Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Denali Death... Die! Die!

This is a photo of my car. At the Raedeke household we have several names for it. The kids call it "Car-eee" (don't ask). I call it the mid-life crisis mobile, but it is also known as "Black Beauty" on craigslist. We bought this car shortly after my daughter was born for the following reasons:

  1. I had just recently sold my tiny bright blue VW Beetle which provided several same-sex proposals at stop lights. I've never been hit on so many times in my life - male or female - could be that I was also a bespectacled elementary school librarian at the time. All the signs were there... regardless, I needed a new car.

  2. I wanted a Ford Supercrew pickup, and Christy wasn't buying my crew cab logic. So a large SUV seemed like a good compromise so that we could stay married.

  3. It was large enough for family outings, skiing, surfing, mountain climbing, vert skateboarding, parkour, motocross, and all those other extreme sports in which I partake on a regular basis.

  4. It was black, shiny, and had pimpin' dubs on it! It represented a lifestyle away from dirty diapers, mid-life flab, and the oncoming responsibility of life as a father. It was the kind of car that the bros from "Entourage" would use to carouse.
Many years later this rolling hunk of junk continues to vex me. It's like a constant reminder of consumer foolishness. Today I cleaned and re-oiled the K&N filter, removed the carbon build-up from the throttle body and repaired the broken power window on the driver side. My reward for all this? A dead battery! I can't tell you how many problems we've had with this rig. Before leasing the Beetle, I had not purchased nor driven a car built after 1980. After spending the day trying to fix this piece of shite I have vowed to return that practice! Scooby, though art perfect in every way.

If you'd like to buy a 1999 GMC Denali, I am starting the bidding at fitty cent. Go Shawty... it's your Birthday...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Retro 70's Christmas Toy Spectacular

Unlike my wife, I believe that the 70's were a magical time for our society. This time period represents the golden era for toy marketing/consumerism, and at the Raedeke household we were drinking the Kool-Aid(tm) in a big way. The 70's brought us the birth of skateboarding, sugar-focused breakfast cereal, punk rock, and many other piles of awesomeness. However, those topics are for future posts. Today, I want to talk about the greatest toys of the 70's! For nostalgia purposes, I've tried to find links to toy commercial on youtube. Let's get started...

Big Jim - If G.I. Joe represented the heroism and manliness of WWII, then Big Jim is the penultimate man of the seventies with his mod hair and sporting lifestyle. Looking back, he's a bit sexually ambigous. But what's wrong with a little camping with your friend Big Josh!?! Big Jim reflected the importance of knowing Kung Fu as a life skill, and his karate-action arm unleashed its fury on all sorts of fake wood and fauna. Mom, you completed me when I got his Rescue Rig for Christmas. YOU MUST watch the commercial (apologies for the youtuber's comments in the title screens, but it's the only way to view it). Me thinks the toy designers had a different agenda...


Hugo, Man of a Thousand Faces - This is not the kind of toy you should show to a child before bed time! I never owned one of these, but my neighbor did. It's creepiness was overshadowed by the curiousity with "disguises" in the seventies. No video for this one, thank God.


Hot Wheels - These little metal cars have made a huge impact on almost every male in American society. I was lucky to be around when they first hit the scene. Sixteen little cars with mag wheels, and spectraflame paint jobs, in all their glorified muscle car style. How many of you remember the Mongoose and Snake drag race set! Plus, the orange tracks made an excellent whip-like weapon when you were in a fight with your brother. Click here for a slew of Hot Wheels commercials from 1970.


Bing Bang Boing - I didn't know this until I started doing this post, but Marvin Glass and Associates invented many of my favorite toys. He created this awesome Rube Goldberg-style toy, called Bing Bang Boing. The problem with it was you had to have a doctorate in physics to recreate what's happening in the commercial. You gotta love the use of heavy steel ball bearings in a toy - would never happen today.


Vertibird - I'm amazed how many time this toy has been re-launched by different toy companies under different product names. Sorry no youtube for this one.


Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle - This toy made young boys epileptic when it arrived on the Christmas scene. I know that Evel (R.I.P.) is now seen as a drunken, mafia-connected mess, but in the 70's he was a huge star and his motorcycle stunts were major TV events watched by millions. Watching this video makes me want to ride!


AFX Racing - Slot cars and electric track racing were huge in my childhood, and nobody did it better than Aurora's AFX line of products. Later as teens we would apply WD-40 to the tracks for a drifting effect on the cars which required much more skill. The cars from these sets are still highly collectible. Check out this sweet "Smokey and the Bandit" style AFX commercial.


Mattel Electronics Football - Never have tiny LED blits been so captivating for so long! We played with this for hours at a time. I'm sure it caused early carpal tunnel syndrome in many young men. I can still hear the piercing chirp of the touchdown song in my mind. If you'll recall, Coleco's head to head version blew this out of the water shortly after it was introduced - but it was a great ride while it lasted. Here's a youtuber's video about the toy.


Major Matt Mason - OK, purists will note that this was really a hit in the late 60's but I don't care. One of the coolest sets of toys ever made, I still have the space crawler somewhere in a box. I think I'll give it to Hank for Christmas. I like the set design on this commercial - as if every child has a moon-like back patio for space play.


Happy holidays from the Raedeke's!

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Holiday Rhythmic Automaton

What do geeks do when it gets cold and snowy outside? They make robots, silly! Or silly robots, for that matter. Hank wanted to make a robot on Saturday, so we pulled out the Vex Robotics System and created a melamine bowl carrying server-bot. It was okay. It delivered cheesy popcorn to its five year old creator, but it lacked something. I was staring at the round rim of steel that held the popcorn bowl, and tapping my fingers on a table when it hit me - let's make a drumming robot! Well, it ain't pretty... but I'm hacky like that.

At least it made my wife and kids laugh out loud. Mission accomplished. Oh, and Hank, I owe you a new Wal-Mart drum set.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pixelart OCD

I'm sitting here with Digital God Miles Inada at a conference table in the art building at SOU. Like two ancient greeks we've been posing and pontificating about the nature of digital art. He's doing some really cool comics based on his "Arms & Ether" series. I just showed him something that made him say, "You're insane!" I think he might be right... here's a tiny, poorly-scaled version of our house in pixelart format.

I don't know why I am lured by the pixel. A few weeks back I did a post about my obsession with isometric pixelart. Turns out I have some friends in low-rez places. There are several pixelart communities on the web - neighborhoods plotted in obsessively small blocks of color. I was inspired to attempt some of my own cookin' based on the following cool sites:

I'm going to submit my little GIF file to one of these neighborhoods, even if I'm the most boring house on the pixelblock! Yes, I'm obviously OCD at some level to do this much pixel pushing. This must be why I enjoy doing wood trim work, programming, making guitars, unloading the dishwasher, shutting open cabinet doors, typing too much in my blog...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Precious Moments Thanksgiving Post

On vacation? Check. Sitting around watching cartoons with Hank in my bathrobe? Check. Ready to feast at my Mom's house? Check. Anticipating a huge Seahawk victory over the Cowboys later today? Uhhh... check? Besides this potential grid iron catastrophe, I can't really complain. Life is pretty good. I'm sure the web is filled with these kinds of posts today, so I'm happy to offer yet another list of things I'm thankful for...
  • My Family - what did you expect? I have a beautiful wife, and two hilarious kids. I've got 3 sets of loving grandparents living within 30 minutes of our house. My brother and sister are awesome and have great families. Genealogical life is good.

