 – 7 – 21 on one and 6 – 8- 47 on the other.

He then had the two men move over to a couple of pillar-like stage props, having them bend down and put their arms completely around them (hugging). A curtain was lowered to about 4 feet above the stage and – presto – there was a 1948 turquoise convertible sedan. He climbed in and started the motor…

The finale was a twist on a classic illusion. Once again, it involved audience participation. 12 large silver beach balls were released into the audience and we were told to knock them around until the music stopped (knocking beach balls around – I’ve spend enough time at Dodger Stadium to be an expert…)

And when the music stopped, there was one right in front of me. “Anyone with a beach ball in their hands, come on stage!”

ME!

I trotted to the stage and was directed to a side view location – I was going to be one of the witnesses, but still on stage. Eight of the others were sent into a ‘jury box’ like structure with chairs that had been lowered from above. Once they were seated, each was given a flashlight, and they were told to move the lights around, shining them on the inside of the curtain. (I did get to see one secret – as the people were loading into their jury box, David was ‘introducing’ them – “the Waltons – John Boy, Mary Ellen, Elizabeth … Dr. Evil …” but moments before I had noticed placard with those same names on the stage right were Copperfield would stand.)

The curtains were pulled and the jury box contraption raised about 10 feet. I could see the mechanism pulling them up, and the stage lights went out and a spot hit Copperfield. He pulled the curtain away and the people were gone.

Then he pointed to the back of the theater, and there they were, flashlights still moving around. I never saw them leave the jury box…

The rest of the weekend was uneventful – some more Star Trek slots, too much time in the buffet, and some great tacos and tequila (marvelous pomegranate margaritas, fer sure) and home.

Well worth it, but next time I’ll go back to my regular week-day sojourn.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

Now, isn't that an original title?

Things were pretty quiet around here. In the past (going back 10 years or so) this neighborhood sounded like a war zone, often starting as early as 11:30 and lasting the better part of an hour. We've had some real firepower shot off (automatic and semi-automatic, along with the occasional shotgun and assault weapon), but this year there were only a few gunshots (we had some for Christmas, too).

There were plenty of public service announcements warning folks about shooting in the air -- and the local police have installed "gunshot sensors" around the city that can triangulate within 30 seconds.

There were plenty of 'illegal' fireworks, though. Bottle rockets, firecrackers and the like.

I was in bed by 12:30 -- such is the life of us pedos veijos.

Fido, on the other hand, is very much a young whipper-snapper. He insists on climbing up on the printer. This morning he somehow managed to hit the 'copy' button and then tried to grab the paper as it fed through, causing a major paper-jam. I've tried double-sided tape (he likes it) and now have an old, upside-down egg carton stuck to the top. He just side-steps it.

Of course, once he gets into trouble, he runs over to his current favorite toy -- one of those yellow Livestrong bracelets with an old sweatpants drawstring tied on. He'll bring it over and drop it into your lap -- ready to play a game of fetch. That's right -- I've got a cat with a dog's name who likes to play a dog's game. Oh well, I guess things could be worse (like maybe starting to bark?)

Well, be good. Or at least be careful.