Archive for February, 2011

Did everyone watch the Oscar’s last night?  I attended the annual Nickelson formerly Sandlin Oscar watch party as usual.  And a great time was had by all, also as usual.  Here are a few of my thoughts about the awards and the show.

  • I’ve really got to see The King’s Speech.  Wins in Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, and I haven’t even watched it yet.  It’s moving to the top of my Netflix queue as soon as it’s out.
  • Is there any chance for another movie to win Best Animated Feature if one of them is already up for Best Picture?
  • Was it just me, or did James Franco seem really flat and off on his delivery.  At least his co-host compensated by acting like a giggly teenager.
  • It seems like the journey from front-man for industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails to winning the Academy Award for Best Original Score would make for a good movie itself.  Was that really Trent Reznor up there?
  • I like it when movies like Alice in Wonderland win Best Costume Design.  It seems to me that it would be much harder to come up with costumes for a fantasy setting, where stuff only exists in a book, than a period piece where we have actual clothes and pictures to look at.
  • I wish Winter’s Bone had won something.  It’s a great movie.
  • I long for the day when JMC Films is finally recognized for their brilliant work in live-action shorts.

It was a good night and a fun party.  Now I need to get busy watching some movies.


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I’ve been eighteen for twelve years and today is the first time I’ve ever been to Oaklawn in Hot Springs.  I’ve always wanted to go bet on the horses, but the opportunity hasn’t really presented itself.  Enter my good friend Clint and his 30th birthday!  What better excuse to load up some guys and head to the track.

If you’ve never been to the horse races before, I can sum your first experience up for you in one word:  intimidating.  It’s not as easy as saying I would like to bet on a horse, you have to chose whether you want him to win, place, or show, or maybe even all three.  Then there are exactas, trifectas, daily doubles, pick 3, and any other number of ways to hand your money to a nice elderly lady behind a counter.  Even so, I didn’t do so bad.  We bet in nine of the ten races, and I left with about forty of the fifty dollars I showed up with.  Considering it cost $2 to get in, $2 for the program, and $5.75 for the delicious corned beef sandwich, I only ended up about down about a quarter.  Sure I was hoping to pay off my mortgage, but I guess you have to be gutsy enough to bet significantly higher than two or three dollars to win any real money.

Still, it was pretty exhilarating to watch the 22-1 long-shot win the biggest race of the day.  It would have been more exciting if I had bet on him instead of going across the board on the favorite who came trotting through the finish line dead last, but I guess you can’t win them all.

Just enough to break even.

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What better way to chase away the midweek doldrums than a little light learning.  I could have posted about video games again, but I thought three straight might be a bit much.  But if anyone’s interested, I bought Psychonauts off of GOG today for $2.49.  They were running a one day deal;  if you hurry, you can catch it.  Now down to business.  The subject of this week’s random Wikipedia article is:

Neurotransmitter transporter.

How about that?

I should have just talked about Psychonauts.

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This is exciting news for me. One of my favorite genres of video games ever since I first saw King’s Quest II on a friend’s computer has been the point-and-click adventure game.  They used to dominate the computer gaming industry until Doom came along in the mid-90’s and shoved them off to the side.  So I was excited to hear that Telltale was reviving one of the classic series from Sierra, my personal favorite computer gaming company.

They’re bringing King’s Quest back.

I love King’s Quest.  Besides watching that friend play King’s Quest II, King’s Quest IV was one of the first adventure games we had for the old Apple ][, and King’s Quest V was one of our first experiences with the glories of VGA graphics.  I can remember staring at pictures of King’s Quest V in magazines, in awe of the beautiful background art, and how realistic it looked.   I remember watching it featured on some television show where they showcased the brand new CD-ROM version complete with full speech!

And, of course, King’s Quest VI is among my favorite computer games of all time.

King’s Quest VII is a fun attempt at a Disney style cartoon game, but it’s weaker than a lot of the others, and I’ve never been able to force myself to play all the way through VIII.  They added a lot of action and it killed a lot of the magic for me.

But Telltale is one of the few major companies actively putting out adventure games still.  They resurrected Sam and Max, and The Secret of Monkey Island (Which reminds me, I have both of those, and haven’t played them yet).  There is some division among adventure game players over how great a job Telltale has done with those franchises, but they tend to get pretty good reviews, and they sell well, so I say more power to them.

Also, you may have noticed that the article mentions games based on The Walking Dead and Fables, the two best monthly comic book series on the stands right now.  That’s exciting too.

But what I think I’m most excited about are the possibilities of other Sierra franchises being brought back.  Activision currently owns the Sierra catalog of games.  If they’ll let Telltale take a stab at King’s Quest, what else will they let them use.  Space Quest?  Quest for Glory?  Or, and I hate to even speak it out loud for fear of jinxing it, Gabriel Knight?   You know Jane Jensen’s first full adventure game since Gabriel Knight 3 just came out today.

Could the stars finally be aligning for Gabriel Knight 4?