OK, now that I've stated what's really important I can move on to other more frivolous thanks in no particular order...

  • Photo Shop - This product has changed my life. Although I've been using it for over a decade, I'm still constantly finding new features. Non-stop goodness..
  • My Casio G-Shock - I used to be a watch fetishist. I would wear several models throughout the year. I've been stuck on my G-Shock MTG Solar Atomic watch for the last five years. It's made of cool black metal! It's powered by the sun! It receives signals from the Atomic clock in Ft. Collins, Colorado! ...one of the most dependable pieces of technology I've ever owned.
  • The Office - This show has provided a cornucopia of yuks throughout the year. Yes, I'm nervous about the new season but it's still damn funny. Combined with 30 Rock, it makes Thursday evening something to savor.
  • My 1991 Specialized Stump Jumper FS - I've put over 600 miles on this rig during my fall commute and it's hanging in there. Not bad for a 17 year-old bike. I keep waiting for the spokes to pulverize at high speed. I should probably install a plastic Jesus on my handle bars.
  • The NFL - Although I'm disappointed in the Seahawks, the NFL never disappoints. So many great story lines - Favre and the Jets, the evil unstoppable force known as the Patriots, the resurgence of the Titans with Kerry Collins at the helm, Kurt Warner and the buzzsaw Cardinals. Parity rules, and so does the NFL season. It's always interesting and fun to watch.
  • My Students - Kids indeed say (and do) the darnedest things! I'm constantly amazed at the talent that the Millennial Generation shows. These guys give me a lot of hope for the future. They're socially conscious, technically nimble, and hopelessly ADD (in the best way possible). I feel lucky to teach these guys.
  • The Internet - Thank God for our no-limits, endless, information super-highway. Let's try to keep it that way by denying idiotic concepts like tiered fees for bandwidth usage and endangering privacy and free speech. The Internet is the last wild west on the planet.
  • Kinder Eggs - Christy and I discovered these in Europe in the late 90's. This time of year we can buy them at our local Whole Foods-like (a.k.a. Whole Paycheck) grocery store. It's like the holiday season in a little foil-wrapped egg. Chocolate on the outside, ingeniously complicated German toy on the inside.
I hope this weak post finds you healthy, happy, and warm for Thanksgiving. Enjoy the weekend!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Appeal of Unbeatable Banzuke

I'm a little burnt on technology today so I'm going to blog about one of my favorite TV shows, Unbeatable Banzuke. It airs on the I'm way too old to be watching this channel G4 TV. Most of you probably skip over this cable channel because it's usually filled with video game lore/reviews, and bad reruns/recaps of Cops and Lost. Banzuke is worth a look. The show originally aired in Japan on the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) under the name Kinniku Banzuke - which means "Muscle Ranking". G4 re-cast the show with an English voice over and called it "Unbeatable Ranking"!?!

Banzuke features contestants who attempt to navigate unbelievably difficult obstacle courses, or odd events like hitting the tower of blocks called, "Daruma 7". The genius of the program is what you use to compete. I've seen episodes with pogo sticks, hand-walkers, wheel barrows, skateboards, R/C helicopters, and much more. Most of the contestants fail early, but that sets up the finishers to be adequately adored and lauded (in typical Japanese fashion). Here are some clips from youtube...









I love the concept of common people competing to be the best in these bizarre events. Why don't we have a version of this in the U.S.? Instead of worshipping the NFL, NBA, MLB, we could be celebrating the unique and under appreciated skills of common 'mericans. Last summer, ABC floated "Wipeout" last summer on primetime but I think this is closer to "American Gladiators". I've read that Banzuke was cancelled due to some horrible neck injuries. Our loss.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Comfort of Information Graphics

I stumbled upon this Royskopp video for the song "Remind Me". This is yet another great example of isometric art, but it's also an excellent montage on the use of infographics. I find this video oddly comforting. I've had other people tell me that it makes them depressed.

Information graphics or infographics are visual representations of information, data, or knowledge. If you haven't noticed, our society is obsessed with maps, charts, diagrams, schematics, and the like. This is not a new thing, we just have better technology now - remember when we sent Carl Sagan's infographic into space in 1972? Our recent financial crisis has everyone looking at line charts depicting the drop of their portfolio or retirement account. This week's presidential election was a fantastic case study in our need for infographics. Every state, every county, painted blue or red to signify victory or defeat. Thousands of bar and pie charts chronicled the specific tastes of voters.

CNN's John King touched the "Magic Wall" repeatedly over the past year to make complex data easier for viewers to understand. I have to admit, the first time I saw this magic wall I laughed out loud and thought, "Why does John King need to be in this picture? Does a human dragging things around on the screen make this more interesting to viewers than just an infographic taking over the set?" I kept wanting them to zoom in on the screen. Don't get me wrong, I love the technology, but it's interesting to see CNN's need to put one of its anchors in the picture when this could easily be done as a screen shot with voice-over.

Any talk about information graphics would not be complete without mentioning Yale's professor emeritus Edward Tufte and his excellent books on displaying information visually. Like many innovators Tufte has some delusions of grandeur about his work, but it's still really interesting stuff. There's no denying the fact that our society prefers to see data in visual form. I wonder what Tufte thinks about the magic wall.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

8-Bit Halloween Special

I have to say I'm glad that Halloween is over. I'm usually a huge fan, but this year brought a strange convergence - the end of our first quarter at school with grades due, a spirit rally, a playoff-implicated football game, several kid events, not to mention a time change and a somewhat important election on Tuesday. I feel like Mega Man - forever running, zombie-like, through all the obstacles, enough already!

Many of my readers (crickets, crickets) ask me what the "8-bit" in "8bitghost" stands for in my blog name. I'm referring to my favorite neolithic video games that featured 8-bit graphics from the early eighties (click here for my geeky hardware bio post). Specifically, the 8 bit ghosts in Pac-Man. Get it!?! ...with the snarky retro-reference and the tech thing, and the... oh well.

There's something about the limits of the 8-bit, 256 color, low detail format of these graphics that is really appealing to me. I like the simplicity of the images and the consistent look and feel. I'm not alone, there's always been a creative schism of artists who create "pixel art". These images usually feature low resolution, and either flat or isometric perspectives. One of the most famous groups of pixel artists is eBoy, founded in 1997 by Steffen Sauerteig, Svend Smital, and Kai Vermehr. These guys are famous for their incredibly detailed cityscapes drawn pixel by pixel, but in the past few years they've done art for major brands, and are now selling their vinyl "Peecol" toys through kidrobot.com. Their art is whimsical but also full of wry commentary. It's like a dark version of where's waldo. I encourage you to check out their posters at http://shop.eboy.com/collections/poster. Their art includes references to sex and violence, so this is nsfw in education - don't put this on your lcd projector in the classroom! Here's their famous New York City image - click on the pic for more detail... and happy halloween...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thoughts on Logos and Brand Identity...

