Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Blog Posting #6: The Future

Hey Class,

All your grades will be posted by tomorrow at midnight. Exciting, right?

For those of you who are sticking with the "college experience" over the next three or four years, or however long it takes, I hope by the end you'll come to appreciate 105 by then if you don't already.

For those of you who've decided this semester was enough with institutionalized schooling, there's a lot education out in the world in what you choose to do and how you live. Schooling is not always necessary, but for many of us, it opens doors to opportunities we unfortunately might not otherwise have. Whether in school or outside of it, I hope the writing, speaking, and other skills you've either learned or enhanced will allow you more opportunities in life, or better results for the opportunities you have.

Anyhow, if anyone needs to contact me in the future about whatever, you know how to find me. Want me to recommend to books, movies, places to look for research for school or entertainment, feel free to get in touch. Should this blog be deleted, there's plenty of ways to find me if you're smart enough.

Thank to all for a great semester,

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Blog Posting #5: Why are you using the scramblers?

This entry is more like a letter to my class rather than a blog entry where I rant about this or that. Well, it's both of these things, actually.

All 18 of my student's blogs are private blogs that the general public cannot access. Only invited classmates and the instructor, and perhaps some friends, can view these blogs. Yet some of you use the "word verification" option regarding people leaving comments. As Dawn Armfield mentioned, word verification can make it very difficult for learning impaired readers to leave comments. Now, as impaired as some claim I am, I don't believe I'm to the point where my ability to read has been affected, but even I cannot make out the letters on the word verification scrambler. Whoever came up with this ideas for word verification had a good idea, expect some of the actual "codes" that readers are supposed to decipher are impossible to read. It took me till the third try to leave a comment for one of you. Three times may be a charm, but I'm you're instructor, not some internet stalker. I was about to leave another comment, but was discouraged by the thought of facing the eye scrambling torturous word verification monster again.

But to get back to the point, this is really a logic thing. You know, related to that word we all love, logos. Well, if only your classmates and I can leave comments, why enable word verification?

Apparently I need to incorporate more lessons about that sense that is supposed to be common.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Blog Posting #4: Awesome Web Sites for Geeks (and "normal" people too)

This is going to be one of my regular geeky entries, because I'm your instructor and if anyone gets this far in education, it's highly likely that they are a geek. So if you find yourself a Master's student one day, especially if you're a teaching assistant, you're probably a geek, so get out that mirror and bask in the geekyness.

New favorite web site #1: Bookmooch

Bookmooch is awesome. Why is it awesome, you ask? Well, I have some books sitting around that I never plan on reading again. This isn't generally likely as a Literature major, that I'd not want to keep a book on some merit, but it does happen. With Bookmooch I can add these unwanted, unloved books to my inventory for people to choose from and request if they have any points to give.

This site works on a points system. List a book, get 1/10th of a point. Someone requests a book, get 1 point. If you’re willing to ship outside of your country of residence, it costs the moocher 2 points, but you get 3 for your extra costs. That’s right. Last year (or the year before) the USPS pretty much did away with any cheap international shipping. Once you’ve received a book that’s been shipped to you, kindly let your giver know that you’ve received said book and you get another 1/10th of a point.

It’s generally a better deal than buying a used book at half off cover price, since you can ship your unwanted books cheaply using the USPS’s “media mail” service. With media mail you can ship books, CDs, DVDs, VHS, and other specific media at really low rates across the entire country. So a 350-page paperback should cost only about $2.00 to send, maybe a little less, maybe more, depending on its size and weight. Some people put $75.00 hardcovers to give away. Now how is that not a bargain for the moocher whose only paid the initial cost of the book (pretty much can’t even consider this once you’ve cracked the spine, so is it really any extra cost?), plus some small shipping fee in order to get such an expensive book?

Don't want to check your wishlist every day? Bookmooch will email you if a book (or a related edition) on your wishlist is added to someone's inventory. I’ve added over 900 books to my wishlist, and it's ever growing.