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It’s hard to believe he’s turning 25 today.  It seems like only yesterday that we met and played for the first time, but really it must have been first, maybe second grade.  We’ve had a lot of good times over the years.  I don’t know what drew us together, whether it was our shared love of epic fantasy stories or the desire to explore the giant world just outside our door, but whatever the reason we’ve been together ever since.  Sure, we don’t see each other all of the time.  A year or two might pass without a word said between us, but when our paths cross again it’s as if nothing has changed.  Whether we’re creating new memories, or reliving our cherished past, we always have a good time.

So, happy birthday to you, The Legend of Zelda.

Let’s make some time to hang out and celebrate.


So what is the best Zelda game?  Feel free to defend your choice in the comments.

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I’m frequently asked by my students why I want to be at teacher.  The implication is usually why would anyone want to be a teacher; the pay is low and you have to deal with teenagers all day.  I usually give a flippant response, make some joke about the dream that is pharmacy, and then fall back on a few cliché answers that, while I believe them, still sound canned.  It’s a character flaw of mine that whenever I’m faced with a personal question that demands some sort of emotional or sentimental response, I revert to jokes and sarcasm.  I’m aware of it, and hopefully this blog is a tool that will help me become more successful at fixing it.  But the students make a good point.  Why would anyone want to be a teacher?  Like any other profession there are negatives: it’s one of the lowest paid professions that requires a college degree, trying to motivate students to learn something they don’t want to is stressful and exhausting, the people in position to make far-reaching decisions about education seem increasingly out-of-touch with what is actually happening in the classroom, parents seem less and less involved in their kids’ lives and want the schools to fill those gaps, and the list goes on.  Every teacher could sit and talk your ear off griping about what’s wrong with education.  Yet there are millions of us who teach, and many of us love what we do.  So what is so rewarding about teaching that we’re willing to look beyond the negatives?  Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you why I teach.

I teach because teaching presents a large-scale problem to solve, and I love problem-solving exercises.  My particular subject is science, mostly honors level, and trying to figure out a way to present the abstract concepts inherent to chemistry and physics is challenging.  On one side I have a ton of scientific information, and on the other I have resistant teenage brains.  I have to figure out how to get one into the other in such a way that it doesn’t fall back out again, but sticks around long enough to be a foundation for future learning and useful for practical application.  In addition to that, I have to present it in such a way that my students aren’t just memorizing a bunch of facts, but are learning to think critically about what they learn in a way that is beneficial to all areas of life.  All in 45 minutes per day.  It’s a daunting task, but that’s also what makes it enjoyable.  It  taxes my ability to think logically and reason, but it also requires a great deal of imagination and creativity.  It’s like a massive, real-life puzzle, and like a puzzle the harder it is the more satisfied you feel when you succeed.  I only wish I were successful more often.

I teach because I want to be an inspiration to someone.  A teacher’s actions – good or bad – can resonate for years.  It can help determine so much of a person’s adult life:  if they go to college, what they study, what career they choose.  And it’s these choices made by students all around the world that will determine our future.  It’s easy to forget sometimes the power that we have.  They have to go through us before they can become our doctors and politicians, our CEOs and economists, our contractors and plumbers, our artists and writers, and even our new teachers.  It doesn’t even matter if they are inspired to do great things like become president or cure Alzheimer’s.  I’m happy if some of my students leave my class with a desire to learn more – not even about science necessarily – just more.  Nothing is more rewarding for a teacher than when a former student tells us how much they learned in our class, and how much we helped them.

I teach because I like my students and want them to succeed.  This may actually be a shock to those of them that firmly believe my sole desire is to make science class as hard on them as I possibly can.  Be assured that is not at all the case.  My desire is that they push themselves to succeed when challenged.  Anybody can accomplish the easy tasks.  What I desire is not for my classes to be hard only to cultivate the reputation of being a tough teacher, but for them to be hard because I set high expectations and believe that my students can meet them.  If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t push them.  Pushing them is hard.  They resist, and it adds work and stress to the job.  It would be much easier to take the path of least resistance, but then what would I be producing?  I don’t know, but in most cases it’s probably not something I would be proud of.

I have a child that will be going to school in a few too short years.  I have friends and family with their own young children.  I have a definite vision for the future I want these children to grow up in.  I want a world where critical thought replaces blind loyalty to dogma.  I want a world that believes innovation is more valuable than entertainment.  I want a world where empathy ends war and hunger and poverty.  That may sound ridiculously idealistic, but I believe there are millions of people out there who share that vision.  They are working towards these same goals everyday in a wide variety of ways, and every little step is progress.  They volunteer to help the less fortunate.  They pass laws that serve the people.  They donate money to worthy causes.  They speak out and speak up for those that don’t have a voice.  Everyone should find some way they can contribute.  But I know – I know – that an educated population is needed to accomplish those goals.  It is an educated people that will think before they speak, that will find new ways to fix the world’s problems, that will care for their fellow humans and quit killing each other.

So what do I do?

I teach.

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