When I worked in "the private sector" (we say this in education as if it's some tour of duty in WWII), I toiled in marketing / advertising / communications. Regardless of what you call the department most of the work centered around getting creative people, or whole agencies for that matter, to turn art and words into business-like brochures, packaging, advertising, etc...

The process of marrying business and art was difficult, and I doubt it is better now. We would take some high-level branding strategy from management, pair it with an overly wordy set of product features and benefits, and meet with the "creatives" to kick off a project. From that point on, the type A business folk would pace the halls like an expecting parent while the "creatives" would work their alchemy. Sometimes magic would occur, collaborative bliss would spread, and product and monetary success would follow. When the process failed, it got ugly. Corporate failure on any level brings out the worst in people - lots of finger pointing, revisionist history, and general paranoia.

I think logo development is the highest-stake game in the field. Companies spend a lot of money for these brand marks, and they have to serve many purposes (packaging, ads, broadcast, web). Although logos look simple they are hard-fought projects. Let's take a look at some famous logos and their transitions over time.

Apple
This company has seen some lean and prosperous times over the past 30 years, but they are gods of advertising and branding. Apple has one of the most iconic logos ever created. That said, it has changed over the years at the hand of graphic artists with a sense of what's hip. From these pictures it clear to see that Apple can't stand wearing last years' fashion.


Nike
You can't talk about logos without mentioning Nike. This is arguably the most easily recognized symbol in the world. So much so, that they've dropped out the company name in a lot of their advertising. Let's not forget that Nike has spent billions over the life of the company to etch this symbol into our brains. To be honest, it's memorable but not really that interesting from an artistic standpoint.


Coca-Cola and Pepsi
These cola titans have different strategies when it comes to branding. Coca-Cola has primarily stuck with their original scripted logo in a red or white combo. Pepsi has stayed with their red, white, and blue palette - but they've taken more risks with the brand mark.


FedEx
The FedEx mark is a great example of a simple image that can be easily modified to convey a set of differentiated services. I like the flexibility here. Plus, they get a bonus for subliminalism. Have you ever noticed that the "e" and the "x" make an arrow pointing right in the space between the letters?


Kentucky Fried Chicken
In my conspiracy-laden mind, "Extra Crispy" and "Soylent Green" have always had something in common! I'm including KFC because of the oddity of Colonel Sanders, a.k.a. "The Colonel". I think it's fascinating that we can all recognize this man, but we know very little about him. His highly stylized image means chicken, and I guess that's all that matters. I like how he's now wearing an apron, as if he's in the kitchen with the other teenagers brewing up his secret recipe.


Not sure how to wrap up this wandering blog, except to say that I've worked with some immensely talented designers and writers and they don't paid enough for the work they do. Well branded companies make a lot of money from strong logo work. Carolyn Davidson created the original Nike logo in 1971 for $35.00! Later, Phil Knight made ammends - but it just goes to show that good designers can be worth billions in the bank.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I'm a Man! I'm 40!

... ish. So what the heck am I doing making fake logos all weekend? If you didn't get the reference then you need to check out Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy's infamous rant from last season. I still laugh out loud everytime, partly out of fear and mostly out of disbelief. We need Mike to join in the debates this fall.

I digress... Here's a couple of other logo ideas. I want to create a cartoon series based on single-celled organisms. Maybe this is a good start.

Friday, October 10, 2008

FEZ: Zen Master Snowboarding Monkey

Next week my Advanced Digital Media classes are going to venture into the world of logo design. We talked about branding and target markets yesterday. I had to really keep a lid on my Jekyl/Hyde, marketing guy/teacher blabber... old habits die hard. My students started exhibiting the glazed stare that my wife gets when I chatter on passionately about something. OK, I get it, I'm moving on to the demo now!

One of my classes chose snowboarding as the market they'd like to design for, so I spent some time today building an example in PhotoShop using only the shape tool and the text tool. We don't have graphics tablets in my lab. Hence (yes, hence), the proper use of the shape tool is essential for this assignment. I thought it would be difficult without a tablet, but it wasn't that bad. There are enough shapes available to do almost anything.


I've always been obsessed with monkeys and fez-style hats, so why not combine them both? Here's a 4 color, and b/w version. Juliet thinks I need to use a darker brown, which is probably a good call. Damn kids are always right!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Whither Dreamweaver?

"O0h-hoo Dreamweaver.... I believe you can get me through the ni-height!" If you are over 40, the word "dreamweaver" brings about thoughts of San Francisco Riding Gear jeans and bad pre-pubescent dances in the late 70's. However, Gary Wright's famous song name is also the name of the leading product for handcrafting web sites. I've been teaching students how to use Dreamweaver for many years, and lately I've been wondering if this is a good idea.

HTML (hyper text markup language) was created by Tim Berners-Lee in 1991 as a way to put a graphical user interface on the early internet. Before Tim divined HTML, users of the internet had to rely on a DOS-like environment to look at content. HTML allowed users to link text, media, and networks in way that revolutionized the way we navigate information.

In ye olde days of the interwebs, people would use the awesomeness of Notepad to type in HTML tags (a simple set of formatting commands that you could turn on and off). Essentially, the HTML tags would instruct the browser how to display content in a given web page. Web designers would save these ".txt" files with a ".html" extension and viola, you had a web page. Later, several companies introduced html editors to build more complex and graphically rich sites. Microsoft acquired a product named FrontPage, Adobe had Go Live, and Macromedia built Dreamweaver. Ultimately, Dreamweaver won the editor wars and became the industry standard. About three years ago, Macromedia was acquired by Adobe and now it's part of their suite of web-focused apps.

I've taught basic HTML (aka XHTML) to my students since 2001. I used to believe that they needed to know basic tag structure and coding techniques in order to become a professional. I've pushed Dreamweaver as the best way to build sites for small to medium-sized businesses. In the past, coding pages to look correctly in any browser (colors, fonts, tables, etc) had been an arduous task. Dreamweaver made the process much easier. But in the last three years there's been an onslaught of easy-to-use free tools to create web sites. For the most part these tools obscure the underlying HTML code and allow you to easily create beautiful, media-rich sites in a very short period of time. This blog is a great example. You simply sign up for a free account, choose a design template and start posting. Obviously, Facebook and MySpace are also great examples. Some others to check out:

The advent of open source software development has also brought innovative new tools. This category of software is called Content Management Systems (CMS) and you can get several from sourceforge.net. Most of them are based on a simple trilogy of technologies - PHP, MySQL, and simple web server software. To install them, you simply unpack a zip file on your host and you have a fully functional web site with user accounts, add-ons, and an incredible array of customization options. I've used the following CMS tools:

If you are a teacher and you currently host a site for school-related purposes, I would recommend checking out Moodle. It's created specifically for education. If you are a small business owner I would go with Joomla or Drupal. You can build very complex web sites with these tools in very little time.