So far I’ve gotten some Dave Sedaris, a few Star Wars hardcovers (usually $27.00 SRP), Stephen Hawking, and some new Star Wars paperbacks. It’s been pretty exciting getting some pricey books for next to nothing. Try it out. Use of this service is free, but as mentioned, there are shipping costs, which can add up quickly if you’ve got books that are really in demand.

New favorite web site #2: Shelfari

Shelfari is awesome, because it is a free service that allows me to keep track of which books I’ve read and which books I own, favorite books, books on my wishlist, all books, books I plan to read, and books I am currently reading. I’ve added “tags,” or category labels, to help me further catalog and identify certain books more quickly. Overall though, the general organization of shelves in each category mentioned above (favorites, owned, etc.) can be arranged by title, author, date added, date read, date reading, rating, review, or custom.

This is good, because with so many books, it can sometimes be difficult to keep track of what I’ve read and what I own. It made me realize I own way too many (500+) books (is this a bad thing?). So far I’ve only listed my Arizona collection. I’ve got tons more books back in New York in “storage” at my parents’ place. I suppose I should get those when I go back and try to shrink my collection some.

Want to know if you should read a particular book? Ask the community and people who've already read the book can let you know what they thought of that book and will let you know if they think you might like to read it, based on your favorite, or owned books.

Kind of like Myspace or Facebook, you can also make friends there and join groups. Occasionally authors have accounts here, so you can possibly communicate with some of your favorite authors directly through use of Shelfari. If you’re a writer yourself, it’s probably a good way to get in touch with a potential audience, especially if you’re published.

There is one flaw with Shelfari, but so far I’ve noticed it’s primarily when adding Trade Paperbacks (collections of several comics in a single book) and graphic novels where somehow the same title has been applied to books with completely different ISBNs (An ISBN is the code number used to identify books, kind of like a UPC barcode or student ID number). So I’ve got three different Captain America books that I’ve tried to add to my shelf, and each book has a unique ISBN, yet only one title shows up. It makes no sense. I’ve emailed them about this and the representative mentioned that this is a problem that is being worked on and that they are expanding their database. Hopefully it will be resolved soon.

Additional issues being worked on, according to the friendly response I received, will be the ability to add several editions of the same book to your shelf, so if you really like two or three different covers of some book, say Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and they’re all the same ISBN, you’ll be able to add all three to your shelf. Another feature being worked on is the ability to upload images of book covers that are currently not in the database. Since some books have been in print all around the world for over 100 years, there may be dozens upon dozens of varying covers for a single book that have not yet made it into Shelfari’s database.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Blog Posting #3: Arguing about Star Wars and the Artist

So a student emails me and asks, "Just a random question for you. Which Star Wars movies are better, episodes I-III or episodes IV-VI? and why?"

My long-winded response:
s this a test?

The original trilogy. George Lucas wrote the screenplays for the
prequels and they are pretty bad. Oddly enough my girlfriend and I are
currently going through each one. We watched Phantom Menace the other
night and it was pretty unbearable. Maybe a 2 out of 5 stars, but
mostly for special effects. Lucas also directed the prequels, and most
of the actors were not allowed to actually act. A lot of the delivery
of lines is pretty lifeless, making the prequels lack heart. The
original three had different directors and screenwriters, with the
exception of A New Hope. Lucas wrote and directed it, but he was
younger then and it seems many artists lose something with age, some
youthful vigor that allows them to create masterpieces filled energy.
While in their older age, one might think they should be able to
create masterpieces whose success lies/lays not in the energy so much
as the craft. In age, filmmakers, painters, writers, etc. should have
likely learned more about their craft, and where they lack that
certain energy of youth, they make up for it in skill.

Revenge of the Sith is pretty good, but it certainly has its
exceptionally bad parts, such as Padme dying of a broken heart,
Palpatine sounding like Gollum as he transforms, and Vader screaming,
"Nooooo!" No thank you. At least the final battle with Anakin and
Obi-Wan is an emotional one. Lucas' use of pathos there is pretty damn
good, with the music, the actors, the scenery, etc. Though I'm not
sure of that emotional resonance comes more from the previous two
films as opposed to the results of that fight, which are what the
next(previous) three films are about.