So the question in my mind is, "Should I teach Dreamweaver?" It's hard to see students slog through learning Dreamweaver and HTML when they can build a fantastic web presence with the aforementioned tools. It's kind of like building a house with hammers and hand saws, instead of nail guns and power tools. The end result is the same, but the underlying knowledge is quite different. I've been a teacher long enough now that I'm starting to feel out of touch with the market. I'm curious to know what people think. Drop a comment and let me know. Meanwhile, I'll ponder Gary's eye shadow.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

All Hail My Talented Wife!

Christy's book deal just got announced to the trade this week! Click here to visit Juvenescence to read all about it. Thanks to super-agent Laura Rennert, Christy signed on with Flux for a two book deal about a whip-smart teenager named Caity who finds herself in the middle of a Mayan adventure. I'm really proud of her. She's not only an amazing mom and wife, she's a creative force to be reckoned with... and there's more to come. Christy's already got another title ready to go. I'm so excited, this is going to be a big year for her work. Congrats, my love! here's a photo from our first date...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fall Music Picks

Say what you want about satellite radio, but it's a great source for new music (besides pandora, of course). Left of Center on channel 26 is a particularly good station. I can't get KEXP's John in the Morning in my car down here, but I've found that Jake Fogelnest is the next best thing. His morning show is full of great stuff. Here are some bands that I like:

Elbow
Close your eyes and you can hear Peter Gabriel's influence in his voice - haunting tune with a great, growling riff. This song was used in the latest Coen Brothers' film, Burn After Reading.

Tapes n Tapes
My friend Chris turned me on to these guys last year. Fun band, with a great uptempo sound.

Bon Iver
Interesting music. Simple yet powerful. I love the harmony in this song.

The Verve
One of my favorite bands from the 90's. You've probably heard, "Bittersweet Symphony" but they are really much more than that. I saw these guys at the Showbox theater with John, a cool friend from my Microsoft days. It was one of those shows where a wall of swirling sound surrounded the audience. I had goosebumps the whole time. I will say that Richard Ashcroft is one of the strangest looking humans on this earth. Good to see them back in action.

Cat Power
Old band, but still some good stuff.

Liam Finn
Continuing the fine musical legacy of the fabulous Finn family... His father is Neil of Crowded House and solo fame, his uncle is Tim. Both were in Split Enz - one of my all time favorites. It's weird that Neil has a son this old... makes me feel old. Which I guess I am.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Back in the Saddle

Wow, it's been over a month since my last entry. Sometime in between, trips were made, summer ended, school started and a flurry of activity has ensued. Many potential blogging topics but I'll start with what's on my mind today. Bicycling has re-entered my life after a 15 year respite. I've been riding to school a couple times a week to offset the monstrous cost of driving the Denali to work (midlife crises cost money). I must admit, I feel like something out of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" when I look at my reflection in the mirror on my bike. I resurrected my Specialized Stump Jumper from 1991 with some road tires and some new shocks.

It's been really fun, kind of like rediscovering something from childhood. The only downside is that it takes me an hour each way to ride my bike - it's about 15 miles each way. I ride along a paved trail called the Bear Creek Greenway, so there's actually only a short stretch on either side of the trip where I travel on the streets. Here's a map that roughly shows the route. I pass by several small towns on the way to Medford where my high school resides. My favorite one is Talent, OR - which is fertile ground for a Hooters franchise expansion.


View Larger Map

Besides being called a cat burglar by my wife for my biking attire, I've already had some hilarious moments from this past month. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Running red lights in Ashland at 6:30 in the morning and then trying to quiet the moral/ethical battle that rages in my head for the next 5 minutes of riding.
  • A black cat that entered the path from the Talent RV Park. I thought she was really cute until she ran along side my bike, caught up with me, and crossed my path within seconds. Why doth thou smote me, unlucky one?
  • Greeting other bikers. Apparently, head nods are the most popular form for a head-on crossing. If you're being overtaken it's always, "On your left!" or an ice cream truck-style bell ringing. These encounters never involve a "good morning", "hello" or any other chit chat as most bikers seem to be involved in some kind of unstated invisible Tour de France. I made the mistake of trying to start up a conversation with a jersey-clad, clip-pedaled baby boomer and all I got was a scowl. Perhaps my kung fu is not good enough yet.
  • Forgetting to pack underwear to change into at work. I'm not sure this is a good thing to mention here... but now I've said it, and I can move on from that horrible day.
  • A biker I call, "The Sniper". Like a two-wheeled Johnny Cash, he's dressed in black from head to toe, and he rides a demon-forged black bike. This half man, half wind tunnel experiment always zooms past me with no warning, no sound, and no looking back. I'm just a pylon that's in his way. His speed is uncanny, and he never fails to scare the crap out me when I least expect him. Clearly, he's on steroids.

Riding to work is amazingly peaceful. With a 1 hour ride, you can't spend the whole time thinking about getting there because it's not going to happen any sooner. It calms me down before work, and I find that it focuses my head on what's important for that day. I feel like I accomplish something before the day begins. Regardless, you have my permission to shoot me on the spot if you see me sporting a race jersey tightly stretched over my ample mid-section!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Barq's Bites

Parental lesson number 4,963... check the ingredients before you feed your kids. So the wife was out and I decided to treat the kids to some Wendy's (our first visit to this fine establishment - wink). Hank decides he wants a "Root Beer Frosty" with his ultra-nutritious "chicken" nugget meal, and I let him have one in a moment of bad judgement.

Here's Hank, post drink:

Apparently, Barq's root beer is not caffeine free. If only we could harness this elemental source of power... and yes, there are two japanese girls kissing in a commercial in the background. I'm right in the middle of a marathon of Unbeatable Banzuke episodes on G4TV. I think this post nicely sums up my parenting skills.

'nuff said.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

When Animals Attack

Yesterday, at approximately 9:15a, my car was attacked by a deer missile! I had just dropped the kids off at a day camp, and I was headed back to our house when a deer dropped out of the sky and rammed into the side of my car. Apparently, a mid-sized Bambi was grazing in someone's yard above the street and was spooked by a passing dog.

Ashland's tourist season is in full swing, so naturally my accident became a memorable moment for some poor Shakespeare-loving fool. No doubt this was the first time many of them had seen a deer - and now they know the dangers of the wild! Deer are not our friends, they are killers wrapped in a cute and seemingly docile fur coat. Case in point, check out the pics from my fellow victims. My eyes have been opened to the real dangers of deer crime, "There are more than 1.5 million crashes involving deer each year which cause over one billion in damage, 150 of the deer collisions are fatal, and there are more than 10,000 people injured."

Yes, Bambi survived... and I'm fine too, until the insurance bill arrives.

What misdeeds have I wrought against the animal kingdom that warranted such an act? Sure, I've killed a few ant colonies and wasp nests in my time but I've been a friend to all mammals thus far. Perhaps human science and invention can provide a solution. Deer-fearing folk from across the nation have created "Made in the U.S.A" solutions to the age-old problem of deer/auto attacks.
  • From Maxsa Innovations comes the "Deer Alert", available in standard and deluxe configurations. "Deer Alert's unique 'transonic pulse' emits both audible and ultrasonic sound to alert a wide range of animals. The sonic tones alert all animals and the ultrasonic tones alert smaller animals such as pets." Imagine the animal madness that would proceed your arrival on the street!

  • Not so fast... There are competitive products on the market. The makers of the Hornet Deer Whistle have a slogan, "When You Hit A Deer, You Will Lose" Apparently, "Deer are responsible for more death and injury than any other animal in the U.S.A." You simply mount this under the hood and connect it to your battery. Uh, no comments on product design. Let's keep it clean for the children out there.

  • For those eco-minded, deer-fearing folk you can buy a hood-mounted, wind-powered solution from the eCommerce powerhouse known as http://www.deerbusters.com/, "your wildlife control specialist." These simple units employ the power of wind to warn wildlife up to 2,000 feet ahead that, "Man is coming, get out of the way!" One caveat, many have expressed concern on the internet that these get clogged with bugs and stop working.

Regardless of your stance on mammals, I urge you to seriously consider the threat of deer/auto accidents and arm yourselves accordingly. Terror from the skies can strike at any time!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

It's been awhile since I last felt bloggy. Busy summer, but it's been all good. I live in Ashland, Oregon which is home to one of the most hilariously high-minded fourth of July parades that you'll find in today's 'merica. Our little town of 20,000 pulls out the far left and far right in a sort of liberty soup that is simultaneously tasty and bitter. I guess that's why they call it democracy.

As you know, I'm a bullet-y kind of blogger. Here are some of my favorite moments of July 4th, 2008.
  • My daughter Juliet and I walked in the parade with the "Friends of the Ashland Public Library". I was handed a strange, large faux book with, "Let's Make Tracks to Hit the Stacks" written on it in large letters. I have to say it was really weird to have so many people looking at us and applauding our dutiful chant, "Open Books, Open Minds, Open Libraries -- thanks -- to -- you". I got off easy, as my friend Julie had to lead the whole group in front with the banner. She was the prom queen of literacy. I felt like a bit of fraud, as my kids and wife are avid library visitors but I've barely stepped into our local branch. But I know how to wave fake books around in front a crowd with the best of them...

  • A tiny poodle being pulled through the parade in a tiny red wagon.

  • Not seeing publicity-hound "The Pastie Lady" at any point during the day. Apologies for all the banjo-playing comments on the story featured in this link. We have all kinds down in Southern Oregon.

  • Hearing the sound of bagpipes. I must have been Scottish in a previous life.

  • Having a barbecue later in the day with some friends, and watching all of the kids play in the yard. There's something really peaceful about barefoot kids screaming and laughing, and running laps around the house. The Banzai Blast Water Slide was a big hit, as usual.

  • Re-discovering Shasta's Tiki Punch - a 1970's classic that is still 200 calories per 12 oz of awesomeness. Hey, I hear your cries of "inappropriate for children!" But don't worry, it's completely caffeine free. I think this was Hank's primary fuel all day long. His lips were permanently fruit punch red until the next morning.

  • Home-made ice cream and my awkward white trash firework show in the front yard, followed by a rousing finale of the real thing downtown. I'm a cynic at heart, but standing next to my family and watching fireworks in the sky always makes me proud to be an American - even if we almost burned our house down while watching the big show.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Summertime and the livin's easy...

Wahoo! Summer is off to an excellent start. The weather is surprisingly mild and comfortable and we've been very active so far. Already in the past week we've done the following:
  1. Rafted the lower Klamath River, with an excellent overnight stay at the Tree of Heaven Campground. Hank rode in my tahiti. He's a cool customer. He took a couple of naps in the front of my boat during the rapids. Hank needs to become a bomb-defuser or something related...
  2. Camped under a full moon with a bunch of friends for 3 days at the Whistlers Bend Park along the North Umpqua River just outside of Roseburg, OR. I ate a lot of chips and drank cheap beer, which is always cathartic.
  3. Attended the wedding of some friends from work. Met some really nice people and had a great time hanging out in the hills of Jacksonville, OR.
  4. Resurrected an old computer and installed the latest version of Ubuntu (a linux distribution). Amazingly easy and cool. Microsoft will eventually lose its operating system dominance if open source software continues to show this kind of quality.
  5. Built a stylin' tank-tread robot with the kids. Juliet is taking a robotics class this summer, so I figured it's never to early to start geeking out. A couple of years ago I bought the Vex Robotics System, which is an excellent platform for studying robotics. Here's a movie of what she's calling, "robotcha". The taped-on flashlight is Hank's contribution.

My other favorite thing this week was having some down time with the kids. In particular, Hank's vocabulary development has been hilarious if not downright ingenious. Here are some of my favorite words I've heard out of his un-schooled mouth.

  • prettyschool - n. (prit-ee' skōōl') A school for children who are not old enough to attend kindergarten; a nursery school.

  • rootbeard - n. (rōōt beerd) A carbonated beverage flavored with syrup made from the extracted juices of roots, barks, and herbs that have been fermented with sugar and yeast.

  • vitamint - n. (vahy-tuh-mint) Any of various fat-soluble or water-soluble organic substances essential in minute amounts for normal growth and activity of the body and obtained naturally from plant and animal foods.

  • meatbulb - n. (mēt'bôlb') A small ball of ground meat, esp. beef, often mixed with bread crumbs, seasonings, etc., before cooking.

  • dupposed - adj. (duh-pohzd) Assumed as true, regardless of fact; hypothetical: It's dupposed to go this way, Dad.

  • blathroom - n. (buh-lāth'rōōm') A room containing a bathtub or shower, and usually a sink and toilet. A place where "kids" can be "dropped off at the pool", or sometimes on the floor.

I've adopted rootbeard, as it's infinitely superior to the traditional pronunciation. It feels right that a proper gentleman would find his chin covered with foam after quaffing an icy cold root beer. Of course all of these words are hilarious until Hank hits kindergarten and then we'll have to pretend that we are surprised and disgusted.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Time for Rock

Almost there, just 3 more "in-service" days and summer is here. We graduated the largest class in our school's history yesterday, and I must admit, I'm going to miss some of those young'ns... some great human beings in the class of 2008. As summer approaches, I've been getting back into music so I'd like to offer some finds over the past month. Here goes:
  • Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs - they're stepping out a little with this new album. I'm still trying to decide whether I like the direction, but I'm listening to it all the time so it must be good. I like the way Ben Gibbard is playing with words and timing on "I Will Possess Your Heart."