Again, if I were 6 years old and watching the prequels versus the
originals, I might have a different point of view. The special effects
in the 70s and 80s are certainly different from the CG of today's
films. It's like comparing apples with oranges, perhaps.

Of course my view is biased by my age. Not that the originals have the
best acting at all times, and dialogue, but then again, a lot of those
films were cutting edge in many ways, whereas these days every other
summer movie has special effects as good as the next film, making the
real thing that matters is the heart or lack thereof.


PS: Were you expecting some drawn out answer to this?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Blog Posting #2: This is your student. This is your student on drugs. Any questions?

I swear the “Any questions” part is coincidental. But it’s pretty cool how these seemingly random coincidences influence one another (See title of previous posting).

On Thursday I was driving out of the Cline Library parking lot and noticed one of my former students walking with two friends. Out of curiosity and to see how he was doing in school and life, I stopped my car and rolled down the window. It then went something like this:

Me: Hey man. How’s it going?

Former Student (FS): Heheh. Good.

Me: How are you doing in school this semester?

FS: We’re coming from Whole Foods. Heheh heheh.

Me: (Silent, but questioningly making ye olde toking gesture, though I’ve never smoke a joint or blunt—honest).

FS: Heheh heheh. I had you (…as a teacher—I can only assume the rest of the sentence would have gone had he been capable of articulating more than three syllables and a bunch of laughs). Heheh heh.

Me: All right, man. I’ll leave you be. (…as I drove home—saying to myself) Don’t want to ruin your high…

This was certainly an interesting experience. Since I had spent a few hours in the university library I figured I might run into a student, as seems to happen fairly frequently. The last thing I expected was to run into a student who was so likely high. I’d never seen them so giddy and happy in my class. Wow.

Now don’t let my gendered language fool you into thinking this student was necessarily male. I seem to have started this 60sish “man” thing with people of all genders. I think it comes from reading some R. Crumb, which seems appropriate given the situation.

I suppose I’m running out of time to see current and former students wandering the school grounds in elated states of mental being. I’ll be out of this town in precisely two months. I think this might be a good thing. I’m sure it would be equally awkward for students past and present to see me out and about and in a different state of mind than I appear before them four times a week.

Heaven’s waiting down on the tracks, because this town’ll rip the bones from your back. I’m getting out while I’m young.

Links of interest:

Link 1: 198os Drug Public Service Announcement (PSA). This is what I grew up with. On TV I mean. I haven't eaten eggs since.

Link 2: Spider's on Drugs. This one probably most reminds me of the incidence from the other day.

Link 3: Simon and the Land of Chalk Drawings. A cartoon I grew up with, which was probably influenced by drugs.

"Frying Eggs" image courtesy of Feminist Law Professors. I don't know where they stole it from.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Blog Posting # 1: Any Questions?

When my students have no questions, I might have to believe they're all going to earn an A on each of their assignments. I know in reality that this is not true. There are likely several, if not many unasked questions. Why don’t they ask more questions?

Is it fear of sarcasm? Well, when the question is, “When is this assignment due?” when there is an entire document with all the due dates, I’m gonna be sarcastic. Any changes to the document are announced and it’s located in a very accessible spot on my 105 web page. Why don’t they print it and keep it in a folder they bring to class? Calendar anyone?

Is it a fear to speak out? Is my classroom uncomfortable for some students still? Is it only my classroom, or is it all classrooms? I’d like to think I’ve created an environment where all students feel comfortable and will contribute to class discussions. Yet we went to the library today and I was more of an observer as Sean Evans led us on a tour of the library and only one or two questions were asked, other than mine.

Is it fear of ridicule from classmates? I hope they’re not afraid of that. And if they are, they can email me, see me after class. I’m available most of the time. Have I made this clear?

Some take obvious advantage of the resources available, and others, I have no clue and I see only the final product.