  • MGMT - smooth 70's-like disco, synth-pop... The first time I heard "Electric Feel" I wanted to hate it, but it stuck like glue to my ear.

  • British Sea Power- interesting band but more importantly, best band name... ever.
  • Editors - Just found out about these guys. Their lead singer sounds like a mix between Rick Astley, and Brendan Perry.

  • Speaking of Dead Can Dance... Perry's "American Dreaming" sounds like some freaky alt-universe version of Neil Diamond. This clip has a little "Spinal Tap" moment up front.
  • Weezer - what's not to like about Rivers Cuomo? One of my personal heroes... and I love that all their albums are just self-titled. I can always say, "The new Weezer album is great!"
  • The Shins - Nothing new here but I'm still obsessed with their music.

    ...and Interpol too.

  • Finally, if you've ever loved Bowie you gotta hear this by Flight of the Conchords.
Email me if you have any good music recos. Enjoy the summer!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Getting Schooled Online

Teachers! Beware of the Internet - you could lose your job! This sounds like the same kind of propaganda that one might have heard when Babbage's Difference Engine was set to take over all counting-related jobs on the planet. This summer I've decided to do screen recordings of all my in-class software demos in PhotoShop, Flash, and Dreamweaver. Besides being immortalized in poorly scripted videos, I see the following advantages:
  • Students can access the demos at any time
  • Staff members can also use them to learn
  • Interested students can move at their own pace
  • I don't have to teach the same demo, over and over again, during my lunch period

My favorite of these is obviously the eatin' vs. teachin' benefit. It's a little frightening to realize how much of what I teach can be handled online. Recently, my students wrote about what an online high school experience would be like. Most of them said they would enjoy the flexibility and self-paced structure that the Internet provides, but many believed that traditional schools provided socialization - which they deemed just as important to the knowledge and skills gained during high school. Curiously, out of about 150 students, not one of them mentioned the need for a teacher. Hmmm... I'm sure this is just youthful oversight. Or is it?

Yes, I believe that teachers are needed. Primarily because I've taught many students who possess learning styles that are not compatible with the online world. They need human interaction to progress. But what about those students who can learn online? For years MIT has been offering free (FREE!) online courses of over 1800 classes through the MIT Open Courseware site! That's pretty amazing. Why take classes from your assigned "teacher" when you can choose from the brilliant minds at MIT! Also, I would recommend checking out the OpenCourseWare Consortium - a fascinating effort to share educational content using an open-source model.

I think a complimentary online high school model could be a great asset for high school students, as long as we could somehow assess authentic learning, which is no small feat. If the past is any indicator, our high schools will continue to be challenged by lower operating budgets. The economies of scale will lead to innovative but less human approaches to learning. I can easily see a model where I teach on two high school campuses simultaneously via a 2-way video conferencing device and a large projection screen. I would physically switch classrooms from week to week, and student work would be submitted and assessed via email and the web. This has been happening for years in post-secondary institutions, so it seems inevitable. It could be cool, as long as they can find some poor soul to keep students from playing Flash games during my lectures.

Monday, May 26, 2008

It's a Thin Line...

This is my 1970 Dodge A-108 Tradesman van, affectionately named "Scooby" based on it's similarities to the mystery machine in the Scooby-Doo cartoons. I bought it in 1999 around this time of year from a gentleman who owns Howard Prairie Resort, about 30 minutes NE of Ashland. I first laid eyes on Scooby when Christy and I were looking for real estate in the late 90's - we still lived in Seattle at the time. We had dropped by Howard Prairie Lake to eat lunch, recapture some of her childhood, and check out cabin properties.

Prior to '99, Scooby had spent the last 10 years as a linen delivery and cleaning supply van at the resort. Prior to that it was a trapped in a barn for the previous 10 years, and was given up to cover a debt that was owed. Who knows what that van had been through previously. I asked the owner if she was for sale, and he said that it didn't run but I could buy it for $600. Even though I knew that it was worth less, I bought it and had it towed to a lazy mechanic in Talent, Oregon. We left town and returned to Seattle that week, but Scooby stayed for repairs. Roughly $1,500 dollars (oy!) of engine work and a week passed before I flew from Seattle to Medford to pick her up and drive her back to Seattle. The engine on this thing is a 318 V8 and it literally sits between the two front seats in what's known as a "doghouse", otherwise known as the devil's cauldron! The radiator is enclosed on the front end and it gets very hot.

The trip to Seattle was brutal. The doghouse seals were broken, so it was like sitting in a closed oil drum with hot air and exhaust all around you. I only made it just south of Portland before calling Christy to tell her that it would be a two day trip. I remember driving it up to our house with that little boy enthusiasm for a new toy. Later at a friend's barbecue, I remember bragging about how cool it was and Christy said, "...Scooby sits somewhere between cool and pervy. You really could go either way with that thing." This is particularly concerning given the van trends of the seventies. For a frightening dose of the vannin' lifestyle check out, "The Van."

Perhaps I was born in the wrong era. No one really appreciates these vans like I do. For 10 years now, I've fought the recommendations to sell it, to put curtains in the windows, to give it away. I even sold it to my friend Tyler for six months and bought it back. Scooby is part of me, and whenever I drive it there's a smile on my face. You complete me. Now, if I can just find the money to convert Scooby to electric power...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Thinking Machines (a geeky hardware bio)

I've been spending a lot of time with my laptop lately, sometimes at the exclusion of my friends and family. At my current rate of usage, I'm either headed for a techno-break this summer or an addiction intervention. My current "ride" is a Dell Inspiron E1705 - which features a 17" wide screen and a recent video card mod. I picked up a Nvidia 7800 GTX last winter in order to handle some of the new games on the market, any more power and this thing is going to melt. The laptop was originally a gift to my wife, who used it for about a year before admitting that it was a little large for her tastes. I know, shades of Homer Simpson giving Marge a bowling ball with his named engraved on it. We ended up buying her a smaller laptop, which was a better aesthetic fit for her writers lifestyle. If you know Christy, she's on a constant quest for all things tiny (case in point, check out the ASUS Eee PC). Ok, enough chatter, on with the infinitely interesting hardware bio categorized for your convenience.

70's: Home Gaming Consoles
If any of you grew up in the 70's, undoubtedly you'll remember the living room invasion knownas Pong. A kid on my street was the first to get the Magnavox Odyssey. I'm not going to describe it because this video will provide everything you need. Who would have known that light blocks were so captivating!?! This progressed to several other iterations like the Sears and J.C. Penny's knock-offs until the awesomely wood grained Atari 2600 arrived on the market. This machine gave us the closest thing yet to a real arcade experience.

80's: Personal Computers Arrive
Contrary to the idea that the Apple IIe started it all, the gaming console plowed the way for PCs to enter the home in the 80's. Colecovision was the starting left tackle, making way for the Donkey Kong touchdown. Also, Intellivision football remains etched in my mind. Apple's and IBM's were still too expensive for my social caste, so the Tandy TRS-80(a.k.a. Trash 80) was my first real computer experience. I first learned to navigate DOS, and hilariously simple text adventure games using this machine.In high school, my class used Atari 400's to learn BASIC and make simple games using Atari's Player Missile Graphics system. Typing on its mylar-beeping keyboard was quite a challenge, not to mention that a few pages of code would fill it's 8k of memory. I loved this machine, and I still have one today. Later in high school, my friend Jay picked up a Commodore 64 which led to early bulletin-board piracy, and a creepy visit to a local illegal game seller (on 5.25" floppies, no less!). M.U.L.E. and JumpMan were both awesome games on that platform.

It wasn't until college that I started to see the Apple Macintosh show up in my dorm. I lusted after the Mac but again it was too expensive, only the spoiled kids had them. By this time, the acronym "PC" had come to mean a DOS-based platform. I survived the early iterations of Microsoft Windows with several 286/386 machines in the late 80's. Let's remember that this was the era in which Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect ruled the desktop. Microsoft wasn't a powerhouse in anything but MS-DOS at this point, and that wouldn't change until Windows 3.0 came out in 1990. As a quick sidebar, when I left Microsoft in '96 we had over 85% market share in word processing and spreadsheets - shows you how voracious Microsoft was in the 90's. Another odd factoid, my first machine at Microsoft was a Macintosh which I used for the first year I was employed at the company until Windows 3.1 came out and all our Macs were replaced with PCs.

The Obsolete 90's
I was really frustrated with PCs during this decade. I remember buying a Dell Pentium 90 when they first came out in the early 90's. I spent a little over $2k on a machine that was basically obsolete in a little over a year. It's coolest feature was the new CD-ROM drive, which could run illustrious "multimedia" titles like "Microsoft Frank Lloyd Wright", "Myst", and "Seventh Guest". Moore's Law was pounding my bank account. Essentially, there was something infinitely better coming out every six to ten months, that would totally change your life. This is the first time I remember caring about the processor/RAM/video card combinations in my machine. Laptops were still incredible heavy in the mid 90's. I remember lugging around a buggy Compaq laptop in some of my consulting gigs. In retrospect the best value of the 90's was the much-ridiculed eMachine. It was like an old sock, if you found a hole in it you'd just throw it away and buy a new one. Unfortunately, my wife inherited most of my old socks - indifferent to my fanboy tech needs...

The New Century of Customization
Around the turn of the century (I love that we get to say that now, it sounds so important), I started building my own PCs based on all the readily available components on the Internet. I definitely had the DIY bug up until about 3 years ago when I became a Dell zealot. I have built everything from the obnoxiously large server tower case to the a tiny shoebox-sized machine with a handle - because you never know when a LAN party might bust out and you gotta jam! Now in 2008 I'm all about the laptop - portable, powerful, and flexible. Alright, that last line was like a bad tag line. I'm amazed if any of you are still reading at this point, time to type "CLS" and go do something else.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

RoboPong

In my game programming class, our last assignment was to create a Pong game using Flash and ActionScript. I usually create a game along with my students to keep my coding chops fresh. Behold, I give you RoboPong! A mix of 8-bit nostalgia matched with dorky cylon-inspired robots, and painfully nerdy sound effects... Click here to play.

Amazingly, all of this comes in a tiny 48k file. Props to vector graphics and compression! Please email me with any bugs. Miles, I'm waiting for you to return serve. Later.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Small Schools

I am part of a small school that operates within my large comprehensive high school. I work with a team of teachers and students within the BACH school, which stands for "Bridging the Arts Communications and Humanities." The simple definition is that I teach in a performing arts school, but it's much more interesting and complicated.

Our efforts are funded by the Oregon Small Schools Initiative, a program of E3: Employers for Education Excellence. We're in the fourth year of a $1.25 million dollar investment from this organization, and it's yielded some excellent results both in student performance and in teaching practices. The basic idea is to split large comprehensive high schools into smaller learning communities to recapture educational rigor, build better relationships with students, and make the whole experience more relevant to real life.

Educational institutions are a hard ship to steer. Schools are essentially operating under the same basic constructs since the early part of the twentieth century. It goes like this:
  • Students attend mandatory school where they participate in several important classes for roughly eight hours a day, five days a week.
  • The teacher delivers subject area knowledge based on their personal views and experiences, usually beneath the guidance of what the state government believes are the appropriate curriculum standards.
  • If the student completes homework and tests, follows the teacher's directions, and "learns" what the teacher deems important... ta-da, they pass the class.

Doesn't this seem like a dangerously delicate strategy for learning? There are so many things that have to go right in this scenario for real learning and not just playback to occur. As a teacher, I feel this pressure in the classroom. How do I keep all students interested, imbue the exact, cutting-edge knowledge they need, try to relate everything to real life, all while ensuring that I'm not using my own personal and cultural bias in my selection and delivery of curriculum?

In a world that is scheduled in 15 minute increments, with vast amounts of knowledge available 24/7 on the Internet, and the ability to communicate globally within seconds - we're still forcing young people to sit in a desk and take notes for 60-90 minutes per class. We have the technology to enable students to choose the world's greatest teachers, but we don't let them use it. We have the ability to let students teach each other, but we're too afraid of losing control. I know, I'm ranting, but I feel strongly about these issues. In my seven years of teaching, I've seen far too many students sleeping at their desks while teachers are up front having a great time listening to themselves talk.

So... what to do? Reform the system, reform teaching practices, allow students to choose their own learning paths, let the community come into the classroom and vice versa. There is much to do, it is a monumental task, but I'm really proud that we're starting to turn the ship around.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Technology: Freedom Force or Evil Overlord?

I came down with some kind of plague on Sunday, so I'm not feeling very creative or energetic. I've decided to do a follow-up to an earlier post titled, "The Technology Assembly Line." Last month I had my class look at Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry murals as part of our studies around the idea of perception. I really believe this image is about the interplay between humans and their own creations. In that light, I asked my students to use their own perceptions in a 10-minute writing exercise based on the prompt, "Does technology give us freedom, or does it imprison us?" Here are some unedited passages from their writing (warts and all). It represents a mix of students from freshmen all that way up to seniors. This is a long post, so get ready for some reading...

"I think it imprisons us because when you look at how everything is working these days its more machine then people. All the work that used to be done by people is mostly done with machines not saying it’s a bad thing because things are produced quick but I think that is one way it imprisons us. Another thought is when you play games or something of that sort you can only do so much and go so far once it’s over it’s over. Also think of all the hours people put into playing games a lot and in that way it also imprisons us. Older generations didn’t have all the neat and cool things that we have today because of technology but personally I would rather live in those days then these days now because it seems the more technology we get the less we as people can do. Thinking of this painting you see a lot of people in that factory and today you wouldn’t see three quarters of that number of workers."

"Technology only sets a few aspects of our lives “free” while our body rots "I know that if my Dad took my Zune or computer away that I would be very pissed off at him. Myspace, My Zune, My computer and my DS have me and my sisters wrapped around their non existent fingers... I’m pretty sure that there is already technology that the government has that we could never dream about having. In the picture I see people wearing themselves out to make an engine for a car. It makes me laugh at how we get so intense about the things that next year, we will find them in thrift stores and the new thing will be out."

"Gaming has created puny or obese people and what good is that? IMing lets cowards become “strong” but only with words, not actions (unless you call hacking and viruses action). Our morals are released due to privacy and we become what we want. We don’t pay any attention to what it might do to our economy or the health of our bodies and minds. The only people who benefit from the development of technology is the developers, they are the ones thinking and working. But the public takes what the developers make without even being thankful. The public wants everything faster, better, cheaper and easier. But isn’t something that takes time, grows and has true meaning the only thing valuable? We just might lose any type of value or morality to us because of the rapid growth of that like a weed technology has morphed into."

"The fact that some people can’t find anything to do with their lives besides level up another blood elf paladin is a troubling thought. What ever happened to being productive? This American generation is going to let all of their freedoms slip through their fingertips because there is no physical protest. Kids are learning to vent through blogs and people protest by signing online petitions that hold no meaning. Our freedoms will be taken away slowly until we have none left. This is how technology imprisons us."

"During spring break I was in California with my cousins and one of them brought his wii with him, and I couldn’t believe how many hours they would spend playing it, when the beach was only five minutes away, they played for two days straight only stopping to eat and sleep and they didn’t even want to do that."

"If the world were to suddenly stop producing electricity most of the world would be in chaos. To some people the world be very difficult and they would actually have to work. For example look at a tribe on Africa or some where else that is poor they have no or very little, if we were to give them a TV or a computer they would use it very little because they have lived there whole life off the land."

"We are able to scan distant stars, probe the depths of the ocean, and construct buildings that seem taller than the sky. But in many ways, technology has also severely harmed our lives as well. Weapons capable of destroying entire cities are constructed in mass quantities every day, despite the fact that there are very few hostile countries left in the world who pose a direct military threat to us and our allies. Pollution is rampant in many parts of the world, and our efforts to curb it have been less than half of what they should be. Technology may make our lives easier on the outside, but the consequences are what matters most. After all, nothing in this world comes without a catch."

"It may give us freedom and power, but I believe that it imprisons us even more. I know that I most likely couldn’t go one day without technology. I love computers, and I love my cell phone, which means that I love electricity, and technology. I use it everyday, without thinking how it’s affecting me or the world even. I guess I can kind of be a zombie about it. Every morning, I reach over to my night table, and I get my cell phone and check my messages. I do it without thinking. I think that this artist was trying to tell people that if we continued going on like this, using technology everyday, all the time, then we wouldn’t be able to live without it soon enough."

"... technology takes up about 80% of my day. I play video games with my brothers, I watch TV with my mom, I go on the computer and talk to people, I text and play games on my cell phone… It’s hard not to because those things are all so readily available to me. I do go outside and jump on my trampoline or play basketball, but that’s only for like 30 minutes or an hour a day. If I am up for 17 hours a day, I shouldn’t be so occupied with all these things. I don’t do my homework sometimes, I don’t read, I stay up too late some days. So I would say it definitely has me trapped."

"I myself love technology. But, I can’t think that if I didn’t like technology so much, video games for example, I would be a lot farther in life. I would have better grades; I would be a lot more physically active; I would have more of a social life. I think many people are like me too."

"I feel that with the way things are now it gives us more opportunity for freedom but essentially technology has imprisoned us. We act completely lost when we are cut off from power or our car dies or the cable goes out. We have undermined our instincts and gone completely against nature. Human kind has become a machine itself eating away at the earth, pushing away all the other creatures on it. We should be able to use what we need and not kill off any innocent creatures while doing so. Without technology we would not have fumes spewing into our air and we wouldn’t have to worry about our computers being hacked or about being harassed over the internet."

"... there are games through technology that are fun to play, like guitar hero, or super smash bros. But then at times there are instances were people will begin to become too into the game or certain technology. They could get to the point where they stay home all day just on the computer. My brother used to play this game called RuneScape along with some of his buddies. I would remember walking in on them playing it and they would be so blank and out of it, to the point where I could possibly go up to them and easily push them down or something. It’s almost like if you aren’t enjoying your life as it is, you can go and escape to another world that you feel you fit more into."

"One thing brought to my attention in the picture was it’s resemblance to a social hierarchy. The Gods at the top could be considered the rich, lazy, ones who ultimately own the world of technology while the others of us serve them. I think many are blind to the real impact and potential consequences to our indulgence on the technology and media and those who can refrain from this indulgence can find freedom, while others, who don’t have control over themselves are unconsciously allowing themselves to become prisoners to technology."

There are some tasty literary nuggets in this writing! I'm constantly amazed at how lucid young people are regarding the reality of the world. We need to give these young-uns more credit for what they know.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Finding Your Inner Lemmy Kilmister

If you haven't had the pleasure of playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band, I highly recommend it. I won't bore you with the details of game play, but it's basically a pattern/timing game where you press colored buttons based on the streaming notes coming down the screen. The kicker is that you do this through a guitar-shaped game controller, or in the case of Rock Band through either a guitar, a bass, a microphone, or a drum set.

It's one of those games where you start by hacking your way through "Blitzkrieg Bop", and suddenly you find yourself obsessed with completing the next song, and the next, and the next... until you're drunk with Rock Gawd fame and fortune, prancing around in rocker poses, and generally wallowing in mid-life crisis! Green grass and high tides forever!

I just spent a weekend with my buddies at a cabin in Northern Washington. Our initial intention was to drink beer and watch the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament. What actually transpired was about 4o hours of Rock Band, with a couple of four hour sessions playing the board game, "Settlers of Catan" thrown in for good measure (more on Settlers in a future blog post). It felt surprising like a monstrous jam session late into the night - strangely satisfying, and yet wholly unproductive in advancing any musical talent.

Rock Band is so popular with my students that it's actually having an effect on their music preferences. I've noticed that the umpteenth revival of 80's music is once again in full swing. Don't question the marketing power of Rock Band. Imagine if your first exposure to Boston was to lay down the opening lick to "Foreplay/Long Time", replete with its quiet-loud-quiet structure.

The coolest thing about Rock Band is that you can get a glimpse of what's inside the musician's head. Growing up I was a huge fan of Flea, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Playing bass on "Dani California" gave me some insight into his grooving style. As you would expect, playing along gives you a totally different perspective on the melody and rhythm of the song. Two other huge treats - feeling the power chord genius of Rivers Cuomo on Weezer's "Say It Ain't So", and jamming with The Killers on "When You Were Young" - which is a freakish blend of early Springsteen, late seventies Dire Straits, and a dash of New Wave.

If you can get over the dorkiness of staring at a screen and pressing colored buttons, I think you'll find that Rock Band is one of the best video game inventions created so far. Games based on music have been far too rare in my lifetime. I'm excited to see where this will lead.